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SF lawmaker threatens to sue state if transit-oriented development bill passes

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Supervisor Aaron Peskin holds up a map of transit zones that would be affected by California Senate Bill 827, a bill that would rezone most of San Francisco, allowing greater density and building heights near transit. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Opposition to a state bill that would increase housing density and heights near transit routes is building. Now one city lawmaker is threatening legal action.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Monday pledged to sue the state to overturn Senate Bill 827 should it be approved.

“I am an unabashed opponent,” Peskin told a packed crowd of San Franciscans at a Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee hearing on a resolution he authored that would put The City on record as opposing the bill.

Peskin said the bill carried echoes of the redevelopment of the Western Addition, which displaced much of The City’s black community, and places San Francisco on the “precipice” of displacement.

Though the Board of Supervisors has no authority to direct the City Attorney’s Office, Peskin said he would explore the possibility with the office.

The supervisor also critiqued the bill for not preserving a mechanism for The City to require developers to fund more affordable housing in exchange for being allowed to build taller, and thereby more lucrative, homes.

SB 827, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would allow five- and eight-story buildings to rise in neighborhoods populated primarily by single family homes. The bill is intended to address a statewide housing shortage by encouraging more development in transit-rich areas.

Senator Wiener critiqued Peskin’s challenge.

“With the average San Francisco rent for a two-bedroom at nearly $5,000 a month, I recommend that Supervisor Peskin focus less on lawsuits and inflammatory rhetoric and more on making sure everyone has a home,” Wiener told the San Francisco Examiner in a statement.

His office also disagreed with criticism that his bill did not provide mechanisms for The City to fund more affordable housing from developer fees.

Supervisor Katy Tang, who also sits on the Land Use committee, commended Wiener for making a series of recent amendments to his bill to address concerns around community displacement.

But she agreed with Peskin that SB 827 was an example of state “overreach.”

Tang said the bill did not go as far as her own recent pro-density effort, Home SF, which she said carefully balanced protections for tenants.

“All those protections are not there,” she said of Wiener’s bill.

Rather than supporting Peskin’s resolution opposing SB 827, however, Tang proposed an amendment for The City to urge amendments to the bill instead, to “protect” San Francisco’s charter authority to approve housing and “recapture value” from developers to build more affordable housing.

Those amendments were approved by the committee, and the revised resolution is scheduled to go before the full Board of Supervisors April 3.

Wiener’s bill has been hailed for its potential to ease California’s housing crisis and tarred for its potential to displace communities.

Before the public commented on a resolution to oppose Wiener’s bill, Peskin mentioned San Francisco has sued the state to challenge other recently passed laws, and said, “Should SB827 not be amended, I will respectfully suggest we follow …”

The supervisor’s words were drowned out by thunderous applause from neighbors who support suing the state, which Peskin later confirmed he suggested.

Public comment at the hearing lasted roughly two and a half hours.

Dozens of opponents spoke out against SB 827, calling it a “developer giveaway,” a “boondoggle,” a “gentrification machine on steroids,” a “cookie cutter from hell,” and a “hydrogen bomb in a pink ribbon” that would create an uber-wealthy “San Francisco Mar-a-Lago.”

Chelsea Wong, a ten-year Mission District resident, told the supervisors she opposed the bill and ”I’m also a tech worker … the housing crisis hurts working class people. This (bill) displaces working class people.”

Some supporters of SB 827 who spoke identified themselves as part of the local Yes in My Backyard group, a statewide group that helped write SB 827.

One supporter of the bill, Michael Sizemore, said higher-density developments help people live closer to where they work and reduce carbon emissions.

“Anything less leads to climate denialism,” he said.

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Supervisor Aaron Peskin holds up a map of transit zones that would be affected by California Senate Bill 827, a bill that would rezone most of San Francisco, allowing greater density and building heights near transit during a Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing on Monday March 12, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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