Community Expresses Mixed Feelings About Potrero Power Plant Project

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Closed in 2011, the Potrero Power Plant sits on more than 28 acres located on a central piece of waterfront property. It was purchased from NRG Energy by Associate Capital in 2016, which in 2017 started planning to develop the area into a multi-use complex that’d include 2,682 residential units, according to an environmental impact report published in October.

At a well-attended Planning Commission meeting held last month, stakeholders’ attitudes toward the proposed development ranged from enthusiastic to skeptical. Those hostile to the project tended to be older Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents, with their younger neighbors being more open to initial designs.

Scott Kline, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association member, is an ardent project supporters. “I think Associate Capital has come in and really woven themselves into the neighborhood,” he said. “The open space and shore access is going to be incredible.”  Kline noted that there are basic services missing from Dogpatch that stand in the way of the neighborhood flourishing. “We don’t even have a grocery store.”

Dogpatch resident John Lorna agreed with Kline, adding that he saw many of his neighbors that support the project at the meeting. “I can’t tell you how excited I am,” he said. “Very exciting to me and my neighbors.”

While few individuals have expressed outright opposition to the project, Associate Capital has faced significant criticism from Dogpatch and Hill residents, as well as historical associations, about the development’s impacts, especially its effects on existing structures. Some people consider the power plant buildings an important piece of the past that should be preserved; others consider them eyesores beyond repair. The current plan preserves part of the old structures, including the smokestack and possibly a smaller brick building nearby, Station A.

“We are open to considering the possibilities where that (Station A) gets saved, but not at the expense of the project,” said project architect Emily Pearl of Lundberg Design.

Preservation advocates insist that Associate Capital’s approach is insufficient.  “As far as historic preservation goes, they all fail miserably, prioritizing the 1965 stack and Unit 3 over the most historically significant structures,” said Alison Heath, a Potrero Boosters member. Heath also believes the current plan doesn’t adequately consider the impacts of greater population density. “The range of alternatives should have included a Reduced Density Alternative. This was requested during scoping.”

Jim Marshall, of The Victorian Alliance, urged the Planning Commission, to save the buildings. “Incorporating the old makes the project richer,” he said. “It embraces the history.”

Laura Foote, of YIMBY, disagreed with the preservationists. “See how much history is being lost because it’s rotting away. We’re preserving a rusting hulk of industrialism…what is the point of the waterfront if it’s not infused with life? We need more life in our City.”

The EIR suggests that demolishing the buildings could result in potential release of hazardous materials, an issue that will need to be addressed as work progresses.  The amount of pollutants estimated to be emitted “would violate an air quality standard, contribute substantially to an existing or projected air quality violation.” To mitigate pollutants, a Construction Emissions Minimization Plan must be presented to the Environmental Report Office, part of San Francisco Department of Environment, prior to construction start indicating how the contractors will limit engine emissions, with written verifications from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and San Francisco Planning Department that the amount of toxic air contaminants doesn’t “exceed 10 in one million at any onsite receptor.”

“In terms of air quality, mitigation includes using and maintaining newer equipment that meets the highest available emissions standards, using low-polluting fuels, and limiting the use and idling of diesel equipment,” said Gina Simi, Planning Department communication manager. “In addition, the project sponsor would be required to pay mitigation offset fees to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to further reduce pollutant levels that remain above air district standards.”

The Environmental Impact Report reviews the project’s potential consequences on traffic, noise, and other issues, finding that none would cause unreasonable impacts.

“I do not think the DEIR sufficiently explores shadowing,” said former Hill resident Ron Miguel, though he has “big hopes for this development.”

Katherine Doumani, who has lived two blocks from the site for years, believes that “if shadowing remains significant then mitigations must be considered.”

Projects that raise the amount of ambient noise by more than five decibels must make take action to reduce sound. A projection-based model was used to estimate noise changes resulting from the proposed development; most of the levels were under the five decibels threshold.

“Mitigation for construction noise includes the most modern and quiet construction equipment, tools, and techniques, maximizing the distance between noisy construction activities and sensitive uses,” said Simi. “Also, the construction of temporary noise barriers, and scheduling noisy construction activities at less disruptive times of day.”

Because work is planned to extend for about 15 years, there’ll conceivably be residents living in completed buildings while construction continues in other areas. Noise mitigation will be an ongoing issue that may get harder to deal with as the project progresses.

“It’s a great spot for housing and development,” said Planning Commissioner Rich Hillis. “I see a lot of potential for this site.”