September 29, 2010
The Planning Department’s Very Different Criterion For 448 Diamond
While San Francisco’s Planning Department recommends the Planning Commission deny a family's application to demolish and rebuild their long-time single-family home at 673 Brussels, at the same time they’re recommending the Commission approve the demolition and rebuilding of the recently purchased (2007) single-family home at 448 Diamond.
The basis for the Planning Department’s recommendation for 448 Diamond:
1. The Project will replace one, three bedroom family-sized dwelling-unit with a new, five bedroom family-sized single-family home.
2. No tenants will be displaced as a result of this Project.
3. Given the scale of the Project, there will be no significant impact on the existing capacity of the local street system or MUNI.
4. Although the structure is more than 50-years old, a review of the Historic Resource Evaluation resulted in a determination that the existing building is not an historic resource or landmark.
Point number one was actually held against the bid for 673 Brussels ("The Project will not result in a net gain of dwelling-units") while the other three points hold true for both.
And while the specter of losing affordable housing stock is raised with respect to 673 Brussels (even though it’s not speculative development), it’s brushed aside with respect to 448 Diamond (which fails Planning’s protection of affordable housing criterion as well).
∙ A Family's Plea To Rebuild Their Home (And Planning’s Objections) [SocketSite]
∙ Discretionary Review Analysis: 448 Diamond [sf-planning.org]
First Published: September 29, 2010 12:00 PM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
The planning department is apparently in a state of disarray due to the recent porn scandal and the firings of a significant number of senior level personnel. Many of the firings were politically motivated and there a level of fear and distrust that is pervasive among planning staff. Planning director John Raiham needs to be replaced with someone who can regain control of operations at the department.
Posted by: apropos at September 29, 2010 12:15 PM
Can this get more black and white?
What a horrible joke the planning department is.
I wonder how much palm grease it took to 448 diamond to sail through the same criteria which snagged 673 brussels.
The news should be reporting on this
Posted by: Joe at September 29, 2010 12:21 PM
I think the excesses of the Planning Department are great fodder for this site -- so much more interesting than those tired old 'Apples.' And glaring contradictions from the planning department seem to be at least as abundant ...
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at September 29, 2010 12:36 PM
Kudos to SS for this post. Can we get John King of the Chronicle to pick this up? Someone here must know him!
Posted by: Kurt Brown at September 29, 2010 12:46 PM
must be some journalists among the '30,000plus'
who 'plug in' ...no?
Posted by: anonee at September 29, 2010 12:50 PM
Are we sure theres not a basement unit thrown in? Lol
Speaking of questionable demos... That unsellable mess on steiner in cow hollow was a demo of some tiny building and replaced with some monstrosity. How did that pass in such a short period of time?? A lot of these projects approvals really seems to be contingent on the whims of staff. Apparently I just don't know the right people..
Posted by: Denis at September 29, 2010 1:00 PM
This makes the planning department's recommendation on Brussels to look even more like redlining. People in more expensive neighborhoods can demolish and rebuild, whereas people in "affordable" neighborhoods cannot.
This could be a scandal if people in SF cared about such things and if the rest of city government wasn't so incompetent and/or corrupt. As it is now, people think these terrible policies create affordable housing, rather than destroy it.
Posted by: sfrenegade at September 29, 2010 1:25 PM
One could argue that approving this Diamond street demo/rebuild will remove a house affordable to the middle class.
Someone bought this 1272 sf property for 1.076,500.00 in August 2007 for the ultimate purpose of tearing it down. I will have to assume that the owner expects the property to be worth much more than the original (bubble top) purchase amount.
Without this purchase, what would have been the fair price? 800K? 900K? Probably less.
Therefore this property is gone forever from the pool of houses a sub-200K/Y family can afford. It shifted towards the 300K+ segment.
There you have it. More un-affordability that the Planning Department just created.
But who cares about the middle class? It's not like they pay taxes or vote or have kids, right?
Posted by: lol at September 29, 2010 2:02 PM
I don't know John King, but I just forwarded this thread to him in an email.
Posted by: Kurt Brown at September 29, 2010 2:04 PM
there are a few embarassing things about living in a supposedly well-educated place like SF.
the Chronicle, rent-control, the planning commission, our homeless policy, upholstered BART seats & floors,...
Posted by: hotday at September 29, 2010 3:15 PM
I think it's fair to say development in SF can be complicated. Has anyone actually talked to the Planning Department about this case? Could be helpful to get the details.
Posted by: bubs at September 29, 2010 4:01 PM
sfrendgade has it correct.
You can't tear down a terrible building in a bad neighborhood, but you can tear down a good building in a great neighborhood.
