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Menlo Park and Palo Alto beat SF when it comes to stratospheric rents

For years, San Francisco’s soaring rent prices have made headlines, with tales of $1.200-per-month bunk beds and split bedrooms shocking the nation. And yet, not only is SF’s median rent not the highest in the country, but some Bay Area cities even outpace San Francisco’s monstrous housing costs.

This week, rental site Rent Cafe released its 2019 mid-year rent report for the Bay Area, tallying activity in 260 cities, including 44 in the Bay Area. The results are exhausting: In the entire region, only one city, Alameda, has seen its median rent drop since January (by $85, down to $2,513).

Rent Cafe’s data, which represents all apartment sizes and comes by way of Santa Barbara-based analysts Yardi Matrix, holds that SF’s median median market rent is $3,697 per month in June of this year.

That’s more than double the site’s reported national average of $1,465. But you don’t have to travel very far from San Francisco to run into worse news: Menlo Park, home of Facebook, has the highest rents in the region, averaging $4,638 per month.

Palo Alto also beat out SF with a startling $3,857 per month price tag. The cheapest rents in the Bay Area, on the other hand, are in Vallejo, which at $1,773 per month is close to the nationwide median.

It’s worth noting that Rent Cafe does not list very many homes in these cities; right now the site hosts 27 Menlo Park homes, and only 32 in Palo Alto, making for small and potentially volatile sample sizes.

But both of those Silicon Valley cities also have more expensive median rents listed with the U.S. Census. In fact, here’s how all 44 of the cited cities compared to one another in gross median rents for 2017 (still the most recent year for which the census has data this particular statistic):

  • Cupertino: $2,829
  • Foster City: $2,763
  • Palo Alto: $2,379
  • Dublin: $2,353
  • San Ramon: $2,152
  • Sunnyvale: $2,147
  • Pleasanton: $2,140
  • Menlo Park: $2,111
  • Pacifica: $2,110
  • Mountain View: $2,103
  • Milpitas: $2,099
  • Santa Clara: $2,096
  • San Mateo: $2,041
  • Emeryville: $2,038
  • Fremont: $2,028
  • San Bruno: $1,999
  • Larkspur: $1,987
  • Redwood City: $1,956
  • Campbell: $1,923
  • Daly City: $1,899
  • Union City: $1,883
  • Pleasant Hill: $1,856
  • San Jose: $1,822
  • Walnut Creek: $1,803
  • Livermore: $1,768
  • San Rafael: $1,718
  • San Francisco: $1,709
  • Petaluma: $1,667
  • Martinez: $1,626
  • Alameda: $1,607
  • Hayward: $1,562
  • Antioch: $1,562
  • Napa: $1,546
  • Rohnert Park: $1,539
  • Berkeley: $1,523
  • Pittsburg: $1,517
  • Vacaville: $1,470
  • Concord: $1,459
  • Fairfield: $1,445
  • Santa Rosa: $1,432
  • San Leandro: $1,392
  • Richmond: $1,329
  • Vallejo: $1,301
  • Oakland: $1,255

Surprisingly, San Francisco was well below the median of medians in the entire region two years ago. Of course, there’s a big difference between the city’s actual median rent (as seen in the census) and its market median rent (as seen on sites like Rent Cafe).

Even so, the takeaway here is that it’s not implausible that a city like Menlo Park may turn out to be the Bay Area’s priciest renter locale.

As for why San Francisco’s actual rents are low compared to its neighbors and its own market rent prices? It’s hard to say, but it is worth noting that SF is one of only 15 cities in California with rent control—and according to the SF Planning Department, that covers well over half of SF renters.

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Photo courtesy of Bluestone Pottery

The tactile trend—blowing up thanks, in part, to social media—offers a creative outlet and sense of community

Clay is having a moment. The natural resource itself is, of course, nothing new. It’s earth; mud; a basic material borne of mineral-rich rocks and soil formed over the course of millennia. It’s also one of humanity’s original creative mediums, and a fast-growing subset of San Franciscans have rediscovered the primal charms of making something out of a remarkably malleable lump of the stuff.

And that’s only part of its appeal.

