Balboa Reservoir Plan Moves to the Next Stage

Back in January, the Public Land for Housing Commission held a community reservoir sitemeeting at Lick-Wilmerding High School to discuss the planned changes to be made at the site of the Balboa Reservoir on Phelan Avenue. What has been a cement eyesore and over-large parking lot for many years is now facing development, like almost everywhere else in the city, although the PLHC is making sure to get community approval and suggestions from meetings like this one in January, and again at the May 5th meeting.

…everyone had something to say and it seemed like no one was saying the same thing. The commonality among the community members seemed to be a strong sense of NIMBY…”

The initial meeting in January could be described as something close to what one might see in a sitcom or small-town drama: everyone had something to say and it seemed like no one was saying the same thing. The commonality among the community members seemed to be a strong sense of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard).

Despite the dissenting opinions of the neighborhood constituents, project manager Jeremy Shaw has moved forward toward a strategy over the past four months to arrive at the plan to be presented next month.

Shaw seems to have taken a more singular view of the myriad opinions spouted in January and is moving forward with plans to include moderate and low income housing, as well as open space and maintained public parks with walking paths.

The next steps for Shaw and company will be to create a Request for Proposal to send to potential designers and developers, and it is this objective that will hopefully be ironed out and prepared at May’s meeting. Although “developer” seems to have become a bad word in the Bay Area in recent gentrify-heavy years, Shaw and the entire Public Land for Housing Commission hope that with the community involvement, the final state of the land will be something to be enjoyed by everyone, both those new to the city and lifetime residents.

At May’s meeting, which will take place on the City College campus in the Multi-Use Building, Shaw will present his plan, blueprints and tentative proposals for a multi-income housing development next to large open spaces and walking paths. What Shaw wants to hear from the neighborhood constituents is how they would most like to use this free space, what they want it to look like, certain activities they have in mind, and other questions of a similar ilk.

What the PLFH Commission would like to achieve is maximum use from a space that has so long been forgotten by the neighborhood and left nearly for dead. In a city where every inch of space in our 7-by-7 mile landscape is precious, it’s time to get to work.

The key element of this project and the accompanying meetings are to create a safe space at the meetings, within San Francisco, and at the future reservoir site. The Public Land for Housing Commission wants to create a place that does not bulldoze over the opinions of the people who have kept this city alive over the past 40 some-odd years.

Hopefully, what May’s meeting will accomplish will be to find those who are ready to accept change (yes, its hard) and are ready to say not what they don’t want in their backyard, but indeed what they do want there.

Maya Lekach is a local reporter.

May 2015

Public Land for Housing: Balboa Reservoir?

meeting regarding the Balboa Reservoir
Photo by: Otto Pippenger

When Mayor Ed Lee surveyed San Francisco looking for unused land that could be repurposed, the site of the Balboa Reservoir on Ocean Avenue was one of the first to be considered.

The newly created Public Land for Housing commission held their first community meeting on the subject of this site on January 21st at Lick Wilmerding High School.

While low income housing is often subsidized by the government and market rate housing is subsidized by hearty paychecks (or trust funds), it is moderate income housing that takes a back seat. If the city carries on at this rate, it will quickly become a polarized environment: the ultra rich and the ultra poor. ”

The meeting and the impending development was advertised as the possibility of 6,000 new homes in San Francisco. While this might have held exciting promise in the Financial or SOMA districts of San Francisco, where many new residents work and play, the reaction was a resounding difference when the local community came out to speak their part at the meeting.

The discussion was an exercise in creating a town hall vibe in the big city. The attendees were mostly homeowners from the surrounding neighborhood, namely Ingleside, Sunnyside, Balboa Park and Crocker Amazon. Many came with their neighbors, some speaking for those who held less of a grasp on the English language.

