Call Me a YIMFY: New 160-Unit Housing Development Proposed for Full Block of Cesar Chavez at South Van Ness


NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect additional detail about the properties involved (and not involved) in the Lennar housing proposal.

At a time of remarkable economic prosperity and intense housing scarcity, there comes a moment when even the most ardent urbanist must confront their own deepest and most self-interested feelings about change, development, and the clash of old vs. new.

For your Bernalwood editor, that moment would seem to be just about now.

News has reached us that the gigantically impersonal Lennar Corporation has announced plans to develop an most of entire block of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, between South Van Ness, Shotwell, and 26th Street. Under the plan, the site will become the location for 160 units of new housing in a very large new residential development.

This block, which was once home to the former Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile dealership, is now occupied McMillan Electric, a few smog inspection shop, a private garage,  a rather glamorous Auto Zone, and John’s ridiculously charming British car repair businesses (though not all of these would be demolished; see update below):

John's Jaguar

Closer to home, this vast new housing complex will stand right between me and the beloved view of downtown San Francisco that Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter now enjoys from her bedroom window.

Here’s our current perspective on the proposed development site, as seen from my home:


SocketSite broke the news late last week:

Lennar Urban has filed a proposal to raze the McMillan Electric building at 1515 South Van Ness Avenue, between 26th and Cesar Chavez, with plans to construct a 160-unit apartment building on the Inner Mission site which stretches to Shotwell.

As proposed, the six-story development would rise to a height of 65-feet along South Van Ness, stepping down along 26th Street to five stories and a height of 55-feet along Shotwell.  And twelve (12) percent of the 160 units would be designated as below market rate.

Aside from a proposed 1,740 square foot commercial space on the corner of South Van Ness and 26th Street, the rest of the development’s ground floor would consist of either apartments or programming for the project, including a leasing office, an amenities room for the residents and a private 7,803 square-foot courtyard.

An underground garage would provide parking for 90 cars and the average size of an apartment as designed is around 890 square feet.

Well, if this is the moment when my values and interests are tested, then sign me up me a YIMFY‚ as in Yes In My Front Yard.

I hope the new building doesn’t gobble up all of our view. But if it does, well… so it goes. That view wasn’t mine in the first place, we desperately need more housing supply, and this is an ideal location for it.

There are no proposed designs yet, but you can read the Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) on file with with the Planning Department right here to get the details of the proposal.

Will there be quibbles? Things to dislike? Details to revise and improve? Of course. But overall, my personal sentiment is… BUILD IT!!

Neighbor Rachel wrote to Bernalwood about this proposal, and she has more specific concerns:

I’m not opposed in principle to development and this lot is pretty disgusting right now. I just think that developers who are proposing a project of this size with huge profit potential, which will take up scarce parking spaces, block views (or the sky in my case), cause noise and disruption for years, spew toxic chemicals into the atmosphere (maybe), and otherwise tax the neighborhood resources and patience, need to include lots of give-backs in their plans that will help the neighborhood.

These give-backs must go beyond the bare minimum. The commercial space should serve the hood by providing needed retail outlets and space for local businesses. The street-scaping should beautify the whole area, not just the sidewalks adjacent to the building. The set-backs should be appropriate for the neighborhood. A good solution for parking for all of the new residents should be found that doesn’t cause more strain on the existing neighbors. And more. If we just let the project go ahead without making any noise, then the developers will give no more than they are required to give by law, if that. They are counting on the neighborhood remaining ignorant and apathetic.

No doubt, there will be much to discuss about this in the weeks and months ahead. Still, until further notice, you may count me in the YIMFY camp.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: It seems that the proposed development may not occupy the entire block after all. Bernalwood received this note from Dan Simpson, the manager at John’s British Car Specialist:

I read your blog post about the proposed apartment complex to be constructed at the McMillan Electric building. I hope you will be happy to hear, as it stands, the John’s British Car Specialist (formerly John’s Jaguar Service) building shall remain at the face of Cesar Chavez and Shotwell St. The planned development would knock down the 3 units behind our building. These units have already been sold to the city, our building remains with the original owner. So we hope to stay here as long as we can!

To further clarify: The AutoZone parcel is not part of the proposed development, nor is the building that contains John’s British Car Specialist. This latter detail is confusing, because while the big building that contains John’s looks continuous, it is actually two structurally separate buildings united by a common roof. So while John’s building would stay, the garages north of it would become part of the Lennar development.

And lo, hidden in plain sight at the very end of the PPA document, Dan steered us toward this diagram of the proposed building configuration (shown in blue outline). The proposed courtyard would sit in the southeast corner of the site, along Shotwell right behind John’s British Car Specialist:


Still unclear, however, is the question of whether the City plans to do a separate bel0w-market-rate development on the site of the garage spaces behind John’s British Car, or if that land is somehow tied up with the Lennar proposal.

IMAGES: Top, Google Earth Pro. Below, view from the bedroom, by Telstar Logistics 

127 thoughts on “Call Me a YIMFY: New 160-Unit Housing Development Proposed for Full Block of Cesar Chavez at South Van Ness

  1. Yep the sadness is that old is replaced by new, and we’re uncertain if its going to be a good thing, but life moves on and so do condos

  2. Build it! Homeowners could potentially see short term drops in their property values but screw it.
    Hopefully we won’t see people on Cortland with petitions asking to “save bernal”

  3. I really appreciate your perspective on this – thank you! It’s good to see people on the side of making things nicer, cleaner, and not being afraid of improvements. Of course, change is not always good and can be scary, but in this case I agree: Cezar Chavez is slowly looking better and that can only be good for everybody in our area. New condos (in a city where there’s not enough housing) and new commercial development on the street level can only bring all of us more options, more business to the area, pretty-fy Cezar Chavez, and make Bernal Heights more desirable. We should keep our fingers crossed and hope the building is not too high, that it will be aesthetically pleasing, and that the view won’t be too obscured. A new development is not going to change the spirit of Bernal, the beauty of the parks and the neighborhood feel we enjoy South of the Mission 🙂

  4. We’ve lost our views over the years to building projects by our neighbors, and, remarkably, life went on and everything was still fine. We have some great new neighbors, and our street is looking better overall. I’m certain our property value has increased. YIMBYs, YIMFYs, and YIMSYs, unite!

