Six Timely Thoughts About Bernal Heights from Neighbor Darcy of Heartfelt


Neighbor Darcy Lee, a resident of Alemanistan and owner of Heartfelt on Cortland, recently shared some miscellaneous thoughts about the July 21 Epicurean Trader vandalism incident and several other matters of topical concern to the people of Bernal Heights:

I read all these comments when [the vandalism] first happened and I just read them again. Because this vandalism hit retail I am chiming in:

1. Retail takes long hours and many days a week. I have worked 7 days a week for years and am now down to 6 days. There is no whine tone here, because I love what I do. I have thought long and hard at what the graffiti person was trying to express, and it seems that it was aimed at the customer that shops at these posh shops, and the storefront or what the business symbolized got caught in the crossfire. Thus I loved the comments that said ‘Hey I do not make a ton of money but I appreciate a business that is selling food from the little makers that are concerned with how we farm and manufacture stuff affects the environment and our bodies.’ Same with Pinhole Coffee; I think we could not have landed a more kindcontributor to the neighborhood, or a more concerned-with-the-world kind of person. (ie. JoEllen) My mantra here, bear with me, is that it is important to not assume new is bad.

2. Random vandalism to prove a misdirected point is lame.

3. Change happens within a city. I know a family that lives in the ‘burbs and rent out their family home in Bernal. They inherited it from working class parents and grew up in the small Bernal house. They maintain it, but they have not remodeled, and they rent it out at less than market rent (not way less, but less). Their mildly disabled sister lives in an inlaw unit in the back. The three kids feel this extra income has allowed them to buy their own homes outside of the city. They have no desire to live here, and they do not get why it is appealing. But they are respectful of what the changes in the neighborhood have brought them. The son told me that their parents, both from Mexico and now deceased, would be very surprised if they knew.

4. The other day on the radio I heard a short clip about Japan and why they are now in financial trouble. Excuse my summary if I got the facts wrong, but as I heard it, Japan loved itself too much. Japan thought it was invincible, and that it would always be the leader in selling the world shiny, modern stuff. (think Walkman) I think we in Bernal love ourselves too much, and we are trying to hold onto something that is already gone. Thus we stay in this sort of negative rant-mode. And SF, too. This way of thinking lets us hold to an ideal in our minds instead of looking around us. Walk the streets of Bernal. We are not just shiny dark grey and black homes; there are lots of different stories within our midst. Volunteer at the local public schools, visit our library, go to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, visit the farm on Alemany, chat with your neighbor who is elderly and ask if they ever need help. I find this much more productive towards preserving what you miss as opposed to constantly whining what you loved is gone. I found this article Todd posted on Facebook to be fascinating.

5. Some say Airbnb is bad, because it takes apartments off the market.  Some say Airbnb is good, because it allows folks to get extra income to rent out rooms and stay in the ‘hood. Regulations are good, they make it so landlords cannot rip off tenants. Some tenants take advantage of this, so some landlords do not want to get anywhere near the rental market after a bad tenant. As a person who works on the street in Bernal, the stories we hear are endless and every point of view is expressed.

6. If you insist you are right, then someone else has to be wrong. Perhaps it is more important to take a breath and listen. I hear you Cortland graffiti person, I am curious about you, and I hate that you expressed yourself this way, but I hear your frustration. There are so many stories out there.

PHOTO: Neighbor Darcy Lee outside Heartfelt, December 13, 2014. Photo by Telstar Logistics

UPDATED: Neighbor David Talbot Shares What He Really Thinks of His New Neighbors In Precitaville


Neighbor David Talbot is a progressive writer and editor who lives just off Alabama Street in Bernal Heights, and (among many other things) he’s also the author of “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love,” a seminal history of San Francisco during the turbulent, activist years of the 1960s and 1970s.

In a speech that receives a big thumbs-up on Bernal neighbor Tim Redmond’s 48 Hills online news site, Neighbor David Talbot explains why he disapproves of San Francisco’s tech industry, and how he views its impact on Bernal Heights:

Here’s the cold reality today. There is a raging war in San Francisco between long-time residents of the city and the new elites. A younger Ed Lee, when he was a Chinatown activist, would have called this a “Class War” – because that’s what it is. A war between the 1% and the 99% over the future of San Francisco’s precious turf.

