San Francisco Planning Commissioners yesterday unanimously approved interim controls on certain developments in the Mission district which put in place additional requirements and review processes for projects seeking approval within the next 15 months.
The controls, developed over the course of several months, are intended to counter displacement and an underproduction of affordable housing in the neighborhood. Projects larger than 25 units or 25,000 square feet, dubbed “medium” projects, will now require a Large Project Authorization and projects with 75 units or 75,000 square feet and more, considered “large” will require a conditional use permit.
Developers of “medium” and “large” projects will also be required to submit information about the density and efficiency of the housing they are planning and the rates of Ellis and Owner-move-in evictions within a quarter mile radius of the project.
Any project that removes an existing rent controlled unit, no matter the size, will be held to higher standards, including proving that it does not convert rentals to other kinds of housing. Projects that are more than one-third affordable housing will be exempt from the extra requirements.
The controls are a response to community concern over displacement and a dramatic shift in neighborhood character.
“You can’t freeze things in time. There is going to be change. What we need to do is protect the people who live there now,” said Commissioner Michael Antonini.
The commission also recommended, after repeated requests from the public, that planning staff be assigned to attend pre-application community meetings that developers are required to hold to receive feedback on their projects from neighbors.
“These pre-application meetings are pro forma and somewhat meaningless…the community is completely dependent on the developer for information. It’s a PR show,” said Susan Cieutat, a parent of a student at Marshall Elementary School, which is near the 16th and Mission Street project. “If planning department staff were there, they wouldn’t have to take sides in the battle that may go on there, but it may curb the developer’s impulse to misrepresent their projects.”
Rahaim said he had included funding for a staffer assigned to going to those meetings in a budget submitted to the Commission.
Opponents of the controls cited concerns over efficiency.
Rob Poole, communications coordinator for the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, said it seemed like a bad idea to change the rules for projects that had already been going through the planning process, some for years.
“This is not good government,” Poole said. “This doesn’t do anything to help make it easier to build affordable housing, it doesn’t improve the process.”
“I’m personally opposed to the interim controls on the basis that it makes it harder and more difficult for nonprofit developers in the Mission to actually produce affordable housing,” said Donald Dewsnup, a realtor and member of the development advocacy group San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation.
“I find it interesting that on the list of project subject to the controls… there’s only two projects left on that list where you are not already having discretionary hearings,” said land use attorney Steve Vettel. He called the controls “unnecessary.”
Nonetheless, the controls received more positive feedback from public commenters at this meeting than at some of the six previous hearings where the Commission had considered them – possibly in part because of the failure of the much more stringent Mission housing moratorium at the ballot in November, and in part because the controls have been adjusted and expanded since their original proposal.
“We see this as another tool that we have in the neighborhood in terms of working towards affordable housing and working to preserve the character of the neighborhood,” said local photographer and filmmaker Lou Dematteis. “We know it’s not a solution, and we will continue to work with the Board of Supervisors” on other approaches.
While an original version of the interim controls considered by the Commission grandfathered in certain larger projects, the version passed on Thursday applies to all projects not yet approved.
Peter Papadopoulos praised the inclusion of mid-sized projects of 25 units or more in the controls, saying applications for these projects have been increasing.
“The accumulated impact of those projects as they accelerate is a little like climate change,” he said.
The controls passed also include consideration for small industrial uses – projects proposed for sites that have housed production, distribution and repair businesses in the three years prior to their approval by the planning commission will now also require the developer to provide a discussion of what, if any, similar uses exist nearby.
“We do appreciate the effort by department and staff to try to change course or at least to look for tools that could help the department and commission evaluate the true impact of these market rate projects on these communities, on this community in particular,” said tenants rights lawyer J. Scott Weaver. “This is a test. This is the beginning of a process, we’re not claiming a solution. They are interim controls.”
“The cost of housing has taken us all by surprise,” said Director of Planning John Rahaim. “It’s timely for us to take a pause and allow you to at least take a higher level of scrutiny to projects in the Mission.”