Reid at United Nations Plaza.
Postcard from the fringe
by Hank Donat
Jim Reid couldn't wait for me to take his picture in a suit. A photo of Reid with a board strapped to his back and a sign promoting a failed Willie Brown recall effort had appeared on my web site for months before Reid and I toured the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard together under the hot sun on a recent Sunday.
When I arrived at our meeting, the paint was still wet on the walls of Reid's campaign office at 1155 Market, across the street from the now notorious U.N. Plaza. The plaza fountain is targeted for demolition by the city after years of being used as a bidet for the homeless.
"It's typical that when we have a problem we rip up the land instead of dealing with people," Reid says, "That will change when I'm mayor."
Reid, an underdog whose name has yet to appear on any polling data, only speaks of when he becomes mayor - there is no if. A sign inside his ShelterOne 100-sq ft. home for the homeless in Bernal Heights quotes T.S. Eliot. It says, "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
Destination: Hunters Point. On a 19 Polk bus we pass the SoMa billboard that Reid twice climbed during rush hour to focus attention on what he calls the failures of the Brown administration - housing, homelessness, and transportation. "In the last election I spent 36 hours on that billboard," the 53 year-old building contractor says.
Of his station on the fringe in a race against establishment candidates, Reid says, "I brought that on myself. But I get amazing respect for the little house and when I ride MUNI buses four days a week, wearing a suit and shaking hands with over a thousand people a day. I'm an ordinary guy who wants to be mayor. I'm on the bus touching them personally, and listening to their concerns."
All along the route to Hunters Point, Reid interrupts himself to point out parcels of land where he says he could build ShelterOne houses for the homeless.
"There's land everywhere," he says, "It's not true that there's no land in San Francisco so don't believe it. The question is whether we want to use land to build affordable housing or for maximizing profits.
"If the candidate you're supporting is talking about affordable housing they're not talking about you because 70 percent of us who live in San Francisco, including myself, cannot afford what's called affordable housing."
Reid wants anyone who still thinks his plan is to install ShelterOnes like tiny crack dens or J.C. Decaux toilets on every corner, to know that only clean and sober volunteers would be permitted to occupy them.
"I want to take homeless people who want a new start in life and give them something to lose."
Like most San Franciscans, I had never seen the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, even though it is home to the country's largest artist's colony.
Up to 300 artists have studios in six buildings near the entrance to the shipyard. (www.thepointart.com)
At the end of a winding road beneath cliffs on a spur of land like the fringes of the city itself sits the once vital Navy repair station, which was decommissioned in 1974. Abandoned rail cars and warehouses dot the paved landscape which emerges like a ghost of the military industrial complex.
This is the setting for Jim Reid's vision. He wants to house the homeless here. "Hunter's Point is a beautiful site," Reid says, "If I were homeless and someone told me I could live here I would say 'How soon?'"
"Who says there's no land in San Francisco?" Reid asks himself, "This is 500 acres, 50 city blocks. We can house everyone who needs housing out here."
Like the ShelterOne itself, Reid's idea for a city within the city at Hunter's Point will either dispel the notion that he's off his rocker or prove it beyond a doubt.
But if you've ever heard someone describe something they see in sharp focus with the mind's eye, then you will recognize Reid's conviction.
His vision includes a 2007 World's Fair, a hydrogen car factory, and a New Orleans-style entertainment complex near the old dry dock.
While a number of parcels of land here are too polluted to inhabit pending rehabilitation, Reid says it's a myth that the entire site is polluted. "That myth is perpetuated so that people will believe we can't put the poor and homeless here. But the city can sell it to developers who will turn it around for the wealthiest 30 percent, leaving most people in San Francisco behind - again."
Back on the 19 Polk, Reid tells me, "I want this land for anyone who can't afford housing in San Francisco." The bus driver and the only other passenger erupt in cheers.
Reid tells them, "A millionaire developer who's supporting Gavin Newsom for mayor told me, 'Mr. Reid, If you build only affordable and ultra affordable housing here you're going to have a ghetto.' I said, 'Yes, a ghetto that reflects 70% of the people in San Francisco. I want to live in that ghetto!'"
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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat