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Letters to the Editor
Take a Fresh Look at James Lick
I appreciated Addie Lanier's piece on the neighborhood elementary schools, and totally agree ["Your Neighborhood Public School: Ugly Duckling or Fledgling Swan?" October 1998 Voice].
However, don't forget we also have James Lick Middle School, for grades 6 to 8, right in the heart of Noe Valley. Lick is a small public school with dedicated teachers, an ethnically diverse student body, great extracurricular activities, and a beautiful physical facility.
We invite all parents with fifth-graders to take a tour of Lick and check it out for middle school. Call the office at 695-5675.
The staff will be happy to show you around or put you in touch with me or other parents. I am the PTA president this year and have lived in the Noe/Eureka neighborhood for many years.
You also might want to log on to the school's web site, which is really impressive. The address is www.sfusd.k12.ca.us/ schwww/sch634/jlms.html.
Home Is in Your Heart
Thank you for the wonderful Last Page essay in the October 1998 Voice ["4087 25th Street," by Jane Underwood]. I am living in Noe, renting a small one-bedroom flat on Homestead near 25th, expecting my first child on Oct. 24.
I will be birthing at home with a wonderful midwife. I have often wondered how it will feel to move away from the home in which I give birth, but I know that change is inevitable.
Jane's story reminded me that our memories exist in our hearts and minds, not in buildings.
Ban on Cafes Could Backfire
The proposed permanent ban on new coffee shops and restaurants in Noe Valley has been touted as a way to ensure that neighborhood stores provide services primarily of use to local residents. Having attended the July hearing at the Board of Supervisors on this legislation, I can attest to the total lack of objective data to support this strategy. Readers of the Voice may be surprised by three major points that emerged from this discussion:
1. The number of restaurants and cafes in Noe Valley has remained stable for the past 10 years, with only a net increase of 1 since 1988. About 28 percent of 24th Street's businesses have been classified as restaurants, cafes, or vendors of prepared food. This is slightly higher than the 20 percent proposed as an ideal value by the San Francisco Planning Department. Still, there is little evidence to indicate that the neighborhood is in danger of being overrun by food vendors.
2. There is no evidence that this legislation will achieve its goals. Despite limiting restaurants in some San Francisco neighborhoods since the early 1980s, the Planning Department could not provide data demonstrating that such a policy maintained the commercial balance sought by its advocates.
3. This legislation will not prevent the loss of current retailers or the further entry of retail chains. High rents are the principal reason why many independent retailers leave Noe Valley, only to be replaced by well-financed retail chains. The Board of Supervisors cannot reverse this process, since it can neither legislate rent control for commercial properties, nor can it specifically proscribe renting to large retail enterprises. Thus, limiting restaurants and coffeehouses (which are nearly always small, independent businesses) will only create more space for large retail chains.
In reality, it is far more likely that limiting coffee and food purveyors will actually degrade the quality of life in the neighborhood. Cafes in particular enhance urban life, by serving as gathering spots for local residents. Much of the vitality we associate with European cities stems directly from their vibrant cafe life. Indeed, many American urban planners have cited cafes as a key element for revitalizing urban centers. For Noe Valley residents, coffeehouses are the equivalent of a town square, a meeting place for individuals and families, a place to socialize and develop a sense of community.
Much of the cohesiveness of the neighborhood is generated by the interactions that take place in these establishments. To limit them artificially would only deaden the neighborhood. Evidence of this is found on Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights, where similar legislation turned a once vibrant area into a depopulated zone of antique shops and high-end boutiques.
For many small retailers, the ability to sell food and drink has been a valuable adjunct for their businesses. Booksellers often find that having a small cafe within their store entices customers to linger longer, and thus purchase more items.
These food-related sales are often key to the survival of independent merchants, both because they increase customer traffic and because they generate high profit margins. We should be encouraging such creative strategies for the survival of these merchants, not accelerating their demise by limiting their retail options.
For all these reasons, the proposed ban is likely to be destructive of the neighborhood character its advocates seek to preserve. Rather than making arbitrary and arrogant pronouncements as to what the neighborhood needs (e.g., the recent proposed Extreme Pizza interdiction by the Friends of Noe Valley), citizen groups should work with local merchants to determine what economic strategies might be effective in preserving the current commercial balance of the neighborhood.
