In August, the Land Use Committee met to discuss the upcoming November ballot measures we felt would have a direct impact on Duboce Triangle, consistent with land use topics discussed in the past – public transportation funding and affordable housing production. The committee tends to ‘nerd out’ on these types of policies and used this meeting to get into the weeds on these initiatives. The discussion centered on reviewing the pros and cons of each measure and giving everyone an opportunity to share their perspective. The ballot measures the committee discussed were: Props D & E - the competing affordable housing streamlining measures, Prop L - a renewal of an existing sales tax for transportation funding, and Prop M - the proposed residential vacancy tax.
Prop L - Sales Tax for Transportation Projects
The committee started the discussion with Prop L, as it seemed the least contested measure on our docket to discuss. A YES vote on this proposition would maintain an existing sales tax used to fund a wide variety of transportation projects - such as public transportation and pedestrian improvements. The committee has long been in support of investments in our roads, sidewalks, and transit lines. As an extension of a tax already in place and generating important revenue, everyone in the meeting expressed support for Prop L.
Prop M - Tax on Keeping Residential Units Vacant
This residential vacancy tax is similar in spirit to the retail vacancy tax (Prop D, approved by voters in 2020), but in this case would apply to vacant residential units. If passed, Prop M would introduce a new tax on landlords/homeowners who have a unit vacant for more than half the year. The tax would only apply to buildings with three or more units (including condos). There are several exemptions from the new tax, including units being renovated. The tax varies depending on the size of the unit, would increase over time, and the revenue would help fund affordable housing.
Overall, neighbors agreed with the concept of incentivizing landlords to fill vacant units but felt this new tax would not have a significant impact. While supporters liked that revenue would go towards affordable housing, they acknowledged it would likely not be a large amount. Some neighbors who opposed the new tax felt it would be another bureaucratic hoop for landlords to jump through but acknowledged that most small-scale landlords would not be affected (single-family and duplexes being exempt). Other opponents felt the tax did not go far enough and were concerned with the money and personnel that would be needed to enforce the tax. Sentiments in the meeting were split, with about half expressing support and the other half not in favor of the residential vacancy tax - no side particularly passionate either way.
Props D & E - Affordable Housing Streamlining
The majority of the meeting was spent comparing and discussing Prop D (Affordable Housing – Initiative Petition) and Prop M (Affordable Housing – Board of Supervisors). The discussion was guided by a comparison chart of the two measures. Essentially, Prop D was created by a coalition of housing advocates & developers to allow projects with 25% or more affordable units to skip discretionary reviews (Board of Supervisors and CEQA) and would only have to undergo objective reviews (Planning, Building, and Fire departments). Prop E was created by the Board of Supervisors in reaction to Prop D and would allow projects with 30% or more affordable units to skip discretionary reviews while maintaining the option for the Board of Supervisors to review & approve.
There was a general skepticism over the intent of both propositions. Several neighbors felt that the Board of Supervisors has voted down housing for political reasons (not based on the merits of the projects), and CEQA has been used to kill housing. Those folks felt that Prop E was performative in nature - laudable goals but wouldn't really produce more housing while maintaining the Supervisor’s ability to kill housing. Those in favor of Prop E felt that some oversight by the Board of Supervisors should be maintained (allowing neighborhood associations like DTNA to play a role in housing approvals) and that additional streamlining could happen in other areas of the planning process. On the flip side, even the neighbors who expressed skepticism of a developer-funded initiative expressed support for Prop D. Those felt that it was a financially sensible simplification of the planning process that would actually generate desperately needed new housing. Some supporters of Prop D went as far as to say that they would support any measure that limits the Board of Supervisors power to veto housing (in reference to 469 Stevenson St). By the end of the discussion, most neighbors were in support of Prop D (Affordable Homes Now).
For more details on measures discussed, visit the Land Use page on dtna.org. To partake in future meetings like the one described, email firstname.lastname@example.org to join the Land Use email list!
By Kevin Riley, Land Use Committee Chair