Why HANC Supports the Appeal of the One Oak Luxury Tower

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By Rupert Clayton, HANC Housing and Land Use Chair

1oakHANC is supporting an appeal against the approval of the One Oak high-rise luxury condo project. The City’s Planning Commission certified the environmental impact report (EIR) for the project on June 15, despite many objections from neighborhood organizations, environmental groups and San Francisco residents. Jason Henderson of Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association has appealed this approval to the Board of Supervisors, with a hearing on September 5 continued to September 12.

So, what’s HANC doing getting involved in a condo development near Civic Center? There are two basic reasons: defending city-wide planning principles and looking out for the impact on Haight Ashbury residents.

 

One Oak certainly embodies a lot of the poor planning choices that are emblematic of why this city is creating more than enough luxury housing and very little for regular working people. The project would build a 400-foot tower on the site of the All Star Café at the northwest corner of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. The developers of the 310-unit tower successfully pressed the Planning Commission to almost double the parking entitlement from 73 to 139 spaces, even though this location is directly above Van Ness Muni station and is served by a dozen surface lines. None of the units will be affordable, with the developer instead choosing to pay a fee to the City – so there’s no guarantee as to when, where or how much affordable housing will be built.

All of this clearly points to a desire to create a large number of very high-priced units. As we have seen many times over in the City, the more units are built for the super wealthy, the more difficult it becomes for regular residents to find and keep a place to live, both due to the imbalance in supply and the overall inflationary pressure on housing prices.

But HANC’s support of the EIR appeal is based on three more narrow arguments: wind, congestion and bad traffic analysis.

First of all, the wind impact analysis for this huge development twists the state and city requirements to pretend that the project is justifiable. We all know that high rise buildings amplify San Francisco’s already strong winds to gale force at times. The developers don’t dispute that their tower, even with extensive “wind canopies” will create hazardous wind speeds in locations such as the Market Street crosswalk west of Van Ness. But by cherry picking additional distant sites for analysis they contend there will be “no net increase” in locations with hazardous wind conditions. More than 2,500 cyclists and many more elderly and disabled people pass through this intersection daily, and yet the EIR provides no analysis of the risks to any of these people from the vortices that One Oak will generate.

The second argument exposes the San Francisco Planning Department’s flawed interpretation of the state’s new recommendations for calculating traffic impacts. Basically, the state cut through lots of red tape in recent years and recommended that developments should be rated as causing insignificant transportation impact if it generates less than 85% of the average for “per capita vehicle miles travelled”. In general, that’s a good thing. Projects that don’t result in a lot of auto trips get approved.

But the key question is: What average are we talking about? The average VMT figure for the area around the project is probably about 4 miles per day. For San Francisco it is 14.6. For the nine-county Bay Area, from Cloverdale to Solano to Gilroy it’s 17.2. You and I might think that an insignificant impact would require per-capita VMT for the new development to be below average for the surrounding area. The city Planning Department has chosen to define as insignificant any project where VMT is rated at less than 85% of the average for the entire region. In essence, it regards the impact of pretty much any vehicle traffic generated by people at One Oak as insignificant because they will still be driving a lot less than some guy from Fairfield with a pickup.

Third, we question how the congestion caused by a luxury high-rise at one of the busiest intersections in the nation’s second-most-densely populated city can be accurately analyzed using data that has not been updated in decades. The EIR does not analyze the impacts of Uber and Lyft trips by the prosperous future residents of One Oak. Why? Apparently because the City uses guidelines developed in 1991 and revised in 2002. The EIR estimates that each 1,000 square feet of residential space will generate just 0.03 delivery truck trips per day. Really? How is that reasonable in the age of Google Shopping, Amazon Prime and a myriad other ecommerce providers? Apparently, that makes a lot of sense if your delivery guidelines were developed in 1980, like San Francisco’s were.

HANC does not oppose new apartment construction, and we accept that the wealthy have the same right to housing as the rest of us, but our city needs to be honest about the impact of developments such as One Oak, however noble the goal of housing the needy 1%.

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