My own neighborhood – Bernal Heights — has become a frontline in this class war. Not long ago, Bernal Heights was a funky mix of blue-collar workers, lesbian starter-families, counterculture artists, community organizers and Latina grandmothers. But Bernal Heights had the misfortune of being blessed with affordable housing, verdant backyards and parks – and being conveniently located next to the hipster-infused Mission, and even worse, to Highway 101 – the Google bus route to Silicon Valley. Suddenly, this unusually mixed San Francisco neighborhood was transformed into what one real estate web site recently crowned the hottest zip code in the country. Now, if you stand at the corner of Precita and Alabama – the main checkpoint for the neighborhood — instead of seeing battered Subaru Outbacks and Hondas, you see a steady stream of new-model Teslas, BMWs and Uber limousines. A rapid, seamless flow of gleaming, luxurious metal that never slows down – not even for the children and dogs who come spilling into the street from the nearby park. These Silicon Valley movers and shakers can’t afford to slow down – time is money.

In the old days, the neighborhood’s celebrities were people like Terry Zwigoff — the independent filmmaker who made “Ghost World” and ”Bad Santa” — and underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez, creators of the most cutting-edge comics in America. These luminaries often retouched the neighborhood in their own inimitable style, building new turrets on their odd castles or painting murals of busty action heroes on their walls. But they didn’t tear down the whole place and start over. The new hot-shots are different, however. They’re knocking down the neighborhood’s ramshackle houses right and left — and replacing them with cold, futuristic mega-mansions. With every new slate-gray exterior that pops up, there goes the warm and oddball neighborhood.

Last year, a young, Latino man named Alex Nieto was shot 14 times and killed by police near my house, on top of Bernal Hill, a scenic area where people like to stroll and walk their dogs. Someone had reported that Nieto, a 28-year-old security guard who grew up in the neighborhood, didn’t look right. These days, fewer and fewer of us long- time residents look right, look like we still belong in our own homes. Sooner or later, if we’re not removed by force, we’ll be moved by the invisible hand of the market.

The strange thing about the new digital rich is that they don’t want to live among their own tax bracket – in traditional enclaves of wealth like Pacific Heights or Hillsborough. No, they want to live among the people — the ones they’re displacing — in Noe Valley, the Castro and the Mission. Take Mark Zuckerberg, please. For the past two years, the Facebook zillionaire and his wife have upended a once-quiet, middle-class neighborhood overlooking Dolores Park, as Pharaoh-like construction teams erect a massive $10-million, six-bedroom palace to house the royal couple. Zuckerberg is dying to live in the heart of the city, even though he apparently despises its San Francisco values. His corporate lobby,, has championed a laundry list of conservative issues – from anti-labor legislation to the Keystone pipeline – that would make Harvey Milk and George Moscone spin in their graves.

So…where does Stanford fit into this tale of bitter urban struggle? As a breeding ground for the new elite, the Farm is seen by many in San Francisco as the enemy camp, as part of the problem.

My sons — who are 19, 20 and 24 and who grew up in San Francisco – have a name for the new wave of people moving in. The ones who proudly wear their Ivy League hoodies as they jog and hydrate around Precita Park or line up for artisanal chocolate tastings on Valencia Street, forking over enough cash to feed an entire family in the Mission for two or three days. “Stanford dicks.” That’s what my sons call them. Or Stanford douchebags, or Stanford tools.

Ah. Well then.

That’s just an excerpt, so by all means you should read all of Neighbor David’s speech on Neighbor Tim’s blog. The core of it seeks to explain why today’s tech San Franciscans are generally a less worthy bunch than the left-activist San Franciscans of the 1960s and 1970s.

