Yes, the proposed development to rise at Fourth and Harrison has been redesigned by HOK for Boston Properties, incorporating a more curvilinear approach which would rise up to a height of 185 feet and yield 765,600 square feet of office space; 34,500 square feet of “modern” Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) space on the ground floor; 16,100 square feet of publicly accessible open space (POPOS); 4,000 square feet of retail; and a basement garage for a few hundred cars.

The aforementioned POPOS includes a mid-block paseo between Harrison and Perry.

And in an effort to pave the way for the project’s approval, the project team is positioning to dedicate 15,000 square feet of the project’s land on the eastern side of the paseo for the development of an affordable housing project.

And then there’s the much bigger story, namely the proposed Central SoMa Plan, the adoption of which is key to the proposed development of the 725 Harrison Street project and in the context of which the Harrison Street project plays but a bit part.

If approved as proposed, the adoption of the Central SoMa Plan would allow for the development of an additional 7,500 units of housing and enough office space for up to 45,000 additional workers in the area roughly bounded by Folsom, Second, Townsend and Sixth Streets, as massed at full build-out above.

And while San Francisco’s Proposition M currently limits the amount of office space allowed to be built in the city each year, a proposed ballot measure would allow qualifying office developments in Central SoMa to amortize their square-footage over a ten-year period versus counting towards the annual limit in the year when a project was approved.

In terms of timing, while the schedule for adoption has slipped, the ball is now rolling and San Francisco’s Planning Department is currently anticipating that the Central SoMa Plan should be ready for adoption by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in the Spring of 2018.

As always, we’ll keep you posted and plugged-in and best wishes for the New Year.

73 thoughts on “This Will Define San Francisco in 2018”
  1. The jobs-to-dwellings ratio is way out of whack, and the prop-M exemption ballot measure won’t stand a chance against a campaign blaming “tech” and its well-paid workers for the housing “unaffordablity” crisis.

    1. Indeed, adding 45000 jobs and only 7500 dwellings is pretty irresponsible at this stage of the housing crisis. Of course no city has done more than San Francisco to pile up the jobs without building housing, so this is consistent with historical behavior.

      San Francisco needs to add a hundred thousand dwellings and zero jobs to come even with regional ratio. ABAG wants 25000 more units in San Francisco by 2023.

      1. It’s about money. The Central SoMa Plan leaves 3-8 story height limits covering most of the area. All of those could be upzoned to 12-20 stories for housing; the ballot measure could do it, which would sidestep any CEQA delay. But rich condo owners angry about their views, and well-connected developers trying to limit competition, would be expected to spend big to block it. Apparently, that’s why no one is proposing increasing the housing.

        What they’re not realizing is just how bad the 45,000 jobs / 7500 homes ratio looks to regular people. Tell anyone in San Francisco that the City is planning that, and they’re going to say it’s ridiculous. People don’t think a low-rise height limit in an extension of downtown makes any sense either. So we’re about to find out whether a few wealthy special interests can still buy themselves a plan that makes no sense for anyone else.

        1. In the West of Twin Peaks area many residents are concerned with the high-rise creep that is occurring. It’s been a topic at my neighborhood association in recent months. So up-zoning the Central SOMA or any other areas of the city is problematic.

          This is not LA or Seattle or where high-rise development is generally approved of. Heck, LA and Seattle are in a competition (ongoing) for the tallest building on the West Coast. SF is unique.

          The problem you mention – the 3 to 8 story buildings – would not be a problem if those lower rise blocks were designated for more housing by dropping the jobs/housing balance from 7:1 to 2:1.

          1. What “high-rises” exist in West of Twin Peaks? Even in Dayton, Ohio no one would call anything out in that neighborhood a “high-rise.”

            And, are you insane to claim high-rise development is “generally approve of” in LA? Or, Seattle? No, they have crazy anti-high-rise NIMBYs in LA, and to a lesser extent in Seattle, too. In LA, there have been numerous lawsuits filed by neighbors and organizations to fight proposed developments that would up-zoned specific parcels. In general, LA is more anti-high rise than San Francisco, if anything.

