Friday, November 23, 2007

The Guardian and Mirkarimi roll over for UC

As usual the SF Bay Guardian misses the whole point of UC's ongoing attempt to rip off the old extension property on lower Haight Street:

This isn't a typical commercial project: the land has been in the public sector for a century and has always been used for public projects. Until the 1950s it was home to San Francisco State University, and it became a UC campus in 1958. Turning public land over for private use should raise alarms anywhere, and in the middle of a dense city, where public land is scarce and affordable housing desperately needed, those alarms ought to be ringing loud and long.

Well, yes. So why let UC get away with it? Simply raising the alarm this late in the process---where has the Guardian been for the last three years?---isn't enough. The Guardian---like the spineless Supervisor Mirkarimi---has already surrendered on the basic principle involved and is now quibbling about how much affordable housing will be included in the UC/Evans for-profit housing development on property previously zoned for "public use." If the supervisors refuse to give UC/Evans the zoning change they need for their massive housing development, the project won't happen. But the Guardian and the round-heeled Supervisor Mirkarimi have already conceded UC's right to proceed with flouting the public interest.
 
One of my many widely ignored suggestions from a few years ago: The City of San Francisco should go to court to repossess the property on behalf of the people of San Francisco, since UC has now abandoned its education "mission," the only reason it has had that property tax-free from San Francisco for the last 50 years.

UC lied about not being able to afford to maintain the property, and now Supervisor Mirkarimi and the Board of Supervisors are poised to reward their unprincipled behavior by allowing them to defy the public interest and put a massive housing project in the middle of an already densely-populated part of the city. Truly despicable, unprincipled political behavior.
 
But Supervisor Dufty has been even more spineless on the issue than Supervisor Mirkarimi, if that's possible. After years of complete silence on the issue---even though the extension property is in his district---Dufty has recused himself from voting on UC's land-grab because he now owns property on nearby Waller Street. What's the point of having district representation if a supervisor is going to recuse himself simply because a project is located near his home in his district? More despicable political behavior from our oh so "progressive" Board of Supervisors.


Slow down the Laguna project
Fasttrack plan not in our best interest

EDITORIAL
The 440-unit housing development slated for the Laguna Street site of the old UC Berkeley Extension campus is suddenly on the fast track. The Planning Department has calendared a vote on the project for Dec. 20 in what appears to be a desperate effort to get it approved before the end of the year. That may be in the interests of developer A.F. Evans, but it's not in the interests of San Francisco, and the commissioners should be in no rush to go along.

This isn't a typical commercial project: the land has been in the public sector for a century and has always been used for public projects. Until the 1950s it was home to San Francisco State University, and it became a UC campus in 1958. Turning public land over for private use should raise alarms anywhere, and in the middle of a dense city, where public land is scarce and affordable housing desperately needed, those alarms ought to be ringing loud and long.

In this case Evans has done a brilliant bit of political maneuvering: the market-rate housing project is paired with an 80-unit development that will be designed as retirement housing for queer seniors. That's clearly something the city needs, and that aspect of the plan has won widespread support — and helped divert or eliminate opposition to the overall project.

But there are real issues here. For one thing, Evans plans to tear down two historic buildings (while saving three others). That was a compromise the Board of Supervisors accepted in August, but we still find it dubious. We also find dubious the notion that the developer will create public space by reopening a section of Waller Street — a public thoroughfare — that was part of the old campus.

The biggest problem, however, is the lack of affordable housing. Evans is planning to make 20 percent of the units available below market rate — but that's a fairly small number considering that this is public land. Remember: at that ratio only 16 of the queer retirement apartments will be available to anyone who isn't wealthy. While we agree that queer seniors of all income levels need this style of housing, which will feature community amenities and on-site services for the aging, 16 lower-cost units hardly seems like enough of a benefit to justify shifting 5.4 acres of public property into a private project. "How can the queer community settle for this, in San Francisco of all places?" queer housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca asks. "I think that we can do much better."

Evans is in a rush — and thus the Mayor's Office and the City Planning Department are in a rush — because the developer's contract with the university expires if the project isn't approved by Jan. 1, 2008. Almost everyone involved agrees that the UC and Evans can easily reach terms on an extension, so there's no real threat here. But it doesn't matter — that's not the city's problem. San Francisco has a responsibility to ensure that big new projects serve the public interest; the developer's deadline doesn't trump that.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is asking that the affordable-housing component be increased to around 40 percent. That may take a little work: the UC, which wants to make as much money as possible off this, is charging Evans a stiff fee for the land. But with the proper pressure, including pressure on the UC from Assemblymember Mark Leno and state senator Carole Migden, a much higher ratio of low-cost housing ought to be possible.

It's too early to approve what's still a bad deal. The planning commissioners should turn it down, and if they don't, the supervisors should demand more from Evans before allowing the property to go from public to private use.

Wednesday November 21, 2007

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Servetnik to the Bay Guardian on UC's Land-grab

Privatization of UC Extension Campus

Editor:

Thank you for urging readers to speak out at the December 20th Planning Commission meeting against fast-tracking the proposed UC/AFEvans/openhouse 440-unit mainly market rate housing project on the UC Extension Campus at Laguna and Market.

Without public input, UC decided to cash out and privatize the 5.8 acre site which has been in public use for over 150 years. Should the proposed zoning application be approved, Waller Street between Buchanan and Laguna Streets---about 15% of this public land---would revert to City ownership.

On November 9th, the State Historical Resources Commission unanimously recommended the former SF State Teacher's College Campus for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The SF Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board unanimously concurred. Yet, in a rush toapprove the proposed project, the Board of Supervisors landmarked only the three out of five buildings that the developer wants to retain.

This is not a fait accompli. Other parties have expressed an interest in reusing the campus under Public zoning, including New College of California. Their education and community services proposal, which would retain all of the historic buildings, was analyzed as an alternative in the EIR for the proposed project and found to be environmentally superior.

Our group is advocating for the preservation of the historic resources, which include a newly renovated gymnasium, a state-of-the-art computer-learning center, a tiered theater, basketball courts, open space and a variety of classroom facilities. We have collected over 800 signatures calling for a public process to decide the future use of the campus and we're urging Supervisor Mirkarimi to sponsor an ordinance ensuring any development of the campus that is not consistent with UC's direct mission be subject to the purview of the proposed Market and Octavia Area Plan CommunityAdvisory Committee.

Your readership is critical to our advocacy for an open community-driven planning process that ensures the campus is well integrated with the neighborhood and continues to benefit the public for generations to come.

Cynthia Servetnick, AICP, Co-Chair
Save the UCBE Laguna Street Campus, (415) 563-7336

Online discussion of UC's attempted land-grab:

Sign the online petition:

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