SF Chronicle Urban Design Critic Eschews Urbanism, Succumbs to Nostalgia



San Francisco Chronicle urban design critic John King has become the latest in a series of Baby Boomer journalists to lament how much more vibrant and exciting Bernal Heights was back in the wooly days before the Baby Boomers became… old.  In a big column about Bernal that ran on B1 in yesterday’s newspaper, King writes:

Cortland Avenue, the commercial strip, doesn’t have the boutiques you might find on Fillmore Street. But the influx of affluent younger couples can be seen at VinoRosso, a wine bar that on Wednesdays holds a happy hour for parents and their babies.

Two blocks away, a shop specializing in electric bicycles opened last year next to Wild Side West, a lesbian-owned bar that’s been on Cortland since 1976.

The scene was far different when [D9 Supervisor David] Campos’ predecessor, Tom Ammiano, moved to the neighborhood in 1972.

“Cortland was not a warm and fuzzy place back then, especially for a gay man,” Ammiano said while sitting in Progressive Grounds, a coffee house where the only nod to the 21st century is the free Wi-Fi that’s heavily used. “I didn’t come over here for years.”

What attracted Ammiano and his boyfriend at the time wasn’t politics, but low prices: Their real estate agent said they’d be fools to pass up a $27,000 house with parking and a city view.

Pioneers by default, “Bernal grew on us,” Ammiano said. “The neighbors were always fine. The creep of gentrification came almost unnoticed.”


“It’s bittersweet,” Ammiano mused. “Bernal feels a lot safer, and people are engaged more. But I also know that most of the new wave doesn’t know the history. I’m a little worried it will get more and more generic – the whole city is facing it.”

The transitions are equally apparent to Rachel Ebora, executive director of the [Bernal Heights] neighborhood center.

The center today has 30 full- and part-time employees and a $2 million budget, much of it from government grants that go to specific programs, such as the subsidized elderly lunches that continue to be a mainstay. The center’s development corporation has helped build 445 units of low-income housing, with another 71 apartments under construction in the Ingleside neighborhood.

“I’m really proud to be a Bernal resident,” said Ebora, who moved to the neighborhood from Portland, Ore., in 2005 and worked as a taiko drummer before joining the center as a community organizer. “All the different groups here can be like factions, but they’re not afraid to be engaged about what’s happening.”

The question is what happens next.

Bernal is buffered from mass evictions by the fact that 58 percent of its homes are occupied by their owners, compared with a citywide rate of 38 percent. But each time an older house goes on the market, put there by the families of blue-collar parents no longer living, or aging children of the 1960s seeking an easier place to live, the economic diversity narrows a bit more.

And so on. As told by King, we are to understand that Cortland used to be a bleak and crime-ridden place, but now it has a vibrant wine bar and a thriving electric bicycle shop, which means… something that is left unsaid. Yet rather than celebrate this entrepreneurial transformation from the muck of urban squalor, King and his interlocutors would have us believe that Bernal is now a less interesting and close-knit place than it used to be.

Your Bernalwood editor wasn’t here in the 1970s or 1980s, so who knows if that’s true. And besides, who cares? What we know with absolute certainty is that Bernal is an interesting and close-knit place in 2013, and that Bernal residents — both new and old — are actively committed to making this the very best neighborhood it can be.

Moreover, a lot of these newer and highly engaged Bernal Heights neighbors are tired of being told that they are nowhere near as righteous or as committed or as interesting as the dewy-eyed Baby Boomers who colonized Bernal during the 197os and 1980s.

Neighbor Robert read King’s article in the Chronicle yesterday, and in an email to Bernalwood, he had this say about it:

They’re right, things are changing, with the rich yuppies moving in. But that started 16 years ago when the first dotcommers (us!) bought in. That’s when houses that had been $200K started selling for $300-500K, which was massive for Bernal at that time. And it happened in the 1960s, because at that point they stopped rejecting multi-ethnic families [under the previous redlining rules]. So all this has been going on for as long as this patch of City has been here.

I have a hard time with folks who want to hang on to a neighborhood’s particular ethos at the time they lived there. That’s as disrespectful to the folks who came before them as it is to the newer folks who are changing the neighborhood today. Basically, as politely as I can say it: They’re kind of hypocritical. And the fact that they don’t get that causes me to lose some respect for them. They’re smart folks. But if they don’t see all this, then maybe they’re not that smart. Sorry if I come off obnoxiously on this.

Here’s what another Bernal neighbor wrote to say after reading King’s piece:

Paraphrasing the Buddha, all is impermanent.

Neighborhoods change. Many of the people who have lived here a long time pushed someone out when they arrived. There are early gentrifiers, and there are late gentrifiers, and it seems that you always disdain the people who come after you.

For those who have tired of the new Bernal, the “next Bernal Heights” exists: it’s the Excelsior. Diverse community, engaged & organized neighborhood groups, good proximity to transit, decent weather, views, good parks, up-and-coming schools, etc., with relatively affordable (for SF) houses. You could take your Bernal profits now and move there and repeat the process, if that’s what you really want.

But when push comes to shove, many people don’t really want to move back in time to a neighborhood that’s still somewhat dangerous and scruffy, where there are some poorly maintained houses and not very many sidewalk trees.

