Op-Ed: Central SoMa Plan — A “Mega-Plan” with Mega Problems

This Op-Ed was written by Mark Ranneberger, a New SOMA Organizer, to be published in the coming month.

The SF board of Supervisors will soon be considering a new area plan for Central Soma. This plan is a displacement bomb waiting to happen. The housing deficit proposed by the Central SoMa Plan is nearly ten times the deficit created by the Twitter tax credit and nearly double the deficit proposed by the “no housing” version of the Brisbane Baylands plan — a plan that the Board of Supervisors universally decried last fall.

In a city where we are facing an acute housing crisis, where middle-class working families are being priced out of units that cost on average $3,200 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, the magnitude of the housing deficit enabled by this plan is unacceptable.

The Central SOMA Plan proposes to add 50,000 new jobs, but only 7,500 new homes. Where does the planning department suppose those 50,000 new employees are going to live? If we don’t plan for new housing to accommodate new workers, we are planning for new workers to be housed via displacement.

The Central SOMA Plan proposes to add 50,000 new jobs, but only 7,500 new homes. This plan is a displacement bomb waiting to happen.

The Planning department claims that housing for the 50,000 new jobs will be built in other neighborhoods. This ignores the byzantine and difficult process of getting projects approved in San Francisco. For instance, a recent proposal in Presidio Heights was preemptively downsized by the developer to roughly 60% of zoned capacity to avoid conflict with wealthy neighbors who had concerns about preserving “neighborhood character.”

If we’re going to fix San Francisco’s housing crisis, the shell game has to stop. Arguments like “we’ll compensate for the housing imbalance somewhere else” or “Central SoMa is the last place to add jobs” don’t stand up to scrutiny and are cruelly dismissive of the crisis affecting San Francisco families.

There is not enough housing, period. Until we have shown the discipline needed to get our house in order, every new area plan we write should set a minimum ratio of 1:1 for housing to jobs created; anything less only further strains San Francisco’s housing stock, making the city less affordable for residents.

It is a false narrative to say that we can add either jobs or housing — we can add both. There are two strategies for improving the jobs to housing imbalance created by Central SoMa. One is to convert space devoted to offices to space devoted to housing. The other is to raise height limits on housing within SoMa, and allow housing in space currently zoned for Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR). The Planning Department should decide the appropriate mix of these strategies so long as it does not worsen our already terrible housing imbalance.

It is a false narrative to say that we can add either jobs or housing — we can add both.

As Central SoMa gets fast-tracked for review and approval by the Board of Supervisors sometime later this year, the Board should take a new, close look at the plan and ask whether this Plan makes our city more affordable for working and middle-class residents, or whether this is a step further in the direction we’ve been heading for forty years: a city that is less affordable, less diverse, and more concentrated in its wealth distribution.

It’s time to start getting serious about adding more housing, starting with Central SoMa.

Mark Ranneberger

District 6 Resident

Member of the SF YIMBY Party

The SF YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) Party is a housing advocacy organization which urges greater building of all types of housing.

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