The decommissioning of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1974 signified the collapse of the economic monoculture which the Navy had imposed upon Bayview-Hunters Point, resulting in widespread unemployment and poverty. Unemployment in the district is consistently the highest in San Francisco, peaking at 13.3% in the 1990 census (although I’d speculate that the current figure is even higher). In addition, in tract 231.03, which contains the Hunters Point housing projects and is 74% Black, unemployment in the 2000 census was a whopping 22.2%, with 53.4% of the population beneath the poverty level and 79.3% classified as “poor or struggling” by having an income less than two times the poverty level. Even more concerning, this tract has San Francisco’s highest concentration of children, with 44% of the population under 18 (compared with 14.6% in SF as a whole), yet 57.6 of households have no father present. Granted, Bayview-Hunters Point is an extremely diverse district, with a sizeable base of middle class homeowners, but exploring the Hunters Point housing projects makes you feel like you’re in a Third-World country, even though you’re just minutes away from wealthy districts such as Bernal Heights.
Many early attempts were made to encourage reinvestment in Bayview-Hunters Point even before the Shipyard’s closure, but ultimately these measures failed. In the late 1960s, Mayor Joseph Alioto designated Bayview-Hunters Point to participate in the Model Cities program to develop a community-based redevelopment plan to rehabilitate dilapidated housing projects, create new community facilities, and attract new business to the area. However, Mayor Alioto failed to obtain adequate funding, and the proposal died. Similarly, in the early 1980s, Mayor Dianne Feinstein sought to reinvigorate the Naval Shipyard and attract investment to the area by stationing the USS Missouri there and turining it into a tourist attraction, but this plan also failed. Therefore, San Francisco government provided little assistance to clean up the economic mess that the Navy left behind.
In addition to an economic mess, the Navy left behind an environmental mess that only recently has started to be cleaned up. The district is littered with toxic waste, including a filthy power plant, one of California’s largest radioactive sites (the National Radiological Defense Laboratory), and of course the highly polluted shipyard. It’s no coincidence that Bayview-Hunters Point has the highest infant mortality rate in California, as well as an extremely high rate of athsma and cancer. While these examples of environmental racism were only a small part of my research, it could make up an entire project in itself.
As if the unemployment, poverty, disinvestment, and contamination weren’t enough, since the 1980s Bayview-Hunters Point has been overrun with gangs, drugs, and violence. With extreme isolation and few other opportunities, youth in Bayview-Hunters Point often turn to gangs and crime and cannot escape the culture of poverty and segregation which has consumed the area. The district has one of the highest crime rates in San Francisco, and despite having less than 5% of San Francisco’s population, the district consistently accounts for 20-30% of San Francisco’s homicides, peaking at 50% in 2004. A two year gang rivalry in 2000-2001 resulted in 20 homicides alone.
Bayview-Hunters Point has suffered from decades of crime, poverty, and disinvestment. Yet, demographic changes, combined with redevelopment, are poised to completely change the district.