After years of community meetings to get McCoppin Hub Plaza just right, plans have been set in motion to fence in the year-old space whenever it has no planned event.
Though it will likely take six months or more to put up the fences – the designs have not yet been finalized – Supervisor Jane Kim said at a community meeting Tuesday night that her office had heard loud and clear from neighbors. While the city works to address its homelessness problem, she said, fencing the plaza makes sense to keep homeless people from loitering and littering there and vandals from causing damage.
“It’s a new space and we’ve heard with much detail about some of the hiccups,” Kim said. “For the past two months, our office has been moving forward under the assumption that fencing [would be installed].”
Prospective plans include an eight-foot fence and a variety of gate configurations, with either swinging gates and a roll-up barrier, for the two wide slanted driveways.
The gates would be kept open during events like movie nights, farmers markets, or craft sales. An assigned neighborhood steward or an engineer from the city’s Real Estate Division would open and close the gates either at all other times, or at predetermined hours.
Several neighbors had long wanted a fence, and were growing impatient with the fact that none had yet been erected.
“I think it’s great that you’re trying to activate it, but just put up the fence,” said Stephen Henry, who lives on Elgin Park.
“It’s one thing to have the space,” said another neighbor, “but I think it’s just a draw. It’s attracting people who bring blight to the neighborhood.”
But opinions at the meeting were divided on the issue.
“I walk past McCoppin Hub every day and I have never once felt unsafe” said Jessi Reid. “These are humans. Where are they supposed to go? This is a utility for the public. They are part of the public.”
Her comment was met with a round of applause.
Vanessa Gregson, a neighbor who also works for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research association (SPUR), worried that fencing the plaza where homeless people gather would simply push their encampments out in front of the fence, onto the sidewalk.
Additionally, “if you make a public space less accessible, people will be less interested in using it,” Gregson said.
Henry, a neighbor who was eager for a fence, said he had been under the impression one had been included in the approved proposals for a plaza at McCoppin Hub.
Lynn Valente, executive director of People In Plazas, an organization dedicated to hosting events in McCoppin Hub and other public spaces, had a different recollection of how things had worked out. She said the original plan for the plaza had been to build a community garden, which would have been fenced, but that more recent plans for a concrete plaza as an open space for events had dropped the fence idea.
Valente said she hasn’t seen many neighbors out at the events on McCoppin Hub Plaza and overall they have not been as well attended as expected.
One neighbor attributed low attendance to a lack of information.
“We’ve been on Twitter, on NextDoor, on Facebook,” Valente said. “I think we’ve done our due diligence.”
Still, after a quick poll from a city employee, only about a third of those living in the neighborhood knew about events at McCoppin Hub.
Part of the vision for the plaza as a public space was to have food trucks from Off The Grid set up shop there like they used to on some weekends. The trucks were so highly anticipated that Robin Havens, from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said the design of the park was amended to better accommodate them.
But the food trucks aren’t showing up. Ken Rich, also from Haven’s office, said repeated requests for Off the Grid to send some trucks to McCoppin have been unsuccessful because the trucks can simply make more money at other locations.
Carlos Muela, the owner of SoMa StrEat Food Park, said he had hesitated to send trucks to McCoppin under the impression that it was Off the Grid turf.
“If you or someone else can get in there, you have our ears” Rich told Muela. “Call us tomorrow morning. Please, do that.”
Unless new programming steps in, there’s a good chance McCoppin Hub will stand empty, and therefore fenced, most of the day. Events in public spaces tend to dwindle in the winter months, said Havens.
But the future of the plaza isn’t set in stone. If a community group comes forward to take on management, the space could be turned into a community garden with the addition of some more raised planters and some volunteer caretakers, city staff said.
To really make the plaza viable as a public space, it should be surrounded by more residences, and used by neighbors like any other park, said neighbor Robin Levitt. But that would require the removal of the neighboring Uhaul rental and freeway overpass, he said.
“I’m ambivalent. I understand the desire for a fence, but it’s a shame that there would have to be a fence,” Levitt said. “For the short term, that’s the only thing that can be done right now.”
Kim said the city and neighbors would discuss further at which hours to fence the park. Most likely it will be fenced at all times except for planned events, but there is the possibility of experimenting with closure times, keeping the gates open during the day, for example, and shutting them at night.