SF to consider hiring, permit streamlining to speed up building 

click to enlarge Mayor Ed Lee
  • juan Pardo/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Mayor Ed Lee speaks at a Market Street construction site Thursday to announce new measures to speed up housing construction in San Francisco.
Construction cranes may be as ubiquitous in San Francisco as cable cars these days, but there is still a backlog of building projects and that’s been the case for at least a year.

That might change soon in light of two announcements by The City on Thursday to remove construction barriers and hasten the process.

The first came from Planning Department officials who said they aim to hire about 11 people to help whittle down their backlog.

The second came from Mayor Ed Lee in the form of streamlined permitting.

Both may complement Lee’s plans to build housing on a massive scale by speeding up the building process in a city whose housing stock has not kept pace with its population growth and whose housing costs are soaring.

The new hires at the Planning Department — funded through a $5.7 million surplus from fees — could be seen as part of The City’s quick reaction to demand. Department officials say the employees should help increase the number of projects under construction.

But a year ago, Lee promised to hire more planners for the same reason.

In February 2013, The City had hundreds of backlogged projects, with about three-quarters of them in early stages. Now, in the midst of a housing crisis, those positions proposed by Lee look like they will finally be filled.

In another step to speed up housing construction, Lee announced Thursday, in a soon-to-be-completed below-market-rate building on Market Street, that he has a new plan to speed up production.

As part of his vision to have 30,000 housing units built in The City by 2020, Lee told reporters he’s streamlined the permitting process, which often slows down housing construction.

The plan includes a coordination of permitting agencies so that the process is concurrent instead of passed from one agency to another.

The City will now prioritize any housing project that includes below-market-rate units, based on the number of such units offered.

The City also hopes to improve transparency so the public has a better idea of development procedure and the progress of meeting housing goals.

The changes all come from recommendations made to the mayor by a working group convened to find solutions to such problems.

The developer-funded 1600 Market St. project was spotlighted as an example of how The City can work with the private sector to get more below-market-rate units built in San Francisco.

“I believe this is really the model for how affordable housing should be done in San Francisco,” Supervisor London Breed said. “This is a case where we are doing it right.”

Any housing development in San Francisco must either include a percentage of below-market-rate units, pay an in-lieu fee to The City if such units are not on site or — as in the case of 1600 Market St. — build such units off site.

But the Market Street units are among few examples — only 505 such off-site units are in The City’s 32,228-unit pipeline.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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