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A modest proposal: It’s time for North Beach to secede from the city

Aaron Peskin’s downzoning of the Northern Waterfront was the last straw: We need a #Peskxit.

Overhead photo of San Francisco being sawed in half
Source: Illustration by Clark Miller

I have a modest proposal: It’s time to split San Francisco in two.

It may seem like a radical solution, but without a conscious civic uncoupling, we’ll be stuck in the current dilemma for the rest of our lives (or at least until the AI kids bring on the End Times). 

I came to this conclusion this week after the Board of Supervisors overrode Mayor London Breed’s veto of a bill that would downzone parts of the city in and around North Beach.

On the one side are elected officials like Supervisor Aaron Peskin, likely a candidate for mayor in the fall, who believe that new buildings will wreck the historical character of their perfectly constructed neighborhoods. Conversely, we have a state mandate to build 80,000 new homes by 2031. It seems impossible to do both.

Which is why I say, why pick? 

We can preserve the panoramic bay views enjoyed by Peskin and his Telegraph Hill neighbors, while allowing new housing to be built.

We just can’t do it in one city. Which is why we need a #Peskxit.

With one stroke of a surveyor’s pen, we could simply saw off Peskin’s Northern Waterfront from the rest of San Francisco. The supervisor would get his low-density, high-property-value fiefdom atop Mordor Telegraph Hill. The rest of us could get on with building the city of the future, or at least attempt to adapt to the needs of the present. 

The borders of Peskin’s city could run from Fisherman’s Wharf around the Embarcadero to Washington Street, from there to Mason Street, where it would go north back to the wharf again. I’m prepared to negotiate the tract as far as Jones and Jefferson streets, but no further. We need to keep the In-N-Out in San Francisco proper. 

The rest of the city will maintain its current name, or go by Real San Francisco. The newly seceded city we will call Carmel-by-the-Bay. Official motto: “Screw You, I Got Mine.”

Peskin and his neighborhood allies clearly would prefer to live in Carmel—a treasured historic town full of charm and delight, where tourists from around the world throng cobblestone streets, where billionaires are forcing out the ordinary millionaires, and where the tallest building is legally required to be short enough that Clint Eastwood can throw a football over it. (And that’s “Cry Macho” Clint, not “Dirty Harry” Clint.) If they want a city in thrall to a long-ago Bohemian past—which, in a shocking coincidence, just happens to be filled with incredibly valuable real estate—we should give it to them. 

The new city of Carmel-by-the-Bay would have everything an aging nostalgic needs: Coit Tower, the Cable Car Museum, Madame Tussaud’s, that one three-story office building, that one empty lot in the middle of a row of houses, and that sacrosanct civic treasure, the Bay Club. 

Just think of what this new city, unencumbered by its obligations to the rest of us, could accomplish! They could finally knock down their long-hated abomination, the Transamerica Pyramid. They could ban robo-taxis, ubers, scooters, e-bikes and cybertrucks, all at the same time! They could even use eminent domain to seize the Church of Scientology building on Montgomery Street and convert it to affordable housing. (Actually, that’s a pretty good idea.)

Tell you what. To sweeten the deal—and to assist Carmel-by-the-Bay in meeting its state-mandated new-housing requirements—we’ll even throw in Treasure Island. No extra charge.

There’s no reason that a secession would be controversial or difficult. Just look at the long list of urban regions that have split apart—Sarajevo! East Berlin! East Jerusalem! No harm ever came from such amicable partings.

The point being—if the people of the Northern Waterfront don’t want to pull their weight in creating new housing for all San Franciscans, who are we to force them? 

You don’t have to be born before the Carter administration to know that the true spirit of San Fran … er, Carmel-by-the-Bay lies in buying hilltop castles decades ago, writing laws to protect those castles in perpetuity, digging moats, erecting drawbridges, and never letting anyone build anything near your parrot-poop-encrusted fortress ever again. 

So we, the citizens of Real San Francisco should just give them what they want: A hermetically sealed Beat Museum in the shape of a city.

Scott Alan Lucas is a former editor at San Francisco magazine whose book, Last Night In San Francisco, about the death of technology executive Bob Lee, will be published next year by Steerforth Press.

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