Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Healing" Hayes Valley with the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan

 Is this a "neighborhood"?

People in the mayor's office and the real estate business are desperate for some good news about the property along the chronic neighborhood traffic jam known as Octavia Boulevard. The latest bulletin from that traffic combat zone is in the Chronicle, announcing that a developer is buying two of the old freeway parcels: "The properties are an integral part of a neighborhood rezoning plan to add as many as 6,000 housing units while creating a walkable, thriving area accessible to public transportation."

Let's name this terrible plan: It's called the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which was hatched years ago by the Big Thinkers in the Planning Department who operate under the delusional assumption that they know how to create and/or even "improve" neighborhoods. Apparently they don't know a neighborhood when they see one, since their map of the area doesn't show a genuine neighborhood but only fragments of a half-dozen other neighborhoods stitched together arbitrarily in the middle of the city.

What the M/O Plan does to "improve" the area is rezone thousands of properties to encourage dense development in an already densely-populated area by changing existing regulations as an incentive for developers. Building height limits are raised, setbacks are eliminated, backyard space is eliminated, adequate parking for the 6,000 new housing units is discouraged---that's why the Bicycle Coalition supports the Plan---and 40-story residential highrises are planned in the Market and Van Ness area:

Central to that concept is the new Octavia Boulevard, the poplar-lined thoroughfare that replaced a large section of freeway. Proceeds from city property sales are required to be used to pay off the debt incurred for the boulevard's construction. The city's ambitious goals were slowed for years by debates over the plan's finer points, such as affordable housing, developer fees and parking space limitations. The bad economy has made if difficult for builders to obtain construction loans, but momentum appears to be building for new projects.

There really hasn't been much debate about this Plan. It's rarely mentioned in the Chronicle or the rest of the city's media. John King is the exception, since for years he was infatuated with the concept of a grand Octavia Blvd. that existed only in his imagination. He started writing about this imaginary boulevard long before its construction began, with his mystifying passion only cooling off a few years ago. Maybe he finally went out to the neighborhood to take a look at it.

But the mayor's office is still dispensing fatuous happy talk about Octavia Blvd. and Hayes Valley:

"At one time the freeway bisected the area and developing the parcels is helping to heal the neighborhood," said Rich Hillis, deputy director in the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. "A lot of the changes in Hayes Valley were sparked by the removal of the freeway and we think the developments near Octavia Boulevard will close out a project that has been successful."

Instead of "healing" the neighborhood, Octavia Blvd. inflicted an ugly new wound, since much of the traffic that used to go over the neighborhood on the freeway now goes through the middle of Hayes Valley on Octavia and surface streets. A few months after Octavia Blvd. opened to traffic in 2005, it was near capacity, carrying 45,000 cars a day, according to the city's traffic count:

The first freeway parcel development is nearing completion at the corner of Octavia Boulevard and Oak Street. Meanwhile, the LindenHayes condominium project has seen brisk sales since it placed units on the market in June, according to Doug Shaw of Union Pacific brokerage. Shaw said the sales probably were aided by the fact that not much other new housing has come on the market in the past few months. But he noted that Hayes Valley increasingly is becoming upscale, continuing to add boutiques, restaurants and shops. "There was an encampment under the freeway overpass and after that came down all the merchants here say it was like night and day," Shaw said. "Octavia is being touted all over the place as a brilliant project in urban planning."

"Touted" by who exactly, except for the mayor's office and real estate salesmen? There aren't any "merchants" on Octavia Blvd., except for that forlorn cafe/coffeehouse that changes hands every few months.

The development of new high-end housing and the steep rents along the Hayes Street commercial strip already are starting to make the area unaffordable for working-class people, said Jason Henderson, who chairs the planning and transportation committee of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association..."I'm of two minds about the economic boom in the area," said Henderson. "I believe it's only being (delayed) by the national financial crisis. I also know that we have to be more aggressive about affordable housing; it's a challenge we will face in the coming years as waves of people come in here."

Henderson is talking like he has nothing to do with what's happening in the area, but he---with another HVNA officer, Paul Olsen, and fellow bike guy Robin Levitt---sits on the Market and Octavia Citizens Community Advisory Committee. (Bike person Cheryl Brinkman was also on the committee until recently, when she was appointed to the MTA board by the mayor.) A small minority of folks like this have been collaborating with the Planning Dept. to develop this destructive Plan, which is based on the fashionable planning concept of dense development along "transit corridors," which of course also includes anti-car policies: if you don't provide adequate parking for the 10,000 new residents the Plan brings to the area, then they won't bring any cars or traffic problems when they occupy those 6,000 new housing units. If you don't build it, they won't come with their cars!

It's true that the Market/Octavia Plan has no provision for affordable housing, except on some of the old freeway parcels. And, yes, the city has been spared the destructive effects of this huge development scheme only because the recession is making it difficult for developers to get loans. It's also being litigated, since the city hasn't had a valid General Plan for years and the EIR on the Plan is grossly inadequate.

Instead of simply getting housing built on the freeway parcels the state gave the city when the freeway was torn down, the Planning Dept. hatched this grandiose Plan to overdevelop the middle of the city, based on half-baked, fashionable, "progressive" planning ideas that developers will find convenient---and very profitable.

Supervisor Mirkarimi has taken the lead on both the M/O Plan and allowing UC to hijack the nearby extension property. Mirkarimi's destructive legacy will be with the city long after he is termed out in two years.

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