THE SOURCE OF OUR WATER

Lyell Mountain and the Lyell Glacier are at the head waters of the Tuolumne River. The Lyell Glacier, once the largest glacier in Yosemite National Park, is expected to disappear in the next 5 years. Safe to say, the additional water from the glacier, when absent, will be missed. Primarily, San Francisco gets its water (85%) from the Tuolumne River, with the notable exception of the reservoirs in the Peninsula and Alameda counties which provide an additional 15% of San Francisco water supply. Today we will discuss where savings in water use can be found, short of urban water conservation, which is where government often finds its solution.

Farmers in California are free from most water regulation, can use all the water they want and export products abroad, while Califor-nians living in the cities, must reduce their water use?”

NEW RESTRICTIONS:

Comparison of Lyell Glacier from 1883 (public domain) and 2015 (photo: Pete Devine, "Yosemite's Melting Glaciers") U.S. Geological Report

San Franciscans are being asked to come into compliance with environmental laws that did not exist when San Francisco’s water transportation system was first built. State law requires water consumption to be reduced by 20% by the year 2020 in urban areas, but there are no similar requirements for agriculture. Locally, increased releases of water are now required in San Mateo and Alameda Creeks that total 7-8 million gallons per day. The Tuolumne River is currently the subject of negotiations at the State Water Board. Currently, about 80% of the river’s flow is diverted for agricultural use and 10% for urban uses. However, the Board wants to increase spring flows, which will require additional release. Providing streams and rivers with more water is the explanation for the blending of groundwater. The question arises, is this small savings of water worth it when so many other water uses could provide more water savings? Yearly, water use in San Francisco has dwindled. Today, San Francisco uses less water than it did in 1977. Yet, we are asked to do more.

WHERE THE WATER GOES:

California is said to be a desert, but then why are farmers growing crops here that are so water intensive? Alfalfa, for example, which is often flood irrigated, is actually a crop that would grow best in the Southern part of the United States. It’s said that the South could increase its acreage by 5 million acres. Alfalfa in California can be harvested 3 to 5 times a year but in the lower South, harvests can occur 6 or 8 times a year. Clearly, the South is the best place to grow alfalfa, not California.

The good news is that the growing of cotton, another water intensive crop, has fallen by 46% between 2006 and 2010 as less expensive water in the South and the Midwest make this crop more profitable. That being said, if water is cheaper elsewhere for cotton, it should also be cheaper to grow rice and alfalfa elsewhere.

With the demand for milk in Japan and China increasing, many foreign buyers come to California, where water is not sold at its true value, to purchase alfalfa inexpensively and ship it home. The price of shipping alfalfa to China from Long Beach, CA is said to be cheaper than transporting it within California. The impetus to purchase some crops in California is that they are so inexpensive to ship by freight over the ocean.

Is this the way a free market system should work in California? Farmers in California are free from most water regulation, can use all the water they want and export products abroad, while Californians living in the cities must reduce their water use?

The problem of excessive water use is not just with alfalfa, cotton, and rice, but also with almonds and walnuts. Today, more acreage is used to grow almonds than hay (alfalfa). According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, California alfalfa hay acreage has fallen from about 1.1 million acres in 2006 to under 820,000 acres today. In the same time frame, California almond acreage increased from about 750,000 acres to one million acres plus. Today, one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to grow, with walnuts 4.9 gallons of water are required. The nut industry will find it very difficult to allow its investment in trees to parish, with yearly investments in both time and water, should water become scarce. However, are the cities to make sacrifices to satisfy all the needs of farmers?

INCENTIVE PROGRAMS:

When it comes to how water is being used in San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties, which are included in the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) service territory, half of this water is being used in the landscape. San Francisco, on the other hand, uses water very differently. Because San Francisco uses so little water for landscaping, it is one of the reasons it has such a low rate of water use. In San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties, the many programs to replace lawns with drought tolerant California natives or Southwestern landscape designs have had some success in reducing water consumption, but more should be done in this area.

Drip irrigation used in farming has more than doubled since 1991 and is a good place to begin to conserve more water. Crops such as alfalfa, previously believed to be unable to be watered by drip irrigation, are being done so, and saving 2/3 more water than by flood irrigation. Previously, drip irrigation systems were damaged during farming. Today, with tractors with GPS, drip irrigation systems can be used over and over. One barrier to drip irrigation has been the cost. Every farmer, when converting to drip irrigation, needs to invest $1,000 to $3,000 in each acre. Now, State grants that pay 50% of the cost of converting to drip irrigation provide farmers an incentive. Over a 5 year period, $100 million in grant money from the State has been provided to farmers to convert. In one water district that has converted to drip irrigation, water use has declined 40% to 60%. The surplus water is sold to neighboring water districts. Drip irrigation is the best savings of water available.

One incentive that should be removed, however, is federal farm subsidy programs that pay farmers to overproduce crops, distort land use, distort choice of crops, and inadequately control cost. Farmers have benefited mightily by this system and earn on average far more than most Americans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spends $25 billion or more a year on subsidies for farm businesses. Some say farm subsidies are welfare for the rich. Certainly one thing we can all agree on, any federal subsidy that supports the incorrect use of water in California should be abolished. Defeating the lobbyists that support federal subsidies in California could provide one answer to our water dilemma.

DAVID SUNDING'S FLAWED STUDY:

Peter Drekmeier, Policy Director, Tuolumne River Trust

The reason San Franciscans are being asked to blend ground water 15% in the year 2020 is because of a study by David Sunding in 2014. This study was presented to the SFPUC, whereby decisions were made in error about our water needs. Due to the drought in 2015-2016, water demand in San Francisco dropped lower than what we consumed in 1977 or 30% below what David Sunding predicted. His study convinced the SFPUC that San Francisco needed more water, prompting the Blended Water program. Other false predictions included serious job losses of 188,000 in the Bay Area and $49 billion in decreased sales due to water rationing. Instead of a loss, 125,400 jobs were created in San Francisco from 2010 to 2015. This correction was provided by Peter Drekmeier on December 16, 2016 when he made a presentation to the State Water Board. We should all thank Peter for his work.

SAN FRANCISCO’S WATER SOLUTION:

First, the SFPUC should be more transparent and forthcoming in its relationship with the public. When a spokesman for the SFPUC was asked about the public outreach for the Blended Water Program by a Supervisor, he explained 700 people took part in a taste test. In my opinion, this is not an outreach program. Safe to say, had Blended Water gone to the ballot, it would have failed. Moreover, SFPUC should be more careful about the studies they adopt to generate policy. Even when the study of Sunding was exposed as flawed, its response was to make excuses and justify incorrect data. This is not good public policy.

Secondly, federal farm subsidy programs should be a guiding and controlling force in agricultural management, not lavishly provide cash to farmers for whatever crop is the most lucrative. This is a classic case of the “tail, wagging the dog.” It is especially disappointing to have a heavily watered crop like alfalfa to be purchased in California and sold overseas. Whatever subsidy that farmer is receiving from the government should be eliminated. The government needs to manage better where and what crops are grown. We are in desperate need of federal farm subsidy reform.

Lastly, drip irrigation is our best solution to minimize water use by farmers. This program does need the help of an incentive program by the State of California. Maybe some of the $25 billion in federal farm subsidy money could be added to the $100 million in drip irrigation State incentives. It would seem money well spent.

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect who lives in the Westside.

Footnote: Peter Drekmeier, Policy Director, Tuolumne River Trust - Socioeconomic Impact of the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan on SFPUC customers: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJQ5RhdU6vY

July/August 2017

RAIL ALIGNMENT AND STATIONS
All aspects of the proposed project presented are preliminary and subject to refinement. Next steps would include environmental review, project approvals by regulatory agencies, identifying full funding, detailed design and others. Any potential construction activities would not happen for many years in the future.

Let's Get It Right the First Time

Taking the M Line Down Under

The M streetcar solution provided by the SFMTA was essentially twofold, but had many variations proposed as well. The first solution was to provide transit above ground only, but move the M Streetcar from the median to the west side of 19th Avenue, so there would be less pedestrian traffic crossing the street slowing down traffic. One of the variations had a lovely park where Holloway Avenue is today. This ground solution entered Parkmerced, but a major problem happens if the M streetcar leaves Parkmerced, if, as planned, it did so on a trestle — 40' above ground — passing by numerous towers, clearing the traffic on Junipero Serra or Highway One, and landing on a narrow part of Randolph Street, which is physically unable to support a landing. Another more realistic version was for the trestle to land on 19th Avenue where more room is available, however, the elevated track there would be longer and more awkward.

The M streetcar's speed performance would improve dramatically if it can travel underneath the very heavily traveled intersection of Highway One, 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Blvd."

