Anniversary Issue: First, do no harm

A sustainable land use plan is about what we don't allow as well as what we do


Mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that San Francisco is "on pace" to build a historic number of homes in a five-year period.

"Despite the housing crisis facing the nation, San Francisco is bucking the trends and creating a record number of homes," Newsom said. "Once again, San Francisco is leading the way."

But where?

Newsom notes that his housing-development plans will triple what San Francisco produced in the '90s, and double the past decade's housing production. He claims that he has increased the city's production of affordable housing for low- and very-low-income households to the highest levels ever.

But he doesn't point out that most people who work in San Francisco won't be able to afford the 54,000 housing units coming down the planning pipeline.

The truth is that, under Newsom's current plans, San Francisco is on pace to expand its role as Silicon Valley's bedroom community, further displace its lower- and middle-income workers, and thereby increase the city's carbon footprint. All in the supposed name of combating global warming.

So, what can we do to create a truly sustainable land-use plan for San Francisco?

<\!s> Vote Yes on Prop. B

In an Oct. 16 San Francisco Chronicle article, Newsom tried to criticize the Board of Supervisors for not redirecting more money to affordable housing, and for placing an affordable housing set-aside on the ballot.

"There's nothing stopping the Board of Supervisors from redirecting money for more affordable housing," Newsom claimed. "Why didn't they redirect money to affordable housing this year if they care so much about it?"

Ah, but they did. Newsom refused to spend the $33 million that a veto-proof majority of the Board appropriated for affordable housing last year. Which is why eight supervisors placed Prop. B, an annual budget allocation for the next 15 years, on the Nov. 2008 ballot.

<\!s> Radically redirect sprawl

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association's executive director, Gabriel Metcalf, notes that existing Northern California cities —San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose — already have street, sewer, and transit grids, and mixed-use development in place.

"So we don't have to allow one more inch of suburban sprawl. We could channel 100 percent of regional growth into cities. Instead, we hold workshops and ask 'How much growth can we accommodate?' The answer is none, because no one likes to change."

Metcalf said he believes people should be able to work where they want, provided that it's reachable by public transit.

"What's wrong with taking BART to Oakland and Berkeley, or Caltrain to San Jose?" Metcalf said.

<\!s> Don't do dumbass growth

Housing activist and Prop. B supporter Calvin Welch rails at what he describes as "the perversion of smart growth in local planning circles."

The essence of smart growth is that you cut down the distance between where people work and live, Welch explains.

"But that makes the assumption that the price of the housing you build along transit corridors is affordable to the workforce that you want to get onto public transit," Welch adds. "If it's not, it's unlikely they'll get out of their cars. Worse, if you produce housing that is only affordable to the community that works in Silicon Valley, you create a big problem in reverse, a regional transit shortage.