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Remembering Jim Meko – Jim’s reflection on SoMa in 2006

Earlier this evening, Jim Meko’s family and friends gathered at Slim’s on 11th Street to pay tribute to our western SoMa neighborhood guardian who left us too soon on August 3, 2015. Former Supervisor Chris Daly read out some of Jim’s writing from a Fog City Journal posting that I thought is a good snapshot of SoMa for newcomers to read and reflect upon.

The following is a passage taken Fog City Journal and written by Jim Meko:

I moved to SoMa in ’77, mostly to be left alone. It was a warehouse district. There were no homeowner associations and very few amenities. My neighbors were Filipino refugees from Manilatown, gay men experimenting with alternative lifestyles, beat poets, performance artists and rock and roll bands. Survivors and squatters.

AIDS turned us into a community of caregivers. Changing a grown man’s diapers, suffering his bouts of dementia, lifting his emaciated frame from the bath, feeding him like a child, brushing the sweat soaked hair from his eyes, telling him he’s gonna be okay … you’re never the same …

But time moves on. The economy ebbed and flowed. The earthquake hit in ’89, a recession in the ’90s. Dot coms boomed and busted, empty lots became infill housing, light industry fled, live/works blossomed.

We weren’t ready for this. SoMa has always been transitional. From the gold miners of 1849 to the longshoremen, blue collar workers and waves of immigrants, most merely passed through.

Live/work lofts skirted the intent of South of Market zoning. Developers exploited a gray area in the law that categorized them as commercial properties. Many were built in parts of SoMa where residences weren’t meant to be.

Inadequate infrastructure. Incompatible uses. Unhappy new neighbors.

Complaints grew over the concentration of low income housing in the area. Resistance to homeless facilities followed. The cacophony of playing kids became an irritant. Filipino families fought for a basketball court at the new park … new residents wanted a dog run.

They feuded with the auto body shops. Rock and roll venues have been threatened with lawsuits. The Dore Alley Fair is under siege. One neighbor actually complained about the odors emanating from Big Nates Barbecue!

I erred recently in referring to these new neighbors as “yuppie loftdwellers.” It was a smart aleck crack — one that usually elicits knowing grins among old timers — but this time it got picked up by the local chatrooms and some decent people were hurt by my impudence.

It’s easy to associate young urban professionals with greed, indifference and self absorption. But then, the old-timers — that would include me — demonstrate more than a little intolerance and narrow-mindedness every now and then. The poor always get blamed for their sense of entitlement. Young people … well, depravity and overindulgence come to mind.

“Overruling self-interest is a cure worse than the disease,” wrote James Madison.

It may seem enlightened to dismiss the demands of the arriviste but to an extent everyone here in SoMa feels put upon. Filipinos, SRO residents, seniors living on fixed incomes and persons with disabilities. Families with children. Life ain’t easy down here.

The LGBT community, workers, artists and musicians are fighting displacement. Even the young urban professionals, small business owners and entrepreneurs face plenty of challenges.

We have more in common than in what separates us … despite what that flood of hate mail told us.

“No one thought Rob Black could win except Rob Black,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told the Examiner a couple days after the election. Boy, that’s a cold assessment, coming from the architect of Black’s challenge to Daly. More than a half million dollars was spent tearing this community apart and here we are entering the holidays barely speaking to each other.

Next time, do us a favor … leave us alone.

A word to my “yuppie loftdweller” friends … when I was the newcomer to the neighborhood, they had a different name for us: it was “faggot.” It wasn’t said with a smile and it was often bellowed from a passing car. You froze in your tracks if the car slowed down. The modicum of safety you now enjoy in this neighborhood was painstakingly — and often painfully — achieved by building a sense of community and finding common ground with those who came before.

Break bread this holiday season with someone new … someone as different as can be.

Change is inevitable. SoMa will never be the same, because of you.

Employ a little humility as you wield your wealth and influence.

“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – Matthew 25:40.
Jim Meko was a South of Market activist, serving as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force and was a member of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission. Here at the Fog City Journal, of course, he’s expressing his own personal opinions. 

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