A Brief History of Cole Valley Improvement Association
The Cole Valley improvement Association evolved from a neighborhood SAFE block group that started on Cole Street in 1987. The SAFE group members quickly found that they had common interests beyond Cole Street as the neighborhood was experiencing increasing frequency of drug sales and camping in the Panhandle and the Stanyan Street entrance to the park (Alvord Lake). The droves of young people wanting to relive the Summer of Love brought, and continue to bring, special problems such as sidewalk obstruction, sleeping in doorways and more drug trade. At the same time, as an increasing number of old flats were being converted into social services-following the path set by the nine venues of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics-there were fewer families with vested interests in the neighborhood.
CVIA took a very public and forceful position in January of 1988 when Mayor Art Agnos, in violation of a city ordinance, permitted individuals to sleep in vehicles parked on the streets bordering the Panhandle and Kezar Stadium. The mayor's decision resulted in an influx of car campers. With no public toilets, driveways became the solution. As we met with members of the Board of Supervisors, pushed for television coverage of the issue and organized a letter writing and telephone campaign–we succeeded in convincing the mayor that this was a bad idea and he retreated. As a result, scores of Haight families joined CVIA, expanding our membership far beyond Cole Valley.
Although we are a resident group and are active members of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (we supplied a president for two years, 1995-97), we never forget how important a healthy commercial district is. In the seventies, Haight Street was a dead zone of boarded-up buildings. Banks red-lined the neighborhood and it was difficult for home buyers to secure a loan. It was a long road back and we no longer frown on businesses that are not “neighborhood serving,” realizing that times have changed. So, although we do not want an influx of chain stores, we do want to support our merchants in keeping shoppers coming to the greater Haight. Having said that, one of our greatest dangers is that we will become an entertainment venue and those kinds of expansions in operating permits-both in restaurants and bars-we watch very closely.