Planning Dept.’s obsession with “latest and greatest” is not smart growth

Central Corridor Draft Higher Height Limit Alternative

The focus of the Central Corridor Plan is on high tech. The focus of the revival of Mid-Market is on high tech. The focus of the Bayview/Hunters Point redevelopment is going to be on high tech and now planners would like the focus of the Western SoMa Plan to be on high tech too.

I think high tech is cool but this is getting ridiculous. It’s not the only source of jobs in this city.  

We all welcomed Twitter to the old Furniture Mart building at 10th and Market Streets. It seemed to signal a renaissance for the tawdry old corridor. Yammer expressed an interest in taking an entire floor of the same building. Then all of a sudden, Microsoft dangled $1.2 billion is front of them and suddenly they’ve been folded into the Microsoft Office division of the tech giant. The future of Yammer on Market Street is in limbo.

Salesforce.com wowed us with their plans for a futuristic 14 acre campus in Mission Bay but broke our hearts when they decided that there was more than enough existing office space in the Financial District for the time being.

Dolby announced recently that they’re going to re-activate the old State Fund building but their move promises to leave two sizable SoMa buildings, at 475 Brannan Street and 9th and Division Streets, sitting empty. Both buildings are on the fringe of the so-called Central Corridor Plan Area.

High tech is real. It’s exciting. It is the future. But it’s ephemeral and wouldn’t be so cool if it was anything else. I wouldn’t base a Plan Area on high tech for anything. You see, I believe in smart growth.

The Central Corridor planners told us that their preference is to rezone most of the mid-SoMa area, including parts of Western SoMa and some of the SOMPAC area, to Mixed Use Office, because — quote — “MUO is the most flexible kind of zoning.” No, Houston’s approach to zoning is the most flexible kind of zoning … they have no zoning at all.

If you pit the existing service and light industrial businesses here in SoMa against an influx of new offices and housing, offices and housing will always win. Best and highest use, and all that nonsense. And when the high tech industry decides to move on to something else, where does that leave those service and light industrial jobs? They become nonexistent, invisible, of course.

We all know that the city needs to preserve space for the so-called PDR (production, distribution and repair) jobs because the Planning Department told us so. Where do you think these high tech businesses are going to get their office equipment repaired? Where will they buy their furniture? Who’s going to design and print their promotional material? Who is going to install their carpet? Who will fix their elevators?

This tendency to rush to the latest and greatest, to the obsession of the month, is not good planning. The Western SoMa Plan, if it’s not ruined by the Central Corridor Plan, provides for a healthy blend of PDR with mid-sized retail and commercial development and high tech office space. A balance. And as an added bonus, it preserves space for the arts and recreation too.

Planners really should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Jim Meko, chair
SoMa Leadership Council

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1 Comment

Filed under planning, politics

One response to “Planning Dept.’s obsession with “latest and greatest” is not smart growth

  1. Good

    Bring it on…rather have these landuses then the mega DJ Clubs with their empty headed clientele who treat our neighborhoods like there personal garbage dumps….spoiled, self-entitled children from across the bridges and through the tunnels could give a shit about respecting us.

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