Having been unanimously supported by San Francisco’s Planning Commission last week, the City’s ambitious Central SoMa Plan is now slated to be reviewed by the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee on June 25, after which it will be passed along to San Francisco’s full Board of Supervisors with a formal recommendation to act.

If the Board follows Planning’s lead and votes (twice) to adopt the plan, it would then head to the Mayor for a signature. And if signed, the plan – which could pave the way for an additional 8,300 units of housing and enough office space for an additional 39,000 workers to rise in the area roughly bounded by Folsom, Second, Townsend and Sixth Streets, as newly amended and massed at full build-out around the 725 Harrison Street project above – would go into effect after 30 days, assuming no legal challenges are filed.

58 thoughts on “Passed by Planning, Central SoMa Plan Is Now Headed to the Supes”
  1. Finally. At this point, we need to just stop debating on this or else nothing will ever get built.

  2. It looks like the biggest upzone is to the far right of the picture. Is that the Bay Club Tennis parcel or maybe the caltrain station? What is the height for that?

      1. Townsend is not an officially accepted street. Western SOMA tried to get the City to plan for its migration towards acceptance, but they balked. Western SOMA tried to retain some modicum of city serving low value added city-serving business, B2B and B2C.

        But Planning is not paid to comprehensively plan. Can’t wait for their magic on King Street to be reprised all of the way to Moscone. And all of this for a stub subway that was value engineered such that its short platforms can’t deliver the primary benefit of rail, being able to scale up by adding cars.

        Planning is both a hatchet and a ratchet job and it only goes up.

  3. At nearly 5:1 jobs to housing ratio, this is a disaster which will exacerbate our housing crisis. We need something closer to 2:1 for this to be a success. If going taller is the solution, let’s go taller.

    1. We gotta keep the pressure up. There are still plenty of spots to add denser housing (Civic Center/Upper Mission/Western SoMa) as well as several spots in Central SoMa. But actually, given SF’s occupancy rate of 2.3 people per unit, this is relatively close to a 2:1 jobs:housing ratio (if all is fully built to capacity).

      1. I would like to see this done with this ratio and then upzone western soma to a 15 story limit with a 2:1 housing to Jobs ratio. Let central soma be business district and western soma residential district

      2. Some of those people are children, retired, students or otherwise not in the labor force. The best estimate of workers per household I could come up with was 1.2-1.3, based on Census data.

          1. Also worth noting that a significant proportion of new residents moving into the area will cross a county line to commute to work, especially with the convenient access to regional transit options. I believe the regional statistics for the seven bay counties is 50% of workers commute across a county line to work. That reality in mind, the housing:job creation ratio needs to be higher to account for the poor planning and even worse ratios of the surrounding municipalities and how that disproportionately impacts most people’s preferred option of living in SF.

      3. How did you pick those as the most likely places to add denser housing? The obvious place is the one that is already least dense while at the same time enjoying the best transit connectivity: the Sunset.

        1. All those areas have big parking lots & low-slung former industrial buildings, less resistance from neighbors to buildings over 40 feet, and are a short bus/bike ride from downtown. IMO Sunset needs to grow/densify, but it’s going to be a huge effort compared with these more central areas.

    2. SOMA and financial district have naturally been SF’s commercial and office centers. The ratio as it stands is fine. We need to put more housing pressure in other SF neighborhoods as well.

      1. Ideally youd get even more people in FIDI and SOMA because it would help alleviate commute issues (more people walk to work, choose to not own cars), and create more evening life after office workers leave . But overall this is very exciting to see!

    3. Housing is one issue. The other and just as big has to be transportation issue. Bay Bridge is packed, Bart Tube is packed and maybe with luck RM3 passes and caltrain might be able get some funding to get into the new bus barn. Add the fact that the one attempt to expand Muni (into chinatown) got delayed again when contractor ordered to rip up and replace tracks and not much in a plan to extend transit south to Hunters Point/Candlestick.

