SAN FRANCISCO—On Wednesday, December 7, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a housing ordinance introduced by Mayor London N. Breed to make it easier to build more housing to replace gas stations, parking lots, and other auto-oriented lots. The “Cars to Casas” ordinance was supported by housing and environmental activists, including YIMBY Action, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, and Brightline Defense.
The ordinance will increase density on auto-centric lots to be up to four units in Residential Housing (RH) zoning districts. In other zoning districts, where housing is already permitted, the density will be relaxed to be “to-form,” which means it will be set by existing height, bulk, and set back requirements etc. Height limits will not be raised in any zoning districts, only density will be relaxed. This will help transition what are under-utilized lots into desperately needed housing.
“This legislation is part of our critical work to remove barriers to building new housing,” said Mayor London Breed. “We need to keep moving solutions forward to streamline housing approvals if we are going to meet our state-mandated housing goals of building 82,000 new homes over the next eight years. We know there is much more work to do but this is a step in the right direction.”
Cars to Casas will make it easier to transition away from auto-oriented uses by eliminating the existing conditional use requirement to remove an auto use, which will eliminate bureaucracy, another impediment to building affordable housing.
According to a news release from the Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Planning Department prepared a study with technical consultant Century Urban to decide how the ordinance would enhance the feasibility of new housing projects across the city. The study revealed that by removing unnecessary constraints in the zoning code, this ordinance would improve project feasibility and open up new opportunities for housing production. Given current economic conditions, the study discovered that feasibility remains challenging for most types due to a mix of factors, including the City regulations and requirements, and that projects could become more feasible due to further efforts to address these issues.
The passage of this ordinance aligns with San Francisco’s pending Housing Element update, which includes policies to remove City-imposed constraints on housing production. San Francisco, like all cities in California, is in the process of approving its Housing Element, the City’s plan for meeting state-mandated housing goals. Under state law, this plan must be approved by January 31st, 2023 and then certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. San Francisco’s housing goals set by the state are to build 82,000 new homes over the next eight years.
In San Francisco, 47 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and 41 percent from natural gas used in buildings. San Francisco has reduced its carbon emissions by 41 percent from 1990 levels, but most of that reduction has come from reducing emissions from buildings while emissions from transportation has remained relatively stable. Helping to transition lots away from auto-oriented uses will help create a city that focuses on sustainable development while creating more dense neighborhoods.