Neighbor Karen Created an Adorable, Illustrated Mini-Guide to Bernal Heights

AtW SucculenceKen copy

Neighbor Karen Capraro has created an artisanal mini-guide to Bernal Heights, and she’s excited to tell you all about it:

A tiny Welcome: Bernal Heights

I was inspired to make these booklets after a trip to Japan, where I was incredibly touched by how welcomed we were in local neighborhoods. I wanted to do something when i came home to Bernal to make guests and visitors feel welcome here. I’ve lived here for 14 years and am super-proud to share our neighborhood.

My day job is a designer for nonprofits and foundations, but in my spare time I illustrated and wrote these booklets. So fun! Of course there is SO much I could have put in a bernal mini-guide, but kept them short and sweet (only four pages), with simple hand drawn images, to make them more approachable. Maybe I need more than one volume🙂

I’ve included a few eateries (breakfast/coffee, lunch, dinner) and things to do/look for, in Bernal. I also tried to add some of the little details you collect after many years of living somewhere, and not things that would be in a typical ‘guidebook’. After much thought I decided not to include retail stores (even though i love Cortland’s shops!) so the booklets wouldn’t feel like an ad for where they were being sold.

Anyway, check them out I think they’d work as:

  • A way to share with friends/family a little about bernal.
  • A way to welcome a new neighbor.
  • Gifts for air bnb/vbro guests.

I also wanted to use the booklets as a way to put some positivity out there about SF, as these days it’s easy to feel jaded about the city. Working on them enabled me to remember some of the little things I love about it here. Anyway, you can find them in Succulence on Cortland and Christopher’s Books in Potrero. Both excellent stores to peruse.

PHOTO: Ken Shelf from Succulence shows off Neighbor Karen’s Tiny Welcome to Bernal Heights, courtesy of Neighbor Karen

Murals Proposed for Sutrito Tower Utility Building on Bernal Hill


A proposal is currently making the rounds to paint murals on the walls of the bunker-like utility building that sits inside the Sutrito Tower complex atop Bernal Hill. Under the current proposal, Precita Eyes Muralists would create four murals on each side of the building.

Omar Masry from the City’s Planning Department is circulating details about the proposal:

  • The radio tower and building are privately operated by American Tower Corporation (ATC). The Planning Department has been working with other City agencies (Public Safety, Department of Technology) and ATC on improvements to the site such as repairing fencing, adding landscaping (no trees well outside of the fence line are affected), a water tank (using recycled water), security (primarily motion-based) lighting, removing any abandoned antennas, and so on.
  • The tower features antennas for both commercial users, as well as those used by the City to communicate with police and firefighters in the neighborhood. So, improving security here is important, and we would appreciate your assistance in being an extra set of eyes for any suspicious activity, trespassing, or vandalism.
  • ATC is considering hosting a mural by a local artist group, Precita Eyes, on the walls of the building. Please see attached.
  • Please feel free to let me know your thoughts, or to contact Susan with Precita Eyes Muralists directly.
  • Because the building is privately owned, the mural is not subject to City review.

Precita Eyes has done conceptual drawings for each of the four proposed murals, with a narrative written to explain what the murals represent:

Bernal Heights Tower Medicine Wheel Mural Project Narrative

The initial concept of this project was inspired by the building’s natural surroundings, and its alignment with the cardinal directions, corresponding to the Ohlone (Aboriginal peoples of the greater Bay Area) medicine wheel. The four colors of the wheel represent all our relations, and declare peace for each other and the creatures found in the wild. Because it is a telecommunications tower, included are crystal mineral formations and geometric shapes to compliment ground built from surrounding native plants and trees.

The brief descriptions to follow reflects the properties and essences of each cardinal direction, which serves as the base color for each wall.

Yellow- East
Represents the male energy and direction of the rising sun and fire. Animals present are the San Francisco Garter Snake and the Tule Elk.

Black- West
Also known as the direction of the feminine aspects seen as turtle, the continent known as Turtle Island stretching from North to South America. The word Tonantzin seen in the sky means Mother Earth in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Mexica. Also important are the sacred waters and relationship with Metzli (The Moon), the death of one day (represented by the Flicker bird) leading to the next along with a pair of Great Blue Herons. The Lotus Flower and Native sage are also visualized.

Red- South
Sutrtoreast Held by the youth, essence of will and discipline, symbolized by the hummingbird. The wild curiosity of the Raccoon’s and Coyote’s trickster spirit is ever present in our modern day environment. The Black Widow web represents our collective web and security on the far left side connecting to an abstract version of native mother bird nesting.

White- North
The north side serves as an homage to our past, present and future relations and the word ancestors is read within the wings of a Golden Eagle with silhouetted figures underneath enjoying the sights and tranquility of Bernal Heights.

