EASTERN NEIGHBORHOODS: LESSONS LEARNED?


Eight long years of focus groups, workshops and public hearings have sucked the very last few ounces of passion from the land use wars that once dominated the headlines and swept a progressive majority into city hall but, as the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning process limps to its weary conclusion before nearly empty chambers at the Board of Supervisors, the issues that sparked this revolution remain largely unresolved.

It has become far more expensive to live in San Francisco. As condo towers rise along the Embarcadero and working class jobs continue to flee the city, the gap between the phenomenally wealthy and the very poor has grown.

Under the administration of Mayor Willie Brown, a pliant Planning Commission approved almost every development scheme that came before it. Throughout the southeastern portion of the city, land that had once been zoned for industrial uses suddenly began to sprout residential and office projects. Lofts rose next to cement plants. Expensive condos moved alongside gritty nightclubs. Auto body shops and other light industrial uses yielded to the dot com boom.

Local activists such as Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, Sophie Maxwell and Jake McGoldrick were swept into office by a general sense that the city was being sold off to the highest bidder. The “Class of 2000″ demanded comprehensive community planning.

The Planning Department, under the leadership of Gerald Green, resisted all efforts to rein in development. Live/work lofts continued to be approved, exploiting legislation only intended to facilitate working artists occupying warehouse space and bringing housing to areas where the Planning Code never allowed for residential uses. Office space continued its incursion into industrial areas, utilizing “business services” legislation intended only to provide incubator space for multi media projects. When the Bryant Square development bulldozed dozens of artists’ studios and small businesses in the north Mission, hundreds marched on city hall.

EASTERN NEIGHBORHOODS PROPOSED

“Eastern Neighborhoods” was city hall’s response … a down and dirty rezoning process, originally confined to a one year time frame, with the intent to identify how much new housing could be built in the formerly industrial lands and how many jobs would be lost in the process. Options A, B and C were drawn up, with one option representing an extreme protectionist position, another a dramatic wave of residential conversions and the middle option, which planners hoped everyone would like which offered just the right balance between new housing construction and the preservation of “PDR,” their newly coined buzz word for production, distribution and repair (working class) uses.

It was at this point that South of Market rebelled. SoMa had been rezoned in the 1980s, long before Willie Brown and Gerald Green took the reins, and the neighborhood took on an exciting eclectic character. In fact, the South of Market zoning controls represented the first real mixed use zoning in the city, with designations like SLR, which represented Service, Light Industrial and Residential, RSD, which stood for Residential Service District and SSO, a buffer between downtown and the neighborhoods that allowed service and secondary office uses. SoMa’s zoning was working and represented a much more sophisticated template than the “too hot,” “too cold” and “just right” choices being spoon fed to the community by a patronizing Planning Department. The western half of SoMa was removed from the Eastern Neighborhoods process and has gone on to develop a model community-based process that has had a significant impact on the Eastern Neighborhoods process.

Eight long years have passed. Option B remains the general framework for the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning. But the whole notion of building “Complete Neighborhoods,” a Western SoMa concept, has crept into the process. Affordable housing, mixed use districts, open space and public streetscape improvements, better transit, pedestrian safety, economic development, jobs and small businesses, historic resources, community facilities and services and public benefits have all made their way into the discussion … and, with varying degrees of success, appear in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan.

THE PLAYERS

The players have changed over the years. Once headed up by the autocratic Miriam Chion of the Planning Department, Eastern Neighborhoods has since fallen under the tutelage of David Alumbaugh, who later moved on to head up Mayor Newsom’s Better Streets program, and currently rests with Ken Rich, who counts the days until his six month sabbatical begins following adoption of the plan.

In the neighborhoods, the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition (MAC), the Potrero Boosters and the South of Market Community Action Coalition (SOMCAN) continue to fight the same battles that originally spawned the process. The Mission Merchants and North East Mission Residents Association have contributed to the discussion. The Residential Builders Association (RBA), once dominated by the mercurial Joe O’Donoghue, has found new leadership and its members have developed a sophistication in land use principles that goes far beyond spouting the talking points of their early years. SPUR and the Housing Action Coalition have been largely absent from the process.

Within the Mayor’s office, which maintained a benign neglect of anything related to planning during Newsom’s first term, former Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) Jesse Blout and former Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) Matt Franklin began to assert management of the Eastern Neighborhoods program in recent years. As the housing market cooled off and subsidies to low income housing projects began to dry up, MOEWD began to dominate the discussion. The “Michaels,” Michael Cohen, current Director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and his assistant, Michael Yarne, are the major players as the plan moves to the Board of Supervisors.

At the Board, Sophie Maxwell has been a consistent participant from the beginning, having negotiated with Willie Brown, for better or worse, the original agreement that gave rise to the Eastern Neighborhoods process. Jake McGoldrick brought his experience battling the RBA’s “Richmond specials” to the Board for several tumultuous years on the Land Use Committee of the Board. This past year, Aaron Peskin, ostensibly the Board’s most gifted land use specialist, joined the committee. Chris Daly, always at the center of the storm on land use issues, has had to sit out this battle as his proximity to the Mission district boundaries forced him to recuse himself.

THE PLAN

PDR replacement is addressed in the current plan by the creation of several PDR zones that restrict housing. “Integrated PDR,” which looks a lot like office use, has been added into the mix. Of course, the entire Eastern Neighborhoods area was once an industrial zone, so the amount of land that remains zoned for light industrial uses leaves San Francisco dead last among major American cities in preservation of space for such job producing uses.

Affordable housing hit a wall as housing advocates ran out of ideas. San Francisco doesn’t have a problem producing luxury housing but the need for affordable housing continues to grow. In January of 2007, the Board of Supervisors sent the Planning Commission a message when they passed a resolution affirming their commitment to producing 64% affordable units within the newly rezoned area in keeping with the needs outlined in the city’s own Housing Element.

