Mid-Market Redevelopment Plan Approved

by Casey Mills on March 10, 2005

After years of meetings, the public committee tapped to oversee the creation of a Mid-Market redevelopment area voted to approve a definitive plan last night, 23-2. The plan lays out the goals, restrictions and requirements for subsidies for all future development on Market and Mission Streets between 5th and 10th Streets. Despite the nearly unanimous decision, the resulting plan represents what could be one of the more divisive issues in San Francisco over the coming months. ##M:[[more]##

The approval represents the culmination of more than ten years of efforts by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (RDA) to develop a strategy to improve the Mid-Market area. The strategy they finally agreed on includes massive spending from the City’s cash-strapped general fund to subsidize big developers building primarily luxury housing units. Many critics believe this spending will quickly and dramatically gentrify the historically low-income Mid-Market neighborhood.

The vote took place at a meeting of the Mid-Market Project Action Committee (PAC), a body largely appointed by the RDA to create the appearance of public input in the process. However, as reported February 23 in Beyond Chron (type “Planning Skewed” into Keywords), PAC membership is largely skewed towards those with a financial interest in the plan’s outcome. This can be seen in the plan’s final form.

The amount of affordable units required in new buildings sits at a mere 12 percent in the new plan, a figure blasted by affordable housing advocates due to it being the lowest number required by City law. Because General Fund money that could otherwise be used for a variety of important social programs will be used to subsidize development, critics argue this percentage should be markedly higher.

Many also argue that even without public subsidies, developers are purchasing and developing property in Mid-Market anyway, and will continue to do so in the future. They argue that spending public money to provide unnecessary incentives does not make economic sense, especially in the midst of a budget crisis. The recent sale of a $7 million lot on Market between 5th and 6th Streets seems to validate this claim, as does the decision by developer Angelo Sangiacomo to build 1500 units of housing at 8th and Market.

Public transit advocates also greeted the plan with disdain, primarily due to its parking requirements. In its current form, the plan allows developers a 1:1 unit-to-parking space ratio. This ration opens the door to massive underground parking garages being included in every new development, which would encourage car ownership and discourage biking, walking and taking Muni. In addition, the plan allows for three floors of above-ground parking, further increasing the ability of developers to create massive spaces for cars, not housing.

PAC member and Green Party activist David Wilbur issued an impassioned plea to those in the audience who represented neighborhood organizations.

“I urge you to go into your communities and organize them against this plan,” said Wilbur. “Go to your Supervisors, press your planning commissioners to vote no on this. I’m going to vote no because it could be so much better – we should have 50 percent affordable housing, we should allow less parking, and we should allow less floors to be used for parking garages.”

Several amendments to the plan were made, perhaps the most important being one allowing developer Angelo Sangiacomo to continue with his Trinity Plaza project without being entirely under the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Agency. While some restrictions would still apply, Sangiacomo would primarily be dealing with the planning department and Board of Supes while getting his proposal approved.

The plan will now go before the Board of Supervisors, where it could face a rocky path towards approval. With Board president Aaron Peskin stating in the Examiner yesterday that he would like to see the affordable housing requirement be boosted to 20 percent across the City, it seems likely he will take on the Mid-Market plan as a first step towards this goal.

Additionally, many groups will likely lobby the Board to force the RDA to prove they will not be simply subsidizing gentrification. In its current form, it appears they will have no such proof. Expect a long series of battles over and revisions to the plan in the future.

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