Fearmongering NIMBYs vs. Bernal Heights iPhone Owners

Ugh. Here we go again.

AT&T would like to offer some relief to those long-suffering iPhone owners in southeast Bernal Heights, who have long had to endure dropped calls and poor reception. This relief would come in the form of a new antenna installation atop the building at 3901 Mission Street (at College).

But before the antenna can be installed, AT&T must first secure approval from the City’s Planning Commission. Yet glumly and predictably, the usual crew of fearmongering, science-hating NIMBYs are already lining up to oppose the project.

This email was recently posted to a neighborhood mailing list:

Subject: Stop Cellphone Tower Installation @ 3901 Mission
(Mission and College)

Why?

The proposed installation would emit radio-frequency (RF) radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This site would be within a 300-foot radius of numerous residential homes and close to St. Mary’s Park.

Considerable debate and uncertainty exists within the scientific community about the potential health effects to individuals, especially children, from exposure to electromagnetic and RF radiation. Some adverse health effects show up immediately, but it can take 3 to 10 years or more for the longer-term effects of RF illness, such as cancer, to appear. More research is needed to provide a definitive answer. We should not be forced to act as guinea pigs in a bio-effects experiment.

We value our neighborhood as a safe, community-oriented place to live and raise our children.

How?
– Attend the Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400
– Contact the Planning Commission:
Diego R. Sanchez
The Planning Department,
650 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103
415-575-9082
diego.sanchez@sfgov.org

Radiation! Cancer! Uncertainty! AND WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN???!!!! All the hot-buttons are pressed here, in lurid, sensationalist, and grossly misleading form.

But is any of it true? Well, it is true that the antenna would transmit RF radiation 24-7. But then again, so does the KQED antenna atop Sutro Tower, the many geosynchronous telecom satellites high above, and the WiFi router you probably have in your home. OMG!!!

As Bernalwood has patiently explained before, RF is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer. And unless you want to be an intellectual bedfellow with Climate Change Denialists and those who refuse to believe in Evolution because it is “just a theory,” the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety of this technology should be enough to put your mind at ease.

Calling My City Supervisor

I could go on in this vein. But instead, I’ll just hand the microphone over to Neighbor Fiid, who recently cc’d Bernalwood on a letter he wrote to Supervisor Campos to weigh in on the proposed AT&T antenna at 3901 Mission:

Subject: New Cell phone tower on Mission St. & WiMax project on Bernal Hill

Greetings Mr Campos,

I’m writing to express my ambivalence to the addition of additional cell phone towers in the neighborhood. I know there are a brigade of people around Bernal that go around protesting any kind thing that looks like an antenna on the basis of “junk science”. You might think that I would write in support, but I don’t care enough about a particular project to do that; what I care about is that companies trying to provide better services to our community aren’t hampered by unnecessary burden.

As I’m sure you know, everyone expects cell phones to cause cancer, since they are transmitters that are very close to your head. It is surprising therefore, that a clearly demonstrated scientific link still has not been established. On the other hand, cell phones save millions of lives every day because they enable people to communicate in times of need and generally allow people to communicate better. Better communication hopefully allows people to be more efficient in environmentally destructive resource usage, like using cars, airplanes, or even coordinating food consumption.

If evidence comes to light that provides more clear evidence of health problems being caused, I will be the first to lobby in opposition, or to regulate any wrongdoing. But this simply is not the case at the current time.

The technology industry is a big employer in our area, and seems right now to be one of the only industries that are doing well in our incredibly tough economic climate. The economy is detrimental to everyone; government, that provides less and less of the facilities that support society as we know it, like social safety nets, infrastructure, and education. The private sector outside of technology is also suffering.

I believe the benefits that these projects provide both in terms of direct help, and indirect help via employment and economic and infrastructure support far outweigh the “maybe” risks that a minority of people use the threat of to torpedo the common good.

I wanted to mention also my dismay that the WiMax project on Bernal Hill was cancelled, for the same reasons; although I realize there may be other planning issues involved there.

