Balboa Park Reservoir

As we wrote about the Balboa Park Reservoir a year ago next week:

With a 100-year drought underway, it would be nice if it were filled the brim, but the 25-acre Balboa Park Reservoir which was built in the 1950’s has never held a drop of water and has primarily served as an over-sized parking lot.

While roughly half the Balboa Park Reservoir site is controlled by City College, and upon which the College recently started to expand, the majority of the site remains in the hands of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) which has expressed interest in exploring the development of the site, one of the largest underdeveloped sites in the city.

And with the framework for a program to help coordinate the development of San Francisco’s publicly-owned sites having been drafted amidst a 3-year housing drought, the Balboa Park Reservoir is likely to be on the short-list of sites for priority development.

The Balboa Reservoir has since been selected as one of the City’s four priority development sites.  And on Wednesday, January 21, San Francisco’s Planning Department will hold the first community meeting to discuss the possibilities for the site and solicit ideas for public amenities to be included the development.

The City plans to issue its formal request for development proposals for the western half of the reservoir parcel this summer.

Balboa Park Reservoir Site

89 thoughts on “Planning For Balboa Park Reservoir Redevelopment Underway”
  1. This should include some high rise towers, both to provide needed housing and to inject some life into this drab part of town.

    1. High rise towers are not the appropriate scale for this neighborhood; 5-8 story buildings are.

      And since when do “high rise towers” in your words inject “life” into a neighborhood. Is this neighborhood dead, or you just don’t like it?

        1. I’m all for taller buildings. If a building is being designed downtown or in the neighboring neighborhoods then I would say build taller, however, in this case all the surrounding buildings are, for the most part, single family homes. Building high-rises that exceed 10 stories would become an eye sore, a lot like the high rises built along Fishermen’s Wharf. Tall buildings don’t fit in the surrounding environment. On the other hand, 8-10 story buildings fit in well with the newly developed buildings while at the same time pushing the height upwards.

          1. Eyesore? Um, ok. Another 5-8 story full block stucco Avalon complex is much more of an eyesore to me than a few 20-30 story buildings would be, but I must be weird. Too much time in places like Tokyo and Sao Paulo I guess, where there are “eyesores” everywhere, with SFHs intermixed with 20 story towers all over the place. That just seems normal to me, rather than this everything-must-be-the-same-height thing that Futurist likes.

          2. I agree with Anon. This is a fairly urban area with decent transit access to downtown and a main street. A couple of tall buildings would be cool and give more people access to a significant urban stretch. The lot is fairly large and can sustain limited mid-rise development without looking cluttered or dense.

          3. Tokyo is nice, but honestly Sao Paulo.? Ive been there a lot for work and can honestly say its one of the ugliest cities ive visited.

          4. I find the issue worse where there is one or two high rises sounded by 4 stories or less. This looks like someone just made a mistake. I personally think a few high rises and then a step down to mid-rises could look great in a location like this but I know this would cause hysteria in SF

          5. I also agree with anon (the other one, above).

            This idea that high-rises should only ever be build in the “downtown” area seems just silly considering we live in a large metropolitan area of millions of people with (relatively) great transit and sky-high real estate prices.

            I’d say pretty much the whole Bay Area *should* be fair game for high-rises, which would be a much more practical and organic way to grow our housing stock than restricting all new large developments to a tiny neighborhood south of Market Street.

            This area especially, is literally steps from a major Muni line, and only a couple blocks from a major regional transit hub with a dozen bus and rail lines. It’s all the single-family homes that seem out of place to me…

          6. Whichever “anon” this is I don’t care. but when someone simply states that single family homes seem “out of place”, we know that utter personal bias is their rationale, and nothing else. And suggesting that the entire Bay Area is “fair game” for high rises, again, is simply throwing words to the wind.

            Fact is gigantic megalopolis cities like Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and other similar mega cities, plastered with their supertalls every where do NOT create a pleasant way to live. Here’s the reason: THEY HAVE NO CHOICE. They are over populated. the people have NO say in urban planning. Go look at images of the super-dense neighborhoods of Shanghai where the sun barely reaches the ground and people are crammed into cells that are should be unfit for humans.

            We don’t need to emulate them. We don’t need to be like them. We don’t need to live like them.
            We have a quality of life that is enviable by many people. We don’t need to destroy that quality for the sake of those who want high rises all over SF.

            It will never happen.

          7. Again with the notion that Tokyo’s quality of life is poor. I’d suggest you go there sometime, Futurist.

          8. I’ve been to Tokyo several times. Yes, it works for the Japanese people. It’s part of their ingrained culture to live extremely dense. And again I say: It’s NOT how we prefer and choose to live.

