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‘Absurdity’: San Francisco leaders stall SOMA housing challenge to protect parking zone

In a shocking and possibly illegal act of public absurdity, eight members of the board of directors voted to stop the construction of 495 new housing units on the site of a parking lot in the South of Market neighborhood. They did this by supporting a call for the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) last Tuesday.

Regardless of the fact that San Francisco needs fewer parking spaces and more residential units – especially high-density apartment complexes in walkable neighborhoods on public transport routes to alleviate the existential threat posed by global warming. No, get that: the project’s opponents used some environmental protection practice to stop a good, sustainable project that would bring dozens of affordable units to the neighborhood.

“This single project would create more homes than many districts in our city have built in the last 10 years,” said supervisor Matt Haney, who represents SOMA and supports the project, in an interview.

Given the severe housing shortage in San Francisco, 27 stories of new homes on 28,790 square feet of land currently used for car parking could be a welcome addition. Lower Austria. Opponents of the proposed residential tower at 469 Stevenson tossed everything but the kitchen sink at the project in their determined effort to stop it.

Build Inc.’s 469 Stevenson project would not only replace one parking lot with housing, but also include 73 affordable units below market, 40% of which would be reserved for current residents of the city.

“Some of the community benefits that this project brings with it include 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail space dedicated to local nonprofits and retailers,” Lou Vasquez, General Manager of Build Inc. told supervisors. “Half of this is rented to tenants for $ 1 a year and the other half for $ 1 a foot, which is well below current market prices.”

In addition, Vasquez said the project would provide $ 579,000 in funding for community programs, a lot with the capacity for up to 20 additional affordable units, an ancillary fee “equivalent to 50 additional units, and funding for the arts, homeless services, and local employment programs .

Unfortunately, these benefits have not been important to the opposition, which blames private development and housing market development for evil gentrification and a host of other evils.

During Tuesday’s supervisory board hearing, opponents of the project worried about soil integrity and the potential seismic hazard.

They feared that the building’s shadow might spoil the vibrancy of the sparsely populated Mint Plaza.

They vaguely claimed that new housing for the current residents of the city might somehow reduce the historical sites in the area.

They lamented the dreaded specter of gentrification, as if the current use of the site as a valet parking with 176 parking spaces for Nordstrom buyers would benefit communities struggling with housing shortages.

Most of the concerns had nothing to do with the environment, but that hardly matters. If you want to stop a project, abuse of some aspect of California’s Environmental Quality Act is usually the most effective way.

CEQA, signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970, requires local governments to consider a project’s environmental impact, usually through the EIR process. It has been used to block or delay bike lanes, homeless shelters, housing developments, university campuses, and hospitals. It provides a bottleneck for opponents to cause significant delays, with bogus environmental concerns being a fig leaf for NIMBY obstructionism.

It usually takes a CEQA-based lawsuit to cover up progress. However, 469 Stevenson’s opponents found an easier way. Their confused litany of complaints, disguised as an appeal by the EIR, convinced the majority of the overseers. The board voted 8-3 against the project, outweighing Haney’s support.

“I don’t think gentrification is preventing Nordstrom from holding valet parking,” Haney said, noting that the project had many community supporters. “If people are afraid of gentrification, it would help if they built apartments in their neighborhoods. One of the main reasons why we are building so many apartments in SOMA is that other parts of the city are not building apartments. “

On October 2, managers unanimously rejected a project at 450 O’Farrell St., fearing that the 316 micro-unit complex could become “dormitories” for technicians.

“That just doesn’t suit me,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who supported the 469 Stevenson Project along with Haney and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. “We just turned down a proposed project at O’Farrell for non-family housing, and this adds family housing to our portfolio. I just don’t understand how we can ever build apartments in this city if we continue to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. “

Earlier this month, The City missed an opportunity to convert a Japantown hotel into permanent housing for the homeless after the hotel owner pulled out in the face of opposition from NIMBY. All of this seems strange behavior in a city with 8,000 homeless people and some of the highest rents in the country.

Fortunately, the board’s outrageous vote did not go unnoticed. Housing officials made angry on Twitter, pointing out the absurdity of the decision.

“The San Francisco board of directors used a bill signed by Ronald Reagan to halt a union-backed housing project in the Nordstrom parking lot, citing shadows and gentrification,” tweeted housing attorney Jordan Grimes. “That sentence is both completely correct and completely insane.”

“A geotechnical analysis is indeed required in the CEQA,” tweeted supervisor Myrna Melgar, justifying her vote against the project to critics who accused her of abusing an election promise to support more housing.

The bizarre decision also caused a stir in Sacramento. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday that the California Department of Housing and Community Development is investigating whether the decision may have violated state laws. One of the laws in question? CEQA.

“We want to make sure this project and projects get approved across the state,” Gustavo Velasquez, state housing director, told Chronicle’s JK Dineen. “Whenever one of these cases comes up, we will act carefully if it falls within our remit.”

“If prosecutors find the vote violates state housing law, the city would receive a warning,” Dineen wrote. “If the city still doesn’t approve the housing project, the attorney general could file a lawsuit.”

It’s a sad day that you must pray that the attorney general will sue your city for common sense to prevail. But such is the state of affairs in San Francisco, a besieged city influenced by incompetents who seem to believe they can solve the housing affordability crisis by killing good parking lot preservation projects.

Gil Duran is the opinion editor of the San Francisco Examiner. gduran@sfexaminer.com

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