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- February 23, 2012By Sarah Karlinsky, Tomiquia Moss and Leah Toeniskoetter
Redevelopment agencies across the state closed their doors on February 1, marking the end of an era for planning in California. SPUR has written previously about what the end of redevelopment means for the state. But how are the Bay Area’s central cities — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — dismantling their agencies? What’s going to happen to the on-going projects and existing assets held by redevelopment agencies? Is this the last word — or will we witness the creation of other planning tools to do some of the work that was previously done by redevelopment agencies?
San Francisco is, in many ways, the city least likely to be impacted by the end of redevelopment — and the one in the best position to develop tools and strategies to replace it. As both a city and a county, San Francisco will not need to send its redevelopment funding to a separate county government, where it would become one of many jurisdictions fighting for remaining funds. In contrast, Oakland is one of 14 cities in Alameda County (not including unincorporated Alameda County) and San Jose is one of 15 cities in Santa Clara County (not including unincorporated Santa Clara County). Despite this, San Francisco will not emerge unscathed.
San Francisco has developed three main priorities to guide its actions in the face of redevelopment’s dissolution: first, that the three large redevelopment projects (Mission Bay, Hunter’s Point and Transbay) that qualify as enforceable obligations under Assembly Bill 26 (the state law that dissolved redevelopment) continue uninterrupted; second, that the community development functions of redevelopment — including affordable housing production, workforce development programs, and neighborhood strengthening and investment initiatives — be protected; and third, that that programs that receive state or federal matching funds continue to move forward so that matching funding is not lost.
In late January, the city adopted a resolution that laid out the plan for meeting these priorities. The resolution took four steps:
- It identified the city as the “successor agency” to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, meaning that the city itself will control the former assets of the redevelopment agency.
- It transferred the redevelopment agency’s affordable housing funds to the Mayor’s Office of Housing and transferred all other assets to the City Administrator’s Office.
- It required payment and performance on “enforceable obligations,” or approved redevelopment projects that will be allowed to go forward. These include Mission Bay, Hunters Point Shipyard, portions of Bayview Hunters Point and Transbay.
- It created a new oversight board to oversee the management of these enforceable obligations.
In addition, the city also rescinded the Treasure Island Development Authority as a redevelopment agency. The city has opted to convert the Treasure Island project into an Infrastructure Financing District (IFD) as opposed to a Redevelopment Area. The IFD will create a source of tax increment financing to support bonds necessary to pay for some of the infrastructure costs. By doing this, the city clarified that Treasure Island is not subject to any of the post-redevelopment constraints imposed by A.B. 26.
The upshot for San Francisco is that some of its affordable housing funding and existing major redevelopment projects are well positioned to be protected. However, some of the other work of redevelopment not considered enforceable obligations — such as economic development and project development in areas such as Visitation Valley — will require more creative approaches to move forward.
Additionally, the future of the redevelopment agency’s roughly 100 employees remains unclear.
In Oakland, the loss of redevelopment will be devastating to the capacity of the city to develop underutilized properties. Projects like the Broadway Auto Row project and the funds to build a new stadium for the A’s could be substantially reduced or eliminated. In addition, Oakland will not be able to rely on tax increment financing to fund affordable housing; roughly 25 percent of redevelopment funding in Oakland were used to fund affordable housing.
The loss of redevelopment has also taken its toll on other aspects of Oakland’s government: Redevelopment funds are deeply intertwined into more than 160 city positions in 11 departments. Rather than deliver pink slips to those employees whose jobs were funded by redevelopment, city leaders instead proposed overhauling all city operations to more efficiently provide services while retaining some redevelopment staff to help wind down current projects. On January 31, the Oakland City Council approved an amended budget accounting for the $28 million gap from redevelopment funding. The city will eliminate 105 positions, resulting in 80 layoffs. Consolidations include combining the Office of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Human Services. Oakland will also move key administrative functions for several departments into a single Administrative Services Department, according to the city administrator. The Community and Economic Development Agency, which housed most of the city’s redevelopment activities, will be dissolved into four new offices: Planning and Neighborhood Preservation, Housing and Community Development, Economic and Workforce Development, and Neighborhood Investment. The City of Oakland has also identified itself as the successor agency and will prioritize projects like the Oakland Army Base that have enforceable obligations to move forward. The City administrator's office will manage the remaining assets from the elimination of redevelopment.
Established in 1956, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency (SJRA) invested billions of dollars in four program goals:
- Creating jobs and expanding business through investments in projects such as Cisco’s campus in North San Jose and Adobe’s headquarters in the downtown,
- Building public facilities such as the Repertory Theater and the 4th Street Parking Garage,
- Developing and preserving affordable and market rate housing and
- Strengthening neighborhoods through the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative and Neighborhood Business Districts.
