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THE NOE VALLEY BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION has been chasing down rumors about the pending sale of Ralphs Grocery Company's 23 Northern California Bell/Cala stores, including the 24th Street Bell. The fact that the chain was on the market was front-page news in the September Voice. Since then, the managers at our Bell have referred all inquiries to Ralphs' corporate headquarters down south in Compton, Calif. When pressed about the store's future, Ralphs' spokespeople consistently say: "No comment."
However, the NVBI has pieced together some clues from several reliable sources, who prefer to remain anonymous.
It appears that Kroger Co., Ralphs' parent company headquartered in Ohio, was going to sell the 24th Street store, along with 19 others, to the wholesale grocery giant IGA (Independent Grocers Association). But IGA had to meet a Friday deadline in mid-November to seal the deal. Well, that deadline came and went, and nothing happened, say our sources.
Another rumor--that Whole Foods grocery might acquire the 24th Street Bell--also has been snuffed, although the Texas conglomerate reportedly bought three stores from Kroger/Ralphs in the Napa-Sonoma area.
About the remaining stores in the No Cal group, the only news we have is that the Cala on Mission Street in the Excelsior District is still closed (though Ralphs renewed the lease), and the Cala on Geary at Fourth Avenue will be closing at the end of February 2006, when its lease expires.
Leases for the other Bell/Cala stores will come up for renegotiation during the next two to four years. The Noe Valley Bell is one of these (two years), and so is the Eureka Valley Cala, over the hill at 18th and Collingwood.
Supervisor Bevan Dufty is now getting involved because the fate of both major supermarkets in his district, the Noe Bell and the Castro Cala, is uncertain. Dufty says he has talked with Ralphs people in Compton and told them that he would like to see a local independent grocer like Bi-Rite or Mikeytom Market have the opportunity to acquire our Bell and Cala.
Ralphs listened, but did not make any promises.
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BANK SHOT: Anyone who was near the corner of 24th and Church streets a little after 10 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22--a rather balmy evening--must have been shocked to see a group of seven or eight juveniles wearing black masks attacking the new Sterling Bank building with bricks. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident.
According to Mission Police Lieutenant Sharon McNally, the event was captured on the bank's video system and was over in less than four minutes. The vandals shattered the glass on the front windows, defaced the ATM machine, and spray-painted messages like "theif" [sic] on the walls.
"It appears to us to have been perpetrated by an anarchist group well known to us in the Mission District. We recognize their mark painted on the wall, a circled A," says McNally. "But this is the first time they have attacked a bank, that we know."
Sterling Bank President Steve Adams was surprised to be the target of such an attack, since Sterling Bank is a San Francisco based and owned bank and committed to community involvement and improvement.
"However, we were determined to open our doors on Saturday morning, which we did, and we had everything repaired by Monday," says Adams. "I have nothing but praise for the officers at Mission Police Station, who I found great to work with. The response of the neighborhood showed me truly what a great neighborhood this is. We even got eight new accounts Saturday morning."
McNally says there have been no arrests yet, and the matter has been turned over to inspectors at police headquarters. She would not confirm or deny that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved--because of the nature of the incident.
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ROOT FOR THE HOME TREE: Neighborhood activist Tracey Hughes found herself confronting police officers from Mission Police Station on Monday, Nov. 7. She was videotaping a root pruning that was being performed on a 100-year-old Norfolk Island pine she is trying to save. The 100-foot tree is growing in the back yard of an old house at 1070 Sanchez Street that is being demolished to make way for a multiple-dwelling development. Evidently, the property owner viewed Hughes' presence as unwelcome and called the police.
(Hughes and other local preservationists had tried to save the house, too. But the Board of Supes voted 11-0 in favor of issuing demolition and building permits. However, Hughes, who lives nearby on 24th Street, had won her quest to have a certified arborist supervise the tree's trimming, which needed to be done prior to construction of the new complex. On Nov. 4 and 7, the arborist, James Lascot, was there overseeing the root excavation.)
Hughes says when the police arrived, she was fingerprinted at the site and issued a citation (she declined to say what for). She promised to appear in court on Jan. 6, "and I hope to get back the videotape I was making of the event which they took 'as evidence.'"
We hope this story will have a happy ending: the builder will build, the charges will be dropped against Hughes, and the tree will live out its normal life span, which is 150 years.
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NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: Neighbors residing on Sanchez between 22nd and Hill are disappointed that City Hall couldn't arrange for their block's overhead wires to be undergrounded along with the rest of the Sanchez Hill dwellers. They call themselves "the lost block," since public works projects over the years that included the 800 block of Sanchez only provided improvements to the 800 to 850 block, between 21st Street and Hill, and not to the second part of the block, with addresses 851 to 899, from Hill to 22nd Street.
In fact, a utility undergrounding project is under way right now, but only on the top block.
According to resident Peggy Cling, who has lived on the hill for the past 20 years, it would make sense to do their utility undergrounding now, since PG&E is currently replacing all the old gas lines on the hill, including those on her block. In September, she and other residents met with Supervisor Bevan Dufty and City Administrator Ed Lee to see whether their lost block could be brought up to speed.
