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War at the remote


It’s a popular notion: TV sets and other media devices let us in on the violence of war. “Look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens,” President Bush told a news conference more than three
years ago. “I don’t. It’s a tough time for the American people to see that. It’s gut-wrenching.”

But televised glimpses of war routinely help to keep war going. Susan Sontag was onto something when she pointed out that “the image as shock and the image as cliche are two aspects of the same presence.”

While viewers may feel disturbed by media imagery of warfare, their discomfort is largely mental and limited. The only shots coming at them are ones that have been waved through by editors. Still, we hear that television brings war into our living rooms.

We’re encouraged to be a nation of voyeurs — or pseudo-voyeurs — looking at war coverage and imagining that we really see, experience, comprehend. In this mode, the reporting on the Iraq war facilitates a rough division
of labor. For American media consumers, the easy task is to watch from afar — secure in the tacit belief we’re understanding what it means to undergo the violence that we catch via only the most superficial glances.

Television screens provide windows on the world that reinforce distances. Watching “news” at the remote, viewers are in a zone supplied by producers with priorities far afield from authenticity or democracy. More than
making sense, the mass-media enterprise is about making corporate profit in sync with governmental power.

Exceptional news reports do exist. And that’s the problem; they’re exceptions. A necessity of effective propaganda is repetition. And the inherent limits of television in conveying realities of war are further
narrowed by deference to Washington.

Styles vary on network television, but the journalistic pursuits — whether on a prime-time CNN show or the PBS “NewsHour” — are chasing parallel bottom lines. When the missions of corporate-owned commercial television
and corporate-funded “public broadcasting” are wrapped up in the quest to maximize profits and maintain legitimacy among elites in a warfare state, how far afield is the war coverage likely to wander?

While media outlets occasionally stick their institutional necks out, the departures are rarely fundamental. In large media institutions, underlying precepts of a de facto military-industrial-media complex are rarely disturbed in any sort of sustained way — by the visual presentations or by the words that accompany them.

“Even if journalists, editors, and producers are not superpatriots, they know that appearing unpatriotic does not play well with many readers, viewers, and sponsors,” media analyst Michael X. Delli Carpini commented. Written with reference to the Vietnam War, his words now apply to the Iraq war era. “Fear of alienating the public and sponsors, especially in wartime, serves as a real, often unstated tether, keeping the press tied
to accepted wisdom.”

Part of the accepted wisdom is the idea that media outlets are pushing envelopes and making the Iraq war look bad. But the press coverage, even from the reputedly finest outlets, is routinely making the war look far better than its reality — both in terms of the horror on the ground and the agendas of the war-makers in Washington.

Countless stories in the daily press continue to portray Bush administration officials as earnestly seeking a political settlement in Iraq while recalcitrant insurgents, bent on violence, thwart that effort. So, with typical spin, a dispatch from Baghdad published in the New York Times on June 17 flatly declared that comments by U.S. commander Gen.
David Petraeus “reflected an acknowledgment that more has to be done beyond the city’s bounds to halt a relentless wave of insurgent attacks that have undercut attempts at political reconciliation.”

Of course, occupiers always seek “political reconciliation.” As the Prussian general Karl von Clausewitz observed long ago, “A conqueror is always a lover of peace.”

At the same time, the more that an occupying force tries to impose the prerogatives of a conqueror, the more its commander must deny that its goals are anything other than democracy, freedom and autonomy for the
people whose country is being occupied. In medialand, the lethal violence of the occupier must be invisible or righteous, while the lethal violence of the occupied must be tragic, nonsensical and/or insane. But most of
all, the human consequences of a war fueled by U.S. military action are shrouded in euphemism and media cliche.

Which brings us back to violence at the remote. While a TV network may be no more guilty of obscuring the human realities of war than a newsprint broadsheet or a slick newsmagazine, we may have higher expectations that
the television is bringing us real life. Vivid footage is in sharp contrast to static words and images on a page. At least implicitly, television promises more — and massively reneges on what it promises.

We may intellectually know that television is not conveying realities of life. But what moves on the screen is apt to draw us in, nonetheless. We see images of violence that look and loom real. But our media experience of that violence is unreal. We don’t experience the actual violence at all. Media outlets lie about it by pretending to convey
it. And we abet the lying to the extent that we fail to renounce it.

Artifice comes in many forms, of course. In the case of television news, it’s a form very big on pretense. We’re left to click through the world beyond our immediate experience — at a distance that cannot be measured in
miles. But away from our mediated cocoon, spun by civic passivity, the death machinery keeps roaring along.

The documentary film “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep
Spinning Us to Death” — based on Norman Solomon’s book of the same name —
is being released directly to DVD this week. For more information, go to:

A real dialogue on trans issues


OPINION What I love about the queers in this town is just how messy and offensive we allow one another to be in our unified goal of relentlessly trying to strengthen our community. In some circles, the evolution of dyke space into a multigender population of transsexuals, genderqueers, femmes, tg-butches, bisexuals, lesbians, and men of all birth sexes has led to tension about queer visibility and discussions about misogyny, privilege, and appropriation. I am frequently pissed but never lacking for a group of people who will continue to engage the issues and attempt imperfect solutions no matter how hurt they have become in the process.

And yet, during Pride season there will be countless potentially offensive voices we will not hear. The ex-gay and right-wing Christian movements — arguably homosexual communities in their own right — will not be given unchallenged space at our events, and there won’t be an uproar that these views should be included for the purpose of "fostering dialogue." As many journalists and artists can attest, ensuring the free exchange of ideas often means knowing what to leave out.

Still, it was predictable that supporters of lesbian director Catherine Crouch’s film The Gendercator would claim censorship and blame transgender community allies for "silencing dialogue" when the Frameline International LGBT Film Festival decided last month to pull this film from its June schedule. It was a setup; victims could either remain silent during an attack or speak up and "prove" that they have malicious intentions to take over the world.

For those unfamiliar with The Gendercator, a quick look at Crouch’s film summary and deliberately defamatory director’s note says it all: Trans people are the product of "distorted cultural norms" who uphold antigay values and change their sex "instead of working to change the world." Male-identified trans people are altered lesbians, despite the fact that many have never held that identity. And not even the femme dykes are safe, considering Crouch’s tomboy-or-else definition of acceptable queerdom.

Crouch says the film comes from her anxiety about what she perceives as the loss of gender-variant women and the rise of binary gender norms. But the film itself strikes a different note, depicting trans bodies as sci-fi horrors and trans characters as coercive perpetrators of nonconsensual body invasions — all the familiar rhetoric used to justify antitrans violence and deny basic civil rights.

If there’s a dialogue to be had about our community’s valid anxieties surrounding the spike in sexual reassignment surgeries, it certainly wasn’t raised in Crouch’s The Gendercator. Unlike the creators of other films that have been controversial in the trans community, Crouch is disinterested in the lives of the people she portrays in this work. Imagine making a film alleging an inherent pedophilia in gay people to "spark dialogue" about gay culture’s obsession with eternal youth. As Rae Greiner, a queer woman who launched the Frameline letter-writing campaign, points out, "You can’t foster genuine discussion when you demonize your subjects or when you intentionally forego nuance in favor of stereotypes, false accusations, and outdated perceptions."

In fact, The Gendercator provoked very little dialogue at all until San Francisco activists protested it. Far from trying to silence it, they aimed to call attention to the film and create an actual conversation. They distributed flyers with Crouch’s position and responded with the truth about trans people’s lives: trans people are often queer social-justice activists with a nuanced and feminist view of identity.