I hang out on some mailing lists in the neighborhood; and I try to provide scientific and non-biased factual guidance for people on those lists. The anti-antenna lobby emails to that list have caused people to request me to weigh in on this issue with some science and fact, which I try to provide. I have received many thank you emails from other neighbors after doing this, so I think there is a majority of people that will not write to you in support of a cell phone tower, but who nonetheless reject the junk science offered by the vocal minority. I trust that you assess and take this into account when you establish your position on these issues.

Thanks for your time and your ear, and if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Nicely said, and eminently neighborly and reasonable, eh? So what can you do to help? Here are a few ways:

  1. Don’t let the tinfoil-beanie crowd get the last word. Attend that Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400.
  2. Write to Supervisor Campos (David.Campos@sfgov.org) to let him know that you want better telecommunications services in Bernal Heights
  3. Sound off in the comments to this post, to make a public statement about your desire for better wireless service (or just to vent about fearmongering NIMBYs).

PHOTOS: 3901 Mission, by Telstar Logistics

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My New Smart Meter

Smart Meter

Smart Meter

One day, it just happened: I came home from work at the end of a hard-earned day to find a new PG&E Smart Meter blinking at me from the front of my house.

Sure, I’d been warned that this would occur via some slick mailings produced by the PG&E Propaganda Department. But it all seemed so… sudden. For years I’ve bumped along with one of those old-fashioned meters with spinning dials and complex mechanical innards, and then in a single day I was transported into the 21st century by a new meter with LCD readouts and wireless data transfer capabilities. Oh my!

So how is it going? Admittedly, I have been experiencing some bizarre health effects ever since the Smart Meter was installed. Specifically, I keep having hallucinatory dreams about a Zombie Ed McMahon ringing my doorbell to drop off a gigantic check for $13 million from Publisher’s Clearinghouse Giveaway. But correlation is not causation, so I’m trying to separate the spooky substance of my undead nightmares from the arrival of my Smart Meter.

The same cannot be said for a few nervous souls on the bernalheightsparents mailing list, however. They worry that the new wireless Smart Meters emit radiation, and radiation is bad, so these meters must be bad. Because, you see, they emit radiation. And this radiation can have (as one commenter put it) “toxic effects.”

Now, one can reasonably argue that Smart Meters erode personal privacy. Likewise, it could be argued that Smart Meters are a diabolical high-tech tool that will enable PG&E to jack up your electricity bills. Personally, I don’t think either of those things are true, but on these points at least reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

Yet on the topic of “toxic threats,” the arguments don’t hold up well to rational analysis. Bernal resident Fiid Williams is a member of the bernalheightsparents mailing list, and yesterday he weighed in on the debate with a simple primer about wireless technology and radiation hazards that should be required reading for anyone who has concerns about the safety of Smart Meters, cellphone towers, or any of the other wireless data transmission systems that pervade our contemporary, glamorous, jet-set lives.

Neighbor Fiid’s comments are reprinted in their entirety, by permission:

There are two principles that matter here.

1) Non-Ionizing vs Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation = nuclear reactors, radioactive materials, x-rays. CAUSES CANCER.

Non-ionizing radiation = radios, cell phones, smart meters, wireless routers. There is no currently understood biological pathway for non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer.

2) Inverse Square Law

Say you have a 40 Watt traditional lightbulb in a closet. I’d submit it’s enough light to see.

Put it in a 10 foot square room, and it’s pretty inadequate, correct? This illustrates the inverse square law. As you move away from a transmitter, the power that you get from it goes down the cube square of your distance away from it.

This is why everyone expects cellphones to cause cancer. The transmitter is _RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD_. Oddly though, the studies that are coming out on cell phones continue to be inconclusive.

As it pertains to Smart Meters, the transmitters are far away from you, so you’re getting minuscule fractions of watts from them, and the radiation they emit they only emit for short periods of time, (because they don’t transmit much information), and it’s the wrong kind of radiation for a provable cancer risk.

