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By Glenn Rogers, PLA and Aaron Goodman
On December 14th, 2012, Judge Teri Jackson issued two decisions related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approving two of the largest developments in San Francisco since the Bay View Hunter’s Point project. On this day she approved the development of the Parkmerced and Treasure Island projects. These approvals gave developers, political lobbyists and finance firms reason to celebrate.
The Parkmerced decision was largely ignored by the press, although Parkmerced is presently one of the largest garden rental apartment communities west of the Mississippi. Parkmerced was originally designed by the father of modern landscape architecture in the Bay area, Thomas Dolliver Church, and is one of his only publicly accessible sites. The Landscape was featured in the traveling exhibition Marvels of Modernism Landscapes at Risk in 2008 by the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
The decision to demolish Parkmerced poses a quandary regarding how densification of urban areas will be accomplished in the coming years. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) responsible for transit oriented development and Assembly Bill 32 – Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) in many ways are in conflict with the San Francisco General Plan in how to best preserve and protect rental housing and culturally significant landscapes against development. Assembly Bill 32 requires significant reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The Parkmerced project is expected to last 20-30 years from the beginning of development, a process which has been delayed by additional litigation. Judge Jackson approved the Parkmerced project based on its commuter-friendly status that waits 20 years for the “M” street car to extend to Daly City BART. Improvements like these need to be provided before development, not 20 years later. Safe to say, waiting this long for necessary improvements means they may never happen. Judge Jackson could have over turned this project on this recognized problem alone.
What is lacking in this discussion is how the Parkmerced redevelopment project will be analyzed for alternatives that generate a sounder investment in land-use, transit planning, environmental protection and enhancement. How can we preserve open-space that prevents the demolition and destruction of resources? How can we build upon housing design when we destroy a shining example of the ‘Garden City’ movement, a project that was as much a social experiment as an example of a master class landscape architect’s abilities?
The project’s original courtyards display a unique vision of landscape design that will be lost in demolition. Indeed, older homes of the 1940’s and 50’s are often in better shape than contemporary public housing schemes built to far ‘superior’ specifications. Besides, little proof has been offered by the Parkmerced developer, regarding the alleged poor condition of the existing Parkmerced Garden apartments. As Kathrin Moore, a San Francisco planning commissioner, states, ‘The proposed development has no hindsight, insight or foresight. It is not a project of the 21st century. It is the agenda of a self-serving developer.” Unfortunately, during the approval process, her position was in the minority. The judge’s recent decisions, and dimming opportunities to appeal the case, bring into focus what happens when the pleas of preservationists, sustainable communities, and landscape advocates are disregarded.
The case against the City and County of San Francisco and the developer, Parkmerced Investors Properties LLC, filed by the environmental group San Francisco Tomorrow (SFT), and (PmAC) the Parkmerced Action Coalition, is at the next stage of appeal and may be the only representative case focused on the challenge of CEQA and the public’s right to fight for what they need most, “a place to call home.”
Glenn Rogers, PLA
Aaron Goodman, ‘San Francisco Tomorrow’
‘Parkmerced Action Coalition’
Posted in Design, Planning , Urban Design & Transportation. Tags: Cultural Landscapes, Parkmerced, San Francisco, Thomas Church.