It's not vandalism: An impromptu message from management on Mission Thrift's metal shutter reads "Huge closing 1/2 off sale. Next Saturday Noon to 6 p.m. All need to go. Buy By, TY." Photo by Abraham Rodriguez, Dec. 31, 2018.

After a year of life in a pandemic, with falling rent prices and mounting unpaid residential rent, we decided to look back and see how the first-time housing developers we wrote about in late 2019 were faring.

In the 16 months since our original list, only two of the seven projects have gotten full entitlements from the Planning Department. Both are on Valencia Street.

The first was a plan to replace the Phoenix Irish Pub, at 811 Valencia St. between 19th and 20th streets, with 18 market-rate single-resident-occupancy units. The plans also include a ground-floor commercial space that would be about one-fourth the size of the current bar.

This project had an easier time gaining approval than others, because the building is not classified as a historic site and developers were not seeking any variances or exceptions to specific rules. As a result, the project did not require a Planning Commission hearing, according to architect Reza Khoshnevisan.

Any project can be stalled by a request for a discretionary review, which triggers a hearing in front of the Planning Commission. And a neighbor filed such a request for 811 Valencia, but the developers avoided a hearing after reaching an agreement with the concerned neighbor in November, the day before the scheduled hearing.

Aside from the near-discretionary review, the pandemic was another major impediment to the project’s progress.

“Planners are working at home. Building staff are working at home. So where, before, we could have a meeting and resolve any comments, now it’s all through email,” Khoshnevisan said.

Eugene Power, owner of the building and the bar, did not return requests for comment, but Khoshnevisan said that, as far as he knew, Power intended to keep the building and follow through with construction plans.

“The intent is to keep it; he’s had that business for a long time,” Khoshnevisan said.

The only other project to gain approval is the oldest on this list.

In November, 2017, the Elkington family submitted a preliminary application to replace the S.F. Auto Works building at 1021 Valencia St., which had been in their family since Norman Elkington bought it in the 1930s. The plan calls for a six-story, 24-unit building and nearly 2,400 square feet of commercial space.

A discretionary review request from two owners of nearby buildings triggered a hearing, but the Planning Commission ultimately gave its stamp of approval earlier this month, as long as the developers increase the common space and replace some of the proposed materials.

It’s unclear if the Elkingtons will follow through on the $9 million construction project, or look to sell the building, which is much more valuable with its new entitlements.

Ken Elkington and project sponsor James Curley did not return requests for comment.

The Kaplan Family Trust, another family of longtime Mission property owners, submitted a preliminary application in November, 2019, to turn their Mission Thrift and Mission Jewelry and Loan buildings at 2316-2320 Mission St. into a 24-unit building.

Since then, the prospective building has grown from five stories to seven, and from 24 units to 34, at the request of the city. Project sponsors also increased the number of below market rate units from three to six to comply with the state’s Density Bonus Program.

And yet, there may be delays. A third-party evaluation of the project, which the site’s classification as a historical resource requires, said the proposed height “would not be entirely compatible,” with the area.

A “residential tower that is substantially taller and wider than any other contributing
building in the district would substantially contrast with the scale and massing of buildings that characterize the district,” wrote Brewster Historic Preservation, the company that conducted the assessment. This report will go to the Planning Commission for consideration.

Michael Kaplan of Kaplan Family Trust did not return a request for comment, but architect Mike Pitler said that, at the present time, they are just waiting for the city to finish its other assessments, such as the environmental evaluation.

“The city’s review time is very slow, especially because of covid,” Pitler wrote in an email.

A project at 1458 San Bruno Ave., near Potrero Skatepark, has been equally slow to progress. It’s proposed by the Goode family, who have owned the land for generations,

Developers submitted their preliminary application for a 205-unit building, the largest on this list, in September, 2019, and followed it with a formal plan three months later, but the project is still far from approval.

The Planning Department sent project sponsors a checklist in February containing steps that the developers still needed to complete including a second community meeting to discuss the project. The developers said this would happen in early 2021, according to a letter from last December. To date, no new meeting has been announced. For the first meeting in November 2019, dozens of residents showed up in opposition of the project.

Seth Prichard, Goode’s attorney and the primary contact listed on forms for this project, did not return requests for comment.

A plan by the Muffareh family to build 37 units (originally 22) in place of the B&W Automotive Service Center at 3260 26th St. is even further from completion. Basil Muffareh submitted a preliminary application in November, 2019, and now estimates it will be another year and a half before they can break ground.

Muffareh said he is certain of his plans to build the housing, which is badly needed, and has no intention to sell the building after receiving all the entitlements.

While being local can help, for some developers, their history is a liability.

That has proven true for Hawk Lou, the owner of the property at the corner of Mission and 22nd streets, the site of a three-story building destroyed by a fire that killed one person and displaced about 60 tenants, including Mission Local. Some residents said a lack of proper maintenance and safety equipment caused the fire, and Mission Local reported on the persistent problems in properties Lou owns.

In late 2018, Lou submitted a preliminary application to build an ambitious, nine-story building that would house 129 residential units.

After the Planning Department returned a generally favorable assessment of his proposed project with suggestions for “minor modifications,” residents who attended a community review in July, 2020, joined in near unanimous opposition to a project they described as “a gentrification bomb.”

