Its members are sharp, insistent, and affiliated with one of the City and County of San Francisco’s oldest and most powerful citizens’ advocacy groups: the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.
Founded in 1926, the organization had its genesis in an entity created at least two decades earlier: the Potrero Commercial and Manufacturers’ Association (PCMA). According to an article in a 1910 edition of the San Francisco Call, PCMA Secretary W. J. Barrett and his fellow members wanted Kentucky Street to “be thoroughly overhauled and repaired as far down in Railroad avenue as Nineteenth avenue South” and encouraged the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to allocate $150,000 for “a new bridge over Fourth street” and $350,000 to convert roughly 300 acres into Potrero Park.
Although the group’s advocacy on behalf of a 300-acre park failed, municipal leaders were persuaded to open a smaller recreational area: Jackson Playground. Described by current Boosters’ president J. R. Eppler in a July 2017 Potrero View article, “Jackson Playground to Expand,” as “one of the principle baseball and softball facilities in the City,” the 4.41-acre park, bordered by Arkansas, Mariposa, Carolina and 17th streets, opened to the public in 1912, and is managed by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.
Funding was secured for a new bridge. According to municipal reports for fiscal year 1914, $84,287 was approved to remove the existing “Fourth Street bridge and foundations, constructing a new masonry structure, sea walls and approaches, and erecting a Bascule bridge, complete with operating machinery.” A contract was awarded to the Thompson-Bridge Company on June 25, 1915. Construction began five days later on what come to be called the “Peter L. Maloney Bridge.” The lead engineer was Joseph Strauss, who later served as the Golden Gate Bridge’s designer and chief engineer.
“The district is bound to be of great importance to the welfare of the city,” observed Barrett, “considering the great extent of the Potrero water front, the importance of the industries that are doing business there, the amount of land that is available for the sites of business plants and for pleasant homes for those who are employed in connection with present and prospective Potrero industries and the great landlocked harbor that is proposed for the island basin.”
“The name of the group was very literal,” explained Eppler, an 18th Street resident who is running for District 10 Supervisor, because Potrero Hill “was largely on the outskirts of the City in 1910,” and PCMA was hoping “to get people to come to the neighborhood.”
Come they did. As industry took over Dogpatch, the Hill became residential, transformed by the construction of affordable homes for middle income workers, as well as public housing at Potrero Annex-Terrace in 1941. By the 1960s, artists and members of the gay community were flocking to the area. PCMA began to address concerns regarding the quality of life impacts of growth and pollution. In 1975, the association was granted 501(c)(4) status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, a tax-exempt designation which enables the Boosters “to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and to seek “legislation germane to the organization’s programs” as “a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes.”
From the 1970s through the 1990s, various residents took on management roles with the Boosters, including Dick Millet and John deCastro. Millet, a decades-long Hill resident until his recent move to a retirement community, served nine years as president, shaping the group’s positions on everything from parking planning to responsible growth. As described in the September 1997 edition of The Potrero View, he oversaw the association’s reorganization, as it amicably separated into two distinct groups in 1996, one advocating for residents’ concerns, the other – known today as the Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses (PHAMB) – devoted to improving the economic climate for small business owners.
John deCastro began his four-year presidency in 1999, having joined the group’s board in 1980, a year after purchasing his Missouri Street Victorian duplex. “The first project I got involved with was the very first Mission Bay plan,” he said. Under deCastro’s leadership the Boosters worked to make sure resident voices were heard on plans for a 570-megawatt power plant at 23rd and Illinois streets, and collaborated with other neighborhood associations to heighten municipal leaders’ awareness of “the minimal, if any, fees for transportation, parks and schools” that were being ponied up by live-work loft developers during the late-1990s.
“Planning, not banning, was out motto,” explained deCastro. “We were in favor of planned growth, not having to fight to modify or prevent bad projects lot by lot.”
Improved City responsiveness was also a theme during Tony Kelly’s tenure. Kelly, a Connecticut Street resident who is also a District 10 Supervisorial candidate, helmed the group as it fought to keep the Daniel Webster Elementary School open in 2006, protect Starr King Open Space from developmental pressures in 2009, and foster creation of the Green Benefit District, a special assessment district that assists with the maintenance of neighborhood public spaces.
According to Eppler, high points during his tenure were the Boosters’ persuasion of Trumark Urban to increase the number of multi-bedroom units in its 91-unit condominium complex, the Knox; and the successful conclusion of Pier 70’s planning process.
“First, the magnitude of the project itself – jobs, housing – the amount of open space that it can give to the neighborhood. Secondly, it serves as a model for other projects. Third, it was an opportunity for the neighborhood to learn from and apply the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan,” he said.
At the Boosters’ February meeting, members heard from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority representatives, who presented information regarding SFMTA’s “design for 16th Street as it gets reconstructed into more transit-oriented, replacement of a bus line to better serve the community, and an exploration of possible additional transit resources to address Potrero-Dogpatch neighborhood needs,” Eppler said.
Eppler urged Hill residents who aren’t members to attend a Boosters meeting or the group’s annual dinner. “With so much of our discourse occurring online, there’s great value in being able to discuss community issues with your neighbors face to face.”
“We don’t always win, but our views count, and that is what democracy is all about,” added deCastro. “Our goal is to find consensus on key issues of the day and to make our neighborhood and the City more livable for all of us.”
The Boosters’ next monthly meeting will be held on April 24, 7 p.m., at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, 953 De Haro Street. Association membership is open to all Hill residents and property owners. For more information: www.potreroboosters.org.