SF could miss state deadline to cut red tape for developers

Failure to comply could open city up to builder’s remedy projects and cede funding

SF Could Miss State Deadline to Cut Building Red Tape
Mayor London Breed; San Francisco Planning Director Rich Hillis (Getty)

San Francisco is about to go off the rails on its state housing plan, with the risk it could lose local control of development projects by opening itself up to the builder’s remedy.

The city is poised to miss a key deadline for reforming how it approves new housing, which could result in a decertification of its required plan for 82,000 new homes by 2031, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The California Department of Housing & Community Development, during a scathing audit last month, gave the city 30 days to pass Mayor London Breed’s “constraints reduction” ordinance.

The ordinance would cut red tape that hinders development and let many projects move forward without a hearing at the Planning Commission. The deadline is Nov. 27.

But the city has yet to hold a hearing, either in committee or the full Board of Supervisors. If the ordinance is heard at committee next week, it would likely be mid-December before it gets a full board vote.

Planning Director Rich Hillis said he anticipates that next week the state will send a letter warning that the city is out of compliance with state Housing Element laws. After the warning, the city would then have 30 days to become compliant.

If San Francisco blows the deadline, the state could decertify its Housing Element plan — which could jeopardize hundreds of millions in funding for affordable housing and transportation.

It could also allow property owners to apply for “builder’s remedy” projects that skirt local planning review. 

Hillis hopes the Board of Supervisors will pass the constraints reduction ordinance in time to avoid decertification.

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“It’s a tight window, but I think we can get there, given the schedule,” he told the Chronicle.

Last month, the state housing department released the result of its probe into San Francisco’s glacial housing approval process, the slowest of any big city in the state. Its first-ever review outlined 18 actions the state said San Francisco must take in order to comply with housing laws.

“People who were born and raised in San Francisco cannot afford to stay and raise their own families there,” Gustavo Velasquez, director of the department said upon the audit’s release. “It is egregious and must be addressed.”

Last week, Breed whipped off a letter saying what the city has done to speed up housing production. 

Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for the mayor, said San Francisco was among the first cities in the Bay Area to have its Housing Element approved — and failing to keep its promises would “blow it all up.” 

“We cannot go down the path of Housing Element decertification,” Cretan told the Chronicle. “That is deeply concerning.

“Not only would it put at risk affordable housing and transit funding, but it would set us backwards in a significant way,” he added.

— Dana Bartholomew

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