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Posts from the "Development" Category

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Supes, Mayor Get Developers to Pay Nearly Full Tax for Transbay Rail

Developers agreed to pay nearly the full property assessment rates to help fund transportation projects in the Transbay Transit Center District, under an agreement announced by the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee stood their ground against the developers, who hired former mayor Willie Brown as a lobbyist to try to lower the rates on the special infrastructure tax district, known as a Mello-Roos District. The move threatened to cut funds from the extension of Caltrain and high-speed rail downtown into the Transbay Center under construction.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Chronicle reports:

Under the agreement, the city will still collect up to $1.4 billion in taxes from property owners around the new transit center for the Caltrain, and possibly high-speed rail, connection. But the revenue would come in over 37 years instead of 30 after city officials agreed to extend the life of the tax district to make it more palatable for the property owners.

Even though the rates hadn’t changed from 0.55 percent of property values, developers complained that the skyrocketing value of real estate in downtown had increased the maximum project revenues in the district from $400 million to $1.4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors won’t vote on final approval of the agreement for another two weeks while the details are worked out, but members said it looks solid at first glance. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim lauded the agreement, and credited Mayor Lee for standing firm against the developers’ attempts.

“I’m not referring to this as a compromise, because the [Transbay Joint Powers Authority] is getting all the money that we were seeking,” said Wiener.

Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Chronicle on Monday, “The city believes that the special tax rates that the developers are being asked to pay are more than fair considering they are taking advantage of a very significant increase in height limits for their buildings offered under the transit center district plan.”

The developers apparently backed down on their threats to sue the city if it didn’t assess the property values at their 2007 rates rather than current ones. Before the agreement was reached in a closed session, Wiener said, ”If [a lawsuit is] what has to happen, so be it. I don’t think we should cave in.”

“I don’t think much of the legal claim that’s being asserted,” said Wiener. “I think it’s pretty clear that the valuation was not going to be at the bottom of the recession.”

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Mountain View Council Candidates Split on Building Housing Near Google

All nine Mountain View City Council candidates answered questions on housing and transportation issues at a community forum held September 2. Photo: Andrew Boone

A crowded field of nine candidates campaigning for three available seats on Mountain View’s City Council aired their disagreements at a community forum on Tuesday evening about whether new housing within the sprawling North Bayshore office park would be a practical solution to traffic congestion and rapidly rising rents.

Candidates Lenny Siegel, Pat Showalter, Jim Neal, Gary Unangst and Ken Rosenberg expressed support for a proposal put forth by city planners in 2011 to allow housing units to be included in future development projects along Shoreline Boulevard, as a way to reduce the need for so many North Bayshore employees to drive to work. Candidates Margaret Capriles, Lisa Matichak, Mercedes Salem, and Ellen Kamei disagreed, stating that North Bayshore lacks sufficient transit and other services that support residential neighborhoods.

The booming office district, located between Highway 101 and the Bay at Mountain View’s northern end is home to Google, LinkedIn, Intuit, and a number of smaller tech companies, bringing over 17,000 workers — one-fourth of all jobs in Mountain View — every weekday. The city’s 2012 General Plan allows an additional 3.4 million square feet of commercial development in North Bayshore, which would bring an estimated 10,500 additional weekday commuters to the area if built.

The North Bayshore Precise Plan calls for concentrating development along Shoreline Boulevard, and investing in improved transit connections to downtown Mountain View. Image: City of Mountain View

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SFFD OKs Narrower Streets in Candlestick Point Development

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This tentative compromise plan for the Candlestick Point development shows a mix of streets that meet SFFD’s 26-foot standard (in green) and narrower streets (red). Image courtesy of the SF Planning Department

The SF Fire Department will allow many of the new streets built in the Candlestick Point development to remain narrower than 26 feet under a compromise with street safety advocates. SFFD had insisted at the 11th hour that all new city streets must have at least 26 feet of clear roadway for firefighters to set up fire trucks and reach the tops of taller buildings, even though wider roads are known to increase driving speeds and traffic crashes.

