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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Mission Moratorium and the Other Bubble

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 10:54 AM

  • Gabrielle Lurie for SF Examiner
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted against the proposal for a 45 day moratorium on market-rate development projects in the Mission District last night. The measure needed nine votes to pass, and received only seven. Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar, Jane Kim, John Avalos, Norman Yee, London Breed, and Malia Cohen voted in favor of the moratorium. Supervisors Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell, Katy Tang, and Julie Christensen voted against it. 

Proponents of the moratorium say they will now try to put it on the ballot in November. 

The failure of the measure was a foregone conclusion, and Christensen removed any suspense by announcing her no vote prior to public comment. But that didn't stop hundreds of people from lining up and providing over seven hours of public comment, almost all of it in favor of the moratorium. 

There's been a lot of derision aimed at the idea that a moratorium on housing construction would do any good in a city with a growing population and ever-rising rents. The idea of putting any more obstacles in the way of building housing is unfathomably stupid to many, a decent number of whom are not shy about expressing their opinion as to their opposition's intelligence. (One opponent of the moratorium began his remarks last night by saying, "Anyone with a basic understanding of economics," a phrase that pretty well encapsulates the condescension so rife in this debate.)

Campos and his supporters don't pretend that the moratorium is a solution: They argue that a "pause" is needed to come up with a new plan to acquire sites to build affordable housing in the neighborhood and stem the tide of Latino displacement. (They also, in many cases, are coming at these issues from an anti-capitalist point of view that is unmoved by the market-driven perspective of their opponents. Socialism is not necessarily a dirty word in a community formed in part by immigrants fleeing right-wing, US-backed dictators and death squads in Central and South America.) 

But what I saw expressed last night at the Board was less a debate over housing policy and urban planning than it was a cri de coeur from a community facing untold levels of hopelessness and alienation. Many residents, from a 17-year-old boy to a middle-aged mother, broke into tears when they came to the podium. Children described feeling unwelcome walking down the streets in their neighborhoods. Teachers described the challenges of educating students who are homeless. Many spoke of the dissolution of family and neighborhood networks, of children priced out of the city in which they were raised, of neighbors who had once helped each other now separated by the Bay. 

The city that is being planned isn't for these people — for working class people of color — and it's disingenuous to argue otherwise. Whether the moratorium is good policy or not, it will put a stop to the construction of buildings that make longtime residents in the Mission feel out of place and unwelcome. And that's why people want it so passionately.

Because yes, these new glass and concrete edifices contribute to the alienation of the neighborhood's old residents. As do the fancy new restaurants and boutiques that working class residents can't afford. As do the giant tech shuttles lumbering through the narrow streets. For some, these are neighborhood improvements that provide jobs and improve the economy. But for those who will never enter them unless it's through the back door to wash dishes, deliver food, or clean rooms, they are just another reminder that they no longer belong.

There's a lot of talk in San Francisco about whether we're in another economic bubble or whether the tech industry and its billion dollar valuations are real and here to stay. I don't know about that bubble, but I do think there's another bubble that many of us — whether we're in the tech industry, the "creative classes," or are just newcomers to the city who don't mean anyone any harm — live inside. It's a bubble that protects us from looking at or feeling the depths of fear and pain and uncertainty and alienation that many, many San Franciscans are caught within. If you, like me, get to live in that bubble, watch some of yesterday's hearing, and take a step outside. 

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About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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