your Miraloma Life … online – September 2007

  • Walgreens Plans to Build a New Store at Portola and Fowler
  • Fall Social Mixer with a Political Twist
  • Legal Ease
  • Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines
  • From the President…
  • Time For Environmentally-friendly Energy
  • Miraloma Park Improvement Club Clubhouse
  • Residents Offer to Donate Pianos
  • Be Careful What you Wish For
  • Bella Vista Garden Project Update
  • Looking For a Cultural Experience?
  • Wanted Writers for Miraloma Park
  • NERT October Neighborhood Drill
  • Design Matters
  • Ingleside Police Station Crime Report

Walgreens Plans to Build a New Store at Portola and Fowler

by Dan Liberthson

Walgreens, Inc. has submitted an application to the Planning Department for a new drugstore on Portola at Fowler. All Miraloma Park residents are invited to an important meeting at the MPIC Clubhouse, 350 O’Shaughnessy Boulevard at Del Vale, on Wednesday, September 19 at 7:30 PM. Representatives of Walgreens, their architect, and the building developer will present their project at this meeting and hear input from the community. The MPIC would like residents to attend and comment on the plan. The Board of Directors of the MPIC has not taken a position on the project pending input from the entire community.

The proposed store would replace the gas station currently at that location, the owner of which reportedly wants to get out of the business. Walgreens is in contract to purchase the gas station lot. If the proposed store is approved, Walgreens has said that they plan to close their current store located on Portola near Teresita, as they would then have a larger store offering more varied merchandise at the new location. The proposed store would have a total floor space of 7200 square feet, and would be within the current 25-ft zoned maximal height on the block.

This new proposal differs in some ways from Walgreens’ prior application for their current store. In the prior application, Walgreens initially sought to combine two separate business sites and exceed the 3000 sq ft commercial zoning limit that applies to the Portola commercial area, which is zoned Neighborhood Commercial (NC-1). This zoning carries size restrictions intended to preserve the small, varied retail character of neighborhood shopping districts. The Miraloma Park Improvement Club, joined by the West of Twin Peaks Central Council and 3,800 individual petition signers, opposed this proposed exception to the zoning and Walgreens eventually modified their plans to require less than 3000 sq ft (i.e., only one existing store). In contrast, the gas station is already one site, and is large enough for Walgreens proposed structure. However, Walgreens still must apply for a conditional use permit because their proposed structure is over the 3000 square ft NC-1 limit. 

There will also be an extensive environmental review by the Planning and Building Departments, as required when the former use involved potential contaminants. The entire process of review of the application will likely take 9 months or more. During this time, particularly early on, Walgreens has said that they will be open to neighborhood suggestions regarding both the architectural style and the mode of operation of the proposed new store.

The MPIC Board wants to know what neighborhood residents think about Walgreens’ proposal as soon as possible, so that we can take a position based on neighborhood opinion.  For that purpose, included in this newsletter are a reply envelope and a reply form, which we urge you to fill out and mail to us as soon as possible. We would like to have your response if possible before the September 19 meeting, so that we will be aware of community opinion going into the meeting and can present it. Send one response per household please, NOT per individual. The MPIC Board will be keeping the Planning Department apprised of community sentiment about the proposal, as well as our position based on that sentiment, so it is important that we have as broad community response as possible. You will also have the opportunity to submit your response on forms provided at the meeting.

As the MPIC Board sees it, there are many pro-s and con-s to Walgreens’ proposal, and to encourage analysis of it, we are including the following summary of the possible arguments for and against the project that we have been able to think of. There are no doubt other views, for and against, that we have not thought of, and we request and need neighbors’ thoughts both pro and con via the enclosed response form and at the meeting.

Pro: If Walgreens builds an attractive structure compatible with area architecture (e.g., Mediterranean or Art Deco style like Tower Market), and adds some trees in front of their facility, the store could be an inviting gateway to the Miraloma Park commercial district and transition to the residential area.

