Residents Divided Over Plans for Mt. Sutro
|Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Management Plan was developed with substantial involvement from members of the community, but many outspoken opponants are strongly opposed to the plan
Whether to thin the trees in the UCSF Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve is still dividing residents of the local area, despite changes in the university's plans. On one side are residents who want to maintain the forest as it is. Other residents agree with the university – that thinning needs to occur.
"It's really quite simple," said Jake Sigg, a retired gardener who lives on Ortega Street. He added that there are many more trees now than when Sutro first planted them, and many areas are so dense with trees it's not healthy for the trees themselves. "Any gardener can tell you that."
Sigg wonders if the university is creating a smoke screen to its real plans, which he said may be selling the land to developers … an attorney said there is no legal impediment to a sale.”
Doing the most damage is the dense understory, smaller trees and shrubs, which is keeping the trees from regenerating, Sigg said. The dense understory also blocks the light that seeds need to germinate.
He says residents who want to maintain the present condition of the forest are taking an emotional approach. And he's upset the university has backed off its original plans.
Those plans appear to never have fully developed. The idea to thin the Reserve has been dictated by a desire to reduce the Reserve's fire hazard. The university was exploring different ways of doing that until the community raised its opposition to the plans.
The new plan calls for thinning to occur in 25 of the Reserve's 61 acres, according to a fact sheet published by the university.
Besides the Reserve, thinning is planned for roadside areas along Medical Center Way, from Johnstone Drive to the Environmental Health and Safety Buildings. The university wants to reduce the risk of fire to developed areas near the Reserve, too.
"The work includes thinning the forest by removing trees less than 10 inches in stem diameter in the North and South areas, and less than 6 inches in stem diameter in the West area," the fact sheet says. "Shrubs would be thinned and perennial plants would be mowed. Cut materials would be chipped and spread on the site."
"Something needs to be done," Sigg said. "It needs management." He said the eucalyptus trees are overwhelming everything in the Reserve because the trees have no predators. The eucalyptus is native to Australia, Sigg said. And he said the only predators are in Australia.
"We think an understanding of Sutro Forest terrain and microclimate is essential to understanding [the] risk associated with this forest," said Rupa Bose, an advocate for maintaining the status quo. Bose said the trees protect the residential neighborhoods below the steep slope of the Reserve from landslides and rock slides. And she claims the Reserve has "mud and puddles" during the summer and fall when elsewhere the land is dry.
She said areas of the Reserve that have already been thinned are much drier, "even dusty."
"The empirical evidence suggests that cutting and thinning may be precisely the wrong prescription for this particular forest," Bose said. "The safest option may be to do nothing."
"It's perfectly healthy forest," said Dr. Morley Singer, a physician who lives next to the Reserve. The "university has greatly exaggerated the risk of fire." Like Bose, he said the floor of the Reserve is wet, and fire agencies have given the Reserve the lowest fire risk rating, he claimed.
Singer also disagrees with those who say the non-native eucalyptus must be cut down and replaced with native plants. He claims that's an unscientific view.
Sigg wonders if the university is creating a smoke screen to its real plans, which he said may be selling the land to developers. Though the land is supposed to be maintained as open space in perpetuity, an attorney said there is no legal impediment to a sale.
University documents say there are no plans for a sale.
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
Fukushima Plume: "No Evidence" of West Coast Threat Officials Say
Radiation from Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster is not affecting the fish Californians consume each day, according to government agencies and California fishing organizations. Reports that radiation from the disaster would reach the our coast in 2014 prompted some to wonder if harm would come to California residents. According to a report broadcast from sfist.com, dangerous levels of radiation were found at a beach in Pacifica, California. But even at grass roots levels, people are unconcerned.
we have a God-given right to know … what is happening to the Pacific—and our beaches … how much radiation is present and what kind of nuclides are involved.”
"The story is, there is no story," said Lori French, founder, Faces of California Fishing, an advocate for the California fishing industry up and down the state's coast.
|Peaceful looking atomic plants?—”nothing to worry about,” fishery spokesmen say—others not so certain
"There is no threat to the people and no threat to the fish," said Jeremiah O'Brien, a board member of the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman's Organization, an advocacy group for commercial fishing in San Luis Obispo County. The organization has more than 100 members. O'Brien said the U.S. government would address the problem if there were one. He did point out that during the disaster, California Polytechnic State University detected radiation from the Fukushima event in university dairy milk. The university verified that Fukushima was the source. But, drinking a gallon of the milk exposed a person to the amount of radiation from eating a banana.
French said none of the men or women in the fishing industry – from San Diego northward – have seen any signs of radiation affecting fish. "It hasn't affected our market. It's not really here," she said. Government reports back up her statement.
"To date, the Food and Drug Administration has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern," said Theresa Eisenman, FDA Office of Media Affairs.
"This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the US. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood."
California's Department of Public Health, Radiologic Health Branch, agrees. "RHB has detected only trace amounts of radiation, well below levels of health concern," the department said, adding that every day residents are exposed to radiation from both natural and man-made sources.
Others are not in agreement about the potential risk. In a shocking video taken December 23rd with a Geiger Counter south of Pacifica State Beach (Surfers Beach) dangerous levels of radiation are indicated. The video has gone viral, with over 730,000 views so far. Officials have explained the surge as a natural occurring mineral, not associated with Fukushima. "The levels detected are about five to 10 times what you would normally expect to find on a beach," said Dan Sythe, CEO for International Medcom, which designs and manufactures Geiger Counters. "But if the sand were contaminated by radiation from Fukushima it would show Cesium-137, a product of nuclear fission which is reported to be the major health concern in Fukushima." He believes the beach is safe but would err on the side of caution with young children and babies "to make sure they don't inhale or eat the sand." Sythe said he prefers a more "precautionary approach."
Internet sites abound with concerns over the definite uptick and a growing fear of a State and Federal cover-up that Fukushima radiation is already hitting parts of the West Coast even though the massive part of the radioactive Pacific—the 'plume'—has not officially arrived yet. When that occurs, no beach will be immune from radioactive contamination, many contend.
According to Ann Werner, writing for topinfopost.com, "Every bluefin tuna tested in the waters off California has shown to be contaminated with radiation that originated in Fukushima. Every single one."
A Stanford University study revealed, "The tuna packaged it up (the radiation) and brought it across the world's largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured," Daniel Madigan, a marine ecologist who led the study, was quoted as saying.
Jeff Rense, whose site rense.com features several alarming videos, writes, "Does that mean everyone is going to drop dead? Of course, not. It does mean we have a God-given right to know exactly—precisely—what is happening to the Pacific—and our beaches and environment—in terms of how much radiation is present and what kind of nuclides are involved. We are now to the point that perhaps the most deadly radioactive nuclide to humans, Strontium 90, is apparently the predominant radio nuclide now being spewed into the Pacific 24/7/365 from Fukushima."
Ken Buessler is the head scientist at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, one of the world's top ocean science institutions. "What we don't really know is how fast and how much is being transported across the Pacific. Yes, models tell us it will be safe, yes the levels we expect off the US West Coast and Canada we expect to be low, but we need measurements — especially now, as the plume begins to arrive along the West Coast and will actually increase in concentration over the next 1 to 2 years. Despite public concern about the levels, no public agency in the US is monitoring the activities in the Pacific, Buessler said.
