Raising rents and the history of land ownership

Man, over at SF Appeal what started as a simple, “can my landlord really raise my rent?” turned into, “short answer is yes, long answer <insert history of land ownership in Western civilization>”. Here’s a snippet:

As societies became more complex, ruthless bands of sociopaths (call their leaders pharaohs, kings, popes, bankers or the 1%) took control, they usurped the commoners’ (call them the people or the 99%) rights to own the land. I’m sure the bargain went something like this: “Look peon, I’ll defend your land for you, but because I have taken on this burden you have to give me unfettered rights to your land.” Faced with an offer they could not refuse, most commoners gave in. Those who resisted lost their ability to pass down their genetic make-up to future generations. It seemed that evolution created the perfect marriage of cowards and kings.

Good read, if you wanna shake your fist at the sky. Check it out.

[via SF Appeal]

48 Responses to “Raising rents and the history of land ownership”

  1. dave says:

    Until very recent decades, SF was a working class city. The dockworkers’ fights of the first half of the 20th Century were legendary. The Beats of the 40s and 50s, who were the literary movement that really put the “Freaky SF” meme on the map, worked in and around the same blue collar environment–working on the docks and hanging out in the blue collar, union-friendly bars.
    Even the original hippies (who were directly descended from the Beats) were hands-on, street fighting types rather than flower children.

    I’d suggest the angry subculture that always made SF different from other cities carried on right into the 90s. SF was still a tough place then in certain areas. Indeed, that is the current appeal to the hipster class–SF’s dark, crazy, underground edge.
    Unfortunately, that edge is now gone. While today’s hipsters are here because last decade’s hipsters colonized the Mission and turned it into a bohemian Disneyland with a decidedly punk rock edge, the chain ends there. Today’s hipsters bring nothing edgy, confrontational, or interesting to the table. They use blogs like this to cry about their bikes getting stolen. The hipsterized Mission has become the Marina now, something unthinkable even 15 years ago.

    SF was a working class town from the first day of the Gold Rush until sometime in the 90s. That has finally changed, and it won’t return unless there’s an economic or geological calamity.

    The engine that caused SF to crank out so much unique cultural phenomena over the decades is running on its last fumes.

    Think about it. What first attracted you to the Mission? Was it just the sunny weather and the central location, or was it something else–something about the kind of people you saw and the kinds of things they were doing?

    There are certainly people who are attracted to places with lots of trendy shops and eateries, people who will bring their credit card to a taqueria, pay $6 for a burrito, and request a spinach tortilla instead of flour, and be none the wiser.

    SF isn’t a trendy place for artists anymore; it’s a trendy place for IT workers. There is no more underground music scene to speak of; there is an art scene that plays for the moneyed hipster crowd, but it’s not a great art scene really; literature? Danielle Steele, yes, but truly good underground literature of the kind that used to be centered in the City, no; not anymore.

    The new Mission is a place for IT workers with disposable income or people who like to blog about food, not for people who naturally flock to bohemian enclaves. It’s for people whose most traumatic moment in life is when their bike gets stolen and who are moderately surprised to learn that there is like, a whole subtext of landlords and tenants and class economics and stuff out there–surprised because these sorts of thoughts are the last thing that would enter their mind when they’re in the Mission.

    • scum says:

      Thank you.

    • Daryl F. says:

      The fact that you don’t recognize the thriving art, music, and literature scenes in this city; both mainstream and underground, brings into question the credibility of your working-class-rage fantasy. Twenty years ago things were changing as well, and hard-headed reactionaries got just as bent out of shape. Let the world turn.

      • Petey says:

        Not to mention the fact that he (not so) secretly wishes for “an economic or geological calamity”. How sad, really.

