NIMBY Neighbors Seek to Appeal Approved New Housing at Board of Supervisors



A group of Bernal neighbors hope the Board of Supervisors will overturn plans to build four new homes on a patch of private land  where Powhattan and Bernal Heights Boulevard converge on the south side of Bernal Hill.

The site is zoned for development, and the proposal has already been approved by the Planning Department. SocketSite tells us what happened next:

A subdivision of the 7,500-square-foot, triangular-shaped lot at 40 Bernal Heights Boulevard was approved by the City two months ago, setting the stage for four new single-family homes – the building permits for which have already been requested – to rise across the site.

As designed, the new two-story over garage homes would total 12,058 square feet of gross space, or roughly 3,000 square feet apiece, including garages and decks. The finished living space for the homes would average around 2,100 square feet each.

And within ten days of being approved, an appeal of the subdivision was filed.

From the objecting group of Bernal Heights Neighbors in their appeal to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors:

“This lot is one of the last open space hillsides on East Slope of Bernal, and offers commanding views to pedestrians, bike riders, car passengers, and commuters on the 67 Bernal Heights bus.

Our primary objection to this development, however, is that it is too large and too dense for the space, and for the neighborhood. The four houses proposed for this space are hugely out of proportion with surrounding houses, even those built at the height of the 1960s square-box trend. Properties within a 300′ radius of the proposed development average 1313 square feet of livable space on lots averaging 2064 square feet. The developers of this lot, however, flip this ratio, proposing to build four luxury houses averaging 2139 square feet of livable space (with garages and roof decks that can take that square footage close to or over 3000 square feet), on lots averaging only 1903 square feet…

The patch of land in question is certainly nice, and the views are terrific, so it’s easy to understand why those who live nearby excited by the proposed new housing.


Except…. It’s not their property, and it’s not public property, and it’s unfortunate that a group of neighbors who themselves likely live in million-dollar homes are using the “luxury housing” trope to oppose the construction of new houses that would give a few more families the opportunity to become our Bernal neighbors.

Bernal has extremely strict planning codes, spelled out by the  Bernal Heights Special Use District. If these new homes conform to those guidelines, their density and design will meet the standards that we as a neighborhood agreed upon. The Planning Department says there are no major problems with the proposed design. Socketsite quotes the Planning Department’s response to the neighbors’ concerns:

From San Francisco’s Planning Department in response:

“We urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this appeal; to consider these issues at this time could thwart the well-established, thoughtful and public review process that occurs at the time the Planning and Building permit review takes place, which also include rights of appeal. Both Planning staff and the Commission (if Discretionary Review is requested) can contribute to the discourse on massing; and provide specific direction relative to the applicable design guidelines. Further, we would suggest…that a project where the lot is subdivided into three parcels, instead of four may result in three larger houses than the four houses currently under review.”

SocketSite says the Board of Supervisors will consider this subdivision during a meeting scheduled for December 1.

PHOTOS: Site photos, Telstar Logistics. Aerial map, via SocketSite

45 thoughts on “NIMBY Neighbors Seek to Appeal Approved New Housing at Board of Supervisors

  1. The plans have been approved. The height of the buildings will be within code [i.e. the building next to it would be the height limit]. I have lived in Bernal Heights for 15 years, & frankly the only thing I ever noticed was a run-down, scorched piece of property that needs to be taken care of. The new homes would greatly improve that stretch of the Blvd. And when you’re driving, who has time to look at the view?! If you miss this one, there’s plenty to choose from in BH. Hopefully, the Board of Supervisors vote in favor of the already approved permits to build.

  2. NIMBY = Not in my back yard. At some point people cross over into “Not in YOUR back yard”. Crazy.

  3. Here we go again.

    I bought one parcel of land when I moved to Bernal; I didn’t buy the whole neighborhood, and I’m obliged to accept that. Given the chance, there will always be someone, somewhere, ready to block anyone’s chance to find a new home, on whatever grounds they can find. We can’t operate this way.

  4. Looking forward to seeing this PRIVATE piece of property being developed. The new homes should be spectacular and a great place to live.

