• No categories


Attacking the nurses — again


OPINION On Nov. 29, Department of Public Health nurses once again found ourselves in the San Francisco Chronicle. Forecasting a budget deficit that prompted the mayor to implement a hiring freeze, the article alleged the shortfall "stems in part from a jump in the number of police officers and nurses on the city payroll and hefty pay raises doled out to those professions." "It’s our fault again," a nurse colleague uttered with a sigh.

Her remark needs to be placed in the context of the dissonant realities in which health department nurses work. On the one hand, market forces and a national nursing shortage have forced the city to make some improvements in nurse compensation. On the other hand, we work in an underresourced setting where we find it challenging to care for our patients adequately and keep ourselves intact in the process.

Truthfully, most nurses feel we earn our wages. We work on our feet for 80 percent of our shifts, in ergonomically difficult settings. We sometimes serve as nurse, clerk, and engineer simultaneously due to understaffing. We often forgo our full meal breaks. We increasingly suffer injuries, some permanent. Some of us acquire occupational infections.

But far worse is the soul-corroding distress we experience when we cannot meet our patients’ needs or our professional or ethical standards due to short staffing, a broken system, and decisions made by people remote from the realities of direct patient care. We believe that our patients, many of whom are marginalized in our society, deserve the care, compassion, and opportunities for healing that we try to afford them.

Enter the budget process. Every year vital services are slated to be cut. For three years our hospital interpreters, the lifeblood of the hospital, were on the chopping block. Every spring, health care workers, unions, and the community spend hours at City Hall, testifying to the harm that would be done to San Franciscans, particularly the poor and the ill, should hospital services be cut. Regrettably, neither the mayor nor the city controller is required to join the supervisors in hearing this heartbreaking testimony. Through the work of the supervisors, their staff, community coalitions, and an annual outpouring of public concern, some services are saved. But the yearly threats and fights are exhausting and create a cynical illusion that the process is only a political game.

Additionally, not reflected in the budget process is the accumulated erosion of DPH services and infrastructure: the equipment that is not replaced, the vacant positions that remain unfilled or "frozen," etc.

All of these conditions existed when Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the inauguration of Healthy San Francisco, a program created to provide health care to tens of thousands of uninsured San Franciscans through the Health Department. The program’s ability to succeed is based on the department’s plan to hire more clerks, pharmacists, nurses, and providers. The fact that the mayor was one of the program’s architects, along with Sup. Tom Ammiano, unions, and community participants, suggests that access to health care is a policy and budget priority for his administration.

But is it? After the mayor’s advocacy for HSF, it is confusing to read about a hiring freeze and the budget deficit being blamed on nursing hires and salaries. Health care workers and the public need to know where this administration stands. 2

Mary Magee

Mary Magee is a registered nurse who has worked for San Francisco General Hospital for 20 years.

Housing reform, now


OPINION The Board of Supervisors is poised to vote on a crucial charter amendment to set aside more than $30 million per year for new housing. Since the mayor is talking about a huge budget crisis and a lot of people may complain that more funding for affordable housing will make the flow of red ink worse, it’s important to understand what this issue is all about.

While many of us are aware of the exodus of working-class people, most San Franciscans are unaware that the city is in the final stages of the largest rezoning effort of the past 50 years. The Eastern Neighborhoods plans will set new land-use rules for the Mission District, eastern SoMa, Potrero, the Central Waterfront, and parts of Bayview.

Those areas are going to be opened up to vast new developments, including as many as 20,000 new housing units and tens of thousands of square feet of new commercial development. I can think of no greater opportunity — nor any greater potential disaster — than the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning effort.

Opening up the Eastern Neighborhoods for new housing without a commitment from the city to provide more resources for affordable units will guarantee that the new neighborhoods will exclude working-class residents and exacerbate the affordable-housing crisis in San Francisco for years to come.

In the Mission and many other districts, despite the cry for more affordable housing, the city has not prioritized housing for working-class San Franciscans. We hear a lot of talk from city hall, but in reality most of the new housing that gets built is far too expensive for most residents. This is a huge crisis — and the charter amendment will finally give affordable housing its rightful attention from the city.

We can’t accept a plan that relies only on the market to produce and fund some affordable housing. We’ve seen what that means: for more than seven years, while the community has waited for the Eastern Neighborhoods plans to be completed, housing for the wealthy has been built and housing for everyone else has been an afterthought. The Board of Supervisors has set an ambitious goal — 60 percent of all new housing should be below market rate — but the Planning Department and the Mayor’s Office of Housing have failed to produce a comprehensive strategy to meet that target.

So despite the budget crisis, the timing of the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment could not be any better. A measure that designates a significant amount of money every year for housing for working-class San Franciscans can finally bring accountability and a commitment from the city to build and retain affordable housing and plan for inclusive new neighborhoods.

We can’t sit idly by while the disparities widen between rich and poor, whites and people of color — or we will wake up 15 years from now and see the result, the continued exodus of working-class families and other lower-income communities. San Francisco is the only city I know of whose Latino population is stagnant and whose African American population is declining. The time to act is now. The Board of Supervisors should approve the Affordable Housing Charter Amendment, making it one of the key issues in 2008 for San Franciscan progressives.

Eric Quezada

Eric Quezada is the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services and a candidate for District 9 supervisor.

Housing: the urbanist approach


OPINION We’re in a tough spot as a city when it comes to housing costs. As the price of living here goes ever higher, we lose everything special about the culture of San Francisco.

Here’s the dilemma: more people want to live here than we are creating places for.

Why do people want to live here? Cultural tolerance. Economic opportunity. To be part of a community that doesn’t feel like the rest of the United States. The same mix of reasons that caused most of us to come here.

But we are barely adding to the supply of housing. On average over the past two decades, we have produced around 1,500 units per year. The city would need to produce between 3,000 and 5,000 units per year to keep housing costs from going up. If we added 5,000 units a year, after 70 years we would have the same density as Paris.

We already know what happens when people in a city faced with high housing demand decide they like their community the way it is and do not allow new construction. You get Carmel and Colorado’s Aspen and Boulder. You get an ultraritzy resort town.

San Francisco is on the way to becoming the largest city to go down this path.

The easy answer is to blame gentrification on the high-rise condos for rich people. But the only thing that would gentrify the city faster than building those condos is not building them.

People are moving here. If they are not allowed to be stacked in little concrete boxes on top of other little concrete boxes, those with more money will displace those with less money, through the simple process of being willing to pay more for the Victorians and all the rest of the building stock. That’s why older housing units don’t sell for less than new housing units.

What do we need to do? Increase housing at all levels, but in a smart way:

Concentrate the housing in places with excellent transit and within walking distance of stores.

Add as much to the supply of affordable housing as possible. This costs about $200,000 per unit in subsidy. So if we want to help 10,000 families, we need $2 billion; if we want to help 25,000 families, we need $5 billion.

Carefully convert some of the historically industrial areas into new, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Stop requiring developers to build extra parking. Developers should never, ever be required by the government to build extra parking, since each space costs $40,000 to $75,000.

Require excellent design of new buildings. If people felt confident that most new construction was going to contribute as much to the city, in the long run, as the old buildings do, we would be halfway to solving the problem.

All of this, of course, happens to be the same strategy we need to embrace to fight sprawl and its attendant outcome, global warming. Not one more inch of farmland in California would need to be developed if we were just willing to put growth inside existing cities. But this requires fundamental changes in the way we have been planning our cities for a long, long time.

Gabriel Metcalf

Gabriel Metcalf is executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

Save St. Lukes!


OPINION For 136 years St. Luke’s Hospital has been a San Francisco landmark, serving the underserved communities in the southern half of the city.

