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A small group of neighbors and planners set their critical eyes towards Mission Street Wednesday in the Planning Department’s first public open house to seek input for its Mission Public Life Plan, a project that would redesign aspects of one of the city’s most important corridors. Once dubbed the “Miracle Mile,” those gathered expressed the general sense that Mission Street, with its blighted properties and slow transit, could use the help—figuring out what that help will look like kept the evening lively.

Change is already underway for one of the city’s most famous shopping areas as huge projects such as the redevelopment of the New Mission Theater break ground. But in its early stages, the city’s Mission Public Life Plan has yet to include any more definitive future designs but has focused so far on studying the nature of the corridor and its users.

“There’s a lot of change in the neighborhood and anxiety about that change, but by working collectively on the next steps, maybe we can make Mission Street work for more people,” said the project’s plan manager Ilaria Salvadori.

The project aims to improve the experience for businesses and pedestrians along Mission Street, but at this point its immediate goals are aimed at better understanding the needs of both. The project has so far conducted a comprehensive land use study, a public survey about how the street gets used, and has conducted interviews with relevant stakeholders. Wednesday night’s event, held at City College’s Mission Campus, let the broader community share ideas and concerns.

“I hope that this is just the beginning of a conversation with you,” Salvadori said to the gathered small crowd of about 20. “The dimensions of the street is not just physical, but human.”

Towards this end of understanding the human dimension of Mission Street, the open house included a giant map of the project’s target area, Mission Street from Randall in Bernal to the place near market where Mission meets South Van Ness.

Following the short presentation, participants were encouraged to annotate the map with ideas as well as green and red stickers to mark their favorite and least favorite parts of Mission Street.

Judy Berkowitz, a leading member of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, leaned over the map and wrote that she wanted all parking spots preserved and bike lanes left out to ease bus and car flow.

Gregory Dicum, an organizer for the Central Mission Neighborhood Organization, perused Berkowitz’s list and said to her with a smile: “Wow, these are contrary to everything I wrote!”

Central goals of the Mission Street Life Project are to heighten pedestrian safety, revitalize public spaces, improve transit on the corridor, design spaces for public art installations and support local business. The project’s organizers plan to have preliminary designs in April.

Over the course of an hour the giant map quickly filled up with red and green stickers indicating places on the street that work and those that need improvement. Handwritten notes pointed to places frequented by the homeless, intersections where bikes frequently had accidents, empty lots and more.

Of those who contributed to the exercise, the sentiment for the project’s intent seemed mostly enthusiastic.

“I think it will be positive for the street,” said Alejandro Angeles, a member of 24th Street BART Plaza’s weekend artisan market. “I don’t really know the details yet, this is just the first meeting, but I’m excited about this, I think.”

In one corner of the room, two small business owners discussed Mission Street’s famous history as a retail corridor and the detrimental impact BART had when it first arrived on the corridor in 1970s. Karen Heisler, owner of Mission Pie, speaking with Robert Patterson, of Ken Ken Ramen and the clothing store Voyager, said she hopes that whatever comes of this project it will respect the diverse character of Mission Street.

“I think I feel somewhere between interested and facing in optimistic direction,” said Heisler about the project. “There’s always a risk with this type of thing….Mission Street’s vitality, partly because when you walk a block it’s completely different types of business on each new block.”

Patterson agreed. “Hopefully we can keep the mix of businesses but step it up with street improvements,” he said.

“Okay, I guess I’ve said all I want to say,” said Judy Berkowitz as she finished adding her contribution to the large map, but expressed skepticism about the project as whole once she stepped away. “This is going to be like every other project, they’re going to do what they want to do,” she said.

According to Salvadori, despite lower turnout than expected, the community feedback from the open house was useful for the plan’s design and direction.

“I was a little bit worried about the low number of people here, but the conversations we had were deeper than a bigger meeting,” Salvadori said, and expressed hope that more people get involved in sharing their input. “It’s a long corridor, there’s going to be lots more focus groups and discussions, and then we’ll come back with more of the data.”

In the next few months, the Mission Public Life Plan will continue to hold focus groups and will host another open house in the spring when it hopes to have some preliminary concept plans. By September, Salvadori explains the project will complete some pilot project or installation along Mission Street. The plan’s final implementation should be complete by 2015.

The plan represents an inter-agency effort that has the Planning Department in close contact with SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) to improve the travel time of Muni’s 14 line and the Office of Economic and Workplace Development’s Invest in Neighborhood project focusing on the neighborhood South of Cesar Chavez.

Gregory Dicum says he was glad to be able to contribute in some way to the planning process.

“So many people use it for so many things,” Dicum said. “Mission Street needs attention.”