Maria Lopez was pushing a stroller in front of MEDA’s Plaza Adelante, located at 19th Street’s connection to the Mission Street corridor, the main commercial strip of the Mission. When asked if she ever heads one block over to Valencia, the young mother of two laughed nervously and stated, “That street’s not for us.” When queried to define who she meant by “us,” the answer was, “Familias.”
Turns out Mission families aren’t in the market for $10-a-pop green juices or $250 messenger bags. Not surprising.
It wasn’t always like this on Valencia. Twenty-five years ago, the street was lined with family-serving businesses. A look at Valencia Street in 2017 now reveals as many high-end restaurants as fashionable Union Street in Pacific Heights, long the playground of the City’s old money. Valencia is now action-central of San Francisco’s new money, fueled by a tech boom that brings in newcomers making six figures looking to live in the trendy Mission District, initially popular with this crowd because of quick access to the freeways leading down to their company campuses on the Peninsula, and now simply “the cool place to live in the city.”
So families like Lopez’s rarely set foot on Valencia when running their errands, a neighborhood’s quickly widening disparity in wealth leading to an unwelcoming street of culturally irrelevant businesses for the low-income Latino immigrant community.
At least these families still have an anchor of community-serving businesses along the Mission Street corridor, from Duboce Avenue to Cesar Chavez Street, this being the sole straightaway stretch of this serpentine commercial lifeline that runs the length of San Francisco.
Or do they?
Loss of families in cities nationwide and on a local level
A Jan. 21 New York Times article, ”San Francisco Asks: Where Have All the Children Gone?,” showcased the loss of families in urban centers across the land. This piece revealed that San Francisco has the dubious distinction of having the lowest population of residents under age 18 of any of the largest 100 cities in the U.S. That’s right: Just 13 percent of 865,000 San Franciscans are children. In comparison, the rate is 21 percent in New York City.
The American Community Survey showed the decline in the Mission: The neighborhood had 42 percent family households in 2000, dropping to just 28 percent in 2013. That’s a loss of one-third.
A vicious circle is translating to a paucity of family-serving businesses further driving away those with kids. This trend must be reversed, for a city needs children to have a positive future … and to remain a place that celebrates diversity, a value lauded by San Francisco’s leaders.
Neighborhood data reveals the issue
A spring 2016 Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) survey revealed interesting information about families. (MEDA is the lead agency of the MPN education initiative.) The 584 respondents comprised households with a child enrolled in a Mission District school and/or families living in the MPN geographic footprint with a child under the age of 5. The data indicated that 87 percent prefer to buy their groceries in the Mission, but fewer culturally relevant food providers means having to shop elsewhere.
It seems like every week another family-serving business perishes. Giant Value, where you could purchase an assortment of low-cost household and personal items, was replaced by a market-rate condominium complex ironically named Vida. Guatemalan eatery El Palacio Latino recently fell by the wayside, with WesBurger ‘n’ More taking over the venue, the latter’s slogan being “Where Burgers are Fun.” Well, they may be fun, but at $11 each it will easily run over $70 to feed a family of four once you add in a side and a drink.
The Mission Public Life Plan’s research showed a loss of 44 percent of retail spaces on Mission Street’s 94110 ZIP code section just since 2000. Detailed analysis from the San Francisco Planning Department shows a pipeline of 20 projects that will attract 6,000 affluent newcomers, with the northern point at 11th Street, the boundaries of the Mission expanding toward SoMa. Tech companies are taking over the high-ceilinged, light-filled spaces that once housed artists. Destination businesses are replacing mom-and-pop shops. Nonprofit offices and single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels are being razed for luxury condos.
Strategies to keep Mission Street an anchor for families
There are four main strategies that need immediate implementation to keep the Mission Street corridor from Duboce Avenue through Cesar Chavez Street a welcoming place for our families.
- Designating Mission Street as a family-oriented corridor, as Valencia Street has already transformed into a tourist-destination strip. For example, San Francisco’s Chinatown has designated Stockton Street for family- and community-serving businesses; one block over, Grant Street is more of a tourist destination.
- Acquiring and building strategic sites to serve as Mission Street anchors for families to thrive, including the four items below:
- Maximizing the affordability of developments immediately around the 16th Street and 24th Street BART stations, two vital transit hubs for families, seniors and vulnerable populations.
- Banking the vacant lots at 22nd and 29th streets as having affordable, family-oriented, community-serving businesses on the ground floor and affordable housing/offices above. Before the catastrophic fires at both sites in the last two years, the ground floors housed taquerias, fast food restaurants and local watering holes. The fires also displaced residents of SRO housing and nonprofit offices/small businesses above.
- Acquiring sites that would house community-based arts and cultural organizations. (For example, Dance Mission, which is currently at 24th and Mission. Their lease expires in mid-2018.)
- Preserving buildings with longtime tenants and families — as well as commercial businesses — with funds from programs like Small Sites.
- Limiting new restaurants on Mission Street to restaurant conversions to stop the invasion of high-end eateries. Currently, converting retail uses to restaurants is one of the highest-paying rental opportunities. These ventures that are subsequently established have displaced an existing non-restaurant use that was offering services or products for families. The new restaurants are typically established as destination spots, with less affordable offerings. (For example, Gracias Madre replaced Children’s Book Press at 2211 MIssion St.; and Hapa Ramen, which closed in just two years, replaced 99c Depot at 2293 Mission St.)
- Closing loopholes that allow nonprofit and arts spaces to be converted to tech offices. For example, the egregious conversion of 2101-2125 Mission St., commonly known as the Redlick Building. The proposal approved by the Planning Commission legalized 47,000 new square feet of office space, mostly for tech offices, in a working-class, commercial corridor.
The Mission Street corridor — and our families — are the lifeblood of our community. We all need to put forth the aforementioned strategies to ensure these families always have a place in San Francisco’s Mission.