Community Planner Cindy Wu to Join the Planning Commission Today

The San Francisco Planning Commission has a new member today — Cindy Wu, a community planner at the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) who received high praise at a recent Board of Supervisors committee hearing before being unanimously appointed.

Cindy Wu with SF Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (left) and Chinatown CDC Executive Director Norman Fong. Photo: ##http://www.chinatowncdc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191%3A2012-02-09-cindy-wu-sworn-in-as-planning-commissioner&catid=52&Itemid=76##CCDC##

As a commissioner, Wu will vote on planning decisions that shape the city’s streets, from streetscape redesigns to enforcing regulations on car parking in new developments (which affects how much residents and employees drive) to crafting design requirements aimed at minimizing the damage of driveways to the pedestrian environment.

Wu told Streetsblog that she hopes to encourage the Planning Commission’s progressive shift towards a broader consideration of how projects affect walking, bicycling and transit. “I think the Planning Commission has integrated transportation more into their thinking and opening the categories to be considered,” said Wu.

Wu replaces Christina Olague, the former commission president who was recently appointed as supervisor of District 5.

At her appointment hearing, colleagues roundly praised Wu for her strong educational and professional background, and her fresh perspective as the youngest person on the commission (Wu is 30). Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore took time out of a hearing to voice her support for her appointment: “She engages, she listens — an extremely important attribute in the position of a commissioner, and she operates within the public discussion,” Moore told the supervisors.

“I’m interested in continuing to work in breaking down barriers that prevent people from participating in land use decisions,” said Wu. “That might literally be language, but that might also be the translation of planning language into everyday activities that people can understand. I think that the way you go to the grocery store, or the way you take your kids to school, all of those things are affected by land use decisions and planning code.”

Wu, a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has recently worked on projects like Chinatown’s plan to redesign Broadway as a friendlier street for pedestrians. In her more than four years at CCDC, she has also done community outreach on the Central Subway, which CCDC supports. (Supervisors did ask her to address her potential conflicts of interest at the hearing.) Wu also sits on the board of directors for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which is launching an effort to re-envision Stockton Street.

“Cindy is a great choice for the Planning Commission,” said SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf. “She is going to bring a combination of sophistication about the big planning issues and grounding in a community.”

Two major upcoming decisions at the commission concern the California Pacific Medical Center project and a luxury condo development at 8 Washington Street, which would include 420 parking spaces for just 165 residences near the Ferry Building. Though Wu declined to comment specifically on that project, she said she thinks “transit-first is an important policy for the city, and we want to continue to pursue that, but I do think there’s a balance, always — and I think we struggle with this in Chinatown — it’s finding the right balance between all the modes. It’s not to say it should be 100 percent transit, or 100 percent vehicle or pedestrian, but just making sure that all the uses of a neighborhood are able to continue and function.”

Wu would also influence San Francisco’s involvement in the Bay Area’s ongoing Sustainable Communities Strategy (a.k.a. Plan Bay Area), an effort aimed at focusing population growth near transit. When asked for her thoughts on the local effects of shouldering much of that growth in San Francisco, Wu told the committee that densifying existing neighborhoods needs to be done carefully to ensure that the new housing is accessible for people of all incomes and to prevent negatively affecting existing residents.

“If we’re going to be building along transportation corridors, we really need to think about whether or not that housing is [subsidized to be] affordable or market-rate, and whether or not there’s a role for preservation of existing housing,” said Wu.

Wu joins her first hearing today, and the Planning Commission meets every Thursday. To see what’s on the agenda, check the SF Planning Department’s website.

  • Mario

    I once had the opportunity to talk to Cindy Wu about the Central Subway. I personally take the view that there are legitimate intelligent people concerned about transit on both sides of the issue. I shared that in my own opinion, regardless of the Central Subway, the city should make Stockton a transit and pedestrian-only corridor, and that not doing that is unfair to transit riders on the corridor.

    Unfortunately Wu took a very defensive stance, and tried to guilt-trip me and portray my stance as hostile to the Chinese community. Sometimes I feel that some Central Subway supporters don’t want Stockton to work as that may undermine (or prove) the case for the Central Subway (at least in the short/medium term, subways have undeniable long-term positive effects).

    I think also a problem is that it’s the political status quo that Central Subway is supported, and it’s also a political status quo not to take too much space away from cars in Chinatown (since it was taken away due to the demolition of the Embarcadero freeway). Thus real improvements on Stockton do not seem to be on the table. Wu’s stance of “transit first, but” is emblematic of the problem above. It should be phrased the other way: “We’re not completely banning cars, but this is a very dense neighborhood, so other users will get priority”. To some extent Central Subway is not so much a transit project as a project to relieve drivers to roam the streets free of surface transit vehicles. I honestly struggle to understand why, given that the neighborhood is so transit-dependent.

    I want subways in this city and I am sure that once the Central Subway launches I will appreciate it and use it (unless it does ruin Muni’s finances even further as some critics say). However, I feel it is inhumane to not let the old ladies who ride the 30, 45 and 8X to have a decent riding experience. Many of them are likely to die by the time the Central Subway comes. Many students are likely to graduate. I suffer inside every time I see the bus wait for double-parkers, or cars waiting to turn left, right or blocking the stop. This is the most dense corridor in the city and getting rid of cars will alleviate the problem a lot.

    So, hyperbole of the day: Cindy Wu is inhumane.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    “Cindy is a great choice for the Planning Commission,” said SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf.
    The nice thing about watching last year’s Muppet Movie in San Francisco was remembering that talking puppets could also be funny.

  • TL

    Yes, the rhetoric of “balance” has generally been a veiled rhetoric of automobile accommodation and prioritization for many decades. What does “balance” look like today on Stockton? Pedestrians squeezed into undignified little shoulders, while cars dominate 70% of the right-of-way. That’s no balance at all.

  • Jim

    8 Washington does not provide 420 parking spaces for 165 residences. It provides 145 underground parking spaces for 145 units and 255 underground parking spaces replacing the surface parking lot currently on the site, to serve Ferry Building visitors, recreation club members, and other short term visitors. It also has 81 secure underground bike parking spaces and 5 car share spaces. 

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