South San Francisco Downtown Plan: Walkable, but not necessarily affordable

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

South San Francisco, “The Industrial City” and birthplace of biotechnology, wants also to be known for its walkable, bike-friendly, and economically vibrant downtown. The city’s new Draft Downtown Station Area Specific Plan, which lays out a vision to attract and guide future downtown development, is helping to make this a reality.

The Coalition for Community Benefits, of which TransForm is a member, has been encouraging better public input in the process since the project began in 2012. After over six months of waiting, we finally got ahold of the plan details last week. 

At first glance, the Plan is promising. South City’s Plan takes advantage of the City’s close proximity to San Francisco.  It centers around increasing connectivity to and from the Caltrain Station, including the construction of a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel and relocation of the station platform to a more accessible location. 

The Plan also addresses many of the Coalition’s transportation and open space priorities. We were pleased to see livability measures like:  

  • road diets and a network of bike facilities,
  • the potential for new housing where residents can choose to pay less in rent by opting out of a parking spot,
  • better pedestrian and bike access to the Caltrain station, and
  • requirements for new commercial developments to provide accessible open space.

These provisions will help the City achieve a walkable city center that can successfully attract more people to live in and visit the downtown.

However, we were disappointed to see how silent the Plan was on issues of affordable housing, anti-displacement policies, sustainable development, and good labor standards – despite the fact that all five City Council member have voiced support of our Coalition’s Platform

To be successful, the downtown plan will need to do more than improve transportation options and connectivity eastward. It should also provide the right amount and mix of homes near transit that are affordable to current residents, and provide quality jobs and economic development opportunities.  

While the draft Plan is a good start, South City can do a lot more to facilitate the vibrant downtown neighborhood it envisions. 

The Coalition for Community Benefits is hard at work analyzing the 152-page draft and will be submitting detailed recommendations to the City in the next few weeks. We’re confident that with more attention to the housing and employment needs of all its residents, a refined Plan can help South San Francisco create a more equitable, transit-oriented, sustainable, and thriving downtown.

The City is hosting an evening Open House for residents and community members to preview the draft Plan on Thursday, July 24, from 6 to 8pm. Contact Clarrissa for more details. 

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.