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They spent millions to live on an island in San Francisco with no grocery store. Who are they?

A man sits inside a fancy condo.
Jack Lease has owned a two-bedroom condo at the Bristol since September 2022, where he enjoys views of Oakland and the Bay Bridge. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Living on San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Island is something of a novelty. Residents of the Bristol, a luxury apartment building, are some of the first folks to call the 0.9-square-mile speck of land home since about 100 tenants were evicted from former naval housing in 2015. But why did they choose to spend more than $1 million to live on an island that doesn’t even have a grocery store?

Yerba Buena Island is a neighborhood in the making. Roads and trails have been rebuilt, but the island lacks even a neighborhood bar. It’s essentially an exit off the Bay Bridge halfway between Oakland and Downtown San Francisco.

The Bristol, with 124 units, is the only condo building on the island at present, and it’s not cheap. Here, a studio will set you back $599,000. A parking space for your condo will cost you a cool $115,000. 

An apartment building stands on an island.
The developers of the Bristol are cutting its condo prices in hopes of drawing residents to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Island. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

There are plans for more units in the near future, according to Compass Senior Managing Director Krysen Heathwood, who is selling the building’s homes.

“You’re seven minutes away from the city, but you’re in this amazing village with all this nature around you,” Heathwood said on a call set up by a public relations firm.

Since the building opened in June 2022, 49 units, or roughly 40%, have sold, Heathwood said. 

Heathwood declined to share information about Compass’ sales goals for homes on the island, but the developers have recently cut prices and are offering mortgage interest-rate buydowns to help move units. The price of a one-bedroom condo has been slashed by $178,000 since being listed on Sept. 19, and the price of a three-bedroom has dropped by $839,000 since it was listed on Nov. 9.

“We want them to be more popular," she said. "We want to increase absorption.”

An aerial photo shows an island.
Yerba Buena Island is pictured on a foggy August day in 2020. | Source: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Although the city is under a state order to allow for the construction of 82,000 homes by 2031, San Francisco housing permits are at a 13-year low. Market-rate housing, like Yerba Buena Island’s condos, makes up a larger percentage of new construction in San Francisco than affordable homes.

The island was once called “Goat Island” for the herds of goats raised for food that grazed there and became a military post in the 1870s, according to the National Park Service. During World War II, a portion of Yerba Buena Island fell under the jurisdiction of the Treasure Island Naval Station. The naval base’s commander and some of its officers lived on Yerba Buena Island.

‘It Was Perfect’

Jack Lease has owned a two-bedroom condo at the Bristol since September 2022, where he enjoys views of Oakland and the Bay Bridge.

Lease, 66, is a retired plastic surgeon who moved a decade ago from Chicago to Napa Valley’s Yountville, home of the bougie French Laundry restaurant. But, when his Parkinson’s disease worsened to the point that he couldn’t maintain a house anymore, he decided to downsize. A friend of his recommended he check out the new condos being built on Yerba Buena Island.

A man sits inside a fancy condo.
Jack Lease hangs out inside his plush two-bedroom condo inside the Bristol on San Francisco's Yerba Buena Island. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“It was perfect,” Lease said. “There’s green space like I had in Yountville, but I’m close to a city.”

Lease said he typically takes the ferry from Treasure Island—which is connected to Yerba Buena by a causeway—to San Francisco, often to visit restaurants and museums. Despite the island lacking a grocery store, Lease said he typically gets his food from Woodlands Market at 203 Folsom St., a short walk from the Ferry Building.

Lease said when he does drive, for instance, to visit the de Young Museum, he can get to Octavia Boulevard’s Highway 101 exit in 20 minutes, even in traffic.

Cars drive along a bridge.
Cars drive on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco on Aug. 14, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“Even if it looks like there’s traffic on the bridge, you can get across pretty quickly because you don’t have to deal with the backup at the [toll] plaza” in Oakland, Lease said.