Con: Yet another Walgreens, and if typical, a big box that would not be an attractive introduction to the community in the very prominent, gateway location. Although Walgreens is presenting itself as eager to hear and act on neighborhood input, working with any large corporation on design issues affecting its bottom line can require a lot of volunteer time, and the company will undoubtedly have its limits. Walgreens did not fulfill design commitments made to the MPIC for its existing Portola store, in that they did not provide the promised tiled facade and signage. The tile was to match that on the Tower Market and the sign was to be a low-key, cursive neon sign resembling that on the West Portal store (what we got was a rather loud, strident sign). Given this track record, what guarantee do we have that Walgreens will honor any commitments they make this time?
Pro: The current Walgreens’ store will be vacated and available for other businesses.

Con:  We don’t know what new business might occupy the current location.
Pro: The lot is already large enough for the size of the building Walgreens is proposing. No smaller lots would need to be combined. It is unlikely that a precedent for larger buildings would be set, for there are only two other sites in this commercial area where that could occur, and it would require merging two properties, a proposal likely to be rejected by the community and the Planning Department, as happened with Walgreens existing store. Other sites (e.g., Tower Market) occupy lots larger than the 3000 sq ft limit but were grandfathered in.

Con: A large building would create a precedent and encourage other companies to take the 3000 sq ft zoning limit lightly and press an application for a larger building combining two smaller stores. Even Rite Aid could try to move in! Zoning protections are diminished by erosion: one conditional use permit could pave the way for more.

Pro: Walgreens plans to add 12 to 15 new parking places in front of their building (in the area currently occupied by the gas station driveways), which the City would no doubt meter. Walgreens stated that soil tests show that creating underground parking is not economically feasible because the ground is bedrock.

Con: Because of the increased traffic the proposed store would bring, the additional parking will not be enough to offset the greater vehicular traffic that will result, and the strain on parking space will be a problem.
Pro: The new Walgreens could help to vitalize the commercial district and, if attractively built, increase the appeal and value of the neighborhood. We would lose the gas station—but that might happen in any case, and if the owner simply closes the gas station without selling, we might be looking at a vacant weed and garbage strewn lot for years (as we had before the condos at Woodside and Portola were built)—a major eyesore. It would take a deep-pockets company to develop this site, given all the planning issues, and if Walgreens is denied, another such sponsor might not come along for years.

Con: This Portola property is valuable and suited to mixed-use development. As happened across the street, another developer might propose a unit with stores on the ground floor and residences on the upper level, and even with underground parking, which the developer across Portola found to be economically feasible. This mixed-use project could be done within the current height limit (25 ft). Residential as well as varied retail use would also bring added commercial vitality to the business area, without adding a larger chain store to the mix.
Pro: Walgreens has said they will not sell liquor, so they won’t compete with other stores’ alcohol sales. Although their inventories may overlap with other stores in some other areas (e.g., general household merchandise, sandwiches, softdrinks), these would be only partial overlaps and there is already local competition in these areas.

Con: Walgreens’ presence might inflate property values and lock out small businesses, and might outcompete other smaller stores with overlapping inventories, causing them to go out of business.

The MPIC looks forward to your mailed response (one per household!) and to hearing from you at the important meeting on September 19.  Link to Ballot:


Fall Social Mixer with a Political Twist

by Jim O’Donnell

The Fall social event for residents of Miraloma Park is coming soon! On October 14 at 3-5 PM, we will have our now semi-annual mixer with wine and snacks at the MPIC Clubhouse, 350 Del Vale at O’Shaughnessy.  However, we will have something a little different for this one. We will have representatives of various ballot issues to discuss the pros and cons for those of you that want more clarification so that you can have an informed vote. We would have had a mayoral candidate forum, but our thinking is that Gavin Newsom will be reelected without too much trouble.

The ballot is not complete, so check our October issue for the list of ballot issues that will be discussed. Of course, they will be the most controversial and/or most worthy of explanation. So plan on October 14 for some wine, snacks and ballot issues. There is no excuse for not coming since the 49ers have the day off!
MPIC Election Results

All candidates who stood for election to the MPIC Board at the June meeting, and who ran for the open officer’s positions, were elected, as reflected in the list on page 12.