Your Bernalwood editor read all of Neighbor David’s speech, and I found it very hard to square with what I learned from Neighbor David’s book.  Because I read “Season of the Witch” over the summer, and I confess to being somewhat confused by his assessment of why Then was so much better than Now.

For example, one very big take-away I got from reading Neighbor David’s book was that many of the people involved in the “liberation battles” of the 1960s and 1970s were much bigger douchebags, assholes, and narcissists than the douchebags, assholes, and narcissists of today — if only because they generated a much, much bigger body-count (though that’s not the only reason).

This came as a big surprise, because I’d always admired that era for the same values and reasons Neighbor David celebrates in his speech. My surprise came not just from the staggering number of shattered lives and dead bodies that generation left behind, but from the remarkable arrogance, bad behavior, and self-delusion that apparently animated so much of San Francisco’s alternative culture during those times.

What I learned from Neighbor David’s book is that the hippies were massive dicks when it came to their relationship with San Francisco. To say that many of them treated San Francisco as their public toilet is to be unfair to many of our city’s hard-working lavatories. A few of the rest went on to become San Francisco’s proto-gentrifiers. It’s a credit to the depth and honesty of Neighbor David’s reporting that all of this is so well documented, but I do have his book to thank for the revelation.

What I don’t think Neighbor David properly acknowledges is that both the hippie crowd from the 60s & 70s and todays tech generation both partake heavily of San Francisco’s “49 square miles surrounded by reality” mythos that he celebrates so rapturously in his speech. All that reinventing, reimagining, liberating, and Not Taking No For An Answer stuff… the same spirit is very much present today, even if some (but not all) of the objectives are different. What’s the difference between the Merry Pranksters and Uber? Apparently, much less than some might like to believe.

So I get that Neighbor David (and Neighbor Tim) don’t like what’s happening in San Francisco right now, and that’s legit. But today’s San Francisco is very much contiguous with the change the 60s/70s generation sparked and, unfortunately, this kind of back-in-the-day criticism comes across as ossified and self-aggrandizing.

Meanwhile, a tip for new Bernalese: Please try to play it cool if your next encounter with Neighbor David in Precita Park feels a little awkward. And whatever you do, don’t jog or hydrate.

UPDATE 27 January: Bernalwood has received a message about this post from an expert source: The Esteemed John Law, author, sign-maker, sage, and San Francisco culture-jammer.

John’s credentials on these matters are impeccable, as he has long been at the forefront of so many of the things that make San Francisco unique (Cacophony Society, Burning Man, Doggie Heads, and about a zillion more things you probably take for granted). Here’s John’s perspective on Bernal, change, time, Talbot, and San Francisco:

I’ve been following the Talbot thread, and have very mixed feelings. Here’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth.

“When I moved to Frisco (g’head – take that one on!) in 1976 as a California born, Midwest raised 17 year old juvie runaway living on the streets and crashing at Haight Ashbury Switchboard referred beds, Bernal (as most neighborhoods at that time) was a very different place. Though I never actually lived on the Hill, I’ve lived all around it – Bayview, Mission, Portola, as well as a half dozen other hoods. I’ve hiked, hung out at and slept (not always with the same people) on Bernal off & on for over 3 decades. The hippies I met back then, some toothless drug addicts, some gentrifying householders, all told me the same thing: “Party’s over kid, ya missed it.” Well, they were full of crap on that one. The story of this town as with all towns is one of constant change.

I worked at the York Theater (now the Brava) in 1979/80. The Mission, parts of Bayview, North Beach etc., were cauldrons of crazy energy and underground experimentation for me and my crowd. Each Saturday, Mission Street from 14th to Army was bumper to bumper low riders of the most astonishing detail exquisite paint jobs imaginable. La Raza was feeling it, murals and street art starting to pop up everywhere. The old neighborhood townies bitched incessantly about the hippies, cholos (and later the Punks and Gays) and how they were destroying San Francisco.

