By Andrew Zhu

Neil Schaefer

12/6/18

10 South Van Ness Avenue Mixed Use Project: The Next San Franciscan Skyscrapers?

(A) Introduction

(A1) The Proposal

The proposal is to construct two 400 ft. tall, 41-story towers containing a total of 948 housing units, 518 parking spaces, and 30,000 square feet of retail space in the space that is currently a Honda dealership at 10 South Van Ness, San Francisco, CA. It was submitted on 7/12/2017 by Crescent Heights to the San Francisco Planning Department, who will make the final decision to grant or deny a Downtown Project Authorization.

(A2) Context and Historical Background

        Currently, the location on which these towers are proposed to be built on houses an active Honda dealership and the Fillmore West concert venue, both of which will need to be demolished to make room for the proposed towers. The Fillmore West venue is considered a historical resource, having been the Carousel Ballroom in the 1960s and having hosted artists like B.B. King, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, and the Grateful Dead (Sisto, 2018, para. 2-4). Because of this, the developers have been asked to include certain architectural features on the lower levels of the building to preserve the historical look of the area (Sisto, 2018, para. 9). In terms of access, the proposed location has excellent access to public transportation in the form of San Francisco’s streetcar system, MUNI light rail, BART, and countless bus lines in the dense urban setting of downtown San Francisco. Additionally, the location is situated at the crossroads of two of San Francisco’s most busy streets, and has good access to Highway 101 and many of the city’s central streets. Because of this, there are other plans to turn the area surrounding 10 SVN into a mixed-use “hub” of sorts, due to its access to public transportation and proximity to headquarters of multiple tech companies, including giants like Twitter and Uber, both of which are within walking distance of the proposed lot. On a more personal note, I have spent a significant amount of time in San Francisco growing up, but was often told by my parents to avoid this area due to it being one of the sketchier areas of the city; this proposal will help modernize the area, and make it safer for everyone, developing a more focused social environment and improving pedestrian and street-level safety.

(A3) Key Details of the Proposal

(B) Arguments for the Proposal

The arguments for this proposal include various social, economic, and environmental benefits that would come with the construction of these towers, helping forge a stronger sense of community in the area, improving the commercial standing, promoting street-level safety, and setting a precedent for low-emissions buildings in San Francisco.

The first argument for the construction of these two towers comes from the San Francisco Business Times, which states that the development of these mixed-use towers would help bring a sense of cohesion to a part of the city with excellent access to public transportation, but currently seeming to lack purpose (Kelliher, 2018). By developing mixed-use towers, the city gains a new hub space for residents and consumers alike, bringing new life to an area of the city that hasn’t had a strong sense of community since the late 20th century. Additionally, by zoning these towers as mixed-use, combining housing and commercial uses, the limited space in urban San Francisco can be more efficiently used - land that’s at a premium already, according to a statement from Matt Witte to the Times.

        Not only will the towers help improve the social cohesion of the area, but also the economic and cultural status of the area, as the construction of these towers would promote new retail and art opportunities, as well as create increased affordable housing in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. By allocating 30,000 square feet of space to retail use and 12,000 square feet of space to public spaces like plazas or parks, the developers hope to attract new business to the area, as well as creating a social space for public performances and exhibitions (Crescent Heights, §3). By attracting these businesses and artists, the proposal’s status as a “hub” of downtown San Francisco is cemented, one of the main goals of the larger-scale development project that contains 10 South Van Ness (SF Planning Dept, 11/28/2018c, §3). Given its proximity to the San Francisco Civic Center, the proposal would help development of the already active cultural sector found at the Civic Center by supplying a public place for exhibitions, affordable housing for artists, and office and studio space for non-profit organizations (SF Planning Dept, 11/28/2018c, §3.4). Additionally, the increase of public space in the urban area helps create a unique neighborhood identity for both residents of the units in the mixed-use towers and of nearby neighborhoods (SF Planning Dept, 11/28/2018c, §3.2). Some of these public spaces include the conversion of 12th Street into a tree-lined “living street,” alleyway to connect 12th and Van Ness, and a “cafe-oriented plaza” on the corner intersection of 12th and Van Ness (Elsen, 2015, para. 2).

