Hilbert Morales / EL OBSERVADOR

Gentrification is the process by which “urban renew” happens. Usually low income neighborhoods undergo transitions when those having higher income begin to move in. Property values rise; rents go up, affordable housing becomes scarce. This gentrification process drives out retired fixed income folks; young couples; lower income service labor moves further from their job sites. Often ethnic minorities move out changing the community, its neighborhood’s diversity, culture, and social character.

Gentrification also involves many small businesses (start-ups) where creative insights by individuals having multi-disciplinary know-how begin their commercial journey by being acquired or merging.

Gentrification was coined by sociologist Ruth Glass (1964) who studied London’s social transitions. Glass said, “Once ‘gentrification’ starts in a district, it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”

Many have experienced this gentrification process personally without knowing what was happening until much later. I have witnessed Stanford University and Palo Alto gentrify as the university, its shopping center, industrial park and world-renowned Medical Center grew. I have resided in the same home since 1959 when several thousand Mexican-American residents lived in Palo Alto’s ‘Ventura neighborhood’ and along Charleston Road. Today, 55 years later, Palo Alto has very few Latino residents. Some live in Buena Vista Mobile Home which the landlord wants to sell…displacing some 400 low income Latinos service workers.

As a biochemist, I earned the salary allowing me to purchase my Palo Alto home in 1959 for $20,000. My technical training (biochemistry) allowed me to be a contributing member of a research team (Arthur Kornberg, M.D., Nobel Prize awardee, 1959) which characterized DNA enzyme kinetics. I was the only Mexican-American member whose multi-disciplinary technical training allowed me to function as a knowledge worker.

It was later that I realized that I was the only professional Latino residing with wife and three kids in that community. As a technologist, I personally witnesses many biomedical technologies be created, exploited commercially, and attract skilled personnel. As their number increased, home prices rose; vacant land disappeared; and those with low-incomes were displaced by rising rents. These service workers would hold onto their jobs by commuting from East San Jose, Salinas, Watsonville, and as far away as Modesto and Manteca. These low income service workers became those who commuted longer distances from home to job sites.

Gentrification is happening in San Jose today which is experiencing a high level of displacement of many long time residents and homelessness. Many high salaried jobs are being outsourced to take advantage of low cost technical expertise located ‘offshore’. Since 1975 middle class salaries have stagnated. The former SJ Redevelopment Agency bought up all the property along Alameda where Mexican-American families resided. Ernestina Garcia and Sophia Mendoza were vocal community leaders who spoke up at SJ City Council and/or County BOS meetings to petition for equitable treatment of those Mexican American residents being displaced via eminent domaine procedures. The Convention Center and Arena (now named SAP) and two stadia were constructed. BART and High Speed Rail Transit Projects are works in progress.

Are those with technical training; earning higher salaries; and able to pay higher rents, be the only ones able to live here? Landlords delight in receiving higher rents. Are too many decisions are being made solely upon ‘bottom line’ assessments. It’s essential to include community stewardship values.

We all are impacted by GENTRIFICATION PROCEESES. Therefore, studying gentrification processes is recommended to learn if it is appropriate to have ‘rent control’ ordinances, zoning changes, conveniently located retail & service outlets, community centers, churches, etc. Let’s proactively allow for open spaces (parks and sports fields). Let’s make allowances for these ‘quality of life’ issues which mitigate the ‘dark side’ of gentrification. Knowing more about gentrification may effectively assist business and elected decision-makers to craft appropriate public policies needed to mitigate the social and economic transition costs impacting low income, unskilled youth, and retired fixed income residents.

Gentrification can be recognized: high rents, lack of affordable housing; a need for rapid public transit; a need for local parks; an ability to limit the number of liquor stores in low income neighborhoods; access to health care services; job training; and much more. Development decisions must include profitable ventures coupled with ‘community stewardship’. Our quality of life can be maintained if all residents are served rather than just being exploited.

The more we know and understand, the better this community will cope with these profound gentrification transitions which currently affect too many long term residents resulting in a very high social costs borne by all.

LET’S STUDY GENTRIFICATION TO UNDERSTAND ITS PROCESSES. This will enable doing the most for the greatest number at the lowest social cost.