If you walk to the Good Life once a week, your traffic accident risk dwarfs this. I was concerned that my bill would go up (which is didn’t), but not at all about the RF element.

Nicely said. Yet if you have further doubts, consider reading this eminently balanced article about the safety of Smart Meters written by the Environmental Defense Fund, which says much the same thing.

All I need now is for someone to tell me how to make these vexing hallucinations about Zombie Ed McMahon go away. A tinfoil beanie, perhaps?

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Why Bernal Heights iPhone Owners May Cheer AT&T Oligopoly

While perusing the City’s online Library of Cartography recently — don’t ask! — I discovered a new map that does a lot to explain why my iPhone gets such crappy reception inside my home, and why AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile might actually go a long way toward making it better.

But before we get to that, please allow me a few minutes of cathartic iPhone ranting. Oh. My. God. It’s bad: I can’t make wireless calls at all from the garage or ground-floor office of my North Bernal home. On the second floor, the phone only works in the front of the house or in my back yard. It’s so bad that even my text messages fail to send about 75 percent of the time. The phone works great on the top floor of the house, but… seriously?!?

Calling My City Supervisor

Now, back to that map I found. It’s an Aprill 2011 visualization that shows the location of every wireless cellphone tower in the City, categorized by mobile provider. When I looked at it closely, I suddenly understood why my iPhone is mostly useless unless I’m on the upper floor of my house: The AT&T cell tower closest to me isn’t that close at all.

AT&T’s antenna coverage of Bernal Heights is sparse, and as much as I’d like to demonize the company, NIMBY obstructionism is partially to blame as well. Truth is, it ain’t easy to erect new cell towers in San Francisco. But when you look at the wireless facilities map of Bernalwood, one thing becomes clear: All those pink dots mean that T-Mobile already has our neighborhood pretty well covered.

And that’s why AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T Mobile might be a godsend for long-suffering Bernalwood iPhone owners. If the deal closes as planned early next year, AT&T will gain access to T-Mobile’s existing network of wireless towers. (Arguably, that’s actually AT&T’s primary motivation for pursuing the merger.) And since T-Mobile’s towers are strategically positioned around Bernal Heights, the net result may be substantially better wireless service for local iPhoneers.

So fingers crossed, and here’s to a self-interested reason to cheer for oligopoly!

Off the Hill: Ten Great Restaurants, Mayor Ed on Wheels, Transbay NIMBYs, and Sea Lions in the Mission

Found on the 27: Jack Sparrow

Now that passport and visa restrictions have been waived for residents traveling beyond the confines of Bernalwood, there’s a whole City for us to explore! Here are some things that have been happening around town:

Ten Interesting Restaurants to Try ASAP (Tablehopper)

Transbay NIMBYs Oppose Treasure Island Development Plan (SF Examiner)

Sea Lion and Giant Rat Street Art in the Mission (MissionMission, Uptown Almanac)

Mayor Ed Lee Bikes to Work Wearing a Sporty Helmet (StreetsblogSF)

Tourists Go on “Human Safari” in the Tenderloin (The Tender)

PHOTO: Capt. Jack Sparrow Rides the 27 Bryant, by isaylike via SFist

Amsterdam on Mission Street? Proposed Cannabis Club and Coffee Shop Creates Concern

The Bernalwood reader hotline went ring-a-ding-ding over the weekend, and when we picked up the line this message greeted us:

We received a permit application the other day for a new Cannabis club near Mission St. and Precita. (3139 Mission Street to be exact). And to be even more specific, they want to open a “coffee shop/cannabis dispensary.” It will be directly across the street from Roccapulco, Nap’s and El Rio.

I want to know if other Bernal folks are aware, and if they’re not, I was wondering if you could help spread the word.

I’m sure there will be supporters for the club and the anti-supporters. Either way, I think neighbors should know.

