Posts tagged with "San Francisco":

Japanese joinery with modern flair defines this San Francisco ramen spot

The recent proliferation of oh-so-chic ramen joints in cities across the country can sometimes mask what it is really all about: The ramen. In Japan, this fast, fragrant, noodle-and-broth dish is often found in nondescript establishments, tucked away from the bustling street. At Orenchi Beyond, the restaurant chain’s first San Francisco location, the ramen is front and center, starting with a floating, open kitchen anchoring the 1,800-square-foot space where patrons can see chefs at work behind a row of large, boiling soup pots. Taking its cue from Japan’s street culture and indigenous craftsmanship, the restaurant, designed by local firm Craig Steely Architecture, fuses the unfussy, Japanese-style ramen shop with a West Coast design sensibility.

To maximize the outdoor connection and exploit the temperate San Francisco climate, principal and founder Craig Steely decided to knock down the existing facade, which originally stood flat across the front of the building, and push it back 12 feet to create what he describes as an “interstitial room” or an “engawa space” between the street and restaurant interior. “In Japan, there isn’t that luxury to have this whole space, and it seemed like such a perfect opportunity,” Steely explained. “It feels different from other restaurants in the city where there is a hard, demarcating line. Here it is really indoor-outdoor and welcoming—eating and drinking outside is nice and communal. It’s a real mix of private and public space.”

The prismlike facade, punctuated by a red glass door, is made of Sakura wood and quietly references Japanese woodworking. “It was an attempt to build upon a language of Japanese carpentry,” said Steely. “I took the idea of those details and built it in a way that appreciates or riffs on Japanese joinery without it being authentically Japanese.” The permeable storefront allows for customers to be served outside through the windows.

In typical Japanese style, the restaurant bears no sign—in many ways, the crowd congregating outside around a 4,000-pound Yuba River basalt rock is the unofficial signage. Of course, the line of sake bottles in the window is also a not-so-subtle clue as to what lies inside.

Painstaking attention was paid to the details to reflect and pay homage to Japanese traditions, from the visual iconography to the craftsmanship. The stool seating is based on sake barrels, the brackets and handles are made of elm branches by artist Kenji Hasegawa, and the interior wood is from Paul Discoe’s Joinery Structures, who has worked on projects in Japan for several decades.

Contrasting this otherwise muted space are a massive, candy-colored mural of a fractal bear by local artists Ricardo Richey and Chad Hasegawa and tables featuring paintings with imagery from Japanese myths and Yakuza films, such as a dragon in the form of ramen with its tail spelling out “Orenchi.” For a restaurant named the “Beyond,” this West-meets-farther-West space is wholly appropriate.

Renderings revealed for Foster + Partners’ Waldorf Astoria in San Francisco

Renders have been revealed of what the Foster + Partners design for the Waldorf Astoria hotel in San Francisco could look like. Located in the South of Market (SoMa) district of the city, the building will sit on Mission Street between 1st and Eckert streets. The 21-story tower will also lie next to the Oceanwide Center tower designed by the British architecture firm, due to break ground in November this year. The tower is part of a two million-square-foot complex that will boast retail and spaces, the interiors of which—and indeed the whole interior of the building—will be designed by Santa Monica–based hospitality design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates. John Vanderslice, global head of luxury and lifestyle brands at Hilton Worldwide (the firm that manages Waldorf hotels), told Condé Nast Traveler that "San Francisco needed a proper luxury hotel." He went on to say that the "project is ground zero for luxury there" adding how the hotel will have "north of 250" rooms with a quarter of these being suites. Numerous restaurants are also due to be included in the programming of the scheme however, no mockups have yet been proposed with no chefs currently named either. The project will also be one of cluster from Foster + Partners in the vicinity. In 2014, the firm proposed a coterie of high-rises for the area and planning permission was granted this year. The building will also become San Francisco's second tallest tower, behind the Salesforce Tower. Meanwhile, rising to 905 feet, the tallest of the group will be located on 50 1st Street and contain 34 stories, with offices on 19 plus 111 residential units. Another tower, due to be 300 feet shorter, will offer 169 hotel rooms with 154 units being housed in the top 33 floors. Speaking of the projects in 2014, Norman Foster described the development as "incredibly exciting in urban and environmental terms," adding that "bringing together places to live and work with the city’s most important transport hub, the project further evolves a sustainable model of high density, mixed-use development that we have always promoted."

