Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Corbett Heights Meeting Notes

Corbett Heights Neighbors Meeting Notes - January 22, 2015

We had a full house at our last meeting. Almost 60 people showed up!

First, I'd like to thank all of the people who distributed the fliers: Ted Teipel, Barbara Presta, Janice Low, Kevin Dunn, Rick Johnson, Nancy Peoples, Kazumi Matsuyama, Dirk Aguilar, Anya Deepak and Pat Hufford.                        Greatly appreciated!!

(And thanks to Barbara Presta for help with the notes!)

The meeting's main topic for discussion has been widely publicized, and affects Corbett Heights, and the southern portion of Corona Heights - as well as almost every other part of the city. I invited Dennis Richards, our newest Planning Commissioner, as well as Tim Colen, executive director of the SF Housing Action Coalition to speak with us about their views and answer questions.

Watching a gas station turned into housing doesn't usually bring about a feeling of great loss. But when bit by bit your neighborhood becomes something you don't even recognize - in a matter of a few years, there is an irreversible loss beyond words.

Developers have been purchasing lot after lot in San Francisco and advertising their finished project as being located in a charming or quaint neighborhood. Well, how many of the projects that are currently being approved would it take to wipe out that sense of charm or quaintness? If you walk down a street like Natoma, south of Market, do you feel like lingering, or looking around you at interesting architecture or gardens? Every single new home going up around town resembles those on Natoma St.

In case you don't know, a variance is an exception to a standard planning code. So if, for example, a developer wants to add a 2nd building in the required rear-yard open space, he requests a variance. And in all but severe cases when an entire neighborhood comes out to protest, it is granted.

When I first became interested in Planning issues, the people who applied for variances were most often families who, for example, were expecting another child and needed another bedroom. The most common variance request that I have been aware of in our neighborhood these days is one where the project sponsor "needs" to increase the footprint of the building to 75% of the lot. Where does "need" come into play when it's the developer making the application and not the future resident. But obviously, a larger home will demand a larger price.

An example of what's going on: 84 - 86 Ord Street - just up from 17th Street: Last year it was assessed at $1.4 million. Calling it a remodel, the developer built an enormous home - 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, 5 decks, 2 garages and 2 curb cuts. They are asking $4.5 million.

Supervisor Wiener apologized for not being able to attend this evening - there was a critical meeting on the Real Foods debacle on 24th St. He's been an integral part in that negotiation.

He told me to refer to a couple of statements he was quoted as making in the JK Dineen article in the Chronicle a few weeks ago.

The article starts with:

The residential enclave below the Randall Museum is a magical corner in the hilly center of San Francisco, a lush world of secret staircases and crooked lanes, Monterey pines and funky cottages.

"Most people don't know it exists, and when you walk through it for the first time your first reaction is, 'I can't believe this is in the middle of the city,'" said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the area.

And, referring to a developer's ploy that the old cottages that we are so fond of are "underutilized" housing:

Supervisor Wiener, who is generally pro-development, said he will continue to help neighbors fight homes that are out of scale. "Turning regular-sized homes into monster homes isn't adding new housing," Wiener said.

Following are 3 questions I posed to our speakers:

1. San Francisco is 49 square miles. It cannot expand, which is why housing has become so scarce. But we also have a limited existing infrastructure with which to support the increasing number of residents. Do you feel that the Planning Department should deny permits for some projects when no infrastructure improvements are in the works, and when the surrounding residents are against the ever-increasing densification of their neighborhood?

2. In order for neighborhood residents to attempt to prevent an undesirable project from being approved he or she must recruit possibly unaware neighbors of the concern, write letters, contact commissioners and take a day off work to sit in City Hall all day, only to have that CU (conditional use application) or variance approved anyway. It seems as though all of the weight is on the resident to prove a project unsatisfactory, too large, too obtrusive, rather than having the weight be on the developer to prove that his will be an acceptable project for the block. Is there a solution that can help individuals have faith that they still can have a say?

