The family happened to take a trip out to Visitacion Valley today on a quest for a DVD for my daughter and happened to arrive a few minutes before the library there opened so we decided to walk around. Once again we found a little gem in San Francisco.
I don’t know too much about this little urban park, but it runs for three blocks between houses and the beginning can be found at Leland St. and Peabody St. It was a cool little walk that while you’re in an area that’s very urban and a bit on the industrial side has very little inviting in the area. This part of VV is mostly single family homes, but you won’t even find much greenery around there other than a weed growing out of the cracks in the concrete so this was a pretty nice place for the people who live there.
As you can see from the quick shots I took there are places for people to sit and relax. It’s a nice bit of respite from all the concrete and asphalt in the area and because it’s a bit inland on the warmer side of the City the streets are a bit dirty due to a lack of rain. True you could go up a couple miles to Crocker Amazon Park, but for some of the older residents which we saw walking around and sitting in the little urban parquet that might have been too much trouble.
If you’re ever over in the area I think you should check it out. It’s not Golden Gate Park, but for those who are probably the farthest away from Golden Gate Park I think it was nice that the City gave them some nature to relax in. In the central park there’s a community garden where they’re growing vegetables and fruits. I couldn’t make out any of the plants and trees other than lettuce and a few artichokes, but since this is a warmer part of the city you could grow much more tropical produce than in other parts of the City.
When I got the news yesterday evening it hit me hard. It hit a lot of people hard, but especially those of us who live in San Francisco when we got the news that Robin Williams had died.
San Francisco hasn’t had many resident celebrities in quite a long time, but Robin loved San Francisco. He had even said in the past that there was no other city he could imagine himself living in and for the people of San Francisco that was pretty cool. He had a mansion in Sea Cliff so it wasn’t unusual to run into him in the Richmond District and he would also frequent the Sunset on his way to The Other Cafe comedy club where he would frequently pop in just to see who might be the next new kid in town and sometimes, if you were lucky he’d just jump up on stage and take over the place. He brought a whole new side to comedy that all you could do is strap yourself in and hold on because you never knew what he was going to throw at you. I think sometimes he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got up on stage either.
For most of America we first met Robin Williams a long time ago when he caught our eye as that weird alien who made a guest appearance on Happy Days before he got his own spin off. Most of the world knew him as Mork from Ork, but even back then he was still Robin Williams, the stand up comedian for us in San Francisco.
It was pretty hard to live here and not run into him. I saw him all the time at the Other Cafe, but ran into somewhat frequently in the Richmond or Sunset Districts. The best part about him was he was friendly to all the people who could come up to him. I’d see him walking down the street and someone would walk up to him and he’d smile and shake their hand. I could never figure out how he could do it all the time without going crazy. Whenever I’d see him someone would be walking up to him, yet he didn’t seem to mind. I really wanted to ask him one of the times I saw him, but I only got to officially meet him once. I had a girlfriend who was very into comedians. I guess I should have taken that as a complement. We wouldn’t go out to nightclubs on the weekends, she drag me to the Other Cafe just about every other day of the week. She got a little giddy the first time she saw Robin Williams walk in and practically dislocated my arm dragging me over to meet him. She then pushed me in front of her to do the introductions because I guess that was my job. Hi Robin, I’m Eric and my girlfriend dragged me over so I could introduce her to you because she thinks I’m someone. We shook hands and she pushed me out of the way and out of the picture for the moment. All I could do at that point was say, you can throw her back if you’d like. I got a small hint of a laugh out of him. Subsequent trips to the Other Cafe when he would show up and I was with her he’d glance over and give us the thumbs up. I think the best part of it was she probably thought he was acknowledging her presence and I thought it was a non-verbal way of saying to me, still on that honeymoon? Who knows what he really meant by it. Robin was always like that weird uncle you had. You never knew what would happen when he was around but you were always waiting to see what it would be.
The best part about Robin was that he never lost his edge. That childlike craziness he had onstage or when he was Mork stayed with him. Drugs didn’t take it away, Alcohol didn’t take it away, Heart surgery didn’t take it away. We don’t know all the details yet, but so far it looks like it was a suicide. Robin died in his home in Marin. I remember him making jokes about people in Marin and how disconnected they were from the rest of the world. I’d just like to think that it didn’t disconnect him from the world that loved him.
Buying a house in San Francisco. That’s a whole new world now a days that is a far cry from when the houses were first built. Just to give you a little idea, my parents bought their house in 1954 when it was first built. Back then the rubric was that you earned in a week what you spent in a month and you put the excess aside to come up with a downpayment on a house. Back then a 20% downpayment was around $5-8k believe it or not. You continued on those same lines after purchasing the house so that you could use your excess money to pay off the mortgage on your home. Then when you had paid off your home and you were in your 50’s you could spend the some of the excess money on you and your wife [think back to the Cleaver family here]. When retirement came along you could sit back in your house living comfortably with a nice little nest egg to supplement your Social Security and when you died you would give your kids the house so they could sell it to get down payments on houses they would buy or if you only had one kid they would get the house.
