Western Neighborhoods Project
"I am OMI"
Interview with Dan Weaver
July 14, 2004
LaBounty: It's July 14th, 2004, Bastille Day. It's Woody LaBounty here with Dan Weaver. We're just going to have a little conversation about the neighborhood and different things that have happened here over the years. First, can you tell me when you got to this neighborhood?
Weaver: The spring of 1978.
LaBounty: And what brought you to the OMI? How did you get here?
Weaver: The need to own a house so we would have a yard for our dog.
LaBounty: So was it affordability that got you to buy here or just--
Weaver: Yes, that's a fair judgment. Affordability was important for us.
LaBounty: What was the neighborhood like when you got here in '78? How would you describe it?
Weaver: Well, my first experience with the neighborhood was getting off the old PCC K-Ingleside streetcar at the Phelan Loop in the deep fog of spring, and thinking, "What a dump of a place." [Laughs]
LaBounty: Where were you coming from then?
Weaver: I was coming from our apartment that we had in the 100 block of Divisadero.
LaBounty: Which is in the Marina?
Weaver: No, that's the other end.
LaBounty: So it was more in the Castro or Noe Valley.
Weaver: Right, it's close to Castro.
LaBounty: Where you had sun.
Weaver: Yes. But I've never seen anything in San Francisco like the Phelan Loop, which was, at that time, overgrown. I guess it's almost always been overgrown and weed-filled. But back then the streetcars came into it and turned around.
LaBounty: In '78 we had streetcars going to the Phelan Loop?
LaBounty: That's interesting, because now they don't.
LaBounty: And this is the place right near City College, Ocean and, like, Harold, where the buses turn around now.
LaBounty: So you took the streetcar here and you got off and you said, "This might be my new neighborhood. What a dump"? [Laughs]
Weaver: Yes. I was not impressed with Ocean Avenue at all, not to mention the Phelan Loop. I walked up Ocean to Jules and then up to look at this house; from the outside, at least.
LaBounty: So what was Ocean like as you walked up it in '78? How would you describe it?
Weaver: It looked like a place that was coming undone, but wasn't quite there, and there were people in stores and on the sidewalks, but there were empty storefronts and strange businesses.
LaBounty: Strange like just the kind you wouldn't think would be in business?
Weaver: I remember there was one place, it actually survived quite a long time, which is a place that sold wigs, a very small little place that was hardly ever open, but it had displays of wigs in the front window.
LaBounty: So did it look like kind of an avenue that had maybe been on the downside of whatever it was used for before?
Weaver: Yes, that's right.
LaBounty: So it had old storefronts that were used probably for something practical, and now it was a lot of closed ones?
LaBounty: People talk now about--this is a big issue in the mayor campaign and all this, about dirty streets and that sort of thing. Was Ocean kind of a littered street at that time or relatively clean?
Weaver: It wasn't littered, not as dirty or littered as I've seen it subsequently, but it was rundown. I think that would be a fair description of it---rundown. In some ways it was worse then, a lot worse than it was more recently, because there were no cafés, for example.
LaBounty: That generate trash, perhaps.
Weaver: Well, my thought on trash is that since 1978 there have been one and a half generations of people growing up who have developed worse trash habits than the people who were around in '78. It seems to have gotten worse all over the city.
LaBounty: More it's a modern-times thing than it is related with Ocean Avenue
Weaver: Yes. And modern times in San Francisco.
LaBounty: Were there people walking the streets, I mean students? We're right next to City College.
Weaver: There were some, but not as many as now.
LaBounty: There wasn't much of a draw for people to hang out on Ocean Avenue.
Weaver: Much less of a draw than there is now.
LaBounty: So you walk up Ocean, you get a feeling that it's overgrown; you think it's a dump, it's foggy.
Weaver: I passed the Safeway store, at the site of Kragen's, between Plymouth and the Phelan Loop. It was a place that would close within the month.
LaBounty: When you moved here?
Weaver: We moved here, yes, in May of 1978, the same month that both the Safeway store at the Kragen site and the El Rey Theater closed.
LaBounty: So the two amenities you had--
Weaver: Two of them that I thought we had were gone.
LaBounty: Did you have a chance to go in the El Rey before it closed?
LaBounty: Did you have a chance to shop at Safeway before it closed?
LaBounty: So you come up Jules and you saw this house. Did you like the house then?
Weaver: No. The windows had been gutted and they were the cheapest possible aluminum windows in the front, and it was painted a pretty horrible color, and weeds growing all over the front. The side here had piles of wood pallets that I subsequently learned were from the U. S. Postal Service where the previous owner had worked.
LaBounty: Did you do what people do when they're checking out a new house, kind of check out the neighbors and the houses nearby?
Weaver: Yes, we looked around.
LaBounty: Did you have a good feeling from that?
Weaver: It was okay. It was okay. The residential streets around here seemed to hold their own better than commercial streets, I think.
LaBounty: So why did you buy, then?
Weaver: Well, I had this criteria which was, is this kitchen big enough to make it livable for us? And the first house we looked at failed that test, but this house passed it.
LaBounty: So kitchen was a big deal.
Weaver: Kitchen was a big deal. I like the fireplace. I like the wood molding and the hardwood floors as well as the large backyard space.
LaBounty: And the price was reasonable?
Weaver: The price was something we could afford.
LaBounty: Did they call it the Ingleside then, or what did they call this neighborhood?
Weaver: They called it the Ingleside, yes. I learned the expression OMI later. I guess it was just in the process of being introduced then.
LaBounty: It was started to be used, that term?
LaBounty: So you move in. It didn't sound like you're totally excited about coming here at the time. It seems like you were more settling. Did you have that feeling?
Weaver: Well, we were used to the amenities of the Castro. In fact, the Castro at that time was in its renaissance. Harvey Milk was marching up and down the streets at midnight protesting what was going on in Florida, and there were all kinds of new businesses in the area as well.
LaBounty: And when you say Florida, can you give us a little background, just so other people know what we're talking about? What was going on in Florida then?
Weaver: There were protests against gays that were going on in Florida, and Harvey Milk was demonstrating on the streets of San Francisco against what was going on there. Were you living here at the time?
LaBounty: Yes. Was that Anita Bryant?
Weaver: Yes, that's right. I would get up in the morning and there would be a report about the march that he had taken last night up and down the streets of San Francisco.
LaBounty: And you liked that vibrancy?
Weaver: Well, at first I was amazed that this would be going on while I was sleeping, and that he would be responding to something that was happening thousands of miles away in Florida.
LaBounty: That this was such a center that he could make the national news very frequently with these protest marches.
Weaver: But then I got used to the idea. And Harvey Milk was still operating his camera store by day, as well!
LaBounty: So you had this vibrancy and this action, this sort of stuff happened in the Castro, and you move out here. A little sleepier?
LaBounty: Not only the business quarters kind of deserted or neglected?
Weaver: And some of the neighborhood amenities we'd expected actually just closed up right in front of us.
LaBounty: The theater and the grocery store and what else? Anything else?
Weaver: Well, subsequently I've talked to people growing up here in what they considered the vibrant times of Ocean Avenue, which were in the 1950s up to the late 1960s. They tell me the Red Roof restaurant, for example, was a really great place. It was still open but on its last legs, when we moved in. I think it lasted a few more years and then closed, and the building became an office and then a church.
LaBounty: The Chinese church, right?
LaBounty: There was Sam Pan's. Do you remember that?
Weaver: I remember that, it lasted until about 1999 with a restaurant of that name, which I understand was one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in the city, but I'd never eaten there.
LaBounty: What else did you have down there that you could actually use? Hardware store?
Weaver: There was a hardware store, Jules Hardware.
LaBounty: Some garages?
Weaver: When we got a car, which took--it wasn't till 1986 that we got a car.
LaBounty: You had good transportation, though, right?
