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Home Featured Why Wiener’s housing bill undermines good policy outcomes

Why Wiener’s housing bill undermines good policy outcomes

Recent deals at Board of Supes show that the city gets more affordable housing and more mitigation when the community has a role in the process -- exactly what Sen. Wiener wants to eliminate

The One Oak project and another controversial development in the Mission both moved forward this week after the district supervisors worked with the developers and the appellants to cut deals. This is becoming increasingly common: Sup. Hillary Ronen alone has brought the community developers together to hammer out agreements on at least three other projects, and on One Oak, Sup. London Breed led the negotiations.

In every single case, the developer has come to the table with more than they were originally offering. In every single case, the city got a better deal after the appeal than the Planning Department — which is supposed to do this sort of work — could manage.

The One Oak project

At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Breed made a point of saying that environmental appeals — the bane of big developers — were a good thing, because they lead to better outcomes.

And in every single case, if state Sen. Scott Wiener’s recently approved SB 35 had been in effect, the additional affordable housing, the transportation mitigations, and the controls on future parking and car use would never have happened.

That’s because Wiener, along with Gov. Jerry Brown, wants to speed up housing development (that is, luxury housing development) by cutting the community out of the process.

At One Oak, Jason Henderson, a neighborhood resident and SF State professor, argued that the project would bring too much traffic to a key intersection that is already choked with cars. The result would be a significant slowdown in Muni service.

He pointed out that several other big new housing developments are slated for “The Hub” — the area around Market and Van Ness — and combined they could paralyze several key Muni routes.

The Planning Department, using ancient data, didn’t even analyze the role that Uber, Lyft, and online delivery services play in traffic impacts for high-end housing.

Ad a result of the appeal, Breed and Sups. Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim have introduced interim controls that will do what Planning refused to do: Mandate that none of the other new buildings in that area have more that one parking space for every four units.

And the supes have demanded that the planners start to analyze the role of Uber and Lyft in the city’s traffic problems. 

The fate of the Transportation Network Companies wasn’t helped by a new study showing the the majority of the dangerous moving violations in downtown SF are caused by these services.

Ronen worked with Our Mission No Eviction and a developer to increase the on-site affordable housing in a project on Mission St from 17.5 to 20 percent and to guarantee that for ten years, the production, distribution, and repair space on the ground floor of the project will be rented below market rate.

These are positive outcomes. We can argue about whether the city got the best possible deal or whether the projects are worthy in the first place, but there’s no doubt that the city got a way better deal after someone used CEQA to challenge the project..

In other words: The city benefits directly from the sort of appeals that Wiener worked to eliminate. 


  1. Greater density has many benefits. But most people, around 70%, prefer less to more density, especially families with children. The nice thing about the City is the diversity of neighborhoods that can accommodate many different lifestyles. We don’t need all the space we have, and as I am getting older, I can see some benefit to moving to a more densely populated neighborhood.

    Regarding proximity to my (former) job, I live a five-minute walk from Muni Metro which got me to work door-to-door an average of 30 minutes. But I sometimes took BART home and the bus from BART. On a nice day walked the two miles. I can also walk less than a quarter mile in one direction to two very good restaurants and less than a quarter mile the opposite direction to and a couple of okay restaurants and a grocery store with an acceptable deli. Or if I am willing to walk a mile (or less), or take the bus, I can get to several good restaurants. There are more densely populated neighborhoods that would be better in that regard, but those neighborhoods are not affordable. You are lucky if you can afford it.

  2. I’d prefer to add density, ban parking and put a BART station next to you. I think I’ll do just that. As for me, I prefer decent food and proximity to my job.

  3. You would be welcome to the neighborhood, there are a couple of houses for sale if you are interested. But unless you can stand a lot of school age children, more space, more light, more air, less pollution, less traffic, less noise and less crime, the area may not be suitable for you.

  4. Truth is a positive defense against a libel claim. I admit that your use of “liable” may be purposeful as your legal arguments don’t hold water.

    You are a NIMBY, and the source is real.

  5. You are a self respecting living dumpster fire. What happened to you right wing extremists to make you believe that the city belongs to you?

  6. Yes NIMBY and proud. Unfortunately, we can't prevent people from moving here. But we can limit new office buildings and slow down residential development.

    I think the rate of worldwide population growth will level off sometime in the 2040's then start to decline. So the problem will take care of itself. But then no growth or declining population will present other problems.

  7. Yes, so no more people should move here? How do you plan to prevent that from happening. More NIMBYism?

  8. Ayn Rand Jr. you make me BARF
    And your warped attempt at trying to defend the rights of African-Americans after your comments about Black people and gentrification will come back to hit you in the ass yet again.

  9. "Overcrowding" When did Frisco become overcrowded. At 400,000 in 1920, 700,000 in 1970 or 840,000 today. And how do you propose culling back your 'overcrowded' paradise? Armbands/number tattoos for those requiring deportaton/roundup?

