The Sunset District Blueprint

The culmination of over a year’s worth of work, Supervisor Katy Tang’s Office has published the Sunset District Blueprint, an outline of the “goals, objectives and strategies” for developing the district over the next decade, “and beyond.”

The five main areas addressed in the blueprint: Public Transportation & Pedestrian Safety; Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness; Children & Families; Economic Development; and Land Use.  And the blueprint’s seven specific objectives with respect to the use of land and growth:

  1. Identify areas where additional housing can be built on underutilized lots and along transit and business corridors, and engage property owners, the community and developers
  2. Create vibrant, mixed-use development responsive to community needs on currently underutilized sites
  3. Ensures that any growth in the Sunset District does not adversely impact the existing residential neighborhood character
  4. Encourage development of housing that serves a variety of household types
  5. Support housing for middle income households
  6. Work with Planning Department in their citywide effort to revise Residential Design Guidelines for easier understanding and a smoother process for property owners
  7. Encourage development of new housing or remodeling of existing housing to accommodate seniors and individuals with disabilities by promoting universal design principles

As noted by the San Francisco Business Times, achieving the first objective could add 1,000 units of new housing to the Sunset, “without any changes to existing height limits or zoning,” an increase of roughly 4 percent over the existing 25,000 units in the area.

Which begs the question, in light of the projected growth for San Francisco, should a rethinking of existing height limits and zoning be Land Use objective number eight in the Sunset’s blueprint, if not number one or two?

65 thoughts on “A Blueprint For The Sunset And A Red Flag Or Two”
  1. Happy to see increased density along transit routes – if they can do something about the N-Judah line, which is already often [standing room only] by the time it gets to the inner Sunset… and the frequently gridlocked 19th Ave. (Ideally the former would be an underground subway, and the latter would have thru-traffic shunted to a tunnel too – then 19th could become a local boulevard suitable for peds and bikes as well as local car trips.)

    But you can’t just throw density down in a neighborhood without the infrastructure to support it.

    1. An underground subway would be cost prohibitve. And, this is especially true where money like that could be better spent building rapid bus transit in places like along Van Ness and Geary, etc, and just keeping up the existing system. Muni is already throwing about $2 billion (with the cost overruns) to building that short bit of the Central Subway, and then they have to find all the money to actually operate that extension.

      The N-Judah already has two tunnels (downtown and the Sunset Tunnel) and it has its own right-of-way in the median on Judah. They should just run more N trains, there are plenty of room for them. And, if any tunnel work should be done, it should be focused on expanding the existing downtown tunnel where all the lines come together, which is where most of the back-up occur. I don’t think an expensive underground subway just for the N-Judah is justifiable, especially if you do not want to decimate the capital budget for Muni for years to come.

      I am not sure how many units the total Sunset plan projects to add, but the 1,000 potential new units resulting from “objective one” without changing existing zoning is nothing. With the average family size in San Francisco that is only about 2,000 people, and adding 2,000 people to the huge area of the Sunset is not going to have much of any impact one way or another. Given how long it takes to build anything in San Francisco and how much hassle it is with the approval process, I would be surprised to see 1,000 new units even in 10 years.

      1. 1) I don’t disagree there are more urgent needs. I live in the inner Richmond, and would love to see a Geary undergroundn line. My comment was specifically addressed to the proposition that the Sunset can absorb higher-density transit oriented development.

        2) BRT is a joke. Repeat, a pointless joke wasting money better spent elsewhere. Have you even seen the projected transit times with the BRT “improvements”? Why, they’re almost as speedy as the former streetcar service that used to run down Geary and Balboa until the 1950s conversion to busses…

        3) N trains run very frequently – they are in fact probably the most frequent service in the Muni system. Just sit at restaurant on Irving, you’ll be amazed; that’s not the issue. And while it has a “dedicated line” down Judah, it also has to stop freqently at intersections (and too closely spaced transit stops), and then when it its 9th and Irving it has to start mixing with traffic. Transit is only as good as the worst bottleneck, and for the N-Judah it’s from its west portal to somewhere on Judah in the middle Sunset.

      2. They need to turn the J-Church into a surface line to reduce conflicts with the N-Judah and to increase capacity in the tunnel

        1. I don’t think the short shared N and J stretch is the main problem… if anything, keeping the J underground (keep it on the main line and divert it to run under Church until south of 18th Street) could be a huge improvement!

