Peter Orner Ponders the Gentrification of Precita Park in the New York Times

Neighbor Peter Orner is a “bold-faced name” in the literary world and an esteemed Citizen of Bernalwood. From his home in North Bernal, he has been an eyewitness to the increasing glamification of Precita Park — a process that has included a recent home sale that displaced two renters (he calls them Josie and Steve) who have been mainstays of the neighborhood.

Neighbor Peter considers all this in a thoughtful piece published in the Opinionator section of yesterday’s New York Times:

Our neighborhood, at the base of Bernal Hill, has been changing for years, becoming more and more upscale. Lately, the realtors have begun calling it “Desirable Precita Park.” We now have all the necessary amenities: a comically overpriced organic convenience store and wine emporium, a new coffee shop with toddler play area, and yes, our very own pop-up restaurant. The playground at the east end of the park, which doesn’t need to be renovated, is being renovated. Celestially fit women march down our sidewalks with yoga mats slung over their shoulders like muskets.

Precita Park

It wasn’t always like this. Precita Park used to be a lot funkier, in a militant hippie sort of way. In 1975, Patty Hearst’s kidnappers were caught a few doors down from my apartment. A longtime resident once told me that the F.B.I. agents staking out the place wore long hair and beads and sat in their car smoking dope, and still everybody on the block knew they were cops.

Precita Park is getting nicer. But Joise and Steve are gone. Peter wonders if the tradeoff is worth it:

In Precita Park, the loss of this one family may not be calculable in dollars. But I fear that the more affluent this area becomes, neighbors — people who look out for each other — will become fewer and farther between. Lately in San Francisco, we seem to be comfortable tackling every progressive cause except for the question of where middle-class people like Josie and Steve, and so many others, are supposed to live.

These are difficult questions, and Peter’s essay generated some thoughtful commentary in the NYTimes.com discussion thread.

For example, Neighbor Robert posted this:

I also live in Bernal Heights. I am an owner. I find that the people who are most involved on my street are the owners, and the people who are least involved are the renters. I realize that there are renters who care about their neighborhood, but I do take issue with Mr. Orner’s characterization of owners. New owners in my neighborhood, including me, formed a neighborhood association and worked with the city on street beautification and traffic calming. We care about our neighborhood.

Neighbor TeeVee writes:

I know how the author feels. It’s not easy to see good neighbors and friends leave the neighborhood. And San Francisco, for all its charms, is a place where you’re constantly reminded of how much money you do NOT have.

But as a resident of Bernal, I really think he needs to get out more and meet more people who own houses in the area. Many of them, like me, aren’t rich. In fact they pretty much sacrificed all disposable income to buy in the neighborhood. I take on as much freelance work as I can scare up in addition to my regular job to pay my mortgage. As a result, I don’t have a lot of time to hang out in Precita Park reading E.M. Forster and stereotyping people. For a writer, he makes a lot of unfair assumptions about owners, lumping them all together when there is vast income disparity in Bernal among homeowners. [...]

Having grown up in a dying automotive town in Michigan, I guess I take a different view of Bernal. Having seen what happens when the housing market collapses completely, I know there are much worse things than a few yuppies moving into a neighborhood.

And this from KJ, who now lives in Portland:

I grew up in Bernal Heights. Born at St. Luke’s Hospital — blocks from Precita Park. I swam at Garfield Pool on Army (now Caesar Chavez) for 10cents in the ’60s. My generation was gentrified out of SF in the 1980s…so I find it hard to feel sorry for the displacement of today’s generation of gentrifiers. Very few of my generation can afford to live in our native city.

Finally, Neighbor Catherine adds:

I love the dream that a place could be your home because you feel deeply connected to it, whether you own it or not. We experimented with exactly this – living in a house in Bernal Heights that we did not own, but were meant to own. But it didn’t end up being ours in the end, because it’s not ours. We knew deep down that no serendipitious moment would change this in reality, but it seemed wise to give it a shot and trust the fates; we enjoyed our time there immensely. In the big picture, there are many factors that go into what makes you happy in the place you reside, and there is also a very random nature to the place you land in a competitive market like San Francisco.

Whether an owner or a renter, folks who moved in or bought in to a neighborhood in 1971, or 1989, or 2009, or yesterday all have the same right to contribute to their neighborhood and be embraced by their community. I see people feeling great ownership and entitlement over neighborhoods because of their longevity, but that isn’t more legitimate than your new neighbor next door, and isn’t categorically what’s right or best.

The message in my mind is to focus on what it means to be a neighbor and part of a community, however you landed there, and for however long you stay. Our city will continue to change – that’s the nature of urban life, and that dynamism is part of what we love about it. You can’t have one without the other.

This is an extremely complicated issue that defies simple solutions, and when you scratch the surface even the most absurd Bernal real estate stories often become more nuanced than they might seem at first glance.

So by all means please do read Peter’s NYT piece, and let’s carry on the discussion about the impact of change on Bernal Heights right here.

