The New Castro

Neighborhood Experiences Development BoomNew luxury housing in the Upper Market Corridor boasts features such as private rooftops. Although some affordable housing is being added in, the dollar is in the driver’s seat.



While little cable cars in the Castro never quite climbed “halfway to the stars” as Tony Bennett famously sang, how many of us refugees from places outside San Francisco were charmed by the storybook neighborhoods of this fabled place — not to mention the freewheeling living and loving — and decided to make the “City by the Bay” our new home?


Of course times and people change, and when economic and other external developments force this upon us, that can be difficult for even the most adaptive. These days when Castro citizens look out their front doors or walk down their favorite streets they often encounter a cityscape that has grown up around them – and up and up and up.


We all know the markers of this change: the steady march of technology companies north to the city, bringing jobs, luxurious commuter buses and a large affluent working population that prefers to live in the Castro and Mission and nearby neighborhoods; the steady rise in rental costs is now to where, according to one report, the average effective rent in San Francisco at the end of last year was nearly $2,500 a month, up 4.7 percent over the prior year compared with a 9.9-percent jump the year before.


A key need to emerge from this growth is affordable housing. This is one of the motivators behind District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation to allow for legalization of in-law units in the Castro as the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing.


A bigger solution evolving over the past decade is what Mayor Lee and others see as the urban infill. As defined by the National League of Cities and others, “In the urban planning and development industries, infill is the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment or growth management program or as part of smart growth.”


Urban infill is new development that is built on vacant or undeveloped land within an existing community, enclosed by other types of development, implying that existing land is mostly built-out and what is being built is filling-in the gaps.


The rush to build new mixed-use multi-story buildings at significant locations in the Castro (not to mention in the rest of the city) has been underway for some time. In response to a reader’s request, this article is a brief comparative summary of a half dozen major development projects under construction or newly completed. While it is in no way a comprehensive look at current activity, there are some interesting features each of these projects brings to the present and future story of housing in the Castro. In this I gratefully acknowledge the informed guidance of Vanguard Properties (formerly Herth) Sales Associate Tom Cacciotti.


What kinds of luxury are these new neighbors promised by their marketing departments? As the 38 Dolores brochures trumpet, “a state of living and a state of mind that transcends high-density city living.” To wit, “eclectic eating, stylish shopping and dynamic mingling”, all in a “hyper-local, vibrant neighborhood.”


No need to dodge traffic, just consult your views and the many opportunities for smartly designed “Eco Living” on your very own rooftop. Did you know that the 38 Dolores rooftop boasts vegetation that supports endangered species such as the San Bruno Elfin and the Mission Blue Butterflies? One guesses that the resident’s back-up to all this connecting with nature is in the super-green market downstairs.


Certainly the anticipated arrival of 2175 Market promises new life to a lost area and a vital connector between the Church Street businesses and the main Castro nexus around Jane Warner Plaza to the south. Tentative plans have called for an inside retail, eating and drinking courtyard plus a mix of small businesses in an outdoor emporium.


Other design features of 2175 are a variety of open spaces around the courtyard and roof deck, access to lower level units from stoops (just like in Baltimore?), and the goal of achieving a LEED for Homes Gold level. The designers analyzed surrounding blocks and patterns and considered views and sun patterns. One of their most important design factors, according to the architects, was “the social aspect of this location between the neighborhoods [Castro, Duboce Triangle and Mission] and the bustling activity along Market Street.”


This brief tour of “the new Castro” brings more questions than answers. What has infill meant in our storybook town and where do we go from here?


Photo: Bill Sywak



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Local Activist Files Sunshine Law Complaint


A closed-door meeting between the Mayor’s Office, numerous of the city’s high-tech companies such as Twitter and Google, and the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology, or, has caught the attention of local muckraker and blogger Michael Petrelis at a time when blockades of Google buses, displacements and evictions have fueled endless discussion about the changing landscape of the city. The meeting took place at One Market St., the headquarters of last December, and he asserts that it should have been made public.


