Dufty Still Deliberating as Garage Legislation Vote Looms

IMG_1213.jpgPreparing for a new garage addition. Photo: Michael Rhodes
Supervisor Bevan Dufty says he is still considering how he will vote tomorrow on legislation that would limit new garages in existing buildings in Chinatown, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill and eliminate minimum parking requirements in those neighborhoods. Advocates are urging him to support the measure, but Dufty said he's still deliberating as he continues to receive waves of feedback from supporters and opponents of the plan.

The Board of Supervisors will take a second and final vote tomorrow on the legislation, which passed in a first reading by a 7-2 vote, including an aye from Dufty. Since the Mayor hasn't come out with a position on the legislation yet, proponents hope Dufty will vote in favor of the legislation again, giving it an eight-vote supermajority in case the Mayor vetoes it. (Supervisor John Avalos was absent from the first vote, but the measure's supporters are hopeful he will lend his support tomorrow.)

While he voted for the measure on February 9, Dufty said he did so at the time to give it further study before a final vote. He is reportedly being heavily lobbied by garage addition companies and other groups that oppose restrictions on condo-conversions (including the group Plan C, the Examiner reported.)

"I have not decided what I'm going to do, but I definitely plan to talk to David Chiu before mid-morning tomorrow and let him know what my thoughts are," Dufty told Streetsblog today. "I suspected that I was going to have some concerns, and I definitely have concerns."

Chief among those concerns, he said, is whether the legislation is focused on preventing "no fault" Ellis Act evictions in which tenants are evicted to make room for garages. "I don't fully understand the crafting of the legislation, but if this were focusing on Ellis Acted buildings, I would vote for it in a minute," said Dufty. "But it seems much broader and more complex and convoluted."

Dufty said he's much less enthusiastic about requiring Conditional Use Authorization for all new garages additions in Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill, which he fears would place too great a burden on the Planning Department.

IMG_0870.jpgA sidewalk in Chinatown, which would be covered by the new garage legislation. Photo: Michael Rhodes
The point of the legislation, its supporters say, is to block garages that take space from existing dwelling units, mar historic buildings, or create a worse environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Currently, adding a garage is generally allowed in existing residential buildings in the affected neighborhoods, with the burden on opponents of specific garage additions to file a Discretionary Review application to try to block individual garage additions. The new legislation would flip the process, requiring property owners hoping to build new garages in Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill to seek a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission.

Installing a garage in an existing building in the area would be permitted as a "conditional use" only if there have been no "no fault" evictions from the building in the past ten years. Garage additions would also need to conform with the Better Streets Policy, and wouldn't be allowed to decrease sidewalk accessibility or front on a public right-of-way narrower than 41 feet.

The legislation would also 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.

"He certainly supported it on the first vote, but apparently he's being lobbied by SF Garage, the people who stick garages into buildings, because it will make it harder to put garages into buildings in a corner of the city," said Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, one of the legislation's principal supporters, along with the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) and Telegraph Hill Dwellers.

Legislation Could Make it Easier to Convert Space to Dwelling Units

Radulovich said that by eliminating the minimum parking requirement for new units in the zone covered by the legislation, it would be easier for property owners to convert underutilized garage space into living quarters, since it wouldn't be necessary to include a parking space for the newly carved-out unit.

"If you don't exceed the density limit, which does not change, units which meet those limits but that are otherwise code legal would be permitted," he said. "We hope it would help with the legalization of some units which are there and occupied that don't exceed the density limits."

That, said Radulovich, could actually provide building owners with greater flexibility to build new in-law units in existing buildings, especially when they're already spending money on seismic retrofitting. That could mean new business for the very garage-addition companies that are lobbying Dufty not to support the measure, he said.

"We're hoping for a very healthy business for SF Garage Co., but not necessarily always installing garages," he added.

Dufty said he's not in a position to comment on the potential for converting non-dwelling space to living units, an issue he said is best answered by the Planning Department. (Planning Director John Rahaim couldn't be reached for comment.)

Dufty planned to meet with the City Attorney Monday afternoon, and said he has spoken with CCDC about the legislation. The measure moved through the legislative process very quickly, he said, and he's still hoping to pin down whether it is primarily about preventing Ellis Act evictions, or if it has other consequences he wouldn't support.

"I'm just not sure how openly recognized this issue was, and then all of a sudden it seems like it's a firestorm and I'm kind of looking around and going, wow, this isn't as cut-and-dried as it appeared to be," said Dufty.

The legislation's supporters have stressed that it is not intended as a first step towards a citywide restriction on garages, but rather addresses a specific issue in District 3, where tenants have frequently been evicted to make room for new garages.

You can contact Supervisor Dufty's office about the legislation by email at Bevan.Dufty@sfgov.org or by phone at (415) 554-6968. The Board of Supervisors vote on the legislation is tomorrow, February 22, at City Hall, Room 200, during the regular 2 p.m. full Board meeting.