          2. @Chris Funny, for a city that opposes skyscrapers LA has the tallest building on the West Coast and a dozen buildings in the works 60 stories and higher. Seattle could surpass LA with a planned 90 plus story condo tower but there are issues with the flight pattern and that tower may not be able to go quite as high as its developers would like. But wait, the award for tallest West Coast building is set to go to …. Portland. A pair of towers which will be taller than the Wilshire tower are planned as the centerpiece of a massive development there.

          3. Dave, you are very misinformed. The Portland proposal was just a fantasy, and was marketed as so. There is no plan to build it. Also, San Francisco has the tallest tower on the west coast. Wilshire Grand may be taller on paper, but if you put it side by side with Salesforce it is clear which one is tallest. The U/C tower at 1st and Mission will be as tall as the Wilshire Grand minus the spire. In this era of Trump, it is important to fight misinformation and alternative facts.

          4. You’re rather selective in deciding which should be the “fact” and which the “alternative”: it’s very clear both of them embody gratuitous roof structures in an effort to win the prize.

            But anyway, as you can see, while there may be a battle for the top spot(s), LA is running away with filling out the team roster.

        2. That’s doesn’t make any sense. 1- “Rich condo owners” haven’t, and aren’t capable of banning together in any meaningful way as a political force. 2- developers sell off their buildings, so they want to build more, not less. Consequently they are for more project opportunities, not less.

          As for the jobs to housing imbalance, yes that’s an issue, but it’s the long standing politics of this city that are to blame. All the non profit, affordable housing forces seemingly would prefer a token “affordable housing”building given, then built a lot of market rate housing with the corresponding affordable component. The latter of course would yield many more affordable units, but these guys hate market rate condos, with their elitist big glass windows, etc. In the mission it borders on the absurd. These are the “throw away the baby with the bath water” housing politics we’ve had for several decades, and I doubt it’s going to change anytime soon. But frankly, as a landlord in this city, I collaterally benefit big time from these asinine politics, so I’m not complaining 🙂

          1. Be careful what you wish for. With the new tax law more folks are likely to rent instead of buy. Further squeezing the rental market. Renters are in a majority in California and there is a fair chance Costa will be repealed. It is not out of the question that vacancy decontrol could be done away with if the rent situation continues to worsen.

          2. I agree with your point about some bad-actor nonprofits preferring token amounts of affordable housing over real solutions to provide adequate market-rate and subsidized housing.

            That said, homeowners absolutely do spend big to fight development that would block their views. The opposition to 8 Washington was largely funded by a wealthy couple living on Telegraph Hill. You might think that SoMa condo owners would be more forward-thinking, but several owners at BLU came to a hearing on the Central SoMa Plan to complain about how they didn’t like the high-rises, and that’s even with the status quo of very few high-rise sites in the plan.

            In addition, residential developers who are deep-pocketed (ie can afford to wait out slow approvals, appeals, CEQA challenges) and know how to work the planning system have no interest in leveling the playing field to allow builders to enter who don’t have those advantages.

          3. I agree with those points Scott. But I don’t think those two forces you bring up are the primary barriers, though they certainly contribute. I still think that planning itself, and the affordable housing advocates are overall much more influential. Though in the case of 8 washington, we did see a case of private condo owners almost single handedly leading the kibosh that project.

            Dave- I know what you mean, but I don’t think costa Hawkins will be repealed. The rent markets have stabilized. Also, I don’t think the new tax laws will significantly change home ownership in prime bay area. There are a lot of nuances to deconstruct such as how AMT impacts taxes, etc. People that still want to live here long term, and have good jobs and incomes will still put high priority on buying. That sentiment won’t change due to tax code.

    2. There’s a reason the authors of the proposed measure had dubbed it the “Central SoMa Affordable Housing and Balanced Neighborhood Initiative” (versus the “Central South of Market Office Development” Ordinance as officially summarized and titled, “as a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the proposed measure,” by the City Attorney’s Office).

    3. I disagree. This is the downtown district we’re talking about, which always has had more office space. In all other areas of the city its residential, residential, and residential development, albeit few of it is for affordable housing.

      Prop M will force developers to pay upfront the fees, that will be in the billions, that will go directly into affordable and below market rate housing. Something that we desperately need, and isn’t being built near enough.

