… and should a parking garage become highrise luxury condos on the waterfront? We review the issues coming up this week

Should a parking garage on the waterfront become a highrise office tower?
Do we need more luxury condos on the waterfront? The Planning Commission will decide this week

By Tim Redmond

JULY 20, 2015 – The legislation that allows group housing – which is, in many cases, just another way of saying tiny micro-units – a break under the city’s inclusionary housing law will be back at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/20, and will probably wind up before the full Board of Supes the next day.

The original legislation, by Sups. John Avalos and Jane Kim, was pretty simple: It would have made clear that housing defined by tiny units that have only limited kitchen and bath facilities is still market-rate housing, and developers need to pay into the city’s affordable housing fund.

The Planning Department never used to collect that money – mostly because there haven’t been many group-housing units built in the past 20 years, and since the term typically applied to SRO hotel rooms that were priced relatively low anyway, there wasn’t much of a push to demand that developers pay for affordable units.

But now several projects are coming on line that are aimed at single young people who don’t mind a single room, perhaps with a two-burner stove and a tiny fridge but no oven. They aren’t exactly low-budget SROs – the developers plan to charge around $1,900 a month for the places.

Kim and Avalos brought the plan to Land Use, where Sup. Scott Wiener amended it to allow developers to count as “affordable” any unit that met the housing needs of a person earning 90 percent of the area median income. That would mean an “affordable” tiny apartment could rent for more than $1,500 a month (my original story quoted housing activist Fernando Marti as saying that the rent could be more than $1,900 a month. Avalos aide Jeremy Pollock told me that number was a bit too high. But still: The “affordable” rent would not be much lower than what the developers will charge on the open market. )

Kim opposed the amendments, but with the support of Land Use Chair Malia Cohen, they went through.

Now the measure comes back as amended for a final vote, which will probably be the same – and then the full board will have a chance to amend it back to its original intent. Let me guess: another 6-5 vote?

That D3 race is looking more critical every day.

 

We are not big fans of parking garages, particularly in downtown San Francisco. Most people can get pretty much anywhere in that part of the city on public transit, and since much of the city’s transit system is designed to get people downtown, those routs (including Muni Metro and BART) tend to be fairly reliable and fast.

Biking along Market Street is a lot safer and more popular than it used to be, with the improved bike lanes (tho I still don’t understand why any private cars are allowed on Market; limit it to buses, licensed taxis and deliveries only, and the whole artery would be so much better for all).

That said, the parking structure at 75 Howard offers a rare inexpensive place to leave your car if you want to drive to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building on weekends (or if you have little kids who swim at the Embarcadero YMCA). Even those of us who don’t approve of regular car transportation in the city have to admit that we have taken advantage of what used to be $3 parking Saturday and Sunday mornings while taking our offspring to the Y. (I think it’s up to $6 now; I haven’t been in a while. My kids are old enough now take the bus everywhere, and I ride my bike.)

That’s not a reason to save the parking garage; all garages do (like freeways) is encourage car traffic. But this isn’t about that garage, which is going to be torn down for something better at some point soon. And it should be.

There are, however, some serious questions about the current project that will replace that garage, starting with the fact that it’s 220 feet tall almost right on the waterfront, and will cast a shadow on Rincon Park. Oh, and it’s going to be more luxury condos, which the city doesn’t need right now.

It’s also not exactly ending car traffic – the project will include 100 underground parking spaces.

The original plan, two years ago, called for a 350-foot-tall building, which was never going to fly. Then the developers cut it down to the existing height limits, more or less – and in the process pulled funding for an affordable housing project in the Tenderloin.

According to Save Rincon Park,

The San Francisco Planning Department’s draft environmental review of 75 Howard found that it would have a significant detrimental impact on users of Rincon Park on the waterfront by increasing the shadows cast on Rincon Park and significantly eliminating sunlight on Rincon Park on most days throughout the year.

Rincon Park hosts that giant bow and arrow sculpture on the waterfront.

Plus, the project is happening at the same time that another tower close to the waterfront, this one 400 feet tall at 160 Folsom, is under review. Together, the group says, the projects would “create an overwhelming effect of a wall on the waterfront.”

Among the opponents: The Sierra Club, which outlines its case here, San Francisco Tomorrow, the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Harvey Milk LGBT Club, and many others.

All of this comes to a head Thursday/23 at the SF Planning Commission, where a long list of items involving the project’s approvals will be heard. The meeting starts at noon, City Hall Room 400.

 

If you want to hear the case for the Mission Moratorium and the Airbnb regulation initiative, the Gray Panthers are going to be hearing from the proponents of both measures Tuesday/21 at 1pm. The meeting’s at the Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin. More details here.

 

We all know that Mayor Ed Lee is effectively unopposed – which means nobody with the community base, experience, and resources to mount a winning campaign is in the race. But there are candidates who are running, for whatever reasons, and they will have a chance to explain what their campaigns are about Thursday/23 at a forum hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America.

Both Francisco Herrera and Amy Farah Weiss will be there. So will I, since the panelists are me and Tommi Avicolli Mecca. The moderator is Rose Aguilar. The actual topic is: “The current political landscape and the 2015 mayor’s race – how do progressives fit in?”

7pm, at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th Street. It’s free.