A Tale of Two Plazas

P2P_Noe_plaza_small.jpgArtist’s rendering of the proposed plaza on the south side of Noe and 24th Streets. Image: Planning Department.

While public reaction to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Pavement to Parks plazas and parklets has been generally positive and the city is about to make the Castro trial more permanent, the proposal to close a Noe Valley street to cars and open it to pedestrians for a pilot plaza is generating quite the controversy.

Though the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Planning Department had scouted the 24th Street business corridor with Supervisor Bevan Dufty and the Noe Valley Association, the Community Benefit District that represents merchants in the area, many residents found out their neighborhood was being considered for a plaza when they read about it in the newspaper.

"A lot of the neighbors were taken by surprise," said Matthew Fulvio, a resident living near the proposed plaza. Project opponents promptly mobilized by collecting petition signatures and making opposition signs that neighbors hung in their windows.

As a result of the opposition, Fulvio said he and his neighbors got a meeting with the city ahead of the first official public meeting this Thursday. At that meeting in early March, Fulvio and other neighbors spoke with Noe Valley Association’s Deborah Nieman and the Planning Department’s Pavement to Parks project manager Andres Power, to outline their concerns.

Fulvio said that the closure of the street to traffic was a worry, but not nearly as big an issue as the impact the plaza would have on deliveries, the impact on trash collection, general sanitation, and the noise generated by those using the plaza.


"The key point here is Starbucks and Toast, " said Fulvio, explaining that those two businesses front the proposed plaza and have "garbage and noise issues" that neighbors have tried to address. "We have ongoing discussions with those merchants about abating and being good neighbors," and they don’t want the issues to be exacerbated, he said.

Proponents of the plaza, however, argue that the same concerns were voiced by a vocal minority living near the 17th Street and Castro Pavement to Parks plaza, but their fears never materialized.

Noe Valley resident John Murphy, who maintains the Yes Noe Valley blog in support of the project, said the plaza would be a fully reversible if it wasn’t successful.

"It’s a trial project; in a few months we will know what the impacts will be," said Murphy.

Rather than base fears on speculation, Murphy said they should put in the plaza and test the noise, sanitation and traffic impacts in real time.

"I think traffic will adjust," said Murphy, noting that Noe and 24th Street is already a four-way stop with high pedestrian volumes, which makes it an undesirable traffic route, whereas the intersection of Castro and 24th has traffic lights and makes driving easier there.

"If we have a problem with homeless people sleeping in the plaza at night, that’s what we have the SFPD for," added Murphy. "We can take care of it."

Reacting to the backlash from the neighbors near the proposed plaza, Supervisor Bevan Dufty has publicly voiced his skepticism about the feasibility of the project and the Planning Department has put forward an alternative proposal that wouldn’t close the street.

Planning’s Power said the department would consider removing several parking spaces in the area and installing parklets like the trial extensions at Mojo Café on Divisadero Street. Power said the Noe Valley Association has been awarded $38,000 from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) for public space improvements and he would move forward with the project that generates the most neighborhood support.

"The idea is to do something people want. If the consensus here is that they don’t want a closure, then it won’t go forward," said Power. "The purpose of the meeting is to gauge the feeling of the community."

The public meeting will be held at St Phillips Church on Thursday, April 8th, at 6:30 pm.

17th Street Castro Plaza to Become Permanent

Nearly a year after Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the first trial street closure in his Pavement to Parks initiative, the Department of Public Works will be out this week preparing the plaza space for construction that could begin as early as this weekend and will be the first step toward making the plaza permanent.

City planners used feedback from neighbors and merchants and plan to provide much more greenery and fixed seating, two of the highest demands registered over the past year by those who used the space.

"The goal is to take us from where we are now, which is cardboard, to something that will look good from now until we identify funding for a permanent plaza," said Planning’s Power.  The plaza received a $56,000 grant from the MOEWD, recently cleared environmental review, and now the MTA board is moving forward with legislation for permanent closure.

Power explained that the materials they would use for the upgrade would be more permanent, but would not be the final design for the plaza. He estimated the city would need to identify between two and three million dollars make it permanent.

Despite this, Power said the process over the past year for the trial street closures was very rewarding. After initial outcry from neighbors on Hartford Street who didn’t want to lose their convenient access or who feared that vagrants would overrun the space, nearly everyone now embraces the plaza.

