Noe Valley Voice June 2010

And Now for the Rumors Behind the News

We vs. Us

By Mazook

PLAZAMANIA continued to spread in May--in the cafes, in the blogs, and in the pages of the Noe Valley Voice (see page 1 and Letters). In fact, the news was so viral, it spread way past deadline. With the paper almost put to bed, the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation (NVBI) has been enlisted to help supply the real rumors behind the news.

As Voice readers know, the plaza--meaning a temporary plaza on Noe Street at 24th--started as a gleam in the eye of the Mayor's Pavement to Parks program (P2P) and some members of the Noe Valley Association. The idea was a palm-filled minipark where people could bask in the sun while sitting in the middle of the street. If P2P had had its way, the trial run would have started by the summer solstice.

But the plaza has become the most polarizing issue Noe Valley has seen in a while.

The first community meeting (on April 8) showed there are many cracks in Noeville. Neighbors lined up on opposite sides of St. Philip's hall to vehemently speak their mind to the P2P go-to guy at the Planning Department, Andres Power. Half argued Just Try It. The rest said No Way.

Since the meeting, each side has been churning out petitions for their supporters to sign. Debates are raging in the blogs, with lengthy commentary that at times turns inflammatory.

Younger people are perceived to be against older people, cyclists against those with cars.

Neighborhood progressives, and there are many, appear excited to "try" the plaza, while more conservative Noe Valleons call the plaza plan too radical or just plain dumb. Then there are the opponents who live near ground zero on Noe Street. They've been pitted against those who live elsewhere in the Valley or in the Heights--Fairmount, Diamond, Liberty, and Dolores--who see no harm in the noble experiment.

Supporters argue that the emphasis is on "temporary," and if the plaza doesn't work, the city will have it removed and open the street again. However, many believe that if a "temporary" plaza is created, it will be impossible to remove it and it will become a blight in the neighborhood.

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PLAZA SWEET: Some people have plaza fever. In mid-May, Bob Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, wrote a letter addressed to the Voice, expressing his organization's unanimous support for the plaza proposal (see page 7). Curiously, at least to the NVBI, the letter wound up first on the NoeValleySF blog. (By Memorial Day, there had been 120 comments, but most were by a dozen commentators with a great deal of time on their fingers.)

Meanwhile, the Not on Noe contingent was planning a surprise trip to City Hall. Almost 20 people showed up at 2 p.m. for the May 13 meeting of the SF Planning Commission. They wanted to present their petitions and express their objections to the closure of Noe Street, through two spokespersons, longtime Noe Valleyites Dan Duncan and Joel Panzer.

Duncan and Panzer knew that generally the Planning Commission only allows discussion of items placed on its agenda. However, they also knew the public was allowed three minutes to address the commission, at either the first or the last half hour of the meeting. The Not Noe group arrived late for the first half hour, since the commissioners started the proceedings at 1:30 sharp.

Undaunted, the group prepared to spend the afternoon waiting for their opportunity. But by 6 o'clock, it was clear that the end of the meeting would be hours away, and many left.

"By 10:30," says Panzer, "we were down to three, but ready to give our three-minute presentation."

According to Panzer, they presented Commission Chair Ron Miguel with the petitions and posters, "and although everyone was really tired by that hour, all the commissioners seemed surprised to hear about the neighborhood controversy. The chairman said, 'We will have to look at the Pavement to Parks program and its implementation,' and turned to the Planning Department representative for comment. He [Miguel] was told that the plan was off the table, which I interpreted to mean the end of it. We left City Hall feeling we had achieved our goal."

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BACK ON THE TABLE: For the record, the Planning Department's representative was Kelly Amdur, director of neighborhood planning. Amdur said by the next day, Friday, May 14, she had learned from David Alumbaugh, director of citywide planning services, that the plaza plans were still very much on the table. Says Amdur, "I had misspoken when I responded at the time to Ron Miguel that the plaza project was 'put on hold' and we were not currently pursuing the project."

By late afternoon that same Friday, Andres Power e-mailed a letter to "Noe Valley Neighbors" on the P2P's e-mail list. The letter, of course, was immediately launched into the blogosphere by NoeValleySF.

Although Power graded the matter's importance "low" and NoeValleySF went along, headlining the letter "Noe Valley Plaza: No News Is No News," it was major news to many of those in the thick of things.

First, Power informed the electronic-us that a second community meeting, initially set for June 1, had been postponed until "early to mid-June."

Second, Powers wrote that P2P was committed "to taking a reasoned and tempered approach to seeing if there can be consensus" for the trial plaza on Noe, "or some other street in the neighborhood."

