Neighbor David Talbot Laments the Tech-Fueled Gentrification of Bernal Heights

Yesterday’s post about the impact the Silicon Valley commuter shuttle network is having on Bernal Heights pairs neatly with the article by Bernal neighbor David Talbot that appears on the cover of the current issue of San Francisco magazine.

Under the headline “How Much Tech Can One City Take?” Neighbor David considers how the growth of the tech industry is changing the texture of San Francisco, and in one part of the article, he looks at this through the prism of our own Precita Park:

I’m sitting at a table outside the new Precita Park café in Bernal Heights, a gourmet sandwich shop that’s one sign of the changing times. When I moved to this neighborhood in 1993, just before the first dot-com boom, I avoided taking my two toddlers to the playground across the street from the café, because local gangs sometimes stashed their guns in the sand. And yet, despite gunfire from the old Army Street projects that often shattered the neighborhood’s sleep, Bernal Heights in those years was a glorious urban mix of deeply rooted blue-collar families, underground artists, radical activists, and lesbian settlers. The neighborhood had a funky character as well as a history. The famed cartoonist R. Crumb once hung his hat there, and his old Zap Comics sidekick, the brilliant Spain Rodriguez, still does.

But at some point the new tech boom began to make its presence felt in Bernal Heights, whose sunny hills are close to not only SoMa startups but also the Highway 101 shuttle line to Silicon Valley. Nowadays, you see Lexus SUVs parked in the driveways on Precita Avenue. Young masters of the universe in Ivy League sweatshirts buy yogurt and organic peaches at the corner stores where Cuervo flasks and cans of Colt 45 were once the most popular items.

“We cleaned up this neighborhood—stopped the violence in the projects—but now we can’t afford to live here anymore,” says Buck Bagot who has been a Bernal Heights community organizer and housing activist since 1976. “When I moved here, every house on my block had a different ethnicity. There were Latinos, blacks, American Indians, Samoans, Filipinos. They had good union jobs, and they could raise their families here. Now they’re all gone.” These days Bagot fights to block home foreclosures as the cofounder of Occupy Bernal, engaged in a battle to preserve the neighborhood’s diverse character that he admits often feels futile.

Sitting outside the café, I’m joined by another longtime Bernal resident, a 47-year-old San Francisco public school librarian. She moved to the neighborhood in 1994 with her partner, a public school teacher, when many of their lesbian friends were settling here, attracted by the relatively cheap rents. “There were a lot of us—we were young, politically active, and underpaid, but we could afford to live here in those days,” she says. “But now that we have kids, we’re being priced out.” The librarian—who asks that her name not be used because she’s concerned that any notoriety will hurt her chances of entering the tight housing market—says that she and her partner have bid on five houses this year. But they lost each time to buyers who could afford to put up tens of thousands of dollars over the sellers’ asking price—and all in cash. “Who are these people, with that kind of money?” she asks.

The librarian and her partner dread the idea of moving out of the city. San Francisco is in their souls: They fell in love here, they took to the streets here as young dyke activists, and they have a combination of 22 years seniority in the public school system. They can’t imagine moving their family to some remote suburb, where their kids would likely be the only ones with two moms. But it’s getting harder each day to hold on. To make ends meet, they have begun to moonlight as dog trainers “I don’t want to blame young tech workers,” says the librarian. “I’d hate to sound like some grumpy ‘get off my lawn’ type. I mean, I love technology. I’m an early adopter. But if people like us, who helped make San Francisco what it is, get pushed out of the city, who’s going to teach the next generation of kids? Who’s going to take care of them in the hospital?”

OK, so… This kind of “Woe Unto Bernal” essay is fast becoming a local sub-genre; Neighbor Peter Orner recently penned a similar lament, also about Precita Park, for The New York Times.

The issues both describe are very real: Gentrification, change, displacement, uncertainty, and the pain of watching longtime neighbors forced to move because of the inexorable economics of local real estate. Nevertherless, I had a much more sympathetic reaction to Neighbor’s Peter’s piece in the NYT than to Neighbor David’s piece in San Francisco.

Why? I’m not exactly sure, except perhaps because Peter’s piece felt more like an open-ended question to me, while David’s article was infused with an unfortunate kind of Baby Boomer myopia, as if all meaningful culture ended sometime around the time when Fleetwood Mac released the “Rumours” album.

More importantly, though, while the underlying issues of gentrification are real and challenging, it’s unfortunate that Neighbor David neglects to recognize that Bernal Heights is now a home to a glorious urban mix of deeply rooted families, underground artists, technology innovators, cutting-edge musicians, groundbreaking journalists, stalwart activists, assorted oddballs, and lesbian gentry. Plus: The Bikini Jogger.

Yes, the mix is changing. But it remains deeply funky, and passionately connected to this place we all love to call home. Of course we mourn the loss of friends and neighbors who, for whatever reason, cannot stay. The problems of gentrification defy easy solutions. Yet many of us also see meaningful continuity amid the tumult and change, because we know that Bernal Heights has never been a better or stronger neighborhood than it is today.

