City will turn Francisco Reservoir into a park, with no affordable housing

A features plan for Francisco Park.

San Francisco is getting a new park – but the deal has left some wondering why a small portion of the new parkland couldn’t have been set aside to build housing for teachers and firefighters.

On July 8 members of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously, amid a flurry of congratulatory exchanges, to transfer the Francisco Reservoir to the Recreation and Parks Department. Nearly everyone who weighed in during public comment praised the decision to convert the reservoir site into open space for the surrounding neighborhood. Located near Russian Hill on Hyde Street just above Bay Street, the Francisco Reservoir has gone unused for the better part of century.

One speaker did offer some balance. “We have the mayor and the Board of Supervisors constantly hitting us over the head saying we need housing,” she pointed out. “We have to start somewhere.” 

Under city law, publicly owned “surplus property” – as the Francisco Reservoir is categorized – must be considered for affordable housing before city departments may let it go for any other use.

Yet during years of discussion between neighbors and city officials to discuss this 4-acre parcel, the idea of building affordable housing apparently didn’t even receive minimal consideration.

Instead, the affluent neighbors wanted a park – and managed to raise nearly $10 million in private funding through several neighborhood associations to help make it happen. That money has been pledged for a park endowment, to cover development and maintenance purposes.

According to City Attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey, the city’s “enterprise agencies” are exempted from the affordable housing requirement in the surplus property ordinance – this applies to surplus parcels under the ownership of the Port, the SFPUC, the SFMTA, and the Recreation & Parks Department.

A memorandum of understanding approved by the SFPUC, which must win the approval of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor before being finalized, grants some $10 million from the Recreation and Park Department’s open space fund to purchase the Francisco Reservoir from the SFPUC.

Open space is generally a wonderful amenity in an urban environment, particularly for land that hasn't been used in decades. As Jan Blum noted at the hearing, the parkland will provide environmental benefits such as “habitat for migratory birds, as well as local wildlife.”

But the city’s decision to convert surplus property to open space comes just as Mayor Ed Lee is seeking to build 30,000 new housing units to stem the affordability crisis.

John Stewart, a prominent affordable housing developer appointed to serve on Lee’s affordable housing task force, told the Guardian that he got nowhere when proposing the idea of affordable housing construction for a small portion of the Francisco Reservoir parcel.

Stewart, who emphasized to the Bay Guardian that his company has no financial ties nor interest in developing a project there, penned an editorial for the San Francisco Business Times earlier this year on the Francisco Reservoir transfer, asking, “Why not expand the conversation to include the subject of housing?”

The idea was not well received. “I did not even propose tax-credit, tax-driven, very low income housing,” Stewart noted. “I proposed moderate-income, for teachers and nurses.”

The neighborhood plan showed the area at the end of the parcel, where Stewart thought housing could go, as a dog run.

Sup. Mark Farrell, who represents District 2, where Francisco Park would be located, was deeply involved in discussions about converting the reservior into a park. Farrell’s office didn’t return calls seeking comment, nor did the SFPUC.

“Sup. Farrell didn’t want me speaking to these groups,” Stewart said. “Nobody said, come by, come to our coffee klatch, make the case and we’ll at least talk it over. Nobody wanted to discuss it – that was clear. There was polite silence. But there was silence,” he said. “And their view is – and it’s understandable – they really want to have the whole thing.”


Um...there are about 1,400 uniformed firefighters in San Francisco and at least 1,000 of them take home over $100K a year with overtime. With no need to sock away much in their 401K.

Welcome to the SFBG. Where the trolls do much better research than the writers.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

I'm a BANANA - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

I learned right here at the SFBG.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

Even making that much, firefighters and other public servants can't afford a comfortable lifestyle in SF. That's why SF's situation is so out of control. Obviously.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

If they can't afford SF they can do what other SFPD and firefighters do - move to Novato.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

Uh...most of the people riding the Google bus don't make $100K.

