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Two plus two equals fourplexes: Mandelman tries again on much-maligned housing proposal

A man in black-rimmed glasses and a dark blue suit walks through a gate inside City Hall's Board of Supervisors' chambers.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman walks through a Board of Supervisors meeting in City Hall of San Francisco on May 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen / The Standard | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco policymakers aren’t giving up on fourplexes quite yet. 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is back with his fourplex bill—which was vetoed by Mayor London Breed in July—but this time split in two to allow members of the Board of Supervisors to duke it out piece by piece. 

“It’s the same thing in different packaging,” said Jacob Bintliff, Mandelman’s aide.

The first bill would allow two units on all properties in the city that currently are zoned for just one unit, while the second one is focused on density and allowing up to four units citywide and six units on corner lots. But it remains to be seen what the bills will look like in their final form, with members of the board's Land Use and Transportation Committee picking apart the details at a Monday meeting.

Biintliff said that Mandelman decided to split the bills to maximize the possibility that one version may actually pass. His original bill passed only narrowly before being vetoed by Breed over concerns that it would undermine state housing law, a move that was celebrated by the state’s department of Housing and Community Development just as it is investigating San Francisco’s housing approval processes. 

The four “no” votes against his bill were not a united bloc at the board—rather, supervisors objected to Mandelman’s legislation for differing reasons, some seeing it as too restrictive and others as not restrictive enough.

Mandelman proposed his new fourplex proposal with one notable change: It didn’t include a provision from Supervisor Dean Preston that required landlords to have inherited or owned the property for at least five years before developing it. Mandelman has been outspoken in the past about his opposition to that provision. 

But at Monday’s meeting, a majority of the Land Use Committee voted to add the provision back in, requiring four years of ownership or inheritance in the hopes the lower year threshold would appease the mayor.

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí’s version, which was tabled indefinitely in favor of coalescing around Mandelman’s, is set to come back to life, although it has yet to appear on an upcoming agenda at the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.

But Safaí said the legislation is “good to go” and considers it the best version of fourplex, particularly because it does not tackle replacing single-family zoning. That’s the portion of Mandelman’s that Safaí and some pro-housing groups opposed last time, because by replacing Senate Bill 9—a state law designed to streamline housing projects—it would paper over the streamlining benefits in favor of continued discretionary review over new projects, even if they fit zoning requirements. 

“We feel really confident this is the right version,” Safaí told The Standard. “We preserve and respect SB 9.”

Safaí’s bill also includes a streamlining initiative, which Bintliff said Mandelman is looking at separately from fourplexes.

At Monday’s meeting, the group agreed to split the bills. But they continued the items to allow for more time to sort out the details among supervisors and the Mayor’s Office to minimize the likelihood of another mayoral veto. 

“I don’t want to be played a fool that we’re sitting here guessing,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.