It’s slightly disturbing to hear that they want to couple a cannabis shop with a coffee-shop (Does that mean teens can go in? Does that mean they can have extended hours?). Do we really need another cannabis club? There’s already a cannabis club three streets away (at 29th and Mission).

Really?! A proposal to create a combination cannabis club and coffee shop?! Is Bernal Heights having its Amsterdam Moment??!! Bernalwood dispatched our satellite truck to 3139 Mission to investigate.

3139 Mission Street

Turns out, 3139 Mission was most recently used as an administrative and billing center for St. Luke’s Hospital, and there is a Planning Department permit application notce affixed to the front gate. Sure enough, the notice says the structure is proposed for use as a medical cannabis dispensary and retail coffee store:

The building itself was built in 1969, and it has one of those unfortunate facades that were common during the period, when architects adapted to Vietnam-era protest movements (and/or the arrival of the Planet of the Apes movie franchise) by creating bunker-like structures with few street-level windows to smash during civil unrest. Which is to say, it’s unlikely that the new cannabis will ever offer a warm, welcoming Socha- or Starbucks-style entrace.

3139 Mission Street

It seems clear that our tipster (who asked to remain anonymous) is not a fan of the proposal. Fair enough. But in reference to the specific questions:

Does that mean teens can go in? Does that mean they can have extended hours?

Almost certainly not. The permitting framework that governs all medical cannabis dispensaries in the City would supersede the retail coffee part of the business, and those permitting regulations explicitly prohibit persons under 18 years of age from entering a dispensary, prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages, and require cannabis dispensaries to close by 10 pm nightly. Likewise, the City Planning Department’s Letter of Determination established that, per code, the proposed facility at 3139 Mission is not within 1000 feet of any primary or secondary schools.

That means there’s no need to press the usual NIMBY hot-buttons of protecting the children and safeguarding the night — regardless of whether or not you think the neighborhood needs another dispensary.

Inevitably, however, the cannabis dispensary/coffee shop will impact local businesses. For example, the proposed facility is just a few doors down from Baby Blues BBQ, which happens to be delicious. It is reasonable to assume that Baby Blues BBQ would profit handsomely from the arrival of the dispensary/coffee shop, as a steady stream of munchie-afflicted patrons from the latter will drift down the street to satiate their cravings for hearty grilled meats.

Indeed, the combination of cannabis, coffee, and BBQ could turn this stretch of Mission Street into a Vortex of Vice, not least because the storefront that today houses Baby Blues BBQ was once home to Disernia’s Pharmacy — and to this day the building retains much of its original drug store signage.

Which brings us to the biggest bombshell of all…

If you stand right in front of the proposed dispensary location at 3139 Mission and look up at the signage left over from the pharmacy days, two of the signs align *perfectly* to conflate DRUGS and LIQUOR in a subliminal acrostic that could play havoc on the weed-addled minds of future dispensary patrons. See for yourself:

3139 Mission Street

Subtle? Yes. Clever? Extremely. Diabolical? Very!

Bernalwood will keep you posted on this cannabis/coffee proposal as it develops.

PHOTOS: Top, illustration via Hocus Locus. All other photos by Telstar Logistics.

Supervisor Campos Breaks Silence, Says He “Wants to Inject Common Sense” Into Coke Mural Controversy

The case of Anonymous NIMBY vs. Vintage Coke Mural has been exasperating for (almost) everyone involved.

It has been exasperating for homeowner Richard Modolo, who has had to deal with the inconvenience and expense of responding to the City’s notice of violation about the old mural. It has been exasperating for the City Planning Department, which has become the object of national scorn and ridicule as a result of its decision to declare the mural illegal. And today Bernalwood learned that it has also been exasperating to Supervisor David Campos.

Indeed, the only one who probably feels empowered by the debacle is our Anonymous NIMBY. One complaint, and — boom! — an all-consuming controversy ensues. Not bad for a lone voice in a city of many tens of thousands.

