San Francisco’s Planning Commission is slated to certify the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the City’s ambitious Central SoMa Plan on April 12.

And if successfully certified, an attempted appeal of which is likely to occur, the Commission could then immediately vote to approve the plan and recommend its adoption by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

Once again, the plan as proposed raises the proposed height limits for numerous neighborhood parcels, including an up-zoning of the Flower Mart site to allow development up to 270 feet in height; a 400-foot height limit for the Creamery/HD Buttercup parcels at the corner of Townsend and Fourth upon which Tishman Speyer is planning to build two swoopy towers; a re-revised 240-foot height limit for the 725 Harrison Street site to allow Boston Properties’ proposed office project to rise as rendered above; and the undergrounding and redevelopment of the San Francisco Tennis Club site.

And if adopted, the Central SoMa Plan could pave the way for an additional 7,500 units of housing and enough office space for an additional 45,000 workers to rise in the area roughly bounded by Folsom, Second, Townsend and Sixth Streets, as massed at full build-out around the 725 Harrison Street project above.

44 thoughts on “Impact Report for Transformative SoMa Plan Slated for Certification”
  1. We need a cost-of-living impact plan. What effect would adding this many jobs without housing do to our current housing prices?

    1. I am of the opinion that while the housing-jobs balance in this plan does need to be tweaked in the direction of housing more, it does not necessarily need to be done so to a massive degree. This area is directly adjacent to the major business district as it is and really serves as an expansion of that. As such, I don’t have a real problem with the basic premise of there being more jobs than housing in this specific area.

      The majority of the city’s area is prime for denser housing while downtown, SOMA, Mission Bay, and Dogpatch can serve as the major employment center vein.

      1. The big unspoken issue here is that the majority of the city, which is prime for dense housing, gets a TON of NIMBY pushback, while SoMa residents are generally more pro-housing/growth. Even Western SoMa residents resisted upzoning a few years back to maintain the warehouse vibe (I believe including 40′ max heights, except along Folsom).

        1. Which is why I’m all for the concept behind Weiner’s bill and telling NIMBYs to take a long walk off a short pier.

          1. Weiner’s bill may actually make a huge difference. But I’m doubtful it will pass.

          2. It’ll be a reliable zombie if it doesn’t. It’s just going to keep coming back year after year with slight amendments beyond whatever is amended this year.

          3. Right, but until we get something like that passed, SF needs to build housing wherever/whenever it can. Central SoMa is a perfect place to start.

          4. Apparently there is a lot of opposition to both of Weiner’s bills as written. It would basically allow the state to override all local zoning laws. It’s scope in SF would encompass 96% of the city. It is planning departments statewide that are questioning the scope of the bills.

            I recently went to a Dist 8 neighborhood meeting that had both candidates explaining their positions. Both thought it too broad but had no problem with more dense housing along major transit lines. One of the candidates also said he didn’t think either was going to pass as written and that Weiner was going to have to tweak them.

          5. It is not an accurate description of Weiner’s bill to say it overrides all local zoning. It would not override all zoning laws.

            It would effectively allow an additional 2-4 stories of height by right, depending on the street width, up to a maximum height of 85 feet or 55 feet (on narrower streets) for housing developments that met the transit-rich criteria. And, it would allow the increased density that goes with that height; however, it would not allow unlimited density. Instead, minimum densities would be set. So, a building of 85 feet would have a minimum of 4.5 FAR, which would be about 8 stories on a little less than half the lot on street at least 70 feet wide.

            Many parts of San Francisco, even some major corridors in the Sunset and Richmond have apartment buildings of about that height. Minimum parking standards would also not apply. But, aside from that, all other local planning controls and zoning would apply.

            A developer could not build housing where it was not allowed (e.g. an industrial zoned district), nor could a developer violate rent control or anti-demolition laws, nor could they violate inclusionary housing rules, nor could they violate design rules and other objecting zoning that does not restrict height and FAR below the minimum standards. And, of course, all environmental review rules would apply.

