Saturday, September 16, 2006

From the folks who brought us Octavia Blvd: The Market and Octavia Plan

If you like the new Octavia Blvd., you're going to love the Planning Department's Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which is going to bring still more traffic to that area. 

The Plan gets off to a bad start, since the title itself is a lie; the Plan actually covers a wide area of the city, not a neighborhood. Only the Hayes Valley neighborhood is within its boundaries. The M/O project area stretches from Turk St. in the north to 17th St. in the south, from Scott St. in the west to Howard St. south of Market St. The area of the Plan covers 376 acres, and covers 89 Assessor's blocks.

The primary purpose of the M/O Plan is to encourage developers to build housing in the project area using zoning changes as an inducement, as if that's necessary to build in San Francisco. Those inducements include changing normal height, density, and parking requirements to encourage much more housing in that area than would normally occur. 

As the Plan's DEIR tells us, without the Plan the population of that area will grow by 2,255 people by 2025. With the Plan, the project area will grow by 9,875 people during that period, a net gain of 7620 people (page 4-67). Why isn't 2,255 people enough growth for the area?

The answer: Because We Need Housing, and Planning thinks the city can build as much housing as we want---including 40-story residential highrises in the Van Ness/Market St. area---as long as it's built anywhere near "transit corridors." Since that seemingly arbitrary project area contains several transit corridors---Market St., Van Ness, Haight St., Hayes St., McAllister St., etc.---what's the problem? The more the merrier! 

It doesn't seem to matter to the whiz kids in Planning that the Muni on those "transit corridors" is already crowded, with standing room only during commute hours. (Then let them ride bikes! Of course the bike zealots love the M/O Plan, because it's anti-car and restricts parking wherever possible.)

But take a look at the Planning Dept.'s "vision"---a Dick-and-Jane architectural drawing rendered in prose---for that unfortunate area, as succinctly stated in one paragraph, albeit a paragraph consisting entirely of sentence fragments:

An urban neighborhood that provides for a mix of people of various ages, incomes, and lifestyles---a place where everyday needs can be met within a short walk on a system of public streets that area easy and safe to get around on foot, on bicycle, and by public transportation. A place intimately connected to the city as a whole, where owning a car is a choice, not a necessity, and streets are attractive and inviting public spaces. A neighborhood repaired and rejuvenated by building on the strengths of its long-standing character, yet inherently dynamic, creative, and evolving. (1-1, DEIR M/O Plan)

But wait: Isn't that what the area is already like, more or less? The Plan talks about creating "a dense, vibrant and transit-oriented neighborhood," as if the area was a blank slate, devoid of people and "vibrancy." The Plan itself tells us that 28,905 people live in the project area now, and 36,525 will live there after they implement the Plan, a 26% increase in population for the area (4-66). The Plan also tells us that many of the Muni lines were already close to capacity in 2002-2003 (4-195). And street parking is already used to capacity in the area (4-197).

In truth the Market/Octavia Plan reflects an alarming hubris in the Planning Dept. They talk about "creating" and "enhancing" neighborhoods, along with "place-making," as if they actually know how to do these things. Rather, this Plan---and the equally alarming Rincon Hill projects---is a radical experiment in social engineering by people who seem to be intoxicated by their own airy "vision."

Let's put the M/O Plan in context. The new Octavia Blvd., which has been open only a year, is already at capacity, according to DPT, carrying 44,859 cars a day as of last March right through the heart of the Project area.

Here's how the M/O Plan describes---under "Traffic Improvements"!---Octavia Blvd. before it was completed:

Completion of the approved Octavia Boulevard and the new Central Freeway touchdown at Market Street would improve regional traffic flow to and from Fell, Oak, Franklin, and Gough Streets and on other major streets in the Project area, including Van Ness Avenue, Mission Street, and Otis Street. These improvements have already received environmental review and are under construction (pages 3-29 thru 3-31).

In short, we're dealing with a Planning Dept. that thinks moving nearly 45,000 cars a day through the heart of the Project area is an "improvement"!

