voxsouley

Bitterness over San Francisco

In Gen X, Growing Up, Politics on July 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

Just got a reminder of the state of mind we were in when we decided to leave San Francisco in late 2005. Part of the reason was Chris Daly. The Chronicle just published an article about him buying a house in Fairfield and moving his family there. Precious.

I loved living in San Francisco. Passionately. It had everything we wanted – nice parks, good public transportation, historic architecture, a thriving restaurant and live music scene. I loved exploring all the neighborhoods; I had coffee shops pegged all over the place. We were lucky enough to own a unit in an Edwardian Duplex in the Mission – in a tenancy in common situation.
I look back at that period – 2002-2005 – very fondly. Our first daughter was born in San Francisco. I guess her being born in late 2003 was the beginning of the end of our time in SF. At first, SF was a great place to have a baby. When they’re tiny it’s easy. All people generally give you a nod of the head and a smile at your baby and look happy to have you around.
Schools don’t matter yet, you can keep them on your lap on BART or MUNI, and you don’t have to constantly explain why that crazy man is pooping on the corner outside or what that funny smell is coming from the breezeway.
It’s when your kids get older and you look into preschool that you have second thoughts. When we started looking for Ellie it became clear that we were already too late and out of luck. Even mediocre preschools screen your tax returns to see how much you can afford, and even then you’ll be on a waiting list. We should have gotten her on the waiting lists when she was born.
And that’s not even the half of it. If you want your kids to get a good education in San Francisco, it’s going to cost you $15-35,000 year in private school fees, because the public schools are a total gamble. It’s a 7 square mile city, and they were bussing kids all over town to balance all the schools. Public school scores were low, and anyone with means sent their kids to private school.
We were stuck in the middle class level that the Chronicle article writers mentioned Chris Daly being so hostile to. We were too wealthy to get any breaks on anything in SF – housing, schooling, health care, etc, and too poor to afford what we wanted for out daughter, which was a safe and competent learning environment. This was even before we knew that our daughter was going to have special needs, which would have drove us out of SF even more quickly.
What finally did it was a confluence of factors. The Mission where we lived was a transitional neighborhood, and will always be. It was getting nicer while we were there, but then it was also getting worse. For every remodeled multiplex building with wealthy tenants, it seemed like new homeless or drug addicts would turn up relieving themselves all over our stoop, stealing our bikes, and generally making the place totally unfit for raising my kids. In one of the untransitioned houses around the corner from us, an old gang member got out of prison and had returned home, and there were a couple of shootings nearby, and the guy and his gang started tagging the corner houses around us. That wasn’t cool at all.
Then we started feeling really out of place. When our daughter grew into a toddler, when we would show up at Tartine, out absolute favorite weekly bakery and coffee shop, it was like we were cramping everyone’s style by sullying their coolness with our so-domestic vibe. Even going to other neighborhoods like Noe valley didn’t really change anything, because the other young parents there were totally out of our price range, so to speak. They were the dot-com millionaires who were paying what it took to give your kids the life you’d want to give them. But we just couldn’t really see ourselves running in those circles.
It was like there was no place for us left in SF – we were too poor to afford what we felt our kids would need: a safe and clean environment and schools in particular, and too well-off to take advantage of any of the politically progressive programs that SF is so famous for providing to it’s working poor. So when our tenancy in common partner offered to buy us out, we decided it was time to go. We took our money and bought a place up in Sonoma county where the schools were good and there were way more opportunities for our daughter.
I still miss the coffee shops, but it’s worked out for us. I like the idea of urban living and would love to give it another shot one day, but I can’t imagine moving back to SF for a really, really long time.
Coming in and sullying the coolness with my kids at our favorite old coffee shops is definitely on the agenda though, next time we’re out that way.
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