Residents in the eastern part of San Francisco’s South of Market district are fighting over funding for a project to beautify Ringold Alley and resurrect its ties to LGBT history.
The alley, located between 8th and 9th Streets near Harrison Street, was the scene of nightly cruising by men looking to have sex with other men back in SOMA’s gay heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. The street was also home to the first Up Your Alley daytime leather fair in 1985.
For years LGBT SOMA leaders have fought to turn Ringold into a pedestrian-friendly corridor and install public art recognizing the alley’s historical and cultural significance to the LGBT community. The rendering at right shows what the redesigned roadway could look like.
It is seen as a critical piece toward establishing an LGBT cultural heritage district in the area. (Implementation of that project is on hold, as the Bay Area Reporter disclosed last month, due to staffing issues at the San Francisco Planning Department.)
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority unanimously signed off on the alley plan back in 2012. To pay for the work, the project’s proponents had banked on using a significant portion of the $4 million in development impact fees generated by a 408-unit apartment community approved for what is now a Golden Gate Transit bus parking lot at the corner of 8th and Harrison streets.
In May Associated Estates acquired the 3.36 acre site and announced it had entered into a development agreement for the project with Halcyon, the multi-family development consultancy of Richard Lamprecht and Amir Massih. The men had previously worked on the project when it was proposed by the now defunct firm Archstone.
Ground is expected to be broken in March of 2014 to start construction at the site.
Since a portion of the infill housing project fronts Ringold Alley, advocates of the alley redesign had wanted $2 million of the impact fees to be set aside for it.
However, at its meeting in September, the Eastern Neighborhoods Community Advisory Committee that oversees how to spend the funds recommended to award “at least” $1 million toward the alley remodel work, with the most expensive aspect being undergrounding the utility wires.
“We had split it right down the middle will $2 million to the general pot for eastern neighborhoods and $2 million for the immediate area surrounding the development. We were just flabbergasted they would get in to the details on something developed by the Western SOMA Task Force,” said Jim Meko, a gay man who chaired the task force that came up with a new zoning proposal for eastern SOMA adopted earlier this year by the city.
Meko said he “can’t say for sure” what would happen to the LGBT place-making efforts on Ringold if the funding is not increased.
“As the funding shrinks the enthusiasm to do more with that alley will shrink as well,” he said.
Backers of the alley project who are not members of the committee worry that $1 million in funding would mean a very limited redesign for the alley that would not include the LGBT historical place-making that they have advocated to be included. They intend to petition the committee to rethink its funding allocation at its meeting next week.
Meko said he doesn’t expect to see all $2 million be allocated. Instead, “hopefully we can get them beyond that $1 million,” he said.
The oversight body did ask the developer and city planning staffers to return with a revised proposal for the work as well as ideas for additional sources of funding. That presentation is scheduled to take place during the committee’s meeting Monday, October 21.
“The CAC passed a motion of intent to fund the improvements for no less than $1M and asked the project sponsor to return with alternatives including identifying additional funding and/or a lower build option,” wrote city planner Mat Snyder in an email to CAC members and SOMA residents this week announcing the meeting’s agenda. “The Transportation Authority has prepared a memo describing the background and describing the different options that are before you. Planning staff has also prepared a memo to provide a framework regarding in-kind evaluation criteria and the financial framework.”
According to an October 16 memorandum prepared by Liz Brisson, a county transportation planner, the development team has agreed to cover the $254,000 estimated cost of undergrounding the utilities directly adjacent to 350 8th Street. The remaining costs to underground the rest of the street would be $249,000, states the memo, which could be covered by the in-kind request.
The memo also lists possible funding streams, but none are a guaranteed source of money for the Ringold Alley project. Instead, staff is proposing three funding alternatives for the CAC to consider.
The first would be $1 million for a down-scaled project that would include all the elements in the project including utility undergrounding as originally conceived, except a traditional street rather than a shared street between cars and pedestrians with special paving.
The second would allocate $2.084 million to fund the shared street project as originally conceived with utility undergrounding. And the third calls for up to $2.084 million to fund the shared street project as originally conceived should the remaining funds be provided by an alternative funding source.
The Eastern Neighborhoods CAC meeting begins at 6 p.m. Monday October 21 in Room 431 at the SF Planning Department offices, 1650 Mission Street.