Legislation to Limit Garages in North Beach and Chinatown Moves Forward

When San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation last October to limit new garages in existing buildings in District 3, which includes North Beach, Telegraph Hill, and Chinatown, his action catalyzed several advocacy groups that don't always see eye to eye. The bill is aimed at stopping no-fault evictions where building owners turn rental units into more valuable for-sale units and has united the community group Telegraph Hill Dwellers with transportation advocates Livable City and the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), who are concerned about tenant rights and affordable housing, particularly in Chinatown.

Chiu described his bill as an effort to curb the "recent trend in my district and in other parts of the city where tenants have been evicted from buildings where owners have chosen to build garages."

"What this means is literally we’ve seen a tradeoff of people being forced to move out of San Francisco because someone wanted to put a car in the place of their bedroom or where they used to live," he added.

The legislation would create the Telegraph Hill‐North Beach Residential Special Use District,  eliminate minimum off‐street parking requirements for residential uses, and institute a maximum parking cap in the Broadway Neighborhood Commercial District, North Beach Neighborhood Commercial District, and the Chinatown Mixed Use and Community Business Districts. In addition, the bill would require a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission every time an owner wanted to install a garage in an existing residential structure. Finally, the bill would prohibit new garage entries and driveways on a stretch of Columbus Avenue and would stop the issuance of minor sidewalk encroachment permits for installing driveways in residential structures that narrow the sidewalk unacceptably [details of bill, PDF].

Supporters of the legislation were pleasantly surprised at last week's Planning Commission meeting, a necessary step for approval of legislation that changes planning code, when Commissioner Christina Olague beefed up the Commission's motion for approval, adding language about no-fault evictions and requiring conditional use authorization for any new garage in the special use district, neither of which were in original Planning Department staff recommendations.

David Noyola, Supervisor Chiu's legislative aide, hoped the lopsided Planning Commission vote in support was a good sign. "I didn’t expect a 6-1 vote recommending the meat of the legislation. I thought they were going to strike the prohibition of no-fault evictions," he said. He also said constituents from Russian Hill and Nob Hill spoke at the Commission meeting, requesting the legislation extend to their neighborhoods, an option Noyola said they would consider in the future if this bill passes.

The bill has to go before the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee, which could happen as early as next week, and then to the full Board, likely in 2-3 weeks. Noyola expects the bill to pass committee and the full board, though the Mayor's support is still uncertain.

Malcolm Yeung of the CCDC said they were pleased with the outcome of the Planning Commission meeting, particularly after staff took out the no-fault eviction proposal, the one piece of the legislation the CCDC was absolutely steadfast in supporting. Yeung also said they weren't resting on the momentary good news and were urging supervisors to lock up the super-majority support needed in case the Mayor decides to veto it.

"Right now pro-tenant legislation has not been going particularly well in the city," he said. "We haven’t talked to the Mayor’s office on this one, but with any pro-tenant legislation, we think we have to get eight votes."

Yeung said the legislation was unique for bringing CCDC together with preservationists and property owners on Telegraph Hill, who want to see the historic character of their neighborhood preserved, and transit advocates who want to see the city reduce its reliance on cars.

Both Noyola and Tom Radulovich, Executive Director Livable City and one of the central proponents of reducing parking throughout the city, noted that the legislation was precedent-setting, particularly because it applied a parking best practice from neighborhood planning zones like Market and Octavia or Rincon Hill, but didn't wait on a multi-year comprehensive plan.

"The bill is a legacy of slow and incremental change in the planning code and a legacy of the sea-change in the Planning Department's thinking about parking," said Radulovich. "In 2005, parking was required everywhere for every use. Recent planning efforts have chipped away at that."

"It's less frequent that we go back to old neighborhoods, saying we’ve come up with what we think is the best for dense neighborhoods and let's export that," said Noyola, who added that the city doesn't need to spend the time and money on vast plans if neighborhoods agree they want less parking. "Telegraph Hill was the original transit-first neighborhood," he noted.

The precedent that could be set by this bill actually worried Yeung, who hoped supervisors from other districts wouldn't block a bill supported by nearly all the stakeholders where it would become law. CCDC is concerned that those supervisors who "have a lot of homeowners in their district could see this as a precedent that they don’t want set everywhere in the city."

"We’re not pushing for a citywide expansion," he assured. "We’re trying to address patterns we see in Chinatown and Telegraph Hill."