Child’s play


It can’t be easy, capturing the spirit of childhood and distilling all that wondrous essence into effective, life-affirming art. First, there’s the pile-up of cynicism we tend to amass over the years. Sure, we grown-ups might call this protective shield "realism," but it doesn’t exactly lend itself to fostering the same wide-eyed exuberance we felt as youngsters. On the opposite end of the spectrum: over-sentimentality. Simply put, schmaltz can kill a mood in no time — so let’s keep it away from the kiddies, shall we? There’s the dilemma: how to convey the innocence and excitement of youth without succumbing to corniness. We can’t all be Brian Wilson, after all.

Volker Bertelmann must have had a wonderful childhood. The Dusseldorf pianist and composer — known in the record shops simply as Hauschka — recently released an album’s worth of meditations and reminiscences about growing up in a small, woodsy German town, and I’d be hard-pressed to cite a more touching instrumental recording from this year. Ferndorf (130701/Fat Cat) — named after Bertelmann’s hometown village — glides along in a delicate dance between impish and introspective, evoking images of little boys and girls lost in playtime but also conjuring moments of quiet contemplation.

It’s an enormously engaging listen, made all the more magnetic by its unsentimental depiction of the emotional lives of children. Joined by a string duo, an occasional trombonist, and a grab bag of subtle electronic textures, Bertelmann’s comforting — but challenging — piano minimalism could very well be the new working definition for cinematic music. Ultimately, however, the 12 songs contained here should send listeners back to recreating scenes from their own childhoods. No movie required.

Hauschka live at Mutek 2007, Montreal

A classically trained pianist, Bertelmann has worked largely in the past as an exponent of John Cage’s "prepared piano" technique, in which items such as corks, straps of leather, and scraps of metal are attached to the instrument’s hammers and strings to create an endless array of clicks and rattles. With such a battery of odds and ends set in place, the piano can be transformed into a one-man percussion section of sorts. Earlier Hauschka works such as 2004’s Substantial and 2005’s The Prepared Piano (both Karaoke Kalk) were manifestos celebrating the possibilities of the technique. As one might guess, Cage’s presence could be spotted on both discs, as well as those of several other modern composers: Arvo Part, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich.

Last year’s Room to Expand (130701/Fat Cat) showed Bertelmann broadening his palette and introducing strings and electronics into the mix. Given that the pianist is also a member of synth-tweaking experimentalists Music A.M. and Tonetraeger, the addition of electronics to enhance the piano’s versatility was perhaps a natural extension of lessons learned from Cage.

Much of Ferndorfs playfulness emerges from the prepared-piano technique. "Barfuss Durch Gras" is a sputtering, plonking hydraulics-overdrive containing as many as 10 different piano textures at once, while the twitching waltz of "Heimat" derives much of its spunk from the curious union of a quasi-ragtime melody with a soft-footed pit-er-pat rhythm and disembodied horn sounds, all of which have been somehow generated by the same instrument. The Michael Nyman-esque "Blue Bicycle" has all the breeziness of a spring afternoon, but is pushed along urgently by pulsing circular piano patterns and the rush of two cellos, played marvelously by Insa Schirmer and Donja Djember. The string-drenched autumn tones of "Morgenrot" recall moments of Ryuichi Sakamoto or avant-chamber experimentalists Rachel’s, but also spotlight Bertelmann’s flair for bittersweet nostalgia.

In what might be the disc’s finest moment, "Schones Madchen" — a memory of young, innocent flirtation — imagines Amelie composer Yann Tiersen interpreting Reich. Delicate repetitions of piano flutters curve around lush curls of strings, clock-spring clicks and tics tap away underneath, and the wonders of early infatuation are compressed into less than four minutes.


With Tom Brosseau and Magik*Magik Orchestra

Sun/23, 8:30 p.m., $10

Hotel Utah Saloon

500 Fourth St., SF

(415) 546-6300


High Places


New York — you never cease to surprise me. For all these years, I’ve been completely convinced that Brooklyn was a continuous swath of pavement, brownstones, and ironic T-shirts. Apparently there’s an altogether different, little-known ecosystem hiding in Hipster’s Paradise. Tucked in the darkest pocket of the borough sits a teeming rainforest, a sea of green in which rainbow-bedazzled birds shake their hot pink plumage while chattering monkeys swing through the lush canopy.

