1050 Valencia Condo Debate Creates Unlikely Foes

Board of Appeals President Chris Hwang (left) and Arcelia Hurtado study new documents in the 1050 Valencia hearing on January 15.

Board of Appeals President Chris Hwang (left) and Arcelia Hurtado study new documents in the 1050 Valencia hearing on January 15.

En Español.

The property owner of the corner of Valencia and Hill Streets plans to demolish this building built in 1970 and replace it with a five-story mixed-use development. Photo by Greta Mart.

The current building at 1050 Valencia was originally a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Photo by Greta Mart.

The 1050 Valencia condo debate hit an interesting crossroads on Wednesday night, dividing two San Francisco factions whose interests oftentimes align. On one side of the debate, there are those against modern condos changing the historic character of a neighborhood. On the other side, there are those pushing for affordable housing.

And to further complicate things — the affordable housing advocates have allied with a condo developer.

All possible because of the general quirks of San Francisco politics — and a very specific quirk in San Francisco affordable housing law.

In December, the San Francisco Board of Appeals ruled that the condo building that will be built next to the Marsh Theater (currently Sugoi Sushi in a building that used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken) had to decrease its height from five to four floors. Yet, therein lies the complication. As the building is currently designed, the change would reduce the amount of units to nine, which means the developer would no longer be required to build affordable housing on site, according to the city’s own law. Only developments with 10 units or more have to abide by the law that — at the time the condos were approved — required developers to include 15 percent affordable units onsite. (That has since been reduced to 12 percent).

Therefore, 1050 Valencia would be a shorter building — but a completely market-rate one.

“With your vote to reduce units, has housing affordability been improved? No,” said Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, a nonprofit that endorsed the 1050 Valencia condo six years ago. “If we want housing affordability to improve in San Francisco, we need hundreds of 1050 Valencia’s.”

Yet a few of the tall condo opponents said the height vs. affordable housing debate was a false choice. They suggested that the developer design a denser project with more units per floor.

Planning Department Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez testified that Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and Scott Wiener submitted letters against the height reduction.

Supervisor Wiener also penned a sharply-worded op-ed published in the Chronicle this week: “Welcome to housing policy in San Francisco: a policy based not so much on our city’s dire housing needs but on who can turn out the most people at a public hearing. This case-by-case decision-making process undermines all forms of housing, both affordable and market rate. Indeed, affordable housing projects are much less able to weather the time, cost and energy required to move a project through San Francisco’s approval gantlet…We can’t keep saying we want to save the forest, while continuing to chop down trees.”

That wasn’t the only argument against the Board of Appeals’ December ruling. In his testimony to the board, Andrew Junius, attorney for the developer Mark Rutherford, argued that the board’s December decision violated the California Housing Accountability Act. That law says projects like 1050 Valencia could only be significantly altered by a local agency if they have “adverse impact on public health and safety.”

“Where is there evidence that says a five-story building would be any less safe than a four-story one?” Junius said.

Board members said they wished to hear more on the impact and legality of taking off one of the proposed building’s floors — postponing a final vote on the project until next month.

“I’m in full support of the draft’s findings,” said Commissioner Arcelia Hurtado of the resolution that included lowering the building’s height. “But there’s a question in mind how the government code applies here.”

The taller, five-story condo had already been approved by the Planning Department when the neighborhood groups appealed the project, first to the Board of Supervisors, which overturned the appeal, then to the Board of Appeals. This is the second time in recent months that the Board of Appeals’ vote has hampered a large Mission District project that had already been approved at the Planning Department. In October, the board also granted an appeal to opponents of a Jack Spade store that had plans to move into 16th Street. The company abandoned its plans after the board’s decision.

Wednesday night’s Board of Appeals hearing had been slated to finalize the board’s decision on 1050 Valencia from last month. In addition to the height decrease, the board imposed various conditions to lessen the sound impact on the Marsh Theater. Construction would have to stop at 4:00 in the afternoon, and the completed building would have to include a sound-proof wall between the project’s southern wall and the Marsh Theater, so performances aren’t disturbed. Prospective residents would also have to sign a disclosure agreement acknowledging they are moving next door to a live performance venue.

During public commentary, 21 speakers — primarily Marsh artists and supporters — urged the board to adopt the conditions it created for the 1050 Valencia project in December. The majority of the public testimony focused on the noise.

