Proposed Pinball Center Mired in City Permit Purgatory

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Last November, many Bernal neighbors were thrilled to hear about Bernal Neighbors Christian and Elisabeth’s plan to open Skillshot Pinball at 1000 Cortland Avenue, on the corner of Folsom. However,  it seems some nearby neighbors were decidedly less-thrilled about the plan, and now Skillshot Pinball’s grand opening faces significant delays as the proposal grinds its way through San Francisco’s bureaucratic maw.

In a newsletter, Neighbors Christian and Elisabeth write:

This is our first letter and we were hoping it might be more exciting, but it’s mostly about bureaucracy and the fact that we may not be opening as soon as we’d originally suggested.

The space we’re seeking to occupy was not previously an eatery or drinkery so though it’s allowed by zoning, we have to apply for a change of use. This isn’t that big of a deal, except for anyone who’s not crazy about having an eatery or drinkery in the neighborhood, these applications allow them opportunities to protest the changes. And that’s what’s happening. We’ve had such a wonderful outpouring of support from Bernal neighbors and families, but all complaints, rightly so, must be properly heard out. Most of the issues surround concerns about noise and the effect on the neighborhood, but some concern mixing sales of beer with proximity to children. On our website we’ve got a list of those concerns and our approaches to how we deal with those issues. And we’ve met with some of the complainants, but we’ve been unsuccessful at changing their minds. They say they love the concept, they think it’s right for Bernal, and they like us, but they don’t want it right next to them. Ahem.

So we’ve had, or are expecting to have, protests against our Change of Use with the Planning dept, our alcohol application with the ABC and separately with the ALU, and the Board of Supervisors approval of our alcohol application. Add that all up and it could be quite a while before we’re able to open. We’re trying to push things along, but it’s probably more like a year now, or even longer. The protests don’t usually keep you from getting the permit, they just significantly slow things down and put conditions on operations (like hours) so you guys don’t have too much to worry about. We’re still totally dedicated to opening up here on The Hill!

PHOTO:: Williams San Francisco pinball machine (1964) at the Pacific Pinball Museum, by Telstar Logistics

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:

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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.

Planning Commission Unanimously Approves Housing at Powhattan Triangle

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Last Thursday, July 21, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal by a Bernal-based developer to build four new homes on an undeveloped lot between Powhattan Ave. and Bernal Heights Blvd.  by rejecting a request for discretionary review filed by neighbors opposed the development.

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The proposal calls for the construction of three new family-sized homes at 965, 985,  and 1025 Powhattan, and one new home behind them, at 40 Bernal Heights Boulevard. The project will also include a new public stairway that will follow the path of the undeveloped Carver Street, which runs just east of the site.

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The official summary of the project, and the request for discretionary review, was as follows:

40 BERNAL HEIGHTS BOULEVARD/965, 985, 1025 POWHATTAN AVENUE- the triangular-shaped project site is bounded to the south by Powhattan Avenue, to the north by Bernal Heights Boulevard, to the west by an undeveloped portion of Rosenkranz Street, and to the east by an undeveloped portion of Carver Street; Lot 010 in Assessor’s Block 5640 (District 11)- Request for Discretionary Review (DR) of building permit application Nos 2014.0521.6382; 2014.0521.6394-6396, proposing subdivision of Block 5640 Lot 010 to create four new separate lots and construction of one three-level single-family dwelling on each new lot within a RH-1 (Residential House, One-Family) Zoning District, Bernal Heights Special Use District and 40-X Height and Bulk District. This action constitutes the Approval Action for the project for the purposes of CEQA, pursuant to San Francisco Administrative Code Section 31.04(h).

The Bernal neighbors who opposed the new housing framed their concerns mostly in terms of preserving “neighborhood character”:

A group of more than 150 neighbors has filed for a Discretionary Review with the SF Planning Commission on the 4 large luxury homes to be developed along Bernal Heights Boulevard and Powhattan Avenue. The hearing before the SF Planning Commission on this development is scheduled for Thursday, July 21, 2016 at approximately 1 pm in Room 400 at City Hall. Join us at the hearing to let your voice be heard.

We are greatly concerned about this development in part because:

  • The proposed development, in its totality, is out of context and scale with the established character of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood and sets a precedent for denser development.
  • The proposed homes are not consistent with Planning Code, Residential Design Guidelines, Bernal Heights East Slope Building Guidelines, and General Plans (e.g. there are no Front Yard Setbacks).
  • Safety Issues: Because there are no front yard Setbacks, a driver pulling out will be unable to check for pedestrians and traffic before crossing the sidewalk and entering the street.

