Posh neighborhood with racist past seeks ‘historic’ designation to stop multifamily housing, critics say 

St. Francis Wood in San Francisco has cleared a state hurdle, but now needs to have the designation approved by a top National Register official, who has 45 days to consider the motion.

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St. Francis Wood, an upscale neighborhood in San Francisco, has been approved for a historic designation by the state of California that could allow the community to avoid further development of two-unit housing in areas zoned for single-family homes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

A state commission approved the neighborhood’s bid for a historic designation but the final decision rests with Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places Joy Beasley, who has 45 days to consider the recommendation and is currently accepting public comments. 

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SB9, also known as the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act, requires cities to allow one additional residential unit onto parcels zoned for single-dwelling units. (Stock photo)

The Chronicle noted that the St. Francis Homes Association presented a strong case for historical designation by citing the neighborhood’s unique community planning, architecture, and landscaping. However, those in opposition to the move cited the city’s history, including a clause that once said that people of “African, Japanese, Chinese or of any Mongolian descent” were barred from owning property in the community. 

The California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act, which began as a state bill known as SB9 and went into effect in January, requires cities to allow one additional residential unit onto parcels zoned for single-dwelling units, according to SantaMonica.gov. The goal of the law is to create denser housing in a state where housing, particularly affordable housing, is scarce. 

St. Francis Wood is not the first affluent neighborhood to attempt to elude SB9. Woodside tried to designate its entire town as a mountain lion habitat — a claim that was struck down. Additionally, Palo Alto is adding dozens of homes to its historic registry for the same reason. 

“St. Francis Wood neighborhood and SF’s other residence parks in the west of Twin Peaks area have a long and vile history of racism and exclusion, and granting this neighborhood protected status would be to celebrate that history and protect it by law,” Robert Fruchtman, a housing advocate and San Francisco resident, said during public comment.

St. Francis Wood’s racist past may not impact the neighborhood’s goal of being named a historic community. Commissioner Alan Hess said he was “uncomfortable” with speakers who “reduced” the neighborhood’s history to its racist past, saying that St. Francis Wood is an important part of preserving history “both good and bad.”

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