Housing Activism, SF Nimbyism and The Telegraph Hill Dwellers

I first heard about the Telegraph Hill Dwellers back in the summer of 2012, two months after I moved to San Francisco to Seattle. Their organization kept popping up in the newspaper, social media, and airwaves all concerning Prop B.

Being new to the City I had not a chance to learn the SF political landscape. Nimby was a “new term” I never heard before being from Seattle.

Little did I understand at the time most Telegraph Hill Dwellers have a gym membership at The Bay Club and they take their kids to the local outdoor swimming pool across from the Gateway at Drumm and Washington the location of the proposed site of 8 Washington.

8 Washington

The rest as we know is history.

The History of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers

Founded in 1954, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD) is one of the oldest, largest, and most widely feared neighborhood organizations in the nation.

Among the proud Nimby accomplishments of THD are the following:

  • Restoration and increased protections for Coit Tower, its historic murals and Pioneer Park, following years of decay and neglect.
  • Bullying and imposing height limits on adjacent neighbor dwellers to preserve the view from the street level at the base of Pioneer Park. Check out the lawsuit for the 20-year vacant lot 115 Telegraph Blvd is involved in that was legitimately approved by the SF Planning Commission and the SF Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s wife Nancy far left and the current President Stan Hayes of the THD to the right.

The next hearing will be in May with a final judgment.

115 Telegraph Blvd Development
Comments from the Socket Site article noted above.
  • Nimby Enactment of the 40′ height limit on the south (downtown) side of Telegraph Hill, following a developer’s proposal in 1956 to build an eleven-story apartment house near the corner of Montgomery and Union. Soon thereafter, this 40′ foot height limit was extended north to the Embarcadero, to prevent construction of waterfront complexes similar to the Fontana Apartments near Aquatic Park.
  • Enactment of historic district legislation for both Telegraph Hill and the Northeast Waterfront, in the former case going far to preserve the largest concentration of pre-Earthquake residential dwellings in San Francisco.
  • Enactment of the North Beach Commercial District, designed to preserve North Beach’s special nature and stem the proliferation of banks and other commercial uses threatening to alter permanently the businesses in North Beach.

Here is their anti-Yimby Mantra: Imagine! — North Beach and Telegraph Hill littered with high-rises, surrounded by a freeway, hardly green at all, its historic dwellings gone or diminished, and not vibrant, colorful, and distinct communities but merely suburban extensions of downtown.

It’s painful and perhaps difficult to imagine that the special places called Telegraph Hill and North Beach that we love today could be any other way. Thanks to the continued strong support of THD (Nimby) members and (Nimby) dedicated volunteers, we don’t have to.

Here are the current officers of the THD (note both Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Jon Golinger were both past Presidents) :

Notice Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s wife is an officer.

The second time I heard about the Telegraph Hill Dwellers was in April of 2014 while hearing in the news about tenant evictions and Google buses Kia-Mai Cutler a journalist at Tech Crunch went deep and published her article,” How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained)”, the catchy title caught my eye.

In June 2014, I finally decided to get my CA Real Estate license with a goal of helping Millenials and newly married families settle into San Francisco and get a solid footing financially in the City. I tried to get my Interior Design business going but to no avail due to the high level of designer competition here in the City. But once I received my license and after waiting for two months it was time for the San Francisco election season with Prop G 24% Homeowner Tax was on the ballot.

If one owns a home and has to sell it in 2 years they would be forced to pay a tax on the gross earnings of the transaction vs only the equity built up in the owners net worthy cording to the Prop G legislation. At that time I had my first run in with Larry Bush, a top operative NIMBY that used to be on SF Civil Grand Jury. In the past, he was the father strategist and ideologist for the SF Democratic Party in the early nineties. Needless to say, he lost the election for Prop G. Going forward I paid more attention to Nimbyism activity in SF. Consequently in 2014 due to SF Nimbyism, I had two Buyers fall through because of the affordability crisis and housing shortage in the City.

The new year rolled in with 2015 and all I could hear in the news was Sonja Trauss an advocate to build more housing. This SF Business Times article caught my attention,” Bay Area renters group advocates for more density to solve housing crisis.


Sonja Trauss on the site of 75 Howard

I was intrigued and felt compelled to attend her very first panel on Feb. 2, 2015 that included a gentlemen housing expert from Seattle.

All my friends were anxious about getting evicted and they had problems finding a room to rent, then they had to move out after three or six months because they could only find sublets.

I’m a natural “doer” and the panel discussion motivated me to take action against SF Nimbyism right away. As a result, I joined notoriously Nimby organizations The Telegraph Hill Dwellers and The Sierra Club all with a goal to gather information about their strategy and tactics how they will proceed blocking new buildings with affordable housing units onsight or funding off-site affordable housing units and report back to SFBARF and organize.


Just read these articles below:

Now in order to be a member of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers one has to have a legal address withing the boundary of the Dwellers per the By-Laws.


The defined area of Telegraph Hill shall be all that property situated within the following boundaries: Commencing at the SE corner of Bay and Powell Streets, thence southerly along Powell Street to Columbus Avenue, thence south-easterly along Columbus Avenue to Broadway, thence easterly along Broadway to the Embarcadero, thence northerly and westerly along the Embarcadero to Powell Street and southerly to the point of beginning.”


Section 1. Owners of real property and legal residents within the defined area of Telegraph Hill shall be eligible for membership. Membership shall commence upon receipt of dues. Dues shall be for one (1) year on an anniversary month basis. Members shall be entitled to privileges of membership except that they shall not vote, make or second motions, or be elected or appointed officers, directors, committee members or chairmen, until after a period of one (1) month after receipt of dues and confirmation of eligibility by the board of directors. Such members shall then be members in good standing.

Once I became member I participated in all the social functions of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and through networking, casual conversations and email notifications I learned from the inside which housing projects they were going to block including ones that included affordable housing units.

I reported this information to SFBARF members and we organized showing support at the SF Planning Commission Hearings, The SF Board of Appeals Hearings and the Board of Supervisors Hearings. We were prepared to be up against the Nimby opposition.

The Telegraph Hill Dwellers opposed these key housing projects below:

Mission Rock “Prop D”

75 Howard — 15.7M to the SF Affordable Housing Fund

160 Folsom “ Tishman Speyer agreed to make 40 percent of the condos affordable to moderate income residents (earning 80–100 percent of the area median income), rather than the 35 percent required on this site, if the city agreed to a 400-foot tower. Tishman Speyer would also foot the bill for those 44 extra affordable units, saving the department $1.7 million (the cost of constructing those units would constitute the sale price of the land).”

5M Project funding the Taylor and Eddy 118 affordable family apartments.

Affordable Housing Bonus Density Program = 1,250 affordable housing units.

By learning information from my participation with the Telegraph Hill Dwellers SFBARF saved 1,603 affordable housing units from the nimby obstructionism that occurs down at the SF Planning Commission hearings.

Note: both 160 Folsom and the Affordable Housing Bonus Density Program are currently held up in Land Use Committee by Supervisor Aaron Peskin today.