Neighbors offer alternate plan for 3333 California

by Thomas K. Pendergast

A new plan for the UCSF Laurel Heights campus has been submitted to the San Francisco Planning Department, only it was not created by department staff or a developer, but instead by local neighbors. 

As “comment” on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for a proposed development project at 3333 California St., the Laurel Heights Improvement Association (a neighborhood advocacy organization) submitted what it calls a “community full preservation alternative and variant” to the department on Jan. 8.

The association specifically requested of the department that the final Environmental Impact Report evaluate their alternative plan with the same degree of specificity as the DEIR used to evaluate the alternatives discussed in the DEIR.” They also claim that the DEIR “failed to present a reasonable range of alternatives for evaluation.”

The association further claims the “community alternative” would meet most of the basic project objectives and would be “superior” to the proposed project because it would maintain the historically significant characteristics of the site by preserving the existing main building and integrated landscaping in its present form.

“We set out to try and maintain something that was in scale with the neighborhood,” Richard Frisbee of the Laurel Heights Improvement Association said. “The California Street buildings would essentially be in scale, I think the term is ‘compatible in architecture,’ with what’s on the other side of California Street as well as what’s on the other side of the existing site.”

The community alternative proposes redeveloping the site with the same number of new residential units as the proposed project (558) or the proposed variant (744) but with fewer commercial uses. It would also retain the existing cafe, childcare center and 5,000 square feet of office use currently on site.

The developer, Prado Group, has a few proposals now in front of the department, but the favored one at this time would be a 13-building development at the 10-acre site that converts an existing office building to residential use and divides a 68-foot-tall structure into two structures, then adds vertical additions raising the height up to 92 feet and connected by a covered bridge; builds 13 new buildings along the perimeter of the lot, ranging in height from four to six stories; and demolishes the surface parking lots and annex building. 

The resulting completed development would be composed of 15 buildings containing 558 residential units, 49,999 square feet of office space, 54,117 square feet of retail space and 14,690 square feet of space for a child care center.

Among other variations put forth by the Prado Group is one that would require substantial rezoning to allow for increased density to accommodate 744 units and a senior center. This variant would also add three new residential floors up to 67 feet tall along California Street between Walnut Street and Presidio Avenue, for an additional 186 units.  

According to the commentary submitted to the department by the association, the community alternative offers 56 family-size units with an average of 1,821 square feet per unit, mostly three bedrooms, for middle-income families and additional on-site affordable housing as determined by the SF Board of Supervisors. In contrast, the proposed project does not state the amount or type of affordable housing that it would have on-site or commit to build the amount of affordable units on-site that are currently required by the SF planning code, the association claims. 

“The ambiguity in the project description maintains other options, such as paying a fee in lieu of building a portion of the affordable housing on-site or requesting an adjustment under  planning ode provisions applicable to development agreements. Further, the proposed project does not indicate that it would build affordable housing for middle-income families on site,” the association stated.

Given the location of the project site is directly adjacent to the Laurel Village Shopping Center and close to a retail corridor along Sacramento Street, the smaller amount of on-site retail and office space that the community alternative would provide is favored by the association.

“Does this area need more retail? Or, is it going to destroy the retail we already have, including some family-owned businesses on Sacramento Street now,” Frisbee said. “Going to the Laurel Village side of it, the merchants, I wouldn’t say 100 percent but I would say that 80 percent are opposed to retail for a number of different reasons. If you look at the retail traffic that would be generated (by the Prado proposal) … where are those cars going to park? They’re going to go park over at Laurel Village, then walk over to 3333 California St. and do their shopping. The Laurel Village merchants think that’s unfair. 

“The Laurel Village merchants don’t want more competition but the question is, if you get too much competition, what happens to Laurel Village?” Frisbee said.

The Prado Group’s proposal would excavate part of the lot to accommodate 895 off-street parking spaces and nine vehicle-loading spaces. The Community Alternative, however, will include 440 residential parking spaces reserved for the 558-unit proposal.

“With the smaller units, one-bedrooms and studios, are all those people going to have cars? We think not,” Frisbee said. 

Frisbee said they will have an additional 40 parking spaces available for the childcare center and the current medical office space. 

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