The proposed temporary closure of Vallejo Street between Columbus and Grant avenues has been delayed for a second time, after neighbors showed up at a Sept. 24th hearing for the SFMTA's Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation for Temporary Street Closures (ISCOTT) to express their concerns.
The closure was originally planned for Sept. 26th, 2015–Jan. 4th, 2016, to allow for the construction of the Piazza St. Francis Temporary Plaza, also known as the Poets Plaza. After public opposition and fire department concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic, approval was pushed to the hearing on the 24th. Most of the people at that hearing were against the closure, said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose in a statement. He confirmed the next hearing will be at 9am on October 8th at the SFMTA (1 S. Van Ness Ave., 7th Floor).
Update, 10/2: SFMTA posted the agenda for the Oct. 8th ISCOTT meeting showing the Vallejo closure is "on hold."
The idea for a Poets Plaza came from City Lights founder and acclaimed poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and attorney Angela Alioto had garnered widespread support and a great deal of funding for it. Alioto told us back in April that she hoped construction would begin on the plaza this month and finish by September 2016, in time for a major peace conference she's planning. (A representative for Alioto told us she's unavailable for comment until mid-October due to work obligations; we'll check back with her as soon as she's available to speak.)
Kristen Foley, who's lived in the neighborhood for six years, said she heard "quite a few" neighbors spoke out once again at the Sept. 24th meeting of ISCOTT, which approves or denies road closures. Someone put flyers on cars the previous weekend, she said, which got the word out and might've spurred attendance. Foley had previously told us that people who don't live in the immediate neighborhood aren't aware of the difficulties the closure will pose for drivers.
"If they did it with thought and weren’t being bullies about it to get someone’s pet project complete, it would make more sense to me," Foley said. "I feel it would be a community decision, rather than just someone telling us this is going to happen. If they’re claiming this Poets Plaza is going to bring the community together, then why aren’t they involving the community it’s going to affect?"
Foley said she's glad the process is becoming more public, with additional hearings. "I feel good about how they’re actually postponing it and trying to take the time to be thoughtful around it, rather than forcing it on the community," she said.
"My office is going to get involved and take a closer look at the review process," District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen told us. "Yes, we probably need to do more community outreach so they can pay attention to the specifics of the plan. We have heard from the community that the amount of current outreach has not been sufficient. We agree."
Vince Sanchez, whose family is opening a second location of their restaurant, Mama's, across from the plaza on Vallejo and Columbus, said the opposition is political, because Christensen has been supportive of the plaza from the beginning. "It is political," he said. "It’s 100 percent political. Period."
"I think there's some growing concern about what emergency vehicles will have to do," said Grant Miller, who lives in the neighborhood. He doesn't have strong feelings about the plaza, but "I've heard it may delay response times up to several minutes, and that could be a legitimate concern." On the other hand, "some people are very much in support of it. It could turn out to be beautiful. It depends on how they do it."
Community advocate Stephanie Greenburg said the San Francisco Fire Department has signed off on the project, as they have the necessary 20-foot clearance to drive through the plaza at any time.
A rendering of the proposed plaza. (Image: Courtesy of Angela Alioto)
Greenburg, who's also the president of the Top of Broadway Community Benefit District, said she's confused how people can say they weren't aware of plans for the plaza, as it's been discussed for more than a decade and publicized for several months now. She added that Alioto has done extensive outreach to community groups, many of which provided letters of support (including North Beach Neighbors, Telegraph Hill Dwellers and the Top of Broadway CBD). Posters have also been up in numerous local shop windows since at least early this year.
"I feel strongly it would be an exciting, community-serving public space, especially during the holiday season," Greenburg said in a written statement to us. "Creative programming would serve to activate this new space. I think of it as a kind of pop-up venue for the arts, with free activities and performances, including kids activities, poetry readings and opera. It seems like a no-brainer for a neighborhood long associated with a love of art, writers, poets and musicians. Such programming would help create a more dynamic and pleasant place, generate foot traffic and activity in the neighborhood, and ultimately benefit our local businesses."
Greenburg says she's personally neutral on the issue, and thinks the temporary plaza is a fair compromise. "There are many who want to see a permanent plaza here and many who do not. None of us know if the Poets Plaza will be decidedly good or bad for the neighborhood, but the best way for us to find out is to give it a try."