Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This conversation I had kinda bummed me out

I had to take our car into the shop last week and I had a conversation with the owner I've been thinking about ever since.  Because cars are mysterious and temperamental creatures, I had to take it to a different place than we usually go to.  Anyway, the owner - super nice guy BTW - was taking my info and when I told him my address he said "Oh, I grew up like two blocks from there."

"No kidding," I said.  "Where do you live now?"

"Over by Lake Merced," he said.  Then he said the interesting slash depressing thing I've been thinking about ever since.

"But we're looking to move," he said.  "This city's getting crazy."  I nodded like I knew what he meant, although he could have meant any number of things.  Then he said, "Amd we've got a kid now and we can't send him to San Francisco schools."

I didn't really ask for clarification because, hey, he's a guy working on my car and we're not here to debate the merits of San Francisco schools but MAN IS THAT DEPRESSING.  I have a kid who's going to be going to school in a couple of years and it never occurred to me to just dismiss SF public schools out of hand like that.  I mean, we fully intend to do the whole lottery thing and whatever and see what happens.  (I assume he meant "San Francisco public schools" when he said "San Francisco schools" but who knows, maybe he just can't conceive of his kid attending any school in the city limits in which case never mind.)

It occurs to me that this attitude might be more prevalent among SF natives like this guy than with people who have moved here in the last, say, 26 years like me?  From what I understand, SF public schools used to be worse and have been improving greatly over the past few years, so maybe that's it?

This picture has nothing to do with this story except it's a cool picture of San Francisco. From some astronaut's Twitter, I think. 

The second depressing aspect of this brief exchange - and yes, I can manage to extract two depressing points out of a 20-second conversation - is that this is the kind of guy San Francisco desperately needs and can no longer keep.  A regular, middle-class guy who runs a local business and is raising a family in the city and isn't trying to commodify parking spaces or figure out yet another way to get food from a restaurant to your door.  I feel like we're losing the Normal Guy demographic and that's a vital part of this city or any city.

(Again, I'm making some assumptions here based on the fact that it's a guy who owns an auto repair shop and lives out by Lake Merced.  Maybe he's actually a billionaire who created Repair.io the auto repair app but I didn't get that vibe.)

That's about it.


Greg said...

This has been a problem both in SF and in the Bay Area....and it's showing when you try to do certain things and you have new people who want everything to be a foofy boutique cutesy store in the area vs stores selling things you might need...the Inner Sunset is becoming the Westside Treat District because of this..

SF Unified sucks not because all its schools suck but because you really don't know what you're getting. I have a friend with 2 kids in high school in SF - 1 attends a great school with teachers who teach, etc, the other goes to a local variant that's more Fort Apache The Bronx than anything resembling a school. Couple that with a radical desegregation plan that makes your kid attend school across town (while not actually making any schools that great) and..yeah if I had a kid I'd be faking their address so they could go to school Anywhere Else....

Anonymous said...

I pre-emptively left the City in some part due to anticipating the same reason, though I had more exigent reasons at the time. I have close friends raising children in the City, most of whom have kids around your daughter's age (e.g. pre-school, but it's looming) and some with kids in elementary...who have gotten lucky in the lottery. So be realistic and wary, but don't be pessimistic.

Anyway, on the larger demographic issue, I totally agree with you. The depressing thing about the City is that it is squeezing out the truly middle-middle class. Even if a family can give up the suburban idyll of a detached single family home on a plot with a yard and all that, and even if one can afford to buy or rent, the school situation is so unpredictable and insecure. It's hard enough to balance work and family responsibilities without ferrying one's kid halfway across the City, if made necessary.

It seems to turn a lot of former progressives pretty conservative, which is understandable. It must be hard to choose between complaining about the loss of one's own quality of life while also believing in the compelling social equity of allowing families from less moneyed neighborhoods the chance to go to better schools, if they are willing to swallow the commute.

It's far from the case, still, as demographic shifts proceed far more slowly than perception/anticipation of them, but it seems that the City is headed toward a reality wherein the "blue collar" of the City are junior developers, third-year associates, or lower-middle-managers, rather than the true middle-middle-class.

Civic Center said...

Get Baby Beyonce into a San Francisco public school, and if possible, get her into a Mandarin immersion program. San Francisco is possibly the most interesting Chinese immigrant city in the Western world, so take advantage of it.

Your mechanic friend from Lake Merced is probably Old San Francisco, which means white Catholics, most of whom moved to Marin or the Peninsula in the 1960s when schools were being desegregated. Some of them are still stuck here. San Francisco was/is as racist as Boston, and the solution here was to make sure that everyone got sent to a Catholic school. No matter how high the tuition, at least you don't have to worry about Greg's Fort Apache, The Bronx kind of high school. He's absolutely correct that there are great schools and terrible schools side by side, but that's true of everything. If you don't want your loved one to die in a hospital, it's good to be paying attention and keep them safe until you trust the place. Treat your daughter's educational adventure in the same way.

Anonymous said...

This is a big discussion in our household right now. My son is 4 1/2, so he won't start school until next year, and we're trying to decide if want to stay in SF. We really love San Francisco, and it's a bummer to think about moving. But, the truth is we want to own our home with a backyard, etc., and that's not financially feasible for us. This is ridiculous because we're a two-income household, and we make decent money.

Then, you add on top of that the SF school system. Our son is autistic, and there are only a few schools in the district that are rated highly for the services we want/need. Of course, none of those schools are in our neighborhood where we rent, so we would be shuttling him across the city every day. Ugh.

And, by the way, I used to work as a reporter for the SF Independent, and the school board was my beat. I listened to parents every year complain about how difficult it is to navigate the school system. I really hope it's improved since then.

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