Monthly Archives: June 2006

John M. Lee: Proposition Not Needed

There have not been any landlord/tenant issues on the ballot for the last few years. And just when everything seems to be quiet, there is a controversial Proposition B on the June ballot. Prop. B reads: “Shall the City change its laws to require landlords who offer to sell buildings of two or more residential units to disclose to all potential buyers the specific legal grounds for any evictions that result in vacant units at the time of sale and whether the evicted tenants were elderly or disabled?”

Similar legislation was passed by the SF Board of Supervisors earlier this year and Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoed it. The Board of Supervisors is now attempting to get it passed by going to the voters.

At first reading, the measure seems innocent because who would not want more disclosures? The more buyers know about the property, the more informed they will be to make a decision. The measure fails because there are already existing mechanisms in place to provide this information.

As well, the wording of the legal text is extremely confusing and open to interpretation and abuse. The current standard of practice for selling properties in San Francisco is to have the disclosure package available to buyers for review prior to submitting an offer to purchase. State law also mandates that if a unit is delivered vacant, the legal reason for termination has to be disclosed.

Evictions are dealt with in these documents, and the buyers have 72 hours from receipt of the disclosure package to walk away from the transaction and terminate the contract – with no penalties whatsoever. This disclosure process and mechanism have worked well and there is no good reason to change the procedure.

The disclosure required by Prop. B would have to be made “in all marketing material and advertising, like a flier describing the property, which is made available to prospective purchasers at each open house and at any tour through the property.”

The problem with the language is that Prop. B does not require the disclosure to be delivered and signed by the purchaser, just that the material be “available.” So, if it’s not delivered to anyone and a prospective purchaser does not have to acknowledge receipt, how is the prospective buyer assured of getting the disclosure?

And how does the seller prove that he or she complied with the ordinance? The mechanics and language of the legal text won’t help buyers and sellers avoid potential problems. Also, who is the prospective buyer? There are times when an agent or a relative is looking at the property for the prospective buyer.

The actual buyer might never see the property before submitting an offer. With photos and virtual tours available on the Internet, we are actually seeing sales where the buyer never steps foot onto the property, so if the information is available at the property and the buyer never sees it, has the seller complied with the ordinance?

I believe that the ordinance is drafted very poorly and if approved, we will be spending much of our taxpayer’s money fighting it in court. There already are mechanisms in place with the real estate process for eviction disclosures.

I am voting “no” on Prop. B. But whatever you decide on this and other issues, please vote on June 6.

John M. Lee is a top selling agent at Pacific Union. If you have any real estate questions, call him at (415) 447-6231.


Supervisor Fiona Ma: Getting Our Fair Share

Every day at the SF Board of Supervisors I am faced with difficult choices, such as deciding whether to put more cops on the streets or whether to clean up our streets and fix potholes. Both of these matters are critical needs, but our limited city budget often pits these types of choices against each other.

However, it’s not always bad news I have to report from the board. Sometimes, by working in partnership with the community, I bring happy results to the district. In the next few months we will see the fruits of years of labor between my office, various city departments and a few dedicated residents.

Working together on district priorities we can get things done and bring back our fair share of resources.

Sava Pool – After countless staff meetings and community meetings, we are finally taking the next step towards a new pool.

In April, SF Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and I led the effort at the Board of Supervisors to approve a supplemental appropriation to fund the Sava Pool project. For the next few months the City will seek bids, certify contractors and prepare the facility. Construction is anticipated to start in September.

The new pool will feature an expanded and completely renovated building that includes an indoor and outdoor space for special events. With the recent plantings and landscaping at Larsen Park, a brand new pool will complete the park’s beautification process.

Conservatory of Music – After many months of worry about an uncertain future, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music building at 19th Avenue and Ortega Street has been purchased by Lycee Francais La Perouse, the International French School of San Francisco.

The Conservatory of Music will move to its new facility on Oak Street this summer. Final concerts and performances at the Ortega campus occurred in May.

Lycee plans to hold limited classes in the 2006-2007 school year. It wants to remodel the interior in order to permanently accommodate its sixth through 12th grade classes beginning in September 2007. I am happy to welcome LycŽe to the Sunset community and am especially pleased that this building will continue in its tradition as a place for youth to learn and grow.

Dianne Feinstein Elementary at the Parkside Campus – After a controversial and uncertain past, Dianne Feinstein Elementary is putting the finishing touches on its brand new building in anticipation of the opening day of school in August.

Principal Michelle Chang has great plans to work with parents and the community to build a successful school partnership where children will flourish. Highlights of the school include a 50,000-square-foot playground, with separate play structures for kindergarteners and older children, a basketball court, accessible ramps, 24 state-of-the-art classrooms, spacious library, art, activity and parents rooms and a partnership with Stonestown YMCA to provide an afterschool care program.

