Plans for a four-story, 45-foot tall building to rise on the Western SoMa through lot at 17 Grace Street, which fronts Washburn Street as well, are working their way through Planning and a variance hearing scheduled for next week.

As designed, the proposed building would yield 11 residential units, with a central courtyard and parking for 11 bikes but otherwise no garage.

And that modern looking cube at 49 Grace Street next door?

That’s an award-winning 2,600-square-foot, single-family home which was designed by Raveevarn Choksombatchai/VeeV Design and built “in a rough mixed-use neighborhood” back in 2013, with “an interior courtyard that serves and connects every space of the house” and a perforated aluminum façade which provides both privacy and transparency (for light).

And yes, there are plans to develop the parking lot parcels on the other side of 17 Grace Street with a four-story building as well.  We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

50 thoughts on “For the Grace and Good of Western SoMa”
  1. wow, #49 is quite the nihilistic, sociopathic middle finger to the neighborhood. Stanley Satanwitz must be jealous of its cold, cold, impenetrable opaque metal facade. Stanley’s own sociopathic, brutalist, maximum-security prison complexes for foreign capital flight almost look quaint by comparison.

    1. I love saitowitz but agree this is bordering on nihilism (from the exterior at least). Reminds me of the impenetrable and unfriendly AT&T office building at 2nd and Folsom.

    2. Setting aside his prisons, I wonder how it compares with Saitowitz’s very popular buildings that are full of SF residents?

    3. I like it. I’m glad we don’t mandate uniformity in architecture and that different aesthetics can exist.

      1. Thank you for the illustrative logical fallacy. My critique of Sterile Stanley doesn’t imply a mandate for uniformity in the least. I like modernist architecture when it’s done well, and it is done well all over the world, just not in the US.

        You want uniformity? I invite you to contemplate Stanley’s lovely prison complex at 15th and S Van Ness.

    4. The house isn’t exactly for me, but I like it, and understand the intent. My only complaint about it is that they wiffed it with the garage doors – they should have used vertically folding doors, aligned with the other vertical panels of the façade.

    5. You must not be looking at the neighborhood very closely. 49 Grace fits in that block perfectly. Two- and three-story warehouses can tolerate a little ‘aggressive modernism’. Not every block in San Francisco is made of gingerbread.

    6. uh ok, two beers, with your nutty rant against modern design… but you might want to brush up on the meaning of “opaque”. This is perforated metal, meaning its translucent, not opaque, dude. And what’s with your accusation of modern architecture being “sociopathic”? – seems like a case of the pot calling the kettle black here…

  2. Four stories. What a joke. This whole concept of SoMa’s alleys as semisuburban, semi-private spaces for the few rich people who can afford them needs to be thrown out. With SoMa’s main streets so widely spaced and traffic clogged, we badly need these alleys to be fully fledged streets with reasonable urban density (8+ stories), retail allowed, and signalized crosswalks where they meet through streets like Mission.

    1. Can someone please burn the idiotic western soma plan. It is a perfect area to be filled with 8-12 story buildings, but were stuck with 4 due to backwards planning

  3. “we badly need […]”

    Who’s “we”? Property owners seeking the higher values gentrification brings? Landlords seeking the higher rents gentrification brings? “We” certainly isn’t the blue collar workers who used to work in these sidestreets, or the Filipino community that thrived amid the lower rents in the apartments and flats interspersed wth the locally-owned PDR businesses in SOMA.

    1. Okay…let’s fight gentrification by turning the alleys into faux-suburban gardens for the rich. Weren’t you just complaining about the ridiculous luxury single family home metal box? It’s the direct result of low density zoning. Make up your mind, do you like that or don’t you? I don’t.

      The land is inherently valuable. It’s close to hundreds of thousands of highly paid jobs. There’s no magic way to change that, but we can at least stop making it worse with tight density controls that push the land cost on a per unit basis even higher.

      Small streets like Grace should feel public, welcoming to all. This is not the type of development that will create that effect.

