Julia Ramos says she thinks the influx of new businesses is a good thing for South Park, but knows that they will likely help price her out. Photo by Ted Zee

The Changing City

On the Eve of Commercial Expansion, South Park Prepares

A once-isolated enclave inside Seattle’s industrial corridor, the neighborhood will soon change. What will be lost, and what gained?

Julia Ramos opened Jalisco back in 1992. Twenty-five years later, through good times and bad, she still serves her clientele with hearty plates of steaming enchiladas, refried beans, and camarones al la diabla seven days a week in the heart of South Park’s small business district, two blocks south of the Duwamish River.

In the beginning, things looked and felt pretty different; for one thing, according to Ramos, Jalisco was ringed by a number of sketchy bars. “When I first moved here, it was really bad,” she recalls. Ramos is a short, dark-haired woman with kind eyes; she stands under her restaurant’s bright crimson ceiling hung with piñatas on a recent Monday afternoon, taking a brief break before steaming a batch of tamales. “Now, it’s a lot of Mexican restaurants. Then, it was like four taverns. … A lot of drunk people.” Some establishments were more notorious than others. At one spot, right next door, “it was really bad. You can see people do drugs.” She says there were also “a lot of girls walking the street. I see less now. I barely see any.”

That’s one change she’s noticed. There are others. She points across the street, and up and down 14th Avenue South, noting a slew of shuttered businesses and a much larger slew of new ones opening. “It change a lot,” she says. “This only recently. It’s like this year is having more change.”

Ramos has run Jalisco on a shoestring for 25 years, and claims she hasn’t taken home much of a paycheck for the past seven. When the South Park Bridge over the Duwamish closed between 2010 and 2014 (due to severe deterioration and earthquake vulnerability), business plummeted; she had relied on a steady stream of Boeing employees for lunch before then, and things haven’t quite recovered. “We lost a lot of customers,” she says. Her rent jumps at least a few percent every year, but she can’t charge more for the food, “because everyone think, ‘Oh, it’s too expensive, I’ll go someplace else with the same menu.’ ” She pays $800 a month to retain her customers’ access to the adjacent parking lot, and says the landlord recently demanded more, but “I say, ‘No. Take it or leave it.’ ” She hasn’t hired any employees in a while; while business is this slow, she simply can’t afford to. For now, it’s just her husband, sons, sister, and two dishwashers who work at the place. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy to be an owner.”

Over the years, South Park’s local economy has had its cycles, like anywhere in Seattle; businesses have emerged and folded, particularly at the corner of 14th Avenue South and South Cloverdale Street, and a few blocks south—dive bars, ice-cream parlors, corner groceries, clothing stores, auto-repair shops, furniture stores, taquerias. Many businesses were and remain Latino-owned, including the Pasteleria y Panaderia La Ideal, which still sends the sweet perfume of its gigantic, pink-frosted cookies and creamy flans across the South Park Plaza. Loretta’s Northwesterner still serves stiff drinks and a cheap burger so beloved that it was ranked #4 on Thrillist’s “100 Best Burgers in America” list this spring. Napoli Pizzeria still offers saucy, cheesy pies to delighted patrons. And relative newcomer Phorale, a Vietnamese/Mexican fusion sandwich spot at a lunch counter in a small quick-mart, is making a critically acclaimed name for itself (its owners plan to open a hot dog stand this fall).

But there’s been blight too. For many years, the building at the southwest corner of 14th and Cloverdale stood empty, peeling, and neglected, crammed with stacks of moldering junk and hordes of rats.

Today, South Park’s business district and nearby residential neighborhood, dotted with small, weathered bungalows on large lots and squat brick apartment buildings, still seems to hark back to a different time. On the northwest corner of 14th and Cloverdale, underneath a second-story apartment with a chunk of its outer wall missing, and next to a placard that reads ENVIOS DE DINERO, is an old payphone box. There’s no phone there anymore, but a thick phone book still hangs underneath the empty steel shell. A few businesses along the strip have frosted windows plastered in fliers; it’s unclear whether they’re open or closed. Shawna Murphy, who has lived in South Park for 13 years with her family, describes a few spots that seem to close at random, or aren’t always clearly labeled, joking that “we live in the kind of neighborhood where you’re used to having confusing businesses.”