The reason nontrans gay people have not seen blatantly antigay or antilesbian films yanked from their festivals is that such movies don’t make it past the selection committee. To decry the ban on The Gendercator is thus disingenuous, particularly when many of the "anticensorship" and "nonbinary" voices support events that ban trans people from attending based on the presence or absence of a penis.

Yet there are some important messages about this film that should not be lost.

First, if our community artists are going to claim dialogue as justification for blatant attacks, then they should expect to have that dialogue. Some of the questions the queer community has posed in its discussion of the film are: Why does Crouch think her views are nonbinary? How do femmes, bisexuals, butches of color, nonop male-identified trans people, and dykes who choose breast cancer reconstruction fit into her limited view of sex and gender? How does the glorification of masculinity in lesbian circles and the sexism in butch and genderqueer communities contribute to this perceived pressure to transition to male?

Most important, if gays and lesbians feel that the growing transgender population means they are under attack, how can we come together to make sure this concern is heard and validated without demonizing one another? Several events exist in San Francisco to deal with such tensions, but perhaps they aren’t reaching the smart and articulate people whose need for real dialogue has been reduced to lamenting the loss of a 15-minute monster movie.

Opposing the inclusion of a deliberately divisive and dialogue-stopping film in an event designed to build community was something we did not do because we don’t want to have a community conversation, but because we do. *

Zak Szymanski

Zak Szymanski is the producer and editor of the short film The Wait.

A food bill for San Francisco


OPINION You may not have heard about it, but Congress is busy deciding the fate of America’s food supply: what’s grown, how it’s produced and by whom, and how that food will affect our health and the planet. The roughly $90 billion Farm Bill, covering everything from urban nutrition and food stamp programs to soil conservation and agribusiness subsidies, will dictate much about what we eat and at what price, both at the checkout line and in long-term societal costs.

Despite valiant progressive efforts that may bring some change, the big picture is not pretty: increasingly centralized power over food, abetted by lax antitrust policies and farm subsidies that provide the meat industry and food-processing corporations with cheap raw ingredients; huge subsidies for corn and soy, most of which ends up as auto fuel, livestock feed, and additives for junk food, fattening America’s waistlines; and, despite organic food’s popularity, a farming system still reliant on toxic pesticides (500,000 tons per year), which pollute our waterways and bloodstreams while gobbling up millions of gallons of fossil fuel.

Closer to home, residents in poor urban areas like Bayview–Hunters Point are utterly deprived of fresh, nutritious food. These so-called food deserts — whose only gastronomic oases are fast-food joints and liquor marts — feature entire zip codes devoid of fresh produce. Government studies show this de facto food segregation leads to serious nutritional deficits — such as soaring obesity and diabetes rates — among poor people.

What’s to be done? Congress needs to hear Americans — urban and rural alike — who are demanding serious change, and shift our tax dollars ($20 billion to $25 billion a year in farm subsidies) toward organic, locally oriented, nutritious food that sustains farming communities and consumer health.

Locally, with leadership from the supervisors, a progressive San Francisco food bill could be a model for making America’s food future truly healthful, socially just, and sustainable — and encourage other cities to buck the corporate food trend. Such a measure could include:

Organic and local-first food-purchasing policies requiring (or at least encouraging) all city agencies, local schools, and other public institutions, such as county jails and hospitals, to buy from local organic farms whenever possible.

Incentives — backed by education, expanding markets, and consumption of local organic foods — to encourage nonorganic Bay Area farmers to transition to sustainable agriculture, while subsidizing affordable prices for consumers.

Healthy-food-zone programs with targeted enterprise grants encouraging small businesses and farmers markets to expand access to healthy foods in poor neighborhoods identified as deserts.

A city-sponsored education campaign discouraging obesity-inducing fast food and promoting farmers markets and other healthful alternatives.

Zoning and other incentives for urban and suburban farming.

Ultimately, the city needs a food policy council — including farmers, public health experts, antihunger activists, environmentalists, and others — coordinating these efforts. The city needs a progressive food bill, merging the interests of urban consumers, Bay Area farmers, and environmental sustainability, for a policy-driven alternative to our destructive industrial food system. *

Christopher D. Cook

Christopher D. Cook is a former Guardian city editor and the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis (www.dietforadeadplanet.com).

Downtown’s sneaky parking plan


OPINION Two years ago this week, the mayors of many of the world’s largest cities gathered in San Francisco for World Environment Day and pledged to make their cities more livable and sustainable places.

San Francisco justly prides itself on being an environment-minded city made of diverse and livable neighborhoods. Thanks in large part to the city’s historic neighborhoods, designed around walking and public transit, San Franciscans generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions per capita than residents of any city in the country except New York.

Unfortunately, one of the most environmentally unfriendly measures to come along in a decade may be headed to the ballot. A shadowy coalition of downtown interests is gathering signatures for a measure, the brainchild of Republican financier Don Fisher, that would impose a one-size-fits-all parking "solution" on San Francisco’s distinct neighborhoods while removing protections for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit from the city’s Planning Code.

This measure, blandly titled the Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative, threatens to reverse decades of progress toward a sustainable and livable San Francisco.

If this measure becomes law, it will negate the ability of neighborhoods to plan their own future, to provide affordable housing options, and to make their streets safe and livable. It will, in a stroke, overturn many years’ worth of neighborhood-based planning efforts, from downtown and South of Market through Hayes Valley and the Mission to Balboa Park.

Reduced-parking requirements, limitations on creating new parking spaces, have become a useful tool for decreasing traffic congestion, encouraging walking, cycling, and public transit use, and making housing more affordable in the city’s most dense and transit-rich neighborhoods. The city’s Downtown Plan, adopted in the 1980s, encouraged the area to grow as a diverse commercial, industrial, and residential district, oriented to transit rather than the automobile.

Many neighborhoods may not choose reduced-parking requirements, but where they fit, residents have embraced them as a way to preserve their neighborhoods’ livability, character, and affordability. Nearly a third of San Francisco households live without a car. A UC Berkeley study showed that units without parking spaces are affordable to twice as many households as units with them.

The measure would also prohibit programs to make San Francisco’s mean streets safer places for all of us, particularly children, elders, and the disabled. It arrogantly asserts the right of developers to cut new driveways and garage entrances wherever they want, regardless of the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and Muni riders who would be inconvenienced or even endangered.

Proponents of the measure are trying to give it a green gloss, invoking provisions about car sharing and low-emission vehicles. Don’t be fooled — this ill-conceived measure will make our city less sustainable, less livable, less affordable, and less safe. Don’t sign the petition! *

Tom Radulovich is executive director of Livable City (www.livablecity.org).

Criminals of poverty


OPINION The morning I got out of jail, I walked through the icelike streets of Oakland touching ivy and running my fingers along the sides of buildings and cars and the trunks of trees. It wasn’t that I had forgotten how they felt. It was just that knowing that these things were still there, even when I wasn’t, helped to ease the shudder, the ache, and the tension that were now permanently lodged in my head.

Due to some extremely innovative legal work by a local civil rights attorney, I was given a chance to write as a way of working off my several thousand dollars of fines and months of jail time for crimes of poverty. In my and my poor mixed-race mama’s case, this was for the sole act of being homeless in the United States — a citable offense.

The most recent invention in the march toward increasing the criminalization of poverty in San Francisco is Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed Community Courts — or what the Coalition on Homelessness so aptly renamed poverty courts.

These courts would focus on status crimes — crimes like the ones I was charged with not so many years ago, crimes that are unavoidable for people who are poor and living on the streets.

These courts represent a further step toward the permanent criminalization of poor and homeless people, disguised as a more compassionate approach to so-called quality-of-life issues.

But the reason this is inane and a serious waste of resources is that no amount of punishment will ever succeed in lifting people out of poverty.

