Swapping 10,000 jobs for 10,000 new households

Oops, the San Francisco Planning Department seems to have forgotten something in its newly approved Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — namely the 9,470 mostly blue-collar jobs it expects The City to lose when nearly 5 million square feet of light-industrial space is rebuilt as some 10,000 new households.

This massive rezoning was prepared for 10 years and at thousands of community meetings. It will likely undergo a final tug of war when appearing before the Board of Supervisors for final passage this autumn. Theoretically, the endangered small-business jobs could gain stronger protection from the board, but that is hardly certainty.

City Hall historically provided little help for back-street businesses “except to pile on the restrictions and wring out more revenue,” as The Examiner wrote in February. These companies employ more than 70,000 people and contribute one-fifth of The City’s payroll taxes — some $55 million per year — despite struggling in an anticompetitive environment of high taxes and limited workspace. They also provide livelihoods for many workers lacking educational certifications or job experience.

Production-distribution-repair light industry is concentrated in the lower-rent southeastern quadrant. The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan would open up housing development without nonconforming-usage special permits across much of the Mission, East SoMa, Showplace Square-Potrero Hill and the Central Waterfront.

By no means is The Examiner opposed to the total Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. The package delivers many important benefits and eliminates some major barriers to smart development. Today’s planning for these districts is chaotic and must be brought back under control. A nearly Wild West atmosphere during the dot-com boom already drove out too much PDR light industry.

Existing businesses were replaced with live-work units of sometimes-shoddy construction, leading to accusations of rampant gentrification. In response, City Hall locked down the four eastern neighborhoods under a two-year construction moratorium while a rezoning plan was prepared. This caused cash-flow difficulty for builders who had some 102 housing projects in the pipeline before the freeze. It has been estimated that The City could be losing nearly $11 million per year from the delay.

Also it is not news that San Francisco desperately needs more housing in the middle and lower price ranges. All housing that developers are now waiting impatiently to build is required by law to include at least 15 percent below-market-rate housing — quite likely even more by the time the supervisors sign off on new projects.

What The Examiner wants is stronger protection for light industry in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. The plan already includes a needed update of what qualifies as light industry and it offers developers helpful mixed-use options. But there should be practical incentive support ensuring that every healthy light industry wishing to remain in The City is not forced out. Districts like the Bayview and Hunters Point are clamoring for more jobs.

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