Katherine Roberts
                      466 Frederick #4
                          SF 94117


Board of Permit Appeals
City and County of San Francisco
1660 Mission, room 3036
SF 94103

Arnold Y. K. Chin - President              Response to
John E. McInerny, III - Vice President     Permit Holder's
Carole S. Cullum - Commissioner            Brief
Allam M. El Qadah - Commissioner
Sabrina N. Saunders - Commissioner

Re: Appeal #02-067, 1478 Page
DPW Order #173,447, effective 3-25, 2002

Dear Commissioners:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the
permit holder, Michael Farr's, brief, which he submitted on
May 8, requesting that you uphold the DPW's decision to
grant him permission to destroy the public street tree in
front of his property at 1478 Page.  As I stated in my
Appellant brief on April 12, I feel that this decision was
made in error, that it was the product of a fatally flawed
permitting process, and that it should not under any
circumstances be allowed to be upheld.

In his brief, Mr. Farr divides his arguments into five main
points.  I would like to take this opportunity to address
each of these in turn.

1) The need for off-street parking in the neighborhood

Although Mr. Farr presents this as an unarguable fact, it is
in fact a highly debatable assumption.   I am sure you know
from your experience as Commissioners how controversial the
topic of parking in San Francisco really is.  All you have
to do to draw a huge crowd to a hearing is put a major
parking project on the table.  For instance, I am sure you
are all familiar with the proposed new garage at Hastings
College.  All of the proposed new spaces are off-street,
which Mr. Farr describes as his ideal.  Yet I'm sure you
have seen the firestorm of opposition that has arisen in
response to this new project.  Everyone from environmental
to ecumenical figures has spoken against it, with the
surrounding community leading the charge.  If creating an
unlimited amount of new off-street parking were clearly the
"win-win" Mr. Farr presents it as, no new garage proposal
would ever meet with a shred of opposition.  But as anyone
who lives here knows, this is not even close to being

This proves that not everyone is of like mind about the
"need" for more off-street parking.  The reason for this
lack of consensus is simple:  increased parking capacity is
not an unadulterated good.  It brings with it a host of new
evils, many of which I have outlined in my brief, and in my
statements to the DPW about this project:  more cars mean
more traffic, which means more congestion, more pollution,
declining air quality, and heightened danger to pedestrians
and bicyclists -- in the city which already leads the nation
in per capita pedestrian fatalities.  In response to these
ills, a growing number of residents is saying "Enough is
enough!"  This, in part, is the reason why hundreds and
hundreds of people have signed petitions, written letters,
made phone calls, and shown up at hearings to protest the
construction of this garage.  Just as Tenderloin residents
resent Hastings' perceived lack of sensitivity towards their
community, here in the Haight there is a great deal of
resentment towards property owners who install garages in
their houses willy-nilly, without doing any neighborhood
outreach first -- before they start building, to find out
how their neighbors are going to react to these projects.

In the case of mega-garages such as the one Hastings wants
to build, the impact on the community is obvious.  When
property owners like Mr. Farr increase the amount of
off-street parking by two, three, or four spaces at a time,
the effect is far more insidious.  But, as a line from a
popular American film says, "If you build it, they will
come."  Any new infrastructure built to accommodate cars
will eventually fill up with more cars.  This is as true of
garages that hold two or three cars as it is of garages that
hold eight hundred.  Eventually, all those little two- and
three-car garages add up to an enormous number of new
parking spaces.  But just as new freeways fill to capacity
shortly after they are built, leading to a vicious cycle of
overbuilding, so do new parking structures.  And just as we
are slowly beginning to realize that we can't build our way
out of highway congestion, so we need to learn that we can't
build our way out of parking congestion, either.

The weaknesses in Mr. Farr's arguments become plain when you
examine the facts.  On p.3, he states, "I personally feel
that residents should not rely on the public street for
their personal parking needs."  But Mr. Farr is not working
to completely eliminate on-street parking, and require
everyone to park in garages.  I imagine even he sees the
improbability of providing 50,000 (his figure) extra
off-street parking spaces for the steadily growing number of
registered vehicles.  This means that his dream of "walking
down a street free of cars" is not likely to be realized any
time soon.  What really happens, as I have pointed out in
previous statements (and as Mr. Farr misquotes in his
brief), is that each new curb cut results in a net loss of
on-street parking, making the neighborhood parking situation
more and more desperate.  In fact, implicit in Mr. Farr's
arguments is that only the small fraction of those 50,000
car owners who can afford it will build off-street parking
for themselves, and everyone else will be forced to circle
the block looking for parking, just as they do now, but with
fewer and fewer on-street spots to choose from -- the ones
property owners like Mr. Farr appropriate for their own use.

