Class war and Treasure Island

Things have changed very dramatically on Treasure Island since I lived there. The former naval base has gone from a source of cheap, albeit slightly dodgy, housing surrounded by decaying infrastructure to an increasingly gentrified neighbourhood. Before, there was a strange sense of camaraderie among those of us willing to live in a part of San Francisco that the rest of the City didn’t really seem to understand; of the City but not in it, reachable only by the 108, hovering in the middle of the Bay. Friends from the East Bay had trouble getting to the Island because they had to go into San Francisco and back out on the 108, while friends in the City were reluctant to venture to the Island due to their deep resistance when it comes to traveling east of the Ferry Building, as though they’re going to melt if they hit the East Bay.

Even when I was living there, I saw hints of times to come. Obviously, a prime piece of real estate isn’t going to lie mostly fallow forever. The Navy was working on taking down and cleaning up old buildings, addressing the need for environmental remediation, and slowly discussing redevelopment even as the City was getting heavily involved as well. Developers were already floating around ambitious proposals, many of which involved turning the Island into a playground for the rich with a token nod to ‘affordable housing’ in the form of astronomically expensive rentals and condos that still somehow magically meet low income standards in the most expensive city in the United States.

Treasure Island was teetering on a cusp, with events slowly starting to appear and businesses quietly creeping on board when I lived there. Now, the Treasure Island Music Festival is getting bigger every year, the Island has a winery, and it even has a proper restaurant. I have very mixed feelings about these things. I feel really passionately that it is extremely difficult to survive in San Francisco if you’re working class. I also believe that the state of the Island when I lived there was a highly inefficient use of real estate — purely from the perspective of providing housing for low-income people, it didn’t work. The lack of access to fresh food and resources on the Island was also a problem. Something needed to give.

At the same time, though, I loved the post-apocalyptic landscape of the Island, the eerie creepiness of the whole thing, the fascinating salvage available for the bold and creative. I loved the sense of strangeness and the nooks and corners you always found. I loved sitting on the seawall and watching the sunset or gazing across to the lights of the East Bay in the evenings. I loved the fact that the Island was largely left to itself because no one wanted to go out there. I loved the subculture of the Island, the graffiti in the cracked swimming pool. I loved the things I found and the people I shared the Island with and perhaps part of me is very nostalgic for my time there, but it was also a really unique neighbourhood, and now it’s being subsumed into the monochrome sameness of the rest of San Francisco. Soon the techies will move in there, having exhausted San Francisco and the East Bay.

The possibility of losing Clipper Cove is, to my eye, a really stark example of what is happening to Treasure Island and how it may be losing itself forever. This is a turning point — a docking that not many people used because it was inconvenient may be largely privatised, generating substantial income and gussying it up to the cost of residents and a lot of community programmes. As huntercutting noted at Above the Blue and Windy Sea in July:

The staff of the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) is now actively working with private developers to convert most of Clipper Cove at Treasure Island into a privately-owned and operated marina dedicated to serving large boats and super-sized yachts. This proposal would essentially sacrifice the youth sailing, dragon boating, disabled sailing, and many other instructional and recreational boating programs that have found a home in the Cove and served thousands over the last 20 years, including the Treasure Island Sailing Center (TISC) and the annual California Dragon Boat festival. TISC has served low-income, inner-city, and disabled children from its inception.

Greedy for the possibility of monetising yet another aspect of the Island, TIDA has set its sights upon yet another resource that once provided opportunities to communities that get short shrift in San Francisco and points surrounding. Berthing is in very short supply around the Bay, period, and groups providing community services have limited funds to bring to bear when it comes to buying space, let alone finding it (many marinas have long waiting lists for berths). Taking that space away for profit is a really horrific and classist thing to do, leaving communities without the opportunity to learn to sail and have fun out on the Bay. Sailing is very much treated as an upper class thing to do, but it should be accessible to anyone.

‘Where will the next generation of sailors come from, just private yacht clubs? That is not a sustainable strategy for the sport.’

It’s a good question, and a reminder that low-income people are squeezed out of a huge assortment of social activities suddenly made available to only the privileged and the rich. Learning to ride horses, to sail, to fence, all of these things are those we associate with wealth and power, but we shouldn’t have to. By forcing out instruction space and opportunities to learn, we’re increasing class stratification: Even leisure sports are divided between haves and have nots. Anyone who wants to should be able to learn to sail, and anyone who finds sailing therapeutic (emotionally or in the sense of physical therapy) should be able to do so. This proposal served as a slap in the face to the need for a diverse community, and on those grounds alone, it’s a symbol of San Francisco’s ongoing class war.

Image: The Christmas Spirit, Daniel Parks, Flickr