To view graphic version of this page, refresh this page (F5)

Skip to page body
Seal of the City and County of San Francisco
City and County of San Francisco

June 17, 2009 Special Meeting

June 17, 2009 Special Meeting

San Francisco

Historic Preservation Commission

Meeting Minutes

Commission Chambers – Room 400

City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2:00 P.M.

Special Meeting

COMMISSIONERS PRESENT: Damkroger, Hasz, Martinez


STAFF IN ATTENDANCE: Tina Tam – Preservation Coordinator, Rosemary Dudley, Matt Weintraub, AnMarie Rodgers, and Linda Avery – Commission Secretary



Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan and (A. Rodgers: 415/558-6395)

Historic Resource Survey - On June 3, 2009, at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Commission, Vice President Courtney Damkroger formed an ad hoc committee of the Commission to hear an informational presentation on the Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan and Historic Resource Survey and make recommendations of the Committee to the Planning Commission. This presentation is the second regarding the Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan (BNP) and the Historic Resource Survey (presented on June 3). The presentation will provide an overview of the plan's overarching goals to secure Japantown and how the land use and built form recommendations are in keeping with these goals, the community heritage recommendations, and the survey findings. Staff will be available to respond to questions from the Committee about the draft plan and the survey materials presented at the June 3 hearing including the: Historic Context Statement; Physical Heritage Report; Traditional Cultural Property Evaluation Report; 504 Primary Records (DPR 523A forms); 16 DPR Building, Structure, & Object Records (DPR 523B forms); District Record (DPR 523D form); and Survey Findings Report.

Preliminary Recommendation: Make recommendation(s) of the Committee to the Planning Commission.


Commissioner Damkroger:opened the hearing with these comments. There was a delay starting this part of the meeting and I've asked staff to condense the presentation. This is a committee of the Commission. The committee can not speak on behalf of the entire Commission. We can make and send our comments to the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), but can not represent the HPC in full.

Public Comments


Steve Nakajo – Executive Director of Kimochi Senior Center

Bernie Choden – Represent San Francisco Tomorrow, Coalitions of Neighborhoods

Rosalyn Tonai – Executive Director of the National Japanese American Historic Society

Paul Osaki – Executive Director of the Japanese Cultural Community Center at Northern California

Hiroshi Fakuda – from the Steering Committee

Karen Kai – Member of the Japan Town Plan Preservation Working Group

Courtney Okahara

Commissioners with the Public

Commissioner Martinez: He asked Osaki about his reservation and to elaborate his concerns regarding the Plan.


I'm concerned about the recommended building height and what that means to the built environment of the community. It means some buildings are coming down in Japan Center as well as other properties that are in the community. When the economy turns, properties can be developed with new height limits.

There is a need to look at Japan Town not only from a historical perspective but as well as their responsibility and obligation to preserve it for future generations.

The EIR asks them to look at shadows, wind and traffic. It is not covering cultural and tangible aspects that the community is trying to preserve.

When the parking lot is lost for 2 – 3 years, small businesses would not be able to come back because they won't be able to afford to come back. Even businesses that remain would be impacted if that many would be closed.

I fear the preservation aspect would be left to the community with no integration with the planning process other than that the community would take it on later.

Would Japan Town become a gentrified community after things are said and done?

The Community Based Organization (CBO) does not exist and it is not funded. If the CBO does not become a reality, preservation implementation measures can not move forward. There may not be a lot of preservation to deal with later if everything is gone.

The Japanese community has been working on preservation issues for the last decade. It was hoped the plan had an integral preservation component, but it does not contain one. (Commissioner Martinez stated that there isn't an integral preservation plan. It's a series of possible recommendations to be implemented by the CBO.)

Property owners are really not aware of what potential landmarking can do. They haven't been as well engaged in the planning process. There is a need for more education on that subject.

I am really interested in looking at local cultural heritage area designation for San Francisco. This designation does not exist yet, but San Francisco really needs to look at how it could preserve its cultural and ethnic neighborhood beyond just the built form. It could be an important step to build into this planning process that creates movement towards the adoption of legislation in San Francisco.

What a local cultural heritage area can do is use the resources within a community to help improve preservation and cultural tourism. A greater percentage of revenue sources, such as hotel tax or parking, can come back to the community to enhance festival and cultural preservation efforts. (Commissioner Martinez suggested that some research be done on the possibility of a local cultural heritage area designation.)

I think it is difficult for Japan Town in and of itself to be eligible as a National Heritage Area.

Commissioner Damkroger: Asked Katlin why she stopped short of making the B Form a case for Criterion G that qualifies Japan Center as a National Register. She could make an argument for exceptional significance.


