Mayor Breed Pledges Ballot Measures to Boost Housing, Small Business

  • San Francisco needs to act aggressively in expanding by-right housing approvals, said Mayor London Breed, reiterating plans to push a ballot measure to voters

  • Under state law, San Francisco will be required to build around 80,000 new housing units between 2023 and 2031, and must finalize a plan to do so by next year

  • Housing permits plunged in the Bay Area last year, falling in every Bay Area county except Solano County

  • In addition, Breed may push a proposal to cut red tape for small businesses directly to voters

Should they be blocked at the Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Mayor London Breed reiterated plans to push proposals onto the ballot aimed at speed up housing production and small business approvals.

Speaking on a panel with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff this week, Breed said that San Francisco needs to "act aggressively" in meeting housing goals. Under RHNA, a regional housing allocation mandated by state law, San Francisco is required to produce about 82,000 housing units suitable for varying income levels between 2023 and 2031.

"It's important that we don't just give up and stand down...because we are hurting in the Bay Area for new production of housing in general," said Breed. "We've got to move faster, and we've got to look at the ballot whenever we fall short at the council or the Board of Supervisors.

Prior to the pandemic, Breed had sought to place a measure called Affordable Homes Now on the November 2020 ballot. That measure, as originally conceived, would make housing developments that fit within existing zoning and contain more than 15% affordable units subject to "by-right" approval, meaning that they are exempt from often-costly and time consuming discretionary review.

That plan was sidetracked by the COVID-19 emergency, and San Francisco's housing pipeline slowed during the pandemic as well. According to the Construction Industry Research Board (CIRB), a service provided by the California Homebuilding Foundation, the number of new units permitted plunged significantly in most Bay Area counties. Only Solano County showed an increased in the number of units authorized.

A recent meeting of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), a regional planning body that approves county housing allocations, disagreements arose among members over San Francisco's housing responsibilities. Supervisor Gordon Mar, who appeared at a May 20 meeting, disputed the housing targets allocated to San Francisco on the basis that it may worsen "further displacement in urban core centers." Policymakers from neighboring counties were having little of it.

"From a county that has been building houses over the past 10 years as San Francisco put all the emphasis on jobs, all of their comments about gentrification and displacement are local land use decisions they have made," said James Spering, a Supervisor representing Solano County. "It places a burden on the rest of the counties, and I don't think it's justifiable."

Under RHNA, counties are permitted to appeal their allocations during the summer of this year; final allocations are announced at the end of the year. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Planning Department is hammering out a so-called Housing Element, or a local plan for housing production in the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle, that will be finalized in 2022.

At the state level, legislators have put forth a flurry of housing bills aimed at chipping away at various loopholes and barriers to multifamily housing, as well as better holding cities accountable to their housing targets, all with the goal of alleviating California's persistent housing shortage. One such bill, AB 215, would allow for more state oversight midway through each RHNA cycle, and make better-performing cities eligible for additional state funding.

"The thing that we have known from past cycles, it's one thing to ask a city to go through that difficult conversation on their own, but oftentimes over the subsequent seven to eight year time period there’s very little follow up," said Assemblymember David Chiu.

At the local level, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman put forth a more modest proposal to alleviate the housing shortage: Allowing fourplexes to be built on corner lots in parts of the City otherwise reserved for single-family homes. The Board of Supervisors will evaluate that legislation in the coming weeks, although the fourplex plan alone would not generate nearly enough units for San Francisco to meet its obligations under state law.

On the business side, Breed said this week that she may bypass the Board of Supervisors in advancing legislation to simplify small business approvals.

At a meeting on Monday, the Board of Supervisors land use committee stalled a proposal called the Small Business Recovery Act that seeks to slash red tape and fees from the process of obtaining new business permits. Citing concerns about disability and public acces, they also punted on a separate proposal to make Shared Spaces, the program that allows business to set up tables on sidewalks, parking spaces and empty lots, a permanent option.

Breed, along with many in the small business community, have called the two measures essential to San Francisco's recovery of full employment, as well as the tourism that drives much of the City's tax base.

"It's about creating jobs, and it's about creating an increased tax base to support the services we all want," said Breed. "These two things go hand in hand."

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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