As a youth raised in a houseless family who was cited and arrested countless times for the act of sleeping in our broken-down vehicle, I was given referrals to community service agencies for several thousand hours of community service (free work), none of which I could ever complete, which then led to jail sentences and a criminal record — yet I was never offered housing. Instead I was continually criminalized for the fact that we didn’t have housing or the money to acquire it.

The proposed price tag for the poverty courts is $1.3 million. That’s money that could be funding permanent housing, mental health services, and drug treatment that would actually improve the quality of life for poor people.

The information gathered by the Coalition on Homelessness and Poor magazine indicates that the city plans to redline a portion of the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco (the Tenderloin), and any sleeping, sitting, vending, camping, graffiti, and prostitution tickets received in this area will be sent to a special court.

This is consistent with the massive increase in sweeps, arrests, and citations of homeless folks since Newsom came to office.

My writing–media production assignment was eventually completed, albeit slowly, while I lived through the devastating experience of being a youth in a homeless family. Had I not received this innovative work-around, I would not have made it out of the criminal injustice system and in the end would not have made it out alive. *


Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the cofounder of Poor magazine and PoorNewsNetwork and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America.

Why we’re with Mark Leno


OPINION The choice confronting voters in the State Senate District 3 primary in June 2008 is about electing the best candidate who personifies the direction, tone, and future of the progressive movement. Voters want positive changes, unequivocal vision, tangible accomplishments, and a leader who drives the movement forward.

Mark Leno represents the best progressive choice for that type of change. He is an articulate, innovative, and effective assemblymember who always makes a concerted effort to reach out to the people he serves with boundless energy; he will work equally hard as a senator.

As a legislator, Leno ensures that the voices of his constituents are well represented. His issues are driven by the communities he serves. He focuses on advancing controversial issues despite opposition in Sacramento, and he continues to achieve impressive political, cultural, and social milestones.

While serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Leno created the nation’s first medical cannabis identification program, which has become a model for similar programs across California.

On environmental issues, Leno has also won nationwide acclaim for his efforts to promote the use of renewable energy sources such as solar power in San Francisco and across the state.

When it comes to tenant rights, Leno’s legislative record speaks for itself. After many suffered the negative impact of Ellis Act evictions, he authored Assembly Bill 1217 to protect the disabled, elderly, and disadvantaged single-room-occupancy tenants from becoming homeless.

Leno has earned his reputation as a champion and visionary by introducing legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing and employment. Much like the transgender medical benefit legislation that he introduced as a member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, his AB 196 is arguably one of California’s most significant nondiscrimination laws ever enacted to protect transgender people.

In 2005, Leno’s groundbreaking LGBT civil rights legislation to support marriage equality was the first in the nation to win approval by both houses of a state legislature. Although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, Leno has reintroduced it and will not quit until it becomes law.

Leno is running for the District 3 State Senate seat because he believes that elective offices belong to the people. He will bring to the office his integrity, experience, and accomplishments in protecting marginalized and underserved communities, promoting environmental protection, and developing alternative sources of energy, and he’ll still remain independent of special interests. He introduces innovative solutions to difficult problems and represents the values of the people of Northern California.

For all these reasons, Mark Leno is our best choice for change. *

Theresa Sparks is president-elect of the San Francisco Police Commission. Cecilia Chung is deputy director of the Transgender Law Center.

Why I’m with Carole Migden


OPINION With the election on the horizon, declared candidates have hired their campaign consultants, tested the field with expensive polls, and hit the city’s political club circuit hoping to lock up early endorsements. Unfortunately, the race getting the bulk of the attention is not San Francisco’s political watermark, November’s mayoral contest. It’s not even the new super-duper Tuesday presidential primary in February. As crazy as it may seem, the election getting the most attention in San Francisco right now is the June 2008 California State Senate primary.

After several months of polling and speculation, on March 2 Assemblymember Mark Leno announced that he would be challenging former ally and incumbent senator Carole Migden.

Make no mistake about it: Migden is one of the most fearsome politicians in Sacramento. She knows how to stand up to the governor, and she has a long list of progressive accomplishments, including authoring the state Clean Water Act, enabling local governments to do community choice aggregation, and protecting the vulnerable from predatory lending. Migden is already endorsed by progressive supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Gerardo Sandoval, progressive school board commissioner Eric Mar, former president of the Board of Supervisors Harry Britt, and progressive activists Debra Walker and Michael Goldstein. She’s also up double digits, so it’s time we call this one for Migden and get on with the job of putting a progressive in the Mayor’s Office.

Progressives know that to defeat Mayor Gavin Newsom this year, we will have to mount a significant and focused grassroots campaign. Any distractions will be costly. Migden-Leno is clearly a major distraction. Leno’s challenge takes both Leno and Migden off the progressive list of possible mayoral candidates. And more important, progressive energy, volunteers, and money that should be going into the effort to defeat Newsom will be gobbled up by the State Senate race.

Leno’s longtime political consulting firm, Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, and Lauter, is probably best known for its role in successfully challenging San Francisco’s soft-money regulations and then managing the record-shattering $3.2 million soft-money operation to reelect Mayor Willie Brown in 1999. BMW went on to help elect Newsom in 2003.

BMW not only provides the money and operations to get its candidates elected; the firm also — by its own proud account — seeks to influence these elected officials to get deals done for its corporate clients.

One of BMW’s biggest corporate clients is the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which opposed San Francisco’s minimum-wage and paid-sick-leave laws and is now suing the city to stop it from enacting our universal health care plan. Progressives shouldn’t allow Leno and BMW to advance up the political ladder. *

Chris Daly

Supervisor Chris Daly represents District 6.

Next week: "Why we’re with Mark Leno," by Theresa Sparks and Cecilia Chung.

SF, the next generation


OPINION Do you dream of a city where housing is affordable, where the diversity of our heritage is celebrated, where there are good schools in every neighborhood, where all children are safe, and where the next generation reaps the rewards of their families’ hard work?

This dream for San Francisco is possible. But it will require our determination to claim San Francisco as a city of opportunity for all. And it starts with our children — the 100,000 children who call this city their home today. They deserve the opportunity to see this dream come to life.

But the future being built before our eyes threatens these dreams and the values that have made San Francisco great. With 25,000 luxury condos on the way and very little housing planned that low- and middle-income families can afford, San Francisco may become a city only for the wealthy, with all its neighborhoods sold to the highest bidders.

And without affordable family housing or quality education, the children of today will be shut out of the city’s prosperity, unable to afford to stay in the city they call home.

We have called on the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the superintendent of schools, and the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education to commit to Next Generation SF — a broad and long-term agenda developed by our parent and youth leaders to claim San Francisco as a city of opportunity for all.

The Next Generation SF agenda has three priorities:

More affordable family housing. Double the city’s current affordable family housing pipeline of 1,500 units (recently revised to 1,700) to 3,000 units by 2011. This seems modest when two-thirds of the city’s families (about 39,000 families) are currently in a housing crisis, according to the city’s own data.

Good schools for all. Increase the opportunity for all students to go on to college or living-wage work, with an emphasis on students who are currently being left behind. Make the racial achievement gap in the SFUSD public schools (the most alarming gap in the state) the number one priority for the soon to be hired superintendent of schools. Raise the achievement of all students so that at least 60 percent of students in all racial groups have the opportunity to go to college by 2011.

Safety and security for all. Increase city budget investments in the safety and economic security of SF families, above the legal requirements. After running last year’s successful $10 million Budget 4 Families campaign, we are supporting this year’s Family Budget Coalition $20 million campaign for high-quality child care, violence prevention and alternatives to incarceration, youth employment, family support services, and health and after-school services.