In truth, a good design for the M streetcar entering Parkmerced has not been found. A major improvement would be to allow the M streetcar to prompt a "green" light at 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Blvd. In this way, the M streetcar and traffic would not be delayed significantly. By every configuration imagined, the trestle solution was officially abandoned.

The second SFMTA solution, and the one currently under consideration, provides an underground solution. This is understood to be more expensive but necessary since the ground or elevated plan seem untenable. This solution, still in the early planning stages, presents the M streetcar route planning problems in the selection of exit stops.

An early SFMTA design scenario provided an underground substation at Twin Peaks, but his underground station creates a grade obstacle for the L streetcar to smoothly travel on its route to Ocean Beach. Another problem: the M streetcar, going underground the length of West Portal Boulevard would present hardships for businesses on the street because of fewer stops and reduced street traffic. Although the General Plan of San Francisco requires that existing businesses are to be fostered by new development, time and again, old businesses are ignored in SFMTA plans and other City agencies. The temporary noise, fumes and dust in the construction of this underground station would hurt business in the district, but even more problematic and permanently damaging, is the lack of access and the lack of opportunity for shopping by eliminating stops after construction.

The SFMTA's underground stop for the M streetcar at Stownstown and Mercy High School presents numerous planning problems at once. The new planned stop misses businesses at the Lakeside district, to provide an exit from an underground station onto a parking lot in Stonestown. Parking lots are for cars, therefore, for this stop to become acceptable for pedestrian traffic, sidewalks would need to be built and trees planted, removing more valuable parking. Moreover, stopping here, instead of at Winston Drive, also means a bus transfer point or node on Winston Drive is ignored. Therefore, travelers exiting from this location would need to walk 1/4 of a mile, unnecessarily, to catch another bus. This underground station provides great service for students at Mercy High but no one else.

Lastly, the M streetcar and the J streetcar are to meet at the San Francisco State University Station. When this idea was presented, Oceanview residents feared this would mean inferior streetcar service.

THE PREFERRED ROUTE:

(1) This new M streetcar plan proposes that the tunnel begin under the Saint Francis Circle intersection. Tunneling here could occur between Sloat Blvd. and 15th Avenue, after the business district ends. This location would be less disruptive to businesses than an unnecessary improvement and enlargement at the Twin Peaks Tunnel Station.

(2) After tunneling under Saint Francis Circle, the M street car should remain underground until it reaches Randolph Street. The K streetcar could reach grade quickly on Junipero Serra Blvd. since traffic here is minimal especially at the turn onto Ocean Avenue. The SFMTA's plan to provide a tunnel for the K streetcar from Junipero Serra onto Ocean Avenue would seem expensive and unnecessary at this time.

(3) To save the Lakeside business district, an underground station should be provided at Ocean Avenue, where the present stop occurs for the M streetcar. Students at Mercy High School and Lowell High School would have a pleasant park where the old streetcar tracks are now. This egress would go towards the direction of Eucalyptus Drive for students and the other exit to Ocean Avenue for shoppers.

(4) An underground station at Winston Drive, where service to Stonestown occurs, is preferred. Today, north bound vehicular traffic turning left on Winston Drive blocks the M streetcar until a green light removes traffic from the tracks. Having an underground station speeds up the M streetcar dramatically here. Pedestrians leaving the M streetcar, will need a tunnel to both sides of 19th Avenue, so traffic is not hindered by pedestrians crossing the street on the surface. (See picture below )

Traffic at Winston Drive and 19th Avenue intersection
width="440" height="247" align="right" alt=""/>

(5) Holloway Avenue should remain open, providing drivers an opportunity to reach the university parking lot that is available for students, teachers and guests. Previous plans to create a park here would create an obstacle for traffic. There is no other street as direct or convenient as Holloway Avenue to enter the parking lot. Blocking easy access to the parking lot would create unnecessary traffic because drivers would have to go out of their way to look for a parking lot they cannot find. Again, pedestrian access to both sides of 19th Avenue is critical.

(6) An underground station at San Francisco State University could provide students and Parkmerced residents greater opportunity to board the M streetcar without danger of vehicular traffic. Four tracks at this station, providing additional streetcar storage, could provide backup at peak commute times. After this surplus is exhausted, additional streetcars could be summoned from the Cameron Beach Yard, the streetcar barn on San Jose and Geneva Avenues. Replacement streetcars for the San Francisco State University station from the Cameron Beach Yard will take approximately 24 minutes to arrive, traveling at 8 mph for 3 miles. Using M streetcar for backup means Oceanview residents will have better service.

With the J streetcar going to San Francisco State University station exclusively, Oceanview residents were rightfully alarmed that there would be inferior service.

The M streetcar's speed performance would improve dramatically beneath the very heavily traveled intersection of Highway One, 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Blvd.

(7) Beside the Parkmerced Leasing Office there is a "Round-About" or turning circle. This is just a half block away from the proposed underground M streetcar station for both Parkmerced and San Francisco State University patrons. This location would be ideal for shuttles moving residents of Parkmerced to the new M streetcar station at San Francisco State University. Either the circle itself or the adjacent surrounding curbs could provide shuttle stops.

(8) Following the angle of the grade on 19th Avenue, could allow the M streetcar to surface close to Beverly Street near the Temple United Methodist Church, which provides sundry services to the public, including health care, a food pantry, counseling and numerous other worthwhile services. It is important that seniors and the physically challenged easily reach this location by the M streetcar. SFMTA plans must not ignore service to this service center.

(9) The M streetcar, traveling on Randolph Street, stops unnecessarily at Ramsell and Victoria Streets. We recommend these two stops be eliminated and that only the traffic stop at Arch Street remain.

(10) Today, the Balboa Park Project provides a new alignment for the the J and K streetcars that bring passengers who ride directly to the Balboa BART station. Then, the tracks for the J and K streetcar return, providing a pleasant pick-up station, with seats and cover from rain on San Jose. No longer must passengers heading downtown, in a southerly direction, wait at a streetcar stop, without seats, or protection from weather, standing on streetcar tracks. This configuration makes SFMTA's plan to have the J streetcar come to SF State out of date.

IN SUMMARY:

This new M streetcar plan fosters existing businesses in both the West Portal and Lakeside districts. It provides easy access to other bus stops, encouraging intermodal transportation. It also allows existing parking to remain on 19th Avenue and provides access to the SF State's parking lot. This Route accommodates the Temple United Methodist Church for those with hardships. The plan reduces the length of tunnels and unnecessary underground stations. We bring attention to improvements of the J and K streetcars and their new access to the Balboa Park BART station. Lastly, transportation service to the Oceanview district will be improved by using M streetcars to increase service when needed. We hope the public will support this more effective plan.

Glenn Rogers is a Landscape Architect, and George Wooding is President of the Coalition for SF Neighborhoods

June 2017

SAN FRANCISCO’S WATER:
no longer pristine?

Soon, San Francisco’s pristine water will be blended with groundwater. The program is called the San Francisco Groundwater Supply Project and is part of the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s (SFPUC) effort to develop numerous water supply alternatives to reduce dependence on the Tuolumne River. This program has been in existence for 10 years.

Those supporting this project believe having San Francisco depending on one source for 85% of its water leaves us vulnerable to extremes in climate change. Those against blending fear it will negatively affect the water responsible for the good taste of many of our local foods and beverages in San Francisco, including sourdough bread, beer and coffee. 

The PUC’s own studies have shown a 7% reduction of flows by 2050. Sadly, even with these conservation measures, the City has still been using pristine water, the envy of the nation, to clean our City’s streets.”

This is a plan to diversify our water needs to prepare for future extreme weather events, or a disaster such as an earthquake, when water sources are damaged. The plan will allow more water to remain in the streams and rivers we currently divert for our drinking water. San Francisco is required to come into compliance with environmental laws that didn’t exist when the system was built. Locally, increased releases are now required in San Mateo and Alameda Creeks that total 7-8 million gallons per day. The Tuolumne River is currently the subject of negotiations at the State Water Board. Currently, about 80% of the river’s flow is diverted for agricultural use and 10% for urban uses, but the Board wants to increase spring flows, which will require additional releases. To provide streams and rivers with more water is the explanation for the blending of groundwater, now imminent.

Reduced snowmelt and increased climate variability will reduce the amount of Tuolumne River water available in the future. The PUC’s own studies have shown a 7% reduction of flows by 2050. Sadly, even with these conservation measures, the City has still been using pristine water, the envy of the nation, to clean our City’s streets. 

The amount of water added in the first year is planned to be 3%. In four years, the amount of blended water will increase to over 15%. Reports of the water’s taste vary. In a side-by-side comparison, some recognize no difference in taste, some believe the flavor is improved, and others prefer the original taste of the unblended water. However, no difference is noticed without a side-by-side comparison.