Or so Brooklyn electro-primitives High Places would have us believe. The duo — vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Mary Pearson and percussionist Rob Barber — embrace the notion of geography as a driving force in music, but it’s not their New York surroundings that inspire. Rather, they get their spark from environments far removed from the urban landscape — namely, jungles, of both the terrestrial and the mental variety. As the name would suggest, the pair concern themselves with elevated states — not only do they wish to take us climbing to the top of the tallest trees, but the journey also involves clearing one’s head with a luxuriant tangle of interwoven rhythms.

Vocals are drenched in reverb, guitars buzz as reconfigured insectoid samples, and keyboard melodies whir in unexpected patterns — yet it all feels wondrously organic. High Places have their antecedents — look to Brian Eno’s ambient "fourth world" explorations and the rainforest-dub of The Slits’ Return of the Giant Slits (CBS/Sony International, 1981) for touchstones — but ultimately, they arrive sounding like emissaries from a world yet to be surveyed.

High Places’ just-released self-titled Thrill Jockey debut — not counting the label’s summer-issued singles compilation 03/07–09/07feels tailor-made for swooping among the tippy-tops of the Amazon jungle, having meshed Pearson’s carefree, birdlike melodies with curious rhythmic tics, tribal polyrhythms, and the cicada-buzz of treated electronics. Many of the disc’s primeval shuffles, bumps, and thumps come from a full shelf of wood blocks, mixing bowls, and rattles. "The Tree with the Lights in It," for example, fashions an alluring rhythmic undercurrent from what sounds like sandpaper scratches and water sloshing in a bowl.

Elsewhere, the ricocheting electro pings and the clip-clop twitch of "A Field Guide" offers a sun-soaked tropical counterpart to Burial’s haunted dubstep, while "The Storm" tosses disembodied banjo into a slithery gamelan groove punctuated by echo-steeped synth chirps. Far away from her Brooklyn home, Pearson’s winsome flutter beckons from the tallest trees, where she makes the sweetest of observations: "Now my clothes are stained with pitch … it was worth it." Who could say no to such great heights?


Oct. 8, 9 p.m.

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF


For rent sale


› news@sfbg.com

Luz Moran, 75, fingers through a shoebox full of certified envelopes from her landlord’s attorney, squinting at the English words. She’s sitting on a red couch in the living room of her modest Mission District apartment, her feet barely touching the floor.

"This is another check he sent me, look," she mutters in Spanish, pointing out two checks amounting to $3,752.85. The money was sent along with an Ellis Act eviction notice, the first half of the $7,500 in relocation benefits city law requires be given to elderly or disabled tenants who are removed through the state law (if the tenant is not elderly or disabled, the landlord only needs to provide them with $4,500).

"I don’t know what we will do. Other apartments are expensive, and we can’t afford them," Moran says. The money is barely enough to cover moving costs and the first month’s rent at another place, she says, adding, "I don’t think this landlord is dying because of lack of money."

The eviction was not her landlord’s first attempt to move Moran, along with her 92-year-old mother and her son, from their two-bedroom apartment. In May 2006 he offered to sell them the unit for a discounted rate of $310,000, which was out of the family’s price range. Then he suggested a buyout agreement so they would leave voluntarily, but said he couldn’t offer much more than the Ellis Act’s required compensation. After the initial attempt to subdivide the building and all other negotiations failed, the landlord finally issued the eviction. He now wants to sell the units as tenancy in common apartments. But the Morans — and some other tenants in the building — are refusing to cash his checks.

"Because if we accept the money, it says that we are willing to leave here," Moran says.

The word eviction brings back bad memories for many residents of San Francisco, where the number of people thrown out of their homes numbered 2,878 in 1999. Then, at the height of the dot-com era, long-term renters were booted to make room for higher-paying tenants and out-of-towners prepared to buy six-figure homes.

But Moran’s story highlights two new additions to the renter woes that fill the San Francisco Tenants Union these days: landlord buyouts and a surge in TIC homeownership. With San Francisco’s housing prices on a seemingly perpetual upswing, it’s no wonder TIC ownership has increased twelvefold in the past decade. In 1996, 55 TIC units were sold through the San Francisco Multiple Listing Service, and in 2006 that number rose to 650, according to Realtor groups.

At first glance, it looks as if this trend should answer the prayers of middle-class families while avoiding an increase in no-fault tenant evictions. The city’s total evictions have been going down since 2001, hovering around 1,500 since 2003. But over the past five years Ellis Act petitions have slowly picked up, then petered off again, according to Rent Board data. And Ted Gullicksen, office coordinator at the Tenants Union, says these numbers don’t take into account relocation as a result of unregistered buyouts and threats, which can often lead to TIC ownership.

