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City Hall Pushes Caltrain to Move the 4th/King Railyard

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The various public agencies shaping the plan to bring high-speed rail into downtown San Francisco disagree on what should be done with the Caltrain railyard at the 4th and King Street station. Officials from San Francisco’s Planning Department and Mayor’s Office say it’s time for the railyard — along with the northern spur of the 280 freeway – to be opened up for development, reconnecting the South of Market District and Mission Bay while making it more feasible to build a more direct HSR alignment to connect to the Transbay Transit Center.

Caltrain, however, is not on board. The agency has its sights set on electrifying the rail line by 2019, including the 4th and King Station, and it is wary of possibly delaying the project by setting out to relocate the yard. “There is an urgency for Caltrain to get electrification in place with expediency,” Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Ackemann told the SF Chronicle in January. “With electrification we significantly reduce our operating costs.”

There’s no dispute that Caltrain needs to reap the benefits of electrification, particularly since it will be necessary to share tracks with CAHSR, which is providing the funds to make it happen. But SF officials warn that moving ahead with $250 million in spending to electrify the railyard when a re-think of the site is in order will be a huge waste. With the land value of the 19-acre SoMa site estimated to be upwards of $225 million, opening it up for development could pay for a significant chunk of high-speed rail infrastructure in San Francisco.

“The opportunity is to both knit the neighborhoods back together by redeveloping the yards, while at the same time producing value that could we could use to fund transportation improvements,” said Gillian Gillett, Mayor Ed Lee’s transportation policy director.

“We totally support electrification, and we want to make sure it happens as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to allow it to happen in such a way that it precludes future benefits for the city,” Planning Director John Rahaim told the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee earlier this week.

The idea of developing the Caltrain yard, which sits between 4th and 7th Streets, has been well-studied. The Planning Department published a study in December exploring some of the possibilities, including building an underground train station. In 2007, the SF Planning and Urban Research Association published its own study of a similar scope called A New Transit First Neighborhood. In a blog post last month, SPUR’s Tomiquia Moss and Sarah Karlinsky noted that “putting the right type of development here could knit together the surrounding neighborhoods [and] capitalize on the extensive transit access.”

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New CPMC Hospital Deal: Smaller Campus, But More Car Parking for Its Size

The new plan for California Pacific Medical Center’s Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard calls for a far less massive facility than originally planned, but the number of car parking spaces per bed will actually be higher.

A rendering of CPMC's originally proposed 555-bed Cathedral Hill campus at Van Ness and Geary.

Under the new agreement announced by city supervisors yesterday, the size of the hospital will be cut nearly in half, from 555 beds to 304 beds. But the number of parking spaces included in its garage won’t be downsized at the same ratio, shedding only 210 of its 1,200 original spaces — a 20 percent reduction, according to the SF Examiner. So while the facility may bring in less car traffic as a whole, it will actually be more car-centric compared to the original plan.

“There’ll be a lesser impact on transit from traffic, but it’s only because they made the hospital smaller, not because they got any smarter about transportation,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Of the location at Van Ness and Geary, Radulovich says, “If you were going to pick a spot that’s not on Market Street where you could do the most damage to transit, Van Ness and Geary is pretty much it.”

The $14 million that CPMC has agreed to pay the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to help fund Van Ness and Geary Bus Rapid Transit projects was also reduced from the $20 million included in the development agreement as late as November, according to the Chronicle (though it’s still more than the $10 million Mayor Ed Lee originally asked for in 2011).

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Supes Find Compromise in West SoMa Plan’s Housing/Transit Tussle

City supervisors have reached a compromise on a contentious measure in the zoning plan for the western South of Market District that would have diverted some developer impact fees away from transit and street improvements to fund affordable housing.

Trinity Place housing development at 8th and Mission Streets, just outside the border of the West SoMa Plan. Photo: sftrajan/Flickr

By increasing the number of subsidized affordable apartments that residential building developers will be required to provide in large projects, an amendment introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim removed the 33 percent cut in developer impact fees for transportation upgrades originally proposed in the West SoMa Plan, while also satisfying residents’ calls to increase the amount of affordable housing for low-income residents in the area. The plan was passed unanimously by the Land Use and Economic Development Committee yesterday, and the full Board of Supervisors is expected to consider it in the coming weeks.

