EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Baghdad by the Bay - Part 2

And Then It Happened…

Well I’ve heard about how housing moves quickly in San Francisco, but this was almost a little silly how fast the house sold. I’ve been busy cleaning out the house, but the house literally was listed off market so there were no bidding wars [which means you ask a bit more so people don’t have to go through the bidding war hassle] and it turns out the first people who came to one of the private showings chose to buy the house. I won’t say what the house sold for, but let’s just say that houses in Western Massachusetts are asking about ¼ of what we were and they tend to sit for six to eight months there. Not six to eight days like here.

There are things that you don’t really think about when you have a long move like that and have sold a house that has had four generations of your family living in it…like anything that isn’t nailed down has to go. Much of what wasn’t nailed down was stuff like old pots in the back yard and some broken down tools that my Dad had apparently just stuffed under the desk to get it out of the way until he figured what to do with it. My Dad died in 1999 and I hadn’t even seen some of the stuff we found. Luckily we found Junk King who came and literally anything we pointed out went. I have to admit, it did kind of hurt watching them take some of the stuff. I had looked at some of the furniture and just accepted it’s place in the house since some hadn’t been moved since I was alive…to me it was nailed down. But we sold the house and those are the rules and something like an old rusting workbench in the garage that folded up [I never even knew it folded up] had to go.

It’s a bit odd walking around the house you grew up in and hearing the walls echo because it’s so empty and thinking things like, gee, there’s enough room to put X here. Well, maybe we should have gotten rid of some of that stuff early and figured it out, but in many ways it’s very, very good to purge. I have developed a new found freedom in separating stuff in my life that was just there, but not adding to it that it feels good.

I realized something yesterday when I saw friends who are following my story on FaceBook who have been saying roughly the same thing, I feel like a part of my childhood is gone now. Some of these friends I haven’t seen in years, but this house because it was still there and I was still there represented a connection to the misspent days of our youths out here. I thought for a bit and of all my friends I am the only one who’s still living in the same house as when I was a kid. In some ways it’s kind of like I need to move on. Sure I’ve lived in other houses I’ve rented in San Francisco, but there was always this house as my rock to come back to at any time.

In two weeks time I’ll be in Western Massachusetts now, completely out of debt and with money in my pocket. Something I haven’t been able to say in a good many years. We’ve got almost everything booked that we’ll need to get out and get there so next time you hear from me will probably be from the hotel suite by SFO that we’ll be spending a few days at before we’re out of here.

So I’ll end this story with a little video so you can see what I was going through. Big thanks to the guys from Junk Kings in the video for helping us out. It turned out to be much cheaper than renting a couple of dumpsters and I didn’t have to carry the stuff out.  If you see anything that you don’t think we should have tossed…would you have come and gotten it? I put the word out months ago about a lot of it, but no one came for these vintage, antique, artisanal, handmade, gourmet pieces of furniture. I’m writing this article and shot the video on my new iPad Pro [yes, I got the fully tricked out 12.9” one with a keyboard case and Apple Pencil.] which is the first new thing I’ve been able to buy since the sale went through.

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And So It Begins…

I’ve been writing this blog for over 10 years now, maybe not as often as I would like to lately, but things have been changing and it’s time that I have to unfortunately announce that I, of all people, am packing up my house in the Sunset District and leaving San Francisco to move my family to New England.

Just to recap, I’ve lived in San Francisco all my life. That’s over 55 years now and I’ve seen lots of changes going on over the years. The worst part of all of it I have to say is the ever increasing population. San Francisco has added 150,000 residents since 2010 alone and things are just getting a little too crowded for me. Add to this the tech world taking over the city in a put all your eggs in one basket and once you pass 35 unless you’ve got yourself set in a job it becomes harder and harder to find work.

This is something that’s been developing for a long time. I started to notice that when I started this 10 years ago I was writing about all the great things there were to do in the City. If you look back count how many of them are still around today — very few is the correct answer. I started to notice that instead of writing about what was great about San Francisco I was having to focus on what was wrong with the City. Unfortunately I don’t have enough pull to really make any change and most of the time when I do get contacted by people who can make a change they’re asking me to stop writing about what I’ve been writing about.