Each weekday at the Tenants Union dozens of renters shuffle through the doors, plop into mismatched chairs, and wait for hours to spill their complaints and legal paperwork onto the desk of a volunteer counselor.

"We’re pretty busy here at the Tenants Union," Gullicksen says on a Friday afternoon during counseling hours. "It’s pretty close to what it was during the worst of the dot-com years."

Gullicksen reports an increase in the number of threats and buyouts of tenants in the past year. He attributes that to 2006 legislation passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prohibiting the conversion of buildings after the eviction of elderly or disabled tenants or multiple units. By avoiding putting an Ellis Act or other no-fault eviction on the record, the landlord can eventually convert the building into a condominium because its history hasn’t been tainted.

A building with no eviction history goes for more on the MLS, according to Gullicksen, which explains why landlords are willing to pay up to $60,000 for a "voluntary" tenant relocation. The private landlord-tenant agreement may be lucrative to the individuals involved, but it results in an almost undetectable loss of an affordable rental unit.

Gullicksen says it’s impossible to determine how many tenants relocate due to buyouts on a citywide level, but about 60 people seek help with one at the Tenants Union every month. Most tell a similar tale: A developer or landlord will offer between $2,000 and $60,000 to tenants to voluntarily vacate. The tenant may ask for a higher sum, and they’ll negotiate back and forth. Eventually, the tenant may be either bought out or evicted.

"It’s a game of chicken, really," Gullicksen says.

The loss of rental units at the hands of TICs or buyouts is not a small matter in a city where two-thirds of residents are renters (on the national level only 34 percent of housing units were rentals in the year 2000), and there is already a shortage of affordable housing.

US Census data show that San Francisco lost 18,474 rental-occupied housing units between 2000 and 2006. And the city isn’t doing much to plug the drain. According to the Planning Department, 13,795 new units have been built and ready for occupancy since 2000, and approximately 12,600 of those are condominiums.

Although the terms "TIC" and "condo" are often used interchangeably, they’re legally different. TICs follow a shared-homeownership model involving one deed and multiple live-in shareholders. They aren’t registered or restricted by the city, whereas condominium conversions are capped at 200 a year. Most notable is the price differential: TICs go for about $200,000 less than a median-priced condominium in San Francisco, which currently runs at $783,000, according to the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

TIC owners typically buy in hoping to raise their property’s value by eventually converting their units to condos through the city’s lottery system. Proponents call TICs one of the city’s only affordable homeownership options. Critics call them a loophole in condo conversion restriction laws.

Radhi Ahern, managing partner and broker at the TIC Group, doesn’t apologize for buyouts to make room for TICs. She acknowledges that TICs are obtained through financial negotiations with tenants.

"It’s the tenant’s choice on whether they get a buyout or don’t take a buyout. And it’s sometimes very lucrative," Ahern says from her spacious Union Street office. "I can honestly say nobody’s given me $25,000 to $50,000 to move into a place…. It’s a win-win situation."

A number of recent changes have increased TICs’ popularity, Ahern says. At first they were financially risky — with multiple people on one mortgage, everyone is affected if one defaults. But in recent years banks have taken on more responsibility through individualized loans to TIC owners. Ahern adds that there are virtually no foreclosures on TICs.

"With the advent of fractional financing, we’re going to see more and more people adopting TICs, just like co-ops were adopted in NYC," Ahern says.

In a city where about 90 percent of residents can’t afford a median-priced home, TICs are lifesavers to people like Scott Ozawa. The recently divorced 31-year-old father of two toddlers makes six figures at a dot-com but says buying into a Western Addition TIC was the only way he could own the home he wanted in San Francisco. Evictions shouldn’t be blamed on TIC owners, he says, but on the city’s faulty housing system and lack of new development.

"The lower-income and the middle-income folks are all vying for the same resources," Ozawa says. "But middle-income folks have more options that are open to them."

Meanwhile, Moran and her family plan to stay in the rent-controlled apartment she has lived in for 35 years and might have to fight an unlawful-detainer order in court this month. She says she likes her place — the neighbors all know one another, she’s close to transit, and her apartment’s thick walls offer protection from earthquakes. The family pays only $507 per month, less than one-fifth the average rate for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, according to the Tenants Union.

