Scott Wiener’s war on local planning

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

His next round of housing bills force cities to accept growth and displacement—without giving them the money or tools to mitigate it

On January 19, I attended UCLA Extension’s 2018 Land Use Law and Planning Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Seated in long rows of tables under the glittering chandeliers of the hotel’s Crystal Ballroom, hundreds of elected and appointed public officials, developers, attorneys, and consultants are annually briefed by sharp pro-growth land-use lawyers and other like-minded experts on the latest California land-use legislation and case law.

This year the star of the show was State Senator Scott Wiener. He earned that role by authoring SB 35, the controversial “by-right” housing bill that Governor Brown signed into law in September. Like his fellow Yimbys, Wiener believes in a supply-side, build-baby-build solution to California’s housing woes and blames those woes on local jurisdictions’ resistance to new residential development. He presents himself as a brave policymaker who grapples with hard issues that others have dodged—an image belied by his evasive responses to my questions…

SB 827

Drafted by California Yimby Executive Director Brian Hanlon, and coauthored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), SB 827 would prohibit cities from limiting heights to lower than 45 feet (six stories) or 85 feet (eight stories)—depending on the width of the street—on parcels within a half-mile of a “major transit stop” or a quarter-mile of “a high-quality transit corridor.” For such parcels, SB 827 would also suspend local parking minimums, density restrictions, and “any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.”…

SB 828

Wiener’s companion bill, SB 828, would exponentially increase both cities’ Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNAs) and state authority over local land use planning. I’m going to review the bill in wonky detail, because though SB 827 has gotten the lion’s share of publicity, support, and pushback, SB 828 is likely to have at least as much impact… (more)

Lots of details are covered in the article. Please read the entire story.

We attended the Town Hall Meeting, along with a group of citizens from Marin and Senator Wiener’s district 8 Noe Valley neighborhood. We’ll post a link to the video that was shot of the meeting, and anticipate more from Zelda on this subject.

A lively opposition group is already being formed to fight this legislation that grabs power from local governments and centralizes controls over local zoning. Many people who support development do not support this power grab from the state.


Homes in SF, some historic, illegally demolished by developers

By J.K. Dineen : sfchronicle – excerpt

In early December, the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection received a permit application to demolish a home at 49 Hopkins St., a 1935 modernist residence just east of Twin Peaks that was designed by famed architect Richard Neutra.
But there was a problem with the application: The house had been torn down two months earlier. All that remained of the white, two-story redwood-and-concrete-block home was a garage door and frame. The rest of the house, one of five structures the pioneering modernist designed in San Francisco, had been carried off in dump trucks…

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Russian Hill, Chinatown and North Beach, said he’s drafting legislation that would impose penalties substantial enough to discourage illegal knockdowns.

“The signal that is sent time and again is that you can demolish even some of the most important historic, iconic buildings in the city with impunity,” Peskin said. “It really speaks to an attitude and a culture in our planning and building departments that nothing is sacred.”…

“It’s serial lying and serial fraud over and over again, and they get away with it,” said Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards.

Planning Department Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez said imposing a five-year stop-work order penalizes neighbors who have to live with the detritus of the aborted construction project. It also temporarily eliminates a housing unit. But he agreed that the current penalties are not much of a deterrent.

“We don’t have anything in the planning code that addresses those violations,” he said….(more)

What really makes America great or unique? We used to have trust in a system of law that relied on well-intentioned citizens electing officials to write laws that the public respected and agreed to abide by.

We no longer have trust in government and we no longer have a honest citizenry. Now we are faced by the daunting option of anarchy or an over-bearing government that over regulates us. There is no over-seeing eye in the sky that watches out for our interest. The enforcement system relies on public complaints to investigate illegal activities.

If you see something that looks “wrong” you must file a complaint with the zoning administrator and that report may eventually get the attention it deserves. As Planning Department Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez points out, the options for reprisal are limited.

