First-of-its-kind plan unveiled for Sunset district

More than a century ago, the Sunset district was a landscape of sand-covered hills that separated downtown San Francisco from the Pacific Ocean. Today, the neighborhood is bustling with families, schools, shopping and entertainment — but there is still room to grow.

That's what Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the neighborhood, discovered during the yearlong process to create the Sunset District Blueprint, a first-of-its-kind strategic plan that draws on community input to identify the needs of residents, community leaders and businesses.

The plan “outlines our goals in conjunction with community input [with] what we'd like to see happen in the Sunset district in the short, medium and long term,” Tang said of the 126-page document that was unveiled in July.

The blueprint focuses on five main issues: children, families and seniors; public transportation and pedestrian safety; land use; economic development; and public safety and emergency preparedness.

Concerns relayed by residents included implementing an emergency plan specific to the Sunset, which has the highest number of residents in The City 65 and older at 11,529.

“We need to do more work to educate residents on how to prepare for any sort of emergency and develop a neighborhood-level emergency preparedness plan,” Tang said.

Land use and development are also goals highlighted in the blueprint. The Sunset has historically represented less than 1 percent of the development of new housing in The City, and the plan emphasizes a need to identify areas where additional housing can be built without adversely impacting the existing residential neighborhood character. Under existing zoning laws, the Sunset could add about 1,300 housing units — a 5 percent increase from the current 25,000 housing units — and 1.3 million square feet of commercial space, according to the blueprint.

Tang said she was surprised to learn that land use was such a hot topic for residents, particularly regarding the development of the Francis Scott Key annex building on 42nd Avenue between Judah and Kirkham streets, a San Francisco Unified School District-owned building that has been condemned for use by students due to seismic issues.

However, a new use for that building came about in August when the Children's Book Project's distribution site relocated there from the Bayview district to give donated books to teachers, librarians, health care professionals and facilities that serve children.

Installing traffic lights at the two non-signaled intersections along Sunset Boulevard — Wawona and Moraga streets — is another priority for the district. Vehicle collisions involving pedestrians, including a fatality earlier this year, prompted The City to prioritize signal installation at each intersection by 2015. Yorba Street received its signal in July.

Tang said she was inspired to generate the blueprint by The City's 10-year capital expenditure plan, which is adopted annually to identify and implement the funding of major capital improvements in San Francisco.

“I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting if we could do that on a neighborhood scale?'” Tang said.

After six months of public workshops, drop-in community meetings, an online survey and 2,000 comments, Tang and two aides spent another six months writing the roadmap, which she said will be revisited each year through a status report to track progress.

“It's just a very, very first step in looking at the bigger picture of possibilities — what are some problems, what are some potential solutions, and how might we go about doing those things,” explained Dawn Stueckle, a Sunset resident who was involved in the initial task force behind the blueprint.

“Everything that we came up with obviously takes money, it takes cooperation, it takes individual and political will,” added Stueckle. “That's where the challenges are gong to be – getting people to continue to step up when it's things that are going to cost their time and money.”

Woody LaBounty, director of the Western Neighborhoods Project who also attended several meetings on the blueprint, agreed that the plan is ambitious.

“It's all about the action that comes after it,” LaBounty said. “It's easy to define pros and cons and things that need improvement, [but] what do you do then? That's where the proof is in the pudding.”

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