This evening Supervisor Campos returned a phone call from Bernalwood. The Supervisor did not explain his long silence on this issue, but he reiterated that he has been trying to get a sense of how the neighbors in Bernal Heights feel about the vintage Coke mural.

The results of his fact-finding were clear and directional.

Campos received exactly one (1) email — perhaps from our Anonymous NIMBY? — expressing concern that the presence of the Coca-Cola mural so close to Paul Revere School might encourage childhood obesity. To gauge the depth of this sentiment, Campos says he reached out to a group of parents with children at the school. Were the parents worried the nearby mural might send their little ones careening down a path of sugar-fueled gluttony and lifelong corpulence???

Hardly. “None of the parents had an issue with the sign,” Campos reports.

Campos says he is now “moving in the direction of protecting the sign.” He also said he has been in discussion with the City Attorney’s office, and that he intends to make the details of his plan clear during the Board of Supervisors meeting that will take place tomorrow afternoon, on Tuesday, March 1.

“We need a solution for the city as a whole,” Campos says. “There is value in preserving our history, and that’s true city-wide. Creating a historic preservation district may help in this particular case, but we need a broader mechanism.”

Bernalwood couldn’t agree more. In fact, hasn’t this incident shown that the current law is more than a little ridiculous?

Campos readily agreed. “As a matter of law, I don’t think it makes much sense, given the lack of nuance,” he said. “We want to inject some common sense into this.”

Wouldn’t that be novel! Stay tuned tomorrow, when we will finally learn the details of the Campos Plan to Save Bernal’s Coke Mural.

Photo: via Supervisor Campos

Coming Soon: The Sad Coca-Cola Mural Cover-Up

While the City Planning Commission runs on bureaucratic autopilot and Supervisor David Campos thinks really, really, really hard about whether Bernalwood’s vintage Coca-Cola mural is worth saving, homeowner Richard Modolo is making plans to cover up the historic mural to avoid facing $100 daily fines.

The San Francisco Examiner reports:

After being notified last month that the billboard didn’t have an advertising permit from The City, Modolos was given 30 days to either remove the sign, apply for a permit or request a reconsideration notice.

But choosing the latter option would have required Modolos to pay $3,400 up front for the initial hearing and possible fees, according to the notice. “Just as I’m reading this thing, I’m thinking how can you possibly do anything,” Modolos said. “They’re making it so difficult.”

So Modolos opted to cover the sign for the time being. He said he’ll find out later this week if the department approved his plans.

Bernal Heights residents who support the billboard have expressed interest in seeking help from Supervisor David Campos, who represents the area, to protect it by creating a “historic sign district.”

Planning Commission vice president Ron Miguel said that although the sign isn’t currently legal, there are ways that it could be made legal. “Somehow, it’s got to be resolved,” Miguel said.

Ya think?

Bernalwood has been receiving regular updates from both Richard Modolo and the City Planning Department. Only Supervisor David Campos has yet to weigh in, and yet only he can now save the mural. But after two weeks of uncertainty and controversy, Campos has yet to declare a position. Apparently, this is a difficult decision, so he needs still more time to think about it…

Photo: Supervisor Campos, via Guillaume Paumier via Wikipedia

It’s Really Old, Really: Evidence Proves Historic Provenance of Threatened Coca-Cola Mural

Vintage Coke Sign
So the deadline is fast approaching in the matter of Anonymous NIMBY vs. Historic Coke Mural Beloved by The Neighbors of Bernalwood.

As you may recall, after a whinging NIMBY complained to the City about the presence of the vintage Coca-Cola mural at the corner of Tompkins and Banks, the City gave the property owner a February 24 deadline to present evidence that the artwork at 601 Tompkns pre-dates San Francisco’s 1965 sign ordinances.

In our quest to acquire said evidence, we got some big help from the sleuths at Burrito Justice, who proved conclusively that the property at 601 Tompkins was a corner store called Tiptons Grocery until roughly the late 1960s. But today — three days before our City-imposed deadline — we are happy to report that Bernalwood obtained conclusive proof that the sign is, in fact, way old.

