I went to the strangest press conference today. Ed Lee was there; so was Ben Metcalf, who is Gov. Jerry Brown’s director of housing and community development. We met at SPUR’s downtown headquarters, at a little after 11am.

There were only a handful of reporters – me, J.K. Dineen from the Chron, Liam Dillon from the LA Times. Kim Mai Cutler showed up late.

Ben Metcalf, the Guv's housing guy, and Mayor Ed Lee talk about limiting local control over development
Ben Metcalf, the Guv’s housing guy, and Mayor Ed Lee talk about limiting local control over development

And it wasn’t clear why we were really there – except that for the past couple of hours, Lee, Metcalf, and a group of “stakeholders” (mostly big nonprofit housing developers like Bridge, the Bay Area Council, and the pro-any-kind-of-development Housing Action Coalition, and the law firm of Holland and Knight, which represented a tech startup illegally using space in Chinatown) had been meeting privately to figure out how to promote the governor’s plan to allow developers to build housing without the normal community oversight.

The measure has been pending in the state Legislature, but community housing groups all over the state have tried to slow it down. It would override local laws and allow anyone who wants to build any type of housing to do that “by right” if it complies with existing zoning and has a tiny minimum of affordable housing – wiping out the ability of community groups to try to cut better deals with developers.

“While this proposal claims to merely streamline the approval process for housing projects, it will in fact cause significant negative impacts on the environment, jobs, working and low-income neighborhoods, and the public’s right to participate in decisions impacting their everyday lives,” a statement issued today by ten community groups, including ACCE California, the Chinatown Community Center, Tenants Together, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and Public Advocates, noted.

And instead of holding public hearings on the legislation, the groups said, “invite-only meetings are being conducted by the administration that exclude a full presentation of the facts and open dialogue about the plan’s far-reaching implications.”

Some labor groups aren’t too happy about it, either.

So there we were, at the end of one of those “invite-only” meetings, to which the press was not among those invited. In fact, there wasn’t much advance notice of the meeting at all – those of us who showed up either found out about it from activists and asked if we could come or got notice a few hours before the meeting started.

And there wasn’t a whole lot of concern in the room about that the secrecy.

I asked Metcalf why there had been no public hearings on the plan, and he told me that the measure was part of the governor’s budget process, which “is not a public process.”

Of course, he told me, the governor is “open to all possible feedback.” Not clear how that feedback will get delivered.

I asked the mayor why he would support a measure that undermines his own land-use authority, and he said that “I feel very strongly that in the governor’s proposal, we already have the right” to make local zoning decisions.

And he said that some developers have already agreed to affordable housing levels as high as 40 percent.

But that’s happened only when community groups were able to force negotiations with those project sponsors. Under the governor’s plan, much of that housing would merely have to be built at minimum inclusionary standards, which for projects now in the San Francisco planning pipeline is about 12 percent. In cities that don’t have their own affordable-housing laws, the number could be as low as 5 percent.

Gabriel Metcalf, the president of SPUR (no relation to the guv’s Metcalf) told me that the proposal would have regional and statewide application – that it would allow housing to be built in places like Cupertino, where tech companies have set up offices with tens of thousands of workers but no dense housing ever gets approved.

But those communities still have zoning laws that can block dense housing. Much of the new development would happen in places like San Francisco.

I asked Ben Metcalf why he wasn’t suggesting a more productive approach – a law that would require any community that approved commercial developments creating more than, say, 200 jobs to authorize and force the developers to pay for workforce housing.

That would mean no huge Apple headquarters in Cupertino, no and Facebook complexes, unless the communities that get the tax benefits also provide housing for the tens of thousands of new workers.

It would mean no Twitter tax break unless the city first found a way to finance housing for all the people displaced by the new tech workers.

He told me that was a “creative” idea and promised to pass it along to the guv.

Meanwhile, Brown’s housing plan is moving forward with very little public debate.

  • Andy M

    This article misrepresents what “local control” in California has really done, which is further racial segregation and economic inequality. Local control has allowed homeowners in this state to hoard the value of California’s land, without having to pay for any of that benefit.

    “Local control” is a way for those who currently enjoy power and privilege to continue to exert it over those who don’t, which is why it’s always been necessary for the state for federal government to intervene. Voting rights is another great example of this dynamic.

