Calvin Welch

Housing supply and demand theory on trial at City Hall


The November ballot is shaping into a housing supply theory showdown, and yesterday’s [Thu/17] Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing was the first round.

The committee hosted two hearings on rival housing proposals for the November ballot: Sup. Jane Kim’s City Housing Balance Requirement and Mayor Ed Lee’s Build Housing Now initiative. The two purport to set similar goals for building affordable housing, but Lee’s proposal contains a poison pill that would invalidate Kim’s measure. 

The mayor’s philosophy on housing, a strict supply and demand argument, was on full display. 

“[Housing] is a competition based on who has the most dollars in their pocket, and the ones with the most dollars win,” Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing said at the hearing. “If we limit the supply, the people with the most dollars will win.”

The arguments are a little complicated, but let’s try to break them down: Kim’s initiative lays out a requirement for new construction to build 30 percent affordable housing and 70 percent market-rate housing. Currently, new construction projects can build on-site affordable or pay a fee into a pot, known as the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. If new construction needs to be exempt from the balance requirement, under Kim’s measure, that can be decided by the Planning Commission. 

But the mayor and his deep-pocketed development allies are shrinking away from this like the Wicked Witch of the West from water. Affordable housing doesn’t make a dime for developers, and the mayor fears Kim’s policy will slam the breaks on market-rate housing construction. 

Activist and San Francisco historian Calvin Welch argues supply and demand housing theories won’t solve the San Francisco housing crisis, via 48hills.

Yet Kim’s measure is based on what many progressives in San Francisco believe: San Francisco’s housing market is hot, profits are high, demand is insatiable, and building lots of market rate housing that will never be affordable to most San Francisco won’t solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. The construction pipeline won’t slow down with a few dings to profit margins, she argued. 

“I just have to say if building 30 percent affordable housing will halt development, we’re in a whole lot of trouble,” Kim said to her critics. “We have to build. Even people that make money leave San Francisco every day.”

No one is saying Kim doesn’t believe more housing needs to be built. But Lee’s staffers emphasized a belief that more housing construction alone is the solution to the city’s ills, a strategy that hasn’t exactly netted stellar results recently. They also defended the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, as the Mayor’s Office of Housing is funded about “40 percent” from developer’s fees, Olson Lee said. Sarah Dennis Phillips, from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, argued sharply that any hit to developer’s fees, even marginal ones, would result in a loss of dollars for the city’s General Fund, the funding pot feeds most city services.

The mayor’s ballot initiative essentially asks for a vote of confidence in his plan to build or rehabilitate 30,000 housing units by 2020, which some in the press have pilloried as depending heavily on already-existing units. While 30,000 sounds like a lot, the Controller’s Office said San Francisco would need as many as 100,000 housing units to even make a dent in San Francisco’s skyrocketing housing prices, according to the SF Examiner (though he has since written the Examiner to say his sentiments were misconstrued). The city’s Civil Grand Jury recently released a scathing report of the mayor’s 30,000 housing unit goal, saying “While the residential real estate market is enjoying a strong recovery, it is doubtful the city can build its way out of the current affordability crisis.”

Meanwhile, people are losing their homes and fleeing the city. Some who are holding on by a thread came out to speak at the dueling hearings. 

“I have health challenges including cerebral palsy,” Justin Bennet said during public comment. He spoke with a difficulty in his jaw, haltingly and with much effort. He said the housing market made it difficult to move from the dangerous areas of the city he calls home. “I’ve been robbed outside several residences I’ve lived in, so I’m hoping for a change in my housing situation in the future. Thanks for letting me speak.” 

A family came up to the podium to speak, with two young housing activists, a brother and sister, 9 and 6, saying they didn’t want to see so many lose their homes.

Advocates from the SEIU 1021, South of Market Community Action Network, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the Chinese Progressive Association, to name a few, were on hand at the hearing. They were also on hand for a press conference on the steps of City Hall shortly before the hearing. Ed Donaldson from ACCE called out the mayor’s housing measure, saying its only intent was to torpedo Kim’s. 

“I say we should play chicken with the mayor,” Donaldson said at the podium. Metal bands have sung with less volume than the baritone he used while booming, “Let’s see if he has the gall.”

Inside the hearing, Patrick Valentino (who championed luxury development on the waterfront) and Tim Colen of the Housing Action Coalition spoke, defending the mayor’s measure.

“As San Francisco, as a city in affordability, we’re failing. Our rate of failure is accelerating,” he said flatly. He criticized Kim’s plan and asked, “Where’s the money? No one disagrees we need it. The shortcoming I see in the housing balance measure is its premise that if we increase restrictions on market rate housing, it helps subsidize housing.” 

He argued instead to gather more stakeholders together (i.e. deep pocketed developers) to negotiate more private funding, a strategy he said that worked in the past. 

As others came to the podium to argue against developer greed, Colen watched on, shaking his head, seemingly in disagreement. When someone in public comment argued that developers so far have shirked their responsibilities to build affordable housing, he shook his head again and left the hearing room. 

There’s a stark divide in housing philosophy, and supply and demand’s ability to save San Francisco will soon see a trial by voter if Kim’s charter amendment can win six vote at the full Board of Supervisors. 

The mayor’s policies seem to be more of the same, Kim said, and now the city seems to be fighting over the crumbs of developers’ fees. Despite opposition from the mayor, Kim told the Guardian she’s open to new ideas from the mayor. 

But she also said she won’t back down. 

“We’re on a two-fold path right now. If there’s a compromise to get [the city] to 30 percent affordable housing, like new revenue, we’re open to that compromise,” she said. “But we always intended this to go to the ballot.”

New coalition opposes Chiu’s Airbnb legislation UPDATED


An unlikely coalition has formed to oppose legislation sponsored by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu that would legalize and regulate short-term apartment rentals facilitated by Airbnb and other online companies, which are now illegal in San Francisco.

[UPDATE: Some of those same opponents are also now threatening to place a rival measure on the fall ballot, the San Francisco Chronicle just reported. It reportedly shares some aspects with the Chiu legislation, such as a registration system, but it limits rentals to only commercial areas and includes rewards for those who turn in violators to the authorities].

The coalition includes landlord and tenant activists, as well as organized labor and neighborhood groups. It will square off against Airbnb and its hosts, which have pledged to lobby against limits created by the Chiu legislation — all of which could elevate this to the biggest fight of the summer at City Hall. Tomorrow [Tues/28], the coalition of opponents will rally outside City Hall at 10am, while Airbnb supporter will hold a “Speak Up for Home Sharing” rally at 12:30pm.

As we’ve been reporting, it took Chiu more than a year of negotiations with Airbnb, the San Francisco Tenants Union, affected city agencies, and other interested parties to arrive at legislation that requires hosts to register with the city, finally pay the city’s transient occupany tax, and limits stays to 90 nights per year.

But after more than two years of Airbnb’s defying city law and refusing to pay its taxes — scofflaw behavior tacitly supported by Mayor Ed Lee, who share a financial benefactor for the company in venture capitalist Ron Conway — several city constituencies pledged to oppose legislation that would now legalize its activities.

In particular, some longtime affordable housing and neighborhood activists say the legislation irresponsibly legalizes the conversion of residential apartments into tourist hotels throughout the city, creating neighborhood safety concerns and overturning decades of work to protect rent-controlled housing.

Meanwhile, Chiu’s opponent in the race for the Assembly District 17, David Campos, has been highlighting lobbying reports showing 61 contacts between representatives of Airbnb — including formers City Hall insiders David Owen and Alex Tourk — and Chiu’s office.

“Do you think tenant and neighborhood groups met with David Chiu 61 times?” Campos said during his endorsement interview with the Guardian last week, accusing Chiu of letting Airbnb write its own regulations without regard to neighborhood concerns.

Chiu didn’t immediately return our phone calls, but we’ll update this post if and when we hear back. [UPDATE: Chiu legislative aide Judson True just called and disputed how the legislation is being characterized by its opponents and rejecting calls to withdraw the legislation: “Everyone is entitled to a position on Sup. Chiu’s legislation, but we would hope they would engage in the legislative process and not just toss hand grenades. This is a serious policy issue that requires thoughtful dialogue and to simply call for the withdrawal of the legislation is irresponsible.”

True also said the legislation only legalized short term rentals “under very narrow circumstance and that legalization allows enforcement against the most egregious actors.” He also noted how Chiu has consistently opposed converting apartments to tourist uses and called for Airbnb to pay its taxes, calling the legislation a difficult balancing act: “We know that Airbnb has issues with the legislation. They didn’t write the legislation, period.”]

In the meantime, here’s the full text of the press release issued today by the new coalition, which will be holding a press conference at 10am tomorrow on the steps of City Hall:    

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 28, 2014



Board of Supervisors trying to convert residential housing to 
short-term rentals

Press conference Tuesday April 29, 2014 Steps of City Hall at 10:00 am

San Francisco — Organizations representing usually divergent interests ranging from tenants to landlords, and from hotel workers to the hospitality industry have joined forces with neighborhood and homeowner associations to oppose legislation introduced by Supervisor David Chiu to legalize the short term rentals of residential property throughout San Francisco.

“In the face of an unprecedented housing crisis, Supervisor Chiu’s legislation to legalize the short term rentals of residential property will only exacerbate the housing crisis. This practice is detrimental to our rent-controlled housing stock”, said Janan New, Executive Director of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

“Our studies have shown that with over 10,000 units of housing being rented out over Airbnb, HomeAway and other websites this practice is having a negative impact on hotel workers and San Francisco’s hospitality industry”, said Mike Casey, President of UNITE HERE Local 2.

“The proposed legislation would rezone the entire city from residential zoning to commercial zoning in one fell swoop. We hear complaints from almost every neighborhood about the detrimental effects of short term rentals on the quality of life of tenants and residents”, said John Bardis, former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and former San Francisco Supervisor.

“Supervisors Chiu’s legislation would repeal hard won controls on Single Resident Occupancy housing, threatens current affordable housing provisions for over 30,000 permanently affordable units, would transform newly approved “in-law units” into high priced motel rooms and make “below market rate” units lifetime luxury hotels. It is the single biggest threat to affordable housing ever proposed by a San Francisco Supervisor” stated longtime affordable housing advocate Calvin Welch.

“Airbnb and other hosting platforms owe the City millions of dollars in unpaid hotel taxes. It is high time that the City collect these taxes which pay for the arts and vital city services and programs. The proposed legislation does not clearly hold Airbnb and similar organizations responsible for collecting and remitting the hotel tax”, said former Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

All of these organizations are calling for Supervisor Chiu to withdraw his legislation at a press conference on Tuesday April 29 on the steps of City Hall at 10:00 am.

Sue Hestor’s 70th birthday party: “We Shall Overcome.”


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Plus: Tim Redmond reports on Sue Hestor and her environmental legacy on his new local  website 48  

How do you say happy birthday to a San Francisco icon like Sue Hestor?

Some 200 of her friends, allies, pro bono legal clients, political heavies, and fellow warriors against big developers and their pals in City Hall gathered Saturday at Delancey Street for a surprise party to celebrate Sue’s 70th birthday.

When she arrived, she was obviously surprised to find a band playing “We shall overcome” and her friends standing, clapping, cheering, and singing  in admiration for a woman who has spent more than four decades as a citizen activist and attorney fighting for one good cause after another, usually at bad odds against the big guys, often for clients without pay. It was truly a historic moment in the history of San Francisco politics. 

I first knew Sue when she popped up as a feisty volunteer in the Alvin Duskin anti-high rise campaign of the the early 1970s. The Bay Guardian was doing an investigative book, “The Ultimate HIghrise,” on the impact of highrises on the city. She pitched in on the project and was in the book’s  staff photo, jauntily wearing her trademark straw hat, standing next to the hole in the ground for the Yerba Buena Center development.

 We billed a central feature of the book as “the world’s first comprehensive study of the true cost of skyscrapers.” Our research group demonstrated that highrises cost much more in services than they bring back in revenue,  a finding that infuriated the Chamber of Commerce because they could never effectively refute it. We also laid out in detail for the first time the power structure behind pellmell Manhattanizaton, how destructive those policies are, how they shift the tax burden from dowotown to neighborhoods and small business, who profits from them, why there are more muckmakers than muckrakers. Our talented art director Louis Dunn provided brilliant graphics that drove home the damaging points about highrises.

Our conclusion was most prophetic: “The most disturbing finding can’t be quantified–but it should be shouted to the heavens.  It is this: unless the city of San Francisco reverses past practice and immediately enacts an ironclad land-use policy such as Duskin’s proposed height limit, the long scoffed at ‘Manhattanization’ of the entire city is a surefire, 100%-guaranteed inevitability.” 

I like to think this project and its results were a fitting start to Sue’s career in land use litigation and terrorizing big developers, City Hall enablers, and their ever more virulent forms of Manhattanization. 

In the early l990s, I called on Sue again, this time to be the founding chair of the spanking new Sunshine Task Force. It was a new task force formed to enforce the Sunshine Ordinance, which gave citizens the right to make complaints about government secrecy and its tradition of keeping City Hall safe for PG&E, big landlords, and developers etal. The task force would, I knew, drive the bureaucrats nuts and  it thus needed a strong attorney as chair who would be smart enough and tough enough to go up against the city attorney and the crocodiles in the back bays of City Hall.

 The neat thing was that nobody could kick Sue off the task force.  She was one of two members who were “grandfathered” in by the ordinance–an attorney (Sue)  and a media rep (B3) –who were selected by the Northern Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, not the supervisors. She performed admirably and got the task force on a firm footing as the first and still the best local open government task force in the country, if not the world. 

Through the years of development battles, it was often Sue and Calvin, Calvin and Sue.  Calvin being Calvin Welch, a crafty environmental and neighborhood strategist who worked with Sue and others in developing counters and initiatives and all kinds of hellish moves to beat or slow down and mitigate development.  He said Sue’s career could be summed up in two words: “cumulative impacts.”  The good thing was that we all knew, when the developers brought up their heavy artillery or their sneaky back alley maneuvers, Sue and Calvin would be there to blow the whistle and take on the fight. Call Sue, call Calvin was the watchword but they usually called us first at the Bay Guardian. 

Let me call now on Tim Redmond, a Guardian reporter who covered Sue and Calvin and the highrise battles from 1982 on, to explain what Calvin meant.  Tim laid out the political points in his piece, “Sue Hestor’s birthday and a lesson in SF environmental history,” on his new local  website “48”  Read Tim’s first paragraphs for the fun stuff on Sue and the last paragraphs for the really important contributions she has made to the city and urban planning, as explained by Calvin.

As Tim concludes, “In 1964, Hestor, representing San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, sued and won a stunning decision in the California Court of Appeal mandating that the city start studying the cumulative impacts of development. As Welch noted, ‘there was an obligation for developers to prioritize mitigations.’ That’s where the affordable housing program, the transit-impact fees–and the entire concept of analyzing development on the macro, not the micro level emerged.  That was the idea behind the 1986 measure Prop. M, which included no height limits at all–but did include programs and policies designed to protect neighborhoods from the effects of unlimited growth.” 

