Slow down the land rush

Reserving low-income housing space in SF's eastern neighborhoods
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EDITORIAL At around 11:30 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 30, the San Francisco Planning Commission, its members bleary-eyed and half asleep, approved an eight-unit housing development at 736 Valencia St., despite the anguished pleas of the neighbors. The project includes no affordable housing and is legally designated as condominiums, which means it doesn't fit the stated goals of the eastern neighborhoods' planning process, which is supposed to promote affordable housing.

But that planning process is still under way, the proposals so far are weak, and, in the meantime, every developer in town is trying to sneak under the wire and get a project approved before the new rules take effect. And the Planning Commission is allowing that to happen. The supervisors need to intervene now, before it's too late.

The blueprint for zoning in the city's eastern neighborhoods — some 2,200 acres that include the central waterfront, Potrero Hill, the Mission, Showplace Square and East SoMa — is critical to the city's future. Those areas include many of the last industrial sites and blue-collar jobs in the city — and developers are eyeing the land for a massive influx of high-end housing.

If there are going to be decent-paying jobs that don't require advanced academic degrees in San Francisco, and affordable housing for low-income and working-class people, it will require careful use of this land.

And so far, the signs aren't good.

The project at 736 Valencia is a perfect example. The commissioners failed to account for the fact that this relatively small project is part of a much larger land grab in the neighborhood; at least six other projects are in the pipeline for a small stretch of that street, and together they'll have a significant impact on the area. The last thing the Mission — desperate for family and affordable housing — needs is a long strip of new million-dollar condos, built with little in the way of community amenities and little regard for the needs of residents. And yet the commissioners have made it very clear that they aren't going to slow anything down.

In effect, that means the entire eastern neighborhoods plan — and the hope for a significant increase in affordable housing in town — could be almost pointless. By the time the plan is in place — early next year at the earliest, and that may be an optimistic timeline — a lot of the land may already be spoken for, and a lot of nonconforming projects may already be under construction.

Remember: every market-rate housing project takes away land that could be used for affordable housing. And at this rate, there is no way the city can come close to meeting the goals set in the General Plan, which call for more than 60 percent of new housing in town to be available at below-market rate.

The supervisors need to step in, fast, and pass legislation barring any new development in the eastern neighborhoods until a final plan is in place. The land rush is on, and time is running out.<\!s>*