Katherine Roberts 466 Frederick #4 SF 94117 5-20-02 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 accurate. 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 seriously. 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 involved. 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 mine.] The instructions go on to state: If the removal is related to new construction, include site plans accurately showing tree locations. [Emphasis mine.] 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 "replacement." 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 earthquake. 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.