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Single town?


Like Clear Channel radio stations, many smaller papers would have little or no staff, nobody to answer the phone, nobody to take local tips and cover local news … they would be nothing but shells of once-thriving community newspapers.

This map, prepared by the San Jose Newspaper Guild, shows all of the newspapers that will soon be owned by Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group. MediaNews started out with 11 papers, and the addition of 33 Knight-Ridder papers will give the Denver-based outfit a total of 44 daily and community papers in the Bay Area.

Most of the daily newspaper coverage of the deal (including the coverage by Knight-Ridder and MediaNews papers) has focused on the four biggest papers involved and ignored the smaller papers altogether — a sign, perhaps, that neither chain cares that much about community publications.

Currently owned by MediaNews: (1) Alameda Times Star; (2) Fremont Argus; (3) Hayward Daily Review; (4) Marin Independent Journal; (5) Milpitas Post; (6) Oakland Tribune; (7) Pacifica Tribune; (8) San Mateo County Times; (9) Tri-Valley Herald; (10) Reporter (Vacaville); (11) Vallejo Times-Herald.

Currently owned by Knight-Ridder, soon to be taken over by MediaNews: (1) Alameda Journal; (2) Almaden Resident; (3) Berkeley Voice; (4) Brentwood News; (5) Burlingame Daily News; (6) Campbell Reporter; (7) Concord Transcript; (8–11) Contra Costa Newspapers (Contra Costa Times, West County Times, Valley Times, San Ramon Times); (12) Contra Costa Sun; (13) Cupertino Courier; (14) East Bay Daily News; (15) El Cerrito Journal; (16) Antioch Ledger-Dispatch; (17) Los Gatos Daily News; (18) Los Gatos Weekly-Times; (19) Montclarion; (20) Monterey County Herald (not shown); (21) Palo Alto Daily News; (22) Pleasant Hill/Martinez Record; (23) Piedmonter; (24) Redwood City Daily News; (25) Rose Garden Resident; (26) San Jose Mercury News; (27) San Mateo Daily News; (28) Saratoga News; (29) Sunnyvale Sun; (30) Salinas Valley Advisor (not shown); (31) Walnut Creek Journal; (32) West County Weekly; (33) Willow Glen Resident. MediaNews owns 29 other California publications.

Stop Singleton’s media grab!

EDITORIAL At first glance, it looks like one of the oddest deals in recent newspaper history: McClatchy, the Sacramento-based newspaper chain, buys the much bigger Knight-Ridder chain, then sells two of the Knight-Ridder papers to MediaNews Group, run by Dean Singleton out of Denver, and two to the New York Citybased Hearst Corp., which owns the San Francisco Chronicle. Then Hearst immediately sells its two papers to Singleton’s shop, in exchange for an equity share in MediaNews operations outside of the Bay Area.

The upshot: MediaNews will take over the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, along with some 33 small-market dailies and weeklies, which, combined with the 11 Bay Area papers the chain already owns, will give Singleton control of every major daily newspaper in the Bay Area except the Chronicle.

It creates the potential for a newspaper monopoly of stunning proportions and threatens the quality of journalism in one of the most populous, educated, and liberal regions in the nation. Singleton, known as "lean Dean" for his cost-cutting moves, is likely to slash staffing at papers like the Times and the Merc, consolidate news gathering, and offer readers less local news.

In fact, in its most recent annual report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, MediaNews outlined its strategy for profitability. "One of our key acquisition strategies is to acquire newspapers in markets contiguous to our own," the report states. This so-called clustering strategy allows the company to consolidate advertising and business functions as well as news gathering. "We seek to increase operating cash flows at acquired newspapers by reducing labor costs," the report notes.

In other words, a smaller number of reporters will be doing fewer stories, which will run in more papers. This, Luther Jackson, executive officer of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, argues, "means cookie-cutter coverage and fewer voices contributing to important public policy debates."

There are deeper concerns with this deal including the possibility that Hearst and Singleton could be forming an unholy alliance that would nearly wipe out daily competition in the Bay Area.

The whole mess has its roots in the decision by the Knight-Ridder board several months ago to put the company up for sale. It was the kind of decision that demonstrates the problems with treating newspapers like baseball cards, to trade on the open market: Knight-Ridder was quite profitable, ran some of the better newspapers in the nation, and had a reputation (by chain standards, anyway) of being willing to spend money on the editorial product. But the stock price wasn’t quite high enough, and a few big shareholders (who weren’t satisfied with 20 percent profits) were complaining, so the entire company went on the block.

McClatchy, a well-managed company that has the Sacramento Bee as its flagship, wanted some of the Knight-Ridder papers but only the ones in fast-growing markets. So after submitting a winning bid, the McClatchy folks starting looking for ways to dump the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Monterey Herald, the St. Paul Pioneer-Dispatch, and some 20 smaller community papers in the Bay Area.

But why, exactly, is Hearst getting involved? Well, Peter Scheer, a former antitrust lawyer who runs the California First Amendment Coalition, has some theories. The first possible reason? Hearst has plenty of cash on hand, and the deal would allow MediaNews to avoid having to seek as much financing from bankers.

More likely: Hearst through the Chronicle would have been Singleton’s only local competitor, and is the only significant political player in California that could have pressured regulators to oppose the deal. The arrangement, Scheer says, turns Hearst from a potential foe into a partner. Already the two companies have announced they may seek to share distribution systems. And there may be other plans in the works.

In fact, one of the most interesting ideas about the deal comes from a former Chronicle assistant managing editor, Alan Mutter, who writes a blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur (newsosaur.blogspot.com). Mutter suggests that the deal might lead to the end of real newspaper competition in the Bay Area, for once and for all. "Hearst," he speculates, "hopes at some point to work with MediaNews to extricate itself from the costly problem posed by the San Francisco Chronicle, which is widely believed to be losing about $1 million per week."

The idea: Down the road, Hearst merges the Chron with MediaNews or, if the Justice Department won’t allow that, the two companies enter into a joint operating agreement. A JOA works like this: The two companies share all printing, business, sales, and distribution operations, run two theoretically separate newsrooms, and at the end of the day split the profits. The Chron and the Examiner were run for years under a JOA, and it was terrible for readers: With no economic incentive to compete, both papers stagnated. But it can be the equivalent of a license to print money.

"Unlike some publishers who shun JOA relationships," Mutter notes, "Dean Singleton has embraced them and seems to be making them work in places like Denver and Detroit. Is the San Francisco Chronicle next on his list?"

Imagine what a near-complete monopoly of Bay Area dailies in the hands of a notorious cost-cutter would mean. For starters, we can count on more standardized, conservative politics (at least the Knight-Ridder papers opposed the war). Perhaps all reporting and editing would be consolidated into one newsroom, in San Francisco or San Jose. Like Clear Channel radio stations, many smaller papers might wind up with little or no staff, nobody to answer the phone, nobody to take local tips and cover local news … they’d be nothing but shells of once-thriving community newspapers. They would have abandoned the crucial local-watchdog role of a daily newspaper (and made life more difficult for the few remaining independents).

