UPDATE: November 17, 2023:
Real estate speculator John Schrader has shifted tactics, but still wants to try to raise the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage seven
feet, place it on top of a whole new living level, and move it forward on the lot. His thoroughly-inadequate "preservation and relocation" plan remains virtually unchanged.
Instead of first going to a variance hearing, he is issuing a "311 Notice" which will give us thirty days to file for a Discretionary Review hearing before the full Planning Commission. The deadline for filing will be December 27, in the midst of the holiday season.
Schrader's excuse for all this is his claim that the Earthquake Shack Cottage is not visible from the street, and that his plan will make it visible. But the claim that the cottage is not visible from the street is thoroughly bogus. Here is a photograph taken from the sidewalk in front of the property on November 12, 2023:
As is readily apparent, the only significant thing blocking visibility of the cottage is the overgrown weeds and foliage.
Back in June 2016, Preservation Planner Justin Greving wrote to Schrader and said:
"I have spoken with Tina [Tam, then a preservation planning supervisor] about your proposal... We are open to raising the existing cottage slightly (no more than 2 feet) to give it more prominent street presence... However, raising the cottage an entire story is not in conformance with the Secretary's Standards as it will drastically alter the existing building's relationship to the street and lot..."
Since then, the planning staff has gradually given in to Schrader's continued pleas to be allowed to try to raise and relocate the cottage, for reasons that seem based more on politics than on good planning.
At one point in this process, the planning staff required Schrader to bring a preservation architect onto his team -- something Schrader should have done when he first bought this historic property. But there still is no preservation architect on the team.
There still is no viable plan for where the Earthquake Shack Cottage is to be stored and protected while the new living level is constructed. The preferred building mover has not demonstrated any significant history working with historic properties. The particulars of the rehabilitation plan for the cottage remain vague. The required CEQA Categorical Exemption is still not in place.
These problems are brought into even sharper focus, given that Schrader worked up a rough alternative plan, first suggested by neighbors, that would leave the cottage essentially where it is on the property. Here is a link to the alternate plan:
This alternate plan would mitigate most of the concerns about the integrity of the Earthquake Shack Cottage, assuming appropriate changes
were made to the preservation plan. If Schrader adopted this plan (with some minor changes, primarily removing the large, superfluous roof deck) there would be little likelihood that anyone would
file for a Discretionary Review hearing, thus obviating the need for a Planning Commission hearing.
Yet the planning staff has refused to support this alternate plan. Their excuse is that the backyard would be too small, even though it would be larger than the existing backyard and several other backyards on the block. What are they thinking?
Here is hoping that Schrader and the planning staff come to their senses and make some better choices.
We will keep you informed.
UPDATE: May 19, 2023
The variance hearing has been postponed once again. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: May 7, 2023
San Francisco Chronicle
Saving S.F.'s Quake Shacks
This morning the San Francisco Chronicle published an online article about the fight over the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage.
The article quotes John Blackburn, "one of the city's premier quake shack historians:"
"The history is what this is all about. They helped the working class have their first homes way back then, they represent the resilience of San Francisco, and today there are so very few of them left... We have to preserve them."
The Chronicle article gets the story mostly right, although the real estate speculator who wants to develop the property gets more deference than he deserves. Schrader originally wanted to entirely demolish the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage. Schrader's architect, Fabien Lannoye, is laughingly quoted saying that they have a "plan" to hire an "historical" architect for the project -- they have only had nine years to find the preservation architect that they should have hired at the beginning.
Schrader blames his troubles with this project on the claim that "San Francisco is just antidevelopment." He can't seem to acknowledge the fact that his troubles stem largely from his architect producing a whole series of unacceptable and unworkable plans -- like moving the Earthquake Shack Cottage to the rear of the property and building a monster house in front of it.
The Chronicle article incorrectly states that Schrader wants to raise the cottage "3 feet onto a pad." In fact, he wants to raise the cottage seven feet and make it the second story of a new living level. That would render the cottage unrecognizable as an earthquake shack. The City never built any two-story earthquake cottages.
UPDATE: May 5, 2023
Woody's Earthquake Shack presentation is online now on You Tube:
Check it out!
UPDATE: April 13, 2023
WOODY LaBOUNTY GIVES A SHOUT OUT TO THE
VALLEY STREET EARTHQUAKE SHACK COTTAGES
On Wednesday evening, April 12, a packed house at the 4-Star Theatre in the Richmond District heard renowned local historian Woody LaBounty give an illustrated talk on the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the Earthquake Shack Cottages built in the disaster's aftermath to house displaced workers and their families.