But that is about to change—radically. In June, Burdick Brewery, a South Park-based microbrewery, opened a small, crisply designed taproom on the site of a former Metro PCS store. And within the next four months, at least six new businesses are likely to open their doors within a block of that intersection. Among them: a wine bar, an all-ages public house, a pizza parlor, an upscale Mexican restaurant, and an event space.

Many of the buildings that will house the new businesses now stand in a near-finished state: slick exteriors painted a fresh, dark blue or a brick red, their windows temporarily lined with plywood, butcher paper, or heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Several of those empty windows bear public notices that indicate when the tenant applied for a liquor license. If you stroll the southwest corner block, you can easily count four spots coming soon; and across the street, another is about to open in the former site of Muy Macho, also a longstanding South Park staple—a Oaxacan taqueria that was forced to close a few months ago after its rent suddenly shot up by thousands of dollars, according to half a dozen locals. It has since downsized to a food truck in the nearby parking lot.

It’s the story of Seattle these days, and it has reached South Park. Home prices are rising, as are rents, and residents and business owners are feeling the squeeze. With new money, more foot traffic, and thus perhaps more clientele for businesses like Jalisco, Ramos says she’s excited about the new openings, and enjoys the fact that Burdick Brewery now already attracts a consistent smattering of happy patrons sipping pints. “What I tell my neighbors, I say, ‘I hope you get successful because I’d rather have a busy business than an empty building.’ … Since they opened across the street, it feels like more people here. I like it, to see people sitting there drinking a beer. … I like it better, more people than empty buildings. If there’s nobody here, it’s like a ghost town.”

But that hardly changes Ramos’ economic reality—or the uncertainty.

As she sees the businesses opening, she also carries a sense of apprehension. Her lease is up in September, and she’s not certain how much the rent will be raised. She’s eked out a living for so long on leftover food and tips alone, she says, that she’s used to taking things one day at a time. But “it’s gonna be tough. I mean, it’s good people can have a choice. But I don’t see how we can survive.”

The night before Burdick Brewery was slated to officially open its new taproom in mid-June, someone hefted a flaming projectile into a tiny, longstanding coffee hut next door, the South Park Grind. The place erupted in flames, and the next morning Burdick owner Max Leinbach was sweeping up glass instead of pouring beers. Then, a few weeks later, Burdick’s brand-new windows were smashed by nighttime vandals—as were the windows of Left Bank wine bar and bottle shop, about to open right next door to Burdick; as were the windows of La Toscanella, the new second location of a bakery and cafe further west on South Cloverdale Street, on the other side of Highway 99 (its first location is in South Lake Union, near Denny Park).

Most of the people I spoke with for this story, including residents and small-business owners, don’t see the window-smashing and arson as indicative of anything beyond a “normal South Park summer,” says Murphy; crime often spikes in the summer, in Seattle and everywhere. But she and others note the odd suite of attacks against new, or at least new-seeming, businesses.

“I would say it seems very, very strange and mysterious,” says Robin Schwartz, who has lived in South Park since 2007. “Maybe it was just a coincidence. It feels unusual … definitely strange. All three are brand-new businesses”—even if the businesses have had a presence in South Park (La Toscanella has had a wholesale operation in the neighborhood, too, for a number of years), they have new, shiny faces now, she says. “I don’t really know what to make of that.”

