Outer Balboa St. slated for makeover

by Thomas K. Pendergast

The section of Balboa Street between 35th and 39th avenues is going to get a makeover sometime next year, with more trees, plant boxes and parking spaces.

Kris Opbroek, manager for the Great Streets Program, said the street will be lined with many more trees and planter boxes than are there now. The design phase of the project has already been completed.

The City is hoping to receive more federal stimulus money to help out but whether or not they get it, they'll begin advertising for construction bids this coming January. At this time, Opbroek estimates construction will start sometime around April or May, 2011.

According to Opbroek, the section of outer Balboa was chosen, like other selected streets around the City, because it is a commercial corridor that is considered one of the "most in need of improvement."

It was also chosen because there's a heavy amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in that area, with both the Muni #18 and #31 bus lines routed on the street and the #38 Geary Boulevard line running only a couple of blocks away. George Washington High School is also in the area.

"It's a fairly wide street, so traffic calming was something that the community requested to slow traffic down," Opbroek said.

The federal government will fund about 88 percent of the $1 million project, she said, and the city's general fund will make up the difference.

"We anticipate about six to eight months of construction," she said.

The long time frame is necessary because sewer lines will be replaced at the same time and the street will be repaved so later on the department will not have to tear up or undo any work that's already been completed.

"We anticipate the need to replace things (on Balboa) is everywhere so we'll be doing that work simultaneously," Opbroek said.

Tom Bernard, a San Francisco native who attended Washington High School and still frequents the area, said he likes the idea of more trees and planters in general, however, he is skeptical.

"With this group of politicians, I'm very leery about what's going on with their own take on 'transit first' and the way they're dealing with people and cars," he said. "My inclination is they've got something up their sleeves and they're trying to change the use of cars in this City. I don't trust them."

As for the issue of trees on Balboa, he said it depends on the type of tree that is planted because they might block store signs from people driving by or riding their bikes and might also make the street too dark at night by blocking streetlights, thus making people feel unsafe.

According to plans provided by Opbroek, the current design would use Cordyline trees to line the street.

But, Bernard has yet another concern about the planter boxes.

"Would the planter boxes make it more difficult for people to get in and out of their cars? If they had a hard time to get in and out of their cars, they might decide that this is too difficult a neighborhood to shop in and therefore they would drive over to Daly City to the Westlake Shopping Center? My concern is this may hurt the shops in this area," Bernard said.

Thomas Jovero, the owner of Nibs Bakery on Balboa, between 38th and 39th avenues, likes the idea of more trees and planters along the street.

"In general it's fine. Anything that improves it, including more parking and cleaning it up, is a good thing," Jovero said. "Trees are wonderful. We love trees."

On his block, and on his side of the street, angled parking spaces would replace the current parallel parking, which he likes because it will increase the number of parking spaces available on Balboa.

"It's good for businesses here," he said. "We don't have enough parking out here as it is. All the developers in the neighborhood have cut out all of the parking."

He also agrees that the area has heavy pedestrian traffic but to him they are not the problem.

"It's not the pedestrians that are the problem, it's the drivers. They travel too fast. They're in too big a rush. It's not a thoroughfare," he said.

Also on Balboa is Victoria's Pizzeria, whose owner, Antoine, said he likes the idea of more trees on the street as long as they are not the kind of trees that shed a lot of leaves.

"This would be great if they have non-shedding trees because mostly on this street there are many restaurants, so it's going to be very dirty for us. So, if they can have something like cactus, which doesn't shed, that would be great," Antoine said.

He's less enthusiastic about the planters on the sidewalk between the trees.

"That would be too much because you have to water these. You have to take care of these. There's no time for these things. This is not the botanical garden you know," he said. "This is a street. You put too many things in it and it's going to be a mess if nobody takes care of it. The trees, you don't have to take care of them. I'd love to have flowers everywhere but you have to be practical, unless the City wants to take care of all these things, which I doubt, because they don't have money for all these things."