“The Marsh is more than just a theater, it’s a community space,” said artist and teacher Echo Brown. “Our job is to protect that space. If you allow noise [from the construction] to get in the way of what we do, you’re not respecting the integrity of what we do in that space.”

The Marsh supporters suggested a denser, yet shorter building that would still include affordable housing.

Attorney Stephen Williams represents the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association, one of the main groups arguing that the building would clash with the historic character of the area’s Victorian houses. He told Mission Local he believes Wiener’s public criticism of the Board of Appeals is inappropriately interfering with another city body.

“What kind of neighborhood supervisor supports an out-of-town, for-profit developer over his own constituents?” Williams said.

The Board of Appeals will be back on February 26 to once again vote on the plan.

Update: To see the full draft of the finding and resolutions the Board of Appeals will be debating in February, click here.

 

60 Comments

  1. marcos

    The affordable housing mafia going to bat for market rate developers to screw neighbors all for a crumb or two of affordable housing. This is how corporate dominated politics divide and conquer, how “our progressive allies” are in bed with our corporate opponents, saboteurs behind enemy lines.

    • Manish

      What would be better? A 9 unit fully market rate condo building or adding 3 units to that, where 2 would be BMR and 1 would be market rate. The extra floor is an effectively 66% affordable addition.

    • John

      All that shows that you are in the NIMBY camp rather than the affordable housing camp.

      What this article presents as something odd and new is really business as usual i.e. different factions of the progressive movement fighting each other.

      I side with the housing folks here. To deny affordable housing out of an ideological objection to building any market-rate housing is just spite.

      • sjg

        I agree with John (never thought I would say that). Denying opportunities to add affordable units to new projects strikes me as selfish and short sighted.

        • marcos

          One extra person gets housed to 8 luxury units and the east sidewalk of Valencia never sees the sun after 3PM ever again.Double the height to 8 stories, 50% affordable and we can talk.

          • John

            Easy for you to say when you are not the person losing that home, as you sit pretty in your appreciating condo.

          • marcos

            Two households get housed or a “vibrant” streetscape is consigned to perpetual shade. Make that 20 households getting housed and the trade off becomes more viable. Like you give a flying fuck about anyone who’d live in the BMR units.

          • John

            Evidently I give more of a “fuck” than you, since I want to see these affordable units built and you do not.

      • Valenchia

        All the neighbors are asking is that the City honor its commitment in the eastern neighborhoods plan that new buildings will be compatible with the neighborhood.

        It is unfortunate that the pro-development people are unable to engage in a dialogue and instead resort to the lame insult “NIMBY — which they obviously don’t even understand what it means.

        If you can’t discuss an issue without resorting to insults, then your position is probably pretty weak.

        • John

          But NIMBY’ism is exact;y what is happening here. People say they want to see more new homes just not on their block.

          The height of this building is in line with many others on Valencia and Mission, and transit-rich arteries like that are zoned for higher densities.

  2. bp

    ““What kind of neighborhood supervisor supports an out-of-town, for-profit developer over his own constituents?” said Williams.”

    Why, the kind that likes to see that out-of-town, for-profit developer build more of the housing that his constituents badly need, of course. The Liberty Hill folks are just trying to keep their own property values inflated, at the expense of other residents.

    There’s nothing that odd about the alliance between affordable housing advocates and developers – or at least there shouldn’t be. SF needs more housing, period. Refusing to build it simply because of some conviction that all those who build it are OMG EVIL is irrational and ridiculous.

    • two beers

      Any new condo-loft project will probably raise Liberty Hill property values.

      The Liberty Hill folks aren’t trying to maintain their property values, they’re trying to protect the character of their acknowledged historic district. What’s the point of declaring historic districts as such if doing so does nothing to preserve their historic character?

      • bp

        LOL, “preserve their historic character”. Hilarious! So is their effort to keep the existing beautiful, historic old KFC part of maintaining that? Or would they merely be satisfied with killing off the two BMR units this building was going to contain, as they already have?

        • John

          bp, actually twobeers is correct here. When an area is designated “historic” that maans that it should all be preserved “as is”. It doesn’t mean that only some parts of it are to be preserved.

          It’s really a “warts and all” designation. If there were a WalMart in the middle of an area and that area was then designated “historic” then that would not mean that the WalMart must go.

          I’m not saying that makes sense. Only that is how it is defined.

