Friday, February 18, 2005

Marshall Foster's "Policy Guide"

One of the features of last night's public relations exercise the Planning Dept. calls a "Community Meeting" was Marshall Foster's incoherent and disingenuous sales pitch for a document he wrote last December ("A Policy Guide to Considering Reuse of the University of California Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus"). As the title of the document suggests, Foster is not a man of few words. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, the Policy Guide is clearly a pro-development document (See "Planning and the English Language," an analysis of the Policy Guide elsewhere in this blog). Unfortunately, Foster had to rush off to catch a plane to New York last night---he's probably going to give New York planners some pointers on how to destroy their neighborhoods---before I could ask him about the textual evidence of his pro-development bias in the Policy Guide.
But there is a positive alternative to shoe-horning 424 mostly market-rate housing units into five acres: New College, which has two campuses, a law school on Fell St. and a main campus on Valencia. It was good to meet Eduardo Waller, Director of Marketing & Communications for New College last night. Waller told the gathering that New College is very much interested in leasing the UC Extension site, as they are outgrowing their other locations with more than 1000 students. Allowing the genuinely progressive New College to lease the UC Extension site would do several important things for the neighborhood---preserve the Public Use zoning the parcel has had for 150 years, preserve the historic structures on the site, and provide a good neighbor for the whole neighborhood (I bet New College would give the kids of the neighborhood more access to the gym. And maybe they would take down the wall, which has always been bad symbolism and, lately, a big target for the tagger vandals).

Actually, there is another alternative, one that only I advocate, as far as I can tell: preserve the most important buildings on the site and make one into a branch library. Then turn the rest of the area into a park, a major public space like Dolores Park or Alamo Square.
In any event, what's clear from last night's meeting is that the Planning Department is dominated by the We Need Housing mindset. Planning is eager to bulldoze whole neighborhoods in the housing uber alles cause.

For those who think the four, already-approved, 35-40 story, Rincon condo Towers were an unfortunate aberration---merely Chris Daly's folly---the Market/Octavia Plan should be an eye-opener. Check out pages 34-36, wherein Planning tells us they want an undisclosed number of similar towers for South Van Ness and Market Street. Is anyone paying attention? Is this the kind of city we want? Is the board of supervisors going to sign off on this kind of over-development?

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Rincon Towers coming to SOMA

People living in the Market/Octavia and SoMa neighborhoods can't say that they haven't been warned. Last night's community meeting put on by the Planning Dept. should have been an eye-opener for anyone paying attention. Planning actually had blow-ups of several of the scariest pages in the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan available for viewing, including page 40, which I've written about before (see Template and Terminator, Jan. 30) and a page from the section that tells us that 40-story residential highrises are planned for the Market/Octavia neighborhood, just as they are for the Rincon Hill neighborhood near downtown. The highrise section of the Market/Octavia Plan can be found in pages 34-36 of the Plan. (See the height map for the Market/Octavia intersection):

Encourage the development of slender residential towers above the base height in the SoMa West area along South Van Ness Avenue between Market and Mission Streets and along the Market Street corridor (page 34).

These towers will be 200-400 feet high, which means 20-40 stories high (page 35). Since Market St. is the main "transit corridor" in the city, Planning thinks it's fair game for its plan to build housing everywhere and anywhere it can in the city. And who is saying no? Not the rubber-stamp known as The Planning Commission, and not the board of supervisors. The We Need Housing juggernaut and the Rincon Towers are now marching golem-like up Market St.

For those who haven't read my Jan. 30 item, I'll again cite the infamous page 40 from the Plan:

In terms of the area's physical capacity for new development, there will be potential for 7,500 to 13,000 new housing units under the controls proposed by this plan---an increase of 20 to 45 percent over the potential under the existing zoning. These figures do not reflect the number of units likely to be produced, however. That figure is a product of what share of the city's overall housing growth can be expected to take place in the Market and Octavia neighborhood. Over the next 20 years, the Market and Octavia neighborhood's share of the city's housing growth is expected to be up to 4,500 to 5,300 units (Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan: Draft for Public Review, page 40).

According to Planning's own numbers (page 45), there are now 10,500 housing units in the Market/Octavia neighborhood that now has a population of 23,000. Adding more than 5,000 units to the area means you also add another 10,000 people. This is what Planning calls building "good neighborhoods respectful of place" and "good place-making" (Introduction). Planning thinks the Better Neighborhoods Program, of which the Market/Octavia Plan is an integral part, is "a tool kit for building well and with a sense of place...We know how to do all this (Introduction)." No they don't.

What they are really doing is making a completely different place than what we have now, a place that is much more densely populated and with a lot more traffic.

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Death for the homelesss

Putting the numbers in historical perspective: Mayor Newsom's office released the latest figures on how many homeless people died in the city over the past year---101 as compared to the 169 who died in the previous year. "These numbers are a good sign," the mayor's office said (SF Examiner, Feb. 18-20). Well, yes, it's good that fewer homeless people died last year, but, unfortunately, the 101 number is consistent with the homeless body counts going back to 1986.

More than five years ago, Rachel Gordon wrote a front-page story on homelessness in the city that included a sidebar showing the death count from 1986 through 1999 ("Grim Times for Homeless," SF Examiner, Dec. 23, 1999). In all but three of those years, the death toll was more than 100, with a 14-year average of 115 annual deaths. 

It's important to understand that the numbers fluctuated considerably from year to year, even though they were over 100 every year in that period, except for the aforementioned three years---and the toll was 98 in one of those years. For example: there were 69 deaths in 1987, which jumped to 116 in 1988; 154 in 1996, which dropped to 104 in 1997.

To his credit, the mayor seems to understand this: "There is no number more meaningful to me than that number...Even though I'm pleased it's down, it still belies an underlying tragedy. It's still outrageous" ("Hope for the Homeless," Kevin Fagan, SF Chronicle, Feb. 18).

But clearly the recent homeless count showing far fewer people living on our streets demonstrates that the mayor is on the right track with the supportive housing approach. Thanks to Mayor Newsom and Angela Alioto, we're making real progress on homelessness, but the tragedy on our streets is far from over.

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