But in order to create hope and opportunity for all San Franciscans, it will take the whole city to raise the next generation. Join Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and more than 80 labor and community organizations May 12 at the Rally for the Next Generation at the Civic Center from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. *

NTanya Lee

NTanya Lee is executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.

Ellis Act crisis


OPINION Between 2004 and 2005, Chetcuti and Associates, a Walnut Creek real estate development company, bought eight Mission District apartment buildings. Within the first few weeks of ownership, the company served all the tenants in four buildings with Ellis Act eviction notices. In the next two months, three of the other buildings were Ellised. The company held on to the eighth building for a year before it gave those tenants Ellis notices.

The same is true throughout the city: John Hickey Brokerage, another out-of-town real estate company, gave Lola McKay (who died in 2000 while fighting her Ellis eviction) a notice within weeks after buying the building and then did the same to tenants in a North Beach apartment building – evicting those tenants just five days after a purchase deal closed.

In fact, more than half of all Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco are done by real estate speculators who have owned their buildings for less than six months. Almost one quarter are done by speculators who have owned the building for less than a month (and many of those are done in the first hours or days of ownership).

The buildings are then often sold as tenancies in common – essentially, as condos for people much wealthier than the ones who were evicted.

Rampant real estate speculation is bad enough on its own. What makes it worse is that this pattern is also an abuse of everything the Ellis Act was intended to be: a way for long-term landlords to be able to get out of the rental business and retire. When the Ellis Act was passed in 1985, its proponents said its purpose was to allow a landlord "to go out of business when he or she is convinced that they are no longer willing to devote the time, accept the frustration, expose themselves to the liability and other factors of continuing to be a landlord."

Apparently, companies such as Chetcuti and Associates and John Hickey Brokerage decided within days and weeks that they just couldn’t devote the time to or accept the frustration of being a landlord anymore and were compelled to evict the tenants. And that’s the case for hundreds of other real estate investors, many of whom are getting tired of being landlords within days of buying rental property.

Senate Bill 464 – which the State Senate will vote on any day now – would rectify this abuse and return the Ellis Act to its original intent. This bill simply says that a landlord must own property for at least five years before using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. It’s simple and fair, and it hurts only real estate speculators.

The vote is expected to be close – and unbelievably, the bill may not pass because a senator from San Francisco, Leland Yee, has indicated he may oppose it. No other city in California has been hit harder by the Ellis Act than San Francisco – yet our very own senator may kill this bill.

Thousands of residents here have been evicted under the Ellis Act, most of them senior or disabled. Ellis evictions are a crisis in San Francisco and are destroying lives and neighborhoods and communities.

Please call (415-557-7857) or fax (415-557-7864) Sen. Yee to ask him to support SB 464. *

Ted Gullicksen

Ted Gullicksen is executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Bury the Geary


OPINION Geary Boulevard transit riders deserve a real solution to the problems plaguing the busiest travel corridor west of the Mississippi River – not a short-term fix, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), that will waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and create even more problems and congestion for the troubled street.

Transit experts have hailed BRT as cutting-edge technology and a cheaper alternative to light-rail and subways. They point to successes in countries such as Japan, France, and Brazil – and even some US cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Successful they may be.

But the streets these BRT programs operate on look nothing like Geary Boulevard.

More often than not, these streets have no parking – and eliminating parking is something we can’t do to the residents and merchants along the corridor.

These model corridors are extremely wide and remain so throughout the course of the BRT route. On Geary we face much more challenging lane widths throughout the Richmond and east of Van Ness Avenue, not to mention the daunting challenges of how to handle the Masonic and Fillmore interchanges.

The current study of BRT on Geary is in its final stages. After three years the transit authority staff has offered the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee "choices" to recommend to the full board.

These choices include different arrays of BRT and one non-BRT option that encompasses much cheaper repairs such as proof-of-payment boarding through all doors, transit signal priority, and other improvements.

None of these choices, however, contemplates the issues Geary and O’Farrell Street face east of Van Ness, and they all assume police and traffic control will step up their enforcement of the diamond lane.

But there’s one solution we have not considered. Yes, it is the most ambitious and the most expensive, but it also could be the most transformative and could spur more people to leave their cars behind and embrace public transit: bury the Geary and create a subway.

We owe Geary corridor residents and riders this solution. Why can someone in Berkeley or Hayward get to downtown San Francisco faster than some of our residents?

Big problems require big thinking, big solutions, and, most important, leadership. So far we’ve had none of that on Geary. It’s time for our city leaders to champion a solution that can grow along with the city and help solve the congestion issues that will only continue to get worse.

San Francisco holds itself out as one of the world’s finest cities. If that’s the case, we all should remember the world’s great cities move people underground – not in buses. *

David Schaefer

David Schaefer is vice chair of the Geary Citizens Advisory Committee.

This November, let’s fix Muni


OPINION In 2007 quality public transportation is not just a hallmark of a world-class city; it’s our best defense against global warming. In a state where half of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from mobile sources, we have to provide people the real choice to get out of their cars and onto public transit.

Nationwide, public transit use was up 3 percent last year. In San Francisco, Muni’s ridership declined 2 percent. This is a city that understands the threat of global warming, rallies against oil wars, believes in an improved quality of life with fewer cars, and long ago adopted a transit-first policy; the Muni ridership drop is totally unacceptable.

Muni should be attracting new riders, not driving the existing users off the system. A reliable Muni is also a serious social justice issue: 29 percent of San Francisco households get by without a car, mostly because they can’t afford it.

Muni’s meltdown in the 1990s was one of the biggest failures of the Willie Brown administration. The crisis caused voters to amend the City Charter in 1999 and create the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), setting explicit standards of service quality and guaranteeing predictable funding. Using new capital from the reauthorization of the sales tax for transportation, Muni was able to replace its bus fleet and restore most of its operability.

However, early in the Gavin Newsom administration, Muni service quickly began to deteriorate. Recently, Muni officials even sought to lower their on-time goals. This month’s opening of the T–Third Street line brought Muni metro service to a near standstill. Muni leadership apparently agreed that the problems were unacceptable — they spent much of their time passing out written apologies to Muni riders. However, these service interruptions are symptoms of deeper, structural problems at Muni. Apologies are not enough. It’s clear that significant additional Muni reform is necessary.

That’s why we are proposing a charter amendment for this November’s ballot to make managers and operators more accountable for their performance and to find new sources of revenue for this struggling system.

The MTA currently lacks the vision, accountability, and resources to deliver the transportation system that San Francisco needs. While Muni’s structural deficit has risen to $150 million a year, Muni officials have been slow to propose revenue options, and we know voters won’t be happy to provide more funding without structural reforms that make those public investments worthwhile. Measured in passengers carried per hour of revenue service, Muni’s current productivity has dropped to a historic low.

We need to make sure Muni’s managers and service planners have the tools to deploy their workforce efficiently, and we need to hold them accountable for delivering promised service.

We don’t know if Newsom will support substantial Muni reforms — but the system has broken down on his watch, and every San Franciscan who relies on Muni and who cares about the environment needs competent leadership from city hall now. *

Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin

Supervisors Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin represent Districts 6 and 3, respectively.


The Martin Luther King you don’t see on TV


It’s become a TV ritual: Every year on April 4, as Americans commemorate Martin Luther King’s death, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.” The remarkable thing about these reviews of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole. What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968). An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever. Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV. Why? It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years. In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter. But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” – including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow. Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power. “True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 –– a year to the day before he was murdered –– King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (Full text/audio here: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2564.htm) From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them. In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 – and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington – engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be – until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.” King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.” How familiar that sounds today, nearly 40 years after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet. In 2007, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and most in Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. They fund foreign wars with “alacrity and generosity,” while being miserly in dispensing funds for education and healthcare and environmental cleanup. And those priorities are largely unquestioned by mainstream media. No surprise that they tell us so little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life. ___________________________________________ Jeff Cohen is the author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” Norman Solomon’s book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” is out in paperback.