          • bp

            A historic district can still have development if the neighborhood and the city wills it so – lesser development is still poised to happen here anyways, in spite of it. And no one can plausibly claim that the neighbors’ objections has anything to do with the cultural value of an old fast food location.

        • Valenchia

          bp: the liberty hill folks have repeatedly said that they support new development it just needs to be in character — as City guideline require. No on wants to preserve the KFC building — if that is what you think you are not paying attention.

          • marcos

            The developer booster framing boils down to: Either you do what the developers say or you 1) oppose all new development, 2) invite a host of problems, 3) are a NIMBY or 4) you oppose affordable housing.

            Ignore it.

          • John

            You are missing a convincing argument for never building any new homes.

            Absent that, you’re a kneejerk NIMBY. Try developing a coherent rationale for your “freeze everything in time” ideology.

            The politics of nothing won’t get you far here or anywhere else.

      • poor.ass.millionaire

        I think they should go one step further; let’s brink the kernel back!

        • nutrisystem

          the Windows NT kernal?

        • poor.ass.millionaire

          Kernel = KFC. Since a historic district, that means what was there is frozen in history forever. And that means bringing back the kernel! Bonus points for one of those giant KFC chicken bucket logo things.

          • marcos

            Colonel.

          • nutrisystem

            This is a fucking awesome idea: a “Frozen in time” KFC, complete with animatronic figures in period clothing and smell-generator circuitry, would constitute a lobby-art installation for the new condos! This piece would be visible from the street behind large glass windows (as if the KFC had no walls), and would soon be world famous.

            It would be paid for by the city art fund ($10 million less for the opera, boo fuckin hoo – a 5% cut)

            Since the building would have to be a little higher, to mitigate the neighborhood impact, its façade would be one of those digital camouflage screens I’ve seen described in Popular Mechanics whereby the screen (composed of billions of individually addressable RGB LEDs) shows a picture of what’s behind the building so the building looks invisible.

          • nutrisystem

            DISCLAIMER:
            The digital camouflage screen only works perfectly from one viewpoint. There would be a parklet at this spot on opposite side of Valencia.

  3. sfreality

    This is why no one can build anything new in this town. Think of all the money going to pay taxes, mortgage payments, construction loan origination, consultants, architects and structural engineers and permit fees to go to an appeal hearing and re-litigate the entire project. One must have very deep pockets. And then you wonder why you need $1,000 a sqft to make a profit. Supervisor Wiener has it right in his op ed. People we have to build up, there is no more land to build on. My next project is going to be in Oakland.

    • two beers

      Yeah, good point: no one’s building _anything_ new in this town!! (rolls eyes)

      Don’t be a clown: we’re in the midst of one of the greatest building manias in history, and you have the nerve to claim that “no one can build anything new in this town.” I don’t know what “reality” you live in, but it has no relation to that which most people live in.

      • John

        Are you suggesting that we are building too many new homes?

      • sfreality

        Yes we are in the midst of a building boom. Most of the current building getting built were approved years ago but could not get financed until the last 2 years. The point is you follow the laws, submit your project, you are approved then neighbors or some other forces appeal the decision of the planning commision which prolongs the development cycle. This is why I agree with Winer’s Oped. Its taken me 4 months to get a simple remodel through DBI, and I would like to add a 3rd unit but I can’t afford to submit those plans until I complete this remodel and refinance. That is the reality that I am living in. I could be making more housing in the city but I am beat back every step of the way. Everytime you go to DBI, or speak with an inspector the story or requirements change based on how that individual is interpreting the building code. Why does the guy in twin peaks submit an application with a build cost of 5k when its obvious its a 500k job, but yet my permit application cost thousands more. Makes no sense.

        • two beers

          Yes, SF has a lot of building restrictions, requirements, and red tape; desirable cities generally do. Without all those codes, SF would look like that libertarian paradise Parump, NV, and your property would be worth a fraction of what it is now. Plus, add in the obvious fire and earthquake issues, and you should be glad that SF building is so tightly regulated.

          Yes, SF is expensive to build in; cities with expensive RE typically have higher operational costs, and those permit fees are your way of contributing to the maintenance of your freely chosen city.

          I was in construction in the ’90s, so I wont argue that the building dept isn’t corrupt and difficult to deal with; SF is hardy alone in this regard.

          • John

            It’s Pahrump, NV. I’ve been there and I’d agree it’s a dump.

