YIMBY-Land: Change Comes to the Dogpatch

But it has to be done smartly to keep the neighborhood livable, according to one activist who champions high levels of growth.

“I’m unrepentantly a YIMBY,” says the policy wonk and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association member who simply goes by the moniker McAllen.

He’s an eager tour guide, charting a 4.5-mile walk and allocating very little time to finish it. But walk through the Dogpatch during business hours on a weekday, and it’s unlikely that you will ever move out of sight and earshot of construction equipment. Virtually every neighborhood in San Francisco seizes like an unoiled engine at the thought of massive condo projects going up all at once, but not here. Although the Dogpatch has — has always had — a strong identity of its own, change is afoot on a scale that would be unimaginable in the Inner Richmond and which would invite traffic-blocking protests in the Mission (albeit with good cause).

McAllen’s YIMBYism isn’t the intellectually dishonest kind. He’s not a mindless cheerleader for unlimited growth, and he notes with pride that none of the construction in the neighborhood has replaced any dwellings, so none of the projects that may soon triple the Dogpatch’s population will have directly displaced a single pre-existing resident. He’s also “gone to the mat” at Planning Department meetings to argue on behalf of on-site affordable housings, preventing developers from paying into the in-lieu vortex.

While his advocacy has won him enemies among some of his street parking-protective neighbors, he makes a compelling case that the Dogpatch — defined as everything south of Mariposa Street, east of Interstate 280, and north of Cesar Chavez Street — can and should absorb much of San Francisco’s population growth. And technically, the neighborhood is a little bigger than that. There are a few orphaned blocks between Cesar Chavez and Islais Creek. No one seems to speak up officially on their behalf, but they’re not entirely abandoned, either: The Midway, a venue known for hosting the New Year’s Day rave Breakfast of Champions, is there.

The reasons for the Dogpatch’s position at the center of the construction boom are multifold, and only tangentially related to the excellent weather. In a neighborhood once covered in railroad rights-of-way and production facilities that relied on proximity to the shoreline, the stench of bygone industries long since gave way to reclamation projects. While the railroad industry was once derided as “The Octopus,” a malign, poly-tentacled beast that representative democracy could scarcely keep in check, today there’s a new force to reckon with: the decidedly less mendacious UCSF. The research institution owns a lot of land in the Dogpatch these days, and one of the construction sites will shortly become 550 or so units of graduate-student housing (not far from O&M, two rental buildings on Indiana Street that tenants began moving into over the summer). But whatever the intentions and methods, the hunger for real estate is as strong as Southern Pacific’s.

Tripling the number of dwellings required voter approval, as a result of the 2013 fight over 8 Washington St. — aka the “Wall on the Waterfront.” Passed by a strong majority, 2014’s Proposition F enabled the redevelopment of nearby Pier 70. Formerly a shipyard and later a sort of Tow Pound Beyond Thunderdome — although one with lots of historically significant architecture — the site generated several concurrent projects that promise to restore and expand a derelict shoreline. Together, they’ll create new parks and housing, a Crissy Field-like promenade, and a general sense of knitted-together liveability for what are now vast fenced-off tracts fronting the bay. Moreover, they largely respect the existing building stock, much of which has undergone seismic restoration. It takes a little vision to imagine it all, because there isn’t a clear vista of the entire soon-to-be-transformed stretch of waterfront from anywhere. But McAllen takes us past a century-old ship foundry that’s an active job site once again, having had its roof removed so workers could install steel trusses to protect it from the next earthquake.

San Francisco’s population has reached 875,000, and at current growth rates, it’s quite likely we could hit the 1 million mark before 2030. Doubtless, Airbnb has taken housing out of circulation and unethical landlords continue to keep units off the market for reasons of their own. But even if all the slack and inefficiencies are taken out of the existing stock, we will need more residential buildings to house these future inhabitants. Like a sort of neighborhood-scale Rosie the Riveter, the Dogpatch is flexing its bicep and doing its part.

Of course, to keep San Francisco liveable, we will need extra mass-transit capacity and a second Transbay tunnel, too. That’s another story — although McAllen is giddy at the possibility of a multimodal BART-Caltrain node at Third and 16th Streets. Like the possible removal of I-280 or the burial and realignment of Caltrain’s tracks, it’s one of those things that looks like a pipe dream until suddenly, sufficient political momentum appears and it isn’t. Thousands of future Dogpatch residents will certainly have opinions. They may yet speak as one.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Dogpatch here:

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Where to Eat in the Dogpatch
This industrial quadrant is heavy on the artisans and dense with dining options.

A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Dogpatch may have the weirdest name origin story.

Better Late Than Never?
In the next 10 years, the Dogpatch’s population is expected to quadruple.

Urban Freeways in Question
City planners weigh whether S.F. might be better off without Interstate 280.

What’s In A Stub?
Dogpatch holds the ever-quieting ghosts of Irish Hill’s raucous past.

A Knotty History
Hella rope was made in the Dogpatch back in the day.


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