Stand up for immigrants, Mr. Newsom


OPINION President George W. Bush’s war on immigration is wreaking havoc on San Francisco’s immigrant community. Across the Bay Area and in San Francisco, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been carrying out raids at homes and workplaces, near schools, and, in broad daylight, on the streets. Hundreds of immigrants have been deported, devastating families, separating parents from United States–born children, and leaving entire neighborhoods in a state of fear.

There are few other neighborhoods that feel the ICE war more than the Mission District, the Latino heart and soul of San Francisco. So it was especially painful to sit through a two-hour town hall meeting orchestrated by Mayor Gavin Newsom on March 26 at César Chávez Elementary School in the Mission. Never once did he acknowledge vocal community members’ concerns over ICE sweeps and civil rights abuses. Instead, as predicted, he kept to the script, selecting two dozen questions out of 70 that were submitted by more than 250 attendees. Despite the loud chants, luchadores dressed in capes and masks, and bold visuals that called for a stop to the ICE raids, the mayor continued to talk and talk and talk some more about the health care access initiative.

Health care access is an important issue — residents and workers throughout the city appreciate the mayor’s efforts and welcome any relief for the thousands of uninsured, low-income, and undocumented residents of San Francisco. But right now the streets of the city are hot, and immigrant families are scared to leave their homes, send their kids to school, go to work, or even seek medical care at General Hospital for fear of being swept up, displaced, and deported.

Fortunately, there are some protections in the city. In 1989 the immigrant-rights movement, with the support of elected officials, established the sanctuary ordinance, which bars city officials, the Police Department, and other city agencies from cooperating with federal immigration officials. But in light of the most recent aggression, the time has come for our mayor and our elected officials to do more.

In 2004, in a rightful act of civil disobedience, a defiant Newsom stood up for justice by marrying same-sex couples, a landmark event in US civil rights history. It’s time for the mayor to once again stand up for justice by supporting the immigrants who make great contributions to this city and the nation.

Mayor Newsom, show us that your stance on civil rights has no limits and is inclusive of immigrant workers and families. Show us that you were not just currying favor or seeking votes but are truly committed to all civil rights issues.

Join with us:

March with the immigrant community to protest the ICE raids.

Convene a meeting with ICE officials, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and community members.

Increase city resources for legal and educational services that help immigrants get on the pathway to legalization.

Support the current day-laborer center and use day laborers’ input in the future expansion and creation of worker centers.

Support the immigrant-led planning process in the Mission District, which calls for more affordable housing and jobs. *

Oscar M. Grande

Oscar M. Grande is a community organizer with PODER, People Organized to Demand Employment Rights.

While McCain Walks in McNamara’s Footsteps


The media spectacle that John McCain made of himself in Baghdad on April 1 was yet another reprise of a ghastly ritual. Senator McCain expressed “very cautious optimism” and told reporters that the latest version of the U.S. war effort in Iraq is “making progress.”

Three years ago, in early April 2004, when an insurrection exploded in numerous Iraqi cities, U.S. occupation spokesman Dan Senor informed journalists: “We have isolated pockets where we are encountering problems.” Nine days later, President Bush declared: “It’s not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable.”

For government officials committed to a war based on lies, such claims are in the wiring.

When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara visited Vietnam for the first time, in May 1962, he came back saying that he’d seen “nothing but progress and hopeful indications of further progress in the future.”

In October 1966, when McNamara held a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base after returning from a trip to Vietnam, he spoke of the progress he’d seen there. Daniel Ellsberg recalls that McNamara made that presentation “minutes after telling me that everything was much worse than the year before.”

Despite the recent “surge” in the kind of media hype that McCain was trying to boost in Baghdad, this spring has begun with most news coverage still indicating that the war is going badly for American forces in Iraq. Some pundits say that U.S. military fortunes there during the next few months will determine the war’s political future in Washington. And opponents of the war often focus their arguments on evidence that an American victory is not possible.

But shifts in the U.S. military role on the ground in Iraq, coupled with the Pentagon’s air war escautf8g largely out of media sight, could enable the war’s promoters to claim a notable reduction of “violence.” And the American death toll could fall due to reconfiguration or reduction of U.S. troop levels inside Iraq.

Such a combination of developments would appeal to the fervent nationalism of U.S. news media. But the antiwar movement shouldn’t pander to jingo-narcissism. If we argue that the war is bad mainly because of what it is doing to Americans, then what happens when the Pentagon finds ways to cut American losses — while continuing to
inflict massive destruction on Iraqi people?

American news outlets will be inclined to depict the Iraq war as winding down when fewer Americans are dying in it. That happened during the last several years of the Vietnam War, while massive U.S. bombing — and Vietnamese deaths — continued unabated.

The vast bulk of the U.S. media is in the habit of defining events around the world largely in terms of what’s good for the U.S. government — through the eyes of top officials in Washington. Routinely, the real lives of people are noted only as shorthand for American agendas. The political spin of the moment keeps obscuring the human moment.

Awakening from a 40-year nap, an observer might wonder how much has changed since the last war that the United States stumbled over because it could not win. The Congressional Record is filled with insistence that the lessons of Vietnam must not be forgotten. But they cannot be truly remembered if they were never learned in the
first place.


Norman Solomon’s book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep
Spinning Us to Death
is out in paperback. For information, go to:

Will Newsom have a legacy?


Over the past four years Mayor Gavin Newsom has enjoyed high poll ratings, but he has been unable to deliver any signature piece of legislation. His most celebrated actions were symbolic: marrying same-sex couples and walking the picket line with the striking hotel workers.

With only months to go before he is up for reelection, Newsom is hoping free wi-fi will be that signature bill. But unless he quickly changes his tactics, his legislation will go up in flames.

From the moment Newsom announced his wi-fi vision, the supervisors have been asking for input into the deal. At every meeting, the mayor’s representatives have dodged or stalled. The Board of Supervisors asked Newsom’s negotiators not to present it with a take-it-or-leave-it deal; the mayor’s staffers did just that. So it’s no surprise that the board seems hesitant to give the contract the benefit of the doubt. Newsom has responded by lambasting the board as "obstructionist" rather than by working with the supervisors to address their concerns.

Although there are good points to the proposal, there are also problems.

Service will be slow.

There’s no enforceable guarantee the network will cover the parts of the city that need it the most.

The contract is effectively a monopoly, and it’s long. We’re likely to be stuck with this contract for 16 years.

Penetration into apartment buildings and above second floors will be virtually nonexistent without the purchase of expensive extra equipment.

These are all legitimate public policy reasons to question the mayor’s proposal. But instead of working with the supervisors, he trashes them to every group and editorial board that will listen.

The board is exploring another possibility that the mayor should look at instead of his current effort: municipal wi-fi. Although the mayor has rejected that avenue, there are strong public-policy reasons for pursuing such a strategy.

Unfortunately, the people who will suffer the most from the mayor’s refusal to deal with the board are those who need a city network the most: schoolkids who can’t get online to do their homework; unemployed folks looking for a job; non-English speakers seeking city information; and anyone who needs free training or support.

Wi-fi, of course, is only one of the issues on which Newsom has given the board the finger. His repeated veto of foot patrols showed more loyalty to the Police Officers Association than to the needs of residents of high-crime areas. His continued refusal to consider a Saturday road closure trial in Golden Gate Park doesn’t serve anyone other than a few wealthy donors. The voters even went so far as to pass Proposition I, which demanded that Newsom meet with the board. The mayor has responded with highly managed events at which the supervisors cannot appear as a group.

