Cleaning inequities in the midst of a tech whirlwind

Ever since Twitter relocated to its new space on Market Street in 2012, cranes have sprung up on the horizon and new construction has dotted Market Street and the surrounding areas – except in the Tenderloin district, mid-Market Street’s neighbor.

The mid-Market area has housed a tech boom that brought young professionals from all over the state to San Francisco to work. To accommodate these workers, the city has allotted a certain amount of housing and reconstruction I n the area to brighten the street up for the new folks.

Market Street is cleaner than ever and steadily getting cleaner, with multiple cleanup efforts, new buildings, and a steady influx of business. But if a casual wanderer steps over two blocks, they land in the Tenderloin, one of the city’s most low-income areas. It has been virtually untouched by the city’s cleaning efforts on Market. With the tax breaks that the companies get from the city, should big tech names be obligated to give back to the communities that they move into?

“They definitely need to be involved,” says Stacy Schasht, a Department of Public Works street cleaner. She works in the Tenderloin several days a week and watched the tech companies move in. “Get some of their employees out on the street and picking up. Companies should put some money into it. Why not give back a little of what they’re taking?”

Some companies are making an effort to relieve the city of their street cleaning expenditures in the neighborhoods that they touched down in. Yammer, a social networking business, has organized community service days where its workers go out into the Tenderloin, armed with tongs, brooms, and garbage bags.

According to the Community Benefit Agreement between Yammer and the City of San Francisco, the company sponsored a company-wide day of giving on April 12. 80% of in-town employees participated and the document quotes ‘over 200’ employees volunteering at 13 organizations. The company has agreed to perform two “Days of Good” in the community.

Twitter has a similar community benefits agreement with the city in which it also has agreed to two days of community service. The contract states that employees will be compensated for their time cleaning. Twitter has not performed any of its community service yet and was not available for comment.

The Tenderloin’s hygiene and street cleanliness has been an issue for tech companies, and not all of them are interested in giving back. Employees from various organizations have vocalized their concerns with the area’s so-called “area for degenerates”. Greg Gopman, the CEO of AngelHack, made an impression early in 2013 in a post on Facebook.


“In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it’s their place of leisure… In actuality it’s the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA,” writes Gopman.

“You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us.”

He later apologized for his actions, but the post went viral and brought to light the tensions between the underprivileged parts of the city and this new, shining tech population. Since Gopman’s post, much of the homelessness on Market Street has been shifted to the Tenderloin by Civic Center cleaning crews and police enforcement.

The Tenderloin has seen massive street cleaning efforts in the past twenty years, but very few infrastructure renovations – certainly none on the level of what the city is seeing on Market Street. According to San Francisco Police Department reports, crime rate has not dropped significantly and there have been no new recent strategies to tackle the drug use.

Phillip Allen, 52, works with outreach services in the Tenderloin and has been in San Francisco for over 30 years. He says he sees a lot of street cleaning efforts come and go, but the tech companies have started something new. “The fact is, I’ve never seen anything like what they’re doing to Market Street, and I’ve been wondering where they got the money from,” says Allen.

There’s a hygiene problem in the major downtown area as a whole – the number one hygiene problem we have is restrooms for being human beings. I’ve never seen the city like this, being picked up and cleaned like this, but still not enough bathrooms.”

“If tourism is such a big industry, and if so many people are moving in, why don’t we have clean streets in the Tenderloin?” says Rudy McKnight, 52, a baker. “We need public bathrooms, public parks. Make it user-friendly. It’s ridiculous that there should be shit on the streets. Our dignity is compromised when we don’t allow for cleanliness.”

The SF Parks Alliance is a group that works to remove graffiti, do waste removal, and beautify the city’s greenery. According to SF Parks Alliance spokeswoman Julia Brashares, the organization has “two Park Partner groups that do work in the Tenderloin – one of those community groups has been instrumental in getting Boeddeker Park renovated and improved.”

She states that upkeep of the Tenderloin takes up a significant part of their job and that it could not be done without the volunteer effort they receive.

If tech companies are displacing people, they should help pay for the clean up,” says James, 30, a DPW street cleaner. “It’s not entirely their responsibility. But you see a lot of rich people coming into this community. The rich people aren’t here for the community, they’re just here for the tourist spots.”

James says he’s seen a lot of people come and go and doesn’t think it’s fair that Market has been updated and the Tenderloin is still lacking basic human needs.

People need somewhere to go, something to do. They shouldn’t have to just sit in their single room occupancy hotels and die. We need more toilets for homeless people. It’s not enough.”




Eco-toilets for the Tenderloin


There is a human waste problem on the streets of the Tenderloin and an ecologically-friendly way to tackle it.