"It’s as close to unanimously supported as you can get in San Francisco," said Power. "There are people in the space pretty much all day, every day. Everyone seems to be rallying around this as a new and important civic space at the gateway to the Castro."

  • Won’t closing that section of street mitigate a ton of noise coming from all the car traffic that will now go other places or just lessen in general? Or is car noise noise we just don’t hear or care about because it’s just second nature and we have to have it (even if we really don’t). Keep up the good fight Murph. I have full confidence you guys are going to succeed.

  • Noe Valley is *SO* ridiculous, it’s almost comical. I wonder if they know how much of a parody of themselves they are being.

  • Also, Bevan Dufty needs to grow some. How does he expect to be mayor if he kowtows at the slightest hint of controversy to a tiny group of wealthy landowners?

  • Brian

    Put a swing set in the middle and you win this fight. Making public space safe for families is the goal.

  • tea

    I take an issue with portraying it as “street closure”. As it is right now, a large percentage of the streets is CLOSED to pedestrians, children etc. We are not closing the streets. We open them up for much more than just other people’s personal motorized traffic.

  • Jeremiah

    I do enjoy all the Junior Traffic engineers out there in Noe Valley, on one side or the other knowing exactly what is going to happen to vehicle flows and movements.
    And the people who want to move the buses off of the commercial corridor so they can drive down it easier? Seriously?
    I have a better idea, put like 6 big concrete planters at each end of a 4 block section there block off the side streets as well and make them into 90 deg. parking with meters. TA-DA , outdoor mall, safer for everyone, more parking, and drive around if you must drive downtown.
    But I Would keep the buses coming through, like downtown Denver.

  • @eddo:

    I think that looking at it from the other side, from the reports that the neighbors were taken by surprise, it sounds like the city organizations could’ve done more initial outreach. I’m seeing similarities to the parking backlash in both Oakland and SF that come from lack of education on the matter.

  • richard

    these are all very wealthy people with a huge NIMBY ethic. simply put, they don’t want the rest of the City to spend any time in their enclave if they can avoid it.

    Noe Valley residents would gate the district off from the rest of the us, allowing only themselves and their housekeepers in if they could.

    Noe Valley – if you want to secede from the City, then find a way to do so and buy us out with your wealth.

    otherwise, suck it up – or maybe move to Pleasanton. the rest of us aren’t moved by your preciousness.

  • If Noe Valley decides that traffic is more imporant than parks, the city should take the $38K back and give it to a neighborhood that wants it, rather than relegating it to parklets!

  • icarus12

    When you get to know a particular area well, you figure out how to drive around some of these parklets. Unfortunately for the neighbors, you end up driving down the little side streets that previously had almost no traffic. Case in point is the 17th & Castro barrier. I still drive up and down 17th Street, because it’s much faster than 16th or 18th, but I use side streets paralleling Castro to get to 17th.

    I’m not against parklets, but I do wonder at their utility. Wouldn’t it be better to plant street trees more extensively, build wider sidewalks for pleasant walking and some sidewalk seating, put in landscaped medians to chill out traffic speeding, and coexist with the remaining cars?

    Or concentrate money on existing parks and playgrounds and make them more beautiful, inviting, accessible? The Castro and Noe Valley have some great natural places, but they are not heavily used.

    And here’s a last suggestion: the next parklet should be in a muni-stop eliminated as part of the transit plan to speed up service by reducing the number of stops.

  • icarus12

    At the risk of seeming to talk to myself . . .

    “For all its charm, San Francisco is not particularly leafy. A 2006 study by the US Forest Service found that about 12 percent of the city is covered by trees. In contrast, trees cover nearly 29 percent of Washington D.C., 22 percent of Boston, and 21 percent of New York.” Christian Science Monitor

    Here’s a good story about planting trees in San Francisco. Not nearly as controversial as parklets, but really, really great stuff. See:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2010/0405/One-man-s-volunteer-effort-to-plant-trees-in-San-Francisco

  • badlydrawnbear

    I love the parklets and the greening of wasted space at intersections like 17th an Castro but I have to say I find the idea of closing off 24th St ridiculous.

    It is one thing to use green medians and bump outs at intersections to calm traffic and make things safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians but to make trying to weave your way through SF even more difficult for those of us who live here is just annoying.

    I hate to drive period, but I especially hate to drive in SF because the traffic laws make so little sense that getting to the even major destinations with in the city is so frustrating that I often don’t even want to bother.

