Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Hayes Valley

Hayes Valley went through many transformations in the recent years. Some residents say the small centered neighborhood is nearly recognizable to what it once used to be. Now, the streets are lined with indie shops and quirky connoisseurs of all sorts and there’s always sunshine on Patricia’s Green Park, which attracts people at all times of the day. On the weekends, different instrumental sounds flow through the airs, and every restaurant is crowded with people who spend their day indulging in the four-block commercial stretch of Hayes Street.

“This neighborhood is always changing and growing,” says Nida Yousef, owner of Nabila, an organic market located on Hayes Street.

“It used to be dingy,” she says.

Owner of Grove Street Market, Sam, who preferred using his first name only, has worked there for 24 years and has also witnessed the neighborhood’s transformations.

“Things changed dramatically since they opened up Octavia Boulevard”, he says. “Before it was dark and shady and now since there’s sunshine, more stores opened up."

In 1989, San Francisco’s Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged the US Highway 101, which once shadowed the neighborhood’s Octavia Boulevard. Nearly 20 years after the shocking earthquake, the boulevard evolved from a street lined with homeless and prostitutes to a street covered in green patches and eccentric artists who think of Hayes Valley as their own little dark secret.

The neighborhood’s obvious esthetic difference brought in a swarm of businesses and residents.
Both Sam and Yousef have seen the neighborhood flourish and agree that the change is a positive one.
Garry McLain, AKA Empress XXV Marlena, says Hayes Valley “grew from a neglected and empty neighborhood to a very full and rich neighborhood.”

“By rich I mean in culture and people as a whole,” she says.

She feels the neighborhood has grown tremendously and went “from being a ghetto to a little piece of heaven.”
These changes didn’t happen at random. After the removal of the freeway, the idea was so construct a double decker freeway but people from the community fought against it and won.

Not only that, but according to community activist Scott Keeling, people also fought against chains.

Keeling has been a Hayes Valley resident for almost 4 years. He feels a big part of the neighborhood’s improvement and is known to speak out in defense of the neighborhood or neighbors to enhance the community. His most recent activity was filing an appeal against the proposed Parcel G supportive housing development.

According to David Baker and Partners Architects website, Parcel G is one of the sites freed for development by the demolition of the collapsed Central Freeway. This five-story building will provide permanent, supportive housing for a very-low-income formerly homeless population.

The 120 homeless that will live in Parcel G are required to have a disability: either a physical, mental, or substance abuse one.
Keeling feels that misguided efforts destroyed the city and gives the Fillmore District as an example.

“The residents don’t have a curfew, and are allowed to bring guests overnight 14 days out of the month, every month,” hey says. “I don’t feel comfortable with that idea.”

He thinks that putting a large concentration of homeless people in one place is ghettoizing a neighborhood.
Development specialist, Erin Carson feels that the project would benefit the neighborhood.

“As the economy starting turning, people had more fear and wanted to know what was happening in their neighborhood,” she says. “It was very important to educate the community about Support Housing.

Carson works for the San Francisco redevelopment agency.

“Support housing is such a wonderful model that other cities look at San Francisco for a successful solution to the homeless,” she says. “ This is the last resort so that homeless people are not in the street or living outdoors.

Carson understands why people feel uncomfortable with the idea that these residents are allowed guests overnight so often but still feels that it is a lot more strict than other people who rent.

“If guests cause problems on site they are blacklisted from coming back in the future,” she says.

“I think the feeling of Hayes Valley residents is an understandable fear of something unknown to them”, she says. “People think of homeless behavior, but these people will have a home. They won’t need to pee or sleep in the streets.”

Marlena disagrees.

“They’ll be in the streets, begging, doing their thing, I’ve seen it happen on Polk Street and Sutter,” she says.

“Here we are trying to build a community and they’re trying to tear it down,” she says.

Though she is not in favor of Parcel G, she tries to divorce herself from all that.

“The city is broke, the state is broke, the country is broke, she says. “Why don’t they use one of the many abandoned buildings instead of building new ones?”

“It has to be politics”, she says, “and making money.”

Keeling’s appeal did not pass.

“It’s corrupt,” he says. “We had no chance from the beginning.”

Keeling feels that the neighborhood is in a constant battle to keep its head over water. He says Hayes Valley was once known as “Hells Valley” and feels that this new Parcel G could take the neighborhood back to what people fought so hard to improve.
He is not alone.