We thank Charles Fracchia, noted SF historian, for his fascinating presentation about Gold Rush times at that meeting, in which he filled in the colorful history of the City and related its transformation during the Gold Rush to its open and tolerant viewpoints today.


Legal Ease

by Steven Solomon

Welcome back from summer break! Since the “law” never rests, even during vacations, let’s check out a taste of what’s new since we last chatted:

BIG NEWS! California’s lemon law was tweaked so that our valiant military members who have defects with their vehicles, even if repaired out of state, can now use the lemon law to protect themselves & their families from unsafe & unreliable performance problems. The state Assembly & Senate unanimously passed SB 234, authored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, & the Governor recently signed the bill into law.

BANKRUPTCY IS GOOD FOR THE CREDIT BUSINESS (Dow Jones/AP) – According to a recent study by Prof. Katherine Porter of 300 families that had completed bankruptcy proceedings, almost all of them received credit card offers within a year’s time. Prof. Porter noted that the credit industry’s justification for sweeping reform of bankruptcy laws in 2005, that people were “abusing” the system by failing to pay debts thereby costing the industry millions of dollars, paled next to the thirst for profits from these potential customers.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION – My website was revamped this summer to add video clips of my clients, over the years, who made it on the local & national television news shows. Check out

Steve Solomon is an 18 year resident of Miraloma Park.  His law office is located on West Portal where he continutes to represent consumers and business groups in a variety of legal issues.


Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines

The Miraloma Park Residential Guidelines were adopted in 1999 by the City Planning Commission to promote preservation of neighborhood character by encouraging residential design compatible with neighborhood setting.  Residential Design Guidelines can facilitate the complex and often frustrating process of permit application and design review and can prevent costly and time-consuming Discretionary Review proceedings. Guidelines at


From the President…

by Phil Laird

Your community needs you.
The Miraloma Park Improvement Club relies, now as it has for many years, on Miraloma Park residents to help in the various efforts to maintain and improve our neighborhood as a safe and comfortable place to live. Currently, however, many of those activities are suffering from a lack of active participation. Folks who have moved here recently may not know of all the areas of active concern to our neighborhood, so here is a short summary.

Development. We work diligently to preserve the urban-suburban character of our neighborhood and to help developers and planners to keep new construction in harmony with the context of the surrounding homes. For years we worked to establish written guidelines for residential architecture and finally succeeded in getting them accepted by the planning department. Now our task is to ensure that the guidelines are understood and followed.

Safety. Ours is one of the safest neighborhoods in the city, but it is not free from crime. Maintaining a strong working relationship with our police district is invaluable in keeping crime out of the neighborhood. But it takes time to attend meetings, write letters, and make phone calls. We also support the NERT program that trains residents to be prepared for emergencies and to assist in search and rescue efforts during the 72+ hours when city services are liable to be overwhelmed.

Traffic. The winding streets of Miraloma Park were designed for a time when city traffic was much less congested than today. Now commuters view Teresita Boulevard as a freeway that bypasses traffic on through streets, and too many of them fail to observe speed limits and signs. Working with the city and residents to calm traffic on our residential streets requires patience, persistence, patience, diplomacy, and did I mention patience?

Community Events. Getting neighbors together to share common interests and objectives helps forge good community relations. We have had garage sales, holiday parties, political debates, nature walks, garden and kitchen tours, and street fairs. These are always popular, but as anyone knows who has organized one, they take a lot of planning and work.

Communication. The newsletter your are reading is the primary means of communication  among residents of Miraloma Park and the surrounding communities. The MPIC website is also a resource for information and discussion. When neighborhood events are planned, volunteers are needed to get the word out to residents. We have many opportunities to contribute to these essential efforts.