    • MrEricSir says:

      I can tell you with absolute certainty that there still is a music scene, not to mention art and lit “scenes” that are very much thriving. Just because you chose not to participate in them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      • truth says:

        Sure, there are scenes, but they’re mostly just copies of copies of copies. Rich tech nerds and wannabe bohemians supported by parents and Ivy league educations taking the look of what used to be counter-cultural and fixing it to a mainstream consumerist culture. That’s the point of the rant.

        If you think expensive cuisine is a laudable “cultural phenomenon” then we don’t really have much to talk about. I think gig musicians will always have a place in SF, but Oakland is where you’ll find a more vibrant jazz and punk scene.

        • truth says:

          Also – I don’t think this is really an argument that anyone is going to win, but if you want to understand the perspective of people who think what’s happened to the Mission is overall pretty lame the above is a really good explanation.

        • rod says:

          sorry to burst your bubble, but most of the beats, hippies, and bohemians back in the day also came from money, and people back then resented them just as much. it’s a sign of your station in life if you choose to get bent out of shape about how other people live their lives rather than just getting on with your own.

          • truth says:

            No, I think it’s different than that. It isn’t where people are coming from, it’s what they’re doing once they get here. The beats, hippies and bohemians had a core of counter-culturalism that the Mission lacks now. Like I said, it’s consumer culture with a hip veneer.

        • Sweet T says:

          Ivy league educations? Burroughs went to Harvard. Ginsberg and Kerouac went to Columbia.

          • blah says:

            yeah but Ginsberg fucked little boys. Now *that’s* punk rock.

          • AttF says:

            right, but they didn’t move to SF to buy a condo and eat artisan ice cream

          • Daryl F. says:

            Neither did anyone that’s currently here, but your retarded little stereotypes are not much more creative than the ones used by the conservative reactionary types that came before you.

            I’m sure Ginsberg ate some ice cream in his life.

        • Vic Wong says:

          First of all, I was born in Oakland. I work in Oakland every day. I love Oakland.

          Sure there are a lot of awesome musicians in Oakland, but where are they playing? Where are the cafes with live music every night? Oakland can’t keep a mid sized venue open for more than a couple of years. In SF you can’t even count them on two hands. Everyone performs in San Francisco and everyone goes to shows there. Not sure how much more vibrant it can get.

          Go ahead an dismiss and generalize music you’re seeing in SF. But I’m in it and it’s the real deal. I can show you some cool shit. Tag along sometime.

          As for the expensive cuisine, I can buy an $8 sandwich in Hayward or Richmond. Nothing comes close to Rhea’s. I can pay $10 a dish in El Cerrito, but it a different ball game compared to Mission Chinese Food.

          I don’t blame people for dismissing good food as a luxury, but it’s every bit an art as anything else. I know cooks that work for shit pay in kitchens of top restaurants in NY who know all about Mission restaurants. It’s a cultural community like any other that you can’t understand fully unless you’re in it.

          • D. Jon Moutarde says:

            You do know that you are trying to argue with the Mission Mission hater, right? Regardless of what you say, you will be arguing with the Mission Mission hater. That is, more-or-less, a no-win situation.

          • truth says:

            It’s true, jazz spots pop up and fade out in Oakland because of the struggling economy. I guess I haven’t been to a good show in SF in a while that was “from here.” So, suggestions are always welcome.

            I think the new obsession with food as “art” is really just hyper-consumer culture figuring out a new way to sell you something for a few bucks more by putting a trendy label on it or serving it in a place with a “hip” ambiance. I don’t really begrudge people who want to spend their money this way, but I do think there is a troubling set of judgments and ethics that often come along with “foodies.” In that they judge what people eat without taking into account the structural economic reasons why people eat “bad” food. Or, in the terms of D. Jon Moutarde, they hate the player and not the game.

