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Competing City Hall Bids Attempt to Shield SF From Gov. Brown's Development Law

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Any port in a storm, right?

California Governor Jerry Brown is poised to launch a kind of housing nuclear option, if you will, one that would eliminate most of San Francisco’s development process in the name of stoking more construction. City Hall lawmakers are making a bid to shield San Francisco from the governor’s sweeping new status quo, lest the entire local toolkit go out the window.

Last month, and quite out of the blue, Brown offered a proposal that would dub most large housing projects by-right developments, automatically fast tracking them as long as they’re properly zoned and have a minimum number of affordable units (as little as five percent in some cases, although 10 to 20 percent would be the standard).

It’s not quite the equivalent of nuking local entitlement laws off the face of the earth, but it’s pretty close.

Both developers, and the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) crowd, who have battled for more growth in San Francisco, greeted this news the same way dogs would a statewide ban on leashes. But for those with a skeptical attitude about new building, this is like having your recurring nightmare suddenly come true.

Enter Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The progressive supervisor has put a resolution up to vote at today’s BOS meeting, asking the Bay Area’s Sacramento reps to amend Brown’s proposal and exempt any city already producing 25 percent affordable housing annually from the by-right rules.

"By-right development would restrict the potential to use development incentives to further increase affordability beyond the existing requirements," Peskin argues.

The supervisors just won the power to set affordability standards in last week’s primary election, and now Brown might be yanking the rug out from under them before they’ve even unrolled it.

(To clarify: San Francisco would still be allowed to set a minimum standard for affordable housing greater than the 5-20 percent Brown requires. But once any building met it, it would have to be approved almost automatically. The only way to preserve the present approval process would be to set affordable housing demand so low that lawmakers would probably rather march into the ocean.)

Five other supervisor are co-sponsoring Peskin’s move, but Scott Wiener introduced a competing clause, which pushes to amend the Brown law to "honor local standards around architecture, urban design, affordability, preservation of historic buildings" and rent control but, notably, doesn’t provide any exemptions.

It’s even theoretically possible both could pass. Right now, Wiener’s name is the only one attached to his resolution.

If Peskin’s exemption eventually ends up part of the Sacramento bill, San Francisco, Oakland, and even some famously expensive Silicon Valley cities like Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto would be covered by it. (In the case of Los Altos Hills, this is because hardly any new development happens most years anyway.) But cities like San Jose and Berkeley presently fall short of the prescribed 25 percent threshold.