Pay to Play Condo Conversions…

Ah, to be a TIC in San Francisco. And if it wasn’t for the city’s byzantine and restrictive rules about condo conversion, owners of TICs would most likely easily choose to  not to be a TIC, instead graduating to condominium status to take some of the many headaches out of the ownership of TIC shares.

Our former Mayor Gavin Newsom has previously suggested allowing everyone eligible for the condominium conversion lottery to pay an upfront fee to bypass the lottery and convert their properties to condominiums. Strongly opposed by the tenant advocates in San Francisco, the idea never really went very far. Our current interim Mayor, Ed Lee was recently heard suggesting the same idea, although he wants to take the discussion out of the soon-to-start budget talks to perhaps tone some of the rhetoric down. From SF Gate:

Mayor Ed Lee is looking to revive the politically charged issue of a condominium conversion fee, but he’s not going to do it as part of budget talks that start Wednesday.

Mayor Ed Lee is taking up a poltical hot potato in the condo conversion fee.

Creating a one-time exception to allow property owners to bypass the city lottery by paying a fee to convert tenancies-in-common into condominiums is something his predecessor, now-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, proposed multiple times. Tenant advocates bitterly opposed it, and it went nowhere.

Last year, the condo conversion option was projected to raise $8 million if passed. Plenty of first time home-owners have been calling for it, but tenant’s rights groups say it would trigger a rash of evictions.

Lee, who got his start in public life as a tenant advocate, said he wants to include provisions designed to prevent renter evictions and revisit the idea outside the prism of trying to balance the budget.

Read more:


How to See San Francisco Through Someone Else’s Eyes

There are plenty of ways to divide, organize, and group all of the various neighborhoods of San Francisco. There is also plenty of disagreement about what specific areas should be called, what makes a neighborhood, and what is just ridiculous marketing fluff!

For example, we’ve got the folks at Burrito Justice pushing a neighborhood area they call La Lengua, while the suit and ties down at SFAR aren’t likely to include it on an MLS neighborhood map anytime soon. The folks at Uptown Almanac tipped me off to an awesome study done by some students at Berkeley that seeks to:

The Visualizing Mental Maps of San Francisco project taps into San Francisco residents’ perceptions of the city and its neighborhoods, which aren’t always reflected in the geography of a street map. The first part of the project was a qualitative investigation in which we interviewed residents and asked them to draw pictures of their internal images or “mental maps” of the neighborhoods they lived in and of San Francisco. The second part was the creation of visualizations informed by the qualitative research, resulting in this atlas of mental maps.

I’ve spent a few hours digging through the visualizing mental maps of San Francisco website and absolutely love seeing the city through the eyes of other people. Its a fascinating reminder of what a different city SF is to different people. Which is one of the many things that I love about SF!

SF Deadzones and Corridors from the Visualizing SF Project

Be sure to check out the Story Maps, Deadzones and Corridors, Orientations, and the Gallery section. Awww, seriously, it’s the day before Memorial Day weekend – take some time and explore the whole website! It’s awesome, and whatever work you should be doing can always wait until Tuesday, right?


Guest post from San Francisco Overlook

In April, I wrote about a proposed new development, San Francisco Overlook, and in early May we published a guest post from Sam Sobol, a neighborhood resident who is opposed to the development and a member of the Crestmont-Mr. Sutro-Forest Knolls Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. After that, a representative of SF Overlook contacted me to find out if we would publish a guest post from the developer addressing the neighborhood’s concerns that were raised in the guest post.

Of course! We’re all about getting all sides of the story here at, so it seems fair to publish posts from both sides.

From SF Overlook:

Dear Neighbors,

I’m Gary Testa, the owner and project sponsor of San Francisco Overlook, a new development of thirty-four family homes on a new street at the end of Crestmont Drive in the Forest Knolls neighborhood. My team and I are very excited about our project, which we believe to be a great addition to a wonderful neighborhood.    It’s important to us to be good neighbors, so on May 3rd and 4th at Clarendon Elementary School, I held community workshops to present our project and solicit feedback.  I appreciated the time, thoughtful questions, and commitment to the neighborhood shown by all who attended.

I understand there are some in the community who have concerns, so I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to comments that have been recently posted on this forum in the hopes of correcting some of the misimpressions and misinformation about my project:

  • Concern: Excessive number of units to be added.Fact: Our project site has been entitled for up to 83 units for several decades.  My proposal is to build 34 family homes, mainly duplexes and one-family townhomes, in keeping with the density of the existing neighborhood.

