UPDATED: Mayor Lee Visits Site of Proposed Homeless Center at 1515 South Van Ness

Proposed mixed income housing site at 1515 South Van Ness, as seen on Nov. 16, 2016

1515 South Van Ness, as seen from Shotwell St. on Nov. 16, 2016

Amid mounting neighborhood opposition to D9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s plan to establish a homeless Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness, Mayor Ed Lee paid a rare visit to the Cesar Chavez St. corridor yesterday to tour the proposed site.

As previously reported, Supervisor Ronen cut a deal last month with the Lennar Corporation to use the former McMillan Electric building at 1515 South Van Ness as a Navigation Center until construction begins on a 157-unit mixed-income housing development that will later occupy the site.  Navigation Centers are residential facilities operated by the City that act as triage centers where homeless people can stay for up to 30 days while receiving guidance and support services.

Craig Weber from the Inner Mission Neighbors shared this account of the Mayor’s visit:

The mayor and dept. officials (Fire, Building, Permits, etc.) were all represented [Monday] morning to walk through the McMillan bldg. with Peter S., Lennar VP and Sup Ronen. A few neighbors and I got the alert of the visit from a vigilant neighbor. I missed the mayor, but I did speak to Ronen.

Ronen will hold a community meeting in the next week or two. She has not announced a date because she is awaiting the mayor’s determination if the navigation center is a go or no go.

I did ask Ronen the purpose of the community meeting. She stated that once the mayor has made his decision, the community meeting will address neighbors’ “concerns” and not the existence of a navigation center at the proposed site.

I explained to her the anger and frustration that our neighbors share as a result of the failure of city government to locate a permanent location for the navigation center. She appeared to be very troubled by the letters and emails that she received from us. I do believe that she accepts our concerns as real and very serious. I don’t think she perceives us as NIMBY’s or selfish people. She realizes that we have a strong voice in this district and our concerns cannot be ignored any longer.

Hillary stated that the navigation center will be a temporary solution for 8 or 9 months. She indicated that she has found a site for a permanent navigation center in an “industrial” location. It is very tentative and she was unprepared to tell me the location.

We must decide the next course of action, I believe that the mayor will determine the outcome. I was told that Lee had asked his dept. heads to put together an analysis of the feasibility to proceed with the navigation center. We should plan accordingly.

Best regards,
Craig Weber
Inner Mission Neighbors

BTW – 4 police officers, DPW were on hand today to power wash the sidewalk and to clear away the tents an hour before the mayor arrived at the McMillian building. What happened to the 72 hour advance notice to vacate tent encampment?

UPDATE, April 19, 2017:  San Francisco Chronicle reporters Matier & Ross today provide additional detail about the proposal to create a “pop-up” Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness:

Mayor Ed Lee is moving to turn a Mission District warehouse into a “pop-up” 120-bed homeless shelter.

“The goal is to try and ramp up and get as many people off the streets as possible,” said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who is helping in the shelter setup and whose aggressive cleanups of tent camps have drawn the wrath of advocates for homeless people.

The Mission shelter would be in a warehouse at 1515 S. Van Ness Ave., and be open for seven or eight months starting in early June. The center is expected to cost about $2.5 million and be open around the clock, with some counseling and support services on site.

It would be a scaled-down version of the city’s two Navigation Centers, which have larger staffs to help homeless people find jobs and deal with issues such as substance abuse and mental problems. Like the Navigation Centers, the goal at the Mission shelter would be to get at least some homeless people into permanent housing.

UPDATE, April 19, 2017:  MissionLocal reports on a meeting last Monday night that was organized by opponents of the proposed Navigation Center:

Several neighbors said they were worried that a homeless shelter would attract more homeless individuals to an area already impacted by tent encampments.

“My concern is if we accept these centers that we are attracting the homeless into our district and that to me is a problem,” said one attendee.

Neighbors discussed the effectiveness of the Navigation Center model. Unlike traditional shelters, Navigation Centers admit clients along with their significant others, pets and belongings. The model was originally designed to house the homeless for extended periods until they were connected to permanent housing.

One neighbor who attended Monday’s meeting said she works with housing the formerly homeless and attested to the the Navigation Center’s success in addressing the city’s homeless crisis.

