Some progress on UC extension

EDITORIAL There’s progress to report on the development deal for the old University of California Extension campus. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, whose district borders the project, has been holding meetings with all of the players, State Sen. Carole Migden has been putting pressure on the UC and the developer, and as of press time, it appears that the level of affordable housing could be increased from 16 percent to more than 30 percent.

The project still isn’t perfect, and there are still plenty of details to work out. (Among other things, it appears that the developer may not get permission to demolish two historic buildings — some recent court decisions suggest that historic structures can be torn down only if there’s no other alternative, and city documents show that a preservation alternative is feasible.) And as of press time, the developer, A.F. Evans, and Openhouse, the nonprofit that wants to dedicate part of the project to housing for queer seniors, were still at odds over some issues.

But by far the biggest problem with this 420-unit project was the lack of affordable housing — it was mostly rental units for rich people and retirement units for rich retirees — and that seems to be shifting. The Mayor’s Office of Housing has agreed to take over the 80 Openhouse units and make 100 percent of them affordable. (The definition will, of course, need to be negotiated — there are plenty of queer seniors, particular those on disability, who won’t be able to pay what the city often considers "affordable," and it’s important that some units be set aside for very-low-income people.)

But overall, a project that was utterly unacceptable is now looking a whole lot better. There’s a lesson here, of course: Before Mirkarimi and Migden got involved, the developer and the UC (which owns the land) were insisting that they couldn’t budge an inch on the level of affordable housing. But when it became clear that the project might not go forward, they came to the table. We have to wonder how many other projects that the city has approved could have been far better if city planners were willing to take a tougher line from the start.

This could still explode at any moment, but for now it’s moving in the right direction.