A transformation occurs when clay gets fired, which happens when it’s engulfed in scorching heat. Exposure to temperatures that hit almost 2,000 degrees changes its composition; that clay becomes drier and harder, but also more porous. That formerly wet, sticky earth is now ceramic—but it’s not done yet. It’s then prepped to be painted, dipped, or otherwise adorned in glaze, which, after being fired again in even more extreme heat, will give the surface color and texture: glassy, glossy, matte, mottled, and—because glaze can be devastatingly fickle—potentially something entirely unexpected.

This process isn’t magic. But ask anyone who’s constructed so much as a misshapen mug from start to finish, and they’ll likely tell you that it feels that way.

As recently as a decade ago, there were only a handful of studios in San Francisco offering public ceramic classes. Now there are nearly 20.

“We’re living with and evolving the legacy of all that’s come before,” says Carin Adams, curator of art at the Oakland Museum, of the Bay Area’s vast and varied clay history—and its impact on the current boom.

Photos by Jordan Kushins (unless otherwise noted) Class is in session at SMAart Gallery and Studio in Polk Gulch.

Arequipa’s therapeutic practices for tuberculosis-inflicted women after the 1906 earthquake were emblematic of the ethos behind the Arts and Crafts movement, which encouraged creation as a means toward good health and social welfare. Potters focused on making utilitarian objects, like Edith Heath and her iconic midcentury dinnerware, helped define the concept of “good design” touted toward consumers of the era. (Heath’s resurrection under Cathy Bailey and Robin Petravic in 2003 kickstarted the brand’s growth into the artisan juggernaut it is today.)

And at universities like Mills College and UC Davis in the 1960s and 1970s, professors and practicing artists like Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson pushed the possibilities of ceramics to embrace the nascent Funk movement’s experimental weirdness.

“There were all these things coalescing towards what seems to be happening now, breaking down the distinctions between fine art and craft,” says Adams.

Recently, there’s been a relative swell of clay-maker spaces in SF, a big deal because ceramic arts not only benefit from a critical mass of people coming together to practice—they pretty much require it.

“The idea of a lone potter out in the woods somewhere is kind of a fantasy,” says Marnia Johnston, manager at Ruby’s Clay Studio, one of SF’s oldest studios, located in the Castro since it was founded in 1968. “The culture of ceramics is all about a shared environment. You have equipment that is very expensive and heavy. Processing and recycling clay is a difficult job that takes a lot of labor. You’re mixing large batches of glazes. This social aspect is ingrained in what we do.”

Ceramist Mel Rice insider her studio with her pet cat and dog.
Bags of raw clay at Mel Ceramica.

About that expensive, heavy equipment: kilns, essentially custom ovens where ceramics are fired, are power-hungry beasts. A shift from gas kilns—which, as fuel burners, are near impossible to secure space and permits for—toward more manageable electric models, which can be quite compact, has made it possible for smaller studios to be increasingly nimble: slipping into Polk Gulch storefronts (like SMAart Gallery and Studio), retail corners in Potrero (like Clayroom), and Mission lofts (like Hickory Clay) that might have been off-limits before.

But there’s also wheels for throwing (yes, like in Ghost); expansive table surfaces for hand-building; plus slab rollers and damp cabinets and sinks and bins of miscellaneous tools and shelving units for pieces in every possible state of progress. It’s a lot.

It’s no accident that these spaces that are purpose-built for communal use become true community hubs. In fact, facilitating face-to-face, human-to-human contact is mission critical for every studio owner.

“We’re set up with two big family-style tables, so everyone’s next to each other, talking about what we’re making,” says Matt Goldberg, who has helmed Mud Months (formerly Clay Days) at SOMArts since 2016.

Sign up for Clay and Wine with Joshua Margolis, resident instructor at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco for 13 years, and class time will turn chatty.

“We’re going to sit around and drink and shoot the shit,” he says. “We can talk about all our feelings, or basketball, or pinch pots, or whatever, and make stuff.”

Pieces drying from “Clay and Wine” at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

You don’t have to engage, but something about clay makes it happen naturally—and that promise is a draw for many. “I always think part of the appeal of ceramics comes from good, old-fashioned loneliness,” says Mel Rice, who formed lasting bonds with a crew she met doing ceramics at CCSF, which pushed her to launch her Richmond District studio over two years ago. “One of the reasons you stay friends with people you go to school with is because you learn things with them. As adults we don’t really get those kinds of opportunities anymore.”

While there’s vulnerability in being a newbie or starting fresh on a challenging skill, there’s also freedom found by stepping outside of a comfort zone into a welcoming environment with folks you wouldn’t meet during your typical day-to-day.