Leading Design Artists:

Max Marttila
Eli Lippert
Fred Alvarado
Dno Deladingo
Suaro Cervantes

Ok, got all that?

Here’s my personal $0.02: Putting murals on the walls of the Sutrito Tower utility building is a great idea, and long overdue. Yet Precita Eyes is already very, very well represented in our neighborhood. To name just a few, Precita Eyes did the piece on the front of the Bernal Heights library. Precita Eyes did the mural on the Precita Neighborhood Center, on Precita near Alabama. Precita Eyes did the murals on Leonard Flynn School, facing Precita Park. Precita Eyes has a mural on the Walgreens, on the northwest corner of Mission and Cesar Chavez. Precita Eyes has also been tapped to do a 9-story mural on the side of the subsidized housing project for senior citizens on Shotwell near Cesar Chavez.  Most of these are terrific pieces, but there’s no need for us to live in a mural monoculture, especially when there are a so many artists (young and old) who live in Bernal Heights, and who could bring an alternative perspective to this iconic. high-profile site. This is an excellent opportunity for us to diversify our public art and celebrate a broader range of Bernal talent. Why not give someone else a chance? Please, American Tower Corporation?

Of course, your opinion may differ. If you’d like to share your feedback on the current proposal, you can comment below or email Omar Masry from the Planning Department at

PHOTO: Aerial view of Bernal Hill from Telstar Logistics

Bernal Heights Needs a Flag, So How About This One?


There’s been a lot of thinking about flag design lately: What are the elements of a good flag? What’s wrong with bad flags? How great a really great flag can be, and how sad and useless a bad flag is.

Much of the current thinking about flag design traces back to celebrity audio person and design aficionado  Roman Mars, who recently introduced us to the very geeky subculture of vexillology  (the study of the history, symbolism, and usage of flags) in a very geeky episode of his 99% Invisible podcast. You can check it out here.

The key lesson from Roman’s crash-course in Vexillology 101 is that good flag design follows five basic rules:

1. Keep it simple
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use two to three basic colors
4. No lettering or seals of any kind
5. Be distinctive

That kicked off a national conversation about flag design; a conversation that grew even more urgent when Roman Mars was invited to give a TED Talk on the subject:

The crux of his TED Talk was that the flags of American cities are generally rather terrible, and San Francisco is a clear case in point. Very few people are familiar with San Francisco’s flag, because San Francisco’s flag is a hot steaming mess that breaks all the rules of vexillological good taste. It looks like this:


In the spirit of civic improvement, Roman Mars has kicked off a new effort to redesign San Francisco’s flag. But in the meantime, that got your Bernalwood editor thinking: What about a flag for Bernal Heights? Don’t we deserve a flag too?

Of course we do.

So after internalizing the design rules recommended by vexillologists, I took the liberty of developing a flag for Bernal Heights. I hope you might entertain the idea of rallying around it. Fellow citizens, I propose that all Bernalese should live in peace under this banner, the (Proposed) Great Flag of the Dominion of Bernal Heights:

Rather sporty, eh? Dynamic! Bold! Distinctive! Let’s walk through its symbolism:

  • The diagonal fields of green and yellow represent the two annual phases of Bernal Hill: green (winter wet) and golden yellow (summer dry).
  • The four sides of the red border represent the four roads that define the boundaries of our Bernal territory: I-280, San Jose Avenue, Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and US 101.
  • The star at the center is of course Bernal Hill, shown as a compass rose to represent the 360-degree views of San Francisco visible from the summit. The red color symbolizes both the beloved chert which stabilizes us, and the long tradition of social activism which is an important part of our neighborhood history.

That’s my proposal. I think it’s not too shabby, at least as a first stab at a flag for Bernal Heights. Plus, it would do the trick if you wanted to quietly represent Bernal in your workplace or favorite coffee shop:


This design travels well too. No matter where you go, or whatever distant lands you conquer, you can take your Bernal Heights pride with you:


That said, there are some other designs to consider. Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter rose to the challenge, beginning with some small-scale drawings (which are recommended as a starting place to simulate the view of a flag from a distance):


Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter developed two designs. The first is a simplified view of Bernal Hill and Sutrito Tower, with tiny houses nestled along the slopes:


Her second concept is more bold. It’s a colorful interpretation of a perspective she loves; the view looking toward the sunset as you stroll west along the north side of Bernal Heights Boulevard toward Folsom in the evening:


Always game for a goofy graphic design problem, Burrito Justice, rebel spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists, also rallied to embrace the Bernal flag design challenge. Picking up on some of the themes in my design, he came up with a clever interactive concept:


The symbolic logic? Burrito Justice explains:

Green hill, yellow hill, chert background… You turn the flag over depending on the season.

