Is it Time to Ban New Restaurants From Opening on Valencia?

Photo: Maren Caruso/Modern Luxury

Walking down Valencia Street, it's hard not to notice the radical change that the corridor has undergone in the last two years: hours long waits for “Marina Girl Salads” at Tacolicious, tables full of wine-sippers on the sidewalk outside of Farina Pizza and Mission Cheese, that weird techno lounge that apparently serves Indian food next to Luna Park…and that's just to name a few.  Sixteen new restaurants have opened between 16th and 19th street in the last 18 months, reportedly adding “nearly 1,000 new restaurant seats on these three blocks alone.”

“Overall, it's good for consumers. It reminds me a little of North Beach in the '80s, with all these restaurants popping up at different price points,” Slanted Door and Wo Hing General Store's Charles Phan told the Chronicle last month. “It's a good vibe here. To me, it makes it more San Francisco than a lot of neighborhoods.”

But many don't want to see the Mission become North Beach 2.0—a neighborhood exclusively defined by its former glory and largely dismissed by Mission residents, who understandably want nothing to do with a mainstream tourist trap.

“Valencia needs to be a cohesive neighborhood for people who live in it,” Deena Davenport, proprietress of Glama-Rama Salon & Gallery and President of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association (VCMA), told us over the phone. “We have no florist, no hardware store, no large grocery store.”

“Restaurants are taking over so rapidly, it's as much as tripling rents lately and creating daytime dead zones that are uninviting to shoppers.”

The Merchants Association has become so alarmed by the changes that they added a line to their mission statement specifically addressing the problem: “We endeavor to combine our voices and views toward the goal of maintaining the unique identity and independent spirit of the neighborhood.”

“It's not change that we're against. I think that we all get that change is inevitable.  And that while sometimes uncomfortable, it's not always bad,” explains Jefferson McCarley, General Manager of Mission Bicycle and VCMA board member. “But there are a variety of concerns with so many high-end dinner-only restaurants opening up at such a high rate.”

He breaks down their concerns for us:

  • The impact it has on our rents.
  • The impact it has on foot traffic during the day when these restaurants are only open at night.
  • The impact that valet parking has on the safety of our cyclists.
  • The impact it has on where we can get an affordable meal as locals.
  • The lack of variety of businesses in the hood. (We want a hardware store!)
  • The impact it has on traffic and parking (the patrons of the businesses are almost always driving in from other parts of the city or from other cities).
  • The impact it has on the spirit and vibe of the street.

At a point, it sounds like retailers rebelling against restaurants, but that's not the case.  Some restauranteurs and cafe owners hope to prevent a similar fate that The Summit had earlier this year, when their landlord tripled their rent and tried to bring a La Boulange Bakery into the space.  This includes the proprietor of 780 Cafe Jose Ramos, who's trying to save his cafe after the same landlord raised rents from $9,000 to $30,000 in hopes to bring a multi-million dollar sports bar to the location.

So what is there to do?

Well, there's doing nothing and letting Valencia become a high-end truck stop for Uber cabs crisscrossing the city, but everyone seems to agree that's a lousy idea.  So that leaves us with two viable options: putting a moratorium on full-service restaurants or setting up a Special Use District along Valencia, requiring any new restaurants to meet community approval before opening.

The Valencia Merchants voted Wednesday to approve a combination of the two ideas: a 1-year temporary moratorium by the Planning Department on any new full-service restaurants (counter-service and cafes are exempt) from opening between 16th and 24th, followed by the Special Use Permitting process for restaurants.  The proposal has already received support from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who will take the proposal to City Hall for a final vote.

It's not perfect, as it burdens prospective new establishments with higher start-up costs (potentially making restaurants even more expensive).  Never mind that it threatens 24th and 20th Streets with hyper-gentrification as would-be Valencia restaurants look for alternative locations for expensive eateries.  But as the legislation is expected to stabilize—if not collapse—rents along Valencia, it strikes us as the right approach for the problem.

(Note: we're told merchants along 24th are considering similar legislation before it's too late, but we were unable to reach anyone to discuss it.)

