1,100-Unit Balboa Reservoir Development Agreement Approved By Board of Supervisors

An artist's rendering of the proposed Balboa Reservoir development project. Image courtesy of Reservoir Community Partners

INGLESIDE, San Francisco — After surviving an appeal, the Balboa Reservoir development project was approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The 17-acre San Francisco Public Utility Commission-owned property built to hold water instead served City College of San Francisco for decades.

Of the development agreement’s required 1,100 units of housing, 550 will be below market rate with 150 reserved for City College faculty and staff. The developer, AvalonBay Communities, will also provide a community center, a 100-person childcare center with half of the spaces reserved for low-income families, 4 acres of green/open space and $10 million to improve the neighborhood’s transit and infrastructure.

Supervisors approved the project despite an appeal filed in June that alleged the City Planning Department failed to account for City College’s future campus expansion and expected increase in enrollment. 

Appellants also claimed that the project’s environmental impact report failed to provide the exact number of affordable units making the analysis of potential vehicle miles traveled inaccurate; did not identify methods to mitigate significant impact of the project, such as noise and pollution during its construction; and failed to consider a project proposal that would have made 100% affordable housing feasible among other issues.

“It has become clear that using public transit — particularly crowded public transit — can promote the virus’s spread,” appellant attorney Stewart Flashman said. “The public is aware of that, and as a result, public transit use has plummeted.”

Bus boardings are down 69% since the virus began spreading in San Francisco, Flashman said. At the same time, overall transit revenue has plummeted 93%, while ridership has dropped by 80%.

Neighbors and members of the City College of San Francisco, primarily faculty and students, have long protested the project, holding that students rely on the space for parking and that the land should be used for 100% affordable housing.

More than 50 members of the public commented on the contentious proposal, split fairly evenly into supporters and opponents.

In approving the project, supervisors overturned the appeal, rezoned the project area as necessary, amended the Balboa Park Station Area Plan as necessary, accepted the environmental impact report and approved the sale of the project area for $11.4 million — far under market rate for 17 acres. The supervisors also declined a request to delay the approval from new City College interim Chancellor Rajen Vurdien while the college prepares an agreement with the city and developer.

Planning Department Senior Planner Jeanie Poling called taking into account the virus for transit is too speculative — something Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee agreed with.

Poling stated that while the project will result in significant, unavoidable impacts on the college relating to public services, the environmental impact report is not required to account for impacts on parking. This is despite college advocates long holding that replacing the basin’s 1,000 parking spaces with housing would impact enrollment by preventing students from driving to school.

She contended that the 100% affordable project proposal alternative cited by the appellant lacked infrastructure improvements and provisions such as a park to comply with CEQA objectives. She also said construction for the alternative, which proposed 550 affordable, would not substantially lessen the project’s significant oe unavoidable impacts by, for example, creating significantly less noise or pollution.

She also said long-term impacts of the pandemic are unknown, and it would be too speculative to predict changes related to transit in the environmental impact report.

“COVID 19 has changed our current circumstances, but it is unreasonable for us to ask about that every EIR for the foreseeable future and its implications,” Yee said.

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