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Gentrification's Price : S.F. Moves: Yuppies In, the Poor Out

April 03, 1985|DAN MORAIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — After living 35 years in the same North Beach apartment, Frances Brandolino and her husband discovered there was no longer room for them in this city.

A group of lawyers bought the 17-unit Victorian building in which they had been living to convert it into offices. Unable to find a place they could afford in San Francisco, the Brandolinos ended up in the suburb of Brisbane, where the $500-a-month rent still is more than twice what it was in their rent-controlled North Beach apartment.

It isn't that the family is poor. Frances Brandolino, 62, part owner of a small North Beach hamburger stand, and her husband, a printer, earn about $30,000 a year. But the family simply could not afford apartments that in North Beach go for "$900 or $1,000 a month," she said.

Story Is Typical

The Brandolinos' story is being repeated throughout San Francisco, where a decade-long building boom has transformed the city's skyline and its population. One example is the Brandolinos' old neighborhood, once a thriving Italian district, later an enclave for beatniks, now home to chic restaurants, high-rent apartments and increasing numbers of offices.

In short, San Francisco has become perhaps the most gentrified large city in the nation. Districts that a decade ago were blue collar are now ghettos for young urban professionals, who have spawned a consumptive economy in which one highly successful new chain mass markets croissants, sort of a Yuppie version of Winchell's doughnut shops.

The change has created a new vocabulary: Yuppification, croissantification, Manhattanization. City Planning Director Dean Macris calls it the "boutiquing of San Francisco."

Whatever its name, its result is spiraling housing costs, clogged traffic, an exodus of middle-class and poor families and declining black and Latino populations. And the trend seems certain to continue despite a new effort by the city to limit growth, restrain housing costs and preserve neighborhoods.

'Post-Industrial City'

Some social scientists call San Francisco the "archetypical post-industrial city," one with an economy based not on steel plants or breweries, but on silicon chips, corporate headquarters, international trade, banking, law. And its residents reflect that.

Several other big cities--Boston and Philadelphia, among them--are experiencing similar changes. But here, the difference is in degree.

"It is clear to me that San Francisco has experienced each of these changes . . . earlier and to a greater extent than any other area in the country," said demographer Kevin McCarthy of the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp.

Of the 13 largest cities in the nation in 1980, San Francisco (current population 706,900) had the largest percentage (22%) of residents between ages 25 and 34, the segment of the population most likely to have children. It also had the lowest percentage of children 13 and younger.

Of those 13 largest cities, San Francisco was one of only two that showed a drop in black population between the 1970 and 1980 censuses. San Francisco's black population declined 10%, or about 10,000. San Antonio, the only other city in the top 13 to record a loss, showed a 0.3% decline.

During the same period, the number of Latinos in San Francisco also dropped by roughly 10%, or about 10,000, Latino leaders here say, although the census did not count that group separately in 1970.

The number of Asians, now about a third of the population, is increasing rapidly. But for the most part, Asians and other minorities do not hold the high-paying office jobs.

White Work Force

A recent city report says that two-thirds of the downtown work force is white, and that whites hold three-fourths of the management and technical jobs. Those jobs have the highest salaries, with more than half paying at least $25,000, making San Francisco paychecks among the fattest of the largest cities.

Growth proponents say the building boom merely reflects San Francisco's healthy economy. Bob Hayden of the Chamber of Commerce called the downtown high-rises "vertical factories." And those factories keep the city's unemployment rate to about 6%.

Mayor Dianne Feinstein builds on that by pitching San Francisco to foreign investors, who finance much of the construction. So far this year, she has been to London and the Far East on trade missions.

But while the city bustles, some researchers sound notes of caution, not only for San Francisco but for other cities that rely on service industries for employment. Several corporations--Bank of America, Pacific Bell--have moved much of their operations to suburbs, where land costs less and where work, done largely on computer, can be done just as easily.

Vacancy Rate Grows

A few years ago, there were no vacant offices here. Now, there is a 10% vacancy rate.

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