  5. Hey neighbors, I’m one of the affected “NIMBYs” this is referring to. Just to be clear, no one is suggesting not to build. And no one is suggesting not build enough houses or even teeny tiny houses. Our aim is to balance a number of concerns here. We want to welcome new development on this otherwise uninteresting slice of land.

    The current plans that now comply with the BH SUD referred above (thanks Todd) were not what the earlier plans complied with. Oversized giant houses more suitable to the suburbs amongst our non-giant scale housing just reads as developer greed. What is currently planned is a somewhat scaled back version. And did you know they will remove *gasp* an entire block of precious parking spaces?

    So, I’m a little annoyed about the characterization of being a NIMBY when actually we’ve trying to keep our neighborhood at a neighborhood-y scale.

    • And yet even this scaled-back version is now being appealed to the board of supervisors to try to block or reduce it further. Sounds like NIMBY to me.

    • Yeah… I sympathize with anyone who faces the loss of even a portion of their view. I sincerely do. But the reality is that you bought a home near a lot that is develop-able. It isn’t fair or just or logical to then insist that you be allowed to preserve your views at the cost of another person’s conforming use of their property.

      I noticed the very strange phrasing The current plans that now comply with the BH SUD referred above… were not what the earlier plans complied with. The unambiguous portion of that sentence acknowledges that the current plans conform to the extremely restrictive BHSUD rules.

      Please hear your neighbors when they tell you: that should be enough. That is all the control that you, or I, or anyone else, should have over these new homes. Views are expressly NOT protected in planning code. It engenders the opposite of sympathy to include bus riders and others in your description of affected parties. No one thinks this appeal is about anything other than the appellants’ personal interests.

      And now for a reality check… Nothing we say or think will affect this process. [Sidebar: We have chosen to give ourselves the power to interfere in other people’s lives in all sorts of ways; and we continue to do so. When you vote yes for the soda tax, don’t think these issues are unrelated.]

      My prediction: because they can, the neighbors will continue their appeal. If they lose that appeal, I put $50 on them filing a lawsuit to delay and/or alter the plans.

      Hey! Has Bernalwood ever had a contest? Bernalwood could make a pool of some sort, hold the betting monies in escrow, and give the money to a charity of your choosing when this story ends…

    • I’m not understanding your concern about “Oversized giant houses more suitable to the suburbs amongst our non-giant scale housing,” given the fact that in the Planning Dept.’s response above, if you guys block this plan you’ll likely end up with three larger houses. ??? If I were you, I’d be seriously worried that if my group succeeded in blocking this plan, I’d end up with something much worse. I mean, really, be careful what you wish for.

    • If you and your neighbors wanted to dictate what was built on that property you could have always purchased it yourself. Since you didn’t, you’re really just coming across as another entitled NIMBY.

  6. I live on Folsom Street, directly below the proposed site for this new construction. I think many of these comments are a bit glib and kind of snarky. I don’t think anyone who presented their point of view in opposition to the Planning Department is trying to maintain that the land remain undeveloped or that the owners of the parcel don’t have the right to develop their property. I think the issue is more about trying to fit size 9 feet into size 6 shoes. There are already problems with the steep slope, parking and traffic. I think that the neighbors nearby are all concerned that maybe the scale of the project should be less grand and should consider the way in which their presence might be less overpowering in terms of the context. Also, the tone of this article really does a lot to foster enmity and a “Them vs. Us” mentality. A bit distasteful.

    • Interesting. I wonder why no one ever protests that a proposed home is too small…

      You haven’t addressed the main issue: the Bernal Heights Special Use District regulations are among the toughest and most restrictive in SF. If the planned homes conform to those tough restrictions and the Planning Dept. has approved them, they are already very well regulated, examined, picked over, altered, interfered with, and made smaller. It just isn’t fair to insist on more control.

      Please read the BHSUD rules. They are onerous.

      As for Them vs. Us, the appellants played that card first: innocent neighbors vs. big bad developers.

      And BTW, technically, I don’t “blame” the appellants. I mean, they are doing what we the people have allowed them to do. What have they got to lose? As far as what is “right?” I say: Bitch about it to your friends and family, appreciate the great fortune of living on BH at all, and stop interfering. Losing your view sucks, but time heals all wounds.

