Supes Narrowly Reject EIR Appeal Against Car-Free Condos at 1050 Valencia

The proposed parking-free, 12-unit condo and retail development at 1050 Valencia Street narrowly cleared a hurdle Tuesday after a 6-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors, which rejected an appeal that contended the project should be required to have a full environmental impact report.

A rendering of the 1050 Valencia project. Image: Stephen Antonaros via Curbed

The project, approved by the Planning Commission more than a year ago, has faced continued opposition for several years, organized by the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association and the neighboring Marsh Theater. LHNA contends that new residents will own cars despite the lack of dedicated parking — even though a growing body of research shows otherwise – and take up street parking spots. Meanwhile, the Marsh’s protests focus on potential noise and shadows.

The latest appeal protests the Planning Department’s determination that the project does not require a full EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act because it complies with the zoning of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, for which an area-wide EIR was already done. Five supervisors voted to uphold the appeal — David Campos, John Avalos, Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim. It next goes to the Board of Appeals.

Stephen Williams and other LHNA reps argued that the project’s location on Valencia at Hill Street, between 21st and 22nd Streets, was not a “transit-rich” area where residents would be able to live without cars, though studies show that residents who move into units without dedicated parking are less likely to own cars, and about half of residential parking garages in the Mission aren’t used for car storage.

“What does ‘transit-rich’ mean? No one knows,” Williams said in response to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who pointed out that the location is within one block of Mission Street, which has some of the most frequent Muni service in the city, and less than half a mile from BART’s 16th and 24th Street stations. Valencia is also one of the most heavily-traveled streets for bicycle commuting, and the building will have indoor parking for 28 bikes.

“I don’t think anybody should consider that transit-rich,” Williams said.

“If we can’t build 12 units of car-free living development in this walkable, transit-rich, bikeable community, where in the city will we?” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, business and community program manager for the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Housing Action Coalition Executive Director Tim Colen expressed frustration with the CEQA appeals process that allows opponents to continually stall the project, which has been in the works since 2007, was downsized from 16 condos to 12, and includes affordable housing units on-site.

“Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished in this town,” said Colen, who said the project could set a precedent for the political support and confidence from financial lenders that’s needed to bring car-free housing developments to the city. “We have to get more projects approved like this.”

Supervisor Campos, who seemed convinced at a recent hearing on a housing project at 480 Potrero Street that residents would own cars regardless of the amount of dedicated parking provided, amplified appellants’ arguments that CEQA guidelines could require a full EIR to determine if residents of the 12 new units could be accommodated with transit without a “significant” environmental impact. Campos also echoed claims that the elimination of the 26-Valencia line in 2009 should trigger the requirement for an EIR, although Planning staffers said the project’s “negative declaration” against the requirement of an EIR came in 2010.

“It seems to me that there is a very valid point that there are a lot of changes that have taken place [on Valencia] that require an in-depth review in terms of the environmental impact,” said Campos.

“I am uncomfortable with the fact that it’s a no-parking project,” said Supervisor Cohen. “I think it excludes seniors and families with children.”

A few LHNA members said that new residents in the building shouldn’t be allowed to apply for residential parking permits, so that they wouldn’t compete with existing car owners for street parking.

“We’re talking about 12 households,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “If I chose to live to live in this apartment complex, I would go into that knowing that I couldn’t have space for parking a car. People are going to self-select.”

“Zero-parking projects make sense for San Francisco,” Schneider said.