The fact that this is a possible, even likely, scenario is alarming. In short order, one company could control every major daily in the Bay Area (except the Examiner and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat) fixing prices, sharing markets, pooling profits, and keeping ad rates artificially high and the quality of journalism abysmally low.

Have there been discussions around this? What is Hearst’s real interest here, and how does it jibe with Singleton’s dream of a massive regional "cluster"? Until we know the answers, the MediaNews-McClatchy deal should never go forward.

It’s almost too much to ask that the Bush administration, which loves big-business mergers, give it a thorough review. But the California attorney general has grounds to challenge it too.

AG Bill Lockyer completely ducked on the deal that merged the two largest chains in the alternative press, Village Voice Media and New Times. He can’t be allowed to duck this one: There must be a detailed, public investigation, and the newspaper chains must come clean and release the details of the deal. The two leading Democratic candidates for attorney general, Jerry Brown and Rocky Delgadillo, need to make this a top issue in the campaign. It should be an issue in the governor’s race, and every city and town that’s affected, including San Francisco, should pass a resolution against the merger. SFBG

PS Local arts and community organizations on the Peninsula are alarmed about the deal for another reason: Knight-Ridder contributes millions of dollars a year to those groups. Will Singleton continue that tradition?

Bay Area Congressional letter to DOJ re. KR sale antitrust concerns 

A dose of reality on immigration


EDITORIAL The massive immigrant rallies, marches, and work boycotts on May 1 may have been an inconvenience to some, and the sight of tens of thousands of undocumented workers demonstrating in the streets may have offended a few politicians, but that’s true with all great social movements. And there’s little doubt that this is a new, great social movement.

The point of the May Day actions was to demonstrate the economic importance of immigrants and to send a not so subtle message to Congress that punitive, regressive immigration "reforms" won’t be tolerated quietly. The legislators in Washington, DC, can debate the finer details of amnesties and guest-worker programs, and the activists can argue over political tactics, but there are a few key points that should never get lost.

Immigration can’t be addressed with fences, border patrols, and felony prosecutions. As long as economic conditions in places like Mexico and Central America (and political conditions in dozens of other places) are dismal, people will try to come to the United States and they will always find ways of getting here.

The overwhelming majority of those immigrants contribute mightily to the nation’s economy and to the fabric of society. The waves of immigration over the years have always made this a better country.

The laws that criminalize undocumented immigrants are cruel, sometimes deadly, and immensely expensive. They’re also a complete failure, and always will be.

The only way to really address this issue is to get beyond the rhetoric and face some facts:

The reason most immigrants come to the United States is economic necessity. If we want fewer people from Mexico crossing the border, then we can help them make a decent living where they are. Imagine what $277 billion (the amount the United States has spent to date on the war in Iraq) would do for economic development in neighboring countries.

Big corporations love "free trade” agreements, but in the United States those deals only allow money and goods, not people, to move freely. In Europe, people can move too but to make that possible, the wealthier nations of the European Union have poured billions of dollars into the less developed areas.

There’s no way to get rid of the 12 million people who are living illegally in the United States, and even talking about it is a terrible idea. Offering them all citizenship, today, would solve a whole lot more problems that it would create. People who don’t fear deportation can fight abusive landlords, take sick kids to clinics, join labor unions, vote, and refuse to accept economic, political, and social abuse.

And that’s better for everyone. SFBG

A strong small-business agenda


EDITORIAL You read the academic journals these days, or peruse economic-development Web sites, and everyone seems to be talking about sustainable urban economics. It’s as if the mantra that was first put forward by Jane Jacobs, David Morris, and a few others a quarter century ago is very much in the mainstream today: Cities function best with diverse economies dominated by locally owned businesses, with money circuutf8g within the community. Cutting-edge restaurants talk about serving locally grown food. Beverage savants want local beer and wine. Just about everyone — including the mayor and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — wants to participate in a program called Shop Local.

It’s a wonderful, encouraging trend — but if it’s going to make any real difference in this city, it has to become a lot more than lip service. Consider: Just as Mayor Newsom was proudly signing on to a Shop San Francisco program, the mayor and the supervisors were busy approving plans to allow Home Depot — an anticompetitive out-of-town corporation that destroys local small business and undermines the entire concept of a strong local economy — to build a giant store on Bayshore Boulevard.

 It’s taken legal action by Sue Hestor and the neighborhood leaders to derail (for now) the mayor’s plans to build high-end condos all over the eastern neighborhoods — threatening hundreds of locally owned businesses.

Downtown business leaders and the groups they fund still push for policies that hurt most of the businesses in the city — and too many small-business people still go along.

Here’s the reality: Supporting small businesses — and moving San Francisco toward a sustainable economy — requires a lot more than a slogan. The people who are behind the Shop Local movement know that. They’re promoting a wide range of national and local policies designed to change not only attitudes but the direction of public policy.

San Francisco, a progressive city known for its wonderful, lively, unique neighborhoods, ought to be a national leader in the battle. But others (Philadelphia, for example) are moving way ahead. This city is still stuck in an ancient (and regressive) economic mind-set.

There are a number of key things the city can do to turn that around and become a truly small-businessfriendly place — and most of them go far beyond public-relations efforts and cutting through red tape. The basic approach to policy needs to change; here are a few ways to start:

 Stop allowing big chains to come into town. That’s not exactly rocket science, and it isn’t so hard either: Hayes Valley and North Beach both have "formula retail" laws that restrict the chains, and there’s talk of doing the same in Potrero Hill. But why does this have to be fought block by block? Why not a citywide ordinance that protects every neighborhood commercial district — and, more important, keeps the life-sucking big-box giants away from the city altogether?

 Make small, locally owned businesses part of the planning process. The city’s own (limited) studies have made clear that the type of development the mayor and the current city planning leadership has in mind would damage local businesses, particularly in the repair, distribution, and small manufacturing areas. That alone ought to be grounds to change directions. Why not a checklist for every new project that includes the question: Will this displace existing locally owned businesses? If the answer is yes, the project should be rejected.

Take progressive business taxes seriously. There’s almost certainly going to be an effort this fall to change the city’s business-tax structure, with one of the goals being an increase in overall revenue. That’s great, and it ought to happen — but the tax rates have to be shifted too, so that a tiny local retail outlet doesn’t pay the same amount as the Gap. (Socking big-box outlets with a special tax or fee — possibly based on the fact that they are by nature car-driven operations — might be a nice way to bring in some cash.)

