Mega-Developments Southside Challenge Public Infrastructure

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A long stretch of underutilized land on San Francisco’s southeastern Bayfront is slated for massive mixed-use development in the coming years. With a shortage of affordable housing, and a lust for economic growth, the City earmarked the Southside neighborhoods, including the Bayfront, for increased residential development when it adopted the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan in 2008. Today, an area that stretches from Mission Rock to Candlestick Point will ultimately see an influx of 20,000 households, 35,000 jobs and more than 520 acres of renovated open space as part of several projects in various planning stages, including the San Francisco Giant’s Mission Rock, Golden State Warriors’ Arena, and Forest City’s Pier 70.

Potrero Hill and Dogpatch residents are concerned that theses historically industrial areas aren’t equipped with the necessary infrastructure and amenities – recreational fields, child care facilities, schools and public transit – to support the ballooning population.  With traffic congestion already a chronic complaint, community members wonder whether the thousands of new residents drawn by already built complexes – such as Azure, Potrero 1010, and Potrero Launch – have maxed-out roads and transit routes.

According to a March press release from the Bay Area Council, a public policy advocacy group, 40 percent of the region’s inhabitants – 46 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 39 – are considering moving because of the lack of affordable housing and worsening traffic conditions. The Council’s poll found that 70 percent of Bay Area voters believe transportation issues need to be prioritized immediately, including by increasing taxes.

“Losing our youth is a very bad economic and social strategy,” said Jim Wunderman, Council president and chief executive officer. “But until we get serious about building the housing we need we’re going to continue seeing our region drained of the young and diverse talent that has helped make the Bay Area an economic powerhouse. We know what the solutions are – streamline local approval and reduce fees and regulatory costs – we just need the political will here and in Sacramento to make them happen. It can be done, it must be done and we’re working now to get it done.”

Affordable housing shortages and chaotic traffic conditions are a reinforcing phenomenon. According to Matt Regan, Council senior vice president of public policy, roughly 170,000 people drive into the Bay Area daily to fill middle-income and service sectors positions. Many of these jobs are located in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Due to lack of housing, these workers often have to live further inland, where rents are one-third Bay Area prices.

Of the 20,000 residences slated to be built Southside, 6,700 are supposed to be affordable rental apartments or for-sale condominiums. For example, 30 percent of Forest City’s planned 2,150 units will be affordable to either low or middle-income households, as defined by the County’s area median income.

Last year, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen authored “neighborhood preference” legislation, which ultimately passed, that sets aside 40 percent of the affordable units being built for existing District residents.

“The cumulative impact of chronically under-building housing for over 30 years is that we have skyrocketing rents,” said Laura Foote Clark, executive director YIMBY Action. “The cumulative impacts of under-building effect everyone, everywhere. In terms of the influx of newcomers, when someone doesn’t have a place to live, there’s still a local job for them to fill, so they end up bidding up the cost of housing. The demand for housing doesn’t go away.”

Foote Clark views housing versus transit and infrastructure as a “chicken and egg debate,” and said the policy frame should be both/and rather than neither/nor. She admitted that District 10 is being singled out for increased development while many infill opportunities are being overlooked in the western neighborhoods and Marina due to single-family zoning and parking lot preservation.

According to Erica Kato, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority deputy spokesperson, extensive transit investments are underway in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch, which will benefit current and future residents as the area grows. Within the last two years SFMTA has increased the frequency and extended the hours of the 10-Townsend, and augmented the frequency of the 22-Fillmore.  It added Route 55-16th Street, connecting the Mission, Potrero Hill and Mission Bay, and Route 48-Owl Service, which offers 24-hour connections from Third Street through Potrero Hill to the Mission and Noe Valley.

SFMTA has plans for several capital changes over the next few years. Opening of the Central Subway will increase transit frequency along Third Street and provide direct connections to the Financial District and Chinatown. The 16th Street Improvement Project will enhance pedestrian safety and bolster transit reliability. Potrero Avenue Streetscape Improvements will widen sidewalks, add bicycle lanes and create a dedicated southbound transit lane. SFMTA will hold community meetings this summer and fall to gather stakeholder feedback about these projects.

Dogpatch resident Topher Delaney, artist at Delaney + Chin, is concerned about a lack of coordination between the Southside mega-projects, arguing that they’re being planned as single villages, with no integration between them. She also wants greater focus on providing amenities for families, not just 20-something professionals.

“Restaurants are really nice, but the ones coming in are all expensive, which is hard for families,” Delaney remarked. “It’s becoming a very campus-like feel. There are a lot of bars coming in; there’s a bid out to put a Crane Cove Brew Pub right next to a park for children. It seems that every block is going to have a bar, which will complement the Warriors Stadium but does it address the needs of families?”

According to Adam Van De Water, project manager at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the City is aware of the need to coordinate development activity. OEWD is collaborating with the Planning Department, Port, SFMTA, Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, and Department of Recreation and Parks to create the Southern Bayfront Strategy, an interlocking set of development agreements associated with individual projects.  The Strategy is an attempt to maximize contributions to affordable housing, transportation, sea level rise mitigation, open space, economic and workforce development, and community facilities.

For example, open space provided by each project will be managed centrally to create a unified Blue Greenway waterfront recreation district. The City is negotiating with developers on transportation impact fees and mitigations in an attempt to minimize cumulative impacts on roads and transit routes. A high level of sustainability features is expected for all buildings within each project.

“As part of the Southern Bayfront effort the City is analyzing community services and public safety needs to understand residents’ access to necessary services. This will allow the City to make recommendations for improvements now and as populations increase,” stated City literature.

“This coordination and approach will define the southern waterfront for generations to come. It will ensure that investment promotes equity for existing residents and preserves the diversity of our communities,” said District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen. “These projects are proposing investments in our communities that can provide substantial resources for residents in terms of affordable housing, improved transportation options, waterfront access, environmental sustainability and affordable housing.”

A Forest City representative indicated that no meetings have been held among the major Southside developers, pointing to the City as being responsible for convening such gatherings.

Last year, a draft environmental impact report on Forest City’s mixed-use project at Pier 70 determined that potential environmental impacts could be mitigated “to a less than significant level.” Among other findings, the draft EIR found that the project would cause the 48 Quintara/24th Street Muni route to exceed 85 percent capacity during peak hours. To address that issue, Forest City will pay for additional buses, or SFMTA will switch to higher capacity buses or add a new service route.

The final EIR for Pier 70 is still being drafted.  The project will go before the Port, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors this year; negotiations will likely occur refining specific strategies to address transit impacts. The draft EIR for the Mission Rock project hasn’t been released.

“My understanding is that the EIRs don’t adequately address the cumulative impacts, and the developers end up getting off the hook indirectly,” said Katherine Doumani, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association member.  “All together there needs to be some mitigation efforts taken on the City’s side. I have always wondered why you up-zoned an entire neighborhood without planning ahead and setting aside space to offer public services, transit and open space, as well as making sure there will be adequate healthcare services, childcare, and community resources.”

Doumani understands that the Southern Bayfront Strategy is supposed to address concerns about cumulative impacts, but thinks that the initiative was started far too late in the planning process, and that communication with residents has been lacking.

“I don’t understand how all these people will be able to come and go,” added Delaney. “I don’t think there’s an understanding as to how this will all be addressed. They’ve opened up lanes, but at a certain point you can’t address 18,000 people leaving all at once. You can’t just put in buildings with no connections. It’s getting to the point of being like New York City.”

“The solution is not to shut off development,” said Foote Clark. “Right now we’re just starting to keep pace with building enough housing. It definitely needs to be happening in more neighborhoods.”