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Three Teams Compete for Potrero Yard Modernization Project

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In December, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) identified three possible developers to rebuild the Potrero Bus Yard: Potrero Mission Community Partners, Potrero Neighborhood Collective, and Potrero Yard Community Partners. The three competitors will submit their final proposals in July, with a winner chosen by the end of summer.

The selected developer will construct a 575-unit residential housing complex, at least half of which’ll be affordable. In addition, a two-story garage and maintenance facility will be replaced with a three-story structure that’ll serve the same function, but for a fleet with a higher percentage of electric vehicles. 

Potrero Yard: current (top) and reimagined (bottom). Images: SFMTA

The Yard is located on 4.4 acres at Bryant and Mariposa streets, across from Franklin Square Playground. It’s the first municipal property slated to be improved as part of SFMTA’s multi-year, $1.2 billion Building Progress Program, under which the Agency’s aging transportation system is being modernized. The housing complex to be built at the site reflects a unique approach to leveraging public property to host residential uses. The project is presently undergoing environmental review led by the San Francisco Planning Department.

Challenges for the competing developers include providing a substantial amount of affordable housing and proposing means for Muni employees to get to the Yard, by identifying nearby parking possibilities, creating a shuttle, or other travel modes. Residents in the area have discussed the potential of installing a protected pedestrian path across 17th Street, to allow Yard residents safer access to Franklin Square Park, particularly as bus egress and ingress will likely continue to be located on Mariposa Street. 

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton wants more than half the housing to be reasonably priced.  “In our District, affordability is important. In addition, folks who build in District 10 should get an opportunity to work in projects in the neighborhood. I’m looking for development teams to provide a way for people who know, understand, and live here to build the housing,” said Walton. 

According to Walton, workforce stability is enhanced when a community member is able to state, “I built that. I played a role in that.” Walton added, “Helping build the Yard will solidify residents’ connections to it.”   

Roger Marenco, president of Transportation Workers Union Local 250A, which represents Muni workers, is concerned by the lack of parking for transit operators and other SFMTA staff.  “Before the pandemic, when ridership was at normal levels, Muni transit operators had to circle the block multiple times trying to find a parking space. Sometimes workers called in sick because they could not find a place to park. Imagine what it will look like now that there will be even less parking spaces for our frontline workers,” said Marenco. 

According to Marenco, some suggest that employees, many of whom live outside San Francisco, take public transportation to the facility. “Yet these workers are the transit operators who provide public transportation. They drive the earliest buses out of the yard to serve City residents. How could these transit operators possibly be asked to take public transportation to work? They are the ones pulling out the first buses from the bus yards at 4 and 5 a.m. In addition, there are no routes that early in the morning that will take them from where they live to the Yard,” he said.

Marenco said that his union is negotiating with SFMTA about parking as well as the possibility that housing units be designated for Muni transit operators. 

Erica Kato, SFMTA chief spokesperson and media relations manager, said the agency is aware that SFMTA’s field staff face challenges getting to and from work. “This is particularly…those who start or end MUNI service hours.  This is an issue that impacts employees at all of our Muni yards and facilities across the agency. We know what we have now isn’t working,” she said.

Kato said SFMTA is brainstorming with staff and analyzing its facilities to develop a Transportation Demand strategy to increase mobility options for employees. “Their feedback is invaluable to creating a plan that will address the needs of our frontline employees and is sustainable for the long term,” she said. 

Elena Engel, transportation committee co-chair for 350 Bay Area, which advocates for greenhouse gas emission reductions, said the nonprofit is enthusiastic about the site’s potential to serve the City’s predominantly electric fleet. In 2018, then-Mayor Mark Farrell committed to SFMTA purchasing only electric buses by 2025. The City hopes to have all-electric buses by 2035. 

“Electric buses generally need less maintenance than diesel buses. The City is likely to see a cost savings for gas and repairs,” said Engel. “We support providing a high percentage of affordable housing.”