"Our fish are safe," said Mike Hudson, president, Small Boat and Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, a statewide group representing more than 100 trollers. "There's nothing to worry about." The only thing Hudson's group has noticed is the public's unfounded fear, and that's something his group is concerned about.
"There's no Fukushima radiation in our fish or on our coast," Hudson added. "I've never seen the ocean as healthy as it is now," said Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Community Fishing Association and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. Combined the two organizations represent about 60 boats hailing from Fisherman's Wharf. Collins said the saving grace is the awesome size of the Pacific Ocean and its ability to dilute pollutants.
Staff assisted local journalist Keith Burbank with this report.
A Bakery on West Portal
|16 West Portal is the new site
for La Boulange Bakery—ETA March 2014
Contrary to rumors, La Boulange Cafe & Bakery is planning to open in West Portal’s former St. Francis Market. Some thought the company dropped its plans because they didn’t see any construction activity at the site, but the company plans to open in March 2014. And despite being a retail chain store, La Boulange got approval from the Planning Commission earlier this year and has building permits for construction.
“It’s a place that people have asked for,” said Avrum Shepard, a local resident who is active in the community. “We recruited them. We got them to open up shop,” Shepard said. The effort is one more step toward improving business along West Portal Avenue, an effort that began at least a year ago. At one time, food trucks were part of that effort.
Shepard cited results from a merchant’s association survey that indicates residents want a La Boulange Cafe & Bakery in the neighborhood. The association distributed the survey to 500 or 600 people, and two-thirds of the 300 respondents mentioned La Boulange.
As a result, a community member called the company to ask if it would consider a store in the neighborhood. “We would like to rent a place here,” Shepard recalls a representative of La Boulange saying.
The new – and what will be the only bakery in West Portal – will be located at 16 West Portal Avenue, around the corner from the library. Shepard said St. Francis Market decided to move because it didn’t want to pay the higher rent the landlord was asking.
Had the company sought to open in the Castro/Upper Market area of the City, it may have found more opposition to its plans. Surrounding neighborhoods in that area – with the help of the San Francisco Planning Department – have placed limits on the amount of formula retail in the area. Castro/Upper Market neighborhoods successfully stopped both a Chipotle restaurant and a Starbucks from opening.”
La Boulange has 20 locations in the Bay Area. To be considered a retail chain store – also known as formula retail – a company must have 11 or more locations in the United States, according to planning department guidelines. As required by the planning department, the company sought and obtained a conditional use authorization earlier this year.
Had the company sought to open in the Castro/Upper Market area of the City, it may have found more opposition to its plans. Surrounding neighborhoods in that area – with the help of the San Francisco Planning Department – have placed limits on the amount of formula retail in the area. Castro/Upper Market neighborhoods successfully stopped both a Chipotle restaurant and a Starbucks from opening.
Not only is La Boulange a retail chain store, but the company is now owned by Starbucks, which as of August 2012, had 18,000 retail locations in 60 countries, according to company information. Starbucks purchased La Boulange in June 2012, according to Starbucks’ website.
“It’s been a positive,” said Cara Smith, retail operations and customer service coordinator, La Boulange, of the purchase by Starbucks. Smith said Starbucks has guided La Boulange and allowed the company to maintain its core values. Currently, residents can find La Boulange bakery items in many, if not all, Bay Area Starbucks.
Although San Franciscans have a distaste for formula retail, no one expressed opposition to La Boulange’s conditional use authorization. “The [Planning] department has received numerous communications in support of the project, including approximately 140 letters from neighborhood organizations and neighbors,” a July 3, 2013, Planning Department report reads. “The department has not received any communications in opposition to the proposal,” the report says.
La Boulange will hire 20 to 25 employees for the West Portal store. Advertisements for the jobs will be posted in existing stores and on Craigslist. The Craigslist advertisement will provide information about the job fair the company is planning to hold during the first two weeks of January 2014.
Dishwashers, prep cooks, line cooks, cafe leads, cashiers and baristas are on the list of employees La Boulange is looking to hire. Cooks with experience have a better chance of getting hired than those without experience, Smith said, but everyone receives training. The company prefers employees with a friendly nature who care about the position.
In addition to the new location in West Portal, La Boulange is opening a store in the Sunset, at 1266 9th Avenue. “Multiple requests from customers to open new stores in these areas of San Francisco, as well as other factors, like the availability of retail spaces, have resulted in the openings of La Boulange de Sunset and La Boulange de West Portal,” Smith said.
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
|Workers clean up in the early morning hours after the broken water mainspilled into 15th Ave & Wawona|
Water Main Fixed But Promises Unresolved
Residents seem pleased with the road and sewer repairs after February's water main break at 15th Avenue and Wawona Street. But at least two families are upset about property claims the City won't pay.
"Overall, it seems the City has done a good job of fixing the damaged pipe and the related infrastructure, but has done a poor job of keeping the promises made to us about getting compensated (for) the damages to our property," said Tuyen Truong, who with his family is leasing a home on 15th Avenue.
The City "couldn't care less." He obtained estimates to repair the home, but the City offered to pay only one half the cost. "My little girls lived in a sewer for seven months." He now pays a mortgage and rent.”
Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said the flood caused his sewer to collapse. "Since the flood, the bath, showers and toilets have been draining under our slab. I had an environmental test completed on the ground floor slab and it checked positive (for) coliform bacteria."
He and his family are now living in a rented house because their home is uninhabitable, he said. The City "couldn't care less." He obtained estimates to repair the home, but the City offered to pay only one half the cost. "My little girls lived in a sewer for seven months." He now pays a mortgage and rent.
In response, the SFPUC issued a statement that said some homes had pre-existing problems. The commission is helping residents restore homes to pre-incident conditions.
In support of the City's efforts, resident Avrum Shepard said he is "pretty well satisfied" with the City's response. The mayor set up an office on West Portal Avenue, and Supervisor Yee got involved right away. But, Shepard was not personally affected by the flooding, he said.
The City paid $1.5 million for the installation of a new eight inch residential water distribution pipe, a new sewer main, additional catch basins, and a "completely demolished and reconstructed" road, said Alison Kastama, regional communications liaison, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).
Kastama said the the City installed the new eight inch pipe along 15th Avenue from the 2600 block to West Portal Avenue and along the 400 block of Wawona Street. The new pipe replaces an older six inch pipe, Kastama said.
To improve drainage in the area, the intersection of 15th Avenue and Wawona Street has additional catch basins, now totaling six, Kastama said. And the road was demolished and reconstructed starting with the road base. "Sidewalks and driveways impacted by the water inundation and construction work were also repaired or replaced as needed."
The 16 inch water main that ruptured was not replaced, but was permanently capped at the intersection of 15th and West Portal avenues, and on the other end at the intersection of 16th Avenue and Wawona Street, Kastama said. The SFPUC considered replacing the water main, but decided against it for two reasons.
"Based on our engineers' careful review of geotechnical information, hydraulic and operational requirements, and in consideration of speeding the neighborhood's recovery, the SFPUC has decided to evaluate constructing a new 16 inch transmission main that fulfills similar system needs in a new alignment away from this affected area," a May 28, 2013, letter to residents from the commission reads. Kastama said the "system has sufficient operational flexibility to operate without this section."
