Despite community pushback, city moves ahead with large residential development in Excelsior

The San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday advanced a 193-unit residential project at 65 Ocean Ave. despite pressure from community advocates to fully study the impacts of the development on the surrounding neighborhood.

The project, proposed under The City’s Home SF program, would offer 48 below-market-rate units. The San Francisco Examiner reported previously that it is opposed by a coalition of community groups, including People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), Coleman Advocates and Chinese for Affirmative Action, who pushed for 100 percent of the units to be affordable.

With a unanimous vote on Thursday, the Planning Commission rejected an appeal filed by the community groups of a negative declaration by the Planning Department that would exempt the project of a full environmental study required by state law.

With a unanimous vote on Thursday, the Planning Commission rejected an appeal of a negative declaration by the Planning Department filed by the community groups. The declaration would exempt the project from conducting a full environmental study required by state law.

The commission also voted to approve the project’s entitlements.

After several modifications to the project, developers Presidio Bay Ventures proposed the construction of 55 studio, 81 one-bedroom, 35 two-bedroom and 22 three-bedroom apartments spread over six stories, and would require the demolition of three existing buildings on the roughly one acre site. It also proposes ground-floor commercial space and a childcare space to the site.

The approval came after lengthy public testimony from supporters and opponents of the project. Labor union workers and childcare providers spoke in favor of the project after its developers promised to hire local union labor and to relocate a preschool previously displaced from the site — and effectively from the Excelsior neighborhood — back into the proposed childcare space.

Between the project’s operations and the childcare facility, its developers said they anticipated employing at least 30 full-time employees from the neighborhood.

They also committed to implementing the Neighborhood Housing Resident Preference — a city program aimed at protecting vulnerable residents from displacement by requiring 40 percent of units in developments funded by The City and private sources to be reserved for people living in or within a half-mile of the supervisorial district where the projects are built.

The project’s developers argued the project would bring much-needed housing to the Excelsior District, which in the last 10 years only saw some 106 units built across “10-plus unit projects.”

Opponents of the project have argued that it displaced two preschools that operated for years on the site. But the owner of one of the preschools, called Crayon Box, said that the proposed development was not the reason the preschool was forced to move to a new location in the Mission District.

“Presidio Bay has been incredibly generous with us. [They] offered [a] lease [of] between 10 to 20 years,” the woman said. “Initially, they offered 3,000 square feet, but once I told them we needed more, they increased it to 9,000 square feet. They are offering below market rate rent and assistance with the build out. I think that speaks greatly about their commitment to the community, families and education.”

But opponents of the development described it as a “luxury project” that they feared would drive up the cost of rent and fuel displacement of the neighborhood’s largely immigrant and working class residents.

“When harm is imposed on communities of color, we call the environmental racism, which led us to this appeal,” said Charlie Sciammas, a community organizer with PODER. He said that the planning department’s preliminary analysis did not take into account the Excelsior Outer Mission Neighborhood Strategy, a community led initiative launched in 2017 focused on housing goals and land use decisions.

He said that a community count of development underway showed that 978 units are under construction or in the pipeline for the neighborhood.

“We believe the impact of this unplanned growth will result in substantial impacts that have not been fully studied,” said Shamass.

“We know that long term tenants living in the vicinity of any luxury projects are negatively impacted [by them],” said Leticia Arce, a housing and land use advocate with the social justice and tenants rights organization Causa Justa, who also lives near the proposed project.

She added that “more of my neighbors are coming into our tenants rights clinic with eviction and harassment attempts [by their landlords].”

“The developer needs to engage with the community to design a project that truly meets the community needs. What is being proposed is insufficient,” she said.

Commissioner Milicent Johnson said that gentrification and other issues plaguing the neighborhood are “30 years in the making”

They have to do with bad policy, saying no to housing in communities that were not at risk of displacement…[and] community plans not being at the center when we thought about projects traditionally.”

Still, Johnson supported the project.

“The project we have before us is a Home SF project — legislation we created as a community to house people at all income levels and make sure that is the bar,” said Johnson. “Now we have a project before us that not only meets the Home SF standards but goes above it. We have the opportunity to house just shy of 50 people and families in below market rate housing.”

“Ultimately we have to consider the project in front of us and what we can do to address issue folks brought into the room,” she said.

Along with giving his support to the project, Commissioner Dennis Richards made a motion directing the Planning Department make “a good faith effort after project is built” to measure “the impacts of the project” on rents in the surrounding neighborhood.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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