SOMA

The view from a SOMA street.

San Francisco’s Planning Commission recently held a hearing for the Central SoMa plan, a package of legislation that will make it possible for more people to live and work within walking distance of the $1.57 billion Central Subway under construction along Fourth Street. 

A recent letter from housing advocacy organization YIMBY Action to the Planning Commission explained members’ displeasure with the current plan. “This planned area is signing San Francisco up for a lot of growth,” read the letter. “And that is exciting. But with growth comes a responsibility to house that community.”

The Central SoMa plan would allow taller buildings in the 17-block zone between 2nd Street and Sixth Street, and from Townsend Street to Market Street. The plan would create new office space for as many as 40,000 workers but only add up to 7,500 new homes.

“If we want San Francisco to continue to flourish as a city, we need to plan our growth in a responsible, sustainable fashion,” Mayor Farrell said. 

But experts agree that bringing new jobs to a city without building enough new homes for all the new workers raises the cost of housing, pushing out long-term residents.

As written, the Central SoMa plan represents a 6.5-to-1 jobs to housing ratio. “Wouldn't 40,000 people require more than 7,000 places to live?” Jeffrey Richman asked. “Are they expecting people to live 6 to an apartment?”

Between 2010 and 2015 San Francisco created one new home for every 6.8 new jobs. During that same period rents rose 43%. Continuing to grow without correcting that imbalance will have the same result as in the past: higher rents and more displacement.

The key to responsible, sustainable development is a jobs/housing balance. “This SF neighborhood plan will just gentrify Oakland more,” housing expert Kim-Mai Cutler wrote.

“This just makes me want to buy land in Vallejo and wait for the wave to come to me cause obviously, no one in power today gives enough fucks to put a stop to forced exoduses of [People of Color] POCs,” Lawrence W. Le Blanc said. “Excuse my French.”

Begun in 2011, the plan is now in its latter stages with a completed Environmental Impact Review (one step in SF’s byzantine permitting process).

YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) advocates want to see the Commission add an addendum to the project’s EIR to add more housing. Other requests include automatically permitting new homes which meet all applicable land use regulations, as per AB 73. Follow the issue through the New SOMA Neighborhood Coalition Facebook page.

As written, the Central SoMa Plan will lead to more gentrification in an already housing-scarce, jobs-heavy area. There is no real net benefit to limiting the number of homes allowed in the plan. Locating more homes next to offices and transportation is a great move for the environment and for a healthy, vibrant city. It’s also the best way to lower the rate at which rents rise in San Francisco.

The Planning Commission should incorporate YIMBY Action’s recommendations in order to ensure that the city can grow economically without displacing our long-term residents.

Cathy Reisenwitz writes about software for a living, sex on the side, and policy for fun. Her column “Unintended Consequences” appears regularly in the Bay City Beacon. She’s pro-sex, pro-feminism, and pro-market. Sign up for her newsletter and follow her on Twitter.

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