  • Concern: Safety hazards in case of emergencies: emergency vehicles totally block narrow Crestmont Drive, space limitations at cul-de-sac turnaround.
    Fact:  The San Francisco Fire Department has performed an emergency vehicle access test with their largest vehicles on Crestmont Drive, and concluded that there is adequate drive aisle width and ability to turn around per their standards.  We have also designed an emergency vehicle turnaround at the end of a new street that has been reviewed and approved by the San Francisco Fire Department.
  • Concern: Increased traffic on steep, winding, narrow hillside road.
    Fact:  While any new homes will generate a few more cars on the road, the city’s traffic analysis notes that San Francisco Overlook’s homes will result in an average of 2-3 cars per hour travelling along Crestmont Drive, a less-than-significant impact.
  • Concern: Crestmont Drive serves as play area for children.
    Fact:  As a parent of small children, I too am concerned about access to green space.  However, the San Francisco Overlook site is completely overgrown and there are lots of hidden ledges that make it an unsafe spot for kids. Fortunately, San Francisco Overlook is in a great location accessible to other great recreation spaces, including immediate trailhead access to the 61 acre Mt. Sutro Open Space Preserve as well as nearby Midtown Terrace Playground.
  • Concern: Extremely poor access to any public transportation and therefore inadequate parking provisions for remote hillside location.
    Fact:  In consideration of the fact we are some distance from public transportation, San Francisco Overlook is providing the maximum number of parking spaces allowed under the San Francisco Planning Code, and I am actively looking into ways of providing even more through a special application process.
  • Concern: Removal of existing natural green space with no provisions for recreational open space.
    Fact:  Our new homes will have decks and accessible green roofs for open space. Our project is built on private property and will result in no reduction of community recreational open space.  Our neighborhood also has deeded open space between our homes and the existing neighborhood that will not be affected, plus there is the previously mentioned 61-acre Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve with a trailhead right off Crestmont drive.
  • Concern: Concerns regarding hillside stability in region with previous landslides.
    Fact: San Francisco Overlook has hired one of the region’s top geotechnical engineers to perform extensive studies to examine our hillside, and will follow all of their design directives to ensure a safe and responsible development.  By following these measures, our project will improve the stability of our hillside from its current state.

I’d like to encourage everyone interested in more information and updates about my project to visit, or email me at


Gary D. Testa

San Francisco Overlook


2900 Fulton St.

Update – July 26, 2011 – Prices have been lowered and now start at $999,000 going up to $1,425,000.

The condos that are replacing the long vacant lot at the corner of Fulton & 5th Ave. – 2900 Fulton – are just about finished, and I took a peek at them during yesterday’s broker’s tour. The ground floor of the building offers about 700 square feet of commercial space, and there are four beautiful condos for sale above the commercial space. Plum Architects has done a beautiful job with the building, IMHO. The building is in the Inner Richmond, directly across from Golden Gate Park.

(click any thumbnail for a larger image)

The homes are being sold by two realtors that I think very highly of, Frank Nolan and Carlos Cabarcos of Vanguard Real Estate. Their website for the homes is at

There are four condos for sale at 2900 Fulton St., ranging in size from roughly 1,389 to 1,839 square feet. All of the luxury condominiums have three bedrooms, with some of them featuring three bathroom and some having an additional half-bath on top of that. Prices start at $1,099,000 for the smallest condo and go up to $1,489,000 for the largest home. Each home has at least one parking spot, with some having two parking spaces.

The finishes throughout are absolutely beautiful, with a clean, minimalist vibe in all of the homes. Three of the four homes for sale have outdoor space for the exclusive  use of that home. While the views from the private roof decks were beautiful, I fell in love with the private patio and garden that is adjacent to the living/dining/kitchen space of Residence #1. The wall of windows and sliding door that open onto this beautifully landscaped area do a wonderful job of brining the outdoors in to the living space. It’s really rare to find space like this, it wouldn’t surprise me if this one goes into contract before all of the others.

If you are looking for a condominium in the Richmond neighborhood and these are in your price range, you owe it to yourself to check them out. If you aren’t currently working with an agent, we’d be happy to arrange a showing for you at  your convenience.