            San Francisco has no reason, nor desire to become super dense. It won’t happen.

      1. i dont know what the definition of highrise is. i would say over 20 floors. 10-20 as a midrise?

        I am a density proponent. Building four 7-8 story buildings is pretty good density in a neighborhood that is almost exclusively SFHs. that should bring in at least 500 units, maybe 1500 people. And SF transit is absolutely horrible. transit cant handle what we have now. i know there are folks that say density will lead to transit, but with our planning that will take decades. and we can’t build massive high rises with 80% of the people owning cars. that will cause mass congestion. I dont see the issue with a stepped up apprpoach in low density neighborhoods. would rather tackle other bad urban planning like the western SOMA plan, where i think every new building should be 8-15 stories instead of 4-5. thats in the urban core and would abutt nicely with market, embarcedero and Financial district. The Western SOMA plan is one of the worst urban design plans I have ever seen. It was far out of date by the time it was ratified.

  2. high rise towers? has anyone tried to exit ocean ave heading south on 280 between 1 pm and 6pm? the backup extends beyond monterey blvd

    1. Yes. Explain to Snark17 why appropriate scale is IMPORTANT in all neighborhoods. Those who don’t understand good urban design and planning simply assume more and taller is better.

        1. Actually they’re not, but you seem a bit sensitive to my comments. But I stand by my comments. Good urban design and planning begins with understanding and respecting existing context and scale, as well as traffic issues, retail and service cores, access to good transit AND what the citizens want in that area.

          I guarantee you they do NOT want high rises. They do not want this part of SF to become, as anon states, “like Asian cities”; meaning super dense and full of 40 story towers. We have no desire to become that and we don’t need to become that.

          5-8 story buildings are completely appropriate here.

          1. They would need to widen Ocean Ave to accommodate the extra traffic from high rises. They’d be nice but too much would need to be built. A sh!t ton of parking would be nice. Maybe a mall. The kids like public transit and can’t go wrong putting it next to a college.

          2. 7-8 stories would be great. prefer many of them as oppossed to a squat building thats wider than it is tall

        1. Exactly. Taller doesn’t necessarily mean more dense – both approaches would still have the same impacts. Making buildings taller could allow more area for public open space.

        2. Rather have you explain to me how they will.

          Increased transit lines out this way, subway or surface is a key component to development in this area.

      1. Explain to us why you hate all Asian cities. Your posts seem a bit racist to be honest, with the implication that only cities with short buildings have good urban design.

        1. I know! All these buildings and humans are TOTALLY out of scale with what was here 500 years ago. The only new buildings we should allow are Spanish Missions and cattle ranches, and ONLY near existing Spanish Missions and cattle ranches and nowhere else!


    2. Which is why some highrise towers make sense. That way the area could support more of its own services/stores/jobs/etc, and not have everyone simply driving in and out for everything. Planning 101.

  3. I’m curious why such large parcels aren’t subdivided into individual lots and sold off to developers or private individuals? You know, the way every other neighborhood in the City was developed.

  4. can we get some dorm towers? or some economically designed buildings targeted for students and middle income families? use this land well!

  5. Dorothy Mae Provost Adams, rest in peace.
    She and her husband broke the color barrier in Westwood Park, 1959. She lived on Plymouth Ave near this land for 62 years. (sfgate story at namelink)

  6. Miid-rise towers, like up to 14 stories would be perfect here. Who cares about the existing traffic congestion. Most people wouldn’t drive anyway if they lived here. Muni stop is RIGHT there on the corner and BART is not that far of a walk away. I must agree with snark17. This area needs life pumped into it.

    1. Most of the people in this neighborhood with a job drive to work, about 58% of the nearly 10k workers in this and the adjoining census tracts (namelink). One of the attractions of this location is the easy access to 280. More than 20% of the people in this neighborhood with jobs drive to work outside of San Francisco.

      1. One of the attractions of the area prior to the neighborhood being built was good grazing land for goats. Things change. We shouldn’t put so much emphasis on what people there now happen to do, and put more emphasis on what the area could become. You know, plan for the future like we used to do.

        1. When I used to ask my grandfather what was in places like Crocker Amazon when he was a kid he would say “cabbage patch”

          Not sure if this is true

      2. @Jake: I always appreciate how you manage to inject data and evidence into these discussions. Just wanted to say thanks.

      3. Don’t you think there would be some self selection among people who would by a condo in a tower near BART on Ocean Ave? I am not sure what current Westwood park residents do is totally relevant. I looked at houses in Westwood Park and have two kids. I would never buy a condo

  7. What this neighborhood needs is more section 8 and low income housing. Mayor Lee, take note.
    How about six or seven 20 story high rises. That will help solve our housing crisis. That will certainly inject “life” into the area.

