After years of delay, developer Nick Podell has cleared a major hurdle to begin construction on the largest housing project planned for the Mission District, though neighborhood activists have pledged to continue their fight against the development.
In a marathon session at City Hall, the heavily-debated project at 2000–2070 Bryant St. — one that will take up nearly an entire block between 18th and 19th streets — was approved by the Planning Commission just after 11 p.m. on Thursday, after hours of testimony linked the mostly market-rate development to the gentrification sweeping the Mission District.
“The Mission is in the throes of a ferocious and terrible displacement crisis that is eviscerating the neighborhood,” said Susan Marsh, a San Francisco resident. “What is necessary to stop this? What is necessary is construction of housing affordable to the people already living in this neighborhood. Nothing else will work.”
The Planning Commission voted 5–2 to approve the condition with some changes on Thursday. An extra 12,000 square feet of so-called PDR space — which is production, distribution, and repair, light industrial space formerly on the site — will be added to the project. This falls short of the ask for activists but is significantly more than the project had before Thursday’s hearing.
The project would bring 335 units to the Mission District in two separate buildings: One a six-story, 196-unit market-rate building, which also includes three below-market-rate units to replace rent-controlled units previously at 2000 Bryant St. The ground level space will be retail and light industrial space.
The other is an eight-story, 136-unit affordable housing site that would sit on land dedicated to the city by the developer as a means of fulfilling his affordable housing requirement. That move would bring to 41 percent the affordable units on site — an unprecedented number city-wide, the developer of the project said on Thursday.
“Our overriding goal has been to maximize the amount of affordable housing on our site, that’s what we’ve heard over and over,” said Nick Podell. “We’re the highest percentage of affordable housing that’s been achieved in the city without additional benefit of height and bulk.”
But those units would be financed and built by the city, a travesty for Mission District activists. Taxpayers should not burden the costs of the developer’s affordable requirements, they said, and given past land dedications, the affordable site would likely go up years after the market-rate one.
Kate Hartley from the Mayor’s Office of Housing contested that point, saying financing for the site is “immediately available” for the project, which could cost the city up to $30 million.
“The Mission needs more affordable housing now, and this project provides a significant number of affordable housing units that the city needs,” said Hartley. High land costs in San Francisco would allow for twice as many units on the site than if the city were to purchase the land itself, she added.
Still, activists wanted the project delayed or killed so that it could be significantly reworked. The opposition wanted half the site to go to affordable housing, a guarantee that affordable units be built at the same time as market-rate ones, the use of union labor during construction, and the preservation of light industrial space formerly on the block.
Instead of the 50,000 square feet opponents hoped would be preserved, the project will retain some 20,000 square feet across both sites.
Organized opposition to the project tried last-minute meetings with the developer in the two weeks before Thursday’s vote. Those negotiations fell through this week after Podell promised small changes to the project, but not enough to quell activists — who organized dozens of speakers to rally against the project.
“I believe that the Mission should be able to chose its own destiny, and that does not include luxury housing for techy manchildren,” said Jordan Davis, a San Francisco resident.
Speaker after speaker stood at the podium in a crowded City Hall hearing room, repeating claims that the market-rate site would increase gentrification in the Mission District by raising rents for lower-income tenants.
“It should go without saying that when you have an influx of wealthy individuals into a working class neighborhood, there will be an impact,” said Spike Kahn, a principal opponent of the project.
“I’m very concerned about projects like this coming into my neighborhood,” said Iswari España, a candidate for District Nine supervisor. “I wouldn’t be able to afford any one of those units or get into one of those units.”
Matching the neighborhood activists in bodies if not voices were dozens of neon-vested laborers backing the project, who crowded the hearing room and periodically stood en masse when asked to by their union boss — though they seldom spoke in direct support.
“We’ve been engaged with Podell for almost two years prior to getting a commitment,” said Jay Bradshaw, director of organizing for Local 22, which has a deal with Podell for construction on the site, which would result in 82 percent union labor.
That was not enough for other labor unions also present. Both the Building Trades Council and the San Francisco Labor Council — labor groups that are often pro-development — came out against the project earlier this year, hoping to move Podell towards 100 percent union labor.
Michael Theriault, secretary-treasurer with the BTC, said the deal with the carpenters meant little to laborers not guaranteed work on the site.
“No such assurances have been given to the other 90 percent of the Building Trades Council,” said Theriault. “It is lamentable that you’re seeing divisions within the labor unions here this evening.”
That opposition was significant for Kathryn Moore, a planning commissioner. She said “it was shocking” that trades unions came out against the project, a first in her 12 years on the commission.
“I have never heard the unions stand here and say what they said today, which leaves me concerned,” she said. Moore voted against the project.
Commissioners Vote in Favor
But other commissioners praised the project for the “lightyears” it has come since it was originally proposed. It has bumped up affordable housing and preserved more light industrial space, Christine Jonson said, and little would be served by killing the project.
“I am not in favor of seeing nothing,” she said.
Rich Hillis, another commissioner, said he was sympathetic to gentrification concerns but did not think opposing developments one at a time would help solve the city’s housing crisis.
“The solutions are more difficult than stopping a Google bus or stopping a development in the Mission,” he said.
Dennis Richards, the vice-president of the commission, said the project is rare in delivering a high percentage of affordable housing. At 41 percent affordable, the Podell site would meet the demand for below-market-rate units created by the market-rate units on-site, Richards said.
“This project is going to deliver that, it’s among a handful of projects that will deliver that,” he said. “I think this project is going to go far in meeting the needs for below-market-rate units that it’s inducing.”
Though commissioners voted to move the project forwards to the Board of Supervisors for final approval, opponents have vowed to fight it there, saying the commission meeting was just the beginning of their opposition.