      I think the long play is downtown SJ and Oakland if BART can get extended into downtown SJ & extended into Livermore and HSR can get from the valley to SJ.

      1. BART is fine on expanding capacity:
        1) 3 door cars can load/unload faster leading to shorter station stops –> more trains per hour. Note that a fully packed BART trains carries ~2000 passengers
        2) Next is a new control system that can run trains closer together. Today, BART can do a max of 24 trains per hour, but state of art systems – such as one in London Tube can do 36 trains per hour. While BART might not get that high, there’s still potential to enhance capacity by up to 50% with existing tube and trains.

        SOMA itself has plenty of capacity. Consider that there are fewer bike lanes in SOMA than bus lines! We got Townsend + Howard/Folsom, and yet Bryant, Harrison are ripe for better use than the current 5 lane (+2 parking lanes) that serve as a mere buffer to Bay Bridge. The scooter crazy has shown that there’s a huge demand for road-space that’s not just cars and walking.

        Anyway, I’m not worried about transportation.

        1. You must have never been on a 38 bus.
          Richmond District could have higher density. If only there were BART or Muni Rail underground on Geary to Park Presidio and then heading south under 19th ave to connect up to Daly City bart or at least muni rail near SF State.

  4. Do you think the ratio is exasperated due to more efficient use of office space? In 1990’s, many still had offices. In 2000’s, everyone moved to cubes. In 2010’s the cubes got smaller. Today, it’s just rows of 4′ wide desks for each employee.

    Also, does SocketSite – or anyone know – how office square footage translates into worker space has evolved over the last 20 years? I’m sure it couldn’t remain the same given the office trends.

    1. Pretty sure you mean exacerbated though, in a general sense, exasperated works fine.

      In 50 years, urban planning dissertations are going to be written about the revival of America’s cities and SF is going to be listed in the “missed opportunities” group.

    2. I think people have gone back to offices and higher walled cubes. Open floor plan died a few years ago after the data says it was decreasing productivity

      1. Completely disagree. How many startups have you visited recently? Apple – a brand new building who spent more $ on research on their space than anyone in history, most likely – went with an open floor plan.

      2. I disagree. Our company has 600+ employees on 3 floors with everyone getting a 4′ x 2′ height adjustable desk. Oh, and we provide ZERO parking, so everyone walks, Caltrains, BARTs, ferrrys, scoots, bikes and I think some people drive and move the cars throughout the day. Anyway, if you remember photos of sweatshops with rows and rows of sowing machines, that’s how startups are packed these days. A reflection of high rent combined with high desire to work in SF.

    3. If you look at business journalists’ estimates of how many people are employed by Google in SF based on Google’s gross square footage, and then if you happen to work at Google, you’ll see that their estimates are wildly inaccurate for the reasons you state: office workers are now packed in way more than they were even five years ago.

      When Twitter was unloading some of their office space I was pretty shocked to read the listing. They said the space was equipped with such-and-so-many desks, which was less than half the number of desks I would have expected in a Google office of the same size. So there’s definitely a range of density among large companies.

      [Editor’s Note: Twitter Shedding Space for 1,400 Employees.]

  5. @Guy – Spot on. Pure mediocrity. No overall design criteria/guidelines for the Central SOMA that attempt to tie together architecture so that there is some complimentary cohesive uniqueness to the area. No efforts at creating pocket parks and greenways. Nada. The few towers as proposed are all unremarkable to just downright bad. In the Pearl there are design guidelines that have allowed the new and old in that district to blend in an awesome way. This will not be a neighborhood in any real sense of the word. There will be challenges, possibly legal, and hopefully they succeed. This needs to go back to the drawing boards.

    1. You can’t define buildings that haven’t actually been designed as having mediocre design. That’s nonsensical.

    2. And personally, I’ll be glad when your generation is gone and much of this defeatist, if-it’s-not-perfect-to-me-then-it’s-not-worth-building mentality is in much scarcer supply.

      1. You’ll have a long wait as I’m still a young dude. Don’t stereotype all those who are for sustainable growth as being long in the tooth. Many of us are quite young and take seriously the New Urbanism which is a-brewing..

