Amoeblog


#TBT To Earlier Era San Francisco Gentrification/Tech Invasion Backlash

Posted by Billyjam, July 23, 2015 01:19pm | Post a Comment

In keeping with the day's #tbt theme I flashback to late 1990's San Francisco -- an earlier era of the still-ongoing, unrelenting gentrification and tech invasion of the city by the Bay that has resulted in record high rents and driven out so many longtime SF residents (including lots of musicians and budget-conscious artists) who no longer can afford to live in a city that rivals Manhattan in cost of living.  In comparison to today, the late '90s version of San Francisco was still relatively affordable, albeit still a far cry from the inexpensive city of previous decades that attracted so many artists to relocate to the Bay. In 2015 it may be tech giants like Twitter and Google who are seen as among the main culprits of gentrification in San Francisco. Back in the late '90s it was seen by most as the "dot com" invasion of areas South Of Market, particularly the Mission District.

"I don't wanna be a slave to no dot com…Ain't no parking around my residence. I don't like the candidates running for president. All these dot coms make me depressed…I'm more concerned about paying my rent," rapped veteran San Francisco underground hip-hop artist Crack Emcee on his song "Babylon.com." This earlier era SF tech revolt anthem (hear below) was the opening track that set the tone for the Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. II. This compilation of indie artists (many in San Francisco) was subtitled "Just Payin' The Rent" because at the time of its release - late '90s into early 2000's - San Francisco neighborhoods like The Mission were experiencing first hand the negative fallout of the dot com boom including driving up housing costs and hence out-pricing long time residents including artists with little money to begin with.

I was reminded of this time of protest in SF when I stumbled upon the photo above that I took on a Mission District corner back in 1998. It is a mailbox with one of the anonymous Mission Yuppie Eradication Project's  anti-gentrification posters that were pasted all over at the time. While well-meaning in its feeling of disgust with an out of control shifting of its longtime neighborhood, the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project (MYEP) protest's call to arms (slash tires and damage private property of perceived culprits) were too radical and short-sighted to have any real impact.  But no protest by poor people in America ever seems to have success. Rather commerce and industry, especially high-tech industries, appear to always win out. Hence we are now, a couple of decades and countless new SF tech companies later, in a whole new era of gentrification. Now it's no longer artists who cannot afford to live in San Francisco. If you make less than $100K, you are priced out of most of the City. With SF median rent currently hovering at $4,385 for a two-bedroom and $3,210 for a one bedroom apartment (May 2015 figures ? Rent Jungle),  only the very rich can afford to live comfortably in San Francisco today.
 

The Crack Emcee "Babylon.com" (Amoeba Music Compilation Vol II: Just Payin The Rent)


Back when the late '90's Mission Yuppie Eradication Project was in existence, the perceived target were the "yuppies" invading their hood, stereotypically with their SUVs, while the current decade's wave of high-salaried tech & internet workers flooding San Francisco are more likely to be labeled "techies." The terminology may differ, but the '90's Yuppies and the modern-day Techies are (at their worst) perceived as one and the same: a highly-salaried, out of touch, newly relocated, privileged group who drive up local rental costs and are insensitive to the longtime residents whom they are displacing. Perhaps the best example of the clash of the two groups - longtime working class residents vs. new monied techies -  was captured in the viral video from last year (see below) that captured a showdown in a Mission District soccer field. That video showed local longtime resident kids playing soccer as they always did when AirBnb and DropBox employees showed up, armed with a (costly) permit they had legally obtained from the SF Parks & Rec in conjunction with the private City Fields Foundation. The main issue at play in that infamous incident as stated by locals at the time was that without community approval, the private foundation (City Fields) had decided to issue costly permits to a small traditional pick-up soccer field that local kids of working class families had traditionally played in daily. The playground face-off was viewed by many as a class and race clash -  poor Latinos vs white "tech-bros." The argument presented by both sides was that each are part of "the community" regardless of how long they have been living in San Francisco. And even though soon after the Mission park showdown, following much public outrage, the City of SF dumped the whole permit process, the lesson reinforced was that only the rich can afford to live in SF now. Kai, who was the lead local kid in the viral video, did a wonderful follow up interview with BuzzFeedYellow earlier this year entitled "What It’s Like To Get Kicked Out Of Your Neighborhood" that simply, yet very eloquently, shows the real fallout of tech gentrification in San Francisco. Scroll all the way down to view video.




West Oakland resident Tim Devlin, who several years ago got priced out of his San Francisco apartment in the Mission, says that nearly all of his SF pals from the '90s have also been forced out of unaffordable San Francisco. Devlin used to live on the corner of Folsom and 19th Street and recalls when the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project posters were pasted all over his former hood. "Yeah, I remember it well and I remember Blowfish Sushi being one of the targets of that poster guy who the cops, the FBI, everyone was looking for. But San Francisco and the Mission, in terms of gentrification, was nothing compared to today. So much has changed in the Mission since 1999, radically so. If that guy were around now today he just wouldn't believe it. That was nothing back then in terms of extreme gentrification," Devlin told the Amoeblog this week while laughing at the comparison between the latter '90s and today. Indeed since, as evident from the protester's poster segment below that refers to the (then) sky high costs of buying a South of Market condo for $300k (In 2015 that would be a steal!).

"That guy" that Devlin was referring to responsible for the MYEP did finally get arrested by the SFPD in May of 1998 following approximately eight months of pasting his posters and inciting anarchy against gentrification. He did it under the pseudonym of Nestor Makhno who was a pre-Russian revolution era anarchist who terrorized and murdered landlords. Turned out his real name was Kevin Keating who, upon his arrest for suspicion of making terrorist threats and malicious mischief, was described the San Francisco Chronicle as a "self styled anarchist-communist…38-year- old office temp, struggling writer, and direct action" protester." The newspaper reported how he had been under surveillance for a while and that when police arrested him at 2 in the morning "he was covered with paste and carrying a backpack full of posters that officers said called for "the destruction and eradication of several businesses and personal residence(s) of targeted individuals."

Like Devlin, I too wondered what Keating must think of San Francisco's housing market today so I did a little research and found him on Facebook from where I saw that he is still listed as living in San Francisco where he appears to be still fighting the good fight, posting links to articles such as the SF Indy Media report on the protest on City Hall two months ago by SF housing activists. A few weeks ago I first reached out to him via Facebook to get his input for this story, but he has not gotten back to me (although it appears that he has been traveling through South America for the past month). If I hear back from him, I will update this story and edit in his quotes. Meantime, for free counseling on rental rights in the overheated SF housing market, contact the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.
 


Kai: What It’s Like To Get Kicked Out Of Your Neighborhood (2015)

Relevant Tags

Mission Soccer Playground Showdown (2), Gentrification Of Mission District (1), Sf Housing (1)