Largest Ever West Side SF Investment in Affordable Housing Halted Because of Special-Interest CEQA Lawsuit
The Parkmerced complex, located adjacent to Lake Merced in Western San Francisco, will transform an aging housing development from a dated landscape into a vibrant neighborhood and an international model of urban sustainability. With a goal of becoming one of America’s first net-zero carbon communities, Parkmerced will be greener, safer, healthier, and will be an important contribution to San Francisco affordable housing.
Parkmerced creates 3,221 permanently rent-controlled homes, 900 below-market-rate inclusionary homes, and as a private development, costs taxpayers nothing. According to Housing Action Coalition Executive Director Tim Colen, Parkmerced “represents the largest investment EVER made in affordable housing in [San Francisco’s] west side.” The development provides all current residents rent-controlled apartments.
Parkmerced is a proving ground for the most advanced techniques in combating climate change and providing innovative transportation strategies. The development will update the ecologically unsound World War II-era complex by reducing its carbon footprint and improving quality of life for residents and neighbors. Parkmerced currently has virtually no on-site retail and poor access to public transit, forcing residents to travel by car for basic services. Parkmerced contributes to environmental sustainability by embracing smart design and planning principles and including a vibrant social heart where residents can access neighborhood services on foot. To support those who work from home, Parkmerced provides onsite business centers in many new units. Moreover, Parkmerced will improve transportation in the area by rerouting the Muni Metro M-Line light rail into the complex; providing residents with smart travel options; and reconfiguring roads to ease traffic congestion.
Despite its environmental and affordable housing benefits, Parkmerced faced a series of CEQA hurdles. Because CEQA considers any unmodified structure over 50 years old to be a historic resource, the lead agency was compelled to identify a significant impact on historic resources and adopt additional mitigation before proceeding with the renovation.
Shortly after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the plan in May 2011, anti-development advocate San Francisco Tomorrow filed suit alleging CEQA deficiencies across a whole range of issues, including: (1) insufficient number of alternatives discussed for the historic resources section (even though eight were discussed), (2) unidentified greenhouse gas impacts (even though this is an infill project proposed as a net-zero carbon community), (3) constructing new buildings on the West Side of San Francisco create a “hazard” amounting to a CEQA impact by virtue of being close to the San Andreas fault, (4) hypothetical issues related to a PG&E gas pipeline nearby. (5) “unstable” project description because the project was to be developed over a period of 20 to 30 years (because the impacts 20 years in the future are different from 30 years in the future, the city was allegedly required to analyze both scenarios.)
A CEQA lawsuit based on these allegations was filed in July 2011, and was not heard for over a year, partially because the petitioner delayed in compiling the administrative record for a period of six months. The project is currently ready to go, but it is still on hold awaiting resolution of the CEQA lawsuit.
COST OF CEQA MISUSE:
- 18 month Delay and related carrying costs due to the CEQA lawsuit so far, but the delay is ongoing.