By Patrick Cochran
The ongoing debate over what to do with the former Balboa Reservoir has a plethora different groups arguing over what to do. Some want to keep it as it is, others want to build massive 600 foot residential towers, while others want to place City College’s long delayed Performing Arts Center. In my opinion the best solution is to incorporate aspects of all three into a smart, creative design that both serves the needs of the students while adding desperately needed housing.
First the developers should erect a parking garage above the current fire station/transit stop. The area occupied by those two locations is pretty large and would be able to host a large multi level parking garage.
Now the trick with using that spot is that the fire station and MUNI bus stop are obviously important but I think there is a way to get around this. Modern engineering is more than advance enough to create a parking structure on top of those two locations.
Both would be disrupted for a time but not as long as they would be if they were both completely incorporated into a new garage. To compensate for the time that they can’t be operated during construction temporary ones could be set up where the current lower parking lot is.
After the garage has been completed the focus of the project can shift to the lower reservoir. A battle has been brewing over what to do with that tract of land, which is owned by the San Francisco Public Utility Commision.
San Francisco desperately needs more housing. There is too much demand and the prices for houses and rent goes up and up. The Balboa Reservoir is an ideal spot to build more housing. At the same time CCSF deserves its long-awaited Performing Arts Center (PAC) which passed city voters on a ballot measure but still hasn’t been built.
The PAC needs to be built. The Diego Rivera Theatre is wholly inadequate for the school’s needs. A newly built PAC could act as an the centerpiece of the development at the reservoir and the residential towers could be built around it. Residents of those towers would surely appreciate a world class arts center that would breath life into the residential complex.
Key to any passage of deal should be the amount of affordable housing built. We need housing in San Francisco. The estimated population of the city is 860,000 but in my opinion it needs to go up at least over a million if we want to have a fighting chance of stabilizing our rents. People might bristle at the thought of San Francisco getting more crowded but I bet they hate the insane amounts they pay for rent much more.
Developers obviously have to make money and on the units that aren’t deemed affordable housing they will be able to make more than their fair share of profit. Presumably those units will cost millions of dollars to buy and will probably be bought by rich tech workers or overseas buyers that want to own valuable property in America (an issue that San Francisco should deal with by taxing).
In my opinion a 40/60 split between affordable and market price would be a fair deal. The 40% affordable housing should be equally split into two tiers; the first one for residents that would traditionally qualify for Section-8 housing and the second tier for middle-income resident whom in most cities would be able to own a house but because of the exorbitant prices can’t afford one.
According to trulia.com the average price for a home sold in San Francisco between May 24 and August 23 this year was $1.25 million. At that price homeownership is out of reach even for married or cohabiting couples that make incomes in the low six figures let alone less than $100,000 combined. If we want to begin solving the housing crisis in San Francisco we need to start building housing units right away and Balboa Reservoir offers one of the best opportunities in the city to do that. City College professors should have access to some of the housing stock since many of them face difficulties in finding a place to live.
San Francisco only requires developers to make 12% of their properties affordable (or built sites off site nearby) but for a project of this significance the public should make sure that a much higher percentage of affordable housing is built at the Balboa Reservoir site. As citizens we should make sure our voices are heard so the developers are forced to build more affordable housing.
Local residents might not like the idea of huge towers potentially 600 feet or higher being built nearby but I think there concerns are mute compared to the housing crisis the city faces. At the same time City College deserves some accommodation on this potential project by building the new PAC there.
There are other valid concerns that the developers need to address, like upgrading Ocean and Geneva Avenues to deal with the potential onslaught of 10,000+ new residents in the neighborhood. Any plans for the site needs to adequately deal with that issue. Compromise is the key to Balboa Reservoir and if everyone works together I think it could be a great benefit both to the students of City College and the wallets of San Francisco residents by providing more affordable housing.