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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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News + PoliticsHousingWiener supports giant project pushed through with no neighborhood input

Wiener supports giant project pushed through with no neighborhood input

At town hall, senator says that Yimbys 'are the best thing that's happened' and that he's proud of a massive Potrero Hill project that avoids Planning Commission approval.

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I went to State Sen. Scott Wiener’s virtual town hall tonight, and nothing he said should have surprised me. But for the record, he said that the “best thing that’s happened” in San Francisco and California politics is the rise of the Yimbys.

He also expressed strong support for a giant project in Potrero Hill that is a case study in what can happen under state legislation he sponsored.

Sen. Scott Wiener is thrilled that a developer can steamroller the neighborhoods.

Wiener encouraged everyone attending (and because of the way his office controlled the Zoom room, I was unable to count the people online) to join a state or local Yimby group.

“I encourage you to get involved in the Yimby movement,” he said.

And he kept saying that cities like San Francisco and areas like West Los Angeles “haven’t built enough housing.”

For the record: Cities right now don’t build housing. Developers do.

And there is no evidence that developers, left unchecked as Wiener wants, will lower the cost of housing. In fact, much of the evidence says the opposite.

Wiener talked about a lot of the bills he’s introduced, and many of them are great. He wants to decriminalize psychedelics. He wants to repeal the law that lets cops target people (mostly trans women and people of color) for “loitering with intent to commit prostitution.” He talked about the need for safe injections sites. He’s managed to get state money for housing for transition-aged youth.

These are all things that a San Francisco state legislator should push for. (He also attacked PG&E and said he is a “longtime supporter of public power,” but that depends on the definition of “longtime.” The historic record shows that he didn’t submit or sign onto a ballot argument in favor of public power in the critical 2001 election. He didn’t push the issue in any significant way when he was a supervisor.)

But when it comes to housing, he was happy to promote his pro-developer agenda—including offering his complete, unmitigated support for a giant project at 300 DeHaro Street that is getting pushed through with no neighborhood input, and no Planning Department input, and no Board of Supervisors hearing.

The De Haro project will rise 120 feet at the foot of Potrero Hill, and will include 450 units of mostly expensive SRO housing—tiny rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens that will appeal almost entirely to young, single people with plenty of money.

There are no family units.

The building will include 40 units – that’s eight percent—affordable to people who make less than $47,000 a year. Another 127 will target people making less than $75,000 a year. (Remember, this is individual income—none of the units, at 300 square feet, are designed for more than one person.)

It will, one neighborhood resident said, become a “glorified Airbnb hotel.” (It would, for example, be perfect for short-term corporate housing.)

The developer initially met with neighborhood folks, who were willing to negotiate for a project slightly small than the original plans. But there was never any serious discussion— in fact, the developer quickly stoped talking to the neighbors and used SB 35, a state law sponsored by Wiener, to almost double the size of the project and eliminate any community oversight.

It will be built without Planning Commission approval. There is no process for the supes to weigh in.

This is, apparently, exactly what Wiener was hoping for. He said tonight that “I’m really glad to see this moving forward. The developer tried to work with the neighbors but that doesn’t always work out.”

In fact, I spoke tonight to J. R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters. He told me that what Wiener said was “patently false.” The developer, he said, “never tried to work with us.”

He added: “We have worked with numerous housing developers, and always wound up with a better project.”

Not any more. Not when the developer has the nuclear option of simply using Wiener’s law to ignore anything the community wants.

Oh, Wiener took questions, though the Q&A function on Zoom. I asked one: Do you opposed the recall of Chesa Boudin?

He read and answered all the others, then said there were no questions left and ended the meeting. I never got an answer.

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.
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14 COMMENTS

  1. The City needs to downzone districts with such “opportunisty sites” to 20′ with height bonus exceptions for deeding 1:1 permanently affordable housing to the land trust until the density bonus is repealed.

    But we know that these compromised neoliberal progressive supervisors would never cross developers, they’re practically YIMBY and the nonprofit CCHO cartel would never jeopardize the money machine.

