Noe Valley Voice June 2013

And Now for the Rumors Behind the News

Town Square Roots

By Mazook

REAL FEUDS COMPANY: Almost 10 years ago, on Labor Day 2003, the Real Food Company, an organic food haven in Downtown Noe Valley since 1970, abruptly closed its doors, fired the employees (they were trying to unionize), and announced that the owner, Utah-based Nutraceutical Corporation (which had bought the store from Real founders Jane and Kimball Allen in 2002), was going to “remodel” the space. Say what?

The neighborhood went nuts. The workers filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board, and a bunch of residents and shoppers formed a group to support the 30 fired workers. They held meetings attended by hundreds of Noe Valleons.

At the same time, a group of activists started looking to organize a weekly farmer’s market so the neighborhood could have fresh organic fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Of course, the Noe Valley Ministry was in full support of that idea, since a farmer’s market would be an ideal Saturday use for the parking lot the church had just created, after buying the old Dan’s Gas site at 24th and Vicksburg.

The Noe Valley Farmers Market officially opened on Saturday morning Dec. 6, 2003. Ministry Reverend Keenan Kelsey blessed the event at an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, and there was wonderful music and entertainment “for the children.” 

Meanwhile, Nutraceutical stopped paying the rent and filed a lawsuit against the Allens to the tune of seven figures, and the Allens countersued for the six figures due in rent. The store became the blight of Downtown Noe Valley, a monument to Nutra-spite.

The workers won at the NLRB, and then they withstood the Nutra appeals and celebrated a moral victory. The store stayed closed.

In 2005, the Allens “settled” with Nutra, with the bottom line being Nutra took title to the property and told the Voice (in a December 2005 story by Liz Highleyman), “Now that we own the building, we will focus on remedying seismic and structural issues first.” 

As you all can see, the only thing that has been “remodeled” is the graphics on the paper masking the windows at 3939 24th St. The crumbling plaster in the interior and a partially collapsed roof, which Mazook has seen personally, serve as a constant reminder of the owner’s contempt for Noe Valley.

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PLAZA SWEET: And then came the contempt that two neighborhood factions had for each another in early 2010. It all started when some local residents, working with the mayor’s Pavement to Parks program, wanted to block off Noe Street between 24th and Jersey to create a plaza.

“Plazamania” was the result (see June 2010 Rumors), with merchants pitted against residents, bike people against car people, young versus old, and the avant against the retro. Signs filled windows to “Keep Noe Open.” The meetings over the issue went from worse to worser, and one shouting match even made the evening news.

In the end, the city dropped the “plaza” idea and came up with a compromise: the “parklet,” which many people now enjoy at two ends of 24th Street.

In the spring of 2010, the splintered neighborhood also learned that the Noe Valley Ministry was thinking about selling its parking lot so it could garner enough money to upgrade its church building on Sanchez Street.

After the word got out, a group of neighbors started meeting to explore the idea of making the Ministry’s lot a small park—a town square—and preserve the site for the popular farmer’s market. They approached our then-supervisor Bevan Dufty, who thought that the purchase of the property by the city could be accomplished through Rec and Park’s Open Space Fund, established specifically to buy land for parks and plazas in this densely populated city. The price tag for the property (which had to be fair market value) was established at $3.2 million.

Residents for Noe Valley Town Square (RNVTS) was then formed to go about raising the money for the project. They set up a table in front of the farmer’s market and got pledges large and small from hundreds in the neighborhood. The Ministry agreed to put off selling the property so the RNVTS had enough time to get it all together.

Remarkably enough, the energy generated by the two plaza factions was being channeled into support for a Noe Valley Town Square. Members of both sides put their money where their mouths were, donating from $20 to $24,000.

RNVTS also got tremendous support from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who helped build the political blocks necessary to convince City Hall of the value of the project, and introduce the legislation necessary for the city to buy the plot of land.

Our state senator, Noe Valleon and former district supervisor Mark Leno, helped the project too, and worked to obtain three-quarters of a million dollars from the state’s Prop. 84 urban park funds.

And by May Day 2013, the Residents had raised pledges of nearly $500,000.

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SQUARING OFF: That brings us to May 22, when the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee (consisting of Supervisors Scott Wiener, Eric Mar, London Breed, and John Avalos, and chaired by Supervisor Mark Farrell) had on its agenda the purchase of the 10,829-square-foot parking lot for $4,242,510 (less $350,000 in “remediation costs”), as per the city’s official appraisal. The budget analysts also estimated a $2 million “development cost,” including the remediations.

Over 50 Noe Valleons showed up at the meeting to support the Noe Valley Town Square, which was called at about 3 p.m. on the agenda. Wiener gave a strong statement in favor of the purchase and lauded the grassroots efforts of the neighborhood. The square was also supported by Mar, who thought it would be a catalyst for town squares in other neighborhoods.

Rec and Park spokesperson Dawn Kamalanathan was well prepared and quite able to respond to the concerns that Avalos and Breed brought up. Avalos said he was impressed with the Residents’ willingness to share their experiences and act as consultants on other town squares. Breed voiced concern about who was going to pay the estimated $65,000 per year staff, services, and maintenance costs.

More than 40 people from the neighborhood then lined up to speak on behalf of the project. And by 4:20 p.m., it was time to take the vote. Aye 5. Nay 0. Hurray!

The measure will now go to the full board for a final vote June 4. According to RNVTS leader Todd David, there is “a very strong possibility” the board will 

affirm the purchase, and do it before July 1.