          1. Better yet, build a major underground transit/transfer station between Duboce and Market, with both the N and J underground (N can surface around 9th/Judah, J can remain underground and run north under Fillmore to the Marina, thereby freeing up the Market St. tunnel of one line), LEVEL the suburban Safeway strip mall and build a mixed use complex in its place. Add density, add housing, and create much better transit.

          2. The J is not that heavily used. It could suffice to have a surface line that runs down market and doesn’t clog the market street subway since Mid-Market is becoming a bigger destinationThose who need to get downtown fast could transfer to the subway at Church. Then we could get more reliable higher capacity LRT on Market rather than just the F line.

            I would like to see surface LRT expanded to the Embarcedero and who knows where else? Maybe along the N line into Golden Gate Park.

    2. Yeah, transport is the limiting factor. Unlike SOMA, Hayes Valley, and the other eastern neighborhoods that can absorb more density, the Sunset doesn’t have much excess capacity to move people in and out.

      1. muni evidently has added NX for sunset. what is this talk about sunst does not have excess capacity come from? There ate lots of room to expand service for both N, NX or other lines and even private shuttles.

      2. I live on 29th Ave near Taraval. Basically, the Sunset is a modified 1930s-50s suburbs… 2 story row houses, wide streets, strip mall type commercial strips. There are plenty of opportunities to add mixed use density on major streets, like Taraval, Noriega, Irving, without disrupting the single family homes on the avenues themselves. Stonestown should be leveled and replaced with an urban village.

        Transit sucks here. Since BART loves to expand in the suburbs bring it to the western section of SF where convenient, consistent and fast transit is needed. Daly City to Embarcadero on BART takes 17 minutes. L-Terrible from 30th Ave to Embarcadero takes at least twice as long (not factoring wait time for the train itself since MUNI doesn’t run on any sort of schedule). If I need to take Caltrain then forget about it completely. Why spend an hour getting to the SF Caltrain station when I could drive and already be at my destination? I would love the opportunity to walk up to a BART station on Taraval and 19th Ave, jump on a train to Millbrae and make my Caltrain connection, or take BART downtown via 19th Ave and Geary Ave in a fraction of the time it takes on the streetcar. It’s sad when a commute from Walnut Creek to the Embarcadero is shorter than my commute from the Sunset.

        I’m really getting tired of people citing cost or “things are fine now, maybe in the future” when discussing transit in the city. For a Transit First City we are woefully behind and an embarrassment. If you think upgrades are expensive now, then forget about it in 10 or 20 years given that we needed it yesterday.

        1. SF can be a transit city all it wants, but money still has to come from somewhere. It took many years of planning to get funding for the Central Subway, which costs about $2 billion dollars. A subway all way out to the Sunset would cost billions more. You can be as tired as you wish to be, how about proposing specifically where the money to pay for such a subway would come from?

          1. Money has to come from somewhere? Well, duh. Take a look at how successful cities finance their transit projects. If I were an elected official then that would be my job. Then have my elected reps petition the Feds for funding (hey Nancy, you reading this?). As a taxpayer and SF resident, however, I would have no problem with a sales tax increase to contribute towards the cost if it means improving my life and those around me.

          2. And how many more people would that subway line serve, than the current BART extentions to Contra Costa County farmland?

            And with interest rates where they are today, it’s downright criminal that we aren’t building infrastructure left and right – we can essentially build something today and pay for it in 20 years at today’s prices. 20 years from now, our successor will me cursing us for not having taken advantage of the interest rates and the economy to do more.

          3. SF already has a half cent sales tax for transportation. The current version is Prop K passed in 2003, but that was an extension of the one approved in 1989.

            From the sfcta website (namelink):

            “At the time of approval, Prop K was forecast to generate $2.35 billion (in year 2003 dollars) in revenue over 30 years and to leverage or match close to $10 billion in federal, state, and other local funds to fully fund the projects and programs identified in the Expenditure Plan. Currently, Prop K generates about $77 million annually in revenue.”

            Also, the feds are paying most of the cost of the central subway and a good portion (less than half) of the Van Ness BRT.

    3. Word from someone involved in the matter is that the city is considering an overhead freeway over 19th. It’ll of course never pass because we need only look back at what the Central Freeway did to neighborhoods.

      A tunnel would be best amazing. But of course, cost prohibitive as Chris has mentioned.

