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By Sarah Lapidus
It was a warm, breezy Saturday in Bayview — ideal shopping weather in most commercial corridors in San Francisco. Like other districts with a distinct identity, the city was trying to promote pride in Bayview’s unique heritage, displaying the red, black and green bars of the Pan-African flag on streetlight poles all along Third Street.
But unlike scenes in the Haight or North Beach, few people could be seen meandering into shops, cafes and stores along Third Street. The sidewalks along Bayview’s main commercial street looked practically deserted.
A few corner stores and small shops were trying to make a go of it, but the most visible evidence of commercial activity seemed to be “for lease” signs in the windows of vacant storefronts. Even Radio Africa, a well-reviewed restaurant the city helped establish at Third Street and Oakdale, was closed, unable to maintain regular daily business hours.
Despite an influx of new residents attracted by affordable home prices and a sunny fog-free microclimate, Bayview has hardly been a full participant in San Francisco’s economic boom. Now, some residents are hoping that historically African-American districts may get more attention with the election of London Breed, just sworn in as San Francisco’s first African-American female mayor.
“She comes from the same cloth that I do. I know that her will to better the inner-city community is high on her list,” said April Spears, owner of the Bayview soul food restaurant April’s Kitchen.
During the 2018 mayoral campaign, Breed could count on instant popularity within the African-American community. Even though turnout was lower than elsewhere in the city, Bayview voters who did go to the polls voted for Breed in high numbers. Although the race ended up nearly in a deadlock citywide, Breed drew more votes in Bayview than her two main rivals, Mark Leno and Jane Kim, combined — 4,371 for Breed vs.versus 1,065 for Leno and 1,126 for Kim.
People related to her story: Breed was raised by her grandmother in San Francisco public housing and graduated from public high school.
“She has lived the experience of being marginalized and she has proven herself a distinction,” said the Rev. Amos Brown, pastor at Third Street Baptist Church, where Breed regularly attends services.
But it’s not clear how strong an advocate the new mayor will be for Bayview and other neglected parts of the city.
Even though Breed opened a campaign office on Third Street, some residents and business owners noticed she didn’t put much visible effort into getting a large turnout in neighborhoods like the Fillmore and Bayview— even skipping large forums that focused on issues in the black community.
“London Breed didn’t show up and didn’t send a rep,” said Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, an emergency- medicine physician who grew up in San Francisco.
Through her staff, Breed declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. Breed’s legislative aide never responded to a list of emailed questions.
Her campaign seemed to focus primarily on swing voters in the west side of the city and was funded in large part by money from executives at tech companies such as Twitter and Medium, tech mogul Ron Conway, real estate interests and the firefighters union.
Voters elected Breed during a time of heightened racial tension and a big shift in San Francisco’s demographic profile. At last count, in 2015, less than 6 percent of the city’s population was African American, down from 13 percent in the 1970s.
On top of that, evidence of racial bias arrives almost daily in the form of videos posted online, allegations of police abuse or, disturbing economic and education statistics. on economic and education measures.
“We’ve seen incomplete policies and goals in relationship to the southern part of the city and the other parts that have a larger African -American population,” said Kevine Boggess, the political director of Coleman Advocates, a nonprofit that promotes programs for low-income children and families.
As the group notes on its website: “San Francisco is considered a liberal bastion, but the racial achievement gap and the racial opportunity gap indicate how far we still need to go to achieve true equity.”
In 2014, African American youth made up only 5 percent of San Francisco’s youth population, but 56 percent of San Francisco’s youth arrests. Moreover, 59 percent of those killed in police shooting incidents were people of color, primarily Latino or African American.
Workforce statistics are also grim. A 2017 report noted that 84 percent of white San Franciscans are employed, vs.versus 53 percent of black San Franciscans. Moreover, in tech, one of the largest industries in the Bay Area, only about 2 percent of top tech- industry executives are black. Nor does it seem that things are getting better. Since 2017, there has been a 13 percent decrease in African-American women professionals in tech, according to a report by the Ascend Foundation.