  5. These condos certainly be an improvement on that stretch of Cesar Chavez. Drove down that street the other day. My friends & I were pleasantly surprised as how clean, nice it finally is looking. Its taken years but well worth. Plus the property values have gone way up. The only area that still is run down is where the Army St & the Bernal projects are located.

  6. Whilst I am not a resident of precitaville I am For this development also- I jhope the proposed design is something interesting and not yet another snooze-fest boring Lego block of condos of which there seems to be so many of in SF these days – they all look the same and I would love to see something with a bit of character and flare to
    Mix it up a little in keeping with the vibe of other many great new builds in bernal which are dynamic and exciting additions to our urban vistas !

  7. Should point out that as I read this it is an apartment development, NOT a condo building. So it really is additional rental housing.

    Regarding the fact that there are only 90 parking spaces for 160 units, that is now typical for this type of in-fill project, and is a function of the City’s “transit-first” policies. The idea is to favor development near mass-transit corridors, and limit on-site parking spaces to discourage private car use. I don’t think Lennar could get approval for a project that had a parking space for each unit.

    • It’s not entirely rental–and that’s a good thing. The BMR units are (prospectively) written in as available for purchase rather than for rent. From the PPA, “Affordable housing is required for a project proposing ten or more dwelling units. The Project Sponsor must submit an ’Affidavit of Compliance with the Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program: Planning Code Section 415,’ to the Planning Department identifying the method of compliance, on-site, off-site, or in-lieu fee. Any on-site affordable dwelling-units proposed as part of the project must be designated as owner-occupied units, not rental units. Affordable units designated as on-site units shall be sold as ownership units and will remain as ownership units for the life of the project.”

  8. Enough complaining about lack of parking in new developments. Guess what, you don’t own street parking! This should discourage people buying the units who need to drive everywhere, precisely the type of people we need in this already congested area. It should also help encourage people who don’t already have dedicated parking to consider their life choices.. lol

  9. OK, so 19 units of this 160 unit development will be “below market rate”. What a bunch of baloney. I know 12% is the magic number the city wants, but if we really want things to change that number should be more like 35%.

  10. BOONDOGGLE! Two points about this. One point people will vehemently disagree with.

    (1) LENNAR — It seems that Lennar’s method of doing business is to incorporate a subsidiary, get financial backing for it from outside investors, collect a fee for managing the subsidiary and then running it into bankruptcy. Lennar gets its fees and the partners get stuck with the bills. It’s gonna happen to Treasure Island. It already happened to the Mare Island development in Vallejo, Here’s something to look at:

    (2) THE MYTH OF HOUSING SHORTAGES — The generally held theory is that housing is a commodity like gasoline, food, or ostriches. If they’re rare the price goes up; if they’re plentiful the price goes down. This is not true in housing because of an EXTREMELY important difference: People want to live near other people, so they drive up the prices in the densest cities. The denser the housing the higher the prices.

    In the First Web Boom, 1996 through 2000, there was an increase in property values in SF neighborhoods like Noe Valley, Castro, Pacific Heights, etc. But NOT South of Market. South of Market was mostly light industry, auto body shops, glass companies, electronic parts distributors machine shops, etc.

    THEN Joe O’Donoghue and his Residential Builders Association found a lookhole in the “live/work” ordinance that the SF Board of Supes had passed, which allowed them to build Any Old Think on Any Old Piece of Property. So, every spare parcel was built up with what I call “junk condos” of shabby construction and questionable architecture.

    WHAT HAPPENED was that the population of South of Market was boosted by thousands of residents. People saw this as cool, and they began moving in and more people saw this as good and they BID UP the prices on homes. Today, South of Market is the most expensive housing cost per square foot in San Francisco, even more than Bernal.

    This isn’t just true South of the Slot. It’s true anywhere you look. The densest places in the world are the most expensive: Singapore, Tokyo, Manhattan, etc. What’s more, even in these days of telecommuting and home-based businesses, low-density communities have not risen in price. In the town of Alturas California (northeastern CA, along U.S. 395) you can buy a 4-bedroom home on an acre of land for about $125,000. And Alturas isn’t a dump, either. There’s hunting and fishing, winter sports, beautiful views. Clint Eastwood owns a ranch out there.

    But, people do not want to live near nobody; they want to live near other people. Build more homes in SF and you’ll entire even more people to move here and thus drive up the prices even further.

    Housing does NOT price by supply and demand, but by social desirability, the exact opposite of supply and demand.

    –david kaye

    • Is there any research to back this up? By that logic, San Francisco is the most socially desirable place to live in the entire country. Its a great city, I just moved here, but c’mon. If you think San Francisco has the same (actually you’re saying it has more) social cachet as Manhattan you haven’t been outside California in a while.

    • Yeah, all that dense housing in Detroit really retained its value while the suburbs like Royal Oak cratered……Not

      • When people spout this nonsense about supply creating demand, I just keep thinking, “Why don’t you go borrow some cash, build a giant block of apartments in the middle of the cheapest land in South Dakota and watch people flock to it, then? The profits are just sitting there, waiting for you!”

      • I do understand how supply can create additional demand (in areas that are already desirable), but I don’t understand the converse. That is, even if supply does create demand, does that mean the status quo is preferable? Or more likely to improve affordability? And if not, then the marginal increase in demand created by more housing would still seem preferable to the current status quo, where supply isn’t growing fast enough and the cost of housing continues to rocket upward. Put another way, avoiding development won’t reduce housing costs either.

  11. Rather than demand more parking for this development, why not demand that Muni add a route which connects the 22nd Street CalTrain station and the T Line directly with Bernal and Noe? A bus running between Church and 3rd along Cesar Chavez is so overdue it’s not even funny.

