More beds to come for homeless in Bayview District

The opening of the 2115 Jennings Street homeless shelter raised concerns at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting today.

Sponsored by San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin M. Lee, the Forgivable Loan Agreement was adopted at today’s meeting.

The Forgivable Loan Agreement is a resolution authorizing the Human Services Agency to enter into a $978,000 forgivable loan agreement from the California Department of Housing and Community Development to renovate the leased premises at 2115 Jennings Street for use as a 100 bed homeless shelter.

District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen proposed some amendments for the agreement.

The first amendment was to clarify that the city has a subsequent zoning area.

Amendment two is acknowledging that the shelter is located within half a mile of a public playground and pool where children congregate, which prohibits registered sex offenders from staying in the shelter.

The last amendment urges the Human Service Agency to establish a community advisory committee for the homeless shelter, which would help evaluate security measures that can be implemented at the site and to provide the board with an update on these shelter operations within one year of the shelter’s opening. 

“While I’ve had and continued to have tremendous amount of respect for Mother Brown’s Kitchen and the work that they do, this issue is completely separate,” said Cohen. “I don’t share all the concerns that we’ve heard articulated by the members of the community, but I still have other concerns that have not been resolved.”

Debate within the supervisors and the Human Services Agency occurred over concern of the California State Law that says sex offenders cannot reside within half a mile of a school, day care center, or where children congregate.

The Human Services Agency does not currently have a practice of prescreening the people that come to their shelters to sleep, making it possible for a sex offender to violate the State Law without anyone knowing.

The Board concluded to change the articulation of the amendments taking away the responsibility of the Human Services Agency who don’t already have a policy of prescreening clients.

There is a need for shelter beds for the homeless population in the Bayview District.

The Homeless Resource Center known as Mother Brown’s Kitchen currently accommodates 80 homeless clients that sleep in chairs overnight and the Human Services Agency hopes to create a 100-bed homeless shelter to replace the overnight chair accommodations.

The vote was distributed in three separate votes: the first for clauses 5 through 7, the second for clauses 8 through 11, and the third for clauses 14-22 of the amendments.

All three separate votes passed and the Board ultimately adopted the resolution.

Cheering roared through the room by all who proposed the resolution.

During the meeting, the Board also passed the ordinance amending the Health Code for licensing and regulations of massage establishments and practitioners, a resolution supporting the Health Service System to establish full quality and cost transparency in the public interest, an ordinance amending the Business and Tax Regulations Code, and the Multifamily Housing Revenue Note for the Tenderloin Family Housing, which were all supported by District 3 Supervisor and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.



Columbus Avenue to see street safety changes

Tourists and residents visiting San Francisco’s famous tourist spot “Little Italy” share limited sidewalk space with parking meters, planters, and outside restaurant seating on North Beach’s Columbus Avenue.

“There’s always a ton of tourists and people walking through the area,” Talisa Flores resident of Ingleside and visiting North Beach said. “I have to weave in and out of people in order to get anywhere on this street.”

Because of the high traffic of pedestrians, North Beach’s Columbus Avenue is listed on Mayor Edwin M. Lee’s top streets in need of pedestrian safety improvements.

Photo by Katrina Andaya
Sidewalks of North Beach are deemed too narrow by the City’s Better Streets Plan.

The Columbus Neighborhood Transportation Plan, a study that identified changes to transportation infrastructure and policies on Columbus Avenue to enhance livability and economic viability of the corridor, benefit residents, merchants and visitors, found that the 10-foot wide sidewalks of Columbus are too narrow for the volume of pedestrians using the street.

They are also narrower than San Francisco’s recommended sidewalk width of 12 feet for major streets such as Columbus, as set forth in the City’s Better Streets Plan, a plan adopted in February 2006 by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors that creates a unified set of standards, guidelines, and implementation strategies to govern how San Francisco designs, builds, and maintains its pedestrian environment.

“The sidewalks are too narrow and most of the time it is very crowded around here,” Alex Rodriguez, who works at Original Joes in North Beach said.

Columbus is identified as one of the priority pedestrian streets, based on a number of considerations that includes safety said Principal Transportation Planner at San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Rachel Hiatt, who’s agency led the Columbus Avenue Neighborhood Transportation Plan.

Columbus is also one of the streets in San Francisco identified with the highest concentrations of pedestrian injuries and fatalities according to a street safety report by the city’s transportation department, “Safety Streets.”

A repaving of Columbus is scheduled for the summer of 2014 and planning and outreach is currently being done this fall in order to reduce crossing distances, improve pedestrian visibility, reduce sidewalk crowding at corners, improve muni operation stops, and implement bicycle lane improvements.

“I think repaving of Columbus is a good idea,” Jacob Blevins, 35, who works at Caffé Delucchi in North Beach, said. “There are a lot of tourists in the area, and tour buses that drive by every few seconds.”