Weaver: Well, kind of.
LaBounty: You had the streetcar. Oh, okay, not exactly, huh?
Weaver: When it worked, it worked well. It worked well for commuting to work, getting to work and back. BART was and is very reliable and much faster because it has fewer stops and a full dedicated right-of-way.
LaBounty: Was there any relationship with the college that you felt, with students in the area or having any impact on the neighborhood?
Weaver: No. I didn't get interested in what kind of impact the college had until fairly recently. My involvement with Ocean Avenue in a big way started with the beautification, or renaissance, as we call it, and then with the Better Neighborhoods planning process.
LaBounty: That's when you started having sort of a relationship with--
Weaver: Well, I remember when the current chancellor, Phil Day first took over, there was a rumor that was so vivid I thought it was going to happen the next week, which was that the college was going to develop a shopping mall in the reservoir. I learned later that apparently a shopping mall had been considered, but by the time I had gotten to the new chancellor and asked him if that were a true story, he was able to tell me that that project had been killed. So there would be no shopping mall in the reservoir--thank God for small favors!
LaBounty: And when was this, roughly, time-wise?
Weaver: This was '96, '97.
LaBounty: Before we get to the changes that happened in your time here, just a little more background. Did you grow up in San Francisco?
LaBounty: Where did you come from before San Francisco?
LaBounty: Whoa. You grew up in Honolulu, in Hawaii?
Weaver: No, I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and when I was in the eighth grade we moved to southern California.
LaBounty: What years are we talking about, roughly?
Weaver: We moved in 1956, '57.
LaBounty: When there was just an explosion of people moving to southern California.
Weaver: That's right. When I was born, Detroit was the city of opportunity, but by the mid-fifties Detroit was unraveling.
LaBounty: There was a big white flight and everyone was leaving town.
Weaver: Right. And jobs were becoming more scarce as the auto industry expanded out to other places.
LaBounty: So were you born during the war, or do you remember anything about the war?
Weaver: No, I was born in 1944.
LaBounty: During the end of it, yes. So that was a big production, and Detroit must have been living high with all the war stuff going on.
LaBounty: So your family moves to southern California when you're like in eighth grade. Did you go to high school there?
LaBounty: And then how do you end up in Honolulu?
Weaver: I got my bachelor's and master's degree from Cal State Fullerton, and then I applied for and got accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Hawaii. So they actually paid my way there because I was hired to be a graduate teaching assistant at U.H.
LaBounty: That's great. What's the field of study?
Weaver: Political science.
LaBounty: So then you're in Honolulu and you come to San Francisco about when?
LaBounty: Good time to come to San Francisco.
Weaver: It was quite a time, yes, especially in the Castro area.
LaBounty: Talk about renaissance and revitalization.
LaBounty: Because the Castro is a neighborhood that my father remembers it being kind of like--that wasn't a very nice neighborhood, you know.
LaBounty: Kind of rundown.
LaBounty: He remembers going there, and there were kind of thugs in bars and kind of bikers and that sort of thing, and in the seventies it's all changing.
Weaver: My now wife, then girlfriend, Kei Kaneshiro, and I stayed on Schrader Street in the Haight in 1970, which was the summer after the Summer of Love, or two summers after, near Haight Street. Haight Street was boarded up in 1970. There was hardly a business open, except for some corner liquor stores.
LaBounty: It just closed down.
Weaver: Closed down.
LaBounty: This influx of all these kids coming and all that and then--
Weaver: And then they're all doing whatever they were doing. So it was interesting. By 1976 things were coming back in the Haight. Another thing I remember vividly in 1976 is Fillmore Street, at least the flats of Fillmore Street, virtually every building was demolished--urban renewed--and nothing was replacing it; it just sat there empty.
LaBounty: Big empty lots.
Weaver: And big empty blocks.
LaBounty: Now, when you came, you're coming in '70 with your girlfriend--
Weaver: For a summer.
LaBounty: --for a summer. Were you part of these kids? Did you do that?
LaBounty: You were not the counterculture. You were--
Weaver: I wasn't the counterculture out there in the street. I was working on trying to get my dissertation done and doing some reading for it.
LaBounty: Because I would think political science would be an interesting field to be in during that time, too.
Weaver: Yes. Then there was the antiwar movement which was going on, which was pretty vigorous.
LaBounty: What were your experiences with that?
Weaver: Not much here, but in Honolulu it was interesting, because the bombers that were bombing Cambodia were taking off from Oahu, from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station on the other side of the island, very close to where we lived.
LaBounty: So were you part of the protests?
Weaver: No, I wasn't.
LaBounty: Were you part of the anti protests?
Weaver: Not that either.
LaBounty: Just sort of a neutral party in it?
Weaver: I was trying to incorporate all that stuff going on around us into what I was doing teaching at the university with undergraduates in political science.
LaBounty: So a lot of professors of that time, and teachers, would be accused of kind of taking a side and that sort of thing.
Weaver: There was a split in the political science faculty between--there was one professor I remember who got his funding from the Defense Department. He was doing multivariate statistical analysis of things that the Defense Department wanted to study. Then there were political theorists, in whose camp I was, who didn't take government money and were much more critical of the Defense Department and what it was doing and so forth.
LaBounty: What did it feel like during that time? Did you feel tugged in different directions at that time?
LaBounty: No? You were pretty secure in what you thought and you didn't feel a lot of pressure from other people?
Weaver: University campuses in the late 1960s were volatile places with the war and the draft and the protest movements. We were all sympathetic to the anti war effort but we weren't all necessarily out there marching every day or week. What I was doing was focusing on teaching introductory political science and some courses on Hawaii in the year 2000 to undergraduates in my classes. Our task was to filter all this stuff going on into our experiences and make sense of it. I was also trying to finish my dissertation.
LaBounty: So you come to San Francisco, heady time, revitalization's going on in different places, and then soon after that you move here, where it seemed like a place needing revitalization.
Weaver: Well, at first I didn't quite come to that conclusion, but one thing that happened, I used to stand out on Ocean Avenue waiting for the streetcar, and the first thing you noticed when you stood there from the mid-eighties on till the end of the nineties was that the actual roadbed, the pavement of Ocean Avenue, was crumbling before your very eyes. In fact, I remember calling MUNI one time. My wife used to complain a lot about this and she used to say, "And I want you to look into this." [Laughs]
After standing there one foggy morning waiting for the streetcar to get to work, I decided to call MUNI. So I called and I found this guy who was, I guess, a planner or a finance guy who said, "Yeah, we can't fix the road, the asphalt, because the way the tracks are laid, they're laid right in the asphalt. What we're going to do is we're going to replace the tracks, because we got these new streetcars coming and then we're going to repave the road."
I thought that was fine, except he said it was going to happen in a couple of years and this was like the mid-eighties or late eighties, and it never seemed to happen year after year. And then I'd call him back and he wouldn't even bother to call me.
Then repaving of the OMI main streets began to happen-- first on Broad and Randolph, the M Streetcar line from Junipero Serra-19th Avenue split to the station, to the BART station. The tracks and the roadbed were replaced. Broad and Randolph have always been in worse shape than Ocean, and I first thought that this might help with some revitalization of that area. And by that time I was involved in neighborhood organizations. Then I realized, when it got done, that the only thing that we got as a neighborhood, or the people who lived there got, was fresh asphalt, which is a pretty useless thing.
LaBounty: On this side of the hill.
Weaver: On that side of the hill.
LaBounty: On that side of the hill.
Weaver: Yes, fortunately they went first over there, allowing me to learn from the M-line mistakes. And that became my example when I talked to MUNI at public hearings here, and to other neighborhood people, I pointed out what happened on the M-line, that all we got was fresh asphalt, which just provided a clean surface for kids to do wheelies. In fact, we didn't even get undergrounding of utility wires over there. It's happening right now, but it took like eight more years.