There are other things too. $4 toast has turned into $18 toast. Burritos have gone up $15 in some places. Rent, well we won’t even talk about rent other than it’s more than a monthly mortgage in most other places of the US. It’s just getting more and more expensive to live here and with those who can live here more easily the rich are getting less and less liberal while spending more and more money. San Francisco was always the city where counter-culture reigned supreme, but now our local politicians are listening more to the conservative votes because they have more money to donate to their election funds [after they spend $30 at the local coffee shop].

San Francisco has always been about change, but now it’s a kind of change that I just don’t feel right being in the middle of it. While the city is getting more and more crowded the new people want to add more and more affordable housing which they don’t seem to realize that every time San Francisco has tried to add affordable housing since the late 50’s it’s ended up not being affordable [SIDE NOTE: SoMA, Mission Bay, Hayes Valley were all originally built to be affordable housing which they aren’t.]

So as you read the last two paragraphs you’ll probably get the feeling I some crotchety old guy sitting in my rotting old chair waving my cane spouting about how, why in my day…

I don’t want to be like that.

So I feel it is time with me and my family moving to step down and let other people talk about what they find great in San Francisco. I’ll still miss places like Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the Musee Mechanique, Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge, hell, I’m going to really miss the view out my living room window [see right] but it’s time for a new adventure for me. My family and I will be relocating to Western Massachusetts where the wife is from and her family lives, somewhere probably around Northampton, MA. Northampton actually has a feeling like San Francisco used to have — vibrant thriving arts and music community, an affordable food and beer culture, lots of historic places to see and things to do, but it’s got it’s own New England vibe as well. With great schools and lots of space.

I’ll be continuing on for awhile chronicling the move for all of you so you can keep up with what it’s like to move across country and leave San Francisco behind. You’ll all get to laugh at me when I walk out into that thing called snow that we’ve heard about in San Francisco, but on the upside everyone has heating and air conditioning back there which you can’t say about San Francisco.

Right now the house is a mess as we pack up things and get rid of stuff we aren’t going to take back east with us, which is most of what we own. Selling a house in San Francisco and moving pretty much anywhere else is kind of like winning the lottery since for what we’ll get for the house here we’ll probably be able to buy a nicer larger house on a bit of land as well as a couple of multi-unit rental properties for income. It’s kind of weird that we can’t afford to replace an old refrigerator here, but if we sell the house we can afford to buy a newly built house with all new appliances plus we’ll be the man that we’re working for there. To a lot of you it may not seem like we’re moving up in the world, but to be honest, I’d rather be rich somewhere else than poor in San Francisco. This is going to be a whole new adventure for me and my family and I’m hoping you’ll look forward to what I find to share with you. In case you know nothing about Northampton, MA then here’s a little video to tell you a bit more.

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Mayor Ed Lee Has Died

I woke up yesterday morning and couldn’t believe the first thing I read. Mayor Ed Lee had died of a heart attack. As I read through the news I noticed people remarking how great a Mayor he was. There were also a few people that seemed a bit happy he had died. Here are some of my thoughts.

Mayor Lee wasn’t the type of person to make people angry out right. He had a very unassuming low key personality. Sure, you could say you didn’t agree with his choices, but to say you were angry would give him too much credit. I have looked back though to when he started in 2010 and seen change within the City.

Yes, everyone is talking about how Mayor Lee changed San Francisco, but was it for the better? We were in a recession when he took office and I read about how people were leaving San Francisco because of it. If they were it was only because they couldn’t find work. I actually had work during the recession. It wasn’t the greatest, but it was pretty good. Some of my friends were struggling because of the recession, but not because of anything San Francisco was doing. We were, like most people in a recession…getting by.

When then Mayor Gavin Newsom left to become Lieutenant Governor he needed a replacement and Lee was selected. It was only supposed to be temporary and then the City’s infamous Rose Pak got involved with her Run Ed Run campaign. Mayor Lee was officially elected even though there was talk of voter fraud that somehow got swept under the carpet. His first term as Mayor Rose Pak was always there like a puppet master pulling the strings. Even if she wasn’t she made it look like she was really in charge boasting frequently about how she got him there.

