Friday, June 07, 2013

Springtime in San Francisco

I live in a construction zone. Last year, the building next door to mine, which had two floor-through flats with fireplaces, balconies and a lovely garden, was sold. The gentleman who had rented one of the units for 25 years was given two weeks to move. He is a cellist with the San Francisco Symphony, so it was challenging for him to find another place while meeting his performing obligations. The new owners are a pair of sisters whose parents bought them the property with a family trust. They spent six months throwing loud parties in the garden, and then in January, I saw them overseeing the loading of their belongings into a moving van. I was momentarily elated.

The mother was standing on the sidewalk with one of her daughters. I asked if they were moving out, and was told that they would be doing some construction on the house and were moving out for the duration. I asked how long they anticipated the work to last and was told it would be 9 months to a year. Without thinking, I blurted out, "You mean 9 months to a year of hammering and machinery noises?" The mother smirked and said, "That's what construction means, doesn't it?" She turned on her well-manicured feet and minced up the stairs.

The work began in February and we have been living with non-stop jackhammers, sledgehammers and all manner of heavy equipment for 10 hours every day including Saturdays and Memorial Day. Work begins (with a bang) at 7:00 AM and ends around 5:00 PM. The entire building is being gutted and extended 12 feet into the backyard on all levels. My next door neighbor came home to find her large bathroom window, an Eastern exposure that brightened her hallway as well as her bathroom, sealed with knotty pine one inch from her window ledge. It has since been cemented over so she has no window at all. What is more, she works from home for a charity that supports a school for young girls in Kenya. This arrangement is not possible with the noise and vibrations all day long, so she takes her laptop to coffee shops or the library where she can't make business phone calls. She is about to quit her job, which she loves, because she needs a quiet place to work.

My nerves are shot as well, and I'm sure everyone in the immediate vicinity is suffering. I think we have a microcosm of what is going on in the country: An extremely privileged 1% of the population trouncing the rights of everyone else. I can get past my disgust that buying a $3 million house wasn't good enough for these people -- they had to improve it. After all, they have the right to do what they want with their own property. But subjecting everyone else in the neighborhood to excessive noise, vibrations, and large trucks and other machinery blocking driveways all day long seems terribly unfair. I think the owner's response to my question should have been an apology, even if it was insincere, rather than a snooty, cavalier, "let them eat cake" attitude.

Tenants are supposedly guaranteed "the quiet enjoyment of the premises," but it's impossible to fault our landlord because he is not to blame. He could have gone to a Planning Board meeting and paid $500 to object before the licenses were issued, but that is probably too much to ask. For many of us, a home we loved has become a place to avoid as much as possible. At a time in my life when I really crave a peaceful, healing environment, this is hard to bear. They had such a nice garden, too. Some people have no souls. All the birds have left our neighborhood. Can the rest of us be far behind?