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EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT: Jeff Bond UC's Designated Flak Catcher

By Rob Anderson

April 27, 2005. Monday night, at the HVNA [Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association] meeting on UC's proposal for the old Extension site, I almost felt sorry for Jeff Bond, a senior planner for UC, the designated flak catcher for the night. He was hammered relentlessly by almost everyone who spoke, especially after his poor-little-UC routine.

Bond's rap, in essence: UC has to turn the site into a profitable commercial housing development because it needs the money. UC will have to increase tuition and fees to students and cut academic programs if it doesn't get fair market value for the extension site. And as long as the property is zoned Public Use, he complained that UC couldn't get more than 50% of the fair market value if it sold the property. Besides, the property has serious seismic, asbestos, and ADA issues that are going to be expensive to deal with. Even the landscaping is in bad shape, Bond told the group Monday night. All this is going to cost millions, and UC doesn't have the money. The site is no longer suitable to be used for an educational institution.

On the other hand, a parade of people to the podium pointed out, among other things:

* That UC has had the 5.8 acre property since 1957 and, as a public entity, has never paid any taxes on the valuable property to the city. The city gave UC a huge, tax-free gift, and now it wants to cash in its chips by shoe-horning 400-500 commercial housing units into the middle of an already densely populated neighborhood.

* That UC has allowed the property to deteriorate on its watch and therefore should be responsible for fixing it up.

 * That the HVNA sent a letter to the UC Regents last year and never even got a reply.

A number of people asked Bond for some money numbers: What did he think the site is worth? What's UC's financial arrangement with developer Evans? What is UC paying for the two huge floors at 425 Market St. where the extension program is now operating? What is UC paying for that new property on nearby Third St.? Bond was not forthcoming, which irritated his audience. He said he was sorry, but he was operating under UC guidelines against divulging such information.

But Bond is a good flak catcher: He took a lot of shit Monday and never lost his composure. He was on the defensive all night, but he maintained an apologetic affability throughout what must have been an ordeal for him. He earned his salary Monday night.

But his performance was not helpful for UC, though it's unlikely anyone else could have done better. UC's problem: The more people learn about the proposal, the less they like it.

Supervisor Mirkarimi arrived a little late, but he should be forgiven, since he had probably been on the job for 12 hours by the time he got there. Actually, his timing was perfect, since, after being pummeled for 90 minutes by nearly everyone in the room, Bond was ready for Mirkarimi's coup de grace. Ross started off by saying, "I don't like this project at all." And it went downhill for UC from there. Ross said that UC was a "Leviathan," and that he didn't like its high-handed process. He favored the New College alternative to a commercial housing development. Ross told Bond he wanted to send a message to the Regents: There is serious opposition to their proposal in City Hall, and, finally, that he opposes changing the zoning from Public Use.

The last statement could be the nail in the coffin for the whole grotesquely large, arrogant, greedy proposal: If UC can't get a zoning change, there will be no commercial housing project on that site. (Interestingly, Mirkarimi suggested that Supervisor Dufty most of the site is actually in his district is also unhappy with the UC proposal, which is good news for UC's critics: A majority of the Board of Supervisors is likely to defer to the supervisors in whose district the project is located.)

When asked Monday what would happen if UC didn't get the zoning change, Bond said that we would probably soon be facing a similar proposal in the near future. And he's probably right about that. If UC's critics can't figure out how to wrest control of that parcel from UC, stopping this proposal will have been a waste of time. A suggestion: Supervisors Mirkarimi and Dufty could ask the City Attorney to map out a legal strategy to reclaim that property from UC for the city. At the same time, since it's unlikely UC can be forced to bring it up to code, we need to figure out a way to pay for the rehabilitation of the site to make it useable, perhaps through a special bond on the ballot.

If that can be done, there is a practical alternative: If New College occupied the site, the wall would come down nice symbolism in itself and the site would be more integrated into the community: The gym would be saved from demolition and made available to local kids; there would be no residential highrises on the site to spoil neighborhood views; and, more importantly, New College will make its free clinics available to the neighborhood, including a public interest law clinic, another operated through the graduate psychology program, and a family literacy clinic through its teaching credential program.

The next UC meeting is on May 9, at the same location: the First Baptist Church, #7 Octavia St., 7:00-9:00. This meeting will feature the Planning Dept., which favors the UC proposal and is on record as being "excited" by the housing "opportunities" for the site. The Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association actually, the HVNA Transportation and Planning Committee, in this instance is doing a huge public service by sponsoring and hosting this series of meetings. For more about the group, see their web site: www.hayesvalleysf.org .

Rob Anderson publishes a blog at http://district5diary.blogspot.com/