SF Supervisor Dean Preston has invited YIMBYs to view his housing record. They swept it away.


In the middle of a city struggling with a severe housing shortage are 15 plots of land now occupied by garbage-strewn parking lots, auto shops, a car wash and old government buildings. No apartment rises from these plots of San Francisco, but they could – thousands of them, many at affordable prices.

Planning officials have discussed allowing taller, denser apartment buildings on these plots around Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, an area known as the Hub, for more than a decade. . They are close to transit, after all. They wouldn’t move anyone. And they would create union jobs.

But at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee in June 2020, Supervisor Dean Preston persuaded his colleagues to delay the planning department’s decision to rezone the 15 plots for more density.

The changes would allow 1,300 additional housing units on the land, 350 of which are affordable, in addition to the thousands that are already OKd. The planners recommended that the committee approve the rezoning, as no developer would move in the middle of the process without specifying how many units can be built.

But at Preston’s urging, the committee decided the city should first conduct an equity study on the ramifications of allowing more housing on the plots.

“We will not allow more than six months for its completion,” Preston said at the time.

A homeless camp near the US Foods Chef’s Store off South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

Brontë Wittpenn / The Chronicle

But almost a year and a half later, such a fairness study does not exist. And no progress towards housing construction on the 15 plots has been made.

In line: To read Supervisor Dean Preston’s Housing Case Report, visit https://nimby.report/preston.

The story is just one example of Preston rejecting, restricting or delaying housing in a new report titled “Dean Preston’s Housing Graveyard” compiled by advocates for more housing construction.

He revealed that since his inauguration in December 2019, the lawyer and progressive tenant rights activist has opposed development plans and legislative proposals – at city and state level – that could have produced enough. units to house over 28,000 people – including enough affordable housing for almost 8,500 people. That total includes his opposition to state laws that could have potentially added about 23,000 households.

In those cases, the outcome didn’t depend on Preston’s vote – but counting the number of units he opposed is a big part of his record nonetheless.

For other projects, like the Hub Bundles, his actions directly changed the outcome. In those examples, Preston has blocked or delayed enough units to house 8,587 people – an average of 12 people per day since taking office, according to the report. The vast majority of them come from the Hub project; the majority of units could technically continue now, but won’t, as the rezoning process drags on and developers await firm responses.

Some of the projects listed in the report could potentially be built – like the Hub and the infamous Nordstrom valet transformation near Sixth and Market streets – and could potentially be improved due to delays. But there is real concern that San Francisco city officials are not approving enough homes in their quest for the perfect project.

The authors of the report – all members of local YIMBY groups that support building more housing for people of all income levels – started with Preston because they believe he is “the worst offender” and because they are all current and former residents of Preston District Five. The report authors will review each supervisor’s housing records, and this column will cover each of them.

I shared the report with Preston, who called it “one-sided” and “pretend”.

“Reading it is like a fantastic children’s book, kind of like Alice in YIMBY Land,” he joked.

San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston spoke last month in the Fillmore District at an event aimed at preventing evictions.

San Francisco supervisor Dean Preston spoke last month in the Fillmore District at an event aimed at preventing evictions.

Roland Li / The Chronicle

He said seeking improvements to projects, including the equity study for the Hub lots, is not the same as blocking homes. He highlighted his work to keep people housed – including drafting Proposal I to raise up to $ 200 million a year for affordable housing by increasing taxes on property transfers, passing eviction bans during the pandemic and by funding tenants’ rights to a lawyer if they are faced with eviction.

Preston said he had voted in favor of more than 5,000 housing units, including 39% affordable, since taking office, citing, among other things, developments at the Potrero power plant and the Balboa reservoir. He added that he was “one of the state’s foremost advocates” for tenants’ rights and affordable housing.

Asked about Preston’s housing case and his approach to the Hub Project, Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for the Mayor of London Breed, said the repeated postponement of projects had real impacts.

“When housing is pushed back due to a lack of political will, appeals or bureaucracy, it means years that people have no housing,” Cretan said. “This means years when everyone sees the price of their home keep going up. This means years when more and more people who grew up here cannot find housing and are forced to leave the city.

To be clear, not all of these delays are due to Preston. He’s in good company among the supervisors thwarting the creation of needed housing – just look at the recent 8-3 vote to cancel 495 housing units, 24% of which are affordable, in the Nordstrom valet parking lot on Stevenson Street.

One of the report’s authors, David Broockman, associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley, said his dive into Preston’s housing case revealed repeated excuses the supervisor had given for not supporting the projects , even those with a high percentage of affordable units.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area who are in need of housing, and they cannot wait for the hypothetical perfect housing that he seems to have in mind to fall from the sky,” Broockman said. “No matter what accommodation is offered, he always finds a reason to say it’s not good enough.

Broockman lives on the outskirts of District Five at the east end of Page Street and said he could only afford a house there due to a mortgage assistance program he accessed through through his work. He moved from Texas, where he was bullied for being gay, and laments that the housing shortage in San Francisco and the resulting sky-high prices mean the city is a haven for fewer people.

Broockman and a few friends got the idea for the report after seeing the Supervisor trolling YIMBYs on Twitter, their favorite social platform. Preston often tells those who support more housing of all types that they are twisting his case – that he is in favor of housing, he just wants it to be affordable.

“He tweets a lot. He kept saying, ‘Look at my file. Look at my file, ”said Vitor Baccetti, another of the report’s authors, who immigrated from Brazil five years ago to work in the tech industry. “So we did it.”

Broockman, Baccetti and a few other volunteers have spent their free time since February plotting planning documents, watching meetings and making requests for public documents in an attempt to detail Preston’s votes and positions on housing.

His vote was taken in the Nordstrom valet parking lot. There was his pressure to block the sale of a Japantown hotel to the city so that it could become permanent supportive housing for over 100 homeless people; the owner of the hotel has withdrawn from the agreement, and it will remain a destination for tourists. There was his vote against transforming a gas station and car wash on Divisadero Street into 186 units, 36 of which are affordable.

Then there was opposition from Preston to the expansion of the UCSF Hospital and Research Center on Parnassus Heights, which would add 1,263 housing units, of which around 40% was priced below the rate. of the market. The UC board still approved the plan, but they were sued by various community groups allied with Preston, including the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, led by John Elberling. He also runs TODCO, the powerful owner of affordable housing who successfully appealed for project approval on the Nordstrom lot.

Regarding the Hub, Preston and the other members of the land use committee have authorized three different plots with firmer development plans. TODCO and other community groups had made deals with these developers in advance, including paying off-site affordable housing, and supported the zoning change, Elberling told me.

But Preston and the other supervisors, Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safaí, cut off the other 15 plots for the equity study. This study was to be led by Elberling and TODCO and completed by December 2020.

Elberling said TODCO would not receive any money from the city to conduct the study and had hired a Southern California consulting firm to carry it out.

“The consultant couldn’t complete it, and we put it aside because of COVID,” he said, adding that TODCO will find a new consultant to complete the study. Expect that, he said, sometime in 2022.

In the meantime, the 15 lots will remain as they are. Unappealing, underutilized and a stark reminder of why the city’s housing crisis persists.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf


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