In September the Morans and other tenants at their apartment held a support rally outside their building, catering it with sandwiches and juice they prepared. Four elderly female tenants lined up on the front steps, taking turns speaking to the few dozen onlookers. Moran’s upstairs neighbor took out her oxygen tube to speak into a bullhorn. Moran stood beside her, later clapping along to a guitar-strumming activist singing, "Yuppie, yuppie stole my pad! Yuppie, yuppie, bad, bad, bad." As she smiled and mouthed the words in a language she doesn’t speak, a young couple wearing bandannas and carrying what looked like art supplies exited the building next door. They glanced toward the crowd with confused, down-turned brows but didn’t break their stride as they walked off the steps in the opposite direction.

Feelin’ groovy: Ben Lomond Indian Summer Music Festival report


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Circles sweethearts in Ben Lomond. All photos by Hannah Barr-DiChiara.

By Max Goldberg

With the Bay Bridge closed and Golden Gate Park rolling in 40-year-old patchouli, some local pleasure seekers headed south for the Santa Cruz Mountains where SF impresario Arvel Hernandez threw the first annual Ben Lomond Indian Summer Music Festival from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 at Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern. This summer of love was a hot one indeed, with highland temps cresting 100. Collective skin stickiness and caravans for creekdipping sessions were the order of the day. Evenings were for replenishment, singer-songwriters, sandwiches, a slice of lemon, and, eventually, a peaceful bedding down in the cricket-charmed night.

Hernandez did a wonderful job overseeing schedules and camping, making this festival of friends seem extra…friendly. The mixing of the beaded and bejeweled with some seriously leathered biker dudes and wooly barflies was sometimes weird but totally peaceable, my knee-jerk visions of Altamont redux proving unfounded. If anything, the locals just wanted to dance, something I could relate to after a pretty steady run of whispers and drones: just because you fly the freak flag doesn’t mean you’re excused from party anthems, soul stirrings, and a beat, ya heard?

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Ship bros.

But enough of that, let my praise spill over. Martin Salata (formerly of the White White Quilt) began Saturday, stretching out some diamond blues with Circles, a new project with recordings and shows forthcoming. A botched sound job left some holes in the arrangements, but the centrifugal groove-design was apparent and had me thinking vintage Dr. John and Hawkwind. Humbled by the heat, Guardian “Class of 2007” playboys Ship played their song-quilts more plaintively than usual; the heady light of the afternoon sun crowned these angels.

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Joseph Childress gets political.

Barn Owl’s skyscraping drone was the perfect match for the sudden cool of Saturday evening. Spirits awoken, we dug in for the nighttime jamboree. Wymond and His Spirit Children’s nice spin of hippie-glam gave way to a pin-drop performance by SF-by-way-of-Colorado troubadour Joseph Childress. I’ve seen Childress several times, but never this commanding and assured: keeping a tight leash on the vocal tics and guitar thrashings, allowing room for the natural ebullience of his verses and melodies to send Henfling’s soaring.

Flowers unempowered


It’s been quite a year for local florist Guy Clark. His dad passed away about a year ago, and Clark suffered a heart attack shortly afterward. Two weeks later, the building at 15th and Noe where he rents garage space to sell flowers caught on fire. The good news was that his space was not damaged. The bad news was that his landlord, Triterra Realty, didn’t immediately renovate the destroyed apartments and let most of the tenants move out, telling the two who remained, Clark and Irene Newmark, that they would have to move soon, too: once the renovations were completed, the building would be put on the market and possibly sold as Tenancy-in-Common (TIC) apartments.

Some more bad news came the other day, on the morning of Jan. 22 when Clark discovered his space had been vandalized in an apparent hate crime.

“KKK” was scrawled across the garage door in blue paint. “Fuck you” with an arrow pointing to the door was written in off-white paint on the sidewalk. Additional garnishes of white and blue were splashed and smeared throughout the area.

“They totally trashed the place,” Clark told the Guardian. “I imagine that it’s geared toward me because I’m an African American.”

Clark said he notified the San Francisco Police Department, and an officer came by to file a report and take some pictures. The case will be referred to the Hate Crimes unit.

“I can’t really think of anybody who would do something like this,” said Clark, adding that he recently had a minor altercation with a neighbor up the street but no other suspects immediately came to mind. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who come by are a blessing.”

Clark has been living and selling flowers in the neighborhood for 25 years, and renting this particular space for five. The Guardian awarded his shop a Best of the Bay in 2005.

