Supervisors to Consider Neighbors’ Appeal of New Homes Proposed 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

The ongoing battle over a proposal to build two family-sized homes on an undeveloped Folsom Street lot on the south side of Bernal Hill will move to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, January 24, as a group of nearby neighbors who oppose the new homes at 3516 and 3526 Folsom have appealed to block the project on environmental grounds.

Despite previous efforts to block the homes, the proposal was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in October 2016.  Bernal Neighbor Herb Felsenfeld is again organizing project opponents in advance of the Board of Supervisors meeting, as outlined in a talking-points he sent to allies in mid-January:

We have spoken before about the proposed development @ 3516/26 Folsom Street. After almost 3 years of sustained effort we are now at a critical pivot point. We have the support of over 300 individuals + community groups like the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Bernal Heights Democratic Club, The Sierra Club and the East Slope Design Review Board. Finally, we have an opportunity to present a reasonable, appropriate, and legitimate request for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to the full Board, with a District Supervisor who can speak about the issues.

Tuesday, January 24, City Hall, Room 250,
Starting at 2:00 PM*

*If you can attend, let me know & I can tell you where we are on the Agenda as we get closer to the date of the Hearing

I hope you will consider joining me in one of the following:

  1. Attending the Hearing
  2. Speaking at the Hearing
  3. Contacting our District 9 Supervisor:
    1. Email: RonenStaff@sfgov.org
    2. Call: 415-554-5144

These are the issues that are most pressing and should merit an EIR

  • This is one of the steepest slopes in the City. It rests atop a 26” gas transmission line, for which safety records and pipe weld reports have never been released.
  • The line is maintained by a company, PGE, known for its shoddy record-keeping and its secrecy.
  • The developer’s Geo-technical & topographical survey of the slope is over 3 years old. Its analysis lacks detail and rigor.
  • There are “cumulative effects” that need attention: “Piece mealing” (infrastructure would be in place for 6 houses not 2); still to be considered – proper drainage; emergency vehicle access; blocking the nearest intersection, traffic issues, etc.

While PG&E’s reputation has suffered greatly as a result of disclosures and criminal wrongdoing related to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, reporting by Bernalwood in 2014 indicated that Pipeline 109, which currently runs under Folsom Street, has been regularly inspected, and that routine procedures exist to safeguard any construction activity near the pipeline.

Current route of PG&E's Pipeline 109 through Bernal Heights

Current route of PG&E’s Pipeline 109 through Bernal Heights

Fabien Lannoye, the owner of the lot at 3516 Folsom, previously told Bernalwood he plans to build a home there as a residence for his family. In a recent email to project supporters, Lannoye wrote:

Most of you know that we purchased a residential lot on Bernal, planning to build our house, a discreet 2,200 SF 3 bedroom home, with its garage tucked into the hillside, in scale with the existing adjacent homes. We filed our permits three years ago but have met much resistance from a few of the adjacent neighbors, who consider the land their private open space.

Those neighbors filed 19 Design Reviews against the project. At the Planning Commission Hearings the Planning Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of our project 6-0, and then 7-0 (we had to go back to the Planning Commission after the Planning Department re-issued the Categorical Exemption). A Categorical Exemption (known as a “CatEx”) is the norm for any project LESS than 3 residences, exempting such projects from having to do an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

The neighbors have now appealed the CatEx.

Their appeal will be heard this Tuesday 1/24, and voted upon by the SF Board of Supervisors. This is why we are contacting you, for your brief kind help in sending a simple e-mail note this weekend to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, asking her to vote to support the project and Affirm the Categorical Exemption Determination – Proposed Project at 3516-3526 Folsom Street.

The neighbors have been using the scare tactic that a PG&E Gas pipeline runs up Folsom Street and that construction on our lot would trigger a new San Bruno. A PG&E representative came to the Community meetings we held with the neighbors to answer their concerns, and to clarify the step-by-step, strictly regulated process of investigation, verification and guidance before and during construction.

PG&E stated that they had no concerns since the excavation would take place more than 10’-0” ft away from the existing pipeline (we will be 15-16 ft away).

We have tried to get more information from PG&E, as have the Planning Department and DPW, but PG&E states that they will not provide any further information until the Site Permit is issued, which is the normal process.

The neighbors hope that we will abandon the project if we’re forced to do a full EIR, or, at least delay the project an additional 2 years.

