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News + PoliticsOpinionDevelopers, not CEQA, are keeping a SoMa housing site as a parking...

Developers, not CEQA, are keeping a SoMa housing site as a parking lot

The city needs to buy 469 Stevenson for affordable housing.

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Private developers, not the California Environmental Quality Act or community groups, have decided that the 469 Stevenson project will not be moving forward, and instead will remain a parking lot.

Yimbys, state Sen. Scott Wiener, and some of our local officials screamed at the top of their lungs that local community-based organizations, concerned about environmental impacts, gentrification, displacement, and affordability, had killed the 469 Stevenson project and destined it to remain a parking lot.

In reality, the EIR appeal of 469 Stevenson did not stop the project, and it moved forward and got approved.

Renderings of a building that is never getting built. City Planning Dept. Image

But as it turns out, the project has no financing, and may never get built by the private developers. Instead, the owners and project sponsors of 469 Stevenson, who respond to private market demands, not community concerns, want it to remain a parking lot.

The 469 Stevenson site has continued to sit empty as a parking lot since the approval of the 495 market-rate residential project for developer Build Inc over a year ago.

This past Thursday at the Planning Commission, the operator of the parking lot at 469 Stevenson, with the support of the landowner, applied for and won a five-year extension to operate the parking lot on the site. This means that the private developers of 469 Stevenson want the site to continue to sit as a parking lot.

The approval of the five-year parking lot extension is a clear indication that Build Inc. will not be building this project any time soon. This was confirmed by the Planning Department staff, who said that the project sponsor will begin construction when and if market conditions improve. It’s clear that the private market, not CEQA or community groups, stalled this project.

Yet, this has not stopped state legislators like Wiener from continuing to attack CEQA, using 469 Stevenson as an example. Recently, Wiener introduced SB 1227 that specifically targets the South of Market for removal of CEQA review and provides tax breaks for market-rate housing. This disturbing trend of blaming necessary regulatory review for the faults of the private market will have the largest impacts on vulnerable communities in San Francisco.

With no timeline, and likely no financing, something needs to be done. The city, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and the state should step in to purchase this site for 100 percent affordable housing.

The city’s Housing Element has a goal of adding 82,000 units of housing, 46,000 of which must be affordable. To meet those goals, and more importantly to provide housing that is affordable to average San Francisco residents and workers, MOHCD and state legislators should take advantage of current market conditions and land bank 469 Stevenson. This site provides nothing for SoMa or for the city if it remains a parking lot.

Wiener and his allies have aggressively attacked San Francisco, and forced the city to pass the Housing Element and implement measures to deregulate market-rate housing development. This has led to San Francisco enacting legislation that has slashed community benefits by reducing affordable housing requirements, while increasing the profit margins of private developers, and reducing public participation in the planning process. The state, however, has not supported the affordable housing development goals of the Housing Element.

If the city and the state are serious about creating housing that is affordable to working-class San Francisco residents and workers, now is the time to show it. Instead, it will become even more apparent that the function of Wiener, the Yimby movement and their allies at the local level is simply to maximize the profits of private developers at the direct expense of local residents who face the gentrification and displacement impacts of a further alienated planning process for elites.

What the case of 469 Stevenson shows is that CEQA does not stop projects, nor does it dictate or stall project development timelines. The argument that 469 Stevenson could have already begun construction if the Environmental Impact Report appeal of 469 Stevenson did not happen is false.

In 2021 Build Inc stated during the Board of Supervisors EIR Appeal hearing that the project did not have financing (this was right after it was approved). Two years later, as the housing finance and construction market continued to decline and projects across the city continued to stall, in 2023 Build Inc received their entitlement with their updated (and more geologically sound) project, and clearly still did not have the financing to build the project. And in a separate 460-unit market-rate residential project at One Oak, Build Inc similarly could not get financing to build their project and attempted to sell the site in 2018 before eventually going into foreclosure and surrendering the property to their lender in 2023.

The 469 Stevenson project is the perfect example of the speculative nature of housing development in San Francisco. The land is owned by a consortium of real estate investors under the name of “469 Stevenson Property Owner LLC,” and Build Inc is the developer that got the entitlements to create the project. Without project investors being able to guarantee that they will make a tidy profit, known as “return on investment,” 469 Stevenson will remain a parking lot.

The importance of this reality of how private housing development actually works is crucial to understand. State legislators like Wiener and his Yimby allies are using the case of 469 Stevenson to move forward an agenda of deregulation of profit-driven housing production in San Francisco and across the state, including trying to remove CEQA environmental protections. As is shown in Wiener’s latest bill, SB1227, his targeting of the South of Market for removal of CEQA review in order to further streamline private development puts residents at risk. SB1227 will negatively impact the health and safety of residents, community members, and the environment.

Both Wiener and Yimby groups have been completely silent on this parking lot extension, despite the fact that the Yimbys rabidly opposed the continued use of this site as a parking lot during the project’s approval process.

The city and the state must reflect the needs of low-income residents, immigrants, and communities of color in San Francisco. What we need is affordable housing and public participation in the planning process. This can start with purchasing 469 Stevenson for 100 percent affordable housing.

Angelica Cabande is the organizational director of the South of Market Community Action Network.

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

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