      1. No, you fight gentrification with enforced zoning laws that prevent the conversion of commercial properties that provide well-paying blue collar jobs into high-end housing that is unnaffordable to most people who live or want to live in the city.

          1. you want to restrict supply to fight gentrification? HAHAHA. having you been paying attention. thats what has caused this mess

    2. Or the blue collar jobs for the African American community in the Bayview/HP neighborhoods.

      Why can’t we pass a law requiring ships to be built here anymore? Oh, right, because the world doesn’t work that way.

      1. Logical fallacies abound. Passing a law requiring ships to be built here has nothing in common with enforcing zoning law. Oh, I see: zoning laws that benefit you personally are just great, but all other zoning laws are unrealistic, because the world doesn’t work that way. Got it.

        1. Actually existing zoning is brilliant for me personally. I own one condo and the restrictive zoning that limits the supply of new construction ensures that its value keeps growing. Thank you, zoning!

        2. Locally owned PDR businesses are moving out of the city. We can try to fight it, but that’s just eating soup with a fork.

          The world has changed from those days, like it or not.

          1. PDR businesses are moving out of the city because city policy aligned with the RE and financial sectors is hostile to PDR and blue collar workers. The change you refer to doesn’t occur magically, in a vacuum: this displacement is the consequence of policy, and policy stems from human decision and action, not from mystical, unseen social forces. The city has chosen to engineer gentrification, but different policy could be implemented that would restrict the gentrification. I grant you that’s very unlikely, considering the immense influence of the RE and financial sectors over local and state government.

          2. PDR is moving out because the market value of those properties is increasing and other businesses can afford higher rents. Market value of property is increasing because SF is a desirable city. PDR business in downtown Detroit and Akron are probably flourishing.

          3. Zoning laws were changed to allow conversion of commercial property to residential units. If the old zoning prevailed, PDR would have faced much lower increases in rent.

            Gentrification is creating a monoculture of property uses in San Francisco. In nature, monocultures always fail. You’re cooking your golden goose.

          4. Really? And what golden goose is that? Would San Francisco’s economic future be stronger with more print shops and autobody repair joints?

            Is Silicon Valley cooking its golden goose too?

            It is very easy to fight gentrification. Have a terrible economy. Housing prices are low in Detroit. Great urban PDR options too.

          5. Still more logical fallacies. The Bay Area is nowhere near as dependent on heavy industry as the mid-west, and you take it to a reductio ad absurdum that the Bay Area needs no industry whatsoever. You are hiding behind economism to justify uni-lateral, top-down class war. The beneficiaries of gentrification are winning handsomely, but it will be a Pyrrhic win. History shows that economic monocultures aren’t sustainable. I invite you to consider the implications of all the metrics revealing current historically extreme levels of inequality.

          6. Income inequality is a real problem. It has nothing to do with PDR zoning or with economic monoculture (nice buzzwords, though!).

            For what it’s worth, Bay Area technology is not a monoculture and never has been. Salesforce is not the same as Dropbox which is not the same as Lyft or Airbnb or Twitch.

          7. “technology”…talk about buzzwords!

            “Salesforce is not the same as Dropbox which is not the same as Lyft or Airbnb or Twitch.”

            most of those aren’t technology companies, or else “technology” is now meaningless. They are easily-duplicated, trivial apps that seek to skirt regulations and attempt to acquire “disruptive” monopolies in low-margin, historically highly-competitive service sectors.

            It’s pretty telling that you didn’t include the poster boy for dotbomb 2 — Uber — in your list of negative- or low-profit marvels.

          8. Dropbox is easily duplicated? That will come as news to the developers who work there.

            These are real companies solving difficult problems. It’s true that Uber may tank, but Lyft will then gain.