Now St. Luke’s needs San Francisco’s help.

The hospital’s owner, Sutter Health, has embarked on a stealth strategy to close St. Luke’s, shuttering units one by one and gradually shifting personnel to facilities in wealthier neighborhoods — and their more upscale pool of patients.

This process is called medical redlining, or institutional racism, and it’s not just morally wrong — it’s contrary to the values that unite San Francisco.

Latino and African American patients accounted for 54 percent of the 23,000 emergency visits to St. Luke’s in 2005. This compares with only 8 percent at Sutter’s favored California Pacific Medical Center facilities across town. Similarly, 40 percent of hospital patients at St. Luke’s are Latino, versus only 1 percent at the CPMC site. There are 1,300 children born each year at St. Luke’s, most of them to families from the Mission, Bayview–Hunters Point, the Excelsior, and surrounding communities.

If St. Luke’s closes, where will these patients go? What will they do?

Some of them will head to San Francisco General Hospital, which is already struggling with too many patients and uncertain funding.

Sutter says it will treat the rest of these patients at its other facilities — all at least a 30-minute drive or a much longer bus ride away.

In reality, many patients will simply forego medical treatment. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for lower-income patients, "traveling across town to access better resources or health care facilities is often beyond their means."

In this context, Sutter’s latest cuts to the neonatal intensive care and pediatrics units are especially cruel. Since the only private hospital serving the southern half of the city is in danger of closing, many of these families with sick babies and children will not seek or receive the medical attention they need until a crisis arrives.

All this, to improve on Sutter’s 2006 profits of $587 million.

The good news is that it’s not too late to save St. Luke’s.

Sutter’s actions have sparked a community outcry. Registered nurses from the facility went on strike in October and continue to insist that Sutter stop bleeding the hospital dry. Doctors, patients, and public health groups have actively protested and organized against the chain, and the city’s Health Commission is considering its options.

Sup. Sophie Maxwell recently introduced groundbreaking legislation to require a health impact review of all new permits granted to medical facilities. This would force Sutter to present an institutional master plan before moving forward with its proposed facility on Cathedral Hill and to justify this expensive new project in terms of what is best for the citywide public health infrastructure.

On a parallel track, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is proposing a resolution to give the Board of Supervisors more influence over Sutter’s plans and to direct the city attorney to explore legal options to counter Sutter’s medical redlining.

As the cuts at St. Luke’s continue, patients suffer — and so does the city’s health care safety net. It is time for San Franciscans to join together and save this city icon. *

Zenei Cortez, RN, is a member of the Council of Presidents of the California Nurses Association.

Good-bye to my city


EDITORIAL My marriage to the city is ending. Yes, the one on a peninsula tipped with astounding beauty, filled with rich cultural communities and the fullness and complexities of the growing inequities in American life.

It is the city that has witnessed the nurturing scenes of my adulthood on the West Coast of North America since 1966. I was here as the beat generation turned over my new city bride to newcomers during the Summer of Love. They called us hippies. Later I witnessed the tear gas flows at Haight and Ashbury the year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis. I watched television with Students for Eugene McCarthy on Haight Street on the warm June night when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

Although my city bride is scarred and worn down, like any bride would be with too many lovers fighting over each blink of her aging eyes under a wrinkled brow, how can anybody leave after a 41-year love affair?

Sadly, the deepening citywide housing crisis, well documented by the Guardian, has now reached our rental home near our beloved Unitarian Church and Center.

I have been in the "good fight" for most of those 41 years in San Francisco, where I have been arrested in solidarity with homeless people, witnessed for peace and justice, and engaged the body politic at City Hall on behalf of sound environmental and planning policies. I have worked continually for better public TV and radio services, including 10 years of elected service on KQED’s Board of Directors.

Now what is a responsible lover of a city bride to do? Jump ship? Leave on the next voyage of the SS Bilge Rat?

As an aging groom, however, my choices are few.

Along with my human bride, Jean, I could live in the cramped, crowded, and often dangerous gray ghetto for folks of limited income. Perhaps we’d win the California Lottery so we could "afford" the city’s lottery for a so-called affordable-housing condo.

We could continue to mount the barricades, trying keep our bride from being dressed up for dates with the limousine-and-caviar set and the arrivistes of wealth and power who want to steal her remaining treasures.

Instead, we are now heading toward building a new community in Boulder, Colo., where my life in the West began nearly 50 years ago as a college student. We will be members one of America’s first cohousing villages designed by elders who are now building an intentional community of self-managed affordable and market-rate units in a city where there are successful policies geared to meet the housing needs of all income groups.

In many marriages facing uncertain challenges, at times ties are dissolved unwillingly. I will miss my haughty, imperial, and strangely vulnerable city bride called the city of St. Francis — in Spanish, San Francisco.

To you, the remaining citizens of San Francisco: I have had a wonderful relationship with my city bride, with many gifts from insightful people. It was a time of great love, affection, expectations met and unmet, with disappointments and frustrations and — of course — laughs and tears. I have had them all with you.

Henry Kroll

Henry Kroll moved to San Francisco in 1966.

Public safety, back on track


OPINION About a year and a half ago, James was dealing drugs on a street corner in San Francisco. He wasn’t a hardened repeat offender, just a young man with little education and few prospects. He got arrested and soon faced adult felony drug charges for the first time.

California law sets the punishment for selling narcotics at up to three years in state prison. But we know that 7 out of every 10 people we send to California prisons will commit a new crime within three years of being released — the worst recidivism rate in the nation. If James ended up in state prison, there was a 70 percent chance that he would go straight back in a few years after his release, and we would actually be less safe, not more, for our trouble.

So instead of business as usual, we decided to try something new. We sent him to Back on Track, a program established by a reentry initiative created by my office in partnership with Goodwill Industries, other community service providers, and the business sector. After a year and half, Back on Track had put this former offender into the workforce and gotten him off the street.

Since we launched the initiative, more than 100 former offenders have successfully completed Back on Track. In the process, we’ve learned a lot about public safety and how to change the broken policies of the past that have crowded our prisons and jails without making us safer.

For decades, beginning with the war on drugs, there were only two brands of law enforcement: tough and soft. For decades we’ve chosen to get tough, but it’s mostly been tough on us: we’ve filled our state prisons to the breaking point with low-level offendersmostly drug offenders.

Isn’t there a smarter way to keep us safe?

Through Back on Track we’re initiating a new brand of law enforcement. Low-level drug offenders are referred to Back on Track, where they face swift sanctions for making bad choices and clear incentives for making good ones. The participants receive the basic opportunities for living crime-free that most of us take for granted: concrete job training and employment; union-based preapprenticeships in the building trades; college enrollment and help navigating financial aid; tutoring, money management, and banking instruction; child care, anger management, and parenting support. That’s the carrot, but there’s a stick too. Drug sellers must plead guilty to enter the program, and if they are rearrested or terminated from the program, they go straight to jail — no excuses.

Fewer than 10 percent of Back on Track graduates reoffend — and the program costs only $5,000 per participant, compared to $35,000 per year to house them in jail.

In October we held a graduation ceremony for Back on Track, one of four we’ve hosted since we launched the initiative. James was among the 13 young men and women who graduated. Today all 13 have full-time jobs or are working while they go to school. None have reoffended. More than 100 people currently in the program are following in their footsteps. Every day they’re teaching us that even a modest investment in people, coupled with accountability and clear guidance, can keep our community safe.

Kamala D. Harris

Kamala D. Harris is San Francisco’s district attorney.