IMAGE: Original photo illustration by Peter Belanger for San Francisco, photo illustrated by Bernalwood

Barflies Wanted for Film Shoot at the Lucky Horseshoe

Neighbor Eric, co-owner of the fashionable Lucky Horseshoe bar on Cortland, invites wannabe barflies to perform as extras in a movie that’s being filmed on location at the bar today, tomorrow, and Friday:

A local film production company is shooting a movie in the Lucky Horseshoe called “Bar America,” and the producers need extras as barflies in the movie.  Want to be a star?!?

I thought you’d like to be in the know, and if you feel like posting about the opportunity for neighborhood folks to be extras in this film, please let them know to email or text Patrick on 925-719-4648 about the interest. They’ll be looking for roughly 20 people on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The movie stars John Candy’s son,  Chris in his first motion picture role and some other great talent as well.  They’ll be filming all week and wrapping at the bar on Saturday afternoon.

Tech Shuttle Transit Map Reveals Hidden Logic of the Bernal Heights Real Estate Market

As Bernalwood has previously noted, there are some hidden dynamics at work in the North Bernal real estate market along the Cesar Chavez corridor, where home-price inflation has been fueled in part by the neighborhood’s proximity to the private shuttle-bus routes that carry tech workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley:

[Bernalwood has] heard from realtor sources that this corridor is already attracting interest from [tech-employed] buyers, precisely because it offers convenient access to freeways, public transit, and the arterial routes for those Wi-Fi-equipped, private commuter busses operated by the likes of Apple, Google, Yahoo, etc.

Thanks to the data-visualization wizards at San Francisco’s Stamen Design, we now have a way to actually see this, by way of a fascinating subway-style map that indicates the location of common shuttle bus routes, the companies they represent, and the approximate volume of people they carry:

Several Stamen staff live on Google shuttle routes, so we see those shuttles every day. They’re ubiquitous in San Francisco, but the scale and shape of the network is invisible.

We decided to try some dedicated observation. We sat 18th & Dolores one morning, and counted shuttles. We counted a new shuttle every five minutes or so; several different companies, high frequency. We also researched online sources like Foursquare to look for shuttle movements, and a 2011 San Francisco city report helped fill in gaps and establish basic routes. […]

We enlisted people to go to stops, measure traffic and count people getting off and on and we hired bike messengers to see where the buses went. The cyclists used Field Papers to transcribe the various routes and what they found out, which we recompiled back into a database of trips, stops, companies and frequency. At a rough estimate, these shuttles transport about 35% of the amount of passengers Caltrain moves each day. Google alone runs about 150 trips daily, all over the city.

The result is the map you see above, which I annotated slightly to help the Citizens of Bernalwood orient the routes to our neighborhood. What the map reveals is that — no surprise — Cesar Chavez Blvd. is a major artery for tech shuttles carrying residents of San Francisco’s southern neighborhoods to and from Silicon Valley.

Another handy-dandy map (again, annotated by Bernalwood) reveals the actual location of the shuttle stops on the perimeters of Bernal Heights:

This is fascinating stuff, because while the shuttle buses themselves are highly conspicuous, their representation and scope has, until now, been largely hidden from view. Meanwhile, the impact of all this on Bernal Heights is also quite tangible.

IMAGES: Base maps from Stamen Design and Dotspotter

Bernal-Based Startup Offers Digital Alternative to Passive-Aggressive Parking Notes

Neighbor Regina wrote up this tasty little article about CurbTxt, a new service based in Bernal Heights that provides a high-tech — and vastly more neighborly — alternative to leaving passive-aggressive notes on parked cars:

Blaring car alarms, forgotten headlights, and neighbor-owned cars blocking your driveway can now be remedied with a text, thanks to a new Bernalwood startup called CurbTxt.

“This is our neighborhood passion project,” says CurbTxt co-founder Alex, as he speaks via phone from CurbTxt HQ, conveniently located directly above Precita Park Cafe.

You’ve probably seen CurbTxt postcards in Bernal’s cafes. The service, which is free, offers a civil solution to neighborhood parking problems (without the need for passive aggressive notes).

Start by texting your license plate number to 415-529-5775 from *your* cell phone (it has to be your phone). Then stick a CurbTxt logo sticker next to your rear license plate. That lets neighbors know they can alert you as well. The texts are instant and anonymous.

“We follow the parking madness on the Bernalwood blog and that served as an inspiration,” says founder Alex, who was also partially inspired by the fact he owns a vintage school bus. He says his ride is “non-standard” when it comes to parking, so he wants to be sensitive to his neighbors’ parking needs.

“This is a close-knit community, and it can be damaging when tickets or tow trucks get involved,” he says. “We can act more like neighbors by reaching out directly to each other.”

Alex believs towing is a “nuclear option” and he hopes CurbTxt will serve as a solution to “the big towing industry” of San Francisco. Our City’s aggressive towing and ticketing even shocks people moving here from other large cities. CurbTxt co-founder Ian just moved here from NYC and racked-up three parking tickets in his first three weeks here.

