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SF Planning Commission nixes appeal of huge Excelsior housing development

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Neighbors anxious about gentrification demanded more scrutiny

A rendering of a four-story building. Rendering courtesy of SF Planning

The San Francisco Planning Commission rejected the appeal of a planned 193-unit development in the Excelsior, waving the project through despite neighbors’ concerns about gentrification and an alleged lack of scrutiny.

Developer Presidio Bay Ventures proposed a four-to-six-story residential structure at 65 Ocean Avenue, which would also feature a nearly 6,000-square-foot childcare facility and 121 underground parking spaces.

Of the 193 homes, 48 of them would be priced at below market rates.

Enter People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), a neighborhood group who lodged an appeal on October 8. The group claimed that a previous decision by the city to let 65 Ocean bypass a rigorous CEQA review was inappropriate.

PODER also alleged that existing studies on the project underestimate the effect on local traffic. Critics also worry that a large market-rate development in the neighborhood would further drive up rents and gentrify the area.

PODER supporters speaking at Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting called the potential effects on the neighborhood “environmental racism.”

Defending against similar criticisms in the past, Presidio Bay Ventures objected to characterizing the building as a luxury project, noting that it’s “the only large-scale HOME-SF program” in the city right now and that 25 percent of the total units would aimed at lower-income residents.

At the meeting, planning staff recommended that commissioners disregard the appeal, arguing that “no substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that a significant environmental effect may occur as a result of the project has been presented.”

The staff report, in particular, noted that arguments about gentrification don’t qualify as environmental harms and don’t warrant additional review on environmental grounds.

The commission agreed, voting unanimously to toss out the appeal and move ahead with the project; several commission members made comments sympathetic to PODER’s complaints.

Commissioner Milicent Johnson said she worries about what will happen to neighborhoods like the Excelsior and Outer Mission. “We need to do better,” she said.

But Johnson also noted that any alternative development at the site would be “crumbs” compared to what the current developer is offering.

Commissioner Dennis Richards agreed, saying, “We’re getting a better deal with this project” than anyone else would offer.

“If we have true displacement issues, we need to start having conversations at the state level,” Richards added, proposing ideas like rent control reform as real long-term solutions to displacement.