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Thinking outside the pipe


OPINION Although it’s named the SF Sewer System Master Plan Project, San Francisco’s long-term wastewater program deals with a lot more than sewage. It addresses stormwater runoff as well as the used water that drains out of our residential and commercial sinks, toilets, showers, and washing machines. It offers us a choice between the high road of environmental justice, sustainability, and the emerging green economy and the heavily engineered “pump-and-dump” approach that has defined the city’s sewage and stormwater management practices since San Francisco was first settled.
The high road views the water that we use and that falls on our city as a resource that is too good to waste. San Franciscans now have a once in a generation opportunity to put that idea into practice through a range of innovative technologies, design techniques, and “out of the pipe” thinking. Just a few of the possibilities: building compact facilities to treat our wastewater closer to where it is first generated and where it can be reused, rather than pumping it all into one community where it can become a nuisance; transforming our streets, parks, and school yards into a network of green, healthy corridors that are vital parts of our drainage management system; and harvesting stormwater through green roofs, cisterns, and permeable surfaces.
The high road not only creates jobs for the skilled trade workers who will be needed to rebuild and upgrade the system but also provides opportunities for training and employment for younger and lower-skilled workers to maintain our green infrastructure. While many of the Public Utilities Commission staff have embraced these alternatives, public support will be critical to overcoming the institutional bias for the status quo.
Today stormwater and sewage are considered waste to be made invisible, quickly pumped somewhere for treatment, then dumped. The resulting wastewater system places 80 percent of San Francisco’s sewage treatment burden — and its accompanying problems — in the already mistreated Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood. During rains the water that falls on the streets is quickly routed down storm drains and toward the city’s treatment facilities. Under normal circumstances the stormwater and sewage are treated, then discharged 800 feet offshore into San Francisco Bay and into an “exemption zone” in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, four and a half miles into the Pacific Ocean.
But rains overwhelm the system between 10 and 20 times every year, resulting in neighborhood flooding and overflows of more than a billion gallons of minimally treated sewage and stormwater along our waterfront annually. Since the rains are diverted into pipes instead of being absorbed into the ground, the west-side aquifer that supports Lake Merced and Pine Lake is starved of water.
The planning process now underway gives us an opportunity to address these problems. The sewer master plan provides a variety of ways for San Franciscans to get involved. They must do so to build the type of wastewater system that we can be proud of. SFBG
Alex Lantsberg
Alex Lantsberg is cochair of the Alliance for a Clean Waterfront (sfcleanwaterfront.org) and chair of the Public Utilities Commission’s Citizens Advisory Committee. For more information, contact him at lantsberg@gmail.com.

After oil


OPINION Every day a river of cars flows across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, bringing workers, tourists, and visitors to the city. Nearly all run on petroleum fuels. Every day a staccato procession of planes lands at SFO, bringing tourists, conventioneers, and returning residents. All fly on petroleum fuels. Every day a phalanx of trucks delivers food to grocery stores, restaurants, and corner markets. All run on petroleum fuels. Every day roads are paved, potholes are filled, roofs are tarred, machinery is lubricated, and tires are replaced. All are done with petroleum-derived products. Every day hundreds of thousands of purchases take place, every one enabled by petroleum.
What will happen when the petroleum behind all these activities costs $100 a barrel? $200 a barrel? Or more? San Francisco’s viability as a major West Coast city is based on cheap petroleum. But the century of cheap petroleum is quickly coming to an end, and an era of expensive, scarce oil is dawning. Just as US production of oil peaked in 1970, production of oil from an increasing number of other countries has peaked as well. Currently, 33 of the top 48 major oil producers in the world are in irreversible decline, among them the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, and Indonesia. Within a few years — and indeed some claim it has already happened — global oil production will peak, then begin a protracted decline. The consequences are unthinkable. A world — and a city — built on cheap petroleum faces the largest challenge of modern times.
Nothing exists that can seamlessly replace petroleum. For transport, ethanol and biodiesel have been touted but both require tremendously higher levels of energy inputs for production compared to petroleum, and the competition with food production is already apparent with the rising price of corn in the Midwest. For other uses — lubrication, paving, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints, inks, solvents, detergents, rubber, and thousands more — no drop-in substitute is remotely ready. Alternate sources — such as the tar sands of Canada — produce in net only a half barrel of oil for every barrel of energy consumed. As petroleum production reaches its peak, every aspect of our lives will be profoundly impacted.
What can be done? First, it’s important to understand the phenomenon. Peak oil is not an oil company conspiracy, nor is it the result of OPEC’s actions — this is the result of a century and a half of ever-rising exploitation of a finite energy source. Second, we need to examine how we use energy in San Francisco to determine ways to either reduce consumption or find nonfossil alternatives to supply it. We need to examine our food supply — completely dependent on petroleum for planting, harvesting, processing, and transporting — along with city operations and residential, commercial, and transportation requirements to assess their vulnerability in an era of rising energy prices.
In April, San Francisco became the first major city in the United States to pass a peak-oil resolution, and on July 28 the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission held the first in a series of hearings on the issue of peak oil. Over the next year the commission will hold additional public hearings to educate and inform the citizenry of San Francisco on peak oil and will be launching a study to identify the possible responses we can take. SFBG
Ross Mirkarimi
Sup. Ross Mirkarimi represents San Francisco District 5.