Vote early and often: yes on A, no on H


OPINION The mainstream media talking heads like to claim that everything changed after Sept. 11. Like most of the slogans of the MSM, this is nonsense; events in Iraq continue to reveal just how stuck on pre– Sept. 11 assumptions the current national political class remains. In that sense, Sept. 11 has changed nothing.

What will really change everything is the expanding awareness of global warming and of the central role played by the automobile in climate change. Yet as with all truly major changes, the politics of global warming lags behind the physical realities imposed by science. That’s especially true at the local level, where large, important issues get translated into policy proposals and programs — programs that people have to vote and pay for if the changes are going to occur.

Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards may demonstrate broad acceptance of the idea of global warming, but it is the passage of local policies and the allocation of local tax dollars that will or will not get Americans out of their cars and into a vastly improved, publicly financed transit system that is the necessary first step in reversing this nation’s major contribution to the production of CO2.

The primary source of San Francisco’s main greenhouse gas is the private automobile. Proposition A on the November ballot seeks to take the first, halting steps toward reducing CO2 emissions by giving transit-first policies some additional local funding and the city the policy power to limit new parking when it interferes with transit. Prop. A is not the gold standard of policy that will eradicate, with one vote, all greenhouse gases in San Francisco. There is no such single measure — and even if there were, the politics around a dramatic reduction of that sort have yet to created. But Prop. A makes the clear connection between reducing dependence on cars and improving public transit — a necessary building block in creating an urban politics around a solution to global warming that would unite local officials, rational developers, labor, transit advocates, environmentalists, and community residents into a single constituency for change.

But this is still the United States, where a majority of us seem to believe that the Constitution grants us the right to park no more than 30 feet from wherever we want to go. Enter billionaire Don Fisher, of child-labor fame, a true believer in the guarantee of private car use. He has placed Proposition H, which sounds like a sure winner, on the ballot, giving us what he thinks we want for free: parking, parking, parking. His measure would amend some 60 pages of the Planning Code and change, in one measure, public policy from transit first to cars first. He’s betting that his money and his pro-parking values will strangle in its cradle the emerging politics of creating a majority for practical solutions to greenhouse gas production in urban America.

And he just might be right: the politics of global warming has yet to be created, while the politics of parking has long held sway in San Francisco. 2

Calvin Welch

Calvin Welch has been fighting for a better San Francisco since the 1960s.

The truth about shelters


OPINION The San Francisco Chronicle‘s C.W. Nevius wrote an opinion column Oct. 18, titled “City’s Homeless Shelters Clean, Safe but Shunned When It’s Dry,” implying that the conditions throughout the San Francisco shelter system are uniformly in perfect order and that individuals experiencing homelessness are living on the street by choice. The facts, however, tell of a much different reality and of a shelter system that lacks a basic standard of care.

The Shelter Monitoring Committee (www.sfgov.org/sheltermonitoring), the body in charge of inspecting the city’s shelters and resource centers, recently found that two-thirds of sites did not have immediate access to basic hygiene necessities such as toilet paper in stalls, soap near sinks, and towels — items that many of us take for granted. From a public health perspective, providing these basic items not only helps prevent infectious and communicable diseases; they also represent the foundation for ensuring that our city’s most vulnerable populations are treated with dignity and care.

In January, in response to the lack of basic standards, the Shelter Monitoring Committee formed a work group to create a universal standard of care to address the health and hygiene concerns above as well as concerns regarding facilities and operations. The work group included shelter residents, service providers, advocates, and city departments.

Now being drafted into legislation, the standard of care will provide more than 35 basic, minimum standards in the 18 city-funded shelters and resource centers to ensure equal access for clients, regardless of their disability status or native language. In addition, clients will have expectations that can be met by providing the sites with the resources identified by the committee. These standards will make the sites more accountable to the city and to the people being served by supplying service providers with clear expectations and requirements. After implementation, the standard of care will address environmental health issues before they develop into worse conditions, thus protecting both homeless individuals and shelter site staff. One outcome of increased prevention is the reduction in the number of cases going to SF General and community clinics for treatment, creating fiscal savings that can be reinvested into much-needed services.

San Francisco needs to become the leader in inventive, forward-thinking homeless policy and as such needs to adopt a universal standard of care to meet minimum needs. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, there are standards of care in multiple municipalities across the country, including Seattle, Norfolk, Va., and others, as well in states, such as Ohio.

The evidence is clear — it is time for San Francisco to support the basic needs of our most vulnerable populations. In a society of increasing economic inequity any one of us is one tragic experience away from being homeless. After nearly eight years of the George W. Bush administration and in the midst of a costly unjust war, San Francisco must take a stand to protect the seniors, veterans, and families who stay in our shelter system by ensuring that their basic needs are met and that they are treated with the respect, compassion, and dignity that they deserve as we help them back on their feet and into housing.

Tom Ammiano and Quintin Mecke

Sup. Tom Ammiano represents District 9. Quintin Mecke is secretary of the Shelter Monitoring Committee.


The cold case of Brad Will


OPINION Oct. 27 marks the first anniversary of the assassination of New York Indymedia photojournalist Brad Will by police in Oaxaca, Mexico, under the thumb of a corrupt and tyrannical governor.

Will was gunned down just outside Oaxaca City while filming a pitched battle between supporters of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and members of the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO). Will, 36 at the time of the killing, was the only American among 26 victims shot by Ruiz’s police and paramilitary operatives during protests in that state in 2006. No one has been held accountable for any of these murders.

A year after Will’s death, those who killed him are walking the streets. No charges have been filed against them, despite graphic evidence of their culpability. Will, true to his profession, never let go of his camera; he inadvertently filmed his murder, and photos of five cops firing their weapons at him appeared in major Mexican newspapers the day after the killing.

Indeed, the Guardian and 25 other member newspapers of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies published a startling photograph of his killers on their front pages Aug. 8 along with a 5,000-word investigative report I wrote probing the circumstances of the independent journalist’s death.

Yet although there have been repeated public denunciations of the killing by such international human rights watchdogs as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, neither the Mexican government nor, more pertinently, the US State Department has demanded justice for Will. The case now molders in the cold-case file, and despite street protests on both sides of the border, a barrage of e-mails to both governments demanding a thorough investigation of the murder, and even a visit to Oaxaca by his bereaved family, no authority has been animated to revisit this travesty.

The failure of the US government to demand accountability from Mexican president Felipe Calderón and Governor Ruiz is appalling. During the past year the US embassy in Mexico City under the direction of George W. Bush crony Tony Garza has been conspicuously silent about Will’s killing. In fact, the embassy’s only response to this murder since last Oct. 27 has been to warn American tourists about visiting Oaxaca.

The night Will was killed, Garza used the opportunity to condemn the popular movement in Oaxaca, thereby green-lighting then–Mexican president Vicente Fox to send in federal troops to crush the rebellion.

Will was one of 20 journalists working in Mexico to have disappeared or been killed since 2000. According to a count kept by Reporters Without Borders, 81 journalists were killed worldwide in 2006. Murdering the messenger continues to be the modus operandi of repressive governments and their security forces.

Will did not work for the New York Times. He was an independent voice on the front line of social protest in Latin America, and he paid a terrible price for his valiant and necessary reportage. In Mexico and elsewhere, when those who work for social change are so martyred, we do not concede their deaths, because their work is always with us. A year after his as-yet unresolved murder, Will is still present.

"Brad Will, presente!"

John Ross

John Ross has been the Guardian‘s correspondent in Mexico for the past 22 years.

Election security that works


OPINION These are anxious times for election security and voting equipment. The system is truly broken, starting at the federal level with a lack of national standards, a chaotic testing regimen, untrustworthy vendors, a revolving door between the industry and government regulators, and a decentralized hodgepodge of election administration from coast to coast.