Toffi Masallam from Nabila Organic Market on Hayes Street says he “heard about the situation and how they’re trying to supply needles for them.”

“What kind of good is that?” he says.

Another thing is the safety factor.

“Is it going to be safe? That’s another question,” says Ramsey Nabil who works at Grove Street Market with Sam.
Other people don’t mind it.

Russell Pritchard from Zonal, a store open for 19 years, says he is perfectly fine with the building.

Pet sitter and part-time student Sonia Villalta thinks that one building won’t jeopardize the neighborhood.

The future of Hayes Valley lies in the hands of architects and the San Francisco Re- Development Agency, who have already set forth the construction of Parcel G. The building is aiming to open in March 2011.

This will determine whether or not Hayes Valley will fall back into what it once used to be, or if it will continue to rise above by continuing its positive transformations.

SF Car Break-Ins

It’s not unusual to see shattered glass covering the streets of Hayes Valley. In fact, it’s become an all too common site, especially on Octavia Boulevard, which was once shadowed by the 101N freeway.

Car break-ins are between one of the highest crime rates in the city of San Francisco and the highest one in Hayes Valley, according to the US Census. Most people have at least seen glass on the floor and in some cases, seen it happen right in front of them.

“I was looking out the window of my apartment and saw a group of young teenagers walk by a car and throw a pebble at the window,” says Randy Paggi, 41. “I called 911. The police arrested the kids but eventually let them go because they didn’t get to take anything from the car. The window had only cracked.

Paggi has lived on Gough Street for 6 years. He doesn’t own a car, but says he makes sure to tell people when they leave their cars not to leave valuables in them.

“People need to know not to leave anything in the car,” he says

Like Paggi, most people who’ve resided the city for a few years know to put things in the trunk or take them along. However, visitors are usually unaware.

“There should be a sign that states “Please don’t leave valuables in the car” when entering the city of San Francisco,” says Paggi.

The question here is not how to stop car-break-in but instead how to prevent them.

“These kids aren’t interested in stealing the car; they just want what’s in it,” says Robert Anderson, 21.

Like Paggi, Anderson has also witnessed a car break in.

“Kids break into cars in broad day light,” he says.

Luckily nether neither Anderson nor Paggi had a personal bad experience with car break-ins because neither of them owns a car.

Tom Colopy, 24, instead, is a victim of this crime. Not only once but 4 times. His car was eventually stolen on the fifth try.
“I was pissed but realized it’s a problem to have a car in this city,” he says, “and plus I’m not polluting the environment.”

Colopy has seen the tool that’s is commonly used to shatter windows.
“It’s a metal, high pressure spring,” he says.

Colopy is not alone.

Michael Grant, 24, had $5000 dollars worth of stuff stolen out of his car. He had packed the car a night before moving to Oregon.

“I parked the car on Polk and Pine and took a girl on a date,” he says, “one hour later, I came back to see my window smashed and almost everything gone.”

Grant drove up to Oregon anyway. With the windows down, the snow blowing strong and chain-smoking cigarette, he recalls that moment as a spiritual one.

“I cried on the way there,” he says, “it released a lot of emotions.”

Grant had to learn the hard way that material possessions come and go.

Young thuggish looking kids are usually to blame for this crime. However, Max Suero, 40, has another take on it.

“Somebody told me it’s a bum that walks around with a bat and whenever he gets angry, he smashes a window,” he says.

Regardless of who does it, it is important to avoid it all together. By remember to take all valuables out of the car, the chances for a break in is reduced.

The Alley Cat

David Cook, 63, lives on the cold-cemented sidewalks of Hayes Valley. He leans against a fence allowing the golden sunlight to beam over his aged face. It illuminates his bright green eyes. A stuffed tiger lies next to him. It resembles Cook’s rugged, worn out look. The tiger’s striped coat mimics Cook’s head-to-toe camouflage suit. A white cup is tied to a fishing pole reading, “Go Fishing.” Cook is fishing for change.

I’m not concerned in the money that goes into the cup, as long as I have a book and a beer,” he says.

Cook has lived in San Francisco for nearly 40 years. He moved from San Antonio, Texas, in 1967 with his sister and the renowned Janis Joplin. His memories of her convey emotion in his face.

Cook is full of anecdotes. Some he tells blissfully, some he tells miserably. Regardless of the emotion, Cook’s life is eventful and his passion for reading stories reflects his love for telling his own.

Sitting peacefully on the ground, as the nearly empty paper cup swings wildly from the harsh winds, Cook tells the story of when he was thrown into a concentration camp.

