The City considers big makeover for lower Polk Street 

Complaints from businesses spur S.F. plan for street fixes, greenery, crime reduction

Years of mounting graffiti, increasing crime and vacant commercial space have pushed The City to look at a massive overhaul for the lower Polk Street area.

There are 29 commercial spaces either vacant or under construction along the Polk corridor between Turk and Sacramento streets, according to Lisa Pagan, of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. With 181 businesses in the area, merchants have long complained about the lack of street improvements, lighting and greenery in the area. Residents and merchants also say the corridor has been plagued by crime and violence, including prostitution, theft and drug dealing.

"The area has been seedy for a long time and its unfortunate because it has the potential to be beautiful," Polk Street resident Austin Turner said.

Jordanna Thigpen, president of the Small Business Commission who often works with business owners in the area, said addressing residents’ concerns about vacancy and crime are often connected.

"It’s kind of a double edge sword because if there’s empty buildings there is going to be crime and if there is crime there will be empty buildings," she said.

In response to complaints, The City is developing a long-term plan of attack for the area, that not only includes street improvements and crime reduction, but will also make the area greener.

On Tuesday the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association held a forum with city officials, business owners and residents of the corridor to discuss how The City plans to address the issues.

Kris Operbrok, from the Mayor’s City Greening Program, said her department is proposing to restore historic street lamps along the street to improve safety and add trees, including planters along parts of the sidewalks that have under-street basements that prevent trees from being planted. She said residents could expect to see a greener neighborhood starting next fall.

Adam Varat of the Planning Department said The City would have to work with future developers to address the lack of park space in the neighborhood because open space is limited on the street.

The neighborhood has also developed into a nightspot destination with several clubs, bars, restaurants and adult entertainment establishments. At Tuesday’s presentation residents asked for a moratorium on new liquor shops and adult and late-night entertainment from opening on the street.

"A lot of the residents are unhappy with the perceived issues, noise and crime, that they bring," Varat said, adding that The City is exploring the possibility of adding new zoning to the neighborhood that would promote independent and local businesses.

The City has not finalized a budget or timetable for most of the improvements. A detailed report of specific measures is due out by the end of the year.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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