California mulls probe as Twitter war erupts on SF’s rejection of Build project

“If you're wondering how we got into our housing crisis, this is how,” tweeted Mayor London Breed

Mayor London Breed and Senator Scott Wiener (Getty)
Mayor London Breed and Senator Scott Wiener (Getty)

California is mulling a probe into San Francisco’s decision to reject a 495-unit SoMa housing project as everyone from the mayor to union groups pile onto Twitter to denounce the vote.

The Department of Housing and Community Development’s investigation would determine whether the city’s Board of Supervisors improperly voted down the so-called Monster on Sixth Street after it had already been approved, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“That’s no way to run a city,” Mayor London Breed tweeted the morning after the “no” vote on the proposed Build project in SoMa that would have transformed a Nordstrom valet parking lot into a development with almost a quarter of units earmarked for affordable housing. It already had been backed by neighborhood Supervisor Matt Haney and the San Francisco Planning Department.

“We’re talking about a parking lot in SoMa surrounded by high-rises,” she tweeted. “If you’re wondering how we got into our housing crisis, this is how.”

State Senator Scott Wiener retweeted the mayor’s comments and went on to say that these types of anti-development actions made reform of “California’s broken approach to housing” at the state level that much more important.

“This arbitrary rejection of new housing by the Board of Supervisors probably violated state law & certainly exacerbates our housing crisis,” he wrote.

The state law in question is the Housing Accountability Act, which requires cities to approve housing projects if they are consistent with local zoning rules and don’t compromise life or safety. The city is technically in compliance because it didn’t reject the project outright, sending it back for environmental review instead. That process could take years and isn’t guaranteed to succeed.

Pro-housing nonprofit YIMBY Law reposted a letter to the city shortly after the vote explaining why it could sue if the project wasn’t approved.

The eight supervisors who sided against the development were muted in the days after the vote and the Chronicle suggested that many of the “no” votes may have been politically motivated. Haney is running for a state assembly seat against former Supervisor David Campos, who is supported by six of eight supervisors who voted against the project.

Out of those eight, only Supervisor Dean Preston said anything on the development decision on Twitter.

Without referencing the project directly, Preston tweeted, “Our Planning Department actually adopts the position that large scale market rate housing development in low-income SF neighborhoods does not cause gentrification. Hard to believe that’s really the position, but apparently it is.”

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After several commenters suggested that Preston look into a UCLA study showing that “neighborhood-level benefits of market-rate development are promising and indicate an important role for both market and non-market solutions to the housing crisis,” he tweeted a link to the dictionary definition of gentrification.

While Supervisor Haney tweeted that he shares concerns about gentrification in his district, he wrote that ultimately, “I do not believe we prevent gentrification by keeping this a parking lot.”

In addition to Haney, only Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Ahsha Safai voted to approve the project. They voiced their objections to the majority decision on Twitter as well.

“If we can’t get to YES on a 495-unit family oriented, Union labor, 24% affordable project with community benefits – we have a long way to go to get out of our affordable housing crisis!” Safai tweeted shortly after the mayor’s response.

Haney also called out the “good union jobs” that would have been created by the project and further tweeted that the city’s obstructionist approach to housing was “entirely unsustainable”.

The project had the support of the San Francisco Labor Council and the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, which tweeted that 1,400 “out of work construction workers in SF” were among those who just “collectively rolled their eyes” at the board’s decision and linked the continued lack of worker housing to the climate crisis.

“I guess workers will still have a place to park after mega commuting,” they wrote.

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[SF Chronicle] — Emily Landes

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