Chris Elmendorf Profile picture
Mar 27, 2022 24 tweets 13 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
@sfplanning just released drafts of the keystone pieces of city's housing element: (1) analysis of site capacity (as zoned), (2) analysis of constraints.

tl,dr: big progress on conceptual level, huge problems in practice.

This 🧵 covers sites; stay tuned for constraints. 1/22
The big & welcome news is that SF, like LA, undertook to comply w/#AB1397 by modeling sites' probability of development during planning period & discounting sites' nominal zoned capacity by p(dev). 2/

The leadership of SF and LA on this issue, coupled with @California_HCD's rejection of nearly all housing elements from SoCal cities, is going put pressure on other cities to get on board the p(dev) train. 3/
This is *so* important, b/c for last 40 years, cities have gotten away with junk plans premised on patently false assumption that if a site could be developed during planning period, it would be developed. 4/…
Reality check: in Bay Area, a typical 5th cycle "housing element site" had less than a 1-in-10 chance of development during planning period.
A site zoned for 100 homes should have counted for 10 or fewer, but it was counted for 100. 5/…
The false p(dev) = 1 assumption allowed nearly all cities in expensive places to avoid rezoning for additional capacity. /6…
But as LA and now SF have discovered, a city that's realistic about p(dev) will have to rezone. A lot.
Or at least it should... /7
SF hired an economics consultant to fit a p(dev) model to data from 2001-2018 and, as described, the model seems reasonable. So far, so good. /8
Consultant concluded that SF has p(dev)-adjusted capacity for ***less than 21,000 new homes, under current zoning, over the next 30 years.***

Whereas the city's state-assigned housing target exceeds 80,000 homes over just the next 8 years! /9
So, big rezoning? There ought to be! But SF purports to backfill most of deficit w/ handwavy, "trust us" assumptions about other sources of capacity, ultimately committing to rezone for only ~22,000 more units.

The money table is on p. 8. Let's break it down. /10
For starters, city posits that 50% of modeled capacity over next 30 years will materialize in next 8 years.

Rationale: state law is now better for development, so a model fit w/2001-18 data understates capacity under current law. Ok, that's directionally correct. /10
But even using that indulgent assumption, SF has "modeled" capacity for only about 10k homes, leaving massive shortfall (another 72k-84k units).

And this is where things get real wacky. /11
First, city posits that sites which "met criteria provided by mayor's office" for funding 100% affordable projects have p(dev) = 0.50!
City provides *zero* information about rate at which such sites have been developed in the past. /12
It takes real chutzpah to assert, w/o any evidence or even info about city's financial capacity to acquire these sites, that sites targeted for social housing have vastly higher p(dev) than other sites.

But this "saves" S.F. from rezoning for 8600 more units. /13
Now to the biggest skeletons: the "development pipeline."

City credits itself w/nearly 50,000 units from "housing ... projects that have been proposed or that have already received [planning] approvals but that have not received building permits." /14
What's the basis for these numbers? "[D]iscussion with city agencies working on the [pipeline] projects to assess units likely to be delivered over RHNA period."

That is, "trust us." /15
Notably absent: any analysis of what share of "pipeline" projects from last housing element got developed during the last planning period. (SF's last plan counted ~35,000 "filed or approved" units.) /16
Finally, after all the massaging of numbers, SF concludes that it ought to rezone for ~22,000 more homes, & that for fair-housing reasons, they should be located on west side of city.
Some housing advocates are rejoicing. /17
But: in connection w/ analysis of constraints (more on that later), SF hired consultant for pro-forma analysis of different types of housing projects in different areas...and the consultant concluded that *nothing pencils out on the west side*. /18
On basis of that study, @sfplanning says that w/ current permitting process, impacts fees, exactions, & construction costs, the *only* kind of project that's economically feasible is a 24+ story high-rise in city's highest-demand neighborhoods. /19
Yet SF "plans" to meet its ~22,000 unit shortfall (after hand-waving) by rezoning west-side corridors for 55'-85' projects that per city's own analysis would have *negative* rate of return.