After proposing a host of ideas such as trying to induce developers to swap land for height increases, adding minor fees onto new construction to supplement MOH’s housing fund and making minor adjustments to the city’s inclusionary housing requirements in select areas (current law allows projects to meet their inclusionary requirements either on-site, off-site at a higher level or by making a comparable contribution to the MOH fund), the Eastern Neighborhoods process does not even remotely approach the Board’s original requirement.

In terms of building complete neighborhoods, the Eastern Neighborhood plan finds itself hamstrung by its own consultants’ findings which conclude that requiring adequate public benefits contributions does not pencil out. The plan’s ambitious goals to add parks in every neighborhood, provide adequate transit service and improve the public realm before allowing any new development to move forward ran up against a significant deficit in available funds.

The Board of Supervisor’s Land Use Committee proposed several mitigations:

* Metering: a requirement that the Planning Department report back every five years on how effectively the fees collected are going towards providing basic infrastructure needs. Unless the Board affirmatively recognizes that the stated goals are being met, provisions would kick in that require the zoning to revert to current standards until means can be found to support the growth resulting from the upzoning.

* Use it or lose it: a three year timetable on projects which benefit from the new zoning, requiring that a developer obtain the first site permit within that period of time or the original entitlements would be revoked and the project would have to reapply under whatever current standards apply.

* Design review: a mandatory review for large projects of the overall massing and scale, facades, lower floor design and streetscape improvements, parking and open space treatments. This stops short of a Conditional Use requirement, bypasses the Discretionary Review process and has an appeals process that involves the Board of Appeals rather than the Board of Supervisors.

In one last flurry of political gamesmanship, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd severed these three items from the main legislation before the Board. They face a final vote today. Although all three passed on first reading, none carried a veto-proof majority. In effect, an already watered down rezoning proposal will go to the Mayor with its few controversial provisions stripped out of the plan, standing alone and subject to what amounts to a line-item veto.

LESSONS LEARNED

Lessons learned? Eight years is too long for any neighborhood planning process. The original goals are but a distant memory. An eight year process without a firm set of principles contains no benchmarks upon which its success can be judged. The neighborhoods affected deserve more control over their future. Hundreds attended the original workshops, filled with hope, only to be numbed into submission by endless Power Point presentations from a top-down bureaucracy. In the end, only a handful of decision makers remained at the table. The process must be more transparent. High stakes political machinations threaten to gut the few remaining social impact controls from the process. Lo and behold, we appear to be faced with the decision: how much housing can we build and how many jobs must we lose in the process?

Countless cities all over the country are experimenting with far more community-driven processes. The Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force, while certainly not a perfect example, has been a notable exception to past Planning Department efforts and serves as a laboratory for more citizen involvement. Its influence is already apparent along Geary Boulevard and in the Japantown process. With some luck, Eastern Neighborhoods could be the last traditional planning process San Francisco will have to undergo.

WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS


One subject that won’t be back on the agenda here in SoMa anytime soon is the AF Evans proposal to build low income family housing at 570 Townsend Street. The project displaces what was until recently a viable digital media use. Located in the heart of the Service and Light Industrial zone (SLI), housing is incompatible with the surrounding commercial activities. Current Planning Commission policy is to discourage housing of any kind in that area and the underlying zoning explicitly disallows almost all housing because of the impact it has on land values. Yet the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) continues to aggressively promote this project.

The site currently includes 24,000 square feet of commercial space. In the first round of talks with the community, we asked for one-to-one replacement of that space. They came back with an offer of 18,000 square feet and a large residential project. We suggested they put all the commercial space into the Townsend Street frontage. They put five floors of housing overlooking the rail yards. We suggested that the housing be made compatible with the small residential cluster behind the project on Gilbert and Lucerne Alleys. They reduced the commercial component to 6,000 square feet.

I was told I should try to meet them half way. I have. But then they moved the goal posts. And I tried again. And they move them again. This is going nowhere. Back to square one.

If we are to preserve good paying working class jobs anywhere in the city, land must be set aside where the noise and nuisance of commercial activities don’t come into conflict with residential uses. 570 Townsend is in an industrial protection zone. There’s an electrical supply operation to the east and a furniture warehouse to the west. Large trucks begin making deliveries early every morning. The rail yards are across the street. There are no sidewalks.

570 Townsend is an awful place to put family housing for a variety of reasons:

* Housing doesn’t belong there. This is an industrial protection zone.
* There are delivery trucks coming and going at all hours of the night.
* The trains make an awful racket.
* The community planning goal has been to create more job opportunities in the area
* That translates into more incompatible activities.
* Nighttime entertainment uses will probably be encouraged to gravitate to the area.
* Biotech startups are considered a possible permitted use for the area.
* Given the freeways and rail yards, this is an unhealthy place for anyone to live.
* The major thoroughfares are dangerous and unfriendly to pedestrians.
* There are no sidewalks.
* The area lacks most essential services.
* Accessing most family needs would require owning a car.
* Low income projects like this provide practically no parking.
* There are few neighbors.
* There are no schools.
* There are no playground facilities anywhere around for the kids.
* It’s a flat, windy, mosquito-infested, godforsaken backwater.

Increase the residential population of this area and the first thing they’ll do is try to wipe away everything that makes it amenable to the service and light industries that currently thrive down there.

SoMa welcomes appropriate affordable housing

SoMa has never shied away from providing its share of affordable housing. Yerba Buena, 6th Street and the Mid-Market Redevelopment area plans all include generous amounts of entry level, supportive, family and senior housing. Just look at the towers of housing surrounding Yerba Buena Gardens. Western SoMa is in the midst of an affordability renaissance, with five separate projects in the area around 8th and Howard Streets, new housing already completed at Folsom and Dore Alley and the Columbia Square Apartments adjacent to the new park and with entry-level SRO housing coming soon to 10th and Folsom Streets, family and senior housing projects getting underway at 10th and Mission and 9th and Jessie Streets and significant affordability under consideration for the St. Joseph’s Church site.

