The preservationist is also enamored with the historic significance of the industrial-waterfront portion of Dogpatch, an area at the foot of 20th Street owned in large part by the Port of San Francisco. From 20th Street east for several blocks stand several large warehouse structures -- some built entirely in red brick -- that used to house the industries where the Pelton cottage residents worked. These industrial buildings once were home to the Union Iron Works, the Pacific Rolling Mill Co., and the Western Sugar Refinery. "The Union Iron Works building is worthy of landmark status all on its own," Ver Planck says. But he acknowledges that obtaining landmark status for the waterfront land will be politically difficult, because the port has distinct development plans of its own.
That the industrial buildings and the Pelton cottages, where the industrial workers lived, still exist today in their original condition poses a rare opportunity for preservationists like Ver Planck. It's an almost unheard of stroke of luck to find such a complete example of the city's past being used for roughly the same purposes more than a century down the road.
Sometime in the next several weeks, Ver Planck will make his presentation to the city Landmarks Board and ask its members to protect, as much as they legally can, the integrity of the small neighborhood, bounded by Mariposa and 23rd streets to the north and south, and Indiana and the bay to the west and east.
"This is my little soapbox," Ver Planck says. "I want to get landmark status for a neighborhood that is not high class. S.F. Heritage has always been accused of being solely focused on high-class neighborhoods like Pacific Heights."
If he is successful, any developer will have to convince Landmarks Board members that the architecture and size of a project are in keeping with neighbor-hood character. Only then will the board grant what is called a "certificate of appropriateness."
This process isn't conclusive. The city Planning Commission could still override the "merely advisory" certificates of the Landmarks Board, Ver Planck says. Ultimately, the power of life or death over the character of Dogpatch still will rest with the mayor and his appointees.
But a landmark designation would slow down the gears of development. It would force developers to pay attention to where they are building, and discourage them from hiring chimps as architects. Politically, it would also give everyone more time to make, and listen to, the sophisticated argument Ver Planck and the Dogpatch neighbors want to put forward: It's possible to protect and respect the character of Dogpatch while more housing units are constructed.
"We are not opposed to new housing," Ver Planck says. "This is a city. I believe we need more housing, and more dense housing. I'm not a big open-space guy. If you want that, my opinion is you can move to the suburbs."
Even if Ver Planck fails to get landmark status for Dogpatch, his research could serve to protect the neighborhood. Proposition M, the growth-control measure passed by voters in 1986, sets priorities for city planning. Priority No. 2 is preserving neighborhood character. Once Ver Planck defines what that character is, he and Dogpatch residents can fight the live-work monsters on a case-by-case basis at the Planning Commission.
But block-by-block and lot-by-lot guerrilla fighting is time-consuming. Ultimately, the developers have more of the resources necessary to win those fights than the neighbors. What Dogpatch needs, frankly, is a zoning change to protect it from live-work developments.
A move afoot on that front at the Department of City Planning could cut for or against Dogpatch, depending on what some pointy-headed economists and senior planners conclude.
For some time now, hired-gun economists and senior city planners have been developing a megastudy on how much land in industrial zones such as Dog-patch should be preserved for industry, and how much should be zoned to allow live-work developments.
Sometime in February or early spring, the pointy-headed ones will detail their findings, and the Planning Commission will apportion land. Dogpatch residents could either be pleased beyond belief -- or shattered.
If the area is zoned for live-work, you can bet the box monsters, already poised like a hostile army on the southern and northern borders of Dogpatch, will begin their march across the neighborhood. And if that happens, we'll all get to see what it looks like when a bunch of assholes and thugs set out to squash a few cute little cupcakes.