The B form goes in depth on Japan Center significance, but the context around it needed to be defined a little more in-order to say that criterion G is definitely in play. There is Buchannan Mall on Post Street, an interplay of redevelopment sites around Japan Town, especially where A1 and A2 meets.

It would take more research and analysis for B forms on redevelopment properties.

Commissioner Martinez: Asked a public member about the realistic possibility for a community based organization and would it need funding from the city?

Speaker [name was not clear]:

The existing organization that could possibly initiate the process of implementation is the Japan Town Task Force. It has a broad based group of stakeholder in the community.

Currently it gets funding. It needs to have a counterpart of staff to work with. Nothing gets implemented without staff support in planning and implementation.

The issue of the seismic safety of the parking structure and the building membrane itself is really critical. There are safety issues here.

Dialogue with Staff

Commissioner Damkroger:
It seems to me that makes a lot of sense. I felt like it was very close to making Japan Center eligible for National Register as a property that has exceptional importance. If you were to call out the fact that it is clearly eligible for the National Register, it would in some way turn this plan on its head. It makes the crux of the plan – the Japan Town Center a valuable resource. This plan basically gives away Japan Center and that's much of what the development seems to be based on. That's where I see the biggest rub. It seems to me the plan evaluation should be finished before the plan gets ......

Matt Weintraub: If I could address that comment. In terms of what would be required to do a full evaluation of the Japan Town Center – a context statement for nationwide urban renewal essentially has to be completed before we understand how Japan Town Center fits into the nation wide context. That information is not available. I don't think that's even - no one actually scoped out what it would take to do a nation wide context, & a federally funded nation wide project as well as its local permutation in major cities as well as permutation within San Francisco. The context statement that was done for this neighborhood plan focused on the development of the cultural community of Japan Town. We came up with very solid findings in terms of properties related to the cultural community. This was the property that has some relation to the cultural community, but its primary context is something that wasn't studied in this plan. I think it is preliminary at this point to say it is or is not significant in regard to needing a urban renewal context that certainly could provide all the background we would need to make that determination. However it is unrealistic to expect that someone could do it for this level of endeavor in creating this plan. I think enough has been written in redevelopment history that I suspect you can make an argument given existing research. You can make a strong argument about whether you think it merits that meeting criterion G or not. I don't disagree that additional work would need to be done. You have to look at the National Register bulletin in how you have to make an argument under criterion G. What you have to do in this case would be to make an argument of exceptional significance and you would need other properties, by the architect if you are going to make that argument. The redevelopment argument is the strongest one. In any case, that's the big nugget for me. One thing I failed to do was mention that we did have comment in the form of letters form John McGreys (?) and Vanessa Truch(?). They both provided letters to the committee regarding concerns about endorsing the plan at this point.

Commissioner Martinez: The whole formal idea about if you ought to have a street wall of a certain type given this street with a certain width: Was there an alternative to narrowing Geary Boulevard so that instead of making buildings taller you actually just make the street narrower? Is there going to be a train down Geary at some point?

Rosemary Dudley: We've been coordinating with the Transportation Authority as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Agency on the Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project. They are still underway looking at a number of alternatives through the Geary Boulevard redesign that would put in two dedicated bus lanes down Geary. Currently they are in the environmental analysis scoping phase and still are looking at some alternatives that would bring all traffic up at grade level and getting rid of the underpass that cuts through the two neighborhoods.

Commissioner Martinez: Have they looked at an alternative that actually normalizes the width?

Rosemary Dudley: I don't believe they would be loosing overall travel lanes, but all the alternatives would enhance the pedestrian environment, meaning widening side walks and pedestrian refuges throughout the width as Geary cuts through Japan Town, roughly 160 – 170 feet in width, depending on the block. There is a real concern that the street grade crossings need to be enhanced. There are a number of major intersections where they don't exist at all and they've been asked to look at those alternatives.

Commissioner Martinez: None of the alternatives would yield more building area?

Rosemary Dudley: No.

Commissioner Martinez: That might be an alternative to making buildings higher, to making the street narrower...... Part of the fall out of this whole redevelopment thing is that when you have – architects love to do big projects – so when you have this big project it all fails at the same time. And in the future we should think about what's going to happen here so it doesn't happen again. If we replace one big project by another big project that means in 50 years you have another big project you have to replace at one time. It's really not the way I think to do this. I'd like to have some more information about the structure. So there was this determination that if you mess around with the top at all, the garage has to be done? Was that because of structural consideration or code considerations? In other words, was it triggered by something in the Building Code or just because it really needs it? Can you make that distinction?