Into that abyss has stepped Debra Bowen, California’s secretary of state. Many of us have supported her call to make elections more secure, and Bowen came into office with the best of intentions. Yet her staff’s inexperience and misreading of the bigger picture have caused more chaos than necessary and now threaten to undermine San Francisco’s November election.

Bowen’s office is concerned that San Francisco’s precinct voting equipment can’t adequately read certain colors of ink. But precinct voters are given a special dark black pen to use to prevent any problems, so the tiny handful of voters potentially affected would be those who (1) drop the precinct pen and (2) use their own pen, which (3) doesn’t have black or dark blue ink.

Even for those voters, though, the voting equipment has an additional safeguard: its optical-scan technology includes an error notification that rejects a ballot with an undervote, such as that caused by invisible ink, and the voter is given a chance to re-mark the ballot. This defect has existed since the equipment was introduced in 1999, yet the secretary has presented no evidence that this has caused any problems.

Nevertheless, Bowen has imposed an excessively draconian condition — namely, that precinct ballots cannot be included as part of the official tally nor even included as preliminary results. The only results available on election night will be the handful of early absentee ballots processed prior to the election, and all ballots must be counted on another piece of equipment.

Ironically, this order undermines the very election security Bowen claims to be addressing. As Bev Harris of Blackbox Voting put it, "Anything that doesn’t get counted on election night is at high risk for fraud." That’s just one example; Bowen has imposed other conditions that will affect ranked-choice voting but reflect little understanding of how RCV works.

What’s really going on is that San Francisco is caught in a battle royal between the secretary of state and the city’s vendor, Election Systems and Software. Bowen is understandably upset with ES&S for recent transgressions, yet in response she has overreacted, ordering interventions that are not narrowly tailored to the specific problem.

Unfortunately, Bowen’s interventions to date, including her top-to-bottom review of all voting equipment in California, reflect a misunderstanding of the bigger picture. Bowen assumes that if she cracks down, the vendors will get better, and so will their equipment. There’s no evidence that will actually happen.

Besides appropriate interventions, what’s really needed is a new and bold approach. The state of California should become its own vendor, designing its own public-interest voting equipment using open-source software and the latest innovations. Los Angeles County has already created its own equipment, as have other countries.

If California became its own vendor, creating the best equipment available, it would put pressure on private vendors to step up to the new standard or lose contracts. This is the type of bold effort that Secretary Bowen should be leading, rather than venting her understandable frustration with private vendors at counties like San Francisco. San Franciscans should contact her at secretary.bowen@sos.ca.gov to express their deep concerns.

Steven Hill

Steven Hill is director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation.

Will the US bomb Iran?


OPINION Half the warships in the US Navy are sitting within striking distance of Iran. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have stepped up their rhetoric, accusing Iran of killing Americans in Iraq and of threatening to start a nuclear holocaust. The British media is predicting that the Bush administration will bomb Iran in the near future.

The White House is using the same propaganda techniques to whip up popular opinion against Iran that it used four years ago against Iraq. Here’s the real story:

Iran has no nuclear weapons and couldn’t have them for years. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body that was right about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, says it has no proof of Iranian plans to build nuclear bombs. The IAEA recently reached a binding agreement for Iran to reveal its past nuclear activities and allow full inspection of nuclear-power sites.

The sophisticated explosively formed penetrators supposedly supplied by Iran to militias in Iraq are easily made in Iraqi machine shops and can be purchased commercially for mining operations.

For years Iran has given political, economic, and military support to Shia and Kurdish militias, but the Bush administration has never proved that Iran is intentionally targeting US soldiers.

For two years the United States has helped splinter groups among Iran’s ethnic minorities to blow up buildings, assassinate revolutionary guards, and kill civilians in an effort to destabilize the Tehran regime. In short, the United States does to Iran what it accuses Iran of doing in Iraq.

The hardliners in the administration, led by Cheney, see a dwindling opportunity to bomb Iran before Bush leaves office. They hope to launch a massive bombing campaign to so weaken Tehran that the regime will fall and Iranians will see the United States as their savior. Does this sound the faintest bit familiar?

In reality, a US attack would be disastrous. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 25 percent of the world’s oil supplies passes. Oil prices would skyrocket. Iran could encourage Hezbollah to launch missiles into Israel. Muslims would hold demonstrations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Iran could mobilize that anger and encourage Shiite parties in Iraq to attack US troops.

In a truly nightmare scenario, Iran could encourage terrorist attacks inside the United States and in allied countries. When I interviewed Syria’s President Bashar al-Asad in 2006, he said, "If you do a military strike, you will have chaos. It’s very dangerous."

The decision to bomb Iran depends, in part, on actions by the American people. Now is the time to let your national and local politicians know that we don’t need another human disaster in the Middle East. Code Pink is organizing a national campaign to get city councils to pass resolutions against attacks on Iran (www.codepinkalert.org/article.php?list=type&type=135). US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced a Senate bill to prohibit an attack on Iran without congressional authorization.

I can’t predict with certainty that the United States will bomb Iran, but the danger is greater today than anytime in the past 25 years. The question is, what will you be doing to stop it?

Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich (www.reeseerlich.com) is author of the new book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis (Polipoint). Oct. 2 will be Reese Erlich Day in Oakland to honor his work and that of all investigative journalists.

Forget the neighbors: build away!


OPINION Having considered San Francisco something of a utopian American city (certainly compared with others), I assumed the only reason city officials were on the verge of allowing perfect little Valencia Street to be turned into Emeryville West was that they were simply unaware of what a handful of developers and a few folks in the Planning Department were cooking up.

All they needed was to hear from the neighbors, some responsible concerned adults, to call their attention to this under-the-radar remaking of our beloved Mission. Giant, five-story luxury condo blocks would be so obviously wrong for Valencia, so against the will of the vast majority of the citizens who live here, and so clearly in violation the intent of the law we passed to protect our neighborhoods that they would simply say, "Holy cow, thank you!" and stop it.

No. See, it doesn’t work that way.

Proposition M (the law passed by San Franciscans in the 1980s to protect the way our city looks and feels from just such neighborhood-crushing development) is not treated as law or as a defining statement by San Franciscans about how they want their city developed. Rather, it is ignored.

After months of work and research, countless meetings, and coordinating the support of hundreds of concerned neighbors into one large group, we waited more than 20 hours to speak for three minutes in front of the Planning Commission about just one of these giant condo projects, at 700 Valencia.

When we finally got our three minutes (at 11:45 p.m.!), two commissioners were literally asleep. The gavel swung. Approved.

It was like the people of San Francisco never showed up.

Like Prop. M never passed.

Like the Mission didn’t exist as a real neighborhood.

The feeling was like "OK, I’ve finally done something more than vote to actually make this city I’ve lived in and loved for so many years a better place. I’ve joined up with other idealistic San Franciscans, mostly wonderful neighbors I’d never even met before, who worked far more valiantly than I on this process. And it doesn’t matter."

The law, and the people of San Francisco and the Mission, are all simply impediments, nuisances, to developers making their money, the planning commissioners getting home to bed, and the people with degrees at the Planning Department who believe, incredibly, that they should personally get to change and remake ("plan") this historic, world-famously beautiful city.

It’s happening as you read this. The middle-finger building going up obscenely in front of the Bay Bridge is just the beginning. The destruction of Valencia Street may soon be an afterthought.

I’m suddenly very skeptical about the future livability of the neighborhood I’ve proudly been part of for more than 20 years. But it may not be too late to save yours.

