Vanishing city - Page 2

Up against intense market pressure, longtime residents and community projects fade from SF

Esperanza gardeners (left to right): Gabriel Fraley, Maria Fernanda Valecillos, Alana Corpuz, Veronica Ramirez, Jonathan Youtt

A former KPFA radio personality, comic, writer, and DJ, Zuckman moved to San Francisco in his early 20s and lived in the Haight for 40 years. He's now 63. He played in a band, ran an underground sex venue called the Mini Adult Theater, helped organize against a Republican-led 1978 proposal to ban gay teachers from California schools, supported AIDS benefits and battered-women support groups, and founded GAWK, the Gay Artists and Writers Kollective. He's getting evicted from the Stanyan Street apartment building he's lived in for 25 years, and has no idea where he'll go after that.

Officially, he's being evicted for violating the terms of a legal stipulation hashed out with landlord Al DeLorenzi pertaining to a bedbug infestation treatment. Zuckman claims he notified his landlord about the pest problem two years ago and no action was taken until he phoned the Department of Public Health.

DeLorenzi told the Bay Guardian that Zuckman is to blame for the bugs and that he's just trying to keep the infestation in check. "There is no comment, he can say what he wants to say about this and that," DeLorenzi said when reached by phone.

Complaints filed with the city's Department of Public Health reveal a host of issues associated with the property over the years, from mice to broken light fixtures to a malfunctioning door buzzer.

Zuckman lives with a roommate in a rent-controlled unit, paying considerably less than tenants who pay market rate to live in the building. "I live," he tells people, "on the corner of Haight and resentment."

Zuckman is disabled, and says he's undergone seven surgeries on his foot, plus a knee replacement. Asked if he's on a fixed income, he responds, "It's broken. I am on disability. It's $869 a month. My rent is $600. My phone and Internet is like $55 to $60. And the rest is like, party, party, party."

Tony Robles, of the elder advocacy organization Senior Disability Action, submitted a letter to the court in support of Zuckman. Robles said his office has experienced a spike in demand for services lately. "We've been having a large increase in calls, and people walking in and wanting to know if there's available housing," he says, adding that most clients are seniors grappling with eviction. "A lot of these folks, they're scared."

For his part, Jon Sugar is trying to maintain his sense of humor. "If I curl into a ball and let out with great heaving sobs, it's not going to help," he says. He doesn't know of any good answers for stemming the tide of evictions currently sweeping San Francisco. "There's got to be other ways than throwing crippled old DJs out into the street," he says. Then he lets out a laugh. "I crack me up."


On a recent Saturday, the collective that started Esperanza Gardens hosted an event at its tiny fenced-in San Francisco garden plot, billed as a "be-in." Ukulele music floated in the air as several people painted sweeping brushstrokes onto a mural. Volunteers dished up organic pizza with donated ingredients, cooked in a handcrafted cob oven. A dreadlocked gardener named Ryan Rising was preparing to host a permaculture workshop. The sun was hot, and flowers bloomed in vibrant hues.

Esparanza Gardens was started four years earlier, and the suntanned gardeners gathered under the shade of a 20-foot high cypress that had been a wee sapling when they first started out. But the afternoon gathering was bittersweet; this was a farewell ceremony.

They'd always known the project would be temporary. "We definitely understood what we were getting into," explained Jonathan Youtt, an urban farmer clad in purple overalls and a straw hat, who's recently been devoting more time to an urban farming project in Oakland.