Parkmerced redesign wins narrow Planning Commission approval
That creates the potential for more than 6,000 new cars on the road in that area, and the 19th Avenue corridor is already notorious for traffic snarls. According to calculations by the Environmental Protection Agency, the typical American motorist generates more than five metric tons of carbon dioxide by driving in a given year.
REPLACING WHAT'S THERE
Before the Planning Commission meeting, residents from the Parkmerced Action Coalition — a relatively new residents' group formed to oppose the redevelopment and a wholly different entity from the Parkmerced Residents' Organization — made a public show of their dissatisfaction outside City Hall. Holding signs with slogans such as "Don't Bulldoze Our Homes," residents sang protest songs and chanted, "We are Parkmerced!"
With the dramatic makeover, Parkmerced would expand to around 8,900 units, tripling the number of residents who could be accommodated. Existing 1940's-era garden apartments would be razed to make way for higher, denser housing. The plan comes at a time when neighboring San Francisco State University is undergoing its own phase of expansion.
"This project in its current state is a vision that is not in harmony with the people, place, or the environment," charged Cathy Lentz, an organizer with the Parkmerced Action Coalition, in a vociferous plea to the commissioners. "It is a narrow vision, a corporate vision ... a true vision would be inclusive of present dwellings, inclusive of animals, trees, and present environment."
One resident lamented the pending loss of his garden courtyard, noting how much his children had enjoyed the green space growing up and listing the different kinds of birds that would surely be driven away by heavy-duty construction and tree removal. For many, the point was not so much what developers intended to build, but what would be lost to make way for it. One speaker dismissed the plan as "architectural clear-cutting."
Commissioner Moore, an architect, sounded a similar note when she rejected the notion that the Parkmerced redevelopment should be hailed as infill, a desirable development concept that curbs sprawl by utilizing space efficiently. "Urban infill housing is defined as infill on vacant sites," Moore said, "not sites that have become vacant by demolition." She added that she believed the environmental impact review "fails to sufficiently examine why housing demolition is even necessary."
In Moore's view, "the only reasonable alternative is a significantly redesigned ... project."
Unlike a luxury condominium development, the Parkmerced plan emphasizes built-in economic diversity — yet critics point out that as it stands, the housing complex is already inclusive of many lower-income, working-class residents.
The plan will incorporate several hundred below-market rate units, in accordance with the city's inclusionary zoning ordinance. Commissioner Antonini also emphasized the boost to city coffers from tax revenue associated with the project.
Meanwhile, questions are still arising on the issue of rent control. "We do not believe it is appropriate for the City and County of San Francisco to be displacing rent-controlled residents," noted Michael Yarne, a mayoral development advisor. A binding agreement between Parkmerced Investors LLC and the city of San Francisco, which will be linked to the land, promises that new units will be made available to rent-controlled tenants at the same monthly rate they now pay, with rent control intact (See "Weighing a Landlord's Promise," Dec. 21, 2010).
Yet Polly Marshall, a commissioner on the San Francisco Rent Board, noted that she still didn't believe tenant protections were adequate. She also spoke to the pitfalls of tearing down and redoing an entire neighborhood.