As a state deadline for robust housing plans looms in January, some cities are submitting plans that just don’t pass the smell test, with implausible features like building on top of churches and grocery stores whom they did not even ask about this first.
The current freakout du jour at San Francisco City Hall (well, depending on the day) is the matter of local regulatory compliance — or possible lack thereof — with the looming requirements of an ambitious statewide housing plan called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Like all California cities, SF has to come up with something called a “housing element” that statewide would add nearly a half a million new housing units. Here in San Francisco, this means crafting a realistic plan to build 82,000 new units by 2031, which suffice it to say is a sharp increase over our historical median.
San Francisco has struggles on getting housing approved, and on this housing element front, may be set back by a possibly botched deadline. But for perspective: North of 90% of California cities have not had their housing elements approved yet either. (In the Bay Area, only Alameda has.) San Francisco's housing pipeline is actually quite strong at the moment, though it is not where it needs to be to meet RHNA and housing element requirements. So there will be a lot of 1 p.m. Planning Commission meetings that end up burning the midnight oil until we hit the required thresholds on paper.
Meanwhile, many California cities are treating this thing as an absolute joke; submitting housing plans that might look good on paper to meet state requirements, but the housing could never possibly be built. The Chronicle reports some of the more outlandish housing proposals that seem intended to fool state authorities, but are unlikely to ever become reality.
Consider Los Altos United Methodist Church, a property which the city of Los Altos included as a housing development site, though church officials told the Chronicle, “we certainly haven’t discussed it.” Also in Los Altos, the city included the site of Draeger’s grocery store — the owner tells the Chronicle he has no plans to convert the popular store to housing. In the East Bay, Piedmont went as far as to propose its own city hall as a housing site, though pulled that plan when it was exposed as an obvious fig leaf.
We must take into account that the Chronicle got its list of alleged sham housing plans from the lobbying group California YIMBY. That group always sides with developer interests. And the Chron followed up to find that some of the properties California YIMBY flagged (through a volunteer effort) did in fact have full-fledged plans for housing, or at least plans that were not as unrealistic as CA YIMBY had depicted them.
They flagged Berkeley’s Pegasus Books, though the owner of Pegasus books told the Chronicle that a housing development there was “our intention. That’s why we bought it in the first place.” A YIMBY-mocked plan in Danville to build housing "atop a creek” actually seems a definite maybe, as the area flagged does have 52 developable acres, according to the Danville planning department.
Certainly San Francisco faces an uphill administrative battle complying with submitting realistic plans to build 82,000 new units in the next eight years or so. But our City Hall is taking the effort seriously, whereas many other cities in the Bay Area and beyond are just submitting sham plans that only look good on paper.
Image: Shira Michael via Unsplash