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Upper Market Plan scheduled for Planning Commission – Oct 23

The plan has been calendared for October 23, 2008 on the Planning Commission calendar. The details of the hearing are:

Planning Commission Hearing
October 23, 2008
1:30 pm (the hearing will start then, it is unsure exactly what time the Plan will be heard)
City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400

Please note that as the community's efforts through the workshop series will be used for two different, but related purposes, there will be two products proposed for adoption.

The first document proposed for endorsement is the Upper Market Community Vision and Recommendations, which will be a standing statement of the community's broad work in the workshops, and a call to action for future work on the recommendations made by the community through that process. For those of you familiar with the draft document for review, this document contains all of the initial draft’s chapters 1-4 and 6. The Department will be asking for Planning Commission's endorsement of the Upper Market Community Vision and Recommendations at the hearing on Oct 23rd.

The second document proposed for endorsement is the Upper Market Development Design Guidelines, and it will direct building and site design to be of the character and quality specified by the community through the workshop process. For those of you familiar with the draft document for review, this document represents chapter 5 of the draft. The Department will be asking for Planning Commission's endorsement of the Upper Market Development Design Guidelines, and for adherence to these guidelines to be a driving criteria for approval of new development within the Upper Market Plan Area, at the hearing on Oct 23rd.


"Illegal Demolition" At 412 Noe Street

This story needs a lot more help.

Members of our organization attended a "neighborhood outreach meeting" with the project sponsor and her representatives regarding 412 Noe (the one that burned/totally demolished). Although we do have questions regarding the"illegal demolition" and concerns about the design of the replacement structure of 412, our major concern is about 420 Noe. This structure appears to be a "Fernando Nelson" Victorian, but in the early 70's, the building had the historically significant facade sawed off to build the front extension. That structure is currently vacant, with fire damage of the original old structure now visible and the 70's addition remaining, also in poor condition.

At our meeting with the project sponsor, they seemed reluctant to discuss plans for 420. We do not know why. From the neighborhood perspective, it makes no sense whatsoever for 420 to be salvaged. In my discussion with the project sponsor's architect, Mr James Cline, he, too, agrees that a repair would cost significantly more than a demo/rebuild, in both time and money.

The bottom line for the neighborhood is that we would like to see reconstruction be started as soon as possible on both structures, minimizing the length of time that the immediate neighborhood must live with the inconveniences of construction, and getting the properties developed for much needed for housing. We would to like to pursuade the project sponsor to get going on this.

EVPA to Recommend Changes to Planning Code for Castro & Upper Market NCD's

It has been over 20 years since the sections of the San Francisco Planning Code that define the Castro Neighborhood Commercial District (NCD) and the Upper Market NCD were last changed. But in those past 20 years, our neighborhood and the needs of our neighborhood have changed.

Last year as part of the SF Planning Department's "NCD at 20 Review" - the EVPA Planning Committee did a thorough review of both NCDs, then brought their proposed changes to the Planning Code to the General Membership for ratification. That review was all-encompassing, with no distinction made between changes which were "good" versus those that were essential or critical for the immediate future to ensure our NCDs trive. Additionally, the proposed changes were only to be included as part of the review and report to the Planning Comission, and not intended for actually modifying the Planning Code.

The Planning Committee has again revisited the NCD requirements, this time to distinctly calling our changes that we feel are very necessary for the immediate future. At the next EVPA General Membership meeting on July 17th, the Planning Committee will once again be coming to the EVPA membership for approval of proposed changes to the Planning Code. In this round, the only changes being proposed are those that are both essential to ensure our NCDs remain lively, profitable and neighborhood serving. As such, we will not pe proposing any changes that could be considered "policital." Proposed changes are:

Planning Code Section 715 (Castro NCD):

  • Change permitted operating hours to 6am to 12 Midnight, otherwise by conditional use
  • Allow bars by “Conditional Use” (currently not permitted)
  • Allow Full Service Restaurants by “Conditional Use” (currently not permitted)
  • Allow small self-service restaurants by “Conditional Use” (currently not permitted)
  • Allow Animal Hospitals on second floor with “Conditional Use” (currently only allowed w/CU on first floor)
  • Allow Administrative Services on the second floor (currently not permitted anywhere)
  • Allow residential use on the ground floor only with “Conditional Use” (currently permitted)

Planning Code Section 721 (Upper Market NCD):

