Having been pushed back a few months, slipped a few and then pushed back a few more, San Francisco’s Planning Department is now aiming to formally initiate the legislative process required to adopt San Francisco’s ambitious Central SoMa Plan at the Planning Commission hearing scheduled for March 1.

As proposed, the revised plan 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; and a re-revised 240-foot height limit for the 725 Harrison Street site to allow Boston Properties’ proposed office project to rise as newly rendered above.

If the adoption process for the Central SoMa Plan is successfully initiated on March 1, the plan could be adopted by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors as early as this summer or fall, which is roughly a year later than originally planned.

And if adopted, the 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).

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by ghostwriter

    The Central SoMa Plan will do a great job linking Downtown to Mission Bay.

    Though pro housing advocates want more housing, this portion of SoMa has always mostly been a job center. I think the Plan does a great job securing some of SoMa’s historical of PDR land use (which no longer make financial sense, and will likely result in the production of over priced artisanal goods) and will support the future of the Filipino community living in the area (through improved community facilities, safer streets, better schools and financial aid some important community organizations such as: United Playaz, West Bay, SoMa Pilipinas & Bayanihan Community Center).

    It’s time to get this plan approved and get to work improving an important neighborhood that is largely underutilized.

    • Posted by Hunter

      I live behind Moscone and have mixed feelings, but agree that the fees/taxes will finally give this neighborhood more of a community feeling with better walkable streets, parks, etc. All of the taller projects seem like good improvements over parking lots and one-story office buildings. However, I don’t get why they didn’t just allow for an equal amount of height for housing so we could get more of a 1:1 ratio and finally begin to pull out of the crisis.

      • Posted by Dubs

        I’d love to hear a good answer to this. The logic seems flawed

  2. Posted by David S

    I know it’s been beaten to death by many other commenters here, but the 45K/7K worker/residential ratio (even if you inflate 7K units to something high like 21K residents) is baffling to me. How is there no discussion of adding significant public transportation– and by that I mean a SoMa subway/second BART line (or both)– into this plan? Or at least, say, increasing the residential component or allocating property revenues into a transportation-specific fund.

    I don’t envy anyone who will use the 80 to get anywhere a few years from now.

    • Posted by Hunter

      The SoMa subway (aka the Central Subway or Chinatown subway) has been in the works for many years and is a central reason why the upzoning centers around this area, as well as the area around Caltrain. Thousands of commuters arrive via Caltrain daily, so it makes sense to position the area as an office center. However, I agree the ratio seems out of whack and brought it up at various community meetings and was essentially told that the 7K units will house more like 15K people, that projects outside the Central SoMa boundaries will help make up another 10-20K and that we need to allow for job growth in this corridor and there’s nowhere else to do it as easily. What I really don’t get is why they don’t just raise height limits for all of SoMa and get 45K office units and 50K housing units along with better transit those taxes would bring (and finally linking caltrain to transbay).

      • Posted by David S

        I agree entirely about the Central Subway, but I more meant a subway *along* the spine of SoMa (e.g. a Folsom St subway that terminates at the Transbay Transit Center) to service workers coming from more Westerly/Southerly directions. It’s not clear to me at all that the Central Subway will service workers coming from Mission Bay and South directions well, especially with that horrendous surface intersection at 4th and King. The value of the Central Subway, IMO, is larger in getting folks from Chinatown/North Beach/Marina (in the future) to FiDi/SoMa, not in getting folks in from the South (where there is much greater residential growth at present).

        To be clear about my own ignorance, I admit I don’t know the current or projected commuting patterns of workers coming to central SoMa, though I do suspect quite a few will be from the East Bay, and possibly Mission Bay (and hence mention of a second BART crossing, with landing in Mission Bay, and misgivings about how well the Central Subway can serve Mission Bay above). I am curious how many come from the SW directions though (e.g. Mission/Outer Mission/Dally City areas).

        • Posted by zig

          if nothing else aligning all these new proposals with a true transportation vision might sell it politically. As it stands there will just be cycles of backlash

        • Posted by gentrified is a dirty word for clean

          More people live in Mission Bay and Dogpatch/Potrero than I think you realize. Bayview is also increasingly housing people who actually have real jobs and a downtown commute. Central Subway will cut almost 10 minutes off those people’s travel time to Market/Union Sq.

