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San Francisco has done everything to the Bayview except fix problems

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Transit report shows that the southeastern neighborhood remains a diverse working-class hub, but the African-American culture that once defined it has almost vanished

An aerial photo of homes and buildings lining a harbor in San Francisco, with the sky turning pink from the sunset on the horizon. Via Shutterstock

In a very real way, the story of San Francisco in the 21st century is the story of the Bayview.

It’s one of the city’s most vital, most diverse, and most historically important neighborhoods. But the powers that be long overlooked the city’s southeast flank, and only in recent years, as developers looked for places to spread out, has critical attention been paid to things like the Bayview’s infrastructure and home inventory.

With all of this attention comes anxiety, umbrage, and the ever-looming shadow of gentrification. In the middle of all that, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has prepped an extensive new transit plan for the neighborhood that it will present to SF County Transportation Authority this week, a bid to help repair the Bayview’s long broken connections to the rest of the city.

More than focusing on transit alone, the 106-page report provides remarkable detail about how the Bayview is changing on the ground—and why it’s often been so neglected in the past. In the gradual metamorphosis of this one neighborhood, the ongoing drama of San Francisco as a whole becomes clear, up to and including the city’s fractious crisis of identity:

  • For decades, the Bayview has been the center of black culture and experience in SF, but it wasn’t always this way; in the 1930s, the neighborhood was a hub for Chinese immigrants, who ended up displaced by the opening of the Navy base at Hunters Point. World War II brought an influx of black migrants to the city, and due to racist redline housing policies, the Bayview was one of only a few neighborhoods where they could settle down.
  • The black population in the Bayview increased 665.8 percent in 1945 alone. The de facto destruction of the Fillmore years later further concentrated black San Franciscans in this one neighborhood. By 1980, an estimated 72 percent of the population of the neighborhood identified as African American. But in the years that followed, a decline kicked in that continues to this day, and now only 27 percent of residents in the Bayview identify as black. As SF Bayview notes, this has left San Francisco “with the smallest black population and the fastest exodus of any big city in America.”
  • During that same period, the neighborhood saw an increase in residents who identify as Asian-American/Pacific Islanders or Latin residents—40 years ago both groups made up seven percent of the neighborhood’s population apiece, but have since swollen to 31 and 24 percent, respectively.
  • The Bayview remains one of the few SF neighborhoods with a relatively large population of minors; 24 percent of people who live here are ages 17 or younger (it’s down to 12 percent citywide), and that includes 40 percent of black youth. The Hunters Point neighborhood in particular is strikingly young: 39 percent of residents there are under the age of 18.
  • Despite rapidly rising housing costs, the Bayview remains one of the few places in the city where working-class people and low-income households can catch a break. Right now, more than 30 percent of neighborhood households make $30,000 or less per year, and 70 percent make less than SF’s current median household income.
  • Note that these demographic generalities vary considerably from block to block. In fact, thanks to its size, it’s almost a misnomer to call the Bayview one neighborhood rather than a federation of sub-neighborhoods . The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency divides the neighborhood into five distinct zones: Islais Creek in the north and Little Hollywood to the south are, on average, quite wealthy, with a median income of over $101,000; but these areas are less densely populated than the larger Hunters View, Silver Terrace, and Central areas.
Map of the Bayview. SFMTA
  • Despite the expense of owning a car, almost half of the Bayview households keep two or more vehicles. (In most SF neighborhoods, it’s closer to one quarter.) The report cites “geographic isolation of the community and the level of transit service” for the reliance on private vehicles. For example, consider that on average it takes a Bayview commuter just 24 minutes to drive downtown from the Alice Griffith housing complex, but the same trip via Muni takes around one hour.
  • Masterminded in the early ’90s, the T-Third Street Muni line finally opened in 2007 and was supposed to revitalize the neighborhood. But the results have been mixed, and the report notes that many longtime locals actually miss the neighborhood’s old bus service—which was generally not very good but still more reliable than the slow and chronically late light rail service. (In 2019, the K/T line was on time as little as 31 percent of the time, according to SFMTA’s self-reported data.)
  • Transit is of paramount importance in the Bayview, since the neighborhood is generally awkwardly laid out, with “a circuitous and poorly connected street grid with frequent dead-ends” that cuts people off not only from the rest of the city but sometimes just the next block over.

Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that the overall decline of black residents in the Bayview has coincided with something bordering on a collapse of the city’s black population overall. During the same 40-year period SFMTA measures here, the U.S. Census estimates that the number of people in SF who described themselves as black or African American dropped from 86,190 in 1980 to 45,886 today—even as the city’s overall population skyrocketed.

Speaking to a Board of Supervisors committee, longtime resident and activist Dr. Espanola Jackson warned, “The people living [in Bayview-Hunters Point] now are being forced to move out” and scolded city lawmakers that “we need to stop lying about affordable” for people living there.

While the late Dr. Jackson could have made these exact same remarks at City Hall today, her comments date to 2007. The writing, it seems, was always on the wall.