San Francisco's Francisco Street Reservoir

As we first reported about the state of San Francisco’s old reservoir between Francisco and Hyde back in 2012:

In early 2008, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission floated the idea of selling off the Francisco Reservoir to developers with hopes of getting as much as $50 million for the site which has sat unused for 71 years, an idea which was quickly sunk by neighborhood and local Supervisor opposition, not to mention a market turnabout at the end of 2008.

While San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution reaffirming the reservoir’s status as open space, the resolution was non-binding, the site remains undeveloped and in disrepair, and the market for developable property is picking up.

Perhaps sensing another turning point, a consortium of four neighborhood groups is holding a community-wide meeting to review “proposed ideas and conceptual plans for public open space uses” for the reservoir…

The rotting roof over the reservoir has since been razed, the aforementioned consortium has raised commitments of $8 million towards the Chronicle’s reported $11 million cost of transforming the reservoir into a park, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is reportedly in talks with the Recreation and Park Department to purchase the 4-acre parcel.

The purchase of the parcel, however, is not atop the list of the parks department’s priorities and any sale would have to be at fair market value (note that $50 million figure that was bantered about back in 2008).

As neighborhood Supervisor Farrell notes, “where else in San Francisco do you have a multi-acre plot of concrete that’s been decaying for decades, in the middle of a neighborhood and close to the tourism industry, where you can build a brand-new park?” That being said, you might recall the Mayor’s recent state of the city address, the cornerstone of which was his seven point plan for solving San Francisco’s housing crisis and a commitment to building more housing, and there are not many “multi-acre plot of concrete that’s been decaying for decades, in the middle of a neighborhood” upon which to build.

And perhaps not coincidentally in terms of the timing of the story, the framework for a new inter-agency strategy to coordinate the development of underutilized publicly-owned sites across San Francisco is slated to be presented next week.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM))

    This is silly. There’s a big building right up the hill from this site whose views would be blocked if the site were developed. There’s a 0% chance this site will ever be built up. They should convert the reservoir to underground parking (badly needed in this area!) and the top can be a nice park.

  2. Posted by Serge

    As long as they do not build something like the Fontana Towers, it should be fine.
    Imagine, someone stood in front of the Mooser Building which looked like the Pioneer Woolen Mills Building at Ghirardelli Square and thought: “Yeah, let’s tear this down and build these two ‘beautiful’ towers!”
    I think people often forget that once built, these buildings are not going away for generations and you have to live with them whether you like it or not.

  3. Posted by Sam

    If the city puts even a dime into turning this into a park I will be annoyed. Not only do the rich old people here get to protect their views, they even get a friendly nearby park to discuss their rich geriatric issues. Disgusting, I hope this gets turned into a 20 story apartment project.

  4. Posted by Michael

    “There’s a big building right up the hill from this site whose views would be blocked if the site were developed. There’s a 0% chance this site will ever be built up.”
    I thought views weren’t protected? Does that only apply in less prosperous parts of town?
    Regardless, you could build a high-density mid-rise on the site without blocking those building’s views.

  5. Posted by Mark

    @Sam: I’m annoyed by your desire to erect a 20-story complex. Guess what? The 20-story complex won’t ease the housing shortage for lower and middle income people. It will only add expensive market rate housing in one of the more desirable areas of town for rich people, young and old.
    I’m with Jimmy on the parking idea. Transit sucks in this part of town.

  6. Posted by Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM))

    There’s ample precedent for wealthy, well-connected owners killing off projects that would affect their property values. Although you are technically correct, that views are not protected by statute.

  7. Posted by S

    @Sam I’m disgusted as well. There are more than enough parks in this neighborhood. Money from the parks bond needs to go to providing open space in the many parts of the city that currently lack it. Also seeing as how we’re supposed to be adding 250k more people in the next 30 or 40 years, mostly in the eastern neighborhoods, that’s where new parks need to be.

  8. Posted by Sierrajeff

    Fort Mason and the waterfront are 2 blocks away… and the denizens of the high-value and view-blocking towers along Chestnut want this to be a park?! Ridiculous.
    They should extend and connect Francisco, and build moderate-density housing on both sides. Then the *existing* park along Bay could be used by even more people.