          9. You can get the same thing Dropbox offers on Google or Microsoft. Uber is bleeding money right now, operating losses growing all the time. Most of these companies basically give away their service at a loss, using the rapid growth model to attract investor cash, shades of Ponzi everywhere. 15% layoffs at Etsy, Yahoo around to 3,000, lots of people I talk to are at companies that are trimming costs right now, which means mostly shedding staff and planning to downsize space.

          10. So you’re using Yahoo as a representative example? Yahoo? Yahoo is a perfect example of the tech economy working. Its market value has been eaten by Google because Google was better than it.

            Sure. Etsy, which is based in Brooklyn, has laid off 140 people. Salesforce, which is based in San Francisco, has 25,000 employees and has gained $10B in market value since Jan. 1. Which is the more relevant company for San Francisco’s housing market?

  4. Scott, this is a sincere question: was the zoning in this area of SOMA lowered from what it was during a certain period in the last twenty years or is it just lower than some other setting that urban density advocates who’ve arrived in S. F. during that time frame have in their heads as a better use of “inherently valuable” land.

    In other words, would an eight story or higher building been allowable here before the start of the Eastern Neighborhoods planning process and the various SOMA plans were being proposed?

    1. Great question. I’m not sure if there was a height limit that was explicitly lowered in the past twenty years, or not. But note also that the value of the land increased dramatically with, on a hyperlocal level, Uber, Twitter and Square setting up offices within a couple blocks attracted by the Mid-Market tax exemption, as well as, on a citywide level, a dramatic increase in the number of jobs without a corresponding increase in housing — 120,000 jobs just from 2010 to 2014 according to the Planning Department and only 4800 homes built during that four-year period.

      We would be in a very different situation if we had not added those hundreds of thousands of jobs in SF, or if we had added the jobs but had also added a corresponding supply of housing elsewhere in SF or close-in BARTable suburbs. In such a scenario it might be more defensible to plan a quaint little row of four-story apartments a block from Market Street and not assume that would translate into luxury housing. Unfortunately that’s not our reality.

      1. The reality is what it is, but it should not have occurred to begin with. The city can’t absorb more jobs given that the Bay Bridge and BART are at capacity. Definitely more than 4800 units of housing should have been built but they were not and yet office construction continued apace. The units built were unaffordable to most of those 120K new job holders so that is a moot point.

        Blue Shield, Union Bank, Schwab and some tech companies (those responsible for the most of the space available on the growing SF sublease market) are leaving or not expanding because of the at capacity transportation system and housing costs.

        The solution, in addition to having built more housing, would have been in a more wide distribution of those 120K jobs. Many should have gone to the East Bay/Oakland. The job concentration in SF is not sustainable. The lack of a wide distribution of jobs over the entire region is hurting the entire region economically versus other regions. The Bay Area is not among the top metros for job growth in the coming years and the Bay Area Council poll showed a large percentage of millennials wanting to move out of the region.

        SF is at capacity in terms of density of population and jobs. The answer is not in further increasing that density. City policies are killing the goose that laid the golden egg..

        1. There are signs of progress. Electrification of Caltrain will enable more trains, so more people who can skip driving.

          1. The problem is the cost of housing on the Peninsula is oftentimes the same or more than SF. Especially as one gets south of SB. The commute is primarily to the East Bay from the SF CBD where the remaining Bay Area affordable housing is concentrated. That corridor is at capacity.

            The large job increase in recent years has impacted the outlying SF neighborhoods. Impossible to park, 4 or 5 unrelated adults living in a 3 bedroom home – with 4 or 5 cars. My neighborhood is full of these young techies who, in most cases, can’t afford to buy in SF.

            Rather than add 5 million square feet of office space in HP/CP why not shift most of that to housing. The city can’t handle many more jobs – CalTrain electrification.

          2. I meant to say: The city can’t handle many more jobs – CalTrain electrification or not.

  5. These are not mutually exclusive. We should be electrifying Caltrain and looking at a second BART tunnel.

    We should have done both decades ago but our city government is as incompetent as the BART board

    1. Agree that our city government is inept. The reality is, however, another BART tube is not on the horizon at all. If one gets built it’ll be 30 years or more away. The practicality remains, that the current East Bay connections are near capacity. It makes the idea of adding significantly more office space/jobs absurd.

