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San Francisco: Now, more like everyplace else

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The nonprofit Housing Rights Committee, which provides counseling to residential renters, was itself evicted last month.

The upward pressure on rents has come from thousands of New Economy workers pouring into low-income neighborhoods, spiking demand and prices. In hard-hit areas like the Latino Mission District, tacquerias and open-front produce stores now stand incongruously next to trendy restaurants with valet parking.

Of course, the flip side of this transformation is low unemployment, booming job growth, and a city budget surplus.

But these days, even when San Francisco's pro-growth forces talk about prosperity, they do so in the context of how to solve its attendant problems.

Beyond people being priced out of homes - and enterprises out of office space - the city's changing economics is also altering urban ecology more deeply.

San Francisco has been an incubator of liberal thought for decades. This is, after all, the capital of what is known as the nation's "Left Coast."

People flocked to the city to be part of the Beat Generation, the Hippie movement, and more recently, gay-rights activism.

The city's reputation has fed on itself, making it a magnet for nonconformists of almost every stripe. But aiding all that was relatively low housing costs, at least until recently.

Dave Snyder's story is typical. The Washington transplant came to San Francisco in 1989, lured like thousands of others by the city's reputation for progressive politics and social tolerance.

"I could rent a place for $285 per month and so was able to devote my time to starting up the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition," he says.

That organization has gone on to be a leader in the national movement to make streets friendlier to bicyclists, thanks in part to the fact that Mr. Snyder could afford to support himself in San Francisco with part-time work and full-time devotion to nonprofit social activism.

"No way I could do that today," says Snyder, whose organization is threatened with eviction in six months because of a planned 300 percent hike in rent.

The same phenomenon of low rents, attractive geography, and the city's counterculture mystique has drawn a high number of artists, musicians, and writers - and the nonprofit groups and organizations that support them.

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