Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Market-Octavia Plan in San Francisco

Hello Everyone,

It's been more than a year since I have posted to this blog, and a lot has happened:

-- Our "green" mayor got reelected in November, and his handlers are busily cementing dictatorial powers for him and preparing his segue onto higher office;
-- The war in Iraq (for corporate control of the world's last remaining region with huge oil deposits) continues unabated, even though a few White House advisors and their obedient generals on the ground may quibble about a few details here and there;
-- The price of a barrel of oil has crept past $100, but even still, energy analysts rarely mention the price of a gallon of gasoline in the same sentence (or even article) with global climate change or peak oil; and,
-- Our mayor is passively permitting development policies in the city that encourage sprawl elsewhere and car driving here. To wit, the Market-Octavia Plan ...

After the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, San Franciscans battled at the ballot box about the damaged Central Freeway. Rebuild it or tear it down? The proponents of tearing it down finally won, and now neighborhood activists, city planners, and elected officials are busy putting the final touches on a plan to create a new community where the freeway once existed.

For some reason, against the wishes of the neighborhood activists, city planners are allowing a plan for residential construction with increased parking (which significantly increases the cost of residential units). The activists have rallied and Supervisors Mirkarimi and McGoldrick have responded. The following White Paper, which explains proposed improvements, was prepared by Livable City Executive Director and BART Board Member Tom Radulovich:

Parking and the Market and Octavia Plan

The intent of the Market and Octavia Plan was to maintain and repair the area as a sustainable, affordable, and diverse neighborhood, where walking, cycling, and public transit are the choice for most trips. The parking controls in the 2002 draft plan were integral to the plan’s goals of furthering housing affordability, housing a diversity of households including families with children, reducing traffic and maintaining livable streets, and moving towards sustainability.

Without any neighborhood input, the Planning Department recommended imposing downtown’s parking controls throughout the Market and Octavia Plan area — the same parking limits have turned out to be a formula for luxury condominium development and expensive pied-a-terres unaffordable to the vast majority of San Franciscans. A working group of established neighborhood groups within the plan area, together with citywide groups that advocate for affordable housing and livable streets and neighborhoods, worked with Supervisor Mirkarimi to amend the Market and Octavia parking controls to restore the original spirit and intent of the plan.

• Neighborhood character: The parking controls proposed by the neighborhood mirror the neighborhood’s existing character: 48% of existing housing units in the Market and Octavia plan area currently have a parking space. To accept the planning department’s proposed parking are inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood.
• Expand housing affordability: housing units without parking spaces are cheaper to build, and more affordable to buy, than comparable units with a parking space. A UC Berkeley study found that housing units without parking sold for 12% less than comparable units with parking, were affordable to 24% more San Francisco households, and sold an average of 41 days faster than condominium units with parking. A more recent study by the Sedway Group found that downtown condominiums without parking were cost up to 21% less than comparable units with parking.
• Meet neighborhood needs: each neighborhood should be able to preserve and enhance its unique character, and choose parking controls that fit their needs without imposing a traffic or environmental burden on surrounding neighborhoods. The voters of the city overwhelmingly rejected a one-size-fits-all approach to parking, by defeating Proposition H by over 66 percent. Imposing a Downtown’s parking controls on unwilling neighborhood for the sake of “consistency” is un-San Franciscan.
• Make the neighborhood more family-friendly: A recent study by the Department of Children, Youth and their Families, exploring why families with children are leaving the city, found that the top three reasons families are leaving the city are: lack of affordable family housing; concern about schools, and San Francisco’s unsafe streets. Making our neighborhood streets safer by reducing parking, and creating more housing affordable to families, will help attract and retain families with children.
• Reduce traffic congestion: buildings with less parking generate fewer automobile trips, and generate less traffic congestion on the city’s crowded streets. A 2005 San Francisco State University study found that each residential parking space generates several vehicle trips per week, and that travel behavior differed greatly between residents of buildings with one space per unit and buildings with reduced parking where people were more likely to bike, walk, or take transit.
• Reclaim streets for walking, cycling, and transit: Private automobiles are the most space-intensive form of transportation, and have been allowed to compromise the safety and mobility of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. Less parking generates fewer vehicle trips, which makes it easier to reclaim road space in neighborhoods for wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and transit lanes.
• Reduce climate change impacts: According to the city’s climate action plan, private automobiles account for 48% of San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other source. The Transportation Authority projects 250,000 new vehicle trips in San Francisco by 2025 if we don’t change our transportation habits; stronger parking controls in Market and Octavia will the city meet its climate goals by reducing new vehicle trips and using our limited street capacity to people safely and sustainably.
• Provide sustainable transportation options: The Market and Octavia Plan area is transit-rich, walkable, and is served by several well-used bicycle routes. The plan includes requirements that transportation alternatives like car sharing and bicycle parking into each new development reduces traffic and provides transportation options for residents.
• Improve pedestrian safety and economic vitality: excessive traffic compromises pedestrian safety—especially for children and the elderly— and hurts the economic vitality of neighborhood-serving retail. Residents without cars also do more of their shopping at neighborhood stores.
• End abuse of conditional use approvals for excess parking: Unfortunately, conditional use and design review approvals for excessive parking are treated like an entitlement at the Planning Commission, even though the planning code requires that strict conditions be met before excess parking can be granted. The Market and Octavia parking controls now before the board do away with conditional use for excessive parking, relying instead on a clear and consistent set of controls.

Other amendments before the board

Supervisor McGoldrick proposed amendments to the Market & Octavia Plan, calling for:

• increasing the residential parking spaces allowed to near downtown levels;
• requiring that 10% of all units in larger units to be of three bedrooms or more;
• that units of two bedrooms or more should have right of first refusal on available parking spaces.

While the increased parking ratios would compromise the integrity of the plan, the other two amendments, requiring larger units and giving preference to larger units in securing parking spaces, are fully compatible with the parking controls as currently proposed.