Rendering of the plans for 490 South Van Ness. Image courtesy Forum Design Architects.

In a packed Planning Commission agenda Thursday, two Mission addresses got some attention. The commission granted Pop’s Bar a full entertainment license. For the long-planned housing project at 490 South Van Ness, the commission voiced its approval, but voted to continue the issue for a few more weeks.

The housing project developed by J.C.N. Developers at the corner of 16th and South Van Ness would create 72 units of housing, 12 of which would be below-market-rate, at the former site of a gas station. The project has had several roadblocks, including soil contamination on the site, and its fair share of opponents. The commission’s decision came after over an hour of impassioned public testimony, with people speaking for and against the project.

Groups like Plaza 16 Coalition and the Red Stone Labor Temple Tenants Union, whose building would be adjacent to the development, oppose the project because they see it as luxury housing out of sync with the surrounding area. While several of the commissioners expressed sympathy towards those opposed to the project, all said they were leaning towards approving it.

Commissioner Dennis Richards explained that he looks at projects through several lenses, including whether existing residents are displaced and if it improves the livability of the neighborhood.

“I ask myself: does this project displace any tenants? Cumulatively, projects like this could,” said Richards, acknowledging the argument that high-end housing can affect the overall affordability of the surrounding neighborhood, “But ultimately, I think it’s a good project. It’s going to add to the character and livability of the neighborhood.”

As many proponents of the project pointed out, the current site of the project is a vacant lot that the projects sponsored had already improved by removing truckloads of contaminated soil.

The affordable units will be priced to be affordable for purchase for households making up to 90 percent of average median income (about $61,000 for a single person), an income bracket that opponents say is out of reach for most of the people in that corner of the Mission.

“I definitely agree with classification that the housing here is much more middle-class housing,” said commission president Cindy Wu. “But I think that’s a part of the spectrum that we need to address.”

Commissioner Christine Johnson also expressed appreciation of the developers’ inclusion of on-site affordable units.

“I appreciate this building has 16 percent inclusionary housing, when it’s so hard to find projects that have any on-site units, and this one does,” Johnson said. “The fact that we can get these units on-site is a good thing.”

The commission had some concerns about some of the design elements of the project, including some of the materials being used, the precise location of the building’s parking garage, and the exact mix of two- and one-bedrooms for the affordable units. While many of the members acknowledged that this plan has already been continued and delayed before, they said it could use just a little bit more time to be finalized. Before giving the final approval, they voted 6-to-1, with vice president Randy Fong dissenting, to hear the issue with more finalized plans once more on October 2nd.

Performance Plans for Pop’s

The Planning Commission also cast votes to determine the future of Pop’s Bar at 24th and York Street. The historic bar’s new owner, Michael Krouse, who also owns Madrone on Divisadero, applied for a permit to have a full entertainment license, meaning the bar could legally offer its patrons live bands and DJs. With some conditions, the commission unanimously approved the change of use.

“Pop’s Bar has been around for 79 years, and through 11 owners; our goal is to continue that tradition of a great neighborhood bar,” said Krouse, who bought the bar last fall. “We want to complement the district with a variety of music and entertainment options.”

The change of use was greeted with no opposing public commentary. Erick Arguello, of Calle 24, shared with the commission that he’s been working closely with Krouse, who has been responsive to most of the merchant association’s concerns.

“As a Latino Cultural District, we’ve talked about how they are accommodating us by playing once or twice a week Salsa, Cumbia, Reggaeton or other Latino music to connect with the existing community in the area,” Arguello said.

The bar’s live music program will operate until 10 p.m. and DJs until 2 a.m., its existing operating hours. Arguello said that Calle 24 is mostly supportive of granting the bar its full entertainment license, but hopes that they can find some sort of compromise about hours. The group of merchants hopes the bar will cease operations at midnight, to which Krouse noted that the bar can already operate until 2 a.m. with its existing liquor license.

The commission suggested that Krouse consider building in additional sound protection around the doors so exiting patrons wouldn’t release too much loud music onto the street. They approved the bar’s new license with the condition that he look into creating more sound protection and check back in to the commission with updates about the sound-proofing efforts.

Daniel Hirsch

Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top...

