Citing Pipleline Fears, Neighbors Seek to Delay New Homes on Folsom

Rendering of proposed homes and new Folsom Street extension; view northwest from Chapman

Rendering of proposed homes and new Folsom Street extension; view northwest from Chapman

Rendering of proposed homes, view southwest from public garden below Bernal Heights Blvd.

Rendering of proposed homes, view southwest from public garden below Bernal Heights Blvd.

A group of Bernal neighbors are still concerned that if two homes are built on a Folsom Street lot, the site could explode in a gigantic fireball. As a result, the neighbors will appear before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 19 in hopes of delaying the project to conduct an environmental analysis. The Bernal Heights Neighborhood center has been providing organizational assistance to the nervous neighbors.

The neighbors hope the Board of Supervisors will intervene to delay construction of two proposed homes at 3516 and 3526 Folsom, on an undeveloped lot near the intersection of Folsom and Chapman, just below Bernal Heights Boulevard.

folsomhomesites 2

The project, which will require the construction of a new stub roadway extending Folsom Street to the north, has already secured approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission.

“We’re not against development. This is not a development issue,” says Neighbor Herb Felsenfeld, who lives near the proposed homesites and has been spearheading the effort to collect signatures for a letter to the Board of Supervisors. “it’s a public safety issue and a traffic issue.”

Bernalwood obtained an undated  draft of the letter to the Board of Supervisors that Neighbor Herb has circulated:

Dear Board Members,

Request for Environment Review – Our safety and even our lives are at stake.

Construction on two lots at 3516 and 3526 Folsom Street have been given categorical exemption from environmental review, however this particular plot of land, encompassing 6 lots and a street right of way, poses significant, potentially life-threatening, safety and problems.

These include:

  • Construction by a private developer over a 26” PG&E gas pipeline without industry recommended safety protocol in place and made public, resulting in the potential loss of life and property. All safety guidelines and oversight must be transparent and shared with residents. The San Bruno tragedy is fresh in our minds.
  •  Difficult-to-manage traffic conditions at the corner of Folsom and Chapman Streets. The projects have no on-street parking, and on-street parking will be eliminated from 2 more houses. (And, there is the potential for 4 additional new homes) Delivery trucks, construction vehicles, and visitors will be forced to park at the base of the street, blocking access to many homes.
  •  The project’s lack of planning for garbage, recycling, and compost pickup will impace both public health and safety.
  • The project site’s proposed steep street presents a significant threat to drivers and residents, and a liability issue for homeowners and the City.
  •  The structures would create a north-facing solid wall blocking significant public vistas from Bernal Heights Boulevard along the open-space park.

There are specific NTSB and Pipeline Information and Protection Act protocols that should be followed for all land use near pipelines, and we expect assurances from you that these will be met.

This is your opportunity to keep your promise to the keep the citizens of San Francisco safe by requiring that a complete environmental review is undertaken and all appropriate safety measures are in place before any construction is approved for this undeveloped section of Folsom Street and the adjacent properties. We also request that the safety measures and oversight is transparent to the impacted neighbors.

In May 2014, when the fear of a Folsom Fireball first emerged among neighbors in the theoretical “blast zone” of the surrounding homesites, Bernalwood contacted PG&E to learn more about Pipeline 109, the existing gas line buried below Folsom Street. We also asked about the safety procedures used when construction occurs at a pipeline site. Bernalwood’s 2014 questions, and PG&E’s responses, are again provided here in their entirety:

1. When was the section of pipeline under the the proposed home site installed? When was it last upgraded?

The line was installed in 1981. PG&E has a comprehensive inspection and monitoring program to ensure the safe operation of this line.

2. How often is this section of 109 inspected? What does the inspection entail? When did the last inspection take place? What were the results of that inspection?

This section of L-109 was successfully strength tested (via a hydrostatic pressure test) at the time of installation. PG&E records show no history of leaks for L-109 in this area.

PG&E has a comprehensive inspection and monitoring program to ensure the safety of its natural gas transmission pipeline system.  PG&E regularly conducts patrols, leak surveys, and cathodic protection (corrosion protection) system inspections for its natural gas pipelines.  Any issues identified as a threat to public safety are addressed immediately.  PG&E also performs integrity assessments of certain gas transmission pipelines in urban and suburban areas.

