Friday, April 01, 2011

The Parkmerced project is about traffic

It's odd that Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius can be so good on homelessness and quality-of-life issues in the city and still be so obtuse on development issues. His latest column on the awful Parkmerced project is a case in point:

This could be one of those big-deal moments in San Francisco that---20 or 30 years down the road---turns out to be a game-changer. Or it could be a huge swing and a miss. And that would be a shame. This isn't a case of NIMBYs versus the developers, or the hidebound city natives who resist all change...What Parkmerced has is the answer to the single factor that may drive more families out of the city than any other---the lack of a third bedroom. Couples get married, settle into a home, and have a kid. But when they have that second child and start to look for a three-bedroom unit, they're out of luck...The new plan would add more of those units. They would not be luxury condos or high-end apartments. They'd be well-appointed one-, two-, and three-bedroom spaces, some for rent and some for sale...

While we're waiting for Nevius to provide a single example of those in the city "who resist all change," we'll point out that the Parkmerced project will destroy more than 1,500 housing units and replace them with highrise units. The project will also build more than 5,000 new market-rate units---affordable housing is not a serious part of the project---which means that Nevius's mythical "couples" will have to have a pretty good income.

The reality is that the company that now owns Parkmerced is engaging in a huge real estate speculation/development scheme with this project. These folks aren't interested in merely being landlords and collecting rent from the existing 1,500 residents; they want to maximize their profits at the expense of both Parkmerced residents and that part of the city. Many in City Hall want to help them do it.

Nevius is oblivious to the traffic issues raised by the project, which are just as important as building larger apartments and protecting the rights of those who now occupy the garden apartments that will be demolished. Adding thousands of new residents to a housing development that is already densely populated---conforming to the Planning Department's dense development dogma---can't be done without adding to the existing traffic woes of everyone who lives near or has to use 19th Avenue.

The Planning Dept. is enthralled by the trendy "transit corridors," dense development ideas, but they have apparently forgotten why there are density limits in the first place---that much additional traffic can degrade the quality-of-life of everyone who lives anywhere near Parkmerced. Putting in a bike lane, some nearby shops, or even a new Muni line won't be enough to offset the impact of all those new residents on an area that is so remote that car ownership is more of a necessity than in any other part of the city.

The exchange between Supervisors Campos and Elsbernd on the traffic issue showed that it was just as significant as the legitimate concerns about rent control and the developers agreement, as per the account in the Bay Guardian:

Elsbernd...said he was convinced that the project could help improve public transit and serve to limit congrestion on the western side of the city. "It's one step backward to get two steps forward," he said of the increase in roughly 6,000 parking spaces that would go along with the project. "The west side is dramatically underserved when it comes to public transit, and it's only going to improve with a project like this." But Campos...said it was hard to see how traffic along 19th Avenue would improve with the addition of so many more cars. "You're talking about 9,450 parking spaces, plus 1,681 street parking spaces, so the total number is 11,131...So I'm trying to understand how such a significant increase will actually help congestion, which is what was said earlier. How's that something that will actually make things better, not worse?"

Elsbernd's response to Campos's question was not only unconvincing, it was incomprehensible.

A fact to remember: San Francisco is already the second most densely populated city in the country, after only New York City.

Labels: , , , , , ,

The City's new jobs and housing program

I don't know who Reed Prack is, but he has a brilliant satire on today's BeyondChron on the implications of the city's grotesque Parkmerced project:

Inspired by Parkmerced, City Unveils New Citywide Demolition Program

by Reed M. Prack

April 01‚ 2011 At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd announced a new development strategy inspired by the proposed Parkmerced project. Under the new “Transit Oriented Demolition and Development” plan, the City will offer incentives to developers that agree to demolish existing low-density residential neighborhoods with older housing (“TODD zones”) and replace them with higher density, “transit oriented” development.

Against a backdrop showing a condominium high-rise skyline, Mayor Lee said of the plan: “We are so convinced of the benefits of the Parkmerced project that we are excited to bring these benefits of greater density, transit improvements and greenhouse gasses to the entire city.”

Stellar Management and Fortress Investments, the Parkmerced developers, will reportedly seek approval to develop two other TODD zones in the city---an 18 square block section of the Sunset District and a 23 block area of the Richmond district. Stellar spokesman P.J. Johnston would not confirm or deny the plan for the Sunset and Richmond districts, but did acknowledge that “these are certainly areas with low density, older housing and limited transit that would benefit from the type of smart growth we’re doing at Parkmerced.”

Sup. Elsbernd will introduce legislation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting to relieve developers of Planning Code limits where they propose to demolish units and promise to replace them. Under the plan, developers who promise to demolish more than 20 units will be granted density bonuses, waivers of height and setback restrictions, and freedom from conditional use hearings. There will be additional incentives for larger projects. A developer who agrees to demolish at least one hundred units will also qualify for special tax exemptions.

According to Elsbernd, “We’re creating an incentive structure here. I know it’s counterintuitive, but the more units that are demolished, the more housing we will end up with. Only by demolishing units can we attract the funding necessary to rebuild higher density housing, which will have the net impact of increasing housing supply. The residents might not know it now, but this is for their own good..."

Read the rest here.

Labels: ,