Who Gets to Live in San Francisco?

Mar 07 at 1pm

Earlier this week, The Examiner reported that the SFMTA is widening its ban on oversized vehicles in the city, adding 61 new locations to the list of areas where people aren't allowed to park vans and RVs that many use as their homes. “This is just one more tool in SFMTA’s tool box for parking management,” claimed the company's project manager Andy Thornley, who’s heading the pilot-project initiative prohibiting the parking of large vehicles from 12 p.m. to 6 a.m. on certain streets.

Have we as a city really become this cold?

Thornley cites blight and neighbor complaints as reasons for the expanded ban. I am interested in learning more about the hardships our hardworking, properly-housed citizens have been experiencing. What percentage of the tenants and homeowners are really suffering? And I’m curious: are complaints being filed on a per-incident basis with events tied to police reports, or are generalized impressions and assumed attribution to the large vehicles being communicated to district supervisors?

Is it too much to ask for some standards of analysis, in the interest of ethics, in how we deal with those people? In how we seek to govern all aspects of San Francisco to make this an inclusive, wonderful place for everybody? Since y’know, we’re not a gated community.

Yes, the vans and motorhomes and cars packed to the brim with personal belongings are unattractive—but is it a crime for vehicles to be old, ugly, and have crap loaded atop or visibly inside of them? 

Avoiding a monoculture also means making room for everyone, from the loud jocks to the homeless sleeping in cars.

“We are not out to evict the homeless but we just want to have the nice neighborhood we deserve,” Eileen Reimonenq, head of the Alemany Clean Committee, told The Examiner.

Well, I want the nice neighborhood I deserve, too—the one I moved into 10 years ago—and when jocks come to the karaoke bar in Potrero Hill, I also want them outta here. They blast music from their BMWs with windows-down, revved engines rattling my windows before screeching off into the late night. Sometimes I’ll hear a group laughing while helping one of their own as he or she pukes into the curb, presumably having had a few too many drinks. In these moments of loathing, I try to reflect on why I moved back to San Francisco after a three-year mistake stint in San Jose. I came home to my city precisely because the monoculture of the South Bay drove me bonkers. Avoiding a monoculture also means making room for everyone, from the loud jocks to the homeless sleeping in cars. 

“In my mind, this is displacement, it’s not effectively getting to the root of the problem, and the problem is people are living in vehicles, and they’re being criminalized for it,”said Nick Kimura, a volunteer at the Coalition on Homelessness.

Entitlement can be a fickle bedfellow. Context and perspective informed by direct personal experiences, an excellent antidote.

My mom was a retired social worker, an upper-middle class divorcee, and an elder struggling with mis-diagnosed bipolar when she fell homeless.

My mom was a retired social worker, an upper-middle class divorcee, and an elder struggling with mis-diagnosed bipolar when she fell homeless. She kept her situation from my brother and I out of shame. When my dad, by then her ex-husband, finally let me in on what was going on with my mother, I was overcome with shame, horror, and amazement that this brilliant person with a masters degree could have—no, that my mother could have—fallen into such straits. Shame that I wasn’t able to rescue her. But she had. The trauma from the experience continues to haunt her. Even though it left her stronger, it also burned her with a frightened skepticism and un-shakable chronic exhaustion for the next few years. 

Since realizing that even my six-figure-salary, problem-solving go-getter self couldn’t rescue my mother from a demise so many of us identify as happening to “other people,” I’ve come to see my homeless neighbors through a very different lens. I make the extra effort to be a more present human on the street when passing them by. Preppies and jocks from the Marina, too. All in all, it’s made my experience living in San Francisco feel much warmer, welcoming, and rooted.

I can trace-back in my own memory of San Francisco politico Frank Jordan’s unsuccessful, Giuliani-style efforts to fix what has become known as “our homeless problem“ (and funny thing, later studies reveal that even Giuliani’s hype wasn’t what fixed NYC). Every mayor since Jordan has also had a failed rescue plan. Utah, Wyoming, Phoenix, and other areas have been experiencing wild success with this crazy “Give those without a home, a home right now, ask questions later” program in recent years, that — go figure — works!

So: circling back to the large-vehicle parking ban. I’m ashamed that my own district Supervisor Malia Cohen appears to be a vocal supporter and driver of this initiative. It’s something I now want to discuss with her.

All known data considered, I’m unable to see this ban as anything more than a prejudiced, misinformed effort to clear subjectively defined riffraff for the benefit of appearances to real-estate investors, and as the least-expensive possible “fix” to crime. Crime that, all data compiled, I don’t think has anything to do with our vehicularly housed homeless neighbors, by any association.

Image from Thinkstock

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