          • AttF says:

            actually Vic, quite a few tours are now skipping SF and playing East Bay instead. The most recent Shellac shows were at the New Parish instead and Eyehategod came all the way from NOLA to play the Metro and not set foot in SF like they did a few years back. I’m a musician too and play mostly SF gigs, but am also aware that Oakland has a booming warehouse scene in addition to clubs like New Parish, Eli’s, Uptown, and the Metro. I’m not even considering the all ages crowd, which I guess is relegated to Slim’s and Submission only (I could be wrong). Not saying that SF is dead…I love the venues that are still around, but am also acknowledging that Oakland has quite a scene and it is much easier to be a musician and pay rent on that side of the Bay.

          • rod says:

            Eyehategod did play a show in SF, it was just on the downlow.

          • dave says:

            Fair enough, Vic. Maybe I will tag along some day. Again, my style of writing makes me sound more absolutist than I really am. Pissing on someone else’s favorite music isn’t my scene. Music and pretension don’t mix. I’m going to a punk rock memorial in southeast SF tomorrow for one of SF’s shock-art personalities who died last month.

            You bring up a good point about viable venues, and frankly, I don’t know what to make of Oakland’s dearth of rock clubs, I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion. As for SF, when I try to count up the live music clubs, the impression I get is that they’ve all but disappeared. If you consider how many live music clubs were around in the 90s and compare it to now, it’s pretty shocking, even if it is still more than Oakland.

            I think this might all have to do with an overall dearth of live bands and people who like them. Let’s face it, being a live band is expensive: you need a rehearsal space (at SF rents) and a large vehicle to transport gear, just for starters. MP3s and garageband software have changed the way people listen to music and even what their concept of music is. I know that clubs like the Stork Club in Oakland actually have trouble booking enough bands…that’s something that seemed really hard to imagine in the 90s, when bands would drop off demo tapes at clubs in the same ratio as prospective tenants drop off applications for a Mission victorian that goes on the market.
            To me, that suggests that it isn’t just a dearth of clubs, but a dearth of interest in the music altogether. How much of this is due to rock musicians being priced out of the Bay Area and how much is due to an overall societal shift away from rock music is hard to say. Of course, I’m talking exclusively about rock here, and not other genres, which may be experiencing different results.

            It is interesting that you brought up Oakland because I love it over here. When I moved here I was thrilled to be able to hang out at the Stork and see bands while the streets outside were largely empty, there was always parking, and motorcyclists went up and down Telegraph doing wheelies. It reminded me of how the Mission was in the early 90s, and I found that reassuring.

            As for restaurant culture, I’m really not a foodie, but I’m always up for new experiences. One of the great things about moving to SF was finding all these cool little inexpensive places and having so many choices, but that referred to everything, not just eateries. I stumbled into taquerias on my own and loved the ability to get a large amount of food inexpensively, with a vegetarian option, and be totally immersed in the culture while I ate. Finding an excellent $5< restaurant then felt like a true score, because there were no guidebooks or foodies around. Nowadays, you have entrepreneurs who come here and concoct new and exotic ways of presenting food to a "professional" dining class. To me, that's not the same thing. Thanks to the new Mission culture, you can get spinach tortilla burritos or taco salads and you can pay with a credit card, and burritos cost $6 and up. I'm old fashioned, I prefer it the way it was; my favorite taqueria now is in San Jose.

    • Ben says:

      Are you saying tech industry workers are the problem, or today’s bohemians who took it as an innate right that they should be able to coast on the legacy of their cultural forbears?

      I think it’s kinda fucked all around. I went to an engineering school and couldn’t stand most of the socially oblivious people I found there. I hung out with a bohemian crowd and while they were fun and knew how to have a good time, they had absolutely no desire to work hard at anything.

      Not to extrapolate the meaning of the universe from my anecdotal experiences, but it seems like that’s kinda what’s going on here. Oblivious nerds who are transforming (without realizing it) the very thing they came here to be a part of, and the bohemians whose definition of being an artist means you never have to get your shit together and spending all day hanging out in the park.

      For what it’s worth, the most interesting people I know are in the middle of that spectrum. Busting your ass to get a good job doesn’t make you a sell-out.