Petrelis filed a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF), alleging that the meeting violated Sunshine Ordinance, established to make civic meetings public. “We need to remember what happened on December 16,” Petrelis says. “It has to be made transparent.”, a private tech lobbying organization led by one of Mayor Ed Lee’s largest campaign contributors, angel investor Ron Conway, hosted the event. And based on his calendar and description of the event, it is quite possible that the mayor chaired the meeting. It was intended to spearhead committees “in partnership” with his office, members of the Board of Supervisors, and SFUSD, according to’s press release. The release stated that meetings would begin in early January and would focus on ways the tech sector could help to solve vital public policy issues within three categories, as represented by three committees — affordable housing, philanthropy, and education.


Questioning why committees formed to discuss public policy were not open to the public, Petrelis reached out to’s media contact, controversial lobbyist Alex Tourk of Ground Floor Public Relations. Tourk was former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top aide until Tourk quit after the mayor had an affair with his wife. In a response from Tourk published on Petrelis’s blog, he stated that because hosted the event and is a private organization, Sunshine laws don’t apply.


But Petrelis alleges that the meeting at One Market Street, and possibly the future committee meetings, constitute Passive Meetings. Passive Meetings, as defined under Article II, Section 67.4 of the ordinance, include “Any group that meets to discuss with or advise the Mayor or any Department Head on fiscal, economic, or policy issues.”


Petrelis initially filed a complaint towards the Mayor’s Office, all twelve members of the Board of Supervisors, and SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza. He received responses from all three – SFUSD does not fall under Sunshine Law and no members of the Board attended the meeting. The Mayor’s Office denied that Sunshine laws applied and stated that the meeting did not constitute either a policy body or passive meeting body. “The mayor did not take any action to form such committees. These committees were formed by a private organization, which is quite common and are not subject to public notice nor open meeting requirements for policy bodies,” read the response from Kirsten Macaulay in the Mayor’s Office of Communications. The response did not explain why it did not constitute a passive meeting body.


Petrelis announced on his blog that he “counter-argue[s]” the response to SOTF, not only because the Mayor attended and chaired the meeting, but also because Todd Ruffo, director of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) was also there.


“I believe that when you have those two city hall officials at the meeting and you are setting up committees to make public policy, Sunshine laws apply,” says Petrelis. Gloria Chan, director of Communications at OEWD, confirms that Ruffo attended the meeting. Petrelis is waiting to hear back from the SOTF regarding what the next step will be.


The full list of attendees, procedures and initiatives at both the meeting last December and future committee meetings remains undisclosed. This leaves many unanswered questions, including whether or not these newly formed committees should be open to the public under the Sunshine Ordinance. “It’s been a full month since they’ve met and there was urgency in what the mayor and said. A month later I’m asking, what have you been doing?” says Petrelis.


Tourk did provide information regarding the committees. In an email response to inquiry, he stated, “We have received a lot of interest in these committees from our members and we are currently working to schedule meeting times in February.” Committee chairs are Suzanne DiBianca, currently head of the Foundation, Gabriel Metcalf, director of urban planning and pro-development think-tank SPUR, and Laura Moran, chief of staff to Superintendent Richard Carranza. Initiatives for the committees include the following: The philanthropy committee will follow Foundation’s model of corporate giving, the affordable housing committee will “engage city government, tenant’s advocates, and developer’s,” and the education committee plans on implementing a “local jobs pipeline designed by, the school district, and the mayor’s office.” The description also stated that, “ hopes to train the next generation of tech workers right here in San Francisco.”


The fact that many of those involved in these committees – Tourk, Conway, and urban planning organization SPUR — have come under fire in the past for representing a pro-development stance and for promoting the burgeoning tech industry, especially in the mid-Market corridor, raises questions as to whose interest these committees will truly be representing. “In the voluntary spirit of Tech Inc. starting to work with the local public, why don’t you just make these meetings open to the public?” Petrelis asks.


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Community Proceeding With Caution Regarding Market Hall


Potential vendor, civic area in the works



A potential marketplace for the butcher, baker and candlestick maker has Castro community groups cautiously optimistic. The marketplace idea is part of a residential development under construction at 2175 Market St., located at 15th Street.


