Old SF

The folks at Bernalwood have likened it to time travel, and it is just about that cool. What am I talking about?

Why, Old SF, of course! It’s an awesome site that allows you to see old photographs of San Francisco from the location where they were taken. It’s an amazing tool for taking really interesting information (old photos) and putting them in a context that makes sense (your mental map of what the location looks like today).

It’s an incredible labor of love, built entirely as a volunteer project by @danvdk and designed by @ravejk. They took a huge portion of images from the San Francisco Public Library historical image collection and geocoded them so that they could be displayed on a google map. How many images did they geo-code? About 13,000, which is more than half of the images with an identifiable location.

I spent some time on the site over the weekend, and it is amazing how much time I spent looking at old photos of San Francisco. People always ask me about the history of the home they are buying, and this site offers an amazing way to check out a neighborhood without having to spend hours digging through files at the public library.

Take a moment (or two, or three) and check it out. I think you’ll be as amazed as I am. If you are technically inclined, there are some ways that you can help keep the site developing.  What other historical resources and websites do you really like for learning about the history of a San Francisco home or neighborhood?

Garbage: Easy. Graffiti: Hard

If you haven’t heard of the Blockboard App, I’d encourage you to go check it out. They are a local startup, and they describe the app as:

Blockboard is the app for your neighborhood! It uses your iPhone to connect you with your neighbors, keep you up-to-date on what’s happening nearby, and help you make your neighborhood a better place. Blockboard is currently available for neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The folks over at sf.govfresh published a case study using data from the Blockboard app, in particular looking at city response times to various complaints. But before I get to that, if you haven’t heard of govfresh, you could think of them as a Gov 2.0 movement, and they describe themselves as:

GovFresh works to inspire government-citizen collaboration and build a more engaged democracy. We feature public servant innovators, civic entrepreneurs and the ideas and technology that are changing how government works.


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Shake, rattle, and be ready

This week we got to learn what happens when an earthquake shakes up the east coast, when a 5.8 magnitude quake hit Virginia and was felt around the world. Well, not really on that last part, but based on the reactions on Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, and the regular old media sites, you would be excused for thinking so.

Not to be outdone by some cold, old east coast fault lines, the Bay Area responded with a little shaker of its own — a mere 3.6 — a few hours later. And now, back across the country, Hurricane Irene is about to kick some serious coastal butt as it goes up the eastern seaboard.

Which leads me to my “be prepared” soapbox.

Do you have your disaster kit prepared? The city of San Francisco has a website – 72hours.org — that tells you what you’ll need in case of a major disaster, which in San Francisco is likely to be an earthquake (or the cancellation of The Real Housewives of Orange County).

Here’s what you need:

  • Water — one gallon per person per day
  • Food — ready to eat or requiring minimal water
  • Manual can opener and other cooking supplies
  • Plates, utensils and other feeding supplies
  • First Aid kit & instructions
  • A copy of important documents & phone numbers
  • Warm clothes and rain gear for each family member.
  • Heavy work gloves
  • Disposable camera
  • Unscented liquid household bleach and an eyedropper for water purification
  • Personal hygiene items including toilet paper, feminine supplies, hand sanitizer and soap
  • Plastic sheeting, duct tape and utility knife for covering broken windows
  • Tools such as a crowbar, hammer & nails, staple gun, adjustable wrench and bungee cords.
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Large heavy duty plastic bags and a plastic bucket for waste and sanitation
  • Any special-needs items for children, seniors or people with disabilities. Don’t forget water and supplies for your pets.
If you’ve got pets, don’t forget to prepare for them, too.
I must admit, I’m not quite sure why an earthquake kit should include a disposable camera, but the rest of this makes sense to me. Now go shopping, and be prepared.

From CW Nevius in today’s paper comes the unfortunate story of Potrero Hill resident Linda Votaw:

Linda Votaw moved into her house on Potrero Hill in 1998. There was a tree in front, which she liked, except that the roots were cracking the sidewalk. So she fixed the sidewalk. Ten years later the roots were back, cracking the sidewalk.

“It’s a ficus,” said Doug Wildman, program director of the Friends of the Urban Forest, which planted the tree in 1984. “Wonderful tree, lovely,” he said, but they ruined sidewalks.

In fact, the Urban Forest folks quit planting them. Sure enough, contractors told Votaw the tree had outgrown the planting area and would keep breaking up the concrete.

Votaw says she wrote and called the Department of Public Works for advice and never got a response. DPW spokeswoman Gloria Chan said, “We have no records of a resident calling our urban forestry division for information.”By January the sidewalk had buckled and the roots had invaded the sewer line. Suddenly, DPW was interested, marking the sidewalk and driveway, and demanding that repairs be made. So Votaw hired a contractor, who trimmed the roots and fixed the concrete.

In two days a notice from the city appeared, demanding the tree be removed in 24 hours.

So they cut the tree down.

“Within 10 days we received a letter requiring us to pay a nearly $1,700 fine for excessive root pruning and a $300 permit fee to remove the tree we had been ordered to remove,” she said.