“Navigation Centers are skill-building learning centers where folks can get off the street and start learning to live,” said the woman. “When centers are put in they are put in a planned place where encampments have started in order to start housing those people. It works because those folks are actually a community.”

But another Mission resident who said she lives a block away from the Navigation Center at 1950 Mission St. testified tearfully that the center’s presence in her neighborhood has had a drastic effect on her quality of life.

“I walk everyday with my daughter down the street,” she said. “I’ve been harassed, physically assaulted and my house has been broken into. I’m not a monster, I know when people are suffering, it’s horrible. But it’s also breaking up the communities where these centers are put. It’s a wound that festers and affects everybody.”

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Housing Deal Adds $1 Million for Calle24 and Temporary Homeless Shelter

What does it cost to build new housing on an abandoned lot near Cesar Chavez Avenue? In the case of 1515 South Van Ness, the  157-unit mixed-income development proposed for the site, a previous commitment to make 25% of the new units affordable wasn’t enough. Yesterday we learned that it’ll also take a $1 million payment to an anti-development organization  with close ties to D9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to get the project approved.

Reporter J.K. Dineen from the San Francisco Chronicle broke the story about the deal yesterday, adding that in addition to the $1 million payment to a “cultural stabilization fund” run by Erick Arguello of the Calle24 Council, the former McMillan Electric building on the corner of 26th Street and South Van Ness will also be converted into a temporary homeless shelter until construction begins.

Dineen writes:

A four-month impasse over a key Mission District housing project is headed toward resolution after the developer agreed to new community benefits including discounted “trade shop” space for local businesses and a $1 million contribution to a cultural district formed in 2014 to preserve the neighborhood’s Latino heritage and community.

In a deal hammered out with Supervisor Hillary Ronen, Lennar Multifamily Communities has committed to leasing out its six 700-square-foot trade shop spaces at 1515 S. Van Ness Ave. for 50 percent of the market rate. The $1 million contribution would be made through the San Francisco Foundation to a cultural stabilization fund that could be spent on building or acquiring sites for affordable housing.

In addition, Lennar, which had previously agreed to make 25 percent of the 157 housing units affordable and to use 100 percent union labor, has agreed to let the city use the current building that is on the property as a navigation center — a pop-up shelter for homeless services.

IMAGE: Aerial view of 1515 South Van Ness, via Google Maps

Warehouse Residents Ask Rent Board to Block Eviction

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The residents of an unpermitted warehouse on the 900 block of Peralta in the southeast corner of Bernal near the Alemany Farmer’s Market are taking their effort to avoid eviction to the San Francisco Rent Board.

As you may recall, the wake of the Oakland “Ghost Ship” fire, San Francisco has issued an abatement order for current tenants to vacate the property because it is not permitted for residential use. Meanwhile, the property owner seeks to build 49 new apartments on the site.

The San Francisco Examiner writes:

The artists were served with an eviction notice from the warehouse on Peralta Avenue after a fire killed three dozen people in December at an artist collective in Oakland called the Ghost Ship. They have since refused to leave their space and filed a petition with the Rent Board in January, asking for greater protections from eviction under the rent control ordinance of 1979.

The decision could bolster the tenants’ argument in San Francisco Superior Court, where they are fighting an unlawful detainer case for staying at the warehouse.

“San Francisco is an important city of culture,” said Nathan Cottam, a warehouse tenant. “The arts must be subsidized in some way or they will disappear. There are many different types of subsidies. This is just one of them.”

The Rent Board heard their argument for more than six hours Thursday, according to Executive Director Robert Miller. He said the board has to decide whether the landlord rented the space for commercial or residential use.

The Examiner adds that the Rent Board is expected to issue a decision on the matter within six to eight months.

Bernal Warehouse Residents Seek to Avoid Eviction

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The cover story of today’s San Francisco Examiner looks at a group of Bernal Heights neighbors who have been living in an unpermitted warehouse space on the 900 block of Peralta, in the southeast corner of Bernal near the Alemany Farmer’s Market. Michael Barba from the Examiner writes:

The artists, who are in danger of losing their home in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland late last year, cut windows and a second door into the mostly metal warehouse on Peralta Avenue ahead of a meeting with fire officials Tuesday.

“We did it ourselves,” said Nathan Cottam, a dancer and choreographer who is one of eight tenants living in the vibrant warehouse called the Sunspot.

