City planning for flood of development along SF’s southern waterfront

San Francisco’s southern bayfront is flooded with development.

From the Warriors arena to the Hunters Point Shipyard to the Giants’ Mission Rock mixed-used development, new multibillion dollar projects along the waterfront from Mission Bay to Candlestick Point will soon see an incredible population and workforce boom.

Right now, 36,000 people live along the southern waterfront, and 23,000 people work nearby, and those numbers could double in the coming decades, according to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

People are coming, but the question remains: How will they get around?

That’s why San Francisco earlier this year introduced the Southern Bayfront Strategy, which includes convincing developers to contribute to neighborhood infrastructure like transportation to accommodate new residents and employees.

Project approvals for five multibillion and hundred-million dollar developments are coming in 2017 and 2018, and other negotiations are ongoing from 2015. With those in mind, The City has about six months to figure out what it will request before project approvals begin.

Agencies across San Francisco, led by OEWD, are now meeting regularly to decide how best to negotiate a bevy of land deals along the waterfront.

The agencies include OEWD, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Department, the Port of San Francisco, the Recreation and Park Department and others.

Ken Rich, director of development for OEWD, said the “strategy” is a matter of seeking the right amount of funding to help the area grow.

“Over the next two years our decision-makers will be asked to approve five large and complex new development projects in the Southern Bayfront,” he said in a statement. “This framework will allow us to negotiate aggressively with these developers so that we can obtain the maximum investment.”

The City is identifying specific investment asks for affordable housing, new open spaces, sea level rise protection and one pernicious San Francisco problem: transportation.

Tens of thousands of more people will need to get around in a part of The City already experiencing gridlock. Some funding is set to tackle this in the near term, planners said in public meetings, but the far term is still in flux.

Vital connections

The SFMTA Board of Directors was briefed on the Southern Bayfront Strategy in July.

“Look at the map. We’re really lacking in terms of what we’re doing in the southern bayfront,” said Gwyneth Borden, a board director.

In particular, according to OEWD and SFMTA planners, key transportation asks from the largest developers in the area — like at the NRG Energy site by the central waterfront or a new PG&E facility by India Basin — still need to be negotiated as part of the strategy.

Though some of the main arteries offer Caltrain, BART or the T-Third Muni light rail line, “last mile connections” between those main lines and new development must still be built out.

Current transit systems also may need investment from developers, planners said, and the projects must be considered within the overall framework of The City.

Funding questions

A slew of projects set to boost transit in the area are already funded or have set strategies to obtain funding, OEWD planners told the San Francisco Examiner.

From the Central Subway to fleet expansions and new traffic signals, transportation fixes for the Financial District and Southern Bayfront budgeted by the SFMTA, between 2017 and 2021, add up to more than $1.4 billion.

And a slew of transportation changes, including new BART cars in 2017, Caltrain electrification and the downtown Ferry Terminal expansion in 2020 all have dedicated funding, according to OEWD.

Caltrain electrification is especially vital to laying the groundwork to provide for more passengers, which will allow the agency to increase its daily riders from 60,000 to 70,000, said Jayme Ackemann, a spokesperson for Caltrain.

“But the really large capacity increases come with the extension to the downtown Transbay Terminal,” she said, which will allow Caltrain to transport more than 100,000 daily riders by 2040.

Some of those transportation changes are still uncertain. Plans for the bayfront from San Francisco planners include moving a Caltrain facility further south out of The City, which Ackemann said would have “significant impacts” to budgets and timeliness of service.

“To my knowledge no decision has been made” to move the facility, she said.

Businesses nervous

Transportation is needed to avert nearby congestion, but also to feed into local businesses, neighbors said.

Patrick Valentino, vice chair of the South Beach Mission Bay Merchants Association, said some businesses are eyeing future transit along the waterfront carefully.

“There’s certain businesses that don’t exist yet,” he said, and some of the merchants in his association are weighing whether “they move into Mission Bay or stay in the South Beach area.”

He’s especially hopeful that planned water taxi expansion along the southern waterfront will ease congestion.

But other avenues to address congestion by the year 2030 that concern businesses — like a second transbay tube for BART, for instance — aren’t a sure thing, yet.

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