Then in the 70’s though the market started to go through the roof and the houses that were bought in the 50’s suddenly were selling for 3-4 times the price they were bought at and the property tax started to go up. Every year you’d have to shell out more and more money to stay in your house until Proposition 13 passed. It actually wasn’t just for homeowners at the time as it is still in effect today, but since there aren’t that many people who’ve held on to their houses for 40-50 years you don’t see as much savings from it. If you buy a house today you won’t see the benefit for another 3o years unless there’s a huge housing market crash.
So let’s look at today. Houses from the time I was talking about have increased by 50%-100% depending on what part of town you’re talking about. There are a few parts of town where you can get an $800k house, that is if you aren’t going to push a $20k incentive on top and pay it all in cash like a few of the big techies can do today. 20% down would be $160k and your monthly payments would be about $4700. Add to that a property tax of $15,200/year and you’ve got to earn $71k just to pay off the mortgage and property tax. If you continue to pay it off for the next 30 years your property tax will increase a bit, but let’s say it stays at $15,200 for the sake of argument. When you retire at age 70 and you’ve put in the maximum amount possible to Social Security you’ll be getting $3,350/month. Hopefully you’ll have some set aside because more than one third of your SSI income will be going to pay off your property tax [that will probably increase a little in 30 years, but not much]. It’s not a very easy way to retire and keep your house anymore even if you’re a rich techie who bought it all in cash from day one. You still have that $15,200 every year until the tech bubble bursts and you have to find another job which may or may not be offering anywhere near the salary you’re making now. If you decided to buy one of those nice $1.5 million dollar homes you can pretty much double all the costs, but now you’ll be paying out three quarters of your SSI just to cover your property taxes. You better have a pretty huge nest egg tucked away because if you retire earlier your SSI income drops significantly.
The housing market has been artificially inflated due to the fact that there are people with more money who aren’t thinking ahead and are willing to throw it at things they thing they need now instead of looking down the road. Unless you’re planning on selling and retiring to a lesser expensive place like Costa Rica and can get a significant payback on your investment real estate isn’t a good long term investment anymore in San Francisco.
This took me awhile to put together so that’s why there’s been a delay. I’ve been talking with people over the past few weeks, many of whom have been in San Francisco for less than a year. As you all should be aware renting in San Francisco is ridiculous right now and it looks like it might only get worse over time.
I have heard people are paying anywhere from $1k-$5k for rent in this town and the difference really just depends on the number of roommates and the size of the closet you’re renting. I have to smirk when people say, I love living in Pacific Heights as they walk out of an unmarked door next to the garage that isn’t even ornate enough to be an entrance to an legal in-law or servants quarters on one of these mansions, but it’s more of a room built off of the garage that’s not fully furnished. A good deal for $2k-$3k in Pacific Heights I suppose. Many of these people have to make anywhere from $24k-$52k/year just to afford rent. That’s a pretty stiff bill when you think about it and many of them are resorting to credit cards which just brings them to a time when they run out of money after a year long spring break party where they end up owing a huge amount of money that they haven’t made since they weren’t making that to begin with.
These people are not rich. Last time I checked you didn’t move to San Francisco and move into Pacific Heights. It was a place the rich people of San Francisco earned, not bought. Most of the new renters I meet are 20 somethings with a job that might pay $25/hour that are supplementing their income from help from their parents or whoever can lend them some some money until they can get a better job. These people push up the rental prices, but don’t stay long. Most of these people aren’t even renting an apartment, but usually as mentioned above a room off a house…a very small room.
Then you have the people that have been renting for 10-20 years which due to rent control makes their landlords want to move them out. It’ll cost the landlord around $8k [or more] per person and the landlord will have to occupy the house for three years to successfully get an Ellis Act eviction to go through. That can be kind of costly in my neighborhood where a 3 bedroom house is renting for $5k, but has a fourth person living in the dining room and a fifth person living in the living room. Sometimes a couple or two will share a room pushing the price to get the renters out from $40-$56k. That’s almost a year’s rent and they have to live there for three years meaning the cost to the landlord can be in the $240k range.
If the landlord decides to flip the house and profit off the sale they better be sure they bought the house at least 10 years ago to make a decent return on their investment. Many of the landlords that I know of in my neighborhood haven’t owned the homes they purchased that long yet so they actually would do better just holding on and renting unless they’re going to pull an illegal Ellis Act eviction.
Even when renting was actually somewhat reasonable in San Francisco I always thought of it as a temporary sort of thing and I think that is part of the reason why most of the people I meet today have been in San Francisco for less than a year. San Francisco going back to the 1800’s was a happening place and if you look back on articles from the news back then you’ll see people complaining about how expensive it was to have to pay $3/month to rent a house and how San Francisco was turning into a town for only the rich.