Since the Newsom administration asserted it’s control over the Eastern Neighborhoods process, Doug Shoemaker, deputy director of MOH, has brought the worst of the nonprofit housing mentality, that sense of entitlement, to the rezoning effort. He imagines that the competition is between jobs and housing … and guess where his allegiance lies? The north Mission was told to choose between housing its existing population or preserving their jobs. What nonsense! It’s immoral to build affordable housing without providing the opportunity to earn a living.

Affordable vs. luxury housing, not housing vs. jobs

There’s more than enough land available in the Eastern Neighborhoods for both good jobs and affordable housing. The competition is really between affordable housing (of which there’s not nearly enough) and luxury housing (which we are awash in). Spare me the Economics 101 arguments: if we have to build 85% luxury housing to get 15% inclusionary housing (which isn’t even really low income housing, it’s basically lower middle class housing), this city will become the Vail, Colorado of the west coast and our working class will find itself relocated to the Central Valley. Hardly an environmentally sound solution, huh?

When I published a tepid tome about the lack of respect SoMa gets from outside interests a few months back (see “Disrespect,” August 10), Shoemaker flew into a rage. I’m told that I have lost access to MOH and that the second Newsom administration will allow the likes of SPUR to roll over this community’s desire for a sensible balance of affordable housing and good paying jobs. I can’t stop them if that’s their intention. This wouldn’t be the first time they’ve played politics with South of Market. But I don’t have to enable them either. 570 Townsend is a really bad project and it won’t be back on our agenda anytime soon.

DISRESPECT


Five years ago, in a room filled with land use attorneys and developers, a plan to add massive amounts of new housing to South of Market was unveiled. Land once reserved for job producing uses would be opened up to market rate developers, our alleys sacrificed to massive condo developments and community serving institutions replaced with offices and upscale retail. Jim Chappell from SPUR enthused that SoMa was one huge opportunity site. Heights should be raised to at least 85 feet, he said, and the area turned into a vibrant new neighborhood.

Outside the room, a group of Filipino teens milled around the brightly colored displays. Hey look, one told his friends, there’s no place for us.

This is already a neighborhood. Our families and friends call it home. SPUR, once respected for its commitment to the neighborhoods of San Francisco, has become an apologist for market rate developers. Those who think of this as an unpopulated, abandoned, blighted wasteland insult the thousands of us who live, work and play here.

Between 2001 and 2004, 3000 new units of housing were built here. The Mission produced less than a quarter that amount and the Outer Sunset contributed a paltry 140 units. We’re doing our share. Now, just give us all the other elements — parks, open space, recreational facilities, community institutions, jobs, etc. –that the great neighborhoods of San Francisco take for granted.

Two developments come before the SoMa Leadership Council next week that raise questions of respect. One seeks to build housing in the SLI zoning area where the goal has been to preserve job opportunities and the other challenges the recently enacted formula retail (chain store) controls. A few years ago, neither project would have caused much of a stir because no one even bothered to ask what we thought. How times have changed …

The Mayor’s Office of Housing has been the driving force behind an affordable housing project at 7th and Townsend Streets, in the heart of our industrial protection zone and across the street from the rail yards. To say the area is lacking in infrastructure is an understatement: they don’t even have sidewalks. But 100% affordable housing is a permitted use (at least for the time being) and the project has moved forward despite misgivings expressed by the Western SoMa Task Force.

In fact, a consensus seems to be forming that no more housing of any kind be allowed in the SLI, an area south of Harrison Street that stretches from the Flower Market on the east to the Veterans Cab site on the west side. When housing is allowed to compete for scarce land, the cost of that land increases so much that job-producing opportunities cannot compete.

What of the housing already there? Much of it consists of live/work lofts, residential units that got around the current prohibition of market rate housing by masquerading as commercial properties. In some areas, it has complemented existing pockets of residences but elsewhere it has created conflicts with local businesses. The current thinking of the Task Force is that the boundaries of SLI could be adjusted to shift some of this housing into the more appropriate adjacent zoning districts.

AF Evans, the developer of the Townsend Street site, has made an effort to preserve some ground floor light industrial space in the latest iteration of their plan and the residential component is more focused on the alley side of the site, so the project would acknowledge the industrial nature of Townsend Street but reinforce the existing residential enclave of Gilbert Alley. They will be looking for feedback next week from the SoMa Leadership Council.

The other project will be the first test of Formula Retail controls since the Task Force convinced the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to impose Conditional Use requirements on new chain store proposals. Costco, Trader Joes, Bed, Bath and Beyond, REI, Sports Authority, Best Buy, Office Max and Staples are examples of the chain store invasion that’s occurred over the last ten years. Many have questioned just how much these retail uses have benefitted the local community.

The block occupied by Trader Joes and other tenants exemplifies what little effort these suburban-style developments make to respect the surrounding community. Originally designed with doors and windows facing the sidewalk, not a single store in the complex allows entrance from the outside of the building, instead directing everyone to enter through the parking structure that the complex is built around. Most windows are obscured with frosted glass and the entire exterior is a wasteland of urine-soaked indentations and abandoned shopping carts.

TJ Max, the discount women’s apparel retailer, would like to take over the equally obscure Staples site to the east on Harrison Street. Once a thriving commercial building, Office Depot converted the ground floor to retail a few years ago and moved the sidewalk entrance around to face into an obscured parking lot. Office Depot failed at that site, was replaced by an equally unsuccessful Staples store which now would be converted into another suburban-style discount clothier.

What has changed however is the adoption of controls that require that any new development respect the community they seek to move into. Scroll down to “Chain Store Policies Adopted by Planning Commission” on the News page of the SoMa Leadership Council web site. A complete list of conditions unique to the Western SoMa Special Use District can be found at http://web.mac.com/jimmeko/iWeb/SoMaLeadershipCouncil/Form%20Retail.html (paste this URL into your browser bar if this link doesn’t work). The Boston-based retailer is reluctant to make any significant changes to the existing layout and the location of the entrance remains a sticking point. They have asked to explain their position to the leadership council next week. A potential showdown is brewing over whether all the supportive lip service being paid to the Western SoMa community-based planning process translates into anything resembling respect.

