North Beach rethinks its streets

A faction of North Beach neighbors may oppose plans to close a section of Mason Street to build a new library and park, but it is not the only potential street closure locals have up their sleeves.

Plans are afoot to close a block of Vallejo Street between Columbus and Grant avenues. There, neighbors hope to install a piazza where visitors can stroll, enjoy a cup of coffee at Caffe Trieste and visit the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi.

Residents delivered piazza designs to City Hall in late August after many years in the dream stage, said resident Arthur Chang.

“Twelve to 15 years ago, everyone said, ‘You won’t get support to close streets,’ but now we have a mayor who supports this kind of thing,” Chang said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed Sunday Streets, a 4.5-mile closure of roadway from Chinatown to the Bayview, which had its first trial run Sunday.

Although merchants traditionally oppose street closures, shopkeepers near the proposed site said they favored the idea.

“We need to make room for people to walk about and enjoy themselves,” said Renzo Azzarello, manager at Trattoria Pinocchio. “It’s a brilliant idea.”

With a population of nearly 27,000, according to U.S. Census figures from 2000, North Beach is cited by locals as the densest and oldest neighborhood in San Francisco — one with very few parks and public spaces.

“It’s been a long and very important mission of the neighborhood to get as much green as we can,” said Vedica Puri, a Telegraph Hill resident.

And because North Beach is so densely packed with buildings, finding new land for parks is nearly impossible, locals said.

Many residents said they were thrilled when San Francisco purchased a triangle of land at the corner of Lombard Street and Columbus Avenue — five blocks from the proposed piazza  — for the new library branch, said Liz Diaz of the Friends of Joe DiMaggio Playground.

The $7.7 million bond-funded project also includes plans to expand open space between the library and existing bocce, tennis, volleyball and other courts.

Opponents of the library design turned out at recent community meetings, arguing that closing the chunk of Mason Street would cause traffic problems, Library Commissioner Al Harris said. Despite those objections, he said he favors the plan.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the neighborhood, was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.

<p>The Library Commission will vote on the project Thursday.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

My Story

“I like the idea of closing the street by Caffe Trieste. However, they were considering something similar in Berkeley in the gourmet ghetto and it was shot down because they feared it would be a haven for homeless, and that could happen here, too.”

— Ian Hirsch, 56, Richmond district resident

By the numbers

26,827: Population of North Beach

5: North Beach parks larger than 1 acre

$7.7 million: Cost to build new North Beach Library

Source: U.S. Census, San Francisco Public Library, parkinfo.org

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