All Lebanon is collateral damage


OPINION Once again, Lebanese civilians are getting blasted, killed, and bombed by high-tech American weapons because Israel is angry and lashing out. I remember this well; even some of the targets are the same. I spent part of my childhood in Beirut. I remember my mother yelling at me to get off the balcony where I was busy trying to see if it was an American F-4 Phantom Israeli Air Force jet or a French-made Dassault Mirage screaming by our apartment building at rooftop level on its way to bomb the Beirut airport yet again.
My mother wasn’t happy with my plane-spotting endeavors. But Beirut at the time was frequently called the Jewel of the Middle East, and I was lucky enough to go to the American elementary school. I remember Pigeon Rock, the cedars, the beaches — and the Israeli raids. In fact, such raids led to my family being evacuated from Lebanon on more than one occasion.
Whenever the Palestine Liberation Organization conducted a military engagement, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. It became almost a regular Sunday outing for Beirut residents. How many Middle East Airlines jets did Israel bomb today? If the Syrians lobbed shells or anybody else in the region displeased Israel, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. If there was a border incursion, US-supplied F-4 Phantoms would bomb the Beirut airport. Do you see a sadly familiar pattern?
The Lebanese are once again civilians paying for the actions of others. Lebanon is and always has been Israel’s whipping boy. It has become a pawn between Israel, Hezbollah, and possibly Iran. An entire nation is collateral damage. Two-year-old children dying with perforated eyes. Kids blown up when they go swimming in a canal. Are they any less innocent than the children killed in Hamas suicide bombings?
Believe it or not, your elected representatives care what you think, if you let them know in no uncertain terms. The United States supplies billions of dollars of no-strings-attached money to Israel. That money directly and indirectly supports Israel Defense Forces that have, in the last few days alone, killed more than 200 Lebanese citizens. Write your elected officials a personal letter. They pay attention to those. Demand that the United States stop funding Israel’s war — its terrorism with a bigger budget — on Lebanon.
The terror attacks on Israel are hideous, as is the region’s poisonous anti-Semitism. But so are Israel’s bombing raids that are destroying a recently revived Lebanon. Israel will not help its case with tit-for-tat attacks on civilians or the wholesale destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure. The Germans’ bombing attacks on Britain in World War II didn’t break the people’s spirit and make them turn on Churchill; the opposite happened. One would think Israel might learn this lesson and act accordingly at the negotiating table.
War begets war, not peace. Write, don’t e-mail, don’t call — write a personal letter to your congressperson, your senator, your elected officials, demanding that the United States cut its military aid to Israel by half. That at least would get the Israelis’ attention off the bombs they’re dropping on the Lebanese and might even force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to start negotiating for real. It would level the playing field just a bit. SFBG
Tim Kingston
Tim Kingston is a freelance writer who lives in the East Bay.

