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Haight Street merchants angered by alleged Public Works reversal on construction plan

Workers pour curbs and parking lanes at Haight and Central streets. | Photo: Courtesy of SF Public Works
By Camden Avery - Published on July 09, 2019.

This week, construction crews once again broke ground at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury — angering many Haight Street merchants, who say they'd been told by SF Public Works that all construction west of Masonic would be delayed until the fall. 

The construction is part of the years-long Upper Haight transit improvement and pedestrian realm project, which has been ongoing since last September. But several local business owners say that they were told construction west of Masonic wouldn't start until September, to ensure foot traffic wasn't disrupted in the neighborhood's prime summer tourist season. 

Alex Murillo, public affairs manager for SF Public Works, disputes that claim. 

"The agreement was [only] to hold off on sidewalk replacement until the end of the height of the summer season," he said. That means work on tree removal, stump grinding, fiber conduit installation, pole foundation work, curb ramp work, and bulb-out installations would still continue west of Masonic. 

But Christin Evans, co-owner of the Booksmith (1644 Haight St.), said she and her fellow Haight Street business owners were told otherwise. After SFPW decided to resume work west of Masonic, she said, they received less than a week's notice. [Full disclosure: The writer of this story is employed by the Booksmith.]

"We had multiple conversations, and tree removal was the only thing indicated as pending [over the summer]," Evans said. "There were additional conversations about ensuring that all work in June, July and August took place on the 1300 block [of Haight], not just sidewalk work."

Evans and other merchants say they're concerned about the construction's impact on their bottom line. The summer season accounts for half of some Haight Street shops' annual revenue, according to the Haight Ashbury Merchants Association. 

"Business is really slow," said Greta Marti, the manager of Haight Ashbury T-Shirts (1500 Haight St.) "I think it's because of construction, that's what's different. I know it's not just us."

Construction underway outside Aviator Nation, at Haight and Ashbury streets. | Photo: Camden Avery/Hoodline

Murillo confirmed in an email that the "focus of work" for the Haight Street project is still east of Masonic, extending as far as Buena Vista.

But "upon a thorough assessment involving weather projections, bond funding and contractor availability," contractors decided that delaying work west of Masonic until September "would not be feasible."

However, contractors will continue to delay sidewalk replacements until September, Murillo said, to address the primary concern expressed by merchants. 

Murillo says the current construction, estimated to take a week and a half if the weather is fair, involves culvert and catch basin work at Haight and Ashbury. Other crews are continuing work on Masonic between Haight and Waller, and removing trees, starting on the eastern end of upper Haight Street.

Miranda Evans, of clothing shop Aviator Nation (1501 Haight St.), said it was too early to tell what the effect of the unexpected construction would be on her shop's foot traffic.

"By Friday or Saturday, we'll know more," she said. "But it's pretty frustrating."

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