Potrero Hill Populated by Powerful Women

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The Potrero Hill and Dogpatch communities wouldn’t be what they are today without the help of extraordinary women.  A few of whom – though certainly not all – are featured below. 

Janet Carpinelli, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association (DNA) and chair of GreenTrustSF, has lived in Dogpatch since 1981, before the neighborhood was called “Dogpatch.”  In 1983 she purchased a fixer-upper Victorian on Minnesota Street. 

“Helping to make my surroundings and neighborhood a more pleasant place to live and work and seeing other neighbors do the same,” Carpinelli said, of what motivates her community activism. She helped resurrect the Lower Potrero Hill Neighborhood Association in the mid-1980s, to enable Dogpatch residents to have a greater voice in local politics and neighborhood issues.  When that effort dissipated, she joined the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.  She became a DNA member in 1996.  In 1998, she helped develop a neighborhood plan for the Central Waterfront.

Carpinelli worked with other residents to create the Dogpatch Neighborhood Historic District, after an 1886 historic one-story duplex was demolished in 2000. With the help of then-supervisor Sophie Maxwell, the district was designated by the City in 2005. She also suggested that Friends of Potrero Hill Nursery School approach the San Francisco Unified School District to lease part of the historic Scott School yard for a new nursery school and teaching garden, which was completed in 2012.

With other DNA members, and assistance from the Martin Building Company, Carpinelli formed GreenTrustSF in 2006, with the mission to expand open space in the Central Waterfront. GreenTrustSF developed the Dogpatch 22nd Street Master Greening Plan in 2011 to guide sidewalk greening along the 22nd Street mini-commercial hub between Third Street and the 22nd Street CalTrain station. The nonprofit planted a native habitat garden at the 22nd Street mini-park, and encouraged neighborhood parents looking to create a playground to convert the abandoned sandbox there. GreenTrustSF helped bring the first parklet to Dogpatch, on 22nd Street between Third Street and Tennessee streets, and brought more than 20 property owners together to form sidewalk gardens in collaboration with Friends of the Urban Forest with a grant from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

According to Carpinelli, people enjoy living and working in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch, but City leadership and infrastructure to support new development hasn’t kept up, particularly related to public transit and pedestrian safety. “We need more City owned/supported public open space to accommodate the increase in resident and worker population in the neighborhood,” she added. “We have terrific new residents and small businesses coming into the neighborhood, becoming an integral part of the neighborhood fabric and adding new dimension.”

Audrey Cole was a Potrero Boosters officer for eight years, including serving as president. She’s actively engaged with the Potrero Hill Garden Club, and was instrumental in creating two neighborhood garden tours a few years ago as fundraisers for the Potrero Branch library. She speaks her mind to City Hall. For instance, at last year’s Potrero Boosters’ annual dinner party she expressed her opinion to District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen’s aide about the proper location for Muni’s proposed Dogpatch loop.

“I have been here for many years and want to keep it as wonderful as possible for as long as possible,” Cole said. “We lose a lot of fights, of course, as underdogs. Still, you can’t stop. You simply have to keep fighting for the good stuff you want. We have a highly active contingent in this neighborhood. I feel dismayed that SF is becoming a bit of a bedroom community for the Valley, which is not the way I like to see interactions in my neighborhood; living and working out of my home every day as I do.  Things change. There is value in both some old things and some new things. It’s important to remember that understanding and respecting both are critical going forward.”

Joni Eisen and her future husband jazz trombonist and bassist Chuck Bennett moved into their Pennsylvania Street house in 1973 a few months apart, as renters and strangers. They became friends, then fell in love. The landlord sold the home to them in 1976. 

“I would not live anywhere else in the whole country,” she said. “We raised our son here. I plunged into organic gardening almost as soon as I moved in, and serial flocks of chickens have treated the neighbors to contented clucking for the past 35 years or so. Taking care of them is a meditation for me. I never feel like I have to ‘get out of the City.’ I love Potrero Hill!”

Eisen helped start, and ran for several years, the Potrero Hill Garden Club, where neighbors visit one others’ grounds to share knowledge and experience about what grows and what doesn’t in the Hill’s microclimate, trading seeds and plants. “I am still passionate about people growing their own food – even if it’s just parsley on a windowsill – and to that end I like to give neighbors vegetable seedlings and encouragement,” she said. “And of course I’ve done the typical, hippie, tree-hugger things like solar panels on the roof, biking around the City, planting trees, and opening up the front sidewalk.”