Over the weekend, Bernalwood established contact with the homeowner, Mr. Richard Modolo. Mr. Modolo was away on vacation last week, but now he’s tanned, rested, and ready for a bureaucratic tussle. Even better, he’s got the historic goods. Let’s establish the facts:

FACT: Mr. Modolo has lived in Bernal Heights since 1954. He attended Paul Revere School, right across the street from the disputed Coca-Cola artwork, and he has vivid memories of Tipton’s Grocery store from when it was still in operation. Actually, “Mrs. Tips” (as the kids caller her) made his lunch every day. As we chatted in the very space that Tipton’s Grocery once occupied, Mr. Modolo gestured toward the spot where Mrs. Tips used to stand behind the counter, and told this story:

FACT: The vintage Coca-Cola artwork is, properly speaking, a “ghost sign.” Mr. Modolo explained that the mural re-appeared in 1991, when he removed the asbestos siding that had long covered the building. A thick layer of tar paper preserved the handpainted artwork through the decades, so it looked almost-new when it finally saw the light of day again.

Here’s how the building looked when the asbestos siding was still in place:

And (… drumroll…) here’s how the Coke artwork looked in 1991, immediately after the siding was removed:

At the time, Mr. Modolo added, he simply planned to paint over the ghost sign. But neighbors intervened, begging him to keep it in place. And so he has, repainting it three times during the last 20 years.

FACT: The ghost sign pre-dates the City’s 1965 regulations by at least a decade, and almost certainly more. How do we know this? Simple: The asbestos siding at 601 Tompkins was installed in 1949 and 1956, which means the sign was in place before it was covered over. And how do we know those dates? That’s simple too: Mr. Modolo has the permit history from the City’s Department of Building Inspection:

FACT: The design of the mural suggests it dates from the mid-1940s. Burrito Justice has stayed on the case, and he’s been Tweeting with an archivist from the Coca-Cola company, who says “The “silhouette girl” logo was used as early as 1939.”

UPDATE: While following up on the Coca-Cola history angle, Burrito Justice received this great reply from the company’s archivist:

The girl in the image is referred to in “Coke Lore” as Silhouette Girl. She was used from 1939 until around 1950 when she fell out of use. She is significant in dating items as she was one of the few characters that was used during the time we transitioned our “Trademark Registered” statement from the tale of the C in “Coca” to being placed under the words “Coca-Cola.” This transition occurred between 1941 and 1942.

The first thing I noticed with the sign was the mark was under the words so it had to be later than 1942.

So, game, set, match, right?

Not quite. Bernalwood has been in touch with Mr. Dan Sider from the Planning Department’s General Advertising Sign Program. This situation regarding our Coca-Cola is “entirely novel” and without precedent, he says. “Our staff has processed nearly 1,800 general advertising signs in the City,” Mr. Sider says. “Not once have neighbors wanted to preserve a sign, much less have they taken the initiative to repaint and restore a sign on their own accord.” Hey, what can we say, other than Welcome to Bernalwood.

Much now hinges on how the City decides to classify the artwork. Is it a “general advertising sign” or a “business sign?” Neither approach is ideal, as each comes with significant legal downsides. So perhaps Bernalwood can suggest an easy solution? Maybe it’s not a sign at all! And maybe it stopped being advertising sometime during the Truman Administration. Perhaps it’s really a “historic commercial mural!”Or something like that.

FACT: Homeowner Richard Modolo wants to keep the vintage Coca-Cola mural in place, as is, and if the dozens of comments Bernalwood has received are any indication, a nontrivial number of his neighbors do as well. Mr. Modolo says, “For better or worse, this building was once a grocery store, and this is part of the history of this neighborhood.” That’s now a confirmed fact too.

UPDATE: In today’s newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner reports on Bernal’s Coca-Cola mural controversy. Can Fox News be far behind?

