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News + PoliticsHousingPlanning Commission agrees to end public input on many housing developments

Planning Commission agrees to end public input on many housing developments

Narrow 4-3 votes ends the ability of community activists to call out unscrupulous landlords and speculators.

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The Planning Commission, in a 4-3 vote, approved Thursday Mayor London Breed’s proposal to let the planning director approve, without public or commission input, all housing development that the uses the state density bonus plan.

All of the commissioners appointed by the Board of Supervisors voted No. All of the commissioners appointed by the mayor voted Yes.

The density bonus plan, under State Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 35 and SB 423, allows for streamlined approval and additional density for housing that includes a modest percentage of affordable housing, below what San Francisco until recently required.

Commissioner Kathrin Moore said the current process allows the panel to work with the community.

Since almost every developer building market-rate housing in the city is going to use that bonus, the commission in essence gave the department staff the ability without public input to approve any new market-rate project.

Several speakers pointed out an essential problem: The law doesn’t allow this sort of approval if the property had tenants living in it who were evicted or otherwise forced out—but San Francisco has no way to track that information.

Over the past few years, when unscrupulous landlords or speculators tried to get around the rules, community activists would come to the commission and present evidence that the building was once tenant occupied.

No more.

The opponents who spoke said they aren’t singling out the current planning director, Rich Hillis. But as one person noted, what happens if the next director is someone like Mohammed Nuru?

Theresa Flandrich, a longtime North Beach tenant and housing activist, noted that she had personally brought the commission evidence of bad actors seeking to abuse the law. That input was the only information the commission had: San Francisco has no rental registry, no way to follow evictions, no way to enforce even the existing laws.

Commissioner Kathrin Moore agreed with Flandrich, saying that the commission has been successful at “synthesizing comments from the public with information from the staff. In the back and forth, we have created how we move forward.”

If a developer can evict tenants, or quietly and secretly buy them out, and pretend that a housing unit was never under rent control and apply to demolish it and build condos, using the state density bonus law, there’s no way now for the Planning Department to know.

Commission President Rachel Tanner asked the department to provide regular information to the panel on applications and decisions made by staff. Hillis said that was fine.

Commissioner Theresa Imperial noted, “I hope [the state Department of Housing and Community Development] is listening. There is no mechanism for public input.”

The mayor’s appointees—Tanner, Derek Braun, Sue Diamond, and and Joel Koppel—all voted yes. The supes appointees—Moore, Imperial, and Gabriella Ruiz—all dissented.

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
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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