        The proposal also includes further development of the sidewalks around the allotted area, as well as a pedestrian-only pass-through, which would promote street-level safety for pedestrians as well as promote the use of transportation methods other than driving. According to Crescent Heights, the current proposal includes transforming 12th Street into a pedestrian plaza, using it as a main conduit to access Brady Park, a transformed open lot near the premises of 10 South Van Ness, Otis Plaza, a planned street-level triangle plaza, and the two proposed towers themselves (Crescent Heights, §2). These changes would drastically reduce the amount of area around the building that cars have direct access to, and decrease the number of points where pedestrians and vehicles interact; according to the developers, the plan will decrease the number of curb cuts from seven down to one (Crescent Heights, §3). As a direct effect, the safety of pedestrians in the streets is promoted, as there are less opportunities for a pedestrian and a vehicle to come into incident, and pedestrians are encouraged to use alternate forms of transport, as many of the pedestrian paths directly connect to a metro or bus station. Overall, this saves lives and helps lower pollutants put out by heavy vehicle usage.

        One final argument for the proposal is that the building itself, once constructed, will serve as an example of an environmental leader in the modern age, aiming to output net-zero greenhouse gas emissions once completed (all the information in this paragraph is derived from Crescent Heights, §5). The developers are seeking Environmental Leadership Development Program certification, seeking to achieve their zero-emissions goal with a variety of environmentally-conscious design decisions. For example, one of the measures planned to be implemented in the towers is a “green roof” and water runoff collection system. In conjunctions, these two systems will help cool the building, both by supplying a layer of natural insulation from plants, and by using the runoff nonpotable water in the building’s active cooling loop, lowering the energy cost of air conditioning, and thus, the emission footprint of the building. Another measure is found in the building’s elevator systems, which plan on using a regenerative drive, so energy used to move the cars up and down is not lost. In turn, this also helps reduce the energy cost of the building. Overall, the project’s dedication to environmental stewardship in urban San Francisco when complete sets a precedent for other urban developments in the area.

(C) Arguments against the Proposal

        One argument against building these towers at the intersection of Market and Van Ness is the resulting increase of car and truck traffic that accompanies high-density mixed residential/commercial buildings. During construction of the towers, construction vehicles and workers will need access to the construction site and an area to park, both of which are already at a premium in this area of San Francisco (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.17-S.18). As stated in the Draft Environmental Impact Report, this traffic would result in “substantial interference with pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicular circulation and accessibility to adjoining areas” (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, p. S.18), which has the potential to create hazardous situations for pedestrians and increase congestion in what is already one of the most congested areas in San Francisco (Google Maps). Even after construction, the new density of the area will increase the number of residents and customers who have to commute to and from the area, creating a small, but permanent, increase to traffic in the area (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.9-S.12).

In addition to the inconvenience of congestion, the addition of cars to the area would contribute to the air pollution in San Francisco - a sector that already contributes over 55% of all toxic nitrogen oxide-type emissions in the US (US Environmental Protection Agency, §1).

        Another argument against the proposal is that methods used in the construction process of the towers would generate significant air and noise pollution in the surrounding area, posing a health risk to many in the urban environment of San Francisco (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.22, S.31). On the topic of noise pollution, thousands of people live, work, and commute within hearing distance of the proposed construction. Both during both the day (with construction activities such as concrete pumping, sawing, welding, etc) and the night (with off-peak deliveries from large trucks, compressors, and other equipment), the proposed construction could generate noises in excess of 70 dBA, unacceptably over the 45 dBA nighttime noise limit (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.22-S.23). This would disturb the surrounding residents during the construction period. Additionally, the use of construction equipment would have a significant impact on the air quality in the surrounding area, posing a health risk to humans and wildlife alike. As stated in the Draft EIR, there would be a significant positive impact to the amount of particulate matter with diameter < 2.5µm (PM2.5) in the air, mainly exhaust from generators and vehicles involved in construction (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.31-S.33). The significance of this pollution is nontrivial; as reported in the DEIR, this increase of PM2.5 poses a significant cancer risk to any creature, human or nonhuman, that might inhale the particulate matter (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, p. S.35).

Yet another argument against the proposal is that the addition of such large towers in an area of San Francisco that is yet still mostly free of skyscrapers would significantly impact the wind patterns in the area, with unknown effect (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, p. S.37). Some potential effects caused by this construction may include gusts at street level, large changes to the overall wind patterns in the area, and varied distribution of pollution due to wind. Gusts at street level would prove to be anywhere from an annoyance to a hazard to pedestrians and wildlife in the area: at the most extreme, it could pick up and throw objects ranging from newspapers to newsstands, and prevent the nesting of city birds like Peregrine falcons, Rock doves, seagulls, and pigeons, all of which inhabit the downtown area (San Francisco Preservation Society, 4/25/2007). Changes to the meta-scale wind patterns in the area could impact the migratory patterns of birds in the area and how air pollution is dispersed around the city, having an as-yet-unknown impact on the ecology of the area.