LaBounty: So they promised to replace the tracks, or they set out to, I suppose.
Weaver: And they did.
LaBounty: They replaced the tracks. And then repaved the road surface.
LaBounty: And underground the overhead wires.
Weaver: Eventually. That took another eight years. In fact, it's going on right now.
LaBounty: So the initial thing they did over there was just put fresh asphalt in?
Weaver: Well, they put new roadbed and tracks in.
LaBounty: They put new tracks in and then asphalt.
LaBounty: So that was your example when you were talking about this side?
Weaver: Right. Muni started having meetings, maybe in '97, and I would go to those meetings and talk about the need to deal with the whole street from building front to building front, and they would say, "Yes, we agree, but we have no money, we have no resources." And then DPW would stand up and say, "No, it's not going to happen."
I want to go back a little bit and explain. I think the important thing that happened here is the connections that were established between what I call the front-lawn neighborhoods and the grid street neighborhood, like the Ingleside district of the OMI. I was trying to bring together people from all the neighborhoods of the Ocean Avenue--the Ingleside--community because what we all shared an interest in was making our street a better place.
I first met Paul Conroy, who at that time was a member of the West Twin Peaks Central Council. He lives over on Paloma, closer to Ocean than I do. I went to his meeting to ask them to endorse a San Francisco Beautiful streetlight or outdoor lighting position paper that I had prepared, and then we started talking about the street and we started commiserating with each other about what a mess Ocean Avenue was at the time.
We'd also had some problems in the neighborhood when the Bank of America closed. At one of those meetings I met a woman by the name of Anita Theoharris, who was president of the Westwood Park Association, and then she became president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, and then she got appointed to the Planning Commission by Mayor [Willie] Brown. And between the two of them, we talked about what needed to be done.
The first thing we collaborated on was in 1997, early '97, maybe. The Safeway store, the second Safeway store, the one at Dorado and Ocean, had closed, I think in major part because of the poor quality of the design and building of the complex and the poor maintenance of the premises. They had beggars at the front door, panhandlers up at the top of the elevator to kind of threaten people into giving them a dollar to roll their cart to their car. No security was there to stop that. They built a building that had virtually no windows in it, because I guess that's the cheapest way to do it. Safeway said that this store never made a profit; they closed the store and put the building up for lease.
I learned that there was a realtor, also living in the community, in Ingleside Terraces, who was in the process of arranging a deal to lease out the Safeway store, to the U.S. Postal Service for sixty years as a warehouse and a sorting station, basically a place to store trucks and to sort mail. The most important, the most striking thing to me was the fact that this building was our major retail space on Ocean and it wasn't going to have retail in it of any kind.
LaBounty: Right. For at least sixty years.
Weaver: For sixty years, yes. That's three generations. And I figured this realtor must be making enough money off this deal to put his children, grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren through college. They didn't want to buy the building; they just wanted to lease it for sixty years.
Then we found out that the owner of the building was a potato farmer in the Central Valley who claimed that he was a victim of this realtor and Safeway who was the realtor's client. I tried to work with congressional people. The only congressional office who would return my call was Nancy Pelosi's, and they basically strung me along for a year doing nothing, although Congressmen are the only ones who had any authority over the Postal Service.
I was talking to Paul Conroy one day--I think it was at a cleanup at the Phelan Loop--and he said, "Call Anita Theoharris. If you want to go to the Planning Commission and try to do something about the Safeway site, call her."
So I called Anita and she said, "Come to the Planning Commission." I went to the Planning Commission during public comment and said, "I'd like to ask your help in saving our major retail space on Ocean Avenue from the Postal Service tying it up for sixty years as a warehouse."
You know, if they weren't the Postal Service, they'd have to get conditional use approval from the Planning Commission, but they were the Postal Service. They didn't have to get anything from the Commission. The Planning Commission invited the Postal Service to come to a meeting, and they came: the Postal Service came, Safeway came, the realtor came. The Planning Commission basically said to them, "We want you to work with us on this situation. We don't want you to just go ahead and do it."
And the Postal Service grudgingly kind of said, "Well, all right."
Prior to that meeting the Postal Service came out here and sat me down and talked to me. There was a woman from the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, Ariane Coleman, who was with me at the time, she came to that meeting. They said, "What would you do to support the project?"
I said, "Here's what I want. I want a commercial retail post office with windows all across the Ocean Avenue front of that building, and I want only a retail post office in that ground floor space, nothing else."
So they went off and they came back and they said, "Okay, here's what we can offer you," and it was like 20 percent of the front was a retail post office and the rest was a garage with a two additional cuts in the curb.
In a way it would be very attractive, because the neighborhood desperately needed a post office. We'd just lost our bank. We were losing our major retail space. A post office would be good. But I said, "No. Unacceptable. Go away. I'm going to fight this."
LaBounty: They came to your house?
Weaver: No, to Java on Ocean. So then we went to the Planning Commission, the Planning Commission asked them to work with them. They seemed to agree to do that.
The next morning, the attorney for the Planning Commission called DPW and said to DPW, the permits desk, "The only thing the post office needs to carry out their plan is a curb-cut permit. If they come there, don't issue it."
The person at DPW said, "They're on their way." [Laughs]
DPW did not issue the curb-cut permit, thanks to the foresight of that assistant city attorney. The Planning Department and the Mayor's office managed to find a developer who wanted to buy buildings in San Francisco for retail use. So they put him together with the property owner; he bought the building. They brought in a Rite-Aid and expanded the 24-Hour Fitness. At the time I thought this is kind of sad. Here Aaron Peskin is making his career in North Beach fighting Rite-Aid and we're welcoming them with open arms.
24-Hour Fitness took over the space Rite-Aid did not want and expanded their facility to be the largest one in the city. That was a breakthrough because it saved our major retail space. We got retail back in it, we got an improved building, one that was maintained better, we got a big 24-Hour Fitness, which attracts a lot of people to the street and in turn these people support a number of surrounding small businesses. Unfortunately, we also had a fight with the merchants association because they wanted the post office.
LaBounty: So the merchants association, the OMI Business League, wanted a post office.
Weaver: Have you seen their Hundred Years of Ocean Avenue brochure?
LaBounty: No, I'd like to. Is that the one that was recently kind of put together?
Weaver: It was put together about five years ago.
LaBounty: Oh, okay. No, then I definitely haven't seen it.
Weaver: Let me see if I can locate that. Anyway, there's a full-page ad in there from the post office.
LaBounty: The post office took out a nice ad in their brochure.
Weaver: And they paid them something like $1,000, and it was actually the design that they had done for me when I demanded that they--
LaBounty: Yes, I have seen this. That's right. Yes, this is the one Royce kind of put together, right?
Weaver: Royce Vaughan, yeah. He was, at that time, the president of the OMI Business League.
LaBounty: So he was pushing and they were pushing for the post office?
Weaver: And they had petitions out on the street. So Anita Theoharris and I, with help from Paul Conroy and others, circulated our own petition against the post office and in favor of retail. But it was the Planning Commission and Department and the Mayor's Office of Economic Development that really came down on our side.
LaBounty: What was their rationale? Why would the Merchants Association not want more merchant space on the street?
Weaver: They didn't think that way. They wanted the building to have some activity in it.
LaBounty: They didn't want an empty space.
Weaver: Even if it was, you know, a garage on the ground floor with vehicles running in and out of it across the sidewalk.
LaBounty: Right, and nothing to bring any pedestrians or any--
Weaver: In fact, it would become dangerous for pedestrians to walk by there. They probably wouldn't do it much anymore, and eventually they would drive out the gym, because the Postal Service wanted the whole building. You should interview Anita and Paul about this event in the recent history of Ocean Avenue.
LaBounty: So, going back just a little bit here, you start off with getting on the streetcar and seeing the roadway crumbling day by day, .
