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Editors Notes

Editor’s notes

51

Tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES It’s as if someone has some kind of auto-respond system: Every time I write about housing or rent control, one of the trolls who comments on the Guardian Politics blog complains that landlords are “subsidizing” longterm tenants.

That’s a complaint I’ve heard plenty of times before — rent control is a “subsidy” because property owners have to allow the use of their property for a lower rate than the current market might allow.

And it’s completely wrong.

In fact, it only takes a basic understanding of economics to realize that in many cases, tenants are subsidizing their landlords. That’s how the business works.

You don’t have to read Karl Marx to learn that in a capitalist system, the owner of a business typically pays his or her employees less than the value they bring to the operation; the difference is what’s called “profit.” It’s how American capitalism works.

Same way, when a landlord signs a rental agreement with a tenant, the rent he or she charges is typically enough to: (a) cover that tenant’s portion of the building mortgage; (b) cover expected maintenance costs, and (c) provide the owner with a profit. Not that many landlords go into the business to lose money, or to break even.

I have a friend who bought a multi-unit building in the East Bay a few years ago, and it’s a great deal for him: He lives in one unit, and the tenants in the other units pay enough rent to cover most of the mortgage. So my friend’s housing is practically free. The tenants are subsidizing him.

Now: Add in rent control, and what do you get? The same exact situation. At the time a landlord and a tenant agree on a lease, the payments are adequate to cover the landlord’s costs plus a margin of profit. (Otherwise the landlord would be a fool to sign the lease.) Over time, the rent goes up a little bit every year. The landlord’s mortgage either stays the same, or, these days, goes down after a refinance at the lowest rates in history. The landlord’s next biggest expense — property tax — goes up by less than the allowable rent increase most years. So every year, the tenant pays the landlord more than it costs the landlord to provide the housing. Every year, the vast majority of landlords in San Francisco make a profit.

Yes: a rent-controlled unit prevents someone who bought a building years ago and has longterm tenants from making even more of a profit. It is, and should be seen as, a way of limiting profit on rental property to a reasonable amount, not to what a speculative market could bring. That’s fair; housing is a public right, and should be regulated a little like a public utility. (PG&E gets to make a profit every year, but not an unlimited profit.)

But like workers in a capitalist system whose product of labor subsidizes the profit of the owners, tenants in San Francisco are subsidizing landlords. That’s how the private housing market works.

Editor’s notes

57

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES I know you’re getting a lot of shit these days, and it’s not entirely fair. You’re not the ones making a killing in overpriced real estate. You came here looking for a job, and the jobs you get pay well enough that landlords and speculators can extract wealth that you ought to be able to save or spend in town, creating more jobs for everyone. I can’t blame you for wanting to live in one of the world’s greatest cities; I came here too, from the East Coast, in 1981, looking for work as a writer but mostly looking to live in San Francisco. So did waves of immigrants before me.

But we all have to remember something: There were people living here when we arrived. It was their city before it was ours. And they had, and have, the right to live here, too.

In fact, the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years, who have worked to build this community, have — in a karmic sense — even more right to be here than you. Trite as it sounds, they were here first.

Americans have a bad record when it comes to moving into established populations. Ask any American Indian. Ask the Mexicans about the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The hippies who arrived in San Francisco in the 1960s — attracted, among other things, by really cheap rent in the Haight Asbury — weren’t always terribly polite to, or concerned about, the natives who lived there, and had fun teasing the straights and fouling their parks. But they didn’t force anyone else to leave; there was lots of empty space in San Francisco. The city wasn’t kind to them, either — official San Francisco may celebrate the Summer of Love now, but back then, the cops went after the hippies with gusto.

Gay people who arrived in the 1970s — attracted, among other things, by cheap rent in Eureka Valley — faced harassment, discrimination, and brutality.

You, on the other hand, are officially welcomed — the mayor thinks you’re the city’s future. You face no barriers to renting or buying a home, no police crackdowns. The only people unhappy about your presence are the ones who are getting forced out of town to make room for you.

It’s not your fault that the city lacks eviction protections or effective rent control — but it is your fault if you act as if it doesn’t matter. Building community means more than spending money. It means getting involved.

Many of you are tenants. You may be richer than the people who you displaced, but your landlord will cheat you just the same. The Tenants Union needs support. You can be a part of making it stronger. Some of you will have kids at some point; there are great public schools in San Francisco, and I hope you support them.

Meanwhile, you can help keep longtime residents from being forced out. Jeremy Mykaels, a former web designer disabled by AIDS, has set up a site listing all the properties that have been cleared through the eviction of a senior or disabled person (ellishurtsseniors.com). Check it out. Don’t buy those units. If that means you have to live with lesser housing for a while, you can deal. For generations, the rest of us did.

Yeah, we were here first. Show a little humility and a little respect, and perhaps we’ll all get along fine.

 

Editor’s notes

2

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES Jaron Lanier is not a Luddite. He’s one of the most brilliant technologists in the world, the virtual inventor of virtual reality and one of the first people calling for information (and music) to be free. He was a tech giant when most of today’s tech titans were in their disposable diapers. So when he starts talking about how the Internet is destroying the middle class, everybody ought to listen.

And that’s exactly what he saying in his new book, Who Owns the Future?

Lanier is 53; he’s been around long enough to see some of the best promises our modern industrial era turn out to be failures or lies. He’s got a little perspective on things — and he’s not happy with what he’s seeing.

