Advocates concerned that a proposed 1,100 unit housing development at the Balboa Reservoir will exacerbate parking issues and further delay long-standing construction plans for a performance center at City College of San Francisco are planning to take the issue to city voters.

On Monday, Save CCSF, a coalition of City College professors, community members and public education advocates, filed initial paperwork for a ballot measure that would prohibit new development on the Balboa Reservoir site until a planned Performing Arts Education Center on an adjacent site is “built, completed and opened to the public.”

Advocates for the Save CCSF coalition have spoken out against the “privatization of public land” and called for the Public Utilities Commission, which owns the reservoir, to transfer the land to City College.

“I don’t think there should be housing built right now, it should be a campus,” said Tomasita Médal, of Save CCSF.

The advocates argue the development would create a new barrier in the completion of the PAEC, but have also said it will result in loss of parking spaces, increased traffic congestion and gentrification in the area.

The group is also seeking to move forward the construction of the PAEC in an effort to ensure that a historic Pan-American Unity mural by renown artist Diego Rivera find a permanent home in it. The mural is currently on display at City College, but will be temporarily moved to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2020.

Last March, CCSF’s Board of Trustees voted to relocate the mural to the PAEC, should the mural’s return and the PAEC’s completion sync up.

The Department of Elections has 15 days to vet the measure , after which the group plans to begin collecting signatures in order to place it on the November ballot.

The Balboa Reservoir, a 17-acre city-owned property adjacent to City College, currently provides some 1,000 parking spaces to students.

The college’s plans for building the PAEC adjacent to the reservoir site have twice been approved by San Francisco voters and date back decades, but were put on hold when the college plunged into a 2013 accreditation crisis that placed it on the brink of closure.

Last March, the college’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution calling for the center’s construction to be completed in a “timely fashion.”

“This is not a pro-development, anti-development [proposition],” said Steve Zelter, a member of United Workers for Public Action and of Save CCSF. “This is saying, ‘do what was promised to the people in getting this arts education center [built].’”

Pro-development advocates, however, said the ballot measure is an effort to thwart plans for a housing project slated to rise on the lower portion of the reservoir that could include an estimated 1,100 units, 50 percent of which would be designated as affordable to low- and middle-income households.

“They’ve done nothing to make sure that we get the extra $150 million it’s going take to a actually build [the PAEC],” said Laura Foote Clark, of SFYIMBY Action. “This is a ploy to say ‘You can’t build the housing until after we build the community arts center,’ which we know is not going to be built anytime soon.”

“It’s brazen how much this has nothing to do with CCSF –This is about protecting their parking spots,” she added.

City College spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said that “one project does not preclude the other.”

“As with any two projects that are adjacent, coordination will be critical,” he said, adding that because construction timelines have not been approved for either project, it is unclear whether the projects will overlap.

On Thursday, Zeltzer said that the “the money is there” to start construction, referring to two bond measures passed in 2001 and 2005 that allocated funding for the creation of new facilities, including the PAEC.

However, Hamilton said that the college does not yet have the necessary funds to build the PAEC, which is estimated to cost some $180 million. According to Hamilton, the college has about $45 million left in the bond funding.

“We are looking at a number of other possible funding sources to make up that gap,” he said. “We are also looking at doing it in phases.”

A fiscal feasibility study of the housing development was approved at a Board of Supervisors subcommittee hearing Thursday, effectively moving the project forward by opening it up to an environmental review process.

While the project includes a shared parking garage with 500 replacement parking spots for CCSF students and the development’s residents, many City College community members argued at the hearing that the project would cause significant negative impacts to City College, including increased traffic congestion and loss of parking.

“There is no clear answer on impact of this project – the fact that parking would be lost , there’s no doubt about that, which in turn will conceivably lower enrollment at CCSF, “said former CCSF instructor Jean Barrish, who is a member of Save CCSF. “This could have a significant impact on [the college]. You need to consider both sides of the balance sheet.”

CCSF Student Mitzy Velazquez said that the loss of parking spaces would especially impact low-income students.

“I have trouble finding parking even now,” she said. “If you have to go to work and then to class you don’t have the time or can take the stress of looking for parking.”

Despite greenlighting the feasibility study, the supervisors shared a number of concerns.

“I have not heard a definitive answer as to whether or not parking will be impacted and in what way,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who chairs the committee. “The potential threat to CCSF enrollment, it needs to be studied.”

Cohen also requested a high density study of the project.

“Why haven’t we studied a high density version of the project? 5,000 [units] to understand the full range,” she said. “We have a shortage of affordable housing. Let’s make it happen.”

Emily Lesk, project director for the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said that City College has hired a consultant for the the project, and reminded the committee that approval of the study would allocate funds to conduct further studies that would inform the project’s design, which is not final.

However, Zeltzer said that he did not think that “The City should be spending any more money on another development when the priority for the city should be getting the [PAEC] constructed.”

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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