Early draft of proposed project. Photo courtesy of BDE Architects.

The Planning Department approved a project Thursday that proposes to demolish the baby-blue S.F. Auto Works building at 1021 Valencia St., near 21st Street, and build a 75-foot-tall residential building. 

The proposed project consists of 12 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units, a 3,003 square-foot commercial space on the ground floor, and a roof deck.

As required, three units will be below market rate, according to Planning Department staff. In an affidavit, project manager James Curley said the units will be for residents making 80 percent of the area median income. 

Curley noted in the document that residents of the below market rate units could own them, but added, “I reserve the right to change this.” 

In 2020, 80 percent of the area median income was $82,000 for a family of two, or $102,500 for a family of four. The below market rate units are required for the project to qualify under the state’s density bonus program, allowing the project sponsors to exceed the height requirements.

The planning commission’s unanimous approval was conditional on project sponsors making certain adjustments, such as improving the quality of materials for the windows and expanding the amount of accessible open space for building residents. 

“We all know that vinyl windows will basically age and sag and will be more expensive in the long run,” said commissioner Kathrin Moore. 

Commissioner Sue Diamond pointed out that, “this project is providing significantly less open space than would otherwise be required if it weren’t a state density bonus project.” 

However, Diamond acknowledged that a similar project at 321 Florida St also lacked outdoor space and the commissioners approved it two weeks ago. 

The garage was first built in 1922 and bought by Norman Elkington in the 1930s. Elkington’s descendants have owned the building ever since and are now pushing for its demolition in favor of housing. 

Ken Elkington, the grandson of Norman, did not return requests for comment, but told Mission Local in 2018, “we hope to be on the right track to do something positive for the Mission” as developers prepared to first submit the project application. 

At the time, developers said they hoped to receive approval by the end of 2019, but the project was delayed, partially to negotiate with neighbors and community groups. 

Now that the project has been approved, it remains unclear how long it will take for developers to construct the building, or whether they will simply sell the freshly entitled property. 

Kevin Sawyers, a mechanic who took ownership of S.F. Auto Works in early 2019 after the previous owners retired, hopes it’s the latter. 

“They said, ‘We’ll give you the business, but you’ll have to pick it up and move it,’” Sawyers said. 

Although he took over the business with the knowledge that the building owners were applying to demolish it, Sawyers said he was ecstatic. 

“All of a sudden, I found myself living this dream,” Sawyers said. 

Sawyers previously owned a classic car repair shop for four years in Clovis, a city in Fresno County, until he was outed as gay in 2016. 

Kevin Sawyers in front of SF Auto Works.
Kevin Sawyers stands in front of the building he hopes to one day buy. Photo by Juan Carlos Lara.

Now, even though the large mixed-use building has been approved, the auto mechanic hopes to save the building from demolition.

“Where hanging my pride flag at my old place lost me business, here, it’s gotten me business,” Sawyers said. 

His goal is to buy the business from the Elkington family and turn the basement area of the auto shop into several artist studios that can be rented out monthly.

The building owners also seem amenable to selling the building, according to Sawyers, but the long-time mechanic said he needs to do a lot of saving up first. 

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Juan Carlos Lara covers business and development in the Mission. Juan Carlos, a San Francisco State alum, is as much a photographer as he is a writer and previously worked as the campus news editor at Golden Gate Xpress, SF State’s student paper.

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  1. I thought one only had strict guidelines for windows facing public walkways, ie the front sidewalk. The back could be dealers choice.

    Looks like I’ll be numbing my brain with more rape and pillage building code.

  2. A sign of hope and resilience rises out of the ashes. If only for a moment, Sawyer gets to experience the ecstatic sensation of hope.

  3. “We all know that vinyl windows will basically age and sag and will be more expensive in the long run,” said commissioner Kathrin Moore.

    No one challenged this? Vinyl windows are WAY cheaper than wood, last longer and are way cheaper to replace. If selling these units to people without a lot of money, you are setting them up for a bigger expense down the line. Or more likely, they won’t replace and have a drafty apartment.

    Shouldn’t people in the planning department understand this?

    1. per DBI/Planning, the only permitted window materials are wood and fiberglass.
      again, one of those over-regulations mandated by the SF Nomenklatura.
      like waste water plumbing: only cooper and cast iron is permitted, no ABS. i believe that is to keep the plumber’s union happy.

      1. Which is why some of us redo our windows with vinyl and do not bother with permits. Vinyl windows are a much more practical choice of material because, unlike wood, it doesn’t rot. A vinyl window should last 100 years.

        1. “a vinyl window should last 100 years”


          Well maintained wood windows will last longer. They may cost more up front but even vinyl window manufactures will tell you 20-40 years with the caveat that harsh environments, including costal salt air, can reduce lifespan to 10-20 years.

          “and do not bother with permits”

          Do what you want, but selling the home could be harder when the inspection notes windows are not up to code. If you don’t plan to sell, have at it I guess, but building code stipulating more durable, not to mention renewable, materials is a good thing in my opinion.

        2. here’s another thing: why would i need to pull a permit to replace a window in my own house??? it’s nobody’s business but mine.

          1. Are you improving the taxable value of the property by installing new, better windows? You owe taxes on the assessed value of the home. The state needs to know if you are increasing the assessed value of your asset and tax accordingly. Might not be fun to hear, but that’s how it works. Permits ensure that you are doing work to spec stipulated by law and to track value of assets.

          2. Steve C, you have correctly identified why the city has a punitive permit process. It is because the city wants the permit fees AND the inflated Prop 13 cost bases. But Jean Paul is correct – there is no real added value if the work is a mere like-for-like replacement.

            So many like him and me will continue to not get permits for jobs like this, especially now that DBI is a nightmare to deal with. And in practice selling is never a problem, as there is no city inspection for sales.

    2. “John Thompson”,

      You beat me to it.

      Commissioner Moore’s assertion is patently false.

      Vinyl windows have better thermal and acoustical performance than aluminum windows, do not corrode and are practically maintenance-free.

      Unlike wood, they do not rot — nor do they require the continually application of chemicals (e.g. paint) in order to last.

      A good-quality vinyl window (e.g. steel-reinforced) will last 50+ years and costs about 1/3 less than an aluminum window.