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News + PoliticsHousingThe news media ignore affordable housing. Plus: Taking on the Hunters Point...

The news media ignore affordable housing. Plus: Taking on the Hunters Point toxics …

... Plus where' the rent-relief money going, and why does SF need another massive office and housing complex downtown? That's The Agenda for Oct. 2-9

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When the Board of Supes rejected the Environmental Impact Report for a market-rate housing development at 469 Stevenson, the local news media went crazy. The Examiner called it “absurdity.” The Chron ran repeated stories. The issue became of focus of this spring’s Assembly race, with Matt Haney using it to attack David Campos (who wasn’t even on the Board of Supes that rejected the project).

So what happened last Tuesday, when the so-called anti-housing supervisors—unanimously—approved applications for three affordable housing projects that will create a total of 323 new units?

New 100 percent affordable units on Stanyan Street aren’t news. Image from project sponsor.

Nothing (except some complaints about the cost). It’s as if the news media cares not a whit about affordable housing—only about luxury housing that does nothing for the city’s crisis.

The new projects are in the Mission (2530 18th), the Haight (730 Stanyan) and the Sunset (2550 Irving). The supervisors representing those districts all supported the projects. Sups. Dean Preston (Haight) and Gordon Mar (Sunset) were co-sponsors of the legislation that approved the financing applications for the projects to move forward.

Both of them talked about the need for more affordable housing in their districts and across the city.

The neighborhoods support these projects. The affordable housing community supports these projects. SF Yimby supports these projects.

So this is a big deal, the sort of thing that the city needs far more of to meet its state goals. But there’s nothing the Chron can use to attack progressives here; so there’s apparently no story.

The Board of Supes Government Audit and Oversight Committee has now held two hearings on the Civil Grand Jury report showing serious new toxic contamination issues at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard—and the message from the Mayor’s Office has been consistent and clear:

Nothing to worry about here, folks. We’ve got it under control.

That hasn’t been well received by the people who live in and around a federal Superfund site that has high concentrations of dangerous chemical and radioactive materials.

The issue isn’t contamination; everyone agrees that the soil in what the city would like to see as a redevelopment area with lots of new housing has nasty stuff in it. The Navy used the former shipyard to scrape radioactive paint off ships that were deployed near above-ground nuclear tests and dumped tons of other toxic material in the area.

But the Navy argues that, while some of the soil should be removed, much of the problem can be solved by pouring a concrete cap on it, so that all the chemical and nuclear waste than can kill new and existing residents is stuck underground.

The Civil Grand Jury raises an important question: If sea-level rise leads to groundwater rise in the area, some of those contaminants won’t stay where they are. They’ll burble up to the surface. And there’s no clear process for monitoring that, and no independent oversight agency to make sure the residents are protected.

At the first hearing, Sept. 15, nobody from the Navy, the US Environmental Protection Agency, or the state Department of Toxic Substances Control—the agencies most responsible for monitoring the cleanup—appeared.

But the city’s public health officer, Dr. Susan Philip, showed up, and in essence told the supes that she and the department had no role in the process of making sure the site was clean. The Navy, the EPA, DTSC, and the regional Water Board are handling the situation, she said. The city has nothing but an advisory role.

Philip made clear that she and the mayor are fine with that, and she expressed no need for any additional oversight.

Sup. Shamann Walton, who called the hearing, said that even if DPH has no formal role, the agency should be making public statements and pushing (not just behind the scenes) for a more transparent process.

That statement got applause from the long line of Hunters Point Bayview residents who, for very good reason, don’t trust the Navy.

The Mayor’s Office has made clear that is disagrees with the Civil Grand Jury, and noted in an Aug. 11 letter that none of the jury’s recommendations will be implemented.

The City believes the existing governance of the cleanup, with input from the City and state and federal environmental and health regulators, is the most robust and appropriate oversight framework. This regulatory structure is designed to identify emerging issues and incorporate them into future planning in a way that is proactive, actionable, and protective of human health and the environment.

At a second hearing a week later, Walton noted that “these issues are extremely troubling and very real… our goal is about solutions that we have to power to implement.”

This time, the EPA and DTSA sent someone to the hearing. What they said was essentially the same as the community has been told for decades: Just trust us, it’s all fine.

Walton has a resolution urging the mayor to adopt and support the conclusions of the grand jury. That will come back to GAO for a final hearing Thursday/6, at which point Walton will likely send his resolution to the full board.

And at that point, we will see if any of the supes are going to side with the mayor on this one.

GAO is also holding a hearing on the city’s Rent Relief Program, an emergency lifeline for tenants created during the early days of the Covid pandemic.

The idea was to direct federal and local money to help renters who lost their jobs and their income in the pandemic, and to make sure the city didn’t see vast number of evictions (and an increase in homelessness) as tenants ran up, through no fault of their own, an estimated $140 million or more in back rent.

But evictions are creeping up, and some of the money never got to the tenants who needed it, and Sups. Preston and Walton are asking for clarity on what happened.

I don’t know—seriously—what the folks at the giant Texas developer Hines are thinking, but they are thinking big: The company wants to turn the old PG&E headquarters at Market and Beale, which takes up most of an entire block, and the area around it into a 900-foot-tall highrise luxury housing tower with 808 units, and renovate and add up to 1.6 million square feet of office space and 37,000 square feet of retail.

There’s not a lot of demand for high-end downtown highrise housing units right now, and there’s about zero demand for new office space.

The Yimbys will howl if anyone asks any questions about whether this project makes any sense, but with more than 50,000 housing units approved and ready to go but unbuilt, and vacancy rates above 25 percent for office space downtown, it’s fair to wonder what this is all about and if this sort of blockbuster project is the right use for that land.

The commission meeting starts at 1pm.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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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