Clever Bernal Neighbors Adapt Funky Bernal House to Fit a Growing Bernal Family

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Like the humans who live in them, many of the houses in Bernal Heights are quirky. Partly because of our hilly topography, and partially because of 150 years of piecemeal construction and ad hoc infill, Bernal Heights is full of funky houses that challenge the creativity of their 21st century occupants.

This week, our friends at the CurbedSF website did a charming house profile of Bernal neighbors Jess and Michele, who are adapting their 426 square-foot cottage to serve as a home for their newly expanded family.

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CurbedSF writes:

When Jess and Michele began house hunting, they were planning to start a family, so they made the rounds of the few two-bedrooms in their price range. They put in a few bids, but they were outbid. And outbid again. Then the couple went to see a tiny one-bedroom cottage in Bernal Heights. When the cottage was first built, in 1926, it was essentially a 426-square-foot glorified studio constructed over a garage. The most recent occupant had sealed off part of the garage and converted it into a bedroom, connected to the main house by a set of houseboat stairs. Jess and Michele—who prefer not to give their last names—fell in love with the cottage’s bright interiors, white brick fireplace, quirky layout, and rustic rooms, some of which had been updated and edged in reclaimed wood by the seller, an architect. “Our realtor thought we were a little bit crazy,” says Jess. “We were just like, ‘We can make this work because it’s so damn cute.'”

You should definitely read the whole thing to see all the clever ways that Neighbor Jess and Neighbor Michele turned their tiny house into an awesome home. But before you do, Neighbor Jess shared an important addendum in an email to Bernalwood:

The only quote missing from the article that I wanted to share with the Bernal community is that our home is perfect for us because of the inside and outside — our location and introduction to the Bernal community has been so amazing.  We had no idea how lucky we were finding this little cottage and moving to Bernal.  We won the lottery with this place and location.  Thank you neighbors and businesses who make Bernal special!

PHOTOS: Top, Neighbors Jess and Michele and their brand-new wallpaper. All other photos via CurbedSF.

Did You Know? The Board of Supervisors Eliminated Off-Street Parking Requirements

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EDITOR’S NOTE 8 Jan., 2014: This article and its headline has been revised to reflect updated information provided by the San Francisco Planning Department. Writer Brandon Powell reached out to the Planning Department several times while reporting, but the Department provided clarification only after the original article was published.

There are two topics about which many Bernalese — nay, many San Franciscans — tend to have very strong opinions: parking and housing.

Neighbor Brandon Powell calls our attention to a change that was recently made to planning requirements here in Bernal Heights — a change which will impact both the design of new housing and the inventory of on-street parking here. Neighbor Brandon sits on the Northwest Bernal Heights Design Review Board, and in that capacity he shares these details about changes to the City’s planning requirements that have come to his attention. Neighbor Brandon reports:

This is the language establishing the planning rules that govern the Bernal Heights Special Use District:

“In order to reflect the special characteristics and hillside topography of an area of the City that has a collection of older buildings situated on lots generally smaller than the lot patterns in other low-density areas of the City, and to encourage development in context and scale with the established character, there shall be a Bernal Heights Special Use District.”

Since January 1991, new construction in Bernal, or alterations to existing structures which expand the building’s envelope, are subject to the restrictions of the Bernal Heights Special Use District outlined in Section 242 of the planning code. One of the key elements of Section 242 is the requirement to provide off-street parking, with the number of off-street spaces tied to the square footage of the building.

The City’s approach to parking—and the philosophy behind that approach—has evolved since 1991, and today Transit First is the order of the day. Rather than enshrining the automobile and its use in the Planning Code, the City has progressively scaled back parking requirements for new developments, especially for multi-unit buildings near transit nodes.

In July 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved the addition Section 150(e) to the Planning Code which allows for the substitution of permanent bicycle parking for off-street automobile parking:

(e) Reduction and Replacement of Off-Street Parking Spaces. Notwithstanding subsection (d) above, off-street parking spaces may be reduced and replaced by bicycle parking spaces based on standards provided in Section 155.1(d) of this Code. Once bicycle parking spaces replace an automobile parking space, such bicycle parking shall not be reduced or eliminated. Such bicycle parking spaces may be converted back to automobile parking space, provided that the required numbers of bicycle parking spaces subject to Sections 155.2 and 155.3 of this Code are still met after removal of bicycle parking spaces.