Before the real hubbub began, project manager Jeremy Shaw politely outlined the plan - both for the meetings and the development. He stated the planned goals of addressing public needs that the commission feels could be solved through the development of this large patch of land that has often been deemed an eyesore. possible sites for increased housing in SF

Although the need for housing and public land is real, understanding the feelings of the nearby community is crucial to taking correct action with this plot of land now that it is in the city’s hands. The meeting was thus intended as a way for the community to understand the facts but also for concerned parties to help guide the process of development from the plethora of current options into an actual proposal and plan.

To outsiders, of either the city or neighborhood, the proposed goal of increased moderate income housing seems like a great idea for a city that seems to be bursting at the seams.

While low income housing is often subsidized by the government and market rate housing is subsidized by hearty paychecks (or trust funds), it is moderate income housing that takes a back seat. If the city carries on at this rate, it will quickly become a polarized environment: the ultra rich and the ultra poor.

Local residents were strongly wary of any sort of development that might impinge upon local character and, most of all, local traffic patterns. Whether those present at the meeting were suffering from a severe case of NIMBY (not in my backyard) or if their concerns were valid arguments amidst San Francisco’s rapidly changing urban landscape is up for debate.

Balboa Park Station Area Plan is part of a larger SF Planning project.

As participants broke off into smaller groups from the nearly 200 who attended, personal issues were discussed and priorities were ranked, allowing the maximum amount of voices to be heard by commission proctors.

Many in these smaller groups voiced concerns over the already intense parking situation in the neighborhood. The influx of cars daily for use of the City College campus as well as the new Ocean Avenue Whole Foods is already overburdening the neighborhood for parking. The belief was that a loss of this massive parking lot, eyesore or not, could only harm this problem.

Janet Lehr, a City College ceramics teacher and longtime neighborhood resident, had much to say on the subject of the college itself.

“We need to recognize the importance of City College to our community. [Roughly] 1/7 San Franciscans have taken classes at City College.” Lehr said. And, it is true, that many of these student commute by car.

Traffic problems may not seem a good enough reason to maintain a large parking lot, although it may provide an impetus for bookmarking some of the space for a multi-level parking lot. site of the Balboa Reservoir today

Many attendees argued that nothing could truly change unless the transit system was improved, allowing for less car traffic and a decreased need for housing in some of the hottest spots in the city, including this one.

What the traffic debate brings to light is the chicken-and-egg situation prevalent in such parking versus transit issues. The transit cannot grow without demand as students and other city residents continue to use their cars as they wait impatiently for busses that never arrive and trains that do not extend to their corners of even this small city.

To many, increasing public housing seems a band-aid on a citywide problem of poor transportation, causing congestion at certain hot spots. The meeting heard many a cry of “first the Mission, now here!” These BART-adjacent neighborhoods have gone from quiet residences and ethnic communities to areas highly sought after by a the new influx of local elite who would not fit into the description of moderate income.

Discussions of housing and parking made earlier ideals of creating an open space and public activity space seem like more of a utopia amidst more pressing city needs. Although arguments for a development that focused on sustainability, even going so far as to request an actual reservoir be created on the land for which it was originally intended, were hard to ignore.

Despite smiling in the face of criticism, the planning commision faced a variety of voices - many of them strong - in regards to what their priorities should be for the space.

suggestions from the public
Photo: Heidi Alletzhauser

Choosing between prioritizing local residents’ traffic and parking concerns, the need for City College expansion and maintenance, urban beautification, and the pressing need for more housing can’t possibly be an easy task for those in charge of the commission. Faced with the option of sectioning off the land into small parcels for each initiative or prioritizing some over others will be certain to anger members of the community.

It is these difficult decisions, however, that need to be made in order for progress to be made. Much ink has been spilled over those who want the city to remain the same amidst the sea of changes, but what is most important now is how the city will respond to new needs and create new solutions.

This meeting was the first of a series, with the next arriving in Spring 2015. As San Francisco takes it’s next steps, this is perfect opportunity to have your voice heard and shape the future of our city. It is these decisions that will affect the city for years to come.