Well, in a sense they were right. The new waves were washing away the old, and the old that was being supplanted was far from valueless. l’ve worked in the trades with many of those old townies for years. I would get hints of this past world from the old timers still in the trades when I started. Their world was one of drag racing at Ocean Beach, Irish wakes and marriages at Mission Dolores (yes, the Mission was largely Irish before the wave of Latino immigration and white flight in the 60’s) or St. Paul’s up the hill, diving off Lefty O’Doul Bridge, working the docks, machine shops and produce markets or, as juvenile delinquents, pinching stuff from those markets…

I stopped at Reds Java Hut with my forman at Ad-Art Electrical Sign Co, George Edwards for lunch a few times in the mid-80’s. Red, at that time in his 70’s, was a big man with a ready laugh and short temper. He would loudly, but good naturedly berate George, also a big tough guy, when we came in: “HEY KID!! whaddaya want? A free burger! Ya ain’t gonna get it here, boy!” Evidently my boss and his Irish street gang would try and swipe candy bars at Reds back in the 50’s!

This was the world buried by the new waves over the 60’s and 70’s. And the factories closed, shipping left and by the time I arrived, much of the city was abandoned commercial buildings, boarded up neighborhoods and a great deal of street crime and ingrained poverty.

To me it was a wonderland. Very cheap rent and restaurants made living and creating here easy. All sorts of bizarre and compelling things were growing in that beautiful wasteland. Even so, you’d be mugged for certain in Precita Park if you traversed it regularly. Cortland was a dangerous street and you simply did not go near Garfield Park at night. The gangs owned it. In 2 years of selling popcorn at the York Theater (24th at York St, 1979/80) I witnessed two full on gang fights, saw the aftermath of dozens of serious assaults, and watched as patrons of the theater lost, on average 3-4 cars a week to auto theft. Hampshire at 24th shared the honor of most auto thefts for several years with some street in Newark NJ.

I read Talbot’s book and quite enjoyed it. I remember first-hand much that he recounts therein. He is right in his Bernal reverie on one count for sure: The new wave on average, are wealthier. I know many in the tech scene. I’m a partner in Laughing Squid, one of the very early internet “social media” experiments that has gone on to some notice. The “techies” have their own creative wonderland they are building here – much of it is hard for those not initiated to see or understand. I can’t fairly be mad at them for their enthusiasm for MY town….

Many of my closest long time friends ARE being pushed out by the new wave, and they are rightfully as pissed off about it, as the Townies were before. I am very sad about that and we are losing some very important things as that tide recedes and leaves the artists, working class and poor immigrants beached (some for the better) in Oakland and beyond. With a few wrong breaks, I would be pushed out too.

San Francisco is not a place that I would hitchhike to nowadays, couch surf and live cheaply in as I met other broke newbies who want to shake things up. I would end up in Oakland. But for the people that do come and can afford it, I think Frisco is still a pretty awesome place. And for those of you lucky or smart enough to have dug in on Bernal, my congratulations.

Supervisor Campos Annexes Precita Park, Cedes It to Mission District Merchants and Power-Brokers


Bernalwood has been monitoring developments in the Mission District, where our D9 Supervisor David Campos has spearheaded an effort to formally recognize the Latino character of the Mission’s lower 24th Street corridor. Last week, this effort culminated in the unanimous passage by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors of a Campos-sponsored resolution establishing a “Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.”

Bernalwood did not regard Calle 24 as a matter of immediate concern to the Citizens of Bernal Heights, because the effort was championed by the 24th Street merchant’s association. Publicly, Calle 24 was always described as a measure focused on the lower 24th Street corridor. Plus, it’s called “Calle 24” — which sure seemed like a good indication that Calle 24 was not about Bernal Heights. Because 24th Street is not part of Bernal Heights. Because for the last 175 years the Mission District has ended just north of Precita Creek/Army/Cesar Chavez. Because the area south of Precita Creek/Army/Cesar Chavez has always been, legally and unambiguously, Bernal territory. Because, in the 1850s, there was even a stone wall in place to emphasize that point:

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 5.44.40 PM


Since basically forever, 24th Street and Precita Park have been adjacent neighborhoods but wholly different urban ecosystems and entities. Which is why Bernalwood viewed Calle 24 as a matter to be decided exclusively by our esteemed neighbors from the Mission District.

