The City is developing proposals for the Civic Center that include new amenities and more places for the public to sit and get out of the wind and sun. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Planning Commission president calls for homeless shelter in plans to redo Civic Center

Dog park, benches, changes to U.N. Plaza fountain proposed for revamped public space

Gardens and benches, a modified UN Plaza fountain, a new shallow pool in Civic Center Plaza — designs to transform three main public spaces leading from City Hall to Market Street are taking shape.

But what’s missing in the proposed Civic Center Public Realm Plan?

Planning Commission President Myrna Melgar said Thursday during a briefing on the plan that she was “worried” it doesn’t consider facilities for those who may be homeless.

“What we have in this entire space is a population that uses it sometimes that has very high social and economic needs,” Melgar said. “And these beautiful designs don’t do anything about that in a pragmatic way and I am worried about that.”

She said she wanted to ensure “that folks don’t disappear, but we need to address their needs.”

Melgar proposed that as part of the plan The City turn Brooks Hall, a 94,000-square foot event space underneath Civic Center Plaza, into a Navigation Center. The hall is currently used for storage.

“I would love to see Brooks Hall be a Navigation Center,” Melgar said. “I know that it’s going to take some political and economic resources to make that happen.”

The plan has not yet determined a use for the space.

“Due to uncertainty over the timeline for funding Brooks Hall improvements, as well as uncertainty over future real estate needs and market conditions,” said a May 9 memo to the Planning Commission from Nicholas Perry, the Planning Department’s project manager for the Civic Center Public Realm Plan.

The San Francisco Examiner first reported about the effort to transform the area in January 2017, but late Mayor Ed Lee apparently directed the Planning Department to begin the work about a year earlier, according to the memo. The plan is nearing completion after about two-years of work and community input.

Willett Moss, a founding partner of CMG Landscape Architecture, the consultant on the plan for the Planning Department, said that “the mandate from the city was pretty clear: fix something that is generally broken and inhospitable.”

He described an “environment that is car dominated, fragmented. There aren’t places really to get out of the wind or get out of the sun and there is nothing to do. There is not a single bench in the entire district.”

One of the big changes planned is a transformation of the UN Plaza Fountain.

“Part of the fountain’s lowest level would be raised and paved, with sloped walks added to provide access from the plaza, the memo said. “This raised area would incorporate a small, playful interactive water feature that could be turned off depending on programming and weather. When this feature is off, the paved area would become a flexible place for small performances or movable seating.”

Moss said that when it came to the fountain, a “majority of people who responded to surveys and questions would like to see it removed.”

Near the modified fountain, on the Leavenworth Street segment of the plaza, a dog park is planned.

A new fountain is also contemplated in the plan. “A mirror fountain—a thin sheet of water—at the heart of the plaza would lend solemnity to the space with reflection of the City Hall dome,” the memo said. The water could be drained for events.

The plan also calls for closing Fulton Street between the Library and Asian Art Museum and possibly removing the Pioneer Monument.

With more than 8,000 housing units in the pipeline within a half-mile of City Hall, Planning Commissioner Rich Hillis said he would like to see more active uses for residents incorporated into the plan, such as a “couple basketball courts, a skate park.”

Planning Commissioner Milicent Johnson emphasized that where the plan calls for pavilions or other sectioned off areas, that those spaces should remain accessible “so you don’t only have access to them because you can pay for a cup a coffee.”

Perry said that the next step is to work with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Public Works to come with up with street designs and traffic analysis and complete a draft Civic Center Public Realm Plan this summer and fall that would then undergo environmental review for two years.

“Hopefully there is the will to find the funding to do it,” Hillis said of the plan. “We’re the wealthiest city around. Tax revenues are at their peak. But our primary civic plaza is not in great shape.”


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Planning Commission President Myrna Melgar on Thursday called for the Civic Center Public Realm Plan to include a Navigation Center or other facilities for the homeless people who currently use the space. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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