Building bonds in the Bayview — one person, one community at a time

The Joe Lee Recreation Center in Bayview-Hunter's Point (via sfgov.org)

Image via parks.sfgov.org

The Bayview-Hunter’s Point District is not ashamed it is forgotten. No, it relishes in this fact. As industrial spires climb their way to the tops of San Francisco, it seems as if this area of town is proud of itself. It humbles itself so outsiders must search for the beauty here. Terraces don’t rise and grocery stores don’t buzz about with upper-middle class sensualities. Toyota Priuses don’t glide about leisurely, rather cars from America’s industrial apex grind the pavement. Cadillac DeVilles and Pontiac Firebirds puff CO into the air. A lot of Bayview-Hunter’s Point is a relic of America (and San Francisco’s) age of industry and community.
The former Naval shipyard rusts against the bay and local shops are boarded up, creating a ghost-town feel. This is not the San Francisco of brochures. Golden bridges and green parks are replaced with grey edifices and burnt tarmac, the only shade of color being the faces of people who stroll Third Street. And though this all seems fitting for a forgotten town in the southeast part of San Francisco, a new bud is blooming. Bayview-Hunter’s Point, despite its reputation, is a hotbed for community actions and involvement. But again, these developments aren’t explicit. Bayview-Hunter’s Point rewards seekers, and for some, they only had to look as far as their backyards. Others go door-to-door, and see the problems in the area and offer help, hoping to spur movements that’ll move beyond the community. Nonetheless the community thrives, and whether it’s a fifth grade student or a district supervisor, we can all learn who we are from our communities.

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51-year-old James Ross’ Southern drawl is subtle, yet inviting. The way he pronounces his words takes you back to a place in time where Coca-Cola was just a nickel and the only propaganda you needed to worry about was coming out of your radio. His Aunt purchased his home on Quesada Street in 1948, and as a result, he now lives in it with his youngest son.

“It was wild as a deer,” Ross said after being asked how Bayview was in the past. “Bayview had drugs, prostitutes and trash in the islands.”

Ross came to Bayview-Hunter’s Point from his hometown of Danville, Ky. (population: 31,000) to San Francisco in 1979 to live with his aunt. In 1983, he left to travel throughout the world and in 2000 Ross came back to Bayview and moved into his aunts house to take care of her.