  10. So overcrowding SF is a solution? Overcrowding is the problem! The "more ecological" solution in the short term is to increase densities in areas that can handle it, like Cupertino, Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto. We wouldn't need so many "Google Buses" for people if they lived where they worked.

  11. The hungry immigrants can't afford to live in SF anymore Stephen. That's the result of luxury zoning. But why should my income taxes pay for road maintenance you Prop 13 welfare queens refuse to pay for.

  12. Since when do you earn the right to decide how a neighborhood should governs its development.? You have an astonishing lack of self awareness and independence. Grow up and earn your place in this world like everyone else. I'd gladly trade five hungry immigrents for every entitled YIMBY. The immigrants will actually take advantage of opportunities instead of whining about the unfairness of the world.

  13. You can't get subsidized housing without the expensive housing. The higher the subsidized amount the higher the market prices and the slower the development.

  14. 750,000? So now 130,000 must leave. Let's let Don choose those 130K. Don, hire the buses. Let the deportation begin!

  15. Keep your property, grandad. But don't stop young people from building their own. Viva el YIMBYismol! Viva la revolucion!

  16. I would vote for 750,000. But that figure is overshadowed by the population increase in the Bay Area. Provided they don't re-zone my single family neighborhood I would support development on the East Side. But if you don't build it they can't come.

  17. Why stop others from moving here to make money? Why not move to Bodega Bay if you want a nice view and no construction?

  18. Why do you reference age? On what basis are you entitled to force others to surrender property rights to you? What value do you provide the marketplace?

  19. "Eat the rich"is not a sound political philosophy. More like the rant of the French Revolution. When the masses awake with the new taxes and fees imposed, the curtailment of property rights and the elimination of local democracy, you can expect a backlash. Or maybe it will start a stampede out of state leaving the Rich and well connected and the welfare class behind. Good luck paying for the welfare state, free healthcare, world class universities, high speed trains, affordable housing and government pensions when that happens. The fact is that socialism ALWAYS fails and must become even more brutal to survive.

  20. Paris: 5 stories, no setback everywhere. Vienna: no SFH zoning, publicly owned housing for all income levels. Somehow these are not "destroyed cities".

  21. True, but when the locals get too NIMBYish and clog the works, redress is needed. Wiener and Chui understand that. Old SF hippynimbys do not.

  22. And what is San Francisco's threshold? Please supply a specific number. If already passed, should we build all wall? And make Mexico pay for it?

  23. Weiner's bill, SB35, would not have affected any of these projects. The bill first asks, "has the city met its needs for expensive housing? moderate housing? subsidized affordable housing? if those categories have not been fulfilled, then we will enable streamlined approval procedures for that category."

    SF has met its needs for expensive housing, but has not met its needs for moderate or subsidized affordable housing. Therefore the streamlined approval process is only in effect for non-expensive housing. The projects you are listing likely would count as expensive housing, so it's still the normal process.

    I don't think you can say with a straight face that the normal process has been a success, of course. For SF, SB35 will actually just make it easier for affordable housing developers to get approvals.

  24. Stephen Nestel, a belligerent anti-housing / NIMBY, resident of suburban Marinwood, chiming in on housing density in San Francisco. That's rich.

  25. Wiener stands tall against property rights and local democracy. Undermining local democracy for the sake of a few wealthy, politically connected developers is old style crony capitalism. He is the classic "pay for play" politician funded by strip clubs, developers and other special interests.

  26. What is "overcrowding"? California had about 250,000 people in 1800, 4 million in 1900, 34 million in 2000, and 38 million today. At what point did the state reach the "overcrowding" threshold. Define your terms.

  27. The reason San Francisco is a world class city is because of intentional development and vibrant neighborhood life. Who cares if it is not maximizing every square inch for development if the quality of life suffers? Its like saying that all retail should be in shopping malls instead shops and outdoor markets. The current crop of developers will not destroy San Francisco.

  28. Of course. Anyone who has gone west through Crissy Field knows about wind. That is why road bikes have those low handle bars. Yes, maybe this building will have a positive or negative effect for one block at certain times.

    But overall this is more silliness. They already do a wind analysis, this is just one more effort to find <strong>something</strong> they can use to prevent housing from being built in San Francisco.

    And come on…3 or 4 UPS or Fedex trucks a day pulling into a delivery bay….wow. And you expect us not to laugh?

  29. Actually we've been "doing it Tim's way" for closer to 40 years, as the City was "downzoned" starting in the 70's — essentially outlawing density (and therefore housing creation) in the vast majority of San Francisco; a condition that persists today.

  30. Jason Henderson had a very, very slim chance of winning his appeal.
    The One Oak project was 100% Code-compliant in terms of parking, passed the Planning Commission by a vote of 5 to 1, and it's EIR was rock solid.

    Breed nevertheless used the pretext of the appeal as a tool to extort more money from the developer. One has to face the fact that the current "system" is an entirely cynical / half-assed / transactional farce.