Kim, who introduced the amendment that settled the housing/transit tussle, said the solution makes more sense now than it did during the plan’s eight-year development, when the real estate economy was in worse shape. At the time, planning participants thought that imposing more costly housing requirements would dissuade developers from building new housing at all. But with today’s development boom, those requirements are expected to be more palatable. “After doing some number crunching” with community members and housing advocates, she said, ”we were able to get some consensus.”

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West SoMa Plan May Direct Funds to Affordable Housing at Transit’s Expense

A provision in the new zoning plan for the western South of Market District has come under scrutiny by city supervisors because it would direct a larger share of developer fees for some projects to go towards affordable housing at the expense of transit and street improvements.

An affordable housing development at 8th and Howard Streets. Image: David Baker + Partners Architects

When the West SoMa Area Plan went up for approval by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on Monday, it originally called for one-third of some developer impact fees that normally go toward transit, streets, and open space to instead be spent on affordable housing. An amendment from Supervisor Scott Wiener has tentatively scuttled that provision by setting the revenue levels closer to those in the larger Eastern Neighborhoods Zoning Plan. The plan is set to return to the committee for approval on Monday, where Wiener’s amendment could still be rescinded. After committee, it must be approved by the full Board of Supervisors.

Wiener said that while he’s a strong proponent of raising subsidies for affordable housing, an increase in population will come with an added strain on the transportation system at a time when transit is already woefully starved of funding. “To me it’s very counterintuitive, and I don’t think it’s good policy, to reduce transit impact fees when we’re increasing population,” he said. “Whether it’s transit, or it’s pedestrian safety upgrades, our capital needs are so dramatic.”

Jane Kim, supervisor of District 6, which includes West SoMa, said she sees the need to increase transit funding, but stood by the original provision because it was agreed upon by a majority of residents who participated in the plan’s development. She sees it as “a net gain for the city.”

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Misconceptions Fuel Non-Profit Opposition to Crucial Muni Funding Reform

The city's proposed reforms on transportation fees would end a non-profit exemption for major developments like hospitals and university campuses, but opposition is stirring from smaller organizations who seem to believe they'll be affected. Photo: THE Holy Hand Grenade!/Flickr

With any increase in the number of people living and working in San Francisco comes an added strain on the city’s streets and transit system. To account for that, San Francisco collects fees on new development — with an exception carved out for just about any non-profit organization. That means that even massive developments like hospitals, university campuses, or museums — which generate thousands of daily trips — may pay nothing to help the city’s transportation agencies accommodate them.

That would change under a city-led effort to reform the way San Francisco collects and distributes transportation revenue, but city officials say they’ve met with unexpected opposition from small non-profit organizations based on misconceptions about who would have to start paying fees. The fact is that most non-profits would not pay the one-time fee under the proposal.

The debate is expected to culminate at a Board of Supervisors hearing on December 4 on changes to the city’s Transit Impact Development Fee (TIDF). The board routinely approves TIDF updates, but this one is more significant because it would be used as a stepping stone toward the proposed Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF). The TSF is expected to replace the TIDF in 2014 as part of the Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP), a broader effort to reform the way the city plans and funds transportation projects with a focus on improvements for transit, walking, and bicycling.

Championing the effort is Supervisor Scott Wiener, who says that the TIDF reform will provide crucial funding for Muni while leaving the vast majority of non-profits unaffected.

“City Hall rarely puts its money where its mouth is in terms of funding Muni, and we know that Muni has a $100 million annual operating structural deficit, and that leads to inadequate maintenance, not enough vehicles, and all of the other things that reduce Muni’s reliability,” Wiener told Streetsblog. “The updated TIDF, and ultimately the TSP, is going to be a critical stable source of funding. We have this broad non-profit exemption that was put into the original TIDF which is something of an anomaly because non-profits typically pay other impact fees, and I don’t think it makes any sense to exempt particularly larger non-profit projects like hospital projects and large private schools or university campuses from the fee.”

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Planning Commission Approves Parking-Free 1050 Valencia Project

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

A car-free, 12-unit condo and retail development was approved unanimously yesterday by the SF Planning Commission, despite opposition from some residents. The project will include no car parking and 28 bike parking spaces.