“This is more than tragic. Guy is very loved by this neighborhood,” said Irene Newmark, who lives in the building where Guy’s Flowers is housed. Newmark thinks increased gentrification, while not directly related to the hate crime, is changing the place where she’s lived for many years. Newmark listed off several nearby properties that have been sold recently or are on the market, including one that sits vacant across the street.

“They offered to buy me out for $10,000, but that’s not a financial incentive to move,” she said, adding that by the time she paid taxes on the money and found a new place to live most of the money would be gone. She said the owners of the building told her their intent was to sell the building on TIC speculation and “the day it sells you’ll receive your Ellis Act notice.”

Riyad Salma, a spokesperson from Triterra Realty, based on nearby Sanchez Street, said the company has joint ownership of a few other properties in the neighborhood and would be putting a different TIC on the market shortly. He didn’t want to comment on the TIC prospects for the building where Guy’s Flowers is housed, saying it was too market dependent and difficult to say at this point what they will do. He did confirm that the building would be put up for sale soon, “marketed as a whole building or TICs. Whoever will take it,” he said.

Salma also expressed dismay about the crime. “The vandalism seemed to be hate-motivated and race-motivated and it’s not something we’ve ever seen in the neighborhood,” he said.

Sitting on a bench among pots of flowers that decorate the sidewalk in front of her building, Newmark said, “It’s so ironic that those that are beautifying the neighborhood are being forced out.”

Nearby a Department of Public Works employee wielded a hose like a magic wand, trying to make the hateful slurs disappear.

Clark said he plans to keep doing what he does for as long as he can, whether it’s in this building or the one where he lives, four doors down the street.

“I’m usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays,” said Clark. “But I was thinking about just going and selling whatever I had left. The idea of selling flowers makes me feel better.”

Exposing SFSOS


By Tim Redmond

Very nice piece by Daniela Kirshenbaum in the latest Fog City Journal, detailing some of thenasty history of SFSOS, the group that’s pushing big for Rob Black for supervisor in District Six. Among her other interesting points: Wade Randlett of SFSOS (which loves to push for lax restrictions on condo conversions and TICs) is a founder and major stockholder of E-Loan, a company that’s pushing TIC mortgages.

Newsom loses control


› steve@sfbg.com

In the early days, the mayor tried to sound like a practical, hands-on executive who was ready to run San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom used his inaugural address on Jan. 8, 2004, to emphasize that he was a uniter, not a divider and that he wanted to get things done.

"I say it’s time to start working together to find common purpose and common ground," he proclaimed. "Because I want to make this administration about solutions."

It’s a mantra he’s returned to again and again in his rhetoric on a wide range of issues, claiming a "commonsense" approach while casting "ideology" as an evil to be overcome and as the main motive driving the left-leaning majority of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

"Because it’s easy to be against something," Newsom said on that sunny winter day. "It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to stop…. What’s hard is to hear that maybe to come together, we need to leave behind old ideas and long-held grudges. But that’s exactly what we need to do."

But if that’s the standard, Newsom has spent the past 17 months taking the easy way.

It’s been a marked change from his first-year lovefest, when he tried to legalize same-sex marriage, reach out to BayviewHunters Point residents, and force big hotels to end their lockout of workers.

A Guardian review of the most significant City Hall initiatives during 2005 and 2006 as well as interviews with more than a dozen policy experts and public interest advocates shows that Newsom has been an obstructionist who has proposed few "solutions" to the city’s problems, and followed through on even fewer.

The Board of Supervisors, in sharp contrast, has been taking the policy lead. The majority on the district-elected board in the past year has moved a generally progressive agenda designed to preserve rental units, prevent evictions, strengthen development standards, promote car-free spaces, increase affordable housing, maintain social services, and protect city workers.

Yet many of those efforts have been blocked or significantly weakened by Newsom and his closest allies on the board: Fiona Ma, Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Bevan Dufty. And on efforts to get tough with big business or prevent Muni service cuts and fare hikes, Newsom was able to peel off enough moderate supervisors to stop the progressives led by Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Ross Mirkarimi at the board level.

But one thing that Newsom has proved himself unable to do in the past year is prevent progressive leaders particularly Daly, against whom Newsom has a "long-held grudge" that has on a few recent occasions led to unsavory political tactics and alliances from setting the public agenda for the city.