City planners have proposed three design alternatives for the repaving. Two of the designs proposed calls for a two-lane street with the widening of sidewalks and the use of a “flex lane” and the other calls for a four-lane street with a “flex lane” and does not widen the sidewalk.

A “flex lane” is a term for a sort of shared space arrangement, meaning vehicles and pedestrians share the same space. The idea of the “flex lane” has not yet been incorporated in San Francisco, and though it’s an innovative concept, it comes with several design challenges.

“There are existing alleyways throughout San Francisco that are shared spaces,” Hiatt said. “There are a number of design challenges associated with that, especially around providing detectable warnings for people with disabilities.”

A local resident Mike Sonn has set up a petition to rally support for the design that calls for sidewalk widening, whether it comes via a lost travel lane or parking lane.

Sonn says he started the petition because he wants to improve pedestrian safety, but also feels that it is a case of comfort.

“North Beach is a dense, walkable community and its main thoroughfare isn’t a suitable walking experience at all,” Sonn said. “The sidewalks are narrow and cluttered. It is nearly impossible to walk unabated for any extended period of time.”

Caffé Roma, which is located on Columbus, has already incorporated the idea of a parklet with extra seating for its customers.

Photo by Katrina Andaya
Caffé Roma incorporated the idea of a parklet to provide more seating for customers.


“The parklet has brought us more business,” Anthony Azzollini, owner of Caffé Roma, said. “Extending sidewalks would allow us to fill more area to seat and serve customers.”

The only contention Sonn is facing is that the cost per block for sidewalk widening is $1.5 million.

The funding for the project comes from Proposition B, the general obligation streets bond passed in November of 2011. The project is receiving $800,000 from this bond for streetscape and paving and city planners hope to receive, but is not yet approved, $500,000 in agency funds.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Project Manager for the repaving of Columbus, James Shahamiri, says that because of the budget, the repaving of Columbus will most likely not include the widening of sidewalks. Though, what we can expect is bulbouts, or curb extension, at intersections such as Columbus and Greene in order to create more walking space for pedestrians.

Photo by Katrina Andaya
City planners plan to implement bulbouts at the intersection of Columbus and Green.

“Our perspective on sidewalk widening is it’s great. It supports the businesses and it supports the neighborhood,” Shahamiri said. “But it doesn’t really correlate directly with safety improvement, where as the bulbouts we’re proposing at intersections do.”

Because Columbus is a high injury pedestrian network, the priority in terms of prioritizing funding is to remove collision factors such as shortening pedestrian crossing distances and making pedestrians more visible to cars when crossing.

Another high priority of the proposal is to make improvements on biking. Columbus is part of the city’s bike route network and is the flattest route through the area.

Columbus currently has two lanes and parking on both sides and what they hope to do is take out a lane and put bike lanes in, while also keeping the parking.

“We look at this as a huge improvement for bicycle conductivity and safety, but it’s also a great pedestrian safety improvement,” Shahamiri said. “Now you have 50 percent less exposure to motor vehicle traffic when crossing the streets. Even though there are traffic signals, regardless you still have two lanes less traffic to cross.”

Shahamiri says they have been checking in with the community to touch base on the planning process and have met with community groups such as Renew SF, North Beach Business Association, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, North Beach Chinatown Beacon Center and North Beach Neighbors.

He says that the biggest struggle they are facing is trying to find consensus within the neighborhood.

“Columbus is kind of unique in regard that it’s a neighborhood street,” Shahamiri said. “It’s a hustle and bustle commercial corridor, has a lot of tourism and is also used by a lot of commuters. So you have all these different interests who are kind of buying for a piece of the pie.”

The next steps for the project include continuing more community outreach and ultimately deciding where the curbs are going to be placed, before the actual repaving occurs.

Guest: Gary Kamiya

Our class had the chance to speak to the author of “Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco,” Gary Kamiya. I was able to ask him questions about North Beach, specifically, how North Beach has changed since he last moved to San Francisco in 1971 and how he feels the North Beach is doing in preserving it’s Italian heritage.

Kamiya came to San Francisco in 1971 during what he calls the “tits and ass” era of North Beach. He explained how topless joints entered North Beach trampling the fun loving, easy going mixture of entertainment.

“North Beach has changed a lot,” he said. “North beach has been getting less and less Italian for four decades or more, probably since the 60s. It’s an organic evolution of a neighborhood.”

When Kamiya says North Beach has gone through an “organic evolution” he means how the Italians, who didn’t live in the nicest places in North Beach, were not pushed out of North Beach, but instead decided to move out to the suburbs instead. They moved out and the Chinese started to move in. 

