Trust SFPUC to keep promises to mitigate sewage treatment harm? BVHP community won 1800 Oakdale so why move to Evans?

by Arlene Kimata

The entrance to the Southeast Community Facility at Oakdale Avenue and Phelps Street features murals of the building founders – Bayview Hunters Point community leaders who demanded it be built – and scenes painted by children. – Photo: Arlene Kimata

As San Francisco Public Utilities Commission officials focus on developing a new property at Evans Avenue and Third Street in the Bayview, its facility at 1800 Oakdale Ave. sits in virtual suspense, putting in jeopardy the hard-won benefits intended to compensate for expanding sewage treatment facilities in the neighborhood since the 1970s.

The handsome building at 1800 Oakdale, opened in 1987, exists only because community leaders demanded it be built in exchange for the community’s reluctant agreement to the City’s plan to treat 80 percent of San Francisco’s sewage in its Blackest neighborhood. Until his death, Harold Madison, one of those leaders, reminded the people of Bayview Hunters Point at every gathering that they must hold the City to its promise to offer 50 percent of all jobs at the plant and 1800 Oakdale to them and to provide all the education, day care and senior services it promised.

Had those resources actually been available over the past 30 years, the neighborhood might be much more prosperous and less vulnerable to gentrification today.

The SFPUC’s authority to decide the use of the two facilities, at 1800 Oakdale and 1550 Evans, gives the agency a powerful position that drives – or blocks – impetus for building managers to think boldly about programs to match current and future community needs.

Bayview residents express concern about decreasing levels of connection to the 1800 Oakdale building and lack of communication from the agency in charge. They worry that, with attention diverted to Evans, the Oakdale building and its associated community benefits will continue to decline and eventually be forgotten.

SFPUC Deputy Director of Community Benefits David Gray said he and his staff have been “all in” and “hyperfocused” on obtaining approvals for the new facility at 1550 Evans, scheduled for groundbreaking in fall 2019. He said they “haven’t even begun thinking of what the process will be for planning for Oakdale,” which he said could start in the new year.

Steve Good, chair of the commission in charge of the Southeast Community Facility (SECF) at 1800 Oakdale, confirmed that the SFPUC Commission gives “the final OK” on any changes to the Oakdale building.

San Francisco District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen said of Oakdale: “I don’t have any vision or idea of what it should be. The PUC owns it, so if it turns into office space, it will likely be PUC offices. But even the PUC doesn’t know. Everything is up in the air. In fact, I’m pleased that people aren’t fixated on one idea for the use of the building.”

When asked about the possibility of keeping Oakdale open for community groups’ use, Cohen said, “No, that’s what Evans is for. Evans is definitely a community-serving facility.”

In January, Cohen completes her second term representing District 10, an area that includes Bayview-Hunters Point, due to term limits.

Incoming District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said he is not able to speak about 1800 Oakdale until he checks with the SFPUC. Walton said, “A conversation about 1550 Evans would be more appropriate” than one about Oakdale. Educational opportunities, job training, employment, living wage jobs training, nursing, construction, hospitality would all “come into fruition at Evans,” he said.

Walton is executive director at Young Community Developers, a nationally-recognized job training and affordable housing developer located in Bayview Hunters Point. He is also a commissioner and former president of the San Francisco Board of Education.

Bayview residents feel officials have not made clear whether mitigation obligations attached to Oakdale can be transferred to Evans on completion of the building there, or if they will be cancelled. They wonder whether the community benefits will be legally enforceable at Evans.

Gray said the programs for Evans are “being planned as part of the legal mitigation.” He did not address the legal enforceability of the terms or further clarify when or whether the legal obligations expire at Oakdale.

Mitigations are the benefits to the community to compensate for adverse environmental and social impacts of building extensive city sewage facilities in Bayview Hunters Point. Area residents lobbied strenuously in the 1970s and 1980s to win the benefits: the building at 1800 Oakdale and ongoing funding for programs to elevate the economic prosperity, health, safety and welfare of residents through employment, education, job training, day care and senior citizens activities.