This is a cruel joke. Except it's no joke. /20
Here's the big picture: to meet its 82k unit target, San Francisco must *triple* its typical annual housing production.
Rezoning the west side for 22,000 economically infeasible homes won't cut it. /21
@California_HCD should nix this plan unless SF:
(1) backs up its "pipeline" & "mayor's office" projections w/ public data, &
2) commits to ministerial review + waiver of fees/exactions/standards that render projects economically infeasible until city reaches RHNA target.

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More from @CSElmendorf

Mar 22
🧵 It's been said for decades that SF's city charter creates a right to Discretionary Review of any permit.

I was curious, so I poked around. Turns out, "Charter DR" is a basically a fiction, invented by city attorneys in the 1970s.
How did this come to be?

As best I can tell from public information, it arose from a perfect storm of "convenient" judicial precedent (about discretionary review authorized by city ordinances) and an ideological moment that demanded limits on urban growth.
DR, San Francisco-style, has roots in a WW II-era incident in which homeowners in the "first class residential district of Miraloma Park" rose up against a proposal to build 30 units of inexpensive housing for wartime laborers in their neighborhood.
Read 25 tweets
Mar 20
@JohnKingSFChron's complaint about developers exploiting state law to build "bulky" towers in Berkeley misses something important: the state hasn't banned cities from negotiating with developers!
1/4… ImageImageImage
State law just limits what cities may say "No" to. It doesn't stop a city a from enacting its own density bonus program, offering a better package of concessions to induce developers to design projects more to the city's liking.
If Berkeley isn't willing to (say) reduce exactions and fees, or offer more height, or put something else on table that make it worthwhile for a developer to build "tall, slender, and tapered" (as King would prefer) rather than "bulky," then the problem is not...
Read 4 tweets
Mar 19
I've been asked to provide a little more analysis of @California_HCD's new post about "self-certification" of housing elements is a correct statement of the law.
1. HCD is probably right that compliance w/ core procedural formalities (advance submission to HCD, time period for HCD review, adoption w/response to HCD comments) is necessary, but not sufficient, for a "self-certified" HE to be "substantially compliant" as a matter of law.
/2 Image
Yes, there are cases (and a code provision) saying that a zoning or general-plan amendment may only be invalidated by a court for noncompliance w/formalities if plaintiff shows that compliance would have changed the substance of the thing.
/3 Image
Read 9 tweets
Mar 8
A stunner: By huge majorities, both chambers of Washington leg. have voted to exempt *all* zoning-compliant housing in urban growth areas from mini-NEPA review.

There's no project-labor mandate, BMR housing mandate, or anything else to jack up cost of eligible projects.
Housing projects will remain subject to the usual exceptions from categorical exemptions. The senate bill also requires consultation with state transportation agency & carves out project if state planners identify a transpo impact. But still!
/2 Image
Where were the groups that leverage enviro review threat to secure project labor or "community benefit" agreements?
Were they bought off through another bill? Were they rolled?
Read 5 tweets
Mar 7
Check this out: @Yimby_Law is using CEQA to attack a fancy Marin city's crumby housing plan.
Sausalito said its housing element was exempt from CEQA b/c "it's just a policy document" & doesn't actually door commit the city to anything.
/2 Image
That's very wrong. For example:
- cities may not deny an affordable project on housing element inventory site if project's density is consistent w/ housing element, notwithstanding that zoning or general plan land-use designation is more restrictive. GC 65589.5(d)(5)(A).
/3 Image
Read 12 tweets
Feb 25
Question for CEQA wonks: Do you think the new Berkeley opinion blows up CEQA's categorical exemption for infill housing? (Given that "noise" disqualifies a project from the Class 32 exemption.)

Count me worried.
The Court of Appeal did say, in dicta, that "typical" household noise from residents of a new single-family home should not be treated as a potentially significant impact. /2
But what about "typical" noise from the kind of young people who live in small apartments?

And what if the apartment building (or fourplex, or whatever) is located in a "quiet residential neighborhood"?
Read 8 tweets

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