Central SoMa (South of Market) Area Plan
Central SoMa is a 230-acre area that sits adjacent to downtown, has excellent transit access, and contains a substantial amount of developable land. As such, the neighborhood is well positioned to accommodate needed employment, housing, and visitor facilities in the core of the city and Bay Area region. It is also a neighborhood with an incredible history and a rich, ongoing, cultural heritage. As it grows and evolves over the next 25 years, Central SoMa has the opportunity to become a complete, sustainable, and vital neighborhood without losing what makes it special and unique today. The Central SoMa Plan contains the goals, objectives, and policies to guide this growth and evolution such that the results serve the best interests of San Francisco – in the present and the future.
Plan Area Boundary
The Central SoMa Plan Area runs from 2nd Street to 6th Street, Market Street to Townsend Street, exclusive of those areas that are part of the Downtown Plan (see Figure A) which comprise much of the area north of Folsom Street. It is an “Eastern Neighborhoods Plan” comprised entirely of areas formerly part of the East SoMa Plan Area and Western SoMa Plan Area, whose boundaries shall be adjusted accordingly. The Central SoMa Plan Area boundaries were created to include areas within easy walking distance (i.e., two blocks) of the Central Subway’s 4th Street alignment.
The vision of the Central SoMa Plan is to create a sustainable neighborhood by 2040, where the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Central SoMa Plan seeks to achieve sustainability in each of its aspects – social, economic, and environmental. Additionally, achieving sustainability in Central SoMa should complement movements towards sustainability in the city, region, nation, and planet.
Achieving neighborhood sustainability requires keeping what is already successful about the neighborhood, and improving what is not. On the sustainable side of the ledger, assets include the diversity of residents (in every sense), its central location complemented by abundant regional and local transit, the unique character of the collection of buildings that constitute the neighborhood, its rich economic heritage as an industrial center for a century and more recently a hub of innovation in media and technology, and the cultural and nightlife amenities that make this a regional and worldwide destination. On the non-sustainable side of the ledger include an equally impressive and daunting list of challenges: rents that are unaffordable to the vast majority of residents and businesses; streets that are unsafe and unpleasant for people walking and bicycling; a distinct lack of green coupled with an noisy and often polluted environment; and land that is not effectively being utilized to provide space for jobs and housing in a fashion that can greatly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases per person and add to the stock of space to help meet demand.
Utilizing the Plan’s philosophy to achieve the Plan’s vision will require implementing the following three strategies:
- Accommodate growth
- Provide public benefits
- Respect and enhance neighborhood character
This Plan asserts that Central SoMa should play a major role in accommodating the City’s share of anticipated regional growth in jobs and housing. Accommodating substantial growth here can help address the local and regional issues of high rents, sprawl, and congestion, and the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions. The addition of millions of square feet of residential and commercial space is certain to help relieve price pressure. Simultaneously, dense development in this transit-rich, temperate, and walkable neighborhood can drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emission per person from both buildings (e.g., for heating and cooling) and transportation (in terms of the amount of miles traveled in private vehicles), while reducing pressures for growth in more outlying areas of the region.
While new growth can have economic and environmental benefits, new residents and workers also place a strain on the neighborhood’s infrastructure. In an era where other levels of government are either unwilling or unable to fund the needs of its urban communities, it is necessary that new growth address its own impacts. Fortunately, Central SoMa includes some of the world’s most valuable land. The rents commanded by this land enable new development to ameliorate and mitigate its impacts while meeting other City objectives. New development does so through the direct provision of public benefits, through the payment of impact fees, and through taxes. The public benefits created by new development can include affordable housing, transit service, parks and recreational amenities, safe and convenient streets for people walking and biking, child care, schools, community services, space for production, distribution, and repair jobs, preservation of cultural resources, and amenities to support environmental sustainability and resilience.
Given the desirability of land in Central SoMa, there’s likely demand for buildings of heights currently only seen in the downtown. While such heights could come with substantial public benefits, they could also come at the expense of what makes the neighborhood great in the first place – its character. And its character is a huge part of what makes the neighborhood socially and economically sustainable. Central SoMa should not be like downtown – just like it should not be like Mission Bay, or the Richmond, or any other neighborhood in San Francisco. It should just be the best Central SoMa it can be. Therefore, this plan attempts to both accommodate a substantial amount of growth and retain much of the character of the district. Respecting and enhancing the neighborhood’s character includes measures such as requiring active ground floors that promote positive social interactions and commerce, design requirements that ensure ample light and air reach all sidewalks, and banning the consolidation of certain lots so as to maintain the diversity of buildings and building styles in the neighborhood.
Implementing the Plan’s strategy will require addressing all the facets of a sustainable neighborhood. Doing so can be accomplished by meeting all of the Plan’s eight Goals:
Accommodate a Substantial Amount of Jobs and Housing
Maintain the Diversity of Residents
Facilitate an Economically Diversified and Lively Jobs Center
Provide Safe and Convenient Transportation that Prioritizes Walking, Bicycling, and Transit
Offer an Abundance of Parks and Recreational Opportunities
Create an Environmentally Sustainable and Resilient Neighborhood
Preserve and Celebrate the Neighborhood’s Cultural Heritage
Ensure that New Buildings Enhance the Character of the Neighborhood and the City
Each of these eight Goals receives its own chapter in the Central SoMa Plan. For each Goal there is a context section intended to explain existing conditions – and why meeting the Goal is necessary. There is also a list of the Objectives and Policies whose implementation would enable the Plan to meet the Goal. And finally there is a summary section that shows how meeting the Goal would help fulfill the Plan’s vision.
Goal #1: Accommodate a Substantial Amount of Jobs and Housing
Since its inception, San Francisco has seen more than its share of tumultuous economic times: the Gold and Silver Rushes (and busts), the earthquake and fire of 1906, the influx of World War II, population decline due to suburbanization, the Dot Com boom and bust. They have all left lasting shrines and scars on this city.
As of the writing of this Plan in 2017, San Francisco is having another one of those “moments”. This moment reflects the culmination of major environmental, economic, and social trends that are simultaneously working at multiple geographic levels and timeframes.
Environmentally, there is an increasing awareness of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in recognition of the consequences of climate change. At the State level, this led to the adoption of Senate Bill (SB) 375 in 2008. SB 375 mandated the State’s regions identify how they would combine transportation investments and land use policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the regional level, this mandate led to the adoption of Plan Bay Area in 2013, which determined that meeting the State’s targets would require densification and investment in “Priority Development Areas” that exhibit and/or have the potential to combine density of development with excellent transit service. At the local level, the City identified a number of such “Priority Development Areas” that span much of the eastern half of the city.
Economically, there is the continuing national and regional shift from an economy based on things to one based on ideas. Nationally, in the aftermath of the Great Recession (2007-2009), job growth has been led by “knowledge” sector businesses such as high tech. These knowledge sector businesses tend to cluster in regions – and the Bay Area is the world’s leading knowledge region. The result is that job growth in the Bay Area the past several years has nearly doubled that of the rest of the nation, and commensurately so has the demand for housing. Bay Area job growth has been particularly high in the last six years (2010-2015), concurrent with the development of this Plan, as the region moved from the nadir to the peak of the current business cycle.
After rapid suburbanization in the decades after World War II, cities such as San Francisco have seen long-term population and job growth since the 1980s, despite temporary peaks and dips along the way. This trend has accelerated in recent years, as both “Millennials” and Baby Boomers have shown a strong preference for cities. This trend has focused demand on those portions of the Bay Area where jobs can be easily accessed by transit, daily needs can be met by walking, and there are a range of amenities and options nearby. In this largely suburban and auto-dependent region, many of the accessible and dynamic urban neighborhoods are in San Francisco.
Cumulatively, these trends have created an ongoing and strong demand for space in San Francisco. Accommodating this demand would require building additional space for jobs, housing, and other needed facilities. However, building in San Francisco is a challenging and time-consuming process. New buildings often require years of review and deliberation before they are even allowed to be constructed, and construction itself can take one to three years, depending on the size of the building.
When demand is high relative to supply, the price inevitably goes up. In 2017, prices have risen to a level that is socially unsustainable – rents for housing are the highest in the country, and greatly exceed what can be afforded by the majority of today’s San Franciscans. Rents for commercial space are similarly unaffordable, pushing out non-profit organizations, mom-and-pop businesses, artists and industrial businesses.
To some degree, the intensity of this “moment” will pass when the current business cycle inevitably cools. However, the other environmental, economic, and social factors that have created this moment are likely to persist over a longer timeframe than the typical 5-10 year business cycle. They are also national or even global forces exogenous to San Francisco – and thus the demand they exert are beyond the ability to control locally.
By contrast, what is within our ability to control locally is increasing the capacity for jobs and housing in San Francisco, and to ensure that new growth provides public benefits to improve the lives of residents and workers. The City has been planning for such growth over the last 20 years, through major Redevelopment and Area Plans as Mission Bay, Hunters Point, Rincon Hill, Eastern Neighborhoods, Market & Octavia, and the Transit Center District. The results of these Plans can be seen in the cranes and construction sites dotting San Francisco. However, there is still substantial demand for development of space for jobs and housing in transit-rich, walkable, amenity-laden neighborhoods.
Fortunately, Central SoMa is an appropriate location for such development. The area is served by some of the region’s best transit, including BART and Caltrain, Muni Metro and many bus lines, in addition to the Central Subway currently under construction. Flat streets and a regular grid pattern can make destinations easy to reach for people walking and bicycling (as facilitated by improvements discussed in Goal #4). There is already an incredibly strong cluster of technology companies that new and growing companies want to locate near. There is also a diversity of other uses, including thousands of residential units, local- and regional-serving retail, cultural and entertainment facilities, hotels, and production/distribution/repair businesses. Simultaneously, there is substantial opportunity to increase density in Central SoMa. There are numerous undeveloped or underdeveloped sites, such as surface parking lots and single-story commercial buildings.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the Plan’s Goal of increasing the capacity for jobs and housing in Central SoMa.
Ensure that there is sufficient land area where space for jobs and housing can be built
Retain zoning that supports capacity for new jobs and housing.
Central SoMa has large areas where development has historically been allowed to occur. The City should maintain the ability for development to occur in these areas.
Limit zoning that restricts capacity for new jobs and housing.
The Plan Area includes a substantial amount of area whose zoning generally does not allow either new housing or new commercial space such as office. These districts should be replaced with zoning that permits new housing and office uses, except in limited locations as discussed in Goal #3.
Ensure that developable land has, collectively, sufficient capacity for jobs and housing
The amount of development allowed on a piece of land is controlled in a number of ways, foremost being the limits on how tall and how bulky a building can be, and secondarily through strict density controls.
Set height limits on parcels as appropriate to fulfill this Objective.
In Central SoMa, the typical height limit on the major streets has been 65-85 feet, although it has been up to 130 feet on a handful of parcels adjacent to the downtown. However, there are several areas along major streets where height limits have been held substantially lower – including as low as 30 feet along the freeway. Despite this, there are numerous locations where the wide streets and urban context support higher densities and building heights above 85 feet, as long as they are complemented by appropriate controls on building massing. To be able to increase the capacity for jobs and housing in Central SoMa, it is necessary to increase the allowable heights at these locations.
Allow physical controls for height, bulk, setbacks, and open space to determine density.
Throughout much of Central SoMa, residential developments are not subject to density controls, and the controls for non-residential uses are not a substantial impediment to the amount of development that can occur. However, density controls for non-residential uses would arbitrarily restrict development in excess of what is necessary to achieve a livable neighborhood and as called for through the Plan’s urban design and building envelope controls. To be able to increase the capacity for jobs in Central SoMa, it is necessary to lift these density controls in a way that supports development but still fulfills all of the design controls for new buildings articulated in Goal #8 of this Plan.
Goal #2: Maintain the Diversity of Residents
SoMa has always played an important role in housing low- and moderate-income San Franciscans in various forms, from the single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels that historically primarily housed single men and residential towers dedicated to housing seniors, to the modest family-oriented housing that has lined the alleys. In more recent decades, a substantial amount of market-rate housing (generally affordable to those with higher incomes) has been created, as well as conversions of older warehouses. These buildings included condominiums, apartment buildings, and live-work lofts. The neighborhood also includes a homeless population, many of whom come to the neighborhood to use the services available here, including a large shelter currently located at 5th and Bryant Streets.
The result is that today SoMa has an incredibly diverse population, in terms of race, income, and unit size. This diversity is a critical part of its neighborhood character. Respecting this neighborhood character requires that the variety provided by the existing residents should be maintained, and that future development would replicate this pattern to the highest degree possible. However, doing so will be a substantial challenge, given current market conditions that favor those with higher incomes in the competition for both existing units and new units.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of maintaining the diversity of residents in Central SoMa.
Maintain the existing stock of housing
Continue implementing controls that maintain the existing supply of housing.
The City’s current policy is to limit the loss of housing due to the merger or demolition of units and the conversion of units to non-residential uses. The City should continue to implement these policies, and seek new strategies that accomplish their goal.
Maintain the affordability of the existing housing stock
Central SoMa contains a substantial stock of affordable housing, including 100 percent affordable buildings (mostly clustered around the Moscone Center in the former Yerba Buena Redevelopment Area) and rent controlled buildings (including many in the more residentially-focused area west of 5th Street and north of the freeway). The Plan supports the preservation of this housing and the protection of tenants who occupy this housing. It also supports programs to expand the stock of affordable housing.
Continue implementing controls and strategies that help maintain the existing supply of affordable housing.
