Constructed in 1951, the owners of the one-story ranch house at 535 El Camino Del Mar with a small second story over its garage would like to expand the space over the garage by 516 square feet, maintaining an 18 foot setback and adding a green roof.


Raising concerns which include the project’s adverse effect on a historic structure, an incompatibility with the neighborhood character and prevailing heights, and “the invasion of nonnative species caused by the green roof,” five neighbors in surrounding three story homes have asked the Planning Commission to block the addition to 535 El Camino Del Mar by way of a Discretionary Review (DR).


From the Planning Department with respect to the project and DR requestors’ concerns:

The addition of a small second-story addition set back approximately 18 feet from the closest front building wall (approximately 35 feet from the front property line) is a very modest addition that remains consistent with the varied heights and architectural styles of adjacent structures, in addition to the character of buildings within the surrounding Sea Cliff neighborhood.

The concerns about the project’s adverse effect on neighboring properties light, air, privacy, and midblock open space are unfounded, since the project is located a significant distance from most of the DR Requestors’ properties (ranging from between approximately 40 feet and 135 feet). The addition is separated by a private easement (at the rear) from four of the DR Requestors’ properties. There is also no expansion to the existing building footprint; therefore, the project will not adversely affect the existing pattern of open space.

Furthermore, the addition has been sensitively designed to be an appropriate addition to a historic resource, and has been reviewed and approved by the Department’s historic preservation staff. Although the subject building was determined to be a historic resource, an impact analysis was conducted by a preservation planner and the project was determined to be consistent with the Secretary’s Standards and to not have a significant impact.

Lastly, the Department supports living roofs as a positive green building feature and encourages them wherever feasible. The addition of a green roof does not create an “exceptional or extraordinary circumstance” that would warrant changes to the project.

San Francisco’s Planning Commission will hear the arguments and vote this afternoon. As the project does not contain or create any exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, this project would not have made it to the Commission under pending DR Reform Legislation.

Another perspective on the position of the project relative to the DR requestors’ homes and their views to the ocean which might hint at their underlying concerns:


31 thoughts on “A Rather Unbelievable New NIMBY And Anti-Green Roof Argument”
  1. Stepping back, the issue is clear. Neighbors feel the addition will reduce the value of their properties (i.e., ocean view). The addition will add value to the project sponsor’s building. Seems like the project sponsor should find a way to compensate the neighbors. I know we have zoning rules that everybody thought they were buying into when they purchased their respective properties, but San Francisco has turned these into guidelines for negotiation with their tortured review process. Just pay up!

  2. So the moral of the story is that old rich people can be pedantic a-holes? Well, that changes everything.
    I suggest he “compensate” his neighbors by adding some middle-finger topiary to that green roof.

  3. The people in 3-story houses are concerned about “prevailing heights” for the only one-story house on the block? With grass lawns and gardens next to the ocean, they’re worried about non-native species? It amazes me how people can hide behind transparently fake arguments like that.

  4. About 22 years ago I was living part time in Laguna Beach and built a house on the waterfront in an area called “Victoria Beach” near what is now the Montage Hotel. I had the same difficulty from neighbors further back. FORTUNATELY, the city of Laguna Beach planning was on my side. As one of officials said to my angry neighbors during the public hearing; “If you want a seat on the front row with the best view you have got to pay the higher price. Blaming someone for buying a better seat in front of you is stupid.” I was able to build my house without any further difficulties.

  5. sf is not so wrong. Libertarians are usually people who climbed the social ladder but who want to burn the ladder once they’re on top.

  6. Incorrect, lol. Those people are called “hypocrites” and most of them likely inherited their rungs on the ladder. But I agree that there’s plenty of them in the bay area, notably in the wealthier parts.

  7. I forgot, libertarians are the major power establishment in this country. And SF is certainly the epicenter of libertarian thought and influence.
    Obviously the DR process is the brainchild of libertarian dominated SF.
    If only some other political groups could come to power in SF and nationwide and stop those damned libertarians!

  8. Oh, I forgot about that too, the libertarian’s official party tag line:
    “Libertarians, the party of hypocrites. If you are a hypocrite then you are also a libertiarian, and if you are a libertarian, you are certainly a hypocrite”
    Thanks for the reminder!

  9. I wonder how long this project has been in the maw of the planning department. Designated a ‘historic resource’ and yet the planners still back this addition? That is some admirable process engagement by the owners and architects. Good work.
    Also highlights the subjectivity of the dept.:
    ‘This is a significant midcentury home. I am not sure we can let you stack a room on top of it.’
    ‘How about we throw a lawn on the rest of the roof. Those are dope, right?’
    ‘They are dope. I was a planning conference recently and green roofs are totally cool. Now that I think about it, you should totally build this.’

