Real Estate

Now you see it, soon you won’t

Your views aren’t protected in San Francisco

When Steve and Cherrie Badolato bought their Marina District condominium 11 years ago, they paid a premium for views of the San Francisco Bay, Tiburon, and Angel Island. They also considered the views an investment should they wish to sell the property down the road. What they didn’t realize was that those valuable views could be taken away at a moment’s notice because San Francisco has no view rights.

For 88 years, the top floor condos at 3734 Broderick Street have peacefully coexisted with the home in front of them located at 685 Marina Boulevard, which is the former Kilroy residence (if that name sounds familiar, Kilroy Realty is the developer seeking to tear down the historic SoMa Flower Mart and replace it with a 27-story tech office complex). On July 2, 2015, Mark Dempster, a former partner at venture firm Sequoia Capital and current chief counsel for Founders’ Consigliere, and his wife, Kim, purchased the house for just over $7 million. On July 13, the couple sent neighbors a Notice of Pre-Application Meeting to discuss proposed changes to their roof-line, required because the project, led by Stephen Sutro of Sutro Architects, includes a vertical addition over 7 feet and a deck over 10 feet above grade or within the required rear yard. The existing height of the building is 58 feet; the new owners are proposing an increase to 64 feet (the maximum permitted) as well as a five-foot extension off the back of the home.

At the meeting, held on July 27 at 685 Marina Boulevard, the Badolatos voiced their concerns over the plans. “Their views are unobstructed from the front of their home,” Steve Badolato points out. “Ours is much less, but it’s just as important to us.” Badolato says he and his wife were shocked to see Sutro’s drawings. “Along with raising the deck level by a foot and extending the back of the house, they want to take down the existing stairwell hut and build a tower that will completely block our views.”

On Oct. 18, Badolato met with City Planner Chris May. “He suggested maybe the Dempsters could slant and follow the old roof lines opening a partial view,” Badolato says. “Cherrie suggested perhaps a glass skylight that would not only preserve some of our views but also be beautiful.” Badolato purchased a copy of the plans and presented them to the Dempsters at an Oct. 26 meeting held at Sutro’s office. “Stephen Sutro said he would get back to us in two weeks,” Badolato says, “but no contact was ever made.” The next day, the Badolatos received a note from the Dempsters stating that the Planning Department had approved the plans as-is.

The Badolatos received a copy of the building permit application from the Planning Department on Dec. 19 earmarking details of the plan and their options, such as filing a discretionary review, the authority of the Planning Commission to review projects and take action if the plans “impact nearby properties or occupants.” Unfortunately for the Badolatos, views are not protected by San Francisco code unless they are public and from a public location (scenic vistas, open spaces, rights-of-way), so it’s unlikely a discretionary review will stop the Dempsters from moving forward.

Some 25 years ago, the Badolatos built a large home in Laguna Beach, Calif., with unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, utilizing a glass roofline skylight. In Laguna Beach, views are protected. In the late 19th century the California Supreme Court ruled (Kennedy v. Burnap) that there was no inherent property right to a view or passage of natural light, but a few cities in California besides Laguna Beach have passed view ordinances. The city of Rancho Palos Verdes allows homeowners to apply for a “view restoration permit” from the city, which, if granted, gives the view-challenged claimant the right to trim or remove a neighbor’s trees at their own expense. In the Bay Area, the town of Tiburon passed an ordinance prohibiting landowners from planting or maintaining trees that “unreasonably” obstruct the view or sunlight from another person’s property. Other Bay Area cities with some form of view rights legislation include Albany, Atherton, Belvedere, Berkeley, Carmel, Fairfax, Hayward, Hillsborough, Lafayette, Livermore, Los Altos, Napa, Oakland, Orinda, Piedmont, Ross, San Anselmo, Santa Clara, Sausalito, and Walnut Creek. Conspicuously absent from that list is San Francisco — famous for some of the most breathtaking (and expensive) views in the world — which has no view- or light-protection ordinances.

I reached out to Mark Dempster via e-mail for this article and he quickly replied, “Hi Susan. Delighted to speak with you.” Dempster offered dates and times that worked for him and I selected Dec. 2 at 2 p.m., but Dempster never responded. I reached out again on Jan. 16, but as of press time he still hadn’t responded.

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