Thursday, October 29, 2015

Corbett Heights Meeting Notes

Corbett Heights Neighbors Meeting Notes - October 22, 2015

First, I'd like to thank all of the people who distributed the fliers: Monique Passicot, Mark Ryser, Janice Low, Rick Johnson, Kevin Dunn, Kathy and Hank Flanders, Dirk Aguilar, Barbara Presta, Bill Prince, Phil Byland and Kazumi Matsuyama . AND - thanks to Bill Prince for taking notes during the meeting!

Greatly appreciated!

Leslie Koelsch, our Treasurer gave the Treasurer's report. We have about $3,000 in our bank account, and have approximately 100 members.

Prop F - Short Term Rentals Discussion: Quinton Mecke of ShareBetterSF - pro, and Peter Kwan of Homesharers - con.

Queintin Mecke began by saying that Proposition F is not about spying on your neighbors, creepy billboard ads, or neighbors suing neighbors. He said that AirBnb has mounted a $9 million scare campaign and resisted regulation at every step. In fact, until February of this year, short-term rentals were illegal. They have been banned in other cities, and decimate affordable housing stock.

The Proposition requires that platforms such as AirBnB or VRBO list only city-registered rentals. Although registration is required now, only 692 of 6300 rentals are actually registered. There are vast abuses; 25 hosts have multiple properties, which is illegal, but nothing happens about it. We need to use housing stock for residents not tourists, because apartment stock, in part because of rent control, is not just a private asset, but is a public asset. 67% of city residents are renters.

Peter Kwan has been a homeowner in North Beach for 14 years, and has been fortunate enough to buy a little house. He represents the Housing Community Support Group, which has no ties to AirBnb. He feels that using words like "decimated" is itself a scare tactic. Proposition F is about spying on neighbors, as it gives neighbors of short-term rental properties, whom it declares to be "interested parties," a special right of action. Furthermore, it gives them a financial incentive to sue in the form of a $1000/day penalty. Neighbors have the right to sue and to recover their legal costs if they win, but hosts do not have the right to recover legal costs. There will be a proliferation of law suits should the measure pass.

He's heard of many examples of neighbors watching, writing angry letters, and even slashing tires.

The invasion of privacy is a serious issue, not a scare tactic. It requires a host to disclose to the city how many nights s/he sleeps in his/her own home for a year after the last rental. Proposition F is not about AirBnb but about the individual hosts, but if you look at who the hosts are, you find that the average host has lived in his/her home for 19 years, about half earn below the median wage, 3/4 say the mortgage is their biggest expense, and 2/3 say the income from renting helps them stay in their homes. He feels we need to give the current law more time to work, and points out that the proponents of Proposition F were preparing the initiative even as the city took input from stakeholders and passed the current law.

In rebuttal, Quintin says the current law is unenforceable because the city has no right to proactively investigate an unregistered rental without a citizen complaint. He finds it ironic that Peter defends the current law by saying that if a citizen is unhappy about a nearby rental s/he can complain to the city about it, where the opponents of Proposition F strongly criticize the way the Proposition allows citizens to complain to the city! He calls the current law wholely complaint-based.

Peter in rebuttal says that the financial incentive to sue from Proposition F is different from the current ability to complain and that in the past, threatened lawsuts never materialized. He finds it a violation of the right to privacy and against illegal search and seizure when citizens must turn over the data that F requires.

Community College Board: Tom Temprano, Wendy Aragon (Alex Randolph was attending the board's monthly meeting and could not make it to our meeting). Alex was appointed to temporarily fill the position until November's election. Whoever wins gets to have the position for the one remaining year. Then there will be another election for a 4-year term.

Wendy Aragon and Tom Temprano then spoke. Tom is a former community college student from Ventura who now owns a neighborhood bar called (I believe) Virgil's Sea Room. Ahoy, matey! He finds there's been a lot of damage done to CCSF. People think it's going to close or is already closed. One third of its enrollment has been lost, and there will be big cuts in funding unless this drop is reversed. A top priority for him is to work on the enrollment crisis. He also wants to allocate CCSF funds where they are needed. He wants to spend more on staff working on enrollment and less on consulting fees like the $8 million already spent. Furthermore, the college's reserves are six times what they need to be, and he feels some can be spared for operations.

Wendy lost last year by 1.75% of the vote, but feels strongly enough to run again. She is a community college success story, from a working-class union family, with learning problems in junior high, and she failed her senior year. Learning disabilities were diagnosed, and she was able to succeed in community college. She has joined groups to preserve City College, and finds it an economic equalizer. She points out that teachers have gotten a substantial pay cut in recent years, whereas the administrators gave themselves a 29% pay raise. She also feels money should be removed from reserves, and used to pay teachers an boost enrollment.

Gary's Neighborhood Rant:

Once upon a time you could build just about anything in SF. So long as it had a toilet, a window and a light bulb you were good to go. All of the buildings built in the 60s along Twin Peaks and Market St attest to this. But it was when the city allowed the construction of the Fontana Towers - east and west, that the northern half of the city erupted in anger.

Here is why I think the monster home situation in SF is so prevalent:

I'm not sure when the Planning Dept as it exists now or the Planning Commission were formed, but from what I understand it all stemmed from the Fontana debacle.

