Developer threatens to sue as SF Supes delay Mission project

The laundromat at 2918 Mission Street wasn't "historic" after all, but would-be developer Robert Tillman was thwarted last week nevertheless. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Robert Tillman, the self-describednewbie developer,” was on Tuesday foiled again by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in his efforts to develop a 75-unit building on Mission Street between 25th and 26th streets. It is currently the site of a laundromat he owns.

The board voted unanimously to uphold an appeal of the project, saying that not enough analysis has been undertaken regarding the effects of the proposed eight-story structure’s shadows, which it would cast over the playgrounds of a neighboring preschool. That area is slated to be used as public space in the near future.

It’s unclear how the city will proceed with the additional review — or how long it will take. Tillman says he plans to sue the city, depending on whether the city can justify the delay through its findings in its additional shadow analysis.

“My only alternative, if I want to take this project through, is to file a lawsuit against the city,” he said following Tuesday’s decision. He said that he has exhausted all administrative avenues and has no other option.  

The decision is only the latest chapter in a fierce battle over whether the 75-unit project — which would price 11 percent of its units as affordable — will ultimately come to fruition. The Planning Commission approved the project in November, but a final green light was delayed at the Board of Supervisors in February, pending a study of whether the building was a historic resource.  

Under state law, Tillman was allowed to add more units to his project while lowering the overall affordable component to 11 percent, from the 12 percent then required by the city.

Many longtime Mission District residents argue that the project will only further the gentrification and displacement in the once predominantly working-class Latino neighborhood — concerns District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen ultimately sympathized with at the meeting. Pro-housing advocates, meanwhile, argued that the major hurdles the project has faced are indicative of why housing is drastically underbuilt here.

Tillman charged that Tuesday’s action by the Board of Supervisors was potentially illegal. His attorney, David H. Blackwell, outlined his case in an 11-page letter sent to the board on Monday. “There’s nothing else I can do; they have made their decision,” Tillman told Mission Local following Tuesday’s proceedings. “They have to come up with findings that justify their decision, and they’re going to have a difficult time doing that.”  

Ronen took issue with the fact that the environmental review, which did analyze the effects of the proposed building’s shadows on the schoolyards, did not consider the shadow’s impacts on the schoolyards when they become public space. This is the plan under the city’s forthcoming Shared Schoolyards Program. The program would open school playgrounds to the general public during non-school hours.

The decision followed a public comment session in which the project’s opponents expressed worry over its potential impacts on Zaida T. Rodriguez Preschool, which sits on Bartlett Street behind the proposed site. Opponents argued the constructions will kick up dust and noise, as well as shadows once the project is built.

They also bemoaned the loss of their neighborhood. “This project does sit in the middle of many of our community anchors,” one opponent to the project said during public comment. “None of the people who have lived here are going to move into that building.”

Scott Weaver, a lawyer for the merchant’s association Calle 24, which filed the appeal on the project, argued that the shadows, dust and noise would affect the students at the school. “Has the city done all that it can to make sure the children are safe?” he asked.

Weaver also argued that the number of units developed in the Mission has surpassed what is allowed by a city plan for the neighborhood — called the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan — creating no need for the development.

Officials from the city’s Planning Department refuted Weaver’s argument. They said that their environmental review concluded that the project’s construction would not have a negative impact on the children – and the shadows would not negatively affect the students. They also said the project was consistent with the city’s interpretation of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.  

Ronen did not take issue with those specific findings. She, instead, focused on shadows on the schoolyard as a potential public space. Before moving to uphold the appeal, however, she indicated that her decision to continue the matter ultimately rested with the community’s concerns.

To supporters of the appeal, mostly longtime Mission District residents, she said: “I hear you and the pain that’s been caused from the uneven development in the Mission [that] has decimated the community and changed it in ways that are unfair to low-income and Latino community.”

She also took aim at Tillman. “He is exploiting the process for his own personal gain,” she said. “He knows he can get more money if he can sell this land if it’s entitled than when it’s not.”

Tillman told Mission Local that his intentions have never been a secret. He said he has, on multiple occasions, offered to sell the land to anyone who wants to use it for affordable housing.

For Tillman, however, any affordable housing there would come at a market-rate price.

