Noe Valley Voice July-August 2000

Residents Tell Supervisors: 'Monsters' Are Destroying Our Neighborhoods

By Rae Leaper

The neighborhoods are being overrun by "monsters"--large buildings that crowd onto small lots and dwarf the houses next door. And if the city doesn't put a halt to the invasion, we can say goodbye to our smaller, more affordable homes.

That was the message delivered by dozens of Noe and Eureka Valley residents who attended an emotional June 6 hearing before the Board of Supervisors' housing committee.

The "monster home forum" was called by Supervisor Mark Leno, who had expressed his own concerns about the rise in oversize developments in San Francisco. "People are at war with one another, and it's created some terrible scars," he said. "We must ensure that the neighborhood interests are protected."

Leno and Supervisors Sue Bierman and Alicia Becerril listened for two hours as more than 30 people -- including representatives from the Collingwood Hill Neighborhood Association, Upper Noe Neighbors, and the Sanchez Hill Neighborhood Association -- came to the microphone to voice their complaints.

Most aimed their venom at City Planning, for its alleged bias toward builders.

Paul Turchetto of Sanchez Street declared, "This city and its neighborhoods are in crisis. Because of the housing shortage, the city's needs have been married to the developers' wants, and it is becoming a marriage from hell."

The hot issue of affordable housing was also addressed by Steve Bartoletti of Beaver Street, who pointed out that every time the Planning Department permits the demolition of an existing house, the price of the replacement jumps 50 to 100 percent. "Demolitions are accelerating this crazy market," he said.

Many speakers decried the Planning Department's failure to adhere to the Residential Design Guidelines, put in place by the 1986 passage of Proposition M. That proposition states that "the existing housing and neighborhood character [shall] be conserved and protected in order to preserve the cultural and economic diversity of our neighborhoods."

Bill Barrett of 21st Street asked the supervisors to strengthen the guidelines to make it impossible for the Planning Department "to ignore the will of the people."

Steve Nichelson of Sanchez Street outlined several changes to the planning code that "would allow the addition of housing and orderly development." He suggested that the city add residential structures to the planning code's maximum "floor area ratios" (currently, the FARs apply only to commercial buildings), require neighborhood involvement before determining whether a project conforms with the planning code, and establish a reasonable def-inition of demolition. He also called on the supervisors to "send a clear message that the spirit of Prop. M will be enforced."

Several speakers warned that unless City Hall offered relief, they would take action at the ballot box. Jeannene Przyblyski of the Collingwood Hill Neighborhood Association said, "We represent hundreds, even thousands of San Franciscans, who have been politically activated and radicalized by the negative experience of out-of-control development in our neighborhoods. We ask you to join us to stop this unplanned and piecemeal growth."

Planning Director Gerald Green had been invited to speak, but left before the hearing started. Calls to his department, requested by an obviously upset Supervisor Bierman, failed to entice a representative to attend. "I don't know if this has ever happened before -- where the supervisors have a hearing about a subject, and the department involved doesn't even show up," she said.

Developers were also scarce. Only two people spoke in favor of building projects that were substantially larger than the neighborhood average. They said their buildings were not "monsters" since they were not out of scale with the size of the lot. Supervisor Bierman encouraged them to "work with the neighbors to come to a compromise."

At the end the hearing, Supervisor Leno told the audience that he felt there was a need for a citywide plan. He also promised to look into codifying the guidelines embodied in Prop. M.

In late June, Supervisor Mark Leno announced that he was authoring legislation that would require residential builders to abide by the average "floor area ratio" (a standard formula) on their block. "We can prevent this entire battlefield over monsters by making it clear that, for residential as well as commercial developments, the basic floor area ratio will determine the maximum allowance for buildings on the street."