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Good Thursday morning from Whiskey Creek, where it’s been so cold that the difference between those residents with hair and those with fur feels magnified one hundred times over, the former constantly fine-tuning, (bundling and re-bundling, setting and re-setting the thermostat), the latter curled into tight comfy little balls.

I’d planned on writing one of my general state-of-the-association Welcomes this morning, covering coming events, volunteer job vacancies, board decisions about this or that and, had, in fact, started tapping it out on my computer screen when the little MS Outlook “boing” announced the arrival of an email about midnight last night.

“Hi, Rick –

I am a reporter at KPIX / CBS5 in San Francisco, and I did a story today about a new wave of evictions as our real estate economy is heating up. Gentrification is moving people out of their homes, and it’s quite heartbreaking. In my story, I profiled a bluegrass musician; Robert Earl Davis of the Earl Brothers. He’s real class act, and I thought he could really use some love from his community … especially considering what he’s going through right now. Please feel free to share the story … or maybe even point me in the right direction so I can make sure his fans might get the news?

Joe Vazquez”

Naturally I wrote Joe back and promised him I’d do what I could do.

Though only two minutes in length, the CBS-affiliate Channel 5 feature gets the grim plight of SF renters across. If he was a drug addict and homeless, Bobby says into the camera, the city runs programs that he could go to for assistance but “if you’re like me and you’ve paid your rent everyday for forty years and you’ve been basically a good guy, there’s no help.”

Davis’ landlord is evicting Bobby by employing the Ellis Act, a warning mandated by law that gives renters a heads-up if the landlord is planning something different with the property. The act restricts landlords from kicking everybody out and then raising the rent. The reporter goes on to explain that some housing rights activists held a demonstration last afternoon. They say they are highlighting the fact that there’s been a sharp increase in Ellis Act evictions in recent months. Twenty-seven different landlords have notified tenants of imminent evictions in the Mission District alone. Bad news made even worse by the holiday season. According to the city’s Rent Board there’s been about 176 evictions so far this year, which is actually less than half the level from five years ago but sharply up from the past years…hello economic recovery.

As I watched Vazquez’s videoed report something Bobby said…that he’d been in the apartment for forty years…jarred my memory. Instinctively I clicked open the Photo Gallery here on and, bingo, found what I was looking for—a shot of one of the 1981 featured bands at Grass Valley, the Squids. There on the far left stood Robert Earl Davis, cradling his banjo and dressed in all black, a foreshadowing of the Earl Brothers persona. More than thirty years old, when the shot was clicked he’d been living in that same Castro apartment for ten years.

Just a few minutes after writing to the Channel 5 reporter and telling him I’d get the word out about his story to our bluegrass family I received this follow up from Joe Vazquez.

“Great! My little 2-minute story doesn’t do justice to the anguish he is feeling. He’s a humble guy. I just met him today, but he seems like the type of good people that would never want to burden anybody about his problems. But he needs some support from his community right now. I hope some fans or fellow musicians will rise to the occasion. He could be out on the street within weeks. His choices would be limited to housing in the Tenderloin, or leaving the city. Thanks, Rick … please do let me know if anybody comes through for him. Joe”

He may have just met Bobby, but the reporter surely did have him pegged for the kind of man he is. For me, especially after finding the ancient Squids photo, the news story is less about San Francisco’s housing market and rent control and the Ellis Act and neighborhood gentrification and more about one of our own being in trouble and needing some help…or at least some moral support. If you can offer either, Bobby Earl Davis is easy to reach–[email protected]; 415-518-2343.

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