As such, he claims he’s already turned down a not-yet-financed $9 million offer by the Mission Economic Development Agency. Tillman said the offer was only 50 percent of the property’s value.

“I want to maximize value on something I own,” he said.

But now, to do so, he will have to wait a bit longer.

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25 Comments

  1. Ron Ruiz

    Hillary Ronen really knows how to increase my property value and easily allows me to increase rents on my tenants!!! Chaching! Chaching! Thanks Hillary! Thanks MEDA! Thanks Calle 24!!!

    I’ll send you a nice Christmas gift. Woohooo! Love ya! Hope you continue to block all developments because that is why I voted for you!

  2. Booradley

    Ridiculous – all around! – especially Ronen’s reaction to the shadow study (apparently, shadows will act differently based on whom their shadows are cast, following her logic). Tillman should sue Calle 24 and MEDA for rackateering – colluding to keep the value of his property low. God forbid we lose another laundromat (FYI, there’ s another one not 100 yards away on 25th).

  3. Greg - 18 years here

    Business as usual in the Mission. If the shadows were really an issue why wasn’t this addressed in a prior meeting? You force this guy to jump through 10 hoops, then come up with a BS historic resource argument, then come up with a BS shadow argument. Why aren’t all of these issues adjudicated at once? It’s like double jeopardy except its actually quintuple jeopardy. Either Ronen is grossly incompetent or she is purposely abusing the system to come up with arguments one by one to delay delay delay. Good luck Mr. Tillman! Shame on you Ms. Ronen.

    • “Either Ronen is grossly incompetent or she is purposely abusing the system to come up with arguments one by one to delay delay delay.”

      It’s both.

  4. Robert Tillman

    Here is what is in the record from the Planning Department regarding my project. Essentially, the Board of Supervisors “made up” a CEQA affect that is not legally a CEQA effect. The City Attorney will have a very hard time drafting the required “findings” to support this decision.

    SHADOW
    Although not required by CEQA, in San Francisco the environmental review of projects includes an analysis of whether new shadow from a proposed project would affect the use and enjoyment of parks or open spaces that are publically accessible.

    There are 143 public schools and approximately 110 private schools in San Francisco. In general, schoolyards are not considered to be publically accessible, as they are only accessible to the students, faculty, and staff associated with the school. As such, shadow on schoolyards is typically not evaluated as part of CEQA review in San Francisco. However, over 40 public schools citywide are currently enrolled in the San Francisco Shared Schoolyard Project. Information on the Shared Schoolyard Project may be found at http://www.sfsharedschoolyard.org/. Only schoolyards that are enrolled in the Shared Schoolyard Project are considered to be publically accessible, and participating schoolyards are included as public open spaces within the shadow analysis for CEQA review. The Zaida T. Rodriguez School located next to the Project site is not a participating schoolyard; thus, shadow effects of the proposed project on the Zaida T. Rodriguez schoolyard are not considered environmental impacts under CEQA. This issue is further discussed in the Department’s February 5, 2018 appeal response (pages 28 and 29). Accordingly, the CPE initial study did not find any significant shadow impacts that are peculiar to the Project or Project site that were not previously disclosed in the Eastern Neighborhoods PEIR.

    Although shadow effects of the Project on non-publically accessible schoolyards are not considered environmental impacts under CEQA, the Project sponsor retained a shadow consultant to prepare a quantitative shadow analysis in accordance with the Department’s shadow analysis methodology that evaluates the shadow effects of the project on the two nearby schoolyards for informational purposes (RWDI, Shadow Analysis 2918 Mission Street, February 7, 2018 – included as Attachment G). The Zaida T. Rodriguez School is comprised of two campuses. The 2950 Mission Street main campus is located to the south of the Project site, and includes an approximately 4,500-square-foot schoolyard located on the western side of the building fronting Osage Alley. The 421 Bartlett Street annex is located across Osage Alley to the west of the Project site, with its approximately 2,000-square-foot schoolyard located on the eastern side of the building, also fronting Osage Alley, as shown in the figure below.