Patrols:  PG&E patrols its gas transmission pipelines at least quarterly to look for indications of missing pipeline markers, construction activity and other factors that may threaten the pipeline.  L-109 through the [Bernal Heights] neighborhood was last aerially patrolled in May 2014 and no issues were found.

Leak Surveys:  PG&E conducts leak surveys at least annually of its natural gas transmission pipelines.  Leak surveys are generally conducted by a leak surveyor walking above the pipeline with leak detection instruments.  L-109 in San Francisco was last leak surveyed in April 2014 and no leaks were found.

Cathodic Protection System Inspections:  PG&E utilizes an active cathodic protection (CP) system on its gas transmission and steel distribution pipelines to protect them against corrosion.  PG&E inspects its CP systems every two months to ensure they are operating correctly.  The CP systems on L-109 in this area were last inspected in May 2014 and were found to be operating correctly.

Integrity Assessments:  There are three federally-approved methods to complete a transmission pipeline integrity management baseline assessment:  In-Line Inspections (ILI), External Corrosion Direct Assessment (ECDA) and Pressure Testing.  An In-Line Inspection involves a tool (commonly known as a “pig”) being inserted into the pipeline to identify any areas of concern such as potential metal loss (corrosion) or geometric abnormalities (dents) in the pipeline.  An ECDA involves an indirect, above-ground electrical survey to detect coating defects and the level of cathodic protection.  Excavations are performed to do a direct examination of the pipe in areas of concern as required by federal regulations.  Pressure testing is a strength test normally conducted using water, which is also referred to as a hydrostatic test.

PG&E performed an ECDA on L-109 in this area in 2009 and no issues were found.  PG&E plans to perform another ECDA on L-109 in this area in 2015.  This section of L-109 also had an ICDA (Internal Corrosion Direct Assessment) performed in 2012, and no issues were found.

Automated Shut-off Valves: There are two types of automated shut-off valves recognized within the natural gas industry: Remote Controlled Valves (RCV’s), which can be operated remotely from PG&E’s Gas Control Center, and Automatic Shutoff Valves (ASV’s) that will close automatically as a result of rapidly falling pipeline pressures and/or increased flows at the valve location. There is an RCV on L-109 in Daly City that can be used to isolate the section of L-109 that runs through this neighborhood.

3. Is this section of pipeline 109  “the same type that blew up in San Bruno?”

No. Line 109 operates at a much lower pressure and is smaller in diameter, and is of a much more recent vintage.

4. What safety procedures does PG&E put in place when home or street contruction occurs on the site of a major gas pipeline like 109?

Anytime a contractor or resident makes an excavation on franchise or private property, they must call 811 (State Law for Underground Service Alerts [USA]) in advance so we can identify and properly locate our UG facilities.  When our Damage Prevention group gets the USA request and identifies a critical facility like a gas transmission line in the scope of work, they notify the caller that they must contact PG&E for a standby employee.  PG&E must observe a safe excavation around our lines if any digging is within 10’ of it.  We must be present when they dig around this line.  Our standby inspector will instruct and guide the excavating party to avoid damage.  Excavators who violate this Law are subject to fines.

5. Does the steep grade of the Folsom site have any impact on Pipeline 109? Given the grade at the proposed site, are any special provisions or procedures required to ensure the safety of the pipeline during construction?

The grade of the street have no impacts on the operation of the line.  If the cover is not removed or disturbed within 10’ of the line, there are no special precautions needed.

6. Are there any specific technical or safety challenges posed by the proposed home site, and if so, how does PG&E plan to address them?

As long as the structures are built within the property lines similar to the existing [homes on Folsom Street], they will not pose any issues for us patrolling and maintaining that line.  The proposed home sites are not on top of line 109, and are no closer to the line than existing homes in the neighborhood.

Additional Background: In the area outlined in the map [Bernalwood sent PG&E, shown above], PG&E’s natural gas transmission pipeline L-109 runs down Folsom Street and turns east to follow Bernal Heights Blvd.  Line 109 in this area is a 26-inch diameter steel pipeline installed in 1981 and has a maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) of 150 pounds per square inch gage (psig), which is 19.8% of the pipe’s specified minimum yield strength (SMYS).  This provides a considerable margin of safety, since it would take a pressure over 750 psig to cause the steel in the pipe to begin to deform.

