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Posts from the "Transbay Center" Category

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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

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

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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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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Developers Don’t Want to Pay for Caltrain/HSR Extension to Transbay Center

Developers who are building towers around the Transbay Transit Center in SoMa are fighting to reduce a special property tax that will be levied on developments in the area. The biggest loser could be the downtown rail extension to bring Caltrain and California high-speed rail into the terminal, as more of the funds for the regional rail hub and other long-term projects would have to come from taxpayers.

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

The group of developers is backed by former mayor Willie Brown, who registered as an official lobbyist to work for them in July (he also recently lobbied “pro bono” for AnsoldoBreda, the manufacturer of Muni’s current train fleet). Brown previously helped create the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to oversee the massive package of projects centered around what’s been called the “Grand Central of the West,” expected to open in 2017.

SF Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported in July:

Brown confirmed for us that he is representing Boston Properties — builder of the 61-story Salesforce Tower — and more than a half dozen other property owners.

In exchange for the city allowing them to increase the height and density of their projects, the property owners agreed two years ago to be assessed up to $400 million to help pay for a Transbay Transit Center rooftop park and other public improvements to the area.

Only now, thanks to skyrocketing property values and changes in the city’s methodology for calculating the assessments, the developers — paying into what’s known as a Mello-Roos special district — could face up to $1.4 billion in charges.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to approve the agreement creating the Mello-Roos district on Tuesday, but D6 Supervisor Jane Kim postponed the item one week. “We wanted additional time to be able to brief all of the offices on this issue, but also talk to the multiple parties involved,” Kim said at the meeting.

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The More Space SF Uses to Store Cars, the Less We’ll Have to House People

The Fifth and Mission parking garage. Can SF afford to continue devoting so much space to personal car storage? Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

What if San Francisco stopped adding car parking? The idea might sound a little odd to the average person, but when you look at where the city is heading, the really crazy scenario would be to keep on cramming more cars into our neighborhoods. Under current policies, SF is poised to build 92,000 spots for personal car storage by 2040, consuming an ungodly amount of space in our compact, 7-mile-by-7-mile city. At what point does it stop?

“If we were really serious about” curbing emissions and creating a livable city, “we would just cap it at zero right now,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” at a forum this week on San Francisco’s parking policies.

Henderson took the figure of 92,000 projected spaces from Plan Bay Area, which is supposed to start the region on a path toward smart growth, but still foresees a heavily car-dependent future in 25 years. The SF Transportation Plan, created by the SF County Transportation Authority, projects “total gridlock” within the same time frame unless the city makes serious changes to its car-centric land-use planning policies.

Although the move away from policies like minimum parking requirements, which mandate a certain number of cars per household in new buildings, is often framed as an ideological shift, Josh Switzky of the SF Planning Department says it’s simpler than that — there are physical limits to cramming cars into the city. “It’s about geometry,” he said. “We have to figure out ways to accommodate people more efficiently.”

In other words, there’s a finite amount of space in the city. Does it make any sense to squeeze thousands of additional cars into San Francisco when we’re still struggling to create enough space to house people? What are the full costs SF will absorb if it continues to build more infrastructure for cars?

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SFMTA Extends Howard Bike Lane to Embarcadero But Leaves a Gap

Howard looking east between Beale and Main. Sharrows are now in the left-most lane on this block, where the Bike Plan originally called for a continous bike lane. Photo: Google Maps

SoMa’s westbound bike lane on Howard Street was extended east to the Embarcadero last week, creating a link from the waterfront to 11th Street. However, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency apparently left a gap on the block between Main and Beale Streets, where Howard passes the temporary Transbay Terminal. According to tipster Hank Hodes, the SFMTA painted only sharrows there, forcing bike commuters to ride in a lane with motor traffic, even though a continuous bike lane was called for in the SF Bike Plan.

The Howard bike lane serves as half of SoMa’s east-west bike corridor, along with the eastbound bike lane on neighboring Folsom Street, and is “a route preferred by many riders over Market Street for its minimal transit and straight angled intersections,” noted Hodes. But commuters hoping for a continuous bike lane that doesn’t suddenly dump them in motor traffic are apparently out of luck.

Howard at Steuart Street. Photo: Hank Hodes

We have an inquiry in with the SFMTA as to why the change was made, but one possible explanation is that curbside bus parking for the temporary terminal ate up space that would have been allocated to the bike lane, and no alternative plan to allow for the bike lane was created. Under the SFMTA’s Bike Plan design [PDF], the space for the bike lane on that block would have been carved from a 12’6″ traffic lane (and part-time parking lane), but that lane doesn’t appear to exist today. The “existing configuration” shown in the Bike Plan design, it seems, was altered to create room for a wider bus stop lane on the opposite side of the street.