Can we pass stricter laws with higher penalties that may stop these illegal actions? Perhaps, but, that will not happen overnight. Perhaps we need to extend the penalties to the contractors and others who are involved in the demolition, or encourage neighbors to do a lot more checking as they see construction sites go up next door. Look up those permit numbers to see what is included in the approved plans, and call anything suspicious to the attention of your supervisor.

The enforcement system should be a large part of any conversation with candidates for mayor and supervisor as we move into this highly charged campaign. Ask them for solutions and support the ones with the best answers for solving the problems you want dealt with.

For a really interesting presentation on a CEQA Exemption argument at the Board of Supervisors Meeting on January 9, 2018. Will try to get the link after the live show, but, this is the 3 PM special hearing. The property under appeal is at 2417 Green Street. Other than historic resource protection issue and this one has it all. – possible flooding or soil issues, a famous Holloywood filmmaker, contaminated soil, poor soil that is protected under the soil-protection act protection act and other issues raised by a geotechnical engineer; the historical resource is built on a brick foundation in poor soil and the plan is to anchor their foundation to the brick foundation on the poor soil. I don’t see how they can deny this appeal.

Governor Brown Vetoes Flawed AB 890, Signals Preference for More Comprehensive CEQA Reform

Miller Starr Regalia : lexology – excerpt

Fortunately, Governor Brown was receptive to the bill’s many critics, and struck a blow for local land use control, local initiative rights, CEQA reform and commence sense by vetoing it. His short letter to Assembly members, which can be found here, states in pertinent part that “[i]nstead of the piecemeal approach taken in this bill, I prefer a more comprehensive CEQA review, which takes into account both the urgent need for more housing and thoughtful environmental analysis. Hear, hear!…(more)

The Opposite of CEQA Reform: Legally Flawed AB 890 Would Expand Opportunities For CEQA Litigation Abuse While Abridging Constitutional Local Initiative Rights,”
by Arthur F. Coon and Bryan W. Wenter, AICP, posted September 19, 2017.)

One Oak’s OK Challenged

: sfweekly – excerpt

An appeal has been filed against an enormous Van Ness and Market housing development.

Last year, construction workers broke ground on a $316 million project to speed up the buses that run along Van Ness Avenue — the vital north-south corridor that serves the center of the city. Dedicated bus lanes, improved boarding stations, and new vehicles will make getting from Russian Hill to Civic Center smoother, faster, and safer, when the project is completed in 2019.

“This marks a significant step forward in making transit faster and more reliable on Van Ness Avenue,” said Mayor Ed Lee when the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT) launched. “We will be improving a crucial travel corridor in San Francisco. When this project is completed, everyone can enjoy a safer, better Van Ness Avenue.”.

The project sounds great. But several residential developments coming to Van Ness Avenue and Market Street could derail the millions of dollars the city, state, and taxpayers have committed to speeding up this transit corridor, thanks to the impending arrival of hundreds of privately owned vehicles, which threaten to clog up this transit-rich artery. Or so claims Jason Henderson, who last month filed an appeal of the city’s decision to allow One Oak, a 304-unit luxury apartment building, to begin construction without a thorough review of the traffic impacts its 136 parking spots will have on the neighborhood… (more)


More hearings on Water Quality and Groundwater Safety concerns

Guest writer:

Dear Water Warriors,

If SF has plenty of water in storage*, why is the city blending?
The state may be requiring SF to do so but…why?
How much is DPW involved in this “blended” water project?
After all, pipes are repaired, re-routed by DPW…& if there is an “emergency,” aren’t there federal funds?**  Could this be part of OneBayArea Plan to support the 1 million people for our future city? But since we don’t have the $, do they need to mess with it and then “fix” it? Hate to think so…but really, why? See some detailed information about other city experiments with changing water sources in the links below:

“San Francisco Ordered to Stop Using Century-Old Water Rights” (KQED 6/26/2015) according to Steve Ritchie: “We have plenty of water in storage.”

