Planning to Wiener on Castro in-law legislation: Yes, but work on it

Supervisor Wiener speaking to the Planning Commission regarding accessory dwelling units (photo: SFGovTV)
Supervisor Wiener speaking to the Planning Commission regarding accessory dwelling units (photo: SFGovTV)
In-Law legislation boundaries. Blue circle indicates Montecito no build area.

In-Law legislation boundaries. Blue circle indicates Montecito no build area.

The Examiner reported yesterday that Supervisor Wiener’s sponsored in-law unit (or accessory dwelling unit) legislation passed the Planning Commission on March 6th and is enroute to the Board of Supervisors for final approval. We covered the proposal last year which includes lifting restrictions for property owners who have the space, or an existing garage, basement, or out building on their property to construct or convert it into a in-law unit. These units must be fully functioning with a bathroom and kitchen and be no smaller than 220 sqft and no larger than 750 sqft. The legislation applies only to properties within 1750 feet of the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District and also prohibits any construction of in-law units within 500 feet of the Montecito North building at 4096 17th Street (Supervisor Wiener owns a condo in Montecito North and, due to California law, is not permitted to legislate a rezoning within 500 feet of property he owns).

Each new in-law unit built will be subject to rent control if an existing unit in the building is currently under rent control. In-law units added to pre-1979 units are subject to the full standards of San Francisco’s rent control regulations. In-law units added to post-1979 buildings would not be subject to rent control.

District 3 Supervisor David Chiu has also introduced in-law unit legislation which seeks to legalize existing illegal in-law units citywide. Chiu’s legislation does not increase housing availability, but it would protect existing tenants from eviction or harassment. We asked Supervisor Wiener if he supported David Chiu’s legislation and he mentioned he was actually co-sponsoring the plan.

The Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the Planning Commission endorsing Supervisor Wiener’s legislation and included specific points where they would see the legislation improved. The EVNA was initially skeptical of how effective this legislation would be at increasing the availability of housing stock in the Castro area and was mainly concerned that the legislation would be changing the planning code too dramatically and in too fine a geographic area for very little return. We reported back in February that the EVNA was surveying local property owners and renters to gauge their feedback on the legislation and their interest in participating in building an additional unit on their property. Results of the survey showed that 69% (120) strongly approve or approve, 6% (10) neither approve nor disapprove and 25% (44) disapprove or strongly disapprove of the legislation.

We asked Supervisor Wiener how many units he sees being built within the first year if his legislation passes. “I can’t say for sure, but it will take some time to ramp up. Our planning permit process is very slow for all construction, and this will be no exception. Also the Department of Building Inspection will need to issue bulletins relaxing the building code where appropriate, which will take some time. These timing issues — planning process and building code — apply to David Chiu’s legislation as well,” wrote the Supervisor.

Supervisor Wiener also mentioned that various folks have approached him expressing interest in building an in-law unit if the legislation passes, but that there are many cost variables to consider when adding a to-code unit onto an existing property. “People will need to assess how feasible it is for their particular building. It will work very well in some, but not all, buildings,” wrote Supervisor Wiener.

During the public comment period at the Planning Commission meeting many members of the community including folks from outside the Castro spoke in favor of the legislation. A representative from the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition also spoke in broad support of the legislation saying, “in essence we think we generally share the goals of the proposal by Supervisor Wiener and that there’s a number of positive elements to it.” The SFADC in addition to Planning Commission President Cindy Wu and other commissioners believe that Supervisor Wiener’s and Supervisor Chiu’s bills should be considered in tandem. They mentioned adapting Wiener’s legislation to include verbiage from Chiu’s legislation that protects renters by preventing TIC and condo-conversion of these new units and pushed Wiener to consider it at either the Land Use and Economic Development Committee or the full Board of Supervisors meeting.

Commissioner President Wu’s closing comment highlighted the fact that the term “middle-income” when it comes to housing affordability now more closely reflects those who make about $100k/year if you follow the one-third rule,

From the information that was provided it really seems like this is going to be more of a middle -income housing strategy and that’s fine, but I just want to be clear about what we’re talking about. The rents for the existing similarly-sized units, it looks like the median is about $2800 (per month) so in the staff report that was provided you would have to make a little bit over $100k (per year) as a single person to afford something like that. And so it’s hitting a certain part of the market and whether or not you want to call it middle-income can be up for debate.

Roy McKenzie

Roy has been a Castro resident since 2010 and is passionate about politics, camping, and food. Follow his babbling on Twitter.

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8 Responses

  1. Mitch Mansfield says:

    Looks and feels like a really nice band-aid for the vocal housing advocates’ wounds. But that’s how supervisors in this town get a name for themselves.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  2. Rob says:

    I don’t know about it being just a bandaid, but it’s better than nothing. And it’s more than the other supervisors have brought to the table lately.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  3. Mitch Mansfield says:

    Yes it is better than nothing, so why keep it just in the Castro? The whole thing is great for a few property owners, great for a few “in -laws” and great for a few votes. Don’t get me wrong as I will vote for the guy but when one puts this legislation into perspective, it is just like Harvey Milk stepping in dog poop.

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  4. Mitch Mansfield says:

    And thank you Castro Biscuit for bringing us actual comments from a Planning Commission hearing. It’s all happening at the Planning Commission these days and the more we all pay attention to that fact, the better. Nice reporting for us.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Castro Resident says:

    This is a terrible process in my opinion that has a miriad of unintended consequences and will not solve the problem. It is another one of the “seems like a good idea but is not”. In my view it is spot zoning. Why aribitrarily pick the Castro, why not try it out in Pacific Heights, or maybe Telegraph Hill, or Presidio Heights. Let’s see how it flies there.

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    • rblack says:

      Of course this one piece of legislation will not “solve the problem”, we need many different pieces both big and small to sort it out. We’re talking about a housing crisis that’s been decades in the making. We aren’t going to solve it in a year, and we aren’t going to solve it by doing one thing.

      One of the problems is developers who want to make a ton of money, but on the other extreme are the people who just don’t want to try anything but expect everything to change.

      Everyone on all sides are going to have to lose a bit in order for us to solve this problem. Stop digging in.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

      • Castro Resident says:

        These things are very hard to “try”. Once done, they are very hard to undo. So, picture this if you will. You save, and are able to buy a little place in the Castro. Nice block, small yard, you have a small backyard , one backyard neighbor and two side yard neighbors. Nice light and air, appropriate amount of noise for an urban neighborhood. Life is good. But now, the rules change. Those three little yards that surround your yard, each now have another dwelling on them that was never part of the code, never in the rule book when you bought your home, never factored into the price you paid for it. Life for you has completely changed. They each could have any number of people living in them. Now, instead of your little yard being surrounded by 3 other dwellings, with reasonable setbacks among the houses, you are surrounded by 6 dwellings with little to no setback. (A) how are you feeling about your little yard now? and (2) what do you think it does to the value of your investment?

        All I am saying is that this is not well thought through. Not digging in, just thinking.

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  1. April 8, 2014

    […] the SF Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation to allow the construction of new in-law units (or accessory dwelling units) in the Castro area. New units must be fully functioning with a bathroom and kitchen and be no smaller than 220 sqft […]

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