PHOTOS: Top, by the Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen. Precita Park by Telstar Logistics.

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51 Responses to Peter Orner Ponders the Gentrification of Precita Park in the New York Times

  1. jennifer k says:

    As a longtime Bernal homeowner, I have to take issue with the illustration that goes with the NYT article (and the massive over-generalizations). I grow kick-ass tomatoes. In 2009 I paid my mortgage with my credit card. I have my neighbors key. My kids are the oldest and for a long time almost the only kids growing up around Precita Park. I love the new cafe and hope to go to the pop-up restaurant at least once in a while. Lots of people do come and go. This is still a good place.

  2. BH lovr says:

    Josie’s vegetables taste pretty bitter to me.

  3. Tony Tavares says:

    I know the family he writes of, and it’s rotten that they got “Ellis Acted” out of their home. One of the reasons my wife and I bought a house in Bernal is we didn’t want to run the risk of being evicted in this manner (for those of you not familiar with the Ellis Act, it allows the owner to evict the tenant if they intend to move into the house and use it as their primary residence). It also happened to another family I know in the hood recently, and they’d been renting the place for 10 years. Some owners abuse the Ellis Act, for sure, but it’s a reality.

    I also disagree with many of the generalizations in the article, that somehow those of us who buy as opposed to rent have less of an involvement or stake in the neighborhood. I bought 4 years ago at the height of the market, and struggle to pay my mortgage each month. But I’m willing to do it because I want the stability for my family, and want to be in the neighborhood long term.

    • Craig Nelson says:

      actually if it’s a house, it’s probably an OMI (owner-move-in) eviction, not Ellis Act.

      • AnonInBernal says:

        And if it’s an OMI and Josie and Steve have kids, then they probably got a decent sum of cash.

      • ksra says:

        As I wrote in the article comments, you don’t have to pay out renters to get rid of them from a single family home. You can just double their rent. That’s how we’re being forced out next month. See ya’ll in the Excelsior!

    • TDelloue says:

      Not all of us can afford to buy at the height of the market. Perhaps some of us come from families who have not traditionally “owned” or are not able to land the 20% down that helps new buyers, or perhaps some families never thought they’d find themselves raising families here…it just happened. I moved here over 25 years ago and I never wanted to buy. (Til it was too expensive!)
      The point is not “the family” the “Ellis Act” the “buy out”. It’s that neighborhoods are becoming unaffordable. A buy out can only cover about 1 years rent increase if you break it down.
      Formerly starter homes are becoming Mini Mc Mansions because a neighborhood is cute upcoming etc. The point is not who the characters are, what is and is not in the story (it’s an opinion piece!) it’s about the overall message. It’s about change, gentrification, making choices that help a community without selling one’s soul or the soul of the community. Think Spike Lee.
      If you can rent a place for $4500,+ should you ? Is selling to highest bidder always the best sale? And should you buy if you evict someone else? Food for thought really.

  4. John says:

    I love the line, “Celestially fit women march down our sidewalks with yoga mats slung over their shoulders like muskets.” Ah ha ha; very droll.

    But seriously folks, fortunately we are not willing or able to encase the neighborhood in amber, stop time and prevent change in perpetuity. Good thing too because if we did the only people living here would be the Irish and Italian families who built and lived in most of the homes in BH.

  5. R says:

    The best comment from the NYT, courtesy of “Brad”:

    “I wish I could have afforded to rent in San Francisco and garden, mull over fair trade coffee, and have cool parties with my eclectic neighbors. But I have never been able to afford it.

    Renting in fancy cities like San Francisco and NY is for rich people like Steve and Josie.”

  6. patty royall says:

    I also feel deeply connected to Bernal Heights. We bought our house 7 years ago. The vast majority of those of us who have bought here are not rich. Many of us found our home in this area precisely because it is one of the only “affordable” neighborhoods left in the city. Of course, everything is relative, it’s obviously not reasonable unless compared to much of the rest of the city. And it is hardly “affordable.” We too struggle to make our mortgage.

    I have also found that it is primarily our neighbors who own that have reached out and made connections, including Barbara, the very elderly woman who lived next door and who used to find me when she needed something by going on her back porch and hollering my name until I opened my window to see what she needed. She broke her hip and has had to move to assisted care, so eventually her family will probably sell the house she has owned for over 70 years. We will welcome new people who will be interesting and invested in the safety, beauty, school and fabric of their new neighborhood. None of this is to say it is anything but sad that families who have put roots down here by renting are suffering as a result of the Ellis Act. It is a city-wide problem, not specific to our neighborhood, driven by economic forces and escalated by certain legislative acts. My heart goes out to them, but it is unfair to characterize those of us who have bought more recently unkindly. I can almost hear the hard-working laborers who occupied most of these homes before the hippies came venting their own share of misgivings about the change in the neighborhood then.

  7. the back porch says:

    Orner’s piece is xenophobia dressed up in eloquent pathos: fear of change, fear of newcomers, assumption of the worst about strangers,derisive dismissal of cultural changes, a notion that justice only results in outcomes one favors. Who’s he to sit in judgement of who has a spiritual connection to Bernal Heights?

