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Using Equitable Engagement to Plan for the Future

Case Story

The City of South San Francisco proudly remains The Industrial City, a reflection of its steel mill and ship building past, redefined to reflect the innovative, entrepreneurial, and industrious spirit which has made South San Francisco the Biotech Capital of the World. Like many cities, South San Francisco is a city in transition. Once a center of heavy industry, including Bethlehem Steel and Fuller Paint, city leaders are challenged today with leveraging resources to ensure that South San Francisco residents, who have one of the lowest average incomes in San Mateo County, can enjoy an enhanced quality of life.

The city is currently undergoing a massive planning effort, recently completing its Orange Memorial Park and Centennial Way Trail Master Plans, updating the 2040 General Plan, Climate Action Plan, and  a Master Park Plan update. Many community improvement projects are completed, and/or underway, including the Caltrain South San Francisco Station improvements project which is now complete. This remodeled station now allows for easier pedestrian access to the city’s downtown businesses, serving as a gateway into our historic downtown, and it has significantly improved safety and disabled access.

In progress is the Colma Creek Connector, which is a project to enhance public access along South San Francisco’s Colma Creek. The city’s latest grant achievement is a  $2.4 million award from the CalTrans  Clean California Program , which will fund the city’s Centennial Trail Outdoor Recreation and Education Enhancement Project that will  transform an undeveloped fallow patch of dirt into a community space. City staff says this will advance equity, health and education outcomes for one of South San Francisco’s most underserved neighborhoods.

Planning for the next decade takes leadership, dedication, and commitment to working with the community. City leaders and staff have been collaborating with residents and stakeholders to ensure that proposed plans and projects incorporate the community’s vision and provide benefit to the most underserved residents. The city is home to an ethnically diverse community, full of working-class families, with pockets of low-income, high-need neighborhoods vulnerable to displacement. For example, 58 percent of households speak a language other than English and 81 percent of households are households of color. These communities have been lacking equitable access to various opportunities and are particularly vulnerable to economic fluctuations and climate impacts such as extreme weather events, heat waves, droughts, flooding from both the coast and stormwater and earthquakes.

With the goal of being a people-oriented city with thriving opportunities for all, South San Francisco centers its planning, programming, and services around equity. On August 7, 2020, the city affirmed its commitment to equity by adopting a Racial and Social Equity Action Plan, recognizing “the direct and indirect connections between racism and economic disadvantage to public health and education crisis.” The city has formed a Commission on Equity and Public Safety and just held its first meeting in June 2022. This Commission is taking with implementing the city’s Racial & Social Equity Action Plan, which among other actions, pursues equitable public participation that makes an effort to engage those most impacted by social and economic inequalities and youth, specifically young community members of color.

South San Francisco is making an effort to transition towards a brighter and more equitable future that puts historically underserved and marginalized communities first. Centered around public health, economic opportunities, safety, climate resilience and adaptation, affordable housing and reimagined public spaces that promote people’s health and well-being, a myriad of new strategies and actions from the recently adopted plans, as well as a strong commitment to equity have set the City of South San Francisco on the path for a strong and vibrant future.

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