40 Bernal Heights Boulevard Site

A subdivision of the 7,500-square-foot, triangular-shaped lot at 40 Bernal Heights Boulevard was approved by the City two months ago, setting the stage for four new single-family homes – the building permits for which have already been requested – to rise across the site.

As designed, the new two-story over garage homes would total 12,058 square feet of gross space, or roughly 3,000 square feet apiece, including garages and decks. The finished living space for the homes would average around 2,100 square feet each.

And within ten days of being approved, an appeal of the subdivision was filed.

From the objecting group of Bernal Heights Neighbors in their appeal to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors:

“This lot is one of the last open space hillsides on East Slope of Bernal, and offers commanding views to pedestrians, bike riders, car passengers, and commuters on the 67 Bernal Heights bus.

Our primary objection to this development, however, is that it is too large and too dense for the space, and for the neighborhood. The four houses proposed for this space are hugely out of proportion with surrounding houses, even those built at the height of the 1960s square-box trend. Properties within a 300′ radius of the proposed development average 1313 square feet of livable space on lots averaging 2064 square feet. The developers of this lot, however, flip this ratio, proposing to build four luxury houses averaging 2139 square feet of livable space (with garages and roof decks that can take that square footage close to or over 3000 square feet), on lots averaging only 1903 square feet…

We have requested that the developers reduce the footprint of this development to three houses at 2,000 square feet, and the East Slope Design Review Board has also made a similar suggestion, to no avail. More than 120 neighbors have signed a letter opposing the development in its current configuration. See letter, Attachment C. We believe the tentative subdivision approval was made in derogation of the City’s General Plan, its Residential Design Guidelines, the Bernal Heights East Slope Building Guidelines, and the Bernal Heights Special Use District, all of which put a high premium on retaining neighborhood character. This massive, dense development will materially alter the character of our neighborhood. We ask you to stop it in its current configuration, and send it back to the Planning Department for further consideration.”

From another neighbor:

“I am writing to express my concern about the proposed housing at 40 Bernal Heights Blvd. I respectfully ask you to study this proposal with great care and ensure the project would not create more reasons to tear down existing neighborhood houses and replace them with larger, profitable ones.

Bernal Heights, like other traditionally working’ class and mixed class neighborhoods in San Francisco, are quickly becoming “neighborhoods of teardowns” – as new housing goes up that are disproportionately out of scale, creating get-rich-quick in.centives to demolish smaller houses.

Please demonstrate responsible stewardship in protecting the neighborhoods of San Francisco.”

And from San Francisco’s Planning Department in response:

“We urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this appeal; to consider these issues at this time could thwart the well-established, thoughtful and public review process that occurs at the time the Planning and Building permit review takes place, which also include rights of appeal. Both Planning staff and the Commission (if Discretionary Review is requested) can contribute to the discourse on massing; and provide specific direction relative to the applicable design guidelines. Further, we would suggest…that a project where the lot is subdivided into three parcels, instead of four may result in three larger houses than the four houses currently under review.”

With Supervisor Campos working to mediate between the neighbors and owners of 40 Bernal Heights Boulevard, the Board of Supervisors hearing at which the subdivision is either to be upheld or overturned has been continued for the second time and is now scheduled for December 1.

71 thoughts on “Brawl Over A New Bernal Subdivision”
  1. why do people not have property rights here? why can you not just build what you want on YOUR property as long as it is compliant with zoning and code? why do you have to kiss the ass/fight off every “stakeholder”? why can’t you just ignore them and build your own house on your own property???

    1. Because if you want to build something in this town you are the automatically guilty party. The existing neighbors are the innocents, and as the guilty party it is up to you to prove that your development will not harm the neighbors in any way. The deck is totally stacked against you, as the neighbors are the default protectors of such ambiguous and subjective qualities as “light and air” and “character”
      I would not be surprised if the planning commission does knock one home off this plan, they have been receptive to these kinds of appeals previously.

