SF looks to buy South of Market half-acre site for $10M for new park

Amid an ongoing housing crisis and soaring real estate costs, San Francisco is buying land to create new parks.

A partnership agreement with nearby neighborhood groups to transform Francisco Reservoir into a new 3.29-acre public park will go before the Board of Supervisors for a vote Tuesday after the Recreation and Park Department purchased the land for $10.1 million — to be paid over a 12-year period — from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in 2014.

While the new Russian Hill park, currently a basin of cement and surrounded by a chain-linked fence, is well underway to becoming a reality in 2019, city officials are considering another land purchase to create another new public park.

Today, the Recreation and Park Commission’s capital committee will discuss purchasing for $10 million five parcels totaling 19,570 square feet — about a half-acre — on 11th Street between Minna and Natoma streets, in the western South of Market area.

“District 6 has the smallest and fewest parks in The City. Yes, we need more housing but in order to plan and build more complete neighborhoods we must plan for open space and recreation as well,” Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area where the park is planned, wrote in a text message to the San Francisco Examiner.

The funding for these park purchases comes from Rec and Park’s Open Space Acquisition Fund, which currently has a balance of about $9.68 million. The fund annually receives 5 percent of property tax revenues, which next fiscal year — beginning July 1 — will total an estimated $2.6 million.

Use of the fund has sparked controversy in the past. A local longtime affordable-housing developer, John Stewart, had argued that Francisco Reservoir should be used for affordable workforce housing amid the housing crisis.

Meanwhile, Kim had argued that District 2, where the Francisco Reservoir is located, is rich with open space and that The City should prioritize its limited funds to buy open space in areas with the least, such as the SoMa and Tenderloin neighborhoods she represents.

Just how deficient those neighborhoods are in parks was made clear in a recent budget analyst report, which found “the average acreage per park varies from a low of 0.17 acres of park per resident in Supervisorial District 6 to a high of 25.01 acres of park per resident in Supervisorial District 2.”

In 2012, Kim assembled an open space task force for District 6 with Rec and Park to identify areas where parks are needed and potential parcels to buy.

John Updike, director of the Department of Real Estate, used the information to negotiate the current purchase agreement with the owner of the 11th Street properties, Ares Commercial Properties.

Updike said the purchase price is market value arrived by analyzing its best use, which included housing development. The site of the future park is actually adjacent to 915 Minna St., which real estate company Polaris Pacific is selling for an already approved 46-unit housing development.

“Located among the office headquarters of some of the largest tech firms in the nation, the subject property is just 1.5 blocks from Uber, Twitter and Square; and only 2.5 blocks to the new Dolby headquarters location,” the land sale advertisement reads.

While the site The City is planning to purchase could yield about 67 housing units, Updike said “that’s not really the point here.”

“The question is not how many additional units of housing could be derived … but rather how we accommodate all the incoming new residents of western SoMa by creating a more livable neighborhood, and that must include provision of park/open space land,” Updike wrote in an email to the Examiner.

Existing businesses on the site being considered for purchase would be allowed to remain in place until their leases expire in 2024, meaning the site likely won’t see a park for around a decade.

“The half-acre site is large enough for some active uses, such as a children’s play area or sport court, as well as passive green spaces such as landscaped or grassy areas,” according to a Rec and Park staff report. “The location is in a relatively park-poor area where the nearest public open spaces are ½ mile to 1 mile away.”

Rec and Park spokesperson Elton Pon said open space purchases are more important than ever as The City’s population continues to grow.

“Parks play a vital role in improving public health, the environment and our communities,” Pon said.

Pon added, “We’ll continue to explore other potential opportunities, particularly in neighborhoods of need.”

Calling the Francisco Reservoir deal last week a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents District 2, said, “As our population grows, our need for open space continues to grow.”

The Francisco Park Conservancy, an assemblage of area neighborhood groups, has agreed to raise $25 million to pay for the design and construction of the park, which includes $150,000 annually for a Rec and Park gardener. The City will also contribute $430,000 for a project manager and associated costs.

The reservoir park project was also supported by the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Parks are an integral part of The City’s infrastructure just as much as housing and transportation,” Sierra Club representative John Rizzo said last week. “Our population is growing but unlike the national park system, our local park system has not been expanding. This is a rare opportunity.”

Joshua Sabatini

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