Weaver: The street.
LaBounty: Yes. And then you eventually--now, we're all the way here and you're at Planning Commission meetings and you're working with neighborhood groups. What happened kind of in between?
Weaver: Well, I realized that it wasn't only the pavement that was of concern; it was what was going on between the buildings, the whole streetfront, the narrowness of the Ocean Avenue sidewalks in many blocks, the pitiful lack of landscaping, even though DPW said they landscaped the street, the overhead utility wires towering over most of the buildings on Ocean. What DPW does is they go to each building owner or communicate with them and tell them that they can have a tree that DPW will plant if the building owners commit themselves to watering and maintaining the tree. So we got a dozen trees in a mile. And we needed at least a hundred more. We had no landscaping to speak of, only asphalt and very old and dirty concrete. Some of the sidewalks along Ocean are extremely narrow. Almost all of the sidewalks on Ocean Avenue are narrower than the ones on the residential side streets.
LaBounty: It's a major commercial corridor and it's got smaller sidewalks than Jules Avenue.
LaBounty: So who were the first people that you connected with when you started?
Weaver: I had my contacts with Paul Conroy in Ingleside Terraces and West of Twin Peaks, Anita Theoharris up at Westwood Park as well as West of Twin Peaks, and I talked to the people from MUNI and they said--basically they sent somebody out here from the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic, and the guy said, "What do you want? Draw it up for me," or something like that.
And I said, "I can't draw this street. Can you provide somebody who's a designer or better yet a landscape architect to work with me?"
DPT said, "No." The Department of Public Works authority on the K-line track replacement project said something like "we have no money for landscaping or beautification on Ocean Avenue."
This was at a time when they were putting so much money into the urban design of the Third Street Light Rail corridor, these consultants came to the Planning Commission so many times that the Commissioners finally said one day, "Please don't come anymore unless you have something new to show us." [Laughs]
LaBounty: So this is late nineties?
Weaver: This is 1998. Then I called a friend in DPW, John Thomas, who was a landscape architect, and whose work I admired. I said, "John, would you do me a favor? Would you do an after hours pro-bono piece of work for me, do a streetscape design for Ocean Avenue?" Of course, he had to do it after work since DPW wouldn't even speak to me about Ocean Avenue.
I'd gotten in to talk to Ariane Coleman in MOED (Mayor's Office of Economic Development); and we, at that point, had a very good resource person named Fou Anoai in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services. Ariane and Fou were both very supportive of improving things. Ariane went to the 24-Hour Fitness on Ocean so she knew first hand about local conditions.
During August, September, and October I met five or six times with John Thomas, first at his office, then here; we walked Ocean a few times and we went to West Portal and looked at what they had done there. West Portal has always been kind of a model of how to pull things together, for me at least.
LaBounty: This is '98 we're talking?
Weaver: '98, yes. It's in my date book; I've confirmed that.
John finished the plan, mailed it to me in early November of 1998; it was rolled up and I went around the Ingleside area showing it off. I met with Royce Vaughan and some merchants, including Stacy at the cleaners, and Mr. Christopherson from the insurance office on November 18th, and then when I was done with that meeting I walked up the hill to meet with the Westwood Park Association board. I met with OMI-CAO board, which I was a member of, and showed them the plan. On a Saturday Paul Conroy invited me to go to Ingleside Terraces' annual meeting. I think that was in December, sometime around there. And I went and rolled out the plan and put it up on the wall at the St. Francis Church, and everybody said, "This is good. This is what we need." I also went to a board meeting of the Balboa Terrace Association to make a presentation. At the time everybody, even Royce Vaughn of the OMI Business League, agreed we needed the street to be landscaped and to be fixed up.
LaBounty: So this drawing, just to give me an idea of what we're talking about, was sort of like an architectural rendering of storefronts on Ocean Avenue?
Weaver: No, it was a real map of Ocean derived from aerial photographs.
LaBounty: So it's more of a looking-down map.
LaBounty: And it shows landscaping along Ocean Avenue?
Weaver: It shows trees and bulb-outs of sidewalks and new streetlight poles and no overhead utility wires.
LaBounty: Oh, bulb-outs.
Weaver: Yes. The dreaded "B word." Using bulb-outs at intersections and transit stops was beginning to become standard practice in San Francisco to make it safer for pedestrians to cross streets and to board buses.
LaBounty: So the theory is that the sidewalk kind of loops out in the street a bit at the corners, is that right?
Weaver: Or at bus stops.
LaBounty: So that pedestrians and cars can kind of see each other better at the corners and crossing, and on the buses you don't have to walk into the street to get on a bus.
LaBounty: Now, why is that a point of contention with people? What's the major argument against that, since pedestrian safety is obviously the major argument for it?
Weaver: First, John Thomas designed the bulb-out because he pointed out that the sidewalks were in many instances simply too narrow to provide any sense of spaciousness for a pedestrian, and the goal was to create a more attractive pedestrian experience and space. That comes first, and then the experience of driving down the street is enhanced because you're driving along a busy place where there are pedestrians and there's landscaping and there are stores and there's all kinds of things going on, as compared to what we had before, which was no landscaping and many fewer pedestrians and empty storefronts.
LaBounty: If you start with the pedestrians and make them feel comfortable and willing to walk on the street, then--
Weaver: And attracted to the place.
LaBounty: Then everything else will flower, right?
Weaver: Right. That's the idea of it. Everybody in San Francisco talks about the neighborhood they live in and their neighborhood's main street, which is always a shopping street.
LaBounty: Twenty-fourth Street in Noe Valley.
Weaver: Right. West Portal.
LaBounty: And so the needs of the pedestrians should take precedence over the needs of, say, eliminating a couple of parking spaces.
Weaver: Right. I consider myself an urban planner, although I wasn't formally educated in the field--I am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. I worked as a planner, I was very much involved in developing the plan for Ocean Avenue, but I wasn't the architect or a designer, so I couldn't put this together on paper, and I didn't have the experience that John Thomas had. So we came up with the plan.
Why it became the center of opposition, I don't know. They say, "Oh, we thought it was going to take away one of our lanes of traffic." Then people would say, "Well, it's going to eliminate the parking." And DPT, to their credit, designed some angled parking on Lee Street and on Capital near Ocean. And there was no loss of parking in the Ocean Avenue commercial district.
One woman who lives in Ingleside Terraces, involved in OMI, said that bulb-outs would prevent her from getting her car out of her alley onto Ocean Avenue, which is silly, because actually it would allow her to do it more easily and safely because she could pull out farther and see what was going on. But she kept saying it and it didn't matter what anyone said to her in response. I don't know; the only thing I can come up with is this was a turf battle between the remnants at that time of the OMI Business League and the new residents determined to make a better street, the upstarts from up the hill.
LaBounty: Who are the up-the-hill people?
Weaver: The front-lawn people are the up-the-hill people. Places like Ingleside Terraces, Westwood Park, Balboa Terrace and Mt. Davidson Manor were built as early planned communities in the City Beautiful model between the two World Wars. Unlike most of San Francisco, these communities have landscaping around their houses. These areas are greatly preferred to OMI streets for their landscaping, but they have some design issues like how to encourage urban pedestrian life and provide for neighborhood commercial in these areas that were zoned strictly residential and build for automobiles.
The up-hill people were the new players on Ocean, front-lawn people and some of us from the OMI, a majority of us from the OMI. We wanted things to get better. During the planning process, no reasonably minded person said, "I don't want this plan to be carried out." Nobody said, "We don't want this."
LaBounty: Do you think it's a power thing, then, like "We don't want other groups to effect a change here. We want to be the group that effects the change"?
LaBounty: So even if it's a positive change that they may initially think is a good idea, they want their names behind it?
Weaver: Yes. They said to me at one point, "We can't pull this off now. Later maybe."