    • wizzer says:

      You forgot to mention all the gay men that poured into the City in the late 60′s early 70′s and made Polk St. a thriving ‘hood, and also when they moved over to the Castro, and bought up all the old, empty derelict Victorians. Most of the neighborhood then was fleeing to the suburbs.

      All great cities thrive on change.

      • dave says:

        I did leave out the gay aspect, didn’t I?

        But it’s clearly a big part of the story. Let’s pick up the story in the early 70s, when gay men began transforming the Castro into the country’s first(?) and most prominent openly gay neighborhood.

        During the interim decades (70s–90s) of which I speak, when SF was a fading working class town but not yet an IT powerhouse, gay men (and women) were the city’s anchor community. They were economically productive people and homeowners who beautified the neighborhoods they lived in and whose dollars subsidized much of the alternative scene that took place in SF during this time.

        Back then, even though people were living gloriously open lifestyles in SF, homosexuality was still taboo in the rest of the country. Like crotchety bohemians, weirdo musicians, and other freaks, gay people were outcasts from the rest of America who came to SF as refugees. They may have been productive citizens who wanted two car garages and nice yards, but the only place they could live openly was here.

        So even though they were economically more like middle America, they were the backbone of SF’s late 20th Century culture. This was their city, and they were natural allies with the other alternative communities here.

        But what happened in the late 90s? Suddenly, it seemed, gayness became mainstreamed in the US. Being openly gay didn’t necessarily mean moving all the way to SF and starting a new life.

        Now that being gay isn’t the scandal it once was and gay people can live openly normal lives…the old economic argument comes back into play.

        It used to be a given that prosperous gay couples with cute houses were on the same team as crusty poets living in utility rooms; it was them against the narrow-minded world–that was SF’s battle.
        Now, it seems high-earning gay men are more inclined to make decisions as people with their income bracket and education level do, and less inclined to see themselves as part of a class of persecuted refugees. NOTE: I think that gay women still self-identify more with the outsider status.

        • D. Jon Moutarde says:

          I was with you, up until the paragraph that began this way: “But what happened in the late 90s?”

          After that, it all went to shit. You are truly delusional about the state of gay rights and queer standing, outside of the BIG cities, if you think that gay couples are mainstream in Anytown, Oklahoma, or any other place that somehow finds it in their hearts to vote for Rick Santorum.

          • dave says:

            Remember 15 years ago, when you couldn’t even have gay characters on sitcoms? When it was a big deal that Ellen DeGeneres came out? To me, the fact that gay marriage is now legal in some states and domestic partnership is in so many more states is much bigger news than the fact that its still illegal in others.
            There will always be Santorums, but it’s hard not to think society as a whole has moved forward on this issue. Nothing ever changes overnight, but the more that regular Americans actually meet openly gay people, the faster the prejudice slips away; I think statistics bear that out.

    • Bob Dole says:

      There are tons of people I know moving into the City lately, who absolutely have no fucking idea about the history of it. Doesn’t that say something.

    • last one out says:

      The graffiti is kicking ass and the IT workers hate it. Good.

  2. Vic Wong says:

    Well written. Full of the same shit stereotypes I hear all the time, but I take it to heart.

    But I’ll tell you what attracted me to the mission: the music scene. I’m a musician and found myself playing in cafes and clubs all around the city 3-4 nights a week so it made sense to ditch the car and save bridge fare. Some of the best musicians I have ever met are playing for tips in BART and for $50 a night at some restaurant where people talk over them. Since being here I’ve collaborated with and met some of the best musicians I’ll ever know. Folks who have been playing the same spot for 30 years only to get fired when a new owner decides they want a different mood.

    There are house concerts. There’s conservatory folks doing classical jam sessions in bars. There’s a collective of jazz musicians so bad-ass that Stevie Wonder came down to the Mission to watch them play.

    So I take issue with the fact that you say there isn’t an underground music scene. Maybe it’s not to your taste, but it’s there. Come hang out sometime and see it.

