Cars are parked in the Balboa Reservoir lot near City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus. (Daniel Kim/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)

‘Against the interest of the people’: City College community opposes Balboa Reservoir housing project

CCSF neighbors express concerns over affordability, impacts on area

With plans to develop the 17-acre Balboa Reservoir into some 1,100 apartments beginning to take shape, neighbors and members of City College of San Francisco on Thursday expressed concerns over the project’s affordability and its impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.

Details of the proposal — which, among other things, calls for 50 percent of the proposed units to be affordable, 4 acres of public open space and a 100-slot childcare facility on land across from City College’s Ocean Campus that is currently a Public Utilities Commission-owned parking lot — were presented to the San Francisco Planning Commission at Thursday’s hearing.

While the commission did not vote on the plan on Thursday, the project’s developers said that they expect to seek approvals next summer, after a final Environmental Review is prepared — a draft will be released in the coming months.

No matter, dozens of community members and city college stakeholders mobilized to express their opposition to the project, which many said should aim for 100 percent affordability and is likely to exacerbate existing challenges with parking and congestion in the area.

Many also voiced concerns about selling the public land to private interests. According to the project plans, a disposition agreement between the PUC and the development team — which include Bridge Housing, AvalonBay Communities, Mission Housing, Pacific Union Development Company and Habitat for Humanity of Greater San Francisco — is still outstanding.

The developers also must enter into a separate agreement with The City that would commit them to providing a number of community benefits that have been proposed through a community review process.

“You are turning public land over to private developers — it’s against the interest of the people of San Francisco,” said labor journalist and City College advocate Steve Zelzter. “We should not trust developers to take care of our interests and needs.”

Leigh Lutensky, of The City’s Office of Economic Workforce Development, acknowledged that there has “been much public discussion about making the project 100 percent affordable.”

Lutensky said that this demand would require an “infeasible amount of additional public subsidy to the tune of $200 million.”

As proposed, the development team would subsidize the costs of 33 percent of the project’s proposed affordable units through the market rate rents, while The City would identify gap funding for the remaining 17 percent.

“There’s so much demand for The City’s limited affordable housing funds and many of those projects have no other way to pay for the subsidies,” said Lutensky, adding that the Balboa Reservoir development in contrast can lean its on market rate rental portion. “The City can use more of its public dollars to build much needed affordable housing elsewhere and the Balboa Reservoir can still achieve 550 affordable units with this model.”

But members of the public questioned whom the affordable units would serve.

“In San Francisco the price of land is a prime obstacle to building 100 percent affordable housing — keeping land in public hands is one way to make this a possibility,” said City College advocate Christine Hanson.

Hanson pointed out that the community college of San Mateo constructed “100 percent affordable units” for it’s staff by “using truly affordable rents paid by their teachers.”

According to the current Balboa Reservoir development plans, Hansen said that City College teachers would only be able to afford about 8.5 percent of the proposed housing.

“They fall into a gap in affordability [that is] between low, moderate and market rate,” said Hanson. “The percentage of people who can afford to live in the development who make less than $90,000 is 26.5 percent.”

A man who gave his name as Micah said that many City College students like him will not be able to afford units in the new development, and would stand to lose access to a vast parking lot.

“[The parking lot] is a crucial part of many students’ abilities to attend school. It is not empty, it is used,” said Micah. “If it were to be developed it makes sense as public land to be developed as affordable, for actual students. Myself and every other student I know would not be able to afford most of the units in this place which leads me to believe it is being built for the wealthy.”

Amy O’Hair, an officer of the Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee and the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, said that the association supports the project, with “reservations” about its density.

“If 1,100 residential units are built on 17 acres the density ratio of units to acres will be about 65,” said O’Hair. “In contrast ,10-15 units per acre is the density ratio in surrounding neighborhoods.”

“I’m concerned about overcrowding and traffic and it’s becoming very real,” said Stephen Martinpinto, the association’s president. “One project will not solve the entire city’s housing crisis and cramming the maximum number of people into a space is not wise urban planning or safe.”

Sam Moss, Executive Director of Mission Housing, one of the three nonprofit affordable housing developers participating in the project, said that the development team “spent time planning with the college, aligning our site plan and construction plan with the college plan’s for the Ocean Avenue campus,” and is listening to the voices of surrounding neighbors and

“low income communities.”

“The Balboa Reservoir is dependent on all parties working together to bring 550 units of true affordable housing to a city in crisis,” said Moss. “With so many unhoused San Franciscans, it’s important that our priorities lie with providing as much high quality housing as possible, at all income ranges.”

Planning Commission President Rich Hillis said the projects will be “impactful” on the neighborhood, but added that he believes the site to be “a great place for housing.”

“We prioritize housing on public land. We have to make these tradeoffs to leverage the economic value of this land to build at these levels — which are huge at 50 percent affordable housing,” said Hillis. “This process is at the beginning, there will be an [environmental review] where we will look at density and traffic.”

Commissioner Dennis Richards challenges opponents of the project to “try to change your thinking around this to ‘this is a real solution [to] a real problem.’”

“If we can accomodate the affordable housing, the additional housing we will need to create and make sure it doesn’t negatively impact City College, then we have winner here,” said Richards.

This story has been updated.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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