Elisa Castle, who’s been working at La Toscanella’s new South Park location since a week after it opened a few months ago, and who showed up at the cafe at 5 a.m. to find the windows shattered and boarded up, with a business card from a police officer left at the door, says she believes there was no clear thought or motivation of any kind behind it. “Boredom leads you to do stupid things,” she says, dryly. “I don’t think people who are the type to go out and break a bunch of windows are the same type of people to have a bunch of deep thoughts about businesses and gentrification and things like that.” More than anything, she’s frustrated; she estimates replacing the windows cost about $2,000. “It’s basically somebody’s paycheck that they took. Somebody who lives locally and fights just as hard to put food on the table.”

Others point more directly to possible economic tensions in the neighborhood. “I think there’s people upset,” offers Prisciliana Vidro, owner of Sabor a Mi, a few blocks down from Jalisco, praised for its homemade smoky salsas and enchiladas Juan Colorado. The business has been there for decades (until last year, under its former name, Juan Colorado); she bought the building in 1991. “I know a lot of people … they’re upset because they’re kicking them out. And I guess that is a reaction… . Some people they’re born here, they were raised here, and because they can’t afford it anymore to live here, they’re really upset, you know? So … I’m not justifying, but I think it’s very understandable.”

Leinbach—who for four years lived in a loft above his South Park brewery, and who for about six years during and after college worked on the nearby docks and often ate lunch and spent time in the neighborhood—says that there is a “criminal element” in the neighborhood that everyone is aware of. According to a number of local residents and business owners, that element includes visible street prostitution and known houses where inhabitants deal drugs and instigate violence.

“My opinion of it is there’s a seedy underbelly of South Park that doesn’t want it to change, because they’ve been able to deal drugs and have prostitutes and traffic people,” Leinbach says. He adds that he’s often seen underage women, trailed by pimps, at nearby bus stops, and has, on occasion, both offered people help and asked them to leave. “The more eyes and the more people that are walking around, the less likely that they’re gonna be able to do that. … In my opinion, [the vandalism] is just a little pushback from that. And [Burdick] … We were one of the first representations of change. We got our windows smashed in.” He claims he’s seen fuzzy surveillance video from the building next door of the culprits, and “you can totally tell by the video … it was just our building that night, you can totally tell it was just our building they wanted to hit.”

No tangible evidence points to any motivation in particular, and pending ongoing investigation, Seattle police have released few details. But whatever the cause, the spate of vandalism prompted an even larger spate of angry e-mails that surfaced immediately in the in-boxes of City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle and South Park, and at-large Councilmember M. Lorena González, as well as Director of Neighborhoods Kathy Nyland. In response, in late July, Herbold sent Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole a pointed letter, one that seems to underscore both longstanding tensions in the neighborhood as well as those specific to its current inflection point.

“The South Park business district has suffered from vacant buildings for some time, and the community greatly values local business owners willing to invest in South Park to establish the kind of businesses already common in so many of Seattle’s neighborhood business districts,” she wrote. “It’s important that current and potential business owners feel they can safely operate businesses in South Park.”

On August 29, in direct response to the vandalism, city leaders convened an impromptu public-safety meeting at the South Park Neighborhood Center, featuring a dozen different city departments, including Parks and Recreation, the Police Department, and the Department of Construction and Inspections, all there to answer questions. The meeting room was jam-packed and sweaty; several fans blew cool air made fragrant by jugs of watermelon agua fresca in the corner. But attendees were not feeling very sweet.

When SPD Captain Pierre Davis explained some of the police force’s recent efforts in South Park, adding that “here to date, we’re looking at an overall 21 percent reduction in crime in the South Park area,” one resident bellowed, almost interrupting him: “Bullshit! Fuck you!” The rest of the meeting’s attendees booed the commenter, appalled and startled. “Those are just numbers,” Davis said, gently. “I’m here to listen.”

But it quickly became apparent that more than one person felt that way. Several long-term residents said they’d been shot at and threatened on a regular basis, had had their homes broken into, and had witnessed brutal violence—and when they called the police, felt they weren’t treated with respect. One woman claimed that an officer refused to file a report of an assault, despite video evidence she’d offered him, telling her, “You know this is South Park, right?”

