The 2000 Census: By the Tract

How demographics of San Francisco’s neighborhoods changed in the 1990s

Urbanist Article July 1, 2001

Diversity and Transition
Oceanview-Merced- Ingleside: Census Tracts 312, 313, 314

In today’s housing boom, is it possible to find a neighborhood that is not only racially diverse—where whites, African Americans, Asians, and Latinos each represent at least 10% of the population— but also offers relatively affordable housing for families? The answer is yes, and the area is the Oceanview, Merced, and Ingleside (OMI) neighborhood. It is no surprise that recent census data identifies this community as one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city. Located in the southwestern portion of the city, OMI has traditionally been the choice for middle-class, working families looking both to move up and settle down in an established neighborhood. With a 70% homeownership rate, one of the highest in the city, OMI is where you’ll find many of the city’s young families.

Census Tracts 312, 313, 314 collectively encompass the area known as Oceanview, Merced, and Ingleside. The area borders I-280 to the east and south, Ocean and Holloway to the north, and Juniperro Serra to the west. Originally a neighborhood of Italian and Irish families, post-WWII saw an influx of African Americans who were looking for affordable places to buy homes. Redevelopment of the Western Addition only accelerated this movement. Census data for 1990 indicated that African Americans represented about 45% of the OMI population, with Asians following at 28%, whites at 21% and Hispanics in the single digits.

Over the course of the last 10 years, the population of the neighborhood has increased by more than 14%, double the rate of the city. This is despite relatively little new constrution. Instead, it indicates an increase in the size of families in the neighborhood. The Asian population in OMI has risen extraordinarily, similar to trends across the southern tier of the city. In the short time of a decade, Asians and African Americans have reversed position, while Hispanics have increased and whites have declined. Although the cost of housing is rising, it is still relatively affordable compared to the rest of the city. The average price of a house in 1990 was $240,000 and today the cost of a house there is close to $450,000.

OMI has seen very little development in the past 10 years, but many hope that new activity along its major arterial, Ocean Avenue, will revitalize the neighborhood with a lively and safe commercial street. Once a thriving area with supermarkets, banks, and hardware stores for the residents, the 1980s and early 1990s saw a period of decline, with crime and drugs problems proliferating. While a few autobody shops, nail salons, fast food stores, and Chinese restaurants are located sporadically along Ocean Avenue, there are few stores to provide basic amenities to the residents. Adjacent to the Balboa Park BART Station, just south of Balboa Park itself, the Planning Department’s “Better Neighborhoods 2002” is focusing on ways to improve the neighborhood and create more housing. Recent plans by Muni to upgrade its tracks that run along Ocean Avenue have provided a more immediate opportunity for the revitalization of the corridor. With $7 million in state funding, the Ocean Avenue Renaissance project will embark on a project to repave sidewalks, improve lighting, and encourage pedestrian uses.

OMI is not only one of San Francisco’s most diverse neighborhoods, but also one of its most rapidly changing. How to remain diverse is one of the neighborhood’s, and the city’s, biggest challenges. How to create a strong local economy along Ocean Avenue that can be enjoyed by all the neighborhood’s diverse residents is another.

New Lofts and the Old Neighborhood
Central Waterfront: Census Tract 226

The Central Waterfront is a 500- acre area bordered by I-280, Mariposa Street, Islais Creek, and the bay. In a city where the waterfront has been rediscovered in recent years, this area is one of the last remaining un-reclaimed relics of the maritime past. Nearly half of the land there is controlled by the Port of San Francisco. The remainder of the district is home to light and heavy industrial activity, and an aerial view would still show many open lots used for building materials and auto storage, or seemingly nothing at all. Housing is interspersed with industrial uses in the historic “Dogpatch” neighborhood.

Census Tract 226 comprises most of the Central Waterfront, bordered by 16th and 25th Streets, I-280, and the bay. Approximately the same size as the Mission District, which has more than 30,000 people, the Central Waterfront recorded a population of just 846 people in 2000, a 40% increase from its 1990 population of 604, but still a sparse population in our dense city.

The history of the waterfront is vital to understanding its present-day character. In the late 1860s, employees of the shipping and manufacturing industries settled in single- and multifamily homes in what is now known as the Dogpatch. After WWII, as industries began to shut down, residents left in search of new jobs and the area became derelict. The 1970s saw an influx of artists and others who, in search of affordable housing and space to work, began to take advantage of the inexpensive housing that was left behind. New businesses, unrelated to the nearby port, also took advantage of the cheap space. For many years, the area remained relatively quiet, as the industrial activity and artistic population co-existed. Esprit is one of the notable businesses that grew in this district, and is still headquartered there. The park they magnanimously developed in the 1980s was sold to the city this year, and is a center for the coalescing community.

