April 14, 2010

Guest Editorial: Redonkulous Rincon Hill Development Fees?

Official Rincon Hill Area

It’s a guest editorial from Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker related to yesterday’s Board of Supervisors’ approval of $1,844,273 in grants from the SOMA Community Stabilization Fund (funded by way of fees for developing within the Rincon Hill Plan Area):

The SOMA Community Stabilization Fund has collected $6.6 million from developments within the 14-block portion of South of Market that falls within the Rincon Hill Plan Area – that amount is from the single development that actually got built, One Rincon Hill.
Nearly five years after the Rincon Hill Plan was written into Section 318 of the San Francisco Planning Code, the justification for the adding the $14 per square foot fee for the SOMA Community Stabilization Fund (on top of the anticipated development fees paid for affordable housing and infrastructure) seems ridiculous. The justification was that exceeding the former height limits and allowing high-density housing near our mass transit and jobs hub in the downtown would destabilize the residents and businesses in South of Market.
There was never a nexus study conducted by the Planning Department to affirm that only high-rise developments between Folsom and Bryant and Second and Steuart Streets have a destabilizing impact on the rest of SOMA. The fee was born in the Board of Supervisor chambers after Planning had already gone through the process of meeting with Rincon Hill residents and creating the Plan.
While many of us living in Rincon Hill appreciate the public benefits of services provided by the 19 non-profits awarded the nearly $2 million yesterday, the very existence and rationale without a nexus study of the fee leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It is hard to believe that high-rise buildings east of 2nd Street and between Folsom and the Bay Bridge cause any greater impact on SOMA residents and businesses than those high-rises constructed west of 2nd Street.
If there is an impact, why shouldn’t the fee be applicable to all developments that create the impact instead of discriminating against just the 14 blocks within the Rincon Hill Plan Area?
There are several high-rise buildings, some right around the corner from the alleys of residents supposedly impacted by such tall residential buildings. If there is no impact, as could be proven by a legitimate nexus study, why impede the redevelopment of the Rincon Hill area with this additional $14 per square foot fee?
It is a shame that these fees were collected to provide one-time payments to non-profits instead of possibly funding the first public green open spaces in Rincon Hill that can be enjoyed by many for years to come. Instead, the Rincon Hill Plan Area does not have a single park, only lots of land awaiting more infrastructure fees to pay for Guy Place Pocket Park’s development and possibly state grant money to pay for the Harrison Street Park at Fremont (fronting 333 Harrison as proposed).
Again, this isn’t frustration with the non-profits benefitting from the nearly $2 million, but a frustration with fees and taxes that have no justification and should not be allowed to continue to exist without such a basis.

Our angle, recognizing we’re in a radically different market as compared to 2005, might not incentives for developers to invest in San Francisco, add residences and residents to a neighborhood still in search of its critical mass, and increase recurring tax revenues from the Rincon Hill area pay greater dividends than any one-time fee?

Now extend that thinking beyond simply Rincon Hill.

SF BOS Resolution: SOMA Community Stabilization Fund Expenditures [www.sfbos.org]
Rincon Hill Plan [sf-planning.org]
Michael Kriozere (ORH) Responds: We're Planning To Pay, Damn It! [SocketSite]
Putting Some Green On Guy Place: A Rincon Mini Park In The Works [SocketSite]
Harrison Street Park [harrisonstreetpark.com]
A Plugged-In Reader's 12 Notes On The "PC" Approved 333 Harrison [SocketSite]

First Published: April 14, 2010 3:00 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

"this isn’t frustration with the non-profits benefitting from the nearly $2 million, but a frustration with fees and taxes that have no justification and should not be allowed to continue to exist without such a basis"

"Our angle, recognizing we’re in a radically different market as compared to 2005, might not incentives for developers to invest in San Francisco, add residences and residents to a neighborhood still seeking its critical mass, and increase recurring tax revenues from the Rincon Hill area pay greater dividends than any one-time fee?"

Hahah, I like how you guys write that like the point isn't to funnel money into the coffers of the pet charities of the friends of the board and also the city government. Justification/greater dividends? You guys crack me up.

Posted by: Rillion at April 14, 2010 3:42 PM

I don't even know where to begin with this comment... An "editorial" by one of the most biased ([Removed by Editor]) plugged-in readers on the site, great.

