“Tortured Path” of North Beach Library Project Comes to a Close

One proposal for re-purposing Mason Street as a park between the new North Beach Branch Public Library and Joe DiMaggio Playground. Courtesy Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Nearly two years after San Francisco reclaimed a short block of Mason Street in North Beach as a trial plaza, the SF Board of Supervisors yesterday approved the environmental impact report for the planned expansion of the North Beach Public Library.

The unanimous vote came as a relief to the majority of neighbors and some city supervisors who were eager to see the project come to fruition after being stalled by a handful of opponents.

“The tortured path of this project is in many ways symbolic of the dysfunctionality in land use in San Francisco,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. ”We have a highly popular, beautifully designed project to replace an outdated and inaccessible structure with a beautiful, usable and accessible new library; to create additional, much-needed open space in a densely populated neighborhood.”

“Any community would embrace and celebrate this project. Instead, a small group of opponents has stymied the broad community every step of the way,” he added.

The project involves creating a permanent open space on a 200-foot block of Mason Street that lies between the library’s current location and the triangle of land where it is expected to be moved. Doomsday traffic jam scenarios predicted by the persistent opponents were effectively debunked when traffic managers studied the impacts of the “closure” with a two-month long plaza trial in 2009.

“It not only helped to validate the analysis of the traffic impact, but really supported the notion that there was significant positive impact for the public for the increased open space,” said Ed Reiskin, the director of the Department of Public Works.

Wiener railed against attempts by the opponents to get the library nominated as a landmark, calling it a “disservice to historic preservation.”

“At some point, you come to the end of the road. We’re at the end of the road.”