  12. I’m so glad I live on Moultrie St. Wonderful views from kitchen window. I can see clear across Bayshore & up to the bay. Perfect transportation with the #23 bus right around the corner. Great for us seniors . Lived here since 1955. Saw a lot of changes on Cortland,both good & bad. I do miss the 5& 10 cent store & the butcher who would deliver the meat.

  13. Neighbors David K. is absolutely right. This is not a NIMBY or YIMBY issue, (but congratulations on the willingness not to get stuck in self interest). We need to take an active role in this project not to stop new housing from being built, but to make sure what does get built is done right. Lennar has a lousy track record as major corporate greedheads and they propose to build something that is too big for that block. Lennar need to dig deeper (literally) to add at LEAST one parking space for each unit.

    As Judge C points out, these are not condos, it is rental housing with only 12% of the units at below market pricing. These guys are out to make a killing and Devil take the hindmost. Bernal neighbors should NOT give this project a pass! I say we insist on (1) Architecture — we all want a decent design, (2) Parking — acceptable number spaces so this development does not dump on it’s new neighbors, and (3) Height that conforms to what works just fine in the neighborhood already.

  14. This is great news. Yes please build!!! Hopefully high quality construction and not junky stucco if possible.

    However is the first photo showing the wrong site? I thought Socketsite said this will be on the site of the electric place on S Van Ness, not on Chavez. The development on the garage site I thought was separate and previously approved as only BMR units, but not moving very fast for whatever reason.

    • Derek, you were right! Sort of. More or less. I got some additional clarification on the exact location of the proposed building, and it does not occupy the entire block. Still unclear, however, is if the garages behind John’s are part of the Lennar proposal, or part of a separate development to be undertaken by the city.

      Post has been updated to reflect the above.

  15. Well, that is definitely the end of our view! Since I don’t own a cone projecting from the front of my house, them’s the breaks. I think it’s a bit of a radical shift in style, but if it goes ahead and is done well enough it will work well for us. I also heard it was originally ALL affordable housing. I was concerned that it represented an effort to economically ghettoize the city as it would be next to an existing collection of affordable houses. Mind you, I do really wish there was more BMR and affordable housing in the proposal than there is. I’m pleased that there will be some commercial space. I hope there is more than just one or two. Applying pressure for things to get done right might be good for both us and our new neighbors. Of course, I have no idea what that means.

  16. Oh, Mr. Lappin… reasonable, unselfish Mr. Lappin. You noble, foolish mortal…

    I’ve got my lawn chair out, and a bowl of popcorn with me as I settle in, to watch the Harpys rend your flesh…


    I applaud your attempt to lead by example, futile as it was. The replies are exactly as expected:

    1) Uncontrollable urge to control the behavior of others.

    2) Antiquated belief in the efficacy of social engineering. (Hello? Newsflash: people don’t like to be controlled.)

    3) Unearned assertion of the right to have command over every aspect of the development, with no understanding that the spectrum of human opinion is the very thing that results in the boring, cookie cutter committee buildings with which this city is littered. (Please have a group of 3 of more people define “good architecture.”)

    4) Demands, commands, conspiracy theories, feelings of entitlement, demands, self-righteous pronouncements, unscientific theorizing, self-centered demands, warnings of doom, demands…

    Did I miss anything?

      • Interesting… your reply is ambiguous…

        Did you mean “the majority are cool with the project, with no plans to extensively interfere?” If that’s what you meant, then I wish and hope that you are correct. (Even so, the vocal minority sure seem to be skilled at undermining the will of the majority.)

        Or did you mean “the majority are cool with making demands, raising a ruckus, etc.?” In that case, I’m certain you are correct.


  17. Some notes:

    1) The idea that starving residents for parking spaces will somehow force them onto MUNI (more likely Uber…?) is stupid SF idealism. The people who can afford to live in market rate apts here will all have cars, and they will at minimum want to take them on getaways to Tahoe (no BART stop there), parties in Mill Valley, and when they miss the Google bus, down to work. So those cars will exist and they will be parked somewhere.

    2) The obvious opportunity given how awful Safeway is and the failure of the S Van Ness Bell (Delmonico’s or something more recently?) is for them to put a Whole Foods on the ground floor just like the one at 17th & Rhode Island in Potrero. If they don’t put one of those in, the residents will shop in another neighborhood, and for their ice cream not to melt on the way back, they will be shopping in their own car. Even Good Life requires they climb a mountain to get to. These are not Casa Guadalupe customers.

    3) For the Whole Foods or any other retail to be successful there it will need parking, and at night the residents might be able to use those parking spots. People drive to shop. Cope with it. To minimize traffic impact, put the entrance/exit on Shotwell.

    4) The irresistible gentrifying force of an authentic Whole Foods Market will up all the property values more than the loss of view or anything else. Seeing Genuine Poor People(tm) will be a curiosity shortly. David Kaye’s post is spirited, and it’s true that supply creates demand. This supply will most absolutely create demand.

    5) The last bits of shabbiness in the hood aren’t going to provoke enough sentimentality to stop any of this. So at least let’s do it right. Put in not one but three levels of parking. 101 is just a few blocks down anyway. And yes put in that bus line down CC thx.

    Oh, Todd. Really? You want the Walmart of Development that lives in Miami and is a 1% er to develop a view blocking eye soar in your back yard. Did you look at Lennar’s website. Executives with names but no faces. It’s hard to trust faceless, blank executives making millions to do the job right. Let’s say no to this developer and find a coop of San Francisco architects and money to do the job right. Sometimes the first draft is not the best. We will all be looking at this for years… We have enough money circulating right here that we don’t need a Miami based company to try to do it right here.

    Stuart A Miller

    $22.53 mil (#48)

    $89.57 mil

    Stuart A Miller has been CEO of Lennar (LEN) for 9 years. Mr. Miller has been with the company for 24 years .The 48 year old executive ranks 5 within Construction

      • “Opposing a project because you don’t like who’s building it is the height of “liberal” arrogance.”

