On the Legacy of San Francisco, Gentrification, the Ellis Act, and Eviction Notices

Posted: October 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

I recently responded to a post by a friend of mine on Facebook and some of the others participating in the conversation asked me to post this more publicly so it could be shared. So I’ve done so here.

My thoughts were in response to my friend’s alarm at how many long-loved merchants, music venues, residents, and overall San Francisco authentic businesses seem to be closing or getting kicked out due to outrageously increased rents, Ellis Act evictions, and a desire to consume the scarce and valuable property that San Francisco has on offer within its 7×7 miles. My friend’s latest missive was in reaction to the news that much-loved music venue, the Elbo Room, was due to shutter its doors: http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/6154-update-whats-going-on-with-the-elbo-room

Here is his post:

“So…I should or should not freak out?
Hopefully historical property status can be secured for this gem of a place. I’ve spent two birthdays here, and paid tribute to James Brown (with scores of other San Franciscans) through a jammin dance party the night he passed away.

It’s saddening to see neighborhood cornerstones disappearing, and this goes beyond this one bar. With The Lex and Ellis Act evictions and countless other examples of displacement happening in The City, where will it end? At what point does a place lose so much character, lose so many of the things, the residents, the people that made it unique and special in the first place, before it becomes just like any other?

When our friends cannot afford to live here, to love here, to continue to learn here, what can people do? What can WE do? What does this neighborhood or this city need? I can’t just sit by while my community gets priced out. We must take further action-and if nothing else, holding our leaders accountable for what is going on is a good start.”

Here is my response to his post, for what it’s worth:

“I admit that things seem pretty rough to us, and lots of favorites and traditions in San Francisco seem to be making way for new, trendy, and downright trite “flash in the pan” businesses or tasteless housing developments. I have had this argument with myself about a hundred times in the last three years, specifically.

I think this outlook and feeling we’re having is the convergence of a few different factors- 1, the city is changing, materially, at the fastest rate of nearly every city in the U.S. and reflecting the most dramatic of American levels of socio-economic inequality. 2, our often “golden” childhood memories are often very much tied to specific places, and we are getting to the age where many of the places we spent time in or patronized as kids are closing either because of owner changeover (retirement, the next generation didn’t want to run the business), or because they have been priced out of the current market.
The man in my life really loves to remind me all the time that ‘history is a dialectic’- and I think the development of San Francisco through time is a true reflection of that. Over the course of my life many of my relatives (and Herb Caen, may he RIP) have told me that San Francisco just isn’t even a shadow of the city they knew back in the 30s, the 50s, or the 60s. This being because during each era it earned itself a reputation for being great in a distinctly different way than, say, 10 to 30 years prior. The city that welcomed the gold rush, that embodied the bawdy barbary coast wasn’t the same as the city that rebuilt itself after a massive earthquake, nor was the city that served as the HQ for the beats and the summer of love the same city as it was when we were growing up in the 80s and experienced the Loma Prieta. This current era can be frustrating and dismaying with occasional bouts of dread that this time we’ve really done it, and there’s no turning back toward charm or uniqueness. But it’s also worth remembering that the San Francisco of now is the emerald city in an industry and region that is known across the globe as a center of innovation, social justice, technology, youthful optimism and invincibility, and yes, money.
It is always worth fighting for those who don’t have any fight left in them, and always worth being the voice for those who are voiceless- but it is also worth considering that some of these feelings may derive from the fact that we are part of an aging population of San Francisco’s sons and daughters who are most afraid of our own mortality, and there not being any trace in the future of the things our memories have really loved holding on to.
There’s no “it’s going to be OK” tied to this really long diatribe, because each of us will digest the changes differently, and each of us will fight differently to either stay in SF or go, but I thought I’d at least share my own thoughts on the matter.
In closing, and really, in summary: Go GIANTS, Go 9ers, and this- www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1b8AhIsSYQ

Music video by Starship performing We Built This City. (C) 1985 Sony Music Entertainment

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