City Hall Watch: Building garages becomes harder 

New rules making it more difficult to build garages in three San Francisco neighborhoods were approved Tuesday and could open the door for similar restrictions elsewhere in The City.

Citing a number of recent tenant evictions followed by garage applications, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation that would make it more difficult to construct a garage — even prohibiting one in certain cases — in the North Beach, Chinatown and Telegraph Hill neighborhoods.

Chiu has said the measure is meant to preserve affordable housing and is in line with The City’s transit-first policy. 

The legislation was adopted in a 7-2 vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu opposed it. Supervisors John Avalos and Michela Alioto-Pier were excused from the meeting.

When allowed, construction of a garage would require a special permit that could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

“I don’t think the Board of Supervisors should be dealing with garage-permit appeals that are going to overrun the board now that this legislation has passed,” Elsbernd said. Instead, he said the Planning Commission and Board of Appeals should be responsible. Elsbernd also said other legislation will more “likely than not” follow that would apply the conditions “to the whole city.”

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who supported the legislation, expressed concern about the up to $20,000 cost of going through the special permit process.

A second and final vote on the legislation is scheduled for Feb. 23.

“You can get an approval for a conditional use [permit] if you are not eliminating housing, if you are not creating sidewalk accessibility issues, if you are not creating excessive loss of on-street parking, and if you are doing this within the residential design guidelines,” Chiu said. Also, no one can construct a garage if there was an Ellis Act eviction of a tenant during the past 10 years.

“We just want to make sure that if you are going to build a garage that it be done with sort of the best practices,” Chiu said.

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