The UC Extension: Playing the PC Card
Last Thursday night AF Evans went all-out by playing what it evidently thought were the politically correct cards in a futile attempt to win over the neighborhood for its latest version of a for-profit housing project on the old UC Extension site. Evans, selected by UC to build the housing project, emphasized every possible issue to attract support for the proposal, talking about "opening up" the site to the neighborhood, along with a bunch of "public amenities" and open space in the latest revision of the proposal. There will now be a new mini-park on the Waller St. side of the site; apartments for seniors, with 20% of the units overall to be "affordable"; a community center and a community garden; services "targeted to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community." And there will be $1 million a year in tax revenue for the city if they are allowed to build the project.
With few exceptions, those who spoke during public comment still opposed the plan. Speakers pointed out that the housing project would remove the site from its "public use" zoning and put it in private hands for 75 years, the term of the proposed lease, effectively ending the site's long history of use as an educational facility. Middle Hall---which now houses the gym and the computer lab---would be demolished completely, and only Richardson Hall's shell would be retained. The dense housing development---now 420 units---is a bad idea, given the many new housing units already planned for the neighborhood on the old freeway parcels and from the city's Market/Octavia Neighborhood Plan.
The most important speaker after the Evans presentation was D5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who affirmed his earlier opposition to the project. He mentioned a meeting he had earlier in the day with reps from Evans: A meeting originally planned for four of the developer's representatives morphed into a meeting with eleven Evans people, as a full-court press was put on the Murk. Nevertheless, Mirkarimi called the proposal a "very weak project"; he still opposes changing the site's zoning from Public Use to allow a for-profit housing project to be built. This is the key for opponents of UC's plan: If there is no zoning change, no housing project can be built on the site.
New College was present again---they have been at all the HVNA-organized meetings on the issue---with a full-color handout of their proposal for the site, which has the great virtue of retaining the property's historic educational mission and doesn't require a zoning change. New College also offered many neighborhood amenities, and, given the school's history of genuinely progressive community involvement, their proposals are more credible than an outfit whose main function is building housing. Along with providing classes, New College's proposal offers a long list of neighborhood services, including access to the basketball court, a playground for children, childcare for the neighborhood, a theater, a computer lab, space for the LGBT historical archives, a family literacy program, and a legal clinic.
The Evans people seemed rather nice, and their presentation was sincere and professional, but they're shackled with a partner in the project, the Unversity of California, that has little credibility in the neighborhood. UC started off with a dubious justification for abandoning the site as a location for the extension when they claimed that they could no longer afford to maintain the property for use as an educational facility. They insisted that they had to maximize their return on the site; otherwise, they would have to raise tuition and cut programs for UC students. But, as they disclosed last May under pressure from the community, they are now paying $1.26 million and $846,000 a year to lease space at 425 Market St. and nearby Third St. in SF to house the extension program that used to occupy the Laguna St. site. Why not put that $2,106,000 into rehabbing the old site? Obviously, UC wants to cash in on the property they have had tax-free since 1958. A massive housing development in the heart of San Francisco will provide a much better cash-flow for the UC regents than night classes for working people.
And there's evidence that UC deliberately allowed the Laguna St. property to deteriorate before shutting it down several years ago. See a District 5 Diary interview with Eliza Hemenway, who worked at the old UC Extension as it was shutting down: (http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2005/07/district-5-diary-interview-eliza.html).
There was an air of near-desperation in the Evans presentation Thursday night, as they methodically went down a laundry list of PC accessory services in their revised proposal to appeal to the people of the neighborhood. If the reaction of those attending last Thursday night is any indication, the proposal still lacks community support.
UC and Evans would save themselves and everyone else a lot of trouble if they gave up on the housing idea, cut their losses and leased the property to New College, which would be good for the city and the neighborhood, especially the folks in the nearby public housing.