How Green is San Francisco?

Via agentgenius I learned about an interesting website, greentowns.com, which is dedicated to helping share information and ideas to build sustainable communities.

San Francisco is home to a wealth of sustainable initiatives and organizations, and I’d say we pride ourselves on waving our green flag as high and as often as possible. In many ways, you can even trace much of the modern environmental movement back to three San Francisco bay area ladies who helped change the course of the San Francisco bay and kept the Army Corps of Engineers from turning it into a wasteland of its former self.

greentown.com screenshot

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What’s up with the Lily Pond in Golden Gate Park?

I’ve lived about two blocks from Golden Gate Park for nearly nine years, and for most of those nine years I’ve been a daily or even twice-daily visitor to the park. My dog and I have a few regular routes through the eastern end of the park, one of which takes us by theĀ Lily Pond, which used to be beautiful.

But now, it’s a duckweed-choked, African clawed frog-infested pool of ick.

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To be Out & Proud as a Realtor

June is pride month (of the GLBT variety) with the San Francisco festivities taking place this weekend. My last three years worth of vacations have had me out of town over pride weekend, and while I’m undecided about the extent of my participation in the upcoming weekend activities, I want to take advantage of not being on vacation to write about being out as a Realtor in San Francisco.

Pride Flag in The Castro

I’ll preface this by saying that upon arriving in San Francisco, I was already out. Some quick background: the puzzle pieces of my sexual orientation fell into place right around my 21st birthday when I was living in Austin, TX, and in the space of a few months I quickly outed myself to friends, my employer, and family (in pretty much that order). Every coming out story is different, and the best I can offer to explain why I came out so directly, thoroughly and quickly was a intuition that while I was risking friendships, employment and relationships, it was far more important to be honest and lose what was false than to continue holding on to a relationship premised on a lie. I also had the resources (financial, emotional) to take this risk and would be able to care for myself even in a worst case outcome (being fired, cut off from family, losing a best friend, etc.). I don’t say this to brag, but to remind us all that even in 2011 many GLBT persons don’t have those resources – so I’m not going to judge the actions of anyone else against my circumstances.

You might say being openly gay as a San Francisco Realtor is no big deal. You might think that being gay in San Francisco is about as unique as being Catholic in the Vatican City. Yet even in San Francisco, where the gay community is much more visible and numerous than in many other cities and parts of the world, we are still a minority population. Although a very vocal, organized and – as a result – “well-protected” community. Gay bashings still happen in the Castro to this day. Discrimination still determines the outcome of promotions. Stereotypes still subtly influence thoughts and opinions. Prop 8 is the law of my land. In 41 years of SF gay pride marches we have come forward and outward an incredible distance, but lets not kid ourselves: no matter how you define it the proverbial “finish line” for LGBT equality remains on the horizon and probably will for the foreseeable future.

I love working with clients of every variety (well, except the assholes who get fired soon enough) and background, and I’ve always been direct and open about my sexual orientation. Has this cost me business? Has it gained me business? My honest answer is it doesn’t matter and I don’t care. I’d like to believe that for every potential client that chose someone else because of my sexual orientation I gained at least one for the same reason. But like I said, regardless of the math it doesn’t matter.

What matters – to me – is that I get to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and be happy that my life as a Realtor on the outside reflects who I am on the inside. What matters is that I never have to worry about keeping my story “straight” or fumbling over pronouns at a business mixer. My husband is not my partner, friend, roommate, or significant other, he is, quite simply, my husband (yes, we tied the matrimonial knot during that brief window when we could in 2008, although we also did it during the winter of love in 2004 – another story entirely).