“Fight over senior water rights splashes into the Capitol” (SF Chronicle 3/21/16)

Senior water rights data – California

PBS link to “Poisoned Water” video about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis:

** Flint received $10 billion from the federal government to “fix” the water emergency problem (subsidies ran out, water rates increased):

Flint said it was costing them too much for their water system so was this all just to get $$$? to be used like wherever the officials wanted? This is so weird.

There’s a bunch of other articles on Flint on the pbs website:

SF apartment project faces delay for casting shadow on park

By J.K. Dineen : sfgate – excerpt

It was a showdown between badly needed housing and precious open space on South of Market’s hardscrabble Sixth Street.

And on Thursday, open space won out — at least for now.

In a rare decision, the Planning and Recreation and Park commissions forced the developer of a proposed 84-unit apartment complex at 301 Sixth St. to redesign the project after residents and community advocates complained that the 82-foot-high building would cast a shadow on the Gene Friend Recreation Center(more)

This is a rare moment indeed, and shows a new respect for preservation of natural light on open space that has been losing a lot of ground lately. The hows and whys of this decision including the likelihood of it being repeated on other outdoor areas is hard to gauge, but we remain hopeful that the commissions charged with preserving our quality of life will continue to do that.


Timeline: Lawyers for Developers Share Tactics to Blunt CEQA

By Kevin Stark : SFpublicpress – excerpt

Why the rush to build on the lowest levels of the bay?

In 1995, the Diablo Valley Ranch, a drug rehab facility in Contra Costa County, planned to expand. The problem? According to neighbors, the land it wanted to build on was contaminated with oil and toxic chemicals.

The company made what was then an obscure argument: The California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, the state’s premiere environmental law, did not require developers to consider how the environment might influence its project, only how the project would affect the environment.

Today, developers are using the same reasoning to push back on the ability of Bay Area cities to regulate waterfront development and protect residents from rising sea levels, a product of human-caused climate change. Over the last two decades, as developers won over judges in more and more state courts, lawyers began peppering these phrases in environmental impact reports, lawsuits and responses to public comment…

November 2016: RULING

Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure; Golden State Warriors Arena LLC — The Court of Appeal rules in favor of the Golden State Warriors basketball team in its application for a $1 billion development including a sports arena and office complex. The legal challenge had focused on the effects on traffic and wind patterns, mentioning sea level rise only parenthetically.

Defendants argue correctly that CEQA does not require analysis of the wind impacts on the project. “[T]he purpose of an FSEIR is to identify the significant effects of a project on the environment, not the significant effects of the environment on the project.”

December 2016: ACTION

San Francisco’s Natural Resources Management Plan — The City of San Francisco, which owns a golf course and natural area in coastal San Mateo County, issues a wide-ranging parks management plan calling for keeping the level of wetlands artificially stable. In comments, the Sierra Club objects that the proposal “will lack any resiliency in the face of increased climate stress and inevitable sea-level rise.”

“The purpose of an EIR is to provide public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect which a proposed project is likely to have on the environment.”(more)

Regardless of how your feel about global warming and sea level rise, pay more attention to who supports the candidates if you don’t like these rulings.

Moving away from “environmental reviews” that favor driving: San Francisco, Mountain View, Menlo Park

greencaltrain – excerpt

Three recent environmental reviews reveal the dramatic transition under way in California’s assessment of the transportation impacts of new buildings.

San Francisco’s Central SOMA plan is the first “Environmental Impact Report” (EIR) in the Bay Area that we know of for a land use plan that moves away from a method of analysis that favors driving and promotes car-centric place design.   San Francisco’s recent report, using new rules, is dramatically different from new reports in Mountain View and Menlo Park, cities that have been transitioning to less car-centric policies, but still use the older standard in environmental reviews…

Mountain View North Bayshore

The City of Mountain View also places a high priority on reducing the share of driving in the North Bayshore area, where Google is headquartered. The North Bayshore precise plan requires a reduction in drivealone mode share from the current rate around 60% to 45% in the time frame of the plan.  This year, the city is updating its North Bayshore Precise Plan to incorporate housing, transforming a single use office park into a mixed-use neighborhood with housing and services…

