Greening a city ... and pushing other colors out

  • The colorful old African American neighborhood of Bayview in the San Francisco fog.

    Patrick Boury
  • Mural in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.

    EKAI/cc via flickr
  • Arc Ecology executive director Saul Bloom says the proposed redevelopment won't benefit the Bayview community.

    Peter DaSilva
  • Marie Harrison of Greenaction speaks at a 2006 rally calling for final closure of the PG&E Hunters Point power plant.

    Greenaction
  • The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, circa 1940s. A radiological testing lab and other industrial operations would later result in the site being added to the EPA's Superfund inventory.

    LOC, HAER CAL,38-SANFRA,195A-3
  • Artist’s renderings of the proposed development at the old Hunters Point site.

    Lennar Urban
 

Page 4

Many Bayview residents do support the development. "If they are able to do just what they say, I'd be pretty pleased," says Angelo King, a resident for 13 years. King chairs the Project Area Committee, a volunteer citizens' advisory board to the Redevelopment Agency. He believes the project could revitalize a stagnating economy while locking in middle-class housing in a city that sorely needs it.

The current situation is untenable, King says: Already-high property values will continue to rise, with or without redevelopment. The demand for housing in San Francisco is simply too great for Bayview to remain unaffected. Meanwhile, those who can afford to leave have been doing so for years, frustrated by the neighborhood's struggling schools, isolation and lack of amenities.

"We don't have a problem with subsidized housing -- we have more than any other ZIP Code in the damn city. We have a problem with middle-class housing," King says, noting that he can't afford to buy in. "There is housing for people who have not and who have. But if you live with your wife and you make $110,000, you don't have a place in Bayview. You don't have a place in the whole city."

And Fred Blackwell, chief of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, says the city's plan is the only viable option. "There are a lot of novel ideas out there. (But) I haven't seen another one that works from a financial point of view." San Francisco lacks the funds to develop the site on its own, he says. Redevelopment projects like the Shipyard require a developer with the ability to invest a lot of money up front. And it's the massive amount of market-rate housing which subsidizes the cheaper units. The Shipyard needs basic infrastructure -- grading, roads, sewers, streetlights -- which Lennar will have to pay for before it turns a profit. Once the infrastructure is built and property values start to rise, the money the city collects in increased property taxes will be directed to the Redevelopment Agency to fund further investments -- that's where the funding for most of the affordable housing comes from, as well as community benefits like job training.

Arc Ecology, however, remains steadfast in its disapproval of the city's plan. Bloom argues that the city chose a conventional developer, endorsed its "off-the-shelf" plan, and then tacked on benefits to mitigate its impacts. He sees it as a missed opportunity to think more creatively about how to build a more sustainable -- and fair -- community. During the planning process, Arc Ecology proposed a "green maritime" industrial and research center to take advantage of local job skills and one of the country's great deepwater ports, and return the shipyard to its role as the area's economic engine. And Bloom suggested the city pay homeowners to turn single-family houses into multiple units, which he argues would increase density and local incomes, and generate the same amount of housing faster and more cheaply.

It's admittedly unclear that such a plan could materialize. But the same could be said of the city's plan for a green tech center, its major hope for generating jobs. So far, the proposal has no definite takers.

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve the current plan in August 2010, but Bloom and Harrison still hope to amend it. Harrison's Greenaction has sued the city, arguing that the environmental impact report approved by the Board does not adequately address possible harm to local residents during cleanup and construction at the site. Bloom hopes that with the upcoming mayoral election, the political winds could shift, or that economic factors could persuade the city to consider changes. "If there's anything true about development, it's that what you see on paper isn't what gets built," he says. "Things change, markets change, opportunities change."

For the moment, construction at the site is stalled, tied up by lawsuits and the unfavorable economy.

"You're walking through housing right now," says Bloom. In fact, we are walking through Candlestick Point State Park, the only major green space near Bayview. The park, which sits on a spit of land just south of the shipyard, wraps around the 49ers football stadium, hugging the shoreline. Under the city's plan, housing will replace the stadium and part of the park. The city argues that the additional land is needed to make the development financially viable. Besides, the park is hardly untouched wilderness, project supporters say.

But, says Bloom, spreading his arms, "In this part of town, this is the best you get." And it's a surprisingly tranquil place. Birds chatter in the manzanita and Monterey pines. The bay itself stretches splendidly away, and, to the south, fog hugs the hills.

Bloom worries that the plan will effectively turn the remaining park from the area's only real open space into a private park for the residents of the new condominiums. To him, it's indicative of the problem at the heart of the whole project. "It's not oriented towards this community," he says. "It's a completely different community that they plan to build."

Rachel Waldholz is an environmental reporter -- and former HCN intern -- based in Brooklyn, New York.

This story was funded with reader donations to the High Country News Research Fund.

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