"The new main would require two to three years to construct," the letter says. "A very early estimate for design and construction costs to build this pipeline … is approximately $3 million," Kastama said. The "pipeline segment will be upgraded to current seismic code and industry standards."
Despite what appears to be due diligence on the part of the SFPUC regarding infrastructure improvements, Truong is not happy with the way the City has or is handling claims for property damage. He said the City started accepting partial claims, but has now changed its mind. And the City has denied a claim by the company that issued his family's renter's insurance.
"The insurance company is now suing the City for the claim they paid to us, and we are forced into the lawsuit through subrogation – which is creating even more work for us," Truong said.
So far the City has paid 70 claims to residents for flood repairs. And the time for filing is still open, said Gabriel Zitrin with City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office. Zitrin said residents have one year to file claims for either real or personal property. One claim amounted to $301,000, while many claims were under $25,000.
Claims of more than $40,000 typically must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But to speed up claims, the City pre-approved $4 million for claims of more than $40,000. The $301,000 claim came out of the $4 million fund.
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
Plans to Curb Traffic Crush Meet Community Concerns
Two conceptual alternatives for bringing the MUNI M Line to Parkmerced, both of which would improve transportation and pedestrian safety along 19th Avenue are the result of additional west side community planning with the SF County Transportation Authority (SFMTA). And though some concerns remain, residents and stakeholders seem to be pleased overall.
“We can’t afford not to do something,” said Jason Porth, chief of operations in the President’s Office at San Francisco State University. Porth said more than half of the students at that campus take public transit, such as the M Line. Currently, the university employs crossing guards at the Holloway Avenue M Line stop because pedestrian safety is so bad. But Porth said the proposals under consideration would dramatically improve pedestrian safety.
With Parkmerced adding 8,900 residential units and the university looking to add 5,000 students, 19th Avenue is only facing more and more gridlock...”
The original plan calls for Parkmerced to build a new $70 million segment of the MUNI M Line, which would cross 19th Avenue in two places. But since $70 million is no small sum, the community wondered if the money might be better spent on a larger project to improve the whole corridor. So far a consensus seems to be holding.
|Narrower calmer street, provides a signature entranceway to Broad-Randolph corridor
“It’s such an important project,” said Peter Albert, manager, urban planning initiatives, SFMTA, which is working with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) and others on the project. With Parkmerced adding 8,900 residential units and the university looking to add 5,000 students, 19th Avenue is only facing more and more gridlock, Albert said.
Despite the progress being made on the plans, concerns remain. Among them is the loss of two Metro stops, which might make getting around more difficult for older adults, said Roger Ritter, a Balboa Terrace resident and active community member. The two stops up for elimination are between St. Francis Circle and the Stonestown Mall.
Another is whether the transit line can be extended to BART. “Community members have long asked for better transit connections to the Daly City BART station, just 4/5 of a mile south of the study area,” a SFCTA project fact sheet says. Ritter and Lakeside resident, Kath Tsakalakis, who has helped organize meetings in her neighborhood about the plans, also mentioned they would like a connection to BART.
Tsakalakis would like to see a planned tunnel extended north of St. Francis Circle. Current plans call for the tunnel to start south of the circle. Tsakalakis said a more northern starting point would remove delays at the circle where five streets meet. “It’s just chaos right now,” Tsakalakis said.
Of the two alternatives being studied by the transportation authority, one better meets the study’s goals for faster and reliable rail service and improvements in the pedestrian environment, according to an authority fact sheet. Dubbed the high-performance alternative, the subway portion of this alternative is longer, and the alternative includes a bridge over Junipero Serra Boulevard south of 19th Avenue.
The other alternative involves a shorter subway section and a tunnel under the intersection of Junipero Serra Boulevard and 19th Avenue in the study area’s southern end.
The SFCTA says the high performance alternative will provide a savings of seven to eight minutes in travel time along the corridor, cut $2 million in annual operating costs from the M Line, reduce the crossing distance along 19th Avenue at Holloway Avenue to 80 feet from 120 feet, and make auto travel in the corridor more predictable, among other benefits.
A feasibility study now underway is scheduled to be completed in early 2014. Additional project development and an environmental review is expected to be done between 2014 and 2018. Construction will start no sooner than 2020, the SFCTA says. The total cost of the project is expected to be about $520 million, with $72 million already committed.
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.Get the whole story at: www.sfcta.org/transportation-planning-and-studies/current-research-and-other-projectsstudies/19th-avenue
SF Press Club: A Museum Is Born
A new museum has opened its doors in San Francisco. Dedicated mainly to the history of the city, but with some emphasis on California, the San Francisco History Museum opened this year at 449 Powell Street. The museum, which also serves to welcome visitors to San Francisco, is co-located with the Golden Gate Tap Room and Golden Gate Grill.
"We believe this massive new facility will become a destination for both visitors to the city and for San Franciscans seeking a good, reasonably priced meal or libation in a historic Union Square building," said Man Kim, owner of the complex. Kim also owns Lori's Diner and Sears Fine Food.
|New life for the Press Club at 449 Powell Street, an old San Francisco institution
…the museum has been selected as the first bricks and mortar location for the 1906 Earthquake collection of archivist Gladys Hansen and noted photographer Richard Hansen..."
The building served as the home of the San Francisco Press Club from 1915 to 1952. Traveling journalists stayed on the fourth floor in residential-style rooms. Today, a 725-member group of journalists, San Francisco Bay Area Journalists, hosts meetings in the space.
The museum has exhibits representing San Francisco's history from its earliest days to the present. In the near future, the museum will include exhibits about the press club and Bay Area sports teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants.
Already the museum has been selected as the first "bricks and mortar location for the 1906 Earthquake collection of archivist Gladys Hansen and noted photographer Richard Hansen," according to a press release from the museum.
Other exhibits include presentations on the Gold Rush era, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, Bethlehem Steel, and the Panama Pacific International Exposition, among others.
Located on the second floor, the Golden Gate Tap Room offers more the 100 beers on tap, some from local breweries. It also has draft wine and appetizers. The bar includes plenty of seating, and numerous large-screen televisions. It also has games such as foosball, pinball machines, pool tables, and Skee-Ball.
Joyce Kern, corporate liaison for the museum, bar and restaurant, said the tap room has provided an affordable local hangout for people who live and work in the area. People stop by after work, Kern said. "We all need a place that's affordable," she said. Beers start at a price of $4.00 and appetizers start at $2.75. Groups can reserve sections of the tap room, and Kern said the tap room cannot take reservations fast enough.
On the third floor is the Golden Gate Grill, which includes memorabilia from Kim's travels. Two planes hang from the ceiling. The restaurant serves mainly classic American fare, and visitors can look onto Powell Street to see and hear the cable cars going by. The restaurant charges from ten to $14.00 for burgers and sandwiches. Entrees are priced from $14.00 to $28.00.
Open Mon-Sun 9 am. to 5 pm. $5. for adults, $3. students. Group rates available. The tap room is open seven days a week, noon to midnight and the restaurant is open daily from 8 am - 9 pm For more information about the museum, go to www.sfhistorymuseum.com.
