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Epic S.F. Redevelopment Wins Approval

When the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard closed, the United States Navy was steaming home from the South China Sea and the best way to get across San Francisco was in an airborne Mustang GT. It was then, 36 years ago, that the prospect of a massive redevelopment for Hunters Point and adjacent Candlestick Point first sprang to life. And it was just last month that a project was finally approved.

Replacing the former drydocks and heavy industrial facilities on the southern, bayside edge of San Francisco will be up to 10,000 units of housing as well as 5 million square feet of commercial space and and 300 acres of green spaces. Located entirely in a redevelopment project area, the development is intended to be served by a web of transit and revitalize one of the city's most destitute neighborhoods.

"The opportunity to get over 700 acres of waterfront land entitled is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," said Michael Cohen, director of the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development  "It's particularly important because these lands resides in the heart of a part of the city that has been underserved."

Miami-based homebuilder Lennar will serve as master developer for the roughly $8 billion plan, which was approved, along with its environmental impact report, by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Aug. 3. Cohen said that Lennar would develop the project's horizontal components while a range of other developers and subcontractors would developer the vertical component, in part to avoid a monolithic development.

Along with its waterbound cousin Treasure Island � also a former military installation to be redeveloped by Lennar � Hunters Point and Candlestick Point, which together encompass a full 2 percent of the city's land area, are likely to constitute to be the largest new development that San Francisco will ever see.

"We believe pretty strongly that this is not only the biggest but probably the most important development project in San Francisco's modern history," said Cohen.

As could be expected in a city famous for its activism, the development plan did not come about without heavy lifting.            

The most major hurdle it had to clear come in the form of dueling ballot measures in 2008. Proposition G asked voters to weigh in on the concept of the plan in a nonbinding referendum while Proposition F would have required 50 percent of its housing to be subsidized. The former won with 61 percent of the vote while the latter was defeated.

Supervisor Chris Daly, one of Prop F's main backers, cast the lone dissenting vote in the 10-1 final approval last month on the grounds that the project still does not include enough affordable housing.

Daly's office did not respond to request for comment. His apparent sentiments, however, are in stark contrast with those of other housing advocates.

"There have been few projects in recent city history that have been so aligned with our goals," said Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Coalition.

Colen said that the project's emphasis on workforce housing � which he said is currently produced in the city at a rate of "zero, nada, zip" � would be a major contribution to the city. The plan aids very low-income residents by demolishing the Alice B. Griffith housing project and replacing it with an equivalent amount of housing that will be guaranteed to current project residents. Colen said that past displacements had caused residents to "scatter, never to return."

Despite the project's lopsided final victory on the Board of Supervisors, preliminary votes on key points were far closer. A rendition of Daly's call for affordable housing and a vote to disallow a key bridge both lost on 5-6 margins. Daly raised the affordable housing issue even after acknowledging Lennar's contention that more affordable housing would make the project financially infeasible.

Other critics of Lennar's plan, which was developed in conjunction with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Department of City Planning as well as input from countless community groups, contend that it is not as progressive as it should be. Although the plan calls for several bus routes to extend into the former base, it includes no directly connection to rail transit. Arthur Feinstein, conservation chair of the San Francisco chapter of Sierra Club, said that a planned bus rapid transit line will not sufficiently reduce the area's dependence on personal autos and that the plan's parking requirements.

"They could have required less parking, smaller parking ratios like 0.5 to 1 for every unit rather than 1:1," said Feinstein. "Elsewhere in the city they have approved much lower ratios for parking."

Cohen admitted that the project wasn't as transit-rich as the forthcoming new Transbay Terminal, which sits atop several rail lines in downtown Francisco. But he did say that by building up the population of the Bayview area and extending transit lines into the new development, bus transit throughout southeast San Francisco could double the overall use of transit in the area. 

Moreover, environmental activists have taken issue with a four-lane bridge that would cross the Yosemite Slough and connect the development with adjacent Candlestick Point, where the 49ers NFL team may play for only a few more years before they make an expected move to Santa Clara. Feinstein said that the Sierra Club, among others, was concerned about the plan's handling of the project's parkland, emissions, and the Yosemite Slough bridge.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents Bayview and has long championed a redevelopment project at the shipyard, said that the bridge will hardly constitute an intrusion on the bay's ecosystem. "As far as birds and critters are concerned, any bird worth their salt knows how to navigate a bridge," Maxwell. 

Perhaps of greatest concern, however, is responsibility for cleanup of the mess left by the Navy. The site is designated as a federal Superfund site, and local officials have called for environmental justice for area residents and insisted that the Navy and EPA commence remediation posthaste.

The paradox of the long wait at Bayview is that planning principles have evolved significantly since the property was originally abandoned. Even so, its collection of mostly low-rise multifamily units and park-like neighborhoods strike some as antiquated.

"It feels like very old-school and is going to result in a lot of traffic congestions, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions," said Tom Redulovich, executive director of local smart growth and social justice advocacy ground Liveable City. "In the rest of the city we've been trying to say, let's be a city that's more compact and more walkable�.and that shipyard property feels like it's headed in the other direction."

City officials expect, however, that the few details in contention are outweighed by massive benefits that came in part from perhaps the most extensive series of planning meetings in the city's history.

"The wait has produced a lot of good things," said Maxwell. "It has helped to unite the community."

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency served as the city's lead agency in the planning process to the distress of some critics, who felt that the agency was less responsive than the Planning Department would have been.

Cohen dismissed that claim as "absurd" and said "there is not a project in SF's history � there isn't anything close � that has gone through as much public debate and discussion and vetting as this one."

"I think they contributed tremendously," added Maxwell. "You have to have both, because there's zoning and then there's planning and then there's redevelopment.  In a lot of ways, what we said was that the redevelopment plan would follow the plan of the planning department, and we had many dual meetings and dual planning sessions together."

Although the project has its share of auto-oriented big box retail, of the sort that might be found in a suburban greenfield development, the plan makes a relatively strong connection to the surrounding urban fabric. The Hunters Point plan intends to let the city wash into the shipyard and reach towards the bay by continuing the street grid that currently butts up against the wasteland of the shipyard.

"All these streets that currently dead-end into a barbed wire fence will be continued all the way to these waterfront parks," said Cohen. "By doing that we ensure that this project isn't an enclaved separate from the existing Bayview community."

Contacts & Resources:

Lennar Hunters Point Community Official Site

Michael Cohen, Director, San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development http://www.oewd.org, (415) 554-6969

Tim Colen, Executive Director, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition http://www.sfhac.org

(415) 541-9001

Sophie Maxwell, Supervisor, City and County of San Francisco District 10, (415) 554-7670

Tom Redulovich, Executive Director, Livable City http://www.livablecity.org/, (415) 344-0489