Cottam is just one of many people who have lived on the lot behind the Alemany Farmers Market for about a decade, he said. But their occupancy only became an issue after a fire killed three dozen people who were trapped in the Ghost Ship warehouse Dec. 2, 2016.

Since then, building and fire inspectors have visited the Sunspot warehouse, and the owner served the tenants with an eviction notice back in December.

City agencies have been on heightened alert for fire safety hazards in commercial spaces where people are living and the SFFD has experienced a rise in complaints regarding the illegal use of warehouses, according to fire officials.

The Examiner adds that the City has issued an abatement order for current tenants to vacate the property because it is not permitted for residential use. Meanwhile, the property owner has been planning since 2001 to build housing on the site, with a proposal unveiled last July that would create 49 units there.

Your Bernal Heights Residential Real Estate Report: Wintercooled 2017 Edition

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Michael Minson and Danielle Lazier are longtime Bernal neighbors who work by day as local realtors. In light of their expertise, Bernalwood invited Neighbor Michael and Neighbor Danielle to update us on the state of residential real estate in Bernal Heights. Here’s their analysis:

Bernal Heights Today
Despite another record-breaking year, the Bernal Heights Real Estate market has officially cooled.

In 2016 we saw a modest 5% increase over the previous year’s median home sale price — from $1.3M in 2015 to $1.36M in 2016.  In any other market that would be remnarkable, but this is Bernal, and we’re not like any other market. In fact, this is the third consecutive year we’ve seen slowing growth since 2012, when we experienced a record 23% gain over the previous year.

In context, prices here have nearly doubled since 2011, when the median price to buy a house in Bernal was $699k, believe it or not.

On the high end, Bernal added a new member to the $3M Club in February. 1669 Alabama St sold for $3 million, and it’s the third property in Bernal to sell for $3M or more in the last few years. There were 11 sales in the $2Ms last year, which is slightly more than double 2015, which reported 5 sales.

The Outlook
Barring a major environmental or economic event, our outlook for 2017 is cautiously optimistic.

Demand in Bernal remains strong for all the reasons we love it here:  great weather, ample charm, wonderful views, and a convenient location. Meanwhile, compared to many other parts of the city, Bernal is still relatively affordable. Yet we seem to have a hit a plateau in terms of price appreciation for the time being.

The recent sharp rise for interest rates and the surprise election results shocked many buyers in the last half of 2016, even though interest rates remain roughly on par with where they were in 2014.

Overall, the US economy is performing well, and San Francisco’s economy remains especially strong. As employment and wages grow, so do housing prices. Many home buyers use stock market earnings to make their down payments, so as the stock market rallies, buyers’ buying power does as well.

All told, we expect slower growth to continue until we see another jolt to the economy.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Bernal Heights, as seen from the west. Photo by the Bernalwood Air Force

Citing “Vibratory Impacts,” Planning Department Puts Folsom Homes on Hold

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

Rendering of proposed homes, center, as seen from public garden below Bernal Heights Blvd.

Something strange happened yesterday when the Board of Supervisors prepared to take up the ongoing effort to block the construction of two single-family houses on undeveloped land along Folsom Street, near the intersection with Chapman.

As Bernalwood described earlier in the week, a group of nearby neighbors have opposed the construction of two new homes at 3516 and 3526 Folsom, and  they recently appealed to block the project based on concern about Line 109, a PG&E gas pipeline that runs underneath the South Bernal length of Folsom Street — and alongside the lots where the two homes would be built.  PG&E has said that the pipeline is safe and inspected regularly, and that building homes alongside the pipeline route would be routine.

Last year, after compiling a 903 page project docket and twice voting unanimously to approve on the matter, the San Francisco Planning Department gave the plan to build the houses an unequivocal thumbs-up, in the form of a Categorical Exemption that eliminates the need for an expensive and time-consuming Environmental Impact Report.

All that was the backdrop going into yesterday’s meeting, where neighbors who oppose the new homes brought their last-ditch appeal to the Board of Supervisors in the hope that the Supervisors would vote to overturn the Planning Department’s Categorical Exemption and send the project back for further environmental review.

Yet as soon as the full Board of Supervisors began to consider the matter, it immediately turned weird. Lisa Gibson, a representative from the Planning Department announced that it was reversing itself, and summarily rescinding the Categorical Exemption that it had previously issued.