To everyone’s concerns, Nyland said, “We hear you.” Herbold and other officials said that a South Park Public Safety Task Force, composed of 12 community members, would release its recommendations to the city within a month. Herbold promised those recommendations will be taken into account when the City Council works on the budget this fall. Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best told the room, “I’m just going to reiterate to you our strong commitment to making sure this neighborhood is safe. It’s not lip service. We’re going to put our money where our mouth is. We’re going to work very hard. Our councilmembers who are here tonight hold our feet to the fire, and we’re very serious about it.”

Still, not everyone feels that South Park is as crime-ridden as those complaints suggest. One older gentleman at the meeting, who said he has lived in South Park for 24 years, said “everything has been OK for me” and, these days, the “environment is definitely better.”

Ramos says that in 25 years running Jalisco, “I’ve never had problems with my neighbors” and her restaurant has been broken into only twice, never with significant theft or damage. The narrative of South Park depends on where you are and whom you ask. “This is what I tell my customers: This is more safe than someplace else. I feel more safe walking here than walking downtown.”

Murphy, a South Park resident since 2004, says she and her husband don’t see South Park as a crime-filled neighborhood in the slightest; they feel safe and they’ve always had good experiences.

Vidro says that there is indeed a lot less of the criminal element than she recalls from former times. She left her restaurant for a number of years, renting it to tenants whom she was forced to evict because, she says, “rough stuff was going on here.” When she returned to the neighborhood to fix things up, “There were people even using the side of the restaurant like a bathroom. Very nasty. Very ugly… . I had a lot of very, very hard time at the beginning… . Very hard time. But it’s changing. It’s changing for positive.”

She also says the police have been responsive. “I mean, it was kind of scary. Getting outside and some people walking by and think that you’re a prostitute. It’s not very nice! All I can say is it’s getting better.” And now, “It’s nice to be here, and be part of the changing,” she says. “Maybe from the last … about a year, approximately, I feel like home. I feel like home.”

Yet one thing is very certain in South Park right now, crime or no crime: “home” is getting expensive. Rent is going up. According to the real-estate website Trulia, in the past five years, South Park’s median home price has nearly tripled. According to Zillow, in the same time frame, rents have jumped 60 percent.

“I think that 10 years ago if you ever told anyone there’d be a house in South Park for more than $500,000, they’d think you’re crazy,” says John Bennett, a local property owner, landlord, and restorer of historic buildings who for decades has made investments in Georgetown and is now putting energy and money into South Park’s business district, too. “But that’s happening.”

The changes are both economic, and, according to several local residents and business owners, cultural. South Park has long been a predominantly Latino community; at Concord Elementary School, more than half of the students are native Spanish speakers, and the school has one of the district’s handful of Two-Way Dual Language Immersion programs. It has also long been a lower-income part of the city. Over 80 percent of Concord students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Part of that may stem from its location, next to the Lower Duwamish Superfund site, and its industrial air quality; according to public-health research published a few years ago, the South Park ZIP code’s life expectancy is eight years shorter than Seattle’s average. And recent data puts South Park at fifth from the bottom in terms of household income of any neighborhood in Seattle.

“I heard a lot of rich people is moving into South Park!” laughs Vidro. “I heard that this is gonna be a very, very … they are trying to … ” she searches for the right words. “Like, a high class!”

She adds that because she was able to get a mortgage on the Sabor a Mi building back in 1991, “I pay, but very, very little.” Without that, “I wouldn’t be here. Nobody can afford a business right now the way the rents are… . I don’t have much business. It’s a matter of time.” She can, and likely soon will, rent her establishment to tenants who can afford to pay a heftier sum per month than was possible in the past; maybe $4,400 for the large space, she thinks, rather than about $2,800.

