San Francisco threatens suburb over housing

file_000-3The times seem to be changing in California when it comes to housing. The decision of Brisbane, a tiny suburb of San Francisco, to exclude housing from a huge new development project has triggered harsh criticism and suggestions from several San Francisco supervisors that perhaps the town of 4,000 people should be annexed.

Cities complaining about NIMBYism by neighbors isn’t exactly a California tradition. But with housing shortages and sky-high housing costs in the Bay Area, aggressive new tactics could be the new norm as some city halls push others to do much more to add stock.

The annexation threat appears to be hollow. As noted by veteran Brisbane City Attorney Michael Roush, a functioning, non-bankrupt city can’t be taken over against its will under state law. But if the city-county of San Francisco could persuade San Mateo County to pressure one of its smallest towns to build housing — a possibility raised repeatedly — Brisbane leaders would be put in a tight spot.

At issue is Brisbane’s plan to put 8 million-plus square feet of commercial properties on a 684-acre former industrial site known as the Baylands next to Highway 101 at the foot of the San Bruno Mountains south of San Francisco. Developer Universal Paragon Corp. sought a mixed-use plan for the polluted site, including 4,434 homes. But Brisbane Mayor Cliff Lentz, town officials and most residents think that would transform their community and want no part of it. In August, the Brisbane Planning Commission formally opposed any home construction on the site, which is seen as the source of a huge sales and property tax windfall for the town.

The debate over Brisbane’s plans heated up after Lentz’s remarks last month that the housing component was unnecessary because “San Francisco is providing the housing.” That incensed San Francisco Supervisors Aaron Peskin, David Campos and Jane Kim and city Chamber of Commerce leaders.

“I grant you, the notion of exploring annexing Brisbane is provocative,” Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But, then again, the statements of the elected officials in Brisbane are provocative, too. What comes around, goes around. … For Brisbane to shirk responsibility [on housing issues] deserves a strong response.”

While continuing to talk tough, the San Francisco supervisors pulled back from a vote on the annexation resolution last week. Kim said that perhaps San Francisco or San Mateo County should consider trying to annex only the Baylands site, not all of Brisbane.

The pressure may have already influenced Brisbane. The City Council put off a planned Thursday vote related to the massive project, the Chronicle reported, saying the council may delay other related votes until next year.

But the power play is not going over well with Brisbane residents. KPIX-TV reported last week that the locals its reporter talked to feared San Francisco’s machinations might ruin their community.

“I don’t like it at all,” resident Julie Banks, whose parents and grandparents grew up there, told the San Francisco CBS affiliate. “It wouldn’t be Brisbane, it wouldn’t be a town. It wouldn’t be small and I don’t think our kids would be as safe.”

The second public hearing on the project will be held Nov. 17 at a special meeting of the Brisbane City Council. The first was held Sept. 29.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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