Thursday: SF Planning “Central SoMa” Plan with many more jobs than homes; congestion pricing assumed

San Francisco supporters of transit-friendly land use – on Thursday April 12 starting at 1pm, the San Francisco Planning Commission is reviewing the city’s plan for “Central SoMa,” the formerly industrial area covering covers the area from  Market Street to Townsend Street, and and 2nd Street to 6th, bordered by 4th and King Caltrain and Civic Center BART.  On Thursday, the Planning Commission will take public comments and review the environmental impact report. The Commission will then vote on May 10 on their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

The plan will enable the area to evolve as an extension of downtown San Francisco with offices and jobs, and will transform a transportation landscape that has been dominated by highway onramps and offramps to a safer place supportive of bicycling, walking and transit.  

While some recent tweaks have moderated the imbalance a bit, the plan continues to include an estimated 15,000 more jobs than homes to accommodate workers.  


Worsening jobs/housing imbalance

On the one hand, locations near high-capacity regional transit (Caltrain and BART) are the best places in the region to accommodate job growth. On the other hand, San Francisco, like the rest of the Bay Area, has consistently prevented homes from being built to house the region’s growing workforce.  Between 2010 and 2015, San Francisco created 8 jobs for each new unit of housing. The region’s housing shortage has escalated prices to the highest in the nation, displacing workers, particularly with low and moderate incomes to the far reaches of the region or outside the region entirely.

The plan provides development capacity for up to 33,000 jobs and 8,300 homes by changing zoning to allow offices instead of industrial uses that are long gone, and increasing height limits.  Those 8,300 homes allowed in the plan area is an improvement from 7,000 planned units in an earlier version of the plan, thanks to citizen activism. The latest update zones more sites including those along Bryant and 6th to allow housing (see image below)

But it still leaves a deficit of at least 15,000 homes, according to analysis by YIMBY Action volunteers, who estimate 1.3 workers per household, in an area with fewer retirees and children, and more multi-adult households than elsewhere in the region.

The plan intends to maintain a diverse set of residents requiring more than 33% of new housing units to be affordable to low and moderate income households, and by requiring these units to be built in the SoMa area, rather than providing fees for homes to be built elsewhere.   The city intends to get to this level of affordability be directing nearly $1 billion in public benefits, including jobs/housing linkage fees.

The plan proposes to use AB73, a new law to streamline housing approvals in a plan area with at least 20% affordable housing and paying prevailing wages.  The decision to use this tool would be made separately, and is expected to come back to Planning Commission on April 26.   


Transportation funding assumes congestion pricing for downtown San Francisco

The plan intends to shift transportation away from private vehicles, with up to $500 million in transportation improvements, over ⅔ for Muni, with extensive improvements to pedestrian and bicycle safety.  The transit funding is expected to come from fees, a “Mello Roos” district that assesses a special tax on properties in the district (also used for the Transbay district to help pay for its transportation) and – assumed in the plan – “a congestion pricing scheme for downtown San Francisco.”

Transit improvements include transit-only lanes on Folsom, Brannan, 3rd, and 4th Streets. To improve safety for cycling, which is terrifying today, the plan calls for a protected two-way bike lane on Howard, protected bike lanes in both directions on Brannan and Townsend, and a road diet on Sixth (one lane each way between Market and Folsom).

To ease walking in an area whose large blocks were designed for the area’s earlier industrial uses, the Plan requires mid-block alleys that will facilitate the creation of a network of new pedestrian connections that are not accessible to motor vehicles, as well as signalized midblock crossings and sidewalk bulbouts that shorten the length of crosswalks.

Developments will be required to have transportation demand management plans to reduce vehicle miles traveled, stronger parking maximums, and unbundled parking for residential and commercial uses, allowing tenants to buy only the parking they need.

Public space is proposed to be improved with a new one-acre park in the block bounded by 4th, 5th, Bryant, and Brannan Streets, a new ½ acre linear park on Bluxome Street between 4th and 5th Streets, and new recreational amenities (such as skate ramps and basketball courts) underneath the I-80 freeway between 4th and 6th Streets, and a new recreation center.

Safety questions with I280 managed lane proposal

Even as the Central SoMa plan proposes to improve safety for people walking, bicycling, and using transit, with over 10,000 new pedestrian trips during the pm peak (!), a brand new proposal for managed lanes on I280 to and from San Francisco raises concerns about potentially attracting even more drivers to the highway onramps/offramps that pose safety hazards for people walking and bicycling.

Stay tuned for opportunities to learn the details and provide feedback based on the details.

Better jobs/housing balance; support transportation goals

If you’d like to see a better jobs/housing balance, come if you can – April 12th is the best if you can make it in person.  And if you can’t make the meeting in person, write your Supervisor, and copy Steve Wertheim, the staff person working on the plan:

It would be helpful to ask for a credible commitment to more housing options in and around the Central SoMa area, along with other locations in the city, especially neighborhoods that are less susceptible to gentrification; with work starting immediately to find sites for homes to balance the jobs; and for the city to report on the creation of jobs and homes.

Also, the support for transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements is welcome; and getting congestion pricing through won’t be easy, so it will be helpful to be supportive of these things also.