Well, the Hestor faithful may not have “overcome” the big developers and their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans.   But they have come pretty damn close. On Sunday, the day after Sue’s party, the Warriors caved on its waterfront project and Matier and Ross did a Chronicle column with the head, “Warriors call for timeout on Waterfront arena plan.” And on Monday, the waterfront warriors marched triumphantly into City Hall and, as the  Chronicle’s John Cote reported,  “turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the June 3 ballot that would require voter approval for any development on the San Francisco waterfront to exceed existing height limits.”

That could kill the massively inappropriate project.  “If passed,” the Chronicle continued, “the measure would put a check on high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay and require voter approval for height increases for three major waterfront development plans, the Golden State Warriors’ proposal for an 18,000-seat arena complex, the San Francisco Giants’ plan for an urban neighborhood on what is their main parking lot and the development of the industrial Pier 70 area.”

Whew! That’s what I call a nifty bit of Hestoring and Calvinizing.   b3

If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own. (Wes “Scoop” Nisker on KSAN radio during the dark days of the Vietnam War.) 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, from 1966 to 2012.)









Manhattanization revisited


The housing crisis is spurring pro-development arguments that threaten to hasten the “Manhattanization of San Francisco,” a buzzphrase from another era that led to local controls on high-rise development.

The city is getting richer and less diverse, and the unaddressed displacement of longtime residents has fueled populist outrage. Now, politicians are finally getting the message, but some are offering solutions that may reopen old civic wounds.

They say that the answer to the housing affordability crisis is to build massive amounts of new housing, and to build it higher and more densely than city codes and processes currently allow.

Sup. Scott Wiener wrote a scathing indictment of the city’s alleged aversion to housing production in the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 13, slamming a planning process that he says slows necessary construction.

“This disconnect — saying that we need more housing while arbitrarily finding reasons to kill or water down projects that provide that housing — is having profound effects on our city and its beautiful diversity, economic and otherwise,” Wiener wrote.

Though he mentioned affordable housing, the need to build all kinds of housing was the crux of his argument. It’s the same kind of developer-friendly rhetoric that whips people into a frenzy with faux common sense: build more, and the market will take care of everyone.

But there are flaws to that simplistic argument. Housing advocates (and Guardian editorials) have long argued that market rate units — the median price of which just surpassed $1 million — don’t trickle down to maintain the city’s economic diversity. More supply may help, but with insatiable demand for housing here, it won’t help much with affordability for the working class.

The next day, Wiener introduced legislation to loosen density requirements when developers build below-market-rate housing units on site, creating an incentive to build more of the units that affordable housing advocates say are most valuable.

“Long term, I’m concerned about young persons that can come here,” he told the Guardian. “It’s not just about building more housing.”

Pushing a pro-development agenda while playing lip service to an affordable housing push is all the rage in San Francisco nowadays, with Mayor Ed Lee calling for building 30,000 new housing units by 2020, supporting the rapid growth calls by SPUR, Housing Action Coalition, and other pro-growth groups.

But Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, says supply and demand logic doesn’t apply to the San Francisco housing market for a number of reasons.

He pointed to a paper by CCHO cohort Calvin Welch, who teaches a class on the politics of housing development at USF and SFSU. Welch cites data from the City Controller’s Office showing that when San Francisco increases supply, the market responds by raising the average housing price. Contrary to all the supply and demand claims, when we produce more, things get more expensive.


“In classic economic theory prices are set by supply and demand only when the market is ‘competitive’ when neither consumers nor suppliers have the ‘market power’ to set the price by themselves,” Welch wrote. “Clearly, that is not the case in San Francisco…of the City’s 47 square miles, only 13 square miles is available for housing uses.”

“There is no ‘free land’ in San Francisco,” he wrote. “The owners have total ‘market power’ over its price.”

But that’s the kind of complex argument that has a tough time penetrating the public consciousness. The idea isn’t as catchy as “supply and demand.”

“I think frankly this whole thing about build, build, build — it’s an easy answer to something that’s complex,” Cohen told us. “It resonates. It sounds like the easy path to sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

That simplistic thinking is dangerous, though, because San Francisco is quickly becoming Manhattanized. Since 2002, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rezoned over 37 percent of New York City, according to The New York Times, causing the construction frenzy many are seeking for San Francisco.

Bloomberg added 40,000 buildings in his time as mayor, but that boom had mixed results. It arguably hastened the Big Apple’s gentrification, especially in Manhattan, one of the few US locales denser than San Francisco.

From 2000 to 2010, Manhattan’s ranks of white people swelled by 58,000. During the same period, the wealthy home of Wall Street lost 29,000 African Americans and 14,000 Latinos. More alarming is the income disparity there.

From 1990 to 2010, the city that never sleeps, and its neighborhoods, increasingly became a land of have and have-nots. Census maps showed that while 1990 Manhattan had economic diversity, now the median income hovers over $75,000 for most blocks of that famous borough.

Articles from the Times and NYC-based housing advocacy organizations frequently describe Manhattan as a haven of wealthy white yuppies. Sound familiar?

San Francisco is quickly following suit. The same census maps that show the swell of wealth in Manhattan show a swell of wealthy folk in San Francisco.

BMR housing set-asides help, and Mayor Lee has promised to ramp up BMR production, calling for about 10,000 units by the year 2020. But any serious increase in housing production carries its own cost in a city where public transit and other vital infrastructure are already underfunded and would need serious new investments.

In his Jan. 17 State of the City speech, Mayor Lee warned against demonizing the tech industry or with pitting one group against another. “San Francisco changes us more than any group of newcomers will change San Francisco,” he said to the invite-only crowd.

The difference now is the wealth that threatens to gentrify San Francisco’s weird soul, the one we’ve hung onto since a man named Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States and was hailed as a San Franciscan icon.

“Manhattanization” is not just a buzz term or a scare tactic: It’s representative of a specific set of zoning and construction policies that many San Franciscans are now advocating for, which will change the demographics and politics of this city, whether we like it or not.

San Francisco’s chief economist addresses supply and demand in terms of housing — it’d take over 100,000 new housing units to make a dent in housing prices in San Francisco.



Bruce Brugmann, Jean Dibble, and Tim Redmond

The San Francisco Bay Guardian — which has had a significant impact on the Bay Area’s cultural and political dynamics and dialogue over the last 47 years — was largely the creation of three people with complementary skills and perspectives, an amalgam that gave the Guardian its voice and longevity.

Although they are no longer involved with running the paper, we’re honoring their contribution and legacy with a form of recognition they created: a Local Hero Award in our Best of the Bay issue, an annual edition that has been adopted by almost every alt-weekly in the country.

Bruce Brugmann and Jean Dibble launched the Guardian in October 1966 after years of planning by the married couple, and they ran it as co-publishers until the paper’s sale to the San Francisco Newspaper Co. last year, with Dibble running the business side and Brugmann in charge of editorial and serving as its most public face.

“We were one of the few husband and wife newspaper teams, a real mom and pop operation,” Brugmann told us. “We couldn’t have done it without the two of us, we needed both of our skill sets.”

They met in 1956 at the University of Nebraska, where Brugmann studied journalism and served as editor of the Daily Nebraskan, starting his long career as journalistic rabble-rouser. Dibble studied business, which she would continue in graduate school at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College while Brugmann got a master’s in journalism at Columbia University.

As graduation neared, they started talking about forming a newspaper together, an idea that percolated while Brugmann served in the US Army, where he wrote for Stars and Stripes, and Dibble moved to San Francisco with their two kids to work in personnel and administrative positions.

After the Army, they settled in Wisconsin, where Brugmann worked as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal before moving to the Bay Area to work on launching the Guardian while Brugmann supported the family working for the Redwood City Tribune.

“We came out here with the idea of doing it and we immediately started planning. Jean did the prospectus, a damn good prospectus,” Brugmann said.

The Guardian published sporadically in the beginning, but it tapped into a vibrant counterculture that was clashing with the establishment and began publishing important articles highlighting inequities in the Vietnam War draft and exposing local political scandals, including how Pacific Gas & Electric illegally acquired its energy monopoly.

“A lot of it was just keep your head down and keep going,” Dibble said. “We never talked about alternatives, it was just what we were going to do.” The Guardian covered the successful revolts against new freeways in the city and plans to build Manhattan-style skyscrapers, publishing the book The Ultimate Highrise in 1971. In the mid-’70s, the Guardian won a successful unfair competition lawsuit against the Chronicle and the Examiner over their joint operating agreement, allowing the paper to become a free newsweekly. “Eventually, things got better, and we got some large advertisers in the ’80s and they really helped kick us off,” Dibble said. That was also when Tim Redmond, a journalist and activist steeped in radical politics, started writing for the Guardian, going on to serve as the paper’s executive editor and guiding voice for more than 30 years. “Tim was always more radical than I was,” Brugmann said, giving Redmond credit for the Guardian’s groundbreaking coverage of tenant, environmental, and economic justice issues. “Every publisher needs an editor who was more radical than they are to push them.” The two journalists had a prolific partnership, mentoring a string of journalists who would go on to national acclaim, turning the Guardian into a model for alt-weeklies across the country, exposing myriad scandals and emerging arts and cultural trends, and helping to write and pass the nation’s strongest local Sunshine Ordinance. “We always wanted to make things better,” Brugmann said of what drove the Guardian. “Even the battles that we lost, we got major concessions. Yerba Buena is much better because of the stories we did at the time, same thing with Mission Bay…San Francisco is much better that we were here. And we’re really proud and we appreciate the work of the current Guardian staff in keeping the Guardian flame alive.”


LOCAL HEROES: Kate Kendell

The night Proposition 8 passed was one of the hardest of Kate Kendell’s life. She remembers it with startling detail — and she should, because she was one of the most prominent opponents of the measure to overturn marriage equality in California.

“I was hopeful right up until the end that Prop. 8 would be defeated,” she said, speaking slowly as she pulled her thoughts from what sounded like a dark place. “Our initial polling numbers said we’d probably lose, but I really hoped in the deepest heart of my heart that when people got in there that they’d punch their vote in favor of the person they knew.”

But as the voters of California showed in that 2008 election, sometimes the good guys lose.

Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, fought the good fight since she started there in 1994. The NCLR litigates, creates policy, and performs outreach for LGBT civil rights on a national level, with headquarters in San Francisco. After years of anticipation, she poured herself into the campaign against the proposition that would make her marriage illegal, and then the measure passed.

That night she hung her head in disbelief. She felt physically ill, and her mind roiled in grief equaled only by the death of one of her parents. “It felt like that,” she said.

Kendell and her wife, Sandy, went home without speaking a word, and when she got in the door she tried to pull it together. Steeling herself to face her family, Kendell walked out of the bathroom and burst into tears. Her son said simply “this just means we have to fight more.”

So she did, and we all won.

That led to the moment for which Kendell may be remembered for a long time to come. When Prop. 8 was overturned by the US Supreme Court this year, a flock of San Francisco politicians descended the steps inside the rotunda at City Hall. Kendell took to the podium and spoke to the nation.

“My name is Kate Kendell with the National Center for Lesbian Rights,” she said, “and fuck you, Prop. 8!” The crowd erupted into cheers.

She regrets saying it now, but history will likely forgive her for being human. For someone whose own marriage’s validity was threatened and who spent two decades fighting for equality, she earned a moment of embarrassing honesty.

Kendell’s infamous declaration may be how she’s known, but one of her key decisions behind the scenes shaped the LGBT equality movement as well. When then-Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration wanted a couple to be the first in his round of renegade gay marriages in 2004, it was Kendell who suggested Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

The two were in a relationship since 1953, pioneers of LGBT activism in San Francisco. Kendell said it was only right that they were first to read their vows in the city they helped shape. “Were it not for their contributions, visibility, and courage in the ’50s and ’60s, we wouldn’t be in that room with Newsom contemplating marriage licenses,” she said. “I’m just happy they said yes. It was absolutely appropriate.” And it’s with that sense of history that she herself pioneers forward, pushing in states across the US what Harvey Milk fought for in California — workplace protections for the LGBT community. “In 38 states, you can be fired from your job or being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. That has to change,” she said. “When the next chapter of history is written, it will be about a nation that treats the LGBT community as equals.”


Theo Ellington

Last year, when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee floated the idea of implementing stop-and-frisk, a practice that many civil rights advocates say amounts to racial profiling, Theo Ellington stepped up to create a petition to oppose the idea — and won.

The policy would have given San Francisco police officers the authority to stop and search any individual who “looks suspicious,” in an effort to get guns off the streets.

“I found it was basically a predatory policing practice that didn’t belong in a city like San Francisco,” Ellington told us. His petition garnered a little more than 2,300 signatures, “enough to show policymakers we were paying attention,” he guesses. Faced with mounting pressure and a community outcry, Lee ultimately abandoned the idea.

“That was a win, I think, for everyone fighting for what’s really a civil right,” the 25-year-old, native San Franciscan told us in a recent phone interview. “It’s not a black issue or a white issue,” but it did strike a nerve and provide Ellington with some momentum for coalition building.

Ellington was born and raised in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, home to a significant portion of the city’s dwindling black population. The campaign against stop-and-frisk helped catalyze his still-evolving political organization, the Black Young Democrats of San Francisco, of which he is president.

Go to BYDSF’s website and you’re confronted with some startling statistics about the experience of black San Franciscans: In the last 20 years, the African American community has dwindled to only 6 percent of the city’s population; meanwhile, the high school dropout rate stands at 38 percent, the unemployment rate is 18 percent, and the level of poverty stands at a disheartening 20 percent.

To tackle these looming challenges, BYDSF now faces the hurdle of getting local elected officials to care. “Since then, we have been trying to build our membership and figure out where we fit in the political climate of SF,” Ellington says.

His group’s chief concerns include closing the achievement gap in San Francisco public schools, doing something about the escalating cost of housing, and finding better solutions for public transit. “There’s the housing need, obviously. It’s a need that working class folks in general are facing,” he said.

He’s pursing a master’s degree in urban affairs at the University of San Francisco, and says he’s taken it upon himself to learn everything he can about how cities operate. To that end, he often ponders vexing questions: “How do you figure out a way to give those same opportunities to everyone? How do you provide opportunities for all income levels?”

His successful opposition campaign to stop-and-frisk didn’t stop Mayor Lee from appointing him to the Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure, which oversees the successor to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. A major project under that body’s purview is the Hunters Point Shipyard development, a massive undertaking led by construction firm Lennar Urban, practically in Ellington’s backyard. Having grown up in the neighborhood, he sees himself as being in a unique position to ensure that the developers are providing jobs for local residents as required under the agreement. “It allows me to speak to both sides — on the community level, and in City Hall,” he said. “There are certain social dynamics you won’t understand unless you have lived in the community.” Ultimately, Ellington says, his goal is to push local politicians to find ways of making San Francisco a place where people of all income levels can find their way. “There’s a lot more work to do,” he said. “I think San Francisco is at a real pivotal point, where we can choose to go in the right direction … or we can choose the opposite.”


LOCAL HEROES: Shanell Williams

Shanell Williams is a chameleon activist, spearheading the effort to save City College of San Francisco from many fronts.

When City College fought off a statewide initiative to save money by stigmatizing struggling students, she defended the school as an Occupy activist. With a banner raised high, she faced down the California Community College Board of Governors, shouting their wrongs aloud at a meeting attended by hundreds. The board was stunned but her fellow activists were not, because that’s who Williams is: an uncompromising defender of San Francisco.

