Commentary

Commentary: Sandra Lee Fewer

A Case for ‘Yes’ on Prop. E

By Sandra Lee Fewer

This November, San Francisco voters will have the opportunity to vote on two housing measures: Propositions D and E. 

When you first read the ballot arguments, it sounds as if both propositions are pretty much the same. Both are vehicles to create more housing and both are described as affordable housing measures. 

However, these two propositions are very different, and voters would be wise to understand those differences. Since the State of California has mandated that San Francisco increases its housing stock by adding 82,000 new units of housing by 2035, the west side of the City will be greatly impacted. Which of these ballot measures succeeds will determine, in large part, how development proceeds on the west side for years to come 

After reviewing the State 2022 Housing Element, much of the development is planned to happen on the west side of the City by increasing density, building taller buildings along transit corridors and allowing fourplexes in areas not on transit corridors, replacing many single family homes. Since the state has eliminated zoning for single-family homes (RH1 zoning), any land where there is currently a single-family home may be turned into a multi-unit building, including homes in the Seacliff, West Portal, St. Francis Woods, Forest Hill, Presidio Terrace, and many more areas where there are exclusively single-family homes. This is one reason why westside voters need to be aware of these two November ballot measures – they directly affect us. The question is not if more housing will be built, but how, for whom and why.

Proposition D was placed on the ballot after an expensive and massive signature drive that cost more than $1.2 million. The effort was mainly funded by three tech billionaires, which makes perfect sense since tech has a history of driving up prices for San Francisco’s housing stock instead of creating their own workforce housing or investing in new development. Prop. D, advertised as “Affordable Homes Now,” defines affordable housing as units accessible to those with incomes of up to $135,800 for individuals and $193,950 for families of four. 

Proposition E was placed on the ballot by a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors. Prop. E is known as “Homes for Families and Workers,” and defines affordable housing as units accessible to those with incomes of up to $116,400 as individuals and $166,250 for a family of four. There are other stark differences. Prop. D requires an average of 25% affordable housing citywide, whereas Prop. E requires a higher threshold of an average of 30% citywide. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Prop. D completely eliminates any oversight or approval of new projects by the Board of Supervisors and seeks to permanently change the City Charter to reflect that change. This means that every qualifying development approved by the Planning Department is rubber stamped, without any fiscal or policy oversight. Another stark difference is that Prop. E requires affordable family housing of two- and three-bedroom units, whereas Prop. D allows all affordable housing units to be studios, exactly what tech needs for their workers.  When San Francisco has the lowest child population of all major cities in this country, it makes sense to support and encourage more families to live here. If we build it, they will come, and hopefully stay.

It is no wonder that Prop. D has been dubbed a “developer’s dream.” It gives developers free reign to build without oversight for people who make a substantial amount of money. It does not require developers to build for families and workers, which San Francisco has a shortage of. 

Millions will undoubtedly be poured into trying to pass Prop. D, because after all, hundreds of millions of dollars are to be made if Prop. D passes. It’s also ironic that Prop. D is called “Affordable Homes Now” when the measure has no requirement on construction timelines whereas Prop. E requires a two-year construction timeline. Just another difference in the fundamentals of how, for whom and why housing is being built. You can review the Housing Element draft at sfhousingelement.org.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” – Barack Obama

Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.

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