• Land Use Showdown: Battle Lines Are Drawn in SB 827 Housing Density and Height Debate

    [Originally posted on March 19, 2018, updated on April 11, 2018]

    Building on the state’s major housing legislation from 2017, Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827 proposes major increases in height and density for qualifying housing developments. A project would generally qualify if it is within either a 1/2 mile radius of a major transit stop or a 1/4 mile radius of a stop on a high-quality bus corridor, as defined in the bill. The legislation was introduced in January and was amended on March 1 and April 9, principally to address tenant relocation and inclusionary housing concerns and to extend the operative date of the bill to January 1, 2021 (with a potential one-time one-year extension) to address timing concerns raised by San Francisco and other local jurisdictions. For qualifying sites, permitted heights would be at least 45 to 55 feet (originally, 45 to 85 feet), regardless of local height limits, unless the height increase would result in a specific, adverse impact, as defined in the bill. Major areas of the state, including large portions of several of its largest cities, would be affected.

    Battle lines have emerged, with supporters such as SPUR, SFHAC, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Bay Area Council, and California YIMBY claiming that the legislation is a bold, necessary solution to the housing affordability and climate change crises. Opponents such as the City of Palo Alto, League of California Cities, and the Sierra Club of California assert that it is a threat to neighborhood stability and an invitation to gentrification.

    On March 15, the Planning Commission held an informational hearing on SB 827, and the Planning Department prepared a detailed analysis of how it would apply in San Francisco. The report concludes that SB 827 would apply throughout most of San Francisco and would significantly upzone most of the areas of the City where there has traditionally been resistance to increasing height and density limits. Among questions and concerns raised in the report:

    • The height limits would be additive to state density bonus incentives and could result in heights greater than proposed in the legislation.
    • The City could continue to enforce certain objective design standards (for example, to require building sculpting), as long as certain minimum floor area ratio (FAR) limits are preserved. However, the bill’s language creates some uncertainty about exactly what local discretion is retained.
    • The legislation does not include funding or time for local jurisdictions to study and implement impact fees to mitigate effects of the upzoning. The April 9 amendments attempt to address this concern.

    At the Planning Commission hearing, there was support for some of the objectives of the legislation, but Commissioners generally expressed concern about the “one-size-fits-all” approach and potential negative consequences for San Francisco if the bill passes in its current form.

    On April 3, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took a formal position in opposition to the legislation.  Previously, following vigorous public debate, the Land Use and Transportation Committee approved amendments to a resolution in opposition to SB 827. The resolution was reframed to urge amendments that would preserve certain local control and allow the economic benefit of height and density increases to be recaptured for affordable housing and other public benefits.  The full Board rejected the Committee’s recommendation and instead approved a resolution introduced by Supervisor Peskin opposing the bill.  The vote was 8-3, with Supervisors Breed, Safai and Sheehy opposed. Opposition was generally focused on the legislation’s impact on local control, lack of public benefits and mitigation, and tenant displacement.  Proponents emphasized the magnitude of the state-wide housing crisis and advocated for amendments to address displacement and other issues.

  • San Francisco Finally Poised to Adopt Central SoMa Plan

    [Originally posted on March 23, 2018, updated on April 11, 2018]

    Following more than six years of planning and public outreach, the City initiated the formal approval process for the Central SoMa Plan (Plan) at the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission on February 27 and March 1, respectively. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and Planning Commission held informational hearings on the Plan on March 21 and March 22, respectively. The HPC also considered initiation of the formal landmark designation process for certain buildings and districts identified during the Plan process. The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the EIR and approvals on May 10, with the Board considering the legislation thereafter.

    The Planning Commission’s approval package is over 600 pages, and the modifications proposed to the current land use controls are extensive. The summary below highlights some of the key changes proposed in the draft documents and describes those very generally. Please see the implementing legislation for specific language and details.  As evidenced by Commissioner comment at the March 22 hearing, there is continued focus on the jobs/housing balance in the Plan area, with possible changes to increase the number of potential housing sites.

    Plan Overview

    The Plan area is an approximately 230-acre site that runs roughly from 2nd Street to 6th Street, and from Market Street to Townsend Street, excluding certain areas north of Folsom Street that are part of the Downtown Plan. Very broadly, the Plan and implementing legislation would increase height and density and streamline zoning controls for certain properties. In exchange for this upzoning, the legislation would impose increased community benefits requirements, as described below. The legislative package includes amendments to the General Plan (including adoption of the Plan), Planning Code, Administrative Code, and Zoning Maps. The City’s analysis concludes that the Plan area has development capacity for up to 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units, and will generate about $2 billion in development impact fees.

    Key Zoning Controls

    Under the new zoning controls, the predominant new base zoning district would be Central SoMa Mixed Use-Office (CMUO). The CMUO zoning would largely replace relatively restrictive zoning districts with more flexible, mixed-use zoning. Certain subareas would remain principally designated for residential, PDR or other non-residential uses. The Plan area would also be subject to a Special Use District overlay (SUD). Some of the major SUD controls are: designating the largest sites (over 30,000 square feet) South of Harrison Street as predominantly non-residential, imposing new and replacement PDR requirements on certain larger sites, designating areas where nighttime entertainment is principally or conditionally permitted, and imposing active ground floor use requirements, including requiring “micro-retail” units of 1,000 square feet or less, and limiting formula retail uses. The SUD also extends the Transferable Development Rights (TDR) program to historic buildings and 100% affordable housing sites in the Plan area, and requires purchase of TDRs from the Plan area or the Downtown’s C-3 Districts for a portion of the FAR (between 3.0:1 and 4.25:1) for certain large (over 49,999 square feet) non-residential projects.

