San Francisco’s Planning Commission is slated to formally initiate the legislative process required to adopt San Francisco’s ambitious Central SoMa Plan this Thursday, March 1, a move which shouldn’t catch any plugged-in readers by surprise.

Once formally initiated, the countdown of a mandated 20-day “notice period” will commence, after which the Commission could hold its public hearing(s) on the plan and act.

And if successfully heard and recommended by the Commission, the Central SoMa Plan could be adopted by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors this summer or fall.

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 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 ahhh

    I know there will be arguments on both sides, but this does force developers to pay up front funds and fees that will go towards building much needed housing. So housing will get built early instead of at the tail end.

    Also with businesses thinking of leaving San Franciscos sky high office space and housing costs nowadays, more and cheaper office rent space is always nice. Better to build now when things are hot.

    • Posted by Dave

      Not really. Why is it developers and some SF officials are pushing an exemption from M in the Central SOMA area? To allow all the office space to be front loaded in the first years with housing taking a second place. New office construction must be tied to actual construction of new housing, Say the final jobs/housing ratio is 3:1, this would mean additional office space beyond 500K feet could not be approved until 800 or so housing units were under construction/completed.

      Short of a plan with teeth that forces housing to be built now and not down the road this plan will only worsen the housing crisis. The hearings should be interesting – there is strong opposition to the plan with demands for a more balanced jobs/housing ratio and height concerns seeming to be the two major issues..

      • Posted by SFRealist

        Agree that there should be more housing, but it’s tough to imagine a plan that does more to increase property values for those who already own in ess-eff.

      • Posted by ahhh

        You’re dead wrong. This bill forces them to pay housing costs up front to the city.

        Also, this is the last space in the city connected to multiple major transit lines, so the need to build housing is much less.

  2. Posted by Trevor N

    “additional 7,500 units of housing and enough office space for an additional 45,000 workers”

    Great. We’ll house every sixth worker? What?

    • Posted by scott f

      Exactly. There was no reason Central + Western SoMa couldn’t be rezoned to allow office space for 45,000 workers plus 45,000 homes, except NIMBY opposition to more than a token number of tall buildings.

      As to the oft-heard talking point that “it’s just one other neighborhood, other neighborhoods will build the housing”: So far, no one has been able to show me what other neighborhood SF Planning is rezoning to allow an additional 30,000 homes. Maybe that’s because … it doesn’t exist. There is no plan to house these workers anywhere in San Francisco.

      All the large projects along the future Central Subway and T line are biased toward job space. Forest City 5M: 4,000 jobs, 688 homes. Mission Rock: 10,000 jobs, 1600 homes. Pier 70: 7,300 to 15,300 jobs, 1600 to 3,000 homes. This plan, as written, will make a chronic housing deficit in San Francisco and the Bay Area even worse.

      • Posted by Mark

        Oh come on. Let’s face it. You can build hundreds of thousands of housing units in the city but the majority of them will remain unaffordable to most folks. Land is expensive. Building costs are expensive. Developers want to make a profit. The problem of affordability was ignored far too long over the past 20-30 years. Too little, too late. Once you eliminate a sizeable socio-economic class (like the middle class) the chances of luring them back are slim to none. They will leave and relocate elsewhere or simply not come here at all. I’m not deriding the Bay Area, but merely pointing out a simple fact that has gone past the point of no return.

        • Posted by SFRealist

          How do you define most? They will be affordable to the people who buy or rent them. On aggregate, increasing supply will cost the price.

    • Posted by donjuan

      to be fair, central soma is literally footsteps from Caltrain…making it a work corridor for the whole peninsula.

  3. Posted by JWS

    Usually I am pro-housing but this plan makes sense. Central SOMA is the last sliver of land with which to build Class A office space that is directly served by transit. BART, Muni Metro, Central Subway, CalTrain all dump workers right here. This is appropriate to add jobs, although every unit of housing we can also add is appropriate.

    This is why projects like the towers in the Hub plan, West Oakland towers near BART, Bay Meadows in San Mateo, etc are so important. That allows the workers to live right on transit that funnels them into the job center.