Congratulations to the Comstock Saloon

Esquire magazine has named the Comstock Saloon one of the “Best Bars in America 2011.”

Comstock Saloon via Flickr by thisyuppielife

From the magazine, this is how they describe the Comstock Saloon:

If you’re standing at the bar at the Comstock, look down. You’ll see a curious sort of tiled trough set into the floor, running along the base of the bar. That tells you all you need to know about the pedigree of this newly restored 1907 survivor. Like the guy in Dockers and a blue shirt you know from your kid’s soccer games who, when you finally have a beer with him, turns out to have spent his 20s as a roadie for Mötley Crüe, the Comstock wasn’t always so respectable. It might be serving small plates and impeccably executed pre-Prohibition classic cocktails now, but that trough was meant to piss in. Right when you were standing there. Efficient, anyway.

The Comstock Saloon is located at 155 Columbus, near such famed businesses as City Lights Bookstore and the numerous Italian restaurants near and in the North Beach neighborhood.

I’m not much of a drinker, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever bump into me there, but head on down and have a celebratory cocktail. Get there quick enough (like yesterday) and you can say that you were a fan before they became famous and sold out to “the man.” Either way, congratulations to a local business for establishing a name for themselves so very quickly.

They were the only San Francisco bar to make the Esquire 2011 list, so they must be doing something right (other than having a floor that once served as a urinal). Not bad for a bar that has been open for just barely a year, it makes you wonder what kind of accomplishments they’ll be bragging about by the time their second or third anniversary rolls around.



Helping out, post-natural disaster

Here in San Francisco — actually, in most of California — we all know we’re one big earthquake away from a major failure of our infrastructure, the loss of thousands of homes and probably hundreds of lives, too. So when natural disasters strike elsewhere in the United States and around the world, I hear many San Franciscans saying that they are going to donate to relief efforts.

It seems that 2011 has seen more than its fair share of monstrous natural disasters, especially the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March, the tornadoes in Alabama in April, the ongoing flooding of the Mississippi River, and yesterday, the tornadoes in Missouri and Kansas.

These areas all need help. To read about different groups’ efforts and to donate:

Habitat for Humanity is helping rebuilding efforts in Japan.

The Red Cross is helping everywhere.

Doctors Without Borders is providing psychological assistance for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.

The ASPCA is helping animals in the states affected by floods and tornadoes.

The Salvation Army is rushing to provide help in Missouri.

United Way is assisting people affected by the flooding of the Mississippi River.

The Humane Society is helping animals in need after these disasters.

The Ozarks Food Harvest food bank is accepting online donations to supply food to residents in Missouri.

Text FOOD to 27722 to donate $10 to West Alabama Food Bank.

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation (after you send the text, you will receive a reply asking if you would like to specify your gift for tornado relief).

Text “Joplin” to 80888 to make a $10 donation to the Salvation Army.

I will add additional recipients of charitable donations as I discover them. And now, because I’m a dog lover and because a bit of good news is a good thing among the devastation in Joplin, Missouri: video of a dog being rescued from the aftermath.

1750 McAllister

1750 McAllister is in the NOPA neighborhood, on a block of McAllister between Baker and Broderick streets. It’s a rather large building that really sticks out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood. In my almost 10 years of real estate experience, I’ve never once been in the building… so it clearly isn’t condominiums, but what, exactly is it?

1750 McAllister St. in NOPA Neighborhood

via, it appears that 1750 McAllister St. in the NOPA neighborhood is part of the San Francisco Public Housing Authority:

1750 McAllister, northeast of the Panhandle, by Marquis and Stoller, studio and 1-bedroom, 1974. Sliding glass-doors, which open onto balconies, help reduce visual mass of this 11-story, 97-unit modern-style complex, as does stepped roofline and diagonal siting, angled to catch the sun better.

I’m gonna have to step out on a slightly snark limb and say that the balconies and sliding glass doors do very little to reduce the visual mass of this enormous building.  I can’t track down much additional information on the building, so I can’t tell you if the building is targeted at a specific resident profile. For example, I don’t know if it is primarily for elderly residents or is just a general building open to any resident through the SFHA. I can tell you that I learned that the SFHA provides a Wi-Fi network for its residents, which I think is awesome!