THE LOSS OF
GAY NEIGHBORHOODS


The SoMa Leadership Council convened several meetings earlier this year to discuss LGBTQ cultural preservation and this theme emerged: we’re all concerned about the loss of gay neighborhoods.

A SOMA LEADERSHIP COUNCIL WHITE PAPER

Last Fall, the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force began holding discussions on the subject of historic preservation. Rather than focusing only on the preservation of building types unique to the area, it became clear that SoMa was home to two particular communities — the Filipino and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Queer or Questioning) communities — which have contributed enormously to the character of the neighborhood over the last fifty years. The continuing existence of these communities has been threatened by the development pressures engulfing the eastern neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Both communities have experienced a declining population, with demographics shifting the center of gravity for the Filipino community further down the peninsula and the LGBTQ community, still recovering from the ravages of the AIDS epidemic, taking advantage of greater acceptance throughout the Bay Area by moving away from traditional gay neighborhoods.

Nevertheless, South of Market remains the symbolic geographic center for both communities. The Bindlestiff Theatre is the only resident Filipino theatre company in the United States, Bessie Carmichael School offers the only two-way Spanish and Tagalog immersion program in the Bay Area and cultural celebrations such as the Pistahan Parade and the colorful Christmas Lantern (Parol) Festival attract tens of thousand of visitors from around the country.

Likewise, SoMa’s gay leather community has established such an international reputation that the term “Folsom Street” has become a brand name for kink. The Folsom Street Fair, the third largest annual outdoor event in the state of California, has inspired similar events such as Folsom Street East in New York City and Folsom Europe in Berlin. The tragedy of AIDS hit South of Market particularly hard and the community’s response became the international standard for compassionate care and grassroots fundraising.

On April 18, 2007, the SoMa Leadership Council agendized the topic, “LGBTQ cultural preservation in SoMa” at its regular monthly meeting. Several representatives of the Castro Coalition, Tito Vandermeyden and Demian Quesnel, and Frank Weiss from the Eureka Valley Promotion Association joined us.

The Castro has seen an erosion of its gay identity, fueled by speculation and gentrification, resulting in local institutions being replaced by formula retail uses and affordable housing by multi-million dollar monster homes. The Castro Coalition is a grassroots effort to preserve neighborhoods that are friendly places for the LGBTQ population to meet, that provide community space, are accepting of LGBTQ social mores and celebrate our history and outward identity. The group has attempted to find a place within institutional planning circles — and includes in its ranks several professional planners and geographers — but until now has lacked a vehicle with which to engage in the sort of cultural preservation Western SoMa hopes to codify. There was great excitement over what the two groups might accomplish. A followup meeting was scheduled.

On May 3, 2007, again under the auspices of the SoMa Leadership Council, another meeting, with the theme “We’re all concerned about the loss of gay neighborhoods,” was held. In attendance were Tito Vandermeyden, Michael Mullin, David A. Morgan, Randy Alfred, Marc Salomon, Jazzie Collins, Alex Brennan, Demian Quesnel, Steve Hall, Adam Light and myself. Others, including Brian Basinger, Joe Curtin, Debra Walker, Terrance Alan, Tim Frye, Dan Dibartolo and Alan Martinez also expressed interest but were unable to attend.

Martinez, along with Vandermeyden and Quesnel, were prime movers of the Friends of 1800 project which produced a detailed report to the Landmarks Board back in 2004 that established the context for the creation of an LGBTQ historic district in San Francisco. Their work was followed by another proposal for inclusion in the Board’s 2007 work program leading to the establishment of a “Gay Leather Community Thematic District.” Both proposals centered around historic resource surveys of the city that would explicitly recognize the contributions of LGBTQ peoples to the history and culture of San Francisco.

The Planning Department has already sketched out the boundaries for a South of Market light industrial historic preservation district. Its boundaries encompass areas of importance to both the Filipino and LGBTQ communities. The very industrial nature of South of Market contributed to SoMa’s attraction to both communities. Any historic survey of the area has to combine its analysis of building types and uses with the cultural context they promoted.

The Western SoMa Task Force has acquired a full time staff member at the Planning Department who has begun to write the Strategic Analysis Memo outlining existing conditions as they relate to cultural preservation and the Complete Neighborhood Fabric Committee has placed cultural preservation on its July agenda. With one year left in this community-based planning process, it’s time to publish a summary of these two meetings.

South of Market is not intrinsically beautiful. Since the 1840s, few populations have claimed it as their own. Rather, it has served as an entry point for a succession of newcomers, from the gold miners of 1849 and Chinese railroad workers of the 1860s to generations of longshoremen, factory workers, auto body shop employees and taxi drivers — Latinos, Chinese, Germans and Irish — but nearly all eventually moved on to settle other parts of the city. It was SoMa’s inherit unattractiveness that promised the Filipino community a respite from the push of gentrification and offered the gay leather community space to be left alone.

SoMa’s gay bars began on the waterfront in the 1940s and were gradually pushed westward until now they primarily reside in Western SoMa. With only a few exceptions, most are small neighborhood-sized bars, frequently located where German and Irish working class establishments once thrived, and the adjacent inexpensive housing on SoMa’s alleys attracted a residential population that flocked to San Francisco as the sexual revolution spread the word that this was the gay mecca. Bars, baths, leather shops and porn studios were joined by art galleries, restaurants, clothing stores and auto repair shops that explicitly catered to this new population.

SoMa became a community of caregivers as AIDS took its toll on our best and brightest. Great art was lost but even greater art was born in response. The gay economy was devastated yet beginning in 1987, “Every Penny Counts,” a charity that benefits the AIDS Emergency Fund, has consistently collected between $100,000 and $200,000 in coins every year since. The definition of family was rewritten in the railroad flats of South of Market’s alleys.