      1. My favorites are “traditionally working class and mixed class neighborhoods” and “too large and too dense”.

      2. “In this town”? Let’s be fair– this wouldn’t be allowed in almost any town (and neither would most other common San Francisco building types). That it’s even a possibility here is remarkable.

  2. This should operate like civil litigation, where if you lose your appeal you are on the hook for costs the other side incurred in fighting the appeal. It might act to discourage frivolous appeals.

    1. The US doesn’t have a “loser pays” civil litigation system. The prevailing party can occasionally recover its costs and fees, but the bar is set high. For example, in a trademark infringement case, the prevailing party only gets its attorney’s fees in “exceptional cases,” like where there’s fraudulent conduct.

      1. No, you do gets “costs” in civil litigation as I said when you lose. you are right that you do not get atty fees except in certain circumstances.

    2. Hardly a “frivolous appeal,” it seems very genuinely well-intentioned with definite merit. I hope they get a fair hearing.

      1. In all honesty, did you even read the appeal before forming this opinion? I could have guessed that you’d think this way even before I read it, myself.

        1. Yes, I read the appeal and, thus, was swayed by its apparent sincerity, and hope only that they get a fair hearing on the merits which none of us here really have a feel for. I’m normally very much pro-development when it’s in SF’s interests but hardly a self-interest “property rights” guy as so many appear to be.

  3. I love the line in the letter about the site being the “potential home to threatened animal or plant species”. Now you can object because of the mere possibility that an endangered species might set up shop on a parcel?

    1. I would have stricken the “luxury houses” reference which does not truly speak to the issue of whether, on whole, this is a good development or not.

  4. The building site is one block from one of the largest natural open spaces in the City.

    The houses are a little smaller than the typical new Bernal house of 2250 square feet. The average selling price in Bernal is now $1.4 million, so let’s cut the BS about preserving affordable housing. Are the owners of 1300 square feet neighboring this property willing to forgo the right to expand their houses according to current zoning codes?

    1. ^Yes. And this is a busy road too, a through road Bayshore to Cortland to Nevada to BHB to Bradford and then around or down. Views from the bus now? Views from the bus. As if the area lacks for massive views. What’s wrong with these people? Their lots were all open space too back when. And now 2139 sq ft is “luxury”? Jeez. Very poorly done. For shame.

  5. I’m going to file a lawsuit with Bernal Heights Neighbors for the sinus damage they caused after I spit out my coffee laughing.

      1. Can you imagine living your life with the feeling that the world needs to bend to your every whim? Walking around with the idea that you own everything, and your opinion is tantamount to law? That has to be stressful, I really feel for the residents of this area.

  6. An excellent opening gambit. Go in assuming any development will be contested and take the three houses at 2000 ft².

  7. What’s the real motivation for Bernal Heights Neighbors to stop this development? How does it benefit Bernal Heights Neighbors if the development becomes 3 units instead of 4 units?

  8. I can see my house in that picture and I def am not against this. There are also pockets of empty lots scattered around Bernal just taking up space. Please build it and keep going!

  9. Backlash to the City PTB and developers covering every tiny bit of open space with wall to wall buildings.

    Property rights are limited. The neighbor behind my home can’t put up a 5 story condo or a gas or anything he wants.

    Hopefully the neighborhood can stop this or greatly mitigate it with smaller/fewer homes.

    This thing happened in my neighborhood. Someone (heir) sold off a long, long backyard and developers turned it into three uber-expensive homes. Cutting off open space and getting an exemption from “footprint” standards. Like the backyards are 9 feet or so.

    Developers and City PTB can push this stuff but at some point there will be a city-wide initiative that eliminates discretion and exceptions in the planning process. Draconian yes, but this kind of thing is rampant in the City and how else can it be mitigated..

    1. These houses are sized to current code and 30′ building height. No one is building a 5 story condo building or gas station here– these are single family homes of typical size for new houses in Bernal.

  10. With the supply and demand for housing here being what they are, why is there any single-family home construction at all? I know it’s a little ‘up in the hills’, but it’s also right smack in the middle of one of the most densely populated transit-rich areas on the West Coast. The era of single-family homes in San Francisco **should** have ended after the Second World War.

