The Housing Wars Hit the Beach

By Joe Eskenazi : modernluxury – excerpt

In a quest to densify San Francisco’s west side, the city is kicking sand on some angry neighbors. 

San Francisco’s most ambitious development schemes may well be hatched in smoke-filled antechambers or atop corporate-logoed skyscrapers. But the grand plans to derail those grand plans tend to be born in underheated meeting rooms in unglamorous city structures stocked with store-brand potato chips and dip.

That was the case in mid-November, when around 20 fleece-wearing San Francisco residents—all of them aged 50 or over, many of them homeowners on the city’s west side—trundled out of the fog and into the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. On tap was a strategy session, hosted by the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, with a single agenda item: Undermine a city plan to build thousands of homes in the coming decades, including perhaps 1,000 in the low-slung Sunset and Richmond districts. The top-down plan, fomented by the Planning Department and Mayor’s Office and marshaled by west-side supervisor Katy Tang, is not to the coalition’s liking. The group’s leaders decry it as a devious plot to enrich developers and drive long-standing San Franciscans out of the city. They foresee it spreading the same pestilence that has already afflicted other neighborhoods: waves of wealthy techie arrivistes, intent on disrupting the quaint character that west-side homeowners have cultivated all these years.

“You may not feel it for a year or two years,” warned CSFN president George Wooding of the slippery slope to a denser, taller west side. “But one day it’ll be in your backyard, and you won’t know what hit you.”…

Please note: Most of the people at the above mentioned gathering spent years working to protect the Eastern Neighborhoods long before the plan was hatched to bring the monster into their neighborhoods. They are not NIMBYS. They care deeply about the integrity of the entire city and oppose the plans to Manhattanize it. – Editor’s comment

But they may soon have little choice. The point of conflict is city hall’s long-gestating plan to shoehorn perhaps 16,000 more units into the city by offering developers so-called density bonuses: city-planning concessions that allow builders to erect taller, broader structures in exchange for including a sizable percentage of affordable housing without sucking up public subsidies. On the west side, the program could bring 1,000 additional units along transit corridors like Judah, Noriega, and Taraval—hardly a building bonanza, but still a serious reversal after a decades-long dry spell.

The initiative is deftly titled the Affordable Housing Bonus Program—a city hall–coined term that puts the CSFN activists in the unenviable position of arguing against affordable housing. It’s like disparaging “motherhood and apple pie,” groans Kathy Devincenzi, a representative from the Laurel Heights Improvement Association. And yet, even in a city deficient in affordable housing, pushing for an influx of more is a risky move. People like the idea of more housing, but not when it drops shadows across their backyard…

Learn more about the Affordable Housing Bonus Programs:

But could developers, as west-side denizens warn, erect seven-story towers and create an Ocean Beach Riviera? City politicos squirm in their chairs at that question, because the answer is actually yes. It’s possible—just as it’s possible for the Warriors to go 82–0—but it’s not probable. Regardless, the nightmare vision of monoliths sprouting on the Great Highway is too good for the CSFN to let pass: At the November meeting, one man proposed toting a 70-foot pole to City Hall to illustrate what he fears will block Sunset residents’ view of the sunset…

But could developers demolish a building and jettison small, local, ground-floor businesses that would never be able to afford the rent in the new structure? The answer is yes. And could they, as Welch foretells, raze a rent-controlled apartment building and then reap a bonus for producing a new structure in which most of the affordable units are earmarked for six-figure earners? Yes—though Tang pledges that “tenant protections are something that is absolutely going to happen” as the city’s plan evolves… (more)


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