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The Near East: Closer than you think

By Jordanna Thigpen

June 16, 2006

This Thursday afternoon and evening the Planning Commission, sitting in special sessions, heard an unusual agenda item.

Now typically, the Commission would never review a document in Draft format. The document at issue, San Francisco's Eastern Neighborhood Rezoning Socioeconomic Impacts, was released to the public - as of Wednesday, less than twenty-four hours before consideration by the Commission.

Why does the document exist? Because there is a serious concern over the loss of PDR (Production, Distribution, & repair) businesses. PDR land is disappearing to housing. Really, the question is how to address San Francisco's affordable housing crisis while maintaining small business, which provides employment and tax revenue (which subsidizes affordable housing - sorry, I digress.)

There have been - and will continue to be - significant changes to the portions of Districts 6, 9, and 10 which comprise the Eastern Neighborhood of the study. This document is supposed to provide a current and comprehensive socioeconomic analysis of the Eastern Neighborhoods, and provide a framework for future public policy. By way of explanation for local savants, the word 'Mission' is generically used although obviously Inner and Outer Mission have significant differences.

One more thing - Western SOMA is not included in the study - particular individuals in that area of the district requested unique consideration, in their typical spirit of cooperation. This will ultimately prove to be a serious problem in the consideration of this and other policies.

This document was prepared by Hausrath Economics, an experienced consultant. And by most preliminary accounts, they did a fine job. Planning Department Staff has not yet reviewed it and prepared their own comments. To paraphrase the words of one of the authors of the document, it is like a baby that has not even been born. Well, maybe it's time to pretend it's 100 years hence and we already control genetic outcomes.

The first problem with the analysis is that it seems to be based entirely on 2000 Census data with "estimations" (pornography for economists) of current circumstances. It's now six years later and the years 1999-2001 were a complete anomaly as far as any economy is concerned, let alone our ground zero for dot bomb.

Next, Planning Department Staff indicated they would not be considering the results of the Mayor's Economic Strategy Plan or the recent Arts Task Force report in preparing their analysis. According to staff, that is a "matter for electeds." This is academic planning rhetoric at its finest. I feel a Flat Earth Society membership in our collective future. Planning does not exist in a vacuum: start communicating with other departments!

There is no analysis in the report of how much PDR is needed to sustain the City. Such an analysis should be conducted in partnership with the Mayor's Office of Economic Development and the Small Business Commission and occur in multiple public hearings. What businesses currently depend on PDR zoning? How many would leave? Where would they go, if other PDR land in the North, South, and East Bay is being rezoned, and CV farmlands are being paved, plumbed, wired, and EIR'd for "affordable" housing projects?

The worst part of the report was the "Business Activity and Employment" section, followed by a "Business and Employment Mitigation" section. These sections were obviously written with no practical understanding of the business community, the needs of the City with regards to tax revenue, or input from anyone with any real business experience. One solution offered to the inevitable loss of businesses to housing was "Retain PDR land and building supply in Western SOMA." Sure - Western SOMA will agree to bear the industrial burden without complaint.

The questions are endless and Planning is not the Department to answer them alone.

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and President of the San Francisco Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.




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