Even in the age of social media and the internet, where we live and who our neighbors are plays a huge role in shaping the social fabric of America. It is just as awesome and rewarding to help a straight couple find their dream home in The Castro neighborhood as it is to help a gay couple find their dream home outside of The Castro. Or, put another way, I love helping every client find their dream home regardless of who they are and where it is. Who we are in our private lives still shapes in many ways who we are allowed to be in our public roles. Harvey Milk was absolutely right when he realized – and vocalized – that the sooner we realize the teacher, pilot, or neighbor we run into in the daily course of our lives is gay, and that gay is okay, that we all, gay and non-gay, benefit immensely.

Regardless of who you are, I truly believe that we have more in common than we have differences. The sooner we live that truth, the quicker our society will be a healthier and happier place. To the extent I can live my life as a Realtor with openness and transparency to help make that happen, you can bet your gay flag that is exactly what I’ll be doing. And hopefully, regardless of your difference, you’ll be doing the same.

 

FHA loans for low credit score buyers

The following information about FHA guaranteed loans for buyers with low credit scores is courtesy of a “Zephyr specific” team of individuals at Guarantee Mortgage who provide regular information and updates about the lending environment.

I want to be clear and say that just because these FHA loans exist and you can qualify doesn’t mean you should run out and buy a house. We’ve seen what unbridled enthusiasm for lending can do, but if you meet the criteria below and your financial future looks rosier than your past, then lets talk about what your possibilities in San Francisco might be. Because it isn’t clear to me, I will do some research to see if these loans are available only for single family homes or if condos are eligible as well.

With money freeing up and lenders becoming more optimistic about lending again, we have a few lenders that are willing to lend to borrowers with credit scores as low as 500.

FHA low credit loans lending checkpoints for credit scores of 500-640 FICO:

  • Debt to Income Ratios of up to 50%
  • Disputed accounts acceptable with Underwriter review
  • Late payments OK
  • Collections over $5,000 and under 2 years need to be paid off
  • Verification of Rent required-timely payments
  • HomeBuyer Education required
  • 500-580 FICO scores – 10% down payment required
  • Gift funds acceptable for down payment
  • No judgments, bankruptcies, foreclosures or tax liens in past 36 months

What is the catch? There is no catch. Fannie Mae’s Automated underwriting system has been set up to accept lower FICO scores for a while now. However, there have not been any lenders that were comfortable enough to originate the business. We currently have 2 lenders that are already doing it and will probably have more in the future. Of course, the rates on these loans are higher than with FHA loans for borrowers with higher credit scores. Nonetheless, the rates are still attractive and allow borrowers to buy NOW, before rates go up in general.

 

Sutro Tower – Hot & Sunny

It’s a beautiful bloody hot day here in San Francisco, which means that it is over 75 degrees. Yes, this is the red zone for us here in San Francisco. You might laugh. Having lived in Michigan, Virginia, and Texas I certainly laughed when I first moved here and people complained about the heat when it was over 75 degrees (fahrenheit, just to be clear for our international readers) and the freezing cold when it was under 45 degrees. I laughed a pompous laugh at these weak weather wimps, certain I would never succumb to their indulgent weather complaining. Fast forward ten years, and I’ve become so acclimated to San Francisco weather that I too believe that anything warmer than 75 or cooler than 45 presents conditions that may cause seriously bodily harm, if not immediate death.

Sutro Tower

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be showing homes to some phenomenal clients, and was able to grab a shot of the mighty Sutro Tower in all of it’s sun-shiney gloriousness. For those of you curious, the shot was taken from the west side of the tower in the Midtown Terrace neighborhood. Don’t ask me which home, though, because I can’t tell you! Well, I suppose I could, but I won’t.

I’m about to be out the door for a broker’s tour on this bright and sunny bloody hot day, but if you have a moment share a comment, link, or story about your favorite San Francisco weather experience. In addition, if you haven’t noticed I’m kind of a fan of Sutro Tower so if you have any other great pictures that you want to share, let me know. Either way, have a great Tuesday and pray keep all of us here in San Francisco in your thoughts as we stoically carry on during this weather emergency. :-)

 

 

Urban Pollinators

I’ve written about the birds and the bees before, since the perhaps-future-site of 45 Lansing is currently home to a field of flowers with a few beehives tossed in for good measure.