Squat & Gobble Meets with No Opposition
Residents appear to support the design of the new building at West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street, the home of Squat & Gobble, which burned down late last year. The concern about the design centered on the building's facade and additional square footage the restaurant is requesting.
"We didn't see anything to object to," said Tim White, a member of the Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association's land use committee. White and two other members of the committee met with the architect, Suheil Shatara, June 25, at Starbucks, 100 West Portal Avenue, to review the design of
Prior to the fire, the building appeared to have cloth awnings, which hung at an angle on the building's facade. Clerestory windows are planned for the wall above the new awnings, and the restaurant will move a little closer to the street, relative to the pre-fire floor plan."
"When people come out of MUNI, that's what people see," White explained as his reason for the concern. The new design is similar to what existed before the fire. This time, however, tenant, Issa Sweidan, is planning to hang horizontal steel and glass awnings on the front of the building.
Prior to the fire, the building appeared to have cloth awnings, which hung at an angle on the building's facade. Clerestory windows are planned for the wall above the new awnings, and the restaurant will move a little closer to the street, relative to the pre-fire floor plan.
Compared with a previous design presented by Shatara, the latest renderings have wider windows along Ulloa Street. "I'm here to listen to your input," he said, adding that the owner of the building has given Sweiden "as much liberty as possible" in the design of the new building.
Besides the exterior, the committee asked questions about the additional space the restaurant is requesting. The restaurant wants to add an additional 200 square feet to its floor area, which drew no objections from the committee or the residents who attended the meeting. The restaurant does not have approval for this area yet, presumably from the City. In the new design, the contractor will install sprinklers throughout the restaurant.
Besides White, also in attendance from the seven-member land use committee were Arthur Perkins and Bob Pressley. The chair of the committee was unable to attend the meeting, White said. In addition to the land use committee members, four people from the community attended, including dentist Frederic Warren of Warren Orthodontics, whose building also burned in the October 2012 fire.
Warren expressed concern about the height of the new restaurant building, compared to the building in which his office was located. Shatara couldn't say which was higher, the height of the new restaurant or the height of the previous dental office. But Shatara said he will compare the two and get back with Warren.
Though partially designed, the facade of Squat & Gobble is not complete. None of the colors to be used on the building have been chosen. "Sometimes color goes a long way," Shatara said. The owner of the building is considering a colored stucco for the exterior. And the owner is considering tile below the first floor windows.
Inside the building, Squat & Gobble is planning a second floor dining area. For now the dining area will be private dining until the restaurant gets a conditional use from the City. Also planned for the second level is office space and storage. A portion of the second floor seating area will overlook the ground floor seating area. Outdoor seating is planned as well.
Next door, Warren Orthodontics will be rebuilding, bringing back Vin Debut, a wine shop that occupied space in what was the West Portal Medical-Dental building, owned by Warren. Avrum Shepard, president of the GWPNA, said Vin Debut has signed a lease on its location.
Shatara said Squat & Gobble's West Portal store was its busiest. Once built, the new store will become the company's new headquarters. The restaurant hopes to complete construction by the end of this year. "I don't see any objections to what they're proposing," Shepard said. "We would like to see them move ahead as quickly as possible."
Keith Burbank is a local free- lance journalist.
Trattoria da Vittorio Bistro
Southern Italian Fare Succeeds Café for All Seasons
With the oven flames blazing and seats colored red and white, Trattoria da Vittorio opened last month. The new Italian restaurant is cooking food from Calabria, the southernmost region of Italy’s mainland. To put the stamp of authenticity on the West Portal endeavor, owner Vittorio D’Urzo’s mother will be visiting this month from Italy to taste the sauces.
“I offer my simplicity, honesty and passion I have for this job,” D’Urzo told the Observer. He said in these months of construction, he’s had the pleasure of meeting a lot of people. And for him it was “fun to meet the fun, beautiful people of West Portal.”
To put the stamp of authenticity on the West Portal endeavor, owner Vittorio D’Urzo’s mother will be visiting this month from Italy to taste the sauces.”
After moving to the United States, D’Urzo first found work in a West Portal bistro. He committed himself to coming back to the neighborhood to start his own restaurant. He said his dreams are coming true, and coming true on West Portal.
Maryo Mogannam, owner of The Postal Chase on West Portal, and president of the West Portal Merchants Association, said the restaurant was “full and vibrant” the night he dined there with his family. Mogannam said D’Urzo has taken an old school approach, reminiscent of mom-and-pop restaurants. “You don’t see that anymore,” Mogannam said.
The menu includes signature dinner dishes: beef boneless short ribs Genovese with seasonal vegetable and polenta, pappardelle pasta with wild boar ragu, and handmade orecchiette (pronounced o-ray-chi-e-tay) with sausage and broccoli rapini. The dinner menu’s signature pizza is Calabrese, with sopressata, a calabrian salami, tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese. Caprese con Burrata is the dinner menu’s signature appetizer, prepared with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, basil and a balsamic reduction.
Diners can enjoy homemade dishes for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday, with a brunch both Saturday and Sunday. For brunch, the bistro offers a bit of traditional breakfast fare such as eggs and waffles, panini sandwiches, and some items from the dinner menu.
Tuesday to Thursday, the restaurant will be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and for dinner from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The oven flames will be burning until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours will be the same as weekday hours. The restaurant will be closed for a few months on Mondays until everything is organized.
Dishes with chicken, fish, veal, and eggplant, the queen of Calabrian vegetables, according to Calabria-based Melodia Food Company, complete the dinner menu, which has eight pasta dishes to treat the taste buds, including Mama Francesca’s traditional meat lasagna; house-made gnocchi with tomato, mozzarella and basil; and rigatoni with homemade bolognese sauce. Gluten-free pasta is available.
Outside, D’Urzo has kept the red brick exterior while placing planters on either side of the entry. Inside, wood chairs and wood tables offer simple hospitality, black and white photos hang neatly on the walls and stone makes its home above and below the white marble counter. Topped with shiny red tiles and imported from Napoli, the pizza oven can bake with gas or wood. “I can use both,” D’Urzo said.
At 150 West Portal Avenue, the new restaurant is where Cafe for All Seasons both thrived and failed. D’Urzo said the building inspector gave him a hard time during the half-million dollar renovation project, but he stuck through it all. The result is a clean, new, and functional locale for friendly West Portal residents, D’Urzo said.
“I wish him all the best in the world,” said Mark Norrell, owner of West Portal Optical, nearly across the street from Trattoria da Vittorio. Norrell said he was instrumental in bringing D’Urzo and the location together.
As a table service-style restaurant, a staff of 15 is ready to inspire. Although D’Urzo opened without much flare in May, he is planning a grand opening celebration. His goal is to make people as happy as possible.
“Calabria is at the toe of the boot, the extreme south of Italy, lapped by the splendid crystal blue Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, and separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina,” says Italy’s official tourism website, adding Calabria’s food has “strong and genuine flavors.”
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
Neighborhood Social Network Comes to West Portal
West Portal neighbors are building a social network called Nextdoor West Portal. The network is a website based on the technology of the social networking company, Nextdoor. Nextdoor's goal is to use technology to bring a greater sense of community to neighborhoods.