  2. Tim writes:

    > do you have any idea how many developers of housing and commercial space violate the law all the time

    This is a good argument to directly provision below market rate housing instead of relying on the private market to provide it. But your paper opposed AB 1487, which established a financing authority with the power to directly finance low income housing throughout the Bay Area: https://48hills.org/2019/08/facebook-money-pushes-chiu-housing-bill/

    Your paper also opposes letting developers pay an off-site fee for direct provision of affordable housing by an affordable housing developer who can better manage the BMR relationships: https://48hills.org/2020/04/developer-wants-huge-density-bonus-should-we-know-why/

    Is there a word for someone who “supports affordable housing” but opposes every single concrete instance of someone trying to build it?

  3. Tim,

    You seem to get my comments on this article so I’ll take the opportunity to note that you still have a saboteur on your staff blocking the entire Jacobo story to my machine.

    That is not good for your reputation plus I give you $240 a year out of an income of $1,162 monthly.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  4. “rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens that will appeal almost entirely to young, single people”

    I guess Tim Redmond believes young people shouldn’t have homes.

    Or maybe he enjoys seeing the young rich people bid up the price of all the existing houses. At least we kept the “neighborhood character” by forcing anyone who’s not rich and white to move to places that allow new homes to be built.

  5. “I am all for more housing and more density.… I just don;t believe that private developers and the private market are ever going to make a dent in the affordability crisis”
    This does not follow. You like “more housing”, which this project DOES do a good job of providing (40 at 50% of AMI, 127 at 80% of AMI, 14 at 110% of AMI, and 269 naturally affordable). But you still oppose this project because it will not “make a dent”? How does this follow?

    Again, the article’s claims that the project is “mostly expensive” and caters to people with “plenty of money” are baseless attacks.

    Now, to take your argument charitably, you may be voicing a concern that private ownership results in income/wealth inequality, *which I agree with!* Progressives of the 19th and early 20th Century understood that the way to decrease inequality is to fight against unearned wealth gains (e.g. private land value appreciation and monopoly) while encouraging labor and investment. For this reason, I think property taxes should be higher and fairer on parcels containing new buildings—and just as importantly on parcels containing old buildings too. But in my opinion, when you attack private developers (while letting incumbent landlords off largely scot-free), then you hurt the affordability goal more than you help the income inequality goal.

    “Oh and do you have any idea how many developers of housing and commercial space violate the law all the time, including the STR laws, with pretty much impunity because the city never investigates?”
    You’re amplifying an HOA owner’s credulous spaghetti-on-the-wall fear because it mentions Airbnb, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It would be extremely foolish for an apartment owner to put hundreds of units on Airbnb in violation of Admin Code 41A, since the City Attorney can sue them into the ground (https://www.sfcityattorney.org/2018/11/05/herrera-secures-2-25-million-from-scofflaw-property-owners-over-illegal-airbnb-rentals/), particularly after the settlement which requires Airbnb to verify registration numbers (https://www.sfcityattorney.org/2017/05/01/herrera-repels-legal-challenge-short-term-rental-law-secures-settlement-airbnb-homeaway/). Again, this is baseless fearmongering.

    Did J. R. Eppler have any suggestions for how to increase the affordability?

    When you see the words “private developer” and then open the mic to all sorts of NIMBY homevoter nonsense, you are neither making the city more affordable nor more egalitarian. Projects like this that contain many housing units do make the city more affordable, and we need a lot more of them, not less. Not only here, but throughout the high-opportunity cities of the Bay Area.

  6. When I read an article like this, I just wish there was a way that we can take away Tim’s complaints about not enough housing, rising home costs, rising rents, and lack of sense of community in San Francisco. WHY DO YOU GET TO DECIDE IF SOMEONE WANTS TO LIVE IN A SMALL UNIT? Build housing and let people have a place! Stop claiming to be a progressive and start acting like one.

  7. Thanks for your comment, yo. I am all for more housing and more density. I have supported every 100 percent affordable housing project every built in the city (there’s a recent one in my neighborhood which some of my neighbors opposed, which I though was foolish and wrong). I just don;t believe that private developers and the private market are ever going to make a dent in the affordability crisis. (Oh and do you have any idea how many developers of housing and commercial space violate the law all the time, including the STR laws, with pretty much impunity because the city never investigates?

  8. I agree with you on this one, Tim Redmond. I´m very concerned about the precedent of SB35 in taking away rights and protections from Californians at the local level. This Potrero Hill housing development is a perfect example of that. Screw the locals, because SB35 gives all the power to the developers! And if Wiener has his way, things will only get worse if he gets SB50 passed — it´s the developers´ dream come true — screw local residents! — BTW, YIMBY actually stands for YIYBY — Yes in YOUR Backyard.