Balance of power

The Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors are the two poles of power at City Hall and generally the system gives a strong advantage to the mayor, who has far more resources at his disposal, a higher media profile, and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.

Yet over the past year, the three most progressive supervisors along with their liberal-to-moderate colleagues Gerardo Sandoval, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Sophie Maxwell have initiated the most significant new city policies, dealing with housing, poverty, health care, alternative transportation, violence prevention, and campaign finance reform.

Most political observers and City Hall insiders mark the moment when the board majority took control of the city agenda as last summer, a point when Newsom’s honeymoon ended, progressives filled the leadership void on growth issues, problems like tenants evictions and the murder rate peaked, and Newsom was increasingly giving signs that he wasn’t focused on running the city.

"Gay marriage gave the mayor his edge and gave him cover for a long time," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer and tenants rights activist. "About a year ago that started to wear off, and his armor started to be shed."

Daly was the one supervisor who had been aggressively criticizing Newsom during that honeymoon period. To some, Daly seemed isolated and easy to dismiss at least until August 2005, when Daly negotiated a high-profile deal with the developers of the Rincon Hill towers that extracted more low-income housing and community-benefits money than the city had ever seen from a commercial project.

The Newsom administration watched the negotiations from the sidelines. The mayor signed off on the deal, but within a couple months turned into a critic and said he regretted supporting it. Even downtown stalwarts like the public policy think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association noted the shift in power.

"I think we saw a different cut on the issue than we’ve seen before," SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf told us. "Chris Daly is not a NIMBY. I see Chris Daly as one of the supervisors most able to deal with physical change, and he’s not afraid of urbanism…. And he’s been granted by the rest of the board a lot of leadership in the area of land use."

SPUR and Metcalf were critical of aspects of the Daly deal, such as where the money would go. But after the deal, Newsom and his minions, like press secretary Peter Ragone, had a harder time demonizing Daly and the board (although they never stopped trying).

Around that same time, hundreds of evictions were galvanizing the community of renters which makes up around two-thirds of city residents. Newsom tried to find some compromise on the issue, joining Peskin to convene a task force composed of tenants activists, developers, and real estate professionals, hoping that the group could find a way to prevent evictions while expanding home ownership opportunities.

"The mayor views the striking of balance between competing interests as an important approach to governing," Ragone told the Guardian after we explained the array of policy disputes this story would cover.

The task force predictably fell apart after six meetings. "The mayor was trying to find a comfortable way to get out of the issue," said Mecca, a member of the task force. But with some issues, there simply is no comfortable solution; someone’s going to be unhappy with the outcome. "When that failed," Mecca said, "there was nowhere for him to go anymore."

The San Francisco Tenants Union and its allies decided it was time to push legislation that would protect tenants, organizing an effective campaign that finally forced Newsom into a reactionary mode. The mayor wound up siding overtly with downtown interests for the first time in his mayoral tenure and in the process, he solidified the progressive board majority.

Housing quickly became the issue that defines differences between Newsom and the board.

Free-market policy

"The Newsom agenda has been one of gentrification," said San Francisco Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen. The mayor and his board allies have actively opposed placing limitations on the high number of evictions (at least until the most recent condo conversion measure, which Dufty and Newsom supported, a victory tenants activists attribute to their organizing efforts), while at the same time encouraging development patterns that "bring in more high-end condominiums and saturate the market with that," Gullicksen explained.

He pointed out that those two approaches coalesce into a doubly damaging policy on the issue of converting apartments into condominiums, which usually displace low-income San Franciscans, turn an affordable rental unit into an expensive condominium, and fill the spot with a higher-income owner.

"So you really get a two-on-one transformation of the city," Gullicksen said.

Newsom’s allies don’t agree, noting that in a city where renters outnumber homeowners two to one, some loss of rental housing is acceptable. "Rather than achieve their stated goals of protecting tenants, the real result is a barrier to home ownership," Elsbernd told us, explaining his vote against all four recent tenant-protection measures.

On the development front, Gullicksen said Newsom has actively pushed policies to develop housing that’s unaffordable to most San Franciscans as he did with his failed Workforce Housing Initiative and some of his area plans while maintaining an overabundance of faith in free-market forces.

"He’s very much let the market have what the market wants, which is high-end luxury housing," Gullicksen said.

As a result, Mecca said, "I think we in the tenant movement have been effective at making TICs a class issue."

Affordable housing activists say there is a marked difference between Newsom and the board majority on housing.

