Intended as a means by which to preserve “relatively affordable, existing housing” in San Francisco, Section 317 of San Francisco’s Planning Code was adopted back in 2008 and requires the specific approval of a Conditional Use (CU) authorization for the demolition or merger of any existing housing which is valued below the top 20 percent of single-family homes in the City, the “demonstrably unaffordable” threshold for which is now $2.2 million (which is up from $1.63 million back in 2015).

As sponsored by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, however, the “demonstrably unaffordable” exemption for single-family homes, which has streamlined the demolition and redevelopment of (even) larger homes across the city, is now poised to be eliminated as well.  But the unencumbered demolition of “demonstrably unaffordable” properties which were in the works prior to February 11, 2020, the official introduction date of the proposed amendment, are likely to be grandfathered, as recommended by San Francisco’s Planning Department.

As noted by Planning, however, the proposed amendment “will not prevent demonstrably unaffordable projects from submitting renovation applications that remove just under the tantamount to demolition threshold,” the threshold for which is defined as “the removal of more than 50% of the sum of the Front Facade and Rear Facade while also removing more than 65% of the sum of all exterior walls; or removal of more than 50% of the Vertical Envelope Elements and more than 50% of the Horizontal Elements of the existing building.”  Nor will the amendment prevent developers from attempting a de facto demolition by way of underpermitting.

In addition, “the Department has found that Section 317 does not serve it’s intended goals of retaining existing housing stock…nor does it necessarily result [in] projects that are more in-keeping with neighborhood character.”

But it might “remove the perception that wealthier homeowners are exempt from additional process by placing all proposed demolitions of residential units on an even playing field,” “allow neighbors the opportunity to have their concerns heard by the Planning Commission,” and “allow the Planning Commission an opportunity to encourage more density in these types of projects.”

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by Joe Garvey

    This is great to know! Thank you for your reporting Socketsite. Does that mean that 3832 18th Street won’t be able to demolish the single family home and build a 60 ft. SRO as it’s applying for? It appeared the application was in April and thus wouldn’t be grandfathered in.

    • Posted by SocketSite

      No. But it would make certain that a Conditional Use application would need to be secured for the project, even if (or when) a new appraisal put the home’s value above the “affordable” threshold of $2.2 million (versus the $1.9 million which was paid for the property last year).

      • Posted by observant neighbor

        If that site and the proposed project is covered by state density bonus law, the city won’t be able to use the conditional use process to deny it. See Cal Gov’t Code 65915(e) (“In no case may a city…apply any development standard that will have the effect of physically precluding the construction of a development … at the densities or with the concessions or incentives permitted by this section”).

        • Posted by Karl

          “observant neighbor”,
          You have that exactly right.
          Thankfully, the State Density Bonus Law, takes precedence over all this local, nativistic exclusionary, NIMBY-driven nonsense.

  2. Posted by NOPAslut

    If you want more affordable house you should actually encourage demolishing single family homes and replacing them with higher density buildings. Again SF legislation which purports to have the goal of crediting affordable housing does the exact opposite.

    • Posted by Kyle S.

      Nobody’s going to buy a SFR in the 80th decile (that is, in Seacliff or Pac Heights) to build a dense multi-family building. The teardowns covered by this change are being done to build bigger SFRs on the same lot.

      • Posted by Karl

        They definitely would if we change the law by enacting pro-housing state-wide laws like SB-50

  3. Posted by Joe

    This is certainly not an example of Peskin 2.0 picking up the mantle from the other supervisor whose name is an immediate torpedo for any legislation involving development.

  4. Posted by The Volcano

    I don’t get it. Or rather, I understand preventing housing from being merged, but I don’t understand why you would stop people from tearing down a house and replacing it with a larger one. Larger houses means higher tax dollars and thus mo’ money for SF’s public coffers and services to its residents. This legislation is not going to bring down housing prices as it does nothing to address supply issues. All it will do is assuage neighborhood jealousy at the cost of tax dollars. Is it really such a problem that your neighbor has a bigger house than you? Can you be more petty?

    • Posted by Eli's Uncle

      Logic and rationale mean nothing here. I agree that this is so petty and only penalizes PWM (people with money) Ah ha, there is a reason! The challenge will be that if I have an unaffordable SFH in an RH-2 or RH-3 zone and want to tear down, then the Planning department will only recommend the approval of a CU for a project that conforms to the zoning. Or if in an RH-1 zone, being sure that there is an ADU. Otherwise, you are SOL. PWM will go ahead and build whatever they have to, but will never rent out the additional units just making a mockery of the Planning Dept’s intentions (and Mandelman’s). If there is a general, citywide up-zoning, maybe there would be incentives for people to add units.

  5. Posted by Philip

    A lot of “unaffordable” houses sit on lots that are worth more than the structure. So yes, let’s preserve that dryrot ridden falling down firetrap/eyesore anyway! This will surely help the “housing crisis” caused by geography and the City government.
    Only in SF.

  6. Posted by Meaveen bradley

    Thanks for posting this. Do you know the name of this legislation? I’m trying to find it online

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