            However, focusing purely on affordability rather than aesthetics (since the latter is subjective) then globally there is a near perfect correlation between the cost of housing and the strictness of the land use and planning regulations.

            And that is essentially what the ML article is highlighting here. You can have NIMBY’ism or you can have affordable housing, but you cannot have both in the same place or at the same time.

  4. Jose G.

    What difference does it make where the builder is from? Appellant Alicia Gamez’s attorney Steven William’s reliance on inconsequential and erroneous minutia can only get him so far; now he’s up against California law-a subject he seems to be sadly unfamiliar with. His response to the developer’s Housing Accountability Act challenge was something along the lines of “that’s from some case in Southern California”, as if the law doesn’t apply up here. And what’s with the Weiner hating. According to the article, supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim and Mar all urged the Board to allow the height and reinstate the affordable units. These were the same supervisors who voted against the project at the CEQA hearing. The real losers are, once again, the taxpayers and people looking for a place to live. This case could have been wrapped up last night, if the Board had done its homework-but they were just as clueless as Williams. Arcelia Hurtado, Board member, attorney and personal friend of appellant Gamez, couldn’t get her mind around the concept of the law prohibiting the bigoted denial of a property owner’s right to build affordable housing (that’s her, pictured above, looking flummoxed), so she punted for yet another continuance-on your dime. All in all, this is a win for The Marsh and the Hill St millionaires who are bankrolling Gamez. Their goal has always been to stall the project and make it as expensive to build as possible. House hunters across the City, you pay the price.

  5. Jose G.

    What difference does it make where the builder is from? Appellant Alicia Gamez’s attorney Steven William’s reliance on inconsequential and erroneous minutia can only get him so far; now he’s up against California law-a subject he seems to be sadly unfamiliar with. His response to the developer’s Housing Accountability Act challenge was something along the lines of “that’s from some case in Southern California”, as if the law doesn’t apply up here. And what’s with the Weiner hating. According to the article, supervisors Avalos, Campos, Kim and Mar all urged the Board to allow the height and reinstate the affordable units. These were the same supervisors who voted against the project at the CEQA hearing. The real losers are, once again, the taxpayers and people looking for a place to live. This case could have been wrapped up last night, if the Board had done its homework-but they were just as clueless as Williams. Arcelia Hurtado, Board member, attorney and personal friend of appellant Gamez, couldn’t get her mind around the concept of the law prohibiting the bigoted denial of a property owner’s right to build affordable housing (that’s her, pictured above, looking flummoxed), so she punted for yet another continuance-on your dime. All in all, this is a win for The Marsh and the Hill St millionaires who are bankrolling Gamez. Their goal has always been to stall the project and make it as expensive to build as possible. House hunters across the City-you pay the price.

  6. Bill

    My summary:

    1. Five stories is too high for the block. Live or work near there and you will agree.
    2. Build slightly smaller units and you can still have affordable housing units in a four-story building.
    3. Nothing we can do will bring that awesome KFC smell back to the block.

    • sfreality

      The issue is this is a complete redesign of what was proposed and already approved once before. Who pays for the redesign? The city? the people who appealed? So the hundreds of thousands spent on the plans will have to be spent again. So lets make the units small so I can then have even smaller below market housing.

    • two beers

      Are these “affordable” housing units? I was under the impression they were to be BMR.

      “BMR” is not the same thing as “affordable”.

      • John

        I’ll also admit to using the two terms interchangeable.

        If they are different, isn’t it only because BMR has a strict definition, set by the FHA? While the word “affordable” is highly subjective?

        For instance, I could argue that every housing unit in SF must be affordable because the vacancy rate is near zero.

        SF homes are affordable to enough people to ensure they are all bought or rented.

        • two beers

          More sophistry from you John. You know exactly what I and the general use of the intend,, but thank you for the equivocation.

      • JeffreyY

        What do you mean by “affordable”? The inclusionary housing program is defined at http://www.sf-moh.org/index.aspx?page=263 and uses all three terms pretty much interchangeably, but I’d be happy to try to use a different definition if you give one.

        • John

          Agreed, two beers is being a little precious and self-serving here.

          “Affordable” is too vague a term to be useful.

    • JeffreyY

      So, I do live near there, and I’ve walked down Valencia, and the 5-story buildings at 20th & Valencia and 19th & Valencia don’t look out of place or imposing. I don’t see any reason to think a building of the same size at Hill would be any worse.

