A Narrative of Displacement

This was the first tableau I encountered in the Mission District after parking the car.  Tech people chatting amiably next to a mural decrying the displacement of renters by tech people.   The afternoon was off to a very meta start.

When we were younger and rather prettier Mrs. U and I once lived near Valencia street when it was known primarily for taquerias.   Now you can buy retro sci-fi themed tchotchkes for $3200.  Is there a viable business model for this?  Probably not, but doesn’t matter.  The people who start stores of this nature have already made their money in you-know-what and are doing it for fun, which would be an example of loose capital not displacing labor, rather sober capitalism itself, as historically understood.

For the hyper-aspirational parent,  Valencia St. is also home to Aldea Baby and Paxton Gate Kids. In a city which has largely displaced young families, it is difficult to believe the register would ring often enough to pay SF rent. In the new paradigm one need not chase sales volume to be in the black, rather the loose money of a few undiscriminating uberwealthy couples who want their wunderkind to design rocket ships.

Staffing is an obstacle.  As my friend Johnny explained it to me: “unless you pay $20/hr, no one shows up”.

So much muraling in the Mission celebrates matriarchal themes…ironic for a city in which matriarchal power, otherwise known as procreation, has been forsaken by the women who live there.

San Francisco is not entirely motherless. I was hosted by a mother of two, a dear friend who lives in a house which dropped on her head as a marital dowry.    Inherited property and trustafarian arrangements are one workaround to the Google problem (the other being a time machine to 1992), but mothers anchored to paychecks tend to find raising children in communal rentals difficult and decamp for the outer commuter rings, or further.

SF is white AF now  (and Asian), far more so than we lived there.  The Mission is Latino no longer.   Black people…? Well, there was once a lovely movie made about the disappearing black population in SF called Medicine for Melancholydirected by Barry Jenkins, who went on to win an Oscar for Moonlight. You can no longer stream it on Netflix,  which makes the memory piece of black SF also now a memory.

And yet…the nouveau riche, Chewish San Francisco loves its narratives of third world oppression.

As though to illustrate the point for tourists from LA, this woman, who appeared to be about 60, wearing designer clothes that mimicked what one might pull out of a dumpster, parked her Mercedes in front of Delfina restaurant, turned up rap music and began dancing ecstatically atop her seat. She shouted things about “black and white together” and held up a special issue of National Geographic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it there. There are bike lanes everywhere, including through the freeway exchanges.  I made full use of them.

Unlike LA, the bike is king!  Befitting royalty, cars yield to you.  Entire auto lanes have been displaced, to use the word of the day, in favor of pedal pushing.  This is Market Street. Can you imagine LA City Council saying yes to this on Wilshire Blvd.? I can imagine it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.   SF may be an unpleasant city for driving, but there is a tradeoff. It is much, much quieter, even the commercial districts, when cars move at slower speeds.  As I had no job to which to commute I was free to ignore the annoyance of others, and live with entitlement for a few days.

You can also let your dog run off leash at the beach, from the Marina to Pacifica. As fate would have it I ran into Danny Glover, one of the last black men in SF (the other being Willie Brown) twice, jogging by himself on Sunset Beach.

It’s when you try to leave San Francisco fully reveals itself.   This was me, 3pm, wasting 40 minutes trying to get on the Bay Bridge.  Once you get through Oakland, you think…

Only when you get to Castro Valley do you realize your commute is not opening up, it’s just starting.   Eight miles ahead of you, the Silicon Valley traffic from the 680 is funneling into the 580. You are one hour from Livermore.

After Livermore, clear sailing, right? No more on-ramps. Nothing but windmills and cows until Tracy.  Wrong. Five miles an hour over the pass.  Three hours from the city, limping into the Central Valley, one tired lion among many, extending to the horizon.

Here is San Francisco, you realize, not Valencia Street. The place you left is a theme park for the wealthy and for tourists. San Franciscans, to broaden the definition…live out here.

Define fragility: one roofing nail in the road.

