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UncategorizedUgly condos for the very rich that block public...

Ugly condos for the very rich that block public views approved a few yards from Coit Tower

A little bit of Daly City on Telegraph Hill
A little bit of Daly City on Telegraph Hill

By Tim Redmond

NOVEMBER 19, 2014 – The press gallery and the chambers of the Board of Supervisors were packed all afternoon yesterday as we waited for the vote on the next board president. But before that happened, the board heard an appeal of a proposed three-unit luxury condo project at 115 Telegraph Hill Boulevard.

The site is the former home of the legendary labor leader Bill Bailey, whose historic cottage was moved years ago. The developer wants to build units of roughly 4,000 square feet with a 3,700-square-foot garage; the neighbors say the construction is too big, will require too much excavation on an unstable hillside – and will wind up blocking a popular view corridor from the top of the hill.

The project will also have an impact on nearby Garfield Elementary School, about 100 feet away down a very steep slope; construction equipment will be staged nearby, and School Board member Sandra Fewer spoke in opposition, “We were not aware of this staging location, we were not consulted,” she said.

But among the most interesting elements of the case was a presentation by Susan Brandt Hawley, an environmental lawyer hired by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. The city, she said, is out of compliance with state law in the way it considers environmental review.

The California Environmental Quality Act mandates a full environmental review for any project that could have a significant impact on the environment. Only if the city determines that no such impact is possible can it issue what’s known as a “categorical exception,” or CADEX.

In this case, Hawley said, city planners took a different approach. “They are saying, yes there are impacts, but don’t worry – we’ll mitigate then,” she noted. “CEQA doesn’t work like that.”

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Mitigation is often a part of the planning process: Developers will note that, for example, that a new condo complex will add to traffic and parking problems at a site, but then will offer to build a new parking structure and pay for traffic calming measures.

But as Hawley points out, mitigations are supposed to come after (or as part of) an environmental impact report. If the city admits there are problems, that automatically triggers an EIR.

“The mitigation,” she noted, “might fail.”

Sarah Jones, director of the Planning Department’s Environmental Review Office, said that there were no environmental impacts. “There are construction mitigation measures,” she said. “But those aren’t mitigations. We would have approved the project even without them.”

The project is exceptionally ugly and looks a lot like the hillside development in Daly City that spurred the song “little boxes.”

The city does protect the view from public vistas, but this project would only block views from the street; although tourists on the way to Coit Tower stop to admire the views, they don’t count when it comes to city planning law.

The project sponsor Jeremy Ricks, and his representatives said that there are already building codes to protect Telegraph Hill and prevent any problems. He promised to meet with the School District to work out any issues involving construction.

But as Hawley noted: “Mitigation triggers CEQA review.”

After more than two hours of testimony, Chiu said that he loves Telegraph Hill and that he knows this project won’t do anything for the affordable housing crisis. But he said that he was going to support the CADEX anyway.

The appeal was rejected and the project approved by a vote of 7-3, with Sup. John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar voting with the neighborhood.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Yes, demographics are destiny. And the irony for the 1960s Left is that while SF has become much more “diverse,” it is becoming much less “progressive.”

  2. Yes, because only homes can be beautiful. so only Rich people can live in beautiful homes?
    What an idiot.

  3. Show me once instance where promises made to the public on public view corridors were prioritized over politically connected developers maximizing the extrusion envelope?

  4. I remember Bill Bailey’s ‘earthquake cottage’. Shame its not still there, as it preserved a bit of history and scale. Not sure you can claim “public view” cuz a bldg got demo’d or moved. Couldn’t really see all that much when the cottage was there – at least from the street.

    But, I guess things have to change. I’m not so upset about these units – better them than 8 Washington, since those sent a message and created a precident. These just create … (expensive & expansive) blight.

    ps- I think Sam’s right about Tim and the Progs disgruntlement.

  5. What public views? Is there’s some legal encumbrance on that parcel of property that defines it as being improper to build upon?

  6. Get back to me on the legal definition of “foreclosing” on a view. Unless there’s an encumbrance on that property for the view (highly doubtful) I’d stop spewing legal terms for something that doesn’t exist.

  7. “The opposition here is about class warfare not a stinking view.”

    Actually, it’s arguably about both. Those two gripes have found themselves in a very unhealthy marriage in this town.