          6. Good summary Chris

            The definition of what constitutes transit-rich is a problem for me. Are buses that sit in increasing traffic congestion really suitable? Around fixed lines with some sort of priority I favor this

            Around some BART stations there should be high rise development by right

          7. I think zig really hits the nail on the head when he wrote that “definition of what constitutes transit-rich” is the main problem with the first version of the Weiner’s bill. If you start out by saying that anything within walking distance of a bus line is a “transit rich” area, then for the overwhelming majority of The City, the forcible upzoning is going to apply.

            And of course, there’s nothing forcing people to take public transit other than the possible lack of parking, so buses are going to wind up mired in traffic when the Muffy and Chads of the Bay Area decide to move into S.F. from Walnut Creek and drive everywhere in their Land Rover, oblivious to the constraints of actual city living that Weiner had in mind.

            If he limited it to just areas served by light rail and BART, that’d be a different story.

  2. 7,500 units of housing – an additional 45,000 workers.
    Ambitious? Yes. Good planning? Resoundingly No.
    Their is nothing environmental about this plan.
    At the minimum we should be planning for a jobs housing balance.

    1. I’m curious if SocketSite could provide a better comparison here. Perhaps on how much square footage is allocated to each to get these numbers. Also, 7500 units of housing doesn’t mean 7500 people can live here since don’t we not everyone lives a single life. Also, not all office is created equal. While some companies have open spaces with long desks for engineers, don’t some still have cubes and conference rooms?

      1. If people are doubled up in studios and one bedroom apartments, and tripled up in two bedroom apartments, which is pretty common in a lot of areas of the city, 7500 units of housing would mean that a whole lot more than 7500 (more) people can live here.

      2. Planning commission has released the housing comparisons against other plans and areas in the city. Central SOMA exceeds them all. Either watch the commission hearing from last week- or they will release publicly.

  3. The city is already way out of balance with too many jobs and not enough housing for those jobs driving out middle income people. Something more like 20K residential units and say 25K business.

  4. As a rule of thumb, every square foot of office space requires 6 square feet of residential to house all the workers. So a good way to visualize the problems with Central SoMa is to imagine a 40-story office building. Then imagine six 40-story residential towers around it. That would perfectly meet the housing need.

    But the Planning Department says, “Gosh, we’d really like to have that housing, but we think it’s more important to have jobs in Central SoMa. You can have one 40-story housing tower in Central SoMa, but that’s it.” They magnanimously allow a second housing tower to go into the Market Street Hub plan.

    So where will we build the other four? Well, nowhere else in the city allows that height that isn’t already spoken for. So instead of 4 40-story buildings let’s say we build the homes in 32 five-story buildings. Even then, 90% of the city has height limits of 4 floors or less, so is off limits. Developers for these 32 projects compete for a limited number of soft sites where this density is allowed. Land prices get bid up to where some of these projects don’t pencil out.

    Projects that do get proposed face discretionary review requests from irate neighbors, which cost the same to fend off as if they were building eight times as high. After years of refining plans with input from the Planning Department and neighbors, a Planning Commissioner makes some offhand comment about the windows being too big or the internal circulation reminding them too much of a hotel, and sends the sponsor back to the drawing board. (The flippant “it looks like a hotel” was a real remark from Commissioner Myrna Melgar in February about 3314 Cesar Chavez, which appears to now be stuck in a pattern of repeated continuances. Professional planners in the Department saw no issue with the design and had recommended approval.)This further balloons costs and discourages these projects from finishing.

    In the end, nowhere near the required number of homes will get built in a timely manner, and high-income office workers will instead flood into places like the Mission, Bayview and West Oakland, driving up rents on existing homes in a new wave of gentrification. And this was just for one office tower, a fraction of what’s coming to Central SoMa.

    Without a major citywide upzoning as proposed in SB 827 or a significant increase in capacity for high-rise housing in Central and Western SoMa and Showplace Square, it’s hard to see how this plan isn’t another windfall for residential landlords and a disaster for renters.

  5. This plan is a giveaway to office developers and a slap in the face to middle class residents who can barely afford to own or rent in SF. It will get much worse if this plan is allowed to go forward. The piece say it’s sure to be opposed which is an understatement. The Supervisors need to reject it as currently envisioned. There are 4 or so Supervisors who will oppose it IMO, but it will take more than that to stop this.