The building at 1050 Valencia Street will be targeted toward residents seeking the kind of car-free lifestyle that’s increasingly popular in neighborhoods like the Mission District, which is short on housing but among the most walkable, bikeable, and transit-rich parts of San Francisco. The building will be located on the corner of Valencia and Hill Streets, along one of the city’s most heavily-traveled bicycling streets and business corridors. It’s also close to the 24th Street BART station and several major Muni lines. Currently, the site hosts a restaurant space.

Since 2009, opponents have attacked the project on a number of grounds, including the assertion that residents moving into the building will own cars and compete with existing neighbors for street parking, even though residents in 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.

“The reality is that until there is an alternative, people will need cars and a place to park them,” said Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association representative Risa Teitelbaum, who wanted the project to include some car share spaces. ”The residents of this building will be no different.”

Tim Colen, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, argued to the Planning Commission that the project follows the goals set in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — to build denser, less car-dependent neighborhoods. Two of the project’s 12 apartments will be priced below market rate. “This is a way to get housing more affordable and more accessible to the folks who we say we want to live here,” he said. ”We want to see less emphasis on cars — private auto use. This project does it.”

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Geary Neighbors Welcome Future Target Store, Voice Some Concerns

Supervisor Mirkarimi addresses the crowd.Supervisor Mirkarimi addresses the crowd.

At last night's community meeting, held by Target execs interested in opening a store at Geary and Masonic, there wasn't a NIMBY in sight. Instead, the prevailing sentiment was, "YIMBY: Yes! In my backyard! How soon can can you move in?"

Target's executives must have been surprised that not one speaker at the hour-and-a-half meeting expressed animus towards the chain store, while many speakers were unequivocal in their support, and some offered suggestions and requests to help the proposed store conform to the unique space.

In conceptual illustrations developed by designers at Studio One Eleven for Target, wind turbines adorn the roof and news stands engage with pedestrians on the Geary side of the project. "Right now it's pretty uninviting and harsh," Lasley said. "Let's try to get some activity on the street."

"We want to mitigate the bulky scale," said Thom Lasley, Target's Lead Design Project Architect. He gestured to photos of the currently-bleak exterior, built in 1961 for Sears. Lasley described upgrades ranging from a fresh coat of paint to improved signage to more landscaping with native species. If all goes to plan, the store would open in March of 2012, with significant alterations to the building.

"This community meeting is just the first step in the process," said John Dewes, Target's Regional Development Manager. The company hasn't yet approached the city with a proposal; instead, their strategy was to engage with the community first, so that they could incorporate neighbor's concerns in their proposal. They expect to apply for a Conditional Use Permit later this year.

Some neighbors could scarcely contain their excitement over the 100,000 square-foot store, which would carry a familiar array of apparel, home goods, electronics, health and beauty products, and groceries.

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Dodd’s Livability Bill Earns Praise from Local Governments

With financial reform nearly complete, the Senate Banking Committee
turned its attention today to one of Senator Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) next
priorities, the Livable
Communities Act
. Local government came out strong for the
initiative to promote sustainable and integrated regional planning, with
representatives of the nation’s cities, towns, counties, and regional
planning organizations testifying in favor. Among committee members,
concerns persisted about whether
the bill would disadvantage rural areas

dodd_working.jpgSenate Banking Committee Chairman Chris
Dodd (D-CT) (Photo: The
Washington Note

The Livable Communities Act would
about $4 billion in competitive grants to coordinate housing,
transportation, and economic development policy with an eye toward
promoting sustainable development. About $400 million would be slated
for planning with the remainder funding implementation. The bill would
also create a new office within the Department of Housing and Urban
Development to guide and administer the programs. If passed, it would
strengthen the Obama administration’s multi-agency Sustainable
Communities effort

At today’s committee hearing representatives of the National League
of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National
Association of Development Organizations, and the National Association
of Regional Councils each strongly endorsed the goals of the bill. 

