EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Baghdad by the Bay - Part 3

The Purge of 2016

1939 World's Fair BrochuresI am a third generation native San Franciscan. My Grandparents moved here in the 20’s and my family has never left. Unfortunately my family has been collecting lots of junk since the 20’s that my wife and I have been uncovering since we moved into the house.

My Grandfather was born in 1887 and my Grandmother in 1906. Apparently while I knew my Mom was a pack rat, I didn’t realize that my Grandparents were even worse. As Wife and I have been going through all the nooks and crannies of the house discovering things there are of course something we want to keep, but other things that have no value except to someone who knew my Grandparents which are few and far between in the 21st century.

I’ve decided to start a chronicle of the stuff we’ve found in the house because it’s kind of fun to look back on parts of San Francisco history through the eyes of people other than yourself. In a lot of ways I wish I had spent more time talking with my Grandmother about some the things I found that I wish we had found while she was still alive, but at least I still have my 98 year old Auntie Gert who remembers some of these things to help me out.

The first thing I came across was a collection of brochures from San Francisco’s 1939/1940 World’s Fair. My Mom was 10 years old and I’m pretty sure she collected most of these. It’s kind of interesting to look back to the earlier part of the 20th Century, pre-WWII and see what was on everyone’s mind. Apparently, electricity wasn’t everywhere in the United States and that was a big thing to talk about back then. Just take a look at some of the pictures and enjoy. Keep checking back as I’ll be archiving more photos for this gallery…

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Why Self Driving Cars Won’t Work For Ridesharing

Driverless CarsSan Francisco is where ridesharing started. Uber, Lyft and the defunct Sidecar as well as smaller players have all started here in the City and they all seem to think they can get rid of drivers now.

This is one of the strangest ideas I have heard in a long time and these companies need to look at Muni in San Francisco to understand what will happen if you remove drivers from cars. Our Muni and BART trains have tried to be autonomous in the tunnels and that didn’t work very well now did it. Many of you may not know this, but there was a time when Muni tried [for a very short time] to have the drivers step out of the compartment when trains entered West Portal Station and let the trains, on tracks, be controlled by a computer. That didn’t work and now a driver has to sit there and make sure the computer is working right and doesn’t crash when the train begins to pass 60 mpg in the tunnel.

I know what some of you are saying, but Google/Uber/some other tech company wasn’t controlling them. OK, fine, but even with a driver riding along on a Muni or BART train have you seen what happens on one of those trains? How would a driverless car picking people up and taking them to their destination on city streets be any different?

There is already the reported problem of lots of these cars getting into accidents. Most of the time it isn’t the fault of the car’s computer, but the humans that are driving around them.  You can write that off if you want, but I don’t think everyone is going to jump onboard from day one when a driverless car becomes available.

Then there are the other problems that people don’t think about. I’m one of those guys that do and here’s something to think about. A driverless car is like the set of Home Alone. People won’t have an overseer to keep them in check. I’ve given rides to young people who even with me behind the wheel have gotten into a fight in the back of my car. I stopped and threw them out, but think about what the first thing that dominates a new technology is…PORN.

VHS, DVDS, the Internet all become intrenched because of the porn industry. I would not be surprised if some of the first people who grab a driverless car will shoot a porn film in it that will be on the internet within a couple of days. The second or third will be someone who pukes and after that will probably be some kid who thinks it would be cool to take a dump in a driverless car.

Imagine if you will for a moment the amount of human body fluids that will be flooding, soaking into and dripping from the insides of a driverless car. No one has talked about safety features in these cars because that of course would be an invasion of someone personal privacy.

Will these cars be equipped with cameras that can see all over the car? Will these cars be equipped with fluid sensors to notify home base if someone barfs or pees in the car? NOTE: I have heard from lots of drivers who have had riders not just puke, but also pee in their cars. This usually happens after midnight and the person is pretty drunk and well, it seems like a good idea at the time… Maybe the companies that are on the bandwagon will make these cars self cleaning so that after a person or porn film crew leaves the car it will sanitize and sterilize the interior for the next rider’s safety.

