About Us

Contact Us


District 11: There used to be...

By Betsey Culp

Ingleside. Outer Mission. Excelsior. Crocker Amazon. On the public radar screen of San Francisco neighborhoods, these simply don’t exist.

Cabbies evade the law and refuse to enter their precincts. Guidebooks rarely come up with anything to mention. Agents in this red-hot real estate town give them a cautious nod in passing because, says Pacific Union’s Suhl Chin, “these neighborhoods offer some of the most affordable housing in all of San Francisco.” But, she adds,  “the neighborhoods are lower to middle income and most (if not all) of the homes have gated entries and bars on most of the windows.”

Worst of all, when the Powers That Be drew up the new supervisorial election district boundaries, they first designated District 11 as everything not included elsewhere. Not only did residents find themselves classified as leftovers; they were thrown willy-nilly into the same soup pot as Treasure Island, out in the middle of the bay. “Tilt! cried the residents. “Personal foul!” Eventually, someone saw the light and reassigned the island to its neighboring District 6, but the slight had already been suffered.

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, the south-central section of the city loomed large in the San Franciscan collective consciousness. In earlier times, when schools made the news for reasons other than poor scholastics, Balboa High and Lick Wilmerding were truly household names. These neighborhoods were home to solid working-class families, often Irish or Italian. Sometimes a parent worked in the Schlage lock factory in nearby Visitacion Valley. Sometimes, as in Larry Fabian’s case, a parent worked for the federal government.

Fabian grew up in the Excelsior. He says it was a good place to be a kid — there were hills to climb, shops to buy candy and comicbooks. He still lives there, with his wife and three children, in a lime-colored house just a couple of blocks from his boyhood home. And some things have changed for the better in the intervening years. He tells me that his kids all attended Epiphany School, which attracts Filipino students from the peninsula as well as the city; when Fabian himself was a boy, the school was off limits to Filipinos, and he was forced to look elsewhere.

Fabian has good memories of the Excelsior but, he says, “I do not like what it has turned into.” I ask him to show me the places he remembers, and he hesitates.  “‘There used to be’ is what I would be telling you many times.  A lot of retail shops have been converted into one-bedroom apartments along Russia Street. We used have six gas stations; now, one.  I remember back growing up how safe it was getting from one side of Excelsior to the other, and playing football in the streets.  It seems even unsafe to play outside now. Too many cars, especially parked ones.”

And yet, once upon a time this district did everything right. It provided good schools and wholesome places for its children to play. It offered close-knit neighborhoods where tiny Doelger-style stucco houses intermingled with Victorians, all within easy walking distance of shopping streets and transit corridors. In the center, across the street from the present Balboa Park station, stood the granddaddy transit hub of them all, the Geneva carbarn. The friendly vibrations of the entire area continued for decades, as old photographs attest.

But today not only the Excelsior but also its neighbors show signs of urban dysfunction. Crime is up. Shopping is down. Residents have abandoned the stores on Outer Mission and Geneva and Ocean for easier parking and a wider range of merchandise in Daly City’s malls. The student body of Balboa High School reflects the district’s demographic changes: only 5 percent are Caucasian; 17 percent are Asian; 24 percent, Filipino; 22 percent, African American; and 28 percent, Latino. It also demonstrates one of the difficulties of teaching such a diverse group: for 47 percent of the students, English is not their native language; 29 percent of them — primarily Latinos, Chinese, and Filipinos — have only limited English.

Behind objective problems, however, looms a psychological one. District 11 residents believe that City Hall has abandoned them. As they made clear at a recent candidates’ debate, they are convinced that the center is deaf to the complaints of the periphery and they intend to find a hearing aid that will allow their message to get through. This fall they’ve fielded a bevy of candidates to get out the word.

First, there’s Kathleen McConnell and retired navy chief John Huber, who subscribes to the practice of “getting things did the cheap way.”

OMI activist Douglas Moran points out that he’s the only candidate who will be sending his kids to District 11 schools. He’s already provided valuable assistance in the form of a “Neighborhood Fix-It Guide,” which lists whom to call in case of everything from “Bars: how to close a problem bar or liquor store” to “Water leaks on your property.”

Filipina businesswoman Myrna Lim speaks passionately of disappointments and lost opportunities: even though we have lived for six years in an unprecedented economy, she says, the American dream is nothing but the illusion that everything is fine.

Steven Currier has been active and vocal on behalf of the Outer Mission Residents Association, often contributing his testimony to hearings at City Hall. He points to his record, with the promise, “I can get things done!”

Far to the left and far more programmatic than any other candidate, Carlos Petroni “walks the walk while others talk the talk.” If elected, he promises to introduce “realistic but egalitarian” legislation favoring neighborhoods on the south and east sides of town.

Deputy public defender and Democratic County Central committee member Gerardo Sandoval emphasizes his knowledge of the San Francisco city government from the inside. The Bay Guardian gave him a lukewarm endorsement: “He’s clearly better than the other challengers — and worlds better than the incumbent.”

Excelsior District Improvement Association president Rebecca Silverberg has a long list of accomplishments in neighborhood politics. She knows how the system works from the bottom up, but the Guardian worries that her recent appointment to the Mayor’s Committee 2000 has left her beholden.

And then there’s Amos Brown, present member of the Board of Supervisors. Our Mayor has endorsed the pastor of the powerful Third Baptist Church, and yellow signs proclaiming “Brown & Brown” have recently begun to sprout from District 11 utility poles. The supervisor, who worked hard early in his career to restrict owner move-ins, incited public disapproval by his dickensian eviction of an old woman and her family so that he could move into the district. Nevertheless, many residents support his tough-on-crime policies.

Who gets to carry the silver ear trumpet to City Hall? Good question! How can you predict the voting behavior of a district where Caucasians only count for 23 percent of the population, where 70 percent of the residents own their homes, where 42 percent of likely voters are Catholic (compared to 25 percent citywide), and 22 percent are union members (compared to 14 percent citywide). This is a predominately Democratic district (69 percent), where 21 percent of likely voters describe themselves as conservative.

How can you even begin to figure out what “conservative” means in San Francisco in the year 2000? After the last round of district elections, a young man named Dan White expressed south-central frustrations with a gun. In the past twenty years, firearms have given way to sophisticated neighborhood activism and a demand for district councils. Given the assessment of many residents that the present administration has been ignoring them and their district, today the word doesn’t seem to imply support for either Brown.