SFFD fighting a major fire at the Mission Bay development in March. Image: KTVU

As the SF Examiner reported, a tentative plan presented last week showed a rough middle ground between the share of streets that are wider than 26 feet and those that are not:

In 2010, initial plans for the neighborhood were submitted, including streetscapes. The neighborhood — which will stretch from Candlestick Park to where Alice Griffith public housing now sits — was modeled on dense, pedestrian-friendly inner-city neighborhoods with lively street life.

It was meant to be a thriving city neighborhood, “not some suburban neighborhood out there,” said Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore.

In the Candlestick Point plans approved in 2010, nearly all of the streets were 20 feet wide or less, but SFFD didn’t protest it until this year. SFFD put forward a revised plan in early May where nearly all of the streets would be 26 feet or wider, but Supervisor Scott Wiener and other city planning staff apparently persuaded the department to allow many of the original, narrower street widths. Construction on the development is expected to begin next year.

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Mayor Lee Appoints Planning Commissioner Gwyneth Borden to SFMTA Board

Gwyneth Borden will fill a year-old vacancy on the SFMTA Board of Directors, Mayor Ed Lee announced today. Borden has sat on the Planning Commission since 2008 and is the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Gwyneth Borden. Photo via her Twitter page.

As a planning commissioner, Borden has exhibited a largely progressive view on issues such as permitting developments without car parking. At a hearing in 2012, she argued that the contentious 12-unit condo development at 1050 Valencia Street was fine without parking, noting that she lived near the site without a car, relying mostly on transit. “It is transit-rich,” she said at the hearing. “It’s close to BART — I don’t even own a car.”

“She’s sharp. She’s a quick study,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “As a planning commissioner, she’s definitely shown an understanding of the land use – transportation connection in regards to parking, location, streetscape improvements, the potential and responsibility of developments to activate street life… she definitely gets it. It’s a good choice.”

On the Planning Commission, Borden has called out developers for trying to exceed parking maximums set in the Market-Octavia Area Plan. However, she also said that a proposal for excess parking at the CityPlace Mall development on Market Street (now Market Street Place) would not set a precedent for other developments in the Downtown Plan area. She also supported a measure that allowed developers to exceed parking maximums to provide car-share spaces, arguing that it could lead to lower demand for the construction of parking down the road.

Borden’s resume includes stints on the SPUR Board of Directors, on the Mayor’s Transportation 2030 Task Force, and as a legislative aide for Gavin Newsom when he was a supervisor. Here it is as listed in the Mayor’s Office press release:

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Warriors Arena Moving to Mission Bay: A Win for Transit Accessibility?

Third and 16th Street, the new proposed site for the Warriors arena. Image: CBS-KPIX

The Warriors announced this week that the site for the basketball team’s proposed arena would be moved from Piers 30-32 on the Embarcadero to Mission Bay, quelling opposition from waterfront development foes. Whether or not the new site will work out for better or worse in terms of accessibility to regional transit, however, is still up for debate.

The Mission Bay site at 16th Street and Third Street is nearly two miles from the nearest BART Station, out of normal walking distance for most visitors. Instead, fans taking BART will be expected to transfer on Muni lines such as the T-Third on the Central Subway corridor, which will stop right out front, and possibly the 22-Fillmore, if extension plans for that line are constructed in time. The distance from BART may be a loss in the eyes of some transit advocates, but it does have its upsides, argues Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and a BART Board member.

Ultimately, Radulovich thinks the Warriors are best off staying at the existing Oakland Coliseum, which is close to BART and the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, making it a more transit-accessible location than either of the proposed San Francisco sites. But the Mission Bay site does leave open more opportunities for nearby transit access than the Embarcadero piers, given all the transportation plans in the works for Mission Bay.