We all know American capitalism is a force for disruption and destruction as well as creativity and creation. We all know that industries are born and die. The automobile replaced the horse and buggy. And in a lot of today’s conventional thinking, the tech revolution is just another step in the same direction.

Lanier has another perspective. The current light-speed, youth-driven tech economy has undermined the social contract that has been part of the United States political and economic systems since the Great Depression: People ought to have the right to job security, a decent wage, and the chance to have a family and grow old.

In an interview with Salon, Lanier notes:

“We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs. When I talk to libertarians and socialists, they have this weird belief that everybody’s this abstract robot that won’t ever get sick or have kids or get old. It’s like everybody’s this eternal freelancer who can afford downtime and can self-fund until they find their magic moment or something.

“The way society actually works is there’s some mechanism of basic stability so that the majority of people can outspend the elite so we can have a democracy. That’s the thing we’re destroying, and that’s really the thing I’m hoping to preserve. So we can look at musicians and artists and journalists as the canaries in the coal mine, and is this the precedent that we want to follow for our doctors and lawyers and nurses and everybody else? Because technology will get to everybody eventually.”

Hey Googlers and Twitterati and Facebookians: You should listen, sometimes, to your elders.

Editor’s notes

1

EDITORS NOTES It’s a good thing the Giants were at home Friday night, or I might have tried to drive across the Bay Bridge. Always a bad idea after work, always a worse idea on a Friday, when the backup starts somewhere around SF General Hospital. I spent almost two hours getting past Berkeley one Friday when I thought we could leave at 3:30 and beat the traffic. When the Giants are in town, it’s impossible.

It’s so crowded nobody drives there any more. Or something like that. I didn’t.

Instead, I got on my bike and rode to BART, took the Richmond train to North Berkeley, and rode a few blocks to a birthday party on University Avenue. Cost $7.70, I think, for the round trip. Took less than an hour each way, including biking home up Bernal Hill. The late train back was party central, with the bridge and tunnel crowd all decked out in club finery and a woman singing full-volume along with her phone.

“How was I?” she asked me. “Ready for American Idol,” I said.

I could have been stuck in traffic.

This is how life is going to have to be in the future, and it’s not a bad picture. One of the main reasons I like riding my bike in San Francisco, and I hate driving, is that I know exactly how long it’s going to take me to get somewhere on two wheels. On four, it could be 15 minutes, or it could be an hour.

The thing is, we’re so used to the idea that cars are the fastest way to get around — and in some places, sometimes they are. If we fixed up the city the way we should (which would mean changing not only the lane patterns but the directions of some streets) cars would almost always be the worst and slowest way to go most places.

Either way, in this Bike to Work Day issue, were explore the idea that speeding around town at 30 miles an hour in your personal can isn’t a natural right of all people. In fact, Jason Henderson, a professor at San Francisco state who I interviewed argues that the most environmentally sound thing we can do in urban areas might be to … slow down.

Hard to imagine, that. This city runs on speed: Tech speed, work speed, party speed, frenetic speed … I can’t imagine not being in a serious rush for a large part of my day. It’s nice, sometimes, to think about the alternative.

Editor’s Notes

7

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES It was breezy and San Francisco-spring-perfect along the Embarcadero the other day. People were jogging, and rollerblading, and sitting in the sun. Red’s Java House was doing brisk business.

Out on the old, crumbling piers, cars were sitting in the lots that now make up most of the economic use of some of the city’s most spectacular and valuable land. Kind of a waste — but the upside (and it’s a big one) was the feeling of open space, the idea that we were all so close to the Bay, that nothing blocked the views of the waterfront or that sense that this is still a city that has some connection to the marine environment that surrounds it.

And then I imagined the Warrior’s Arena. Right there in the middle of everything. And I stopped for a second and wondered what I’d be feeling if I were walking past it 10 years from now. And it made me kind of sad.

I know that parking lots aren’t the best use of Port of San Francisco land. I know that the Port needs huge amounts of capital to rebuild the piers. I know that the most obvious way to get that money is to give developers pieces of waterfront land. I know that a new Warriors Arena will create jobs and bring in tax money. I know that AT&T Park has been a great success for the Giants, the city, and the neighborhood.

I also know that some of the people who oppose the arena are well-off homeowners who don’t want to lose the sight of the Bay out of their fancy condo windows.

But ever since San Francisco, with the help of Mother Nature and a 7.3 earthquake, tore down the Embarcadero Freeway, the waterfront area from Harrison to the Ferry Building has been a really nice place to hang out. Not perfect; not the “Grand Boulevard” that some dream of. But a part of the city where humans can feel the salt breeze and enjoy the outdoors in a relatively mellow way, just blocks from the downtown core. Put an 18-story arena there and it all changes. It mostly goes away.

Is this really the best we can do with the waterfront? What about a bond act for open space, and another Dolphin Club for swimmers, and waterfront parks? Other cities have done it; can’t San Francisco have a world-class waterfront too?

What cabs really do

0

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES There are two ways to look at the taxicab industry in San Francisco: Either it’s purely a business, out to serve customers with the products that are most profitable — or it’s part of the city’s public transportation infrastructure, and thus subject to regulations that ensure all parts of the city are properly served.