Pelosi sold us out


OPINION The recent Guardian editorial was absolutely correct in its analysis of development in the Presidio: San Francisco “wound up with the worst of all worlds” [“Playing Hardball in the Presidio,” 7/12/06]. Essentially it was Rep. Nancy Pelosi who created the all-powerful, arrogant, and unaccountable Presidio Trust to simply have its way with the conversion of the park, one of most breathtaking, inspiring pieces of real estate in the world, situated right here in our own front yard.
The voices of San Franciscans hoping to inject any conscience into the transition process of the military base into a national park have been basically ignored from the beginning; any opinions expressed at the mandated community hearings that did not fit in with the trust’s plans counted for nothing.
Many will remember that in January 1996 Religious Witness with Homeless People launched a campaign to preserve the Presidio’s roughly 1,900 housing units and make them available to San Franciscans of all economic levels. We specifically targeted the 466 units of former military family housing and tried to have those set aside for homeless individuals and families and other low-income members of our community. This powerful campaign extended over a period of almost three years and was actively supported in a variety of ways by a diverse collection of at least 237 organizations and more than 1,700 individuals in San Francisco, including then-mayor Willie Brown and other elected city officials. But even the powerful, united voice of this campaign was haughtily disregarded by the seven members of the Presidio Trust, all with the smiling blessing of Pelosi.
The ultimate step taken by our campaign to secure the availability of the housing for our city, which even then suffered a crisis in the lack of affordable housing, was to place a measure on the 1997 ballot. Proposition L stated that unless the Presidio Trust made housing available to San Franciscans of all economic levels, the city would withhold the nonemergency services so desperately needed by the Presidio in order to function.
The passage of Prop. L provided the powerful leverage needed to achieve our goal. We had no reason to suspect that Mayor Brown, who had strongly, consistently, and publicly supported our campaign and the passage of Prop. L, would betray us.
However, shortly after the passage of Prop. L, Brown simply gave the trust the public services it needed. This was a betrayal of hundreds of men and women living on our streets, and the 93,002 voters who favored the proposition.
Throughout our three-year campaign, Pelosi, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust repeated the mantra: “The National Park Service is not in the business of providing housing.” How hypocritical, then, are the trust’s current plans to build hundreds of housing units in the Presidio, even as its seven nonelected members continue to arrogantly ignore the expressed concerns of the neighboring communities? That’s what happens when the guiding force is money instead of social and environmental concerns.
What was once a dream for San Franciscans has become a nightmare. It happened as Pelosi stood firmly with the Presidio Trust as it created an elite city within our city. But the plans are not yet fully implemented, and San Franciscans still have a chance to put a stop to the Presidio Trust’s most recent assault on our community. SFBG
Sister Bernie Galvin
Sister Bernie Galvin is the director of Religious Witness with Homeless People.

Ammiano’s health care plan is fair


OPINION Universal health care. These days, most people want it, but no one wants to pay for it.
But like it or not, we all share in the expense of providing health care. We pay for it directly in our health care premiums or indirectly from higher costs for goods, services, and taxes. According to the activist group Health Care for All, “We spend over $6,000 per person in the US — two to three times the amount spent in other countries that insure everyone and have better health outcomes.” Our health care system, if you can call it that, is currently based on a corporate, for-profit model that increasingly leaves large numbers of people uninsured — and they must rely on taxpayer-subsidized public health programs.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is pushing for universal health care in San Francisco, and there are three ways on the table to fund it.
The Committee on Jobs, Chamber of Commerce, and Golden Gate Restaurant Association champion a plan in which all businesses pay a set fee, whether or not they are providing health care for their employees. Under this plan, large businesses that are not providing health care for their employees will save big money. Small businesses — and every business already doing the right thing — would subsidize the minority of large businesses that don’t provide health care.
In fact, 63 percent of the projected $50 million in revenue raised by this plan would come from businesses with fewer than 20 employees. A full 80 percent would be paid by employers with fewer than 50 employees.
The local papers say Newsom supports a voluntary plan. I assume that means employers can choose whether to pay. I’m surprised anyone would propose this with a straight face. Most employers do provide health care. This legislation is about those that don’t. They haven’t volunteered to pay for their own employees’ health care; why would they pay for a city plan?
Then there’s Sup. Tom Ammiano’s proposal.
Ammiano’s plan includes a minimum spending requirement for health care services for all employers with 20 or more employees. Small businesses with less than 20 employees (the vast majority of registered businesses in San Francisco) don’t have to pay anything. Of the three proposals, Ammiano’s seems the fairest to the majority of employers that already provide health care.
The Committee on Jobs tells us that small businesses will be hurt by this plan. I’m always suspicious when a well-funded organization that exists to lobby for the interests of the largest corporations in San Francisco leads with an argument related to the impact to the small business community.
The SFSOS thinks that any decision on Ammiano’s health care plan will be made “predominantly by people who have never worked in retail business, never managed a staff, nor ever had to make a payroll.”
I operated a temporary employment business in San Francisco for 25 years. Ammiano’s plan levels the playing field for all businesses.
For the record, many of my former colleagues within the small business community provide very generous health care benefits. Employees in small businesses, after all, are like family. Many small business owners think that those who do not provide health care have an unfair competitive advantage.
If we’re going to have universal health care, everyone should pay. SFBG
Barry Hermanson
Barry Hermanson is running for state assembly in District 12 on the Green Party ticket.

