About Us

Contact Us

VOLUME 2, NUMBER 21    <>    MONDAY, MAY 28, 2001

A dolorous bear story

This is truly a hard town for developers.

Just ask Edward Litke, who’s been trying to build a little residential project called Park Dolores at 19th and Guerrero for more than 20 years. In April Litke “proposed new construction of five two-, three-, and four-story buildings containing a total of 43 dwelling units. The site currently has a 32-space parking lot, which is accessed by a gate on Oakwood and a facade of an industrial building at the 3620 19th Street frontage, which would be demolished. The new buildings would reach a maximum height of 40 feet in a 40-X height/bulk district…. with exceptions from the rear yard requirements of Section 134 and density standards of Section 209.1(g) & (h).”

Litke intended to insert his collection of apartment houses into the middle of the block, snaking their way between the backyards of the residences lining the perimeter.

The Planning Commission smiled a sweet collective smile and approved the project.

Then the neighbors entered the scene, loaded for the bear they saw invading their little community at the edge of Dolores Park. This bear was threatening to settle down inside a gated community — a gated community in the Mission? — composed mainly of market-rate apartments. To the neighbors, this was one more invasion of Monster Homes. And they didn’t like it.

They formed the Guerrero - 19th Street Neighborhood Association and began to oil their weapons. A new version of last year’s Bryant Square protests began.

One neighbor took aim, pointing out that the Planning Commission (a very different Planning Commission) had rejected the very same project — only smaller — in 1979 because it was not “designed to produce an environment of stable and desirable character which will benefit the occupants, the neighborhood and the city as a whole.”

Another got the Fire Department in his sites, suggesting that it was dangerous and illegal to route an emergency fire lane “through the occupant-only shuttered parking garage,” where 100 residents will come and go at all hours.

A hazardous-waste transport expert named Adam Klein worried about problems arising from the removal of toxic residue in the soil, a memento of years of auto repairs on the site.

A shadow study conducted at the PG & E Energy Center discovered that the project’s proposed 40-foot buildings would turn the nearby 14-foot-high homes into “depressing spaces where residents would have to have their lights on all day every day of the year.”

The San Francisco Victorian Alliance weighed in, adding a historical perspective. It turns out that the site was undeveloped for many years, a fortunate omission perhaps, since it occupies the Dolores Creek streambed, the zigzag course that marked the path of greatest destruction in 1906. You may have seen photographs of the telescoped Valencia Hotel, which collapsed only a block away. The alliance added, “We are also particularly concerned about plans for underground parking in this proposed project in light of the historic flooding, drowning, and subsidence just described. We understand that recent soil probes hit water only ten feet below the surface of this site.”

The Planning Commission stuck to its own guns, and the project continued.

So did the neighbors. More than 450 of them signed a petition, objecting to the project in its present form. “We are not opposed to building on this lot,” they said, “but whatever is built there must be compatible with neighborhood buildings, per the requirements of Proposition M (Code section 101.1 (2)(3)). And must be especially respectful of existing and historic light and air requirements of all buildings adjacent to the 19th Street property surrounded as it is on the east and west and north sides by more than 20 apartment buildings housing 200 or more residents.”

That’s really the heart of this particular bear, isn’t it? Respect. Once again the city has imposed a decision on its citizens, one that has the potential to change their lives, without taking their needs into consideration. The alternative — intensive community meetings — is slow and messy. But so is democracy.

A final appeal is scheduled for Tuesday, May 29 at 3:00 in City Hall.

Betsey Culp



Caught in local battles against runaway development, it’s easy for San Franciscans to forget that citizens of other American cities are engaged in a similar fight. Here are two commentaries — the first from Washington, D.C.; the second from New York City — which address a problem that has not yet had a major impact on the city by the bay.

Gardens build community — developers don’t!

Green Oasis - Current Status:   ENDANGERED

Garden preservation update