        +1. Complain all about you want about how “a Real San Francisco company” could step forward to do this – THEY AREN’T. This company is. And we need the housing.

    • Yes, I know all about Lennar. They are about as big and impersonal and far, far away as any developer could be. But that’s of absolutely no concern to me.

      What’s of concern to me is that the new project becomes a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I hope it will be built to the maximum size allowable, and in return I hope it will be interesting and architecturally engaging. In other words, I hope the new building will create new homes for as many folks as possible, and that it will not suck.

      I don’t expect the latter to come naturally to Lennar. But I also know that Lennar has deeper pockets be able to afford a better building.

      • Todd,
        Are you saying that they (faceless, Miami sun bathing execs) are the only ones that could pull this off to Bernalite’s likings? Did you like the other buildings they have done? Will it be pink with a shark or tan with four flat sides. I hope you don’t mind the analysis that you are jumping on the bandwagon of a shaky at best option. Why not let a Russian oligarch do it, he’d be farther away and less attached to the community? Did you consider asking one of our own, we have more than ten, very wealthy young men or women to help and give back to the community. Who is the architect? What does it look like? I hear Zuckerberg walks Mission street all the time… he probably drives right past the corner…

        You also realize like all other bubbles that by the time this is built the internet bubble will have burst and market rates will have subsided.

        The idea of a corporation that took all that government money, our money, to bail it out and then pays it’s CEO $22,000,000 a year. Oh, Todd. We expect more more research and foresight from you before you decide these things. You did start the debate and for that you are the man! Are you advocating a Walmart next?

        A long time ago, in my youth, we took our time and planned. Successful people showed great insight and I was asked to give time and research things like this. Granted it was a bigger project, but big things start small. Shaping a neighborhood is not done overnight. Take a look at how it turned out.

      • SF’s affordability crisis isn’t a bubble. We are in catch-up mode. Opposing a project because you don’t like who’s building it is the height of “liberal” arrogance. As long as they play by the same rules as everyone else, it’s a non-issue. There is no requirement for architecturally interesting buildings. And if there were, it would be another veto point for clueless NIMBYs who bury their heads in the sand, popping up only to shout “NO” to anyone’s attempt to do something in this city. If you don’t like this project, get your own capital together and buy them out. Do what you want with your own cash on the line.

    • How is this any different than saying “I don’t like black people” so “black people can’t buy things here” [“I don’t like rich white people” so “rich white people can’t build things here”]

  19. I am excited about the potential of new housing in the neighborhood and the site seems ideal for denser infill housing that can be more environmentally friendly than a 160 home subdivision in the burbs.

    As for parking, the proposed site is less than a 10 minute walk to BART, in a cycle friendly locale, and new travel options such as UBER/Lyft makes the need for a personal car/parking less important. Of course there will always be demand for parking and hopefully the future residents will pay for their private parking space separately than their housing in the building so those able to live without a personal vehicle will have a financial benefit.

    There are a few closed retail sites around Precita Park (Precita Bark, the NW corner of Folsom and Bessie) and having more people living nearby will improve chances of more restaurants/retail around Precita Park opening as well as more potential customers to help support local businesses already here.

  20. (Takes a deep breath waiting for possible bashing-) I’d quite like a close by WF for some occasional shopping – not the weekly general as I’m not a mogul but it’d be a nice option to have for when sfwy does not suffice- yes must admit that’s a interesting speculation!

    • I agree that this area is ripe for a good supermarket of some sort, but FWIW… the allocated retail space is now set at about 1800 square feet, which is not very big. For example, Trader Joe’s stores, which are considered “Limited Assortment” in the trade, typically require at least 8000 sq ft.

  21. Here is what it boils down to for me:

    • Is it better than what is there now, Yes
    • Is Market Rate housing on the same block as the eventual Affordable Housing development a good thing, I say yes.
    • Have local developers and even the city with it’s Affordable Housing coffers full made plans to develop the property, no

    I welcome the new development and our many new neighbors. It will also be interesting to see what business fills the commercial space on the corner.

      • But your version of “right” is just one of thousands. Can you not see that? Can you not see how direct control of every issue = chaos? You had your “say” when you voted for elected officials who hire professionals to carry out your will. That is how our form of government is supposed to work.

        “And to the R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C for which it stands…”

  22. The day AutoZone is razed will be a glorious one. There’s formula retail, and then there’s extreme eyesore formula retail. Can’t wait to see it gone. The soulless void of McMillan is only a little less sucky.

    55′ tall on Shotwell does seem awfully high to me though. Shotwell is a lovely street full of high-class victorians of modest height — check out the mansions between 25th and 26th. Seems to me a Bernal-style height limit is more reasonable, like 40′.

    As for armchair Planning Departmenting, I say we require Lennar to contribute to reengineering the Hairball so it’s safe for cyclists. That way the 22nd St. Caltrain station isn’t something people will need to drive to. A new bus line would be great too, sure, but 2 miles isn’t too hard on a bike if it’s not a near-death experience. I’d rather see this project include zero parking spots. 90 more cars in SF is 90 too many.

    As for shopping, maybe this development will provide the impetus for the derelict DeLano’s to be resurrected. I’d like to see a Casa Guadalupe that big. Best produce ever.

  23. This is an interesting discussion for sure, ranging from Libertarian, “Let ’em build what they want,” to those who would control which store goes into the ground floor.

    I understand the idea of restricting parking to encourage use of mass transit or bicycles. But how does that get implemented — by not renting to folks who have cars registered in the state? Yes to reducing the number of cars in the city, but the reality is that people still want, own and use cars, and those cars get parked somewhere — usually near where their owners live. And if they don’t get parked at their building then they will get parked on the street nearby. So is it right to punish nearby neighbors?

    One parking space per unit still makes sense, and let Lennar pick up the cost. Remember this is a COMMERCIAL venture, not a community funded not for profit, and those 12% low income units would not even be included if it weren’t for meddlesome neighbors who insist that this city not become an economically gated community.

