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New Money Driving Out Working-Class San Franciscans

Economy: Gentrification, soaring housing costs hit areas such as Mission district. Anti-yuppie sentiment runs strong.

June 21, 1999|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — They are young, successful, fun-loving professionals who like to live in lofts, wear baseball caps and drive sport utility vehicles--and they are scaring the hell out of old-time San Franciscans.

Buoyed by the bullish stock market and the ongoing Silicon Valley boom, yuppies are moving here in droves, looking for the good life. Across the city, the onslaught is raising fears that San Francisco's last working-class neighborhoods are about to disappear beneath a tidal wave of martini bars and bistros.

The final battleground, some say, is the Mission district, a gritty, heavily Latino neighborhood on the east side of town that until a few years ago made headlines mostly for the drug deals and gang wars going down on its streets.

For all its problems, the Mission, as it is called here, has long been regarded as a vibrant, colorful neighborhood that helped San Francisco preserve its credentials as a multicultural, socioeconomically diverse community.

But three years ago, yuppies discovered the neighborhood--first as a place where a handful of trendy bars and restaurants had opened, then as a spot to buy crumbling Victorians and new lofts at bargain prices.

"It began to get especially cute around 1997," said Kevin Keating, a Mission resident for 11 years.

"I was sitting in a cafe right in the heart of the Mission and I saw these cell phone types around me wearing those kind of stockbroker shirts like Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street'--you know, with the white collar and the blue and white stripes? I'm thinking: 'This is the Mission. It is supposed to be a tough, working-class neighborhood.' I was appalled."

The trouble with yuppies, Keating said, "is that they come in and displace working-class and poor people by offering landlords more money." Since more affluent people have discovered the Mission, he said, "there has been a massive wave of owner move-in evictions."

In May, police arrested Keating and raided his home, saying they believe he is the founder of the Yuppie Eradication Project, a tiny group of anarchists who began plastering the Mission with posters six months ago, calling on residents to fight the yuppie influx.

Keating was quickly released, and no charges have been filed against him. But police say their investigation continues.

Keating will not say whether he founded the Yuppie Eradication Project or had anything to do with the posters. But he does describe himself as an anarchist dedicated to "eliminating state governments and wage labor."

Anti-Yuppie Fliers Posted

Depending on whom you talk to, the Yuppie Eradication Project has given either a violent cast or a humorous one to the increasingly urgent, citywide debate over gentrification.

The anti-yuppie fliers named four local bars and restaurants that should be bombed, and urged residents to spray-paint graffiti on lofts and scratch the paint of cars they suspected belonged to yuppies. The fliers were signed: Nestor Makhno, a Ukrainian anarchist who fought czarism and Bolshevism and killed Russian landlords during the Russian civil war.

No businesses have been blown up in the Mission district, and no landlords have been killed. But police said they do have reports of cars being scratched with keys and loft buildings being spray-painted with slogans such as "Yuppies Go Home."

Colleen Meharry, owner of commercial property in the district, said she found the fliers "disgusting. They said things like 'If you want your rent to go down, kill your landlord,' and 'Yuppie scum!' "

SF Weekly Editor John Mecklin said yuppies flooded his newspaper with complaints about what they saw as its sympathetic coverage of the Yuppie Eradication Project, saying they feel like victims of hate crimes. Two weeks ago, Mecklin retaliated by staging a fake "yuppie support" rally in the Mission district.

It drew 200 people and was covered as an actual event by several local newspapers and television stations. But most of those who turned out for the "rally" were demonstrating against yuppies, shouting slogans such as "Quality In! Yuppies Out!"

Robert Cort Jr. was a specific target of some of the fliers. His parents, who own several San Francisco properties, bought a house in the Mission district in 1996 and transferred ownership to him. After a court fight, he evicted the tenants in 1997 under a city law that allows owners to evict tenants and replace them with family members. Cort has yet to move in, but found his name and address listed in the Yuppie Eradication Project fliers.

"I get graffiti on my house," Cort said. "If they were saying: 'Go home gays, blacks or Jews,' it wouldn't be tolerated in this city."

Larry and Tom, a gay couple who bought in the north end of the Mission district in 1996 because it was affordable, said they think the attack on yuppies is ludicrous.

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