    The shadow analysis shows that the proposed Project would not cast any new shadows on the 2950 Mission Street campus schoolyard between 8:59 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. on any day of the year. Outside of these hours, morning and evening shadows would fall on the northeastern corner of the schoolyard area; however, this location is used for staff parking and storage and not as a play area. With respect to the 421 Bartlett Street annex, the proposed Project would cast new shadows on the schoolyard in the morning throughout the year. Shadows would range in duration from 143 minutes to 273 minutes and would not occur after 11:51 a.m. on any day of the year. The duration of shadow varies with the time of year. In general, the maximum area of shading occurs before 9 a.m., and by 11 a.m., one quarter of the schoolyard or less would be shadowed. Mature trees on the schoolyard currently shade portions of the schoolyard during the mornings.

    Development projects located in proximity to schools is not an unusual circumstance in San Francisco. As discussed above, shadow on schoolyards that are not publicly accessible open space is not an environmental impact under CEQA. Accordingly, environmental review of other development projects that shade schoolyards throughout the city have determined that such effects are not physical environmental impacts. Accordingly, the CPE initial study did not find any significant shadow impacts that are peculiar to the Project or Project site that were not previously disclosed in the Eastern Neighborhoods PEIR.

    • Oliver

      I don’t know your financial situation, but could you simply increase the proposed % of affordable units in order to shame them? I checked on twitter and it doesn’t seem the yimby groups are taking up your cause ( I could be wrong ). Maybe they just think the mission is a lost cause, but maybe they dont want to waste political capital on a building with too few affordable units?

      • Robert Tillman

        Oliver, I have strong support from the YIMBY’s. Laura Clarke, Executive Director of YIMBY Action and other YIMBY’s spoke in defense of my project at the hearing. Nevertheless, the YIMBY’s have a difficult mustering as many speakers as does Calle 24. Most of the YIMBY’s actually need to work to support themselves, unlike most of the Calle 24 speakers, and cannot take off half a day to sit in a hearing.

  5. Robert Tillman

    This line is inaccurate:

    “Under state law, Tillman was allowed to add more units to his project while lowering the overall affordable component to 11 percent, from the 12 percent then required by the city.”

    The project complies with San Francisco’s Proposition C. I am providing 14.5% on site affordability required by San Francisco on the base 55 unit project, which results in 8 affordable units. There there is no on site required affordability on the 20 units awarded under the State Density Bonus Program.

    To comply with the State Density Bonus Law, 7 of affordable units (11% of 55 units) are Very Low Income (50% AMI) and 1 of the units is Low Income (55% AMI).

  6. Robert Tillman

    I interacted multiple times with four senior San Francisco Unified School District officials regarding may project since January 2016, including the General Counsel, the District Architect, the Director of Facilities Design and the principal of the school (who has since retired).

    They never once brought up the shadow issue. What they REALLY cared about was increased traffic on Osage Ave., which they use for drop off and pick up of the students, and for passage of the students between the two school campuses. I addressed completely this issue by eliminating parking in my project, thus also eliminating any traffic on Osage Ave. from my project.

    The San Francisco Unified School District has not taken an official position on the project, and were not an appellant in the CEQA appeal.

  7. Rob Neighbor

    Thank you Calle 24, MEDA and Supervisor Ronen for standing up to this! It would greatly negatively impact this neighborhood, not only the children at that school, but those of us who live close to this monstrosity. Perhaps if he had left it a few stories shorter like originally planned we wouldn’t be so upset about it. Tillman is greedy, greedy, greedy.

    • Robert Tillman

      Rob, Greed is not a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) effect. Nor is the fact that you do not like the building. The project was approved by the Planning Commission on November 30, 2018. Legally, the only thing that the Board of Supervisors were doing yesterday was determining whether the projected complied with CEQA. They made a decision not supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, as is required by CEQA. In short, they acted unlawfully, however much you approve their actions. I therefore have no choice but to go to court to enforce the law.

      • Rob Neighbor

        Go ahead, Tillman, you can eat up your greedy profits with legal fees.

        • Robert Tillman

          Rob, The legal fees are are about 10% of the cost of being shaken down by Calle 24 based on my experience observing many projects in the Mission. Further, it is likely that I will get reimbursed by San Francisco for my legal fees, as there is a legal fees provision under state housing law if I prevail, which is highly likely. Hence, you as a San Francisco tax payer will be paying my legal fees, presuming of course that you are in the group of people who pay any taxes.