    Aside from the obvious reduction in office space and increase in housing, that office space needs to be staged. A portion of the office space can go forward but must be tied to new housing production. Until that housing requirement is met, the remaining office space can’t be approved. Break the plan into 5 or 6 office space/housing components. Otherwise the housing will be back-ended. Indeed the proposal for a ballot measure to exempt Central SOMA from M is being done for one reason – allow the developers to maximize office development and not have to build housing.

    In the best of worlds this plan would be chucked and the process restarted with residents and housing advocates being in on the drawing up of the plans.

    1. So there seems to be agreement among the comments here that housing is in high demand. Is office space in so much higher demand in SF that there will be tenants for all this space? Vacancies are usually the best thing to stop additional construction of commercial space (the less you are required to build retail and PDR space in concert with other development but I didn’t see any requirement for PDR in this plan).

      1. HP/CP has had trouble lining up tenants for its office component. The vacancy rate for Class A office space has been climbing and is near it’s historic norm. Office absorption (net) has been negative for 4 straight quarters now. First time that has happened in more than a decade. In spite of the much hyped Facebook and DropBox office leases. There is hardly any transfer of large numbers of employees into the city. Oh, and Class B space has seen a big jump in vacancy as a growing number of firms who lease such space relocate out of SF. My CPA/accountant’s firm did so last year. They relocated to SMC.

        So, office growth is slowing. How much it will continue to do so is not known. That indeed begs the question you ask – is all this office space needed? MB’s million feet. 3M, Pier 70. The Power Plant project and more. Not to mention the Central SOMA plan which would allow for almost 3 times the amount of office space that is planned for Lennar’s HP/CP project.

        What is needed now is housing. Not offices. The best solution would be a 10 year moratorium in office approvals within SF. There is enough approved office development for the coming decade in the pipeline to more than absorb a slowing demand for SF office space.

        1. Why a magical 10 year moratorium exactly? Please provide fact based evidence of why this would be a good thing?

          1. It’s a starting point. Maybe 15 years? Seriously, what works better IMO, and I disagree here with housing activists who support an inflexible moratorium, would be a flexible ban on new office approvals (over say 50K feet) until a certain number of new housing units have been built. That number would need to be significant. Perhaps 10K units. If those units are built in 5 years then office construction could resume. This would provide an incentive for office developers to build housing if they are really eager to get their pet office development on track.

        2. Not true at all Dave. It has been reported Amazon, Google and Facebook are in talks with Park Tower to take some or all of the building 750k. The appetite for Office space is still robust.

          It is also amusing people pushing housing when they complain about the lack of transit and over crowded streets.

          1. Despite certain hyped signings, last year saw negative absorption. The prior year saw weak absorption – well under a million feet. By contrast Seattle has seen about 1.6 million feet absorbed/year since 2010. The first quarter 2018 absorption figures will be out shortly. That will indicate if a trend is occurring should another quarter of negative absorption occurs – 5 quarters in a row has not happened in a long time.

          2. If that’s the case the zoning of a bunch of office space is a mood point – it will not be built. No need for a moratorium, unless you believe in: “if they build it, they will come”

        3. Yeah. If you’re going to start a magical 10 year moratorium on office space because housing isn’t keeping up, you’d need to have a similar 10 year moratorium on housing first, because transit and infrastructure (and I mean things like sewers, lighting, etc., not parking lots and freeways) aren’t keeping up.

        4. If you are claiming that there is not demand for office space and office growth is slowing, then a moratorium is not necessary. Developers rely on lenders and lenders only lend when they believe a project can get leased out in a reasonable amount of time. No one is in the business of losing money.

          I guess if you could articulate an argument that does not contradict itself, I could at least hear you out. But, you make one statement, and then completely contradict it in the next. And, again, you give no empirical support for why there should be a 10 year moratorium (or a 5 year moratorium, 15 year, 20, etc). You seem to just think that is what is needed. Fine. You can certainly discuss how you feel about things, but then be upfront these are just your feelings, not supported conclusions.

        5. For the Planning Department’s written response to this issue, see: Housing Strategies in San Francisco and Contextualizing the Central SoMa Plan.