My response was, "There's not going to be a later. When they tear this street up, they're not going to tear it up again anytime soon."
LaBounty: Because the timeline for the tracks was coming, is that right?
LaBounty: So they were going to replace the K-line tracks.
Weaver: Right, and this is all going to be tied into it.
LaBounty: And if they just wait on the improvements on the street, the sidewalks and the landscaping, for some other time it's not going to happen, because they're going to go through, spend millions of dollars putting these tracks in and redoing it, and then they're going to say, "Well, no, we're not going to go back and tear it up."
Weaver: That, in fact, was a new city policy at the time.
LaBounty: Which one?
Weaver: Not to tear up the streets again for ten years after you tear them up.
LaBounty: So you were under a time--
Weaver: Constraint, right. So I had this drawing, and this picture was worth thousands of words. I didn't even have to say anything. I said, "Here it is. These are the trees. These are the bulb-outs," and then he had illustrations of what a typical section of the street would look like. And everybody said, "We like it."
What Paul Conroy's contribution to this was, he invited the mayor to come to a West of Twin Peaks meeting. At that meeting--I was invited to the meeting also--he asked the mayor if the mayor would meet with us to talk about landscaping and improving Ocean Avenue. The mayor said yes. Then the mayor set up a meeting at City Hall that we all went to, MUNI came to the meeting, a lot of neighborhood people came to the meeting, expecting the mayor to, I don't know, do what they wanted--I'm not sure even what it was they wanted Mayor Brown to do.
LaBounty: When was this meeting and where, just to give me a sense of--
Weaver: The meeting happened in 1999. Basically by the end of '98 we'd reached a consensus of the different neighborhoods on Ocean Avenue that we all wanted this, and we'd reached out to our contacts in the mayor's office. The mayor was invited to West of Twin Peaks early in '99. He set up a meeting at his office, his large conference room. We went to the conference room well prepared: we rehearsed this plan and assigned presentation tasks to different people and then made our presentation to Mayor Brown. I remember, that my job was to explain to Mayor Brown what bulb-outs were, because he didn't know what they were, even though they were installing them all over the city. They were installing them on Van Ness Avenue. He didn't know what they were called.
MUNI came to the meeting and stood up and started talking as soon as the mayor came in, and they said, "Mr. Mayor, we've decided we're going to compromise." This is kind of like the way the post office was going to compromise. "We'll give the community half of what it wants." [Laughs]
LaBounty: Whatever it wants.
Weaver: Yes. "We'll give you half the bulb-outs, half the landscaping." And the mayor got angry. He said, "You're crazy. Why that? Why do you say that?" Then he said, "I'm committing myself to finding the money to fund this project and build it."
LaBounty: That's in the conference room he says this?
Weaver: In the conference room, and then he assigned one of his aides to start meeting with us to develop the detailed plans.
Just about that time, I think the luck was with us finally, Assemblyman Kevin Shelley came to an OMI Neighbors in Action meeting where we had a special dinner honoring the Taraval Neighborhood Team of police officers that had been working in the OMI. Kevin came and said--these were flush times in the State, and he was like number two guy in the state assembly, so he was going to have some money and he wanted to figure out what worthy projects in his assembly district he wanted to support. He said at the dinner meeting and later, "I'm looking for projects."
He called up Minnie [Ward] and Regina Blosser the next day and said, "Okay. I'm looking for projects in the neighborhood. What do you guys have?" So one project I pointed out to them at the time was the Geneva Office Building at San Jose and Geneva.
So I kind of got his signoff on that, but then we brought up the subject of Ocean Avenue improvements, and his first comment was--or his aide said something like "It's just not sexy enough. He wants something more interesting than that."
LaBounty: Than infrastructure.
Weaver: Yes. But Ariane Coleman in the mayor's office worked with them and persuaded them that Ocean Avenue beautification would be an appropriate place for him to put his money should he have some to allocate. And he did. It was five and a half million dollars that was allocated to the project through Caltrans. That includes the landscaping and the special streetlights, which we weren't otherwise going to get. We were going to get the undergrounding, but not anything more than the standard issue cobra head lights. So we had it funded with the help of Minnie and Regina through OMI Neighbors in Action, and we had this group of people from neighborhoods up and down Ocean we named the Ocean Avenue Renaissance Committee, and I want to give you a list of who was involved in that, at some point in the future. It was people from neighborhoods up and down the street.
At that point I'd met with Ingleside Terraces people, West of Twin Peaks people, Westwood Park, some of the merchants, Balboa Terrace people, people up and down the street. What's that other one? There's a little group in the middle, called Mt. Davidson Manor. We even had a guy from Westwood Highlands, Dave Bisho, and someone from Sherwood Forest even farther up the hill, up Mt. Davidson. Dave was involved in the West of Twin Peaks Council, and he was interested. He has the most interesting stories to tell about growing up around here.
LaBounty: Oh, I'd love to talk to him.
Weaver: About when Ocean was in its heyday in the fifties. Anyway, he grew up--his father lived, I believe, somewhere around here, but not exactly on Ocean, but Ocean was the main place to come and have fun. Anyway, he was involved in it. Phil Day from City College sent us a consultant to meet with us and work with us. So we had this whole group, Ocean Avenue Renaissance together; we had the mayor's blessing; we had the funding and we had the draft plan. The project was going ahead.
Ocean Avenue Renaissance Committee Members:
Paul Conroy, Convenor--Ingleside Terraces
Dave Bisho--Westwood Highlands
Phil Day--City College
Bob DeLiso--Sherwood Forest
Maria Drake--Ingleside Terraces
Lonnie Lawson--Ingleside Terraces
Bill Liskamm--City College
Mia Mitchell--Westwood Park
Bob Olson--Balboa Terrace
Roger Parks--Mt. Davidson Manor
Art Rosenburg--Balboa Terrace
Bob Switzer--Balboa Terrace
Anita Theoharis--Westwood Park
Dorothy Yates--Mt. Davidson Manor
Neighborhood people who also contributed to the streetscape re-design efforts:
Bob and Bette Landis--Ingleside Terraces
Minnie and Lovie Ward--OMI
LaBounty: You had funding.
Weaver: Then we got our funding.
LaBounty: You had the Neighbors in Action, a lot of people on the other side of the hill.
Weaver: We had OMI Neighbors in Action supporting it. We even had the OMI Community Action Organization supporting the plan. Unfortunately, the president of the CAO, as an individual, campaigned against it, even though her organization supported it.
LaBounty: Any reason?
Weaver: She didn't like it.
LaBounty: Just didn't appeal to her.
Weaver: She basically opposed the bulb-outs but seemed willing to lose it all as opposed to getting a project with any bulb-outs. She had also fought the Rite-Aid coming to Ocean because she didn't want it to sell beer or alcoholic beverages in competition with another nearby store. But we got through that one, and that was part of the deal to get Rite-Aid and 24-Hour Fitness in that building. There had to be conditional-use permits. This was going on at the same time, getting that building back open again.
LaBounty: What other challenges? You have a couple of people. Sounds like the merchants were a problem at different points.
Weaver: The Merchants Association... by that point, most of the merchants on the street were Asian and they supported improvements. They weren't members of the Merchants Association.
LaBounty: The Merchants Association is kind of the older sort of former businesses and things like that.
Weaver: Yes, former, and it was largely oriented towards African American merchants, of which there were very few by the turn of the century. There were very few African American merchants left.
LaBounty: So you have some issues with them and you have the president of the CAO not behind it, but any other struggles or contentions or problems along the way?
Weaver: Well, once you get the mayor's blessing in this town, it's mostly clear sailing, because the city bureaucracy has now gotten its instructions. The importance of getting the blessing from the mayor to do anything different in San Francisco was an important lesson for me that came out of this Ocean Avenue beautification project.
