Monday, March 8, 2021
News + Politics The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is a bust

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is a bust

Too much office space, too little affordable housing, industrial space destroyed -- the report card is bleak


The Planning Commission heard a report on the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which has guided development in a huge swath of the city, and from the public comment and the response of some commissioners, it’s pretty clear that this massive 20-year planning process isn’t turning out the way it was supposed to.

This is a lot of the city. And the planning rules are a mess
This is a lot of the city. And the planning rules are a mess

As Commissioner Dennis Richards pointed out, the plan was adopted in 2008 – before the Google buses, before the massive tech-boom displacement, before the Twitter tax break, before Uber, before Peninsula cities fully outsourced their housing problems to SF. It’s a different city today, and what made sense back then isn’t working any more.

In fact, some of what seemed to make sense back then has been, as land-use lawyer Sue Hestor pointed out, “a farce.” The transit improvements that were supposed to serve the massive explosion in market-rate housing developments simply haven’t happened.

Neighborhood activist Marc Salomon noted that people who moved into what were supposed to be transit-oriented developments have ignored transit and instead use private cars, Uber and Lyft (which have crowded the streets with many, many more cars) and the tech shuttles.

Pedro Peterson presented the summary report, starting off with the Department’s position that the plan was created to preserve Production, Distribution, and Repair spaces in the neighborhoods and to encourage housing development.

Reality: In the past five years, nearly a million square feet of PDR has been lost, and another 1.3 million will be lost of all of the proposed projects in the pipeline move forward.

The neighborhoods gained 32,000 jobs, the vast majority in office and retail.

There were 1,375 net new housing units. About 20 percent were affordable.

Let’s see: 32,000 jobs creates a need for at least 10,000 new housing units. Since some of the new jobs won’t pay enough to afford San Francisco rents, it’s fair to say that the number of new affordable units that should have been built would be in the thousands.

The total number of net affordable units (after you subtract the ones demolished): 290.

No wonder we have a housing crisis.

Now let’s look at the future. Planning projects that 11,650 new units will be built under current rules in the Eastern Neighborhoods. We might, maybe, get 25 percent affordability. That’s 2,912 affordable units.

There are 5 million square feet of office space in the pipeline. At 250 employees per square foot, that’s 20,000 more jobs.

In other words, under the current rules, things are about to get way worse on the eastern side of time.

The Citizens Advisory Committee that’s supposed to monitor the plan was pretty clear: “We aren’t seeing the benefits of affordable housing. Infrastructure improvements are not taking place.”

Oh, and PDR is being discarded.

But since this plan is officially approved, it’s hard to effectively challenge any individual project. A we’ve seen with the Beast on Bryant, the city just says, hey: It meets the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan zoning.

Time, it appears, to reboot. In fact, the call by Sup. David Campos a couple of years ago for a temporary halt to all development while the city reviews this plan might need to be revived – before more damage is done.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. I’ve been told that, and the Chron/Nevius failed to mention, Baylands is a toxic mess unsuitable for any kind of residential building.

    Of course, the Schlage Lock site next door is too (but that doesn’t stop SF from building residential), and of course the Shipyard and TI are still immensely toxic and will remain so for generations. I don’t know how true all that is. But its funny that no mention of it is made re:Baylands. Guess they don’t want to bring up questions about those other locations.

    And speaking of poor building locations, what about Mission Bay and the expected rise in sea levels? I guess we can forget about having the moribund Port Commission do anything about rotting piers on the waterfront. They’ll need to use that space for the coming Sea Wall and protecting poor development choices that we all will then have to pay for.

  2. An economic diverse revenue stream for the city. Depending upon revenues from one industrial sector (tech for example) puts the city at risk if that industrial sector has an economic correction or worse.

  3. I don’t know about PDR jobs in the City but all jobs have increased. In the PDR census tract there were over 2,000 more jobs since 2010; 1,000 more construction, 351 more Wholesale Trade, 160 more Transportation, but 172 fewer Manufacturing jobs. Also interesting is that 74% of goods producing workers in the census tract don’t live in San Francisco.

  4. I’d encourage people to actually go read the report at Unsurprisingly it paints a much different picture than Tim’s editorializing. Some notable quotes: (brackets are my context insertions)

    “Although an equivalent [to the amount of PDR lost] increase in office square footage has been developed during this period (990,000), most of the actual spaces formerly occupied by PDR businesses were in fact transitioned to residential uses, many with higher percentage of affordable housing than required by the City. By-and-large, conversions or demolitions of PDR space did not occur in zoning districts specifically created to protect industrial activities (such as PDR-1-G, PDR-2-G, SALI, and SLI), but in areas that the Plans defined as “transitional” and open for development of a broad array of uses, such as the Urban Mixed Use (UMU) designation and other districts never oriented towards industrial uses (such as Neighborhood Commercial and Mixed Use Office).”

    PDR is largely being replaced with housing, not office.

    “Data from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) shows that the Eastern Neighborhoods, over the past five years, have not lost employment in PDR activities. In the 2011-2015 period, PDR jobs have increased from roughly 19,000 to more than 20,000.”