The demolition restrictions in this city are to protect historic properties and properties that are deemed to be rentable to the SF working poor / working class.
Otherwise, half the Mission would've been torn down long ago.
Posted by: local architect at September 29, 2010 4:25 PM
I appreciate this being brought to light here on Socketsite - no question the planning department is a disaster.
But I'm not a huge fan of where this conversation is going... the longtime SF class debate route. How does SF solve things? Not by allowing the neighborhoods like Portola to rehab/remodel/upgrade their neighborhoods, but by applying the same shitty set of rules to every neighborhood, including Noe Valley.
The restrictions and beauracratic obstacles to building a home in this City are draconian and ideologically driven. The fact that an entire industry has sprung up (one that only the wealthy can afford) to navigate through these obstacles is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.
Let's address the problem.
Posted by: Longtime-Lurker at September 29, 2010 4:28 PM
A five-bedroom house may not be affordable to a middle-class buyer; however, if it's ever rented out someday, that's five potential rooms for tenants.
Posted by: Langtonian at September 29, 2010 4:34 PM
The SF Planning Department isn't a joke, it is just falling apart under the strain of overloaded capacity and overly complex rules and processes. These threads seem like an argument for crowd sourcing initial review so that staff only have to check for errors, similar examples, and compliance with the latest codes.
All of this is related to the abundance of rules many of which overlap or conflict or color each other in complex ways. Somehow condensing the rules and the process could help the development process tremendously.
Posted by: Mole Man at September 29, 2010 5:02 PM
The bad neighborhood thing is in part an artifact of economics. Because bad areas have the slowest rate of remodeling and replacement, they accumulate the largest percentage of potentially historic structures. In the better areas many buildings get swapped out before anyone becomes overly fond of them. The existing process of protecting historic structures transforms naturally into an indirect form of redlining.
Posted by: Mole Man at September 29, 2010 5:06 PM
"These threads seem like an argument for crowd sourcing initial review so that staff only have to check for errors, similar examples, and compliance with the latest codes."
No no, not crowdsourcing. That's what we have now, development by committee, where everyone gets a voice. If people meet the rules, planning should have very little, if any, discretion and community meetings should not be necessary. All community meetings do is allow undue influence for NIMBYs.
What we need are a complete revamping of the rules, as you suggested. The revamped rules should make sense and have an eye to the future. Some of these rules that purport to make housing affordable absolutely do not make housing affordable. In fact, the vast majority of policies in SF tend to make housing less affordable, not more affordable, because they constrain development so severely and force expensive fixes for simple problems. Requirements like BMR units exacerbate the problem because it forces higher prices for market rate units to subsidize the BMR units. Let's not even get into the ridiculous qualifications for historic preservation.
Anyone who says that planning is trying to make housing more affordable doesn't think critically. Housing in SF is about helping out people who are connected through crony capitalism, and the board of supervisors works to keep it this way.
Posted by: sfrenegade at September 29, 2010 5:14 PM
So what's up with the house on the left? Yikes it looks like a total dump. But of course reduced to a clean white pencil line on the rendering...
Posted by: stucco-sux at September 29, 2010 6:44 PM
It is interesting to compare the two applications - on that basis, it would seem that a zippy Sketchup rendering and solar panels on the roof carry a lot more weight than letters of support from the neighbors.
Posted by: spruce at September 29, 2010 9:34 PM
Pol Pot would be proud of the Planning Department.
Posted by: Jimmy C at September 29, 2010 10:48 PM
They should keep the below-grade parking. Archetypical San Francisco, and it makes it a little less obtrusive.
Anyway, that's my input into the design-by-committee.
Posted by: Al at September 30, 2010 1:55 AM
Withstanding the politics behind this decision, and the similar case posted before -- I have been in this house a few times prior to 2007. About half of the home is uninhabitable due to structure issues (yes, wouldn't that make the entire home useless). The remaining parts of the home that were "useable" were in great disrepair, beyond cosmetic. The home has about 20+ years of total lack of upkeep, and about 7-8 years of vacancy. Good luck to the new owner, and good luck to the family in the other property -- let people live their lives.
Posted by: anonsf at September 30, 2010 9:20 AM
The tradeoff of having big government is a lot of corruption
We have it in spades in SF.
the tradeoff in terms of planning with a more transparent ministeral process is we might get building that offends our sensibilites
Posted by: zig at September 30, 2010 10:19 AM
"The home has about 20+ years of total lack of upkeep, and about 7-8 years of vacancy."
And yet no one questions why these people allowed this property to deteriorate, since it's not in an "affordable" neighborhood. Where are you, Lori?