  7. But it conforms. It is approved. It takes into account the concerns of society at large.

    (In the friendliest way possible…)Why do you think your concerns and thoughts should matter? You think 3 homes would be better. I personally would prefer to see a geodesic dome that houses some of SFMOMA’s overflow inventory. But I don’t get everything I want. Nor should I.

    (Also: it is a distracting ploy to bring up a developer’s reputation. Does he construct homes well? And you know what? Even that is covered by inspections. So, no. None of it is any of your business. Or mine.)

  8. Bernalwood is Todd Lapin’s site. He can do with it whatever he wishes. It is a personal project that has become a valuable resource for a neighborhood. If another individual or group wants to create their own site, and put the work into it to make it valuable to Bernal, I think Todd would be more than thrilled.

    • Right?! Thank you Judge Crater. Sheesh. So many ideas for the neighborhood, for a little parcel of land, and for Bernalwood…Everyone’s got an opinion in SF! I suspect that no other city in the U.S. allows for the degree of public comment and public process than SF. And, as a city employee, let me say that this has its dark side.

  9. Why are 4 lots excessive? If you look at the aerial view, the space can probably fit in the 6 lots directly east of it. It seems that people are more upset that these homes will be an ungodly large 2139 square feet. Some of you old timers without kids might be fine with 1313 square feet but I wouldn’t mind raising two kids with a bit more space.

    Here’s the exact quote from the appeal:

    “The four houses proposed for this space are hugely out of proportion with surrounding houses, even those built at the height of the 1960s square-box trend. Properties within a 300′ radius of the proposed development average 1313 square feet of livable space on lots averaging 2064 square feet. The developers of this lot, however, flip this ratio, proposing to build four luxury houses averaging 2139 square feet of livable space”

    • Actually, the lot is smaller than what is shown in the graphic here. I think Carver St. officially extends down to Powhattan, making the lot smaller by about the equivalent of 1 house-width.

      Still, I’m with you that the space can handle four lots, especially considering the size of the lots to the east.

  10. Pretty hilarious that NIMBY neighbors have decided to log on and plead their case here. Michael in particular. Have you heard the one about the San Francisco homeowner who wants to tell you how to run your life? Yes, of course you have.
    Bernal heights Nimbys: You cant control everything. Move on with life and accept that you’ve lost this battle. If the development is too overpowering, then maybe the big bad city with scary overpowering 40′ buildings is not the best place for you.

  11. You do know that YIMBY stands for yes in my backyard?
    That is not you. At best, you are a yes do what I say in your backyard. No one is asking you for what you think would be a “better choice” for the parcel. Its a little hilarious that you find your opinion so worthwhile.

  12. For the record, the only thing that’s been approved so far is the subdivision of the lot into four lots. Building and Planning permits for the individual houses have not been reviewed yet, and the buildings have not yet been found to comply with the Bernal Heights Special Use District.

    The appeal process is what it is, and the developer certainly knew about it and has planned accordingly. This appeal is being dismissed pretty summarily (I think correctly) as being premature; the proper time for these issues is not really on the subdivision phase as much as the building permit phase.

    It’s not the end of the world to provide a forum for the neighbors to express their concerns before the buildings get built. A lot of the folks commenting here suggest that the appeal itself is somehow the end of the world or a great injustice, but I prefer to see it as the messy end of a vibrant and dynamic democracy where people care about where they live. Personally I’d rather have folks appealing than not caring.

    I live near this lot and agree that it’s pretty prime develop-able land. Four houses seems like a proper number for the lot (maybe even too few, even considering that the lot is smaller than what is shown up above). I expect the houses to comply with the Special Use District restrictions and all the other planning and building permit requirements, and I don’t reflexively trust the developer or Planning to make sure that that happens. I’m glad the neighbors are there to vigilantly make sure it does. The 30 foot issue that Michael Groh raises seems like the biggest problem; I hope they properly measure that height so the houses comply with the rule and aren’t out of scale for the neighborhood. And the parking seems solvable, too — if three houses fronting Powhattan are really eliminating the whole block of street parking (11-12 spots), that would be a problem. The East Slope Guidelines are guidance only, and I appreciate them for what they are. Hopefully these houses satisfy most or all of them, but I’m fine with then not being mandatory as there’s a fair bit of aesthetics involved here. I do think it’s a good thing that they exist, though, and that Planning can consider them when issuing building permits.

