Letter from PHAN President Charlie Ferguson  Dec. 2017

Dear Neighbors,

The PHAN board is committed to helping all residents of Presidio Heights, however we can throughout each year. All of us are proud of the accomplishments made during the past year and we look forward to being of service to the neighborhood in 2018.

As I did when I was last president of PHAN, I will balance the efforts of the board as much as possible evenly between proactive and reactive efforts.  

The Presidio and Wildfires

In a proactive vein, at our last board meeting a few weeks ago, the board determined that PHAN should request that the Presidio Trust provide us with information about how it would protect our neighborhood in the event a wildfire should break out in the Presidio. The recent wildfires in northern and southern California have put everyone on alert that such disasters are not easy to confine to remote wilderness and forest areas, but can and recently have, scorched urban residential areas destroying large commercial buildings along with hundreds of homes.  In our neighborhood, the prevailing winds blow on Presidio Heights directly from the northwest, meaning that any wildfire that starts in the Presidio forest will be blown in our direction. 

I am pleased to report that the Presidio has been very quick to respond to our request for information. Together the PHAN board and responsible officials in the Presidio will be working on a presentation for the PHAN membership (every adult resident of Presidio Heights is a member of PHAN, but only those who pay the annual dues may vote) to be presented to the PHAN membership at our annual meeting in May 2018, ahead of the start of the 2018 fire season.  We expect to secure a meeting place for the annual meeting by March and we will send out notice of the location and date of the meeting soon thereafter, as well as publish the same information on our website at www.phansf.org.  I, for one, expect to learn how the Presidio plans to fight a wildfire, how soon and by what means we will be apprised of the danger, if any occurs, and what residents in the path of such a fire should be prepared to do to protect themselves, families, pets and homes. At this time, we have had far less rain than last December and that may mean a very dry summer lies ahead. 

Coyotes in the Neighborhood

In the first board meeting in 2018, the directors will also discuss whether and how we should approach the Presidio about the number of coyote sightings in our neighborhood.  It seems to be reaching a tipping point and personally I never expected to have to worry about encountering a coyote in our neighborhood.

Development Projects: TMG Project

I have three matters to report on that require reactive measures from board members and neighbors alike.  The first is the TMG development project for the current CPMC California Street campus.  

As it happens, TMG recently informed me of the latest update to their plans.  TMG has just submitted its application for a Conditional Use Permit and Planned Unit Development Permit to the Planning Department.  These applications for large developments are not submitted until after there has been a considerable amount of discussion between the developer and the surrounding neighborhoods and the developer and Planning Department staff.  TMG's application was no exception to the general rule.  

One change to what we have seen before is that TMG has agreed to the Planning Department's demand for more housing than the original 240 units. TMG has now added another 18 units of housing.  I personally do not think this calls for any change in PHAN's position on this development.  (We joined with our neighbors from Jordan Park and Laurel Heights in supporting the project as previously proposed.)  The reason I do not think we need to do anything as drastic as withdrawing our prior approval is that the way TMG added the new housing units is not something that added to the exterior shape of any of the buildings previously proposed.  TMG is splitting the interior structure of some buildings into two units of housing instead of a single unit. Parking, one of our key concerns, was added to account for the extra units, which is consistent with our preferences.  

The City also demanded some changes in the streetscapes around the project. So, the latest plan calls for changing parking along Maple Street from 90-degree parking to parallel parking and slightly narrowing Maple Street.  TMG also agreed to add street lighting and furniture and a pedestrian bulb-out at Sacramento and Maple and a bus bulb-out at California and Maple. The PHAN board will review the streetscape changes and determine whether there are any aspects that concern us enough to withdraw our prior approval of the project.  If anyone has concerns, please send your concerns by email to info@phansf.org.

Development Projects: 3333 California Street

The project at 3333 California Street is moving at a slower pace due to its size and the size of the property itself.  Over the summer, I met with the development group and expressed concern on the part of a significant number of PHAN members who live on California Street that the commercial retail spaces currently planned to stretch from the southeast corner of Laurel Street to Walnut Street should be moved eastward, so that some of the retail commercial space would extend east of Walnut Street and the commercial spaces near the southeast corner of Laurel and California could be reworked into somewhat more residential space.  The primary reason for the change is to avoid pressure on the parking spaces behind Laurel Village.  

Although the 3333 California Street Project has plenty of parking for retail already in the plan, it is underground parking and reached by entering from Presidio Avenue.  Many drivers may be tempted to avoid driving to Presidio Avenue to park underground in favor of just driving into the parking lot at Laurel Village and walking on street level directly into stores in that portion of the new development.  That would only exacerbate congestion at Laurel and California Streets. The neighborhood association in Laurel Heights has also pointed this out. 

In general, we favor the project and have said so in writing and will continue to support it, particularly if the Planning Department insists on a significant expansion of the size of the project. The developers currently plan to build around 550 housing units, but the Planning Department has informally made references to requiring much more than that.  The PHAN board is watching this project closely, but it is still many months away from a formal submission to the Planning Department.  Again, you may submit your thoughts and comments to us through info@phansf.org.

