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SF considers plan to encourage development in Sunset and Richmond districts

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The proposal is non-binding, but could signal future interest in breaking density taboos on west side

View of the city skyline of the residential neighborhood of the Richmond District overlooking Ocean Beach, the border of Golden Gate Park and Marin Headlands. Via Shutterstock

At last, it could be time for the western side of San Francisco to do its part.

City Hall might consider adding low-density western neighborhoods to its list of “priority designated areas” (PDAs) for future housing development, under a proposal put together by the Plan Bay Area 2050 group, which could break longstanding taboos about building on the west side.

Plan Bay Area 2050 is a long-range plan that combines transportation, housing, the economy, and the environment, created by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

PDAs are one of the tools the plan uses to figure out which areas cities are likely to want to focus on for housing development in the near future, particularly those near transit and job centers.

At the end of November, SF Planning Program Manager Joshua Switzky presented a new potential new PDA layout to the San Francisco Planning Commission, calling the PDAs “a signal to regional agencies that [we are] considering planning for housing growth in the area.”

“All districts and all corridors have some responsibility” when it comes to housing, Switzky added, noting that the existing PDA map from 2017 leaves out the entirety of the Richmond, the Sunset, and other western-lying neighborhoods, while the new proposal does not.

Switzky emphasized that designating an area a PDA neither obligates any new action nor overrides local controls. But it does prompt City Hall to start thinking seriously about future development in those housing-starved areas. ABAG also offers funding benefits for projects within PDA zones.

Despite the non-binding nature of the plan, the hearing featured plenty of pushback, including, most notably, from former District One supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who told commissioners, “The western side of the city should not be raped.”

Hoodline asked McGoldrick to clarify his comments, to no avail.

Commissioner Dennis Richards, always skeptical of the specter of upzoning, warned against any changes that could potentially “turn into a monster” and urged fellow commission members to “look at the stock of what we’ve already got” before making more changes.

But outgoing SF Planning Director John Rahaim noted that “there’s been a lot of talk about the west side doing its part” at the commission in recent years, cautioning planners not to be balk when an opportunity to act on that talk presents itself.

The November presentation was informational and didn’t require a vote from the commission. The SF Board of Supervisors will consider the new PDA layout themselves later this month.