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October 2019 at www.WestsideObserver.com

Vote “No” on Prop. “E,” Public Land Re-Zoning
“Local Control” Excludes Neighborhood Input

by Patrick Monette-Shaw

California cities have long been in a protracted war with the State over who should control housing decisions.  Local control over housing and land-use policies were at risk, which the State sought to usurp. 

Why would San Francisco seek to usurp hyperlocal (at the neighbor- hood level) input from local land-use policies?  That’s essentially what Prop. “E” — to re-zone public land (except parks) citywide in San Francisco — on the November ballot seeks to do.  Prop. “E” makes things worse, stripping out neighborhood input from local processes.  It screams:  “We don’t want neighborhood input.”

As the Westside Observer reported in July 2019, news surfaced June 19 that the Elections Department had received two dueling ballot measures to re-zone Pull Quote 1San Francisco’s public lands:  One submitted by Mayor Breed, and the second submitted by four Supervisors (Supervisors Peskin, Fewer, Walton, and Haney).

Both proposed measures reeked of State Senator Scott Wiener’s various legislation designed to strip and override local planning rules by fiat, eliminating local control, like Wiener’s misguided SB-50 attempt to rezone the entire state.  Indeed, two bills — AB-1487 (Assemblyman David Chiu) and AB-1486 (Assemblyman Phil Ting) — both contain provisions to allow privatization and appropriation of regional public lands.  Both bills are sitting on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature.

Pull Quote 2Developers covet acquiring public land because it provides the private affordable housing industry opportunities for massive financial gain.

No public hearings were held prior to submitting either of the two dueling re-zoning measures to San Francisco’s Department of Elections on June 18.  After the Board of Supervisors blocked Breed’s separate Charter change ballot measure on July 11, she was forced to negotiate with the Board.  Breed eventually backed down and withdrew her re-zoning Ordinance, leaving the re-zoning Ordinance proposed by four Supervisors on the ballot — now designated as “Prop. E” — but without enough time to work out a compromise to the final ballot language before going to voters.  

Pull Quote 3Clearly, San Francisco neighborhoods need better means for controlling land use, not just adding more housing, and each neighborhood should have input in controlling land-use decisions regarding public land in their respective neighborhoods!

Prop. “E’s” Origins

Breed initially wildly claimed to rationalize and justify placing her citywide re-zoning measure on the ballot, that it was only because it had taken over two years to re-zone the Francis Scott Key Annex on public property to allow building a teacher housing project.  Breed ignored the project was delayed principally because design wasn’t yet completed and wasn’t awarded City funding before July 30, 2019.  Breed’s pretext was laughable. 

Pull Quote 4We debunked Breed’s baseless and untruthful claim in the Westside Observer.  In July we reported that re-zoning — even if zoning changes take 6 to 12 months — occurs during Environmental Review while the developer works simultaneously on detailed design, permitting, and financing that can take up to 24 months.  Eliminating re-zoning will not shorten the 24-month concurrent processes. 

In our September article, even Supervisor Shamann Walton (D-10) noted on July 11, 2019 that the Annex should have been re-zoned “a couple of years ago.”  Walton added, “We should not be giving away publicly owned land for market rate dPull Quote 5evelopments calling it affordable teacher housing.”  The developer waited until May 1, 2019 before submitting a Special Use District rezoning application to the Planning Department.

The Board promised trailing legislation would be written to reconcile differences between the two dueling measures.  Now at the end of September, no trailing legislation has been presented during Board of Supervisors hearings.  Adding to the insult that no public hearings were held beforehand, voters will also likely not see the trailing legislation before voting on Prop. “E.”

SPull Quote 6till unclear is whether developers will be given public land at no cost, whether they’ll purchase land outright at market-rates (income to the City), or if they’ll get long-term leases of the land. Prop. “E” contains no discussion about whether developers will acquire public lands at no cost, or through fee simple sale, long-term ground lease, or prices below market-rate appraisal value.  That issue wasn’t even included in the ballot measure, and a City Hall source thinks the issue won’t be clarified in the trailing legislation, either.

Take for example the Balboa Reservoir project, a mixed-use joint venture between BRIDGE Housing and AvalonBay Communities on land owned by San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission.  Of 1,100 planned units,  50% (550 units) will be for market-rate housing and 50% will be affordable housing units.  The joint venture plans to sell the “entitled” parcels to up to six other developers.  (Note:  “Entitlements” are approvals for the right to develop property for a desired purpose.)  How much the joint venture will profit from selling the parcels isn’t known.

Pull Quote 7It’s also unknown how widespread it is for one developer to obtain entitlements from the Planning Department, and then turn around and sell the entitled parcels to other developers.

It’s also unclear if the re-zoning measure will eliminate full CEQA review on each project, or whether the CEQA reviews will remain on a case-by-case basis.  That likely also won’t be addressed in the trailing legislation, which may focus only on a peripheral issue involving 50% pass-through to tenants.

Pull Quote 8Prop. “E” will eliminate your ability and rights to appeal projects through local jurisdiction process hearings and may eliminate the Planning Commission’s discretionary review process to alter, change, or disapprove re-zoning of each parcel zoned “P Public.”

Alphanumereic State Soup

Seven recent State legislative bills aim at eliminating local control over land-use and housing decisions:

Prop. “E” Ain’t Necessary

Planning Department staffer Ann Murray Rogers has noted that public land must be rezoned for residential uses, re-zoning to a density zone of RH-2 or greater.  But Prop. “E” doesn’t actually re-zone the Public land from “P – Public” to RH-2 or above; it simply expands Planning Code Section 211.1 by adding a new subparagraph “(i)” to expand principally-permitted uses in “P Zones” to include residential uses for 100% Affordable Housing or Pull Quote 22Educator Housing projects.  “P Zones” currently prohibit residential housing of any type.

Proponents assert Prop. “E” “unlocks” and “repurposes” public “underutilized” lands to build affordable housing, a principle they claim voters affirmed November 3, 2015 passing Prop. “K” — Surplus Public Lands — requiring identifying surplus City property.  City departments identified just 35 surplus parcels; three were referred to the Mayor’s Office of Housing.  MOHCD rejected all three as unsuitable.

Pull Quote 23City Supervisors already allow housing on parcels zoned “Public” via case-by-case variances or creating Public Use Districts.  They already have:  DataSF shows housing Assessor Use Types on 70 parcels zoned “Public.”  Prop. “E” ain’t necessary!

San Francisco’s 2006 voter guide included former City Attorney Louise Renne’s paid argument against Prop. “D” to rezone Laguna Honda Hospital, arguing it would permit private facilities on public lands.  Calvin Welch’s argument against “D” worried it might allow private developers to build for-profit facilities on public land in public use districts.

Awarding public land so private developers can enhance profits is against the interests of the people.

Keep public lands in neighborhood’s — people’s — hands.  Vote “No” on Prop. “E”!


Monette-Shaw is a columnist for San Francisco’s Westside Observer newspaper, and a member of the California First Amendment Coalition (FAC) and the ACLU.  He operates stopLHHdownsize.com.  Contact him at monette-shaw@westsideobserver.com.