Rents started to increase again, housing prices started to increase again, the dot com bomb came back as a tech boom and the City put all it’s eggs in one basket turning it into the tech hub of the U.S. even though most of it was going on in Silicon Valley, Mayor Lee brought companies to San Francisco changing the culture and population not necessarily for the better. The residents became more like long term tourists. They would come and make money then leave, or spend all their [and usually their parents] money and leave. They weren’t adding to the City, but taking away from it. In the past seven years I’ve seen more well known places to go and do things in San Francisco suddenly disappear or become unaffordable to the average person. I gave a ride to a woman who works at City Hall who told me that she was finishing up a report where a family of four making less than $105,000 per year was considered low income for San Francisco.

Meanwhile I started to see a bit of an odd conservative tone coming to parts of San Francisco that was always a liberal city decried for it’s San Francisco Values as if we were the capital city of Hell. Suddenly we had people talking about how they were against cannabis dispensaries in their neighbors. Think of the children was a common answer to questions regarding their nimbyism. Most of these things would never affect their children even if they had children since most parents had to move their families out because it had become too expensive.

The City changed drastically and not in a good way. Friends were leaving because they couldn’t find work. A recently report I read mentioned that if you’re over 35 in San Francisco tech companies aren’t interested in you, yet the City was overflowing with tech companies and there weren’t many other places to work. Jobs that used to be for real company employees suddenly were becoming contractor positions which in a twist were paying less that contractor positions used to, [Note: Contractors used to be paid more than regular employees because they didn’t get benefits and could be terminated at a moments notice. It was cheaper for companies to pay a bit more for a contractor and be able to cut their off on a whim than to go through all the possible repercussions of firing an employee.]

Mayor Lee’s approval rating during his second term dropped to 30%. Less than our current President’s is at the moment. The homeless were setting up camps all over the City. You’d have to step over piles of feces and puddles of urine walking to work downtown. The once wonderful City was starting to look like a horrible dump [literally in some cases]. The homeless problem got so bad that coming up to the Super Bowl Mayor Lee rounded up all the homeless that some of this policies helped create and moved them out of the City. They managed to come back afterwards, but that was to be expected.

The crime rate in the past year has increased even in the safer neighborhoods. There are far more home and car break ins, robberies, shootings, stabbings that I’ve seen here in my entire life. In the past year I’ve seen three shootings and four stabbings in the Sunset District which is more than I can remember ever hearing about. 

I am sorry Mayor Lee died. We all have to go at some point, but I feel for his family. I also feel for San Francisco and hope that a new change will come that will bring it back to the place where artists and musicians and other creative types can have a place that made this City so weird and wonderful and not a City of rich people living poorly.

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The First Affordable Housing In San Francisco

Hello everyone. It’s been a long time hasn’t it? Sorry for the delays, but if you remember my article on the Purge of 2016 it has continued in high gear in 2017 so I’ve been a little busy. So without further ado, here’s an article that’s been on my mind for awhile.

I’ve seen people talking about San Francisco’s need for affordable housing to be built so that, well, people can afford to live here. I agree that affordable housing in necessary and thought I’d share a bit of history about the Sunset District where I live. 

My Grandparents and Mother bought the house I’m living in back in 1954. They chose the Sunset District because there were seven or eight contractor families that were building houses like crazy out here that were — affordable. Between the 40’s & 50’s post WWII during the Golden Years as people refer to them the US was living large after the war. The Sunset District was mostly sand dunes and nothing else so the city figured building houses would be a good way to get more residents and make them look more prosperous by being able to own a home. The houses in the Sunset were built so that working class families could afford a home and then become a part of middle class America.

Typical Sunset District Backyard

I remember my Mom telling me that back then they looked at houses they could have bought for $9000, but they were pretty quickly assembled and didn’t look like they’d hold up over the years. The house they chose was asking $23k and they managed to talk the builder down to the ridiculously low price of $18k for a four bedroom with a full backyard. For 1954, that was a lot of money, but not unaffordable like houses in San Francisco have become today. My Dad used to tell me that when he and my Mom were first married that he used to toss her dog over the three foot back fence and let him run in the sand dunes that stretched out to the beach until more houses were built behind ours. The backyards when the houses were built were pretty much a joke. It was a fence holding in sand and nothing else. You can still find a couple of houses like that out here if you look real hard from above with Google maps.