Although most of the Supervisors seem inclined to support the CatEx, our concern is that the local Supervisor (newly elected Hillary Ronen, replacing David Campos) has already been approached by those neighbors. David Campos  resides 200 feet from our project.

We were able to (briefly) meet with Supervisor Ronen, and she seemed sympathetic to our case but she may be politically pressured to side with the neighbors.

We appreciate if you would e-mail Supervisor Ronen and let her know that you support the project and hope she will uphold the Categorical Exemption carefully and rightfully issued by the Planning Department.

Requiring an EIR will not serve any other purpose than to delay the project. It would create a precedent of requiring an EIR for any project within 20 feet of a gas pipeline, pipelines exist everywhere in the city. An EIR costs $50,000 – $200,000 and takes approx two years.

Here’s how the appeal is listed on the Board of Supervisors agenda for the January 24, 2017 meeting:

[Hearing – Appeal of Categorical Exemption from Environmental Review 
Proposed Project at 3516-3526 Folsom Street]
Hearing of persons interested in or objecting to the determination of exemption from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act issued as a Categorical Exemption by the Planning Department on July 8, 2016, approved on October 13, 2016, for a proposed project located at 3516-3526 Folsom Street, to allow the construction of two 3,000-square-foot single-family residences on two vacant lots. (District 9) (Appellant: Ryan J. Patterson, on behalf of the Bernal Heights South Slope Organization, Bernal Safe & Livable, Neighbors Against the Upper Folsom Street Extension, Gail Newman, and Marilyn Waterman) (Filed November 14, 2016)

PHOTOS: Rendering of proposed homes via Fabian Lannoye

20 thoughts on “Supervisors to Consider Neighbors’ Appeal of New Homes Proposed on Folsom

  1. I have no dog in this fight but I must say as a resident of Bradford Street with the current designation of steepest street in San Francisco I must say that it’s very unwise to duplicate this grade elsewhere. Our street dead-ends and is about the same width of this proposed extension. In the past 6 years I have witnessed at least 3 separate accidents due to the inaccessibility of the street and lack of space to turn around. Mail trucks and taxis have needed to get towed out after getting stuck, people have lost control of their vehicles and crashed into neighboring homes, the list goes on. Every weekend I hear the screeching tires of people getting stuck up here and my neighbors and I often have to help people get down to avoid an accident.

    I have written that if these homes are to be built, I would strongly recommend either figuring out how to lower the grade or perhaps create pedestrian access only, similar to other streets leading up to Bernal Heights. As much as I love my home and street, a street like this is not safe and the city is completely irresponsible in allowing it. I believe the city charter doesn’t even allow streets over 28% grade to be accepted so the liability of any accident may actually rest on the homeowners.

  2. This fight has been going on for years. Although (like any other project) there were some issues, by now they ALL have been addressed.

    I have expressed by concerns about the unfair treatment these two projects have received from neighbors, both, here on Bernalwood and with city officials. Not much more to say so I am just adding below the last message I just emailed to Sup. Ronen.

    For those who are also concerned about some people’s NIMBY mentality, it’s time to do something about it. Hopefully last Friday’s sad presidential inauguration was a clear message to all of us why standing on the sidelines and complaining to our partners, friends, neighbors, etc. is not a solution to anything, rather, the real problem. At this stage, a simple message (unlike my wordy email, LOL) to Sup. Ronen today, before the tomorrow’s appeal, can go a long way. (Hillary.Ronen@sfgov.org)

    ******************

    Dear Supervisor Ronen,

    As a district 9 resident I am writing is to ask you to affirm the Categorical Exemption and to support the project of our friends Anna Limkin and Fabien Lannoye at 3516 Folsom Street (as well as the adjacent project at 3526 Folsom Street.)

    Anna and Fabien are in the process of building a home in Bernal Heights so they can move back into our/their neighborhood. Unfortunately though, they have been at it for a few years now and have been bogged down in the planning stages. The reason it is taking this long is due to the numerous so-called complaints some of the residents close to the project sites have lodged against them. The truth though is that the large majority of these complaints are only to prevent them from moving back into the neighborhood, not legitimate issues these neighbors have.