  9. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “… close to the tourism industry, where you can build a brand-new park?”
    Tourism should not the the motivating force behind establishing new parks. Residents should.
    Sell this parcel for development and use the funds to establish a park elsewhere in the city where parkland is scarce if it is deemed that this assert be turned into parkland. This part of town is already quite rich in parks.

  10. Posted by Sam

    @Mark
    All housing has some effect on the market. Adding fancy rich people housing in one area gives those fancy rich people more options in places to choose to live. Potentially leaving areas I would actually set foot in alone to normal people, and not increasing the density of small batch $12 a bar chocolatiers.

  11. Posted by Jim

    Sierrajeff is correct. There is plenty of room to build moderate-density housing that would have little or no impact on views and still have the park.
    The beautifully rebuilt and underutilized tennis courts at Alice Marble Park are just 2 blocks South on Hyde. Fay Park at Leavenworth and Chestnut is 2 blocks SE (The Park has been luxuriously restored but Rec and Park still needs to spend millions to rebuild Fay House.) All of Aquatic Park is 2 blocks North.
    This isn’t about building a park. It is about NIMBYs keeping out housing and protecting views from imaginary threats. Hard to imagine a more irresponsible expenditure of scarce parks dollars.

  12. Posted by Johnny

    “Regardless, you could build a high-density mid-rise on the site without blocking those building’s views.”
    Tell that to the developers of 8 Washington…

  13. Posted by mow

    Why not do both? Build a small park with high density housing on the site.

  14. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    There is park on Bay St. San Francisco should not not pay a dime to buy your park. The best action to is call George Lucas to build a 200 units affordable housing here. That’s what San Francisco really need.

  15. Posted by katdip

    I see another win by the unholy alliance of rich NIMBYs and the anti-gentrification/green crowd a la 8 Washington. The local richies will decry loss of “open space” (read, their views and increases in riff-raff), and the “housing activists” will lambaste more “housing for the wealthy ” because who else could afford to live up there? In the meantime, an eminently developable segment of land goes underutilized, and the PUC loses out on $50 million it desperately needs to provide safe water from Hetch Hetchy. So much for rational public policy. Sadly, I don’t see any way we’d get a good outcome from this – and no, a new park is not a good outcome.

  16. Posted by outtahere

    It must be a beautiful thing to assert control over property you don’t own, and to even have the city pick up the tab. I stand in awe of their power.

  17. Posted by rentcontrol

    I think it’s great just the way it is – full of irony

  18. Posted by Sam

    @katdip
    It really is amazing how that alliance works.
    Its been a huge amount of time since I’ve crossed Geary, maybe I’ll go up there this weekend and bring a parade of homeless people with me somehow.

  19. Posted by JWS

    Mayor Lee has now gone on record saying we need 30,000 units in the next six years…now’s the time to put your money where your mouth is.
    Unfortunately, we all know what will go down. Rich residents will kick and scream and get their way, and use activists as pawns.

  20. Posted by Russian Hill Dweller

    I live in the tall building you see above the proposed park….and am neither old nor rich. The park is being privately financed – they are not going to build it unless the neighborhood comes up with $12 million of private donations to finance it although the City would donate the land rather than sell it to a developer. This site has been sitting vacant and abandoned for over 50 years. A park is a good thing for everyone…and would happen within a few years. Once the City tries to sell that land there will be the usual legal battles over what is built there which will guarantee this lot remains empty for many more years and it isn’t just the people who will lose their view that will be outraged if a tall structure is built.

  21. Posted by anon

    The park is being privately financed – they are not going to build it unless the neighborhood comes up with $12 million of private donations to finance it although the City would donate the land rather than sell it to a developer.
    So in other words, the city would be subsidizing the development of the park by at least $50 million. That doesn’t seem like it’s privately financed.
    Can I come up with 1/6 of the value of turning my neighbor’s house into a “park” and have the city chip in the rest? That would be sweet, I’d much rather have a park next door, rather than have to deal with walking two blocks to one.

  22. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    RH Dweller, some neighbors you have got who could raise 12 million! If they don’t get their way, they will spend more in litigation and threaten to hold up development for year. Of course rich people are rich for a reason. Cause they know how to twist the government’s arm to “donate” them 50 million dollar asset.

  23. Posted by francis

    Looks like there’s room for a 7 story building with a park on the roof that won’t block the view from the towers.