The City seeks to maintain the existing supply of affordable housing through measures that keep people in their homes, such as rent control and eviction protections. The City also seeks to ensure that affordable units stay both affordable and habitable, through such strategies as the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program. The City should continue to implement such policies and programs, and seek new strategies that accomplish their goal.
Continue implementing controls and strategies that help maintain the existing supply of affordable housing.
Through the “Small Sites” program, the City is currently seeking to expand the existing supply of affordable housing by purchasing units and making them permanently affordable. The City should continue to implement such programs, and seek new strategies that accomplish their goal.
Ensure that at least 33 percent of new housing is affordable to very low, low, and moderate-income households
Through the adoption of Proposition K in 2014, San Francisco has set a target that 33 percent of all new housing is affordable to very low, low, and moderate income households. The Central SoMa Plan aims to ensure that new housing development meets this target through a number of mechanisms, including affordability requirements on new market-rate housing development and non-residential development and development of publicly-owned sites.
Set affordability requirements for new residential development at rates necessary to fulfill this Objective.
Housing in San Francisco is some of the most expensive in the nation, and new housing is unaffordable to a large percentage of the population. To promote income diversity of residents living in new housing, the City requires market-rate housing projects to provide affordable housing by paying a fee or, in the alternative, providing on-site or off-site affordable housing. Within the Plan Area, these affordable housing requirements should be set to ensure that that market-rate housing projects contribute their fair share towards meeting the City’s overall affordability targets.
Require contribution to affordable housing from commercial uses.
Commercial uses, such as offices, hotels, and retail, generate a demand for a range of housing types, including affordable housing. The City already requires commercial development of 25,000 square feet or more to contribute to the development of affordable housing (typically through the payment of a fee). The City should continue requiring that these commercial developments contribute to the development of affordable housing, and facilitate additional mechanisms to do so, such as provision of land for affordable housing.
Ensure that affordable housing generated by the Central SoMa Plan stays in the neighborhood.
New residential and commercial development in the Central SoMa Plan area will generate a substantial amount of affordable housing, either by paying a fee to the City, building it directly (within the building or nearby) or dedicating land for the City to build on. To fulfill the goal of maintaining the diversity of residents, it is necessary that any fees collected by the City be invested within or near the neighborhood. Additionally, any land dedicated to the City for affordable housing should similarly be within or near the neighborhood.
Allow affordable housing sites to sell any unused development rights.
Affordable housing development typically is built to heights of 85 feet or below, where it can benefit from cheaper construction costs. In areas where height limits exceed 85 feet, this means that the affordable housing is not utilizing its full development capacity. The City should support the financial feasibility of affordable housing developments by allowing affordable housing developments to sell their unused development rights.
Support housing for other households that cannot afford market rate housing
There is a large swath of the population whose income disqualifies them from “affordable” housing under existing programs at the federal, state and local levels, but who often cannot afford prevailing prices for market-rate housing. The lack of availability and production of housing affordable to these households is a large factor in the decrease in San Francisco’s middle class in recent years.
Continue implementing strategies that support the development of “gap” housing.
The development of housing above moderate income is challenging, because such housing lacks access to federal tax incentives – often making it more expensive to build than affordable housing. That being said, the City has developed strategies to create more housing in this “gap,” including through funding created through 2015’s Proposition A, the 2017 revisions to the affordable housing requirements for market-rate housing development, and down payment assistance loan programs. The City should continue to implement such strategies, and continue to seek new ways that accomplish their goal.
Support housing for a diversity of household sizes and tenures
The diversity of SoMa’s housing is not just about incomes, but the size and tenure of households as well. The Central SoMa Plan aims to ensure that new units are reflective of this broad mix.
Continue requiring family-sized units.
Central SoMa has traditionally been a neighborhood with a diverse mix of housing sizes, from small single-room-occupancy units to larger homes for families. By contrast, new development often wants to provide mostly smaller units (studios and one-bedrooms) that do not meet the needs of families. The City’s current policy in Central SoMa is to require that new residential development contain a high percentage of family-sized units with two or more bedrooms. The City should continue to implement this policy, and seek new strategies that accomplish its goal.
Continue to incentivize rental units.
Rental housing provides greater access to the housing market than for-sale units, which typically require large down payments and long bank loans. Much of San Francisco’s housing diversity is attributable to the fact that it is predominantly a rental city – almost two-thirds of households rent their homes. Yet in new housing, for-sale units are often more profitable, which drives the market to produce more of them. Recognizing this, the City has created incentives to produce rental housing, including having lower affordable housing requirements. The City should continue to implement this policy, and seek new strategies that accomplish its goal.
Support services – schools, child care, and community services – necessary to serve local residents
To maintain a diversity of residents it is necessary to provide the services they need; including schools, child care, and community services. The Central SoMa Plan aims to ensure that sufficient amenities are available to residents.
Help fund public schools.
The San Francisco Unified School District already collects impact fees from new development. This funding is utilized for capital improvements of existing schools and for new ones, including the proposed new school in Mission Bay. Development in the Plan Area should continue to contribute to the School District’s funding.
Help facilitate the creation of childcare facilities.
San Francisco is suffering from a lack of licensed childcare. This is due to a lack of funding and a difficulty in finding space that meets the strict requirements for childcare centers. From the funding standpoint, the City currently supports the creation of childcare through both the Child Care Impact Fee and the Eastern Neighborhoods Impact Fee. Development in the Plan Area should contribute to child care via these fees. From a space standpoint, the City should work with development in the Plan Area to promote the creation of new, appropriately designed childcare centers.
Help facilitate the creation of new community services.
“Community services” include space for non-profit and government organizations that provide services to the community, such as health clinics and job training. The City should support these uses in Central SoMa, including creation of an impact fee on new development to help provide community facilities and working with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to site those resources.
Goal #3: Facilitate an Economically Diversified and Lively Jobs Center
SoMa has been a commercial center for San Francisco for well over a century. Historically an industrial district, such businesses now sit cheek by jowl with offices, retail, hotels, and entertainment venues. This combination creates an environment that is both incredibly lively and unique in San Francisco.
Moving forward, Central SoMa is also well positioned to be a center for job growth. As discussed in Goal #1, it is well located, being served by some of the region’s best transit and having a lot of developable land. Much of that demand will be for office-oriented jobs, particularly in the “knowledge-sector” industries that drive our economy. However, in allowing for that growth it is important that the neighborhood maintains and grows its other sectors. By doing so it can sustain its unique diversity of economic activities and the liveliness that SoMa is known for.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of facilitating an economically diversified and lively jobs center.
Ensure the Plan Area accommodates significant space for job growth
As discussed in Goal #1, San Francisco has an affordability crisis for both residential and non—residential uses. This crisis is due to robust regional economy and commensurate demand for commercial space for those jobs and housing for the workers. Previous City planning efforts have attempted to address the housing crisis by identifying areas to meet our housing needs – including over 100,000 units by 2040.
By contrast, previous planning efforts have not identified areas to meet the expected jobs growth of at least another 100,000 jobs in the same timeframe. Accommodating these jobs in transit-rich job centers has important social, economic, and environmental benefits. Being in job centers enables the companies and workers to benefit from the synergies of co-location and infrastructure. Locating jobs near transit reduces car usage and thus greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion – even to a higher degree than locating housing near transit (commuters are most likely to use transit when stations are very close to their jobs than when transit is very close to their homes but their jobs are more distant).
Central SoMa is well positioned to accommodate a substantial amount of jobs that would otherwise go to more suburban, car-oriented locations. The Plan Area has some of the best transit in the region, being proximal to two regional train lines (BART and Caltrain), Muni Metro (including the under-construction Central Subway), and myriad regional and local bus lines. By being located between the existing jobs centers of downtown and Mission Bay, the Plan Area not only is proximal to other jobs, but actually better ties those two areas together. The 2017 update to Plan Bay Area even more greatly emphasizes San Francisco as a preferable place regionally to grow jobs as well as housing, and within the City this Plan Area sits within a regionally-recognized Priority Development Area that is particularly ideal for jobs compared to other parts of the City and region. The success of the region in meeting its state-mandated environmental (i.e., GHG) goals and its mobility goals hinges on directing job growth to these transit-served areas.
While accommodating the growth of jobs is important, it is just as important that these are “good jobs” that pay a living wage. Many of the office jobs in the tech sector and even the PDR jobs are certain to be good jobs, particularly in that they pay well relative to education. However, it is important that the City supports good jobs across all sectors, including construction workers, hotel workers, and other professions.
Require non-residential uses in new development on large parcels.
Many of the parcels of land in Central SoMa are quite large – reflecting its industrial heritage. And like industrial development of the past, modern companies seek buildings with large floors, which facilitate flexibility and intra-company communication. Given the limited availability of such large parcels in the city near excellent local and regional transit, and the need to identify appropriate transit-served space for job growth, the City should promote non-residential development at these locations. Even if circumstances, such as market or broader regulatory factors, require forgoing near-term development on these major parcels, ensuring that these parcels are “land-banked” for significant jobs-oriented development is a necessary long-term strategy for the economic and environmental health of the city and region. These large parcels need not be exclusively non-residential, but they should feature a significant percentage (e.g. at least half) of non-residential and job space.
Limit restrictions on non-residential development.
Central SoMa includes areas whose zoning precludes non-residential development beyond ground floor retail, so as to direct new development towards being residential. While housing is still appropriate in these locations, the City should support the development of significant non-residential uses in these areas as well, given their adjacency to the downtown and to excellent transit (including Central Subway and Caltrain).
Support living wage jobs across all sectors.
The City already implements multiple programs that facilitate living wage jobs for workers. This includes job training programs to help prepare local residents for jobs in growing sectors such as construction, health care, hospitality, and technology. This also includes the City’s First Source Hiring Program (which requires that developers, contractors, and employers utilize good faith efforts toward employing economically disadvantaged San Franciscan residents in new entry-level positions on applicable projects) and Local Hire program (that requires hiring of local residents for locally-funded construction projects). The City should continue to implement such policies and programs, and seek new strategies that accomplish their goal, such as working to support unionization of hotel workers and implementation of 2017 Assembly Bill 73, which allows streamlined approval of certain residential projects that pay prevailing wage to construction workers.
Support the growth of office space
About 60 percent of all jobs in the city are located in offices – and the percentage is growing (in keeping with national trends). There is a wide range of jobs that utilize office space, including technology, non-profits (civic, advocacy, community service, research), legal, finance, and the administrative side of all industries, just to name a few. Additionally, a lot of other jobs, including many scientific and “hands-on” kinds of jobs depend on significant amounts of office space as part of their operations to function effectively.
Facilitate the growth of office.
The City should support the development of office space in Central SoMa. Office space typically has a high amount of jobs per square foot, and thus benefits from proximity to the neighborhood’s excellent transit. This office space can also support the success of these knowledge-sector companies that are driving the overall economy (including the need for local-serving jobs throughout the city, like health care, education, and retail). Increasing the supply of office space will also support non-profits and other organizations that have been challenged to find space in the city, forcing some to move elsewhere in the Bay Area (such as Oakland) or out of the region altogether.
Ensure the removal of protective zoning does not result in a loss of PDR in the Plan Area
The production, distribution, and repair (PDR) sector is critical to San Francisco. Companies in the PDR sector tend to provide high-paying jobs for people without a four-year college degree. PDR also provides economic diversity and therefore greater ability to weather recessions. PDR companies also serve the needs of local residents and businesses – after all, you cannot offshore your auto repair or your parcel delivery service.
As discussed above, SoMa’s legacy is as a home for blue-collar jobs. Over the decades, the nature of the economy – local, regional and national – has changed, being more service-oriented than production-oriented. The PDR sector in Central SoMa is emblematic of the neighborhood’s cultural history.
Maintain zoning that restricts non-PDR development in certain locations.
Central SoMa contains substantial areas that protect PDR uses by not allowing office or housing. As discussed in Goal #1, the Plan is proposing to allow new development in much of this area. However, the City should maintain some of this PDR-protective zoning along the freeway west of 4th Street, because of its proximity to other PDR areas to the west and lot configuration and location that is challenging for other development.
Limit conversion of PDR space in formerly industrial districts.
The Central SoMa Plan is intended to facilitate the development of new construction of housing and office in areas where they currently are not allowed. However, where existing buildings are to remain in these areas, the City requires (through approval of Proposition X in 2016) that some amount of PDR space are maintained. Similarly, when new buildings are constructed, the City requires that some amount of replacement PDR space is provided. The City should continue to maintain the requirement to maintain and/or provide PDR space.
Require PDR space as part of large commercial development.
Given the amount of new development expected, maintaining the existing PDR presence in Central SoMa will necessitate requiring PDR space as part of new development, regardless of whether PDR space exists on the site prior to redevelopment. Such PDR space can be designed to be highly compatible with large commercial space, given the larger floors, building materials that are less conductive of sound and vibration, and higher tolerance for truck deliveries at all hours. The City should consider alternative means of satisfying this requirement, such as allowing off-site construction of PDR space and/or protection of existing PDR space at risk of displacement due to being located in districts that do not protect PDR.
Provide incentives to fund, build, and/or protect PDR.
Existing measures to support PDR include protecting industrial land, providing technical and real estate assistance to PDR businesses, funding arts organizations and programs through the existing 1% Art Program’s Public Art Trust, and supporting new construction through creative mechanisms that leverage local and federal funding. The City should continue its commitment to the PDR sector, and explore new strategies to build and/or protect PDR space, such as requiring higher ceiling heights in development containing PDR.