More fragility: Millennium Tower, eighteen inches out of plumb already.  The foundation piles do not extend to bedrock.  They are held up by friction and they have begun to torque, twisting out of equilibrium.


Are we going to look back on this era of millionaires bicycling to dinner and retail workers driving home to Stockton as a harbinger of the future or an obvious signpost of folly?

9 thoughts on “A Narrative of Displacement”

  1. Loaved the narrative, especially the hellish drive out. I would’ve taken 101 to 152 (real Wallace Stegner country) but that would have been awful as well.
    We lived in the Inner Sunset for 15 years while in grad school and post grad school. Cold and foggy and we loved it but we had to move and now we can never move back. We couldn’t afford it now.
    My husband is a googler and we still can’t afford anything there. I can only assume that it was the people that bought around 2001 and then just kept moving up the market. Even after the 2008 crash the price is never really dropped cuz we’ve been looking. Even the rents are completely over the top. The last place we lived is now a set of condos and I believe that about a year ago one of them was for sale and it was well over a million dollars. we always had our doubts whether that place would still be standing after the next quake… cannot fathom how all the renters are surviving. When we last lived there the majority African American area in the city was overlooking the bay with an amazing view. It was public housing and I assumed at some point someone was going to try to cash in on that gorgeous view.
    It has to end somewhere or at least my husband says it does and he still has dreams of trying to buy into the market in SF. He sends me Redfin links and I just laugh but I also cry because I loved living in San Francisco in the 80s and 90s no longer exists. I’m betting that a big quake maybe the only thing that sets things back but we all know that the little people are the ones that get hurt by those kind of events.

    1. I love the 152! When I went to UC Santa Cruz, I used to ride it frequently, on a motorcycle. My understanding is that Gilroy is now the outer commute, heading south.

  2. Always love your take on things. And such great photos. For the record, you and the Mrs. are still plenty pretty.

    I invite you – and your readers – to consider the narrative about San Francisco that was prevalent not that long ago.

    1960s. Summer of love. Young people overdosing on Heroin. Protests of every kind. Massive white flight out of the city to leafy tranquil suburbs. The Black and Latino populations were left behind to rot along with all the dirty Hippies.

    1970s. San Francisco was synonymous with blight, disinvestment, crime, and radicals. Patty Hearst and the Sybionese Liberation Army. Jim Jones and The People’s Temple. Homosexuals taking over entire neighborhoods that used to be inhabited by respectable Catholic families. The mayor and a city councilman were shot dead in their office chairs in City Hall – by another councilman who was an ex cop and ex firefighter no less.

    1980s. AIDS. A city ravaged by plague. A deep economic recession. Vacancies in every neighborhood. An earthquake that pulled down multiple freeways in the heart of the city and destroyed a chunk of the Bay Bridge.

    How soon we forget… This too shall pass. Perhaps future generations will have a warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling for Olde Tech San Francisco. The other Gold Rush. 舊金山

    1. When I started writing this I thought I was working the “wish I could go back, but can’t afford it” theme, but it turned into something else. Your reminisce tells me I should revisit this topic soon. There are many people who enjoyed SF young and broke and now amazed to discover even as prosperous professsionals with some equity they can’t swing it.

      1. “wish I could go back, but can’t afford it” Says the guy who’s one year away from a mortgage free house (a house! with a garden!) in Los Angeles with magically low property taxes. Suck it up cupcake.

  3. Never got to live there, but made regular 80’s visits searching for reggae on vinyl and used books. Always on the cheap, taquerias, Hamburger Mary’s,Cha Cha Cha , and $5 bleacher seats. Now it’s a few times a year, maybe a Michelin restaurant or theater.
    Leave at night,or better yet, take the Coast, and breathe…..
    Great essay Up;Adapt or move on. Finding a sub 200K house in LA was genius….Kudos

  4. The Filmore district, “The Harlem of the West”.
    “Redevelopment” started in the ’60’s. The black populace were given rent vouchers and crossed the bridge to Oakland.
    Upon re-development, the Filmore was too expensive to move back to.

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