Planning commissioners, community call for more housing under SoMa area plan

San Francisco Planning Commissioners and community members on Thursday called for more housing in a plan expected to bring 40,000 jobs and 7,000 new homes to the South of Market neighborhood in the coming years.

Seven years in the making and crafted with the goal of increasing job growth in the transit-rich neighborhood, the Central South of Market plan proposes to raise height limits and loosen restrictions in an area roughly bounded by Folsom, Second, Townsend and Sixth streets.

The plan aims to shape the neighborhood’s projected growth in a way that is sustainable for current and future residents by addressing economic, social and environmental needs. It promises to create jobs for thousands of workers by allowing for large office space development.

As a result of fees and taxes on new development, the plan is expected to generate roughly $2 billion in public benefits that will be funneled back into the neighborhood for transit, street and facility improvements, among other things.

The plan will also create $1 billion in revenue for The City’s General Fund and is supported by Mayor Mark Farrell and Supervisor Jane Kim, who on Tuesday introduced zoning legislation to facilitate its implementation. Kim said that the area plan will incorporate pedestrian and bicycle safety standards and will fund the rehabilitation and creation of parks and open spaces in the area.

New residential development in the area allowed under the plan is expected to result in some 7,000 units of housing, 33 percent of which will be affordable. But community stakeholders and Planning Commissioners at a Planning Commission hearing Thursday agreed the plan could do more.

The planning commissioners voted to initiate the plan, which is a first step in its adoption process, but not without acknowledging that a “second act” was needed to increase housing significantly as the neighborhood faced staggering levels of anticipated growth.

“I’m all for adding more housing,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, floating the idea that additional housing could be constructed in other districts. “We need to put pen to paper and add an overlay of some kind to add more [housing], perhaps nearby.”

The planning commissioners’ calls echoed those of dozens of community stakeholders who spoke during a lengthy public comment session. From labor groups to tenant and community advocates and representatives of the pro-housing group YIMBY Action, most shared concerns about how the area’s predicted growth would impact the already scarce housing supply and further fuel displacement.

John Eberling, executive director of the affordable housing developer TODCO and a member of We Are Soma, said that his coalition “opposes the plan as it now stands,” and called for 50 percent of the housing to be affordable.

Eberling said the plan lacks protections for current residents in the area, calling it a “downtown expansion plan of tech office spaces into our SoMa neighborhood.”

While supportive of job creation, Sonja Trauss, a leader of YIMBY Action and a SoMa resident who is running for the District 6 supervisorial seat in November, agreed, calling it a “a plan for displacement.”

“The people making this plan have to know where the people you’re building jobs for are going to live,” said Trauss. “These new workers..some will compete [for housing] with me in SoMa, with people who live in Tenderloin, the Mission and West Oakland.”

Kim, who introduced the plan at the hearing, said the 33 percent affordable housing required under the plan for proposed development in the area was significant.

“[Hitting 33 percent] felt like a dream a few years ago,” she said. Still, Kim also said she wanted to flesh out the plan to “expand our housing production opportunities.”

Despite moving the plan forward, Commissioner Katherin Moore urged her fellow commissioners and planning department staff to proceed with caution.

“We have failed to have a proper [job-to-housing] balance in San Francisco for a long time,” adding that she thought the jobs-to-housing “tilt” proposed under the plan to be “a very extreme one.”

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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