Nostalgia for the old Bernal Heights leaves those details out. Obviously, these folks are also attached to the neighborhood, which is still pretty awesome. SF has a serious dearth of housing, and until there’s a lot more infill of one form or another, there’s going to be someone offering you a lot of cash when it comes time to sell your place. (By the way, there’s no rule that says you have to accept the highest, all-cash offer, but people seem to forget that when it comes to accept an offer.)

So if John King (or any other journalist of his generation) would like to come back to do another article about what’s really happening here on Bernal Hill in 2013, Bernalwood will be happy to assist. We will gladly introduce dozens of Bernal residents from younger generations who are neither politicians nor professional activists.  He will meet people who are extremely well-versed in Bernal Heights history and who are actively engaged in the daily task of making this a better, more close-knit, and more beautiful place — regardless of whatever kind of work they happen to do during the day to pay the mortgage.

They’re here.

This is happening.

Get fucking used to it.

72 thoughts on “SF Chronicle Urban Design Critic Eschews Urbanism, Succumbs to Nostalgia

  1. Frankly, I like what has happened to the neighborhood. No longer are we afraid to walk down Cortland. Granted there used to be plenty of parking, which no longer seems to be the case, but at least there are some shops to go to! We have good restaurants, interesting stores, good coffee shops and other amenities. And it is heart warming to see neighbors stopping to talk to each other on the street….something I rarely saw in the mid 70’s when I moved here. This has truly become a small city within a city.

  2. “It’s bittersweet,” Ammiano mused. “Bernal feels a lot safer, and people are engaged more”—What on earth is bittersweet about that?

    “But I also know that most of the new wave doesn’t know the history.”—-I talk to my neighbors(some older than others) every single week, I speak with them about the history of the street and neighborhood and love every minute of it.

    “I’m a little worried it will get more and more generic – the whole city is facing it.”—Call me when a Starbucks, GAP, or American Apparel moves in, until then take a chill pill. Cortland is great and evolving in a positive way and the same thing is happening on Mission Street on the western slope. Things are getting better not worse, and everyone should be delighted and excited about it.

    • Yes, that “generic” part is what got me. I find the combination of new and old shops on Cortland to be pleasantly eccentric, and run by real, engaged people with personalities, not corporations, which means they are anything but generic. Unless he’s talking about the new residents, in which case, yikes, that’s an even worse insult to a community.

      Then again, the entire series seems to be predicated on nostalgia (“The Chronicle is retracing its 1958 Hills of San Francisco series – one hill at a time…John King explores what a specific peak reveals about today’s city” it says at the bottom of the article), in which case we probably couldn’t hope for much more. Which is too bad, because usually John King’s articles on urban planning ideas, like parklets and temporary use of vacant spaces, are pretty forward-looking and celebratory of change.

  3. Awesome post. Very tired of the hysterical and backward-looking Chronicle articles about Bernal and the Mission, demonizing of “tech people”, etc etc. It is very lazy and one-dimensional journalism.

  4. I am both happy about the Bernal of today and sad that our wonderful neighborhood can’t be shared with more non-rich people.

    • Indeed. When I read the article yesterday I wanted to wretch – it is terribly insulting to anyone that moved in post-1990. But the fact remains that the “new Bernal” is reflective of larger economic trends that treat many people incredibly unfairly. If Mr. Ammiano could propose how he plans to use his power in Sacramento to deal with those trends in a way that works – instead of simply whining about newcomers – I’d be all ears. But I’m probably expecting too much.

      • This article has helped me so much. I mean I’m probably one of the few black homeowners in Bernal and I’m so happy to find out I’m rich! I never knew. I must get myself to the spa for my spot of tea-post haste!

  5. On behalf of the universe I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all who would take offense at, not only the change in the character of one neighborhood, but who are put-off by the only constant in all of creation: change! At one time Bernal Heights was covered with salt water, and years later Aboriginal people roamed freely there. Even later the Bernal dwellings led the City of San Francisco in rate of homocide for three straight years during the 1980’s; you can look it up. Eventually, all of humanity will perish and the entire planet, including Bernal, will be covered in ice. At least then we won’t have to read the dreck spewed by hack journalists about the failed nirvana on the hill that was doomed by gentrification.

  6. i think i’m more righteous now than i was in the ’70s. but then again, i only maxed out at 5 in the ’70s…

  7. Too many people want to live in the past, return to a time when…

    And yet, they would not be happy with those homes or businesses that were not as convenient or comfortable. We have a young man here in Fresno who is trying to reconstruct all of old downtown Fresno in miniature but I get the feeling he would like to return the whole town to that era in reality. The late 1800s/early 1900s had its issues too.

    We are not going back to (fill in the year) nor should we. These are someone’s good ol’ days. Enjoy them.

  8. I guess I count as one of these “young starry-eyed yuppies.” I moved to Bernal 3 years ago, in my late 20’s, after moving back to the Bay Area after grad school. I didn’t really know this area, since all my friends lived further uptown, but I needed a place with parking so I took the first place available.

    And immediately fell in love.

