One Year After Alex Nieto’s Death, Bernal Family Is Transformed by Tragedy

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One year ago, on March 21, 2014, Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill.

Several times during the last few months — and as recently as just last week — I have seen Alex’s parents, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, walking along the sidewalks not far from their home on Cortland. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the affect of Neighbor Alex’s parents as they walk the streets of Bernal Heights. Yet while opinions may differ on the sequence of events that transpired on the evening Alex died, there can be no doubt whatsoever about the anguish they feel after having lost their son — and that comes to the forefront for me every time I see them.

It is heartbreaking.

Mission Local captures the Nieto family’s new reality:

About to retire from her long career as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, Bernal Heights resident Elvira Nieto looked forward to her retirement. She and her husband, Refugio, had plans to surprise their son with a trip to the town of Tarimoro, in Guanajuato, Mexico, their shared birthplace.

But then on the evening of March 21, 2014, that son, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, died during an officer-involved shooting in Bernal Heights Park. Neighborhood and police versions of the story conflict radically, but what’s painfully clear is that the Nieto family’s course has changed drastically.

Rather than ease into retirement, Elvira and Refugio Nieto have a new job—they’ve become full-time activists against police violence. Today marks the one-year anniversary of their son’s death and, for them, the work is far from over.

“[Alex] would ask me, ‘What are your plans for when you retire?’ I told him the only plan is to rest, but instead this happened,” said Elvira Nieto this week. “It’s all that we’ve done. I never imagined that this is what we’d be doing.”

There is a crowdfunding effort underway by Neighbor Alex’s family and friends to support the Alex Nieto Memorial Fund and create a memorial bench for him on Bernal Hill.

IMAGE: Top, Video still of Bernal neighbors Elvira and Refugio Nieto, parents of Alex Nieto, on Bernal Hill, December 16, 2014

Cara and Joey Just Got Married on Bernal Hill

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Okay, so we now know that Bernal Heights is for [all kinds of] lovers.  But rest assured: Not everyone who expresses their affections on Bernal Hill is batshit crazy.

Neighbor Abner from Alabama Street shares some lovely news about a romantic wedding that took place on Bernal Hill last weekend:

Cara is my sister-in-law, and her long time beau is Joey.  They lived in Bernal for most of the last 5 years, and the couple were married in a lovely, fairly impromptu wedding on the hill last Saturday.  As of last week, they’ve relocated to LA for a job opportunity, but they wanted to finally tie the knot — after a long engagement— with family and the great community they built here.

There was a raucous party at our place afterwards.

Big congrats and best wishes to the happy couple, and never forget

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PHOTO: The wedding of Cara and Joey on Bernal Hill, via Neighbor Abner

KQED: Lama Family Feud Lies at Heart of Big Bocana Rent Increase

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Veteran reporter Dan Brekke knows how to do the legwork required to crack a story open. These days he works for KQED, where he just published a remarkably detailed report on the Lama family dispute that lies at the heart of the now-infamous 355 Bocana rent-increase controversy.

Brekke’s reporting largely confirms rumors that have been rippling through Bernal Heights for the last few days, to the effect that as a result of the family feud, Bernal neighbor and 355 Bocana property owner Nadia Lama hoped to evict Neigbor Deb Follingstad, because Neighbor Nadia herself needs a place to live.

Brekke reports:

Superior Court filings show that Nina Gelfant and Gayle Worrell alleged they were forced from their one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 720-square-foot Cortland Avenue apartment [in 2013] after the Lamas raised the rent from $1,650 to $4,250 — 157 percent.

The suit argued that the rent increase was far above market rate and designed to get Gelfant and Worrell to leave so that Lamas could sell the property.

That sale, [tenant-rights lawyer Joe] Tobener suggested in a trial brief that outlined more than $1 million in potential damages, was triggered by a battle among Shukry Lama’s heirs over the property he’d left behind when he died in 2012.

“Chuck Lama’s heirs were fighting over their share of the inheritance which demanded selling properties or having the heirs occupy them as residences,” Tobener’s brief says.

That alleged squabble also appears to have played a role in Nadia Lama’s dramatic increase of Deb Follingstad’s rent.

In September 2013, she filed a probate petition in Superior Court seeking to compel her sister Claudia, the overseer of several family trusts set up by [deceased family patriarch] Chuck Lama, to account for the family’s assets. Assets named in the petition and exhibits include a small Cortland Avenue market, Chuck’s Store, the store’s liquor license, eight residential properties in San Francisco, one in Burlingame, and unspecified real estate in Chile.

The court proceeding resulted in an agreement last Dec. 31 in which the three Lama sisters and their three brothers, along with some of their children, agreed to close the family trusts and distribute their assets.