The agency used the tax increment from its roughly 19,000 acres of designated redevelopment areas to borrow against and reinvest in other areas. In doing so in an arguably overly robust way, they became the state’s second largest redevelopment agency as measured by tax revenue, and the City of San Jose’s “go to” for funding and approval of almost all major projects in the last several decades.
The SJRA began planning for its own shuttering a few years ago when the state began withdrawing funds from all redevelopment agencies. With the realization that it was overleveraged and would be unable to continue even if the option to “pay to play” was made available, the agency began reducing its workforce from 119 employees in 2009 to 10 employees today — just enough to manage its obligations on $3.8 billion of remaining debt. The San Jose City Council took its final action to end the agency in late January by:
- Creating an official successor agency to manage the majority of the remaining debt,
- Naming the city manager as the executive officer of the successor agency and
- Creating the Successor Agency Fund, which allows the city to take over the debts of the affordable housing assets and activities that had been funded by the SJRA.
Because of the SJRA’s debt obligations, it will be decades before any tax increment is available to Santa Clara County or the state.
The end of redevelopment in San Jose will have far-reaching and likely yet unknown impacts, and there are many questions still to be answered. What happens to the Strong Neighborhood designations and areas of investment? How will the San Jose Department of Housing replace the 20 percent of its budget that came from SJRA affordable housing funds? How will the City of San Jose continue to provide the necessary infrastructure in downtown and offer incentives for future development?
It remains unclear how cities in California will fare in the wake of redevelopment’s disappearance. Some of the tools that might replace redevelopment, such as Infrastructure Financing Districts, are complicated to use and don’t fund all of the things redevelopment used to do. SPUR is committed to figuring out what should be next now that redevelopment is gone. We are going to need new tools if our cities are to thrive.
Join us February 29 for a SPUR forum: The Death of Redevelopment >>
- January 25, 2012By Sam LaTronica
How can a rich historical space welcome visitors and new community members while ensuring that it continues to work for current residents? This question is central to the future of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Stockton Street between Sacramento and Broadway boasts one of the busiest, most vibrant corridors in the city. The street is packed with a healthy mix of retail and housing and is well used by many generations of cyclists and pedestrians. But Stockton Street is quickly surpassing its maximum capacity. Buses are overcrowded, retail shop displays spill out onto the street, and truck drivers load and unload merchandise from the street at any time of day, sometimes even using their trucks as makeshift storefronts. Meanwhile, the booming area must decide how to accommodate additional growth and change in the coming years.
To address these concerns while maintaining affordable housing, transit equity, pedestrian safety and a sense of community, SPUR and the Chinatown Community Development Center are undertaking a re-envisioning process for Stockton Street. The process includes upcoming public workshops in both English and Cantonese. SPUR recently held a youth-led tour of Stockton Street.
Stockton Street’s fresh produce markets experience such fierce competition that they sometimes sell items at wholesale value. Each market is allotted two feet of sidewalk space, but they often use more. Most of the food comes from local sources.
The Ping Yuen Central building, at left, is one of four public housing buildings that comprise roughly 10 percent of Chinatown’s housing. In the past, tenants felt that the housing authority was not doing enough to protect the residents. They participated in a rent strike for improvements, winning new gates and other security measures. It is the only housing in Chinatown managed by the government (HUD).
In order to improve safety, Stockton Street instituted “scramble signals” which halt all car traffic and allow pedestrians to cross any direction, including diagonally.
Buses on Stockton Street are often crowded, which slows loading time and causes delays. The new Central Subway will augment public transit in the neighborhood and connect Chinatown to downtown and other parts of the city.
The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (headquartered in the buildling with the green tile awning) was formed in response to nineteenth century anti-Chinese sentiment. The association adjudicated neighborhood disputes and provided newly arrived immigrants with social services including job placement, housing, food and legal representation. Today the association holds an estimated 30 percent of the properties in Chinatown.
Learn more about the re-envisioning process or register for one of the public workshops:
- January 24, 2012by Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director
Redevelopment as we’ve known it really is dead in California. On December 20, the California Supreme Court upheld the legislature’s elimination of redevelopment agencies — and struck down the option for the agencies to pay back a portion of their funding to continue to exist.
This outcome represents the worst-case scenario for supporters of redevelopment. I for one was surprised, having spent all of 2011 working with various coalitions to reform, rather than eliminate, redevelopment. SPUR Board members like Elizabeth Seifel and Fred Blackwell worked tirelessly throughout the last year to avoid this outcome.