The sudden move appeared to come as a surprise to  everyone — project sponsors, appellants, and Supervisors alike — and much chaos then ensued.

D9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen spoke up to say that while she felt further environmental review of the project seemed necessary, the Planning Department’s last-minute move to reverse itself was “incredibly unprofessional and frustrating.”  In response, Lisa Gibson, the Planning Department’s acting environmental review officer, took to the mike to explain that the decision to withdraw the Categorical Exemption had been made on that same day, based on concerns expressed in two December 2016 letters from project opponents, and as a result Planning wanted to explore the risk of  potential “vibratory impacts” on the adjacent pipeline that might occur while the homes are under construction.

The explanation seemed to put Supervisor Ronen at ease. Although she again expressed frustration with the last-minute action on the part of the Planning Department, she added that “additional environmental review is required, because if [Planning] is finding that there is an unusual circumstance that requires additional investigation on the environmental impact of this project, then perhaps a Categorical Exemption is not appropriate.”

There was also a lot of frustration among the members of the public who had come to comment on the project, however. Lawyers for the families hoping to build the new houses said they had only been notified about the Planning Department’s decision to rescind the Categorical Exemption at 2:30 that day, or 30 minutes after the Board of Supervisors meeting had started.

An exasperated man, who appeared to represent the project sponsors, complained that the circuitous planning process had already resulted in a two-year delay and significant additional cost. “We’ve been here for two years now, waiting for two single-family houses,” he said. “Go and explain that to the mother of those children, who are wondering where are they going to live and what’s going to happen here.”

Meanwhile, several project opponents, including a representative from the executive committee of the San Francisco Sierra Club, said that while they were happy about the outcome, they were sad to have wasted an an otherwise lovely afternoon attending a meeting that was moot from the outset.

And so, with no Categorical Exemption to uphold or deny, the Board of Supervisors voted to table the matter. In practical terms, that leaves the proposal to build the two homes on Folsom in limbo, again, as Planning will require further environmental study before taking it up again.

Yet what really happened? Why did the Planning Department reverse course on its Categorical Exemption, and at such a late hour? It’s difficult to know for sure, but sources familiar with San Francisco’s planning process say such last-minute reversals are unusual, and may indicate Planning Department staff had come under pressure from other City officials to subject the project to further scrutiny.

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

Former Bocana Tenant Receives $400,000 in Settlement With Landlord

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The awful tale of the Bernal Heights resident who was forced from her home at 355 Bocana after receiving a $6500-per-month rent increase came to a conclusion yesterday, as lawyers agreed to settle a lawsuit stemming from the incident.

As you may recall, back in March 2015, Bernal renter Deborah Follingstad  was hit with a shocking315% rent increase by property owner and lifelong Bernal resident Nadia Lama.  At the time, Lama was receiving legal counsel from lawyer Denise A. Ledbetter.

The 315% rent increase forced Follingstad to move from 355 Bocana, and Lama moved in. Yet in August 2015, Follingstad filed a wrongful eviction lawsuit,  and yesterday the matter was put to rest, shortly before the case was set to go to trial. The result: Lama will pay Follingstad a $400,000 settlement to end the lawsuit.

Reporter Dan Brekke from KQED writes:

In the August 2015 lawsuit, Follingstad and her lawyer, Joe Tobener, accused Lama of trying to get around a city ordinance that requires payments for tenants displaced in an “owner-move-in” eviction.

That litigation proceeded without gaining much attention — until now.

Tobener announced Tuesday that, with a jury trial scheduled to begin next week, Lama had settled for the staggering-sounding sum of $400,000.

Tobener said the high settlement amount reflected both what he called Lama’s “egregious” behavior in raising the rent and the risk Lama ran in allowing the case to go to trial, where a jury could award triple damages for his client’s emotional distress claims.

“It’s the highest constructive-eviction-by-rent-increase case we’ve ever had,” Tobener said, adding that such cases typically settle for amounts “in the high five figures.”

Tobener said that under the city’s owner-move-in ordinance, Lama would have been required to pay Follingstad $9,522 for forcing her to move.