But the most important, and contentious, change took place in the late 1980s, when the city passed an ordinance that was intended to allow artists to convert warehouse and industrial space into live/work housing in areas in which housing was not otherwise permitted. The rise of live/work lofts in San Francisco began in earnest in the mid-1990s, when developers began to use the ordinance to use relatively cheap industrial and commerciallyzoned sites for new live/work construction. Young professionals jumped at the opportunity, as housing was scarce, the units were relatively affordable, and lofts became regarded as hip places to live. The requirement for art-related uses was not enforced. By 2000, more than 2,300 live/work units had been completed, and another 3,000 were in the pipeline. In the last few years, lofts have comprised more than one-third of all new housing in the city. Although the Board of Supervisors recently passed a moritorium on new live/work loft development, their presence has changed the Central Waterfront.

The vast majority of live/work units are located in the South of Market planning district, which incorporates this neighborhood. Today, it is the construction of live/work units along Third, Tennessee and other neighborhood streets which have significantly changed the character of the neighborhood and has divided its residents.

Many of the pre-existing residents of the small waterfront community feel that the lofts, which are much taller and bulkier than the predominant oneand two-story houses, are unnattractive additions to the neighborhood. On the other hand, they’re undoubtedly popular with buyers, who were recently paying $500,000 or more for a loft in a formerly gritty industrial neighborhood. And together, the loft and cottage dwellers are beginning to make up a critical mass to become a real “neighborhood” that can support local retail and services.

The population of the Central Waterfront increased for all races except African Americans, which declined by 40%, as many of the older homeowners sold to prosperous newcomers. The district is over 70% white, significantly higher than the citywide average. The 1990 census also showed that this to be a relatively youthful district, with 65% under 40, and with the rapid construction of lofts in the district, it’s likely the average age today is even lower.

The next few years will bring many changes in the Central Waterfront area. Its location less than a mile away from the Financial District, connection to the new Third Street Light Rail, and its adjacency to Mission Bay, where the new UCSF campus is rising, all raise development pressures. Remaining large plots of land hold enormous potential. The Central Waterfront is one of three areas currently being studied by the Planning Department as part of its Better Neighborhoods 2002. Of major concern is finding solutions to allow for housing and development, while preserving the historic fabric and industrial character of the community. Solutions to issues such as zoning, urban design, mixed-use development, transportation, historic preservation, community involvement, and revitalization of the waterfront will play a vital role in shaping this unique neighborhood.

New Housing for Families

Portola Place – Bayview Census Tract 233

The 1990s saw an astounding increase in the number of young professional “dot-commers” willing to pay incredibly high rents. Most of the new residential development in the city was oriented toward the needs of young professionals or empty-nesters, with lofts and one bedroom apartments predominating market rate development. Families were less well served. In a formerly industrial district in the Bayview, however, families searching for affordable and safe housing found a development that met their needs.

Census Tract 233, which borders Williams, Phelps, and Third Streets, and Bayshore Boulevard, currently has a population of 2,591 residents, double the reported number in 1990. This increase is largely due to the construction of Portola Place. This 239 unit development, begun in the mid-1990s, offered families three-bedroom townhouses at relatively affordable prices. Nearby amenities, including a new supermarket (the first in Bayview in many years) and a relocated police station right across the street, helped create the perception and the reality of a safe family neighborhood.

In the 1970s, a local brewing company, Lucky Lager, then located on the current site of Portola Place, closed its operations. The brewing company leveled the existing structure and the site remained a vacant lot for many years, a blight on the nearby neighborhood of Silver Terrace. It wasn’t until the mid- 1990s that the brewing company, now known as General Brewing Company, decided to seek permits to begin building a new residential area on the site.

The development of for-sale housing was a challenge, as the industrial area was not perceived as a desirable neighborhood for families, and San Francisco was still coming out of the last recession. Surrounded on three sides by industrial uses and the Caltrain tracks, it seemed like an unlikely place for a new neighborhood. However, using many of the principals of “new urbanism,” the developer, Combined Realty, and the architect, Stephen Roake, laid out a compact street grid and began building townhouses that met the street with small gardens and inviting steps leading to the front door. In industrial Bayview, the developer designed a pedestrian friendly pocket, mixing urban and suburban characteristics.

To market the new project, and perhaps sway lingering concerns about safety, the development was called “Portola Place,” associating the new residential complex with the more established, recognized neighborhood of Portola, even though it is located several blocks west across Highway 101. The police station under construction across the street was touted in advertising as well. Building began in phases, and when the houses first appeared on the market, potential buyers were slow to show interest. At the time, a three-bedroom, two-car garage townhouse was being offered at the relatively affordable price of $250,000. A few families managed to take advantage of the deal before the housing boom arrived and prices began skyrocketing towards $400,000. As one of the few housing developments geared toward families, it did not take long for the project to catch on. Once it did, the marketing value of the Portola Place name was negligible, as buyers were interested primarily in the affordability and availability of the townhouses.