Beautification. Graffiti can ruin the beauty and peace of a neighborhood as vandals compete for notoriety on walls, signs, and any flat surface. Removing graffiti and getting homeowners, businesses, and city agencies to keep public property free of graffiti is a never-ending chore. On the positive side, residents are actively working for the improvement of our parks (the Miraloma Playground and Sunnyside Park) and supporting better landscaping in public spaces such as along the reservoir and around the playgrounds. The city seems increasingly willing to relegate some of this work to local green-thumb residents, since too few city gardeners are available for proper maintenance. The Miraloma Park Garden Club has been reactivated recently and holds periodic meetings at the Clubhouse.

Membership. The needs and concerns of Miraloma Park residents are heard regularly through our participation in neighborhood umbrella groups such as the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods and of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council.

We also work directly with the Mayor’s office and the office of our Supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, on issues of importance to Miraloma Park. In politics volume is measured in noses, and noses are counted by the membership in our community organization, the M.P.I.C. With fewer than 30% of households in Miraloma Park becoming active members, our voice is not as strong as it could and should be.
Clubhouse. Miraloma Park is one of a very few neighborhoods in San Francisco with a clubhouse for community meetings and events. It dates from about 1940, and like all old buildings, is in constant need of maintenance and repair. Some major projects are long overdue, and money to pay for them is nowhere in view. We urgently need to initiate a campaign to raise money and plan the renovations so that we can continue to use this vital resource.

How can you get involved? At the minimum, if you are not a member of the M.P.I.C., please become one. A membership form is in every issue of the newsletter. If you have not taken the NERT training to learn how to be self-sufficient in a major disaster, visit the NERT site at or call 970-2022. If you have time, expertise, or even just an interest in supporting the neighborhood, call me, Phil Laird, via the Club voicemail at 281-0892 and leave a name and phone number. I will respond as promptly as I can, discuss your interests and availability, and connect you with folks with whom you can join to make our neighborhood work well.



Time For Environmentally-friendly Energy

In an age of oil-dependence, ever higher gas prices, and signs of global climate change, it is more important than ever that we work as a society to increase our use of “green” energy and sustainable technology.  San Francisco and San Mateo counties have been leaders in this field, and I have looked to the ideas and creativity of our local communities to develop and propose policy on the state level.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1969, which I authored last year, allows water and wastewater agencies to sell environmentally friendly energy produced by their facilities – such as hydro, solar, and biogas – to electrical companies, resulting in up to 250 new megawatts of energy in the state’s grid.  AB 1969 will significantly help the state meet our renewable energy goals and improve the environment through a reduction in greenhouse gases.  This is great progress, but it is not enough. There is much more that we can do before we begin to reduce our dependence on oil and other carbon producing fuels.

It is important that we work cooperatively – legislators, state agencies, businesses, communities and individuals – to continue to green our state. I am thrilled that the California Public Utilities Commission has been working to expand the scope and potential impact of  Assemby Bill 1969 to a broader range of Californians.  Under such an expanded program, all businesses and customers in California will be allowed to produce renewable energy, increasing the potential energy sent to the state’s grid to 500 new megawatts at any given time – enough energy to power 500,000 Bay Area homes.

California has a promising opportunity to increase energy production while also helping our environment. As the demand for water and energy grows, it is imperative that all businesses be able to offset their increased needs through the sale of energy being generated at their plants and buildings, which will also result in significant savings for residents. There are a number of bills currently pending in the Legislature that follow the path of AB 1969 to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost state planning for climate change.

As we work on the state level, it is important to reach out to the local level as well. My staff can help residents, local contractors, and small businesses learn about green practices and opportunities to develop sustainable technology.  Please feel free to call my offices anytime: (415) 557-7857 for San Francisco and (650) 340-8840 for San Mateo County.  The average person can make easy, small changes such as switching to Compact Fluorescent Light-bulbs (CFLs), which use 75% less energy to produce the same amount of light.  Solar panel companies will now install solar panels on your home or business for free and sell the left-over natural energy back into the market.  Contractors can create homes with room-by-room heating to save energy, and can also install solar panels which save customers a lot of money and the environment a lot of damage over the long run.

