Saturday, August 04, 2007

Servetnik Dialogues with the UC Greedheads

(Rob's note: The "greedheads" in the post title is of course my choice of words, not Servetnik's, who is much too diplomatic to use the term. Servetnik's message is in response to Phil Horne's, which is in italics at the end of the post.)


I shared my intentions regarding the volunteer work I have undertaken to promote the analysis of the New College alternate preservation/public use proposal in the EIR for the UC/AF Evans/openhouse 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project with you during an impromptu meeting at your law office on Market Street almost a year ago. But, for the benefit of the listserve and others, I am happy to restate them.

As a former SFSU and UC Berkeley campus planner, certified city planner with a professional degree in architecture from Cornell, longstanding historic preservation advocate, and founding member of the San Francisco Preservation Consortium, I want to see as much preservation and public use at the Laguna Street Campus as possible. I am highly motivated to work towards that end and am outraged that there has not been a legitimate public process regarding the reuse of this National Register-eligible 5.8 acre publicly owned and zoned site.

Per the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan (M-O Plan), "any subsequent change in the zoning of the UC Berkeley Laguna Campus should occur in the context of a focused community planning process that involves residents and other stakeholders." Such a process has not occurred, although rezoning from Public to private use is a discretionary decision of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Further, the City Attorney has opined that title to Waller Street between Buchanan and Laguna (+/- 15% of the campus) would revert to the City upon rezoning.

As Co-Chair of the Save the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus group, I am advocating for a pubic process to determine the best use of the campus, to evaluate the requested change to the existing Public zoning under the proposed UC Berkeley/AF Evans/openhouse project within the context of the M-O Plan, to make recommendations regarding redevelopment guidelines, and to oversee the redevelopment process. UC unilaterally decided to develop mainly market-rate housing on the campus with no public process. They gave AF Evans an exclusive right to negotiate which is contingent upon their ability to entitle their project and expires this October. Therefore, UC is legally prohibited from entertaining alternate proposals through October. I'd like to see the public have the opportunity to weigh in on a competitive developer selection process, and as far as I am concerned, may the best proposal win.

The M-O Plan will dramatically increase the number of residents in the area while decreasing parking. Yet, a quantitative cumulative analysis of the need for open space, recreation, cultural, education, and public facilities resources has not been conducted for the M-O Plan area or the Laguna Street Campus. Nor have affordable housing and local employment needs been addressed.

As you know, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) contains a "substantive mandate" that public agencies refrain from approving projects with significant environmental effects if "there are feasible alternatives or mitigation measures" that can substantially lessen or avoid those effects. Feasible means capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, social and technological factors.

Last summer, New College made a market-rate offer for the campus under Public zoning. I helped them pro bono to put together information about their proposal for analysis in the UC/AF Evans/openhouse 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project EIR. The New College proposal would retain all five historic buildings, retain the historic campus use and zoning, and open the campus up to the general public.

The UC/AF Evans/openhouse project proposes to demolish two of the five contributing campus buildings---Middle Hall Gymnasium and Richardson Hall Annex. Middle Hall has a brand new professional dance-troupe-quality wood floor and a state-of-the-art computer center that the community could use. The project also proposes to convert the tiered theater in Richardson Hall into a multi-purpose room, and to alter and privatize most of the remaining interiors. The draft EIR for the 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project acknowledges the project would have significant unavoidable adverse impacts on historic resources which may render the campus ineligible as a potential National Register Historic District upon completion.

At a minimum, the UC/AF Evans/openhouse team should work with the Landmarks Board to modify their project as suggested by the preservation alternative that was selected as environmentally superior in the 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project EIR. UC has been reticent, and in fact has threatened to put a fence around the campus and mothball it for the near term if it is landmarked and AF Evans drops out. UC has carrying costs of about $2 million per year in rent for their downtown SF Extension Center ( AF Evans has incurred well over $2 million in pre-development costs since they were selected in 2004.

If you simply appraise the site based on the value of the units as condos (though they will initially be constructed as mainly market-rate rental housing) using a conservative estimate of $850,000 per unit plus the commercial space, the initial value of the proposed project is about a half billion dollars. So saying that working within the adaptive reuse constraints of Local Landmark designation would render the project financially infeasible just doesn't fly. The Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (LPAB), San Francisco Architectural Heritage, and the San Francisco Preservation Consortium all support the Local Landmark designation of the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus. The LPAB (via unanimous vote) and the San Francisco Preservation Consortium have appealed the Planning Commission's decision not to landmark the campus. The appeal hearing on this matter was scheduled at the Board of Supervisors for Tuesday, July 31st. However, it has been postponed to August 14th.

Here are some questions you may want to ask AF Evans regarding the front page article on New College that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, July 31st---the same day as the Board of Supervisors hearing on the UCBE Laguna Street Campus Local Landmark designation.

It is certainly an odd coincidence as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) report was published on July 5th, yet the story appeared in the Chronicle over three weeks later. Note: The article cites a $16 million/year cash flow for New College. I do not know what their current financial status is.

It is also odd that Roberta Achtenberg, former Dean of New College School of Law, former SF Supervisor and current Chair of CSU's Board of Trustees, spoke on behalf of AF Evans during the wee hours of the morning at the Planning Commission hearing on landmarking the UCBE Laguna St Campus, and that the San Francisco State University Recreation and Leisure Studies Department is preparing a flawed Community Needs Inventory for AF Evans that is supposed to represent a public planning process involving stakeholders. The Community Needs Inventory, which primarily focuses on evaluating existing health, safety, education and recreation facilities near the campus, and determining needs based on demographic information and qualitative input, is no substitute for comprehensive planning...

Honestly, I have to wonder if Ruthy Bennett of AF Evans may have asked Roberta Achtenberg and Harry Britt, former SF Supervisor and current New College professor, to encourage WASC to expose financial information that could be used to support their assertion that the New College proposal to acquire the campus at market rate under Public zoning is not financially feasible. Whether or not said financial information invalidates the New College proposal from being analyzed in the AF Evans project EIR, the involvement of said individuals in the WASC special investigation for this purpose would be highly unethical.

The Chronicle story was very damaging to New College, it may adversely impact their enrollment, and it does not seem to merit such a big headline on the front page. I feel very badly that this is likely the result of their willingness to challenge UC to provide more than +/-20% of 450 affordable housing units to people who make over $38K/year in exchange for re-zoning 5.8 acres of land that has been serving the public for over 150 years. San Francisco, UC, CSU, AF Evans, New College and the Chronicle can all do better. It's time we revisit the entire process with public oversight.

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

Phil Horne wrote:

I am concerned that Cynthia Servetnick has been arguing that 55 Laguna should be used as a campus for New College. Meanwhile, New College has apparently announced that it will close due to a financial and academic scandal. New College has apparently announced lay-offs to all employees, and it may not even be able to pay final paychecks. What I want to know is whether Servetnick worked as a consultant for New College, whether she received any remuneration from New College, and whether she knew about the looming financial and academic scandal at the time she made representations to the City about New College moving to 55 Laguna. Anyone have any answers?

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