The property Nadia Lama was to receive includes a 2006 Toyota Avalon; $25,000 to pay the legal bills she’d incurred; a little more than $750,000 in cash due upon the sale of two of the family’s properties; and finally, the Bocana Street residence occupied by Deb Follingstad and the $7,500 to hire a lawyer to evict her.

The agreement also requires Nadia Lama to vacate her current home, a couple of doors up from Follingstad and still owned by her siblings, by the end of April. If she doesn’t, the document says, she’ll have to pay $4,000 a month rent to four of her siblings who will continue as owners; and if she does anything to interfere with their renting out the home she’s supposed to vacate, she’ll owe her siblings $10,000 in damages.

Kudos to Dan Brekke and KQED for the excellent work following the paper trail. Read Brekke’s full report on the KQED website, right here.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Bernal Architect Designs Affordable Housing That’s Beautiful

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San Francisco needs more affordable housing. Much more.

But affordable architecture gets a bad rap. It’s ugly. It’s too institutional. It’s too homogeneous. It’s visual blight.

Often, those generalizations are true… which has the very unfortunate effect of making San Franciscans (even more) resistant to new affordable housing projects. That’s super extra-bad, because San Francisco really needs more affordable housing. Much more.

Architect Owen Kennerly is a resident of Holly Park, and he was the co-designer of a new affordable housing project in Mission Bay that’s so gorgeous it makes San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King swoon.

The building is 1180 Fourth Street, and here’s as taste of what The John King has to say about it:

Architecturally, the six-story wedge of 150 apartments adds an assertive spark in a young district with too many boilerplate buildings. At ground level it’s engaging, a pleasure even before the generous retail spaces are filled. There’s a social payoff as well: The units are reserved for low-income families, adding youth to the neighborhood scene.

None of this is by chance, and it shows how planning priorities can translate to good city building — especially when determination and creativity are added to the mix.

The first step was the decision long ago to reserve the site for affordable housing. It’s a prime location fronting a park where Mission Creek is crossed by Fourth Street, the entryway to the 200-acre-plus southern part of the Mission Bay redevelopment district established in 1998. Setting it aside for lower-income residents was a symbolic reminder that economic integration should be pursued when and where it makes sense. But a well-meaning gesture isn’t the same as a well-done piece of architecture. That’s where smart design comes in.

The architectural effort was led by Daniel Solomon and Owen Kennerly, whose relationship goes back to the 1990s when the latter was a UC Berkeley student and an employee of the former. Kennerly now has one of the most visually inventive small firms in the city.

This is not Neighbor Owen’s first rodeo. He’s created several cool buildings around San Francisco, including a gorgeous house that got the sexy treatment from The New York Times. Neighbor Owen’s design for the affordable housing at 1180 Fourth takes his work in a wonderful new direction, and it shows that his architectural kung-fu is extremely versatile.

Great work, Neighbor Owen, and thank you. Oh, if you have some spare time, could you please pull together some sketches for a mixed-use housing and supermarket retail project to go on the site of our managerially blighted Bernal Safeway? Mmmkay? That’d be great.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle

Clever Bernal Neighbors Adapt Funky Bernal House to Fit a Growing Bernal Family

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Like the humans who live in them, many of the houses in Bernal Heights are quirky. Partly because of our hilly topography, and partially because of 150 years of piecemeal construction and ad hoc infill, Bernal Heights is full of funky houses that challenge the creativity of their 21st century occupants.

This week, our friends at the CurbedSF website did a charming house profile of Bernal neighbors Jess and Michele, who are adapting their 426 square-foot cottage to serve as a home for their newly expanded family.

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CurbedSF writes:

When Jess and Michele began house hunting, they were planning to start a family, so they made the rounds of the few two-bedrooms in their price range. They put in a few bids, but they were outbid. And outbid again. Then the couple went to see a tiny one-bedroom cottage in Bernal Heights. When the cottage was first built, in 1926, it was essentially a 426-square-foot glorified studio constructed over a garage. The most recent occupant had sealed off part of the garage and converted it into a bedroom, connected to the main house by a set of houseboat stairs. Jess and Michele—who prefer not to give their last names—fell in love with the cottage’s bright interiors, white brick fireplace, quirky layout, and rustic rooms, some of which had been updated and edged in reclaimed wood by the seller, an architect. “Our realtor thought we were a little bit crazy,” says Jess. “We were just like, ‘We can make this work because it’s so damn cute.'”