Under the category of “slightly interesting” it turns out that their is a parcel of land that is listed as “Act. Cont” in the MLS (and has been active contingent since 2008!) for a parcel of land at 1750 McAllister that is being described as a parcel with entitlements to build a 6 unit building. The seller is, no surprise, the San Francisco Housing Authority. I’m not sure if the deal ever closed or is still in process…

Next time you are driving down McAllister and you say to yourself “what is that enormous building that clearly landed in the neighborhood 30 or 40 years ago…” now you’ll have your answer!


San Francisco, City of Opportunity

This past week Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) released the fourth edition of their “Cities of Opportunity” study that has been commissioned by the Partnership for New York City.

Cities of Opportunity Report



In the words of the report, its purpose is to:

Cities of Opportunity 2011 makes its fourth analysis of the trajectory of 26 cities, all capitals of finance, commerce and culture—and through their performance, seeks to open a window on what makes cities function best.

I was interested in the report because, obviously enough, the success and good fortune of a real estate market is strongly tied to the success of its surrounding area. All you need to do is take a look at Detroit, MI real estate price to see how tightly wed the two are. San Francisco also takes a lot of flack for our socially progressive positions, so I was curious to see what the report had to say about the negative or beneficial impact of such policies have on cities (and therefore, on real estate values).

While Republicans in America would have you believe that low taxes are the only thing required for success, the report does a phenomenal job of refuting that simplistic thinking by demonstrating that:

… the most globally competitive cities are almost always those in which the men and women who generate a city’s intellectual resources are offered professional and personal surroundings that can reasonably ensure their health and safety. Put another way, a city’s creators and innovators “those who design and devise its products (whether buildings, financial instruments, media or works of art) and set its trends actually choose where they want to live.

The most successful global cities are no longer about the production or conversion of natural resources – who can make widgets for cheaper than anyone else – but instead are driven by intellectual resources that are created by women and men who place a high emphasis on their health and safety and the enjoyment of their surroundings, amongst other things. The report goes on to say that:

Intellectual capital and innovation has the highest average positive correlation with every other indicator. Health, safety and security has the second highest. And the two are more positively correlated to each other than is the case with any other indicators. According to the data, therefore, the successful modern urban economy is reliant on, if not yet solely the product of, intelligence and social well-being a methodological conclusion that seems not so much to challenge any theory as to confirm common sense.

The report is 86 pages in total, and includes interviews with some of the thought leaders involved with the study. While all of the interviews are worth reading for their unique perspective on what makes a city great, I really wanted to highlight the following Q&A from Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation:

Q: [asked of Judith Rodin] At the Rockefeller Foundation, you’ve also been deeply involved in urban improvement. What makes cities more livable?

A: We’ve identified three critical types of infrastructure that make a city livable. The first is its physical infrastructure, which makes a city attractive and easy to navigate but also relates to its capacity to withstand climate related shocks and other emergencies. This physical infrastructure includes diversity of transportation options, good housing and access to clean water. Second, livable cities have a strong and resilient economic infrastructure, which means they must be diverse enough economically to withstand financial shocks and innovative enough to seize opportunities. Finally, cities must be sustained by a resilient social infrastructure. When all three of these infrastructures are strong, a city will not only create a better quality of life but also greater economic success.

I worry a little bit about San Francisco’s physical infrastructure, particularly when it comes to transit. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, efficient and accessible public transit systems are only going to continue to become more and more important. Muni has a long way to go towards being the world class transit system that the citizens of San Francisco deserve, and I hope that with continued public pressure on the agency they will take positive steps to reinvigorate public transit in the city.

That said, I think the report reflects well on many of the local initiatives San Francisco has taken to improve the quality of life for its citizens. From things like Healthy San Francisco, which strives to offer health insurance to every resident to taking a stand on behalf of marriage equality for its gay and lesbian citizens, I think San Francisco should be proud of our reputation of trying to care for every citizen, particularly those that are marginalized in much of “mainstream America.”

Just as interesting to me is the fact that even though we seem to be reviled as a horrible place to do business, the report put San Francisco in the top four cities when ranking cities on their “Ease of doing business.” The report notes that:

The four top cities in this ranking led by Houston by a significant margin, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco are surprisingly affordable places to do business.

So yes, Houston is less expensive to do business in than San Francisco, but we hold our own quite nicely, thank you very much. And the gains we get in other categories because we can offer additional services far outweigh their cost in making us an attractive place to live and work. I should note, though, that when calculating total tax rate the report does not include the cost of employer contributions to healthcare coverage.

