The Bay City Beacon recently published a story about a meeting concerning a new business going in on 36th and Balboa, the San Francisco Bay Restaurant. In that meeting, with Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, neighbors lamented all of the terrible, horrible, no good things that this business will inevitably bring to the neighborhood. I was there. Here’s what I saw:
1. “Think of the children!”
A few neighbors theorized that the new restaurant would be the hot new nightclub on 36th and Balboa. “But, the Richmond is the last bastion of all that is family-friendly in San Francisco!” said one neighbor who had clearly never been to Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, Laurel Heights, West Portal, Glen Park, the Sunset, and any other neighborhood in San Francisco that families call “home.” In other words, all of them.
During the same meeting, as another neighbor stated his opposition to the new restaurant, a toddler started cooing. The neighbor rolled his eyes and said, “I can’t hear myself talk.” Supervisor Fewer quietly said, “That’s a baby.” Without flinching, he replied, “I don’t care.”
Come on down to the family-friendly Richmond District! Or don’t.
2. Stay in your lane, local heroes!
A resident and member of SFFD happened to be at the cafe where the meeting was hosted. After observing the meeting for nearly an hour, he raised his hand and spoke in calm, dulcet tones, to make the point that a Chinese restaurant with a license to play recorded music and serve alcohol until 2 am is likely planning on hosting Chinese wedding receptions, and that in his experience, these tend not to be disruptive to the neighborhoods in which they do business. I heard some mumble that he needed to stop talking.
He made his point and exited. Then, a neighbor declared, “If he doesn’t live in this neighborhood, then he has no business talking about anything other than fires!” and was met with cheers. Cheers, y’all. What a poor way to treat your neighbor, who also happens to be a hero.
To support the new restaurant, one neighbor brought up that Balboa has gone through quite the revitalization since Cassava, an elevated yet affordable dining establishment, moved there in 2012. He hit all the points about why we want a vibrant commercial corridor: Crime deterrence - yes! Engagement with neighbors - yes! Tax revenue and jobs - yes, yes, yes!
His “mistake” was his admission that he moved into the neighborhood in 2013. The room erupted in jeering. Some responded that they had lived in the neighborhood for 50-70 years and have never seen an empty storefront, as Balboa has always been great! I was tempted to ask my neighbors about the empty storefront that stayed empty for years until Marla Bakery moved in.
I finally broke my silence to remind people that we don’t actually know what we’re debating, as we’ve theorized on everything from a restaurant, to a bar, to a nightclub.* I suggested that we simply ask questions and let Supervisor Fewer look into our concerns.
As I voiced my support for the new business, a neighbor interrupted me: “Do you even live here?” I said, “Yes, for nearly 10 years.” Everyone started laughing at me, and he said, “I’ve been here for 44 years.” So my contributions to the neighborhood and long-term plans to stay don’t count for anything, but at least my opinion isn't tainted by that other, pesky little thing I observed at the meeting:
4. Racism. Like, in-your-face, “Yellow Peril,” “No outsiders allowed” racism.
Not that subtle, microaggressive racism that people love to deny exists in a “colorblind,” “progressive” city like San Francisco. Here are some gems from those who oppose the San Francisco Bay Restaurant:
Stay out, Chinese business owners: The commercial corridor “already has too many” Chinese restaurants. “Hockey Haven serves locals, and has full bar service and music until 2 am. We don't need another bar out here!”
Asian Crime Boss stereotypes: “What I'm going to say is unpopular, but, how can [the owner] have so much money to pay for the site cleanup, the land itself, the development of the building, and the ABC license? He’s going to sell Chinese food. How is he going to stay open? Is he going to be running a massage parlor in the back? Is he going to be running a gambling hall?”
Learn to speak American! “The owner doesn't speak any English, so why bother asking him about his plans?”
So much to unpack! With regard to #1, Hockey Haven's owner is Caucasian. “HoHa” is a divey dive bar, and one regularly sees a group of smokers outside on the sidewalk. On the other hand, this Chinese-owned restaurant that doesn’t yet exist is going to be a hot mess of all kinds of riff-raff!
In response to #2, I turned to my neighbor and said, "Wow, that's racist!" She doubled-down on her bigotry and said, "I knew it would be unpopular - but I had to say it." Yes, it’s unpopular. Because it's racist. Chinese food must be cheap, she presumed, because “ethnic food,” including the labor to prepare it, isn’t worth your dollar; and because it’s so cheap, the only way for an Asian entrepreneur to keep the lights on is to engage in insidious illegal activity stereotypically associated with Asians.
With regard to #3, I challenged my neighbor on the relevance of his statement, and he too doubled-down. “I know he doesn’t speak English - I live across the street from the construction site of the new restaurant!” Yeah, and Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because she can see Russia from the Alaskan coast.
As one of few vocal women of color in the room, I was constantly interrupted, talked over, and one guy even counted me down. So, let’s just be clear that the source of NIMBYism is nothing good.
Claire Fedewa is a Filipino-American San Francisco resident who loves archery, knitting, comic books, champagne, and rent control. Opinions in this article are entirely her own, written in her personal capacity, and do not reflect those of her employer.
For those who are interested, there will be a second community meeting about the proposed San Francisco Bay Restaurant on Thursday night at the Golden Gate Senior Center. You can find the event details here.
*Actually, we do - a letter was sent on March 2, 2017, to neighboring residents, stating: “(The ‘San Francisco Bay Restaurant) [sic] will be a great addition to the city’s Richmond District community and to the City of San Francisco...Our Chinese American Cuisine will be prepared with the finest quality local sourced [sic] ingredients...We wholeheartedly believe that our new full service Restaurant with a Type 47 liquor license will serve as a Public Convenience and Necessity for both locals as well as visitors to the city of San Francisco.)” Mystery solved!