Supes sound off against bill increasing housing density near transit hubs

Senator Wiener calls resolution opposing SB 50 ‘little more than symbolic political theater’

With a controversial state housing development bill expected to return next year, members of the Board of Supervisors doubled down on their criticism of the proposal during a Thursday meeting.

Senate Bill 50, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, would override local zoning to increase the allowable height and density for housing projects in many areas near transit lines and hubs.

Supervisor Gordon Mar, who introduced a policy resolution in opposition, said the bill gives too much away to developers by upzoning parcels without requiring commensurate benefits for the neighborhoods the development would impact. He also said it lacks sufficient tenant protections to combat displacement.

The board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee amended a resolution by Mar that the board adopted earlier this year opposing SB 50 to bring it more up to date with specific demands. The full board will vote on it on Dec. 17, after a subsequent Dec. 11 committee hearing needed due to the amendments.

“We want to build more affordable housing and we want to do it with community input, with real protections against displacement and gentrification and by creating real value for our communities, not just giving it away to private developers,” Mar said.

The hearing came a week after Mar met with Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor. Mar said Wiener plans to amend the proposal to address several concerns when he brings it back in January after it failed to win passage earlier this year.

“Unfortunately [Wiener] wasn’t willing to go into detail with us last week about the specifics around the amendments he was considering,” Mar said.

Meanwhile, Wiener blasted Mar in a statement after the hearing concluded.

“Supervisor Mar’s resolution does nothing to address our housing crisis,” Wiener said in a statement. “Instead, it is yet another non-binding resolution and little more than symbolic political theater.”

Wiener called SB 50 one of the “meaningful and serious solutions to this severe crisis” that would allow “for more housing near jobs and public transportation — exactly where housing needs to be built so that we stop building sprawl that increases carbon emissions.”

He also noted his intention to amend the proposal.

“I met with Supervisor Mar just last week — the second time we have had a detailed discussion about the bill — and we talked about the status of the legislation and the amendments we are crafting to allow more local flexibility,” Wiener said. “I encourage Supervisor Mar to focus on housing solutions in his district and elsewhere, instead of introducing yet another non-binding resolution.”

Mar later sent a letter to Wiener and a copy of the amended resolution.

Critics of the legislation argued SB 50 would result in more gentrification in The City.

Susan Marsh, a representative of the San Francisco Tenants Union, which opposes SB 50, said that the bill “specifically targets urban poor communities near transit at the expense of the low income tenants who live there.”

“The development facilitated by this bill will displace tenants, both indirectly via gentrification and directly,” she said. “The bill cannot be fixed.”

Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a group of affordable housing developers, said that the state shouldn’t trump local planning processes and community input.

“One-size-fits-all state land use policy that gets into the weeds of how you do housing and development and planning at the local level is very difficult,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t work for San Francisco.”

He added, “This isn’t saying yes-no, this is a false binary of being pro or anti-housing. This is about how to get it right.”

Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, a pro-development group that supports Wiener’s effort, said that San Francisco officials “have lost credibility at the state level about our ability to deal with our own problems.”

“They do not see us as capable right now of getting our way out of our systemic housing crisis,” Foote said. “This body could do a lot more.”

Susannah Parsons, a senior policy associate with SPUR, a pro-development group, said that Wiener’s proposal is “an important environmental effort to overcome barriers to the creation of infill homes in the right places.”

But Board President Norman Yee said San Francisco should be exempted altogether from Wiener’s proposal.

He said that SB 50 “does not take into account the nuances and intended impacts that comes up upzoning entire neighborhoods” and he noted that there are large developments planned in the district he represents.

“We’re actually building our share of housing,” Yee said. “Maybe we could better. But we certainly are probably doing better than most places in California. We have motivated communities that want to plan. We should be exempt from SB 50.”

Mar’s non-binding resolution opposes SB 50 “unless amended.”

Amendments demanded include “exempt local San Francisco community plans and provide sufficient opportunity to create local community plans that will increase housing development, increase affordability requirements, and protect tenants,” according to a statement from Mar’s legislative office. “It also asks that SB50 exempt ‘sensitive communities’ to protect vulnerable tenants, require higher affordability contributions above existing local standards, tie transportation incentives to housing increases, and adequately protect tenants with funding and enforcement.”

Outgoing Supervisor Vallie Brown raised concerns about increasing the requirements for more affordable housing above local standards.

“I am just really worried that if we put something like that in we could just be killing projects,” she said.

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