He says that when he moved to San Francisco, there were still Italians in the area, as his friend told him that every bank in North Beach had to have one teller that spoke Italian at the time. Though in the last 40 to 50 years Chinese influence crossed in and that there were definitely some Italians that moved into San Francisco, but the great Italian stronghold in North Beach is gone.

He says he doesn’t believe the city is doing much about preserving the Italian culture in North Beach like it may be doing for the Fillmore with its Jazz culture. 

In his book Kamiya states, “The holy trinity of cheap sex, sketchy bars, and low rents have always attracted writers and artists, and North Beach and environs, in particular its southern edge, became San Francisco’s artistic quarter.”

North Beach known to be associated with the Beats era. Though North Beach has changed, it still is a neighborhood filled with artists and writers. 

It was interesting to hear Kamiya talk about how his book came to be by exploring every square grid of San Francisco. For someone like me, who is new to the area, it was interesting to hear him talk in depth about the different parts of this amazing city.


North Beach Pizza Maker opens up new pizza restaurant

North Beach resident and pizza maker opens up new restaurant next month

Salvatore Di Stefano, 40, of North Beach is a pizza maker and chef at Casaro, a new pizza restaurant opening up on the corner of Columbus and Grant next month.

Di Stefano first moved to the U.S. four years ago from Sicily. He first lived in New York, but then moved to San Francisco to follow his then girlfriend as she was opening up a new pizza restaurant in North Beach.

She and her partner, Tony Gemignani, opened what is now known as the famous Tony’s Pizza in North Beach.

There, Di Stefano helped with the building of the restaurant: building doors, shelves, and completing various odd jobs.

“A friend of mine calls me MacGyver like the movie,” Di Stefano says, explaining how he is good at fixing and building things. “He’s a guy that can do a lot of things and he fixes a lot of things.”

While fixing up the restaurant, Di Stefano would observe how Gemignani made pizza, studying his every move.

“He never showed me how to do the pizza, but I watched him when he showed other people to do the pizza, so he gave me the opportunity to work with him and to learn,” Di Stefano said. “And here I learned how to make pizza, from Tony, and I decided to become a pizza maker.”

Gemignani was impressed with how fast Di Stefano had learned to make pizza, and gave him a job at Tony’s. Di Stefano worked for Tony for one year then quit and moved on to work at Farina’s Pizza in the Mission District where he was asked to be a chef.

“It’s personal. He gives it character. It’s not just like any kind of pizza,” Valerio Martorelli, chef at Vicoletto in North Beach said about Di Stefano’s pizza. “You can taste the hand of the pizza maker. You can tell it’s different.”

Di Stefano later left Farina’s and moved on to work at Carmel Pizza Company where they cooked with a wood fire oven, his oven of preference.

He was asked to help get the company business. There he changed everything from the quality of the pizza to the products he used which were imported from Italy.

“After 20 days he saw the difference,” Di Stefano said. “We went from cooking 20 pizzas a day to cooking 200 a day.”

One can find Di Stefano out and about in North Beach his rubber pizza in hand as he practices for the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. He was scheduled to compete in the March competition when a tragic accident occurred.

“I was supposed to go last March,” Di Stefano said. “I signed up for the competition, I paid the ticket for the flight, hotel, and everything and 20 days after I signed up, I was stabbed.”

While walking the Tenderloin District one night in February, Di Stefano noticed a man following him. When he turned to ask what he was doing, he was stabbed seven times.

“I don’t remember almost anything that night,” Di Stefano said. “I woke up three days later in the hospital.”

He said that it was difficult for him to get back to work, as he started working within one month from the accident. He now trains more than ever for the upcoming competition.

Di Stefano will help with the opening of Casaro in November, then hopes to one day open up his own pizza restaurant with a partner.

“So I have to say thanks to Tony for putting me in this world, the pizza world, and making me crazy,” Di Stefano said.

San Francisco promotes a family friendly workplace

San Francisco became the first city to pass the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance in a unanimous vote at the Board of Supervisors meeting today.

The Board of Supervisors President and District 3 Supervisor David Chiu sponsored the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance.

“It is my hope today that San Francisco will be the first city in the country to create and establish the right for employees to request flexible working arrangements,” Chiu said.

According to the 2010 census, compared with any major city in the U.S., San Francisco houses the lowest percentage of children, representing only 13.5 percent of San Francisco’s population. This has resulted in families moving out of the city. Chiu hopes the ordinance will reverse this trend by working to make San Francisco’s workplaces more family-friendly.

The Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance allows for San Francisco-based employees who are caretakers to be able to request flexible and predictable working arrangements. It also hopes to prohibit employment discrimination based on an employee’s status as a caretaker or parent.

The policy would create a “Right to Request” for employees who have worked at a business for more than six months. Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will be exempted from the law.

The employer does have to right to deny a request “undue hardship” based on certain business reasons such as increased business costs, or it being a negative impact on sales.

