Western SoMa Plan changed to lessen development impacts to nightlife and Muni

Sup. Jane Kim (left) clash with Sups. Scott Wiener and David Chiu over changes to transit and affordable housing fees.

The Western SoMa Community Plan had its first hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee today, with dozens of speakers praising the eight-year citizen-based planning effort that developed it but with much of the testimony criticizing the plan's emphasis on facilitating housing development to the exclusion of other goals.

As we've reported, the nightlife community has in recent months been pushing for changes to the plan that would better protect nightclubs from complaints and pressure from nearby residents, particularly along 11th Street. Area Sup. Jane Kim has supported that effort and those concerns were echoed by Sup. Scott Wiener, the committee chair and a strong nightlife advocate.

“I have had significant concerns about this plan...and I'm hoping we can address them over the course of this hearing,” Wiener said.

Wiener also opened another front of attack on the plan by noting that it doesn't adequately pay for the impact that thousands of new housing units would have on Muni and other aspects of the transportation system. In particular, he criticized a policy in the plan that would let 13 large properties get increased density in exchange for higher affordable housing fees that would be offset by lower transit and other impact fees paid to the city.

“What are we doing to make sure our transportation system keeps pace?” Wiener asked of Planning Department staff, later asking again, “Where would we get the money to improve transit for these increased residents?” Wiener didn't get back any answers that seemed to satisfy him, so he asked for a more detailed report when the plan returns next week for a second hearing. That concern was echoed by the third committee member, Board President David Chiu, who said, “Building housing without money for transit will lead to long-term problems.”

The concern seemed to revive a losing fight that Wiener led in December over expanding who pays the city's Transit Impact Development Fee, which pitted transportation advocates against affordable housing activists. Fernando Marti of the Council of Community Housing Organizing rued the revival of that conflict. “We've been here before, pitting [transportation against affordable housing needs] as if it were a zero sum game,” Marti told the committee, noting the importance of policies to balance out market rate housing and calling it a “plan for stability in a neighborhood facing large-scale gentrification.”

Marti's COCHO colleague Peter Cohen, who was closely involved with the plan's creation, also urged the committee not to tweak the housing policies or the revenues it creates for affordable housing. “This is a major upzoning,” Cohen said. “In 20 years, perhaps all the market rate stock [of housing in the plan area] will be gentrified.”

But the issue raised most often during more than two hours of public testimony involved nightlife and the need to strike a better balance between housing development and entertainment, much of the input stirred up by the California Music and Culture Association, a industry-backed trade group that formed largely in response to crackdowns on clubs in SoMa.

“It's often said San Francisco can plan more for fun, and this is a great opportunity to do that,” said Guy Carson, a CMAC founder who owns Cafe du Nord. Longtime nightlife advocate Terrence Alan took part in the Western SoMa Task Force for four years before resigning in frustration, and he told the committee, “We are bringing up issues we felt marginalized in bringing up earlier.”

But several people involved with the task force, as well as speakers representing development interests, urged supervisors to pass the place without significant modifications. “There are dozens or hundreds of compromises in this plan,” Cohen said, urging supervisors not to upset that careful balance.

Task Force Chair Jim Meko – whose leadership was widely praised in the testimony – detailed the extensive outreach and detailed work that went into the plan, and offered a simple plea to the committee: “Please pass this plan so we can get on with our lives.”

The committee unanimously voted to support the change made to the plan by the Planning Commission to ban new residential development on the raucous 300-block of 11th Street, but to reverse the commission's decision to grandfather in one final 24-home residential project on that block, in the so-called “purple building” at 340 11th Street. A number of other small changes to the plan were also unanimously approved.

But Kim objected to Wiener's motion to eliminate the plan provision that would reduce the transit and open space fees and raise the affordable housing fees that developers of those 13 large parcels would pay. “I don't think it's good policy to reduce transit impact fees when we're increasing population,” Wiener said.

“This has gone through an extensive community process,” Kim countered, adding that, “I hate that we're always having this discussion about transit versus affordable housing.”

But Chiu sided with Wiener and the amendment was approved on a 2-1 vote with Kim in dissent. Yet Chiu held open the possibility of changing his mind next week when the plan returns to committee for a final vote – the delay prompted by the other revisions in the plan – when Planning staff will provide more information on the fee structure and its impacts.

If the committee gives final approval to the plan next Monday, it could be before the full board for approval the next day.


It is ridiculous that that commission choose to keep the same 40 feet bight for the RED district and not upgrading to 60 feet. In new York is 100 feet for a narrow 20 feet wide. With a 60 feet tall building there soul be more housing from 7th street to 9 street alleys ups like Natoma and Minna and the others also between Howard and folson. Now it is the last time to change in the board of supes

Posted by porrada on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

I-80 East for 2908 miles!

Posted by marcos on Feb. 25, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

The few million extra that the few large sites would contribute to transit if the affordable housing were not given the edge is rounding error on chump change given the lack of commitment by San Francisco to investing in transit.

