November 2012

Potrero Hill Residents Organize Against Kaiser Permanente Development

Sasha Lekach

Gathering strength over the past few months, a group tof roughly 200 concerned Potrero Hill residents have organized to oppose Walden Development’s plan to create a Kaiser Medical Office Building and apartment complex at the site of the former Cor-o-van building, at 16th and Mississippi streets. The burgeoning “Save Potrero” group wants to block, or at least modify, existing plans for the site, which include an outpatient facility with three floors of underground parking under a 68-foot tall building. An adjacent residential building would house 185 units, and stand 48 feet tall, with four floors, and more underground parking. The proposal is in its early stages, with construction anticipated to begin in no less than three years.

Ergin Guney is a software engineer who works in Foster City, and has lived at Texas and Mariposa streets with his partner, Ruth, for five years. According to Guney, Save Potrero emerged because of concerns that the proposed design is incongruent with the neighborhood vibe on 16th Street, and will wall off Potrero Hill. “We feel the project is of a completely incorrect style,” he said, asserting that the design is stale and unattractive. “It’s making a mockery of the area,” Guney said. “They are using every loop hole to max it out.” Guney is concerned that the Kaiser facility would reflect a creeping into the Hill of Mission Bay’s large medical and research university-style buildings.

Other neighborhood concerns include traffic congestion, increased burdens on street parking, competition with existing neighborhood businesses – with a pharmacy, eating establishments and other retailers expected to open shop on the ground floor – and the destruction of a historic building dating back to the region’s steel production days. Starting in 1931, steel companies – including steel contractor Judson Pacific-Murphy Corporation, and its predecessor Pacific Rolling Mill Company – used the 16th and Mississippi streets space as part of the steel industry that emerged in Potrero Hill in the late-1800s. “The building itself is an example of corrugated metal construction,” Guney explained. “It’s not exactly sexy sounding,” but worth preserving.

Guney insisted that Save Potrero isn’t anti-development, but would like to see more thoughtful, community-oriented building projects come into the neighborhood. “This seems like the worst case scenario with what can be done with that block,” he said. “We are not saying we don’t want Kaiser, just not at this spot.” He pointed to the California College of the Arts on Eight Street, which converted an old Greyhound yard into a modern, open building, “That’s something we’d like to see there,” he said. According to Guney, the group understands that the project is still being designed, and hasn’t been finalized, but “they want the neighborhood’s blessing, but we are asking to lop off 60 percent of their project; they aren’t going to do that.”

Kaiser Permanente spokesman Randy Wittorp emphasized that what the community is seeing in the first stages of the planning process is an initial draft, and will not be the medical building’s final design.“We are already considering the feedback we’ve received and exploring ways we can rework elements of the project and incorporate some of the suggestions,” he said. According to Wittorp, Walden Development won’t have a revised design until 2013 at the earliest, “as we want to make sure we hear from a lot of people.” Walden and Kaiser representatives have met with various Potrero residents, including at neighborhood homes, such as a Save Potrero meeting held at Guney’s home last month, which about 40 residents attended.

More meetings are planned. Walden Development hosted a booth at last month’s Potrero Hill Festival, and made another presentation at the October Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association meeting. They’ll also be on hand at Potrero Hill History Night on November 3.

According to Guney, his group’s approach is to raise awareness, letting as many people know about the plans for the site as possible, through a website, flyers and tabling. Chatter about the design has been increasing on the online neighborhood forum NextDoor Potrero Hill, where one resident posted, “If you think we have traffic problems now wait until the proposed Kaiser is built.”

For project updates: kaiserpermanentepotrero.com. For more information about Save Potrero: savelowerpotrerohill.com or contact@savethehill.com.

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