Which, unfortunately, is precisely what happened.

Bernalwood has learned that, for reasons not yet known, Precita Park in Bernal Heights was included as part of the Calle 24 district that was legally established in the resolution sponsored by Supervisor David Campos. Bernalwood also discovered that neighbors, merchants, and neighborhood groups in and around Precita Park were not consulted or informed about the inclusion of Precita Park in Calle 24 before the resolution was voted on by the full Board of Supervisors. Nor did Precita Park neighbors know about it after the resolution passed and went into effect. In fact, most Precita Park neighbors are probably learning that Precita Park is part of Calle 24 for the first time, right now, as they read this.

Hi Precita Park neighbors! According to this new legislation, you’re now part of Calle 24. Surprise!!

Here’s the text from the resolution adopted last week by the Board of Supervisors:

WHEREAS, the boundary of the Calle 24 (“Veienticuarto”) Latino Cultural District shall be the area bound by Mission Street to the West, Potrero Street to the East, 22nd Street to the North and Cesar Chavez Street to the South, including the 24th Street commercial corridor from Bartlett to Potrero Avenue.

All well and good so far, right? Those are appropriate boundaries for a special district focused on lower 24th Street. But then comes the weird, Crimea-style redrawing of the map:

Additionally, the Calle 24 (“Veienticuarto”) Latino Cultural District shall include La Raza Park (aldo known as Potrero Del Sol Park), Precita Park, and the Mission Cultural Center because of the community and cultural significance associated with these places.

Emphasis added. Because otherwise you might have missed it. Which may (or may not) have been the goal all along.

And so, with a stroke of the pen, Precita Park was annexed to become part of the Mission’s Calle 24 cultural district.

Is the Calle 24 designation good for Precita Park? Is Calle 24 bad for Precita Park?

We don’t have any idea, because the legislation sponsored by Supervisor Campos hands Precita Park over to a group of 24th Street merchants and Mission District power-brokers, but the Bernal Heights community was not given any opportunity whatsoever to evaluate the proposal beforehand. Now, it’s already a done deal.

Bernalwood has confirmed that Precita Valley Neighbors was not consulted about the Calle 24 designation. This is extremely odd, because Precita Valley Neighbors is a City-recognized nonprofit neighborhood group that has done outstanding work organizing and beautifying Precita Park. They hold monthly meetings at Charlie’s Cafe. They are in regular contact with various City authorities. They are awesome, and totally on top of everything, and if that’s not enough Precita Park street cred, PVN even orchestrated the restoration of the historic, beloved “penultimate satellite spinner” in Precita Playground. (Amen!!!) Yet Precita Valley Neighbors had no knowledge Precita Park was included in Calle 24.

Bernalwood also contacted the owners of three prominent Precita Park businesses: Precita Park Cafe, Harvest Hills Market, and Hillside Supper Club. None had been informed of any effort to include Precita Park in Calle 24, and none had been contacted about it by 24th Street merchants or Calle 24 organizers. All were surprised to learn that Precita Park had been designated as part of the Calle 24 district. (Bernalwood was unable to reach Charlie from Charlie’s Cafe over the weekend.)

We stopped by the Precita Center, just off Precita Park, to see if they had any insight. Bernalwood spoke to the manager on duty at the Precita Center to ask if he knew anything about Calle 24. “That’s the 24th Street thing,” he said. He too did not know that Calle 24 includes Precita Park.

Precita Eyes is headquartered on 24th Street, although the group also maintains a studio on Precita Park. With storefronts in both neighborhoods, perhaps Precita Eyes had requested the Calle 24 designation? Bernalwood visited Precita Eyes on 24th Street last Saturday, to inquire. The gentleman behind the counter at Precita Eyes on 24th Street said, “Why would Precita Park be in Calle 24? That’s in Bernal Heights!” He recommended we speak with Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes. Cervantes told Bernalwood that Precita Eyes had not requested to make Precita Park part of Calle 24, although she added that she thought Precita Park “was included at the last minute.”