Nice! To bring some further innovation to the idea, Burrito Justice then proposed the world’s first animated GIF flag:

bernal flag

Burrito Justice calls it “a flag for all seasons.”

Your Bernalwood editor called it “hard to sew.”

Burrito Justice explained, “Yeah but imagine the sales, people would need a new one every two weeks!” (Which is actually rather diabolical and brilliant.)

But of course, he couldn’t stop there. Next, Burrito Justice created a few more versions of his flag to celebrate Bernal’s most iconic residents:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 10.33.42 PM


Bet hey, maybe you have a better idea for a Bernal flag?

If so, send it to us here at the Bernalwood Office of Vexillological Research or drop it in the comments, and we’ll share any additional ideas for Bernal Heights flags with the Citizens of Bernalwood soon.

IMAGES: Bernalwood Office of Vexillological Research

Tonight: Celebrate the Amazing New Bikes-to-Books Map Created by Rebel Separatist Burrito Justice


All these years of fomenting insurrection and geopolitical intrigue among the La Lenguan peoples have enabled rebel propagandist Burrito Justice to develop some very formidable cartographic skills. Yet sometimes, he uses those skills to support worthy causes.

In the latest case, Burrito Justice has created a rather gorgeous bike-touring map of San Francisco’s literary history, and there’s a party tonight, March 18, at the fashionable Bender’s Bar in The Mission to celebrate its publication:

Bikes to Books Beer Social and POSTER RELEASE party!

Wednesday, March 18, 7-9 pm
Benders Bar and Grill
806 S. Van Ness, SF

Join Nicole Gluckstern and Burrito Justice, the creators of literary bicycle tour “Bikes to Books,” for our annual beer social where we’ll be unveiling our latest iteration—an expanded poster version of the Bikes to Books map now with more authors, more historical context, and more nifty visuals. We’ll be talking up our collaborative mapping project and tour and fielding questions while enjoying some tasty adult beverages at our fave neighborhood watering hole, in the first of a series of “Bikes to Books” events planned for 2015. 
Combining San Francisco history, art, literature, cycling, and urban exploration,  “Bikes to Books” began as an bike ride homage to the 1988 street-naming project spearheaded by City Lights founder and former San Francisco Poet Laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in which twelve San Francisco streets were renamed for famous artists and authors who had once made San Francisco their home. First published in The San Francisco Bay Guardian and then in October 2013, with the generous assistance of City Lights Books, the physical map has been available ever since in many of San Francisco’s finest book emporiums, and is appropriate for use as a navigational tool, a history lesson, and a unique work of art in its own right.

ALSO: 7×7 just published a celebrity interview with Burrito Justice, which you can read right here. An excerpt:

Quick-fire round:

(7×7): Precita Park or Bernal Hill?

(Burrito Justice): Bernal

Bike or MUNI?

Muni. (OMG do I have Stockholm syndrome?)

Capp or Bartlett?

Capp. Tough love but Capp

Three words that describe SF to you:

Plus ça change.

IMAGE: Burrito Justice

There Is a “Bernal Heights” Font, and It Looks Like This


The Citizens of Bernalwood live a life of hearty flavors and creative abundance, but did you know that we even have our own typeface? Well, we do.

It’s a TrueType font called Bernal Heights, and it was created a few years ago by an itinerant typographer named Max Infeld. Here’s how our Bernal Heights font looks when you map it all out:


Bernalwood reached out to Max Infeld to confirm his authorship of the font and learn about his inspiration. He tells Bernalwood:

Yes I made the font. I hiked up to Bernal Heights one day, when I was visiting a friend on Shotwell and 24th. For a while, I just traveled and made fonts.

I’d love to live in that area but it’s too darn expensive!

I definitely feel inspired being in Bernal. It’s much quieter than the surrounding areas. It was peace of mind for me after I’d seen some really crazy stuff. I’d really love to work and live there someday. Maybe I’ll retire there after I make my millions!

Bernal Heights is free to download as donationware. That means if you like it, and/or if you want to say thank you to Max for a font named just for us, you are encouraged to give him some of your hard-earned Bernal dollars… so he too might live among us here someday.

Easter Egg: When you go to install the font, you’ll get a fun little message like this:


PHOTO: Telstar Logistics with Bernal Heights font by Max Infeld

This Is the New Bernal Heights Graphic from Artist Amos Goldbaum


Pro Tip: If you’re heading to Fiesta on the Hill this Sunday — and you are going to Fiesta on the Hill this Sunday, aren’t you? — look for Bernal-born artist Amos Goldbaum’s booth on Cortland.

That’s where you’ll find the t-shirts with Neighbor Amos’s sexy new Bernal Heights graphic, shown above. So lovely! So detailed! So locavore!

Here’s the closer look:


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


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:


Let’s zoom and enhance for better legibility:


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.


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.