She taught two-day mosaic art workshops in her backyard studio for about 10 years, where students – including many neighbors – learned how to create a mosaic stepping-stone: permanent art for a garden or house. She does cake portraits – bas-relief sculpture that’s edible art – and has donated cake gift certificates in support of community events and organizations. She’s participated in many Hill artist shows at the Potrero Branch library.

In 2005 she started the San Francisco working group of California Clean Money Campaign, and continues to serve as its coordinator.  The “much-talked-about and worsening wealth disparity in the U.S. has as its root cause the corrupting influence of big money in politics,” said Eisen. The group first met in her house and has since expanded to meet at a library. As the founding president in 2007 of the re-animated Potrero Hill Democratic Club (PHDC), she “happily organized the group and its activities.” 

“Activism should be fun, and this club is!” she said. “PHDC’s monthly programs at the Neighborhood House – from candidate forums and debates to lively discussions about vital current issues – have been engrossing and valuable in educating and engaging community members, Democrats or not…I think about the world my three little grandchildren will grow up in.” 

According to Eisen, the neighborhood has lost some of its activist tradition, but it’s not all gone. “And it’s not all bad; places where we wouldn’t walk the dog before are now vibrant and safe with the increased foot traffic.”  

Her biggest beef is with developers. They shouldn’t be allowed to avoid providing a decent percentage of actually affordable housing on-site, she said. “Nor should they get away without solid plans and resources for the transit and infrastructure the increased population will necessitate. It’s not entirely the developers’ fault though. Moneyed transplants moving into existing housing and displacing so many regular folks who live and work here is just wrong. I would like to ask of my fellow landlords: please don’t be greedy, just because you can. Please care about what that does to your community.” 

Susan Eslick has lived in Dogpatch since 1996. She served as DNA president for nine years, and vice president for another nine.  She helped create the Dogpatch Neighborhood Historic District. She pushed Muni to install more street trees along Third Street when the light rail was being planned. She helped thwart a 300-bed homeless shelter planned for Dogpatch. She’s a formation committee member for the Dogpatch-Potrero Green Benefits District, which, if approved, would become the first of its kind in San Francisco. She served on the Central Waterfront Advisory Group (CWAG) for 10 years, is a member of the art selection committee for the new University of California, San Francisco hospital, and is a former vice president of Friends of SF City Planning.

“I actually do believe you can make a difference,” she said. “Some people focus on the world. I focus on my block, my neighborhood, my district, and the City, and work out from there. My neighborhood is a very different place than when I moved here in 1996.  I’d like to think I have helped to make it a better and more attractive place.”

Eslick admitted that she has qualms about how Dogpatch is developing. “Our neighborhood is going through more growth than any other neighborhood in the City; for our small size,” she said. “There is a delicate balance for this growth to be successful. We still have so many needs; more open green space, better transportation, more affordable housing, and the list goes on.” 

Emily Gogol and her husband, Ryan Burns, bought a loft in Dogpatch in 2006.  She earned her doctorate in biomedical sciences at UCSF Mission Bay in 2011.  Along with Annie Shaw and Matt Petty, she co-founded the Pennsylvania Street Gardens, which is mostly maintained by local residents. “We often have outside groups volunteer too, like CCSF horticulture students and local businesses looking to get involved,” she said. “Also, as a very unique, public open-space, we are often asked to host tours and give lectures to local groups, and we also organize community-focused activities ranging from plant sales to block parties.”

Before Pennsylvania Street Gardens was even started, however, Gogol tended to the Connecticut Friendship Garden. Recently she was elected the garden’s coordinator, and is helping to make it more accessible. “Our new outdoor classroom and ADA accessible space is in the works for breaking ground this year,” she said.

“When a neighbor I haven’t seen in a while stops by the garden workday to say hello, or a family comes by to show their visiting relatives the garden because it is special place for them in the neighborhood, it’s amazing,” she said. “It makes all the gravel I’ve had to haul and the hours at the computer working on grants worth it!”

Gogol is happy with how Dogpatch is evolving, and feels lucky and privileged to live in a community with so many smart, capable and fun people. “There are opportunities everywhere if you’re willing to dig in,” she added. 