“We’re all busy, and we’re all hustling to be here in the city—but we’re just dying for a deeper connection,” she says. It’s remarkable how many people feel like they finally fit in once they find a studio that suits them.

As our lives are further occupied by long stretches of screen time, it’s comforting to be reminded that our fingers can do more than scroll and tap.

“Mindfulness can seem like such an abstract concept, but doing ceramics is exactly that,” says Pinckney Templeton, proprietor of her eponymous Bernal Heights studio, which she opened in 2017. “You’re present and focused on this one thing—and as a bonus, you end up with a tangible result.”

For Templeton, that inner peace goes deeper than just a distraction from the digital world; ceramics became her therapy after her brother unexpectedly died a few years ago.

“Putting my hands in clay affected me in a really positive way. It’s amazing how much it helped me.”

When wet, clay can be manipulated every which way, molded into shapes and forms that are fully functional, purely sculptural, or just plain bizarre. In this state, the earthy material can be both forgiving and fickle; getting better requires commitment and patience. For instructors, this means their job is also managing expectations.

“We definitely have people coming in who think they are going to make an entire dinnerware set in one class,” says Johnston. “A lot of illusions are broken in the first night.”

Margolis is more honest. “I talk about finding success through failure,” he says. “Failing forward.”

Some of the students’ misconceptions stem from the same thing inspiring them to get involved in the first place—social media. From the bare breasts of Group Partner to Kat and Roger’s bold geometric patterns to the organic tactility of Kenesha Sneed’s multidisciplinary work, clay gives undeniably good ’gram; ceramics are almost impossibly photogenic. As such, it’s easy to see something awesome online that belies how much effort it took to create it.

Photo courtesy of Bluestone Pottery Sarah Wright of Bluestone Pottery in the Outer Richmond.

“Instagram changed everything,” says Linda Fahey, who moved Yonder, her Pacifica shop and studio, to the Inner Richmond in 2017. “There used to be a ceramic bubble, where people were much more concerned with the voice of their work, their technique, and could it stand as an art piece. It’s not good or bad, but that preciousness has gone away. Instagram blew up the bubble.”

When the modern maker movement began gaining momentum in the early 2000s, handmade items were considered a niche market. Then DIY culture began infiltrating the mainstream—with help from sites like Etsy and retail craft fairs across our Handmade Nation—and the provenance of products, including who made them, and how, and from what, became something people were not only increasingly aware of, but actually cared about.

Today artisanal ceramics can be found in many cities and in a variety of spaces: dish ware at trendy eateries, stocked at design boutiques, and the pages of design publications. As exposure continues to grow, it makes sense that more people would begin to wonder: “Maybe I can make something like this, too.”

So demand is at an all-time high—and not just from individuals. SF is home to a lot of large, wealthy companies, and corporate team-building sessions are a significant source of income for a lot of these newer studios. Providing an afternoon’s worth of messy right-brain action for an audience that consists of a lot of tech-minded worker types—think Facebook and Google employees—introduces the art to a new audience. It’s not uncommon for these first-timers to follow up with more classes, sharing space with other curious individuals for a dynamic exchange of ideas and enthusiasm.

Freshly glazed plates with bike art from Ruby’s Clay Studio.

Oli Quezada has been teaching ceramics at CCSF for 33 years, and still gets a thrill at the start of every semester.

“One of my greatest joys is working with beginners, because I feel their excitement,” he says. “A lot of people come in and they’re just searching for something; then I see the light bulbs going off. More often than not I see it change people’s lives.”

The idea that clay could make that kind of impact might seem tough to believe, but those who’ve experienced that additive agony and ecstasy can attest to its power.

“It’s something you find in the ground, then light it on fire, and everyone’s happy,” says Matt Mauger, resident ceramicist and teacher at Artillery.

It’s intoxicating, and only continues to evolve—both as a practice, and as a personal journey.

“We connect and transform doing ceramics; it’s good for the spirit,” says Tomoko Nakazato, who’s been teaching at the Randall Museum for about a decade. “Sometimes people get overwhelmed. Sometimes they’re overjoyed. Some people are more open; they can let go in this place of unknown. Other people are very fearful. They ask me: ‘Is it going to be okay?’ My answer to that is: ‘I don’t know—but we can find out together.’”