    I am not impacted by the height, but the proposed six stories is two stories higher than everything else in the area. The most recent apartment development — Bernal Gateway, at Mission & Cesar Chavez which was successfully developed by the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, is on scale with what has fit in to the immediate area, as the development above Walgreens and the units built at 29th and Valencia above GFC.

    Another reality is that we live in a densely populated urban area, and it is not only appropriate but necessary that we scrutinize and shape large building projects in our neighborhood. That is a LONG way from NIMBY, in fact pretty much all of us commenting want more housing in the neighborhood, but to give Lennar free reign is not very bright.

    A big yes to the notion of connecting the world to 22nd Caltrain station by bus.

    See you at the meetings (when they get scheduled).

    • The point of not requiring parking is that the market will decide whether to have parking in a development. The notion that parking will only be included if the city requires it is nonsense. As you note, many of these people will have cars, and many of that group will want the convenience of a guaranteed spot for their car(s). Which is fine! Just let them pay for it and give non-car owners or those who value their money more than their time the opportunity not to pay for it. Lennar won’t “pick up the cost” of any amount of parking. That cost will be passed on to the residents of the building—all of them, whether they own a car or not.

      The nearby neighbors won’t be punished, they’ll just need to start internalizing the previously external cost of their parking. They’ve been getting a free ride, and it will come to an end, either in the form of rent for a parking space or more time spent searching for street parking.

      Six stories isn’t even close to being excessive height for the neighborhood. Especially along commercial and transit corridors, we need greater height across the board. And how do you propose that the general community “scrutinize and shape” these projects? Do you truly believe that the planning department staff are not up to this task?

      • Mr. Market does not and should not decide if a project has parking. It is a city requirement. Otherwise housing gets built and cars are dumped on city streets for parking. This was a lesson LONG internalized by anyone who has been paying attention to urban development… including professional city planners. But I do agree with you that ultimately it is the renters who should pay for the parking at their building… but first the parking has to be built for them to pay for it. Right?
        Leave it up to Lennar and they’d lose the 12% low income provision and ALL the parking and thereby reduce the cost of their development.

        I truly do believe that city Planning Department staff need citizen oversight. See Warriors Stadium version 1.0. A few bucks to the right election campaign works wonders around here toward getting project approvals. How? By going to their presentation meetings, looking at their proposals and offering feedback. It’s not rocket science, and regular people can fathom what is being proposed and offer useful input.

      • Yes, the city requires it, whether it’s needed or not. Developers like money, and if people want parking spaces, they’ll pay for them. As long as there is a parking surplus subsidized by everyone who pays for a space but doesn’t use it, the supply and demand will never reach equilibrium. You should read the article linked above (or internalize it if you’ve read it), because the state of the planning art certainly does *not* suggest that parking requirements are the solution. The market doesn’t give the best answer for every question, but where we can align costs and incentives, we should absolutely take advantage of it.

        The Warriors stadium is actually a perfect example of why citizen “oversight” is f***ing up the planning process. It was collateral damage from the misguided ballot proposition which served only to protect the interests of rich folks in tall buildings who wanted to preserve their views of the bay. The original stadium would have been an excellent addition to our waterfront with closer access to regional transit.

      • There those grubby, know-nothing citizens go again screwing up deals like the monstrous Warriors Stadium 1.0 for the rich boys. Yay team.

      • Because that’s exactly what I said… You’re definitely making the case for the sophistication of citizen oversight.

      • Just because you own a car doesn’t mean you want to drive it all the time. Lots of people own cars but take transit daily, using their cars to get out of town on the weekends. They’ll still need someplace to store those cars. Why not build adequate parking spaces? If you don’t have a car, you can lease your spot to someone else. It’s not like there is an excess of parking in SF.

      • If they all had to pay for parking—explicitly—would they make the same choice to have a car?

        If there’s such demand for parking occasional-use vehicles, why aren’t developers scrambling to build parking garages to meet that demand? Or some enterprising startup with a car-parking service?

        What’s the basis of your claim that there isn’t an excess of parking in SF?

        Why should non-car owners have to pay for or deal with a parking space at all?

  24. Reblogged this on themissionposition and commented:
    This is precisely what the city needs. More YIMBYs and YIMFYs, less NIMBYs. We’ve done the NIMBY thing for far too long, and look where it’s got us. Note the reader comments as well, where there are actually many people who love their neighborhood, want reasonable community benefits, input on the planning and design, while understanding we are in a housing crisis. They aren’t opposed to change, and prefer HOUSING over vacant lots and rundown warehouses. NIMBYs make exorbitant demands meant to drive developers elsewhere, in order to ensure nothing ever gets improved or built. Huge difference. Count me in the YIMFY and YIMBY camp as well.

      • Can we wipe out most of mission street then too and get a Walmart, Super Target, Whole Foods, Costco, Home Depot, Lowes, Whole Foods and any other huge mega corp so they can duke it out and drive costs lower for San Francisco people because this whole corner store, no box store strategy is costing a mint for cash strapped renters. Most of Mission street is a blight as bad or worse than the warehouses in that development…

  25. Thank you for your reasonable perspective, Todd.

    Unfortunately, there are too many folks like Rachel out there and the planning process in SF gives them way too much power. The “give-backs” she asks for (which will undoubtably reduce density), will increase the price of units. All the extra cost gets passed on to buyers and renters eventually. This is why we only have luxury development in our city.

      • We have so much “luxury” development because there are so many impediments to development that it only makes sense to shoot for the top of the market. As long as there is unmet demand for high-margin properties, why would any for-profit entity do anything but that? Loosen up to allow for more units, and eventually the premium segment will be saturated and lower-tier segments will look more attractive to developers.

      • Do you even consider for a moment what another person says, really truly pause for a second and think about it, before you call it nonsense?

