City Finalizes Central Waterfront Plan

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Last month, the San Francisco Planning Department released a final version of the Central Waterfront Public Realm Plan, reflecting an 18-month effort to synthesize municipal and neighborhood land use aspirations into one guiding document.

The plan takes a comprehensive look at the waterfront and Dogpatch east of Pennsylvania Street and north to south from Mariposa Street to Islais Creek. Included are proposals for redesigns of Tunnel Top Park, Esprit Park and Warm Water Cove, extensive beautification efforts and street connection improvements, particularly for pedestrians and bicyclists, from Potrero Hill to the Bay.

“We know Dogpatch needed a holistic vision, and that is what I think we have with this public realm plan,” said Robin Abad Ocubillo, Planning Department project manager. He cited three main principles guiding that vision. “What we want is a network of complete streets, a diversity of high quality open spaces and a landscape that expresses Dogpatch’s unique history and character,” he explained.

While some plan elements are in the idealist stage, others are already underway. A new conceptual design of Esprit Park has been approved by the Recreation and Park Department.  With an aim to maintain the park’s forest feel, changes include more defined entrances, reconfiguring the lawn to have greater amounts of usable square footage, and redefined paths for improved circulation. With $5 million committed from the University of California, San Francisco after two student housing developments were proposed nearby, and another $2.7 million allotted from impact fees paid by developers, construction is slated to begin after environmental review is complete.

Also with funding primarily from impact fees, building began in January on the 22nd Street Green Connection, which will link open spaces from Illinois Street to the Caltrain station at Iowa Street. The project, which involves tree plantings and street and sidewalk improvements, will be completed by the end of this summer. In the future, the connection may extend to Warm Water Cove, at the end of 24th Street, and up the hill to the Potrero Hill Recreation Center. The Port of San Francisco has reserved 2.5 acres to the south of Warm Water Cove for further expansion but, despite designs being included in the realm plan, Ocubillo said it’s not likely to be a priority until there’s more of a residential presence in the area.

The 22nd Street Connection is one of several that began with a neighborhood effort that was later adopted by the City.“What makes Dogpatch so special is that folks have been working for years to create beautiful open spaces in their streets,” Ocubillo said, listing Angel Alley, Minnesota Grove, Tunnel Top Park and Woods Yard. “These are all places that the community created, and we want to celebrate that with more investment, not just in those but more sites like them.”

To that end, the public realm plan calls for expanding Minnesota Grove, a street park on Minnesota Street nestled between 24th and 25th streets, all the way to the intersection of 25th. For Woods Yard, which sits along the 22nd Street greenbelt, the plan recommends replacing existing concrete areas with plantings and providing additional park amenities, such as seating and adult fitness equipment. At Tunnel Top, which was recently created by residents atop a Caltrain tunnel, the idea is to divide the park into multiple function areas – including a dog play pen, multi-use plaza and passive open space – install solar-powered nighttime lighting and create handicap access. The design was completed by landscape architect David Fletcher, who assisted with many public realm elements.

According to Ocubillo, a quirky feature of Dogpatch is its mixture of “architecture and urban fabric.” The realm plan states that “rather than draw on standard solutions found ubiquitously throughout the City,” the Central Waterfront’s unique character should be highlighted. “There are historic manufacturing buildings, historic cottages and residential buildings and warehouses that are quite beautiful,” Ocubillo said. “We want to keep that cityscape. We don’t want a neighborhood where all the buildings look the same.”

A plan aspect that builds on the industrial fabric is a call for aesthetic improvements to the 18th and 20th street overpasses, by integrating public plazas into the streetscape. Among the ideas is to place basketball or tennis courts, a dog run, fitness area or skateboard park under the passageways. And for dealing with the dark, awkward, crossing to the 22nd Street Caltrain station, the Planning Department has entered into discussions with nearby California College of the Arts to consider developing light sculptures and murals.

Those changes are also driven by a desire to improve the street grid, which, due to the area’s industrial past, is discontinuous in places. The realm plan states that “Dogpatch streets should be complete in all senses of the word,” meaning accommodating all transportation modes:  biking, walking, public transit and cars.

A difficulty in achieving that goal is that while foot traffic is growing due to increased housing development, many streets still serve industrial needs. The plan identifies the north and south sections of Minnesota Street as the most immediate concern. On Minnesota Street’s northern stretch there are plans for additional sidewalks, increased lighting and bulb-outs at intersection corners. On the southern side, due to more industrial needs, the recommended pedestrian improvements aren’t as extensive, but include plans for a continuous sidewalk to fill current gaps, as well as extending Minnesota Grove.

The plan also recommends that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reconfigure on-street parking along that stretch, including introducing parking meters. SFMTA held a public hearing last month that unveiled a parking scheme for Dogpatch that includes a combination of meters, four-hour parking areas and residential permitting.

By providing a foundation for scoping projects and developing designs and cost estimates, the public realm plan offers a streamlined way of getting projects into the municipal budget. Different city agencies have jurisdiction over various locales, and don’t always work collaboratively. At the plan’s unveiling at Dogpatch Studios, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen recalled when she took office eight years ago even the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association and Potrero Boosters didn’t get along so well. “In the past people were very siloed in their thinking, and the City in fact was very siloed in their planning.” She added that as the area develops it’s important to have the necessary infrastructure in place.

“This plan is a great model for how we can work together,” John Rahaim, San Francisco Planning director, added.

A copy of the plan can be viewed at