Edward II transitional youth center passes Planning Commission

Planning Commission V.P. says Marina residents are 'blatant, elitist, NIMBYs'

I hope the people in the Marina and Cow Hollow will have the highest expectations for the youth who will inhabit the Edward II. I did read all the e-mails and letters. A large number I can only describe as blatant, elitist, NIMBYs [not in my backyard]. It only discourages me about my fellow San Franciscans.”  

Planning Commission vice president Ron Miguel lobbed those harsh words at Marina residents who opposed an at-risk youth center moving into the former Edward II Inn & Suites at 3155 Scott Street and Lombard. Commission president Christina Olague echoed Miguel’s sentiments, stating, “Sometimes people who have privilege aren’t grateful for what they have experienced and aren’t respectful of others who don’t have the same privilege.”

At a July 14 hearing, the San Francisco Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of creating a special spot zoning district for higher density at the hotel to increase the currently allowable16 tenants to 24. It will now go before the Board of Supervisors where it is also expected to pass, giving a green light to the center for transitional age youth (TAY) –
18- to 24-year-olds who have emancipated out of the foster care system and are at high risk of becoming homeless.

The project, run jointly by Community Housing Partnership and Larkin Street Youth Services, has already cost the city of San Francisco $4.4 million according to Lydia Ely, who spoke for the Mayor’s Office of Housing. “Back in 2009, when we announced funding for TAY housing, one thing we did was look for partners who had money to put into the project,” Ely told the Commission. “The city subsidizes $36,000 per unit, and while we have committed $4.4 million to this project, our partner having dollars at the table allowed us to help two other projects. Going down from 24 units to 16 does indeed make it more costly.”

Howard Squires, a developer who built 12 condominiums at 3190 Scott Street across from the Edward II, said he had only sold four of the units. “Buyers backed out when we disclosed the youth center,” he said. “This has had a huge impact on me.”

His wife, Pam Squires, said she supported the 16 units but questioned the high price tag. “Our cost per square foot on the condo project is $285; for the Edward II it is $1,120 – four times that of a luxury building, and it’s only one quarter of the size,” she said. “We have 2,000 square feet of open space – they have none. We have 16 parking spaces – they have none. This is not Monopoly money!”

Other residents also said they supported the 16 units but not 24, pointing out that each room had only a small refrigerator; that the building provided a small, inadequate kitchen that tenants would have to share; and that the hotel had no outdoor space. “This will effectively warehouse youth and provide less amenities than a college dorm,” one woman said. “I support housing for homeless youth, but not packing them in like sardines.”

“I don’t have a problem with the project,” said Jennifer Harrington, whose parents own the adjacent property, “I have a problem with Community Housing Partnership. They’ve not been honest with us.” Other residents also complained about a lack of outreach from CHP and the fact neighbors and merchants were not notified before the city bought the property from the previous owner. Yet others expressed concerns about a lack of supervision and the possibility of increased crime.

Steven Hammond, an attorney representing Cow Hollow residents, questioned the lack of space as well as the lack of transparency from CHP. “We’re happy to house another Larkin Street success story, but this doesn’t convince us it will be,” he said. “They don’t describe any programs or services, the hours they’ll take place – and where would they happen?”

One young father said he did not like the idea of it being situated so close to the Bridge Motel, a long-troubled SRO (single room occupancy) with a history of drug and prostitution problems. But Gail Gilman, executive director of CHP, said they bought the property specifically because it was not located in high-crime neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin and South of Market. “This is not a free ride. They will pay rent,” she said. “Tenants will have to sign a lease, and they will be screened to ensure they are actively pursuing education and career goals so they can move into their own apartments.” Gilman also said there would be 24-hour security cameras in common spaces and outdoors, a maximum of 14 overnight guests per resident per year, one person on site 24 hours a day, and a doorman. “Visitors would have to be escorted by a resident or it violates the lease,” she explained. “There is a maximum occupancy per unit of one, and there are rules for noise and behavior.” The reason CHP needed to raise the total occupancy from 16 to 24, Gilman said, was that a lower number of tenants would make the project cost prohibitive.

Commissioner Michael J. Antonini, who cast the one dissenting vote, said he was troubled by the bloated cost of converting the hotel to a TAY residence. “It’s shocking to see the cost of those condos per square foot versus this project. Perhaps that explains some of our budget problems,” he said. “Great project, wrong site. We could have done this at the Bridge Motel and solved a whole bunch of problems.”

Antonini was also concerned about the way the project was handled from its inception. “People I’ve talked to say outreach wasn’t done. The deal was made with the owner before the neighbors were notified because he was in financial trouble – we can’t spend city funds this way,” he said. “We need to share responsibility with other cities, counties and the state. I think this is another reason we have budgetary problems.”

Addressing the fuss over the size of the rooms, Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya said he was not concerned: “My wife and I live in a 330 square foot apartment right now. We have to trust the project proponents know what they need.”

Stating that she “made do” with a room not much bigger than those at the Edward II when she was in her 20s, commissioner Kathrin Moore said she couldn’t think of a better use for the building, adding, “These tenants should not be viewed as youth at risk, but as youth given a chance.”