Poor fish in rich pond seems like a heavy burden to bear

More than 20 years ago while living south of the San Francisco Bay Area I attempted to reduce my 2-1/2 hour commute by moving closer to my job, located in San Francisco’s financial district.

The best deal my then-wife and I could find was half of a run-down duplex in a run-down neighborhood in an ugly part of an ugly suburb. Yes, we were enamored.

The duplex featured almost no yard, was in desperate need of extensive renovation and was located in a neighborhood loaded with gang graffiti, lots of blacktop and cookie-cutter structures.

I couldn’t haven’t imagined a less appealing environment, especially given that it was still 30 miles from my office. Still, it was the least-expensive housing option we could find within an hour of the city.

The price in 1996 was $267,500. We literally decided within minutes of walking out of that duplex that we would have to move out of the Bay Area in order to buy a home.

Things, apparently, are even more expensive now.

Consider that a burned out home in San Jose is selling for $800,000. The realtor representing the seller said the asking price is reasonable given the housing market and its location.

Realtor Holly Bar tried to downplay the price by stating that it’s the lot she’s selling, not the house.

“They did leave it standing so you can remodel it versus tearing it down so you save a lot of money when you can leave a wall up and do a remodel versus a complete teardown,” she said.

The latest numbers in California’s Santa Clara County show the median price for a single-family home is $1.4 million, according to television station KTVU.

Barr said that less than 24 hours since posting the listing on Facebook 10 potential buyers have contacted her. She anticipates it will sell in a few days.

I’ve often wondered how individuals, even those with high-paying technology jobs, sleep at night having to make mortgage payments of such proportions. If there’s an industry downturn and you lose your job, it’s a lot harder to hold onto your home when your monthly housing payment is $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000.

The region does have nice weather, plenty of amenities and other opportunities that are hard to come by elsewhere. Still, when burned-out homes are selling for $800,000 and the median price of a single-family home is $1.4 million, one wonders if another housing bubble is about to make itself felt.

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Old red-brick church survives in high-tech San Francisco

The outsider tends to think of San Francisco as irreligious city.

Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and LGBT pioneers are among things so-called “Baghdad by the Bay” is easily recognized for, but San Francisco has an array of beautiful structures, including many houses of worship such as Grace Cathedral, Sherith Israel synagogue, Saint Ignatius Church, Saints Peter and Paul Church and Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in the city, dating to 1776.

Other noteworthy houses of worship are less well known. Take Saint Francis Lutheran Church, the only Lutheran church in the world to be named for the Italian (Catholic) saint.

Located on Church Street, near the intersection of Market Street in the Castro District, Saint Francis Lutheran dates back to just before the devastating 1906 Earthquake. By the time of the disaster, the main floor meeting hall had been completed and was in use, but the sanctuary above was still unfinished.

The earthquake damaged the sanctuary, but the main floor was left intact and was used by the Red Cross as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless.

The red-brick church was constructed in a Danish-Gothic style, modified in the Nordic tradition, according to NoeHill in San Francisco, a website dedicated to San Francisco historical sites.

It possesses a wooden steeple and features a stone foundation and steps. In the sanctuary are copies of two masterpieces by Danish sculptor Berte Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).

San Francisco, like much of California, received a wide array of immigrants from many parts of the world following the 1849 Gold Rush. Danish immigration to California began in the San Joaquin Valley and gradually moved to Fresno and then north to the Bay Area and San Francisco.

For many years, religious services in San Francisco were performed by Lutheran clergy dispatched more than 180 miles from Fresno, according to NoeHill in San Francisco.

Around 1900, when the Danish community in San Francisco had reached a size to warrant its own church, the community wrote to Queen Louise of Denmark asking for financial assistance. The monarch sent a gift of 500 Kroner, which formed the basis of the building fund.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area around the church was populated mainly by Scandinavians and Germans. For many years, the neighborhood supported five Lutheran churches, each holding services in a different language: Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and German.

Over the years, as English became the common tongue the various Lutheran congregations merged. In 1964, a Danish and Finnish congregation merged and named the new congregation in honor of San Francisco’s patron saint, Saint Francis.

(Top: 111-year-old Saint Francis Lutheran Church, in San Francisco’s Castro District.)