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Turns out it’s harder than you think

The latest episode of the BART podcast (yes, BART has a podcast) examines the eccentricities of the instantly recognizable transit system’s systemwide map, along with the map’s key designer Bart Wright. (And yes, that’s his real name.)

Both Wright and the BART podcast wax fondly about the map, which has changed only a handful of times over the decades.

“They become a brand or an icon on their own,” Wright said of transit maps like BART’s.

But critics on Twitter weren’t so nostalgic.

“This map is not one of the most iconic transit maps in the world. It’s confusing to many people and needs a complete redesign,” one person complained.

“Station names are extremely long and incoherent,” another argued, adding, “Some have slashes while others don’t, some have cross streets and others have city names. Why is it 16th St Mission but 12th St/Oakland? North Berkeley but no South Berkeley?”

In truth, these are good points; there’s no consistency to the station names on BART. Many don’t even bother to include the most important piece of information: what city they’re in.

A rider new to the Bay Area has no way to tell that stations like Rockridge, MacArthur, Fruitvale, and Lake Merritt are all in Oakland. Or that Ashby is in Berkeley. And so on.

Some stations are even named after cities they’re not even in. Names like Dublin/Pleasanton indicate that the stop is close to two different communities, but this is not consistent, as El Cerrito Plaza is not called El Cerrito/Albany and Warm Springs Station is not called Fremont/Milpitas, even though those cities are within walking distance of the stop.

Sometimes stations are named after nearby landmarks, like Coliseum Station or Lake Merritt. But Embarcadero Station is not named “Ferry Building Station,” and Downtown Berkeley is not “UC Berkeley Station”—even though those would arguably be helpful designations.

But inventing a better system is no easy task. For simplicity’s sake, we decided to try creating a new map with uniformity of station names and transparency about city locations.

In this design, a station should always be named after the city in which it is found. For cities with more than one station, the map differentiates each with the nearby cross streets, at least one of which should be the street listed in the station’s formal address.

And to minimize potential confusion, stations formerly named after two cities should default to whichever city the station is located in.

This seems simple on paper, but in practice a few weird things happen:

  • Renaming the airport stations, SFO and OAK, after their cities and cross streets is tremendously unhelpful; it obscures the main destination riders would want to know about with those stops, and street addresses aren’t very useful ways of getting to or around most airports. So they pretty much stay as-is.
  • The current Dublin/Pleasanton Station lies smack dab in the city of Dublin, and West Dublin/Pleasanton Station sits in Pleasanton. So these are rechristened Dublin Station and Pleasanton Station, respectively.
  • The current Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre Station is not, in fact, in either Pleasant Hill or Contra Costa Centre. It’s actually located in Walnut Creek, so here it becomes a second Walnut Creek Station.
  • Similarly, the North Concord/Martinez Station is not in Martinez, and there is no South Concord Station. Instead, it becomes a second Concord Station.
  • Finally, some of the new station names are just not that satisfying. “Oakland (Madison/8th)” is less memorable than “Lake Merritt” and it obscures the neighborhood identity, while the former Coliseum Station is now “Oakland (San Leandro/Hegenberger)” but is situated next to San Leandro Station, which could become a point of confusion.

It seems that switching tracks is never without its bumps and jolts. Still, while this map is far from perfect, there’s something to be said for consistency, and at least there’s no mysteries about it.

This is a work in progress, so what changes do you think would make the BART map easier to decipher? Different station names, a different layout, different colors—or do you think it’s not worth rocking the current boat?

Let us know in the comments what change you’d like to see.

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Five new rentals, from Rincon Hill to Pac Heights

Welcome to Curbed Comparisons, a regular column exploring what you can rent for a set dollar amount in different neighborhoods. Is one person’s studio is another person’s townhouse? Today’s price: $6,000.

The longtime criticism of One Rincon Hill is that the hilltop high-rise stuck out too much on San Francisco’s skyline. But with said skyline radically altered in recent years, maybe it’s time to reevaluate its place in the city decor. A two-bed, two-bath, roughly 1,200-square-foot condo overlooking South Beach would be a good perch for surveying the area, provided, of course, you have $6,000 per month to spend on such an overlook. The ad promises panoramic views, private deck, marble and granite accents, and upgraded carpets. No word on whether the amenities include pets. Note that this place comes furnished only.