    It’s the 21st century, and we’ve got a highly desirable, globally significant metropolitan area, with real estate costs among the highest in the world, and almost daily protests about the lives ruined by gentrification and economic displacement. Why are we at all concerned that a few neighbors might lose some of their nearby street parking?

    We need more single-family housing like a steakhouse needs more chicken on the menu. Make an apartment complex there, seriously.

    1. The “problem” is with single family housing – 80% or so is such. Or double units.That won’t change in our liftimes. 60, 70 years from now. None of us can say.

      But Bernal, West of Twin Peaks and such will be able to fight and stop expansion of increased density for the indefinite future.

      We lost on a backyard in my neighborhood which became 3 homes. Bernal is a “stronger” – more “in neighbor hood so it may win here as the THA wins in their area.

      IMO the effort to up-zone Central SOMA will be beat back too.

      its a rock and a hard place for sure.

      50 years from now – if the Sunset were to be redone one could double/triple the density and afford more green space and transform that depressing neighborhood. Fun to speculate how that can be done. One can’t say it will never happen but in our lifetimes no.

      The “stall” in the economy, the apparent leveling of home prices in SF. That is giving breathing room or will.

      There are solutions that will not come for 50/60/70 years. But building over every available open space in SF is not part of that solution. IMO..My h

      1. I think we should push the envelope now, otherwise it might actually be 50 years before reality sets in.

        In either case, I think the younger generation is a lot more accepting of urban lifestyle than the Baby Boomers who moved here in the 1970’s and who still haven’t escaped that decade in their mindset.

        Yes, general attitudes might start to change once the old guard completely leaves business and public office, retires, and then eventually dies of old age. I’d rather not wait that long, especially during a critical juncture in human history when many other parts of the world are not content to rest on their laurels, or to live out their sunset years in comfort, but instead they move ahead at full speed with plans to face the future.

  11. Wow. Filing an appeal over 4 single family homes during the worst housing crunch since the gold rush. The silliness in the City never ends does it?

      1. Except this kind of obstruction occurs ad nauseum all over the city, with virtually all development. Individually it doesn’t mean much, but collectively it’s gotten us to where we are today.

      2. Of course it does. More housing decreases the price of a house on the margin. So build 4 houses and sell them for a million and the next 4 will only be worth 999,990. Keep doing it a few thousand times and we’ve made progress on the housing issue. But progress is defined as $800k houses. What won’t happen, unless we build an insane number of dwellings is for the price to come down to $400k, which is what you want.

        Obviously I’ve simplified things. But there is a mass migration globally of the young and affluent to cities. The only choice to control housing prices is to build faster than migration is occurring.

        1. No, it doesn’t. If you build 4 houses and sell them for a million each, the next 4 will sell for more than the first 4.

          I’m not obstructing construction here at all and I feel that the size of the proposed units fit well within the character and scale of the neighborhood. However, there are flaws with the city’s housing plan (and overall housing mentality). If SF is currently thousands of units behind in its goal, 4 here and 5 there won’t make a dent because by the time they get built SF will be further behind than before they were built. Central SOMA zoning needs to be changed. Mission Bay squandered a lot of its potential. And yes, even the depressing Sunset where I live, was carved out of 1930s suburbanization policy and most of it should be several stories taller.

        2. ‘there is a mass migration of the young and affluent to suburbs and the only choice to control road congestion is to build faster than migration is occurring,’ USA 1950-2000.

          Like we learned with the ‘burbs, demand swings are much more elastic/fluid than the supply can ever be. SF can’t (and won’t) build enough to keep up with the demand booms.

          If we really want to re-balance the housing/workplace demand, it would be far cheaper to increase the fees to build offices in SF and use the money toward transit, especially a second BART tube. That would both push marginal jobs to the vast underdeveloped east bay job centers and allow more people to get to SF to work and play while living where it is far less expensive to build housing.

          After all, Richmond the city is as close to the SF CBD as the Richmond District by existing transit time. And San Leandro is about as close as 19th Ave in the Sunset.

