How shortsighted neighborhood activism fuels the city's housing crisis, and pushes the best of San Francisco deeper and deeper into the suburbs
By Matt Smith
August 18, 1999
Well, thanks for pointing out how much last week's column sucked -- like we hadn't noticed ourselves. At least try to be constructive -- like Michael Ege, who, noticing we need some help, writes to say, "Stanley Kubrick once directed a film about Clint Reilly's love life. Title: Jaw Wired Shut."
Dog Bites believes it may not be possible for anyone else to really appreciate just how much easier it is to let the readers write the column for us. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see what's happening now that the city's longtime refusal to add to its housing stock has come back to haunt many of the very same über San Franciscans who've repeatedly objected to having, say, new 16-unit apartment buildings built anywhere near their neighborhoods, and who now find the owners of their charming Edwardian flats raising their rents. Imagine! Then, when these arbiters of all that is San Franciscan go to look for a new place, they find to their dismay that 24-year-olds with jobs at Web start-ups are lining up on the sidewalk to pay $1,850 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. The shock of this cold new world is just too much, and the formerly self-congratulatory True San Franciscan demands the only fair solution: The newcomers should just go away.
Yeah, that'll work.
Dog Bites -- Just had to contribute to the ongoing "I'm more San Franciscan than thou" saga. I'm something like fifth generation San Franciscan. I've attended all school levels here, then college and law school at Cal. So I consider myself as native as they come. I recently moved back from NY, where I lived for two years, and found my other native friends very disgruntled. It took me several months, but pretty soon I caught on, too.
My biggest pet peeve: when people lie about where they're from, e.g., "Yeah, I'm from here." "Where did you go to grammar school/ high school?" "Oh, well I didn't live here that far back." As if moving here when you're 20 somehow makes you actually from here.
I also have had the earthquake fantasy. I am well aware that that's one of the biggest "spooking" qualities of SF. At least it might stop the influx temporarily. And let's face it, that would pretty much wipe out the Marina District now, wouldn't it? My alternate "solution" has been to start a "get your ass out of San Francisco" campaign, which would involve minor defacings of targeted homes, e.g. paper pasting thoughtful and creative postings, making others aware that they're not necessarily welcome in this neck of the woods.
P.S. I assume you won't print this, but just to play it safe, I don't want to see my name in print. I've got a budding law profession to think about. And by the way, I plan to make some changes in this town once I'm in the field!!! I'm not just a whiner; I'm a doer....
Meanwhile, there's no evidence of any policy change at the city's spineless planning department, where for decades a passel of short-sighted, self-appointed, and self-interested neighborhood groups have been allowed to set the housing agenda for an entire region (for further details, see our August 18 cover story "Welcome Home" Dog Bites, currently forced to put up with all kinds of crap in our own rental, would love to move -- but not to a shared two-bedroom in Dublin, which appears to be all we could afford outside of the rent-controlled wretchedness in which we now dwell, where a four-unit luxury condo project is going up across the street, with attendant 6 a.m. construction noise. And then, in the midst of this eerily unprecedented second Indian Summer -- migraine weather for sure -- we come in to work and find a string of mysterious voice mail messages from an inspector in the SFPD's Arson Task Force and have the immediate and guilty idea that, somehow, our very thoughts are under surveillance. Time to make another aluminum foil hat.
In response to your dilemma over who's "more San Francisco" than others, there's a very simple rule of measure. Basically, anyone who arrived here after February 1, 1997 is simply not, and never will be, a true San Franciscan.
We think our point, however, was that while those who've been here for a while like to wax nostalgic about the huge flat with the paneled entry, coffered ceilings, and working fireplaces they used to rent in Bernal for $560 a month back in 1983, when this city was still a haven for other cool people just like them, they may be guilty of something of an oversimplification when they blame the current untenable situation on people who just up and recklessly move to San Francisco, probably on some flimsy pretext like having been hired to work here or something. Worse than that, the old timers' zeal to shout down anyone deemed not San Franciscan enough means that public dialog about the city's housing problems is impoverished.
Dear Dog Bites,
In your most recent column, you reprinted a rather long letter about housing in the city. A radical suggestion of Milwaukee relocation was bruited, as was a fervent desire for God's divine wrath to wipe the yuppies from the face of the Marina. A good start, I say, a good start.
But to continue the crusade against these "foreigners" who plague our fair city's studios and one-bedrooms, we must enact some strong legislation. I suggest that we mark all non-native residents with a special badge that must be worn at all times (perhaps a cross to signify the burden they bear, having been spawned in some other city's ignorant squalor). Since they have had the effrontery to steal jobs and apartments from real San Franciscans, they should lose their ill-gotten possessions and real estate. They should be relegated to menial jobs (or denied work altogether) as just retribution for their crimes against the true children of our city. May I also suggest a forcible relocation to some temporary internment camps prior to the Milwaukee deportation, thus alleviating the housing pressure immediately? I hear Alameda has some room.
To facilitate the enactment of these proposed laws, I further recommend that each non-native resident be given a numbered tattoo (the forehead seems the most efficient place for it, but the forearm has a historical precedent).
Doing my part to keep San Francisco pure,
Fourth-generation San Franciscan
We are not particularly hopeful that people will stop competing with each other for the title Most San Franciscan. This is, after all, the same city in which Dog Bites has several times heard Mission Yuppie Eradication Project pointperson Kevin "Nestor Makhno" Keating -- who himself has gone on record in the global media as believing himself more entitled to live in San Francisco than those more, uh, economically advantaged than he -- witheringly dismissed as "someone who's only lived here for 11 years." Luckily, however, a legislated solution may be in the offing:
Hi Lady DB,
Please be advised that the Mission Community Task Force Working Group Coalition is currently devising what we hope will be a means to end the bitter and tacky vitriol regarding who deserves to live here in our fair city and who does not. It will be titled the San Francisco Residential Validity Application, and will determine once and for all who has the right to lay claim to being a legitimate San Francisco person and who should really pack it up and go somewhere where the social matrix as a whole doesn't think quite so much of themselves. I will keep you updated.
P.S. Thanks for lunch at Fringale. Don't worry about the waiter choosing me for his after-work date. His accent was the only thing interesting about him.
And of course, once we resolve San Francisco's problems, we can move on to those of outlying areas:
Please let me know how to reach Nestor Mehnko [sic] (Kevin Keating). I want to start a Yuppie Eradication Project in San Rafael. It may be too late for the rest of Marin but there may be hope for San Rafael. I'm desperate!
Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.