SF planners say 11-year-old data is just fine — and will never expire

Forget all the changes in the city since 2008; the Mission still has to live with an EIR from a bygone era. Forever.

The Board of Supes rejected an appeal of a housing development in the Mission today after the Planning Department effectively admitted that it can continue to use 11-year-old data to conduct environmental reviews.

It was stunning: The planners said that new projects in the Eastern Neighborhoods need no additional scrutiny since the supes in 2008 approved an EIR that, apparently, never expires.

Sup. Hillary Ronen was a bit stunned that the city can still use outdated information to approve new developments.

It doesn’t matter that Uber and Lyft didn’t exist in 2008 and now have created massive traffic issues. It doesn’t matter that Uber Eats, Doordash, and other food delivery services didn’t exist in 2008 and are now clogging streets in the Mission.

It doesn’t matter that the Google buses didn’t exist in 2008. It doesn’t matter that since 2008, when the city was coming out of a recession, gentrification and displacement have transformed the Mission.

It doesn’t matter that all of the data that’s being used to analyze the impacts of new projects comes from a very different era. The law says planners can continue to use that data to approve market-rate housing projects with no consideration for the impact they now have on the community.

Sup. Hillary Ronen asked Lisa Gibson, the Planning Department’s environmental review officer, directly: “At what point is a plan out of date?”

Gibson’s response: “There is no expiration date.”

Gibson said that in 2008, when the supes approved the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, the EIR made clear that there would be negative impacts. But the board decided that, given the overriding consideration of the need to increase development in the area, those impacts could be overlooked.

But Sup. Aaron Peskin, who was on the board in 2008, was dubious. “I see this through the lens of changed circumstances,” he said. He noted that when he voted for the plan 11 years ago, he know there were some negative impacts – “but the impacts today are more negative. The overriding concern I voted for had lesser impacts.”

He said that the Planning Department’s analysis of Uber, Lyft, and other delivery vehicle impacts “is not true.”

Gibson said that Peskin had raised “a very serious question.” But she insisted that the department was using an update transit-impact analysis, and had used that to determine that this particular building wouldn’t cause any serious traffic problems.

But this building, and lots of other buildings, have a cumulative impact, based on a world that is very different today  – and the Planning Department says that under the 2008 EIR, it doesn’t have to account for that.

“We are not asking one project to mitigate the overall cumulative impacts,” Gibson said.

Ronen acknowledged that there’s no legal grounds to block this project. But she made a point of saying that one of the letters to the supes in support of it, from a lawyer named David Blackwell at the firm of Allen Matkins, was highly offensive.

In the letter, which you can see here,Blackwell indicates that United to Save the Mission and Our Mission, No Eviction are similar to groups that are facing charges under the federal RICO organized crime statute. Ronen noted that the groups attacked by Blackwell have dedicated countless hours to trying to protect working-class communities in the Mission and said that “I never want to see this in a sponsor’s rebuttal again.”

In the end, the supes apparently had no choice but to approve the project. But it’s clear that the rules for development in the Mission need an update.

Sup. Gordon Mar announced at the meeting that he is introducing a City Charter amendment that would prevent what just happened in the district attorney’s race. His measure would prohibit the mayor from appointing candidates declared for an office to a vacancy within 90 days of an election.

“It is plainly undemocratic and wrong to appoint a candidate — any candidate — to the office they’re running for weeks before a contested election,” Mar said. “We who are democratically elected to serve the people need to trust the people to decide for themselves who is best suited to represent them, without putting our thumb on the scale.”

Interestingly, the mayor’s chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd, was appointed to a vacant supes seat in D7 89 days before the 2004 election. He immediately filed to run for that seat and won.