REGIONAL AND LOCAL SETTING
The regional setting and history of South San Francisco help tell the story of the community today and set the stage for the future of the city.
The City of South San Francisco is located on the San Francisco Peninsula in San Mateo County, about 2.5 miles south of San Francisco, and encompasses approximately 5,000 acres. It is in a basin bounded by San Bruno Mountain to the north, the Coast Range to the west, and the San Francisco Bay to the east. The City is bordered by the cities of Brisbane to the north, Daly City, Pacifica, and Colma to the west, and San Bruno to the south.
Sphere of influence and sub-areas
While the citywide policies in the General Plan are expected to be applied throughout all of South San Francisco, many local interventions and actions are needed on a smaller scale to address issues and concerns unique to certain neighborhoods. The General Plan augments citywide goals and policies and provides policies and implementation actions specific to South San Francisco’s unique sub-areas. The sub-areas are referenced throughout the General Plan, and the Sub-Areas Element establishes a detailed range of policies related to housing, employment, public realm, connectivity, and more. The Sub-Areas include Downtown, El Camino Real, East of 101, Lindenville, Avalon-Brentwood, Orange Park, Paradise Valley/Terra Bay, Sign Hill, Sunshine Gardens, Westborough, and Winston Sierra.
In addition to the Sub-Areas, South San Francisco has two unincorporated areas within its Sphere of Influence (SOI). One area is mostly owned by the City and County of San Francisco and is the site of the California Golf Club of San Francisco. The other area is within the Avalon planning sub-area and is primarily made up of single-family housing. Both areas are a part of unincorporated San Mateo County.
With the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad between San Francisco and San Jose in 1907, South San Francisco’s convenient transportation access made it a prime location for industrial uses, including steel manufacturing. The City of South San Francisco incorporated in 1908, with industrial uses located to the east of the Southern Pacific Railroad and residences to the west in a grid pattern in the Downtown area.
In 1890, the South San Francisco Land and Improvement Company acquired land in the area to develop a town next to the packing plants.
With the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad between San Francisco and San Jose in 1907, South San Francisco's convenient transportation access made it a prime location for industrial uses, including steel manufacturing. The City of South San Francisco incorporated in 1908, with industrial uses located to the east of the Southern Pacific Railroad and residences to the west in a grid pattern in the Downtown area.
During the first half of the twentieth century, steel manufacturers, shipbuilders, lumber companies, and other industries began to call South San Francisco home. The Chamber of Commerce promoted local business by declaring South San Francisco "The Industrial City" and building a large cement sign with this nickname on Sign Hill in 1923. Population boomed during the first and second World Wars, leading to the federal government to build housing for military personnel at Lindenville and other sites in the city.
These developments were demolished in the 1950s and eventually replaced with single family housing and industrial buildings. Residential and industrial uses expanded in the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond.
In the 1950s, the city converted marshland in the East of 101 subarea into industrial land, reshaping the shoreline and providing opportunity for more industrial and office growth.
A defining moment in the city’s history occurred in 1976, when Robert Swanson and Dr. Herbert Boyer founded Genentech, a company founded with the mission of using recombinant DNA technology to create medicine. This earned the City of South San Francisco a new nickname, “birthplace of biotechnology,” and attracted other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to the area.
Today, South San Francisco continues to be a place where people, employers, and more can find opportunities to thrive. As evidenced by South San Francisco’s transition from a ranch to the “Industrial City” to the “Birthplace of Biotechnology,” the city’s identity has evolved significantly over time and will continue to do so in perpetuity.
PROFILE AND TRENDS
South San Francisco has undergone much change since the end of the 20th century. As South San Francisco has continued to grow, the demographic characteristics of the city’s residents have continued to evolve. The continued growth of jobs has boosted South San Francisco’s economy but has contributed to the city’s jobs-housing imbalance. This has led to housing affordability and displacement issues, in addition to more commuter traffic congestion. The risks associated with climate change hazards have also increased, with sea level rise posing the greatest risk to South San Francisco. These opportunities and trends helped to shape the General Plan.
As the city has continued to grow, the racial composition has evolved since 1990, with a majority Asian Pacific Islander and Latino population in 2020. The majority of Asian Pacific Islanders reside in the Westborough sub-area, while the majority of Latinos reside in the Downtown sub-area.