In 2018, as part of the Yard redesign effort, SFMTA created the Potrero Yard Neighborhood Working Group, consisting of roughly a dozen neighbors and stakeholders. Members have met virtually since March. The Group has two seats open, one for a small business located within a half-mile of the Yard, another for an at-large member.

J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president and Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association board member, has held the merchant organization seat since 2018. He said SFMTA has done a good job incorporating feedback into plans. “Many residents support Sup. Walton’s idea of having 50 percent be a hard floor for affordable housing, with the hope that developers will maximize this opportunity to build on City land,” said Eppler. “We expect to beat back the novel coronavirus in the next year. With that, ridership will begin returning to pre-pandemic levels. The renovated Yard will allow SFMTA to serve more routes, more frequently.” 

The Planning Department defines “affordable housing” as units priced to be accessible to low- or middle-income families, which depends on household size and location. According to DAHLIA, the City’s housing portal, rent for “affordable housing” can cost more than 40 percent of an individual’s monthly pre-tax earnings. 

Eppler said that when the Yard is closer to being constructed SFMTA should address residents’ concerns about traffic, noise, and dust. “Establishing a central staging area for workers and materials would be a good idea. The Agency can also establish a central point of contact for the project. They should send regular weekly email updates about the construction schedule and progress,” he said. 

Peter Belden is a Walk SF and San Francisco Bike Coalition member, and co-chairs the Potrero Boosters and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association’s joint Livable Streets Committee, which focuses on creating safe and inviting streets. Belden joined the Working Group last fall and is impressed with the variety of participant perspectives. 

“I am interested in hearing all of the Supervisors’ views on the project. We are looking at how to improve a transportation system in need of dramatic changes. I’m interested in the idea of having some housing dedicated to Muni employees. You get a double benefit there, providing housing on the job site and making sure buses leave on time,” said Belden. 

Thor Kaslofsky, who has held one of the Group’s two seats for housing advocates for the past two years, was formerly project manager of Hunters Point Shipyard for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. He’s currently board chair of the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation, one of two affordable housing developers on the Potrero Mission Community Partners team.  

“A lot hinges on which developer has the proposal with the most affordable housing. Since this is public land and creating affordable housing is one of the mandates for the City, there’s the ability to have a higher percentage of affordable housing than in other developments. We’re saying, “Bring us your best ideas!”” said Kaslofsky. 

According to Kaslofsky, there’s tension around the amount of housing to be developed on the Yard and how that’ll affect the surrounding community. “With a site of almost four acres and hundreds of new residents, we want to know how Franklin Square Park and traffic will be affected. People do not want the housing to be extremely tall. They’re interested in having it fit the scale of other buildings in the neighborhood,” he said.

The housing complex’s size and the three-story bus facility has prompted questions about shadows the buildings will throw on Franklin Square Park. Stepping the buildings could mitigate that concern. 

“My office is across the street from the Yard. I have children. I am looking to see how the Yard can be more attractive, an amenity for the community,” said Kaslofsky.

Alexander Hirji, who holds the youth and family services seat on the Working Group, said he wants Yard housing to be clean, comfortable, and available to those who need it most. Hirji has been with the Working Group since it formed and is now a high school junior. He was a mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Youth Commission between 2018 and 2020, and continues to advise the Youth Commission’s Housing and Land Use Committee. 

“The Potrero Yard started to attract more public interest in summer 2019 when SFMTA began doing facility tours. There were more news stories about the site and people visiting. This gave the project more energy,” said Hirji. 

According to Hirji, the pandemic eliminated opportunities to visit and made the project less visible.  “Yet we don’t want to delay replacing the Yard. If we delay this project, we delay rebuilding other yards in the City,” said Hirji . “Youth heavily use transit to visit friends, travel to school, access health care, get to jobs, and get to entertainment like concerts or sports games. Many youth and teens in the City do not have a driver’s license or access to a vehicle. If there’s an issue that impedes this yard, that will disproportionately impact youth. Young people are in favor of environmentally friendly electric buses and other transit improvements. They are looking for less crowding and more routes, especially to underserved areas.”

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