Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Jeff Bond: flak catcher for UC

Monday night, at the HVNA meeting on UC's proposal for the old Extension site, I almost felt sorry for Jeff Bond, a Senior Planner for UC, the designated flak catcher for the night. He was hammered relentlessly by almost everyone who spoke, especially after his unpersuasive, poor-little-UC routine.

Bond's rap, in essence: UC has to turn the site into a profitable commercial housing development because it needs the money. UC will have to increase tuition and fees to students and cut academic programs if it doesn't get fair market value for the extension site. And, as long as the property is zoned Public Use, he complained that UC couldn't get more than 50% of the fair market value if it sold the property. Besides, the property has serious seismic, asbestos, and ADA issues that are going to be expensive to deal with. Even the landscaping is in bad shape. All this is going to cost millions, and UC doesn't have the money. The site is so run-down that it's just no longer suitable to be used for an educational institution.

On the other hand, a parade of people to the podium had a different take:

* UC has had the 5.8 acre property since 1957 and, as a public entity, has never paid any taxes on the valuable property to the city. The city gave UC a huge, tax-free gift, and now UC wants to cash in its chips by shoe-horning 400-500 housing units into the middle of an already densely populated neighborhood.

* UC has allowed the property to deteriorate on its watch and therefore should be responsible for fixing it up.

* HVNA sent a letter to the UC Regents last year and never even got a reply.

A number of people asked Bond for some money numbers: What did he and UC think the site is worth? What's UC's financial arrangement with developer Evans? What is UC paying for the two huge floors at 425 Market St. where the extension program is now operating? What is UC paying for that new property on nearby Third St.? Bond was not forthcoming, which irritated his audience. He said he was sorry, but he was operating under UC guidelines against divulging such information.[Later: He provided the numbers at the next meeting.]

But Bond is a good flak catcher: He took a lot of shit Monday night and never lost his composure. Though he was on the defensive all night, he maintained an apologetic affability throughout what must have been an ordeal for him. He definitely earned his pay Monday night.

His performance was not helpful for UC, however, though it's unlikely anyone else could have done any better. UC's problem: The more people in that neighborhood learn about their proposal the less they like it.

Supervisor Mirkarimi arrived a little late, but he should be forgiven, since he had probably been on the job for 12 hours by the time he got there. Actually, his timing was good, since, after being pummeled for 90 minutes by nearly everyone in the room, Bond was ready for Mirkarimi's coup de grace. Ross started off by saying, "I don't like this project at all," and it went downhill for UC from there. Ross called UC a "Leviathan," and said he didn't like its high-handed process for the extension proposal. He favored the New College alternative to a commercial housing development. Ross told Bond he wanted to send a message to the Regents: There is serious opposition to their proposal in City Hall, and, finally---and perhaps fatally for the UC proposal---he opposes changing the site's zoning from Public Use to allow the massive housing development.

The last statement could be the nail in the coffin for the whole grotesquely large, arrogant, greedy proposal: If UC can't get a zoning change, there will be no commercial housing project on that site. Interestingly, Mirkarimi suggested that Supervisor Dufty---most of the site is actually in his district---is also unhappy with the UC proposal, which is good news for UC's critics: A majority of the Board of Supervisors is likely to defer to the supervisors in whose district the project proposal is located.

When asked Monday what would happen if UC didn't get the zoning change, Bond said the neighborhood would probably soon be facing a similar proposal in the near future. And he's probably right about that. If UC's critics can't figure out how to wrest control of that parcel from UC, stopping this proposal will have been a waste of time. A suggestion: Supervisors Mirkarimi and Dufty should ask the City Attorney to map out a legal strategy to reclaim that property from UC for the city. At the same time, since it's unlikely UC can be forced to bring it up to code, the city will need to figure out a way to pay for the rehabilitation of the site to make it useable, perhaps through a special bond on the ballot.

There is a practical, desirable alternative: If New College occupied the site, the wall would come down---nice symbolism in itself---and the site would be more integrated into the community: The gym would be saved from demolition and made availble to local kids; there would be no residential highrises on the site to spoil neighborhood views; and, more importantly, New College will make its free clinics available to the neighborhood, including a Public Interest Law clinic, another operated through the Graduate Psychology program, and a family literacy clinic through its teaching credential program.

The next UC meeting is on May 9, at the same location: the First Baptist Church, #7 Octavia St., 7:00-9:00. This meeting will feature the Planning Dept., which favors the UC proposal and is on record as being "excited" by the housing "opportunities" for the site. The Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association---actually, the HVNA Transportation and Planning Committee, in this instance---is doing a huge public service by sponsoring and hosting this series of meetings. For more about the group, see their web site:

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