The Planning Commission on Thursday will hear two proposals for the 35-acre Pier 70 project. (Courtesy Port of San Francisco)

Say yes to housing at Pier 70

More housing! The Planning Commission has the opportunity today to either push for the housing we need, or continue to promote projects that exacerbate our jobs-housing imbalance.

Commissioners will hear two proposals for the 35-acre Pier 70 project along Third Street near Dogpatch and the Bayview. One scenario emphasizes commercial development, with comparatively little residential development to house the new workers, while the other scenario gets closer to proposing enough housing to meet the demand created by new jobs. The Planning Commission will be asked by the project sponsor to approve both — giving the developer certainty on their approvals for the huge Pier 70 site, but also giving the developer lots of flexibility on what they actually build.

We think this is the time for the Planning Commission to actually walk their talk about the need for housing to meet job growth, and demand that these big master-planned developments build enough housing for their workers.

This should be a no-brainer. The project’s own Environmental Impact Report notes that the “Maximum Commercial Scenario” will only meet 30 percent of the demand created by the project’s jobs, while the “Maximum Residential Scenario” will meet 94 percent of the housing demand. It’s a clear choice — the Planning Commission should approve the project on the condition that only the maximum residential scenario be allowed to move forward.

Pier 70 is a perfect site for new mixed-use development and we look forward to seeing the project move forward. Our affordable housing coalition, CCHO, along with several neighborhood associations adjacent to the project, supported the Proposition F ballot measure in 2014 that increased heights and densities on the parcels. But these large master-planned projects should no longer be allowed to just focus on profitable commercial development, while leaving other places to take care of the housing need they’ve helped create. This is the same scenario that has contributed to our housing crisis, with cities allowing companies like Google and Apple to build campuses in the South Bay without adequate housing for their workforce. San Francisco should not make the same mistake.

Getting to a real jobs-housing-fit
This debate points to an underlying issue with how The City plans its future (and by extension, to the absence of any regional planning that can rationally and equitably plan the region’s growth).

While large developments like this are required to do environmental impact reports, there’s no requirement to hold them accountable to their housing impacts, or to even understand what kind of housing the workers in these new jobs will be able to afford. The Planning Department needs to evolve and actually analyze the housing impacts, by wage level, for every major master-planned project and area plan (and cumulatively for the sum of all projects in The City). It’s called a Jobs-Housing Fit analysis, and it should be a prerequisite for Planning Commission discussions on development approvals.

This isn’t rocket science. Last June, we analyzed the Brisbane Baylands project, and this month we’re providing the Commission with our analysis of the Pier 70 project.

A Jobs-Housing Fit analysis shows that even the “Maximum Residential Scenario” doesn’t adequately meet the housing needs for Pier 70. The EIR’s estimate assumes that over a quarter of all new workers will be housed elsewhere in the region, and that other jurisdictions will take the responsibility of housing those workers. That’s like Brisbane or Cupertino or Mountain View saying San Francisco can house the majority of their new workers because that’s how it has been. It’s time for jurisdictions to start internalizing responsibility for the housing needed to support the new workforce their policies promote. When we take the full workforce into account, even the “Maximum Residential Scenario” would only account for 65 percent of the actual need.

When we delve deeper into worker incomes, the lack of adequate housing in the Pier 70 plan is even clearer. The project will have a mix of commercial office (presumably largely tech jobs), restaurant, retail, and arts/light industrial uses. This means Pier 70 will create low-, moderate-, and high-wage jobs, and needs to plan for housing at a range of income levels. Based on a Jobs-Housing Fit analysis, a whopping 47 percent of all housing would need to be affordable for Pier 70’s low- and moderate/middle-income workers (all those restaurant, retail, grounds, arts, light industrial and office support workers). The project will be providing 30 percent affordable units, which is still impressive and a plan that San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing

Organizations supported in the Prop. F proposal.

That means that the “Maximum Residential Scenario” will provide enough housing for most of the new tech and office jobs, but a significant portion of the low- and moderate-income support workers will be forced to look for housing in cheaper outer suburbs with long commute times, and put additional housing pressure on other cities. This kind of inequality is not how we should be planning our cities or region, and San Francisco can and should do better.

At the very least, the Planning Commission should only allow the Maximum Residential Scenario to move forward. And from here on out, the Planning Department should commit to real planning for The City’s future by ensuring that commercial development in The City is planned with sufficient housing and at the appropriate affordability levels for a true Jobs-Housing Fit.

Otherwise, we aren’t solving our housing crisis — we are just making it worse. Say yes to housing at Pier 70.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti are co-directors of San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations.

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