Noe Valley Voice February 2003

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

DEVELOPING NEWS: A new group of neighbors who live around the Sanchez and Alvarado intersection is banding together to "Save Sanchez Street" from a residential building project proposed for the property at 949 Sanchez. In fact, Save Sanchez Street is the name of the group.

The small house (900 square feet) that now sits at the back of the property was built on Sanchez Hill in 1905, and gives us a glimpse of how people lived in this suburban neighborhood at the turn of the last century. In the front of the house is a big yard with a garden. At the rear of the property is access to tiny Blanche Alley, a 15-foot-wide street that ends there now but used to dissect the entire block.

After the death of Annette Phillips, who had lived at 949 Sanchez with her husband Jim since 1971 (he predeceased her), the property was sold in 2001 to contractor/developer Mel Murphy. Murphy rented the place out for a year, then announced via letters from the Planning Department last fall that he planned to build a 5,350-square-foot structure consisting of a three-story set of condominiums, two studios, and a parking garage with access to Blanche Alley.

In response, four separate neighbors filed requests for discretionary review by the city and began circulating petitions to "Save Sanchez Street." They also organized a meeting in January at the house of next-door neighbors Susan Torres and Paul Mayfield. According to Mayfield, 65 people in the neighborhood signed the petition against the project and more than 40 people showed up at the meeting. Many came from Vicksburg Street since their houses also abut Blanche Alley.

The obvious question, from their point of view, was how could a monster home suddenly invade the 900 block of Sanchez, which has maintained its character since the early days of the 20th century. The last houses built on the block date back to the 1920s, and most were built between 1885 and the earthquake of 1906. Owners' remodeling has been in the form of restoration, with great pains taken to preserve the Victorian flavor of the street. Anyone who has seen the oral-history video of 100-year-old Tillie Smith at Noe Valley History Day knows that she lived across the street from 949 Sanchez at the northwest corner of Alvarado and Sanchez, and that she and her neighbors were fond of their life in the "country." (Tillie died about 10 years ago.) A bramble bush still remains in her front yard, and kids still reach over the fence and grab the delicious blackberries when they are in season.

According to one of the new group's leaders, Dick Juhl, Save Sanchez Street has contacted several other neighborhood groups and is on the agenda at both the Friends of Noe Valley and Upper Noe Neighbors' February meetings.

"We are also encouraging people to write protests to Rick Crawford, the city planner on the project, and to our supervisor, Bevan Dufty," Juhl says.

Some of the folks on Vicksburg have suggested that one way to preserve the open space is to get a bunch of people together to buy the property and then turn it into a private residential parking lot. Fat chance that's going to happen. But then again, the impossible happened at Dan's Gas on 24th Street.

At press time, there were rumors that Murphy might be willing to scale down his project a bit. Let's hope inspections and diplomacy prevail.

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I WONDER AS I WANDER: Speaking of Dan's Gas, Tim Leistico, the fellow who is managing the parking lot project for the Noe Valley Ministry, reports that there were no objections filed against the project this past fall, and "we're just waiting for the city to give us our demolition permit." As soon as the church gets that, he says, the wreckers will come in to demolish the old garage on 24th near Sanchez.

As you will recall, the project was first approved more than a year ago (December '01), and the wrecking ball was supposed to be swinging by the next April. Then it was Thanksgiving, then Christmas. Now Leistico's best guess is Valentine's Day. At this rate, we'll be lucky if the paint is dry on the white lines for 29 new parking spaces by St. Patrick's Day.

If you are wondering what will be taking the place of the defunct juice joint at the corner of 24th and Sanchez, join the club. According to the realtor, Riyad Salma, no one has signed a lease yet. He says various kinds of business have expressed interest: "We have had inquiries from people in the food service business, a clothing store, and someone who was going to sell New Age items, but it is still available." The rent? "It's negotiable."

Everybody is wondering what is going to replace Star Bakery, at the corner of Church and 29th streets. Richard Beale, the real estate agent offering the place for rent, tells me it has been leased to someone with plans to open a restaurant, but he doesn't want to elaborate. "I'll have them call you," he says. OK.

The second-to-last item in the "I'm wondering" category is: What is going into the freshly remodeled space up on Diamond near 24th, next to Edward Jones Investments? Rumor is it's a hair salon.

Finally, aren't you wondering why the new digital parking meters DPT promised us by "the middle of November" have yet to be installed in Downtown Noe Valley? The notable exception is the city parking lot on 24th Street between Le Zinc and Radio Shack, which does have the marvelous little meters that take nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Well, according to Department of Public Works spokesperson Diana Hammons, "Scheduling plans had to be changed because of weather delays, technical problems, and delivery delays of the meters."

Hammons says Noe Valley can expect to go digital by the middle of February and suggests that if you have any more questions about the project, go into cyberspace to the web site dpt/meters.htm for the latest scoop.

In DPT-speak, that means we should have them in sometime after St. Patrick's Day, which looks more and more like St. Parking's Day.

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STATE OF THE UNIONS: An expansion project at St. Philip's Church on Diamond Street was the focal point of a "Happy New Year" trade union dispute between the local Carpenters Union and Laborers Union. On Jan. 2, about 30 members of the Carpenters Union set up a picket line in front of the church to stop work from being done by a construction company that employs apparent rival Laborers Union members. Not only did it create a stir in the neighborhood, but the story wound up in the Chronicle and in a column by Warren Hinckle on the front page of the Independent. St. Philip's is currently involved in extending its parish hall, which requires shoring up of the church for necessary excavation.