    • Vic Wong says:

      Also, if you don’t consider the new and groundbreaking food coming out of the Mission to be a positive part of “cultural phenomenon” as you put it, then it sucks that you can’t enjoy that, because it’s awesome.

    • Steve says:

      Are you sure Stevie Wonder ‘watched’ them?

  3. stencil says:

    The Mission’s gentrification has more to do with low rents, transit options, central location, and sunny weather more than with a longing to fit into Latino, punk, or working class cultures. The driving forces at work are economic more than aesthetic.

    • Selene says:

      This is similar to what I wanted to say. When I moved here I was broke and new to California. I looked hard and found the biggest space I could afford that seemed relatively safe and offered decent access (BART, Muni, bike, walk) to the parts of SF I was most interested in. Hence I became a Mission resident. I meant never to displace anyone or to dilute anyone’s culture; I was just looking for a place I could afford that seemed interesting. The fact that it is interesting is what has kept me here.

  4. kiya says:

    I need that hat for my commercial landlord, he’s the best i’ve ever had.

  5. dave says:

    Fair enough, Vic. I do tend to use absolutist terms and paint with a wide brush and not a lot of concern for going over the line in order to convey my message. Otherwise, it would take way too much explanation and sidebar.

    Of all the arts and creative endeavors, good music can and does occur anywhere and generally when you least expect it. Furthermore, who gets to define what ‘good music’ is? It’s a fool’s errand. I like it all, except when I don’t.

    Also, I’d say music scenes are over-rated. There was more of a scene here in the 90s, and most of the bands sucked and a lot of the people in and around Valencia were shallow, insufferable Viper Room wannabes. They’re all gone now–both the good and bad–but the good ones mostly live on in the East Bay or Portland.

    With music scenes, the more ephemeral the better. The last time a music scene came out of SF and truly affected the world was the only time it did so–in 1967. That was a one-time thing. The punk rock that came out of SF followed other cities’ leads rather than setting the trend. I’m sure it was a fun and memorable scene, but there wasn’t really any breakout band, song, or style that came out of it. Same with 90s music, more or less. But I was here for that, and for all the shitty bands, there were some epic-spectacle performances that left me weak kneed.

    It feels like that anarchy is mostly gone from the city. I’ll never say never; there are still punk rock artistic compounds here and there, but there used to be punk rock artist colonies, whole sub-sections of the city being squatted.
    But such is the cycle of life. I would never give up what the City and Bay Area has gained over the last fifteen years in order to get back what it’s lost. While we’re spewing about trivialities like pop art, the IT revolution and digital technology have literally changed the entire world. I’m not gonna adjudge whether or not it’s a good thing, but it is certainly a big thing.


    There is a school of history and sociology that says everything is a function of economics.

    Ever since it started off as a remote western colony of the United States, the city has always attracted outliers and until recently had always offered high wages for labor. The unions were always strong here for the simple reason that the city was so labor dependent and the nearest other pools of workers were thousands of miles away. That gave the city its workingman’s courage and anti-authoritarian streak, not to mention spending money for indulgences and entertainment.

    It was a free-thinking city, but it was also a tough city. Men greatly outnumbered women; dock work was the main source of readily available employment, but there was also a huge network of military bases located all over the Bay Area; thousands of Navy men who had never been anywhere outside their home state poured into the City before shipping out, and SF was the first place they returned to after months or years away at sea. Think of the tattoo parlors, whorehouses, and barfights.

    That was how it was from the time of the prospectors until 40 years ago or less. 40 years ago there wasn’t even the modern skyline of downtown; before the 70s, no major building had been constructed downtown since the stock market crash of 1929. That was the first sign of change. The ports had migrated over Oakland and the process had become much more automated, so SF was becoming more of a service based city. The military draft was phased out in the 70s, so the military footprint dwindled down, and in the 90s all the bases began to close.