Posted by: sfrenegade at September 30, 2010 10:37 AM
And yet no one questions why these people allowed this property to deteriorate, since it's not in an "affordable" neighborhood.
If the information provided by PropertyShark is correct, the current owners (and presumably the applicants for this project) have only owned it for three years.
What that means is that the applicants for this project have "clean hands", and really can't be held responsible for any deterioration allowed by the previous owners.
Again, if all of that is correct, then what this difference in recommendations from planning comes down to is if you believe that the project at 673 Brussels is "not speculative development", to use the socketsite editor's words, above. And to believe that, you have to take the applicant for that project's word for it that they plan to use it to live in rather than resell it (unless I am missing some other piece of evidence) quickly, this is where the affordability concern comes in, however I agree that's a stretch).
I haven't made up my mind on this at all, but you don't have to go through the archives of past socketsite posts very far back to find projects where the applicants have said they plan to live in the completed home, and then lo and behold it winds up on the market less than a year after completion. So I don't think it's quite as black and white as the people upthread seem to think it is.
Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at September 30, 2010 11:08 AM
Fair enough Brahma, but if they left it vacant for another three years, that doesn't sound like they have completely clean hands.
It's also worth noting that this lot is an RH-2, and so the new owners could more easily build 2 units here than for the Portola house, and some of this area is also zoned RH-3.
There are two quotes from the report on whether this is "affordable" or not. Here is the first:
The existing structure is not defined as an "affordable dwelling‐unit" by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and therefore its demolition and replacement will not impact the City’s supply of affordable housing.
However, read the second:
The Project Sponsor does not claim that the property is valued at or above 80% of the median single-family home prices in San Francisco. As such, the property is considered relatively affordable and financially accessible housing for the purposes of this report and Planning Code Section 317.
Also: "The Project Sponsor does not claim that the existing home is unsound."
[Editor's Note: Also with respect to "Whether the Project protects the relative affordability of existing housing":
By replacing an existing three bedroom single-family home with a five bedroom single-family home, it is likely that the relative affordability of existing housing will be decreased as the value of the home on the subject lot will likely increase in value.
The conclusion: "Project Does Not Meet Criterion."]
Posted by: sfrenegade at September 30, 2010 11:31 AM
I would point out that the owner appears to be the architect too (which makes one wonder if this is a flip). I can't find much about her in the DBI database, but I can find evidence of involvement in past property rehabs (or flips) on other real estate blogs. Whether she's greasing palms, who knows, they say you have to maintain a good relationship with planning and dbi if you're going to work in this town. She certainly knows how to kiss it (from pg. 22):
"The residential design team review process was a very collaborative and fruitful one, where both parties are very happy with the results and the building design is supported by the Planning Department and the Residential Design Team.
"Our goal in working with the Planning Department is to do the right thing and to honor the residential design guidelines put forward by the Planning Department of San Francisco.... We are committed to living in the city of San Francisco long term and we hope to be an example of what can be done when all parties work together."
Must've taken quite a shower to smell flowers after that! Frankly, in twenty years we are going to be talking all about these ugly boxes of the naughts and teens. Hard to tell if palms where greased, but we do know cheeks were kissed. The palm greasers never put their names on the submitted materials. Any aspiring journalist wish to contact MFA-Design to ask if they can recommend a "permit expediter": 415-474-1367. If there are any architects on this site, they could probably name names.
Posted by: joe shmoe at October 1, 2010 12:32 PM
In my experience, permit expediters are worthless. Work with a good architect and struct. engineer that does a lot of work in SF. They will know how to get things done in the planning dept. Also, I would not call this a "flip" as it is a completely new development. It should not really matter if the project sponsor is an architect or a dishwasher (no offense to the dishwashers out there) or if the person plans to live there or sell it with regards to the merits of the project.
Posted by: Skirunman at October 1, 2010 12:47 PM
Permit expediters really could grease palms and get things moved through a while back. But the city cleaned house pretty well about 7-8 years ago -- people went to jail. I don't think this is much of an issue in SF anymore (although I certainly wouldn't be surprised if there were a soul or two who would sink to it)
Posted by: A.T. at October 1, 2010 2:03 PM
Are there group/s of homeowners who do care about preserving the character of their neighborhood but also want to make their residence functional and capable of supporting goals like multi-generational occupancy? Just getting started in this process but already it appears that changes other than interior cosmetics require extraordinary effort for planning and especially historical approval with lots of questionable overhead cost. Would like to network with other homeowners considering/desiring to improve their properties (not flip them, live in them).
Posted by: Bob Kimball at November 29, 2010 11:39 AM
FYI - demolition started today on 448 Diamond St:
Posted by: geekgrrl at September 28, 2011 12:56 PM