The event included a virtual tour of surviving Earthquake Shack Cottages, including photos of the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage. Woody also gave a shout out to our efforts to preserve the Valley Street cottage and make sure that it is not harmed by development plans for the property.
Woody used numerous historical photos and maps for his big-screen presentation. San Francisco built 5,600 cottages which housed over 16,000 refugees in various city parks. Only a few remain.
Woody, who grew up in the Richmond, has a great website - San Francisco Story - that is full of local "History and Tall Tales." The 4-Star Theatre is also a jewel that has been recently refurbished. It has a 140-seat auditorium on Clement and 23rd Streets.
UPDATE: April 9, 2023
SPECULATOR CLAIMS HE IS GOING TO LOSE
ONE MILLION DOLLARS OR MORE
"I am sure to lose close to $1 million, at least," claims John Schrader, the real estate speculator/developer who owns
369 Valley Street. That is what he told Noe Valley Voice reporter Matthew Bajko, as reported in the April issue of the neighborhood newspaper.
Schrader bought the Valley Street property for exactly $1 million in 2014. As stated in the Voice article, Schrader knew that he was buying a property built around an historic Earthquake Shack Cottage. He then hired a consultant to produce a bogus report that argued that the Earthquake Shack Cottage wasn't worth saving and should be demolished. Fortunately, the Planning Department staff said NO to the outright demolition of the historic home.
After the Planning Department staff told Schrader that he needed to preserve the Earthquake Shack Cottage, he tried out a series of schemes that went nowhere, including moving the Earthquake Shack Cottage to the back of the property where nobody could see it, and a so-called "Historic Preservation and Relocation Plan" that preservationists, including the renowned San Francisco Heritage, have blasted as thoroughly inadequate. In addition, all of the immediate neighbors of the property have expressed opposition to the way his building plans assault their air, light and privacy.
Schrader has been presented with an alternative building proposal and preservation plan, shepherded by preservation architect Michael Garavaglia, that would resolve all of the outstanding problems with Schrader's proposal, while allowing him to build a home of nearly the same size and configuration as his current plan.
But Schrader, like a gambler unable to walk away from the table and cut his losses, has rejected any alternative proposals, and instead is forging ahead with his own plan, continuing to throw good money after bad.
Mr. Schrader should think again. Instead of plowing ahead with a plan that he himself declares will lose him a cool million dollars, he should come to terms with the preservationists and the neighbors, and recognize that our alternative is the better deal for everybody. That way Schrader could leave Noe Valley and San Francisco with a relatively affordable and historically significant home for a Noe Valley family, which they and future generations of San Franciscans could enjoy.
UPDATE: March 23, 2023
QUENTIN KOPP WEIGHS IN
Former State Senator, Judge and San Francisco Supervisor Quentin Kopp has a monthly column in the Richmond Review, the Sunset Beacon and the Westside Observer. His March 2023 column includes the following:
"I'm pleased to report that San Francisco Heritage on January 25, 2023 conveyed a meritorious recommendation to our Planning Commission to preserve as historic 369 Valley Street (in Noe Valley), consisting of two 'Earthquake Shacks' configured as one cottage, to save it from development. I second the effort."
UPDATE: March 16, 2023
The project sponsor has once again postponed the variance hearing. It is now scheduled for Wednesday, April 26, 2023, at 9:30 AM. More soon...
UPDATE: March 14, 2023
A hearing about the Valley Street project is set for Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at 9:30 AM. Valley Street is first on the agenda. Please consider attending
this important meeting. It will be held in-person at City Hall in Room 408. There is no remote online or call-in option.
This hearing is technically about the developer's application for a variance to build into the normally-required rear yard area of this home, so that he can build a huge and hugely-expensive 3,731 square-foot single-family house. All of the adjacent neighbors are opposed to the granting of this proposed variance.
There is no good reason that this developer should get a variance if he cannot demonstrate that the Earthquake Shack Cottage won't be harmed in the process.
We hope to see you on March 22.
UPDATE: March 13, 2023
Prompted by community concerns about the deeply flawed preservation plan for the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage, the Planning Department staff asked the developer to make some modest changes to their "Historic Preservation and Relocation Plan."
The developer responded by producing a new preservation plan that is almost exactly the same as the old plan. About the only thing changed was the date. The developer basically ignored the Planning staff requests, as well as the community's ongoing concerns. It is unknown at this point how the Planning staff will react to this slap in their face.
All of the concerns listed below in our January 26, 2023 update remain unresolved.