          1. I don’t mean to always nit pick and disagree with you. Your information is generally very compelling, Jake. But why 2000? Surely Generation X began the urban demand trend, and did so during the 90s

          2. There are two different issues: the urban/suburban population growth trends in the USA and the transportation mix favored to address the growth.

            From a US Census review of the 20th century: “From 1940 to 2000, the proportion of the population living in central cities remained relatively stable, while the suburbs continued to grow substantially. By 2000, half of the entire U.S. population lived in the suburbs of metropolitan areas.” Since then, US suburbs grew three times as fast as cities from 2000 to 2010.

            Ignoring whatever counts as “young and affluent”, in the USA there isn’t a mass migration to the cities vs the suburbs. That idea gets a lot of play because it shows up in cities with a lot of national press like NYC, DC, and SF. But the national trend at least through 2010 was suburban growth outpacing central city, just as it has been in every decade since 1910, except for the 1980s.

            The more relevant issue is when did the government champion road construction and private cars as the means for transporting increasing population vs a mix with more transit. Well, freeway revolts go back to the 1960s in SF and NYC, but still haven’t happened in Dallas and Atlanta. And even in the Bay Area it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really gave up on building our way out of congestion. So, I usually associate the transition with fin de siècle, but the sentiment varies widely.

            FTR, the major government funding shift from nearly pure highway to mostly highway and some transit happened in the 1970s (namelink). From 1970 to 1980 the federal capex for transit increased 4X inflation adjusted. From 1980 to now it has doubled inflation adjusted. 35 years ago at the start of the Iraq-Iran War gas was 50% more expensive than now, inflation adjusted. Ya wanna mass migration to the cities, then create an oil crisis. Otherwise, not in America, land of the freeway, home of the SUV.

  12. The MacMansioning is happening everywhere and its depressing. Its like we haven’t learned anything as a culture about how to preserve the simple aesthetics of the city. Neighborhoods used to be thoughtfully designed and laid out, now everything is an “infill” one-off. In my opinion it is primarily a failure of leadership from all directions — planning, politicians, institutions, etc. So when I see people fighting back, as they are in: Chicago, Los Angeles, greater Washington DC, Minneapolis and yes, even here in the old house of ill repute San Francisco, I at least have some hope. The city should have long ago bought this lot and preserved it. Its obvious from the overhead that it was intended as open space for the surrounding homes.

    1. It is not obvious to me that it was intended as open space for the surrounding homes. Bernal has more than its share of open space — there is even some open space a block away from this development. If anything the city should buy space in SOMA or the mission and turn that into open space, especially given that 20% of the city’s property tax revenue for SF comes from SOMA.

      1. Agree 100%—the densest neighborhoods (TL, SOMA, Chinatown) are the most desperate for open space. In Bernal, most homes have a private yard AND you have huge parks. But I would put something with at least 10 family-housing units here, not 4.

    2. How can you possibly say that it’s obvious it was intended as open space for the surrounding homes? A lot was sold commercially and that completely obviates your point. What a baffling take you wrote.

    3. I live in the neighborhood and this lot as open space is basically unusable. It’s far too steep and it’s fenced in all the way around. IMO it would probably best to build more units rather than 4 separate homes and then treat the remaining part of the lot as landscaped open space for the neighborhood.

    4. These are not “mcmansions”. these are reasonably sized homes, built within the codes and will fit the needs of many who choose to buy them and can afford them.

      What’s the problem?

  13. Several years ago the city decided to re-establish the Rooftop Middle School in an abandoned building on Corbett ave. I lived across the street. The neighbors complained and howled about how the extra school traffic would destroy the quiet neighborhood.

    After the school was built, traffic got a tiny bit crowded for 15 minutes a day. It added 2 minutes to my commute if I left at peak traffic time. Boo hoo. Some people just hate change of any kind.

  14. Jake makes a good point about suburban growth continuing to outpace urban growth. My only caveat is the definition of suburban. Fremont and Hayward have experienced rapid growth in the past 10/15 years. More than Oakland or San Francisco. But I don’t think those cities can be classified as suburban, if they are still so classified, Same goes for mid-Peninsula.