Robin Schwartz, who bought a small bungalow at the north end of South Park’s residential neighborhood in 2007, and is now very active in the Concord Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, says she checks Zillow every week, in part because for about eight years, she and her husband were losing money on the property. “And then in the last year or so, it’ll go up $1,000 a month sometimes.” She mentions a friend whose kids also attend Concord in South Park. “They are living on Alki right now in a really cheap apartment, but that’s getting sold and they can’t afford to move back to South Park. I think that basically means they can’t afford to move anywhere in the city. It’s weird that this—which is probably one of the most affordable neighborhoods in the city—is actually not affordable.”

Schwartz has been very skeptical of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) and its plans to upzone South Park, among many other areas in Seattle. In South Park, developers will be required to retain five to nine percent of their units as affordable, or pay an equivalent sum into the city’s affordable-housing fund. She describes a recent HALA meeting she attended in South Park, one specifically aimed at Spanish-speaking residents, where the presenter said, through a translator, that at the end of 10 years, the city was hoping there would be 30 affordable apartments in South Park and those apartments would rent for $1,100 for a one-bedroom. Schwartz says she looked around the room, and “I saw all these moms with two or three babies, just looking at each other. $1,100 for a one-bedroom? That has nothing to do with their reality. And presumably most people’s reality. It’s just so not gonna solve the problem.”

When it comes to small businesses and the changing business district, Schwartz says she and her family always try to patronize the long-term businesses, like Pasteleria y Panaderia La Ideal and Muy Macho, as well as another beloved taco truck, El Rincon, and Napoli Pizzeria. “Those are kind of the soul of what we appreciate about the neighborhood,” she says. And the new businesses feel fancier to her, as well as predictable, homogeneous, and “what seem to be like North End businesses.” She doesn’t, therefore, share some of her neighbors’ enthusiasm about the new businesses coming in. “I just wish that people would go to the other places that don’t look like they belong on Capitol Hill. I mean, to me, that’s why we’re here.” If things keep going in the direction they appear to be going, South Park “will just be the next fancy neighborhood.”

Schwartz says she’s hoping to work with the Concord PTA and other community groups to advocate for the kinds of anti-displacement investments that have been made elsewhere across the city, such as the Midtown Center development at 23rd and Union in the Central District. “This is such a great community,” she says. “We’re so thrilled to be raising our kids here. I feel like it’s in danger of being dispersed. The people that live in this neighborhood, their place should have some value. They’ve made a life here, especially through a lot of shitty times. There wasn’t a lot of police response, there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure, there wasn’t a lot of civic investment, you know? And there’s the industrial pollution. They’ve put their time in here and now that the city is getting richer, I think that it’s an ethical responsibility of people who are making the money … to preserve the homes of other people.”

South Park and Georgetown, two small neighborhoods ringed by industry, across the polluted Duwamish from one another, are quite similar, says Bennett; they were originally on the outskirts, both cities of their own before they were annexed into Seattle in 1907 and 1910, respectively. Back when the Duwamish meandered, before it was straightened and dredged and saturated with innumerable tons of toxic chemicals, South Park was a farming community that supplied almost all the produce to Pike Place Market. Then it, like Georgetown, became both housing for Boeing employees and a proverbial (and literal) dumping ground for most of the industrial businesses and projects and wastes that no one wanted in the rest of the city.

“For years and years, anything that people didn’t want in Seattle, in Magnolia or Ballard or wherever, got dumped to Georgetown and South Park,” Bennett says. “Especially South Park.” The story for years, then, was that South Park was on the receiving end of the city’s unwanted dregs; now it is on the receiving end of an entirely different kind of pressure. “There’s gonna be a little pushback” from locals because of it, he predicts. “Everyone’s a little afraid of change, you know, and also [South Park has] been through that whole history of what the big city’s been doing to them. ‘How are we gonna get screwed this time?’ You know?”