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19 Comments

  1. So the opponents of the Van Ness project would prefer that 12 affordable homes not be built, just so that 60 market-rate homes are also not built?

    In other words their envy towards those whose who are successful enough to afford such homes exceeds their compassion for the poorer neighbors of theirs who would otherwise have gotten those BMR units.

    Short-sighted, envious NIMBY’s are a major cause of SF’s housing affordability problems.

    1. They would rather have a vacant, contaminated lot than housing. These twisted fools have no idea that they’re their own worst enemy.

    2. They would rather have a vacant, contaminated lot than housing that we desperately need. These twisted fools have no idea that they’re their own worst enemy.

      1. Yes, either we do what the developer says or we want the worst of anything.

        I’d prefer to see a park on that site. We need more open space in this corner of the North Mission.

        If that is not possible, I’d like to see a 45′ apartment building there that reaffirms the neighborhood character and resembles most of the rest of the City.

        If that is not possible, then I’d like to see a 7 story 100% affordable housing building there.

        If the only choice is luxury market rate condos, then there are going have to be some compromises commensurate to the lost opportunity costs to the community that compromises down from a park to a condo.

        If six Planning Commissioners on this pro-development Planning Commissioner say that this project needs work, then it probably needs work, the developer’s proposal is too one-sided.

          1. There is a public process that is supposed to ensure that the language of the code is tempered with the promises of the Mission Area Plan. The Planning Department is unable to do what it takes to bring equity to the projects it recommends to the Commission.

  2. ‘The affordable units will be priced to be affordable for purchase for households making up to 90 percent of average median income (about $61,000 for a single person), an income bracket that opponents say is out of reach for most of the people in that corner of the Mission.’ So the affordable units would be luxury living for the neighborhood. $61,000 for a single, some families with two working people or one with two jobs still wouldn’t qualify. The area needs affordable ‘working class’ housing.

  3. Your ignorant comments add to the real state speculation on steroids happenin and destroying the Mission…. if development is to happen it must be equitable…do not delete my comment and allowed uninform haters to post only

  4. Your straw man arguments are tiresome.

    The groups opposing this project remain in favor of building affordable housing for the neighborhood’s residents. This project will meet little of that need.

    We are tired of subsidizing corporate welfare queens like twitter and then having those very subsidies we pay drive us out of the city. That same kind of subsidy should be applied to projects like this.

    San Francisco should not become any more of a playground for the rich than it already is. Many of these new luxury units do little to meet market demand as they only INCREASE demand as more rich people decide it’s a fun place to come party with their friends:

    http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_25549350/silicon-valleys-wealthy-scramble-san-franciscos-luxury-condos

    1. It’s not realistic to say you’d rather have “affordable” homes instead because there isn’t the money to build them. You might as well say you want free homes for everyone.

      What this project is represents a compromise i.e. that we get 12 affordable homes IF AND ONLY IF we pay for those from the profits of the 60 market-rate homes. The only subsidy is that of the developer who subsidizes the costs of the cheaper units from his own profits.

      That is how the world works. You encourage investment in the project and in return they give us some BMR units. The alternative is building nothing.

      Marcos’s park idea is equally idealistic and improbable. We need homes and investment, not charity and subsidies. And the area supports a higher building and density there because it is a block from BART and the scale of the street supports it.

  5. Keep it up NIMBY’s and only-affordable-housing-dreamers, you’re just making the value of my mission properties that much more precious and hence more valuable. And might as well pass prop G in november too (the 24% housing tax). That’ll lead to less turn over, and hence less sales of rental buildings, again increasing the value of existing bldgs. Keep it up, please!!!

  6. For the clueless idiots who protest every new market rate condo project as “luxury condos” for the rich, consider the fact that condos cost $700K because that is what it costs to build them in the first place. Mercy Housing is running into that reality when trying to build affordable housing:

    http://www.socketsite.com/archives/2014/09/cost-build-affordable-housing-sixth-street-690k-per-unit.html

    So, when you ask for more affordable housing, I would like to ask you all to also come up with a plan for the $700K per unit that it will cost to build. Either it comes out of taxes, subsidized by market rate units it the same project, or it will magically appear out of thin air just because you think earnestly believe that it is the only fair solution.