Call, write, and visit your supervisors! Remind them that Prop. M is still the voice of the people.*

Dan Hoyle is a Valencia Street activist. He can be reached at savevalencia@gmail.com

Do wi-fi right — ourselves


OPINION Although it’s only a "declaration of policy," Proposition J (the mayor’s wi-fi initiative) is garnering a lot of opposition. Taken at face value, the initiative seems like a no-brainer: of course we should have free, high-speed wi-fi for everyone, with adequate privacy and no public money, right now. The initiative makes it sound like all we have to do is bend over and pick up the golden wi-fi network lying in the street. Like other stories about precious paving, though, the reality is considerably less shiny.

Since Mayor Gavin Newsom filed Prop. J to whip up support for his proposed EarthLink network, that company pulled out of the San Francisco deal. EarthLink also pulled out of its agreement with Houston (paying $5 million in penalties) and laid off almost all of its municipal network division staff.

Prop. J was created to rally support for a deal that doesn’t exist anymore. Should we pass it anyway? Well, the problems that Prop. J points out are real. At least a fifth of San Franciscans have no home Internet access, and many more residents have only dial-up access.

Unfortunately, Prop. J is written to make a political point, not to ensure universal Internet access. In order to make that point, it insists on two features that were part of the EarthLink deal but don’t make sense if we’re actually trying to achieve access for everyone.

First, wi-fi is almost certainly not the technology on which to base a citywide network. It’s suited to quick-and-dirty outdoor networks or to extending indoor networks to multiple rooms, but as a network that’s supposed to cover large outdoor areas and reach into buildings, it’s got serious limitations.

A smarter approach would likely use wi-fi only where it makes the most sense as part of a larger network. A truly universal network would likely utilize a combination of wi-fi, the fiber-optic line that San Francisco already owns, and possibly other technologies, like copper wires or fixed-point wireless.

Second, Prop. J specifies that the network be built as a public-private partnership. The fall of the EarthLink deal proves that the fantasy of a company coming into San Francisco and giving everyone free Internet is just that: a fantasy. Simply declaring that we want a public-private partnership is not going to conjure some unknown company out of thin air to build a universal network in San Francisco.

Although the measure is not legally binding, many of its opponents, including several unions and a number of community groups, understandably fear that it’ll be used as an excuse to rush into a bad deal. If we’ve committed to a public-private partnership and "implementing … agreements as quickly as possible," we’re not exactly staking out a great bargaining position.

The mayor seems dead set on finding a private company to build this network, whether or not that makes sense. He’s likely to use Prop. J, if it passes, as a way to ignore the likelihood that we’re better off pursuing a city-run network. If ensuring that every San Franciscan has access to the Internet is something we really feel is important, it’s something that’s worth doing right, and if we want to make sure it’s done right, we should do it ourselves.

Sasha Magee

Sasha Magee is an activist who blogs at leftinsf.com.

Where is the love?


OPINION Distant dreams of flowing colored scarves, glowing tie-dyed shirts, and rainbow dashikis commingling with mounds of facial hair and peace signs filled my mind as I walked through a deep recess of quiet green on a hidden trail in Golden Gate Park. It was 7 a.m. I was there to meet Mary X, an OG Summer of Love attendee, as she hastily closed her camp before, as she put it, "the po arrested me and stole all my stuff."

Despite the romantic images of the 1967 events, Mary’s campmates — black, brown, and white houseless elders, several of whom are veterans of the Vietnam War — were barely clothed in soiled flak jackets and torn tie-dyed shirts.

Further shattering the mythos of peace, human love, and community caring, many of these elders sported overlong beards that, unlike those in so many white-ified Jesus pictures, were filled with crumbs and spittle. Their hands were crippled with arthritis and barely able to hold their coffee cups, much less make a peace sign. "I was there," Mary stated plainly, her black eyes searching nervously for the next Department of Public Works truck or park police officer. "I was at the original Summer of Love in 1967." She stopped talking, picked up her backpack, and left without looking back at me.

Mary is a diagnosed schizophrenic, she told me during our original phone call, and like many poor folks in the United States — like my poor mama, Dee, who passed away last year — she has no money for mental health services. Her indigent program allows her a biannual visit with a disaffected psychiatrist who hands her a medication prescription she can’t afford to fill. Her only income is earned from long hours spent collecting cans and redeeming them for small change, very hard work that we at Poor call microbusiness — and a line of work that our magazine, in a recent exposé ("The Corporate Trash Scandal," 8/15/07), discovered is more likely to erase our collective carbon footprint that any corporate recycling company.

While Mayor Gavin Newsom continues with his daily sweeps of homeless people in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius writes weekly hit pieces that demonize and lie about the poor folks surviving in public spaces, equating them with the wild coyotes that roam the park. Nevius’s hit campaign begs the question for all of us: where is the love?

As thousands celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, how can we criminalize people for the sole act of living without a home and occupying public space? And who should really determine who belongs in open spaces like parks, beaches, streets, and sidewalks?

How have we in the United States come to equate cleanliness with a lack of poor human beings, and how are the people who have come to celebrate the Summer of Love — with their trash, picnic baskets, cars, belongings, and recreational drugs — any cleaner than the homeless folks who live and work in the park year-round and have nowhere else to go?


Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the cofounder of Poor magazine and the Poor News Network (www.poornewsnetwork.org) and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America.

Too many golf courses


OPINION The future of San Francisco’s public golf courses affects you even if you don’t play golf.

San Francisco’s seven public golf courses cover more than 700 acres of parkland, or 20 percent of our public open space. That’s three times the acreage in Chicago, a city five times larger with four times the population. Furthermore, San Francisco’s golf courses lose more than $1 million annually.

In a 2004 city-funded survey, San Franciscans preferred more hiking trails, community gardens, skate parks, playgrounds, off-leash dog areas, bike trails, and baseball diamonds. Golf ranked 16th out of 19 on a list of recreational priorities. If the city is serious about keeping families and children in San Francisco, we must prioritize the recreational uses preferred by our diverse community.

With the exception of Harding Park, San Francisco’s public golf courses operate at only 40 percent capacity. Golf courses effectively remain unused half the time. There is clearly an oversupply of courses, while demand continues to wane. We can convert this underutilized asset to greater use and still meet demand for golf at all ability levels.

Pleasanton recently hosted a soccer tournament. A friend noted that her hotel was filled with players and families. Our local economy would benefit by adding adequate acreage to our mere 25 acres of soccer fields to host similar family-friendly tournaments. Golfers get 700 subsidized acres, while soccer moms and dads get 25?

Recreation and Park Department studies indicate the city accommodates fewer than 50 percent of soccer teams with only one game and one practice per week. What about the other teams? Rec and Park recommended 35 more soccer fields to meet demand.

One of the city’s courses, Sharp Park, is a prime candidate for conversion to restore its wetland ecosystem, home to the endangered red-legged frog and San Francisco garter snake, while adding hiking trails and preserving golf play.

Public pressure from a broad coalition of park users to stop privatization of our public courses helped force Rec and Park to analyze conversion of some — not all — golf courses to other recreational uses. The city should compare the costs of conversion to the estimated $64 million needed to upgrade existing golf courses.

No one suggests closing all of San Francisco’s public golf courses or denying people access to them. However, we can likely meet current golf demand with two or three fewer courses.

Demand more equitable use of our open space by e-mailing recpark.commission@sfgov.org and board.of.supervisors@sfgov.org. Indicate you want the study funded by the Board of Supervisors to begin immediately.

Rick Galbreath, Jill Lounsbury, Dan Nguyen-Tan, Sally Stephens, and Isabel Wade

Rick Galbreath sits on the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco chapter. Jill Lounsbury is manager of the Golden Gate Women’s Soccer League. Dan Nguyen-Tan works with the Coalition for Equitable Use of Open Space. Sally Stephens is a member of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group. Isabel Wade is executive director of the Neighborhood Parks Council.