When all was said and done, after minor construction work on his new island home and the purchase of a parking space and storage locker, he had spent close to $1.9 million to live there.

‘Like Being on Vacation Every Day’

Derek and Dorothy Krause, both 63, have lived at the Bristol on the fifth floor since June 2022 after moving out of Oakland’s Redwood Heights neighborhood after 18 years. They share the home with their two dogs, Paris and Monet.

The retired couple, who have been married for 19 years, were first at odds about downsizing from their 1,850-square-foot house in the Oakland Hills to a 700-square-foot condo on an isolated island in the San Francisco Bay. But Dorothy came around.

“It’s like being on vacation every day,” she said. “It’s so safe here.”

A couple stands on a balcony, holding their two small dogs.
Derek and Dorothy Krause stand on their condo balcony with their two dogs, Monet and Paris. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Before closing on their $1.8 million, two-bedroom condo, Dorothy Krause said she had grown tired of crime issues in Oakland, from stolen packages to her husband's truck being targeted by catalytic converter thieves. That’s not to mention PG&E shutting off their power whenever the risk of fire was too great.

“One time, it was for like four days,” Dorothy said of the power cuts. “It was scary.”

Derek Krause is a retired firefighter who teaches part-time at Las Positas and Chabot community colleges. He mainly drives to work. But despite relying on his truck, he said he doesn’t have to worry about traffic, even though his only way off the island is the ferry or the Bay Bridge. He said it takes him 20 to 25 minutes to get to work.

“I get to Chabot [in Hayward] faster from here than when I lived in the Oakland Hills,” he said. “Here, you’re centrally located to all the thoroughfares.”

The Krauses drive into San Francisco to get their groceries from Whole Foods on Rhode Island and 17th streets, shop at Bloomingdales in the San Francisco Centre and dine at favorite restaurants, such as Kokkari Estiatorio

‘10 Minutes From Downtown’

Michael Lee is a recruiting director for video game giant Electronic Arts. He moved into his two-bedroom condo in August 2022 after spending $1.7 million on it.

Lee said while there are no businesses on Yerba Buena Island, he has easy access to restaurants and bars on Treasure Island, including Gold Bar, and takes either the ferry or walks 12 minutes to Treasure Island to hop on the 25 Muni bus whenever he travels to San Francisco. He’s also the proud owner of four motorcycles but uses them more for recreation than commuting.

A man sits on a couch.
Michael Lee sits inside the lobby of the Bristol, a condo building where he owns a home on San Francisco's Yerba Buena Island. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Residents can reserve a shuttle, whose cost is included in the homeowner’s association fee, to drive them around either island, but Lee said he prefers to walk, even up the steep hill leading back from Treasure Island.

Lee primarily works from home and enjoys a walk down to Clipper Cove Beach and along the new trails.

“It’s quite peaceful here,” Lee said. “There’s nature, but I’m, like, 10 minutes from Downtown, if I time it right.”

The Bristol’s penthouse also just sold, Heathwood said, declining to share the exact sale price or information on the buyer, although it was likely sold for more than $4 million according to marketing information seen by The Standard.

“Unlike any other homes in San Francisco, you can see all three bridges,” Heathwood said, referring to the Golden Gate, Bay and Richmond-San Rafael bridges.

In addition to condos, next year Compass will start selling single-family homes dubbed the Townhomes. The houses are designed as a “modern interpretation of iconic SF row houses,” according to spokesperson Brian Cooley, and will be priced from $3.4 million to $6 million.

Construction workers build condos.
Condos on Yerba Buena Island called the Townhouses, right, and single-family homes dubbed the Flats, rear, are under construction and are expected to be complete by spring 2024. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Compass will also add single-level “estate-sized” homes, the Flats, which will range in price from $3.5 million to $9 million and are still under construction. Both are set to be completed by spring 2024.

In total, there will be four planned developments and a handful of suburban-style single-family homes on Yerba Buena Island, totaling 266 homes.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com