Time for Progressives to Take Back Mid-Market

by Casey Mills on March 18, 2005

As the Mid-Market Redevelopment plan appears headed towards final approval, progressives must develop a strategy to reclaim a process dominated by developers. Three simple demands could provide the basis for a unified movement between transit and affordable housing advocates against the current plan: requiring a much higher percentage of affordable housing in all new developments, calling for a far lower housing unit-to-parking spot ratio, and allowing less above-ground floors to be used for parking.

By now, opponents of the creation of a redevelopment area face an extremely uphill fight. With the citizen’s advisory board (called the Public Action Committee, or PAC) approving the plan after ten years of negotiations, few will even consider dismantling the entire process now. In addition, the proposal for a redevelopment area has picked up support from some of its only possible sources of opposition, including Supervisor Chris Daly and various affordable housing non-profits.

Progressives should now focus on fighting to assure the final form of the plan reflects their concerns for the future of our city. Until this point, the planning process has been almost entirely dominated by those with a financial interest in its outcome. As a result, opponents must battle a plan that puts the interests of developers far ahead of our city’s environment and people, the ramifications of which will be felt by generations of future San Franciscans.

The first obvious point of contention lies in the plan only requiring 12 percent affordable housing in new developments. For a plan offering numerous subsidies and hand-outs to developers, it’s shocking the percentage stands at the absolute lowest amount of affordable housing required by city law.

With affordable housing allies like Daly, Aaron Peskin, Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi on the Board of Supervisors, it’s unlikely that it will remain so low once it reaches them for final approval. But if progressives start organizing now, they can work to push it much higher than the Board would be willing to do otherwise. The exact percentage would have to be worked out by the groups involved in such a campaign, but it seems reasonable that 40 percent could be used as a starting point.

The argument for boosting the affordable housing requirements is simple; without doing so, Mid-Market becomes prime territory for subsidized gentrification. As many progressives know, the City’s working poor can often not even afford “affordable” housing, let alone the luxury condos likely to be the primary type of housing developers will erect. Upping the percentage preserves the community already living in Mid-Market, while at the same time providing more affordable housing to a City starving for it.

It’s no secret that Mid-Market is one of the most transit-rich areas in all of San Francisco. Yet in an effort to lure developers, the redevelopment plan allows for one parking space for every housing unit built in the area. It also allows the three above-ground floors in every new development to be used as parking garages.

It seems ludicrous that the City would subsidize gentrification in Mid-Market. But subsidizing filling up the area with parking garages is beyond the pale. San Francisco claims to be a “transit-first” city, a policy voters have approved time and time again. City officials need to start seriously enforcing this policy, and Mid-Market provides them a perfect opportunity to do so.

Once again, exactly what demands progressives should make of the Board remains to be hammered out by those involved. For starters, it seems pushing for no above-ground floor should be allowed for use as parking garages. And only allowing half a parking spot at the most to be build for every new housing unit also seems like a reasonable position.

Fighting to lower the amount of parking built in Mid-Market now could have dramatic effects on the future of the neighborhood. Less cars and more public transportation encourages residents to leave their homes, promoting a vibrant street life and stronger community. The City’s air quality could be markedly improved, as well as a reduction in noise should cars be discouraged in the area.

With these demands as a rallying cry, a coalition of progressives could coalesce to transform the plan for Mid-Market Redevelopment Area into a dramatically better one. The importance of the battle lies in its ramifications for San Francisco’s future. The plan will dictate all future development on Market and Mission Streets, from 5th to 10th.

That land belongs to San Franciscans, not developers. It’s in developers hands now, and it’s up to us to take it back.

Beyond Chron will be sponsoring a forum on May 12 at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St. The forum, to be held at 12 p.m., is titled “Reclaiming Redevelopment: A Progressive Plan to Take Back Mid-Market.” Leading transit and affordable housing advocates will speak about Mid-Market, followed by an open discussion. For more information, keep checking BeyondChron.org, or send an e-mail to Casey@beyondchron.org.

Filed under: Archive