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City Hall Announces Planning Process for Excelsior District

City officials address the District 11 Council about a “community visioning” plan for the Excelsior. WILL CARRUTHERS/INGLESIDE-EXCELSIOR LIGHT

[UPDATE: An “Open House & Kick Off” for the Excelsior & Outer Mission Neighborhood Strategy will be held on Saturday, May 6 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Community Assembly of God Church located at 355 Ocean Ave. The strategy will strive to “maximize the benefits of ongoing and future projects, working toward making the area an even better place to live and visit,” according to an announcement. RSVP at https://excelsioroutermissionstrategy.eventbrite.com.]

In an unscheduled presentation at the District 11 Council’s March meeting, two city officials announced the beginning of work on a “community vision” for the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods.

Jorge Rivas, a project manager in the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and Rachael Tanner, a planner with the Planning Department, outlined the process before the District 11 community leaders on March 11.

The announcement arrived on the heels of a walking tour of the Mission Street and Geneva Avenue area by District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai and Mayor Ed Lee in February.

“We’ve been working with some folks in the past who showed interest in some kind of community vision for the Excelsior and Outer Mission,” Rivas said. “That interest has gained a lot of traction with Supervisor Ahsha Safai.”

The two city officials were still uncertain whether the final product of the visioning process would merely be a vision document or a legally-binding Area Plan, saying that they will gauge the community’s interest before making that decision.

The first step of the visioning process is to identify what developments and city projects are already in the works and what projects residents want to happen within the next five years, according to Rivas.

Council members voiced concern that the planning process would take so long that substantial construction projects would be completed before any plan took effect and that the departments would write a plan without significant input from the community.

Asked how long an official area plan would take to create, Tanner, who has been with the Planning Department for seven months, said “I’m not quite willing to take a bet on how long that would take.”

Rivas repeated that the initial step is to determine whether residents want an official Area Plan.

“We have at least five developments that are popping up [in the Excelsior and Outer Mission] and the cohesiveness is unclear,” council member Linda D’Avirro said. “If you don’t have an Area Plan, you can’t plan for what you’re neighborhood looks like and we’re going to lose what is a very unique neighborhood pretty soon.”

The Balboa Park Station Area Plan began in 1999 and was signed into law in 2009.

Judy Lee, a legislative aide for District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, joined the pair of planners to respond to questions.

“The supervisor’s main priority is to actually — hopefully — to expedite this process,” Lee said.

Tanner and Rivas aim to complete the visioning process by December 2017 and will host an initial outreach meeting in late April.

District 11 Supervisor’s Report

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai’s Legislative Aide Judy Lee gave two presentations at the meeting.

During the planning announcement, Lee highlighted Safai’s efforts to engage the community through social media.

“What social media are you all on?” Lee asked.

“None!” several of the council members responded in unison.

Council members who used social media said they hadn’t seen Safai’s accounts.

The supervisor’s Facebook and Instagram pages each have fewer than 50 followers while his Twitter page had fewer than 100 followers at the time of the meeting.

Lee said that the office is working on a newsletter outlining Safai’s first sixty days in office.

Later, Lee’s brief update on the supervisor’s progress in his first two months in office went awry after she asked, “Does anyone in this room know what 311 is?”

“Yes!” council members responded in chorus.

“I’m glad that everyone in this room knows, but based on the data that 311 has given us, not too many District 11 constituents know,” Lee said, referencing a low 311 complaint rate in the district.

Lee said that, according to information given to the supervisor, District 11 residents make about 1,000 complaints per month on the city’s quality of life complaint hotline and app system compared to the city’s 5,000 complaints per month goal for each district.

Council members, all familiar with the 311 system, cut off Lee to say that the response rate was not a problem of education but a problem of discouragement.

“In this district, many people call 311 and have for years… The reason you’re seeing less is that the response [from the city] is not there. People have given up,” D’Avirro said. “It’s not that we don’t know about 311, it’s that we are not getting the service.”

In a form outlining the council members’ top concerns given to the supervisor’s office, D’Avirro and others called for an audit of the 311 system to determine how responders are educated on how to use the 311 system.

Council members added anyone who makes a complaint in District 11 should make sure to say which district they live in.

WalkSF Presentation

Concerned about a series of five early-March traffic incidents in District 11, Natasha Opfell, a community organizer with WalkSF, spoke to the council about traffic safety projects in the district.

The speech sparked debate over fault in the incidents.

Some council members said that pedestrians sometimes do not pay attention while crossing busy streets while others responded that it didn’t matter who was at fault. The only thing that mattered was that a person was injured or dead.

“Part of the issue is that our streets are not properly marked,” Excelsior Action Group Executive Director Stephanie Cajina said. “Was there a stop sign? Are there flashing beacons? Is there something to signal to conscientious drivers that you should slow down here because there are people crossing the streets? There isn’t. That’s the issue.”

WalkSF, EAG, Senior and Disabilities Action, Transit Riders Union and Bicycle Coalition have created a coalition to advocate for safety changes along some of the most dangerous corridors in the Excelsior, according to Opfell.

“We don’t want people to stop driving. We want everyone to go a little slower and pay more attention, including pedestrians,” Opfell said.

The District 11 Council meets every second Saturday of the month at 10:00 a.m. in Ingleside Police Station’s community room.

This article first appeared in the Ingleside-Excelsior Light‘s April 2017 print edition. It has been updated.

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