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Photo by Andrew McDonald

The Interstate 280 park and apartments

If you lived here, you'd be (cough) home by now!

By Daniela Kirshenbaum and Kepa Askenasy

Photos by Kepa Askenasy

November 6, 2006

What a deal on all-new housing - right in San Francisco! Warning: you'll be glad San Francisco General Hospital is just minutes away…

C'mon down to Mission Bay! Affordable units and market-rate condos are now under construction! You won't believe the landscaping, the sports courts, and especially the freeway access - the 4th Street and 6th Street off-ramps will be within a mere few feet from your front door. With that deadly combination of features, you'll be glad San Francisco General Hospital is just minutes away.

A new 280 freeway exit spills traffic right into the heart
of the Mission Bay affordable housing park.

+ + +

Young ladies from the Redevelopment Agency were working a booth at the South Beach Fair last month. "Mission Bay is going to be great! You won't even recognize it," they enthused.

A visit to the site itself drained all optimism. About forty immense support columns holding up Interstate 280 blocked the view. A sliver of sunlight shone between two massive, grey concrete ramps of freeway overhead, their tonnage inconceivable.

But it is the roaring din from speeding vehicles above that makes the observer seek escape. What, exactly, could possibly be developed here, with that deafening racket? A shade garden, perhaps, with a kiosk dispensing ear plugs and dust masks? A giant kitty litter station?

An artist's flowery rendition (minus freeway overpasses).

Not quite - this is where required public open space will go. Public promenades will run beside the creek. A full basketball court and two half basketball courts will go directly underneath Interstate 280. Kelley Kahn, the Assistant Project Manager on Mission Bay for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, calls this "active recreation space."

"Under the freeway, it just seemed like kind of a neat use to have the paved surfaces," Kahn said. A tennis court is planned just to the side, near the "existing pump station." The PUC reveals this is part of the city's waste treatment system. Unfortunately, Potrero Hill residents are often offended by the odor.

Housing is going in almost all around the park, within view - and earshot - of the freeway. Market rate condominiums are planned as well as affordable units. The affordable housing is under construction between the freeway, the waste water pump station, and the railroad tracks.

The OPA, the owner participation agreement with Catellus Development Corp., has "rigid" requirements of .45 acres of open space for each acre of development. That translates to 41 acres of public park (plus another eight acres for the UCSF biotechnology campus). Compared to San Francisco city requirements (Mission Bay is controlled by the Redevelopment Agency, not the city), that's not much.

Rod Minott notices a definite increase in refracted freeway noise since Mission Bay buildings have started going up. He lives near I-280, up on Potrero Hill, and said "I don't really want to live in one big office park. I'm not against development, but I like the character and the heritage of the industrial area."

As for recreation under the freeways, Minott retorted, "That sounds like a game from hell." He noted that there's a lack of open space in the area, but even so, "To give us a token space under a dark noisy freeway is really insulting."

There is one other problem: health hazards. Living a few feet from a freeway is like asking for asthma. Childhood respiratory illnesses are increasing, and current studies prove the link. These new buildings and recreation areas are well within the 400-meter zone of highest risk as described in the study linked below.

There may be no neat way to make freeway housing desirable. It wasn't all that long ago that San Franciscans grimly thanked the Loma Prieta earthquake for removing the Embarcadero Freeway and liberating the dense habitats nearby.

But - there is one group that would welcome risky recreation under a freeway: skateboarders. They are one demographic systematically discouraged from practicing their skill, with only one gated spot set up in the entire city for their use.

BMX bikers have no place to go at all, and skateboarders find surfaces "pigeon-proofed" with studs wherever they look. The city wonders what it can do to make itself friendlier to youth and families, and proudly hosts "X Games" and exhibition events for professional skateboarders with corporate sponsorships.

Meanwhile, Seattle and Portland are duking it out in the competition to phase out "old sports" facilities for team sports, and bring in "new sports" areas to serve its youthful citizens. Portland is winning by a mile, with large, lit, city facilities and an actual Department of Skateboarding.

Could San Francisco try to catch up, right at Mission Bay, on behalf of the youths that make up a mere 15% of the population? "There was just vacant land there," explained Tim Beedle, Associate Vice President of Development for Catellus Development Corp. "So we designed a sports court."

How about a facility for skateboarding? "There was some call out for a skateboarding area, but no, that was not one of the areas designated for that use," said Beedle.

Perhaps it's just as well; would BMX bikers and skateboarders want to be under a dirty, noisy freeway? "It would be awesome!" says Riley Mamesh, a 21-year-old business student and lifeguard. "It would be amazing to have a place where business owners don't mind us."

Joe Readel is 22 years old and works in a glass-blowing studio. He's good at finding the silver lining. "Under the freeway? Well, anywhere would be nice. At least we wouldn't get rained on."

A century ago, housing reformers called for clearing crowded slums that had little light or fresh air. How funny to think that our dwindling numbers of youth could provide one ray of hope now, as we recreate densely populated slums - complete with little light or fresh air.


For More Information:

Basics on Mission Bay, from the SF Redevelopment Agency, click here.

Sunlight is protected when under the city's jurisdiction with Policy 2.3 of the General Plan. (Mission Bay, however, is under separate Redevelopment Agency control and approvals).

Pump station at Mission Bay is for sewage, click here.

Affordable housing being built right by freeway, sewage pump station, and railroad tracks. Architect cites "social concern", click here.

City of San Francisco set to approve adjacent new office buildings, click here.

Study: "Respiratory health in children is adversely affected by local exposures to… freeway-related pollutants", click here.

Interpretation of the respiratory health study, click here.

San Francisco hosts X Games to showcase extreme sports, Summer, 1999, click here.

San Francisco offers skateboard exhibition event with corporate sponsorship, November, 2006, click here.

Skateboarders satisfied under Spokane freeways, click here.


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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