Street Food

Race, class, and community in San Francisco's Mission District


| March/April 2013


The Camotero used to come out at night to sell roasted sweet potatoes (camotes). He kept them warm in a metal stovepipe on wheels that released a whistle to announce his presence on a street. In the summer, the sound carried throughout the La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City. Lupe, nanny to my mother and her eight siblings, would put my five sisters and me to bed on our summer visits to our grandparents’ place. She drew the blinds closed to block out the twilight and told the story of the time the family dog Penchi escaped, then returned mangy and world-weary to the house. She groomed him and made him well. She would repeat this story until the sound of the camotero signaled that the veil of dreams was thin enough to cross.

La Condesa is now often called La Fondesa, a reference to the fondas, or bistros, that have blanketed the middle-class art deco neighborhood by ignoring residential zoning laws and filling every street corner with valet parking to accommodate the transient diner and drinker. The camotero still makes his rounds in the evening, but his whistle is less distinct amid the pounding bass of the neon-lighted bars.

I now live 2,000 miles north, in San Francisco’s Mission District, a Latino barrio that is changing in much the same way that La Condesa has changed. For decades, the Mission’s apartments were owned by working-class Poles, Russians, Germans, Irish, and Italians. My landlady Frances inherited her building from her Italian-American father, and ironworker on the docks; she was still a teenager when she helped him pick it out.

But the ironworkers are gone now, and the docks are rotting. The work the new Latino immigrants find—at construction sites or on the line at restaurants—can’t cover a down payment on a mortgage. They’re renters, not owners as their predecessors were, and so subject to owner move-ins and other means of tenant eviction. In a growing trend, Latino tenants are moving out to Daly City, Stockton, Richmond, Gilroy, and Hayward—some of these places nearly an hour away on the inefficient and inconvenient commuter rail. But every morning they still come in, to build houses they can’t live in and make food they can’t afford.

On a recent Sunday, I went out to the corner of Shotwell and 24th to find an open house sign. A Chicano family of seven siblings was selling their home. None of them had the means to keep it. One now lives in his truck on the street. Newer Mission neighbors were happy that they left—a few of the family members who’d lived longest in the house had been accused of associating with loud drunks and gangbangers—but I was sorry to see them go.

There is a young man named Christos who often hangs out at that corner. I pointed out the open house sign to him, and he told me that two years ago, his family lost their place on Shotwell Street after his uncle failed to negotiate refinancing his mortgage.

amba dryg
2/18/2013 5:14:07 PM

my take is-- who are they this coalition--are they and whose side are they on? oh well...its like- what are you going to do--make it your lifes goal....maybe?


amba dryg
2/18/2013 5:10:04 PM

I live less than a block from that corner--- and fought as much as I could to stop a condo from illegally building higher than it was supposed to--right in front of my kitchen and bedroom windows. I used to have an amazing view of twin peaks----with the sunsets I would wash dishes with gorgeous pinks and purples washing my stresses away. Now I have less light and a large tall wall blocking my view and my sunsets. There is something called a view corridor--but you have to own a building or own a property-- I am a renter. I cant do anything but complain--and protest when they were getting ready to build---but it did not good. I thought that they could not build any higher than the buidling was before---well they built one whole story or more higher. The Pilar whoever--who used to answer my emails---no longer works for the Department of Housing or Developement-- but in any case--this is what I sent to them--- also---but to no avail.....................anyone know if there has been any work on these concerns since this...below : does this coalition still exist???? SAN FRANCISCO HOUSING ACTION COALITION December 20, 2006 “Comments on the Showplace Square/Potrero Hill Area Plan” The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition (SFHAC) has reviewed the December 5, 2006 Area Plan for Showplace Square/Potrero Hill and are in general agreement with the draft with only a few exceptions noted below. The SFHAC is aware that the Planning Department is considering the possible addition of an SLI overlay or some other means of designating sites for affordable housing. We also note that both SF Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Housing are exploring ways to increase the percentages of required affordable housing (page 13 of the Dec. 5 Plan) and increase the development of new rental housing (page 14). The SFHAC will want to comment further when these proposals are made known. Our comments on the December 5 th Area Plan are as follows: Heights & Views We question the low heights (45’) along 16 th Street given the width of the street and the intention to make 16 th Street a priority transit corridor. Somewhat more intense development, allowing some buildings up to 55 or 65 feet would be desirable, provided building separation rules were adopted to prevent a solid wall allowing filtered views beyond 16 th Street from the lower portions of Potrero Hill. We believe that a view corridor analysis would show that few, if any, views from residential properties on the hill would be adversely affected. Similarly, we believe that along 7 th and 8 th Streets some 85’ heights, coupled with building separation and bulk control rules for the upper portion of buildings, would be appropriate along 7 th and 8th Streets. EBDD Zoning Given how the surrounding area is developed, and is likely to continue to develop, as a design and showroom district and arts district, we question the need or desirability of protecting the gravel plant and the garbage truck storage around Berry and 7 th Streets with EBDD zoning. Both those uses would be more appropriately located in other more isolated PDR locations. For instance, the gravel plant would probably be eligible for location on maritime trust lands of the SF Port. The users of these sites 2 also own them so there is no risk that they be displaced against their will. Should they voluntarily relocate we believe new uses should those permitted in UMU zoning. Therefore, we recommend that the sites be zoned UMU now. Housing in the Arts District Your discussion of the Arts District under Policy 1.1.1 (page 6) indicates that you propose to allow student housing in the District. We are very supportive of the proposal. Among other things it is likely to produce needed housing at moderate income levels. Accessory Dwelling Units Policy 2.3.2 (on page 14) reads as follows: “Encourage accessory residential units in existing buildings.” We are very supportive of this policy and hope it will be included in the other Eastern Neighborhood Area Plans. We strongly support the application of this policy throughout the Showplace Square/Potrero Hill Plan Area. Housing Unit Tenure: Objective 2.4 (page 14) “Ensure a Mix of Income, Unit Size and Tenure in Major New Housing Developments to Satisfy an Array of Housing Needs.” The objective can be read to mean that rental and for-sale units should be included within the same housing development. It is virtually impossible to mix tenure in a single building given the constraints of financial lenders