By Thomas K. Pendergast
When a raucous meeting about plans for the L-Taraval Improvement Project did not go as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) had hoped, they went back to the drawing board to reassess the plan and have now scheduled another meeting.
According to a press release by the SFMTA, the next meeting will be held on Friday, Aug. 9, at the Grace Lutheran Church, 3201 Ulloa St., between 5 and 6:30 p.m. They will “share a detailed overview of the potential layout plans, the benefits and tradeoffs of each, and provide an opportunity for community members to vote on their preferred plan.”
The project is broken into two segments. Segment A refers to the construction between the SF Zoo and Sunset Boulevard, starting this year. Segment B refers to the construction slated for 2021 that works on Taraval Street from Sunset Boulevard to West Portal.
The plans being discussed refer to segment A, the first of the two construction projects. Plans A and B concern the removal of parking along the Great Highway. Plan C proposed to use parking near the zoo as a staging area.
They offered two options at a meeting at the same location on July 17, but local residents revolted against the plan by refusing to vote without a third option being included. But, in a late-breaking development, a press release by the SFMTA has now rejected that third option, which would have used an SF Zoo parking lot as a staging area.
District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar started the July 17 meeting by criticizing the way the agency has been handling the public process.
“It has been a bumpy road over the last few years in the planning of this,” Mar said. “I think the City and particularly the SFMTA really could have done and needed to do a better job of giving residents, particularly the merchants here on Taraval, enough advance notice of the plans and creating meaningful opportunities for input from residents and merchants about the plans.
“I think just the latest example of that is around the construction phase, which was supposed to start in July, and it really was only several weeks before the construction was supposed to start that my office, the District 4 Supervisor’s office, and the merchants and the residents became aware of the plan by SFMTA to remove 96 parking spaces on the Great Highway for up to three years during the entirety of the construction,” he said. “So, this was quite a shock, to say the least, both the large number of parking spaces to be removed and also the short notice that we were given about such a big change to the neighborhood that would have a big impact on the residents, but particularly on the merchants, on Taraval,” he said.
Mar said his office got the SFMTA to agree to stop construction on July 1 and to allow for more opportunity to fully inform the residents and the merchants about what the plans are for construction. The SFMTA says it will allow for meaningful input from them on the construction plan.
SFMTA spokesperson Lulu Feliciano said Plan A for Segment A would re-stripe both sides of the Lower Great Highway, maintaining two lanes there but with a loss of 96 street parking spaces. Plan B would only restripe one side of the Lower Great Highway, turning it into one southbound lane, while northbound traffic will be rerouted via 48th Avenue on a two-block stretch between Santiago and Ulloa streets.
Plan B would only need to eliminate 16 parking spots.
“I still haven’t heard a reasonable explanation why the Zoo didn’t work as a staging area,” said Stephen Gorski, an attorney with a law practice on 48th Avenue.
Feliciano responded that they were at the meeting to vote on which alternative they wanted for segment A.
“I understand,” Gorski replied. “But that’s the problem. Both suggestions, A and B … the staging area doesn’t change. And that’s what’s offensive.
“The Zoo parking lot, down where it turns to Lake Merced, that area there has lots of things staged, constantly,” he elaborated. “So why don’t you put things there? Then you could go in either direction, (rather) than destroying the neighbors’ parking abilities and visitors parking along the Lower Great Highway. This isn’t a six-month project. You’re talking three years.”
A contractor on the project responded that they did look at that area for possible staging, but decided the Lower Great Highway location was better because they planned on welding the 80-foot rails together there, two at a time for 160-foot total each, then taking them directly up Taraval Street for installation. The closer the materials are to the work site, he argued, the sooner the work can be completed.
“It seems to me you have an option, but by fiat, just like (the SFMTA has) done in the past,” Gorski responded. “This is what they do. They made a decision and now they’re trying to justify the staging area, rather than looking to alternatives that will have no loss of parking and the merchants wouldn’t be going nuts.”
Doug Marschke owns Underdogs Too, a restaurant he opened at the corner of Taraval Street and 46th Avenue six months ago.
“They haven’t really thought about the impact on the residents,” Marschke said at the July 17 meeting. “They got their funding and they are kind of bulldozing ahead, which is what the SFMTA does. They are doing very little notification, very little outreach.”
He said there are other impacts occurring at the same time.
“There’s the impact directly in front of my restaurant, on Taraval Street,” he said. “That’s all going to be torn up, all that parking’s gone. Or, the SFPUC will be parking there. There’s the staging area. There’s also the whole Great Highway project. So it really is a triple whammy.
“If I had to vote for either A or B I’d vote for neither, because I think there has to be an option C, and I think that’s why most people are here.”
Gorski argued for locating the staging area at the Zoo, in the parking lot where Sloat and Skyline boulevards meet.
“That was a much more equitable place because businesses wouldn’t lose parking places, residents wouldn’t lose parking places, beach-goers wouldn’t lose parking places,” he said.
Officials at the SFMTA were asked if they could hold off the vote until they took a look at option C, the Zoo parking option, to see if it would work. City officials responded by asking if they could see a show of hands whether they preferred options A or B but people refused to vote, and started shouting “No! No vote!”
Feliciano asked what would happen if option C does not work, and she was told that the publics want a better explanation about why it doesn’t work before they vote on any options.
Editor’s note: Here is a link to a press release sent out by the SFMTA with a project update.