1731 Powell Street Site

While Supervisor Christensen is gone, the report she requested as to the status of the City’s discussions with the owner of the Pagoda Palace site to acquire the 1731 Powell Street parcel for the development of a North Beach station and extension of San Francisco’s $2.2 billion Central Subway line has arrived.

The report’s summary in short: since the completion of the concept study for extending the Central Subway to North Beach, which was completed over a year ago, “no formal work has been done” and the owner of the Pagoda Palace site “has not expressed interest in selling the site to the City.”

In addition, we’ll add that the aforementioned owner of the parcel has just re-applied for permits to start preparing the site for the approved development of The Palace at Washington Square, a five-story building with 18 upscale condos over a 4,700 square foot restaurant and parking for 27 cars.

Palace at Washington Square Rendering

While the City of San Francisco could still use eminent domain to secure the site for public use, it can’t do so for a speculative project, which means that plans for the Subway extension would not only need to have been formally drawn but also approved per the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the City to proceed down that path, at which point The Palace is now likely to have been built as the planning and approvals for a North Beach station will take an estimated three (plus) years to complete.

Securing the empty Pagoda Palace site, which the City could have done years ago at a discount, would not only have been the most cost effective approach to extending the Central Subway, as the tunnel is already excavated directly below the parcel, but the City’s report estimates that the site could accommodate at least 30 units atop a North Beach station, if not over 50 units if the City’s proposed Affordable Housing Bonus Height Program is approved and applied to the site.

And according to senior management at the City’s Real Estate Department, even if the owner of the site was willing to sell to the City, “it would be unlikely that a purchase could go forward without the project’s completed environmental review,” which once again, would take a few years to complete.

85 thoughts on “No Progress for North Beach Subway Extension, and a Setback”
  1. I’ve been to many cities in Europe where their subway stations are the ground level of an old building

    would be nice to eminent domain either the entire ground floor restaurant in a few years, or just a portion of it.

    Either way the subway needs to go to NB and fishermans warff, and maybe in my grandkids lifetime the marina/cow hollow.

    1. I don’t think anyone important or influential in the Marina wants a subway from BART and Chinatown right to their front door.

  2. It makes so much sense to extend this thing to North Beach and the Wharf. Which is precisely why it won’t happen.

  3. Sometimes I’m convinced that Peskin is actually an employee of Rupert Murdoch, acting the way he does to discredit progressives and liberals.

    I live in the neighborhood – BUILD THIS STATION!! It would immensely help our neighborhood and city for decades to come. You have a legacy opportunity here Aaron, please do the right thing.

  4. the pagoda site is NOWHERE NEAR where the ACTUAL LINE would be – it’s a terrible place for a station and would require extensive re routing. All you [people] who vote for Scott Wiener need to realize this.

    Second, the Central Subway has been a cost nightmare – it is sucking up a LOT of federal dollars, and has been over budget and had out and out lies in the budget given to the feds.

    This “extension” fantasy neo-liberals love to get [excited over] has NO FUNDING, and do you really think a republican congress is going to give more money to throw down the Central Subway rat hole after SF spent billions for a short extension? Give it up, you people are the reason SF has a zillion dollar budget, not the liberals.

    1. Setting aside the rest of your diatribe, this parcel is exactly where the “actual line” *is*, given that the tunnel is already directly underneath the site.

      1. And thats why not opening a station at the site is idiotic. 95% of the cost of building a station there has already been fulfilled by boring the tunnel to that location. Buying the site is nothing compared to that. SF politics rears its ugly head yet again.

  5. Wow an environmental review that “would take a few years to complete”, so that’s about 8 San Franciscan years

    1. It certainly does make sense to extend the line to Fishermans Wharf though I don’t know if it really warrants the expense and inconvenience of undergrounding it vs a portal to the surface and streetcar tracks as will be the case on Fourth Street south of Brannan.

      Besides, I rather fancy the Euro-flair of a “tram” running on Columbus.

      1. No, it needs to be underground. Trains running on the street are horrendously slow. Streetcars are cute, yes, but we already have enough cute transit (cable cars, and Market F line). We need REAL transit and it needs to be fully grade separated to be effective.

        Ever take the Judah line out to Ocean Beach? Bring a novel with you. It CRAAAAAWLS.

  6. OK, will someone please explain – why does the City have to *buy* the site? Why can’t they just work with him to reserve a portion of the ground floor for an exit area? Throw him some development incentives – higher build, tax incentives, whatever – and cut a deal for station space.

    (I mean sure, station construction costs would be higher once the Palace is built, but it’s not impossible – see, e.g., the 7 extension in Manhattan, burrowing through and building stations in an area that’s already heavily built up.)

