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SF election results: Voters likely to cap SF office construction with Proposition E

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Proposition says no more office development unless SF puts housing first—the hard way

A photo of the sky, with red brick skyscrapers on either side of the frame. Photo via Shutterstock

Proposition E is on its way to a spacious margin of victory.

After the Super Tuesday election, a plan to cap construction on new office space in San Francisco unless the city builds more affordable housing proved popular with voters.

The SF Department of Elections says that Proposition E netted more than 55 percent of the vote in the ballots already counted early Wednesday morning. While more votes still need counting—mostly mail-in ballots—the measure only needed a simple majority to pass, making it a likely favorite at this point.

Under a voter-approved law from 1986 (Proposition M), San Francisco can only approve 875,000 square feet of new office space annually. Now Proposition E threatens to pinch that supply even more, lowering the cap in proportion to SF’s downfall in affordable housing development targets each year.

So, if the city builds 15 percent fewer affordable homes than the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, a regular assessment by the state) indicates, the following year’s 875,000 square feet of office allowance will end up cut by 15 percent—and so forth.

It’s a potentially punishing formula, especially since San Francisco, like most Bay Area cities, almost never satisfies its RHNA goals.

In 2019, Beacon Economics calculated that at current rates of development, it would take SF until 2080 to build enough affordable housing at some brackets to satisfy all of those benchmarks.

The fact that new office development is itself a major source of affordable housing funding makes the math even harder to brook.

Of course, it’s very likely that at least some voters liked the idea of stalling new office construction just on its own merits—and that sentiment may have carried the day. But the measure is not yet technically decided. Curbed will update as the official final count nears.