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Beyond Chron
February 7, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Marc Norton

Sometimes the Hearst Corporation's San Francisco Chronicle actually has some interesting tidbits, though you might have to dig for them. Consider the last paragraph of an article in Friday's business section, trumpeting the summer opening of a new luxury hotel at Third and Mission:

"It used to be, in San Francisco, if you weren't behaving, you'd be told, 'You're going to end up on the corner of Third and Mission,'" said the new hotel's general manager.

"Now, if you're at Third and Mission, you're going to be able to say, 'I've done pretty well.'"

Third and Mission is right in the midst of the old south-of-the-slot district that used to be a vast collection of cheap lodging and hotel rooms for the city's working stiffs. Rooms at the new St. Regis will start at $469 (that's per night), and will include 42-inch, wall-mounted plasma TVs. The hotel will have an outdoor terrace for parties of up to 600 people, right across the street from the Museum of Modern Art.

The upper floors of the new 40-story tower will include 102 condominiums, priced from $1.7 million on up.

So, instead of homes for the poor and laboring classes, we have a growing playground for the rich, the arty, and the up-and-coming. Take a walk around the old neighborhood. Sure, the Martin Luther King memorial in the shiny Yerba Buena Center is inspirational, but let a tired, bedraggled or homeless body try to take a nap on that broad expanse of well-groomed grass in front of the fountain, and he will be run off in no time flat.

The elite denizens the new St. Regis will have plenty of classy company. Luxury condo towers are sprouting in the new SOMA and South Beach districts like weeds after a winter storm. These skyscrapers are the urban version of gated communities, extending up into the sky instead of sprawling behind suburban fences. "We believe this is now the center of the city," says the St. Regis general manager. No matter how many "affordable housing" units we strain to create, we are being swamped by the power of the real estate developers, and inundated by hordes of yuppies and gavinites.

San Francisco has long had its Nob Hill, Pacific Heights and St. Francis Wood, and its grand hotels like the Palace, the St. Francis, the Fairmont, and the Mark. But today our ruling classes are reaching for the skies, and storming the very heavens.

Doubtless few of the guests and residents of the luxury digs at the St. Regis will concern themselves with the troubles of the maids, housemen and janitors who will struggle daily to keep the dirt and grime from the old neighborhood under control. Where will these workers live? Farther and farther away from the city's center, to be sure. Nor will our high-living aristocracy give a damn about that quarter-per-ride boost in MUNI fares to bring these legions of proletarians downtown, to keep their tower-by-the-bay well scrubbed and clean. They may interact a bit with some of the bartenders and waiters and waitresses, toss a few greenbacks their way, think of themselves as generous souls (as long as they get good service) -- and then complain about the beggars and crazies that bother them when they exit from their cabs and limos.

Back at the Martin Luther King memorial, across the street from the rising St. Regis, certain words from his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech are etched into a granite panel:

"No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"

The martyred King had a whole different idea about what it meant to reach for the sky. Read all about it in Hearst's daily Chronicle.