In a room packed with contention, the Planning Commission decided Thursday in a 5-to-1 vote to begin considering temporary controls on development in the Mission.
The Commission will take a final vote on a resolution in early August.
The decision came after two hours of public comment, during which almost all of the members of the public — both pro- and anti-development — encouraged the commission to reject consideration of a resolution that will essentially make developers of new market-rate housing go through a more rigorous review. The controls would last for a six-month period.
Those who were pro-development argued against more building restrictions and considered it unfair to impose new controls. For those against development, the resolution was simply too weak: They wanted to see a flat-out moratorium on new market-rate housing.
The six-month slowdown, according to the Planning Department, would give the city “time to analyze affordable housing needs, assess sites for affordable housing production, stem the loss of income-protected units, and maintain” property for companies involved in production, distribution, and repair services, known as PDR.
“These controls would change the game midstream,” said Andrew Greg, who came to represent some property owners in the area. “These folks have spent money and time in the entitlement process playing by the rules. This would be a retroactive impediment on what they’re trying to do.”
Those who have supported a moratorium on luxury housing in the Mission called the Planning Commission’s version too watered-down — especially because it grandfathers in projects like the 345-unit project at 16th and Mission and the 276-unit project at 2000 Bryant Street.
“This is quite an insult to the 800-plus people that came to City Hall on June 2nd demanding a moratorium,” said one representative from the Mission SRO Collaborative. “How will these interim controls protect the neighborhood from gentrification if they don’t even include the Monster in the Mission and the Beast on Bryant Street?”
Those in favor of a moratorium also pointed out that the interim controls fail to cover the entire Mission, since the controls would stop west of Mission Street. The area covered stretches from 13th and Division Streets in the north to Cesar Chavez Street in the south, and as far east as Potrero Avenue.
“We refuse to accept this façade masquerading as a manifestation of our demands,” said another member of the Plaza 16 Coalition.
“Any controls that do not apply to the two big projects in the pipeline — it’s just not worth the trouble of doing it,” added another supporter of the Plaza 16 Coalition.
Other protesters were residents of the Mission who fail to qualify for below-market-rate housing but cannot afford luxury housing.
“The best way out of the hole that we’re in is to make it easier to build housing,” said David Stewart, a resident of the Mission for nearly 10 years. “Additional impediments will only make it harder for many people like me to stay in the neighborhood.”
“In no other social justice field do we see people who are advocating services for the poor disrupt the ability for middle- and upper-class people to get the services for themselves,” said another woman.
The commissioners disagreed.
They argued that the interim controls would allow for a helpful pause. During the latter, they hope to refocus and strategize on how to deal with the housing crisis in the Mission.
During this time, the city would continue to allow affordable housing and the development of projects for production, development and repair services. However, “other housing, large retail and office projects would require a Conditional Use authorization” if they result in the loss of more than one rent-controlled apartment, the production of five or more units, or the demolition or conversion of certain community and art uses, according to the Planning Department.
The Planning Department sees the controls as just one small but important step in its “multifaceted” approach to deal with the current housing crisis in the Mission District.
“As a pause, I think it gives the opportunity to have a discussion,” said Commissioner Christine Johnson.
Nevertheless, she was unclear about why they would put projects that started after January 1, 2015, under heightened scrutiny for six months instead of simply declining to consider new projects for six months.
Commissioner Cindy Wu responded to the pro-development camp’s concerns by mentioning the anxiety expressed by the community.
“Sure, for developers it seems unfair to have the rules change,” she said. “But for community members who see their neighbors evicted…that’s unfair also.”
Commissioner Michael Antonini was the only one who voted against the resolution.
“Much of the demand for housing is driven by people who are coming from other places….Cutting down the production of market-rate housing is not going to stop [the] demand,” said Antonini. “This absolutely make no sense.”
“We don’t want to create a no-development museum of the Mission,” he added. “That doesn’t help anyone.”
The commission plans to meet with the Planning Department in the coming weeks to discuss the specifics of the controls — including the January 1, 2015, cutoff for grandfathering projects in — and will meet again about this issue on July 23. The vote could come as early as August 6.