After my son’s death


OPINION I am a mom who never wanted to have a gold star after my name.
Last month, after two years of requests, I finally received the Army’s report on how my son, Patrick, died. Some of the information I already knew, through some of Patrick’s brave soldier friends who were with or near him when he died. They told me much of what was in the report. They told the truth, and the government reprimanded them for doing so.
But having the information reported to me in detail on June 21 only increased the hurt — and my determination to stop other mothers from having gold stars after their names.
Patrick was a loving boy with a great sense of humor. He grew to be a strong man who was friendly to everyone, and he especially loved and cared for children. He raised his two children to be the same.
At 31, he was successful in business, earning a comfortable income. He was also a patriotic American who, after Sept. 11, wanted to serve his country. Against the advice of his Army veteran father and me, he joined the California National Guard Engineering Battalion out of Petaluma, being assured that he would serve stateside.
He was not trained as an infantryman. He was not trained to train Iraqi soldiers to be our soldiers.
Patrick was killed on June 22, 2004, outside of Fort Anaconda near Balud, Iraq. Iraqi soldiers he had been training killed him.
This government took my son, my most treasured gift, in a war we did not need to start. Now my life is dedicated to stopping mothers from losing sons, on both sides. You can help me with that.
I want to build centers for our veterans, who are having serious problems when they come home. I know our government should care for them, but that’s not happening. The returning soldiers have physical and psychological needs that are being ignored and that will come back to haunt them and us in years ahead.
I want to see good alternatives to military service that ordinary citizens can contribute to and benefit from.
That’s why I support the World Service Corps proposal sponsored by the People’s Lobby. If Congress adopted the plan, by the time the World Service Corps entered its seventh year, one million Americans could be voluntarily serving in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Head Start, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Mercy Corps, or state conservation corps.
Had this been in existence when Patrick wanted to serve his country, I believe he would have joined a nonmilitary organization, and he would be alive today.
Had this program been in existence for decades, there would not be as much hatred fired at our soldiers. There would not be as many soldiers coming home with serious needs.
Ask your congressperson to support the World Service Corps plan. Please help by visiting the Web sites listed below and giving whatever you can, to help make these lifesaving programs happen. SFBG
Nadia McCaffrey
Nadia McCaffrey lives in Tracy.