299 Valencia Condo Developer Looking Constructing a Second Building Down the Street

The developers behind the 299 Valencia condo project, who famously boast about their building's access to “artisan haircuts” and “racks of raw denim”, are thrilled with how sales went on that particular property—so thrilled that they now want to erect a second five-story building at the abandoned gas station on the corner of 23rd and Valencia.  SocketSite has the scoop:

The developer of 299 Valencia Street is quietly testing the waters over Planning to raze the shuttered gas station on 23rd Street between Valencia and San Jose Avenue and construct a five-story building with 42 dwelling units over ground floor retail and 31 off-street parking spaces on the 1198 Valencia Street site that's undergoing environmental remediation.

Like Mitt Romney's humble abode, the condo will feature a fancy car elevator so they can squeeze as many Lexuses as possible into the building.

No word if and when construction will begin, as they still need authorization from the Planning Commission to proceed.

[Photo via Mission Mission]

Typography Expert Lashes Out at Local Blogs

Our blog buddies on Bernal Heights recently discovered this fancy demanding note tacked up on one of their many community bulletin boards:

We here at UA aren't quite sure what their objection is, but now we gotta ask:

Is neighborhood blogging totally RUINING San Francisco? Are blogs contributing to gentrification?

How can I find an “authentic” neighborhood to call my own, and still satiate my need for pithy, insightful commentary about local street art?

Do neighborhood Tumblrs contribute to the discussion or are they just “white noise?”

Did blogging ruin Dear Mom's cred?

Is “Classy” the official font of the Mission?

Whats the deal with street pizza? Edible or no?

[via Bernalwood]

Ninja Turtles Set to do Battle With Their Fiercest Opponent Yet: Danny Developer

Cowabunga, dudes! Clarion Alley is the stage for the Ninja Turtles' most wicked showdown yet! Now that Raphael and the boys are done battling the likes of Shredder, and Krang, the Heroes in a Half Shell have their sights set of their gnarliest, fiercest, most well-funded opponent yet: Danny Developer and his spooky tongue of gentrification! Hellacious!

Raphael sure does have his work cut out for him.  Danny Developer has already been hard at work, spawning a network of condos, ice cream, and “another botique” that Raphael will slowly have to chip away at with his twin sai.  And you know how much the Turtles hate ice cream…

Turtle power!

[Mural Photo by MrEricSir | DP Ice Cream by Playin Jayne]

In Other News, The Mission is Still Over

Oakland Local's Justin Gilmore is over the Mission and wants to tell you about it:

San Francisco is a place that offers at least a semblance of social life in the streets and has a mass-transit system that, being at least semi-functional, can get you home even after chasing large doses of MDMA with multiple Irish carbombs, resulting in an uncontrollable throwing up of copious amounts of last nights frozen pizza onto strangers who you had drunkenly mistook for childhood friends. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where you can simply exit your apartment, walk a few blocks, and end up at a bar filled to the brim with a battalion of apparently creative, interesting patrons? Or, at least, so went my daydreams.

As it stands, the reality is much different. Upon exiting BART and walking down the streets of the Mission, it becomes apparent that San Francisco has transformed in ways that I cannot appreciate. Newly Ipe-planked luxury condominiums with fancy, all glass, automatic underground garage doors, and heated post-industrial concrete polished floors, sit adjacent to coffee shops whose patrons sip on $6-7 dollar coffee while they guiltily donate some small, insignificant pittance towards “saving the third world” on their new high-end Mac gadgets.

In fact, it’s almost as though yuppies had gotten bored of the suburbs and decided to move to the city, only to bring with them the worst parts of the place that they now claim to loathe. Walking down almost any SF sidewalk, you can see what is in fact the real blight: the late-thirty-something upper-management Google/Wells Fargo employee who, armed with a six-plus digit salary and a lengthy history of family money, recently demolished some jenky apartment building in order to have it reconstructed as a suburban home disguised as an edgy urban loft. [Read on]

My daydreams also involve not having to ride BART after multiple Irish carbombs, so I totally get where this guy is coming from.  So, what are we going to do about the yuppies?

[Photo by ClockworkGrue | via MissionMission]

Are Cyclists Snobby, Gentrifying Elitists?