Portola Place has significantly changed the demographics and character of the neighborhood. According to the homeowners association, Portola Place is about 85% Asian (predominantly Chinese). Most of the purchasers are immigrants and many are first-time homeowners. The population of Portola Place itself is about 960, and reflects the many multi-generational familes in the development. Asians comprise over 60% of the entire tract, and Hispanics and African Americans are less than 20% each. In this “minority-majority” district, whites make up only 5% of the population. In 1990, the demographics of the tract were very different. Then African Americans represented over 40% of the population, followed by Asians, Whites and Hispanics.

This area, in particular, is a prime example of trends in middle class family neighborhoods in San Francisco, where the Asian family population is increasing markedly, the Hispanic population is also increasing, while older African American and white residents are moving away. The fast change, from industrial wasteland to thriving family neighborhood, also shows how intense the demand is for affordable, appropriate family housing in San Francisco.

A Brand New Neighborhood
South Beach: Census Tract 179.01

Census Tract 179.01 contains the new neighborhood of South Beach, along with Rincon Hill, South Park, and downtown parts of South of Market. It’s bounded by the bay, Howard, Townsend, and Third. Today, it is difficult to remember how completely this one tract changed during the 1990s.

In 1990, the Embarcadero Freeway was closed, but not yet torn down. South Park was still a funky neighborhood with a chic café; artists and others lived in the few homes and apartments clustered around it. The entire district housed fewer than 2,500 people.

But in 1990 change was in the air. “South Beach” was still more marketing hype than reality. A Redevelopment Area had been established almost 10 years earlier, in 1981, to transform this area of declining port-supporting industries into a mixed-use residential/ recreational district. The Redevelopment Agency was able to plan and implement major public improvements. In 1986, the 700-berth South Beach Marina opened, later joined by an adjacent public park, creating a destination along the still sleepy waterfront.

But it wasn’t until 1989 that residential projects began coming to life, with the opening of Bayside Village (868 units of rental housing) and South Beach Marina apartments (414 units of rental housing). Soon, shuttle buses ferrying young office workers back and forth between South Beach and the Financial District became a common sight, and an emerging neighborhood was born. These South Beach units joined St. Francis Place (410 units, 1984), adjacent to Moscone Center, as the only large residential developments in the whole tract. Over 99% of the tract’s population rented, with the census showing only eight owner occupied homes in the entire area. And the population was very young, with nearly half between 25 and 34, and another quarter a decade older.

The district changed remarkably in the 1990s. The Embarcadero Roadway Project, with its signature palm trees, was completed. Muni metro extended to the Caltrain Station, serving the growing neighborhood with direct downtown connections. Multi-media gulch was born, with South Park as it’s early hub. Old industrial buildings were rehabilitated for live/work loft space, or office space for dot.coms, and increasingly luxurious mid-rise residential projects sprouted up, both within and outside the confines of Rincon Point/South Beach Redevelopment Project Area. And most transformative of all, in 2000 Pacific Bell Park opened just outside the tract boundaries, immediately changing the city’s and region’s view of South Beach.

In 2000, the census counted 5,408 residents in census tract 179.01, a more than doubling over 10 years. It’s a somewhat diverse neighborhood, partially because the Redevelopment Agency was able to demand substantial inclusionary housing in the for-profit residental projects. More importantly, the agency was able to assist nonprofits to develop housing, most significantly the 177 unit Delancey Street project, housing approximately 450 low-income Delancey Street program members. Projects completed during the 1990s include Hills Plaza (67 units), the Oriental Warehouse (66 units, 1997), the Brannan (phase 1–130 units, 1999), Portside (216 units), and BayCrest Towers (287 units, 1991) and Avalon Towers (226 units, 1999). Some of these were not fully occupied at census time, and others have since been built, so the population of the neighborhood has increased substantially even since the census was taken a little over a year ago.

Demographically, the neighborhood is about two-thirds white, and about 20% Asian. African Americans and Hispanics both are in the single digits. Despite the affordable projects, most residents live in some of the most expensive market rate rental housing in the city. Much of the housing built during the 90s was condominiums, and therefore the population is now much closer to the city-wide average of two renters for every owner. Because it has developed very quickly as a desirable neighborhood, the characteristics of new residents are now very different than in 1990. At that time, the average new resident was a young officeworker renting a one-bedroom apartment for the then somewhat expensive rate of $1,000 per month. In 2000, according to real estate brokers, a new resident is very likely to be an empty nester couple buying a twobedroom condo for more than one million dollars. In census (and political) terms, many of these new residents in 2000 don’t even count—a significant number are buying a “pied-a-terre” and have primary residences elsewhere.