    • Posted by Panhandle Pro

      Agreed. I disagree with Dave and others who think it should be 1:1 office/housing, everywhere. SOMA and the Financial District is the premiere job center of the entire Bay Area. If there’s a place to build offices, this is it. The rest of the region can lean residential. And while it’s not an issue right now, a lack of modern office space could hinder future job growth (as it’s doing in Oakland, I believe).

      • Posted by JWS

        Not to mention that I think the idea of 1:1 housing for the new job centers is also off the mark in the sense that many employees will not choose to live in Central SOMA anyway. The highest paid execs will still want trophy properties in Pac Heights, Atherton, Marin, whatever. Janitors, receptionists, even office administrators and junior employees will not be able to afford SF new construction prices (this is not something I take pride in, mind you, just being realistic). Workers with families will still eye suburban properties (Bay Meadows in San Mateo, right on top of CalTrain, comes to mind). If we created 45,000 jobs, I’d wager really only a fraction would choose to, or be able to, live in the housing anyway.

        This is why, though, I’m incredibly supportive of adding dense housing options on MUNI Metro and BART stations that funnel in, so all the proposed activity for The Hub is incredibly exciting. Some suburban cities (San Mateo and San Carlos and RWC, for example) are doing their fair share by adding housing on top of CalTrain. Some (Brisbane, Millbrae, Palo Alto, etc) are balking or delaying.

        • Posted by Zig

          This comment seems a bit off. San Mateo country has a pretty bad jobs housing balance as well with a lot of commuting from the East Bay. Bay Meadows housing like all of San Mateo is expensive

      • Posted by Notcom

        So let me get this strait: job growth is being hindered in Oakland b/c of a lack of development of modern office space there, and yet we should continue to concentrate office space in SF.

        • Posted by ahhh

          What does Oakland have to do with this? If there is office demand in Oakland, it will be built.

        • Posted by Panhandle Pro

          I think we should continue to build modern office space in downtown SF, downtown OAK, downtown San Jose etc.

          I have heard from a number of commercial real estate folks that downtown Oakland’s commercial growth – specifically with startups – is being hindered by truly awful office space that does not fit a tech vibe.

          SOMA has done well because the former industrial spaces convert well to startup spaces. However, most of those need to be demolished for 5-30 story buildings that could be residential, office, or both.

      • Posted by scott f

        San Francisco as a whole produced only 1 new home for every 8 new jobs added over the last five years. The core Bay Area including inner suburbs barely did better: 1 home per 6 jobs. Large developments like Mission Rock, 5M, Pier 70, and India Basin don’t offset this trend, they continue it, each one adding more workers than homes.

        There is no booming residential neighborhood that’s going to offset the housing deficit in the Central SoMa Plan. That being the case, this plan is untenable.

        • Posted by Hunter

          I agree. We need to add space for jobs near our best transit, but we *also* need to add housing here, particularly because there’s less opposition to building some UP than other hoods that are doing everything they can to block any housing over 4 stories.

    • Posted by Mark

      Which workers? Those in tech who can afford a $3500/month studio apartment? Or, families of non-tech white collar workers?

  4. Posted by Martin

    I think the absorption rate of newly built housing is just much slower than office space. Lumina produced 650 units that begun selling in Oct, 2014. Here were are nearly 3.5 years later, and they still have a few units on the market. Cheaper units always go first, but profits are in expensive units and you always end up with a mix.

    Apartments likely have a faster absorption rate, but it would be interesting to run some numbers to get a feel for how fast housing should be built. Developers or larger units – like Tishman’s Buttercup – will want/need to start building sooner given the huge risks they take with a capital outlay with their large towers.

  5. Posted by unlivable city

    The graphic says it all: all those little gray blobs eventually will become ugly “could be anywhere, me-too” ticky tacky vertical sprawl boxes.

    Cautions like ‘the wrong side of history’ or ‘karma’ or any other common-sense *human* words of warning about the shear grossness of all this (and the equally squalid “hub” monstrosities) land of course on the deaf ears of the greedy and corrupt.