If you've read anything on the subject on urban cycling lately, the answer is a resounding yes. A Chronicle columnist recently suggested (jokingly, of course) pepper spraying “hipster cyclists” (“Oh right, like you've never been driving along all calm and happy, when suddenly a skinny hipster whips in front of you and flips you off with one hand while toking on his American Spirit with the other, even as he chugs his Four Barrel triple latte with his giant beard before pedaling his fixie all the way to the Piercing Emporium to punch holes in your unsuspecting kids.”) SFist brands 'em as a “unusually sensitive group” whom “tend to base their personality on a chosen mode of transportation.”  Mission Local frets over cyclists soft pedaling along The Mission's wide sidewalks while 'concerned citizens' at community meetings demand more police crackdowns of reckless environmentalists on their 25-pound Taiwanese death machines.  And when a cyclist killed a pedestrian along the Embarcadero over the summer, it made international headlines and spurred the DA into filing criminal charges against the cyclist (despite living in a city in which 800+ pedestrians are hit by cars every year).

Well, Salon recently took up the cause of defending the so-called “transportation bourgeoisie,” looking into the preceived smugness of America's two-wheeled demographic:

Urban bicyclists have an image problem. They’ve become stereotyped as pretentious, aloof jackasses, and a lot of this has to do with the changes taking place in cities right now. During the last decade, dozens of urban cores were inundated by young, well-educated newcomers. Places like Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Washington added tens of thousands of these new residents. And one thing’s for sure: These kids really like bikes. An analysis by Atlantic Cities showed that bicycle ridership in these cities soared during this period. In some cases, it more than doubled.

The rise in bicycling compelled cities to make themselves more friendly to bicyclists, and the friendlier they became, the more people starting riding. But as miles of bike lanes were striped and bike-share systems were installed, some of those cities’ residents started to criticize what they saw as major changes being made for a few new arrivals. “It got associated with young people and newcomers, and so people see cycling as something that’s accompanied by gentrification,” says Ben Fried, editor in chief of the online magazine Streetsblog. Bicycles and bike lanes became the most visible, most concrete representation of the demographic shifts transforming cities — and all the tensions and growing pains such a transformation entails.

The bicyclists-as-gentrifiers trope turns out to be more perception than reality, though. Over the last decade, the share of white bicyclists fell in proportion to riders of color. And ridership is remarkably equal across income groups. Part of the reason we don’t see it this way is because all too often, bike infrastructure gets concentrated in tony areas. Look at a map of a city’s bike lanes and bike-share stations and you’ll have a perfect guide to the “good” neighborhoods. In many cities, writes Dave Feucht, editor of the bicycling blog Portlandize, “being able to get around by bicycle is seen as elitist because you have to have money in order to live in a part of the city where it’s even possible to ride a bicycle.”

It's worth mentioning that while the bulk of SF's bike lanes are in the eastern half of the city, SF Bike Coalition's Connecting the City campaign is, in no small part, aimed at providing safe bike routes from the western half of the city to considerably less-foggy downtown area.

But the point rings true: as long as cyclists continue focusing their infrastructure efforts on the Mission's already bike-friendly streets, cranky newspaper columnists will ignore the demographics and paint the bicycle as a vehicle of pretentiousness.

[Photo by Steev Hise]

Hot New Microhood: Missionary's Wharf

A few weeks back, tastr published a bold statement alleging 18th and Valencia was “the Wharf of the Mission.”  Naturally this accusation made me excited to the point of disorientation, as I adore sea lions and Hooters, but I've never spotted an aquatic mammal or Bubba Sparxxx purchasing narcotics from busty women along Valencia. Figuring there must be some justification for such a neighborhood-to-tourist-trap comparison, tastr followed up with an explanation:

Let’s get to the “wharf of the mission” question.  I had just come across an article on Eater that Monk’s Kettle was opening a fancier beer bar on Valencia between 17th and 18th and I couldn’t help but think that the “gourmet ghetto” on 18th was getting way out of character for the Mission.  My girlfriend has lived here for 14 years and she recalls the Mission during the dot com boom and how all these expensive restaurants opened in the Mission with total disregard for neighborhood’s character, it was a playground for the rich.  In comparison though, I was walking through the neighborhood during Carnaval and I was surprised to see all these Latino families stoop partying like I’d never seen before and I had this weird feeling about what was happening at 18th and Valencia.  Again, it’s becoming quite different from the rest of the Mission.  It’s very different from what the neighborhood was 20 years ago, and it’s getting similar to what happened during the dot com boom just over 10 years ago.  I mean come on, a fancier Monk’s Kettle?