    How do we know this is the case here? The Republican Party’s position on zoning is exactly the same as that of the author of this blog. http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/07/20/the_gop_platform_explains_why_the_party_has_ceased_to_compete_in_most_big.html

    The author is really overselling the benefits gleaned from negotiating with developers. The 40% affordable projects aren’t really 40% (http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/how-supervisor-kims-new-affordability-law-lets-developers-the-hook). It should noted that the author opposed the very project he’s now touting as an accomplishment (https://48hills.org/2015/11/18/supes-oppose-displacement-the-approve-displacement/).

  • Victoria Fierce

    You’ve got something in common with the GOP platform that brought us Trump, Tim! They too want local control over land use.

    https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/755905333046968321

  • neighbor

    I don’t know why I continue to read the mean-spirited conspiracy searching crap that Redmond writes. . . he loves spreading false information for spite. I wish someone played with him more when he was little

    • playland

      It provides a sense of what the Progressives are thinking and where they are coming from. It’s also sort of funny sometimes.

      As long as you remember that so much of what Tim Redmond writes is either blatantly misleading or outright false. For example there was another article this week where Peskin questioned whether placing a contingency on $30 million of the police budget would have an effect. The Budget Analyst sort of agreed with Peskin but the Controller agreed with the Police in that the uncertainty of the money would have an effect on their ability to plan.

      Redmond, of course, only mentions the opinion that he supported Peskin and completely ignored the Controller’s argument.

      So it is fine to read this stuff, but, by all means, do some research to also find out what really happened. This is not legit journalism by any objective standard.

  • raf

    CA land use right now is a veto system. Anyone can delay or kill an project that they don’t like.

    It’s daft to complain that Cupertino doesn’t build housing, and also complain that SF community groups will lose their veto power if we change the process. The reason that Cupertino doesn’t build housing is because of the veto process. Cupertino community groups (i.e. rich homeowners) veto homes whenever they’re proposed.

    Those are two sides of the same coin. We can either have a veto-system or not. A veto system benefits rich people, who can afford lawyers and lobbyists, more than it does poor people.

  • Yonathan Randolph

    It’s ironic that Tim Redmond (echoing Zelda Bronstein) complains that the governor’s proposal would “override local laws” and “undermines [the mayor’s] own land-use authority,” while at the same time he suggests an even more disruptive intrusion into local zoning authority that would force any community that approves an office building (or conversion as in the case of Twitter) to also approve workforce housing. From Tim Redmond’s proposal, it seems like he really has no problem with taking away local land-use authority in order to promote jobs-housing balance. The real distinction is that he would prefer a jobs-housing balance that is structured with an anti-construction bias instead of one with a pro-housing bias.

    • curiousKulak

      ‘Anti-jobs vs pro-housing’ bias? San Francisco used to be the de facto housing for farm workers during the off-season (all the SROs in the TL etc); so I think Tim would like to see us revert to that kind of “pro-housing bias”. The ‘anti-job’ bias he seems to want is where we allow for low-paid jobs (seamen, farm workers, baristas) and the homeless, but not Twitter-jobs.

      … just so we’re clear …

      • Yonathan Randolph

        The ‘anti-job’ bias he seems to want is where we allow for low-paid jobs (seamen, farm workers, baristas) and the homeless, but not Twitter-jobs.

        That’s not what Tim wrote when he proposed to “require any community that approved commercial developments creating more than, say, 200 jobs to authorize and force the developers to pay for workforce housing.” How would a state law restricting commercial construction prevent high-paid jobs without also harming low-wage jobs?

    • Do Something Nice

      Since you seem a bit challenged by this, let me explain – it is really quite simple:

      Working to change local laws is not the same as overriding local laws.

      • Yonathan Randolph

        Working to change local laws is not the same as overriding local laws.

        Both the Governor’s proposal and Tim Redmond’s alternate proposal (which he said would apply in Cupertino, Mountain View, and Menlo Park) would be state laws, which of course can override local laws.

  • aaronerickson

    Tim, why do you hate poor people so much? Why do you hate more housing? Why are you standing up for rich homeowners in Telegraph Hill and North Beach who see additional housing as slowing down the rise of their home values they so richly treasure?

    • SnapsMcKenzie

      Who do you think funds this vanity project? It’s not the ads. Follow the money.