Save the golf courses


OPINION Public golf is a historically vital part of San Francisco life. Imported to the city by immigrants from Scotland around 1900, golf here has retained its Scottish character as recreation for all types and ages. This is fostered by one of America’s outstanding collections of municipal courses, from the flagship Harding Park to Sharp Park — designed by Alister MacKenzie, golf’s Frank Lloyd Wright — to Gleneagles, hailed as one of the country’s finest nine-hole courses.

Of all the city’s courses, Lincoln Park is the oldest and most charming — a signature San Francisco landmark like its neighbor, the Golden Gate Bridge. Beginning in 1902, Lincoln was built on a hilly former cemetery by Tom Bendelow, who was known as the Johnny Appleseed of American golf, and Jack Neville, designer of Pebble Beach. Ansel Adams took some of his earliest published photographs there. Every national poll recognizes Lincoln as among America’s top 10 most-scenic public courses.

But today Lincoln needs help. After years of deferred maintenance, it’s now unplayable for much of the winter due to the lack of a modern drainage system. The ancient clubhouse is dilapidated. So play at Lincoln has declined. Some detractors now call for Lincoln to be bulldozed and replaced by skateboard and BMX bike parks, a soccer field, a driving range, and an events center. Such high-intensity uses are unrealistic, incompatible with Lincoln’s extremely hilly topography, and unacceptable to the course’s neighbors in the quiet residential precincts of the Outer Richmond.

Those who attack golf as an elitist male pastime misrepresent the reality of public golf in the city and ignore Lincoln’s importance to our youths. Lincoln is the home of the city’s high school and junior golf programs; the course’s alumni include US Open champions Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller and LPGA stars Jan Ferraris and Dorothy Delasin. The First Tee program, based at Harding and with plans for a new learning center in the Sunnydale neighborhood, uses golf to uplift the lives of hundreds of children from the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The city’s high school golfers now on university teams across the country — including Domingo Jojola (University of San Francisco), Katrina Delen-Briones (San Jose State), Keiko Fukuda (Brown University), and Elaine Harris (Indiana University) — are anything but male elites.

That the city’s golf courses need outside expert management is not seriously debatable. At the zoo, we hire professional zookeepers; at the museums, professional curators. What’s needed at our public courses is not more "wait and study the problem to death," as some politicians advocate, but an immediate injection of golf management expertise to prevent the terminal deterioration of the courses.

Improved public recreation cannot come by tearing down one sport to benefit another. We need to work together to improve all public recreation — including restoration of Lincoln and our other storied public golf courses. Visionaries of prior generations created these great civic assets. It is now our duty to preserve them for generations to come.<\!s>*

Lee Silverstein, Terese Cronin, and Tom Weathered

Lee Silverstein is a special education teacher and golf coach at Lowell High School. Terese Cronin is a fourth-generation San Franciscan who spent her youth at the city’s public golf courses. Tom Weathered is secretary of the Lincoln Park Golf Club.

Next week: why the city should look at other uses for Lincoln.

The poison in your sofa


OPINION If your sofa was purchased in California after 1975, chances are its interior foam and cushions contain either brominated or chlorinated fire retardants. These toxic chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, reproductive problems, learning disabilities, and thyroid disease in laboratory animals and house cats. At the same time, these chemicals are climbing the food chain in increasing concentrations and are found in fish, harbor seals in San Francisco Bay, polar bears, bird eggs, and the animal at the very top of the food chain — breast-fed human babies.

A little-known California regulation known as Technical Bulletin 117 requires that the polyurethane foam in furniture withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. This 30-year-old regulation is well intended, and upholstered furniture fires are a serious concern. However, since 1975 no other jurisdiction in the world has followed California’s lead, and other states have achieved similar or greater reductions in fire-related deaths without this standard.

Because brominated and chlorinated fire retardants don’t react chemically with foam, their molecules have a tendency to attach to dust particles in furniture. Each time someone sits on a sofa cushion, the dust particles escape into the air and can be inhaled or settle on the floor, where toddlers and house cats live and play.

These fire-retardant molecules mimic thyroid hormone, which in pregnant women regulates the sex and brain development of the unborn child. This mimicking is called endocrine disruption, and brominated and chlorinated fire retardants in even infinitesimal amounts can cause harm to human and animal health through this process.

Many national furniture manufacturers distribute only California-compliant furniture, which means that up to 10 percent by weight of foam cushions are composed of toxic chemicals. California’s standard is poisoning the whole nation, one sofa at a time.

The good news is that there are safer chemical and construction-based alternatives already in the marketplace that can provide an equivalent level of fire safety without the use of brominated and chlorinated fire retardants. The institutional-furniture industry and the mattress industry already comply with tough fire standards and do so without the use of these toxic chemicals.

Residential-furniture manufacturers could do so as well, except that state law and TB 117 prevent it. That’s why I have authored Assembly Bill 706, which would modify our outdated foam test. A modern residential-furniture standard, such as the one developed in California for mattresses, should address how the various components of furniture can together achieve equal or better fire safety without using the most toxic fire retardants.

AB 706 would establish a comprehensive process for weighing the issues of fire safety and chemical exposures. It would rightly rest the responsibility for assessing toxicity with state toxicologists, require the fire-retardant industry to prove that its products are safe, and leave the final decision on whether to prohibit a particular chemical to the state’s fire-safety scientists.

Soon the decision of whether California will continue to poison our kids and the rest of the nation will be made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thus far, state agencies have been directed from the top to oppose AB 706. The question for Gov. Schwarzenegger is, how loudly must our babies cry before toxic, cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are removed from our furniture?<\!s>*

Mark Leno

Mark Leno represents San Francisco in the State Assembly.

Harm reduction in the park


OPINION Mayor Gavin Newsom’s moves to sweep homeless people out of Golden Gate Park have generated a lot of controversy — and a lot of people are missing the point.

I’m not so concerned about people sleeping in the park, just as I’m not so concerned about people sleeping on the sidewalks or the streets if there is no other place available, so long as they are just sleeping.

If folks just slept in the park, cleaned up after themselves, and moved on during the day, most of us would probably not notice. If my friends and I decided to take our tents and sleeping bags to the park and spend the night, there probably wouldn’t be any trace of our stay the next day.

My main concern is when ancillary conduct related to a poverty existence, such as defecation, urination, and the dispersal of syringes, becomes problematic. Is it worse when these things happen in Golden Gate Park or Corona Heights than it is when the same behavior occurs around Marshall Elementary in the middle of the Mission? The costs to police the park and the concrete public realm to the extent that one would see a difference in less feces and fewer syringes are probably as significant as the cost of constructing facilities to house and treat the homeless.

A feasible midrange political solution would be to adopt a broad front of harm-reduction policies designed to lighten the annoying footprints of the homeless on our public spaces without attacking them as human beings. Many are seriously messed up for an often overlapping variety of reasons. Outreach workers, instead of forcing homeless people through the criminal justice system, should offer appropriate technology disposal solutions for the most dangerous waste and trash as well as services to help with sanitation. I’d like for the city to initiate a "shit in a bag" program under which city workers would communicate to the homeless the importance of not befouling public space and provide plastic bags, toilet paper, and sanitizers for them to use.

Similarly, syringe-disposal systems are inherently safe, are designed to be unopenable without tools, and should be deployed in sites frequented by injection drug users.

