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Despite Skewed Parking Math, Planning Commission Approves 55 Laguna

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Image: Woods LLC

The SF Planning Commission unanimously approved a major housing development at 55 Laguna Street yesterday, despite an excessive amount of car parking that livable streets advocates say should be lowered under stricter parking maximums.

The development would include two housing projects: one with 330 apartments, and another with 110 affordable apartments for an LGBT senior community. They would share a block at Laguna and Waller with existing buildings owned by the University of California, filling in what is currently mostly a parking lot, used primarily for the UC Dental School. All told, 310 underground parking spaces would be built on the site.

But the developers and Planning Department staff used misleading calculations and inappropriate zoning requirements to build a number of parking spaces that falls within parking maximums, say members of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. As Streetsblog has written, more car parking generally means residents are more likely to own and drive cars.

In a letter to the Planning Commission [PDF], HVNA Transportation and Planning Committee Chair Jason Henderson claimed that developer Woods LLC is skewing the number of parking spaces by claiming that 51 of the 310 parking spaces will be used by the UC Dental School (even though the public can use 15 of them), and incorporating the 110 affordable housing units into the ratio, which HVNA doesn’t think should be counted. HVNA says the developers have refused the organization’s requests to reduce the number of residential parking spaces from 249 to 165, which would include only one parking space for every two market-rate housing units, or 0.5:1.

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Planning Commission Upholds Market/Octavia Parking Limits in Key Test

555_1.jpgA rendering of the proposed mixed-use development at 555 Fulton Street. Image: San Francisco Planning Department.
In a major test of the Market and Octavia Area Plan and of the city's parking policy, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected a developer's request last week for far more parking than is allowed, even with a conditional use permit. 

The project, proposed to go in at 555 Fulton Street in the Western Addition, three blocks west of City Hall, would add a 32,800-square-foot grocery store and 136 dwelling units, 16 of them affordable. Most neighbors, the Planning Commission, and Planning Department staff all strongly support adding the store and housing, but the number of parking spaces and the design of the project have been bitterly contested.

In fact, a grocery store is so urgently desired in the neighborhood that the Planning Commission adopted a Fulton Street Grocery Store Special Use District (SUD) in 2008 specifically to encourage a mixed-use project with a large grocery store in the project area. But the hitch in the developer's plan was the inclusion of 252 total parking spaces -- almost twice the 134 spaces the Market/Octavia Plan allows for projects of its size by right, and still far more than the 193 spaces the plan allows under special circumstances with Conditional Use (CU) authorization.

The purpose of the plan, which was adopted in 2007, is to slow the growth of auto trips in a neighborhood that's dense, well served by transit, and already overrun with automobiles, while allowing for growth. But instead of adhering to the 0.5 parking spaces-per-residential-units allowed by right in the Market/Octavia Plan, or even seeking the 0.75-spaces-per-residential-units allowed with a CU, the developer insisted that each unit have its own space.

The project developer also sought to stuff the building with 106 parking spaces for the grocery store, 40 more than the Market/Octavia Plan allows by right for a grocery store of its size, and 15 more than it allows even with a CU.

With any less parking, the grocery store would be a failure, argued David Silverman, the developer's attorney. "There's no doubt that most if not all of the grocery patrons will arrive by automobile," he said. "They'll need a place to store their automobile while they're there."

"We must assure that the 33,000-square-foot grocery store will be a successful venture," Silverman told the Planning Commission. "This cannot be accomplished by hoping that families shopping for the week can transport bags of groceries on bicycles. Muni bus services are notoriously unreliable and also impractical for transporting large amounts of groceries."

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San Francisco First City in the Nation to Count Its Parking Spaces

Port_meters_small.jpgMeters along the Embarcadero are part of the Port of San Francisco's SFPark trial. Photo: Matthew Roth
No sizable city in the country, or likely the world, has been able to say with any certainty how many parking spaces it has, public or private, until now. Over the last 18 months, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) has tallied every publicly accessible parking space within city limits, including free and metered spaces on-street and every publicly accessible garage [PDF map].

The total number of spaces, as Mayor Gavin Newsom recently announced on his Youtube site, is 441,541. Of the total, over 280,000 are on-street spaces, 25,000 of which are metered. For just the on-street spaces, that is roughly the equivalent area of Golden Gate Park.

"Most cities have very little knowledge of their parking inventory," said Rachel Weinberger, a planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former transportation policy adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Weinberger called the parking census a "tremendous effort."

"Without the basic knowledge [city planners] have no basis on which to make decisions about future supply policy, about current management policy or even about how their transportation systems are working."

Don Shoup, planning professor at UCLA and author of the definitive book on the history of parking, The High Cost of Free Parking, was excited to hear the news. "San Francisco’s census of parking spaces is a great achievement, and the first of its kind anywhere," he said.

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Mayor Newsom, Caltrans Announce Plans to Remove Portions of I-280

fireball_2.jpgA controlled explosion from the filming of the TV series "Trauma," on a closed portion of I-280
Mayor Gavin Newsom yesterday announced one of his most ambitious plans for re-shaping San Francisco, telling reporters at a press conference with Caltrans Director Will Kemption and Caltrain Director Michael Scanlan that the city would move forward with plans to tear down sections of I-280 through San Francisco.  

"As we saw this weekend with the filming of the new TV series 'Trauma,' we can close a section of 280 and it doesn't back up all the way to San Bruno," said Mayor Newsom.  "I'm committed to actively looking for projects where we can transform our streets into public open space, especially in neighborhoods that have so little of it.  Show me another project that gives back more space to our great city than this."