You can’t be friendly to small local businesses these days without taking sides in the national economic war — and that means coming out against the big chains. Until San Francisco does that, all the talk of supporting local merchants will amount to nothing. SFBG

20 questions for Fiona Ma


Sup. Fiona Ma, who is running for state Assembly, last week decided to skip an endorsement interview that she scheduled with the Guardian – making herself unavailable to answer questions important to Guardian readers – so we’ve decided to put some of our questions out the publicly.

We encourage voters to press her for answers before the June primary, and if you have any luck, please let us know by e-mailing City Editor Steven T. Jones at steve@sfbg.com.

1.   What kind of health care system do you support for California? Ma’s opponent, Janet Reilly, has made single-payer health care her top campaign priority and issued a detailed plan for what that would entail. Health care is one of just five issues that Ma discusses on her website (the others being Housing, Education, Budget/Jobs, and Transportation), vaguely indicating she support universal coverage and stating, “I support state measures to provide incentives for business owners to cover their workers and other such efforts, but we need the political will on the national level to be successful.”  The first part sounds as if she’s advocating tax breaks to businesses that offer private insurance health plans to their employees. The caveat at the end sounds like she doesn’t intend to do much of anything until the feds do. But then, during the only debate that she’d agreed to have with Reilly, Ma said that she support a single-payer health care system, without offering any other details. This is arguably the most important issue the Legislature will face in the next few years and we have a right to know whose side Ma would be on.

2.   What will you do to protect renters and rental units in San Francisco? Again, it was the sole debate and its aftermath that yielded much confusion about where Ma stands regarding renters. She has made no secret of her strong support for increasing homeownership opportunities and her record is one of opposing local efforts to slow the number of Ellis Act evictions. But at the debate, she went further by declaring, “The Ellis Act is sometimes the only way for some people to become homeowners and I support it.” After being criticized for the statement, she defended herself in a piece on BeyondChron.org that only seemed to dig a deeper hole, arguing that she supports “ownership units [that] are affordable to San Franciscans of all income levels.” And how exactly is that going to happen?

3. What’s up with the $20 million?    In that same Beyondchron.org column, to defend her bad record on renters, Ma cited an effort that she made earlier this month to amend the city’s $20 million housing subsidy program to prioritize those who have been evicted under the Ellis Act. City officials said it would have had little practical effect and the gesture seemed to contradict you statements of support for Ellis Act evictions. Why should we see this as anything but a crass political deception?

4.      Why have you been unwilling to provide details about your policy positions even on the five issues you raised on your website – so voters would know how you intend to vote?

5.      How do you intend to increase revenues coming into the state, which you will need for even the broad goals you cited in education, transportation, and business “incentives”? We’re particularly interested in this answer after watching Ma chair the city’s Revenue Advisory Panel two years ago. That body was charged by the mayor’s office with recommending new revenue sources, and ended up recommending none.

6. Are you just a pawn of downtown business?At luncheon speeches that she gave to SFSOS and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce over the last couple years, Ma you blasted and belittled her colleagues on the board while fawning over the business community. What is she willing to do to show her independence from downtown?

7.      Why do most of your colleagues on the Board of Supervisors support Janet Reilly —  and why shouldn’t voters see that as an indictment of your tenure as a supervisor?

8.      Is there anything new that you would require of the business community, such as improved labor or environmental standards, greater corporate accountability and transparency, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, health care benefits for employees or their same sex partners?

9.      Your record is one of consistent opposition to requiring developers to pay more or offer more public benefits, such as open space or affordable housing. Why shouldn’t rich developers making obscene profits pay a little more? Has your position been influenced by the financial support of people like Oz Erickson, Joe Cassidy, Warren Hellman, Don Fisher, and Bob McCarthy?

10.     Why did you oppose legislation that would have limited the number of parking spaces that could be built in conjunction with the nearly 10,000 housing units slated for the downtown core, legislation that Planning Director Dean Macris called critical to good planning? Did your support from the downtown developers who opposed it have anything to do with your position?

11.     You supported a deal that extended Comcast’s cable contract without requiring any new public programming requirements, even though other comparable cities have better plans. Do you think that’s why Comcast is supporting your campaign?

12.     You’ve been a big advocate of tax breaks for corporations, including the biotech and film industries in San Francisco. How would you make up for these lost revenues and are you concerned that having cities compete with tax breaks creates a race to the bottom that starve public coffers? And on the biotech tax credit, given that such companies often lose money for years before reaping high windfall profits, how would be insure those companies eventually pay taxes to the city rather than just moving somewhere where they won’t be taxed?

13.     You were a longtime supporter of Julie Lee, continuing to support her even after it was revealed that she illegally laundered public funds into political campaigns. Why, and do you continue to support her?

14.     In a recent letter to supporters, you warned that Janet Reilly was trying to buy the campaign so people needed to give more. At the time, she had raised about $600,000 to your $700,000. How do you justify what appears to be a deceptive statement to your own supporters?

15.     We understand you support the death penalty, but many studies have shown that those on death row have been represented by inexperienced and ineffective lawyers, that they are disproportionately poor and minorities, and that based on detailed studies conducted in other states, it is likely that at least a few are not guilty of their crimes. Given all of that, are there any reforms that you’d like to see in how executions are carried out?
16.     In the debate, you said that the state is not required to balance its budget and that the federal government may simply print money to cover its budget deficits. Would you like to clarify or amend either statement?

 17.     What is your position on drug prohibition? Are there any current illegal drugs that you would decriminalize or are there any other changes you would make to the war on drugs?

The statement you issued on your website dealing with “Transportation” – one of just five issues you addressed – is only 48 words long. Is there anything that you’d like to add? And are there any other issues facing the state that you think are important?

  The Reilly campaign has warned of a possibly illegal effort to attack her by a group called “Leaders for an Effective Government,” using money laundered by Comcast and your old boss, John Burton. Are you aware of this effort and have you taken any steps to stop or repudiate it?

20. Why do you think it’s okay to avoid tough questions from the press?

Sunshine smoke screens


EDITORIAL There are danger signals coming out of City Hall these days, some not-so-subtle indications that the city’s open-government laws might be quietly coming under attack. Consider:

The City Attorney’s Office has filed an action in Superior Court to have library activist James Chaffee declared a "vexatious litigant." That would stop Chaffee from filing any more legal actions to try to force the Library Commission which has a terrible record on open government issues to comply with state and local laws.

Chaffee is a former chair of the Sunshine Task Force. In 1999 and 2002, he filed a string of suits against the library (all of them lost, the city says) and he’s filed a few actions since then. He’s acted as his own attorney in almost every case. Some of them, frankly, were a little obscure: Changing the public-comment time at a meeting from three minutes to two minutes isn’t the sort of thing that typically requires a lawsuit to resolve. But his work, in and out of court for 31 years, has unquestionably had a positive impact on library openness and has infuriated the Library Commission, which is pushing this action. Chaffee’s last lawsuit was filed more than a year ago. Why go after him now?