As of this writing, some people hope that the state legislature will come up with a new bill that brings redevelopment — or parts of it — back to life. The Supreme Court ruling is clearly more draconian in its result than what the legislature intended. However, new legislation seems unlikely as cities are all winding down their redevelopment agencies, and other government entities are getting ready to feast on the remains of redevelopment. Each redevelopment agency must prepare a list of its “enforceable obligations” — things that still need to be paid for by redevelopment funds before funds flow to other government entities. And each city needs to figure out how to do what has been traditionally been done with redevelopment funds.
What does this surprising turn of events mean for the urbanist agenda in California?
The mixed history of redevelopment
To begin with, we need to acknowledge that redevelopment probably did more harm than good over its long life. Starting in the 1920s, progressive planners in America dreamed of tearing down “slum housing” and replacing it with new, modern public housing. In 1937 the Wagner Housing Act launched both public housing and urban renewal in America, linking the two with the requirement that, for every unit of new public housing created, a unit of “substandard” housing would be removed.
California adopted enabling legislation for urban renewal in 1945. The sins of this phase of redevelopment have been widely documented. The planning establishment, including SPUR (then the San Francisco Planning and Housing Association, and later the Planning and Urban Renewal Association), supported urban renewal in a misguided attempt to stem population and job flight from the inner city. In 1947, SPUR published its report “Blight and Taxes,” urging San Francisco to get to work on its program to reinvest in depressed neighborhoods as a way to shore up the shrinking tax base of the city.
San Francisco’s most important African-American neighborhood, the Fillmore, was bulldozed, as were the South of Market area’s single-room occupancy hotels. The post-war “pro-growth machine” — a coalition of labor, business, developers and planners — worked together to build new neighborhoods according to the design fads of the day, with little regard for the people who lived there. The result was displacement on a massive scale and the creation of places that, today, no one loves.
I’m willing to argue that the damage done by this generation of modernist planners outweighs any positive redevelopment outcomes that came later. But the ironic truth is that, for the past 30 years, redevelopment has become one of the leading tools for social justice and equity in planning. It’s the single most important source of funding for affordable housing and a primary tool for economic development. Moreover, the sins of early redevelopment catalyzed a generation. Community-based movements managed to stop slum clearance, urban freeways and many other mistakes of modernist planning. By the late 1970s the values of the planning profession had undergone a profound shift to emphasize walkability, historic preservation, mixing of uses and the virtues of a traditional, fine-grained property-ownership fabric. The age of wholesale change was over. The age of careful interventions — or no interventions at all — had emerged.
Redevelopment in its early days channeled federal dollars to local projects. But by the 1970s, federal money was mostly gone, and what remained was the powerfully creative tool called tax-increment financing. When a redevelopment area is formed, the original assessed value of all properties within the project area is established. Improvements are planned, and a new assessment is made of the higher land value that the improvements are expected to generate. The difference between the property taxes on these two assessed values is the “increment” of tax increase, which is transferred to the redevelopment agency for up to 45 years after the plan is approved.
Redevelopment has been used for many different types of projects across the state of California, from clear winners like Mission Bay to clear losers like subsidizing golf courses. In cities like San Jose, redevelopment removed key parts of the downtown fabric and left parking lots. Once a new generation came into power, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency spent several decades trying to create a new downtown core that would become a pedestrian-oriented center for Silicon Valley. Now the city is making good progress on how it will continue to fund new projects. Defenders of redevelopment need to acknowledge that many investments by redevelopment agencies simply did not work — from either the perspective of stimulating economic growth or of making successful urban neighborhoods. On the other hand, critics have to admit that many other projects done by redevelopment agencies did work.
But one thing is clear: Redevelopment became the go-to tool for many mayors and city councils up and down the state, with more than 400 redevelopment agencies forming in California. Redevelopment project areas comprise fully 12 percent of the assessed value of the state. In many cases a lot of money was spent with little result. All of this helps explain why Governor Jerry Brown decided to go after the agencies despite his own successful use of the redevelopment tools when he was mayor of Oakland.
What is so difficult in trying to think about city-making in the post-redevelopment era is that redevelopment was used for so many different purposes. As we try to think through how we will solve urban problems using new tools, we will need to devise somewhat distinct solutions for each of the things that we formerly relied on redevelopment to do. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Over the past 20 years, redevelopment has provided the most consistent source of funding for affordable housing in San Francisco and the State of California. Last year, redevelopment provided more than $1 billion in annual funding statewide. State law requires redevelopment agencies to spend 20 percent of the tax increment they collect on affordable housing. In some project areas, San Francisco decided to spend 50 percent of net tax increment on affordable housing. For the affordable housing movement, the death of redevelopment is a catastrophe. But in theory the question of what to do in a post-redevelopment world is not complicated: We need to come up with other sources of funding for affordable housing.