        A final argument against the construction of these two towers is that construction may disturb unknown archeological or paleontological resources beneath the building, which may include tribal cultural icons or even human remains (SF Planning Dept., 11/28/2018a, pp. S.40-S.48). Currently, an investigation into whether such resources exist in the area alloted is underway. However, similar cases have been found before; with the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, many of the dead at the time were buried in San Francisco in areas since rezoned. While workers did their best to move the bodies out of San Francisco to the designated “graveyard town” of Colma, many bodies were missed, and construction projects in urban San Francisco have unearthed human remains before (Scott, 2016, 1:30).

(D) Bibliography

Crescent Heights. (n.d.). 10 South Van Ness. Retrieved from https://www.10southvanness.com/proposed-index/#the-hub

This source is the developers’ own website about the proposed development at 10 South Van Ness, and is thus the most reliable source on the key details of the proposal. Because it is written by the developers, however, it is biased to show only the positive impacts of the development, and doesn’t mention any of the downsides, nor does it link to the EIR.

Elsen, T. (2015, April 09). Two 400-Foot Towers Planned at Civic Center Honda Dealership. Retrieved from https://sf.curbed.com/2015/4/9/9972042/two-400-foot-towers-planned-at-civic-center-honda-dealership

This source was one of the earlier initial reports on the development, and is reliable to present some of the key details of the proposal without bias. The author’s purpose was likely to expose the developers’ plans in a manner more easily accessible by the general public, thus it was unlikely any journalistic bias was introduced.

Google Maps. (n.d.). [Traffic data around Van Ness & Market on typical weekday]. Retrieved November 28, 2015, from https://www.google.com/maps/dir///@37.7740452,-122.4199105,15.21z/data=!4m5!4m4!1m1!4e2!1m0!3e0!5m1!1e1

This source is based off of empirical data, and is presented without bias; it’s simply the presence and amount of traffic on a typical weekday in the area around 10 South Van Ness.

Kelliher, F. (2018, September 18). S.F. wants up to 9,000 new units in Market and Van Ness neighborhood. Retrieved from https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2018/09/13/sf-building-a-new-hub.html 

This source is reliable for examining some of the socioeconomic impacts of the proposal, as it takes a very business-oriented view of the plan. It may show some bias towards the proposal, as it does not take into consideration the environmental effects, and the proposal has a clear positive economical impact.

San Francisco Planning Department. (Retrieved 2018, Nov. 28a). 10 South Van Ness Avenue Mixed-Use Project.

This source is the original draft EIR of the project, and is thus very reliable in detailing the potential environmental impacts of the proposal. The authors are legally required to examine all possible impacts, and it’s unlikely that any bias may have slipped in.

San Francisco Planning Department. (Retrieved 2018, Nov. 28b). Environmental Impact Reports & Negative Declarations. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://sf-planning.org/environmental-impact-reports-negative-declarations

This source lists the contact information and documents of projects related to recent proposals in San Francisco. It is a very reliable source, free from bias, as it is a simple listing.

San Francisco Planning Department. (Retrieved 2018, Nov. 28c). The Market Street Hub Project. Retrieved from https://sf-planning.org/market-street-hub-project

This source lists important documents, overall goals, and previous public meetings related to the Market Street Hub Project, the larger project containing 10 South Van Ness. It is reliable as it’s another simple listing, but some of the project goals may display slight bias toward the developers. The authors are members of the San Francisco Planning Department, and should overall be neutral, reporting facts rather than opinions.

San Francisco Preservation Society (2007, April 25). Birds Commonly Seen in San Francisco. Retrieved from http://sfpsociety.org/SFbirds.html

This is the best source I could find pertaining to the presence of birds in downtown San Francisco; some of the details are somewhat vague, and perhaps based on speculation, but certainly much of the facts are based off of observation. The author’s main goal is to raise awareness of the various species living in San Francisco, making it reliable as a source to list the species.

Scott, Tom. (2016, December 5). The City of the Dead: Colma, California. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-so4bLE5kPc 

This source is a reliable video on a specific topic in San Francisco, and cites reliable research reported on PBS. The creator is focused on presenting the information in an understandable and interesting way, and keeps any possible personal bias out of the video.

Sisto, C. (2018, May 10). Former Honda dealership finds second life as concert venue. Retrieved from https://hoodline.com/2018/05/former-honda-dealership-finds-second-life-as-concert-venue

This source reads more like a historical report of what the proposed lot used to be, and appears to be free from bias. The author references both historical documents detailing the past of the venue and the proposal itself, and the source appears reliable to glean historical context from.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Smog, Soot, and Other Air Pollution from Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/transportation-air-pollution-and-climate-change/smog-soot-and-local-air-pollution 

This source is very reliable, as it’s a report done by an American government agency. Free from bias, it’s another source that focuses on simply relaying the results of a study to the general public, and as such is free from opinion.