Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

YIMBY dreams come true as state bill eliminates housing red tape

A man in a brown suit speaks at a podium with a microphone, while a woman in a blue outfit smiles behind him. Several people in construction attire stand in the background.
State Sen. Scott Wiener’s new bill aims to get housing permits streamlined through the city’s Planning Department. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

The glacial pace and headache-inducing maze that has long defined housing permitting in San Francisco may be nearing its end after the city failed to meet its state-mandated development goals and a new state law kicked in Friday.

Senate Bill 423, which was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener and clears the way for housing projects to sail through the city’s approval bureaucracy, is projected to reduce the time it takes for a permit to be granted from around two years—the longest in the state—to just six months, officials said Monday. 

“No discretionary hearings, no CEQA lawsuits, none of the politics at the Board of Supervisors, you just get your damn permit,” said Sen. Wiener at a press conference on Monday at the Planning Department’s headquarters. “Period.” 

The city is now under the thumb of SB 423 after it didn’t reach its yearly benchmark of eventually reaching 82,000 new units by 2031. San Francisco is on a much tighter leash than other cities after Wiener added an amendment to the bill that subjects it to yearly reviews of its housing goals. Other cities get a check-up halfway through the eight-year housing cycle under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA.

San Francisco has authorized just 831 new units this year, according to the Planning Department. To reach its state-mandated goals, the city needs to allow for 10,000 a year.

Two people in formal attire are smiling while cutting a red ribbon with oversized blue scissors, surrounded by construction workers wearing yellow vests and helmets.
Mayor London Breed (left) and Senator Scott Wiener (right) hold a pair of big scissors to a red ribbon at the San Francisco Permit Center on Monday, July 1, 2024. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

Wiener’s bill is an extension of one of his previous pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 35, which streamlined affordable housing. Officials said the new law impacts a much broader swath of projects: roughly three-fourths of permitting applications.

The new rules are a major win for the city’s YIMBYs, who have complained for years about the bureaucratic barriers in getting projects through the arduous permitting process, which can include additional review by critics of a particular project, a mechanism known as discretionary review.

Wiener made a specific reference on Monday to Board President Aaron Peskin, a longtime foe of housing advocates who criticize his record. The issue has also become a major political battle in the run-up to the November mayor’s race, with Peskin competing to unseat Breed.

Wiener likened Peskin to a City Hall “patron saint” for NIMBYs.

“Their goal is to shut down and stop housing production,” said the state senator. “It’s classic NIMBYism. They do not want new homes near where they live.”

In response to the state senator’s comments, Peskin said Wiener’s legislation will “be a boon for speculators and developers who will build expensive units out of reach for most San Franciscans” and further gentrification and displacement.

The bill still doesn’t address certain impediments to building more housing in the city, such as eye-popping construction and materials costs. Other barriers are the high interest rates that are out of the city’s control. However, officials maintained Monday that SB 423 helps to chip away at the housing crisis. 

“San Francisco is not a museum that should be stuck in time,” Breed said on Monday. “It is a city with actual people and opportunities for people to live here.”

Freeing up the permitting pipeline also promises to give more time to the Planning Department’s staff. Planning Director Rich Hillis said his agency will now devote more resources to rezoning and building strategies to address sea level rise. Hillis also said the bill could help prevent corruption in the permitting world, since long waits have led to the rise of permitting expediters involved in major scandals. 

“There’s going to be less of a need for attorneys and expediters,” Hillis told the Standard about getting a housing permit.