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The city by the Bay (without kids)

Flikr user Jeff Croft
Dolores Park in San Francisco with no child to be found.

The number of children in the city of San Francisco is dwindling. Back in the 1960s, kids made up a full quarter of the population. The latest census numbers showed the city was made up by only 13.4 percent of them. But now, after a concerted effort by City Hall, there’s been a dramatic change.

A note for our readers: the following story is of an adult nature.

Johnny Parvulus is no fan of kids. Never has been.

“Kids are weird. They do weird things. You know? They pick their noses. They like that Beebee guy,” Mr Parvulus says.

When Parvulus found out the city of San Francisco had a Department of Eliminating Children, Youth, their Families, and Relatives (DECYFR), he couldn’t believe it.

But when he stopped to think about it, it made perfect sense. San Francisco used to be a haven for kids. It had Playland-at-the-beach, the gigantic Fleishhacker swimming pool, school buses. All of those things are gone now. Is that a coincidence?

“No. No. I think not. This has all been part of the plan,” Mr Parvulus says.

A long-term plan that’s been unfolding even more rapidly since Parvulus took DECYFR over in 1999. One of his first tasks in office was sending out a survey to office workers, asking questions like:

Are crying babies on red-eye flights super annoying?

How about whiny kids? Is picking noses gross?

Do you wish the lines at Bi-Rite Creamery were shorter?

The results, he says, were clear.

And he added a bonus question: “What do you like better? Dogs? Or kids?”

“Dogs!” says Parvulus.

With the results in hand, the city began cutting child services. School and park maintenance crews shrunk. Ice cream parlors were mandated to only serve “adult” flavors, like pistachio or orange cardamom. The number of kids in San Francisco started shrinking fast.

“Prop 13’s made a big difference. And we were really helped out by the federal No Child Left Behind act, too. That started moving kids out of the school system. Then, you know, the housing bubble burst, and families started moving to, I don’t know, Tracy,” says Parvulus.

And, long story short, Parvulus says the latest census figures quickly became outdated and grossly overblown. The city of San Francisco, he says is now down to 119 children in total, throughout the entire city.

“Yeah. Once the numbers get that low, they’re pretty easy to count,” he says.

At San Francisco’s Dolores Park there’s not a kid to be seen. Dweezil Chanderbrand, III says he hasn’t seen a child in the city for at least a couple of weeks.

“Which is great, because the lines at Bi-Rite Creamery have, like, gone down. They’re still pretty long, though.

At Philip and Sala Burton High School, on the Southeastern side of the city, the faculty and staff are working with a total of just one student. Janette Flüb teaches advanced social studies.

“We all just didn’t have anything better to do, so there were, like, 14 teachers in that one room, surrounding that poor girl. We just wanted to teach her. That’s all we wanted to do,” says Flüb.

Despite the cutbacks to services, it was still remarkable that San Francisco was able to get rid of so many kids so fast. DECYFR director Johnny Parvulus says he came up with the plan, ironically, by watching a child’s movie.

“My sister roped me into watching her niece, one night. Gaaaw! And we’re sitting there watching Pinocchio,” Mr Parvulus says. “And there’s this talking fox blabbing on and on. To a … a puppet. Boy. Eeeuuuggh. And then the fox tells the boy it’s going to fix him by sending him to Treasure Island.”

He means Pleasure Island.

“Whatever. Treasure. Pleasure. Same, same. The point is: all the boys go there… and it hits me. We’ve got our own Treasure Island right next to San Francisco. And we can send all of our [kids] there,” Mr Parvulus says.

A few days later the exodus began. Busload after busload of kids headed across the Western span of the Bay Bridge to live on Treasure Island. After nearly half of a century, San Francisco, Parvulus says, was finally accomplishing its childfree goal. But after several months of transfers and construction, he realized there was a problem. Treasure Island is technically still San Francisco.

Treasure Island was created by the city out of landfill in the 1930s for an international exposition. The Navy took over in 1942 as part of the war effort. And in 2010, the landfill island, now quite polluted, was transferred back to the city, which is negotiating its cleanup and development. Or, was, until it just decided to stick its children there.

“Right! But it’s still technically San Francisco!” Mr Parvulus laments.

But not for long. To address the problem, the city appointed a blue ribbon task force, giving it total control of the decision-making process. After several months of negotiation, they came up with a solution. The people of San Francisco, would hand Treasure Island to the children who live there.

“It made sense. None of us at City Hall really wanted Treasure Island, anyhow. It’s toxic. And it’s sinking,” Mr Parvulus says.

And now, it’s home to the kids who used to live in the city of San Francisco. Johnny Parvulus was so successful in his work with the Department of Eliminating Children, the department itself was eliminated. Parvulus, himself, now spends his days in Dolores Park, living on his government pension. It’s quieter, there, now – just adults and dogs.

This morning, in Geneva, the Nobel committee named Treasure Island its “exemplary community” for the calendar year 2012. Soon after the kids were relegated there, they voted in a set of leaders, representing a balance of age groups, ethnicities, and genders. Through a process of open and collaborative governance, along with several micro-loans, the Islanders shored up the landfill. They also established safe and clean housing for all residents, and they dedicated unprecedented funding to support individualized education in its schools. Tonight, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan will attend a state dinner on Treasure Island to discuss what they can learn from the children’s example.

This story originally aired on the very special April First edition of Crosscurrents. 

Crosscurrents Crosscurrents