How to end the violence


OPINION Despite its loss at the polls earlier this month, the spirit of Proposition A, the homicide prevention charter amendment on the June 6 ballot, lives on. Prop. A would have mandated that the city invest $10 million in violence prevention efforts. Instead of the typical police response to violence, Prop. A sought to address the root causes of violence, the social isolation and limited opportunity that are so endemic to the neighborhoods most impacted by street violence.
Prop. A offered a menu of strategies, including community outreach and organizing, job training and job creation, and reentry services so that ex-offenders have more than a couple hundred dollars in their hands when they leave prison. It was clear to everyone involved in the Prop. A campaign that this was about ameliorating the harmful effects of poverty and racism.
Even before the election, Prop. A was having an effect. Just two months after saying that no further investment was necessary to stem the tide of violence, Mayor Gavin Newsom crafted an ordinance with Sup. Fiona Ma to increase funding for violence prevention efforts. Responding to community groups, the Board of Supervisors stripped from the original Ma-Newsom legislation a bunch of police department goodies, including a ropes course, surveillance cameras, and bookmobiles — and beefed up the provisions on jobs and workforce training and added school-based violence prevention efforts, street outreach programs, and reentry services.
Overall the Board of Supervisors invested close to $6.9 million in programs and services. That’s a great initial investment but not enough, especially when a significant portion of the new funds can only be used for people under the age of 18.
The budget process offers the opportunity to serve the 18-and-older population and build on the foundation set earlier this spring. To this end, the budget committee added back over a million dollars to save San Francisco’s Trauma Recovery Center for the victims of violence and sexual assault. Now as a result of great advocacy from the violence prevention community and some unprecedented collaboration between the district attorney, the public defender, and the sheriff, the budget committee can program outside the box.
Before the committee Thursday, June 29, will be proposals to increase street-violence prevention outreach efforts, wraparound case management for victims at San Francisco General Hospital, housing relocation services for families impacted by violence, and reentry programs for ex-offenders. All of these programs can be part of a national model for other cities to emulate.
Contrary to the mayor’s line that the city does not need to contribute more resources to violence prevention, I believe city-sponsored resources make a dramatic change in how people caught up in all sides of the epidemic can have better choices and a dignified way out of these mean streets.
Violence is solvable if we make the right choices. SFBG
John Avalos
John Avalos is a legislative aide to Sup. Chris Daly. He dedicates this column to Andrew Drew Elle, a.k.a. DJ Domino, who was shot to death on Tuesday night, June 20, at 24th Street and Folsom.

The right to fuck and suck


OPINION Three years ago, on June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, and adults of all sexual orientations were, for the first time in the history of our country, totally free to engage in consensual sex “per os or per anum.” That monumental decision freed our collective genitals from one of the most repressive laws ever slapped on them.
The act of sodomy was named after the infamous city in the Bible that was destroyed by the Old Testament god-patriarch either for inhospitality (the liberal interpretation) or propositioning angels for anal sex (the fundie read). The term sodomy was first used by St. Peter Damian in the 11th century, when antihomo sentiment ran rampant in Europe. By 1350, most of the continent had sodomy statutes on the books, according to gay historian John Boswell.
The prohibitions against oral and anal sex in America were enacted state-by-state and followed English law. The first colony to ban the “crime not to be named among Christians” was Virginia in 1610. By the 1950s, when the first “homophile” groups formed, all the states had sodomy laws.
The post-Stonewall gay liberation movement pushed hard for the decriminalization of all sex acts between consenting adults. The movement got its first poster boy in 1982: A police officer caught Atlanta bartender Michael Hardwick in his own bedroom engaging in anal sex with another man. The officer, who had come to serve a summons at 3 a.m., entered the apartment on the invitation of Hardwick’s roommate. The district attorney declined to prosecute but, at the urging of the ACLU, Hardwick decided to fight.
In 1986, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to America’s libidos: It upheld the Georgia sodomy laws (Bowers v. Hardwick).
In 1988, two Texas men, John G. Lawrence and Tyron Garner, were jailed overnight and fined $200 after police found them having sex in Lawrence’s apartment. The cops had come in response to a weapons disturbance falsely reported by a neighbor. The men followed Harwick’s lead and took the matter to court. In a surprising turnaround, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law (Lawrence v. Texas) and killed all the sodomy statutes in the 13 states that still had them. America had finally entered the modern world — except for the US military, which still punishes sodomy (Article 125) among straight and queer service members.
In light of Lawrence v. Texas, that law will be struck down eventually too.
Good riddance to it all.
In an age when many queers are fighting for the more mainstream goals of getting married and joining the military, let us not forget the fight for sexual liberation that our LGBT movement once championed. As feminist anarchist Emma Goldman might’ve said: “If I can’t fuck, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” SFBG
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime radical working-class southern Italian sodomite writer, performer, and activist.

The health insurance system: a crash course


OPINION I am a family practice physician who recently opened a solo office in San Francisco. Since deciding to make a go of it on my own, I have, by necessity, undergone a crash course in the politics of medicine.

Change in our current system will only come about as the result of an educated public insisting on it. So, in terms as simple as I can manage, here is how it works:

You sign up for health insurance. You and/or your employer pay a monthly premium, and your insurer promises to cover some (but not all) of the health care costs you incur.

In exchange for the insurance company listing him or her as a network provider, your doctor agrees to accept the company’s payment rates and abide by its complex policies. These include rules to verify your insurance, document the visit, and submit the bills.

Your doctor has to hire someone to collect all your insurance information and verify the accuracy with your insurer before each visit. A second person is hired to review the charges and make sure they comply with the endless rules the insurance company has put in place.

In order to pay for the two new layers of bureaucracy, your doctor shortens the amount of time he or she spends with you. This allows him or her to see more patients per day.

The insurance company then comes up with all sorts of excuses for why it won’t pay for services you received, or won’t pay the amount it originally promised.

Your doctor now has to hire someone to fight the insurance companies for payment. Your doctor shortens appointment times further to pay for this additional level of bureaucracy.

Your doctor no longer has enough time to explore and discuss lifestyle factors that may be causing your symptoms. Instead, he or she takes the more time-efficient route of ordering a slew of lab tests and expensive studies when you come in with a complaint.

You never see the bills associated with your visits to the doctor and the testing performed, which creates the illusion that you are getting all this medical care for free.

The unnecessary testing drives up the cost to insurers.

The insurance companies see their profits decline and take steps to correct this, such as denying insurance to those with "preexisting conditions" (often something as simple as a brief period of depression).

Now your doctor has to hire someone else to deal with all the paperwork this additional bureaucratic level creates.

Again, appointment times are shortened. Not only do you have an endless wait to be seen, but you have to come back multiple times to get your questions answered.

The cost to insurers goes up further.

The insurance companies see their profits start to decline once again, so they pass the cost on to you or your employer by increasing your premium.

The patients are dissatisfied.

The doctors are dissatisfied.

And the insurance companies? Well, their shareholders are quite pleased. SFBG

Samantha Malm, MD, is one of a growing number of physicians who have decided not to contract with private insurance companies.

Dastardly dailies


Why oh why does San Francisco have such terrible daily newspapers? In one of the most progressive cities in the country, why must we be subjected to Carla Marinucci’s regular hit pieces on the most liberal candidate in any race on the Chronicle’s front pages, or Examiner columnist Ken Garcia’s sanctimonious, truth-challenged screeds against progressives? Why do these papers so consistently sabotage human progress?
If you’re looking for evidence of the Chron’s political agenda, just read Marinucci’s two front-page stories in the last two days, both of which made the exact same accusation against gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides: The stories said rich developer Angelo Tsakopoulos was trying to buy the election, and a future governor’s allegiance, with about $9 million worth of independent expenditures favoring Angelides.
Such editorial overkill is clearly designed to hurt Angelides and help his Chronicle-endorsed challenger, Steve Westly. Why else would both articles bury or ignore key facts in the story?
Tsakopoulos isn’t the political neophyte Marinucci pretends he is. He’s actually been one the top regular contributors to Democrats for almost a generation (Bill Clinton used to stay with Tsakopoulos during California visits throughout his presidency); he’s also a close friend and mentor to Angelides, not simply someone trying to buy his way into a position of influence. Tsakopoulos already had Angelides’ ear; he didn’t need to spend a dime to get it.
I’m certainly not arguing that sizable independent expenditures aren’t notable, worrisome, or newsworthy. In fact, the Guardian this week reported that Sup. Fiona Ma has benefited from more than $750,000 in IEs on her behalf, most of that from the same sorts of corporate power brokers that the Chronicle regularly supports.
So why didn’t this story make the Chronicle’s front page even once, let alone on two consecutive days the week before the election? After all, the money spent on Ma’s behalf was a far higher percentage of the campaign spending in that race – and will likely have a bigger impact – than what Tsakopoulos spent on the governor’s race.
And it came from sources who really do have an interest in influencing Ma – the tobacco and liquor lobbies, gaming interests, developers, and her old boss, John Burton, who wants to retain his power broker status.
Maybe one reason is the fact that the Chronicle endorsed Ma and has been running the very attack ads that these IEs paid for (which, not so coincidentally, run right next to the web versions of Marinucci’s stories).
Another reason could be Marinucci’s barely concealed schoolgirl crush on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who her articles have described in terms that are flattering and deceptive (see “Couple in the news," www.sfbg.com/40/17/news_shorts.html). It happens again and again. Just pop over to sfgate.com, do a search using “Marinucci and Schwarzenegger” and you’ll see what I mean.
I sent an e-mail to Marinucci and five Chronicle editors raising these points, and here was Marinucci’s response: “As a longtime reader of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, I’m going to refer you to a wonderful motto which I know your publisher, Bruce Brugmann, and many of the people on your staff understand. It’s on your paper’s masthead: "It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
    “It’s absolutely your right not to like our stories. Sometimes, the candidates — Republicans and Democrats — don’t like them either.  There’s no hidden agenda or anything else in play, another than another old newspaper motto that Brugmann also understands well: that we do the job "without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved."
I responded that her quotes didn’t seem to answer my questions, particularly because the second one seems to directly contradict her approach to political coverage, in which she seems to reserve her attacks for the most liberal candidate in any race. But she didn’t respond to my follow-up questions. 
We at the Guardian have our own bias – a progressive bias – and we spend more column-inches helping our friends and hurting our enemies than the other way around. It’s something we’ve always been honest about, unlike the Chronicle, which pretends to the high standard of “objectivity.” We strive for fairness to all sides and don’t apologize for advocating the broad public interest.
But we have no self-interest in our approach. We don’t like Ma’s opponent, Janet Reilly, because she’s going to defend our corporate interests in Sacramento. We like her simply because she’s far smarter and more progressive than Ma. And we don’t like the IEs attacks on her because they attempt to fool voters into believing just the opposite – deceptively misrepresenting where these two candidates fall on the political spectrum — something all newspapers should actively oppose.
Yet neither Ma, Marinucci, Garcia, nor any of the wealthy interests they represent seem to have much regard for the truth, at least around election time. I suppose that’s their prerogative, and perhaps just the nature of the beast. But San Franciscans deserve better, and they should be offended that they aren’t getting it from their daily newspapers.    