Terms like “luxury rental” are usually reserved for locales like the previous Rincon Hill offering, but this Mission listing at 24th and Bartlett promises a “luxury two-bed, two-and-a-half bath” apartment with roof deck, gas fireplace, and “super quiet triple pane windows.” The landlord testifies, “I remodeled with the intent to stay but work made me move to NYC,” which evidently opened up quite a business opportunity of its own, as this 1,200-square-foot asset is now asking $6,000 per month. Note that the advertised parking is a garage space with two other cars—the building is a triplex—and does not include space for pets.

When it comes to luxury—and to downright exhausting rent prices—it’s only fitting a Pacific Heights pad joins the fray. After all, for $5,800 per month any hypothetical renter deserves it, as in the case of this one-bed, one-bath, top-floor apartment on Gough Street next to Lafayette Park. The listing bills it “a true classic San Francisco apartment” in a “time capsule of a building.” Although the bath has been remodeled, the rest of the place maintains an antique vibe. Mum’s the word about pets, but come on, the park is right there; have a heart, homeowners.

The promise of a “sophisticated, fully remodeled Victorian home” in Glen Park probably calls to mind certain expectations for the average San Francisco renter. But this house presents a modest look with a decidedly no-frills green exterior. The three-bed, two-bath house features “soaring ceilings, classic molding, and premium oak hardwood floors with unique graining,” per the ad. Notice the drought-friendly backyard, landscaped in 2017, featuring only the smallest amount of greenery. It seems that the magic numbers here are, once again, 1,200 square feet and $6,000 per month, only this time with the addition of cats and dogs to the equation.

And finally, this three-bed, three-bath house in the Outer Sunset is the “ultimate home,” or at least that’s what the ad would have us believe. That means “generous bedrooms, including a master suite,” a “bright living room [with] sliding doors as separation from formal dining room,” “granite countertops,” and even “honey-kissed hardwood and tile floors.” The ultimate price is $5,950 per month—and the ultimate word on whether pets are allowed is, sadly, no.

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San Francisco Supervisors Aaron Peskin addresses supporters during a Yes on 10 “Rent Is Too Damn High” statewide bus tour in 2018.

Photo by Peter Barreras/AP Images

A blogger accuses SF supervisor of profiting from the demolition of rent-controlled homes—city inspectors say otherwise

At the end of June, Vincent Woo, founder of the startup Coder Pad and a self-described YIMBY, published a Medium article titled “The Hypocrisy of Aaron Peskin,” alleging that San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin lives in a big-ticket North Beach home illegally converted into a single house from a rent-controlled duplex.

Woo called it a “strange, ridiculous, and criminal story” and “an astounding act of political corruption.”

But when the city investigated, they determined that Peskin’s duplex is, by their assessment, still a duplex—and neither astounding nor criminal.

According to Woo’s timeline, the story harkens back to 2001, when Joane Trafton, the former owner of Peskin’s circa 1977 home at 224 Filbert, allegedly merged the duplex’s two units into one by removing a kitchen and installing connecting stairs sans permits, and then tried to retroactively get the conversion approved after the fact.

My latest investigation - Aaron Peskin hypocritically lives in a monster home built out of demolishing two rent controlled units, despite trying to pass legislation that ostensibly bans exactly that: https://t.co/XxVGmL3a54

— Vincent Woo (@fulligin) June 25, 2019

Woo’s story holds that Trafton was unable to secure permission and ended up selling both 224 and 224A Filbert—now supposedly combined into one “monster home”—at a loss to Peskin’s parents, who later turn the property over to him.

According to the records on file with the SF Planning Department, Joanne Trafton did indeed sell 224 Filbert to Tsipora and Harvey Peskin in 2002 for $800,000. The couple later added Aaron Peskin’s name to the deed in 2003.

In 2004, the Department of Building Inspection lists an anonymous complaint about unpermitted work on the home, including charges that someone “converted two units to one without approval.”

The building inspector who investigated ended up abating that 2004 complaint—i.e., directed the Peskins to correct any violations on the property—along with the direction to “renew expired permits.”

(The following year another complaint appeared alleging a “new brick wall without permit.” The building inspector found that the installation was actually just brick planters in the backyard.)

So, in Woo’s version of 224 Filbert’s history, a former owner tried to scam the city out of a rent-controlled duplex, then cut her losses by selling the property to a politically connected family. And then the whole thing allegedly got swept under the rug when someone attempted to expose the dirty dealings.