The ground floor would be home to about 6,300 square feet of retail space, 2,300 of which is being considered for a restaurant. The balance may become a market hall, similar in concept to the one in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland — a place for vendors, community and music.


“We are supportive of the concept,” said Pat Tura, president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association. But she said there are details to work out.


One of those details is what happens to the 4,000 square foot space should the developer have trouble getting local businesses to sign leases. Community groups want assurance the space will not be another Noe Center.


After being vacant for a while, the Noe Center is now home to CVS pharmacy, a formula retail business. And what the neighborhood wants is local small businesses.


To achieve that aim, at least two groups are working with the developer, Forest City Enterprises, to insert language in the project’s conditional use authorization. The language may require the space be converted to two 2,000-square-foot retail spaces if a market hall isn’t feasible.


“We like the idea,” said Andrea Aiello, executive director, Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, of the market hall concept. While the CBD works with Forest City on the language, it is researching the idea and hasn’t yet taken a position on the concept.


“We haven’t seen the final language yet,” Aiello said.


Tura and Forest City said there is broad community support for the project. “Everybody seems to like the concept,” she said. “It’s a good urban model.” Other similar concepts have been successful, such as the one in Rockridge.


Despite the community support, Forest City said a market hall is just one of many ideas for the space but that overall, the goal is to create flexibility for local retailers.


“We’re committed to creating a vibrant retail space with interesting local neighborhood-serving businesses,” said Forest City’s Katie O’Brien, the development director on the project.


Forest City said it doesn’t have any experience creating market halls, but the company has a reputation for the creative use of spaces. One example is the 5M project in San Francisco, a four-acre development at Fifth and Mission streets.


Forest City is also redeveloping part of Pier 70, a historic shipyard on the southeast side of the city. In that effort, the company is working with neighborhood groups and residents to craft a project that is in character with the historic neighborhood.


“My sense is that we will get to something that will work,” said Peter Cohen, a Duboce Triangle resident who is active in the neighborhood association. But he said that the market hall idea is a risky one. The community has been willing to discuss the idea with Forest City because it has had positive experiences with the developer.


“We like Forest City,” Tura said. “They have been a good housing partner.” Cohen said the experience of working with Forest City on 2175 Market St. has been better than with any other developer. “This developer did the right thing from the beginning,” he said.


Currently under construction, the 2175 Market St. project will consist of 88 market-rate apartments. Forty percent will be two-bedroom units. Sixty percent will be one-bedroom units.


Twenty percent of the units will be affordable.


O’Brien said Forest City is continuing to have conversations with the areas community groups, which also include the Castro Merchants and the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association. Construction on the project is expected to be complete sometime at the end of the year. Leasing will begin in the fall.


“Our goal is to create a dynamic space that meets the needs of the community to be enjoyed by both residents and neighbors,” O’Brien said.


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LYRIC: 25 Years of Serving LGBTQQ Youth


LYRIC is a Castro non-profit that aims to build community and inspire positive social change with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth.


Kenny Gong is Communications and Development Coordinator at LYRIC - Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center, located in the heart of the Castro at 127 Collingwood Street.




Lyric has been in the Castro for a very long time, on Collingwood Street, and was started back in 1988, so this must be your 25 year anniversary.