A single person making $100K can do just fine in this city. Yes, if you want to raise a family here then it needs to be a two income family, just like it does in every other expensive city.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

Lighten up progressives. This constantly outraged act is wearing thin. Never before has a group been this perpetually whiny and butt hurt about anything and everything. You're boring.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

Great idea as usual, SFBG. Not.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 1:09 am

All parks should have affordable housing projects.

Let's start with Yosemite.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 9:46 am
Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 10:11 am


Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

When this housing is on the waterfront, the SFBG croud is up in arms with the local populace, supporting the wealthy couple Richard and barbara stewart in their quest to have all of SF affirm their living room view..
Now in Russian hill, without the financial support of the THD, this same paper is outraged that a park is going in instead of workforce housing.

give me a break.

Posted by Oh Irony on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 6:33 am

Stewart's right. This neighborhood is fairly well-served by this kind of passive open space and housing is especially tight. Farrell was playing Pander Bear on this one.

Posted by BeckyBayside on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 10:56 am

community should decide such things, and they routinely oppose new housing.

So why can't Marina residents have the same right?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

And we should be building more housing in the Mission too.

Posted by BeckyBayside on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 7:50 am

But my point was more that activists appear to oppose building new homes in poorer areas but want more density in more affluent areas. Why?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:17 am

The SFBG deserves enormous credit for its thoughtful reporting on a topic that's largely being swept under the rug and badly needs some sunshine.

A group of VERY wealthy Russian Hill neighbors claim to have raised over $9M to acquire a vacant SFPUC property and preserve it as a park. They have always been adamantly opposed to new housing, especially the affordable type, being built in their neighborhoods. Worse, this neighborhood already has lots of very nice parks and open space, especially if the GGNRA is taken into account. There are many less affluent neighborhoods that could fairly claim a much higher need of parks.

What's NOT being discussed is: What is the true market value of this land? Second, who are the folks "committing" this money and how secure are their "pledges"? Third, isn't the SFPUC required to obtain the fair market value for the sale or transfer of public land Why are the City agencies involved and the supervisors not asking any questions? Finally, why is all this not open, public information??

If housing were considered as a use, the value of the property far exceeds the amount "pledged". This all has a stink that won't go away.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 12:19 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

The people living in the Mission proposal would be unlikely to vote the Progressive line.

Next question.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

This isn't either or, its both.

Posted by BeckyBayside on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 7:50 am

We just came up with a new mission statement: "Still not as white as the Marina, but we're trying."

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:08 am

nobody is allowed to say that because gays are another sacred cow of local politics.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 8:20 am

Lee wants 30,000 more housing units on this already overcrowded peninsula called San Francisco. Is he out of his mind? or gettin donations from wealthy 'afordable housing" developers? plus sizable donations from the teachers, nurses and firefighters unions to provide them with subsidized housing in addtion to their high salaries, pensions and benefits, which most San Franciscans don't come close to making.

the same teachers whos union oppose cutting taxes and government fees on movie production in California and therefore screwing the many union memebrs who work in the movie industry, Many of who do not come close to making the salaries and benefits of teachers.

yep, another example of public employee unions screwing unions in the private sector. Unions working for the private sector can NOT give money to the people who aprove their contracts. But the public sector gives money to politicians and their apointees who aprove the outrageous public employee contracts, which is a reason state and local government is in the red.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

It's important to look at the neighborhood layout by itself. As a Russian Hill resident, we really currently don't have enough parks, and we'd like one. And you can't hate us for wanting one.

Posted by dizzydean on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

The park should include 69 new solar housing units.
If it was solar housing, they could generate twice as much energy as they use, so they could feed energy onto the PG&E grid and make $100. / month income from solar.

That is what solar homes in Germany do.

Solar THERMAL for hot water, to run thru the floors for heating
& solar PV for lights, cooking and to charge their electric cars.

Posted by Paul Kangas on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

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