    Current height limits in the Plan area are generally 85 feet or less, with heights up to 130 feet allowed on some parcels close to the Downtown Plan area. Under the Plan, in certain areas (generally near the Caltrain Station, along 4th Street, and adjacent to the Downtown Plan area and Rincon Hill), height limits are proposed up to 130-160 feet, subject to bulk controls to encourage building sculpting. A limited number of these parcels are proposed for towers 200-400 feet in height.

    Exactions and Public Benefits

    The Plan and its implementing legislation include detailed requirements regarding public benefits, urban design, streetscape and other key controls, including an “urban room” concept that encourages building area up to the sidewalk edge and a height equivalent to the width of the street. “Skyplane” (performance-based and setback) controls would apply to building heights beyond the base urban room. The controls also seek to limit the impact of the major towers through separation requirements and floorplate limits.  Projects proposing more than 50,000 square feet of most non-residential uses (except PDR) are required to provide privately owned public open space (POPOS) or pay an in-lieu fee, similar to the Downtown C-3 Districts. The Plan and zoning controls also address sustainability (for example, through living roof, solar photovoltaic, thermal systems and greenhouse gas-free electricity requirements), as well as streetscape improvements and other strategies to limit parking and enhance pedestrian, bicycle and transit conditions. These include, for example, banning or limiting curb cuts, prioritizing on-site loading, and capping residential parking at 0.5 spaces per unit, and office parking at one space per 3,500 square feet.

    The implementing legislation for the Plan also includes new development impact fees and taxes to fund proposed community benefits, including community facilities, transit, affordable housing, and open space. These exactions would be imposed by tier (Tier A 15-45 feet, Tier B 50-85 feet, and Tier C 90 feet or more). The Planning Department staff report includes a draft Public Benefits Program that summarizes the sources and uses of development impact fees and taxes generated by new development in the Plan area. Pages 18-21 include a fee analysis for prototypical non-residential and residential development, with the applicability and amount varying by Tier, and in some cases by square footage and other criteria. In addition to existing City-wide fees, the new development impact fees and taxes proposed for most Plan area projects include the Central SoMa Community Infrastructure Fee, the Central SoMa Community Services Facilities Fee, and participation in a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District (CFD). As explained above, TDR and POPOS requirements would also apply to certain non-residential projects.

    Changes Proposed in Planning Department Staff Report

    The Planning Department staff report for the April 12 hearing makes two recommended changes to address public and Commissioner comments regarding the jobs-housing balance. First, the zoning would be revised to allow two larger sites that were previously anticipated as primarily commercial to become primarily residential, resulting in approximately 640 additional units. Second, several additional sites would be designated Central SOMA Mixed Use Office, which is expected to yield another approximately 600 units, for a combined increase of over 1,200 units from what was originally proposed in the Plan.

    We will continue to monitor the proposed legislation and implementing documents through the approval process.

  • Justice & Diversity Center Honors Coblentz Attorneys as Outstanding Volunteers in Public Service

    Coblentz attorneys Duff Beach, Jeff Bernstein, Misti Schmidt, Howard Slavitt, Joy Spezeski, and Katharine Van Dusen were honored by the Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco (JDC) as 2017 Outstanding Volunteers. Each year at the annual volunteer appreciation celebration, JDC recognizes and thanks the top 15 percent of people who have made extraordinary contributions to the organization, including JDC’s Pro Bono Legal Services Program, Homeless Advocacy Project, Immigrant Legal Defense Program, and Diversity Educational Programs. Last year, over 2,000 volunteers assisted more than 9,000 low-income clients through legal representation, and related social services, in nearly every area of civil law.  Volunteers also provided over 700 students with counseling, coaching and mentoring in efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession.

    “JDC is thrilled to recognize all our guests who partnered with us to provide access to justice, and to a more diverse legal profession. We’re also deeply grateful and honored to have the Courts join us in expressing gratitude for public service”, said Gloria Chun, Director and Managing Attorney of JDC’s Pro Bono Legal Services Program.

    The JDC advances fairness and equality by providing pro bono legal services to low-income people and educational programs that foster diversity in the legal profession. JDC is the largest legal services providers in San Francisco. JDC’s programs serve approximately 9,500 disadvantaged San Franciscans a year, with the overarching goal of assisting the community’s most vulnerable members with accessing the judicial system and strengthening their personal, professional, and economic security.

    Categories: News
  • Sara Finigan Joins Danna Kozerski as Coblentz Co-Managing Partner

    Coblentz is pleased to announce that Sara Finigan has joined Danna Kozerski in serving as the firm’s Co-Managing Partners. Sara practices in the firm’s Corporate group and specializes in serving clients in the negotiation and funding of joint ventures for the development of real property. She also helps both corporate and individual clients develop and implement strategies to navigate complex business matters. She was previously chair of the firm’s Corporate practice group and was named a Top 100 Lawyer in California. In the community, Sara serves on the Board of Directors of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

    For over a decade, Danna has been working alongside Alan Gennis and Jeff Knowles as the firm’s three Co-Managing Partners. The Partnership is extremely grateful to Alan and Jeff for their remarkable years of service at the firm’s helm. Both Alan and Jeff continue their respective real estate and litigation practices.

    Danna Kozerski represents developers and companies in a wide range of commercial real estate transactions including financing, leasing, and acquisitions and dispositions of office buildings, museums, shopping centers, residential developments and mixed-use projects. She specializes in public/private partnerships and the formation of joint ventures. In addition to serving as a Co-Managing Partner for over a decade, Danna was previously chair of the firm’s Real Estate practice group. Danna is an elected member of the Policy Advisory Board for the University of California, Berkeley’s Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, and an elected Fellow of The American College of Real Estate Lawyers (ACREL), the premier organization of U.S. real estate lawyers.

    Categories: News