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Politics & Policy

San Francisco blows housing deadline, prompting standoff with state regulators

Apartment buildings and housing in the Tenderloin in Downtown San Francisco, seen from above.
Apartment buildings and housing in the Tenderloin in Downtown San Francisco on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

San Francisco has crossed a line in the sand, according to state housing officials. 

That line was a deadline for passing legislation to expedite housing approvals, which came and went on Nov. 24. The state is giving the city another 30 days to get the bill on track before potentially revoking its permitting authority or withholding state funds, among other actions. 

The bill in question is Mayor London Breed’s Constraints Reduction Ordinance—now in its fifth revision and set to be considered again at the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee on Monday. 

The ordinance, which eliminates neighborhood notifications and other forms of discretionary review from many housing projects, has been repeatedly stalled in committee as supervisors tacked on amendments that weren’t necessary, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. 

Those changes wound up pushing the city past a 30-day deadline, imposed in a report published Oct. 25. The board is also in defiance of a separate Oct. 26 letter, which warned supervisors to pass the bill without amendments or risk falling out of compliance with state law.  

On Monday morning, Breed posted on X, formerly Twitter, warning that the city is “already slipping” in enacting its Housing Element and warned of stiff consequences if it violates state law.

In a statement, the state housing department said that it will send a “Corrective Action Letter” this week that gives the city another 30 days to pass the bill before having its Housing Element decertified. 

Should that happen, it would subject the city to consequences such as “ineligibility or delay in receiving certain state funds and the application of the ‘builder’s remedy,’ among others,” according to the department. 

If the land use committee passes the Constraints Reduction Ordinance, the full board will vote on it Tuesday. Even if the board passes the bill within the 30-day window, it’s not clear whether the tweaked bill will satisfy the state. 

Aaron Peskin speaks to a crowd outside City Hall.
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin speaks at a press conference in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown in San Francisco on Sept. 28, 2023. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

In a Nov. 21 letter, Planning Department Director Rich Hillis wrote that the Mayor’s Office plans to introduce further changes to ensure the bill is compliant. The department is “confident that the changes made, and that continue to be made, to San Francisco’s review and approval process substantially comply with the City’s approved Housing Element,” Hillis wrote.

But community groups opposed to the legislation are expected to keep up the pressure against the mayor’s bill.

The Council of Community Housing Organizations, the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition and other groups rallied members to show up to Monday’s land use meeting in support of a separate resolution pushing back on the state deadlines. 

The nonbinding resolution, authored by Board President Aaron Peskin, urges City Attorney David Chiu to request an extension of the deadlines and to “revise and correct” its warning letter. The resolution will also be considered on Monday. 

However, the state housing department was clear that it’s not budging.

The department said it “does not plan on revising the timelines or content” of the deadlines.