  8. sfhillrunner says:

    I am celestially fit AND a renter and I live in Bernal. I sometimes even walk to Bernal yoga with my yoga mat ($17 class ouch!).

    Not rich but still hanging in there, somehow. Our landlord just raised the rent by $200 a month – single family home, not rent-controlled. Definitely priced out.

  9. GG says:

    Hmmmm: ” As a result, I don’t have a lot of time to hang out in Precita Park reading E.M. Forster and stereotyping people.” I guess that would also apply to having time to volunteer in the neighborhood, hang out in the park and meet my neighbors, etc.?

    • TeeVee says:

      G.G. that was my comment, and you’re wrong on all counts. I know most of the neighbors on my block on a first name basis. In fact, I do volunteer in Bernal and other places in the city. And I’d venture I might even know more folks in the neighborhood than you do, but who’s counting? I guess you missed the point of my comment. It’s dangerous to stereotype, generalize and make big assumptions about people without much real info on them, especially when it comes to a complicated topic like this one. I’d suggest the Times article would have been better with more reporting and less musing. But it was certainly well written, and I’ll be buying a copy of Peter’s novel soon.

  10. Jason says:

    glamification : is that when the Vampires more in?

  11. James says:

    considering the NY Times’ demographic, the subtext of this article is basically “gentrifiers of Bernal Heights pause to feel guilty about it”

  12. anothernorthsloper says:

    I liked his piece. I also liked that it generated these and other comments and caused folks to take a pause, take a breath, think a bit about stewardship and connection, disagree. I’m a homeowner on the North slope and I bought my house 18 years ago when it was beyond fixer “nearly condemned” my neighbor told me, and I was a baby public defender earning something like $33k a year. I’d never be able to touch it now, grown up but still working in nonprofit. When I bought, I was the first of the “gentrifiers” moving into a ‘hood where the man (Norwegian) who moved in in 1929 was the homeowner with the most longevity, the two between were from 1934 and 1966 (Irish), and the woman who’d moved in in the 1970s was the newest. I will forever be “the new kid on the block.” Since then, a handful of the houses in our three block slice of heaven have turned over. And yet we know nearly every single occupant, owners and renters, both. Yeah, Precita Park has changed. In 1994 you could get any drug you wanted there. The subsidized housing development at the corner of Army and Folsom was a war zone, with gunfire and sirens nearly every night. Educated neighbors would not consider sending their kids to Flynn. And like the other poster, I’m thrilled to have the cafes, the pop up, the new playground (yes, it does need renovating…as long as our kids don’t lose the spinning saucer), a good neighborhood school. But I lost a set of dear neighbors too, after 12 years, to owner move-in. They were paid off, yes, but not enough and left not for the money but because they had no choice. The new folks who bought the place are nice and have tried hard to be good neighbors to those of us who look at them as “the new kids on the block.” They love our ‘hood too. I do not want the ‘hood under glass and struggle to hold both: happy for the changes and sad for the losses that necessarily come with change.

    • P says:

      This is the article NYT should have published.

      • Another mostly unknown fact, Bernal Heights is home to many Public Defenders. How nice to see such a vibrant community discussion, and thanks to Peter for instigating it. Before I moved here, I rented a house in the Ingleside district. After two years, the owner wanted to sell. I wasn’t charged an extortionate rent and my landlord would keep up all the repairs I needed. I could have dug my feet in and asked for a big cash buyout or claimed my renters rights but I didn’t. I packed up and left because ultimately, I was living in someone else’s property. My wife bought the house we live in in 1988 and endured roommates for ten years while working a full time job and barely making ends meet. I recall one night hearing gunshots outside the house and looked outside to witness a couple of gangbangers settling a dispute right here at Harrison and Precita. The Precita Park Cafe used to be the “Rite Way” market which went the wrong way by becoming a one stop shop for drugs. It stayed open until 2:00am every morning and the shoppers didnt come for lattes and soft-serve. It ultimately suffered an “accidental” fire after a SWAT team raided it a week earlier. I have to say that Harvest Hills is a welcome change to Cancilla’s market, I totally rely on my ability to grab some organic veggies I need by walking to the store and not having to burn a tank of gas to the Good Life. Bar some small changes, our street has the same owners/renters since I moved in 18 years ago, many of whom look out for each other and hold each others keys. In this age of Twitter, FB and blogger, it’s important to remember we’re humans and we need real contact. So engaging in the community will perpetuate the community. As for Steve and Josie, our community will miss them but I know they will connect with their new community wherever they may land. Fair winds and following seas.

  13. dj says:

    After being a SF renter at four different addresses in eleven years (and suffering through one OMI) we bought here in 2005. It’s not like renter and owner are mutually exclusive categories. But I liked Orner’s piece anyway. What great writing. When they finally do move, I will miss “Josie” and “Steve” and their kids, a lot.