The groundwater will come from an aquifer 400 feet underground in six different locations on the western part of the City between Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced. Contaminants that exceed state standards of safety have been found in all but two of these wells: nitrate, hexavalent chromium and/or manganese. Rather than treating these at the wellhead, the SFPUC will pump the groundwater to the Sunset, Sutro, and Summit Reservoirs, then blend the ground water with the Hetch Hetchy imported supply. This blended water will be distributed to the whole City; however, most of it will be provided to the west side of San Francisco.

What are these contaminants?

• Nitrate, which has been regulated since the ‘60s, is considered an acute contaminant because it is harmful to infants and fetuses. Nitrate is produced by the leaching of fertilizer or sewage into the groundwater.

• Hexavalent chromium, colloquially known as the Erin Brockovich chemical, is only regulated in California, which adopted its standard in 2014 because it is a carcinogen. While it has been
associated with industrial pollution, hex chrome actually occurs naturally in groundwater throughout California. Golden Gate Park’s contamination is also almost certainly naturally occurring.

• Manganese is what’s known as a secondary contaminant: it is regulated not for health issues, but because at high levels, it gives water an unpleasant odor and taste.

Will these contaminants prevent groundwater from being tapped in an emergency? In the case of the well containing nitrate, yes. However, hexavalent chromium is regulated for its long-term effects. Drinking water containing this chemical during a short-term emergency, while not ideal, should not be hazardous. During an emergency, two wells found to have no contaminants, could be used as an emergency water source.

One of the reasons water is in short supply in California is because farmers are not mandated to conserve water as urban consumers are. Flood irrigation, used by farmers since the dawn of civilization, is still primarily used to irrigate crops (50%). Although this method recharges aquifers and is less effected by evaporation than sprinklers, it is still considered wasteful. Today, the use of drip irrigation has more than doubled since 1991. Many crops, i.e. alfalfa, previously believed to not be suited for drip irrigation, are now successfully irrigating crops with a tremendous savings in water. Tomatoes, now irrigated by drip, produce more fruit per acre and the quality of the tomato is more reliable. The State of California, providing more incentives and programs encouraging the use of drip irrigation, which is expensive for farmers initially, could allow more water to remain in the Tuolumne River also.

Glenn Rogers, PLA is a local Wesside landscape architect.

April 2017

Love 'em or hate 'em, eucalyptus trees still remain at center of controversy

In a victory for conservation, on December 15, 2016, the Planning Commission voted 6-1, to approve the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Natural Area Program (NAP). The intent of this program is to return CA native plants back to San Francisco, lost by urbanization. Typically, plants from San Bruno Mt. will be planted in this program. That is because San Bruno Mt. contains the last vestiges of plants once found in San Francisco. Many of the plants, and the fauna that depend on them exclusively, are endangered.

The main concern on Mt. Davidson has been the prevalence of non-native species (eucalyptus, English ivy and Himalayan blackberry), which have driven out the characteristic native plants. At the hearing, numerous members of the public portrayed the desire to remove the eucalyptus trees as an act of xenophobia."

Herbicide worker on Mt. Davidson
Photo: Anastasia Glikshtern (See Letters to the Editor)

Many of those making comments at the Planning Commission needed to go to the anteroom on the first floor, watching the hearing on closed TV for hours, before finally being able to enter the Planning Commission Chamber to speak. There were 74 people that spoke in favor of NAP, (including 17 who wanted the Sharp Park Golf Course removed from the EIR) and 42 spoke opposing the NAP outright.

Sharp Park, located in Pacifica but included in this study, is 120 acres of land bequeathed to the City of San Francisco in 1917 by the widow of George Sharp (Honora). The park consists of a golf course overlaid on a natural area adjacent the ocean. The non-native grass of the golf course requires pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers which are affecting wildlife and tainting nearby water, causing genetic mutations. Maintaining the Sharp Park Golf Course has been the responsibility of San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department for years. There have been numerous incidents of endangered wildlife being killed by mowing the lawn or gopher control. The endangered wildlife protected here are the Red Legged Frog and the San Francisco Garter Snake. Therefore, the wild lands surrounding the golf course have been included in the EIR of the Natural Area Program.

The main concern on Mt. Davidson has been the prevalence of non-native species (eucalyptus, English ivy and Himalayan blackberry), which have driven out the characteristic native plants. At the hearing, numerous members of the public portrayed the desire to remove the eucalyptus trees as an act of xenophobia. Those with this position ignored the agent that poisons the ground, in the oil of the eucalyptus. This agent, called allelopathy, inhibits other plants from growing underneath eucalyptus trees, creating both a monoculture of plant growth, as well as a lack of habitat for fauna. Other plants that have this strategy for survival are the Creosote Bush, Walnut Tree and the California Bay. On Mt. Davidson, crews remove leaves of the eucalyptus from the ground regularly to allow an understory of native species to grow there. However, the residue of the oil of the eucalyptus trees has still affected the fertility of the soil, back before the Natural Areas Program started the leaf removal. No doubt this accounts for some of the lack of success for the reintroduction of native plants.

Another point those defending the eucalyptus trees made was that to remove these trees would release a tremendous amount of carbon sequestered or stored in the wood, resulting in Global Warming. A study of these trees measured that 85% are in poor health. It would seem that left alone, which was often the request of those protecting the trees, could result in fire. Possibly, as soon as a 100 years from now, all that carbon could be released into the atmosphere instantly anyway. Remember eucalyptus trees that fueled the fire in Oakland?

A short list of those that supported the Natural Area Program in testimony were: Nature in the City, Livable City, the California Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club.

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect who lives in the Westside.

February 2017

Parkmerced Residents Air Grievances

IParkmerced management held their informational meeting on the night of the Presidential debate (9/26/2016) when 80 million viewers were watching TV. This meeting was poorly attended. Is this bad planning or intentional?

There were two candidates for supervisor for district 7, John Farrell and Mike Young present. Also, in attendance was our current Supervisor Norman Yee.

Burt Pollaci, Parkmerced management, promised to cooperate with an air study with Marc Christiansen, President of METNA or Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association. When asked to call Marc Christiansen, Burt Pollaci thanked me for the reminder.

Residents living in the towers will have no reliable parking during construction. It was suggested that the grass parking strip on Crespi Drive or Font Blvd. be used as a temporary parking lot for residents during construction.”

John Farrell commented that every resident could receive $5,000 cash for the inconvenience of living in Parkmerced during construction. He believed this was reasonable and fair.

The lack of consistent architecture, for the Parkmerced Vision Plan, where every building is completely different from the next, was explained as an attempt to provide uniqueness and aid in visitors finding their way around. It was not an attempt to "pay back" the long line of different architects that praised the concept drawings at the Planing Department or the Planning Commission hearings. This justification was made despite the fact the San Francisco General Plan states emphatically "sound housing" is to be protected. Also, a convincing argument was made that the classic Parkmerced is a historical treasure.

Parking in Parkmerced, along the streets, will be virtually the same after construction, as it is today. The possibility of metered parking along Parkmerced streets by SFMTA was suggested as a possibility, then retracted.

Residents living in the towers will have no reliable parking during construction. It was suggested that the grass parking strip on Crespi Drive or Font Blvd. be used as a temporary parking lot for residents during construction. Parkmerced management feared that a new EIR might need to be prepared if parking here was provided. This information was offered by the Department of Public Works (DPW) but the name of the manager was not given. It would seem, without Supervisor Norman Yee championing this parking solution, it will not happen.

One resident asked what could be done about available street parking in Parkmerced being stolen by SFSU students. The solution of a parking permit, which would be displayed on every Parkmerced vehicle which costs $135 annually was not suggested. Permitted parking would allow any non-resident in Parkmerced only 2 hours of unfettered parking.

The noise level in Parkmerced during construction was predicted to be much less than what was experienced during the construction of 800 Summit. This was explained by the fact supports are going to be drilled, then, concrete poured into the holes created. This is very different from the construction at 800 Summit whereby steel was pounded into the ground.

One resident, having been offered parking at the time of the signing of their first lease, complained their new apartment agreement provided no such guarantee. No satisfactory answer was provided this resident.

Uber, the private cab service, has offered to provide transportation from Parkmerced to BART at a flat rate of $5. The traffic congestion from this solution has not been considered.

Shuttle service to public transportation will be provided by Parkmerced management every 10 minutes during commute hours and every 20-30 minutes during off hours.

Free bike service, will allow those to ride from their apartment to public transportation. Then, the bike can be left for residents to use upon their return. Should residents decide to use a shuttle upon their return, there will be no penalty.

The stairs beside the Cambon Shopping Center, providing an opportunity to travel by foot to Junipero Serra Blvd., will be saved during construction, if possible.