If you take the first approach, then you’re like the entrepreneurs who founded Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and Tickengo. They offer a product that the market clearly wants — rides that can be summoned with a smart phone and tracked by geolocation (no more “when the hell is that cab going to get here?”), with both drivers and passengers rated on a Yelp-like system.

The newcomers have no interest in the city’s old-fashioned regulations, which really do, in some ways, date back to the days when cabs were buggies pulled by horses. They’ve got a business model, and they’re going to follow it.

The problem here is that cabs are not just a business. (Housing isn’t just a business, either; that’s why we have, for example, rent control, eviction protections, and code enforcement.) Taxis are an essential part of the transit system in San Francisco. They backfill where buses and trains can’t or don’t go. They provide a lifeline for disabled people and seniors who need a ride, for example, to and from health-care appointments or supermarkets.

They are absolutely essential to the tourist economy, which is the city’s biggest and most lucrative industry (tech is still far behind).

There are problems with this part of the transportation system, as there are problems with Muni and BART and airport shuttles. There need to be more cabs on the streets, particularly at busier times. The existing drivers and operators need better technology and a better dispatch system.

But taxi drivers — the old, traditional type — are required to pick up anyone and drive anywhere; they can’t cherry pick the most attractive rides. They have to go through screening and training that ensures the public is safe.

They are, like many other utilities, almost a part of the public sector. There’s a good reason for that. And it’s what the city and the state regulators should be looking at.

Editor’s Notes

5

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES Ten years ago, we shut San Francisco down.

When George W. Bush gave the order to launch the invasion of Iraq, so many protesters hit the streets that it was impossible to do business. Market Street was closed. Tens of thousands of people didn’t go to work. Some 2,300 people were arrested, held in warehouses at the piers because there was no way to fit them in the county jail.

It was an exhilarating week (although I spent much of it trying to get my reporters out of the clink; the SFPD wasn’t paying much attention to press passes in the massive sweeps). It was a statement of how overwhelmingly this city was opposed to Bush’s War. It was repeated in smaller versions all over the country.

And it didn’t matter. Rep. Nancy Pelosi not only missed the antiwar rallies, she criticized us for costing the city money. A virtually unanimous Congress sides with Bush. Anyone who disputed the government line was branded as un-American.

And now we know the truth. It’s hard to find a single credible person who argues that the Iraq War was a good idea. After nearly $2 trillion dollars wasted, 4,300 US soldiers dead, and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed, nothing of value has been achieved. The new Iraq is not a reliable US ally in the Middle East. That nation is not stabilized; in fact, it’s headed for civil war. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

Even if you want to be a pro-imperialist, US-interests-above-all type, you’re still going to be disappointed — American companies don’t control Iraq’s oil supply.

Ten years later, Bush is nowhere to be seen. He’s hiding out, painting pictures of himself, living comfortably. His kids didn’t die in the desert or come home with PTSD. He’s not going to be on the hook for the debt.

And none of the leaders of the pro-war march is apologizing — or even kinda, sorta admitting that they were terribly wrong. It’s hard to find any major news media accounts saying that the protesters — the ones who shut down San Francisco — were absolutely right.

Paul Krugman, one of the few mainstream news media voices who recognized the folly of the war from the start, put it this way in his March 18, 2013 column:

“What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that ‘everyone’ supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether ‘everyone’ has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion.”

So let’s just take a moment now to reflect — not only on the horrible human tragedy but the political lessons. Because we were right, and they were wrong — and I just wish that for once, they’d admit it.

Editor’s Notes

7

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITOR’S NOTES I wasn’t invited to the meeting where Mayor Ed Lee (and Willie Brown and Rose Pak) sat down with representatives of Lennar Corp. and a Chinese investment consortium to try to finalize a deal for Treasure Island. But I can tell you with near-absolute certainty that what comes out will not be good for San Francisco.

I can tell you that because every major project the mayor has negotiated has been bad for the city.

The way the California Pacific Medical Center project came down is a perfect example. The mayor worked directly with Sutter Corp., which owns CPMC, last spring, and in March, came out with a proposal that he and his allies presented as the best the city and the hospital giant could do.

It was awful.

CPMC would pay nowhere near enough in housing money to offset the new jobs it was creating. St. Luke’s, the critical public health link in the Mission, would be cut to 80 beds, below what it needed to be sustainable. Only about five percent of the 1,500 new jobs would go to existing San Francisco residents.

It was also pretty much dead on arrival at the Board of Supervisors, where a broad-based group of community activists pushed for big changes — and won. Sups. David Campos, David Chiu, and Mark Farrell stepped into the void created by a lack of mayoral leadership and forced Sutter to accept a much better deal, with St. Luke’s at 120 beds, vastly increased charity care, a guarantee that 40 percent of the new jobs will go to San Franciscans, and a much-better housing and transit component.

The mayor got rolled; he was ready to accept what everyone with any sense knew was better for Sutter than for his constituents. He clearly didn’t know how to say what the supervisors said: This won’t work, and we’d rather walk away from the whole deal than accept a crappy outcome.

That’s exactly what’s going on with the Warriors’ arena — the mayor is giving away the store. And he, with Brown and Pak at his side, will do the same at Treasure Island.

The balance of power in the city is moving to the board. And for good reason — the supervisors seem to be able to get things done.

