Notes on the University Mound Nursery

By Alex Hobbs

Portola resident and active community organizer working on the Portola Neighborhood Association’s Arts & Beautification Committee. Alex comments on the recent news that the land has gone into contract, and his thoughts on the future of the site. 

This is the 3rd time the site has gone into contract, perspective buyers have backed out every time for unknown reasons, well before public comment. The discussion on how to best use this last parcel of available land in our community is far from over with this news. The neighborhood has not stopped or objected to any of the other former greenhouse plots from being developed into housing but this is the last available plot. I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that it becomes something of greater lasting impact for the community given that we have happily given up the rest for housing.  The site in its current condition is also not, in my eyes at least, as blighted as some say. It is still very much alive with many of the original rose plants still growing inside the greenhouses and as a result, it has become a very popular destination for photographers and those seeking out relics of San Francisco history. 

As you may have guessed, I'm in support of the urban agriculture project here, it's a piece of  the Portola District's history that was a large part of San Francisco's earlier agricultural days. Its development into an Urban Agricultural production and learning center for students and residents would only add to Portola's designation as San Francisco's Garden District. A designation that if fostered, will only help to improve this neighborhood. Our community has been overlooked and ignored for years and I think we deserve to have something unique and defining in our neighborhood just like most of the city's other neighborhoods have been given for years. We in SE/SF bear the brunt of the city's less desirable necessities with the sewer treatment plant, Recology sorting center, public housing and the ugly giant concrete water reservoir right next to this site. It's time we get some improvements that help this community for a change.  

This location is also perfect for an Urban Ag. Center.  It's the only site left in the city that is zoned for agriculture as the former use has been grandfathered into the allowed zoning. No other land in the city is going to be rezoned for agriculture, so if this is developed into housing, it's gone. Physically the site is just as perfect for farming, it's far from major public transit lines, it's in one of the sunniest areas of the city (Portola has Bayview weather) and it's large enough to make a meaningful impact on the Urban Farming movement. There is also an underground stream, the Yosemite Creek, flowing at the south end of this site. Currently it flows from a spring in McLaren park, into a pipe that runs through the neighborhood and out to the bay where it's dumped. This project could harness that much needed water for a practical use instead of wasting it. This could be a model for other areas of California and the city so that others can harness our much needed and often wasted water resources.

While it's difficult to deny the need for housing, this neighborhood has been working on this project long before the current housing crisis.  We are also not opposing the creation of 54 townhouses at the nearby Cambridge Estates development because Portolans understand the regional need for housing.  The greenhouse site is only zoned for 34 single family homes which would be the only appropriate amount for this mostly R-1 zoned neighborhood.  Those homes which would most likely cost upwards of a million dollar plus each, are not going to have nearly the lasting impact on the community as a working farm and learning center would have. Assets such as this are what help define communities and make them desirable which often leads to more development and investment. And while these kinds of small housing development may help ease the housing problem in a very minute way, they are are still far away from public transit and would only put more cars on the road and add to the growing problem of congestion in the Bay Area. Urban housing that will help solve our problems, not add to more, should be built closer to transit. We should be looking at upzoning and infilling San Bruno Ave in the Portola and around Third Street in the Bayview.  These are areas along major transit lines that are ripe for redevelopment that will really help ease our housing and congestion issues, not add to them like the greenhouse site would.