Prop E will put new pressure on what Elberling describes as the Bay Area’s “growth industry.” Under the new dispensation, developers as well as other sectors that derive benefits from growth will have a strong incentive to make sure that affordable housing gets built. The idea is to turn developers into a lobby for affordable housing. “It would be in their self-interest,” he says. “They will push harder for more funding for more affordable housing.”
Further, the measure would expedite developments that include their fair share of affordable housing units (or pay for them to be built elsewhere). Should San Francisco fail to hit its housing targets, the Prop E regulation will instead slow new office projects—a win-win scenario, from Elberling’s perspective. “When you’re in a hole,” he says, “you stop digging.”
But addressing the city’s jobs-housing imbalance by driving jobs out of the area would be short-sighted, says Nick Josefowitz, policy director of the Bay Area urbanist nonprofit SPUR—especially because San Francisco is “one of the most transit-oriented places west of the Mississippi.” Already, offices are moving out in search of cheaper real estate; the payment-processing company Stripe fled for the more suburban city of South San Francisco this fall. Under Prop E, more offices looking to expand may have to look to the San Francisco Peninsula or to the East Bay—areas that are less connected by transit than San Francisco while similarly strapped for cheaper housing.
“When looking at the jobs-housing balance, it’s more appropriate to look at it at the regional level,” Josefowitz says. “People are commuting all over this region … many coming in from the Central Valley. What I think is important is that the entire region steps up to build … enough affordable housing to house our residents rather than trying to necessarily dice up the jobs-housing balance in small cities at that scale.”
Other opponents of Prop E have a different concern: The cap won’t do enough to slow office growth, especially in the short term. “I really think that Prop E is much ado about very little,“ says Randy Shaw, the author of a book on California’s housing supply crisis, Generation Priced Out. In his proposal, Elberling ensured that the measure will exempt 5.5 million square feet of office space across SoMa, where seven building permits have already been approved. Because of the “staggering” amount of office space not covered under the proposal, it could take 10 to 15 years for the intended targets to start brushing up against the limits, Shaw says.
In central SoMa, Elberling’s proposal not only grandfathers in the projects already underway, it would actually expedite their construction. Under Proposition M, the 1986 measure, the city set strict limits on office construction to prevent the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco; the new measure would allow these seven buildings to sidestep those restrictions. “If we stuck with Prop M as it is, it would take a long time for central SoMa plans to be built out,” says Sonja Trauss, co-executive director of the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund* and a founding figure in California’s “Yes In My Backyard” movement. “This ballot measure is going to create a flood of new offices, without doing anything to guarantee that we’ll have more affordable housing.”