Urban Infill Housing is a Climate Solution for San Francisco

San Francisco Department of the Environment Staff


San Francisco has declared a climate emergency calling for "immediate and accelerated action to address the climate crisis" and is asking city agencies to study ways to reduce emissions.

To: San Francisco Department of the Environment Staff
From: [Your Name]

Dear San Francisco Department of the Environment Staff,​

I'm writing to urge you to include dense urban infill in San Francisco as one of the mitigation strategies considered in responding to the Board of Supervisors' declaration of a Climate Emergency.

As you know, the largest source of emissions in SF, and the state as a whole, is from transportation, and little progress has been made reducing these emissions, partly because of a severe lack of access to housing near jobs that is increasingly forcing people into super-commutes [1]. Dense urban infill housing addresses this problem, and encouraging this new construction in San Francisco to be all-electric or otherwise decarbonized will further enhance the climate benefits. [2]

More generally, for SF to show leadership in tackling this global challenge, it is critical that we think beyond reducing emissions from the existing population of the city. Already, SF’s emissions per capita are lower than surrounding suburbs, and much lower than most US cities outside coastal California, where we benefit from a mild climate and clean electricity. A recent study by Chris Jones and collaborators at UC-Berkeley analyzed emissions footprints geographically and concluded that urban infill is the single most impactful policy step that San Francisco can take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. [3]

As you consider strategies to address the climate emergency, I hope that you will highlight the construction of new homes near transit and jobs as a key local solution to this global problem.

Thank you.
Urban Environmentalists
San Francisco Housing Action Coalition
YIMBY Action
And signatories.

Cc: San Francisco Board of Supervisors

[1] Why Housing Policy Is Climate Policy (NY Times, Mar 25, 2018)
[2] Residential Building Electrification in California (E3, 2019)
[3] California Local Government Climate Policy Tool (Adapted from Jones et al. 2018) The tool shows that urban infill for San Francisco could avoid 700 thousand metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030, more than any other single measure. (San Francisco's direct emissions in 2017 were just over 5 million metric tons.)