Flower Mart and Chronicle properties drive Central Corridor’s encroachment into Western SoMa

Although I’ve always supported the Central Subway project, which isn’t really a very popular position among progressives in this town, it does occasionally try my patience.

When we carved out the area known as Western SoMa for our community-based planning process, we avoided the 4th Street corridor where the new rail line will run. The street is already developing all by itself as a neighborhood-serving commercial corridor and the addition of enhanced public transit seemed like a logical extension of reality-based planning.

Then the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development intervened, arguing that “we’re not gonna spend a billon dollars for this boondoggle without getting more bang for our buck.” Thus was born the Central Corridor planning process. 

With little time to spare, the western edge of the East SoMa plan area was excised from consideration, leaving the rest of Eastern Neighborhoods to limp on to its ugly conclusion. The Urban Mixed Use (UMU) zoning proposed for the area just wasn’t grand enough and property owners with dollar signs in their eyes began to dream of ways to cash in. The service and light industrial businesses in the area found themselves unwelcome. Rents skyrocketed and leases were not renewed. The gentrification in the South Beach, Mission Bay and Rincon Plans began to creep further west.

Unable to accommodate more service and light industrial jobs (described as production distribution and repair or “PDR” jobs) in the Eastern Neighborhoods, the Planning Commission was assured that Western SoMa could take up the slack. There were about 10,000 PDR jobs in Western SoMa and 18,000 PDR jobs in Bayview/Hunter’s Point as of 2000. Two-thirds of PDR employment in San Francisco is located in these combined areas on the east side of the City.

The Environmental Impact Report for the Eastern Neighborhoods observed:

“Because Western SoMa is such an important component of the PDR land supply in San Francisco, the significant effect of Option C on the cumulative supply of land for PDR uses could be reduced, although not fully mitigated to a less-than-significant level, by the City developing and implementing a rezoning scheme for Western SoMa — as a separate project — that would ensure, insofar as possible, the long-term viability of PDR business in that neighborhood.”

The Western SoMa Plan would create a new zoning category called the Service, Arts and Light Industrial (SALI) district which was meant to build upon the reality of what already exists in the area south of Harrison Street, and another, the Western SoMa Mixed Use Office (WSoMa MUO) along Townsend Street, to encourage the growth of the high tech sector.

Smart growth should respect what’s already there. Every area plan should not be seen as an opportunity to start over. The Planning Department doesn’t have a very good track record of creating brand new neighborhoods.

Here’s where good planning took a back seat to politics: bowing to pressure from the Chronicle properties and the owners of the Flower Mart, the Central Corridor planning staff spread their rezoning efforts into Western SoMa. The four WSoMa blocks between 4th and 6th Streets from Townsend to Bryant Street represent roughly 44% of the proposed SALI district.

The Planning Department’s commitment to the preservation of good working class jobs is meaningless. Maximizing profits for large property owners has become the controlling force behind their latest rezoning scheme. So, what else is new? The next Central Corridor Plan public meeting will be held tonight from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at SPUR’s Urban Center at 654 Mission Street between New Montgomery and 3rd Street.

Jim Meko, chair
SoMa Leadership Council

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