My Observations: L-Taraval Construction Project – Community Meeting #2
By Gavin Clark
It was bright outside and unusually warm for late afternoon in the Sunset. The fog hadn’t rolled in yet.
Crowds convened outside of Grace Lutheran Church sharing opinions and conversing loudly as they anticipated the beginning of the meeting. This August 9 gathering was the second community meeting to address the L-Taraval Improvement Project, held by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) after the last meeting ended unsuccessfully when the community attendees refused to vote because they were dissatisfied with both plan A and plan B proposed by the agency.
These plans would mean that a large section of the Great Highway and parts of 48thAve. would be used as a staging area for construction over the tentative three-year duration of the project.
There were many different opinions held by the community, though most were in opposition. It was hoped that this meeting would find an alternate staging area for construction at the large lot cornering Sloat and Lake Merced boulevards.
A man in the front of the line spoke out, confused about the voting policy. Only one sticker to vote was given out per household. An SFMTA employee explained, that each household should share the same view, as she continued on, registering the next person. The man shook his head and walked away. Tensions were high.
Amongst the crowds were prominent community activists and business owners. They huddled around the presentation boards sharing opinions and ideas. Steve Gorski was walking through them with this young reporter explaining some of the main objections to the proposed plan. His wife, Judy, was gaining signatures for the petition. District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar and his assistant Edward stood off to the side.
Deanna, public outreach for SFMTA took the stage and got ready to begin. The crowd took their seats and the loud chatter became only whispers.
Deanna started the meeting with normal formalities and recapped the general outline of the project as a whole. Then she began to talk about the “option C feasibility study” concluded by the SFMTA. Victor Yuen and Steven Wong took the stage. These two engineers concluded, “maneuverability isn’t possible out of the zoo,” as they pointed to the overview image on one of the poster boards.
Voices in the audience grew and stirred a bit. One voice yelled, “that’s not the right parking lot on the map!” The crowd agreed. They were right. In fact, the staging area proposed as plan C by the community at the last meeting did not appear to be on any of the presentations that had been arranged currently.
Voices grew even louder, stirred a bit more. Deanna got back up and began giving assurances that the lot being talked about was the correct one. Nobody seemed convinced. Deanna and the engineers were confused. Stevie Gorski who has been a voice for the community throughout the meetings stepped in. He suggested pulling up Google Maps on the projection screen so that everyone could view the proper lot.
The lights were dim. The screen was bright. Everybody was quiet as the lot was located and zoomed in. Then the commotion grew again. The engineers were whispering to each other off to the side and Deanna rushed around in front hushing the mass volume as it arose.
The engineers stepped forward and it was quiet again. They concluded once more that maneuverability of the construction vehicles would not be possible out of the newly proposed lot.
A man stood up and started yelling about the atrocities of the SFMTA on the community. He brought up old construction projects headed by SFMTA and their lack of consideration for community concern as he yelled.
“We gathered thousands of signatures for (safety) islands and SFMTA put us through…”
“We’re trying to finish, you’re not letting me,” Deanna interrupted, “and stop swearing!”
“…Thousands of signatures collected,” the man continued. “What happened to that!?”
He yelled in anguish as he left the stage and headed towards the exit. He was gone and everything was paused for a moment. Then voices started in again.
A point was made. Throughout the meeting, SFMTA continually showed a lack of preparedness. Their spokespersons including engineers heading the project could not consistently address the concerns of the public. Members of the audience asked several times if environmental reports had been done to ensure the safety of residents that would be impacted during the construction phase. A definite answer was never given. Most of the questions were never addressed with answers.
SFMTA maintained that the project was to increase safety in the long run through new rail lines. Although, there is reportedly low incidences of injury or malfunction caused by the rails themselves. It is possible that the lack of notice given to the community was one of the biggest complaints voiced at the meeting.
Supervisor Mar, the residents, and the local businesses owners all showed disappointment towards this fact. Most had been given notice of construction only two weeks before construction was supposed to start, at the beginning of July.
SFMTA acknowledged that bidding for construction had started four years prior to the notice. They also admitted that the construction staging area had already been determined and set a year prior.
Then the Q&A session began.
The same questions were asked: Why was notice given so late to the residents? What impact will construction have on small business owners? Is there any alternative to the plans currently offered? Will construction over the three-year duration pose adverse health risks? Why is only one vote allowed per household? Etc..
Each question was met the same way as the last, brushed off and moved to the next inquiry. SFMTA had already made up their minds. The meeting simply gave the community a place to vent their disagreements. There was a steady stream of people making their way to the exit, shaking their heads and mumbling words of disdain as they left.
About half the audience remained. Deanna concluded the meeting and gave instructions to cast votes for either plan A or plan B. The remaining crowd became excited as they began chanting, “NO VOTE!” in unison.
Deanna walked off the stage irritated and the crowd stood up as staff members began cleaning up the room. People formed a crowd around Judy Gorski to fill out the petition of opposition while the voting table was left empty.
Steve Gorski stopped by the young reporter on his way out.
“That was a kangaroo court, and you can quote me on that,” said with a cynical tone on his way out the door.
Mar was one of the last to leave.
“We will be working on a plan that can hopefully better accommodate all parties involved,” Mar said to a group of citizens as they exited. “One of the main issues is the lack of communication conveyed to the residents. Hopefully, these meetings will open communication for future endeavors.”
The community hall was vacant. The ballot still sat on the table with one vote for plan A and one vote for plan B. Crumbled-up voting stickers littered the floor everywhere. It was over and the outcome of the meeting proved no different from the last.
Mar, the Gorski family and many other community activists are still fighting to change the construction staging area. Many people in the Sunset, especially local residents of 48th Avenue, have been dedicating their time and resources to overturn SFMTA’s decision. It may be a long process. Only time will tell what the true outcome will be.