Google street view of 3832 18th St., which will be demolished and replaced by a new group housing project.

Hello! I’m trying something new with this week’s Mission Moves, my newsy development newsletter. Instead of wrapping up three items of interest in one piece, we’re going to break it up into separate bites. Something about, “people don’t want to read anything too long anymore.” I got you. Let’s dive in:

An avocado tree is saved — for now

If peace is symbolized by olive trees, maybe conflict is symbolized by this avocado tree. 

At a recent Board of Appeals hearing, commissioners upheld an appeal that blocked the removal and replacement of an avocado tree at 3832 18th St., at least in the near future. The appeals board decided that the tree removal, originally recommended by Public Works, would take effect only once the developer M-J SF Investments, LLC. secures a building or demolition permit to start construction. 

“Why cut it out first, when you don’t know that it’s actually going to get built?” Board of Appeals President Rick Swig said. Including Swig, all five appeal commissioners voted to save the tree, at least for now.

But though Californians love avocados, was that what this appeal was really about? At one point during Wednesday’s hearing, Chris Buck, an urban forester with Public Works, opined: “I really see this as largely about development, and not about the tree.” 

Based on the arguments, he was probably right. 

Thanos Diacakis, a nearby resident for 13 years who is leading the appeal to stop the project,  argued that the tree shouldn’t get cut down, because the project might not get built. 

Developers originally proposed a six-story, 19-unit development, allowed under the State Density Bonus law. But the Planning Commission, in an attempt to reach a compromise, asked developers to sketch a five-story, 19-unit building to appease neighbors’ concerns over the building’s height. That local decision earned a Notice of Violation from the state department, which argued that it violated the density bonus law. 

Diacakis pointed out that the project might be “litigated and dragged out” by the disagreement between the state and city for a long time. The tree shouldn’t be cut, because “this project may never get built,” Diacakis said. 

Plus: “We have about more than 50 neighbors that are opposed to both forms of this gigantic building that they are filling with tech dorms.”

“The appellant is clearly grasping at straws, and is not interested in protecting this tree,” countered Brian O’Neill, an attorney representing the developers at Wednesday’s hearing. 

O’Neill noted it was the neighbors’ third appeal. “It’s the neighbors’ latest attempt to derail a project that would bring 19 units of desperately needed housing.” 

Despite that no demolition nor construction permit has been issued, O’Neill said the tree would impede construction. O’Neill added that the neighbors exceeded the number of allowable hearings on a singular project, which is five, according to a state law that, ironically, was created to avoid situations exactly like this. 

One hearing was scheduled erroneously, Diacakis said. 

But, remember, the appeal was about the tree removal and replacement, not the project. 

When Commissioner Swig asked if developers would accept a tree removal and replacement on the condition of proper permitting — his compromise — O’Neill said they would “generally… oppose” that. So, that’s a head-scratcher. Maybe none of this is about the project, either. 

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. They should keep the peaked roof semi Victoria there, in the row of three, rather than further uglify the street with a box. Plant a box in SOMA, China Basin, downtown. Those are appropriate places. Noe Valley and the Castro neighborhoods should retain the San Francisco style characteristics that they have.

  2. If this city truly cared about creating housing, not just big development projects for large political donors, they wouldn’t make it so damn hard for individual homeowners to add a unit to their house, or add a floor level, or change their garage into an apartment. There’s a maze of red tape and death by thousands of cuts (sprinklers, variances, elevator, fire alarm, etc) that only professional developers can comprehend, let alone find their way through. It’s absolutely no surprise the corruption in a building department funded by permit fees, which calls the very contractors they should be regulating their “customers”.

  3. I still don’t understand why we need more housing when there are something like 80,000 units sitting empty. Are the proposed additional units supposed to drive the prices of these empty units down as well? I am not opposed. I am just sincerely trying to figure out how this works. Is it because we are required by the state of California to build additional housing? Do the 80,000 units figure into this amount?

    1. The 80,000 figure is only true in a snapshot. It includes homes that are rented and not occupied or otherwise uninhabitable.

      Even the ballot measure that we just voted on only taxed a small percentage of these homes.

      Then there is the issue whole unconstitutional takings thing.

      Bottom line is there is a 2% vacancy rate. We need more housing

    2. I don’t see why we need more subsidized affordable housing since the affordable housing vacancy rate is higher than the market rate housing vacancy rate.

  4. There is a false flag argument that’s been perpetuated by the real estate and financial industries (in collaboration with corporate media) which is that NIMBYism is preventing new housing from being built in California. This argument intentionally pits largely upper middle class and lower socio economic groups against each other as a distraction from what is actually happening.
    A couple things: how much of this new housing is headed for market rate rental
    market? How come we (constituents and/or policymakers) never talk about home ownership becoming more accessible? These developments are not for the average SF resident but to temporarily house transient workers largely in the tech sector. And if in fact, they are condos, who is buying them? Private equity companies? Real estate conglomerates? While the average SF citizen will never be able to rent or purchase these new units (unless they qualify for and win the affordable housing lottery, provided the developer
    is held to including units for BMRH something the Breed administration is less concerned about than many previous administrations) we sit around and create a bicker circle between home owners and the rest of us. Neither of those groups are to blame. Follow the money from the developers and hedge funds. It’s the old divide and conquer, again.
    So save the dang tree until this project eventually gets green lighted. Don’t believe for a second that these developments actually will permit regular working middle class SF renters to stay. We are holding on by our fingertips and none of this new development will dramatically reduce rental costs or magically create home ownership (the dream) to enable us to stay.

  5. So
    Many residents care more about street parking than housing their neighbors. Truly disgusting. Even if filling with techies, our local economy is getting crushed, we need them too.

    1. Plural noun: neighbors; “a person living near or next door to the speaker or person referred to”.
      By definition, all their neighbors are already housed. So they are not “caring more for street parking than their neighbors”, they are caring for street parking for their neighbors as well as themselves. Not disgusting at all. At least you just damned the “techies” with faint praise, rather than labeling them disgusting also. But is not “techie” a slur on par with tranny? If not, please explain why not.

      1. Trans people have been historically systemically been treat with violence. Nerds crying because people dont like them throwing around their money like foos. Not at all the same.

      2. Little Sammy many neighbors are getting displaced. Supply keeps rents down. You’re a NIMBY no matter how you slice it.

        No techie isn’t on par… but you know this already and prefer to act like a knob.

        Drive less. Bike and walk more. City life Sammy

        1. I just don’t think techies are coming back. The nature of work has changed forever. So who are these units for? If they can house working class people such as teachers or your average barista or grocery worker then I am all for it but I suspect that is not the intended purpose.

          1. Literally why does anyone care about your opinion of the worthiness of who lives in the building? Who can afford the $2m tear down house that exists there now?