Rosemary Dudley: What the report did articulate was the way it was constructed, the same amount of attention to lateral support wasn't done. Basically the entire column support would need to be drastically strengthened. The lateral support in the form of shear walls are basically being used with the buildings above right now. The buildings are solid walls and there are very few openings, especially on Geary. From what I gathered from that report and then the caveat from the structural engineer is that any sort of cosmetic change that would even begin to alter the face of the buildings would be taken away from the shear wall support that exists today.

Commissioner Martinez: If the shear walls are at the perimeter of the garage, I don't see how that would affect the garage?

Rosemary Dudley: The perimeter of the entire wall.

Commissioner Martinez: I know the mall perimeter is on the garage perimeter, so I don't see how an alteration – I guess unless you'd be doing a concentrated load. I suspect there would be more nuances than the way you stated it. The product presentation from the structural engineer is hard to say there is solution. And in between yes, we have to mess with the garage, but you don't necessarily have to replace it.

Rosemary Dudley: The consultant who performed our feasibility analysis are going to be present tomorrow at the Planning Commission to talk about how they move forward with information from the structural engineer.

Commissioner Martinez: I think that's all my questions. I guess I'm ready for my comments.

Commissioner Damkroger: One more question for Matt. I was interested in why there wasn't a potential historic district identified in the community heritage section. The potential historic district within the survey material: why didn't it include more resources?

Matt Weintraub: The district evaluation that was done came to similar conclusions of the Japan Center evaluation in the way the district was looking at the social and cultural history of the community. There needs to be very solid documentation of what use the physical area of significance is and for this particular type of historic district we felt that was additional work that needed to be done in order to identify how the social and cultural histories occur. Particularly in terms of things like important aspect of the social and cultural related to property ownership or the inability to own property at certain times in history, leases that were able to procure and properties that were dispossessed and then repossessed. So there were spatial patterns that needed to be looked at. There was also the need to have census research done into the actual residential patterns and movement of Japanese Americans over time to understand what could be the actual boundaries of the historic and culture district. Where do we draw the boundaries around the area and say this is the area that represents versus this is the area that doesn't represent. There also needs to be much more work done in terms of identifying all the individual properties and how they are related through history to the community. That work has been started by the consultants. They have done an incredible amount of work. The fact is there needs to be more work done. Having not come to a conclusion about a historic district, there is no historic district to recommend within the plan. That is why it doesn't appear in the plan in terms of the boundary that was identified to do the district study, but we looked at the areas. [Pointing to a map]: this area seems to contain the highest concentration of properties that we know historically associated with the community. We studied this area. If you read carefully through the district documentation, it does acknowledge that borders do need to be further identified – that it could be something much smaller, that it could be much larger. All of this does need to involve the community. It's still currently exists in the location that any further work on the historic district, developing social and cultural districts, should involve the cultural community for which this work is being done.

Commissioners' Comments

Commissioner Damkroger:

· It looks to me as though the Japan Center is probably eligible for the National Register under Criterion G–exceptional importance for properties less than 50 years old. The plan hinges on the redevelopment of the Japan Center yet there is no determination of its historic/cultural significance. If it were determined eligible for the National Register it could turn the plan on its head. I do not think this plan should move forward without making that determination definitively. Money should be invested now to determine whether the Japan Center meets Criterion G of the National Register before moving forward.

· With regard to the survey, I think the 1960 cutoff for the period of significance is too early and should include the Redevelopment period which goes into the 1980s.

· On page 90 of the Plan, it calls Lawrence Halprin  Larry and he should be referred to as Lawrence.

· There was at least one DPR, 1745 Buchannan, in the DPR B forms that in the significance discussion states that it is less than 50 years old, but it is actually 50 years old. Other B forms should be checked.

· I would like to have seen some discussion around a district including more of the buildings that were identified through the survey, and the context, mapped out as a potential larger historic district.

· With regards to the Plan, I do have a concern about the proposed heights and the impacts on the neighborhood, but I'm not sure I fully understand yet how the heights impact the area.

· I felt that the Community Heritage chapter did not incorporate enough information from the survey. It does incorporate material from the context statement, but it could have included more information about potential historic districts and local landmarking.

· I also believe that there is the opportunity for some kind of creative approach that looks at traditional cultural properties and historic districts and individual land marks and with a lot of community input together come up with how you could handle those resources in a way that recognizes and protects them and makes them available for all of us to understand and to use.

Commissioner Martinez: Maybe pursue that as a local cultural heritage area?

Commissioner Damkroger:

· Yes, that could be &

· With regard to the national heritage area, while I think that is a really interesting idea and I like the range of ways in which it could be done that were included in the Plan, it is naive to think that a new subcommittee could take on a national heritage area study because it takes years to accomplish national heritage areas. There are 49 in the country, seven in the west and most of them are newer national heritage areas. It is a tremendous undertaking to put together a national heritage area.

