In San Francisco the Special Interest Problem is Spelled “Public Input”

SF Mayor Breed wants to speed up approvals for 100%-affordable apartments. To put the measure before voters on the November ballot, she needs six Supervisors to sign on.

So why won’t Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, Norman Yee, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen, or Shamann Walton sign on?

Perhaps because these Supervisors work hand-in-glove with nonprofit groups who threaten housing developers with endless delays to get “community benefits” packages.

“While developers have long negotiated community benefit agreements, San Francisco supervisors now commonly tell planning commissioners to delay or reject projects until the builder satisfies all of these ‘community’ demands,” Randy Shaw wrote. “This occurs even when the benefits demanded do not expand affordable housing.”

Some of the tactics powerful special interest groups use to shakedown housing developers include:

  • Stopping the approval process for aesthetic concerns
  • CEQA lawsuits
  • Allowing public appeals of Planning Department decisions

These tactics are exacerbating the housing crisis for everyone in order to line the pockets of a few well-connected players. And Supervisors Peskin, Fewer, Mar, Haney, Yee, Mandelman, Ronen, and Walton seem loathe to give up their power to play favorites.

Kim-Mai Cutler put it bluntly: “SF supervisors don’t want to help Mayor London Breed solve the housing crisis by making the approvals process go faster for 100% affordable projects because they like discretionary power.”

The Chronicle reported, “The few supervisors who were willing to talk about the measure cited broad concerns about removing public input through the appeal process.”

“There’s a lot of value in a role for the public and the ability to shape projects through (existing) processes,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said. “You’re losing something when you give that up, and it’s not insignificant.”

In reality, “public input” means delays that have extended the average development process to an average of 6.3 years, vastly inflating the cost of construction. One 186-unit building has already been lost to this “valuable role for the public.”

Breed’s charter amendment would offer by-right approval for 100% affordable new homes that meet all building and planning codes and zoning restrictions.

It will prevent what happened to Patricia Scott, Executive Director of the Booker T. Washington Community Center, from happening again. “We were in court for nearly five years, we spent nearly $500,000 on attorney’s fees…to build 50 units, half for kids who age out of foster care, half for people making 55% of [Area Median Income] and below,” Scott testified. “Anything that would shorten this process would be helpful.”

Seattle’s Planning Commission doesn’t get to reject zoning-compliant new homes and doesn’t allow special interest groups to file CEQA lawsuits to stop development. As a result, Seattle’s approval process takes half the time and has built double the homes compared with San Francisco. And their rents are down, too. San Francisco, on the other hand, saw housing production fall by 41% in 2018 despite sky-high rents.

Developers would be most likely building up everywhere (and rents would stabilize) if they didn’t have to spend years, and millions of dollars, negotiating with neighborhood groups.

San Francisco must build more housing to alleviate the crisis. And to get more housing built, we have to streamline the permitting process. It takes years to break ground on housing in San Francisco because our Supervisors are happy to sacrifice the good of the all for the benefit of their friends and our bureaucrats are incompetent.

Please give money to United Democratic Club to find and boost pro-housing candidates for Supervisor.

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