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The Transformation Of SoMa

The New SoMa

San Francisco’s South of Market district is a unique patchwork of commercial retail, office space, bars, restaurants, and light industrial space with a character all its own. The neighborhood has seen substantial growth in the past few years, with major tech companies setting up headquarters in the once-industrial district. A comprehensive rezoning effort called the Central SoMa Plan has just been approved, and another called the Western SoMa Plan is being analyzed by the Environmental Impact Report board (EIR) to help the growing neighborhood address its housing and transit concerns. 


On a broad level, the plans call for a total of 13 sub-projects across SoMa that will create a sustainable, modern neighborhood, with importance placed on affordable housing options. The recently completed Transbay Terminal project and the soon-to-be completed Central Subway project will bring a new level of accessibility to the area, so infrastructure improvements are vital for positive growth to occur. As many as 32,000 new jobs are expected to be created as a result of the project with an estimated 8,550 new homes built by 2040.

Along with street layout changes and the addition of major retailers ( like the 55,000 square foot Whole Foods location at the new Mid-Market development, Trinity Place ) the most notable change to the neighborhood will be the removal of height restrictions on several large parcels of previously industrial or office-zoned land. New height limits will increase the maximum building height north of Harrison Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets from 130 to 200 ft.; south of Harrison from 85 to 350 ft.; and south of Bryant between 4th and 6th Streets from 85 to 400 ft.


An estimated 17.7 million square feet of housing is expected to be built in the neighborhood over the next 20 years, but zoning changes could raise that number to 31.7 million square feet, accommodating for much needed housing in the area.

Two major aspects of the rezoning will be the Folsom-Howard street plan and Western SoMa plan. These projects aim to create a “Civic Boulevard” though SoMa – a main transportation pavilion connecting diverse communities to each other and to the rest of the city. Safe, modern street environments are the end goal, with more efficient transit layouts, new parks and parklets, and more desirable land parcels for future mixed-use buildings.

The Folsom - Howard Plan

Folsom Street and Howard Street are two of SoMa’s main thoroughfares, however they are known for their inability to support the diversity of transit options that San Franciscans rely on. Short term goals for the Folsom-Howard plan revolve around immediate changes that will make commuting by foot, bike, and vehicle more safe and pleasant. Here is diagram of how Folsom Street is currently configured:


Near-term measures include installing parking-protected bikeway swaps, increasing parking and loading restriction zones on Folsom and Howard Streets and adding boarding islands to the Folsom-12 Line.

The end goal of the project is to create parking-protected bikeways, pedestrian and transit facilities, upgrades to traffic signals, traffic circulation modifications, and changes to parking and loading restrictions. 


Beyond these crucial safety measures, plans for street beautification and neighborhood improvements are also called for. These will include


This initiative is fully funded with $26 million in local funds – from planning and community outreach to construction. The timeline for the project calls for construction of near-term improvements to end by Winter 2019 and long-term improvements completed in 2021. 

The Western SoMa Plan

The Western SoMa Plan aims to build on the existing mixed-used character of SoMa, with the creation of new housing and commercial retail space west of 4th Street. At the time of its previous rezoning in the late 1980s, Western SoMa was seen as an ideal location for office development, however today, the neighborhood is viewed as a prime location for meeting the city’s growing housing needs. 


The project calls for non-residential rezoning on Townsend Street as a “high tech corridor” northwards towards Market street. Additionally, uses to the south side of Harrison Street will focus on commercial and retail space with residential zoning planned for all areas north of Harrison.

Please refer to this SFMTA Zoning Guide for detailed changes to the Western SoMa neighborhood.


The plan will ultimately seek to create future housing resources in the existing neighborhood rather than building new neighborhoods. Locations for these future high-rise residential developments will fit in with the existing pattern of mixed-use zoning, embracing the mixed-used development of Western SoMa rather than simply maximizing housing production. 

Learn more about the Western SoMa Plan from SFMTA’s official site: sf-planning.org

Additional Projects

San Francisco is undergoing a major revitalization of its public spaces across the entire city. The following are some major projects that will take place in SoMa or will impact the areas immediately around SoMa. 


One project that will influence Western and Central SoMa more than others is the Civic Center Public Realm Plan. Like the Central SoMa plan, these improvements aim to create a modern public pavilion with gardens, covered open-air pedestrian malls, and better access to public transportation.

Learn more about the Civic Center Public Realm Plan: Click Here


The Van Ness Hub Plan will impact areas to the south and west of SoMa with similar streetscape beautification and transit modernization efforts.

To learn more: Click Here  


Market Street remains San Francisco’s most important thoroughfare and is also undergoing a major revitalization. Learn more about the future of Market Street: Click Here 


A massive new housing development called Trinity Place is bringing big retailers to SoMa, with a 55,000 square foot Whole Foods location, food hall, and brewery. The project is expected to be completed in 2021. To learn more about this project: Click Here 


The SoMa StrEat Food Park is bringing culinary creativity and gourmet quality vendors to SoMa with a rotating selection of food trucks and and carnival-style entertainment. Learn more abou the StrEat Food Park: Click Here 


S O M A ’ S  N E W  F O O D  &  N I G H T L I F E

Cheap eats and food trucks fuel the neighborhood’s hungry workforce, but high-end and trendy pop-up restaurants are springing up all over Central and Wetern SoMa. More and more warehouses are being converted into hip bars, clubs and specialty coffee cafes.