Mt Sutro Forest: Nibbling at the Western Edge with Kirkham Heights Project? [UPDATE: Project Withdrawn]

[Edited to Add: UPDATE – The project is off. The owner, Westlake, thinks its a low priority especially since the site is situated on a hillside that’s in an “earthquake-induced landslide zones,” meaning areas with a high probability of slope failure.” It has withdrawn its application to the Planning Commission.

(We should mention that UCSF’s Sutro Forest Plan is also being implement on “earthquake-induced landslide zones.”)

Click here for a Report in the Richmond Review : “Along with the sheer size of the project, another complication was the location, which is nestled up against hills on three sides that are designated by the California Geological Survey as “earthquake-induced landslide zones,” meaning areas with a high probability of slope failure, which could produce landslides during an earthquake.

“There were numerous challenges, but we just decided not to move forward,” Bak [Of Westlake] said. “We have a bunch of projects. We have to prioritize our re- sources.”]


A neighbor alerted us to a new project planned for Kirkham Heights, on the Western edge of Mount Sutro Forest. Here, a few acres of the forest are privately owned as part of a lot which has eleven  buildings (with 86 rental apartments) on it.

The owner of the property wants to demolish the existing structures, excavate the very steep lot to make it more level, and build six large buildings with 445 units instead of 11 smaller ones with a total of 86 units.

Here are the maps from the Initial Study document.

This map shows where Kirkham Heights is relative to the forest.

Our concern is, will this process destroy part of the forest?  The description suggests that about an acre out of around three might be swallowed up, but it’s also not clear whether the remaining acreage might be all but destroyed anyway. The projected new development is shown below, but we can’t help thinking it’s overly optimistic. If the site is being excavated, a lot of the forest behind Buildings 4 and 5 will be destroyed in the process of construction if nothing else.

In any case, it’s so steep that excavation of the hillside could destabilize forest areas upslope.  This mountain has had landslides before, and there are springs and seeps on its slopes.

There is certainly going to be considerable disturbance to the area. San Francisco’s Planning Department has decided an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be needed, and the Scoping Meeting for that is scheduled for March 30.


The project description, take from the SF Planning’s EIR, outlines a rather major change.


San Francisco’s Planning Department will hold a Public Scoping Meeting for the EIR on Thursday March 30, 2017 at 6.30 p.m. at the San Francisco County Fair Building (1199 9th Avenue). The Public Scoping meeting  is to ask Planning to use the EIR to investigate and analyze specific issues and details.

It is not to argue for or against the proposed development, but rather point to areas which have been inadequately or inaccurately stated in the recently published Initial Study. You can read that here: 1530 5th Avenue NOP_IS_Published

(It can be found on the Planning website under 1530 – 5th Avenue Kirkham project,  NOP/Initial Study, 1530 5th Avenue Project, Planning Department Case No. 2014.1584ENV but wwe downloaded it and attached it here for convenience.)

You can attend this and comment. If you would rather comment in writing, they will accept comments until 5 p.m. on April 8th, 2017. You can email or mail her at Lisa M Gibson, SF Planning Department, 1650 Mission St, Suite 400, SF, CA 94103. You can review reference materials onsite with an appointment (call 415-575-9127)

The SF Planning Department’s full circular is here: kirkham heights Sutro Forest


We received a message from the Mount Sutro Kirkham Heights Neighbors (MSKHN) outlining their plans and concerns:

“There are many errors, misleading statements and areas glossed over in the Initial Study.

“The Mount Sutro Kirkham Heights Neighbors (MSKHN) plans to ask for analyses of numerous aspects of the proposed development, which we have studied for about 2 years.  Further, MSKHN intend to propose alternative designs for the site.

“With regard to Forested and landscaped areas, we seek to preserve as much as possible of such areas.  The parcel is 6.12 acres, or 266,768 sq. ft., 86.2% of which the developer intends to excavate.  That would be 5.28 acres out of 6.12 acres.  The existing parcel with 11 buildings, also owned for 40 years by the owner/developer, remains 63% (3.87 acres) forested and landscaped, and all  the buildings are enveloped in greenery and trees.  The proposed project eliminates all of the greenery among and between the buildings, by replacing the 11 small buildings with 5 huge buildings and 8 townhouses, with trees planted in holes in the concrete sidewalks along side the roadways.

“We seek to retain as much of that as possible through alternative designs for the parcel, since it is highly unlikely that the Planning Dept. will choose to halt the destruction of the 86 rent controlled units, and oppose the project.  We also seek to reduce the size of the project, and thereby minimize the overall excavation and reshaping of the steep Northwest Slope of Mt. Sutro, and minimize the chance of future landslides and increased storm runoff.

“As for  the housing aspect, we seek a high level of affordability, increased family friendly units, increased recreation/playgrouond area, a modest increase in density, a strong development agreement for the tenants to protect their rights and replacement rent control units since the developer proposes to demolish the 86 rent controlled units.

“There are many more aspects to this project which are frankly just awful, such as the reconfiguring of 5th Avenue into a rectilinear single outlet in and out, without a turnaround for delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, ride services, emergency vehicles and the residents.”

We’re concerned. We hope the project can be done to add housing without destroying even more of Mount Sutro Forest than UCSF already plans.


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1 Response to Mt Sutro Forest: Nibbling at the Western Edge with Kirkham Heights Project? [UPDATE: Project Withdrawn]

  1. takebackthegreen says:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    My skin crawls whenever I read the inevitable ocean of entitled and selfish demands that neighbors to any development in San Francisco unleash upon the process. The extreme amount of influence neighbors have over the planning process in San Francisco is one reason we have some of the most unimaginative, boring, repetitive architecture of any major city in the world. It is a shameful situation for which we have only our own committee- and fear-driven selves to blame. And let’s not forget the buffoonery of considering ourselves smarter than the architects, engineers, and other construction professionals who plan and oversee these developments.

    I hate to see a worthy cause–protecting the Eucalypts of Mt. Sutro–attach its wagon to an indefensible, predictable attack on planned development that increases the housing stock in San Francisco. And, for the record, I have three times over the past two years, sent letters of unequivocal support to planned developments in my own neighborhood, so my money has definitely been put where my mouth is.

    [Webmaster: We sympathize and agree with the need for more housing. In this particular case, SaveSutro’s concerns are two-fold: The destruction of yet more of the forest, which has seen so much tree-felling in the past few years, and will see even more going forward; and slope stability. While expert opinion is undoubtedly necessary, we have see with such projects as the Bay Bridge and with San Francisco’s Millennium Tower and the Oroville Dam Spillway that they are far from infallible. This mountain has a history of instability, and the trees help to stabilize it. We would be interested in modifications to the plan that do not cost us trees, and that do not undermine the slope.]

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