Mayor London Breed Announces New Legislation to Facilitate Building Housing on Parking Lots and Garages
Mayor Breed announces new “Cars to Casas” ordinance to get rid of artificial density on auto-centric lots like gas stations and parking lots
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today announced a new housing ordinance aimed at increasing density on auto-oriented lots. The “Cars to Casas” ordinance was announced at a press conference alongside Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) Chair of the California Senate Housing Committee, and housing and environmental activists, including YIMBY Action, the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, and Brightline Defense.
The “Cars to Casas” ordinance will increase density on auto-centric lots to be up to four units in Residential Housing (RH) zoning districts. In other zoning districts, where housing is already permitted, the density will be relaxed to be “to-form,” which means it will be set by existing height, bulk, and set back requirements etc. Height limits will not be raised in any zoning districts, only density will be relaxed. This will help transition what are under-utilized lots into desperately needed housing.
“Housing policy is climate policy,” said Mayor Breed. “We are at a crucial time where we can’t continue to kick the can down the road when it comes to either issue. People are becoming homeless now because of our inability to address the housing crisis, families are having trouble staying in our city because we have not built enough housing for them, and every day there is a new headline and a new study about how the impacts of climate change are taking a toll today. This ordinance will help us tackle both these issues by building a city that is designed first and foremost for people.”
“We need more housing,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). “That’s the plain and simple truth. But the only way to meaningfully build housing affordable to working people is to increase housing density, and to build this housing around public transit. Mayor Breed’s leadership will allow greater flexibility in how auto-related lots are used—so that those sites can be used for housing, which is important in the fight for both climate and economic justice.”
The ordinance will also make it easier to transition away from auto-oriented uses by removing the existing conditional use requirement to remove an auto use, which will help cut bureaucracy, another impediment to building affordable housing.
41% of the land area that is zoned for housing in San Francisco does not allow more than one unit per lot. Further, an additional 29% of the land zoned for housing in San Francisco is limited to two- and three-unit buildings. San Francisco went through a massive downzoning in the mid-1970s when it created the RH zoning districts. As a result, 70% of land zoned to permit housing in San Francisco does not permit apartment buildings with four or more units. This downzoning makes it difficult for San Francisco to build what is often referred to as “Missing Middle Housing.” This legislation will help decrease the percentage of San Francisco lots that only allow for less than 3 units.
“San Francisco’s chronic housing shortage has been driving up the cost of living and pushing people further and further away from jobs and opportunity, driving up carbon emissions while driving people down into poverty,” said Laura Foote, Executive Director of YIMBY Action. “With bills like Cars to Casas, we have the opportunity to literally transform wasted opportunities of the past into the homes of the future.”
In San Francisco, 47% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and 41% comes from natural gas used in buildings. San Francisco has been able to reduce its carbon emissions by 41% from 1990 levels, but most of that reduction has come from reducing emissions from buildings while emissions from transportation has remained relatively stable. Helping to transition lots away from auto-oriented uses will help create a City that prioritizes more sustainable development while creating more dense neighborhoods.
"Alleviating San Francisco’s housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crisis requires innovating new solutions to longstanding problems, and Cars to Casas is an inventive way to create more much-needed new homes across the City,” said Todd David, Executive Director, Housing Action Coalition. “The Housing Action Coalition is proud to support this legislation to help increase housing and decrease our environmentally-unfriendly dependence on cars, and we applaud Mayor Breed for advancing this solution."
"This policy is a step in the right direction to move away from our reliance on cars, reduce air and climate pollution, and improve public health, said Sarah Xu, Policy Associate, Brightline Defense.
Mayor Breed has continued to spearhead efforts to make San Francisco a more sustainable city by:
- Adding 20 miles of bike lanes in just two years, making it safer and easier for people to travel by bike throughout the City
- Sponsoring legislation to require more EV charging stations in all commercial parking facilities throughout San Francisco
- Committing to achieving 100% emission-free ground transportation by 2040
- Requiring all new construction in San Francisco to be all-electric
- Moving forward on phasing out natural gas in new and significantly renovated City buildings
- Sponsoring legislation to require large commercial buildings use greenhouse-gas free electricity by 2030
The “Cars to Casas” ordinance will be officially introduced at the next meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday October 19, 2021.