Mayor London Breed is proposing some pretty sweeping new rules to make it easier for for-profit developers to make money building housing in San Francisco. But nobody from the Mayor’s Office showed up at the Board of Supes hearing today, leaving a lone planning staffer to answer questions that in many cases he had no qualifications or authority to answer.
Neither of the supes co-sponsoring the bill, Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, was there for the start of the hearing, and they sent no staff to the hearing and then left for another appointment.
Aaron Starr, the director of legislative affairs for the Planning Department, had to represent both his agency, which had its own comments on the measure, and Mayor London Breed, who offered a long list of last-minute amendments
Sup. Dean Preston said that he had reached out to the Mayor’s Office, and “we were told that nobody would be here.”
It was, Sup. Aaron Peskin said, a “strange dynamic,” unprecedented in his more than 14 years in public office.
That was just the start to a hearing overwhelmingly dominated by community and tenant groups strongly opposed to the mayor’s approach.
The basic logic of the mayor’s position is the same as the Yimby mantra, repeated by Dorsey in his brief appearance: The state is demanding that San Francisco “build more housing,” so the city has to do everything possible to make nice to developers in the hope that they will somehow overcome the real obstacles to construction—high interest rates and a lack of capital—and begin madly transforming neighborhoods with tens of thousands of new market-rate units, and that this will somehow bring prices down and make the state happy.
Reminder, Sup. Dorsey: San Francisco doesn’t “build housing.” Developers do that. The city simply issues permits, and as Amy Beinart, who has worked in both affordable housing and at City Hall, noted, “when housing prices were rising, developers flooded the market. They were not constrained when there was money to be made.”
Tens of thousands of market-rate units, enough almost to meet the state’s demand, have been approved and are ready to break ground. That’s not happening.
How the State of California can penalize San Francisco for not allowing new housing when that housing is already approved continues to be a perplexing issue, not just for me but for the city planners.
More important, the hearing made clear that the Mayor’s Office right now is focused almost entirely on the private for-profit market, and not at all on affordable housing.
Speakers who supported the “constraint reduction” rules said that the supes have already approved a Housing Element that mandates about 80,000 new housing units in the next eight (whoops, one year is almost over, let’s make that seven) years.
But 57 percent of those units, 46,000, have to be affordable—and there is absolutely no plan to finance that.
Preston made that clear in his questioning of Starr, who to be fair had to take the fall for Breed, who wouldn’t even put her own staff out front on this.
He asked: “Is there a plan in place to build 46,000 units of affordable housing?”
Starr: “I would have to check with the housing implementation team, but I am not aware of one.”
Preston: “Is affordable housing an equal goal as market rate housing, a lesser goal or a higher goal?”
Starr: “Reaching our state-mandated goal is our priority.”
Preston asked if anything in the measure would eliminate constraints on affordable housing. Starr: “The affordable housing problem is a financial one.”
So there aren’t a lot of land-use constraints on affordable housing—except money.
Preston asked if the Mayor’s Office was now willing to spend the Prop. I money on affordable housing, something that the Planning Department supports and is in the Housing Element.
Starr: “Can I get back to you?”
Preston: “I can give you 20 things the mayor is doing to constrain affordable housing. Why is that a different conversation?”
Starr made clear that the Mayor’s Office has no interest in linking affordable housing to “constraint reduction” on market-rate housing.
Sup. Myrna Melgar noted that she was able to craft housing legislation for the West Side of town after almost a year of work, and most people were okay with what she did.
On the other hand, this came out of Breed’s Office with very little advance community outreach.
“When you start a piece of legislation and the entire community of Chinatown says No, you got off on the wrong foot,” Peskin said. “It’s bizarre that the mayor has a liaison to the Board of Supervisors and land-use experts on her staff, and she puts Mr. Starr in this position; it’s not right, and it’s unprofessional.”
The legislation, speaker said, does little to protect tenants. It is, as former Sup. John Avalos, who heads the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said, “laissez faire” policy that would allow for widespread demolitions or rent-controlled housing.
It would also, Peskin noted, threaten a lot of historic buildings.
And it would not in any measurable or predictable or even imaginable way move San Francisco toward its housing goals.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee continued the measure to Oct. 2—but it’s got a long way to go after that.