Boom: The Sound of Eviction 2002 (By Whispered Media, 96 mins.)



The
vast domed hall of the old Armory in San Francisco’s
Mission District which sat empty and rotting for the last
several decades comes to life with martini- swilling dotcommers
and real estate developers, dressed in army fatigues, partying.
Caterers in camo serve canapés
and booze from olive drab net-covered tents. The theme of
the event suits the occasion—a celebratory re-launch
of the Armory’s cavernous insides as swank offices for
the booming tech sector. Perhaps unwittingly, the party resonates
with the deeper meaning of the battle of gentrification that
is driving working class residents out of the neighborhood.
Suddenly, a young Latina student who snuck past security,
seizes the microphone and disrupts the self satisfied proceedings
with an urgent announcement about the destruction of the barrio.

This
scene and many others from the frontlines are captured in
a new documentary Boom: The Sound of Eviction. Whispered
Media’s first feature length film traces the typography
of the Mission skirmish line and the formidable resistance
residents and activists mustered against the seemingly unstoppable
conquest of their neighborhood by moneyed elites. Following
the unfolding events with tenacity and lots of on the scene
footage the filmmakers tell a clear and rich story.


By the summer of 2000, the carnage was piling up: it seemed
like everyone was getting evicted, from working class seniors
and families to non-profits and arts groups. Mayor Willie
Brown’s tacit endorsement of it all—“If you
don’t earn over $45,000 a year, move to a different city”—was
most clearly demonstrated by his support for the law-breaking
triumvirate of the Planning Department, Planning Commission
and maverick developer Joe O’Donog- hue’s Residential
Builders Association. City planners were not enforcing legal
limits on the construction of new offices and the more that
were built, the more rich dotcommers moved in, wildly jacking
up rents and fueling both residential and commercial evictions.
City government facilitated the gentrification wave by overlooking
laws that require new developments to contribute to low-income
housing, roads, and schools, losing over 20 million in tax
revenues as a result. Meanwhile real estate profiteers were
making out like gangbusters.


As the documentary illustrates, Latino and white lefties,
along with regular folks of no particular political persuasion,
were organizing on a number of fronts. The Marenco family,
faced with an eviction notice, pulled together friends and
neighbors to picket their landlord at his corner store, disrupting
business and ultimately triumphing. A united front of local
non-profits and activists known as The Mission Anti-Displacement
Coalition—or more evocatively the MAC—took city
government and developers to task for their depredations,
most notably at a meeting where 500 residents confronted Gerald
Greene, head of the Planning Department in a bitter three-hour
verbal assault. Meanwhile, artists staged numerous street
performances protesting the wholesale eviction of several
important neighborhood arts organizations.


Other representations of the recent struggle in San Francisco,
notably on NPR and in the New York Times, portrayed
artists as the primary victims. Boom does not repeat
this mistake. While the documentary acknowledges the plight
of artists, it tempers the sometimes self-pitying and self-serving
theatrics of white middleclass dancers and would-be curators
by focusing on the larger, often overtly racist and truly
massive evisceration of the mostly Latino working class of
the Mission.


As Boom points out, of the $20 billion in venture capital
nationally, a staggering $7.5 of it went directly to San Francisco.
The 1990s economic expansion was not just a time, but a place;
this influx of cash has a spatial component. As the 2000 census
data confirms, the main beneficiaries were unquestionably
those at the top. While incomes rose in city centers, they
declined in the peripheries. This directly echoes the geography
of gentrification. People earning more dough were moving into
working class neighborhoods displacing lower wage earners
who were forced to move farther out (sometimes much farther)
for cheaper rents. As the middle class dwindled during the
1990s the economy became more polarized and real wages lagged
behind 1989 levels right up until 1998; only a year and a
half before the crash did the boom translate into modestly
rising blue collar paychecks. This means working folks had
less money to out-bid options-crazed yuppies on over- priced
flats, especially in the Mission where 80 percent of the inhabitants
are renters. By the end of the decade only 11 percent of San
Franciscans could afford market rate rent.


Whispered Media’s film also traces the downside of the
bubble days in other parts of the Bay Area as it follows a
single mother evicted from her house in Oakland and thrown
onto the rental market of boom-time 1999. Unable to find an
affordable abode, she ends up sleeping on a friend’s
living room floor with her five children and eventually leaving
the area altogether. Boom is excellent in that it documents
a tale that could otherwise disappear, after all, the evicted,
forced to move away, take their story with them. Boom should
be requisite viewing for students, activists, and communities
facing gentrification.