Court smacks SF Planning Dept.

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By Tim Redmond

The Chron buried the news deep in the local section, but a June 22 state Court of Appeal decision on the validity of the Housing Element of the city's General Plan was a huge slap in the face to the mayor and the planning director.

In essence, the court ruled that the city can't adopt the new Housing Element without doing an environmental impact report. You can read the decision here.

I'll admit: The folks who sued, a group of West side homeowners who don't want more density in their neighborhoods, are not my favorite activists. I've never thought it was fair that all the density had to go on the East side of town, and that nobody West of 19th Ave. even had to think about it.

That's the essence of the suit: The Housing Element might encourage more housing on the West side of town, and might allow housing without a lot of parking, and that might lead to congestion and traffic issues. As my old friend Ron Curran used to say, Boo Fucking Hoo: The rest of us in town have lived with those issues for years, and anyone with any sense knows that new housing in this overdeveloped town will need to be transit-oriented and not car-oriented.

Still, the plaintiffs made an excellent point: The Planning Department should have done an EIR on the Housing Element. IN fact, the Planning Department should do a lot better in the environmental review department generally. You just go forawrd with these big projects and zoning changes and refuse to acknowledge the impacts, and you're eventually going to get smacked.

The impact of the court ruling could be pretty far-reaching: Sue Hestor, who is an expert in the California Environmental Quality Act, says this could put on hold all sorts of projects that depend on the Housing Element, including the Market-Octavia plan, the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan and potentially a bunch of market-rate housing projects.

More than that, it puts the mayor on the hot seat: When the hell is he going to hire a new (competent) Planning Director?