Neighbors of Mission District Affordable Housing Cry “Too Tall!”

The 1296 Shotwell St. site as seen from the corner of Shotwell and Cesar Chavez streets. Photo courtesy of the Mission Economic Development Agency and Herman Coliver Locus Architecture.

Neighbors of a new affordable housing project were adamant at a community meeting on Saturday morning: They oppose a nine-story senior building coming to Shotwell Street near Cesar Chavez Street because its height will create wind tunnels, block sunlight, and “bring downtown to the Mission.”

Bernal Heights residents were particularly vocal about the building, which will be the tallest in the area, saying the development would obstruct their skyline views.

“I have a beautiful view of the cityscape and the cityscape is going to be gone and I don’t want that,” said Joelle Chartier, a Bernal Heights resident. Chartier called the project “selfish, insane, and out of character” and said the city should consider lowering the number of units and look elsewhere to build up.

“Maybe it’s not 96 units. There are so many open spaces in the city, why do we have to raise the Mission?” she said.

The view of 1296 Shotwell St. from Bernal Heights. Photo courtesy of the Mission Economic Development Agency and Herman Coliver Locus Architecture.

The view of 1296 Shotwell St. from Bernal Heights. Photo courtesy of the Mission Economic Development Agency and Herman Coliver Locus Architecture.

Whitney Jones, the director of housing development with one of the non-profit developers of the project Chinatown Development Community Center, countered by saying there was no such abundance of parcels open for affordable housing citywide.

Parking lots and gas stations could host more housing, Jones said, but many such sites are privately owned and parcels that are owned by the city and shovel-ready for new development are rare, he said.

“That’s not the universe we’re dealing with,” he said.

The project at 1296 Shotwell St. between Cesar Chavez and 26th streets would offer 95 affordable units — plus one unit for an on-site property manager — to seniors making up to 50 percent of area median income, which is $37,700 for a one-person household. Because the parcel is currently capped at 65 feet, project sponsors will be seeking a legislative workaround that would single out the parcel for a height increase to 85 feet.

Though there are taller buildings in the Mission District, the Shotwell Street project lies right between the hillside homes of Bernal Heights and their views of the city.

“I think you guys have a real height problem,” said Todd Lappin, an 11-year homeowner in Bernal Heights and founder of the neighborhood blog Bernalwood.

Lappin — who has dubbed the project the “Great Wall on Shotwell” — said he was not concerned about his views per se but did have problems with the design of the building. A windowless facade faces Bernal Heights, which Lappin said was disrespectful to the project’s neighbors.

“I would hope you could consider some options so Bernal Heights neighbors don’t have to stare at an 85-foot slab,” he said. Project sponsors have promised to commission a mural for the side facing Bernal, though that did little to assuage resident concerns.

Sponsors also worked hard to convince concerned residents that the loss of height would mean a loss of potential senior residents.

Just 28 of the project’s units are studios for singles, and the remaining 67 are one-bedrooms meant for senior couples or those with caretakers. Because each floor can host 12-13 units, each story lost translates to a dozen senior families without a place in the Mission District.

That meant little to some opponents.

“I want to house seniors, but the Mission is going through a crisis,” said Marie Sorenson, a member of the neighborhood association Calle 24. If the project is allowed to go above its height limit, it would start a rush by private developers to upzone the Mission District, she said, causing the area to “lose its personality” in the face of high-rise development.

“We don’t want the Mission to be downtown. We don’t want wind tunnels. We want sunlight in our neighborhoods,” she said.

Not all were opposed to the project. Fran Taylor, a transit advocate with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said she usually agreed with her friends in Calle 24 but could not understand the opposition to a fully affordable housing site.

“The height doesn’t bother me. I don’t think this is going to set a precedent and turn us into SoMa,” she said. “I think one person’s slightly impeded view is less important than a building for seniors.”

Others voiced non-height concerns, like the lack of parking — the site will create just four street parking spots — and the market-rate development by development giant Lennar Corporation to be built next door. Residents at a community meeting earlier in the year voiced hopes that the Lennar development — dubbed the “Titanic Mess on South Van Ness” — could merge with the affordable one and repeated that stance on Saturday.

The Shotwell Street project will be built by a pair of non-profit affordable housing developers: the Mission Economic Development Agency and Chinatown Community Development Center. The legislative height exception for the site would require approval by the Board of Supervisors, said Jones, and may have to go before the Planning Commission.

It is one of two affordable projects to be built by the non-profit pair in the Mission District — the other a 101-unit complex at 17th and Folsom — and if successful would be a boon for MEDA, which is a newcomer to the affordable housing game.

Construction is scheduled to begin by early 2018, and residents will move in by early 2020.