    $700K per unit cost of construction. Think *really* hard about that a bit before you speak.

    1. Exactly, BigV. No doubt the NIMBY’s and naysayers don’t have the means or income to worry too much about taxes anyway, so they are more than happy to advocate for higher taxes to subsidize people like them.

      In most places, and even most neighborhoods of SF, people have more to lose and don’t think in that self-serving and ultimately self-defeating way. But in the Mission there is probably still a majority of low-earners despite all the whines about gentrification. Hence the rather mindless calls for projects to be 100% affordable (i.e. paid for by someone else).

      Voting to spend other peoples’ money is their answer to everything. Confiscation by any other name.

  7. What is getting lost in the larger discussion here is an incredible shift from the Commission to Planning Staff to do 2 things: 1) Re-look at the Eastern Neighborhoods (Zoning) Plan that was adopted in 2009 when we were in a recession and before the real estate boom of the last several years and 16% inclusionary was thought to be adequate and 2,) More creative ways to create affordable housing. I suggested that we could create more affordable units (on the same square footage)if we didn’t track exactly the unit mix of the existing one and two bedroom units on a direct percentage basis. We need to get more creative here in the crisis that we are facing because the thinking that we have been operating under isn’t going to get us where we need to go. These 2 shifts of the Commission I have yet to find have received virtually no discussion yet they are extremely important. The Commission is implementing as best it can the existing zoning (law) on this project which needs a second look in my opinion as to its effectiveness given the current housing crisis.

    1. Dennis, I think you understand these issues better than Sugaya. That said, I disagree that the Eastern Neighborhoods plan needs to be revisited. It has already led to some very positive new investment in the area and the provision of many new homes.

      More generally we cannot do serious planning if we are changing the broad plans every few years according to market cycles. Planning is a long-term activity and not a series of band-aids that are purely reactive.

      It’s all very well saying that we should be more “creative” about building affordable housing but there is no getting around the fact that affordable housing is in fact very unaffordable to build because, unlike market-rate housing, it makes a loss from day one and always will. So the question is always “who pays?” and, in that context, the idea that developers will happily pay more and more is wide of the mark.

      A 16% setaside is very generous and it’s hard to see many developers going for a higher figure unless they are allowed to build higher or else pay a fee in lieu of building the BMR units itself, and thereby build more market-rate homes as well.

      My understanding is that you are new to the commission and I would recommend taking your time in formulating your views. It is probably only over an entire real estate market cycle that a coherent strategy can be credibly formed.

    2. Ken Rich said, that when compared to the Western SOMA Plan, Eastern Neighborhoods did not make e same commitment to pay attention to detail when it changed the rules and upzoned the Mission.

      We are seeing the consequences of that omission that playing out in designs that disrespect the existing built environment. I am not saying that everything has to be Edwardian/Victorian, rather that projects should not be allowed to shoot the finger to and moon the existing built environment.

      And then there are the issues of covering costs of city services and infrastructure. Prop 13 ensures that residential will not cover its costs of city services while the corrupt grip of developers, primary economic beneficiaries of these zoning changes, ensures that infrastructure costs will be not be covered by developers or new residents and will be shifted to existing residents as well.

      Used to be that balance and equity were liberal values. Under neoliberalism and libertarianism, equity and balance are now radical notions.

      1. Prop13 doesn’t say anything about covering costs of city services. It merely caps annual property tax increases for existing properties. New build is set at current valuations and is only capped thereafter.

        That is why despite a cap of 2% per year on increases, total property tax revenues have increased at an average of 7% a year, comfortably exceeding inflation since 1978.

        And if the city cannot get by with annual revenue increases that are higher than inflation, then we have a competence issue with the city (which should surprise nobody).

        Building higher for new projects is the easiest way for the city to accrue excess revenue. We have a spending problem and not a revenue problem.

  8. It’s well past time that San Francisco returns to “general elections” vs “district elections” in order to give San Francisco competent and legitimate supervisorial representatives. As is…. SF has a system that promotes and allows for the election of special interests and anti-business, anti-reality – simply “non-general interest” candidates. San Francisco can’t afford a “tax and spend” government any longer. It’s killing this city!

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