The Guardians of Ghost Town

Longtime West Oakland resident Annette Miller has witnessed the dramatic transformation of the city as changes over the past few decades have swept the block she’s lived on for over 50 years.

Published: May 22, 2018
Length: 9 minutes (2,442 words)

The Hardest Test

A new STEM-focused integrated middle school in the low-income neighborhood of Bayview in San Francisco is giving hope to a community after decades of educational failures.

Published: Aug 17, 2015
Length: 18 minutes (4,676 words)

Why Are Palo Alto’s Kids Killing Themselves?

Two recent suicide clusters by high school students have rocked a community in Palo Alto, a San Francisco Bay area city. Diane Kapp talks to students, family members, psychiatrists, and community leaders to get a sense of why the suicides occurred and what’s being done to prevent them.

Author: Diana Kapp
Published: May 15, 2015
Length: 24 minutes (6,095 words)

The Dim Sum Revolution

How a group of immigrant Chinese kitchen workers successfully fought San Francisco’s premiere dim sum palace for $4 million in stolen wages.

Published: Mar 27, 2015
Length: 13 minutes (3,490 words)

Why Chefs Hate Yelp

For 10 years, the citizens reviewers of Yelp have showered restaurants with praise—and pummeled them with abuse. Now chefs are showing the psychological effects.

Published: Jul 28, 2014
Length: 16 minutes (4,025 words)

The Thin Blue Privatized Line

Unsettled by the reality that the cops can’t help them, Oakland residents are hiring private patrols. Crime is down. But is the cure worse than the disease?

Picking himself up, Ward was approached by Rico Thomas, the 26-year-old security guard who had stumbled upon the break-in—and would soon draw a gun and shoot the suspect with it. Thomas had become a beloved fixture to the Upper Dimond and Oakmore residents who had hired him to patrol their streets months earlier. He would later tell police that his scrap with Ward happened in a flash: Ward lunged at him with an iron pry bar, he said, and tried to kill him. The two men wrestled, and then Ward ran away. But instead of heading downhill, the easier escape route, Ward ran uphill after the SUV, perhaps hoping that it would stop.

Published: Jun 3, 2014
Length: 18 minutes (4,707 words)

My State of Emergency

Reflections on life, death, and Obamacare inside Oakland’s main trauma ward.

Working in the Highland ER means knowing the backstory of a part of Oakland that most of my friends and neighbors will never see. In my car, stopped at a red light, I find myself unconsciously filling in the bios and medical histories of passing pedestrians. A cane, a limp, a cough, a tremor: A city’s problems, often anonymous and impossibly abstract, gain context in the faces and lives of my patients. Urban violence is personified by the 19-year-old boy, shot square in the chest during a drive-by, whom I pronounce dead in the trauma bay. Domestic violence takes the form of a woman coming in for the fourth time this year, now with a dislocated shoulder and a broken wrist. The sexually trafficked 15-year-old, the homeless alcoholic, the diabetic with schizophrenia—the list goes on, and the tapestry of societal malaise is woven tighter and tighter.

Published: Jun 4, 2014
Length: 9 minutes (2,440 words)

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: Mar 25, 2014
Length: 15 minutes (3,876 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 (6,528 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: Sep 20, 2012
Length: 18 minutes (4,504 words)