LaBounty: So you've got to go to the top and then it will--
Weaver: That's what I've learned. And then the top sometimes doesn't want to talk to you until you figure out how to get in the door. That's where people like Fou Anoai and Ariane Coleman helped us.
LaBounty: Once you get in, you get the mayor's blessing, and, of course, the funding helped, I'm sure.
Weaver: Right. We had Kevin Shelley on board with his state funding.
LaBounty: And now what's Ocean Avenue today, then, compared to when you got off the streetcar in '78?
Weaver: Well, it's a lot more vibrant place and a lot more interesting place. Today the issue seems to me about teaching the merchants how to take care of the street, maintain it and make it better.
LaBounty: This is a sort of island mentality, like "I'm going to take care of my little business"?
Weaver: It's not even that. They don't even take care of their storefronts. Some of the storefronts look like they're Third World places.
LaBounty: They have like a passing-through feeling or something?
Weaver: For example, there's a liquor store on the corner of Capital and Ocean, which has all of its windows covered with advertising and security bars, and oftentimes there's graffiti on the building and the sidewalk is littered with old chewing gum. They throw out their old chewing gum because they just bought new chewing gum in the store. And it's a dump. But the guy apparently makes money off this little dump.
LaBounty: He's in it for the money. He's not in it for building community or something.
Weaver: Yes. He's friendly enough, but he doesn't really understand what it would take to fix his store up. We met an insurance broker on Ocean who came to the meetings and said that there was an attempt, there had been an earlier attempt in the mid- to late-seventies to get the merchants to fix up their storefronts. The planning department had done a study of Ocean and recommended almost everything we ended up doing twenty years later.
The insurance broker and realtor said, "We were modern. We liked our modern. We didn't want to look traditional anymore." So there was this attempt in the late seventies as part of the planning department study to return a lot of the storefronts to their former glory, which is kind of the glory that you show in some of your pictures and film that you had in your earlier "I am OMI events", but there was not much and there still isn't much involvement of merchants in fixing up storefronts.
LaBounty: What do you think it will take?
Weaver: Well, it will take a city program, which isn't quite in place yet. But it will also take working with the merchants. Now there's a grant that the merchants applied for with LISC, Local Area Support Corporation, which has received city money to help organize the merchants to be a more effective association. And hopefully they're going to get the idea that it's their front sidewalk and their storefront and their tree wells that they need to maintain, and if everybody would do that, it would be a more attractive street to walk and shop.
LaBounty: Do you think all the beautification and all the landscaping and the streetcar and the increased vibrancy of pedestrians may attract different merchants that maybe would take the place of a lot of the ones you've got now?
Weaver: Yes, but that's business.
LaBounty: But that could be good, too, right?
Weaver: That would be good.
LaBounty: Because people moving in saying, "I'm moving into a more established--." You know what I mean. They come in with a nice attitude, right?
LaBounty: "I'm moving to a nice street," rather than maybe when you moved in '78 and you're like, "Just trying to get what I can afford."
Weaver: Yes, hopefully. Plus we've got the Better Neighborhoods Plan, which is addressing the Phelan Loop the Kragen site and the BART station area, and spelling out some new development guidelines for Ocean Avenue, which hopefully will help make things better than they are. The city allowed some really bad stuff to be done on Ocean. Our mini-strip mall, over where the 7-11 is, and the drive-through McDonald's, these places are as bad in urban design terms as you can get. But hopefully, with this City Planning Department involvement with the Better Neighborhoods Plan--the EIR for that has now been funded, so that's going to go ahead--future development mistakes will be minimized.
LaBounty: The BART station still has that old feeling, that area.
Weaver: Yes, it does. It's a place you want to get out of as quickly as possible.
LaBounty: Yes, get on your BART.
LaBounty: But the Geneva Car Barn down there, that will--
Weaver: That's being worked on. It's got a new roof.
LaBounty: That will probably kind of help that area.
Weaver: It's being mothballed, but now we're moving towards restoration of that. They're setting up programs and development plans for the station area to attract people down there.
LaBounty: So there's two ways, if you have an issue, right, say you have Ocean Avenue and it's a corridor that needs revitalization, something needs to happen, there's like two things that could spur this sort of thing. Things could get so bad that people do something, or this sort of other idea, which seems to be if you fix it up, if you get the funding or whatever to kind of make it look nice, then maybe having it be a nice place is going to get it going. You know what I'm saying?
Weaver: Yes. With retail spaces, the rule-of-thumb seems to be: the worse the street the lower the rents. So the merchants sometimes are not as motivated as the residents to make improvements. Every San Franciscan, however believes he or she deserves a fine neighborhood retail and community center street as his urban birthright. That includes people on Ocean, Third street, Fillmore or even Broad-Randolph.
LaBounty: So it seems like the years of being bad at least spurred this landscaping, but maybe it's the landscaping that's going to really make it come back into its kind of former glory.
Weaver: Right, or to start. You raise a really interesting question about what happened to those beautiful storefronts that they built when they built Westwood Park. What happened to those businesses? There's a lot of neighborhoods in San Francisco that share this problem, it seems. I don't know whether there's more poor people who live in the neighborhood, whether there's more suburban big boxes that people shop at, whether the streets are just going through a change like the Castro did or the Haight did, where they changed from kind of like lower middle class or blue-collar neighborhoods and they went into a down period and now they're coming back as hot places again, attractive places.
LaBounty: I just want to ask you a couple of other things before we get off Ocean Avenue. Is there anything else from that time and those meetings and what's said that you want to make sure you touch on?
Weaver: Well, I just wanted to reemphasize the Ocean Avenue Renaissance Committee and its importance in pushing consistently to adopt this plan and to build it. I think that was a critical element, and the part of that that's most important is that for the first time that I know about, all the neighborhoods along Ocean got together and agreed on something, then worked together to make it happen.
LaBounty: Right. It was an inclusive process.
LaBounty: So much I hear the neighborhood is like, "Oh, they left us out," right? But this was a very inclusive process.
Weaver: Yes, it was. And the advantage we have on Ocean is, you could say those people from up the hill don't belong on Ocean. You could make that argument that Ocean is an OMI shopping street, but in fact, in its glory days it was a shopping street and a play street for everybody. And if we can get those people back again, that's what's going to make Ocean Avenue meet people's expectations.
LaBounty: Then it's better to include these folks on the north side of Ocean Avenue than to say it's not their business.
Weaver: Well, they won't be excluded. When there are issues on the street, they will stand up and speak on it. I'm sure it was the people in Westwood Park who stopped those highrises being built at the Dorado site. I'm sure it's them. It wasn't us. [Laughs]
LaBounty: Back in '72 or whenever, yes.
Weaver: It was them. Sometimes they can be negative about it; "We just don't want this," but I think they have been involved in Ocean and they stopped projects that should have been stopped. Unfortunately, they didn't stop the strip mall. Everybody was asleep at the wheel then.
LaBounty: Yes. When did that go up, early eighties?
Weaver: Yes. There was a dumpy little shack there, it was an old house where somebody ran an equipment rental business, and it seemed innocent enough. In fact, it almost seemed like what the property needed was new building. And when that strip mall first came along, people just didn't even know it was happening. Then there were these cheap apartments that were built a little further west. The problem there was also the sidewalk: it is maybe five feet. It's kind of outrageous how the city let that get built with such a bad sidewalk and such a cheap looking building. We in the neighborhood allowed that to happen. The same developer built on Monterey Boulevard. On Monterey he built much better buildings, but for Ocean he gave it his worst.
We've been fighting development proposals to make them better, particularly on Ocean Avenue. One of the things we did, for example, is we went after this retail-residential project that was being built on the block between Brighton and Lee on the south side of Ocean. We in Ocean Avenue Renaissance got involved, took out a DR request at the Planning Department and worked with the developer to make a better building there. Our Ocean streetscape improvements work, and they attracted the Better Neighborhoods Balboa Park planning effort to the neighborhood to continue this urban planning work.