        • Posted by Orland

          That “horrendous” intersection at 4th/King will be much improved once the T is off the Embarcadero eliminating the need to turn onto King but makes a straight shot up 4th into the Central Subway.

      • Posted by jimbo

        i agree that they should raise height limits for all of soma. why not raise western SOma to 120 ft at the same time, so we can have the drop down as get furhter from core. currently western soma is shamefully underzoned. 15000 housing units to 50000 jobs seems much better, as would be hosuing for 30K people.

        definitely need 2nd transbay tube and a geary subway

    • Posted by ahhh

      Sooner or later the bubble is going to pop, and until then trying to get as many solid companies in SF is a good idea to soften the blow.

      I’ll be almost a decade until a single new building is built anyway, so hopefully the central subway and other upgrades will be completed by then.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        Waiting for a nonexistent bubble to pop is no way to plan. Like it or not, this is the new normal. Our planning should reflect it.

        • Posted by ahhh

          There are big companies with solid bottom lines, but also many startups that need VC cash.

          When the economy inevitably goes down, these startups will all fail. Thus we need as many of them, so that enough survive and keep employing people.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            Some startups will fail. Others will keep growing.

      • Posted by Dave

        Not if the uber development City Hall PTB have their way. They are proposing an initiative to gut Prop M for the Central SOMA. Allowing, potentially, for 6 million feet of office space to be constructed before any tie-in to the proposed 7K units of housing. The housing component is an insult given the worsening housing crisis. 7K units?!? Hopefully residents won’t accept it.

        If the plan stands as is with the massive imbalance of housing to jobs there will be an initiative next fall to mandate a 1:1 or perhaps 2:1 ration in the Central SOMA. Better yet would be to mandate that ratio across all of SF. When this was being discussed at my neighborhood association meeting a few months back someone indeed suggested if there is going to be a citizen sponsored jobs/housing balance initiative it should apply to all of SF. We’ll see.

        • Posted by jimbo

          1:1 or 2:1 is too much. i could possible see mandating a 3:1 ratio or 4:1. i think the average unit is 2+ people

          • Posted by Dave

            It’s a bargaining chip for opponents of the plan prior to its approval. In response to a potential more restrictive control mandated by initiative, the hope is Planning will reduce the ration to 3:1 or so. We’ll see.

        • Posted by ahhh

          Why not? Gut Prop M while the market is hot. Build office space. When the economy goes down and all these startups fail, cheap office space will ensure quick recovery.

          Besides, Prop M forces the developer to pay for affordable housing up front, so we can build housing faster, earlier.

    • Posted by Joshua G

      I did actually look at the plan and several reports, and the 45K/7K number comes from the current job and housing ratio in SoMa. The city was just assuming it would stay the same. Since most of the zoning is changing to Mixed Use Office (which actually allows residential construction and hotels), I wouldn’t give those numbers a lot of weight: they could vary a lot in either direction.

    • Posted by Goodmaab50

      Because the cart goes in front of the horse in SF planning (real estate and bank driven) vs public needs and transit vision…..

  3. Posted by UnlivableCity

    Everything right now is about the Mayoral election. The for profit developer crowd wants Breed. Kim doesn’t want to appear as a front for the same bunch. So it’s a consensus: pause the crazy overdevelopment happening there and on Market/Van Ness so as not to smack an already angry hornets nest of voter fed-up-ness.

    • Posted by Pero

      Voters are fed up with the level of rents. If you want to win them over, offer more market and affordable housing.

      • Posted by Pero

        I think the tide has shifted. People realize that rents and house prices have been going up due to more housing demand. The SFH-owning NIMBYs are proposing a limit on ‘job growth’. I highly doubt this will play well with the renters of SF (who don’t happen to sit on a property worth +$1M). The fight is now between pushing affordable vs market rate housing. However, both cases argue for more housing supply.

    • Posted by JWS

      Interesting. Most voters in their 20s and 30s prioritize having places to live, reducing rents and housing prices, cleaning up streets and the homeless problem, strengthening public transportation, and improving schools. None of us care about changing the skyline, in fact virtually all of us welcome it as we can finally stop paying 50% of our incomes to rent.

      What infuriates me are “voters” who live in $500 a month rent-controlled apartments while our generation forks over 6-8 times that for the same place, and “voters” who freak out about encroaching shadows on the homes they bought for 6-8 times less than we’ll have to and pay peanuts in property taxes, continuing to screw future generations over by demanding they jump through absurd financial hurdles that you never even came close to having to meet yourself to live in a sh*tty place because you block everything being built.

