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Friday, March 9, 2012

Newsflash: San Francisco Expensive, Minorities and Families Leaving

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge Coming to a City by the Bay near you...
  • Coming to a City by the Bay near you...

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle's website characterized premature rapture specialist Harold Camping's admission that the world still exists as "breaking news."

Fittingly, today's Chron A-1 was a story noting that San Francisco is growing whiter and less diverse, as families with children stream from our fair city because it's expensive to buy property and raise kids here. This, mercifully, did not receive the "breaking news" tag.

Not to fault the Chronicle for a well-written article or the folks who compiled the statistics presented to the ever-concerned Board of Supervisors relating to San Francisco's transformation into the place where Children of Men is perceived as a documentary. Analysis is good and analytical newspaper stories are good, too.

But what we have here is an extremely thorough and data-rich documentation of something anyone who was paying even the least bit of attention to city demographics knew: Families are leaving. Many minorities are leaving. Children are sparse. Property is prohibitively expensive. Hell, even we had these statistics in two prior cover stories -- in 2009 and 2011. 

In SF Weekly's 2009 piece "The Worst-Run Big City in the United States," we noted the following:

According to the controller's office, San Franciscans' per-capita income jumped from an already-generous $58,244 in 2004 to $74,515 [in 2008].

Of course, for many San Franciscans, those numbers represent another failure. They point to an exodus. The city's middle class is melting away faster than polar ice. With them, economists and demographers say, goes any realistic hope that voters will demand serious change in search of long-term reform.

Research by professor Bill Watkins of California Lutheran University over the past decade reveals that San Francisco is shedding its middle-class population at double the state rate. The city, however, is not losing low-income people at nearly the state's pace -- and is gaining wealthy residents at far more than California's overall rate. In short, we are replacing our middle class with a rich elite and a burgeoning underclass. Watkins' research also reveals that San Francisco is going gray. The number of city residents between ages 45 and 64 has climbed, while the count of those aged 20 to 44 has dropped. The city, it seems, has become a target destination for the wealthy and retirees. These are not the people who want to make sacrifices now to shore up the city's future.

"Wealthier people are consuming," Watkins says. "They don't want to build a future. They don't have a reason to invest in the community." For that matter, neither do young people -- because their futures likely involve moving out of San Francisco. According to Joel Kotkin, "San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

The stage is set for San Francisco to run on inertia. The city's poor are unable to effect a sea change; the young, nomadic population is uninterested; and the wealthy and older are unwilling.

In last year's "Progressively Worse," we returned to demographics:

"The left in San Francisco has a real disadvantage against the glacial forces of demography that are reducing the support for a progressive base," said S.F. State professor emeritus Rich DeLeon, the dean of local political scientists. "The progressive base in San Francisco is now a lot smaller than people still think it is."

Between 2000 and 2010, the city grew older (every age group over 50 increased), wealthier (there are now 58 percent more households earning $125,000 or more), and more heavily Asian (up from around 30 to nearly 35 percent of the city's population).

... Black people now make up barely 5 percent of the city; large swaths of the south of the city are heavily Asian. The number of San Franciscans aged 25 to 39 has plummeted; the iconic overeducated young people who knocked on doors for [Matt] Gonzalez's 2003 mayoral campaign while living off their severance pay from are a distant memory. Many have gone elsewhere to raise families -- or occupy something. When San Francisco priced out its working class, it priced out activists, too.

Progressives were relying on short-term residents as part of their long-term political strategy. Every year for the past decade, upward of 30,000 new residents moved here, yet the city's population has only grown by 28,000 during that time. Perhaps 20 percent of San Franciscans weren't here five years ago. The voters who remember the Willie Brown administration may not even crack 50 percent.

The point here isn't to pat ourselves on the back, because this was hardly breaking news. The Chron today did a fine job documenting the situation facing San Francisco -- high cost of living is chasing away many minorities and young families, who are being replaced by transient youngsters living their "San Francisco years" or wealthy middle-aged and older people. Similarly, an article meticulously documenting the growing height of NBA basketball players by position from 1960 to today could be fascinating. But it wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that basketball players are tall.

So, for this city, it's time to stop arguing over the shape of the table and start negotiating a solution to a huge -- and hugely evident -- problem. Of course this is easier said than done for the reasons intimated in our 2009 article. For the ascendant folks in San Francisco, the status quo is treating them just fine. It's a tired refrain, but not for no reason: This city does an admirable job catering to the very poor and certainly has its allures for the very rich -- but those in the middle would be best served by growing wealthy or getting out of town. Rest assured, someone will move here and take your spot.

Finding a native San Franciscan in San Francisco is sort of like unearthing a four-leaf clover (not that it's lucky; it's just rare). Future children may not even know what a native San Franciscan is, let alone a clover.

Those children, of course, will be growing up elsewhere.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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