Home » Activism, Buildings » Questioning Validity of SOMA Stabilization Fee – Hindering Future of Rincon Hill Neighborhood?

Questioning Validity of SOMA Stabilization Fee – Hindering Future of Rincon Hill Neighborhood?

At Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Michael Antonini made a comment during Commission Comments (Agenda Item 8, if you wish to view/hear it yourself on SF Government TV online) that I encourage Rincon Hill neighbors to contact the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and the Mayor to support and to encourage follow-up.

First, let me say that this has nothing to do with the dust up last week created by an article that failed to mention One Rincon Hill’s development company had already paid over $16.6 million to the City for fees. Also, I want to note that I do not live at One Rincon Hill – and am not arguing that the SOMA Stabilization Fees should or should not be paid. My focus is making sure the Rincon Hill neighborhood, specifically the southern portion included in the Planning Department’s Rincon Hill Plan Area, has a fair shot at becoming a livable neighborhood that brings to fruition the environmentally responsible ideas of high-density residential development near San Francisco’s downtown jobs and the Bay Area’s multi-modal transit hub.

Commissioner Antonini commented that there should be a study to verify that there is a negative impact on the rest of SOMA specifically caused by the development of land contained within approximately 14 blocks that make up the Rincon Hill Plan Area. Is there a direct relationship between development in that small portion of SOMA and the rest of SOMA? To my knowledge, the Rincon Hill Plan area is the ONLY portion of SOMA that contributes development fees to the SOMA Stabilization Fund. I have a phone call in to the Eastern Neighborhoods Program Manager at the Planning Department, Ken Rich, to verify the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan doesn’t require a secondary fee to add money to the SOMA Stabilization Fund. I’ll correct this posting if I learn the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan also includes a SOMA Stabilization Fee.

If a study proves that development of the 14 blocks within the Rincon Hill Plan Area are the ONLY blocks that would impact SOMA in a negative manner so as to justify this additional $14 per square foot fee to pay the SOMA Stabilization Fund in addition to the $11 or so per square foot paid for infrastructure within the Rincon Hill Plan Area, then I’ll shut up about how unfair and disriminatory I believe the SOMA Stabilization Fee is to the Rincon Hill neighborhood and how it impedes the Rincon Hill neighborhood’s ability to move forward with more residential development beyond the single tower of One Rincon Hill that has been built thus far and has had to pay the SOMA Stabilization Fee.

If a study verifies what my midwestern sensibilities (what others might call common sense) tell me – that developments in other parts of SOMA and even west and north of SOMA have just as much of an impact on residents in the broad area defined as South of Market – the next question has to be whether or not the impact requires a fee to be paid into the SOMA Stabilization Fund equitably by all developments in SOMA and adjacent areas to SOMA – and how much should the fee assess since $14 per square foot is being expected of just a few (about 14) city blocks and there are hundreds of blocks within the broader SOMA and adjacent areas?

As Commissioner Antonini said on Thursday, “We all win by having more buildings move forward.”

If the SOMA Stabilization Fee is holding back development in the Rincon Hill Plan Area’s 14 blocks, this is a huge impediment to the quality of life and livability of Rincon Hill residents. I think it is sad as hell that people entering San Francisco from the Harrison Street ramp off of the Bay Bridge drive through that first block of Fremont Street that looks like a bombed out block in the City of Detroit instead of a block near our beautiful waterfront, downtown jobs center, and the Bay Area’s multi-modal transit hub.

For people living in Rincon Hill, what does the SOMA Stabilization Fee hindrance to development mean? While we watch SOMA Grand, BLU, Millennium, and Triniity Plaza go up in SOMA without having the hindrance of the $14 per square foot SOMA Stabilization Fee to hinder those developments, Rincon Hill neighbors will have to wait for years for new developments before the simple Guy Place Pocket Park might provide us with some recreational green space. We will probably have to wait for years more before the Sailors Union of the Pacific Building is retrofitted and can be shared with the Union as the Rincon Hill Community Center. How many Rincon Hill neighbors and workers have to die or get seriously injured before the pedestrian streetscape in Rincon Hill is improved to make the area safe for people to walk to their jobs, to the Transbay Temporary Bus Station, to the waterfront, and to the handful of restaurants open on weekends?

