Green Party’s Seminar on the Mid-Market Redevelopment Area

by Ken Werner, Trinity Plaza Tenants Association (TPTA) on July 27, 2005

“Whose city is it, and what kind of city do we want to build?” David Wilbur of the San Francisco Green Party aptly summed up the proposed Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan in Monday night’s seminar at the First Baptist Church at 7 Octavia Street. The Green Party’s Housing and Land Use working group has organized the ongoing seminar series for the second Monday of every month; this most recent seminar was moderated by progressive Christina Olague of Mission Agenda and the San Francisco Planning Commission.

I had originally planned to attend the seminar as part of my ongoing learning process regarding redevelopment and land-use issues, but when I spoke with Casey Mills he asked me to cover the seminar because he had another engagement; of course, I welcomed the opportunity.

Panelists were the well-respected David Wilbur, who sat on the Mid-Market PAC for two years and voted against adoption of the plan because he considered elements of the plan defective in land use and transportation.

Kate White, Executive Director of the Housing Action Coalition, supports the Mid-Market Plan. In my July 19 article on the Rincon Hill development impact fees I declared that Ms. White had lied that no residents were to be displaced in that Plan Area, so I was interested to see if truth had helped her reassess her thinking about redevelopment.

Finally, Mayor Newsom has taken a critical step and become directly involved in the massive South of Market gentrification and sent Rich Hillis, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development, so my interest was further picqued to hear how Newsom intended to frame his involvement.

Being an optimist/idealist, I partially expected to hear a newly-arranged song from the proponents given that Randy Shaw, Casey Mills, and I have been presenting the proponents with a constant barrage of truth. We have been blasting the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) to remind readers that SFRA has a history of destruction and we don’t see any behavior change in the Agency.

Redevelopment proponents, on the other hand, have attempted to spin SFRA as a different agency than the one that committed massive gentrification in the Fillmore. Indeed, other respected progressives have pointed out that SFRA has performed a few good deeds in its lifetime, and no argument will be presented to disagree with the few positive accomplishments.

Ms. Olague directed her first question — why is this the best land use plan for the area — to the mayor’s representative, and Mr. Hillis’ response elicited and eye-roll from me. Hillis described SFRA as an affordable housing developer which, through tax increment financing, would raise $100-million for affordable housing over the life of the Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan, that is, 30 years.

Gee, the Mayor has parted the clouds and a heavenly light now shines on Market Street.

Pardon my sarcasm, but Mr. Hillis presented the same discordant harmony that we’ve been discussing for the past few months. The real-life amount here is $3.3-million per year for affordable housing, an amount that is woefully inadequate. In terms of the parking ratios set at 1:1 in the Plan Area, when queried Mr. Hillis responded with as much commitment we’ve come to expect from the administration: that the parking ratios could be looked at and maybe reduced.

Ms. White hummed the same tune as Mr. Hillis when she addressed the attendees who numbered more than 40. She declared that the plan does not call for displacement but rather focuses on empty lots and one-story buildings. Ms. White also claimed Marcia Rosen has built 15,000 new affordable housing units in the past 10 years. If Ms. White refers to St. Francis, Bayside Village, Rincon Towers, Webster Towers, South Beach Marina, and Fillmore Center, then it’s possible quite a few thousand affordable units indeed were created. But these complexes were created with a short lifetime, 15 years, as Casey Mills reported earlier this year, and low-income residents now face eviction or having to pay market rate rents.

The three panelists and a number of attendees made quite a few comments regarding Trinity Plaza with most of the comments complimenting the outstanding effort by members of TPTA and Sup. Chris Daly. In particular, Bobbi Lopez of the Central City SRO Collaborative gave a passionate discourse not only on the achievement of TPTA but on the history of SFRA as well and that the Agency still resembles the Destructor of the Fillmore that recently attempted to shove a Starbuck’s into Japantown against the wishes of the members of that community.

However, Ms. White thought we should have done more in the Trinity Plaza development in terms of affordable housing.

Pardon the short break while I have a hearty laugh.

I’m back.

Although Randy and I have discussed during the past few months the affordable housing that will be maintained and created with the rebuild of Trinity Plaza, it’s worth repeating that even though Trinity Plaza is excluded from the Mid-Market Redevelopment Area Plan, SFRA intends to include the affordable housing units we’ve created in its tally to achieve the 1,221 affordable housing units the Agency is supposed to “create.” I view this as a serious disregard for ethics and question the legality of SFRA’s action.

Aside from the refreshing and mainly positive discussion regarding the Trinity Plaza rebuild, David Wilbur offered his perception regarding the Mid-Market area as a whole. Mr. Wilbur offered that there’s no concern from the big for-profit developers/land speculators about what kind of city is being built, that these speculators care only about profits. “These are the bad actors of the city,” he declared. Mr. Wilbur pointed out that there’s no correlation between what we’re building and the current residents: “We need to be building housing that mirrors the demographics of the city,” he said. Mr. Wilbur favors following the type of housing being built like the Plaza Hotel rebuild; at about $220/square foot, it would create the affordable housing that’s desperately needed for very-low- and low-income residents of the South of Market community.

Noting that the wealthy for-profit developers will just push condos, Mr. Wilbur suggested a number of alternative progressive taxation methods to fund affordable housing including taxing a portion of the profits on commercial rents and the windfall profits on sales of durable goods. Mr. Wilbur used Nike as an example: if it costs Nike $2 outside the United States to make a pair of running shoes which it then sells for $150 in the states, we should be taxing a portion of the $148 profit. This is one of the most exciting proposals I’ve ever heard, and I heartily commend Mr. Wilbur for his positive, constructive thinking.

As the seminar approached the two-hour cutoff, one of the last speakers was Mid-Market proponent Carolyn Diamond of the Market Street Association. She claimed that the area was crime-ridden and depressed, that the original idea was to improve the area, and that the original plan didn’t have a housing plan but only sought improvements for the arts. She claimed “No one has put in more time than me.” At the moment she uttered that line, I flashed on last year’s presidential debates where George Bush repeated “It’s hard work” to my many groans. Ms. Diamond managed to elicit jeers and heckling.

Regarding the Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan, Ms. Diamond declared: “It’s the best we could do.”

Well, Ms. Diamond, it appears you’ve wasted 10 years of your life for nothing.

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