San Franciscans know some of the most important policy decisions that impact our daily lives are not made on Election Day. On Friday, a California Superior Court judge will rule on the biggest land deal in the South of Market outside of Transbay. The 5M project at 5th at Mission streets will have its day in court because a grassroots community coalition took a stand against The City and developers who thought they could make their own rules.
Despite years of rapid gentrification and displacement in the South of Market, the Planning Department allowed the Hearst Corporation, owners of the SF Chronicle newspaper, to remove its massive development site from community planning and zoning and ignore several laws that exist to protect communities and inform the public.
5M is the towering cluster of office and luxury housing skyscrapers that Forest City proposed for 5th and Mission streets, surrounding the old SF Chronicle building. The site includes most of the land stretching south to Howard Street and west to Mary Street. Despite its monstrous scale, the Planning Department excluded this site from all community planning efforts in this area.
Last year, a grassroots coalition of SoMa and Tenderloin residents and organizations, the SoMa Action Committee, appealed the project’s approvals because of its egregious flaws and out-of-scale impacts. Extending the scale of Transbay with its Salesforce and Millennium towers was never part of the community’s vision for the South of Market or this site.
The heart of SoMa, where 5M intrudes, was supposed to be protected by the Youth and Family Special Use District. This area — roughly bounded by 7th Street (west), 4th Street (east), Natoma Street (north) and Harrison Street (south) — was never supposed to be part of a second Financial District. It was meant to protect the blue-collar workers and their families that have always made SoMa home. It was not meant for a 45-story luxury condo tower and nearly a million square feet of office space in a single project.
To get Forest City’s “preferred project” approved, Planning bent and broke the rules. It violated key aspects of State environmental law in the following ways:
– Presenting three different projects descriptions in the Environmental Impact Report, which was misleading and confusing for the public.
– Presenting a seriously deficient cumulative impact analysis.
– Significantly undercounting the number of people who would be using the office space in the development.
– Drastically underestimating traffic and pedestrian safety impacts induced by the huge parking garage.
– Refusing to mitigate shadow impacts on public open space in SoMa and the Tenderloin, including Boeddeker Park, which has zero tolerance for additional shadow.
– Proposing buildings with unacceptable wind impacts.
– Providing privately owned public open spaces that will either have restricted rooftop access or will be entirely in shade from their towers.
– Refusing to present a project alternative that was responsive to existing zoning and the youth and family zone.
It has been a brutal fight. The developer has lawyers, project managers and communications consultants. Owners of the site, the Hearst Corporation, also own the Chronicle. Having the most widely read daily newspaper in the Bay Area on its side has helped promote the disingenuous benefits of the project.
For a coalition of community residents and organizations to take on these powers, we have had to dig deep. Despite the uphill climb, we have scraped together the money for the legal and court fees to keep our hopes alive. We’ve engaged people throughout The City in discussions about the future of SoMa and San Francisco, what 5M means, and how we all can make a difference.
For us, this is a campaign of love for our community and hope for a future of inclusion and diversity. We are hoping that the project approvals will be undone, so we can finally sit down again with The City and the developer and this time not be ignored.
Angelica Cabande, Jane Weil and Betty Traynor are residents and workers of SoMa and the Tenderloin and members of the SoMa Action Committee.