Then there is the drunken factor that I barely touched on. People like the current ridesharing services because they don’t have to drive home drunk, but their faculties are not at their best. I’ve been asked to pull over so someone could jump out and vomit. I’ve also had a large number of people who put in the wrong address or wanted to go to Safeway, but Google’s Maps which every system uses for some reason chose not the Safeway that was closest to them, but one in the East Bay or North Bay [seriously, try it]. How will the computer controlling the vehicle know whether the customer is right? Will the car electrically zap the riders who have passed out after drinking too much to rouse them to get out because the car has hopefully arrived at the correct location?

In the end the public has been sold a science fiction novel that has been poorly written. This isn’t the taxis of Blade Runner or even Total Recall for that matter. Driverless cars for the masses are a long way off and the idea of driverless transport vehicles are an even longer way off.

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A Way To Make Housing More Affordable

Rent-or-BuyAbout eight years ago I was unemployed for almost two years. A friend of mine told me that I wasn’t unemployed, but that I made $40,000 per year. I looked at him and shook my head. That made no sense, but he pointed out that because I had been lucky and inherited my parents home I didn’t have to pay rent which [at the time] would have worked out to about $40k/year.

While that number has increased nowadays, it hit me hard. There are some things that many people don’t understand about owning a house that is different than renting and I feel that should change. While it’s a change that should happen nation wide, it’s something that makes a lot more sense in San Francisco.

If you own a house you must pay property tax. The thing that some of you might not know is that property tax is tax deductible. I met a woman who recently bought a house and is paying over $11k/year just in property tax. All of that is deductible from her tax return every year as a living expense. With rental rates at an all time high in San Francisco this is a bit of a drop in the bucket, but getting to cut $11k+ off your yearly income is still nothing to sneeze at. She can also claim her mortgage payments as a living expense and deduct them from her income.

This is why I believe that rent should be tax deductible as a living expense. I recently saw an article where an elderly couple in the Sunset District who were paying $2100/month in rent had their new landlord remove an in-law apartment from their house thereby making the home a single family dwelling. The landlord was then able to increase their rent because the home was no longer under rent control to $8900/month.

San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States where something like this could happen, but there are places where it is happening more often. Most of the Bay Area is quickly approaching the rental prices of San Francisco because when you leave San Francisco the homes are bigger thus demanding a higher price. Even the apartments are larger outside of San Francisco.

So why isn’t this happening? I can only make a guess, but let’s use San Francisco as an example. If residents were to be able to deduct their rent from their income as a living expense San Francisco would look like a very poor city. Yes that new techie family that’s paying $10k/month for a house in the Mission would suddenly have a $120k deduction from their income each year which would probably qualify them for financial aid unless they were pulling in closer to $200k/year in salary. This also probably wouldn’t help reduce rent because hey, it’s a tax deduction.

Overall, San Francisco has for a long time been difficult to live in due to the increasing rental prices and that also increases expenses in the Bay Area. To make this change so that rent was tax deductible would probably make a large number of people in the U.S. look much poorer than we realize, in California where Proposition 13 is in effect so that property tax can only increase by 1.1%/year, home ownership even with these high purchase prices currently has advantages over other parts of the country. Perhaps this is more of a state wide thing, but I believe it’s something a lot of our politicians should start talking about.

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Affordable Housing In San Francisco

Hunter's Point Open SpaceThere has been a lot of talk lately about building affordable housing in San Francisco. I’m not exactly sure what the right answer is [although my suggestion is below], but so far I’m not sure it’s going in the right direction.

Out in the Sunset District there is the Sloat Garden Center. It’s currently the largest of it’s locations and now the owners are going to sell it. I can understand that since they can get a good deal of money for that, but the problem is that it has been labeled as the perfect spot for affordable housing to go in and by affordable housing they’re talking about a ten to possibly twelve story building in an area that is zoned as NC-2 which is mixed commercial/residential with a height of no more than three stories.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I can’t prove they want to build a ten to twelve story complex, but there is a height limit code of A100 which I can’t get a definition for and everyone seems to believe that means 100 feet. I can see that, but there comes another problem with what is defined as a story. Typically in the past a story was defined as twenty feet, but now through the process of downsizing a story is being redefined as ten feet. This is another part where that could mean that 100 feet could represent a five story complex or a ten story complex. The twelve story came from someone who has been pointing out the requirement of 20% low income housing to all building in San Francisco, but misses the point that that doesn’t allow them to add on.

