Noe Valley Voice July-August 2001

Census Shows Noe Valley Still White As Snow

By Corrie M. Anders

Look around you. You don't see many African Americans in Noe Valley, do you? Not many Latinos either, these days.

Yes, there are a few more Asian faces. But over the past 10 years, Noe Valley has continued to reflect the patina of a Lake Tahoe landscape in winter. The neighborhood's overwhelmingly white population is in stark contrast to San Francisco as a whole, which became much more ethnically diverse during the '90s.

Data about Noe Valley's changing demographics were unveiled recently by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of its national report on population shifts since its last census in 1990.

The bureau will release numerous reports over the next two years, including analyses of housing and economic data. But its first 2000 survey was designed to reflect a decade of population and racial changes -- data that will help lawmakers draw up new voting districts.

Noe Valley
Total Population 2000: 21,477
Total Population 1990: 21,806
% Change: -1.5%
Race2000% Total1990% Total
Black or African American5382.5%7583.5%
American Indian or Alaska Native870.4%1340.6%
Asian or Pacific Islander2,0659.6%1,9488.9%
Some other race1,0454.9%1,3156.1%
Two or more races *9374.4%N/AN/A
Total Race21,477100%21,806100%
Hispanic origin/Latino (of any race)2,64312.3%3,48116.0%
San Francisco
Total Population 2000: 776,733
Total Population 1990: 723,959
% Change: +7.3%
Race2000% Total1990% Total
Black or African American60,5157.8%79,03910.9%
American Indian or Alaska Native3,4580.4%3,4560.5%
Asian or Pacific Islander243,40931.3%210,87629.1%
Some other race50,3686.5%42,8055.9%
Two or more races *33,2554.3%N/AN/A
Total Race776,733100%723,959100%
Hispanic origin/Latino (of any race)109,50414.1%100,71713.9%
*Note: For the first time, the 2000 Census allowed respondents of mixed racial heritage to report more than one race. Thus, the 2000 data is not directly comparable to data from 1990 and previous censuses.

Hidden behind the raw Noe Valley numbers is a demographic portrait of an increasingly affluent neighborhood of young professionals replacing older Italian and Latino families. Though you'd never know it by the large presence of strollers rolling along 24th Street, there were fewer school-age children playing on the sidewalks during the '90s.

And for a neighborhood that has become one of the most popular in the city -- with its friendly village atmosphere and a vibrant commercial strip -- Noe Valley lost population during the last decade. The census bureau counted 21,477 people living in Noe Valley last year, compared to 21,806 in 1990. That was a modest 1.5 percent decline, but any drop is surprising considering that San Francisco's population rose 7.3 percent during the same 10-year span.

Noe Valley's decline helped knock down the overall population of District 8, which also includes the Castro and parts of Glen Park. The downsizing will have political implications because city law requires San Francisco's 11 supervisorial districts to contain roughly equal numbers of residents. To achieve population parity, the city will have to expand District 8 boundaries.

"Right now, District 8 is in violation of the Voting Rights Act and of one man, one vote," says Chris Bowman, a member of the task force that drew up the last supervisorial boundaries. "My guess is that Glen Park will be united into District 8, and probably District 8 will have to move a block further east or a couple of blocks north," adds Bowman, who is also on the city's Citizens Advisory Committee on Elections.

Most of Noe Valley is contained within six consecutively numbered census tracts--211 through 216. The boundaries of those tracts run roughly from 21st Street on the north and Dolores Street on the east, to 30th Street on the south and Grand View Avenue on the west.

The white population shrunk slightly in all six tracts, in keeping with the overall decline, yet whites still represent four out of five residents in Noe Valley. Latinos lost a much bigger share, but continue to comprise the neighborhood's largest minority population (12.3 percent). Meanwhile, Asians increased their numbers, going from 8.9 to 9.6 percent of Noe Valley residents.

Only 538 people in Noe Valley classified themselves as black or African-American in 2000 -- as compared with 758 in 1990. However, in 2000, 937 residents checked a new "two or more races" category, for people of mixed racial heritage. This change argues against comparing the two censuses. Still, the numbers of African Americans are few, and people of color tend to be concentrated in the southern third of the neighborhood.

"Noe Valley is very white compared to the rest of the city," says Bowman, a demographic trend-watcher who lived on Fair Oaks Street for 14 years until he outgrew his 490-square-foot apartment and moved to Cathedral Hill. "District 8 is the second most white district in the city, followed by [Gavin] Newsom's District 2," which includes Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, and the Marina neighborhoods.

District 8 Supervisor Mark Leno has been in "Noe Valley 21 years, and I've noticed a slightly less ethnically diverse neighborhood.