    I guess at some point I start wondering why I even care, given that I’ll have to leave this city at retirement (if not sooner), so I’ll never live to see any of these projects completed anyway… but it’s just to infuriatingly asinine that we can’t get a single gorram thing done in this city… that the most lauded transit projects in the city today are some red-painted lanes on major cross streets and upcoming “bus rapid transit” that will do nothing to improve actual travel times.

    1. It sounds like the issue is that the City would need formal structural plans for a station in order to make any sort of agreement with the landlord. It would take the City year before they could even begin to negotiate with the owner.

      Truly depressing how poorly this was handled. Opportunities like this do not come often.

      1. Also, for a project that is not within the existing zoning guidelines, an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be submitted and approved. For a project that meets zoning guidelines – like what the owner of the site is proposing – the EIR requirement are far less, and could take just a matter of months (as opposed to years). The city would complete that before drafting any formal plans, at which point the owner would have probably already acted. It’s a great idea – to share the site – but it requires some forethought … some SF transit isn’t exactly familiar with.

        1. Hmm… so it’d be a shame if the city changed the zoning of this parcel to, say, low-height industrial… then the current owner would have to seek all kinds of variances that would delay his project…

  7. So was the Central Subway master plan totally useless? I don’t understand how the city could build a subway plan that’s ALMOST useful, then stop right before it gets to major residential and tourist hubs. It’s basically fast transit for chinatown residents to go to giants games now. Was that really worth the billions we spent on this subway line?

    1. Chinatown *is* a major residential and tourist hub. It’s the densest neighborhood in the city. Maybe the subway should go to North Beach, but what’s with the implication that Chinatown is nothing/nowhere?

      1. That specific part of Chinatown (Stockton and Washington) is a narrow street, extremely hard to access, pretty much making that subway stop exclusively beneficial to Chinatown residents in that immediate area. If it was on Broadway and Stockton (still in Chinatown), that would be a different story.

        Columbus st in North beach is a 4 lane road that accessible from multiple districts (Fisherman’s wharf, marina, russian hill, Telegraph hill). That area is also walking distance to multiple tourist hubs (Coit Tower, Lombard St steps).

      2. There is a real question about where Chinatown residents are going. The line is so short and the tunnels deep enough that there is a real question is the elderly in Chinatown will not prefer to stay on buses for the very short ride to Market rather than descending and ascending to access this subway .

        Maybe they will use the subway to get to their biomedical research jobs?

        1. And the Caltrain station. And Mission Bay. And Dogpatch.

          But sure, other than all those places, Chinatown residents can’t get anywhere on the line. Rolling my eyes right now….

      3. The point is that Chinatown is the ONLY destination on the line, meaning the residents can’t use it to go anywhere else.

    2. Like the entire project it was about political payoffs to Chinatown after the earthquake and not planned by professionals. It was never intended to be efficient.

      The southern part of the line is pretty dumb too

    3. The Central Subway was payback to Chinatown (not North Beach, not Fisherman’s Wharf or the Marina) for not blocking the teardown (with no replacement) of the Embarcadero Freeway. It was intended to get people to Chinatown by those who advocated it. THAT’s how.

      1. nonsense. Chinatown merchants and politicos opposed the removal without replacement of the E Freeway. They lost THAT battle. So did Caltrans, BTW.

  8. That building is so freaking un- memorable. This is the best SF has to offer? So much for visions of world class grandeur.

  9. Another missed opportunity. $1.2 billion for a subway that goes 1.6 miles, from Brannan and 4th to Chinatown. Laughable. It should go all the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf, with an extension to our 2 plus billion dollar Transbay Terminal.

    1. By today’s standards, any subway costing less than a $Billion a mile is an absolute bargain. Unfortunately, I think the original 1.2 Billion projection has already been substantially raised.

      1. Care to site a source for your $Billion a mile “absolute bargain”? I think the 9 mile , 7 station, “Purple Line” subway extension in Los Angeles (runs under Wilshire to Westwood ) is forecast to come in at around $550 million a mile.

        1. The first section of the Purple line extension is budgeted around $700 million/mile ($2.8-billion/3.9-mile, year 2014 dollars) and they have already accepted bids over budget. Hopefully, they won’t have many more or a Bertha or something like the Bay Bridge follies. Always more accurate to count the spent money than the money to be spent.

          Besides, the tunnel is relatively inexpensive compared to the stations. The recently competed tunnel for the Central Subway costs ~$230 million, which was just under budget. While each of the Union Sq and Chinatown stations will cost more than that and are sure to run over the original budget.