Black-owned businesses also seem to be suffering, as evidenced by the apparent lack of bustle in districts that once were once vital centers of African-American culture and commerce.
Sumchai said long-time black-owned businesses have been vacating the Fillmore since the 1970s. Businesses such as Yoshi’s jJazz cClub, the restaurant 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, and the New Chicago Barber Shop #3 have all closed their doors. Marcus Books, the oldest African-American-themed bookstore in the country, was forced to move to Oakland to find an affordable location.
While Breed was the District 5 supervisor, the city planned to demolish a housing complex in the Western Addition called Midtown Park Aapartments. Critics rallied community support and unsuccessfully petitioned Breed to help stop the demolition. Some residents said she also skipped community meetings on the topic that other mayoral candidates attended.
“Jane Kim, Mark Leno, (Angela) Alioto, Amy Weiss — they came . . . to speak about and how they can help Midtown, but no London Breed,” said Rufus Watkins, a long-time Midtown resident.
Breed has addressed the chronic problems of the inner-city districts and the city’s dwindling black population in interviews. She told the Los Angeles Times that she attributed the declining black population in the Western Addition to the redevelopment of the housing projects 20 years ago.
That’s one reason Breed has made housing a priority. She says that emphasis helped her win the election.
“The fact that I am open to trying new things all over the city for the purposes of building more housing — while also preserving neighborhood character — is something that people appreciated, because we have to build more housing,” Breed said.
Bayview residents and neighborhood leaders say that Breed’s lifelong exposure to issues confronting the minority population will push her to find solutions. People in the neighborhoods finally “have someone in office that will at least give it her all to give as much assistance to the smaller businesses and less fortunate communities,” Spears said.
Breed has long been seen as someone who’s unafraid to speak her mind. She found herself cast as the moderate in the last election, fighting off standard-bearers of the city’s strong progressive element to win the election. Although nobody can argue against her street credibility — Breed saw her first homicide at age 12, she has said, growing up in a housing project where cabs wouldn’t go — it’s not clear how much Breed will focus on bringing new life and good-paying jobs to Third Street.
Despite her overwhelming popularity in African- American neighborhoods, critics complain that Breed has paid them little attention, or taken positions contrary to the community’s interests.
One ongoing example concerns redevelopment of the former Navy Sshipyard at Hunters Point, which forms part of Bayview’s eastern edge.
The project seeks to revitalize a long-dormant waterfront neighborhood with the construction of parks, housing, retail, entertainment, and office space. It was a main part of the late Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to add 30,000 housing units by 2020. But recent revelations raise questions about environmental contamination of the shipyard site.
While serving on the city’s Redevelopment Commission, Breed helped push the Bayview-Hunters Point shipyard redevelopment after whistleblowers revealed that the soil, previously claimed to be found safe for development, may still be contaminated with toxic and radioactive materials. Some testing results produced by a contractor, Tetra Tech, turned out to be fraudulent.
Dr. Sumchai was part of a citizens’ oversight board monitoring the shipyard’s development. She said Breed has been “unresponsive to the issues around the health and safety (of the naval shipyard),” backing a 2016 pro-development ballot measure known as Proposition O, even after news of the Tetra Tech scandal broke, Sumchai wrote in an email.
Sumchai said Breed and District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen authored legislation this year to advance the shipyard development, even though the Tetra Tech testing scandal now “is full- blown,” Sumchai added.
Nonetheless, Breed’s supporters in the African-American community have high hopes that she won’t neglect their issues now that she is mayor. And nobody expects easy answers.
“The mayor of the city has an agenda that they have to follow as well. She still has a job to do,” Spears said.
“The businesses are gone. There’s a lot of friction,” said long-time Bayview resident Reginald Bailey, 65. “I hope she can control rent and bring businesses back to the neighborhood.”