    I’d ike to see the Census Bureaus’ definition of suburban. if it is the same as it was in the 1970s and 1980s I question its validity today.

    Certainly job growth needs to be encouraged in Oakland, Fremont’s downtown, Walnut Creek’s downtown and funneled from SF to relieve pressure on SF which really can’t support many more jobs or residents given the infrastructure. That infrastructure, transportation primarily, is not going to significantly change in our lifetimes.

    The disadvantage the Bay Area has compared to LA or Atlanta or some Texas cities is the balkanization here. Too many separate cities and counties vying for a finite number of federal and State dollars (say for example dollars to be used for transportation improvement).

    Not to mention if Oakland and SF were one city then the issue of pushing most future job growth to Oakland as opposed to SF would disappear. One city with several sub- centers (as NYC). Do you work in West Town (SF) or East Town (Oakland).

    The Bay Area will continue to fall behind other urban areas in part because of this. LA’s transit proposals are amazing. Far ahead of anything being done here.

    This balkanization will ultimately hurt business, workers and residents here and further encourage an exodus from the area. IMO.

      1. “The nation’s most densely populated urbanized area is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., with nearly 7,000 people per square mile.”

    1. “But I don’t think those cities can be classified as suburban”

      Have you actually been to Hayward or Fremont? They are the very definition of suburban and will probably always be so. Parts of Fremont are virtually exurban considering the McMansions on the hillside of Mission Peak.

      Except for a small percentage of San Francisco and a smaller percentage in Oakland, virtually nothing in the Bay Area is “urban” in any sense of the world.

      To the question at hand, who the hell do the busy body neighbors think they are? It’s a giant empty lot that’s owned by somebody else. If it meets code what business is it of anyone else?

  15. I meant to extrapolate/contrast do your work in West Town or East Town to do you work Uptown or Midtown.

    I’d guess too the Bay Area as mostly one entity with almost 7.5 million folks would be in a stronger position for federal funds as opposed to SF with 800K or San Jose with 1.2 million coming separately to governments for funding dollars.

    1. I agree, and I think we’re long overdue for some municipal consolidation here.
      I’d be thrilled if we officially became the City and County of Bay Area, with suburbs of Sacramento and Santa Cruz.
      I’d even be happy with the relatively insignificant action of San Francisco annexing Daly City, forming a combined population of about 950,000.

      1. Daly City can’t work as, oops, its a different county.

        But the point stands and while Oakland airport has much more capacity to grow the SF airport is at its limit. Why not start directing international flights from SF to Oakland. Some of them.

        It should be one airport authority and, as such, maybe it could get funding to build a BART tube between the two airports (like are you landing at east or west SFO).

      2. I share your enthusiasm in theory, but the big risk of consolidation would be risking the metastasization of the David Campos, NIMBY, anti-property-rights, handout disease. I wouldn’t trust our Board of Supervisors to run a high school student council, let alone a megalopolis!

    1. That would mean they would actually have to put real effort into something. Standing back and pissing on your neighbors is effortless and most importantly, free. Your idea is expensive.

  16. Well, one thing’s for sure. Judging by the number of postings here, the three-job-working class people who now dominate Bernal Heights have a lot of spare time on their hands to worry about views, etc.

  17. Ha Jib that is funny. I was just thinking that these developers (and all project sponsors on the site) are so lucky to have idle pro development couch potatoes all over the Bay Area so willing to do their bidding for free… You really can’t pay people enough to ignore impacts and loudly scream for mindless development – that is a rare thing to get such an impressive level of suspended disbelief. Like, if they can cram 4 houses, why not 14 type of nonsense.

    1. Who is suggesting 14 houses? And how is building 4 houses all within the applicable zoning and building codes “mindless development”?

    2. Mark, most of us individuals, not developers, are tired of NIMBYs slowing down development for their own special interest and severaly limiting supply and progress in the city. Most of the citizens of SF DONT want SF frozen in amber

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