My overall thought is that while yes, there are few buildings that somehow got past the strict coding over the years and are more than three stories they are the exception rather than the rule. To build a 100 foot building out by the beach would be ridiculous in my opinion because it just would not fit with the character of the other buildings around it. They might as well relocate Coit Tower to the Sunset District if that height is fine for a spot in San Francisco that after it was just a bit of sand had been dubbed, the suburbs of San Francisco.

Candlestick ParkSo what is the answer? OK, just bear with me for a moment because this is going to sound a bit NIMBY, but it’ll make sense…Hunter’s Point.

Yes, I’m suggesting if they want to build affordable housing that they look into Hunter’s Point. They’re already planning on building a shopping center, or at least they’re seriously talking about putting one where Candlestick Park used to be so it makes sense. It especially makes sense when you look at the picture in this article. There’s is tons of open land in the Hunter’s Point area [and Bayview as well] where you can even see the former foundations of buildings.

Hunter’s Point was always considered a bit of a scary place in San Francisco, but with the influx of people to San Francisco there are a lot more people that are buying homes and new condos that are being built in the area and it’s starting to come up…albeit slowly, but it IS happening. I am more frequently having to drive in that area and I’m pretty surprised at the changes I’m seeing. San Francisco isn’t seeing how much of a clean slate and lack of opposition or at least much less opposition that they would get from a currently populated part of San Francisco.

There is no reason for our politicians to destroy the character of San Francisco’s existing neighborhoods when there is a good amount of open space in the city where they could develop a whole new neighborhood from the ground up.

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A New Way To Support My Site

PatreonHi all,

I don’t like doing this, but I have been doing this for close to 10 years now and while my original idea was just to have fun writing about San Francisco it’s become a little difficult to have time to write when I have to focus so much on my freelance work. I wish there was a way to make my freelance work coincide with my writing, but that’s not the case at the moment.

So I’ve discovered a new site that offers a different option. Patreon will allow you to become a patron of my work. It’s kind of like micro-investing in that the creator [me] sets up goals they would like to meet and you as a patron can make a small or large monthly donation to help that come to fruition. There will also be rewards at the various levels of donation that you’ll see when you click on the link.

I won’t say anything more about it other than let you know my link is http://patreon.com/baghdad and if you like you can patronize my work…no wait, maybe that isn’t the correct wording. I’ll start working harder to bring more stories from my perspective to you since there’s a lot of things happening in San Francisco now.

P.S. Big shout out to Dana Galloway who was my first Patreon!

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A Requiem For Sidecar

Sidecar R.I.P.Today when people talk about ridesharing they don’t even use that word. They say, Uber or Lyft. Those are the big two everyone knows about, but there was a third company. This company started ridesharing where people who had a car could give other people a ride and make money in the process. That company was Sidecar.

Unfortunately, like many technology based companies, Sidecar will be ending its run tomorrow, December 31st, 2015. This saddens me in many ways because it was the first company I drove for and the people there really used to reach out to the drivers. Some of us, like myself were made Captains because of our interest in the company. We were able to give feedback, help train new drivers and host meet ups to answer questions other drivers had. This was something that Uber and Lyft didn’t do. There was very little wall between the drivers and the people who worked at Sidecar. Chances were if you drove for Sidecar you had met someone who worked there.

Sidecar was an innovative company in that it let the riders choose the drivers which for someone like me was great. I was a favorite among many of the riders and for a long time I rarely had much downtime. Then the fare wars started and Uber and Lyft started to drop prices to ridiculous levels. It used to be that if Uber fares were above 1.4x in surge it was cheaper to take a cab. Now if the fare exceeds 2.0x in surge it’s cheaper to take a cab.