You should definitely read the whole thing to see all the clever ways that Neighbor Jess and Neighbor Michele turned their tiny house into an awesome home. But before you do, Neighbor Jess shared an important addendum in an email to Bernalwood:

The only quote missing from the article that I wanted to share with the Bernal community is that our home is perfect for us because of the inside and outside — our location and introduction to the Bernal community has been so amazing.  We had no idea how lucky we were finding this little cottage and moving to Bernal.  We won the lottery with this place and location.  Thank you neighbors and businesses who make Bernal special!

PHOTOS: Top, Neighbors Jess and Michele and their brand-new wallpaper. All other photos via CurbedSF.

Fishy Love: Neighbors Tim and Erin Archuleta from Ichi Sushi Recall How It All Began

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If you were paying attention to all the local “Best of 2014″ restaurant lists floating around the Interwebs over the Xmas/New Years holiday, you may have noticed that Bernal’s own Ichi Sushi + Ni Bar appeared on just about all of them.

Seriously. It got so intense that your Bernalwood editor joked that I needed to create a Best Of list to keep track of all the Best Of lists that included Ichi Sushi. It was funny because it was true.

I never did create that list, but the accolades are well deserved. Ichi really is the schizz. And it’s a great story about local kids who made good, because, Ichi got its start in Bernal Heights, and the tag-team duo of Chef Tim Archuleta and his wife Erin Archuleta are still Bernal neighbors, to this day.

Last week, in an interview with OpenTable, Neighbor Tim and Neighbor Erin recalled how it all began… in the days before the restaurant, and all the Best of Lists, and all the Best of Best of Lists:

How did you two meet?

Tim: We met at a friend’s birthday at a karaoke bar. It was my karaoke and dance skills that blew her away.

Well before you opened ICHI you worked together in a couple of different food businesses. Tell me about that and how you got started.

Erin: Tim really started as a caterer in 2006, but we met in 2005. We were already living together (racy!) when he started catering, which meant that I would pitch in from time to time as he built the brand.

Tim: In the beginning it was just me. Erin gave me a lot of support. But that’s how we came up with the name, because ICHI means one and it was just me.

Erin: The catering really took off. I had consistently worked for a literacy nonprofit locally at 826 Valencia and 826 National, and I stepped away from my work full-time and just worked as a consultant for them so that I could help Tim get the catering business off the ground. We built out a catering kitchen and went to town in that direction, and then the stock market crashed. We began social catering and doing pop-ups in bars that had kitchens. That’s how a lot of people encountered us — we catered all sorts of things.

One day I was walking down Cortland and saw a food incubator space that was looking for tenants, and Tim had the idea of doing a Japanese deli. So we did that in the incubator space, and we loved it. During that time, right next to where we live Yo’s Sushi Club was leaving and he offered us the opportunity to take over the restaurant. Tim opened ICHI Sushi in 2010.

And the rest, as they say, is Best of History…

PHOTO: Tim and Erin Archuleta of Ichi Sushi

Bernal Literary Celeb Jandy Nelson Wins Fabulous 2015 Printz Medal

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Bernal Heights is thick with literary celebrities. You pretty much can’t throw a rock on our little rock without hitting someone who’s written a few brilliant books, or gotten some rave reviews, or won a closet full of writerly prizes. Because that’s the kind of glamorous we are.

So here’s a hot celebrity tip: The newest, most glamorous Bernal Heights literary superstar is Bernal neighbor Jandy Nelson.

Neighbor Jandy’s acclaimed young-adult novel, “I’ll Give You the Sun,” just won the Michael L. Printz Award, which “honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.”

Publisher’s Weekly (!!) describes the awesome tale of how she learned about the accolade:

Jandy Nelson had to keep a very big secret – for two whole days. Last Saturday she found out she’d won the Michael L. Printz Award for her second novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, but the announcements were not being made until Monday. “I was so taken by surprise when they called,” Nelson said, reached by phone at her home in San Francisco. “They must have thought they were giving the award to a raving lunatic. I remember hearing it was the Printz Committee, and then I started screaming. I remember they were all clapping, and that made me burst into tears. They said a lot of nice things about my book, and I screamed some more. It was one of the happiest, most exciting moments of my life.”

I’ll Give You the Sun is told through the alternating perspectives of twins Noah and Jude, which thread their way to the event that drove the once-close siblings apart. The author says the book took her three and a half years to complete. “It was very much like writing three novels in total,” she said. “I wrote Noah’s story start to finish, and I locked the file [that contained] Jude’s story. Then I wrote Jude’s story start to finish. I didn’t want their voices to blend. And I wanted each story to have its own propulsion so it would work when I combined them. Then the last year I spent interweaving their stories, and working on the book as a whole.”

Citizens of Bernalwood, you know the drill: If you see Neighbor Jandy in the ‘hood, please give her some robust congrats and make sure she gets a big high-five.