    If SF really wants to be green and encourage people to get out of their cars put in more lite rail, extend MUNI hours, upgrade the buses, the drivers, and the stops.

    Noe Valley is certainly NOT lacking in green space. This money could be much better spent and achieve more then by shutting down ANOTHER street.

  • I’m curious about the headlining in this post, “A Tale of Two Plazas” versus the version on the chronicle version of the blog, “New pedestrian plaza proposal has some Noe neighbors up in arms.” Is SB writing the chronicle headlines or does the chronicle write them? The latter seems like much more of a traditional chronicle headline, one that privileges one of the views in a given debate–i.e. it could have said “Some Noe Neighbors Rallying Behind Pedestrian Plaza” just as well right? A Tale of Two Plazas would seem to be best, and more neutral than most pro-complete streets SB headlines.

    – J

  • icarus12

    To Badlydrawnbear-
    First off, I love your moniker! Second, SF was just named easiest city to drive around in — I heard this discussed with incredulity on KCBS 740AM one evening as I waited to get on an onramp to I-80 over the Bay Bridge.

    But I have to agree with the report. It’s hard to get around the Bay Area sometimes, but almost never around the City. You just have to stick to the major routes with timed lights (Franklin, Oak, Fell, Pine, Bush, Masonic, Geary, Portola, Sloat, 19th Ave, Sunset Parkway, 7th, Howard, etc., etc.). Leave the neighborhood streets alone except in cases of emergency or pleasant sight-seeing. I get from downtown to the beach in 20 minutes or less all the time. I go all over town most of the time without a hitch. It’s a myth that this city is difficult to drive in. But perhaps I shouldn’t be letting the secret out. The daunted driver/parker is one of the reasons the roadways are as easy as they are.

  • cr

    badlydrawnbear,

    The proposed plaza does not block 24th St. It closes traffic on Noe St., just south of 24th. Traffic on 24th would flow normally (and may improve).

  • I just want a place to eat a bagel on Saturday morning. The other benches are all taken! I agree with the commenter who changes the frame from closing the street to opening it up to other uses. I also think this is dangerous territory for Bevan’s mayoral hopes. If he caves this easily to the wealthy building owners, how easy will it be to cave to the other powerful non-livability interests in the city?

  • patrick

    It’s too bad that NIMBYs are given so much say in this city (and others). It’s sad to see that people are not willing to even try something that has been so successful elsewhere in the city. Especially when the city has already said they are willing to remove it if it turns out to be unpopular.

  • “Dave”

    Just for the record, I’m a resident and we desperately WANT the plaza. There seems to be about 2 blocks worth of opposition… Please don’t lump all of us in to the “no crowd” when you bash Noe.

  • Sounds like neighborhood outreach was fumbled on this one … that’s too bad. I’d like to echo the sentiment that there’s no way in hell we should elect Bevan Dufty to be our Mayor based upon his waffling …. sorry, but San Francisco cannot afford an indecisive Mayor while staring down a structural deficit.

  • Please Dave, and any other Noe Valley residents for the plaza, show up Thursday. If you can’t, email Bevan.Dufty@sfgov.org

    I am steering clear of too much online debate right now. I will say this, Noe Valley welcomes all visitors and defintely doesn’t want to secede 🙂

  • Robo

    This plaza could be a great public space for the neighborhood. It’s a pity that a few loud Noe Valley drivers are so shut down to new ideas that they aren’t willing to try even an experimental traffic removal.
    There are streets and cars all over Noe Valley, but precious little park space. When cars are removed from the public space it opens it up to new uses on a safe, human scale. It’s like the street grows an imagination.

  • Gavin Dufty

    Does anyone besides Bevan Dufty want Bevan Dufty to be mayor? He’s on the wrong side of so many issues, including this one.

  • People –

    I will be speaking tonight at the meeting. In the words of the Noe Valley Association – “You guys need to PACK THE ROOM”.

    Supervisor Dufty will be the first to admit he is not infallable. I believe the meeting will be very constructive. But more bodies will be very, very helpful.

  • bmwlover

    Just because Bevan Dufty is listening to Both sides of the plaza issue, and not just one side, that means he’s NOT a good candidate for mayor?

    Seriously? On one issue..?

    We don’t need the plaza. We could use more benches and trees. Pretty low cost I’d say to get those put in.

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