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California Senate stalls transit-housing bill

Citing not enough affordable housing, vote against leaves Senator Scott Wiener’s signature bill in limbo

After months of public wrangling and amendment, San Francisco’s State Senator Scott Wiener finally brought his signature transit-housing bill SB 827 before the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee in Sacramento Tuesday, where it stalled on a 6-4 vote that leaves it in limbo.

SB 827 would have radically changed how California cities zone for height and density by making it illegal to place height limits below four to five stories (depending on the locale) along major transit routes.

Thanks to San Francisco’s extensive bus network, this would have applied to virtually every parcel in the city. But even cities with far less skin in the game, like Lafayette and Berkeley, complained that the bill redirected too much control from local municipalities to the state.

Calling local control “important but not biblical,” Wiener again labored on Tuesday to frame the bill as a necessary step given the scope of the crisis.

Read more from Curbed SF

 

 

 

San Francisco’s homeless crisis is driving tourists away

San Francisco’s hotels are facing a serious problem.

The city’s idyllic image of the Golden Gate bridge and grandiose views of the bay are being replaced by concerns about needles and feces littering the streets, homeless citizens sleeping on sidewalks or in Bay Area Rapid Transit stations and aggression toward visitors by people with untreated mental illness. Visitors are noticing and rethinking booking events and vacations at hotels around the city.

San Francisco’s homeless population was down by 0.5% in 2017 compared to 2015, but is about 17% higher compared to 2013, according to SFist. While homelessness is nothing new for the city, hoteliers and local business say street conditions have worsened.

Within 153 blocks in downtown, there were over 300 piles of feces, 100 drug needles and trash on every block, a recent report by NBCBayArea revealed. Complaints of poor street conditions to 311 have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2016, 311, a city agency where visitors and residents can report issues or seek information about the city, received 44,000 complaints of encampments, human waste and needles, up from 6,300 complaints in 2011, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“[Visitors] are noticing it and hearing about it and saying, ‘well, why would I bring my conference here?’” Hotel Council of San Francisco Executive Director Kevin Carroll said.

Visitors often have rave reviews for the local restaurants and hotel service, but say they will not come back or will not bring their families here, he said.

San Francisco is not the only major West Coast city dealing with issues of homelessness and street conditions impacting tourism and hospitality. Anaheim, home to Disneyland with its spotless, litter-free Main Street, U.S.A., has the stark contrast of homeless people who live just outside the park. The city has been looking into ways to help its homeless population, such as providing emergency shelter and employment opportunities. Honolulu also took action in recent years on cleaning up the streets, including around its popular Waikiki area.

Read more from Bisnow

 

 

 

Wiener scales back bill that would allow taller housing near public transit

State Sen. Scott Wiener scales back a controversial housing proposal.

The proposed bill would strip local governments of their ability to block construction of taller and denser apartment and condominium buildings near public transit stops, and conceded the bill might not make it through the Legislature this year.

The San Francisco Democrat introduced amendments to his SB827 late Monday that would lower the maximum height of buildings that could go up as a result of the bill to five stories from eight. Also, the bill would take effect in 2021 instead of 2019.

Wiener made the amendments ahead of the bill’s first hearing April 17 in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. If passed, the bill will then head to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

“The bill is not guaranteed to survive either committee,” Wiener said Tuesday. “It’s a hard bill. Hopefully, we pass through these committees and live to fight another day, but if not, then we will try again next year. It’s very common in the Legislature that for hard bills, sometimes you have to try multiple times.”

The measure would override local height limits on proposed four- and five-story apartment and condo buildings in residential areas if they are within a half mile of major transit hubs, such as a BART or Caltrain station. It also would limit cities’ ability to block denser buildings within a quarter-mile of highly used bus and light-rail stops, but amendments eliminated new height requirements.

Read more from San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

Housing for North Berkeley BART?

BART and city leaders recently took the first steps toward a mixed-use housing development on the station’s parking lots, but there’s still a long road ahead.

In its early days, BART bulldozed houses to build massive parking lots for commuters to San Francisco, devastating several low-income communities in the East Bay. But then in the mid-1990s, the transit agency started a shift toward building housing, office, and retail around its stations instead. And during the past 15 years or so, the agency has been planning developments at most of its stations with surface parking lots — including projects at Ashby station in Berkeley and at most of its above-ground Oakland stations.

But the stations surrounding some of BART’s most desirable real estate have been excluded from development planning so far. For example, despite high home prices around the Rockridge BART station in North Oakland and the fact that it’s only a 20-minute ride to downtown San Francisco, BART has produced no development plans for the area to date.

For North Berkeley, a 25-minute ride from San Francisco, BART has at least considered building on the land. An overview of BART’s transit-oriented development strategy provided to this reporter last year included a map of existing, planned, and future development. North Berkeley was listed as a site for potential future development with 100-percent affordable housing, but BART had no more specific plans than that.

Read more from East Bay Express

 

 

San Francisco and Oakland Rents Inch up but Remain below Peak

Having ended last year lower than where they started, asking rents for apartments in San Francisco have inched up around one percent over the past two months, in part due to the typical seasonality in rents.