Bennett, however, wants to help avoid that, while retaining historic character and affordability in South Park’s business district. A Seattle resident since 1974, long enamored of historic buildings and a contributing member of Historic Seattle, Bennett is credited for helping retain Georgetown’s reputation as an artists’ mecca that features a number of small, local, sole-proprietor businesses in part through his efforts to keep rents low there. He’s now doing the same in South Park. Bennett teamed up with two other local business owners, Scott Horrell (who owns Loretta’s and a number of properties in Georgetown) and Hank Dufour (owner of a local construction company), to purchase several of the derelict buildings at the southwest corner of 14th and Cloverdale.

“That corner there was just kind of an eyesore for years,” Bennett says. “It was kind of what held South Park back.” In January, the trio officially signed the deal on the properties, which had fallen into foreclosure and disrepair, and began a months-long process of cleaning them up. That was no easy task.

“It was a mess. It was a dirty mess,” Bennett says. The buildings “had been abandoned for years and years and years.” The three men pulled out some 26 tons of garbage, he says, as well as eight tons of scrap metal and dozens and dozens of rats. They also found and hauled away a total of 14 rusted, junk cars in the parking lot around back.

Now, though, the nearly-century-old buildings are looking fresh again; the old South Park Hall, a two-story brick building built in the 1920s with a colorful mural and a long history as a community center, has a large, wood-paneled ballroom that will be used again as an event rental space. The street-level unit right on the corner of 14th and Cloverdale will become Uncle Eddie’s, a restaurant and bar that proprietor Michael Goldsmith calls an “all-ages public house, an old-school European model”; it will offer people who’d like a drink and those who’d like to take their kids out to dinner a friendly place to commingle. And the only reason Goldsmith can afford to do this, he says, is because Bennett is committed to keeping the rents low and the leases long.

“My motto all along,” says Bennett, “has been affordable rents. I have apartments starting at $400 a month in Georgetown. I keep my rents really low for commercial spaces, [too]; and I give them long leases. I want them to succeed.” He says he prioritizes small businesses and doesn’t have any corporate clients at all. “Even though we knew that South Park was coming around, it could draw huge rents,” he concedes, “I think our commercial rents are lower than White Center, than probably anywhere in Seattle right now.”

Leinbach, whose taproom across the street is owned by another landlord, is thrilled with Bennett’s efforts. He says his landlord, too, has given him a very good deal and a five-year lease. “Our landlord is doing a great job,” he says, “bringing in the kind of tenants that will have lasting power.” What has been happening for a long time in South Park, he believes, is “you have landlords who have just charged the highest and the business doesn’t justify the rent that they’re charging. You just have these churning businesses and nothing ever stays, so you just have empty storefronts.”

Goldsmith says there are very few other spots across the city that he could afford to open a restaurant in. But also, he loves South Park. Goldsmith has lived in Highland Park, just down the road to the west, for four years, and in the West Seattle and Burien area since 2000. South Park is where he wants to be. He and his girlfriend, Keasa, who are opening Uncle Eddie’s together, went on their first date at Loretta’s. As a result, he says, South Park “has always got a soft spot in my heart.”

South Park, you’ll notice, if you walk around right now, does feel like a tucked-away enclave, a kind of town within a town. The neighbors tend to know each other, according to several local residents, and you can see those cheerful greetings, regularly, as you stroll. The houses tend to be small, unique, older buildings; the yards have fences and the kids ride bikes and play football. “It has a real, small-town feel,” Schwartz says, describing how nice it is to know that the neighborhood kids know her kids; there’s lots of camaraderie. “I’ve always been into the idea of community,” she says, “but I haven’t felt it as strongly as I have here.”

Adds Castle, the employee at La Toscanella: “It’s a little pocket of everyday people right here.” She describes the older houses built for Boeing’s workers, the little bungalows, the neighborhood’s long history as an affordable part of town. “It still is an approachable little place to live … for now.”

