Neighbors Establish Recovery Fund for Bernal Family Displaced by Prospect Fire

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We’ll start with the good news: Everyone is okay.

But beyond that, the two-alarm fire that damaged the house at 158 Prospect last Friday morning has turned the life of Bernal’s Grant-Weisler family upside down, because their home is no longer habitable and much of their stuff is destroyed. At the time of the fire, the house was occupied by a family of two parents and three kids, their au pair, and two visiting houseguests.

But that brings us to another silver lining: This is Bernal Heights, and neighbors here help one another during times of need. A crowdfunding effort has gotten underway to help the Grant-Weisler family begin to rebuild, and all Bernalese are invited to contribute.

We’ll have more detail on the crowdfunding effort in a moment. But first, here’s a note from Neighbor Sam, the mom of the house at 158 Prospect:

Tonight I am grateful. So grateful. And I feel lucky. So lucky.

That’s not what I would expect to be feeling after standing on the sidewalk and watching my home of the past 15 years, the home where all 3 of my kids were born, the home where JJ Wiesler and I have built our whole adult life together, go up in flames.

But it’s amazing how quickly your priorities come clear when you are forced to choose, in a second, what is most important to you. People, memories, photos, videos, musical instruments, the kitchen table around which so much of my life has unfolded, my dads lap desk and typewriter, cameras, journals…

Everyone is OK. The girls are pretty shaken up, but they’re going to be fine. And the baby is just going with the flow. To him, it’s just another day of new experiences.

The only person who was injured was one of the 66 amazing firefighters from the San Francisco Fire Department who risked their lives today to save our home. I am so moved, overwhelmed with gratitude, by the moments of kindness that we experienced in this insane day from hell. The female firefighters, who are also moms, who took the time to rescue the kids lovies. The other firefighter who returned our emergency cash stash that was about to disappear into the flames. The other firefighters who went back into an active fire to recover all our family photos and videos. The neighbors who boxed up and stored our salvaged belongings without even being asked. The other neighbors who quietly pressed their keys into our hands, offering beds, pillows, towels, food, and even a friends apartment where we are staying right now. I’m so moved.

The “Grant-Wiesler Onward & Upward Fund” was launched by Bernal Neighbors Aaron and Bronwyn Ximm. They write:

Thankfully, and most importantly, everyone is fine.

Their warm and welcoming home however is unlivable, and most of the family’s posessions were lost.

The Grant-Wielsers are bracing for for a very long climb to restore, remake, and rebuild.

As friends and family, many of us immediately wonder how we can help in this time of need.

One certain thing is that during the next few months especially, the family’s cash flow is going to be both complicated and unpredictable.

There will be hundreds of compounding expenses small and large to re-acquire the tools of modern life.

One way we can help is to build the Grant-Wielsers a ‘slush fund’ for those occasions.

There will be many ways to help West, the girls, and Sam and JJ!

But if you can make a donation–and of course, of any size at all!–it will make a real difference, one that will be received with profound gratitude.

About the campaign organizers: we are Aaron, Bronwyn, Ember, and Juniper Ximm. We are a family of close neighbors and friends of the Grant-Wieslers.

Our families shared the same world-class nanny over many years. Only a few days ago our girls traded morse code messages from our front porch to their back one.

We can’t believe it’s going to be a year or more before we can trade more morse code. We love them one and all, and wanted to immediatley get some help organized on their behalf!

If you’re so inclined, please contribute to the fire recover fund here. As of this writing, the fund has raised $5500, with a goal of hitting $12,500.

You know what to do, Bernal neighbors: Let’s hit that goal — and then exceed it.

PHOTO: Fire at 158 Prospect, by Tom Baker

UPDATED: Two-Alarm Fire on Prospect Ave., Firefighter Injured, Eight Residents Displaced

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This morning firefighters are extinguishing a two-alarm fire at 158 Prospect Avenue, between Virginia and Esmeralda.

Firefighters report 8 people live in the building, but all escaped safely.

UPDATE, 9:40 am: One firefighter suffered a head injury while battling the blaze. The injury was described as moderate, and the firefighter was taken to the hospital.

Neighbor Valerie is on the scene:

Neighbor Mary shared this photo. She says, “These were taken from my west-facing deck on the hill. I first noticed the smoke about 8:30 and documented the courageous firefighters working on a steeply sloped roof. As of 9:25 the smoke is still very visible.”