    Ive spent the last decade of my life doing a lot of wandering, working on my education and career, but all the while really aching for a place to settle down and put down roots. A place where I could comfortably be for longer than 6-12 months so I’d have more time to do the things I want. Really get to know local businesses. Participate in local groups and events. Buy yoga packages for longer than a few months in advance. Actually learn the names of my neighbors, You know, **invest** in a community. In Bernal I found a wonderful place filled with its own art and history, an urban sub-culture in what I already believed to be the greatest city on the Earth.

    I get irritated when people say that us youngun’s are only interested in immediate gratification, that we want our houses to be all slick and modern with all the hard edges filed off and replaced with cherrywood wine racks. I would much rather live in an old house in a community filled with charm and love than one of the ultramodern complexes like what are popping up everywhere. That’s what I see Bernal as being, that’s why I want to stay here.

    Unfortunately, although I am young, I still may be on the losing side. I’ve pretty much hit the non-software-engineer glass ceiling for payscale. Just in the last few years, I’ve watched the costs of everything skyrocket around me. Although I would love to buy, I can’t, and the house that I currently share with a handful of roommates isn’t rent controlled. I sometimes wake up in cold sweats from nightmares about being driven out of the place I so desperately want to call home, even though I only just got here.

  9. I encourage folks to read the whole article. David Campos is quoted as saying “I was always struck by Bernal’s sense of community, its history of really engaged people…” and “… the engagement continues.” This is something of which old-timers, mid-timers, and newcomers all should be proud. And I would just point out that the Bernal Senior Program is “really happening here on Bernal Hill in 2013”—as it has been for decades.

    I moved to Bernal in 1976, and am lucky to be a Bernal homeowner now. I will be giving my house to my daughter, since that’s the only way she’ll be able to afford to own a house in SF. My dead-end block of Treat Avenue is so awesome, and I treasure the full spectrum of neighbors—from the few who’ve been here longer than I through my next-door neighbors who “downsized” from their longtime Noe Valley home just last year.

    I also want to say that I am so proud of my big brother Buck, who has stayed committed to Bernal for over 37 years. There is no one more dedicated, and ewe’re lucky to have him.

  10. I’ve been in Bernal since the late 1970’s and now live in a neighborhood I could not afford if I arrived today amongst neighbors who have servants and I LIKE IT.

    You all don’t know what it was like back then. All this talk of how close knit it was is revisionist history to an extent. There was no small amount to racial/ethnic strife between working class whites, Latinos and Filipinos and the neighborhood was significantly homophobic despite the exaggerated claims of lesbian/feminist communes on the Hill. Those heart-warming narratives of the coming together that eventually resulted in the Community Center do not tell the whole story.

    I’ll take the entitled attitudes of some of the more recently arrived neighbors over the dysfunctional and bigoted behavior of some of the neighbors of the 1970’s and 1980’s any day.

  11. I moved to Bernal in 1997. I’ve seen many positive changes over the last 16 years. I love this particular part of the world, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. At the same time, I can still be saddened by some of the trends associated with gentrification, including the gradual, seemingly inevitable, loss of class and racial diversity. What Buck and the other Occupy Bernal folks did to fight home evictions, what the leaders and members of the BHNC do every day, represent for me at least the very best of what our neighborhood (and society) is all about. But with housing prices what they are, Bernal like San Francisco will likely continue to lose its working class and ethnic diversity, and to acknowledge and lament this is not (just) an exercise in nostalgia, I don’t think. Times change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t regret some of those changes. For the last decade and more, when I would – not often, once every few months or so – walk out of the truly unique, edgy and wonderful Skip’s Tavern, I would say to myself, “this place it too amazing to continue to exist in this world of ours.” Well of course it doesn’t any more, and the very nice Lucky Horseshoe, as good a local bar as it is, isn’t Skip’s. More importantly, the concentration of wealth in this country (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/03/06/this-viral-video-is-right-we-need-to-worry-about-wealth-inequality/) and globally (http://www.therules.org) has reached obscene levels, as we all know . Again, I don’t think this sense of loss, or wanting to hold onto the legacy of activism that gave us the nickname Red Hill, is simple nostalgia. Or not only that. I don’t quite get the somewhat defensive attitude I see expressed above, nor the implied generational resentments. I actually came away from reading John King’s article yesterday with a sense of pride. Bernal is changing but retains characteristics that make it (along with the views and the weather) the best neighborhood in one of the best cities in the world. That’s good, right?

    • When I moved to the nabe, I remember the music blaring out of Skip’s at high volume when I went to shop at Good Life, and the few times I went in, I didn’t find it to be very welcoming. It seemed more like the regulars were suspicious of anyone they didn’t already know. I appreciate the hospitality which came about with the change to Lucky Horseshoe.

  12. The sense of entitlement with the last three sentences is a bit disturbing; I expected a bit more empathy based upon some previous posts on this blog. Or you could post another link praising how home prices in the neighborhood are reaching obscene levels of non-affordability jerking-off your net worth…
    Sure, it’s happening. But it’s not really your place to tell those displaced by lack of affordable housing due to not so much “gentrification” but in the past five years “ridiculous wealth” to “get fucking used to it.” A forced transition in housing is not something that people (ie: renters that can’t afford to buy and those that cannot or are not allowed by lending institutions to refinance to more affordable mortgages) should have to get fucking used to– it’s a model of an unsustainable way to grow a city. I’m sure that the dot-com wealth that currently/newly resides in the neighborhood will not appreciate hearing those same words if/when they are underwater on their mortgages and forced into foreclosure when the current dot-com (social networking) bubble bursts.