        • Karl

          Actually, State Density Bonus Law — which supersedes the (illegal) BOS action and local laws — is quite clear. Robert Tillman will win his case and the City (i.e. the taxpayers) will be “eating” all legal fees.

  8. John Thompson

    Robert, would it have been possible to get all of these reviews/studies done back in 2014?

    If you as the developer asked for shadow impact, historic review, enviromental review, traffic review, etc… are you allowed to get these done upfront if you wanted? Or do you have to wait until someone complains and then do the study?

    If I were to develop a building in the city, I would just get all of these reviews done immediately. I realize this seems too simplistic so what am I missing?

    • Robert Tillman

      John, In fact, all of these issues and any studies required were addressed by the Planning Department in the Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) that they processed on my project in March 2014. For example, here is the Planning Department conclusion on the historical significance of the existing building:

      Historic Resources. The commercial building at 2918‐2922 Mission Street was constructed in 1924. It
      was included in the South Mission Historic Resource Survey and was given a rating of 6Z, indicating
      that the property is ineligible for National Register, California Register of Historical Resources
      (CRHR), or local designation through survey evaluation. As such, the building would not be
      considered a historic resource pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, and this
      topic will not require further evaluation as part of the proposed project’s environmental review.

      And here is the Planning Department conclusion on the shadow impact of the project:

      Shadow Study. The proposed project would include the construction of a building greater than 40
      feet in height. A preliminary shadow fan analysis has been prepared by Planning Department staff
      that indicates that the proposed project would not cast shadows on recreational resources. Therefore,
      no shadow study is required.

  9. John

    This is absolutely outrageous. We are in a housing crisis and need more housing!!!

  10. Jade Praerie

    Robert Tillman, why not cut your building height to be just slightly higher than the two- to three-story norm of the neighborhood (make yours four or five stories)? Why insist on a towering eight stories? Height limits exist for good reasons.

    • Robert Tillman

      Jade, There are two existing buildings within 300 ft. of my site that are the the same height as my proposed project.

      The site is zoned for 6 stories. Under the State Density Bonus Law, which was put in place to encourage density, the height limit is increased to 8 stories. I am simply building what the law allows on a site that contains no existing housing, no PDR space, and is located one block away from a BART station on a major transit corridor. That is where we are SUPPOSED to build housing, which is desperately needed in San Francisco.

  11. Pete Jones

    Thanks to MEDA for continuing the fight for quality of life in the Mission District!

    • Bettye Jones

      Thank you, MEDA, for keeping our property values high through social engineering

  12. Pat

    On a side note, and given how hot it’s been in the Mission lately, I would think a little shade would be a welcome effect!

    And wouldn’t the effects of construction (noise, dust, etc) be the same for a 100% affordable project? ROnen (along with the seeming extortionists at MEDA and Calle 24) has done more to lower housing supply and increase rents than any developer could. It’s no wonder the monied progressives continue to support her!

    • Robert Tillman

      Pat, You are exactly right. The morning of the Tuesday Board of Supervisors hearing on my project I received a call from Hillary Ronen asking if I would sell my project for 100% affordable housing. As I have always said publicly since my first community meeting on January 6, 2016, I told her that I would do so, provided that I received fair market value for a fully entitled market rate project.

      Are not the CEQA impacts of a 100% affordable project exactly the same as a market rate project? Did not Calle 24, who is appealing my project, support the 100% affordable project at 1296 Shotwell, just a few blocks away from my project, when a CEQA appeal was filed against it? As is demonstrated by the actions of Hillary Ronen and Calle 24, there are no true environmental issues with my project, as such issues would magically disappear if my project were 100% affordable.

      CEQA is simply being used as a pretext.to shake me down and force me to sell my project at below fair market value. As might have been said in an earlier era: “Nice little project you have there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.” My experience of San Francisco over the 4 1/2 years that I have been working on my project is that it is a lawless city. San Francisco does not even follow its own laws, let alone state law.

  13. old mission

    It appears 1296 Shotwell is 9 stories. And this project would be 6 stories?

  14. old mission

    Sorry, I just re-read article–this project would be 8 stories, 6 plus 2 bonus stories.

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