The Chaffee litigation comes at the same time as a Sunshine Task Force committee has been quietly discussing ways to handle activists who file repeated, numerous, and extensive records requests. The target in that case is Kimo Crossman, who has filed dozens of requests seeking information related to the city’s dealings with WiFi contractors. We realize he’s flooded the City Attorney’s Office with requests, and it’s costing the city a whole lot of money to deal with them. But his basic point that the entire WiFi contract talks have been far too secretive is absolutely true.

And the question never came before the entire task force, which should have had an open, well-publicized discussion on the issue and sought ways to address it. Instead, David Pilpel, chair of the task force’s Education, Outreach, and Training Committee, called a special hearing on the matter March 22. The meeting, on "abusive, burdensome, excessive, and/or harassing" records requests, was poorly noticed and poorly attended, and Pilpel gave the City Attorney’s Office and the library plenty of time to make their cases, while limiting Crossman and Chaffee to three minutes each.

The full task force essentially rebuked Pilpel at the next meeting, March 28, and task force attorney Ernest Llorente has drafted new rules for special meetings.

Meanwhile, Sunshine Task Force chair Doug Comstock may lose his seat. The supervisors have reappointed all of the sitting task force members except Comstock; Sup. Sean Elsbernd is making an issue of Comstock’s role as a campaign consultant. This one ought to be simple: Comstock was a key part of the campaign to pass the Sunshine Initiative in the first place, led the effort on the latest round of reforms, has been an excellent chair and has been on the public-interest side of every significant issue that’s come before him.

All of this backroom dealing and overreaction has us worried. The issue of "excessive" public records requests is tricky and has the potential to lead to some terrible legislation or rules. It needs a lot more public discussion; the task force ought to schedule a full hearing on it, with plenty of time to thrash out all sides, before anyone proposes any possible solutions. There’s no need to go to court against Chaffee right now, and it sets a bad precedent. City Attorney Dennis Herrera ought to drop the case and tell the Library Commission that it ought to act like open government matters and if it wants to silence critics, it can find the money to hire its own lawyers.

And the supervisors need to reappoint Comstock, who is exactly the kind of person the task force needs as a leader at a critical time like this for open government. SFBG

For more background, including an open letter from Chaffee and the City Attorney’s motion, go to www.sfbg.com.

Read James Chaffee’s response


Contact: James Chaffee 584-8999 

SaveOurLibraries.com / savebooks@pacbell.net

Being Vexatious Down At the Public Library Is a Virtue

Open Letter to the SF Bay Guardian

The one thing that history has taught us is that if there is going to be responsible democratic government, there better be process, openness, access and respect beforehand, because there will never be accountability afterward. 

I use to think that there would be accountability, yet the forces of privatization have sucked our public library dry like any parasite, and everyone knows it.  Yet corporate philanthropy acts as if we are supposed to be grateful, and our city officials comply.

The San Francisco City Attorney has filed a motion to have me declared a vexatious litigant.  I confess that I am a bit shocked.  I never thought they would try it.  It is obvious that it is politically motivated and it needs to be addressed politically. 

There is no mistaking the source of this move.  There was a recent meeting of a committee of the Sunshine Task Force that had been called in the service of City departments reacting against document requests that were "annoying."  That was not the word, but something like that.  A representative of the City Attorney’s office, Matt Dorsey, stated that one of the City Attorney’s options was to seek redress in the court of public opinion.  Of course, it seems all too obvious to make an example of someone like myself who does not shrink from the term "Gadfly" but in fact embraces it.

According to the papers that were served with the motion for vexatious litigant, I have filed 20 lawsuits in my 31 year career as a Gadfly at the San Francisco Public Library.  When I started at the San Francisco Library Commission, there was no public attendance, no public comment, and I am sure the Library Commission never imagined there ever would be.  At that time the Library staff complained because the Library Commission had de facto meetings at the home of the director of the library’s private partner, at that time called the "Friends" now called the Friends and Foundation.  A prominent member of the Library staff solicited me to complain about violations of the Brown Act.  I had never heard of it at that time.  That was a long time ago.

At about the time that I started there was a Robert Redford movie called, "Three Days of the Condor."  It was about an historical society that was a front for the CIA.  I was a fly on the wall in those early Library Commission meetings, and that is what it was like.  No one cared about the library as a public institution.  They were going to suck it dry in the interests of private fund raising.  I was the first person to break through the barrier to attendance at Library Commission meeting and that first meeting was more challenging than any open meeting issue I have faced since.  Having done this, I felt it was my duty as a citizen to expose what I saw.

It is openly acknowledged at the Library that there would be no compliance with sunshine or open meetings laws without my lawsuits.  As a matter of fact, at the recent meetings of the Technology and Privacy Committee that was convened to pave the way for implementation of RFID, there was a proposal to use on-line conferencing software in an illegal way.  Commissioner Coulter made a joke that they had better not or they would get sued by me.  Some joke.  There is no respect for what is right, or what is legal, not to mention actual respect for the public.  The only thing that deters them from brazen violations of the law is getting sued.  The only thing that deters them from naked rip-off of the library is what little openness there is.

Yet after all of this time of being successful in creating some semblance of compliance with Sunshine and open meetings laws, if however grudging, their only response is to sue me as a vexatious litigant.  It is the opposite of the three  strikes law.  The concept is that after twenty strikes they want a get-out-of-jail free card.  One would think they would be ashamed that after this long string of illegalities, but they want to blame me for fixing it. 

This vexatious litigant motion is nothing but slander and intimidation in its purest form.  Labeling me as a vexatious litigant has no chance of success.  Such a motion is neither legal, lawful or even valid.  If any responsible authority in City Hall sees this missive, please be informed that the San Francisco City Attorney’s office is in desperate need of adult supervision.

One never knows what a judge is going to do, but even if I were to lose and end up being slandered as a vexatious litigant, it is a small price to pay.  There is a sense in which I lost the battle, but won the war.  There is public attendance at commission meetings, agenda items, public comment (no matter how much they laugh and rattle their M&M’s), and copies of documents under discussion (most of the time).  None of those things were implemented willingly.  The library Commission fought against them just as hard as I fought for them.  Most of the time it doesn’t matter much, but when the staff wants a City Librarian who has an MLS or the pre-school gets kicked out of Bernal Heights, there is a forum for people to speak and the Library Commission’s arbitrariness does not go down quite so easily. 

For those who believe that Coke is the Real Thing, Progress is Our Most Important Product, and Military Intelligence knows where the Weapons of Mass Destruction Are, they may also believe that corporate money in the library is "positive."  Everyone else has long ago acknowledged that I was right about the stream of lies that ruined our library and benefited private interests, and continues to do so.

The motion does not make sense without some discussion of the substance of the suits along the way.  The City Attorney in its memo uses the terms "meritless lawsuits over and over again," and "repetitive meritless lawsuits."  What the City Attorney does not mention is that three of those appeals resulted in published opinions.  When the Court of Appeal publishes an opinion, the court is saying that it is a significant point on which lower courts need guidance.  The published opinions went against me, but that is a result of the political climate not the significance of the issue.  