Now, as City College faces a fight for its existence, Williams is defending it again, this time as a duly elected CCSF student trustee.

Williams is at the forefront of Save CCSF, an Occupy-inspired group publicly protesting the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, the body trying to shut down City College. San Francisco is holding its breath until next July to hear if the accrediting commission will close the city’s only community college — and Williams was one of the key organizers helping students’ voices rise up to decry the decision to close the school.

She has reason to fight hard, growing up watching her community ravaged by those in power who purported to do good. She is a black woman and San Francisco native raised in the Fillmore and the long history of redevelopment and its role in the flight of The City’s African American population shaped her ethos. To Williams, there are forces that care about money at the expense of communities and those forces need to be fought.

“How are we supporting people to have a decent quality of life?” she said, and that’s the way she’s approached saving her community since a young age.

In 2003, while in high school, Williams got a taste of politicking as a member of San Francisco’s Youth Commission, appointed by then-Mayor Willie Brown. “I think he’s a very interesting character with a lot of influence over the city,” she said, with just an edge of steel to her voice.

As a teenaged politician, she discovered the work of the Human Rights Commission and was inspired. While a student of Washington High School and then Wallenberg High, she had a tough home life and entered the foster care system, getting a firsthand look at how the state takes care of its youth.

It galvanized her, honed her, and made her yearn for change. “I just innately had a sense of wanting to see justice and fairness,” she said.

Energized, she joined the Center for Young Women’s Development, the Youth Treatment Education Court, Urban Services YMCA, the Youth Leadership Institute, and more. She joined so many organizations and taught so many youth and government officials that even she can’t remember all of them off the top of her head.

At one point, she even taught judges across the country about cultural competency. “We had this whole spoken word performance thing we did,” she said, laughing.

In 2010, as Williams took classes at City College, she waved the banner defending San Francisco’s community college students. She pushed for city-level minimum wage requirements for City College workers, who earned dollars less. She also pushed back against state requirements to cut off priority registrations to those who took too long in the community college system — because she’s been there herself.

“They need a few chances to get it right and become a good student,” she said. When the struggle to save City College is done, win or lose, Williams sees herself remaining an advocate for students for years to come. At 29 years old, she’s still a student herself, and she eagerly awaits the day she’ll transfer to Cal or Stanford as an Urban Studies major. It all comes back to defending her city. “We have to broaden the movement,” she said. “The enemy is not about color, it’s about wealth inequality. It’s not just about City College either. It’s about the austerity regime that doesn’t care about working class people and poor folks.”


San Franciscans for Healthcare, Jobs, and Justice

When the San Francisco Mayor’s Office cut a deal with Sutter Health and its California Pacific Medical Center affiliate for an ambitious rebuild of hospital facilities — which would shape healthcare services in San Francisco for years to come — community activists began to find serious flaws in the proposal.

So they organized and banded together into a coalition to challenge the powerful players pushing the plan, eventually helping to hash out a better agreement that would benefit all San Franciscans. Representing an alliance between labor and community advocates, the coalition was called San Franciscans for Healthcare, Jobs, and Justice.

When the whole affair began, it seemed as if the CPMC rebuild would incorporate a host of community benefits — but those promises evaporated after the healthcare provider walked away from the negotiating table, unhappy with the terms.

Then a second agreement, with much weaker public benefits, came out of a second round of talks between CPMC and the Mayor’s Office. But by then, so much had been given up that “we were stunned,” said Calvin Welch, who joined the coalition on behalf of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. “We met with [Mayor Ed Lee] and told him, this is absolutely unacceptable.”

But the mayor wasn’t willing to address their concerns at that time. When the deal failed to win approval after a series of hearings at the Board of Supervisors, however, “the unacceptable deal that the mayor created melted in the sun of full disclosure,” Welch said.

That plan would have allowed St. Luke’s Hospital, a critically important facility for low-income patients, to shrink to just 80 beds with no guarantee that it would stay open in the long run. CPMC’s commitment to providing charitable care to the uninsured was disappointingly low. And while the project was expected to create 1,500 permanent jobs in San Francisco, the deal only guaranteed that 5 percent of those positions would go to existing San Francisco residents.

Enter the movers and shakers with San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs, and Justice. The coalition took its place at the negotiating table, along with CPMC, a mediator, and an unlikely trio of supervisors that included Board President David Chiu and Sups. David Campos and Mark Farrell. Over several months, the coalition put in some serious time and energy to push for a more equitable outcome.

“We pushed so hard for a smaller Cathedral Hill [Hospital] and a larger St. Luke’s,” Welch said, describing their strategy to safeguard against the closure of St. Luke’s. They also pushed for CPMC to make a better funding contribution toward affordable housing, a stronger guarantee for hiring San Franciscans at the new medical center, and improvements to transit and pedestrian safety measures as conditions of the deal.

Under the terms that were ultimately approved, St. Luke’s will remain a full-service hospital, and CPMC will commit to providing services to 30,000 “charity care” patients and 5,400 Medi-Cal patients per year.

CPMC also agreed to contribute $36.5 million to the city’s affordable housing fund, and promised to pay $4.1 million to replace homes it displaces on Cathedral Hill. Under the revised deal, 30 percent of construction jobs and 40 percent of permanent entry-level positions in the new facilities would be promised to San Francisco residents.

One of the greatest victories of all, Welch said, was how well coalition members worked together. “This was the most straight-up equal collaboration with labor and community people, equally supporting one another, that I’ve ever been involved with,” Welch said. Even though they were motivated to participate by different sets of concerns, the two sides remained mutually supportive, Welch said. During the long, grueling hearings, “The nurses never left,” he noted in amazement. “The nurses stuck around for all the community stuff.”


Photos by Evan Ducharme

Tim’s San Francisco


Longtime Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond, who left the paper in June, is launching a new media project, continuing more than 30 years of work as one of San Francisco’s premier progressive voices by starting an online publication under a new nonprofit organization.

The San Francisco Progressive Media Center promises to deliver original news, arts, and cultural reporting on a daily basis, differentiating itself from local blogs that serve mostly to aggregate stories written by other media outlets and offer commentary on that reporting.

“Democracy can’t survive without reporters and I want to have reporters out there covering the news everyday. San Francisco has always needed a liberal daily newspaper,” Redmond told us, predicting that online reporting outlets representing various perspectives will eventually rise to compete with the limited local coverage offered by the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner.

“I will focus on all the things I care about in San Francisco,” Redmond told us, listing land use issues, housing costs, and media criticism as some examples of his interests.

Redmond has remained remarkably upbeat and positive since his clash with the San Francisco Print Media Co. — whose purchase of the Guardian he engineered last year to save the financially troubled, locally owned newspaper — ended his long run with the Guardian (see “On Guard,” June 19).

“I’m just moving on and doing my own thing. I’m excited about my new project and I’m raising a lot of money for it,” Redmond said. “I’m getting a tremendous amount of community support. I hope to have 50-60 grand on hand by the end of the month.”

To help reach that goal, Redmond and his supporters will throw a fundraiser on Sept. 26 at the El Rio. Despite being a stalwart of the left, Redmond said he’s getting support from across the ideological spectrum. “I have spent 30 years building a reputation in town as someone who doesn’t take cheap shots and I’m fair,” was how Redmond explained his broad support.

Although he’s still awaiting IRS approval of his nonprofit status, Redmond has already assembled a board of notable progressive luminaries to help him, including Eric Weaver, Laura Fraser, Calvin Welch, Alicia Garza, Gen Fujioka, Gabriel Haaland, and Giuliana Milanese.

“I wanted a board that reflects the diversity of San Francisco’s left,” Redmond said, noting that board explicitly has no editorial control.

Haaland said that Redmond has long been an important progressive voice in San Francisco and he’s happy to see that voice continue, particularly under the new nonprofit model that he’s creating.

“Having an independent, progressive media is more important than ever, and being a nonprofit takes it to another level of independence,” Haaland told us.

Welch said the new publication is arriving just in time to help expose important issues that will affect the future of San Francisco.

“I think we’re at a critical point in this city’s history,” Welch told us, citing the growing public unease with intensified waterfront development and other economic and sociopolitical trends. “The timing is impeccable and people would be interested to read online what Tim and others’ takes are on what’s happening in the city.”

San Francisco Progressive Media Center will be the latest effort to expand the city’s media landscape amid the downsizing of the once-dominant Chronicle and Examiner (see “Media experiments,” 5/25/10). Those ventures have included the San Francisco Public Press, SF Appeal, and the Bay Citizen, which had a high-profile launch in 2009 followed by being folded into the Center for Investigative Reporting last year (see “Compressing the press,” 2/22/12).

Redmond is finalizing details of his new project and has yet to announce the name for his new publication, which he plan to launch next month. [UPDATE: At the Sept. 26 event, Redmond announced that his new publication will be called 48 Hills: The Secrets of San Francisco.” There are 47 named hills in San Francisco – and as those of us who have spent their lives fighting for social and economic justice know, there’s always one more hill to climb.“]

In the meantime, he’s been blogging at Tim’s San Francisco ( and preparing to teach an investigative reporting class at City College of San Francisco. On the new site, Redmond plans to feature some video and other multimedia content, but he said “this is not a techie venture, this is a content-driven venture.” And while seeking to showcase a variety of voices, Redmond will set the tone for the publication, telling us, “I’m interested in working with anyone in this city, but I’m the editor.”

Redmond said he still supports the Guardian, even if he has concerns about its parent company’s growing list of media holdings, which also includes the San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly, and a large share of the Bay Area Reporter. Redmond said that media consolidation works for the community only when there is a diversity of other voices.

“I’m glad Todd [Vogt, CEO of San Francisco Print Media Co.] bought the Guardian and kept it going, and I’m glad the Guardian is still alive,” Redmond said. “I’ve been working for someone else my whole life…and it’s time for me to move on and do something new.”

Press Up! San Francisco Progressive Media Center fundraiser and launch party. Fiery speeches, refreshments, music. Sept. 26, 6-9pm, El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. Donations of $25, $50, $100, or $250 can be made at the door or at

Planning for displacement


The intersection of Cesar Chavez and Evans Avenue is a good enough place to start. Face south.

Behind you is Potrero Hill, once a working-class neighborhood (and still home to a public housing project) where homes now sell for way more than a million dollars and rents are out of control. In front, down the hill, is one of the last remaining industrial areas in San Francisco.

Go straight along Evans and you find printing plants, an auto-wrecking yard, and light manufacturing, including a shop that makes flagpoles. Take a right instead on Toland, past the Bonanza restaurant, and you wander through auto-glass repair, lumber yards, plumbing suppliers, warehouses, the city’s produce market — places that the city Planning Department refers to at Production, Distribution, and Repair facilities. Places that still offer blue-collar employment. There aren’t many left anywhere in San Francisco, and it’s amazing that this district has survived.

Cruise around for a while and you’ll see a neighborhood with high home-ownership rates — and high levels of foreclosures. Bayview Hunters Point is home to much of the city’s dwindling African American population, a growing number of Asians, and much higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city.

Now pull up the website of the Association of Bay Area Governments, a well-funded regional planning agency that is working on a state-mandated blueprint for future growth. There’s a map on the site that identifies “priority development area” — in planning lingo, PDAs — places that ABAG, and many believers in so-called smart growth, see as the center of a much-more dense San Francisco, filled with nearly 100,000 more homes and 190,000 new jobs.

Guess what? You’re right in the middle of it.

The southeastern part of the city — along with many of the eastern neighborhoods — is ground zero for massive, radical changes. And it’s not just Bayview Hunters Point; in fact, there’s a great swath of the city, from Chinatown/North Beach to Candlestick Park, where regional planners say there’s space for new apartments and condos, new offices, new communities.

It’s a bold vision, laid out in an airy document called the Plan Bay Area — and it’s about to clash with the facts on the ground. Namely, that there are already people living and working in the path of the new development.

And there’s a high risk that many of them will be displaced; collateral damage in the latest transformation of San Francisco.


The threat of global climate change hasn’t convinced the governor or the state Legislature to raise gas taxes, impose an oil-severance tax, or redirect money from highways to transit. But it’s driven Sacramento to mandate that regional planners find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California cities.

The bill that lays this out, SB375, mandates that ABAG, and its equivalents in the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Coast, the Central Valley and other areas, set up “Sustainable Communities Strategies” — land-use plans for now through 2040 intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

The main path to that goal: Make sure that most of the 1.1 million people projected to live in the Bay Area by 2040 be housed in already developed areas, near transit and jobs, to avoid the suburban sprawl that leads to long commutes and vast amounts of car exhaust.

The notion of smart growth — also referred to as urban infill — has been around for years, embraced by a certain type of environmentalist, particularly those concerned with protecting open space. But now, it has the force of law.

And while ABAG is not a secret government with black helicopters that can force cities to do its will — land-use planning is still under local jurisdiction in this state — the agency is partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which controls hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation money. And together, they can offer strong incentives for cities to get in line.

Over in Contra Costa and Marin counties, at hearings on the plan, Tea Party types (yes, they appear to exist in Marin) railed against the notion of elite bureaucrats forcing the wealthy enclaves of single-family homes to accept more density (and, gasp, possibly some affordable housing). In San Francisco, it’s the progressives, the transit activists, and the affordable housing people who are starting to get worried. Because there’s been almost zero media attention to the plan, and what it prescribes for San Francisco is alarming — and strangely nonsensical.

Under the ABAG plan, San Francisco would approve 92,400 more housing units for 280,000 more people. The city would host 190,000 more jobs, many of them in what’s called the “knowledge economy,” which mostly means high tech. Second and third on the list: Health and education, and tourism.

The city currently allows around eight cars for every 10 housing units; as few as five in a few neighborhoods, at least 10 in many others. And there’s nothing in any city or regional plan right now that seeks to change that level of car dependency. In fact, the regional planners think that single-occupancy car travel will be the mode of choice for 48 percent of all trips by 2040 — almost the same as it is today.

And since most of the new housing will be aimed at wealthier people, who are more likely to own cars and avoid catching buses, San Francisco could be looking for ways to fit 73,000 more cars onto streets that are already, in many cases, maxed out. There will be, quite literally, no place to park. And congestion in the region, the planners agree, will get a whole lot worse.

That seems to undermine the main intent of the plan: Transit-oriented development only works if you discourage cars. In a sense, the car-use projections are an admission of failure, undermining the intent of the entire project.

The vast majority of the housing that will be built will be too expensive for much of the existing (and even future) workforce and will do little to relieve the pressure on lower income people. But there is nothing whatsoever in the plan to ensure that there’s money available to build housing that meets the needs of most San Franciscans.

Instead, the planners acknowledge that 36 percent of existing low-income people will be at risk for displacement. That would be a profound change in the demographics of San Francisco.

Of course, adding all those people and jobs will put immense pressure on city services, from Muni to police, fire, and schools — not to mention the sewer system, which already floods and dumps untreated waste into the Bay when there’s heavy rain. Everyone involved acknowledged those costs, which could run into the billions of dollars. There is nothing anywhere in any of the planning documents addressing the question of who will pay for it.


