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Politics & Policy

Peskin shoots down measure to speed development of middle-class housing

A bearded, bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a dark suit, is captured mid-conversation.

Mayor London Breed's proposal to streamline certain housing construction through a City Charter amendment put to voters this summer was killed Wednesday in an unusual decision by the Rules Committee.

The Affordable Housing Now charter amendment would have expedited the city’s approval process for certain housing projects which add on 15% more affordable units, as well as 100% affordable projects. The affordable units would also be price-adjusted for households of up to 140% of median income, essentially creating a new category of affordable housing for families with higher incomes. Developers would have had to commit to paying prevailing wage as well as other labor concessions. 

After a contentious session which featured close to an hour of public comment, mostly from affordable housing and preservation activists opposed to the measure, the committee uncharacteristically moved to accept minor amendments to the item before tabling it by a 2-1 vote. Committee chair Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan voted to block the ballot measure, while Supervisor Rafael Mandelman opposed their decision. 

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, the sponsor of the charter amendment, presented the item and noted that it would build upon previous housing initiatives, such as HOME SF, and jumpstart construction post-pandemic without displacing vulnerable residents or historic assets. 

Safai’s presentation was met with extensive criticism by committee chair Peskin, who remarked that the goal of the measure “should really be addressed by ordinance,” as opposed to a charter amendment. Peskin also noted the passage of Proposition C in 2012, a charter amendment which created a Housing Trust Fund and altered inclusionary housing requirements for projects, and the subsequent undoing of parts of that measure in the following election cycle. He dismissed the mayor’s ballot measure as “a power grab.”

After public comment, Supervisor Mandelman expressed a number of reservations about the measure, including the new affordable housing qualification category and bypassing historic preservation review. However, he also described the item as “a laudable attempt” to build on state housing legislation such as SB35. Mandelman expressed willingness to consider the measure further if it could be amended to keep the affordable qualification category at 120% of median income and “conform to local zoning, and have a time limit.”

Supervisor Chan slammed the measure, comparing it to another charter amendment being considered by the committee dealing with the city’s assistance to the San Francisco Unified School District. 

“Not enough stakeholders were brought to the table on this. I oppose it,” Chan said. 

Supervisor Safai continued to ask for more time to consider the item while he submitted amendments, which would have strengthened provisions on labor issues, but Chair Peskin was having none of it. 

“This is folly,” Peskin said. “We can accept your amendment and then table, or we can just table. Choose your poison.”

In the end, the amendments to the item were approved unanimously by the committee. A subsequent motion made by Peskin to table the item then passed 2-1. 

Supervisor Safai is confident that the conversation on the goals behind the measure will continue. 

“We need to get serious (about housing)” Safai said. “This was a serious proposal that would’ve been embraced by a majority a few years ago. … We worked over six months with the (San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council) to get to this point, and, yes, we did try to create a new category of affordable housing for nurses, for firefighters, for other professionals who can’t afford to live here. The Board of Supervisors can’t keep being the reason that housing doesn’t get built. There needs to be major reform.”

The Rules Committee will meet again Monday to consider further charter amendments, including those dealing with the mayor and supervisors’ appointment authority, as well as governance of ancillary funding for the San Francisco Unified School District.