    But it is very true that being on the wrong side of history is basically what constitutes hell. And SF is in for some hellishness to come from all this.

    • Posted by ahhh

      You must think every city on the planet are ” ticky tacky vertical sprawl boxes.”

      History tells us businesses and cities will lead innovation and development, bringing jobs and prosperity for most people.

    • Posted by SFRealist

      “Vertical sprawl” is nonsensical.

    • Posted by Anonymous

      Yeah, they’re just as bad as Soviet housing blocs and Bronx projects. Oh wait…

    • Posted by Jk

      I mean. Better leave those as empty parking lots, right?

    • Posted by Anon123

      Is it greedy to build with the intend of making a profit?
      And corrupt? The definition of that would be public employees and elected officials taking bribes from developers – do you really think that is what it takes to build new construction? Or is it possible that some elected officials think that new construction is good, and don’t take bribes to support it?

    • Posted by Dave

      This will catch up with SF. Once Chase Center is built and they squeeze 7K or more jobs into Pier 70 and 5K or so into Mission Rock on top of what is planned, there will be gridlock and some companies will walk away. Their employees can’t afford to live here, the roads are in disrepair and there is near permanent gridlock in the SOMA area. Oh, and the streets are filthier – right now – than those of some third world cities as featured on the recent NBC expose

      • Posted by Anon123

        Yes, this will be the end – companies & their employees will flee to better places like Sacramento and Fresno! Rents and home prices will crater and PDR will become the backbone of the SF economy.

        • Posted by cleverpunhere

          “Vertical sprawl” is my favorite NIMBY term yet.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        SF will be so popular that no one will go there anymore.

      • Posted by JWS

        Yeah just like all those companies left NY, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, and how the entertainment world left LA after they all get expensive and crowded. Wall Street, the big six studios, and Honda are all scheduled to complete relocate to Charlottesville and Eugene, where the grass is green and the buildings are short. Facebook, Google, Apple will all ditch their brand new campuses and join the rest!

        • Posted by Dave

          A bit of hyperbole don’t you think. This will catch up with SF insofar as companies will move away or not expand here for “quality of life” reasons. The whole BA for that matter will experience this and signs, such as very anemic growth compared to Seattle, the Texas cities, Atlanta, Phoenix, portend a less robust future for the region compared to other regions. No, home prices will not collapse – they will appreciate at a significantly slower pace but, if you are waiting for a bargain Sunset special, it likely will not happen.

          • Posted by Anon123

            But isn’t that your goal Dave? – to stop the continued development in SF and force companies that want to expand to go expand somewhere else? No additional offices in SF! No additional jobs!

  6. Posted by moratorium

    If you haven’t already, please write to Supervisor Jane Kim and anyone else who has any influence in local politics to demand an inversion of the jobs to housing ratio. As is, the central SOMA plan calls for only 7,500 units of housing and 45,000 jobs. We cannot accommodate the jobs that are already here. This will only exasperate the dire situation that we are already in. No more jobs!

    • Posted by Sigh

      Why would you need to build housing when these buildings are in the middle of multiple major transit lines?

      The economy isn’t going to be this hot forever. Build when you can.

      • Posted by Zig

        BART is at capacity peak hours at some downtown stations and Caltrain is packed as well. The central subway is MickeyMouse

        I generally support the theory of very dense office nodes but our investment in infastructure is woeful

        • Posted by Mark

          Exactly. Our existing transit systems are stretched beyond capacity.

        • Posted by Dave

          Office nodes yes. As they are evolving in the Washington DC metro, in the gold rush city to the north and in LA. The problem is the Bay Area does not really have such nodes. It’s the SV and then the SF CBD that are really the only two intense office centers. Instead of building more offices in the two existing centers they should be built in the Oakland CBD which could easily absorb tens of millions of feet of office space given it’s abundance of transportation links. Concord and the Tri-Valley area could support significantly more office development. That would give workers there easy proximity to relatively affordable housing.