Editor’s notes

37

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES This is how dysfunctional the San Francisco housing market has become:

The Chron reported in late January that young people who are just arriving in San Francisco are paying exorbitant rents for tiny spaces — $500 for a laundry room, $600 for an upper bunk — and often living in substandard conditions.

And on Feb. 11, The New York Times reported that a significant number of high-end condos in that city were vacant almost all the time, owned by the uber-rich who used them as pieds a terre — something that’s going on increasingly in San Francisco.

The Times notes:

“The higher up you go in price, the higher the concentration is likely to be of owners who spend only a few months, a few weeks or even just a few days each year in their apartments. This very costly form of desolation means that some of the city’s most expensive residential buildings stand mostly dark, lonesome and empty on the inside.”

I called Brad Paul, a former deputy mayor for housing and a longtime expert on development in San Francisco and read him that quote. “As my nine-year-old son would say, ‘You think?'” he said. My kids would be shorter: “Duh.”

The more housing you build that only multimillionaires can afford, the more likely your serving a population that has three or four other houses and just wants this one for the couple of weeks a year that they jet into San Francisco.

Planning Commission member Katherine Moore has mused about the problem in public, noting that in her Nob Hill neighborhood, there are more and more dark apartments.

Who cares? Everyone should — for a couple of reasons. For one, empty neighborhoods are no good for small businesses. They’re also not as safe. And it just seems so ass-backward: A city that can’t provide decent affordable housing for current residents, much less for the next generation of immigrants who keep the place lively, is giving up valuable land to build housing for people who aren’t going to live here at all.

That’s what the fight over the new condo projects on the waterfront, 8 Washington and 75 Howard, ought to be about.

At the very least, the city ought to get some data here. It’s not that hard — just check property records against the tax documents filed for homeownership exemptions. As Sup. David Chiu told me, “It would be good for us to know if San Francisco’s high-end condos are actually being used.”

Maybe we should find that out before we build any more. You think?

 

Editor’s notes

97

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES People who rent apartments aren’t second-class citizens. In fact, under San Francisco laws, they have (and ought to have) many of the same rights as the landed gentry.

If you rent a place in this city, and you pay the rent on time, and abide by the terms of the lease, you should be able to stay in your home (and yes, it IS your home) as long as you want. The rent can only go up by a modest amount every year.

Landlords know that when they enter into rental agreements. Accepting a tenant means acknowledging that the person may want to say in his or her apartment for years, maybe for life; the rent the landlord sets for that unit has to be adequate to cover a share of the mortgage, expected maintenance costs, and a reasonable return on the owner’s investment.

When you buy a piece of rental property in the city, you are told that tenants live there; you’re told what rent they pay, you’re informed that you can’t raise it much, and unless your utterly ignorant of local law, you realize that the tenants have, in effect, lifetime leases since you can only evict them for “just cause” — which does not include your desire to make more money.

If the numbers don’t pencil out under those conditions, they you shouldn’t buy the place.

That’s how a sane rental housing system ought to operate. Unfortunately, the state Legislature has undermined local rent-control laws with the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict all their tenants, cease renting altogether, and turn the place into condominiums. Or, since there are limits on condo conversions in this city, into tenancies in common, which are not limited at all.

Sup. Scott Wiener wants to make it easier to turn TICs into condos; he says the poor TIC owners are having a tough time and can get better mortgage rates if they rules are changed. I don’t feel bad for them; they knew the rules when they bought their TICs. They have no right to convert to condos; that’s a privilege granted to a limited number each year, by waiting list and lottery. Buy a TIC? You should assume it will remain your ownership model for a long, long time.

The city can’t stop the TIC conversions, but it can set ground rules — for example, local law mandates a payment to tenants who are evicted, which can reach $5,000. Sounds big — but it won’t even pay two months’ rent on a new place in this market.

SO let’s be fair here: If you want to evict a tenant, who has and ought to have the right to a stable place to live, you should pay enough to make that person whole. Calculate market rent on a similar place; subtract the current rent the tenant is paying, and cover the difference — for, let’s say, five years.

If that makes TICs too expensive, and thus lowers property values by making evictions difficult and keeping rents low, fine: Property values are too high in this town anyway. And if it means more stability for lower-income people at the expense of property owners … well, I can live with that.

Editor’s notes

3

EDITORIAL Airports are special. There are schools and roads and buildings — and rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike — named after famous and not-so-famous people, but airports, particularly major international airports, are, in a word, monumental. Tens of millions of people, many of them immigrants, have come through Kennedy Airport in New York, a place named after an inspirational leader who was killed before his time. We’re not so enamored with Reagan National in Washington, but the guy was a hugely influential president of the United States. Lt. Colonel O’Hare was a war hero.

That’s why the idea of naming San Francisco International Airport after Harvey Milk is so wonderful — and entirely appropriate.

There are lots of politicians in the world, and there have been many civic leaders who have done great things in and for San Francisco. But Harvey Milk was different, and special.

Milk was the first openly person gay person elected to public office in a major American city. He was an inspiration to tens of thousands of people, and his speeches, his signature line — “you’ve gotta give them hope — and his role as an LGBT icon made a better life possible for generations of young people who faced, and often still face, oppression, discrimination and fear.

It’s important to remember that, although he only served 11 months in office, Milk changed San Francisco, changed America, and changed the world. His bold actions forced the nation to accept a marginalized community. He represented the best of San Francisco, the essential spirit of rebellion, the demand for justice and the passion for equality that defines this city in the world.