      And at least half these 45k jobs aren’t gonna be engineers, its gonna be for many different types of skill and labor.

      1. The line about all other areas of the city being residential is just not true. Other than the Mission and Park Merced, which will barely put a dent in the Central SoMa-induced demand, everywhere we are building housing at significant scale, office jobs are expected to increase in greater quantity: 5M, Mission Rock, Pier 70, Hunters Point and Candlestick Point, and likely at the Power Plant and India Basin sites if people don’t complain loudly enough to get the plans changed. The City’s Southern Bayfront Strategy encompasses many of those projects and aims for 35,000 permanent jobs all told, with only 25,000 homes.

        There’s also the matter of sequencing. The timing recently announced for Mission Rock front-loads offices and has the housing waiting til the end. Forest City will likely do the same with 5M and Pier 70. Most of the Central SoMa projects in the pipeline and ready to go are office and hotel, not housing.

        1. The sequencing favoring office development is blatantly out in the open in the proposed initiative. 6 million feet of offices can be approved in the Central SOMA before there is a tie-in to actual new housing production. That is criminal. There is plenty of office development in the pipeline already – more than 8 million feet much of which will be front loaded with offices. That was the point of exempting HP/CP from Prop M. Housing is not a priority to TPTB in SF..

          At this point, with those 8 million feet defacto approved, a 10 year moratorium on major new office development is the only way to rectify the housing crisis. We are seeing major office developments going into Oakland. Once they come online and lease before completed, SF developers will be able to shift future office development to Oakland. Easing the housing and transportation crisis. That shift of jobs and office development to Oakland must be encouraged and supported by San Francisco for the good of the whole region. For those who must have skyscrapers there are sites in Oakland with no height limits which based on massing would allow 1000 plus foot buildings and 100 story towers.

          The jobs housing balance in the plan will simply not fly. The hearings should be interesting. The chief demand will be for a major reduction in the balance. If the City PTB fail to respond they are inviting voters to step in and set a more realistic ratio.

          1. As usual, I agree with you on the problem but not the fix. It’s silly to limit our economy just because we don’t want to build adequate housing. The answer is to build the damn housing.

            Slowing office development for a while should be on the table, but only as a temporary emergency measure while housing comes online, or as leverage to force the business community to care about housing, not as the ultimate “fix.”

          2. @scott f One ultimate fix would be to tie all new office development approvals (above 50K feet) to concomitant new housing production. Maybe a 3:1 ratio. That would mean this Fourth and Harrison development which will have about 3400 workers could not be approved until a total of about 1100 new housing units have been approved in one or a number of new housing developments. Likewise, though HP/CP is exempt from M, Planning should not approve office development there until an appropriate percentage of the housing planned is under construction.

            A moratorium on new office development is a no brainer given that almost 10 million feet is in the pipeline. It would send a clear message to developers that housing, and not offices, is the development priority of SF over the next decade.

          3. There are just 2 new UNLEASED office buildings coming online till 2022. There is an office shortage already.

            At least with PropM we get the money up front to immediately build affordable housing.

            Also with more office space, and more companies, you can diversify your economy to better prepare for the inevitable recession.

          4. The only problem with your theory about Oakland Dave is that developers won’t be getting their bank loans to build there. Oakland is not SF where billions are flooding in to build these projects,

            So no, therevwill not be 1000 plus buildings in Oakland in this century.

        2. Yes, and all those office properties won’t come for another decades. There is 1 office building THAT IS NOT LEASED, finishing in 2019, another UNLEASED office building finishing in 2021. After that, nothing.

          Yes we need housing, and Prop M will at least get the money up front to start building affordable housing. But there is an office crunch coming up, and we want more diversity in the tech sector before the next recession comes.

      2. Who exactly desperately needs BMR housing? Certainly not the many people who are making a decent wage but are still priced out of market rate housing…

    1. honestly I think this a rare *improvement* on the original. Feels more visually interesting and united as a single project—before the upper part appeared set onto a stylistically unrelated base.

  2. “7,500 units of housing and enough office space for up to 45,000 additional workers.” San Mateo and Oakland should join forces and sue SF for impacting neighboring jurisdictions and blatantly poor planning.