      But you’re “progressive” right? I guess “progressive” is defined by…well…stopping progress.

      • Posted by Hunter

        Agree with JWS 100%. But I also believe that Jane Kim (who is pro-transit, cycling, and development) has encouraged more than 50% of the city’s new housing growth in her district over the last decade (and a big chunk of that is permanently affordable).

  4. Posted by donjuan

    IMO that plot with the 400 ft towers should be 800-900 ft. Make it a real destination in the city with the towers being a focal point.

    • Posted by Dave

      Disagree. The maximum height should be 15 stories or so. Eliminate most of the office component and the Central SOMA could accommodate more than 7K units of housing max’d out at 15 stories..

      SF is a low-rise city and there is no groundswell of support for tall buildings. Forget 800 – 900 feet – many oppose 300 and 400 foot tall buildings. SF will not see another 800 or 900 foot tower in our lifetimes. The fiasco of HSR which was the premise/excuse to increase heights there won’t be forgotten. There is a reason why LA, Seattle, Dallas and Houston have many parcels zoned for 800 foot plus towers and SF doesn’t (save for the TTC situation which was a one-off) and that is one thing that makes SF somewhat unique in this regard..

      • Posted by 101

        Disagree. SF is not a low-rise City and the TransBay District counters your assertion. Remember, it was ultra Lefty Daly who pushed for height in the TransBay District. There will be higher developments in the Market/Van Ness area and even along Market Street.
        LA/Seattle/Texas has one thing SF does not have, land to build.

        The notion of building more housing compared to Office is a flawed way of thinking. Property Taxes for Commeriical. Holding are far higher than residential properties. All you have to see is the mess in San Jose. They went on a residential building spree the past few decades and could not even keep their libraries and Firehouses open becuase of the population increase.

        • Posted by Dave

          Only a small portion of SF has high rise buildings. And expansion of that area is likely over with – with the Hub being perhaps the end of the high rise era in SF. Even there the highest zoned parcel is 600 feet. It does not seem like there will be another parcel zoned up to that height. No more 800 or 900 foot buildings will be built in SF in our lifetimes. The already approved Parcel F project will be it. No way Market is up-zoned.

          Indeed SF does not have any land to build upon and has no transportation capacity to support such building if there was the land. Time to shift office development to Oakland/the East Bay and more housing development there and also along El Camino which has beaucoup land upon which to build mid-rise housing upon.

      • Posted by JWS

        SF is consistently in the Top 5 for most high rise buildings in the US, and once I did the math and I believe we were #2 per capita. We have one of the densest collection of skyscrapers in the US. We’re not NY or Chicago but to assume we aren’t a city dominated by tall buildings is laughable. As usual I have no idea what you are smoking, Dave.

        • Posted by Dave

          SF is not dominated by tall buildings. They are found on only a small percentage of the city’s land mass. Less than 10%. That is the key – not the number of skyscrapers but rather the extent of such. SF is a low rise city and the zoning attests to that. A city dominated by 2, 3 and 4 story buildings. From the Sunset to the Richmond to the Mission to Lakeshore to Portrero and Bernal Heights to the Western SOMA and Haight Ashbury. Those areas will not be up-zoned (beyond 4, 5 or 6 stories) in our lifetimes. The high-rise area of the city has been pretty much built out.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            So you’re saying SF is a low rise city….except for where there are high-rises.

            I’m not as convinced as you are that it’s all built out. I sure hope not. We need housing and we have to put it somewhere.

          • Posted by 101

            Is this not true for any City. NY has Manhattan and residential out in Queens, Long Island Etc. All major cities have a CBD area and as it spreads out, is filled with low rises for residential.

          • Posted by JWS

            Dave, oh my God. That’s with all cities that aren’t named Hong Kong buddy. A central core of dense high-rises, and then less tall buildings as you spread out. Even NYC with its multiple clusters of high-rises is mostly 2-6 story low-rise neighborhoods once you get out of Manhattan. My brother lives out in Queens and many of my friends live in Brooklyn, and it’s totally SF density.

