San Francisco

Despite Filipino Community Backlash, Forest City's 5M Project Moves Forward

During a lengthy public hearing that attracted more than 120 members of the community, the Planning and Rec and Parks Commissions voted yesterday to certify the final environmental-impact report (EIR) for Forest City's 5M Project, and move the development to the Board of Supervisors for final approvals.

Representatives from neighborhood nonprofit United Playaz, showing their support for the project.

After seven years of planning with community members and city planners, Forest City's development plan now includes demolishing five buildings and surface parking lots on four acres of land (owned by the San Francisco Chronicle) across Fifth, Mission and Howard streets. In its place, the plan is to construct three towers (ranging from 31 feet to 450 feet tall) for office, residential and retail space.

Given that the developer is asking to build beyond the area's height limits, the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development has developed a community benefits agreement with Forest City, which promises $11.8 million in benefit fees for the SoMa community on top of the $60 million the city will generate from standard development fees. Some of the added benefits will include:

  • 33 percent affordable housing (or 212 units) within five blocks of the project, through on-site housing, land dedication and funding.
  • Three public open spaces, totaling 49,000 square feet
  • $12 million to transportation and pedestrian safety improvements in the neighborhood
  • $1 million to SoMa's Bessie Carmichael School and $1 million to the Gene Friend Community Center redesign
  • 12,000 square feet for arts and cultural events

Many residents, nearby workers and small business owners praised the project for its density and location near public transit, for offering a laundry list of community benefits beyond what's legally required, and for creating new housing without displacing any existing tenants.

However, many Filipino community members blasted the plan, arguing that the addition of luxury market-rate housing to an already vulnerable community will eliminate the area's Filipino and working-class communities.

Since 2008, the city has been sitting on plans to implement a Filipino Social Heritage District in SoMa. At last night's hearing, Filipino community members urged the commissioners to support the heritage district before moving the 5M Project forward, reminding them that redevelopment of the Financial District and Yerba Buena had displaced Filipino residents twice before.

Many commenters also argued that allowing Forest City to build beyond the area's height limit would cause the Financial District to swallow SoMa, and encouraged developers to draw plans for towers in neighborhoods with similar height restrictions

While about 70 commenters requested a continuance until December, to allow more time for the city to develop plans to mitigate displacement, the Planning Commission—unconvinced that three more months were needed for a project that has been in the works for seven years—voted against delaying the vote on the EIR, enraging some residents in the audience.

Another concern for objectors was the quality of Forest City's open spaces, and the impact the new towers will have on the newly redesigned Boeddeker Park, just a few blocks away in the Tenderloin. Planners provided evidence that the development would cast a new shadow on Boeddeker's flower beds only from 7-8am in the fall and winter (and disappear before the park officially opens each day), but a few residents argued that the city should be more concerned about protecting the district's limited stock of green spaces.

Some also argued that Forest City's open spaces would be unusable by the public, due to lack of visibility from major streets, shadows from surrounding buildings, and restricted hours for the rooftop. 

Ultimately, however, both commissions voted in favor of the development. The first hearing on the project with the Board of Supervisors is expected to be held in early December.


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