      1. I haven’t heard of that, and of course it has about a 0.0% chance of passing. But maybe it’s a feint; use it to produce the traffic studies to show how 19th Avenue could be “calmed” and made more attractive by shunting away the through traffic, and thereby build political support for a tunnel. Which would be an amazing improvement for both people living north of the bridge (heck, north of GG Park), and for the residents of the Sunset.

        1. The person from whom I heard it from said that it’s in talks. They are actively involved in city construction so I assume the source is valid.

          A tunnel would be the best case scenario. Most traffic on 19th is to the bridge. Although if there were to be exits (say around Lincoln), some buildings would have to go.

          1. An arial structure for Muni/Bart or a tunnel for auto thru-traffic both seem like good options. Cut and cover would be way more economical than the Central Subway deep bore was, but it’d be a traffic nightmare.

          2. Tunnel sounds incredibly expensive. In the billions. One thing I’ve learned living in LA and Phoenix…if you build/expand [tunnels/freeways], people don’t sit there and say, wow, great, it’s so much faster and cleaner…they change the calculations in their commute and suddenly, living in Marin and working in the Peninsula doesn’t seem so bad after all…and sprawl and traffic continues. I’d love a tunnel, but to be honest, unless it was more for light rail, it would just drive up car traffic. Should SF spend billions so that they can help commuters bypass SF? Or would this be a state thing?

          3. @jenofla: Since it’s state highway 1, I would hope the state would cover the cost.

    4. Take out the stop signs and time the street lights so that trains never have to stop. BOOM. Problem solved. What is so hard about this concept???

      1. Because that’s too easy! SF wouldn’t dare do something that doesn’t give a multimillion dollar contract to cronies.

      2. The city COULD make MUNI faster by removing stop signs, giving trains the capability to turn lights green, spacing out stops, using more cars/busses on busy lines, etc. But that would require a willingness to change the status quo and recognize that something that benefits 90% of the people while inconveniencing 10% is worthwhile. In other words, it would require leadership and an eagerness to follow up on the details.

        Which of our recent mayors have demonstrated these capabilities?
        That’s why it’s not gonna happen.

        1. The T-Third was supposed to have signal priority when it was built. It doesn’t. A train can sit at 4th/King for 10 minutes waiting to turn south on 4th to the platform.

          Spacing out stops. Great concept but will never happen. On the L line, the one I use every day with such great pleasure, I proposed to MUNI that it should eliminate half of the surface stops during the weekday morning/evening rush to speed up service and restore regular service at other times. This improvement would cost almost nothing. I was simply told they can’t do that. So, we’re stuck crawling along Taraval. Instead, MUNI’s latest proposal for the L train is to permanently remove 3 stops on the surface route (thank you), but also install traffic signals at 17th, 24th and a couple other places that currently have stop signs. Without signal priority expect the trip to take longer as trains sit at the light at 17th and again at 19th and again at 24th.

  2. one of the largest neighborhoods in SF and only 1300 units? Throw in the towel. I imagine this is within a period of two decades. We’re totally screwed.

  3. 1000 units spread out over this area will be hardly perceptible. With the depth of lots, any potential for granny flats and accessory units?

    With the scale of both the streets in the sunset and the magnitude of golden gate park, in my opinion we should be encouraging more of the modest, but grander, 6-ish story apartment buildings like at 9th/judah, 20th/irving, 16th/lincoln, 26th/irving, etc. particularly along Lincoln, Irving, Judah, Noriega, Taraval, Sunset, 19th, but really at any corner on the east-west streets.

  4. @ Bob Not totally screwed, just even more expensive. The days of the +1mm price floor for an unremarkable Sunset home are soon upon us. Good schools, meh weather, safe neighborhoods. It’s an easy ‘beta’ bet on the San Francisco market.

    I am skeptical that there is room for 1000 ‘additional units’ under current zoning guidelines in the neighborhood. There is the occasional vacant lot, but a very small fraction of the land area.

    My personal peeve would be to prohibit sidewalks wider than 60″ so as to reclaim some of the 12′ concrete strips that have choked off most greenery in the majority of these blocks. Give the Friends of Urban Forestry a little more leeway to plant new trees.

    1. First, people need to stop illegally paving their entire front yards for off street parking for their 2 or 3 vehicles because their garages are either illegal inlaw units or storage lockers for their crap. Then we can discuss streetscaping.

      Second, there’s no way to build an additional 1000 units under current zoning guidelines without razing existing structures, like the restaurant and surf shop complex on Sloat by the zoo. These units will be not single family dwellings either and will not be attracting more families, especially if price points top $1M. The only way to build is up and there will be an uproar in the Sunset community about this…guaranteed.