As a combined city and county, San Francisco was able to keep 80 to 90 percent of the local property tax in redevelopment areas; now, without redevelopment San Francisco will be able to capture about 65 percent of the incremental property tax. The city can continue to spend money on affordable housing if it so chooses. But for other cities, the death of redevelopment means a far bigger cut. Most housing advocates are hoping for a new statewide source of funding to make up at least some of the reduction.
Infrastructure and public amenities
Tax-increment financing was used to build infrastructure: streets, roads, sewer lines and all the other basics. It was also used to build public amenities like parks, museums and streetscape improvements: Yerba Buena Gardens, the Tech Museum in San Jose, the new park along Mission Creek and countless other examples. This would then attract private investment to come into a blighted area. When property values would rise as a result of the infrastructure investment, the redevelopment agency would pay back the initial cost of the infrastructure with the tax increment it received.
It’s impossible to imagine private development creating a public amenity like Yerba Buena Gardens without the tool of redevelopment.
The governor, a year ago, said that the elimination of redevelopment would be accompanied by new tools that would make it easier to pay for infrastructure, such as lowering the threshold to issue bonds requiring voter approval to 55 percent. As of yet, we have seen no move in this direction. Moreover, voters do not typically agree to tax themselves to pay for boring, uncharismatic things like basic infrastructure.
It seems that, no matter how you look at it, the elimination of redevelopment is going to result in a reduced investment in infrastructure. Increased reliance on voter-approved bonds might be part of the solution. At a local level, cities can establish set-asides to pay for infrastructure or infrastructure maintenance, as SPUR has recommended.
Perhaps the most important answer will be increased use of Mello Roos Community Facility Districts (CFDs) and Infrastructure Finance Districts (IFDs). These are the two remaining primary tools that California law provides local governments to issue bonds to pay for up-front infrastructure.
There are some important differences: CFDs generate a revenue stream for bonds by adding a 20- to 40-year assessment on top of existing property taxes. Accordingly, they impose a new and direct financial burden on the property owner, so they have a tough political hurdle.
IFDs don’t increase property tax assessments, but instead divert a portion of the future new property tax generated above a base year (the so-called “increment”) for 30 years to provide a revenue stream for bonds, similar to classical redevelopment tax increment financing. Private property owners in theory should not object to the creation of an IFD if they understand that it won’t affect their bottom line — and, better yet, can help pay for public infrastructure investment in their neighborhood. However, IFD law typically limits the portion of increment available for bonding to between 10 to 20 cents per dollar, severely limiting its use beyond the City and County of San Francisco (where approximately 60 cents per dollar would be available).
Both CFDs and IFDs require a two-thirds approval of the voters and/or property owners that will be included in the district. (If 12 or more registered voters live within the boundaries of a proposed CFD or IFD, the law requires an election.) As a practical matter, this means that they only work for large single-ownership parcels (like former rail yards or military bases) with limited housing, and not for complex mixed-use urban neighborhoods with a multitude of property owners.
Redevelopment granted the democratic process enormous power over private property owners: Locally elected legislative bodies could vote to put properties into redevelopment areas without property-owner approval so long as the district as a whole met the legal definition of blight. Without redevelopment, there can only be infrastructure financing where the property owners consent by a two-thirds majority (or, again, by two-thirds of the registered voters if 12 or more registered voters reside in the district). Will this create an incentive for property owners to free load off of the investments made by other property owners or by the public? While locally elected legislative bodies may not always act wisely in how they apply their power over private landowners, nevertheless, the current shift of power away from the democratic process and toward private owners is striking.
Several modest reforms to IFD law could help a lot, most notably allowing local legislatures to form new IFDs without a vote of property owners and tolling the life of the district until debit is actually issued. Currently, it’s not even legal to create IFDs in places that were former redevelopment areas! Will this be changed? It’s too soon to tell.
Another area that defenders of redevelopment worry about is economic development. Given how shaky the discipline of local economic development is, I think this is an area where it is particularly difficult to evaluate the success of redevelopment.