When we cited PG&E’s previous Bernalwood comments about the project, Neighbor Herb said, “We want NTSB standards to be followed.” However, Neighbor Herb was unable to point Bernalwood toward the specific NTSB standards he wants PG&E to follow.

To be sure, independent of the pipeline on Folsom Street, recent events have not inspired much confidence in PG&E’s ability to manage its pipelines safely. In the wake of the 2010 San Bruno Pipeline explosion,  documents presented earlier this month in a criminal trial related to the San Bruno blast revealed that, in 2008, PG&E had prioritized profitability over safety management.

But the pipeline is just one of several concerns shared by neighbors near the proposed homesite. “Once the road gets put in, it’s likely more houses will go in,” Neighbor Herb says. “Once the road goes in we can have six pretty big houses there, with six times as many garbage cans, and six times as much construction, and six times the concern about emergency vehicles.”

Parking is also a concern. “Adding three more cars fighting for parking space will make parking even more difficult,” Neighbor Herb said.

3516 Folsom, ground floor plan

3516 Folsom, ground floor plan, showing two-car garage

A review of the plans for both of the proposed homes shows that each will include a two-car garage.

“The issue more with the City than with the developers, given that the City did not require a CEQA [environmental] review and gave the project a waiver,” said Neighbor Marilyn Waterman, another neighbor who has also been active in the effort to gather signatures for a letter to the Board of Supervisors.  Neighbor Marilyn, who divides her time between her home on Gates and a home in Menlo Park, adds,” The City needs to take responsibility for the neighborhood’s public safety  issues.”

Ailed Paningbatan-Swan, director of community engagement for the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, confirms that BHNC has gotten involved in the issue. “I’ve been helping to connect [those seeking environmental review] with other neighborhood leaders,” she tells Bernalwood.

“I’m not going to say anything about the parking issues; my concern is the public safety,” Ailed adds. “We are not opposed to having the houses built, we are concerned about the public safety issues around the PG&E pipeline.”

“It’s difficult to get much information from PG&E, but there will be safety process established to protect the gas line,” says Fabian Lannoye, who owns one of the lots at the proposed site. “PG&E is not willing to do any work on this project until it is approved.” Fabian tells Bernalwood he owns one of the proposed homesite lots, and that be plans  to live in the house he hopes one day to construct.

The Bernal Heights Democratic Club and the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club are also said to be planning to submit letters to the Board of  Supervisors about the 3516 and 3526 Folsom project.

D9 Supervisor David Campos is expected to recuse himself from tomorrows Board of Supervisor’s vote on 3516 and 3526 Folsom, because he lives a block away, within 500′ of the proposed homesite.

IMAGES: Renderings via Fabian Lannoye

31 thoughts on “Citing Pipleline Fears, Neighbors Seek to Delay New Homes on Folsom

  1. heh, nice smokescreen. We are not against the development but here is our doorknob conversation on the way out that has nothing to do with public safety:
    “The structures would create a north-facing solid wall blocking significant public vistas from Bernal Heights Boulevard along the open-space park.”

  2. “We’re not against development. This is not a development issue,” says Neighbor Herb … “it’s a public safety issue and a traffic issue.””

    And yet the flyers to kill it keep using the buzzword “LUXURY HOUSING”, despite this having nothing whatsoever to do with public safety or traffic.

    Please. If the pipeline argument weren’t there to latch onto as an excuse to kill new homes, it’d be something else instead. It’s an anti-development move.

    • Let ’em build. We need the housing. For several years we have been fighting for parking not only for ourselves but for any guests. Welcome to our side of Bernal. I can deal with the view issue as I walk my dog or jog on the hill.

  3. Some pipeline NIMBYs were recently at the Alemany Farmers Market gathering signatures for this “issue.” They were aghast – AGHAST! – that anyone could consider pipeline 109 safe but had no concrete reasoning that it was not.