San Francisco’s Millennium Tower is tilting and sinking

The tallest residential tower in San Francisco, and the city's third tallest overall, has sunk 16 inches since it's opening in 2008, according to SFGate. Designed by Handel Architects, the Millennium Tower is one of the highest-profile buildings in the city with units selling as high as $12 million for a penthouse, one of which was owned by venture capitalist Thomas Perkins until his death earlier this year. Other notable residents include San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence and former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. Currently the Transbay Transit Center, a transit station and neighborhood development project, is under construction on an adjacent site. Its first phase is due to be completed in late 2017, but a study of the site conducted by Arup in 2010 found that the tower had already sunk ten inches. Initial predictions for the tower suggested that it would only sink six inches over its lifetime. Of added concern is the fact that the tower is not settling evenly, and now has a tilt of two inches. Professor Greg Deierlein of the John A. Blume Earthquake Engineering Center at Stanford University told SFGate that these figures were "significant...and of concern," but not yet a threat to safety. However, the imbalance can lead to expensive maintenance costs down the road due to cracking walls and other structural issues. The Transbay Transit Center and the building's developer, Millennium Partners, have each placed blame for the tilt on the other. P.J. Johnson, a spokesperson for Millennium Partners, told SFGate that the nearby construction on the Transit Center caused the problem, suggesting that adequate measures were not taken to protect the tower during the excavation. Representatives of the Transit Center, on the other hand, have suggested that Millennium engineers cut costs and failed to anchor the building into the bedrock. The building also uses concrete rather than steel, and is therefore much heavier. It's unclear what steps developers will take to combat the issue, but it will likely involve expensive and complicated repairs.

Jill Magid transforms Luis Barragán’s ashes into a two-carat diamond

In her latest multimedia work, American artist Jill Magid has converted the cremated ashes of Pritzker Prize-winning Mexican architect Luis Barragán into a two-carat diamond. The Proposal, as the overall work is known, incorporates Magid’s long-running engagement with public access, institutionalized power, and artistic legacy by orchestrating a trade between the Mexican government, Barragán’s estate, and Federica Zanco, Director of the Barragán Foundation, in order to return a key component of Barragán’s archives back to his native Mexico. Barragán originally divided up his archives into two separate components. One, consisting of his home in Mexico, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Casa Barragán, and personal archives, remains intact in the architect’s home country. The second, a professional archive including rights to his name, works, and all photographs taken of his architecture, were purchased by Chairman and heir of Swiss furniture company Vitra Rolf Fehlbaum in 1995 as an engagement present for Zanco, then his girlfriend, and have been stored out of public view in a vault in Switzerland ever since. Magid’s work pivots on the artist’s ability to strategically cultivate personal relationships with wealth and power in order to subvert the structures of corporate ownership. In a press release for the project, Magid explained the impetus for the work: “What happens to an artist’s legacy when it is owned by a corporation and subject to a country’s laws where none of his architecture exists? Who can access it? Who can’t?” The Proposal was commissioned by San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and exists as an art exhibition curated by Hesse McGraw, SFAI Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs. Magid’s work is currently on view at Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland until August 21, 2016 after which it will make its American debut at SFAI on September 9, 2016. The Proposal will also be presented at the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016, opening on Sept 8, 2016.

