A bald man in a suit speaking into a microphone.
Supervisor Joel Engardio speaking on his housing legislation at the Planning Commission. Screenshot.

The Westside is one step closer to raising the roof. 

As a strategy to increase housing density, this summer Supervisor Joel Engardio proposed allowing six-story buildings on corner lots, and four units on single lots in better-resourced neighborhoods of San Francisco, including the Westside. On Thursday, the Planning Commission passed three amendments to tweak it and lowered a height limit on corner lots from 65 feet to 55 feet, with no density change.  

The one amendment prevents oddly shaped lot mergers, another clarifies rear yard space, and the third, proposed by planning, requested larger lot mergers.

All three of the amendments modified legislation by Engardio that went into effect on Oct. 15 — one of several policies the Planning Commission must consider as San Francisco completes the ambitious task of creating some 82,000 homes over the next eight years. 

Planners are zeroing in on the city’s well-resourced neighborhoods, which has historically avoided tall or dense buildings, to help fulfill that lofty goal.

As written, Engardio’s legislation enables single-family home lots to merge with other single-family lots, creating a larger lot where developers could build up to eight units. If three lots merge, a developer could build up to 12 units. If the lots are on corners, developers could build between 12 and 18 units. 

Per Engardio’s vision, that will create Paris-like atmospheres in neighborhoods like the Sunset, where multiple stories of housing can sit atop a restaurant or cafe. The supervisor dubbed this vision “domesticity,” and said seniors in his district embraced the idea, because taller buildings can host elevators they may need as they age. 

“When residents see what domesticity is, they like it,” Engardio said. “Domesticity keeps families together.” 

The amendments, presented to the commission by Engardio, aim to increase density and help avoid through lots. They were passed 5-1. 

The Planning Department suggested an amendment to allow not just single-family home lots to merge, but also those zoned for two, three or more homes. The commissioners agreed. “It just seems to make sense,” commission President Rachael Tanner said in response. 

Additionally, the Planning Department had suggested two amendments to the law, including the ability to merge and build housing on larger residential lots, and permitting taller group housing on corner lots, the latter of which the commission rejected.

Little criticism was raised, save for questions about community input. Commissioner Kathrin Moore said she wished the changes applied exclusively to the Sunset or District 4 temporarily, arguing that the “one-size-fits-all” approach might not work for other neighborhoods. Commissioner Sue Diamond echoed that concern, and wondered if enough community engagement had been done in other affected areas in Districts 1, 2 and 8 that fall under the well-resourced neighborhood map.  

Diamond added she had been “informally hearing” neighbors’ opposition to the aesthetics, specifically a concern that the westside’s typical 25-foot-tall homes would suddenly be near 65-foot buildings. “I have anxiety about how we make those structures fit in beside each other,” Diamond said. 

Diamond also questioned the necessity of permitting 65-foot heights on corner lots if no retail businesses operates beneath the housing. 

Engardio and some public commenters reminded the commission that tall buildings remain on corner lots, thus not becoming a “sore thumb” in the middle of a block and disrupting what many describe as neighborhood character. 

But, ultimately, commissioners appeared to agree with Diamond’s apprehension and modified the height limit to 55 feet. Tanner said she believes that six units, which is outlined in the legislation for single corner lots, could still fit in a 55-foot building with ground-floor commercial. Engardio, seeking more support than less, agreed to the amendment after confirming a ground-floor amenity and elevators would still be possible with the reduced height.

The only amendment not approved was for group housing, a special type of housing that offers a dwelling unit with communal amenities. Several commissioners thought throwing in group housing “mixed” too many design concepts in one legislation, further complicating the proposal.

“Once people see this, they’ll say, ‘I want this,’” Engardio said.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Man, public officials here will do absolutely anything – anything! – to ensure that as little housing gets built as humanly possible (ideally zero in their minds), while the population just keeps trending upward. I, for one welcome our new Sacramento overlords, and am grateful that they will be forced to actually let some things get built.

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  2. Could an average person distinguish a 55ft vs 65ft building with all the stepbacks?

    Wouldn’t it be great if our city made tweaks that actually INCREASED the density by some small meaningful amount?

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  3. Joe,

    What are the new little squares where people sign in to check red and green ?

    What’s the most of either anyone’s ever gotten and is there a prize ?


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  4. It is laughable how frequently SFers (officials, residents, boosters) like to pretend San Francisco is Paris or could soon be Paris, or at least is pretty much like it a little bit, kind of, sort of.

    SF can be its own city, with all of its various good and bad bits, but it will never be Paris, or anything like it.

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  5. Campers,

    Planning, in my opinion has the most erudite members than any commission.

    Note that when they had a 5-1 votes it was Moore who said ‘no’.

    She’s the best schooled in the field, has served longest here and can see furthest down the road.

    Still, she’s only voting conscience here as Wiener/Chiu State laws have pretty much disempowered (that a word?) local legislatures in the area of land use.

    It happened with cell phone towers and Uber and Cruise and on and on.

    Realtors are true Libertarians who want to build anywhere with no rules and no complaints allowed from neighbors (that is actually in a piece of Wiener law).

    I try to catch the Cop Commission live or on tape too and I’m calling it, ‘The Max Carter-Oberstone Show’ which it is.

    ‘Appeals’ can be interesting and watching Peskin’s eternal quest for that Golden Fleece of ‘Shortest Full Board Meeting’ always rewards.

    Think Niners will ever win another game ?


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    1. Local control is how we got in this mess. If anything, I would attribute conscience to those trying to tackle the harms – high prices, homelessness, displacement – inherent in our broken housing market.

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      1. DK,

        I’m really old and looking back on history it seems most conflict is over land use.

        Exacerbated by an expanding population that fights for 2,000 years from the Khans to Putin to control the wheat fields of Ukraine.

        I’m agreeing with Andrew Yang that a first step is UBI.

        Maybe an international sterilization thing ?

        ‘Cut and Run for Ten Large ??’

        Move fast before first Iranian made cruise missile hits a Yankee Flat Top.

        You hate, “Local control” ?

        Option is Corporate control from Big Pharma via Newsom to overturn 118-0 combined Legislature vote to cap insulin at $20 a month.

        Maybe when Quantum Computers from China start dating AGI’s from Chat Gpt on Howard Street.

        Niners are fine.

        Last couple of games just make you appreciate how important it is to have the best Offensive Left Tackle who ever lived on your team on the field healthy is.

        Pardon the grammar but I have a bet with a computer.



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