  24. Posted by Wai Yip Tung

    @francis, totally we can have the housing and the park too. I would want to see the rooftop park financed by the neighbors though as they have a lot of money and they love park.

  25. Posted by jill

    “They should convert the reservoir to underground parking (badly needed in this area!) and the top can be a nice park.”
    great suggesion. putting in about 3 floors below the ground for parking will ease neighborhood congestion. they can charge $350/spot/month or even sell them permanently for 100K

  26. Posted by katdip

    RH Dweller – it’s not a free transfer. The article makes it clear that the Parks Dept has to buy the land from the PUC – using $50 million (or more?) of limited land acqusition money. That’s our taxes going to subsidize a wealthy neighborhood that has a ton of open space nearby already. I’d rather that money go where it is needed more, and have the PUC reap the windfall of $50 million from the private sector – they need more than $625 million to fix the tunnel that carries our water!
    The neighbors have only pledged $8 million for construction and $3 million for maintenance, or less than 20% of the total cost. Given the need for housing in this city, this is a BAD investment of taxpayer dollars. I’ve written to my Supervisor (not Mark Farell!) to oppose this transfer, and suggest the land be made available for either private or non-profit developers who can pay the market price for the land.

  27. Posted by BobN

    Our parks are already crammed on weekends.
    Any opportunity to create a block-square park should be taken. And a large park should have been established somewhere between SOMA and Bayview.

  28. Posted by sf

    There should be a trade off. More open space equals more vertical built space.

  29. Posted by Truth

    The property owners in this area fight all private development deals tooth and nail. And they want a city-subsidized park on the cheap? When housing is so sorely needed? Tough noogies. This shouldn’t even be considered for a moment. Sell it to the highest bidder.

  30. Posted by Stucco_Sux

    Parks AND parking lots! 8 Washington finally makes sense!

  31. Posted by jlasf

    Sierrajeff has the right idea. How about a complex like Telegraph Terrace on Telegraph Hill. It’s a moderately low building complex that slopes down the hill. There would also be room for some
    park at the base.

  32. Posted by Charles

    @RHDweller- unless you’re someone’s nanny you qualify as wealthy in my book. All those units are going $1M +. Normal people don’t live in coops. Just admit you want to scam the city to create a park.
    Agree that the land should be surplused at market value, like it would in any other neighborhood.

  33. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    I need to improve my reding comprension. So the PUC owns this parcel, not parks. Now it is super clear that parks should not fork over the $50M to buy the parcel and budget maintenance in perpetuity here.
    If SF needs more parks then acquire land and build parks where they are needed. Building a park on this site is purely arbitrary. Sell it at top dollar for commercial development

  34. Posted by formidable doer of the nasty

    That we’re even talking about this is insane. If the city spends as much as a cent of my property tax money on a park in this location while insisting that the only open space in my neighborhood cannot be a public park because they need the rental income on the softball fields, then I solemnly swear I will go to Russian Hill at least one day a week to sleep, drink alcohol and defecate in that park. Maybe I’ll pass the time between BMs learning to play the bagpipe too.

  35. Posted by markk

    RH Dweller How many people south of chestnut
    lost there view when your building was built.
    Buy the land your self at market and stop the BS

  36. Posted by Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM))

    @markk, surely you realize that your point is irrelevant because the people who lost their views when those towers were built, were OTHER people, not the ones who will be affected now!!

  37. Posted by Joseph a

    The property has a pretty extreme grade, so you could actually put 3 substantial towers on the property at the top middle and the bottom 2 corners, and fill in the balance with mid rise structures , this massive tract could easily accommodate nearly 2000 units of housing and still have ample outdoor space for the residents

  38. Posted by Charles

    How about a pivoted tower with very reflective glass. Existing residents would actually be able see to both bridges without having to see the eyesore of Point Richmond. Problem solved!

  39. Posted by DanRH

    As someone who used to live in Russian Hill:
    – build housing (and some parking)
    – build a small mini park if that’s what it takes to get these NIMBY whiners appeased (btw, you have already SO many parks in that area..you don’t need another one)

  40. Posted by deuce sluice

    The drag is that even if the city decides to sell to developers it’ll be a decade before the units open after all the community feedback sessions and environmental surveys kick off to delay things (provided the developer sticks in there for that long.)

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