Right now there’s no money, but when development begins again there will be over $100 million, spread out over 20 years, to be spent on the Mission District. But on what?
When the Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee (ENCAC) gets together to discuss this matter, it usually does so in room 431 of the Planning Department, every third Monday, at 6:30 p.m. Although these meetings are public, not many members of the actual public show up.
So committee members decided that the best way to get the people of the Mission to talk to them about their urban planning priorities (open space? transportation? street beautification? child care?) was to have a meeting in the Mission, at a time when almost everyone would be able to come: Saturday morning. They would provide muffins. “Paid for not using city funds,” said Kate Sofis, a meeting attendee who is both a committee member and the executive director of SFMade.
As it turned out, the number of Mission residents not already employed by the Planning Department (or City Hall) who will get out of bed on a Saturday and go to a meeting about urban planning can be counted on one hand.
“In most neighborhoods, there’s one or two community organization that you can connect with,” said Steve Wertheim from the Planning Department, launching into a familiar refrain. “Say it’s Potrero Hill — you go to the Potrero Boosters, and you’ll get most of the people on Potrero Hill who care about the neighborhood. In the Mission, there isn’t one organization, there’s 50. And there are so many different Missions within the Mission. There’s hipster Mission. Latino Mission. Working Mission.” He sighed. “It’s really hard to get working people to come to meetings.”
Maria de la Mora is from the working Mission. She came to the meeting to see if anything can be done about getting the 48-Quintara to return to its pre-budget-cut hours. She works in one of the few factories left in the city, in Dogpatch, and she has to get up hours earlier to do the commute.
“We hear from a bunch of people who used to ride that bus,” said Sofis.
“Lots of people would take that bus,” said de la Mora. “Nurses going to SF General would take it. So would patients who needed to get there early. In the morning, that bus used to be full.”
“Maybe we could put in another light rail line?” said a man in the audience.
“The J-Church costs $9 a fare to run,” said a woman who seemed remarkably well-informed for an average Mission resident. She is, in fact, Gillian Gillett, another committee member, and also Scott Wiener’s chief of staff. “And,” she said, “it only takes 17,000 people a day. And it doesn’t go faster than a bus.”
She’s been working on a plan to patch holes in Muni service by studying the patterns of shuttles run by corporations like CPMC, Yahoo and Genentech, where the vehicles are smaller and more targeted. It’s complicated, she said, by the fact that Muni is understaffed because of budget cuts right now, but under the terms of its contracts, only members of Local 250 A could drive a shuttle vehicle.
“We have something called Eastern Neighborhoods TRIPS,” said Wertheim, adding that that’s not going to do much good right away. “The city is starved for public transit, and a lot of that has to do with where our national priorities are.”
“But if you’re a junkie, you can move to this city and have a comfortable life,” said a woman in the audience, bitterly.
“Well, in a lot of ways,” said Wertheim, “the middle class hasn’t been served in this city, or this country, for a long time.”
“”I will never ride a bus in the city,” said the man in the audience. “I did it twice. It was horrible. I’m never doing it again. I have enough adventure in my life.
“So the problem is,” he continued, “the part of the Mission that I live in is very industrial. There’s no easy way for me to get anywhere farther than eight blocks around me [other] than using my car. And I’m scared to bike in this city. No matter how many bike lanes you put in, I’m not biking. So are there other options?”
“We’ve been discussing teleporting,” said Wertheim, “but we’re having trouble securing the funding.”
“Infrastructure is an issue,” added Gillett.
“Do you have any specific streets that you would like to see changed?” asked Wertheim. “A street where the sidewalks are too narrow? Where there could be a crosswalk? Is there a particular street that you love, that you would like to see replicated?
“That stub of Treat between 16th and 17th,” said the woman in the audience. “It’s a wasted street. And as far as parks — the Eastern Neighborhoods project was about rezoning of industrial areas. I would like to see the bulk of the money for street improvements go to industrial areas. With 17th Street, we could connect the Mission to the waterfront. It wouldn’t be hard to do.”
“Another thing I’m hearing a lot from the southwest neighborhoods [is] that the Caltrain location is stupid,” said Gillett. “The one at 22nd is almost inaccessible. What many people do is drive their cars down Cesar Chavez and park in the neighborhood, and then get out and get on the train. Which kind of defeats the purpose. If there were a Caltrain stop at 16th, that would align with the priority of making 16th Street a pedestrian corridor.”
“I have a giant lightbulb over my head right now,” said Wertheim. “That’s a great idea. The MTA is proposing three corridors to improve for cyclists and pedestrians — 16th, Folsom, and 7th and 8th streets.”
“I spend a lot of time at 16th and Valencia,” said another woman in the audience. “Now that the street improvements have gone in, rents have gone up. How do you balance improvements with protecting businesses that are already there?”
“We don’t have commercial rent control,” said Wertheim. “It’s illegal in this state. But we are looking at how to stabilize small and individually owned businesses. Improvements should be for everybody.”
The purpose of the Citizens Advisory Committees is to cajole the other agencies that actually build things into implementing the plans that the Planning Department has so laboriously constructed, said Wertheim. “The Eastern Neighborhood Plan took us 10 years to make. And usually the response to it is, “That’s nice.”
Conversation moved from struggles to successes — the parking lot at 17th and Shotwell, which will become the Mission’s newest park. “SOMA, the Tenderloin and Chinatown are all in more need of parks than the Mission,” said Wertheim. “But it was an opportunity that doesn’t come too often. To find new places for parks in this town is hard. Buying land is hard. A guy called into the office yesterday, asking what he could develop on his property. It’s an oddly shaped lot, and right now he’s using it as storage for equipment from failed restaurants. But it’s in a good location for a park. I said, ‘You can sell it to the city.’ I would be remiss as a planner not to ask him to consider it.
“There will be a public housing project on that land. It will have kids, and they will feed the park. When park opportunities come up to you, you take them. You’re looking out for the city 100 years from now.”