    • Why shouldn’t someone feel entitled to purchase a home and enjoy living in it? No one is saying that anyone should be deliberately rude to existing neighbors; however, just moving in and living ones life seems to cause irrational anger in certain people who think that existing neighborhoods should be preserved in amber and locked up in a glass case.

      Yes, I understand an individual would be upset if they got evicted (though that is an issue between the individual and his or her landlord), but 99.99% of the people who are complaining have not been “forced out;” instead, they simply don’t like that new people are moving in. For example, Tom Ammiano (originally an outsider himself having relocated from the affluent Montclair, New Jersey) and his husband own their home and are in no danger of losing it. But, like many of the others quoted in the SF Gate article, he makes statements implying his disdain for the new neighbors (without any reasonable justification) and then pompously voices the concern that these new neighbors may not appreciate the “history” of the neighborhood. And by “history,” he means, the period of time covering his own residency in the neighborhood–since history only starts with oneself. Did Mr. Ammiano ever stop to think in 1972 when he moved in to Bernal Heights what the history of the neighborhood was? Did he ever wonder about all the people who lived in the neighborhood for generations before he came along? No, I am fairly certain he just thought, “Hey, I am getting a great deal on a house, and I guess the trade-off is that I’ll have to deal with a little homophobia.”

      So, yes, people should just get “fucking” used to the fact that people move in and people move out of neighborhoods and that is the way the world works. My mother has lived in her own neighborhood in another city for 40 years, and over that span of of time neighbors have come and gone. My mother would never even conceive of complaining about new neighbors moving in unless they did something intentionally rude to her. Just their mere presence would not be viewed as a provocation. But, the attitude of certain “old time” folks in Bernal Heights and other neighborhoods toward their new neighbors is that their mere presence is a provocation and a call to battle. The irony is that most of these “old timers” were once viewed as “carpet baggers” themselves before they moved into the neighborhood that they now feel is “their turf.”

      • You’re missing the point about unsustainable growth (i.e. you force people that work low income jobs out, eventually nobody is left to serve you a $34 bucket of fried chicken or $4 slice of toast, but LOL plebes, right?) and that’s a pretty big assumption to make that Ammiano assumes that history started when he showed up…

        This isn’t a cut-and-dry issue. Like the original comment says “yes, it’s happening…” but frictional forces causing changes in living conditions/neighborhood character beyond one’s control are not something that people, especially the folks that have been in Bernal or any neighborhood in SF long enough to invest time and effort into building their community in the image that they wanted should be told to “get fucking used to.” It’s a myopic and self-absorbed comment to make. That’s why the old-timers have the attitude they do towards the new people: it’s not that they want new people to stop coming to SF, that’s unrealistic. It’s that the new folks insist on everyone accepting the “get fucking used to it” attitude and then they bitch and moan when an old timer turns it around and tells them to go fuck themselves.

        It shouldn’t take what has happened to neighbors in this ‘hood (foreclosures, after a bank refuses to negotiate refinances, Ellis Act force-outs, etc.) happening to someone like your mother to gain some perspective, and I say all this as a relative newcomer. As much as I think Willie Brown is a dipstick, I also consider him to be pretty in-touch with the old SF that still exists– his take (that new folks should feel obligated to get more involved in their own city) is dead-on. http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Techies-must-nip-growing-scorn-in-bud-5006404.php

      • Yo G, have you not noticed that real estate sales have actually leveled off and in the case of higher priced homes, not much movement. I’d say your point is moot. Get fucking used to it. There are plenty of entry level/low income jobs. Always has been, always will be. Some of these non-skilled jobs can pay more. Maybe you expect that we have more subsidized housing. I’m good with that, but only for teachers, firefighters and police. Each group needs to be embedded in their community to help create the potential of a thriving neighborhood. This subject is pretty much cut and dried, get fucking used to it.

        I think the biggest issue is between homeowners and renters. Those that own like the change, even most that have been here for multiple generations. I was thrilled when 3 homes on my block went from units to single family homes that included a total gut and remodel. My block no longer looks like it’s in transition. If an OG wants to tell me to fuck myself for feeling this way, I’ll shake his hand and thank him. Dissension is coming more from renters who may have to make more than a few transactions before they can afford to buy here. For me it took three cycles and four transactions. Ellis Act is the best thing that could happen. This allows properties to be renovated, infrastructure to be updated and investment to be protected. All in all, rent control is a bad idea. You can look across the city and see poorly maintained buildings that eventually become slum housing. You can’t ties the hands of property owners and expect granite counter tops.

  13. +1 on the Excelsior comment and raise you one on Portola. I have been weirdly attracted to those ‘bergs on the other side of Alemany of late and can see their rosy future. But they don’t have no Todd Lappin so I’ll have to stick around here for a little longer…

  14. The bittersweet part is that the neighborhood is becoming less economically diverse. Increasingly, it is a place that only very high income folks can live. Teachers, artists, non-profit workers, lower-level managers, college students… Do you care that they can’t live here anymore? I do. Bernalwood leads me to believe that high earners with obscene rents or $1.5 plus million homes are okay with that. People with greater perspectve (whether high earners or not) are able to lament the gentrification and “push out” of the neighborhood while still appreciating the fact that it is safer. LIfe is complex like that sometimes.