  10. IF this was a vacant lot I presume the owners could build a 2 or 3 story project. The neighbors could just easily make an offer to the current owner to enact a height restriction on the property to protect the views forever. What a waste of time for the city and the owners.

  11. Virtually all of these comments reveal that the process is broken. The neighbors have (and will) continue to tie this up in knots with the “process” as their ally. That’s why the project sponsor just needs to pay up. Had they started out that way, they would have had plenty of lawyer-architect-consultant dollars to use, dollars that have since gone to reinforce the broken system.
    ps, good comment soccermom.

  12. How much cash would be required to get five wealthy homeowners to back down? Seems like a lot more moola than needed to get a protected tenant to vacate.
    The owner of the ranch house should just continue to tough it out with the DR process, especially now that Planning is on their side. The neighbors here should be embarrassed about blocking such a modest expansion. View greed.

  13. If the owners have no plans to sell in the foreseeable future if I were them, I’d dig in and wait it out.

  14. @RiB
    The problem(s) with trying to ‘rationally’ pay some money to the neighbors to avoid this include:
    1. Without the planning process engaged, the builder has no leverage (why not ask for $10mm in “permission money”).
    2. The neighbors have every incentive to hold out and act as individuals. One would have to have some means of grouping the potential complainants. It would only take one person to hold out for a higher value.
    The truth is, lawyers and architects are not so expensive compared to the untethered crazy-time expectations of the average SF resident. See Socketsite.com , inception to present comment section.
    I would have approached this the same way as the owners, but I couldn’t have sucked it up to build a green roof. They must really think the new room is important, because I expect this is a hugely negative return investment in this house. Sweet location though.

  15. Isn’t this house across the street from Robin Williams’ house?
    Perhaps it’s not the ocean view that they want to protect. All you need is a pair of binoculars and you can watch a live HBO comedy special every night.

  16. I tend to agree with soccer mom – I seriously doubt these neighbors could be paid off, nor is that the answer to everything (despite the culture of SF real estate). The DR process is annoying and time consuming, but still far cheaper than any potential payout to five wealthy neighbors. With some patience, this will most likely get done.
    Glad to hear that the new DR rules would have stopped this from reaching the commission – this is a waste of time and an abuse of the process.

  17. If anything, it should be the neighbors buying off the owners.
    After all, views were never protected. A protected view should have a price since it increases their property value.
    Then again, this is SF.

  18. What’s interesting here, in looking at the aerial photos, is the views from the DR requesting houses are largely accidental. The pricipal living rooms still face the street as was typical of homes built in that era (1920’s – Spanish Revival) and the kitchens and other service spaces faced the backyard…ie the view.

  19. I’m new here, could someone explain how this kind of thing is allowed to drag on? Especially in this case where the neighbors really don’t have any standing except *maybe* the historical argument.
    At what point does someone have the final say?

  20. Aren’t the neighbors essentially claiming ‘air rights’ above the property owners home?
    Shouldn’t the neighbors be paying the owner for the ‘air rights’ and not the other way around?

  21. What’s with the nonsense “x should pay y” meme. Nobody should pay anyone anything. The broken process is being abused by the monies, as usual, and the applicant is likely to triumph over the DR requesters. That’s what’s happening. It is kind I funny seeing the same names on here never learn anything, though. Thanks for that.

  22. For those who missed it yesterday, the project sponsor easily won – and the Planning Commission basically yelled at all the DR requesters for being selfish and abusing the system. Worth a view on the sfgov.tv link.

  23. Thanks for the update Mysterio, definitely good to hear sanity won out. Hopefully the DR reform, whenever it actually happens, will make it such that money and time does not have to be wasted on such frivolous cases in the future.

  24. “Neighbors feel the addition will reduce the value of their properties … the project sponsor should find a way to compensate the neighbors”
    So any time something changes the value of your neighbor’s property, money should change hands?
    If you paint your house a nice color, or plant some nice landscaping, should everyone on the block send you a check?
    If you neglect to mow your lawn, can the person across the street send you an invoice that says “Decrease in value due to un-mown lawn – $500. Please pay within 30 days.”
    How about if a Whole Food opens up and it raises the value of everybody’s house by $5K – $10K? Should we ask appraisers to go around to every property within 1000 ft and determine the exact value of the house before and after the Whole Foods, then have everybody send checks for that amount to Whole Foods?
    What if your home value goes down due to the bad economy? Should you send a bill to Barak Obama? How about Ben Bernanke? How we make Mayor Ed Lee legally liable for changes in value due to the local economy?
    No. Sorry, that’s not the way it works.

  25. If I was the owner of this property, I would totally throw a loud party to celebrate and not turn the music down until the police showed up.

  26. Been watching how this develops (should be a reality tv show!). Now that the Planning Commission has so decisively weighed in, going to be interesting to see how the DR requesting neighbors respond.

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