Map showing parts of the Mission District that would qualify as “sensitive areas” under Senate Bill 50, according to Planning Department documents. (Courtesy image)

Why SB 50’s disregard for the Mission District should concern us all

By Norma Garcia and Cindy Wu

Senate Bill 50 is being promoted as the solution for the state’s housing crisis. The bill may in part expand housing in certain suburban job rich locations. But as presently written SB 50 will also disempower and harm other communities, particularly those already facing gentrification. One of those communities is the Mission District.

For over a century the Mission has been a culturally vibrant working class neighborhood. Its predominately Latino residents have played an essential part in what makes our city what it is today. But gentrification threatens its survival. Evictions and rising rents have pushed out both residents and small businesses. Instead of affordable apartments investors have built more million dollar condominiums. Facing rising evictions and rents, the Mission’s Latino population declined by over eight thousand since the year 2000.

Adding more market rate condominiums is clearly not the answer for the Mission. Yet, SB 50’s general approach to ‘solving’ the housing crisis is through deregulation: giving away incentives to developers to build mostly market rate housing in exchange for a few affordable units.

Nevertheless, promoters of SB 50 tell Mission residents that they need not fear increased gentrification because the bill includes a temporary exception for “sensitive communities.” Designated “sensitive communities” will be given five years to come up with plans for more development while also not displacing residents.

We question how a “sensitive” community’s plan will meet SB50’s requirements in the long run. But our first concern is how neighborhoods gain such a designation. If vulnerable communities fail to qualify they will be immediately exposed to SB 50’s full gentrifying impacts.

Anticipating this problem months ago, housing rights organizations urged state Sen. Scott Wiener, the bill’s author, to make the “sensitive communities” process more accountable to impacted communities. But the senator’s most recent amendments to SB 50 appear to reject those proposals, adopting instead a top-down and formula based approach.

For the Bay Area, SB 50 relies upon a controversial map adopted by the regional Metropolitan Transit Commission to identify sensitive communities. Overall the MTC’s map understates displacement risks and gentrification. Specifically for the Mission we have drafted a map of “sensitive communities” based upon Planning Department’s documents. Our map shows that SB 50 omits a majority of the Mission District from the sensitive communities program.

By excluding most of the Mission as a “sensitive community” only a few parts of the neighborhood will receive the temporary exemption from the bill’s pro-developer policies. Without those exemptions most Mission residents will lose many of the local rights they relied upon to win a larger share of affordable housing and stronger protections for local businesses and jobs. SB 50’s impact will be particularly harmful and disempowering for the Mission.

SB 50’s disregard for the Mission, a neighborhood which has been ground zero for displacement and gentrification, raises deep concerns for all communities seeking to preserve and strengthen social and economic diversity. If SB 50 becomes law, more decisions about development will be determined from afar in Sacramento or by unaccountable regional agencies. And disadvantaged communities everywhere will face more daunting barriers to meaningful democratic participation. Now is the time for all of us to collectively speak out against these looming injustices.

Norma Garcia is the director of policy for the Mission Economic Development Agency and Cindy Wu is the former president of San Francisco’s Planning Commission

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