    If you like the character of the Marinia, why didn’t you buy there? Was it really just highway access or did you like the flavor of Bernal? Someone siad that they like the old shops with the new on Cortland. We are in danger of losing even that. Rather than be so defenisve and dig in your heels about how wonderful “you” have made the neighborhood (really?) accept the facts. Good and bad. Even if you can’t do anyting about it (or don’t wnat to), there is no harm in acknowledging it. The history of Bernal is not just old photos of cow pastures. And the history of Bernal is still happening and you are part of it.

    • Gentrification is a difficult topic, but I’d suggest you go back and re-read the above, because there’s nothing about home values or Marina-like character anywhere in there.

      I had just one point to make, and I’ll assert it clearly here: It’s lame to condescend to anyone who moved to Bernal (or any neighborhood for that matter) after you did, no matter what their circumstances. Personally, I find it extra-lame that in Bernal this condescension often seems to come from Boomers who settled here during the 1970s and 1980s — and Ammiano’s comments were a textbook example that.

      Depending on where you decide to start the clock, the new generation of Bernalese has now been here for nearly 20 years. It’s time to stop shitting on them just because they somehow managed to scrape together enough bones to buy a home here in the period after Bernal stopped being cheap.

      Finally, FWIW, that’s how many ended up here — saving, scraping, waiting for opportunities, buying fixer-uppers, etc. There’s a lazy (and insulting) tendency to assume that many of the newer Bernalese simply plunked down a huge pile of cash to land here. Some did, for sure, but it’s a mistake to dismiss entire generations of homeowners under that rubric. Many landed here because they wanted to be here, and they were resourceful about figuring out some way to make it happen.

    • Who said they like “the character of the Marina?” People move into a neighborhood because they want a safe, nice place that they can afford. No one is moving into Bernal Heights with the goal of changing it into the Marina or anywhere else. And, if someone wanted to live in the Marina, they woudn’t take Bernal Heights as a consolation prize. The paranoia behind statements such as yours is really shocking.

      As for shops, they stay open if people patronize them and they close if people do not shop at them. That is simply part of the business cycle that occurs in commercial corridors across the nation.

      Finally, you are correct, history is ever-unfolding and change comes to all places.

    • Then tell the next property owner or neighbor who puts there house on the market for $1.5 that you BEG them to take less.
      Ridiculous. It’s all about supply and demand. Every owner will and rightly so will take their asking price, or more.
      I sure will when I sell.

  15. I moved here in ’91. And, it is true, I could not afford to move here now. I moved here because this is where I could afford to buy a house. Let’s be clear- there is no such thing as “economic diversity” within a neighborhood. There is only economic diversity within a city- and I think this is what people are really mourning. The CITY of San Francisco is becoming less economically diverse. When I moved here, a similar house in Potrero would have been 50K more and a similar house in Noe would have been 100K more- for an equivalent house. North Beach? The Marina? You’ve got to be kidding. I didn’t even look there. All kinds of things make a neighborhood diverse, but economics isn’t one of them. Neighborhoods are distinguished and divided by economics. I moved here the same summer Good Life Grocery opened- and that one store changed Cortland for the better. In the early years, my truck was broken into three times, my housemates car was stolen, the house next door was shot up and I routinely heard gunfire at night. I love it that Bernal is safer now, I love it that there are interesting shops on Cortland now AND I feel both sad and lucky that I bought my house when I did. An artist married to a contractor couldn’t buy a house in Bernal anymore.

  16. What a disgusting reaction to the Chronicle piece. Everybody wants to acknowledge the problem of SF’s growing inaccessibility without admitting they’re part of the problem – this is one of the great ironies of this city’s particular brand of liberalism in 2013. I’ve suspected for a while now that the voices behind this blog are really not authentic Bernal voices, and this post confirms it. “Get fucking used to it”? To what? To the fact that you feel like paraphrasing Buddha and emphasizing your commitment to “community” somehow excuses the cultural atrocity of a wine bar/Gymboree franchise? No, you get fucking used to this: you are raising your families in million dollar homes surrounded by people who hate you.

      • I was about to ask the same thing. Just sounds like Johnny is angry and that’s the extent of his voice.

  17. Johnny Foy, you need more fiber in your diet. Do this one and maybe someone will be able to call you friend.

  18. I think that the biggest problem is that people are lumping people into categories based on purchase prices and purchase dates of homes. I think it’s as stupid as assuming that the purchasers of million-dollar homes are also a homogeneous lot. My wife and I didn’t purchase our home for a million dollars (in fact we got a hell of a deal and put in several years of time and money into it to when others didn’t see the opportunity a few years back) but neither one of us make money in tech, law or anything else that people would think based on our skin color and purchase date. We do a hell of a lot of good for San Francisco people and shut the hell up about it yet still walk up to Cortland and spend our hard earned dollars on Belgian waffles, Peruvian food, and are damn glad that Good Life is here and give them our dollars over Safeway which is cheaper down the hill. My wife and I also both dream of a few stores going out of business on Cortland and newer better versions opening up. I grew up in a house where I was taught to shut the fuck up about the charity that I did and that I ultimately was told that I should be conscious of how I spent my money. I’d urge anyone labeling me to think about how they spend their money and what they actually do to help people who live in Bernal or anywhere else in San Francisco.