Lamar Anderson from San Francisco Magazine spoke to former Bernal neighbor Deb Follingstad, and he reports she’s had a difficult odyssey:

After [Follingstad moved out], Lama moved in. Follingstad spent the next year bouncing from place to place, house-sitting and staying with friends. As an independent contractor, she had a hard time applying for apartments, because she lacked the paystubs landlords frequently ask for. The places she could rent easily were too much of a compromise. “I was looking at efficiencies with no kitchen, just a hot plate,” she says. And sometimes her story followed her: “I had landlords be like, when they found out who I was, they hated me. They’d never even met me, but I represented this class of person who got evicted. It was weird, the way they looked at me.”

Last May, a year after her displacement, Follingstad was diagnosed with breast cancer. In July she moved in with her boyfriend. She went through months of litigation while undergoing radiation treatments. “I looked like the Michelin tire man, I had so many coats on, and drinking hot tea,” she says. “I was there because I had to be, but I was basically curled up in an office chair, in these meetings that went on for, like, eight hours.” Last month, she finished her radiation treatments. Her hair is coming back, and she’s styling it to look like leopard spots.

San Francisco Magazine adds that after lawyer fees, Follingstad will receive about $280,000, which will then be taxed. Much of the remaining funds, she says, will likely be used to pay medical expenses.

PHOTO: 355 Bocana in 2015, by Telstar Logistics

SF Chronicle Reports on Bernal Family’s Struggle With Housing Shortage

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A few weeks ago, Bernal neighbor and Bernalwood contributor Heather Hawkins sent a sad email announcing that she was having a garage sale. “As the struggle becomes too real to be worthwhile for us any longer,” she told Bernalwood, “our family is calling it quits from the City and heading for the hills (Truckee, to be exact).”

Bernal Heights is famous as a great place to raise children, in part because our neighborhood is packed with single-family homes and open spaces. Yet the median price of a single-family home in Bernal now hovers at around $1.3 million, and that’s way more than many middle-class families with kids can afford.

In this morning’s paper, reporter Heather Knight at the San Francisco Chronicle introduces Neighbor Heather Hawkins in the context of San Francisco’s ongoing housing shortage, and the toll it takes on young families:

San Francisco has no official definition of “family housing,” but Heather Hawkins knows what it isn’t.

It isn’t the little two-bedroom flat in Bernal Heights that she paid more than $4,000 a month to rent, where her baby slept in the closet of her sister’s room, and where space was so tight she knew the number of steps between every point. Seven steps from her bed to the toilet. Thirteen steps from her bed to the girls’ room.

Hawkins, her husband and girls, like so many other San Francisco families, have packed up to head for the hills — well, the mountains. Her family is renting an apartment in Truckee while they look for a house to buy. They’ll probably get twice as much space for half the price of anything they could find in San Francisco.

“It’s hard when your kid comes home and says, ‘But I love my little blue house!’ It’s this sinking feeling of, ‘This isn’t yours. This isn’t ours.’ That’s never going to happen for us in this city,” said Hawkins, a 42-year-old consultant in the health and outdoors industry whose husband works in tech. “I roll my eyes when people say it’s the techies. Nope! We’re leaving too.”

San Francisco notoriously has the smallest percentage of kids — 13.4 percent — of any city in the nation. But while San Francisco officials sweat and bicker over affordable housing, they rarely talk about family housing.

Read the whole thing at the San Francisco Chronicle.

PHOTO: Neighbor Heather preparing for her garage sale. Photo by Lea Suzuki from The Chronicle

Apartment Rents Down Citywide in 2016, But Rising in Bernal Heights

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The median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco declined by 4.9 percent in 2016, but the opposite was true in Bernal Heights, where rents spiked 9 percent. That’s according to data compiled by the real estate site Zumper,

Citywide, rents may have reached the limits of what people are willing (or able) to pay, as the construction of additional market-rate housing combined with a slowdown in tech hiring combined to put downward pressure on rents in pricier parts of San Francisco. Yet the rent is still too damn high, so San Francisco renters have apparently been looking for more affordable options in other parts of the city — such as Bernal Heights.

Kevin Truong from the San Francisco Business Times explains:

Even with the decline this year, the city sits firmly in the top spot when it comes to the most expensive rental market in the country, with its $3,300 median 1-bedroom rents beating out New York City by $300.

