A Bay Area developer wants to build 4,400 homes where they may be sorely needed. Here’s why it won’t happen

Just beyond San Francisco’s city limits lies 640 acres of land that could help solve some of California’s biggest problems.

A developer wants to build 4,400 new homes there — one of the largest projects recently proposed in one of the country’s most unaffordable regions. The development would overlook a railway that drops riders into the heart of San Francisco in 15 minutes, reducing the need for cars and cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that come from them.

State and regional leaders have endorsed the project. But its fate rests with Brisbane, a city of 4,700 people that annexed the property 55 years ago. And no one, not even the developer, thinks Brisbane’s residents will approve all 4,400 homes.

“Unfortunately, we believe that their ceiling is going to be below that,” said Jonathan Scharfman, the general manager for the developer, Universal Paragon Corp.

The project, Brisbane Baylands, reveals how few incentives local governments have to accept large developments — even as the state is pushing to lower housing costs and funnel growth toward existing cities and nearby mass transit to combat climate change. Brisbane residents are wary of a project that could triple the city’s population. Under California’s tax system, Brisbane also earns more money if it rejects the current plan in favor of potential alternatives with more hotel rooms and space for businesses — but no homes.

The Bay Area’s dire need for housing makes the debate over the Baylands project “particularly painful,” said Ben Metcalf, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“It is frustrating that as a state and as a constellation of local jurisdictions we are constantly making decisions that aren’t the best for alleviating poverty, housing affordability, furthering our state’s economy or meeting our climate change goals,” Metcalf said.

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