It’s not so easy building green

Pub date April 12, 2011

OPINION The Parkmerced project developers like to talk about how environmentally sound their plans are, but a harder look suggests otherwise.

At a March 29 hearing on the project, Green Pary member Eric Brooks presented graphic evidence of the environmental impacts of the destruction of the garden units and the landscape, and the proposed increase in parking on- site. As a transit-first city, it seems ludicrous to spend so much on below-grade parking. And regrading and replanting the entire site will allow toxins in the soil to become airborne.

Then there’s the question of whether the site is really “blighted,” as the developer claims — and whether so much housing needs to be torn down in the first place. Sup. Eric Mar questioned the issue of the deterioration of the existing units; he said he’d visited the site and noted that many units appear to be in fine shape.

I agree that the western side of town needs more density — but dumping that density disproportionately on one community seems to be a biased approach. Parkmerced is a renter community. Other areas dominated by homeowners seem to be off the table.

San Francisco should take a broader look at west-side zoning. That would include looking seriously at corridors with light-rail lines — Ocean Avenue, West Portal Avenue, Taraval Street, Geary Boulevard, Judah Street, and others — where some one-story buildings are far more deteriorated than the buildings at Parkmerced.

City officials should look at alternatives that allow other sites to be upzoned or allow owners to build on side sites. This would lessen the effects on one community by sharing the growing pains of a city limited on three sides by water.

We all want the projects, work, housing, jobs, and an expanded tax base for the city. But many of us question whether the current plan for Parkmerced does justice environmentally and sustainably when it ignores infill and preservation-based alternatives that could create more jobs and a better long-term green solution.

I have submitted a proposal to the Planning Commission that shows how to improve transit linkages, how infill housing can be done, and how the 11 towers at Parkmerced can be redesigned (the initial concept was to design new, pencil-thin replacement towers and structurally-reinforced new buildings). I suggest that more infill housing can be built by removing parking garages throughout the site — which would lessen displacement and allow a significant density increase.

Assurances by the developer should not placate the city or the supervisors. If the supervisors lean toward approval, they need to be reminded of the transit, sustainability, and open-space concerns of the project to ensure that the design is changed either through revisions of portions or the whole to make more clear the concerns that the project has been greenwashed to promote the developer’s interests.

Aaron Goodman is an architect and Bay Area native.