The crux of the would-be scandal lies in the fact that earlier this year Peskin introduced new legislation that would curb “residential demolitions, mergers, and conversions,” with the aim of hindering landlords who want to axe rent-controlled apartments by combining them into what Peskin calls “monster homes.”

If the District Three supervisor, a loud and longtime advocate of rent control in SF, happened live in just such a home, it would constitute a major political black eye.

But another building inspection performed last week seemingly debunked the story. Investigating a complaint filed shortly after Woo published his article, Inspector Dominic Keane reported on July 10 that “site inspection revealed two units.”

Woo cited a staircase between the upstairs and downstairs units as the “smoking gun.” But although Keane did find “communicating stairs,” according to the Planning Department guidelines on dwelling unit removal, “conversions occur when legal residential units undergo the removal of cooking facilities.”

While Woo claimed that the former owner did remove one of the unit’s kitchens, Keane says that each dwelling has a kitchen today, making them both legally separate units. The fact that they’re conjoined by a staircase doesn’t enter into the assessment.

Despite these findings, Woo stands by his accusations.

“Aaron may technically have had a DBI inspector certify the building as a duplex, but his use of the building is without a shadow of a doubt a single-family home,” Woo tells Curbed SF via email.

Woo contends that Peskin is not renting out the second unit in his home and is using it as a de facto single residence. Peskin declined to comment on the status of the second unit, his spokesperson citing the DBI report as a “closed matter.”

Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Peskin previously called the duplex fracas “a political attack” aimed at undermining his conversion legislation.

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View of astronaut footprint in lunar soil.

Photo by AP Photo

Getting to these places takes a bit more than one small step, but it’s worth it

On July 20, 1969, NASA made the impossible possible and sent two men to the surface of Earth’s moon for the first time, complete with a live television broadcast to the entire world.

In the 50 years since, almost everything has changed about the Bay Area, the science of space exploration and aviation, and even the media technology we use to relive these moments. But this weekend, Bay Area residents can reach back and imagine life as it was on the anniversary of that historic day.

A host of moon-themed events are phasing in across the region, ranging from the edifying to the merely endearing. For anyone looking to observe the lunar milestone in style, here are some recommendations for the best of the best opportunities:

Splashdown 50 Stargazing Overnight The USS Hornet Museum, Alameda (July 19)

The USS Hornet is the one big Bay Area artifact that was part of the moon mission; it was the craft that recovered the Apollo 11 crew after their return to Earth. For the anniversary of the mission, guests can pay $100 to stay overnight aboard the ship and spend the evening stargazing from the deck (which provides a view of the bay almost unparalleled in the region). Dinner, breakfast, and a tour of the ship all included.

Out of This World Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco (July 19)

Former astronaut Leland Melvin emcees an evening with the San Francisco Symphony, whose playlist for the night includes the theme to Star Trek and John Williams’s score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a little kitschy, sure, but the aural power of the Grammy Award-winning symphony is one of the few Bay Area institutions that can hope to match the psychological thrill of the original event 50 years ago.

Full moon hike Chabot Space, and Science Center, Oakland (July 19)

Naturally, the Chabot Center has a full suite of moon-themed events planned for this week and weekend. But the Friday night hike is the one that takes advantage of the moon itself, here being the primary light source for a four- to five-mile trek through the redwoods. (Note: The center’s copy for the outing describes it as “lit by the full moon,” but the full moon falls on Tuesday night.) Stargazing and free beer and wine are part of the festivities.

Recovery Team Meeting USS Hornet Museum, Alameda (July 20)

Again, out of all of the celebratory events this weekend, Alameda’s USS Hornet boasts the most tangible links to the original event itself, this time in the form of a talk in the ship’s hangar by seven members of the original moon mission recovery team.

Saturn-V The First 700 Second Hiller Aviation Center, San Carlos (July 20)

At 1:17 p.m. the Hiller Center will launch a model of the Saturn-V rocket used during the moon missions—which is a little confusing since 1:17 p.m., July 20 was the time that the NASA crew touched down rather than the time they launched. Nevertheless, it still sounds like a good time. Afterward an aviation mechanic talks through the details of the original launch 50 year ago.

