Supervisor Scott Wiener Says Historic Preservation Is Overbearing

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Preserving the future
In its effort to preserve the past of San Francisco, the Historic Preservation Commission might just be hindering the city from having any kind of real future -- one with affordable housing, good transit, and healthy redevelopment.

It was a good thing for San Francisco when voters in 2008 passed Proposition J -- a measure pushed by then-Supervisor Aaron Peskin -- which elevated the Historic Preservation Commission from an advisory body to one that wields real authority.

Just as there is such a thing as too much development, there can also be too much preservation. In the last year alone, historic preservation advocates have been running around town trying to mark libraries, buildings, trees, and parks as historic.

More recently, the city hired consultants to survey properties citywide and decide what they thought was historically significant. Consultants looked at buildings built more than 50 years ago, but as some developers pointed out, that doesn't necessarily mean they are historically significant.

In other words, the term "historic" has become so broad that it touches almost every neighborhood, hindering development and creating new expenses for property owners. The issue has been bubbling under the political surfaces at City Hall, where some are calling it a power grab in the name of preservation.

Commissioners last week started reviewing the surveys, using them as a tool to create widespread historic districts.

Supervisor Scott Wiener took the bold step today, calling for a hearing to rein in the heavy-handed preservationists before they stamp out important development. He pointed out that there are efforts to preserve parts of Dolores Park that desperately needs renovation.

"If we have a commission made up exclusively of advocates for historic preservation --only advocates -- that is a problem," Wiener said. "We see an increase in the use of surveys, that, if unbalanced, can jeopardize future affordable housing development and transit-orient development."

In SOMA, developers are clamoring to build in one of the most ripe areas for redevelopment. Yet consultants have deemed more than 600 properties there as significant, which would mean developers would have to jump through hoops and spend millions of dollars on construction there.

It's not just a developer issue. Homeowners in the Mission are finding that their homes are being deemed historic. That would burden them with extra expenses, and force them to go through the Historic Preservation Commission before making any changes to their homes.

"You'd have to keep up with the preservation Joneses," said Joshua Arce, with the Bright Line Defense Project, a community advocate organization. "It puts a cost on preserving your home."

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naz
naz

I don't understand where SF Weekly is coming from anymore.

AB
AB

There are so many things wrong in this article, I don't even know where to begin.

"In its effort to preserve the past of San Francisco, the city's Historic Preservation Commission might just be hindering the city from having any kind of real future -- one with affordable housing, good transit, and healthy redevelopment."There is not one single example of preservation stopping an affordable housing project or any transportation projects in San Francisco, not one. In fact, affordable housing projects often use historic buildings so they can get the tax credits and utilize the historic building code. Besides, any such project would have to go through environmental review under CEQA, which is an entirely separate process from the HPC.

"More recently, the city hired consultants, giving them carte blanche to survey properties citywide and decide what they thought was historically significant."Actually, surveys are required under state law as SF is a Certified Local Government, and by CEQA. They are also (and always have been) critical elements of any area plan, and are undertaken by planning staff as part of those plans. The city has been doing surveys for decades. This is nothing new, nor is it the will of preservation.

"Homeowners in the Mission neighborhood are finding that their homes are being deemed historic. That would burden them with extra expenses, and force them to go through the Historic Preservation Commission before making any changes to their home."This is entirely inaccurate. The only reason a project sponsor would have to go to the HPC is if the property is landmarked, or part of a historic district. Being on a survey DOES NOT mean you have to go to the HPC, or jump through any hoops. In fact, it saves the project sponsor from having to spend their own money on a historic resource evaluation that is required by CEQA for any property over 50 years old. A property on the survey would already have that information documented, thus saving the project sponsor money and time. And even if the property did get landmarked (which usually happens by the property owner, by the way), they would only have to go to the HPC if they were doing major alterations to their building, such as additions. Reporting that repainting or making "any changes" would require HPC permission is inaccurate and ignorant.

This article is an example of terrible reporting. If the reporter had spent 5 minutes doing any form of fact checking, they would realize how much misinformation they're spewing.

Jmbuckley9
Jmbuckley9

As a developer of affordable housing just voted off of the Historic Preservation Commission by a vote of the Board of Supervisors today (including Scott Wiener), I find it ironic that Wiener would complain that historic preservation has held up new development. The HPC has not been "running around town" doing anything but trying to implement existing law, like CEQA and the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan approved by the Supervisors. The surveys mentioned here do nothing except allow development in the areas not designated; those areas are very small and would not be likely to be developed anyway. Hunter's Point Shipyard, TI, SOMA - have at it developers, there's nothing in the way of building in appropriate locations.

Poor reporting and poor politics - preservation is part of good planning and that's why the surveys have been completed. Blame somebody else, not the HPC, for the lack of affordable housing, new development, etc.

Alexandra
Alexandra

No, if the City had its act together, it would have programs to assist people using preservation incentives.

Hoops and millions of dollars? No, but I bet there are consultants who would sell you services for that. Surveys shorten the overall environmental review time, believe it or not.

If the HPC had its own professional staff, mission and authority from a City even marginally interested in helping homeowners or small builders, there would be one-stop assistance and a much speedier way of handling cases through the HPC.

Making it burdensome is not the fault of preservation, it's the fault of a City that would rather have preservation take the blame for their own mismanagement and lack of leadership on the issue.

Creating public frustration (and feeding red meat to the base, like some of the outrageous quotes in this story) is a political tactic: to make preservation the enemy, instead of those practicing slow-motion slum clearance.

Preservation should be practiced as a benefit, not a curse. So, curse bad government and its profiteers instead.

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