Noe Valley Voice June 2010

City Explores Other Plaza-bilities

But Noe Street Closure Could Still Happen

By Heather World

San Francisco Planning Department officials have expanded their road map for pedestrian space in Noe Valley. Although a proposed plaza that would close part of Noe Street is still on the table, planners say they are considering other ideas as well, such as the temporary closure of Noe on weekends, closure of only half the street, or smaller "parklets" on 24th Street.

The public can review all the options at the next community meeting, planned for June, said David Alumbaugh, the acting director of citywide planning for the Planning Department. The date of the workshop will be set after traffic studies are analyzed, he said.

A storm of suggestions and a cloud of opposition expressed at the first neighborhood meeting April 8 may have altered the original plan to try out a pedestrian plaza that would span Noe Street south of 24th Street for about 60 feet. The experiment is part of Pavement to Parks, a city program that endeavors to turn roadway into pedestrian space at minimal cost.

"One of the things we heard at the public workshop is 'Let's be reasoned and purposeful,'" said Alumbaugh.

Now under consideration, along with the car-free plaza, are "parklets," smaller areas that displace parking spots to widen the sidewalk without affecting traffic. While the department had originally proposed a parklet on Noe Street as a possible alternative to the plaza, some at the April meeting suggested it should be placed in front of a coffee shop on 24th Street rather than next to Starbucks.

"Maybe down around Martha and Brothers seems to me like a good place to do that," Alumbaugh said.

That approach doesn't sit well with Bob Roddick, president of the community benefit district that partnered with the city on the project.

"The only thing we've endorsed is the plaza," he said. That vote happened months ago when a P2P representative approached the Noe Valley Association (CBD) with a site already chosen and asked the group if it would keep the plaza clean and well maintained, he said.

"We were solicited by the city, and we agreed to what they offered," said Roddick, who is also president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. In May, the NVMPA issued a statement supporting the trial run of the plaza, which, as first designed, would put portable seating, potted plants, and other landscaping on the Noe Street pavement for a possible two to six months.

Roddick, who owns Noe Valley Law Offices on Castro near Jersey, wants the city to fulfill its commitment by moving forward with the trial and soliciting community opinion after. If people don't like it, it will go, he said.

"We're not interested in paying for something no one wants," he said. The NVA--not the city--would be responsible for upkeep; community stewardship is another component of the P2P program.

Neither do expanded options sit well with trial opponent Joel Panzer, a Jersey Street resident who spoke out against closing Noe at a Planning Commission meeting May 13.

Panzer, owner of RMC Real Management Company on Castro Street, said he left the commission meeting understanding that the closure of Noe Street was no longer an option.

"There are no closures of Noe Street," he told the Voice. "That's totally out because that's what we were promised."

In rare concordance, both Roddick and Panzer agreed that parklets were not in the original proposal. They might be nice, they said, but they are not what is at stake at the moment.

Meanwhile, in early May, the Planning Department extended its traffic studies around Noe Street to include several intersections along the 24th Street corridor. Wire cables were stretched across Noe, Jersey, Elizabeth, Castro, and Sanchez streets to count vehicles at peak hours.

Traffic engineers can make inferences for a number of [plaza or parklet] sites based on the data, Alumbaugh said. He said the traffic study results and new details about a plaza or parklet trial would be presented at the June meeting.

In a May 14 electronic letter to neighbors, Pavement to Parks head Andres Power wrote that the department is looking for an option that will be acceptable to the broadest cross section of the community.

"Even exploring the idea of a temporary trial closure of Noe Street has been very disturbing to some in the community, when its purpose was to test an idea that would bring the community together. Especially in the face of this sensitivity, we want to reiterate our commitment to taking a reasoned and tempered approach to seeing if there can be consensus behind the idea of a temporary trial closure of Noe Street or some other street in the neighborhood," Powers wrote.

Achieving consensus may be an uphill battle. Opponents to the trial continued to distribute window placards and man a table at the Saturday farmer's market last month, collecting more than 500 names on a petition to keep Noe open. Proponents started their own petition in support of the trial, which by late May had garnered 400 signatures, said John Murphy, a 23rd Street resident who maintains a pro-plaza blog,

Meeting Set for June 23

At press time, Supervisor Bevan Dufty sent word to the Voice that the second community meeting would be held Wednesday, June 23, 6:30 p.m., at St. Philip's School, 665 Elizabeth Street at Diamond. All are invited.

Meeting Now Set for June 30

The second community meeting on the Noe Street plaza proposal has been rescheduled. The new meeting date is Wednesday, June 30, 6:30 p.m., in the Community Hall at St. Philip's Church, 665 Elizabeth Street.