Third, and most significantly, Power said, "Based on the comments we heard at the workshop, we also believe it would be prudent to explore the idea of installing test 'parklets'--the temporary repurposing of a few on-street parking spaces in one or more locations along 24th Street."

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PLAZA, SI, PARKLETS, NON: Neither the pro-plaza nor anti-plaza constituents seem too happy about the Planning Department's widening the scope the project.

Roddick says that when the NVA signed on with P2P, "it was for a plaza. The NVA made a commitment to that, and the idea of having parklets was not on the table." He also is a little piqued that P2P keeps coming up with surprises.

"They really haven't yet talked to us about the details of the parklets, or other alternatives [such as] creating a plaza that could also accommodate traffic, perhaps one-way, on Noe, or a plaza down the middle of the street," says Roddick.

Roddick also thinks that plaza space could be created in bus stops' red zones. "If we were having parklets," says Roddick, "then how about extending all of the bus stops on the corner of 24th and Castro and create bubbles for the passengers to board?"

He says the key objection from the NVMPA is "merchants don't want to have parklets take up parking spaces."

As for the Not on Noe group, Panzer says he thinks most of the no folks would consider the parklet concept or other ideas that would keep Noe Street open. But he fears the pro-plaza group is not willing to compromise, especially on the issue of closing Noe Street. "We are hearing that the pro-plaza people want to 'try it' since that was the deal, and that it is an all-or-none proposition."

In an effort to be extra vigilant, his group fanned out across Noe Valley on Saturday, May 23, going door to door looking for neighbors' support.

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MEETING OF MINDS, MAYBE: The Friday before Memorial Day, the Planning Department sent word via Supervisor Dufty that the next Noe Valley Pavement to Parks community meeting will be Wednesday, June 23 June 30*, at 6:30 p.m., at St. Philip's School, 665 Elizabeth Street. Dufty's newsletter stated, "I will be joined by Andres Power and David Alumbaugh of the San Francisco Planning Department, and a Traffic Engineer from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA)."

You can expect that the meeting will be a full house and that someone from the mayor's office would and should show up. The NVBI is suggesting you arrive early to get a seat. The capacity of the hall is 400 people.

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

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YOU'VE GOT FRIENDS: All this debate has renewed interest in the Friends of Noe Valley, a group that has championed the residents' cause for nearly 40 years. In the last few years, the group has been meeting sporadically, except when organizing events like the Book Week and the Garden Tour (don't forget to go June 12).

Friends' current president, Richard May, says that at the beginning of May the FNV board of directors met with several people from the neighborhood who had expressed interest in leadership roles in the group.

One was Todd David, a very active parent at Alvarado School. David, who's pro plaza, is also involved with neighborhood efforts to have the city buy the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot and turn it into a town square (see May Voice). He says he is actively seeking the job of Friends president, and would be happy to replace ready-and-willing-to-be-replaced May, come September.

Others are Tom Abbott and Joel Panzer, who met while working on the Keep Noe Open campaign. They say they too see a need for a revitalized Friends so that the neighborhood can have a united voice and a forum for ideas. "We [should] all be able to get along and put our shoulders together to get things done," says Panzer.

Says Abbott, "There are about 15 people I know of who want to join the Friends of Noe Valley and become involved."

Friends has set Sept. 8 (6:30 p.m. at the Noe Valley Library) as the date for its next general meeting, which will include the annual election of officers and a presentation on the Ministry parking lot/town square plan.

Richard May says Friends also is mounting a membership drive this summer. A membership application is available at FNV events (e.g., the Garden Tour) and is also online at friendsofnoevalley .com.

FYI, only dues-paying members can vote. According to May, FNV has almost 500 "members" who are on FNV's e-mail list, and there are about 100 who receive the FNV newsletter by snail mail.

If you want to join, mail your check for $20, the annual dues, to the Friends of Noe Valley, P.O. Box 460953, San Francisco 94146.

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LOITERING PERMITTED: The Noe Valley Association, 24th Street's self-taxing benefit district, has been very active these days in sprucing up Downtown Noe Valley. The group recently put in cherry trees at 24th and Diamond streets and strawberry trees in front of the Ark toy store. They've also installed four new (and very comfortable) wooden benches and six planter boxes on the sidewalks in front of Bernie's Cafe and Whole Foods Market.

NVA board director Debra Niemann also wants everyone to know that the crosswalks at the corner of 24th and Castro will be altered soon. Now that federal money has become available, the city is putting in state-of-the-art ADA ramps, which will require removal and replacement of the yellow duratherm crosswalks.

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THAT'S 30, FOLKS. Before departing, I'd like to suggest that Plazagate might turn out all right after all. Through discussion and compromise, let's come up with the best plan for everyone.