In practical terms, the City no longer requires that new construction (or substantial additions to existing homes) include off-street car parking. This is a fairly radical change to the Planning Code, but there are strong arguments in favor of having market forces determine the demand for car parking and letting developers figure out how best to satisfy that demand.

A holistic approach, however, demands that the City simultaneously address the issue of free street parking. If there is no longer a requirement for property owners to provide car parking, there likely will be increased demand for the limited number of street-parking spaces and more conflict between neighbors.

PHOTO: Folsom Street in Bernal Heights, by Telstar Logistics

Bernal Houses and Matching Cars: A Color-Coordinated Photography Collection

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For reasons that remain entirely mysterious and unknown, several photographers have submitted photos to the Bernalwood group on Flickr that show Bernal Heights cars parked in front of color-coordinated Bernal Heights homes. It’s an ad-hoc photo show! Veerrrrry innnnnteresting.

The photo of the low-rider Chevrolet and matching house you see up above was captured by Chris Martin.

Neighbor Markus Spiering captured this All-Amercian collection of a faded old Ranchero, a white picket fence, and a trio of muted Bernal houses:

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Neighbor Jane Underwood found a red door in Bernal Heights that came with a matching Miata:

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And finally, Neighbor Ben Rosengart shot this faded Jaguar with a tan roof that blends smoothly with the house behind it:

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Want to help create more ad-hoc photo patterns? Share your sexxxy Bernal photos in the Bernalwood photo group. Please!

UPDATE: Here’s a minty-fresh midcentury pairing on Montcalm, shared via the comments:

Spotted on a dog walk: Double mint. #onlyinsf #dscolor #wheelsandwalls

A photo posted by Kelly Lack (@kellyalack) on

Also, Jason Lashinsky emailed us this greyscale house-scooter pairing:

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Midcentury Bernal Shoebox House Flips After 21st Century Makeover

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Somewhere relatively high up on Bernalwood’s List of Things We Really Want to Cover Someday is an item called “What’s Up with Those Bernal Shoebox Houses?”

You know the type, because it is very common here. The Bernal Shoebox is what I call those vaguely modern inflill homes that were built all over Bernal Heights in the 1950s and 1960s. Rectangular shapes. Double-wide garage door on the bottom. Residential space above. Standardized construction. Raise and Repeat… all over Bernal Heights (and San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods) during those heady postwar years.

For example, here’s tony Nebraska Street, just north of Cortland, as seen through Google Earth Street View:

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As a genre, Bernal Shoebox houses are now found in various states of repair, upkeep, originality, adaptation, and/or disrepair. There’s even one in the Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book:

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Some Bernal Shoeboxes look rather Midcentury Chic…

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…which is why clever graphic artists have even created new posters like this:

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Space Age grooviness aside, these types of houses have some notable advantages as a residential resource. They’re plentiful, they are structurally uncomplicated, they usually offer a generous amount of interior space, and they’re relatively easy to reconfigure and remodel to accommodate our fabulous 21st century lifestyles.

So someday, Bernalwood hopes to tell you more about this particular building type. Where did the basic design come from? Who did it? How were these homes built? And by whom? And for how much? And who bought them? That kind of stuff. Stay tuned. (Have insights on the topic? Share them in the comments or via email)

In the meantime, our cyberpals at the CurbedSF real estate blog recently found this example of a Bernal Shoebox for sale at 357 Franconia after a full makeover:

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CurbedSF writes:

Back in March, flippers purchased a worn-out Bernal fixer for $770K and set about transforming it into a super-slick contemporary box. Out front, the forlorn white siding was switched out for a new stucco facade with lava stone cladding and black metal trim. Inside, the kitchen is all new, an unwarranted third bedroom seems to have gone legit, and a second bath was added, along with some welcome skylights. At $1.395M, the new ask is a more than 80 percent boost over the sale price eight months ago. Looks like the sellers are getting their money’s worth, too—the property went into contract after only five days on the market.

OK, so, that’s obviously a rather dizzyng bump in price. And yes, it’s obviously a reflection of our wacky-doodle, supply-constrained real estate market. Blah blah blah.

Yet it’s also, likely, a reflection of what will become of more and more Bernal Shoeboxes, and how many of them will evolve in the fabric of Bernal’s streetscape during decades to come. Shall we call them DwellBoxes?

