Booming SoMa area ‘lives … in the alleys’

Tree-lined alleys tucked inconspicuously between thundering downtown thoroughfares have contributed to the rapid growth of the Western South of Market neighborhood.

The number of housing units in the neighborhood grew 77 percent to 17,265 between 1990 and 2005 while the rest of the City averaged 8 percent growth, according to the first of five reports by a task force charged with studying the area, known as West SoMa.

The disjointed neighborhood is roughly bordered by Mission and Bryant streets and Seventh and Thirteenth streets; and by Harrison and Townsend streets and Fourth and Seventh streets.

“This community lives and works in the alleys,” City Planner Paul Lord said at a recent San Francisco Planning Commission meeting. “You start walking around and you find these little nuggets of pretty places and nice things.”

Historic Edwardian homes flank modern steel-gilded apartment complexes through the alleys and converted industrial buildings, where oasesof chirping birds provide respite from the surrounding drone of internal combustion engines.

Bushes, flowers and succulents emerge from ubiquitous planter boxes and wine barrels. They are tended by residents who share their streets with auto shops, printing companies and drunken revelers who stumble home from nearby nightclubs.

The report recommends improving the unique housing enclaves and calming the shortcut-hungry traffic that sometimes tears through child-filled alleys through an upcoming rezoning proposal due by August.

Many alley-dwellers lack basic amenities such as public open space enjoyed by other San Franciscans because their buildings were converted haphazardly into live-work lofts during the dot-com boom, according to the report.

Additional reports recommend increasing public open space in the area and sacrificing some public transit routes to improve service on other routes.

Significant amounts of development are expected to envelope the neighborhood under separate rezoning projects before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

One proposal would re-engineer downtown streets and allow towering new office buildings to help pay for a multibillion-dollar transit center.

The other proposal, the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, would see swathes of industry in East SoMa, the Mission, Potrero Hill and the Central Waterfront replaced with new homes and office space.

West SoMa’s rezoning efforts are separate to the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan because the neighborhood was rezoned in 1990, according to task force chairman Jim Meko.

“A good part of the eastern neighborhoods hadn’t been rezoned since the 1950s,” Meko said.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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