Board of Supervisors should say no to the Balboa Reservoir project

By Jean Barish and Wynd Kaufman

By Jean Barish and Wynd Kaufman

The proposed 1,100-unit housing development on the lower Balboa Reservoir deals multiple blows to San Francisco. It surrenders The City’s last large open parcel of public land to private developers who offer false promises, the most outrageous being that the project is the best affordable housing deal ever. It dooms hope for restoring and growing enrollment at City College of San Francisco. And the bargain basement price of the land sanctions corporate welfare as well as shameful stripping of a precious public asset.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors must reject the final approvals for this oversized project scheduled to come before them in the next weeks.

Let’s examine just a few of the more glaring false promises: Affordable housing, community collaboration and consideration of the needs of City College. None of these assertions stand up to scrutiny.

Claim of 50% affordable housing

The definition of “affordable” housing has been the subject of intense lobbying by the real estate industry, but the devil is always in the details. Only 200 of the 1,100 units would be affordable to a family of three making $61,000 per year or less, and the developer includes units for families with an income of at least $133,000 as “affordable.”

Even accepting the definitions of affordable, according to the development agreement the developer is receiving substantial subsidies from The City and state for the affordable units. These subsidies significantly change the numbers, such that the developer’s claim that it is funding two-thirds of the affordable units is dubious. And San Francisco has yet to budget any money for the remaining units. So, there is no guarantee as to how much truly affordable housing will actually result from this project.

The land for this project, 17.4 acres of prime San Francisco real estate, is being sold for a little over $11 million; about a 95% discount. As the price of land is one of the biggest hurdles to building affordable a housing, it makes no sense to sell public property to a private developer whose bottom line is profit.

Claim of community involvement

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee lauds “five years of collaboration” and hails “community-led planning.” This belies the facts. The so-called public outreach and engagement has in fact been little more than one-way directives and co-opting City College’s facilities planning processes. There has been little collaboration between The City, the developers and CCSF to assure that impacts to City College will be mitigated. Most important, a memorandum of understanding that was to be executed between CCSF, The City and the developer has not yet been written, let alone signed. Without this MOU, City College faces the risk of harm that cannot be mitigated once the project is approved.

In addition, after two years of public meetings in which a 500-unit project was discussed, the developers submitted a proposal which more than doubled the size of the project. And the principles and parameters developed by the Balboa Reservoir Citizens Advisory Committee stipulate that the development not negatively impact City College. But many of these principles and parameters have been ignored, to the detriment of CCSF.

Claim of considering needs of City College

The proposed development would obliterate City College’s access to land it has leased since 1946. Currently the land provides essential parking for commuter students, staff and adjunct faculty or “freeway flyers.” The desire for fewer cars and more public transit is laudable. However; the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency characterized transit improvements as “aspirational,” “at a sketch level,” and merely, “transit goals.” With no concrete plans to beef up the already over-capacity BART and Muni lines, along with the removal of parking for students, the development will remove many students’ access to higher education. This project would be a death blow to hopes of restoring and growing enrollment at City College.


The construction of an oversized private development on the Balboa Reservoir threatens one of the last affordable neighborhoods in San Francisco, as well as our beloved City College. Public land must be held in sacred trust, and used only for the public good.

The Board of Supervisors must reject this development. We need a government that fights for education and housing justice, not leaders who bow to real estate interests.

Submitted on behalf of Public Lands for Public Good by Jean Barish, a former community college teacher and community activist, and Wynd Kaufmyn, a faculty member at City College of San Francisco.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the authors are considering subsidies provided by city and state officials in their reckoning of how much the developer is paying toward affordable units in the project.


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