  8. yes, we should plan for the future, a future where there are many people that will be attracted to this location near a highway that makes it easy for them to drive their cars to their jobs in San Mateo County. Just like tens of thousands of San Franciscans have been doing for decades and are very likely to be doing decades from now.

    1. How you design a place will influence who will live there. If you design it with lower density, lots of parking and wide roads, you’ll attract people who want to drive to San Mateo. If you design it with higher density, better transit and limited parking, you’ll attract students and people who work in SF– maybe they won’t pay as much money, but you can have more of them, so it’s not necessarily less profitable. The question is, which of these should the city promote?

        1. yes, lets provide no parking, decrease the street size and add 6 bike lanes. lets also tell people who work in South SF, San Mateo and elsewhere to take a hike. We are no longer interested in highly intelligent people . Lets tell those workers at at places like Genentech, Gilead, Apple, Google, etc, who are putting SF on the global map, and bringing in massive amounts of tax dollars to take a hike. especially in a part of the city that is basically a suburb anyway. i dont want people who take a bus that removes 250 cars from the street everyday to live in the city. i dont want carpoolers. i dont want someone who has a 10min commute to live in the city. Cars are evil. motors are evil. technology is evil. science and medical innovation is evil. lets pack in a bunch of white millenials in a high rise with lots of bike racks and say screw it to everyone else.


          1. Genentech has a really extensive shuttle program from Glen Park. What an excellent location for someone to take a single stop BART ride from their condo after a short walk to grab a shuttle that runs at 12 minutes headways. Nice!

          2. Um, I work at Genentech and live in a condo and ride my bike to SSF. Why do you assume this isn’t common? The bike facilities at Genentech are phenomenal, that’s one of the reasons I chose to work there.

          3. i worked at Genentech for 10 yrs, and knew man people in the city. It was not that common to ride your bike in from the city. sure there are people that do it, but 50/12000 people is not that much.

            I did ride in from pac hts on the bike to work days. I love riding in marin and other more scenic areas, but thought the ride to SSF was horrible. I am a very fast cyclsit and it took me over an hour. of course if you live in Bernal or bayview, it make make sense for cyclists.

          4. There is a new study of silicon valley corp shuttles, including Genentech, Google, etc. Includes data on time saved, transportation alternative, and residence location.

            FWIW, less than 1% of commuters to jobs in San Mateo County bike. For SF it is less than 3% (census data at namelink). The vast majority of bike commuters in SF live in the watershed that drains to what remains of Mission Creek

      1. Ocean Ave is not a “wide road” nor is anyone proposing to widen it even as the density increases. This neighborhood already has “better transit” than most of western and southern SF. The result is that about a third of the workers that live here commute by public transit. That is about average for SF and slightly higher than for neighborhoods nearby but further from the BART station and MUNI train line.
        The reality is that this will be a cul-de-sac off Phelan, unlikely to be road connected through to San Ramon Way, so that all the traffic will join the mix of the college. Hopefully, it will be more pleasant and yes taller/denser than the Dorrado Terrace infill a few blocks west.
        As for “designing a place”, some geniuses already put a BART station on one side of the highway and a college on the other side. You want to reduce traffic in that area, then run the MUNI train into the campus and get rid of some of the school’s parking. Students crowd the MUNI platform on Ocean at Lee, backup traffic on Ocean at Phelan, and jaywalk across Ocean near 280. All as they should given they have to cope with the almost pathological design of those few blocks.
        For me I would be happy if they can just move the entrance to the Avalon and Whole Foods underground parking to the north side and turn the little plaza facing Ocean there into pedestrian only.
        There are extensive plans to remake the roads and transit around Ocean and 280 and BART. The 280/Ocean ramps being the most urgent/dangerous and the cap over 280 being the most interesting and unfunded. bg above linked to the plans, here again

      1. 70% of riders access this BART station by transit. It is served by three MUNI lightrail lines and several bus lines. You can get on a bus in Visitation Valley and be at this BART station in about the same time it would take to walk to it from the reservoir. There are already 8 buses/hr running from VV to this BART station during the commute hours. When more housing is added to VV it should increase ridership at this BART station.
        This BART station has about the same ridership as the Mission stations (16th and 24th) in a much lower density neighborhood. It is a good example of a transit hub integrating heavyrail with lightrail and bus in a suburban area without building parking.
        Adding more density anywhere within walking distance or along the transit feeder network should increase ridership. Given the highway and park that boarder the station, very few units (thousand or less) are likely to be added within walking distance. The key to maximizing this BART station is the integrated transit network which already reaches tens of thousands of households.