…neighborhoods are the original social network. But today 29 percent of Americans know only a few neighbors by name, and 28 percent of Americans know none of their neighbors by name.”
“I've found Nextdoor to be the single best resource for reaching out to new faces and informing them about neighborhood issues and getting them to attend meetings,” said Lee Hsu, a West Portal resident and Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association (GWPNA) officer.
Kelsey Grady, a spokeswoman for Nextdoor, said neighborhoods are the original social network. But today 29 percent of Americans know only a few neighbors by name, and 28 percent of Americans know none of their neighbors by name.
“It's all about neighbor to neighbor communications,” Grady said of Nextdoor. Nextdoor does not push any information to the neighborhood networks, nor is there any advertising. But neighbors can advertise services, and each site has a buy/sell/free classified section.
Besides simply connecting neighbors, Grady said Nextdoor helps neighbors solve problems. Neighbors can share the name of a good plumber or babysitter. Crime and safety is an important topic, Grady said. Twenty percent of the conversations nationwide on Nextdoor are related to crime and safety.
About 350 homes are now connected to Nextdoor West Portal, said Avrum Shepard, whose home is on the border between West Portal and Miraloma Park. Shepard said 2,200 homes comprise the GWPNA, but the boundaries of Nextdoor West Portal may be different than the boundaries of the GWPNA.
To join Nextdoor, neighbors must use their real name and reveal the name of the street they live on. But they do not need to reveal their street number. Grady said when people use their real names, they act more responsibly.
Nextdoor verifies each address, allowing only homes in the neighborhood to be part of that neighborhood's website. Nextdoor has had requests from journalists to be a part of a neighborhood's website, but the network is created to mimic a neighborhood.
Nextdoor makes it easy, and perhaps easier, to sell something, because the buyer and seller are so close by. “Personally, Nextdoor is my first stop for referrals or for selling things because I know I'm dealing with real people who live nearby,” Hsu said. “I chose an auto mechanic based on a Nextdoor recommendation and have sold two furniture items where pickup was easy because, in each instance, the buyer was so close that he was able to stop by the same day,” Hsu added. “I actually give a discounted price on Nextdoor, precisely because it's easier for me, and I know that the buyer is a neighbor,” Hsu said.
On Nextdoor neighbors have organized BBQs. And Nextdoor allows people to create neighborhood groups, such as a running group or a parenting group. The groups allow for more private communication. Grady said Nextdoor is a great icebreaker, and people can refer back to the site if they forget a person's name.
Nextdoor creates the opportunity for a virtual neighborhood watch. Grady said people have assisted the police in apprehending criminals by posting descriptions of the criminal to the network.
Shepard said people learn more about crime on Nextdoor than in police reports. Neighbors will report suspicious activity, so it's more useful than a police report, he added. But Shepard admitted there is an element of error to the system too. A noise at the front door might be a burglar breaking in or someone distributing leaflets.
And other criticisms have emerged. People are hesitant to reveal the name of the street they live on because they are concerned about their privacy. And some people receive too many emails. But changing the settings for Nextdoor can reduce the number of emails. Another criticism is whether people need another social network.
But Grady said it's more of a utility website for neighborhoods. Of course, homeowners can go outside to meet their neighbors, but Grady said people don't do that anymore. This way you can meet your neighbors at 3 a.m., she said. And people can communicate with neighbors two streets over.
“Even though Nextdoor involves online interaction, for me it has actually increased face to face meetings and discussions, and I've made several new friends because of our West Portal site,” Hsu said. “Because you can engage online with neighbors whom you might never encounter in your daily routine, when you finally meet them, whether planned or by chance, you feel like you already know each other a bit, Hsu added. “With two working parents and kids in school, it can be hard to find time to meet neighbors because any remaining 'free time' is often after 9 p.m. when the kids are asleep (in theory), but Nextdoor is making it happen for us.”
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
Nervous 19th Avenue Neighbors Eye Agency’s Changes to Metro M-line
The San Francisco County Transportation Authority is studying changes to the light rail M line near Stonestown Galleria and San Francisco State University. Some redesign has been approved, but the study is examining the possibility of further changes that would, for example, eliminate the need for new travel and turn lanes along 19th Avenue/State Road 1.
“We ... know 19th Avenue is very congested,” said Liz Brisson, transportation planner, SFCTA, which is leading the study. Exploring ways to create a reliable transit connection to the Daly City BART Station is another of the study’s objectives.
“Behind all this PR barrage,” said a critic who wishes to remain anonymous, “don’t miss the main point - MUNI wants to take west side houses through eminent domain to benefit the Parkmerced expansion.”
Under the current options set forth in the study, the M-line would be moved to the west of 19th Avenue, some sections will be moved above grade or underground, and stops will be moved. The study area includes track from St. Francis Circle to the intersection of Broad Street and Capital Avenue.
People affected by the changes include San Francisco State University students and staff, customers and business owners at the Stonestown Galleria, Parkmerced residents, Mercy High School students and staff, and residents along the M-line from Ocean Avenue to the intersection of Broad Street and Orizaba Avenue. At least one option includes purchasing homes to allow changes to the line.
Photo: Option N1 shows undergrounding the northbount track and moving the southbound track to the west side of 19th Avenue
“Behind all this PR barrage,” said a critic who wishes to remain anonymous, “don’t miss the main point - MUNI wants to take west side houses through eminent domain to benefit the Parkmerced expansion.”
Sydney Mintz, a junior at San Francisco State, said that of the options for the southern portion of the study, she favors option 1 because it forces the fewest people to give up their homes.
Photo: Option N2 shows moving the both tracks to the west side of 19th Avenue
Fifty-five percent of all pedestrian fatalities in San Francisco take place on five percent of the streets in the City. Nineteenth Avenue is one of those streets. Many of the pedestrian crossings take place at 19th Avenue and Holloway, at San Francisco State University. One option put forth by the SFCTA is keeping the M-line stop along the east side of the university, but moving the stop midway from the north and south ends. Brisson said at least some students are in favor of this option.
Besides affecting the current populations of residents and visitors to the area, the population of Parkmerced is expected to increase 15,000 by 2040, according to information from the SFCTA. Parkmerced is just south of San Francisco State University. The study is looking at routing the M-line through Parkmerced.
The agency has divided the study into north and south sections, with three options for each. Option one for the northern section includes large sections of underground track. Brisson said this is the most expensive of the options for the north side.
The largest amount of funding for the study is coming from Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation. Matching funds are coming from Parkmerced, Stonestown Galleria, San Francisco State University and the SFCTA. The funding from SFCTA is being raised through a sales tax approved by voters in Proposition K. Photo: existing tracks
Besides reducing congestion along 19th Avenue, the proposals in the study would speed up the M-line. The average rate of speed through the study area is 8 miles per hour. Because of the benefits, the project has inspired a lot of community support, said Paul Rose, spokesperson, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
The SFCTA has held meetings with the San Francisco State University Neighborhood Task Force, the Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association, and Parkmerced residents. Mid-February, the agency held the first of two community meetings. The agency expects to hold a second meeting in spring 2013.
This illustration from the Parkmerced site shows proposed changes to the M-Oceanside rails.