Menlo Park – El Camino near Caltrain

Menlo Park is another city that has been updating its policies and plans to more effectively support multi-modal travel, though its multi-modal policies are less strong than those of Mountain View.  Like Mountain View, Menlo Park has not yet made the shift to VMT. Menlo Park recently adopted a new General Plan. Updates to its Transportation Impact Analysis guidelines, including rules to incorporate the use of VMT, and changes to transportation impact fees, are proposed for a transportation guidelines update to be completed in 2018… (more)

SF Planning Rules Swirl with Sewage to Clog Affordable Housing Pipeline

By Lena Wenus : missionlocal – excerpt

All it takes to delay an affordable housing project in San Francisco is $578 and filling out a simple form.

Take the case of the affordable housing project at 2060-2070 Folsom Street, where one neighbor’s list of complaints – including one about sewage and flooding – could stall the project for as long as six months.

Margaret Eve-Lynne Miyasaki, a neighbor of the project, recently paid $578 to file a request for a discretionary review of the 127-unit, nine-story project. The Plannign Commission approved the project in July 2016 – some thought, finally – after a multi-year process that included multiple changes including making it taller.

No matter. Miyasaki’s form, filed on Feb. 8, triggers a new hearing of the seven-member commission… (more)

I’m not questioning the building so much as I question the design of the park that is covered by concrete. If an impervious groundcover can absorb runoff, why are they pouring concrete on every inch of the “park”? Why don’t they plant grass or ground cover or make it into an edible garden for the neighborhood to share?  How can they complain about a parking lot or sidewalks and streets when they are covering a park with concrete?

Not a good week for the earth

Bad news out of Washington and City Hall this week. I will not dwell on Washington as it is all over the news. Not so much on the decision at City Hall that could result in the killing of our urban forest in order to bring back the native grasses and brush that greeted the Spanish explorers when they landed.


Poison is in. Human access to the parks and trails, and free dog runs are on their way out, or will be severely limited if the program, as planned, is executed.

The Board of supervisors voted 9-1 (Jane Kim was excused prior to the vote) to deny the appeal to the Natural Areas Plan that will kill many trees and spread what is widely considered to be a dangerous carcinogen on our parks to manage their demise. This decision was based on a Programmatic EIR, and may effect many projects city wide. At the same time, each project may face a potential appeal and budget constraints as it comes up. This is step one in efforts to force major changes in how the parks are managed. The battle is lost but the war continues.

In the words of Park and Rec representatives taken from the transcript: “We did an analysis that was appropriate for a project level review and that was-so the tree removal that we are talking about large scale tree removal was evaluated at a program level so what that means is we don’t have the information to specific information to do a very detailed project level analysis. That would happen during a subsequent review. When rec and park comes to planning later on and says here is our project and it fits under the category of large scale tree removal we evaluate in the EIR and if we find new significant impacts not were not identified another level of environmental review is required at that nt in time.”

For more details on this plan and to be updated on efforts to stop the projects as they come up, please go to this petition site for links etc. If you want to continue to support the efforts to stop this sign the petition and stay tuned to the messages coming out of this and many other environmental groups who oppose the plan.

Some notes from the February 28, Board of Supervisors Meeting:

1. SF Supervisor Norman Yee voted in support of saving the trees and stopping the pesticides! He voted yes to appeal the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the plan. This was the most important outcome because the Mt. Davidson Forest resides in the area he was elected to represent, District 7 in San Francisco.

This took an incredible amount of courage by Supervisor Yee, as the pressure from SF Rec and Park to support the deforestation was immense.

Please send Supervisor Yee a quick note of thanks for voting to save the Mt. Davidson Forest from chainsaws and pesticides!

Supervisor Norman Yee

2. Pesticide Issue Highlighted: Supervisor Yee is especially concerned about SF Rec and Park’s use of toxic herbicides like Roundup to kill the trees permanently. He was unsatisfied with the Department’s answers to the questions about increased pesticides and the potential runoff into the Miraloma Elementary School. He doesn’t feel these issues were adequately studied. “That bothers me a lot. I will be supporting the appeal,” said Supervisor Yee.