Affordable housing is by far the most important component of LGBTQ cultural preservation. With the gentrification of the Castro and high-rise market rate housing crowding SoMa on all sides, Western SoMa offers one of the last chances to preserve an economically diverse LGBTQ population. Zoning controls for the residential enclaves should set high standards for affordability, density controls should be reevaluated, housing types reconsidered.

Architecture for gays is not necessarily the same as for traditional families. A gay family usually has several breadwinners; they develop extended families; adopt children; produce music and art. Market rate SRO units might provide an attractive price point but they ignore the social realities that SoMa’s older housing stock has had the flexibility to provide. The notion of one master bedroom doesn’t serve gay families very well.

Gay youth still flock to South of Market because of the vibrant entertainment opportunities. Gay seniors hold on because of the existing community institutions. Housing for an aging LGBTQ population and housing for long term survivors of AIDS all reinforce the need for more affordable housing.

An LGBTQ cultural preservation district should seek to encourage the return of gay institutions. That might include art galleries, theaters and community gathering spaces. A Folsom Boulevard that respects the district’s heritage should include arts and entertainment opportunities that are compatible with existing residential and commercial populations.

The decision to close the bathhouses was made in an era of panic and political pressure. Elsewhere such facilities continue to serve as a focal point for the community that fulfills an educational role and promotes safe sex practices. More than twenty years later, this policy decision deserves another look.

Likewise, an LGBTQ district should preserve and enhance the cultural aspects of community that developed here: respect, passion, uniqueness.

There are buildings of historic importance to the LGBTQ community — the SF Eagle for its history of prodigious fundraising, the Endup and Philips Hotel (SF Asia) for their contributions to music, dance and diversity — but it remains to be seen whether historic designation proves to be in the best financial interests of any of these businesses.

Every generation that preceded the arrival of the LGBTQ community deserves respect. Remnants of its ethnic, artistic and socioeconomic past continue to define SoMa. More recent residents bring new opportunities with them.

But one thing is certain: newcomers to Western SoMa should be greeted by signs, plaques or banners proclaiming that this neighborhood matters a lot to us. In “The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather 1962-1977,” Gayle Rubin, the noted gay leather historian, quotes Tom Ammiano back in 1988 quipping that “when gay people take over a neighborhood, they call it gentrification [but] when straight people take over a neighborhood, they call it a renaissance.” Rubin punctuates the observation with a photo (circa 1986) of graffiti on a concrete wall proclaiming, “South of Market Dies Screaming!”

- respectfully submitted by Jim Meko
_______________________________________________________________________

Gayle Rubin, Sites, Settlements, and Urban Sex: Archaeology and the Study of Gay Leathermen in San Francisco, 1955-1995. Robert A. Schmidt and Barbara L. Voss, editors. Archaeologies of Sexuality. New York: Routledge; 2000

The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997. James Brook,
Chris Carlsson and Nancy J. Peters, editors. Reclaiming San Francisco: History,
Politics, Culture. San Francisco: City Lights; 1998; pp. 247-272

Damon Scott, for the Friends of 1800, Development of Sexual Identity Based Subcultures in San Francisco, 1933-1979 Context Statement.

THE HOLE TRUTH


Last night the Planning Commission heard the case of the Hole in the Wall. An agreement had been reached more than a month ago on mitigations suggested by the neighbors. The Planning Department had already written those conditions into their case report. The only hang up was that there was another challenge filed but the protestant had not shown up.

We (Jeremy Paul, representing the bar, Damian Ochoa, speaking on behalf of the neighbors and I) huddled in the back room with several Commissioners, the City Attorney, Zoning Administrator and Planning Director and arrived at this course of action: out of respect for the dozens of supporters and for the neighbors who had all been waiting for more than four hours, and in particular to give us all closure, the Commission would move forward on the case using a mechanism called a “motion of intent,” which meant that the decision would not become final until the other case was allowed to be heard next week.

Both sides agreed to accept the conditions contained in the compromise and to ask their supporters to do the same. Jeremy and Damian spoke for less than a minute each, simply acknowledging the agreement. No one else testified. The Commission moved to “take Discretionary review” in order to impose the conditions. Vice President Olague asked the case planner to read all 15 conditions into the record, then requested that language clarifying the sound issues (their noise is not to be audible, as defined by the city noise ordinance, in any surrounding residence) be added and the Commission then adopted the motion by a vote of 7-0.

Sitting through a recitation of the conditions had a sobering effect on the entire audience. There was no applause. People left quietly.

HOLE IN THE WALL
CRISIS OVER


Owners of the Hole in the Wall finally accepted a solution proposed by the neighbors several weeks ago, thus removing nearly all of the obstacles to the relocation of the bar to 1369 Folsom Street. A second protest, filed by Jackie Bryson, is not affected by the agreement.

The neighbors who support Damian Ochoa’s request for Discretionary Review proposed the compromise on Monday, April 9. Jeremy Paul, representing the Hole in the Wall, accepted the conditions on April 11 and Damian, Jeremy and I shook hands on the deal. Jeremy Paul also offered to obtain an apology from the owners, something he was subsequently unable to produce but an apology was never part of the deal.

There has been some confusion since then (including statements from the owners of the bar denying the existence of a compromise) but plans submitted by the bar last Friday explicitly accept the first five conditions. The sixth, a request for the imposition of a good neighbor policy, is at the discretion of the Planning Commission.

A comparison between the neighbors’ proposed compromise
and the revised plans submitted by the Hole in the Wall:

1. Applicants shall construct a smoking room inside the bar that is properly ventilated so that no smoke enters the neighboring homes and the rear of the bar shall be adequately sound-proofed so that no noise from inside the bar is audible in any of the surrounding residences.