It is. It’s a really exciting time. LYRIC has been an important service provider for LGBTQ youth for many years so it feels really great that we’re able to celebrate 25 years of work and also get ready to continue pushing San Francisco to become a city that supports LGBTQ youth and their allies better. We were started out of a need to have an LGBTQ youth dance. Our two founders, Donna Keiko Ozawa and B. Dana Kivel, originally wanted to bring young folks together to be able to have safe space and express themselves. So that was in 1988 - it started out as a youth dance at The Women’s Building and to this day we still put on youth dances at The Women’s Building. Since 1988 our other services have expanded so dramatically to really encompass a holistic system of support for LGBTQ youth, together with all the other resources that are available for young people in San Francisco. We actually have been in this house on Collingwood Street since 1993. Back in the early ‘90s an amazing group of community activists and youth and adult allies got together to advocate [for] San Francisco to dedicate some financial support to some new development programs that would challenge homophobia and transphobia. Because of that advocacy a resolution was signed by Mayor Frank Jordan with support from Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg to prioritize LGBTQ youth, which included the citing of an LGBTQ youth-specific center in the Castro. That’s how we got the house on Collingwood. Because we [own] the house, we’re able to remain here at a time when a lot of non-profits are being pushed out. We’re really, really lucky and also acknowledge that a lot of our community partners are in fact having to move out of San Francisco. It is really important that we are here on Collingwood Street and that we will continue to be here.




Do you have anything planned for your 25 year anniversary?




We do. We’re excited to have our 25th anniversary open house. It’s a chance to open up the house and have community folks visit us and see a little bit of the work that we do. Also that is where [one of] our [workforce groups doing] special projects will be putting on their art retrospective of LYRIC’s history, so that’s going to be a really fun event and that’s happening in April, on April 17th.




Do you have any other special events coming up?




We’re planning on doing a Dine Out, where we’re really going to encourage folks to have dinner and drinks at a list of restaurants that have committed to [donating] a portion of their night to LYRIC, to support LGBTQ youth. So that’s one of our exciting events coming up in early June probably.




Like you were saying, LYRIC provides a wealth of services to the LGBTQ community. I understand that the first step for an LGBTQ youth who wants to take advantage of your services is to go to the orientation, which you have on a daily basis Monday through Friday. What happens at that orientation; what do they learn?




We call that our new participant intake and it’s a really important opportunity for us as an organization to begin the relationship with the young person. At that time a young person will meet with one of our case managers who will lay out all of the resources that we can provide along with the opportunities that we have for folks, and it’s also an opportunity for the young person to share with our case managers what they’re looking for - some of the problems that they’re looking to troubleshoot, some of the obstacles that they’re currently struggling against, as well as doing a little bit of that relationship building which I think is really critical. Once someone comes in they are connected to someone that they can talk to and that they know they can bring up issues with and that they know will be able to help them. Just [having] someone who they can talk to is so integral to our mission. From there, they’re guided to different programs within the organization.




Aside from providing community and emotional support, you help LGBTQ youth by getting them set up with housing and health services, as well as job services. Do you have job counselors; how does that all work exactly?




We have a couple of different pieces [to] our program. It really starts with our case managers; our case managers do that one-on-one work with the young people and figure out what they’re looking for on an individual basis. We then have opportunities for folks to build community with one another; there [are] three separate community building groups that meet once a week. One is focussed on celebrating queer women and their allies, another one is focussed on celebrating queer young men and their allies, and the last one is one to support and celebrate trans and gender variant youth and their allies. From there we really focus on leadership development. It’s through our leadership development models, comes our workforce programs. Our workforce programs are a set of internships that young people can take part in to develop themselves as leaders and also amongst their peers.




Are the internships paid positions?




Yeah, that’s one of our biggest priorities, providing them with an hourly wage.




What is your School-Based Initiative?




We work in three San Francisco public schools doing intensive training with students, with school staff and with parents. So, not only, “How are we building up queer youth in-house?”, but also, “How are we building up allies outside of the walls that we have here on Collingwood Street?”, “How are we going into schools and doing some school transformation in partnership with individual school communities?”




Do you have any plans to extend those sorts of programs nationally? They sure are needed.




[That’s a] big question that we would love to tackle in terms of figuring out how we can expand our work. [Right now we’re] strengthening the work that we’ve been doing here in the city, so whenever it does come time to expand we really have strong model to work from.




How did you get started at LYRIC?




I was doing a little bit of work at City Hall as a youth commissioner and was looking to get involved in anything that I could around LGBTQ youth issues. My first stop around the community was at LYRIC. I met with Jodi [Schwartz] who is our ED and got a sense of what LYRIC does and afterward joined the board as a young person. I was on the board for three years from 2006 to 2009, and then almost two years ago joined staff as our communications person and also our fundraiser. It’s been great; LYRIC has been a really transformative place for my own personal leadership development and I’m so excited to be a part of it.


