SF Planning Commission adopts sweeping development plan for Central SoMa

The Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a massive neighborhood rezoning plan for San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood that included slightly more potential housing after the original plan came under fire for its high ratio of jobs to housing.

The Central SoMA Plan approved Thursday is projected to bring up to 33,000 new jobs and 8,300 homes to the neighborhood over the next 30 years through changes to local zoning and height limits, as opposed to the 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units in the original plan.

The potential for more homes as well as a “good jobs” policy to support the creation of living wage jobs across all sectors were added after community stakeholders criticized the plan’s jobs-housing fit.

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

The plan calls for 33 percent of the housing developed to be affordable — though housing advocates have called for up to 50 percent of new housing to be affordable, and many said Thursday that even the narrowed gap between jobs and housing in the approved plan was still far from meeting the demand.

“50 percent of affordable housing on all projects should be the mandated requirement,” said San Francisco native Kevin Ortiz, a community advocate who works in tech. “There will be 30-60,000 new jobs coming here. We need to make sure housing units are available to local hires.”

The Central SoMa plan was born in 2011 when city planners identified the neighborhood as a “valuable corridor to look at for the expansion of jobs and housing for the city” for its proximity to public transit and zoning allowing for office space, according to Planning Department Director John Rahaim.

“We were very careful to create a plan that we think is not an extension of downtown, but a special district for Central SoMa that surgically allows high rise development in a number of key places in the the neighborhood but generally maintains the character of the neighborhood there today,” said Rahaim.

Through fees and taxes levied on new development, the plan is expected to generate roughly $2 billion in public benefits that will be funneled back into neighborhood improvements, such as transit, streets and facilities needs. It could create an estimated $1 billion in revenue for The City’s General Fund.

Earlier this month, Mayor Mark Farrell and Supervisor Jane Kim introduced an ordinance for establishing a Housing Sustainability District in part of the plan area under AB 73, legislation that came into effect this year. Among other things the district provides the option of streamlining the approval process for projects meeting certain eligibility requirements.

Projects over 160 feet in height would not be eligible for the HSD unless they provide for 100 percent affordable housing, and projects proposing to convert or remove existing housing would also not be able to participate in the HSD.

Housing advocates and community stakeholders said the plan’s housing element doesn’t measure up to the influx in households that will result from the more than 30,000 jobs it stands to create. Many urged the commission to bolster anti-displacement measures, such as increasing the focus of the The City’s Small Sites Acquisition program on SoMa to prevent the loss of existing affordable housing.

“It is irresponsible to San Francisco to make a plan that is more high rise offices in a city that is in a housing crisis,” said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, director of the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee. “Please take the anti- displacement measures early on, before construction starts. Otherwise you are just throwing tenants onto the street.”

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer also expressed concern over the plan’s failure to identify a school site.

“[Fewer] firmly believes that we are not only building housing but livelihoods. That includes public school,” said Ian Fregosi, Fewer’s legislative aide. “ If we are not thinking about where all these families are going to send their kids to school, we are not planning, just building.”

Planning Commissioner Milicent Johnson, said she was “grateful” for the addition of the housing sustainability district legislation and the “good jobs employment plan,” but said that she shared the “very real concerns” from the community in regard to displacement.

Though not perfect, the commissioners agreed that the plan was headed in the right direction.

“This is the right location, proximity to the freeway, the Transbay [Transit Center] … if we are going do any major push for office this is the place,” said Commissioner Rodney Fong.

The plan must also be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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