    In recent decades, you had this interesting phenomenon of an absolutely beautiful, highly liveable city without a big source of well-paying jobs.

    It was only a matter of time before something would come along to bring the city in line with the economic laws of supply and demand.

    Barring the collapse of civilization or a 9.0 with a series of devastating aftershocks, it won’t be going back to its working class roots.

    All of the memorable art, literature, music, and such that I think of as uniquely SF comes from that earlier era of the rough SF.

    I used to see punk rock shows at the Chameleon where people would light their pubes on fire and eat each others’ puke. Now it’s the Amnesia, and there’s a crowd of polite people watching a clean cut bluegrass band. Who’s to say that one is better than the other? Interestingly enough, the only time I had beer spilled all over my feet was not at the punk shows, but on my most recent visit when a pair of well-scrubbed amateurs on a third-date spilled their pint right on my feet without even noticing.

    • Vic Wong says:

      Dont get me wrong, I can take the hits. A lot of what you say rings true and stings.

      But I think the perspective is subjective. Who really is to say which generation is better than the other? I used to live in a notorious Berkeley co-op where “last year was better” might as well have been on the family crest.

      If having polite, young, educated, liberal, financially-secure people moving in is a problem, then it could get a whole lot worse.

      I’m nowhere near 22 anymore. I’m shocked every day at how much I just don’t get it anymore. Dubstep? Sounds like farting. As granpda simpson said, “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now I’m not with it and what’s ‘it’ is strange and scary to me. IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.”

    • blah says:


      • moderniste says:

        My man. I think it’s so GD cool and blase that you can interject a “tl;dr” in the midst of one of the better threads ever seen on MM–wait; it’s not cool at all. You are an ignoramous.

    • last one out says:

      HAHAHA I was at that pube-lighting show – I was standing right next to dood…the Fuckemos from Austin were playing, maybe? Or the Pleasuresure Fuckers from Madrid? -Hey Rob-. That era was kind of the last gasp, with Mission Rex and Star Wash & whatnot. I didn’t bother to partake in all that -I’m from the early 80s punk scene, and preferred to drink beer in a dark garage and puff a social rock, but the Bubble blew the dustmites out of the dirty carpet. See you in PDX.

  6. Ben S says:

    Having come from a city which still is is truly blue collar (Philly) I can say that I was attracted to San Francisco because it’s really, well, nice. Never heard of anyone getting punched in the face for no reason on the way home from the bar. In Philly everyone had a few stories.

    Maybe not being able to watch someone eat their own puke is the price one has to pay for not getting their face bashed in on their walk home.

    • dave says:

      Philly and Boston are the worst for that kind of random violence and fight-picking, with New York a distant second. I don’t think SF was ever that bad, and much less so now. Here everybody smokes weed all the time, even the cops are fine with it. On the East Coast, there’s more anger, less weed. Those are alcohol and powder towns.

      On the other hand, people do get mugged in SF, and it was indeed an unsubstantiated fear of random violence in the Mission that kept a lot of people away from the neighborhood until the late 90s and perhaps even beyond.

      Imagine a world where you can see punk rock shock performance art AND not get punched in the face on the way home, or for that matter, beer spilled on your shoes by self-absorbed ‘nice people’.

      If SF is just another ‘nice’ city now, we’re all doomed.

  7. suckerpunch says:

    Thanks Dave…

  8. AttF says:

    Thanks Dave for so eloquently describing what me and most of my social circle have been discussing for the last few years. Personally, I do feel that the culture and edge I moved here for is disappearing at a rapid rate. I can’t claim any right to what the City should be like since I transplanted a decade ago myself, but it is strange to see so much disappear in such a short period of time and be replaced by higher price homogenized sanitized version of what came before. There is still a lot of good culture here, but there used to be a lot more and it seems that a lot of the newer folks aren’t aware or even interested in the history or context.

  9. No fish today says:

    Times a changin’.