Ian Birchall, the architect and project sponsor, declined to comment for this story.

Kim Leung, owner of the U-Save Hardware business and building since 1987, plans to build a five-story building with eight two-bedroom apartments at the 1146 Valencia St. property.

The building exists on a narrow block, facing Valencia Street on one side and San Jose Avenue on the other. For this reason, developers are applying for a variance, a specific exception to a rule, to allow for a central courtyard in the building, rather than a backyard which would face the street, according to architect and project sponsor Suheil Shatara.

Developers are currently going through the required environmental review and Shatara estimates another four to six months before they get a variance hearing with the Planning Commission. After that, perhaps two more years may be required to gain all building permits and construct the building.

“The frustration is that there are a lot of hurdles to jump through during covid,” Shatara said, though he also thanked God for the fact that he still has work amid the current economic climate.

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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’m starting to wonder. Take a 70-year-old neighbor with a parcel of land that’s been in the family since 1930 with nobody living on it. Can that neighbor do the right thing, working within the SF system? If they want to build homes, good quality but no granite countertops or brushed aluminum, I’m skeptical they will be able to complete the project in their remaining years.

    If they try to simply follow the rules without paying a fixer or suing, DBI could easily delay permits for the rest of the neighbor’s life. And even if they outlive DBI delays, they’ll also need to survive years of bad-faith CEQA appeals and discretionary review.

    Unless the neighbor has plenty of liquid cash, they’ll have to work out financing to make everything pencil out. If that financing means they’re unable to subsidize most or all of the units, they’ll be demonized.

    When a neighbor who tries to do everything right either dies before the project is done or lives to be called a greedy, gentrifying developer, the system is broken and requires fundamental change. Our current micro-managed discretionary review process fuels corruption and causes endless unneeded delay. SF needs to get rid of corruption at DBI and create a clear, predictable process for by-right development. If you follow the rules, you can start your project within one year or less.

  2. Can someone who knows more than I do answer–Has any of these new developers asked for funding for affordable housing, and is this something that could happen if one was willing to put a ceiling on future profit? What we REALLY need is more incentives for a high percentage of truly affordable housing including speed to approve and assurance of some return.

  3. Pretty misleading, click-bait headline here. Though I’ll admit that I was happy to read a pretty sober run down on each of these, unfortunately, delayed or embattled projects.

    I think if we, as a community, are going to take housing issues seriously, we really need to stop painting every so-called developer as a greedy colonizer and more like someone who’s putting in the work to actually house humanbeings. Obviously, some have notorious history and should be cautiously negotiated with or denied.

    To make strides in building housing for all income levels, we need to streamline approval for conforming projects, mitigate nonsensical discretionary reviews misused to block or slow projects, define a clearer, more truly inclusive vision of what sort of city we want to build for the next generation.

    The BS strongarming really just needs to end.

    1. I’ll put it very clear for you, developer.

      No. We will never stop in the resistance against gentrification.

      1. Gentrification is simply building homes for people with more money than you. Why would you oppose building homes for San Franciscans at all income levels? Especially when it is building market-rate homes that funds most of the affordable (i.e. subsidized) new homes.

      2. No thank you. There are plenty of mission residents who are sick of the broken buildings and trash and addicts on the street, and would gladly welcome new businesses and people in the neighborhood.

      3. What’s clear is that you really don’t have a real position or argument, but you’re vehemently opposed to anything that doesn’t fit your personal ideals.

        The resistance you’re referring to is only impeding on the very thing you claim to support: homes for those who need affordable housing in a market with not enough.

      4. KenM,

        The most certain way to gentrify a desirable place, is to NOT build housing. That, in a nutshell, is the story of San Francisco since the 70’s — and the fundamental reason that we have a chronic housing shortage and skyrocketing housing costs.

    2. It’s amazing how many people blindly adhere to trickle-down theory. A simple metaphor–Whole Foods provides food for the relatively affluent. Every day Whole Foods has way more high quality organic food than it can sell to the affluent. Does that mean it goes to the poor? No. They throw it out rather than sell it cheaply to people with less resources. The Whole Foods business model is to serve the affluent therefore they don’t need to serve other people. Likewise in San Francisco the developer and real estate industries are devoted to serving the affluent, because that’s where all the money is. In SF, affordable apartments are old ones that have not been torn down to build new housing, and a very small number of new subsidized places. There is no point in the near future when developers will build housing affordable to working class people in San Francisco–it doesn’t pencil out. Thoughtless YIMBYism will turn San Francisco into a Whole Foods with a small amount of affordable housing on the side. Selective development, thoughtful preservation, and discouragement of relying on one industry (tech) to drive the economy could get us out of this mess with a city that is livable for all types of people.

      1. Mick, I know plenty of poor people who shop at WholeFoods. They may spend a higher proportion of their income on organic food than some others may do, but that is because good food is important to them.

        You could make the same point about housing. Why do poor people pay 50% or 60% of their income on housing? Because they value being in SF even though their budget does not really allow them that kind of luxury. In fact it is their demand for housing that drives up the price of it. Apparently Oakland with its 40% cheaper rent just isn’t good enough for them.

      2. Mick, I haven’t heard many people advocating a throw-it-out theory for existing housing in SF. Can you point to any specific examples of organizations advocating for that?