State Senator Scott Wiener’s bill intended to eliminate reviews and challenges to housing proposals has now done just that, as the state just forced San Francisco to streamline approvals and massively speed up housing production.

Last year, San Francisco City Hall labored to pass a plan to build 82,000 new housing units by 2031, a plan we approved mostly because the state was forcing us to. But even though we passed that plan, we’ve pretty much failed to follow through. Housing approvals remain at a trickle, as SF continues to have the longest approval process in all of California for new construction projects.

So, state Senator Scott Wiener jumped in with legislation called SB 423 that streamlined housing approvals and eliminated appeals against housing projects for cities not meeting their housing goals. Those rules will kick in for California cities in 2026. But Wiener’s bill singled out San Francisco, and for us, the rule is already in effect.

Welp, San Francisco missed its housing production goal for 2023, so now the Chronicle reports SF will be forced to streamline housing proposals and eliminate most appeals and reviews. Most proposed housing projects will no longer be subject to SF Planning Commission review, and therefore, cannot be appealed or rejected by the Board of Supervisors.

The move is expected to slash the average construction project approval time from more than two years to just six months.

Wiener is of course spiking the football. “San Francisco has had the longest permitting timeline for housing in the state and now because of SB423 San Francisco will have one of the shortest permitting timelines,” he said in a statement to the Chronicle. “And that is a game-changer.”

The sentiment is not universal.

“Scott Wiener is one step closer to his goal of destroying San Francisco,” founder of the anti-upzoning group Neighborhoods United SF Lori Brooke told the Chronicle. “[The bill] unfairly penalizes San Francisco for something beyond its control,” Brooke added. “San Francisco does not build housing, developers do.”

San Francisco is now the first city in California forced into these automatic approvals (known as “ministerial approvals”) of complying projects. Of course, that’s just because the law singled us out to start reviews here earlier, other cities don’t have that mandate until 2026.

SF approved 3039 new housing units in 2023 and 831 this far in 2024, far short of the average needed to add 82,000 new units in eight years.

Developers are applauding the change. “Instead of not knowing what is going to happen for two to five years, once you submit a whole project it should be approved in two to six months,” said developer Chis Foley, who’s behind the project to bring a 23-story residential tower to what is currently the FedEx spot at Duboce and Market streets.

The new rules do not apply to all proposed SF housing projects. Large projects under “development agreements,” like that giant Stonestown remodel, will still be subject to reviews. But the Chronicle estimates that 23% of SF housing meets this criteria, so the majority of projects would get the automatic approvals.

That said, we’re still seeing high construction costs and interest rates slow down or halt many SF housing construction projects. Scott Wiener's law can’t do anything about that.

Consider that the developer Foley of that Duboce and Market tower told the Chronicle that his tower there would “go vertical as soon as the capital markets come back.” In other words, it’s still delayed, just for reasons other than City Hall red tape.

Related: State Auditors Step Into Housing Element Mandate Mess, Question Whether Regulators are Doing Enough to Help Cities [SFist]

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist