Rec and Park Unconcerned About Project’s Shadowing of Potrero Del Sol Park

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Last month, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted four to one that the shadow from a proposed residential complex wouldn’t significantly impact Potrero Del Sol Park, formerly known as La Raza Park, which abuts the development site. Commissioners Mark Buell, president, and Kat Anderson, vice president, weren’t present. The single “nay” vote came from Commissioner Annie Jupiter-Jones, a Mission resident. 

The 232-unit complex would have roughly 139 one bedroom or smaller units, 92 that’re two bedrooms or larger. Twenty-eight units would be offered at below market prices. No new parking would be created. The development closest to the garden would be five stories, rising to seven furthest away. 

At the Rec and Park meeting an animation was presented that showed how the project’s shadow would fall over the park, including the community garden. According to Chris Townes, senior planner for Rec and Park’s Capital and Planning Division, the development would add a 4.02 percent shadow on the park, most prominently between 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. in the fall and winter. 

The four percent shadow increase is significantly greater than the allowable one percent rise for a park of Potrero Del Sol’s size under the Sunlight Ordinance, which City voters approved in 1984. The law prohibits the City from issuing building permits for structures greater than 40 feet in height that’d cast a shadow on property under Rec and Park’s jurisdiction. The exception is if the Planning Commission, in consultation with the SFRPD Commission, finds the shadow wouldn’t have a significant adverse impact on park use.

More than 25 people, primarily neighbors and users of the park, spoke in person or remotely to comment at the August meeting. Many were Potrero Hill or Mission residents. About a dozen speakers opposed the development; nine supported it.

The development site, located at the southern tip of San Bruno Avenue, currently houses three warehouses used as artist studios. According to Townes, artists working in the buildings commented on early project designs. 

Top worries of those opposed to the development include concerns that its shadow would negatively impact bees and crops in the Potrero Del Sol Community Garden, increased density would worsen the neighborhood’s parking shortages, and Rec and Park’s decision would set a precedent for the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to be disregarded in other parks and open spaces.

I don’t support this project,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. 

Those who support it hoped that people experiencing homelessness would be housed in the below market rate units, cited the need for more housing, and believed that the project’s shadow wouldn’t create substantial adverse impacts. 

Jacob Price, business development manager of Housing Action Coalition, a pro-housing group, said he submitted a list of 150 San Franciscans who support the project to the Rec and Park Commission. 

Some nearby residents hoped that the development would increase pedestrian traffic and safety in the cul de sac at the end of the park. Mary Shrier, who has lived in the area for 22 years, said that in prior years it was dangerous to walk by the park at night. She noted that people experiencing homelessness congregate in the dead end.

David, a Hill resident, sees activation of the dead end as the development’s most significant community benefit. Bill Keith, a Bernal Heights resident whose children attend Daniel Webster Elementary School, expressed appreciation for the number of below market rate units. He hoped the area around the park would be enlivened. 

Safety in and around the park is a significant concern for students, parents, teachers, and staff at Bryant Elementary School, a public kindergarten through fifth grade school, and Meadows-Livingstone School, a private kindergarten through sixth grade school, both of which border the park.

“A building with that many units and no parking is untenable,” Patrice Catanio, who lives two blocks from the park, said. “It will impact the people who already live here in such a major way. The only way I’d be for it is if there were more below market rate units, it was lower to the ground, and there were more parking spaces.” 

Teresa, a Potrero Del Sol Community Garden horticulturist, said the shadow would cause the garden to suffer, and doubted that San Franciscans experiencing homelessness would be selected for the below market rate units. 

“Regular park and garden users have been cast as NIMBYs, not caring about (homelessness) and housing. (We want) the right and ability to appreciate open space. We’re asking RPD to do its job and reject this plan. What point is it to have rules if they are just broken?” said Elizabeth “Mini” Kurhan, a Potrero Del Sol Community Garden grower. 

In a letter sent to the View, Marie described the development as “horrendous,” a description echoed by an anonymous caller at the Rec and Park meeting who called it a “monstrosity.” Marie said the project would increase road congestion and cause nightmarish parking situations. She added that it’s already difficult for emergency vehicles to transport patients to nearby Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. 

In a prior round of public comments submitted to the San Francisco Planning and Recreation and Park departments, 36 people opposed the development, 19 supported it. Most resistance came from people who use the park. Those who favored it lived outside the area. 

The Goode family has owned the land on which the project would be built since 1927. According to Chris Goode, an earlier plan featured 51 parking spaces and 204 apartments. The maximum legally allowable parking is one space for every four apartments. Neighbors opposed that design as having too few parking spots. The revised proposal has no parking, a decision Goode sees as practical. 

“We have more overall support with no parking, especially from the City government and urbanists,” Goode told the View. “My mom’s Marilyn Goode’s thoughts about parking are more swayed by environmental concerns. Another thing that seems to be widely misunderstood is that we cannot simply add as much parking as one would like.”

Most supporters want the development to be as affordable as possible. In San Francisco that means no parking, which takes up valuable space.

“However, if there’s a petition of 50 people who say they’ll support the project if there’s parking, that would shift the balance,” Goode added. 

“This is going to affect the garden,” Potrero del Sol’s volunteer community garden coordinator Mary Beth Pudup said. “I’m affiliated with the garden and this project will permanently destroy it. Potrero Del Sol is one of the oldest community gardens in San Francisco. I do think history is worth preserving and this will irreparably shade the garden.”

“My view is the developers are really going for maximum profit because they could put a smaller project on the site, even layer back higher units closer to the freeway, but they didn’t choose to do anything like that,” said San Francisco photographer and filmmaker Lou Dematteis. “My thought is they’re going for maximum profits, which as developers and owners they can do that, but they aren’t going to get community support.”

Vermont Street resident Chris Lee said if Goode “acts on the reasonable feedback he has received – lower the height to reduce the impact on the park, add parking, do not remove public street parking, and allocate space to preserve artist studios – it could be a beneficial project both for him and the City.”

Much of Potrero Del Sol Park was once an empty lot. In the late-1970s and early-1980s, lowriders, parties, and car shows were popular in the area. The City cracked down on the activities, and the land became a gathering spot for youth.  Neighbors launched a cleanup effort, removing cement. They began calling it “La Raza Park,” San Francisco’s version of People’s Park in Berkeley. An amphitheater was added as a venue for concerts. The park remains a popular spot for music, including the annual Phono Del Sol performance held in June.  

“When talking about the loss of parking, it’s not just a physical loss in terms of making parking more difficult, it’s also this cultural issue,” said Dematteis.

Another portion of the site was used for an urban farm.  In 1974, Jack Wickert and Bonnie Sherk rented the property from the Goode family. The couple wanted to create a model farm and environmental school for children. They kept more than 70 farm animals and established an art gallery that was home to festivals, with a punk rock venue where the Dead Kennedys and Faith No More performed. In 1987, after a series of legal disputes, Marilyn Goode evicted the operators of The Farm. Its garden, which remained intact, evolved into the Potrero Del Sol Community Garden.

The San Francisco Planning Department will hold a hearing about the project on September 15. 

Potrero Del Sol Park. Photo: Potrero View Staff