The law on vexatious litigants uses the term "adverse judgment."  Let’s take just one example.  The library refused to hold the required Library Preservation Fund neighborhood hearings on open hours in the branches.  I filed suit.  After the suit was filed, the Library Commission scheduled new hearings, and then claimed to the judge that the case was moot.  Is that an adverse judgment?  The city seems to think it is.  In fact, in the law there is something called a "prevailing party" standard.  Under that standard, if you get what you were originally asking for you are the prevailing party.  Under the "prevailing party" standard I have won the vast majority of the suits.

Let’s take another example.  One of the lawsuits was on a closed session.  The judge demanded to see the tape recording of the meeting "in camera."  The Library Commission claimed that they had "lost" the tape, unquestionably as a coverup.  The judge had no choice but to dismiss for lack of evidence.  Is that an adverse judgment?  The city seems to think it is.

Of course, there was the case that I won hands down.  At least two of the cases were about the Fuhrman Fund (See Bay Guardian of Dec. 22, 1993) where they had to get the law and the will changed to retroactively indemnify themselves.  Quentin Kopp got involved and there was a major public discussion public trusts.  (Don’t forget the Director of the Friends and Foundation was the same person who had attempted to divert the Buck Trust in Marin County.  Marin County was successful in protecting itself, but San Francisco failed.)  How meritless was that?

I could go on like this at some length, but the point is, these were all crucial issues and now I am defending myself against this superficial and malicious SLAPP.

I am grateful for the Bay Guardian’s support, but I think it makes one small faux pas.  The editorial refers to some of my lawsuits as "a little obscure."  All of the suits were about distinct and important points.  I never sued over anything that I didn’t consider both significant and a deliberate violation on the part of the Library Commission.  The Library Commission does not negotiate or compromise.  When I began the door was completely slammed in my face.  I started by establishing a beachhead and advancing openness point by point.  Myself, Kimo Crossman, Christian Holmer, Timothy Gillespie, Doug Comstock and so many others — including Bruce Brugmann — have been fighting for sunshine and open government against a door that has been slammed in our face by those who think that because of their money they are aristocrats or "good people."  There was nothing obscure about it.

The reason that this is so prejudicial is that I am in fact in "pro per" and people make certain assumptions about that.  What no one wants to admit is that the City Attorney is what is called "Rambo litigators from Hell."  Until one have been through at least a dozen lawsuits against them, one is helpless against the dirty tricks that one is up against.  Just as an indication, there are court rules that every case must have a settlement conference and a mediation.  In my entire history, I have never had either.  They never negotiate.  They never discuss.  They don’t have to.  If there were any truth in the matter, the City Attorney would be declared "vexatious."

The fact is that democracy exists because public-spirited citizens fight for it.  The better question is, Why did the Library Commission fight against it at every turn?   It is important to look at the broad perspective of who is, and has been, fighting for the democratic principles of openness and public process.  The fact is, Kimo Crossman and I, as well as others, have been fighting for democratic principles that are important to everyone and it is a good thing that we do, no matter how often we lose.

For those who saw my public comment at the Board of Supervisors meeting of April 11, you saw 35 newspaper headlines exposing problems in SFPL while I mentioned everything from the book dumping scandal to the retribution against staff whistleblower scandal, and many in between.  Would the City and the society as a whole be better off if none of that were exposed?  Of course, the library administration did not willingly allow the sunshine that brought those issues to light.  One of the weapons that they use most relentlessly against openness is personal calumny against those who would uncover the truth.  I have been called a lot worse things than vexatious litigant.  Every gain for democracy comes at the expense of the aristocracy’s prerogatives.  They don’t like it, but that is the way it works.

In the end it wasn’t about the Brown Act.  Figuratively speaking, I was smuggling wheelbarrows. It was about establishing a beachhead for democracy so that there would be public discussion about the issues of the privatization and destruction of the public library.  It is true that some of the Brown Act lawsuits were about relatively small points, but it began with brazen and open contempt for sunshine and ended up with more of the truth coming out than anyone thought possible.

The next step is putting Library Commission meetings on SFGTV.  How many departments with a $70 Million annual budget are not broadcast on cable access or available on Video on Demand?  The one thing that will make it difficult for the Library Commission to privatize the Public Library is to allow the people to see what is going on.  That is where "sunshine" comes from.  "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

The right housing fees


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Chronicle has finally noticed what we reported a month ago: The Board of Supervisors has effectively put in place a moratorium on new market-rate housing on the east side of the city. We hear that city planners are looking for loopholes to undermine the temporary ban, but the intent of what the supervisors did is clear: Until there’s a detailed and valid review of how new high-end condos and lofts impact blue-collar jobs and low-income housing, the developers will have to let their demolition and excavation equipment idle.

Meanwhile, Sup. Chris Daly is moving to increase significantly the amount of low-cost housing that private developers have to build to win permission for future projects. Daly’s legislation is a good start and sets the right tone for the debate, but the board should go even further.

The Daly plan would apply to almost all new market-rate housing built anywhere in the city and would take effect whenever the moratorium ends. It would require most developers to offer 15 percent of the units of any project for less than market rates, and that number would jump to 25 percent if the affordable housing was built on another site. In other words, a builder who wants to put up 500 luxury condos in SoMa would have to build 125 affordable units somewhere else in the city.

That’s nice, but it’s not enough.

The city’s own general plan makes it clear that 72 percent of all new housing needs to be affordable to moderate- and low-income people. And the planning process for the eastern neighborhoods has still offered no proposals for how to make that happen.

At the same time, of course, the plans to intensely develop an area poorly served by transit and generally bereft of public infrastructure and open space utterly ignore the fact that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to create real neighborhoods (instead of clusters of heavily fortified, gated buildings).

Daly’s got the right idea: Developers are making a fortune building million-dollar condos in San Francisco, and they can well afford to give the city a whole lot back. But it’s worth taking a longer approach here and considering the price of bringing as many as 100,000 more people to SoMa, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, the central waterfront, and BayviewHunters Point and figure out who is going to pay for it.

Daly could start by asking for a detailed independent study of what it really costs a developer to build new condo units in the city and what the current profit margins are. Then take the city’s affordable-housing needs, the need for public-sector development, and the estimated new tax revenue and compare: Can fair taxes and requirements on the developers raise enough money to meet the city’s needs?

And, if not, we get back to the question this paper has been asking for over a year: Why are we building any new market-rate housing, anyway? SFBG


The condo war continues


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Planning Department is having a little trouble dealing with the fact that for the moment no more condo developers can build high-priced units in the eastern neighborhoods. In the wake of a Board of Supervisors decision demanding an extensive environmental review of a condo project at 2660 Harrison St., planners have been ducking and weaving around the reality that the supervisors have effectively put a moratorium on market-rate housing projects and on anything else that could displace blue-<\h>collar jobs (see “A Grinding Halt,” 3/22/06).

