November 8th Elections Update – Real Estate Edition

measures

Now that the election is a week behind us, the final results of the various political races and ballot measures are becoming clear. There are still 15,500 votes left to count as of November 15th, but many of the results are final. Below are the results that most impact land use and real estate in San Francisco.

Board of Supervisors

With Supervisors Stefani (D2), Mandelman (D8), and Walton (D10), cruising to easy re-elections, the focus has been on Districts 4 and 6. In both, the race has been between a mayoral-backed, moderate candidate and a Board-backed, progressive candidate. The outcome of these two races will shift the makeup of the Board and impact how land use decisions are made, particularly housing policy and project decisions. Currently, the Board leans more progressive and is somewhat conservative when deciding many land use decisions. Recent examples of project denials are 469 Stevenson Street and 450 O’Farrell Street – both of which may have been approved with a more moderate make up of Supervisors.

As of Tuesday November 15th, Joel Engardio is leading Supervisor Gordon Mar, the incumbent, in District 2 at 51% to 48.9%. In District 6, Supervisor Matt Dorsey has won the seat with 51.6% of the vote.

If the current count stands in District 2, then the balance of the Board of Supervisors is sure to tilt to a more moderate stance that is friendlier to the development of housing projects.

SF Propositions

There were 14 propositions on the November ballot, with the following of most interest to land use and real estate.

Prop D & Prop E – Fast Track Affordable Housing

These two measures were perhaps the most written about and discussed (at least in land use circles). Prop D was put on the ballot by the Mayor, Prop E by the Board of Supervisors. Both have a goal of streamlining the approval process for affordable housing developments. However, they differed in qualifying requirements, types and level of affordable units, and project review timing. Each needed a simple majority to pass; if both reached 50% then the measure receiving the most votes wins.

As of this writing, both measures are expected to fail. Neither has reached the 50% threshold, although Prop D is closer at 48.5% (compared to 45.3% for Prop E). With the defeat of Prop D, it will continue to be difficult to review, approve, and construct affordable housing in San Francisco.

Prop M – Vacancy Tax on Landlords

Perhaps one of the more controversial measures on the ballot, this measure will tax landlords that keep residential units vacant and off-market. It applies to property owners with at least three units who keep them vacant for more than 6 months. Fines start at $2,500 and $5,000 per empty unit, increasing annually. While this measure penalizes owners who choose not to be landlords or keep units vacant for a variety of reasons, it does exempt single-family and duplex owners. Meaning, owners of homes with Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and the like that are not rented out will be able to continue to keep them vacant.

Prop M passed with 53% of the vote, which some say shows how the citizens are fed up with the high number of empty units. For others, it is overreach into the private business doings of property owners.

Prop M contained language allowing the Board of Supervisors to amend the tax by 2/3rds vote and without voter approval. Meaning, those with ADUs may soon be subject to this tax. Regardless of how one feels about this, it will be interesting to watch how it plays out over the next several years.

Prop I & Prop J – Vehicles on JFK Drive and the Great Highway

Another set of competing land use measures, this time relating to keeping certain roads vehicle-free. Both were spurred by the Board of Supervisors approval to make JFK Drive permanently car-free in 2020. Prop I would allow cars back on JFK Drive, except on all Sundays, Saturdays during the summer, holidays and special events. Prop I would fully reopen the Great Highway to cars as well. Prop J would affirm the Board’s decision and keep JFK Drive vehicle-free.

Prop J overwhelmingly passed. Residents utilized JFK Drive during the COVID lockdown, and Rec & Park’s efforts to turn the road into a safe public gathering space helped people see the long-term benefits of keeping it car-free. Now that the road’s fate is determined, it will be interesting to see if the city can make it into a true public benefit.

Prop L – Sales Tax to Fund SFMTA Projects

This measure to extend the city’s 0.5% sales tax to fund transportation projects has passed with nearly 71% of the vote; it needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass. The current tax isn’t set to expire for years, but the last measure extending it set strict limits on how the money could be spent. Prop L would allow San Francisco to continue spending funds from the tax on categories where it has currently reached or is nearing its spending cap, including buying new light rail vehicles.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tara Sullivan.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Central SoMa Clean Up Legislation Moves Forward

SoMa

Last week, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of legislation that would “clean up” parts of the Administrative and Planning Code that were previously amended in connection with the Central SoMa Area Plan.

The Central SoMa Area Plan was the result of a multi-year planning effort which rezoned much of a 230-acre area adjacent to downtown and surrounding the future Central Subway extension along 4th Street, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2021.  The Plan is anticipated to generate nearly 16 million square feet of new housing and commercial space, and over $2 billion dollars in public benefits.

As described in the Planning Department’s staff report, this “clean up” legislation would correct “grammatical and syntactical errors, un-intentional cross-references and accidental additions and deletions,” associated with the original Plan legislation adopted in 2018.  However, there are also a few substantive amendments proposed, along with clean-up items that have the potential to affect pending and future development throughout the Plan area.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require an operations and maintenance strategy for all required Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) in the Plan area. This strategy would need to be approved by the Director of Planning prior to approval of a site or building permit for the associated project;
  • Provide that the Central SoMa PDR requirement applies to projects that increase a building’s square footage by 20% and result in 50,000 gsf of office space along with new construction projects that result in 50,000 gsf of office space;
  • Revise lot coverage requirements for residential uses in the Central SoMa SUD to reflect that all floor levels with residential space (including accessory residential spaces such as common rooms) would be limited to 80% lot coverage, except for floors whose only “residential” space is common lobbies and circulation. 100% lot coverage would be permitted at floors where residential units are located within 40 feet of a street-facing property line.  Further, projects with applications submitted on or prior to July 1, 2020 would be grandfathered from the proposed lot coverage amendments;
  • Clarify and correct which sides of narrow streets in Central SoMa are subject to solar plane setback and bulk reduction sky plane requirements;
  • Provide that buildings that are taller than would otherwise be allowed in a given height district are to follow the sky plane bulk reduction requirements of the height district that is most aligned with the height of the building;
  • Require that funds collected through the BMR in-lieu fee from Central SoMa projects be spent in the greater SoMa area;
  • Clarify that payment of an in-lieu fee for modifications or exceptions from open space requirements is only applicable where the exception or modification is granted to reduce the amount of open space provided, but not in cases where the exception is only related to design standards of the open space;
  • Provide that funds collected through the Central SoMa Community Facilities fee can be spent in the greater SoMa area, and not limited to the Central SoMa Special Use District;
  • Expand the types of infrastructure projects that can be funded through the Central SoMa Infrastructure Fee;
  • Allow project sponsors to meet part of their usable open space requirements off-site at a greater distance from the principal projects than initially proposed, particularly by enabling projects to build open space under and around the I-80 freeway within the Central SoMa Special Use District; and
  • Provide an exception allowing for certain retail to be provided in lieu of a portion of the PDR requirement in connection with development of a Key Site at the northeast corner of 5th and Brannan Streets.

An additional amendment was initially proposed that would have expanded application of certain development impact fees in Central SoMa.  However, that amendment was removed from the legislation at the request of the Commission.

This Central SoMa legislation will be introduced to the Board of Supervisors within the next few weeks.  It will then be held for 30 days before assignment to the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee for review and possible amendments, before it’s presented to the full Board for approval.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Melinda Sarjapur.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.