Changing our habits and practices will take a lot of work. On the global level, efforts are being made to draw worldwide attention to these issues.  In the end though, change will be made person-by-person and law-by-law.  I urge you to see what changes you can make in your own lives, and to write, call, and cajole your legislators to make these changes in our local, state and federal policies. We have a lot of work to do, but success is within our reach.

Leland Y. Yee, Ph.D.
Assistant President pro Tempore
California State Senate


Miraloma Park Improvement Club Clubhouse

The beautiful original wood has been refurbished. There is a clean gas burning fireplace to add that extra bit of cheer to your special event. New colorful curtains grace the stage. There are modern, lightweight tables and new really comfortable chairs.   Free parking is in the adjacent parking lot. Members get a discount. Trash and recycling available. Call 415-281-0892 for rates/availability.


Residents Offer to Donate Pianos

As a result of an article asking for a donation of a piano for the Miraloma Park Improvement Club clubhouse, four residents of Miraloma Park offered their pianos for the purpose. This embarrassment of generosity meant we had the pleasure of trying out the pianos to determine which would best suit the space and acoustic conditions of the clubhouse. We did so and with difficulty selected one, because all were delightful instruments. Our thanks go to all these people for responding so generously.


Be Careful What you Wish For

 I was hoping our local coyote would not be a casualty of the City’s hired gunslingers, like his unfortunate relations in Golden Gate Park, and my wishes have, for once, panned out. Beneath the garbage can lid once more, I found malodorously bound with a few daubs of something suspiciously resembling gull droppings, the following missive from the ever-attentive creature. I hereby offer to place an unending supply of white paste and/or bubble gum at his disposal, so that he never again  need resort to bird behinds as his source of adhesive. I hope he merely ran out of the good stuff, and was not trying to send me another message along with the following. In any case, I applaud his safe return – Ed.

All I can say is thank the four-legged deity I don’t live in Golden Gate Park. Might as while set up shop in Afghanistan or Iraq. Watch out, here come the Thought Police—if you even think about nipping some yappy dog where it ought to be nipped, not to mention doing it, they’ll shoot you before you can blink and send you to the dogfood factory. Is that ironic, quoth the cool canid, or is that ironic! No such problem here in dear old Miraloma Park, the civilized end of the City. Why, the coyote here is as mild as milk, sweet as cream, not even vaguely tempted by a dog or cat dinner, and a footloose, fancy-free bachelor, so no pups or missus to protect. I know none of my esteemed neighbors would even dream of shooting little old law-abiding me, would you? Of course not! Too smitten with my charm and native good looks, no doubt, plus coyote fur has been out of fashion lately (all fur, for that matter), and you’d likely be skinned alive by animal preservationists if you even tried. It feels good to be so valued, let me tell you. Don’t you wish you were an animal too? Then not only would all sane people protect you, but the insane ones, who seem to be multiplying like rabbits (yum!) these days, wouldn’t send you off to somewhere that has bullets thicker than air. Unless it were Richmond—or Golden Gate Park.

But I’m not here to talk politics—I have other ways to exercise my jaws and anyway there’s precious little to argue about come this November. No credible opposition for Gavin, the propositions largely canceling each other out or irrelevant, no State budget and the Governator trading stall tactics with the Legislators while the poor, elderly, young, and small businesses grit their teeth and try to endure—it’s all just your Government working hard on your behalf. Because most of all they want you to be happy, healthy, employed, and not counting on them for anything, right? So they take your money and give you as little back as they can get away with, but that’s obviously for your own good, so you’ll have to go out and make more money (to give them). This country was built on a long tradition of industry and self-reliance, and it’s this tried and true maxim for living that our various incoherent governments are keen to foster by blundering so consistently that we all must make our own ways as best we can. And if we can’t? Well, as Mr. Scrooge so aptly spoke, not to mention Mr. Swift of boiled baby fame, we’ll get rid of the excess population and then there will be so much less we need to ask our government to provide. Or, as my revered grandfather Curtis used to say, quoting Kurt Vonnegut (though he didn’t know it), “and so it goes …”

Did I promise no more politics just a paragraph ago, and then carry on about it for a whole ‘nother paragraph? Well, that will teach you to trust a coyote. We all get away with what we can, do we not, mon cherie? But in important matters, such as the wholesale consumption of puppies and kittens, you can trust me, just read my lips.