The latest installment is a March 31 memo from Paul Maltzer, the department’s chief environmental review officer, who concluded that yes, indeed, all developments in the vast eastern neighborhoods project area that could affect affordable housing or jobs would need detailed environmental review. That’s an admission, of sorts, that no more market-<\h>rate housing can be quickly approved, but it comes with a caveat: The memo states that projects will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis" and leaves an awful lot of wiggle room. It also suggests that as soon as the city’s official broad-based environmental impact report on the eastern neighborhoods rezoning is completed, the floodgates will be opened again.

That EIR is on the fast track: Maltzer projects that a draft will be completed by late this summer and a final report by March 2007. But there’s a huge problem: An EIR has to evaluate a specific project, and the "project" a rezoning of some 3,800 acres of the city is pretty damn vague at this point. For example, there’s nothing about affordable housing in the scope of work that was put forward for the EIR.

So it’s entirely possible that the Planning Department will produce a report next spring that glosses over the biggest issues surrounding the future of the eastern neighborhoods and that developers will use it as a green light to begin a new building boom that will forever change the city.

We’d like to hold a few facts to be self-<\h>evident: San Francisco doesn’t need more million-<\h>dollar condos for young single people who work in Silicon Valley. The city can’t build the equivalent of another good-size town, with a population of perhaps 100,000 new residents, in eastern San Francisco without massive improvements in infrastructure, particularly transportation. The costs of the new streets, bus lines, train lines, and pedestrian walkways will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and there’s nothing anywhere in any Planning Department document about who will pay for it.

And there’s nothing in the current proposals for the eastern neighborhoods that’s consistent with the housing element of the city’s own general plan.

The housing element is clear: San Francisco needs a lot of new below-<\h>market housing housing for families with kids, housing for people who work in the city and make moderate wages, housing for people living on fixed (and not gigantic) incomes. Housing for teachers and firefighters. Housing for the people who change the sheets at the hotels and clean the bathrooms at the convention centers that keep the city’s biggest industry thriving. In fact, it says, 40 percent of all new housing needs to be affordable for low- and very-low-<\h>income people, and another 32 percent needs to be affordable for families with moderate incomes. That kind of housing simply won’t be built under the current plans and that means any EIR the planners (or any private developers) prepare will be fundamentally flawed.

There’s a solution here, and if the Planning Commission won’t demand it, then the supervisors must: Any final EIR on the eastern neighborhoods has to consider not only the current rezoning plans but also an alternative that would bring the city into compliance with its own general plan. Asking planners to comply with their own plans shouldn’t be a radical notion. And until the Planning Department can explain how that might happen, this entire process and all new market-<\h>rate housing needs to be on hold, indefinitely.

Make Wal-Mart pay


EDITORIAL According to the University of California’s Labor Center, the state spent $86 million last year paying for heath care and social services for the families of people who work at Wal-Mart. That’s right: Wal-Mart pay is so low, and so few of its workers have decent health insurance, that a lot of employees wind up using public health clinics and the taxpayers foot the bill.

It’s unfair not only to the Wal-Mart employees and the rest of us who have to pay the bills for one of the most successful and lucrative companies in the world, but also to other employers in the state, particularly small businesses that struggle to provide health insurance.

State senator Carole Migden has introduced a bill that would force Wal-Mart to quit demanding millions in public subsidies. SB 1414 would require any business with 10,000 or more employees in California either to put 8 percent of its total payroll into health insurance for workers or pay an equivalent amount of money to the Department of Industrial Relations. That’s still a fairly low payment a lot of companies spend far more than 8 percent on health benefits, and Wal-Mart can well afford to do better. But it’s a good start, and it sends the message that employers who won’t pay a living wage can’t just count on California to make up the difference.

Wal-Mart is under fire from activists around the country for its cutthroat competition and its attempts to keep unions out and wages low. But it’s by no means the only employer that is trying to get out of paying health benefits. Migden’s bill would only hit the biggest of the big, but it’s similar to legislation proposed by Sup. Tom Ammiano that would force San Francisco businesses (including much smaller companies) to provide some sort of health care.

In the end, all of this is the wrong model: Employer-based health insurance is an unstable, inefficient, and hugely expensive way to cover medical bills. At some point, even the Wal-Marts of the world should realize that paying taxes to fund a national single-payer health system is cheaper and better for everyone.

But that’s not happening today, and Wal-Mart’s corporate welfare is. The legislature should pass Migden’s bill posthaste.

SF’s private police force


Since long before the turn of the century, San Francisco has had a posse of private police officers patrolling the streets. Back in the 1870s, they were effectively vigilantes; by 1935 they’d become a bit more controlled in their behavior and won official recognition in the City Charter. They’re called patrol specials.

For years a fairly small number (there are now 41) have been walking neighborhood beats, hired by local merchants who don’t think the San Francisco Police Department is providing enough protection. Legally, the patrol specials are an odd amalgam: They’re licensed to carry handguns but not to make arrests. Most of them have some law-enforcement training, but not typically from a traditional police academy. In theory they report to the chief of police, but in practice they’re private businesspeople who are hired by, and do the bidding of, merchant groups.

The head of their association, Jane Warner, thinks they’re the future of neighborhood policing, and she, like other patrol special fans, openly calls for increased privatization of law enforcement. And the association is asking the San Francisco Police Commission to make it easier to expand its operations.

The patrol specials are mostly an archaic anomaly right now — but the trend toward privatizing the police force is frightening, and the commission ought to put a clear halt to it.

The rules governing patrol specials were forged in a very different era. The city is divided up into beats, and the patrol specials can buy up beats, then charge local businesses for protection. They can hire their own officers, subject to a background check and Police Commission approval. If they see any wrongdoing they’re supposed to call the cops — but in many cases they just go ahead and act like real police. "I’ve arrested hundreds of people," Warner, who owns beats in the Mission and West Portal, told the Guardian recently.

It’s more than a little bit weird to still have armed civilians, in uniform, with badges, walking around making arrests when they aren’t really accountable to anyone. The potential for problems is obvious: A merchant group might, for example, direct the local patrol special to focus on getting homeless people out of doorways — something that the city has established as not just a police priority but a social issue. The patrol specials aren’t taking orders from police headquarters though; they have to do what their customers want. And if they are accused of misconduct, they aren’t accountable to the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), which oversees all complaints against sworn officers; instead, the department’s Management Control Division — which has never been good at disciplining cops — is the final authority.

Nobody paid much attention to the patrol specials until the 1990s, when the San Francisco Police Officers Association — whose members make nice little chunks of change providing off-duty private security and saw them as competition — started complaining. Still, the policies haven’t really been updated in decades.