Here is the letter that preservation architect Michael Garavaglia sent today to the Planning Department staff, once again critiquing the project sponsor's woeful preservation plan:
UPDATE: February 11, 2023
The NOE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL and SAN FRANCISCO TOMORROW
have joined the fight to preserve the Valley Street Earthquake Shack Cottage.
UPDATE: January 26, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO HERITAGE RAISES CONCERNS
ABOUT VALLEY STREET EARTHQUAKE SHACK PROJECT
San Francisco Heritage, the City's premier architectural preservation organization, sent a letter yesterday to Planning Department
staff stating that the plan for the preservation of the Valley Street Earthquake Shack cottage "does not address... national criteria for historic preservation and
"Preservation Architect Michael Garavaglia," continues the SF Heritage letter, "has outlined a number of concerns regarding the Valley Street Project Sponsor's April 2022 'Historic Preservation and Relocation Plan.' We believe that Mr. Garavaglia's comments and recommendations are reasonable and valid, including the suggestion that qualified professionals are included in this project."
Preservation architect Michael Garavaglia has highlighted several concerns, including:
The Planning Department staff promised over a month ago to respond to Mr. Garavaglia's concerns. To date, that response is not in evidence.
You can access San Francisco Heritage's website here.
UPDATE: December 6, 2022
Schrader's latest plan is still to attempt to move the two Earthquake Shacks at 369 Valley Street forward on the lot, raise
them 5 feet, and then set them down on a new structure. He wants to demolish everything behind the Earthquake Shacks, do extensive excavation into the bedrock on the site, and build a nearly-4,000
square foot monster home.
The "Historic Preservation and Relocation Plan" that the project sponsor has produced is far from adequate. More on that soon.
Meanwhile, Planning Department staff has rescinded the previous CEQA exemption they had issued. They say they want "to take a closer look at the proposed excavation."
The Planning Department staff has also decided that there is no need for a Conditional Use Authorization hearing, as the demolition of the structure behind the Earthquake Shacks doesn't count as a demolition because there supposedly weren't permits to build it in the first place.
They are talking about scheduling a variance hearing in February, but we will see.
UPDATE: Thursday, October 27, 2022
We have learned that the Planning Commission hearing, most recently set for November 17, has been postponed again. We do not at this point know when the
hearing will happen. We said last week that this project was not really ready for a hearing yet, and apparently we were right.
As far as we know, John Schrader of Nova Designs Builds still wants to move the two Earthquake Shacks at 369 Valley Street up off the ground, and then plop them down on top of some new structure farther north on the lot. This is the same speculator who back in 2014 claimed that there was only one Earthquake Shack on the property, and that it wasn't worth saving. Whether or not the Earthquake Shacks would even survive Schrader's tender loving care is an open question. But there is no question that this plan would destroy the visual integrity of these two Earthquake Shacks.
Please click here to see "Cottage Lady" Jane Cryan's heartfelt letter in support of the preservation of these Earthquake Shacks.
What exactly is going to happen next remains veiled in confusion. Schrader has a plan for a monster single-family house on the table, as well as a "conceptual" proposal for a two-unit building with monster units. The hearing might be a Conditional Use Authorization (CUA) hearing because of the amount of demolition he wants to do, or it might not, depending upon still-unclear calculations. Schrader will definitely need a variance because he wants to build deep into the rear yard area. There is no up-to-date geotechnical study to support the amount of excavation he wants to do.
Please check the website for updates. We will let you know what we know when we know it.
WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT?
John Schrader of Nova Designs and Builds bought the home at 369 Valley Street in 2014.
The front part of this home is two Earthquake Shacks, one of the few survivors of its kind. It is a living example of the resolve of San Franciscans to persevere under extreme adversity. It is officially listed as an Historic Resource by the Planning Department.
Schrader wanted to demolish both of these Earthquake Shacks in order to build a 5,000 square foot monster house. Fortunately, the Planning Department, under serious community pressure, told Shrader in 2015 that he did not have the right to demolish the Earthquake Shacks.
Next, Schrader asked for permission to move the shacks to the rear of the property, behind a planned monster house, where they would be out-of-sight and out-of-mind. It is questionable whether or not the shacks would have even survived this move. The Planning Department once again turned Schrader down.
Schrader's next proposal was to demolish one of the Earthquake Shacks, move the other shack to the front of the property, and put it up on a "one story pedestal." And, of course, build a monster house on the rest of the property. The Planning Department turned him down again.