    Good on you, neighbors, for holding the developers’ and Planning’s feet to the fire, and sorry about the inevitable loss of your view (or scale, or whatever else you might not have any control over). But I do hope your contribution makes the houses better than they would have been without your involvement, which will make you and the future residents all happier and more likely to maintain a great neighborhood feel in that part of Bernal.

    • But I do hope your contribution makes the houses better than they would have been without your involvement

      Do you realize how arrogant that statement is? Beyond making sure they meet all applicable regulations, no one should have any input whatsoever regarding those houses. It is inexcusably selfish and undemocratic to want control over other people’s personal property.

      Example: I DESPISE that pink mural on the house on Folsom that faces the hilltop. (Sorry homeowner and artist!) But I don’t protest it. If there were a channel to appeal it, I wouldn’t. Because it isn’t my house. Why is that so hard to understand? I don’t get to make the world conform to my opinions. Instead, I get a chance to work on my art criticism vocabulary and eye rolling skills.

      Have you ever heard the saying “Too many chefs spoil the dish?” These endless appeals are one of the main reasons San Francisco has the most boring, unimaginative and repetitive architecture of any major American city.

      What a shame.

      • takebackthegreen, take it easy, take a breath. We both agree that neighbors should be allowed (I would even say encouraged) to make sure a developer meets “all applicable regulations.” That’s all the permit comment and appeal process deals with — complying with applicable regulations.

        And that’s all my comment is really getting at: my hope is that the neighbors, by making sure the developer satisfies all applicable regulations by participating in the process and commenting and appealing, makes the houses better than they would have been without their involvement.

        I think what is getting you so upset is that you perceive this appeal to be only about aesthetic issues — issues that are not strictly applicable regulation issues, or issues where somebody is trying to shoehorn in an aesthetic issue into an applicable regulation issue. But applicable regulations cover height limits and on-street parking. They can also cover views and building scale, but I agree that it’s not clear that those issues are really present here.

        So does the fact that the neighbors complained about views and building scale invalidate their appeal? I don’t think so. First, maybe I’m wrong that the views and building scale are not real issues. Second, big deal — I can find it in myself to cut folks some slack and allow them to express concerns about issues that are not code enforcement issues without it enraging me. Third, and most importantly, the on-street parking and building height issues are clearly legitimate compliance issues. They were raised too early here, as this subdivision issue doesn’t involve either issue, but I hope the neighbors raise the issues during the building and planning permit phases to make sure the houses comply. Hopefully the result is a better neighborhood with happy neighbors.

        Sorry if you find my perspective arrogant; I’d like to think that I’m just in favor of good government and good community.

      • Adam: I’d characterize my emotional reaction as disbelief with a sprinkle of sadness and disgust. But not surprised or angry.

        You can dress it up all you want, but you are claiming the right to go beyond the codified interests of society and have your OPINION play a part in another person’s fair and LEGAL use of their private property. That is simply a factual statement.

        Parking spaces eliminated by driveways to new homes? Too bad. We can’t keep our world frozen in time. It’s legal and logical and necessary and none of your business. Aesthetics? Views? Larger houses than yours? Out of character? Ditto, ditto, ditto and super ditto. The developer is not proposing to build a nuclear power plant or pig farm. Again, it is NOT your place to make anything “better.” Better is subjective.

        The reason for this appeal is to protect existing neighbors’ views and comfort by force. That is EXPRESSLY NOT what the planning process is for. Or the legal process, when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.

        I’m waving the white flag… time to go give MY neighbors big ol’ hugs for being awesome. Latest example: My block has an ENORMOUS two year construction project going on. Other than asking for a simple change in construction site access to preserve a community garden, WE DID NOT TRY TO DELAY OR ALTER THE PLANS. We showed up at meetings; we asked questions; and we remembered that our dictatorships end at our property lines. Parking and noise has sucked like… well… something PG-13 with very good suction. But the #1 sentiment is: “That’s how things get built.”

        I’m so proud I could burst.

