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San Francisco should build its own housing, says Marin columnist

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Dick Spotswood refutes State Sen. Scott Wiener’s housing plan

Houses in the Marin County hills.
Marin County hills.
Photo by Marben

San Francisco’s State Sen. Scott Wiener wants to change how California cities approve and build housing. His bill SB 35 would force municipalities to start heeding Sacramento standards for housing development or risk sacrificing control of their own entitlements process, at least temporarily.

Writing for the Marin Independent Journal this week, columnist and former Mill Valley mayor Dick Spotswood told Wiener what he thinks of that.

“High-rise condos and apartments belong in job centers like San Francisco with comprehensive public transit networks,” Spotswood writes, accusing Wiener and Sacramento lawmakers of trying to outsource San Francisco’s problems to other communities.

Echoing development skeptics in Brisbane, Spotswood notes that San Francisco has acted a bit dense when it comes to developing more density in the past. He writes:

If San Francisco was as committed to housing as it self-righteously claims, it would resemble the forest of high-rises that dominate western Canada’s metropolis.

Then the Sunset District’s Taraval Street would be lined with 10-story apartment houses. The untouchable corners of Castro and Market served by four subway-light-rail lines and three bus routes would see 25-story housing towers on each of its five corners.

[...] If Sen. Wiener displays true political courage by suggesting Vancouver or Hong Kong-style development, his San Francisco constituents will see that he soon returns to the dreaded private sector.


Photo by Gail Johnson

Wiener, for his part, told Streetsblog that he thinks Spotswood is mischaracterizing the legislation, noting that high-rises are hardly the only way to increase density, but admits that Spotswood has a point about San Francisco zoning.

“When it comes to addressing zoning disparities in our cities, there is a conversation to be had there,” said Wiener, pointing out that he advocated to upzone Upper Market.

Still, he holds that his bill is an appropriate tool for Marin communities.

Spotswood is the latest Marin voice to chide Wiener’s housing plan. His fellow State Senator Mike McGuire, who represents Marin County, told KQED he fears that SB 35 will “completely [take] out the public’s role in this approval process.”

Marin blogger Stephen Nestel, who writes the Save Marinwood blog, called the bill “repugnant,” saying, “We paid for the open space [...] we have a right to maintain it.”

Photo by Marcelo Saavedra

For the record, according to the U.S. Census Marin County built only 1,668 new homes between April of 2010 and July of 2016. That’s about one per every 156 county residents, going by the 2016 population.

San Francisco built 15,853 homes in the same period, nearly one per every 55 residents.

Marin County hosts less than 315 persons per square mile, although that figure jumps up to over 493 when we factor in that more than a third of the area is just water. San Francisco has some 18,529 persons per mile.