The basic theory of local economic development is that localities need to produce traded goods and services in order to survive. What this means in practice is, generally, three approaches:
1. Reward businesses to come, stay or grow. There are many variants on this, some sophisticated, some not.
2. Enhance labor productivity through education or immigration.
3. Improve the physical or social environment in ways that are conducive to growth. This is where city boosters, chambers of commerce, advocates like SPUR and, yes, redevelopment agencies, have often focused their work.
Yes, it probably worked, and we have clear-cut successes like Mission Bay, but on the whole, it’s hard to tell if the net effect of redevelopment was an increase in jobs in California or just a shifting of jobs from one location to another.
In some cases, shifting the location of economic activity was, and is, precisely the goal. That’s why the original purpose of redevelopment was to remediate blighted areas. It may not increase total tax receipts to state government, but it very much does improve the well being of the state if we direct economic activity into depressed areas where it would otherwise not go.
Even without redevelopment, economic development will still be practiced by cities in California. We will use whatever tools we can, from business attraction and marketing (like SF Travel and the SF Center for Economic Development) to convening industry clusters (like SFMade or BayBio) to all the things we do to try to boost the skills and attractiveness of our workforce and our city.
Redevelopment provided some of the most powerful tools, especially where economic development and land-use change needed to go together. But the field of economic development has other tools as well.
The core of redevelopment
When redevelopment worked, it solved an enormous collective action problem: It got multiple property owners in a blighted area to simultaneously invest and benefit from each other’s investments. Rarely is one private sector actor big enough to assemble multiple parcels, and then finance and build major infrastructure and amenities that can also then re-capture its positive externalities. As redevelopment got more sophisticated, and combined these basic powers with affordable housing and other economic development strategies, it became a powerful tool.
It’s going to be harder to do now. The best redevelopment agencies became centers of entrepreneurial energy within local government: They had a culture of implementation and experimentation in contrast to the traditional planning culture of regulation. All of this could be lost now.
In some ways, what is most irreplaceable is the invaluable role that tax-increment finance plays in recapturing the real estate value generated by upfront public investments. I would argue that perhaps the core of modern redevelopment — as opposed to the bad old days of urban renewal — is the use of tax-increment financing: borrowing against future increases in land value to pay for things that will increase land value.
Taxing back some of the increase in land values to pay for neighborhood improvements meets all of the tests of being a good funding source: It is efficient, it does not discourage economic investment and it is fair.
In a state that has destroyed so much of its system of taxation, we have just witnessed the destruction of one more part. It was not working perfectly. It needed reform. It needed to be used less often. But all of those problems could have been solved.
It’s time to think big about what comes next. We need a new model of urban redevelopment for the 21st century. There will not be one answer, but there should be lots of good answers, matched to the right locations. We will be working hard at SPUR, with people from around the state, to come up with strategies for all of the things we used redevelopment for: affordable housing, infrastructure financing, economic development and everything else. We’re looking forward to figuring out the next chapter, hopefully informed by what worked, and what didn’t, during the previous one.
- November 16, 2011by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
In late October, SPUR shared with the public a set of draft recommendations for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a long-range vision for managing coastal erosion, infrastructure, access and ecology on San Francisco’s western coast. Though the beach faces many challenges, it is south of Sloat Boulevard that the issues come to head. This is where the ocean’s erosive scour is worst, and it’s also the home of the Lake Merced Tunnel and other expensive, recently built wastewater infrastructure. The beach here has been degraded by emergency armoring and exposed fill, limiting access and threatening both natural communities and a beloved local surf break. In short, it's a mess.
But from a planner's point of view, a confluence of challenges is an opportunity to solve for a number of different objectives at once. Of the six big ideas in the draft recommendations, here are two that propose the most significant — and exciting — changes to streets, public spaces and coastal management at the southern end of the beach:
KEY MOVE 1: Reroute the Great Highway behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline boulevards
Stop defending what we don't need
To date, the city has been defending the Great Highway South of Sloat Boulevard with boulder revetments. Many officials agree that the road is a proxy for a much greater concern: the Lake Merced Tunnel, a 14-foot underground sewer and stormwater pipe that runs underneath the highway. The road is lightly traveled and frequently closed (most notably the southbound lanes were closed for nearly a year in 2010). Rerouting traffic from the Great Highway to Sloat and Skyline (which have capacity to spare) would allow a more flexible approach to coastal protection and create major restoration and recreation opportunities.
Tame an unsafe and overwide street
Sloat Blvd is six lanes wide, with diagonal parking in the median. Zoo visitors often park there and jaywalk across the street with small children. Re-routing the Great Highway inland would allow significant improvements to Sloat Boulevard, like moving parking to the south side along the zoo and adding a first-class bike route. The L-Taraval Muni line could be extended one block to terminate adjacent to the zoo. Counterintuitively, auto access to the region could improve, as traffic controls are upgraded and this important link is no longer subject to closure by erosion or flood.
