Citizen planning - Page 2

Western SoMa task force gathers community input as it seeks to become a grassroots success story

Pretty soon the rest of the 150 residents who had gathered in the multipurpose room of Bessie Carmichael School on Seventh Street to share their thoughts on Western SoMa were talking about what they liked and what could improve. Even the hecklers quieted down and seemed to meld into the discussion.

As Planning Commissioner Christina Olague put it at the meeting, "This is possibly one of the most exciting things going on in planning. No one understands the heart and soul of a neighborhood like the people who live there. We hope this is a model other neighborhoods will adopt, because a neighborhood plan without the involvement of neighbors who live and breath a community is chaos — just a bunch of buildings zoned in a language no one can read or feel."

But while residents were happy to create lists of neighborhood needs — more parks, bike lanes, affordable housing, child care facilities, and trees; wider sidewalks; and fewer homeless people — they were less keen on the idea of increasing building heights. One proposed means of financing improvements would be to increase allowable heights from 40 to 65 feet in some places.

Some locals complained about partygoers who urinate in the streets and play music loudly in cars instead of going home when the clubs close. But a youthful resident politely pointed out that "it may not be possible to stop young people from being young."

In the face of requests from senior citizens for more dinner theater and fewer nightclubs in SoMa, task force member and nightclub owner Terrance Allen observed that it's probably only possible to "nudge existing conditions."

Recalling the battle that broke out between residents and partygoers after city planners decided to put affordable housing next to the wildly popular nightclub 1015 Folsom, Allen said, "You don't want to start a war by putting subsidized housing next to the city's biggest nightclub." Or as Meko put it, "We don't want to set up conflicts by putting family housing across from the Stud."

By evening's end, the consensus was that the meeting was a success. "We have much more in common than we have apart. That's the whole key," said Marc Salomon, who sits on the task force's transportation committee. As Meko told the Guardian the next day, "Wasn't it a fantastic experience? It was the closest thing to a cocktail party without a bartender."

Meko said the task force is eager to complete its work and is shooting for having a draft plan ready by the next town hall meeting, on Oct. 24.

"But we need to do more community outreach," he added, noting that there weren't many Filipinos at the first meeting even though they have a large presence in Western SoMa. "We're looking at what SoMa could be like in 20 years. The other Eastern Neighborhoods are watching, and they are envious." *