Projecting the future of a region isn’t easy. Job and population growth isn’t a straight line, at best — and when you’re looking at a 25-year window in a boom-and-bust area with everything from earthquakes to sea-level rise factoring in, it’s easy to say that anyone who claims to know what’s going to happen in 2040 is guessing.

But as economist Stephen Levy, who did the regional projections for ABAG, pointed out to us, “You have to be able to plan.” And you can’t plan if you don’t at least think about what you’re planning for.

Levy runs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, and he’s been watching trends in this state for years. He agrees that some of his science is, by nature, dismal: “Nobody projects deep recessions,” much less natural disasters. But overall, he told me, it’s possible to get a grip on what planners need to prepare for as they write the next chapter of the Bay Area’s future.

And what they have to plan for is a lot more people.

Levy said he started with the federal government’s projections for population growth in the United States, which include births and deaths, immigration, and out-migration, using historic trends to allocate some of that growth to the Bay Area. There’s what appears at first to be circular logic involved: The feds (and most economists) project that job growth nationally will be driven by population — that is, the more people live in the US, the more jobs there will be.

Population growth in a specific region, on the other hand, is driven by jobs — that is, the more jobs you have in the Bay Area, the more people will move here.

“Jobs in the US depend on how many people are in the labor force,” he said. “Jobs in the Bay Area depend on our share of US jobs and population depends on relative job growth.”

Make sense? No matter — over the years it’s generally worked. And once you project the number of people and jobs expected in the Bay Area, you can start looking at how much housing it’s going to take to keep them all under a roof.

Levy projects that the Bay Area’s share of jobs will be higher than most of the rest of the country. “This is the home of the knowledge industry,” he told me. So he’s concluded that population in the Bay Area will grow from 7.1 million to 9.2 million — an additional 2.14 million people. They’ll be chasing some 1.1 million new jobs, and will need 660,000 new housing units.

Levy stopped there, and left it to the planners at ABAG to allocate that growth to individual cities — and that’s where smart growth comes in.

For decades in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, activists have waged wars against developers, trying to slow down the growth of office buildings, and later, luxury housing units. At the same time, environmentalists argued that spreading the growth around creates serious problems, including sprawl and the destruction of farmland and open space.

Smart growth is supposed to be an alternative: the idea is to direct new growth to already-established urban areas, not by bulldozing over communities (as redevelopment agencies once did) but by the use of “infill” — directing development to areas where there’s usable space, or by building up and not out.

ABAG “focused housing and jobs growth around transit areas, particularly within locally identified Priority Development Areas,” the draft environmental impact report on the plan notes.

The draft EIR is more than 1,300 pages long, and it looks at the ABAG plan and several alternatives. One alternative, proposed by business groups, would lead to more development and higher population gains. Another, proposed by community activist groups including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, is aimed at reducing displacement and creating affordable housing; that one, it turns out, is the “environmentally preferred alternative.” (See sidebar).

But no matter which alternative you look at, two things leap out: There is nothing effective that ABAG has put forward to prevent large-scale displacement of vulnerable communities. And despite directing growth to transit corridors, the DEIR still envisions a disaster of traffic congestion, parking problems, and car-driven environmental wreckage.


ABAG has gone to some lengths to identify what it calls “communities of concern.” Those are areas, like Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, and the Mission, where existing low-income residents and small businesses face potential displacement. In San Francisco, those communities are, to a great extent, the same geographic areas that have been identified as PDAs.

And, the DEIR, notes, some degree of displacement is a significant impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, the gentrification of San Francisco is just part of the plan.

In fact, the study notes, 36 percent of the communities of concern in high-growth areas will face displacement pressure because of the cost of housing. And that’s region wide; the number in San Francisco will almost certainly be much, much higher.

Miriam Chion, ABAG’s planning and research director, told me that displacement “is the core issue in this whole process.” The agency, she said, is working with other stakeholders to try to address the concern that new development will drive out longtime residents. But she also agreed that there are limited tools available to local government.

The DEIR notes that ABAG and the MTC will seek to “bolster the plan’s investment in the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund and will seek to do a study of displacement. It also states: “In addition, this displacement risk could be mitigated in cities such as San Francisco with rent control and other tenant protections in place.”

There isn’t a tenant activist in this town who can read that sentence with a straight face.

The problem, as affordable housing advocate Peter Cohen puts it, is that “the state has mandated all this growth, but has taken away the tools we could use to mitigate it.”

That’s exactly what’s happened in the past few decades. The state Legislature has outlawed the only effective anti-displacement laws local governments can enact — rent controls on vacant apartments, commercial rent control, and eviction protections that prevent landlords from taking rental units off the market to sell as condos. Oh, and the governor has also shut down redevelopment agencies, which were the only reliable source of affordable housing money in many cities.

Chion told me that the ABAG planners were discussing a list of anti-displacement options, and that changes in state legislation could be on that list. Given the power of the real-estate lobby in the state Capitol, ABAG will have to do more than suggest; there’s no way this plan can work without changing state law.

Otherwise, eastern San Francisco is going to be devastated — particularly since the vast majority of all housing that gets built in the city, and that’s likely to get built in the city, is too expensive for almost anyone in the communities of concern.

“This plan doesn’t require affordable housing,” Cindy Wu, vice-chair of the San Francisco Planning Commission, told me. “It’s left to the private market, which doesn’t build affordable housing or middle-class housing.”

In fact, while there’s plenty of discussion in the plan about where money can come from for transit projects, there’s virtually no discussion of the billions and billions that will be needed to produce the level of affordable housing that everyone agrees will be needed.

Does anyone seriously think that developers can cram 90,000 new units — at least 85 percent of them, under current rules, high-cost apartments and condos that are well beyond the range of most current San Franciscans — into eastern neighborhoods without a real-estate boom that will displace thousands of existing residents?

Let’s remember: Building more housing, even a lot more housing, won’t necessarily bring down prices. The report makes clear that the job growth, and population boom that accompanies it, will fuel plenty of demand for all those new units.

Steve Woo, senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, sees the problem. In a letter to ABAG, he notes: “Plan Bay Area and its DEIR has analyzed the displacement of low-income people and explicitly acknowledges that it will occur. This is unacceptable for San Francisco and for Chinatown, where the pressures of displacement have been a constant over the past 20 years.”

Adds the Council of Community Housing Organizations: “It would be irresponsible for the regional agencies to advance a plan that purports to ‘improve’ the region’s communities as population grows while the plan simultaneously presents great risk and uncertainty for many vulnerable communities.”

Jobs are at stake, too — not tech jobs or office jobs, which ABAG projects will expand, but the kind of industrial jobs that currently exist in the priority development areas.

Calvin Welch, who has been watching urban planning and displacement issues in San Francisco for more than 40 years, puts it bluntly: “It is axiomatic that market-rate housing drives out blue-collar jobs,” he said.

Of course, there’s another potential problem: Nobody really knows where jobs will come from in the next 25 years, whether tech will continue to be the driver or whether the city’s headed for a second dot-com bust. San Francisco doesn’t have a good record of building for projected jobs: In the mid-1980s, for example, the entire South of Market area (then home to printing, light manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs) was rezoned for open-floor office space because city officials projected a huge need for “back-office” functions like customer service.

“Where are all those jobs today?” Welch asked. “They’re in India.”


For a plan that’s designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving residential development closer to work areas, Plan Bay Area is awfully pessimistic about transportation.

According to the projections, there will be more cars on the roads in 2040, with more — and much worse — traffic. The DEIR predicts that a full 48 percent of all trips in 2040 will be made by single-occupant vehicles — just slightly down from current rates. The percentage of trips on transit will only be a little bit higher — and there’s no significant increase in projected bicycle trips.

That alone is pretty crazy, since the number of people commuting to work by bike in San Francisco has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, and the city’s official goal is that 20 percent of all vehicle trips will be by bike in the next decade.

Part of the problem is structural. Not everyone in San Francisco 2040 is going to be a high-paid tech worker. In fact, the most stable areas of employment are health services and government — and hospital workers and Muni drivers can’t possibly afford the housing that’s being built. So those people will — the DEIR acknowledges — be displaced from San Francisco and forced to live elsewhere in the region (if that’s even possible). Which means, of course, they’ll be commuting further to work. Meanwhile, if current trends continue, many of the people moving into the city will work in Silicon Valley.

Chion and Levy both told me that the transit mode projections were based on historical trends for car use, and that it’s really hard to get people to give up their cars. Even higher gas prices and abominable traffic delays won’t drive people off the roads, they said.

If that’s the case — if auto culture, which is a top source of global climate change, doesn’t shift at all — it would seem that all this planning is pointless: the seas will rise dramatically, and San Franciscans ought to be buying boats.

“The projections don’t take into account social change,” Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University and a local transportation expert, told me. “And social change does happen.”

Brad Paul, a longtime housing activist who now works for ABAG, said these projections are just a start, and that the plan will be updated every four years. “I think we’re finding that the number of people who want to drive cars will go down,” he said.

Henderson argues that the land-use policy is flawed. He suggests that it would make more sense to increase density in the Bay Area suburbs along the BART lines. “Elegant development in those areas would work better,” he said. You don’t need expensive high-rises: “Four and five stories is the sweet spot,” he explained.

Most of the transportation projects in the plan are already in the pipeline; there’s no suggestion of any major new public transit programs. There is, however, a suggestion that San Francisco adopt a congestion management fee for downtown driving — something that city officials say is the only way to avoid utter gridlock in the future.


ABAG and the MTC have a fair amount of leverage to implement their plans. MTC controls hundreds of millions of dollars in transit money; ABAG will be handing out millions in grants to communities that adopt its plan. And under state law, cities that allow development in PDAs near transit corridors can gain an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA is a powerful tool to slow or halt development, and developers (and some public officials) drool at the prospect of getting a fast-track pass to avoid some of the more cumbersome parts of the environmental review process.

Under SB 375 and Plan Bay Area, CEQA exemptions are available to projects that meet the Sustainable Community Strategy standards and are close to transit corridors. And when you look at the map of those areas, it’s pretty striking: All of San Francisco, pretty much every square inch, qualifies.

That means that almost any project almost anywhere in town can make a case that it doesn’t need to accept full CEQA review.

The most profound missing element in this entire discussion is the cost of all this growth.

You can’t cram 210,000 more residents into San Francisco without new schools, parks, and child-care centers. You can’t protect those residents without more police officers and firefighters. You can’t take care of their water and sewer needs without substantial infrastructure upgrades. And even if there’s state and federal money available for new buses and trains, you can’t operate those systems without paying drivers, mechanics, and support workers.

There’s no question that the new development will bring in more tax money. But the type of infrastructure improvements that will be needed to add 25 percent more residents to the city are really expensive — and every study that’s ever been done in San Francisco shows that the tax benefits of new development don’t cover the costs of public services it requires.

When World War II and the post-war boom in the Bay Area brought huge growth to the region, property taxes and federal and state money were adequate to build things like BART, the freeways, and hundreds of new schools, and to staff the public services that the emerging communities needed. But that all changed in 1978, with the passage of Prop. 13, and two years later, with the election of Ronald Reagan as president.

Now, federal money for cities is down to a trickle. Local government has an almost impossible time raising taxes. And instead of hiking fees for new residential and commercial projects, many communities (including San Francisco) are offering tax breaks to encourage job growth.

Put all that in the mix and you have a recipe for overcrowded buses, inadequate schools, overstressed open space (imagine 10,000 new Mission residents heading for Dolores Park on a nice day), and a very unattractive urban experience.

That flies directly in the face of what Plan Bay Area is supposed to be about. If the goal is to cut down on commutes by bringing new residents into developed urban areas, those cities have to be decent places to live. What would it cost to accommodate this level of new development? Five billion dollars? Ten billion? Nobody knows — because nobody has run those numbers. But they’re going to be big.

Because just as tax dollars have been vanishing, the costs of infrastructure keep going up. It costs a billion dollars a mile to build BART track. It’s costing more than a billion to build a short subway to Chinatown. Just upgrading the sewer system to handle current demands is a $4 billion project.

And if the developers and property owners who stand to make vast sums of money off all of this growth aren’t going to pay, who’s left?

The ABAG planners point out, correctly, that there’s a price for doing nothing. If there’s no regional plan, no proposal for smart growth, the population will still increase, and displacement will still happen — but the greenhouse gas emissions will be even worse, the development more haphazard.

But if the region is going to spend all this money and all this time on a plan to make the Bay Area more sustainable, more livable, and more affordable in 25 years, we might as well push all the limits and get it right.

Instead of looking at displacement as inevitable, and traffic as a price of growth, the planners could tell the state Legislature and the governor that it’s not possible to comply with SB375 — not until somebody identifies the big sums of money, multiples of billions of dollars, needed to build affordable housing; not until there are transit options, taxes, and restrictions on driving.

Because continued car use and massive displacement — the package that’s now facing us — just isn’t an acceptable option.

The real CPMC story


OPINION The recently announced terms for the development of California Pacific Medical Center’s hospitals at Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s generated front-page and lead stories in the local news media. But nearly without exception, only part of the story was reported. Missing from most accounts of the terms of the new deal, which dramatically changed last year’s failed draft development agreement negotiated by Mayor Ed Lee, was the decisive role played by a community/labor coalition, San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice.

Key details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, and provisions of the terms announced on March 5th need to be improved. But the new agreement, in virtually all respects, is an improvement over the old one. And on the same day the terms of the new deal was announced one of the union members of the coalition, the National Union of Healthcare Workers signed a contact with CPMC that protected union organizing rights, job security at Cathedral Hill and full employer paid health care — issues that had been unresolved over the last few years. Still missing is an ageement between Sutter and its nurses, a critical component of labor peace.

The basic structure of the current terms mirror almost exactly the positions outlined by the SFHHJJ over the last year, including a requirement for labor peace with all unions at CPMC. This was no accident; it was the result of the efforts of the community/labor coalition. When the old deal was stalled at the Board of Supervisors in early 2013 and it was clear that the Mayors Office had no idea how to proceed, the members of the coalition came up with a framework to get discussions going again. The key ingredient was the involvement of a skilled an knowledgeable mediator, mutually respected by all parties and the participation of Sutter Corp. in Sacramento — the real party able to make actual binding corporate commitments, not the subsidiary the mayor had dealt with.

The second step was to agree to a framework of issues that would form the substance of negotiations — and the coalition’s own comprehensive set of positions served as that framework.

The next step was to get a critical mass of supervisors to agree to participate in the negotiations. Two Supervisors, David Chiu and David Campos, agreed to the coalition’s framework and the use of a third-party mediator. They added a third supervisor, Mark Farrell, to their group in order to assure buy-in from the full board.

Finally, the mediator had to be found and in that the coalition (and the rest of the city) simply were lucky that Lou Girardo was willing and able to provide his own special skills and credibility.

The SFHHJJ is not the first community/labor coalition in San Francisco history. Such coalitions were present in both the District 1 and District 5 supervisors races last year with mixed success, and in 2008 a community/labor coalition fought for revenue measures, again with mixed success but real unity. A new labor/community coalition has emerged to oppose Scott Wiener’s ill-advised weakening of our local California Environmental Policy Act procedures.

As the Democratic Party transforms itself into ever greater political irrelevancy by becoming the home of moderate Republicanism at all levels of government, community and labor co-operation seems to be growing over an increasing number of issues, showing a level of political vibrancy impossible to ignore.

Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer in San Francisco and is a member of the SFHHJJ CPMC Negotiating Committee

CPMC deal gets warm welcome despite some shortcomings


Even though the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the term sheet for the California Pacific Medical Center’s hospital deal this week, comments from the supervisors and the general public indicated there are still a few outstanding issues before the project returns to the board for final approval, probably in July.

As the Guardian recently reported, CPMC’s longstanding contract impasse with the California Nurses Association remains the biggest sticking point even for many labor-community coalition members who helped hammer out the deal that was announced last week. James Tracy of the Community Housing Partnership told the supervisors that he was almost ready to uncork the champagne and celebrate, “but I’m holding off until there is labor peace with the nurses.”

New District 5 Sup. London Breed went on extended tirade ripping into the hard-won compromise plan, voicing support for the nurses, wanting more specifics on how affordable housing money will be used, calling for more money for job training to support the plan’s local hiring standards (“I need to know how this is going to transfer into support for Western Addition residents,” and concluding that she’s generally supportive of the deal but “I will reserve final judgment.”

Calvin Welch of the Council of Community Housing Organizations echoed Breed’s concern that the $36.5 million in affordable housing funds will be paid into the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s general pot rather than be set aside for specific projects. “We are very concerned with how this multi-faceted program will unfold,” Welch said, asking that COCHO be included in decisions about how the money from CPMC gets used.

Sup. Scott Wiener decried how the new deal’s $14 million in transportation impact fees is 30 percent less than the ill-fated previous deal – the result of a significantly smaller footprint of the Cathedral Hill Hospital – saying, “Once again transit comes out on the short end.”

The change called for by more supervisors than any other is an increase in job training funds to support the guarantee that 30 percent of construction jobs and 40 percent of permanent entry level jobs go to San Franciscans. Even though job training funds were doubled to $4 million under the new agreement, some supervisors and activists say that’s not enough.

“That’s a big improvement, but it’s still not enough, given the type of training needed for low-income San Franciscans to be able to work in the hospitals,” Gordon Mar of San Franciscans For Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice told the Guardian.

Yet even with all these gripes and picking of nits, which will play out as the development agreement is prepared and goes through the Planning Commission approval process starting in May, the consensus across the ideological spectrum seems to be that this is a good deal for the city that is likely to be approved if CPMC can reach a contract with CNA

And all hailed it as a vast improvement over the deal CPMC cut last year with the Mayor’s Office, offering a lesson for city officials who are now negotiating other big deals, such as the Warriors Arena proposal. As Sup. John Avalos said at the hearing, “I remember a statement form the Mayor’s Office last year that this is the best we can get. I think we always need to challenge that.”

A developer’s wet dream


CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct a statement from Sup. Scott Wiener about affordable housing.

Sup. Scott Wiener is proposing a dramatic overhaul of the city’s environmental review process that would limit the ability of citizen activists to appeal projects and could ease the path for major developments.

The new rules — some of which are fairly simple and routine, others more far-reaching — cover the city’s interpretation and implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s venerable land-use and environmental oversight law. The legislation is before the Planning Commission and could reach the supervisors in December.

According to city staff and outside analysts, the Wiener proposals would:

• Eliminate the public’s legal right to appeal a ruling by the Planning Commission if the Board of Supervisors has to approve any part of the project.

• Weaken the standard for environmental review by city planners.

• Weaken the public notice requirements for CEQA exemptions.

• Speed up the process for developments by compacting the time frame for CEQA appeals.

“Generally, the amendments decrease the opportunities for individuals and community groups with serious environmental concerns to provide input and assert influence on development projects as part of the CEQA process,” an analysis by Community Economic Development Clinic at Hastings College of the Law notes. “The amendments arguably would streamline the CEQA process for various projects, but at the cost of significantly curtailing public participation.”

Wiener told us that he wants to eliminate lengthy, sometimes unpredictable appeals. “The goal is to make sure we have a good CEQA process but also a more predictable process,” he said. “Right now it’s so chaotic and loose that we have unnecessary delays.”

Aaron Peskin, a former supervisor and neighborhood activist, calls the proposed legislation “a developer’s wet dream. It shuts off or makes impossible citizens’ ability to participate in the environmental review process.”


At issue is a critical part of city planning, mandated by state law and sharpened by years of court decisions. Before any project is approved, the city’s environmental review officer (ERO) must either determine that the proposal “could not have a significant impact on the environment” or is exempt by law from CEQA review. If not — if in fact the proposal could have an impact — then the project sponsor has to pay for a full environmental impact report.

If any member of the public thinks that the ERO’s decision is wrong — or believes that an EIR is inadequate — he or she can appeal to the Board of Supervisors. An appeal halts all work on the project until the supervisors resolve it.

If the board rejects the environmental review, it doesn’t kill the project — planners just have to go back and write, or rewrite, an EIR.

On a practical basis, appeals are relatively rare — the city, Peskin told us, makes tens of thousands of CEQA determinations every year, and at most a couple dozen get appealed. “I don’t understand what the abuses are,” Peskin said.

But in some cases, opponents of a project file a CEQA appeal after they’ve lost at all the policy bodies — and that, Wiener argues, just slows things down. “If you’re going to appeal, then appeal, but don’t wait around,” he said.

Wiener said his proposals would benefit not only private developers but also nonprofit affordable housing projects. “This will help prevent unnecessary challenges to affordable housing,” he told us.

But Calvin Welch, a member of the Council of Community Housing Organizations who has been working to build affordable housing for more than 30 years, told us he doesn’t see the problem. “CEQA never gets used to stop affordable housing,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen.”


Perhaps the most profound change would eliminate any CEQA appeal for a project that has to go to the supervisors anyway. Wiener’s idea: if the board already has to sign off on, say, a zoning change or a special use district or any finances of a project, the environmental review can be done at the same time. “It’s as if there’s an automatic appeal,” he said.

But that conflicts with the concept of environmental review, critics say. No member of the public has the legal right to a sustainable or environmentally sound project; planning commissions, city councils, and county supervisors can, and often do, approve horrible projects.

But everyone has the right to a complete and fair environmental review. CEQA mandates that the decision-makers accept and acknowledge the consequences of their decisions — and if an EIR is flawed, those consequences can be understated.

Wiener would do away with the mandate that the supervisors hold a hearing, accept appeal briefs, and address CEQA questions as a distinct and separate part of a project approval. “The public would be denied the right to a hearing before the full elected body on the adequacy of an EIR or other CEQA determination,” a Planning Department staff analysis states. “And if a member of the public introduced new information at the committee hearing, there would be no way for the city to respond to or modify the environmental document.”

Among the projects that this provision would affect — where the public would lose the right to appeal an environmental determination: The America’s Cup, the Central Subway, the Parkmerced rebuild, the 8 Washington project, and the California Pacific Medical Center’s billion-dollar hospital proposal.

The proposal would also change the standard city planners apply when they review projects. The current rules require that the city show there is a “fair argument” that a project would have a significant environmental impact. The new language would mandate the staffers find “substantial evidence” that a full review is needed.

“It is likely more projects would require an EIR under the ‘fair argument’ standard and fewer projects would require an EIR under the ‘substantial evidence’ standard,” the Hastings analysis concludes.

And while the Board of Supervisors now has to certify that an environmental determination is accurate and correct, Wiener would change that to a determination that the city has made “an independent judgment” on the merits of the review. That, the Hastings lawyers state, “is a more discretionary standard that would be used to uphold an EIR certification decision even if the board determines that the conclusions and findings in the EIR are incorrect.”


A lot of the language in the complex package of CEQA changes involves public information and notice. Many of the lawyers and activists who have reviewed the legislation say it limits public notification of some CEQA determinations, particularly when the city concludes that a project is categorically exempt.

“If the ERO determines that a project is exempt from CEQA review, he may or may not be required to provide public notice of this determination,” the Hastings analysis states.

There’s no question that it would add to the complexity and burden of filing an appeal; and shorten the time frame for doing so — in a way that some say would actually encourage more lawsuits.

Kevin Bundy, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, argues that “The proposed amendments create a situation where appellants will be required to file litigation prior to the board’s decision on appeal.”

It’s a complicated situation, but in essence, the new Wiener rules would set the timeline for project approval at the first stage of policy decision — and if the supervisors overturned an environmental appeal, the clock for the project would be set back to that day.

That could upset the statutory timeline for CEQA lawsuits — and thus lead to more cases.

Wiener acknowledged that there were a lot of technical issues like that one that still need to be resolved. “We will be conferring with the people who have commented on the legislation and making the appropriate changes,” he said.

He added, however, that he sticks by the essential parts of his proposal despite the opposition: “There are a lot of CEQA lawyers out there,” he said. “And they aren’t always right.”

Guardian Voices: There’s something happening here


There are distinct signs of the rebirth of a grassroots  balanced-growth  movement in San Francisco, and some small indication that it’s even beginning to shift, ever so slightly,  the politics of the Board of Supervisors.  This is very good news for the vast majority of San Franciscans.

First, a little history.

Land use and the approval of major development projects lie at the very heart of San Francisco politics. Developers and their allies (the building trades, contractors, bankers, architects, land-use lawyers, consultants, and  permit expeditors) are the primary source of political money for candidates for local office. Since the freeway and urban renewal fights of the 1960s, the very definition of  progressive  politics in San Francisco has been the attempt to build a political base of  residents to resist that money.  So-called moderates are simply the political extension of the pro-development lobby using its money to consolidate developer control of the public approval process.

In most cities, land-use issues — zoning, permits, urban design — is left to elites. Not so in San Francisco. Here, land use is talked about at neighborhood meetings and on street corners. The heart the reason is our compact size: 46.7 square miles, and the prohibition of filling in any more of the Bay to create new land. There is no vacant land in San Francisco. Any new major development almost always displaces something already there.  Development is a zero sum game, with winner and losers.  And the losers  leave town.

Land-use politics is about staying here — and that creates real interest among San Francisco residents.

The funding for major development in San Francisco has dramatically changed in the 45 years since the freeway and anti-urban-renewal fights of the mid-1960s. Back then, it was public sector money that fueled development. Yet, with that money, due to the actions of  progressive politicians like Phil and John Burton and George Moscone, came its own remedy: votes to not accept the public money for freeways (Moscone) and votes creating either laws that either prohibited displacement or funded legal assistance to the poor, empowering  them to stop government agencies through litigation (the Burtons at both the state and federal level).

Since the money for freeways and urban renewal was from the government, the focus of the early balanced growth  forces was on government itself, through massive lobbying campaigns to affect officials’ votes (the freeway fight), or the use of government-funded lawyers  to protect poor people’s  interests ( the WACO and TOOR lawsuits against redevelopment).

All of that changed starting in the 1970s, when Richard Nixon and later Ronald Reagan deregulated oversight of urban development by creating a system of  block grants and ended funding for legal assistance for the poor.  Large-scale development was effectively privatized, moving it from being designed, funded, and approved at public meetings by government officials following regulations to being designed and funded in private — and having a Kabuki-play-like public approval process with little real oversight. With the passage of Prop 13 in 1978, which limited the main source of local government revenue — property taxes — local governments became even more reliant on private developer money to create new revenue.

The popular response to this change in the development process in San Francisco was the emergence of a politics that relied on the old progressive-era reforms of the initiative, referendum, and recall. Through a series of initiatives, the community sought to impose regulations on the development process, culminating in the 1986 Proposition M, which actually limited the amount of high-rise office space developers could build, completely imposing the popular will over a supine set of local officials and politicians. Indeed, ten years earlier, again through the initiative processes, the very nature of the Board of Supervisors was changed from a developer-friendly at-large system to a district-election system. Hotly opposed by real estate and development interests, district elections in its brief three years of existence (repealed in the wake of the Moscone-Milk assassinations, even though they were both strong supporters of the system and their assassin opposed it…ironies abound in San Francisco politics) saw limits placed on condo conversions and the passage of rent control.

In each of these multi-year efforts, a citywide coalition was formed, including an ever-expanding set of communities and neighborhoods.  Common interests were defined that cut across race, class, and geography and issues of community (neighborhood) control and funding for essential services like Muni, affordable housing, childcare, and employment training were placed on the table – and developers had to address them if they wanted projects approved.

The point is that balanced growth came from community-based political forces, not elected officials.  Broad movements were built — in the end, encompassing elements of labor. These were victories won not by elected officials but by a popular movement.

In 2000, in the wake of  the dot-com bust, another balanced-growth measure, Prop. L, aimed at cutting then-Mayor Willie Brown’s power over development, was paired with the new district election system — and a broad coalition of forces including labor, community and neighborhood organizations won a major progressive victory.

Every candidate for supervisor who supported the balanced-growth measure won. Every candidate who opposed it and supported Brown lost. While Prop L narrowly lost, its policies and objectives were passed as ordinances by the new Board of Supervisors (banning live-work lofts, closing loopholes in the planning code, requiring neighborhood-based plans for the Mission, SOMA, and Potrero Hill).

But as is so often the case, the victory of 2000 led to the slow dissolution of the coalition that created it. Folks had won. Our supervisors could handle all these issues; we no longer had to. By the end of the term of the supervisors elected as the class of 2000, very little of that citywide coalition existed any more.

With the Great Recession of 2008, advances were rolled back.  Fees on local developers for affordable housing, childcare and transit were deferred in order to stimulate development.  A new era of “moderation” was announced by elected officials, led by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Desires to “attract and retain”  business saw new tax concessions in the name of “jobs” and a new willingness to use open space and public facilities for “private/public partnerships” was announced.

By 2012 any concept of balanced growth had been replaced with a new era of “cooperation” between city officials and developers.

Until recently, that is.

It should be clear to all that for the last four years, City Hall has been eager to approve any scheme presented by private developers — from the America’s Cup nonsense to highrise luxury condos on the waterfront. The siren song of the developers — more revenue if you approve our project — has been proven false again and again, as the revenue never really matches the real costs of these projects. The city’s essential services continue to shrink. Transit fees are too low to pay for the actual new costs of Muni. The affordable housing  fees are too little to actually meet the affordable housing needs of the new, poorly-paid workers employed in the retail and service industry that is always a part of these projects.

More and more of our parks and public open spaces are made available to private users, while few if any new public parks or open spaces are being created.  Indeed, the Department of Parks and Recreation often opposes new public parks — because it can’t maintain what it has.

So it is with fondness that these old eyes see the stirring of what appears to be the awakening political  giant of a new controlled-growth movement.

Here’s how it’s happening: The formation of a multi-neighborhood coalition to oppose fee increases at the Arboretum leads to a bigger coalition to oppose artificial turf  fields in western Golden Gate Park, which leads to an even-bigger coalition placing a policy statement against the privatization of Coit Tower on the ballot and winning.

These are important indications of a broad dissatisfaction with the endless private-public-partnership ( in which all the costs are public and all the profits are private) babble from Rec and Park.

The submission by a broad based coalition of more than 30,000 signatures to place the 8 Washington on the ballot — the first land-use referendum in decades — is an incredibly important achievement, and shows the popular sentiment against much of the City Hall happy talk about development on the waterfront.

