San Francisco and the Tech Backlash

gentrification in the mission

So I haven’t written in a while, but this story about the Google buses being blocked by protesters peaked my interest.
My Facebook news feed became full of debates amongst people wanting to voice their opinion. It seems like the typical argument about tech workers and gentrification goes like this:

Person 1:  “Tech people are ruining San Francisco and the bay area. They are jacking up rent by outbidding each other on rentals and it seems that everyone’s rent has gone up. What’s worse is they are shuttled away from San Francisco to their tech campuses in private buses that utilize MUNI bus stops.”

Person 2: “Tech people are actually helping the bay area, its sad that some people are being evicted and priced out, but that’s just economics. And it’s a good problem to have. Many American cities, like Detroit, would love to have to deal with the repercussions of a booming economy.”

Person 1: “But the rate of change is too much and it’s changing the fabric of San Francisco. Teachers, artists, non-profits workers”

Person 2: “Well cities are always changing, and the current changes are for the better.

In general initial protests of any issue capture a feeling that something isn’t right and people are affected – everything is not okay and people are going to voice their opinion. They may not be protesting the right target, i.e. the person or people that have power to make changes, but sometimes in a movement that is beside the point. They are drawing attention to something that many people feel angry about, even if they don’t have the answers.

As most reasonable people would come to conclude, the causes of these issues are more structural in nature. Gentrification happens because there is an influx of new people to an area that need places to live. First people move where its cheap, then restaurants and services move into to cater to their tastes, the area becomes more desirable to live and people with more money move to those neighborhoods. The neighborhoods end up transformed. This change is caused by simple real estate economics – when there is more demand for housing than there is supply prices go up and landlords evict tenants so they can make more money (and keep up with their rising costs).

In the case of San Francisco, its booming tech sector has meant the rapid hiring of new employees many of whom are in their 20’s and 30’s and hail from different parts of the U.S. (and world). When these people need places to live they seek out places where other people like them live. While that used to mean tech workers were split between San Francisco and The Peninsula, new corporate bus programs have enabled people to live in various part of San Francisco (and the bay area) and to be able to live minutes walking distance from their corporate shuttle stops.

Imagine for a moment your 23 years old. You have just graduated college and landed your dream job at Google. You make 80k a year (the actual starting salary for software engineers two year ago) – most of that is yours to spend since you have 3 free meals, free transportation, and fully paid health benefits. You’d love to actually work in the city that you live in, but Google’s tiny SF office is maxed out and the facilities people have sent nasty company wide emails discouraging you from working from that office. So you fold up your MacBook Air into your company provided backpack and grab a coffee at Tartine before hopping on your climate-controlled bus down to Mountain View. Even if you live at the closest stop, 24th Street and Mission, your commute still averages 1 hour 15 minutes and can take up to 2 hours when it rains. That means your spending 2.5 to 4 hours commuting everyday and you would give anything to get back a little bit sooner. So when people ask Why are all these tech workers living in the Mission? or other neighborhoods on the South/west part of the city – the answer is simply a shorter commute. Of course your competing with everyone else for apartments in these hoods and so you’ll spend as much of your salary as you can on to your rent. I mean, your 23 and you haven’t really figured how money works yet, right? And when the weekend is here and you need to get around you don’t dare take MUNI (I mean you’ve never taken it before, why start now?) so you take a private UBER or Lyft ride.

The whole city is feeling the pain these days as rent is so F-ing expensive. Even Castro icons like Cleve Jones write letters to Scott Weiner about all-time high evictions of LGBT seniors living with HIV.

So back to the Google buses. There was a recent article in the Atlantic about the San Francisco exodus to Oakland and how San Francisco has embarrassingly bad transportation due to the underfunding of public resources. Yeah, no shit. Have you taken MUNI or a rainy morning, or really any morning at rush hour? Trains are completely full and they break constantly causing massive delays. One would think that with the massive infusion of tech wealth into the city that some of this money would trickle down to everyone else helping to improve public transportation. (As a knee jerk liberal I can’t believe I just invoked trickle down theory) But as the article points getting mad at the visual signs of gentrification does little stop the root causes of it:

“Railing against Google buses, fancy restaurants or new condos—the visible signs of gentrification—will do nothing to stop San Francisco from becoming more expensive. These are not causes of the rising rents; they are symptoms. The root cause is that many people have chosen to live in San Francisco, and we are now all competing with one another to bid up the rents. As long as this remains a desirable place to live in a region that is producing a lot of jobs — while at the same time we fail to produce enough housing to accommodate the demand — then housing prices will continue to rise.”