And the struggle he embodied isn’t even close to over: All over the world, LGBT people are beaten, denied basic rights, killed for who they are. And if San Francisco can’t make a giant global statement against that, nobody can.

The renaming of SFO wouldn’t just honor a local political figure. I would make an international statement. The airport is a major West Coast hub, and people from all over the globe pass through its gates. While many of them won’t care who the airport is named for, others will — and an appropriate display in the terminals would educate countless visitors, many from countries and cultures where LGBT people are still not accepted, about the role Milk played in changing society’s attitudes.

We don’t take lightly the naming of civic institutions. There’s too much opportunity for political mischief, for someone like former mayors Willie Brown or Dianne Feinstein — neither of whom changed the city in a positive way or made dramatic statements — to get honored. That’s one reason that the San Francisco Airports Commission has declined to name anything after anyone who is still alive.

Sup. David Campos, who is promoting this idea, has taken the right approach: A decision this serious ought to go before the voters. The supervisors should place his charter amendment on the ballot, and the people of San Francisco should tell the world that the legacy of Harvey Milk is alive — and out there, our front, for everyone to see.

Editor’s notes

12

EDITOR’S NOTES The guy who runs the San Francisco Housing Authority is in pretty serious doo-doo: His agency has just been placed on the federal government’s “troubled” list, and he’s getting sued by his own lawyer, and he’s hiding from the press while tenants complain that they can’t get basic repairs.

Although Mayor Ed Lee has so far officially stuck by Henry Alvarez, he’s already backing off a bit, and it’s pretty likely Alvarez will be gone when his contract expires this summer. He may be gone even sooner than that; there’s a growing chorus of voices calling on the mayor to fire him.

So at some point we’ll get a new director, who will make a handsome salary (Alvarez gets $210,000 a year plus a car and seven weeks paid vacation) and live in a nice house and go into work every day to deal with problems that are pretty damn far from his or her life.

That’s always the case to some extent with the heads of agencies who deal with the poor, but it’s particularly dramatic when you talk about the Housing Authority. Public housing is never luxurious, but in San Francisco, it’s been riddled with problems for many years. And frankly, I’m much more concerned about the tenants than about Alvarez or his management style.

I get that the Housing Authority has financial problems. The federal government long ago abandoned any serious commitment to funding housing in American cities, and the authority only recently managed to pay off a multimillion-dollar judgment from a lawsuit filed by the families of a grandmother and five children killed in a fire on Housing Authority property.

Yet, tenant advocate continue to complain that it can be hard, even impossible to get a response from the agency. When critics complain, the agency goes after them: The Housing Rights Committee went after the Housing Authority over evictions, and wound up getting investigated by SFHA employees who wanted to gut their city funding. And while some say Alvarez is a hard-charging person who demands results (and thus pisses some people off), nobody has used the words open, accessible or compassionate to describe him.

I’ve got an idea for the next director (or for Alvarez, if he wants to stick around). Why not live in public housing?

Seriously: Why shouldn’t the person who controls the safety and welfare of tenants in more than 6,000 units spend a little time understanding what their lives are like? Why not spend, say, one night a week in one of those apartments?

In the old days, judges used to sentence slumlords to live in their own decrepit buildings, which seemed to work pretty well: Once the guy in charge has to deal with the rats and roaches and broken windows, he’s much more likely to expedite repairs.

But it wouldn’t have to be punitive — just a chance to get a first-hand look at how the agency policies are working on the ground. The city employee unions have had a lot of success asking members of the Board of Supervisors to do a union worker’s job for a day; the director of the San Francisco Housing Authority could certainly live like one of his tenants every now and then.

Think of it as a management tool: What better way to figure out whether his staff is doing the job than to look at the end product? Or figure it as a way to stop being an asshole and see what people who live on less than ten percent of his salary really think of his administration.

 

Editor’s notes

5

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES The president promised “meaningful action,” but did not mention guns once in his response to the unthinkable killing spree in Newtown, Connecticut. The gun nut lobby argued that if the teachers at the school had been armed, one of them might have shot the killer — suggesting that we ought to devolve into the worst parodies of the Old West (where, in truth, many towns, like Dodge City, banned handguns altogether).

And there was the usual hand wringing by observers on all sides about how hard it is to get gun-control laws through Congress, how the Second Amendment has been interpreted, how gun-registration laws didn’t prevent Adam Lanza from killing his mother and stealing her (legally purchased and registered) .233 Bushmaster rifle.

It’s infuriating that this keep happening, and nobody seems to be able to gather the political courage to tell the truth: We are allowing tens of thousands of Americans (including some who are deeply disturbed and dangerous) to own weapons of mass destruction.

Seriously: We spent a trillion dollars and the lives of 4,488 US soldiers to wipe out suspected WMDs in Iraq. We talk over and over about how Iran must not be allowed to obtain a WMD; nuclear nonproliferation has always been a centerpiece of our foreign policy.

And nobody argues that nuclear bombs don’t kill people, or that the crazy dictator with a war wish will find other ways to inflict carnage.

There’s a difference. A crazy guy with a machete could have done some serious damage in the Sandy Hook elementary school — but he wouldn’t have killed 20 children and six adults. In fact, a madman with a pistol would have killed some people, but not as many — and some of those shot might have lived.