LaBounty: So we can term Ocean Avenue, where it is now and what's happened in the last seven, five years, whatever it is, a success, right?
Weaver: So far, yes.
LaBounty: I think so. What other success stories would you kind of point at in the OMI in your time here since '78? Because when you got here in '78, a lot of people I've interviewed point at that time as being almost the bottom, maybe early eighties, you know, when a lot of families were leaving, a lot of new people were coming in, a lot of parks were neglected, a lot of city services were being neglected out here. So I assume that since you got here kind of in that part, and you've been here since, there must have been a lot of improvement in other areas, as well. Can you point at anything?
Weaver: The improvements that I've recognized are the work that Minnie Ward and Neighbors in Action did and continue to do at Ocean View Park, which are highlighted by the establishment of a Safe Haven program for at-risk youth and a Family Resource Center based there, and the upcoming rebuild of the Rec Center to be named after Minnie and Lovie Ward, the new Sheridan School complex on Capitol and the new Ocean View library on Randolph Street. Peter Vaernet has led the charge at Brooks Park over the past 15 years. Twelve years after a community garden at Brooks was funded, it was completed this year!
I'm interested in Broad and Randolph and bringing it back to providing a neighborhood street for the neighbors, and I've been trying to focus on that. I still haven't gotten the mayor's attention. I'm focused on trying to get Brotherhood Way and the Junipero Serra gateway to San Francisco and the OMI re-landscaped and maintained by the city. That might be hopeless, I don't know, but thinking about a way to put some watchful eyes on that Brotherhood Way part of the neighborhood is important. Right now there's nobody who really looks at it or cares about it.
LaBounty: It's no freeway.
Weaver: Well, it's kind of a freeway, but there's been work on it. At least along the street it's been landscaped recently, and I'm interested in Junipero Serra and getting that re-landscaped. That's Water Department right-of-way. The public spaces of the OMI, the spaces in the OMI that public agencies are responsible for, are the most denigrated part of the neighborhood.
LaBounty: Brooks Park and--
Weaver: The parks, the rights-of-way, the DPW land, the shopping streets.
LaBounty: What's the high priority right now?
Weaver: The high priority right now is they're undergrounding the utility wires and installing new streetlights along Broad and Randolph and they're determined to do it wrong.
LaBounty: In what way?
Weaver: They're trying to put in the same lights that are in there now, and they don't work; they don't light the sidewalks properly.
A couple of months ago we went to the Planning Commission to stop the Buddhist Temple at 306 Randolph across from the library from building a god-awful construction project. Have you heard about that?
LaBounty: Yes, that's the one that they wanted to have like a gate on the side to let people in.
Weaver: Well, they wanted to convert their building to a residential skilled nursing facility. They wanted to eliminate the ground floor retail use and line up patient-resident rooms along the Randolph street sidewalk, with barred windows up along there. They don't understand why no merchant wants to lease space in their decrepit building, and said retail on that street was hopeless, in spite of the M streetcar line going by.
LaBounty: Bars and security gate on the sidewalk.
Weaver: They thought that they would make a successful project that way and they said, "That's all we can afford."
And we went to the Planning Commission and said, "If that's all you can afford, you shouldn't build anything. You should turn it over to somebody who will build it." In fact, that property's been for sale for most of the last dozen years, but they always attached some condition to it. They asked the buyer to find another place for the Temple to move and to be responsible to relocate the whole Temple operation. Nobody took them up on that.
LaBounty: On Randolph Street, if you're driving on Randolph and Broad, that's the part where you're kind of like, "I think I'd better keep driving," right? You don't want to park right there.
LaBounty: The library's been a great addition to that little part, but, you know, that's where the guys are sitting around drinking and chatting and all that.
Weaver: That's one of the main places, right.
LaBounty: Yes, and the old market, and it just kind of feels like, "I don't want to park around here."
Weaver: Well, they're usually not only drinking and chatting; they're drug dealing.
LaBounty: Okay, even better. Even better reason to go around the block.
Weaver: I used to say they're just hanging out because of the fun of it, but I've learned better. They've driven everybody else away and closed up virtually every other neighborhood retail use from the Broad-Randolph corridor.
LaBounty: It's the library and the market, and that's it.
Weaver: Well, there's a new little market there, but the old market across from the library in the Buddhist Temple ground floor is now closed. There needs to be more life on those streets, and I think the way to do it is to build new multi-use buildings with ground floor retail and upper floor residential. I'd like to up-zone the retail commercial-zoned parcels on the corridor to the level of Ocean Avenue. Right now it's Neighborhood Commercial 1. I'd like to move it up to Neighborhood Commercial 2.
It's crazy, for the last 20 years we've watched half the blocks on Broad Street and Randolph Street that were empty get filled up with single-family homes and two-family homes, mostly single-family homes. It's crazy. You've got a streetcar out in front, at least a one billion dollar transit investment, and you're building single-family with no retail as if you were out in the middle of deep suburbia.
LaBounty: And in a place that's got 99 percent single-family homes or whatever.
Weaver: With no retail. The Planning Department should never have allowed that to continue, but now it's almost all filled up with single-family homes; there are some old retail commercial blocks remaining. When the temple went in to get rid of their retail commercial use to put in beds against barred windows, that was kind of a last straw for me. So now they claim they're going to work with us. I think they're going to jump ship myself, even though we got them some professional planning help to try to design a project that would cover the space, not have any parking lots, have retail commercial on the ground floor and residential above. We're trying to attract the Urban Institute from San Francisco State to express an interest and have a café there as well, it's hard to get anything going there. Some day hopefully a good owner will partner with a good developer and architect to build a great project.
LaBounty: It's just hard to get traction, sort of, right?
Weaver: Yes. The people who work in the library--the library's been open four years. And we've had three librarians there. The complaint I hear when I go in is, "I can't even buy a cup of coffee around here. I can't buy a sandwich. I have to get in my car and drive somewhere in order to have lunch," and they leave for better neighborhoods. Their complaints of course are very "San Francisco". The least we could do is provide them a place across the street where they could get a latté or lunch. And we could provide some new residents on the street who would be patrons of the stores on the ground floor. Broad and Randolph has been in decline for at least fifty years. I don't know when it started, but it was a vibrant place for a long time. It was a really nice little neighborhood commercial area with many beautiful victorians.
LaBounty: Do you think that because all the homes now are half a million dollars, at least, right?
Weaver: Along there they're a little less.
LaBounty: Little less, but we're getting close, right?
Weaver: We're getting close.
LaBounty: And the down side of these property prices, of course, is they drive people out.
Weaver: It drives some people out, but for homeowners who want to retire to their chicken farm in Arkansas, that's fine.
LaBounty: It's great, right? People who bought their houses for $20,000 in 1963 or whatever, can now, you know--
Weaver: Sell it for four or five hundred thousand.
LaBounty: New people come in, they have a huge investment, right, in a place that there's no economic, there's no development, and people are shying away from it, but now they've just bought a $475,000 home there. Obviously, if they can afford it, they've got jobs. They're going to want a neighborhood. They're going to want storefronts. Is that going to effect the change there, do you think? I mean just the real estate prices.
Weaver: It's hard to find somebody who is willing to open a store there. I don't know, I think part of it--well, frankly, the Ocean View Village retail kind of sucks the heart out of the rest of the corridor, and I was heavily involved in supporting that, because the alternative to Ocean View Village was a boarded-up shopping center. Unfortunately, I didn't get my urban design ideas in it very effectively at all, but there's all those little convenience stores as well as an Albertsons there. There's a place to mail things; there's a pizza place; there's a video rental place; there's a drugstore. Now theres even a bank! Ocean View Village has the OMI's only bank and our only supermarket. The only way we're going to get merchants back on Broad and Randolph is if we build new buildings and give them deals on renting.
