Planning Commission should approve Transit Tower

A large decision today could potentially set in motion construction in San Francisco of the tallest building on the West Coast while kick-starting the future of a new transit hub in The City.

The City’s Planning Commission will be asked today to approve  the proposed Transbay Tower, and it should do so for several reasons — all of which would be beneficial for San Francisco.

The Transbay Transit Center plan would redevelop several blocks of the South of Market neighborhood around what used to be the Transbay Transit Terminal. The crown jewel in the development is the new Transbay Tower, which, when constructed, would rise 1,070 feet into the sky — making it the largest skyscraper on the West Coast.

To help make the tower more politically palatable to its neighbors, its design has been modified — and the height lowered slightly.

To enable the building to be constructed, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority would eventually sell the land to a private developer. Money from the sale of the land would go toward the extension of Caltrain and the future high-speed rail line from its current terminus at Fourth and King streets to the future transit center hub at First and Mission streets. The extension would bring two mass-transit systems into the heart of San Francisco’s downtown. Funds from the sale of the land would help San Francisco leverage other state and federal money to make the plans for the critical extension a reality.

Atop the new transit hub would be a park — open space the South of Market neighborhood desperately needs. Green space is limited in the Financial District, too, and this new area would benefit those who live or work nearby.

In addition to funding the transit project, money from the sale of the land would go toward affordable housing in The City. Overall, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority will sell several plots of land in the transit center district, all of which would go toward creating housing for low- and middle-income San Franciscans.

Looming skyscrapers would not be appropriate everywhere in San Francisco, but each project needs to be weighed on its own merits. This one does much more for the good of San Franciscans than bad. There will always be complaints about The City’s changing skyline, the shadows from the tower and worries about the gentrification of neighborhoods. But The City cannot do without the transit center upgrades, and building this tower is a lynchpin in that plan.

The City should hear concerns from all opposed to this plan and, within reason, try to mitigate them. But the overall plan should be approved so shovels can hit the dirt on it and all the projects it will help fund.

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