Lawsuit Halts Work on Mission Bay Loop

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Last month a California Appeals Court halted work on the Mission Bay Loop project, a Third Street T-line turnaround that’s planned for 18th, 19th and Illinois streets.  The Loop would enable San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) trains traveling south to return downtown once they reach Dogpatch.  As part of the Central Subway project, the Loop is expected to operate during special events and peak travel times. The stay order has residents hopeful that SFMTA will reconsider the Loop’s location, to a point further south.

“We have won a battle and continue to fight to win the war,” said William Schwartz, a member of The Committee for the Reevaluation of the T-Line Loop. The First District Court of Appeal issued a stop work order that will remain in effect until a three-justice panel rules on the committee’s appeal for a preliminary injunction against SFMTA, which could take six months or longer. The injunction would force the agency to postpone work until after a trial.

SFMTA officials have repeatedly insisted that a loop south of the planned location isn’t feasible, citing three reasons: operation of light rail vehicles would be difficult because of steep street grades; parking, loading docks and driveways pose greater conflicts for vehicle operations further south; and SFMTA would face $4 million in additional annual operating costs and a $20 million outlay for new vehicles.  However, according to SFMTA chief spokesman Paul Rose, the agency will start receiving 175 new vehicles next year.  A portion of those will serve the T-Line, calling into question SFMTA’s $20 million new vehicle estimate. 

Dogpatch residents have proposed that the Loop be built at SFMTA’s Muni Metro East facility, located at 25th and Illinois streets.  According to Rose, the layout of the streets south of 23rd Street isn’t favorable for building a loop.

Dogpatch resident Aaron Gavic raised a number of questions about the Loop in emails to SFMTA’s David Greenway, the Loop’s project manager. In response, Greenway said that by 2019 Dogpatch will have service equivalent to the N-Judah, the agency’s busiest rail line, representing a “significant increase over today’s service levels.” Rose said N-Judah trains are dispatched about every seven minutes during peak travel times; T-Line frequency during peak travel times is roughly every nine minutes.

According to Gavic, SFMTA’s reason for leaving the Potrero Kids at 3rd Street preschool out of the Loop’s environmental impact report is “very concerning.”  SFMTA said the effects of the Loop’s construction and operation on the preschool would be similar to impacts on La Scuola Internazionale di San Francisco, an elementary school located a block north of the planned loop. Potrero Kids at 3rd Street is steps from the planned loop.

According to Mimi Kawakami Kloster, Potrero Kids at 3rd Street director, residential construction in the area is making parking difficult. The preschool’s staff spend 30 to 45 minutes daily looking for parking, she said. She’s also concerned about pollution as the project is being built. Only a fabric screen and chain link fence separate the school’s playground from 19th Street, and several students have asthma, she said.

Gavic is calling on the Golden State Warriors to join efforts to challenge the Loop’s location. According to Gavic, a Loop located farther south would encourage South Bay basketball fans to use CalTrain and the T-Line to get to games. That would reduce the number enthusiasts traveling south on the T-Line from downtown, he said, and shorten wait times on the T-Line’s northern section. Warriors’ officials wouldn’t comment on Gavic’s ideas.

An aide to District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen said moving the Loop south of the planned location isn’t impossible, but it’d be more expensive and the City may lose $10 million in federal money for the project as a result of delays. That would make getting federal support unlikely in the future, the aide said. “It is a good location,” the aide said, speaking for the Supervisor.

Dogpatch Neighborhood Association president Janet Carpinelli disagreed. She said residents objected to the location ten years ago. Carpinelli cited a myriad of concerns about the project, such as the impending addition of thousands of new Dogpatch residents, changes at Pier 70, development of the Warriors’ arena and issues with truck traffic. Carpinelli argued that the cost to move the Loop five blocks south isn’t significant in the big picture of things.

A Dogpatch resident posted on Nextdoor that a group is raising money to continue the legal case against SFMTA. Four people have donated $200 to a account at The Dogpatch and Potrero Boosters neighborhood associations have contributed money as well. “I think the whole neighborhood would like to see this thing changed,” said Bill Schwartz, a The Committee for the Reevaluation of the T-Line Loop member, whose name appears on the lawsuit.