Mayor Newsom painted a grand vision of a ribbon park in the footprint of the current freeway and said the city would rezone much of the area for residential development, much of which would be affordable housing, he claimed.  "Think Rock Creek Park for the next century," said Mayor Newsom.  "If New York City can convert an old rail line through Manhattan into the Highline Park, surely we can transform our outdated infrastructure into green space."

Caltrans' Kempton said that the agency had considered various freeways that underperformed their transportation function after the successful removal of segments of the Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway to Market Street, but said that they weren't seriously thinking about this section of I-280 until Mayor Newsom approached Governor Schwarzenegger late last year. 

"We've understood that it was possible to make changes to further segments of the Embarcadero Freeway," said Kempton, "but we didn't see it as a priority until Mayor Newsom made it so.  Now, we're only committing to study it, but we know the Obama administration is looking for innovative transportation projects, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are unspent federal stimulus funds from other states that we can apply for in six months, a year from now."

"Highway de-construction can be just as shovel-ready as highway re-construction," said Kempton.

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Two-Way Hayes Extension is a Step Closer, Though Obstacles Remain

Mom_and_child_peds.jpgCars whipping around the corner of Gough and Hayes, where pedestrians can only cross three ways
There was widespread government and public support for a two-way, traffic-calmed Hayes Street between Gough and Franklin at the Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting today, but there is a fundamental disagreement with the MTA on how to get there.

Julie Kirschbaum of the MTA presented two options for altering the street (PDF). Option A would change the one-way traffic pattern to two-way, increase sidewalk widths by three feet, provide bulb-outs at corners for easier pedestrian crossings, and require an evening rush hour bus-only tow-away zone in the Westbound direction.  Option B would preserve the one-way flow, take away one travel lane and widen sidewalks by five feet.  The MTA stressed that Option B was only being studied in case vehicular traffic diversions were too onerous under Option A.

Nearly 15 people spoke in favor of Option A, including neighborhood residents, the president of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, the president of the Hayes Valley Merchants Association, and a representative speaking for the San Francisco Symphony, Opera and Ballet.

None of the public testimony supported the evening tow-away regulation in Option A, which the MTA considers necessary to make the change.  Merchants were worried that without the buffer of parked cars in the parking lane, commuters would race through the neighborhood within inches of pedestrians on sidewalks, making the retail environment much less comfortable. 

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Advocates Ask Supes to Support a Two-Way Hayes

Advocates are calling for all livable streets supporters who have the time to turn out to the Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting today at 1pm to voice their support for a two-way Hayes Street, as was called for in the Market and Octavia Plan. 

In 2007, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA), Livable City, Walk SF, and the SFBC worked with neighborhood and business stakeholders to advocate for the restoration of two-way traffic on Hayes Street between Gough and Van Ness.  Two-way Hayes was included in the Market & Octavia Neighborhood Plan, adopted in 2007, and a resolution calling for restored two-way traffic, along with wider sidewalks and pedestrian safety improvements, passed the Board of Supervisors unanimously in fall 2007.

Today, Supes will get an update on the status of the MTA's restoration of Hayes Street to a two-way thoroughfare pursuant to a Board of Supervisors Resolution. 

We've heard a nasty rumor that the MTA may propose doing nothing to the street except reintroducing a crosswalk at Gough, which would be unacceptable to the HVNA and the entire community planning process.

We encourage you to speak out for a two-way solution in person or to send your comments in writing to Supervisors Maxwell, Mar, and Chiu if you are unable to attend the meeting.

City Hall, Room 263

Meeting starts at 1 pm and this issue is agenda item #6

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299 Valencia Appeal Fails As Swing Vote Dufty Sides with Developer

299_Valencia_now.jpgThe future home of 299 Valencia will have more parking than the neighborhood plan allows of right
The Board of Supervisors, in one the first tests of the new progressive bloc, failed to muster a supermajority vote to support an appeal that would have overturned the Planning Commission's approval of a conditional use (CU) permit, which allowed seven more parking spaces than the ratio set in the Market/Octavia Plan for a proposed condominium and commercial development at 299 Valencia Street.

The vote Tuesday followed two-and-half-hours of debate and public comment from advocates who fear the decision sets a bad precedent and violates the overall spirit of a sustainable neighborhood blueprint that took more than a decade to craft.

"The question is 'What kind of city we want?'" said Jeffrey Tumlin, principal of Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates and transportation lead on the Market/Octavia Plan.  "If we are going to override the zoning code that resulted from 10 years of intensive community process, what's the compelling social reason?  How does [it] make the community better?"

At issue was a request by JS Sullivan Development LLC for a CU for the right to build .75 parking spaces for each residential unit for a new structure to be constructed at the corner of Valencia Street and 14th Street. The Market and Octavia plan of right only allows .5:1 parking spaces to dwelling units.  In November, the Planning Commission, based on staff recommendations, voted 7-0 in favor of the CU, arguing the developer had done everything required to meet the threshold in Planning Code for the extra spaces.   That decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

It boils down to two sections of the planning code, 303 and 151.1(f).   303 broadly addresses the merits of conditional uses, i.e. necessity, desirability, and compatibility with the surrounding area.  151.1(f) is a checklist of specific conditions to be met to grant the parking CU, assuming the broader interpretation of 303 is appropriate.

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