        Note: To those who join in the eventual lawsuit, I hope it is at least punishingly expensive. (A special hex on you for supporting lawyers!) Any immediate neighbors of the proposed development who DID NOT join in this appeal: I wish I knew you so I could send you a fruit basket, or take you out for coffee, or just shake your hand for being a reasonable adult.


      • Adam K Said…”We both agree that neighbors should be allowed (I would even say encouraged) to make sure a developer meets “all applicable regulations.” That’s all the permit comment and appeal process deals with — complying with applicable regulations.”

        It’s not for one’s neighbors to ensure a developer (or contractor) meets all applicable regulations. That is why we pay taxes and have a department of building inspection and planning department. We have experts in place who will ensure the development complies with codes and regulations. Unless your neighbor works for DBI, it is highly unlikely they are qualified to perform this task.

      • b: I challenge you to envision a world where concerned citizens do not and cannot ensure a private landowner follows the law. There is simply not enough government to police every single thing private parties do, and when it comes to land development, the system relies on other private parties enforcing the law. That’s a fact. You might not like it, but it’s the system we built and live by every day. Personally, I’m in favor of it. It’s cheaper and less oppressive than relying on the government to police everything and lulling the citizenry into complacency, fatalism, and/or corruption (see: Soviet Communism?).

        takebackthegreen: I really don’t know what you’re disagreeing with me on here. We both agree that neighbors can involve themselves in the process to ensure compliance with the law. On-street parking spaces and height limits are part of the law; a building needs a permit to put in a curb-cut, and the city can require the curb-cut to be only so big, or far enough away from a neighboring curb-cut to allow a car to park in between. Somebody here said that the three houses on Powhattan will eliminate all 11 or 12 parking spaces on the block. I find that hard to believe, but it could be true if the houses are being designed with double-wide garages inefficiently spaced from each other. If that’s the case, I hope the neighbors raise the issue, demonstrate that it violates the code, and that the planning department denies the permit. What’s the big deal there? Is that some sort of infringement of private property rights? The street is shared space, and curb-cuts are not inalienable rights held by property owners, so I don’t think so.

        Same thing with height limits. If the buildings violate the code on height limits, what’s wrong with the neighbors appealing that? And if the question is not easy to answer, what’s wrong with the neighbors raising it in an appeal and letting the planning dept figure it out? And who am I, or you, to pre-determine whether the question is easy to answer or not? Let them file the appeal and then let the planning department answer the question, and if the neighbors are unhappy, let them go to court to have a judge decide who is right. It’s really not a big deal or the end of the world, and it is really not an infringement on anybody’s property rights to have to engage in a system that is designed to ensure compliance with the law.

        So we’re down to aesthetics, views, and scale again, which really seem to get you going. Like I said, I agree that these don’t seem like legitimate code enforcement issues with this project, but I also don’t feel confident enough to declare that as an absolute fact that prevents the neighbors from raising them in an appeal. The fact is that aesthetics, views, and scale be legitimate code compliance issues; the Bernal Heights Special Use District, in addition to limiting building heights to 30 feet and curb cuts to 12 feet, also calls for the use of the East Slope Building Guidelines (which apply to this property) as “guidelines to determine neighborhood compatibility of new construction.” Compliance with that provision is enforced by the Planning Dept.

        The East Slope Building Guidelines, in turn, deal pretty much exclusively with aesthetics and scale (with views maybe being an apparent collateral benefit). So even those issues are code compliance issues with this project. This is San Francisco, not Houston. Folks have been involved in these issues for a long time here and it looks to me like the laws reflect that.

        It so happens that the Guidelines provide somewhat of a vague standard; as detailed as the Guidelines are, they still contain a lot of judgment calls and do not perfectly anticipate every single contingency. Thus, we have the sometimes messy permit process where members of the public, acting under their legitimate role of advocates for code compliance, can appeal permit decisions and force Planning to think about, and make judgment calls on, “aesthetic” issues like building scale or building design.

        If you don’t like it, change the law. But the fact is it’s the law, and I personally don’t blame the neighbors for getting involved and seeking to enforce it.

      • Well Adam, I guess my words don’t scan the same to your eyes as they do when I write them.

        1) The Planning Dept. is well equipped to review plans and enforce code. We aren’t needed in that process, but are allowed to appeal if we believe code isn’t being enforced.

