On May 4, 2000, the San Francisco Planning Department hosted the first community workshop at Lick-Wilmerding High School for the neighborhoods centered around the Balboa Park BART Station. The workshop had three primary goals:
- Introduce the community to the Better Neighborhoods 2002 project
- Begin to discuss some ideas of what makes a great neighborhood with participants and to gather their thoughts about them
- Begin to discuss how we can help make the neighborhood the best place it can be
About 90 local residents attended, in addition to project staff. The workshop began with refreshments and an informal discussion of eight elements that help make a neighborhood great:
- Its own Special Character
- Being its own special place, while also Part of the Whole
- The ability to Get Around Easily by a variety of transportation choices
- The ability to Walk to Shops for your everyday needs
- Safe Streets, with low crime and appropriate traffic levels
- Gathering Places for people to meet one another
- A variety of Housing Choices for a variety of different people
- Good City Services such as libraries, parks and street maintenance
Following the informal discussion, Planning Department staff described the Better Neighborhoods 2002 process and provided their thoughts about the eight elements. Then, participants assembled into five small groups to discuss how the elements related to them.
The following summary attempts to capture the essence of workshop participants' ideas, describing major themes that emerged in the discussions. These summaries do not represent the consensus of the neighborhood nor direction for planners, but are a starting point for further discussion and refinement at the next workshops. A detailed transcript of all the workshop notes is available by emailing us or by calling Project Coordinator Ken Rich at 558-6345.
Participants think of the Balboa Park Station Area as several neighborhoods rather than one, and each has its own character. Many participants enjoyed the fact that these neighborhoods are more "affordable" compared to other San Francisco neighborhoods, allowing more families with children to live there. They like the historic buildings, small shops and quiet character of the residential streets. Most participants, however, would like to see more activity and energy in the neighborhood -- especially on Ocean – giving people a reason to come there. Some specific points about Special Character that were mentioned include:
Unique architecture, including small Victorian row houses. Business character (e.g., the Apollo Theater). Neighborhood obscurity. People with small children are starting to move into the neighborhood. Walkability. Affordability. Established, working class neighborhood. City neighborhood characterized by small, local, businesses and shops. Single family dwellings without in-law units.
Part of the Whole
Many participants recognized how convenient it is to get to and from the neighborhood on transit and by car, with a BART station and freeway on-ramps in the center of the area. At the same time, many residents also felt like they were living in suburbia, isolated from other neighborhoods and a sense of urban vitality. Many would like more attention from the City. Some specific points about Part of the Whole that were mentioned include:
Great transportation. I feel like I am in suburbia. Dominated by cars. No bike lanes, despite need. Need more Muni services. Traffic concerns due to the race track. BART conveniently accesses Market. Muni services reach most of the City. Access is getting worse.
Getting Around Easily
Participants felt that the area is extremely convenient to BART, MUNI light rail and the freeway, but that bicycle and pedestrian access is poor. All this transportation infrastructure also causes some negative impacts on the community, including noise and congestion. Some specific points about Getting Around Easily that were mentioned include:
Easy to get on freeway. No Post Office close. Good BART, Bus and Light Rail. Too dangerous to walk from BART at night. Daly City people taking all the street parking (filled by 7:30). Need for extended permits (San Mateo County Fast Pass). A central location, yet inconvenient transit schedules. West Portal is easy to get around in. Access to Caltrain is difficult. Bicycling is hard. Connection to BART from Excelsior is difficult.
Walk to Shops
Almost everyone in the workshop agreed that there should be more and better shops and services on Ocean Avenue. Many people thought there should be housing above the shops in order to create more customers to support more businesses. Many would like to see Ocean Avenue feel more like West Portal, with cafés, banks and other services all within walking distance. Some specific points about Walk to Shops that were mentioned include:
Most attendees felt their neighborhood residential streets were very safe, but the major streets such as Ocean, Geneva, San Jose, Mission and Alemany were a problem. Most people felt speeding on these streets was the major problem. Many also would like to see more people out walking at night in order to feel safer. Some specific points about Safe Streets that were mentioned include:
Safest streets are residential (Westwood Park, Holloway). New library area is getting better. Excelsior and Mission are bad. New Mission Terrace presents a crime free oasis. Plymouth /Ocean has many red light runners. Wide streets such as San Jose are hard to cross. Too much speeding on Alemany, Monterey and Geneva. Ocean has too many cars and not enough signals. Safety issues are traffic not crime. Lack of activity – businesses.
Most participants felt their neighborhood lacked a central gathering place. Instead, people tended to gather in various widespread locations throughout the area. Most people felt that new gathering places should be created on Ocean Avenue. Some specific points about Gathering Places that were mentioned include:
No single focus, and many disconnected parts. Coffee shops, such as those at Faxon and Ocean. Balboa Park soccer stadium. Oceanview Park great but drugs. Potential on Geneva in residential and commercial areas. BART station has potential (e.g., like Glen Park). More cafés, especially at the Geneva and San Jose intersection. Historic Muni brick building should be converted for a gathering place or some other use. People should gather, walk and shop on the streets outdoor cafes, and restaurants. Need something done on Phelan loop. Create community – Balboa High/San Miguel/children. Opportunity for green space.
Some participants would like to see new housing in areas like Ocean Avenue and near the BART station. Most felt that new housing would need to be designed sensitively so that it fit in to the architectural character of the neighborhood and did not overwhelm it. Some specific points about Housing Choices that were mentioned include:
Housing is affordable. Very respectable neighborhoods. Family friendly. Excelsior is affordable. Too much like suburbia. Preserve the style of neighborhood by limiting extensions on existing houses. Housing for teachers and helping professions. Mix on parking lot for MUNI employees near Balboa Park BART station that should be developed into a village of housing & businesses. Ensure one off-street parking space per unit. Encourage affordable housing at appropriate locations, and minimize illegal units. Maintain 40' limit; keep things as they are. Illegal units create a big parking problem. Benefits of high density: mix of low and high density adds activity.
Participants felt that the streets in the neighborhood should be better maintained, especially Ocean. They would like help from the City to revitalize Ocean and fix the historic Geneva Office Building. They want to make sure the library is maintained and improved. Some specific points about City Services that were mentioned include:
After recent election day Ocean Ave wasn't swept. Street sweepers blows street debris on sidewalks (sweepers used water in the past but currently it's been empty blowers. Every service is not needed in this area. Need a larger library (little library on Ingleside is not visible) and maybe more to Bank of America building on Ocean Ave. Need community technical program. Fire Department a big plus. BART station very uncomfortable and hostile. Area is traditionally working class. Is there funding available to fund projects to implement plans generated in the community?