            Also it’s not remotely built out. There are still shorter buildings in financial/Rincon Hill that will be torn down over time. Clearly we are potentially spreading the high-rise district to CalTrain. The “Hub” (aka Mid-Market) is building or about to break ground on several skyscrapers, which will ease the acceptability of taller buildings into the hundreds and hundreds of 1, 2, and 3 story giant warehouses and parking lots all over SOMA and the Cesar Chavez/Potrero stretch around 13th that are totally underutilized land and wouldn’t be destroying the character of existing neighborhoods.

            “Our lifetimes”…I’m 30. I’m sure I’ll see many more highrises built.

            Nobody is going to build a skyscraper next to your picture perfect neighborhood you talk about so much. Relax. The rest of us that are under 40 would like somewhere to live that doesn’t cost half our paycheck. Our generation is going to be incredibly supportive of building. It already is.

            Relax. Change is OK. You complain all the time about not having enough housing here compared to what Seattle is doing, but any time a change needs to be made to the city to accommodate the housing you intellectually understand should be built, it’s “too tall”, “out of character”, “not the right place”, etc.

          • Posted by Dave

            @JWS – my man the old FiDi (as opposed to DiFi) is all but built out. A small number of short buildings on tiny lots that can’t be built up with 30 story buildings. One such lot is, IIRC, on/near Sansome and the proposal is to top the 2 story building with another 2 stories. Condos IIRC. The TTC parcels are mostly taken – with some of the projects years away like Parcel F but still there are not many available parcels for 300 story towers even in the TTC. Beyond that, a couple proposed parcels in the Central SOMA and likewise in the Hub (most zoned for 300 – 400 foot towers) is all there is. IMO there won’t be any significant up zoning (to 300/400 feet) of parcels beyond this. .

          • Posted by JWS

            15 years ago nobody was envisioning 300/400 footers in Mid-Market, a supertall with assorted 600-900 skyscrapers in the Transbay Area, a dozen or so residential skyscrapers in Rincon Hill, people assumed Yerba Buena was “built out”, certainly nobody would have imagined proposing 400 footers near Mission Bay…and yet here we are.

            As the cities needs grow, zoning changes. As we’ll need more housing and office space in the future (hell, we need more right now!) the hundreds if not thousands of parking lots, warehouses, and 1-3 story buildings all over SOMA, Transbay, Rincon Hill (you can see several 4-6 story buildings with the same footprint as a Lumina/Infinity type structure, eventually those will be gone), and Mid-Market will start to look like shoe-ins for upzoning. And the newer voters (20-30 year olds, I would even argue 20-40 year olds) don’t mind upzoning one bit. They all want to work in the new skyscrapers, and buildings like NEMA, Jasper, 399 Fremont, Infinity/Lumina are millennial status symbols in themselves.

            Nobody is going after historic neighborhoods. I can’t think of a single Victorian occupied building that was torn down for any of the new development. But as the generations change, we are moving more toward a city balance that is pro-development and pro-housing with every year. Of course there will be more upzonings and new construction. It’s inevitable.

      • Posted by cfb

        SF has been building high rises since the 1800’s, and has more of them than the vast majority of US cities. More than Seattle or Dallas, FYI, and not far behind LA and Houston despite the much smaller city limits size/population (the financial district probably has the densest cluster of high rises in the US, outside of NYC and maybe Chicago). Anyone saying that there aren’t many of them or that they don’t belong in SF is being silly.

        Also, there’s currently a 900’+ tower under construction/site prep (Oceanwide center), and another 800′ proposal (parcel F), and yet another 800′ tower is just finishing construction (181 Fremont)…so it looks like you’re wrong again, Dave.

  5. Posted by GR

    1 year for taking a decision. So slow .

  6. Posted by goodmaab50

    finish the DTX then you can go whatever speed you want till the trains are filled, then go for plan B…

  7. Posted by Goodmaab50

    Real transit planning is needed and not 40 years down the road……

  8. Posted by Pablito

    7,500 units of housing – 45,000 workers . That’s not planning. Over the last 20 years San Francisco has become one of the most economicaly unequal cities in the country. Thanks City Hall corporate shills…..

  9. Posted by Sam

    As a long time SOMA resident, I also believe that heights should be raised throughout central SOMA (not just a few politically connected developers) to accommodate more housing, lower housing costs and encourage less commuting to offices. The new SOMA plan is a commuter’s dream and an environmental disaster for us residents. With planning like this, the Planning Department should simply be abolished. How many negative comments does it take for Planning to listen?

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