The SFCTA manned tables at San Francisco State on February 20 and 21 to answer questions from students. A repeat of the first community meeting will be held at the Ocean View Branch Library March 2 at 1 p.m. Also, the SFCTA will be holding a meeting Wednesday, March 20 at the Merced Branch library, 7 p.m.
This spring the SFCTA will be looking at the tradeoffs among each of the three options. By summer the agency wants to have selected and refined one preferred concept based on the evaluation of tradeoffs and input from the public and organizations affected by the project.
Plans for the summer include identifying the steps, funding, roles of the agencies involved, and coordination for an environmental analysis, an engineering design, and construction.
Rose said the agencies conducting the study expect to finish it before the end of 2014, “in time for a preferred alternative.”
“This project is good for all modes [of transportation],” Brisson said.
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
To see all the options go to: www.sfcta.org/19th-avenue-transit-study-outreach-avenue
New Italian Flare to Replace Café For All Seasons
Local businesses are pleased the former site of Café for All Seasons will soon be filled by a new restaurant
Opening in April at 150 West Portal Avenue, between The Village Grill and Citibank will be Trattoria Da Vittorio, serving southern Italian food. Owner Vittorio D’Urzo is spending nearly half a million dollars to open the family business.
Café for All Seasons was a favorite spot for locals when it was owned by Frank and Donna Katzl. After the Katzl’s sold the cafe, the new owners kept the name, but the business went downhill. The restaurant recently closed.
“Chi mangia bene, vive bene,” D’Urzo says, which means, “He who eats well, lives well.” ”
“It’s nice to have another business there,” said Richard Crain, owner, The Village Grill, which is one door down from the trattoria. “He will be such a great addition to the corridor,” said Mark Norrell, owner, West Portal Optical. Another local businessperson, who wasn’t aware of the change, said its great a new restaurant is moving in. “We can always use a new restaurant,” he said.Andy Moussouras, a general contractor doing work on the renovation, said the kitchen will be brand new, with all new kitchen equipment, including dishwasher. The plumbing will be new, the electrical will be relocated as needed, and the restaurant will be brought in line with guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Everything will be new and fresh inside,” said D’Urzo. “I’ve destroyed everything that was old.”
“He plans to be open for a long time,” Moussouras said of D’Urzo and the Trattoria Da Vittorio. Moussouras has also done work for The Village Grill, West Portal’s Goat Hill Pizza, and Orexi, a recently opened Greek restaurant in the neighborhood.
Asked why he decided upon West Portal, D’Urzo said, “Because when I moved to the United States in 1998, …I moved to Twin Peaks. I used to work in an Italian restaurant in West Portal for one year. Then I lived on the Peninsula. I said one day I will come to West Portal to open a restaurant. It’s been 14 years.”
D’Urzo said he will be offering great food and great service. Much of the food will be homemade. The tomato sauce and the meatballs will be recipes from his mother, who is coming from Italy to help. The pasta, shortribs, ravioli, including lobster and artichoke ravioli, gnocchi, and pappardelle will be homemade. Other dishes may be homemade as well.
“Customers will see fresh fish and fresh produce each day,” and he will be using the best buffalo mozzarella cheese — “almost creamy,” D’Urzo said. His focus will be bringing a quality product to the people.
Restaurant work runs in the family. Two uncles have owned Piazza D’Angelo in Mill Valley for the past 30 years.
D’Urzo has 15 years of experience in the restaurant industry — from Rome, Italy, to New York, to San Francisco, and the Bay Area. His experience includes table service, kitchen work and management. For the past five years he has been a general manager at one of three Bay Area Italian restaurants: Locanda Positano, Limone, Acqua Pazza.
Trattoria Da Vittorio will have about 15 employees. D’Urzo said he will be hiring about ten. Of those already employed, “I have my strong team,” he said.
Besides authentic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti carbonara and eggplant parmiggiana, Trattoria Da Vittorio will also serve Naples-style thin crust pizza. Both pizza chefs, Antonio and Giovanni, worked with D’Urzo at Locanda Positano, which was rated best pizza in the Bay Area by ABC Channel 7, KGO-TV San Francisco within the last two years.
“We want to make sure the kids are happy too,” Antonio said. Mickey Mouse pizzas will be on the menu. Moussouras said D’Urzo is bringing a special oven from Italy for the pizza.
“Chi mangia bene, vive bene,” D’Urzo says, which means, “He who eats well, lives well.”
Keith Burbank is a local journalist.
Pacific Rod & Gun Club: Such a Deal
Who will pay for the cleanup still unclear
Who’s paying to clean up the $10.7 million in environmental damage at Lake Merced? It’s unclear. But the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the club negotiated a settlement agreement last month that will keep PR&GC at the Lake.
The disagreement that led to the settlement concerns the environmental damage caused by lead shot and a petroleum binder used in clay targets, Steve Ritchie, assistant general manager for water at the SFPUC said. The targets were used for skeet shooting. Both contaminants are no longer in materials used at the club. The club stopped using the lead shot in 1994, and the contaminated ducks in 2000, Ritchie said.
The SFPUC approved the settlement during a Closed Session on October 23, 2012. It was recommended by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee November 15, at another Closed Session, and has to be approved by the full Board of Supervisors, where the opportunity for public comment is, again, unlikely. It will vote on the ordinance Tuesday, December 4, Supervisor Elsbernd said.”
But if the club does not pay for the cleanup, then the SFPUC may have to pass along those costs to its customers. It’s unclear if the insurance policies held by the gun club – in place in the 1970s and early 80s – may pay for some or all of the costs, Ritchie said. “The biggest question regarding the cleanup is how much funding the club can contribute,” he added.
The idea that the gun club may have to move would make at least one SF resident happy. “It’s a very strong noise disturbance …and they are not serving the public recreationally,” said Felicia Zeiger, who lives within walking distance from Lake Merced. Zeiger said the membership of the club has not grown at all, or not very much, yet the population in the surrounding area has. Zeiger has previously served on the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee, whose focus is park, recreational, environmental, cultural, sports, youth, or senior citizen issues.
On November 6 the Chronicle reported “PUC General Manager Harlan Kelly said the new month-to-month lease, replacing the original that was signed in the 1930s, would protect San Francisco ratepayers from cleanup costs.”
“We disagree,” said Jerry Cadagan, founder of Committee to Save Lake Merced, “that SF rate or tax payers have been protected from clean up costs. We are not criticizing (reporter) Neal Riley at the Chronicle We have corroborated that that is what he was told.
“Here are the facts. 1. The Gun Club does not have the specialized kind of environmental pollution liability insurance that covers this kind of situation (although SF and the Gun Club say they are negotiating with an insurance carrier that provided other insurance). 2. The Gun Club does not have $10 million (SF’s estimate of the clean up expense) or $5 million (the Gun Club’s estimate) in cash or other assets. 3. SFPUC staff has told their own Commissioners that the rate payers may end up picking up the clean up costs. A staff report attached to the Commission’s May 8, 2012 agenda (Item 9) contained these words, “Also, the SFPUC may have to use $10.7 million in ratepayer funds to undertake remediation activities if the PRGC is unable to satisfy its financial obligation to remedy the site contamination.