        2) We are also ALLOWED to appeal about anything we want.

        3) Neighbors often appeal when there is no violation. Why? Because if they make enough waves, builders will eventually give up and let them have their way. Or commissioners or Supervisors will go beyond the law and give the squeaky wheel some grease.

        3A) That is NOT following the law. It is using the process to unfairly promote self-interest. You think that is fine. I don’t.

        4) The houses will conform to the law. Nothing in the appeal suggests they won’t.

        5) The Powhattan neighbors are appealing because their views will be reduced. Plain. Simple. Understandable. And Wrong. And Selfish. And Unfair. But if they make enough noise and file appeals and lawsuits, they will probably force the developers to compromise EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE COMPLIANT WITH CODE.

        6) That is NOT the purpose of the appeals process. Or the court system.

        7) I’m not saying they CAN’T. I’m saying they SHOULDN’T.

        8) Again, thank you for your concern, but I’m not particularly emotional about this issue. If you wish to think otherwise for some reason, be my guest. I’m just continually amused by how illiberal and controlling people can be in a city that considers itself a bastion of Liberty.

        If you want the last word, go for it. Nothing we say here matters anyway.


      • I thought of a quicker way to sum up the appeals process:

        Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile.

  13. It’s all part of the process. I just wish people would knock it off with “luxury” this and “luxury” that. If you want to be taken seriously, then stop buying into this current, rampant, politicizing of language. The average 2139 sq ft of living space is a nice size home, but far from luxurious. The appelants will have all seen luxurious amounts of space, and that is not this development.

  14. It’s ridiculous that our city’s planning process can be abused this way even when we’re running the most series housing shortage we’ve had in decades. We need a fast-track process and we need it twenty years ago.

  15. Under California’s Housing Accountability Act, it’s illegal for a city to force developers to build lower-density housing, if higher-density housing would be allowed by the zoning code. The Bay Area Renters’ Federation is now suing the city of Lafayette for forcing developers to build 44 luxury, single-family homes instead of 315 middle-income apartments:

  16. Let’s be honest. This is about parking spots and nothing else. Why else would the only people concerned about the view from the 67 bus be the people who live near the proposed site? designgeeksf even ends her argument mentioning parking.
    My house is off Powhattan and is 30 feet wide, 3 levels and over 2500 sq ft. Trust me, you would never walk past my house and think it’s a luxury building or doesn’t fit in with the rest of Bernal. In fact my street is filled with similar houses.
    For full disclosure, I wish this was being built as a ten story building. 1 level of all parking. 1 level of retail and 8 levels of housing with 64 units. I guess that’s the reason I live in a city and not Truckee.

    • I live on Powhattan near there and walk by every day. The parking spots along the vacant lot are often empty during the day and partially filled at night. It’s often used by RVs and trucks. I don’t think we’ll miss the parking spaces that much.

    • As an East Slope resident, I have to say that all of Bernal is quickly reaching the point where additional (apartment/home garage) parking is becoming a curse, not a blessing. Far from reducing the demand for on-street parking, it only provides a surplus of vehicles (that street spot is filled by the owner’s extra vehicle, or a renter’s, or an RV-dweller), sharing the same tiny streets that cannot be widened.

      I am concerned that very soon, fire trucks and ambulances will not be able to access some streets in our neighborhood.

  17. heh… multi-millionaires sure have it rough around these parts. If this keeps up they’ll have to move to Tiburon or Woodside or something. Not to mention, forcing them to work with that developer… I thought the wealthy were careful about the company they keep? Whelp, like I said, tough times for that crowd.

  18. Hi folks. Just want to remind you all that there is a housing crisis going on in San Francisco. Specifically, there are not enough houses being built in our city for all the people that want / need to live here. We should be celebrating every new home that is being created, because it will help to bring supply one tiny step closer to being in balance with demand. I presume that these houses will end up being built, so all that the NIMBY group is slowing the inevitable and keeping us a few months further from this tiny step in the right direction. I guess they have a right to appeal under the code, but it feels selfish to me.

  19. I seem to recall that last time a developer targeted that plot (like 10-12 years ago), one of the reasons for rejection was a native grass species that has lost a lot of ground all around Bernal.

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