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'It Doesn't Have Any Connection To Bayview': Can This San Francisco Megaproject Overcome Gentrification Fears?

The long-pending redevelopment of San Francisco's former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard could create inequitable development, even if it overcomes a cleanup scandal that has stalled it for years, neighborhood advocates say.

Efforts to avoid displacement and involve existing residents in projects like Hunters Point have grown, but suspicions still run high in the city's historically underserved Bayview neighborhood where past promises, like for adequate transportation infrastructure, often ended up being empty ones. 

“I think this is sort of a quintessential example of how difficult it is to do equitable development," said Tomiquia Moss, founder of housing and homelessness-prevention organization All Home and former housing adviser in the mayor's office. "You have the intention of increasing housing and jobs and increasing the community’s assets, and, yet, how do we make sure that that does not cause displacement or negative impacts for the community that’s already there?”

Hunters Point, San Francisco

Current project plans of developer FivePoint, a spinoff of massive homebuilder Lennar Corp., go back over a decade and include 10,672 residential units and over 6.6M SF of commercial space to be developed between the former Navy base and nearby Candlestick Point.

Other Bayview stakeholders are critical of the 10,672-unit residential component, which will include 3,345 below-market-rate units, saying that too few are accessible to existing Bayview-Hunters Point residents.

Of those BMR units, around 1,300, or about 40%, are for households earning between 100% and 160% of the area's median income, which, for a four-person household in S.F., comes out to $128.1K this year. The median income for Bayview was $53K in 2013, the 2009-2013 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau found.

But as work at Candlestick continues, most of the shipyard portion will stay unstarted until the long-toxic site, which once held a nuclear research facility and served as a cleaning station for ships involved in nuclear weapons testing, is cleared by the Navy, the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and local regulators. 

Work at FivePoint's Hunters Point project has been largely delayed since 2016, when evidence mounted that Navy contractor Tetra Tech EC botched its cleanup work. Allegations that Tetra Tech employees used outside soil to misrepresent contaminated parcels as acceptably clean started in 2011, leading to 2018 reports by another Navy contractor and the EPA that threw into question much, if not almost all, of Tetra Tech's work at the sites.

Eventually, FivePoint's thousands of units and SF of commercial development are meant to follow 505 market-rate units already built in an initial phase by Lennar. 

That process, if it ever starts, comes with its own questions from the historically predominantly Black Bayview neighborhood. By 1980, well over half of Bayview-Hunters Point residents were Black because of both post-war migration patterns and displacement from redevelopment of the once-predominantly Black Fillmore District

In subsequent decades, the tech sector blossomed, often excluding people of color and local residents from that growth, and San Francisco housing production fell well behind demand, forcing many Black residents out of San Francisco. By 2010, just one-third of Bayview residents and only 6.1% of all San Franciscans identified as Black. 

Though higher than the state average, incomes in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood lag behind the rest of the city. In 2018, the median household income in Bayview-Hunters Point was $80.5K, almost 30% less than the San Francisco-wide figure of $112.3K, according to census estimates

Moss, who formerly led operations for Hope SF, the city's public housing and neighborhood revitalization program, said those concerns have been somewhat addressed by city officials and developers at Hunters Point. Lennar and FivePoint's projects involved "a ton of community engagement," she said, and both developers have agreed to extensive community benefits agreements.

Other stakeholders say that the outreach hasn't involved all voices and concerns about outside buyers purchasing limited housing and inflating property prices abound. 

“Here we are again with a community where people are going to live there, but you’re never going to know who they are," said Children’s Council of San Francisco CEO Gina M. Fromer, another longtime resident who moved out. “I am tired of that. FivePoint has a huge opportunity here to bring economic viability and families who have been waiting for homeownership connected to Bayview.”

Community benefit agreements between the two developers include infrastructure to serve and funding to construct the first four phases of the new Alice Griffith housing project, which provided a one-for-one, 256-unit replacement of the old community for residents, and a new 10K SF commercial kitchen that Marcus Tartt said has been a way for small-business owners and entrepreneurs to launch food businesses. 

Tartt, the center director for the Bayview location of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, a nonprofit supporting entrepreneurship in underserved communities, said he finds the projects' community benefits packages to be robust. He also cited his organization's program for small construction businesses as seeing important benefits from involvement in Hunters Point redevelopment projects.

“That’s been something that’s been really great to see: local contractors participating in the development of the project," Tartt said. 

Tartt said the one apparent shortcoming in the community benefit agreements is a lack of business development programs and the possibility current Bayview businesses are hurt by incoming competition.

“Maybe this new development will be its own kind of ecosystem and business center in itself, but we don’t think about how it could potentially take away from the third street corridor or other small businesses in the community," he said. 

Pattina Muriel Steele, a former longtime Bayview resident employed as a restaurant general manager there, said she is in firm opposition to the project for its lack of affordability, in addition to the public health concerns. 

"This is a definition case of gentrification," Steele, who is Jamaican American and has decades of family ties to the Bayview neighborhood, said in an interview. “They’re not building these developments for us. It’s not to enhance or improve our well-being.

A FivePoint spokesperson only said that the company is "deeply committed to [the Bayview], its history and the future" but didn't respond to a subsequent request for comment.

Charmaine Curtis, principal of San Francisco-based developer Curtis Development, said she mainly sees the Hunters Point redevelopment as "a reservoir of reasonably affordable entry-level housing, which we don't have a lot of." 

“Eventually it’s going to be a nice neighborhood," Curtis said. "Is it a Bayview neighborhood? No. It’s a new neighborhood. It doesn’t have any connection to the Bayview.