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Bayview community rallies in opposition to housing at site of promised community center

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Bayview residents rally before a Planning Commission meeting calling for the city to stick to its plans for a proposed community center at 1550 Evans Avenue on Thursday, March 29, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

More than 100 Bayview District community members stormed a San Francisco Planning Commission hearing Thursday to demand The City keep its promise of building a new community center at a site that in recent months has been eyed for potential development into affordable housing.

Over the past year, long standing plans to replace the Bayview’s existing Southeast Community Center Facility (SECF) at 1800 Oakdale Ave. with a new 40,000 square-foot building, an adjacent educational facility and more than 100,000 square feet of public space at 1550 Evans Ave. have appeared to be inching towards fruition.

The proposal for the community center on land owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was informed by a community-led process that has spanned some seven years, and is currently under review by the Planning Department — a step that precedes an official project application, according to Planning Department Spokesperson Gina Simi.

But community members were angered by a recent email exchange between city department heads and for-profit housing developer Build Inc. indicating interest in developing the site into affordable housing. On Thursday, dozens of Bayview residents expressed concerns that a potential housing development at the site could not only hamper the SECF’s construction timeline, but change the direction of the proposal entirely.

“Your Planning Commission staff met in secret and thought that they were going to be the speakers for our community,” said NAACP President Rev. Amos Brown. “Through a democratic process, this community voted that the Southeast facility would only be a [site] for education, community development, and not housing.”

“Make sure you tell your staff, ‘stop in your tracks, stop having secret meetings,’” he said.

Build Inc.’s managing director Lou Vasquez told the San Francisco Examiner in an email that the company “did a capacity study and underwriting for many potential sites affordable housing sites in the neighborhood, including 1550 Evans, but never reviewed these with the City and halted all internal analysis of 1550 Evans in February.”

However in a Dec.12 email shared with the Examiner, Michael Yarne, who until recently was a partner at Build Inc., requested a meeting with San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development Director Kate Hartley to negotiate a “directed fee deal” between the India Basin project, a ‘residential village’ of 1,240 housing units proposed for development by Build Inc., and the 1550 Evans Ave. site.

“We do not expect or desire to actually develop the future affordable project — we just want to help set it up for success,” wrote Yarne.

The idea was for Build Inc. to meet the City’s affordable housing requirement while maximizing it’s low-income tax credits by building the housing off site — away from the development’s market-rate units– alleged Southeast Community Facility Commission Chair Steve Good.

“They want to get below market-rate housing credits so they don’t have to build those out in India Basin [and] they’ve identified the 1550 Evans site for that location,” said Good. “The problem is, there’s been no process around this. This is crazy because the community has already spoken and decided what they want.”

Good said that the email exchange is evidence that Build Inc. aimed to build the India Basin development affordable housing units offsite in a bid to further gentrify the Bayview.

“Not building low-income housing at India Basin is basically another form of redlining by putting low-income housing in an area surrounding an industrial part, away from the beautiful views of the shore,” said Good. “The question is, who can really afford this low-income housing?”

Kimberley Dubin, spokesperson for Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said on Thursday that The City has “no intention of replacing the community-approved uses at 1550 Evans.”

“When reviewing the site plan, City staff thought it was large enough to accommodate both the community uses and affordable housing,” said Dubin, adding that there is “a demonstrated, strong demand” for affordable housing in the area.

Dubin said that City and PUC staff are continuing to discuss the possibility of moving forward with the SECF proposal and “also presenting a plan to the community, seeking input and dialogue, regarding the addition of affordable housing.”

But the Bayview advocates said that they have every intention of opposing a dialogue.

“Affordable housing is off the table,” said  Gwendolyn Jackson Fagan, who was among dozens of Bayview residents at Thursday’s hearing who described any potential plans for the site other than for community use as an affront to their years-long efforts.

“We thought it was set in stone, until we started hearing about these other [plans for] housing they want to put over there,” said Bayview native Keshawn Parish. “This could change everything.”

Simi said that 1550 Evans Ave. is not zoned for residential use, and any proposal to put housing on the site would require legislative action.

The original SECF at 1800 Oakdale Ave. and adjacent green houses were initially built by The City in an effort to mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts that the expansion of a sewage treatment plant in the 1970’s and 80s had on the Bayview community.

Plans to renovate the aging facility were nixed after a community process found some 70 percent of Bayview residents surveyed were in favor of building a new center on public land at 1550 Evans Ave.

The new facility is set to be developed by the PUC and will provide educational and job training opportunities to locals. Construction is expected to break ground as soon as mid-2019.

“We need something bigger and better and more positive for the kids growing up in this area,” said Parish.

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