Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

Bummer Beach

Vinod Khosla bought the land abutting a popular surfing cove. Then he boxed the surfers out. The craziest thing? He might get away with it.

Early on the morning of October 21, 2012, five surfers pile into a Chevy Suburban in Half Moon Bay and drive south on Highway 1. Just past the city limits, they pull off the road at the entrance to Martins Beach, a beautiful little cove frequented by generations of fishermen, beachgoers, and surfers. It’s a typical coastal morning: damp, chilly, the sky a latticework of fast-moving clouds. They shrug off their hoodies and suit up. From the highway a single road—the only way in or out—tumbles toward the beach past hay fields, weathered bungalows, and stands of wind-sculpted cypress. The road, which runs over private property, was open to the general public for almost a century. But an automatic metal gate installed by the property’s new owner now bars the way. Signs hang from the gate: “Beach Closed, Keep Out” and “No Trespassing.”

PUBLISHED: March 25, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3876 words)

'An Island of Need in a Sea of Prosperity': The Story of San Francisco's Tenderloin Neighborhood

“It is a 40-square-block island of poverty and squalor.” The Tenderloin remains one of the seediest neighborhoods in San Francisco, mostly unchanged despite gentrification and an influx of tech money into the city. Can the neighborhood change—and just as importantly, should it?

"If there is one ironclad rule that governs cities, it’s that money and poor people don’t mix. Once money appears, poor people disappear. Most American cities used to have Tenderloin-like neighborhoods downtown, but in almost all cases, those neighborhoods have been gentrified out of existence. Take New York’s Bowery, a name synonymous with flophouses and alcoholic despair as recently as the 1990s. Today it gleams with luxury hotels, shops, galleries, and museums. Or Los Angeles’ downtown, long a skid row Siberia, now a bustling yuppie dreamscape. Similar changes have occurred in cities as disparate in size and disposition as Vancouver, London, San Diego, and Dallas.

“By rights, the TL ought to be suffering the same fate.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 24, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6528 words)

How Much Tech Can One City Take?

The takeover of San Francisco by tech companies prompts some soul-searching by Talbot, a longtime resident and veteran of the first dotcom boom as founder of Salon.com:

"One recent Friday evening, a single mother named Fufkin Vollmayer found herself at a Shabbat service started by two young Jews who work in the tech sector. The service, known as the Mission Minyan, is held each week at the Women’s Building, in the heart of San Francisco’s hottest neighborhood. The fortysomething Vollmayer, who was raised in the Haight-Ashbury by an activist mother, is the kind of vibrant, idiosyncratic personality that defines San Francisco (she took her first name from the band manager in Spinal Tap, for reasons that made sense at the time).

"The night she attended the Mission Minyan service, most of her fellow worshippers were successful digital wizards, and all were products of elite schools and seemed single-mindedly focused on the business of tech. As the startup chatter droned on, Vollmayer finally blurted out, 'What about giving something back?' A deep silence fell over the room. No one responded. After the embarrassment faded, the conversation returned to business as usual.

"'Maybe it’s youth—the folly of youth,' Vollmayer mused to me later. 'The group that night was clearly about 15 years younger than me. If you’re young and rich, do you really think much about the implications of the work you do and the money you make?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 20, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4504 words)

Cornering the Market

From the 2012 James Beard Award nominations: A profile of Sam Mogannam, who transformed his tiny family grocery store, San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market, into one the most influential stores in the country:

"When Mogannam was 15 years old, the market was owned by his father and uncle. The Mission district hadn’t yet been discovered by a generation of tattooed 25-year-olds happy to stand in line for a $3 latte. Just up the street, Mission Dolores Park was popular with unemployed men who spent their days drinking fortified wine, some of which they bought at Bi-Rite. Though he was not yet old enough to drink, in 1983 Mogannam asked his father if he could remerchandise the wine department. He got rid of the Night Train Express, MD 20/20, and Ripple, and on the advice of the store’s wine reps brought in their strongest sellers—Sebastiani, Robert Mondavi, and Beaulieu Vineyard. The drunks found someplace else to shop, and Bi-Rite’s wine sales soared."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 20, 2011
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4397 words)

The New School of Fish

The Bay Area's smartest diners, chefs, and purveyors now know (and care) where every cut of grass-fed beef and stalk of pesticide-free produce comes from. Yet nearly all look the other way when fish is on the plate. "I had so many people walk up to the fish market and say, 'What do you mean, you don’t carry it? Mollie Stone’s carries it. Whole Foods carries it.'?" They assume that if you can find ahi tuna at Whole Foods Market, a store that calls itself the "world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods," it must be okay.
AUTHOR:Erik Vance
PUBLISHED: Jan. 27, 2011
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5473 words)

War of values

An epic battle has been raging over who can afford to live in San Francisco. The paper trail reveals that the city’s dominant landlords, the Lembi family of CitiApartments fame, bought up every building they could get their hands on, from the Tenderloin’s rattiest dumps to Nob Hill’s ritziest penthouses, with an audacious plan to drive up everyone’s rent. And their money came from the same financial geniuses who brought the world economy to its knees.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 1, 2009
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9995 words)