I love California. I spent nearly six years in the central valley, living in Sacramento and attending graduate school at UC – Davis. I miss the temperate weather and the friendly people. Things were more relaxed as a student and I got to enjoy time making friends. Sadly, it’s also where my sexual compulsiveness also began to take root, but that’s for another post, another time.
The main attraction of visiting friends and family was to venture east to the Sierras and see Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National park, or to venture west to the coast. Most particularly to San Francisco. My ex wife and I became adept tour guides with recommendations as to what to bring; this ALWAYS included strong suggestion of a jacket or sweatshirt. There was both humor and frustration in having that request declined. I sometimes I felt like I deserved some kind of kickback from the Embarcadero vendors who would then sell my non-advice heeding people the warmth that’s required in the foggy coolness of the bay.
We also came to know Alcatraz, Pier 39, Chinatown, etc. quite intimately. Indeed, I passed on headphones for audio tours after a while. These were times that made for good memories.
I like to get back to the west coast when I can. I’m currently in the bay area for a conference. I got permission to come this time as a fact finding mission of sorts. My management wants to see if I can find out about what a couple of other companies are up to beyond the usual incremental progress that’s typically reported by bashful graduate students and postdocs aiming to impress people for that next job.
I booked my travel late so the conference hotel was sold out of the set-aside rooms for the event. My in-downtown options abruptly skyrocketed in price to near $1,000 USD! I’m still partially claiming highway robbery while realizing that supply and demand are in full effect here. I was fortunate to find a reasonable hotel in San Leandro; across the bay. Also, flights were a little cheaper into Oakland. Also, I found out last night that there is a great craft beer scene in San Leandro/Oakland.
Oakland is the near antithesis of San Fran. It’s more gritty, more real. In terms of Football, Oakland has (until 2020) the Raiders. The fan base long has been the routiest perhaps only rivaled by the Steelers. San Fran has the 49er’s, a near spit and polish team with a history of greatness. Everything seems to reflect differently across the bay.
From my hotel I’ve been taking the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train into SF. This is a long and mildly painful ordeal as by the time the train crosses under the bay the cars are fit to burst with people. Nearly everyone is standing and frustrated, but cordial.
The reason for this is the east bay is the only place where housing can be even mildly affordable. Unfortunately, this affordability is evaporating. What’s taking its place are modern Hoover-villes of tents and other makeshift shelter.
Lack of affordable housing has forced many normal people who live and work in the area into homelessness. It’s no longer just the destitute, in the bay it’s creeping at an accelerating pace towards the middle class. Homelessness is usually treated in the area as a live and let live ordeal. Sympathy is taken as many are mentally ill or are victim to one addiction or disability or another. There is typically some level of help, but the system and old way of doing things seems to be bursting at the seams. Affordable housing is becoming of critical need
Watching the news this morning, one solution was presented by potentially bringing a cruise ship into the port of Oakland for people to live on based on income and other requirements. This is a bad idea. It is putting off the legitimate need for action and really just creating an American version of east asian “Boat people”.
What happens when one ship fills up? Do they just pull another ship into port? How is it kept clean and safe? Cruise ships don’t tend to have the best record for health and safety and that’s while there are fully staffed crews tending to people with disposable income (and who are warped enough, in my opinion, to take a cruise as a vacation; again a topic for another post). They are rather cramped below deck and I recall not enjoying some of the smells from waste and food handling.
So why are the only ideas for the homelessness problem to bring in one of Royal Caribbeans 40 year old clunkers that will make the company some money before sending it for mothballing? I believe the problem in this case is the desire to not change the status quo of the cities. To preserve everything so the well to do can enjoy the quaintness of the city as it was back before the 1960’s.
I usually consider myself somewhat of a liberal, but this is wealthy liberalism run amok. The desire to create a utopia by preserving absolutely everything even if it suffers those at the bottom; as long as they stay on the east bay when not working and largely out of sight. There is an assumption that everything can be tolerated, because hey, hippie freedom.
The reality is very few are voluntarily homeless now and that needs to change in more permanent and thriving ways. The biggest way is to start building wards with fervor. It’s time to add to the skyline as a symbol of prosperity and allow more of the town to be developed.
In really looking around the city many of the buildings are old and bordering on shanty’s themselves. They are usually only a few stories tall with renters willing to pile in closer than the deprived souls on a slave ship; seemingly all in the name of keeping things quaint.
I’m all for preserving and not overdoing construction, but the bay area is about to hit critical mass. The ability for people to afford housing and for there to be enough housing needs to happen now. The area as a whole, from Richmond through both sides of the bay to San Jose needs to wake up to this and realize this. Being tolerant of homelessness is no longer a matter of sympathy. If these people were really cared for those that have should be demanding change to elevate the prosperity of those less fortunate.
Beyond the homelessness this is also necessary for the survival of the bay as an economic powerhouse for the nation. It needs happy, sheltered, educated and fed masses. It needs to be affordable to attract talent. There are already signs of cracking in these walls that may not be mended.
Also, on the news was the announcement that the Oracle world conference was moving to Las Vegas. This is a mega conference for the information technology infrastructure and may be a hint that Oracle itself is looking for a new place to call home. Other businesses will likely follow and along with it the culture for technological and financial innovation. A “brain drain” such as this would be a very painful way to go and may be akin to Detroit or the Steel towns of the early 20th century.
Back home in Minnesota it’s slated to be -10F for the overnight temperature. I often turn to the expression, “winter’s coming”. We need to take care of each other. If the bay area doesn’t get together and find lasting solutions to its housing problem and get past some of its need for nostalgia to make the wealthy feel better, it will be a bloody blizzard.