Photos: Top,  Todd Lappin. Historic photos courtesy of Richard Modolo

Nameless NIMBY Gets Bullheaded Bureaucrats to Outlaw Historic Coca-Cola Sign

This is an unfortunate story about a neighborhood landmark, the NIMBY menace, City bureaucracy, and a call to action for Bernal Heights history geeks. More or less in that order. Follow along…

Decades ago, the building at 601 Tompkins Avenue, at the corner of Banks in Bernal Heights, may have once been a corner store. It’s now a private home, but a vintage Coca-Cola advertising sign from the earlier days has remained on the building regardless. Bernalwood’s irate tipster explains the situation:

Is this perhaps a little bureaucracy run amok in Bernal; the inevitable fallout from our Supervisors trying to outlaw sugary drinks?

The antique Coca-Cola ad has been part of the corner of Banks and Tomkins probably since the 1940’s at least.  In my 30 years in Bernal, the homeowners have lovingly preserved this little bit of old Bernal—probably the last remnant of a grocery on that corner.

Now the City is apparently citing them for an unauthorized billboard.  Note that the Planning Department documents say the homeowners must pay $3400 just to appeal the decision.

This is madness. A way-cool vintage Coke sign, preserved by neighborhood old-timers, is targeted for citation and removal by clueless City sign inspectors? Really? Why? And why does the San Francisco Planning Department hate America so much?

Bernalwood attempted to contact the property owner, but so far our efforts have been unsuccessful. We also called the City Planning Department, to ask WTF. This proved fruitful.

The City action against the vintage Coke sign came as the result of a complaint about the sign that was submitted by a nameless NIMBY whiner on January 14, 2011. With impressive alacrity, the Planning Department investigated the matter, and on January 25, 2011 a City notice was posted to indicate that the old sign must be either permitted or removed.

Bernalwood spoke to Mr. Dan Sider from the Planning Department’s General Advertising Sign Program . Mr. Sider had photos of the sign at 601 Tompkins at his disposal during our talk, and he was quite friendly. Yet when told that the Coke sign has been there since the 1940s, he seemed skeptical. It looks new, he said, and in fairness, he’s right — it does look new. “That’s because it’s been lovingly repainted and maintained by the neighbors,” Bernalwood explained sweetly.

Mr. Sider seemed surprised. “As a San Franciscan, I think that’s very neat,” he said. “But it is very clearly an illegal sign, and we don’t have much discretion.”

“But… but… surely there must be some way to save this historic piece of commercial art!” Bernalwood pleaded.

Indeed, Mr. Sider explained, there is. If some evidence can be produced that the sign was in place prior to 1965 (when the City’s operative sign ordinances went into effect), the matter may be resolved pleasantly. “But the clock is ticking,” he said. Said evidence must be received by February 24, 2011 — within 30 days of the issuance of the initial citation — or else fines may begin to kick in.

UPDATE 23 February, 2011: Evidence of the vintage mural’s provenance has now been obtained, confirming that it is genuinely way old — probably a relic from the 1940s. But the struggle with the San Francisco Planning Department continues. Read all about it.

So, concerned Bernalwood citizen, there are two things you can now do:

2) Help track down evidence — preferably a photograph or other document — that demonstrates the old Coke sign on the side of 601 Tompkins has indeed been there since the Kennedy Administration, if not before. Activate your geektastic history researcher kung-fu powers, and keep your fingers crossed. If you find anything, Bernalwood will gladly pass it along to our friends at the Planning Department. But remember, the DEADLINE IS FEBRUARY 24.

2) Call our Supervisor, Mr. David Campos to advise him of your interest in this matter. Admittedly, the preservation of vintage commercial art is hardly a core plank in his Progressive agenda. Yet this is also the kind of stuff that gives a neighborhood a tangible connection to its own history — and that matters a lot.  Besides, if they do nothing else, our Supervisors exist precisely to represent us when dealing with City Hall silliness. Perhaps Supervisor Campos could put in a call to Mr. Sider? Perhaps you’d like to call Supervisor Campos to suggest that idea? Supervisor Campos can be reached at (415) 554-5144.