  5. Having lived out there for many years, the commute is just awful. I did years on each of Muni, BART and driving. It doesn’t matter – there are no good options. Frequently it would take me longer to get into work than my colleagues living in the East Bay.

    1. There are many places in Oakland that are closer to downtown SF, in terms of travel times, than the Sunset. It can take 2 hours on Muni to get downtown from the outer Sunset.

        1. I know, LOL – when people were complaining last week about the hours it took to get home to Fillmore or Hayes Valley from the McCartney concert at Candlestick, I thought – why didn’t you just walk? You’d have been home sooner!

  6. Sorry to oversimplify, but modestly upzone the corridors, add 50,000 units and underground transit. (including tunneling under GGP to the RIchmond and restoring GGP to non cars). I spend a lot of time in the Sunset — great areas for modest upzoning. Over that huge area, even 50,000 would be barely noticeable other than the corridors having a buzz (as opposed to the ‘where-is-everyone-untouched-since-1950 feeling). It’s a different generation, a more demanding new urbane citizenry. The document is informative but at 1,000 units — a wholesale waste of everyone’s time. Doc looks like it was subbed to a designer.

  7. I have nothing really new to add. I feel more and more strongly that my generation is going to have to wait for the previous generation, (which I imagine includes a majority of the readership here), to die off before this city will build housing. It’s such an amusing difference, countless articles have been written about how my generation almost uniformly is trying to live in cities, hell even today the new york times has an article about how the downtown of Kansas City is experiencing massive growth. Yet the previous generation is fighting tooth and nail to combat growth. Oh well, my kids generation will have my generation to deal with, and you better believe we’ll vote in people that will upzone this area to hell.

    Also, I know people that live in the Sunset, Trouble coffee / outerlands, the area has its charms. However, they complain about the zoning of the Sunset when they come to the mission and see restaurants/stores/bars in all areas, whereas they have suburban style, or Portland I guess, style zoning with hard defined commercial corridors. This should also be looked at.

    1. @sam
      when you stop expecting any “generation” to solve your wants and concerns, you may have more incentive to actually address the issues and find solutions. the city doesn’t “build housing” (except for low income housing); it only permits building.

      vote in people NOW (our current crop of progressive supervisors may respect your civil liberties but they clearly care little about your life. housing policy, aside rent control and simplistic appeals to affordability, isn’t even part of the candidate debate process).
      vote period (voter turnout sucks and is worse the younger one goes).

      save wisely. buy something, however imperfect, and renovate. and stop expecting a major american destination city to be affordable to all (it takes a lot of work to be here if you weren’t gifted a grandmother’s house). we were in our 40’s before we could afford to own, on our terms, in sf and we’re both professionals and childless.

      your song was sad when my friends sang it in the 80’s and 90’s. problem is, with time people become what they hate.

      we own 2 multiunits in urban cores (here and montreal) which we’ve renovated to appeal to “your generation” and would add density and units if urban policy permitted. it doesn’t (at least not in a way that makes financial sense to us).

      your generation as done so much with connectivity and technology. you’ve scrapped together pop-up stores and restaurants and kickstarted so many interesting things. you’ve already changed the world. some of us “older people” would be more then happy to have you change our city’s rules.

  8. Agree with other commenters. You can ride a bike downtown faster than get there via Muni, car, BART etc. Density isn’t the issue, extreme lack of infrastructure is. As for planning & permitting, we have some nut inspector running around my neighborhood citing people for painting the interior of their houses! No way would I encourage anyone to improve anything!

  9. I like the part of the plan where they remove some L and N stop, and the removal of some stop signs on those lines.

  10. The funny part about this is that I bet she is keeping the number at 1300 to try and ease people into the idea of growing at all – yet what are the odds that they wont show up at city hall with pitchforks complaining about cost of living and evil tech people

  11. For anyone who is interested, the planning dept is conducting a survey on zoning and design of buildings in the Sunset (see my namelink)

    It hasn’t been very well publicized (saw it in the D4 newsletter), so make your voice heard if you want more housing in the Sunset.

  12. I used to live in the inner sunset and worked in the south beach area, and either drive or took the N. The commuted was about 20-25min by car or about 40-45min by muni. At no time did it take more than 30m to drive or more than ~60m by muni (with the exception of the olympic torch relay fiasco in 2008).

