Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where to put SF's irregulars next -- the Sunset?

When I wrote last weekend's item about Western SoMa losing its Sixth Street barrier against the greater prosperity and normality of Eastern SoMa (followup on that posted here), I neglected to mention the police substation that keeps getting promised for Sixth, though its future is currently in doubt. Whether or not an actual SFPD office appears on San Francisco's actual erstwhile skid row, it's clear enough that the police have stopped treating Sixth as a zone of tolerance for visible poverty, eccentricity, or vice.

We were over there on Sunday trying out Dottie's True Blue Cafe. That whiskey fennel sausage is indeed fabulous. Also the rice-flour raspberry pancakes. Great place. Only thing I'd say is, it's unfair that, while the kitchen is at street level, the dishwashing and prep work are done in the basement. Staff have to run up and down stairs all the time with heavy bins full of dishes and chopped stuff for omelettes.

On our way into the restaurant we saw two cops rousting two men who had been sitting on the opposite street corner. That was the northeast corner of Stevenson and Sixth, where sitting down used to be OK. (I used to have a client who would sit on a milk crate all day at Sixth and Jessie, one alley over. No longer.)

My new curiosity is where they're going to put San Francisco's next containment zone for the irregular and illicit-minded poor now that it clearly isn't Sixth.

[Added later: To be really, really clear, and remembering that readers here don't know me -- no I don't think a containment/ghetto zone is a good idea, not at all. I don't think the way Sixth Street has been treated is a good idea either. I just think the way this city works, the containment approach is more likely to continue than any approach that treats everyone in the city as a citizen with equal access to the protection of the laws.]

I'm guessing a section for the irregulars may be found in the formerly stodgy Sunset District, out west in the fog, probably central or north Sunset, not southward, against Ocean Beach where the demographics already turn a little poorer as the salt-rust on the railings thickens. A pity, because the Sunset District doesn't deserve to be a containment zone (nor does anywhere else) and anyway the whole containment-zone function is a cynical substitute for inclusive social policy. A city's leaders should view all its residents as citizens instead of dividing off a certain percentage as scapegoats.

[Comment later: J. says no way, too many cops are from the Sunset. He may have a point.]

Why the Sunset? Lots of elders are aging out of homes in the Sunset and letting them become rentals. It's not as fashionable an area for tech money. In parts of the Sunset (certainly not all), levels of anonymity have developed to the point of whole-house indoor marijuana plantations going unnoticed for months at a time. So duller kinds of illicit accommodations to poverty would also seem to be possible -- I'm thinking here of arrangements like overcrowded unlicensed rooming houses. Also, transportation from the Outer Sunset takes a dreary long while, especially if by bus or streetcar, and transit problems seem to be the new hallmark characteristic of a poverty zone in the making.

So, sure, our next major neighborhood shift in San Francisco might be what China MiƩville calls "banlieuification," with poverty and unpleasantness banished from downtown to the periphery on the Paris model. Because why should poor people get to live in the liveliest parts of a popular town?

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