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Additional coverage:

UPDATE: As of 9:45 am, the fire is reported as contained.

Bernalwood will update this story as additional information becomes available.

PHOTO: Top, via Neighbor Valerie. Below, Prospect fire as seen from Noe Valley, courtesy of Christopher Baker 

Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Permanent Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill

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On Tuesday Supervisor David Campos announced his support for an effort to install a permanent, City-funded memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. However, Bernal Heights neighborhood groups say they have not been informed about the proposal.

Alex Nieto was a 28 year-old Bernal neighbor who died in an officer-involved shooting in March 2014. The San Francisco District Attorney’s investigation of the incident determined Nieto had a history of clinical psychosis and behavioral problems, alleging that he pointed a pistol-shaped taser at police officers who approached him after receiving reports of an armed man acting erratically on Bernal Hill. During a subsequent wrongful death suit initated by the Nieto family, a jury ruled that the SFPD officers involved in the incident had not used excessive force.  Friends of Alex Nieto maintain his death was a byproduct of gentrification.

Alex’s parents,  Cortland Avenue residents Elvira and Refugio Nieto, appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to request that the City establish a memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. An event announcement posted on Facebook described the effort:

A resolution to establish a permanent memorial in honor of Alex Nieto, unlawfully killed by the San Francisco Police Department.

Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos will be sponsoring this noble resolution.

Press conference at the front steps of San Francisco City Hall at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 13, 2016. Board of Supervisors meeting to follow immediately. Bring your friends and family and arrive early for the lowrider caravan of justice and the danzante blessing.

WHY AN ALEX NIETO MEMORIAL?

In order to honor Alex Nieto, a permanent memorial will be established at Bernal Hill Park, the place where he was unlawfully killed by the SFPD.

Through no fault of his own, Alex Nieto, a 28 year old full-time student and security guard who had never been arrested in his life, was shot at fifty nine times and killed by SFPD officers. Even though there were many witnesses that claimed Alex had done nothing wrong and was just peacefully eating his burrito, the San Francisco District Attorney did not pursue criminal charges against officers. Then in a sham of a civil trial, the killers were released of liability by a mostly white jury that was comprised of no Latinos or African-Americans.

After Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Campos confirmed his intention to establish a City-sponsored memorial to Alex Nieto:

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Bernalwood is unaware of any public meetings that have been or will be held in Bernal Heights to consider the idea of a permanent memorial on Bernal Hill. Bernalwood also reached out to leaders of several Bernal Heights neighborhood groups, and none were familiar with the proposal. One Bernal Heights community organizer said, “No, we weren’t consulted about this, but this is the kind of thing we normally expect to be notified about.”

According to the Justice For Alex’s group’s summary of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting:

About a dozen supporters supported the Nietos by asking the Supervisors to recognize that harm had been done to the Nieto Family and the Latino community; that altars carried cultural significance to the Latino community; that the request for a permanent and protected altar and memorial was a most basic act of restoration; that Alex’s death was tied to gentrification policies of the City that allow newcomers to arrive in droves to the Mission without understanding the cultural differences and their privileges in the communities of color they come to displace and inhabit.

Justice For Alex says Supervisor Campos committed to support an ordinance that would mandate the installation of a permanent memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. The group says the ordinance will be introduced by D11 Supervisor John Avalos at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting, within the next two weeks.

See all of Bernalwood’s previous coverage of Alex Nieto.

PHOTO: Top, ad hoc Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, September 14, 2016, by Telstar Logistics

Bernal Fire Victims, Now Homeless, Reveal Support System Shortcomings

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MissionLocal carried an important story yesterday about two Bernal neighbors who were displaced by the June Cole Hardware fire, who are now homeless.

Kimberley Walley and her husband Henry Texada were living in the Graywood Hotel at the corner of Mission and 29th Street when the building was badly damaged in the fire. Since then, they’ve received several rounds of financial assistance from the City and private donors, but the couple has still had a hard time finding and staying in places to live. They’ve been kicked out of a few SROs for various behavior-related issues, and they’ve declined offers to move into shelters.

Laura Waxmann from MissionLocal writes:

Ben Amyes, the [San Francisco Human Services Agency’s] emergency response coordinator, declined to comment on the couple’s case for confidentiality reasons.

“We were working on finding SROs for all of the tenants, and I have placed everyone that I have had the ability to place,” Aymes said. “There are extenuating circumstances [regarding Walley and Texada] that I’m not able to go into.”

