Last week I climbed from my place in the flats up to Skyline Drive, a gain of about 1400 feet in elevation. My house is a hundred years old; the houses on Skyline are new. My house is conventional and built on firm, level ground; the Skyline houses are contrived and installed in hostile settings.
The views are grand when the weather permits, and it’s a pleasant thing to look up and see lights nestled among the hills at night. But I deplore almost everything else about the houses in the high hills. Sure, much of my attitude is cultural—I was raised in sociable lowland street grids with friendly neighbors, where people walked and bicycled and threw block parties. Skyline is different, a string of isolated fortress dwellings that rubs me wrong. Okay, not my style. Part of my problem is aesthetics. These homes have nothing to say to the commons; they exist only to flatter their inhabitants and frame for their owners the views that they ruin for everyone else.
But I oppose them politically too: I deplore the hazards of these houses and the expensive services they demand from the city. Fire protection, water and sewage service, bus lines and waste pickup, all are very costly on these steep, narrow streets. They place city workers at risk. But (of course) there’s geology too. Take a look at what’s right across the road from this house.
It’s a fresh landslide scar, exposing crumbly shattered rock. The light-colored stuff is volcanic ash as friable as sand. That curving line to its right is a fault. As I stood there, grit was tumbling down in steady trickles. And when the next moderate earthquake comes on the Oakland fault, no more than a mile to the west, this cliff will collapse. Houses simply should not be allowed up here.