    Johnny Foy. I’m fucking thrilled that my home is now worth more than a million dollars and anyone who doesn’t like me because of it can either sell their home to someone at an “affordable price” to someone that looks and feels to them like a “Bernalite” or they can rent their home for less to someone that they want in their neighborhood. Put your money where your mouth is. I’m a good person and ask you to not judge me by the purchase price of my home but the content of my character (and perhaps the content of my 401K/403b and not the quantity in it).

  19. It never fails: the Bernalwood posts that have anything remotely to do with real estate in Bernal Heights inspire the most spirited comments, from the subhuman to the sublime (hard to tell which are which). It’s sure is sweet as pie to take strolls down Memory Lame in Ol’ Bernal and gaze over grainy photos of horse buggies and bow-tied gents, but the community’s mouths are where its money is (or is not), if these passions prove nothing else.

    I agree that the “generation” of “new” homeowners–arbitrary smart quotes for the arbitrary distinctions–should not be vilified as a whole. I also don’t think they are, at least not by clear-thinking folks, and we should recognize the fog of reason of some commenting here. I would say, however, that as housing prices spike (as they have for the past few years in the ‘hood), the “newest” neighbors–from all corners, as we do not discriminate (unless someone says something we don’t like about due process for criminal suspects, or takes down a piano from a hill since it’s oh so Bernalicious (c))–are largely a comfy lot, and resentment over discrepancies have been around as long as economic gaps. They are lapping up digs for up to 10 times what they were worth when the 49ers last won the Super Bowl (which almost no one who moved and bought here in the past decade could tell you, being fans of the Steelers or Packers or perhaps the local rugby club, which is also just plain fine). Consumer power, your color is green–naturally–and so is envy. Though gentrification may be organic, it’s usually not locally-sourced, but it still may be seasonal.

    I’m also ever impressed that these intellectual debates over who should be angry and who should not be (and thank goodness we have ethical judges for that on this blog or I would be lost, lost, lost) are peppered with vulgarities that would have horrified many of our ancestors (perhaps one of the geezers will pop up in the next neat-o post about what once stood on the corner where the most recent iPhone was ripped from the hands of some careless fool). I know: civility does not have a role in speech among the truculent crowds. Just don’t tell anyone about Fight Club–rule one–and don’t tell anyone in Bernal that they aren’t really, really liberal. Both will cause untidy problems.

    Thank you for pausing to read the best comment of this lot. Sorry that you had to read so many others to reach the bottom, from where we all seem to be feeding on our way to the top.

  20. Look, I’m not saying that just because you live in Bernal and your property values shot up 400% that you are at fault – I’m not even convinced that the people swooping into neighborhoods like Bernal/mission and paying 2M for a 3 bdrm house have any active ill will (though they are undoubtedly speculators and therefore part of the problem – and any lack of reflection on the part of individuals does not mitigate the effects of their speculation, it only makes their culpability seem more pathetic). What I’m upset about is the tone that now appears to have set in among those who are responsible. It’s a tone of defensiveness to which the old fashioned Clinton Democrat gentry behind the Bernalwood blog and a number of the comments have absolutely no claim. Who has a right to indignation and defensiveness? The families who are being forced to relocate to Bayshore and Hunter’s Point so that the essentially suburban Moms and Dads who work down on the peninsula can feel connected to all that classic urban American “culture” and “diversity” while still being close enough to the freeway that takes them off each day to the institutional walls wherein their bread is so richly buttered. For the Bernal “dads” behind this sophomoric squib of a newsletter to suddenly don their disciplinary hats and tell everyone raising their voices against the festival of wealth this city is becoming that we need to “get fucking used to it” betrays a certain ideology and belies all the apparent concern displayed in this blog previously about local heritage, history, and community. It was an inappropriate, tone-deaf response to the SF Chron piece. All I’m saying.

    • Speculators? Could you be more out of touch with reality? Probably not if your grab bag of tired cliches is any guide. Get to know the people you’re caricaturing and let go of your resentment.

    • Johnny, did you get some fiber yet? If you do you’ll feel better, really I promise. It will certainly clear your head of the misguided voices that seem to raise their ugly head… or perhaps the only problem is you. Get Fucking used to it 😉

    • Forced to move to Bayshore or Hunters Point? How were they forced? Did they end up selling their little fixer for $1.5? Or if they were renters, then that’s just the way it is.

  21. Sometimes I really enjoy this blog: it’s a good place to find out what’s happening in the neighborhood. Other times, I read statements from people who think murals on the library aren’t classy enough (“tramp stamp”??), who are offended that merchants on Mission Street speak Spanish, or who expect to be welcomed as heroes for driving up the cost of housing. Whenever that happens, I have to stop reading for a few months until the bad taste goes away.