Disclosure: Mission Local is a commercial tenant of the Mission Economic Development Agency at their Plaza Adelante building.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Todd Lapin was a 25-year homeowner in Bernal Heights. He has owned a home in Bernal Heights for 11 years and was previously a renter in the Mission District for 14 years.

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41 Comments

  1. Ed Clarke

    “Selfish, insane, and out of character” is a good way to describe the behavior of bougie home owners who think they’re liberals when they oppose desperately needed affordable housing because they don’t like the way it looks.

    • Easy to say when it’s not your window, and when it’s not your home’s property value that’s being effected. Funny how it’s only “NIMBY’s!” until it’s actually your back yard being talked about. No one is saying “no” to affordable housing. They are saying “no” to a view-blocking, sun-blocking, wind-accelerating tower, and to having their windows suddenly opening out to a slab of concrete. Can you honestly say that you’d feel differently if you were in their shoes?

      • Erica

        I imagine I would feel differently about many, many things if I had the extraordinary good fortune of owning a home with killer views in one of the most expensive places on Earth, while paying miniscule property taxes on a fraction of its value thanks to Prop 13.

        But I’d hope those feelings would include a tiny shred of compassion for the vast majority of my fellow Bay Area residents who can’t afford the Millionaires’ District that the Mission is becoming, and perhaps a wee bit of perspective on how spectacularly lucky I was, such that even with a blocked view I’d still be doing better than 99.9999% of humanity.

        And maybe, just maybe, I’d suck it up and accept that the Bay is in a housing CRISIS with people being displaced right and left from their homes, and I might make a small personal sacrifice for the greater good if I still wanted to call myself a liberal with a straight face.

      • Victoria Fierce

        yo I’m saddled with a lot of debt and don’t have a whole lot of things to my name so I don’t actually care about your property value, I just want a roof over my head

      • Chad

        Yes, I can. Because unlike many people in SF, I don’t live in a city and expect it to feel like a suburb. Go somewhere else if you want low-density crap – like Los Angeles.

        • Chad

          BTW, I have a subway station being built right across the street from my apartment. I’ve been nothing but supportive of it even though it’s “in my backyard.” More public transit is good for the city and will in turn support more housing.

      • John Zagg

        Your property value will be effected. It will go up. You’re a fool if you think the value of your property will go down. That’s the usual argument home owners grab for because they think it has the most impact on stopping something. Games people play. Hahaha

      • Hunter

        Some of us have compassion and empathy for the huge portion of SF that is being priced out and want MORE building in our backyards because we understand that it will help bring down rents and house people who are at risk. People like those quoted above are saying NO to affordable housing if it blocks their views—which they have no personal right to, regardless of whether they own or rent. What should be a universal right is housing—for the poor, disabled, elderly, etc.

      • Mathieson

        Actually they are saying no to affordable housing, literally, in this case.

        “Can you honestly say that you’d feel differently if you were in their shoes?” – I’m in NYC, but yeah. Getting priced out of yet another neighborhood is a much larger concern to me than my view.

    • Ed

      Well said. In light of Latinos getting priced out of our homes and treated like second-class citizens in our own neighborhoods, I don’t feel an ounce of pity for rich people losing their “views”. You want views, move out to the Marina or the Sunset; the Mission belongs to the rest of us.

      • Georgio

        And who did Latinos push out?

        “In the decades after the Gold Rush, the town of San Francisco quickly expanded, and the Mission lands were developed and subdivided into housing plots for working-class immigrants, largely German, Irish, and Italian…”

    • Alex

      Agreed. This is desperately needed and San Francisco can no longer play stereotypical west coast city with low buildings and sunny streets. If we want these prices to go down any time soon we need to build up. Every neighborhood is coming up with the same excuse, loss of views, it feels out of character, and it will bring more development to the area. Having BART going down mission street, we need to build as much housing in this area as possible because the public transportation infrastructure is already in place. If you want to keep your views, move somewhere else. FYI: The skyline is also getting taller so you can see it from more places through out the city.

  2. Wow the way this came out Chartier sounds like a children’s show supervillain. Wanting to oppose providing seniors housing for petty reasons. Next you’d expect her to say something like “Why don’t the seniors just move to Tracy, there is plenty of housing in Tracy”, out of touch and petty.

    I don’t know if that is deliberate, or if that is really how she comes off, but starting the article like that really sticks out.

  3. Ian Smith

    Once again Calle 24 outs itself as being anti-development. Their criticisms of projects always change (not enough affordable housing, or when there is affordable housing, there is too much!) because if they stuck to one narrative they would be outed for what they are. “We got ours, lets knock down the ladder behind us and make sure no one else gets that same opportunity.”

    A group that wants to make sure nothing ever changes is called conservative, not progressive.