My husband and daughter recently had the chance to visit another beehive site in the SOMA neighborhood, and actually see the beekeeper handle the bees. Best of all, my husband took some wonderful photos which you see below.

(click on any photo below for a larger version)

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to give away the specific location of this particular beehive, so I’m going to keep it secret unless I’m told otherwise.

I will tell you, however, that the gentleman you see handling the bees is none other than Bryon Waibel, who just recently reopened Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper, which is the only urban beekeeping store in America! The store is located at 3520 20th Street in the Mission district.  The current store hours are: Wednesday – Friday, Noon-7pm and also Saturday and Sunday from 11am-7pm.

I’ll confess that I really don’t know much (anything) about beekeeping, but I’ve picked up a few of the honeys that are available from the SF farmer’s market that are harvested from specific hives in particular areas of town. It is amazing and incredible to note the subtle flavor differences based on the bee’s diet and hive location. If you’ve been living off of supermarket honey, you owe it to yourself to track down some of the “good stuff” and at least try it once. It isn’t cheap (hey, what in San Francisco is?) but I say it is totally worth it.

So support our urban pollinators, urban beekeepers, and all that brings the winnie-the-pooh goodness of a honey jar. And if you do stop by the beekeeper store, be sure to tell them that Matt and Britton sent you over!

 

Need a taxi in SF next Tuesday? Good luck.

Cabbies in San Francisco are mad, and to show just how mad, they are planning a two-hour hissy fit on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 21. OK, maybe that’s not a fair description. You be the judge.

The cabbies are angry that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is considering putting more taxis on the street, charging drivers 5 percent of fares paid by credit card, and implementing an electronic tracking system. The MTA’s Board of Directors is meeting at City Hall at 1:00 on Tuesday, and they better be ready for an earful. According to one of the organizers of the hissy fit, I mean the strike, about 1,000 of the 1,500 cab drivers on the road between noon and 2:00 pm will either pull over and park for a nice afternoon break, or circle City Hall blasting their horns.

The MTA is also raising taxi fares in August to the highest in the entire country. Yep, the entire country. Let’s see, maybe it’s the taxi riders who should be raising a ruckus at the Board of Directors meeting next week. As an SFGate editorial said when the fare increase was approved in May:

Higher fares, scarce taxis, helter-skelter service: there’s a lot wrong with cab service in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the city’s transit czars aren’t getting the message by voting this week to give riders the highest rates in the country and nothing more.

Come August, the tab will go up at the start of trip as well as during. For a 5-mile, crosstown trip, it’ll take $17.35 instead of $16.15. And that’s if you can find a cab.

For a city that is making car ownership more and more cumbersome, getting a cab shouldn’t be the ordeal that it is now. I wonder if next Tuesday’s driver strike will gain the drivers sympathy for their position, or if it’ll serve no purpose other than annoying people who are either (a) in need of a ride or (b) not fans of incessant horn-honking at City Hall. We shall see.

 

441,541.

Is that the number of dogs at Crissy Field on any given weekend? Shoppers at the Alemany farmer’s market on Saturday? Hungry hipsters at Off the Grid on Friday night at Fort Mason?

Nope. That’s the exact number of parking spaces in San Francisco, including all street spaces and spaces in public parking lots. It took the city about 18 months to figure it out (I’m a little curious about how they did this, but that’s a story for another day). And now that it’s done, the MTA is implementing a new program called SFPark.

What is SFPark, you ask? It’s a whiz-bang new system that is described like this on the MTA website: “Using sensors, new meters, and real-time parking data, SFpark takes the guesswork out of parking in the City. These elements work together to make parking easier to find and more convenient. This benefits drivers, Muni riders, bicyclists, pedestrians, visitors, residents, merchants and more.”