New app allows users to rent backyards in crowded cities

tiny urban backyard

This blogger makes no secret of his love of the outdoors. Whether its woods or wilderness; swamps or savannas; fields or fens; meadows or marshes; pastures or plains, I’ll take being outside most any day to being enclosed in the glass and steel of the city.

Yes, there are plenty of interesting things to do in a metropolis, but if I have to pick one over the other, my first choice is always going to be the countryside.

As such, I’ve never understood those that willing live in crowded cities where greenery is almost non-existent and it’s a lengthy drive to romp in legitimate open space.

Apparently in the San Francisco Bay Area, green space is at such a premium that a new sharing app has been launched to allow you rent out your backyard or rooftop by the hour.

Nookzy allows the reservation of small “creative urban spaces,” according to its website.

In fact, it is currently beta testing a selection of backyard-based spas and saunas in San Francisco and Oakland, and is in the process of finding swimming pools and other amenities to list.

It has been called the “Airbnb of backyards,” referring to the website that enables people to list, find and rent lodgings for short periods.

Nookzy users can reserve spaces for as little as 30 minutes and as long as hosts are comfortable with.

Upon booking, guests will receive access permission and instructions, agreeing to host-specified conditions for conduct. During their reservation, guests will receive text message notifications, including when they have 15 minutes remaining in their reservation. Guests may extend their reservation if the space is still available.

I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity of some. Those behind this app apparently identified a need and have created a means to fill it. Good for them.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel for kids who live in an environment with so little green space that their parents have to go online to rent a backyard or pool. Seems like a rather Dickensian childhood in some respects.

(HT: Carpe Diem blog)

Old-time movie show San Francisco in days before Quake

While on a recent visit to the West Coast my dad and I were able to visit the San Francisco Railway Museum, a small but fascinating locale dedicated to the city’s long and varied rail transportation history.

San Francisco is renowned for its cable cars, but the city also has a long background with streetcars, trains, carriages, buses and, in later years, light rail and subways.

The above footage is remarkable for a couple of reasons: First, it shows the diversity of conveyances evident in the city in the early 20th century.

In addition to cable cars, streetcars and horse-drawn carts shown making their way down San Francisco’s Market Street toward the Port of San Francisco, there are also bicycles, cars and numerous people attempting to navigate what would appear to be a rather chaotic thoroughfare.

The photo below, taken from the movie, shows at least three different cable cars, a street car, an automobile, a bicycle, and at least one horse-drawn carriage.

It’s interesting to note the horse-drawn carriages and carts traveling in front of the cable cars. Doing so allowed them to traverse the smoother path offered by the rails and avoid, for at least a short time, the rougher ride of the cobbled street.

And at different points of the movie one can witness one of the constant hazards of an era when horse-drawn carts were still prevalent, as manure can be seen at different locations on the street.

Interestingly, there appears to be numerous cars evident in the movie, made by the early film duo the Miles Brothers.

However, the Miles Brothers actually used just a handful of cars, having them loop back into the camera’s view repeatedly through the 13-minute-plus film. When the movie was made, San Francisco, the wealthiest city on the US West Coast, had but 200 cars in all.

The second noteworthy feature of this footage is that is believed to have been shot just days before the April 18, 1906, earthquake that devastated San Francisco.

For years, the film was believed to have been taken in 1905, but recent research based on weather conditions, the positioning of shadows and the timing of newspaper ads promoting the Miles Brothers film titled “A Trip Down Market Street” indicate that it was shot in April 1906.

That means many of the structures seen in the footage would shortly be destroyed either by the quake itself or the ensuing fire. The disaster is believed to have claimed more than 3,000 lives. The movie, then, is a brief glimpse at an epoch that was about to end.

SF movie

An unintended consequence of minimum-wage laws

Borderlands Exterior

Borderlands Books is a privately owned San Francisco bookstore that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

Concentrating on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror works, Borderlands has overcome a number of challenges since opening in 1997: a 100 percent bump in rent in 2000; the trend toward online sales; the increasing popularity of ebooks; and the impact of the Great Recession.

Still, according to store officials, Borderlands managed to overcome each of the trials. In fact, last year was the best the store had enjoyed.