At the very least, the Police Commission needs to completely overhaul the rules for these quasi cops, establishing clear training guidelines, shifting disciplinary authority to the OCC, and demanding direct oversight over hiring and beat sales. But these kinds of private police fiefdoms make us very, very nervous — and the idea that the patrol specials’ turf may be expanding is a scary prospect.

The commission could make a clear policy statement opposing any privatization of local law enforcement, and that would be a positive step. But that agency can only go so far — the authority for the patrol specials is enshrined in the City Charter. So the supervisors need to take this up, posthaste — and amend the charter either to more tightly control and regulate the patrol specials, or eliminate them altogether. *

Don’t deregulate cabs


It’s not a great time to be a San Francisco taxi driver. High gas prices are taking cash directly out of drivers’ pockets, and fares haven’t kept pace. The only thing that seems to be solid is industry profits: According to a December 2005 city controller’s office report, cab companies have been making healthy returns even in bad economic times.

The way the companies make money, of course, is by leasing cabs to drivers, who are independent contractors. The "gate" — the cash the driver has to pay for the right to use a legal, properly permitted cab — runs about $91 for a 12-hour shift. That’s a lot of money to collect in fares before the driver makes a single penny, and it’s one of the reasons why driving a cab is less attractive today as a long-term occupation. Each year, the United Taxicab Workers union says, up to 25 percent of the city’s drivers turn over, meaning that one out of every four drivers has less than a year’s experience.

It’s possible the situation will take a turn for the better this spring, if the city moves forward with a plan to require cab companies and permit holders — who have the lucrative license to lease out their cabs to other drivers for profit — to help pay for health insurance for the drivers. It’s also possible things will get substantially worse, if Sup. Fiona Ma manages to win approval for legislation completely abolishing city controls on gate fees and allowing cab companies to charge drivers whatever the market will bear.

What the cab industry needs is more regulation, not less. In fact, it’s astonishing to see a San Francisco supervisor who is running for state assembly propose such a Bush-style deregulation plan that would enrich a few at the expense of many.

The Taxi Commission is slated to discuss the health insurance plan March 28. There are several options for how payment would be allocated; ideally, the drivers, permit holders, and cab companies would all pick up a share. But the Health Department has concluded that a working plan is possible — and the commissioners and supervisors should make sure one is put into action as soon as possible. *

A deep breath for city planning


It was, as housing activist Calvin Welch explained to the Planning Commission March 16, the “canary in the coal mine.” A decision by the Board of Supervisors demanding further environmental review of new market-rate housing projects has thrown the future of development on the eastern side of the city into doubt

The three-year nightmare


The air of unreality in Washington, DC, is, well, unreal. On Face the Nation March 19, Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed that the war in Iraq is going well, that the insurgency had reached "a stage of desperation" — and that the prediction that Americans would be greeted as liberators was "basically accurate." There’s no civil war, the administration insists, no catastrophic political failure, no evidence that the war is well on its way to becoming the new Vietnam. No, Cheney insists, the problem is just the overcritical news media.

For the record, more than 2,300 United States soldiers are dead. So are as many as 37,000 Iraqis. Countless more have been maimed, lost limbs, seen their lives destroyed. And three years after the invasion, there is no end in sight. More than 130,000 US troops are still fighting in Iraq, and they are utterly unable to keep the peace. The Iraqi forces are poorly trained and can do little to help.

Ayad Allawi, former acting prime minister and a man Bush used to see as a key ally, isn’t mincing words: "If this is not civil war," he told the BBC, "then God knows what civil war is."

To say the Bush administration lied about the invasion is a severe understatement. Bush and his team are lying every day. And at this rate, the US death toll could be in the tens of thousands by the time the nation extricates itself from this morass.

And yet the Democratic Party leadership is still way too tentative about making this the defining issue of the midterm elections. That’s crazy: Even in the red states, the war is increasingly unpopular. And Bush’s insistence on staying the course is starting to sound like Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War.

The truth is, Iraq is an artificial construct, a nation pieced together from three ethnic and religious groups that have never gotten along. If it weren’t for the oil (ah, it’s always the oil), Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis might each have their own states.

Perhaps a working government can still be created with all three parties involved. But the presence of huge numbers of US troops isn’t, and won’t, help that process.

The Democrats need to get behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and demand a timetable for withdrawal of all troops. That might even lead to a Democratic Congress. *



It still boggles my mind: One of the most significant development issues in years came to a head last week at the City Planning Commission — and none of the news media seem to have noticed. G.W. Schulz describes the situation in depth on page 18, but here’s the short version: City planners have acknowledged they can’t allow any more market-rate housing in the eastern neighborhoods for the indefinite future.

At least they seem to have acknowledged that. The real test is still to come, when the next development comes along, but either way this is pretty big news — and I haven’t read a word about it in the Chron or the Ex.

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Now this: The San Francisco Democratic Party is in a bit of a tizzy over something that ought to be basic common sense.

Sup. Chris Daly has put a measure on the June 6 ballot, Prop. C, that would make the Transbay Joint Powers Authority more directly accountable to voters. The TJPA is pretty important: It controls the Transbay Terminal project, which will determine the city’s transit future for many years to come. But right now, two of the city’s three representatives are basically bureaucrats (one from the Mayor’s Office, one from Muni) who answer (it often seems) to nobody.

Daly wants to make the mayor, the city’s representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (currently Sup. Tom Ammiano), and the supervisor from District 6 (Daly, who’s already on the TJPA) serve on the panel.

Sounds like alphabet soup and nothing to make a fuss over — except that the mayor would suddenly have to focus on this project because he’d be on the board. He might even have to go to a meeting or two. And everyone on that key panel would have to answer directly to the voters.

And for some reason (perhaps the thought of actually sitting through a TJPA meeting) this has Gavin Newsom up in arms. The Democratic County Central Committee, which makes policy for the local party, was set to endorse Prop. C last week until Newsom began twisting arms. Then a bunch of people (including state assemblymember Mark Leno and state senator Carole Migden) couldn’t be counted in the yes camp, so the whole thing was postponed until March 21, when Daly, the Sierra Club, and all of the city’s transit activists were set to square off against Newsom and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

It will be a nice test: Can the County Committee stand up to the mayor? Will Migden and Leno?

And this: Caroline Grannan, a normally well-meaning and hardworking advocate for the public schools, is having a strange fit of indignation over our articles on school board expenses. The stories focused mostly on how former superintendent Arlene Ackerman pissed away public money on posh dining and accommodations, but Grannan is mad that we even mentioned board member Jill Wynns, who also spends district money on travel (but has run up nowhere near the sort of tab that Ackerman did).

Her complaint is on page 7, and I think she’s way overreacting here, but she makes one valid point: The school board members are essentially volunteers who earn all of $500 a month. That’s silly. A school board member ought to be a full-time job with full-time pay.

