Noe Valley Voice December-January 1997-98

Rumors Behind the News: Nothing Is Easy

By Mazook

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: Plans to put a memorial bench -- dedicated to Audrey Rodgers, a Dolores Heights activist -- on a grassy strip at the corner of Sanchez and 21st streets have apparently stalled.

Rodgers died in 1994, after leading the Dolores Heights Improvement Club for many years. During the '60s, she was instrumental in getting the city to carve out the Dolores Heights Special Use District, which today preserves many of our older homes and amenities in the area.

The memorial bench was supposed to go in the 10-by-30-foot public right of way on the west side of Sanchez near 21st. Voice readers will recall that the now vacant patch of land is actually on property belonging to one of four large houses built by contractor Seamus McGee. The tiny park was to have two levels and a paved pathway for wheelchair access, plus a bench, a chair, and a memorial stone, in a native plant setting.

This idea was hatched in the summer of '96, about the time construction of the corner house began. We reported that developer McGee met with some of the neighbors and got in touch with Janice Bracken, Rodgers' daughter, who coincidentally was moving back to the Bay Area. Everybody agreed that a mini-park with a maxi-view would be a nice tribute to the very popular Rodgers.

By November '96, all parties were moving forward. Bracken had gotten the landscape designed, and she'd lined up a large piece of redwood and a well-known sculptor, J.B. Blunk. She'd also courted the current members of the Dolores Heights Club and won their endorsement.

At year's end, Monte and Louise Zweben purchased the corner house (on whose land the right of way exists). The new owners also lent their support to the memorial project.

It came as no surprise then that the Planning Commission gave its approval in April of this year. Permits were issued. Bracken went ahead and paid $6,000 to the sculptor. By September, the project planners were ready to excavate.

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BUT WAIT A MINUTE: In September, Seamus McGee informed Bracken that he was no longer willing to do the excavation, which was his contribution to the original plan. Undaunted, Bracken hired another contractor.

Then in October the Zwebens sent out a letter to Sanchez Hill residents informing them that "several neighbors have registered their concerns" about the proj-ect. The letter went on to say that three main issues were being raised:

"1. A public park with a seating area will exacerbate the current problems the hilltop experiences with used needles, condoms, and vagrant sleepovers;

"2. The memorial park requires significant excavation of the hillside which reduces the area available for landscaping with native planting. The hillside currently has full landscaping plans including native Californian plants, which we have agreed to water and maintain; and

"3. There is a likelihood that further excavation will damage the existing cypress tree, especially since its root system appears to be in the direction of the proposed memorial park."

The Zwebens then asked for comments from their immediate neighbors and invited them to come over to their house and review the plans.

In November, the Zwebens reported to the neighbors that of the 32 households they contacted, 19 had responded: 3 favored the project, 11 opposed, 3 abstained, and 2 wanted more information.

Bracken, of course, is quite concerned about the latest turn of events, and she doesn't want to pursue the design "if everybody's unhappy." But she hopes that a scaled-down memorial to her mother can still be placed on the corner.

For her part, Louise Zweben says she is looking forward "to working directly with Janice Bracken to satisfy her needs as well as those of the neighbors."

Let's hope some sort of accord can be reached.

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ALSO STALLED are the plans by the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association (NVMPA) to add 80 parking spaces to Downtown Noe Valley.

The idea was to have diagonal parking on Noe and Castro streets and to convert certain Muni bus stops to pedestrian boarding bubbles, such as the one in front of Noe's Bar at 24th and Church.

Earlier this year, the Merchants surveyed the entire 24th Street corridor in hopes of ferreting out potential parking spaces. The Department of Parking and Traffic did its own survey in June.

The association also got over 1,200 people to sign a petition in support of the parking changes, and received additional endorsements from supervisors Leland Yee and Gavin Newsom. Michael Edd-ings, principal of James Lick Middle School, even came out in favor of diagonal parking on Noe and Castro.

On Oct. 22, merchants president Robert Roddick sent letters to DPT chief Bill Maher and to the man at Muni in charge of bus stops, Duncan Watry.

Since then, he's been twisting in the wind. Roddick has had no response from either Muni or Parking and Traffic. Nevertheless, he's hopeful that these matters will go forward "after the holidays."

Meanwhile, Roddick is finding solace in the number of vacant parking places in his association's new logo (pictured on this page). The logo is the winner of a design contest sponsored by the NVMPA. The $100 prize went to artist Jill Bartlett.

Roddick says the new window decals will be ready to tack up by early next year. "They will be distributed to each of our 103 members," he says, "all of whom I hope the public will support."

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THE LATEST WORD on the Hahn's Habachi roast at Castro and 24th is that the Planning Commission has granted the restaurant's request to change its status from a "small fast-food restaurant" to a "full-service restaurant."

