San Francisco is a tiny step closer to a potential flood of tiny new homes, as City Hall appears to be seriously considering legalizing new in-law units on almost any residential parcel, and even in unused retail space.
The last few years have seen slow, grudging conversion to the gospel of Accessory Dwelling Units (the technical term for the pint-sized units). First, a process was put in place to legalize the scads of clandestine in-laws that people had been building and renting for years. Then, new units were experimentally authorized in a few city districts, yielding about 130 new homes since 2014.
Now there are two different bills that would write off all past reservations and effectively tell homeowners to build whatever they like in the backyard (within reason, of course). One is a joint effort from supervisors Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, the other the work of supervisor Aaron Peskin.
That Wiener and Peskin, who have been constantly undermining each other over housing issues lately, somehow managed to mix oil and water long enough to both think this is a good idea tells us how attractive this kind of development has become. The argument goes, if we can add thousands or even tens of thousands of new units to the city without changing how anything looks, why in the world wouldn’t we?
Under the Peskin plan, any existing property with 10 or fewer units would be allowed to build an extra ADU, and anyplace with 11 or more would get two. Farrell and Wiener, on the other hand, would allow unlimited ADU construction on any property with five or more units, as well as allow new ADUs in unused retail space in large developments.
"We’re not there yet" finding a compromise between the two bills, Farrell told the Planning Commission last week, although he says he’s confident they’ll work it out.
Unexpected brotherly love between battling lawmakers aside, there are plenty of people who don’t like the idea of essentially upzoning entire neighborhoods. "This is retroactively changes the nature of neighborhoods people have bought into already," complained Commissioner Mike Antonini, predicting that increased neighborhood density would send families fleeing to the East Bay or Marin County.
"We’re opening Pandora’s Box unless we have more tools to keep track of" what kind of properties are allowed to add new units, predicted Kathrin Moore.
Although most of the public feedback on the proposal was positive, a few people were anxious about whether transit and other neighborhood infrastructure could support tens of thousands of new residents.
But in the end, the commission approved a Frankenstein proposal consisting of parts of both bills, with only Antonini objecting.