“I was jammed in a 3 by 3 by 3,” he says, “I couldn’t stretch out my legs.”

For Cook, living in the open is a blessing. Being physically confined by the Cambodian Military is one of Cook’s many experiences during his service in the US Army. He fought the Vietnam War for 6 months and spent 3 months fighting in Laos.

“If I was going to be a soldier, I was going to be a good soldier. If I’m going to be a bum, I’m going to be a good bum,” he says.

Cook considers himself a positive person. Though many of Cook’s memories are tormenting, he stays positive. “If you’re a pessimist, there’s not hope, “ he says.

His vivid appearance and welcoming smiles has won him the respect of Hayes Valley residents. Known as the “Fisherman,” Cook has become quite popular.

“If you’re bored, go see Cook. He will brighten up your day with one of his many stories,” said Sandra Crockett from the Mission District.

Crockett is a sidewalk artist who’s second home is on the corner of Octavia Street and Hayes Street. She spends most of her days underneath the beaming sunlight and negotiating prices with strangers for her artwork. Cook and Crockett’s hang out spots are within 100 ft of each other. Often times, they hang out together and catch up on life.

“Cook is really interesting to talk to. He’s been in this area for years,” she says.

Cook’s first act of homelessness was on Gough Street between Golden Gate Avenue and Turk Street.

“I swept the streets and kept the area clean,” said Cook, “I filled 18 bags of garbage one day.”

He said people were impressed because he was doing something rather than sitting there doing nothing.

“Pavarotti walked by one day, saw what I was doing and handing me a thousand dollars, cash,” he said.

He kept the streets clean and wrote a sign that read “Compliments of the Alley Cat.” He believes in the act of sharing, or as he says, “a hippie concept”. He considers these his religious views. “I share, it’s a good thing, unless you’re a Christian.”

Cook always seems to find humor in everything. He tells stories while at the same time laughing. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand him, but his contagious smile and squinty eyes makes one laugh along.

The street he sits on is particularly eventful. As Cook tells another story, his friend, Werner Rowe, is yelling at a little Asian man who insists on staring and smiling at him.

“I’m going to get up and hit you if you don’t leave,” says Rowe.

Cook continues to tell his story though there is obvious commotion in the background.

He pauses for a moment looks back at Werner and says, “That’s my friend and he has anxiety attacks.”

Werner is always trying to find a penny older than Cooks’ large collection. “The oldest penny I have is from 1893,” said Cook.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A View From Above

Having lived in San Francisco for 5 years now, I can say that I know the small city of 7 miles by 7 miles very well. I've walked the streets of every districts that divides the populations dramatically, both culturally and esthetically. I thought I had discovered just about everything needed to be discovered until i decided to move to a little area called Hayes Valley.

This was the neighborhood I chose not because it's convenient, but because I feel that most people don't know what lies beneath it. In my journey to understand the pros and cons, the challenges and benefits and the things that truly make up this place, I'm feeling a bit ambiguous as to how to describe it. Although its tiny, and hidden between some of the more popular districts, Hayes Valley is a world of its own. It is, indeed, a rising neighborhood, due to the the destruction of the freeway and the construction of Octavia Boulevard. Since then, which happened in 1989, the neighborhood bloomed and continues to do so. On the weekends, and when the sun is out, my whole day can be spent strolling Hayes Street, which is jam packed with boushy boutiques and high-end restaurants.

I went into a local coffee shop yesterday called Momi Toby's located on Laguna street between Hayes street and Fell street. I was surprised by the lack of diversity. Almost everyone seemed to be white upper class professionals. This was a new view from what I've been used to having lived in other areas such as the Mission District and the Sunset District. Surprisingly, the area is surrounded by projects, but it seems to be more divided compared to other neighborhoods. A couple weeks ago, I noticed a group of three young adults carrying a video camera, a notebook and a pen. They had a simple question to ask people in the streets: "Do you feel safe in this neighborhood?". In my on-line research discoveries, I've learned that they're have been around 11 shootings in the past 2 years.

The area is very divided, I think the best way to see this would be to get an aerial prospective of the neighborhood. one minute I'm walking in front of large cemented colorless complex buildings which are the projects and the next minute, I'm surrounded by stylish boutiques and groups of young white Americans carrying yoga mats and wearing "North Face" jackets. I have seen some of the richest and poorest people in San Francisco all within one block, but rarely ever are they mixed.