3. And - despite what it says in the Residential Design Guidelines, rear yard and mid block open space is disappearing fast as developers seek and are granted variances to build larger than the existing envelope. Can rampant variance approval be controlled?

Tim Colen responded saying that he lives on Edgehill Way in Forest Hill, where 7 small homes were demolished to make way for 5,000 - 7,000 square foot homes. And that this has irreversibly changed the character of the street. He supports sharply increasong SF's rate of housing construction. Our population is increasing by ~ 10,000 people per year, and that in 20 years our population will be over 1 million.

Dennis Richards had just left a 7 hour Planning Commission hearing to attend our meeting. He explained that a good portion of every hearing is devoted to neighbors who disagree with permits that have been issued - in this area, Noe Valley and Pacific Heights, especially. People are waking up and thinking "this is not our vision for SF neighborhoods." 33% of properties sold were paid for in cash. As SF has more and more of an international appeal, buyers from Russia, China and other countries are just buying up whatever is available. Techies, with a new sense of urbanism are also having a huge influence. They don't want to live in a box house in Tracy. SF has good weather and good food.

"My take is that you are the ultimate Planning Commission. You have the power if you have the desire. Like the ballot measure that limits heights on the waterfront, if you really want to change things now is the time and you have to do it at the ballot box.

80% of new housing is built for millionaires. Affordability, by definition is based on average medium income in the city. This means that fewer and fewer people can afford the "affordable" as income levels continue to rise.

History Project: Our History Project committee has, at long last, submitted the document to the HPFC (Historic Preservation Fund Committee). They and the Planning Dept. will review it, request any changes and bring it to hearing.

This has gone on way too long, but it will be something we'll all be proud of. I'd like to give special thanks to Susan Detwiler who, although she lives in Corbett Heights is not a member of our board or on our History Project committee, but has given tremendous amounts of time towards this project.

Corbett Heights Parks/Parks Fund: Our Corbett Heights Neighbors board has set aside a sizeable amount of money - from your membership dues - to be used to improve our green spaces. If you would like to act as a steward of a particular "park", or if you'd like to participate in maintaining one, please contact me or any member of our board with any ideas you have for the park.

Corbett/Ord Triangle is like a gateway to Corbett Heights. Barbara Presta has agreed to organize some cleanup times for the park, and neighbors like Bill Prince and Fred Moyer have spent hours cleaning up the park. But we're hoping for some additional, dedicated people to own this beautiful space.

Merritt Park has a steward who lives across the street. That park has been overrun with homeless people who are using the park as their living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The newly installed garbage can has become their pantry. It is illegal to store anything on public property, so anytime belongings are stored under a tarp, the police will respond if called - eventually. It feels a bit cruel to take this approach, but the conditions have rendered this park unusable by others. The police non-emergency number is 415-553-0123.

Corbett Slope: We had a very successful cleanup day last Sunday. There were about 12 people. We filled up 13 large leafbags with weeds and clippings, trimmed several trees and cleared the paths. Supervisor Wiener's office was able to allocate $10,000 towards a stairway to connect Corbett to Market, and other internal improvements, but as of now, DPW is still sitting on it. They promised that by the middle of this month, we will have met and come up with a plan. You'll be the first to know!

3198 Market Street: This is the landlocked parcel behind the Market Street be-muraled retaining wall, down at the base of Al's Park, and just east of the Miller-Joost house. The owners of the property plan to build a new 2-unit, ~2,000 square foot (total) building - with no car access and no garage. There will be a new path down to the cite accessible only by bicycles and pedestrians visiting the park.

After an initial, extremely bland (to put it mildly) proposal, I submitted a list of suggestions for improving the project - after consulting with many neighbors and members of EVNA's Planning and Land Use Committee. I'm happy to report that the architect/project sponsor heeded every one of the suggestions. Whereas it certainly pales in comparison to the stately Miller-Joost house next door, it at least is a clean, unobjectionable house.         They will participate in a committee of neighbors to come to agreement on the garden's revised layout. And give $5,000 towards implementation and maintenance.  The only consistant criticism has been about the width of the "path" which has been stated as being 6'. They're amenable to reducing that as well.