Kayren Hudiburgh, who co-owns The Good Life Grocery, has lived and worked on the Hill for more than 40 years. “I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time as The Good Life Grocery came into being in 1974,” she said. “I had been doing the citywide food cooperative with the Peace and Freedom Party for a couple of years and knew the produce market very well. When the group of friends got together to open The Good Life in 1974, I introduced them to the world of wholesale produce buying. I wasn’t an original owner, but soon after opening I started helping out, doing the books, and volunteering while I did bookkeeping at the doctor’s office on 20th Street where SF Natural Medicine is now.” 

In 1976, she bought out two of the partners who wanted to leave.  “So even though I wasn’t there at the beginning, I have spent almost 40 years at The Good Life Grocery, so it just seems like I have been there forever.”

Hudiburgh is on the executive board of the Potrero Dogpatch Merchant’s Association, participates in the Potrero Hill Festival, and belongs to PHDC and Boosters. She gets involved in various neighborhood political campaigns and issues. 

The Good Life Grocery works with disadvantaged youth; training them is what Hudiburgh cites as her proudest achievement.  “I feel that I made a lasting impression because kids never forget their first job,” she said. “We have a lot of success stories from young people who have worked at the store or who work for us now…that makes both Lester [Zeidman, her husband and co-owner] and I feel very proud.”

When she was younger, people like Nelson Mandela, Joan Baez, and Robert Kennedy inspired Hudiburgh; individuals who did great things in a big way and demonstrated the strength of their convictions. “Now as I am older, my heroes and heroines are closer to home; the folks around me who give of themselves all the time to make our community a better place; the small business owners and their staff who struggle daily to open their shop doors in an increasingly difficult business environment, and those among us who are not afraid to speak out for issues they believe in, whether it be in the neighborhood newspaper, or as a political candidate, or as speaker before city or state government.” 

Hudiburgh said she’s worried about the rampant development that surrounds Potrero Hill and Dogpatch. “I feel like we are getting swallowed up by big high-rises and high rents,” she said. “Small business is having a tough time finding affordable places to rent, and staff cannot find housing in the City. Mission Bay seems an ugly conglomeration of cold concrete, poorly planned, pushing out open spaces, and destined to choke us all with traffic congestion. Too much density, too little infrastructure, too much money for some and precious little for the rest.” 

She doesn’t think creating a business like The Good Life Grocery is now possible, because “a shoestring budget and sweat equity just doesn’t cut it in today’s world. Little shops that come from dreams need lots of capital to just open their doors these days.”

Even though Abigail Johnston hasn’t lived on the Hill for almost 30 years, her love of the neighborhood – its people and history – continues to motivate her to work with the Potrero Hill Archives Project, the View, and as The Good Life Grocery’s calendar editor. “A recent Hill project that really tickled me to be a part of was the installation of genuine goat hoof prints in the sidewalk just outside Goat Hill Pizza, and the plaque identifying them on the wall above,” she said. “I have definitely noticed an uptick of interest in our neighborhood’s history over the years, along with an interest in preserving it.”

Patricia Kline and her husband, Scott, have lived and worked in Dogpatch since 2011. She co-owns the Scott R. Kline commercial photography business, and co-curates the blog indogpatch. 

“After meeting so many fabulous folks in Dogpatch who are so passionate about their work and their neighborhood, we decided to photograph and write about them to share their stories with the rest of the neighborhood and all of San Francisco in our blog we call indogpatch,” Kline said. “We also keep neighbors up-to-date on events happening in the neighborhood and give shout-outs on our twitter feed @indogpatch.” “I’m interested in hearing people’s stories; in hearing why they do what they do,” she said. 

“I’m curious about how they got to where they are today and what motivates them and brings them joy every day.  And by sharing those stories with other people, they in turn can be inspired or at least perhaps appreciate that person’s journey.”  

Kline said she’s excited about the new retail, art galleries, and restaurants that are coming to the neighborhood.  “I’m looking forward to more green spaces, such as the Dogpatch Arts Plaza and Crane Cove Park,” she said. “I appreciate that other businesses recognize the unique qualities of Dogpatch and want to be part of the community. My excitement, though, is tempered by the reality that any change brings challenges, such as parking and housing issues. For example, since the new UCSF hospital opened many of their employees now park in our neighborhood instead of in the Mission Bay parking garages and UCSF is also exploring building student housing in Dogpatch instead of Mission Bay. We aren’t turning a blind eye to that.”  

