This afternoon, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider whether to require further environmental review of the city's Central SoMa plan for new housing and office space, weighing concerns about public health and safety during and after the plan’s implementation.
After more than seven years of negotiations, the final environmental review for the Central SoMa plan was approved by the SF Planning Commission in May.
The plan centers on the area between Second to Sixth streets and Market and Townsend streets. It aims to add office space to support up to 33,000 new jobs, as well as up to 8,300 new housing units, at least 33 percent of which will be permanently affordable.
According to SF Planning, the plan would also call for $2 billion in public improvements, such as new parks, bike lanes and pedestrian safety infrastructure.
But Central SoMa Neighbors and SFBlue, two organizations representing residents of the area, say the final environmental review does not meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, and should be reopened for further assessment.
They're arguing that the environmental review of the project did not adequately account for the likely increase in airborne pollutants as new buildings are constructed in the neighborhood and as more vehicles travel through the area. Another concern is the potential of older buildings in the area being seismically unsound, and damaging people and property during an earthquake.
SF Planning responded to the two organizations’ air quality concerns by noting that the Planning Commission has adopted all of the mitigation measures considered feasible to address the potential increase in air pollutants associated with the Central SoMa plan.
Many other potential mitigation plans were considered, but deemed not to lessen the environmental impacts associated with the project, according to SF Planning.
The agency also states that vehicle-miles traveled in the neighborhood are expected to be still be significantly lower than those seen in 2005, the baseline against which regional planners aim to measure potential vehicular impacts of a proposal.
The Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium has also raised concerns about the lack of evaluation of the plan’s impact on transportation and public services in the area.
The appellants claim if the developments anticipated in the plan materialize, the population of the neighborhood will increase significantly, adversely impacting Muni and BART.
But according to SF Planning, “development under the Plan would not stimulate new population or job growth within San Francisco that is not already projected to occur."
“On the contrary, the Central SoMa Plan is necessary for San Francisco to accommodate job and housing growth for the city that is forecast” in the next two decades, according to Plan Bay Area, an effort by multiple local governments and transit agencies to develop a land use and transportation road map that extends to 2040.
Should all of the allowed developments move forward, the Central SoMa plan would also likely result in about $500 million directly available for transportation improvements, much of which BART would be eligible to benefit from, according to SF Planning.
One Vassar, LLC, is also disputing the final environmental review because it believes SF Planning did not comply with the affordability requirements of the housing element of the city’s general plan.
One Vassar argues that SF Planning should have given more weight to other, potentially cheaper options for increasing housing in San Francisco, such as the plans to develop Treasure Island. The South of Market Community Action Network has appealed the environmental review for similar reasons.
SF Planning states that the affordability requirements of the general plan’s Housing Elements are broader than just new development, and were considered in the final environmental review prior to its approval by the Planning Commission.
SF Planning has encouraged the Board of Supervisors to approve the Central SoMa plan despite the appeals, because “the [a]ppellants do not explain, or do not support with data or references offering facts, reasonable assumptions based on facts, or expert opinion supported by facts.”
Supervisors will hear neighborhood groups’ concerns and SF Planning’s responses today around 3 p.m. at City Hall.
Update: The Board of Supervisors on September 11th, voted to continue its consideration of the CEQA appeal until its next full meeting on September 25th. If the appeal is denied, the Land Use and Planning Commission may consider legislation approving the plan on October 1st. Should the appeal be allowed to move forward, the Planning Commission will have to conduct further environmental review of the Central SoMa plan and future legislative actions would be delayed.