"It probably has some relation to the escalation of prices, and it's unfortunate because of the richness that ethnic diversity brings to a neighborhood," laments Leno.

The neighborhood's high housing costs -- $2,000-plus rentals are the norm-- have been significant factors holding down the population. So has an aging population of second- and third-generation Europeans and Latinos, who tend to have larger households. Over the past two decades, these families have given way to young professionals with fewer children.

"The economics have risen so rapidly that families can't afford to live in Noe Valley. They have to go to the outlying suburbs," says real estate agent Betty Taisch of Coldwell Banker. "When you have to pay $700,000 for a fixer-upper, it makes for a difficult economic base."

Zephyr Real Estate manager Randall Kostick agrees. "The cost of everything is higher. All you have to do is get outside the city and you watch the price of gasoline drop. The price of food and rent and clothing and everything goes down once you cross the border."

High prices indeed prevented some people from moving in. It also chased out some longtime residents -- many of them working-class with large families. The population also shrunk as older residents died or widows and widowers sold their too-large, hard-to-maintain homes.

"I see a lot of old-timers dying off and a lot of younger people taking their place," says Vicki Rosen, head of the Upper Noe Neighbors residents group. It has happened so often, she says, that Valley Street where Rosen lives has become known as "the widows' block."

Take Rosen's neighbor, Bruno Andreatta, 77, who's seen a lot of friends and family pass on. He was a young whippersnapper when he and his wife Velma rented an apartment in 1948 for $20 a month on a block of mostly young Irish and Italian families, with a few Germans adding to the mix. Two years later, Andreatta bought an 1888 Victorian across the street for $8,500.

It's a different story half a century later, notes Andreatta, who retired in 1991 from the sheet metal business and keeps busy as a ticket taker for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

A family of five originally lived next door to him. The three children grew up and moved away, the husband died, and only the wife remains. Another couple with five children died, and the heirs sold the property to a two-person family. Then there is Andreatta's uncle, who moved onto Valley Street a couple of years before he did.

"He had a wife and two daughters. His wife passed away in 1993, the daughters were married, and that left just my uncle and the cat. He passed away two years ago, at the age of 100 and a half." The uncle's two-bedroom home sold for more than $600,000, Andreatta says.

Children were everywhere during the '50s and '60s. But it's been a while since Noe Valley had an overabundance of youngsters -- and nowhere near the 15 percent of children overall living in San Francisco. The census shows that Noe Valley last year had approximately 1,850 residents under 18 years old, about 8.6 percent of its population. There were 2,630 children -- about 12.1 percent of the populus -- a decade ago.

"I just don't see as many children ages 8 through their teens," says Roberta Greifer, branch manager at the Noe Valley -- Sally Brunn Library. What she and everyone else sees, however, are lots of infants and preschoolers. "There does seem to be a lot of toddlers."

Twelve years ago, the Debra King School, for youngsters 20 months to 5 years old, opened on 26th Street with eight kids. Now, the school is oversubscribed, with 50 families enrolled and about 38 children attending per day.

"In the last five years, I've had more applicants than spaces. But this year, I've had way more applicants," says school founder Debra King. "My husband and I call Noe Valley one of the last heterosexual enclaves in San Francisco. There are a lot of babies being born here."

But they often don't remain in the neighborhood. "You don't have as many school-age children because the public schools are so bad," says Rosen. "People start moving out of the city when their kids reach school-age -- unless they can afford private schools."

Finding an excellent public school system was one of the driving forces behind Molly and Kevin Davis' decision to sell their Jersey Street home earlier this year and move to Lafayette with their 10-year-old son Spencer. It wasn't the only reason the family decided to leave Noe Valley after seven years. There was the attraction of family already living in the East Bay, superior weather, and "wanting to feel like we had a little space, with an oak tree in the yard and the ability to look out our window and not see any other houses,'' confesses Molly Davis.

Still, a good public school was a major consideration. Kevin Davis is a special education teacher at a South San Francisco high school, and Spencer, a fourth-grader, attends a good school near his father. "But that wasn't going to be the case in the middle schools, and we weren't excited about our options in high school," says Molly Davis, a principal in Rainmaker Communications, a marketing consulting company. "We wanted him to have a solid education and be able to go to school on his bike and have that kind of experience. We weren't comfortable with that sort of situation in San Francisco."

Though the schools are as big a headache today as they were in 1990, some things have changed in Noe Valley since the last census. You can now make reservations at chic restaurants such as Firefly, Bacco, and Miss Millie's. You can see lots of flashy cars whiz by on the streets-- and an equal number of flashy dog breeds.

But the influx of money has squeezed out the low- and middle-income wage earner. Today your chances of finding an apartment for $700 a month -- a snap in 1990 -- are like finding a needle in a, well,...snowbank.