I strongly encourage you to demand the City revisit the SOMA Stabilization Fee and prove that it isn’t the disciminatory, burdensome fee that impedes further development in the 14 blocks of Rincon Hill that it applies to … or to start charging other developments in SOMA and adjacent areas the fee, with the opportunity to reduce the fee if it is paid by more than just 14 blocks of land occupants … or kill the fee all together if there are more benefits from new services and infrastructure due to adding high-density residential housing than there are negative impacts.

3 Responses to Questioning Validity of SOMA Stabilization Fee – Hindering Future of Rincon Hill Neighborhood?

  1. Jamie,

    I don’t think that it is the stabilization fees themselves that are preventing Rincon Hill from becoming a livable, sustainable neighborhood, although the SoMa stabilization fund could be better integrated into planning and public benefits in the rest of SoMa.

    A public benefit fee of $20/square foot was imposed in the Eastern SoMa Plan area, which includes South Beach and South Park immediately south of Rincon Hill and the 6th Street corridor. The Western SoMa Task Force just recommended to the Board of Supes that the same public benefit fee also be collected in Western SoMa. The Western SoMa Task Force also asked that it be included in the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes Eastern SoMa, but also the Mission, Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront.

    SoMa Stabilization fees are paid by development on Rincon Hill, but can be spent elsewhere in SoMa. This may make some sense, as sites for affordable housing, for example, may be cheaper outside of Rincon Hill, and some impacts of development, like Rincon Hill’s traffic, affect surrounding neighborhoods. East SoMa fees are different; although they are raised by development within East SoMa, they cannot be spent on Rincon Hill or in Western SoMa, but can be spent in the Mission, Potrero, or elsewhere in Eastern Neighborhoods. Western SoMa would like to be represented on the CAC that spends the fees, and coordinate its public benefit projects with Eastern Neighborhoods, but so far is separate.

    I think that the three SoMa planning areas that collect and disburse fees – Rincon Hill, Eastern SoMa, and Western SoMa – ought to be integrated into a single SoMa public benefits fund, with an integrated CAC that represents all the SoMa neighborhoods. SoMa’s infrastructure needs are best planned together; a street like Folsom, for example, runs through six different planning areas (Rincon Point/South Beach, Rincon Hill, Transbay, Yerba Buena, Eastern SoMa, Western SoMa), but requires a coordinated approach from end to end in order to become the great pedestrian and transit street that many of us want it to be.

    Likewise, a more integrated approach to promoting housing diversity across SoMa – rental and for sale, market rate and below market rate – would make the various neighborhoods in SoMa more complete and balanced; some neighborhoods, like Rincon Hill, are exclusively expensive condos (the chief reason for me why Rincon Hill still feels rather artificial and un-neighborhoody), while others are almost exclusively below-market-rate rental.

  2. Hi Tom,

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments – and thanks for sharing them on the Rincon Hill Neighborhood Association blog!

    I agree 100% that an integrated, single SoMa public benefits fund would be the equitable way to mitigate increasing demands on infrastructure. I’m afraid what we have now is very unfair because developers face some of the most expensive land acquisition costs in the City AND not one but two infrastructure fees. It will be interesting to pay attention to how quickly mid-Market develops compared to Rincon Hill – maybe it isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but money is being syphoned away from RIncon Hill to benefit mid-Market, and meanwhile developers seem to trade the rights to develop in Rincon HIll instead of actually stick a shovel in the ground and start building their approved projects.

    Rincon Hill isn’t quite a neighborhood because there are no community meeting spaces. We’re on an island right now. Almost all of the businesses are designed to serve the weekday office workers, often closing at 3pm on Friday and not re-opening until Monday morning. Those restaurants open on the weekends are much too expensive for under $80k earners like me who live here. The Ferry Building comes close to providing a common meeting spot on Saturday mornings, but it certainly isn’t any single neighborhood’s hang out. I was hopeful about the Guy Place pocket park, but until more buildings go up, there’s no money for that simple little park to be built … and the streets are horribly dangerous for pedestrians. It is shameful that San Francisco wants to create this walkable neighborhood, but the City hasn’t done a damn thing to make it safe for people to walk around.

  3. […] SPUR has the same thoughts on his mind as Commissioner Antonini from the Planning Commission about reevaluating the legitimacy of the SOMA Stabilization Fund fee that only applies to new projects built within the 14 blocks of the Planning Department’s […]