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Study Examines Possible Improvements to Mission Bay, Showplace Square, and South-of-Market

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The San Francisco Planning Department is studying how best to redesign roads, public transit and open space in ways that smooth connections between Showplace Square, Western and Central South-of-Market, and Mission Bay.  The Showplace/SoMa Neighborhood Analysis and Coordination Study (SNACS) will also identify possible sites for additional market-rate and affordable housing, and evaluate demand for new Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) spaces. 

“The purpose of this effort is to have a look at how we can better, more seamlessly, merge the edges of all of these plans, with all the development there, and set a more unified policy and design framework for future proposals that might pop up in this vicinity. We’re looking for opportunities for parks, open spaces, and street connections for pedestrian and bicycle use, as well as vehicles, with the lens that Caltrain will be underground someday, about a decade from now,” said Joshua Switzky, Planning Department program manager. 

The Caltrain Electrification project is a key component of the Caltrain Modernization Program to electrify the corridor from the San Francisco Caltrain Station at Fourth and King streets to approximately the Tamien Station in San Jose, replacing diesel-hauled with electric trains. The project is expected to be completed by 2022. Tracks are already being electrified south of the Fourth and King Street railyard.  Once tracks into San Francisco are fully electrified Caltrain will be undergrounded north of Pennsylvania and 22nd Street, Switzky said. 

Market rate housing and office space are more lucrative to build than PDR. Planners want to identify ways the City can ensure that new, affordable, PDR is created to meet future production needs.  “We’re strong supporters of maintaining PDR zoning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean new PDR will get built,” Switzky said. “It costs more to build a PDR space than you get back in rent.” 

To address market imbalances between residential, commercial, and PDR space, mixed-use planning codes are being developed for new construction, with PDR on the ground floor, offices or residential units on upper levels. This type of “cross-subsidy project” was permitted at 100 and 150 Hooper Street, where the Manufacturing Foundry opened at the beginning of this year. It was the first manufacturing building constructed in the City in decades, and brought affordable, light industrial space to the ground floor of the new Adobe offices. Sister nonprofits SFMade and PlaceMade are headquartered here.

“Most people think of PDR as old-school, getting dirty stuff, but it’s a lot of other things,” Switzky said. “…more advanced manufacturing and prototyping, robotics and other high-end things of that nature. Not just the Blue Collar but the knowledge-based sector. Self-driving car research, the mechanical side, what’s under the hood.” 

Fast, last-mile distribution for online orders, such as Amazon same day delivery, are another present PDR need. Traditional PDR that continues to need space include food and drink production – bakeries and breweries – wholesale produce and flower markets, auto repair, and services that support lodging and other City-based businesses.

“If we don’t maintain the PDR sector, the City’s going to suffer. It’s better for the long-term resiliency of the City’s economy,” Switzky said. “If you can’t get something made or printed in the City, it just becomes more expensive to live and do business in the City, as opposed to going out to the East Bay. PDR is a really essential part of the City’s economy, and also its diversity. It creates jobs for people without college degrees, who want to work with their hands, have meaningful work, as opposed to retail jobs, or White-Collar office jobs.” 

Some SNACS components are being reviewed separately, with independent environmental impact studies. These include Recology’s 900 Seventh Street project, which requires zoning changes to accommodate five proposed towers that’d host residential, office, and PDR uses on 6.25-acres; and a proposed life science facility at 1450 Owens Street, Mission Bay’s last remaining commercial space. The Owens Street developer, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, wants to build a 183-foot tower on the site, triggered the need to change the Mission Bay South Redevelopment Plan, which restricts any building at that location to the height of the adjacent Interstate-280 freeway ramp, or approximately 39 feet. Demand for biotechnology research space is quite strong; all existing laboratory and office areas are leased. 

A series of community meetings will be held to discuss SNACS elements.  Jeremy Shaw, Planning Department senior planner, presented a study overview to the Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee in September.  A land use workshop will take place on November 19, 6 to 8 p.m., at the new Seven Stills brewery, 100 Hooper Street. In February a workshop focusing on the combined network of public open spaces, streets, and transportation issues, will be held, with another gathering concentrating on public benefits, land use and design expected in April. 

An environmental assessment will likely be initiated next year.  “The level of environmental review, if any, will be contingent on the Study findings. If required, environmental review is not expected to begin before summer 2020,” Shaw said.  SNACS is expected to conclude in 2022.

In addition to public workshops, Planning Department staff will attend citizen advisory committee and neighborhood meetings.  “We’re always seeking public comment and input,” Switzky said. “We try to collect input in a variety of ways. Email, online surveys, meetings with groups of people independently of public workshops. We make as many avenues available as possible.”

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