Response to Chronicle Article dated April 3, 2022
This is to respond to a first-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle by J.K. Dineen regarding a proposed development at 955 Sansome Street. That article makes unfair generalizations about our organization and our community. It goes so far as to suggest Telegraph Hill “is probably best known for,” aside from parrots and Coit Tower, “saying no to things.”
But most of the time, we say “Yes.” We’d like to invite Mr. Dineen and everyone else to spend some time in our neighborhood and see everything to which we have said not only “Yes” but also, “How can we help?”
North Beach and Telegraph Hill are among the most beautiful, vibrant, and dynamic spaces in the entire Bay Area coming out of the pandemic. They are also among the densest areas in San Francisco, and have been so for decades.
In the case of 955 Sansome, our response was “No, but…” Of course, we welcome affordable housing that respects and responds to the surrounding architecture. We always have; we always will. But this project is about something much different: big-money luxury housing.
There are supposedly 14 “affordable” units. According to San Francisco’s definition, that means units accessible to the merely affluent, not only the rich. Only five would be accessible to those folks most in need of affordable housing.
Early on, we sent members of our Board of Directors to visit the architects designing this building. At that meeting, THD board members said that the building under consideration was too tall to be acceptable to anyone living nearby. Our recommendation was to take a good look at the surrounding area and design the project accordingly.
Subsequent renderings of a massive tower drew a huge, negative response that extended far beyond members of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. Many of those who live near the site are fighting to save their homes and the quality of their lives. These neighbors do not oppose building on this site; they're against an oversized, out-of-scale tower that would forever alter a historic neighborhood.
Amazingly, the response to that overwhelmingly negative reaction was to make the building two stories taller, rising 120 feet above Sansome to the top of the structure’s large mechanical penthouse. This building would be far too large, too tall, and too out of scale and character with the Northeast Waterfront Historic District in which it is located.
For us to say “Yes,” this project must be downscaled and right-sized.
We reject the efforts of developer-paid consultants and “activists” to demean us and our efforts by throwing the term “NIMBY” around. We’re stewards of the Hill. We work hard to make this area and all of our city better. Not just for us but for everyone who loves this special place at the heart of San Francisco.
There are times we’ve said “No,” even “Hell, no!” But THD has also said “Yes” over and over during the 68 years since we were founded in 1954.
Yes, THD works to preserve affordable housing stock, favoring renters’ rights over evictions, conversions, and demolitions. Yes, THD argues for real, 100% affordable housing, including major projects here in our own community. Yes, THD has consistently pushed for a transit-first city. Yes, we fully supported giving the Embarcadero back to pedestrians and bicyclists, and for tearing down the Embarcadero freeway. Yes, THD continuously works to preserve the beauty of Washington Square Park. Yes, THD planted trees there, supported the Grace Marchant Garden and were instrumental in creating Jack Early Park. Yes, THD continues to welcome and actively promote small, local, independent businesses.
We’re proud of all of that and much more. THD has defended this City and its character from those who would exploit it. It’s been our honor and privilege.
Figure 1 - 955 Sansome is located in the Norteast Waterfront Historic District.
Figure 2 - 955 Sansome would be significantly taller and more massive than adjoining buildings.
Figure 3 – 955 Sansome, at 98 feet above Sansome, would be incompatible with the height and scale of adjoining buildings along Sansome (note: brown line shows boundary of historic district).
Figure 4 – View toward adjoining homes whose light and air would be blocked.