Create a new gateway to the zoo and the coast
Drivers, cyclists and Muni riders would all arrive at the south side of Sloat, where they could visit the zoo and access the coast without crossing any streets. A new access point near the pump station would provide bike parking, restrooms and information, while a restored Fleishhaker pool house could host a visitor center with food and interpretive elements. Sloat's neighborhood businesses could thrive on a safe, attractive seaside street.
Give us back our coast
Removing the Great Highway South of Sloat would offer an amazing recreational resource for cyclists, pedestrians and beach users while allowing for a healthier ecosystem. Today's landscape of asphalt, rubble and boulders would be gradually transformed into a coastal trail linking Fort Funston to the rest of Ocean Beach and beyond, reminiscent of recent improvements at Land's End and Crissy Field. Infrastructure would remain, but the structures used to protect it would be designed with access, aesthetics and natural resources (like the bank swallow) in mind.
KEY MOVE 2: Introduce a multi-purpose coastal protection/restoration/access system
Remove the road, and take advantage of the opportunity
Unlike the Great Highway south of Sloat, the Lake Merced Tunnel is a significant piece of infrastructure and worth protecting in the coming decades. West of the zoo, the road is perched atop an erodable berm of construction fill, well above the pipe. Letting that vertical space go would allow a much more flexible approach to coastal protection. The solution outlined in the draft is conceptual and will require considerable study to ensure its feasibility, but the underlying ideas represent a new and more nuanced approach to the problem of erosion at Ocean Beach.
Armor the Lake Merced Tunnel with a low-profile structure
The Lake Merced Tunnel sits much lower than the roadway. If it can be protected with a low wall, cap or internal reinforcement, it can become a sort of "speed bump" under the beach. This is a significant engineering challenge, as it needs to be protected from wave energy, flotation forces (it is mostly empty most of the time) and seismic forces.
Layer flexible, dynamic structures over hard structures
The structure protecting the Lake Merced Tunnel would be covered by a berm of cobble, stones that range from the size of marbles to that of softballs. These structures, modeled on natural cobble beaches, can be shaped dynamically by wave action and excel at dissipating waves energy. A second cobble berm farther inland, would protect existing force mains and high ground near the Fleishhaker Pool building. Large quantities of sand would then be placed over the cobble, providing a first line of protection and a sandy beach most of the time.
Restore the surface, give us back our coast
If infrastructure protection alone is the goal, then a traditional seawall or revetment would do. But this plan's goal is to serve multiple objectives simultaneously, and the recommended approach allows Ocean Beach to protect infrastructure while also improving recreational access, ecological function and character, in keeping with its status as a national park. Regular placement of sand and revegetation would offer an accessible beach environment, with a spectacular trail connecting Sloat Boulevard to Fort Funston. Cobble is passable and attractive even when sand has been washed away, as it might be in major storms. And the San Francisco Zoo could find a new expression of its conservation values through an improved relationship the watershed and the coastal ecosystem.
The Ocean Beach Master Plan will be finalized in early 2012. To view the complete draft recommendations, see the slideshow below:
- October 26, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Question: What’s the best way to revitalize Central Market?
Answer: There isn’t one way, but many — and they all need to be coordinated with one another.
While this sounds like an answer that Yoda might offer, we hope that the folks at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OWED) don’t have to rely on the Force alone to help finalize the Central Market Economic Strategy. The objectives of the strategy include creating an arts district, improving public safety, reducing vacancies, encouraging development and improving the public realm. All of these are good ideas — and all will need substantial political support in order to be realized.
The city is well positioned to build on its work in the Central Market District. The passage of the neighborhood’s payroll tax exemption is bringing in big employers like Twitter. Meanwhile several city departments (including Planning, the Department of Public Works and the Municipal Transportation Agency) are in the process of contemplating some major changes for Market Street itself as part of the Better Market Street Plan. All of these positive changes could help form the basis for real improvements in the district.
The Central Market Economic Strategy seeks to build on this work. In doing so, the city will need to find ways of dealing with challenges that have bedeviled planners for decades, such as high storefront-vacancy rates along Market Street. How can the city, given the current fiscal climate, attract and retain businesses in the area? Are there ways of incentivizing temporary uses to enliven the area? How can we get arts uses to thrive?
SPUR is in the process of developing its own position on the latest draft of the Central Market Economic Strategy. We urge you to do the same.