wHY-designed Asian Art Museum moves toward approval

wHY’s virtual monopoly on commissions for expanding West Coast art museums may continue this week when their plans for expanding San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum are presented to the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission for approval. According to a memo submitted to the San Francisco Planning Commission, the project aims to add a single story, $25 million wing to the landmarked 1916 Beaux Arts structure for “cutting edge” contemporary art. The structure will be wrapped in criss-crossing bands of aluminum and topped by a roof patio and canopy. The addition would contain a long-span exhibition hall as well as mechanically ventilated art conservation facilities. The original neoclassical structure was designed as San Francisco’s first Main Library in 1916 by Ecole des Beaux-Arts-trained architect George A. Kelham, who also designed San Francisco’s Federal Reserve Bank headquarters and served as the supervising architect for the construction of the University of California, Berkeley campus between 1927 and 1931. In 1987, then-Mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein proposed to revitalize the Civic Center area containing the Main Library with a plan that would include converting the structure to museum use. The building was finally converted in 1996 by architect Gae Aulenti and has been home of the Asian Art Museum since 2003. Because the structure was constructed during the Civic Center Landmark District’s period of significance, spanning from 1906 to 1936, wHY’s addition will have to adhere to Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Appendix J of Article 10 to insure the proposed project does not destroy or damage any of the contributing elements of the building. In recent months, wHY has seen their share of museum and gallery expansion projects increase drastically, with proposals for Los Angeles’s new Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation, and San Francisco’s Gagosian Gallery outpost.

Will San Franciscans embrace the new SFMOMA?

In 1995, as Mario Botta’s brand new San Francisco Museum of Art debuted, critic Pilar Viladas wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times, “San Francisco’s MOMA Moment: Mario Botta designed an interior that is sublime. But what happened to the rest of the new museum?” A similar question has been on architecture critics’ minds since Snøhetta’s $305 million expansion to Botta’s original opened to the press on April 28.

The original building was designed as an outpost for culture in a downtrodden area, a muscle man for the artistically curious. Now, billions are pouring into the area with a regional transit center, 5.4-acre elevated park, and new highrise neighborhood planned adjacent to the museum. And so, SFMOMA is evolving to reflect downtown San Francisco’s new inflection point. Interestingly, SFMOMA’s board of directors has done what those of other major national museums like New York City’s Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and Los Angeles’s LACMA have not: Drastically expand and reorganize gallery space without demolishing their existing museum or having to relocate to an entirely new building. Snøhetta was tasked with constructing a real building, whereas OMA and Michael Graves Architecture merely proposed similar ideas in their respective Whitney proposals decades ago. But if Viladas’s assertion that Botta’s original was ugly on the outside was proven ultimately false—San Franciscans seem to love the original SFMOMA through and through—Snøhetta’s expansion begs a new, complicated question: What happened to the rest of the old museum?

Snøhetta’s point of view in that regard is a standard one: Emphasize the existing through opposition. The 235,000-square-foot expansion grows out of the original structure’s backside and then rises ten stories above. By filling the narrow site to capacity and adding a new entrance along Howard Street, the architects greatly expanded the program’s public areas. Like in the original museum, the first three floors will be free to the public, a group that now includes all San Franciscans aged 18 and under.

This new entry features a maze of interlocking double height spaces, including a wood-clad amphitheater overlooking a pair of Richard Serra’s Sequence sculptures. The new amphitheater and Botta’s existing monumental rotunda meet at the second floor, creating “a living room for San Francisco,” as Craig Dykers, principal of Snøhetta, relayed during a guided tour. The proportions of this new “living room” are more intimate in nature than Botta’s proud entry. Snøhetta has retooled that existing entry by replacing the original oversize white switchback stairway with a low-slung wood one. Drawing comparisons to the firm’s prior Oslo Operahuset where the plane of the roof is sloped to allow pedestrian access from surrounding streets, Dykers said, “You feel ownership over a space when you can walk on the roof.” That’s a funny way to describe being on the second floor of a ten-story building, but what Snøhetta really did is bring the street indoors by luring up pedestrians from a variety of approaches.

The third floor contains dedicated photography galleries as well as a buzzing coffee shop. A large grow wall and outdoor Calder plaza flank this floor’s entry landing, creating a cool and shaded space teeming with growing things and art objects that grants museumgoers their first real glance at the museum’s icy east facade. From there up, gallery spaces stack neatly and predictably, joined for two floors by existing galleries in the Botta building.