  7. missionnite

    Affordable units from those condo’s are not really affordable to anyone. That has been the problem.
    Its not truly affordable.

    • wilbur mcgillicutty

      One VERY IMPORTANT POINT. The BOA’s decision did not remove ANY units. The Board simply made the envelope smaller to meet neighborhood character. The developer could still build 12 units and he could build as much affordable housing as he wishes. The false dichotomy is just BS on the part of people like Wiener and the developers he works for…the number of units was not mandated and the developers use the affordable housing hook to claim a need for absolute max on every project. Plenty of four story buildings supply affordable housing.

      • JeffreyY

        The architect mentioned that the existing units are around 600 sq ft on average, while to fit 12 units into one less floor would make the units 300-400 sq ft. (I assume it doesn’t go down linearly because of walkways.) Now that’s fine, but then they could fit an extra 4 units into the fifth floor, making it a 16-unit building, and getting back the second inclusionary unit.

        IIRC, there are also some minimum sizes on units or Supervisor Wiener wouldn’t have had trouble approving micro-units, so it might *not* be possible to squeeze 12 units into 4 floors.

  8. nutrisystem

    I encourage everyone to take a walk around the new Mission Bay neighborhood.

    Here was a NEW NEIGHBORHOOD, a chance to start fresh. It wasn’t anyone’s backyard, so there was no NIMBYism. The city could have done/enabled any and all these things:

    a) Huge amount of nice, high-density,close-to-core, close-to-transit housing.

    b) High density, diverse, interesting street-level activity – stores, restaurants,piazzas, foot traffic – like Manhattan by the Bay.

    c) Tons of lab and office space.

    d) Underground services (pre-built) like parking, trolleys, big-box retail.

    But what’s been actually done is a disgraceful waste: a spread-out suburban style office park, some low/mid density housing, and desolate street-level atmosphere.

    Who is in charge of planning this? They should be tarred and feathered.

    MISSION BAY is where the big condos belong, not Valencia street. Slick developers and their slow-witted collaborators in City Hall need to leave the existing neighborhood’s “feel” alone, and respect established height characteristics of these neighborhoods.

    Developers had a unique chance in Mission Bay to create wealth for themselves while creating a great new neighborhood – and they blew it.

    • backtotheburbs

      they definitely blew it, but sadly the wealth creation was unaffected I’m afraid…

    • marcos

      +1. If the Planning Department and SPUR could plan for Mission Bay and the Market Octavia/Eastern Neighborhoods plans with them turning out as unmitigated unbalanced disasters for the neighborhoods and the City, then these people need to be opposed vigorously at every turn.

      King Street has every treatment that the “livability” cult says will result in a “livable” streetscape and it is inhospitible. UC Berkeley grad students did a study on wind and streetscape comfort along that corridor about 18 months ago, sure would like to see their findings.

    • John

      I like Mission Bay but, yes, they should have gone big and high there, just like in SOMA.

      • marcos

        Right, they could have made Mission Bay and King Street even more hostile to residents and visitors had they occluded the sun and funneled the wind with greater height and bulk.

        • John

          Tourists flock to places like Hong Kong and Manhattan for the skyline and the vistas.

          If you do not like high-rises then you must not like almost all US cities, and modern cities worldwide.

          You build high or you build expensive. Evidently you take the NIMBY perspective, as previously noted.

        • zig

          When it comes to buildings taller and thinner can be better at street level than bulky

          • John

            Yes, the Rincom Hill towers are tall and yet slender. They sit well in that area and, far from taking away a view, they create one.

            I’d like to see more tall, slender residential towers in the SE of the city.

    • zig

      It is not the developers per say. The parcels assembled were large requiring large developments. Then the neighbors in P Hill forced height restrictions because of views so you get big bulky buildings. The best outcome in this area would have been tall modern thinner mid-rises like you see in Vancouver. Certainly a different sort of area not for everyone but it could have been great but we can’t do stuff lie that in SF because we just overplan everything to the point of mediocrity.

    • zig

      I don’t think the condo complex in question is any bigger than many the area build in 1920-1930

  9. metr0man

    That’s because some people figured out the inherent contradiction between going apesh-t at people making 100k wanting to live in SF and opposing the very thing that would help keep the rents in line: housing.

  10. WhyIsThisAControversy?

    It’s too big for the site. They could turn one of the floors into an orphanage–and it would still be a story too tall. That streetscape demands a four-floor max. Look at every other building there.

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