- September 14, 2011by Gretchen Hilyard
What are unaccepted streets and paper streets, and how can they help make San Francisco a greener place?
SPUR’s 2011 Piero N. Patri Fellow, Sarah Moos, spent this summer studying the city's unmaintained and underused rights-of-way. The resulting project, Unaccepted Streets: From Paper to Reality, proposes to transform some of the city's overlooked areas into a publicly accesible network that would link communities to open spaces such as the Blue Greenway, as well as to each other.
An “unaccepted street” is any public right-of-way not accepted by the city for maintenance. A “paper street” is an unimproved street that is demarcated on maps and legislated as a public right-of-way but that may not actually exist on the ground. Below are four examples: an uprow, or unimproved utility right-of-way; a pedestrian street, designated for pedestrian-only use; a private parking street, a street being used for parking and under private jurisdiction for maintenance; and Guerrero Park, a Pavement to Parks project.
With the aid of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Moos, a master's candidate in UC Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning program, surveyed 2,224 unaccepted streets and 323 paper streets in San Francisco. She filtered the data through spatial overlays to identify the areas within the city that provide the best opportunity for transforming these not-quite-real streets into useful public spaces.
After investigating the existing conditions of the streets in real life, Moos identified ten typologies of unaccepted streets. She then developed a toolkit of interventions such as stairs, benches and plantings that could be applied to transform these sites, improving their condition, accessibility and connection to a larger network of linked public rights-of-way.
Moos singled out nine areas of targeted study in San Francisco’s southeastern neighborhoods. She then met with neighborhood groups, city officials and others to determine which design interventions might work best for these sites.
Her research is the first step toward connecting these rights-of-way to improve neighborhood access to green space and connect southeastern San Francisco to a broader open-space network.
Stop by the Urban Center to pick up a hard copy of the final project map or download it below.
- September 1, 2011Gretchen Hilyard
San Francisco’s Market Street has a long and fascinating history: from its ambitious beginnings as an over-scaled boulevard, laid out by Jasper O’Farrell in 1847, to its heyday as the city’s vibrant theater district in the early twentieth century. Market Street rose to prominence after the 1906 Earthquake, survived a series of urban planning experiments in the mid-twentieth century, and absorbed the important yet disruptive insertion of BART beneath its surface in 1972. Today, Market Street displays the varied, accumulated layers of intervention. How can we remedy the vacant storefronts, improve pedestrain and traffic circulation, and reduce crime and other issues that prevent Market Street from being a true civic spine?
Several city agencies, including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, the Transportation Authority and the SFMTA, along with residents, merchants and community groups, are trying to answer these questions with the Better Market Street project. The project seeks to revitalize Market Street from Octavia Boulevard to the Embarcadero by reestablishing the street as a premier cultural, civic and economic center of San Francisco and the Bay Area. As the city undertakes this important project, we must ask: What imprint will we make on Market Street’s future?
Reclaim Market Street! – SPUR’s newest exhibition— seeks to inspire a new vision for Market Street, learning from the past and drawing upon examples of successful urban design and street design trials. The exhibition will draw from Market Street’s history, citing ephemeral events that have shaped the spirit of the street and created the rich heritage it will draw from in the future. Provocative national and international examples such as Paris’ Plages, Bogota’s Cyclovia, and New York’s Times Square pedestrian plaza will be illustrated with films, images, and descriptions connecting San Francisco to efforts around the world advocating for more livable streets.
The exhibition, on display at SPUR from September 6, 2011 until January 6, 2012, will be accompanied by a series of interactive events, which will encourage participation and discussion about Market Street’s future. These include the staging of three interventions for the street, plaza and sidewalk, as well as walking tours and film screenings.
Join us on Tuesday, September 6 at 6pm for the opening party at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery. The party will feature talks by the Studio for Urban Projects, SPUR and UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture Margaret Crawford and refreshments.
- July 18, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
The stretch of 4th Street between Market Street and the Caltrain station at 4th and King Street may not be one of San Francisco’s best-known neighborhoods (at least not yet), but it’s an important area for urbanists to be thinking about. Why? Because roughly $1.5 billion will be invested in transit infrastructure here, in the form of the Central Subway. This project will ultimately link the T-Third Street Muni line with Chinatown. Meanwhile, other significant plans in the area will extend Caltrain to downtown and further link the 4th and King Station to the Transbay Terminal using high-speed rail.
Some planner types (including us at SPUR) think that the intensity of development in a neighborhood should be proportional to the intensity of transit infrastructure. In other words, places that have good regional transit (like a BART station) should have more intense development than places that have good local service (like the bus stops along Geary Boulevard). And places that have little to no transit should be thinking about developing a good land-conservation strategy rather than planning for growth.
