On September 3, South City’s Planning Commission approved the 211 Airport Blvd project without substantial community benefits. This decision undermined a 2-year plus community-planning process and set a bad precedent for subsequent downtown projects.
This project does not align with the vision of the Downtown Plan. The City and the community spent over two years to come out with a vision to help South City’s downtown to become a vibrant and inclusive place that caters to the needs of existing and future residents. With 69 market-rate rental units and no substantial community benefits, this project only caters to new, high-income residents and ignores the needs of the existing downtown community.
Despite the Commissioners unwillingness to negotiate for meaningful public benefits, the voice of the community made a difference. Downtown residents spoke about facing eviction or getting priced out of their own community, high school teachers discussed the difficulty of being unable to afford to live where they work, and local union members highlighted the benefits of creating quality construction jobs for local workers; eventually the commissioners and the developer, Pinefino LLC and Edwin Law, negotiated the inclusion of 2 units for moderate-income families out of 69 market-rate rental units and the contribution of $15,000 for public art and $20,000 for another “community benefit.” These benefits are better than nothing, but they fall far short of balancing the interests of the community and the developer.
Ignorant of the magnitude of their power and responsibilities, the Commissioners favored the developer with this decision. Even with these community benefits, the developer will still be able to make a large profit (around 30% according to the developer) at the expense of the residents of South City. The Commissioners Alan N. Wong, Aristides Ruiz, Carlos Martin, and Daina Lujan voted in favor of this project and community benefits package, and Mark Nagales was the only commissioner that opposed the project, citing the building’s design. Commissioners Norm Faria and Alexander Khalfin were absent from the meeting.
The Coalition will ensure the Downtown Plan does justice to South City residents. Partners will continue to organize the community and work with decisionmakers so future downtown projects adopt programs that encourage the use of transit, provide quality jobs to local residents, offer apprenticeship opportunities for local youth, and include a significant number of affordable units.
For more information on the Coalition, please contact Belén Seara, firstname.lastname@example.org.