  26. Many people commenting here are not opposed to development on that site (it is an eyesore) but rather to the idea of letting it go forward without community oversight. That’s the camp I am in. Lennar should not be given free reign. Hoping that Lennar makes the building aesthetic, that it’s not too high, that the parking situation turns out to be ok, that good retail stores get put in on the ground floor will not make it so. We are not trying to stop growth, just to ensure that the neighborhood is grown responsibly.

    • Where has there been any suggestion that this development will not be subject to the standard regulatory processes? No one gets free rein in San Francisco.

    • But… with all due respect, that isn’t your job, Rachel. That is the job of the qualified professionals who are supposed to represent the interests of the citizenry as well as they are able.

      To remind you, we live in a Republic. A direct democracy would be chaos. The Planning Dept., et al, are supposed to “ensure the neighborhood is grown responsibly.” Public comment is supposed to be what it is called. C-o-m-m-e-n-t. Not personal agenda crusader hour.

      What you don’t seem to keep in mind is that, even if all of your ideas about parking and building height and building aesthetics and developer choice and on and on and on and on are put forth with the noblest of intentions, there are 700,000 other people in the city who don’t agree with you on every point. And here’s where the logic train loses most of its passengers: Every single one of those people’s opinions are EXACTLY as valid as yours. It is hard to accept. But very, very freeing if and when you do…

      Thats’ why a smaller group of (supposedly) qualified and dedicated professionals are supposed to be in charge. Too much input from too many people = bland, average architecture; odd, faddish uses of space; and, to repeat it for the nth time: relentless attempts to control the behaviour of those who don’t behave the way you want them to, aka social engineering (which in SF, usually revolves around parking/car bashing).

      Does no one else here see the insanity of crying about how expensive it is to live here, while at the same time, complaining about how grungy and unsightly and imperfect certain blocks are?

      Grungy and unsightly are cheaper. When you clean it up, it gets more expensive. Duh.

      • Who do you think will step forward and insist that the developer do the “right” thing? Only people in the community who care enough will make this happen. And of course this does not mean that the community will act as architects. And really, the ideas would not be my ideas, but rather the ideas of a broad coalition of concerned residents of the neighborhood.Frankly, if Lennar wants to build in our community, they should welcome input from the community.

      • Let’s replace “Lennar” with “Rachel” and “development” with “house”. Would “Rachel” welcome the input of the community in the design and use of its “house”? What if the community would really prefer that “Rachel” limit the height of its “house” to 15 feet instead of the 30 feet allowed by law? Or maybe “Rachel” should build a third parking space even though only two are required and “Rachel” only has one car anyway? How would “Rachel” feel?

      • Brandon, your argument doesn’t hold water. “Rachel’s house” would not be 160 units, moving potentially more than 400 new residents into a neighborhood already lacking in services.

      • That’s where that analogy part comes in! The point is that if the law allows them to build that many units, why shouldn’t they build that many units? Because you don’t want them to?

      • It’s an analogy Brandon, just not a good one. There is a big difference between the effect a private house would have on the neighborhood vs. the effect this building would have. Of course community input makes sense for a building this size. That’s why there are public hearings with the planning board. There is going to be a building boom in South Mission. It’s up to the community to make sure it’s done responsibly and works for the neighborhood as much as possible, beyond just the letter of the law. And of course it’s not up to ME to decide what this means. I am simply one concerned resident.

      • There’s a difference between community input (making the city and developer aware of issues that might not be apparent, etc.) and taking the opportunity to exact a pound of flesh. If the project is code compliant, they should be able to build it. The people, via their government, have spoken on the issues of height, density, parking, affordable housing. If you’re unhappy with the results of that government process, then vote in different representatives who will make the changes you seek. Developers/homeowners should be able to make the investments in the city that are desperately needed with confidence that the planning requirements for their projects aren’t subject to last-minute revision.


      • +1 to Brandon’s last comment. Misguided community activism is whats kept my corner of 4th avenue and Warren st in Brooklyn a vacant lot for 5 years. Some residents don’t want a certain store to be placed there and because of that development is held up indefinitely and there are weeds the size of trees and a clapboard enclosure behind which high school students wait at night for you to walk by holding your iphone. Go through the proper channels please.

  27. Lennar is probably going to end up as the biggest builder of less-expensive rental units in the city, as they have some pretty big projects slated in Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Cheaper land costs and a less desirable neighborhood (as of now) should equate to lower rents.

  28. The Lennar development is only on the McMillan lot. The affordable housing will be built on the garages on Shotwell behind John’s, on the land given the city for the affordable housing by the developers of Vida, on Mission St.

  29. I think Dan is right. We occupy the garage space that is slated for low income housing. We are launching a new organic foods company from that site. The rent was low because it is slated to be torn down. We also keep coolers and trucks for our stores there. I talked with John the jaguar repair place and he was unaware of a project to tear his building down. It scared him when I told him. Guess he will need to be updated that this story was a bit premature. I don’t mind this development. Looks like a poor choice to do it based on the reporters research. Big money can afford the difficult rules and delays on permitting this city has. It would probably be better with local developers…

    As for that store up the street. Fresh and Easy controlled it. Harvest Hills wanted to look into it but it has not been available. F&E is pulling out of town so it may come back on the market. The 1700 Sq feet retail in this new development would be tool small for anything but a corner store.

  30. Dear Bernalwood,

    You guys have such cute little streets, nice parks and a bigger Good Life than we do. Sometimes I think I would like to escape our views of cranes and the relentless onslaught of crap faux industrial 6+ story condo development and join you. But now I see the out of state developers are on to you. They make you think they will make life better, that they will “solve” the housing affordability crisis despite all evidence to the contrary?

    You do realize that luxury housing is being built at a rate of 211%, offering up some sweet opportunities to foreign investors? That the meager 12% below market rate housing requirement will never come close to providing what’s needed to keep middle income earners in San Francisco?

    And how about those blue collar jobs? How does it feel to imagine all those “ugly” buildings current housing viable local businesses removed from the vicinity forever?

    Maybe if you make nice with the developers you’ll even get your own Whole Foods some day?


