Interview

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos Talks Development to Community Gardens

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos. Photo courtesy: sfbos.org.

Neil Ballard: Review 2014 for us. What were the accomplishments, and what were the setbacks?

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos: Last year was a lot of fun, there was a lot of great stuff that we got done in the district. We saw the closure of Net Stop which was a big issue in the Excelsior and a lot of the illegal gambling going on right out in the open. Net Stop started this whole series of other places that were doing similar activity to get shut down. That was a lot of effort from our office, and of course from the police department and the city attorney and the district attorney to help close that down.

We got a parklet up there on the Persia Triangle, which was pretty exciting, that was a couple years in the making with a lot of community effort from the Excelsior Action Group, but also with Youth Art Exchange and the partnership that we had established with the Planning Department. That started in 2012 to get that project in place. Although it’s only there temporarily, we know that it’s part of activating that public land right there which is the heart of the Excelsior District.

How are the community garden projects in District 11 going? What role does your office play in making these projects happen?

We’ve made significant progress on a couple urban ag[riculture] programs that I’m pretty excited about.

We have McLaren Park, right on the opposite side of the soccer field parking lot will be a community garden area on land that is, I believe, going to be pretty fertile to work on. That’s on Public Utility Commission land that is under Rec and Park jurisdiction. They’ll be breaking ground this year.

There’s also the project on Brotherhood Way that we have some support from the Department of Public Works to move forward on and we’re in the design process for that, but a lot of the legwork to get that established was done over the past, mostly through 2013. And that is actually, we’ve had a couple community meetings about it last year that attracted a lot of the diversity of the district in terms of age and in terms of background, which is really great to see.

That’s a great project. I’m really excited about working on it personally. You said there was a lot of effort in 2013 to get it started, who was behind that effort?

I think it was our office working with, you know the idea came from Peter Vaernet, and he had done a lot of legwork, talking to members of the Chinese community- he speaks Mandarin- so he was able to pull in some folks, but we just saw it as something that was worth supporting, we put money in the budget to help augment the outreach, especially to the Chinese community, which is where Chinese Progressive Association came in.

We knew with that investment in the community outreach we were going to see things move forward. And we knew that in order to get a good project, we wanted to have lots of community involvement in the design work, that was a part of it.

DPW wants “community champions” to raise money for the project. That could lead to a situation where nothing really happens with the project. Is that a concern that you would see?

That has not been articulated to me by DPW as being the main issue. My conversation with Mohamed (Nuru, director of San Francisco Public Works) is that they want to break ground right away, and I’m concerned that they just want to do it quickly and not incorporate what the community is saying.

There’s weird tension from people who live across, on the other side of Alemany, the METNA (Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association) people, who are interested in creating little boxes. If you talk about getting creative with little boxes, you start to put the little boxes at different angles.

The problem I have is just boxes in general. I look at ways to create shared space, and not space that is individualized, that will create a finite participation in the site that we create. I want something that’s going to be much more engaging of lots of members of the community who can come through at different times, grow their own things, they have access to what’s built there, and they have the sense that this belongs to everyone, and you’ll see the diversity of the neighborhood involved. I think the boxes are an approach that really limits what the place could be like.

What about Geneva Community Garden?

It’s been cleared, I didn’t think they were going to clear the trees, but they did, I think there was a redwood tree that was there. I was really shocked to see that. I heard from a lot of community members that they were afraid the trees would be taken out, and it turns out they were taken out.

It’s kind of an interesting space because I think the effort to create the garden was also to stop any kind of development from happening there, and I think the garden’s a really great thing. The upper part of it will have the boxes and then there’ll be some shared space, but I don’t think the whole thing has quite been programmed just yet in terms of how it’s going to be broken apart.

Please provide an update on the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse youth arts center. What will the next steps be? 

We’ve done a lot of work over the past couple years for the Car Barn. Rec and Park has contributed a lot of work and a dedicated staff person to assist with a lot of the entitlements. Last year we were able to do some of the entitlement work which included a lease and a negative declaration around the environmental work- everything was cleared environmentally, which was a big hurdle, and with the environmental clearance we know we’ll be ready for a bond, that’s going to be a major source of funding which could come in 2018, and we’ve been assisting with outreach efforts around fundraising, so I’ve had Tim Wirth (Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse Executive Director) here a number of times in my office, we’ve made phone calls with him, we’ve planned meetings with prospective donors here in the office and at Aidlin Darling Design (pro bono architects for the project).

So far the fundraising hasn’t come through, but we want to make sure that we put things in place so that things can be successful.

Why hasn’t fundraising come through?

I actually can’t say why not. We’ve been trying to bite a lot of apples to see what we can get, but people look at other projects in the city. There’s a lot of money coming into the city but it tends to stay in the places where development’s happening. Development’s definitely coming to District 11. It’s not here yet.

What is the status of the Upper Yard housing development project?

That’s something my office has been involved in for about three years. We were able to get a commitment to transferring land to the Mayor’s Office of Housing from the MTA, which was a big step that we needed. BART has also said they’ll be supportive of the project as well, so we have the MTA and BART, now working to make sure that we have access to building there.

The big part is going to be finding the funds for it, but the Mayor has also committed to build on public land and use the Upper Yard as an example of where he would like to build.

In what direction is San Francisco headed? What about District 11?

I’m really concerned about the direction San Francisco is going in. It’s become a city that has become very unaffordable for a lot of working families and middle class families. I’m really concerned that we’re starting to see that lack of affordability coming to District 11. It’s happening at the same time where we continue to see the population densify in District 11 as well- as people are trying to cobble together funds to pay for their mortgages or to keep their family members living close by. We’re seeing a lot more in-laws being developed. I think we need to figure out a program to actually make in-laws up to code and habitable.

What does 2015 have in store for your office?

In District 11 we’re excited about a lot of infrastructure projects that will be initiated this year. We’re going to see McLaren Park, Mansell Street improvements being done that will increase pedestrian safety, cyclist safety, and we’ll actually do the road work there that hasn’t been done in decades and it’s all falling apart.

There will be a lot of projects in McLaren park that will be initiated through the last park bond that are going to be really great to see, some improvements at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, which hopefully will receive greater programming as well and receive city support for the community folks who are doing a lot of great work around the amphitheater.

I want to work on some guidelines for how we do construction and development around Mission Street in District 11 so that we don’t just see willy-nilly buildings go up but so there’s actually some conformity to what we want to see in terms of aesthetics and affordability in the district.

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