Chiu said that there is language in the ordinance that does require education of the business community on this new code.

The policy was first introduced to us by Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and proved to be successful. The U.S. tried to copy this proposal back in 2007, but was unsuccessful.

The state of Vermont recently passed this same policy, but San Francisco has now become the first city to.

“I do hope this legislation will nudge real changes in our work place cultures to eliminate the stigma and bias that surround workers who request flexible work arrangements,” Chiu said. “I hope that today San Francisco will again lead the way in having worked successfully and productively in the 21st century.”

“I think the ordinance is an excellent first step to support working parents in San Francisco,” said District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, who also sponsors the ordinance.

The ordinance bypassed being on the November ballot and was passed on the first reading.

Other policies sponsored by Chiu and passed at the meeting include the Alternate Water Sources for Non-Potable Applications, and the Due Process for All Ordinance on Civil Immigration Detainers.

Free ESL class available to adults in North Beach Chinatown area

A new, free English as a Second Language, or ESL, program is now available for parents and adults in North Beach.

The ESL classes are provided through the North Beach-Chinatown Beacon Center, located at Francisco Middle School in North Beach.

The program is funded through the 21st Century Family Literacy Grant that gives money to school districts, which then gives money to individual schools.

“Francisco Middle School was awarded this grant,” North Beach-Chinatown Beacon Center Adult and Community Programs Coordinator Charmaine Chui said. “And the North Beach-Chinatown Beacon coordinates various parent education programs, including computer class, ESL, nutrition/cooking and parenting workshops.”

The ESL program first began in February of this year. Its first session ran until May and a second session began in September. It catered to 20 students. The new session will run from September to May.

The current session serves only eight students at the moment, as it started just three weeks ago, but the program hopes to gain more students as the weeks go on. The class can serve a maximum of 30 students.

The class is advertised through after school programs and word of mouth, says Mandy Ma, the community program specialist.

Ma says that the classes are offered on Saturdays because some parents work and can’t attend ESL classes during the week at City College.

The class setting is very intimate, as there are only a few students.

“The teacher provides more individual help,” student Wenjie Feng said.

The class is made up of a wide range of students with different levels of English; some who have studied English and are learning to perfect the language and others who have just moved to the U.S. knowing only a bit of the language.

Perla Ardanas, a current student who moved here from the Philippines in 2010, started taking ESL classes at City College three months ago and decided to join the free ESL class at Francisco Middle School because she had started working.

“I want to learn how to speak the right way,” Ardanas said explaining how she wants to learn correct grammar.

She says that without ESL classes, she would try to learn English through watching television and reading.

Many students like Ardanas are immigrants who have little education in English.

Ma says that many parents come to the U.S. for their children so that they could have a good education.

Yusra Najjar, a student from Jordan, has studied English for 10 years now, but does not usually speak English in her household. She is taking the ESL class to help perfect the language, but still comes across difficulties when learning. Her struggle in the class comes with spelling.

“I love how everyone comes and is eager to learn,” said 22-year-old Jessie Wang, who is a part-time volunteer assisting the students. “They have their own businesses, mostly in Chinatown, where you don’t really have to speak English.”

Ma says that English classes are what most people in the area need.

The ESL classes are held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Francisco Middle School.

President and District 3 Supervisor: David Chiu

Representing North Beach is District 3 Supervisor and President of the Board of Supervisors David Chiu.

The District 3 area includes North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Polk Street, Nobb Hill, Union Square, Financial District, Barbary Coast and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Chiu was elected to the Board of Supervisors in November 2008 and became president of the Board in January 2009. He has lived in District 3 for more than 15 years.

A graduate from Harvard University with a law degree and master’s degree in public policy Chiu had an interest in public service, public policy issues and government.

In his years, he has served as a criminal prosecutor and civil rights attorney for San Francisco, has built up a small business, was a nighttime neighborhood association leader, and was the Chair for the Affordable Housing Organization.

Chiu considers himself to have progressive values like most citizens in San Francisco.

He hopes to use his position to better San Francisco by creating an environment with more jobs and a developing economy.

Being the only member of the Board with no car, he hopes to improve San Francisco’s public transit system. Other priorities of his include ensuring and protecting basic city services and helping to ensure we have services that cater to the most vulnerable San Franciscans. He hopes to create housing opportunities that will be affordable by all economic backgrounds in order to keep the working class in San Francisco. He is working on improving pedestrian safety as well as taking care of the homeless. Chiu’s goal is to help develop neighborhood councils that bring together neighborhood organizations and city government and promotes a community watch where the community works with the police in taking care of the neighborhoods.

Chiu currently passed the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, making San Francisco the first city in the U.S. to do so.

He is working to complete all this during this transition period of the government, with a new mayor and board. Chiu says there are lots of challenges in his way, but he hopes to get San Francisco back on track.


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