A History of Bayview-Hunters Point, Part 2: Crime, Contamination, and Crisis

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.

The layers of isolation of the Hunters Point housing projects--steep terrain, lack of traditional street grid, poor sidewalks, and lack of public transportation access--all help to perpetuate the highest rate of unemployment in San Francisco 25%

The layers of isolation of the Hunters Point housing projects--steep terrain, lack of traditional street grid, poor sidewalks, and lack of public transportation access--all help to perpetuate the highest rate of unemployment in San Francisco 22% (2000 Census)

A number of wartime housing projects are now abandoned, yet a large number of San Franciscans still remain trapped in this terrible public housing.

A number of wartime housing projects are now abandoned, yet a large number of San Franciscans still remain trapped in this terrible public housing.

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.

35 years after its closure, the Naval Shipyard remains a highly-contaminated ghost town

35 years after its closure, the Naval Shipyard remains a contaminated ghost town

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.

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30 responses to “A History of Bayview-Hunters Point, Part 2: Crime, Contamination, and Crisis

  1. very nice stuff, my first time at your blog , i love the way you write
    got yourself a new reader here:)

  2. Great piece, friend. Hunters Point seems like a mess.

  3. I’m a long time resident of H.P. As a matter of fact I can truly say I was raised by “The Point” I’ve read your articles and find them very interesting. I love my neighborhood with all my heart. With mixed feelings sometimes because it can be very dangerous yet beautiful especially when the sun is shining(one of the last places the fog reaches on a daily basis.

  4. To get to the point, I want my hood to stay black and remain a stronghold for a shrinking black population in San Francisco(various reasons,but thats another story). There have been a lot of talented artist from music to acting to athletics but no one has done any stories on these individuals. What can we do to change that? And start shining a different light on The P.

  5. Also how can we expertly correct the politically incorrect term “African American”. If you talk to most people in any of these neighborhoods from H.P. to DC you will find that we call ourselves and would rather be referred to as “Black”. It’s the more descriptive and accurate term. Think about it for a second, most of us have never been to Africa,the first “Africans” were not willful travelers to the US, bloodlines are not pure, and the term can apply to any person(s) who migrated from Africa to America and is now a citizen of the country, no matter the race or color. So at best it can actually be seen as an insult to both full blooded Africans & Blacks, despite the intentions of the “Good Ole U S of A”.

  6. I know you say Black, I’m speaking of other publications and institutions.

    • Hi Greg. I appreciate your comments, tho I don’t agree that “African American” is an insult, because it’s not MEANT as an insult. I would not be insulted if someone called me a Russian American, even tho it’s inaccurate, because I wasn’t born in Russia. I’m an American of russian Jewish German descent. I’m not comfortable with “white” either because I’m more off-white, with some pink or peach With an afro. Some call it a jewfro, although my hair is not religious.

      You’re right, BVHP is a very special place, with many wonderful people, despite the negatives. I am researching talented artists and athletes and other successful people who have come out of BVHP, for a project I’m working on, to raise awareness about the good things in BVHP. If you could send me any info about that, I would be very grateful. You can contact me through bvhpradio.org. Thanks, and be well!

  7. Bravo to Greg for challenging the politically correct term “African American.” Even lamer is the nearly compulsive use of the contrived phrase “African American community” when the word “blacks” would suffice. As a white person, I find the cultural imperative to use this vogue liberal language offputting, and it is good to hear that some blacks feel the same way about it!

    But to my main point: I have been trying to do some online research regard the apparently massive toxicity that exists at Hunters Point. My wife and I are going to be staying for awhile in Bernal Heights (and are considering living there), and I notice that it really isn’t that far from the area of contamination. Needless to say, I am wondering what the possible health impact might be: How quickly (or over what distance) does exposure to such contaminants drop off?

