San Francisco leaders argue that plans to develop housing in the region’s transit-heavy urban areas are at odds with goals to increase equity for people of color. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco leaders argue that plans to develop housing in the region’s transit-heavy urban areas are at odds with goals to increase equity for people of color. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)

SF officials fear regional housing strategy could increase displacement of people of color

Equity and climate goals at odds in plan that concentrates development in transit-rich urban areas

Bay Area officials have spent upwards of three years crafting Plan Bay Area 2050, a long-term planning strategy for the region that seeks to achieve ambitious goals for the economy, environment, housing and transportation.

Then, in December, a revision to the plan made after the draft of the proposal was created and approved last year increased the amount of housing San Francisco would be expected to build by 53 percent, to 213,000 units.

The changes drew strong opposition from San Francisco lawmakers, who argued they could displace thousands of residents of color, many of whom are working class and already fighting to maintain their place in The City against a backdrop of rising rents and scant housing supply.

In response to the backlash from San Francisco, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional coordinating agency with representatives from the nine Bay Area counties, voted unanimously on Wednesday to study the equity impacts of the current proposal and produce an alternative plan that better considers how ambitious housing, transportation and climate goals might make displacement a casualty of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who serves on MTC, said she was “relieved” regional partners at MTC were open to an alternative for “real housing equity as we tackle climate change head-on.”

“San Francisco has and will continue to be a leader in building new housing and investing especially in affordable housing, while we also protect Black and Brown communities from further displacement,” she said. “Let’s really look at how to allocate growth to exclusionary neighborhoods — in San Francisco, but also down the Peninsula and across the Bay.”

On its surface, Plan Bay Area, a 30-year regional blueprint created by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, appears to encourage a tried and true principle of sustainable urban planning: building high-density housing near transit and jobs.

It includes 35 ambitious and transformative strategies largely centered on housing and transportation to reduce the region’s greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent in the next 15 years, a target set by the state.

But before slapping NIMBY labels on officials who opposed the changes, consider this: under current zoning policy, set by the Board of Supervisors, about 70,000 of the units are likely to be built on existing multifamily housing parcels, mostly in the Southeastern part of The City, where upwards of 30,000 people already live.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents the Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods that would theoretically be unduly impacted by this housing policy in its current form, makes no bones about his view that this plan is just thinly veiled racism to push Black people and other communities of color further out of San Francisco.

“We are going to do everything we can to fight against this policy,” Walton said at a San Francisco County Transportation Authority meeting on Tuesday. “I don’t understand how folks in the region could promote something like this knowing the gentrification and outmigration of San Francisco.”

Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Gordon Mar and Ronen authored a letter to MTC and ABAG leadership outlining their opposition to the new plan, but reiterating their commitment to increasing San Francisco’s housing supply, improving affordability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our fundamental concern is that the recent update to Plan Bay Area is shifting away from this policy goal by reducing regional housing allocations for cities with greater racial and economic exclusion, and adding them to San Francisco in a way that will ratchet up pressures on parts of our city where Black and Latino communities live,” it said.

Though Plan Bay Area has no legislative authority to mandate such development or to change zoning rules, failure to meet the targets could result in San Francisco losing state and federal funding for housing and transportation, all the more important as The City charts its recovery from COVID-19.

Critics say the revised proposal puts climate and equity at odds, making San Francisco prioritize cutting greenhouse gas emissions over equity. Placing housing in parts of The City identified by existing zoning policy and planning strategies as priority development areas near existing transit centers will force out residents who can already barely afford to live in The City, they say.

Other transit-rich cities such as Oakland and San Jose also saw their housing allocations jump in the revised proposal, and their officials also voiced concern. Meanwhile, more suburban, car-reliant communities such as Palo Alto don’t have a larger housing requirement than they did in the draft plan.

Nick Josefowitz, chief policy officer at sustainability think tank SPUR and an MTC commissioner, believes the vote to direct staff to develop an alternative plan looking more closely at the social consequences of Plan Bay Area strategies should mitigate some of this conflict.

“This plan will now provide a much-needed roadmap for how our region can build the homes we need to overcome our housing shortage, combat our climate crisis and protect vulnerable families from displacement.”

ABAG agreed last week to conduct a similar analysis. Both agencies will vote on a final proposal later this year.

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