Not only will the 25 year transportation investment plan currently moving through the approvals process fail to keep existing infrastructure in a state of good repair (see below), it comes some $11,000,000,000.00 short of meeting the City's climate goals.

Until the City is able to do the heavy lifting required to finance transit, if the City cannot compel profitable development to pay its full infrastructure freight, then it is not okay to tinker with customizations to the ratios of exactions.

It is said that when you wear sweatpants all day that you've just given up. A 25 year investment of $3,000,000,000 when $14,000,000,000 is needed is the SFCTA and SFMTA showing up before the public wearing sweat pants. The City has simply given up on seeking transit investment.

With no plans to invest in transit, blanketing the City with parking meters becomes punitive. Note that there is utmost consideration for what is "practicable" for developers to pay in exactions while no such considerations are given to San Franciscans for whom the disinvested local and regional transit systems don't work.

With no plans to invest in transit, we cannot build enough cycling facilities to keep cycling from becoming more and more dangerous as autos proliferate, congestion mounts and frustrations rise.

What did Flanders' beat parents say "Hey, man, we've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."

"After accounting for needed expenditures to operate and maintain our existing transportation system and fund projects already underway, San Francisco is left with $3.14 billion to spend on new projects, programs, and additional maintenance and operations between now and 2040.

While $3 billion is a significant investment, it is not enough to meet all of our city's needs. Our "what it would take" analysis, for example, found that we would need closer to $4 billion just to bring our existing transportation system into an ideal state of repair. It would take an additional $10 billion to get closer to meeting our city's climate change goals. And, we received over $14 billion in funding requests (excluding a second trans-Bay BART tube) for new transportation projects during our Call for Projects process. Clearly, the next several months will involve challenging tradeoff decisions about how to meet the future needs of San Francisco's transportation system with the resources available."

From: http://www.sfcta.org/sftp-available-funding-san-francisco-transportation

Posted by marcos on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 8:15 am

The WSoMa plan decreases impact fees, including transit fees, in favor of increasing them on subsidies for affordable housing. This means that while adding new residents to the area, we're providing even less than our normal, inadequate level of funding for transit. Isn't this bass-ackwards?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

Gentrification results in decreases in population as larger households are driven out for smaller. Planning cannot have it both ways, if WSOMA produces 200 units, then $5m/200 = $25K per new resident in transit investment. That's kinda steep. Besides, none of the MTA's projected transit investment is slated for WSOMA anyway, all they'll need is more or (more likely) larger vehicles.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

At the Land Use hearing, Planning said that, at full build-out, roughly $90M in infrastructure and community benefits was needed for WSoMa, for which only $40M was identified. That's a spectacular shortfall. Where, pray, should this funding be found? This is the perversity of the Plan's allowing 200 net new units. Many parts of WSoMa were down-zoned, others up-zoned. Net result: A plan designed much more to prevent change than to accommodate it. It would appear the "citizen planners" tend towards NIMBYism.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

Complete and utter failure of "planning" and "vision"

How is this forward looking? San Franciscans dont want change, even more so among those who arent going to be alive in 25-35 years

Some groups have projected that SF will need 190k NEW housing units just to meet the needs of the job predictions - how do we plan to do this with the willy nilly twee height restrictions we're currently planning.

Posted by Greg_the_diKC on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 10:46 am

Can't add hundreds of thousands of new residents that until there is funding identified to scale up the transit system for those new residents.

The MTA is 25% off of maintaining its current capital infrastructure in a good state of repair over the next 25 years and has no clue at all how to finance any accommodation for population growth.

If it is not practicable for developers to pay the freight of their profitable investments, then it is not practicable for San Franciscans to shoulder the infrastructure load of new residents when our current infrastructure is crumbling.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 11:02 am

Why did the WSoMa Plan cut funding for transit and infrastructure?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 11:38 am

WSOMA decided that on large parcels they would dedicate a bit more of the impact to affordable housing than in the rest of the eastern neighborhoods and that came from other impact fees, including transportation.

This was done due to the nature of the housing stock, the nature of the upzoning, the nature of the transit requirements (not as capital intensive as elsewhere in the EN) and the need to stabilize the existing residents.

It is all about trade offs. This one is justified. I could see another planning district, say East SOMA, cutting its affordable housing by as much and increasing its transportation contribution to make it all a wash.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

then the funds would be there to easily cope with 100,000 or more new homes.

Depends on whether you want transit or pensions.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

Muni's priority is enriching its employees, just like every other City agency\department, over transit. Anyone who doesn't understand this is naive.

My favorite is the Muni team of employees who "study" and determine whether we we need new meters in certain areas. Funny that they always conclude "yes" when the new revenue will go into their pension funds etc.

This is one f'ed up City.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

How else is he going to afford his huge house? The gravy train must never stop for our "city family."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

The amount of waste cash that the MTA hurls at consultants and studies EACH QUARTER is less than the amount of transit impact fees that maximum build out on these parcels would contribute over 20 years.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 27, 2013 @ 2:41 pm