Apollo 11 Anniversary Exploratorium, San Francisco (July 20)

The Exploratorium extends its hour from 10 a.m. to midnight for a day of moon-themed events, including a 16-foot sculpture of the moon, a screening of NASA’s own restored footage of the landing, and talks about everything from the tides (the moon at work, of course) and the phases of the moon. Kids can show up early for an 11 a.m. story time, while adults can stay late, as the museum bar is open until 9 p.m.

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Lavish abode underwent $7 million renovation

’Tis a red-letter day when a home designed by the Bernard Maybeck firm lands on the market. And this one, located in the tony Marin enclave of Ross, is a whopper.

Completed in 1906 by lead architect John White (who also conceived the Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Berkeley’s Hillside Club, a city of Berkeley landmark), 37 Upper Road features six bedrooms, four full and three half baths, and measures an estimated 9,560 square feet.

The Arts and Crafts home comes with a separate guest residence within the home, a gym, wine room, outdoor deck, and access to numerous hiking trails.

The home recently underwent a $7 million renovation care of Bay Area architect Hans Baldauf, founding principal of BCV Architecture and former chairperson of the Maybeck Foundation. Spruced up interior details include the old growth redwood paneling and Calacatta marble in the kitchen and bathrooms.

While we’re dropping names, esteemed landscape architect Thomas Church designed the gardens. And don’t miss the circular pool, pool house, and outdoor kitchen.

Asking is $16,995,000, through Tracy McLaughlin of The Agency.

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Following in the footsteps of Oakland, and other California cities like San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara

Two San Francisco lawmakers have staked out a parking lot near the Balboa Park BART station as a safe spot for homeless people living out of RVs and other vehicles to park overnight.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Supervisors Afsha Safai and Vallie Brown have proposed the pilot program, the first of its kind for San Francisco, for the Upper Yards site location at 482 Geneva Avenue.

Brown first proposed the “vehicular navigation center” earlier this year, which passed the board unanimously, amending the police code “to create an exception for participants in the Safe Overnight Parking Pilot Program to the prohibition on using a vehicle for human habitation.”

The proposal gives people “granted a license by the city to park and sleep in their vehicles” immunity from police interference. Now Brown has paired with Safai to select a specific parking site in Safai’s district.

The parking lot, which currently serves as parking for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency employees, would serve as a secure location for up to 30 vehicles belonging to homeless residents, who may be living out of their cars or otherwise need a safe place to park long-term.

According to the most recent point-in-time homeless count results, “While the majority of persons identified during the street count were sleeping outdoors, a notably higher percentage of persons were sleeping in vehicles. Consequently, people residing in vehicles may be underrepresented in the survey results.”

In 2019, a reported 35 percent of homeless residents counted during the one-night census slept in a vehicle, compared to 28 percent in 2017 and just 13 percent in 2015. During the same period, the number of homeless people sleeping outdoors declined from 82 percent to 65 percent.

“Though tent encampments continue to remain a priority for Health and Human Services to monitor, [the city has] begun to identify an increase in persons sleeping in vehicles in certain regions,” the report noted.

The Mission Housing Development Corporation presently lists 482 Geneva, a city-owned location, as the future site of low-income housing.

“The city’s plan for the parcel is to create 80 to 120 units of housing that is 100 percent affordable to low- and very low-income families,” the affordable housing developer reported in 2016. The project won’t break ground until 2020.

Oakland opened its first safe parking facility for the homeless in June. Other California cities, including San Diego, LA, and Santa Barbara, run similar programs. However, Berkeley banned overnight RV parking this year in an effort to drive out homeless parking encampments.

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“We’re simply not doing a good enough job disposing of our trash,” said Black Rock City honchos

Burning Man—the annual counterculture movement that takes place in a Nevada desert, but has its roots and cultural heart in San Francisco—may finally have some answers about its future amidst a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over whether event organizers can secure a new ten-year permit.

Although BLM is willing to issue new permits, the agency wants to institute a series of reforms, like on-site dumpsters and fences, which will help minimize the effect of the annual bacchanal on the desert environment.