          The truth is SF is physically approaching build-out. In terms of being able to accommodate additional mega office projects. Upzoning the Central SOMA for offices is a last gasp effort by some to eek out a bit more intense office development. But why? And why not build housing in the Central SOMA and repurpose the HP/CP office component to all residential and drop the much to large office component in the Pier &0 project. And, in so doing, allow office development to naturally flow to new emerging office nodes.

          • Posted by Out of Town

            Except large scale office development doesn’t naturally flow away from the center – it gravitates towards it. What naturally flows away is back office functions, non-profits, PDR etc. What you are trying to do is turn the investments in a different direction that you think would be easier to manage from an urban planning perspective. And that is what a lot of planning efforts are about – making rules and restrictions that can turn the “natural” flow of capital to places that have more need and can better accommodate growth.

          • Posted by Dave

            Such development can naturally flow in different directions with a bit of a push. Seattle, LA, Washington DC are experiencing this and those metros will be better positioned to compete with other metros because of all the benefits that derive from a dispersion of business nodes. The factionalism in the Bay Area prevents this from happening here. As an example, if SF and Oakland were one city the planning right now would be shifting all major office development from the west Bay side of that imaginary city to the east Bay side. There would be two downtown cores and indeed the Oakland side would likely be planned to have a larger office component than the SF side for transportation and accessibility reasons. Of course, in that scenario, HSR would have come the east Bay side of this “city”. If only.

          • Posted by Anon123

            “Such development can naturally flow in different directions with a bit of a push.”

            You want to push it because it doesn’t naturally flow. And yes, if the business center of the bay area was located in Oakland, that is where the HSR would have a station assuming that it ever makes it to the Bay Area – a lot of hypothetical.

          • Posted by SFRealist

            In the existing world, people have preferred San Francisco over Oakland for the last 170 years, as seen by the difference in real estate prices. People and companies want to be located in SF.

          • Posted by Out of Town

            Where does Bay Area companies expand when they can’t build in San Francisco? Oakland? Or up and down the peninsula into San Jose? That may not be a bad thing for the good people currently living in SF, it’s just what is.

      • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

        Why force a commute when you can provide options that do not require a long commute? Granted, commuting on transit is better than driving but still the time required takes a toll.

    • Posted by jimbo

      this is good for the city. this is a jobs district. a good idea would be to upzone western soma so we can fill it with 12-15 floor condos and then is can be the residential hub next to this business hub

  7. Posted by Pablito

    There should be some attempt at a 1:1 housing/jobs ratio. This “plan” is absurd.

    Hopefully Oakland and San Mateo will sue – it pushes huge impacts into their communities.

    • Posted by Zig

      Not in inflame here but the idea that the central city has a housing jobs imbalance is normal. It is what intercity PT is predicated on the world over and why cities exist.

      That San Mateo country has about the same jobs housing ratio/imbalance as SF is crazy so maybe SF should sue them?

  8. Posted by JB10

    The Lee administration was essentially a rubber stamp for developers. Instead of simply processing developer plans the city should take a step back. First and foremost, what housing is required, where should it go, and how much of it should be skyscrapers. Speculative office development should take a back seat. The city is wealthy enough, if it used its resources properly, to focus on this.

    • Posted by jimbo

      i thought Lee blocked development way too much. we are still woefully adding to the city, and did woefully during Lee’s tenure

  9. Posted by Pablito

    SF threatens to sue it’s neighbors fairly regularly on the same topic. Sadly, it seems to be what passes for regional planning here.
    Was only last year that supervisors Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, and David Campos went after Brisbane on jobs housing balance. Even threatening annexation if the lawsuits did not prevail.
    SFBARF hypocritically went after Layfayette using the CA Housing Accountability Act as grounds and lost badly. Probably because it’s a law SF Planning routinely disregards itself.
    The current development pattern is ecologically unsustainable – maybe we need a proposition on the ballot that says all counties in the Bay Area must write the land use component of the general plan to have a 1:1 jobs housing balance….

  10. Posted by Michael M

    I support adding more housing to this mix. SF should practice what it preaches, especially when we are doing a lot better (relatively but still not enough) than most other Bay Area cities.

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