Facilitate a vibrant retail environment that serves the needs of the community
Central SoMa already contains a diversity of retail uses, including stores, restaurants, and personal services like beauty salons and dry cleaners. These help meet the needs of residents, workers, and visitors. They also provide a level of positive activity on the streets that make them safer and more pleasant.
Allow retail throughout the Plan Area.
Currently, retail uses can be located anywhere in the Plan Area, and this allowance should continue.
Require ground-floor retail along important streets.
Retail uses are currently required at the ground floors of buildings on 4th Street between Bryant and Townsend Streets, and on 6th Street between Market and Folsom Streets. The City should extend this requirement along important pedestrian thoroughfares, including Folsom Street and the rest of 4th Street.
Support local, affordable, community-serving retail.
One of the many unique characteristics of the neighborhood is its diversity of retail offerings, in terms of types, prices, and independence. By contrast, new development often will seek to fill its retail space with chain stores, businesses aimed at higher income clientele, and/or businesses that cater to tourists and other visitors. While such uses have a place in the neighborhood, the City should ensure that there is also space for those retail uses that are local, contribute to neighborhood character, affordable, and/or community serving. This should be done by considering limitations on formula retail and stand-alone big box stores and by requiring micro-retail in larger development sites.
Support development of hotels
Hotels are important to the wellbeing of San Francisco – enabling our tourism sector to flourish while also supporting important civic functions through room taxes. Simultaneously, hotels can make very good neighbors, providing lively ground floors, near 24-hour activity, and customers for local shops and restaurants. Hotels are particularly important in Central SoMa, given the area’s proximity to the Moscone Convention Center and its transit accessibility.
Allow hotels throughout the growth-oriented parts of the Plan Area.
Currently, there are parts of the Plan Area where hotels are not permitted, even if they otherwise allow residential and commercial growth. Where hotels are permitted, they are typically restricted to “boutique” sizes of 75 rooms or less. However, the City is in need of multiple new hotels to meet demand, particularly new “conference sized” hotels of at least 500 rooms plus meeting facilities. As such, the City should support increasing the area where hotels are permissible to include those areas where new growth is anticipated, and to remove the cap on room count.
Recognize the importance of nightlife uses in creating a complete neighborhood
Nightlife is an essential part of what makes San Francisco a lively, world-class city. SoMa has a long tradition of being a destination for nightlife, reflecting its central location and industrial legacy with flexible building types, historically cheaper rents and relatively fewer residential neighbors. Even as the neighborhood evolves, it is important to ensure that these uses can continue to thrive as a place for people to have fun, while being mindful of the potential for conflicts between these and sensitive uses like housing.
Allow nightlife where appropriate.
Currently, many nightlife uses are permitted in much of the Plan Area, including restaurants, bars, and venues for arts performances. Nightclubs are permitted in the area west of 4th Street and south of Harrison, and are permissible with a Conditional Use Permit in much of the rest of the neighborhood. The City should support continuing allowances for nightlife uses.
Goal #4: Provide Safe and Convenient Transportation that Prioritizes Walking, Bicycling, and Transit
Central SoMa is served by a widely spaced grid of major streets that form large blocks, often subdivided by narrow streets and alleys in patterns that vary from block to block. While the narrow streets and alleys typically serve only very local needs, the continuous grid of major streets connects city neighborhoods and links the city to the region via Interstates 80, 280 and 101. The major streets in SoMa have multiple lanes, widely spaced traffic signals, and are often one-way – all strategies to move automobiles and trucks through the district at rapid speeds.
While the existing street pattern still works for traffic circulation in off-peak hours, as traffic congestion has worsened over the decades, these streets are now often snarled with automobiles, trucks, transit, and taxis/ridesharing services. The resulting traffic is a substantial source of air and noise pollution and disproportionate rates of traffic injury, degrading the quality of life for residents, workers and visitors to the area.
Whether at congested times or not, the present design of the major streets does not serve pedestrians well and will certainly not accommodate the pedestrian needs of the new residents, workers and visitors contemplated by this Plan. Design that primarily accommodates the needs of motor vehicles relegates the needs of people walking to a secondary status. The result is unsafe and unpleasant conditions for pedestrians: many sidewalks do not meet minimum city standards; signalized or even marked crosswalks are few and far between; many crosswalks at major intersections are closed to pedestrians; and long crossing distances increase exposure to traffic. The combination of high traffic speeds and volumes and poor pedestrian infrastructure is reflected in the high rate of pedestrian injuries seen throughout the Plan Area.
For people on transit, the story is more mixed. The Plan Area is well served by regional transit systems with dedicated rights-of-way, such as BART and Caltrain. Transit service to the neighborhood will be greatly improved with the completion of the Central Subway project, providing frequent and rapid north-south service through the heart of Central SoMa. Myriad local and regional bus lines serve the area. However, those buses that share the street network with other vehicles are often delayed by traffic.
As San Francisco continues to grow, conditions will only worsen unless substantial changes are made both to the design of the streets and to the way people travel. The Central SoMa Plan provides a timely opportunity to rethink how people get to and move through the neighborhood. Pedestrian improvements combined with traffic calming could enhance both livability and public health. With a comprehensive network of high-quality bicycle routes, the area’s flat topography and relatively good weather could encourage more bicycling, relieving some demand on transit and for additional car trips. The dense network of transit options makes the neighborhood a great candidate for even higher ridership, if proper measures are put into place to enhance the reliability and speed of transit. As well, while the neighborhood continues to grow, investment in additional capacity and new connections will be needed to enhance and expand the existing transit network to meet the needs of the future. All of these improvements rely on shifting the way people travel from private automobile into these other modes.
The goal of providing safe and convenient transportation in Central SoMa is admittedly daunting, considering the existing conditions. Fortunately, several other complementary strategies being implemented or undertaken by the City support this effort, in both the near and long term, including:
The Better Streets Plan, which facilitates improvements to sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities;
The Bicycle Plan, which delivers improvements in the bicycle network;
Vision Zero, which provides infrastructure improvements at key locations designed to minimize conflicts between motor vehicles and people walking and bicycling;
Muni Forward, which implements local transit improvements;
The aforementioned Central Subway, which will connect BART and Caltrain (in addition to running from Chinatown to the Bayview);
The electrification of Caltrain, which will facilitate more frequent service;
The implementation of High Speed Rail service to San Francisco, creating convenient connections between the economic centers of the State; and
The implementation of the City’s Transportation Demand Management program.
Multiple major studies and transportation planning efforts will inform future transportation investment. These studies will identify future investments necessary to support the continued evolution of SoMa and prioritize the public benefit resources that come out of the Plan. These include:
Connect SF: This effort, launched in 2016, will produce a 50-year vision of the City’s transportation network and will culminate in a new, updated Transportation Element of the General Plan and a refreshed set of major investment priorities.
Core Capacity Study: This regional study led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) was started in 2015. It is investigating near, medium and long-term strategies to meet the growing needs of transportation connections between San Francisco and the East Bay (i.e., the Transbay corridor) as well as core aspects of travel to and from the “Core” of San Francisco (which includes downtown, SoMa, and Mission Bay).
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of providing safe and convenient transportation that prioritizes walking, bicycling, and transit.
Provide a safe, convenient, and attractive walking environment on all the streets in the Plan Area
As a major convention and tourism destination, employment center, and residential area, Central SoMa attracts thousands of people daily, the overwhelming majority of whom will either begin or end their trip as pedestrians. And as anticipated development occurs, new workers, visitors and residents will join the thousands already there and place additional demand on the already inadequate pedestrian infrastructure. A transformation of the streets and sidewalk will be required to accommodate people on foot and give them enjoyable paths to travel, linger, shop, and socialize. Streets are not just for movement, but for slowing down to socialize and take in the rhythms of the City. A complete, high quality, walking network is necessary to make all aspects of the transportation system function well.
Ensure streets throughout the Plan Area are designed in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero policy.
Vision Zero is San Francisco’s road safety policy. The City adopted Vision Zero as a policy in 2014, committing to build better and safer streets, educate the public on traffic safety, enforce traffic laws, and adopt policy changes that save lives. The goal is to create a culture that prioritizes traffic safety and to ensure that mistakes on roadways do not result in serious injuries or death. The result of this collaborative citywide effort will be safer more livable streets as San Francisco works to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. Vision Zero recommends that streets be improved with safety treatments that include but are not limited to: new traffic signals; leading pedestrian intervals; paint treatments such as continental crosswalks; corner sidewalk extensions; turn restrictions; protected bicycle facilities and audible/accessible pedestrian signals. The City should implement all improvements in Central SoMa in keeping with the vision and strategies of Vision Zero, with particular focus on any High Injury Corridors.
Ensure sidewalks on major streets meet Better Streets Plan standards.
Adequate sidewalk width is an essential ingredient in making walking a safe, convenient, and attractive transportation option. In addition to accommodating pedestrian movement, sidewalks should be wide enough for amenities such as trees or other landscaping and fixed or moveable seating. The Better Streets Plan recommends fifteen feet as the optimal sidewalk width for most major streets in the Plan Area, with twelve feet as the minimum. Some locations that attract extremely high pedestrian volumes (e.g. next to transit stops or large office buildings) should have even wider sidewalks than fifteen feet in order to maintain safe and pleasant walking conditions. Most major streets in the Plan Area do not meet even the minimum recommended sidewalk width. The City should improve the major streets such that they all meet Better Streets Plan standards.
Prohibit new curb cuts on key major streets and limit them elsewhere.
In sensitive places, access to parking and loading degrades the pedestrian experience, transit operations, bicyclist safety, and general circulation. Additionally, curb cuts remove valuable sidewalk space for trees, bicycle parking, landscaping, and other amenities. For these reasons, curb cuts should be limited along major streets, and off-street parking and loading should be accessed from alleys and narrow streets, where conflicts are reduced.
Provide signalized crosswalks across major streets.
Long distances between crosswalks inconvenience people walking and reduce the viability and attractiveness of walking as a transportation option. They also provide powerful incentives for some pedestrians to risk crossing against traffic, and are thus a serious safety concern. The current practice of providing signalized crosswalks at intersections of two major streets means that crosswalks are usually over 800 feet apart on major east-west streets, and 550 feet apart on major north-south streets. North of Market Street, an area renowned worldwide for its walkability, crosswalks are at most 425 feet apart in the east-west direction and not more than 275 feet apart in the north-south direction. To create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, the City should provide an additional signalized crosswalk roughly halfway between each major intersection, wherever possible. This would produce distances between crosswalks roughly equivalent to those found north of Market Street. In addition, providing crosswalks at the intersections of major and narrow streets would enhance the role of the narrow streets in the pedestrian network.
Ensure there are crosswalks at all signalized intersections.
Several signalized intersections of major streets in the area prohibit people walking from crossing one leg of the intersection, resulting in inconvenient and potentially unsafe detours for pedestrians in dense areas and along major corridors, such as 3rd and 4th Streets. Existing City policy recommends opening such closed crosswalks. The City should open closed crosswalks in the Plan Area whenever possible.
Ensure there are safe intersections at freeway ramps.
The Plan Area has five freeway ramps: four serving I-80 at each intersection of 4th, 5th, Harrison, and Bryant Streets, and one serving I-280 at 6th and Brannan. Each of these intersections presents challenges, as cars used to traveling unobstructed at rapid speeds suddenly enter a street grid with more complex traffic patterns and must be attentive to people walking and bicycling. The City should work with Caltrans to improve these transitions to better serve the needs of all modes of transportation.
Provide corner sidewalk extensions to enhance pedestrian safety at crosswalks, in keeping with the Better Streets Plan.
Sidewalk corner extensions (“bulb-outs”) shorten the length of crosswalks and make pedestrians waiting to cross more visible to drivers. The Better Streets Plan recommends installing sidewalk corner extensions on certain street types to enhance safety and to provide additional space for amenities such as benches and landscaping. The City should work to implement this recommendation of the Better Streets Plan.
Ensure safe and convenient conditions on narrow streets and alleys for people walking.
SoMa’s narrow streets and alleys provide an important, quieter alternative to walking on the busier major streets. Yet many of these streets do not have inviting environments for people on foot, including insufficient (or even absent) sidewalks. On these streets, the City should enhance and improve the experience for people walking.
Ensure there are street trees and street furnishings on sidewalks wherever possible, in keeping with the Better Streets Plan.
Landscaping and street furnishings, such as fixed or moveable seating, are important in creating an inviting environment for walking and public life. The Better Streets Plan discusses strategies for locating amenities to create attractive and functional pedestrian environments. The City should continue implementing its recommendations in the Plan Area.
Expand the pedestrian network wherever possible through creation of new narrow streets, alleys, and mid-block connections.
Existing City policy and zoning regulations require midblock paths through large lots in certain zoning districts. These requirements should be retained where they exist and extended to any new zoning districts created in Central SoMa.
Use public art, lighting, and other amenities to improve the pedestrian experience beneath elevated freeways.
The unwelcoming environment beneath the freeway creates an imposing physical and psychological barrier that divides the Plan Area into two halves. This noisy, dark, car-dominated environment makes walking from one side of the freeway to the other an unpleasant or even intimidating experience. The City should use public art, enhanced lighting, and other streetscape amenities to help improve this dreary condition. To facilitate the addition of art, the City should also encourage new development to locate their required public art in this area.