Long-time Bayview resident Francisco Da Costa expressed doubt that benefits can be enforced once the move is made. During the public comment portion of the Dec. 6 SECF special meeting, Da Costa said: “The community benefits are grandfathered and tied to this (Oakdale) building so they will go away if we move to Evans. The elders fought for those community benefits. Now I’m the last one standing, the ‘last of the Mohicans’ (to guard the benefits).”

Da Costa said he is concerned that the land and air at Evans is contaminated, and prone to liquifaction and flooding. He pointed out the open space being lauded as a benefit is not useful for outdoor activities because of the foul air from the adjacent sewage plant. After the meeting, he asked, “Doing yoga or sports outdoors, in that smelly air?”

Da Costa is a regular attender of meetings at the SECF as well as at the SFPUC, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. He speaks out on behalf of those who need help in the community because he mistrusts officials who make and break promises “like Ali Baba and the 40 thieves.” Da Costa said enforcement is key but there are fewer community watchdogs to ensure it happens.

Current Southeast Community Facility Commissioners stand before a painting of the founders of the Southeast Community Facility. From left are Steve Good, chair; Diane Gray, vice-chair; LaVaughn Kellum-King; and Amerika Sanchez. Commissioners not pictured are Karen A. Chung, Eddy Zheng and Gina Fromer. The founders, known as the Big Six, are Ethel Garlington, Shirley Jones, Elouise Westbrook, Alex Pitcher, Harold Madison and Dr. Espanola Jackson. – Photo: Arlene Kimata

In a cluster of people outside the building after the commission went into closed session, talk centered on the importance of the Oakdale building and dissatisfaction with the Commission’s communication with the community.

“This is a special place,” said one of the meeting attenders. “I don’t mind change but don’t fix it if it’s not broken. This building is appreciated. It’s magical.” Improve the building by “connecting the dots” and getting people who use the building to talk to each other so they know what’s going on, she said.

Another meeting attender said: “We have no say-so on decisions. There’s a big disconnect. No youth are involved on the Commission. People need to be informed, on top and on the bottom, inside and outside the building, and know the history of the building and the community benefits the Commission is supposed to provide.”

“People don’t know what’s going on. They’re not getting information out to people. Bureaucrats are in their silos,” said Marsha Maloof, president of the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association. She said there is a vocal minority who is against moving to Evans, while others are afraid Oakdale will become “an eyesore.”

Residents and officials may disagree about whether a move to Evans is best for the community, but agree on the importance of keeping the legacy of the building’s founders, whose images appear prominently on the building’s outdoor and indoor walls.

SECF Commissioner LaVaughn King said, “I don’t know what’s best to do about the (Oakdale) building, but those ladies sure fought for this building and we should remember that.”

Good said of the Oakdale founders: “Don’t forget their work. We have to honor that.” He made specific mention of establishing a new Alex Pitcher Jr. Community Room at the Evans facility to take the place of the Oakdale space heavily used for private events and public gatherings.

The aging Oakdale building opened in 1987 and was partially renovated in 2014. Phase 2 renovations, originally estimated at $35 million to $40 million, will not fully address the building’s modernization needs.

“Oakdale has served its purpose,” Good said. “It’s an outdated building that is too expensive to renovate. It’s better to go to a brand new building that’s more inviting and has green space.” He said Evans will have more capacity for education partners, community use, adult education, high school and possibly San Francisco State University, and will be a resource for a disenfranchised community.

In 2016, a “Stakeholder Engagement and Preferences” report summarized the results of an in-depth community survey process. The top recommendation was to build a new facility at Evans and Third, instead of renovating the Oakdale building.