"The Board of Supervisors is engaged in an active pursuit of land-use policy that attempts to preserve as much affordable housing, as much rental housing, as much neighborhood-serving businesses as possible," longtime housing activist Calvin Welch told us. "And the mayor is totally and completely lining up with downtown business interests."

Welch said Newsom has shown where he stands in the appointments he makes such as that of Republican planning commissioner Michael Antonini, and his nomination of Ted Dienstfrey to run Treasure Island, which the Rules Committee recently rejected and by the policies he supports.

Welch called Daly’s Rincon deal "precedent setting and significant." It was so significant that downtown noticed and started pushing back.


Board power really coalesced last fall. In addition to the housing and tenant issues, Ammiano brought forward a plan that would force businesses to pay for health insurance plans for their employees. That galvanized downtown and forced Newsom to finally make good on his promise to offer his own plan to deal with the uninsured but the mayor offered only broad policy goals, and the plan itself is still being developed.

It was in this climate that many of Newsom’s big-business supporters, including Don Fisher the Republican founder of the Gap who regularly bankrolls conservative political causes in San Francisco demanded and received a meeting with Newsom. The December sit-down was attended by a who’s who of downtown developers and power brokers.

"That was a result of them losing their ass on Rincon Hill," Welch said of the meeting.

The upshot according to public records and Guardian interviews with attendees was that Newsom agreed to oppose an ordinance designed to limit how much parking could be built along with the 10,000 housing units slated for downtown. The mayor instead would support a developer-written alternative carried by Alioto-Pier.

The measure downtown opposed was originally sponsored by Daly before being taken over by Peskin. It had the strong support of Newsom’s own planning director, Dean Macris, and was approved by the Planning Commission on a 61 vote (only Newsom’s Republican appointee, Antonini, was opposed).

The process that led to the board’s 74 approval of the measure was politically crass and embarrassing for the Mayor’s Office (see “Joining the Battle,” 2/8/06), but he kept his promise and vetoed the measure. The votes of his four allies were enough to sustain the veto.

Newsom tried to save face in the ugly saga by pledging to support a nearly identical version of the measure, but with just a couple more giveaways to developers: allowing them to build more parking garages and permitting more driveways with their projects.

Political observers say the incident weakened Newsom instead of strengthening him.

"They can’t orchestrate a move. They are only acting by vetoes, and you can’t run the city by vetoes," Welch said. "He never puts anything on the line, and that’s why the board has become so emboldened."

Rippling out

The Newsom administration doesn’t seem to grasp how housing issues or symbolic issues like creating car-free spaces or being wary of land schemes like the BayviewHunters Point redevelopment plan shape perceptions of other issues. As Welch said, "All politics in San Francisco center around land use."

N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, said the Newsom administration has done a very good job of maintaining budgetary support for programs dealing with children, youth, and their families. But advocates have relied on the leadership of progressive supervisors like Daly to push affordable housing initiatives like the $20 million budget supplemental the board initiated and approved in April.

"Our primary concern is that low- and moderate-income families are being pushed out of San Francisco," Lee told us. "We’re redefining what it means to be pro-kid and pro-family in San Francisco."

Indeed, that’s a very different approach from the so-called pro-family agenda being pushed by SFSOS and some of Newsom’s other conservative allies, who argue that keeping taxes low while keeping the streets and parks safe and clean is what families really want. But Lee worries more about ensuring that families have reasonably priced shelter.

So she and other affordable housing advocates will be watching closely this summer as the board and Newsom deal with Daly’s proposal to substantially increase the percentage of affordable housing developers must build under the city’s inclusionary-housing policy. Newsom’s downtown allies are expected to strongly oppose the plan.

Even on Newsom’s signature issue, the board has made inroads.

"In general, on the homeless issue, the supervisor who has shown the most strong and consistent leadership has been Chris Daly," said Coalition on Homelessness director Juan Prada.

Prada credits the mayor with focusing attention on the homeless issue, although he is critical of the ongoing harassment of the homeless by the Police Department and the so-called Homeward Bound program that gives homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.

"This administration has a genuine interest in homeless issues, which the previous one didn’t have, but they’re banking too much on the Care Not Cash approach," Prada said.

Other Newsom initiatives to satisfy his downtown base of support have also fallen flat.

Robert Haaland of the city employee labor union SEIU Local 790 said Newsom has tried to reform the civil service system and privatize some city services, but has been stopped by labor and the board.

