By Gene Thompson
If students and teachers return to campus in the fall semester of 2022 half of their parking lot may be gone.
Developer AvalonBay/Bridge has successfully jumped through all the hoops, and after gathering community input at its Oct. 16 open house, is revving up the bulldozers to transform the Balboa Reservoir parking lot adjacent to City College into an enormous housing development.
AvalonBay/Bridges Reservoir Project’s website boasts it will create 1,100 new households, “at least half of whom will qualify for affordable/workforce housing.” Nora Collins, development director of AvalonBay Communities, confirmed that 150 units would also be earmarked as “educator housing.”
The developers promise the 17 acre community will include four acres of open public space, including a playground and community garden.
But questions about traffic congestion and the affordability of the units have left many wondering why San Francisco sold the land at a discount to create a development some feel will cause more problems than it solves.
Student Christine Hanson worries traffic and parking woes will force more students to abandon the college. “I think it’s gonna limit enrollment. I think it’s gonna make it hard,” she said, adding, “ If you have 40 minutes to get from work to class and you still have to run up the stairs and be sitting in a chair … It’s so congested!”
Another student, Alvin Ja, agreed. “The elimination of 1,000-plus student parking spaces in the Lower Reservoir due to the project will have the real-world consequence of discouraging attendance at City College.”
Kittelson & Associates, contracted to analyze the development’s impact on parking and traffic, determined that during peak use of the reservoir for parking, the development would result in a net shortfall of 239 parking spaces. The firm suggests that the overflow vehicles be parked in the surrounding neighborhood.
Kittelson further notes that increased traffic congestion could be mitigated by improving traffic signal timing.
Collins adds that AvalonBay “has agreed to park the 239 [vehicles] on our site, not in the surrounding neighborhood.”
In addition to parking and traffic concerns, some fear that the College community will be priced out of the housing. According to Collins, “This is a 50% affordable project, and that is required by law. That’s our development agreement.”
But in the opinion of retired ESL professor Allan Fisher, who was president of the teachers’ union, AFT 2121, from 2000-2004, “What they call ‘affordable’ will not be affordable to most of our students and staff.”
The definition of affordable housing is determined by the city government and not the developer. When asked how much affordable units would cost to rent, Collins declined, citing that rents depend on variables like median income that change over time.
“I don’t know exactly what the rents are going to be tomorrow,” she said. “I’m not a fortune teller.”
The dual issues of affordability and transportation problems have led many to wonder whose interests were primary when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) sold the 17 acre lot to AvalonBay/Bridge in 2020 for $11.4 million, far below the market price.
“11.4 million in San Francisco is nothing for a huge property like that,” Fisher said. “What’s going on behind the scenes? Maybe there’s some corruption here.”
City College Trustee Thea Selby, who recently launched her campaign for state assembly, voted against a 2021 easement enabling the Balboa Reservoir Project. When asked her opinion about selling 17 acres of San Francisco land for $11.4 million she repeatedly sidestepped with non-sequiturs, including twice answering, “It’s not our land.”
Selby supports the increase in housing. “What I care about,” Selby said, “is that we build housing quickly, efficiently, effectively; that we have a high amount of affordability.”