On Monday, Forest Hill residents gathered to tell the city that they do not support a proposed 150-unit low-income housing project on a hill overlooking Laguna Honda Boulevard, in pretty certain terms.
At face value, the project should be a sweetheart: The residents would be seniors, the developer is a religious non-profit, and most of the land is empty right now anyway.
But neighbors still say no, and even Forest Hill’s City Hall representative Norman Yee doesn’t like the look of it.
So we asked Joe Bravo, an attorney and Forest Hill resident of 22 years who worked on the neighborhood resolution opposing the building, just what’s so bad about the Laguna Honda Senior Apartments.
Curbed SF: On Monday you said “this is about saving the hillside.” What does that mean?
Joe Bravo: It’s about the size of the building and intensive use of the area in a neighborhood that’s zoned RH1.
We’re talking five stories, 50 feet, 150 units, 150 windows, and a lot of traffic going in and out. Any neighborhood of single family homes—the Mission, Bayview, Sunset, Richmond—would be concerned to plop that down in their midst.
The city just found an empty plot, said “Let’s put it here,” and decided to rationalize it later. The zoning limit here is 40 feet, and it’s RH1. That kind of zoning is done with a lot of thought. This thing would be much more suitable for the Van Ness corridor.
Curbed: But that zoning was done a long time ago, and the city says we have an emergency now and we have to make some exceptions.
Bravo: I don’t know what the emergency they’re talking about; there’s no emergency that says 150 units have to get plopped down.
There are other urgent needs that could get met by that land: schools, education, open space. The city is rapidly losing open space.
Curbed: By an emergency we mean a housing crisis. We have more than 10,000 people coming in every year and not enough housing.
Bravo: The more you build, the more you’re going to attract more people; it’s that simple. Why is nobody is looking around and saying, this city may perhaps have limits? That you can’t just keep building more? Why is nobody’s thinking about that?
Curbed: We could say that, but we know more people would get pushed out.
Bravo: But there will never be enough. And look at what we’re building: all the housing is huge, multi-family homes. Are we contributing to the neighborhoods? Or are we just inviting in the high-tech—well, let’s return to Forest Hill.
Curbed: You said that this building would be better suited to Van Ness. But part of the point of this project is that we can’t concentrate low-income housing only in a few neighborhoods.
Bravo: I worked on behalf of the San Francisco Towers project years ago, and at the time I thought, why put this kind of thing on Van Ness?
Then they explained: Seniors want to be able to walk down to the opera, or to restaurants, or Muni, and they want to be around a lot of other people. It makes sense.
Now look at this [Forest Hill] site: There is nothing, zero, no neighborhood around 250 Laguna Honda. You’ve got a mortgage lender and a psychic reader, that’s it.
Curbed: Maybe it’s a catch-22? When they propose projects for busy neighborhoods, they risk getting even more resistance.
Bravo: Why not put them on Treasure Island, then? You can rationalize it any way you want. They just found a spot and decided to load it up with 150 units.
Curbed: You’ve also said, “If we destroy the things that make this a livable city, there’s no point.” Is one building really going to destroy Forest Hill?
Bravo: The city can’t be paved over every time there’s a need. There’s a question of balancing priorities. If there’s absolutely no alternative, of course that need outweighs our concerns.
But that’s not what we see happening here. Everybody thinks we’re just well-to-do people who don’t care, but that’s absolutely not correct. I mean, look at that new building in the Mission, people in that neighborhood are getting upset too.
Curbed: But the Mission is seeing thousands of new units of market-rate housing. This is just one building. You can’t really compare the two.
Bravo: I do a lot of work in the Mission, and you’re right that it has its own issues with gentrification. We don’t have that here.
But the desire to preserve a neighborhood transcends wealth, education, and everything else. What’s gong on in the mission is real to them, just like what’s going on over here is real to us.
Curbed: What can they change about this project to make neighbors more amenable?
Bravo: If they make an offer we’ll talk. We’re not developers, we’re not contractors, we’re not planners. They’ve made one offer and that’s all we’ve responded to.
Curbed: So you wouldn’t suggest anything?
Bravo: Absolutely not. We’re not going to bid against ourselves.
And it would be absurd: None of us have that kind of expertise. Put all of the resources the city used for this at our disposal and maybe we’ll start exploring uses and designs. And then we’ll get back to you.