  8. The view thing is a red herring. You oppose any development that is market-rate, and you hate to see developers making a buck.

    At least be honest. You have no idea what the view if from this location anyway. It’s just class warfare blended with NIMBYism.

  9. Except that if this building was for 100% affordable homes, Tim would not care about the alleged loss of view, nor that they are “ugly”.

    The opposition here is about class warfare not a stinking view.

  10. The psychology of progressive NIMBYism is interesting. Tim doesn’t seem to be able to decide what he doesn’t like about these homes. He says they are “ugly” but that is highly subjective. They look fine to me.

    Then he talks about the loss of a public view. Well, every new building blocks some kind of view.

    I think the key word here is “rich”. Tim doesn’t like rich people. Over at SFBG he once infamously dismissed them as “boring”.

    So if these buildings were 100% affordable housing he wouldn’t care about their looks or the view. He cares because these are homes for rich people.

    Why? I don’t think Tim hates every rich person. Presumably he like Brugmann and he’s rich, by a lot of peoples’ standards anyway.

    No, the real issue here is voter demographics. Every new condo building that goes up brings in a new bunch of residents who are less likely to vote progressive. We saw D6 and D5 both move right when Daly and Mirk were timed out. Now Chiu’s district might go the same way. Maybe even the districts of Campos and Mar.

    The neighbors object because they got theirs. Tim objects because he sees the progressive dream slipping ever further away with every new market-rate home.

  11. Discretion has to be used in regards to views because if the rule were taken literally then we would never build anything, because every new building blocks some kind of view from some angle and height.

  12. Like many of the other commenters, I also don’t really give a shit if these get built. I grew up in SF in the south east. Telegraph hill has been for the super rich for a long time. If an expensive condo were to go anywhere, that is the place. I am a progressive who is frequently disappointed in how our movement focuses on dumb shit like this.

  13. A matter in the fuzzy language of an area plan that is supposed to be taken into account but which gets steamrolled by the black letter of the zoning law which specifies maximum building envelope, height and bulk.

  14. The defense is of public views from the street against wealthy developers efforts to foreclose on those views for their own massive profit.

  15. What I dislike about them is that they are just ugly boxes. There needs to be some architectural standards and these are just really unpleasant looking boxes.

  16. Sam – The issue here is *public* views.
    Private views is an entirely different matter in which you are correct: are not considered
    Public views, however, is a matter which is taken into account in a project.

  17. The Public has had enough bullying from The Progs. That’s why they were defeated at the polls and also probably why Planning had grennlighted this New Brutalist concrete bunker.

  18. Maybe SF’s progressive movement is getting pummeled because it’s being reduced to reflexively defending rich residents’ desires for pretty views against others’ desire to build housing over and over again.

  19. God this blog is whiney.
    You’re kidding me with this. Right? Move on! It’s not worth crying about. Keep walking up the stairs to the top of the Telegraph hill. The view is better up there anyway.
    So what if a few houses get built on an empty lot???

  20. “If it isnt the dust that could be toxic, or the dirt which may be unstable, or the grade which may be too steep… then its the view which might be blocked, or the historic chain link fence which will be lost, or maybe its the native eel grass which has taken hold on the site, or there is a spider which is a federally protected species…”

    Yup…there is also the project veto that the parrots hold and, if all else fails, shadows. You can’t build something if it will cast a shadow, particularly one that touches the corner of a park in mid February and August for 4 days each from 6:53PM to 6:57PM.

    I remember the 555 Washington fight next to the Pyramid. There is a decrepit building there that would have been replaced. But in 1928 it had been the temporary office of some printing company. There was nothing to see, no plaques, nothing. You couldn’t eve Google it. But the Telegraph Hill people were out there talking about what a treasured historical building it was.

    So glad that they are starting to get the irrelevancy, and ridicule, that they so richly deserve. They would fight to stop a children’s hospital. In fact, they did try to stop a new library.

  21. I was merely explaining to you why your “build no new homes in SF” isn’t very popular with the voters.

    I wasn’t suggesting that you shouldn’t be a NIMBY if that’s your thing.

  22. How do you know what the only reasons were as to why a whole class of people would take a political position based solely on membership in that class?