    • Erick Arguello

      Call 24 Latino Cultural District Council is in support of the project.

      • Ian Smith

        “I want to house seniors, but the Mission is going through a crisis,” said Marie Sorenson, a member of the neighborhood association Calle 24. If the project is allowed to go above its height limit, it would start a rush by private developers to upzone the Mission District, she said, causing the area to “lose its personality” in the face of high-rise development.”

        And

        “Fran Taylor, a transit advocate with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said she usually agreed with her friends in Calle 24 but could not understand the opposition to a fully affordable housing site.”

      • Ian Smith

        Can you link to an article or the Calle 24 website that states that they support 1296 Shotwell as it is designed now? I’d love to see local support for this, but so far all I have heard is Calle 24 members opposed.

        • Erick Arguello

          We have been working with the community on the design. The design is coming from the community level up and is ongoing. It was one of our members who expressed her thoughts, but does not represent the entire organization or our position. Not to sure where our friend Fran got that info from. We support all 100 percent affordable projects.

        • Erick Arguello

          The article reads a member of Calle 24. She expressed her thoughts. Our position is always in support of 100 percent affordable. I’ve emailed Fran to clear up that confusion also.

  4. M

    So they want nothing at all, then? You can’t have it both ways. If you want views, move to the Outer Mission or Sunset/Richmond. You scream for affordable housing all fucking day, but then you scream “too tall”? Pick your battles or shut the fuck up.

  5. Barak Jolish

    But the article implies that Calle 24 opposes the project as well. Is this an official position?

    • Erick Arguello

      Calle 24 Latino Cultural District is in support of the project. Some of our members have concerns with its height.

  6. Greg T

    As a homeowner on 26th St, I say build it! If we can’t build a 100% affordable building 9 stories tall a block from Chavez and 3 blocks from a Bart stop, we will never get out of the housing crisis. I say welcome to our new senior neighbors.

  7. Ben

    Are you fucking kidding me? 9 stories is too tall.

    • Victoria Fierce

      I think you misspelled “short”. Common typo. The keys are right next to each other. Its an easy mistake, just like stopping development of housing because of intense personal need to control the aesthetics of the house of someone who doesn’t even live here yet oops wait no its not

  8. Jessica Redford

    This project will block my view, but I say YIMBY! Far more importent than my own personal cityscape is improving conditions for the most underserved and vulnerable inhabitants of our city. So disappointed in my Bernal neighbors.

    • Chad

      Whatever you’re losing in your personal view, you’ll gain in a denser, more dynamic, walkable, diverse, safer, sustainable, and more lively environment, which is what a city SHOULD be. If you want low-density, single-use zoning, you can find that in the other 95% of the country. The “views” argument is totally arbitrary and petty, and pales in comparison to the real tangible, measurable benefits afforded by projects like these.

  9. Chris the West Coast Southerner

    You know who is actually against the poor, seniors, and non-whites in this town? All of these so-called “liberals” who keep paying them lip service while spouting off ridiculous NIMBY opposition like this to solid projects like this… if I hear Campos or one more of his cronies try to blame techies for this problem when the REAL culprits are entrenched NIMBYs, I will seriously punch them… those who claim to care about the poor, seniors, and those of color in this town need to start pointing the fingers at the ACTUAL source of the problem – these NIMBYs who manipulate ridiculously onerous and restrictive zoning codes to their advantage. This is a 7 mile x 7 mile city – we MUST have density to accommodate, especially for our most vulnerable. If you don’t get that and still claim you care about these people, you’re lying to yourself and everyone else.

  10. Linda B

    Sounds like the writer of this article was cherry picking quotes in order to make people fit his predetermined article format. Insert carefully edited quote that makes neighbor sound like the ultimate NIMBY here. Insert quote opposing opposition here (extra bonus points that it’s from a bicycle advocate!). Sit back and watch as the internet gripes and swears and name calls in response. This shows the worst of journalism, and the commenters.

    The fact is that the building, as proposed, is ugly and too tall, and the developer knows this. These plans always put forth the worst case scenario so people can push back, then the inevitable “concessions” to local input look generous.

    It’s ludicrous to present this project as the hail Mary that will solve the housing crisis. It’s one building, people, and whether its six stories or 15, it’s not going to fix the greater problem. What it will do, however, is set the tone for future development that could actually help housing problems. A corridor of nine-plus story buildings down Cesar Chavez might ease the crunch, but it would be hideous and not where anyone would actually want to live (either in it or near it)

    Opposing this project is not about one person’s view, but the character of an entire neighborhood. I’m pretty sure that’s what the person quoted in this article meant by “selfish, insane and out of character.” Yes, she mentioned her view, but in the context of the greater cityscape. But that nuance won’t fit the agenda here, so commenters, feel free to go ahead and show your thoughtful true colors by just venting all your bile on her and anyone else who disagrees with the 85 foot tall design.