The PPlanter is a toilet/garden designed by the Hyphae Lab, the same folks responsible for the Tenderloin National Forest on Leavenworth Street. It features a short, stout, fashionable public toilet with growing plants on top, which are fertilized by the waste that the toilet filters. The top half of the toilets are see-through to discourage drug use, according to Hyphae Lab’s design.

According to results from the $180,000 test-run in 2012, there was little to no smell. The model that the city ordered will be outfitted with two urinals and a composting toilet.

According to Hyphae Lab’s master plan for the project, Glide Church alone spends $17,000 a year on labor and parts costs to fix broken toilet and sinks. They also spend around $3,000 a year fixing outside doors corroded from public urination. The PPlanter project will install several toilets along busy streets in the Tenderloin later this year. 

Need something to do? Short list of free/cheap events in the TL

5/16: Group discussion on bisexualit at LGBT community center

$3-5 entry fee

This group meets every third Friday of the month to discuss bisexual issues and visibility. Tickets can be bought online or at the door.

5/12: Commission on the environment at City Hall


This environmental review and commission is held every third Monday of the month at City Hall. It is free to attend.

5/10: Youth Speaks Grand Slam Finals at the Nourse Theatre

$5-10 entry fee

Watch talented high school students face off with provoking slam poetry. Tickets can be bought at the door or online. 

Free concerts at the Cadillac Hotel

Concerts at the Cadillac is a free concert series, open to the public. The Cadillac Hotel was gifted a piano in 2007 and decided to use it for therapy purposes – to provide high-quality music for the residents of the Cadillac Hotel, as well as anyone in the Tenderloin who wants to stop by. Everyone is welcome. Events run about an hour long and generally land on Fridays.

The next concerts are as follows:

Friday, May 9, 2014 12:30-1:30 pm
Legends of the Black Hawk

Friday, June 6, 2014 12:30 – 1:30 pm
The Jeffrey Chin Trio

Friday, June 20, 2014 12:30 – 1:30 pm
Peter Chung

More information about the upcoming concerts here:

A nurse’s work is never over – certainly not in San Francisco.

Eleven hours into an 12-hour shift in the AIDS ward San Francisco General Hospital, a 25-year-old nurse lost her grip and pricked herself with a needle. She has been HIV+ and dedicated to her cause ever since.

Mary Magee has been in healthcare in San Francisco for over 25 years. Originally hailing from New York, she says her passions grew from her family’s love of activism and service.

“We grew up in a working-class neighborhood,” she says of her childhood. “My parents got very political in the sixties – we had a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr on the wall. It shaped my parents. They took the gospel to mean non-violence and community.”

Catholic undertones and creeds of patience, kindness, and non-violence molded Magee’s world for most of her childhood. From very early on, she had been touched by the idea of working with marginalized populations and extending her hand to those in need. She then went on to do exactly that for the rest of her life.

She got her nursing degree in 1984 and worked into the Cornell Medicine Center for two years, which prepared her for her future experiences at San Francisco General Hospital. She spent her time at Cornell on the AIDS ward, where she had her first exposure to that epidemic.

“I was drawn to them and I wanted to fight that discrimination, that stigma,” she says. “It always made me think of stories in Catholicism – of lepers, outcasts.”

After her time on the AIDS ward, she found herself wanting to move. “Having grown up in the suburbs – I wanted out of the box.” She hopped out of the box and into Manhattan, which was a sliver too big for her tastes – a friend in San Francisco provided the perfect getaway. Magee visited San Francisco and found that she loved it.

Upon moving to SF, she first lived in the Haight and worked in the AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital, which she described as “life-changing” – for more than one reason. “Back then, there was really no talk of a cure for people with AIDS,” she says, “You just had to make people as comfortable as possible.”

Two months into her work at General Hospital, she made a simple mistake that almost all nurses make. A human mistake. Her hand slipped, she pricked herself with a needle while on the job- plenty of nurses do this on accident, but just to be safe, she got tested. The diagnosis came back months later. Magee had contracted HIV. She was the first at San Francisco General Hospital to have had this happen and only the 13th in the country.

“Mary is a bright light and loved by all,” recounts Lianne Angus, a fellow nurse who used to work and protest with Magee. “Working with her was a great privilege, one of the highlights of my work life, I would say. There’s a real deep conviction of justice in Mary. She has a charitable nature.”

The incident was broadcast through the local nursing world, but Mary was kept anonymous. Folks knew that a female nurse had received a fateful needle stick – nobody knew it was her.

Despite the diagnosis, she kept working on the AIDS ward. “It was really comforting,” she says. “Until it got too frightening.”