  • Peace Nick

    Fellow commentators: I think you all are reading too many of the Governor’s press releases. The governor’s plan only erodes local control in a selective and pro-big developer way. As Tim notes, they are doing NOTHING to get exclusive suburbs to change their zoning. This is all about going after cities that ALLOW for growth to give up more to developers and beef up their profits without addressing impacts.
    -gen

    • Yonathan Randolph

      Or you could look up the primary source yourself: the trailer bill 707. Note that it specifically says that one of its goals is to promote Gov Code Section 65584, which is what establishes the very RHNA process that forces exclusive suburbs to zone enough housing. So the point of the regional RHNA is to encourage local governments to zone enough housing for the region’s population growth, and the point of the housing permit by-right proposal is to force local governments to actually approve the housing that they zone (instead of claiming to zone enough housing but rejecting the actual project applications).

    • Andy M

      I agree that Jerry Brown hasn’t been great on this issue, but the problem this is meant to address is cities that don’t even follow their own zoning, which includes SF. This bill means that if you follow the local zoning (+some affordable housing) that city can’t deny your housing development.

      No one said it’s a cure-all, but it does address one very frustrating obstacle to affordable housing (or any housing construction).

  • voltairesmistress

    A very useful article from The Economist (April 4, 2015) summarizes how highly restrictive zoning and existing residents’ opposition to new housing retard economic prosperity for everyone. Overall GDP in the U.S. Could be 6.5-13.5% higher, or nearly $2 trillion larger. The San Francisco Bay Area could have 5x the number of jobs than it currently has, but we and most cities in the U.S. have not allowed the necessary housing to be built. The people hurt most, however, are the workers who don’t move to vibrant economic hubs for fear of dealing with high housing costs. They remain stuck in lower opportunity regions with cheaper housing but few jobs. Surely there must be a better way.

  • jhayes362

    Key point here: Metcalf should be required to sell this thing in public meetings, not in pliant groups that include Ed Lee.

    • playland

      Yeah, it’s not as if the matter will have to be approved by the State Legislature or anything like that.

      • jhayes362

        Local media barely covers the Legislature and hearings on this law won’t get much attention. If Metcalf is going to come to San Francisco to sell it, it should be to a wider audience.

        • playland

          @jhayes362:disqus –
          Tim tried the “nobody knows about this” card already and @whateversville:disqus producesd a long list showing coverage and debate in local media.

          Why not try something else? That one just isn’t working.

          • jhayes362

            Let’s turn this around. Why does the governor’s housing guy get to pitch this proposal in a private meeting with the mayor and other housing interests? Is this the way government should be done, behind closed doors?

  • whateversville

    “It would override local laws and allow anyone who wants to build any type of housing to do that “by right” if it complies with existing zoning and has a tiny minimum of affordable housing”

    No. Local affordable housing requirements would be respected. 25% BMR is the minimum in San Francisco.

    “wiping out the ability of community groups to try to cut better deals with developers.”

    No. It just means you’ll have to negotiate when crafting zoning rules and then stick to them, rather than debating every project individually for years.

    “Of course, he told me, the governor is “open to all possible feedback.” Not clear how that feedback will get delivered.”

    Governor Jerry Brown
    c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
    Sacramento, CA 95814

    Phone: (916) 445-2841
    Fax: (916) 558-3160

    “I asked the mayor why he would support a measure that undermines his own land-use authority, and he said that “I feel very strongly that in the governor’s proposal, we already have the right” to make local zoning decisions.”

    And you’ve presented no evidence to the contrary, Tim.

    “Under the governor’s plan, much of that housing would merely have to be built at minimum inclusionary standards, which for projects now in the San Francisco planning pipeline is about 12 percent.”

    If the minimum is too low, raise the minimum. Oh, we just did that? Great.

    “In cities that don’t have their own affordable-housing laws, the number could be as low as 5 percent.”

    Explain how this is a bad thing? 5% is higher than 0%. I’d love to see more affordable housing build statewide.

    “I asked Ben Metcalf why he wasn’t suggesting a more productive approach – a law that would require any community that approved commercial developments creating more than, say, 200 jobs to authorize and force the developers to pay for workforce housing.”

    Great idea! San Francisco has 216,000 more jobs than residents. We’d have to build ~94,000 housing units to bring that into balance. Sound good, Tim?

    “Meanwhile, Brown’s housing plan is moving forward with very little public debate.”