People will always want to live here, not Daly City, not Oakland, but San Francisco proper. Sure a few might take the outlying areas and say they live in San Francisco, but they know full well that they don’t. If you’re seriously thinking of staying here longer than 10 years, renting at this point in time isn’t the best option anymore in my mind. If you’re lucky and you’ve got a landlord that likes you and isn’t trying to get rich [is there really a landlord like that anymore?] You might be able to work things out, but that’s a slim chance. For the long term you probably want to buy a house, or do you? See what I have to say tomorrow to find out what’s on my mind.
Now that we have a new span on the Bay Bridge apparently we have to name it. There are members of the NAACP in Southern California who think we should make an exception to the rule of not naming large structures after living people and name it after Willie Brown.
Don’t get me wrong, while I’m one of the few, I actually like Willie Brown. The man has style. The man has an attitude. He has so much attitude that if he was in favor of it being named after him he would have said something already. I guess that’s all part of being a kid born in Minneola, Texas and moving to San Francisco.
So functionally, by saying nothing I think we can take that as a no vote from Willie Brown. It’s part of the passive-agressive way politicians work in that it’s not always what they say, but what they don’t say. Our Governor, Jerry Brown who apparently didn’t learn the passive-agressive technique has just come right out and said he doesn’t like the idea.
So while the people of Southern California think they know what’s best for San Francisco, we need to come up with a counter attack to put the boobs of silicone valley in their place.
I strongly stand with the members of E Clampus Vitus who want the bridge named after Emperor Joshua Abraham Norton. This is a man who in 1859 proclaimed himself to be the Emperor of the United States of America and Protector Of Mexico. The man made his own money that people actually accepted around San Francisco. This is the type of guy that should have a bridge named after him.
As a matter of fact, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is unofficially named the Emperor Norton Bridge. There’s even a plaque on the San Francisco side stating this. Why can’t the politicians see this? We don’t have people like Emperor Norton anymore in the Bay Area and I think that we need people like that to symbolize the rough and tumble, do it yourself kind of mentality that made San Francisco what it is. Not the Mark Zuckerberg’s or Steve Job’s types who are in Silicon Valley, but the real people that San Francisco had who made a difference. There is no Emperor Norton Hotel, Bar or even Restaurant in San Francisco and if there’s a small chance I missed it then it needs to be more in the forefront than in the background as long as they’re doing a good job of representing him.
We are on the eve of the naming of the bridge so I suggest that you email Governor Brown, Mayor Lee and Mayor Quan and let them know that the bridge deserves a proper name.
Thanks to a friend on FaceBook, I found this great video of San Francisco from 1955. It’s a travelog sort of film that makes San Francisco look like Disneyland in many ways. If you think you know the City, see how many places you’ll find that are different today than they were then. I honestly got all of them even though Sutro Baths was closed just after I was born. I’d like to do a remake of this film using the same voice over and locations, but with today’s scenes. Sounds like fun anyone in on it with me?
Sadly, this should have been posted on July 5th, 2013 but I missed it by a few days because I was out and about for the holiday weekend. 75 years ago Herb Caen started his legacy that formed the way a lot of us saw and remembered San Francisco through the eyes of a boy from Sacramento.
Before coming to San Francisco Herb was writing the sports column for the Sacramento Union, nowhere near as prestigious or as fun as his San Francisco columns which pulled no punches when he took on the humor of San Francisco politics, yet he never went too far in calling out the people who ran the City for the rich and stupid.
I wish Herb was alive today. I’d sit down with him at the Buena Vista over a couple of Irish Coffee’s [hold the coffee] to get his thoughts on San Francisco today. I had a dream over the weekend of what this might be like and it goes a little something like this.
Everyone in San Francisco is from somewhere else, but the problem is that nobody stays here any more. We’ve become an amusement park for the new monied elite who don’t mind sitting in front of an overpriced cafe run by a surly student drinking a $7 cup of coffee after being told that it’s so expensive because the growers were paid a fair wage oh and the beans were roasted on the thighs of a virgin in the free trade sunlight of the distant unheard of island of Tubanya.
The typical San Franciscan now hasn’t lived here for more than a year so they don’t know the weather patterns or were you can park a car or buy a beer for under $10 at a bar. San Francisco has become a long stay amusement park where people come for under a year until they’ve spent all their money on rent and food because why cook when you can buy organic? None of them will change San Francisco or add to it, but those who have time and money invested here will change it for them.
Whoever said the best things in life are free never lived in San Francisco today. Then again, they probably never said that 100 years ago here either. People have always complained about the high rents and how expensive it is in San Francisco. They just never made the wages that they do today. The wages today are good for you and me because we have the time invested here so it’s easier for us than it is for someone who came here yesterday. Can you imagine if we made the wages of today back when we talk about a 25¢ cup of coffee? I wouldn’t have to invite myself to the Getty’s dinner parties for the free food.
Wow Herb, I don’t remember you being so grumpy…oh right, it’s my dream.
Regardless of what I think he might say today, what he said 75 years ago started something that turned San Francisco into what it has become. He weaved the history in and out of a story that he sometimes took a little bit of liberties with, but in the end he was a remarkable storyteller that brought his words to life. If you can’t find his archives through your searches at least pick up a copy of Baghdad by the Bay. It’s the book that gave these pages their name.