In this case, a rifle that belongs on a battlefield of war, with huge ammo cartridges, allowed Lanza to put multiple bullets into the tiny bodies of every one of his victims. Nobody had a chance.

You have to appreciate West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is a devoted hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, who made the point nicely:

“I don’t know anybody that needs those multiple clips as far as ammunition in a gun. The most I’ve ever used in my rifle is three shells. Usually you get one shot, and every seldom ever two.”

Exactly. There is no need for anyone who wants a gun for self-defense, for sport, or for hunting to carry 30 rounds at a time. And if you think that your assault weapon is going to protect you when the black helicopters of the United Nations Storm Troopers arrive to force us into a World Government, you’re seriously delusional.

No: People buy these guns because they think it’s cool to have massive firepower. It’s fun shooting off a whole lot of rounds at a target. It’s also cool to have a car that goes 240 miles an hour and runs with open heads, and it’s fun to drive it drunk on city streets at high speeds. But we have decided as a society that we don’t think the potentially lethal impacts on others make it worth allowing those sorts of fun.

I get it — we’re not going to become Canada (too bad) or Western Europe. Americans like guns. Fine. We’re not going to eliminate standing armies all over the world, either. But we can stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Or at least we could try.

Editor’s notes

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EDITOR’S NOTES The two prominent lawyers who helped bring same-sex marriage to the US Supreme Court, Theodore Olson and David Boies, started out their case with the notion that it would get to the highest court, and that the Court would find a fundamental Constitutional right to marriage equality.

They’re both brilliant litigators who have argued more than 50 cases before the Supreme Court — and they think they know something. I can’t get into either man’s brain, but what legal scholars around the country are saying is that the fate (for now) of same-sex marriage may come down to one person, Justice Anthony Kennedy. And they figure he’s going to be on the right side.

I wouldn’t be surprised — those two have been here before, parsed this court, and been right enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. In fact, although 30-some states still ban same-sex marriage, I think the members of the Court see the direction that history is going. It’s moving fast, too — in five years, the tide will have fully turned, and the Court doesn’t want to be horribly embarrassed.

Kennedy, of course, is often the swing vote on the divided court — and in two prior cases, he wrote the decision affirming gay rights.

Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan, but what hasn’t been mentioned much in the press was that he was a second choice. Reagan wanted Robert Bork in that position — and if Bork had gotten the job, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Bork is another Antonin Scalia and would have held down the right wing of the Court and ensured a 5-4 right-wing majority.

This goes back to 1987, ancient history for a lot of political people today. When Reagan, who mostly got his way, nominated Bork, an unheard-of coalition came together to oppose him. It seemed a long shot — it was rare for a Supreme Court nominee to get rejected. Some argued that it wouldn’t matter, anyway — if Bork lost, Reagan would nominate someone else just as bad.

But the opposition came together. The ACLU, which in its history had only opposed one other Supreme Court nominee, helped lead the way. Women’s groups around the country joined in, mostly because of Bork’s open hostility to abortion rights. The Guardian ran a front-page piece called “The case against Judge Bork.” It was a huge national issue.

Sen. Ted Kennedy led the Judiciary Committee opposition to Bork, and all of us were riveted to the proceedings, which aired on KPFA and NPR. Bork gave detailed answers to all the questions, explaining, for example, why he thought Roe v. Wade was “improperly decided.” In the end, his nomination was rejected, 58-42.

Reagan got the message. He nominated Anthony Kennedy — also a conservative, but not a Bork-style nut. And the course of legal history was changed.

So if the Court comes down 5-4 for same-sex marriage, and Kennedy is the fifth vote, we can all thank that massive mobilizing effort a quarter century ago that kept a young, healthy, wingnut who would still be there today from holding that critical seat.

IN OTHER NEWS: The mayor may think the scandal over Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez is going to blow over, but he’s wrong. There are lots of problems in that agency. Among other things, as Citireport publisher Larry Bush has detailed over the past year, Alvarez used his official position (and city time) to go after a nonprofit, the Housing Rights Committee, that was advocating for public-housing tenants. Lee needs to distance himself from this guy, or he’s going to get dragged down with him.

Editor’s notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITOR’S NOTES The San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission is holding a hearing Dec. 7 on the Mayor’s Renewable Energy Task Force report. That may not sound like the most exciting moment in any of our lives — but it’s actually worth talking about, a lot. Because the city has a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy in just eight more years, and the task force think it can be done — and the report, while it has its moments, completely screws up the central tenet of any long-term renewables policy.

Background: Former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was prone to making sweeping press statements about things he never really intended to do, proclaimed in 2010 that San Francisco would be free of all fossil fuel electricity in 10 years. Then he went on his merry way to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

It fell to his successor, Ed Lee, to figure out how to make this happen, so Lee appointed a task force to study the situation. A lot of the members were environmental activists; some were experts in solar energy. One, Ontario Smith, worked for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., hung up five minutes into the first phone-conference meeting, and took his name off the final report.

If you don’t think this is serious business, you haven’t been looking out the window this past week. Scientists are now saying that it’s already too late to prevent the surface temperature of the Earth from rising three degrees, which means volatile and dangerous weather patterns are going to be part of the future anyway, and things might get way, way worse. San Francisco’s energy policy isn’t going to prevent China from burning coal, but it’s a step — and a 100 percent renewable portfolio would be a signal to other cities (and countries) that this is economically and technically feasible.