The new plans add a smoking room in the bar and move the office and restrooms into a horizontal extension at the rear as an additional sound buffer. The smoking room is to be ventilated four feet above the roof line.

2. The backyard shall be off-limits to patrons.

The plans read, “REAR YARD ACCESS CONTROLLED: RESIDENTS AND EMPLOYEES ONLY. NO PATRON ACCESS TO REAR YARD.” Also, there is no rear exit from the bar proper to the yard.

3. in accordance with Planning Code Section 816.37, nighttime entertainment (as defined in section 102.17), which includes the prohibition of DJs and live bands, is not allowed on the premises.

This statement reflects the existing code. The plans state, “AS PER PLANNING CODE SECTION 816.37 NIGHT TIME ENTERTAINMENT NOT PERMITTED ON PREMESIS.”

4. Applicants shall employ Charles Salter & Associates to advise them on sound attenuation throughout the bar.

Title page states, “SOUND ATTENUATION/MITIGATION RECOMMENDATIONS AS PER C.M. SALTER TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY CONTRACTOR.”

5. Applicants shall surrender their curb cut and establish a motorcycle parking zone in front of the bar.

The plan states “CURB CUT TO BE REMOVED IN ANTICIPATION OF (N) MOTORCYCLE PARKING TO BE IMPLEMENTED BY OWNER & DPW/DPT.”

6. The Good Neighbor Policies of the Entertainment Commission shall be added as conditions of approval for this change of use.

This is not addressed on the engineering drawings but a Good Neighbor Policy will certainly be imposed by the Planning Commission.

If these six stipulations are adopted as conditions of approval, the objections contained in Damian Ochoa’s DR request will be considered resolved.

JIM MEKO ISN’T TRYING
TO CLOSE ANYBODY DOWN


“If this is how they treat one person who
disagrees with them, can you imagine what kind
of neighbors they’ll be to the rest of us?”

Oh, the power of the Internet! You can say anything you want, make up whatever outrageous assertions that suit your purpose. Scare people. Create boogeymen. Portray yourself as a victim. Ruin reputations. Bloggers will pick it up uncritically and spread it all over. No one seems to be interested in the truth.

“Jim Meko wants to close the Hole in the Wall,” they’re screaming. Oh sure, as if I’ve just spent the last ten years of my life living a lie. This is dishonest and irresponsible journalism:

http://www.sfbaytimes.com/index.php?sec=article&article_id=6279

The Hole in the Wall is in no danger. In fact, the owners have been juggling three options, all of which would guarantee the continued existence of the bar.

They could stay right where they are. They’re not being evicted. If they’d be willing to sign a lease, the owner would be glad to do any repairs but as long as it seems like they might move out at any moment, he’s not interested in doing upgrades specific to the current use of the building.

They could also buy a building that contains an existing entertainment venue. They’ve made offers on the Powerhouse and My Place. They felt the asking price was too high.

So that leads us to the current situation. They found a building comparable to My Place, with the added bonus of a backyard, that was a lot less expensive. Why less expensive? Because it contained a dance studio, not a bar. A bar would require what’s called a “change of use,” and that triggers a hearing process that allows the neighbors to make their feelings known.

They had a choice: work with the neighbors or try to bully their way into the neighborhood. They chose the latter.

I know the Hole in the Wall people are fighting hard to move to this new location, and all’s fair in love and so on, but I wish they’d stop lying about me. The guy that wrote that stuff in the Bay Times .. I don’t know him and he’s never spoken to me and I’m real easy to find. Google me, all right? He might have learned along the way that I’m trying to do some good things down here in SoMa, especially for the LGBTQ community. The letter I sent them nearly a year ago included an invitation to join the Western SoMa community planning process. Foolish me … inviting in people who don’t always agree with me!

I think both the Hole and the Eagle are great bars and I hope they go on forever. One of the things that makes them so much fun is the outlaw factor. Joe Banks and John Gardiner operate right at the edge of what’s legal and acceptable but they’ve been established in this community for so long that I’d fight to defend their right to continue that tradition. My complaint is that they didn’t give any thought to this new neighborhood they decided to move into. Huge difference. Nearly a hundred neighbors in close proximity. 98 units of affordable housing at Folsom/Dore. 140 units of SRO supportive housing with drug rehab programs going in directly across the street. Joe and John got bad advice about that location. I wrote a letter to their real estate agent last July outlining the challenges they would face but they decided to bully their way through all of this. It’s turned into a nasty and divisive fight and I deeply regret it.

I have been talking with Jeremy Paul, who represents the Hole, for about a month and about two weeks ago we arrived at a compromise that I was hoping the neighbors would accept. But then the folks from the Hole started spreading all this crap about me. I didn’t file the appeal, didn’t organize the neighbors, haven’t talked to the Planning Department and am certainly not out to close the Hole (or the Eagle). I’m not the enemy of fun. I do hold a seat on the Entertainment Commission, one that has been set aside to represent the interests of the neighbors. That’s how I got involved. You know what the neighbors are saying now? If this is how they treat one person who disagrees with them, can you imagine what kind of neighbors they’ll be to the rest of us? I’m not so sure anymore how interested in compromise these particular neighbors will be … but I’m going to keep trying.

MY HUMBUG HOLIDAY MEDITATION


Thank God that campaign is over.

Class warfare, mayoral meddling, lying local media, hate mail, cynicism, manipulation, scapegoats, polarization, dilettantes run amuck.

Reelected Supervisor Chris Daly, wife Sarah and young Jack Henry are safely ensconsed back East, celebrating Thanksgiving with family … Jack and Gloria and the Republican relatives. An awesome family. Take some time to heal.

Undo attention was paid to Daly’s intemperance and use of profanity, which was driven home incessantly in a campaign orchestrated by Gap-founder Don Fisher’s SFSOS. In so doing, ordinary opponents were transformed into haters. “Daly is a psychotic and a crook. It’s as simple as that,” wrote one. An advertisement for challenger Rod Black, distributed only days before the election, made an association between Daly and a photograph of a pile of human excrement.