Photo courtesy of LYRIC


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AT&T Boxes Draw Pushback from Locals



Last year San Francisco residents objected 2,000 times to the installation of AT&T U-verse boxes in city streets, including streets in the Castro area. The San Francisco Department of Public Works reported the statistic at a public hearing last month of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. Most of the complaints concerned graffiti and other sanitary issues. Residents also said AT&T’s is slow to clean the boxes after they have been tagged.


“That’s an avalanche of objections,” said Lynn Fong, permit manager and program manager for surface mounted facilities, San Francisco Department of Public Works.


Still, it doesn’t seem to be enough to stop AT&T from installing the boxes. A clause in a city memorandum of agreement with the company says enough objections would stop the installations on San Francisco sidewalks.


Asked what would be “enough” objections by District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, Marc Blakeman, regional vice president, external affairs, AT&T, said that it would take more than the 10 or 20 objections AT&T receives against each box. That’s because each box can serve up to 500 people.


“Four hundred and eighty are silent,” Blakeman said. He wouldn’t say what AT&T’s share of the market is, calling that information proprietary. So, each box could be serving only 20 people, but no one knows the details since that information is not available to the public. He did say the rollout is exceeding AT&T’s expectations, though.


“It’s the fact that you now have an option,” Blakeman said. “That’s empowering to a consumer.” He added that people are calling AT&T to ask when the service will be available in their area.


During the hearing’s public comment period, roughly 80 people shared their thoughts with the Land Use and Economic Development Committee, which sponsored the hearing. Many people were opposed to the installations; a few people spoke in favor of the project. Craig Issod was one of those. Issod said he was speaking on behalf of people who want the service, because people who want it need a voice too.


“I too don’t want San Francisco blighted,” he said. The U-verse service is not yet available in his neighborhood, but he plans to sign up when it is.


The 2,000 objections to the installations represent 80 percent of all the objections DPW received against permits last year.


No votes were taken at the hearing, which was called to gather information and to get an update on the rollout. Also, sitting on the committee with Supervisor Wiener were District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim.


“These boxes do have impacts on our sidewalks,” Wiener said. “But our local discretion has it limits.” Wiener stressed that AT&T has certain rights by law to place the boxes on San Francisco sidewalks. A number of neighborhood groups have filed suit over the issue.


While AT&T is responsible for cleaning graffiti from the boxes, when residents call 311 to report graffiti on a box, sometimes it’s impossible to tell who owns it. In that case, DPW cleans the box. Should it be an AT&T box, AT&T says the city will need special cleaners, which DPW is currently identifying.


This year DPW will start invoicing AT&T for cleaning the boxes. AT&T is establishing a $25,000 graffiti bond with the city, and the city can draw money from the account to pay for cleanings. How many boxes DPW has cleaned and how much the agency has spent on the cleanings is unclear. A request for that information wasn’t immediately responded to by a DPW spokesperson.


To reduce the graffiti problem, Wiener proposed adding art to the boxes, but Blakeman said painting a box would void AT&T’s warranty.


Mission District resident and civic artist Ilyse Magy agreed with Wiener. She would like to create a system to determine what art goes on the boxes, should art become an option. “I want communities to have control of what these boxes look like,” Magy said.


Wiener said the art option “seems like an eminently solvable problem.”


Hidden Gems is updated monthly on its own page.


Money Matters is updated monthly on it's own page.


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Neighborhood Experiences Development BoomNew luxury housing in the Upper Market Corridor boasts features such as private rooftops. Although some affordable housing is being added in, the dollar is in the driver’s seat.

A bigger solution evolving over the past decade is what Mayor Lee and others see as the urban infill. As defined by the National League of Cities and others, “In the urban planning and development industries, infill is the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment or growth management program or as part of smart growth.”

Potential vendor, civic area in the works

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