“The recent temporary settlement does not change any of those facts.
“This is important because SFPUC ratepayers need to know that they may very well be on the hook for a $10 million pollution clean up job.”
The SFPUC approved the settlement during a Closed Session on October 23, 2012. It was recommended by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee November 15, at another Closed Session, and has to be approved by the full Board of Supervisors, where the opportunity for public comment is, again, unlikely. It will vote on the ordinance Tuesday, December 4, Supervisor Elsbernd said.
The current lease, written in 1934, when the club first leased the property, granted use of 4 acres for “skeet shooting and flyfishing”, though the club now uses 10 acres and no flyfishing is in evidence.
Although the site located at 520 John Muir Drive is used by the gun club, the City and County owns the property, which is managed by the SFPUC. Prior to May, the SF Recreation & Parks Department managed the site.
Under the amended and restated lease and the November 2, 2012, settlement agreement the club can remain on the property on a month-to-month basis for two years. During the two years, “the SFPUC and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department will begin the planning process for long term use of the premises after cleanup is complete for yet-to-be-determined unrestricted recreational uses,” Ritchie wrote in an email to the Observer.
“It does take time to work out these issues,” Ritchie said, adding that the city could extend the club’s two-year lease, though “highly unlikely,” he said. During the term of the lease, monthly rent is $5,000, and the rental deposit is $10,000. The club’s continued occupancy of the property will be governed only by the settlement agreement and the amended and restated lease.
District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd drafted an ordinance dated November 5, 2012 to approve the settlement agreement. The ordinance states the new lease will provide “improved insurance, indemnity and other provisions in favor of the city.” It does not mention the cleanup costs.
A spokesperson for the gun club, Fred Tautenhahn, declined to comment for the story. Instead he referred the Observer to club president Mike Miller, who did not return calls for comment by press time. The club’s website says the club is “making steady and relatively positive progress” with the SFPUC. “We still have a long way to go to secure and ensure our long term existence at Lake Merced,” the website tells members, guests and friends of the club.
Keith Burbank is a San Francisco freelance journalist
Fire Destroys Squat & Gobble, Vin Debut, Neighboring Buildings Damaged
A fire burned Squat & Gobble, 1 West Portal Avenue, as well as Vin Debut, 9 West Portal Avenue, the West Portal Medical-Dental Building, 15 West Portal Avenue, and 823 Ulloa Street, a mixed use, residential and commercial building next to 1 West Portal Avenue, said Mindy Talmadge, public information officer, San Francisco Fire Department. The West Portal Medical-Dental Building is home to Warren Orthodontics.
Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact.”
The Fire Department reported two minor firefighter injuries in the blaze. No civilians sustained injuries, nor was anyone displaced from a residence, Talmadge said.
A passerby reported the fire to the San Francisco Fire Department at 4:40 a.m. Friday, October 12, 2012, according to information released by the fire department.
The fire department estimates Squat & Gobble suffered property damage of $900,000 and content damages of $1 million. For Vin Debut and Warren Orthodontics, the fire department estimates property damages total $1.1 million and contents damages total $3.5 million. At 823 Ulloa Street, the fire department estimates $750,000 in property damages and $100,000 in content damages.
Squat & Gobble has been able to absorb the employees from the West Portal store into its other establishments in San Francisco. “Yes, we’ve already done that,” said J.J., the manager at the store on Fillmore Street in the Lower Haight. “We did that last week.” J.J. said he is aware of the fund to help employees of the West Portal store, and he said employees will be able to take advantage of the fund. But he said he doesn’t yet know how the fund works.
The San Francisco Fire Department’s media relations office has said the fire is still under investigation and the point of origin and cause may not be known.
Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact. At 823 Ulloa, the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection had posted a notice on the window that said “enter the top floor with caution” and only “brief entry allowed for access to contents.” At 9 and 15 West Portal Avenue, metal gates surrounded the entrances, and little could be seen from the street.
A fire inspector was on the scene October 16.
Fund established to help employees
The West Portal Merchants Association has established an account with Bank of America to help employees of the businesses that burned in the fire at the southeast corner of West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street.
“We’re not trying to sustain them, but trying to show them that we care,” said West Portal Merchants Association president, Maryo Mogannam, owner of The Postal Chase on West Portal Avenue. The name of the fund is West Portal Avenue Association Fire Fund. “Any teller can look it up,” Mogannam said. Donations can be made at any Bank of America branch; all the branches in Northern California received notice of the fund.
All of the employees have insurance and will be getting unemployment, but the donations are for gaps and surprises, Mogannam said. Mogannam said 60 to 70 employees have been affected by the fire; he is hoping each employee can receive a gift certificate of $25, $50, or $100.
The manager of the Bank of America branch in West Portal was unavailable before press time, so the number of donations made and the total amount donated is unknown at this time.
Keith Burbank is a free-lance San Francisco reporter.
OfftheGrid Reconsiders Food Truck Event for West Portal
In a surprise move, OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal—the company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. “If you don’t want us here, then we won’t be here,” said Matthew Cohen, owner of OfftheGrid San Francisco, at a West Portal Merchants Association meeting in October. Cohen came to the meeting to hear merchants’ concerns about a proposed food truck event for this fall in West Portal. While some merchants see the event as a way to boost business, other merchants are afraid it will take away their business.
“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].”
“We want to be respectful of everyone,” Cohen said a few days later by telephone. At the meeting Cohen said OfftheGrid is trying to take the least aggressive approach toward establishing an event in West Portal, and said OfftheGrid will be doing more to hear the concerns of West Portal shopkeepers.
Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, said that people don’t know West Portal exists (see the September 2012 issue of the Westside Observer). Werger said the food truck event will help people discover the neighborhood. Another merchant seemed to agree.
“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].
But Pankaj Shah, owner of Roti Indian Bistro at 53 West Portal Avenue, told Cohen, “You’re looking at your bottom line and not our bottom line.” Shah is concerned that a food truck event will reduce available parking in the area, driving his customers away. Shah said many of his customers come by car. If they cannot find a parking spot within a block or two, Shah said, they will turn around and go home.
Shah added that Cohen does not have any objective evidence the event will benefit the neighborhood’s merchants. “All I have is subjective evidence,” Cohen admitted.
One or two groups, including OfftheGrid, were planning to place sensors to count foot traffic in a few West Portal businesses. It is unclear if the sensors would count foot traffic before a food truck event, after, or during. But perhaps the sensors will indicate how the event will affect West Portal businesses.
Before the meeting OfftheGrid had modified its proposal to the West Portal neighborhood, including the location of the event. Rather than 14th Street, OfftheGrid proposed the parking lot located at 174 West Portal Avenue, plus sections of the street on either side of the lot.
“I’m sitting here in total shock,” said Linda Kapnick, owner of Ambassador Toys at 186 West Portal Avenue. Kapnick said her customers use that parking lot, and parking is a problem for customers of her West Portal store. Ambassador Toys is open until 6 p.m. Tuesdays, the night OfftheGrid considered hosting the event, and Cohen had planned to have the lot closed by 4 p.m.
Kapnick said that parents frequently tell their children to hurry up because the parents fear getting a parking ticket. Or customers ask Kapnick to leave the package at the door. “Parking is one issue that is so critical,” Kapnick told Cohen and merchants in the meeting.