    I think the inner sunset especially could handle and benefit from much greater density, transit wise. More towers on mt. sutro perhaps, esp as UCSF is supposed to move entirely to mission bay.

    It does take way too damn long to get downtown from outer sunset though, with either muni or driving.

  13. Any comprehensive long-term blueprint for the Sunset must address the wasteland that is the SF Zoo. It’s consistently ranked one of the worst zoos in the USA. We should make Oakland Zoo our really great regional zoo and merge SF’s research and conservation efforts with it. This would free up an amazing oceanfront parcel for thoughtful high density residential development, denser than the neighboring just-approved Park Merced plan.

    1. High density development along the ocean. Yeah, sure…that’s gonna happen. Look at the huge parcel that was Playland…turned into low rise condos. And even if you built a couple hundred units on the zoo site the only semi-serious transit option is the L train. I’m sure people buying $1M condos are going to ride 50 minutes to their financial district jobs or take transit period if they worked outside of the city.

      1. The zoo site is 100 acres. There are some big changes proposed for the L and for Taraval Street that would make it a serious speedier option for downtown commuters. These transit studies are going on now. Plus, its a fast, flat, 30-40 minute bike ride to downtown.

        This site would be perfect for private bus commuters to the valley also.

        1. I don’t know everything about San Francisco politics, but I think you would encounter resistance with the “Let’s eliminate our zoo to create a bus station for tech commuters” argument.

          Have you ever watched them feed the giraffes from the top deck? It’s awesome.

        2. I’ve read the studies for the L and no, the proposed changes will not make the ride a “serious speedier option” for commuters to downtown. I ride this line every day and know that the changes will have a minimal impact on the commute.

          Fast and flat bike ride? I’m assuming the 30-40 min doesn’t take into account stopping at traffic signals.

          And the city doesn’t need any more Google-esque busses. I take that back. If there was a fast and more direct transit option to the valley then we wouldn’t need private services.

    2. I don’t think the intention of the SF Zoo is to be one of the best zoos in the US. It’s basically a nice local place for people to take their kids, like an outdoor Academy of Sciences. They just put in a nice new playground. Not sure it makes sense to remove something for high-density residential that might be one of the things that makes the high-density residential bearable (recreation, open space, family outing option, etc.)

    3. You’re crazy. We (and all the other parents I know in SF) LOVE the SF zoo. It’s not for tourists. It’s a great zoo for locals to take their kids and enjoy some time outdoors (amazing new playground, fun train ride and surprising good food).

  14. Considering that Planning keeps turning down projects that seek to build out a lot to the allowed bulk, why do they think the Sunset lots can be built out?

    It’s all just expensive pud-pulling. You could insert “Any Neighborhood” into these City reports and they’d be just as valid. And you’d save a year’s worth of “research”.

  15. 1000 units. Pffffft.

    It’ll be interesting in 2022, when the next round of redistricting hits. This last time D6 and D10 shrunk because that’s where the new construction was happening. Obviously that will continue and in 2022 the northern and western districts (D1, D2, D3, D4) will end up growing considerably. D6 and D10 will shrink even more to balance population.

  16. I would be more excited about a plan that undergrounds utilities in the Sunset, gets rid of the parking pad front “yards”, and adds TREES and much needed landscaping to the district. More housing is great, but a transit plan needs to be part of that discussion as many others have already said.

  17. It looks like people have finally realized the Sunset + Richmond Districts are underutilized. No other city besides New York has such an incredible urban resource as Golden Gate Park. We shouldn’t even begin to waste time thinking about adding a couple hundred units scattered around the transit desert Sunset without giving serious thought to copying what New York did. SURROUND GGP WITH HIGH RISES. Form Arguello to 48th Ave, SF could build 35-40 story residential towers that overlook GGP. This would solve the housing shortage, and would bring purpose to the Richmond + Sunset. Right now SF, BART, nor the State could justify spending billions in transportation improvements to the relatively small populations of SF’s western neighborhoods. Is the sunset going to remain frozen in time? In SF probably…

    1. Against it because it makes no sense and doesn’t bring “purpose” to the area. High rises flanking the park. Meanwhile, western SOMA, adjacent to mass transit is downsized to low rise buildings. Also, how do you expect all these new residents to get around town? NYC has nearly a dozen subway lines within a stone’s throw of Central Park.

      The population isn’t relatively “small” in the Richmond/Sunset. The Geary line is one of the most heavily used on the west coast, the busiest bus line in the city and the N line is the busiest rail line.

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