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Development Continues to Outstrip Infrastructure

May 21, 2015

By Ben Taylor : Potrero View – excerpt

Since passage of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan in 2008, which seven years later is ushering in upwards of 9,000 new housing units to the Potrero Hill area, concern has been mounting over the lack of infrastructure improvements being made to accommodate the 20,000 to 30,000 new residents that the Plan will ultimately bring.  

While the Plan called for “a full array of public benefits to ensure the development of complete neighborhoods, including open space, improved public transit, transportation, streetscape improvements, community facilities, and affordable housing,” so far the area has seen none of these promised benefits, even as many developments are either on the market already, or nearing completion.

“The bargain that has been made for the past two decades has not been upheld, which is that if we take on this development, if they put all this housing where industrial stuff was before, we will actually get the parks, the schools, the stuff, that you need to make a neighborhood liveable,” Potrero Boosters planning and development chairman Tony Kelly said.  “Not to say that Potrero Hill’s not liveable, but is it going to be liveable when you triple the population, in the same space?  Because if you add up all these plans, that’s what we’re talking about. ”

Kelly claimed that while the plan was designed to handle 7,500 to 8,000 new units over a period of fifteen to twenty years, the San Francisco Planning Commission has already approved enough projects to reach that level, with no sign of stopping.   While less than a half-dozen developments have been completed since 2008, the Planning Department’s third quarter 2014 Pipeline Report shows that there are 4,701 units in the pipeline, well more than initially anticipated.

“It’s an open question what happens when the last unit covered by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan gets built,” Potrero Boosters president J.R. Eppler said. “Does that mean that all of a sudden every other building permit gets denied, and the planning process stumbles to a halt?  We don’t have a post eastern neighborhoods plan solution, and we’re going to need one sooner rather than later.”

The Potrero Boosters is among a number of local advocacy groups, including Save the Hill, Grow Potrero Responsibly, and Friends of Jackson Park, who are working to get the eastern neighborhoods’ infrastructure needs met.  So far, though, they’ve seen little progress, either by City Hall or District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen… (more)

“I know that she has been studying the issue, and she has held at least one hearing on it. However we have not seen any concrete plans come out of her office yet dealing with these concerns,” Eppler said.  “One of the problems that I think the Planning Department and some of our other elected officials have is that they look at each area plan in a vacuum. We can’t look to the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan as a separate, standalone document and hope to find all the answers, because it’s narrow in focus, and stuck at the time in which it was written, which was seven years ago now,” Eppler said.

Kelly posits that part of the problem lies in accountability.  The amount of infrastructure required by a single development is relatively clear, and the developer is responsible for paying for it. But because the plan covers such a large area, more than 20 percent of the City, according to Kelly, these infrastructure requirements aren’t the responsibility of any one developer…

“We have 20,000 new people coming in the next 15 years, and how many new transit lines do we have?  Zero,” Kelly said.  “One of the big projects we have at the Boosters is trying to have a neighborhood serving shuttle that goes around a loop.  We’re trying to get that funded right now.”

“Let’s say you’re moving into a new development, and there’s not adequate transit for you to be able to get where you need to go, what are you going to do?  You’re almost certainly going to move in with a car,” Eppler said.  “If you get that transportation in place before people move in, then some of those people won’t need cars, and on the margin that’s enough to make our street grid and our parking situation move and work so much better.”

Kelly believes there’s a solution:  reallocation of the more than half-billion dollars in property tax revenues he claims the new development could generate. “How about you guys still get a $250 million windfall for the City’s general fund, but the other $250 million goes over here for the desperately needed infrastructure that we need to make sure that we actually survive all of this development.  That’s, I think, our way out,” he said.  

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