  14. Beth Devener says:

    I have been a resident of Bernal Heights for 30 years, I lucked out because my husband bought our house in 1974 and I do not want to go back to the good old days. For years we couldn’t even take our daughter to Precita Park because of the drug dealers, needles, beer cans, dog poop etc. in the playground. Our cars were stolen often, gunshots rang out nightly. I envy the young families today who can walk to the playground and enjoy the area. As far as the Harvest Hills market goes it is owned by a wonderful young family with a one year old girl. They work day and night to provide good reasonably priced products and care about the neighbors and the neighborhood. They live in the neighborhood and deserve praise not scorn. As far as the pop-up restaurant goes, it is giving young chefs a chance that they couldn’t afford otherwise. Only problem I have is no parking otherwise I love my neighbors and my neighborhood. And I have keys to 4 of my neighbors, young and old. So we have a fine community here, thank you very much!!

  15. Neighbor Scott says:

    One of the things that I love about this blog is that, while I do not necessarily agree with all the opinions posted in the comments here, they almost always reflect a friendly,civil, well thought out debate on the issue.

    I’ll contrast it with similar debates on this issue that occur on some of the Mission blogs – comments there quickly devolve into name calling, racial stereotyping and bashing in every direction, and generally illogical arguments.

    Thank you to everyone who participates here for that – it makes it a pleasure to read and engage in these conversations. Perhaps, most importantly, though, like any good debate, I often learn new things about the opposite sides’ points of view.

  16. For me personally, after living here in SF for the last 18 years, my grandma living here my whole life, my parents meeting while working (my dad) at Perry’s the first year it opened (and my mom the Cooperage) and my ancestors being Levi’s, it just makes me super sad to know that as a renter, the next time i will have to move, it will have to be outside of the city. I have poured my heart and soul into this town and it is the only thing that feels like home. There used to be so much diversity and that diversity was so embraced. Now the only thing that seems to be embraced is the mighty dollar (which is a whole crock in itself considering that we do not even cary the gold standard anymore). Sad when so much love gets chopped to the ground by money. Makes all of those other amazing things like art and love and creativity and compassion financially worthless. Makes me kinda despondent.

  17. sfthen says:

    That story told in the NYTimes is one of those old clichés: “My Neighborhood Used To Be Hip Until [put a group here: the Yuppies, Hipsters, Suburbanites, Dot-Commers] Moved In and Ruined It.”
    The author notes “it wasn’t always like this” as if he lived around the Park back then so speaks first-hand but doesn’t mention when he moved to Bernal nor when Josie and Steve arrived. For all anyone knows people were evicted because he or Josie and Steve were willing to pay much more than the original tenants.
    Generally these types show up at the cusp of a neighborhood changeover (oh right, “gentrification”), when there’s still just a little urban grit to make the area seem hip. Nowadays these kind of stories usually include information like how they were able bicycle to their job at a small local nonprofit. Let’s hope the noninclusion was mere oversight.
    Did they hang out in Precita Park when you could watch people urinate in the sandbox mid-afternoon, not even trying to hide it? Pick up syringes beneath benches? Cross Army St to the 24/7 drug mart at Treat/26? (The dealers used kids openly out on the street for the money/drug exchange because in the City of St Francis children are not prosecuted. When the teens were tried for murder because hung a guy from the seventh story window, him begging and screaming and pleading as they laughed before they dropped him, they laughed during the trial because they really thought they’d get off.)
    Was he ever in the El Rio when Malcolm & Robert ran the place before they moved to Chico? One Thanksgiving in the late ’80s they had a dinner for the regulars–there were only regulars then, anyone who came south of Army Street was lost–and when the epidemic arrived the apartments upstairs essentially became a hospice for old employees and friends who returned to finish out their lives.
    Did he ever ride on one of Cesar’s old fire trucks that were parked where the Bernal Gateway now is–or even go into the Latin Palace, ever?
    How many members of the Tongan & Samoan community that once thrived on Bernal does he remember? The Festival they held one year, blocking off the street & building a fire with spit in the center where, with the community gathered around, they butchered & barbequed the animal that is a delicacy in Tonga? Did he hear stories of the fights between Samoans and Mexicans at the Brickhouse? Was he ever even in the Brickhouse? (Actually one can’t blame a person for never having set foot in that place.)
    The longer you live in SF the more places you’ll be able to pass and remember someone who was evicted from, now the buildings have FUF trees around them because the inhabitants are New Urbanists, they want parklets & cul-de-sacs & they bicycle and eat vegan, they want convenience of the suburbs right here in the city, they are on Coalition and Alliance email lists (and of course follow blogs) which really puts their finger on the pulse of the community.
    Thankfully this guy arrived just in time to save what’s left of Old Bernal from the [put a group here . . .]
    Now there’s a story know one’s ever heard before . . .