"...that amount is from the single development that actually got built, ORH."

Gee, Jamie, maybe if you allowed developments to go through as planned you would see more in your SOMA fund. Please. I say next initiative Jamie makes we rally the hundreds of Bay Crest residents, I mean, Socketsite readers, against him.

[Editor’s Note: As always, attack the argument(s) not the individual.]

Posted by: gohomej at April 14, 2010 4:03 PM

gohomej -

You are way out of line here. If I were the Editor your whole post would have been deleted instead of a giving you a feeble finger wag. Jamie does not hide behind a cloak of anonymity when posting and frequently reports accurately on activities and politics in the Rincon Hill area.

As to content - I couldn't agree more with his comments. $14 per square foot developer extortion required to be paid into the Chris Daly STFU Fund. Rediculous. Look at where the dollars are going and see if you think ORH residents are getting their $14/sf worth.

Posted by: OneEyedMan at April 14, 2010 5:33 PM

Can someone better explain the $14psft fee?

And to Jaime's credit, at least he tries to be involved in the community, unlike most of us who just comment from our keyboard or perhaps through voting, so no need to give him guff.

With that being said, what would anyone expect? Isnt this the same group (planning department) that approved a non-profit built homeless shelter (sorry, 'supportive housing') on Folsom, right around the corner from the Metropolitan/50 Lansing? And the Rincon Hill association, did nothing other than attend meetings? Seriously, if you think that your elected officials care about anyone other than themselves and their interests, then you are kidding yourself.

There are no parks or green spaces in that area of South Beach, and yet money is given away to non-profits? For what? Can we see the itemized list of spend items? Oh wait...Folsom is going to be a boulevard one day, in a city far, far away...

Posted by: SFRE at April 14, 2010 5:40 PM

Think of it as a tax on the rich. After all, you guys have had it pretty good since the 1980s. Well, guess what, games over.

Posted by: montananewsom at April 14, 2010 5:49 PM

First, I'd like to defend Jamie. He does more for his neighborhood then 99% of the rest of y'all on this board and does so without a cutesy screen name to protect him. The attacks against him are unwarranted.

That said...
The notion that this Soma fee is an invention from the head of Chris Daly is a complete and utter fabrication and revisionist history. The truth -- and anyone that wants to check the documentation can verify this -- that it was the Planning Commission who introduced the concept of one or more supplemental fees of several dollars to be used both citywide and in the non-Rincon Soma area, specifically in addition to the fee to be used for improvements immediately in Rincon Hill. I direct you all to Planning Commission Resolution 17013 which was approved 6-1 by the Commission, with Olague voting no. The Planning Commission explicitly asked the Board to explore the issue and to levy a fee that they felt was appropriate, with the suggestion that this fee would be in excess of $3/sf. The $14 amount and the structure of the fee were ultimately those proposed by Daly which carried the day, but there were a host of other amounts and proposals from other Board members which duelled it out at the Board. (I recall McGoldrick wanted the additional money to be used only citywide). Additionally, the notion that the funds are Daly's "slush" fund under his control is also nonsense from an objective and practical standpoint. In fact, it's the mayor's office, per the ordinance, which is in charge of administering the $14/sf soma funds and of proposing expenditures of the funds. Those are the facts.

Posted by: frankly at April 14, 2010 6:24 PM

the second pp of @frankly is correct.

if anyone doesnt think the application of the nexus concept to exactions by SF is sufficient in it "proof", or doesnt think it is applied as a test often enough, then you should show up when these things are taking place. !

I do not believe this has ever been tested in court since the sonoma case that is the foundation for current nexus practices.

the "editorial" and all the venting are fun, but off point. in my view the $14 psf will run thru the build out of rincon hill and is ironclad. not a philosophical argument, but fact. it will total $50 MIL or so based on full "build out".

Posted by: Louis at April 14, 2010 10:19 PM

Planning Commissioner Michael Antonini has floated the idea of performing a nexus study on the SOMA Community Stabilization Fund because I don't believe there ever was one performed on this particular fee.

If there is a significant impact caused by high-rises in the 14 blocks of Rincon Hill, wouldn't the high rises that go up in "eastern neighborhoods," "transbay redevelopment area," and possibly "western soma" also cause an impact - and why wouldn't they kick into the fund too?