    That is why it is — and will continue to be — impossible for local jurisdictions to responsibly address the entirely self-inflicted wound that is the "housing crisis".

    In this highly politicized game, it is always possible for even a baseless appeal such as Mr Henderson to win.

    That is the very essence of the problem — the inate corruption of the so-called "process" — and how the opportunistic conditions are created that allows the extortion to be performed.
    As Yonathan points out, it's all very Third World.

    The developers acquiesce — they need certainty and closure so they're compelled to pay up.

    The only chance at real reform and to actually seriously address our housing shortage is through higher-level, i.e. State-level, action.

    Tim's position is analogous of that of the Old South's which, citing the supposedly-democratic primacy of "local control", continuously thwarted the rights of African-Americans — and it took a higher-level authority, i.e., the Federal Government to compel reform for the good of the Nation.

    The YIMBY's understand that reality and it is why their movement is ascendent.

    The NIMBY's and old-school ideologues like Tim are increasingly being exposed for the disaster that their policies represent — which is 40+ years of abject failure when it comes to housing creation.

    That is why the initial successes on this front, like Senator Scott Weiner's SB-35 (soon to be signed by Governor Brown) that supercede all this balkanized local BS are so important — but they are just the beginning.

    Additional legislation in Sacramento like CEQA reform and Prop 13 reform is necessary to jettison the outdated/irrelevant politics and counter-productive ideologies of the previous "I've-got-mine" generation and actually move forward and create a lot more housing for everyone.

  31. Henderson was worried about wind and traffic, but then gave up the appeal when more affordable housing was thrown in. Did he really give a hoot about traffic, or just use it as leverage for housing? Seems like the latter. This whole "oh, next time we'll consider these issues" seems like a lame response.

    And despite Tim saying that Wiener's law would have prevented the sweeter pie we ended up with on these deals, he seems to have failed to explain how. Curious, that…

  32. While it may be true that under current conditions, pols and policy makers exacted more concessions. However, the true test is whether – over time – more housing is produced. The dozen of so extra units exacted involved delays of …? And those delays down the line prevent how many units from being completed? The present playbook has got us in the quandary we have now. Bailing water on the Titanic is not a fix, even if its emotionally relieving.

  33. Sorry, but wind is a big factor for cyclists. I know, for myself, I'd rather deal with rain than with wind – specially strong winds. If you've ever literally been blown backwards, you'd understand.

    MnVN seems set to be particularly onerous. As I go thru there every day, don't look forward to these changes. I suppose I could go around, but it involves more traffic and more delays. Still, I'll have to think about it.

    Wind may not be a big policy factor. But I'm wondering about the wisdom of placing so many people at a place where transit is only nominally rich. As is, MUNI is over-sold. BRT is an unknown (though its narrowing of thru-lanes isn't). And 101 will not decrease any time soon. The whole Market-Octavia concept was based on dubious givens 15 yrs ago. Recent changes – like TNCs – only make it less relevant.

  34. We have a severe housing shortage throughout California in case you haven't noticed. God bless Wiener for standing tall against the NIMBYs. Viva el YIMBYismo! Viva la revolucion!

  35. Yup. Bicyclists carefully measure the wind before they leave the house each morning using their wind-o-meters. They are especially vigilant when cycling past tall buildings because the wind blows sometimes. They also worry about lunch.

  36. YIMBY's and their pal Scott Wiener don't want good results for the city — they want the money to keep rolling in from their developer patrons.

  37. The appeal also wants measurement of "how wind would affect cyclists in the Market Street bike corridor."
    Wind effects: The latest NIMBY stalling tactic.

  38. Tim's preferred path of activist obstruction and extortion has made San Francisco an object lesson in how NOT to structure housing policy — and a national laughingstock.

    We've been doing it Tim's way for 30 years, and the result has been housing scarcity and unaffordability. His approach has failed, and failed miserably.

    Bravo to Sen. Wiener for recognizing this and passing legislation that will actually do something to address our housing crisis.

  39. A couple co-workers discussed corruption in India in the office several months ago. Tim’s article reminds me of the pro-corruption arguments: it’s a de-facto progressive tax because you can shake down richer people with a foreign work visa for more than you can shake down the poor, the civil servant is underpaid and the cash can mitigate his low pay, and it can create win-win deals to circumvent the infinite delays allowed by the law. My other co-worker’s pro-rule of law argument was that corruption’s insidious effects favor the well-connected, the extortion is not really progressive because it is a tax on not only the well-off but also on the desperate who need the permit the most, and that it stifles and discourages economic activity and makes the people poorer as a result. But he said you should only stop corruption when the law itself does not create infinite delays.

    Tim is right that in this individual case, the city got a better deal by negotiating with the developer. I am not at all convinced by Tim’s argument against SB-35 that a system that creates opportunities for politicians to negotiate before granting housing permits leads to better outcomes overall when there is a housing shortage.

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