Make cycling a safe and convenient transportation option throughout the Plan Area for all ages and abilities
As a mode of transportation, bicycles have many advantages: they require no fuel, produce no emissions, and facilities to accommodate their use are generally less expensive and space intensive than other transportation modes. Central SoMa (and SoMa in general) is flat, sunny, and well situated for bicycle travel, and thus has a much higher bicycle mode share than other parts of the City despite poor cycling infrastructure. The use of bicycles can be increased with the provision of a comprehensive network of safe and convenient bike routes, as well as destination amenities such as secure parking and shower facilities.
Ensure that the bicycle network is in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero policy and Bicycle Strategy.
Within the Plan Area, as of 2017 there are bicycle lanes on 2nd, Howard, Folsom, and Townsend Streets. These bicycle routes within and leading to the Plan Area should be provided with best-practice safety features in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero policy and Bicycle Strategy, including but not limited to protected bicycle lanes, dedicated signals at signaled intersections, turn boxes, and high-performance pavement materials and signage.
Minimize gaps in the existing bicycle network by providing bicycle routes through the Plan Area, designed for safety in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero policy and Bicycle Strategy.
In order to ensure that cycling is an attractive transportation option, people must be able to cycle close to their destination safely. In the north-south direction, the bicycle network as of 2017 includes two-way facilities on 2nd and 5th Streets, which are more than half a mile apart. Given the density of housing, jobs and visitor destinations in the area, this gap should be filled with new routes on 3rd and/or 4th Streets. In the east-west direction, the bicycle network as of 2017 includes two-way facilities on Townsend Street and on the Folsom/Howard couplet, which similarly are more than half a mile apart. This gap should be filled, potentially with a new two-way route on Brannan Street. All new bicycle routes should be provided with state-of-the-art safety features in accordance with the City’s Vision Zero policy and Bicycle Strategy, with particular focus on any High Injury Corridors, including but not limited to protected cycle tracks, dedicated signals at signaled intersections, turn boxes, and high-performance pavement materials and signage.
Provide additional bicycle infrastructure, such as bicycle parking, to support ridership.
In addition to safe and convenient cycling routes, increasing the proportion of trips taken by bicycles depends on other supportive facilities including bicycle parking. The City should study additional methods for increasing on- and off-street bicycle parking. Space needs for bike-sharing stations should also be considered a key component in the design of streets as well as major new developments and open spaces.
Ensure that transit serving the Plan Area is adequate, reliable and pleasant
Public transportation is fundamental to accommodating the movement of large populations of workers and residents to, within and through the City. The levels of density and activity proposed for Central SoMa are possible only when the majority of its workers, visitors, and residents use transit to move about. A circulation network that prioritizes transit will support the creation of the public spaces, walking environment and bicycle network that are envisioned for the area. Moreover, several Central SoMa streets are part of the central hub of San Francisco’s and the region’s transit network, and service delays or problems in the Plan Area can radiate throughout the network. For these reasons it is critical to facilitate transit movements in the area.
Provide a robust network of lanes that are exclusively for transit.
Dedicated transit lanes expedite surface transit movement, improve transit travel time, and support more efficient operating costs by allowing for more reliable and consistent headways, especially during peak hours. Existing dedicated transit lanes within the plan area are located along portions of 3rd, 4th and Mission Streets. The City should provide new dedicated transit lanes on other major streets in the Plan Area as necessary. Such dedicated transit lanes should be designed with “self-enforcing” elements, wherever possible, to discourage or prevent use by unauthorized private vehicles. These include curbs, channelizers and colored or textured pavements.
Support funding for maintaining a state of good repair of the existing fleet and infrastructure.
As the Plan Area develops, it will contain a higher percentage of the city’s jobs and residents than it does today. As such, it should contribute commensurately to ensuring that the existing fleet and infrastructure is able to move those workers and residents throughout the city.
Support funding to implement the Muni Forward program.
The Muni Forward program is the City’s ongoing effort to modernize and rationalize the transit system, including an emphasis on the most heavily traveled lines. Many of these heavily traveled lines serve Central SoMa. As such, new development in the Plan Area should contribute their share towards implementing the Muni Forward program.
Support funding to meet future needs for local and regional transit service to the Plan Area.
As a jobs center, a substantial portion of workers coming to Central SoMa will do so from the surrounding counties. Many of these workers will rely on transit systems that even today are facing capacity constraints – including BART, which is the regional transit workhorse, especially in the Transbay corridor. Caltrain too, which directly serves the Plan Area, is straining under booming ridership. As such, development in Central SoMa should support necessary transit investments, serving as a source of local money to advance critical improvements in expanding service and capacity to serve SoMa and to leverage larger regional, state, and federal contributions for major projects.
Study adjustment of transit services to serve the demand from the increase in jobs and housing in the neighborhood.
As the area develops, transit service needs are likely to evolve as well. As such, the City should study adjustments to the transit network and levels of service to the Plan Area to ensure that it adequately serves evolving needs, particularly in the area south of the freeway, which is expected to experience the most growth and transformation from low-intensity to high-density uses.
Encourage mode shift away from private automobile usage
Implementing the Objectives above can provide the physical improvements necessary to encourage efficient and environmentally sustainable modes of transportation, and commensurate reduction in private automobile trips. This mode shift will also require providing only as much parking as is appropriate for the urban context and availability of transportation alternatives. Other strategies should also provide incentives to choose more sustainable modes of transportation.
Limit the amount of parking in new development.
The availability and price of parking play an important role in individual mode choice – plentiful and cheap parking encourages automobile use. Existing off-street parking maximums should be retained and strengthened, reflective of the plentiful availability of transit options and investments planned and underway.
Utilize Transportation Demand Management strategies to encourage use of alternatives to the private automobile.
The City has successfully used Transportation Demand Management (TDM) tools in the downtown area to achieve very high pedestrian, transit and bicycle mode shares, and in 2017 expanded TDM requirements to the whole city. Development in Central SoMa should employ TDM measures for all new development, such as parking management and pricing, free or discounted transit passes, coordination of private shuttle services, and coordination of car sharing and bicycle sharing distribution, discounts, and related programs.
For the foreseeable future, some streets in Central SoMa will serve as citywide and regional auto connections, mainly because of their relation to freeway access points. There is also pressure on the streets caused by demand from ride sharing and e-commerce. These important demands on the street should be balanced with other necessary street functions.
Maintain the ability of certain streets to accommodate through-traffic while ensuring they meet minimum needs for safety and comfort of all road users.
Bryant and Harrison Street should continue to accommodate through-traffic in SoMa. However, increasing livability and protecting local circulation on these streets may require some reduction in vehicle capacity, a reduction that may to a certain extent be balanced by shifting local travel to other modes.
Design buildings to accommodate delivery of people and goods with a minimum of conflict.
The movement of people and goods will continue to be important in the neighborhood. The rise of ride sharing has created new demands to accommodate convenient loading at both residential and non-residential buildings. The uptick in internet sales means residential buildings will need to accommodate increased deliveries. Additionally, Central SoMa will continue to be a neighborhood with many businesses, and these businesses will need loading capacity for goods. All of these trends are supportive of the goal of enabling people to live without private automobiles. The City should ensure that loading is considered and prioritized in the context of street redesign projects and on-street parking management. Off-street loading facilities, particularly for larger projects, should not compromise the interface of buildings with the public realm.
Goal #5: Offer an Abundance of Parks and Recreational Opportunities
Central SoMa currently suffers from a shortage of public parks and recreational opportunities relative to number of residents, workers and visitors to the area. This is largely due to its industrial history. Within the Plan Area there is only one outdoor recreational space: South Park. There are also smaller indoor and outdoor passive spaces as well as private indoor gyms. Importantly, there are three large public facilities just outside the Plan Area that serve the people of Central SoMa: Yerba Buena Gardens, Gene Friend Recreation Center, and Victoria Manalo Draves Park. Given the superior public transit in Central SoMa, area residents have access to a broad range of other recreational opportunities in the City. However, given the length of blocks and limited number of facilities, substantial portions of the Plan Area lack easy access to playgrounds, public sports courts, and quiet spaces for more contemplative activities.
By increasing the population in Central SoMa, the need for parks and recreational opportunities will only increase. Fortunately, the Central SoMa Plan presents an excellent opportunity to build new parks and recreational facilities, provide the funding to maintain them, and the activity to keep them well used. Seizing these opportunities will require dedicated and strategic focus.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of offering an abundance of parks and recreational opportunities in Central SoMa.
Maximize the benefit provided by existing parks and recreational facilities
Support funding for the rehabilitation of Gene Friend Recreation Center.
The Gene Friend Recreation Center is a park and recreational center at the northwest corner of 6th and Folsom Streets, just outside the Plan Area. It serves the residents and workers of SoMa with indoor and outdoor basketball, weight room, lawn area, playground, and indoor space for dancing, art, and events. The Recreation and Parks Department is currently developing a renovation plan to update the facilities and increase capacity. As an important resource for the community, new development in Central SoMa should contribute to the funding of this important project.
Support funding for improved programming at Victoria Manalo Draves Park.
Victoria Manalo Draves Park lies half a block west of the Plan Area between Folsom and Harrison Streets. At 2.5 acres, the park is the largest green space in the SoMa neighborhood and enjoys abundant sunlight due to its southern orientation and wide street frontages. Despite the opportunity, it is currently not being utilized to its full potential, often due to a lack of programming and other forms of activation. Added density will increase the demand for outdoor recreation and green spaces. To best utilize this resource, new development in Central SoMa Plan should contribute funding to the programming and reconfiguration of this park in order to maximize active uses.
Explore funding for the rehabilitation of Yerba Buena Gardens.
Yerba Buena Gardens the name for a series of parks, recreational spaces, and cultural amenities built atop the Moscone Convention Center, spanning the two blocks between 3rd Street and 4th Street from Mission Street to Folsom Street, as well as additional space north on the north side of Mission Street. Recreational amenities in Yerba Buena Gardens include large plazas, lawns, gardens, a playground, a bowling alley, a skating rink, and a historic carousel. These amenities directly serve the northern part of the Plan Area, in addition to being a regional and even international attraction.
At the time of the writing of this Plan in 2017, responsibility for maintenance, capital investment, and operations of Yerba Buena Gardens is being transferred from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (successor to the Redevelopment Agency) to other City agencies. This transfer includes the loss of some existing funding streams and uncertainty about future funding streams. As the City identifies and implements funding strategies for Yerba Buena Gardens, it should explore the role of new development in Central SoMa in contributing to the lasting wellbeing of this world-class attraction.
Explore additional strategies to fund existing parks and recreation centers.
In addition to City money, there are often other sources available to fund existing parks and recreation centers. This includes federal and state funding, as well as other grants and potential partnerships. The City should explore ways to receive this money in support of the parks and recreation centers that serve Central SoMa.
Create new public parks
New public parks in Central SoMa are needed to provide much needed green space, a respite from the busy streets, and opportunities for active recreation for children, adults, and even dogs.
Create a new public park in the highest growth portion of the Plan Area.
Most of the new development of jobs and housing proposed by the Plan is slated to occur in the southwest portion of the Plan Area, generally between the I-80 freeway and Townsend Street west of 3rd Street. Currently, this area does not have any public parks. The City has identified an opportunity for a park on the block bounded by 4th, 5th, Bryant, and Brannan Streets making use of the publicly-owned parcel at 639 Bryant Street, which is used by SFPUC as a storage lot. A park on the interior of this site could, like South Park, be accessed by numerous streets and alleys and activated by adjacent uses such as ground floor retail and PDR. The City should work towards the creation of a park at this location.
Create a new linear park along Bluxome Street between 4th and 5th Street.
Bluxome Street between 4th and 5th Streets offers an opportunity to repurpose underutilized street right-of-way as a new park. Bluxome Street is functionally an alley and does not serve major circulation purposes, but is extraordinarily wide (70’) compared to other SoMa alleys (typically 35’-40’). The wide street is currently devoted primarily to angled parking. The City should rebalance the right-of-way allocation by expanding the pedestrian area on one side of the street and consolidating the vehicular area to two lanes of traffic and one parallel parking lane. This would allow nearly one-half acre of open space to be created on the block. Coordination with the adjacent development will provide a strong connection to this space and help make it successful.
Pursue the creation of a large new park within or near Central SoMa to serve the burgeoning greater SoMa area.
In many neighborhoods, a large multi-acre park serves as the common gathering and recreational center for the whole community and helps define the neighborhood (e.g., Washington Square for North Beach, Alamo Square for the Western Addition, Bernal Heights Park for Bernal, and Dolores Park for the Mission and Castro). These Parks provide relief from the urban environment that only a large space can. Yerba Buena Gardens and Victoria Manalo Draves currently play that role in SoMa, but as the neighborhood grows the need for a new large park will also grow. The City should pursue the creation of such a signature, neighborhood-defining park within the vicinity of Plan Area, such as on a portion of the Caltrain Railyards.
Create new public recreational opportunities
Public recreational facilities, such as spaces for athletics and cultural activities, are essential outlets for residents and workers to engage in fun, exercise and stimulating activity. Facilities for active recreation, such as basketball courts and skateparks, can be located in parks, but they can also be in buildings or other spaces not suitable for traditional neighborhood parks. As such, with forethought and creativity, there are more opportunities for incorporating recreational facilities into this highly urban area.
Increase the amount of public recreation center space, including the creation of a new public recreation center.
The Plan Area is presently served by the Gene Friend Recreation Center at 6th and Folsom just outside the Plan boundary. However, as the residential and worker population grows in the greater SoMa neighborhood, there will likely be demand for an additional Recreation Center. The City should pursue the creation of such a facility within or near the Plan Area to serve this expected demand and coordinate the amenities and offerings with those available at Gene Friend.
Develop public recreational facilities under the I-80 freeway.