    Like the rest of you, I’ve seen the alleged worth of my Bernal house balloon up over a million dollars, but I don’t dwell on it; it isn’t so much gratifying as absurd. When I moved in there were working class people on my street, some whom were African American or Latino. In those days, just fourteen years ago, San Franciscans seemed at least a little concerned with wage inequality. Now most Bernal parents are unwilling to send their children to any of the three local public schools. Now people get in an uproar just because BART workers (most of whom who cannot afford to purchase a home in SF, much less in Bernal) go on strike rather than allowing management to reduce their wages to cover health and pension costs.

    People don’t necessarily hate you (or envy you,for that matter) for being rich, but they may not enjoy every aspect of the cultural changes that come with the latest demographic shifts. I love my neighbors, but I have no use for yoga studios, high-end baby gear, or $3,000 motorized bicycles. I might grab a pastry on Cortland once in a while, but spend a lot more time on Mission Street; it’s nice to be around a little diversity. MUNI buses not your style?. Fine. Rejoice when the old people move off your street, leaving room for people who went to a college just like yours, work at a job similar to yours, and whose parents, it turns out, were very much like your parents. Keep your kids in private schools where they’ll never interact with poor kids. Open a locally-sourced, organic sweater boutique. Start a blog about growing radish sprouts. Whatever. Just don’t count on everyone admiring you for it.

    • Do you know many Bernal parents? It doesn’t sound like it. If you did, you’d know that just living in the neighborhood doesn’t get your child admission to the three (actually four) local schools. You’d also know that most Bernal parents send their children to SFUSD schools.

      Despite the headline sales prices for homes lately, the overwhelming majority of people in the neighborhood didn’t pay that much for their homes and wouldn’t be able to now if they were first-time buyers. This includes almost all of the demonized tech workers in Bernal, too. This may be new information to some, but not everyone who works in tech makes six figures, either.

      The caricatures and straw men are a disservice to a real conversation to be had about how to make the city welcoming to as many as possible.

    • Woot Woot! Who has the energy to hate the newbies? Not me. But I don’t think they’re half as cute as they think they are.

  22. You may think you “didn’t pay that much” for your house, but if you bought any time after 2000, you already paid more than any working class family could have afforded. All we’re saying is: that used to be different. You may think what we have now is better, but others disagree. I and others find the tone of this posting self-righteous and grating. And yes, Brandon, I know plenty of Bernal parents. It isn’t hard to get into the three schools that are right in the Heights, although many want a school that is in a nearby neighborhood. And yes, many local children go to private schools.

    • How much is too much? If you paid $300K, are you not a real Bernalite? Or is the line $400K? How long do you have to live here before you can be real Bernalite? Ten years? Twenty years?

      As for schools, Revere (K-8), half of Flynn (Spanish immersion), and Fairmount (Spanish immersion) are programs open to students across the city, with local children getting little to no preferential treatment in admission. Even if they did get preference, immersion isn’t right for everyone. For general education programs, we’re left with half of Flynn and tiny J Serra which don’t offer nearly enough seats for all of the children in Bernal and the surrounding areas. Of course neighborhood children are going outside the neighborhood.

      And, “many” is a wiggle word. The accusation is that the new landed gentry in Bernal are sequestering their children in private schools, and that’s largely bullshit. And even if they are, who cares? They still pay their property taxes (and a lot more than most people if they just bought a $1M house) and that benefits the kids in SFUSD schools. Besides, “many” old-school Bernal families sent their children to parochial schools in the past. Those are private schools, too…

      You can find the post self-righteous and grating. You can think Todd’s an elitist prick. But the reactions to the post are just as ugly as the accusations they’re leveling. They evince an exclusionary, locals-only perspective, suggesting everyone who moved to Bernal after they did is suspect and needs to prove their right to live here. But they don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

      So, yes, get fucking used to it.

  23. Sigh. I liked the King article and had no idea about the author’s age until it was brought up here. I like Mr. Randazzo’s and Jujube’s comments as well. The shoe fits folks. The neighborhood is, has been, and always will be changing. Someone’s nose is always going to be out of joint over it. The best we can all do is to respect the neighborhood’s past and make efforts to leave it a better place that when we arrived.

    Put down the devices, get out of the bubble and take a walk. It’s good for you.

  24. I, too, would like to know what constitutes acceptance as an authentic Bernalite? My husband and I moved here in 2012, after more than 30 years of living in the not-so-diverse suburban Midwest. While I understand that big changes have been going down over the last two decades, I will echo the frustration of those who have previously commented toward long-time neighbors who are quick to judge based on skin color, occupations, and how much one’s house is worth. Had we not been able to scrape together enough money to buy our house this year (which was FAR less than $1K, not that this should mean anything), our ex-landlord would not have hesitated to kick us out and sell to the highest bidder, for probably a hell-of-a-lot more money than we would have been able to afford (which would have been his right to do so). We love this neighborhood for what it is. We don’t want to change it, but contribute to it. Which is why my husband (who works in tech, *gasp*) is always willing to help out our neighbors who are in need of a hand, while I joined the neighborhood’s NERT team. And when the next big disaster goes down, neither one of us will hesitate to help any of our neighbors, regardless of who you are, what you look like, or how long you’ve lived here, because that’s just what good neighbors do.

