We met with Tony in San Mateo at Kaffeehaus last Thursday morning to discuss plans for the week. Our partners are currently under a lot of stress trying to decide whether to put rent control and just cause measures on the 2016 ballot, but they were able to get us a shortened survey and previous surveys. Fidel is in the process of translating the existing survey data into English so it can be submitted to the Google Form created by Maddie. We have identified a few more articles for our literature review, including an extensive look into causes of business decline and strategies for revitalization. Unfortunately, we have had some difficulty finding papers that focus on business displacement, despite there being a wealth of reports on housing displacement. However, we plan to continue our efforts this weekend before going into San Mateo next week to begin surveying businesses.
What We Observed and Learned
Walking through downtown San Mateo really painted a clear picture of the situation. On the one hand, you have the chic western blocks of 3rd and 4th Avenues, housing upscale restaurants and coffee shops like Kaffeehaus, our place of meeting. However, crossing the train tracks to the northeast exposed quite a different side of the city. We saw fast food chains, convenience stores, gas stations, taquerías, and other services clearly catered to a different demographic. Very similar to the small, ethnic businesses along N B St, these sections stand in stark contrast to the rest of downtown which gave off more of a Palo Alto California Ave vibe. Although we didn’t have the time to actually go into any of the businesses on the blocks, it was nonetheless interesting to see the disparity between the two distinct sections of the city.
In our meeting with Tony, he was able to describe in further detail what he expected of us as well as prior issues he’s encountered in his work with Urban Habitat. I think we were all particularly surprised when he explained the difficulties of his line of work, including what it’s like to collaborate with other organizations and how often one is unable to proceed with their work until others complete theirs. Beyond inter-organizational struggles, communication between the owners and surveyors is also a prominent issue and has hindered progress in the past. In general, the timescale for which noticeable improvement is made is much longer than we would have hoped, but we figured that was to be expected when dealing with governmental agencies and nonprofit collaboration.
Below are some pictures from the B St Corridor between Baldwin and Tilton Ave.
The next time we visit San Mateo, we hope to begin field work. This would involve us talking to the individual business owners about their experience with economic pressures from increasing rent and decreasing customer base. Tony has suggested we take an open approach to interviewing, as people tend to talk about what they want to talk about anyway. In looking at the previous surveys, many of the questions that asked for an elaboration on the state of things were left blank or very brief and often did not give us the information we were hoping to get. Consequently, one main focus of our interview and survey will be trying to decipher the business owners’ intentions to figure out why they aren’t saying more. Hopefully we will be able to figure out whether it is due to a lack of time, trust, understanding, or otherwise.
Tony has also outlined a few question for us to consider in preparation of our Literature Review. He wants us to look back and identify some of the bigger historical and structural issues that have shaped the current conditions of San Mateo and that will shape the responses of current owners. What explains the present day-to-day happenings but is grounded in the historical and structural context of the area. Tony also understands that there are, unfortunately, insurmountable barriers to small ethnic business displacement, and hopes we can identify a few.