  9. Anon – why throw out the “racist” comment? Futurist was talking about the context of this spot (have you ever been there?). Not everyone likes high density cities like in parts of Asia, and that level of density is not appropriate in every place. Part of “Planning 101” that you seem to miss is to understand context for development, and taking into account the existing residents and infrastructure. There is no need to put all kinds of services to support this development – Ocean Ave has lots of potential to meet those needs (it already has groceries, library, dry cleaning, hardware, drugstore, cafes etc.). But all the new residents will have to work somewhere, and a certain portion of them will choose to drive for both work and non-work reasons. Also this development is not likely to drive significant new investment in transit – it is already served by light rail, BART, and buses – there really is no way to lay MORE tracks for this development. The issue is that the entrance and exits to this area are already pretty crowded (as is the transit – Balboa Park is the 4th busiest station in the system). So that has to be considered when thinking about adding a significant number of new residents.

    That said, I would support I think a mixed campus with some taller (7-8 stories) and some shorter builders would be good, plus a public park. They should avoid requiring ground level retail – better to channel the residents to Ocean Ave and help keep that stretch vital. If there was extra money for infrastructure, figure out a way to fix the horrible intersection at Ocean/Geneva/Phelan – this may be impossible given all the constraints there.

    1. No way to lay more tracks, lol. Perhaps you need to travel more and see places where tracks have been put down. In much, much more difficult places than this. No, the only reason transit infrastructure improvements won’t happen here is if we decide for them not to happen…by keeping the zoning very low density.

    2. and btw, I threw out the racist comment at Futurist because all of his talk is about how horrible high density is. Something that happens to be the norm across Asia, so it seems like he must hate everything about Asia.

    3. Good points katdip. I agree.

      Others who continue to cite examples of quality high rise living (like in Tokyo and Sao Paulo) simply use that thinking to compare, without ANY understanding of OUR context, neighborhood character and style of living. For the large part, San Francisco is a small city that has or never will embrace a huge density increase, nor embrace a city full of high rise towers in small scale residential neighborhoods.

      And this does not mean I want no change, or growth. I want responsible growth.

      5-8 story buildings here, and some even smaller scale is the appropriate solution here.

      1. Sao Paulo and quality high rise living do not belong in the same sentence. Everyone i know there wants to get out. it takes 3 hrs to get across the city in a car, pollution is a nightmare, the city is horribly ugly, buildings are not up to code, mass builder corruption, etc etc.

        The only highlight is that public transport is better than SF, but that pretty much is the case for every major city in the world.

    4. I don’t think Balboa Park is anywhere near the platform capacity issues that downtown stations are. If we can’t build high density housing in a location like this with a heavy rail station what we are saying is we are not doing it at all outside downtown

  10. Anon – please, no more gratuitous insults about how much I’ve traveled or what i don’t know. Clearly you know nothing about this site, whereas I live near here and use this corridor daily. Just physically, it would be very challenging to lay more tracks in this area – Ocean Ave is only 4 lanes and two already have Muni tracks, BART is hemmed in by 280 on one side and existing houses and infrastructure on the other. So yes, there is always POTENTIAL for more high-capacity transit in this are, but only in pipe dreams – like the potential for the HyperLoop, 2nd BART tunnel, or CalTrain to the Transbay. Within the real world of limited funding, transit priorities, and property ownership, this one little development will never generate the money or demand to signficantly change transit investment.

    1. @ katdip: it’s refreshing to hear someone speak of the “real world”. I get that. So do you. Fantasy future urban planning of supertall high rises dotting all over SF are just pipe dreams. Not grounded at all in reality. I wonder why others here, certain ones in particular, continue to just live in fantasy land, knowing virtually nothing about good urban planning, neighborhood context, and the goals of the actual citizens who live here.

      This particular neighborhood needs to be respected for its’ small scale and density. High rises will NEVER happen right here, and for good reason:

      The residents here do not want them.

    2. The 2nd BART tunnel and CalTrain to the Transbay will happen. I can’t tell you when, but they will happen. And probably the K will someday be in an underground tunnel. If they built high rises in Pacific Heights, I can’t see why they can’t be built here. I know they won’t be, at least not by this generation, but it is a bit of a lost opportunity.

  11. Certainly we could put more transit here if we operated in the Chinese model which you seem so enamored of. While it is certainly “possible” to bulldoze all the existing buildings on Ocean Ave and bordering 280 to expand the trains, build 20-40 storey buildings, force people to give up their cars, doesn’t mean it’s ever going to happen here. Is it your opinion we are simply lacking the “will” to do this? Do you give no credence to existing property rights, the US and CA legal system, neighborhood planning, and human behavior? I totally agree that many good projects (e.g. HSR, BRT, BART to Marin, etc.) are stymied by these self-imposed roadblocks, but to wish them away is simply fantasy.

