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SF supervisors seek increased protections for childcare facilities

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Board President Norman Yee and Supervisor Gordon Mar plan to introduce legislation to help protect childcare facilities from displacement. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Two San Francisco supervisors plan to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to help protect childcare providers from being displaced.

The legislation being crafted by Board of Supervisor President Norman Yee and District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar would temporarily add interim zoning controls for developers seeking to convert buildings with childcare uses into residential or other uses citywide.

The interim controls, which would be in place for 18 months, would increase scrutiny of projects where a change of use is proposed at sites housing childcare programs by requiring a Conditional Use hearing before The City’s Planning Commission.

The controls are expected to be introduced in the next two weeks.

The goal is to help reduce the increasing number of childcare service providers at risk of losing their spaces, said Yee.

“I’m getting a sense that we are losing some of our amenities such as childcare and senior centers in the near future,” said Yee, adding that as The City’s population continues to increase, its amenities must be maintained to match that growth.

“The idea is that we want to find some time to figure out what the community needs are [while] contemplating the kind of coding changes we want to make to protect these types of amenities,” he said.

The supervisors first partnered up on the effort after becoming aware of a number of childcare programs at risk of displacement from church spaces where they operate, Yee told the San Francisco Examiner.

The legislation will target “opportunity sites” and was initially intended to also include senior centers and other “institutional uses,” but has since been narrowed down to address an urgent need to protect childcare services, he said.

Mar said that there are two childcare programs leasing space from churches in the Sunset District that he is currently aware of that are “under threat” of displacement.

The legislation could help programs such the four-decade old Wah Mei School, a bilingual preschool serving some 260 families annually at 1400 Judah St., remain in the community.

The preschool operates out of a building, owned by the United Methodist Church, which recently went up for sale.

A listing for the property informs potential buyers that the site has “potential for future residential development or continued use as an assembly building or pre-school.” Wah Mei School is currently in conversation with the church to secure the space.

“Childcare is incredibly important to the fabric of a community and what we do here and at a number of preschools in San Francisco is important to families — not just so that [parents] can go to work, but also for the development of the child,” said Wah Mei School’s executive director, Ben Wong. “Ensuring that there are safe and affordable childcare sites is critical not only to the Sunset District, but all of San Francisco.”

Mar, whose daughter attended Wah Mei, said that the preschool has been looking for another site in the neighborhood for months but so far has not been successful.

“If they leave their primary site, it seems likely they will be relocated out of the neighborhood,” said Mar, adding that the interim controls are meant to buy time to “understand the problem on a citywide level.”

With many church congregations dwindling, Yee said that childcare providers operating out of these spaces are in precarious situations.

Last year, a nonprofit developer sought to build affordable housing at the site of Forest Hill Christian Church at 250 Laguna Honda Blvd.

“They wanted to develop and tear down everything, including [a building] where a childcare [program] was being housed, and had no plans to replace it,” said Yee. The project was ultimately axed by The City due to unsustainable costs and neighborhood pushback.

Yee said he encourages affordable housing development throughout The City, but is also working to ensure that vital services are not lost in the mix.

“We want to continue to build housing, but I don’t want to build on the backs of [these services],” he said.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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