The latest drama over SF’s state-mandated goal to build more than 82,000 new housing units comes from Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan, who want to blow up that mandate with a lawsuit, though City Attorney David Chiu may be unwilling to throw that bomb.
The SF Board of Supervisors seemed to have won the latest round in a back-and-forth with state housing officials over our state-mandated Housing Element, which sets a quota to approve and build 82,000 new housing units by the year 2031. When the state demanded that the supes pass Mayor Breed’s streamlined permitting process to bypass local red tape for development, the supervisors added several amendments that could have resulted in the state decertifying our housing plan, putting potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing and transit funding at risk.
But the state approved the amendments, which seemed likely to cause a brief respite in the state’s crusade to get SF to speed up its notoriously slow housing approvals. So maybe it would be another few months until the city inevitably starts getting nasty letters and warnings from state housing officials again.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan are contemplating a lawsuit against the state of California for the latter’s persistent pressure on The City to build more housing.https://t.co/nbPy7CmFI7— SF Examiner (@sfexaminer) December 29, 2023
But maybe the next batch of nasty letters and warnings will come from San Francisco, and be sent to the state. The Examiner reported Friday that Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan have enquired about suing the state of California over what they call “unfair legislative mandates,” in a letter to City Attorney David Chiu dated December 26.
Chiu is under no obligation to go ahead with a lawsuit, and the letter was just an inquiry. But it makes the point that developers have been canceling and pausing already-approved housing developments, and that maybe SF shouldn’t be punished for that.
“70,000 units of housing are approved and ready to be built,” Peskin and Chan’s letter says. “Developers have chosen not to build. Yet the City is being penalized by allowing these same developers to essentially have peremptory powers over regular local processes."
Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan are asking the city attorney for advice on whether San Francisco can sue the state to block the punitive actions set in motion by Sen. Scott Wiener’s housing bills.https://t.co/zkdKL24JZS— 48 Hills (@48hills) January 2, 2024
48 Hills has obtained and reprinted larger sections of that letter, which calls out state Senator Scott Wiener for his new law that adds more state scrutiny to San Francisco housing than that of any other California city. 48 Hills also got the eyebrow-raising quote out of Peskin that Wiener’s added SF scrutiny comes “from a senator who hates his own Senate district.”
“This new law will create undue hardship on San Francisco and ultimately lead to displacement of small businesses, residential tenants, and homeowners in San Francisco,” Chan and Peskin’s letter concludes. “We respectfully ask that you present the Board of Supervisors with our legal options, including but not limited to litigation against the State.”
Again, Chiu is under no obligation to do this, and he probably won’t. As 48 Hills points out, the board could hire their own attorney to pursue it, but Chiu would have to approve that, and is unlikely to do so. So 48 Hills also asked Peskin whether a private citizen or organization could file the suit. “That,” Peskin responded, “is a very good question.”
Except Peskin likely knows the answer to that question: Anyone probably can sue the state if they care to. (Whether they’re successful is another matter). But Peskin may be telegraphing that he wants someone to sue the state. Because just as with the ACLU lawsuit against SF over homeless encampment sweeps, a lawsuit could create years-long delays in any housing-related penalties against San Francisco, as a court case could theoretically tie the state’s hands in any attempt to strong-arm SF into forcing more housing development.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist