Editorial: A development plan to treasure

By endorsing the Treasure Island development project, the Board of Supervisors took a major step in addressing one of The City’s most pressing issues. That would be homeownership, the impediments to which — many of them politically created — are routinely cited as reasons for middle-class flight from San Francisco.

The former naval facility has long been an obvious site for the public-private imagination to work its magic. We’re as excited as Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s point man for the project, about the grand vision. Cohen beams about “a collection of hotels and restaurants and cafes and retail centered around a western ferry terminal in a dense walkable urban corridor that will help make Treasure Island one of the great destinations in the world.”

Supervisors could vote final approval for the development in July, 2009, with 6,000 units of housing available for 13,500 new residents as early as 2012. There is much to love about this plan — which includes 300 acres of parkland and 235,000 square feet of retail.

There also are some points of concern. When government mandates that 30 percent of those housing units be sold at submarket prices, you really do have to scout around for the ultimate financiers, who, sadly, could be taxpayers. And Bay Bridge commuters will want to be assured their cars won’t be jammed in with thousands of new ones.

The planners hope that a new TI ferry terminal and on-island tolls will help. We hope so, too, and would suggest that, in principle, the concept of congestion pricing be extrapolated throughout The City.

Sultans of the sidewalks strike San Francisco

If you’re a property owner in The City, did you know that you owned the sidewalk adjacent to your own, private little piece of paradise? Well, not exactly, but if it deteriorates — that is, becomes jagged, cracked or otherwise defaced — then you’re expected to repair it.

No, you can’t hold exclusive roller-skating parties on it or set up a lemonade stand or confine its use to yourself and your guests — in other words, act like a true owner. That’s when The City steps in as the true proprietor. Except that The City insists that you maintain it. You could be fined if you don’t.

The philosophy of sidewalk ownership varies from state to state, some municipalities happily repairing these pedestrian paths as normal service. But in San Francisco, state and city law dictates that only 106 of the 5,298 city blocks are local government’s responsibility. So the Department of Public Works wants $1.3 million to send out grim-faced sidewalk inspectors, each prepared to coerce you.

We’d guess The City could actually — get ready, now, this isn’t complicated — repair most of that unsightly sidewalk damage for $1.3 million. Oh, all right: It might cost that much for seven Department of Public Works employees to lean on their shovels while an associate patches a square yard.

At least, they don’t claim you own the street fronting your parcel. Be grateful.

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