But it was the unanimous ( yes, unanimous) vote by the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday to hold California Pacific Medical Center accountable for its constant shape shifting  on its massive project at Geary and Van Ness that shows, perhaps, the outline of the potential future of the balanced-growth movement in San Francisco.

Six supervisors stated their willingness to turn down the environmental impact report on the project unless Sutter/CPMC committed to a project that addressed not only the promise to keep St. Luke’s open for at least 20 years but also hired more San Franciscans, corrected the traffic nightmare predicted for Geary and Van Ness, provided more affordable housing for its own low-income new workforce, and committed  to cap the city’s health care costs as a result of CPMC’s market control the new project would create.

There is always the possibility that the two-week delay will go nowhere, but this kind of talk from this Board of Supervisors to a huge private developer simply has not occurred in the recent past.  No one from Room 200 showed up to twist supervisors’ arms in favor of Sutter.  Sutter was on its own and got rolled.

The coalition that fought Sutter to a standstill at the board, that defined the inadequacies of  the project listed by the supervisors, was a multi-neighborhood, multi-issues organization composed of community, neighborhoods, and labor. Middle class “Baja” Pacific Heights residents and low income seniors from Bernal Heights, non-profit affordable housing advocates and trade unionists, tenant organizers from the Tenderloin and Sierra Club members from the Haight-Ashbury; single moms from the Bayview and Filipino youth from the South of Market.

It was a San Francisco coalition, one that has been working together for nearly three years, blending issues, making concessions to one another and staying together.  A group like this with a set of demands such as these has not prevailed at City Hall for nearly a decade.  It still may not, indeed the chances are slim that its full demands will be achieved.

But this group moved the Board of Supervisors in a way not seen in years.  If the folks mobilized about our parks and the folks mobilized about our waterfront and the folks mobilized about CPMC get together, we have something very big happening. And it might be just in time to make a real difference.
It reminds me of an old saying: “ The people alone are the makers of world history.”

Guest opinion: RCV is good for progressives


Since San Francisco began using ranked choice voting in 2004 and public financing of campaigns in 2002, the city has been a leader in the types of political reform badly needed at state and national levels. People of color today have an unprecedented degree of representation and progressives are a dominant presence in city government. Elections are being decided in November, when turnout usually is highest, and the combination of public financing and deciding races in one election minimizes the impact of independent expenditures and Super PACs .

Yet progressive stalwart Calvin Welch, whose work we have long admired, recently authored a Bay Guardian oped against RCV. His charges against RCV are as wrong today as they were when he first made them 10 years ago when he opposed RCV on the ballot. And given the horrible Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which has opened the floodgates on corporate campaign spending and did not exist when San Francisco last used separate runoff elections, returning to two elections is a direct threat to the future of San Francisco progressivism. 

The most serious of his claims is that RCV favors “moderate to conservative candidates” because “left-liberals do very well in run-off elections” since “in low-turnout elections, left-liberals vote more heavily than do conservatives.” He cites the 2000 supervisorial races and 2001 city attorney race, in which “the more liberal candidate for City Attorney, Dennis Herrera” bested “Chamber of Commerce functionary Jim Lazarus.” He asserts “that’s a verifiable San Francisco political fact.”

But San Francisco State University professor Richard DeLeon, author of the acclaimed book of Left Coast City about San Francisco politics, debunked that claim with real election data in his 2002 paper, “Do December runoffs help or hurt progressives?”

He found that in the November 2001 city attorney election, for every 100 voters who turned out in progressive precincts, 107 turned out in conservative precincts. But in the December 2001 runoff, for every 100 voters who turned out in the progressive precincts, 126 turned out in the conservative precincts, an 18 percent increase. Wrote DeLeon, “This dramatic increase in the ratio of conservative to progressive voters occurred despite (or perhaps because of) the 44 percent drop in voter turnout citywide between November and December.”

He continued: “If San Francisco had used [ranked choice voting] in November, Herrera most likely would have won by an even greater margin. In November, the liberal/progressive candidates for city attorney won a combined 60 percent of the vote…In the December runoff, however, Herrera won with only 52 percent of the vote. Thus, due to the proportionally greater decline in progressive voter turnout, Herrera probably lost approximately 8 percent of his potential vote, making the election close.”

DeLeon also rebutted Welch’s citation of the supervisorial races in 2000 as ones that demonstrated a progressive advantage in low-turnout runoffs, writing:

 “Progressive success that year was NOT due solely to a one-time surge in turnout among progressive voters…Many powerful forces converged in that election, not least the anti-Willie Brown backlash, the cresting of the dot-com invasion, and the return to district elections, which forced despised incumbents to stand trial before angry neighborhood electorates.”

DeLeon concluded:  “Based on the evidence presented, I conclude that December runoffs have hurt progressive voters, candidates and causes in the past and (absent same-day runoffs) will continue to do so in the future, even under district elections.”The Bay Guardian cited Professor DeLeon’s study in March 2002 (see  and scroll down to “A is OK”), and Mr. Welch is ignoring these results today just as he did then.

Certainly progressives haven’t won 100% of RCV elections — should any political perspective? — but they have done well nonetheless, electing  Bay Guardian-endorsed candidates like John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, David Chiu and Ross Mirkarimi, despite those candidates not being incumbents. Other progressive incumbents first elected before RCV elections, like Aaron Peskin, Chris Daly, and others, were re-elected under RCV. And Mirkarimi was elected citywide in the sheriff’s race. On  the flip side, progressive Eileen Hansen most certainly would have beaten moderate Bevan Dufty in a November RCV contest for D8 supervisor; instead she lost in December after finishing first in November.

What’s actually at stake here is how we define progressivism. Since we began using RCV in 2004, 8 of the eleven members of the Board of Supervisors come from communities of color, a DOUBLING from pre-RCV days. At the citywide level, all seven officials elected by RCV come from communities of color. So out of the 18 elected officials in San Francisco, a whopping 15 out of 18 come from communities of color, the highest percentage for a major city in the United States.

The proposed repeal amendment would launch low-turnout September elections in San Francisco. In fact, the December 2001 city attorney race in which Welch cites as exemplary had a turnout of 15 percent of registered voters, the lowest in San Francisco’s history. New York City’s last September mayoral primary had a turnout of 11.4 percent. In Charlotte NC (population 750,000, similar to San Francisco) its last mayoral primary had a turnout of only 4.3 percent. Cincinnati had a September turnout of 15 percent, and Boston and Baltimore had September mayoral primaries with turnout in the low 20s. Many cities in Minnesota have September primaries with extremely low turnout; the two largest cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, have switched to RCV largely to eliminate September primaries.

Research has demonstrated that voters in low turnout elections are disproportionately more conservative, whiter, older, and more affluent; those who don’t participate are people of color, young people, poor people — and progressives. So having a mayoral race in a low turnout September election has real consequences not only on voter turnout but on the demographics of the electorate.

While we share the priorities of Welch’s progressive economics, we believe progressivism must be more inclusive, especially if it wants to enjoy the support of these burgeoning demographics. While disappointed by the lack of progressive achievements of President Barack Obama, we still view the election of the first African American as president as a major progressive achievement.

Finally, we would assert that the ranked ballots used in RCV have been important for San Francisco democracy. Just look at the recent “top two” primary on June 5, and you can see the defects of the methods proposed to replace RCV. In many races across the state – including in the Marin County congressional race where progressive Democrat Norman Solomon lost by 0.2 percent — too many spoiler candidates split the field and candidates got into the top two with extremely low vote percentages, some as low as 15 percent of the vote. In one race where there was a Latino majority and a solid Democratic district, the Democrats ran so many candidates that the Democratic vote split and two white Republicans made the runoff with low vote percentages.

San Francisco risks such elections if we get rid of RCV. Think of the last mayoral election, and the choice for Asian voters if we used single-shot plurality voting instead of RCV. Which Asian candidate would they vote for with their single-shot vote — Lee, Chiu, Yee, Ting, Adachi? What kind of vote split might have occurred? And to avoid that, what kind of backroom dealing would have occurred BEFORE the election to keep that many candidates out of the race to prevent that vote-splitting?  We saw such vote splitting in the 2003 mayoral election as well, with various progressive candidates running and splitting the progressive vote. Going back to plurality elections would be damaging for constituencies that often run multiple candidates, such as the Asian and progressive communities.

RCV has been good for San Francisco, and we should keep it. For those who would like to see a runoff in mayoral races, Board president David Chiu has proposed a compromise that, while increasing the costs of running for mayor, is far better than the repeal measure for September elections. Chiu’s proposal would keep RCV to elect the mayor, but with a December runoff if no mayoral candidate won a majority of first rankings in November. The 2011 mayoral election would have gone to a runoff, with John Avalos as Ed Lee’s opponent.

San Francisco progressives should embrace a view of progressivism that is inclusive, promotes higher turnout and is based on a politics that is looking forward instead of backward to some golden age that never existed. Ranked choice voting and public financing are two parts of the puzzle for ensuring a vibrant progressivism.

Steven Hill led the campaign for ranked choice voting in San Francisco, and Matt Gonzalez was President of the Board of Supervisors and legislative author of the RCV charter amendment. See for more information



Guardian Voices: The case against RCV


“The Cure for the Ills of Democracy is More Democracy”
                                 — old Progressive Party slogan

My friends here at the Guardian have elevated support for ranked choice voting to a defining requirement for being considered a progressive. This is not only historically incorrect,  it is actually politically silly. There are many progressive reasons to oppose RCV — not the least of which is the undeniable fact that it overwhelmingly favors incumbents, has failed to deliver on the 2002 ballot promises, and now poses real threats to progressive political advancement in key supervisor districts. 

First, a little history. 

The two greatest national political victorys  of the Progressive Era were the 1913 adoption of the 17th Amendment of the US Constitution, which required direct elections of US Senators, and, at the tail end of the era,  the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Both expanded people power in elections, curing the ills of democracy by more democracy.

Historically, to be a Progressive is to favor MORE elections, MORE political opportunities for more people at the local level.  How can it be that it is now progressive to favor FEWER elections at the local level?

In the March, 2002 Voters Handbook, ballot arguments against RCV were authored by several progressive activists (Sue Bierman, Jane Morrison, David Looman, Larry Griffin, David Spiro and me, to name a few). We argued then that replacing local elections with a mathematical formula that few understand and even fewer could explain was political foolishness. While were outvoted, I think we were right a decade ago.

Left-liberals do very well in run-off elections in San Francisco — from 1975, when Moscone beat Bargbagalata in a December run-off, to the run-off victory of the more liberal candidate for City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, over Chamber of Commerce functionary Jim Lazarus in 2001. The reason is that in low-turnout elections, left-liberals vote more heavily that do conservatives, and that’s a verifiable San Francisco political fact.

But it was the 2000  supervisors races that showed just how well left-liberal forces did in run-off elections at the district level: Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzales, Chris Daly, Sophie Maxwell, and Gerardo Sandoval, the very heart of the progressive majority, were elected in December run-off elections.

In 2002, three arguments were made for RCV: first, that it would reduce negative campaigning; second, that it would increase turnout in local elections and third, it would reduce costs by eliminating the run off election. Of the three  arguments only the last has been met, a dubious achievement in that even more such savings could be made by eliminating ALL elections.

Can anyone actually claim that last year’s mayoral election, the first contested one conducted under RCV, was anything but a negative free-for-all? Or, how about the 2010 D6 race between Debra Walker and Jane Kim, or the D8 race between Mandelman and Weiner? Or the 2002 D4 Ron Dudum – Ed Jew race? RCV did not end negative campaigns.

How about turnout?  Last year’s mayoral race had the lowest turnout in a contested race for mayor in the modern history of San Francisco. Every supervisorial race in 2008 had a lower turnout than  the citywide average. Turnout in 2010 was below citywide levels in the RCV supervisor races in D4, D6 and D10.

No, the record is clear RCV has not resulted in higher turnout, either.

RCV creates a political system in which candidates make deals with other candidates, behind closed doors, before the voters vote.  Runoff elections result in a system in which voters make deals with candidates AFTER they vote in the polling booth. What’s wrong with giving voters two choices in two elections instead of three choices in one election? Oh, that’s right, we save money by giving voters fewer elections.

Left-liberals tend to field fewer candidates for races than do moderates and conservatives because, especially in San Francisco, left-liberals simply don’t know how to raise political money, while moderates and conservatives do. RCV elections reward multiple candidates of the same political persuasion as these candidate can agree to appeal to their similar voters to vote for them as a block.  Thus, RCV will always favor, in an open contest in which there is no incumbent, moderate to conservative candidates because there are  usually more of them running.

That’s what happened to Avalos in last years mayoral election: he picked up nothing as the moderate candidates’ second and third votes went to the moderate Lee. The same happened in D10 two years ago: moderates voted for multiple moderate candidates and the only real left-liberal in the race did not pick up any of these votes and lost — although he outpolled the eventual, moderate winner.

RCV favors incumbents, and that’s why at least two of the Class of 2000 progressive supervisors told me they voted for it. Lets see how well it works to defeat Sup. Scott Wiener, who is far to the right of the average voter in D8, or Supervisor Malia Cohen in D10 who was supported by less than 30 percent of the election day vote.

What seems to be going on here is an incredibly silly political association game.  Because repealing RCV is supported by conservative supervisors and the Chamber of Commerce we should be opposed since they are for it. Haven’t we seen this year conservative Republicans make one self defeating political move after another?  When your enemy is threatening to shoot himself in the heard why are we trying to pull the gun away? It time to pull the trigger on RCV.

Guardian Voices: Stop and Frisk didn’t work last time


Mayor Lee’s musings before the Chronicle editorial board, in which he revealed his thoughts about instituting a “stop and frisk” policy in San Francisco, set off a very quick negative responses from two of his high-profile supporters in the African American community, Willie Brown and Supervisor Malia Cohen. But that’s only part of the surprise the mayor will face if he pursues this policy.

It wasn’t a real good week for Mayor Lee, who seemed to repeatedly trip himself up:

— In  the chat about stop and frisk;
— In the admission at a Board of  Supervisors hearing by Sutter/CPMC that the economic modeling of the hospital chain’s proposed  project so undermined key elements of the deal that Mayor Lee demanded that it be redone;
— And in his testimony before the Ethics Commission on the Mirkarimi case that brought specific charges of  perjury he has yet to answer.

But the stop and frisk was the most sobering of the three, for it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the city that he seeks to govern and an astounding insensitivity to its not-too-distant past.

The last time stop and frisk was implemented by the San Francisco Police Department was in 1974, at the height of the “Zebra” murders during which, over a six-month period from the end of 1973 to the beginning of 1974, 16 whites were murdered and another six wounded (one of whopm was a young Art Agnos) in shootings using a similar caliber hand gun. What made sensational headlines was the fact that the six survivors all agreed that the shooters were  black. 

Mayor Joe Alioto, facing a steep decline in tourist visits to the city and a drumbeat of headlines, surprised eferyone by announcing a stop and frisk policy aimed at young Black males. Within the first week some 500 stops were made. Not a single Zebra suspect was found.

The San Francisco NAACP and ACLU quickly filed suit in Federal Court where the policy was banned as being un-Constitutional racial profiling. The Zebra case was broken using the time tested technique of offering a reward for information. An informant stepped up, and in the summer of 1974, four men were arrested based upon his information. In 1976 the four men were convicted –and the stop and frisk policy had nothing to do with either their arrest or conviction.  Nothing remained of the failed policy for 38 years.