    • Eugenia says:

      That was a short but impressive social history of Bernal over the last 40 years. It puts the concept of changing neighborhoods in perspective. Not quite as precise, but it’s also worth remembering that many of the “old timers” in Bernal and other SF neighborhoods abandoned the city in the fifties and sixties. Not because they were priced out, but because they viewed the Peninsula and other suburbs as more appealing places to live. That exodus opened up cheap housing for other people. My point is that this entire issue is extremely complex and doesn’t lend itself to easy dichotomies like renters versus owners.

      • Richard says:

        Actually, “renters versus owners” is a very important dichotomy that tends to get downplayed by BH owners because, let’s face it, it’s hard to be a proper SF liberal and be unashamed about having so much leverage over the lives of a lower economic class of people. And I’m speaking as a former BH tenant, who thought his landlord was an extremely cool guy, but was ultimately priced out by rent increases because in addition to being a cool guy his landlord was also a properly motivated capitalist.

        Frankly, I’d rather that BH owners simply admit that they are the ones in control of renters, and that they ultimately get to determine who lives in BH and who does not. That’s the truth, and actually makes this issue much less complicated. Those who own property in BH want 1) as nice and as friendly a neighborhood as possible, and 2) to charge as much rent (assuming they let) as they think the market can bear. These aren’t immoral goals, but what it does mean is that people that could add a lot to the community, and who have done so in the past, are excluded from BH.

        While it’s true that change is inevitable, it’s fair to ask if this is the right kind of change (this is the “complex” part of the problem you referred to); but unfortunately the only people who get to answer such a question are the owners. And that fact is what makes this a far simpler issue than it first appears.

  18. Gina says:

    I guess the 88 cent a pound organic strawberries were just too expensive for this guys taste. I think the comedy might be found in watching him run or walk all over SF trying to find cheaper organic strawberries, or even conventional ones for that matter… Bashing your own neighbors that try so hard is not very nice.

    • Nick "Bud" Guru says:

      Harvest Hills pricing is fine by me: some great deals, some things a bit more expensive than Safeway — but I’d pay more for those at any corner store. Some of the staples at Harvest Hills are less expensive than Good Life on Cortland even.

      And how is a pop-up restaurant gentrification? That just means the proprietors don’t have the budget to have their own place yet. It’s not like we have much of a choice in restaurants here in Precitaville.

      So considering the inaccurate assumptions that this article made about Harvest Hills; I can only guess how many other “facts” the writer got wrong.

  19. Michael M says:

    “comically overpriced organic convenience store and wine emporium…..”
    Well he is known for his fiction writing… But maybe he’s trying to be a bit like his brother and think comedy. 25 cent a pound organic strawberries and 5 cent an ear organic corn just isn’t cutting it for Peter. We will try harder to impress his majesty, but remember Peter, fair trade worker based products is a two way street, they get paid more and you pay more to support them.

    Harvest Hills Team Get To Work, Peter is amused, please wow him instead…

    • margaret says:

      I live on Precita Park too. I am a renter and have the best neighbors I’ve ever known; some are owners, some renters. And yes, the corner store is over-priced: it is a corner store, not Safeway. We appreciate the quality and variety and, yes, the price- it is, in fact, a corner store. We expect to pay more; we know that we will pay more. You (the owner) pay more. Please… calm down.
      I appreciated Peter Orner’s bitter-sweet opinion piece on what is lost (Steve and Josie), most personally, with the changing economic realities in San Francisco neighborhoods- a place where most landlords live elsewhere.
      We appreciate the rental homes that we are able to rent; really we do. But we live here, these are our homes, of today-now: where our children think of as “home”. They are home. Please do not deny any of us that. Be nice, be kind, be good neighbors. Let us all enjoy the time that we have with each other- in peace and in harmony. Please.

  20. Peter Orner says:

    Bernalwood is such a terrific forum, and I’m proud to be a part of this community.
    Gina and Michael, I wish you every success with your store. Yet I’m as troubled over the vanishing of businesses, including stores and restaurants, that cater to people of more moderate incomes, as I am about the decreasing availability of housing for middle class families. Families are being pushed out of Bernal Heights because they can’t afford to live here. I believe this is a significant problem. Josie and Steve’s story is only one of many. No amount of changing the subject is going to make this issue go away for those who have to leave their homes and neighborhoods.

    • Mark Fox says:

      Peter,
      I dont believe you Peter. Explain why you chose comically overpriced. Can you support such slander? We shop there and it’s cheaper than most stores. If I were them I’d sue you for trying to damage their store for your benefit. You made up a claim.

      • BH lovr says:

        I agree. On several occasions, I’ve compared their prices to traders joes, Safeway, and whole foods. Harvest hills is always the cheapest unless one of the other stores has a special sale going on (and even then it’s rare.)

    • Nick "Bud" Guru says:

      Cancillia’s and Rite Way were more expensive overall than Harvest Hills.

    • Neighbor Dan says:

      Peter,

      I find it surprising that someone who teaches writing puts so much ambiguity and vagueness into his prose. What, exactly, do you mean by “comically overpriced”? And what specific vanishing business are you concerned about?

