Skip to main content

YIMBY takes another swing at housing reform with new ballot initiative

A new ballot initiative effort from pro-housing group YIMBY Action would help speed up development for certain projects that already meet the city’s requirements, its supporters say. 

Kion Sawney, a board member at YIMBY Action and project developer for the nonprofit Mercy Housing, filed the ballot initiative—a joint effort with the Housing Action Coalition, SPUR and Grow SF—on Thursday. It targets streamlining approval for projects that already meet the city’s requirements and are affordable or specifically for teachers. If it gets enough signatures, it will appear on the November ballot. 

In an effort to prevent projects from becoming tangled in bureaucratic red tape, it calls on the Planning Department to publish a checklist clearly defining a complete application and setting time limits for approval. If a project meets all of the requirements in the checklist and under current city codes, it would be approved automatically and wouldn’t require a vote from the planning commission, the Board of Supervisors or other boards. 

“The whole goal is to have a more objective process,” YIMBY Action Executive Director Laura Foote said. “We call it streamlining, but it's really just about saying we’re going to follow our own rules to make housing go faster.”

This isn’t the first time San Franciscans have tried to remedy the process that gives city boards the authority to strike down housing projects even if they meet all of the city’s requirements. The most recent  was a ballot measure sponsored by Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí that failed to move out of the Rules Committee. 

If passed later this year, the new rules wouldn’t apply to any projects currently in the hopper. But Foote said the ballot initiative was designed to help avoid situations like the rejected 469 Stevenson housing project, which was struck down at the Board of Supervisors on an environmental impact appeal that many housing advocates saw as a move based on politics and not policy.

While Breed’s office has yet to fully review the proposed ballot measure, Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s communications director, said she supports new rules that streamline housing projects and using a ballot initiative to codify them.

“The voters are going to have to decide this,” Cretan said.