From Our Supervisor’s Chambers
Moving forward: King Edward II

November 2011

During my campaign for supervisor last year, the proposal to convert the King Edward II Inn at 3155 Scott Street into housing for transitional age youth (TAY) was one of the most heated topics of debate. I don’t recall any other issue that galvanized so many people within District 2 to voice their opinions – in particular residents of the Marina and Cow Hollow. Areas of concern ranged from zoning issues to public safety and neighborhood notification, among others.

Transitional-Age Youth Housing

As I mentioned in a column earlier this year, the need for TAY housing in San Francisco is very real. Presently, 4,500 to 6,800 such youth are homeless or marginally housed each year, and I am proud to live in a city that recognizes this necessity and prioritizes their development. In addition, I believe the current practice of building these developments within our neighborhoods makes a great deal of sense – how better to integrate these TAY into our broader San Francisco community. My family and I live across the street from a TAY home and it is incredibly well integrated into our neighborhood and a contributing partner of the community in which we live.

At the same time, however, I do not view TAY housing as an issue that should overrule every other planning, zoning or neighborhood concern that exists. TAY housing is an issue that needs to be promoted, but it is not a trump card. In particular, if we are going to continue to build TAY developments directly in our neighborhoods, I believe neighborhood voices and concerns should be highly prioritized. To turn a blind eye to the surrounding neighborhood is to ignore the fact that ultimately these projects are all about the youth that will live in the neighborhood once the project is complete, and neighborhood support is paramount for their ultimate success.

The King Edward II: Timeline and Issues

In the case of King Edward II, the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) issued a notice of funds availability (NOFA) in August 2009. Community Housing Partnership (CHP), a nonprofit housing developer, responded to that NOFA in December 2009, outlining its project for TAY housing at King Edward II. MOH went through an evaluation, ultimately scoring CHP’s project as the highest out of all the applications it received – in large part because of the location of the project and the fact that the project was considered to be in a safe neighborhood. Initial contact was made to the surrounding neighborhood and merchant organizations in February 2010, unfortunately after practically every aspect of the project was set in stone. MOH’s loan committee formally recommended funding the project at an April 2010 meeting – the first venue where anyone from the neighborhood was allowed to comment on the project. To me, this lack of notice was inexcusable.

Aside from this lack of notice and neighborhood input on the project, two other main issues have plagued the development project. The first is the cost: the project is now estimated to cost over $11 million for 24 units. That’s close to $500,000 per unit! If one of our priorities in San Francisco is to create as many TAY units as possible, we should be mindful of the costs of individual projects so that money is spent to maximize the number of units created. Second, the zoning changes required at the King Edward II to increase density from 16 to 24 units have been a major concern – mostly for the immediate neighbors. While zoning and density increases for affordable housing projects is a complicated issue incorporating state law, I fully empathize with individuals and families who buy homes in neighborhoods with certain characteristics or qualities, including zoning requirements, and become frustrated when those requirements are waived for certain projects without their input.

Project Sponsors: Community Housing Partnership and Larkin Street Youth Services The two principal project sponsors for the King Edward II development have been CHP and Larkin Street Youth Services (LSYS). CHP is the nonprofit building developer that is principally tasked with constructing the project, and LSYS will be in charge of programming the site and providing key resources to the youth that live at King Edward II. Despite a very rough start to the community outreach process in early 2010, I want to commend CHP and its executive director, Gail Gilman, and LSYS and its executive director, Sherilyn Adams, for their efforts since I took office in 2011. Despite not reaching any official compromise, Gilman and Adams have worked in good faith with my office and the various neighborhood groups that got involved in the debate to explore ways to mitigate certain neighborhood concerns. We have collectively spent an incredible amount of time together on this project.

The Debate in City Hall

Despite recent efforts to reach a compromise, all five surrounding neighborhood organizations – including the Marina Community Association, Cow Hollow Association, Marina Cow Hollow Neighbors & Merchants, Marina Merchants Association, and Union Street Association – filed a joint appeal against the King Edward II project. These appeals were heard last month in City Hall. Since being on the Board of Supervisors, it has become very clear that for every contentious debate in City Hall, “advocates” on both sides come out of the woodwork and truly represent the extremes of San Francisco. The one individual that came before the board and objected to the King Edward II calling traditional-age youth “losers” should be ashamed. His comments certainly do not represent the vast majority of the people concerned about the project. Similarly, advocates who came to City Hall for the Booker T. Washington debate earlier this year and claimed racism because the neighbors wanted a four-story project instead of a five-story project have no place in any rational dialogue in City Hall. It is with the 75–80 percent of voices in the middle where the real dialogue happens.

Despite what people on the extremes attempted to implicate, the King Edward II was never about “not wanting the kids in the neighborhood.” To the contrary, despite the fumbled lack of neighborhood notice and input, if the zoning issues had not existed, the project appeals would never have been filed. In the end, the neighborhood appeals were denied at the Board of Supervisors (with my vote being the only vote in favor of the neighbors), and the project is now clear of all the necessary hurdles at City Hall.

Giving Voice to Our Neighborhoods

No one likes the way the King Edward II project evolved. No one. The neighbors, the project sponsors, MOH, and in particular my office, which inherited the project at the tail end of its existence – everyone believes it has been a disaster. Ultimately, there has to be a better way to construct these projects in our neighborhoods and with the support of our neighborhoods. It is the only way forward. During the summer months my office was working tirelessly to come up with a solution, and at the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors’ meeting I introduced legislation (with the support of MOH) that I believe will prevent another similar debacle. This legislation, which mandates MOH to provide much greater advance notice for projects relying on city funds, will wind its way through the Board of Supervisors in November. It will give greater voice to our neighborhoods in the early planning stages of similar projects – well in advance of their final approval at City Hall.

The King Edward II: Moving Forward

I cannot reiterate enough that what becomes lost in the advocacy around these projects is what it will ultimately be like for the transitional-age youth who end up living at the King Edward II. This should be our main priority, and I firmly believe that there is a vast difference for these youth to come into a development where the surrounding neighborhood is fully supportive, as opposed to having neighbors that are completely against the project.

Although the King Edward II process unfolded in a manner far from ideal and potential lawsuits are on the horizon, I feel fortunate that we have two project sponsors committed to making the King Edward II a model development. I personally have many friends involved with Larkin Street Youth Services, and I know they do great work in our communities. We are going to rely greatly on this organization, as are the TAY who live at the King Edward II, and my objections to the project never had anything to do with either organization but with the process that took place and the issues mentioned above.

At this point, it is time for us to move forward – as a community, as a neighborhood, and with the project sponsors. I want to reiterate my commitment to the neighborhood, the project sponsors, and the 22 young adults who will ultimately live at King Edward II: Our focus now must be on making this the best project possible. Everyone has my commitment to work tirelessly to make sure that the project is not only well integrated into the neighborhood, but more importantly a great District 2 community member of which we can all be proud.




Mark Farrell can be reached at 415-554-7752 or at mark.farrell@sfgov.org. Sign up for his quarterly newsletter by visiting the Board of Supervisors online at www.sfbos.org and clicking on Supervisor Mark E. Farrell and the newsletter link.