      Are you concerned about the demise of the old Cancilla Market? If so, why don’t you say so? What other vanishing restaurants and stores are you concerned about, and how often did you support them before they closed?

      Similarly, what locally owned and operated stores sell organic produce and healthful (i.e. non junk food) for less? Do they pay their employees a living wage and health care benefits? Are you concerned about the proliferation of chains that funnel their profits to Wall Street?

      Your piece has identified a very real problem that’s worthy of exploration. But your presentation is highly divisive and your writing has more vagueness and generalities than I’d like.

      If Harvest Hills is really more expensive than other locally owned organic stores, it shouldn’t be hard for you to provide concrete examples. Otherwise, why not just admit that your words weren’t chosen with the care and precision they should have been?

    • Bruce says:

      Peter, that’s the problem with living in a nice desirable neighborhood. Other people will want to live there and will pay for the privilege — thereby making it more expensive. It’s a vicious cycle – a good one if you own, a bad one if you’re a renter without rent control or a growing income. But, that’s how it goes everywhere. I appreciate your philosophical musings, but they don’t jibe with reality. Gentrification happens – always has and always will! I for one am thrilled that were moving towards leaving the status of paying less per capita of our income on food than any other country in the world. But, I understand that as a writer, you probably don’t make lots of money and find the trends distressing for yourself and your other neighbors in the same boat. But, then, it seems to me that your beef should be with the whole system, not a little well-meaning grocer in Precita Park. Yes, writers should make more money, as should teachers, and farmers, and doctors, etc. but, that’s a whole other topic (though directly related). I’m sure there are lots of wonderful, talented, neighborly people who would love to live in Bernal Heights or anywhere in San Francisco, but then they probably aren’t as fortunate as you or I to be able to afford the rent or buy. Who’s fault is that? And, why aren’t you railing against the previous homeowners for selling that house from out of under Josie and Steve. The nerve of those people selling their house.

      I think Brave New World might make for an interesting next read, as you seem to be upset that Precita Park, like anywhere else in this world, is not Utopia. I, for one, think that it’s heading in the right direction though.

  21. Kyunghui Chu says:

    Peter,
    When my husband die I want to help people eat healthy so they don’t die same way. I work hard, my brother work hard to buy good food and give good price. We don’t get profit much and break even mostly. We allow ebt and give away extra food to church. Your comic comment is not funny. If you wish me well maybe not use such word next time. It hurt me very much in my heart. People come to store today to say sorry about your comment. They feel bad for us. I will pray for you at church that you find help and answers with your troubles and fears. I enjoy getting to know people and sorry when they leave our street, most new peoples very nice too.
    Kyunghui or Gina as people know me

  22. Michael M says:

    Peter,
    Thanks for putting more thoughts about what you wrote. As Gina gave you what was in her heart I’ll give you mine.

    I’d love for you to define “comically overpriced”. I believe you shop our store for necessities. Some people support local and buy local getting grass fed chicken or beef, fair trade yogurt and soda from a store owned by a neighbor. Many people get their organic salads each night or some kale and a bottle of wine. I couldn’t get to “comically overpriced” unless you are a Walmart shopper. By the way thanks for calling Gina and Joseph’s hard work that on such a large stage as the NYT. It looks like it served your bigger point. People don’t know that this store was going under when Gina saved it with Joseph’s help. But let’s try to explore how you got to “comically overpriced”.

    Maybe you shop at WalMart, Costco or Target. I too felt the way you did at first brush with the slow food movement. Those big corporations aren’t really bringing in grass fed beef from a local supplier. Let’s pick Safeway that someone mentioned. They bring beef in from these massive farms where the beef stand in their own shit all day until it is bulldozed over to trucks to take to strawberry farmers that produce large amounts for big grocery store chains. That fertilizer can’t be used for organic strawberries because of all the hormones the cows are forced to take.

    So the question is are you a WalMart shopper or is Walmart “comically underpriced” with their purchasing strategies. Is there a middle ground that is just right for you? Or is the biggest toughest corporation in the world the bar we are expected to meet in your mind for normal price? Safeway is middle ground we could pick, a California regional chain that was putting pink slime in their meat until recently to get the price down. Maybe Whole Foods is middle ground but they are huge too and were caught bringing in Chinese veggies labeled Organic that the grower probably had his brother label organic, because the US didn’t. (great video on youtube by a local TV station exposing the product and lack of testing) So let’s assume that you aren’t a WalMart or Whole Foods fan.

    Where could you get your sustenance that would give you such a warped view of this little organic store? This store served about 70 customers on average for cigars, beer and chips each day when she purchased it. Now it serves over 550 a day primarily for organic produce, fresh local bread, free range or grass fed beef and eggs. The average went from $3 a customer to $14 a customer. San Francisco natives filled out cards telling her what they wanted in a store and she purchased it. The products the customers like are artisan breads made fresh daily five blocks away by San Francisco workers, grass fed beef from Marin… This is what they wanted.