Translated out of PR-speak and into real-life speak, it raises prices for parking when demand is high and lowers them when demand is low, it lets parking-seekers use an iPhone app (Droid coming soon, according to the site) to locate vacant spots, and also allows people to pay with credit cards as well as the handy-dandy parking meter cards and coins.

The pilot program is launching in eight neighborhoods in the city: Civic Center, Hayes Valley, Fisherman’s Wharf, Mission, Fillmore, Marina, Financial District, and SOMA. Next up: the rest of the city.

This is but one element of congestion pricing, which is on the move throughout the Bay Area and in large cities around the world. London, Singapore and Stockholm already charge drivers to enter the city during peak hours, and New York considered charging drivers to enter Manhattan, but that plan was squashed in 2008.

Will you ever have to pay to drive into downtown San Francisco during rush hour? My crystal ball is in the shop, but if you have thoughts about it, let us know.

 

 

Metreon & Anti-Gay Target

The Metreon has always felt to me like a beloved child that you know can do better but just isn’t trying very hard. Located in what was once South of Market but is know called Yerba Buena on a real estate MLS neighborhood map the mall was built by Sony and has never quite lived up to its potential. It has been home to numerous cool and interesting stores and entertainment venues over the years, most of which have failed a painful and slow death.

The Westfield group acquired the venue several years ago, and as part of their effort to revitalize the space, they wooed Target stores to open the first Target within San Francisco city limits in the painfully vacant Metreon.

The Metreon, Someday Maybe. Image Source: Westfield website

While all of this was going down, Target also got a lot of (justifiably so, IMHO) criticism for their financial support of politicians with horrible track records on support for equal GLBT rights.

While I’d certainly like to see the Metreon revitalized, I’d prefer it be with a company that supports San Francisco values like equality, fairness, and equal treatment for all persons, particularly those of the LGBT variety.

Our current Mayor, Mr. Ed Lee, has been rather quiet on all of this. He recently requested a meeting with the corporate behemoth to discuss where things stand. I imagine that the retailer will be somewhat responsive to his request for a meeting since they are hoping to open a larger location at an empty shopping venue located at the corner of Geary and Masonic.

Whether or not anything substantial will come of the meetings is an open question, but my hat is off to Mayor Lee for continuing to push Target to be accountable for their support of homophobic and hateful politicians.

 

Grasshopper Tacos

I’d say this would qualify as an only in San Francisco story, but outside of the US I’m sure there are plenty of places where you can get Grasshopper Tacos. Located in the Mission District, La Oaxaqueña recently received notice from the San Francisco Health Department that they could no longer serve their grasshopper tacos. Yes, you heard me right. Grasshopper Tacos.

Grasshopper Tacos at La Oaxaqueña

The issue doesn’t appear to be with the eating grasshoppers, but with the fact that the grasshoppers are being imported from a source (in Mexico, if you are curious) that does not have FDA approval to import grasshoppers for human consumption. Unfortunately, they health department isn’t aware of any source that is authorized to import grasshoppers for use in food. But the owner of La Oaxaqueña isn’t giving up so easily, and is talking about starting his own grasshopper colony (farm, club, swarm?) here in San Francisco so that he can continue to offer his signature menu item.

While the grasshopper taco may be off the menu for the indefinite future, you’ll be happy to hear that the venison and ostrich tacos continue to be on offer. Having spent eight years in Michigan where the 1st day of deer hunting season was a school holiday (not that I ever actually went hunting, but that is another story entirely), I have to say I’m actually a fan of venison but I’m having a hard time imagining it as a taco. I’ll have to get myself down to the restaurant one of these days to see how it is! Either that, or I’ll wimp out and go with one of my favorite comfort foods in the world, a bean and cheese burrito. Mmmmmmmmm. Beans. Cheese. A little slice of heaven. But then again, I never tried the grasshoppers so who knows if I’m really missing the best. And on that note, I’m going to eat lunch…