January 12 at HANC: Standing Up for a Community-Friendly Redevelopment of Kirkham Heights

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By Rupert Clayton, HANC Board

HANC's monthly (except August) general membership meeting is held downstairs at the Park Branch Library, 1833 Page Street (between Cole and Shrader) on the second Thursday of the month, beginning at 7 pm.  Please note that our January meeting will be at Second Act (formerly the Red Vic Movie House), at 1727 Haight Street (between Cole and Shrader).  Our meetinngs are open to the public and free to attend.

Just the other side of UCSF, on the steep, northwest-facing slope of Mt. Sutro lie the Kirkham Heights Apartments – 86 rent-controlled units in 11 small buildings built in 1950. The site’s owner, Westlake Urban LLC, plans to replace the current apartments above the intersection of 5th Avenue and Kirkham Street with a complex of five huge buildings up to 8 stories high and eight 3-story townhouses. The 445 units would mostly rent at premium market rates.


Current tenants and neighbors have serious concerns about the impact of the project and the safety of the construction proposal. Realizing the acute need for more truly affordable housing in San Francisco, the Mount Sutro Kirkham Heights Neighbors (MSKHN) have worked with the community to create an alternative vision for redevelopment. They seek to create many more affordable units while greatly reducing the impact on tenants and neighbors from the proposed development that is overscale for the unstable steep site.

At HANC’s member meeting on Thursday, January 12, Denis Mosgofian, Roger Hofmann and Maria Wabl from MSKHN will give an overview of the proposed development and the community alternative. They will also explain how the public can provide input at the scoping meeting for the Environmental Impact Report, scheduled for Tuesday, January 31.

So, what kinds of impacts can we expect if the developer’s proposal is approved? Surrounding neighborhoods will certainly suffer from the huge amount of heavy truck traffic required at the site. The developer proposes to raze the entire four-acre site and excavate about 69,000 cubic yards of rock and soil (enough to cover the field at Kezar Stadium to a depth of more than 30 feet). Hauling away that material will require something like 7,000 heavy truck trips through adjoining neighborhoods. There are also serious concerns about the landslide risk created by this huge excavation of a geologically unstable hillside – the current site has experienced two significant landslides, and is protected by retaining walls, rock bolts through concrete slabs and debris walls.

Even after years of construction, the new development will do little to alleviate San Francisco’s housing affordability crisis. Westlake Urban apparently plans to provide only the minimum number of affordable units required by law, and reduce this further by counting against this number any replacement units for current tenants. So, the vast majority of the units will be one-bedrooms and studios rented at the top end of what San Francisco’s market will bear. This will make them unaffordable to most people employed locally (such as at UCSF), and will result in as many as 1,000 additional residents commuting by car and public transport in and out of the neighborhood.

Serious Safety Concerns

There are also serious public safety concerns, as every one of those residents plus every delivery vehicle, ride service and emergency vehicle will need to enter and exit the development through the intersection at 5th and Kirkham. The development’s one entrance will also be the only route for fire department access, raising the prospect of a 57-foot long fire truck being unable to navigate through double-parked Uber vehicles and delivery trucks to reach a structure fire on the top floor of one of the upper buildings.

We clearly need more affordable housing, and the proposed redevelopment isn’t going to create much of it. Designers and architects from Urban Ecology have worked with tenants and neighbors to create an alternative proposal that would double the current number of units by building new apartments and townhouses. Importantly, the alternative proposal would seek to minimize excavation, reduce construction on the steepest portions of the site, and focus on building a broader range of units, with many kept affordable for future renters.

Come to 1727 Haight Street at 7pm Thursday, January 12 to hear more about the proposed Kirkham Heights development and the community alternative.


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