          Beef up the Purple line extension to a station every half mile or so like SF Central Subway, allow for some modest cost overruns as these things go, and they’d be fortunate to do it for a billion per mile finished cost.

  10. Seems like the owner of the property did the City a favor by allowing them to use the site for the extraction of the boring machines. He not only had a shaft built on his property, but also got the shaft from Christensen, Wiener, SFMTA, the planning department, and other people and agencies. It would be good to present an article from the owner’s perspective, not just a fantastical and ethereal notion of a future subway station at that site.

    I recall the owner has to rebuild the sign blade in the likeness of the old cinema and make the building look a bit ‘art deco’ even though the only part of the building which was ever art deco was the blade itself. False historicism is usually unwelcoming and disconnects efforts of place-making.
    Eminent domain was unfortunately used in North Beach about a dozen years ago to preserve open space. The City then consequently put up a building on the space.

    SFMTA is more than 10 years away from planning, finalizing reviews, and allocating money for future stations. The only benefit that site provides is for staging during construction, not for a station. The station will likely be under Columbus with a couple of points of egress and ingress above ground.

    1. Several points:
      -The owner of this site allowed a derelict theater building to sit for years as a blight on the neighborhood.

      -Charged the city a healthy fee for the privilege of demolishing the building, and excavating the site, well above what a renter might pay for an actual storefront on that location.

      -Building a station under the Park or under street means closing the park or closing the street or both and excavating for years with massive disruption, and ignores this prime location with nothing currently built on top of it.

      Eminent domain is such an obvious solution. And that means the owner would be compensated a fair market rate, by the way. If the owner won’t even allow a station box to be built under their building for a future station then they deserve to lose that land.

  11. So now that a new supervisor has replaced a previous supervisor who showed a level of interest in this project, I think its only fitting that the new supervisor publicly weighs in on the subject.

  12. Maybe I’m a bit too optimistic, but there are at least 2 reasonably close lots that could house the station (if not the park itself)…

    1. It seems obvious that the solution would be to put the station under Washington Square Park with entrances /exits on perimeter sidewalks much as is being done at Union Square.

      1. right. I’ve always liked the idea of closing down the little-used half-block of Powell adjacent to the western slice of the park, turning it into a little plaza and using that as the main entrance

    2. This makes so much sense… everyone is going off as if there were not an alternative site anywhere for miles. Yet directly *across the street* from the site is the park. It would be trivial to put the station there instead and then everyone can get what they want. That’s probably why the city didn’t fight harder for the Pagoda site in the first place.

  13. Why “can’t” the City use eminent domain for a speculative project? Is that some sort of state law issue? Or is this a political issue? It certainly seem reasonable for the City to buy the land using eminent domain if it has a bona fide intent to use it for a public purpose.

  14. Lo importante que el joven empresario dueño de la TAQUERIA La Corneta Joel Campos ,si pueda construir sus apartamentos como en la Mission .El tiene un espíritus filantrópico y seguro hará al final algo para la comunidad.

  15. F-Line extend along through Ft. Funston, take it out along the Pan-American exhibition line for public access to the public park known as the Presidio. Don’t waste the money on tunneling the damn thing.

    Focus money on linking the L-Taraval back up sloat, and getting the M-Line to Daly City or the Geneva Harney connection for the BVHP and Balboa Park Station and intermodal facility at the Caltrains Depot.

    Or get the DTX finished properly.

    Better ways to spend the transit dollars.

    Palace, that aint no f-in palace….

    1. F-line is cute but not serious mass transit. It is single tracked though the tunnel at Fort Funston and PCCs street cars are not high capacity.

    2. Fort Mason, not Funston. What’s on Sloat? Isn’t it all just low-density residential, no commercial at all? Would be nice to link M-line to T-line. Finally give the Excelsior/VV/Cow Palace some fixed track love.

      1. There’s very little on Sloat and what with Stern Grove, Pine Lake and Lake Merced, there isn’t even much of a walkshed, i.e., people with 4 or so blocks of Sloat who might walk over to catch a LRV. The Geneva BRT would connect Candlestick and Schlage and Bayshore to Balboa Park, but I’m not sure who exactly wants to take such a trip.

  16. There is absolutely no reason the stop cannot be built under Washington Square Park. No eminent domain necessary. San Francisco always ceases to amaze me.

    1. This already came up with Union Square- you can’t build structures in the park that are not related to park services without jumping through a million hoops. And the entire tunnel route would need to be dug a second time, unless you make the entrance in the park but leave the actual station under the pagoda site- which does not solve the problem of how to get the station built without that land!