    I personally am fully supportive of people who live close to such projects being given the opportunity to express their issues and have those issues addressed. But when these rights are abused, everyone loses and eventually sticks neighbor against neighbor, creating a hostile environment for everyone. That is why I am counting on you to step in and do the right thing and allow this project to move forward while sending a clear message that Bernal Heights is not for some, but for all.

    To be honest with you Supervisor Ronen, I am very frustrated with some individuals in Bernal who seem to feel, for whatever reason, they have special privileges that others do not. This includes the privilege to dictate who does or does not move into our neighborhood because they claim it infringes on their rights that they really do not have (i.e. their view being blocked), who gets to park their car on certain sections of public streets (just because the parking spot is close to their property), and so on. But then again, that is human nature, to want more than our share just because we can get away with it. This is exactly why we need our city government to take action and make sure everyone in this great city of ours is treated equally, not just the few. Otherwise, if there is no faith in our city officials to maintain a fair and level playing field for all, animosities develop and neighbors turn into adversaries. Nothing good has ever come of such situations.

    So I again ask that you do the right thing and let Anna and Fabien move forward with their project so they can finally move back into Bernal Heights like we have all been waiting for them and their children to do. The home they plan to build on Folsom Street is a modest home and needs your support. If it fails, then the countless hours Anna and Fabien have put in, as well as all the work done by the various City Departments involved in this project, will all go to waste. And worst of all, it will empower others to also treat other people unfairly, and that is unbecoming for this amazing city we all call our home.

    I look forward to your support.

  3. Sounds like Herb should probably sell his house and move if he’s so concerned about the gas pipeline. Poor guy probably can’t get a decent night’s sleep worrying about it.

    Unless there’s an ulterior motive for his multi-year fight.

  4. Its going to be pretty cool that they’ll get to live next to the NIMBYs if they win. I’m sure they will be glad handing advice about how and where to park on the street.

    • This has nothing to do with whether they should be supported (they probably should! single family homes in cities should not need EIRs!), but “i’m just building a home for my family” is right up there with “i have a bridge to sell you…” So I doubt they will be living next to them. But, there doesn’t seem t be any good reason not to develop housing on these legal lots.

  5. If the street is so steep, and the gas pipeline so hazardous, then perhaps the city should red tag the exsting homes and turn the block into a nature preserve. Hello Bernal Coyote, a new park just for you!

    • The existing street is not steep but it would step up after the current homes. Not saying that they shouldn’t build but the rendering above doesn’t look accurate. You can clearly see that the highest current home is a bit over 1 story higher up than the home next to it. If the existing street grade were to be continued up the hill, it would at least result in a steep driveway for the current home which isn’t shown in the rendering. IMO this is important because of the safety issues it presents to fire trucks, delivery trucks, mail carriers, garbage trucks, and random people. I live on a street just like this and it’s unacceptable to me that the city would allow it again. Planning is supposed to enforce rules for the benefit of public safety and this oversight doesn’t make it look like they are doing their job.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7418125,-122.4130282,3a,75y,287.65h,81.49t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s6tslMYsp4zlaw01gU2P0fg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  6. This is NIMBYism at its worst.
    There is nothing at the top of that hill. There is no reason why these 2 homes cannot be built.
    The owners of the property went thru all the channels to have the homes built. Both times the project was approved to go ahead. Then some ‘neighbor’ puts a stop to it.
    I agree with Raffi’s email to District 9 Supervisor Rosen all the way. It was be interesting if she answers it; or will she be another do nothing Campos.
    Gary’s comments are perfect, too. If the neighbor(s) opposing the project are so concerned about a gas line explosion, then a new park is an excellent idea. Wonder what Mr Felsenfeld {as well as the other ‘neighbors] would do if his home is red tagged as he started this stupid mess?!
    I have been living in Bernal Heights since 2000 and sadly have seen this far too many times.
    Let Mr Lannoye build his home.

  7. Pingback: Citing “Vibratory Impacts,” Planning Department Puts Folsom Homes on Hold | Bernalwood

  8. I would think that scary concerns would. It be the domain of Bernalwood readers to adjudicate. I would think that the Planning Commission would have that role, and if they decided that further review was warranted, so be it.

    What seems most outrageous here is how long it is taking to make decisions. Yes, Yes, but now more review? Are any of the safety concerns new issues that would require it take so much more time, and bring it in front of Supervisors?

    This is a question about how our City works (or doesn’t).

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