Spoke to my good friends at the Bernal Heights Democratic Club last night. The opening act was former mayor Art Agnos, who made the case (effectively) against the Warriors stadium, hotel, and shopping mall complex. I talked about housing and the ABAG plan for San Francisco.
And when we got to the discussion, a fascinating idea came up: Why not give the city's General Plan the force of law?
Yeah, wonky stuff. But here's how it works and why it would matter.
Under state law, every city has to put together a general plan for growth and development and update it every ten years. The plan looks at Commerce and Industry, Transportation, Housing, etc.
The Housing Element of SF's General Plan is actually interesting. It states that, in order to accommodate projected growth and maintain a proper mix of jobs and housing, more than 60 percent all of new housing should be "affordable," that is, below (way below) current market rates.
That's right: Sixty percent of the new housing the gets built is, according to the city's own plan, supposed to be sold or rented for far less than what developers are charging today.
Yes, developers pay for some affordable housing. If the city gets a really, really good deal, 15-18 percent of the units are below market. (Although developers never build affordable units on site; they put that money aside into a fund that gets used to build housing somewhere else.)
But overall, the city violates its own General Plan every time it approves a new housing development.
So what if we did a ballot initiative that mandated every new project actually conform the the General Plan? That is: No new market-rate housing development unless 60 percent is affordable. No new construction until the city catches up with its below-market-rate needs.
Oh, and by the way: No new construction of any sort until the developer pays enough fees, up front, to cover the costs of new Muni service, police and fire, schools, open space etc. that the people living there will need.
Developers, who are making a vast fortune on market-rate housing projects right now, would go crazy. And maybe they'd come to the table and say: How do we make a deal?