By NOAH BUHAYAR
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday that would protect existing industry, create new housing and raise funds for public improvements in four of the city’s eastern neighborhoods.
The vote was an abrupt close to a process eight years in the making that often pitted community groups against developers.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s over,” said Sean Keighran, president of the Residential Builders Association of San Francisco. “It’s consumed so much of our time.”
Several public hearings on the planning department’s proposal to rezone much of the Mission, East SOMA, Showplace Square/Potrero Hill, and the central waterfront were held this fall in the run-up to the vote.
The so-called Eastern Neighborhoods Area Plans restricts development in industrial areas, such as the northeast Mission, to preserve existing and create new blue-collar jobs. Community groups argued that businesses in these areas, which tend to pay better wages than service-sector employers, help keep lower-income residents in the city. During the dot-com boom, developers made small fortunes converting these spaces into high-end live-work spaces for the tech community.
“We did well in terms of industrial jobs; we protected those areas,” said Nick Pagoulatos, coordinator for the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, one of the community groups that helped spur the Eastern Neighborhoods planning process.
In addition to protecting jobs, the plan will add an estimated 10,000 new residences to the city. About 3,000 of these would be within the reach of a San Francisco family of four earning between $66,300 and $124,350. Roughly 600 of these would be in the Mission.
Pagoulatos argued that this fell well short of the community’s needs. Throughout the planning process, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition advocated for all new housing to be affordable.
“On the housing side, we didn’t get nearly what we wanted,” he said. “Although, at the end, we were able to move the city a little bit more in terms of encouraging rentals and the locking down of large sites for affordable development.”
Both builders and community groups said that one big remaining question was how to finance neighborhood improvements like parks and better public transportation.
“Nobody really knows how this is going to be implemented right now, because there is an acknowledged large shortfall in how the plan is going to pay for itself,” said Pagoulatos.
The plan imposes fees on new development that would only partially cover the cost of these works. To complicate matters, said Pagoulatos, the economic slowdown has called into question how quickly any new development will happen.
For his part, Kierghan, of the Residential Builders Association, was relieved that the city finally settled on its rules for development. He explained it would allow his members to make accurate calculations about the cost of projects and decide whether or not to move forward.
But with the housing market in a freefall, that relief was easily overshadowed.
“Given the economic conditions right now, it’s hard to get excited about anything,” he said.
With respect to the public infrastructure fund, Kierghan said he was most concerned that the money developers pay for neighborhood improvements be well spent. “A lot of people are going to have to watch this fund . . . and make sure that the cookie jar doesn’t get robbed,” he added.
After eight years of debate, though, both sides marked a conciliatory tone, knowing that hard work still lies ahead.
“Hopefully, we can work together in implementing the plan,” said Kierghan of his group and the community organizations.
“I think everybody stayed behind the line on their respective sides,” said Pagoulatos of the planning process. “But moving forward . . . it really is going to necessitate all sides sitting down and talking.”