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect who lives in the Westside.

October 2016

Techie Take-over Rankles MUNI Riders

The Court Decision:

After numerous delays by the defendant supporting the use of public bus stops being used by private carriers, on April 28, 2016, the San Francisco City Attorney, with the support of the law firm, Morrison and Foerster representing the real party in interest, Genentech, prevailed in the Google shuttle bus pilot case. Judge Garrett Wong ruled that the temporary bus program lawsuit was moot since the pilot program had ended and been replaced by a "permanent" program. Originally, the case against the pilot bus program in the City began in May 1, 2014. Plaintiffs were SEIU 1021 and a handful of local citizens. Representing SEIU 1021 were Richard Drury and Rebecca Davis of the law firm Lozeau Drury LLP.

Some say Google buses provide a "greener" solution than each tech worker riding a solo car to their destination. However, this analysis does not account for buses waiting long periods of time to be allowed to enter a MUNI bus stop, or the fact that the diesel engines used by the shuttle buses pollute more than regular cars.”

After many delaying motions on the part of the defendants, the trial was finally held on November 13, 2015. The pilot program was scheduled to end on January 31, 2016. Judges are supposed to rule on cases within 90 days of the trial. But Judge Wong did not issue a ruling until April 28, well past the 90-day deadline and after the adoption of a "permanent" program, of sorts, to replace the pilot program. At the time of publication it is not known if plaintiffs will appeal.

The Pilot and Permanent Program:

The pilot program had green placards on the buses. Now, blue placards represent the permanent bus program. This "permanent" program must be reviewed in six months and only lasts for one year. The pilot and the permanent programs are otherwise nearly identical. The "permanent" program, however, restricts the number of stops that can be utilized by private carriers to 125 whereas language in the pilot program indicated an unlimited number of stops could eventually be incorporated into the program. However, neither the pilot nor the "permanent" program has any restrictions on the number of shuttles that can receive the blue placards. For administration fees, private shuttles have been charged $3.67 per stop. That charge will go up to over $7 per stop to pay for additional enforcement of the program.

The Tech Bus Problem:

According to California Vehicle Code 22500, it is illegal for private carriers to use public bus stops. Despite this, the City of San Francisco has decided to experiment with a private bus system "sharing" public bus stops in order to reduce congestion on the highways and provide a "greener" solution for commuters. Today, approximately 8,500 people take a round trip bus to their destination to either Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, Youtube, Genentech, Google and other peninsula and South Bay companies. Employees can board their private buses at 125 different locations in San Francisco, with about 100 of those locations being at bus stops previously used exclusively by MUNI. These private buses, often with few passengers, normally get 3-10 miles per gallon. The two story buses weigh over 25 tons and can often be found illegally on streets that have heavy weight restrictions. Other infractions include blocking bike lanes, obstructing traffic and blocking bus zones. NBC Bay Area has reported this past spring that the tech shuttles have racked up over 800 traffic violations since the start of the pilot program in 2014. Many of the violations were moving violations. The problem has gotten so bad that SFMTA has decided to hire 50% more enforcement officers to police the problem.

Gentrification:

The tech buses may be at the root of another problem with our City, gentrification. Young, rich, tech workers, seeking to live in neighborhoods close to private bus stops, may be linked to the eviction and displacement of long-time residents, as property owners seek to charge more in rent to those better able to pay. Property value in these areas has increased dramatically for both home and business property. Our City, faced with a ballooning budget, has been happy to accommodate the tech industry. After all, a real estate boom provides increased property taxes, a source of income for the City. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) could study the overall effect of local residents leaving San Francisco, then traveling great distances to return to work. This study could see if real environmental savings are occurring by tech workers replacing long-time San Francisco residents. Unfortunately, EIR's have no ability to demand change, only make suggestions.

The Solution:

Until July 4, 2016, the SFMTA is conducting a survey that is exploring a Shuttle Hub Program. One possible location for commuter pick-up would be the Cow Palace. It would be logical that smaller buses would be used to gather tech workers and deposit them at this location, where larger buses would take them to work.

Some say Google buses provide a "greener" solution than each tech worker riding a solo car to their destination. However, this analysis does not account for buses waiting long periods of time to be allowed to enter a MUNI bus stop, or the fact that the diesel engines used by the shuttle buses pollute more than regular cars. Also, the buses are not commuting at full capacity.

The ideal solution for those that work outside of San Francisco is for them to live closer to work. Unfortunately, housing closer to work outside of San Francisco may be even harder to find than housing here. South Peninsula municipalities need to be convinced of the value of providing more housing for nearby workers. The shorter the commute, the faster it will be to get to your destination on Highway 101.

Assemblyperson Travis Allen, a Republican from Orange County, sponsored Assembly Bill 61 (AB 61) which would have amended the State Vehicle Code to allow private carriers to operate in public bus stops. This bill died on January 11, 2016, but Allen introduced two more bills with the same language that have not yet been heard in committee: AB 1641 and ABX1-25. Among the organizations that have opposed AB 61 and/or the other two bills are:

AFSCME - AB 61

AFSCME District Council 57 - AB 61

Amalgamated Transit Union - AB 61

Bernal Heights Democratic Club - AB 61

California Alliance for Retired Americans - AB 61

California Council of the Blind - AB 61

California Walks - AB 61

D5 Action - AB 61

District 8 Democratic Club - AB-1641 and ABX1-25

FDR Democratic Club - all

Gray Panthers of San Francisco - AB 61

Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council - All

Harvey Milk Democratic Club - AB 61

Hayes Valley Neighborhood Assn - AB 61

Pacific Felt Factory - AB 61

Potrero Hill Democratic Club - AB 61

Progressive Democs of America SF - AB 61

Protect Noe's Charm - AB 61

Richmond District Democratic Club

San Francisco Green Party - AB 61

SF Senior and Disability Action - AB 61

San Francisco Tomorrow - AB 61

San Francisco Latino Democratic Club

Save Muni - AB 61

SEIU - All

TWU 250a (Muni operators) - AB 61

Unite Here Local 2 - AB 61

United Educators of San Francisco - AB 61

Upper Noe Neighbors - AB 61

 

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect who lives in the Westside.

July 2016

Undergrounding the M Streetcar

This new reconfiguration of the M streetcar going underground is an improvement over the previous plan, where staff was directed to provide an elevated solution. With both M and K streetcars going underground, it removes congestion at the St. Francis Circle and the Ocean Avenue crossing. The M line is improved with elimination of the 19th Ave. crossing beside Stonestown, and the crossing over Junipero Serra would be improved dramatically by an underground route. Instead of a one streetcar track, which is present today and part of the old solution, there would be two streetcar tracks going in either direction. A streetcar would make grade, emerging from underground, at Randolph St. where the road widens.

Both the old and new M streetcar alignments avoid a stop at the Senior Center located at the Temple Methodist Church. It is inappropriate to foster a care facility in San Francisco, have the public depend on that center's care, then abandon the center by no longer providing public transportation for seniors and the disabled."

Where the new M streetcar fails:

Where the new alignment fails in its analysis is that it ends the M streetcar at Parkmerced, where a J streetcar receives passengers moving into the Oceanview district. The opportunity for less service into Oceanview is likely since it is not a well-connected neighborhood. Both the old and new M streetcar alignments avoid a stop at the Senior Center located at the Temple Methodist Church. It is inappropriate to foster a care facility in San Francisco, have the public depend on that center's care, then abandon the center by no longer providing public transportation for seniors and the disabled. Presently there is a stop at Beverly Street where the senior center is located. Service to this center should be demanded by the neighborhood. Additionally, the stop at the existing Lakeside business districts is considered optional. The elimination of this stop could have a dramatic effect on the existing businesses there. Most important, the J streetcar traveling downtown could just change its sign from J to M at the Parkmerced station instead of having passengers leave the streetcar and find new seating on the M streetcar. In returning home, if this same procedure could occur, it would improve J ridership dramatically. The Parkmerced project was always been about providing more market rate housing for the City tax coffers. This plan to treat J streetcar riders as second class citizens needs to be brought to the attention of the City and SFMTA.

Why the new M streetcar line is better:

In my opinion, this underground solution was necessary because the 18,000 new residents of Parkmerced would appear to be poorly served by the transportation provided by the past plan. The past plan had no solution for the St. Francis Circle congestion, which would be both difficult for traffic and the M and K streetcars alike. In the old plan, there was only one track going each way, this new design has two. With only one track in the old plan, this could lead to lines of streetcars going downtown, one after the other. The first car picking up passengers and the second one trailing behind empty. Then, the elevated track over the Junipero Serra/19th Ave. exchange would have had numerous failings. First, the noise created in an elevated platform would have been hard to ameliorate, causing blight in at least two nearby Towers by the noisy streetcar regularly passing by. Today, the plan is to have the streetcar land on the narrow part of Randolph Street (39'-6" wide). This would leave 11'-6" for two rows of parking and for two lanes of cars to pass each other, obviously, not nearly enough space for either activity. Therefore, the plan with the ramp ending at 19th Avenue, near Randolph St., is the preferred plan between these two.