The haters became hateful, didn’t they?

I moved to SoMa in ‘77, mostly to be left alone. It was a warehouse district. There were no homeowner associations and very few amenities. My neighbors were Filipino refugees from Manilatown, gay men experimenting with alternative lifestyles, beat poets, performance artists and rock and roll bands. Survivors and squatters.

AIDS turned us into a community of caregivers. Changing a grown man’s diapers, suffering his bouts of dementia, lifting his emaciated frame from the bath, feeding him like a child, brushing the sweat soaked hair from his eyes, telling him he’s gonna be okay … you’re never the same …

But time moves on. The economy ebbed and flowed. The earthquake hit in ‘89, a recession in the ’90s. Dot coms boomed and busted, empty lots became infill housing, light industry fled, live/works blossomed.

We weren’t ready for this. SoMa has always been transitional. From the gold miners of 1849 to the longshoremen, blue collar workers and waves of immigrants, most merely passed through.

Live/work lofts skirted the intent of South of Market zoning. Developers exploited a gray area in the law that categorized them as commercial properties. Many were built in parts of SoMa where residences weren’t meant to be.

Inadequate infrastructure. Incompatible uses. Unhappy new neighbors.

Complaints grew over the concentration of low income housing in the area. Resistance to homeless facilities followed. The cacophony of playing kids became an irritant. Filipino families fought for a basketball court at the new park … new residents wanted a dog run. They feuded with the auto body shops. Rock and roll venues have been threatened with lawsuits. The Dore Alley Fair is under siege. One neighbor actually complained about the odors emanating from Big Nates Barbecue!

I erred recently in referring to these new neighbors as “yuppie loftdwellers.” It was a smart aleck crack — one that usually elicits knowing grins among old timers — but this time it got picked up by the local chatrooms and some decent people were hurt by my impudence.

It’s easy to associate young urban professionals with greed, indifference and self-absorption. But then, the old-timers — that would include me — demonstrate more than a little intolerance and narrow-mindedness every now and then. The poor always get blamed for their sense of entitlement. Young people … well, depravity and overindulgence come to mind.

“Overruling self-interest is a cure worse than the disease,” wrote James Madison.

It may seem enlightened to dismiss the demands of the arriviste but to an extent everyone here in SoMa feels put upon. Filipinos, SRO residents, seniors living on fixed incomes and persons with disabilities. Families with children. Life ain’t easy down here. The LGBT community, workers, artists and musicians are fighting displacement. Even the young urban professionals, small business owners and entrepreneurs face plenty of challenges.

We have more in common than in what separates us … despite what that flood of hate mail told us.

“No one thought Rob Black could win except Rob Black,? Mayor Gavin Newsom told the Examiner a couple days after the election. Boy, that’s a cold assessment, coming from the architect of Black’s challenge to Daly. More than a half million dollars was spent tearing this community apart and here we are entering the holidays barely speaking to each other.

Next time, do us a favor … leave us alone.

A word to my “yuppie loftdweller” friends … when I was the newcomer to the neighborhood, they had a different name for us: it was “faggot.” It wasn’t said with a smile and it was often bellowed from a passing car. You froze in your tracks if the car slowed down. The modicum of safety you now enjoy in this neighborhood was painstakingly — and often painfully — achieved by building a sense of community and finding common ground with those who came before.

Break bread this holiday season with someone new … someone as different as can be.

Change is inevitable. SoMa will never be the same, because of you. Employ a little humility as you wield your wealth and influence. “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” - Matthew 25:40.

DISTRICT 6 IS NOT FOR SALE


Left to his own devices, Rob Black would probably still be polling single digits in his run for District 6 Supervisor. The sole mailer emanating from his campaign was a tepid criticism of Chris Daly’s in-you-face style. But Black has been getting a lot of help from his, um, friends.

Voters in District 6 have been inundated with mailers, push polls, emails and phone calls. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to defeat Supervisor Chris Daly, with Gap-founder Don Fisher’s SFSOS coordinating the expenditures and attack dog Jim Sutton shaping the message. Their spending in support of Rob Black (a former associate of Sutton) has been so egregious that the Ethics Commission was forced to lift the spending cap in District 6 to give Daly a chance to fight back.

With Black creeping up to within two percentage points of Daly in the latest poll, all that spending seems to be paying off. Here’s a partial list of Rob Black’s “friends” and why they want Daly gone:

• POA - they oppose walking beats, civilian oversight and comprehensive violence prevention.

• BOMA - they don’t want to pay their janitors a living wage.

• Chamber of Commerce - they supported management in the hotel workers strike.

• Golden Gate Restaurant Association - they still resist paid sick leave for their employees.

• Committee on Jobs - they don’t think developers should pay for community infrastructure.

• Plan C - they oppose any limits on condo conversions.

• SF Association of Realtors - they oppose protections for those who have been evicted.

• Small Property Owners Association - they seek to abolish rent control.

Did those fancy mailers forget to mention where Daly stands on these issues?

Fisher and Sutton orchestrated a similar campaign two years ago in Districts 1 and 11. Although they failed to unseat the incumbents, the onslaught left Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval deeply in debt and Supervisor Jake McGoldrick rattled and embittered.

They’re also responsible for campaigns against public power, family leave, universal health care and domestic partners legislation.

But the campaign against Daly is so much bigger than any of their previous efforts:

• SFSOS’s ultimate goal is the repeal of district elections. Electing Black makes that possible.

During the last six years, the neighborhoods have gained some semblance of power and the poor finally have an advocate on the Board of Supervisors. But with the unabashed collusion of the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, Fisher and Sutton seek to return to the good old days — as recently as the mid-’90s — when they called all the shots in city hall.

Employing a strategy taken straight from Karl Rove’s playbook, they are attempting to drive a wedge between Daly’s traditional base of support and the more affluent newcomers in the District. They link Daly to unclean streets and drug use, poverty and homelessness, liberal social service agencies and the breakdown of law and order.