Prior to the meeting, an analysis by Planning Commision staff determined that the proposed housing “meets all aspects of the Planning Code,” and that it’s “consistent with the scale and character of the immediate neighborhood,” and that it “meets the [Bernal Heights East Slope Building Guidelines].”

After much discussion and debate, all six of the the Planning Commissioners agreed, and the request for discretionary review was denied. A few minor revisions to the project were requested. That means construction on four new homes in Bernal Heights may begin soon. But this is San Francisco, of course, so who really knows?

SITE PLANS: Planning Department analysis for 965 Powhattan

Mission Demonstrators Oppose New Housing on South Van Ness

1515-South-Van-Ness-Rendering-2016b

We knew this was coming, right?

Despite San Francisco’s ongoing housing shortage, a group of Mission District demonstrators, landlords, and homeowners kicked off a campaign to oppose the construction of new homes at 1515 South Van Ness.  Bernalwood recently told you about 1515 South Van Ness; it’s a privately funded project by Lennar Corporation that would create 157 units of mixed-income housing on the site of the former McMillan Electric building, which was in turn the site of the former Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile.

MissionLocal was on hand to document the theatrics:

“Today we’re calling on Lennar to gift this site to the city for 100 percent affordable housing,” said Erick Arguello, a member of the merchants association Calle 24 and a principal opponent of the project.

Arguello said the market-rate building would fuel gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood. He pointed specifically to higher rents for commercial Mission businesses, saying a new clientele would bring upscale shops to a historically lower-income, culturally Latino district.

“When you get more luxury housing, you get people with a lot more money moving into the neighborhood, which creates a different demand for products,” he said.

The project at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. would bring 138 market-rate units and 19 below-market-rate units — fulfilling the city requirement that 12 percent of units on the site be affordable — to the Mission District, as well as six ground-floor retail shops.

The complex would raze and replace the McMillan Electrical building and abut a planned 96-unit fully affordable senior complex to be built by the Mission Economic Development Agency — a point of contention at a February community meeting where audience members wanted a merger of the two sites.

On Thursday, some 25 people gathered at the project site and vowed to fight the project to its death. Roberto Hernandez, founder of Our Mission No Eviction, said the project was out of place in the Mission District.

MissionLocal adds that D9 Supervisor David Campos helped postpone the hearing for 1515 South Van Ness in the Planning Commission; an indication he supports the strategy Roberto Hernandez calls “delay, delay, delay until we kill it.”

If you’d like to voice support for 1515 South Van Ness, you are strongly encouraged to send an email to Doug.vu@sfgov.org at the San Francisco Planning Department.

NIMBY Neighbors Seek to Appeal Approved New Housing at Board of Supervisors

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A group of Bernal neighbors hope the Board of Supervisors will overturn plans to build four new homes on a patch of private land  where Powhattan and Bernal Heights Boulevard converge on the south side of Bernal Hill.

The site is zoned for development, and the proposal has already been approved by the Planning Department. SocketSite tells us what happened next:

A subdivision of the 7,500-square-foot, triangular-shaped lot at 40 Bernal Heights Boulevard was approved by the City two months ago, setting the stage for four new single-family homes – the building permits for which have already been requested – to rise across the site.

As designed, the new two-story over garage homes would total 12,058 square feet of gross space, or roughly 3,000 square feet apiece, including garages and decks. The finished living space for the homes would average around 2,100 square feet each.

And within ten days of being approved, an appeal of the subdivision was filed.

From the objecting group of Bernal Heights Neighbors in their appeal to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors:

“This lot is one of the last open space hillsides on East Slope of Bernal, and offers commanding views to pedestrians, bike riders, car passengers, and commuters on the 67 Bernal Heights bus.

Our primary objection to this development, however, is that it is too large and too dense for the space, and for the neighborhood. The four houses proposed for this space are hugely out of proportion with surrounding houses, even those built at the height of the 1960s square-box trend. Properties within a 300′ radius of the proposed development average 1313 square feet of livable space on lots averaging 2064 square feet. The developers of this lot, however, flip this ratio, proposing to build four luxury houses averaging 2139 square feet of livable space (with garages and roof decks that can take that square footage close to or over 3000 square feet), on lots averaging only 1903 square feet…

The patch of land in question is certainly nice, and the views are terrific, so it’s easy to understand why those who live nearby excited by the proposed new housing.