New SF Supervisor Jeff Sheehy for District 8 launched an epic line of questioning about pesticides. He started with, “Walk me through the herbicides and the use of Roundup in parks” and then asked every single tough question one could imagine. “Will these chemicals migrate into the groundwater?”… “It doesn’t sound like you reviewed it.”“How can you say that you are using the same amount when you will be using more?”… Supervisor Sheehy concluded, “These herbicides make the parks unusable.”

Please send Supervisor Sheehy a quick note of thanks for standing up for public health and saying no to Roundup in our parks!

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy

New Supervisor Hillary Ronen for District 9 also noted that the answers SF Rec and Park provided about the pesticides were “unsatisfying.”

Supervisors Sheehy, Yee and Ronen have valid concerns. Glyphosate in Roundup is a probable carcinogen according to the World Health Organization. A 2014 study by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that glyphosate accumulates in groundwater and even in rainfall. Do we really want it raining Roundup in San Francisco? Groundwater is now being mixed into our tapwater, and the risk of poisoning residents is real.

SF Rec and Park tries to pass the buck on pesticides to the SF Department of the Environment. They say they are just following SF Environment’s Integrated Pest Management Program which allows poisonous chemicals like Roundup, Aquamaster, and Garlon to be sprayed in parks where children play.

RELATED News:  Judge Blocks Monsanto’s Bid to Stop California From Listing Glyphosate as Carcinogenic California could become the first state to require Monsanto to label its glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, as a possible carcinogen following Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan’s tentative ruling on Friday… The OEHHA made the decision following the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) findings that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)” in March 2015… (more)

3. Old Trees Matter:  Both SF Planning and SF Rec and Park went on the record as saying that old trees sequester more carbon than young trees. That is an encouraging sign. Back in November 2016, they were asserting the opposite which is one of the reasons I started this petition. Recent studies prove just how valuable large, old trees are in the fight against climate change. So let’s plant trees and save trees both!

4. Craziest Lines: Here are some of the craziest things people said last night:

“Eating bacon has the same risk factor as Roundup” – Lisa Wayne, SF Rec and Park

”Wild places do not take care of themselves” – Phil Ginsburg, GM, SF Rec and Park

“You can walk into Home Depot and buy Roundup” – Lisa Wayne, SF Rec and Park

“These trees don’t matter because they are all going to die at some point anyway”  SF Planning describing trees that can live another 200 years

“The environment is under attack. This plan represents best practices” – Phil Ginsburg, GM, SF Rec and Park

“This arena is going to cause more traffic congestion!” – from a member of the public who crashes every meeting

FORESTRY vs. NATURAL RESOURCES: Trees under the Forestry division of SF Rec and Park get managed. Trees under the Natural Resources division get cut down. This is a distinction that virtually nobody understands.

People are persuaded to support the Natural Resources plan because “our forests need to be managed.” This is supposed to be the job of Forestry. The intention of Natural Resources is to take San Francisco’s landscape back to how it looked in the 1700s. It was a fairly desolate place with sand dunes, scrub, and limited trees only in creek beds. Many of these park forests haven’t been “managed” because they were transferred over to Natural Resources who has been trying to cut them down for 10 years.

THE FUTURE: In the future, SF Rec and Park may try again to destroy the Mt. Davidson Forest. Hopefully not! If so, this would be subject to public review, and we could ask for your help again in standing up for the trees.

For San Francisco residents, if you see a Park Bond on the ballot, please scrutinize the fine print carefully. If you see language about “restoration of parks”, this can mean cutting down healthy trees and converting them to bushes. Please advocate in advance for what you do want in the bond. SF Rec and Park has $1 billion in deferred maintenance. SF taxpayers would rather the Department spend precious dollars on basic maintenance and new playgrounds, rather than deforestation… (more)