The remaining floors above are accessed by a maze of single-run and increasingly narrow blonde wood staircases Dykers likens to those in a private home. The simultaneously jagged and swoopy perimeters of the staircases are offset by minimalist detailing. Treads, framed by Alvar Aalto-inspired hand rails, are embedded in the wall at the curved side only to pull away from it again in a reveal along the angular boundary. At your feet, singular lengths of stained planks mark the beginning and end of each stair run. “Everything your body touches is made of wood,” Lara Kaufman, project architect for the expansion, explained of the “floating,” ergonomic design of the galleries’ wood floors.

The galleries themselves are obsessive in their minimalist articulation. Dykers said outlets, return air grilles, and lighting subconsciously distract the art viewer and that the firm’s goal was to disappear these components in the gallery spaces. The team was also careful to position overhead lighting in specially calibrated vaulting that complements the galleries’ eastward-facing glazing.

The “contemporary” gallery on the seventh floor showcases recent work in a space with exposed ductwork and framing above the exhibition walls. The three floors above it are dedicated to staff offices.

Ultimately, Snøhetta’s team has made an unambiguous and honest effort to address the complicated calculus involved in adding onto a beloved art institution in a dense urban environment. As with the original structure, only time will tell how San Francisco takes to its new modern art museum.

Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles vie for tallest tower west of the Mississippi

The West Coast’s largest cities are reaching for the record books as a succession of towers vying for the mantle of the “tallest west of the Mississippi” go up across the region.

Los Angeles’s 1,018-foot-tall U.S. Bank Tower, a prismatic 1989 blue and white skyscraper designed by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, currently holds that title. However, developers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are seeking to depose the U.S. Bank Tower—all three cities currently have high-rises in the works set to surpass the record. These projects, ranging from in design review to nearing completion, are unified by their record-breaking potential and densely urban locales. Each is sited in transit-oriented districts poised for radical redevelopment. Merely inching above the current record, the towers speak to West Coast cities’ cautious approach to reshaping their skylines, as contemporary considerations regarding the nature of density, regulation, preservation, and affordability begin to play out over these post-recession metropolises.

In Seattle, local firm LMN Architects has had to take its 1,111-foot-tall proposal for the 4/C Tower from Miami developer Crescent Heights back to the drawing board several times, trimming the tower’s height with each iteration. A boxy, mixed-use monolith containing groups of mixed income “vertical neighborhoods” with neighborhood-specific common areas above office space, parking, and commercial zones, 4/C is unique among the group in its inclusion of an affordable housing component.

4/C has had to straddle a delicate line in terms of massing and geometry—it’s located across the street from Chester L. Lindsey Architects’ 76-story Columbia Center, currently Seattle’s tallest at 967 feet, and nearby Minoru Yamasaki’s iconic Rainier Tower. It was 4/C’s height, however that came under scrutiny earlier this year when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a report citing possible interference with medical helicopter flight paths and the navigable air space of the nearby King County International Airport. Although the FAA has mandated a 965-foot maximum height for the structure—a limit that would keep it just feet below the record—plans submitted early April, call for a 100-story, 1,029-foot tall structure containing up to 1,020 residential units and 100 hotel rooms above 20,000 square feet of street-level retail, 85,000 square feet of office, and 750 parking spaces.

700 miles to the south, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects’ (PCP) 1,070-foot-tall Salesforce Tower is slowly rising out of San Francisco’s Transbay Center. The currently under-construction $4.5 billion transit center, touted by the managing Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) as the “Grand Central Station of the West,” is topped by a PWP Landscape Architecture–designed 5.4-acre park. The six-track, multimodal hub will bring together the region’s tangled web of transit agencies and California’s future intercity high speed rail line. Its construction follows the demolition of the seismically deficient Embarcadero elevated highway that once ran along San Francisco’s waterfront. With the Embarcadero’s massive, swooping on- and off-ramps south of Market Street now gone, the city has been free to develop an area that was previously roughshod and derelict. Salesforce Tower is touted as the crown jewel of this new high-rise neighborhood.