· The information on page 27 about easements I think is incorrect. There is not a standard 10% income tax deduction for the donation of an easement. It is calculated on the taxpayer's contribution base and the value of the property. It should also say in the Plan that if you are donating an easement, it is a permanent donation. If you are doing it for tax purposes, the building should be listed in the National Register and the façade easement is donated in perpetuity, forever. It is a major commitment.

· I think there should also be information in this section about the standard incentives that are available here – the Mills Act and so forth.

· In the Community Heritage section, I wanted to see more emphasis on cultural heritage and the ways in which festivals, use patterns, pedestrian routes, informal areas of interchange and exchange enlivened Japantown in the past and the present.

Commissioner Martinez: But I think we should say we strongly endorse the process.

Commissioner Damkroger:

· Yes. Kudos to the Planning staff and all the people in the community who spent their time on the process.

· I am concerned about the Japan Center. I think there should be additional study done in order to make that determination because so much of the Plan hinges on Japan Center.

Commissioner Martinez:

· I agree with everything you've said so far and I would like to add that there is a real conflict in the Plan between other proposed zoning controls and the goals of cultural preservation. It seems to me that if you're building that number of housing units it's going to have a negative social and cultural impact on the community- Also, there is no way that replacing Japan Center at one time is not going to almost destroy the community. It is going to destroy those businesses. It's unrealistic to think that it wouldn't. I think possibly you could look at replacing it piecemeal over a long period of time. One section every ten years, or something like that. I think there really needs to be a study for replacement that doesn't repeat the mistake of building a big project needing to be replaced all at once. If anything new is allowed to be built there, it has to be built in sections so that can be replaced one section at a time. It perhaps should be three or four projects; or four or five projects, not one project.

· But I think more to the point, what's really missing is an analysis of what it would take to retrofit the existing building as a work of historic importance. There is no preservation alternative for how to treat that historic structure, & how to make it work better for the community, how to phase a rehabilitation – and do improvement of the Center. That is just a huge element missing from the Plan: a preservation alternative– that looks at a more small scaled, incremental approach to improving Japan Center.

· I also think that it is unrealistic to think that the CBO is going to succeed without ongoing city support, both in terms of direct financial and in terms of support from City Planning staff. I think it is essential for the historic and cultural preservation goals of the plan to succeed that there be ongoing education of the community in terms of what these different possibilities in historic designations would mean to the business and home owners. They are not used to dealing with the Planning Department because they have been in a Redevelopment Area and they have got to be educated in this whole process and I don't think that is going to happen without city support.

· I don't think cosmetic changes to the plazas bring people and life. I think there has to be a more holistic approach. The Peace plaza has been redesigned so many times with so little affect that I don't think changing the furniture makes that much difference. I think the reasons that the plazas don't work so well go deeper than aesthetics.

· I would emphasize that I think that it is critical that the community take control and stay in control of this process and that only the historic designations that are moved forward are the ones that the community feels comfortable with.

· There should be a study of an alternative to raising the height limits along Geary- that is, there should be a study for narrowing Geary and creating more horizontal building space to bring it back to the original street grid - this an alternative to raising the height limits. It would be based on the goal of reducing car traffic by improving public transportation. The point would be to create space to extend the Japan Center to the South at least the width of the side roadway (is this roadway even used?). This new Southern section could be higher than the existing Center, but not hundreds of feet tall.

HPC Committee Recommendationto the Planning Commission is that the Planning Commission not endorse the Plan yet. While endorsement is not adoption, it is a strong indication of support. We would like to see the Planning Commission have a greater understanding of what is included in the survey and that there is stronger community support before endorsing the Plan. We strongly endorse the process and acknowledge Planning staff and all the people in the community who spent their time on the process.

Commissioner Damkroger: I'd like for the comments to be conveyed to the Planning Commission. Do you think the staff could take a first crack at doing a list of the comments point by point?. I can go over it with you to patch anything that we want. Would that be agreeable? I know there is a meeting tomorrow. It seems unlikely that would be possible, but for the June 25th meeting.

Commission Martinez: Is there a designated time for this tomorrow?

Commission Secretary Avery: I will listen to the tape and kind of list the concerns you have expressed today. I'll try to e-mail it to you tonight.

Adjournment: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­5:11 P.M.

The minutes was proposed for adoption at the Regular Meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday, September 2, 2009.


ACTION: Approved

AYES: Hasz, Chase, Damkroger, Hasz, Martinez, Madsuda, Wolfram

ABSENT: Buckley

Last updated: 11/17/2009 10:00:55 PM