  17. Assuming that the Pagoda site is not happening and there needs to be an alternative stop built, the question I have is not so much where, but how. If the tunnel is already under the Pagoda, that means that a new tunnel needs to be bored from the current one to the ultimate North Beach stop. So, where do you drop in the boring machines?

  18. Folks, SFMTA already published an analysis of all these issues over a year ago (pdf at namelink). If they/we build a station here the boarding platforms will most likely be under Columbus. The Pagoda or wherever is just an entrance.

    They would have to excavate a big chamber, much larger than the tunnel bore. It would close the entire block for a long time. The Pagoda site would allow them to excavate more through there and lessen the street closure, but it will be a mess for at least a couple years, eg 4th at Bryant and Sutter at Geary.

    FWIW, SFMTA evaluated many different options for extension with this station plus one or two stops near the waterfront, and the likely cost is in the $500 million to $1 billion range. It is among the low priority items on the official SFMTA “wish list” if you would like to make a donation.

    1. Other places do these things without crippling life above-ground for months or years – see my comment above re: the 7 extension in Manhattan, or for that matter the 2nd Ave. line – what exactly is taking so fricking long at Stockton & Geary (this is the 2nd Xmas in a row with the diggings covered over), or why would it entail so much for Columbus?

    2. I’m with Jake here. There are neighborhoods farther out with gruesome commutes that should be higher priority for precious transit improvement dollars

      1. I’m sure that’s true, but connecting the Wharf to Downtown/Moscone by rail (other than the wonderful but not “serious” F-line) also should be shown some priority.

        1. I’m sure the tourists who have plenty of time on their hands and who don’t ride during rush hour are quite delighted with the experience of the F.

          1. Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic, but the F-line is often SRO, and hardly an enjoyable experience. In my experience, most tourists aren’t taking it to experience quaint old streetcars, they’re taking it because it’s shown on Muni maps as a transit way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf.

        2. @Orland, don’t forget the E, getting people from the the wharf to/from CalTrain. It’s weekends now, but supposedly full-time starting next year. It should be LRV though…

          1. What Muni line *isn’t* “often SRO” or even crush load? The ridership stats show F-line is busiest midday, i.e., tourists not commuters. Surely it’s more pragmatic to add some more vintage streetcars than to build a subway for hundreds of millions of dollars.

  19. Whatever one may think of the building – which the SBT now describes as “massive” (but what don’t they call massive??) – or the wisdom of it, I’m only seeing 3 stories on this rendering: are there two underground parking levels or is there an updated plan/rendering somewhere ??

  20. This virtually guarantees the subway entrance will need to be in Washington Square Park. Which wouldn’t be so terrible.

  21. The City was asleep at the switch and now the train has left the station (shameless train metaphors). But the point is that the developer has been following all the rules and the City has not acted in a forward-thinking or prudent way to secure the property rights. In my opinion, eminent domain in this case is a cover-up for ineptitude and should not be allowed. Of course the developer will sell, we are just going to have to pay a premium. I don’t like it, but it is totally unjust to confiscate what we could have purchased simply because we had our collective heads up our butts.

  22. The Pagoda Theater site would only be used as the station entrance; the station itself would be underneath Columbus St. It is not required to have a station entrance building, but the trend nowadays is to have one for (as with the other Central Subway stations) rather than just street entrances (as with the Market Street Subway stations).

    More important than the station entrance is how you excavate the station cavern under Columbus. Either you dig up the entire street, as is being done for the Union Square/Market St and Yerba Buena/Moscone stations; or you mine the station from inside, as is being done for the Chinatown station. Mining is more expensive but does not disrupt the surface streets so much – you can compare the current activity at the three Central Subway station locations in order to see that.

    It does, however, require an access point to move construction equipment in and construction spoils out. The Pagoda Theater would have been perfect location for such an access point. If that site is not available, the only other option is to dig up Columbus St for a period of several years – and we all know that the reason the Pagoda Theater was used as the TBM extraction site in the first place was because North Beach residents screamed bloody murder over the prospect of digging up Columbus for a much shorter amount of time.

    With Peskin as supervisor, it’s unlikely that such a plan is going to go forward. And that’s fine by me. If the city has any money for new subways, it should be to spent on Geary.

    1. Unfortunately, I think this analysis will likely obtain for at least the next three decades with or without Peskin.

  23. Peskin has experience with procurement of land via eminent domain and it could be a last resort option here. I think there is a scenario where everyone could have everything they want – the property owner his condos and a nice subway station for North Beach. We really need to consider closing that section of Powell and expanding Marini Plaza.

