OPINION: We need housing, not more offices, in Soma

The Planning Commission keeps approving commercial buildings, making the jobs-housing balance worse

Ever since 1980, Todco and our community action arm, the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, have pressed for more housing instead of office buildings in our Yerba Buena Neighborhood. And, for once, the Redevelopment Agency listened and agreed, changing the entire Redevelopment Plan that way in 1984. That resulted in five large market-rate housing developments instead of the office buildings originally planned here.

Even just two years ago we successfully pushed the city — the MTA this time — to build affordable housing in the “air rights” above its new Folsom Street Central Subway station, instead of the office building the MTA had wanted to get developer money. The process to choose a nonprofit developer is underway now.

345 Fourth St is now office space, not housing

And the debate over the Central Soma Plan has focused this year on the need for more housing development instead of the massive office projects to improve the plan’s overall “jobs/housing balance.” But the department’s response has been limited to a few token changes — window dressing for political cover — that won’t really make any difference.

So when this small 345 Fourth Street “49er” office project (49,000 square feet in size to avoid the Prop. M limits that kick in for projects bigger than 50,000square feet) came to the commission two weeks ago for approval (it complies with the current zoning rules), we pushed the commission to turn it down because its location is a terrific in-fill housing site. A developer could certainly fit 50+ units there, with 20% affordable inclusionary units, ten or more.

Our point was simple: “You planning commissioners say we need the housing in Central Soma, so make it actually happen right here, right now when you can!”

And … they laughed at that. As if turning down an office project to get more housing was a silly idea (“Oh we need more office space too” as they clutched their planning pearls). Only Commissioner Richards saw the obvious hypocrisy of this and voted against it. So the commission rubber-stamped the office project 6-1

This just proves yet once again, as if any more proof was needed, that the San Francisco Planning Department and Commission really just work for the development industry and property owners – not for the people of San Francisco, not for our communities.

And there will be more small office buildings and small hotels proposed for other good in-fill housing sites in Soma — there’s already a half-dozen in the pipeline.  Our Fake Planning Commission will cave in and approve them too just like this one. Just wait and see.

Only a change to DCP’s proposed Central Soma zoning can prevent this.

John Elberling is executive director of Todco