The bowling alley in Japantown, Coronet Movie Theatre, and Candlestick Park just to name a few … As a native son of San Francisco, I have watched over time, as The City has experienced the pains associated with growth and casualties linked to gentrification. Locations associated with our childhoods have been erased off the map one by one, and only remain in our collective memory banks doomed to fade with the tests of time. These locations are destined to transform into condos, retail shops and other living arrangements for the masses coming to our city. As time passes memories fade, friends and family leave. As a native, these realities bring me to only one real conclusion, native San Franciscans are on the brink of becoming a dying breed.
For those of you who are new to our city, let me describe to you who we are. Native San Franciscans may be on the brink of becoming a dying breed, but we are a very proud breed. We tend to be open-minded, embracing of others, and tend to possess the gift of gab. We tend to be liberal, but not too liberal, and put our blood, sweat, and tears into The City that we love. Many of us work for The City to give back, passing up higher paying jobs. Whether it’s working for Muni, SFFD, SFUSD, in law enforcement, or in government, we are the backbone of this city. That is why we tend to behave like private City Ambassadors for both tourists and new residents alike.
Gentrification and city growth have changed us quite a bit, brought us natives closer together. It wasn’t always like that. Growing up, I remember how we were divided by the neighborhood we lived in or the middle school we attended. What is bringing us closer together you may ask? Perhaps it is because we are in survival mode in our own city, and that mentality has forced us to come together. Perhaps it is because it feels like The City is catering more to the mega-rich transplant billionaires, and The City’s non-native transient population than it’s own native daughters and sons. Either way, it is unequivocally clear that our city is changing, making it very expensive to stay, and destroying the very diversity we treasure.
Some may argue that gentrification has always occurred. In some respects people who say so are correct. For example, decades ago, the Excelsior was predominantly Italian, the Avenues were Irish and many other neighborhoods had a different ethnic make-up. I am sure that when my family and community came to San Francisco fleeing the war zones of the Middle East and other places, it resulted in changing demographics as well. Additionally, growing up here, I’ve seen gentrification occur before, first when the first wave of hipsters came and then with the different tech bubbles. However, the changes occurring today are different in two important ways, 1) the speed of the change and 2) the type of the change. The speed of the change has made it almost impossible for the City to respond to drastic changes, and the type of the change has resulted in people coming here who do not appear to be vested in the City for the long run.
I write this not as a call for people to not come here, in fact quite the contrary. San Franciscans love everyone, and we communicate with our heart. It is what gives us that gift of gab that I mentioned before. But rather, I write this as a message; first of all, for us natives, this is a call to action, we cannot give up, we must stick together, our very survival is in the balance. Secondly, to The City and County of San Francisco, love us like we love you, the recent announcement of building subsidized homes for public school teachers is a good start, but you have much more work to do. And finally, for those of you who have come here to San Francisco, be part of our civic structure. Volunteer, vote, do your jury service, become a San Franciscan, and make this your final destination and your home. By working together, natives and non-natives alike can make The City that we love great for all. Who knows, if we manage to collaborate, perhaps we can even preserve some of the great memories of our past for the next generation to come.
Alex Bastian is an assistant district attorney at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.