Magee didn’t want to become the face off the issue, but she wanted to do something to improve needle safety. She took the opportunity to join a group of people lobbying for safer needles in hospitals that would prevent these kinds of accidents. With fellow healthcare workers, she created the Nurses Alliance, a branch of the Service Employees International Union. The union succeeded in getting the Needlestick Safety Prevention Act passed in 2000, which has modified needle administration and usage across the country.

From there, she transferred to triage, and then labor, where she stayed for 16 years. She eventually found herself working in Single-Room Occupancy hotels, helping residents organize their prescriptions and manage their day-to-day health concerns.

“She’s especially adroit at diagnosing different conditions, particularly with people with AIDS who were triple diagnosed,” says Robert Abate, a patient who worked with Mary when she was employed at the Empress Hotel. “She has a very, very good understanding of medicine. To her, a person that needs help gets help – no other considerations. A lot of people in the medical field experience burn out, especially working with challenged populations. It’s hard to meet somebody who still stays sincere.”

She talked about experiencing a feeling of belonging early on, when she was shadowing a nurse, and they went into a Tenderloin SRO to check on the residents. “I just thought, oh shit – I’m home.”

“It was crazy,” she says, noting the openness of her nursing station. “It was busy. Lots of drama.” Her work in buildings like the Empress Hotel included case management, working with personal care providers, and helping people with preventative approaches in mind. That area of the Tenderloin is extremely active and well-known for its drug peddling. Magee noted that the cycle of abuse often made it very difficult for people to benefit from treatment entirely.

“Buildings vary in terms of culture,” she says, detailing her 4-year stay as an in-house nurse at the Empress Hotel. “It was interesting because there was drug dealing both inside the building and out, which means I had to be egalitarian to both parties – I’d meet with the buyer, and then I’d meet with the dealer.”

“I loved that you could have growing relationships with people – I didn’t have that previously. I learned people’s back stories and histories. People watched out for each other. I would have people come up to me and ask me to check on their friend.”

After her time with SROs, Magee transitioned into working in federal home-care for older patients. In 2012, Tom Ammiano named her woman of the year for her dedication to her community and her hard, tireless nursing work.

These days, Magee has been spending time with family and catching up on some reading in anticipation of coming into a new clinic job with the DPH in the Sunset. She has been HIV+ the majority of her life, but her health is good – it has never stopped her from doing what she loves.

“She’s exactly the same in personal life as she is in professional life,” adds Robert. “She’s either signing a petition or she’s championing a cause. She’s finding someone’s voice who hasn’t been heard and making sure everyone hears it.”

Suspects booked in multiple-victim shooting in the Tenderloin

Suspects in a multiple-victim shooting in the Tenderloin were found in Emeryville and taken into custody on March 24, according to the SFPD.

Curtis Warren, 25, and Verle Jones, 24, were found in Emeryville in the late afternoon the day after the shooting and transported back to San Francisco. They were booked on 8 counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy, according to the SFPD press release.

The shooting took place at Turk and Taylor streets on March 23 at about 8:55 p.m. Witnesses say there was a street fight prior to shots being fired.

According to the SFPD report, two people in a Volkswagon drove by the area and fired gunshots at a group of people standing on the sidewalk. The incident is believed to be gang-related and both suspects in custody are from San Francisco.

Eight victims suffered gunshot wounds and seven were taken to San Francisco General Hospital. According to the hospital spokesperson Rachel Kagen, the victims were shot in non-fatal areas and were released in a few days.

The silver Volkswagon Jetta that was involved in the shooting was recovered and no weapons have been found at this time. This investigation is still ongoing.

The SFPD are requesting information about this incident. If you witnessed this crime or if you know anything about it, call SFPD anonymously at (415) 575-4444 or text-a-tip to TIP411 with SFPD at the start of the message.

Speak up about MUNI changes

Panning of MUNI by htakashi

Panning of Muni by htakashi.

You might’ve heard about the SF MTA’s new ideas for revamping MUNI. They’re calling it the TEP – “Transit Effectiveness Project.” It aims to make Muni more safe, efficient, accessable, and reliable by changing lines, building more routes for greater coverage, and modernizing buses. All of the details on the changes and the routes they will be affecting can be found here, under the “Details” tab.

If you have ideas or feedback for any of these changes, the SFMTA encourages users to attend the Board Meeting on Friday, March 28th at 8 AM at City Hall. The Board will hear recommendations from the public and is expected to make decisions.

There is also a final open house for changes to Polk Street roadway designs on March 26th. Details on this meeting can be found here. The public is encouraged to attend.

Have questions about the TEP? Worried about service disruptions or changes? The community guide is available for download.

Tenderloin health services map

There are lots of wellness centers and rehabilitation programs in the Tenderloin, so I rounded them all up into a map. Some of these services offer youth or senior care, and some specialize in addiction rehabilitation, outreach, or education. A lot of these services cater to the needs of low-income clients and offer up their services either for free or at a discounted rate, but take note – not all of them do. 