What did remain was a deep and bitter memory of stop and frisk in the San Francisco African-American community — a memory neither Willie Brown nor Malia Cohen forgot.

If the mayor really believes that stop and frisk will work in the face of deep seated community resentment, based on actual local historic experience – for his remarks were all about “getting the guns” off the street in African American neighborhoods — then he has a profound misunderstanding of the nature of San Francisco.

San Francisco is perhaps one of the two or three most humanly diverse cities in North America. There is a bewildering mix of humans in our city, which confronts any policy based upon appearances — such as stop and frisk — with complexities that often render its actual use on the street ineffective. Simply stated, people are not as they seem in San Francisco, and many San Franciscans prefer to live no other way. Good cops understand this and work hard to learn who is who on the street. That’s called community policing and it often works in San Francisco.  

But many times it doesn’t. Let me tell you a personal story.

During the school year, I try to pick up my two grandsons, Jalius and Jacob, every Tuesday. We spend some time together walking from their school, George Peabody, in the Inner Richmond, to the 33 Stanyan bus stop at Clement and Arguello for a bus ride back to the Haight-Ashbury. We walk and talk and then wait for the bus and talk some more.

A few months ago, we were waiting for the bus, the boys sitting on the bench, me standing and talking. I noticed a cop across the street doing a foot patrol, talking to merchants and customers. He kept looking at us. He was Chinese and my grandsons are half Chinese.  Finally, he walked over to us and with a polite smile asked me why was I talking to these children.

I had an idea that was why he came over so I was expecting the question. I smiled back to him and said, proudly, “these are my grandsons, Jalius and Jacob”.  He looked at me and then turned to the boys and said “is he?” They said “yes” and he looked back at me and said “just doing my job,”  and turned and walked away.

And what a tough job it is as people are often other than they look in San Francisco. Old white men are not always what they seem, and young black men are not always what they seem, no matter how low they ware their pants. Policies based upon things being exactly as they appear will be overwhelmed by the human reality of the City of St. Francis.

There is a connection between people in this physically compact city of ours that forms a foundation for a common political outlook when it comes to personal and group rights and freedoms. San Francisco is a center-left city on matters of civil and human rights. Local elections have shown time after time that on civil and human rights the usual political divisions between the various parts of San Francisco don’t obtain. Trying to push a center-right stop and frisk policy on San Francisco will politically isolate Ed Lee, making all other parts of his agenda that much more difficult to accomplish. And as a city we need to get some big things done, quickly. Let’s move on, together, and get them done.

Guardian voices: The labor agreement that changed SF


This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the beginnings of  negotiations between the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union and the Pacific Maritime Association over what came to be known as the “Mechanization and Modernization Agreement.”  Signed in October, 1960, after months of talks,  the “M and M agreement” transformed San Francisco’s economy forever, moving its founding industry — shipping and trans shipping — to the East Bay, opening up the land once devoted to maritime uses to real estate development, and setting off the modern political era of San Francisco.

The agreement allowed containerization to come into the San Francisco Bay, making obsolete  the finger piers along San Francisco’s waterfront and the ILWU’s “gangs” that worked on them, hand-loading “break bulk” cargo into the holds of cargo ships. The new technology of shipping cargo in a single  container that could be transported by truck, train, and ship without unloading  transformed maritime trade.

During World War II, shipbuilding and shipping were  fundamental in the effort to move billions of tons of supplies and millions of troops across the global battlefield. In both cases the  San Francisco Bay was ground zero in that in that effort.

Kaiser and Bechtel, two Bay Area-based construction companies, wildly successful in undertaking huge construction projects during the New Deal, were urged to build ships during the war. Kaiser in Richmond and Bechtel in Sausalito constructed  huge shipyards that  built cargo ships by the hundreds, bringing tens of thousands of workers to the Bay Area and changing the demographics of the region for ever. These huge industrial centers didn’t last after the war, and while they transformed who lived in the region, they didn’t really have a lasting economic impact.

But wartime changes in cargo handling did.

For as long as San Francisco had been a city, it depended on its port as the base of its economy. The Gold Rush happened here in part because we had a port and the world rushed in on ships. The enduring fortunes were made during that period by merchants and shipping companies were totally dependent on shipping and cargo handling.

At the heart of the maritime economy was the longshoreman who, by hand, loaded and unloaded ships’ holds. The demand for speed during WWII saw the then-revolutionary introduction of the fork lift truck on the piers of San Francisco, replacing hands with a machine for the first time in the history of the San Francisco waterfront.

But that was only the beginning. New ship designs and new shipping techniques were invented to meet the needs of global war. Since most of the Pacific islands that were the military objectives of the war had no ports or piers, ships were designed that could land directly on a beach and unload preloaded trucks.  Preloaded containers were simply stacked on the decks of Liberty ships, avoiding the need to load the cargo below decks.  By the Korean War these containers were in such regular use by the Army that ships were modified to carry only them, replacing below-deck cargo entirely.

Since ports and piers had been major targets during the war and required extensive rebuilding in both Europe and Asia,  new cargo handling techniques were built into these new facilities, making US ports, undamaged by the war, outmoded and old fashioned.  If US ports were to keep up they had to be modernized.  But who would pay for these new facilities: the shipping business or the government?

San Francisco was still governed by an unbroken line of Republican Mayors during this key period: the anti-New Deal, pro-Mussolini Angelo Rossi; the shipping line owner and anti- ILWU leader Roger Lapham; the pro-real-estate development Elmer Robinson; and finally, the last Republican Mayor of San Francisco, the pro-urban-renewal stalwart George Christopher. These four had no desire to rebuild the waterfront and make the ILWU even stronger. Indeed, Robinson and his successor Christopher had a vision of the waterfront as prime real estate, not working waterfront.

And so, with no commitment to the maritime industry from the city’s leadership and with technological change making the status quo impossible to maintain, Harry Bridges and the leadership of the ILWU cut the best deal they could for their existing members: the 1960 M and M agreement, which gave all existing longshore workers lifetime jobs and very good pay — but sealed the fate of San Francisco waterfront.

By 1962 the Port of Oakland had built its first container facility, and that same year, the first containership, the S.S. Elizabethport, docked and begin loading. By the mid 1970’s, the ILWU was no longer a force in the San Francesco labor movement, its leadership taken by the Building Trades unions  whose  numbers increased as the development boom, fueled by land made vacant by the loss of the maritime industry, grew.

For the rest of the Bay Area, it was San Francisco’s model of waterfront as real estate development that was followed, not Oakland’s investment in cargo shipping. By 1965, development of the Bay was so intense that the McAteer-Petris Act was passed, creating the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a regional body aimed at limiting the powers of local governments (like San Francisco) in filling and over-developing the Bay.

The 8 Washington battle, the struggle over the Hunters Point shipyard, and the looming battle over the use of a port pier for the Warriors arena all have their history deeply rooted in the 1960 M and M agreement.

In this second decade of the 21st century, our greatest challenge is creating and sustaining meaningful employment. Would our prospects be better if we had somehow been able to keep some maritime uses at the port? Would families in Bay View-Hunters Point be more able to buy homes in their own neighborhood if the same kinds of jobs that allowed their grandparents to buy theirs still existed? Would the boom-or-bust cycle of our real-estate dependent local economy been so disruptive if we had a more steady state base of a maritime sector — which kept the Great Depression from being so devastating in San Francisco in the1930s?

These questions are real — and should show that the shape of our economy is made by us and the decisions we make, locally, not solely by techological change, global trends or the far-too-palsied invisible hand of the free market.

Hospital standoff


The controversial and long-awaited proposal by California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) to build a 550-bed luxury hospital atop Cathedral Hill and to rebuild St. Luke’s Hospital has finally arrived at the Board of Supervisors — where it appears to have little support.

So far, not one supervisor has stepped up to sponsor the deal, and board members say it will have to undergo major changes to meet the city’s needs. “There are still a lot of questions that remain,” Sup. David Campos told us, citing labor, housing, community benefits, and a long list of other issues that he doesn’t believe CPMC has adequately addressed. “It tells me there’s still more work to be done.”

CPMC, which is Sacramento-based nonprofit corporation Sutter Health’s most lucrative affiliate, has been pushing the project for almost a decade. Its advocates have subtly used a state seismic safety deadline for rebuilding St. Luke’s — a hospital relied on by low-income residents of the Mission District and beyond — as leverage to build the massive Cathedral Hill Hospital it envisions as the Mayo Clinic of the West Coast.

But the project’s draft environmental impact report shows the Cathedral Hill Hospital would have huge negative impacts on the city’s transportation system and exacerbate its affordable housing crisis. And CPMC has been in a pitched battle with its labor unions over its refusal to guarantee the new jobs will go to current employees or local residents and be unionized. There are also concerns with the market power CPMC will gain from the project, how that will affect health care costs paid by the city and its residents, and with the company’s appallingly low charity care rates compared to other health care providers (see “Lack of charity,” 12/13/11).

CPMC had refused to budge in negotiations with the Mayor’s Office under two mayors, for which Mayor Ed Lee publicly criticized the company’s intransigence last year. But under pressure from the business community and local trade unions who support the project, Lee cut a deal with CPMC in March.

That development agreement for the $2.5 billion project calls for CPMC to pay $33 million for public transit and roadway improvements, $20 million to endow community clinics and other social services, and $62 million for affordable housing programs, nearly half of which would go toward helping its employees buy existing homes.

While those numbers seem large, community and labor leaders from San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice (SFHHJJ), which formed in opposition to the project, say they don’t cover anywhere near the project’s full impacts. And given that CPMC made about $180 million in profit last year in San Francisco alone — money that subsidizes the rest of Sutter’s operations — they say the company can and should do better.

“This is about standing up to corporate blackmail,” SFHHJJ member Steve Woo, a community organizer with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, told us.



CPMC is perhaps the most high-profile project the board will consider this year, one that will impact the city for years, so the political and economic stakes are high.

The Planning Commission voted 5-1 on April 26 to approve the deal and its environmental impact report, citing the project’s economic benefits and the looming deadline for rebuilding St. Luke’s. The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to consider the appeal of that decision on June 12 (after Guardian press time), but activists say supervisors planned to continue the item until July 17.

In the meantime, the board’s Land Use Committee has scheduled a series of hearings on different aspects of the project, starting June 15 with a project overview and presentation on the jobs issue, continuing June 25 with a hearing on its impacts to the health care system. Traffic and neighborhood impacts would be heard the next week, and then housing after that.

Calvin Welch, a progressive activist and nonprofit affordable housing developer, said the project’s EIR makes clear just how paltry CPMC’s proposed mitigation measures are. It indicates that the project’s 3,000 new workers will create a demand for at least 1,400 new two-bedroom housing units. Even accepting that estimate — which Welch says is low given that many employees have families and won’t simply be bunking with one another — the $26 million being provided for new housing construction would only create about 90 affordable studio apartments.

“We’re going to end up, if we want to house that workforce, subsidizing CPMC,” Welch told us.

Compounding that shortcoming is the fact that the Cathedral Hill Hospital is being built in a special use district that city officials established for the Van Ness corridor — where there is a severe need for more housing, particularly affordable units. The SUD calls for developers to build three square feet of residential for every square foot of non-residential development.

“That would require building 3 million square feet of residential housing with this project,” Welch said. “We don’t think $26 million meets the housing requirement for this project, let alone what was envisioned by this [Van Ness corridor] plan.”

SFHHJJ is calling for CPMC to provide at least $73 million for affordable housing, with no more than 20 percent of that going to the company’s first-time homebuyer assistance program. That assistance program does nothing to add to the city’s housing stock and critics call it a valuable employee perk that will only increase the demand for existing housing — and thus drive up prices.

But the business community is strongly backing the deal, and the trade unions are expected to turn out hordes of construction workers at the hearing to make this an issue of jobs — rather than a corporation paying for its impacts to the community.

“After a decade of discussion, debate and compromise, the city’s departments, commissions, labor, business and community groups all agree on CPMC,” San Francisco Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk wrote in a June 8 e-mail blast entitled “Message to the Board of Supervisors: Don’t Stand in the Way of Progress.”

“The fate of our city’s healthcare infrastructure now lies solely with the Board of Supervisors,” the Chamber says. “When it comes time to vote, let’s insist they make the right choice.”

Yet it’s simply inaccurate to say that labor and community groups support the deal, and both are expected to be well-represented at the hearings.



Economic justice issues related to health care access and costs are another potential pitfall for this project. SFJJHH activists note that no supervisors have signed on to sponsor the project yet — which is unusual for something this big — and that even the board’s most conservative supervisors have raised concerns that the city’s health care costs aren’t adequately contained by the deal.

“There’s a significant amount of dissatisfaction with the deal, even among conservatives,” SFJJHH member Paul Kumar, a spokesperson for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, told the Guardian.

On the progressive side, a big concern is that CPMC is proposing to rebuild the 220-bed St. Luke’s with only 80 beds, which activists say is not enough. And even then, CPMC is only agreeing to operate that hospital for 20 years, or even less time if Sutter’s fortunes turn around and the hospital giant begins losing money.

CPMC Director of Communications Kathryn Graham, responding by email to questions and issues raised by the Guardian, wrote generally and positively about CPMC and the project without addressing the specific concerns about whether housing, transportation, and other mitigation payments are too low.

On the jobs issue, she wrote, “Our project will create 1,500 union construction jobs immediately—and preserves and protects the 6,200 health care professional jobs that exist today at the hospitals. Currently, nearly 50 percent of our current employees live in San Francisco. During the construction phase of this project, we are committed to hire at least 30 percent of workers from San Francisco. We will create 500 permanent new jobs in just the next five years—200 are guaranteed to be local hires from underserved San Francisco neighborhoods. We don’t know where you got the ridiculous idea that our employees must reapply for jobs at our new hospitals. That is incorrect.”

Yet CPMC has resisted requests by the California Nurses Association and other unions to be recognized at the new facility or to agree to card-check neutrality that would make it easier to unionize. And union representatives say CPMC has offered few assurances about staffing, pay, seniority, and other labor issues.

As one CNA official told us, “If they aren’t going to guarantee jobs to the existing employees, those are jobs lost to the city.”

“We’re giving Sutter a franchise over San Francisco’s health care system for 30 to 40 years, so we should ensure there are basic worker and community protections,” Kumar said.

Welch and other activists say they believe CPMC is prepared to offer much more than it has agreed to so far, and they’re calling on the supervisors to be tougher negotiators than the Mayor’s Office was, including being willing to vote down the project and start over if it comes down to that.

“They make too much money in this city to just leave town,” Welch said of CPMC’s implied threat to pull out of San Francisco and shutter St. Luke’s. “It’s bullshit.”

Sutter’s CPMC deal isn’t healthy


At 10am on Friday, June 15, at the main chambers of the Board of Supervisors, the first of a series of public hearings will be held on specific aspects of the  development agreement governing the $1.9 billion Sutter Health/California Pacific Medical Center proposal to expand and centralize the giant health-care outfit’s health center by building a new 555 bed hospital at Geary and Van Ness. The deal involves demolishing the existing 220-bed hospital at St. Luke’s at Mission and Cesar Chavez and rebuilding a new 80-bed facility, expanding the Ralph K. Davies hospital at Duboce and Noe and closing down the old Children’s Hospital in Laurel Heights.