I occasionally meet someone who can beat my price story. I met a guy who had just sold his Grandmother’s house that his grandparents had purchased in the 40’s for…$6000. It was a simple two bedroom with nothing special about it and it had the short [keylot] backyard. The selling price…$1.2 million.

Back then San Francisco had 100,000 less residents than it does today and room to grow. It was easy back then to quickly build houses that people could afford. Today, not so much. There’s no room to grow anymore unless they build in Hunter’s Point which I’ve mentioned previously, but all of the open space has been taken up so if they can’t build out they can only build up. I won’t go any further on this part because that would be another article entirely.

I remember being a kid and hearing my Mom tell my Dad in the 70’s, Did you know the house up the street just sold for $50,000? Who would pay $50,000 for a house…HERE! If my Mom were alive today and knew how much houses go for she’d probably have another heart attack and die a second time. There has been talk about the housing bubble bursting for years. Not just since 2000, but well before that and sometimes it does, but it always comes back with a vengeance. The Sunset District now is seeing many more houses selling for closer to $2,000,000 well up from the $800k median when the prices fell in 2011.

The newspapers and hip websites never pay attention to the Sunset District either because they don’t want people to know about it or because they think it’s an uncool urban suburbia. I think that might be part of the reason the real estate is getting so hot out here. You’re in the city, but not and no one knows you live here. Oh, and Karl the Fog is always your next door neighbor. Next time you make a wrong turn and end up in the Sunset District take a look at the houses and just think for a second about this article and how much you wish you had been here in the 40’s or 50’s.

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Ban On Flavored Tobacco Products

This is a bit of an odd subject to talk about, but I feel it should be said because even though it is well known and no one is going to say that tobacco is good for you there are some problems with the new law that was passed in San Francisco banning all flavored tobacco products.

Supervisor Malia Cohen pushed through legislation in 60 days with very little fanfare to ban flavored tobacco products. Not tobacco, only flavored tobacco products specifically pointing out menthol cigarettes. While flavored cigarettes other than menthol were banned in 2009, menthol was given a stay of execution for some reason. I suppose because to a lot of people at the time menthol was seen as normal for cigarettes. It could also have been that because 80% of the people who smoke menthol cigarettes are African-American. This was a big part of her target in the passing of this law — to specifically target African-Americans.

For tobacco this means that menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and cigarillos [like the grape and cherry Swishers], shisha hookah tobacco and flavored smokeless tobacco. The problem I see with this is that it was aimed at only African-Americans in it’s passage [she may not be aware of this, but Asians typically in San Francisco tend towards menthol as well]. Shisha is used by mostly a Middle-Eastern minority of people though you might occasionally see a person of non-Middle-Eastern decent partake at a restaurant that has hookah nights [there are a few in the city]. Tobacco causes lung cancer and other health problems for all people so I’m just thinking she should have passed a law banning all tobacco sales in San Francisco. The worst part of this is that it doesn’t ban the ownership or use of said products, only the sale so the law is a bit of feel good sophistry to help politicians look good, but won’t really cure the problem only make people who want the product to work a little bit harder. Now I’m sure there were be cigarette stores popping up in Daly City with signs saying Menthol Cigarettes Sold Here! The idea that if you stop selling menthol cigarettes in San Francisco people will stop smoking them is a fallacious argument [See Sophistry].

While this is bad in that it looks like they’re trying to bring about change, but not there is another product covered under this ruling that has the potential to actually cause more smoking related diseases for people and that is the ban on flavored e-juice used in vaporizers. 

The State of California classified  e-juice as a tobacco product so that they could receive tax money from it since many people were using vaporizers to move away from cigarettes. While long term affects of vaporizers are not fully known yet, doctors agree that vaporizing is much better than smoking cigarettes. No one is saying it’s healthy, but it has much lower risks than smoking cigarettes. The State government was able to classify e-juice as a tobacco product due to the fact that currently nicotine [the addictive component] is chemically extracted from tobacco leaves. There is no tobacco present in the nicotine as it is all lab grade and pure, but it was an easy enough loophole to use to classify the product as tobacco so they could tax it.

