“CCSF Gets Flak for Gough Street Redevelopment Plans”

SF Chronicle, January 17, 2015

City College of San Francisco’s plan to sell or lease its Gough Street administrative headquarters to a market-rate developer is raising the ire of housing advocates and elected officials who say such publicly owned properties should be set aside for affordable units.

In August, City College issued a request for proposals to redevelop its 46,000-square-foot parcel at 33 Gough St., a property that includes a two-story administrative building and two surface parking lots.

Half a block off burgeoning central Market Street, the property is big enough
In August, City College issued a request for proposals to redevelop its 46,000-square-foot parcel at 33 Gough St., a property that includes a two-story administrative building and two surface parking lots.

Half a block off burgeoning central Market Street, the property is big enough for 220 units of housing. The solicitation says the district will vacate the site and is seeking an experienced developer to “maximize the value of the property and return to CCSF.”

City College spokesman Jeff Hamilton said the money generated from the sale or lease of 33 Gough would help the college pay for deferred capital improvements at other facilities. The poor condition and inefficiency of some of City College’s 11 properties is one of the issues the state Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges had cited in attempting to strip the school’s accreditation over the past two years.

The property could be a cash cow for CCSF. It sits within a few blocks of more than 2,000 new housing units — some built and some coming — as well as major tech employers including Uber, Square, Twitter and Dolby.

Even if it were to sell for $150,000 per buildable unit, the lower end of recent comparable sales, 33 Gough would fetch more than $30 million, a windfall for a college on the brink of bankruptcy in September 2012. If City College were to enter into a ground lease — the community college district’s preference — it would could bring in millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Changing neighborhood

“The property in its current form is underutilized,” Hamilton said. “The neighborhood is in the middle of a transformation, to be sure, and it would be irresponsible not to reassess 33 Gough in that context.”

But where CCSF administrators see dollars and cents, others see a commodity that is even more valuable in the current political landscape: Land that could be used for affordable housing for working-class and middle-class residents.

In December, Mayor Ed Lee launched the Public Land for Housing program to dedicate underused public sites to housing for low- and middle-income residents. Lee said that by 2020, the program would identify sites for at least 4,000 units, 50 percent of which would be affordable to low- or middle-income residents. The remaining 50 percent would be market rate.

“Our nonprofit housing agencies are effective partners in the development of low-income housing, but we need more sites to expand their efforts,” Lee said at the time.

While City College is independent from the the City and County of San Francisco — it is part of the California Community College system — the school’s administration should follow Lee’s program, said Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, which represents affordable housing developers.

City College “seems to be thinking in a policy vacuum,” Cohen said.

“To what extent is City College listening to the public policy conversation about development on publicly owned sites?” he said. “We don't know, but there's nothing in their 33 Gough (request for proposal) process that indicates any preference or priority for affordable housing.”

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area, said CCSF never approached her office or the Planning Department about 33 Gough St.

“I found out about the (request for qualification) from developers who were interested in bidding on it,” she said. “The vision in the (request) doesn’t match the city’s vision.”

But college spokesman Hamilton stressed that the state education code doesn’t give institutions much leeway in selling property. City College is obligated to get a fair market value for the property, and the solicitation process for selling or leasing properties is set out in state law. CBRE, a commercial brokerage with a long track record of advising public agencies on land dispositions, is consulting with City College on 33 Gough St.

Hamilton said CCSF is working with the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development on the project. Potential developers will be interviewed in January and February, and a final selection will be made after April. City College is also looking at selling or leasing another property it owns — a parking lot next to the school’s main campus on Ocean Avenue.

“The chancellor is personally committed to doing as much as possible to work with the mayor to address affordable housing,” Hamilton said. “We know that this is a priority.”

He said the city’s lack of affordable housing resonates with City College students and staff.

“Many of our students come form low-income and lower-middle-income families and are often the first people in their families to attend college,” he said. “Affordability directly affects City College, and we have to do our part to make sure San Francisco is accessible and hospitable place for our students.”

First shot

Cohen said that City College can have it both ways — receive a fair price for its property and make sure the land is used for affordable housing. But the only way that can happen, he said, is to give nonprofit developers the first shot at coming up with a plan to raise money for the land acquisition and construction costs.

He compared the 33 Gough St. situation to the disposition of 1950 Mission St., which the San Francisco Unified School District traded to the Mayor’s Office of Housing last year for another property and $4.5 million in cash. The city is scheduled to pick a nonprofit developer this year to build affordable housing there.

“Nobody is asking them to give away the property for free,” Cohen said.

Normally, the disposition of surplus properties would be overseen by the City College Board of Trustees — but that body was stripped of its power in July 2013, replaced with a state-appointed special trustee who makes unilateral decisions for City College. The trustees are expected to resume control by July 2016.

Trustee Rafael Mandelman called the 33 Gough St. controversy a “tricky balancing act.”

“You have an educational institution that has serious financial needs and serious capital needs and is coming out of a really dark time,” he said. “At the same time, you have a critical opportunity site where the prospect of having affordable housing would be attractive to anybody.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer. E-mail: jdineen@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen 

Public LandsNoa Chupkov