LaBounty: Bribe them to come in. [Laughs]
Weaver: Well, they need a deal, because there's not going to be much of anything going on.
LaBounty: They need some incentive.
Weaver: For a while. Yes, and we need to build more residential along there to get people to come in there and use those facilities.
LaBounty: And you would think its location would be just ideal for students going to State.
LaBounty: You're on a streetcar line going downtown, you know. You're right next to freeways if you commute to the South Bay or whatever.
Weaver: Well, it's got great transportation, yes. Ocean View Village is becoming a great success! So it can be done. but, please, no more open parking lots along the street, no more shopping mall configurations! But it's got great transportation.
LaBounty: Yes, you've got that going for it.
Weaver: Well, at least we do now. MUNI's threatening that there's so little traffic on the M-Line through the Ocean View, that they want to cut it short.
LaBounty: They've been doing that since it started. It's so funny, look at the history, it's like they even closed it for a while in the forties.
Weaver: I wasn't aware of that.
Weaver: I told them that's a bad idea. We need to build up the street.
LaBounty: You're building streetcars out in Bayview and you've got the Third Street Line and you're going to take away streetcars?
Weaver: It's probably a billion-dollar investment they've got there.
Weaver: And the city doesn't know how to use it. It's never really grappled with it. And even now the city says, "Well, there's nothing there. Let's put our money in Ocean." I can't argue with that. Ocean needs help, too, but Broad-Randolph is something that could be a very attractive neighborhood. It could be a low-key mix of residential and small retail, of Victorians and new places-- it's very small scale.
LaBounty: You can't cut and run either, I don't think.
Weaver: Yes, you can't cut and run, and it's very small scale and the city, the people who make things happen like the projects to be big. The Balboa Better Neighborhoods Plan barely makes the cut in terms of size of project.
LaBounty: Plus it's the sexy thing you were talking about, right? They want to put their money in something that's a big splash.
Weaver: They'd like that, and Broad-Randolph is only going to be little splashes.
LaBounty: Right. Well, let's wrap up, talking a little bit about the people here. I know you've got to get going.
Weaver: Let me make one comment about--
Weaver: One of the things that's striking about the neighborhood, to me, is a lack of street trees. A friend of mine and I always have had this running discussion for the past fifteen years; how much does a person have to pay for a house before they want a tree in front of it? [Laughs]
LaBounty: And what is that, do you think?
Weaver: We started that argument when houses around here were about $75,000, and now they're up at, you know, $400,000 to $600,000--some new homes on Minerva are selling for $980,000-- and we haven't reached it yet. Because, in fact, what happens around here is that a developer has to put a tree in front, actually a tree every twenty feet. The developer will put the tree in, if he has to, and then the people who move in the house will take it out, will remove it and plant nothing or--
Weaver: Gravel or whatever. Yes. That's one of the big things around here, is people who pave over their whole yard. But I'm still looking for that number. What's the number where they want a tree and want landscaping?
LaBounty: Is it a parking issue? You think they're paving their whole front lawn to park another car on the side lot?
Weaver: Yes, but that's illegal.
LaBounty: Yes, of course.
Weaver: Now all we have to do is get the law enforced. I don't know what the dollar amount that people pay for a house and want a tree will be?
LaBounty: When you moved here in '78, who were your neighbors? Working-class folks who have single-family homes here, families, primarily African American, maybe European backgrounds here?
Weaver: I'd say on this street of fifty houses, it was maybe half African American. The Filipino family that owns that house next door owned it then. Over here there was another family, I guess they were African American, and they sold to the people who are there now. Yes, I'd say it was maybe fifty-fifty. There were few, if any, Asian families then.
LaBounty: And now today what would you guesstimate it?
Weaver: I really only kind of monitor what goes on in my part of the street, which is the lower half of it. Almost everybody who moves in is Asian, but not everybody.
LaBounty: This neighborhood is just a big melting pot, right, in a lot of ways?
Weaver: Yes. Apparently there's a concentration of Filipinos around here, which sometimes escapes the casual visitor. It's focused on St. Emydius.
LaBounty: Right. Which is closing.
Weaver: Well, the school's closing.
LaBounty: So, compared to where you used to live, in Castro, which is the Noe Valley area, it's very Caucasian. I'm actually living there temporarily. I'm moving to 30th and Vicente. I live on 28th Street right now near Dolores. One Hispanic family and a lot of mostly white families. Then over here it's like you've got Filipino, Asian, African American and just everything here, so it's a very cosmopolitan neighborhood.
LaBounty: So if you bought a house here today, how do you think a person would feel welcomed here by the neighborhood? Is it a neighborhoody-type feeling where your neighbors come and chat with you or is it a--
LaBounty: Yes, it's more of a stay-in-your-house sort of place?
LaBounty: That might just be a big general thing, though, with people.
Weaver: Well, I think part of it is the layout of the grid. With fifty-two houses on a block, it's way too big for people to know each other.
LaBounty: Yes. So maybe you know the people next door to you and across the street.
Weaver: I know the people down this way because I always walk this way. I almost always walk this way. And I know a few of the people up there and, you know, the former police chief lives up there. I know the woman on the corner. I've been involved in trying to get street tree plantings going around here.
LaBounty: How many neighborhood groups are you involved with, roughly?
Weaver: Well, I'm involved in three or four.
LaBounty: And do those draw people from the neighborhood or are we talking about a core of five people?
Weaver: We're talking about the leadership of six people in the OMI that I can see that really does things: Minnie Ward with Neighbors in Action, Minnie, Mary Harris, Al Harris, myself. Maybe a couple more on the steering committee and public safety, Helen Williams, Barbara Moonie, Regina Blosser, Alice Lawrie and Bonnie Chung. Peter Vaernet with Brooks Park, Maria Picar with Arts Connection.
LaBounty: You could have a comfortable little dinner party with the leadership.
Weaver: That's right. We're spread very thinly.
LaBounty: How do you attract more people? How do you get more people involved?
Weaver: That's a really good question. I don't know. At one point we had a Chinese outreach person who was on the payroll of Neighbors in Action, and she would organize block clubs with Chinese families that had issues that they wanted help with, public safety or other issues, but they would rarely, if ever, come to a meeting, a general community meeting other than on their block.
LaBounty: Is that a challenge? Do you think it's necessary to get all these people rallied together for the community?
Weaver: It would be nice, but I think we may have to wait for the next generation of Asians, and I don't know if they're going to live here after college. This generation seems to be people who have just come from the old country.
LaBounty: Right, and they're just getting themselves settled.
Weaver: They've never gone to school here, and they've never gone to college and they've never studied what America is all about.
LaBounty: The language issues, a lot of stuff.
Weaver: There is the language issue, yes.
LaBounty: It's interesting, because this neighborhood seems to have gone from a mostly European, interesting European background, of folks, you know, Germans and a lot of Eastern Europeans were living here, and then it went to a very African American feeling neighborhood and now it's an Asian neighborhood. I wonder what it's going to be like in twenty years, twenty-five years.
Weaver: So do I. Will there be street trees up and down Jules avenue? Maybe redwoods down the middle of Jules as Peter Vaernet suggests to slow the speeders down!
LaBounty: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the neighborhood before we wrap up, or any great thing you want to talk about the neighborhood or thing that needs work?
Weaver: What needs work is the role of the city and public agencies in maintaining and the publicly owned property. It's a constant issue.
If you call District 11 a group of neighborhoods, in a way it is a group of similar neighborhoods, the OMI is in it, but our Ingleside Terraces neighbors and North of Ocean neighbors are not in it, they're in Tony Hall's District 7, so we kind of split-up Ocean Avenue that way. We're connected now to the working-class neighborhoods down in the Excelsior and Outer Mission that are similar to the OMI. That freeway is very destructive.
[End of interview]
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Page launched 27 December 2004.