NEWS: How much housing will square-mile site provide? Maybe none
San Francisco Business Times
When it comes to addressing the Bay Area housing crisis, every community both large and small has a choice. They can think regionally and be part of the solution. Or they can act locally and be part of the problem.
Which brings us to Brisbane. A small city of just 4,400 residents, Brisbane contains one of the Bay Area’s largest housing opportunities. Within its borders lies the Baylands, a former garbage dump and railyard turned scrubland at the point where San Francisco gives way to the Peninsula.
Nestled between these two powerful job factories, extending for more than a square mile, with Caltrain and a freeway running alongside it, the Baylands’ 680 acres have long been seen as a major opportunity to make housing happen at a large scale. Accordingly, a developer’s plan for the site calls for more than 4,000 units, along with almost 7 million square feet of commercial buildings and a lot of open space.
Except that the city’s planning commission has told the developer that it wants no housing there — none at all.
In the planning commission’s view, the Baylands should be 1 million to 2 million square feet of commercial space. Responsibility for housing potentially thousands of people who would work there would fall entirely on other communities.
As this is still subject to the City Council’s consideration and approval, it’s possible that a more reasonable approach could emerge. But as things stand now, it’s shaping up as yet another housing fail, one that illustrates our inability to act collectively in addressing this critical issue. “Local control” is a hollow doctrine if it means in practice that individual communities can simply abdicate playing any part in the solution.
To be fair to Brisbane, it is far from the only suburban community whose actions display an attitude that the housing crisis is somebody else’s problem to solve somewhere else.
It’s a crisis that has been built brick by brick from one missed opportunities after another. The end result is that since 2010, as a region we’ve produced 500,000 new jobs — and built only 50,000 homes. The situation on the Peninsula is markedly worse: A report produced this year for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors puts the county’s imbalance between new jobs and housing over that time at 25 to 1.
Brisbane can’t escape that dynamic — no community can. But it could help craft a different one.
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