          I would also be cautious about regulations that are supposed to achieve one effect, when often they achieve the opposite. Downtown San Jose is still reeling from the efforts of an over-zealous Redevelopment Agency back in the 1990’s that thought they were smarter than everyone else. 20 years later, surface parking lots, low quality retail, and a generally unsatisfying downtown pedestrian environment still linger. Trying to tie development of one type of project to the development of another is just a complete mis-understanding of how developers work.

    2. Dave I honestly don’t think you’ve supported a single housing project in SF as it’s been proposed in the past six months. Maybe year! It’s completely disingenuous to be on here complaining that housing advocates aren’t in on this process and there isn’t enough housing, as if this was proposed as all housing, I think most would predict you’d be saying this was inappropriate for housing, too tall, too dense, etc.

  6. Agreed Hunter. Neighbors/activists will fight housing also.They’ll fight anything- balance or otherwise.

  7. Given how abysmal of a job the Planning Department is doing with addressing the housing supply – Maybe it is time to revisit Prop M at the ballot box and rachet the office space limit allowed down by 50% to 500K gsf per year or less.

    The Corporate shills at our ‘progressive’ City Hall clearly do not care one wit for the betterment of our citizenry or their need for an affordable and decent place to live.

    It has almost gotten to the point where Emperor Norton would provide the City better governance than the buffoons at 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Place. 🙂

  8. Remember those ads “where’s the beef”. I’d like to see them again, but with the slogan “where’s the infrastructure?”

    folks there is no serious plan to deal with the population impacts. Wiener proposed a subway system across the city, where is it?

    1. Exactly right. Adding office space and housing without massive infrastructure improvements (another bay bridge, another transbay Bart tunnel) is simply a total disaster.

      1. Those will be needed if only office space is added since the workers has to live somewhere. If you cut the office component back in favor of housing, improvements within the city will be needed more.

      1. The maximum capacity of the new line is less than the total projected growth of the neighborhoods it traverses.So level of service per person will actually go down.

        And given that this one short subway line is taking 10 years and almost $2 billion because of bureaucratic incompetence – it’s not likely infrastructure will ever catch up with growth.

        1. Central Subway isn’t perfect. But I’m responding to the poster complaining about the lack of a subway at all.

          1. Understood. One of my consistent whines is that the region needs to deliver these projects in a more cost effective manner if we are to ever catch up. 🙂

            My copy and paste malediction:
            Over 100 years ago – in 1914, the City built the Twin Peaks tunnel – 12,000 feet long – in 970 days.
            The T-line Subway? 9,000 feet long – 25% shorter tunnel – taking more than 2,400 days to open – more than twice the time than the longer 1914 Twin Peaks tunnel.

            Like a car going UP Lombard street, project management in SF is heading in the wrong direction.

          2. Agree 100%. CCSF is a terrible project manager for construction. (And for Muni and everything else.)

    2. There’s lots of infrastructure:
      1) Caltrain electrification will bring more capacity
      2) BART cars with 3 doors allow faster boarding –> shorter dwell time –> more trains per hour
      3) Muni getting new cars each month, so more 2-car trains and some 3-car trains
      4) Mission st bus lanes are only part time. Could be switched to full time if needed
      5) Folsom St parking protected bike lane gets plenty of use, and would probably get more if it was completed down to embarcador as planned and had a corresponding protected return path on Howard. This can be done within a year. Also, more bike lanes coming on 2nd St, 8th
      6) Not to harp on bikes again, but have you tried the red electric Jump bikes? Wow… really fast and really fun to ride. Now we have electric scooters coming along with Ford bikes, so expect that to pick up more riders who don’t feel athletic enough
      7) Bryan and Harrison are both 5 lane wide streets that have capacity for a red bus lane and more transit. We can put those streets to better use than “buffering 10 cars waiting to get on the bridge”.
      8) I’ll add walking since there’s safety in numbers and I see more people walking to work in SOMA than a few years ago.

      1. With all due respect, do you know many people who commute (via car, bus, Caltrain or Bart)? Every person I know would say their commutes are terrible and have never been so bad. So any infrastructure improvements so far have not been even close to offsetting the increased amount of people.

        1. I know tons of people who commute every day by Bart and Caltrain. They may not love it, but they like them a lot more than driving in from the East Bay (Bart) or along 101 (Caltrain).

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