The riders started to flock to Uber and Lyft and Sidecar unfortunately didn’t have the market penetration or money to advertise like the others and the riders fell off. They then moved over to incorporating deliveries which was great for drivers for a while, but then other delivery companies came in and the fare wars began again.

Ultimately, drivers needed to make a realistic amount of money to make it worth it to drive for any company and the drivers started to go where the money was. Drivers for Sidecar could set their own prices which in the end caused Sidecar to be more pricey than Uber or Lyft. This left Sidecar with only a handful of die-hard users that remained. I had made many friends and a few even had my phone number and would text me when they needed a ride, but because they were more expensive, even though the riders had more options, price beat out the service provided.

Now that will be gone and I’m sad because I probably won’t see a lot of those people anymore. I won’t have the fun chats or know ahead of time that the person I’m picking up won’t be so drunk that they’re going to pass out in my car or worse. I feel a loss that what could have been a great company from San Francisco has come to an end. Hopefully something will come out of this, but I suspect that 2016 will have many changes to the rideshare industry and gig economy so expect to see some changes here in the near future.

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I Told You So…

A bus passes through a flooded roadway Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, in Mill Valley, Calif. A storm expected to be one of the windiest and rainiest in five years swept across the San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday, knocking out power to tens to thousands and delaying travel by air, train and ferry. Pacific Gas & Electric is reporting outages are widespread across the Bay Area due to weather, but officials weren't immediately available to give a specific number of outages.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

OK, I don’t normally like to crow like this, but I had received lots of emails from people calling me out on the El Niño predictions I had made a couple of years ago. It’s here, it’s queer, and it won’t go away.

What did you just say? Yes, El Niño is odd weather that lots of people don’t quite understand. Today was a pretty good example. Rain was coming off and on all day and there were heavy downpours that I could look out my window and see temporary rivers of water flowing down the street. Then shortly after it started it would stop. Sometimes there was so much water that even after it stopped there were still rivers flowing down the street. I went out driving at one point when it wasn’t raining only to be hit with a sudden downpour, yet the sun was out making the rain look like diamonds falling from the sky.

So why is El Niño different than our regular weather? Well it’s got to do with the ocean heating up which causes more evaporation which when the warm moist air hits the cooler land causes greater condensation and rainfall. The problem is that this occurs in patches. Somethings their big patches that make you feel like a fire hose has been turned on the city and other times they’re just short bursts from small clouds for 3-5 minutes.

Overall, it’s a lot of water. Today, San Francisco only got about an inch of rain, but it came so fast that it seemed like it was a lot more. Up North there was 2-6″ of rain which makes me feel like I’m glad I don’t live in Redding. For San Franciscans, it’s good that there’s more rain falling up North because that’s where our water comes from and the reservoirs have been pretty dry for the past few years. This won’t be an instant fix, but it will definitely help over time.

Looking back to the last El Niño we had in 1997 there are a few suggestions I’d like to offer. I was driving on 101 South a couple of days ago and there was a sudden burst of rain. So much that the roads didn’t know how to handle it and there was minor flooding. No big deal says all the tough guys, but a half inch of rain on the ground leads to hydroplaning and your car or the car next to you can spin out quickly and cause an accident. Within the city we have hills and underneath the streets are storm drains. I didn’t see any today, but remember when the storm drains filled so much that the manhole covers were popping up spewing water out. Even though you’re driving up hill there can be a couple of inches of water running down the streets because of the concentration from the storm drains so you’ll have to watch out for that as well.

If it starts to get bad, just pull over to the side for a minute or two and the rain will stop. Think of San Francisco turning into Hawaii without all that extra heat. We’ll be living a lot like we’re in the tropics for the next few months, but a little on the chilly side for now. My best memory of the ending of the last El Niño was New Year’s Eve of 2000. I was grilling out in front of my house because it was 80° out. We’ll get warmer and the weather will get stranger over the next year. Let’s all hope that this will bring enough rain to California to make a significant end to the drought. Last time it gave us too much water and this one is supposed to be bigger than before.

Keep your fingers crossed and stay dry.

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