In 2017, Schrader came up with a new proposal. He wants to put the two Earthquake Shacks up on some kind of pedestal, and turn them into a 1st floor "office" over a to-be-constructed "laundry, mechanical and storage basement" of unclear height. Would the Earthquake Shacks even survive this reconstruction by a real estate speculator who has repeatedly demonstrated his utter disregard for their value to the history and people of San Francisco?
Of course, Schrader's real plan is to stuff a new, 4,000 square foot monster house in the rear of the property, behind the Earthquake Shacks. Shrader has applied for a variance in order to build in the normally-required rear-yard open space. The proposed monster house would reframe and overpower the view of the Earthquake Shacks from Valley Street, rising above them in the rear like, well, a monster. It would also reframe and overpower the rear yards of neighbors on Valley Street and 29th Street.
Schrader laughingly claims in his variance request that his proposed project is "minimal in scale." He waxes poetic about the need for "a real single family residence, which is much needed in this City." As if what San Francisco and Noe Valley need is another 4,000 square foot monster house for some incredibly rich "family."
The truth is that Shrader is just another real estate speculator trying to make a few million by trampling on San Francisco's history and
We have not heard much of anything from Schrader since he made his 2017 proposal.
Now, as reported above, the project has resurfaced and there is a Planning Commission hearing in the works for November 17, 2022. Please stay tuned.
FROM 369 VALLEY STREET NEIGHBORS:
In early October, 2017, all of the neighbors surrounding 369 Valley Street sent a letter to the Planning Department opposing Schrader's latest plans. The letter, which follows, sums up the situation very well:
We, the immediate neighbors of the two Earthquake Shacks and the proposed building project at 369 Valley Street, are strenuously opposed to the variance requested by Mr. John Schrader and the building plans that Mr. Schrader’s company, Nova Designs and Builds, has submitted along with this variance request.
The requested variance and the plans would substantially and negatively impact the privacy and sunlight of the neighbors on all sides of this property.
We support the preservation of the two Earthquake Shacks on this property. They are an important Historic Resource and a living example of the resolve of San Franciscans to persevere under extreme adversity. They are a part of our neighborhood and of San Francisco history.
Mr. Schrader, however, is attempting to pit the privacy and sunlight of the neighbors against the preservation of the Earthquake Shacks. This is not acceptable. Both the Earthquake Shacks and the livability of the neighborhood can be preserved with an appropriate building plan.
We believe that if it is Mr. Schrader’s intention to demolish the structure to the rear of the Earthquake Shacks, then there should be no new building in the required rear yard area of this lot. We feel strongly that the rear yard building code for RH-2 zones should be enforced to protect privacy and sunlight of adjacent neighbors that have not exceeded code requirements.
Further, we believe that Mr. Schrader should not be allowed to increase the height of the home on this property above its current height. Any attempt to build higher in the rear would overpower the setting and view of the Earthquake Shacks. We agree with the findings of the Planning Department’s Historic Resource Evaluation Response of May 29, 2015, that:
“…the distinctive characteristics of Earthquake Shacks, including their unique size, scale, and dimensions, are still identifiable in the subject property… 369 Valley retains a strong sense of feeling as it still retains the aesthetic of a very small-scale cottage that has been fabricated from two Earthquake Shacks. The dramatic shift in scale in relationship to the surrounding neighborhood is what sets apart the subject property from the neighbors and it is this aesthetic that hints at its unique history… Although the rear addition does not contribute to the significance of 369 Valley Street, it does not detract from the character as it is relegated to the rear of the subject property and is largely invisible from the public right-of-way.”
We also do not believe that Nova Designs and Builds should be allowed to attempt to raise the Earthquake Shacks up on some kind of pedestal. We are concerned that Mr. Schrader’s demonstrated contemptuous attitude toward the importance of this Historic Resource might lead to an “accident” during construction that would imperil the integrity of the Earthquake Shacks.
Mr. Schrader knew full well when he bought this property that he was buying an Historic Resource that needed to be preserved. Any improvements made to the property should respect the historic resource and should be built without variance to code that negatively impacts the property’s immediate neighbors. Mr. Schrader’s misguided and miscalculated business decisions should not be used as an excuse to so negatively impact the neighborhood and the people of San Francisco.
We respectfully ask the Planning Department to disallow the current owner’s requested variance and proposed building plan.
MORE MESSAGES FROM SAVE THE SHACK SUPPORTERS:
NOE VALLEY VOICE ARTICLES:
John Schrader, the real estate speculator who bought the home at 369 Valley Street, posted a rambling, disingenuous message on Nextdoor on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. Click here to read more.