The wall in front of a parcel of land that some community groups want to use for a park. (Ellie Doyen/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Park or truck depot? Neighborhood groups and food bank tussle over Dogpatch land

The booming Dogpatch neighborhood’s hunger for new green space is clashing with San Francisco’s boom in, well, hunger.

An alliance of Dogpatch and Potrero neighborhood groups are in heated disagreement with the San Francisco Marin Food Bank over the future of a scrap of green underneath U.S. Interstate 280, at 23rd and Iowa Streets.

If the nearby food bank gets its way, the strip of grass will be paved over to house more than a dozen trucks, allowing the organization to build out over its current parking lot, boosting its capacity to feed needy San Franciscans from 50 million pounds of food annually to 70 million pounds. .

“We know there are literally thousands of families who need food,” said Paul Ash, executive director of the food bank, but “we’re starting to run out of space.”

But in a tiny slice of heaven like San Francisco, needs are constantly bumping shoulder to shoulder. The same is true in this old industrial neighborhood: the Green Benefit District of Dogpatch and NorthWest Potrero Hill, along with the Potrero Boosters and the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association say the site is one of the fewthat can be converted into a green space.

And with more than a thousand new residents calling Dogpatch home in the last year alone, and thousands more to come as construction crews finish new developments, nearby park space is at a premium, said Julie Christensen, who heads the green benefit district.

“All of a sudden for every one person on the street you’re going to have five people,” she said. “There’s simply no plan for public space and public recreation to account for that.”

Bruce Huie, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, sees the potential every time he walks by 23rd and Iowa as he did on a recent foggy day. Two massive rusty gears that used to pull train cars through the industrial neighborhood, unearthed at a nearby construction site on Indiana Street, now stand there as an art piece. Huie helped organize their installation.

The wall in front of a parcel of land that some community groups want to use for a park. (Ellie Doyen/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

He and other neighbors also helped get the sidewalk along 23rd Street cleaned, level and walkable. And just down Iowa Street another parcel that used to be a scraggly, weed-filled eyesore was transformed into the newly christened Progress Park, replete with bocce ball and outdoor exercise structures.

“It’s amazing the audience that it draws,” Huie said with pride, from Potrero Hill to the Bayview.

But it’s also a testament to the neighborhood’s ethos: So little land is available for green space, that even the most unconventionally tiny slice of it is precious.

A state law authored by Assemblyperson Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) sparked their interest in the parcel. The bill empowered San Francisco to lease up to 10 Caltrans parcels at 30 percent of market rate to create parks, or open space.

This is key, as Caltrans property tucked under freeways is often underutilized.

“We have so few places for kids and families to go play,” Ting said in a statement when former Governor Jerry Brown signed his bill in 2017. “This bill is a creative way to meet state sustainability requirements while bringing parks to communities that desperately need them.”

Ting declined to aid in this particular dispute as the neighborhood isn’t in his district, his office told the San Francisco Examiner. Caltrans did not answer requests for this report before publication.

The ideological clash over the space reached a turning point in October when the California Transportation Commission voted to extend a 50-year lease for the space to the food bank.

“It’s taken us four and a half years to get here with this property,” Ash said. “It took me a year to get the plans for this piece of property through the transportation commission.”

Ash said he enlisted the aid of every politician “we know of” to find other spaces, so the neighborhood groups could turn that now grassy parcel into a genuine park. But, he said, the housing market is so hot that even owners of vacant lots are sitting on the properties..

“Everybody kind of sees in the future that they’ll be able to sell their property for residential prices,” he said. “It’s just a crazy boom time around here.”

But Huie said that’s not the whole story — he contends the food bank hasn’t empowered neighborhood groups with enough information to help leverage their connections to find other sites.

And J.R. Eppler, president of the nearby Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association which has allied with the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, said “perhaps we can creatively find them a better solution.”

Eppler said that despite the food bank’s idea of their lease as a “done deal,” there may still be room for newly-elected Supervisor Shamann Walton to intervene on their behalf.

Walton has a meeting scheduled with the neighborhood groups in late February to learn more about the situation and told the Examiner he will not comment until he’s done more due diligence on the matter.

“There are seldom many ‘done deals’ in this city without neighborhood outreach,” Eppler said, “and that was only done in the last few months.”

As far as he and the neighborhood leaders are concerned, there’s still hope that all parties involved can find their own slice of heaven in the Dogpatch.


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