Quesada Street is a caterpillar of a street. It runs up and down, starting at Third Street and riding up west to the Hunter’s Point hill. Ross’ home is located to the east of Third Street, on a little bloc with maybe a dozen homes. It was after returning back to the Bayview that Ross and his neighbors worked together to spur on a movement that would touch the lives of many Bayview-Hunter’s point residents. The group ushered forth community and began to see what true community looked like and it all began with flowers.
Nature struck its wrath on the Quesada street median, and as as result, 8-foot-tall bushes encompassed the already planted palm trees. It looked like all the quasi-vegetation that peeps around San Francisco’s concrete. It seemed just like any other median.
“People used to park their cars on the median and change their oil,” Sharon Bliss, Quesada Street home owner and professor at San Francisco State’s Fine Art department, said.
“Some of the seniors were putting flowers in the median in front of their homes. They wanted something nice in front of their homes,” Ross said.
Ross said he watched his neighbors for six months before he asked them what they were doing out there. Annette, one of the neighbors planting flowers, told him that she want something pretty to look at outside of her window. Unfortunately, it seemed like others didn’t care as much, which left Annette often fixing her plants from foot traffic or cars. Ross said she wouldn’t give up and soon began taping off the area. This soon inspired him as well as another neighbor, Karl, to begin doing so too. Soon, multiple houses began to plan their own creations on the median.
“The city came in and cut down the 8 foot tall bushes after we told them,” Ross said. Soon after this, the entire neighborhood became involved with more and more people planting something each day. Ross said they soon realized this is something that should spread to Bayview and so the Quesada Gardens Initiative was born. The city even installed watering systems to keep the plants going.
But it wasn’t that simple.
Becoming a Non-profit organization takes work, man-power and money. A mob of people will get you the first two. The last one takes a bit more.
“If you know who your neighbors are, you know what skills they have,” Ross said. Upon asking neighbors about their skills, Ross said they found a banker, a grant writer, a filmmaker and a professional gardener.
A graphic designer was needed so Ross enrolled in City College to take image editing classes. Ross said he does all the flyer work now. They soon pitched their idea to Renaissance Parents of Success, a 28-year-old Non Profit who worked with at-risk youth, who gladly provided funds to start.
And so it began.
For seven years the Quesada Gardens Initiative planted all kinds of foliage up the median. They enlisted help from the entire Bayview Community, as well as other parts of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Students from the University of San Francisco came to help build planter boxes. Students from Stanford took an entire weekend to help dig trenches for gardens. The end result was a beautiful, almost mythic garden that welcomes Third Street residents a chance to stop and look.
In 2007, Karl Paige, one of the pioneers of the Quesada Gardens movement, passed away. Ross said they wanted to make sure they honored him in a way that showed the community what he was about. A Bayview artist was chosen to paint a mural on the 30 foot wall at the end of the block. The top of the wall holds a memorial garden with a bench that offers a gorgeous view of the city and neighborhood.
Currently, twelve other gardens sprinkled throughout the Bayview exist, each with support from the area it’s in. The Bridgeview Garden, which is on the next street above of the Quesada Garden in the garden of a couple, is an orchard with apples and pears. Ross said the couple that houses the garden allowed them to pick the fruit and give it out to the the neighbors.
Ross has also created a side project called BayBloom that encourages families to place planter boxes in their backyards, creating fruit and vegetables for the entire community. The idea came from others on the Quesada garden block, who grew vegetables in their backyard and also because Bayview lacks grocery stores.
“In other districts they got everything they need, but when it comes to Bayview everything seems slow,” Ross said. He also said that though a lot of produce comes through the Bayview, it’s shipped out everywhere else.
Ross view of grocery trains in the Bayview are not too far-fetched. According to a Google Maps search of grocery stores listed in the Bayview, roughly nine are displayed, mostly miniature grocery outlets that serve more fast food than produce. Whole Foods has a distribution center in Bayview, but most of its stores are either downtown or in areas like Noe Valley. GreenLeaf, a company founded in 2005 whose goals are to are to provide great products to restaurants, is located in Bayview but their website does not list any ways for residents to take advantage of their produce.
“It’s almost fraudulent they do that,” Ross said about the lack of grocery stores in the Bayview. “And even when they do have organic foods, they’re too expensive.”
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, a British grocery train that’s become popular in the last few years for their cheap and healthy produce, was scheduled to build two stores in the Bayview last year, but halted production as of April 2008, according to an San Francisco Chronicle article. Fresh & Easy’s website list the locations at Third and Carroll Streets, as well as Silver Avenue and Goettingen Street, both epicenters of activity in the district.
A Farmer’s Market in the Bayview is listed on Jerrold Avenue but only offers produce from May through October on Wednesdays, according to the California Certified Farmer’s Market website. Ross confirmed the location of the farmer’s market but said it’s not frequent enough for the community to use.
As a result, Ross wanted everyone in the community to use their backyards to grow fruit. Bayview-Hunter’s Point houses the most homes owned by their occupants in San Francisco with average home ownership at 66 percent according to the 2000 census.