The law that Malia Cohen presented and had passed was filled with the standard think of the children angle that is frequently used saying that because the e-juice has candy flavorings that it is being marketed towards children. She missed the paper from Center For Disease Control that stated since 2015 the number of minors smoking or using vaporizers has dropped significantly. There was also mention of a string of harmful chemicals found in e-juice which upon further research showed that they were found in shipments coming in from outside the US and mostly from China. She also missed the abstract from the FDA that showed minimal effect on the body from the use of e-cigarettes, yet that they were a good aid in getting people off the far more dangerous tobacco. Currently, the majority of e-juice that is available in the US is made in the US from vegetable glycerin [a thickener used in foods], propylene glycol [another sweetener used in foods], food grade flavorings and nicotine in that order. Four items three of which are food grade vs. the 4000+ noxious chemicals in a cigarette. UCSF is even running a smoking cessation program using vaporizers because they feel that they are better alternative to smoking cessation.

While not a scientific study I have seen a rise in people using vaporizers around the City when I’m out and about. I haven’t seen anyone I could tell was a minor, but I rarely have seen many people who look that young using vaporizers. Many people who use e-cigarettes and vaporizers to stop smoking want to get away from tobacco to the point that they even want to get away from the taste of tobacco. That is why there are flavored e-liquids out there. The smell from e-liquids doesn’t linger as long as cigarettes and it is far more difficult to offend someone with the smell of blueberry cheesecake than tobacco [my opinion of course].

Again though, like with menthol cigarettes the ownership and use isn’t illegal, only the sale. While there are a handful of vape shops in San Francisco most of them started as head shops that also sell bongs, water pipes and other drug related supplies. It is very easy to purchase e-liquids from online suppliers. Actually after you’ve created an account and proved you’re over 21 it’s actually much easier to purchase online because the selection is usually higher than what your local shop will carry, so again, the law has no teeth.

There are a handful of vape shops in San Francisco, maybe no more than 1o and I believe this is way. Most are head shops that have added vaping products, but there’s only a couple that sell only vaping products and they have said they will have to close up when the law goes into effect next year. Some of the other stores have said they will have to close as well especially in the Sunset District saying that the menthol cigarettes is what gets people into the store, given the higher Asian population, and that their sales will plummet when the law goes into effect. We’ll see if that’s true. 

To sum it all up, yes, I whole heartedly agree that tobacco is bad for you, but I think this law is rather flawed as it really doesn’t cause much of an effect on the public using tobacco or tobacco related products. It will definitely make menthol smokers work a little harder, but I’m doubting that it will make them quit. Likewise, the ban on vaping e-juice will leave only the disposal e-cigarettes that are produced and marketed by big tobacco companies as the only choice for those wanting to start to quit smoking, and most of those disposable e-cigarettes are made in China, unlike the safer US made e-juice.

BTW: If you want to see a video that people should have been saying, but think of the children! You might want to watch this one.

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UPS Shooting In San Francisco

Just thought I should write something about this because yesterday morning I had just dropped a rider off at 16th & Kansas and continued down to go around the block to reverse my direction. Then it happened. I was on 17th St and hear what I thought were firecrackers that maybe one of the guys in the tent city was playing around with and then I saw UPS guys running yelling SHOOTER! SHOOTER! My heart started racing and my first thought was to yell over to them to get in the car, but because of morning traffic they were running faster than I could drive. 

Then I thought of me as I watched the UPS workers running past me. I couldn’t go faster or turn left or right. I didn’t even know which way was safe other than it seemed kind of obvious to get away from UPS if all the people running I saw had UPS uniforms on. 

I ducked down with just my eyes up high enough to see over the dash stupidly thinking a stray bullet wouldn’t go through the car door like everyone thinks, but I didn’t know what else to do. Luckily while the traffic was moving slowly it was at least moving. By the time I got a block away there were already police cars and an ambulance on the way. How they were able to get there so fast is beyond me, but at least they were able to.

I saw the police car and my heart slowed down a bit. I lifted my head up because the police drove by so they’ll protect me and just kept driving on. I decided it was a good time to quit for the morning since I was shaking a bit still from the whole thing.

The whole thing was just crazy and the three drivers who were killed were all well known and loved by the people they delivered to. Big Mike, Benson Louie and Wayne Chan have been identified as the victims. While we never got many UPS deliveries when I saw Benson’s picture I knew it was our guy. I didn’t really know like a lot of other people did out here that I’ve been reading about, but he was a nice guy just like Big Mike and Wayne. 