Such efforts alone are unlikely to preserve the distinctive character of the Noe Valley commercial district. If our independent merchants are to survive, Noe residents must be willing to forgo mass retailers like Costco, opting instead to shop locally. Without such a conscious commitment to the neighborhood, it is inevitable that 24th Street will eventually evolve into an anonymous corridor of chain stores, indistinguishable from scores of other commercial districts or malls.
Although we will rant indignantly about the evils of multinational corporations, in reality we will only have ourselves to blame for these events.
P. M. Sullam
Plaudits for Poets
Thank you for giving poetry a place in your informative, educational newspaper ["Poets and Plumbers Convene at Keane's," September 1998 Voice].
And hats (and hard-hats) off to Kathryn Guta for the excellent reporting, and to Beverly Tharp for the great photography.
Editor's Note: Camincha Benvenutto lives in Pacifica, and is listed in the Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers.
Unfair Depiction of Eviction
It is time to stop accusing property owners of unlawful evictions, when in most cases all that an owner wants is the right to move in to their own home in a peaceful and fair way.
I am the owner of the 23rd Street property that Ms. Yovanopoulos was accusing of an unfair eviction of her friends Terry and Martha in her letter to the editor in the October Voice.
I was quite amused and also very disappointed to see how Ms. Yovanopoulos chose to lie and use false information about the eviction in what appeared to me to be an effort on her part to create more separation between property owners and tenants, not to mention to add fuel to the hysteria over this issue. So I would like to set the record straight and present the true facts for Noe Valley residents.
I had no choice but to evict Terry and Martha from my 23rd Street property because my wife and I had just had a baby and had chosen to stop renting our house in Marin County in order to move into our own property on 23rd Street. Neither of us were working at the time, and we felt that moving into a small apartment would provide us with an opportunity to reduce our expenses and pay for our daughter's enormous hospital bills.
Prior to starting the eviction proceedings, we offered Terry and Martha sufficient time to find a place and move. However, after a few months had passed, they still were not willing to move, and because we were in a desperate financial and emotional position, as our baby was recovering from severe birth trauma, we had no choice but to begin evicting Terry and Martha.
From the beginning we were considerate, empathetic, and very fair toward them. Neither Terry nor Martha was elderly. Both had jobs and appeared to be in good health. Everything in our eviction was lawful and we acted in good faith despite their efforts to drag us through legal hell just because we wanted our baby to grow up in her own home. They ended up living rent-free in our property for four months, and received several thousand dollars to move.
Also, contrary to Ms. Yovanopoulos' claims, we are not planning to move out and convert our home to a condo.
So enough is enough! Not all owner move-in evictions are motivated by greed or bad faith. Some, like ours, may occur out of sheer necessity. Next time tenant advocates like Ms. Yovanopoulos choose to use others as an example, they should check their facts first. There may be another side to the story.
You Call This Police Protection?
No navy, no army, ah, but we do have a police force. I would know, having been victimized recently. In August, I was apprehended outside a telephone booth on 24th Street at Church in front of the donut shop at approximately 4:45 in the afternoon. Three officers threw me to the ground on Jersey Street, causing my knees to be scraped. They also made me stay in jail for two nights until a hearing.
When first approached by a female officer, I was unarmed. She did not read me my rights or discuss anything, just moved toward me ready to put on handcuffs. So I pushed her and ran in self-defense, only to be thrown to the ground.
During my stay in a holding cell, the police managed to conjure up a police report and unrelated charges, which have had me in a courtroom twice already. I am a female, a law-abiding taxpayer, and a citizen with no police record, and have lost wages because of this incident.
Do I need to be constantly escorted by a bodyguard? And how are we doing among the real criminals running free?
Name withheld by request
Second-generation San Franciscan
Aw, Go Climb Another Hill
A couple of Voice readers have called to my attention an error in my "Go Climb a Hill" story in the September issue.
I wrote that the brick circle in the intersection of 28th and Diamond was the outline of an old cable car turnaround, when it is more likely the marker for an underground reservoir (although the S.F. Water Department couldn't confirm that).
The Voice's fact checker on that story must have been napping! (Oops -- I was the fact checker on that story.)
Voice Last Page Editor