Some South City residents point to gentrification concerns with approval of downtown plan

South San Francisco, CA   February 10, 2015    Re-broadcast from SF Examiner 

Draft rendering of proposed downtown

The South San Francisco City Council recently approved a plan that will dramatically change the look of the downtown area over the next 20 years, including being more pedestrian-friendly.

After decades of planning and three years of community outreach, the South San Francisco City Council has unanimously approved the Downtown Specific Plan, which will bring major changes to the city.

City Councilman Pradeep Gupta called the plan, which will guide city efforts to re-envision the downtown area over the next 20 years, including a more pedestrian-friendly environment, “a game-changer.”

But some, including Vice Mayor Mark Addiego, suggest that one significant effect of the plan, which includes pedestrian and bicycle improvements, high-density development and mixed land uses will be gentrification. Among the planned improvements are new green spaces, storefront upgrades, and a mixture of plazas, parks and paths.

“We know what we are doing, we know the consequences,” Addiego said of the gentrification concern. “We haven’t figured out a way to solve the housing concern, nor has the state.”

The issue of rising housing prices and displacement of current residents has been an ongoing fear expressed by some residents at the 15 meetings held by the city on the downtown guide.

Efforts to study potential impacts on the community have included Matt Savage, a teacher within the South San Francisco Unified School District who had a group of students canvass approximately 800 homes, knocking on doors in the Old Town area to query residents about housing prices. The students, working under the name 4SSF, learned some rents had already increased up to $200 a month. Gupta, while empathetic, agreed that with or without the Downtown Specific Plan, local housing prices will continue to increase.

“The approval of the plan gives us direction and may be modified in the future,” Gupta said.

But while some have criticized the anticipated gentrification that the new downtown changes could bring, others were not as discouraged.

“Every generation wants to freeze the city in time and preserve it as a testament to their lost youth,” one online commenter posted. “And yet it is change and progress that drives a city, and not smug self-satisfaction.”

According to some reports, San Mateo County rents are the second-highest in California, with the average cost for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment listing at $2,501.

City Councilwoman Liza Normandy, who sits on regional housing boards HEART and HOPE, said she hears the concerns from those in the community.

“Yet no matter what, there are opportunities and resources available through these regional agencies,” she advised. “We are taking this issue of displacement seriously and we are tracking it. The housing element of this plan will come before our Planning Commission in February and March.”

The downtown plan encompasses a quarter-mile radius of the Caltrain station, which will see upgrades including a pedestrian-bicycle underpass at Grand Avenue and Airport Boulevard. Future dialogue will include the possibility of high-density housing east of the station, which would not impact any existing neighborhoods. Currently, 1,400 housing units are planned for the area, including 90 below-market-rate units for seniors with the balance set at market rate by the private developers.

Marty Van Duyn, the recently retired director of economic development and assistant city manager, who had been involved with the plan since its inception, said,”While I have not tracked the plan, I do believe the South San Francisco planning staff acts in the best interest of the city and its residents, so I’m confident that the plan is solid.”


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