I’m not all up-in-arms about it, but the area already has Bi-Rite, Delfina, Tartine, Bar Tartine, Luna Park, Commonwealth, and Locanda.  Coming soon is a fancy tequila bar by the Beretta people (which I’m excited about, I’m conflicted about this whole thing), Tacolicious (ugh) is opening a branch here.  That stupid Summit thing that’s just up the street.  I just don’t see that as representative of the neighborhood anymore, it’s for gastro-tourists. […]

That’s why the 18th & Valencia is the Wharf of the Mission.  Just like most people in San Francisco see the Wharf as some weird Disneyland that they only go to take their parents when they visit, I’m starting to feel the same way about that part of the Mission.  It’s not for people who live here anymore, it’s a place to take your parents when they come visit for a fancy dinner and expensive ice cream.  Perhaps it’s a tenuous argument, but when’s the tipping point?  When does that part of the neighborhood file for a name change with the realtors office?

Just sayin.

And when the tourists are done buying their morning buns, they all go watch the denizens lolling about on the green hills of Dolores, basking in the sun and barking at each other.

I love sea lions.

[tastr | photo by atomicjeep]

"The Mission Goes Boom"

Despite this piece about the Mission in San Francisco Magazine being riddled with inaccuracies, such as saying Mission Loc@l is a “more fun” New York Times, it still has to be one of the more balanced pieces of Mission gentrification I've read:

The last time the Mission was booming, things were very different. “The dot-com era felt like living in a Latin Amer ican country, with things changing so quickly,” says Lydia Chávez, a 13-year resident who oversees Mission Local, the university-funded bilingual news site that kicks the San Francisco Chronicle’s ass. Tea recalls, “I was throwing eggs out my window at people attending web parties across the street. There was an insane, frantic, greedy energy, where one day, you had your neighborhood, and the next, it was full of speculators.” Back then, the idea of people working together in any way, or even just trading composting tips while wolfing down pupusas at the farmers market, seemed not only ridiculous but wrong, like giving up or selling out or consorting with the enemy. But that’s the difference between a boom in a bubble and a boom in a bust.

Maybe they had a lot of money and kicked you out of your rent-control unit—now they are baristas and struggling to make it as well,” says Eric Quezada, a self-described “housing justice advocate” who is now the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services. “Instead of anger, folks want to find ways of building alliances that weren’t as obvious in the past.”

The article goes on to present the yuppie tech worker gentrification of the hood as a positive thing, despite rising rents, “The people who aren’t artists can be curators or patrons. Every artist needs a benefactor, as does every food cart, tutoring center, and cultural experiment.”

Perhaps dragging all the venture capital money to the city and spending it on food carts, burritos, PBR and expensive jeans is a good thing. A rising tide lifts all boats.  But the segregated dot-com money-fest is still here.  The Summit is the most obvious example; a cafe whose lavishness even makes it inaccessible to most Missionites.  And unlike most of Valencia, where businesses feel welcoming to all walks of life, The Summit yells that it caters to a very limited, affluent clientele.

So even with all the wonderful things money brings—farmer's markets, sidewalk curry, art galleries and a wallet with $83 in it I found on 19th—is this boom for the best?  The article concludes with a hopeful tone.  To paraphrase, “The economic change is here, and everyone is doing their part to make the best of it.”  But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the cost of living.  As commenter Andrew O.  Dugas said, “People have been talking about the gentrification of the Mission since the 1980s (earlier?) but done is done. Now it's too expensive for the hipsters who made it cool. Where are they all moving? Why, to the new Mission, of course, aka The Tenderloin. See you at Cafe Royale!”