Each point on the map includes details about the service and its location/its contact information. 

View the map here


Supervisors support bottle ban

A new ordinance to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on public property was unanimously backed last Tuesday afternoon during a Board of Supervisors meeting as an amendment to the city’s environmental code. David Chiu stated that the legislation hopes to set city-wide policy to increase availability of public drinking water and reusable-bottle filling stations while also barring the use of City finances to purchase bottled water.

Chiu calls the measure a fight against the country’s “addiction to water bottles.” He cited the economic impact a decrease in water bottles would have on the city, citing that it takes the average water bottle a thousand years to biodegrade. A gallon of water from Hetch Hetchy costs consumers a third of a penny, as compared to the $3 to $4 it takes to transport, package and stock a bottle of water, stated Chiu.

Much like the plastic bag policy that was implemented in 2012, Chiu stated that there will be a window of time in which businesses will be expected to come to compliance with the law. The ban will come into effect October 1 for indoor facilities and in 2016 for major outdoor events. After the window, fines will be implemented for the unlawful sale of individual use plastic water bottles – Chiu and Mar estimated $500 for a first time offense and $750 for a second time offense. The Department of the Environment will be expected to enforce the policy, according to London Breed. “We don’t have people actively patrolling,” she stated, “But maybe we can implement a tax on the sale of bottles like the plastic bag tax. That way, since the money goes straight to the manufacturer, they’re more compelled to comply.”

Breed initially voiced concerns about the enforcement of the policy in low-income communities. “The African American Center, for instance, only has one drinking fountain. We need to be very careful about making sure we provide water to these buildings that are already somewhat neglected by the city.”

In response, Eric Mar stated that agencies will evaluate properties in the following months to assess the need for more drinking facilities.  

RS94109 - TL's Only Record Store

Maybe it’s gentrification, maybe it’s a hole-in-the-wall spot on Larkin that sells affordable vinyl and hosts free shows once a month.

RS94109 opened in 2013 and has been attracting curious passerby ever since. It’s non-descript and easy to pass up, but boats a handsome selection of electronic/techno/house music from virtually unheard of names once you get inside. It has an Amoeba ambiance – everything from the rough-hewn floors to the show flyers pasted all over the place.

RS94109 has a mailing list for communication with its fans and announces upcoming shows (free entry, free beer!) on its FB fanpage.

You can find it wedged between Sergeant John Marshal Park and the Gangway on Larkin.

Sergeant John Marshall Park


Sergeant John Marshall Park stands at the corner of Larkin and O’Farrell, flanked by the Michelin Brothers and Century Theatre. It is one of the only children’s playgrounds in the Tenderloin and it provides the only trees in the surrounding area, give or take a few boxed-in planters on the sidewalk. And it is adored.

The park is gated off by a green fence on three sides and is jammed against a large apartment building on the other. Inside, it is surprisingly tranquil and clean — there’s no reflection of the hollering and aggression going on just feet from the fence. There are slides, matching play structures and enough room for kids to exhaust themselves without being underfoot.

There’s a crowd of regulars. One woman, Marimar, comes to the park every day. She’s short and stout, in her sixties, and was happy to sit with me for a while. “I come here alone, for exercise. Every day, same time.” For Marimar, exercising is a shuffled-footed dance with some springy stepping. “For my knees, my knees are not so good,” she explains, tapping her knees while she side-steps. But as she said, she was there the first day, and she danced next to me. And the next day, she waved to me from the gate and danced over to me. And the day after that.

That stretch of Larkin has seen a few changes in the past few years, including the addition of a record store and an art gallery. It’s a big street for the community – on the corner of Larkin and O’Farrell opposite from the park, there’s a liquor store. If you were to travel down to the end of that block, past the park, you’d find another liquor store. There’s activity up and down the block on either side ’round the clock, and always some kind of noise – people yelling greetings, insults, ranting to themselves, making deals. But the park stays beautiful, tranquil, and well-maintained.

“It’s my favorite park. I come here after school and on the weekends,” said Jose, an elementary school student in the city. “It’s more fun than other parks, but I wish it had monkey bars.” Jose and his family live in the area and find it convenient to stop by the park after school a few times a week.

It’s also a conventient stop for Courtney and her daughter Lyla, who I met just hours earlier.

“We’re actually from Yucaipa and we stop by here whenever we’re in the city. It’s just off Van Ness, so we’re here at least once a week,” Courtney said. “It’s [Lyla’s] favorite park. It’s always busy.”

Despite the hygiene issues that plague much of the lower TL, there are street cleaners and maintenance crews all over this area. “Whenever anything gets broken, they do a really good job of fixing it,” said Courtney. “Lyla loves it.”