Pastor Michael J. Healy was outraged that his church had been accused of hiring non-union help, which wasn't true. On Jan. 4, Healy wrote a letter to his parishioners explaining why the labor dispute between two unions had created such a disturbance around the church, convent, and school.

Wrote Healy: "I resent that the [Carpenters] union would use the Catholic Church to justify their conflict with another union, and with Granite Construction. All is not fair in love and war. I also resent their abuse of the priesthood, which I represent, and of me personally. They showed no consideration for the elderly sisters in the convent with their drum beating, abusive language, and loudspeakers."

When contacted by the Voice a few weeks after the picketing, Healy was still angry. "We had at least 30 union cards [pickets] surrounding our church for 10 days, and the whole thing could have been averted if people had communicated beforehand."

Healy said he had a long conversation with Carpenters Union president Pat O'Halleran, on Saturday, Jan. 25, "and we both wanted to have a reconciliation. He indicated to me that he regretted that action was taken in front of St. Philip's, but he still has his grievances against Granite and the Laborers Union."

Merchants in the area might also have received a letter of regret from the Carpenters Union. Send me a copy, and I'm sure the editors will publish it to broaden the reconciliation.

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PULL UP A CHAIR: The Fred Methner Memorial Bench that sat outside the Noe Valley Ministry until last Halloween, when some miscreant carted it off, has been replaced. Through the generosity of three families who are members of San Francisco Homeschoolers, you can now sit on a new Lancaster cast-iron and oak bench outside the church at 1021 Sanchez.

Several kids from the Homeschoolers group attend Spanish classes taught by Rennea Couttenye at the Ministry. When their families heard the bench had been stolen and not returned, they went out and purchased a new one at Home Depot. According to building manager Ramon Sender, the Ministry will also replace the brass plaque honoring Methner, who for decades was secretary of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club. He was a true neighborhood preservationist who actually lived up to the club's motto: "Dedicated to the safety, cleanliness, and well-being of our community."

Thanks should also go out to the Friends of Noe Valley, who made a $1,000 grant to Alvarado Elementary School, to be used for chairs in the school's library. FNV president Jeannene Przyblyski presented the check to Alvarado principal David Weiner at the Friends' holiday party in December.

Notes Przyblyski, "It came to our attention that Alvarado had no chairs for the kids in their school library. Friends was happy to help make the Alvarado library a nicer place for kids to read and learn."

Folks, the real question is: Why were there no kids' chairs in the Alvarado library?

You might want to attend the next FNV general membership meeting on Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Noe Valley-Sally Brunn Library, when newly elected District 8 supervisor Bevan Dufty will tell us his ideas and plans for the neighborhood.

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SO MANY, YET SO FEW: Results of the Dec. 10 runoff election between said Bevan Dufty and Eileen Hansen were tabulated by the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation without controversy. Bevan carried Noe Valley over Eileen by a vote of 3,235 to 2,729.

Those numbers should tell you that the Noe Valley voter turnout was low: a piddly 38 percent of those registered to vote. Not to take anything away from the Dufty victory, but only about 19 percent of registered voters decided the outcome of this important election.

Voter turnout district-wide averaged 38 percent. The top neighborhoods in District 8 were South Bernal Heights, Castro/Upper Market, and Diamond Heights, all with a 41 percent turnout.

Those of you who vote might already know that Supervisor Dufty and mayoral hopeful Susan Leal, currently San Francisco treasurer, both dropped in on the Noe Valley Democratic Club last month. (The Demos meet the third Wednesday of the month--call Dee Andrews, 285-6043.)

Dufty talked about what a great experience the campaign had been and thanked Noe Valleons for their votes. He also expressed support for new board president Matt Gonzalez, even though he admitted that Gonzalez wasn't his first choice for the job.

When the topic of monster homes reared its head, Dufty avoided taking sides, saying monster homes are "a huge issue" and that he is "ready to look" at pending legislation that would curb the monsters.

Former homegirl Leal drummed up support for her mayoral race, reminding the Demos of her long history in Noe Valley and saying she and her partner hoped to return to the neighborhood soon. She also made a pitch for more affordable housing, saying it's a key factor in bringing in new businesses that would ease the city's unemployment woes.

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EVERYONE WHO SHOPS at Bell Market on 24th Street was shocked to learn that a supervising clerk, Dennis Haymond, had died suddenly and unexpectedly on Jan. 6 (of an aneurysm) at age 38.

Haymond used to live in Noe Valley when he started working for Bell Market back in August of 1984. Originally he worked at the California Street store, but he transferred to 24th Street to be closer to home about 15 years ago. Bell manager and Noe Valley resident Enrico Fornesi said, "He will be sorely missed by everyone at this store."

Faye Duca, who has clerked at Bell for 26 years, said the store's employees were pretty shook up. "We're one big family here, and Dennis was really loved, a real people person. We all grew up together." She said Dennis was well-liked by the customers, too, and that "people were so upset" to hear the news.

As a Bell shopper, I could always count on Dennis for a smile, and for help with whatever problem or gripe I might have. For Dennis, the customer was always right. The neighborhood will certainly miss him. Our condolences to Dennis Haymond's family and friends. h