    • Victoria Fierce

      I’m 100% certain that the folks being priced out of the mission due to a lack of supply will greatly appreciate your battle to preserve their neighborhood’s character from the vantage point of their rear view mirror as they drive away. bless u

    • Ian Smith

      “It’s one building, people, and whether its six stories or 15, it’s not going to fix the greater problem.”

      And cutting 25 units from the building will also not solve the housing crisis. But one is a step in the right direction (more housing) and one is a step in the wrong direction (Less housing).

      “A corridor of nine-plus story buildings down Cesar Chavez might ease the crunch, but it would be hideous and not where anyone would actually want to live (either in it or near it)”

      You are kidding right. There was a guy who lived in a box in the sunset. A box in the living room. Of course someone will live there. People are doubling up in rooms (not romantically). Maybe YOU wouldn’t want to live there but I bet other people would. In fact, I bet if you opened a waiting list today it would be full tomorrow.

      “Opposing this project is not about one person’s view, but the character of an entire neighborhood. ”

      It’s a large housing complex 3 blocks from a transit center. What did you think would happen when you moved less than a mile from Bart and on-ramps to the two freeways that serve SF?

    • Greg T

      Linda — You’re really contradicting yourself. You’re correct that it’s only one building. But this one building will not lead to a “corridor of nine-plus story buildings”. Development sites become available over periods of decades. Most of the land around this project already has buildings between 2-6 stories that aren’t going anywhere. The vast, vast majority of those buildings will likely still be the same size 30, 50, 80 years from now. When a site becomes available for development, it’s in all our best interests to maximize density. Otherwise we end up with chronic under building which has led us to the current mess we’re in.

      No one likes change. No one likes their views blocked. No one likes additional traffic congestion. But if we don’t build up, prices will continue to spiral upwards and no one should be surprised when average property values in this neighborhood hit the $2M mark.

      If you look out realistically over the next 20-30 years, we could see a handful of 4-9 story buildings going up in this area. This one should benefit from the state density bonus program for 100% affordable projects, so it should be on the high end of the scale. This is a few blocks to Bart and almost on Chavez. If we can’t put density here, where should it go? A couple 9 story affordable projects and a couple 6 story market rate projects are exactly what this area needs. Yes, they will be bigger than my 2 story house, but let’s be realistic. This is a city and we need to build more housing. We need to grow up and build up.

  11. marc salomon

    Fascinating how the Bernal Heights residents consign all craptacular condo construction to the Mission, anywhere but Bernal, but the moment that anything encroaches upon their realm, now all of a sudden it is a problem. The same thing happened several years ago when John Burton raised a stink about student housing at UCSF Mission Bay when it threatened the views of the Potrerans.

    How about we put a moratorium on new housing of all sorts for the Mission and only build in Bernal and Potrero to learn ’em good?

  12. Kim

    I don’t think it is too tall, but are they really using the color orange, again? What is with these builders?

  13. Joseph Combs

    Not nearly tall enough! We have the technology these days to build buildings 100+ stories!! Why is this so short??

  14. Chris Doyle

    Absolutely too tall by 5 stories. Take down Mission Savings and that Telco monstrosity while we’re at it. It’s the Mission; not Mid-town in Manhattan.

  15. James Nixon

    Since when did Seniors get over 30,000 a year. Affordable senior or any affordable is low income not people who make over 35,000dollars. Oh that’s right ,its San Francisco low income housing in the bay area is more 70,000 dollars. I can live in the mid west and buy a 1800 square foot house on a fence less 6ooosquare foot property with a creek ruining through it for the price of of half a house in the bay area. That’s what 230,000 dollars get you. 980 a month. Leave it to your city council San Francisco. Where is the hell no to corporate greed. Its time for every person wwho lived there all their lives to say enough.City council getting their palms greased.Did it say,there is a 65 foot limit? and this project is 85ft? Well this is going to be interesting. If city council passes it,then they went against their own building law.I cant believe liberal city councils going against everything they do to help people.Mayor Lee is the root of all this. Allowing more high tech to take over the city. What the city needs is more affordable housing for low income and when I mean low income,i mean people who work at grocery stores,gas stations,restauarants,wherever people who are making 10.00 to 20.00 an hour.We need rentals for 14 of what the people make set aside to 20percent per housing projects. California state law on low income housing is 10 percent. And even low income housing is 2000 a month. Still you have 50 year olds making 13 and hour.Seniors only getting 1020a month .And out of that 1020 they pay 850 for their medicare/healthcare.

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