Tree Lighting Ceremony and Final Thoughts

IMG_0584Dec. 2 marked a truly enchanting evening in Huntington Park with the Nob Hill community for the annual tree lighting ceremony. Big fur coats and fluffy mittens were more than present as it was also a very cold night.

The smell of hot cocoa floated throughout the crowd and the light Christmas music from the live band could be heard along with the fountain water.

The lighting of the trees has always been a community effort and the Nob Hill Association has taken over the responsibility in recent years. It was a lovely event and I’m happy I withstood the cold weather to witness it.  Also brought up at the ceremony were new and exciting developments that are soon to come!

IMG_0548“For those of you who’ve been to Paris and have seen the trees lined along the Champs-Élysées, the beautiful elegant lighting is as much at home in Nob Hill as it is in Paris,” said Greg Cheng, president of the Nob Hill Association.

As the crowd counted down 10…9…8 and so on I couldn’t help but think about my time spent in Nob Hill and how it was shortly coming to an end. Of course Nob Hill will always be there, but the feeling of purpose I had when I was there will surely be lost once the semester ends. I thought about the people I’d met and the people I desperately wanted to meet but either didn’t have the courage to introduce myself or the scheduling never worked out.

Although quiet, Nob Hill is undeniably charming and I’m going to miss having an excuse to frequent the area. I remember the first time I stepped off the 1-bus, by myself with a notepad in hand, to experience my first impressions of the neighbourhood.  Some of my impressions have changed and some have stayed the same.

My favourite spot in Nob Hill would be the bench outside of the Cable Car Museum.  I can sit there for ages and watch the tourists get on and off the cable cars. I like to think about the IMG_9478people eating at the café across the street and wonder if they are locals and what they are chatting about. The cable car muni drivers hang out in the area when waiting for their shifts. They always seem to be in a bright mood and joke around with each other. I love that. The sidewalk beneath my feet feel a constant vibration from the cable lines underneath the street and a medley of languages fill the air. It’s a magical spot.

My most rewarding article would have to be the Profile I did on Bill. He has such a wonderful story and one worth being shared. While fascinating, it was also the hardest article I’ve written for class. During our second interview I felt completely drained and exhausted and when I came home I needed to decompress.  Listening to hours upon hours of someone’s life story can take a lot out of a person and it was then that I realized how emotionally invested I was in this particular project.

I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined and I’m really thankful for this opportunity!

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Middle Polk Neighborhood Association

The Middle Polk Neighborhood Association (MPNA) has played a key role in getting the 1601 Larkin St. dwelling unit proposal approved by the planning commission.

The group was formed in the early 2000’s because of the increased crime in the Middle Polk neighborhood.

“We started our group because of the heavy police presence in the Tenderloin…the crime moved up to our neighborhood,” said Frank Cantana of the MPNA.

The MPNA got involved in the Larkin Street proposal in 2007, when the Environmental Impact Report was published and posted on the front doors of the neighbors within 300ft of the building. At first, the MPNA was greatly opposed to the project. The design didn’t fit the neighborhoods cohesive Edwardian look.

After voicing their concern, the MPNA had a subpoena filed against them from the project sponsor. They wanted the officers of the MPNA to hand over every e-mail they’d written or received about the project.

“We had to come up with a lawyer for this case…it was a mess,” said Cantana.

The Federal Judge thought that these problems could be handled outside of court. The MPNA, along with a mediator and other members of the community, sat down with the project sponsor, Pacific Polk Properties, on several occasions to come to an agreement about the building design. Both sides had to compromise.

“Just like the commissioners, we didn’t like the height and bulk of the original plan, we also didn’t like the huge penthouse on the 6th floor,” Cantana said.

The MPNA also stressed the importance of this project providing something to the community. The developer came up with a $60,000 beautification fund that they’d donate to the neighborhood. The MPNA’s officers were split about the newest, less modern design of the proposed building and the beautification fund.

They decided to let their members vote on the issue and found that 55% of the association was in favor of the proposal. With this came criticism and accusations of the MPNA accepting bribes form the project sponsor. The Nob Hill Neighbors, a group strongly opposing the demolition of 1601 Larkin St., believed the developers were buying and bullying for support.

“Sponsors say a third design unsuited to the location, and a $60,000 benefit for the neighborhood group, [justifies] demolishing a community’s architectural gem,” said Linda Chapman, head of the Nob Hill Neighbors.

The MPNA strongly oppose those accusations saying that the money isn’t going to their organization, it will be going to the neighborhood.

“The Nob Hill Neighbors have no right to slander this detail,” said Cantana.

The $60,000 neighborhood beautification fund will be managed by Friends of the Urban Forest, non-profit organization based in San Francisco.

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1601 Larkin St.

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Staggering in the shadows of a vastly divided community, what was once First St. John’s United Methodist Church, now sits a boarded up eyesore at the corner of Larkin and Clay streets that the residents of Middle Polk and Nob Hill see conflicting visions for the future.

First St. John’s United Methodist Church was built in 1911 by architect George Washington Kramer. It was used for religious services until 2002, but turned into a day care due to a declining congregation. In 2003 the First St. John’s congregation voted to sell the building.

The California Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, owner of the property, decided that the money would be used for new congregational developments in San Francisco.  Pacific Polk Properties LLC, the developer, proposed a large streamlined dwelling-unit building to replace the abandon church which was disapproved by the planning commission in 2010 and 2012. Reason being, the design wasn’t cohesive to the area and didn’t have support from the community or the planning department.

