Methodists Go to Court to Demolish Church

Methodist officials want to demolish a vacant 99-year-old church at Larkin and Clay streets, and they're going to court to force the city to allow it.

For the past six years, the church has battled local preservationists and city planners in an attempt to sell First St. John's United Methodist Church and replace it with a six-story condominium complex.

The building, according to the suit filed this week in San Francisco Superior Court, is "not safe enough to occupy, but - according to the city - not dangerous enough to be demolished."

The St. John's congregation decided in 2003 that "the best way to serve the Church's mission was to merge with a neighboring congregation, sell the property and use the proceeds to support the (Methodists') 14 other San Francisco congregations," the suit says.

But when the project finally came before the Planning Commission on June 24, commissioners determined that not only would the project result in the demolition of a historic resource, but also that the proposed condominium complex was too tall, too massive and out of place for the neighborhood and rejected the plan.

While the Methodists and the developer, Pacific Polk Properties, were urged to return with a revised plan, they're going to court instead.

They're looking for the $300,000 spent for an environmental impact report and other documents, attorney fees and costs and more than $5 million in lost profits from the condo deal.

- John Wildermuth

A new face: Melanie Nutter, a staff member for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was named the new head of the Department of Environment by Mayor Gavin Newsom Friday.

Since 2005, Nutter served as the deputy district director in Pelosi's San Francisco office and helped develop environmental policy.

Newsom said Nutter would continue to push residents and businesses in San Francisco to be environmentally conscious and look at environmental issues from a regional perspective.

"Her knowledge of government and her role in building coalitions to promote major environmental policy initiatives will be invaluable as we chart our city's efforts toward a greener, more sustainable environment and green jobs economy," Newsom said in a statement.

Mark Westlund, spokesman for the department, said he and other staff members have previously worked with Nutter and were eager to start collaborating on a daily basis.

"We are looking forward to working with her," he said. "Good things are ahead."

Nutter replaces Jared Blumenfeld who became the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January.

- Will Kane

Honoring the dead: Put on your tie-dye, dab on some patchouli, melt into a laid-back mind-set and head on over to McLaren Park on Sunday for the eighth annual Jerry Day celebration.

The day is named for Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia, an Excelsior district native son who lived his early years on Amazon Avenue.

Garcia died in 1995 and Sunday would have marked his 68th birthday.

Jerry Day - put on by the Excelsior Cultural Group and the San Francisco Parks Trust - features live bands, food and arts and crafts for sale. Admission is free, but organizers welcome donations.

Music starts at noon, with the last act, Melvin Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band, scheduled to take the stage at 3:30 p.m. The amphitheater is located off of 45 John F. Shelley Drive. More information can be found at www.jerryday.org.

- Rachel Gordon

It's not about the prize: If anyone asks, it's best to just say that San Francisco's exhibit at the California State Fair finished in a three-way tie for third.

Of course the other 27 counties with exhibits at the fair all tied for first or second.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the city has had an exhibit- a genuine cable car and slide show of city sights - at the Sacramento fair.

But a recent trip to the state capital found that awards aren't everything for fairgoers. While mockups of giant pears and apricots (Solano County) and a hulking replica of Bigfoot (Humboldt County) were instant eye catchers, San Francisco's exhibit attracted visitors who rested on the cable car benches and snapped cheerful pictures of each other clinging to the poles on the mobile landmark's outside step.

Probably the best news for the Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Visitors and Convention Bureau, which helped put together the fair exhibit, is that the free booklets about the city were all snapped up.

The fair runs through Sunday.

- John Wildermuth

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