Witnesses drew on professional experience — from trying to
revitalize barren neighborhoods in Indianapolis to managing the growth
of a rural Maryland county — to explain how federal policy could spur
better development where they live. The Hartford region, for example, is
investing in a new bus rapid transit line, said Lyle Wray, the
executive director for the region’s Council of Governments, but they
haven’t been able to tie the transit project to broader goals. "Linking
that opportunity to affordable housing, jobs, and sustainability is what
the Livable Communities Act would allow us to do," he said.

Describing the bill today, Dodd stressed that integrated
transportation and land use planning can help address a host of
challenges: high foreclosure rates, climate change and oil dependency,
deteriorating infrastructure, traffic congestion, and the loss of
farmland. Those problems, Dodd argued, aren’t urban or rural. "One
community can use the grants to develop brownfields in a post-industrial
area," he said, and "another might create a livable town center or main

Even so, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), expressed doubt about whether
his rural state would benefit under Dodd’s legislation.

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Feds to Start Scoring Transportation Potential of Housing Grant Applicants

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan said late
Friday that his agency will soon start gauging the "location efficiency"
of its grant applicants, determining each project’s potential for
connecting residents to surrounding neighborhoods — and mirroring the
recommendations of a
recent report
that found a correlation between homeowners’
foreclosure risk and their dependence on car ownership.

Secretary_Donovan_0.jpgHUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, right,
with Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) at left and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at
center. (Photo: White
House Press

Donovan’s announcement came during
an address
to the Congress for the New Urbanism’s (CNU) annual
meeting in Atlanta. During his visit, the former New York City housing
commissioner also toured the BeltLine
, an ambitious local effort to convert former rail track into
new light rail and trails.

In his remarks to the CNU, Donovan depicted the integration of
"location efficiency" measures as a way to encourage housing developers
to pursue more mixed-use, denser construction.

"[I]t’s time that federal dollars stopped encouraging sprawl and
started lowering the barriers to the kind of sustainable development
our country needs and our communities want," Donovan said. "And with
$3.25 billion at stake in these competitions, that’s exactly what they
will start to do."

Evaluating the range of transport options available for prospective
residents of urban and suburban areas was among the central
recommendations of a
foreclosures report
released in January by the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC). That study was aimed at mortgage lenders rather
than the government, but Democratic lawmakers last year began
pushing for
HUD to insure more mortgages based on the properties’
"location efficiency."

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The Nowtopian 9 Comments

Walking through the Sand

I’ll be slowly going through San Francisco transit history over the next few months. All of this information is derived from our Shaping San Francisco collection that you can explore on Also, I'll be conducting a 4-hour "Transit history" bike tour on Sat. April 24. Today we start where it all began, in the sand.

portola_sights_the_bay_1769.jpgThe Portolá expedition sights the Bay in 1769.

Had you been one of those settlers at the far edges of the Spanish empire, you might have been in the caravan that slowly made its way up from Monterey in 1769, crossing the dense redwood forests along the San Mateo hills to suddenly catch a glimpse of one of the world’s great harbors. Funny to think that a site so rich in maritime history now, once surrounded by the most abundant natural supplies of seafood imaginable, was “discovered” by European settlers who were traveling extremely slowly on foot and horseback.

Sir Francis Drake had passed by the Golden Gate more than 100 years earlier, as had many other seafaring explorers, but no one noticed the entry to San Francisco Bay. It was another few years, 1776 in fact, when Spanish settlers established permanent structures in what is now San Francisco, at the Presidio, and at Mission Dolores (then at the edge of a good-sized freshwater lake fed by a year-round stream gurgling down what is now 18th Street). We’ll start to examine the water-born transportation that really shaped the early city next time. But from the beginning, less than 100 Spanish settlers founded a settlement that, thanks to enslaving the local Indians (those who survived smallpox, chicken pox, and other European diseases), was able to start producing hides and tallow and carry on a modest trade with passing ships from other European powers (Russia, England, Prussia, France, and of course the USA).

They lived in two settlements, and to go from one to the other was mostly done on foot or by horseback. Early in San Francisco’s pre-history, a path was beaten that still exists today: Lover’s Lane in the Presidio, presumably so named because lonely soldiers had to walk it to the Mission to court the few eligible young women in the area. Here’s a photo that shows it from the 1870s:

lovers_lane_presidio_1870s.jpgLover's Lane has been there since the 1780s but here it is in the 1870s as seen from the Presidio gate.