A group project
If you’re dialing into a San Francisco planning commission meeting from sunny, gorgeous Greece — well past 11 p.m. island time, by the way — it’s fair to say you care a lot about what’s on the docket. And indeed, Thanos Diacakis, a 12-year resident of 18th Street, called in from the Mediterranean about a new building planned for his neighborhood.
On Thursday July 15, the Planning Commission considered a proposed six-story “group housing” project — units which do not have a full kitchen, and usually fall under Single Room Occupancy units or fraternity houses — at 3832 18th St. between Sanchez and Church streets. If approved, the building would house 19 units, including three affordable units.
This means demolishing the original two-story Victorian on the property, built in 1900 and owned by Mary Connolly from 1994 until her death, according to records. Connolly left the property to a dear friend in the neighborhood, Theodore Foss, who then sold it to M-J SF Investments in 2019 a few months following her death. Foss later left California, and M-J SF Investments drafted up the building plans.
Unbeknownst to Foss, however, his neighbors thought this new project would cast a long shadow. Diacakis and other residents argued that the height of the six-story building would block the sun. A shadow study was conducted, due to its potential to darken parts of Dolores Park. It sits midway on 18th Street, closer to Church than Sanchez Street.
Diacakis said he’s not against housing nor the density of 19 units, but against a building that’s “towering” over the others — the extra height and units were added thanks to the state’s Density Bonus Law. “The general consensus is less stories, not less units,” he told Mission Local. “Everyone recognizes the need for more housing.”
Jacob Bintliff, aide to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in District 8, brokered a conversation between residents and the developers. Neighbors suggested that developers “lop off” a few inches on each floor or take off two stories completely, and then compensate for the loss of floors by expanding toward the back of the street. Another neighbor suggested squeezing units into a basement floor. Let’s just say they didn’t see eye to eye.
The developers didn’t return repeated requests for comment from Mission Local by phone or email.
“They said [if they did that] some of the units are not going to get light. You want to create new [places with] sunlight, but at the expense of our sunlight?” Diacakis said, who also created a website alerting neighbors to the plans.
Gary Pedler, another neighbor in opposition, chose a more old-fashioned tack. He put up about 30 flyers and visited local businesses to alert them of the change. He got four responses, which transpired into: “how do we, David, stop Goliath? How do we stop the big giant?” A shadow in the 29-year-residents’ yard “earlier in the day” also dims his enthusiasm for the project.
However, multiple residents, including pro-affordable housing and YIMBY advocates from outside the neighborhood, expressed full support and said the project was needed for residents with diverse income levels and to chip away at the city’s housing crisis.
“I would just like to say for the record that this is a classic example of wealthy neighbors. That’s why we’re in the position where we are where only the wealthy can live in San Francisco,” said Steve Marzo, who supports the project.
The commissioners, however, weren’t quite convinced. Planning commissioners, along with some who opposed the project, wondered who this would serve; with small kitchenettes and market-rate prices, and only one large full kitchen for the building, they felt concerned about whether this would attract renters with low-incomes.
Thus, commissioners, seeing points on both sides, pushed the discussion to October. Until then, they argued, the developers can play around with the “massing” and see if a compromise between density and height could materialize and whether the developer could reveal details on pricing.
Shotwell’s shot at staying slow
Another pandemic program is taking it slow. The Slow Streets program, which aims to reduce speeds of drivers by placing various signs in the street, is en route to stay indefinitely.
Much like a plucky singing competition, each potential street will be judged on a case-by-case basis to see if they can make it to the final round: permanency. And, though our neighborhood favorite, Shotwell Street, has gone far compared to the others, of late it has hit a snag. What that was caused by, exactly, is unclear, but apparently the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority still has loads to discuss. So the authority is delaying the next step in the process of moving the debate to a public hearing in front of the department’s board. No new hearing date has been set. But, like the viral video of a race where a tortoise beats a hare, it’ll come slowly but surely.
A Shared Space — until midnight
Did you love the Shared Spaces program? Hate it? Couldn’t care less? Well, it doesn’t matter. The results are in, and the pandemic-driven parklets are here to stay. On Tuesday, after heavy debate, the Supes passed two amendments to the program promising that the spaces could be closed to the public from midnight to 7 a.m., and that the Planning Department can retake the reins of the program from the Department of Public Works. As a result, in a rare moment of mayor-Board-of-Supervisors-kum-ba-ya, the whole board unanimously approved the legislation.
“I’m excited to see our Shared Spaces legislation pass unanimously at the Board, which means that the parklets and outdoor dining we’ve come to love will now continue permanently in San Francisco!” The mayor tweeted.
Surely, there’s many who don’t think this is the great news the politicians are touting it to be. In the past, some retailers and residents questioned whether it could properly uphold disabled people’s rights to space and accessibility (adjustments were made after that), or if there were enough parking spaces for retail businesses, and who would help clean up the parklets if they went to shit. (Literally.)
Nevertheless, the news was happily received by the 2,100 business owners who had used the program as a lifeline during Covid-19 and are still struggling to pay off the monumental debt.
“I want to thank the city for throwing us a life preserver in what was, by far, the darkest time for small businesses,” one Hayes Street restaurant bar owner said in a former meeting, adding that he has accrued $200,000 in debt. “It gave us some revenue when we had to shut down three times.”
Housekeeping: What you missed and what I’m reading
What I’m reading:
A sunrise in the Sunset. SF Examiner’s Ida Mojadad keeps us updated on the controversial Sunset 100-unit affordable housing project in a recent article. It’ll be the first 100 percent affordable housing project in the Sunset targeted toward families, making it a piece of housing history you may want to keep tabs on.
Brandon Pho, from Voice of the OC, shows off a new interactive inequality mapping tool developed by a health nonprofit and Orange County officials in “Could OC’s New Health Inequity Map Lead to Real Systemic Change?” These areas get scored on everything one might imagine, including motor-vehicle accident rates, life expectancy and personal safety. Since it’s new, the jury is still out on whether this map could incite change, but it fascinates me as an innovative and potential minefield for new studies and journalistic stories. One eye-catching paragraph showed areas that had the highest prevalence of adult asthma “while also logging the most cases of coronavirus in the county.” *insert eye emoji here.*
From us, to you, with love:
Hey there, neighbor. Our reporter David Mamaril Horowitz spent many, many, many hours interviewing literally more than two dozen sources to give us this thorough piece: “Older tech workers may be leaving San Francisco, but the young and hungry — including those with startup dreams — are moving in.”
That’s the kind of gumshoe reporting that awarded us a generous, unsolicited gift! Well, at least enough money to hire a new reporter. (Listen, I know that’s not exactly housing/infrastructure news, but I have to make an exception. We gotta make money somehow. Donate here.)
And, as you well know, the pandemic has caused us to readjust and reimagine our city. The Mission Language and Vocational School repurposed itself into the Resource Hub, a neighborhood staple for Latinx low-income families. I spent the day there, and feed you stories from the inside.