An important consideration for Ambassador Toys and Roti may be the kind of customer each shop serves. OfftheGrid’s clientele are typically single professionals 20 to 40 years or age, or young couples 25 to 45 years old, with children.
“Seniors, are they your best spenders?” Maryo Mogannam, president of the West Portal Merchants Association asked merchants at the meeting. “Yes,” Kapnick said. “They’re the grandmothers....”
But some merchants at the meeting think that customers of an OfftheGrid food truck event will be good spenders, too.
In another neighborhood hungry for better business, Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, said some restaurants lost business when OfftheGrid established a food truck event near his cafe on Telegraph Avenue.
Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum improved, but he said he doesn’t serve standard lunches and dinners as some restaurants do. Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum picked up after the food truck event closed for the night, as event customers stopped by for coffee. Caffe Mediterraneum is open until midnight.
So, the food truck event has gotten “a little bit of mixed reviews” on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Becker said.
Cohen said OfftheGrid wants to take everybody’s views into consideration. Thus OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal. OfftheGrid has said it is sensitive to concerns about the event’s impact on holiday traffic. The company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. If the neighborhood had decided to host an event this fall, the event may have started November 6 and run for six weeks. Then OfftheGrid would have given West Portal the option of continuing the event.
Keith Burbank is a freelance San Francisco reporter.
Food Trucks are Coming and May Help More Discover West Portal
Food trucks, which may be bringing more business to merchants and restaurants alike, are coming to West Portal. The event will be hosted by OfftheGrid, which brings together food trucks for events in Hayes Valley in San Francisco and in North Berkeley, near the Gourmet Ghetto, among other Bay Area locations.
Supporters of the food truck event in West Portal, such as Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, want to achieve at least two things by bringing food trucks to the neighborhood. One, improve business for all merchants, and two, make West Portal a destination neighborhood, similar to the Castro in terms of sales for merchants in the neighborhood.
…West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here…”
Werger said that West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they [people] want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here, as people do in the Castro or other busy shopping neighborhoods.
Werger told The Westside Observer that OfftheGrid will not be bringing trucks with the same kind of food as that sold by West Portal restaurants, so as to avoid competition with restaurants in West Portal. Werger said that there are really great restaurants here [in West Portal], but people do not know they are here. “And I want people to know about them and how great they are, Werger said. For example, “I have asked people if they have eaten at Bursa,” Werger said. “And people reply, Where is Bursa? I want people to know where Bursa is.”
Evidence from other food truck events in San Francisco suggest the event is a success for food trucks and other merchants, restaurant or otherwise. For example, the food truck events are popular at other locations, such as the McCoppin Hub and Hayes Valley. In Oakland, near City Center, shiny green trucks glow as people from the State of California building choose which item to indulge in. And despite some initial reluctance, at least some restaurants in the North Berkeley neighborhood have reversed course and are welcoming the event.
For example, Saul’s, an established delicatessen on Shattuck Avenue, is welcoming the publicity it gets when the food truck event is happening, its manager said. And Gregoire, a gourmet takeout shop in North Berkeley, said it’s sales may have fallen a bit, but not considerably, when the food truck event in the Gourmet Ghetto first started. But now its sales have leveled off or improved, owner, Gregoire Jacquet said. “It does bring people,” Jacquet said of the food truck event. Jacquet called The westside Observer after the August issue was delivered to newstands last month.
Feedback: Keith Burbank
Will a Food Truck Event Benefit West Portal Restaurants?
“No, absolutely not,” said John Bedroussin, owner of the Submarine Center in West Portal for 32 years. “This neighborhood is clean. We have cleaned it up. One hundred percent not.”
Bedroussin was responding to a question about the possibility of a food truck event coming to West Portal one night a week.
The idea has West Portal merchants asking if the event will hurt or help restaurants in the neighborhood recover from the recession.
Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.”
Some West Portal merchants are in favor of the event because they think it will bring new people to the neighborhood. Supporters, such as local retailers, say these new people may drink or finish dinner at West Portal restaurants during the event or drink or dine at a West Portal restaurant at a night in the near future. Also, they say, the event will give people a reason to visit the neighborhood, reinvigorating the neighborhood business district.
But broker associate Art Belenson of Century 21 in West Portal, said business — at least among restaurants in the neighborhood — is down 30%, which is why the restaurants are opposed. They’re afraid the food trucks will draw customers away from them.
Robbie Connolly, co-owner of The Village Grill in West Portal, said the food trucks have an unfair advantage compared with West Portal restaurants, due to higher operating costs than the cost of operating a mobile food truck.
“We pay taxes galore,” said Esperanza Mahan, owner of El Toreador, a restaurant serving Mexican food on West Portal Avenue for 50 years.
The event would be set up by Off the Grid San Francisco, a company that groups mobile food vendors. Off the Grid owner Matthew Cohen said the West Portal Merchants Association approached him about the event. Off the Grid’s website says the goal of its events is to “allow neighbors to connect with friends and families to reconnect with each other.”
One supporter described the proposed event. Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.
Cohen said a similar Off the Grid event has been successful in North Berkeley, a neighborhood known for restaurants. The area nearby the food truck event has more than a few frequently-visited restaurants and is nick-named the Gourmet Ghetto.
Bedroussin is concerned the event will leave trash in the streets, and bring people who are homeless to the neighborhood. Also, people opposed are concerned about an increase in traffic congestion because residents will be arriving home from work as the event begins and there could be a lack of parking for the combination of visitors and residents.
Off the Grid has proposed the event for a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., for one year. Cohen said perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 people will come to the event each week.
Another concern is restrooms. If the city does not provide portable toilets, some have asked what restrooms the visitors will use. Also, some people opposed asked if it will be too cold outside in the winter to draw any people to the event.
Mahan said 15 to 20 people from the neighborhood met at a community meeting about the proposal.
Connolly said, “Pretty much all of the food establishments are not in favor [of the food trucks], from whom I have talked to and what I understand. All the other attendees were in favor of the event.”
Mahan said she thinks the event will only benefit retail establishments. “We don’t know how expensive their dishes are. They don’t pay rent. These are the concerns we are facing,” Mahan added.
Past president of the West Portal Merchants Association, Marc Troy, said he thinks “selfish interests” are behind the idea. If a mobile truck to wrap and ship packages came to West Portal, do you think the local package shipper would be in favor of the proposal? Troy asked.
But Matthew Rogers, owner, Papenhausen Hardware said, “I think it would be very positive for the street. It would bring a lot of people to the neighborhood who are unfamiliar with West Portal. It gives them a reason to come here. In all likelihood, the food trucks will have no effect on my business. But in general, it would improve business along the street,” Rogers said. The food trucks would pull people from other parts of the city, besides the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. “It would be a shame if we missed that.”
“I’m totally for it” said Rachel Lopez Metzger, owner, The Desk Set, at 3252 Sacramento Street and 207 West Portal Avenue in San Francisco. “I support it. It will be a very family-friendly event. It will probably help all the small businesses that are there [in West Portal],” she said by phone from the Sacramento Street location. “I want it to happen.”
Keith Burbank is a free lance journalist