It doesn't seem terribly fair to only charge fees to buildings in the 14 blocks of the Rincon Hill Plan Area if BLU, Millennium, SOMA Grand, etc. have just as much of an impact (if not more) on the existing residents and businesses of SOMA.

By the way, thanks for the kind words many of you wrote. We've still got a ways to go to establish a voice in City Hall (need many more people willing to show up, so-to-speak), but I think we're making inroads ....

Posted by: jamie at April 14, 2010 10:59 PM

Jamie,

Don't let people like gohomej discourage you too much. I attended one of the meetings you hosted at the Infinity clublounge sometime last year and I think you're doing a fine job.

Posted by: IR at April 15, 2010 8:21 AM

You are right guys, I apologize for the rant. Must be tax season...

I just think there is a big difference between being involved and being informed. It is unbelievable that we live in a city that can have a project approved by planning commission, since it follows codes and neighborhood plans, and then successfully appealed (after several tries) due to non-existent issues. And all because a community activist rallies the neighbors in his building who will be negatively impacted by a development. Leave the development to the real estate professionals and city planners...

Posted by: gohomej at April 15, 2010 9:07 AM

I am simply amazed that it is allowed to happen -- non-profits with no clear purpose (instead of the general fund, or the actual residents of the area) and no clear value being allowed to receive grants in a relatively opaque fashion, based on a shakedown. Its what the RICO statutes were supposed to be written for. Its organized crime if you ask me. But then, this is the town that put Jim Jones of the People's Temple in charge of a government commission.

Posted by: stucco-sux at April 15, 2010 10:38 AM

The word is "ridonkulous", as in... "ridiculous, you donkey" ...
Thanks for playing

Posted by: been there at April 15, 2010 11:57 AM

Posted by: tipster at April 15, 2010 12:38 PM

I was in Sydney recently and it's amazing what they have done with the neighborhood directly at the base of the Harbour Bridge (The Rocks)... It's a wonderful mix of parks, restaurants, retail & high rises. Rincon Hill unfortunately pales in comparison. RH can only get better but planners should take a look at what they have done in other cities to see what can be achieved.

Posted by: Willow at April 15, 2010 2:20 PM

If you bother to actually look at the document attached, you will see that over $300k of the $1.8M is being spent to add a crosswalk to a street in the District, so it is pretty hard to complain about that.

It is pretty hard to figure out what the rest is being spent on though it seems to be clearly within the charter of what the fund was set up to do: "monies in the SOMA Community Stabilization Fund are to be used to address the effects of destabilization on residents and businesses in SOMA, incluing: affordable housing and community asset building, small business rental assistance, development of new affordable homes for rental units for low-income residents, rental subsidies for low-income households..."

I am not going to transcribe the whole thing, but you get the idea. It is clearly within the original intent of the ordinance. I don't understand why not all the new SOMA construction doesn't have to pay into it though, that is kind of odd. And I would prefer to see the money spent for something of a more durable nature, though if they tried to build permanent low-income housing, no doubt Mr. Whitaker would complain even louder.

No one held a gun to the developer heads here. Times have changed though, perhaps a reconsideration of what we can do with scarce public resources is in order.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at April 15, 2010 10:59 PM

"If you bother to actually look at the document attached, you will see that over $300k of the $1.8M is being spent to add a crosswalk to a street in the District, so it is pretty hard to complain about that."

My criticism is aimed at the legitimacy of the fee and why it only targets 14 blocks in all of South of Market. I'm not sure why you're assuming that I'm against low-income housing, but anyway .... this line item does clearly point out that funds are not going to benefit residents east of 2nd Street from where they are collected. No one in their right mind would say that Rincon Hill doesn't need pedestrian safety improvements, but there's been no improvement to pedestrian safety in the neighborhood despite thousands of additional residents. The crosswalk you mention will be on Folsom between 6th and 7th Streets ... yes, within the South of Market District, but a good mile away from the Rincon Hill neighborhood.

Posted by: jamie at April 16, 2010 2:04 PM

Diverting money to non-profits seems like patronage at best or soft corruption at worst. Just whom are they accountable to? How will we know if this money went to good use or just paid the salary of a 6 figure salary for one of the directors?

Posted by: Missiondweller at April 18, 2010 4:28 PM

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