    From what I have read, it seems there is no argument that the residents of Hunters Point are at high risk for health impairment; the data regarding asthma rates for children made that clear. But what about for people who live a half mile away? A mile away? Two miles away? And so on…

    Amazingly, I have not been able to find ONE article which comments on this subject – one which would seem to be a concern to all residents of San Francisco (regardless of their race.) There are endless articles that go into great length framing the issue as “environmental racism,” and while that may well be true, this focus seems to obscure an equally important question: what impact on EVERYONE’S health (within radius X, Y, and Z) are these contaminants having?
    Concern for those most disempowered by society is of course a good thing. But it makes me wonder when that concern is so fixated that it seems to obscure issues that affect the ultimate community – ALL of us, irrespective of race and other surface differences….

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  9. Michael Genochio

    Glad to see this website.I grew in Hunter’s Point from 1960 to 1981.In fact your picture of the curve street on the hill, is exactly where I lived. It looks pretty much the same. Except the trees were small bushes back in the day.I have fond memories of my childhood on the hill. All of the familes living there were quite large. So it was a great community,everyone looking out for each other. Hopefully it will one day return to splendor it had, when there a great sense of pride the neighborhood had.

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  12. I’m hoping to paint the electric boxes on third, and ran across this blog. Very interesting stuff and reviews. I grew up in bayview but don’t know much of the history behind it. Am also very concern about the health issues surround the water pollution plant, which I live half a block away from. If anybody has anything to contribute to possible iconography, themes, etc. that I could paint, that would help alot. thanks

    http://www.tinyurl.com/verodorozco

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  14. I too, grew up in Hunter’s Point, since 1960. Although I no longer live here, my mom still does – since 1959 – along with others who refuse to give up. I agree with you Greg on the “African American” term. I am still black, and proud of it. Who thought of this, anyhow? I would seriously like to know.

  15. Your blog is pretty interesting to me and your topics are very relevant. I was browsing around and came across something you might find interesting. I was guilty of 3 of them with my sites. “99% of blog owners are committing these five errors”. http://tinyurl.com/7z8coet You will be suprised how fast they are to fix.

  16. Thanks for sharing this important information about the Bayview Hunters Point community, as a lifelong resident, activist and award-winning filmmaker, “Straight Outta Hunters Point 1 & 2. I have had an opportunity to engage all sectors of the community in honest, critical and insightful conversations about the myriad of issues and challenges confronting Bayview-Hunters Point. My approach as a filmmaker have been to give the community a voice thru my work and make sure that the true stories are magnified and just attention is given to the community. San Francisco hidden, little, dark secret.

  17. Thanks for sharing this important information about the Bayview Hunters Point community, as a lifelong resident, activist and award-winning filmmaker, “Straight Outta Hunters Point 1 & 2. I have had an opportunity to engage all sectors of the community in honest, critical and insightful conversations about the myriad of issues and challenges confronting Bayview-Hunters Point. My approach as a filmmaker have been to give the community a voice thru my work and make sure that the true stories are magnified and just attention is given to the community. San Francisco hidden, little, dark secret.

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  19. On a recent visit to SF, I swung by HP. I found that a large part of it is fenced off and has a guard kiosk. How long has that been there? If memory serves, some of that area, including the warehouses, were accessible – say south of Spear on Hussey and H Street – in the mid-80s. If not, when did the guard stations go up and when?

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  22. its fenced off because there is some attempt going on to remediate the contaminated soil in that area, the guard shack is for the environmental contractor tasked with the cleanup, safety requirements mandate that only authorized personnell can enter, and everyone that enters the site has to go through a site-specific safety orientation prior to performing any work on the site.

    Does anyone know how much of the area is contaminated and what exactly the contaminants are? Ive been doing research for a project but any data regarding soil contamination levels and extent at BVHP is hard to find….

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  25. I am writing a paper about the racialization of space, and would love to use some of your data. Do you have the sources?

  26. it’s sad to see where i was raised slowly disappearing

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