Prop. D’s misinformation campaign


OPINION Why are Joe O’Donoghue and the Residential Builders Association funding Proposition D on the San Francisco ballot? Could it have anything to do with the RBA’s rapacious hunt for profits?

You bet, because Prop. D would change the city’s zoning laws to potentially allow private development on 1,600 city parcels that are now protected for public use purposes only.

The RBA has modeled its campaign on the current national trend of winning through fearmongering. That’s why the RBA sent San Francisco voters a slick campaign ad featuring an elderly woman (who is not even a Laguna Honda Hospital patient) with a photoshopped black eye, misleading "facts," and not one word about zoning.

But Prop. D is much more than a giveaway for builders it’s also an assault on San Franciscans of all ages with psychiatric disabilities. It perpetuates stereotypes about people with such disabilities by suggesting that individuals with a primary psychiatric diagnosis are violent. Studies have consistently shown that people with mental illness are not any more likely than members of the general public to commit acts of violence.

If proponents had wanted to keep dangerous patients out of Laguna Honda, they would have proposed banning people with a history of prior violence the best predictor, by all accounts, of future violence.

Instead, Prop. D guarantees that the stigma of mental illness will continue to dissuade people from seeking help. And it does absolutely nothing to increase safety for LHH residents.

What Prop. D does do is violate nine state and federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, which ban discrimination on the basis of disability. Prop. D singles out people with mental illness and mandates that "only persons whose need for skilled nursing care is based on a medical diagnosis that is not primarily psychiatric or behavioral shall be admitted" to Laguna Honda. It endangers more than $100 million dollars in federal funds San Francisco receives each year, since that money is conditioned on city compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

Prop. D would force the eviction of Laguna Honda residents who have age- or HIV-related dementia. The city would be forced to transfer those residents to institutions in other counties, far from family and friends, at an annual cost of $27 million dollars. Moreover, Prop. D puts a Planning Department official in charge of making health care and admissions decisions.

All of this is why nurses, health care workers, and public health officials are opposing Prop. D, as are the members of the city’s Community Alliance of Disability Advocates and the Human Services Network, representing more than 100 organizations serving people with disabilities and those in need of all ages in San Francisco.

The RBA’s campaign for Prop. D is so misleading that one of its major proponents, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, rescinded its endorsement when the members discovered the RBA’s lies about Prop. D.

