Updated: Dec 18, 2019
The former Lyft headquarters on Harrison Street was greenlighted to expand to nearly 100,000 square feet along with 24 residential units. The site for expansion is a former manufacturing space currently sub-leased to other tech companies. Mission advocates vow to appeal the ruling.
Planning Commissioners voted to approve the expansion of the former Lyft headquarters tech space at 2300 Harrison Street to nearly one hundred thousand square feet. The project also managed to gain access to a half-dozen code exemptions by utilizing a state housing law known as the State Density Bonus law by adding 24 units of housing to the office project.
Proponents of the project argued that it was really a housing project that was funding itself by building office, although the office portion of the project was the larger of the two.
“The whole proposal was essentially utilizing housing only to capitalize on a loophole in the state law so they could build office in the Mission,” said Carlos Bocanegra, a neighborhood lawyer who represented the Cultural Action Network at the hearing. “This ruling will not stand. And these laws, especially the local ones that allowed this to be possible, need to be changed as quickly as possible to stop these predatory projects that have no place in a low-income community of color in crisis,” he said.
Rodrigo Durán, Carnival San Francisco Festival Director, told the commissioners he was concerned that the project would have tech office impacts that far exceeded any housing offering.
“The amount of housing units in this project is not even remotely close to the number of high-income earners that the office would bring to this neighborhood, a neighborhood that’s been impacted by gentrification for so many years now,” Durán said. He suggested this office project was be better suited for the downtown district rather than a small business neighborhood like the Mission.
The proposal appeared to highlight a schism between Mayoral appointees, led by recent appointee Sue Diamond, whose nomination had been greeted with concern by communities of color, and supervisorial-appointed Commissioners, who expressed concern about the impacts of this new office space and ultimately voted against the office portion of the project.
Commissioner Kathryn Moore, who voted against the tech office space, remarked that “the tech office portion of the project is a big question, as it remains a definition of office that I think runs counter to what we need to support here.”
Moore described how the Commission had spent the past several years struggling with the “wrongly scaled” impacts on the Mission from recent development. “This Commission has taken a very, very specific stand on trying to avoid any further negative and decimating impacts on that,” said Moore.
Commissioner Diamond responded saying, “If we want a different kind of office space, then our plans and codes should specify what kind of office space we want. I don’t think that we should be making it up as we go along.”
Moore clarified that the Commission was granted the specific authority to make these discretionary decisions to mitigate the harmful impacts of projects such as this one that require discretionary approvals. Shortly after her comments, the Commission went on to approve the residential space by a vote of 5-1 and the office space by a vote of 4-2. Supervisor-appointed Commissioner Dennis Richards was not in attendance.
After the hearing Mission advocates said that they accepted Commissioner Diamond’s offer and would be, therefore, going forward with their plans to rewrite the Mission Area Plan in 2020, since it had become clear that they could not rely on the Planning Commission to exercise the equitable discretion granted to them by the existing code. They also vowed they would be simultaneously appealing the office project approval.
As approved, the new expanded office space would likely provide space for more than 700 tech workers each day. The Harrison Street proposal also included 24 housing units, comprising well under half of the total project square footage.
The tech office proposal is in the middle of the neighborhood’s former industrial zone, which is still the site of many blue-collar spaces that are a significant source of both small entrepreneur opportunities and immigrant jobs. At each of the Harrison Street proposal hearings, small blue-collar business owners on Treat Street stressed their concerns to the Commissioners, and stated that from the time of its conception the project team was repeatedly told their concerns, and yet were unresponsive to issues of truck traffic, noise, and other potential problems they feared will lead to conflict with the new, upscale tenants and problems for their businesses.
At this final hearing, Chris Lawrence, a brewery owner near the project, speaking on behalf of the neighboring blue-collar spaces, said, “After dealing with the project sponsor for about a year, we have had no concessions made. I don’t believe it’s ready…There are four [blue-collar] spaces all along Treat that are very concerned.”
As in prior hearings on the project, Commissioners Melgar and Moore expressed concern about the proposal’s potential impacts, especially on nearby blue-collar businesses.
“We have four PDR spaces on this street who were asking us for relief, that they’re worried that they’re going to be able to survive [...] and we’re saying, yeah, go ahead and expand this office that you really weren’t supposed to have in the first place but we grandfathered you in,” Commission President Melgar told her colleagues.
In the end, the controversial project gained its approval by taking advantage of the state housing development bill the “State Density Bonus Law.” The Commissioners ruled that the law allowed the developers to demand the City grant them three exemptions and three waivers for the project, even though the project was largely office space rather than housing.
The site’s existing nearly sixty-eight thousand square feet of office space had previously been manufacturing space until the 2008 rezoning known as the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which contained the more localized Mission Area Plan. That rezoning plan essentially later allowed 2300 Harrison to convert to office space after regularizing a formerly illegal conversion. The concern that the project would now add even more office space through another loophole, this time a state bill, was pressed by Peter Papadopoulos of the Mission Economic Development Agency.
“This is a previously all-industrial building that was then converted to now mostly tech, that now wants to expand to what we presume to be a larger tech hub in what is our former Northeast Mission Industrial Zone, which still provides a lot of our blue-collar jobs,” he said.
Papadopoulos told the Commissioners that Mission representatives had suggested that there were office uses more suitable to the neighborhood’s needs such as “medical, dental, foundation, or philanthropic" uses, but that the project sponsors had rejected this request.
Mission advocates acknowledged that the project had added several more affordable housing units to bring the total to 6, and had made some improvements to the overall design, but argued that these changes were minor compared to the harmful gentrification impacts that were expected from this larger tech hub opening in a few years in this vulnerable area.