    The neighborhood changed. I get that you feel the pain of friends caught up in the maturation of a city. Maybe you feel a different government could have made it better for them. I’ve been to Russia, Cuba, Venezuela personally and seen the suffering up close, I’d always chose our imperfect system over what I saw, smelled and witnessed. I met with Castro’s government and listened to their plea to understand their system. But to get to comically overpriced maybe you don’t believe in the workers that ask for a fair wage and the fair trade logo. Maybe you don’t get that corn grown without pesticides has a much lower yield and big corporations fighting it out aren’t interested in that unless their customers are. Peter, our customers in our neighborhood care about GMO, care about studies of pesticide build up in children that have ADHD and autism. They read and are educated. Those that don’t care have several options two blocks away. We aren’t forcing them to move out.

    Gina as a new Mom cares about these pesticide things. Joseph while quiet, is an environmental engineer and understands the goal she has set for the store. He has supported her for almost no pay. She prices water higher to afford health care for him because he has hurt his back several times moving the heavy water boxes. So what I’m getting at is that what started as a goal for someone with a big heart has turned into a thriving, fast growing business that supports many rich and poor neighbors and homeless people. You lumped her goal and dream into a sentence that served your point for a big corporation’s media machine. She is a small business owner rescuing the final store the area had. It’s not comically overpriced, it is comically undervalued by your article.

    I challenge you to work in the fields for two days harvesting fruits, see the workers day, feel their pain. Invest a day watching the cattle farms on I5 if you can bear the smell and try to feel what the cows feel. Spend a day in the hospital watching a child deal with autism or cancer and wonder if it was the mass market system described in Food Inc. that may have contributed to their pain. When you are done come to our little corner store and move 40 pound boxes of fair trade bananas that were 19 cents a pound several times last month because Gina wanted to help the Mom’s get organic food cheaper than conventional. Help balance the books with Gina and watch the permits, licenses, parking tickets and taxes pile up to eat away any profit hopes. Maybe you can help her reduce the comedy you perceive in pricing.

    I think what you will find is that the world is changing in how it values food. That is why we have been educating people about the slow food movement. It is fast and easy to label our little corner as comically overpriced. It takes time to understand it and why it is people flock to it in such increasing numbers. Bernal will change, so will the Mission St area. If you are unhappy with young tech entrepreneurs that did well and are now getting thousands to flock the city and change the neighborhood, take it out on them. I could agree that facebook stock was comically overpriced. I can’t agree with your harsh and ignorant comment because I just don’t think you have walked in Gina’s shoes, the field workers shoes or the doctors that treat the patients of the companies that sell cheaper food.

    No hard feelings Peter, you always seemed like a nice guy but didn’t stop to talk much. By the way 10 boxes of organic corn coming in Monday for 20 cents an ear. That’s five for a dollar! You’ll have to share a bit of the end of the corn with the local caterpillar that wasn’t killed by a toxin. Organic Dapple Dandy Pluots five for a dollar to sweeten your walk to work naturally! Enjoy them, they will be gone soon. I’m off to the surgeon to fix a body that lifted one too many banana boxes… You never know maybe I will be gone soon, maybe Gina, maybe Joseph. We all get to play in and around Precita Park. It will remain, all of us will be gone sooner than we want.

  23. Nick "Bud" Guru says:

    If you are a renter and are worried about getting evicted or getting a sudden rent increase, try this: ask your landlord for a lease. Say, a 5 year lease with an option for another 5 years. Most renters don’t want a lease because they want the option to move whenever.

    If more renters entered into longer term leases (most are 1 year that then convert to month to month) there wouldn’t be all this problem with displacement.

    Just a thought.

  24. Derek says:

    IMO, Peter’s column and it’s silly illustration in the NYT were both pretty obnoxious and stereotyping. And what are these “vanishing” businesses and restaurants you refer to? The crummy liquor store on Alabama was closed for years after its fire and now is a great new cafe for the community. Harvest and Hillside Supperclub are injecting new life into the neighborhood.

    • margaret says:

      Ok. Since we seem to be on a train with out brakes….. I will add my 2nd 2 cents:
      What I love and miss about Precita Park neighborhood, as a long time resident:

      I love the amazing beauty of this place; from my front window I have the slightest distant view of downtown. From my back porch, an amazing green view of everyone’s back yard up the hill-flowers, trees, etc.- to THE HILL, Bernal Hill. I love that when I walk down the street I get to recognise almost everyone that I pass, and say a few words to them: Hi, how are you? Did school start yet? How is your son? your brother? Did you rent that house yet? Thank you for the zucchini, Can I help you with that? Can I borrow your weed-whacker? Thank you for the book, did you read “Cider House Rules?” The neighbors, all of whom have my keys, who get my mail when I am away and feed the cats (who are not mine- but who expect warm milk every day), and fill the water dish for whoever…. It is a neighborhood of amazing neighbors, in the best sense of the word. I could not be more grateful to live here.
      What I miss: Mostly the diversity; I used to have neighbors whose parents lived here- and told stories of Patty Hearst, and the mural artists that lived on the corner, etc. And I find…. is it off-putting? the people that I pass- I see them most days- that don’t say hello, don’t even see me because??? because I’m older? am not on their radar? are too busy looking at their phone to notice their surroundings and their neighbors?
      I guess that what I want to say to all -rather, some-of you new residents is that you, too, will someday be old and that the friends/relationships that you develop now will be oh-so-meaningful-and-valuable in your future.
      I love this neighborhood and all of my neighbors, and I appreciate the corner store (though I wish they would lighten-up on the criticism of my beloved- and amazing fiction writer- Peter Orner- it was in fact an “Opinion” piece”.) And though I sort of hate to use this cliche of Rodney King, can’t we all get along. Please.

