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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor’s veto of controversial housing bill is overturned

Aaron Peskin at the Supervisors
Supervisor Aaron Peskin's housing legislation passed on Tuesday despite a veto by Mayor London Breed earlier this month. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

In a defeat for San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors overturned the mayor’s veto of Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s recent housing bill that pushes forward density limits along the city’s Northern Waterfront.

The vote was 8-3, with Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Joel Engardio and Matt Dorsey siding with the mayor. Breed and her supporters could not convince an additional supervisor to dissent, which would have kept her veto in place.

The passage of the bill will enact housing density controls for most developments in the Jackson Square Historic District, the Jackson Square Historic District Extension and the Northeast Waterfront Historic District. Projects under the city’s office-to-residential conversion program are exempt from the new rule.

“This is not only well considered but recommended by our Planning Department,” said Peskin. “This is not a policy discussion. This is a political discussion.”

Peskin says his bill targets high-rise projects in an area home to older buildings in need of preservation. They include proposals from Aralon Properties like a 24-story, 132-unit development on Sansome Street. Another 19-story development nearby would preserve a 116-year-old office building to make way for 132 units, a project whose investors include Michael Moritz, chairman of The Standard.

Those in support of Peskin’s bill said it was making positive changes to a small slice of the city.

“The narrow legislation is modest in its scope,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. “We have to preserve the character and history of our city.”

While the legislation is going into effect, a duplicate version of the bill created by Supervisor Catherine Stefani currently sits in the Land Use and Transportation Committee, which may end up tweaking the bill passed on Tuesday. 

In a statement, the mayor said the vote was a “setback” for her housing work.

“There are those who say they want to see change, and yet when the proposals come, they will say not here, not this way,” Breed wrote. “But we will never address our housing shortage without bold and sustained action—and real solutions. “

Supervisors initially approved Peskin’s bill at the end of February in a vote identical to the one on Tuesday. The action coincided with a State of the City address from Breed, where she promised to fight against any "anti-housing” legislation that passed by her desk.

In mid-March, Breed vetoed Peskin’s measure, claiming it ran afoul of the goals set out in the city’s Housing Element, which provides guidelines for how much housing municipalities across California need to build. San Francisco has agreed to accommodate over 80,000 new homes by 2031.

“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 stated in her veto letter. “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 mayor’s veto came after activists, which included organizations like SPUR, Housing Action Coalition and SF YIMBY, penned a letter to Breed encouraging her to fight back against Peskin’s legislation. 

“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. 

After the veto, the groups also pushed for at least one of the supervisors to flip on their original vote to keep Breed’s blockade in place.

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