Supes reject appeals of Central SoMa plan, clearing hurdle for massive housing and office development

Four appeals filed against the Central SoMa plan were unanimously rejected by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, advancing the effort to add thousands of new homes and tens of thousands of new jobs with office space development to the neighborhood.

Concerns about gentrification, cancer risks from increased traffic pollution and other worries were aired for hours by those appealing the plan’s environmental impact report, which is required under the state’s California Environmental Quality Act.

Speakers questioned everything from the decision not to analyze the impacts of ride-hail firms like Uber and Lyft to the seismic conditions of existing buildings.

Had the appeals succeeded, the development allowed under the plan would have had to wait indefinitely until further analysis was completed. But with the appeals rejected, the actual plan to rezone the area is now expected to come before board for a vote within a month.

South of Market Community Action Network filed an appeal that argued for an analysis of the impact of gentrification from planned development and for a host of measures to protect tenants from being displaced.

Angelica Cabande, of SOMCAN, said, “The environmental impact of displacement is clear. If The City is going to undertake a massive upzoning that brings with it speculation, displacement and gentrification, there best be a more thorough and complete understanding.”

Another appellant, SF Blu, a condo-owner association for residents at 631 Folsom St., raised concerns over the heightened risk of cancer due to air pollution.

Critics of SF Blu, such as pro-development YIMBY leader Laura Foote Clark, questioned their motives and accused the condo owners of only trying to protect their views.

But SF Blu resident Jason Dewillers said he lives on the fifth floor and has “no view at all.”

“For me it’s always been about the increased risk of cancer that the plan brings to our neighborhood,“ Dewillers said. “A lot of companies will profit from this plan. But at what cost? The cost of the health of anyone that lives or works in my neighborhood. Public health is one of the most basic of community needs and this plan does not look out for that.”

SF Blu’s attorney said Richard Drury, said, “Bring us a plan that creates more housing and comparatively less office space.”

“We are exacerbating an already problematic jobs-housing imbalance by creating four times more jobs than housing units,” Drury said.

A third appellant, One Vassar LLC, a developer in the Central SoMa area, argued for increased housing density and criticized SF Blu, whose appeal threatened their project one block from those condo owners.

“The EIR should have considered a higher housing density alternative that could have reduced certain environmental impacts on transit, traffic and air quality to less than significant,” said One Vassar attorney Phillip Babich. “Increased housing density would not only lower greenhouse gas emissions, but it would also lower transit distances between homes and jobs.”

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents Central SoMa on the board, said, “I do believe that a lot of the compelling testimony that I heard is really in regards to the plan itself” and vowed to address some of those concerns through the plan’s approval process.

The board could only uphold an appeal if it found the environmental analysis was inadequate under state law, such as if it failed to identify the impacts and failed to propose adequate mitigating measures.

Moving forward, Kim vowed to increase an existing fee developers are charged for building office space to help fund housing development and to have The City conduct a supplemental EIR to analyze adding more housing than was initially studied, which could take about a year. The additional study would allow The City to increase housing as more projects go through the approval process.

“I would like to build significantly more housing,” Kim said. “Almost every single colleague of mine has come up to me personally to express their concerns about the jobs-housing imbalance in this plan.”

The Central SoMa plan proposes to rezone the neighborhood to create approximately 8,600 more homes and 33,000 jobs with office space development over the next two decades and would increase existing height limits in the area from 30 feet to 85 feet to 130 feet to 400 feet.

The plan imposes taxes on the development to generate nearly $2.2 billion in funding over 25 years that would be reinvested in the area, including $940 million toward below-market rate housing to ensure that of the housing built, 33 percent would be offered at below market rates.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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