The Changing Face of Third Street

The Changing Face of Third Street

by Angela Bacca, staff writer

FEBRUARY 18, 2007 8:18 PM

Amanze Emineke knows his neighborhood like the back of his hand. From the polluted park along the waterfront, to his mom’s apartment in the Oakdale projects with its view of Candlestick Point, to the markets on Third Street.

His tight-knit community, Bayview Hunters Point, is mainly made up of the black Americans who moved from the southern United States to San Francisco in the 1940s to work at the naval shipyard located at Candlestick Point. When the shipyard closed in 1974, thousands were left jobless, and the neighborhood became a center for problems like gang violence and drug trafficking.

Now Bayview Hunters Point is undergoing a series of changes, including redevelopment and the implementation of the new Muni line through the area’s main thoroughfare: Third Street. Neighborhood officials are confident that the Third Street Light Rail is a step in the right direction towards alleviating the problems in the neighborhood, while residents are mistrustful about the changes they are facing. To money-strapped students of the city’s colleges –– especially commuters –– the changes mean an affordable, safer and more transportation-friendly neighborhood.

According to Muni, plans have been in the works for the Third Street Light Rail since 1989. Officials and police have seen the rail as an integral part of cleaning up the neighborhood.

“Because of the efficiency [of the rail] more tourism will be attracted to the area … more publicity and more tourism mean less crime in the area. This will make residents happier also because [it will be safer] and create faster transportation from Third Street to Market,” said Bayview resident and office aid to Sophie Maxwell, Erick Orantes.

“Visibility always decreases crime,” said Officer Neil Swendsen, a San Francisco Police Department officer. Swendsen is one of many Muni and SFPD officers who ride in the new trains that are now running on weekends.

Swendsen is also optimistic that with the improvement in transportation, more people will be eager to move into the community, which currently is predominately black and low-income.

“[Bayview] is not as diverse as other communities. Diversity strengthens a community,” he said.

Access to housing is another possible benefit of the Third Street Light Rail. Affordable student housing has been a growing concern for the thousands of students attending the city’s many colleges and universities. The rail will connect downtown to the new student housing for UCSF located near Mission Bay and AT&T ballpark.

“The convenience [of the new rail] and the low prices would definitely make me interested in living there [the Bayview],” said Amber Taylor, a 21-year-old history major at SF State.
On the other hand, while residents agree that something needs to be done to save their community, they are distrustful of the way the Redevelopment Agency and the city have carried out their plans so far.

“It will cut down on the violence and bullshit, but people gotta live,” said Ronald Currington, a Bayview resident for almost 50 years. Currington says that he will not ride the rail, as he believes that the money would be better spent in other places.

“Elderly people, they need help. Children too,” he said.

Other longtime residents, like Espanola Jackson, who moved to the neighborhood in 1948, would have liked to see other changes made before the rail was put in.

“[The young people] haven’t been educated, they are on the streets young,” Jackson said. She says that the redevelopment plan should take care of the people –– specifically schools and businesses –– in the community first, but the entire redevelopment plan is geared towards pushing out the black community already there.

“People are going to realize they are being used. They are trying to move us out,” she said, citing the redevelopment of the Fillmore district in the 1960s.

Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the SF Bayview Newspaper and longtime Bayview resident, agrees with Jackson.

“They are trying to keep us jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof,” he said. “My frustration is with the city’s policy of pushing us out of here. The city does not talk to the community or the businesses out here about what they want.”

Some residents also feel that the rail has hurt local businesses so badly that it is no longer beneficial to them.

“[During the building of the rail] a lot of the business couldn’t do the same amount of business; they couldn’t stay open. Some were able to survive the punch and some weren’t. You can just tell that it’s going to be a different situation. The way it divides the street –– it has a different feel now,” said Frankie Woodruff, executive assistant at the Bayview Hunter’s Point Foundation for Community Improvement.

There is also worry that the initiatives of the project lie not in improving the community, but making money for the city. According to the San Francisco Assessment and Recorders office in City Hall, houses purchased recently can fetch anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 yearly in property taxes.

“The highest home ownership in San Francisco is by the black people of Hunter’s Point,” Ratcliff said. California Proposition 13, introduced in June of 1978, states “reassessments to property value and tax can only be made when property is sold.” 
“I pay $300 a year in property taxes,” Jackson said. “[The city] isn’t making any money off of me.”

Although the rail has raised disputes among residents and officials, everyone agrees on one thing: when the rail opens for full service on April 7, the neighborhood will begin to feel the change.

“It will bring people in and bring people out,” Woodruff said. “It’s a whole new psychology.”

Currently, the rail is free to ride and running only on weekends between the hours of 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 20 minute frequencies. More information on schedules and routes can be found at http://www.sfmuni.com.

» E-mail Angela Bacca @ abacca@sfsu.edu

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