South San Francisco walking tour highlights areas for improvement

This post was written by Adina Levin of Friends of Caltrain

On March 22, over 30 people, including all city council members and several planning commissioners gathered in downtown South San Francisco for a walking tour of sites that show the important decisions that will need to be made for the upcoming South San Francisco Downtown Station Area Plan. This event was organized by a coalition that Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition is a part of that has been working on, including better bike access in the Downtown Station Area Plan, among other benefits to the community.

At the South San Francisco Caltrain parking lot, Lawrence Henriquez, an Associate Civil Engineer with the City of South San Francisco talked about the City’s plans to improve connections between the Caltrain station to the downtown and industrial area, uniting the two parts of the city. The photo below shows the challenge of station access today – behind the shuttle, you can see the multi-story metal staircase needed to climb to reach the sidewalk, which is adjacent to a freeway offramp. The project will add an undercrossing for pedestrians and bicyclists, move the station southwards, and separate the northbound and southbound platforms for safety. The City has recently won a grant to update the design for improved station and pedestrian undercrossing, and is applying with Caltrain for federal funding to implement the project. Council member Karyl Matsumoto spoke about the importance of the improved station to the future of the downtown area.

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In the business park area to the East of the train station, (the area where Genentech is headquartered) Dan Sherman, a Genentech employee who serves on the South San Francisco bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee, talked about how the area’s current design is focused on people arriving by automobile (see the big parking lot in the background of picture #2.) People coming from the train, walking or bicycling have to trek through the parking lots to get to their destination, an experience that feels neither safe nor welcoming. The plan intends to improve walking paths through the area, including through large parcels as they redevelop.

Gene Mullin, former mayor and state assembly member (speaking in the photo below) gave historical context about the city. Years ago, the area by the Bay was heavy manufacturing, and the town was home to many of the workers. As the economy evolved, the manufacturing was replaced by office, largely biotech. The plan proposes to add homes on the West side of the area plan that will appeal to workers in today’s industries. The Community Benefits Coalition, which hosted the tour, is advocating for local workforce, local business sourcing, and apprenticeship and job training programs to help residents benefit from the economic growth and development.

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At the next stop, Gita Dev of Sierra Club talked about locations in the plan area that could be used for housing, and particularly affordable housing. The downtown area is home today to numerous lower-income families. New housing in the downtown could help workers at Genentech and other companies have shorter commutes, but rising prices could create a risk of displacement unless some new housing includes units that and developments that are also affordable for workers in the hospitality and airport industries, and retail jobs downtown. In addition, renter protection policies, such as just cause eviction and rent stabilization are critical in ensuring that all downtown residents can benefit from the growth and development.

Also at that stop, Cathleen Baker of the San Mateo County Health Department discussed the health inequities among South San Francisco residents. She recommended that new buildings near freeways should be built with air filtration that protects residents from particulate emissions, and about the importance of better walking, bicycling, and transit service to help reduce rates of obesity and diabetes.

On Grand Avenue, the retail heart of Downtown, the plan proposes to help the area be more appealing with widened sidewalks, improved crosswalks, more street furniture, pedestrian-scaled lighting, more street trees, and public art.

The public alley where Doren Martin from The Latino Commission spoke is an example of public space that the Plan would like to enhance. While the Plan proposes to spiff up the place, Martin spoke about the need to retain nonprofit community service organizations in downtown which are needed to continue to help people improve their lives.

The draft plan is expected to be available later this month. Here are actions you can take to participate:

  1. Sign up for the South San Francisco project email list under the “Project Email Announcements” section on the right side of the page.
  2. Learn about the Downtown Plan using the City’s “Resources” webpage
  3. Share your ideas with the City of South San Francisco online via http://www.ssfconnect.com/
  4. Check out the Coalition’s Community Benefits Platform so we can help the City reach the full potential of what South San Francisco downtown could be.

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