In June, BLM released its final Environmental Impact Statement prescribing the likely future of the annual desert revel. Among the highlights:

  • BLM is prescribing a population cap of “no more than 80,000 total attendees, including event participants, staff, and volunteers” every year for the entire ten-year permit period.
  • Under the suggested plan “there would be a phased closure area, which would include a 9,570-acre footprint up to build week and after the event. During build week and the Event, the Closure Area footprint would be 14,330 acres.”
  • Burners would be expected to clean up after themselves: “After the event, playa restoration crew would clean the area within the perimeter fence. Site cleanup would begin on the Wednesday after Labor Day and would continue for up to 33 days after the Event. Structure disassembly and general on-site garbage removal would begin approximately four days after Labor Day and would be completed within 21 days”
  • BLM anticipates a host of potential problems related to the annual Burn, everything from the possibility that “light, noise, structures, and human presence could alter bat and avian foraging or movement” to the danger of “increased visitation, unauthorized artifact collection, vandalism, damage from vehicle use” to Native American religious sites. However, the agency also predicts that the population cap will help mitigate the problems.

In the permit application, Burning Man host organization Black Rock City, LLC, wanted a population cap of 100,000 and to increase the size of the event footprint to 14,714 acres.

In 2017, the event was capped at 70,000 people, but this did not include staff, meaning that the final Burn population was more than 79,000. The proposed 80,000 cap keeps Burning Man roughly the same size but hinders future expansion.

Burning Man head honchos (speaking anonymously via the official Burning Man blog) warned Burners in April that the conflict with the feds could mean the “end of the event as we know it.” Organizers said that changes like trash cans and security screenings would be “in direct conflict with our community’s core principles and would forever negatively change the fabric” of the community.

After the final report dropped, the response from organizers seemed cautiously optimistic, noting that Burner can escape the imposition of playa dumpsters by cleaning up after themselves instead.

“We’re simply not doing a good enough job disposing of our trash after we leave Black Rock City,” the blog warns, putting Burners on notice that “trash cannot be left in a pile on the roadside in the Paiute Nation; it can NOT be left at an I-80 or any other public highway rest stop or dumpster; it can NOT be left in the trash behind a business in Reno, Sparks, Winnemucca, Nevada City, Salt Lake City or any spot on your drive home.”

Similarly, if Burning Man manages its perimeter and keeps non-ticket holders from sneaking in, “there will be no need for impenetrable physical barriers around Black Rock City.”

If the festival cannot self-regulate, then authorities will have to come in and make change the hard way.

This year’s Burner bash in the desert is scheduled for August 25 through September 2. Tickets are $425 for most participants.

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Two holdovers from the 20th century demand a distinctly 21st century price

Built in 1962, the A-frame abode at 87 Upenuf Road in Woodside, a quiet Silicon Valley town located next to Palo Alto and Redwood City, currently listed for $3.45 million, hides a secret beneath its dramatically angled eaves.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the home sits on top of a bomb shelter, complete with 18-inch-thick concrete walls.

Both the A-frame design and the fallout shelter are characteristic of mid-20th century America. Although noted Austrian-American architect R.F. Schindler began building A-frame houses in the 1930s, San Francisco designer John Carden Campbell is credited with popularizing the style in the 1950s.

The triangular A-frame design shelters the sides of the house beneath the roof and creates a pointedly solid frame that helps snow and tree debris slide off the home’s steep silhouette.

“Its simple construction was ideal for a vacation homes because it made the most of its enclosed space for the least amount of money,” architecture firm Sopher Sparn notes of the style, which grew in popularity up until the ’70s.

At-home bomb shelters became a paranoid trend in America after President John F. Kennedy endorsed them in a dramatic 1961 speech, declaring, “In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack.”

Although the thick concrete walls were meant to stand up to nuclear explosions (at least a distance) and the windowless design aimed at barring exposure to radiation, according to Popular Mechanics, ‘60s-era shelters like this one are outdated and wouldn’t stand up to the force of more advanced bombs, rendering retro shelters impractical but weirdly fascinating artifacts of latter-day America.

The last time 87 Upenuf Road sold was in 2015 for $2.86 million.

The property previously listed for its current asking price in April. That ad described the property as “three homes on one lot,” featuring a three-beds, two-bath main house measuring 2,670 square feet, on top of an 1,100-square-foot, one-bed, one-bath guest house, and a 591-square-foot, one-bed, one-bath cottage. All of these structures are clustered together on the same same lot with views of redwood groves and the bay.

In 2017, this same house listed to rent for $5,100 per month. Neither the current listing nor any of the past ones include reference the shelter, even though it might be 87 Upenuf’s most unique and singular addition.

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