Friday, October 31, 2014

Public Press: Develop the Sunset, Richmond districts

Much of this Public Press article (Increase Density in Western Neighborhoods and Fix Transit) reads like an extended City Hall press release written by the Planning Dept. It's offered as a "creative solution" to the city's housing crisis.

The writer lives in Chicago, which may be the problem. Along with some bobbleheads from academia, she talked to the usual "smart growth," anti-car, pro-development suspects familiar to readers of this blog: Josh Switzky, AnMarie Rodgers, SPUR, Tom Radulovich, and the pro-highrise, pro-CEQA "reform" Housing Action Coalition:

As rental prices skyrocket, the city could add thousands of new apartments without increasing parking problems by carefully tweaking housing regulations in the west---an area largely untouched by the recent construction boom. Joshua Switzky, the acting director of the citywide planning division of the San Francisco Planning Department, said that rezoning along a few key transit corridors in the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods could add roughly 7,000 new apartment units. To do this, a few key commercial streets served by public transportation would need to be rezoned to increase the housing density by 25 to 30 percent...Even under existing building height and density limits, the west side could fit approximately 5,500 additional housing units near Muni lines and retail districts, Switzky said.

That's preposterous, as Hiroshi Fukuda and Mary Gallagher---quoted to provide a semblance of balance in the story---pointed out:

Western neighbors have valid reasons to oppose rezoning, said Mary Gallagher, San Francisco’s former assistant director of planning. Increasing housing in low-density areas leads to the nuisance of construction and demolition, residential and business displacement, traffic congestion, parking problems and a change in the character of the neighborhood. This would all come in exchange for a modest number of affordable housing units...Hiroshi Fukuda, land use and housing chair of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, said that if large-scale development produced mostly market-rate apartments, it could displace established residents paying lower rents...Affordability for middle-income residents, not “densification,” is their biggest concern. “They’re building the wrong type of housing for people who don’t even live here,” Fukuda said.

Developers would have to bulldoze a lot of buildings in an area that's already built out, as the story concedes. It's not as if there are a lot of empty lots in the Sunset waiting to be developed:

And the west’s geography is inherently unattractive to developers who would prefer to build on a large scale. Compared with the available land in the city’s southeast sectors, western parcels are tiny. A developer might want to buy one if it could be combined with an adjacent parcel, but that process is difficult, Switzky said.

The Public Press has this reference to the Parkmerced development, as if a much-needed housing project finally succeeded against neighborhood opposition:

One massive project has only just overcome years of neighorhood push-back. In 2011, the Board of Supervisors approved plans to build almost 5,700 new housing units in the Parkmerced neighborhood, but residents opposed it out of concern that it would displace existing tenants and sully the area’s historic character. This August, the First District Court of Appeals gave the 20-year project the green light, and construction could begin by next fall...

The Parkmerced project should send ripples of dread through that part of town, since residents of the Sunset understand better than City Hall that the traffic on 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra is already near gridlock.

The real issue about allowing 5,700 new housing units at Parkmerced---which will then have a total of 8,900 housing units!---is about that traffic. The Parkmerced project and other projects in the pipeline will add 7,375 housing units and 16,850 new residents to the 19th Avenue corridor area over the next 20 years! All the bureaucrats and politicians that okayed this dumb project will be long retired on the city's lavish pension plan when all those traffic chickens come home to roost.

The story acknowledges the Sunset's reliance on cars:

Because cars are so essential to western neighborhood residents, it would be politically unpopular to increase housing density by dropping parking requirements in new housing. That could explain why one modest zoning change, which Switzky described, has not happened yet: eliminating all parking requirements for new developments. That would force new residents with cars to find street parking, a precious commodity in the city, potentially threatening its availability. About 93 percent of the Outer Sunset’s parking spaces are unmetered street parking, a higher percentage than in any other neighborhood...

The story has a garbled, inaccurate account of the Housing Element issue:

Amit Ghosh, then the city’s chief planner, drafted a citywide plan for the 2004 Housing Element that would have increased density and removed parking along many major commercial strips well served by public transit. The backlash was overwhelming. Neighborhood groups threatened legal action, and then-mayoral candidate Gavin Newsom promised to replace the leadership at the Planning Department and rewrite the whole plan. Opponents said the city should have performed an environmental impact report and sought their participation.

"Neighborhood groups" in fact took legal action, and they got the Housing Element thrown out by the court of appeal, which also ordered the city to do an EIR. The Housing Element issue is still being litigated (I posted their press release at the time).

Residents of the Sunset district should know that their Supervisor, Katy Tang, is on board for all the trendy development and transportation policies that now dominate City Hall's thinking. See her bloated, all-things-to-all-people Sunset District Blueprint document; start on page 61 for land use; and her deference to Bicycle Coalition and the "getting people out of cars" doctrine on page 36, which is even less relevant to that part of town than it is to the rest of the city. Since they are so far from the rest of the city, people in the Sunset rely on either cars or Muni.

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Examiner letters: No on A, Yes on L

These letters to the editor appeared in Tuesday's SF Examiner:

Prop. H is misrepresented

Columnist Joel Engardio is dead wrong in his depiction of who are the tyrants in the soccer field debate. Proposition H was put on the ballot by the grass-roots efforts of concerned citizens, as is their legal right.

The ballot book[page 137] shows Prop. H is opposed only by the wealthy Fisher family, the Chamber of Commerce and Susan Leal. Are we to believe that these opponents are the "less-powerful youths" Engardio refers to, or are they the real tyrants?

Nancy Wuerfel
San Francisco

Plans will hurt traffic flow
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's plans for the 9-San Bruno line constrict 11th Street to one lane in each direction. Stopping buses in the traffic lane means that all cars, in both directions are doomed to wait for Muni buses to load and unload passengers. This will lead to increased congestion, causing still more taxpayers to become angrier about Muni.

The same flawed design is also being foisted on other thoroughfares across The City. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition-controlled SFMTA is determined to screw up traffic all over San Francisco.

Vote yes on Proposition L and no on Proposition A.

Ted Loewenberg
San Francisco

Transit changes hurt S.F.
Bob Linscheid of the Chamber of Commerce and Tilly Chang of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority note the need of public transportation to adapt to the new growth areas of The City, which includes businesses and housing. This, in fact, is evident in the planning of the Transit Effectiveness Project, which has removed and altered bus routes from the neighborhoods to add buses in these growth areas.

Neighborhoods and public services are being depleted of vital transit resources in this process. For example, some direct bus lines will be eliminated to San Francisco General Hospital and the Hall of Justice. The 2-Clement line, already altered, will run only two blocks on Clement Street to the detriment of businesses and shoppers. Don't people working downtown and living in the neighborhoods deserve equal attention?

Public transportation should serve all the public, not a select few.

Herbert J. Weiner
San Francisco

Rob's comment: See last year's post on Tilly Chang.

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