Last night, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim gathered with western SoMa neighbors and city officials to discuss the prospect of installing a fence around McCoppin Hub plaza, which neighbors say is overwhelmed by homeless encampments.
The plaza, wedged between the Central Freeway and Valencia Street just off Market Street, opened to the public last October. Along with the nearby dog and skate parks, it was meant to mitigate the effect of the partially redesigned freeway on western SoMa residents, and provide additional open space for the community to gather.
Fencing in the space has been a topic of discussion since the plaza's opening, Kim said. Based on the sheer amount of complaints her office has received (with only one letter opposing the fence), she believes it makes sense to move forward. She's been working with the police department, Public Works and Office of Workforce Development to prepare plans.
A homeless man sleeping in the plaza. (Photo: D.B./Yelp)
At last night's meeting, Kim invited representatives from the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team, Real Estate Division (which owns and operates the space), San Francisco Public Works (which designed the space and fencing options for discussion), People in Plazas (contracted to activate the space through October) and the Mayor's Office (which provides the budget for events) to discuss the current state of McCoppin Hub and present potential fencing options.
Kicking off a series of presentations, Patrick Simms, assistant program director for People in Plazas, said his group has hosted dozens of events in McCoppin Park, including artisan fairs that allows neighbors to sell crafts and other goods, indie music and film nights, and poetry readings. Their recent screening of The Princess Bride brought more than 300 people to the plaza, he said.
A summer yoga class at McCoppin Hub. (Photo: McCoppin Hub/Facebook)
In addition to hosting community-building events, Simms has been getting to know homeless individuals from the encampment that's been drawn to the park. It's now about 200 people strong, he said, including "teenagers shooting up."
"When we’re out there, that kind of activity seems to get pushed around," Simms said. But once the events shut down, he can see people on the periphery, waiting to move back in.
A bigger concern for Simms and People in Plazas is the lack of support from neighbors. In all of the events his group has hosted, he's seen very few neighbors from the surrounding blocks participate, he said.
Rand Parker of SFHOT said that McCoppin Hub is a priority zone for the city's outreach to homeless individuals. The SFHOT team visits the plaza twice each week, and will likely increase that. What they've learned so far: "Most people want to go to the [new Homeless] Navigation Center," she said. But space is limited. The Navigation Center only has room for 75 people total, and about 40 new people are brought in each month.
For those who refuse to leave McCoppin Hub, the SFHOT team talks to them about being good neighbors, even offering to supply mops and buckets they can use to clean up after themselves. But with a core group of individuals that keeps coming back, this is a tough group to reach, and reactions to the "good neighbor" message are only positive about 50 percent of the time.
After Parker spoke, John Thomas, Public Works' project manager for McCoppin Hub, presented a variety of initial fencing options for the group to discuss.
One idea is that Public Works could envelop the entire area in a black picket fence. However, the plaza isn't level front to back and has driveways on two sides, making this solution challenging.
Rendering: SF Public Works
Alternatively, two roll-up metal gates (like those seen on many Market Street storefronts) could be added to provide open entryways during the plaza's open hours, he said.
Rendering: SF Public Works
For either solution, Public Works will need to install exit gates that can always be pushed open from the inside (but lock on the outside). These gates can have one swinging door or two.
In addition to the style of the gates, stakeholders will need to decide on the height, the hours they will be locked, and who will lock them.
Claudia Gorham, San Francisco's assistant director of real estate, said that while a steward has not been appointed for the plaza yet, opening and closing hours can be set based on the community's desires, and her department will have an engineer lock and unlock it daily.
But residents had mixed opinions on whether the gate should be locked at all. Some living around the plaza said they wanted to see the gates locked during the day, unless an event is taking place. One commenter said that without locking it during the day, the gate will solve nothing.
Robin Havens of OWED said that this could contribute to underuse of the plaza, as People in Plazas is only contracted to host events through October. Another RFP for plaza activations could be released, but the city generally doesn't host events in the winter. To solve this challenge, one commenter suggested allowing the owners of the Hayes Valley Biergarten, which may lose its location to development, to move in.
A packed house at the Hayes Valley Biergarten. (Photo: Tracy F./Yelp)
The group also discussed closing the park from late evening until early morning, like many parks around the city. About a third of the residents in attendance, as well as People in Plazas representatives, opposed both the gate and implementing closing hours, warning that privatizing a public space would simply push the encampment to other blocks of western SoMa. Some argued that homeless neighbors are part of the public, too.
Another solution discussed that was of interest to many: turning McCoppin Hub into a community garden. Havens explained that the city's Urban Agriculture Program helps groups of neighbors and nonprofits sign agreements with the city to turn plots of public land into community gardens. Many agreed that such a use could work for the space, with Nomad Gardens (which is based in Mission Bay for about one more year) or the folks behind the former Hayes Valley Farm potentially taking over the plot. Homeless neighbors could also participate in the garden, one commenter pointed out.
Bringing food trucks back to the plaza was also a major point of contention for the group. Residents involved in the plaza's long planning process were upset to learn that Off The Grid was no longer sending food trucks to the space, given that it was redesigned specifically to accommodate them. Representatives from the Mayor's Office said that they've learned that food-truck vendors make more money in other locations, and despite their continued efforts to convince them to return, it's been a hard sell.
A crowd enjoying street food in the plaza last year. (Photo: Gary Soup/Flickr)
After over an hour and a half of discussion, Supervisor Kim let the group know that despite some opposition to the fence, her office would continue to support it, given that the city does not have the resources to dedicate more services to the area.
She also urged community members interested in forming a "Friends of McCoppin Hub" organization to contact her office. "The neighborhoods with the most successful parks have crazy neighborhood associations that dedicate countless hours to making them work," she said.