Instead of trying to ram through a flawed wi-fi deal, the real legacy Newsom could create — one that would truly benefit us all — is that of a strong working relationship with the Board of Supervisors. *

Sasha Magee

Sasha Magee is a San Francisco activist who writes at LeftinSF.com.

Don’t fight the new media


OPINION When I first found myself incarcerated, there were six other journalists in the United States under the threat of imprisonment for practicing their profession. They have since all been spared the unfortunate fate of incarceration, but at the time it seemed that the press was under a full-scale attack, and it was necessary to develop a united front to defend against the growing tide of corporate and government repression.

As a result, Free the Media was born. In its function as an online and meet-space organization, Free the Media is intended to help organize and agitate whenever and wherever the free-press guarantees under the Constitution are threatened. The forum is also focused on exploring the complex issues and controversies that continue to develop within this changing media landscape. Finally, it is my hope that Free the Media can serve as an open platform to bring people together in order to work on the development of new media solutions that will help ensure a healthy and resilient independent press for years to come.

The face of the media is in flux right now, and it’s still unclear where this current is headed. While some professionals in the field are resistant, I’m inclined to welcome the expanding landscape. Though there has never been a shortage of reporters, market influences have resulted in countless stories being neglected in favor of more popular fodder. With the recent surge of self-published and independent online journalism, the stories that are not economically viable finally have the opportunity to see the light of day.

These new, developing voices are more diverse than perhaps ever before, and the stories they tell are often more intimate and compelling than anything a professional outsider can deliver. At last those voices that are often silent, the disenfranchised, can be heard without the aid of a brave, insightful editor of a major newspaper.

Twenty years ago Peter Sussman of the San Francisco Chronicle began publishing accounts from inside the Lompoc federal penitentiary by Dannie Martin. These firsthand reports allowed the newspaper’s readership an opportunity to vicariously experience life in prison. Today through prisonblogs.net, 10,000 Dannie Martins could conceivably contribute to the discussion with their own unique perspective on incarceration.

The media is changing. This we know for sure. But what remains to be seen is the role professional journalists will take in developing this new landscape. Will the battle lines be drawn with two classes of warring voices, or will we work together in solidarity to develop a massive chorus as diverse and eclectic as our society itself? As journalists, is our commitment to an economic system, or is it to the pursuit of the free flow of information? The power is in your hands. Choose wisely. *

Josh Wolf

Josh Wolf, a freelance videographer, has been in federal prison for more than 200 days, making him the longest-imprisoned journalist in US history. Last week the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists honored him with a special citation; Wolf, for obvious reasons, was unable to accept the award in person, but he sent along this piece.

What’s the matter with the De Young?


All around the world, popular museums are situated in public parks with wonderful results for both the museums and the parks.

But here in San Francisco, the venerable de Young Museum is waging an intense and irrational battle to prevent more San Francisco families and visitors from enjoying Golden Gate Park — even at the expense of its own reputation and financial well-being. Our organizations are baffled.

The museum’s leadership is doggedly fighting a community proposal called Healthy Saturdays, which would extend the popular Sunday recreational space in the park to Saturdays on a six-month trial basis.

Why would the de Young fight this when its own figures show that museum attendance increases on car-free Sundays in the park?

Why, when a recent city study (available at www.goldengatepark.org) shows that car-free space does not significantly affect parking availability or traffic in the neighborhoods and doubles park usage, boosts local business, and helps drive traffic to (and pay off the debt for) the de Young’s unfilled 800-car garage?

Why, last spring, did the de Young spend thousands to send misleading letters to its members, falsely claiming that Healthy Saturdays would "severely compromise" access to the museum? Dozens of disgruntled de Young members pointed out the letter did not mention that the garage is accessible from outside the park and that visitors have front-door, drop-off access every day.

All of the high jinks and mistruths are especially baffling given the de Young’s past endorsement of the concept. In 2000 the museum supported and funded Proposition G, which called for car-free Saturdays just after the garage was opened. According to their ballot argument, de Young leaders believed the Saturday proposal "ensures access to the de Young Museum for all San Franciscans including families with children, seniors and the disabled; [and] ensures the maximum enjoyment and minimum inconvenience to park users."

At times the de Young has claimed that it is fighting out of concern for disabled access, but the tactics of the museum folks suggest otherwise. Why did they not actively support Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s legislation, which passed unanimously last year, to add more accessible parking, drop-off zones, and a free accessible tram in the park on Sundays?

And why are museum leaders suggesting that the car-free space be moved out to the west end of the park, far from transit, the parking garage, and local businesses?

Finally, if the de Young were working in good faith to improve its own attendance and revenue (and we all want a successful de Young Museum), why would this partially public-funded museum deny city officials’ requests to make its attendance figures public, relenting only after a Guardian reporter filed a Sunshine Ordinance request? The figures, when they were begrudgingly shared last year, showed a boost in de Young attendance on car-free days — which of course brings us back to our original question:

Why is the de Young fighting so intensely against its own interests and those of Golden Gate Park visitors? *

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum represent, respectively, the League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Abolish PG&E Corp.


OPINION Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. is a holding company whose only property is Pacific Gas and Electric Co., a regulated utility. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) exercises little regulatory oversight over PG&E Corp. Oversight by federal authorities has been curbed by recent legislation, which abolished most of the consumer protections of the New Deal’s Public Utilities Holding Company Act. To protect ratepayers and stockholders, PG&E Corp. should be abolished and its corporate charter revoked.

All of PG&E Corp.’s income comes, in effect, from tax minimization strategies, which allow PG&E Corp. to keep revenue that would otherwise be paid as income taxes. What are the consequences?

• The creation of the holding company constitutes a legal money-laundering strategy that has greatly benefited the holding company. A 2002 brief by California’s attorney general says that PG&E Corp. collected $663 million in net revenues from 1997 to 1999 by avoiding payment of income taxes.

• From 2000 to 2004, Mark Bumgardner of the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) wrote in a 2006 report, "PG&E Corporation has been able to save $683 million in Utility taxes…. Since the benefits of being able to write off unprofitable affiliates for tax purposes is [sic] solely for the Holding Company’s benefit, DRA allocated 100% of the tax department’s costs to PG&E Corporation."

• Top officers at PG&E Corp. made out like bandits: President Robert D. Glynn’s total pay skyrocketed from $2 million in 1998 to $34 million in 2003, despite the fact that he led the company into bankruptcy.

• Almost all of PG&E Corp.’s revenues from 2001 to 2004 came from its regulated utility. PG&E Corp. got to keep an extra $1.346 billion from 1997 through 2004 by taking advantage of the tax benefits available to utility holding companies, if the attorney general and the DRA’s Bumgardner are correct.

The CPUC and the legislature created the holding company in a series of decisions and laws in the mid-1990s. However, the idea that deregulation California-style would bring competition and lower electric rates has proved to be false. Abolish the holding company, and this lucrative PG&E Corp. tax dodge ceases to exist.

To deal with PG&E’s high rates and unresponsive electric service, San Francisco public power activists and public officials tried to take over PG&E’s San Francisco grid in 2001 and 2002. In Yolo County, just west of Sacramento, activists and elected officials worked for years to drive out PG&E and replace it with electrical service from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The SMUD charges 30 percent less than PG&E and far exceeds PG&E in the use of solar and wind power per customer. PG&E spent a record $50 per customer — at least $15 million, on 300,000 voters in Sacramento and Yolo counties — in November 2006 to turn back the public power challenge.

For others in Northern California, a return to traditional regulation as it functioned before the deregulation disaster may be the best that can be expected. Abolishing the holding company — a step the CPUC has the power to take — would be a good place to start.