Rather than "pulling cars off the street," as it is commonly
presented, new garage construction actually increases,
rather than decreases, the number of cars.  Whenever a new
garage is put in in my neighborhood, I don't look around and
see a plethora of new on-street parking spaces magically
open up.  Instead, all these "freed up" spaces are instantly
filled up with more cars.  This proves that all these new
garages are actually pulling more and more cars into the
neighborhood -- and it shows.  As anyone who lives here can
attest, there have been many new garages built here over the
last decade, but the number of cars continues to increase. 
Frankly, I am appalled that the city does not require an EIR
for private garage construction, so great are its overall
effects on the community.  It seems to me that this is the
next reform that is needed -- recognizing the true impacts
of projects such as the one in question, and taking these
impacts much more seriously.

As I have also mentioned, each new curb cut is seen by car
owners as license to illegally park across the sidewalk.
Whereas before a driveway is built only parallel parking is
possible, now the person to whom the driveway belongs claims
the right to use it to indiscriminately block all pedestrian
access -- by the very young, the very old, blind people,
people with mobility problems, abled and disabled alike.  In
the Haight, this type of abuse is rampant -- far too rampant
to overlook.  In fact, as Mr. Farr's photo shows, even his
next-door neighbor seems to have no qualms about permanently
parking his "egregious" SUV directly across the sidewalk --
possibly one of the very neighbors who are so supportive of
Mr. Farr's plans to build his own driveway (his Exhibit G;
our Exhibit A).  As many of my friends can attest, this SUV
is stored on the sidewalk with alarming regularity -- a
further encroachment on public space.

I will not quibble about how many off-street parking spots
Mr. Farr's proposed project would provide (on p.2 he
contends that there are five) -- although the best-case
scenario, factoring in the permanent loss of one on-street
spot, seems to be three (assuming that all of Mr. Farr's
tenants own, and will continue to own, compacts).  The point
is that the amount of benefit accruing to the neighborhood
as a result of new garage construction is a hotly debated
issue, and there are plenty of people who do not see new
garages as contributing to the greater good at all.
Mr. Farr's arguments to the contrary on p.3 are anecdotal,
and too general to have value.  Any discussion about
"peoples' desires" is obviously too problematic to be taken

2) Proposed changes to the permitting process

As has been pointed out in my previous statements,
fortunately, the permitting process is undergoing some
long-overdue reforms.  In some ways, the two trees at issue,
this one and the one at 1514 Waller, have been the "poster
children" for these new reforms.  But Mr. Farr mistakenly
refers to these changes as "the Appellants' suggested
changes to the planning process." (p.4)  In fact, the
changes currently working their way through the system were
not proposed by me at all, but by representatives of DPW and
the Planning Department, including Olga Arias, Paul
Sacamano, Larry Badiner, and other city officials.  These
officials are striving to implement these reforms because it
is so clear to them that reforms are needed.

In my last conversation with Mr. Sacamano, he informed me
that the changes which he is working to bring about include:

1) a statute requiring that all trees be shown on plans
submitted to DBI, before any permits are applied for;

2) tree removal permits being applied for FIRST, before any
other permits are issued; and

3) public notice required for each new curb cut.

These proposed changes reflect the growing seriousness with
which new private garage construction is beginning to be
viewed: as a highly ambiguous issue, instead of an
unmitigated benefit.

Also, as I discussed in my brief, Mr. Farr's case in
particular shows why these reforms are so urgently needed.
The reduced set of plans he submitted with his brief has no
indication of the presence of a street tree (his Exhibit
B).  I was not allowed to obtain copies of these plans
without Mr. Farr's permission, but I did view them on
microfiche at 1660 Mission on March 22, and I called
Reginald Wu and some of the other officials who had signed
off on these plans in to look at them.  They all
acknowledged that there was no tree anywhere in the plans,
and that that was their first indication that a tree was
even involved in the project at all.  Later, I contacted
Vahram Massehian, another Planner who approved this project,
who was similarly surprised to learn that a tree had been

I am attaching a copy of the Department of Public Works,
Bureau of Street-Use and Mapping's street tree removal
permitting process instructions (Exhibit B).  These
instructions read:

     Street trees are important assets of neighborhoods and
     districts.  The citizens of San Francisco value street
     trees and have mandated their protection. [Emphasis

The instructions go on to state:

     If the removal is related to new construction, include
     site plans accurately showing tree locations. [Emphasis

These guidelines are clear and unambiguous, and Mr. Farr
completely ignored them.  It is my opinion that the minute
these irregularities came to light, all permits should have
been instantly suspended.  Instead, DPW approved yet another
permit, pushing this improperly permitted project further
along.  At the hearing on March 25, I begged the hearing
officer, Ms. Arias, to at least defer her decision while she
investigated these irregularities.  Instead, she brushed my
concerns aside and approved the permit.  She said to me,
"You can appeal it."  This seems to me to indicate that she
wanted to leave it up to you to overturn her decision,
instead of taking that responsibility on herself.  It is
imperative that you do this.  As I stated in my brief, in
Russian Hill Improvement Association v. Board of Permit
Appeals of the City and County of San Francisco, 66 Cal.2d
34 (1967), the California Supreme Court ruled that a city
agency must apply the law as it exists on the date of the
final agency decision.  The changes I outlined above are in
the works.  It is possible that by the time of the hearing
they will already have been implemented.  It is absolutely
essential that these two cases be held to the new standards.