  9. 40 into 450 rounds up to nine percent, and you missed the 14 apartments for people making $103,000 or less, which is still far below the area median income, and the $3.8 million in impact fees.

    I’m curious whether the initial proposal included more or fewer affordable apartments than the new proposal. My guess is that it included fewer affordable apartments because it was about half the size, so it would be a lot harder to include more.

    It sure seems like your opposition to new housing is all about affordability unless someone proposes building a lot of affordable units and then all of a sudden it’s about other stuff – the process, the height, traffic, etc.

  10. This is interesting. Let’s see how Tim Redmond tries to put a Progressive spin on fears about a relatively affordable group housing project (300 De Haro St).

    “450 units of mostly expensive SRO housing—tiny rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens that will appeal almost entirely to young, single people with plenty of money.”
    Huh? They are “mostly expensive”? Relative to what? The market-rate studios will be some of the most affordable market-rate units in Potrero Hill, because they are so small (299 gsf/unit) as well as so numerous (450 units!). They will be a cheaper alternative to the $3000/month 1 bedroom apartments that are currently listed on Facebook Marketplace, and Redmond provides no basis for his claim that these units will be for “people with plenty of money” relative to any alternative. By the way, like other recent group housing proposals, they probably will have a private bathroom and food preparation area, not only shared ones.

    “There are no family units.”
    Correct. One building cannot be all things to all people. They are on the small side of recent group housing proposals, but they are still far bigger and more private than Chinatown’s 100 sq. ft. SROs. The option of small studios relieves demand on the surrounding family-sized houses which are often *also* rented by the room to “young, single people” because there are not enough studios available.

    “40 units – that’s eight percent—affordable to people who make less than $47,000 a year. Another 127 will target people making less than $75,000 a year”
    This is a big deal! Tim Redmond does a disservice by glossing over that detail without any perspective. Without the state density bonus and SB 35, and assuming that a base project of 363 units would be built (I’m estimating based on 40 units ≈ 11% of the base project; I don’t have the exact base project unit count), they would be required to provide ~15 low income units instead of 127. This project provides at least ~112 extra low income units thanks to SB 35 and the state density bonus! As Planning Director Rich Hillis says in the article, this is “an unprecedented number of affordable units”. But judging by Tim Redmond’s dismissiveness, over 100 extra low income units are not “anything the community wants”.

    “It will, one neighborhood resident said, become a “glorified Airbnb hotel.” (It would, for example, be perfect for short-term corporate housing.)”
    Come on. You know the law. Do some fact checking rather than passing on some random HOA president’s NIMBYing as gospel. The Short Term Rental law (https://sfplanning.org/office-short-term-rentals) prohibits the apartment owner from renting any unit for less than one month, and the and Intermediate Length Occupancy cap (https://sfplanning.org/project/intermediate-length-occupancy-ilo-dwelling-units) prohibits the use as full-time rental for less than one year, so this is baseless fear mongering. Besides, if you read the full quote in the Chronicle, he’s complaining about *empty rental units*, not units that are removed from service as long term rentals to rent short term on Airbnb, which is what the Airbnb dogwhistle is supposedly implying.

    “In fact, I spoke tonight to J. R. Eppler, president of the Potrero Boosters… He added: “We have worked with numerous housing developers, and always wound up with a better project.””
    In the Chronicle article, the only demand that J. R. Eppler made is to reduce the height of the project to 68 ft instead of 120 ft, which would do nothing to make housing more affordable or available. Does Eppler’s complaint have anything to do with affordability?

    Here’s what I think. Tim Redmond routinely provides cover for NIMBYs. His articles take what are boring aesthetic or quality-of-life complaints and transubstantiates them into holy Progressive concerns that housing development will somehow make housing less affordable. But the reality is precisely the opposite. We need much more of all different kinds of housing—even studios—both for the new low-income units and because added supply pushes down rents of existing housing and helps to make the Bay Area a region that all of us can afford. If you have aesthetic or quality-of-life concerns, just be honest about them. But don’t conflate aesthetics with affordability.

  11. Tim,

    Oh, offends you when you ask a question and the person controlling the platform either ignores or outright erases your comments?

    I know what you mean, guy.

    I feel your pain.

    Go Giants!

    h.

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