Saturday, April 12, 2014

San Francisco becomes a conflicted bedroom community; now what?

This:

leads to this:

Considering that where I live in the San Francisco Mission district is ground zero for this conflict, I have written very little about the sense we have these days of being engulfed by a tidal wave of folks with a lot more money than the current population. Their arrival is radically changing the neighborhood. I have written about several eviction protests, but I haven't felt ready to summarize what I think about the implications of these developments.

This week the estimable community organization Causa Justa/Just Cause published Development without Displacement. This study provides some data:
Latinos are being displaced at a significant rate from the Mission district while white residents and homeowners have increased. Between 1990 and 2011, the number of Latino households in the Mission decreased by 1,400, while the number of White households increased by 2,900. White homeownership more than doubled during this time.

Gentrification is changing the population of Oakland and San Francisco as a whole. Between 1990 and 2011, Oakland’s African American population decreased from 43 percent to 26 percent of the population, the largest drop by far of any population group. During the same period of time, San Francisco’s Black population was cut in half from about 10 percent to only 5 percent of the population.
That is, Black and brown people are being pushed out of what was once their 'hood by affluent, mostly white, mostly very young newcomers, many of them beneficiaries of the current tech boom. Tech workers are currently 6 percent of employed San Franciscans, but their impact is larger. At the essential San Francisco site, 48 Hills, Sara Shortt, director of the Housing Rights Committee explains what is happening very cogently:
... tech companies [aren’t] taking responsibility for the impacts the influx of well-paid employees is having on the city. ...

Encouraging their recruits to live in the city and commute on private shuttle buses has created an incentive for the real estate industry to take advantage of those higher incomes, Shortt said, and low-income residents just can’t compete.

“The city has let it rise to a dire situation,” Shortt said, and has been “bending over backward for tech.”
That last is a reference to the enormous "Google buses" that use the city streets and bus zones, essentially for free. As reported in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office reports
... there are 131 regional shuttles with 8,030 boardings (to San Francisco and back) per a day. Of the shuttles making 273 trips to and from San Francisco daily, the lion's share (57) are owned by Google. Its workers represent just over half of daily boardings.

The invading buses are also enormous. Taller than a Muni bus, the BLA reports that the Google buses weigh 31 tons when fully loaded, nearly twice the weight of a big rig truck. That's also a far cry from the seven-ton intra-city shuttles used by the likes of the Academy of Art University and Kaiser Permanente. That size comes with a cost.

"The Department of Public Works staff concur that heavier vehicles contribute to faster roadway deterioration," the BLA wrote. The damage a shuttle makes on the pavement with a single trip accounts for $1.08 out of the $1 million it will ultimately cost the city to reconstruct a mile of pavement. A typical personal car will cause $0.00023 of damage to pavement over its entire lifetime. So one shuttle trip is "equivalent to 4,700 passenger vehicles driving over the same lane."
The city fathers have just got around to asking for $1 for each use of a city bus stop by these behemoths -- somehow I doubt that is going to cover the cost of repaving streets.

In addition to working politically to get the city to attend to the interests of its long time residents, I find myself focused on what we can do to encourage the people who are moving in to preserve the city they find so attractive. It's not as if the city has not accommodated influxes that changed our culture before. In the over 40 years I've been here, I've seen the city assimilate migrants from the Chinese mainland, hippies, queers, Central Americans, and the ascendancy of a progressive labor movement that was before its time in incorporating all these different groups. The intersections were not always comfortable; far from it. I remember when Mission Latinos picketed a new lesbian bar right out of business -- today they'd probably be protesting together.

The city can (perhaps) reduce real estate speculation and slow the current dislocation. But we have only begun to consider what being a bedroom community for people who spend their working lives somewhere else means to our politics. This will probably take a while to work out; a great many of the new tech workers are under thirty, hence not particularly likely voters. Few of them have children, so they are not likely to get involved with the city schools, a frequent entry point for citizen activism. Mainly using the Google buses to get to work and Uber and its competitors to get around the city, I don't imagine they'll be into transit activism, except perhaps to defend their private buses. The tech workers are more white and much better paid than many long term residents. They are probably socially liberal or libertarian -- that seems the norm for their generation. But can they imagine that a community needs considerable collective provision of services to be a good place. Have they ever even used a public library?

There's some political science literature on the political behavior of people who live in bedroom communities. Years back, when I was trying to gin up electoral activity in southern California suburbs, I remember reading that people who worked in jurisdictions where they didn't live tended to be more aware of issues in the place where they worked than in where they slept. I know when I've been trying to get out the vote in far exurban bedroom communities (such as Tracy, CA), the reality that adults spend long hours commuting in traffic as well as working greatly reduced their inclination to get involved. But I haven't found much written about the situation in which we are now living, where the city is the bedroom and the periphery is the workplace. I guess we are going to find out.

3 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

I think some of this is the change we are seeing due to population growth and where some areas are more desirable than others to live. I saw it probably 40 years ago in Santa Barbara when we were driving around, looking at the cute little bungalows and finding out they ran a half a million dollars. Obviously at some point it was reasonable for people to live, hence the cottage sizes, but the desire to live there raised their value far above other places (this is when we had a home in Portland area worth about $40,000 which was the average about then for a small home there). Since some people buy property hoping it will be an investment I don't know how you stop the market from determining value. A lot of it would be better if we dealt with income inequality but don't hold your breath on that given how the right is painting that concern...

Hattie said...


Seventh and Mission was where the Greyhound busses left. As a teenager I would come in on Saturday for my violin lesson at the SF Conservatory, then in the Richmond district, and take the bus home to Sharp Park in what is now called Pacifica.
I don't recall visiting the "Mexican" areas of the Mission District except once to go to a restaurant with my parents.
My high school was near the dividing line between the Mission and Daly City, and my classmates were mostly lower middle class and white, like my family.
Later, I worked in the Mission District in the 50's at a janitorial supply company that moved out of SF ages ago. South of Market was dominated by flophouses and pawnshops, and the day laborers and alcoholics were everywhere to be seen. Even the other side of Market, aside from Union Square, was pretty plebian. The building at Fifth and Mission was a Woolworths. That was where I would take the cable car.
Now everything is fancy. But this is the trend everywhere; I do think it's wonderful the way the SF waterfront has been opened up, and now everyone can enjoy long views of the Bay.
But there is a certain tameness to it all. People are so self conscious these days and concerned about "lifestyle." We just wanted to get by and maybe improve our lot, as many of us did. Affluent urbanites lead lives that would bore me silly, and the lives of the poor are bad as always.

janinsanfran said...

Hattie: enjoyed your recollections of San Francisco. When I first came here in 1965, it was an overwhelmingly white and quite formal city. I was talking tonight with a woman who grew up here in the '50s and '60s -- she remembers dressing up to go downtown

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