The Mayor’s Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard Feasibility (RAB) Study has been kept under wraps for many months. In fact the study has been ongoing for over two years, proceeding in back rooms under the auspices of the SF Department of City Planning (DCP). The process has featured a series of closed door meetings participated in by a large collection of public agencies including the DCP, Mayor’s office, SF Municipal Transportation Agency, SF County Transportation Authority, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Peninsula Joint Powers Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, California High Speed Rail Authority, Federal Transportation Authority and others.
Recently the sponsors of the Study declared themselves ready for the Big Unveiling. The first public meeting of the RAB Study occurred on February 23, 2016…well over two years after the initiation of the project and 8 months behind schedule.
Advance Briefing of SaveMuni. At Save Muni’s request Ms. Susan Gygi, RAB’s Project Manager graciously agreed to update SaveMuni on the status of the Study on February 17th, emphasizing that she would not be free to talk about the information to be imparted on February 23rd. We agreed and on the 17th Ms. Gygi confined herself to explaining the background, timing and financing of the Study and to answering questions from SaveMuni members, mostly related to what Matier and Ross revealed about Study objectives in their Chronicle article on May 11, 2015. The February 17th presentation meeting was video-taped by Mr. Ken Bukowski, the former Mayor of Emeryville. The tape makes for some interesting viewing. See https://youtu.be/d8dab77JZug
The Great Unveiling: As indicated, the initial findings of Phase I of the 5-phase Study were formally presented to the public on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center. Those who expected to learn more about what the Mayor has in mind for Mission Bay were destined to be disappointed. The presentation included virtually nothing that had not already been recounted in the newspapers early last year.
Presiding over the meeting was Gil Kelly, a genial city planner who fended off a number of strongly-worded objections to various aspects of the Study by repeatedly stating that no decisions had yet been made and that everything was still in the discussion stage. This after many months of study and dozens of closed door meetings during which the sponsors of the RAB study have worked hard to line up Agency and political support for a set of pre-determined Mission Bay changes. The unexpectedly large crowd was relatively restrained but grew increasingly impatient as the evening wore on. The audience, many of whom resided either in Mission Bay or on Potrero Hill were clearly concerned about the massive amount of neighborhood traffic that would be generated by the proposed Warriors Agena’s 225 major events a year and by the eight lanes of I-280 freeway traffic that the sponsors of the Study propose to “filter through” the Potrero Hill, Mission District, Dogpatch and Mission Bay neighborhoods.
Only by continually assuring everyone that the proposal to remove the freeway was at this point “only a talking point” and by promising additional public input opportunities was the moderator able to keep a lid on the situation.
Throughout the evening Mr. Kelly made a strenuous effort to downplay the astonishing dearth of information about traffic impacts, rail alignments, costs, engineering and rail operations. Despite these assurances, by the end of the evening the large audience was growing restive. People began to realize that after many months of study the Mayor’s staff was still unable to provide anything more than a belated repetition of the vague and unproven proposals of what might someday conceivably get built if funds became available.
One independent observer characterized the RAB Study as more a planner’s playground than a serious response to San Francisco’s infrastructure and housing needs.
Unfortunately the money, time and municipal resources wasted on the RAB study is not the worst of it. In order to give the planners a free hand to ply their trade, the Lee Administration opted to shut down the long awaited Caltrain extension into San Francisco on grounds that “….we don’t know where we can find the money to build it”. Instead of devising a plan to get the extension into construction it was decided to vastly increase the price of getting the trains downtown based upon the fantasy that the income from private development would be enough to keep up with vastly increased infrastructure costs. By shifting attention from the Caltrain extension to sorting out the different ways of rearranging Mission Bay, City Hall has…perhaps unwittingly…subordinated a project of vital importance to San Francisco and the Region to a set of Mission Bay proposals that already look weak and out-dated.