Wiener bill to force SF to permit home construction in six months

SB 423 singles out the city with an expedited timeline for approvals, a win for YIMBYs

Weiner Bill to Force SF to Permit Home Construction Fast
Senator Scott Wiener (Getty)

State Sen. Scott Wiener put the screws to his home city with a new law that makes San Francisco the first city in California to fall short of its housing goals.

The city is now under the thumb of SB 423, which makes an exception for San Francisco by putting it on a strict schedule to permit new home construction to meet its state-mandated housing goal of 82,000 homes by 2031, the San Francisco Standard and San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The bill, enacted Friday, requires cities behind on their state housing goals to streamline the approval of most projects. In San Francisco, it will reduce the time it takes to permit new projects from two years  — the longest in the state — to six months. 

“No discretionary hearings, no CEQA lawsuits, none of the politics at the Board of Supervisors, you just get your damn permit,” Wiener said at a press conference at the Planning Department. “Period.” 

SB 423 singled out San Francisco, infamous for its slow housing approval process, with an amendment that subjects it to yearly reviews of its housing goals, while other cities get a check-up halfway through the eight-year housing cycle.

San Francisco has authorized 831 new units this year — while needing to permit 10,000 a year to meet its required housing goal, according to the Planning Department.  Last year, the city authorized 3,039 homes.

Wiener’s bill extends one of his previous laws, Senate Bill 35, which streamlined affordable housing. The new law impacts about three-fourths of all permitting applications, officials say.

The new rules are a major win for city YIMBYs, who for years have cited bureaucratic hurdles in getting projects permitted through a lengthy mechanism known as discretionary review.

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Wiener took a shot at Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, a longtime foe of housing advocates who has tried to preserve historic neighborhoods in San Francisco. It’s become a key issue in the November race for mayor, with Peskin competing to unseat incumbent London Breed.

Wiener called Peskin a “patron saint” for NIMBYs.

“Their goal is to shut down and stop housing production,” Wiener said. “It’s classic NIMBYism. They do not want new homes near where they live.” 

In response, Peskin said Wiener’s legislation will “be a boon for speculators and developers who will build expensive units out of reach for most San Franciscans” and further gentrification and displacement, according to the Standard.

SB 423 still doesn’t address certain impediments to building more housing in the city, such as soaring construction and materials costs, as well as higher interest rates that impede financing.

Planning Director Rich Hillis said his agency can now devote more resources to rezoning and strategies to combat climate change, such as a wall to prevent sea level rise. Hillis also said the bill could help prevent corruption in permitting, since long waits have led to the rise of permitting expediters involved in major scandals. 

“There’s going to be less of a need for attorneys and expediters,” Hillis told the Standard.

— Dana Bartholomew

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