The loneliness of being black in San Francisco

Signs on the long-shuttered Muni substation on Fillmore Street.

Signs on the long-shuttered Muni substation on Fillmore Street. New York Times photo.

By THOMAS FULLER
The New York Times

Gerald Harris was walking along Ocean Beach, the blustery coastline at the western edge of the city, when he passed Danny Glover, a star of Hollywood action movies and a San Francisco native. The men exchanged glances.

“We were the only two black people in the area,” Mr. Harris said.

San Francisco was once a national beacon of African-American culture, home to a thriving jazz scene that had so many clubs it was known as the Harlem of the West. But these days, blacks say they take notice when they see another African-American in affluent and middle-class neighborhoods.

The jazz clubs of the Fillmore neighborhood have been replaced with upscale shops. Marcus Books, a cultural anchor of the black community and one of the first bookshops in the nation to focus on African-American topics, closed in 2014. Other black landmarks that have long since disappeared are commemorated with remembrances embedded in the sidewalk like tombstones to a forgotten culture.

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Hello from the other side

WHEN SHE’S NOT at her day job in a medical office near Fillmore, singer-songwriter Candace Roberts can often be found on the stage or in a cabaret.

Her recent music video, “Hello Ed Lee” — an adaptation of Adele’s mega-hit “Hello” — is a plaintive cry to the mayor of San Francisco about what she calls “a tale of two cities, and not the book, but reality.” Over images of street tents housing the homeless, she sings: “Oh this city is filthy rich, yet there’s crisis in the streets.”

Hello Ed Lee” follows Roberts’ 2014 video, “Not My City Anymore,” which strikes a similar theme.

Conversation with a cop

CRIME WATCH | CHRIS BARNETT

Lt. Ed Del Carlo, all 6 feet 6 inches of him, rises out of his chair in a gritty windowless office inside the fortress-like Northern Station on Fillmore Street and extends a welcoming hand the size of a catcher’s mitt. In his other hand are 32 police reports from the day before. The 25-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department doesn’t try to whitewash the situation: Crime is mushrooming citywide — and it’s worse in the Fillmore.

Lt. Ed Del Carlo

Lt. Ed Del Carlo

“The big growth trend is property crime. But no longer is it only drug dealing addicts who break into cars to steal a laptop, a smart phone, an iPad or any electronic device they can fence within minutes at 7th and Market,” he says. “We’re seeing more sophisticated, more violent criminals who’re coming in from the East Bay, Sacramento, the Central Valley and the Peninsula because they know if they get arrested, chances are they won’t do any jail or prison time.”

The neighborhood crime surge is affecting both residents and retailers, and criminals are more brazen. This year, thieves drove a stolen car through the front glass  door of the Marc Jacobs fashion boutique at Fillmore and Sacramento around 4 a.m., looted its merchandise and were gone in an estimated five minutes. And twice this year, the glass door of the MAC makeup shop on Fillmore near Pine was shattered in the early morning hours and the shelves were cleaned of expensive skin creams. In the summer, thieves smashed the glass front door of Dino and Santino’s restaurant at Fillmore and California and carted off the cash register.

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Cathedral Hill tower pushes height limits

Rendering of ADCO's proposed tower at 1481 Post Street.

A rendering of ADCO’s proposed tower at 1481 Post Street.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

It may be a sleek luxury high-rise condominium bringing new life to Cathedral Hill. Or it may be a code-violating, too-tall tower adding traffic, wind, noise, parking and shadow nightmares — and opening the door for more spot zoning across the city.

New York developer ADCO Group’s plan to build a 36-story residential tower at 1481 Post Street is drawing mounting concern and opposition from nearby residents. The project is expected to come before the Planning Commission in late September.

The building would replace an above-ground parking structure, fitness center and tennis courts that adjoin Cathedral Hill Plaza apartments at Post and Gough, which ADCO also owns and plans to remodel. The new tower would rise to 416 feet, requiring an exception to the 240-foot height limit the city planning code sets for the site.

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City owed $18 million for Fillmore Heritage Center

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi's now sits empty.

The showplace club and restaurant that once housed Yoshi’s now sits empty.

IT HAS NOW cost more than $18 million in city funds to build the Fillmore Heritage Center and keep it afloat.

There is no new tenant in sight for the huge empty spaces formerly occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant. The garage is losing $10,000 a month now that the building has few visitors. The Lush Life gallery also sits empty and has no potential new tenants. The restaurant 1300 on Fillmore continues to operate, but its future is in doubt.

These are some of the details that have finally begun to emerge about exactly what is happening with the project opened in 2007 to revitalize the stretch of Fillmore Street south of Geary once known as the Harlem of the West. Public hearings on July 13 and July 27 brought out scores of restive neighbors, and a thick “informational memorandum” laid out the sad financial facts, complete with spreadsheets, term sheets, notices of default and lease terminations attached.

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Shell gets go-ahead, garage gets the boot

shell-closes

THE CALL CAME shortly after noon on July 1. Time’s up, Douglas Fredell was told. Do no more work in the garage of the Shell station at 2501 California, and have your tools and machinery out by the end of the month.

It had appeared the neighbors were gaining ground in their battle against a big chain convenience store with additional gas pumps the owners of the gas station want to build as a replacement for the garage, which has operated there for decades.

Yet another crowd of locals showed up to protest on June 4 when the Planning Commission took up the issue again, a month after sending the owners back to the drawing board and directing them to redraw their plans to keep the garage.