PHOTOS: 357 Franconia via Redfin and CurbedSF. Bernal Shoeboxes by Telstar Logistics

New “Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book” Celebrates 2014 Bernal Outdoor Cinema Festival

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Neighbor Mason Kirby is an architect who lives on Mullen and works from a cute little office on Bocana just off Cortland. A few years ago, Neighbor Mason created a fabulously clever Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book, which he generously shared with Bernalwood readers.

Now, just in time for the 2014 Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema festival that gets underway next week, Neighbor Mason shares a new edition of his Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book for wannabe Bernal architects of all ages:

We’ve created a second, collectors, edition of our Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book. Download away! In this new edition, we didn’t need to include any houses from Noe Valley (……hisssss……hooray!). Also, we included a moon-like reminder about the Precita Park screening of Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema (which we are helping sponsor) that will happen on Saturday September 6th at 6:30.

Download your copy of the 2014 Bernal Heights Architectural Coloring Book right here!!

Don’t have a printer? No problem! Neighbor Anne tells us where you can pick up a hard copy:

The coloring books are available at Precita Park Café, Charlie’s Café, Precita Valley Center, and the Bernal Library. In addition, we will have a stack of them at the Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema information table at Precita Park on Saturday, September 6.

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Got that, kids? Sharpen your colored pencils, line up your crayons, try and stay within the lines, and don’t forget that all your pictures must conform with the Bernal Heights East Slope Design Review Guidelines. (Just kidding about that last part. Sort of.)

And meanwhile, get ready for Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema 2014, which kicks off with a gala Opening Night Party at El Rio  on Thursday night, Sept. 4.

Sexy Bernal Sweatshirt Hoodies For Sale to Support Final Phase of Library Art Project

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The Bernal Library Art Project is entering its final phase.

After all the controversy, and the delicate mediation, and the hard-earned consensus, and the installation of new artwork on the library’s Cortland and Moultrie facades, work is now underway to complete the art on the rear, playground-facing side of the library. Scaffolding is up, and artist Johanna Poethig is working on her clever tile mosaic/mural, which incorporates vintage photographs shared by Bernal neighbors. (You can see some in-progress snaps above.)

All that remains is just a little more fundraising. And for that, the esteemed Bernalese who have spearheaded the Library Art Project invite you to purchase one of their rather fashionable sweatshirt hoodies, each of which includes a cameo by Bernal’s own celebrity icon, Sutrito Tower:

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Here’s the pitch from the Library Art Project team:

Phase 2 of the Bernal Library Art Project is scheduled for completion this fall. Scaffolding is up on the back of the library to paint and prepare the wall for installation of the amazing glass and ceramic tile mural that Johanna Poethig has designed for this space.

So, even though the mural is going up, the funding is not complete. Our current, and perhaps final, fund raising effort is this terrific Bernal Heights sweatshirt hoodie. Please note:

  • The copyrighted image by Reuben Rude will not be duplicated in the future!
  • Supplies are limited!
  • They are available in sizes from XL to XS.
  • Hoodies are for purchase at Heartfelt for $45
  • All proceeds above cost support Phase 2 of the Bernal Lilbrary Art Project.

Although lightweight, it’s warm and super comfy and looks really cool. Don’t wait or you may miss the opportunity to own this Bernal Heights collectible!

PHOTOS: via the Bernal Library Art Project Facebook page.

If Two Homes Are Built on This Bernal Heights Property, Will It Explode in a Giant Scorching Fireball?

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There’s a design review committee meeting happening tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 28 at 7 pm at the Precita Center.

The topic on the agenda will be that proposal to build two single-family homes at 3516 and 3526 Folsom on the southeast slope of Bernal Hill, on the undeveloped lot just below Bernal Heights Boulevard at Folsom and Chapman. There are questions to consider. Like, how is the new right-of-way going to work, since there’s no road there now, and the slope is so hella steep? And what about drainage, and the garden that’s now on the site, and the existing character of the neighborhood? Also, if homes are built here, will the site explode in a gigantic, scorching, San Bruno-style fireball?

The mortal peril associated with the giant scorching fireball scenario introduces a dramatic new element to the usual Bernal Heights design review fare. The giant scorching fireball scenario has been popularized by some neighbors around the proposed development site, and they have detailed their concerns in a flyer:

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Let’s zoom and enhance for better legibility:

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Blast radius! Oh my.

But is this true? Is this pipeline the same type that blew up in San Bruno? How likely is it that a giant scorching fireball scenario will ultimately engulf everything inside the red circle?