Dan Berman

Dan Berman is the author of Who Owns the Sun? and is a longtime public power activist in Northern California. He lives in Davis and can be reached at danmberman@gmail.com.

Law enforcement’s real battles


OPINION In order to be smart on crime, law enforcement needs to make important choices about where to focus our resources. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been making poor choices, and those choices are hitting home in San Francisco.

Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has conducted raids in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, rounding up immigrants at their jobs and schools, in some instances with ICE agents announcing themselves as police. These actions sow fear in the immigrant community among undocumented and documented residents alike.

The raids conducted in San Francisco present many of us in local law enforcement with a great concern. One of law enforcement’s biggest challenges to protecting crime victims in immigrant communities is encouraging them to come forward. Because immigrants are often afraid to report crimes, they can be regarded as easy targets for violent criminals and con artists.

We all suffer when crime victims are isolated from law enforcement. If victims and witnesses do not report crimes or cooperate with law enforcement, criminals remain on the streets, and all of us are put at risk. That is why my office is holding immigrant resource fairs in the Mission District and Chinatown to support immigrant rights and to make clear to community members that they are protected by San Francisco’s Sanctuary Ordinance and that my office will not report them to ICE when they come forward as witnesses or victims of crime. Rather than driving immigrants deeper into the shadows, we need to encourage those who have been victimized by crime to work with us to hold criminals accountable.

At the same time, the US Justice Department is walking down an ominous path by threatening journalists with prison time when they protect their confidential sources. In San Francisco the US attorney has held journalist Josh Wolf in prison since September 2006. Wolf should be released. For very good reasons, 31 states, including California, have shield laws upholding the rights of journalists to protect the secrecy of their sources and unpublished information. We need a federal shield law as well.

Of course, I believe crimes against police officers should be aggressively prosecuted. But I also believe that federal authorities have an obligation to respect the First Amendment. Free speech rights are critical to the work of journalists, university researchers, organized labor, and all of us in a democracy. The Justice Department should recognize the importance of protecting free speech, not only as constitutional and civil liberties issues but as smart public safety policy. Journalists play a key role in connecting us to individuals with information about crimes, and threatening the confidentiality of their sources has a chilling effect. If sources fear their confidentiality will not be protected, they will be less likely to come forward to journalists with information that could expose corruption or assist us in solving violent crimes.

Cities across the country are grappling with serious gang violence. Precious resources should be focused on addressing violence, gun crime, and major white-collar crime, not wasted on prosecuting journalists and conducting immigration raids that sweep up innocent residents, actions that hinder our efforts to build trusting relationships with vulnerable, victimized communities and keep the public safe. *

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is the San Francisco district attorney.

San Francisco’s erupting skyline


San Francisco has always been a city defined by its hills and the bay. Our city has an image and character in its urban pattern that depend especially on views, topography, streets, building form, and major landscaping.

The bay is a focus of major views. Hills allow the city to be seen and, more than any other feature, produce a variety that is characteristic of San Francisco. This pattern — a visual relationship to hills and the bay — gives the city “an image, a sense of purpose,” according to the 1971 Urban Design Plan.

Since then it has been official city policy to recognize and protect this relationship.

In the last four years, Rincon Hill developers negotiated with two planning directors — Gerald Green and Dean Macris — to allow towers up to 550 feet tall between Folsom Street and the Bay Bridge. Nine have already been approved. Two under construction are already visible on the skyline. More are on their way. The Rincon Hill towers will be higher than the top of the bridge towers. Views of the bridge towers from Dolores Park, upper Market Street, and Twin Peaks are literally being eliminated.

The remnants of the Urban Design Plan are in tatters because developers and planning staff want to eviscerate height limits south of Market to create an artificial hill of residential towers up to 100 stories tall from Market to the bridge approach. Their avowed rationale is to develop a transit terminal at First and Mission streets — a terminal with a multibillion-dollar funding shortfall.

And all of this is happening under the political radar.

When staffers made their one and only presentation to the Planning Commission about this new mega-high-rise district, the meeting was not broadcast or even filmed. And this was for a presentation that depended on visuals.

Who will live in these towers? Empty nesters who can afford multimillion condos and people with multiple homes around the country and world.

The Planning Department claims these will be vital new neighborhoods. But they won’t be for families with children or government employees or hospitality industry workers or artists. They won’t be for people working in San Francisco who are trapped in a daily two-hour commute because housing costs are out of sight. They won’t be for the people working in San Francisco who are most in need of moderately priced housing.

There won’t be a single new housing unit for low- or moderate-income people in the new Rincon Hill. Every single developer opted to not build on-site affordable units.

What happens when people crossing the Bay Bridge can no longer see the hills in the center of the city? When people in the city face a wall of buildings so high even the Bay Bridge towers can’t be seen?

Entrances — such as the Bay Bridge — are important for a sense of orientation to the city. Blocking street views of the bay, distant hills, or other parts of the city can destroy an important characteristic of the unique setting and quality of the city.

Since the Gold Rush, people have come to San Francisco to make their fortunes. There is constant tension between those who want to make money off our city and those who want to live in the city.

San Francisco tore down the Embarcadero because it cut the city off from the bay. Now we are erecting another, much higher barrier. To the barricades!

Sue Hestor

Sue Hestor is a lawyer and activist specializing in land use and environmental issues.

The guns have won


With President George W. Bush proposing to push the price tag for the Iraq War up to nearly $600 billion — more than was spent on the Vietnam War — while seeking new cuts in our health care safety net, it would appear the debate over guns and butter is over. The guns have won.

Polls before the last election found that the two issues foremost in voters’ minds were the war and our ever-worsening health care crisis. More than ever, the two issues seem linked. With record budget deficits, substantially inflated by spending on the war, resources for health care and other critical domestic needs are increasingly starved.

On the same day the president was proposing another $245 billion to prosecute the war this year and next, which would bring the five-year total since the war began to a staggering sum of $589 billion, he also called for slashing $78.6 billion from Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years.

In addition, Bush wants Medicare recipients to pay higher premiums for prescription drugs and doctors’ services and is proposing to eliminate annual indexing of income thresholds, effectively another $10 billion in cuts.

Expanding children’s and preventive health programs and addressing "personal responsibility" by tackling childhood and adult obesity are supposedly atop everyone’s short list of health care priorities. But these now appear to be collateral damage.

Bush is seeking a $223 million reduction in spending for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the elimination of a preventive health services block-grant program, $99 million a year to the states, used for obesity prevention and programs for chronic health conditions.

He’s also seeking millions in reductions for the National Cancer Institute, at the very moment some progress has been made in fighting cancer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for disease surveillance monitoring of bird flu and other approaching epidemics.

That’s just the cuts. There’s no mention of additional funding to address the national blight of 47 million uninsured Americans, another 17 million underinsured, the increased closure of public hospitals and clinics, including in half of the nation’s poor counties that no longer have a health center, and all the other dismal statistics that have dropped our country to 37th in the world in health care indicators.

Imagine for a moment how else we could have spent $589 billion.

With those same dollars you could buy health insurance for all the nation’s uninsured people for the next three years. Or you could fund the current federal program of spending on HIV/AIDS antiretroviral drugs for the next 60 years. Or you could cover the cost of educating an additional 39.2 million registered nurses.

And while there’s plenty of money to send more troops into harm’s way, veterans are feeling the pain of cuts in our nation’s health spending. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 263,257 veterans were denied enrollment for Veterans Benefits Administration health coverage in 2005. To cut costs, enrollment has been suspended for those deemed not to have service-related injuries or illnesses.

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom," Dr. Martin Luther King said. And, he might well have added, endangering the health security of its citizens at home. *

Deborah Burger

Deborah Burger is president of the California Nurses Association.