    This could be a beautiful ‘world class’ location, enhancing the price of the condos, bringing more life to an often dead and somewhat awkward part of North Beach and giving us better transit options. I hope that we focus upon a positive outcome and not a nasty fight like we saw with the parcel where the library is now.

    1. That’s the spirit!

      I would have a much gloomier forecast for all of this.

      Aaron Peskin fought to stay on the radar from 2009 to 2015 before he got back on the BoS. Now that he is back, he will fight for exposure, for more eyeballs and street cred.

      Expect major resistance, loads of posturing, a never ending stream of irrelevance and obstructionism under the cover of “reasonable and responsible defense of our community”. Because for some people, one single ego is worth as much as an entire community.


      1. He’s already getting exposure by diving head first into the Google Bus debate. He even has the nerve to talk about the ‘environmental concerns’ introduced by Google busses, as if they don’t take a 100s of cars off the road every day. That guy is a piece of work.

        1. Yes, and this is clearly an example of how Class Warfare doesn’t really care about the interest of the many.

          If you prevent pooled transportation like corporate buses, then most of the workers will drive. Since it takes only a fraction of extra traffic to cause serious gridlock, this will increase travel times for many many more commuters, causing much more pollution than the marginal extra pollution from corporate buses.

          This is a war against one category of citizen for the benefit of Peskin’s voters. There’s no social benefit in any of this, just like there’s no real social benefit to rent control. It’s simply a battle of US vs THEM from some politicians who want to be elected or be reelected.

    2. “This could be a beautiful ‘world class’ location, enhancing the price of the condos, bringing more life to an often dead and somewhat awkward part of North Beach and giving us better transit options.”

      I do like the sentiment however the presence of a subway station tends to justify increased density, something that NB residents may resist.

      This is one of the basic transportation political standoffs: communities want better transit but reject the increased density that transit supports and needs. For example about 70-80% of BART stations are plunked into suburban areas that resist infill growth.

  24. Forgot to say a big THANKS to the SocketSite team. Thanks for re-hashing this issue. Our politicians clearly can’t be trusted to do the same.

  25. What about the section of Powell just south of the Pagoda plus the triangular lot with trees and 6 parking spaces? Less impact than touching Washington Square or Columbus Ave, the tunnel boring machines went right under it, and the triangular park could be rebuilt with more space for people.

    There is about 15,000 sq ft of publicly owned space btwn the park, parking, sidewalks and street. That section of Powell carries so little traffic and could be narrowed and the 6 parking spaces re-purposed to create a larger plaza/mini-park at the entrance to the station.

    1. There are better options. Even a corner, bulb out in the park is better suited without the complications, and it would go along with the proposed fountain, and other revamping of the park, bringing it back as a focus point.

      Put the actual station underground, then all that’s needed is the tunnel entrance.

      But that would be an easy solution, and politicians are looking to hang their name on big infrastructure projects.

  26. A station takes a 350′ box so it cannot be built on this site, it’s too small. Also the tunnel is aiming in the wrong direction to go to the Warf.

  27. It is so encouraging to see the amount of comments the subway extension topic has generated. This was not the case when SF NexTstop.org began advocating for the extension just a couple years ago. Your interest helps to keep this opportunity alive and moving ahead!

    In transit planning, we need to consider density as well as distance. Chinatown/North Beach has residential densities of 35,000 to 76,000 people per square mile. 8,400 People a day work in Fisherman’s Wharf. The district hosts tens of thousands of tourists, workers and shoppers a day. The TA study that SF NexTstop pushed for estimated that adding just the two North Beach and Wharf stations would increase ridership on the subway by 74,000 people A DAY. Expensive, yes, but economical nonetheless. And imagine the benefits of getting 3 or 4 million car trips a year off the congested and pedestrian-oriented streets of the NE neighborhoods.

    The big land issue is not locating a station entrance but, rather, finding staging areas for such a massive construction project. The Pagoda site is larger than most and currently empty, meaning no building need be demolished. And, yes, it’s a great site for affordable senior housing once subway construction ended. Sigh.

    The North Beach station should be located near Union and Columbus. That’s where the current tunnel leads, it has reasonable connections to surface transit and is a good jumping off point to a variety of options for Wharf station locations. The station itself will lie under Columbus regardless of where the station entrance lands up.

    The possibility of a loop to and from Fisherman’s Wharf to a NB station was discussed in the TA report. A loop would allow faster pacing of trains, giving the subway a fighting chance to carry the number of passengers that will likely jam it form the day it opens.

    Free the NE neighborhoods from congestion, allow SF’s Golden Goose NE neighborhoods (Wharf, Union Square, Financial District, North Beach, Chinatown) to thrive instead of drive. Complete the Central Subway!!

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