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Uncertain Brisbane delays vote on Baylands housing

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“San Francisco needs to solve their own problems”

Aerial photo of the Baylands in Brisbane. Sharon Hahn Darlin

Brisbane’s City Council met Monday night to debate whether or not future development of the city’s plum 684-acre Baylands site, located south of San Francisco, should include new housing.

Despite all of the anticipation leading up to Monday’s meeting, Brisbane lawmakers ultimately reached no decision and deferred the vote until later this month.

Earlier Monday, outside groups called yet again for the city to seize the opportunity to build.

State Sen. Scott Wiener and state assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu (all from San Francisco) were among those who signed onto a public statement addressed to the City Council Monday, reading in part:

Cities both large and small can no longer ignore their role in our regional need for more housing. If we had been more proactive in building housing ten years ago, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today, and if we don’t start building today, it’s going to be even worse ten years from now.

[...] Approving a plan with thousands of homes accessible to public transit would show the kind of local leadership we need if we are going to pull ourselves out of this housing crisis.

Ironically, the council cited housing bills pending in the state legislature by the likes of Wiener and Chiu as the reason to ultimately put off a decision, saying they didn’t know enough yet about how future state law might affect development.

The city of Brisbane, seen from a hill. Franco Folini

Despite pleas from out-of-towners, Brisbane’s housing skeptics remain unmoved. Resident Karen Cunningham, speaking during public comment Monday night, said “Brisbane did not create the housing crisis. We should not be the solution to the entire housing crisis.”

Cunningham said that if San Francisco is worried about housing it should do more to fill vacant apartments in the city.

“San Francisco needs to solve their problems before pointing the finger at us,” she added.

(In reality SF’s vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country, although Cunningham is technically correct that this still amounts to thousands of unused homes.)

She even cited Monday’s news about the sale of Presidio Terrace as evidence of SF’s housing incompetence. “Hello? Hello? Did you guys read that? Now they want to point fingers at us?”

Neighbor Carolyn Parker argued that Brisbane’s small-town vibe was too unique in the Bay Area to risk changing.

“We work very hard to keep Brisbane Brisbane,” said Parker. “We like to have a little town here.”

Parker also suggested that the Baylands, a former garbage dump, wasn’t safe enough for housing.

“There’s other places to put low-cost housing, let’s not put it in the Baylands,” Parker said, suggesting that the city build new housing downtown and turn the Baylands into a transit district.

The Baylands as developer Universal Paragon Corporation sees it.

Corey Smith, a community organizer with the housing development-friendly non-profit SF Housing Action Coalition, acknowledged “the small-town feel [of Brisbane] is cool,” but argued that the city can have the best of both worlds by building housing that is “closer to San Francisco” than to Brisbane’s current center.

Smith, wearing a green “Build Housing” sticker, pointed out that most of the proposed 4,400 units would be closer to Caltrain’s Bayshore Station than to downtown Brisbane.

In the end the city decided to defer voting, a decision the council announced even before public comment.

A woman with a “Build Housing” sticker (unidentified, since she spoke up spontaneously) accused them of kicking the can down the road.

Update: SFHAC’s Corey Smith tells us this was Laura Clark from the group YIMBY Action.

“It seems like you’re just extending the public process to delay and delay,” she said. “This seems like another effort to not make a decision.”

“Thank you for your opinion,” Councilmember Clifford Lentz replied.