Annie Shaw left the United Kingdom about 20 years ago, traveled for a bit, and landed in the City, where she was “instantly delighted.” She was slow to become a dedicated community member though, she admitted. “It wasn’t until my husband wanted to move from a rental to our own home that I started a guerrilla garden on the Mariposa off-ramp from 280 South at Pennsylvania Avenue that I started to get to know my neighbors, and what it means to be part of a community,” she said.

Her guerrilla garden – launched in 2008 – became the official Pennsylvania Street Gardens with the support of the California Department of Transportation, San Francisco Department of Public Works, and San Francisco Parks Alliance. “We have a roster of over 300 brilliant volunteers who help maintain it, support from the Potrero Hill Gardening Club and Potrero Boosters, and have turned the spot from a desperately nasty patch of dirt into a lovely xeric garden showing the benefits of zero irrigation planting,” she said. 

In 2010, she decided to turn another derelict patch into a garden, officially this time, securing permissions and grants to make the 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue a safer place. “It took two years and sapped my will to live, with many false starts, oodles of red tape, and much gnashing of teeth,” she said. “At various times my husband, Matt Petty, and Emily Gogol, who has been involved since 2009, and I all wanted to give up.”

But they didn’t, and in late 2012 they broke ground on a new garden. The 100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue now features the Pennsylvania Railroad Garden, with 23 trees, a sidewalk, and 800 plants. “This time we received grants from various local funds, including the Eastern Neighborhoods Public Benefit Fund, the PUC, a Community Challenge Grant, and various other generous granting bodies,” she said. 

Shaw is concerned about the drought, and said a few gardens will die after years of suboptimal rainfall, but noted that many green spaces are shining examples of planting the right things in the right places, particularly plants native to California.

Ruth Passen née Elkind, is a native San Franciscan, born in the Fillmore district. She attended San Francisco State University, but dropped out “because I just wasn’t ready.” While there she met her husband, Joe Passen, a union organizer and longshoreman. The two shared a passion for progressive politics, helping to organize everyone from Downtown office workers to taxi cab drivers. They rallied and marched until the McCarthy Era made things difficult for activists, driving them to move to Los Angeles to escape red-baiting, beatings, and death threats, according to a previous interview with the View.

After their son, Marc, graduated from high school in 1969, the Passens returned to San Francisco and settled on the Hill near artist friends who’d migrated from North Beach. Passen quickly sought out community groups to join, and found that all roads led to Enola Maxwell, who’d helped stop the construction of a freeway through Golden Gate Park as a member of the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council. The two become friends and a force to be reckoned with. 

They fought against the “worst kinds of white supremacists” to help install Maxwell as the “first black and first woman” director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, known as the Nabe. Passen’s son attended preschool at the Nabe and held his wedding ceremony there. When Passen’s husband died in 1992 his memorial service, held at the Nabe attracted the likes of U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi.

Passen has always been a news junkie. Inspired by Lois Lane, she helped start Hills & Dales, the eight by 10 inch mimeographed predecessor to the View. She overhauled the “bulletin” and helped turn it into a professionally printed paper, written and proofed by volunteers, many of whom were Hill residents who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle. With its new moniker, in 1970 The Potrero View came into its own, complete with investigative reports on development plans, as well as articles about crime, mom-and-pop businesses, and even a gossip column called “The Nose Knows.” After only a year in its new incarnation, the paper won the Robert Krauskopf Memorial Award for Excellence in Journalism.

While editing the View, Passen worked at the Nabe, helping to create programs for children, youth, handicapped individuals, and seniors. Along with her friend Eve Milton, Passen helped to establish the Potrero Hill Health Center, also known as the Caleb Clark Clinic. 

Passen involved herself in women’s peace and freedom groups, farmworker unions, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, building friendships and respect from the City’s political movers and shakers, including the Burton family and Pelosi. Passen has been honored often for her community work, receiving awards from the Koshland Civic Unity program, the Potrero Boosters, and even a commendation by Pelosi in the Congressional Record.

In 2009, Passen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She’s lived at 3 Bells of Monatara, an assisted living residence, since 2010. “Staff there have been taking good care of her and she gets occasional visits from friends and family,” her son Marc said. “I check in on her weekly because I live just a few miles away.”

Absent from this feature are Malia Cohen, who represents District 10 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and her predecessor, Sophie Maxwell.  The View was unable to get in touch with either.