    • Dear Potrero,

      Hey, love you guys. My kid attends school in your territories, so I have had ample opportunity to admire your majestic vistas and fine cafes and eateries. Some of Bernal’s east-siders feel a little pissy because you block their views of the Bay Bridge, but hey… geology is a bitch. Thanks for being such great neighbors.

      Anyway, personally, as a YIMFY, I’m all for affordable housing, but I don’t wish to confuse the perfect for the good. The City needs more housing. Period. More than anything else, I support a net increase in our overall housing supply, as that’s only way to solve our aggregate affordability problem citywide. I know we can’t simply build our way out of the housing crisis, but 30 years of failed obstructionist/perfectionist policy have also demonstrated that we can’t not-build our way out of it either. And that, first and foremost, is the prism through which I view this proposal, and most development proposals citywide. If the citizens of SF want to build more affordable housing, then let’s come up with some aggregate policies to fund it and build it. But I don’t expect private-sector developers to bear that cost just because we don’t want to pay for it.

      But this parcel-by-parcel trench warfare approach isn’t working. In fact, because it tends to drive up overall project costs, it has the perverse effect of all-but guaranteeing that more luxury units will be built, because that price-point is required to recoup the (long and protracted) development costs and various expensive “concessions” added during the community-input phase.

      To be clear, I have no particular fondness for developers in general or Lennar in particular. I just see our current way of doing things as a nontrivial part of the problem. Put another way, developers didn’t create the affordability crisis. We did, through our planning process and policy decisions. So I’m curious to see what might happen if we approach projects like this from a place of more neighborly receptivity. Not passivity. Positive receptivity.

      Meanwhile, I have no fondness whatsoever for Whole Foods, so you can have it. But a Trader Joe’s? We’d love one more nearby. Let’s talk.

      With love,


      PS: what’s the latest on that plan to redo the public housing on the south slope of Potrero Hill?

  31. Dear Bernalwood,

    Come on. You’re blaming NIMBY’s for the affordability crisis? I know you’re smarter than that. Demographics are shifting; the economy’s hot; rent controlled units have been converted to airbnb hotels and TIC’s. I feel no pity for the poor developer who must contend with community input and a dysfunctional planning department and neither should you. Nobody’s forcing anyone to build here and it is actually possible to do it right. Take a look at Forest City’s plan for Pier 70 which includes 30% BMR housing, a 9 acre park; restoration of historic structures and preservation of artist space, light industrial and small business uses. They’ve spent a couple of years working with the community and now that Prop B passed, they have to go to a ballot measure to build two towers. They’re still here so I assume they haven’t gone broke.

    Maybe we could have coffee sometime.


    • Dear Potrero,

      Yup, I am absolutely blaming NIMBYs for the housing crisis. Not entirely, of course — the housing crisis is a complex problem with many authors, many of whom are/were very well-intentioned. Yes, the city is changing. The City of San Francisco has created more jobs in the last few years than 47 US states did during the same period (a trend which most city residents seem to support). I welcome that too, overall. But more than anything else, I see the housing crisis as a function of rising demand, constricted supply, and the failure of three decades of planning policy dedicated to opposing change — or at the very least, making it more expensive.

      Pier 70 is a very cool project, but it’s happening on Port of SF land, so it’s also public land subject to public policy requirements. I’m fine with that, but it’s not so comparable to this project. Also, I think Prop B was a huge mistake, and it’s a tragedy that Pier 70 is now subject to further planning at the ballot box.

      With fondness,


  32. The updated plans are worst-of-possible-worlds. They leave the eyesore auto repair shops on our gleaming new residential bouvelard (and who knows what fumes they spew onto the children in the adjacent housing), they still blot out the view regardless, and they have no floor space for a store big enough to make a positive impact on the community. Not to mention park cars.

    I vote against. Keep the four story limit on development there until you have something value-adding enough to earn the easement. This isn’t an anti-development position, it’s a shrewd business negotiation.

    • Wait. So, they did not choose to buy and develop the *entire* block, so they shouldn’t be allowed to develop the parcel they do have?

    • Four stories? Six stories? Personally I prefer the latter. If a developer is going to build, then let’s get more units in the same building footprint. I don’t think the two-story difference makes any meaningful difference from street level. Paris is a city of six-story apartment buildings, and no one complains that the buildings there are too tall or too big

  33. What some of our neighbors fail to understand is that citizen input, comment, feedback, even protest all are expected and welcomed parts of the process. Development is a process, and neighborhood input when done right a legitimate and positive part of that process. Turning our backs and these major and permanent decisions up to elected officials, department staff and the developers is like hiding your head in the sand and hoping everybody does the right thing.

    Yes; there have been some outrageous abuses by neighborhood organizations (see media coverage of the recent North Beach Library). But I personally have been observing Bernal’s growth since the 80s, and I’ve not seen anything even close to that level of acrimony or stupid obstructionism. When BHNC was developing the Alemany Heights Apartments (above the farmer’s market) they wanted something like 100 more units than they finally were permitted to build. And that reduction came about directly as a result of neighborhood meetings at which neighbors (again — us grubby, know nothing citizens), worried and kvetched about too many units. Rational discussion ensued, and a solution acceptable to developer and neighbors was worked out. Success.

    I know it is a different thing, but look again at the Warriors Stadium 1.0. The main issue was that the Board of Sups. blew off code for height limits along the waterfront (granted a variance from code) and approved a massive structure that would block beloved Bay views. People went nuts.

    Warriors Stadium 2.0 — Long story short; The site along the Bay remains open and available for a better development. The Warriors got a great alternate site when Salesforce decided to stay downtown and sell Warriors their parcel next to McCovey Cove parking. SF Giants get major rental increased use of their parking lot for Warriors home games, and we, fellow San Franciscans, get a Warriors Arena near major rail and Freeway transport. I see WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN. 1 (waterfront protected), 2 (Warriors get great site), 3 (Salesforce sells unneeded parcel) and 4 (we go to Warriors games on our bicycles).