There is currently ample unutilized land under I-80 between 4th and 6th Streets. With such projects as the SoMa West Skatepark and Dog Run, the City has demonstrated that a public recreational facility under a freeway can simultaneously meet the community’s recreational needs and create safer and more pleasant conditions for pedestrians. As such, the City should work with Caltrans to pursue the potential for providing similar facilities underneath I-80.
Utilize the street right-of-way for additional green spaces, gathering and recreational opportunities
In a dense neighborhood such as Central SoMa, it is important to utilize every opportunity to provide respites and gathering spaces. One opportunity to do so is by utilizing space on the narrow streets and alleys, including new mid-block connections.
Where appropriate, promote pedestrian-only or shared-street design concepts for narrow streets, alleys, and mid-block connections.
Central SoMa’s narrow-streets and alleys are important for pedestrian circulation, but often carry a low volume of cars. Even more of these public rights-of-way will be created as part of the development of large parcels in the Plan Area. Where appropriate, these areas should be designed to be pedestrian-only or “shared streets,” where vehicular use is minimized. On such streets, the City should increase green spaces and provide amenities for gathering, such as benches and tables. Where streets are fully pedestrian-only, the City could provide additional recreational amenities, such as playgrounds.
Improve 2nd and Folsom Streets as Green Connections per the City’s Green Connections Plan.
The Green Connections plan aims to increase access to parks, open spaces, and the waterfront by envisioning a network of “green connectors” – city streets that will be upgraded to make it safer and more pleasant to travel to parks by walking, biking, and other forms of active transportation. Within the Central SoMa plan area, 2nd and Folsom Streets are identified as Green Connections. These streets should be improved in accordance with the Green Connections Design Toolkit.
Augment the public open space and recreation network with privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS)
Planning Code requirements adopted in the Eastern Neighborhoods in 2008 require all non-residential development to provide open space, but unlike the Downtown, none of this space has been required to be publicly accessible. By contrast, privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS) have been a staple of the downtown for over 30 years, providing important gathering places and interesting public spaces. However, by nature of their upper-floor location and limited hours, their primary function has been to serve the daytime needs of downtown office workers. The Recreation and Open Space Element, updated in 2014, specifically recommends expanding the POPOS requirements outside the Downtown to other mixed use areas, like Central SoMa, in order to augment the open space and recreation system.
Require new non-residential development and encourage residential development to provide POPOS that address the needs of the community.
To help address the demand for parks and recreational amenities created by new development, POPOS should be required in new non-residential development and encouraged in new residential development. These POPOS should be designed to help meet the needs of the community through such strategies as being at street level, inviting, open extended hours, and featuring needed amenities like play areas, community gardens and dog runs. The City should preference that these POPOS be open to the sky, except where there are particularly unpleasant environmental conditions, the outdoor space would undermine the experience for people walking, or where they provide an active recreational amenity that will benefit from being indoors. POPOS can also contribute to the environmental sustainability goals by managing storm water and providing other environmental benefits.
Ensure the neighborhood’s parks and recreation offerings function as a network and complement the facilities of the broader SoMa area
The implementation of the Objectives and Policies described above will result in a substantial increase in the amount of space dedicated to parks and recreational facilities within Central SoMa. To maximize their value to the community, it is important that these spaces function as a network that systematically addresses needs.
Design the parks and recreational opportunities in a systematic manner to serve the community’s needs.
There are many different needs that can be addressed by parks and recreation facilities. This includes playgrounds for children of varying age groups, fields and courts for playing sports, dog play areas, multi-purpose recreation buildings to serve a variety of activities, and passive spaces for multiple kinds of social gathering and personal time. The parks and recreational facilities currently serving Central SoMa should be programmed to address this diversity of needs that will continue to evolve with time, tastes, and population changes. This would entail developing and implementing a parks and recreation strategy for the Plan Area and/or larger South of Market area. This strategy could identify the neighborhood needs in the context of both existing and planned facilities and population, as well as identifying potential locations to meet these needs.
Goal #6: Create an Environmentally Sustainable and Resilient Neighborhood
Central SoMa is poised to become a truly sustainable (healthy, green, efficient), resilient, and regenerative neighborhood where urban development gives more to the environment than it takes. In such a community, buildings use 100 percent greenhouse gas-free energy (much of it generated within the neighborhood); carbon emissions and fossil fuels are completely eliminated; non-potable water is captured, treated, and re-used within the district to conserve potable water and eliminate waste; nature is a daily experience, with greening and biodiversity thriving on streets, buildings, and parks; and zero solid waste is sent to the landfill.
To achieve this bold vision, the City is committed to advancing livability and environmental performance through innovative and neighborhood-scale systems, projects, and programs. Creative partnerships between residents, organizations, businesses, and government entities help ensure sustainability targets are achieved and progress is tracked over time. The results will be palpable to the daily experiences of people living, working, and visiting the neighborhood, and will place Central SoMa at the forefront of action on global climate change.
All of this will require an intentional and substantial shift from today’s conditions and business-as-usual approaches. At a time of ever-increasing awareness of the threats of climate change, considerable greenhouse gas emissions are generated from inefficient and fossil-fuel based energy use in buildings and vehicle transportation. While recent drought conditions have heightened concerns about the City’s water supply, a substantial amount continues to be wasted every day through inefficient use and disposal. Reflective of its industrial and auto-dominated history, the neighborhood is severely lacking in quality pedestrian environments and nature. With substantial low-lying areas built on fill, the neighborhood is also at risk from earthquakes and flooding, which could be exacerbated by sea level rise in the long term. And while the City is a world leader in waste diversion from landfills, there is still work to be done at the very local level to achieve our goal of zero waste. Finally, Central SoMa has been identified by the State’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s Cal Enviroscreen tool as an area disproportionately exposed to and at risk from high pollution levels, in part because of its proximity to an elevated, regional freeway corridor. Because the area also includes a higher proportion of disadvantaged residents, it is especially important that the Objectives and Policies of the Plan incorporate environmental justice considerations that help protect the community from poor health. These include efforts to improve air quality, as well to create public facilities, facilitate access to healthy food, provide safe and sanitary housing, promote physical activity, and foster civic engagement.
While the litany of environmental challenges is daunting, there is also tremendous opportunity in Central SoMa. Implementation of this Plan will result in a substantial number of new buildings, infrastructure investment, and public benefits within the Plan Area, leading to dramatic opportunities for significant improvements to environmental quality. Given current State and City regulations, new buildings are required to be greener and more resilient than buildings from earlier eras. However, additional cost-effective regulations for new development, such as living roofs and the use of 100 percent greenhouse gas-free electricity can help ensure that individual projects are environmentally sustainable and resilient to a degree that provides restorative benefits to the larger neighborhood. Similarly, implementation of this Plan will result in a re-envisioning of the streets, sidewalks, and open spaces of the Plan Area—not only to be more vibrant and safer, but also to complement the neighborhood’s environmental health and resilience. Strategies include the incorporation of beneficial elements, such as trees, green infrastructure for stormwater management, and energy efficient street lights. Finally, the Plan establishes a framework for innovation, to enable the latest and greatest technologies and design approaches to be applied to the built environment, like passive design and district-scale utility systems that service multiple buildings to heighten efficiencies.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES TO FULFILL THIS GOAL
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the Plan’s Goal of creating an environmentally sustainable and resilient neighborhood in Central SoMa.
Develop a comprehensive strategy for creating an environmentally sustainable and resilient neighborhood
In many policy areas, the City is a national and global leader in environmental sustainability and resiliency. That being said, many of the City’s policies and programs are implemented independently from one another. Moving from current conditions to an environmentally sustainable and resilient neighborhood will necessitate a huge shift in existing practices across a number of topic areas. Achieving this shift will require the establishment of a comprehensive strategy that can serve as a blueprint over many years of implementation. By focusing on the neighborhood scale, the City can be more targeted and opportunistic than citywide strategies, while benefiting from economies of scale not available at the level of the individual buildings. Coordinated implementation can also leverage neighborhood-scale resources and expertise, by providing a platform for community members, institutions, and businesses to engage with city leaders and utility providers to meet ambitious sustainability goals and tangible quality of life improvements.
Create an implementing entity within the City.
Currently, numerous City departments are involved in implementing disparate strategies aimed at meeting San Francisco’s myriad of environmental sustainability and resiliency goals. Neither the goals nor the strategies are typically neighborhood-specific or approached in relation to each other, so opportunities for efficiency and co-benefits are often missed. To ensure the effective implementation of the City’s comprehensive strategy, an implementing entity should be identified within the City’s government. This entity will be able to operate at the neighborhood level across all topic areas, and thus be able to identify possible synergies and unique opportunities that would not be apparent under the existing system. This team would work closely with all relevant agencies and community partners to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and to realize District-specific strategies.
Provide guidance to private and public entities.
Effective implementation will require the ongoing participation of a number of public and private entities. To coordinate their actions, the City should create a sustainable neighborhoods guide, including the vision, objectives, policies, and implementation measures necessary to create an environmentally sustainable and resilient neighborhood, as well as technical resources, precedents, and guidelines. Such a document should aim to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the issues and the strategies proposed to address them, whereas such information is currently diffused across multiple documents and agencies.
Ensure that environmental sustainability and resiliency is considered holistically in public investment decisions.
The City has multiple bodies designed to guide investment in public areas, including street improvements and the creation and improvement of parks. The City should make sure that the goal of environmental sustainability and resiliency is factored into all of these decisions for Central SoMa by including the implementing team into relevant processes, such as the Interagency Plan Implementation Team (IPIC) and the Streets Design Advisory Team (SDAT).
Ensure that property owners, developers, and tenants have the opportunity to maximize environmental sustainability and resilience.
The City has an important role in shaping new residential and commercial development to ensure that it meets development and design standards. The City should leverage its involvement in this process to provide advice, direction, and encouragement to new development to maximize its environmental sustainability and resilience. The City should also work proactively with owners of existing buildings as to their role in the neighborhood’s environmental sustainability and resiliency, including opportunities to invest in efficiency upgrades through green technologies and techniques, and to engage residents, workers, and visitors on how individual actions cumulatively have major impacts.
Continue to evolve the requirements and recommendations with changing needs and technologies.
Achieving true environmental sustainability and resiliency will require a major shift in the way we currently treat energy, water, refuse, landscaping, etc. In implementing this comprehensive strategy, it may become apparent that certain necessary strategies are not economically, physically, or technologically possible at a given time. However, there is rapid innovation occurring globally in the field of sustainability, as populations around the world struggle with similar issues as Central SoMa. As such, the City should continue to monitor changes in the field, educate partners, and upgrade requirements as necessary, to help fulfill the vision of this Goal.
Minimize greenhouse gas emissions
Global climate change, caused by excess greenhouse gas emissions, may be the single largest environmental issue for the present century. It is already affecting weather patterns and ecosystems, causing sea level rise, and population migrations. No single entity is responsible for climate change, and no single entity can solve it—the collective action of billions of people across the planet is required.
Recognizing this concern, San Francisco has established aggressive goals for reduction of greenhouse gases. Compared to 1990 levels, the City already achieved its target of 20 percent reduction by 2012 and 25 percent reduction by 2017, and is seeking to reach 40 percent reduction by 2025 and 80 percent reduction by 2050. The City is aiming for all buildings to use 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and to reduce energy consumption in existing commercial buildings by 2.5 percent annually. The City also wants to shift transportation away from automobile usage, having already met its goal that 50 percent of all trips within San Francisco be taken by other means by 2017, and seeking to reach 80 percent by 2050.
To help meet these targets, the City has instituted a suite of requirements. The City can build on these measures in Central SoMa through targeted strategies on buildings, utilities, and transportation. These additional measures are necessary to help San Francisco and the State meet its aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Increased greening in the Plan Area, as discussed under Objective 6.4 below, will also support the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Maximize energy efficiency in the built environment.
In San Francisco, about half of all greenhouse gas emissions are produced by building systems and equipment (e.g., heating, cooling, appliances, lighting, etc.). The easiest way to reduce building emissions is by increasing the efficiency of energy use. As such, the City should continue implementing current measures for new and existing buildings, such as 1) requiring all newly constructed buildings (and major renovations) to meet or exceed California’s Title-24 Energy Code by up to 10 percent; 2) requiring all existing commercial buildings larger than 10,000 square feet of conditioned space to complete energy benchmarking, have an energy audit conducted by a qualified professional, and share key data about building performance with the City; and 3) requiring homes to be retrofit with energy efficiency measures at the time of sale. The City should also ensure that buildings have every opportunity to exceed existing requirements, and should seek new ways to further increase efficiency. The City should also ensure that street lighting is as efficient as possible.
Maximize onsite renewable energy generation.
Renewable energy harnesses the sun, wind, and movement of water without depleting the source. The field of local renewable energy generation is rapidly evolving, and solar energy is already an economically viable alternative to non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. Recognizing this, the City recently passed legislation that requires most new development projects to include solar installations on 15 percent of their roof area (photo voltaic and/or solar thermal hot water). Because Central SoMa’s buildings and climates are especially suited to solar power, the City should expand this potential to larger roof areas and building facades. To exemplify the maximization of onsite renewable energy generation, the City could undertake a demonstration project on a public building within the Plan Area.
Satisfy 100 percent of electricity demand using greenhouse gas-free power supplies.
After maximizing energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy generation, many buildings will still need to purchase electricity. Any purchase of electricity from greenhouse gas-emitting sources (coal, natural gas, etc.) will contribute to climate change, even if that electricity is generated far from San Francisco. As such, the City should require that buildings in Central SoMa purchase the remainder of their electricity from greenhouse gas-free power sources.