      What should have been done is tie major office expansion to actual improvements in the transportation infrastructure. If the city had done that we’d likely be further along to getting a second tube. If the TTC’s towers had been approved over time as transportation actually came on line, say CalTrain electrification), we would probably have it by now. Without a requirement for infrastructure improvement that is tied directly to office space growth, that infrastructure improvement is generally not going to happen.

      People touting more jobs, as in those supporting the very flawed Central SOMA plan, are killing that golden goose. For many of them it does not matter – as long as they can make huge profits in the meantime.

      As to housing, the little secret is TPTB, whether government or development interests, don’t really care about rectifying the housing crisis. They give that away in proposals such as the one for up-zoning the Central SOMA plan where the jobs/housing ratio would be 6/1. That is bordering on the criminal IMO.

      1. You and I have very different definitions of “criminal.”

        Had we worked on a second Bart tube instead of the Central Subway boondoggle, we might have made real progress.

        At the same time, the city economy is booming. It’s very debatable that the golden goose is being strangled. More accurate to say it’s being fed.

        1. And where would this “second BART tube” go once it reached the terra firma of SF? Doesn’t the whole Embarcadero-Millbrae line have the same constraint of (only) two tracks? The problem is that there are four Eastbay lines feeding into only one west bay one.

          1. The idea would be that it would go down Mission or Howard before eventually looping up to Market around Van Ness. Two tunnels would double capacity, help maintenance and enable 24 hour service

          2. Ah, so it’s really more than a “tube” – or at least it’s a lot more than the word is used in the current sense: it’s about 2 miles of underground tunnel + 4 miles of underwater + several miles more construction on the Oakland side (since the same problem would exist there into DO)
            I think that might be rather costly.

          3. Very costly! Bart was very expensive when originally built. (I didn’t mean to confuse you, “tube” is the standard terminology.)

          4. That’s’ fine, although I think “tube” refers to tunnels w/ circular cross sections; if the western portion were to be shield-driven excavation, then “tube” would probably be accurate, if cut-and-cover,- and presumably a box structure – then “tunnel” might be more correct.

          5. ‘Tube’ is the word that is in common use for another BART tunnel. It’s nothing new.

        2. The Central Subway boondoggle is a prime exhibit of the problems with SF. Using that money to maybe put a BART line down Geary and swing over through 19th Ave to DC BART would have offered more bang for the buck. It still doesn’t change the fact that more job growth can’t be sustained given the current transportation reality.

          The city economy by some indications is faltering. Major corporations are leaving and no major companies are moving in to replace them, tech is freeing up lots of space for sublease as tech job growth looks more problematic going forward. Labor force numbers are starting to fall.

          The city is falling apart. The roads are a disaster – the major pot holes in the Lake Merced area have not been repaired for months. Maintenance of median strips is being given up in some cases. On Sloat they are filling the strip with red bark and allowing the plants to die. Some of the trees in front of Molly Stones on Portola are dying and the city doesn’t have the resources to replace them The streets are filthy compared to Seattle and Portland and LA.

          An overview for SFH landlords I just attended displayed a map in/out migration patterns for 2014/2015. California is mostly pink to red – net outflow. LA is an exception with pale blue coloring indicating some in-migration. SF and the Bay Area is a medium red indicating a lot of out migration. The deepest blue/turquoise areas (most in -migration) are Seattle/Puget sound, Portland, much of Florida and Texas. That is another sign that things are not booming here.

          Let’s see what the second quarter 2017 office vacancy/absorption/sublease space available numbers show. IMO the recent trend of a weakening SF office market will be confirmed.

          1. San Francisco gained 10,000 people last year. 65,000 since 2010.

            You’re worried that companies aren’t moving here? Our unemployment rate is 2.7%, phenomenally low.

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