It should be noted that nobody is noticing any more of these annoyances now than they were five years ago. The San Francisco Chronicle is simply tossing Newsom a softball for his reelection campaign so that he can appear tough on crime for his base voters (as if that is going to be an issue this year). It’s not cost-effective to deploy the San Francisco police to deal with homelessness. It’s also not cost-effective for the city to make up for the abdication by the state and federal governments of their responsibility to deal with the mentally ill and drug abusers.

So we can either complain or attempt another approach.<\!s>*

Marc Salomon

Marc Salomon is a member of the San Francisco Green Party County Council.

You can’t trust the voting machines


OPINION California’s secretary of state, Debra Bowen, has released a landmark report showing what all honest brokers admitted long ago: electronic voting systems are completely vulnerable to hackers. "The independent teams of analysts [hired by the state] were able to bypass both physical and software security measures in every system tested," her report states.

A report on accessibility for disabled voters found that none of the direct recording electronic (usually touch screen) voting systems met federal disability standards.

And yet US House Democrats and People for the America Way are busy hammering out a deal in Congress to institutionalize in federal law the continued use of such disastrous voting systems.

Out of touch much? Which part of a transparent, counted, paper ballot (not a "trail" or a "record") for every vote cast in America do these guys not understand?

Late Friday, as Bowen’s report was being released, US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) finally came to terms, reportedly, on a deal for a revision of Holt’s House Resolution 811, dubbed the Federal Election Reform Bill, which allows for the use of DREs — as preferred, almost exclusively, by People for the American Way, elections officials, and voting-machine companies. Saturday’s New York Times confirmed that it was "Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, [who] helped broker the deal" between Holt and the House leadership.

And though Christopher Drew’s reporting at the New York Times is getting slightly better with each new story, it would be nice if the "paper of record" could learn enough about our voting systems to accurately report and help Americans understand what’s really at stake here and how the technology actually works.

Drew reported — misleadingly — that "the House bill would require every state to use paper records that would let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would be available for recounts."

That’s just plain wrong. The fact is that adding "cash-register-style printers to … touch-screen machines," as Drew describes it, does not allow a voter to verify that his or her "ballots had been correctly cast." It allows voters only to verify that the paper record of their invisibly cast electronic ballot accurately matches their intentions, if they bother to check it (studies show most don’t) and if they’re able to notice errors on the printout (studies also show that most do not). The fact is, there is no way to verify that a person’s vote is correctly cast on a DRE touch-screen voting machine. Period.

Unless, of course, it’s me who is out of touch in presuming that if a ballot is cast, it means it will actually be counted by someone or something. Paper trails added to DRE systems are not counted; instead, only the internal, invisible, unverifiable ballots are. A "cash-register-style" printout prior to the ballot being cast and counted internally does nothing to change that. *

Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman writes on elections and political integrity for the Brad Blog at www.bradblog.com. A version of this piece first appeared as a post there.

The generals should end the war


OPINION All American military officers and commanders take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Their oath is a solemn obligation to the American people, and especially to their own troops, to abide by the law. Our men and women in uniform place great trust in their superiors. They risk their lives in the belief that they will not be used falsely or illegally or for ill gain.

There is no group of Americans with greater interest in the enforcement of international law than American troops themselves. Our youths pay a heavy price when their rulers plunge them into operations beyond international law. Immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal, the infamous retaliatory beheadings began.

The legal status of the occupation of Iraq is not a mystery. The generals who command the US troops know very well that the occupation is based on lies, carried out in defiance of US treaties. The Nuremberg Conventions explicitly repudiate the doctrine of preemptive war. The United Nations Charter, for which many of our parents and grandparents gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe, outlaws war as "an instrument of policy."

Every general knows that the occupation is a war of choice. The commanders also know that, except for special UN-sanctioned interventions, defensive necessity is the sole legal basis for war. US Army Field Manual no. 27-10 states without equivocation, "Treaties reutf8g to the law of war have a force equal to that of laws enacted by Congress."

Many soldiers of conscience who dared to speak openly about the immorality and illegality of the war have been court-martialed and imprisoned. Their cases, dating back to 2004, raise serious doubts about the capacity of our soldiers to receive justice in our military courts. Five months prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal, a soft-spoken Army soldier named Camilo Mejía was visibly upset by the atrocities he observed during his tour of duty in Iraq. Repulsed by the slaughter of civilians and the needless deaths of American GIs — all reported in his riveting combat memoir, Road from Ar Ramadi (New Press, 2007) — Mejía gathered his courage and made formal complaints to his superiors. Commanders refused to listen and questioned his patriotism. Eventually Mejía was sentenced to a year in prison for speaking out, for telling the truth.

His trial, like subsequent trials of war resisters, was a travesty of justice. The judge, Col. Gary Smith, ruled that evidence of the illegality of the war was inadmissible in court, that international law is irrelevant, and that a soldier’s only duty is to follow orders, regardless of their legality. In essence, Mejía spent months in prison for upholding the rule of law in wartime. Had commanders listened to Mejía, had judges respected due process and the rule of law, the Abu Ghraib scandal that humiliated our troops might never have occurred.

Our military system is passing through a profound moral and legal crisis. A commander who knowingly orders troops to participate in crimes against peace betrays himself or herself and those who serve under him or her.

The time has come, long overdue, for American generals of conscience to break their silence. *

Veterans for Peace (Chapter 69, San Francisco) and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist

The above statement was issued by these two antiwar groups and is endorsed by the national Veterans for Peace group, which will launch a campaign next week calling on American generals to refuse to continue the war.

Gavin Newsom’s wireless Edsel


OPINION What would you think if somebody tried really hard to sell you an Edsel when you could clearly see a Lexus on the lot for the same price?

That’s what Mayor Gavin Newsom is doing with his "wi-fi everywhere" franchise deal.

The mayor put out a bid to get everyone in the city connected wirelessly at high speeds with a decent free service. What he has gotten instead is a deal that doesn’t guarantee anyone will be connected, with free service so slow even your dog wouldn’t use it.

Newsom wants reelection points for an approved deal now, knowing he won’t have to take reelection hits for the network when people see what they’re really getting:

If you want better than pedestrian speeds, you’ll pay fees comparable to those for DSL. But DSL is faster.

If you live above the second floor or away from the front of your building, or in various locations around the city, you won’t be able to get service at all. Too bad for you.

Service will drop out randomly without warning and may take days to fix.

Even only a few people at a time downloading things makes the service hideously slow for all of them.

The service uses the same frequencies as all the wireless gear people buy for common use. Use your wireless phone, ruin your Internet connection (and maybe your neighbor’s too).

Google and EarthLink get to snoop on you, your traffic, and your preferences. Good-bye, privacy.

The free service will operate at 300 kilobits per second — not even matching the 1,000 Kbps service that Google provides for free in Mountain View.

The underserved will remain underserved despite all claims to the contrary.

While Newsom has been pushing wi-fi, optical fiber has become really cheap. But Newsom is ignoring fiber in favor of his pet wi-fi project. Newsom’s friends have been attacking various supervisors for failing to pursue the wi-fi deal, but the supes are looking at fiber as an excellent reason to drop wi-fi entirely. Why? Here’s what you get with community optical fiber:

A connection of 1,000 megabits per second. Not 300 kilobits, not six megabits, but one gigabit.

Potential savings of $1,000 per year per consumer.

Near-absolute reliability.

No slowdowns due to congestion.

No snooping.

Anyone on the network can become a video producer for the entire world.

The elimination of monopoly control over our communication networks and a permanent commitment to network neutrality that can’t be overcome.

People have asked Newsom why he won’t offer free fiber connections to underserved community centers if he cares about them as much as he claims. He gives no answer: "Let them eat 300 kilobits."