The city was sympathetic, but offered no tunnel at the end of the light. They explained that because their block wasn't covered in the legislation that earmarked funds for undergrounding the top of Sanchez Hill more than a decade ago, they were out of luck. The present-day cost, to the city and/or the residents, would be, to use Dufty aide Boe Hayward's word, "astronomical."
"The estimated cost to underground the block is anywhere from $370,000 to $420,000, which PG&E developed based on current construction costs. This includes the cost of installing conduits from the electrical services panel on each affected property," says Hayward.
Meanwhile, PG&E has started its gas-line replacement on the hill. Asked about the lost block's woes, a foreman from the crew said that undergrounding involved the coordination of all the users of the overhead wires. This takes a long time to plan and can't be done within the time frame of the current projects.
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(LOST BLOCK RESIDENTS, please skip this next item--too painful.) The opposite story is taking place on the northeast side of Sanchez Hill. Residents of the Liberty Hill Historic District, which is bounded roughly by 20th, Valencia, 22nd, and Dolores streets, have finally seen their wires go underground, as a result of a petition to the city more than 10 years ago. And now that that's done, they're having streetlights installed that replicate the design of the old gaslights that were there from about 1890 to 1930.
"We wanted the Lumec streetlights that closely matched the gaslights that were originally in front of our mid-Victorian houses," says Liberty Street resident and history buff John Barbey. "We petitioned for this style lamp over a year ago, and they have finally started installing these new old lights."
Barbey points out that one of the original gaslights is still standing in front of a residence located at 3364 21st Street, near Guerrero. He invites everyone to check that one out and then come down to Liberty Street between Valencia and Dolores, where the new fixtures have gone in.
"They really look great," says Barbey, "and are very much like the old ones. Now [we need] to see whether the glare guards the city has also devised for these lights work when the lights are illuminated."
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SHORT SHRIFTS: The owner of the building at Church and Day that used to be Mikeytom Market confirmed that Cingular One has placed an antenna on the roof of the building. No doubt this has improved the cell phone reception in the area.
As for any new occupants, owner Peter Kung says that he has had a lot of people checking out the space, but no one has rented it yet.
"Most of the people who are looking at the property are looking to put a restaurant there, but there have been other uses proposed like a yoga studio," says Kung.
Long Island Chinese Restaurant on Church near 29th Street abruptly closed its doors last month. A sign on the door announced that the restaurant had moved to a new location at 3601 26th Street, at San Jose Avenue, and changed its name to Wild Pepper. Says owner David Ng, "Since we have moved down here, we are having much better business."
A new optometrist, Bonny Ng, has opened up shop on the corner of Church and Duncan streets, in the former home of RYS Architects (and before that, for many years the antique store Homes of Charm). Ng should have had a spectacle-ular grand opening by the time you read this.
The spot on 24th Street next to Martha's Coffee that used to be Rose Nails is now for rent, reportedly going for $3,500 per month for the approximately 700 square feet.
Sorry to all the members of the Jakes, which is the name of the band that played at Noe Courts on Sept. 10 and was erroneously identified in Rumors last month as the Jukes. Thanks to the band's drummer and manager, Seth "Smokey" Jake Affoumado, for pointing out the typo.
Congratulations to all of you who went out and voted in the Nov. 8 special election. According to the Department of Elections, over 60 percent turned out to vote. The final tabulations have yet to be released, but it appears that we voted about 7 to 1 against Governor Arnold's propositions.
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A COLT SNAP: All you Lost in the Fog fans who watched the Oct. 29 Belmont Breeders' Cup race were chagrinned to see the racehorse described the next day on the front page of the Chronicle sports section as "Lost in the Crowd."
The 10-time undefeated 3-year-old sprinter, owned by Noe Valley old-timer Harry Aleo, was horse number 7, and came in seventh out of the 11 that ran the race.
"It just wasn't a good day for him," says Aleo, resigned to the loss. "Not to make excuses, but before the first race, he was put in a secure stable which was located near the first turn of the track, where he could hear the horses go by in the first five races. This was unsettling. And this was after we'd got him earlier in the morning and he'd seemed upset at being there, and even reared up, which he never does, and took a bite at my chest. He was tired and irritable before he started and just didn't have it."
Aleo says Lost in the Fog is in Florida now enjoying a three-month vacation on the farm where he was born. "We should be bringing him back to Golden Gate Fields in January and starting training for next season, which should be quite exciting. Hopefully, we'll end with a victory at the Belmont Breeders' Cup next year."
Aleo is also quite excited about his nearly 3-year-old sprinter named Frisco Star, who recently won his first race at the Sonoma County Fair in record time. Aleo thinks Frisco Star might be--dare we say it?--faster than the Fog.
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FASTER THAN FOG: I am out of here for '05. Here is wishing all of you a very merry happy. Ciao for now and peace on earth.