The Rob Black campaign seeks the support of the intolerant.

In its endorsement of Chris Daly, [”Daly in District 6,” Editorial, October 20], The Bay Area Reporter observed, “[Daly] has been unflinching as an advocate for those who are among the poorest and most vulnerable in the city, including many low-income LGBT folks and people living with HIV/AIDS.” Rob Black has turned his back on them.

On November 7, I will vote for Chris Daly. I’ll also be voting for Matt Drake and George Dias. I believe in their sincerity, if not their politics. Both have run clean campaigns. Rob Black? He’s just a pawn in a much bigger effort — a dirty and divisive effort — by downtown interests to take back control of San Francisco politics.

When this election is over, we’re gonna need a lot of help to heal this community. Fisher, Sutton and Black won’t be around to clean up this mess.

They’ll have moved on by then … their next step will be to plot the destruction of those who dare challenge Gavin Newsom in the 2007 mayoral race. They must be stopped.

DALY AND THE SEVEN DWARFS


Rob Black slammed District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly last week for stalling Mayor Gavin Newsom’s $2.5 million request for police overtime. “We have had over 66 murders and are on pace to meet the 10-year high this year and Chris is even refusing to have a hearing on public safety,? charged Black. Daly had simply asked to see the specifics of the Mayor’s plan. Newsom’s anti-violence proposal was more a press release than a policy.

Well, good morning SoMa. Welcome to the 2006 race for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Seven challengers have lined up this Fall against Daly, with Black receiving Newsom’s endorsement. The same downtown interests that tried to knock off Daly in two previous elections have endorsed Black and are blanketing District 6 with scurrilous hit pieces. Their polling suggests that discontent over public safety and quality of life issues might resonate with District 6 voters. All seven challengers are targeting this so-called pissed-off electorate.

Campaigning in the gutter

SoMa-based lawyer Matt Drake rails: “Our streets are not toilets! In virtually every neighborhood in San Francisco, this behavior would not be tolerated. In District 6, however, the city continues to allow our streets to be used as toilets. We can all smell the effects. This is unacceptable.”

Manuel Jiminez, who bills himself as the “quality of life candidate” opines, “Allowing criminals to thrive in the city is not a responsible ‘progressive’ position. It is an abdication of responsibility by our government. Help me tell our government to stop pandering to the monied interests and political issue junkies that dominate their agenda.”

And Black concludes, “Individuals who refuse help and yet continue to harm communities by aggressive panhandling, public intoxication and narcotic use, and relieving themselves in public should be accountable to the communities they harm.”

An independent mailer paid for by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association thunders: “Many District 6 residents are frustrated with dirty streets, poor sanitary conditions near their homes and street crime. Rob Black supports enforcement of quality-of-life laws, like the public urination and defecation ban. Chris Daly opposes these laws.” Pee, poo and panhandling are defining the most lackluster campaign since the return of district elections.

Under our “strong Mayor” city charter, the Mayor appoints all department heads, including Police and Public Works, and they answer to him alone. If you have a problem with pee or poo, call the mayor. If Daly were to meddle in the operation of these city departments, Newsom’s press flack Peter Ragone would be all over him, charging abuse of power under color of authority.

We’re voting for a legislator

The Supervisor who represents District 6 is part of the legislative branch of government, a role centered around the creation of legislation. By all accounts, Daly is the most prolific and effective member of the Board in this respect.

In the two years that he chaired the Budget and Finance Committee, Daly delivered a balanced budget that filled many gaps in funding cuts in the Mayor’s original proposals. This year’s budget restored $28 million to affordable housing and tenant protection programs. In other legislative accomplishments, Daly prevented the loss of 360 rent-controlled apartments by brokering a landmark development agreement for Trinity Plaza, convinced Rincon Hill developers to contribute $50 million toward improving the community’s infrastructure and ushered in neighborhood notification and chain store controls in the Western SoMa zoning districts.

Based on the current demographics of District 6, Daly is almost guaranteed reelection. His base of support is found in the Tenderloin, around the 6th Street corridor and in the North Mission. But he also enjoys strong support among small business owners, families in the residential enclaves, organized labor and from those engaged in the arts and in the entertainment industry.

Demonizing the poor

These emotional appeals are in reality a Karl Rovian attempt to divide the electorate by race, class and economic status. Polling suggests a wedge can be driven between Daly’s traditional base and the growing number of wealthy condo owners settling in SoMa. Pee, poo, panhandling, police and public safety are all code words that, when you get right down to it, play off of the sensitivities of those who have made large investments in housing in an area that’s in transition and reflect a distaste for the poorest elements in society.

I long for the quality of candidates who ran against Chris Daly the Mission housing activist in the first round of district elections back in 2000: Hank Wilson, dedicated AIDS activist; Denise D’Anne, elegant and erudite city hall insider; Joan Roughgarden, Stanford professor and environmentalist; Mark Salomon, passionate Green Party intellectual; h. brown, political satirist … and even James Leo Dunn, the dapper gentleman who ran on a promise to employ the homeless digging a tunnel under Nob Hill, providing them with housing in its network of catacombs.

Dunn passed away recently but the others are all still fighting for their community.

On the other hand, Chris Dittenhaffer, Roger Gordon, Michael Sweet and Burke Strunsky — all favored by the downtown interests currently backing Black — are nowhere to be found.

Candidates who exploit economic disparities and run polarizing campaigns to further their own ambitions belong in the political dumpster. The pee and poo politics of these seven dwarfs make James Leo Dunn’s tunnel concept sound downright presidential. Six months from now, you don’t really expect any of them to be contributing to this community, do you?

*****************************

Jim Meko is a South of Market activist, currently serving as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force and is a member of San Francisco's Entertainment Commission. Here at the Bulldog, of course, he's expressing his own personal opinions. He can be reached at jim.meko@comcast.net.