UC Extension project a bad deal

Exactly 13 out of the 85 units of LGBT housing would be available to anyone who isn't wealthy
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EDITORIAL Something has to be done with the old University of California Extension site, a 5.8-acre parcel of largely unused land at Laguna and Market. The historic buildings are locked and sitting empty; there's no public access to the site at all. That's a huge amount of land to be essentially going to waste in a crowded neighborhood that lacks parks and open space.

But there are competing issues here: the university, which doesn't want the land anymore, wants to get every penny it can out of the property. And that's led the university to enter into a long-term agreement with A.S. Evans, a big private developer, to turn the site into a mixed-use project with nearly half a million square feet of mostly market-rate housing, some retail, some community-use and open space, and a lot of parking. Among the plums Evans is holding out: the project is slated to include 85 units of senior housing targeted to the LGBT community. The Planning Department points out in an environmental impact report that the public will be able to access a modest park in the project center, where Waller Street, which now dead-ends at the site, will be opened up.

But this land is and has been zoned for public use and used by public institutions for a century or more. It represents almost 20 percent of all the public space in the Octavia-Market neighborhood. And if it's going to be turned over to a private developer, the public needs to get a lot more out of the deal than this project offers.

For starters, like so much else that city planners are pushing these days, this is going to be housing for rich people — mostly single or childless rich people. Of the 365 units that aren't included in the LGBT housing, 304 would be studio and one-bedroom units. And the 15 percent set aside as affordable housing still means only 54 units would be sold or rented below market rate. Only a tiny handful of the new units would be any help at all to the endangered population of working-class families — the ones who are fleeing the city in droves, the ones whom the Mayor's Office claims to be concerned about.

At the 15 percent affordability level, exactly 13 out of the 85 units of LGBT housing would be available to anyone who isn't wealthy. So 13 very lucky queer seniors or couples, out of the entire needy population in San Francisco, would win a lottery and get a decent place to live at a price they can pay.

And for that, San Francisco would give up 5.8 acres of public space and allow the demolition of some historic structures. It doesn't seem like such a great deal.

Yes, there will be a community center and some other amenities, but overall this a private developer's plan to make a lot of money selling expensive condos — which are the last thing San Francisco needs right now.

Rejecting this particular deal doesn't mean the city is giving up on a better use for the site. If the school is told clearly that the only way San Francisco will rezone this land for private use is if the new project meets (or at least makes a real effort to meet) the goals in the city's General Plan, which require that two-thirds of all new housing be affordable, the university will have to reconsider its financial demands on the project. And if it doesn't, that's something San Francisco's state legislators should take up with the chancellor and the regents. *