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Except…. It’s not their property, and it’s not public property, and it’s unfortunate that a group of neighbors who themselves likely live in million-dollar homes are using the “luxury housing” trope to oppose the construction of new houses that would give a few more families the opportunity to become our Bernal neighbors.

Bernal has extremely strict planning codes, spelled out by the  Bernal Heights Special Use District. If these new homes conform to those guidelines, their density and design will meet the standards that we as a neighborhood agreed upon. The Planning Department says there are no major problems with the proposed design. Socketsite quotes the Planning Department’s response to the neighbors’ concerns:

From San Francisco’s Planning Department in response:

“We urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this appeal; to consider these issues at this time could thwart the well-established, thoughtful and public review process that occurs at the time the Planning and Building permit review takes place, which also include rights of appeal. Both Planning staff and the Commission (if Discretionary Review is requested) can contribute to the discourse on massing; and provide specific direction relative to the applicable design guidelines. Further, we would suggest…that a project where the lot is subdivided into three parcels, instead of four may result in three larger houses than the four houses currently under review.”

SocketSite says the Board of Supervisors will consider this subdivision during a meeting scheduled for December 1.

PHOTOS: Site photos, Telstar Logistics. Aerial map, via SocketSite

Tonight: Design Review for Two Proposed Homes at the Tippy-Top of Coso

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There will be a lively meeting of the Northwest Bernal Heights Design Review Board tonight at the Bernal Library, as members of the board consider a proposal to build two single-family homes on two undeveloped lots at the northwest corner of Coso and Bonview.

The parcels in question have sat empty since basically forever, but with housing in short supply, private developers have now put forward a plan to build there. However, given the site’s high-profile location, and the fact that it has functioned as a de facto extension of Bernal Heights Park for a long time, the forces of no are rallying to oppose the plan.

Posters around the proposed housing site proclaim “No Big Box Houses in Bernal,” while showing an image of an unrelated project in Corona Heights that is being built by the same construction company. (On the bright side, at least this poster does not include a simulated blast-radius.) When Bernalwood visited the site over the weekend, one neighbor described the proposed homes as “McMansions.”

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Such designations are subjective and intentionally pejorative, however, so here are a few concrete facts about the proposed development that Bernalwood has been able to uncover: The proposal calls for the construction of two adjacent single-family homes, on privately-owned land at 6 Bonview and 409 Coso. The former will be 2225 sq-ft; the latter will be 2558 square-feet. Each will provide off-street parking. Design-wise, both generally and generically reflect the “Dwell-inspired” style that is so common for new urban homes these days, which is to say the facades are a mix of rectangular forms, stucco, horizontal wood slats, metal, and glass. Most crucially, however, both homes appear to conform to the strict planning, design, and height guidelines of the Bernal Height Special Use District.

Of course, when it comes to new construction in San Francisco neighborhoods, facts and feelings seldom align. That reality will likely be on full display this evening, so if you’d like to partake of the spectacle, the design review board will meet tonight, May 26, at 7:30 pm in the Bernal Library on Cortland. Bernalwood will also share drawings of the proposed development when they are available.

UPDATE, 27 May: The designs for the two new houses have now been revealed.

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

David Campos Introduces Proposal to Make Mission Housing Even More Expensive, Homeowners and Landlords Even More Wealthy

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As you probably know, Bernal neighbor David Campos represents District 9 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Yesterday, he introduced a proposed ordinance that would deliver a windfall to Mission District homeowners and provide new incentives for Mission District landlords to evict existing tenants.

Supervisor Campos calls his proposal a “Temporary Moratorium on Market Rate Development,” and he says it is intended to halt displacement and maintain diversity in the Mission. In reality, it will almost certainly do the opposite. The San Francisco Business Times broke the story about the Campos proposal:

Voters will be asked in November whether to halt market-rate housing construction in the Mission District if neighborhood activists have their way, the Business Times has learned.

Edwin Lindo of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club said Monday that a coalition of affordable housing and progressive groups soon will submit a potential ballot measure to the city attorney that would delay market-rate housing projects in the Mission for up to 18 months.

They would then attempt to collect the roughly 9,400 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

A draft of the ballot measure, obtained through a public records request by a neighborhood activist, showed that the moratorium would apply to projects larger than 20 units. The moratorium would apply to the entire neighborhood, not just the 24th Street area on the south side of the neighborhood considered a Latino cultural district, as had been previously floated by Supervisor David Campos.

