South San Francisco Adopts Downtown Station Area Plan
Members of the South City Community Benefits Coalition celebrated the South San Francisco City Council adopting the Downtown Station Area Plan January 28.
Three years of work by the San Mateo County Union Community Alliance-led Community Benefits Coalition paid off in South San Francisco January 28 when the City Council passed the Downtown Station Area Plan by a unanimous vote.
The South City Community Benefits Coalition worked over the course of three years with a dozen community and labor organizations and hundreds of City residents to develop a community consensus around a four-point platform that included:
• Greener and Healthier Development Alternatives,
• Affordable Homes and Homelessness Solutions,
• Efficient Affordable Public Transit with Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Options, and
• Building Businesses and Creating Good Jobs in Our Community.
The community coalition won significant improvements in three of the four areas. The plan provides for greenways, parks and public plazas, bicycle and pedestrian walkways between the Cal Train station and Downtown Grand Avenue, as well as bus lanes and parking modifications. It also includes strong language encouraging all developers to employ local workers and apprentices from state certified apprenticeship programs, and to pay area standard wages.
Coalition members had done their homework in preparation for the City Council meeting. The community youth group, #4South City, surveyed 800 residents in the downtown area over two weekends. #4South City leader Alondra Aragon showed the City Council a map with rent increases tagged throughout the Plan area. She testified about how her family was facing rent increases that are unsustainable. Gustavo Lopez, a former South San Francisco resident, advocated for the Council to consider implementing policies that controlled rents in the new downtown area. “We should have policies enacted that are going to keep people here,” he said. “Invest not just into big business, but invest into people. Invest into South City.”
City Council members heard the residents and responded: Mayor Rich Garbarino assured them that their concerns did not fall on deaf ears, as he reminded residents that the approval only served as a working document, and that there was still time to ensure that their fears would be addressed. “This is just the start,” Garbarino said. “It’s not cast in stone yet.”
Councilwoman Liza Normandy agreed with the mayor, and said the city leadership is taking the issue of potentially displacing residents seriously. “Please know that we do care,” said Normandy.
Bill Nack, Business Manager of the San Mateo County Building Trades Council was joined by 16 South City resident construction workers from Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 wearing their union t-shirts when addressed the City Council. “The Building Trades Council views this Plan as a document that lays out South San Francisco’s expectations for developers,” Nack said. “When they come to town looking to build something, they can look to this Plan and get a clear understanding of what South San Francisco’s vision is for the downtown and what they are expected to bring forward in their developments.” He argued that Plan should include the hiring of local apprentices so that young people could get career pathways into the construction industry and wage standards so the local economy would benefit from the hundreds of jobs that will be created by the new developments. His arguments swayed the Council and Mayor Garbarino moved an amendment that inserted Nack’s requested language into the plan.
Kirsten Snow Spalding, SMCUCA, and other coalition supporters presented a map of the Downtown Station Area with post-it notes showing recent rent increases. The City Council agreed to continue the discussion about measures to prevent residents from being displaced as a result of new development and rising housing prices.
Clarrissa Cabansagan of TransForm, which advocates for policies in support of public transportation, smart growth, affordable housing, and bicycle/pedestrian safety, testified about the Plan’s parking initiatives and the moves to connect the downtown and eastside employment centers to the Caltrain station. She applauded the City’s announcement that it has received funding to implement a parking study and would be applying for new funding from the County Transportation Authority to implement the planned Caltrain station move to Grand Avenue—including a pedestrian/bike underpass that facilitates that critical east-west connection.
Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding, Executive Director of the San Mateo County Union Community Alliance applauded the Council for the partnership with the community that led to the approval of the Plan. “We are committed to continuing to work together as a community to ensure that every person here in South City will thrive,” she said. She urged the Council to hear the testimony of the community residents not as criticisms, but as passionate statements of hope: “The community needs and wants a clean environment, good jobs and economic prosperity, affordable housing and public transportation. Working together, we can achieve these goals.”
The South San Francisco Community Benefits Platform was the work of South San Francisco community leaders and their representatives, with funding from the Great Communities Collaborative and the San Francisco Foundation. The Community Benefits Coalition is a diverse group of labor, environmental, transportation and housing organizations. Member groups are #4South City, Friends of Caltrain, Greenbelt Alliance, Housing Leadership Council, San Mateo County Building Trades Council, San Mateo County Union Community Alliance, Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 104, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, TransForm, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.