OP-ED: Potrero Power Station Should be Developed as a Neighborhood Asset

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Development of the 29-acre Potrero Power Station could bring much needed public services and shoreline access to our waterfront. And yet, no firm commitment to any specific community benefits that would support area growth has materialized as the project moves rapidly through environmental and design review.

Although we hear affordable housing is a priority at the Power Station, no commitments have been made to it. To provide housing across all income levels and household sizes, generous amounts of onsite affordable units should be offered for a range of incomes, not just the “missing middle,” and at a percentage similar to Mission Rock and Pier 70. While the project professes a family-friendly attitude, the Power Station proposes only 25 percent of units as two or more bedrooms, well under the level mandated under the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.

Concerns regarding the Power Station’s design have gone unaddressed. The Power Station should better complement the scale of the adjacent Pier 70 project. Breaking up the long, Mission Bay-style blocks would lessen deep shadowing of public space and encourage pedestrian access to the waterfront. Additional open space, robust recreational opportunities and public admission to a more generous waterfront park must be guaranteed.

The Power Station, with its planned full block, 180-foot tall parking garage, will significantly increase traffic congestion on our streets. Environmental review shows that the development will generate as many as 95,000 “person trips” each day, roughly half by private automobiles, and even more with Ubers and Lyfts. Building parking is expensive; this garage should be repurposed as affordable housing and community facilities, transferring the investment to public benefits while preventing increased gridlock.

If negotiations over the development are coming down to the last minute, it’s perhaps because most of the Power Station is privately owned. Purchased in 2017 by Associate Capital with financial backing from former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, the project seeks a stark up-zoning to ensure solid profits for its investors.

In comparison, Forest City’s Pier 70 project, on property leased from the Port, includes a mandate to serve the public interest. To meet that directive, Forest City collaborated with the community for more than seven years to develop an extensive package of community benefits, and received citywide support under 2014’s Proposition F. Forest City has also made a commitment to stay in the neighborhood, and recognizes that these benefits will enrich their residents and workers over the long-term.

Because Associate Capital has no mandate to serve the public interest, City agencies and neighbors must negotiate strenuously for desperately needed civic benefits and essential facilities for a rapidly growing area still lacking adequate public transit, libraries, schools, recreational facilities, community centers and grocery stores.

There’s no question that we’ve experienced unprecedented levels of development in our neighborhoods in the last several years, despite the policy that there be a “fair share” of growth across the whole of the Bay Area. 2008’s Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which promised more complete neighborhoods with investment in public transit, open space, and communal amenities, maxed out on its 25-year growth projections by 2017, and funding for community services has failed to materialize. As a result, it’ll be neighborhood residents, workers and merchants who pay the price if our area’s needs continue to be neglected.

Mississippi Street resident, Alison Heath, is the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association’s Development Committee chair.