Sixth Street needs the community and our city’s leader to help turn it around.
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Sixth Street Residents Are Looking For a Turnaround
Amidst ever-increasing crime, declining welfare benefits and pervasive homelessness, a quiet battle is being fought to reclaim a San Francisco neighborhood from the ravages of the last two decades.
Sixth Street, long synonymous with crime, public intoxication and economic decay, is on the brink of a historic turnaround. This turnaround is being led, as all successful neighborhood renewals must be, by the residents of Sixth Street themselves. But whether the residents will succeed depends on the willingness of our mayor, police department, district attorney and — most critically — our business community to cooperate with resident efforts to have Sixth Street become again a thriving mixed-use neighborhood.
To an outsider, it must seem astonishing that a corridor within a block of a Nordstrom and other elegant shops, and which serves as an entryway to people driving into our city, could be allowed to decline into such squalor. Yet Sixth Street is not in its current state by accident. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, at taxpayer expense, demolished thousands of low-cost housing units South of Market and transferred all of the area’s social problems onto Sixth Street. The agency didn’t provide Sixth Street with new housing or social services to deal with this sudden change, nor did businesses in the area receive any economic assistance. The demise of Sixth Street was then confirmed by the city’s “hot line hotel” program of the 1980’s.
This program transformed the area’s hotels into citadels of drugs and violence. As Sixth Street became increasingly dangerous, permanent tenants were driven out of their homes and the last bulwark against criminal activity was removed.
Ironically, the October 1989 earthquake created the opportunity for a Sixth Street renaissance. The quake brought a virtual end to the city’s hot line hotel program and caused the demolition of Sixth Street’s most dangerous hot line hotel. Following the quake, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s modified payment housing program began bringing hundreds of permanent tenants back to Sixth Street hotels. Tenant associations were formed, which brought those hotels a level of stability that had not been evident for more than a decade. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency created and earthquake recovery zone that was designed to bring $1,500,000 to the Sixth Street area, and the agency facilitated the acquisition of several sites for construction of nonprofit-owned housing for low-income individuals and families. When Mayor Agnos held a press conference on Sixth Street in 1990 to announce the agency’s financial commitment. Many thought the corner had finally been turned.
Alas, it is too soon to claim victory. While Sixth Street residents attend meetings in record numbers and organize to improve safety on the street, other pieces of the puzzle are still missing. For example, the economic assistance funds targeted for the are were suddenly removed from Redevelopment Agency control and transferred to the mayor’s office; the funds have yet to be spent. The San Francisco Police Department’s vaunted “CPOP” beat patrol program was launched, but it operates almost exclusively during the day, even though it is widely agreed that the presence of beat officers is more essential at night. As a result, few observers believe the CPOP program has had a material impact on crime on Sixth Street. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, whose job is to help our city’s business community, continue to ignore the importance of attracting new capital to Sixth Street.
The battle to reclaim Sixth Street is a campaign for the good of The City Neighborhood residents will soon launch a major public campaign designed to improve conditions on Sixth Street and to motivate our city’s leaders to take a more active role in solving the area’s problems. The campaign will seek to install in all those who are accountable a sense of personal responsibility for solving problems on Sixth Street.