“I think what’s so interesting about this community is it is so kind of Mayberry, in a sense,” says Goldsmith, echoing a common sentiment. “But then the environmental concerns, literally a stone’s throw away, are massive,” he says. “And then you look at the Duwamish and parts of it are beautiful and parts of it look like disaster porn … and across this beautiful waterway is Boeing and the fins of planes. That juxtaposition of all that stuff in a fairly compact space, I just think it’s electric. … There’s no other area of Seattle that is just that diverse on the face of it. I think that’s what’s juicy for me.”

Nothing is more inexorable than change—unless it’s change in Seattle in 2017. Georgetown and South Park, Bennett points out, have long been obvious contenders for the next wave of gentrification. They’re relatively close to downtown Seattle, and they still retain beautiful, historic structures, that nostalgic whisper of a past that is rapidly disappearing in the face of demolition and new high-density construction. “You don’t have to be a fortune teller to see what’s going to happen.”

As Seattle grows—it’s still among the fastest-growing cities in the nation, still with home prices ballooning faster than any other urban area for the 10th straight month—the conversations, questions, and apprehensions about what Seattle will look like, and, most crucially, who will get to live here, will only continue.

In South Park, “you have people who’ve lived here for a long time who don’t want to see it change,” says Leinbach. “I think they kind of like it being out of the spotlight and not a lot of traffic through here.” Others, though, both long-timers and newcomers, want to see some revitalization, some new investments. “No neighborhood is gonna agree on one thing, how the neighborhood should be or shouldn’t be.”

Murphy says she intends to keep patronizing older businesses, but is thrilled, for example, at the idea of a wine bar within walking distance of her home. All 17 of the comments on the West Seattle Blog story about the restoration project that Bennett, Horrell, and Dufour are doing at 14th and Cloverdale are positive; “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” reads one.

There are real concerns about displacement, though, particularly of long-term residents, the majority of whom in recent decades have been Latino. The latest U.S. Census data puts South Park at 42 percent Hispanic, compared to 7 percent across Seattle. But since that data is from 2010, likely much has already changed. Georgetown—looking more and more like the model for South Park—is among the Seattle neighborhoods that has decreased in diversity the very fastest since 2010. Also, questions remain about crime: Will the “criminal element” in South Park dip, fade, and dissolve as neighbors with more wealth and a sense of entitlement demand more and more from city officials? Is that how it always has to go?

Change may be inevitable, but a system that routinely privileges the wealthy and often white elite is not, Schwartz believes; not entirely. “As far as I can tell,” she says, “people can make any rules that they want. If you have enough money, you can do what you want. It’s definitely possible. It’s within the realm of possibility to somehow make this place remain hospitable to the families that have been here.”

Vidro, the owner of Sabor a Mi, sits at a plastic table at her mostly empty restaurant on a recent afternoon, speaking loudly over the sound of the Mexican folk music blasting from the speakers for the benefit of a handful of patrons in the next room. She’s 60 years old, her black hair cut with gray. “I don’t feel old,” she says with a grin, but years of kitchen work and other health issues have weakened her hands so that she can’t cook that much anymore. “If I have, let’s say, 10 tables a day, I end up very sore,” she says. Business is not good, anyway, and she’s just biding her time until she can lease the place again, for significantly more money than she could in the past. Because she owns the building, she feels more financially stable than most.

She doesn’t know what the future holds for her family, though. Like Ramos, at Jalisco, she’s taking things one day at a time, and she has faith. “Everything is gonna be OK,” she says, adding with a gentle laugh that, despite it all, “Life is nice!” But she does know one thing for sure, the same thing everyone in South Park—and across Seattle—knows to their core and echoes like a drumbeat, like a dogged refrain: Change is afoot. “It’s coming,” she says. “It’s coming.”

sbernard@seattleweekly.com

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Photo by Nathalie Graham
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On Friday, the City’s attempt at a more progressive tax system begins a journey that is likely to end at the state Supreme Court. Here is a preview of the fight ahead.

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