Construction at 75 Mars continues to plod along.

Crime: I will be attempting to have the new Captain of Park Station attend our April meeting. The burglaries, car break-ins and numerous other crimes have increased dramatically lately. But this apparently is a trend citywide. Unfortunately, living in a city, we need to be aware all the time. Extra precaution pays off. And please do not leave anything visible in your car that may lead a thief to think there could be valuables inside - phone cables, chargers.....


2198 Market (Shell Station/Xmas tree lot): This development will have 87 rental units and be 7+ stories tall. The Market St. side will be 65' tall, the Sanchez St. side will be 40' tall and the very corner 81'. Project has recently broken ground.

2201 Market: (Formerly Glidden Paint, SF Stereo, the Industrialists, and almost a Starbuck's) If approved by city planners, it will include a six-story, nine-unit apartment building with ground floor retail space and basement parking.

The proposed mixed use building will include about 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor, and the second through sixth floors will include a total of nine dwelling units. Being below the 10 unit threshhold they are not required to include any affordable housing units. The proposed name will be Linea Lite - after Linea, the ice cube tray building on Buchanan. Same architect - Brian Spiers.

2100 Market St: (Formerly Burke's, Church St. Station, Boston Market and Home) Purchased by Brian Spiers ((of Buchanan (Linea) ice cube tray building)). He's proposing a 7 story, 64 unit apartment building, 4700 square feet of retail. It will be all rental. The land is being leased for 99 years. Spiers also owns Lucky 13 and the huge lot adjacent. No plans for that yet.

Sullivan's Funeral Home: The Prado Group (Whole Foods building) has filed plans to add 3 floors of residential units on top of the existing Sullivan's Funeral Home building at 2254 Market, and construct 2 buildings, rising up to 50' in height along Market Street and 40' along 15th Street, on the funeral home's parking lots next door. As proposed, the buildings fronting Market Street would be interconnected and include up to 45 dwelling units, with 13,500 square feet of ground floor retail. A 22 car garage will be below. The facade of the funeral home itself will be retained, as it is a historic resource.

Cafe du Nord: The master lease was purchased by the owners of Woodhouse Fish Co. They're planning a new street-level restaurant featuring Basque cuisine on Market Street above Cafe Du Nord. The restaurant will be called Aatxe, after "a mythological bull spirit creature in Basque folklore." It's being headed by Ryan Pollnow, the chef du cuisine at Central Kitchen in the Mission. Central Kitchen is part of the Ne Timeas group of restaurants (along with Flour + Water and Salumeria), and Ne Timeas is overseeing the food program at the revamped Cafe du Nord as well.   Aatxe will feature a 50-seat restaurant and bar separate from the Cafe du Nord space below. Aatxe will supposedly open within the next month.

400 Castro (formerly Diesel and BofA, and almost Randy Rooster!) SoulCycle will be opening in the main space. They are a chain of fitness studios that originated in NYC. Opening is planned for June.

Streetlight Records is calling it quits after 35 years.

CrossFit plans to open in the old Blockbuster building on Church across from the Safeway parking lot.

MCC (Metropolitan Community Church), which has been there since 1979 will be for sale. Apparently the buildings are "falling apart".

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Membership: If you haven't paid for a while or would like to join, annual membership is $15 per year per household. Besides being used for flier printing and snacks for garden workdays, the money is used to purchase plants, any garden equipment and irrigation supplies we may need to take care of our various mini-parks. The easiest way to join is to go to our website:, and click on the "Subscribe" button. That way, PayPal will automatically remind you next year. Or, you can send a check made out to CHN to 197 Corbett, 94114.

Thanks for your interest in the neighborhood!

- Gary