December - January 1997 - THE NOE REVIEW


By Vicky Graham

Most San Francisco residents take their surrounding neighborhoods for granted. They imagine that the convenient supermarket they're used to shopping in will always be there; that the lovely old Victorian next door will always grace the neighborhood; that the park they're used to wandering through will remain as natural open-space in perpetuity. Reality is another story. Though the city looks like it has reached a saturation point for building growth, there are still 20 million sq. ft. of pre-existing entitlements. An example of what this translates into: A next-door neighbor decides to sell his old 3000 sq. ft. Victorian and a developer buys it. The developer knows the original lot has a pre-existing entitlement of 200,000 sq. ft.that's why he bought that old Victorian. He's planning on tearing it down and building a boxy 200,000 sq. ft. glass high-rise.

Never mind that this high-rise is completely out of context with the surrounding neighborhood or that parking is already difficult. Never mind that your neighbors would rather see the old building refurbished. The developer is completely within his legal rights. These kinds of scenarios are going on all over the city. It's only a matter of time before an unwanted or destructive development threatens your neighborhood. Why not be prepared? Read Saving The Neighborhood, You Can Fight Developers and Win! by Peggy Robin, available at the Nolo Press Bookstore in Berkeley.

This book is an all-purpose, how-to guide for fighting unwanted developments. Not only is it reader friendly and suitable for beginners, it will give battled hardened experts some ideas they hadn't thought of. Robin says the key ingredient is commitment. If you've got commitment you're more than half way there.

It's also important to enlist as many of your neighbors as possible and pool everyone's talents. Some people may be good at research, i.e. going to the city's planning department and asking to see development plans, Environmental Impact Reports (EIR's) and guidelines for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Some people will be more suited to writing and faxing press releases to attract media attention to the cause. Others will be better at fundraising and/or talking to planning commissioners and city council members. Enlist the help of other organizations. If an old and/or architecturally unique building is threatened with demolition, call the California Historical Society; if a natural open space park is slated to become a parking lot, contact the Native Plant or Audubon Society.

To successfully fight an unwanted development, it usually takes a small core group, five to twenty neighbors working full time on the cause. It's also necessary to generate an enormous amount of opposition to the unwanted development by encouraging hundreds of residents (with flyers) to speak out at planning commission and city council meetings. Local politicians should be flooded with thousands of individually written letters of opposition. Local residents recently banded together and successfully stopped Stonestown's Megamall expansion plans. The owners of the mall closed Petrini's supermarket which was to be replaced with a bookstore. In addition, the plans called for a sixteen-screen cineplex, four story parking garage and a new supermarket to be built behind The Good Guys. Stonestown resident Adina Rosmarin is a retired English professor who is also trained in research. In the course of her sleuthing she found out Stonestown Galleria has an old EIR completed in 1986, which includes pre-existing entitlements, giving the mall owners the right to add thousands of square feet of floor space.

Rosmarin said that most residents of the neighborhoods around Stonestown are well educated and affluent. Around seventeen neighbors worked full time to stop the megamall project. Many residents posted signs in front of their homes. Over one-hundred seventy residents stormed a Planning Commission meeting. They passed out flyers encouraging people to write letters of opposition, and as a result 3500 people wrote letters to the City Council, Mayor and Board of Supervisors. The owners of Stonestown finally withdrew their plans for development. The battle is not over yet. Stonestown's owners still retain the pre-existing entitlements and could resubmit development plans in a year. Rosmarin says that she and the core group are currently working to void the pre-existing entitlements.

Elsewhere in the city the battle in the gay and lesbian community is heating up over the demolition of a 104 year old Victorian, The Fallon House. The house, 1800 Market, was originally built for Carmel Fallon when she moved to San Francisco with her six children. Fallon was granddaughter to General Castro for whom Castro Street is named. The building has an unusual trapezoidal shape. It was the only Victorian along Market Street that was not destroyed in in the fire after the 1906 earthquake. The fire burned right up to the corner and stopped.

The Gay and Lesbian Board, a non-profit organization, wants to take the wrecking ball to the Fallon House and build a much larger modern mid-rise that fills up the adjacent small parking lot. According to Tom Mayer, leader of Friends of 1800 Market Street, the Board would be using public money and corporate donations amounting to several million dollars.

Mayer says the group working to save the Fallon House Friends of 1800 Market Street is steadily growing. They've posted picture displays along store fronts and they've had a billboard attached to the house. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor Willie Brown are in favor of tearing the building down and are at odds with "Friends." They claim the building is too old and run down to be refurbished. Historical preservationists say this is good because it means the building is in its original condition. Mayer says the building qualifies for The National Register of Historic Places.

The Friends are in the process of completing the paperwork for this, as well as trying to get the building San Francisco Landmark status. If they are successful at this, it won't guarantee the building won't be demolished, but it will give them time to fight. Those who want to demolish the building will have to go through the Environmental Impact Report process, if they attain Landmark status. This could tie up the demolition for years with red-tape, giving the Friends more time to look for ways to save the building. If you would like to learn how to save your neighborhood when the time comes, this would be a good place to begin to learn what is involved. You can contact Friends of 1800 Market Street at 643-1236.

Courtesy The Noe Review, December-January, 1998

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