Oceanview's difficulties:

Other hardships the Oceanview neighborhood has endured in the past has been Highway 280 providing an impassable barrier along its southern border. The entrances into the neighborhood have been minimized by traffic engineers more interested in traffic flow than economic opportunity for the residents. Many parts of the Oceanview neighborhood were designed with super blocks that are 3 to 4 times larger than regular blocks in San Francisco. These giant blocks, popular in the early part of the 1920's, minimize an opportunity for commerce by having fewer intersections. Typically, family and other businesses occur at street corners. Super blocks have been abandoned by City planners today. The Oceanview district does not need another obstacle to its success like a separate J streetcar line. 1.

1. SFMTA: 19thAve_final_report.pdf

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect who lives in the Westside.

April 2016

75 Howard - Harbinger of Things to Come?

On January 27th the Board of Appeals, the last resort after any Planning Commission decision, ruled on the side of development's interest in San Francisco. The Paramount Group, plans to demolish an eight story existing parking garage in this location, to replace it with a new 220 foot high luxury condominium tower. The vote was 3-2 supporting the Appeal but for the project to be overturned, there needed to be a vote of 4-2. No affordable housing will be on site. Instead, 15.7 million dollars will be given to the Mayor's Office of Housing and Development for housing to be built elsewhere in San Francisco. Rick Swig, one of the Appeal Commissioners, valiantly protested the inappropriateness of the architecture of 75 Howard, which does not match any existing architecture nearby.1 This structure, with no appreciable setbacks, would cast shadow on Rincon Park. Also, this project will provide a Wall along the Embarcadero, which the citizens of San Francisco recently disapproved of in the last election. With this decision, San Francisco could eventually look like Miami, with tall buildings along its waterfront, blocking the views of those that live or work behind.

...a scientific study was certified by a "shadow expert" and that shadow was cast on this park when completed. The issue of "shadow", was attempted to be portrayed as an opinion, rather than pure science. In this farce, the pro-developers succeeded.”

Rincon Park, the park with the bow and arrow sculpture, is not protected from "shadow" as other parks in San Francisco are because it is on Port property. Therefore, this decisions avoids the spirit of the "shadow" ordinance over a technicality. Many pro-building activists, no doubt some of them architects themselves, testifying as a favor to past colleagues that supported their projects downtown, endorsed this project. One pro-developer, even claimed the "shadow" cast by the arrow sculpture itself, would deny more light to the park, than the construction of the 75 Howard Street project. Dave Osgood reminded the Commissioners, that a scientific study was certified by a "shadow expert" and that shadow was cast on this park when completed. The issue of "shadow", was attempted to be portrayed as an opinion, rather than pure science. In this farce, the pro-developers succeeded.

The pro-developers in the audience had buttons on their clothing stating "Housing, not parking." This statement is ironic since the luxury condominiums will not provide any worthwhile increase in the housing stock in San Francisco because the luxury sector is saturated. Those that are middle class and those making less, need housing. Sue Hester claimed these 133 apartments could sell for as much as $20 million each. Clearly, only the few can afford homes such as these. Therefore, the defense this tower will provide new housing stock in San Francisco is ludicrous.

Recently, an article in the New York Times, brought attention a new form of investment in the United States, whereby "shell companies" purchase expensive property for their clients, that remain unknown so that their investment remains safe. The United States has the greatest lack of regulation controlling real estate purchases that hide "dark money" Sixty Minutes reported in their program on January 3, 2016. These real estate purchases, can be obtained by Russian oligarchs, numerous crime families and wealthy Chinese businessmen. 2 For these wealthy individuals, price is unimportant but secrecy and the safety of the investment, is paramount.

The Appeal Commissioners seemed very excited about the addition of fees contributing to the Housing Mayor's Office. The fee has been raised to $15.7 million from $9.7 million. This fee, is claimed to be 33% of the market rate of the condos' value, however, this fee could be undervalued. After all, the asking price and the final sales price, are often widely different in San Francisco, especially with a view this spectacular. Supposedly, this fee will provide 38 new units of Affordable Housing. Now, the question is, where will the housing be and since these fees have been avoided in the past, will they really be built?

The opportunity of having Affordable Housing on site cannot be underestimated. Not only would Affordable Housing at 75 Howard make the housing less interesting to wealthy, undesirable speculators but could provide housing for those that actually work downtown. Wealthy tenants are likely to not live in San Francisco year round. Hypothetically, they might never live here at all, providing housing to no one!

In summary, we have a project that will build a Wall along the waterfront, block views of buildings behind it, be inhabited by residents out of state, that will not provide housing for local residents, that will threaten fragile infrastructure, remove existing parking downtown which is at a premium, diminish the communal architecture of downtown and provide "shadow" on Rincon Park. What is surprising is that the Planning Commission originally approved this project in the first place.

(1) http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Deluxe-condo-tower-at-75-Howard-St-narrowly-wins-6794749.php

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/nyregion/stream-of-foreign-wealth-flows-to-time-warner-condos.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

Glenn Rogers, PLA, Landscape Architect lives and works in District 7

March 2016

MUNI Service Improving?

The City believes mass transit needs improving. Does anyone see an improvement of the “on time” performance of MUNI today from yesterday? With construction going on at a record pace, and traffic often blocked with utility improvements, not to mention additional laborers, traffic is worse. One solution for better MUNI performance has been to limit or restrict service, creating hardships for the elderly, the disabled and the handicapped. Even eliminating bus stops to hospitals is considered an improvement in service. However, with an outcry from the public, the 33 bus will postpone canceling its service to San Francisco General until 2020, then review this policy again. No doubt, there will be fewer elderly activists present then to stop this idea. Usually, seniors and those with disabilities move to locations where mass transit provides services to health care. Now, these same citizens will need to move again.

One solution for better MUNI performance has been to limit or restrict service, creating hardships for the elderly, the disabled and the handicapped. Even eliminating bus stops to hospitals is considered an improvement in service.”

The Private Taxi Congestion:

Uber, Sidecar and Lyft claim to remove congestion in San Francisco, reducing the need for individuals to travel downtown. Well, with 16,000 to 11,000 vehicles working for Uber alone on a daily basis, it is adding to traffic congestion, not solving it. In addition, Uber wishes to add an additional 120 vehicles to improve service. Uber is the largest of these private taxi services but Sidecar and Lyft also contribute to congestion. SFMTA controls the 1,812 taxis operating in San Francisco today, preventing more taxis from causing gridlock. Uber has no such control over its service providers.

Private Buses a Boom or Bust to Neighborhoods:

Assembly Bill 61, which would make permanent the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, whereby private buses use MUNI bus stops, is presently on hold. Private buses for employees of Google and Apple are prime examples of those that would benefit from this bill. At first glance this pilot program that was to last 18 months would seem to benefit the public, with less commuters on the road; however, let’s look at this further. Studies have shown that renters who live beside private bus stops are finding their rents increase, allowing well-paid tech workers to replace existing tenants. Those that own property, whether it be residential or business real estate, are finding their property values increasing by $100,000. Therefore, their property taxes are rising. If small businesses move, the diversity provided by “Mom and Pop” stores will diminish, as larger chain stores replace less profitable businesses. The elderly on fixed incomes can also be forced to move, if property taxes become too high.

A Fair Tax for Private Buses:

Considering the drastic changes that are occurring in our neighborhoods because of the Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program, minimal fees of $1 or $3.55, and this July of $3.67, for each visit of a private bus to a public bus stop, do not pay for the true cost of access. Should this program continue, and there are many reasons why it shouldn’t, a daily flat fee of $1,000 per stop for access could provide funds for improving MUNI’s maintenance, or the purchase of more vehicles to our existing fleet. Then too, any worthwhile City necessity, e.g., affordable or middle class housing subsidies, could benefit from this tax. The City is missing an opportunity to tax wealthy corporations fairly.

Glenn Rogers is a local landscape architect

July/August 2015

Parkmerced Weakens Prop M

picket line at Parkmerced
Residents join union picket line at Parkmerced

Last August, the First District Court of Appeals issued its decision in favor of Parkmerced development interests in the case San Francisco Tomorrow et al. vs. the City and County of San Francisco et al. Now that decision has been upheld. At issue in the case is the fate of Parkmerced, the serene mid-twentieth-century neighborhood that is a San Francisco landmark. Developers, along with City and County politicians, propose to demolish Parkmerced and replace most of its existing 3,221 residences with 8,900 housing units.

