San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Supervisor introduces legislation to allow fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods

Ed Walsh
San Francisco skyline from Potrero HillEd Walsh

On Tuesday, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced legislation that would allow for small apartment buildings in areas currently reserved for single-family and low-density housing. The legislation would provide an exception to density limits to allow up to four units on all lots in zoning districts that account for roughly 60% of the City’s developable residential parcels.  

“The way much of San Francisco is zoned today makes it easier to flip existing housing into luxury monster homes than to build small apartment buildings for working people,” said Mandelman, who represents neighborhoods including Glen Park, Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, the Castro, Eureka Valley, Corbett Heights, Mission Dolores and Twin Peaks. “We’ve done a really good job of building housing for millionaires and billionaires over the last decades, but we’ve made it too hard to build housing for everyone else.”

The legislation introduced on Tuesday would allow fourplexes in zoning districts that cover large parts of the city’s westside neighborhoods like the Sunset, Richmond and West Portal, and parts of central and southeast neighborhoods including Glen Park, Noe Valley, the Excelsior, Visitacion Valley and Bayview.

“We should be making it easier to build modestly-sized housing for families and average working San Franciscans in neighborhoods across the city,” Mandelman said. “Nearly all the new housing development in this city in recent decades has been heavily concentrated in eastside neighborhoods, and this is a way for every neighborhood to do its part, including neighborhoods in my district.”  

Supporters of the legislation say it builds on a separate piece of legislation introduced in May that would provide the same increase in density for projects that do not seek exceptions under the State density bonus program, but only on corner lots. This new and more limited legislation continues to move forward with a Planning Commission hearing scheduled in September, while the more expansive fourplex ordinance introduced this week will require more extensive environmental review per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before it can be adopted by the full Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Mandelman says that the proposal for corner lots is designed to be acted on this year, while the ordinance introduced today allowing four units on all residential lots will be tied to the environmental analysis to be conducted for the City’s 2022 Housing Element update, a State-mandated plan for meeting local housing needs that must be revised and adopted every eight years, and is expected to be before the Board for approval at the end of next year. The proposed new rules introduced Tuesday puts San Francisco in line with other California cities like Sacramento and Berkeley that have recently taken actions to include fourplex zoning in their own upcoming housing plan updates.

“I know that many of my colleagues also recognize the need to revisit the way we zone for housing in neighborhoods that have had strict density limits for decades, and that we are all having these conversations in the communities we represent,” said Mandelman. “I am committed to working with my all my colleagues as this proposal moves forward to find the best strategies to address San Francisco’s dire housing shortage.”  

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