Walley said that she has a criminal background including a charge for assault that landed her in jail for nine months. This happened before moving into the Graywood in March, 2011. She also said she suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, but visits a therapist regularly.

Despite this history she found a room at the Graywood Hotel in 2011 through a re-entry program, NoVa, run by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in partnership with the Sheriff’s Department.

Gerald Miller, the center’s director of community based services, did not work with Walley but said that she was likely a client five years ago. Upon hearing of her plight, Miller said that mental illness and a criminal background are not reasons for keeping clients seeking SRO residencies unhoused.

“[Those] issues don’t stop anyone from getting SRO housing,” said Miller. However, other factors, such as a limited housing stock and a client’s consistent refusal to comply with the terms of the agencies attempting to house them, could be a reasons why they end up on the streets.

The whole article is an essential, gut-wrenching read, because it underscores the sad truth that while we can be pretty good at providing economic support to people in need, we’re generally really bad at managing the mental health issues that are often a root cause of homelessness.

PHOTO: Fire-damaged Graywood Hotel, August 2016 by Telstar Logistics

Fire-Damaged Cole Hardware and Playa Azul Demolished

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It wasn’t with a bang, but with a whimper.

Yesterday, the Mission Street buildings that once housed Cole Hardware and Playa Azul — structures that were hollowed-out by the devastating fire last June — were finally demolished.

Neighbor Valerie took the blue-sky photo above later in the day, when work was wrapping up. Yet earlier in the morning, Neighbor William shared these photos taken just as the demolition was getting underway:

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colehardwaredemo3It’s a sad (if inevitable) spectacle, and the void that’s left behind is a glaring symbol of the sadness many Bernalese feel at the loss of two esteemed neighborhood institutions.

PHOTOS: Top, Neighbor Valerie. Below, Neighbor William

Federal Loans Offered for Merchants Recovering from Mission Street Fire

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There’s some encouraging news for merchants working to rebuild their businesses after last June’s devastating Cole Hardware fire — and the customers who  miss them.

In addition to the $10,000 grant each business has already received from the City, the federal government’s Small Business Administration is also offering low-interest disaster-relief loans to help shuttered businesses reopen.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez from the San Francisco Examiner reports:

The U.S. Small Business Administration on Wednesday declared the five-alarm fire June 28 at Mission and 29th streets, which displaced at least seven businesses and 40 residents and families, a “disaster” in response to a request from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The declaration, also urged by the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is a special status allowing the Small Business Administration to make federal assistance available.

That assistance comes in the form of disaster loans, allowing the businesses affected by the blaze up to $2 million to replace or repair damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery, equipment or other business assets.

The Mayor’s Office is coordinating with Keane’s 3300 Club, El Gran Taco Loco, Playa Azul Seafood, Coronitas, the Front Porch, and Harvest Shop to access available funds.

The families and individuals displaced from a nearby apartment building and the Graywood Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel, will be able to take out $40,000 loans for damaged or destroyed personal property.

Though these are loans and not grants, “certainly any additional capital they have access to will give them ability to get going again sooner,” said Bijan Karimi, assistant deputy director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

PHOTO: Former site of Cole Hardware, July 16, 2016, photographed by Neighbor Valerie

Saturday: Benefit Sale at Secession for Fire-Damaged Mission Street Merchants

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This Saturday, July 30, your glamorous Neighbor Eden Stein from Secession Art & Design on Mission Street is hosting a benefit party for merchants impacted by last month’s devastating Cole Hardware Fire.

Neighbor Eden says:

Please join us on Saturday, July 30th, 4-8pm for a neighbor and merchant mixer/fundraiser/Cole Hardware pickup party at Secession Art & Design, 3235 Mission Street.

The 3300 Club will be here selling their limited edition t-shirts, Cole Hardware will be pouring their Cutting Edge wine, Fire Pie has donated pizza and lots of neighbors will be stopping by to show some community love & support. Thanks to everyone who ordered online from Cole Hardware to pick up at the party!

The Mission Bernal Merchant Association and Bernal Business Alliance are excited to host the party and come together to raise funds for the June 18th Fire Merchant Relief Fundraiser. You can donate to the fund in person, or online. Thank you, however you choose to support.

We look forward to seeing you at the party!

PHOTO: 3300 block of Mission Street after the fire. Photo by Jonathan Koshi via MBMASF