munipiece2.jpgSan Francisco youth rallied together in front of city transportation offices Thursday afternoon to persuade top transit officials to convert an old rail yard into an affordable housing complex.

Communities United for Health and Justice, or CUHJ, announced a report at the rally showing the need and ability to develop affordable housing near the Balboa Park BART station in the Excelsior District.

Several other advocacy groups joined CUHJ at the rally in front of 1 S. Van Ness Ave., including PODER, or People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, the Filipino Community Center and the Chinese Progressive Association.

The report by CUHJ pinpoints the Balboa Park BART station Upper Yard near San Jose and Geneva avenues as a publicly owned lot that if turned over to the Mayor’s Office of Housing could provide more than an acre of city land to the crowded neighborhood.

The lot is currently a parking lot, but its century of history includes use as a rail yard.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency director Ed Reiskin said the SFMTA Board of Directors has been evaluating the need for the Upper Yard for more than a year and should vote on the proposal to give the space over to the Mayor’s office in the next few months.

“Preliminarily…it looks like we will not need the upper yard for long-term use,” he told the cheering crowd.

“The community has spoken,” Reiskin said. “We don’t want to stand in the way.”

However, Reiskin also said, “land in San Francisco is scarce. It is also scarce for us,” and stopped short of promising that the land would be turned over for development, saying it would ultimately be the board’s decision.

This comment was not well received by the youth groups who repeatedly demanded the director’s commitment to turnover the land.

Supervisor John Avalos also addressed the crowd, expressing strong support for the housing plan.

“We are crowded,” Avalos said about his district, which encompasses the Outer Mission, Excelsior and Ingleside areas.

Avalos said thousands of new residents have moved into the district in the past five years but no new housing developments have been built to accommodate the growth.

A review of the Balboa Park Station Area Plan, launched in 2000 by the city’s planning department, has also pushed for housing closer to the transportation hub, Avalos said, echoing city plans Reiskin had mentioned.

Avalos emphasized a need to create housing near Balboa Park to ease the housing crisis growing in the Excelsior as multiple generations live under one roof and housing prices soar.

At today’s rally, as many as 50 young San Franciscans in middle and high school chanted, gave speeches and held signs with slogans like, “Land for people not cars” and “Homes not cars.”

Others shook water bottles filled with beans chanting, “Public lands in community hands.”
Alvin Blanco, 18, a recent Mission High School graduate headed to City College of San Francisco in the fall, said he was participating in the demonstration “so low-income families won’t have to struggle.”

“Everyone should be able to live in San Francisco,” he said. The Mission District resident said his family’s apartment building has seen a mass departure of young families who cannot afford city rental rates.

Veronica Garcia, a young 27-year-old mother who lives in Visitacion Valley in her parents’ home, said eight people live in the single-family home.

“It shouldn’t be an option that I have to move out of San Francisco to be able to afford housing,” Garcia said.

Part of a smaller contingent of older demonstrators, 66-year-old Iris Biblowitz said she attended the rally to support the youth as they are “learning to be leaders.”

The nurse who lives in the Mission District noted many “rich techies” are moving into the Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods, squeezing out the families, many of which are immigrants, people of color and low-income.

“Hard-working people should be able to stay, live and thrive,” she said.

Today’s demonstration included a skit of an Excelsior family facing eviction, a Native American singing performance and a sing-along to a revamped version of the The Wanted’s pop song, “Glad You Came,” which included the lyrics, “The youth are here; Ed Reiskin come down.”

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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