The straight story on the armory


The sale of the former National Guard armory on Mission Street has caused a flurry of concern about the plans for the site of the new owner and developer, Kink.com. Most of the columns and editorials in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, and BeyondChron.com have been reactionary and politically opportunistic. It has given the cheerleaders of runaway market-rate development a new reason to knock affordable housing advocates in general and the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition in particular.

For the past six years, MAC, with the participation of hundreds of Mission District residents, has been developing a vision for the neighborhood, called the People’s Plan, which confronts the gentrification pressures of new development and sets out policies for a healthy, sustainable community. Our approach is not that of knee-jerk NIMBYs mindlessly opposing any proposed change in our community. We are in favor of affordable housing, good-paying jobs for immigrants and working-class families, and sustainable economic development.

However, immediately after the Kink.com story broke, writers such as Ken Garcia blamed MAC for directly causing the sale to what other papers are calling a “porn production company.” It’s true that MAC has opposed the previous three development proposals, but the developers themselves, responding to the ups and downs of the market, ultimately dropped the projects for financial reasons. Here’s a brief review:

In 2000 a multimedia office complex proposal was approved by the Planning Department and later dropped. The armory was then going to be a server farm. The server farm was approved by the Planning Department again (contrary to what Garcia has written), but the company went under. A local financier retained control and proposed an outlandish and financially risky housing proposal.

The luxury housing proposal went into the planning process, and an environmental review had begun, but instead, the owner sold the site to Kink.com

MAC didn’t know the owner was secretly negotiating the sale of the armory. Had the financiers been honest with the community, perhaps the city or some other entity could have come forward and put the armory to better use. But at this point, the sale of the armory is complete, and there’s no further process necessary for the new owners to set up shop. That means it’s difficult for the community or city to stop the proposed use.

Now the community finds itself responding to this purchase and to opportunists who are taking advantage of this situation to use the current plan as a wedge issue to attack MAC and other affordable housing activists who have had concerns about high-end market-rate housing development in the Mission. The Mission is both the heart of the Latino community in San Francisco and home to other communities. For a healthy and sustainable community, a measuring stick for a development project is whether it will lead to displacement of residents and community-serving businesses and contribute to gentrification.

MAC will continue to fight for equitable development through the People’s Plan and the Mission rezoning process and will continue to challenge all projects that have the potential to negatively impact our community. *

Eric Quezada and Nick Pagoulatos

Eric Quezada and Nick Pagoulatos are Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition activists.


Where’s the beef on LGBT issues?


OPINION Common wisdom says that Mayor Gavin Newsom has forever endeared himself to the LGBT community by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples shortly after coming into office in 2004. Even though a state court later declared those licenses invalid (the city is appealing), Newsom’s popularity among queers doesn’t appear to have diminished. This is despite the fact that the Newsom administration has actually done little in terms of some of the major issues facing the community.

Let’s take a look at a few of those issues:

Housing for people with AIDS. A couple months after the "winter of love" at City Hall, Newsom appointed Jeff Sheehy as AIDS czar. An AIDS activist and former hate-crime-victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, Sheehy was supposed to help the mayor formulate AIDS policies. But it was a volunteer position, and the major concern of people with AIDS — affordable housing — was never addressed. Two years later Sheehy resigned the post. Meanwhile, the city’s affordable housing crisis still leaves many low-income people with AIDS desperately scrambling for a place to live after they are evicted by real estate speculators looking for a quick buck in the tenancy-in-common market. The situation is so bad that the AIDS Housing Alliance dubbed the Castro "the AIDS eviction capital of the world."

Liaison to the LGBT community. Apparently, former mayor Joe Alioto initiated this position in 1973. Newsom’s appointment was not a community activist but someone who worked in advertising. Founder of Gays for Gavin in the 2003 mayoral election campaign, James "Jimmer" Cassiol served for almost two years before he too resigned. His major duty seemed to be representing the mayor at LGBT functions.

Homelessness among queer youth. While Newsom is quick to tout his Care Not Cash and Operation Homeless Connect programs as solutions to one of the city’s most enduring and heartbreaking problems, he failed to mention youth in general and queer youth in particular in his recent state of homelessness address. To date, only a handful of queer youth have received city-sponsored housing — in a hotel on Market Street, which Castro supervisor Bevan Dufty secured. More hotel rooms are supposedly on the way.

Affordable housing for seniors. A proposed Market-Octavia Openhouse project for queer seniors won’t actually provide housing for those who need it the most: people with incomes below 50 percent of the area median income. The Newsom administration has done little to alleviate the lack of affordable housing for seniors, especially queer ones.

As the old woman in the ’70s commercials used to ask, where’s the beef? When it comes to queer issues, there is none. There’s certainly a lot of talk, many public appearances by the mayor and his representatives at queer functions, and the general promotion by Newsom and his staff of the idea that in San Francisco the LGBT community matters.

But if you’re poor, a senior, or homeless, it’s a different story altogether. *

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, southern Italian, working-class queer performer, writer, and activist whose work can be seen at www.avicollimecca.com.

Make housing, not war!


OPINION As President George W. Bush requests more money to fight the war overseas, a stealth war is being fought here on domestic soil: the war on housing for the poor. Since the Bush administration took power, the public housing program has suffered $1 billion in cutbacks.

As a result, conditions have rapidly deteriorated in public housing developments throughout the country. Maintenance, security, and services have been slashed annually as budgets are drained with each appropriations bill. A climate of violence, fear, and despair has taken hold in the projects, where years of deferred maintenance, toxic and unsanitary conditions, and government neglect are simmering to a boiling point.

As we fought terror abroad, the Republican-led Congress created a breeding ground for terror here at home. Just ask the desperate, homeless families who refuse offers to move to the city’s public housing developments for fear of their lives. Or ask the mothers of children who have been shot at in their front yards while attempting to escape the leaking sewage and toxic mold in their homes.

Yet rather than fight this terror in our own backyards, lawmakers have attacked the very programs that can provide a solution. Job training, education programs, and social services have all been casualties of the war on public housing. Agencies have been forced to make cuts in security and maintenance staff every year. In the past five years alone, the San Francisco Housing Authority has lost 250 employees, a 50 percent cut.

While military spending has continued to rise, the offensive against housing has also escalated. A full $600 million was cut from the 2006 public housing budget, funding housing authorities at only 85 percent of overall need. Layoffs and cutbacks occurred throughout the country as cities began planning for desperate measures such as disposing of properties, raising tenant fees, and increasing response time for repairs. In San Francisco, 26 housing authority staff lost their union jobs last year. As a result, vulnerable senior and disabled residents in high-crime neighborhoods saw their security services eliminated.

Last year was devastating for public housing residents, and the battle is far from over. The generals of the war on housing are out for blood, and it appears that they will not stop until the last vestiges of federally funded, low-income housing are destroyed. This was made abundantly clear recently when the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that in 2007 housing authorities will be funded at only 76 percent of the actual need. By proposing a budget that is $1 billion short, President Bush has raised the stakes in the fight to preserve our precious remaining federal housing for the poor.

Congress has a chance to increase funding when it passes a spending bill next month. Without an increase, San Francisco will face a $3.5 million shortfall. Our powerful new leadership must take a stand against these unconscionable cuts, which could starve local housing agencies to death.

The only way to avoid increased homelessness; displacement of poor families; loss of union jobs; heightened violence; and turn-of-the-century, tenementlike living conditions for San Francisco’s poorest residents is for our representatives to insist on an increase in funding. Tell Congress to fight the war at home and not the one overseas by sending a letter at www.local-impact.org. *

Sara Shortt

Sara Shortt is the director of subsidized housing programs for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.