The report has 39 recommendations, many of them simple, practical, and laudable. It talks (correctly) about the importance of distributed generation — that is, small-scale solar and other renewable systems on houses and commercial buildings. It gives a nod to CleanPowerSF, the city’s community-choice aggregation system.

And it never once mentions public power.

In fact, from the tone of the report, the city plans to get to 100 percent renewable generation with the support and assistance of PG&E.

Let me give you a ring on the clue phone, folks: It isn’t going to happen.

Private utilities don’t have any interest in distributed generation, because it, quite literally, destroys their business model. If I have solar panels on my roof that meet my family’s energy demands, I have no need for PG&E anymore (except to use the company’s grid as a storage battery system, but soon we won’t need that, either). The only functional path to 100 percent renewables in a dense city is small-scale generation — and PG&E stands directly in the way.

I’ve always been a proponent of public ownership of essential services — water, power, streets and roads, firefighting and police operations, broadband, etc. But when it comes to electricity, this is more than a financial and resource-control issue. I see no path to a carbon-free (and nuclear-free) future, in San Francisco or anywhere else, as long as private companies make profits generating power in one place, shipping it along their private lines, and selling it someplace else.

Public power is not sufficient to create Newsom’s energy dream — but it’s absolutely necessary. And I hope the members of LAFCO make that point — and suggest that the task force update its report to reflect economic and political reality.

District surprises

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tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITOR’S NOTES The Wall Street Journal, which ought to focus on stellar reporting and skip the political analysis, stuck its haughty little nose into California last week, announcing that the Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature spell doom for us all.

“Liberals,” the paper noted, “will pick up enough seats to secure a supermajority. Governor Jerry Brown then will be the only chaperone for the Liberals Gone Wild video that is Sacramento.”

I guess I go to the wrong parties, but I’ve never seen that movie. In fact, a lot of the Dems in Sacramento would have to cough and gasp a bit to call themselves “liberals,” and that’s on a good day. Frankly, the majority party in the Assembly and Senate tends to be relatively conservative, with many of its members afraid to so much as talk about, say, amending Prop. 13 or legalizing marijuana.

The bigger danger is that the Democrats from the more moderate districts will so fear that loss of their seats that they’ll want to be even more cautious about raising taxes than the Republicans.

See, I don’t think either party quite realizes what happened Nov. 6 in California, and what it means for the future.

This election wasn’t an anomaly. It wasn’t a miraculous twist of fate driven by high Obama turnout or by labor’s GOTV efforts to defeat Prop. 32. It was the inevitable result of two forces — the demographic changes in the electoral map of this state, and the utter, complete collapse of the California Republican Party. Neither one is about to change any time soon.

For decades, the GOP has focused on older, white, suburban voters, and there was a time when that strategy worked. But the future of the state is younger, non-white urban voters who are less frightened by crime, less xenophobic about immigration, less likely to have kids in private schools, and largely uninterested in the traditional Republican social issues.

Brian Leubitz, the insightful blogger at Calitics.com, notes that almost 30 percent of the people who went to the polls Nov. 6 were between 18 and 29 years old. “The California GOP, like the greater national party, has lost young voters,” he writes. “If it hopes to return to a semblance of a statewide party, it will need to moderate itself back into a party that accurately represents some portion of California’s electorate.”

How likely is that? Anyone want to bet that the GOP is going to reject the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association the right-wing radio guys in Los Angeles and start promoting immigration reform and an overhaul of Prop. 13? You’ll have to give me pretty long odds.

No: The era of Democratic supermajorities in the California Legislature is here to stay for a while, and the Dems might as well use it. No need to be afraid of a backlash; there’s nothing out there to lash back with. The only real danger is that Democrats and independents will be so disappointed in the Legislature’s failure to act on the huge issues facing the state that they’ll stay home in two years.

Why not talk about a split-role property tax program? Why not an oil-severance tax? Why not let local government raise local taxes without a two-thirds majority? The Wall Street Journal can whine all it wants, but it can’t change reality — right now, the Democrats are the only game in town.

 

Editor’s notes

0

tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITOR’S NOTES The Wall Street Journal, which ought to focus on stellar reporting and skip the political analysis, stuck its haughty little nose into California last week, announcing that the Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature spell doom for us all.

“Liberals,” the paper noted, “will pick up enough seats to secure a supermajority. Governor Jerry Brown then will be the only chaperone for the Liberals Gone Wild video that is Sacramento.”

I guess I go to the wrong parties, but I’ve never seen that movie. In fact, a lot of the Dems in Sacramento would have to cough and gasp a bit to call themselves “liberals,” and that’s on a good day. Frankly, the majority party in the Assembly and Senate tends to be relatively conservative, with many of its members afraid to so much as talk about, say, amending Prop. 13 or legalizing marijuana.

The bigger danger is that the Democrats from the more moderate districts will so fear that loss of their seats that they’ll want to be even more cautious about raising taxes than the Republicans.

See, I don’t think either party quite realizes what happened Nov. 6 in California, and what it means for the future.

This election wasn’t an anomaly. It wasn’t a miraculous twist of fate driven by high Obama turnout or by labor’s GOTV efforts to defeat Prop. 32. It was the inevitable result of two forces — the demographic changes in the electoral map of this state, and the utter, complete collapse of the California Republican Party. Neither one is about to change any time soon.