PCP’s curved and tapering design, built in concert with the firm’s transit center, will contain 1.4 million square feet of Class-A office space and be topped by a 100-foot-tall “crown.” Billed to rise 1,070 feet upon completion in 2018, it will soar 217 feet above William Pereira’s 1972 Transamerica Pyramid, currently San Francisco’s tallest.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles’s Wilshire Grand Tower, a 1,099-foot-tall spire, topped out in March and is nearing completion. Aside from Gensler’s L.A. Live Ritz-Carlton Hotel built in 2010, the Wilshire Grand is to be the only other tower above 40 floors built in Downtown L.A. since Arthur Erickson Architects completed their 750-foot-tall Two California Plaza in 1992. A partnership between Korean Air, Turner Construction, and architects AC Martin, the tower will boast 400,000 square feet of Class-A office space and a 900-suite hotel, as well as a 400,000-square-foot retail podium with ballrooms, meeting halls, and a 1,250-spot parking garage. The 1,100-foot-tall Wilshire Grand is due to finish construction in late 2017, when it will become the tallest tower west of the Mississippi River.

While the jury is still out as to whether Seattle’s 4/C Tower’s Crescent Heights will prevail, a trend is becoming clear: Developers are testing the waters and envisioning tall, mixed use, transit-oriented futures for the West’s downtowns.

Gensler to design the interiors of the new Golden State Warriors arena

Architecture firm Gensler has won the commission to design the interior of the Chase Center, which will be located in the firm's native city of San Francisco. The arena, which will be constructed in the Mission Bay area, will host the home matches of the Golden State Warriors in time for the 2019-20 NBA season. Collaborating with Kansas City-based firm MANICA Architecture, who produced proposals for the arena's exterior, Gensler will fit out the 18,000-capacity stadium's concourses, clubs, suites, administrative offices, home and visiting locker rooms, as well as other visitor facilities such as concession areas, sponsor zones, a team store, and retail spaces. The Chase Center aims to create a new 11-acre district that will offer other amenities including restaurants, cafes, offices, and public plazas that aren't otherwise easy to find in the area. A new five-and-a half-acre public waterfront park will be built nearby; the Chase Center itself will have connections to a major Muni Metro rail line and the BART system. Once built, the arena is set to be the "only privately-financed facility of its kind built on private property in the modern era." "Gensler is a perfect fit for Chase Center, bringing both incredible local experience and extensive global expertise to our project—and, of course, a track record of architectural excellence," said Stephen Collins, Chief Operating Officer of Chase Center in a press release. "We want an arena that is a reflection of the Bay Area, but also a stand-out in the world of sports and entertainment. Gensler will help us achieve that mission." "Gensler is excited to join the current design team on such a significant project as Chase Center," said Gensler Sports Principal-in-Charge, Ron Turner, FAIA. "When complete, this will be a showpiece for the NBA, the Warriors, and the Bay Area, so helping to achieve this will be a distinct pleasure for our group."

Battle unfolds over large development project in San Francisco’s Mission District

Dubbed countless times as the "Beast of Byrant," 2000-2070 Mission Street in San Francisco has been surrounded by unmissable negative sentiment from locals. The scheme, which aims to hold 335 apartments across two buildings, experienced a turbulent planning process. Last year, locals of Mission Street took issue when Nick Podell, the developer behind the project, attempted to the push the scheme through via the Streamlining Act whereby the commission had to act within 60 days. “I think [the developers] knew that the Commission would not have approved the plan in the first place,” said Commissioner Dennis Richards. Opponents of the development, mainly comprising artists, local residents, and building trades representatives, argue that more affordable and not market-rate housing is needed. The proposal would also see the demolition of six buildings that mostly house artist studios. Totaling more than 200,000 square feet, the project hasn't won locals over with its aesthetic, something which its scale probably doesn't aid. However, advocate of the project and executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, Tim Colen, said in 2015 that resistance against the scheme reflected the difficulties of addressing the "housing affordability crisis" while building in San Francisco. "It’s not possible to improve affordability if we don’t build a lot more housing,” he added. Now the "Beast" has finally stumbled through an eleven-hour hearing at San Francisco's Planning Commission. That said, the development hasn't come through unscathed: the Commission voted 5-2 in favor of a proposal that includes 92 additional affordable housing units and 33 fewer market-rate dwellings. Meanwhile, 40 percent of "PDR" space (Production, Distribution, Repair and Arts uses) will be replaced on the site—none was set to be originally replaced. While the project has been given the go-ahead, opponents are planning to appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the Board of Supervisors. “This is going to be one of the most built-out sections of the city outside of downtown, in what is now a neighborhood of single-story warehouses,” said Peter Papadopoulos of the Mission Cultural Action Network. “Right now the projects are being studied one at a time with no consideration of the cumulative impact on a given block, neighborhood, or the city at large.”