When the project, which currently houses about 8,000 residents, is completed in 2040, an additional 14,000 people will be living in the 152-acre neighborhood.”

Parkmerced in the Future:

When the project, which currently houses about 8,000 residents, is completed in 2040, an additional 14,000 people will be living in the 152-acre neighborhood. Units that are currently rent-controlled will stay that way, but new units will be rented or sold at market rate. The rebuilt Parkmerced will have a maximum of 3,200 rent-controlled units, the same number it has today. The Court stated it will not limit San Francisco growth because of a lack of, or because of a poorly designed, transportation system. The decision cited as a precedent, from a Los Angeles court case, is perhaps not unrelated to the traffic gridlock present there today.

What Proposition M Looks Like:

In 1986, as well as today, San Francisco was in the middle of a real estate boom. Citizens here decided that there was a need to limit growth in San Francisco and so Proposition M came to pass. The language of Proposition M was adopted into Planning Code Sec.1 01 .1, requiring that the City adhere to eight “Priority Policies” of the Master Plan when it approves projects, covering issues such as promoting existing neighborhood businesses, providing and preserving affordable housing, solving commuter congestion, providing blue collar jobs, preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods, protecting open space, and lastly, promoting earthquake safety.

There were three aspects of Proposition M considered to be fundamental to a successful growth strategy. First, there should be a correct relationship between new office space and housing for the projected new work force; secondly, there should be adequate transportation for them; and lastly, there should be a cap on the amount of office space built in one year. Mayor Feinstein believed, as does Mayor Lee today, that allowing a building boom to occur would be desirable for the economy. A referendum petition gained enough signatures but the measure was put on the ballot by four Supervisors instead. Although the eight guidelines were regularly ignored, a cap of 875,000 square feet a year on office construction remained inviolate until recently.

Proposition M a Success:

Proposition M curtailed a serious real-estate collapse in the early 1990s, after the savings and loan institutions created a building boom. Houston, Boston and other cities faced a financial backlash due to surplus office space unable to be rented. San Francisco was hit by the same recession, but since its economy was more diverse, it weathered the recession better.

Growth, a Recipe for Success or Failure?

This January, the City announced its draft income report for 2014, which was substantially up from the year before. However, the bad news is that the $8.6 billion budget nearly matches its expenses being spent in unfunded retiree health care liability ($3.9 billion) and in unfunded pension liability ($3.9 billion). A large sum of revenue came from property taxes ($1.2 billion). In San Francisco and elsewhere, luxury condominiums can sell for up to $20 million each; if there are 50 condos in one building, the taxes generated can be as high as $11.4 million in one structure. ($20 million X 50 X 1.14%). This solution of building wealthy condominiums, where few people live, causing a minimum impact on growth and mass transit, seems harmless enough, until you realize that market rate housing is the predominant type of construction in San Francisco, representing 200% of the total growth in one sector. This means construction for market rate housing satisfies all of the needs of this sector, then builds another 100% on top of that! When it comes to low income housing, 50% of the total housing needs are being met. This is because federal dollars match private dollars in the construction of this type of housing. Where real difficulty occurs is satisfying the housing needs for middle class citizens in San Francisco. With no matching funds, and a smaller profit margin to excite developers’ interest, only 30% of the housing needs for middle class families are being met.

We ask you, the public, to make a difference and change the discussion from unfettered growth, to a “quality of life” issue here in San Francisco. We ask you to support a strengthening of the language of Proposition M, either by voting for a referendum, or asking your Supervisor to support this measure.

Glenn Rogers, PLA, Landscape Architect lives and works in District 7

June 2015

Parkmerced Opponents Lose Their Legal Appeal

San Francisco’s Development and Planning Process Has Been Effectively Destroyed

The distinction between two little words — “must” vs. “shall” — is about to allow chaotic and unstoppable growth throughout San Francisco. The lack of these specific wordings has allowed Proposition M, the core of San Francisco’s General Growth Plan, to be controlled by the rich, the powerful, and the influential.

The Court states it will not limit San Francisco growth because of a lack of, or because of a poorly designed, transportation system. The decision cited as a precedent from a Los Angeles court case, is perhaps not unrelated to the traffic gridlock present there today.”

On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the First District Court of Appeals issued its decision in favor of development interests in the case San Francisco Tomorrow et al. vs. the City and County of San Francisco et al. 

At issue in the case is the fate of Parkmerced, the serene mid-twentieth-century neighborhood that is a San Francisco landmark. Developers, along with City and County politicians, propose to demolish Parkmerced and replace most of its existing 3,221 residences with 8,900 housing units.

When the project, which currently houses about 8,000 residents, is completed in 2040 an additional 14,000 people will be living in the 152-acre neighborhood. Units that are currently rent-controlled will stay that way, but new units will be rented or sold at market rate. The rebuilt Parkmerced will have a maximum of 3,200 rent-controlled units, the same number it has today.

Parkmerced residents at the hearing said they have no faith that either the developer or the City have their best interests at heart over the long-term.

The destruction of the current Parkmerced was approved in 2011 by a six-to-five split vote of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A lawsuit was immediately filed by San Francisco Tomorrow asserting that San Francisco leaders should not have approved the new Parkmerced development because it is inconsistent with City policies and that the environmental review was flawed.

Shortfalls of Parkmerced Not Corrected 

Other issues — such as the underfunded 19th Avenue Traffic Corridor, existing seismic inefficiencies, no neighborhood schools, and limited sewage infrastructure — have either not been resolved or have been ignored by the City. 19th Avenue will now become a parking lot, since the 8,900 housing units, offices, and shops will be built near an expanding SF State and Stonestown Shopping Center.

City planners claim the project, approved by the Board of Supervisors in June 2011, is environmentally benign and transit-friendly, promotes affordable housing, and will boost the local economy.

The Appellate justices who heard the appeal were Anthony Cline, James Richman, and by special assignment, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steve Brick. Lawyer Stuart Flashman represented San Francisco Tomorrow and the Parkmerced Action Coalition. Deputy City Attorney Brian Crossman represented the City and County of San Francisco, as well as the project’s sponsor, Parkmerced Investment Partners.

The Court’s Opinion in Error

According to Judge Anthony Cline, there is “substantial evidence” the proposed Parkmerced project “would not displace substantial numbers of people … the proposed project would not physically disrupt or divide an established community, would not adversely affect the existing character of the vicinity, and in that respect, it would have a less-than-significant impact on land use.”

Referring to Proposition M, Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing Parkmerced plaintiffs San Francisco Tomorrow and Parkmerced Action Coalition stated, “We (referring to the City) don’t care what the voters said.”

This case has profound ramifications for unbridled growth in San Francisco. The Court, stating at the beginning of the trial, that they were for development, has provided all the tools developers need to have unfettered growth. 

Transportation Shortfalls Ignored

The Court states it will not limit San Francisco growth because of a lack of, or because of a poorly designed, transportation system. The decision cited as a precedent from a Los Angeles court case, is perhaps not unrelated to the traffic gridlock present there today.

MUNI has cut service in every neighborhood since 2006. With piecemeal transit planning, new developments like Parkmerced and the Transbay Terminal are throwing thousands of new residents and workers into a stagnant transit system, and onto an already-strained street system. Any MUNI projects related to Parkmerced could mean taking MUNI project funds from other transit-starved neighborhoods to be used in Parkmerced.

Built in the 1940’s by Metlife as a modern model for middle-class housing, Parkmerced is now San Francisco’s historical stepchild.

No Historical Landmark Status

The Court found that Parkmerced is not a “Historical Landmark,” asserting that there are no buildings of individual, unique character on site. The Court judges have shown an inability to see the forest for the trees. It is not the buildings that make Parkmerced special, it is the space between the buildings, which is the purview of landscape architecture. The Court was unable to appreciate the masterful design of Parkmerced by Thomas Church, the father of landscape architecture in San Francisco.

Since the Appellate Court ruled that Parkmerced is not a “Historical Landmark,” the Court would have us believe that “Neighborhood Character,” is based only on the composition of the residents who live there. The Court appears to believe that — unlike the Victorian housing stock near Alamo Square — it is not the aesthetics of a community that are noteworthy in Parkmerced, but whether or not it has rent control.

Earthquake Safety Ignored, Not Improved

The Court proclaims the importance of earthquake safety in the new Parkmerced development. This is rather ironic, since the 11 existing towers on site that are 130’ tall, are not part of the development agreement to be seismically retrofitted. These towers, built at a time when earthquake safety was not well understood, leave this project vulnerable. The City, given an opportunity to correct the condition, sided with the developer by ignoring the issue.

