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A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

Christine Johnson

Candidate - San Francisco District 6 Supervisor

How would you increase overall housing production? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful, making sure they are genuinely relevant to the position you hope to be elected to.

As District 6 Supervisor:

  • I will be focused on following through with implementation of the late Mayor Ed Lee’s executive directive to keep post-entitlement permitting to a 12-month timeframe.
  • I want to San Francisco to comply with State Law that allows for by-right development of ADUs. Most ADUs in San Francisco will be built in existing multi-family buildings. I would also provide financial support for property owners who are willing to add Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) to their properties. Many property owners are already working to finance required soft story earthquake retrofit work – adding ADUs should be a natural extension of that work.
  • I will commence overhauling the Planning Code and General Plan to make requirements for residential development objective so we can have true by-right development.
  • I will strengthen our Planning Code and General Plan to encourage property owners to maximize current density. More than 60% of housing land area in San Francisco hosts single family homes but only 38% of our land area is actually zoned for RH-1 or RH-1-D. The rest allows at least 2 or more units. As a Planning Commissioner, I promoted the concept of requiring that building permits for extensive work demonstrate that the property has maximized the lot zoning to gain approval. This would be a smart, low-impact way to help produce more housing while we work on more extensive changes. Long term, I believe that more of the City needs to be rezoned to allow for multi-family development in every neighborhood.

How would you increase Affordable Housing production? Would you support bonds (such as the $4 billion dollar bond on the CA November Ballot) or increased taxes, and in what amounts?

Increasing subsidized, affordable housing will require multiple strategies. As Supervisor I will push to:

  1. Fill the financing gap for the current pipeline of 100% affordable housing. Push for more public and private funds to enhance the existing Housing Trust Fund and Housing Accelerator Fund.
  2. Redefine the Small Site Acquisition Program requirements to include buildings with more than 24 units and prioritize financing buildings that have the opportunity to densify by adding floors or Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). This will make the Small Sites program a meaningful tool in District 6.
  3. Making the Planning Code and General Plan more objective and speeding other ] processes to get affordable housing built faster.
  4. Explore ways to make the HOME-SF program financially feasible for more projects.

For financing mechanisms, I am supportive of bonding as a mechanism. Since General Obligation bonds must be repaid from general fund sources I would simultaneously work on ways to boost general fund revenue sources. I would also strongly support another regional measure, similar to recently passed RM-3, focused on housing. Finally, I would support efforts to create new financing mechanisms like a new state tax credit.

Do you support legalizing multifamily buildings or “upzoning” single family home only neighborhoods, such as the west side of San Francisco or ? What do you think is appropriate for currently zoned low-density neighborhoods, those with parcels limited to one or two units? Please be specific and use examples relevant to your area.

Yes, I support appropriately upzoning San Francisco. Most of District 6 is already zoned for multifamily buildings, but I will work with Mayor London Breed and my fellow supervisors to produce more multi-family housing in other neighborhoods in San Francisco. For low-density neighborhoods we should prioritize rezoning transit oriented, commercial corridors. This should be followed by encouraging maximizing existing zoning (building to the actual height limit of 40’, maximizing unit count, etc.) while a more comprehensive planning effort begins. I am highly concerned about the potential for accelerated economic displacement of remaining working-class communities that happen to be in single family home neighborhoods. Hence, I am also focused on financing tools to help these homeowners maintain and potentially densify their properties.

Did you or would you support Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827 to eliminate density restrictions and upzone residential areas near transit, in its latest drafted iteration or with minor amendments? The bill would have allowed four to five story multifamily buildings within a half-mile of transit stops, and a right to return for displaced tenants. Would you pursue implementing a local version of a transit-oriented upzoning in your city or town?

Yes, I support SB 827 with amendments. I would want to see strengthened tenant protections. Right-to-return is not strong enough and the lesson from Urban Renewal is that it doesn’t work. I would support amendments that mirror current legislative tools such as the State Relocation Act and the Replacement Housing Obligation under former Redevelopment Law.

Additionally, I would want to see expanded state financing to maintain transit infrastructure so more places can be within ½ mile of a major transit stop.

Do you think every neighborhood should build multifamily subsidized Affordable Housing, and if so how do you plan on accomplishing that?

Yes. I strongly believe we need affordable housing in every neighborhood. As Supervisor, I will be a strong advocate for more housing and do everything I can to provide political support for other Supervisors voting for housing. I will also forcefully push for code changes to make our land use code more objective and create more financing tools to close the financial gap to building the affordable housing pipeline. With more robust local financing, more projects should be able to make projects complying with HOME-SF financially feasible. Every district includes opportunity sites for HOME-SF projects.