      1. Oakland has 8k new residential buildings in the pipeline, of which about half should hit the market in the next 1-2 years.

          1. Well Oakland kinda doing more parts of new buildings on its transportation route being built up with some high rise and a few kinda Barcelona style rise buildings down south to bypass the euclidian zoning,

          2. true, but Oakland is incredibly ready to accept housing. There are many proposals on the books, it was only a lack of financing that stopped construction. That tap has turned definitively on in the past couple of years, and will hopefully stay on. On the other hand, there are still only a couple of new office developments under construction in Oakland, as that tap turned on even later.

          1. Given how expensive rents in Oakland are as well, doesn’t this fly in the face of the YIMBY argument? If you can’t attract development if the prices aren’t attractive enough, how in the world will we get rents below $1,500/mo — a price point at which half of the bay area could actually afford?

  3. The proposition is DOA and may have the unintended effect of further raising opposition to the Central SOMA plan and especially the 7:1 jobs housing ratio.

    This is a giveaway to developer interests. If I read the initiative correctly, 6 million feet of office space could be added with no additional housing above the existing affordable housing regulations. Donating the affordable housing fund, donating land to the city for affordable housing and such.

    To add more than 6 million feet of office space, then and only then, is their a tie in to housing production. For those who said not to worry, the imbalance in jobs and housing will be mitigated by Prop M restrictions – this blows that away.

    Hopefully housing activists and other can put forth a competing initiative – one that mandates a 2:1 jobs/ housing ration in the Central SOMA. Short of that there will be office construction but very little housing production.

  4. 45,000 additional jobs? Good luck making it to your office. It is nearly impossible to get around SF as it is. And the big new towers with tens of thousands of new jobs downtown haven’t even come on line yet. Welcome to 24 hour a day gridlock from Caesar Chavez to the Marina.

    1. Proposition M exists, so it would take 15 years or more to build that much office space to accommodate 45,000 workers. Who knows how businesses may operate 15 years in the future? We may all be holograms by then, but in any case, self-driving cars will be common, so I wouldn’t worry too much about traffic.

      1. Not really. The “sneaky” part of the proposed initiative is that it would allow 6 million feet of office space to be approved for construction immediately in the Central SOMA area. should it pass. Those 45K workers could be showing up a lot earlier than 15 years out.

  5. When will it become clear that SF’s approach to housing hasn’t worked and has created intractable shortages and sky-high prices. SF is a city, the center of an urban metro. It needs to build as big and as dense, at least in its northeast quadrant and a few other select transit-rich corridors, as anyone wishes to build. The answer to commercial development should not be to try to restrict it but to impose fees that will fund transit to bring workers to it from other areas in ways that will be convenient and practical for them.

  6. The problem with that statement is that the “transit-rich” corridors don’t connect and cannot sustain the density being built without major changes in SFMTA and BART…. We don’t have the systems in place and yet planning and pundits push for density oblivious of the closing door on mass transit solutions up front.

    Put the horse in front of the cart….

    1. It would be extremely easy to capitalize on the existing SFMTA and BART investments. For SFMTA they just need to upzone every existing streetcar line to 75 feet, ban cars on the streets where the tracks are, establish signal priority in favor of the train, and run 3-car trains. This can be done at very little cost.

      1. Agreed jwb that there are solutions that can be implemented at low cost.

        But also agree with SFRealist that the City government has not implemented solutions and it’s doubtful to me that it will in the next 10 -20 years.

        Transportation solutions of the future are going to be Elon musk electric robot cars or something else non SFMTA non BART . Given their frankly loser track record – we need to find solutions that don’t rely on the ability of the local government incumbent players. Because they can’t deliver at a price people can afford to pay.

        1. i think its time to start thinking of privating pub transport. the city has made almost no improvements in the 21 years ive lived here.

          1. privatizing.. by this i mean including the planning process and the development of a subway system + Elon Musk tunnel system for cars, etc.

