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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 housing plan.

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 off-street parking.

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 population figures.

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 Association.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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