All this would be kind of amusing in a Putinesque sort of way, except it’s not. The inclusion of Precita Park in the Calle 24 District designation may have very real legal, zoning, and planning implications in the years and decades to come — impacts that may create new use restrictions for Bernal homeowners, residents, and merchants. Supervisor Campos himself emphasized this last month in the San Francisco Chronicle, in an article that framed the creation of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District as the first step on a path to create a Japantown-style enclave in the Mission:

Eventually, Campos said, ideas generated by the community as well as information from the historic context statement could help inform new city laws such as zoning restrictions and other protections to ensure the area’s murals, businesses and community groups stay put.

“It’s really about preserving something that is very fragile that could be lost,” Campos said. “Calle 24 has become the focal point of Latino identity and culture in the Mission. … This resolution puts it on the record, recognizing this as a cultural corridor, recognizing the cultural heritage and history with the understanding there has to be a much longer community process where (people) can talk about what that means, what we want to preserve, emphasize and protect.”

Here’s how the objectives of Calle 24 are explained in the resolution approved by the Board of Supervisors:

[The purpose of the Calle 24 designation is] to stabilize the displacement of Latino businesses and residents, preserve Calle 24 as the center of Latino culture and commerce, enhance the unique nature of Calle 24 as a special place for San Francisco’s residents and tourists, and ensure that the City of San Francisco and interested stakeholders have an opportunity to work collaboratively on a community planning process, which may result in the Designation of a Special Use District or other amendment to Planning Code.

These are important goals. It just seems really really really inappropriate that if Calle 24 is all about engaging “interested stakeholders” in a “community planning process,” how come no one ever bothered to engage North Bernal the Communities of Precitaville and Santana Rancho to find out if Precita Park should be included in Calle 24 at all?

Precita Park is neither geographically nor culturally synonymous with the Mission or lower 24th Street. Never has been. Ever. In fact, Precita Park is so integral to Bernal Heights and so distinct from 24th Street that it was originally called Bernal Park. Here’s a map from 1905 (Bonus Fun Fact: The zig-zagging Serpentine Ave. traces the route of the Bernal family’s original stone wall):


Bernal Park was established in 1894 and named in honor of the Bernal  family. The park’s name wasn’t formally changed to Precita Park until 1973.

This also points to a fact that is rather obvious to everyone except the people who drafted the Calle 24 resolution: Bernal Heights has its own proud, but distinct history of Latino culture and influence. Our history begins with Jose Cornelio Bernal. Our legacy includes Carlos Santana, who lived on Mullen Street and, as one neighbor reminds Bernalwood, “began his career playing for all of us and our families every Sunday [in Precita Park] during the summers, before he was discovered at Woodstock.” Latino culture is a cherished part of life in Bernal Heights, and its influence is enthusiastically celebrated to the present day, in ways public and private.

Yet there none of that in the Calle 24 resolution. In fact, there’s not one mention of Bernal Heights in the entire document. Not a peep. It’s all Mission District, Mission District, Mission District…. from the start of the Calle 24 resolution to the end. Supervisor Campos sponsored legislation that gives Precita Park to Calle 24, but he never bothered to inform the community that lives and works in Precita Park before he overturned more than 150 years of tradition and precedent and sold-out a chunk of Bernal Heights to the merchants of 24th Street.

The appropriate remedy for this failure is straightforward: Bring together representatives of the Precita Park neighborhood, its residents, and its merchants. For the first time, give Bernal Heights the opportunity to evaluate the present and future ramifications of Calle 24 designation. Allow these representatives to publicly decide whether or not Precita Park should be included in the Calle 24 district and subject to whatever legal implications that might entail, at present or in the future.

Until such participation and public consent from the Bernal Heights community exists, Bernalwood puts Supervisor David Campos and Mayor Ed Lee on notice: The inclusion of Precita Park in Calle 24 is fundamentally illegitimate. It an act of underhanded appropriation, a fraudulent misrepresentation, an involuntary annexation, and an intolerable intrusion upon the self-determination of the Bernal Heights community, which is independent of any district or planning entity constituted, controlled, and dominated by lower 24th Street.