  4. Ahh, must be nice to live on the other side from the increasing tent camps, shootings, break-ins, in the rest of Campos’s district to the north and down the hill, and now we know why Campos has been entirely silent about the 3 shootings all on the same corner of Shotwell and 24th. Doesn’t affect where he lives. Lots of time to tweet about AirBnB (which is fine to do), but not a word about a shooting at 5:30pm on one of the busiest pedestrian ways in the district.

  5. Translations:

    A group of Bernal neighbors are still concerned that if two homes are built on a Folsom Street lot, the site could explode in a gigantic fireball.

    No, they’re not.

    “We’re not against development. This is not a development issue,”

    Yes, they are. Yes, it is.

  6. “Herb said, “We want NTSB standards to be followed.” However, Neighbor Herb was unable to point Bernalwood toward the specific NTSB standards he wants PG&E to follow.”

    So, Herb’s biggest concern is that his neighborhood would explode…but he wants the NTSB standards to be followed? Maybe someone should tell Herb that gas pipelines are regulated by the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration). But I’m sure checking on the National Transportation & Safety Board rules would be a good idea too? **shakes head**

  7. I looked at Lannoye’s drawings a while back & have raised a couple of other issues – nothing as exciting as the fireball idea – but that I think show malfeasance by the Planning Dept. My comments are based on old drawings, so for all I know these issues have been solved, and if that’s the case then never mind. HOWEVER…

    First, based on the drawings I looked at, cars will not be able to get in & out of the garages because the driveways are too short & steep. Two things will happen: they’ll bottom out at the tops & bottoms of driveways; they also wont fit under the top of the garage door opening. Owners will need something like a Miata with Jeep ground clearance. However, it’s my understanding that, under current planning rules, a rack for 2 bikes = one auto parking place, so this may be moot, though even bike riders may have to duck or hop off & walk their bikes through the garage door.

    Second, the Folsom St extension is not fully designed, and what’s missing raises other concerns. First – section drawings through Folsom, facing west toward the proposed homes, showed a sharp angle where the new Folsom extension meets Chapman. That wont work, & the intersection wont be built that way. Instead, a gentle transition will be built to prevent cars from bottoming out. The transition will be long, and that will make the new extension even steeper than what was shown on the drawings. Second – no one has explained how neighbor Herb will get in & out of his garage, same for his neighbor across Folsom. Finally, there’s a nice garden at the intersection, currently in the right-of-ways of both Folsom & Chapman, which will be paved over. This would be a sad thing, but perhaps inevitable. The impact of the new street has not been thought through or presented accurately or explained.

    Here’s the crux of my beef: it appears that different permit applicants get different treatment at the permit center; if so, it’s wrong. I support Lannoye’s right to build, but design it right! It pisses me off that these issues have been glossed over or ignored.

    Thanks for patiently reading (if you’ve gotten this far.) Oh – one other little thing – is anyone sick of the shiny, flat Ikea aesthetic that seems to be universal these days? Oh yes – if I can add something else – whether or not the developer plans to live there has nothing to do with anything. This claim is often tossed out to elicit empathy, but there’s nothing in any code book about that, & he can sell it to a Russian gazillionaire or rent it out or anything he wants once it’s approved.

    • Lee, it sounds like your issues are more about the design of the building than the technical issues it could cause for the neighborhood. I get that if Herb couldn’t get out of his driveway that would be an issue that should be addressed prior to building. That said, if the concerns are that the future owner of the home wouldn’t be able to park his/her bike/car…what does that matter to you (or any of us)? If it’s a poorly designed home it won’t sell. It’s not up to us non-owners of that land to tell the owner that his/her future home should be more effective for parking or that the ugly Ikea design is already outdated. If he/she wants to build an ugly home that can only fit a tricycle, then isn’t that his/her right?

      • Sure it’s their right – why not? Let ’em build a meat packing plant over a fireworks factory if they want. I deal with the planning dept on a regular basis, and I know how some people are treated & how others are more equal, & it pisses me off.

    • Do you honestly believe the developer will build driveways and garages that are not usable for cars? And you think building these houses will prevent Herb from getting into his garage? Really?

      • Well, those 2 things are coincidental. Yes, developers will do whatever they do to maximize income. I dont know whether or how Herb will get in & out of his garage, but his driveway will have to be re-built, and to my knowledge Lannoye hasn’t proposed what Herb’s new driveway will look like, or who will design+build+pay for it, or when, or how Herb & family will deal with the torn up street that will leave their garage inaccessible for a long period of time. Yes, really.

