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Jane Kim promises more housing after transit-housing bill failure

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Supervisor and mayoral candidate uses op-ed for post-mortem on rival’s bill

         By F. Spaich

On Wednesday, San Francisco lawmaker and mayoral candidate Jane Kim wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner calling for more housing in the city after state transit-housing bill SB 827’s failure in a senate committee earlier this month.

“State leaders last week smartly pushed pause on Senate Bill 827,” writes Kim, suggesting, “let’s build more housing the right way.” The District Six supervisor goes on to couple criticisms of the high-profile state bill with her own housing-related campaign promises.

Here’s a fact check of some of Kim’s claims:

  • “According to Planning Department analysis, 96 percent of San Francisco’s parcels [...] would have seen new luxury condo towers [under SB 827] without the ability to require additional developer contributions.” This is not quite true. While the Planning Department did conclude that the law would have applied to more than 96 percent of city lots, many of those parcels in downtown areas were already zoned that way anyway. And of course, developers weren’t going to build new towers on 96 percent of city properties no matter what. It’s more accurate to say that the bill would have greatly increased potential density and skyline height over most of the city.
  • “The parcels that will generate the highest profit are the places with the lowest land values, meaning we will see the small amounts of housing that are still affordable to working people become the target of massive gentrification.” Strictly speaking, the bill included requirements for affordable housing in new developments and protections that would have prevented landlords from ousting tenants with the Ellis Act and then rebuilding. It is true, though, that there’s no way to stop unscrupulous types from tearing down cheaper housing and building more expensive homes; this is almost always true.
Kim in 2017.
Pax Ahimsa Gethen
  • “Supporters of SB 827 have never explained why Marin, Sonoma, or Napa counties would build mass transit if they are then required to upzone. Of course, the answer is that they wouldn’t.” This is true. However, bill author Scott Wiener’s rejoinder to this criticism was always that those cities could hardly be any more resistant to transit and housing expansion than they are already, making it arguably a lateral move.
  • “The Sierra Club California strongly opposed this bill, writing, ‘While infill development near transit is the most desirable option, we believe that [SB 827] is a heavy-handed approach.’” True, the Sierra Club sent a letter to Sen. Wiener in January citing the worry that the bill might accidentally quash new mass transit initiatives. But some other environmental groups did back the bill.
  • “We can entitle thousands of units faster and more affordably by streamlining the process for accessory dwelling units and approving more three to 10-unit residential buildings throughout.” Potentially true, but difficult. San Francisco Business Times notes that at current rates it would take 50 years to permit 30,000 new in-law homes in the city. Meanwhile, according to the latest Housing Inventory, only three percent of new homes added to the city in 2017 were in buildings of three to nine units; 94 percent were in developments of 20-plus homes, which developers usually claim are more viable for their bottom line.