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Fourplexpalooza continues: Supes wrestle with Westside development

Homes of the Sunset District. | Camille Cohen

Two bills designed to allow more housing on the westside of San Francisco came under the microscope again on Monday as the Board of Supervisors parsed through how to streamline housing development as it faces the monumental task of finding room in the city for 82,000 units by 2031. 

At Monday’s meeting, the Land Use and Transportation Committee scrutinized Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s and Gordon Mar’s proposals to allow up to four units on lots citywide and up to six on corner units—but ultimately, neither moved forward. The committee decided to push the discussion another two weeks when Supervisor Ahsha Safaí’s third competing proposal is also likely to appear in front of the committee. 

This time, the devil was in the details regarding the feasibility of anyone using new zoning laws to build new housing and whether anyone would actually move into it. 

Mandelman’s proposal, which, after an amendment from Committee Chair Myrna Melgar, would make new units subject to rent control, has been lauded as the most feasible by pro-housing groups. Even so, Mandelman said his ordinance is just one piece of the puzzle San Francisco should consider as it works toward fulfilling new state mandates. 

“I think it's important to remember just how modest and incremental this is,” Mandelman said at the committee meeting. 

Meanwhile, Mar’s latest proposal came under fire for its affordability requirements. His new version calls for fourplexes in the form of “bonus units.” Still, their rental and sale prices would be limited to 100% of the area median income, they must include at least two bedrooms and owners would be required to live in them for at least three years before their development to discourage speculation. 

On Monday, Mar tried to convince the committee that his proposal would pencil out, but Melgar and Supervisor Aaron Peskin pushed back on his affordability requirements. 

“My off-the-cuff take on it is it renders these infeasible,” Peskin said. 

Meanwhile, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí’s proposal is changing tune, too. He told The Standard on Monday that he plans to move the affordability requirements offsite as part of his new proposal. Rather than require the new housing itself to be affordable, the owners would have to pay fees toward a fund for affordable housing elsewhere in the city in exchange for streamlined permitting. 

“I’m trying to stay true to and respecting SB-9 while at the same time creating our own version of fourplex,” Safaí said of the state law that effectively ended single-family zoning. “One of my biggest issues with what's been proposed in the other versions is that we throw SB-9 out and try to create our own version that has a much slower and convoluted and bureaucratic process.”

The more affordability requirements, the less likely the units get built, developers and pro-housing groups say. This debate isn’t just happening in San Francisco: Other cities are taking dramatic steps to stymie the effects of SB-9, but the state is pushing back with plans to investigate duplex and fourplex bills in 29 cities. 

Peskin, meanwhile, was getting antsy, calling on the board to get the upzoning done and debate the details later. That’s because the city has until next spring to prove to the state that its zoning can accommodate 82,000 units by 2031, or the state could cut city funding for housing, freeze its ability to issue permits and slam the city with financial penalties. 

“Why don’t we take step one and get half of this thing out the door?” Peskin said, to no avail. 

The conversation will continue as the ordinances are taken up again on April 25.