      • I invite you to check out Bradford street in between Tompkins and Jarboe. Developments in the 60’s and 2000’s have created a block with three separate grades and the steepest section of street in the city (41% grade).

        I can’t comment on the concerns with regard to the pipeline but I can say that living on a street like that has proven to be really difficult. Homeowners can get used to it but inevitable wrong turns up our street have ended up in accidents (runaway cars as well as near flip-overs due to the steep grade).

        Why not build these homes along a staircase like Joy st?

  8. The pipeline continues up the hill and turns right underneath the paved walkway along Bernal Heights Boulevard past my home and my neighbor’s continuing on down past Carver Street. I witnessed its installation in 1981. At the time it looked fine but that was 35 years ago and before the incident in San Mateo County. I think it’s time for an iron-clad review, especially since it’s uncertain just how deeply it has been laid adjacent to the proposed construction site. The pipe lies about 20 feet up the hiil from my house.

    • I dont think the pipeline is a problem either, more like a straw issue. At least I hope not – it runs right in front of our house!

  9. Too much back and forth on the issue of what this is about! The reality….., there IS a pipeline. No one can dispute that. Sure, anyone can build on their own property, but there are regulations for all to follow. No one can dispute that. It is not up to Herb to know the regulations. He’s asking PG&E et al for their expertise in the area. It is not unacceptable for a resident who lives within a certain radius to want more detailed information or to want accurate information. The request is about educating oneself so that an educated decision and plan for moving forward can be made. I see a lot of slamming being directed at Herb. Perhaps it would be best if those commenting familiarized themselves with the grade and topography before commenting – stop campaigning and actually look at the site in question. As it relates to parking vs. no parking, it is the lack luster approach to requiring this that has lead to the parking shortage in the first place. In answer to “R’s” questions about developers, garages, parking, and Herb’s situation, the answer is Yes – absolutely. History has proven that, and these attempts to belittle it as well as to divert attention away from it will only ensure that it continues. Development is a great thing. None of us would have homes if it didn’t happen. The issue isn’t IF it will happen, but HOW. We can agree to disagree, but in the end would you be happy about losing access to your home, for any reason, whatever it is or was? Would you want the decisions someone else is making to potentially put your life and home in danger without being educated about the risks first? I’m sure if you answer truthfully to yourself the answer would be NO. So this is not about NIMBY anti-development bs. It’s about getting answers. That’s it. That’s all. So let’s get the answers, and figure out what next.

  10. The proposed street stub looks less steep than many other streets on Bernal Hill, (check out Ripley east of Alabama).

  11. This fight has been going on for a while now with more so-called issues (pipeline or otherwise) being raised than can be covered here. These two homes are very modest homes that comply with all the requirements/codes set by the City and the BH special use district provisions. They also fit very well within the area they will be built, matching the design, size etc. of the homes around them.

    Bottom line, as I see it, the folks that are still fighting the building of these homes feel somehow entitled, to what, no one really knows. Maybe they think they are owed something because of where they live and/or how long they’ve lived there. Who knows. The real bottom line for me is if people really want to protect BH from changing into something they don’t like then it is this type of mentality we should be pushing back against, not fighting people who want to move into our hood. I’ve personally done what I can. I’ll admit it wasn’t much but still, at least it was something. Let’s see what will happen.

  12. SOME FACTS: (1) There are gas pipelines under homes and businesses all over San Francisco; the proposed area is nothing unusual or special. (2) Actually, PG&E has an excellent record with gas pipeline maintenance, San Bruno notwithstanding. (3) Building new homes does NOT reduce housing prices. In fact, they tend to go up because people want to live near other people. Witness the former nothing neighborhood of South of Market. Prior to the 1990s it was machine shops, auto body shops, warehouses, etc. There were homes and apartments there but it was not a destination. It was also the cheapest place to live in SF. But with all the home building that has gone on, South of Market became “SOMA” and it became a destination. Home prices shot through the roof because people want to live in destination neighborhoods.

  13. Pingback: Fiesta On the Hill Cancelled as Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center Struggles With Change | Bernalwood

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