Noe Valley Voice July-August 2006

Church Street Gets Greener, Tastier, and Quieter (maybe)

By Erin O'Briant

Ten new trees will soon take root, four restaurants are preparing to open, and even the squeaky wheels on the J-Church will be getting some extra grease. The signs are all there: Upper Church Street is on the fast track.

Screeching to Halt

Church Street neighbors may soon get the good night's sleep they've been dreaming of--that is, if Muni officials live up to the promises they made at an Upper Noe Neighbors meeting the evening of Thursday, June 22.

Screeching Muni cars on the J-Church line have kept residents up at night--and during the day, too--for close to a decade. Marianne Hampton, who lives at 30th and Dolores streets, is still paying off the $6,000 double-pane windows she installed in her home four years ago. The noise from the Muni cars screeching around curves in the Church Street tracks was so bad, she says the only other option was to move.

It isn't just the J-Church trains causing the noise. It seems the Church Street line is the fastest route back to the car barn for other Muni lines, including the N and F. "At 1:45 a.m., all the trains go past my house, and at 6:45 a.m. they come by again," says Hampton, who notes that the ongoing sleep loss hasn't helped her attitude toward Muni. "This has been so discouraging," she adds. "It's big government paid for by my taxes, thumbing their nose at us."

Many of her neighbors agree. "We are desperately fed up with sleep deprivation, being ignored, lied to, and not given the information we ask for," says Suzanne Radcliffe, who also lives near 30th and Dolores streets. "Homeowners in this neighborhood who rent out apartments have lost tenants over this situation."

Worst of all, the problem isn't all that hard to mitigate. With twice-daily track greasing, drivers can trundle down the tracks without too much noise. Trouble is, some drivers don't take the turns as slowly as they should. And neighbors say Muni doesn't grease the tracks twice a day, as it has agreed to do--or pressure drivers to slow down--unless the residents keep complaining. "I've been disappointed that Muni's backsliding on maintenance has brought back the screeching," admits District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

That's okay. The members of Upper Noe Neighbors will continue to prod them. "I can hear [the squealing], and I live four blocks away," notes UNN President Vicki Rosen. "We aren't letting go of this. This is a no-brainer."

20 Cars to Take Another Route

Wilson Johnson, Muni's deputy general manager for transportation; two other Muni officials; a staff member from Supervisor Dufty's office; and a representative from the San Francisco Controller's Office all attended the June Upper Noe Neighbors meeting. According to Rosen, Muni officials again agreed to grease the tracks twice a day during the week and once a day on weekends and holidays. They also stated that starting Aug. 26 a satellite barn at King and Sixth streets would be able to accommodate 20 more cars, taking them off the J-Church rails.

In the long term, other possible solutions include changing the tracks or using a different kind of train.

"They're going to be replacing some tracks and increasing the radius of the part of the track that makes its turn onto San Jose Avenue [at 30th Street]," Rosen explains. "They can't do it at 30th and Church because the streets are too narrow, so that a long-term solution will not be available for that corner."

Dufty says he is "aggressively pursuing" the completion of a new car barn on Third Street in 2008, so perhaps in a couple of years only J-Church cars will need to ride the Church line during the night.

The June meeting was held in the sand pile in the children's playground off Day Street at Upper Noe Rec Center. That's because workers discovered asbestos in the building that afternoon and closed the center on short notice. (It was already scheduled to close down on July 17 for a major 18-month renovation, so the building will remain closed until the overhaul is complete.) Now Upper Noe residents are waiting to see if Muni will get in gear.

Budding Plans for New Trees

Plans to plant additional trees on Church Street are in the very early stages, says Rosen, but she and other Neighbors hope to brighten some bare spots on the street with more foliage soon. The Bureau of Urban Forestry at the Department of Public Works has agreed to pay for and install 10 trees before next summer.

Carla Short, a forester with the Bureau, explains, "We are funded to plant 268 trees in our annual planting allowance, and we try to divide those fairly among all the districts in the city." According to Short, her department is looking into planting two types of trees on Church Street: the Michelia doltsopa and the Magnolia grandiflora "Samuel Sommers," a smaller tree than the better-known Southern magnolia.

The Church Street corridor from Cesar Chavez to 30th Street has potential sites for 30 more trees, but Upper Noe Neighbors would have to raise the funds for those--and the trees cost $450 each.

Rosen says the group's first goal is to get property owners on Church Street interested in giving up sidewalk space for a tree. If that goes well and more than 10 people want to plant a tree, the group may try to raise additional funds.

For now, though, Rosen and the Neighbors will be content with 10 new trees. "Greenery makes people feel better!" she notes. "It will be so great to increase the trees along that corridor.... The street will look better and it will cut down on wind and pollution."

Eateries to Expand

Neighbors say they couldn't be happier about the four new restaurants set to open soon near the south end of Church Street. "It reminds me of Manhattan, that we will be able to walk everywhere," says Hampton.

The eateries scheduled to open their doors this summer are the breakfast-lunch restaurant Toast, which will take over Hungry Joe's space at 1748 Church Street; Joey and Eddie's Seafood, slated to fill Yianni's old spot on Church near 29th Street; and the French Bistro 1689, in the space formerly occupied by Long Island Restaurant at 1689 Church Street.

According to owner Roy Lui's wife Chanel Liu, the California-Asian restaurant her husband will co-own in the old Mikeytom Market location may open this fall, but might not be ready to greet customers until as late as December. She says they still haven't decided on the restaurant's name.

"It really is fun," Radcliffe says of the changes to the neighorhood. "Our end of Church street is getting a nice facelift with the additions."