The hearing will be the first before the Board of Supervisors. Thus far, the project has been before only the executive branch: the Planning Commission and the mayor. After a brief introduction on the overall project the hearing will focus on the issue of jobs.

This is the largest project to be negotiated by the Lee administration — and although the mayor introduced it to the board in May, not one supervisor has yet joined him to sponsor the legislation. That’s an an odd situation given the importance of the project – and the fact that Mayor Lee can usually count on an automatic four votes from the conservative faction of the board. But not this time.

The hearing was requested by a coalition of more than 60 community, neighborhood, labor, and environmental organizations — San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice (SFHHJJ) — which has been closely following the project for the last two years.  Members of the coalition have already appealed the project’s environmental impact report, passed last month by the Planning Commission, and SFHHJJ has developed a series of amendments to the agreement that it has been pressing on the Board of Supervisors.  Board President David Chiu agreed to set a series of hearings on the project before it voted on, along with the determination of the appeal of the EIR, in  late July.  SGHHJJ hopes to use the hearings to get across the serious shortcoming of the agreement.  In addition, depending upon the appeal of the EIR,  a law suit may well be filed by some members of the Coalition.

In short, what starts next Friday is a big deal.

Not only is it a big deal in the development war that is at the heart of San Francisco politics, but it also is a big deal given what may well be done by the Supreme Court in deciding the constitutionality of all or part of the Affordable Health Care Act. If Obama’s health reform is struck down by the court, in all or in part, which seems almost certain, Sutter/CPMC’s plan will most definitely take on even more importance for the future of health care and its costs in San Francisco.

Sutter currently controls about a third of the market for health care in San Francisco.  With the construction of this project, it will control about 40 percent — a portion most knowledgable observers feel will give it market dominance  and an ability to actually set health care costs in San Francisco. Sutter’s business model — as shown in Berkeley when it took over Alta Bates and elsewhere in the state – demonstrates that  with a dominate market position, it jacks up prices.

As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in 2010: “…Sutter Health Co. has market power that commands prices 40 to 70 percent higher than its rivals per typical procedure — and pacts with insurers that keep those prices secret”.

A US Supreme Court that weakens or strikes down health care reform will simply re-establish the status-quo ante, a situation in which Sutter will thrive.

And that’s why the board’s conservative members are not supporting Mayor Lee’s deal: it simply does not protect the city — itself a major health care consumer for both its workforce and Healthy San Francisco — from Sutter’s history of turning market power into high health care charges.

SFHHJJ want the development agreement amended to place a cap on the costs charged to the city, allowing Sutter no more than 115 percent of the average charged  by  San Francisco’s other private, nonprofit hospitals.  It also wants Sutter/CPMC low charity care payments pegged at an average of what other nonprofit hospitals contribute, and it is calling for rebuilding St. Luke’s in San Francisco medically underserved south east to 180 beds, not the sure-to-fail size of 80 beds.

But there’s even more to deplore about the proposed deal.

In housing, although the EIR showed that a demand would be created for some 1,500 new two-bedroom homes, Sutter/CPMC agreed to only provide funds to build about 90 such homes. Such a massive shortfall will boost housing prices all other San Franciscans will pay.

The project’s impact on public transit at the Geary / Van Ness intersection will be large and ongoing. More than 20,000 new car trips will be generated at that intersection by the new hospital. Plans for a Bus Rapid Transit raised roadway for the 38 Geary — the most used bus line in the city — will have to be altered at an unknown price since the project calls for all auto traffic to enter the site on the Geary Avenue side.

Again, San Francisco taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for these new costs.

But it is the jobs aspect of the deal that is the most distressing. Sutter/CPMC has a long history of labor disputes with its workforce. Last year it replaced nurses who took a day off to protest their working conditions, and a replacement nurse hired by Sutter accidentally killed a patient. Sutter/CPMC refuses to agree to hire all of its 6,000 current employees for the new facilities. It’s requiring them all to apply as new workers, losing all of their seniority, with a real prospect that many currently employed San Francisco residents will lose their jobs once the new facility opens. All that Sutter/CPMC has agreed to do is hire 50 residents a year for four years – 200 new local jobs, total.

The  June 15 hearing will focus on the jobs issue and public comment is sure to be hot on this laughable “commitment” agreed to by the “jobs” administration.

Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer living in San Francisco. He currently teachs a course in the development history of San Francisco at San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco.

Guest opinion: It’s not about Mirkarimi, it’s about us


Virtually unmentioned in the torrent of words that have flowed over the Ross Mirkarimi false imprisonment, suspension and pending vote to determine his removal by the Board of Supervisors is any reference to what should now be the most important issue to be considered as the sad saga unfolds: the fact that Mirkarimi was, just four months before his removal, elected by a majority vote and his removal from office would simply set aside that vote, diminishing all of our cherished beliefs about “majority rule.”

Mirkarimi didn’t just win, he won big. He beat the second place candidate by nearly 19,000 votes, winning outright without the need for the magic of instant run-off. Mirkarimi got more first place votes than did Ed Lee (70,204 vs. 59,663). Moreover, Mirkarimi’s election was without controversy, complaint or charge of illegality, unlike Ed Lee’s, which resulted in a total of 25 misdemeanor convictions for illegal campaign contributions by a city contractor with a pending contact before a commission appointed by the mayor.

Since the 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court to give George Bush the election in 2000 after Al Gore won a majority of the popular vote, there has been a distressingly frequent willingness by the media to accept executive and judicial actions that set aside popular votes. The conservative governor of Michigan has simply taken over local governments that he deems financially “irresponsible” setting aside the votes of local residents. In California, a tiny minority of Republican legislators, elected by a comparative handful of voters, yearly stymie the overwhelmingly majority elected legislators, forcing deeply unpopular budget cuts — and the media simply goes along.

Majority rule, the very bedrock of representative democracy, seems unnervingly easy to set aside now days. Majority rule is our bedrock because it’s the only way in which our system has to define the political will of the people. Let’s be clear, the very City Charter that is being used to remove Mirkarimi from office rests on the power given by “the people of the City and County of San Francisco,” (Preamble to the Charter) and was itself adopted by a majority vote. Setting aside majority votes is a dangerous business for us all; it risks substituting the will of a few insiders for the will of the people.

The political riskiness of the move has been entirely incorrectly cast by the San Francisco Chronicle, the main voice to overturn the expressed will of the people. The Chronicle asserts the political risks as now falling on the supervisors who most vote to sustain the mayor’s action with nine votes. Indeed, the ace vote counter at the “Comical,” former Mayor Willie Brown, who went zero-for-ever in the last four years of his term in votes at the board, confidently predicts that the vote will be 11-zip to sustain the mayor because of the fear of voter retribution.

But facts indicate that “fear” will play the other way. Last November Mirkarimi won in six of the 11 supervisorial districts (D3, D5, D6, D8, D9 and D10) . In two of them (D8 and D10), he won more first-place votes than the current supervisor. In these same six districts he outpolled Ed Lee by some 18,000 votes. By what measure, other than the huffing and puffing of ex-Mayor Willie, C(onsistenly) W(rong) Nevius, and the two stooges, Matier and Ross, does any political risk fall on these supervisors to vote with their constituents?

Chances are nine votes will NOT be there and that Mirkarimi will remain sheriff, where the people put him.We will have gone through a divisive fight addressing none of our deep problems, Mayor Lee will squander the good will of the supervisors and voters for nothing and we will be exactly where we are now.

We have a way to remove Mirkarimi from office that is far better for our democracy. It’s one of the great inventions of the Progressive Era. It’s called recall, and it puts the matter where it should be: before the people. It’s really not about Mirkarimi anymore. Its about us, the meaning of our votes, and the responsibility of supervisors to understand in whose name they govern. All power to the people!

Calvin Welch lives, works and plays in San Francisco.

Redistricting: A Guardian Forum


The new supervisorial districts could change the makeup of the board and have a lasting impact on local politics. There’s been a lot of discussion about individual districts — but not so much talk about how the new map will affect progressive politics citywide. We’re holding a Guardian forum Jan. 26 to look at that issue, discuss different scenarios and come up with some alternatives. Panelists include Calvin Welch (who helped draw the first district elections lines in 1976), Quintin Mecke (who was on the redistricting panel 10 years ago when the current lines were drawn), Norman Fong (who runs the Chinatown Community Development Center and Fernando Marti (a community architect and housing activist who has some proposals for new lines).

If you’re interested and want to join the discussion, the event starts at 6 p.m. at the Mission Campus of City College, 1125 Valencia. We’ll be done by 8 p.m., I promise.

Lessons from 2011 for 2012


With the release of precinct results for the 2011 election, we are able to actually see, for the first time, what San Francisco voters did, as opposed to hearing what various nabobs said they did.  There are a couple of key conclusions about the vote that should guide any left-liberal thinking of the key 2012 Supervisor races.

The first thing San Francisco voters did- about 40,000 of them-  was stay home.  Turnout – about 40% – was the lowest for a mayor’s race in 40 years. Moreover, counter to several “expert” narratives, turnout in neighborhoods with large numbers of Chinese voters — Chinatown, the Richmond, the Sunset, and Vis Valley — was lower (average 33%) than in neighborhoods with few Chinese voters — Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, the Castro and West of Twin Peaks — where turnout averaged 40%.

There seems to be four reasons for this curious outcome. A couple of them have lessons for us for the 2012 election that we ignore at our peril.
First, in a City that is clearly center-left, voters were presented with nine center-right candidates, seven of whom were declared by the Chronicle at one time or another to be “serious.” Only John Avalos was a clear center-left choice. This was shown in the huge number undecideds that appeared in poll after poll. Undecided voters are often unhappy at the lack of choice being offered by the field and simply don’t vote.

Second, professional campaign management of the supposedly serious candidates was terrible and actually counter-productive to their candidates’ best interests. The pros actually seemed to have suppressed turnout in key neighborhoods. Ace Smith and Bill Barnes, working for for Ed Lee, spent most of their time trying to distance their candidate from his base and key supporters, made rookie fund-raising mistakes time and again and gave their counterparts in the Yee and Herrera campaigns ample ammunition for a  series of negative ads and mailers.  John Whitehurst and Mark Mosher, working for Herrera, and Jim Sterns, working for Yee, took the opportunity and went negative on the least threatening figure in San Francisco politics in recent memory. 

As we all know negative campaigns generally suppress turnout — and that seems to be the case in this election. Avalos, who after September had no professional management, stayed positive and gained votes by doing so.

Third, organized labor, for the first time in living memory, did not endorse the winning candidate for mayor. Indeed, its official candidate, Yee, came in FIFTH. It’s as if labor decided to concentrate only on its issue — pension reform — and devote no energy, people or money to the myors race. Without labor’ support,effective GOTV in left-liberal neighborhoods is all the more difficult and was clearly beyond the ability of the Avalos campaign to carry by itself.

Labor knew who it wanted to vote on pension reform and narrowly focused only on those voters. That it still has the ability to do electoral politics can be seen in the fact that more total votes were cast on  Proposition C (186,336) — labor’s pension- reform measure –than were cast for all candidates in the mayors race (179,888).

Finally, there were 160 fewer polling places this election than last year, and to make matters worse the Department of  Elections mailed 115,000 voter handbooks with the wrong polling place address causing them to send postcards with the corrections. While this in no way was responsible for the 40,000 fewer votes cast, it was probably worth several hundreds of missed votes.

The lessons for next year? We need good candidates who actually align with political sensibility of the voters. This will be especially true in District Five after Mayor Lee appoints some center-right clone in the most left-liberal district in the city, and equally true in District Three with David Chiu, who has certainly turned to the right since his election. 

Supervisor David Campos in District 9 will be fine in this regard as will Supervisor Eric Mar in District 1 — where he will face a real fight.
Avalos’ showing in the mayors race should do him well in District 11 and offers a real chance for him to be board president in 2013.
Community-based left-liberals and labor must come together closer than in this election and perhaps closer than at any time since the Great depression. Labor’s support for the Occupy movement is a good indication that fruitful common ground can be found. We need each other more than ever in 2012.

We need to work to get good lines for the new districts and have a grand meeting of the minds on how we address the absentee voter issue.  Both labor and the Mirkarimi campaign did absentees well enough to win.  We need to apply their lessons to the Supervisors races.

Dare to struggle, dare to win.

Calvin Welch is a housing activist who has been watching San Francisco elections for more than 40 years.


Is SF moving to the right?


The Bay Citizen/New York Times thinks so. The headline on the story — “more conservative is the new normal” — says it all. Matt Smith (formerly of our price-fizing rival SF Weekly) and Gerry Shih say the Nov. 8 election signals a turn to the right for this famously liberal city:

But Tuesday’s election signaled a palpable shift: In addition to Lee, a pro-business moderate, voters overwhelmingly picked George Gascón, the law-and-order former police chief — and former Republican — as district attorney.

“To whoever thinks San Francisco is loopy and left-wing, this election basically said, ‘No, it’s really not,’” said David Latterman, associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. “We just elected an ex-Republican, pro-death penalty district attorney by a landslide. Just ponder that.”

Well: It’s interesting that they call Lee a “pro-business moderate,” which is probably accurate but differs from how Lee’s more progressive supporters see the new mayor. But while they talk about Gascon, they conveniently leave out the fact that San Francisco has elected the first solid progressive to a citywide office in a long, long time. Ross Mirkarimi — a former Green Party member and without a doubt one of the most left-leaning supervisors — won a tight, contested race for sheriff running honestly as a progressive. I think you have to go back to 1987, when Art Agnos ran for mayor as the candidate of the left, to find another example of a progressive champion winning all across town.

The interesting element of all of this — and something I think Smith and Shih got absolutely right — is that the demographic makeup of the city is changing, and has been for a while:

“From a political perspective, the tech companies are employing young workers who often prefer to live in San Francisco, even if they commute to Silicon Valley, said Wade Randlett, a Bay Area technology executive and top fund-raiser for President Obama.”

Wade Randlett is not my favorite person in local politics, but the point he makes is valid — and it’s not happening by accident. Virtually all of the new housing that’s been built in San Francisco in the past decade has been aimed at wealthy people, a lot of them young tech types who commute from the city to Silicon Valley. The other people moving into new housing are empty-nest retirees from places like Marin County. If you walk through the new condo buildings in Soma, the residents are mostly white, with a few Asians; there are almost no African Americans, very few families and essentially zero working-class people.

For years, downtown groups (including Randlett’s former employer, SFSOS) have pushed for this kind of housing, and some of them have been very open about their goal: By bringing in more rich people and tech workers, you can change the politics of the city. Housing activist Calvin Welch puts it succinctly: Who lives here, votes here.

That’s the reason why land use and housing are so critically important in this town. If poor and working-class people are pushed out to make way for a more upscale set of residents, then progressives who talk about taxing the wealthy to provide services for the poor will have a harder time getting elected.

It’s not a conspiracy; it’s an open, stated policy goal of the people who spent vast sums of money electing Ed Lee.