Rendering of 600 South Van Ness, courtesy Leavitt Architecture.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Planning Commission gave the go-ahead for the 27-unit condo proposed for 600 South Van Ness. The decision came not without a lengthy discussion among the commission and public commenters about the state of housing in San Francisco.

“This is an interesting one,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards, acknowledging that it was the first Mission development before the commission since Supervisor David Campos’ housing moratorium was introduced to the Board of Supervisors.

“An easy vote yes or no on this project is to not going to solve the housing crisis,” said Commissioner Rich Hillis.

“Clearly there is a crisis in terms of affordable housing,” said Vice President Cindy Wu, saying that while she thought the plan was compliant with the city’s existing plans for the Mission, “it feels as though we’re fulfilling Eastern Neighborhoods at different rates, are we hitting the numbers for market rate housing and affordable housing at the same time?”

By most counts, including Mission Local’s estimates, the Mission has not been on track with building the below market rate housing planned for in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. In the Mission, about 770 units of new housing have been built since the project’s approval in 2008, only about 12 percent have been below market rate— the target is 33 percent.

Regarding affordable housing at the corner of 17th and South Van Ness, Joseph Toboni, the project’s developer, had changed his original plans to pay the city’s in-lieu fees. Instead, the project will dedicate 14 percent of its units, which amount to four units in total, to on-site below market rate housing for purchase.

“The original plan was to pay in-lieu fees, but we heard from community members that they would prefer on-site housing and we changed our plans,” said Steve Vettel, Toboni’s attorney, adding that this preference stemmed from concerns that there were no guarantees that in-lieu fees would be spent in the Mission.

But for the handful of opponents to the project that showed up to voice their concerns, those four units seemed inadequate.

“In the Mission we need deeply affordable housing not just four units on-site,” said Diana Martinez, a representative of the Mission SRO Collaborative. “Four units doesn’t do enough to ease gentrification and displacement of neighborhood residents.”

Supporters of the project, many showing up in Toboni Group apparel, arrived in force. At one point, Joey Toboni, son of Joseph, asked those in favor of the project to stand and around forty people rose.

In addition to the 27-units of housing, which consists of 12 two-bedrooms and 15 one-bedroom condo units, the project designed by Michael Leavitt Architects will bring three ground floor retail space to a corner that’s been vacant for two years.

“If we don’t approve this project and this empty lot exists for another decade, that’s not a good thing for anyone,” said commission president Randy Fong. “But at times, it feels like this city is bulging at the seams.”

At a previous commission meeting, the Planning Commission had an open discussion about how best to deal with housing from their position. Several of the commissioners expressed a desire to make use of “more creative solutions,” but for this particular plan which was compliant with their current confines.

“I just want to acknowledge that the challenge is out there, but let’s not fight project by project,” said Wu. “Let’s figure out a way to use different tools.”

With the tools they did have, they approved the project unanimously.

Sutter soon, but not now

In another heated Mission District development item, one that had about a dozen people appearing to offer testimony, the Planning Commission voted to postpone their vote on the Sutter Health medical facility planned for 20th and Valencia.

While most of the commission seemed supportive of the project in general, the decision came after many representatives from existing Mission medical facilities, particularly Mission Neighborhood Health Center, expressed concerns. They said the impact of Sutter’s new center on existing patient populations hadn’t been adequately discussed with neighborhood groups.

“We’re very concerned about another health center so close to ours,” said Amelia Martinez, a board member at Mission Neighborhood Health Center. She explained the because MNHC takes uninsured patients it relies on Medi-Cal patients to fund its operations. Martinez said that Sutter could threaten its survival if it draws from those patients.

Several in their public comments also expressed dislike of the “big box” nature of Sutter’s large, roughly 7,000 square-foot proposal. Commissioners encouraged the health facility to work to make their plans more active and fit better into the existing retail environment of Valencia Street.

The Planning Commission will hear Sutter’s plans next on Thursday, July 2.

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. I hope people will familiarize themselves with the history and the work of Mission Neighborhood Health Centers before dismissing their concerns. Their website is here: Almost 50 years of service to people who need care, regardless of their ability to pay.
    Don’t we owe them at least as much concern and care as we give to local coffee shops when Starbucks wants to move in? Formula retail rules don’t apply to this medical facility, but some of the concerns addressed by the prohibition against formula retail (chain stores, like the recently rejected American Apparel) are at play here with Sutter wanting to take up a huge amount of street-front.
    It’s not so clear that “additional services for residents” is driving this proposal. Sutter made their plan without ever consulting the people who live in the neighborhood.
    They say they want to serve the “underserved” but they want to be on Valencia Street, in the most affluent and gentrified western edge of the Mission, and they are not interested in locating where the most underserved communities are, in the heart of the Mission, the Bayview, the Excelsior, Potrero.
    Sutter was required to make St. Luke’s viable in order to get permission to build their new big Cathedral Hill facility. It’s great that they are committed to making St. Luke’s a success. The areas of the city south of Market Street are much less well served than the northern parts of the city, which have almost all of the hospitals.
    No-one has said there shouldn’t be quality health services in everyone’s neighborhood. There should, and it should be accessible to all, regardless of their insurance or lack of insurance. Sutter has said this location would take all insurance, including Medi-Cal, but they have NOT said they would serve the uninsured.
    It’s a very good thing that the hearing at the Planning Commission was postponed until July 2nd. It provides an opportunity for everyone concerned — Sutter, the neighborhood health clinics, the nearby merchants, the neighborhood residents, and the people in the underserved areas of the city — to get together and openly discuss their interests and concerns, and to come to the hearing better informed.

  2. Wow, Mission Health is concerned that residents will have a choice of local health care providers? Perhaps Mission Health should assess why patients might choose not to stay with their current care providers. Further, additional services for residents should not be unwelcome because of a preference for tourist dollars over resident needs.
    Regarding housing, it is reasonable to ask why the Mission, until recently a moderate-income area, is being built up with high-income housing, rather than the high-income housing being built in areas that are currently high-income, or under new development (such as the old port areas).

  3. Nice article. Very balanced in what is usually topic covered by very shrill reporting. Personally, I would love to see more housing built faster. That is the only way to address the housing crisis. Doing things to limit demand (like restricting certain housing against being “market rate”) will not make the demand go away and will not lower prices. It’s too bad that the “character of the mission” is changing but that’s just life. Without more housing built Mission prices will continue to rise to even more absurd levels