            Imagine how much worse traffic would be without the likes of tech buses and chariot type services. And still the Geary 38 is vastly overcrowded and has to often skip stops

          2. absolutely, jimbo –

            Instead of being run as a system whose mission is to transport people where they need to go in a timely and reliable fashion, with other priorities giving way, MUNI has been run for as long as I can remember as a system whose mission is job security for its workforce and a payment-optional transit system/homeless shelter (mind you, I don’t believe the homeless are even a majority of the moochers). MUNI basically doesn’t enforce paying your fare, running it essentially on the honor system, and then they wonder why they don’t have enough money. And they have created a culture of lifetime employment regardless of attendance, performance, or professionalism. I remember reading newspaper articles detailing how MUNI workers are guaranteed not to be disciplined for up to a certain number of no-call-no-show incidents per month. And due to this, some runs on some routes would just necessarily be skipped because there was nobody available to drive the bus. This kind of complete lack of regard for the job would never fly in the private sector (or indeed, even in pretty much any government job outside of San Francisco).

            And that’s only the tactical stuff. In terms of strategic, like you said, the planning and construction and developing a subway, SFMTA makes third world countries look modern and well-funded, despite spending absurd billions of dollars on stupid projects like the mile-long subway which will soon be ferrying Caltrain commuters to…Chinatown.

    2. This is the problem. There are no real transportations solutions determined and funded and set to go. Nothing. Some argue that the offices need to be built so transportation improvements can be funded but that is absurd. The bridge is at capacity and so too the BART tube. Streets are in gridlock downtown. HSR will likely never come to the TTC and CalTrain only to the Townsend station – not to TTC either. There is no chance of really significant transit upgrades for 20 years or more – as in a second BART Bay crossing. Yet another 45K jobs planned in the Central SOMA (and frontloaded), 25K at HP/CP and 30K or so along the southern waterfront.

      LA is building about a dozen high-rise towers of 60 or more stories around the Wilshire tower but , being the city that knows how, has a great public transportation hub emerging (as in right now – not in 20 years) in this area. Seattle an Portland and growing dramatically and recently a high-speed train was inaugurated between the two cities as they grow into a huge megaplex. And the Bay Area couldn’t even electrify CalTrain in the time it took to develop the high speed train connection between the two NW cities.

      The City needs to rethink its development strategy as it can’t continue as it has in recent years.

      1. It’s not true that there are no solutions. Remember MUNI’s Ten Year Plan? They would review their routes every decade and adjust stops and routes as population changes to accurately reflect where people live and need to go.

        They could do that for very little money and it would hugely improve MUNI. But no one has the guts to push through a new MUNI map that removes stops and lines.

        1. It’s utterly bananas how many stops MUNI lines have. In any other city, routes stop periodically, and express routes stop infrequently. Muni has regular routes that stop at every block, and sometimes twice on the same block like 47/49 at either end of City Hall and 2/3 outbound on Sutter at Polk and again before Van Ness. And the “R” routes that stop every 3 blocks. It’s like people have gone mental. And they try to remove any stop and 17 people come to the meeting and scream about “reductions” in service. The only thing being reduced would be the time it takes to get somewhere. Somehow, only in San Francisco, this group of people are unable to walk 2-4 blocks yet they somehow feel public transit is the way that makes the most sense for them to get around?

      2. Electrification of Caltrain is but it is absolutely ridiculous it is not joining Transbay. We should already be on to planning for a new Bay crossing for rail (maybe two as the east west commuting pattern on the Pennisula is awful)

        It is normal to assume that the CBD(s) with high rise office will have people commuting from long distances on modern trains as is done the world over.

        SF seemed to make this connection the first time when BART was built to support the growth of the FiDi but not this time. Everyone seems to be counting on handwaving and self driving pods that don’t exist to fix the problem because we know downtown BART stations and the parking lots at the East Bay stations can’t handle it

        1. Painting red strips down streets or changing stops/schedules is a joke. But that is all SF is doing. The problem is regional. Adding 120K workers from the Central SOMA down through Baylands will not work. The transportation is not there to support it and won’t be. Given that, these jobs need to be shifted to Oakland/the East Bay. Oakland saw it’s median income surge recently. Near the top of any major US city. Why? All the techies buying there who can’t afford SF. Most of these 120K workers will live in the East Bay and the only responsible regional approach is to place the jobs close to where the workers will live.