Photos: Anonymous Tipster

The Letter of the Law on Street Parking Near Driveways

Stencils of Doom

There’s been a lot of debate in the comments about Rhoda’s response to the anonymous neighbor who put an exasperated note on the windshield of her parked car regarding a perceived driveway encroachment. The debate has been spirited but commendably civil — especially given the intensity of the passions that parking problems can arouse.

Amid the to-and-fro, reader Rebecca turned to the DPT’s official rulebook to point out that “the reference that the City requires you to leave a foot from the curb cut is total BS. There are published and posted rules, and that ain’t one of them:”

A driveway begins at the curb cut, or the point at which the curb begins to slope downward toward street level. A vehicle parked within curb cuts can be cited and towed. Even partial encroachments into the driveway area can result in a tow.

Some driveways are marked with short red curb markings that indicate where vehicles should not park. Only red zones painted by the City with a DPT or MTA stencil are enforced. It is illegal for private parties to paint curbs or other markings on the street.

Residents can block their own driveways only if the building the driveway serves has two or one units and the vehicle’s license plate is registered to the building’s address. All other types of driveway parking can be cited.

So sayeth the Official Arbiters of Parking Legality. Hooray for facts! Hooray for Rebecca for bringing facts to the party!

Our beloved DPT even offers a handy print n’ bitch windshield flyer — with objective visual guidelines! — you can use to scold blatant driveway offenders.

(Thanks to someJuan for the pointer to the DPT flyer!)

Photo: The Stencil of Doom, by Telstar Logistics

Parking Problem on Prospect Prompts Poignant Post About Proper Notification Procedure (and a Not-Nice Neighbor)

Bad Parking

There’s been a parking problem on Prospect Street this week which highlights a few of the themes we’ve touched on recently here at Bernalwood; namely, The Essence of Neighborliness, and the Fine Line Between Engaged Activism and NIMBY Narcissism.

This note was posted yesterday on the Bernalheights mailing list, and is reprinted in its entirety here by permission:

Subject: I’m pretty bummed at some Bernal “Neighbours” this Holiday
Date:     December 27, 2010 1:02:54 PM PST

I just placed my third phone call to yet another very grateful neighbour whose car has been tagged on the 100 Block of Prospect for towing, despite a note that they were happy to have someone move the car while they were visiting relatives for the holidays. In each case, the cars have been moved within hours.

My understanding is that all taggings are the result of a neighbour specifically calling the license plate number into DPT.

Really, neighbour, is it easier to deal with 311 and smack a fellow resident with a 90-dollar fine than it is to place a simple phonecall to a human being and say, “Yes, I need you to move your car, please?” (Though I would love to hear your reason for needing these cars moved so desperately, as they aren’t even on the side of the street that’s got homes on it, so it’s not like they are blocking your driveway.)

It would seem we’ve got a neighbour who has added “checking cars for movement like a hawk” to their Holiday to-do list, as these cars are getting tagged so fast that I swear I’ve never even seen some of them before they turn up with a tag on ’em- and my front window overlooks them all. In fact, I woke to a start this morning realizing I hadn’t had reason to leave the house since Christmas eve, and worried that maybe mine was already gone. This is just silly. It’s the holidays! Even people who are at HOME aren’t driving around every day.

Also, it makes our street look super junky and like it’s a dumping ground when you come home to 5 perfectly cared-for, non-abandoned cars chalked to all hell with WARNING notices taped to the windshield. It’s just an eyesore.

So, neighbours, can we talk this through? Can we find a way to work this out as neighbours without involving DPT? I should think a simple courtesy call is the least we can do this time of year.

Amen.

Photo: A demonstration of proper Bernal Heights parking-notification technique. Photo by Tucker Perry, via the Bernalwood group.