At the proposed Pier 30-32 site, the 0.7-mile walk from Embarcadero BART “was far enough from BART to dissuade many folks from walking,” said Radulovich. He pointed out that once the Central Subway opens in 2019, riders reaching BART via rail would rely on the N-Judah (which Giants Ballpark visitors already cram on to) and the future E-Embarcadero historic streetcar line, as the T-Third will no longer run on the Embarcadero. “Historic streetcars are expensive to operate, low capacity, and have accessibility challenges,” said Radulovich. Additionally, he said, “It would have added to the capacity problems at Embarcadero Station, which is currently the most crowded BART station.”

Furthermore, arena parking would be especially problematic by the Embarcadero. “The auto traffic that would have been generated by the hundreds of planned arena parking spaces would crowd streets like The Embarcadero and Second,” said Radulovich, “where we’d like to see the city reduce the roadway width to improve sidewalks and create protected cycle paths.”

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Appeals Board Reverses Vote to Downsize Parking-Free 1050 Valencia

The San Francsco Board of Appeals voted yesterday to reverse its decision to downsize the long-embattled condo project at 1050 Valencia Street in the Mission. The project includes no car parking and one bike parking space for each unit.

Image: Architect Stephen Antonaros via Mission Local

The vote restores the full 12 units approved by the Planning Department and Board of Supervisors. The Appeals Board had voted in December to chop off one of the building’s five floors, removing three units, two of which would be subsidized affordable housing. The downsizing was intended to appease vociferous neighbors opposed to the perceived increase in noise, shadows, and competition for curbside parking spaces, since new residents wouldn’t have off-street parking. (Studies show that residents who move into a home without a dedicated parking space are less likely to own and drive cars.)

Housing development advocates successfully challenged the Board of Appeals vote on the grounds that it violated the California Housing Accountability Act. The Housing Action Coalition explains in a press release:

Under the California “Housing Accountability Act,” for a local agency to condition approval of a housing project on reducing its density to less than that allowed by law, the agency must make findings that the project would have a “specific adverse impact on public health and safety” unless the density is reduced.

HAC Executive Director Tim Colen argued to the Board of Appeals that, in fact, restricting the amount of desperately-needed housing in transit-oriented projects like 1050 Valencia is what’s harmful to public health and the economy. “Among the consequences are discrimination against low-income and minority households, lack of housing to support employment growth, imbalance in jobs and housing, reduced mobility, urban sprawl, excessive commuting, and air quality deterioration,” he said.

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Hey, Developers: NEMA Offers Free Bikes for Residents to Borrow

I spotted a couple the other day riding bright red Public bikes in Golden Gate Park, labeled with the letters “NEMA.”

Photo: Rent NEMA

When I stopped to talk, they confirmed my suspicion — they were residents of “New Market,” the partially-completed, 754-unit residential apartment complex at Market and 10th Streets. NEMA has six Public bikes for residents to borrow at no charge.

NEMA brands itself as an “ultra-contemporary, highly-amenitized, tech-savvy rental community designed for San Francisco’s culture-driven lifestyle.” I don’t know if the bike fleet is a first in the city, but it’s certainly a great example of how developers can encourage residents to try biking in the city. (A Bay Area Bike Share station also sits across the street.)

“It’s great to see strong commitment to biking from one of Market Street’s largest residences,” said Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, the SF Bicycle Coalition’s business and community program manager. ”We applaud NEMA for going above and beyond in providing easy and convenient ways for their residents to bike in the city.”

Of course, it would’ve been nice if the development didn’t include 550 car parking spaces for its 754 units — a 0.7-to-1 ratio for a building that sits on top of a Muni Metro and BART station, not to mention the city’s busiest bicycling street. But the bikes are a nice touch.

