San Francisco Immersed In Construction Boom

By: Joshua Sabatini

SF Examiner Staff Writer
Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner

Although there may not be a towering construction crane on every corner of San Francisco, it can sometimes seem that way.

From the second Rincon Hill tower to the Central Subway transit project, San Francisco is undergoing a massive wave of new construction. Some 56 major developments — totaling $3.137 billion in construction costs, 500 stories and 5,188 residential units — are in various stages of the approval process, according to The City’s Department of Building Inspection.

After a building bust related to the economic downturn that was so bad that members of the building trades saw their work hours decrease by as much as 60 percent, union halls are once again emptying out as the number of job sites increases.

No agency is more familiar with this construction trend than the Department of Building Inspection, which just received funding to hire up to 27 more workers on top of its current staff of 243 people who handle the towering workload of signing off on building permits and inspecting construction work.

Some current projects began before the recession and then went into hibernation when the developers could no longer secure the financing to move ahead, agency spokesman Bill Strawn said. But others — such as the conversion of the Cathedral Hill Hotel into a major hospital on Van Ness Avenue — are new projects. The hospital development, which was years in the making, is pending approval before the Board of Supervisors.

“These major projects are all over The City,” Strawn said. “Just drive around and count the number of cranes and you’ll get a distinct impression of where building is under way. There’s certainly quite a few in the South of Market area; there’s certainly lots of work in the Hunters Point area; and there’s work along Van Ness not far from City Hall, as well as at Rincon Hill, and downtown.”

Tim Colen, executive director of the pro-development group San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, agreed that building is on the rise.

“There is no question that rental housing is booming right now,” he said.

And while the building activity is not as strong as in, say, 2006, Colen hopes it continues to improve and is “broad-based and sustained.”

Strawn said his department was expecting to issue slightly more than 55,000 for the fiscal year that just ended in June. While that is up about 6 percent from the 2009-2010 fiscal year, it is still down about 15 percent from the 65,000 permits issued in 2006-2007.

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