San Francisco might have more than a few new parks in its future as 10 plots of land located underneath the city's elevated freeways could potentially be converted to parks and open-air recreation areas.
The plots, mostly located under Highway 101, with a couple underneath Highway 280, are currently rented out by Caltrans to private clients, mostly serving as parking spaces or storage areas. But if California Assembly Bill AB857 becomes law, San Francisco would have right of first refusal on renting those plots of land at a deep discount, with the only stipulation being that they have to be converted into parks and maintained by the city itself.
Financially speaking, the move would make sense. According to a report from the Chronicle, the city spends about $7.5 million clearing out the homeless encampments that pop up underneath the highways. Compare that to the estimated $1 million cost of maintaining parks and recreation areas, and it's easy to see how the city (and the state) would save a heck of a lot of money.
Beyond that, however, the question of where those homeless folks will end up is more or less left hanging.
To many San Francisco residents, the encampments have come to represent a danger to the city, with one such major incident—an early A.M. fire at a Mission Bay encampment—making headlines back in July. More recently, last Thursday, an explosion in Mission Bay's "Box City" encampment destroyed one person's shelter and belongings, prompting the city to crack down on the remaining shelters located there.
But as possible sites for further encampments dwindle, the fates of the city's many homeless people are left hanging in the balance, as they often are. One can only hope that by establishing parks in these underutilized spaces, further consideration towards using current empty lots as sites for affordable housing may also come later. Such is the hope of Todd Rufo, the director of the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, who explained to the Chronicle, "If we didn’t get this, our choices would be to acquire some buildings, knock them down and then build the parks there. That’s space that could have been more affordable housing, or something else. We thought there was a better way to do it."
Either way, the bill dictating the future of these sites is currently awaiting Governor Jerry Brown's signature.