Garage on the lower level of the Muni yard. Photo by Bhautik Joshi

After four public meetings on a development project that could add nearly 1,000 new residential units atop the Potrero Bus Yard, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will review the comments from the 100 or so people who attended the gatherings and try “to figure out consistency and trends, if they exist,” said Licina Iberri, one of the planning managers.

The project, now in the planning stages, seeks to not only upgrade the 100-year old bus and Muni transportation facility but to add as many as 900 new units – at least 25 percent affordable – as well as ground-floor retail space. The market rate housing would help finance the project.

Iberri’s caveat regarding “trends” may be prescient. The meetings revealed a wide range of concerns including the number of affordable and market-rate units to be built and the shadows that would fall over Franklin Square Park. Parking for all also became a point of contention. But it was hard to see any consensus forming. 

“It’s clear that the bus yard part of the project is required,” said Riley Avron, a member of YIMBY Action, who lives near City Hall. “The interesting part, and why we’re all here, is to figure out whether and what sort of housing might exist on top of it.”

Marlyn Duran, a community organizer with People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER) and a Mission native, wants the project to be 100-percent affordable. “Especially because it’s on city land,” she said in an interview after Thursday’s meeting. “And we know that, with private land, we’ll never get 100 percent.”

However, Ryan McPhee, who was also born in the Mission and has lived here most of his life, did not think 100-percent affordable was necessary. McPhee is a member of the Potrero Working Group, which is working to bring neighbors and authorities together to provide input and shape the public outreach of the project.

“We obviously have immediate needs, but it’s better to have 40 percent or 50 percent of market-rate units so that we can actually finance the project,” he said.

Licina Iberri, an SFMTA planning manager, speaks to workshop participants on Feb. 23, 2019.

At present, city rules on developments of this size would require at least 25 percent of the units to be affordable. Since this project is located on city land, a higher percentage may be required as a matter of political reality. 

Although most people who attended the meetings said they wanted to see the project go forward, there were also opponents.

Galvin Roberts, a 75-year-old man who has been living in the Mission since the ’60s, is skeptical of the SFMTA’s commitment. “You say you’ll do all these wonderful things, but I have real questions on whether or not you’ll be able to achieve it,” he said to Iberri.

Roberts showed Iberri an article from the Potrero View in which the community accused the agency of failing to keep its promises at Islais Creek, the transportation facility in Dogpatch undergoing renovations.

Iberri tried to keep it professional. “I’ve seen it,” she replied. “There are definitely different points of view on the topic, but we’re trying to design a place that’s an asset to the neighborhood.”

“I don’t think the project is feasible,” Roberts said later, adding that all of his artist friends have had to leave the neighborhood.

For McPhee, the Mission native, change is the only constant and we should embrace it. “The Mission has changed, it’s not going back to where it was,” he said.

Height was also an issue.

While more height could mean more affordable housing, it would also shadow Franklin Square, the community park adjacent to Potrero Yard.

That did not make some happy.

“The park has become neglected,” said Jeff Smith, a nearby neighbor. He thinks Franklin Square is important to preserve because it’s mostly used by locals, “unlike Mission Dolores, which attracts a lot of tourists.”

For Susan Sietat, a member of Plaza 16 Coalition, which is demanding 100-percent affordable housing from the 1979 Mission St. project, “shadowing a park is less important than housing.” In her opinion, people can avoid the hours when the park is shaded.

Matt Pipes, an artist whose studio is right across from Potrero Park, is concerned about the design of the building and security in the streets. “If there’s more people living in the area, the park will be more attractive,” he said.

People have also questioned SFMTA’s parking plans.

“If you change the amount of parking it will be impossible for businesses to get in and out,” said Nate Green, who owns a production business in the neighborhood.

“If this is constructed without parking, it’s going to radically change the livelihood of every small business in this neighborhood,” added Roberts, “Muni drivers cannot park onsite; they don’t have it in their contract. They park in our neighborhood.”

Others agreed with the measures, saying that in terms of global warming, the best option would be to get rid of cars.

And so the debate went on. The SFMTA will take this feedback as a starting point for a conversation about financial feasibility and design. According to Iberri, the agency will come back to the community after these conversations, “hopefully in a couple of months.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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