Impact of planned housing apprised

The Balboa Reservoir housing proposal would eliminate 1,007 parking spaces currently used by City College of San Francisco students. (Photo by William Wendelman/ Golden Gate Xpress)

Housing developers plan to transform one of San Francisco’s last stretches of undeveloped land into a residential neighborhood, but doing so would compromise the surrounding air quality, bicycle safety, flow of traffic and noise levels.

The San Francisco Planning Department published these findings in an Aug. 7 analysis of the environmental impacts that would come with building housing atop the western segment of the 28-acre Balboa Reservoir. The deadline to publicly comment on the findings is Sept. 23.

Located across from the City College of San Francisco Ocean Campus, the Balboa Reservoir comprises an eastern and a western basin that together provide CCSF’s student body with approximately 2,000 parking spaces.

The Planning Department’s analysis, called a Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR), studies two proposals for building housing on the western basin. Each would build residential units, a child care facility, a public community room, retail space and a 2-acre park.

Developer Avalon Bay and nonprofit BRIDGE Housing are proposing the first option: build 1,100 residential units, up to 550 residential parking spaces and a 750-space public garage. The second option, proposed by city planners, would build 1,550 residential units, 650 residential parking spaces and no public parking.

The DSEIR concludes that both proposals would produce unpreventable negative impacts for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Construction would generate toxic air contaminants, particularly to vulnerable populations like young children, according to the DSEIR. Construction could also create noise levels that violate the standards of San Francisco’s noise ordinance, the report states. 

Upon project completion, nearby public transit would face significant delays. Travel times could more than double for nearby Muni buses like the K/T, 29, 43 and 49 during peak hours, according to the DSEIR. Congestion along Lee Avenue could also create potentially hazardous conditions for bikers.

Yet, despite its warnings, the DSEIR dismisses the most contested factor of the project: parking.

The proposed elimination of 1,007 student parking spaces has been the most controversial aspect of the project since its 2009 inception. Longtime CCSF advocates have warned at dozens of community meetings that removing parking would bruise CCSF enrollment, which numbers at tens of thousands of students every semester.

“It’s like the city of Hercules comes to campus every day,” said CCSF Music Department Chair Madeline Mueller, a longtime opponent of the project.

Yet the DSEIR states that while parking fills up 78% to 90% of Ocean Campus’ parking in the first week of instruction, the figure plummets to 50% to 60% afterward. It concludes that “secondary impacts related to the loss of City College parking would be less than significant, and no mitigation measures are necessary.” 

But that hasn’t convinced Mueller and other local CCSF advocates that the parking should be replaced.

My house is empty most of the day,” Mueller said. “Does that mean it should be taken over?”

Community members against the project have publicly commented that developers should offer 100% affordable housing, given that the western basin is owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The project, which would transfer public land into private hands, states that it offers 50% affordable housing. But developers are subsidizing only 33%, leaving San Francisco to shoulder the last 17%.

All the while, that affordable housing is reserved for those who earn 55% to 120% of the Area Median Income, or $47,400 to $103,450.

It doesn’t allow for affordable housing for very low income people,” said Jean Barish, a former CCSF biology teacher. “It doesn’t meet the needs that the city [has] for low-income housing, which is one of our most desperate needs.”

Nonetheless, housing advocates, such as Corey Smith of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, said that building homes is critical in solving San Francisco’s housing crisis.

“I feel like [the project] is trying to balance a lot of different concerns and different constituencies while also coming to the very real reality of people needing places to live,” Smith said.

Mueller said that the proposal could potentially offer housing for faculty, staff and students “that would be truly affordable.”

“The students should be very worried, and we are trying to get the word out to them to show up at Planning Commission meetings, in particular the one scheduled for Sept. 12, and express their concern,” Mueller said.

The Sept. 12 Planning Commission hearing on the DSEIR will take place at 1 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall. The public comment period for the DSEIR will end on Sept. 23.  

The Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee will meet on Sept. 30 to discuss the project at the City College Multi-Use Building, Room 140, at 6 p.m.