Dense in the west

Parkmerced redesign wins narrow Planning Commission approval

Aaron Goodman, a former resident of Parkmerced, has been vocal in his opposition to the scope and scale of the project

A marathon special meeting of the San Francisco Planning Commission on Feb. 10 demonstrated a clear split over Parkmerced, a $1.2 billion private development project that will rebuild an entire existing neighborhood on the west side of San Francisco.

While some expressed strong enthusiasm for moving forward with the ambitious plan, many residents turned out to voice vehement opposition, citing concerns about traffic congestion, noise, dust, and the demolition of affordable apartments that some Parkmerced tenants have occupied for decades.

The votes to certify the project's environmental analysis and send the plan onto the Board of Supervisors with a commission endorsement were split 4-3, with Commissioners Christina Olague, Hisashi Sugaya, and Kathrin Moore dissenting.

Those who voted no were appointees of the Board of Supervisors, while the four commissioners who voted in favor were appointees of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, suggesting a break along clear political lines. State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano also submitted a letter urging commissioners not to approve the project.

While Parkmerced Investors LLC, the project sponsor, eagerly awaits groundbreaking, spokesperson P.J. Johnston noted that they weren't there yet. "First," he said, "we have to break ground at the Board of Supervisors."



The Parkmerced redesign has been touted as an ecological and sustainable beacon for urban development and, indeed, some features of the grand plan read as if they were plucked from a checklist from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-neighborhood standards.

Walkable, bikeable streets with proximity to transit? Check. Water-efficient landscaping? Check. Energy-efficient dwellings? Check. Project sponsors claim that through dramatic reductions in per capita resource consumption, three times as many residents would consume the same amount of water and electricity as Parkmerced's current population does today.

Johnston emphasized how adding new units to the west side of the city also helped contribute to "density equality," since most new projects tend to be concentrated in the eastern neighborhoods.

Johnston was particularly jazzed about an innovative storm-water discharge system envisioned for the plan, which he described as a design that could "regenerate and repair the environment." It would recirculate rainwater through a naturally filtrating system of ponds and bioswales to recharge Lake Merced, a water body that has been slowly shrinking due to being choked off from its natural watershed by a concrete urban barrier.

Green points might be awarded for plans for an on-site organic garden, but Commissioner Michael Antonini, who said he lives less than a mile from Parkmerced, cautioned that developers shouldn't get too attached to that idea. After all, he said, many kinds of vegetables won't thrive in that part of the city.

Meanwhile, the wholesale destruction of existing units is decidedly not eco-chic. The Green Building Council's LEED neighborhood standards insist that "historic resource preservation and adaptive reuse" is always preferable in a green development — and that's the point that Aaron Goodman, an architect who previously lived at Parkmerced, has been driving at for more than a year. Proponents maintain that Parkmerced's wartime construction meant it was built with inferior materials, and that property owners have battled dry rot and other infrastructure problems.

Another not-so-green Parkmerced project feature has also raised eyebrows: parking. While proponents portray the redesign as a switch from a suburban, love-affair-with-the-automobile style to an enlightened departure from car-centrism, plans nonetheless include a parking space for every single unit.


Ridiculous hysterics - about on par with what happens when development on this scale is attempted in San Francisco.
All existing rent controlled tenants are to be relocated ON SITE. This is not the fillmore where people were offered vouchers and the possibility of coming back after.

It's so tiring to see the same arguments rehatched ad nauseum all over the city - the basic argument is change nothing anywhere ever because I am comfortable where I am now.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 9:08 am

Yes very "green" project, except for all the cars! Why does this "green" project that is so walkable and next to the Muni streetcar line need so much parking? All these cars on 19th Avenue will bring Muni to a crawl! More traffic spillover onto neighborhood streets.

If you approve the project, you must get rid of the parking, which will make the units less attractive for the uber-rich and more affordable for real San Franciscans.

Posted by 19th Avenue Traffic!! on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 9:26 am

the lack of preservation, infill is what makes this project NOT green.

a new washer-dryer-dishwasher
loss of openspace

lack of direct transit,

1:1 parking,

lack of addressing of existing towers....

not green, just $$$$$$$$

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 8:02 am

Real san franciscans dont drive cars?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 11:55 am

Polly Marshall was the attorney who evicted artists, tenants including us and small businesses at 50-56 Julian in the Mission in 2002.


Posted by marcos on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

Who is us? Do you represent some organization? Are there more than one of you in there?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 11:15 am

any discussion of what I show in the photo...

the "LOSS" of open-space, per unit/tenant

The effect is that the loss of each garden unit is not accounted for, and is bartered for new washer/dryers/dishwashers in every unit and called "green".

Without any discussion of preservation/infill this is NOT a sustainable development.

Commissioner Moore stated clearly the reasons why the commission should NOT have approved the EIR documents. There is no clearer statement about why this project should NOT be approved as shown...

There are many other options to provide infill, transit, and sustainable improvements, the lack of willingness of the other 4 commissioners to discuss, or delay the decision, is due to the "entitlements" and the clause stellar and fortress negotiated on the purchase...

Money is all that matters, to the city, planners, and commissioners approving this project. The Human impact is ignored again.....

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

This project is so inhumane. The developers are just in it for the money. Shame on them to try to destroy such a beautiful community and they call it "green" just for profit. Call it what it is "greed". And they promise re-location with the same rent? Who believes that when there is no such law for new buildings. They are just overcrowding the area and adding more traffic congestion to SF's 19th Ave which will also affect Daly City around Lake Merced.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

Oh, we talk a good game in San Francisco and the central Bay Area about infill housing. But any time anyone actually proposes it, like at Parkmerced, we rise up to oppose it. It's not the perfect utopian scheme only for very low income people, therefore we oppose it. Is it within easy walking distance of a light rail line? We don't care. Is it within easy walking distance of tons of shopping? We don't care. Will the people living there drive less and have less of a carbon footprint than the average American cited in the article? We don't care. Do existing tenants have a legally binding guarantee to come back at the same rents? We don't care.

We don't really mean it about infill. Who cares about carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, by the time it really kicks in, it will be our kids' problem. Let those other cities do infill. Like Brentwood and Gilroy and American Canyon.

Urban progressives should be giving full throated cheers for the Parkmerced project. This is what we have supposedly been demanding for decades. But we oppose it. For shame, Bay Guardian, for shame.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2011 @ 5:46 pm