So whose fault is it?

Is it the urban planners in the South Bay for building corporate office parks in remote locations? Is the public for being too NIMBY and discouraging the development of high-rise apartments to help alleviate the housing shortage? Is it the lack of a strong regional urban planning authority to say no you can’t build way out here, but you can build in this dense urban core accessible by public transit and here are some funding and tax breaks? Is it the tech companies’ fault for offering these buses or their employees for taking them?

As you can see the answer isn’t so clear. But bringing the conversation back to how to increase housing in a meaningful way would be the best start. These protesters, while misguided, seem to be sparking the conversation amongst San Franciscans.

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SF People Interviews: Wilson Jones of CoffeeShop

This is the third in a series of interviews of people that make up the patchwork quilt of personalities that is San Francisco. 

Wilson Jones is the owner of CoffeeShop located on 3139 Mission Street in Bernal Heights. In addition to opening and running this coffee shop he is also a talented graphic and web designer. I met Wilson after finishing a short hike up Bernal Heights and stumbled upon his cosy little shop. He poured me some cold-processed iced coffee and I was instantly convinced that this was my new favorite coffee shop in San Francisco.

Wilson Jones of Coffee Shop_3139 Mission

Wilson in his coffee shop

MissionHipsters: How did you become interested in opening a coffee shop and what did you do before?

Wilson Jones: I was and still am a designer. Graphic designer, UX designer, web designer…and then the opportunity arose via a call from one of my freelance web clients, the new Bernal Heights-based cannabis club Herbal Mission,

“Dude, we need help, want to come take over and run the coffee shop in front of our building?”

I had just been laid off from a silicon valley job, we had lost our health insurance, and my wife had just broken the news that we were expecting a child. So I said ‘Heck,Yes!’ All this happened over the course of three bizarre days.

Iced Coffee

Wilson adds a dash of milk to some cold-brewed iced coffee. The ice is made from cold-pressed coffee and can take up to 12 hours to freeze.

I have always loved the idea of a coffee house. Back in Austin, TX, I had a 24-hour digital service bureau and we had an espresso machine on our front counter for customers to whip up a drink with if they knew how.

My parents, even after they were both retired last year, dove back in and started a coffee shop in our grandmother’s town of Clarksville, Arkansas. We both, it turns out, didn’t really mention it to the other and simultaneously built Coffee Shops. Theirs had a radio station in it broadcasting the town’s sport talk radio…well played…

I decided to call ours the deceptively simple, and unused name, ‘CoffeeShop’. 11 months in, folks seem to appreciate what we are doing, enjoying the daily offerings of the Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative and now we are in the planning stages of a second spot on Folsom Street!

A customer just wrote this about us on our Yelp page: Holy cow.

London’s Soho 1960 … On a Saturday there was a ritual when I was 8 years old …

“Steppin out to Angelucci’s”

Mark Knofler  penned  it in the opening line of Dire Straits song “Walking in the Wild West End” from their first album about this iconic roaster.
http://angeluccicoffee.c…
We’d buy a couple of pounds of my mom’s special blend

Then …walk up the street to Bar Italia  and have an espresso and a salami sandwich
http://www.baritaliasoho…
Great website with some cool video’s here

So why mention all this stuff in a review of the CoffeeShop in San Francisco ?

Took me 52 years to emulate that magical experience…

Thanks Wilson….

You made an espresso that transcended time and space mate !

That about makes my entire year.  Now I just need to keep it up. That makes 23 5-star reviews in a row so far: http://www.yelp.com/biz/coffeeshop-san-francisco

Coffee Shop, Bernal Heights

Outside CoffeeShop 3139

MH: What are some of the challenges to opening a small business in a city like San Francisco? You mentioned there was a $500 permit you had to apply and pay for to have a small table outside.

WJ: SF is rather like Oz. Everything is fantastically more expensive than I have ever experienced. But truthfully, once you get past that and learn to be patient, the folks I have dealt with are actually super cool and we are having a lot of fun getting to know folks in our neighborhood. The city got us lined up for bike parking out front in less than two weeks. Any day now, we’ll have that!

