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San Francisco lawmakers to debate California housing, transit bill

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“A nuclear option” to the state’s housing crisis

Visitacion Valley with Muni T train. Photo by SPUR

State Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) latest housing bill SB 827—which would mandate taller, denser housing near public transit in California cities and and affect virtually every block in San Francisco—has found a skeptical audience with some of his old colleagues on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, San Francisco lawmakers will consider whether or not to officially oppose the proposed law. While the vote would have little direct effect on the fate of the bill, it could hurt SB 827’s sales pitch if Wiener’s own hometown frowns upon it.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced the resolution at a Land Use Committee meeting on March 12, characterizing Wiener’s bill as a giveaway to developers and the state:

Senator Wiener has introduced legislation that would mandate that local jurisdictions confer significant benefits upon developers in exchange for building residential projects within a one-half mile radius of a major transit stop or a one-fourth mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor and exempt those residential developments from local planning requirements.

[...] (SB) 827 would apply to virtually all residential parcels citywide based on the prescribed radii, essentially allowing the State to override San Francisco’s charter authority, circumvent local planning laws and incentivize speculation.

That version specified that the city “joins with other local jurisdictions and a growing statewide coalition of housing advocates in opposing SB 827.”

But the version the full board will consider today takes a much lighter approach after Supervisor Katy Tang succeeded in amending it to the point that Peskin’s big public stand now amounts to saying that the city “is committed to [...] the necessary amendments to SB 827 in order to protect San Francisco’s sovereign charter authority.”

The new version also includes language lauding Senator Wiener’s work on the bill:

San Francisco applauds Senator Wiener’s recent amendments to SB 827 to strengthen tenant rights with Right to Remain which mandates that the developer must provide tenants with relocation benefits, comparable rent for 42 months, and right of first refusal in the new building offered at the previous rent.

Despite the soft-touch approach, the meat of today’s hearing will be the opportunity for the public and NIMBY groups to sound off on the bill and let city lawmakers have at it with their opinions.

Dozens of pages of correspondence have already piled up ahead of the hearing, mostly in opposition.

“SB 827 was written to enrich speculators, real estate developers, and their investors without regards to the residents of San Francisco,” Cow Hollow resident Will Robbins alleges in a March 29 email.

Attorney David Sideman calls the bill “draconian” and “a nuclear option,” while local midwife Alison Price predicts “there will be more burnt out buildings like in hopes of putting monstrosities up” if SB 827 becomes law.

On the steps of San Francisco City Hall Tuesday, Peskin will join others who oppose the bill—including names like former mayor Art Agnos, District Six frontrunner Matt Haney, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Cow Hollow Association, just to name a few—asking the city to “stand up for community process and oppose the fundamentally flawed SB 827.”

Other cities in opposition, including Los Angeles, have already come out against the bill, although some public bodies back it, including BART’s Board of Directors. And, of course, pro-housing groups like California YIMBY love it, all but calling SB 827 a silver bullet solution to “local obstructionism.”

Wiener is presently working on further amending the bill to make it more politically palatable before introducing it to committee in Sacramento.