And board members’ salaries and expenses should be very much the public’s business. *




In the transgender community, to have full-time work is to be in the minority. In fact, a new survey of 194 trans people conducted by the Transgender Law Center (TLC), with support from the Guardian, found that only one out of every four respondents has a full-time job. Another 16 percent work part-time.

What’s more, 59 percent of respondents reported an annual salary of less than $15,333. Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.

In other words, more than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that 40 percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

TLC doesn’t claim the study is strictly scientific — all respondents were identified through trans organizations or outreach workers. But the data give a fairly good picture of how hard it is for transgender people to find and keep decent jobs, even in the city that is supposed to be most accepting of them.

It’s been more than a decade since San Francisco expanded local nondiscrimination laws to cover trans people, but transphobic discrimination remains rampant. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they’ve experienced some form of employment discrimination.

And interviews show that job woes are hardly straightforward.

Navigating the job-application process after a gender transition can be extraordinarily difficult. Trans people run up against fairly entrenched biases about what kind of work they’re suited for. Sometimes those who are lucky enough to find work can’t tolerate insensitive, or even abusive, coworkers.

Marilyn Robinson turned tricks for almost 20 years before she decided to look for legal employment. She got her GED and, eventually, a job at an insurance company. The first six months went OK, but then a supervisor "thought he had the right to call me RuPaul," she told us. "And I look nothing like RuPaul." Suddenly the women in the office refused to use the bathroom if Robinson was around. She left within a month.

Once again, Robinson was on the job hunt. She interviewed for a receptionist position, and thought it went well. But on her way out, she saw the interviewer toss her application into the trash with a giggle.

"The reality is, even a hoagie shop in the Castro — they might not hire you," she said.

Still, many activists say the increased attention being paid to trans employment issues is promising.

Cecelia Chung from the Transgender Law Center told us there’s a "silver lining" in the effort the "community is putting into really changing the playing field. We’re in a really different place than we were five years ago."

Activists say true progress will require broad education efforts and the cooperation of business owners throughout the Bay Area. But the project is well under way, with San Francisco Transgender Empowerment, Advocacy and Mentorship, a trans collaborative, hosting its second annual Transgender Job Fair March 22. More than a dozen employers have signed up for the fair, including UCSF, Goodwill Industries, and Bank of America.


Imagine trying to find a job with no references from previous employers. Now envision how it might feel to have interviewer after interviewer look at you askance — or even ask if you’ve had surgery on a fairly private part of your body.

These are just a couple of the predicaments trans job-seekers face.

Kenneth Stram runs the Economic Development Office at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. "In San Francisco there are the best intentions," he told us. "But when you scratch the surface, there are all these procedural hurdles that need to be addressed." As examples, he pointed to job-training classes where fellow students may act hostile, or arduous application processes.

Giving a prospective employer a reference may seem like a fairly straightforward task, but what if your old employer knew an employee of a different gender? Do you call the old boss and announce your new identity? Even if he or she is supportive, experience can be hard to erase. Will the manager who worked with Jim be able to speak convincingly about Jeanine? And what about your work history — should you eliminate the jobs where you were known as a different gender?

Most trans people can’t make it through the application process without either outing themselves or lying.

Marcus Arana decided to face this issue head-on and wrote about his transition from living as a woman to living as a man in his cover letter.

"It became a matter of curiosity," Arana told us. "I would have employers ask about my surgical status."

It took him a year and a half to find a job. Fortunately, it’s one he loves. Arana investigates most complaints of gender identity–related discrimination that are made to San Francisco’s city government. (Another investigator handles housing-oriented complaints.)

When he started his job, in 2000, about three quarters of the complaints Arana saw were related to public accommodations — a transwoman had been refused service at a restaurant, say, or a bank employee had given a cross-dressing man grief about the gender listed on his driver’s license.

Today, Arana told us, at least half of the cases he looks into are work-related — something he attributes to both progress in accommodations issues and stagnation on the job front.

TG workers, he said, confront two common problems: resistance to a changed name or pronoun preference and controversy over which bathroom they use.

The name and pronoun problems can often be addressed through sensitivity training, though Arana said that even in the Bay Area, it’s not unheard of for some coworkers to simply refuse to alter how they refer to a trans colleague.

Nine out of ten bathroom issues concern male-to-female trans folk — despite the fact that the police department has never gotten a single report of a transwoman harassing another person in a bathroom. One complaint Arana investigated involved a woman sticking a compact mirror under a bathroom stall in an effort to see her trans coworker’s genitalia.

But a hostile workplace is more often made up of dozens of subtle discomforts rather than a single drama-filled incident.

Robinson told us the constant whispering of "is that a man?" can make an otherwise decent job intolerable: "It’s why most of the girls — and I will speak for myself — are prostitutes. Because it’s easier."

The second and third most common forms of work-related discrimination cited by respondents in the TLC survey were sexual harassment and verbal harassment.

But only 12 percent of those who reported discrimination also filed some kind of formal complaint. That may be because of the widespread feeling that doing so can make it that much harder to keep a job — or find another one. Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, DC, said that "it’s a common understanding within the transgender community that when you lose your job, you generally lose your career."


Most of the trans people we spoke to expressed resentment at being tracked into certain jobs — usually related to health care or government.

Part of that is because public entities have been quicker to adopt nondiscriminatory policies. San Francisco city government created a splash in 2001 when it granted trans employees access to full health benefits, including sex-reassignment surgery. The University of California followed suit last year.

But it’s also because of deeply ingrained prejudices about what kind of work transgender people are suited to.

Claudia Cabrera was born in Guatemala but fled to the Bay Area in 2000 to get away from the constant insults and occasional violence that befell her. Despite her education in electrical engineering and business and 13 years of tech work, it was difficult for her to find a job — even after she was granted political asylum. In 2002 a local nonprofit she had originally turned to for help offered her a position doing outreach within the queer community.

Cabrera doesn’t make much money, and she sends some of it back to her two kids in Guatemala. But that’s not the only reason she would like another job. She wants to have broader responsibilities and to employ her tech savvy.

"There is a stereotype here in San Francisco [that] transgender folk are only good for doing HIV work — or just outreach in general," she said.

Whenever she’s gotten an interview for another kind of job, she’s been told she is overqualified. Does she believe that’s why she hasn’t been hired? "No," she laughed. But she also acknowledged, "Even though there is discrimination going on here, this is the safest city for me to be in."

Cabrera is now on the board of TLC and is working to create more job opportunities for herself and others in the trans community. She often repeats this mantra: "As a transsexual woman, I am not asking for anything that doesn’t belong to me. I am demanding my rights to live as a human being." *


March 22

1–4 p.m.

SF LGBT Community Center, Ceremonial Room

1800 Market, SF

(415) 865-5555






Preserving affordable housing

It is a pity the San Francisco Bay Guardian published a narrow-minded article about the National Farm Workers Service Center ["Solidarity Never," 12/23/05].

Founded in 1966 by C ésar Ch ?