City disappointed in ruling
requiring study of housing plan
By Julia Cheever
June 27, 2007
A lawyer for the city of San Francisco said Tuesday officials
are "looking at all our options" in the wake of an appeals
court ruling ordering an environmental impact report on a city
Deputy City Attorney Audrey Pearson said possible next steps
could be either an appeal to the California Supreme Court or going
ahead with the study, which could take 18 months to complete.
Pearson said, "We're very disappointed" in the ruling
issued by the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco Friday. "The
decision doesn't help the whole notion of smart growth and putting
housing near transit," she said.
But Kathryn Devincenzi, a lawyer for neighborhood groups that
sued the city, said, "It's a huge victory for the neighborhood
advocates. The city will be required to analyze and mitigate the
effects from high density and reduced parking spaces."
The attorney said, "We're hoping to use the decision as
a way to preserve the character of the neighborhoods. There should
be a way to grow in the right way."
The plan, contained in the housing element of the city's general
plan, was approved by the Planning Commission in 2004. It calls
for higher housing density in transit corridors and decreased
A coalition of 14 neighborhood groups known as San Franciscans
for Livable Neighborhoods sued the city, arguing that an environmental
impact report was needed.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously agreed,
saying a study was needed because the plan could have significant
impacts on traffic, air pollution and noise.
Justice Patricia Sepulveda wrote that the plan reflects "a
shift away from preserving existing housing density and a movement
toward allowing denser housing development and decreased off-street
parking, which in turn could lead to increased traffic congestion,
air pollution and noise, as well as a change in the aesthetic
quality of city neighborhoods."
The appeals court overturned a 2005 ruling in which San Francisco
Superior Court Ronald Quidachay said an environmental report was
not needed because the 2004 housing element did not vary greatly
from the previous plan, developed in 1990.
The 2004 plan was crafted in response to the Association of Bay
Area Governments' estimate that San Francisco's population would
increase by about 32,500 by 2010 and would require 2,717 new housing
units each year between 1999 and 2006.
State law requires cities to update the housing elements of their
general plans every five years, but cities sometimes receive extensions.
San Francisco's next update is currently due in 2009. Pearson
said she didn't know how a study of the current plan would fit
in with the fact that the next plan is due close to the time that
the 18-month report would be completed.
"We will have to look at the intersection with the 2009
plan," Pearson said.
Devincenzi said the ABAG projection reflected the former dot.com
boom and that the city has in fact lost rather than gained population
in recent years.
She said she believes the new study will have to look at current
The neighborhood groups that sued include, the Cow Hollow Association,
Francisco Heights Civic Association, Greater West Portal Neighborhood
Association, Jordan Park Improvement Association, Lakeshore Acres
Improvement Club, Laurel Heights Improvement Association, Marina-Cow
Hollow Neighbors & Merchants, Miraloma Park Improvement Club,
Pacific Heights Residents Association, Presidio Heights Association
of Neighbors, Russian Hill Neighbors, St. Francis Homes Association,
Sunset-Parkside Education and Action Committee and Westwood Highlands
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