Taquitos and Trains at BART Plaza Meeting

BART principal planner Rube Warren demonstrates the planned changes for the southwest 24th Street Mission plaza on a miniature mockup.

By the end of the meeting, this concept poster was covered with suggestions.

Celebrate the quirkiness of neighborhoods. Better quality paving on the southwest plaza. The existing public toilet needs to be fixed.

By the end of a meeting held earlier this month on the redesign of the southwest plaza at the 24th Street Mission BART station, a sea of marker-inked suggestions like these covered the poster of a concept sketch provided by BART’s planning department.

BART and city planning officials, merchants, neighbors, police officers and a Spanish translator were among the 40 diverse attendees who met inside the Rinconcito Nicaraguense restaurant on October 19 to discuss the plaza’s $2 million facelift.

A new bus bulb, sidewalks and public art are all included in the plan, set for completion in late 2013.

Planners have already decided to open up the plaza and eliminate current barriers such as planter boxes and railings that obstruct the amount of open space for vendors and passengers. Those items make up 35 percent of the design, which leaves things like the incorporation of lighting, garbage and further details of the public art component to decide.

At the October meeting, planners updated the community on the current state of the project and recorded everyone’s suggestions for consideration. Neighbors could also sign up to join the advisory committee. An advisory committee member may be called for half-hour meetings on certain design challenges, such as whether to surround the entrance area with trees or podiums. By the end of the meeting, five people had filled out the form.

The 24th Street Mission BART plaza is used by passengers and local merchants and vendors. The latter groups set up tents for outdoor market events like the weekly Artisan Market.

As they crunched into taquitos and listened to the proposals, no one in attendance seemed to object to a redesign.

“The plaza has to be elegant,” said Mariana Chuquin from Equador Arts and Crafts. She wants the new plaza to be attractive for the tourists and UC Berkeley students who visit the neighborhood.

Although the redesign is only 35 percent complete, the new plaza is the culmination of more than 10 years of effort, announced Rube Warren, BART’s principal planner.

Earlier plans priced out at double the $2 million project, so those have been scaled back, Warren said.

Since BART’s last meeting with the community in 2006, the agency’s planning department created a more modest proposal. According to Warren, the federal construction budget runs about $2 million.

Warren wants to clear the plaza for more usable space. For example, he would like to see space for vendors and food trucks in nearby Osage Alley. The plan calls for a 120-foot-long bus bulb on Mission Street, and potentially a special paving treatment on Osage that would expand the plaza space.

Bus bulbs are a circular extension of the sidewalk that allow for more accessibility for buses.

Illaria Salvadori, an urban designer for the city of San Francisco’s Planning Department, stressed the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s involvement in creating this plan.

In the plaza’s outer area, the planners want to install eight circular podiums about 10 to 15 feet in height, or possibly trees surrounding the BART entrance, and to remove the railing on the parapet of the seating area around the entrance. The meeting agenda described the railing as prison-like.

Artwork is to play a big role in the new plaza, and at least three local artists were present at the meeting. The federal budget for art in the plaza is about $100,000, but several requirements must be fulfilled before the Federal Transportation Administration opens its wallet.

These include local community outreach and the establishment of a five-member selection panel to oversee all public art submissions, according to Regina Almaguer from the Orinda-based Public Art Consulting Services. Almaguer is coordinating the selection and installation of artwork.

It’s a competitive process. Interested artists will apply online and provide references, a resume and examples of previous artwork. The panel will review the applications and recommend finalists to BART. Finalists will then issue a specific proposal for art, which will be judged by the panel.

BART will announce the contact site for artist applications at a later time, Almaguer said.

“It’s a big challenge to come up with art,” Warren said, noting that any public artwork in the plaza needs to be durable enough to withstand crowded public events.

Chuquin wanted to know whether the plan calls for additional benches.

“If you put down a bench, people will drink and smoke,” she said, adding that they see this on the current plaza benches every Saturday at the Artisan Market.

No bench proposed, Warren said.

With the help of the translator, another woman asked in Spanish where she was supposed to put her tent at the Artisan Market during the construction period. Chuquin had the same question.

Warren and Salvadori proposed they set up on the northeast plaza, on the other side of the 24th and Mission intersection. BART currently lacks the funds to remodel both sides.

One neighbor encouraged Warren, Salvadori and Almaguer to be bold with the public art.

“A lot of times with these public art processes, there’s a tendency to sort of water down the art, make it feel really safe,” he said. “But this is a really quirky neighborhood, it’s got a lot of color and personality.”

“Maybe you should sign up to be on the committee!” Warren said. Laughter from the audience. Salvadori wrote “CELEBRATE QUIRKINESS OF NEIGHBORHOODS” on the poster.

A fauxhawked man in his 20s was curious about what the planning department learned from the remodeling of the 16th Street Mission plaza.

Two things didn’t work, Warren said. One was the garbage cans: In spite of extensive precautions taken against vandalism, a midnight vandal figured out how to pare the swinging doors off the cans, and sold the parts as scrap metal. The doors have not been replaced.

“That kind of breaks my heart,” he said.

Warren also lamented that the construction process was far more lengthy and expensive than BART originally planned, and with inadequate paving material.

A man in a blue dress shirt proposed that the planning department come up with better fencing and renovate the landscape around the hole leading down to the trains.

“It’s just needs to not be ugly,” he said.

Chuquin wanted to know where BART and the city planned to relocate the public toilet.

Warren told her that no change was proposed for the current toilet. It’s located on city property, not BART property.

But Chuquin wasn’t finished. She suspected the current toilet was leaking, and the water was coming from the nearby tree.

“Every Saturday I’m right there, and the water is leaking a lot,” she said. “And it kind of smells.”

Warren hesitated. “I hate to sound like a bureaucrat, but we need to figure out if it’s the city property or the BART property.” Nonetheless, he assured Chuquin the leak would be fixed.

Salvadori quickly made a note about the location of the toilet on the poster.

“I feel like I should apologize for how complicated it is to do anything,” Warren told the audience. “It’s a miracle anything gets done around here!” The audience laughed.

After the meeting, Chuquin spoke with Molly Burke, a BART community government and community relations representative. Burke said she would call the Department of Public Works about possibly having someone inspect the base of the tree.

Warren promised another meeting once the project design is 65 percent complete. The planning department aims to reach that milestone by next February.

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  1. SimonSaya

    As long as te art isn’t yet another ode to Latino farm workers, I’m all in. That’s way too tired.

  2. If I can get this project built, I can retire.

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