The towers — too high to be reached easily by firefighters, should a fire develop after an earthquake — are especially unsafe. This being the case, seismic safety was ignored on this project.

Unfettered development and ill-considered projects are damaging our social structure, just as surely as they alter and often block the skyline. The first responsibility of City leaders is to make San Francisco livable for the people who already live here, not just cater to newcomers and blindly follow a desire for more money in a City that doesn’t know how to spend it properly.

The current Appellate Court ruling on Parkmerced should be appealed and overturned.

George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association, Glenn Rogers, Landscape Architect, License 3223

October 2014

Fate of Parkmerced Awaits Court Of Appeals DecisionCalifornia Supreme Court

On Monday, May 19, 2014, the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments regarding the case of Parkmerced vs. the City and County of San Francisco. The judges that presided over the case were Justice Tony Cline, James Richman and by special assignment, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steve Brick. These three judges will decide the fate of Parkmerced; no jury will be present. Lawyer Stuart Flashman represented San Francisco Tomorrow and Parkmerced Action Coalition, while Deputy City Attorney Brian Crossman represented the City and County of San Francisco as well as the projectʼs sponsor, Parkmerced Investment Partners.

If City Attorney Brian Crossman’s assertion is true that Proposition M has no ability to influence building policy today, then what about Proposition B, passed by voters in the last election, which concerns building height along the waterfront?”

The courtroom seats 100 people. The space is impressive, with a ceiling at least 30ʼ high and well lit. A large mural, painted by Willard Dixon, was the backdrop behind the judges. The pastoral scene in the Central Valley portrayed a simpler time, before large farmers tilled the land, when water languished on site and when fences were not required. The majestic nature of the architecture imposed a formal demeanor on those witnessing the hearing. The importance of the decision by the court was on everyone’s mind. That being said, notes were being taken by many of those present.

Prior to the meeting the judges read the arguments presented by both parties; they asked the presentation lawyers to emphasize particular points they felt important. Stuart Flashman spoke extemporaneously in a conversational convincing style that was easy to understand.

City Attorney, Brian Crossman, presented his argument, that was short and difficult to understand.

Proposition M

The most convincing argument made by Stuart Flashman referenced Proposition M, passed by the voters in 1986, limiting the amount of development in San Francisco. Flashman argued that the will of voters trumps the authority of the Board of Supervisors (BOS) and the Planning Commission regarding development policy; the Proposition M building restriction would apply to new construction at Parkmerced. The City Attorney disagreed, stating that the vote of the people has no greater standing than laws originating with the BOS; this was a view challenged by Justice Cline. However, the Judge thought that perhaps Proposition M might not be able to meet all of its overall objectives because several priorities could be in conflict with each other. He asked attorney Flashman what should happen then. Flashman said that the voters intended that if a project couldnʼt meet all the policies, it should be turned down. Even if the project was essential to meet one of the policies, he said the voters intended maximum possible compliance, not merely that the project “generally comply,” as the City argued.

Other arguments presented by Stuart Flashman included the recognition of Parkmerced as an historic landmark. As such, it should receive protection under the San Francisco General Plan.

Numerous prestigious organizations involved with the preservation of historic places have endorsed the protection of Parkmerced. Moreover, Stuart Flashman also noted that neighborhood character and housing affordability are protected by proposition M.

Therefore, Coit Tower, Chinatown, and our Victorian housing stock located beside Alamo Square and elsewhere all need our protection. The parallel being made was that these unique places, which everyone would agree need protection, should include Parkmerced. After all, Parkmerced is a shining example of the “Modern” design movement, designed by Thomas Church, the “father” of landscape architecture in the Bay area. Parkmerced is special for this reason, not to mention it being the largest affordable housing development in San Francisco, one of Churchʼs largest projects, and a project that is easily accessible to the public.

Lastly, in his data section, Flashman noted that the FAR (floor to area ratio) and the I-27 and I-2 sections of the housing element tables provide little information from the planning department regarding development guidelines. Suggestions for reasonable or recommended density levels, population density, building intensity, transportation effectiveness and other requirements for successful development are excluded.

Arguments presented by Brian Crossman, the City Attorney, included the belief that development would be seriously hampered if San Francisco accepted the position set forth by Stuart Flashman. In agreement with the City Attorney, Judge Cline volunteered the belief that “chaos” would occur if Proposition M was strictly adhered to; Judge Brick volunteered his fear that the City would be frozen in amber with the strict interpretation of Proposition M.

Flashman countered that a strict interpretation of Proposition M would not stop other development, if the public was in agreement with the new project.

As a point of reference, a number of past cases were mentioned, by lawyers and judges, to guide the court. The cases mentioned included Harris vs. County of Riverside, Landon vs. Denver, Gorret vs. City of Riverside, and the Arnel Development vs. City of Costa Mesa.

The head judge, Tony Cline, noted that the case was complex. At the close of argument, the court took the case under submission for consideration. A written decision is expected to be issued sometime this summer.

AUTHOR’S VIEWPOINT

If City Attorney Brian Crossman’s assertion is true that Proposition M has no ability to influence building policy today, then what about Proposition B, passed by voters in the last election, which concerns building height along the waterfront? Does Crossman’s logic imply that Proposition B also has no more standing than the momentary whim of the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors?

It is unfortunate that a court case that will dramatically affect the lives of all San Franciscans was not attended by the corporate media. If this case is decided upon unfavorably, Highway One (19th Avenue) will become a construction zone for years into the future, while a troubled MUNI will attempt to design and implement a plan to transport an additional 17,000 Parkmerced residents. Doesn’t anyone else think this is important news?

Lastly, it is worth noting, this case comes at a critical time for San Francisco, when pressure for development is at its greatest, when working class families are fleeing San Francisco in large numbers, and when San Francisco is becoming increasingly less affordable.

Glenn Rogers, PLA, Landscape Architect, License 3223, Aaron Goodman

July 2014

SFMTA'S 19th Avenue Traffic Plan: A Study in Flawed Development

The 19th Avenue Transit Study proposes to improve traffic conditions along 19th Avenue. The study by the SF Metropolitan Transit Authority (SFMTA) seems more focused on money than public good, does not follow proper rules of transit design, shows favoritism to developers, does not consider how changes will affect senior citizens or the disabled, shows bias to certain businesses over others, provides a design that will create noise and blight in a tranquil residential community, and lastly, ignores more satisfactory solutions.

the new location of the 'M' streetcar in Parkmerced would eliminate a close stop …where a Senior Center is located. This center provides many important services to disabled adults and seniors. Neglecting seniors and the disabled is not “commuter friendly.”

Background The thrust of the SFMTA plan is for the 'M' streetcar to enter Parkmerced, where a new station would be located, partially funded by the Fortress Investment Group LLC, which would provide 70 million dollars. Federal funds are matched 80% by projects considered to be "commuter friendly." Unfortunately, this plan is not in the public's best interest because we will be forced to wait 20 more years to connect to Daly City BART via the 'M' streetcar. Thankfully, San Francisco Tomorrow has provided a serious legal challenge over the appropriateness of this project.

Mass transit is at its best when it is in a straight line, connects two points or systems directly, and conjoins other lines along its route. At the request of the developer, Fortress Investment Group, LLC, the project has been designed to enter a residential neighborhood, Parkmerced, deviating from a straight line route A more direct route would continue along the west side of 19th Avenue directly to Daly City BART, traveling over the 1952 Interchange at Brotherhood Way, then over the 280 Highway into Daly City.

In the SFMTA study, one of two 'M' streetcar lines is proposed to service Parkmerced exclusively. This could have a detrimental effect on the Oceanview district's fragile economy. Besides, we don't need one streetcar following another, one full of passengers, stopping for every patron, and an empty streetcar just behind.

No medical professional or agency has reviewed the study for its impact on the physically impaired, seniors or seriously ill. Reducing stops requires people to walk a quarter of a mile or longer to new 'M' streetcar stops. Also, the new location of the 'M' streetcar in Parkmerced would eliminate a close stop at the Temple Methodist Church, where a Senior Center is located. This center provides many important services to disabled adults and seniors. Neglecting seniors and the disabled is not "commuter friendly." The 19th Avenue Traffic Study and the urbanization of Parkmerced are founded on requirements they have not satisfied.

The plans show bias toward certain businesses and present hardships for others. They include no stop at Ocean Avenue, as the train crosses underground to Mercy High School and a Stonestown below-grade station. With the omission of this stop, Ocean Avenue businesses will lose customers. And the SFMTA plan envisions new businesses by SF State University, along with Parkmerced's new retail facility on Crespi Drive. Numerous existing stores on Ocean Avenue will lose business. SFMTA should not be picking "winners and losers."