    I’m reading a pretty healthy amount of debate:

    http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-jerry-brown-affordable-housing-union-fight-20160720-snap-story.html
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/mayors-veto-improve-housing/
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/san-francisco-needs-governors-housing-bill/
    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/07/19/berkeley-should-endorse-not-oppose-governor-browns-housing-proposal/comment-page-1/
    http://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/article91179457.html
    http://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/napa-county-supports-housing-by-right-proposal/article_32ab672f-ab83-5aaa-8f4a-0dc9f783aa8b.html
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sacramento-can-make-san-francisco-affordable/
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/right-approvals-will-no-real-effect-housing-supply-sf/
    http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_30047261/menlo-park-city-opposes-governors-affordable-housing-plan
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/governors-housing-plan-formula-inequality/
    http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-brown-affordable-housing-20160527-snap-story.html
    http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/06/15/61693/5-things-to-know-about-governor-brown-s-proposed-h/
    http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-everything-you-need-to-know-governor-housing-20160602-snap-htmlstory.html
    http://missionlocal.org/2016/06/developments-in-development-pricey-coffee-and-mondrian/
    http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_29970300/wunderman-guardino-gov-brown-housing-plan-deserves-approval
    http://www.sfexaminer.com/right-done-wrong/
    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/06/10/california-lawmakers-tough-spot-governor-brown-housing-deal/
    http://sf.curbed.com/2016/5/17/11692756/jerry-brown-affordable-housing
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/SF-officials-wary-of-governor-s-efforts-to-7999618.php
    http://sf.curbed.com/2016/6/14/11936296/brown-affordable-housing-law
    http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article82678632.html
    http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/dan-walters/article78024262.html
    http://hoodline.com/2016/06/votes-on-dueling-plans-reveal-what-sf-supervisors-really-believe-about-housing-solutions

    • playland

      Well said. Bottom line is that the bill asks local governments to set their zoning and affordability requirements and then live with their decisions.

      It will make it tougher for Telegraph Hill to block something because it might affect their view or property values. It will make it tougher for people like Tim to opposed new housing because the people who will live there don’t meet his personal standards of acceptability.

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    • Kraus

      Whateversville — as usual, an outstanding dissection.

      • whateversville

        Thanks!

    • North Beach Phil

      1) “Explain how this is a bad thing? 5% is higher than 0%. I’d love to see more affordable housing build statewide.”

      5 is higher than 0 but so what? If we need 20,000 affordable housing why pretend that 5% is a meaningful or helpful number? We need to fix the problem with an actual goal. We have a Housing Element and that gives us the numbers we should be shooting for.

      Why not build nothing but affordable housing until we solve that part of the housing problem? We have a 20+% poverty rate in the city and we need to stop discriminating against certain economic groups.

      2) “Great idea! San Francisco has 216,000 more jobs than residents. We’d have to build ~94,000 housing units to bring that into balance. Sound good, Tim?”

      I think you know what he meant so you sound disingenuous in your comments. He means that before those 216,000 jobs are enabled (with new offices for instance) that housing for those workers be found. Jobs=housing.

      We have had one of the largest spikes in rent/property prices ever right at the same time as we are having a 100 year flood of new jobs.It isn’t hard to figure out what is going on and it isn’t NIMBY’s fault. I have been going back in city records and looking at projects that may have been held up by NIMBY’s. What I have found is that all this NIMBY talk is misleading. I can’t find anywhere near the number of projects held up by NIMBY’s that had they been approved would have prevented this current housing cost run-up.

      Finally, I am not sure giving tax incentives to encourage new businesses (jobs) to move here was the best idea for Lee as he didn’t/doesn’t have the ability to understand what the impacts of that kind of action has on the city.

      • whateversville

        “5 is higher than 0 but so what? If we need 20,000 affordable housing why pretend that 5% is a meaningful or helpful number?”

        Re-read my first point. 5% would only have mattered in cities that didn’t already have affordable housing requirements, which is most cities. For a while, California was building ~50,000 multi-family units per year. 5% of 50,000 is 2,500, which is about how many affordable units San Francisco built in the last five years.

        5% is a meaningful number if it’s 5% of a large number. If your argument is that 5% is too low, why would you argue in favor of 0%?

        “Why not build nothing but affordable housing until we solve that part of the housing problem?”

        Because there’s no way to pay for it. There should be, but there isn’t.

