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.
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.
Well, I’ve been thinking of doing this for awhile and now I was able to pull together everything I needed to pull it off. As you might have noticed I’ve been grabbing more video to put with my words because if a picture is worth a thousand words then a moving picture might be worth a million or so.
I also have been getting lots of emails from readers who have an interesting idea of what I’m like. To some I’m a pinko, commie liberal and to others I a rich, elitist conservative. Neither of these are true by any means, although I wouldn’t mind being rich. Trust me, rich is always better than poor. So now I’m going to be adding in a video with everything I write. If I’m able to get a man on the street video from a news company that relates to what I’m writing about great, but there will also be other things I write about that aren’t just my take on a news story, but my personal experience as a third generation native San Franciscan that hopefully will add a great deal to my writing.
So with all that said and done, here’s my first video from my newly assembled studio. I expect to see it expand and get better over time and as always you are free to donate through SquareCash or Patreon to help me make that happen faster.
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.