Falling rents were seen in previous high-flying neighborhoods in the city’s Northeast like Nob Hill, which was down 6 percent. The biggest drop in rental prices was seen in the NoPa neighborhood, which is down 9 percent since last year and Noe Valley which dropped 8 percent. Other neighborhoods seeing major median rent price declines include Ashbury Heights, Civic Center and Nob Hill.

“Overall, the priciest neighborhoods seem to have hit a price ceiling that renters are willing to pay,” the Zumper report said.

The data also traced a shift from the most expensive San Francisco neighborhoods like SOMA, Downtown, and Pacific Heights, to the outer, and less expensive, areas of the city, like Bayview, Bernal Heights, and the Outer Richmond.

Zumper adds that Bernal saw the second-highest increase in median rents this year:

The only neighborhood with double digit rent growth this December was Bayview, up 11.5% since this time last year. Bernal Heights (+9%), Western Addition (+9%), and Haight Ashbury (7%) had the next fastest growing rents.

GRAPHIC: via Zumper

Thursday: Planning Department Hearing for Nine-Story Shotwell Housing

Rendering of 1296 Shotwell, as proposed with revised southern facade, facing Bernal Hill.

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Elevations showing proposed facades facing South Van Ness (above), and Bernal Heights (below).

After almost a year of community meetings, some redesigns, and more community meetings, the housing development planned for 1296 Shotwell, near the corner of Cesar Chavez, will go before the San Francisco Planning Department for the first time tomorrow, on Thursday, December 1.

As you may recall, 1296 Shotwell is proposed as a 100% subsidized-affordable development that will rise 80-feet above street level, to a height of nine stories. That’s 20 feet more than current zoning for that site would allow, so Thursday’s planning meeting will consider the project developers’ request for a height waiver under the Affordable Housing Bonus Program.

Here’s the Planning Department’s agenda item on the project:

1296 SHOTWELL STREET – west side of Shotwell Street between Cesar Chavez and 26th Streets; Lot 051 in Assessor’s Block 6571 (District 9) – Request for 100% Affordable Housing Bonus Program Authorization to allow for the demolition of an existing 1-story building and construction of a new nine-story 100% affordable residential building for seniors and formerly homeless seniors with 94 units, pursuant to Planning Code Sections 206 and 328. The Project requests development bonuses for 1) increased height above that which is principally permitted by the zoning district and 2) reduced dwelling unit exposure pursuant to Planning Code Section 140. The Project also requests an exception for the rear yard requirement pursuant to Planning Code Section 134. This Project is within the Mission Street NCT (Neighborhood Commercial Transit) Zoning District and 65-X Height and Bulk District.

Preliminary Recommendation: Approve with Conditions

You can view the complete Planning Department assessment on 1296 Shotwell here.

The Planning Department meeting starts at noon on Thursday in Room 400 at City Hall, and 1296 Shotwell is the 16th item on the agenda. There will be opportunities for public comment from residents who live near the project during the meeting.

Campos Blocks New Housing at 1515 South Van Ness

Proposed mixed income housing site at 1515 South Van Ness, as seen on Nov. 16, 2016

Proposed mixed-income housing site at 1515 South Van Ness, as seen on Nov. 16, 2016

In one of his final moves before departing the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a petulant David Campos sided with Mission District NIMBYs to block the construction of 157 new units of mixed-income housing at 1515 South Van Ness, on the corner of 26th Street.

As previously covered by Bernalwood, the proposed housing at 1515 South Van Ness would occupy the site of the former McMillan Electric (and Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile). Developed by Lennar Corporation, 1515 South Van Ness would be built with union labor, and it would include 39 units of subsidized-affordable housing, or 25% of the total units in the development.

J.K. Dineen from the San Francisco Chronicle describes what happened:

In a move that shocked city officials and housing advocates, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected a 157-unit Mission District development, claiming that city planners failed to take into account the impact the complex would have on displacement and gentrification in a district that has been the heart of the city’s working-class Latino community.

The board unanimously upheld a challenge to the environmental review of 1515 S. Van Ness Ave., sending it back to city planners for further study. While the decision sent tremors through the city’s housing development community, it was uncertain whether the move signaled that future development proposals would be scrutinized for their impacts on gentrification and the displacement of residents and businesses from a neighborhood.

“It’s not clear whether this is precedent-setting — I just don’t know,” said Planning Director John Rahaim. “I presume it’s something the city attorney will look at.”