The future promises even more changes as the neighborhood continues to develop as a desirable place to live, work and play. Now, much of the decaying Port property stands in stark contrast to the thriving neighborhood inland, but plans for a cruise ship terminal at Piers 30/32, and housing on the adjacent bulkhead lot on the Embarcardero, are indications of changes to come. There is also an interest in building true residential towers in the Rincon Hill area. The planning department is considering zoning changes that would raise height limits to double the current limits. If so, by the next census, thousands more could call Census Tract 179.01 home.

A National Park and a Neighborhood

The Presidio: Census Tract 601

Despite a growing city population, some San Francisco neighborhoods have declined in population between 1990 and 2000, although these declines have generally been very modest. However, there are two unique areas of San Francisco where the population has decreased substantially, both as a result of federal legislation. San Francisco lost its last two military bases in the 1990s, and with the removal of army and navy personnel and their dependents, the last ten years have seen a dramatic decline in the population of both the Presidio (-53%) and Treasure Island (-78%). While planning for Treasure Island has been slow going, the Presidio, guided by a federal directive to become selfsufficient, has become one of the most unique planning projects in the country.

The Presidio is nearly co-terminus with Census Tract 601 at the northwest corner of San Francisco. It spans 1,480 acres and is home to native plants and trees, vast open spaces, incredible vistas, a National Historic Landmark District, and 1,116 houses. Ten years ago, the Presidio was still the oldest continuously operating military base in the country. In 1990, more than 4,700 federal employees and their families lived on the base, in a mixture of historic structures and 1960s era non-commissioned officers’ housing, and even some barracks. The character of the Presidio was markedly different than most army posts; living and working in the Presidio was one of the plum assignments available, and many army officers spent their retirement years playing golf on the Presidio links. Given that most residents were federal employees, the Presidio was a much more middleclass district than the surrounding high-income neighborhoods of Sea Cliff, Presidio Heights, and Pacific Heights.

In 1994, the base was transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) as a national park. In the legislation that created the park, Congress directed that the site must be self-sustainable by the year 2013 or be subject to liquidation. In order to fulfill this mission, the Presidio Trust, with a board of presidential appointees, was established in 1998. Its purpose is to preserve and enhance the Presidio as a national park while making it financially self-sufficient.

With closure of the army base, and the gradual conversion of many of the structures for new uses, both the residential and working population of the Presidio temporarily plummetted. 2000 census data show the population in the Presidio decreased more than 50% to just 2,234 in April 2000. The Presidio Trust is working hard to rehabiliate and lease these units, and the population has undoubtedly increased since then.

The mix of residential units reflects its history. About 25% of the 1,116 units are Pre-WWII and singlefamily and duplex units on the main posts. The remainder are post-war multi-family units, the majority of which (most notable Wherry Housing) are slated to eventually be demolished and housing replaced elsewhere in the park. Unusually, for San Francisco, there are almost no one-bedroom apartments, because housing on the Presidio was primarily oriented towards families.

The Presidio Trust plans to generate the revenue needed to maintain the park from the leasing and rental of residential and non-residential units. With the federal mandate to break even, the demographic character of the Presidio is under pressure. Because it needs to generate resources from residential leasing, the Presidio Trust is striving to strike a balance between providing affordable family housing, particularly for Presidio employees, while taking advantage of the premium that people will pay to live in this beautiful corner of San Francisco.

Currently, employees account for about 35% of the residents, federal and other special tenants represent around 28%, and the general public represents the remainder. The plan is to house 50% of Presidio-based employees on the Presidio, which will be unique to San Francisco and be a great boon to our city-wide goals of controlling congestion. Rentals range from historic homes at $3,800 per month to 150 units set aside for Section 8 housing at $500 a month.

Prior to the base closure, the Presidio was very separate from the city—physically as well as demographically. With a complete turnover in population over the last 10 years, the demographics are converging with the surrounding neighborhoods. In 1990, the population was 62% white, 21% African American, and Asians and Latinos were both less than 10%. In 2000, the white population increased to 72% of the total, with all other groups under 10% each. When household income data becomes available, a similar convergence with very wealthy surrounding neighborhoods will likely be seen.

This is a fascinating time for planning at the Presidio, as it struggles with its unprecedented federal directive. The Presidio Trust recently embarked on an 18-month planning process to review the Presidio Trust Implementation Plan, a set of overall proposals on planning and programming for the park. Significant changes are in store at the Presidio as new housing becomes available, employment opportunities are created, and historic resources and open spaces are preserved and interpreted for park visitors. Susan Sun spent the past year as a Coro fellow in Public Affairs with Coro Northern California. As a part of her fellowship, she spent five weeks working with SPUR Program Director Bruce Williams on analysis of the 2000 Census.spur logo

About the Authors: 

Susan Sun is a Coro Fellow and Bruce Williams is a SPUR program director.

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