Coffee Shop Mission

Local pastries for sale. Wilson made the wood kiosk for the iPad/ Square check out reader himself.

MH: I see you have some interesting drinks and food. What are some of the unique things you try to do in your store?

WJ: I have always gravitated towards making coffee in between design work over the years. First, Starbucks. Then, La Boulange. Then the Brickhouse Cafe in the SOMA. Kim and Fred there taught me so much about running a truly low-impact, sustainable operation, reducing our physical output of trash to the absolute bare minimum. I also started to get creative there with what I was making.

Coffee Shop in The Mission

Wilson behind the counter

Our first original creation was the Espresso Pour. It’s simply espresso beans through a burr grinder and then single-poured through a filter. The good grinder brings out a whole spectrum of flavor that was hidden by the finer grind and high-pressure delivery of the espresso machine. This quickly became our top-selling pour. It’s strange, I’ll walk around town and ask other shops to make me one and rarely do I find someone who will do it.

Next came our Iced Coffee. I love cold coffee. I love cold, extremely low-acid coffee that I can sip slowly for hours. This means the ice cubes should optimally be made out of 18-hour chilled and filtered cold process Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative Sumatra. That way, it actually tastes exactly the same, awesome way an hour later. Boom. We are serious about this one. The only man I know who has viewed more YouTube videos /and/ poured more Lattés then me, Séan Wilson, pulled me aside one evening and introduced me to the idea of substituting time for temperature in the preparation of coffee.  Did you know it sometimes takes coffee over 12 hours to freeze? I learned it by trying it out and definitely is a time consuming process, but so worth it.

And then, last month during the latest heat wave, came the newest addition to our offerings. Iced Yerba Mate.

A nice, orange blossom honey poured onto a cleaned filter, a little fresh lime squeezed in next, and then quickly steeped Yerba Mate poured into a waiting cup of ice. Voila! Folks love it.

But the most important thing I’ve learned these past 11 months is the importance of the role of the barista. We got to stay friendly and warm and kind. It’s important to care about the quality of everything deeply, but not get all pretentious about it. I watched ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ again. I want us to deliver something out of this world good, but quick. Not slow. Philz Coffee understands that people are in a hurry, despite their best intentions.

We are particularly blessed to have stumbled across the roaster Rick Soenksen of Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative in Emeryville and Emily Guzzardi of BATCH Baking here in Bernal Heights.

These are two people working at the height of their respective crafts.

Coffee Shop, Wilson Jones, Chalkboard wall

Patrons chatting, behind them is the chalkboard wall.

MH: Your also a talented wood worker. What sort of things did you build in your shop?

WJ: My business partner and wife Olga Boiko and I live out by Outerlands Restaurant and Trouble Coffee in the outer sunset. That corridor is an inspiration to walk down on a sunny Sunday morning towards the ocean. I’m from Arkansas and 20 years in Austin, Texas. The folks from this part of the world really know and appreciate wood working. Every other storefront has something cool going on inside. I’m a big believer in using Everything I have to produce the desired function. A wall of Alhambra giant water bottles makes a great base for an Espresso Bar, an upside-down clear glass Ikea plate makes a great lid. I asked all my neighbors and friends for all their extra wood and I’m slicing it all into 1 inch strips and covering as many square inches of our Mission space as I can. It makes things feel comfortable and woodsy and encourages hanging out and chatting. Then, a smarty-pants customer, Robert Leshner from SafeShepherd walked in one day and handed me a can of chalkboard paint, now a few of the walls are giant chalk boards.

Coffee Shop 319 Mission

Wilson made this wall and shelves out of recycled wood pieces.

MH: Anything else exciting going on for you?

WJ: Well I have all my design stuff that I still am active with.  In addition to that I recently became a father. Waking up to my 3 month old daughter this morning, pointing at a giraffe on the side of her crib and her cracking up laughing about sums it up. Doesn’t get much better than that. I have to agree with her, the overall design of the giraffe with little fluffy horns is hilarious.