Explore strategies to reduce fossil fuel use in buildings.
In addition to electricity, buildings use fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil for heating, cooling, and cooking. The City should explore economically viable alternatives to these fossil fuels, and potentially develop requirements for all-electric systems and/or use of renewable energy sources in lieu of these fossil fuels.
Minimize transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions.
In San Francisco, moving people and goods generates about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. The City has already instituted numerous strategies to shift travel mode away from private automobiles, such as investing in new transportation infrastructure (e.g., the Central Subway and new bicycle lanes) and requiring large development to provide shuttles, transit passes, and/or other strategies to reduce driving, while simultaneously constraining supply through the reduction of parking allowed in new development. The City should continue implementing these measures. In addition, the City should seek ways to further minimize transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions in Central SoMa, such as facilitating electric vehicle use through the provision of ample charging stations and other infrastructure, and exploring ways to curb emissions from idling trucks.
Minimize water waste
The recent multi-year severe drought conditions in California only exacerbate the need to address the extreme inefficiencies of our current patterns of water use and vulnerability of our potable water supplies. Recognizing this, the City and State have both developed targets around water usage. The State has established a goal of 20 percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020 from the per capita urban water use in 2010—a target that San Francisco has already achieved through strategies discussed in the policies below.
The Central SoMa Plan Area is well positioned to lead the City’s effort towards a more sustainable water policy, due to factors such as:
The large amount of new development that can utilize the best technologies and practices for water efficiency, as well as implement on-site infrastructure systems for non-potable water capture, storage, and re-use systems; both within individual buildings and ideally between multiple projects.
The large number of streetscape projects will provide numerous opportunities to implement technologies and best practices for capturing, treating, and reusing stormwater as a non-potable water source for irrigation and street cleaning.
Efficiently use potable water.
Because there will always be a demand for potable water for drinking, bathing, and cooking, and because water is a precious resource, it is imperative that it is used in the most efficient way possible. The City already requires that all new buildings install efficient fixtures; that existing properties repair plumbing leaks and replace inefficient plumbing fixtures (toilets, urinals, faucets, and showerheads) with high-efficiency models by 2017 or upon major improvements; and that all projects with 1,000 square feet or more of new or modified landscape area design, install, and maintain efficient irrigation systems, utilize low water-use plantings, and calculate a water budget. The City should continue implementing these requirements, and should seek additional strategies to increase potable water efficiency and conservation in Central SoMa.
Increase non-potable water use in buildings.
Upwards of 75 percent of building functions do not require potable water, including toilet flushing, irrigation, and building cooling systems. Since 1991, the City has required new construction and major alterations in large parts of the city (including all of Central SoMa) to install dual plumbing (“purple pipes”) for use with future recycled water sources. In 2015 the City started requiring the largest of these buildings (250,000 square feet and greater) to start capturing and treating non-potable water onsite and utilizing it via the dual plumbing system, and for buildings 40,000 square feet or more to study the potential to do so. The City should continue these requirements, and seek ways to make this requirement more efficient by linking multiple buildings into the same non-potable system, an opportunity which is particular to Central SoMa due to the large scale of future development and the concentration of major new development in a small geographic area. The City should also explore additional ways to shift from potable to non-potable water use in building.
Increase non-potable water use in parks, open spaces, sidewalks, and streets.
Landscaping and street cleaning are two water-intensive uses for which non-potable water could be substituted for potable water. In major public open spaces in Central SoMa, the City should capture and use stormwater for irrigation and toilet flushing. The City should also install sufficient non-potable water filling stations to satisfy all street cleaning needs in the neighborhood.
Support biodiversity, access to nature, and a healthy ecosystem
Reflecting its urbanized, industrial past, there is very little natural habitat or greening in Central SoMa. Nearly 90 percent of the neighborhood is covered in impervious surfaces, and there is substantially less tree coverage in SoMa than elsewhere in the city. Additionally, the existing plants in the Plan Area are generally not supportive of local wildlife, such as birds and butterflies. As a result, today’s residents, workers, and visitors have very little access to nature, which studies have shown is essential to mental and physical health and to human development.
The City has very few targets and programs regarding biodiversity and natural habitat. Present requirements of new development are limited to street tree planting and bird-safe building design. In Central SoMa, there is an opportunity to greatly surpass existing requirements, by maximizing the quantity and quality of greening in both public spaces and private property.
Maximize greening of parks, streets, and other publicly-accessible spaces.
The City’s Urban Forest Plan seeks to maximize street trees and sidewalk gardens. The City’s Better Streets Plan already requires that new development provide street trees every 20 feet. The City should continue this policy, while following the Urban Forest Plan by filling in the gaps along street frontages where new development is not occurring. The City should pay special attention to greening efforts around the freeway corridor, which could provide substantial benefits in terms of air quality, habitat creation, and beautification. The City should also require that open spaces are maximally greened, including within privately-owned public open spaces (POPOS) that are to be provided as part of new commercial development.
Maximize greening of rooftops and walls.
Buildings cover well over half of the land in Central SoMa and typically have large flat roofs. Almost all the roofs and walls of these buildings are devoid of any plant life. This provides a tremendous opportunity for greening and biodiversity – particularly from new buildings, which can be designed appropriately to handle the logistics of watering and soil loads. The City should therefore require a substantial portion of the roofs of new buildings be “living,” including locally appropriate plants, open space, stormwater management, and urban agriculture. To demonstrate the feasibility and efficacy of such living roofs, the City should build a “demonstration” roof on a public building within the Plan Area. To maximize efficient use of space, the City should also encourage living walls on buildings wherever possible.
Ensure that greening supports habitat and biodiversity.
Supporting biodiversity and access to nature requires not only quantity of greening, but quality and location. As such, the City should ensure plantings in the neighborhood’s new buildings, open spaces, sidewalks, and streets are native, habitat supportive, and climate appropriate species. In addition, individual green areas should be planned with consideration of adjacent opportunities to create green connections and corridors. The City should also continue implementing its landmark bird-safe buildings standards.
Improve air quality
San Francisco’s air quality has improved over the past decades, in part due to cleaner fuels and trends away from an industrial economy. Additionally, the State, region, and City have all developed regulations and implementation strategies to reduce impacts from a myriad of contaminants from a range of sources (such as vehicles, construction practices, and off-gassing materials). That being said, relative to other neighborhoods, Central SoMa has a high volume of emissions from car and truck traffic— both from its surface streets, which have been designed primarily for heavy vehicular traffic, and the elevated regional freeway that bisects it. There are also higher building emissions from diesel generators and fire pumps relative to less developed neighborhoods. Commensurately, the area has a higher incidence of air pollution-related hospitalization rates. Additionally, there is the potential for higher heat levels due to the high concentrations of constructed, non-reflective surfaces and lack of greenery in the neighborhood. These areas continue to be concerns that the City should seek to address.
Support a reduction in vehicle miles traveled.
As discussed thoroughly in Goal #4, a key priority is to shift travel demand in Central SoMa towards transit and non-polluting modes such as walking and bicycling. While such measures are important to the efficiency, safety, and attractiveness of the transportation network, they simultaneously have a tremendous benefit in improving local air quality. The City should make sure that the air quality benefits of such transportation improvements are prominently featured in any discussion of the merits of these policies.
Utilize greening to reduce pollution and heat.
In addition to beautification and biodiversity benefits, many trees and plants are natural filters for pollution and capable of absorbing heat. The City should therefore support substantial greening efforts in Central SoMa that maximize air quality improvements, as discussed under Objective 6.4 above.
Improve air quality around the freeway.
Given the sheer volume of vehicles and its elevated nature, the area around the I-80 freeway continues to have the worst air quality in the Plan Area related to pollutants, including fine and ultra-fine particulate matter. The City should work diligently to improve the air quality in this area, through such measures as reducing emission sources, intensive greening in and around the corridor, and technological solutions, such as air filtering systems and material surfaces.
Utilize healthier buildings materials and technologies that improve indoor and outdoor air quality.
Building materials and operations can off-gas toxins and pollutants that impact health. The City already has standards for building interiors that require the use of zero or low-emitting materials and requires enhanced filtration systems for areas of poor air quality, such as Central SoMa. The City should continue these policies, and should provide expertise to buildings in Central SoMa for regarding additional ways that buildings can support healthy indoor and outdoor air quality through filtration systems and other evolving technologies.
Ensure a flood-resilient neighborhood
Portions of Central SoMa already experience frequent urban flooding during extreme storms. Climate change is expected to exacerbate flooding by increasing the severity of storms and by raising the overall sea level. Low-lying portions of Central SoMa (particularly the southwest portion of the Plan Area) are susceptible to both temporary flooding and permanent inundation. This area lies on the north shore of Mission Bay at the end of the historic Hayes Creek and marsh. Simultaneously, the area is adjacent to Mission Creek, which is expected to rise (along with the Bay) several feet by the end of the century and potentially place parts of Central SoMa below future sea level.
In part to reduce flooding impacts and avoid combined sewage discharges into the Bay, the SFPUC has been undertaking a $20 billion Sewer System Improvement Program. It will upgrade conventional piped systems (“grey infrastructure”) for reliability and regulatory compliance while implementing innovative “green infrastructure” projects (typically rain gardens and bioswales that use soil and plants to restore and mimic natural processes) to manage stormwater in a manner that creates healthier urban environments. In 2016, the City also released a Sea Level Rise Action Plan to establish a baseline understanding of end-of-century vulnerability and outline immediate next steps for improving the capacity to adapt in areas near the Bay and ocean. Both efforts recognize the need to improve local flood-resilience in Central SoMa, while pursuing larger citywide strategies and measures. In general, Central SoMa’s infill nature, with a mix of new and existing buildings, makes adaptation more complicated than at some of the City’s wholesale redevelopment sites along the waterfront.
Develop a comprehensive sea level rise and flood management strategy for Central SoMa and adjacent at-risk areas.
To address risks to the neighborhood, the City should develop a comprehensive sea level rise and flooding strategy for Central SoMa and areas similarly affected by Mission Creek. This can be done as part of, or folded into, the City’s larger effort to create a citywide Adaption Plan for Sea Level Rise and Urban Flooding. It should include a hydrology study and a strategy for stormwater storage and conveyance, as well as design guidelines for flood-resistant buildings.
Reduce building vulnerability to sea level rise and extreme storms.
The City already requires buildings to manage a portion of their stormwater on site, and to comply with City’s Floodplain Management Ordinance and Building and Subdivision standards. The City should to continue to implement these requirements and efforts to reflect future sea level rise conditions in adopted 100-year flood levels. In the meantime, due to the rapid pace of development in Central SoMa, the City should create neighborhood-specific flood resistant design guidelines for buildings. These design guidelines should be reflective of other City goals, such as ensuring vibrant sidewalks and active ground floors.
Maximize stormwater and flood management using streets, sidewalks, and open spaces.
Major storms have shown that they can overwhelm the City’s combined sewage and stormwater system, forcing polluted water to stay on the surface and/or discharge into the Bay. Recognizing this, the city’s streets and sidewalks should be designed to effectively convey stormwater to centralized storage facilities. Simultaneously, landscaping in the sidewalks and in open spaces should be designed to include green infrastructure that slows flows and enhances water quality.
Maximize earthquake resilience
Earthquake preparedness has been a policy focus for over a hundred years. Given the opportunity provided by the large number of new buildings, Central SoMa should be at the forefront of earthquake resilience.
Ensure the ability of new and existing buildings to withstand a major seismic event.
San Francisco’s Building Code includes strict measures to ensure seismic preparedness and safety. The City should continue implementing these measures. The City should also make property owners aware of ongoing City efforts towards seismic preparedness, such as the soft-story ordinance and comprehensive Resilient SF strategy.
Secure sufficient power and water supplies to withstand a 72-hour emergency.
The best place to house people after a major seismic event (or other disaster) is in their own homes, or at least in their own neighborhoods. Working populations also need the ability to temporarily reside in their office buildings for up to 72 hours, if needed. Doing so requires that these buildings not only withstand a disaster, but have sufficient power and water to weather the first few days after the event. The City should explore strategies for supporting such onsite capacity in Central SoMa, including district scale energy.
Help achieve zero solid waste
Through its recycling and composting programs, San Francisco met the State-mandated 50 percent landfill diversion by 2000 and achieved the locally mandated 75 percent landfill diversion by 2010. The City has a zero waste target by 2020 and should utilize Central SoMa as a model for how to achieve this goal.
Maximize recycling and composting of solid waste from all buildings.
Meeting a goal of zero solid waste requires that individuals sort and dispose of their refuse into recyclables, compostables, and trash. To overcome the behavioral challenges in achieving this goal, the City requires that buildings provide adequate and equally accessible space onsite for the collection, sorting, and storage of all three streams, and requires that all multi-family residential and commercial buildings have on-site staff to facilitate source separation and tenant education. The City should continue enforcing these requirements, and should further facilitate this process by developing refuse facilities design guidelines for new buildings.
Maximize recycling and reuse of construction and demolition materials.
All buildings that are required to comply with the Green Building Code and/or LEED must already recycle 75 percent of their construction and demolition debris. The City should continue to implement this requirement and seek ways to encourage all other buildings to improve diversion rates, in part through on-site sorting in advance of collection.
Reduce litter in streetscapes and parks.
