For Sale: Balboa Reservoir

Illustration by Serina Mercado
Illustration by Serina Mercado

By Otto Pippenger/ Staff Writer

The two city departments creating mixed income housing in the Balboa Reservoir will begin selecting a developer by early January 2016.

The 17-acre lot has been chosen as the first location for Mayor Ed Lee’s “Public Land For Public Housing Program,” an attempt to create 4,000 new housing units on city- owned property by 2020, of which 50 percent overall are intended to be below market rate.

San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission currently owns the land and is expected to provide utilities. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development will coordinate and negotiate with developers, and the Planning Department will be in charge of implementing the 2009 Balboa Park Area Plan with the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency and Public Works.

The mayor hopes to eventually replace all public housing with mixed-income developments operated by companies, nonprofits or landlords who receive tax breaks or subsidies in return for renting units at discounted prices.

Since 2007, the city constructed only 44 percent of the low-income units and 18 percent of the moderate-income housing they hoped to see. Through proposed housing program and Proposition K, passed in 2014 to create 30,000 lower-income units by 2020, the city plans to better serve the housing needs of lower-income communities.

At most, up to 50 percent of the city’s future municipal housing will be discounted, while the rate of pricey, market-rate private development continues to grow.

Thus developers have not been chosen yet for the Balboa Reservoir site but the city’s plan is to allow construction of roughly 500 housing units after a chosen developer buys or leases the land from the city’s utilities commission.

The Planning Department and Office of Economic and Workforce Development have spent 2015 collecting public input on the project, and to determine the specifics of the Request For Proposals that will outline requirements for developers to submit project proposals.

CCSF Representation

A nine-member Community Advisory Committee appointed by Lee and District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee to advise the Planning Department and Office of Economic and Workforce Development has been helping city officials in charge of the project.

City College Trustee and San Francisco State University Latina/ Latino Studies Professor Brigitte Davila has been given the responsibility of representing the interests of City College throughout this process, and acting as an intermediary to the group for City College’s Master Planning efforts.

The committee has met twice, on Aug. 26 and Sept. 14, to discuss the legal and economic background of the project and its affordable housing/neighborhood character.

Committee and officials from the Planning and Workforce departments will make decisions about Parks and Open Spaces in October, transportation in November, and finally about City College and public benefit opportunities in December. This group will release a request for proposals in early 2016. This will be subject to change until construction begins next year or in 2018.

Members of the City College community have made frequent appearances at public comment sessions in hopes of affecting the content of the request for proposals. Some asked that the site remain as student parking, given to the school entirely or turned into a public park.

Planning department representative Jeremy Shaw published a memo in July rejecting all three of those ideas. Yet students and faculty successfully pushed the city to conduct traffic surveys and for officials to agree to coordinate closely with the school’s Education Master Plan for future facilities and academics. Crowding, gentrification, school housing and future expansion of City College facilities remain frequent subjects of discussion.

The Community Advisory Committee’s September meeting agenda included “partnering with CCSF to allocate units to students, faculty and staff.”

Any decision they may have reached is unknown until the minutes of the meeting are published.

Student or faculty housing was not initially present in materials presented to the public, but has become an agenda item after many spoke in favor of it, including District 11 Supervisor John Avalos.

“The lack of student and teacher accommodations as one of the options represents a glaring omission. I would support it,” Avalos said at a community outreach event in May.

Davila’s Position

Trustee Davila is adamantly against any structural differences between the discounted units and the market value ones.

“I do not want any difference between the units. I do not want a poor door and if that means cutting off some revenue so be it,” Davila said.

Davila, acting as intermediary between the college and the city, stated goals to advocate for student and faculty housing, promote the preservation of local Latin culture, create a parking garage if possible and encourage the construction of a Performing Arts Center.

“(We’re) going to make this financially viable while maximizing the number of affordable units,” Davila said. “There are all sorts of grants, credits and tax breaks. If we approach this carefully we can maximize return while creating affordable housing.”

In addition to student and faculty housing, Davila also requested that cooperative housing be added as a future agenda item.

Defining the Project

The committee meeting’s schedule this month describes the economic goal of the reservoir project: to create variously discounted units comprising between 33 to 50 percent of roughly 500 total, with a remainder at market rate to cover costs, provide return to utilities commission’s ratepayers, and “ensure project feasibility.”

After sale or lease proceeds go first to the utility commission’s ratepayers, the planned units will likely be funded by a mixture of developer fees, the City General Fund, city taxes and federal or state funds including the Mental Health Services Act, the McKinney Act or Section 8 subsidies, plus the Mayor’s $300-500 million Housing Bond if it passes in November.

Voters will also decide on Lee’s Affordable Housing Bonus Program, written as an incentive for developers to create affordable units. It would allow them to build more units and two additional stories of construction if 30 percent or more of the units are affordable, with a minimum of 18 percent reserved for middle income tenants, and 12 percent for low/moderate income renters.

The Balboa Reservoir project categorizes its affordable units in three different categories. First is very low income at up to 55 percent of the Ocean/Balboa Park area median income of $68,000 annually.

Second is low income, as up to 80 percent of the median income (or under $56,000 for a family of four).

The third is moderate, up to 120 percent of the area average, up to $85,000 for an individual (or up to $122,000 for a family of four.)

The 2009 Balboa Park Station Area Plan also includes new plans published March 2015 to overhaul MUNI, bicycle and foot traffic structures for the reservoir and Ocean corridor. A utility commission study of the area last year concluded that existing utilities could be expanded easily.

Affordable units will not have fixed prices or rent control, but are calculated to initially cost no more than 33 percent of a monthly salary less than the unit’s maximum income limit (based on the region’s cost of living and average income).

These below-market-rate rent prices are subject to inflation and can go up, with typical annual rent increases of 3 percent on average.

The mayor’s five-year economic plan asserts that any ensuing profit loss for private non-profits or developers who collect the rent will be softened by funds or incentives from the city.

Trustee Davila welcomes community input at Community Advisory Committee meetings or sent to, and will be announcing the dates, times and locations of the upcoming three meetings at a Board of Trustees meeting soon. Emails can also be sent to the committee at brcac@

Contact a reporter

Send an email to: Otto Pippenger

Comments are closed.

The Guardsman