By-right development grants automatic approval to zoning- and building code-compliant housing projects (both Affordable and market-rate), removing review of those projects by local commissions like the Planning Commission. It does not apply to any projects seeking variances from existing city law. Yes or no, do you support by-right development? Please be specific.

Yes, I support by-right development, especially in neighborhoods covered by an Area Plan. The biggest impediments to expanding by-right project approval in San Francisco are (1) the lack of specificity in our Planning Code and General Plan and (2) overly broad definition of discretion that allows for too much uncertainty in too many points in the housing production process. Robust conversation about what the general physical footprint of housing in San Francisco should look and feel like should happen through the code review and Area Plan process. That conversation should take time and account for diverse perspectives but should not happen at the level of an individual project.

How would you streamline the housing permitting process in your city or county? Describe some pre- and post-entitlement changes you would make.

Pre-entitlement

  • Clarify the CEQA process. Often, we require too much detail on design elements of housing projects for the purposes of CEQA project descriptions. This upfront design work takes time and the details are often not essential to the actual environmental impact analysis work.
  • I would want to undertake a review of our discretionary review process to ensure that San Francisco complies with the Housing Accountability Act. The HAA allows for only specific circumstances where housing projects can be reduced in scope or rejected. I would seek to codify these circumstances in our codes and make our overall Planning Code and General Plan more objective.
  • Similarly, I would want to make sure that we are complying with the spirit of the State Permit Streamlining Act.

Post-Entitlement

  • Limit post-entitlement permitting to 12 months. I would especially focus on giving the Fire Department, MTA and PUC whatever resources they need to speed review for housing projects.

What is your philosophy on inclusionary zoning, which mandates that market-rate housing pay for a certain percentage of lower-income units? Do you believe there is an inclusionary percentage that will create less overall housing and less low-income housing, ie that we can kill the golden goose with rates like 50% inclusionary?

San Francisco has met only 21% of its 2022 RHNA housing goal (and of that 21%, most units are market-rate). We need to produce more housing and we need to make sure we get the maximum level of inclusionary that still allows units to be produced. I believe the most important thing we can do is to settle on inclusionary housing requirements for all projects not subject to a development agreement and remove the risk that the requirements will change frequently. Uncertainty is the main killer for most housing projects, not specific inclusionary requirements.

More broadly, I believe we need to reform the Inclusionary Housing lottery and institute a broad rental subsidy system that will make more housing stock in San Francisco affordable.

What do you think about the idea of a jobs-housing balance? For example, San Francisco’s Central SoMa Plan? The area plan adds 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units, and is likely to be passed by the the Board of Supervisors without accompanying housing. Do you think San Francisco should have an “act two” for this plan and zone for more housing, and if so where? Generally, do you think we should build housing to accommodate a growing economy?

The entire Bay Area has an unhealthy jobs-housing balance at nearly 4.3 to 1 from 2011-2017. Since 2010, San Francisco has done far worse by creating eight jobs for every housing unit. We need to build more housing in San Francisco to house workers in San Francisco and do our part to alleviate the balance across the Bay Area. San Francisco is a net daily exporter of workers to other parts of the Bay Area so producing more housing here eases the burden everywhere.

I believe there is opportunity for more housing citywide and in the Central SOMA Plan. I would like to see further upzoning of corner lots to be able to add more housing. I would also want to introduce the idea of air rights for residential in office projects in exchange for additional height.

Generally, I strongly believe we should build more housing especially when there is a growing economy. The Bay Area will experience a future recession that will impact housing production negatively.

Currently, many governing boards will follow the wishes of a district official on housing in their district, even if other officials disagree. Would you follow this tradition? For instance, would you adhere to the informal custom at the Board of Supervisors to give “supervisorial prerogative” to district supervisors when deciding on housing projects in their districts? Do you think officials should be able reject housing in their districts?

As a Planning Commissioner, I was unapologetically for the production of more housing – sometimes in the face of dissent from fellow colleagues on the Planning Commission and dissenting voices in the public. I would be the same as a Supervisor. As Supervisor I will make my voice heard as an advocate for more housing Citywide and do everything I can to make it easier for other Supervisors to vote for more housing.

To the final question of whether officials should be able to reject housing, technically the Housing Accountability Act makes this illegal unless there are health and safety issues. This is why I would be focused on reforming our land use codes to make criteria for potentially rejecting or delaying housing entitlement more objective and explicit.

How would you strengthen tenant protections? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful. Feel free to explore issues such as Right to Civil Counsel, your position on Costa Hawkins, etc.