Foster + Partners-designed flagship Apple store opens in San Francisco

British architect Norman Foster has seen his firm's new flagship Apple store open in San Francisco. Located at Union Square, the new store features 42-foot high sliding glass doors that open out onto the 2.6 acre plaza "creating unprecedented urban permeability." Built to set a precedent for all following Apple stores, Foster's building replaces the old outlet which opened in the city twelve years ago. The design was realized working alongside Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive and Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores, Angela Ahrendts. “This is an incredible site on Union Square and a chance to create a new public plaza. We have created the most inspiring and stimulating space imaginable, blurring the inside and outside,” said Stefan Behling of  Foster + Partners. “It is possible to experience Apple's extraordinary products and services while taking in the buzzing Union Square on one side and relaxing in the contemplative quiet of the new plaza on the other.” The flagship store is one of three Apple stores designed by Foster + Partners; the two others are in Turkey and China. The Union Square store is also close to Apple's headquarters at Cupertino, which are also being designed by the firm. This latest store however, represents a shift in approach to the retail typology that Apple is adopting. A new learning zone called the "Forum" will become a space for entertainment and teaching. The new space was awarded a prime location on a mezzanine, open to most of the store and against a video wall. At the back of the Forum is the "Genius Grove," a space filled with trees where Apple Genius employees will be on hand.
Glass sliding doors are used on both sides of the store. To the rear, an open public space has been filled with art and offers Wi-Fi. Seating and vegetation form a gathering space outside the store. Meanwhile, the Ruth Asawa fountain, a well-established piece of historical San Franciscan heritage, has been relocated to the steps that lead down to Stockton Street. In 2013, Foster + Partners' design had to be revised after their original plan hadn't catered for the fountain. This space is also flanked by a standing of trees and a 65-foot-by-50-foot green wall planted with Ficus Repens plants. This is split by a waterfall on the west side which also forms a backdrop to the  fountain. Behind this, and well hidden away, is the "Boardroom" which will be used for meetings and business purposes.

San Francisco Planning Commission approves Foster + Partners’ Oceanwide Center

Last week, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the Foster + Partners-designed Oceanwide Center slated for the Transbay district in South of Market (SOMA). The project will bring over 2.3 million square feet of mixed-use space to the area. The design features two towers of varying heights with large floor plates. The taller tower on First Street tops out at 850 feet and will include residences and offices. The 605-foot shorter tower on Mission Street will host residences with a hotel. Renderings show landscaped street-level public spaces—22,000 square feet total—that connect the two towers. The development also includes restoring two historic buildings on the site. “At ground level, the buildings are open, accessible and transparent–and have been ‘lifted up’ by almost five stories to provide a new ‘urban room’ for the region,” describes Foster + Partners in a press release. “This space is crisscrossed by pedestrian routes that are an extension of the historic streets and alleyways in the area, knitting the new scheme with the urban grain of the city”. The San Francisco Planning Department’s Transit Center District Plan (approved in 2012) and the Transbay Redevelopment Plan are upzoning the Transbay neighborhood through higher-density development and higher height limits for residences, offices, hotels, retail, and more. City officials see the project supporting walkability and increasing public transit usage in the Transbay area. The Planning Commission recommendation for the Oceanwide Center states, “the Project will generate substantial revenues that will contribute to the development of transportation infrastructure, including the Transit Center and the Downtown Rail Extension, and other improvements envisioned by the Transit Center Plan.” Foster + Partners received the commission in 2014 from the original developers TMG Partners and Northwood Investors. In early 2015, the Chinese financial services company, Oceanwide Holdings Group, bought the site for $300 million. San Francisco-based firm Heller Mannus Architects is collaborating on the project, while Seattle firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichols is working on the landscapes. Groundbreaking is expected November 2016.