 Juvenile raccoons and the odd opossum or squirrel or field mouse, that’s all I crave, with an occasional celebratory duck a l’orange or even better, roasted goat, that juicy, succulent, marvelous masterpiece.
Ah, the memories of a wonderful meal, the enjoyment of a fine repast, and the anticipation of another. Call me a feckless gourmand, but I say these delights match or exceed those of sex, politics, persecution (of coyotes or hapless others), war, or any other pastime.

My summer was not hot, here on the fog-bound slopes, nor was it lethal, but passed in cool contentment with my fellow citizens and in the satisfaction of doing what a coyote does without bothering or being bothered by anyone. A good September to you, neighbors, and Fall to come.

Ever your kind and committed quadruped,
W. Coyote, Esq. 


Bella Vista Garden Project Update 

by Jed Lane

As you may have seen there is an effort of volunteers to take a weed chocked area of our neighborhood and turn it into something beautiful.

The area below the Miraloma Park ball field has been an eyesore for many years. At the suggestion of one of my neighbors, Daniel Homsey, I’ve spearheaded an effort to work with the Recreation and Parks department and coordinate the volunteer effort. We’ve had two successful work days this summer and made some progress. Because of our work, the school district has sent out crews to clear the section along Bella Vista that belongs to them. Unfortunately, Rec & Park doesn’t have the funding to send out crews.

The renovation of the playing field is scheduled to start in late September so there will be no more work days this year. At each of the past two work days we’ve worked from approximately 9 am to noon. There were always bagels, coffee, water and fresh baked cakes from our own baker/gardener, Tom.
I’d like to thank the members of the Miraloma Park Garden club for their support. I’d also like to thank Sean Elsbernd, our representative on the Board of Supervisors, for giving his time to come and pull weeds with us in July. I’d also like to thank all the other neighbors that have volunteered to come out and help. Now I’m hoping that more neighbors will come and help when we restart the prep work and do the planting.

Our goal was to get rid of the accumulation of years and years of weeds, to pull out as much ivy as possible, clear the shrubs up off the ground and take out as much overgrowth as possible.  Now I will coordinate with Rec & Park as the refurbishment of the playing field is done so that we have the necessary water access and a plan to complete the transformation from weeds to garden.

 Our accomplishments are starting to take shape.  Although it will all appear futile when weeds again spring back up this winter. Take heart, it will be much easier to clear and prepare the soil for next winters planting.
If you would like to be notified of the next date and be kept informed please e-mail me at and request to be placed on the Friends of Bella Vista Garden list. I’ve also placed pictures and stories of the project on

Feel free to make comments on the Guide site anytime. I’d like to know what the community wants to see on that slope and the Fog City Guide site is a perfect place for everyone to weigh in. 


Looking For a Cultural Experience?

Do you enjoy hosting professional international students?
Do you have a private room with shared or private bathroom?
Do you live near public transportation?
Call to discuss homestay agreement and compensation
CISL.605 Market Street , Suite 1000 – San Francisco , CA 94105
Betty Christian,Homestay Coordinator
Converse International School of Languages
415.495-7470 415.971-3227 (cell)


Wanted Writers for Miraloma Park

Poems, wildlife, flowers, politics, safety, short stories, historical pieces, sketches of Miraloma Life are all in great demand.  Your neighbors want to hear what you have to say.  Submit articles to the editor:

Article Submission Policy
Deadline for articles for October is Thursday, September 20, 2007.
E-mail copies of your article (Times New Roman, 10 pt black only font) to or mail to:  Miraloma Park Improvement Club,
350 O’Shaughnessy at Del Vale, San Francisco, CA 94127


NERT October Neighborhood Drill

It’s time to mark your calendars for the October Drill, Saturday, October 13, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Staging Area To Be Announced.
We will drill together with other NERT teams in our Emergency District Coordination Center (EDDC), formerly Emergency Response District (ERD).