That the choice was between one facility or the other – and not for both Evans and Oakdale – raises the question of why not an option for an intensive investment cluster of infrastructure and services for the Bayview. At least two other formerly blighted areas of the city come to mind as having benefited from concentrated public investment – pooled funding, creative thinking and community involvement – to improve economic and social conditions.

In the 1980s, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency led development of a formerly “challenged neighborhood” of boarding houses south of Market Street, transforming the area into the successful complex of Yerba Buena Gardens, Moscone Convention Center, and adjoining affordable housing, cultural, hospitality and commercial spaces.

The Port of San Francisco owns the formerly dilapidated Ferry Building, which reopened in 2003 after extensive renovation by private developers. Now a lively hub for a public food market, transportation, office, retail and public events along the Embarcadero, the building lease was purchased by new owners for $291 million in October.

Bayview residents and SFPUC officials were most recently sidetracked in 2018 when they learned of a city plan being developed without their knowledge – they were “blindsided,” according to news reports – of a housing component at the Evans site. The news generated strong community protests, putting the community at odds with city officials attempting to solve the urgent need for housing.

The issue is in temporary pause. On Dec. 11, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation introduced by Supervisor Cohen to permit housing to be built at Evans in the future. Cohen said the zoning change allows housing at Evans “only if there is need or desire for it, but does not require it.”

Good said the Commission does not support the housing proposal. He said, “Bayview disproportionately lacks housing and there is a need for housing. But housing doesn’t always make a community.” He said he did not think putting housing next to an industrial zone and sewage digesters is ideal. The housing proposal “creates a housing island” and is “de facto red-lining,” he said.

The Southeast Community Facility at 1800 Oakdale, opened 32 years ago, is new compared to San Francisco’s grand 106-year-old City Hall, and has yet to fulfill its original purpose as a place of learning, still essential today. It’s a beautiful building, featuring this ground floor “grotto” with entrances to City College offices on the floor above. – Photo: Arlene Kimata

The Southeast Center campus of City College leases 85 percent of the Oakdale building, a portion of which is subleased to community service organizations with the remainder used by the College for classroom space, offices for the dean, administrative functions and library. A One Stop Service Center unique to Southeast campus offers enrollment, financial aid, tutoring and other student assistance. In fall 2018, Southeast Center offered 10 evening and two daytime classes for credit. The Spring 2019 schedule lists five evening classes. The library is open four hours, one day per week.

The campus was virtually empty of students on several daytime visits during the 2018 fall semester. Student traffic increased in the early evening hours. Posted hours for administrative offices, including the One Stop Center, indicated they close just as evening classes begin shortly after 5 p.m.

In contrast to its current activity level, Southeast Center Dean Torrance Bynum wrote in this newspaper on Aug. 3, 2013: “City College is open for business. … (We) will continue to serve the community with open arms, open hands and open minds. … It is critical that we provide classes and services that will benefit and enhance education to our community members. It is also my goal and mission to offer classes and programs that will prepare our students for a higher degree or certificates that will lead to a career.”

A 2013 “Annual Program Review” found online stated one of the College’s goals is “to respond to changing … needs of students and communities … through collaboration with … community based organizations, students, and businesses and industry leaders.” The report reported steady decline in enrollment of Bayview residents and students as a whole despite recruitment efforts. The report also stated the library was open four days per week for a total of 46.5 hours.

Martha Arroyo-Neves, a librarian at the Southeast Center’s Josephine Cole Library during the early 2000s, said, “Back then, the library was open much more than four hours a week. There were many classes during the day and lots of student activity.”

Elementary Algebra was one of two daytime classes offered in fall semester. Students Percy Ferguson and Alphonzo Williams spoke appreciatively of the class as they completed their take-home final exams in December. Both said they would travel to other campuses if Oakdale doesn’t offer what they are interested in.

The algebra class was the second math class Ferguson has taken. He has taken courses in government, political science and other subjects at various City College campuses. Ferguson, a 50-year resident of San Francisco currently living in Hunters Point, drives himself to Oakdale. “The classes keep me functioning. They help me unwind and figure out things. Makes me feel good about myself.” Chuckling, he added, “I didn’t know how far this would go and I’m going to do it more.”