Since most of the real estate for the new bike lane (including the originally planned section between Main and Beale) comes from reallocating the excess width of existing traffic lanes, no car parking was removed. A one-block eastbound traffic lane was removed between Steuart and Spear, however, which should help calm car traffic.

Bicycling on Howard has increased dramatically since the SFMTA implemented the main stretch of the bike lane between 2001 and 2006. During that time, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 5th Streets climbed 300 percent, according to city data provided by the SF Bicycle Coalition. From 2006 to 2011, the number of bicyclists at Howard and 11th Streets increased by an additional 104 percent, according to the SFMTA’s 2011 Bicycle Count Report [PDF].

See more photos after the break.

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CA Senate Approves Funds for High-Speed Rail, Commuter Rail Upgrades

In a pivotal vote Friday, the California Senate approved $4.5 billion in bonds to begin construction of CA High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. The funds will help fund construction of the line’s initial segment in the Central Valley and upgrades for the Caltrain and Metrolink commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, respectively.

CA High-Speed Rail depicted sharing tracks with Caltrain in the Bay Area. Photo: CAHSRA via igreenspot.com

The vote, which reached a majority by just one senator, came as a major relief to high-speed rail advocates. The project, which has been increasingly scrutinized since voters approved over $9 billion in bonds for it in 2008, could have been scrapped without the approval. Had the vote failed, California could have lost another $3.2 billion in matching federal funds.

“Building high-speed rail in California could reinforce cities as the hubs of our economies, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, get commuters off congested roads, and cost much less than highway and airport expansion,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, which lobbies for smart growth and sustainable transportation in California.

“It will provide Californians with an improved transportation option that has for decades been available in other nations,” added Cohen, who noted that the vote comes exactly 150 years after the Transcontinental Railroad was authorized. Although high-speed rail is popular — and expanding — in other countries in Asia and Western Europe, CAHSR would be the first such system in the United States.

The previous plan from the CAHSR Authority lacked support even from TransForm, but the group praised the revised plan released in April, which reduced the project’s cost from about $100 billion to $68 billion, reduced the impacts on communities which it would run through, and provided funding to upgrade Caltrain and Metrolink tracks, which would be shared with CAHSR. “This new plan is simply much better,” said Cohen after it was released.

In San Francisco, funds approved in the Senate bill would help electrify the Caltrain tracks by 2019 and extend them to the Transbay Transit Center currently under construction. Friday’s vote was widely praised by SF officials.

The approved Senate bill “provides not only the beginning of the nation’s first high-speed rail line that will connect its diverse and growing communities, but also the local connections that will deliver the economic growth from high-speed rail into our towns and cities in the form of travelers be they commuters, tourists or students,” said a joint statement from SF Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin and Chairman Tom Nolan.

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Transbay Transit Center to Fill Downtown With People, Not Cars

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The new Transbay Transit Center is expected to transform San Francisco’s downtown core by focusing new development around a massive regional transit hub in eastern SoMa. Scheduled to open in 2017, it will link 11 transit systems and eventually CA High-Speed Rail. Some have called it the ”Grand Central of the West.”

Renderings via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Planning Commission last week approved an influx of high-density office and housing redevelopment, including the West Coast’s tallest skyscraper, in the neighborhood surrounding the new station at First and Mission Streets, known as the Transbay Center District. To ensure that new workers and residents come by transit, foot, and bike instead of clogging the streets with cars, the plan would make sweeping streetscape improvements and limit the amount of car parking in the area.

“This is going to be one of the best examples of transit-oriented development in the world,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the SF Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR). “We’re going to be putting in $4 billion in transit infrastructure and then putting our tallest buildings right on top of it. It’s going to be studied and emulated all over the world if we get this right.”

The hub, which replaces the old Transbay Terminal, would connect to transit systems in all nine Bay Area counties, including Muni, BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, and Golden Gate Transit. Caltrain would operate on an electrified system connecting directly to the station, thanks to a recently-approved plan to extend tracks from the 4th and King station. Caltrain would share those tracks with high-speed rail trains.

Streets within the plan area — bounded by Market Street to the north, Steuart to the east, Folsom to the south, and just short of Third to the west — would be transformed with improvements for walking, bicycling, and surface transit.

Major streets — Mission, Howard, New Montgomery, Second, First, and Fremont Streets — would get wider sidewalks, road diets, transit lanes, and boarding islands. The planning department is also looking at creating a transit-only plaza on Mission between First and Fremont.

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