For decades, the GOP has focused on older, white, suburban voters, and there was a time when that strategy worked. But the future of the state is younger, non-white urban voters who are less frightened by crime, less xenophobic about immigration, less likely to have kids in private schools, and largely uninterested in the traditional Republican social issues.

Brian Leubitz, the insightful blogger at Calitics.com, notes that almost 30 percent of the people who went to the polls Nov. 6 were between 18 and 29 years old. “The California GOP, like the greater national party, has lost young voters,” he writes. “If it hopes to return to a semblance of a statewide party, it will need to moderate itself back into a party that accurately represents some portion of California’s electorate.”

How likely is that? Anyone want to bet that the GOP is going to reject the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association the right-wing radio guys in Los Angeles and start promoting immigration reform and an overhaul of Prop. 13? You’ll have to give me pretty long odds.

No: The era of Democratic supermajorities in the California Legislature is here to stay for a while, and the Dems might as well use it. No need to be afraid of a backlash; there’s nothing out there to lash back with. The only real danger is that Democrats and independents will be so disappointed in the Legislature’s failure to act on the huge issues facing the state that they’ll stay home in two years.

Why not talk about a split-role property tax program? Why not an oil-severance tax? Why not let local government raise local taxes without a two-thirds majority? The Wall Street Journal can whine all it wants, but it can’t change reality — right now, the Democrats are the only game in town.

 

Editor’s Notes

1

“San Francisco’s economy is moving in the right direction,” Mayor Ed Lee told the Examiner last week. “My economic development and job creation policies are setting San Francisco on a path toward economic recovery.”

The normally modest mayor is making a rather sweeping statement there — the US economy is improving in general, and I don’t think the mayor can take credit for all of it. But he’s absolutely correct that he’s promoted policies that are aimed at bringing more tech companies in to San Francisco, and over the next few years, they will no doubt create a lot of high-paid jobs for people with specific skills that require a high degree of training and education.

Is that “the right direction” for the city? I lived here the last time that San Francisco was part of a tech boom, and I’m not so sure.

See, bringing all sorts of new wealth into town sounds good on the surface, and for some people — particularly real-estate speculators, landlords and purveyors of high-end services — it is. But in a city that has limited space and nearly unlimited demand for housing, lots of new rich people and lots of high-paid people looking for places to live puts pressure on the existing residents, particularly the poor and the working class. It screws the middle class, too — if you’re a teacher or a nurse and you want to buy a house in San Francisco during a boom, you’re S.O.L. You can barely afford to rent — and if you’re already renting, you’re constantly at risk of losing your home, and your ability to live in this city, because your landlord can make more money kicking you out and selling the place as a tenancy in common to someone with more money.

There’s no way to build enough new affordable rental housing, or housing that middle-class families can buy, to keep up with the demand. It’s impossible. Developers won’t do that — there’s too much money to be made in high-end housing for anyone in the private marketplace to waste time on anything else.

The only way to preserve the middle class in the upcoming boom that Lee is promoting is to aggressively protect existing rental housing stock — which means preventing condo conversions and TICs and the stuff that gets promoted as “middle-class housing.” The only way to prevent massive displacement of people and existing businesses is to regulate space in the city more tightly than anyone has ever done — which will, by its nature, make it harder for the newcomers and new millionaires to find places to live.

That’s the tradeoff. That’s the fact that Lee and his allies don’t seem to want to grasp

Editor’s notes

13

tredmond@sfbg.com

I used to go to Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Auditorium, which is now called the Kaiser Convention Center. One night I saw Bill Graham, the late concert promoter, ride a zip line from up near the ceiling to the stage in a giant paper mache joint called the “S.S. Columbian,” which looked like it was going to fall apart at any minute as he swung back and forth 50 feet over the crowd, trying to smile and wave in a bizarre promotional stunt that confused even the deadheads. I bet he shit his pants.

The place was a pretty good venue for a big concert, but it never worked out as a convention center, and the city shut it down in 2005. It needs seismic work and about $5 million in maintenance. It sits near Lake Merritt, on the edge of downtown Oakland, a giant empty building just waiting for something to happen to it.

It’s a perfect spot for an Occupy Oakland headquarters. I’m surprised it took the Occupy folks this long to figure it out.

Look: Oakland’s a working-class city, and it’s having severe financial problems, and sending hundreds of cops to arrest Occupy protesters is sucking up money that’s desperately needed for other things. Mayor Jean Quan complains that police were unable to respond to emergency calls in other parts of the city because they were all downtown dealing with the demonstration.

Understood — and it’s clear that the Oakland Police, whether the Occupy folks like it or not, are going to arrive in mass numbers to make sure that there’s no damage to local businesses or City Hall (where, oddly, there were no arrests, because the cops were elsewhere).

But the empty Kaiser Center, which isn’t even in the downtown center? Why bother?

Seriously: Why not just give it to Occupy Oakland? Tell the group that the city will strictly enforce fire and health codes, that the Occupy people will have to clean the place up and keep it clean, that they can’t damage the place … and hand over the keys?

It’s public property. Nobody using it now. Occupy might actually bring some excitement to the scene. If it became a center for political meetings and organizing, for education and performances, it could be a be a very positive thing.

Declare at truce in the Occupy wars. Let the cops go after murderers; give Occupy the vacant convention center. Nothing else is working. It’s worth a try.