(This distinction is important because Planning added the stipulation that the space must remain "full-service," and not revert to "fast-food.")

However, at a hearing Nov. 20, the commission ordered Hahn's to apply for a permit to install an odor abatement device called a "Smog Hog." It also gave the restaurant 10 weeks to install the system and then report back to City Planning.

About a dozen neighbors showed up to air their grievances over the stinky exhaust that has been wafting downwind.

Let's hope the Smog Hog will bestow some peace and goodwill on all those who have had to endure the problem for the past two years.

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UPDATING THE UPDATES: It looks as if permits will also be issued for a new full-service Thai restaurant opening on the corner of 29th and Church streets. The former occupant, Stellings Market, will move next door and share space with Drewes Meat Market.

Zephyr Realty has dropped plans to add a second floor to its building on 24th Street. Says Zephyr owner Bill Drypol-cher, "We discovered that [putting up] a second story would make it virtually impossible to keep the office open during construction," estimated at three months. The real estate firm might look into building an addition at a later time, he said. But for now, it's going to concentrate on opening a third office on Brannan Street.

Rumors that the Castro Star-- a newspaper in the Castro that is similar to the Voice -- will cease publication at the end of the year are true. According to Editor Bob Burnside, who started the nonprofit venture last year, it became increasingly difficult to singlehandedly run the whole operation. The December issue will no doubt be a collector's item.

The good news is (maybe) that the Castro Star plans to merge with another neighborhood monthly, the Western Edition. Burnside says the two papers have hopes of producing a new hybrid called the "San Francisco Observer."

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NOE VALLEY FILMMAKER Christian Schneider has a hit on his hands called The Chariot Races. The 29-minute video takes you on a ride with John Davis, a Paralympic Gold Medalist ski racer and pioneer of the sport of wheelchair racing.

Christian was born and raised and still lives right here in Noe Valley.

The film was sponsored by The Hartford insurance company, and has already won four awards, including the Silver Apple of the 1997 National Educational Media Network, the 1997 People's Choice Award at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival, and a "Best in Show" from the 1997 International Ski Film Festival. (If you'd like to see it, call 1-800-359-5437.)

Kudos also to former Noe Valleon Tara Ison, who spent her time here writing what will probably become a national bestseller: A Child Out of Alcatraz.

As the title suggests, Tara grew up on Alcatraz, the daughter of a prison guard. The story is set during the 1950s, and according to Tara, "is a story of a 'typical' American family -- a husband, a wife, and children -- but as the prison deteriorates over 30 years, so does the family."

The book, published by Faber & Faber, should be out in paperback by February.

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THOSE DESIGNER NEWSRACKS recently installed in front of Bell Market are part of a six-month pilot project undertaken by the Department of Public Works at the behest of the Board of Supervisors.

The program asks San Francisco residents to compare several designs of fixed-pedestal news racks. According to DPW, the eventual goal is to rid our streets of "the proliferation of free-standing newsracks on our sidewalks, causing congestion, visual blight, and safety concerns."

Once they get public feedback, the supervisors might approve amendments to the city's newsrack ordinance that would do away with the free-standing racks (and possibly freedom of speech).

Dan Brugmann, DPW's newsrack program manager, says the Noe Valley location is one of 10 spots across the city sporting the trial units. Survey sheets are available on the top of the racks, but during the rains you should look in the cubbyholes. Brugmann invites as many of you as possible to complete the questionnaire and return it to him (by Dec. 31) or call him at 554-6926. He'll write his report at the first of the year.

So far, he has received 40 responses from Noe Valley and over 700 citywide. The makers of the news racks, by the way, are the S.F. Newspaper Agency, USA Today, City Solutions, and JC Decaux.

Your vote should be sent to DPW Public Affairs, 875 Stevenson St., Room 410, San Francisco, CA 94103-0934. The questionnaires have pre-paid postage, so that should make things easy.

NOE VOTER TURNOUT in the municipal election on Nov. 4 was a lesson in minority rule. Only 29.8 percent of people registered to vote in Noe Valley actually went to the polls.

Diamond Heights had the largest voter turnout in the city, with 35.3 percent.

Noe Valley voted over 50 percent for our homie Susan Leal for city treasurer. Leal got nearly as many votes as Louise Renne, who was running unopposed.

We voted yes on Proposition F: the measure allowing the Mt. Davidson cross to be sold and maintained privately. The vote was 3,160 for, 1,704 against.

On the Save the Central Freeway issue (Proposition H), Noe Valley voted the freeway down, 3,248 to 1,674. Citywide, the measure passed by a narrow margin.

My vote is for you to have a happy holiday season. Remember, think globally, shop locally. Until next year, bye kids.