“The parking issues weren’t in the brochure when I moved to the city,” he says.

The three founders are using a very basic, SMS-based server to automate the process, allowing them to remain at their day jobs. But they think this project has the potential to become a fulltime gig. Our neighborhood, the only one CurbTxt currently supports, is certainly interested.

“I’ve already signed up, and I’m picking up more stickers for my TIC partners,” says neighborhood homeowner Emily. “I think it’s a fabulous idea. Two days ago I saw a car on our street with its lights on. I live on Treat up from the park and I asked around at Precita Park, but it didn’t belong to anyone. I would have loved to have just been able to text them. I love the idea of neighbors supporting neighbors. I hope it catches on.”

I signed up as well during my chat with Alex. Before we said good-bye, he made a fantastic final comment:

“We’re renters, and it’s hard for us to get involved like the more established homeowners. Sometimes we feel like we’re in the dark about issues. Maybe CurbTxt can help bring us into the fold.”

PHOTO: Courtesty of CurbTxt. From left, Alex Ian and Andrew.

Watch Eight Hours of Sutrito Tower in Just 45 Seconds

We’ve seen some rather fantastic time-lapse videos filmed from Bernal Heights before, but I don’t recall seeing a fantastic time-lapse video that looks at Bernal Heights. Until now.

This new time-lapse by Gregg Marks gets more and more dramatic as day fades to night. It’s silent, however, so please bring your own soundtrack. (I tested it with “Alone in Kyoto,” with pleasing results.)

Star Sighting: Shuttle Endeavour Soars Over Bernal Heights

Well, that was rather epic, wasn’t it?

When we told you yesterday that the pilot of the Boeing 747 carrying the Space Shuttle Endeavour would be thinking of Bernal Heights as he flew over San Francisco, we weren’t kidding. But we didn’t realize that meant he would actually fly the thing right over our neighborhood!

Yet that’s what happened (because Bernalwood is glamorous like that). A little after 10 am today, Shuttle Endeavour made a big sweeping pass over Sutrito Tower and the Dominion of Bernalwood, amid much rejoicing and clicking of camera shutters.

From atop the hill, Neighbor Charlie took this terrific shot of the shuttle floating past Sutro Tower:

Neightbors Jeanne and Taina enjoyed a Tomorrowland view from their Bernal Heights living room:

Anthony Brown, Bernal’s finest penguinologist, was on the Hill, and he captured this video of the fly-by, which may be the next best thing to having been there:

And since it was a day for star-sightings, it’s only natural that Endeavour’s arrival coincided with a cameo by another elusive celebrity: The Bikini Jogger!

But let’s back up for a moment. Your Bernalwood editor got to spend some serious quality time with Endeavour yesterday while it was at Edwards Air Force Base, courtesy of the very generous folks at NASA. So if you enjoyed the view of the Shuttle over Bernal Heights today, here’s a glimpse of what it looked like up close:

Endeavour and 747 SCA

Shuttle Endeavour

Shuttle Endeavour

Endeavour and 747 SCA

Shuttle Endeavour

Wow. Quite a day to remember. Someday, you can tell your grandkids that you not only saw the Space Shuttle fly over Bernal Heights, but you also saw the Space Shuttle fly on the last day that any Shuttle took to the skies, ever. It was just another glamorous day of history-in-the-making here in Bernalwood… and you were there.

PHOTOS: Bernal photos, from top: Erin Veneziano, DenSF, Stephen Woods, Milk DragonMatthew Gilreath, Xtel, Wirednerd,  Joe Thomas. Bikini Jogger by sfcitymom. Shuttle closeups by Telstar Logistics

What’s The Best Way to Prevent Illegal Dumping on Bernal Hill?


Remember that illegal dumping epidemic that plagued Bernal Hill last spring? Bernalwood does, and frankly, it kind of sucked.

In the meantime, D9 Supervisor David Campos has lined up some City money to make the site less dump-friendly, and he’s holding a community meeting tomorrow night at the Bernal Heights library to discuss how best to spend it:

Help Decide How to Solve the Illegal Dumping Problem on Bernal Hill

Please join Supervisor Campos and staff from the Department of Recreation and Parks to decide how to solve the illegal dumping problem on Bernal Hill. Supervisor Campos was able to secure funds in order to make changes to the area where illegal dumping has occurred. Some ideas include installing nighttime lighting in the area or making structural changes to the parking lot area that would make dumping more difficult. Both Supervisor Campos and the Department of Recreation and Parks do not want to make any changes until the Bernal community decides what is best for the neighborhood. We want to hear from all of you!

Date: September 20, 2012
Hour: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Location: Bernal Height Library Community Room, 500 Cortland Avenue

Questions?: Please contact Hillary Ronen, legislative aide to Supervisor Campos, (415) 554-7729 or

PHOTO: Bernal Hill on May 7, 2012