Public Land for Housing (formerly Public Sites Portfolio)

Aerial view of San Francisco

photo credit: Phil Whitehouse


Help the City Shape the Portfolio!

Announcements & Summaries Selected Pilot Sites

On December 11, 2014, staff presented the Planning Commission an update on the program. The project team also hosted 2 public meetings in different locations of the City in October to inform the public about the project and gather initial feedback. Below are the Planning Commission materials and the public meeting summaries:

The initial first 5 pilot sites include:


Map Suggest Sites for the Portfolio
Public Lands map

For a map of all publicly-owned sites in the city for reference CLICK HERE.

Note: this map has been posted in response to community questions about what sites in the City are publicly owned. It is meant as a research and reference tool, not as an indication of the sites that can or will be included in and developed under this initiative.

To suggest sites for consideration into the Public Sites Portfolio click here to send an email  and tell us why you think it would be a good candidate site (for example, proximity to transit).

You can also submit suggestions by calling or writing to project manager, contact info below.



What Is The Public Land for Housing (formerly Public Sites) Program?

In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Ed Lee called for action to combat San Francisco’s affordability challenges and directed City agencies to examine their underutilized sites with regards to their potential for housing. In response to the Mayor’s direction, an inter-agency working group, comprised of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), Planning Department, Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), Mayor’s Office, Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) and the Real Estate Division, began drafting some principles to guide potential development of the sites, initial site analysis, development of criteria for site selection, and engagement with stakeholders.

That initial process has shaped a vision of the Public Land for Housing as a means to help San Francisco address some of its most pressing issues such as housing, transportation, and neighborhood sustainability and resiliency through the re-utilization of selected City-owned properties that have useful characteristics to maximize their use and opportunities for public benefit. In a city with extremely limited undeveloped real estate and a need to meet multiple public objectives, the goals of this project are to maintain a coordinated development of these public resources through community and stakeholder engagement; provide a range of public benefits and innovative strategies that extend beyond the sites themselves; all while still ensuring that owner agencies can further their core missions.


The program will have the following components:

  1. A set of City-supported principles, based on existing City policy, to guide the process for each selected site;
  2. Delivery of a comprehensive menu of public benefits the public sites can provide individually and collectively; 
  3. The use of policy tools and innovative strategies to achieve those benefit; and
  4. A rolling review of underutilized properties to establish a portfolio of opportunity sites for which the above-mentioned principles and tools will be applied to create approvable and implementable project proposals.

What Are the Draft Principles to Guide Development of Sites?

The working group has refined a set of principles to guide potential development of those sites ensuring they provide public benefits while helping to achieve the program goals set forth above and more generally to advance owning-agency missions.
  • Click here for full January 16, 2014 Memo to the Planning Commission with Draft Principles
  • Click here to download January presentation to the Planning Commission

The draft principles are based on existing adopted City policy documents, including:

Consistent with these and other City policy documents, the draft principles for guiding the City in establishing consistent, effective and coordinated processes across all public sites to be proposed for development are as follows:

  1. Optimize land utilization
  2. Provide public benefits
  3. Fund public services
  4. Utilize innovative approaches to deliver projects & public benefits
  5. Complement neighborhood context & engage the community

Which Sites & What Is the Criteria to Select them for this Portfolio?

In response to community feedback and the passage of Proposition K by the voters in November, (and in particular housing affordable to low and moderate incomes) the primary focus of the program is housing. This is not a singular focus; other public benefits and community needs identified through public engagement (green features, transportation demand management (TDM) measures, open space, affordable ground floor space for nonprofits, businesses and community services, etc.) will be incorporated in each housing development project.

While no property is expected to include every kind of public benefit, the portfolio will prioritize those that provide opportunities not only to address housing (as well as any additional benefits appropriate for each site) in their development but also provide important case study lessons for further citywide efforts to improve the City’s economy and livability for all San Franciscans. In addition to housing, transportation and neighborhood resilience and sustainability were identified as important to provide by the the sites selected for the portfolio. Because of their significance in the citywide context as well as to the owner agencies in fulfillment of their public missions. For public sites that are not feasible for housing but may provide a key public benefit, the inter-agency team will coordinate further conversations about site use with the owning agency to ensure appropriate consideration of all beneficial re-utilization opportunities.

Due to the fact that the transfer of surplus properties owned by the City’s General Fund departments (i.e. those that do not generate their own operating revenues) are already governed by a law (The Surplus City Property Ordinance, Administrative Code, Chapter 23A) dictating the uses of such property, this Public Sites effort will begin with select sites owned by enterprise agencies (non-General Fund departments) such as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Additional information on the specific sites to be included in the portfolio will be posted after soliciting public feedback on the principles, portfolio criteria, and, following dialogue with the owner agencies, the application of those criteria to the sites proposed for inclusion. However, the inter-agency working group is approaching this effort as an ongoing initiative, because the relative success of this project in reaching its objectives will likely elicit additional proposals to build on that success. Accordingly, we invite members of the public who are aware of sites that could further the goals set forth above to contact the staff listed at the bottom so we can add those prospects to the site review process.

Once a Site is Selected, What Happens Next?

Sites will not simply be sold off to a highest bidder after selection. The intent of the inter-agency working group is to coordinate and track the development process which will include significant opportunities for public input and any required review (environmental and other) before development begins. To track progress, the City will:

  • monitor the delivery of public benefits in the key areas of housing as well as transportation, and neighborhood sustainability and resiliency, and any other complementary public benefits (to housing) based on site characteristics;
  • confirm the general consistency of the development proposals with the principles; and
  • keep decision-makers and the public informed of the success of the project, what public benefits are being delivered, and how.

How Will Success of the Program Be Measured?

The measures to track the success of this portfolio in reaching its objectives will be refined after it is tested on a pilot site. Short-term measures may include:

  • A City and community-supported set of principles and criteria to guide the process
  • A realistic set of properties to include
  • General public satisfaction with the public engagement process 
  • Total number of planning processes for selected sites underway

Long-term measures may include:

  • Amount of housing units under construction, particularly units affordable to residents of low and middle incomes;
  • Funding for City services such as transit and transportation system operating and capital improvements; 
  • Decreased number of empty and under-utilized public properties
  • Successful application of innovative tools, that can be replicated, to deliver the key public benefits
  • Contributions toward other current public needs such as enhancements to the open space network

How Can I Participate?

City staff will lead the following public process:

  • Phase 1 Project Level: Public meetings to inform about the portfolio, the principles and the portfolio inclusion criteria, and collect input on the approach and on any innovative ideas for delivering the public benefits.
  • Phase 2 Site Level: Public meetings with community residents and interested members of the public on specific sites included in the portfolio after the sites have been selected through the completion of Phase 1 above.
  • There will also be informational hearings at City Commissions and Boards such as the Planning Commission. They will be posted on the website as they get scheduled.

What is the Timeline for This Project?

The timeline for the project is expected to proceed as follows:

2014-2015 Phase 2 Public Outreach and Engagement for specific pilot sites.
Winter 2015 Draft requests for proposals for initial site(s) issued;
Additional sites analyzed;
Informational reports at the Planning Commission and/or owner-agency commissions or boards of directors.

Developer partners selected for first-phase projects;
Report on program status.

Who Do I Contact if I have Questions or Feedback?

SF Planning Department
Sue Exline, Project Manager
Direct: 415-558-6332

Office of Economic Development (OEWD)
Note: please direct all media inquiries to the OEWD contact below:

Mike Martin, Program Director
Direct: 415-554-6937