As a lifelong renter who moved every 2-3 years from age 0 -18 due to rising rents, I deeply understand how lack of stability in living circumstance can impact people. Potential changes I would immediately look into include:

  • Right to universal counsel to combat abusive techniques to force tenants out of housing without legal eviction;
  • Implementation of recently passed legislation amending the ability of landlords to pass-through real estate costs to tenants;
  • In the event of passage of legislation similar to SB 827, an expansion of the State Relocation Act and the Replacement Housing Obligation under Redevelopment Law to capture these new projects.

Do you support a vacancy tax for empty units and/or undeveloped parcels? Cities like Paris and Vancouver collect vacancy taxes on homes that are not the primary residences of their owners in an attempt to encourage use of those units. Other municipalities are exploring taxes on vacant parcels to encourage development. What are your thoughts?

Yes. A vacancy tax would be a low impact way to further ensure that housing is for residents of San Francisco to live in. There are a number of models that I began analyzing during my tenure as San Francisco Director of SPUR including a graduated vacancy tax and a homesteaders tax. I look forward to exploring more. Incidentally, the information required to implement a vacancy tax would also help enforce our short-term rental legislation.

Do you support the repeal or reform of Proposition 13? Prop. 13 is a state law that caps property taxes at 1% of their assessed value at purchase. The law allows only property tax reassessment increases up to 2% per year or allows reassessment if the property changes ownership by being sold (but not inherited). The law also requires state and local tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority. Please speak about your position on both commercial and residential Prop 13.

Prop 13 needs to be repealed for commercial and residential property and replaced with a property taxation system that is fair and acknowledges the realities of today. Too many people are locked out of ownership in the housing market and many others are unable to move voluntarily from homes they own due to the impact of Prop 13. Commercial property owners Prop 13 who have benefitted from a roaring economy in California are significantly under contributing to the State’s general fund. Prop 13 also contributes to California’s lack of ability to adequately fund public education and other services and overreliance on regressive taxes. We need to protect low net worth homeowners, especially seniors and others out of the workforce, but this can be done while still rethinking property taxation in California.

What is your opinion on street tent encampments and people living in vehicles? Do you support enforcement action against unhoused people living in tents, RVs and cars? Give us some alternative policies you think would be most impactful in addressing homelessness.

It is imperative that we take meaningful steps towards eliminating homelessness. I will take advantage of Assemblymember Phil Ting’s recent legislation allowing the $1/month rental of Caltrans land to build more shelter beds and navigation centers.  Beyond that, I will be focused on producing more housing suitable for formerly homeless in San Francisco and advocating for Bay Area wide solutions. The coordinated entry system we have implemented here should be shared regionally and we should be joining efforts with the other Bay Area counties to produce more housing and get a roof over everyone’s head.

 

While we work on permanent housing solutions, we should not criminalize homelessness. For those living in vehicles, we should have designated overnight parking across the City. We need to get people living in tents off the street as quickly as possible.

What local and regional transit or other multimodal initiatives would you propose? Give us ideas of new transit lines, fare integration, bike lanes, infrastructure upgrades, etc. How can we expedite these policies and move away from car dependency?

I am committed to meeting the GHG emissions reduction goals outlined in San Francisco’s 0-80-100- Roots Climate Action Framework. As Supervisor I would want to pursue the following in the area of transit:

Locally:

  • Work with the State delegation to pursue piloting congestion pricing starting with the downtown area;
  • Push for meaningful progress on building out a full system of bike infrastructure in San Francisco;
  • Further connect public transit with new modes of getting around (e.g. bike and scooter share). As a start, I support having all these methods be connected to Clipper card;
  • Seek to create more east-west transit lines in SOMA coupled with a study of making more streets two-way to increase transit, bike and pedestrian access while calming traffic;
  • Accelerate studies of how to implement dynamic curbspace to make more room for multi-modal travel while accommodating delivery/drop-offs and accessibility for the disabled.

Regional:

  • Support efforts to start a second transbay crossing;
  • Continue to work on funding the completion of the downtown rail extension (DTX) and Caltrain/High-Speed Rail.

Is there anything else you would like the membership to know about you or your positions?

I have spent 14 years diving deeply into how to create room for many more people in San Francisco while making this city more diverse and closing the inequality gap. I believe equitable development is not only possible, but the direction we need to go in. In addition, more housing production in cities is key to the Bay Area becoming more resilient to climate change. San Francisco has an opportunity to change the course we are on and I hope to help get us there as District 6 Supervisor.

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