In terms of volume, litter is a minimal part of the waste stream. However, it is the most visible form of solid waste, and therefore should be reduced to the greatest degree possible in the neighborhood. To do so, the City should establish tamper-proof, durable, and well-designed refuse systems for sidewalks, parks, and open spaces in Central SoMa. All privately-owned public open spaces should be required to provide three-stream collection systems.
Goal #7: Preserve and Celebrate the Neighborhood’s Cultural Heritage
SoMa was once the domain of longshoremen, warehousemen, merchant mariners, day laborers, immigrant farm workers, and other manual workers (most of whom were men) who contributed immeasurably to the prosperity and economic development of the West. Many were newcomers—beginning with the Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians in the nineteenth century. These groups were followed by waves of Greeks, Eastern European Jews, Ukrainians, and Japanese during the early twentieth century. Dustbowl refugees arrived during the Depression, and Central Americans, African-Americans, and Filipinos took up residence during the post-World War II era.
The industrialization of SoMa was the result of the neighborhood’s proximity to the waterfront, in addition to its regional highway and rail links, and has been referred to as San Francisco’s back porch – the place where the unglamorous service businesses and industrial enterprises could conveniently set up shop. The topography of South of Market allowed for flat and wide thoroughfares, making the transportation of goods via wagon and eventually train and truck much easier.
During the Gold Rush era, SoMa served as the most productive industrial zone on the West Coast. In the years following the gold rush, the area evolved into a mixed-use neighborhood. This is in part attributed to the fact that residential uses were developed in conjunction with industrial facilities, to provide convenient access for industrial workers who could not yet afford public transit.
The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed almost every building and structure in SoMa and dramatically changed the socio-economic characteristics of the entire area. After the 1906 earthquake, economic forces led to the reconstruction of the neighborhood as a predominantly light industrial district, which caused the residential population to plummet. In its place, SoMa developed an eclectic mix of commerce, industry, and increasingly, entertainment and residential living spaces.
The ongoing evolution and reinvention of SoMa has resulted in many important tangible and intangible cultural assets. There are several historic districts and a myriad of individually significant buildings. The neighborhood has been an important center for two culturally important communities: Filipinos and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. Additionally, there are many important businesses, organizations, festivals and events, and communities.
Collectively, these cultural assets create an inimitable sense of place and a connection to its past, as well as a social and economic fabric that can be shared across generations. Protecting this cultural heritage, particularly as the neighborhood changes and develops, is necessary to safeguard the neighborhood’s unique identity and to ensure a high quality-of-life for its current and future inhabitants. Doing so requires thoughtful strategies that, properly implemented, encourage a deeper awareness of our shared and multi-faceted history while conveying a sense of what is possible in the future.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of preserving and celebrating the neighborhood’s history.
Ensure that the history of the neighborhood is adequately documented
Adequately documenting the neighborhood’s history requires recording Central SoMa’s rich history via both a historic context statement and survey.
Complete and adopt a Central SoMa Historic Context Statement.
Historic Context Statements are documents that chronicle the historical development of a neighborhood. A Central SoMa Historic Context Statement should be completed and adopted to record the important history of this neighborhood in one place.
Complete and adopt a Central SoMa Historic Resources Survey.
Assessing the value of a building, landscape, or feature requires a Historic Resources Survey to determine whether it is significant for local, state, or national historical registers. The research and analysis contained in such a Survey is helpful to the Planning Department, community, property owners, and decision-makers, as the documentation provides up-front information about a property’s historic status. Such a Historic Resources Survey should be undertaken in Central SoMa.
Support the preservation, recognition, and wellbeing of the neighborhood’s cultural heritage resources
The term “cultural heritage” is understood to mean tangible properties or intangible assets that express the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation. These elements are rooted in the community’s history and are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community. Tangible cultural heritage includes objects, buildings, sites, structures, cultural landscapes, or districts that are significant in architectural, engineering, scientific, economic, agricultural, educational, social, political, military, or cultural annals of San Francisco, the state of California, or the nation. Intangible cultural heritage includes the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, or skills that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. These two categories of cultural heritage resources – “tangible” or “intangible” – require different approaches for identification, protection, and management.
Facilitate the creation and implementation of a SoMa Pilipinas – Filipino Cultural Heritage Strategy.
The South of Market is home to the largest concentration of Filipinos in San Francisco, and is the cultural center of the regional Filipino community. The Filipino community has deep roots in the neighborhood, beginning in the 1920s and becoming a predominant presence in the 1960s. The Filipino culture is a critical part of the neighborhood’s diversity, strength, and resilience. Having survived Redevelopment in the 1960s-1980s, the community is still subject to the threat of displacement given the current market forces that are driving up housing and commercial rents. To rectify this issue, in 2016 the City created SoMa Pilipinas – Filipino Cultural Heritage District. This CHD includes all of Central SoMa north of Brannan Street, and extends into other parts of SoMa as far west as 11th Street. Because of its substantial overlap with the Plan Area, the Planning Department should collaborate with the community to develop and implement a strategy to stabilize, promote, and increase the visibility of SoMa’s Filipino community.
Facilitate the creation and implementation of other social or cultural heritage strategies, such as for the LGBTQ community.
Through its long and tumultuous history, Central SoMa has been home to many important social and cultural communities. The City should continue exploring opportunities to recognize and support these communities, whether through neighborhood-specific programs or as part of citywide efforts. For example, the Historic Preservation Commission adopted the Citywide LGBTQ Historic Context Statement in 2015. The LGBTQ community also has a long-standing presence in SoMa (e.g., by 1956, the two most prominent national organizations dedicated to improving the social status of gays and lesbians were both headquartered within the Central SoMa). This Historic Context Statement can be used by community history advocates and the Planning Department to provide a foundation for the protection, identification, interpretation, and designation of historically and culturally significant LGBTQ-related sites and places, within SoMa and citywide.
Ensure the neighborhood’s tangible and intangible industrial and arts legacy is not lost
Central SoMa has been an important industrial area since the Gold Rush. Much of the industrial jobs are now gone, due to the overall shift in the American economy towards services and the movement of many of those remaining industrial companies to the periphery of the city and region. Yet there is still an important blue-collar presence in Central SoMa reflected not only in its buildings but in the surprising diversity of practices, knowledge, and skills still extant, from the Flower Mart to auto repair shops to metal fabricators to artists’ studios.
Implement strategies that maintain PDR jobs in the neighborhood.
As Central SoMa continues to grow, there is potential for its PDR jobs to be priced out. The City should help maintain the neighborhood’s share of PDR jobs (as discussed in more detail in Objective 3 of Goal #3). Maintaining PDR jobs helps support the preservation of intangible heritage assets, such as the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, or skills represented within SoMa’s current and legacy industrial uses.
Support the preservation of buildings and features that reflect the industrial and arts legacy of the neighborhood.
Protecting the neighborhood’s industrial legacy is not just about the people working there, but also the context of where the work and daily life occurred. As such, important historic industrial buildings and features should be preserved and maintained in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and via the mechanisms described elsewhere in this Goal.
Prevent demolition of or insensitive alterations to cultural heritage resources in the built environment
San Francisco’s heritage is visible in its historic built environment, which includes objects, buildings, sites, structures, and landscapes. These resources provide visual and tangible continuity to the events, places, people, and architecture of San Francisco’s storied past. Culturally significant buildings contribute to the City’s diverse housing and commercial stock, and to the human scale and pedestrian orientation of its neighborhoods. These buildings are also important to quality-of-life in the City, and they help to make it attractive to residents, visitors, and businesses. Because of their importance, the Central SoMa Plan aims to prevent the demolition or insensitive alteration that would undermine the contributions that these cultural heritage resources make to the neighborhood and the City.
Protect Landmark-worthy cultural heritage properties through designation to Article 10 of the Planning Code.
Article 10 of the Planning Code contains a list of individual resources and districts that are protected City Landmarks. The Plan Area currently contains 29 such buildings, which are designated as either individual Landmarks or contributors to a Landmark District. The City has identified six buildings as eligible individual Landmarks and 11 additional buildings that are eligible contributors to a Landmark District, based upon review of the existing cultural resource surveys and community outreach efforts. These buildings should be protected through designation in Article 10 of the Planning Code.
Protect “Significant” and “Contributory” cultural heritage properties through designation to Article 11 of the Planning Code.
Article 11 of the Planning Code contains lists of individual buildings and districts considered historically and architecturally significant and contributing buildings in the downtown area. The City should extend Planning Code Article 11 designations into the Plan Area, to afford qualifying buildings the benefits, such as the ability to participate in the City’s “Transfer of Development Rights” (TDR) program, once designated. The City has identified 27 buildings as eligible “Significant” or “Contributory” buildings, based upon review of the existing cultural resource surveys and community outreach efforts.
Support mechanisms for the rehabilitation and maintenance of cultural heritage properties
Preserving cultural resources requires more than just legal protections – it requires a plan, funding sources, and a supportive body of experts, community members, and decision-makers. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of local, state, and federal mechanisms that can facilitate and encourage the preservation and rehabilitation of cultural resources.
Support funding for the rehabilitation of the Old Mint.
The City-owned Old Mint at 5th and Mission is one of San Francisco’s most significant buildings. A survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire, it was listed as a National Historic Landmark, the National Park Service’s highest honor, on July 4, 1961. It is also in a state of significant disrepair and in need of substantial and immediate rehabilitation. Funding generated from the Central SoMa Plan should contribute, as part of a broader community partnership, to identify a program strategy, to fund a rehabilitation and restoration plan, and to ensure it remains a facility for public use.
Enable “Significant” and “Contributing” buildings underbuilt per applicable zoning to sell Transferable Development Rights.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is an effective method for creating economic benefit for buildings designated “Significant” or “Contributing” in Article 11 of the Planning Code. It creates economic value for buildings by enabling them to sell unused development rights where there is a difference between what is allowed and the actual size of the building. In San Francisco, this tool has primarily been utilized in the downtown (C-3) zoning districts and adjacent districts. The City should extend this tool into the Plan Area. Facilitating the TDR program would support the protection of these buildings by reducing development pressure and providing an economic incentive for the preservation and maintenance of designated cultural resources.
Require large new development projects to purchase Transferable Development Rights.
In addition to extending the right to sell TDR to Central SoMa, major new developments should be required to purchase TDR as well. As such, this would create a mechanism by which new developments in Central SoMa directly support the preservation and maintenance of the neighborhood’s historic buildings.
Support additions over wholesale demolition to preserve cultural heritage properties.
Regardless of historic designation status, the City should support new development and the preservation of cultural heritage properties though application of Standards 9 and 10 of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Supporting sensitive, well-designed additions to historic buildings is one way to increase square footage and to benefit from the preservation of cultural resources. As such, the City should support additions rather than wholesale demolition when such demolitions are physically feasible.
Encourage the use of existing strategies and incentives that facilitate the preservation and rehabilitation of designated cultural heritage properties.
Cultural heritage properties already benefit from a wide range of strategies and incentives to support preservation and maintenance. This includes measures to increase available revenue, including the Mills Act, Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives, and façade easements. This also includes additional flexibility from Planning Code and Building Code requirements through exemptions granted by the Zoning Administrator or via application of the California Historic Building Code. The City should continue encouraging the application of these strategies and incentives to Central SoMa’s cultural resources.
Support retention of fine-grained developed pattern and character-enhancing buildings
Buildings that have cultural heritage significance are not the only buildings of merit in Central SoMa. There are many buildings that exhibit high levels of visual cohesion and contextual architectural expression. Collectively, these buildings also form development patterns that are emblematic of the history of SoMa and that make the neighborhood visually interesting.
Restrict the consolidation of small- and medium-sized lots with character-enhancing buildings.
The Plan Area has myriad development patterns, ranging from “fine-grained” blocks where the lots are as little as 25 feet wide, to monumental blocks where individual lots are hundreds of feet in length. The most pleasant blocks to experience are presently those areas where the pattern of fine-grained parcels is combined with older buildings that enhance, individually and as a group, the character and activity of SoMa. As such, these historic development patterns should be preserved by restricting the consolidation of these lots into larger lots.
Incentivize retention of character-enhancing buildings.
Character-enhancing buildings received a “6L” California Historic Resources Status Code (CHRSC) in the historic survey. As such, these buildings were determined not to be eligible for the same level of protection as historically or architecturally significant resources. However, because they are character-enhancing, the City should consider strategies to incentivize their retention.
Goal #8: Ensure that New Buildings Enhance the Character of the Neighborhood and the City
While many existing residential, historic, public, and large commercial buildings in Central SoMa are likely to remain in the foreseeable future, there is also a substantial amount of land on which new development is likely to occur.
New buildings and landscapes will change the neighborhood in many ways. The design of ground floors can control how interesting and safe a street will be for people walking. The size and massing of buildings as perceived from the street can be inviting if scaled appropriately, alienating if too small or too far removed, or intimidating if too large, looming or impervious. The collection of the buildings as viewed from the distance can either enhance or detract from the overall skyline and sense of the City’s landscape. The architecture of a building can either engage people with intimate details and support a feeling of a cohesive and dynamic neighborhood or only coolly express its own internal interests without enriching its context.
Within the existing neighborhood, there are already numerous good and bad examples for each of these issues. The goal of the Central SoMa Plan is to ensure that each new building enhances the character of the neighborhood and the city as a whole by having engaging ground floor, appropriate scale, great architecture and a beneficial contribution to the skyline.
OBJECTIVES AND POLICIES
The Objectives and Policies below are intended to fulfill the goal of ensuring that new buildings enhance the character of the neighborhood and the city.