“That is the deadline for the city to apply for the $725,000 in the state Prop. 84 funds,” said David. “That money can be used, along with the $500,000 we have already raised, towards the overall $1.7 million dollars, estimated, that it will cost to build out the town square. We still have about another $475,000 to raise,” he said in late May, “and we are confident that we will be moving forward after July 1.”

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A SQUARE DEAL: May 22 was designated a “Day of Support” by Noe Valley’s Whole Foods Market. The grocery donated 5 percent of its store sales to the RNVTS.

“We are informed,” said David, “we will be getting $5,094 from Whole Foods, and we also got several pledges that day, including one for $6,000, from one party, and one resident spoke at the hearing that he was going to double his pledge.”

The supervisors’ approval was proclaimed in the May 24 San Francisco Chronicle, in a story by Andrew Ross, who is a regular at the farmer’s market. However, whoever wrote the headline chose the wrong words on this one. It read, “Noe Valley has a lot of high hopes for a plaza,” and had a subhead, “Fundraising neighbors want park, not parking.” 

“Once we get Board of Supervisors’ approval, it will go to the mayor, who has already voiced his support for this project,” said David, and after that, “we will be calling in all the pledges and seeking further financial help from our neighbors.”

According to David, after the city acquires the property, “there will be a transitional period, and by the neighborhood’s Harvest Festival [October] the lot will be closed, and between now and then there will be free public parking, except Saturdays for the Farmers Market.”

By the way, if the Board of Supervisors votes yes on June 4, the RNVTS plans a victory party at Valley Tavern, 4054 24th.

And the beat will go on at the Noe Valley Farmers Market music series. Saturday, June 8, will feature music by David Kesler, Lily Holbrook, and Yacouba Diarra. The following weeks in June you will see other local musicians, such as the Knickerbockers, the Loppy Cowboys, Flown, Chemistry of the Heard, and Ladies in Blouses.

By the way, Erin Brazil & the Brazillionaires, who were to appear June 1, have now departed for a summer tour. Another NVFM music series regular, the SHE’s, is headed out on a national tour and can be seen on Converse billboards around town.

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THE HUNGERLESS GAMES: It was a very soft opening for DNV’s newest eatery, Griddle Fresh, on Tuesday, May 14, at 4007 24th St.

“Nobody came in,” says Regina Lee, who with her husband, Je Lee, bought the Noe Valley Deli earlier this year and gave it a serious remodel. “But business has improved a lot since that first day,” she says, “and by Saturday and Sunday a lot of local people came in.”

Lee says she and her husband came from South Korea about four years ago, where they had two restaurants in Seoul, one serving Chinese food and the other American brunch. They learned about Noe Valley through a friend who has a restaurant on 24th Street, and they liked the neighborhood right away. Lee says her husband’s brother runs a similar café over on Nob Hill called MyMy Coffee Shop. A cousin also operates Kitchen Story over in the Castro.

The menu specializes in egg dishes, burgers, and sandwiches, plus salads. Lee says the most popular items on the menu are the lemon ricotta and banana mascarpone soufflés. Prices are around $11 or $12 a dish.

Meanwhile, there has been a run on the kale chips at Luv a Java (corner of Dolores and 26th) made by a nearby neighbor, Lisa Laricchiuta. She washes the leaves of kale, and then puts them through a dehydration process. Her chips became even more famous when theChronicle’s Mike Kepka wrote about her in his May 25 “City Exposed” column.

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MYRIAD MEANDERINGS: Yes, that was Noe Valleon Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink (and also the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in 2000), who interrupted the counterterrorism speech given by President Obama May 23 at the National Defense University. After repeatedly shouting for Obama to close Guantanamo Bay (and later on, to put an end to drone strikes), she was ejected from the room. President Obama’s comment was: “I am going off script now…all of you should listen to what this lady is saying.” You see, he’s trying to get Guantanamo closed, too.

The Chron’s Leah Garchik had in her May 15 column a Noe Valley item sent in by Hoffman Avenue resident John Odell. He had found the Noe Valley Voice Class Ads somewhat revealing of our true nature: “Is Your Garden Sad and Weary?” “Have You Always Wanted to Play the Harp?” “Catsitting at Negotiable Rates,” and “Discuss Proust?” No mention of gluten, though.

Someone in the neighborhood stuck a bunch of stickers, created by artist Candy Chang, on the Real Food Company window last month. They said, “I Wish This Was [fill in the blank].” Some of the responses were posted by our local blog, a climbing gym, a Trader Joe’s, a good thrift shop, and a monastery. Well, it’s almost that already.

Finally, you might want to check out this fantastic image of the corner of Church and 29th Street from the Bancroft Library. The San Francisco History Association posted it on their Facebook page, asking followers if they knew where the 1906 “earthquake” picture was taken. Many knew that what was pictured showed was Stellings and Drewes markets. In the photo, people were walking in the unpaved street, and a sign said, “Headquarters for Fairmount Relief Committee.” Go to

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THAT’S 30, FOLKS. Before I go, I want to say how sorry I was to read reports last month from NASA scientists at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii that the carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere have reached 400 parts per million, for the first time in three million years. They predict that by the end of this century Earth will experience some of the highest temperatures in the past 30 million years and sea levels will rise 3 to 6 feet. Fortunately, the rising bay waters will stop at around Valencia Street, and we will be safe here in Noe Valley—and our town square will survive. So be happy and have a nice summer. See you in July. Ciao.