Pilot College Course Takes Aim at Bayview’s Unemployment

By Alex Emslie
The Guardsman

City College’s environmental horticulture and floristry department, the Bayview-Hunters Point Greenhouse Tenants Association and San Francisco Public Works have teamed up to add an interior landscaping technician training course to the Southeast campus curriculum with hopes it will help combat disproportionate unemployment levels in Bayview-Hunters Point.

“We’re doing this to find out if it is viable to add interior landscaping to our curriculum,” said Steven Brown, chair of the City College environmental horticulture and floristry department. “There is a huge interest in indoor plants, and it’s an important aspect of the horticulture industry to have people that are well trained in installing and maintaining plants as interior landscapes in offices and residential buildings.”

The pilot course will be free to residents of Bayview-Hunters Point. While only 20 to 25 students will be able to take the pilot class, it will join other initiatives at Southeast campus, such as the Gateway to College program, which targets at risk high school students and is dedicated to improving the economic standing of the Bayview-Hunters Point community.

The course will be an eight-week, 36-hour classroom and lab certificate training program that will run from Feb. 25 through March 25, 2010 in Room 211 of the Southeast campus. Registration will open as soon as class materials are prepared, which is one reason the class is starting after the beginning of the spring semester, according to Brown.

Students will learn the skills for dealing with interior plant merchandise and learn which products are appropriate for which places. By the end of the course, students will be prepared to take a Professional Landcare Network certification test, which has industry-wide recognition, according to Siri Datta of San Francisco Foliage.

“To me what’s symbolic and cool about the course is it brings together the entities that have a commitment to the economic development of Bayview in this one offering in which we are all participating,” Datta said.

Unemployment Epidemic
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates national unemployment at 10.2 percent, the highest jobless rate since 1983. Bay Area unemployment is slightly higher at 10.6 percent as of October 2009. Statewide unemployment is estimated at 12.5 percent. However, black unemployment numbers have historically been higher than the national average.

Nationally, black unemployment is nearing 16 percent. Estimates for unemployment in Bayview-Hunters Point, in which nearly half of all residents are black, range from over 30 percent by the San Francisco Bay View newspaper to 60 percent by People Organized to Win Employment Rights, a community organization. Bayview’s extraordinarily high unemployment is due in part to the neighborhood’s dependence on heavy industrial jobs, many of which have migrated out of San Francisco over the past 30 years, according to the Bayview-Hunters Point Revitalization Concept Plan.

“The American labor market is less friendly to black workers than to white workers, and it has been for all of U.S. history,” Algernon Austin, director of the program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, told MSNBC.com.

A 2006 San Francisco Department of Public Health report found nearly one quarter of Bayview-Hunters Point residents were living below the poverty line. That number has likely grown since the recession began in late 2007.

Mission of the SECF
Against this bleak economic backdrop, the Southeast Community Facility, which houses City College’s Southeast campus, is striving to provide residents of Bayview-Hunters Point with the educational opportunities and support that could lead to gainful employment.

“The SECF was established by the city as a mitigation measure in return for the Bayview-Hunters Point community’s acceptance of the Southeast Water Treatment Plant in the midst of their neighborhood,” according to the Southeast Community Facility Commission Web site. Organizations housed in the facility have an obligation to provide employment, educational, child care or other opportunities that contribute to the overall economic health of the southeast section of San Francisco.

Plants as Economic Development
Datta hopes instruction in what he calls a “friendly industry” will assist the SECF in its mission. Wages for interior landscape technicians range from over $13 to $20 per hour. In addition, the industry lends itself to small-business ownership. According to Datta, nearly 80 percent of the industry is made up of small businesses with annual revenues of $32,000 to $215,000.

Datta began his career by selling plants on a street corner in Los Angeles 30 years ago. He feels students in the interior landscaping technician training course will have a head start in the industry.

He added, “People are enthusiastic about plants. Some people are giddy about plants, and they can’t help but share their enthusiasm with you. I am one of those people.”

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