“At the beginning of 2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable and very positive,” Borderlands officials wrote on the store’s website. “We were not in debt, sales were meeting expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe were well established and working smoothly.”

Despite that, Borderlands recently announced it would be closing, by March 31 at the latest.

The reason? Last November San Francisco voters, out of touch with the realities of running a business, overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 an hour by 2018.

Borderlands Books as it exists cannot remain financially viable in light of increased minimum wages, according to the store website.

Unlike some businesses, bookstores are hindered in their ability to adjust for rising costs.

There’s a limit to how much a bookstore can increase book prices because publishers set prices. In addition, companies such as Amazon.com have siphoned off consumers from brick-and-mortar bookstores and made it more difficult to get them to pay retail.

In other words, adjusting prices upward to cover increased wage costs isn’t an option for Borderlands.

The change in the minimum wage will see Borderlands’ payroll jump nearly 40 percent. That will result in total operating expenses being bumped up by 18 percent. For Borderlands to offset that expense, it would need to increase sales by a minimum of 20 percent, which it doesn’t see as realistic.

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Bay Area’s ‘Titanic’ discovered beyond Golden Gate Bridge

rio de janeiro

More than a century after the SS City of Rio de Janeiro slipped beneath the chilly waters off the coast of San Francisco, taking 128 individuals with her, researchers have located the final resting place of the ill-fated vessel.

The steamer, carrying 210 people, struck jagged rocks while traveling through heavy fog near Fort Point, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Strait, near today’s Golden Gate Bridge, and sank within 10 minutes.

The disaster, called the Bay Area’s Titanic, is considered the worst shipwreck in San Francisco history.

New sonar maps show the mud-covered grave of the City of Rio 287 feet below the surface, according to Live Science.

Most of the passengers and nearly all of the crew were Chinese, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 345-foot ship’s last voyage began in China, with stops in Yokohama, Japan; and Honolulu, Hawaii, before heading for San Francisco Bay. The Chronicle described the ship’s final hours:

Fog obscured the Golden Gate on the night of Feb. 21, 1901, so Capt. William Ward anchored the ship just off the Cliff House, in sight of San Francisco.

But before dawn, the fog seemed to lift, and after consulting with Capt. Frederick Jordan, the bar pilot, Ward weighed anchor and headed for the Golden Gate. The fog closed in again, however, and about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 22, the Rio ran onto the rocks.

There was tremendous confusion, according to accounts at the time. The officers and crew spoke different languages, and the lifeboats were never launched. The ship’s lights went out, and the ship drifted off the rocks and sank.

“Fishermen in the area, hearing the ship’s distress calls, helped rescue 82 survivors, many plucked from makeshift rafts and floating wreckage,” according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which helped located the City of Rio. “The dead included Chinese and Japanese immigrants as well as the US Consul General in Hong Kong, who was returning to the US with his wife and two children. The entire family died in the tragedy.”

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Cabbies throw weight around in bid to protect monopoly

taxi cab

If there’s one thing the taxi cartel doesn’t like it’s unregulated competition. Of course, when it can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million per taxi to get a piece of the pie, one can understand why cab drivers are willing to take extreme measures to protect their turf.

Earlier this week, cabbies created chaos at San Francisco International Airport as hundreds of taxis honked their horns and flashed their headlights and tail lights while circling the airport between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., with most refusing to pick up passengers.

For about a half hour, between approximate 9:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., the slowly circling cabs created gridlock, backing up traffic on to nearby highways.

The protest was in response to technology-driven ride-service startups like Uber and Lyft that use untrained drivers in personal cars, summoned by smartphone apps. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A coalition of San Francisco taxi drivers, pleased with the impact of the protest, have vowed to bring more disruption to San Francisco International unless the airport director agrees to discuss their concerns that the ride services are being given an unfair advantage in serving the airport.

“That’s just a sample that we showed them,” said Harbir Singh, a taxi driver and board member of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, which organized the protest. “We will do it again and again, every now and then. They have to listen to us.”

The protest was the latest skirmish in the ongoing fight between San Francisco’s taxi industry and the technology-driven ride-service startups. Taxi operators complain that the newcomers are barely regulated while the ride-service operations argue that the cab industry is a monopoly in need of a shakeup.

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