Three ballot initiatives that could reshape California’s cities in 2016

This year, aside from deciding who will become the 45th President of the United States, voters across the West will consider several important statewide ballot races that will directly impact the region’s urban landscapes, ecological future, and transportation infrastructure. In California particularly, the philosophy of direct democracy via ballot proposals promises to bring many contentious issues to election day.

Charter Amendment C

San Francisco’s municipal lawmakers are taking their debate over affordable housing directly to the people. Consensus in the Bay Area is to raise the minimum inclusionary housing requirement from its current 12% level. Partisans, however, can’t seem to agree on whether to raise the minimum to 25%, as proposed by Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin. Their ballot measure will be up for a vote in this June’s California primary. With details of the plan still to be hammered out and as a development boom rumbles through the city’s South of Market district, the city government must act soon if the area is to contain a better-than-average affordable housing stock.

Measure R 2

Voters in L.A. are potentially looking to cement their growing rail legacy with a 40-year capital improvement campaign funded by a round of tax increases. Thanks to the passage of 2008’s Measure R, two light rail extensions are opening in L.A. this year. In March, Los Angeles Metro put forth a wish list of projects to be funded by Measure R 2, the transit agency’s plan to raise L.A. County’s sale tax by an additional $.50. The increase, coupled with an extension of 2008’s hike, is expected to raise $120 billion for transportation related projects over 40 years. Metro is looking to avoid a repeat of 2012’s slim defeat of the similar Measure J, which garnered 64.72% of the vote, just shy of the 66.6% supermajority needed to pass. When asked about how Metro plans to broaden support within the electorate, Pauletta Tonilas, Chief Communications Officer, told AN, “Our goal is to plan for future growth and provide ways to better the way we get around the county. The draft plan we’ve released shows we are delivering projects in every area of the county and that has been a big part of our support.”

Anticipated projects include fast tracking the long-delayed westside Purple Line subway and South L.A.’s LAX “people mover” extension of the Green Line, as well as a third extension to the northern arm of the Gold Line to Azusa in the eastern reaches of the San Gabriel Valley.

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and Build a Better L.A. Initiative

The NIMBY-driven Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) is battling the Union-supported Build a Better L.A. (BBLA) measure for a say in the city’s growth. The NII takes aim at booming-Los Angeles’s outdated city plan, by forcing the city to update all supplementary community plans while changes to the General Plan can be agreed upon. Simultaneously, the bill puts a moratorium on all spot-zoned projects for two years. Because many of the city’s most ambitious construction projects require these spot-zoning measures—due to the outdated nature of the code—the NII effectively halts development city-wide. The BBLA initiative is fighting to instead fast track projects requiring spot-zoning variances if those projects employ union labor and include construction of affordable housing units.

In perhaps a sign of things to come this November, two large, density-oriented projects recently won approval in very different parts of L.A. County. Koning Eizenberg Architecture’s 249-unit, 32-foot tall mixed use complex at 500 Broadway won enthusiastic approval from Santa Monica’s City Council. The scheme’s approval centered on its addition of 64 off-site affordable housing units as well as its proximity to the soon-to-be-opened Expo Line extension. In Hollywood, the Stanley Saitowitz / Natoma Architects-designed Palladium Residences, two 30-story towers with 731 units, won approval from L.A. City Council. Although the project is comprised solely of market rate units, council members praised its location near public transit, in this case, the Red Line subway a few blocks north.