San Franciscans, we may be getting a denser city whether Senate Bill 50 passes or not.
While state Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to zone for greater density near transit lines has met with opposition from local officials — including many city supervisors — some members of the Planning Commission appear ready to embrace some of its principles and challenge a shibboleth of city planning policy: single-family zoning.
It was one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments at Thursday’s regular commission meeting.
Commissioner Rich Hillis started by saying San Francisco is doing “OK” in housing production.
But, he added, “given our housing crisis, which is severe, we’ve gotta do ten times better than OK.”
That comment launched a discussion about building more in city neighborhoods where we historically haven’t, like the West Side or the Ingleside. And San Francisco, it has potentially big consequences for housing in our city. That comes with a big caveat, of course …
If SB 50 passes, The City will be upzoned anyhow.
Nearly 96 percent of San Francisco is near a transit line, and the bill dictates neighborhoods near transit to allow taller construction. But if it fails like its sister-bill SB 827 did last year, then the pressure will be on for The City itself to allow developers to build higher and build more.
Thursday, the commissioners discussed the latest Housing Inventory Report, detailing how much housing San Francisco has, how much it’s built, and how much it’s torn down.
The numbers weren’t so hot.
South of Market (1,220 units built) and downtown (701 units built) shouldered the burden of San Francisco housing production.
Guess how many housing units were built in the Inner and Outer Sunset neighborhoods, combined?
Close your eyes. Go ahead. Guess.
It’s a similar tale throughout The City. Ingleside gained 21 housing units. Bernal Heights gained five.
“There’s a big inequity in where housing is built in San Francisco,” Hillis said. “I think we have to do more.”
Hillis suggested “we really need to look at that RH-1 zoning,” which allows only single-family homes to be built in certain neighborhoods, and explore re-zoning those neighborhoods to allow three or four units of density.
Nearly all of the commissioners present, five out of six, voiced some form of agreement.
Commissioners Dennis Richards, Milicent Johnson, Joel Koppel and Commission President Myrna Melgar all voiced support for exploring such an idea through planning commission staff.
Melgar couched her reasons in terms of equal access to good schools and robust open space. Right now, the West Side enjoys most of those perks, she said, freezing out kids in the more urban East Side.
“We cannot talk about being an equal opportunity city when we have zoned such inequality,” she said.
Melgar told me that the commission will take action if and when they know the outcome of numerous state bills that may affect The City’s density, including SB 50.
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