Under the state’s convoluted California Environmental Quality Act, proposed developments require a painstaking analysis of everything from noise to air quality to traffic to historical and biological resources. Until now, however, efforts by antigentrification advocates to argue that displacement is a environmental impact have gone nowhere.

The vote was particularly surprising because Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission District, had previously backed the project, which won unanimous approval at the Planning Commission.

He had helped negotiate a deal under which the developer, Lennar Multifamily Communities, agreed to rent 39 of the 157 planned units to low- and middle-income families. That agreement marked the first time a developer had voluntarily agreed to make 25 percent of units affordable without receiving any benefits in return, like increased height or density.

Campos said Wednesday that he likes a lot about the project, which calls for the redevelopment of a site previously occupied by McMillan Electric, but that he has been increasingly worried of the impact that large market-rate development will have on the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, which was formed in 2014 to preserve the neighborhood’s Latino heritage and community.

“The difference with 1515 S. Van Ness is it is taking place within the Latino Cultural District,” he said. “Does that change the analysis? Should that require additional study? That’s what flipped me on it.”

Campos also said he was upset by some of the rhetoric of those fighting the environmental review appeal, including members of the pro-growth group San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation, known as SFBARF. At the hearing, SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss compared the antidevelopment activists to President-elect Donald Trump.

“When you come here to the Board of Supervisors and say that you don’t want new, different people in your neighborhood, you’re exactly the same as Americans all over the country that don’t want immigrants,” she said. “It’s the same attitude, it’s the exact same attitude.”

Campos called the comparison “offensive, divisive and clueless.”

“That really turned off my colleagues,” he said. “It tells me some of these people behind the project don’t care about the neighborhood.”

It’s rare for an appeal of an environmental study to be upheld, and Tim Colen, executive director of Housing Action Coalition, said he never dreamed it would happen in this case. He said it was only the third time in a decade that such an appeal had been upheld in San Francisco.

“It’s shocking,” said Colen. “Here you have the first market-rate project come along that voluntarily agreed to do 25 percent affordable housing. Turning down that many affordable housing units is not going to help displacement in the Mission.”

For what it’s worth, here is a  complete transcript of the comments from SFBARF’s Sonja Trauss that upset Supervisor Campos:

Earlier, a commenter said, “You’re bringing a stranger into our neighborhood,” as if it was self-evident that that was bad.

As if everyone here could obviously see that that’s bad.

And that disturbed me a lot. I’ve actually always been disturbed by nativism in San Francisco. In San Francisco of all places, we should not take for granted that bringing strangers into our neighborhood is gonna be a bad thing. The opponents of this project seem to know a lot about who’s gonna live there, which I think is mysterious. I don’t know how they would know that.

The Mission Moratorium report that the controller’s office prepared last year said that in new buildings, 84% of residents are people that already lived in San Francisco, so the idea that– If this building was filled with newcomers, first of all, so what, right? In Trump’s America we’re already disturbed by nativism everywhere. We don’t like it. And when you come here to the Board of Supervisors and say that you don’t want new, different people in your neighborhood, you’re exactly the same as Americans all over the country that don’t want immigrants. It is the same attitude. It is the exact same attitude.

So basically, you can be the kind of person that’s ready to have new people come into your neighborhood or you can be the kind of person that wants to keep people different than you out of your neighborhood. I know what kind of person I am: I want to build more housing, I want more people to be able to live here, and I want a wide diversity of people to be able to live here. And I’m not going to pretend to know who’s going to live in that building. Thanks.

For those who need a refresher, here’s a rendering of what the proposed housing at 1515 South Van Ness would look like:

1515svnrendering

Under the proposal, 1515 South Van Ness would be a 6-story complex with 81 onsite parking spaces that conforms with current zoning requirements for its location. 1515 South Van Ness would be located on an adjacent lot just north of 1296 Shotwell, the nine-story, 100% subsidized affordable housing development that that would replace an existing automotive repair (PDR) space, as shown:

1515svnsitemap21296 Shotwell is 20 feet taller than current zoning allows, so an initial hearing at the Planning Department will be held on December 1 to consider granting 1296 Shotwell a required variance.

Bernal Fire Victims, Now Homeless, Reveal Support System Shortcomings

hotelfire

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