Editor's Notes

Decisions about the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan should have waited
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tredmond@sfbg.com

The Board of Supervisors passed the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan last week, in what seemed to be an awful rush. If it had been my call, I'd have left the transformative rezoning to the next board, which will have to deal with the impacts of it. But that wasn't to be. The meeting was marked by Board President Aaron Peskin pushing a series of crucial amendments that Sup. Sean Elsbernd wanted to delay — and that Mayor Gavin Newsom may veto. That will force an override vote, and it will be close.

So one of the most important land use decisions in the history of San Francisco is going to be coming down during the holiday season, during the last few weeks that the outgoing board is in place, and possibly after Sup. Tom Ammiano — a solid progressive vote — has left for Sacramento.

This is not good.

The plan itself is a bit out of date — it was designed for a time when developers were champing at the bit to build market-rate housing in southeastern San Francisco. And while housing demand in this city is still strong, the market has dropped a bit, and the notion that fees on high-end condos will be paying for affordable housing and infrastructure is a lot more shaky these days.

I was never that thrilled with the rezoning anyway — it allows way too much expensive housing, nowhere near enough affordable housing, and the fees that developers will pay are utterly inadequate to fund the level of transportation, parks, schools, water and sewer pipes, and other facilities the area needs.

But at least the amendments add some sanity to the plan. One of Peskin's proposals would mandate that developers who get a conditional use permit for their projects actually start building within three years — or lose their right to special zoning. That not only makes sense, it's an anti-speculation measure — you can't just buy up land, get special permission for additional height and density, and then sit on it until you can flip the property for more cash.

Of course, the Mayor's Office is getting flooded with calls from developers who think this is just an outrage. The builders are also unhappy with another amendment, which requires the city to monitor the payment of building fees to make sure they're coming in on time and going to the right places.

So if the mayor holds true to form, he's going to veto those parts of the plan, and right now, progressives don't have eight votes to override him. If that's how it goes down, then the new board needs to take up the issue again in January. And while the new supes are at it, maybe they can try to raise the development fees.

The good news is that the lower the housing market goes, the more competitive nonprofit developers can be. And if the Obama administration comes through with some federal affordable housing money, the community-based organizations could be the ones driving the new wave of construction.

It sucks that Prop. B didn't pass, because this is a rare opportunity for the public sector and the nonprofits to grab building sites. The supervisors can still allocate money for affordable housing in the next budget. And if there's federal money to match it, Newsom, who refused to spend the last allocation, should be hammered by every part of the city if he screws up this sort of chance.