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Article 8 of 11-Part Series
Shiny Rail Cars Won't Save the Neighborhood
By Jessica Meyers
"They took a biotech theme and ran it right up the street," said King, the Bayview-Hunters Point Project Area Committee chairman. "They should rename it Elroy Jetson Way."
The futuristic light rail stations that dot Third Street in Bayview-Hunters Point sit in marked contrast to the drab brick storefronts on either side. Both look a bit empty, but MUNI officials insist that will change come January when weekend service connects this underdeveloped area in southeastern San Francisco with the rest of the city. Yet, residents and business owners say it will take a lot more than public transportation to revitalize a neighborhood known for its rates: the highest in the city for infant mortality and one of the worst for violence.
"It's not a vehicle for bringing new business into the area," said Donald Pittman, 63, the owner of Pitman BBQ #2, one of only a few restaurants on a street that has more liquor stores than clothing shops. "We need a main attraction like a shoe store, coffee shops. There's nothing for people to say, 'Let's ride to Third Street.'"
Third Street, a smattering of gated vacant stores, barber shops, taquerias and BBQ joints, is the main drag in Bayview-Hunters Point, an area bordered by Cesar Chavez Street, Highway 101, the San Francisco Bay and the San Mateo County Line.
Officials expect more than 25,000 people a week to make use of the rail service when it opens fulltime in April. Eighteen stops will be accessible in the 5.4 miles of new track that begins at Embarcadero and travels to the ballpark, through Potrero Hill, Visitacion Valley and Monster Park to Sunnyvale Avenue.
Up until recently when the city began practice runs, the $648 million project MUNI launched in 2002 with economic development as one of its stated goals, seemed to hurt more than help.
The construction limited parking and closed much of the street in 2003. MUNI Public Relations Officer Kristen Holland blamed a year-long delay on difficulties buying steel and the re-engineering of two old drawbridges, but it nevertheless created problems for existing businesses.
MUNI tried to compensate by posting advertisements for Third Street merchants in its vehicles and distributing a directory of Bayshore and Third Street businesses throughout the area.
"The light rail is pretty, but until we start building up the commercial corridor, until it's safer, it is not going to provide the economic boom one would have thought when they put it here," King said.
The San Francisco Police Department reported 22 murders through September this year in the Bayview District, more than double any other district in San Francisco.
Ali Kayed, the owner of Golden Eagle Liquors, is even more pessimistic since the recent decision of the San Francisco 49ers proposal to relocate from nearby Monster Park to Santa Clara. "When the 49ers move the light rail will be useless," he said.
Stanley Muraoka, the Bayview-Hunters Point and India Basin project manager for San Francisco's Redevelopment Agency, said the line should encourage new activity. To accompany the shiny new stations, the agency has proposed a streetscape plan that will clean up decaying facades and make the street more inviting. Muraoka hopes the light rail will serve as a motivator for area businesses as well as private investors.
The revitalization is part of a broader redevelopment plan that began in 2000. The light rail project is run and financed separately by MUNI and took shape before the city's Board of Supervisors approved the final implementation plan this June. The redevelopment plan will include a 10 percent increase in affordable housing, community enhancements and economic development.
The plan stipulates that the city must work with the community's Project Action Committee in all aspects of redevelopment, a condition Muraoka thinks is an asset. "We want to get the area to improve incrementally so people have the opportunity to get in on development," he said. "But you won't see overnight change. You will really notice it in about 10 years."
The redevelopment plan cannot exceed $400 million according to the June report. The money will come from the federal, state and local levels, as well as tax-increment funds allocated from the area's properties.
While many question the impact of the sleek new rail system, not everyone views it negatively. "To me it's positive in that it cleaned up Third Street and put more pressure on businesses to clean up their act, "said Marcus Clarke, the program coordinator at Bayview Business Resource Center, a non-profit that assists small businesses. A coffee shop now exists on the strip and several buildings boast freshly painted facades on a street Clarke estimates has 60 operating businesses including a new locally-run produce market.
The seven-year-old Taqueria La Laguna is one business that has benefited from its revamping. Renato Guerrero, 40, has recently redesigned his small taqueria on Third Street and said that he already sees an increase in customers. Although he watched seven other businesses fold during construction and suffered a 30 percent decline in his own business, he is optimistic about the effect of the light rail on the community and believes it will draw investors.
It's not just the super nachos that have doubled his business in a period of eight months, he said. People are anticipating revitalization.
"All the hardship I went through during construction is paying off," he said. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel. All my regulars say, 'Dude, you better get ready, man.'"
|© 2006 UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism|