Berkeley hotels

From supervisors who took a wrecking ball to plans for 800 units

When San Francisco supervisors rejected 316 tiny housing units in the Tenderloin this month, they took over shared kitchens and bathrooms, claiming the building was a technical dormitory in the making. What the area really needs is housing big enough for families, according to supervisors.

They got what they asked for three weeks later when a 495-unit project just six blocks away came to them. This proposal included kitchens, bathrooms and several bedrooms, with homes large enough for multigenerational families on a site near Sixth and Market streets.

In addition, 24% of the units would be affordable. The project, near a BART station, would create more than 1,000 unionized jobs. And, surely important to supervisors who claim to despise anything in the “luxury” category, the building would replace land used by valets to park the cars of Nordstrom buyers.

This sounds like a no-brainer in a city short of families, short on housing and short on time to cope with its aggravating crises. But no. Eight supervisors came up with new reasons for voting against: gentrification, shadows in a square, and earthquake safety, among others.

As local leaders up and down in California have done for years, supervisors have sought to soften their message: We are not against building housing, they said, only housing. Some supervisors have said they prefer a 100% affordable project instead – which, in an ideal world, would be great. But we are not living in utopia. We live in a very imperfect San Francisco.

“It looks like sunshine and apple pie, but it’s about as real as the dragon costume I’m wearing right now. It’s a complete fantasy, ”said Corey Smith, deputy director of the Housing Action Coalition, a nonprofit that supports building more housing for people of all income levels.

No 100% affordable project proposal on the site exists. If so, it would cost over $ 750,000 per unit to build. And he would be in line behind several other projects for the city’s money to subsidize him.

“Restarting this proposal is not the best use of time and money,” Smith said.

The proposal for 469 Stevenson Street was approved by the Planning Commission in July, but TODCO, the powerful landlord of affordable housing formed in the 1970s to fight development, appealed for board approval. on the grounds that it would gentrify the neighborhood. John Elberling, executive director of TODCO, told the board that bringing a high-income population to the low-income Sixth Street area would displace low-income residents.

But Smith pointed out many studies – including the California Office of the Legislative Analyst, UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and UC Berkeley Institute for Government Studies – suggesting that although it is a complicated issue, adding housing of all types tends to lower housing costs for everyone and reduce travel. Plus, San Francisco has some of the strongest tenant protections in the country, including along Sixth Street.

Supervisors have repeatedly called the project, with market rate rents between $ 1,500 and $ 4,000 per month, luxury housing. Never mind that almost all market-priced housing in this city is sky-high in part because supervisors, including those who own multi-million dollar single-family homes, continue to reject housing.

The eight supervisors – Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, Gordon Mar, Dean Preston, Myrna Melgar, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton – rescinded the Planning Commission approval, asking planners to prepare a new environmental study. It could take a year or two without a promise of board approval.

Lou Vasquez, founding partner of developer Build Inc., said it would take another year beyond to get the permits and two years to build. This is after four years already spent on the proposal. So the best case scenario from start to finish is eight. Build Inc. has already spent “tens of millions” on the project, Vasquez said.

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the project, is steamed. Although supervisors almost always rely on a supervisor supporting a project in his district, only Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safaí voted with him.

“This is the kind of project we asked for, which is a lot of units built for families right next to public transportation,” Haney said. “For god’s sake, that’s a lot of Nordstrom valets.”

So what about the families who could have been accommodated there but who will not? I asked this question by text message to all the supervisors who voted no. Chan, Peskin and Preston did not respond.

Walton answered a different question in the same text about whether his colleagues were recovering from Haney for running for the State Assembly against David Campos, which most of them approved of.

“I am 100% in favor of Supervisor Haney for the assembly,” he wrote, not answering the family question.

Ronen called the project a “bad deal” and one that she would never approve of in the assignment she represents, as its accessibility levels are too low. Mar said there was an abundance of “luxury units” in the South of Market area, so families “can check Craigslist today.” When asked what should be done by those who would have lived in affordable housing and could not afford market housing, he did not respond.

Melgar and Mandelman called to discuss their concerns about the project at length. Melgar said Haney should have negotiated a deal between the developers and TODCO.

Sure, but why does a neighborhood-based nonprofit manage to kill much needed housing across the city and region?

“In this city so polarized around things, it is difficult to bring people together and reach consensus, but it can be done,” she said. “It’s the job of the district supervisor.

Melgar said she too was not swayed by the politics of the Coven race, explaining that she was focused on adding more units to her own district and not supporting anyone.

Mandelman said he was concerned about gentrification in an area with many one-bedroom hotels nearby and would rather wait until a more affordable project comes to fruition.

“If this can really become a 100% affordable housing project, I will feel great about this vote,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen and in 15 years it will still be a parking lot, then I’m not going to feel good. “

But the city cannot wait 15 years. Or, really, anytime. The streets around the Stevenson site represent a strong argument for more housing, with camps swelling.

When I visited the now preserved parking lot, cars took up about a third of the space and around 20 tents stretched out on the sidewalk. It was the same camp that I had seen the Healthy Streets Operations Center team clean up a few weeks ago, and it was all back. Just another example of a city that spends a lot of time making little progress.

Several homeless people said that building family homes there seemed like a good idea.

“That would be nice,” said Billy Ladd, 58, sitting on the sidewalk eating fries. “I think that would be a great plan.

OK sir. If only our city leaders saw it the same way.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf


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