          LA is building a massive office/residential distract around Union Station and the Wilshire tower which will have great public transportation. Seattle/Tacoma/King County have an aggressive expansion program of their metro building out right now. The new lines, extending throughout the metro region, will start opening in 2021 (Northgate – which includes large light rail tunnels) with new lines opening up every several years after that through the 2030s.

          Given that the Bay Area is not going to see significant transportation improvements in the coming 20 years, the strategy should be to place new jobs in areas closest to where most of these workers will live. There is no other option if the Bay Area is to avoid a transportation meltdown.

          1. Some tech workers live in Oakland. But it seems that more live in San Francisco, if given the choice between the two, along with virtually all tech companies.

          2. @SF Realist Of course more tech workers live in SF, but many are choosing to move to Oakland because they can’t afford a home in SF. Some who are moving to Oakland are doing so because they can get so much more. I know several techies who could afford the Sunset but chose to purchase homes in the Oakland hills as they got a much nicer home with a bit of room around it and a view to Central SOMA workers will likely live outside of SF with the largest set of those living in the East Bay. As transit across the Bay will not be improved in the foreseeable future it makes total sense to add the 45K jobs in the East Bay and not in the Central SOMA.

          3. Anecdotal evidence of a few people moving is meaningless.

            If present patterns hold, and they’ve held for 160 years, some of the new tech workers in these buildings will live in Oakland, but many more will live in SF. Like it or not, SF is more desirable than Oakland.

          4. > could afford the Sunset but chose to purchase homes in the Oakland hills

            Absolutely! And don’t leave out the fact that due to the insanely closely-placed stops on every transit line, getting west to east within the city can take much longer than getting downtown from Oakland, or also from anywhere on the northern Peninsula. The hippest and youngest people who make good money will continue to want to live in some trendy part of SF, but fast forward a few years when they need more space than a 1 or 2 bedroom. Even a household making 250k per year finds it hard to afford anything with more than 2 bedrooms in any of those popular areas. And because of the lack of highways and poor transit network, the commute math favors those freeway-convenient residential areas outside SF mentioned above.

  7. I think the argument could be made that BART is one of the most inefficient heavy rail system in the world and VTA is one of the most inefficient lightrail systems

    We really are not doing it right

      1. I think even the Atlanta heavy rail system carries more passengers per mile than does BART. The similar D.C. system surely does. BART is a rather bloated inefficient system.

        I will have to check out VTA but I recall it is pretty awful in terms of trips per mile as well for a large system

          1. It is not obvious to me that passengers carried per track mile is a useful measure that can lead to a conclusion of either “bloated” or “inefficient”. Especially when one must consider that 10 of BART’s track miles consist of a dual underwater tube, which is dictated by local geography.

          2. I would agree; pass/mile – or more precisely revenue/mile – is a measure of how potentially useful something is, but w/o the cost side – which is where the “bloated and inefficient” would come in, it’s little more than a theoretical metric (and of course it doesn’t answer basic questions like “is a system which carries 1 passenger and loses $100 more or less ‘efficient’ than one which carries a million and loses $1M?”)

            But the info was asked for, so I provided it. no reason for the masses to argue in ignorance.

  8. VTA hardly has any riders, and is very heavily tax subsidized. Bart seems to do much better. Now if they could just get more trains into service…

    1. BART is currently jsut for bringing suburbia to the city. it needs to be made usable for city inhabiitants as well

  9. SocketSite, what kind of headline is: “This Will Define San Francisco in 2018”?
    What on earth do you mean by that? Notwithstanding the bigger issues of the Central SOMA Plan’s plight, and the housing vs. office debate as evidenced in the comments, how can this one development possibly “define” the entire city for the year?

    1. Perhaps the paragraph which starts, “And then there’s the much bigger story, namely the proposed Central SoMa Plan,” and finishes, “in the context of which the Harrison Street project plays but a bit part,” might provide a hint (along with the featured image and copy which appears after said paragraph).

      1. I see the connection upon closer reading — the problem is that this post appears to be an article about (and starts out describing) a single project (and it’s recent redesign) rather than the larger Central Soma Plan issues…

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