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Black Out: The City Sponsored Gentrification of Bayview Hunters Point
An interview with Longtime resident and Greenaction organizer Marie Harrison.
In a public hearing last month, city commissioners unanimously approved a decade in the making plan to redevelop an astounding 1400 acres in Bayview Hunters Point. The Redevelopment Agency now awaits Board of Supervisor ratification before implementing its plan. Bayview Hunters Point, along with nearby Visitation Valley and the Outer Mission district, house 73 percent of the city’s 7 percent African-American population. While two city hall hearing rooms were set up to accommodate the overflow crowds of primarily BVHP residents, a Redevelopment Agency representative spoke narrowly to their anticipated concerns. With a lowball guarantee of 25 percent affordable housing in the new, otherwise market-value housing units, he ensured that the housing security of current tenants would not be jeopardized by eminent domain as it had been during the redevelopment of the Fillmore 40 years ago. But as police presence in BVHP has become more hostile in recent years, residents displaced from the Fillmore decades ago are now recognizing the tactical measures that drove them out, of which eminent domain was just one. Marie Harrison is one such resident. She told Fault Lines about the eviction game plan that was executed in the Fillmore that is now being applied in Bayview Hunters Point.
Fault Lines: How long have you been a resident of Bayview Hunters Point?
Marie Harrison: I have lived and raised three children in BVHP. I moved out shortly and moved back in. I guess you should know that when I moved out, it was to help save my 4 year old grandson; another asthma incident that the doctors could not deal with. Our [BVHP] asthma rates are higher than the asthma rates in the whole city.
FL: Police occupation and incidents of brutality in BVHP have been fairly common over the last few years. Was it that way since you can remember, or was there a turning point?
MH: Actually, no it wasn’t that way since I can remember. I remember BVHP when there wasn’t nearly as much gang violence. And then when there were incidents of violence it was usually one or two people battling it out and they would box but they weren’t trying to shoot and kill each other.If you go back a little ways you’ll remember at one point there was a riot that occurred in BVHP and that was over a young man being shot in the back. That was an incident that occurred when I guess the community itself just had enough. There was no employment, and drugs started to filter into our community, and all of the sudden our people became not the victims but we became the culprits. Nobody would take two steps back and take a look at the fact that wait a minute, these folks barely go out of the community. I remember in a mothers group that I work with, it was such a big concern over all of this shooting that we asked people to start looking out for how all these guns and bullets and stuff were getting here, and who’s bringing the drugs in here and not getting stopped? I mean, our community is just filled now with police officers.
FL: Do you perceive an objective of this police occupation?
MH: Can I relate that to something I remember from the Fillmore? I consider my family to be refugees from the Fillmore district. I was talking to some folks who came from the Fillmore and some of the things that we remembered happening. All of the sudden the police started becoming real aggressive and they were always angry whenever they showed up for any incident in the Fillmore. It was always a battle. It wasn’t like I’m here to help, it was always a major deal and no one could figure out what’s different, what’s going on? Why are they doing this? Same thing is happening here in BVHP. They don’t come in saying I got a call or this and this and this, we heard what’s going on. They come in gunstrong. Then all of the sudden, the small businesses that were lining Fillmore street started getting all of these visits from folks who were writing them tickets
up for not being up to code on this, and it was the first time I ever heard the word blight being used. Anything that wasn’t up to somebody else’s standard or you needed a coat of paint or your wiring wasn’t right, that was considered blight, and guess what? You either bring it up to code, which usually cost you a fortune, and you never had the money to do, or your property got taken from you. They also improved the transportation: the bus lines up and down Fillmore
Street.Now we have a light rail that’s about to come down Third Street. Now they’re visiting our business and looking for code violations, they’re citing blight in the community, and not only that, but Bayview has become the largest project ever, since the inception of redevelopment.
FL: Developers have used projects like the light rail to hang jobs over the heads of a community that has experienced an unemployment rate of 20-30 percent since the closing of the Naval shipyard in 1974. How has that played out for the community?
MH: One of the things you heard at this hearing you were at: they talked about how this remodeling of BVHP was going to bring all these jobs. Well let’s not go back to the old stuff, let’s just deal with the new stuff. The light rail wasn’t going to be built unless Bayview
built it. Did you see any of us out there digging those ditches or laying those tracks? Absolutely not. When we start complaining and we shut it down on Third Street, we made the mistake of allowing one of the agencies—that’s the young community developer designated at the time—to do the negotiation. And what did they do? He settled for them hiring three people. Three people out of the whole doggone community and then what did he settle for? Flaggers! A union flagger starts off at $21 an hour. The people that they hired in Bayview to be flaggers were making $8 and $9 an hour. And they were not being invited to join the union. One worked for a month and a half and didn’t get fired, she got laid off while they hired her next door neighbor. Then she (the neighbor) worked for a month and a half and they laid her off. So the idea is—and it took a contractor to actually explain this to me—if I don’t fire you I can still use your name and when you say I didn’t hire anyone from BVHP I can run down the roll and show you her address and that she was hired this day, and she’s not fired. She just ain’t workin’. There is an alternative to this redevelopment
of the community. There is always an alternative, and there’s always a better way to do it. The problem is that it means less money to the pockets of the folks that are footing the bill, and more money into the pockets of the folks who are going to have to deal with the consequences. I think really and truly, what needs to happen is that these (our) folks are going to have to get themselves ready for a battle. We’re going to be fighting there tooth and nail. They promised that they wouldn’t use eminent domain but they’ve already started the process.
Marie Harrison is a community organizer with Greenaction and will run for SF District 10 Supervisor this year.