And in fact, based on a comparison of roughly 2,600 listings, the weighted average asking rent for an apartment in San Francisco, including one-off rentals as well as units in larger developments, is currently running around $4,100 a month, which is 0.9 percent lower versus the same time last year and 8.5 percent below its peak in the fourth quarter of 2015 with the average asking rent for a one-bedroom still running around $3,400 a month having ticked down from around $3,650.

At the same time, the weighted average asking rent for an apartment in Oakland is currently running around $2,450 a month which is 0.5 percent higher than at the same time last year but still 18 percent lower than a mid-2016 peak with the average asking rent for a one-bedroom still running around $2,100 a month, which remains around 40 percent cheaper than in San Francisco.

Read more from SocketSite

 

 

Scott Wiener’s controversial housing bill gained a big supporter in BART

The fight over SB 827, a proposed law from California State Sen. Scott Wiener to upzone development sites near transit centers, has supporters and detractors lining up in due course.

If approved by the legislature, the law would limit local control over density, parking spaces and heights for housing projects within a certain distance to transit stops. Proponents of the law pitch a symbiosis between housing development and transit options, with the proximity of the two mitigating traffic congestion.

Recently, the effort to pass the law added the region’s most heavily trafficked public transportation system as a proponent: Bay Area Rapid Transit. Earlier this month the BART Board narrowly voted 5-4 to support the measure.

In many cases, building on transit agency sites takes decades, with negotiations with multiple government agencies, substantial community input, difficulties with financing and expensive parking requirements all playing a role.

BART has shown a willingness to support transit oriented development before, approving a policy in 2016 that encourages 20,000 homes to be built on its land by 2040.

Read more from San Francisco Business Times

 

 

Dorm living for professionals comes to San Francisco

The middle-class backbone of San Francisco is looking to move into dorms.

In search of reasonable rent, the middle-class backbone of San Francisco — maitre d’s, teachers, bookstore managers, lounge musicians, copywriters and merchandise planners — are engaging in an unusual experiment in communal living: They are moving into dorms.

Shared bathrooms at the end of the hall and having no individual kitchen or living room is becoming less weird for some of the city’s workers thanks to Starcity, a new development company that is expressly creating dorms for many of the non-tech population.

Starcity has already opened three properties with 36 units. It has nine more in development and a wait list of 8,000 people. The company is buying a dozen more buildings (including one-star hotels, parking garages, office buildings and old retail stores), has raised $18.9 million in venture capital and hired a team of 26 people. Starcity said it was on track to have hundreds of units open around the San Francisco Bay Area this year, and thousands by 2019.

Read more from The New York Times

 

 

SF settles with landlord who rented ‘substandard housing’ to veterans

A Bayview district landlord accused by City Attorney Dennis Herrera of banking millions of dollars by squeezing formerly homeless veterans into cramped illegal dwelling units has agreed to pay the city a $2 million fine and bring all the buildings she owns into compliance with the law.

The terms of the settlement, which was reached last week on the eve of a trial of a city lawsuit, requires husband-and-wife landlords Judy Wu and Trent Zhu to bring 12 properties up to San Francisco building, fire and planning codes.

In a statement, Herrera said that Wu and Zhu “trafficked in substandard housing that endangered their residents and neighbors alike.”

“There is a reason we have building codes,” Herrera said. “They exist to prevent dangerous situations, like an improperly installed stove exploding and starting a fire that tears through a neighborhood.”

The lawsuit against the property owners identified 12 buildings with 15 legal units that were chopped up into spaces for 49 individual tenants. The leases, which brought in about $1 million a year in rent, contained jerry-rigged natural gas and water lines. Neighbors complained of over-crowding, noise, and sidewalks and backyards that became littered with mattresses, discarded furniture, stray cats and mounds of old clothing.

Read more from SFGate

Bay Area residents want more housing, but …

There are a few things locals aren’t willing to sacrifice to get more housing

Fed up with soaring prices that are increasingly putting home ownership, or even a decent rental, out of reach, Bay Area residents overwhelmingly say they want more housing built, according to a new poll. But it better not make their commutes worse.

Residents said they support everything from new single family homes to housing for the homeless in their communities, tossing aside NIMBY concerns that sometimes throw a wrench in building plans. But there were limits to their enthusiasm. Respondents balked at building anything that would cut into the Bay Area’s cherished open spaces or funnel more people onto crowded local freeways and public transit, making their treks to work longer.

Read more from The Mercury News

‘Oakland Is Hot’ And Everyone Is Finally Noticing

Oakland is shedding its old reputation as a city once plagued with crime, and developers and investors are scrambling to secure a foothold.

Thousands of units of housing are in the works and more people want to live here.

“We’re like the girl in middle school who just got her braces off,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said during a Bisnow event Tuesday. “We’ve always been cute, but suddenly everyone’s noticed us. … Oakland is hot.”

While Oakland still has more work to do, the city is safer than it once was, she said. Over the last five years, shootings have been reduced by 50%, armed robberies are down 55% and home burglaries are down 61%, according to Schaaf. She said Oakland is no longer on the top 10 list of most dangerous cities.

Despite the city’s growth, increased homelessness could undo some of the city’s progress.

“There’s something about how we develop housing that has not figured out how to adjust quickly to population shifts,” Schaaf said. “That’s not just an Oakland problem. That’s an international problem.”

Read more from Bisnow