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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor vetoes Aaron Peskin’s housing density limit bill

A woman in a blue blazer gestures while speaking at a podium.
At her State of the City address, Mayor London Breed pledged to veto any "anti-housing" legislation that crosses her desk. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

In keeping with a campaign promise to nix legislation that blocks housing, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Thursday that she will veto a bill that tweaked density limits along the city’s Northern Waterfront.

In a letter, Breed wrote that the bill, authored by Board President Aaron Peskin, “passes off anti-housing policy under the guise of historic protection.” The Board of Supervisors approved the legislation in an 8-3 vote on Feb. 27.

“Restricting new housing runs counter to the goals of our Housing Element, which the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved just over a year ago,” Breed wrote. “It also runs counter to what we need to do to make this City a place that creates opportunities for new homes for the people who need them today and for future generations growing up in San Francisco.”

The bill imposed density limits in three sections of Peskin’s district with older buildings—the Northeast Waterfront Historic District, the Jackson Square Historic District and the Jackson Square Historic District Extension.

Peskin said the legislation was intended to limit high-rise developments he considered out of place in the neighborhoods. 

Examples include an effort by Aralon Properties to upsize a planned residential development at 955 Sansome St. into a 24-story, 132-unit building by leveraging state laws.​​ Another is a plan to preserve a three-story, 116-year-old office building at 1088 Sansome St. and replace it with a 19-story, 132-unit building. Michael Moritz, who is chairman of The Standard, is an investor in the latter project.

The mayor’s veto comes in response to a letter drafted on Wednesday by the pro-housing groups SPUR, Housing Action Coalition and SF YIMBY, who urged Breed to take action against Peskin’s density limits.

“This measure [from Peskin] would effectively ban new affordable and multifamily housing in the city’s Northern Waterfront by downzoning an affluent, lower-density neighborhood located within walking distance of the best public transportation in the state of California, and the region’s most robust center for good-paying jobs,” the letter reads.

A man gesticulates and speaks with 1 hand extended out next to a podium with a gilded facade in the background.
Board President Aaron Peskin said his ordinance was intended to preserve historic areas of the Northern Waterfront. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Peskin’s ordinance comes at a time when the city has agreed to a state mandate to accommodate 82,000 new homes by 2031 and reduce barriers to getting housing built. His effort sparked the ire of pro-housing activists: YIMBY Law, the legal arm of the housing advocacy group, argued that Peskin’s bill violates Senate Bill 330, a state law that forbids local jurisdictions from downzoning unless they upzone an equivalent amount elsewhere.  

In a statement, Peskin said he would "continue to champion affordable housing for our families that improves our neighborhoods—not a wall on the waterfront made up of luxury second and third homes."

He added, "Instead of outsourcing housing decisions to developers so they can maximize profit, as the Mayor is doing, we need to build housing our working families can afford while improving the neighborhoods they live in. We don’t have to destroy San Francisco to save it."

In her State of the City speech last week, Breed pledged to veto any “anti-housing” legislation that crosses her desk—viewed as a dig at Peskin, who is expected to enter the mayor’s race. 

“I think this sends a clear message that if you try to downzone or make it harder to build housing, you can expect the mayor to veto it,” said Jake Price, San Francisco’s community organizer with the Housing Action Coalition.

Apart from the Northern Waterfront legislation, Peskin has appeared at events in the Richmond District and North Beach decrying state housing mandates and was recently the sole vote in favor of a challenge to a Pacific Heights redevelopment of a former medical library. A group of neighborhood residents filed an appeal to block the project, which will preserve the library’s facade while adding 24 housing units.

The mayor’s veto pushes Peskin’s housing legislation back to the Board of Supervisors, who can override it with eight votes.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect the accurate number of units and project scope for the proposal at 1088 Sansome St.