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Shell station revamp scaled back

The Shell station and garage at California and Steiner Streets.

The Shell station at California and Steiner.

OWNERS OF THE Shell station at 2501 California Street were sent back to the drawing board by the Planning Commission on April 30 and told to return in a month with revised plans — ideally plans that would keep the garage they hoped to eliminate.

The owners, a company called AU Energy that owns more than 100 Shell stations, had sought permits to raze the existing station and garage and replace it with a Loop convenience store and twice as many gas pumps.

“Car repair is a higher amenity than grab and go items,” said commissioner Dennis Richards. “I challenge you to come back with something where you have better integration with the community . . . hopefully including car repair.”

The owners of the station had agreed a week earlier — after neighbors showed up at a Planning Commission hearing to oppose their plans — to scale back the hours the convenience store would operate and to expand only from five to eight fueling stations, rather than the 10 they originally sought. They also extended the lease on the garage, which is owned by an independent operator, through June 30.

The commissioners were clearly sympathetic to the Shell station owner’s desire to renovate the station in a way that would keep it economically viable as environmental upgrades are made.

“We need gas stations,” said Richards, who noted they are disappearing all over the city.

But the commissioners also had heard neighborhood opposition to shuttering the garage and concerns about intensified traffic on an already-busy corner. There were doubts about the appropriateness of the expanded convenience store.

“I am concerned about further suburbanizing that corner,” said commissioner Kathrin Moore. “It looks backward rather than forward.”

The commission voted unanimously to continue the issue until its meeting on May 28.

“We’re directing you to try to incorporate service,” said Richards. “That would be necessary and desirable and hugely compatible” with the location and the needs and desires of the neighbors.

EARLIER: “Shell garage told to close

Charting change on Fillmore Street

hoodline_UFpie

LUXURY APPAREL chain stores have made a major incursion onto Fillmore north of Bush Street in recent years, a new survey confirms, and clothing stores now make up nearly a third of all businesses on the street.

But the survey also finds there are still dozens of service businesses and non-apparel retailers — and that most businesses on upper Fillmore have been open for more than a decade.

The analysis of city data, Yelp price rankings and news articles was conducted by Hoodline, a neighborhood news website based in the Lower Haight that aims to help people better understand what’s happening in city neighborhoods by quantifying businesses and services.

“Why have so many luxury apparel chain stores opened on upper Fillmore?” the surveyors ask. Their conclusion: “Beyond the general economic growth of the city, our findings suggest that the success of independent retailers created an especially attractive environment for them.”

On Fillmore south of Bush Street, it’s a different story.

“For a variety of historical and architectural reasons, the quaint Victorian storefronts aren’t available south of Bush,” the survey says. “The area unfortunately reflects the decades of failed experiments in urban redevelopment. Vacancy rates are higher.”

Hoodline also finds that fewer storefronts are available in the redeveloped areas of lower Fillmore.

“Large portions of the blocks are dominated by blank concrete walls, and the decline in density of shops is unmissable,” it concludes.

Read more: “A victim of its own success?

To G or not to G

REAL ESTATE | PATRICK BARBER

A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street would be affected if Proposition G passes.

A two-unit home for sale at 2905 Bush Street could be affected if Proposition G passes.

A significant slowdown in the number of multi-unit building sales in San Francisco’s northern neighborhoods suggests that Proposition G may be having an impact on the local real estate market months before city residents cast their votes.

On the ballot for the upcoming November 4 election, Proposition G is designed to discourage property flipping by levying a substantial tax on homes with two or more units that are resold within five years of purchase. Essentially, the proposed legislation could force home sellers to pay up to 24 percent of the sale price in taxes — a substantial sum in a city where the median single-family home price has hovered around the $1 million mark for most of this year.

The uncertainty surrounding Proposition G appears already to have cooled investor interest in multi-unit properties. From mid-August to mid-September 2013, eight multi-unit buildings sold in the Cow Hollow, Lower Pacific Heights, Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights neighborhoods, while four went into contract. In that same time period in 2014, only two multi-unit buildings sold and two went into contract.

And since Proposition G applies to single-family homes with in-law units, its effects could be felt beyond the multi-unit property market if voters choose to approve it.

Patrick Barber is president of Pacific Union.

Fillmore gets more neighborly

benches-wide

WHEN DINO’S became Dino and Santino’s last year at Fillmore and California, owner Dino Stavrakikis wanted to make his — and his son’s — prime corner a little friendlier. So he bought a black metal bench and bolted it to the sidewalk, inviting the neighbors to stop and sit in the sunshine, even if they weren’t ordering a slice of pizza.

His good example has now brought more benches to the stretch of Fillmore between Bush and Jackson Streets. In mid-August the city’s Department of Public Works, encouraged by the Fillmore Merchants Association, put additional benches like Dino’s on the street — only shorter, so no one is tempted to take a nap. The original 60 locations under consideration were whittled down to 19 spots acceptable to the various authorities from the city’s transit, utility, parking and disability departments.

The drive to add benches on Fillmore began 14 years ago. It took a politically savvy young DPW staffer, Ahmad El-Najjar, and funding secured by Supervisor Mark Farrell’s office to make it finally happen.

Initial reaction was mixed. Some merchants complained about smokers, and high-end fashion boutiques and restaurants feared undesirables would sit in front of their high-rent shops. But the reaction from residents has been mostly positive.

The benches are being touted as a pilot project that may be adjusted or expanded. Already several other business owners have asked for benches.

“I want one right out front,” said Dino. “The last one I had to buy myself.”