Development Projects:  Verizon's 5G Network

Finally, many of you have already noticed and, in specific instances, formally opposed efforts by Verizon Wireless to install a 5G Network in our neighborhood.  PHAN has been actively involved as well.  Verizon's efforts in our neighborhood are part of its effort citywide to install several hundred wireless antennas on light poles.  I have been informed by Verizon that the effort is aimed at increasing the carrying capacity of its system for data.  So, in one sense, the new network would increase your smartphone's ability to receive and send data (i.e., text messages) and if you use Verizon to stream data, such as movies and TV shows, in your house, the new 5G system would also help.  I'm not sure it would help with voice transmission and I have been told by Verizon's lawyers that the system is intended to help with data transmission only.

Some background is necessary to understand the disputes residents have initiated. The wireless industry last year tried to eliminate opposition from residents of California to the installation of the 5G networks by sponsoring a bill in the California legislature known as SB 649.  The bill would have granted all wireless carriers an absolute right to use any and every light pole, stop light pole, transit pole, telephone and utility pole in the entire State of California for a mere $250/year rent per pole to install wireless antennas and associated equipment. The bill was passed unanimously by the legislature.  However, the mayors of 350 or more cities in California wrote individual letters to Governor Brown asking him to veto the bill.  He did shortly before Thanksgiving.  

While that was going on in the legislature, T-Mobile launched a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco seeking to restrain the City from ever enforcing existing or enacting new legislation to control the installation of antennas and associated equipment on light poles, telephone poles, etc. in the "right-of-way" (i.e., the space along the curb where light poles, telephone poles, etc. are located).  That lawsuit is pending before the California Supreme Court, which has been waiting to see whether SB 649 would succeed or fail because if it had succeeded, there would be no reason for the Court to decide T-Mobile's lawsuit.  Both SB 649 and the T-Mobile lawsuit seek the same result ... freedom to install wireless equipment on the street light poles, telephone poles, etc. throughout the whole state without regulation of any kind.  Now that SB 649 is dead, the Court should move ahead and decide the case.  I have read the brief submitted by the City of San Francisco, and the City has done a very good job of defending its existing laws regulating the installation of wireless equipment. 

However, the federal government, whose laws preempt all others, has specifically limited states and cities to regulating only the location of wireless equipment for aesthetic reasons. For example, the Federal Communications Commission has forbidden anyone from attacking the installation of wireless equipment because it is harmful to human health, so long as the wireless equipment is designed not to emit more radio waves than the FCC has dictated. 

In San Francisco, the aesthetically protected areas are historic buildings and districts (most of Presidio Heights qualifies for registration as a state historic district and most of the homes in Presidio Heights have the highest historic rating assigned to them); streets that have "good" or "excellent" views (many of the streets in Presidio Heights are listed as having good or excellent views); streets that have utilities located underground (all of the streets in Presidio Heights fall into this classification); and streets that have special character (most of the streetscapes in Presidio Heights feature well designed and maintained trees and we are often referred to as the "tree street" neighborhood both because of the street names and the trees).  

In short, these areas are all protected from "significant impairment" by wireless equipment.  Two neighborhoods have currently been active in challenging wireless installations, ours and Russian Hill.  It's something of an uphill battle because nobody has ever won a challenge and the City itself, although vigorously fighting in court for the right to regulate the placement of the wireless equipment has permitted the wireless companies to install their equipment on hundreds and hundreds of light poles throughout the City.  Only three proposed installations (all three on the Lombard switchback or near to it) were denied.

PHAN's position is that we welcome technical improvements but insist that we be consulted on the locations of the antennas because they are disturbingly unattractive and draw one's attention away from the views, homes, streetscapes and run counter to the uniform placement of utilities underground throughout the neighborhood.  We have proposed other locations for the equipment that in our view would work just as well technically, but Verizon has repeatedly argued that only the spots it has picked out, which it refuses to divulge in advance and only discloses to a few residents nearby each pole it selects, are the best.  By the time anyone learns about an individual installation, the City has already approved of the installation. 

Nonetheless, there are arguments to be made that the City agencies responsible for issuing the permits are not following the law as enacted by the Board of Supervisors.  If you are concerned about one or more of these installations, please contact PHAN as soon as possible if you would like information about or help opposing the installation.  I have also been in discussions with our Supervisor, Mark Farrell, about amending the existing law to require consultation with the neighborhood before seeking a permit to install wireless equipment.  

Please Become a Member of PHAN!

In closing, I respectfully would remind you that every PHAN director donates his/her time representing the neighborhood in a wide variety of capacities and before many different agencies.  It helps to be able to say that we have a high percentage of dues paying members because the government officials before whom we appear are aware that every resident in Presidio Heights is automatically a member of PHAN.  What counts for them is how many residents are willing to pay dues, which is sign of real interest in how the neighborhood looks. Our dues are low compared to other neighborhoods that are comparable to us in terms of how well kept they are, like St. Francis Woods. 

So please keep your dues current if you have been paying them and, if not, please consider starting to do so.  The money goes to paying for the events we sponsor for the whole neighborhood; filing fees we pay to various government agencies before whom we appear or with whom we file annual reports; and those who provide professional services to us.  You can pay your $40 dues online or send your dues with a note to: PHAN, P.O. Box 29503, San Francisco, CA 94129.

Again, I extend best wishes for the new year from all the directors.

Charlie Ferguson