"They were trying to push a privatization agenda, and we pushed back," Haaland said, noting that Supervisor Ma’s alliance with Newsom on that issue was the reason SEIU 790 endorsed Janet Reilly over Ma in the District 12 Assembly race.

The turning point on the issue came last year, when the Newsom administration sought to privatize the security guards at the Asian Art Museum as a cost-saving measure. The effort was soundly defeated in the board’s Budget Committee.

"That was a key vote, and they lost, so I don’t think they’ll be coming back with that again," Haaland said, noting that labor has managed to win over Dufty, giving the board a veto-proof majority on privatization issues.

Who’s in charge?

Even many Newsom allies will privately grumble that Newsom isn’t engaged enough with the day-to-day politics of the city. Again and again, Newsom has seemed content to watch from the sidelines, as he did with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s proposal to create a public financing program for mayoral candidates.

"The board was out front on that, while the mayor stayed out of it until the very end," said Steven Hill, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, who was involved with the measure. And when the administration finally did weigh in, after the board had approved the plan on a veto-proof 92 vote, Newsom said the measure didn’t go far enough. He called for public financing for all citywide offices but never followed up with an actual proposal.

The same has been true on police reform and violence prevention measures. Newsom promised to create a task force to look into police misconduct, to hold a blue-ribbon summit on violence prevention, and to implement a community policing system with grassroots input and none of that has come to pass.

Then, when Daly took the lead in creating a community-based task force to develop violence prevention programs with an allocation of $10 million a year for three years Measure A on the June ballot Newsom and his board allies opposed the effort, arguing the money would be better spent on more cops (see “Ballot-Box Alliance,” page 19).

"He’s had bad counsel on this issue of violence all the way through," said Sharen Hewitt, who runs the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project. "He has not done damn near enough from his position, and neither has the board."

Hewitt worries that current city policies, particularly on housing, are leading to class polarization that could make the problems of violence worse. And while Newsom’s political allies tend to widen the class divide, she can’t bring herself to condemn the mayor: "I think he’s a nice guy and a lot smarter than people have given him credit for."

Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board and serves as executive director of Transportation for a Livable City (which is in the process of changing its name to Livable City), said Newsom generally hasn’t put much action behind his rhetorical support for the environment and transit-first policies.

"Everyone says they’re pro-environment," he said.

In particular, Radulovich was frustrated by Newsom’s vetoes of the downtown parking and Healthy Saturdays measures and two renter-protection measures. The four measures indicated very different agendas pursued by Newsom and the board majority.

In general, Radulovich often finds his smart-growth priorities opposed by Newsom’s allies. "The moneyed interests usually line up against livable city, good planning policies," he said. On the board, Radulovich said it’s no surprise that the three supervisors from the wealthiest parts of town Ma, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier generally vote against initiatives he supports.

"Dufty is the oddity because he represents a pretty progressive, urbane district," Radulovich said, "but he tends to vote like he’s from a more conservative district."

What’s next?

The recent lawsuit by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee of Jobs urging more aggressive use of a voter-approved requirement that board legislation undergo a detailed economic analysis shows that downtown is spoiling for a fight (see “Downtown’s ‘Hail Mary’ Lawsuit,” page 9). So politics in City Hall is likely to heat up.

"There is a real absence of vision and leadership in the city right now, particularly on the question of who will be able to afford to live in San Francisco 20 years from now," Mirkarimi said. "There is a disparity between Newsom hitting the right notes in what the press and public want to hear and between the policy considerations that will put those positions into effect."

But Newsom’s allies say they plan to stand firm against the ongoing effort by progressives to set the agenda.

"I think I am voting my constituency," Elsbernd said. "I’m voting District Seven and voicing a perspective of a large part of the city that the progressive majority doesn’t represent."

Newsom flack Ragone doesn’t accept most of the narratives that are laid out by activists, from last year’s flip in the balance of power to the influence of downtown and Newsom’s wealthy benefactors on his decision to veto four measures this year.

"Governing a city like San Francisco is complex. There are many areas of nuance in governing this city," Ragone said. "Everyone knows Gavin Newsom defies traditional labels. That’s not part of a broad political strategy, but just how he governs."

Yet the majority of the board seems unafraid to declare where they stand on the most divisive issues facing the city.

"The board has really, since the 2000 election has been pushing a progressive set of policies as it related to housing, just-taxation policies, and an array of social service provisions," Peskin said. "All come with some level of controversy, because none are free." SFBG