        Meanwhile, worsening the shortage of market-rate housing will just increase the price of market-rate housing. More people will need subsidized affordable housing. Displacement pressures will be higher. Landlords, realtors, and rich property owners will reap all the benefits.

        “I think you know what he meant so you sound disingenuous in your comments. He means that before those 216,000 jobs are enabled (with new offices for instance) that housing for those workers be found. Jobs=housing.”

        I understand what he’s saying. I’m saying he’s a hypocrite for caring about the jobs-housing balance everywhere except San Francisco.

        ” I have been going back in city records and looking at projects that may have been held up by NIMBY’s. What I have found is that all this NIMBY talk is misleading.”

        From the SF Housing Element:

        On Discretionary Review:
        Due to the ambiguous outcome and undefined timeline associated with the filing of a Discretionary Review Application, many project sponsors forgo projects altogether because of the additional time and financial burdens caused by this process. The additional time and costs caused by Discretionary Review Applications are absorbed into the price of new or renovated dwelling-units, and therefore, the Discretionary Review process acts as a constraint to housing development and increases the overall cost of housing particularly in the city’s lower density neighborhoods.

        On ADUs:
        Allowing an additional on-site unit in existing residential structures is an effective and inexpensive way to realize greater housing potential. Several measures seeking to create additional housing opportunities through such a mechanism have been introduced in the last 20 years, but were deemed politically infeasible due to neighborhood opposition.

        On community opposition:
        San Francisco has a strong tradition of public involvement in policy discussions and possesses a very engaged citizenry on development issues. This activism often takes the shape of organized opposition to housing projects across the city, especially affordable housing for low-income residents and even towards well planned and designed developments. Such vocal opposition poses very real impediments to project sponsors and can lead to significant time delays, additional cost, or a reduction in the number of residential units produced.

        I mean, the California Department of Housing and Community Development has an entire section of their website dedicated to NIMBYism. It’s a real phenomenon with real consequences that deserves real scrutiny.

  • Earl D.

    I asked Ben Metcalf why he wasn’t suggesting a more productive approach –
    a law that would require any community that approved commercial
    developments creating more than, say, 200 jobs to authorize and force
    the developers to pay for workforce housing.

    There are a number of ways that this could be computed. The fairest would be to apply a rule that says that a city must build sufficient housing to address its in-commute vs. out-commute imbalance. In SF’s case that imbalance is roughly 230,000. So, SF should be forced to create somewhere around 150,000 residential units. Which is probably about right, but not exactly the number that Tim is looking for.

    http://www.sccgov.org 2000 vs 2010 census

    • curiousKulak

      Wait – I thought that was why we created BART (but before that, the Key System), to allow for people in other locales (originally the ‘burbs) to live elsewhere (now, half of them live here/work there)

      • Earl D.

        I wasn’t actually advocating for Tim’s implausible suggestion that forces whoever creates jobs must build housing. Just pointing that if we go down that route, it implies that SF build more housing than anyone is remotely talking about right now.

        Trying to argue that building Bart was an implicit agreement that outlying communities had to build a higher housing to job ratio than SF is a non-started. Especially considering that the many SV companies in question aren’t even served by Bart.

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  • sebra leaves

    This article explains why there is a growing movement against Ed Lee. The backroom deals and closed meetings with state officials and SPUR do not bode well for the citizens of San Francisco. If we continue along these lines it is not a matter of IF but WHEN we will leaving San Francisco. This is a pivotal moment. Now we hear that Lee will be speaking at the Democratic Convention, leading many to believe he is being considered for higher office elsewhere. Supervisor Breed, as President of the Board, is next in line to replace the mayor regardless of how he leaves office.

  • Pingback: Attack on blue-collar jobs in SF continues()

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  • sugarntasty

    Kevin Kisch (DFEH) present the antagonist, whom persist never miss not. Disapproving “Ellis Act” odd,Kevin not representing “LGBTQ”fair housing” Democrats guilty majority control the REITS cities. Mayoral authority illiberal crooks,Ed someday least we voted Props K,C and A going await new construction soon. Good bye Cindy Wu whom, resign to focus non-profit possibility “Transnational REIT” developing gentrification! Close doors, nothing new with clue Ed disfavor housing policies increase of BMR units when snows in July! Promise of 20,000 BMR” units 2020?

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