Remain calm, Citizens of Bernalwood. Let’s walk through this piece by piece.

The gas pipeline that runs through Bernal Heights is called Line 109, and it is definitely serious business. The 2010 San Bruno explosion is fresh in Bay Area memory, but that was Line 132 — a different pipeline altogether. That said, Line 109 also exploded once, in a giant scorching fireball, right here in Bernal Heights, back in 1963.

So there’s that.

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Bernalwood reported on the present-day status of Line 109 back in 2011. At the time, we said:

The good news is, our section of Line 109 is relatively new [installed in the early 1980s], and thus hopefully does not have any of the shoddy, 1950s-era welds that were blamed in the San Bruno explosion. Likwise, it seems that an active inspection regimen is in place to validate the line’s integrity.

And so, we concluded:

Given the magnitude of PG&E’s recent mismanagement of its pipeline infrastructure, and the tremendous potential for harm, unwavering diligence will be required by both Bernal Heights residents and our local authorities to ensure the pipeline will remain safe for decades to come.

So, diligence.

That brings us to the present day. Bernalwood has been contacted by a group of neighbors around the proposed development who have been raising alarm about the giant scorching fireball scenario and rallying to oppose construction on the site. We also sent a series of technical questions to PG&E, to get additional information about the status of the pipeline at this location.

We will hear from both sides.

Writing on behalf of the neighbors who oppose the project, Neighbor Maiyah tells Bernalwood:

The site is at Folsom and Chapman, right next to the community garden. There’s a huge gas transmission line right next to the two plots… just like the one in San Bruno. It’s the same line that exploded in 1963 near Alemany and injured 9 firefighters (one also died of a heart attack) and blew up a house. I’m now a part of a small group of concerned Bernal residents who are trying to bring to light the facts of this situation and to inform others of the potential dangers.

I saw the developer (Fabien Lannoye) at the East Slope Design Review Board Meeting in April and he seemed to be not very concerned about the pipeline, not knowing the exact depth of it. He sort of shrugged when he said PG&E had no record of it. Bernal residents had asked him for a comprehensive site plan, the exact location of the pipe, the impact on the nearby community garden, and many more questions and his answer was that he didn’t ever receive the letter in the mail. It made me feel uneasy to say the least.

Just thinking about that huge transmission line with heavy construction equipment digging and moving earth over and around it on one of the steepest grades in San Francisco (35%), makes me cringe.

One of our members recently emailed Robert Bea, Professor Emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley, who investigated the San Bruno disaster. She asked him if she should be concerned about the pipe line here in Bernal. He replied yes, with the facts that have been gathered so far: (1) the pipeline is old (1980’s) installed in an area with highly variable topography, (2) there are no records on the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline, (3) there are no definitive guidelines to determine if the pipeline is ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’, (4) there is apparent confusion about who is responsible (government, industrial – commercial) for the pipeline safety, reliability, and integrity.

This list is identical to the list of concerns that summarized causation of the San Bruno Line 132 gas pipeline disaster.

I live about a block from the proposed construction site, so I’m not too worried, but those of us who live right next to the pipeline are thinking twice about their safety right now.

That’s the argument against building two homes on the lots at 3516 and 3526 Folsom.

To better understand the technical issues, Bernalwood reached out to PG&E with a detailed series of questions related to Line 109 in Bernal Heights and potential construction hazards at the proposed development site. PG&E was very responsive, and we received answers to our questions late last week.

Bernalwood’s questions, and PG&E’s responses, are 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.

Whew. Someone should turn that into a TED talk.

Bernalwood’s conclusion from the above is as follows: The handbill that has been posted around Bernal Heights by concerned neighbors contains several errors. Line 109 in Bernal Heights is not the same type of pipeline as Line 132, which exploded in San Bruno. The inspection history provided by PG&E undermines the assertion that “there are no records on the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline.” Line 109 has been the subject of a recent and ongoing inspection regimen, and if the developer follows the required safety protocols, the hazards associated with construction on the proposed development site should be routine and manageable.

Here too, rigorous diligence will be required to ensure the project is executed and managed properly. If such diligence is applied, the Citizens of Bernalwood may soon enjoy the company of a few new neighbors on the upper reaches of Folsom Street, without having to endure the hardship and mortal peril associated with a giant scorching fireball emanating from the new home site.

Reasonable minds might reasonably view this matter differently. Either way, see you at the design review meeting, 7pm on Wednesday, May 28 at Precita Center.