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The Bay Area Needs More Walkable Housing, Not Google Bus Bashing

The anger of the protestors who blockaded a Google bus in the Mission on Monday was very real and understandable. San Francisco residents, living in a highly sought-after city with a limited housing supply, are coping with a crisis of skyrocketing rents and evictions. Meanwhile, Muni riders increasingly find their stops blocked by private shuttles that appear to be whisking away the very Peninsula tech workers blamed for driving up rents.

Plenty has been written about the strife caused by SF’s housing crisis in the last few years. But as we wrote in February, pointing fingers at tech shuttles doesn’t help solve the problem — if anything, it’s a distraction from effective solutions.

The real culprits are the decades-long failures of SF and other Bay Area cities to develop efficient transit systems and the kind of walkable neighborhoods that are in ever higher demand, yet in scarce supply in the region. And deeper than that is the cultural aversion to change and the political establishment that caters to it, avoiding tough but necessary decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — the fact that private shuttles are illegally using Muni stops without paying anything for it is unjust and unsustainable, as Monday’s protestors rightly called out. But those specific problems can be addressed by devoting more curb space to transit — both public and private — the vast majority of which is currently devoted to free, subsidized personal car storage. The SFMTA’s plans to convert car parking to shuttle stops and establish a private shuttle fee system are a step in the right direction.

But what’s really hampering Muni performance is all the private car traffic that bogs down buses and the unnecessary frequency of stops. Imagine if protestors devoted this much energy and media savvy to demanding speedy implementation of the Transit Effectiveness Project by City Hall.

Meanwhile, the fact is that the Bay Area can’t have the dynamic tech-based economy sought by Mayor Ed Lee and an affordable housing supply for middle-class and low-income people without building substantial amounts of walkable development.

One factor we’ve pointed out on Streetsblog is that housing development in SF and other cities is hamstrung by minimum parking requirements, meaning housing for people is mandated to come with a certain amount of housing for cars. This adds to the cost of building, owning, and renting that housing, and limits the amount of space for residences or businesses. And as research has shown repeatedly, when housing is bundled with a parking space, residents are more likely to own a car and drive, making the transit system less effective.

Unfortunately, the positions staked out by Supervisors David Campos and Malia Cohen on recent housing development projects coming out of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan work against the goal of affordability. Campos and Cohen have fought projects on the basis that they don’t have enough parking, causing developers to add spaces or subtract apartments, flying in the face of smart zoning policies developed over ten years. Meanwhile, parking-free housing is a growing trend in other American cities.

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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.

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Potrero Ave. NIMBYs Lead Supes to Grapple With the Minimum Parking Myth

For NIMBYs fighting a residential building project in the northeast corner of the Mission on the basis of negative environmental impacts, you might think minimizing the number of new car parking spaces is a good thing. After all, the more parking that goes into a project, the more residents tend to own and drive cars.

480 Potrero. Image: Planning Department via Curbed SF

But at an October 9 hearing on an appeal filed by neighbors against the environmental impact report for a proposed 75-unit residential building at 480 Potrero Avenue (at Mariposa Street), the appellants apparently had Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Campos convinced that if developers failed to provide “enough” parking, new residents will buy cars anyway and just circle around for a spot.

According to Juan Jayo of the Mariposa-Utah Neighborhood Association, opponents don’t buy the arguments to the contrary. “The Planning Commission’s response to this simply seems to be … eventually, people would get tired of looking for parking and move to Muni and bicycles and walk, so there would be no impact,” Jayo said. That’s basically correct, though new car-free residents who knowingly move in to an apartment without a dedicated parking spot wouldn’t be circling for parking in the first place.

Cohen and Campos, whose districts are near the site, grilled Planning Department staff on its determination that not building parking would not cause a significant environmental impact under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act. Barely mentioned at the hearing, however, was the growing body of research showing that a guaranteed space to store a car is an incentive for residents to own one, and that any number of parking spots deemed necessary to meet some inevitable amount of parking demand is arbitrary. Meanwhile, parking spaces make housing more expensive and more difficult to build.

In other words, more parking facilitates more car use — not the other way around.

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