Williams was taking his first semester of math at Southeast Center, in addition to an automotive class at Evans and an online City College escrow class. He drives from the Western Addition. Williams said he would like to see tutoring offered at Oakdale. As a student who has been out of school so long, he said “it makes it easy to get lost, put the work on the back burner, and quit. If there was a tutor or study group, it would help to continue to keep disciplined and stable.” He said he has sought tutoring at other campuses during posted times but had difficulty getting the help he needed. “I’ve wondered, where can I turn to?” he said.

James Fredericks teaches the elementary algebra class and has taught math for 11 years at City College. “Community college is supposed to serve working people, so evening is usually better for them,” he said.

A One Stop Center staff person said there is no nearby coffee shop or similar place for students to “hang out, eat or socialize.” Students might also compete with residents for parking, she said.

Good acknowledged the City College programs at Oakdale “are not great.” In response to a question about why the programs might have been more robust 10 years ago, he said the programming was possibly “stalled because of lack of investment and competing priorities.”

The Dean referred questions regarding the number of programs offered, future plans for the campus and the relationship of City College with other Bayview community organizations to City College Media Relations Director Connie Chan.

In a written response, Chan provided few answers. She said she did not have data to make comparisons of classes or enrollment to that of 10 years ago, that administrators and faculty determine the enrollment plan, and deferred comment on community needs to the SFPUC.

Newly-trained Roots of Success instructors are set to teach environmental literacy and work readiness at Five Keys Charter School campuses located at the Southeast Community Facility and other sites. Five Keys prepares prisoners and ex-offenders for re-entry into society by focusing on five key areas: education, employment, recovery, family and community. BVHP residents ask, why can’t 1800 Oakdale be full of students again?

Since 2016, SECF staff at Oakdale have been without top leadership, aside from a brief period with an acting director, since Executive Director Toye Moses retired after 24 years in the job. The Commission is currently interviewing candidates to fill the position. SECF staff, including a community partners liaison, were “not allowed to speak to the media,” and referred questions to David Gray who works at SFPUC offices on Golden Gate Avenue.

“The SECF was created to represent the community,” Gray said. “People should attend the meetings where the PUC will give updates on the planning process.” He invited the public to stop by the Oakdale office during normal business hours to give feedback to staff.

The Southeast Community Facility Commission is a mayoral-appointed leadership body comprised of Steve Good, chair; Diane Gray, vice-chair; Karen A. Chung; LaVaughn Kellum-King; Eddy Zheng; Amerika Sanchez; and Gina Fromer.

Regular Commission meetings are held monthly every fourth Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Alex Pitcher Jr. Community Room, 1800 Oakdale Ave. The Dec. 26 regular meeting is cancelled; the next is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2019.

Two committees of the Commission are scheduled to meet in 2019: Facilities, which meets every third Monday at noon to 1:30 p.m., on Jan. 21; Community Programs, which meets every second Monday at noon to 1:30 p.m., on Jan. 14.

Commission meetings are open to the public and include a time for public comment. Meeting confirmation and agendas are posted 72 hours in advance at sfgov.org/sefacility/meetings.

Contact the Southeast Community Facility office at 415-821-1534 or sfgov.org/sefacility.

Arlene Kimata, community advocate and journalism student at City College, can be reached at arlenekimata@aol.com.

Official city statement on the purpose of the Southeast Facility: The Southeast Community Facility (SECF), located at 1800 Oakdale Avenue, and the adjacent Greenhouses at 1150 Phelps Street, were constructed to mitigate the adverse environmental and social impacts of the Southeast Treatment Plant expansion projects during the 1970s and 1980s. The SECF and Greenhouses are facilities owned by the city and operated and maintained by the SFPUC for the benefit of the Bayview Hunters Point community (emphasis added).