Neighborhood Empowerment Summit, Saturday, September 8, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove Street at Polk.
Please join NERT for the Neighborhood Empowerment Summit where NERT will have a booth, conduct demonstrations, and participate in break-out sessions.

Directions can be found at
Public transit trip can be found at

Gary Isaacson


Design Matters

Peter A. Zepponi, AIA – Architect

This is a monthly column addressing basic residential design and home improvement topics of interest to Miraloma Park residents. If you have a question or topic you’d like considered for a future article please send an email to or call 415 334-2868. This column and its content are intended to be a source of general information. Applicability to your  project should be verified.

Q: I want to replace my windows, but don’t know what to ask for.
A: Shop around, compare, choose a well known manufacturer and an installer with experience.

I recently saw an internet bulletin board posting for someone who wanted to replace their front windows.  They wanted to replace their sliding vinyl windows with new ones that opened up and down.   They pointed out that before the vinyl, they had aluminum windows.  They were concerned about ‘fire codes’, and finding an installer that could not only upgrade window the window but also change the type of window.  And of course they didn’t want to spend a fortune, either.

As I read the posting I thought to myself what a daunting task it would be for someone not in the industry to select such a seemingly basic part of a home.  At first it might seem like a simple thing, but once you start looking at windows, it really isn’t that simple at all.  Architects spend a lot of time looking at windows and specifying windows.  Windows are a large part of the visual impact of a home, or building, and for each window there are multiple decisions to make.  Size, shape, how it opens, color, material, glazing, STC rating, U-value, low-E, jamb depth, sill type, trim, fire rating, tempered, non-tempered, clear, tinted, polarized, UV coatings, hardware, hardware color, argon-gas filled, single pane, double pane, …what a pain!  Architects will lament over putting together a door and window schedule on a large project because it is tedious to go through and make all these decisions on every opening in a building.  And if it’s an effort for architects, it must be overwhelming for most homeowners.  And frankly, most people don’t care about all that stuff.  They usually just want a good quality window that doesn’t break the bank, and then leave it to that architect or contractor to pick it out.  If that is you, how do you ensure you’re getting a ‘good window’?

First off, shop around a little.  Go to your Home Depot or Lowes, but also go to a specialty window shop that carries several manufacturers.  They will also be more likely to have knowledgeable staff that can explain and show you the differences.  It’s really important to understand what you are paying for, because with windows you pretty much get what you pay for and there are reasons some windows cost more.  Once you figure out what type of window, and features you want then talk to a couple of other window representatives to compare prices for similar features.  Sometimes the cost difference is surprising, but don’t just select based upon cost.  Select a manufacturer whose name you’ve heard of before.  This isn’t to say small window companies make bad windows, it’s just that you’re less likely to go wrong if you’re not sure what to look for.  Some of the big names I like are Marvin, Pella, Anderson, Jeld-Wen, and Milgard.  Within those brands you should be able to find a window to meet your needs. If you’re looking at a different manufacturer, you can ask which brands they are designed to compete against.   And lastly you need to find a reputable installer, with experience, that will guarantee their work and can provide references.  A poorly installed window will leak, and can cause severe damage.  You also want someone who knows the building codes, and how to do more than just put in a window.  Often times when you remove a window there will be dry rot, water damage, or mold.
 Select a contractor that can finish the job without having to call in someone else.  Replacing a window that fits within the existing rough opening (space created by the wall studs) should be a simple matter for a trained installer.  Where it gets more complicated is when you change the shape or size of the opening because then you may impact the structure.

