SF plans to approve Housing Element on deadline day

YIMBY Law sees “zoning holiday” as likely outcome of last-minute approval push

YIMBY Law's Sonja Trauss and SF Planning Department's James Pappas (YIMBY Law, LinkedIn, Getty)
YIMBY Law's Sonja Trauss and SF Planning Department's James Pappas (YIMBY Law, LinkedIn, Getty)

San Francisco lawmakers have given themselves no wiggle room to approve the city’s Housing Element this month, with a final vote at the Board of Supervisors scheduled for Jan. 31.

That’s the deadline day to certify a new eight-year housing plan and still be in compliance with state law. If the city is out of compliance, it could lead to a loss of millions of dollars in state affordable housing funds and allow developments with at least 20 percent affordable housing to move forward under a state law known as builder’s remedy with little the city can do to stop them.

The element was approved by the Planning Commission before the holiday recess in December, with planning staff making real-time changes to the state-mandated strategy for creating 82,000 new housing units in the city by 2030 so that it could move to the Land Use Committee for a vote in early January.

But the committee canceled its meeting on Monday, Jan. 9 because the new board was inaugurated the same day. Due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday next week on Jan. 16, it will not meet again until Jan. 23, according to the clerk’s office.

Therefore, the element can’t move forward until after the committee meeting on the 23rd, confirmed James Pappas of the Planning Department via email. It will go to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a first reading and vote the following day and then come back to the board for a second reading and passage one week later, on Jan . 31.

“The board adoption schedule is quicker than is typical and requires procedural adjustments, however we have been coordinating with board staff and leadership to facilitate the schedule so that everything can happen as planned,” Pappas said via email.

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Sonja Trauss at YIMBY Law, a group that has held seminars so developers can take advantage of what it has been calling a “zoning holiday,” said that the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development has until at least Feb. 21 before it has to respond to the last-minute submission. Therefore, the pro-housing organization is suggesting that developers have their builder’s remedy applications ready to submit on Feb. 1.

“If the adopted draft is NOT certified by HCD, if HCD responds sometime in February saying that more changes need to be made before certification, then those builder’s remedy projects are unambiguously good to go,” she said via email.

Pappas said that the last letter received from HCD on Dec. 14 involved “very specific technical changes they wanted to see.” Department staff made those changes before the Planning Commission approved the element, he said, so he believes it should be compliant. It then sent the version approved by planning to HCD and hopes to get a letter in response by the end of January to coincide with the board adoption and sign off by Mayor London Breed on the 31st.

Trauss said she didn’t see how the state could approve the element before it finishes its investigation into the city’s lengthy approval process. Even if the state does approve the housing element without further changes, she said, the status of builder’s remedy projects submitted before that approval would be “ambiguous” since the city’s plan was not certified at the time the project was filed.

“San Francisco’s slow movement on their housing element has definitely created an opportunity for builder’s remedy projects,” she said, adding that the city has “too many decision makers who, although they may talk a good game on housing, obviously don’t think it’s an urgent issue.”

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