So while I know that there is plenty of gloom and doom about real estate, and I also recognize that there is plenty of structural uncertainty around how real estate will be financed and the government’s role in that process, I think that there is much to celebrate here in San Francisco. What are your thoughts?


SF Fine Art Fair

The SF Fine Art Fair has come to town (Ft. Mason, to be precise) and we’ve got some free one-day passes for anyone that is interested in attending. Admission to the SF Fine Art Fair at Ft. Mason is normally $20 for a one-day pass if you purchase it on-site or $15 if you purchase them in advance.

SF Fine Art Fair

From their press release, this year’s fair at Ft. Mason is expected to see over $5,000,000 in art sales and is described as:

In 2010, 83 exhibiting galleries showcased the highest calibre of art, with opening night alone drawing more than 3,000 attendees representing the “who’s who” of the northern California art buying community. This year, Friedman and the Fair are poised for even greater heights.

“Expect the best in post-war and contemporary art, from Ansel Adams to Francisco Zuniga, this year’s Fair offers the best in every media,” Friedman sums up, noting that this year’s SF Fine Arts Fair is comprised of the finest and most tightly vetted collection of galleries ever assembled on the West Coast. Presented in Fort Mason’s lavish 50,000 square foot venue overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge will be over 5,000 significant works of art from 400 internationally-acclaimed artists represented by 60+ prominent galleries worldwide. ”The SF Fine Art Fair will offer visitors the very best in the broadest spectrum of media from 1950 to present. Sophisticated collectors can peruse an unprecedented range from paintings, works on paper, drawings, and printed editions to fine art photography, indoor and outdoor sculpture, and glass art.”

The fair is open:

Friday, May 20, Noon-8:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 21, 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.

Sunday, May 22, 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Interested in attending the SF Fine Art Fair on us? Leave a comment below and the passes will be yours! You don’t even have to buy as any art, but if you do we promise to hang it somewhere awesome!

Fine print: We’ve got two passes total to give away. First come, first served. You must be able to pick up the passes from the Zephyr offices at 4200 17th St. during regular business hours. (till 6pm today, open tomorrow as well)


Summer’s coming…check out the festival & fair schedule

Provided the world doesn’t end on Saturday, soon San Francisco will be in full festival and fair swing, with city streets full of good food, music of varying quality, lots of opportunities to buy stuff, and in some cases, the chance to bust out your leather fetish wear. This is San Francisco, after all.

Because it seems like the list of festivals, fairs, film screenings, art shows, and other summer-centric activities grows each year, I’m going to start with a handful of events scheduled for May and June, and I’ll add more posts with upcoming events as the summer progresses.

So, without further ado, here are just a few of the events that will happen in the next few weeks.

* Young At Art, at the de Young Museum. This one ends soon, on May 22, so head out in the next few days to check out the artistic achievements of San Francisco’s school kids.

* San Francisco Carnaval, on Harrison St. between 16th & 22nd Streets, May 28 and 29. There’s also a gigantic parade on Sunday, May 29, 9:30 am, that begins at Bryant & 24th Streets and proceeds down Mission to 17th Street.

* Union Street Festival, June 4 and 5, 10 am-6 pm, Union Street between Gough and Steiner. It’s alcohol-free, people, so plan ahead.

* The Great San Francisco Crystal Fair, June 4 (10 am-6 pm) and 5 (10 am-4 pm), Fort Mason, 99 Marina Blvd. @ Buchanan. I don’t even really know what to expect from this one, but it seems oh-so-only-in-San Francisco. (Well, and in Contra Costa county, where they’re having one, too.)

* The Haight Ashbury Street Fair, June 12, 11 am-5:30 pm, on Haight Street between Stanyan and Ashbury. Don’t come to this if your employer performs random drug tests. You will no doubt inhale something here that rhymes with marijuana.

* Frameline Film Festival, June 16-26, various venues. This is the 35th year for this LGBT film festival.

* North Beach Festival, June 18 & 19, 10 am-6 pm. There will be food, there will be beer and wine gardens, there will be children’s activities, and there will be a blessing of the pets. What else could you need?

* San Francisco Pride Celebration, June 25 and 26, Civic Center and all down Market Street, from Beale to Civic Center as the parade parades by.

More events for July, August and September will be posted in the coming weeks. If you have a favorite event that you’d like us to post, drop us an email or post a comment. Happy summer to you!