GOOD MORNING, SOMA!
With Jim Meko
My HumBug Holiday Meditation
November 27, 2006
Thank God that campaign is over.
Class warfare, mayoral meddling, lying local media, hate mail,
cynicism, manipulation, scapegoats, polarization, dilettantes
Reelected Supervisor Chris Daly, wife Sarah and young Jack Henry
are safely ensconsed back East, celebrating Thanksgiving with
family ... Jack and Gloria and the Republican relatives. An awesome
family. Take some time to heal.
Undo attention was paid to Daly's intemperance and use of profanity,
which was driven home incessantly in a campaign orchestrated by
Gap- founder Don Fisher's SFSOS. In so doing, ordinary opponents
were transformed into haters. "Daly is a psychotic and a
crook. It's as simple as that," wrote one. An advertisement
for challenger Rod Black, distributed only days before the election,
made an association between Daly and a photograph of a pile of
The haters became hateful, didn't they?
I moved to SoMa in '77, mostly to be left alone. It was a warehouse
district. There were no homeowner associations and very few amenities.
My neighbors were Filipino refugees from Manilatown, gay men experimenting
with alternative lifestyles, beat poets, performance artists and
rock and roll bands. Survivors and squatters.
AIDS turned us into a community of caregivers. Changing a grown
man's diapers, suffering his bouts of dementia, lifting his emaciated
frame from the bath, feeding him like a child, brushing the sweat
soaked hair from his eyes, telling him he's gonna be okay ...
you're never the same ...
But time moves on. The economy ebbed and flowed. The earthquake
hit in '89, a recession in the '90s. Dot coms boomed and busted,
empty lots became infill housing, light industry fled, live/works
We weren't ready for this. SoMa has always been transitional.
From the gold miners of 1849 to the longshoremen, blue collar
workers and waves of immigrants, most merely passed through.
Live/work lofts skirted the intent of South of Market zoning.
Developers exploited a gray area in the law that categorized them
as commercial properties. Many were built in parts of SoMa where
residences weren't meant to be.
Inadequate infrastructure. Incompatible uses. Unhappy new neighbors.
Complaints grew over the concentration of low income housing
in the area. Resistance to homeless facilities followed. The cacophony
of playing kids became an irritant. Filipino families fought for
a basketball court at the new park ... new residents wanted a
They feuded with the auto body shops. Rock and roll venues have
been threatened with lawsuits. The Dore Alley Fair is under siege.
One neighbor actually complained about the odors emanating from
Big Nates Barbecue!
I erred recently in referring to these new neighbors as "yuppie
loftdwellers." It was a smart aleck crack -- one that usually
elicits knowing grins among old timers -- but this time it got
picked up by the local chatrooms and some decent people were hurt
by my impudence.
It's easy to associate young urban professionals with greed,
indifference and self absorption. But then, the old-timers --
that would include me -- demonstrate more than a little intolerance
and narrow-mindedness every now and then. The poor always get
blamed for their sense of entitlement. Young people ... well,
depravity and overindulgence come to mind.
"Overruling self-interest is a cure worse than the disease,"
wrote James Madison.
It may seem enlightened to dismiss the demands of the arriviste
but to an extent everyone here in SoMa feels put upon. Filipinos,
SRO residents, seniors living on fixed incomes and persons with
disabilities. Families with children. Life ain't easy down here.
The LGBT community, workers, artists and musicians are fighting
displacement. Even the young urban professionals, small business
owners and entrepreneurs face plenty of challenges.
We have more in common than in what separates us ... despite
what that flood of hate mail told us.
No one thought Rob Black could win except Rob Black,
Mayor Gavin Newsom told the Examiner a couple days after the election.
Boy, that's a cold assessment, coming from the architect of Black's
challenge to Daly. More than a half million dollars was spent
tearing this community apart and here we are entering the holidays
barely speaking to each other.
Next time, do us a favor ... leave us alone.
A word to my "yuppie loftdweller" friends ... when
I was the newcomer to the neighborhood, they had a different name
for us: it was "faggot." It wasn't said with a smile
and it was often bellowed from a passing car. You froze in your
tracks if the car slowed down. The modicum of safety you now enjoy
in this neighborhood was painstakingly -- and often painfully
-- achieved by building a sense of community and finding common
ground with those who came before.
Break bread this holiday season with someone new ... someone
as different as can be.
Change is inevitable. SoMa will never be the same, because of
Employ a little humility as you wield your wealth and influence.
"...Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of
these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." - Matthew
Jim Meko is a South of Market activist, currently serving
as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa
Citizens Planning Task Force and as a member of San Francisco's
Entertainment Commission. Here at the Fog City Journal, of course,
he's expressing his own personal opinions. He can be reached at