“Huge Transit-Centric SoMa Development Plan Kicking into Gear”
A seven-year push to encourage transit-centric job growth in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood is about to become reality, as Mayor Mark Farrell and the Planning Department this week introduce zoning legislation that could produce as many as 40,000 new jobs and 7,000 housing units.
The Central SoMa plan, crafted to take advantage of the $1.57 billion Central Subway under construction along Fourth Street, would dramatically raise height limits in portions of a 17-block zone that stretches from close to Market Street south to Townsend Street, and from Second Street west to Sixth Street.
The plan would spark 20 million square feet of development within that perimeter. It would result in 2,310 affordable housing units, 33 percent of the total. It would allow for a pair of 400-foot-tall residential towers with 907 units at Fourth and Townsend, a collection of mid-rises with 2.1 million square feet of office space above a new wholesale flower mart at Sixth and Brannan, and another 1 million square feet of tech-oriented space at Fourth and Harrison.
“We are putting forth a bold vision for this neighborhood, one that will include lasting benefits for current and future residents,” Farrell said. “If we want San Francisco to continue to flourish as a city, we need to plan our growth in a responsible, sustainable fashion.”
City planners say the plan will generate $2 billion in public benefits, including $900 million in affordable housing, $500 million in transit improvements, $180 million in subsidized industrial and arts space, $160 million in parks and recreational facilities, and $130 million for streets.
There would be $40 million to renovate the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission streets and $25 million for the Gene Friend Recreation Center on Sixth Street. The money would flow from fees that developers pay to build their projects.
“All the money coming from the new private development goes back into the neighborhood,” said Steve Wertheim, project manager for the Planning Department.
And because the amount of office space the city may approve each year is capped by Proposition M, approved by voters in 1986, developers are scrambling to create benefits packages that will put their project at the top of the list. The plan for the redevelopment of the Bay Club SF Tennis facility at Fifth and Brannan, for example, includes a public swimming pool, a child-care center and affordable housing.
“They are all competing to provide the most public benefits, the most stuff the community wants,” Wertheim said. “How great is that?”
And because San Francisco’s ascendance as the center of global tech capitalism shows no sign of slowing down, the city has no choice but to plan for growth. The Central SoMa plan does just that, said Planning Director John Rahaim.
“It’s a plan that directs jobs growth to the part of the city where it can be best managed,” Rahaim said. “The original intent of the plan was to find a new location for a certain type of job growth that is not possible in 90 percent of the city.”
Rahaim said the plan would take pressure off other parts of the city, such as the Mission District, by allowing for the sort of large floor-plate development that tech companies covet.
“It’s not a high-rise neighborhood. It’s not an extension of downtown, but a new way of thinking about what is probably the most eclectic neighborhood in the city,” he said.
The plan does face opposition — or at least constructive criticism — from across the political spectrum. Two organizations usually opposed to each other — the pro-growth YIMBY Action and the affordable-housing advocate Council of Community Housing Organizations — have both expressed disappointment that the plan doesn’t include more housing. Residents of condominium buildings, like Blu at 631 Folsom St., object to the new height limits.
Another organization calling itself We Are SoMa has created an alternative plan that would require 50 percent of the housing to be affordable, rather than 33 percent.
“We are absolutely opposed to the department’s plan,” said John Eberling, a We Are SoMa member and executive director of the nonprofit Todco, which owns subsidized housing developments in South of Market. “It is without question a downtown, tech-office development plan — that is its main objective. Our plan is a community-first plan.”
Laura Clark of the pro-housing group YIMBY Action said that she supports the office development portion but thinks that there could be a lot more housing as well.
“We shouldn’t be talking about losing jobs in order to get more housing,” she said. “That’s a false choice. We can have both abundant jobs and abundant housing.”
Some of the property owners in the area, including Tishman Speyer and Kilroy Realty Corp., have warned that the proposed project fees could stifle development in the area. At a recent Planning Commission hearing, Kilroy Realty Executive Vice President Mike Grisso said the plan is “a vision of a truly mixed-use neighborhood” but that excessive taxes and fees could prevent many of the projects from becoming reality.
The fees “are extremely high — much higher than what they should be to encourage the type of development we want,” Grisso said.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who pushed to increase the required amount of affordable housing to 33 percent, said, “There are great many benefits,” including the Gene Friend Recreation Center improvements and the pool at Fifth and Brannan.
“Over the next few months, I will be working to maximize the number of housing units included in the plan ... and secure additional sites for affordable and middle-income housing,” she said.
The proposal will probably go to the Planning Commission for a vote in April and to the Board of Supervisors in the summer.