UPDATE 29 May: Precita Park will be removed from the Called 24 District

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.

Counterpoint: A Lifetime Resident Laments the Transformation of Bernal Heights


Bernal Heights is changing.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Actually, Bernal Heights has been changing for about 180 years.  Change is often difficult, yet my sense is that the changes that have taken place here during the last decade or so are particularly unsettling to the generation of residents that came of age in Bernal roughly between 1970 and 1990.

Neighbor Orlando is one of those residents, and since I have great respect for his perspective, I  also appreciated his comments in response to a recent Bernalwood post about the transformation of Bernal Heights into an enclave for the so-called “Creative Class” (though he just as easily could have written it in response to the data which shows that Bernal real estate prices are going up, up, up.)

Neighbor Orlando writes:

Bernal Heights originally was a village made up of blue collar, very low educated immigrant families that moved here because they could not afford to live in many other areas of the city. I bared witness to such because my parents were of this class as many of their neighbors also were.

The last time I checked, a home in this neighborhood sold for one-million dollars. This must have made my father roll over in his grave. No home on the hill was ever of such extreme value during the sixties up here. As a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite considering that the hill was a wasteland of debris due to the fact that many San Franciscans would use it as place to dumb old odd size household goods such as mattresses, ceramics tubs, toilets, and wooden furniture.

So rugged a hill it once was, that I as a young boy learned to ride a motorcycle; a honda 50cc that my father bought me one christmas “motorcross” style on many of the trails still visible today! Yes, you read rightly, one once was able to ride a motorcross cycle on that hill.

Todd, I am curious to ask you when was the last time you met a low income non-english speaking family move in recently? I believe you have met many of the original dwellers moving out since this is one of the overall goals of this recent gentrification that is popular for real estate values.

After all, is it not true that before such a movement (when bernal was predominantly made up of these uneducated, non-english speaking middle class families) the prices of homes were indeed affordable to someone whose job was to clean upper middle class homes or work as a baggage handler at SFO?

This is hardly the case when a home on the same property sells for one million dollars. The same block of land ten times more the costs simply because folks that clean houses or work as baggage handlers have recently moved away so that these creative scientist, lawyers, and managers can move in. Who by the way, are not likely to be of negro or hispanic ethnicity.

I only ask that if you truly cannot see this Todd, that the next time you meet the new family on the block, you check off my list to see if this new family fits the Bernal enclave that it once was for many, many generations. Myself included.

Good fodder for discussion. So, dear and respectful neighbors, let’s discuss.

PHOTO: A recent billboard modification on Cortland, photographed April 30, 2012 by Andrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPS Drops Trash Bomb on Bernal Street

Reader Troy came home this week to find that UPS had dropped off a battered package on his front doorstep, near Paul Revere School. The item in the box was a family heirloom, and it was very badly damaged. That was a big bummer, but even worse, the torn box then spewed foam packing chips all over the block. UPS promised to clean up the mess, but it hasn’t happened:

On Monday, UPS dropped off a package at my home on the South Slope of Bernal Heights. Sadly the package arrived quite damaged, with a softball sized hole in the side. A side effect of the hole, the “popcorn” packing materials started to blow down the street, and into the Paul Revere schoolyard. I tried to clean as much up as I could but the wind really started to carry it away (see video).

I called UPS who started to pass me around from the HQ to the distribution center to the local store. The woman at the local store apologized and said she would both come out to Bernal to look and clean it up but also talk to the principle of Paul Revere. I asked her to do some by EOD Monday and mentioned I would follow up with the school later this week. I called the school this morning and the secretary said no one from UPS had called.

In my response to the Claims Department at UPS I asked them to advise me of their next steps are with making right the mess they left in our neighborhood. I mentioned that we have families and kids here and take pride in our community. If UPS is going to do business here, they exercise the same respect.

UPDATE: UPS responds:

Now let’s see if they follow through…

PHOTO: Reader Troy