April 2019: The Shadow of New Luxury Housing is a Threat to the SOMA

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Named in honor of South of Market (SOMA) native and the first American woman Olympic gold multi-medalist of Filipino descent, Victoria Manalo Draves (VMD) Park is a neighborhood institution. The active and widely used park is a venue for numerous community events, utilized by the students of the nearby Bessie Carmichael School, and is a hangout for SOMA residents, workers, and visitors.   

Much is known, and we can all agree, about the benefits that sunshine and nature brings to our overall wellbeing. Access to nature is a basic human right; after all, we all are part of nature itself. VMD Park is that slice of nature in the city that benefits not only the majority of SOMA residents, workers, and visitors but also the entire population of San Francisco.

But a threat looms over VMD Park and the SOMA community in the form of a proposed luxury housing project that will cast a shadow on the park and negatively affect the community in more ways than one. The project was denied in 2015 based on the impact of the building’s shadow on the park, and now the project and the shadow it will create is larger at 0.07% of shadow in 2015 to 0.38% of shadow with the current project.

The 1052-1060 Folsom and 190-194 Russ Street luxury housing project that is planned to be built right next to the VMD Park is one of the many development projects that is rapidly changing San Francisco’s skyline while, at the same time, changing the population and demographic of the city’s neighborhoods through the displacement of its long-time and low-income residents who can no longer afford the skyrocketing price of rent.

The current median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,690. The current Area Median Income (AMI) in San Francisco is $118,400 for a family of four. According to the San Francisco Planning Department, the lowest AMI percentage to be able to qualify for affordable housing on a Rental Project is 55% or $45,600 - $91,200 annual income for a single person while the lowest AMI percentage to qualify for affordable housing on an Ownership Project is 80% or $66,300 - $107,750. The reality is that a large majority of the city’s population can barely make the requirement with many falling below the 20% AMI.

“We do want housing for everyone, but it’s just not affordable. We advocate for housing that’s affordable,” says Mary Roque of Bayanihan Equity Center that caters to the senior population. “As a service provider, there are barriers for our seniors to be able to avail of housing since they don’t qualify. They are below 20% of the AMI chart. If 190 Russ Street happens, our seniors wont’ be able to qualify.”

Roque adds that the senior citizens that they serve do not like the idea of the shadow that will be cast by the building on VMD Park. The seniors themselves use the park and have expressed their sentiment about the proposed building: “I wouldn’t want my grandchildren to play under a shadow.”

With only two full-sized public parks in the entire SOMA, District 6 has the least amount of parks and open space in the city. At 2.1 acres VMD Park is the largest park in SOMA, District 6, but it is relatively small compared to other well-known and frequented parks such as Dolores Park, Alamo Square Park, and Duboce Park. VMD Park, as well as the proposed luxury housing project, is located within the SOMA Youth and Family Special Use District that was established in 2009 to protect and enhance the health and environment of the youth and families. Not only is it crucial but it is also a sanctioned right to keep in mind the wellbeing and quality of life of all who benefit from VMD Park when it comes to new development projects, most especially the ones that would negatively impact the community.

If passed, the project will cast an increased percentage of shadow on VMD Park for an average of 1.2 hours a day and up to 1.8 hours a day in June for eight months out of the year. It will affect heavily used areas including the basketball court, children’s play area, grassy areas, benches, and park entry. It will set a dangerous precedent for future developments to further limit access to sunshine at VMD Park and other parks in the city.

Furthermore, in a neighborhood comprised mainly of a low-income working class population, a seven-story luxury market-rate housing project is extraordinarily large and out of place when the majority of members of the immediate and surrounding community would not be able to afford to live in it. Even if the proposed development project were to be 100% affordable housing, the overall and long-term negative effects on the environment and the community would be greater than its supposed benefits.

“The impact doesn’t outweigh the public good,” says Heather Phillips, director of programs at United Playaz.

Take action and support SOMCAN’s appeal of the 1502-1060 Folsom and 190-194 Russ Street Project and demand that the city update the Prop K “Sunlight Ordinance” for VMD Park to have a 0% shadow tolerance like other high density neighborhoods.

Join other community organizations in protecting VMD Park: West Bay, SOMA Pilipinas, United Playaz, Bayanihan Equity Center, Friends of Gene Friend Recreation Center, Friends of Victoria Manalo Draves Park, and SOMA Youth Collaborative.

For more information, email dwoo@somcan.org.

Apr 2019TJ Basa