Four Homes, Four Years: How the saga to build four homes at 1846 Grove St. illustrates everything that’s wrong with San Francisco’s housing process
The current vacant lot at 1846 Grove
Update: this project has been further delayed for five weeks, and the Board of Supervisors will now be hearing it on September 29th. Please continue emailing your supervisor in support of the project and mark September 29th on your calendar to call into public comment!
Where exactly does “missing middle” housing get lost in San Francisco? Let me tell you the story of almost five years of process, and the housing that a self-identified “progressive” Supervisor is holding hostage.
In 2016, Troy Kashanipour, an architect, and two partners (a home-builder and a small business owner) purchased a vacant lot at the intersection of Grove and Masonic, close to exact center of San Francisco. The lot had been vacant for decades, despite the location and easy access to the rest of the city (a 25 minute bus ride to downtown). While San Francisco continued to suffer from a major housing shortage driving some of the most expensive rents in the country, the lot remained stubbornly vacant.
Home prices in the blocks surrounding 1846 Grove (according to Zillow)
Surrounding this vacant lot, the typical home goes for >$1.5M dollars. Building a small complex of mid-sized homes would provide an option for middle class families that want to live in the neighborhood but would be unable to afford a $300k+ down payment to buy one of the existing homes in the area.
Architectural drawing of the proposed homes at 1846 Grove
Looking at the project itself, it’s hard to find a reasonable complaint: the homes are at most a couple stories tall, with a remarkably unobtrusive design. There is plenty of greenspace and sustainable design principles. Personally, I think it looks pretty cool, if a little boring. In a sane world, where San Francisco celebrated new homes on a vacant lot, a project like this would undergo a straightforward safety and planning review on a reasonable timeline. These homes would be built without unnecessary delay. But we do not currently live in that world.
In 2017, Troy submitted a pre-application — to the Department of Building Inspection and SF Fire Department. From that day, it took almost three years to even get the project in front of the Planning Commission. Countless community meetings, delayed hearings, and an employee change at the Fire Department meant three years of bureaucratic nonsense.
When 1846 Grove Street was finally reached the Planning Commission in December 2019, it was not approved. The commission punted, “continuing” the decision until March. After a delay due to the pandemic, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project in April, thanks to dozens of supporters calling in and providing testimony in favor of the four homes.
You would think that would be the end of it. Instead, a small group of NIMBYs filed an appeal to stop the project. Since almost every permit in San Francisco can be appealed, there are numerous ways to jam up any proposal. In what appeared to be a stroke of good fortune, the haters were unable to get the necessary 20% of signatures from people within 300' of the project to successfully bring forward an appeal. It seemed the vast majority of neighbors near the project either supported the project or were ambivalent, choosing not to join the appeal.
If you thought that was the end of this byzantine ordeal, you would be sorely mistaken — the Board of Supervisors has the right to appeal any project, forcing it to undergo a hearing and approval vote in front of the entire Board. Given the COVID-19 pandemic. a massive budget crisis, Caltrain on the brink of destruction, and our housing shortage, you’d think that our Supervisors would have more important things to concern themselves with than four homes being built in an empty lot. But no, Dean Preston, who has made his NIMBY preferences clear time and time again, got four of his fellow supervisors (Ronen, Haney, Peskin, and Mar) to join his appeal of this project.
When asked why he appealed the project, Dean refused to provide any substantial reason to oppose the four homes, instead nonsensically dismissing the entire project offhand as being “landlocked.” He smeared supporters of the project as believing a “twisted ‘all housing matters’ theory”. Yes, Dean Preston compared people who support building four homes in a vacant lot to the racist morons screaming “all lives matter”.
This isn’t the first time Dean has come out with absurd anti-housing stances. While he claims to be an “affordable housing advocate,” he refuses to commit to building 8 stories (the maximum height permitted by current zoning) of 100% affordable housing at 730 Stanyan, a city-owned parking lot. To those who have followed Preston’s career, this shouldn’t be surprising. He has strong ties with the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC), a NIMBY group that consistently opposes building housing. Preston’s NIMBYism also makes sense when you consider the fact that the mansion on Alamo Square he bought for under $1M twenty years ago is now worth $3M (according to Zillow, many experts believe that it’s likely worth significantly more than that due to its unique location across the street from the Painted Ladies). Dean Preston has been a direct beneficiary of the housing shortage and has a personal financial interest in exacerbating it.
Dean Preston is right about one thing: why should anyone care about four units on a vacant lot? These four homes are just a tiny portion of the tens of thousands that need to be built in San Francisco. What he fails to acknowledge is that by forcing four units on a vacant lot in an affluent neighborhood to take half a decade to even get approval, we are forcing a city-wide debate for every little scrap of housing, generating a chronic housing shortage, astronomical prices, and a displacement crisis beyond comprehension.
This project perfectly illustrates why we are in such a severe housing crisis: A maze of bureaucracy, politicians who find every opportunity to placate NIMBYs, and a system that finds any excuse to stop home-building while blaming everyone else. Instead of rolling up their sleeves to try and find progressive solutions to our housing crisis, elected officials are constantly granting small favors to NIMBYs, blocking “just” this little housing project over and over and over again as our housing shortage keeps getting worse. We shouldn’t need petitions to get four homes approved on a vacant lot.
Although the fate of 1846 Grove remains up in the air (it will be put in front of the Board of Supervisors A̶u̶g̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶2̶5̶t̶h̶ September 29th, and if approved, the project would need to wait up to a year to receive final permits from DBI and DPW), we need bold systemic change to fix the broken process that has gotten us into this housing crisis.
We need to vote for pro-housing candidates in local elections. We need to organize in support of building more housing. We need to push for legislation that streamlines the homebuilding process and places the needs of renters and the housing-insecure over that of millionaire NIMBYs.
We cannot accept a status quo where it takes more than four years to get approval to build four homes. Join me in growing the YIMBY movement and fight to legalize housing.
Furthermore, to take action on this project, PLEASE email all the Supervisors indicating support for the homes at 1846 Grove and rejecting this merit-less and obstructionist appeal. Please include the Address in the subject line. It would not hurt to indicate which District you live in, if possible, in the body of the email.
Please cc: firstname.lastname@example.org”