Balboa Reservoir project wins approval from Board of Supervisors

Development will build 1,100 housing units on 17-acre parking lot near City College

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave final approval to the 1,100-unit Balboa Reservoir development, rejecting an appeal filed by City College of San Francisco community members.

Supervisors voted in favor of the project’s environmental impact report, zoning changes, a development agreement and $11.4 million sale of publicly-owned land to developers.

City leaders have attempted to build housing on the 17-acre parking lot next to City College since at least the 1980s.

“Overall, the Balboa Reservoir project captures all the elements the community fought for over the years,” Board President Norman Yee said in a statement. “The neighbors and the City College community were deeply engaged with shaping the project. We have come a long way and I believe we achieved the best possible project to bring online 550 affordable new homes for low- and middle-income families in perpetuity.”

Yee said the project will incorporate child-friendly design elements, as well as a new 2-acre public park, play space, community center and childcare center.

“It is not enough to just build housing, but to also provide connectivity and encourage diversity for a complete, inclusive neighborhood,” he said. “I want families to see their future here in the neighborhood I was fortunate enough to raise my own children in.”

Mayor London Breed hailed the project’s approval.

“San Francisco is still in the midst of a housing shortage, and we need to continue to build more homes throughout the entire city,” said Mayor Breed. “This project is a victory for San Francisco and our residents, and will help make The City a more affordable place to live.”

Half of the 1,100 units to be constructed are designated as affordable, with 17 percent of total units funded by The City. About 150 of those units will be reserved for City College faculty.

The developer has agreed to pay $10 million in transportation fees to the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority for service improvements in the area.

But affordability and congestion remain a concern for some community advocates, including many City College students and faculty, who also balk at The City’s sale of public land for private uses. Some industry experts have estimated the sale price is well below market value; developers said they had three independent analyses to reach the figure $11.4 million.

Current and former instructors filed an appeal in June criticizing the EIR’s lack of transit access, affordability and consideration of coronavirus impacts. It was backed by Public Land for Public Good, which calls for all units on The City-owned property to be 100 percent affordable housing.

“Me and my students, who are mostly students of color, are just constantly barraged by the income disparities in San Francisco,” said Dina Wilson, who teaches English as a Second Language at City College. “All of this feels like a land grab…it’s just wrong.”

The appeal called for The City to consider a 100 percent affordable plan. A Budget and Legislative Analyst report recommended The City include an option to buy the affordable housing properties.

But some supervisors felt this plan was one of the best-case scenarios for developing the land into housing.

“Ideology-wise, we would love 100 percent affordable housing on public land,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said at a meeting in July. “One of the main barriers to build affordable housing is really also the finances. To do that on this piece of property would, I think, not be feasible, especially during a $1.7 billion deficit.”

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Dean Preston called for a hearing on how The City can maximize its public land to build all affordable housing. He noted that other upcoming projects, including the Potrero Yard and 33 Gough St., are being planned on public land.

“My hope is to have a more public discussion on how we achieve the greatest possible affordability levels, ideally 100% affordable, at housing developed on public land,” Preston said. “We need to dive into the details and hear all perspectives to make progress. And most importantly, we need to have that conversation not just at the moment of project approval, but before, as we map out a path to achieving our city’s affordability goals.”

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