There are primarily three types of residential windows: Aluminum, vinyl, and wood.  In addition to these are also fiberglass, hollow metal and glass block, but not as ubiquitous as the first three.  The biggest problem with aluminum windows is thermal bridging.  This is where the air temperature is conducted right through the metal creating high heat loss and condensation problems.  Always look for an aluminum window with a ‘thermal break’.   Vinyl windows are efficient and affordable windows.  With vinyl you want to look at the thickness of the frame and operating mechanisms.  Some inexpensive windows may not operate well, and may distort their shape over time.  However, there are some environmental and health issues associated with vinyl windows (PVC) including the off gassing of dioxin, and the release of several toxic gases when burned in a fire.  Wood windows are often the highest quality windows.  They can come natural, or primed for painting, and are usually available in an exterior metal cladding with a factory finish color.  Wood-clad windows are much more durable and weather resistant than all-wood windows.   Some cladding is paintable, others are not, so if you want to change your window color select carefully.

The terms for the basic type of windows are: Fixed or picture , slider, double-hung, single-hung, casement, awning, and hopper.  A fixed window obviously doesn’t open.  A slider generally has one side that is fixed and the other side that slides open horizontally.  Single and double hung windows slide vertically.  Only one sash (the frame that holds the glass) moves in a single hung while the other is fixed. In a double hung, both sashes slide.  Casement windows pivot and swing out like a door. Some swing freely others use a crank.  Awning windows are hinged at the top, and hopper windows at the bottom.  One important consideration is to be consistent with the types of windows you select, especially within the same room or when visible together on the exterior.  Mixing vinyl and wood, and sliders next to double-hungs can really mess up a houses’ curb appeal.   Where people get stuck is when they need to meet the egress code.  (UBC 310.4)  Every bedroom needs a window with a clear openable area of 5.7 sq.ft. with a minimum net vertical dimension of 24″ and a minimum net horizontal dimension of 20″.  However 20″x24″ only equals 3.3 sq.ft, so one dimension has to be bigger.  In order to comply you need to select a window type that meets this calculation for clear openable area.  The other requirement is that the bottom of the clear opening can not be more than 44″ above the floor.  You are not allowed to have windows closer than 3 feet to a property line.  If your wall is closer than 3 feet than you are not allowed to have non-protected openings and the window assembly has to be rated for one-hour fire resistance which is expensive.  Several areas require tempered glass such as bathrooms, next to doors, or close to the floor.  In general where you might slip, walk, or fall through the glass.  Make sure the contractor knows the codes.

Many of the houses originally had wood double hung or casement windows.  When selecting which window to install I like to see wood windows go back into the houses because they add dimension and character.  Many houses only have a front elevation that is visible from the street.  If you need to watch your budget, consider putting the higher quality windows in the front of the house and selecting a lower cost window for the basement or rear elevation. Another reason to put the better windows in front is because they will likely be quieter and block out the street noise. If the budget is tight, or you want to install vinyl or aluminum windows reconsider the flimsy snap on grids.  Skinny, bent grids are one of the most obvious ways to spot a cheap window. From a distance it’s much harder to tell the difference between an inexpensive clear glass window and expensive one, so why draw attention to it with flimsy grids?  If you like the look of grids, look for what are called “simulated divided lights”.  Those are a compromise between ‘snap in grids’ and ‘true divided lights’, except that they are dimensional grids (not flat) that are on both sides of the glass and give the appearance of a true divided light.  On windows that you can’t reach from the outside, look for cleaning features that allows the window to tilt inside so you can easily clean the exterior.  Shop around, and you’ll be surprised at all the options available, but don’t let yourself be sold something you don’t want. Window installation companies sell windows, not design.  Windows are expensive, so if you want to change the look you don’t necessarily have to settle for what is the easiest or fastest.  The right windows can really enhance your curb appeal and also your comfort, so take your time and select wisely.  You’ll be happy you did.

Peter A. Zepponi, AIA – Architects, is an architectural firm in San Francisco specializing in residential and commercial architecture. 


Ingleside Police Station Crime Report

If you are interested in keeping up with the types and numbers of crime which occurs in the Ingleside District you can do so by requesting the daily crime report from Captain Paul Chignell.  Simply email Captain Chignell at and request to be placed on the mailing list for the crime report.  It is fascinating stuff and fortunately not too many incidents occur in Miraloma Park.