  • Change permitted operating hours to 6am to 12 Midnight, otherwise by condition
  • Allow Full Service Restaurants on second floor by “Conditional Use” (currently only allowed w/CU on first floor)
  • Allow movie theaters on second floor (currently only allowed on first floor)
  • Allow Mortuaries on first or second floor with “Conditional Use”(currently not permitted)
  • Allow Administrative Services on the second floor (currently not permitted anywhere)

Levi Strauss & Co in the Castro

On June 12th, the San Francisco Planning Commission granted Levi's the required "Conditional Use" (CU) to open a "Formula Use Retail" store within the Castro Neighborhood Commercial District (NCD). Levi's is very excited about opening this store. Construction should begin as soon as permits are issued, most likely by the end of June, with a goal of having the store in full operation by "Folsom Street Fair." This is the first time in memory that a national chain actually has a goal based on our neighborhood culture.

Although some EVPA members expressed valid concern that this formula use retail is not consistent with the EVPA position of not allowing any further formula use retail within the Castro NCD, the overwhelming majority of EVPA members felt that Levi’s was uniquely qualified as an “exception.” Levi’s unparalleled corporate support of the community and the long-time connection with our neighborhood significantly outweighed the concerns of formula retail use.

Because there was no known opposition to Levi's, the s item was placed no the "Consent Calendar" meaning that the Planning Commission was able to approve the conditional use without lengthy hearings. The EVPA would like to thank planner Sophie Middlebrook who was the planner responsible who made that possible, as otherwise the hearing date would have been significantly delayed.

We look forward to the grand opening party!

Why Walgreen's Continued Expansion is not good for the Neighborhood

In 2007, Walgreen Co. had net income of $2.04 Billion. With 6,271 Walgreen's stores nationwide, the average after-tax profit is $325,306 per store. That's their “take-home-pay.” Per Walgreen's own spokesperson, Todd Horton, with 54 stores in San Francisco, Walgreen's only donated $100,000 to local charitable causes in 2007 (about $1,850 per store), a mere 0.57% of their approximate San Francisco net-profit of $17.5 Million. Industry standard for corporate giving is 2.0% to 5.0%. The recent $5,000 contribution to Harvey Milk is nice, but far from being a good neighborhood business and community partner.

If Walgreen's were to expand the specialty pharmacy into the space at 4127 18th Street, the total Walgreen's footprint in the Castro Neighborhood Commercial District (NCD) would reach 14,000 square feet (slightly larger than 1/4 the size of the giant Safeway on Market).
For over 4 years, Supervisor Bevan Dufty has been pleading with Walgreen's to improve the look of the front of their Castro store. They haven't. The loiterers and dated window displays remain. The paint has not been refreshed in a generation.

The memberships of several of our neighborhood groups have gone on record opposing the expansion. Our goal for Castro Village is to keep it vital and diverse. A conversion of yet another neighborhood- serving business into a generic corporate giant will accomplish neither of these goals.

The space into which Walgreen's hopes to expand had been a thriving laundromat for several decades. Per the SF Tax Collector, the laundromat ceased operations in November 2006. The landromat operator declined to give reasons for the closure. In only three months (over the holiday season), Walgreen's developed a corporate plan for the space and in February 2007 signed a 20 year lease. Spokesperson Todd Horton would not reveal how the rent Walgreen's is paying compares to that of the laundromat, saying it was proprietary.

For the past 15 months the former laundromat space has remained unoccupied as Walgreen's pays the rent. A primary argument for allowing Walgreen's and other unattractive chains into Castro Village is that empty storefronts are bad for business. This is undisputed. But if Walgreen's had any sense of community, it would have offered the space for use as a gallery or by a non-profit while waiting for permits. At least it would not have been left vacant. Walgreen's supporters fail to mention that certain property owners and leaseholders in the Castro apparently don't need nor care to lease or
occupy their properties. The owner of the largest restaurant space in the neighborhood, who also owns a bar on 18th Street, seems content to leave them vacant in perpetuity. Others are asking obscene rents.

What many of us have been working hard to achieve is a neighborhood commercial district that attracts local residents, but also encourages people to come and shop because we offer something that other neighborhoods do not. We have several other Walgreen's within walking distance (one just three blocks away at Market & Sanchez). Having yet another will not bring us more business or vitality. There is only one Cliff's Hardware, only one Buffalo Foods, only one De La Sole shoes. These are businesses that add to the fabric of our village. Please don't sell us out.

(alan beach also contributed to this story)