School tours and a community meeting will be scheduled after families have registered in order to introduce the school to the community.

Fiona Ma is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 4.

Craftswoman’s Paper Cutting Skills Keep Ancient Art Alive

By George McConnell

A childhood hobby that became a profession for artist Yumei Hou and brought her fame in her Chinese homeland also turned into the path to a new life in San Francisco.

On Saturday, May 13, Hou provided a rare demonstration of her celebrated skill in the ancient Chinese folk art of paper cutting to an appreciative audience at the Ortega Branch Library. Making just a few cuts in a folded piece of paper with a pair of scissors, she created, seemingly by magic, intricate pictures of animals and flowers in a matter of minutes.

Although onlookers reveled in her artistry, the story of her journey from struggling artist to international acclaim is also remarkable. Hou was born in Tonghua City in northwest China in 1952. During China’s Cultural Revolution in the ’70s, her family was forced to leave its home and moved to the country to work in agriculture.

“We were very poor, and I used to work in the fields harvesting crops,” she said.

When she was 4 years of age, her mother began to teach her weaving, embroidering and paper cutting, and Hou discovered she excelled in art. She eventually applied at an art academy near her home. During enrollment, she told school officials about her paper cutting skills, and they handed her a pair of scissors and asked her to demonstrate.

“I was very scared,” she said, “because art was considered subversive and burned, and you were not allowed to have scissors.”

The government, however, had begun a program to promote ancient folk art, such as paper cutting. The school was very impressed with her talent and she was accepted as a student.

“The school was 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) away, but I had no money to take the bus, so I was forced to ride my bike to class. Sometimes, at night, on the way home, I would slip and fall into a ditch,” Hou said.

Paper cutting has been traced back to the Tang Dynasty in the fifth century, according to Hou. Originally called “window flowers” because it was used to decorate windows, today the patterns are used on special occasions, such as weddings, festivals and holidays, and for home decorations.

In China, professional paper cutting artists work together in workshops and have guaranteed incomes, she said. Hou’s talent became recognized in Chinese paper cutting societies, and she soon gained national recognition.

She was appointed the director of the Society of Paper Cutters of China and, in 1992, the government began to send her to international exhibitions, where she won many awards. The United Nations organization, UNESCO, awarded her the title of “Folk Artist.”

But when she came to San Francisco in February 2001 to conduct a demonstration at the Asian Art Museum, her life took an unexpected turn. During the show she met a fan who later became her husband. After a brief courtship, he asked her to marry him and begin a new life together in America. Hou hesitated.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to give up my life in China. I was very famous there and nobody knew me here. My husband asked me to try it for awhile, and after six months I decided I wanted to stay here,” she said.

Hou said paper cutting is not well known in this country, and she has been unable to start any paper cutting organizations. She continues to demonstrate her craft in shows and schools and hopes to someday open a school. For the last several years, Hou has worked as an artist for a company in San Francisco that designs and builds parade floats.

“She works on 40 to 50 floats a year for us, including the Chinese New Years parade, sculpting larger-than-life sculptures, like cars and boats and people, out of styrofoam. She’s a little bit of a genius I would say,” said her supervisor and fellow sculptor David Thomas.

Although she is not famous like she was back in China, Hou said she appreciates the freedom here.

“In China, I was only allowed to do one thing. It is better here,” she said.

Stern Grove Gets Ready for 69th Season

A beloved Bay Area tradition returns as the Stern Grove Festival celebrates its 69th season with 10 free concerts every Sunday from June 18 through Aug. 20. The concerts will be held at Sigmund Stern Grove, located at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, at 2 p.m.

Scheduled performances are:
• June 18, singer/songwriter Aimee Mann and Brazilian Seu Jorge take the stage for the first of this summer’s performances;
• June 25, Malian blues duo Amadou & Mariam perform with the Otis Taylor Band;
• July 2, New Orleans brass ensemble Rebirth Brass Band and Zydeco musicians Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie;
• July 9, an annual favorite, the Grammy-winning San Francisco Symphony, with conductor Edwin Outwater at the helm;
• July 16, Hawaiian vocal ensemble Makaha Sons and the San Francisco-based hula dance troupe Halau ‘o Keikiali’I;
• July 23, soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples and roots music performer Jackie Greene;
• July 30, the San Francisco Opera hosts international opera stars Stephanie Blythe and Lawrence Brownlee;
• Aug. 6, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra plays classic salsa and Ska Cubano plays Cuban-rooted rhythms;
• Aug. 13, the San Francisco Ballet returns to Stern Grove in its only Bay Area summer appearance;
• Aug. 20, Latin hip-hop performer and Grammy winner Oxomatli and local hip-hop band Crown City Rockers end the lineup of summer concerts. Pre-concert talks with the performers, educational programs for children, and the opportunity to participate in blood drives prior to some concerts will also be available. The free concerts do not require tickets or advance reservations, but attendees are encouraged to arrive early for the best lawn seating.

