Despite continued opposition from some business in the area, city officials and the community are developing three design proposals to turn half of a 220-car parking lot on 17th Street between Folsom and Shotwell into a park. Eventually, they envision affordable housing on the second half of the lot.
The last opportunity for the community to select their favorite elements of the three designs will be at drop-in sessions today at the Planning Department, Room 431 at 1650 Mission Street. So far, community input and city planners have come with with elements such as a rain water collecting system, plaza space for food vendors, community gardens, and a bicycle-powered carousel.
The 60,000 square-foot site, which has been a parking lot for decades, has been identified by the community and city as a priority project. However, Susan Exline, a member of the San Francisco Planning Department cautioned, “Nothing in this project is set in stone because there is no funding. We’re just in the idea-gathering phase.”
So far those ideas include three names and lots of ideas: Revolution Park with an outdoor amphitheater and great lawn, Mission Creek Commons, with communal gardens fanning out from a central rain catchment area, and the Eco- People Park with smaller community gardens, but other water elements including a dry creek bed.
The lot is owned by the Public Utilities Commission and leased by the University of California San Francisco.
Not everyone is happy about the planned park. “We don’t like it, and when I say that I’m speaking on behalf of roughly 20 businesses around here,” said Hans Art, owner of Hans Art Automotive, across the street from the lot, who spoke to a reporter before the second meeting on Saturday.
Art said he fears losing two key employees who commute and park in the lot. “If they can’t park here they would eventually quit; BART is too slow and they can’t afford to live in the city. We’re not opposed to parks, but they should keep some parking. My impression is they have absolutely no interest at all in this issue.”
The project is a collaborative effort involving the departments of Recreation and Park, Planning, and community organizations including PODER, which stands for People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights.
Right now the focus is on developing a park at the site but later, they will also be looking into adding roughly 70 units of affordable housing that would be funded by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, according to planners.
Melissa Dubon, who works for the Mission Neighborhood Health Center across the street from the site, said most of the employees there would miss the parking.
“I’ve been parking there since it’s been opened somewhere around 1976,” said Dr. Peter Nehrebecki of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
Karin Edwards from the planning division of the Recreation and Parks said the city’s transit-first policy meant, “We should be considering transit as a first option, especially long-term commuters.”
Oscar Grande, a community organizer for PODER said he understands losing parking spaces can be a deeper issue that can involve safety concerns for individuals getting off work after dark. “I’m hoping we can weigh some of those issues and figure out alternatives,” he said.
Grande said the seeds for the park were planted 10 years ago. “Now the issue is how we bring it to life.”
The project is requesting a $5 million grant from Proposition 84, the Resource and Water Bond passed by California voters in 2006 that set aside $400 million for local parks.
“The grant is a good opportunity,” said Grande. “It’s a great connection that what we do at the ballot box greatly affects our neighborhoods. Some of it trickles down into our community, and we’re excited about this.”
Grande said they are prepared with a backup plan in case the grant, which many programs in the state are competing for, falls through. The alternative funding method would be to wait for developer impact fees., which require for-profit developers to contribute to the funding of open space. Waiting for those fees to accumulate, however, could take years.
The design process for the park began in December of last year. On Saturday, Jan. 23 roughly 80 community members, including 25 percent Spanish-speakers, gathered at Marshall Elementary School to design their visions for the park. They worked in small groups and presented their designs at the end of the meeting.
“There was no antagonism at all,” said Gillas Combet, a participant at the meeting. “I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a positive meeting.”
“I thought it was very positive and there was a good turnout,” said Claudia Flores, a member of the Planning Department who was at the meeting. “Parks are one thing that draws people together. There were a lot of similarities in concepts that would make it easier to come up with a design.”
Flores said, however, that she would like to see more representation of the immigrant, non-English-speaking community involved. Grande said they would go to churches, schools, and door-to door to reach a more diverse group.
The ideas from the designs created at the meeting on Jan. 23 were condensed by landscape architects from the Department of Public Works to three designs reviewed by community members on Saturday. Neighbors came by and put stickers next to their favorite elements.
John Dennis, one of the landscape architects, said all the suggestions would be used to develop a final conceptual design.
The Recreation and Park Department will submit a grant proposal on March 1 and will be presenting the conceptual design to the Recreation and Park Commission in April.
According to Edwards, if the grant comes through in October then development of the park could begin in Spring 2011.
Other organizations involved in the planning are the Central American Resource Center, Dolores Street Community Services, Causa Justa, formerly St. Peter’s Housing Committee, and the Mission Economic Development Association.
The designs can be viewed online at: http://17thfolsompark.sfplanning.org