    Rachel is correct: Representative republic or not, leaving it to the experts may not be the way to go. Citizen input does not have to be destructive, and, in my experience anyway, usually improves what gets built.

    • What some of our neighbors fail to understand is that community input and extortion are not the same thing. Warriors 1.0 wasn’t rejected by voters, and it wouldn’t have blocked bay views any more than AT&T Park does because the plan included a public promenade around the perimeter of the site. For those in the (few) buildings on the other side of the Embarcadero, tough shit. No one has a right to a view. The Salesforce site is actually less transit-accessible (BART) than Pier 30, and certainly no more bike-accessible. Just because the Warriors were able to find another site doesn’t mean that the recently passed measure requiring a vote to exceed height limits is any less stupid.

      And the neighbors were wrong to block those additional 100 units in the Alemany project. Bernal could be much denser without sacrificing its charm. Simply rezoning for RH2 and maintaining the existing height limits would do the trick.

      • Exactly, Todd.

        Still think you can convert the masses into YIMBYs? 🙂

        If you’d like to hear yet another tale of how misguided community activists wrecked the process of a Bernal project, and ended up with something much worse than planned, I can tell you the sad, sad story of what used to be super-awesome Goodman Lumber on Bayshore and ended up being crappy useless Lowe’s.

        I’ll say it again: I admire your use of your blog to call for sanity, but history (and this thread) ain’t on your side…

      • this is a reply to takebackthegreen below: I too am a YIMBY, and I”m not sure what you think should have gone on the the former Goodman’s Lumber site but it should not have been housing. we need more and denser housing, but living just downwind of a major freeway isn’t where anyone should live. That site doesn’t meet the Air Board standards for daycare (quite honestly, I doubt Big City Montessori does either). The eastblowing winds blow all of the particulate matter, and smog right onto that site, causing asthma and other respiratory ailments.

      • HAS: I agree with you 100% that housing should not have gone on the Goodman Lumber site. In fact, arguing that housing should go there was one of the tactics used by activists to derail the site’s development.

        My disappointment is this: because of complex family politics, a locally owned store closed. Realistically, only a deep-pockets entity could continue a non-specialty hardware store on the site. Zip-code analysis of sales figures showed that vast quantities of potential tax dollars were being exported to Daly City and Colma by SF residents spending at the Home Depots in those cities. Clearly, a hardware store in this portion of SF was necessary. And if it has to be a chain store, Home Depot is a much better choice than Lowe’s.

        And Home Depot wanted to put a store there. They tried for YEARS to meet the insane demands and protests and hounding etc., etc. The protestors finally won and Home Depot gave up…

        … and they succeeded in getting us a terrible Lowe’s. What a wonderful “victory.” Lowe’s is more an appliance/lighting/garden store than a hardware store. The construction materials are ridiculously off target. Code-compliant stock is non-existent. It competes much more with Floorcraft than a hardware-centric store would have. It’s laughable tool department is the only one I know of in the Bay Area that is sectioned off and shoppers are assumed to be criminals. Nice managerial view of its host city’s populace.

        Yadda, yadda.. THE POINT: All that fervent fighting and protesting = worse outcome. Mobs of people making limp, mediocre decisions. It happens every time. And my money is on it happening again on the Caesar Chavez site. If anyone wants to bet, we can meet back here in 5-10-15 years, when whatever dull, overmanipulated, inefficient POS emerges from the muck of the process and is finally built.

        It is our way, here in the city of St. Francis. We are fiercely, irrationally proud of it. We don’t over-analyze our past actions. We have it pretty good here, in this place, at this point in history. But we still have the drive to protest; and we have a lot of extra time on our hands. So…

      • I miss the old Goodman’s as well and never understood the objection to Home Despot, but doubt they would have been much better than Lowes. Actually, between Goodman’s and that crazy Whole Earth Access store we had a pretty good set up down there.

        At Goodman’s you had some very good retired contractors, plumbers, electricians and the like on staff, and with a little patience, a determined DIY’er could get almost any fix it questions expertly answered. Those old dudes really knew the local housing stock and what bits and pieces were needed. Try going to Lowes for a replacement 1920 vintage double hung window sash weight.

        As I recall one single Goodman family member wanted her cash out of the business and forced the sale — something like 100 jobs gone and those real hardware store experts too.

      • Yes! Evocative description of what a great place it was.

        My understanding is that the father left the land to the daughter and the business to the son. She wanted to raise the rent from $1 million/year to something unworkable and that was the end. Ironically, the land then sat vacant generating no income for, what?, 10 years?

        Very sad.

        Discount Lumber on Mission/Division is owned by the son and some of the employees still work there…

  34. Here’s the story on the Market Heights apartments– it was downsized by 75 units, and still appeared on the ballot. I remember voting in that election. As I recall, there was concern that the larger project encroached on the Farmer’s Market.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing that, Dan. There you go. Everything wrong with our current process, and a simple case study of how NIMBYism has done much to make the City unaffordable to so many.

      Buck said it well back then: “I’m glad there’s room for 45 families — but another 80 should be there.”

  35. OK, it might be time to call shenanigans on all this entertaining but pointless “affordability” theorizing. San Francisco is LANDLOCKED. Tiny and landlocked. Great weather, pretty views, ocean breezes and landlocked. The only way to go is up, and that ain’t gonna happen.

    I believe that the reason no one acknowledges this fundamental cause of our stratospheric housing costs is because it is undeniable, and therefore doesn’t leave much to argue about. It’s much more invigorating to pretend our “rabble rabble” around the edges can actually solve anything. Short of a devastating natural disaster, there is no solution.

    There is no analogy to our situation (with the near-exception of Boston). In this, we are as unique as we like to think we are.

    When people want something badly, and are basically printing their own money, they spend whatever it takes to buy what they want. It could not be any simpler. This version of supply and demand applies perfectly here.

    This blog’s assertion is still correct, though: building as much housing as possible is a good idea no matter what. We can’t meet the demand, but we should at least move in the right direction…

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