Maya Lekach is a local journalist

February 2015


Rain Please—A.J. at Farmers Market
But Some Other Day?

Farmer’s, who have been praying for rain for months, would nevertheless have preferred it on some other day—any other day than market day. Although it’s February, it surely feels as though it is November at Stonestown Farmers’ Market on what has to have been one of the few rainy days of the past couple of months.

Although you’re surrounded by cars at the nearby mall, there’s also the banjo-pickin’ country singer, the smell of freshly-cooking Indian truck food, and the sight of a veritable tent city in the form of booths from various farms and ranches coming from as far as three or four hours away. 

Step into the streets of what seems to be an almost mini village, and you’ll be greeted by a collection of colors and shapes, vegetables and fruits - not to mention friendly faces. This is the moment where you’ll start to realize that you’re really grateful that you live in California. While other regions of the country and the world are suffering from snowed-in fields, it would seem as though our only loss of produce is that the strawberries will soon start getting too wet. While we’ll miss these sweet treats, there is a whole other cornucopia to enjoy.

This cooler weather, she tell us, is better for leafy greens, like chard, kale, and all variety of lettuces. Instead of tomatoes and cucumbers, you should be focusing on some green salads and orange squash dishes. ”

It is indeed lucky for us Californians that we have locations like Fresno, where the weather is currently about 80 degrees. This is what Janet Vue, of Vue Farms, calls the cooler season. This cooler weather, she tell us, is better for leafy greens, like chard, kale, and all variety of lettuces. Instead of tomatoes and cucumbers, you should be focusing on some green salads and orange squash dishes. 

Another exciting winter option is the sugarcane, which was purveyed by a number of booths. The sugarcane is a crop that is grown over the course of a year. Winter is when it is most frequently harvested and it’s found all around the market. While the cane looks like a large bamboo, and could look a little intimidating to some, it is often consumed as a snack. This could prove to be pretty fun, biting off a chunk of the thick stalk and spitting out the bits of pulp that come along with it. You could also juice the cane for drinking or use in a variety of recipes. 

It also becomes clear that citrus season is among us. Rows of oranges of all varieties and sizes, as well as beautiful big Oro Grapefruits, are tempting to both the eye and the taste buds. The samples surely don’t hurt either.Oranges at Farmers Market

Also, you cannot fail to notice the recognizable root vegetables so often associated with this season. Gourds and pumpkins abound, not to mention almonds roasted and toasted and the beloved chestnuts. It’s not too late to get some of those roasting on an open fire! Beets, squash and broccoli were also popular among the booths. There was even a sighting (and tasting) of yogurt cheese.

It wasn’t all sunshine and peaches though, as some of the farms, depending on their location, were forced to declare that this would be their last weekend of the season. Many farms from Suisun Valley and Lincoln, CA were beginning to experience weather patterns not conducive to their harvest, causing them to take their booths into hibernation.

Speaking with any of the vendors at the market, you will be surprised to find that this farmers’ market thing is totally a full time job. Traveling here from as far as the Feather River Valley and Fresno, these farmers also make trips around the Bay to places like San Rafael, Petaluma, and other popular San Francisco farmers’ markets, like the one on Clement St. 

shoppingThe market, however, is more than just a shopping trip, its much more like the perfect Sunday event. Why not take your family outside for a walk among the flowers (literally)? The sights and smells alone will get rid of your Seasonal Affective Disorder. Additionally, the market is a breeze to get to. Not only is there more than ample parking - it is located outside of a huge mall after all - but there are also Muni trains, and multiple bus lines serving the area. Located on relatively flat land, it is also conducive to riding your bike.

The farmers’ market continues year round as a place to gather with family and friends, get in touch with your grander neighborhood, and take pride in many of the natural wonders that California has to offer. And probably sampling yogurt cheese too. Enjoy the winter months!

Maya Lekach is a local free-lance journalist in San Francisco

February 2014