It is the height of folly for a politician to pursue a bad promise to deliver poor services when the same politician could claim to be keeping up with the times and has something much, much better to offer. But that appears to be Newsom’s reelection strategy. He wants to give us an Edsel while pretending it really is better than the Lexus we can clearly see despite his best efforts to hide it. I’ll vote for the person who wants to sell me the Lexus. *

Eric Dynamic runs an ISP business in Oakland.

Problems with Peskin’s Muni plan


OPINION Last week the Board of Supervisors received a proposed charter amendment that takes a misguided stab at the much-needed reform of the Municipal Transit Agency, which oversees Muni. In undertaking reforms we all agree are needed for the MTA to better serve our city, the supervisors should consider the Hippocratic oath required of doctors: “First, do no harm.”

Our union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents almost a thousand MTA workers, has enormous respect for the bill’s sponsor, board president Aaron Peskin. We know that Peskin strongly supports workers’ rights and has always stood for openness, transparency, and accountability in government. This initiative, however, undermines everything that he and his board colleagues stand for, and we urge progressives to oppose it.

Most important, the initiative is profoundly undemocratic and would transfer oversight from an elected body to an appointed one. An MTA that no longer had to answer to our elected representatives would be a less accountable and less transparent board.

Downgrading elected oversight into appointive power resting in the hands of one person — the mayor — is not reform but a political power grab. Commissioners would be well aware that they might not be reappointed if they voted too independently of the mayor’s preferences.

The initiative would present additional risks for the abuse of power in local government by allowing MTA to approve its own contracts. This is a dangerous conflict of interest that would create more opportunities for problems, not reform.

The amendment furthermore would undermine workplace protections by increasing the number of nonunion workers from the current 1.5 percent to a whopping 10 percent. Working people would serve at the pleasure of an unelected board and lose their right to collective bargaining. Seven years ago many members of the Board of Supervisors and progressives strongly opposed a nonunion special assistant position in Mayor Willie Brown’s office. The board converted this position to a civil service job because of the perception of patronage and corruption. The current charter amendment exhumes that political cadaver while hiding behind the fig leaf of flexibility — which in this case is a code word for the power to fire people without just cause or due process, or for political expediency.

On one point we agree with this charter amendment: it’s true that the MTA needs more money to serve our residents the way it should, and this amendment would take $26 million from the General Fund and transfer it to the MTA budget. But we do not believe we should be raiding the General Fund without carefully considering the possible impact.

This is a charter amendment and cannot be easily undone. If it turns out to be a disaster, as we believe it will, San Francisco will find itself in a very dire situation without a timely remedy.

SEIU Local 1021 strongly opposes this charter amendment unless it undergoes major revisions. Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s competing initiative, by contrast, offers us a path that is much more democratic, promotes accountability and transparency in government, and protects the rights of working families. We agree that reform is needed, but if passed, Peskin’s initiative will create many more problems than it purports to solve. *

Damita Davis-Howard and Robert Haaland

Damita Davis-Howard is president of SEIU Local 1021; Robert Haaland is San Francisco political coordinator for the union.


The truth about housing money


OPINION Just as in war, in 2007 San Francisco budget politics, truth is the first casualty.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assertions by Gavin Newsom’s campaign minions that the mayor’s current budget proposal contains a $217.5 million city investment in affordable housing.

The purpose of these claims is to imply that Newsom has voluntarily allocated local tax dollars for this critical need — and that no more should be spent on affordable housing, especially some $10 million for lower-income rental housing production for families with children proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly and the Board of Supervisors.

The facts tell a different story.

First, the impression that this $217.5 million is all local tax money the mayor has voluntarily invested in affordable housing is false. Some $20 million is federal and state money that can be spent only on affordable housing. Another $25 million comes from local sources and also must be used for affordable housing. And $48 million comes from tax-increment funds mandated by a 2005 supervisors policy to go solely toward affordable-housing development.

So about 40 percent ($93 million) of the affordable-housing funding that the Mayor’s Office talks about was money that by law had to go to affordable housing. It wasn’t Newsom’s choice.

Nearly a third of the mayor’s budget for creating affordable housing — some $60 million — is in fact allocated to fund his Care Not Cash program, which was supposed to pay for itself. Indeed, more than twice as much money, $31 million, is earmarked to pay for privately owned, leased residential hotel rooms for temporary housing of the homeless (not producing one new affordable home) as is budgeted for the production of new, permanently affordable lower-income family rental housing ($15 million). The fact is, the 2007–08 Newsom budget cuts $24 million in funds earmarked for new affordable-housing production for families and seniors.

What is most distressing about the half-truths and nontruths in the affordable-housing budget battle of recent days is that the unity between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors — crucial to the expansion of affordable-housing opportunities for San Franciscans and which has characterized the city since the George Moscone administration (some 25,000 permanently affordable homes have been produced in the past 20 years, a figure unmatched in any other mayor American city) — has been placed in peril for short-term political advantage.

But cooler heads have prevailed inside and outside City Hall. Sometimes it is better to shut up and do what needs doing and let the credit fall where it may.

Which is why, when the dust settled last week, no one shouted about the $10 million that was quietly added back into the budget for permanently affordable family-housing production.

But we should all be clear: if we want San Francisco to be as economically diverse as we all claim, then we have only just begun to find the funds needed for more affordable housing. While it may or may not be true that you can never be too rich or too thin, it is most certainly true that San Francisco never allocates enough for affordable housing. *

Calvin Welch is an affordable-housing advocate who lives in San Francisco.

A clear housing choice in the Mission


OPINION On April 19 the San Francisco Planning Department approved a market-rate condo development with a 24-hour Walgreens store at the northwest corner of César Chávez and Mission. The project features 60 expensive ownership units and 67 residential parking spaces. To support the Walgreens, the developer is also including 24 customer parking spaces, 12 spaces for employees, and one car-share space.

The development as proposed is not in compliance with the city’s General Plan, the recent Eastern Neighborhoods planning requirements, or the January Board of Supervisors resolution calling for 64 percent of all new housing to be available at below-market rates — and there’s an alternative that offers true low-income family housing and community space. If the supervisors are serious about preserving affordable housing, they’ll reject this ill-conceived plan.

The developer, Seven Hills Properties, told the Planning Commission that families would be able to afford these simple, unadorned condos through the first-time home buyers services offered by the Down Payment Assistance Loan Program in the Mayor’s Office of Housing. The truth is that the developer is offering only nine below-market units affordable to working- and middle-class families. All of the other units will be priced at close to $550,000 for a studio and as much as $700,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

Think about those prices. A person or family making as much as $63,850 a year could qualify for the down-payment assistance. Such a person or family would have to come up with a $27,500 share of the down payment and would be paying about $3,000 a month for a mortgage — 55 percent of their income.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Back in December 2006, Seven Hills told the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition that it would be interested in selling the development rights at the site to MAC if MAC could come up with a development proposal. MAC then worked with us at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, and together we created a viable offer — which Seven Hills dismissed as unrealistic.

Our proposal was to develop between 60 and 70 units of affordable housing, with community-service space below. Across the street, in 2001, the BHNC opened its Bernal Gateway development, 55 affordable family units with on-site community services that subsequently won two highly coveted national awards, with a financing strategy similar to the one we suggested for the Seven Hills property.

MAC has appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to hear its appeal July 17. This is a neighborhood issue that has citywide implications.

The arguments couldn’t be more clear or compelling: The project doesn’t comply with the Planning Department’s own guidelines. It brings pricey housing and a chain store to a neighborhood that needs neither. And there’s a credible alternative that ought to be given a chance. *

Joseph Smooke

Joseph Smooke is the executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. If you are interested in this issue, please contact Jane Martin, BHNC community organizer, at jmartin@bhnc.org.