4715–4721 Geary Blvd was built in 1927. It includes three ground-floor retail locations where you can grab a drink and a pupusa (pretty good per Yelp!), get your lashes done, or get some good alterations and drycleaning. It’s six stories, and the five above the ground floor contain 60 units totaling 116 bedrooms (no breakdown of the bedroom count). It has no offstreet parking. It is in an NC-3 Zoning District, something the city calls “Moderate-Scale Neighborhood Commercial District” meaning the commercial use would still be allowed today, but the residential use would require things like a rear yard, a common requirement throughout the Richmond. It would also require 60 parking spaces, or at least one space per unit in the building. HOME-SF would apply at a site like this. It has no known historic status. The lot is currently zoned for 40-X, meaning anything built there today could only be 40 feet tall, except for that HOME-SF bonus. That is typical of lots throughout the Richmond, where almost nothing can be taller than 40 feet.
4715–4721 Geary Blvd is a shocking outlier along Geary Blvd in the Richmond, a building which rises above the neighboring buildings in a stretch where the most mixed-use buildings rarely rise above two stories. When we start talking about how to make a more inclusive city, it begins with realizing that is an untenable arrangement. We have a responsibility to add more housing on the west side of San Francisco, and stretches like Geary are exactly where we should be putting it. It’s on a major bus route in the 38 which will soon be served by BRT. Geary is a commercial corridor adjacent to other great commercial corridors like Clement and Balboa full of shops, restaurants, and other amenities many folks want to live near. It has easy access to the parks which bound our neighborhood to the north and south. It’s an ideal location for exactly these kinds of apartment buildings.
We have that opportunity now with the proposed SB827. It creates the opportunity to make apartments in transit-rich locations like this which have no parking minimums. It creates the opportunity to build up to 85 feet in locations just like this. It lets us put more homes just like 4715–4721 Geary in so that it doesn’t look so much like the outlier it is today. Our State Senator, Scott Wiener, introduced it, but our Assemblymember Phil Ting is also a principal co-author. They both deserve a lot of credit and thanks for sharing a bold vision for our city and recognizing we need to to be thinking about the future of San Francisco and what that looks like. In this case, part of that involves looking to the past, when it wasn’t impossible to add something like 4715–4721 Geary to our neighborhood. We need to start moving beyond exclusionary single-family zoning and onerous parking requirements and undoing the damage they have done to our city. Creating more homes in less car-dependent places is imperative as we look to make the kind of city we need to be to face 21st century challenges such as climate change. Creating more homes is imperative as we try to figure out how to truly take care of each other in San Francisco and create a more equitable city where folks are housed and can afford to live. And we cannot accomplish that if we refuse to have bold visions of what that inclusive future looks like.
SB827 isn’t magic. But it does start to give us some of the tools. We still need to address many other questions that are not a part of the bill. It does nothing to protect tenants from displacement . At least it does not change local mechanisms, but those have been broken for a while. The Inner Richmond has more evictions than you might realize. It’s going to take a strategy of building more homes and protecting folks in their current homes. We need both. So let’s fight for both. However there are plenty of opportunities in our neighborhood to add more homes where displacement isn’t an issue, locations where we have empty commercial buildings or a shocking amount of surface parking for car dealerships. Fighting for more homes for people and protecting the current homes of people are not mutually exclusive goals. Let’s not make them that way.
It shouldn’t have taken us almost 100 years to create more buildings like 4715–4721 Geary in our neighborhood. But we cannot change the past. What we can do is create a more vibrant future by making more places for people to live now. Imagine a Geary where this building is not an outlier. If we want to talk about a future where we have something like BART out here, let’s build a neighborhood that deserves that kind of transit (though our neighborhood did once have that kind of transit). Our future is in many ways our past, dense cities with abundant transit, built not for cars, but for people. Let’s take some of those best pieces from the past like this building and create a future with more of them.