    PDR square footage may be declining but employment is not. Tim doesn’t mention that, of course.

    “Of the total number of affordable units (290), more than three-fourths were developed through the inclusionary housing program, in which developers of market-rate housing set aside a percentage of the units within a development for low- or moderate-income households.”

    Market rate housing remains the best source of income-restricted housing.

    “it is reasonable to assume the following: (1) much of the added employment has located in spaces that were vacant in 2010 due to the Great Recession”

    The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan had little to do with the increase in employment. The space already existed, and the city had no say in the boom. 2011 is a bad baseline to measure from, because in recessions jobs disappear but homes don’t.

    “Furthermore, two of the largest infrastructure projects, for which 80% of impact fee transportation funds are dedicated (Folsom Street/Howard Street and the 16th Street/22-Fillmore) required further environmental review and were incorporated into larger EIRs. These EIRs had long review periods, which further pushed out their implementation.”

    CEQA, Tim’s favorite law, is delaying the transit improvements that supposedly “simply haven’t happened”.

    “the loss of PDR space that has occurred since adoption of the Plans
    as well as in the past five years has been consistent with what was
    expected during the planning process, as studied under the EN EIR.”

    In other words, the plan is turning out the way it was supposed to.

  5. OK.

    1. We “stop the world” so Tim and his anti-housing pals can get off.

    2. We spend another 10 years developing another Eastern Neighborhoods Plan (The current Plans EIR’s were finally completed after 8+ years of endless meetings/process and the West SoMa Plan was carved out of the Eastern Neighborhoods process so its implementation essentially took 12 years).

    3. By the time we’re done with the new one, of course, Tim and his pals will complain that “things have changed” and the new Plan is no longer relevant.

    4. Rinse & Repeat — ad nauseum.

    5. The housing shortage gets worse and , therefore, housing prices continue to skyrocket, displacement accelerates, homelessness gets worse, etc. etc.

    6. In effect, we’ve actually been following the anti-housing policies of so-called Progressives such as Tim, Calvin Welch, Sue Hestor, et al, for the past 4 decades and its been an abject failure.

  6. Given the commercial space/housing imbalance in the peninsula, I have serious doubts that any plan could have succeeded. People get jobs in San Mateo county and they need housing, which can increasingly only be found in SF or Oakland.

    If the Brisbane gets to build however many million sq ft of commercial without any housing, there isn’t a plan in the world that can mitigate the impacts.

  7. In the PDR census tract, manufacturing jobs continued to decline between 2010 and 2014. It is now 4.8% of all jobs in the area. But there is still Wholesale Trade and an increase in Construction jobs and Transportation and Warehousing.

    One reason given to save blue collar jobs is to provide jobs for working class SF residents. However, in the PDR area, 68% of the workers don’t live in SF but reverse commute. For goods producing workers 74% don’t live in SF.

  8. Math error: “At 250 employees per square foot, that’s 20,000 more jobs.” Perhaps 250 sq ft per employee?

  9. like the SOTA move it downtown plan it’s all for market rate development ignoring effects, needed transit changes and lacking planning. Commissioner’s comments are dead on and so was sue Hestor. no planning is not a solution it’s a cluster bomb…

  10. First, what’s triumphed isn’t “the laws of the market.” It’s the decisions of elected and unelected public officials that have led to the waning of the U.S. industrial sector. See the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.

    Second, the industry that’s at stake is not heavy; it’s light. We’re not talking about auto plants or steel mills. We’re talking about a great variety of enterprise that supports the city’s main economic drivers–including the tech sector. See the excellent report “Made in San Francisco” produced by the city’s Back Streets Businesses Advisory Board.

    Third,it’s not just progressives who advocate the protection and promotion of San Francisco’s blue-collar jobs and businesses. Randy should ask his buddy Ed Lee why the mayor says retaining manufacturing in the city is one of his stated top priorities. Why has Lee’s office given big bucks to SFMade?

    Fourth–this goes back to Point #1: despite the planning department’s oft-professed support for PDR (which includes distribution and repair besides manufacturing), the city’s planners have routinely okayed illegal conversion of PDR-zoned property to offices. Ask Mayor Lee about the disconnect between his expressed enthusiasm for PDR and the Planning Department’s on-the-ground contempt for light industry.

    For some details, see “The attack on SoMa: city wants to create a new downtown, wiping out culture and thousands of blue-collar jobs,” published in 48 hills in 2013.

  11. I don’t understand the fight to protect PDR space – aren’t we are fighting to protect the early to mid twentieth century economy which no longer exists in San Francisco? I just googled the question, and I saw something from Randy Shaw in 2004 – “For years many progressives have fought to retain the city’s blue-collar industrial base. Activists lost this war back in the 1970’s, and for over thirty years have battled to preserve opportunity sites for industrial development.But despite activists best efforts to stop the erosion of San Francisco’s blue-collar employers, the laws of the market have triumphed….successful San Francisco blue-collar businesses leave the city and move to areas with rail lines, ports and modern loading docks…The facts are that the city is no longer a destination point for industrial users, but it is a highly desired locale for housing. We can pray all we want for a return to blue-collar San Francisco, but it’s not going to happen.”

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