    • NDK, You sound like fine neighbors. I look forward to meeting you one day — hopefully not in the wake of a disaster. Likewise, ups to NERT: We should all be up to speed with that worthy program. My wife and I did it 10 years ago and it is time for a refresher!

  25. Warning: This post contains gentle HUMOR and is not intended to deeply offend any of this blog’s publishers or readers.

    Here’s a song titled, THE TECHIE GENERATION and it is sung to the tune of THE PEPSI GENERATION (ask your Mom and Dad). Sing along with me…

    We’re the Techie Generation
    Ear buds in, iPads on.
    Steppin’ over homeless people
    For the bus, to get on.

    We’ve got a reputation
    Pushin’ pixels, all day long.
    We can’t see you, we can’t hear you
    Fer Christ-sake, Get off my lawn

    Catchy huh?

    Have a look in today’s Chronicle at the editorial by Willie Brown about the risks of elitism. Oh wait: Brown is over 40 and on that basis irrelevant. Nevermind.

  26. It’s a curious thing, this kind of transformation. I believe the underlying effect is that, as far as home sales go, people who don’t really want to live here are replaced by people who really want to live here.

    I’ve lived here 12 years, in a home I was told was expensive when bought it, and which I thank my lucky stars I bought when I did. I love it here, and I love how it’s getting better.

    • It’s not an issue of “want” alone; such a conclusion is simplistic. Buying over a decade ago (in many places in SF) is quite different than it is today. Different market, different prospective home-owner profiles, even different incentives to live in certain places…

      I respectfully sense that your remark is not meant to be flippant, however. I feel it’s just a more complicated situation than that.

      Sometimes, there is not a way to afford something, plain and simple. It is also not one’s right to be able to do so, regardless of level of desire. It’s called a “housing market” for a reason; competition means that some people–no matter their level of desire–will “lose out” to others. Perhaps some of us don’t like to admit that we live in a capitalist society sometimes, since that can make our “neighborhood” feel cold to the touch, when what we really want are warm, fuzzy sensations of “community.” But it is clear that market forces, among other ones, have allowed many things to happen in Bernal that have overall improved the neighborhood a great deal. These dynamics have also driven some people to their knees.

      Many people who bought a home in 2000 (or place another far past year in here) may not have a very clear idea of the level of desperation of many who now have lived here (as renters, say) who will not be able to stay around much longer. A lot of the palpable anger in these comments reflects an understandable frustration, even fear, of not knowing where exactly one will live in the coming years, after investing a great deal of time and energy and love becoming part of the Bernal “community.” That desperation and fear becoming twisted into resentment of others is, well, something that happens when people feel extremely vulnerable. (This is also something to “get used to…”)

      We have lost some very good members of the community to “market forces.” It’s very important to know that some people have scratched and clawed together their financial resources to try to afford to buy property (including the very places where they were renting) but ultimately fell short. If one thinks of these stories–and there will be more and more of them–it seems misguided to say that they didn’t “really, really want” to stay here. Great desire can be (and often has been) disappointed (and destroyed) by the simple economics of being of unable to compete with others to afford a home.

      Even a “decent” job and “some” savings and “good” credit could get a home in the past. Now, I know a couple who rents in the neighborhood that makes 170K a year–I think it’s good money?–who cannot come close to competing with others to buy a home in Bernal Heights today. I would never say that this couple does not “want’ to live here–they have done so for nearly a decade already, and they love it–and that their eventual departure will take place because someone who “wants” to live here more will move in.

      It is one thing to see the prices of homes around you and shrug you shoulders or feel fortunate to be sitting on a nest age for future generations of your family (and there is nothing wrong with that level of security, for it is earned and it is desired by all). But it is another thing to realize that one’s wages have not gone up in 5 or 10 or 15 years–when you were perhaps not in a position to buy anything–while homes are twice as expensive as a decade ago, making it impossible for you to buy now.

      So it is timing and resources and the market and other factors, not just “wanting” something. I think that’s a reality that we should all learn when very young.

      • For some people, things happen TO them, for others, they MAKE things happen. When I bought my home, I bought where I could afford to buy, and fortunately it was in Bernal, but at the time would I have rather lived in Cole Valley, or the Dubois triangle, or a home in Bernal with a view?

        Sure, but I got priced out of those options. Did I complain about the lack of housing opportunities for me? Nope, I explored all the possibilities in my price range and settled for a place I could afford that happens to be in Bernal.

        Life’s not fair, and the economic forces of capitalism are even less fair. Desirable places change over time. Get used to it.

  27. it is always amusing when privileged people go looking for opportunities to feel sorry for themselves. Did the Chronicle and Tom Ammiano hurt your feelings, new residents? Of course a more economically diverse neighborhood is more interesting, and of course the gentrification is going to happen anyway. The only meaningful way to do anything to impede gentrification is to build more permanently affordable rental housing. I encourage everyone who cares about the issue to support ballot measures that make money available for affordable housing, and to support, not oppose projects in their own neighborhoods.

  28. Pingback: La Controversia de La Lengua | Burrito Justice

  29. Pingback: Bids Due, Tensions High as Trustee Says Precita Eyes Seeks to “Dictate Sales Terms” | Bernalwood

Comments are closed.