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Residents grow impatient with fenced off SoMa plaza

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McCoppin Hub, near Market and Valencia streets, has been closed to the public since a $145,000 fence was constructed around the space earlier this year.(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A public plaza that was fenced off last summer in an effort to divert homeless people from congregating there remains locked to the public almost half a year later.

Wedged between a U-Haul rental center and a residential hotel near Market and Valencia streets, the public space known as McCoppin Hub was renovated in 2014 to the tune of several million dollars.

A previous vision to host food trucks at the plaza proved unsustainable because of a lack of foot traffic in the area. McCoppin Hub has since stood empty, becoming a popular hangout for homeless people, which has drawn the ire of nearby residents.

Construction of the 8-foot-tall fence began in June and ended in July. The fence cost roughly $145,000, according to John Gavin, chief policy adviser of The City’s Real Estate Division, which manages the hub.

Ivy Lee, a legislative aide for Supervisor Jane Kim who oversees the district in which the hub is located, said that since the fence went up over the summer, the number of complaints about loitering made to Kim’s office “have really gone down.”

But the fence has also remained locked, effectively shutting out all residents wishing to use the plaza.

“The present situation is ridiculous. It’s locked up [and] it’s useless,” said Mission District resident Eddie Stiel. “It’s an empty space that cost millions of dollars. It was better off when it was a dead-end street.”

Gavin said the original plan was to lock the fence at night and keep the hub accessible to the public during daytime hours, but the fence’s construction has presented a new challenge by triggering an Americans with Disabilities Act egress requirement.

“It was not in compliance with the ADA requirement for the landing of a wheelchair,” Gavin told the San Francisco Examiner, adding that an ADA curb ramp needed to be installed due to the “steep grade of the sidewalk.”

The ADA ramp installation is expected to cost some $45,000, said Gavin, though he did not specify when that would be completed. The hub is legally required to remain closed until the ramp is installed, he said.

Plans to build a fence around the hub date back to 2015, and plans to activate the plaza have been on the table even longer. As a centerpiece of the South of Market West Improvements Project, McCoppin Hub was revamped in 2014 from a dead-end street to a multi-purpose plaza and briefly hosted food trucks from Off The Grid and the occasional movie night.

But the plaza’s location did not make it conducive for business, and its layout was difficult for the food trucks to maneuver, which quickly disappeared. Not long after, neighbors’ complaints of alleged drug use and loitering at the plaza began trickling into City Hall.

The hub was first closed off with a temporary fence that was installed in February.

The fact that the plaza is still closed has angered some who deemed the fence construction as a costly anti-homeless measure and feared a permanent loss of the public space.

“It’s a [small] piece of land but indicative of The City’s approach to poverty and the homeless — lock them out,” Stiel said.

Kim said her office is working to reopen the plaza “as quickly as possible.” She told the Examiner she plans to hold a community meeting in “the new year on how to activate the hub in a way that makes the community feel positive about reopening it.”

Lee, Kim’s aide, said the most popular idea floated by community members so far has been for a community garden.

“No matter what the use [of the hub], the key is that the residents have to own the space,” Lee said.

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