Votaw appealed the fines and was told a hearing would be set soon. That was in March. She’s heard nothing.

“Honestly,” she says, “I don’t know what else I could have done.”

Maybe moved to a different city?

How about you – what kind of run ins have you had with the SF bureaucracy?


RIP, Emily Dunn

San Franciscans deserve a better muni. In particular, I’d say we deserve a muni that doesn’t run over, crush, or otherwise kill/injure/maim pedestrians on a much too-frequent basis. Muni’s latest victim was a young woman, Emily Dunn, who was just 23 years old and had recently moved to San Francisco from Atlanta.

Memorial at 18th and Hartford Streets in the Castro

I didn’t know Emily, but I’ve walked or driven through the intersection where she was killed too many times to count. It’s just an average neighborhood intersection, it doesn’t have a reputation for being dangerous or particularly tricky. But for whatever reason, navigating it without causing a death was too great a challenge for a muni driver last week. So a young woman, full of hope and excitement for her new life in a new city was mowed down. It’s absolutely appalling and ridiculous…

But I don’t want this post to turn into a rant about how awful and irresponsible SF muni service is. Instead I guess I’d like to focus back on the fragility of life, the senseless tragedy of it all, and a reminder to be vigilant when you are a pedestrian (which would be all of us, sooner or later).

Be careful out there, and to Emily Dunn’s family and loved ones, my heart goes out to you for your tragic loss. I’m so sorry.



While the rest of America bakes under a heat-wave, heat-bubble, just-a-theory-named-global-warming the sun, I know it is sometimes hard to have sympathy for those of us in San Francisco complaining about weather that seems eminently reasonable by comparison. While the rest of America stays cool in the summer thanks to air-conditioning, we have the Pacific Ocean which does the job quite nicely (some would say a little too nicely).

When I was out on broker’s tour this past Tuesday, the fog was rolling in over Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture some fun footage of the fog rolling in. While it was sunny from where I shot the video (Parnassus Heights), you can be 100% assured that within an hour or so the fog had completely blotted out the sun. It has been a rather foggy week…

So, for those of you sick and tired of your summer heat and needing a bit of a virtual vacation, I hope you enjoy this quick video of the San Francisco fog.

SF Historic Landmark districts

The folks over at curbed, via haighteration, recently wrote about the proposed Duboce Park Historic Landmark district. Having represented a few of the homes in that neighborhood, I will first confess that I absolutely love the area and completely understand the desire to preserve it. The homes on Carmelita, Potomac, and the end of Pierce can be absolutely amazing with a location that you would be challenged to improve upon. Dead end streets with little traffic, steps to a park with a kid and dog play area, close to N-Judah, and within walking distance of all the restaurants of the Lower Haight/Duboce Park/Castro. Like I said, pretty much a dream area.

The news about the proposed Duboce Park landmark district got me wondering about the company the district would find itself in if the historic designation is approved. After some digging on the SF planning website, I generated this map of the 11 existing historic landmark districts:

View SF Historic Landmark Districts in a larger map

The 11 currently existing landmark districts are:

  • Jackson Square
  • Webster Street
  • Northeast Waterfront
  • Alamo Square
  • Liberty Hill
  • Telegraph Hill
  • Blackstone Court
  • South End
  • Bush Street Cottage Row
  • Civic Center
  • Dogpatch

The first historic landmark district was Jackson Square, which was designated in 1972. It is noted as San Francisco’s earliest surviving commercial area and features commercial and mixed-use buildings, predominately brick, built in the 1850s and 18602s. The most recent addition to the list was the Dogpatch, added in 2003, and featuring the oldest enclave of industrial workers’ housing in SF.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to get out to each of these areas and make a short video to highlight the character and unique history that each possess. I’ll update this page with links to those videos as they become available.

What are your thoughts on the possible addition of the Duboce Park historic landmark district to this list?


Infographic – MLS Marketing Descriptions

Location, location, location. That’s what real estate is all about, right? Well, to see if that held true in San Francisco I took the marketing remarks for all single family homes currently listed as “active” in the San Francisco MLS. Below is the infographic that shows what words are most common:

(click for large version)

San Francisco MLS marketing text visualized

While it makes sense when you think about it, I was still surprised to see “home” and “room” as the most popular words. Although how else are you going to describe a home or a room without using those words? No surprise for a foodie town like ours, but kitchen was right up at the top, as well as garage, and large (although I’m pretty sure large is relative when compared to suburbia).

Coming in on the infrequent list of words were phrases like “eat-in,” “nice,” and “perfect.” And yes, both “location” and “located” make it in the infographic as medium sized words, although they aren’t as large as the mantra of “location, location, location” would lead one to expect. Apparently the mantra in San Francisco is “room, home, kitchen.”

If you want to see all these words matched up with the right home, be sure to visit our San Francisco home search page. All in all, if this infographic sounds like every MLS listing you’ve ever seen… it is!

Thanks to the awesome tool at Wordle for making this visualization possible.