“Our goal is not to stop all development. Our goal is to stop incredibly large development that focus exclusively on market-rate housing,” Lindo said. “We need a pause to ensure that if developers are going to build in our city they’re going to figure out a way to build affordable housing, even if that could be cutting into their 15 to 20 percent profit margins.”

Many economists, urban policy groups like SPUR, and policymakers like Mayor Ed Lee and Scott Wiener have all said this kind of strategy will exacerbate the neighborhood’s problems. With a shriveling pool public dollars available to build affordable housing, the city has looked toward more market-rate development to pay for housing for low-income residents through inclusionary laws and fees.

The SF Chronicle adds the measure “would implement a 45-day moratorium on planning approvals, demolitions and building permits for multifamily residential developments in a 1½-square-mile area. It could be extended for up to two years under state law.”

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You don’t have to be an economist, or an urban policy wonk, or or a government policymaker to envision why this proposal from Supervisor Campos and progressive allies will put lots and lots of money in the pockets of existing Mission District property-owners. All you have to do is take a moment to consider this graph:

SF.HousingGap

The housing gap graph (which comes from this video) shows that San Francisco’s population has been growing steadily for several decades, but our supply of housing has failed to keep pace. The housing deficit has grown more extreme with each passing year, which has made housing more expensive for San Franciscans at all income levels, across the board. This effect is called supply and demand, and supply and demand is sort of like the law of gravity, in that even if you don’t much like it, you still can’t realistically hope escape it.

The local economy is booming and San Francisco’s population is growing rapidly, so the only real way to make housing more affordable for everyone is to increase the overall supply. That’s a slow and imperfect process, to be sure, but if your goal is to reduce displacement, stabilize prices, and create opportunities for all San Franciscans across the board, there’s really no viable alternative. Building more affordable housing is something we absolutely must do, but increasing the overall housing supply and increasing the amount of affordable housing is not an either/or proposition. Indeed, by law market-rate housing development actually provides substantial funding for the creation of more affordable housing.

Supervisor Campos’s moratorium offer no proposals to provide additional funding for affordable housing, nor does it propose a way to offset the affordable housing funds that will be lost by blocking the construction of market rate housing. And he has had nothing to say about accelerating construction of affordable housing projects that are already on the table, like the proposed building at Cesar Chavez and Shotwell that your Bernalwood editor is eager to look out upon.

Supervisor Campos and his NIMBY allies say the goal is to reduce evictions and displacement, but that doesn’t hold much water either. Their opposition to new housing development has been fierce — even when absolutely no one would be displaced by the construction, and even when projects contain a substantial number of affordable housing units. In March, for example, activists shouted down a proposal to build 291 units of market-rate housing with an additional 41 units reserved for middle-class buyers on the squalid site next to the 16th Street BART station that is today occupied by a chain drug store and a Burger King. Last month, many of the same activists disrupted a proposal to build 115 units of market-rate housing on the site of a semi-abandoned warehouse at 2675 Folsom near 23rd Street.

There is one surefire way to make housing in The Mission even more expensive: In a transit-rich location with two BART stations, several arterial MUNI lines, and excellent freeway access, where demand for housing already vastly exceeds supply, blocking the creation of new housing will only make existing housing even more precious. And that is what Supervisor Campos proposes to do.

So if the moratorium makes no logical sense and is unlikely to do much to address the housing affordability crisis, what purpose does it hope to serve? On the 48 Hills site, Bernal neighbor Tim Redmond described the scene yesterday as Campos announced his plan:

The existing zoning, under the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, “has failed the Mission,” [Campos] said, pointing out that 8,000 Latino residents have been lost in the past decade. The population of the Mission was 52 percent Latino a decade ago; now it’s down to 40 percent.

That tribal logic may be the most candid explanation Campos has yet provided. The proposed moratorium mirrors Calle24’s effort to create a legally-protected Latino enclave along 24th Street, but it seeks to extend privileged incumbent status to an area that includes almost all of the Mission District. Progressive power brokers may have a weak understanding of housing economics, but they sure know how to rewrite the rules to protect their turf.

It may be true that San Francisco can’t really build its way out of the current housing crisis. But it’s definitely true that we can’t not-build our way out of it either. As San Francisco adds thousands of new residents each year, every delay and every postponed project means housing gets even more expensive as competition intensifies for whatever housing already exists.

That’s a miserable state of affairs longtime renters, new residents, and would-be home-buyers alike. But if you already own property in the Mission (or North Bernal, for that matter), the moratorium proposed by David Campos and progressive activists will have you laughing all the way to the bank.

PHOTO: David Campos, via 48 Hills