For more information about the Stern Grove Festival, call (415) 252-6252 or visit the concert series Web site at

Battle at Sunset Reservoir Over Cell Phone Tower

By Ronitte Libedinsky

The mobile phone company Nextel has proposed a plan to construct a 60-foot-tall pine-shaped telecommunications tower at the southwest corner of the Sunset Reservoir, near Quintara Street and 28th Avenue.

Complete with life-like branches and fake bark, the tower will hold up to 12 antennae to provide better mobile phone service for Nextel clients throughout the Sunset neighborhood, said Corey Alvin, a former zoning administrator now working as a contractor for Nextel.

“The plan to build a wireless telecommunications tower in the Sunset is based on customer complaints about the lack of adequate coverage and dropped calls in the neighborhood,” Alvin said.

Yet some residents in the neighborhood have concerns about the construction of a tower so close to their homes and to Abraham Lincoln High School, which is located about half a mile away.

Ray Berns, who lives one block from the reservoir, is worried about the possible harmful effects from radiation coming from the panel antennae on the tower.

“This will affect not only the residents, but also the many recreational users of the reservoir area,” Berns said.

Flo Kimmerling, a board member of the Mid-Sunset Neighborhood Association and a long-time resident of the Sunset, acknowledges that science has yet to definitively prove a connection between any illness and exposure to the radiation emitted from mobile phone antennae.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s not harmful,” she said. “We all feel anxious about it and it gives us cause to worry.”

According to Alvin, Nextel is currently re-evaluating its need for a telecommunications tower at the Sunset Reservoir. If it is to be built, the company must first get a Conditional Use Permit from the SF Planning Commission. The hearing, which will be open to the public, is tentatively scheduled for June 8. If the Planning Commission grants the request, the plan could be brought before the SF Board of Supervisors, which would make a final decision on the project.

“The lease agreement between Nextel and the City is still under negotiation,” said Gary Dowd, director of the Public Utilities Commission’s Real Estate Services Department.

The City leases land for cellular sites for $3,500 a month, he said. The construction of telecommunication towers in residential areas has been controversial in many cities, including San Francisco.

Twin Peaks residents have been involved in a fierce on-going dispute with the private owners of Sutro Tower since 1998, when the Twin Peaks Improvement Association filed a lawsuit to block the addition of antennae to the tower. The construction of other towers has been blocked by neighborhood complaints in other areas.

In the Sunset, antennae have been stopped at a couple of locations, including on Noriega Street near St. Ignatius Preparatory High School.

“They were able to demonstrate that there was no need for a telecommunications tower in those areas,” said Michael Smith, a city planner at the SF Planning Department. Yet, since each cell phone carrier requires its own antennae for its own network, wireless antennae have been multiplying in residential neighborhoods. They can often be found hidden in places one would not expect, such as in church steeples and on the roofs of tall buildings.

RF radiation lies at the low energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum at frequencies between 3 kilohertz (kHz) and 300 megahertz (MHz). This lies directly between the slightly lower energy of FM radio waves and the slightly higher energy of microwaves.

Scientific research has so far provided inconclusive and conflicting results regarding the health hazards of RF radiation emitted from telecommunication towers, power lines and household appliances. Animal experiments studying the effects of RF radiation have yielded conflicting results that often cannot be repeated in other laboratories Epidemiology studies, which investigate the causes and distribution of diseases in a large group of people, have also not fully proved or disproved a definite link between RF radiation and cancer.

But since these studies were conducted for only a few years at a time, they cannot answer questions about long-term exposure. Many researchers who study the effects of RF radiation from mobile phones and towers believe that it is still too early to conclude whether or not they are harmful to humans.

Nextel issued a report in April 2006 to demonstrate that the proposed Sunset reservoir telecommunications tower will be in compliance with guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The report states the maximum calculated level of RF energy at any nearby building, about 120 feet away, will be a few thousand times lower than the exposure limit determined by the FCC.

In order to reach the exposure limit, one would have to stand less than seven feet away from and directly in front of one of the panel antennae, located 50 feet above the ground. An area of 1,900 square feet surrounding the tower will be enclosed by a fence to prevent anyone from getting too close.

For questions regarding the proposed telecommunications tower, contact Alvin at (415) 341-8890. For questions regarding the planning process, contact Smith at (415) 558-6322.