Vote no on Prop. E, re-zoning public land

By Patrick Monette-Shaw

The Examiner’s two-sentence recommendation urging voters to support Proposition E on November’s ballot is wrong, misleading voters.

City supervisors can already allow housing on parcels zoned “Public” via case-by-case variances or creating Public Use Districts. They already have. Prop. “E” ain’t necessary.

First, the Examiner wrongly asserted Prop. E “… could save precious money and time and make some projects more likely to come to fruition.” That’s extremely doubtful. Even the City Controller appears to believe the opposite.

When Mayor Breed and four members of the Board of Supervisors submitted dueling versions of what eventually became Proposition E to the Elections Department on June 18 without holding any public hearings beforehand, the City Controller prepared an analysis of each version. In both opinions, he noted that should voters pass either proposal to amend the planning code to allow housing on public lands, it “would have a minimal impact on the cost of government.”

After Breed was forced to withdraw her measure in favor of the supervisor’s version, the Controller submitted his final voter guide statement making a 180 degree turn, saying it “would result in a minimal reduction in government costs.” He pivoted from stating there would be a minimal impact, to a minimal reduction in City costs.

Minimal cost reductions are a far cry from the Examiner’s assertion a precious amount of money might be saved.

Additionally, the Controller asserted any cost savings from re-zoning public land is conditional on whether it shortens housing development and construction timelines or lowers inflation costs. Prop. E won’t shorten timelines appreciably.

Re-zoning typically takes six to 12 months during environmental review while the developer works simultaneously on detailed design, permitting and financing that can take up to 24 months. Eliminating re-zoning won’t shorten the concurrent 24-month processes while inflation continues accruing.

Second, the Examiner wrongly asserts Prop. E “would change the zone of land owned by public agencies” for development of affordable and teacher housing projects. That’s incorrect. The public parcels (except parks) won’t actually be re-zoned. Instead, Prop. E merely adds a new Planning Code subparagraph to allow placing housing on public land, since the Code currently prohibits any residential uses on parcels zoned “P, Public.”

Breed initially claimed wildly that she submitted her citywide re-zoning ballot measure only because it had taken over two years to re-zone the Francis Scott Key Annex site for a teacher housing project. Breed’s pretext was laughable. She ignored the project delay was caused primarily because its design wasn’t completed and wasn’t awarded City funding before July 30, 2019. Indeed, the developer — MidPen — didn’t even submit its special use district re-zoning application to the Planning Department until May 1, 2019. Obviously, re-zoning can’t have taken two years.

Supervisor Shamann Walton noted during a July 11, 2019 hearing the Annex site should have been re-zoned “a couple of years ago.” He faulted MidPen for its lack of experience in San Francisco, adding “We should not be giving away publicly-owned land for market-rate developments calling it affordable teacher housing.”

Prop. E specifically allows 100 percent affordable housing on public land to include mixed-use, non-residential uses on the ground floor of each project. Worse, teacher housing projects can include 20 percent of its square footage for non-residential uses, and can additionally designate one-fifth (20 percent) of the units for educators earning up to 160 percent of area median income. That’s essentially market-rate housing: 160 percent of AMI is $137,920 for a one-person household, and $197,040 for a four-person household.

Proposition E claims it will “streamline” approval processes. The streamlining only involves eliminating the Planning Commission’s discretionary review processes and eliminating public hearings. It will eliminate neighborhood’s abilities and rights to appeal projects on public lands during open hearings. It essentially usurps hyperlocal, neighborhood-level input into local land-use decisions.

Prop. E doesn’t address whether developers will acquire public lands at no cost, fee simple sales, long-term ground leases, or prices below market-rate appraisal value. Developers covet acquiring public land for opportunities of massive financial gain.

Prop. E is déjà vu, mirroring AB-1487 by Assemblymember David Chiu and Chiu’s former chief of staff, Judson True. True now works for Breed, “streamlining” San Francisco’s permitting processes. AB-1487 was designed to streamline and ease privatization, appropriation, and exploitation of regional public lands.

Prop. E guts neighborhood-level control of public land in one fell swoop citywide, for little public gain. Only housing developers will “save money.” Awarding public land so private developers can enhance profits is against the interests of the people.

Keep public lands in neighborhood’s — people’s — hands. Vote “No” on “E”!

Patrick Monette-Shaw is a columnist for the Westside Observer newspaper and operates stopLHHdownsize.com.

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