The newest plan proposes to demolish the vacant church and construct a five-story building which contains 27 dwelling units and 32 off-street parking spaces.

The project was heard for a third time by the planning commission on Oct. 3. Both the conditional use authorization and a variance were approved, but an appeal was filed against the variant requiring another hearing which will again slow down the process of the sponsor obtaining a building permit.

“This has been a controversial project that has been around for quite some time- in one form or another, it’s been around 10 years,” said Kevin Guy, the staff contact of the planning department.

The two main issues that kept the community passionately involved were the differing opinions about the existing historic church and the modern design of the new proposal.

Some people in the community wanted to preserve the church as much as possible, because although it had been deteriorating for years, it was still part of the neighborhood fabric and remained architecturally significant.

“Unfortunately we are stuck with a situation in which we have a building, which has some obvious historic and architectural merit, [that] is being put before you on a yes or no vote,” said Steven Taber to the Planning Commission on Oct. 3.

Taber, a prominent historic preservationists, is the legal pro bono advisor to the opposing Nob Hill Neighbors, a group that has spoken out the loudest against the demolition of the Larkin Street church and the new 27-unit plan.

“Illegal strategies to remove a historic resource and permit luxury condos, threaten the public process that all depend on for neighborhood integrity and historic or architectural preservation,” said Linda Chapman, head of the Nob Hill Neighbors.

Their plan is to save the salvageable parts of the existing structure and build senior housing with an “appropriate design” to fit the community.

“Just half a block south another eight units are facing Ellis Act evictions and I believe up to 6 of them are elderly, which underscores the importance of senior housing in this neighborhood,” said Henry Pan, a 20-year resident of Nob Hill and active member of the Nob Hill Neighbors.

For him, senior housing would slow down the gentrification process of the neighbourhood.

Other community members thought that the neighbourhood was in need of more housing and had concerns about crime and vandalism at the existing site. They wanted to see the church go entirely.

Since being abandoned, the homeless have begun to inhabit the area around the graffiti painted doorways and falling down arches outside. It has also been increasingly deteriorating and things have fallen off the building and onto the sidewalks, making it an unsafe nuisance to the neighbors living next door.

The project sponsor has been accused of intentionally speeding up the deterioration process, adding to the frustration and distaste for the developers and the project plan.

“Having kept the building in a deteriorating state for all these years…has contributed to its continued deterioration, and so you [would] hate to reward that kind of behavior within a project approval”, said Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya.

The lack of neighborhood support was one of the most important reasons why the planning commission disapproved the project in the past. A vast majority of owners, whose buildings directly neighbor the existing church, are in favor of the new plan.

Another important issue to the commissioners was the support of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association (MPNA). Previously the MPNA has been opposed to the project because of its out-of-scale design. By meeting several times with the project architect, the MPNA was able to voice their concerns about the design.

“Initially we wanted to save the church in any way possible and have it benefit the community,” said Frank Cantana, an officer of the MPNA, “but the church is beyond repair and we need to find a new solution.”

The leaders of the neighborhood association were split on the design of the new building. They cast a vote to their members which came back with a 55% approval for the project.

The project sponsor has also been accused of bribing the MPNA into agreeing to their most recent plan with a $60,000 donation to the beautification of the neighbourhood and a consolation to losing a historic resource. Members of the MNPA disagree with that statement saying the money is for the neighborhood and not their neighborhood association.

“I think this has come a long way and I give a lot of credit to my fellow commissioners and to the public for working with the developer to shape this into something that’s a very good project,” said Commissioner Michael Antonini at the planning commission meeting on Oct. 3.

Although passed, this project still casts waves of tension through the Middle Polk and Nob Hill community. Although passionately divided, this issue has proven how much the members of these communities care about their neighborhood.

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Rooftop Views

Yesterday was a beautiful day to be in Nob Hill. Thought I’d share a few photos!

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A Cathedral Christmas! Grace Cathedral’s Men and Boys Choir in Concert

http://www.gracecathedral.org/visit/concerts-and-events/christmas/

You can buy tickers here.

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Save the Date

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An exciting reminder from the Nob Hill Association!

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Nob Hill 11.25.13

Hello! After a brief hiatus I am back. Yesterday I wandered around Nob Hill and shot some video while I was at it. Initially I was going to film the cable car museum but it happened to be closed. While walking to the museum from the bus stop, I noticed that many of the roads were blocked off. Road work I thought. Then I saw every local news van lined up along Mason St. and the lightbulb went off. President Obama was in San Francisco to talk about immigration reform (and to raise money). Just an hour before I meandered down Mason St., the President and his entourage were parading by.

I sat on the outside bench next to the cable car museum to devise another plan when I saw a man standing right in front of me with probably thousands of money worth of video equipment. He looked nice enough so I walked up to him and introduced myself. Trying to make small talk, I told him that I was a journalism student who was a little out of luck since I’d come to Nob Hill to film the cable car museum.

Are you from SF State?

No where in my introduction could I remember telling him that I was from SF State so I squinted a bit and said yes. He told me that an overwhelming majority of journalism students he meets are from SF State. He’d heard it was a good program. A bit rigorous but good. I laughed.

We continued  talking for only a few minutes when it was time for him to go.

Here is a video of my time yesterday in Nob Hill. Chronologically.

More content to follow. Say tuned and happy Tuesday.

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