Ensure that the ground floors of buildings contribute to the activation, safety, and dynamism of the neighborhood
The most important part of a building is the ground floor, where it interfaces with the street and other public spaces. Most people never actually go inside or assess the vast majority of the buildings they encounter – but they are, often subconsciously, aware of how the ground floors shape their daily experience of the neighborhood. People will seek out streets that feel interesting and richly textured, enabling them to engage with friends, people-watch, view items in shop windows or activity inside businesses, and safely avoid undesired encounters.
Require that ground floor uses actively engage the street.
When ground floors are dominated by internally oriented or non-public uses like parking and offices, people walking by or in adjacent public spaces do not feel the ability to engage with their environment and feel socially disconnected and disinterested. Recognizing this, the City has already instituted requirements for ground floors, such as that they must be lined with active uses, and not with parking or storage. The City also requires a high amount of building transparency on the ground floor, high ceilings, and supports frequent placement of doors. The City should consider additional measures to increase ground floor activity, such as requiring retail in certain locations (as discussed in Goal #3), allowing production, distribution, and repair uses (PDR) if they properly activate the street, and prohibiting uses on the ground floor that do not interface well with the street, such as offices.
Design building frontages and public open spaces with furnishings and amenities to engage a mixed-use neighborhood.
As discussed elsewhere in this document, Central SoMa is one of the most lively and diverse neighborhoods in the City, containing residents, many different kinds of work activities, and visitors at all hours of the day. Buildings and open spaces should reflect and enhance this experience through the design and inclusion of amenities. Projects should include fixtures, furnishings, art, utilities, and programming at the ground floor or adjacent open space to invite and support more active and consistent use of public areas including alleys, open spaces, and sidewalks. These smaller elements help connect interior and exterior uses and support more impromptu and flexible activities on the ground floor that can evolve with the neighborhood.
Ensure buildings are built up to the sidewalk edge.
When buildings are set back from the sidewalk – such as in a suburban strip mall environment – people on foot feel exposed on both sides and detached from their surroundings, leaving adjacent street traffic as the defining experience. By contrast, most buildings in Central SoMa should be at the property line, or set back in instances where there is opportunity and desire to widen the sidewalk or create public space for active usage. In the case of purely residential buildings with walk-up units, the ground floors should be designed in accordance with the Ground Floor Residential Design Guidelines, such as incorporating setbacks to allow for livable interior spaces, stoops, landscaping, and appropriate public-private transition.
Minimize parking and loading entrances.
Frequent parking and loading entrances diminish the ability to have active, safe, and dynamic ground floors – particularly on retail-focused streets. Therefore, parking and loading entrances in buildings should be limited, and as necessary directed towards the narrow streets and alleys with fewer pedestrians and fewer retail uses.
Ensure that the overall development pattern is complementary to the skyline
San Francisco is renowned for its physical beauty and unique sense of place. These qualities are defined by buildings and streets laid upon hills and valleys, the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean, and signature landmarks poised at picturesque locations. The city’s urban form at this scale is an essential characteristic of San Francisco’s identity and should be enhanced by the Central SoMa Plan.
Set height limits, bulk controls, and architectural guidelines mindful of important views.
From other vantage points, the proposed heights in Central SoMa should be subservient to the dramatic hills around it – including the built “hill” of the downtown high-rise district. Changes proposed in the northwest and southeast part of the Plan Area should be in keeping with the buildings immediately adjacent and/or within a block. In the southwest part of the Plan Area, there is a potential to create a new development pattern that would become, for the first time, noticeable from a distance. However, this new pattern should consist of a small cluster of buildings spaced apart from each other and achieving heights half as high, at most, of buildings downtown. As such, this area would serve as more of a “foothill,” complementing rather than detracting from the overall skyline. The tallest of these buildings should demarcate the 4th and Townsend intersection, identifying the Caltrain station and intersection of multiple light rail lines as a key node of city importance, and serve to distinguish the area on the skyline through both height and distinctive architecture.
Reinforce the character of Central SoMa as a mid-rise district with tangible “urban rooms”
The diversity of buildings in Central SoMa is reflective of the many roles it has played in the city’s history. One of the most common building forms is the “mid-rise” building of five to eight stories (65 to 85 feet), characteristic of its industrial and warehouse legacy. These mid-rise buildings have proven to have great longevity, because their large floors and high ceilings are attractive to a range of uses. This includes modern office uses, which desire flexibility with workspace arrangements that accommodate expansive collaborative and informal environments, while simultaneously discouraging the proliferation of individual offices.
In SoMa, these mid-rise buildings create a comfortable “urban room” – which is when the perceived height of the building is approximately equivalent to the width of the street. In the Plan Area, major streets are 82.5 feet wide and the narrow minor streets are typically 35 feet wide. This combination of mid-rise buildings whose heights are similar to the street width sets Central SoMa apart from adjacent high-rise districts.
Set height limits to enable mid-rise development.
Currently, height limits on major streets are too low to support mid-rise development. These height limits should be adjusted to enable mid-rise development, except where there is an important civic asset that lower heights would benefit.
Require new buildings to reinforce the urban room.
Buildings in Central SoMa should be designed to be mindful of creating and preserving the urban room. This predominantly requires that buildings have a strong presence along the street, rather than being set back off the property line – a condition which diminishes its boundary and thus its feeling as a “room.”
Require buildings whose height exceeds the street width to step back at the upper stories.
Buildings that exceed the height of the urban room will contribute to the neighborhood’s mid-rise character if the predominance of their mass and height is not visible or dominant from the street. Additionally, there should be sufficient light, air, and sense of openness between buildings. Therefore, the City should require massing and design strategies that reduce the apparent mass of buildings above a height of 85 feet and should require adequate spacing between towers.
Limit the distribution and bulk of new towers and focus them at important nodes.
By efficiently using land, new towers (i.e., buildings taller than 160 feet in height) are helpful to fulfilling the Plan’s goal to increase the capacity for jobs and housing (as discussed in Goal #1). However, as a mid-rise district, such towers should not be permitted to dominate the landscape. To do so, the number of towers should be limited. Additionally, these towers should be located at important nodes in the Plan Area, such as the intersection of the Central Subway and Caltrain and the intersection of 5th and Brannan.
Limit heights in areas with a high concentration of historic buildings and areas of unique character.
The southeastern portion of the Plan Area features two unique concentrations of historic resources – the South Park block and the western portion of the South End Historic District. In order to preserve the unique character and scale of these areas, the City should not increase height limits in either, including the area identified for expansion of the South End Historic District (as discussed in Goal # 7).
Minimize the impact of shadows on public spaces to the extent feasible, balanced with other core objectives.
Sunlight is an important factor in people’s attraction to and enjoyment of public spaces. Planning Code Section 295, adopted pursuant to Proposition K in 1984, protects Recreation and Park Department parks from new shading that might be significant and adverse to the use of those parks. South Park is the only Recreation and Park Department property in the Plan Area. However, there are other important public open spaces that require attention as well, despite a lack of formal protection. The City should propose height districts to minimize shadow impacts on South Park, Yerba Buena Gardens, and the Bessie Carmichael School yard. On other public spaces, particularly new spaces either discussed in Goal #5 or those that may be created in the future, shadows should be minimized to the degree that such sculpting of the buildings does not sacrifice other important Plan objectives, especially those regarding optimizing land use. These future open spaces will be funded and activated by new development, without which they would not exist, and are being proposed in the context of the Plan’s overall urban form and land use parameters. Some shading from buildings enabled by this Plan is inherent in the creation of these open spaces. As such, new buildings should be sculpted to maximize sunlight to these spaces without unduly impacting the development capacity of the sites intended by this Plan.
Utilize new buildings to diminish the dominant presence of the freeway in the neighborhood.
The elevated I-80 freeway slices through the Plan Area. While the freeway structure is relatively low (30-50 feet), it looms large above the low-slung buildings on either side and creates a physical and psychological divider of the neighborhood. Where the City is increasing development potential, it should allow buildings to be taller than the freeway. This will help diminish the presence of the freeway while integrating the areas on either side.
Ensure that narrow streets and alleys maintain their intimateness and sense of openness to the sky
Every block in Central SoMa is blessed with one or more narrow streets and alleys, whose widths are typically 35 feet or less. The patterns and layouts of these streets changes from block to block, creating unique and distinguishing configurations.
Historically, the buildings along these narrow streets and alleys have been lower in height – reflecting their smaller scale “urban room.” The result is that the alleys have provided a sense of openness, intimateness, and reprieve in this dense neighborhood of wide streets and large buildings. The scale of these streets is an essential ingredient to the livability of the district.
Require new buildings facing alleys and narrow streets to step back at the upper stories.
While a central tenet of the Plan is support for increasing capacity for housing and jobs in the neighborhood, the intent of this Plan is also to ensure that the narrow streets and alleys maintain their sense of openness to the sky and lower scale so that future generations can continue to enjoy their benefit. Therefore, the City should ensure that new buildings facing alleys and narrow streets step back at the upper stories. As well, in parts of the Plan Area that contain high concentrations of older and small-scale residential uses along alleys (e.g., the northwest part of the Plan area), building height limits should be kept relatively lower than on the major streets surrounding them.
Ensure that large development sites are carefully designed to maximize public benefit
Central SoMa includes a number of large, underutilized sites (parcels or groups of adjacent parcels that are 30,000 to well over 100,000 square feet) that represent a substantial portion of the overall development in the Plan Area. Because of their size, these sites have the potential to deliver substantial public benefits if carefully designed.
Provide greater direction and flexibility for large development sites in return for improved design and additional public benefits.
The City should develop guidelines and requirements for large development sites where there is potential for additional public benefits and where alternative organization or massing on the site would better achieve the goals of the Plan. These guidelines and requirements should lay out how these specific sites could provide desirable community benefits, such as public open space and recreational facilities, dedicated sites for affordable housing development, and other benefits critical to achieving the goals of the Plan.
Limit the length of new buildings.
Development on large lots could lead to buildings that have very long street frontages. Such buildings can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment by feeling too imposing or creating a sensation of monotony or homogeneity to the street environment. The City already has controls to prevent such conditions by requiring mass reductions for buildings longer than 200 feet and mid-block alleys on lots longer than 300 feet. The City should continue to implement these controls in Central SoMa.
Promote high quality architecture that enhances the neighborhood
Perhaps the most lasting aspect of a building is its architecture – its form, materials, programming, and all the other ways it engages people. Achieving high quality architecture in Central SoMa is critical, given its central location, the substantial number of new buildings expected (some of which will be quite large), and the rich history and diversity of the buildings in the neighborhood.
Conform to the City’s Urban Design Guidelines.
The City is in the process of adopting Urban Design Guidelines that will apply to all new development within San Francisco. These Guidelines will give direction on a number of important design issues, including site design, massing, open space, fenestration and facade development, and ground floor design. To promote design excellence, at a minimum all projects in Central SoMa should conform to the City’s Urban Design Guidelines.
Promote innovative and contextually-appropriate design.
Central SoMa is currently an organic collection of buildings built at different scales, in different times and for different purposes. It is also a neighborhood steeped in a history of invention and creativity, including in technology, industry and the arts. Given this eclectic and innovative environment, new development in Central SoMa should promote innovative design that also respects its context. This innovation can be evident in the choice or choices of materials, structure, sustainability features, form, landscape, and expression of uses or concept.
Design the upper floors to be deferential to the “urban room”.
As discussed above, the height limits and bulk controls in Central SoMa will support its character as a mid-rise district with a strong urban room. The architecture, including materials, facade patterns, and proportions, of new development should be designed to reinforce this character.
Design buildings to be mindful of wind.
Like much of San Francisco, Central SoMa is subject to strong winds, which generally emanate from the west. Tall buildings and exposed structures can strongly affect the wind environment for pedestrians. A building that stands alone or is much taller than the surrounding buildings can intercept and redirect winds that might otherwise flow overhead and bring them down the vertical face of the building. These winds and resulting turbulence may create conditions that are unpleasant on the neighborhoods sidewalks, streets, and open spaces. The City should require that buildings be designed to minimize new wind impacts at the ground level.
Ensure large projects integrate with existing urban fabric and provide a varied character.
Central SoMa has a number of large development sites due to the area’s industrial legacy. Many of these sites could feature multiple sizable buildings. Due to their scale, development on these sites has the potential to dominate and stand apart from their surroundings and form homogeneous and insular collections of buildings or campuses. Instead, projects proposed on these sites should be designed to integrate with the surrounding urban fabric, reflecting and enhancing the existing development patterns. Additionally, they should provide a varied character and avoid design cues that suggest a “campus” environment.
Establish clear rules for development
In developing new buildings, there are instances in which a flexible process creates a lack of clarity for all parties – community, developers, and the City – as to what is possible. While in some cases this may lead to superior outcomes, in many cases the only result is distrust and uncertainty until a decision is made very far into the process, resulting in lost time and money. The Plan would not be considered successful if neither the community nor property owners have certainty about how development will proceed and have certain guarantees regarding physical, programmatic and public benefit parameters.
Whenever possible, delineate via the Planning Code what is allowed and not allowed in new development.
To maximize certainty for all parties, the rules for new development should be unambiguously established in the Planning Code. This can be accomplished by minimizing allowance for exceptions and exemptions from Planning Code controls, and by clearly laying out conditions and criteria for when exceptions to the basic controls may be warranted – particularly on large sites (as discussed above). Open-ended, subjective conditions allowing exceptions for “design excellence” or ill-defined “public benefits” should be avoided in favor of objective criteria and clear direction.
Plan adopted by Board of Supervisors Ordinance No. 0282-18 on 11/27/2018.