More bad news: The M/O Plan does not include the UC/Evans plan to put 400-500 new housing units on the old UC extension site a block away from Octavia Blvd. Let's do the numbers: 7620 more people from the M/O Plan, at least 1500 more people at the extension site, and another 1000-1500 on the old Central Freeway parcels. 

That part of town can now look forward to 10,000 more people in that area by 2025, which is 33% population growth. It's also safe to say that those people will bring at least 5,000 more cars into the area, since most of the new housing units will be market-rate units, and people who can afford market-rate housing in SF tend to own cars, transit or no transit.

If you don't mind pissing against the wind, you can make a public comment on the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan before the Planning Commission on Sept. 28 and Oct. 26. 

I'll do my part by introducing my Leave the Neighborhoods Alone Plan, which will cost the city nothing and require no staffing and no doorstop EIRs that cost thousands of dollars. But my Plan will require abandoning the Market and Octavia Plan.

A note on style: We need to strike the word "vibrant" from our civic lexicon. People in Planning are the worst abusers/over-users of the term; they sprinkle it at random throughout their documents. I counted six "vibrants" packed into two pages in the M/O Plan DEIR (pages 3-1 and 3-2). The message below doesn't fail to invoke the term, as in "the Market and Octavia area's potential as a vibrant, urban neighborhood," blah, blah, blah (see also Marshall Foster's pro-development Planning document for the extension site).

Dear Market and Octavia community member,

The Planning Department is getting ready for the adoption of the Plan, which will take place through the course of several hearings at the Planning Commission. A brief update on the process is provided below.

Important Dates:
Planning Commission Hearings Hearing September 7, 2006 Calendared 3-4 pm Informational Hearing on the M&O Plan (public comment, no commission action)

September 28, 2006 Initiation Hearing (public comment, no commission action)

October 26, 2006 Adoption Hearing (public comment, possible commission action)

Sincerely, The Market and Octavia Team at the Planning Department

What's New? The Plan is going to the Planning Commission After more than six years of hard work by residents, businesses, and other community members with the Planning Department, the Market and Octavia Plan is entering the adoption phase. The Planning Commission will start the adoption process with an informational presentation by staff on Thursday, September 7th. The Planning Commission will hold the Initiation hearing on September 28 followed by the Adoption hearing on October 26 at which point the Commission may consider adoption of the Plan. Each hearing will offer opportunity for public comment. The Environmental Impact Report will also need to be certified as a part of the adoption process.

Recent Work on the Plan:
The Planning Department held pre-adoption community meetings on the Plan in May and began the related area-wide Market and Octavia Historic Resource Survey in August. Since then, the Planning Department has continued outreach, refined the plan and the implementation program. As required by the Planning Code, the Plan will be initiated (prior to adoption) at the second hearing in September so that proper legal notice can be provided to interested parties. The Initiation Packet will unveil a comprehensive Public Benefits Program that identifies community improvements necessary to accommodate growth and maintain and improve community character.

What is the Plan? This Market and Octavia Plan is the result of over six years of community planning as part of the Better Neighborhoods Program. With the Better Neighborhoods Program, the City is investing in the Market and Octavia area's potential as a vibrant, urban neighborhood and an essential part of the city. The Plan outlines a bold new vision for the area that aims to provide housing in response to human needs, offers people choice in how they get around, builds a whole neighborhood around a public realm of the highest quality, and articulates a full range of services and amenities close to where people live and work. The plan proposes a comprehensive set of streetscape and open space improvements, new design guidelines, an implementation program, including new zoning controls and an unprecedented public benefit package complete with a funding plan to ensure that the ideas get built.

Read more about the plan here, then attend the upcoming Commission Hearings to make sure your voice is heard.

Aksel K. Olsen, Planner/Geographer San Francisco Planning Department Citywide Policy Planning 1660 Mission St, 5th Floor San Francisco, CA 94103-2414 Write

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