The 'M' streetcar will create noise in a tranquil neighborhood, adversely effecting residents. Gunshots from the nearby gun club and police range already generate noise pollution. A streetcar in this neighborhood, climbing up a grade as currently shown and turning in a tight radius would add an unacceptable level of noise. Urbanizing this tranquil residential neighborhood with a streetcar turn-back, dead-end and station stop would be a big mistake.

Each elevated solution should be explored and polled by the public individually before they are dismissed by the SFMTA. Neighbors also hope to avoid a protracted traffic jam from road closures that an underground traffic solution would take. An elevated transit solution is easier to construct and less expensive.

Finally, a connection to Daly City BART by the 'M' streetcar has not been seriously studied. Only last month they corrected an error in their proposed route of the 'M' streetcar that would have been blocked by three towers on the way to Daly City BART. This station serves thousands of SF State students.

Today, the existing parking garage at the Daly City BART station has reached capacity and cannot be enlarged within the existing structure. A new 'M' streetcar station combined with a new parking garage alongside the BART station, in an intermodal fashion, could be paid for with proper assessment of transit fees of Stonestown's future development, with SFSU-CSU's increased enrollment fees and the Parkmerced donation to transit infrastructure

For Parkmerced, the largest affordable community in San Francisco, to be gentrified a "commuter friendly" plan is required. Presently 8,000 residents will swell to 25,000, and most of the affordable housing will be gone. Parkmerced is recognized by these prestigious organizations as architecturally and historically significant: National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, the San Francisco Architectural Heritage, the Cultural Landscape Foundation & the Northern Chapter of the Historic Landscape Survey. The developer calls Parkmerced blighted while Ignoring routine maintenance. The architect, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP (SOM), presents its own Parkmerced Vision Plan, with transportation improvements, new retail opportunities, and a new grocery store (one already exists). I think their research did not go far enough.

Glenn Rogers, PLA, Landscape Architect, was assisted by Aaron Goodman

February 2014

 

Parkmerced

Projectomania: Build First, Plan Later

On December 14, 2012, Judge Teri Jackson issued two decisions related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), approving two of the largest developments in San Francisco since the Bayview-Hunter’s Point project.  On this day she approved the development of the Parkmerced and Treasure Island projects. These approvals gave developers, political lobbyists and finance firms (such as China Community Bank) reason to celebrate.  Typically, Chinese contractors are required to perform work on projects funded by the China Community Bank and, though City officials claim this would never happen in San Francisco, it should be noted that the Oakland Bay Bridge was both fabricated and installed by many Chinese companies at a time when local unemployment was at a record high.

Judge Jackson approved the Parkmerced project based on its commuter-friendly status that waits 20 years for the “M” street car to extend to Daly City BART.  Improvements like these need to be provided before development, not 20 years later.  Safe to say, waiting this long for necessary improvements means they may never happen.”

The Parkmerced decision¹ was largely ignored by the press, although Parkmerced is presently one of the largest garden rental apartment communities west of the Mississippi.  Parkmerced was originally designed by the father of modern landscape architecture in the Bay area, Thomas Dolliver Church, and is one of his only publicly-accessible sites. The landscape was featured in the traveling exhibition “Marvels of Modernism Landscapes at Risk” in 2008 by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. ²

The decision to demolish Parkmerced poses a quandary regarding how densification of urban areas will be accomplished in the coming years. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), responsible for transit-oriented development and Assembly Bill 32 - Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), are in many ways in conflict with the San Francisco General Plan in how to best preserve and protect rental housing and culturally-significant landscapes against development.  Assembly Bill 32 requires significant reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020.  The Parkmerced project is expected to last 20-30 years from the beginning of development, a process which has been delayed by additional litigation.  Adding to greenhouse gas concerns are pollution from dust, especially lead paint from decades of maintenance on Parkmerced.  Despite this inconsistency, Judge Jackson claimed, “There is no requirement for the Project description to identify a specific date for completion of the Project.”

800 Brotherhood Way Now, another project is being planned for a unit development next to the Parkmerced project.  This project, 800 Brotherhood Way, is being started without an EIR review.  Along with the San Francisco State University (CSU-SFSU) master plan, this other project negatively affects Parkmerced as a master-planned community.   800 Brotherhood Way will add 182 housing units to an already densely crowded area, and inject many tons of CO2 and dust into the air west of 19th Avenue.  Accordingly, the approval of these two projects should be undertaken together.  Since the Parkmerced and 800 Brotherhood Way developments are intended for market-value housing, forcing most of the apartment bidders to pay full-price for rentals and possibly future condominiums, how would it be possible to find tenants willing to tolerate 20-30 years of unhealthy fumes and noise in a seemingly perpetual construction zone?  Needless to say, some City officials question the feasibility of these projects.

The project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) described 19th Avenue, a traffic artery adjacent to Parkmercd, as already impacted by traffic.  Despite this description, Judge Jackson approved the Parkmerced project based on its commuter-friendly status that waits 20 years for the “M” street car to extend to Daly City BART.  Improvements like these need to be provided before development, not 20 years later.  Safe to say, waiting this long for necessary improvements means they may never happen.  Besides, common sense challenges a project that claims to be commuter-friendly when it increases tenants by 17,000 and adds 6,000 additional parking stalls.  Judge Jackson could have overturned this project on this recognized problem alone.

There are 11 existing towers, 13 stories high, only two miles from the San Andreas Fault line.  Residents claim that these towers were seriously damaged from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and were repaired only superficially.  Judge Jackson excludes retrofitting these buildings as part of the new improvements to Parkmerced.  Stuart Flashman, the lawyer representing the preservation of Parkmerced, described a future scenario whereby these towers could be destroyed in another catastrophic earthquake in the near future.  This anticipated earthquake could add to the scope of the development of this project not anticipated in the EIR.  This scenario was also ignored by Judge Jackson.

A recent EIR on the topic of housing notes a culture of demolition and maximizing of profits for the few in San Francisco. This culture has ignored the real needs met by Met-Life in the development of Parkmerced, in conjunction with the City, during the World War II housing crisis. These three recent decisions by Judge Jackson have affirmed that appealing to CEQA, the public’s main venue for contesting and protecting existing communities, is becoming more difficult. As an appointee of former Mayor Willie Brown, Judge Jackson’s consistent favoring of City agencies and private developers hints at her past relationship with the famed business-friendly bureaucrat.  Therefore, questions arise regarding Jackson’s ability to give a fair trial, when developments are seemingly approved in a “rubber-stamp” fashion.  

Meanwhile, sweeping changes in CEQA are being proposed simultaneously by Supervisor Scott Wiener and Governor Jerry Brown that will further eliminate the public’s ability to appeal future EIR’s. What is lacking in this discussion is how the Parkmerced redevelopment project will be analyzed for alternatives that generate a sounder investment in land-use, transit planning, environmental protection and enhancement. How can we preserve open space that prevents the demolition and destruction of resources?  How can we build upon housing design when we destroy a shining example of the ‘Garden City’ movement, a project that was as much a social experiment as an example of a master class landscape architect’s abilities? The project’s original courtyards display a unique vision of landscape design that will be lost in demolition.  Indeed, older homes of the 1940’s and 50’s are often in better shape than contemporary public housing schemes built to far ‘superior’ specifications.  Besides, little proof has been offered by the Parkmerced developer regarding the alleged poor condition of the existing Parkmerced Garden apartments.  As Kathryn Moore, a planning commissioner, states, “The proposed development has no hindsight, insight or foresight.  It is not a project of the 21st century.  It is the agenda of a self-serving developer.”  Unfortunately, during the approval process, her position was in the minority.

A well-known award-winning affordable housing architect from the Netherlands, Mr. Oustermeijer, toured Parkmerced during Architecture in the City Week. Many of the architects, planners, and landscape enthusiasts were in awe of the design of Thomas Church, and in disbelief over plans to destroy a mature landscape and wonderful example of the ‘Modern’ housing design for families. They questioned why local government agencies had not purchased the property outright or protected it through preservation.  The judge’s recent decisions, and dimming opportunities to appeal the case, bring into focus what happens when the pleas of preservationists, sustainable communities, and landscape advocates are disregarded. 

The case against the City and County of San Francisco and the developer, Parkmerced Investors Properties LLC, filed by the environmental group San Francisco Tomorrow (SFT), and (PmAC) the Parkmerced Action Coalition, is at the next stage of appeal and may be the only representative case focused on the challenge of CEQA and the public’s right to fight for what they need most, “a place to call home.”  

Your donations to stop this development can be made at both organizations web sites www.sftomorrow.org  and  www.pmacsf.org

Glenn Rogers is a landscape architect, living in District 7. He was assisted by Aaron Goodman and Robert Rogers.

¹ www.parkmercedvision.com

² www.tclf.org

May 2013