You have the Planning Dept. which receives plans and makes decisions to either approve them or request that they be modified. Then there's the Planning Director - John Rahaim - who oversees the departmentt. Then you have the Planning Commission - appointed by the mayor and the president of the Board of Supervisors. They oversee hearings on everything planning-related, including variances. Then you have the Zoning Adminstrator - Scott Sanchez who "hears and makes determinations on variance applications, provides written interpretations and clarifications of the planning code". He, by the way has greater power than the commissioners themselves.   

A variance is, by definition, "a request for an exception to the Planning Code".

It used to be used rarely. On the average lot, you are allowed 55% lot coverage and must leave 45% open space. But planning code states that if a variance is granted, you can build out to 75% lot coverage. So guess what - most projects consider 75% their goal. and guess what - almost all get approved.

I've been noticing for years that virtually all variance requests are granted. I wrote a letter to Scott Sanchez, the Zoning Administrator, asking him about the "perception" that virtually all variances are approved by this commission. He responded by saying that there is an extensive vetting process that occurs prior to a hearing, sponsors revise their projects to be more code-complying, or don't meet the required findings for a variance and are therefore rejected outright. The inference I made from this is that those variance requests that come before the Planning Commission are, by the nature of this process, already basically a done deal. And, if this is as true as it appears to be, is the public being duped into feeling that they can actually affect the outcome of a variance request?

You see - if you decide to oppose a project near your home, you will need to gather signatures, meet with as many neighbors as possible to plan a strategy for your day before the planning commission, in some cases hire consultants or architects. Then you, and your neighbors need to write and practice your speeches, take a whole day off work and head down to fight city hall to prevent the destruction of your neighborhood.

Then, when your item on the agenda comes up you one at a time give your impassioned plea. When public comment is over you then get to listen to the Commissioners discuss the virtues of the project. And approve it.

Early this year I worked with Supervisor Wiener's office and a very small group of neighbors and EVNA Planning and Land Use committee members to isolate the most compelling issues re overbuilding that should be included in the IZC that Scott was prepared to sponsor. What ended up being confirmed by the city attorney's office and all 11 supervisors - stated that projects within the set boundaries should keep to 55% lot coverage and limit the sqare footage of the building - or seek conditional use authorization. I won't go into why this is better than the previous means for appealing the commission's determination, but the appeal is heard by the full Board of Supervisors - usually more neighborhood friendly than the Planning Commission.

Opponents of the proposed project at 22 - 24 Ord Court - the very first project to be heard by the Planning Commission, making it an extremely important precedent-setting case - have spent over $15000 so far (many of them are renters), spent countless hours dealing with this issue, hired consultants and architects, have filed an appeal of the Planning Commission's approval. It will be heard by the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, November 17th.

History Project: The consultant who has written our context statement (the History Project) - Michael Corbett - has been working with someone from the Planning Dept. to ensure that it complies with everything that the department is looking for in the document. As each chapter is written/rewritten it is submitted. It WILL be complete before the end of the year!

Those who paid to support it will receive their copies as soon as we have the completed, approved copy and can get it printed.

Corbett/Ord Triangle: If you haven't already seen it, please stop by the park to check out the work we did last Saturday. I was there with Olga Mandrussow (who helped organize the whole thing!!), Brad Buethe, David Mulkey, Fred Moyer, Rick Johnson, Dirk Aguilar, Bill Prince, Mark Ryser, Kevin Dunn, Charles Stinson AND a whole crew from DPW's Clean & Green Team.

We were able to build the first third of the stone wall (much more time-consuming than anticipated), piled the remainder in a row adjacent to the sidewalk, and moved a mountain of mulch/compost into the park! Olga then - on Tuesday - met with someone from the Urban Farmer Store to discuss the constantly failing irrigation system. Once a new/repaired one is in place we'll finally be able to put some new plants in! Thanks to everyone!!

AND - we will soon be scheduling another work day to complete the wall. Let me know if you're interested in helping!

Corbett Slope: After years of working on this, and numerous discussions at the Slope with DPW's chief engineer, his assistant, Supervisor Wiener's aide Andres Power, several DPW liaisons and representatives from the Park's Alliance, we received some options for improvement plans for the Slope, including complete sets of drawings showing options and costs for building a stairway connecting Corbett to Market. Everyone was on board - except for the fact that it would cost $150,000 to build it all. But Supervisor Wiener was able to get $165,000 from this year's budget to pay for the park's improvements.

That was many months ago. Last week, however, I was told that it was all a big mistake by this chief engineer! We were told that the work would end up being closer to $650,000, or maybe as much as $1 million. I'm now in talks with DPW to see how far the raised money will/can go to accomplish at least a part of the plan. One thing is certain: at least part of the park WILL be open by sometime next year.

75 Mars: Owner and soon to be neighbor Jonathan Deason assured us that it's expected to be complete within 6 months. I did not ask from when.


RC Station (376 Castro): After years of designs, modifications, meetings, discussions with neighborhood groups, arguments with the property owner, lawsuits, refusals to sell, having the property put on sale on Craigslist for $12 million and more lawsuits, it finally appeared that it was about to happen! That is, until the project sponsor's entitlement permits expired!

2175 Market (76 Station): Everything was supposed to have been open 2 weeks ago.

SF AIDS Foundation: After something like $12 million spent on that showplace of a non-profit that still hasn't opened, we heard that they are now considering expanding into the former AG Ferrari space next door. Your contributions at work!

Les Natali of the empty Patio Cafe (never was really gonna be Hamburger Mary's), multiple other empty storefronts in the Castro as well as building after building of vacant apartments, word is that "something" will soon be going into the Patio space. I believe it, don't you?

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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