    1. Nice NIMBY Strawman. I think a reasonable proposal is the idea of a few buildings taller than 5-8 stories and then maybe a step down to lower buildings. Who is talking about 20-40 story buildings lining Ocean Ave?

      1. Not a NIMBY strawman – I support the level of development you mention. I was responding to Anon’s accusation that I don’t “know” that it’s possible to build infrastructure in hard places, and it’s only the lack of will that we don’t invest more in transit for this project. Of course I know that, but his blanket statement makes no sense in general and even less in the context of this site.

        1. OK, I agree 20-40 story buildings are a non-starter if someone is serious

          But the process will make these 4-5 story buildings and not for the reasons Futurist claims

    2. The real world limitation that you fail to mention is lack of willingness to build the density that would support those other “pipe dreams”.

  12. Futurist, thanks for the support. Just to be clear, I am not always the rah-rah supporter of what a neighborhood wants. I really think this city could support more density in the neighborhoods. In my perfect world the towers downtown would be higher, the buildings would step down to 8-10 storeys in the Eastern and Western SOMA, and we’d see a gradual expansion to 5-6 storey buildings along the major transit corridors like Geary, Fulton, Taraval, Irving, Monterey, etc. Those should be accompanied by investments in transit to accommodate all those new units. So context matters but so does a longer-term vision. The low-rise Western SOMA Plan is an example of how defense of “neighborhood context” doesn’t always meet our needs.

    1. You realize this site is large and only borders SFHs on one of 4 sides and is very near to a BART station

      This is the problem with excessive “community” planning as you point out. You think that you view is the rational one but there is no right answer only personal interests. The most involved people are those with the most at stake near by who will want as small a project as possible. Those in SF but not in this area are less interested. Those who can’t find a place to live are not in the process at all

      It is a bad process

    2. Sure, you’re welcome. Largely, I agree with you. Geary, et al can and should accommodate newer buildings in the 5,6,7 story range. Makes sense. Transit improvement needs to be an integral part of that growth.
      However, I still support the Western Soma Plan as is. A good example is that new, very large complex just opening at 5th and folsom: 5-6 stories high, hundreds of new units and the scale does not overwhelm the street or create canyons. It works, IMO.

      But I am concerned when talk is about our “needs”. Does that mean SF “must” accommodate the needs of ALL those who are flocking here for employment and “lifestyle”, forcing us to grow unchallenged? How will that change the uniqueness of what San Francisco is to those who want to be here?

      We don’t need to become Tokyo, or NY, or Chicago. We don’t need to emulate them or copy them. We need to retain the uniqueness and spirit of our fair city, while carefully and responsibly controlling urban growth.

  13. Just for a point of perspective I actually moved to the suburbs bought a SFH and am two blocks from 10+ story office buildings. IN THE ACTUAL SUBURBS! It is still a really nice street. Everyone is alive and the “character” is intact!

  14. Please! Wall to wall institutional look like the kaddy-corner Whole Foods project!!

    Cover every square inch.

    This is right next to Westwood Park – an incredible beaux arts neighborhood of detached homes each one unique.

    I wish they could do a single family home development here but they won’t. Can we at least demand that the architecture compliments Westwood Park and has intimacy and character instead of the block grid building that have and are destroying San Francisco at the street level.

  15. Community/Neighbors stated 100% open space
    SFBARF stated 100% maximum height and density
    CCSF was not included in the joint impacts of the project (see SFSU Masterplan and Parkmerced Vision joint impacts)

    The planning process is working in a vacuum and the transit systems and roadways here are at crush capacity and gridlock.

    You cannot solve these issues by allowing the normal machinations of the SF Planning Department to solve this.

    It requires an open-competition and developer willing to take further efforts to look at the site not in isolation or as real estate boundaries, but as an integrated component of the surrounding community and infrastructure.

    The meeting May 5th showed clearly residents and neighbors are “not-amused” by this proposed development.

  16. As a member of the neighborhood, the 7 mile by 7 mile city is not meant to house everyone. Everyone desires to live in San Francisco until they have families, why? Because there are no open spaces in in our small neighborhoods to have playgrounds or open space for kids to play safely. Now we want to congest every part of the city with affordable housing. Why not build in front of city hall, there is a huge ample space not being utilized there? This is very close to downtown, muni, Bart, etc… Leave our single family homes neighborhoods to families.

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