  23. It is a great day in San Francisco when the rich people of Telegraph Hill fail in their efforts to keep more rich people from moving in.
    If it isnt the dust that could be toxic, or the dirt which may be unstable, or the grade which may be too steep… then its the view which might be blocked, or the historic chain link fence which will be lost, or maybe its the native eel grass which has taken hold on the site, or there is a spider which is a federally protected species…
    The housing woes of San Francisco have been written about all over the world at this point. There exists no better example of our fuc&ed up priorities and processes that this project was delayed at all.
    Someday someone will write a book about how unbearably selfish the baby boomer generation is, and how in places like San Francisco they had a large part in creating our current housing crisis.
    Sue Hestor, Napoleon Peskin, etc. have done more to harm SF than any of the “evil developers”

  24. Your stats are wrong. About one third of SF’ers own their own home, so the only reason they would oppose more new homes for sale would be out of a misguided NIMBY viewpoint that less new homes means their home is worth more.

    The other two thirds who aspire to own want to see more new homes at all price points, because anything that increases supply increases their odds of one day being able to buy a home.

    Views from a home are important although nor protected, Views from a street matter much less because the chances are if you move 30 feet in any direction you’ll have that view.

    I guess I just don’t hate successful Americans as much as you do.

  25. Except that the elected officials and planners passed a law that requires consideration of public view corridors.

    Why would the just short of 90% of San Franciscans who can’t afford to buy a market rate luxury condo want more luxury condos for the super rich?

  26. Well, I am just grateful for the continued efforts of the good folks at Telegraph Hill Dwellers to keep rich people from moving there.

  27. Dave, 8-Wash wasn’t blocked at all by the planners or politicians whom I was referring to. It was blocked by the voters in a low-turnout election, by which time it was an ideological football rather than a planning decision.

    But yes, that campaign was funded by a wealthy local resident, just like this fight against a handful of low-profile homes that really shouldn’t offend anyone.

    Again, I do not believe that our planning process has ever rejected a project just because of an alleged loss of view.

    I’m not sure Tim is arguing to keep all vacant lots in the city. He just wants to build subsidized housing for people who are more likely to vote progressive, using money from the rich people whom he doesn’t think should be here.

  28. “Can you point to a project anywhere in the city that was blocked solely because it blocked someone’s view?”

    8 Washington.

    What was the name of that wealthy couple in the $2.5 million condo who bankrolled the ballot measure?

    But I’m with Tim…the specter of housing for the wealthy on Telegraph Hill is an appalling new development; especially when it deprives the public of a perfectly good vacant lot.

  29. The Planning Department makes promises to San Franciscans in the area plan documents and it makes promises to developers in the black letter language of the code.

  30. Can you point to a project anywhere in the city that was blocked solely because it blocked someone’s view?

    I don’t think you can.

    And if this structure was for 100% affordable homes, Tim wouldn’t care either.

  31. I don’t know about any Mission-specific rules but generally speaking, you can block a project because it takes your light but not because it removes a view.

    Anyway, this project isn’t in the Mission and doesn’t block the view from any other homes.

  32. Nonsense, the Mission Area Plan contains the following language that is regularly ignored in favor of extruding the maximum envelope:

    POLICY 3.1.5
    Respect public view corridors. Of particular interest are the east-west views to the Twin Peaks and Potrero Hill, south views to Bernal Hill, and several views towards the downtown.

  33. As Tim explained, views are not protected and typically not taken into account with planning decisions.

    I’m not aware that race is an issue here and, anyway, nine of the eleven supervisors are non-white. However, Telegraph Hill is an affluent neighborhood which might explain how the neighbors could afford to hire a NIMBY lawyer to make their case. I suspect your neighbors cannot afford that.

  34. I am all for strong erections, however out of scale buildings that block public views of topographical features are only problems in predominantly white and upscale neighborhoods.

    Clearly, upscale whiter residents are tourists are the only ones who count in Tim’s world. No wonder the progressive coalition was dissected like a political fetal pig.

  35. What is the basis of the claim that building on a steep incline can cause the hill to become unstable?

    If anything, the erection of strong retaining walls will make the hillside more stable.

    If building on a hill was dangerous, don’t you think we’d see a lot of hill slides? In fact we only see those where there are no houses.

    The codes are quite strict on how to perform construction on steep inclines, and there should be little to fear here. Approval of the project seems appropriate.

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