SF Supervisors scramble to ward off builder’s remedy 

Committee advances law on building “constraint reduction” to meet state deadline

SF Supervisors Scramble to Ward Off Builder’s Remedy
Committee chairwoman Myrna Melgar and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman with the Sunset District neighborhood in San Francisco (Wikipedia/Drngogo, Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has moved forward with a plan to prevent developers from employing the state builder’s remedy to skirt local zoning rules to build new homes.

A committee advanced legislation this week that would reform how the city approves residential development, 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 city blew the Monday deadline, with the state likely to issue a warning letter. The city has another 30 days to pass the streamlining ordinance. 

The full Board of Supervisors will hear the ordinance Tuesday, Nov. 28.

If San Francisco blows the second deadline, the state could decertify its Housing Element plan for 82,000 new homes by 2031 — which could jeopardize hundreds of millions in funding for affordable housing and transportation.

It could also allow developers to apply for builder’s remedy projects that skirt local planning review. 

Advocates for the pro-housing YIMBY movement call the state interference an overdue correction to the city’s glacial planning approval process, which contributes to making it the most expensive city to build housing in the state.

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Critics call it a kind of “blackmail” that will allow market-rate developers to bulldoze neighborhoods while doing little to promote housing for poor or middle-class households.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman included amendments that would ban demolition of rent-controlled units and safeguard historic properties. The initial legislation allowed two-unit, vacant rent-controlled units to be razed to make way for denser developments.

He also introduced an amendment to withhold streamlined approval of “monster homes” that have popped up in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods.

“I don’t think this is easy or simple but hopefully we can get to an ordinance that both increases housing production in San Francisco and also makes us a better city,” Mandelman told the Chronicle.

Committee Chairwoman Myrna Melgar said that her office, working with the city attorney and the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, has come up with “collaborative” legislation to both protect tenants and make it faster and cheaper to build homes.

“A lot of people had their doubts,” Melgar told the newspaper. “I think it is a really good piece of legislation, and it’s compliant (with state law).”

— Dana Bartholomew

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