The shooter on the other hand, Jimmy Lam was a bit of a hot head and had been busted twice for DUI’s. I can’t say for sure, but the news made it sound like they were associated with his UPS driving. I don’t know what to say about that other than maybe he should have been let go, but that might have just made this happen sooner. This is an unfortunate part of living in a big city like San Francisco and when you’re that close to it when it happens I think I’m going to be a little on edge for the next couple of days. Hopefully I won’t have to keep looking over my shoulder. I’m just glad that police response was so quick.

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Is The Party Over In San Francisco?

As I travel around San Francisco every day I’ve been noticing changes that aren’t looking very good anymore and I’m beginning to believe the party is over.

People aren’t smiling anymore. People aren’t going out as much anymore. People talk more about how tough it is to live here than how great it is to live here. These are signs that there is a shift in San Francisco happening. I do run into people that aren’t like this, but they tend to be older and in more traditional careers that treat their employees like, well, employees. These are usually older people in their mid 40’s at least who have a job that isn’t usually tied to the tech industry and and have lived here for a long time so they’ve got themselves a good set up. Maybe they were able to buy a house when a person could actually buy a house who wasn’t a millionaire. 20 years ago when my wife and I got married we could have bought a house for $200,000. It would have been small, but it still would have been better than some of the apartments that people are living in now that a little more than oversized porta-potties.

Jobs now in the city are paying less at a time when money is worth less unless you’re a programmer which then makes you salaried with little time off to enjoy the things in the City. Even back in 2010 I was being offered jobs at almost twice what the same jobs are going for today. There are a proliferation of contractor positions, but those jobs treat you more like an employee without the benefits and contractor jobs used to pay better than employee positions because they could drop you at any time. Now contractor positions pay less and give you set hours to work and if you take a sick day then be careful because they’ll probably drop you for not doing your job. That’s not the way contractor positions are supposed to work, but very few people are making enough money to take these companies to court since lawyers aren’t very cheap.

The people I’ve noticed who aren’t suffering as much are construction workers, school bus and muni drivers, firemen, police. These are jobs that are more traditional in that you’re paid reasonably with benefits, time off, paid overtime. Personally I’d give up the free lunch and snacks for an extra couple of bucks an hour because I can bring my lunch or buy it cheaper and it’s usually better tasting and better for me. I met a guy worked for our local garbage collectors. He’s making $27/hour and told me the garbage truck drivers make $47/hour. OK, you have to deal with rats and garbage, but that’s a better living than a graphic designer with a Master’s degree being offer a job for $17/hour by a startup as a contractor [ok, not all are like that, but there’s quite a few out there]. Of course there are the doctors and lawyers which there are a lot of in San Francisco as well as health care workers who also make decent salaries. These are the people who smile now. These are the ones that go out to dinner on the weekends and sometimes even during the week. They have the money and time on their hands to really appreciate the City.

I laughingly remember five years ago when I’d pick up kids fresh out of college who would say things like, My Dad got me an apartment and gave me his credit card and is giving me a year to make it in San Fran. Oh joy, Daddy just paid for a year long spring break and my right hand twitched in a smacking motion because they said San Fran [side note: I would even accept Frisco over San Fran]. These people were always going out to a bar or some nightclub every night of the week and they were always asking for a bottle of water in the mornings because they were so hung over from the night before. These people are gone now. I called them long term tourists because I knew they were going to go back home eventually.

Things like that have to happen in order to keep San Francisco what it is, so while even I am struggling to get by right now I know for me it will eventually get better because I was born and raised here and have been through this before. I can handle it. I know where to get a burrito for less than $15 or not spend $4 or more for toast. I don’t take Uber or Lyft to work everyday or order gourmet artisanal food delivered from one of the new food delivery startups that pops up every other week.

San Francisco will never return to the old days and by old days that depends on your age. My Mom isn’t around anymore to remind me she used to pay 5¢ for a candy bar. I find myself starting to say things like that, but it’s more like I remember going out to a bar with $20 for the evening and coming home with change…and I used to drink a lot.

Change is good, but change can also be painful. Let’s hope this leads to something better in the end.

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