Although a proposed moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission District died before the Board of Supervisors last month when it failed to garner a nine vote majority, another body capable of exerting control over the District's housing market may step forward to resurrect some of that moratorium's goals. As the Business Times reports, the Planning Commission will vote Thursday on whether it should impose six-month interim zoning controls, a sort of middle-ground option that could also forestall or forego the need for a ballot measure on David Campos's proposed moratorium.
The Planning Commission's potential involvement in the city's hottest local housing debate comes as a bit of a surprise to all parties, planning commissioners included.“It took us awhile to figure out we can [initiate interim controls], but we apparently can," said Kathrin Moore, one planning commissioner. “The building of market-rate housing is very extreme. We hear about the consequences every day. The stories are so hard to digest as you are confronted with people’s miseries that you have to take time out,”
Interim controls, as laid out in an executive summary from the Commission, would allow that body to scrutinize market-rate housing proposals and large retail or commercial projects. Such projects would be required to seek conditional use authorization as opposed to large project authorization. A development project providing five or more market-rate units but demolishing a single rent-control unit or converting a community arts space would receive special examination.
Per the Planning Commission, "interim zoning controls may be imposed by either the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors during or preceding a period of study when it is necessary 'to ensure that the legislative scheme which may be ultimately adopted is not undermined during the planning and legislative process by the approval or issuance of permits authorizing the alteration, construction or demolition of buildings or the establishment or change of uses which will conflict with that scheme.'"
The rationale for the interim zoning controls seems to be the same as it was for a moratorium. The City needs time to carefully plan for the rapidly gentrifying Mission District's housing needs, buying land parcels whenever possible for the development of affordable housing.
The Mayor's office, for its part, is in the midst of its Mission Action Plan efforts, having recently announced its intention to increase a proposed housing bond measure from $250 million to $300 million. Those added millions would be reserved for the purchase of housing sites in the Mission District. It's as yet unclear if Mayor Lee would condone interim controls, or object to them as he has to the idea of a moratorium.
If the Planning Commission's controls were to pass as they're currently written, they would delay approval for 58 units of market-housing. Projects including the ones slated for 1979 Mission and 2000 Bryant and others that filed their initial application for building permits or environmental applications after January 1, 2015, would be exempt from the controls. THat doesn't please Gabriel Medina, the pro-moratorium Mission Economic Development Agency's policy director. “To grandfather in all these projects doesn’t help the Mission. The ‘Beast on Bryant’ and the ‘Monster in the Mission’ are still allowed to move forward,” he says.
However, commissioner Dennis Richards implies that the reach of the housing controls could widen during debate. “Everything’s on the table. We need to look at everything here,” he said. “We’re trying to take emotion out of it to see where do we draw the line here.”
Meanwhile at the ballot box, the Examiner reports that organizers behind the proposed 18-month moratorium on "luxury housing" construction say they're "confident" they've received the required number of signatures for a ballot measure. That would mean that in a mere 26 days they've gathered 9,700 signatures, a record of a kind and a symbol of public sentiment.
Tim Colen, executive director of the pro-development group San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, is one leading voice opposed to the ballot measure. “Ballot box planning becomes a disaster,” he says,. “A full discussion with the public being able to weigh in and being in front of commission is preferable outcome than sneaking through a ballot initiative.”
Perhaps for him and others, interim zoning controls might present a path of least resistance. For now, as Moore put it, “What the outcome will be is in the stars, but there’s an attempt to figure out what can be done.”