3) The Tree and its replacement

Mr. Farr offers to substitute one or more trees for the
mature one that would be destroyed for this project.  He
laments that I do not refer to this substitution as a
"replacement," but I do not do so for the simple reason that
new trees are not mature trees.  Thus they do not "replace"
mature trees, nor adequately mitigate their loss.

On p.5 of his brief, Mr. Farr includes photos of two
full-grown trees, a Purple Plum and a Mayten.  These trees,
when new, are substantially smaller than the trees pictured
(Exhibit C; contrast with his Exhibit D).  They are
slow-growing trees, and it will take decades for them to
even begin to confer the benefits of mature street trees.

One particular benefit of mature street trees is their
traffic-calming influence.  They are the most effective
means of narrowing drivers' visual field, thus encouraging
them to go more slowly.  Page Street has been selected by
the city to be one of the main arteries in its bike route
network.  It is used by hundreds of bicyclists daily, who
choose it because it is much safer than any of the
surrounding streets:  Haight Street, Oak Street, and Fell
Street.  This designation is an effort on the part of the
city to give bicyclists an alternative to the major traffic
thoroughfares -- an effort which needs to be respected by
other city departments.  Mature trees -- and fewer cars --
are a large part of the reason why traffic on upper Page is
safer and calmer.  In fact, residents on lower Page are
currently advocating a variety of more expensive (and less
effective) means of slowing down traffic in their
neighborhood because they lack mature trees.

The new trees under consideration do not tolerate steady
winds very well, and the winds coming into the Haight from
the ocean are extremely powerful.  50% of all the saplings
planted in San Francisco do not survive.  Mature trees
shield new trees from the winds and increase their chances
of survival.  In addition, urban forests function best when
planted in succession, with mature and maturing trees as
well as new ones.

The danger in approving the destruction of so many mature
trees is that, not only does it put saplings at risk, but
it does not bode well for their ultimate survival.  As this
case makes clear, there is far too little protection for
street trees.  Any property owner who wanted to build a
garage wherever Mr. Farr decides to plant his "replacement
trees" will be allowed to do so, and so on and so on.  It
is clear that the city needs to take responsibility for
protecting the trees it's got, and ADDING TO that stock,
rather than relying on some tenuous concept of

We would applaud any intention on Mr. Farr's part to plant
ADDITIONAL trees with Friends of the Urban Forest.  However,
it should be noted that these trees are planted at public
expense, from transportation funds (Proposition B, 1989). 
Transportation funds are devoted to trees because they
mitigate the effects of cars.  Therefore, increasing the
number of cars, as Mr. Farr intends to do, will to some
extent defeat the purpose of planting new trees.

4) Neighborhood support and action

As you know, we have submitted hundreds of signatures of
people who are unequivocally opposed to this particular tree
being destroyed.  I am also attaching a letter from one of
Mr. Farr's neighbors who was a proestor at the DPW hearing,
showing that she has not withdrawn her opposition to this
project (Exhibit D).

Also, the will of the voters has made it clear that:

1) we want to retain neighborhood character (Prop M);

2) we want transit improvements and street trees, and have
increased our sales tax to fund them (Prop B); and

3) we endorse a transit-first policy (Prop E).

All of these measures received strong support in the Haight.

5) The role of the tree and the garage in the restoration of
1478 Page Street

Homes in San Francisco have three main seismic safety
issues:  the material composition of their foundations,
whether the structures are securely bolted to their
foundations, and whether the structures have "soft story"
basements or ground floors that lack internal walls to brace
the structure against lateral movement in the event of an

Upgrading or replacing foundations is always expensive, and
that can't be helped.  But bolting a structure to a
foundation is fortunately inexpensive, and there is also an
inexpensive solution to the problem of a soft story:
building and securing wooden internal shearwalls.

In arguing that building garages is the only way the city
can achieve seismically-safe housing, Mr. Farr emphasizes
the high cost of steel-reinforced concrete shearwalls and
large I-beams.  This is ironic, since such expensive
measures are only needed if one is leaving all or most of
the basement wide open for parking cars.

Referring to a garage as a "restoration" is also highly
questionable.  On p.3, Mr. Farr admits to "sacrificing" an
internal stairway, an in-law unit, and part of his master
bathroom to make room for more cars.  This is seen by many
as the demolition of priceless, irreplaceable Victorian
treasures.  He also utterly destroyed his building's
original façade, as his photos show.  The regard for intact
façades is exemplified by the houses the Victorian Alliance
and other preservationist groups choose in their literature
and on their tours.  They do not lead tours of "most beautiful
garage construction."  Instead, the houses they choose to
highlight always have their front yards, and front gardens,
intact.  A true restoration of Mr. Farr's building would have
involved planting a garden in the setback in front, instead of
paving it over, and REPAIRING, not destroying, his façade.

In summary, I urge you to respect the will of the voters,
and the will of the community, in overturning Mr. Lee's
decision.  Or, at the very last, as I requested in my brief,
remand the whole issue back to Planning, so that it can be
adjudicated fairly.