Thursday, December 23, 2004

Housing uber alles

This is the latest document from Planning on the UC Extension Site proposal.

My initial reading of this document: the Planning Dept. is getting ready to facilitate UC's proposal to put a 500-unit, for-profit housing development on the old UC Extension site that has always been zoned for Public Use. The Housing Element and the Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan lay the legal and conceptual groundwork for getting this grotesquely large project approved---loosening controls on housing density and height restrictions and waiving the requirement that developers provide a parking space for every housing unit built, which will result in the overpopulation of a neighborhood that's already densely populated. The naive assumption on parking: since the neighborhood is near a "transit corridor," the thousands of new neighborhood residents on Octavia Blvd. and the UC Extension site won't need cars!

This document also suggests that retaining the dental clinic and reopening the Waller St. passageway to pedestrians and cyclists will satisfy the "public use" aspect of the development.

"We Need Housing" is now the SF mantra that trumps all neighborhood concerns, even in so-called progressive circles. For some time, the city's Planning Dept. has been laying the groundwork for a system that encourages developers to build large housing projects in every neighborhood within hailing distance of a city transit corridor, because---all together now---"We Need Housing." Housing built according to these guidelines will have at best only half the required parking, because, after all, people can walk, take the bus, or, God help us, ride a bike. But anyone who can afford to rent a new apartment in this area---even the "affordable" units---will have to have a pretty good income. People with good incomes like to have cars; "need" has nothing to do with it. Hence, the end result will be that hundreds of the area's new residents will be trying to park on the streets of the neighborhood. "We Need Housing," but who needs parking in a "Transit Village"?

But the city does need parking, since, according to the DMV, there are 430,923 cars and trucks already registered in San Francisco. And the city needs open space. What the Market/Octavia neighborhood really needs is a park and a branch library. Why not convert one of the historic buildings on the UC site for a library and turn the rest of the space into a park? The answer: that won't make any money for UC and, besides, "We Need Housing."

See Michael Bernick's recent piece in the SF Chronicle,San Francisco's Housing Element---Built on Misunderstanding (SF Chronicle, Nov. 23, 2004). Bernick tries to warn us about the consequences of this misunderstanding:

The Housing Element...ignores neighborhood character. It seeks to squeeze persons into these neighborhoods, often in odd configurations and against neighborhood opposition. It assumes that many new residents will not own cars---even though our research showed that transit village residents, while using transit for many trips, do own autos and need parking.

Of course we do need more housing in the city. But surely the crude Housing Element approach threatens the quality of life of many of our already densely populated neighborhoods. Is there a single existing neighborhood in the city that can digest a 500-unit housing development? New housing in SF needs to be done more carefully and on a much smaller scale than this. If UC had proposed 100 units on the old extension site, they would have had little opposition. Over and above the Public Use issue, 500 units on the old UC Extension Site is completely unacceptable and will be opposed at every step of the process.

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