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.

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