        1. You have less than zero interest in “sustainable development”. You just get your jollies on saying that everything that isn’t to your particular taste should be stopped. Your supply of minutiae-obsessed hot takes is both endless and pointless.

        2. But don’t fret. I do take some solace in the very confident prediction that this plan will move forward and there won’t be anything you’ll have done to stop or even substantially neuter it.

          1. Spot on @Anonymous. These people who say their progressive are not really progressive but obstructionist. The Central SOMA plan is replacing an area run down with auto work shops and low rise building that have been there for decades. Any development will liven up the area and bring new residents with Office development that will add to the tax base.

        3. “long in the tooth” “a-brewing” totally phrases that us “young dudes” (I am 30) use all the time. I totally believe you.

          1. Yeah, probably not phrases used much by 30 year old – but from the people I know of more advanced age, many are active well into their eighties. Just look at the supreme court and tell me that those young judges don’t have an impact 🙂

    3. I think making all of the new buildings be a uniform, translucent gray material ties them together quite nicely!

  6. A plan written to only benefit office developers.
    The City says affordable housing is priority, and passes plans like this.
    It’s a breach of the public trust, creating more suspicion and dysfunctional ballot box zoning.

    1. The building you’re talking about at 4th and Brannan is the shorter building located in-between the Heublein building at 601 4th St (a bunch of loft style condos) and the Palms (the colorful looking building). The plan called for height limits to be stepped upwards towards the Caltrain station to “help guide people to transit” or something like that if I recall correctly from the plan meetings they held.

  7. I would prefer more housing here, but that means we have to tear up the West SOMA plan which artificially keeps buildings low and build housing there.

      1. Agree, but it’s not easy to change. This should be a prominent issue in the upcoming D6 race.

  8. Curious that no mention has yet been made of the new incoming mayor come June and how their politics will affect the Central SoMa plan. London Breed, the current frontrunner for Room 200 has gone on record in a letter to SF Planning that she would seek to redress the housing imbalance in the plan’s current iteration.

    1. That’s a good point. Kudos to her. Every candidate should be asked pointed questions about this.

    2. Good point. Some candidates are proposing to build 15K units of affordable housing in 3 years. That can’t be done and anyone positing that is not serious IMO. What can be done in less than 3 years – immediately – to affect housing is a redress of the housing imbalance in the plan. Kudos to Breed for offering such a simple solution. I’d be curious to know if she has suggested a more appropriate balance? IMO 2:1 or at max 2.5/1 is the only option if one is serious about addressing the housing issue in SF.

      1. That may help locally, i.e. San Francisco but pushing office developments to Brisbane and other Peninsula locations will create even worse commutes for people living in the East Bay… but I guess you have to start somewhere.

        1. It’s a regional problem and Brisbane is a part of the problem. Baylands will be far larger in terms of office space and workers than HP/CP and yet only a minimal amount of housing is proposed. As to the East Bay, the obvious solution is to push major office development to Oakland. As far as I know the candidates talk about, in general terms, the costs of development to the city but none is calling for, as far as I know, a significant slowdown in office/tech development in SF to let housing catch up.

          1. If the tech companies creating all this expansion were truly SF companies, Oakland would make sense as a place to expand to. However, most of them are SV companies so if they want to expand to the East Bay, Fremont or Pleasanton might be more likely candidates. One reason given for leasing offices in SF is to be closer to their employees.

      2. Very easy to promise to build affordable housing, though, and it sounds great, even if it’s completely impossible.

  9. If this Plan is adopted, will each proposed project like 655 Fourth still be required to comply with the standard entitlements protocols, CEQA requirements – or does this Plan provide them a waiver to begin building immediately?

    1. They still have to go through all of the normal processes. For 655 Fourth you can view the documents online through the normal methods (e.g., San Francisco Property Information Map).

      I’m not sure if city legislation could even wave CEQA given that it is a state law and not a city law.

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