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Politics & Policy

Under threat of punishment, San Francisco punts on key housing bill

A corner view of a large multi-story construction project.
Construction at the affordable housing community known as 7th and Brannan at 600 Seventh St. in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco on Sept. 7, 2023. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

San Francisco lawmakers postponed a vote on a contentious housing bill amid a renewed warning from state regulators to streamline housing approvals by the end of the year or face stiff consequences.  

The city’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to delay consideration of the Constraints Reduction Ordinance, drafted by Mayor London Breed to cut red tape in housing approvals, until Dec. 5. The delay means the city is cutting it close on an ultimatum issued by California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to pass it by Dec. 28.

READ MORE: San Francisco Goes Down to the Wire on Key Housing Reform Bill

In a letter sent Tuesday, the state’s housing department told supervisors to pass the bill within 30 days or face possible decertification of its Housing Element, which would jeopardize San Francisco’s eligibility for certain housing and transit funds, as well as control over its own zoning. The letter also said that an amendment expanding the review of projects involving potentially historical buildings could “limit the impact of the ordinance” and advised the city to pass it without amendments. 

Supervisor and Land Use Chair Myrna Melgar.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar sits at the dais during a public meeting. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who chairs the board’s land use committee, said the letter was received 45 minutes before the meeting. She said that the letter’s guidance on the amendment related to historic properties made the postponement necessary.

“We have reiterated that the inclusion of Mandelman’s historic amendment would violate our housing element, and [the Department of Housing and Community Development] agrees,” said Corey Smith of the Housing Action Coalition, which has advocated for the mayor’s housing bill. 

RELATED: San Francisco Delays Housing Reform Bill—Despite Warning From State

It’s possible that the version considered Tuesday will be rolled into a second version of the bill, which has another amendment that would restrict the construction of large floor-plan single-family homes, sometimes called “monster homes.” That version is being reviewed by the Planning Commission on Thursday. 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman walks through a Board of Supervisors meeting. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

“I still think there’s a way to regulate, to avoid monster homes in the central neighborhoods that I represent,” said Mandelman, who introduced the “monster homes” amendment. 

Any legislation will require a second vote the following week. 

The supervisors’ final meeting of the year is Dec. 12. If the legislation isn’t passed by Dec. 28, the city could face major ramifications, including lost state funds for housing and transit along with having zoning authority revoked.

Melgar remains confident that the city will reach the finish line in time. 

“It has been a pretty heavy lift to work with all of the stakeholders on a matter that pertains to the processes of our 7-by-7-square-mile city with a code that is extremely complicated and that has evolved over time,” she told colleagues before the vote. “We have 30 days to correct. …We are cutting it close.”

“At next week’s hearings, it will become very clear which supervisors make decisions for the public good, and which ones don’t,” said Annie Fryman, director of special projects at the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “Today HCD put the line in the sand—it’s now up to our elected officials to decide which side of it they’re on.”