The Mayor’s Office finally sent someone to the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday, but he had no answers when the supes asked key questions about a piece of housing legislation opposed by every tenant group and progressive planning organization in the city.
The bill would dramatically change planning policy, eliminating public notice or review from many, perhaps most new housing development. That would include the demolition of existing housing, including, in the original version, rent-controlled housing.
Planning Director Rich Hillis agreed that evictions of rent-controlled units are not a good thing—but the mayor’s bill doesn’t prevent that from happening.
All a speculator would have to do is state on a form that no tenants had been in the place for five years, bulldoze the place, and put up new luxury housing—or even just a single monster home.
Supporters of the mayor’s measure, including Sup. Matt Dorsey and SPUR, argue that the board already approved a Housing Element that requires the “streamlining” that Breed is pushing. But the actual language of the document directly contradicts that assertion.
And as the supes pointed out, this won’t to address the real housing crisis, which is the lack of units for people who are not rich. The bill completely ignored that 42,000 units of affordable housing that the state wants to see completed in the city in the next seven years.
The supes made clear that, as Sup. Myrna Melgar noted, “it is not helpful to be threatening when we are doing our due diligence.” This would be among the most consequential changes to land-use law in the city in decades, and the Mayor’s Office wants it expedited with few changes.
“There has been a lot of press, including an oped in the Chronicle. But we are a built environment, a very diverse city with different neighborhoods, and something as groundbreaking as this is going to take some time.”
In fact, as Sup. Aaron Peskin noted, when members of the board bring forward proposals that have significant community opposition, he generally asks that the member meet with the opponents and try to work things out.
That has not happened, not even remotely, with this bill: The Mayor’s Office has made no effort to talk to the tenant or planning justice groups. “So,” he told the mayor’s representative, “you are asking us to do your job for you.”
Sup. Rafael Mandelman, who is generally in favor of streamlining housing approvals, noted that public hearings on conditional use and discretionary review, which the developer and the mayor want to eliminate, are often the only ways that community members are able to bring before the Planning Commission, and the public, unlawful eviction and other violations of law that the planning staff had missed or ignored.
“How do we catch the bad actors and prevent a tsunami of speculative evictions?” he asked, if community notification and appeal processes are eliminated.
Peskin noted that “sometimes, process can get abused,” which is what the Yimbys love to talk about. But the planning process is “also an avenue to seek redress when the city makes mistakes.”
Sup. Dean Preston asked the central question: There are scenarios where a speculator could purchase rental property, use the Ellis Act or the threat of the Ellis Act to evict the tenants, and then use the mayor’s proposed law to demolish the building and replace it with high-end housing or a monster home. “Do we agree,” he asked the Mayor’s Office and the Planning Department, “that we don’t want that to occur?”
Tom Paulino, Breed’s liason to the supes, said, astonishingly, that he didn’t have the answer and would have to ask his boss and get back to the supes.
Rich Hillis, the planning director, as least said that he agreed with Preston that the city should not allow that scenario to happen.
Preston asked if the proposed law would prevent that. Hillis said that the supes could amend the bill to prevent the demolition of any building with more than one unit, and he seemed to be okay with that.
Meanwhile, Preston noted that the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which very rarely weighs in on local legislation, sent the supes a letter supporting the mayor’s position—without protection of units under rent control.
The city has no database of rent-controlled housing units. There is no enforcement mechanism in the bill to prevent the speculator abuse that Hill agrees the city wants to prevent.
And while Dorsey city the Housing Element and urges the supes not to “water down” the bill, it’s not to hard to read that document and see what it says:
Section 8.4.2: Establish local non-discretionary ministerial approval 18F for housing applications in Well-resourced Neighborhoods outside of areas vulnerable to displacement that net two or more housing units, do not demolish existing rent-controlled units, and meet tenant protection, relocation, and replacement standards as recognized in the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, by Board of Supervisors or voter approval of a City Charter amendment. Planning staff will use the Rent Board’s Housing Inventory data and seek input from tenants organizations.
Section 8.4.8: Remove Conditional Use Authorizations or other regulatory barriers for lot mergers and lots or proposed densities that exceed conditional use thresholds on housing applications that net two or more housing units, do not demolish existing rent-controlled units, and meet tenant protection, relocation, and replacement standards as recognized in Housing Crisis Act of 2019 to facilitate larger and more efficient housing projects by January 31, 2025.
Section 8.4.17: Amend the Planning Code to prohibit Discretionary Review requests for code compliant projects adding at least one net unit, except for projects affecting buildings with units that are tenant occupied, are located in Priority Equity Geographies, or meet the definition of protected units under the Housing Crisis Act of 2019.
The bottom line, as Peskin noted, is that there’s nothing in the sweeping bill that would encourage the production of the sort of housing that the city needs.
To nobody’s surprise, it was continued again.