Developers who plan to build two four-story residential buildings in place of the gas station at 25th Avenue and California Street would be subject to the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, allowing taller buildings for more below-market-rate units. (Connor Hunt/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Residents alarmed by program encouraging density in residential developments

It’s widely agreed that more than one solution is needed to solve San Francisco’s housing crisis.

But allowing taller development projects in the less dense west side of The City shouldn’t necessarily be one of them.

That’s according to the some 100 residents, primarily from the Sunset and Richmond districts, who packed a community meeting at the Ortega Library on Thursday night to address concerns with a housing program introduced by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Katy Tang last month that seeks to increase below­-market­-rate units throughout The City.

The Affordable Housing Bonus Program would apply to some 30,850 parcels in San Francisco, primarily in areas zoned as neighborhood districts where commercial use is either required or permitted on the ground floor, with residential units above. Projects that develop at least five units of housing would benefit from the program.

Incentives for developers would include taller height limits — ­up to an additional two stories — and increased density for building 30 percent of the homes on­-site as below-market-rate. Developers of at least 10-­unit projects are required by current city law to include 12 percent of on­-site homes as below­-market-­rate or pay a fee.

Taller buildings, however, did not sit well with residents at the meeting, who argued oceanfront property along the Great Highway is ripe for developers who want to take advantage of the program. Tang emphasized that it’s highly unlikely a wall of developments will rise along the water anytime soon.

“All of the sudden, we’re going to get these seven­-story buildings on the beach ­— that is very unrealistic,” Tang said.

City planners estimate the program would apply to some 240 sites throughout San Francisco, potentially bringing up to 4,000 below­-market-­rate units in the next two decades.

While residents at the meeting supported building more below­-market­-rate housing, many voiced strong opposition to increasing density in a neighborhood they opted to live in specifically because of the shorter buildings, more open space, beach views and ample parking.

“My main concern with the program is that it’s going to change the culture of this neighborhood dramatically. We’re not made to have high­-rises,” said Ann Grimaldi, a longtime Sunset district resident.

Grimaldi added that despite the quieter feel of the neighborhood, the roads and transit systems are still packed with residents. She said it already takes her an hour to get downtown both via Muni and driving.

“How can we possibly start adding people?” she said. “This neighborhood right now cannot support that.”

Kearstin Dischinger, a long­-range planner with the Planning Department, said, “The key point of this program is providing affordable housing in San Francisco.”

The program is needed to bring San Francisco into compliance with a state law that requires developers who build below­-market-­rate housing receive a density bonus, city planners noted, adding it will also help alleviate The City’s dire need for more housing units available to low­- and middle­-income residents.

“We have an affordability crisis within The City,” said Jeff Buckley, the mayor’s housing policy advisor. “This program is intended to help serve our middle-income population.

Tim Colen, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Action Coalition, noted that much of the new housing constructed in The City in the past decade has been in the southeast neighborhoods. District 4, which includes the Sunset, has built the least amount of new housing out of every other neighborhood in San Francisco at least since 2005.

“The Outer Sunset is not an island. It’s part of San Francisco,” Colen said.

Tang emphasized the program will not take effect until next year. An informational hearing is scheduled at the Planning Commission meeting next week, and the legislation must still receive approval from the Board of Supervisors.

“We are in no rush to pass this legislation,” Tang said.

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