“Most homes have some kind of fruit trees but most people don’t want to deal with them so they rot. What we’ll do is go in, harvest the fruit, and give people a portion. We give away the fruit to the community and it would cost them nothing,” Ross said. “We’re trying to bring back fresh food and vegetables to the community. We’re trying to keep history alive in at Bayview.”
The project is one hold as the winter doesn’t offer much produce. That said, Ross is
working with agriculture and engineering majors at USF to create cheap, planter boxes that will allow residents to grow all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Ross was quick to make sure people understood the point of Quesada Gardens and why it began.
“It’s not about gardening, it’s about bringing people together.”
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Last June, the San Francisco board of Supervisors passed a law, mandating stricter compost recycling laws. Mayor Gavin Newsom wants San Francisco to be the greenest city by 2020 and thus, agencies like SF Environment came to help. SF Environment is a zero waste program responsible for enforcing this ordinance, but the organization is not new to enforcing or changing municipal laws. They were the driving force behind San Francisco’s plastic bag ban in 2007. They’re pushing city-wide for better electricity and compost habits, but it’s their grassroots campaign in Bayview-Hunter’s Point that’s become a big focus.
“People don’t care about the environment because people don’t know,” Jean Walsh, Outreach Specialist for SF Environment said. Walsh said that SF Environment’s goals are to educate and show people that becoming green isn’t just good for the Earth, but good for them too.
“A lot of contaminants are in the air of people’s homes,” Walsh said. “We send people to have a look at what cleaning products they have that may cause health issues like asthma.” Based on a 2000 report done by the San Francisco Public Health Department, rates of asthma were higher in African Americans than any other ethnic population. African Americans account for roughly 7 percent of San Francisco’s population, but make up roughly 34 percent of Bayview, according to the last US census.
Recently, SF Environment started a campaign to make house calls to residents in the Bayview and do door-to-door visits to teach them about the new law, as well as how they can save money with eco-friendly light bulbs. Walsh said people were excited they came and that interest in the environment was very popular.
SF Environment also employed around 40 people through San Francisco’s Jobs Now program, many of them Bayview residents. The program uses federal stimulus money to great greener jobs for unemployed people in San Francisco.
“It’s running only until next year so we’re pushing to keep it going,” Walsh said. Walsh also said that the need for a better environment creates jobs for that need, which in turn provides better community. These are the goals SF Environment wants to bring not only to the Bayview, but city-wide.
A greener Bayview continues to be a strong issue for both activists and residents alike. Bayview is the only part of the city with 25 percent of its land unindustrialized, according to the San Francisco Health Development Tool, leaving much debate about how to utilize the area. Furthermore. Bayview has 12 acres of public space opened to the public, compared to the city average of 9. Bayview is poised to become an area of health and prosperity, but it takes time to let people know that.
“We want people to know it’s not some hippy environmentalist thing,” Walsh said. “People want to talk about the environment.”
*******
“Put your problems on probation, run your troubles off the track, throw your worries out the window, get the monkeys off your back. Silence all your inner critics with your conscience make amends, and allow yourself some happiness, Its Christmas time again,” Fifth grader Jocelyn Eisner yelled. The crowd smiled as the curly haired girl with a caramel complexion and glasses sliding to her nose recited Bob Lazzar-Atwood’s poem It’s Christmas Time Again. Starbucks cups with free hot chocolate twitched, both out of anticipation of the next event and the harsh San Francisco winds that cut through the amphitheater. District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell appeared, seemingly anxious to begin the display. She asked the audience to clap three times and with that the behemoth Christmas tree lit up Third Street. This was the end of a night of fun, holiday cheer and community.
The Bayview Community packed the Bayview Opera House last Saturday for the Sixth Annual Bayview Holiday Marketplace and Tree Lighting, which offered a free toy giveaway for kids ages zero to 12, live entertainment, an ice skating rink, local food and a marketplace for local vendors to sell their creations.
“Every year is a loving outpour,” Jacqueline Hunter said. Hunter, who’s come to each event since the first one, noted that this is one of the biggest events in the area.
The event began at noon and ran until 8 p.m. Different organizations such as social justice groups, The African American Holistic Wellness Center through the YMCA, Wells Fargo and others came to offer both events to attend to, as well as support such as help purchasing a new home. Vendors and organizations used this event to not only provide fun for the families and children around Bayview-Hunter’s Point, but wanted to challenge the community to grow and change.
“This is the time to galvanize the community,” Bayview artist and activist Malik Seneferu said. Seneferu was among one of the vendors who sold art at the event. Among the food vendors were The Po-Boy stop, Noah’s Dirty Popcorn, La Laguna Taqueria and Miz Lynn’s Pies.
Demarcus Freemon, a member of the African American Holistic Wellness program at the YMCA, said that it’s always great to see people out and that he hopes the programs they’re bringing attract the community. Among them were a spoken word and poetry event Dec. 16 and a city-wide Kwanzaa celebration beginning Dec. 28.
Supervisor Maxwell joined the celebration at 5 p.m to light the Christmas that overlooks Third and Oakdale streets. Mayor Gavin Newsom was scheduled to appear according to the SF Bayview Newspaper’s community events calendar, but there was no mention of his absence.
Bayview Police officer Greg Surh introduced himself as the new captain of the station and offered his help and protection to the residents of Bayview.
When Maxwell was asked about the importance of politicians in public, she said that because supervisors are district elected, it’s important that they go into the community.
“This is where we come from,” Maxwell said. “This is who we are.”

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One response to “Building bonds in the Bayview — one person, one community at a time

  1. Pingback: Editorial: A look at hyperlocal blogging « The Inglesider

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