There’s also quite a lot of evidence to support the idea that regional transit should support job centers, while local transit should support housing. SPUR’s Future of Work report explored this concept in great detail. The upshot? The more jobs located next to good transit, the greater the reduction of vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.
The San Francisco Planning Department has launched a new planning effort focused on the 4th Street corridor. This Central Corridor Study seeks to coordinate transportation and land uses in the area between 3rd and 5th streets from Townsend to Market. This study will make recommendations for the types of uses to be included in the area (housing? jobs? other?), as well as the intensity of those uses (i.e., how big the buildings will be and how many homes or jobs they will hold).
SPUR believes strongly that plans for 4th Street should take into consideration the substantial transit improvements in this area, as well as the need to extend San Francisco’s walkable downtown core. Downtown SF far exceeds other parts of the region in its share of commuters arriving to work using sustainable transportation modes. That’s a trend worth building on.
SF Planning has just launched its Central Corridor Study and completed several days of storefront charrettes, where members of the public were able to walk in to a retail space in the plan area and share their thoughts with planners. What a great way to get input from the public! We look forward to providing our own input, and we encourage you to share your input, too, as the process unfolds.
Read SPUR’s Future of Downtown Report >>
- July 18, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
This year has been a wild one for redevelopment agencies in in California. In November 2010, the voters of California passed Proposition 22, which effectively prevented the state from raiding redevelopment agency funds. Then, just a few months into his tenure, Governor Jerry Brown vowed to abolish redevelopment agencies and got fairly close to doing so, despite the extraordinary efforts of organizations like the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), to save the parts of redevelopment that work best. SPUR also chimed in with an editorial by Gabriel Metcalf arguing that redevelopment should be retained and reformed to promote affordable housing and reinforce California’s smart-growth goals.
As part of the new state budget, redevelopment agencies have once again headed to the chopping block, only this time it’s for real. When he signed the budget in late June, the governor also passed two trailer bills regarding redevelopment, ABx1 26 and ABx1 27. The first one eliminates redevelopment agencies, and the second allows them to continue to exist if they pay certain “voluntary” contributions to schools and special districts. These contributions would require each redevelopment agency to pay its proportional share of $1.7 billion for fiscal year 2011-2012. For every year thereafter, agencies would need to pay their proportional share of $400 million, plus an additional amount tied to the issuance of new debt, in order to keep their doors open.
What is the impact to San Francisco? Fred Blackwell, the head of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, has explained that the SFRDA would continue to stay in business, but some of its projects would go forward on a slower timeline, and others may not happen at all. Mission Bay and the first phase of Hunter’s Shipyard will continue to move forward, but the timeline of other projects, such as Phase II of Hunter’s Shipyard and the Transbay Terminal, are more uncertain. Even more concerning is the potential hit to affordable housing funds for those areas.
Groups throughout the state are not taking the news sitting down. The California Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities are taking a lawsuit directly to the California Supreme Court, asserting that the new laws are unconstitutional.
Until the lawsuit is resolved, the future of redevelopment in California remains uncertain.
- July 7, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) has recently launched the Central Market Economic Strategy to bring new life to the Mid-Market area. One of the key thrusts of this effort is the creation of an arts district that builds on some of the existing cultural institutions, including the American Conservatory Theater, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, the SF Film Society and Intersection for the Arts. The Black Rock Foundation, the organizer of the annual Burning Man event, is also slated to move to the area. What if the proximity of all of these arts institutions, in either new or rehabilitated buildings, led to a complete reconceptualization of Mid-Market? Could it become a premier West Coast arts district, a place to come see a play, watch modern dance and walk a few feet to eat at a great restaurant? Such a district could be an incredible benefit to San Francisco as a whole, increasing sales tax revenue and creating new local jobs.
Representatives of OEWD are quick to point out that such a change does not happen over night — and it doesn’t happen without significant investment. There's also a lot of work to be done to attract small businesses, larger employers and housing for families with a mix of incomes. OEWD staffers are currently seeking public input on their draft objectives for the Central Market Economic Strategy (PDF download). Once you’ve had a cup of coffee and reviewed the document, email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, representatives of the SF Planning Department, the Municipal Transportation Agency and the Department of Public Works are in the process of developing a new vision for Market Street. The Better Market Street Plan will make Market Street a better place to walk, bike and take transit. The hope is that this work will make Market Street so much “sweeter for people” (to use the phrase of Danish urbanist Jan Gehl) that it will also become a much better place to stop, sit with friends and people watch.