Foundry, Inc.
CoffeeShop_3139 Mission

What it feels like to order hipster coffee

How many times have you gone into Fourbarrel, Ritual or another hipster coffee place in the The Mission only to be made to feel a little awkward when you didn’t understand the menu or why you couldn’t order your favorite drink? This little sketch captures it perfectly.

http://FunnyOrDie.com/m/652h

Coffee Snobs – watch more funny videos

Hipsterism is dead, long live hipsters

I started a blog to write about hipsters. I’m worried I may have become one along the way. I wanted to write about the urban phenomenon of hipsters and hipster neighborhoods, popular styles and trends that didn’t originate from a Gap commerical, and I wanted to observe it first hand and provide my own spin. At first I thought my blog might be a bit similar to other hipster-bashing blogs where I would take pictures of hipsters in cafés, hip restaurants, and other venues.  I would write about the silly stores that pop up all over the mission selling taxidermy, antiques, and some beaten-in clothes at thrift stores. I wanted to have funny meme’s that poked fun at people with silly non-prescription glasses and men who wore scarves indoors.  But almost immediately as I started to do my research (which is not much more than getting coffee and people watching) I started to realize that real hipsters were elusive. It wasn’t only that they had moved on from last year’s cool coffee shop to a much cooler one in the next neighborhood over, but that a lot of people who appeared to be hipsters from a distance were really just normal people.  Unemployed, freelance, or between contracts, most of these people were just going about their daily lives. They weren’t actually trying to portray a certain image.  There were software engineers working on their start-ups and writers working on short stories.  And I, just like them, had come to a coffee shop because it’s a better place to focus than being at home.

My other big issue was that in making my first few jokes at random people’s expenses I started to question who I was if I was not one of them. If I’m not a hipster, does that make me a preppy, mainstream kind of guy? Do I think that people who work in traditional corporate environments are better than other people? I don’t really identify with that group either.  Sure, my jobs over the last couple of years were in more corporate environments and I was surrounded by more mainstream folk- but I like to think of myself as an individual… Oh gosh, now I really am starting to sound like a hipster.   I don’t want to identify with any particular group; I don’t want to be limited by being put in a box.  And really, isn’t that what this is all about? Identity. In order to make sense of all the different things we see in the world we create generalizations about the people we see around ourselves.  We write off people who take different paths in life as hipsters and hippies, and on the other end of the spectrum we label people as type-A business jerks and uber-rich capitalists.  And the thing about modern identity is that while there are some groups that people like to associate themselves with slightly (such as Christian, technophile, artist, and businessman), most people want to be thought of as unique individuals with original ideas.  Hipsters don’t identify with being hipsters. Other people coin the phrase and use it to generalize about a not so set group of people. You can’t interview a hipster and get his or her take on the world.  They can’t defend themselves.

What I am coming to terms with is that I want to write as my main job and a side passion.  Somewhere along the line in my life I learned that artist is a dirty word.  I learned that artists are a lazy group of people who are hopelessly lost in their own delusions.  But this doesn’t seem fair.  When you think of all the musicians, actors, painters, and writers whose content you consume and allow you to feel excited, inspired and validate your experience – you know that artists do indeed produce something of value.  If hipsters are really just a bunch of people exploring their creative dreams and slowly building their skills and their portfolio of works, then who are we to judge? We want to consume the music of the band as they get successful, but are annoyed by their struggling artist lifestyle on the way there.

So what is to become of hipsters? Hipsterism, as a mainstream alternative style, has already peaked in the last couple years.  At this point hipster styles are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to really call it alternative anymore. As this New York Times article points out, recessions are perfect breeding grounds for hipsters. There is a lack of steady, long term jobs and many young urbanites are graduating from undergraduate and graduate programs into an economy that just doesn’t have the jobs that they imagined they would land as they finished school.  On top of this, many young people today grew up with parents and schools that instilled a certain amount of idealism in them.  We want the perfect job and we want it now (and we feel somewhat self-entitled) that we deserve it.  We want a job that fulfills our passions, allows us to dress as we feel, is viewed as cool and sexy by our friends, and pays for us to have that ridiculously expensive home on the cover of Dwell Magazine.

I’m currently working on a re-brand of the site. I am planning on expanding the focus to urban phenomenon, trends, and neighborhoods.  Talking about hipsters all day can get boring, they don’t deserve all the attention they get.  Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for some changes and let me know if you have any input: missionhipstersblog@gmail.com

Retail Store meets Espresso Bar at Elite Audio Systems

Quick post – check out these pictures I took at the new cafe in SOMA serving up Blue Bottle Espresso.  Not only can you get wired on some velvety smooth roasted bean from the big blue, but you can also try out the latest in audio equipment to amplify your Fleet Foxes download on your iPhone.

Kind of a mix of the new and old here.