Volunteer gardener Jim Donahue works

Surplus land explored for housing

San Francisco voters prioritized creating below-market-rate housing on public land in November and imposed mandates for an inventory and development feasibility analysis of the parcels.

Now, the first list of surplus lands are in.

Forty-seven parcels made the list. Those parcels include the Old Fire Station 21 at 1152 Oak St., a former health office at 45 Onondaga Ave. and the old Potrero Police Station at 2300 Third St. The largest portion of the parcels — 35 — come under the jurisdiction of one city entity: the Department of Public Works.

The City Administrator submitted the list on March 1, the annual deadline to do so under Proposition K, the surplus public lands ballot measure introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim and approved by 74 percent of the voters last November.

The scouring of public lands for possible below-market-rate housing comes as San Francisco continues to feel squeezed by the housing crisis. Voters last November also weighed in on four other housing-related measures, including the approval of The City’s largest-ever affordable housing bond of $310 million.

For those eyeing public lands for housing, there is at least one promising prospect.

“We do believe that the assemblage of parcels at Grove and Van Ness, particularly if combined with two privately held parcels, affords the greatest opportunity for housing units — over 100 [units] on an assembled site there,” said John Updike, The City’s director of Real Estate.

A full analysis of the properties to determine their feasibility for housing development will be conducted by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, with results due by June 1.

Kim said she hadn’t reviewed the list yet, but noted the effort will create a better inventory of potential public lands for housing, after she discovered “departments were holding back” on real estate holdings.

Kim said the list is also meant to find “underutilized sites” in The City’s holdings, where housing may be eligible for construction on top of an existing use. She reiterated that public land can serve as an important resource for below-market-rate housing because land is one of the most expensive pieces of development projects.

Two lots can be immediately crossed off the list. They are located under the San Francisco Bay; a nearly 10,000-square-foot lot at 1000 Fitzgerald Ave. and a nearly 5,000-square-foot lot at 1,400 Bancroft St.

Twenty-five of the sites are under 3,500 square feet, but Updike said small lots don’t necessarily rule out housing development.

“As shown along Octavia Boulevard [the small parcels obtained by The City with the removal of the Central Freeway in 2000], housing potential can be found on very small sites,” Updike said. “For example, we not too long ago awarded sales contracts via a [request for proposals] for lots of only 2,800 square feet for multistory microunit development.”

One of the largest sites on the list, at 47,500 square feet, is the Old Mint building. The City isn’t expected to turn it into housing, but instead is looking for entities to reactivate the site as it currently stands.

Some of the other parcels are currently used as community gardens.

The public policy think-tank SPUR previously praised the measure as a welcomed reform to housing policy.

“Proposition K updates The City’s surplus land ordinance to make it more likely that these lands will be developed as affordable housing,” wrote Sarah Karlinsky, SPUR’s senior policy advisor, in the group’s January issue of the Urbanist. “Since land in San Francisco is so expensive and the competition for sites is ferocious, making use of city-owned land is a sensible way to support the construction of affordable housing.”

A Board of Supervisors committee is expected to hold a hearing on the list before April 15.

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