  25. Pamela says:

    Very interesting article in the NYTimes. I’ve been a resident of SF since 1978 living downtown, Nob Hill, South of Market – we moved due to a woman getting stabbed to death in the alley right next to our loft (a real one circa 1900), Noe Valley, finally to Bernal Heights. My husband & I have been BH residents for the past 12 years & all I can say it is a good thing that the Precita Park area has improved; as well as Bernal Heights as a whole. When we first looked at a place right at the park, all of a sudden we heard gunshots. Turns out gang members from the projects down the street were having it out. Also, the park was run down; properties were blighted, neglected; & open drug dealing/using. Ironically that same house sold for $1.4 million awhile back! We eventually did buy a 1930s home very close to Cortland Ave, which has improved by leaps & bounds. We’re always shopping, dining there, as well as checking out the new spots on Precita Park & visiting our friends who live there. There are about 20 homes on our block which deadends. Originally, it was a mix of owners/renters & some empty properties. Now there are only 2 renters on the street (definitely unusual for SF) – a family of 4 & a single man, both of whom are friends of the 2 property owners. We now know most of our neighbors & their children who are very friendly; sometimes it takes me 20 mins to get home from the corner as I run into them on the way to my home which is near the end. Concreted over front yards & back gardens have been put back; trees planted; chopped up properties have been converted back to single family homes; & best of all – a big decrease in crime. It definitely has been an improvement. Our neighborhood circle reflects Mr Orner’s version of renters.

  26. jono says:

    There is no excuse for the generalizations made in the article’s sixth paragraph, particularly “comically overpriced organic convenience store and wine emporium” bit. Most people tapped into the Precita Park area would likely take issue with the accuracy of many of these descriptors. Describing the neighborhood in question to a national audience with a series of lazy cliches takes away from an otherwise thoughtful article.

  27. Alder Yarrow says:

    Wow. What a wonderful thread, and portrait of our community.

    Things change, that is the only certainty in this world. Unless you’re prepared to suggest that the principles of economics are hogwash, there’s no way to stop gentrification short of drastic legislation that thwarts all market forces.

    I bought in Bernal in 2000 because it was the only community in the city that I could afford that had nice single family houses on bedrock (geology geeks are scared of earthquakes). I had no idea what kind of neighborhood I was moving in to. Now there’s no place in San Francisco I would rather live, mostly because of the community, which still firmly represents all the qualities for which Mr. Orner has clearly written a premature obituary.

    Communities have a cultural inertia even in the face of change that will allow their spirit to continue even as they gentrify and change. The people buying houses in this neighborhood aren’t generally single, party-going, young professionals with a lot of money. They are quite often families who see in the community all the great things that keep all of us here, and happy. Of course these new families are paying twice as much for their houses as some of us did for ours, and that means they’re in a different economic class than the owners they’re replacing, but that doesn’t mean they’re the ruination of the neighborhood. Same goes for renters. Even if they’re paying $4500 a month to rent a house, they have a choice of paying that for a nice house in Bernal or a steel-and-concrete loft in SOMA close to clubs and a lot more bars.

    If Mr. Orner indeed shops at the store he has criticized, he owes Michael and Gina an apology.

    Bernal is still weird, and will be for many years. Forever? Probably not, but by then most of us will be gone.

  28. Lynn Bjork Mannix says:

    In 1978 my then husband and I bought our house on Folsom and Precita Park. When we divorced and I stayed in the house my two kids did not play in the park because of needles, dog poop and other odious materials in the children’s playground. One day after cleaning up trash in front of my house, I called PUC and asked about a trash can because there were three schools and no can to be seen…hence the debris in front of my house daily. Because the PUC responded with a trash can in one day, the neighbors were so excited that something positive had happened, As a result I met Gary Richmond, Demise Garapis, Father Michael, and many others who worked together to make the park habitable. My kids were grown up by the time we got all of the money together and the renovation was completed. The neighborhood still has the community feeling even though the costs have skyrocketed and the diversity less. The good old days were really more like living in a ghetto which is why we could afford the house in the first place. The Precita Valley Neighbors still meets monthly to make the neighborhood work for everyone. Check it out.

  29. Pingback: Neighbor David Talbot Laments the Tech-Fueled Transformation of Bernal Heights | Bernalwood

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