Don’t fall for the RBA’s exploitation of LHH residents for the sake of profits. Support the city’s disability rights community. Vote no on Prop. D. SFBG

Belinda Lyons

Belinda Lyons is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. This op-ed is also endorsed by Steve Fields, cochair of the San Francisco Human Services Network; Bill Hirsh, executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel; and Herb Levine, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center.

From ANWR to SF


OPINION For more than a decade, the oil industry and environmentalists have fought over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

At the same time, polarizing debate has raged in San Francisco over automobiles in Golden Gate Park, with the proposed car-free Saturday on JFK Drive as the latest iteration.

While ANWR is a long way from San Francisco, that fight has a lot in common with the debate over car-free Saturdays. Both the ANWR and car-free Saturday debates include an enormous expenditure of political capital to confront or defend a lifestyle based on unlimited use of personal cars. And while Gavin Newsom’s veto of car-free Saturday legislation tells us a lot about our ambitious mayor, it also gives us a lens into what he might be like as a future US Senator voting on ANWR drilling.

In ANWR, the debate is whether wilderness should be opened to drilling in order to wean the nation from foreign oil and to save American motorists from inconvenient gas price increases. In short, it is about accommodating a way of life centered on unlimited personal car use — instead of reducing our need for oil by switching to compact urbanism, mass transit, walking, and bicycling.

In Golden Gate Park, the debate centers on a way of life based on unfettered free parking and high-speed "cut-thru" streets like JFK Drive, versus a way of life that reduces car dependency and celebrates urbanism and nature at the same time. While the city and its mayor promote a green image, a small group of wealthy interests maintain that cars simply have to be a central part of our lives and a primary means of transportation, particularly in cities. Moreover, they envision the car-free Saturdays as a dangerous step toward other citywide proposals, such as reducing the space for cars on the streets to prioritize mass transit and bicycles, or perhaps restricting cars on Market Street. Those are the real stakes in this debate.

Like forbidding drilling in ANWR, restricting cars in parts of Golden Gate Park would symbolize a victory for a specific vision centered on reducing the role of automobiles in everyday life.

It is difficult to know how Gavin Newsom would vote on ANWR if he were elected to the US Senate — a position for which he is no doubt being groomed — upon the retirement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But in light of his veto of car-free Saturdays, it is worth pondering that with this veto Newsom reveals he could be persuaded to come down on the wrong side in one of America’s most controversial environmental debates, and support drilling in Alaska.

Imagine that 10 years from now, oil prices and global conflict over oil have intensified. A delusional motoring public in California demands relief from its senator (who as mayor did very little to truthfully address problems of automobile dependency in San Francisco). Republicans will be pointing at the offshore oil in California, and Newsom, a Democrat having just been elected to replace the retired Feinstein, will be challenged to provide relief. Would Newsom, out of desperation, support drilling in ANWR to avoid drilling in California?

Actions speak louder than words, and what Newsom has done this week is to set San Francisco up for another decade of automobile dependency without offering any viable alternative. SFBG

Jason Henderson

Jason Henderson is an assistant professor of geography at San Francisco State University.

Cruel and unusual punishment


OPINION Homelessness was recently put on trial in California. It was found not guilty.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared April 14 that the city of Los Angeles can’t arrest those who have no choice but to sleep on its streets. It’s a victory for those of us who believe that homelessness is not a crime, but a symptom of an unjust economic system.

At issue in the LA case was a 37-year-old law prohibiting sitting, lying, and sleeping on the sidewalks. Six homeless folks brought the complaint in 2003 with the aid of the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild.

In her ruling against the statute, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote: "Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times," the city is guilty of criminalizing people who engage in "the unavoidable act of sitting, lying, or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless." She termed this criminalization "cruel and unusual" punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Her enlightened opinion should guide public policy everywhere, especially here in San Francisco. In our "progressive" city, we have gay weddings at City Hall and an annual S-M street fair, yet our views on the homeless are as 19th century as the rest of the country’s opinions on gay marriage and kinky sex. The majority of voting people here still favor the old-fashioned method of punishing the poor and the homeless. That’s how Care Not Cash and our current antipanhandling measure managed to become law.

According to Religious Witness with the Homeless, in the first 22 months of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration, San Francisco police issued 1,860 citations for panhandling and sleeping on the sidewalks, as well as 11,000 "quality of life" tickets. That’s more than were issued under former mayor Willie Brown in a similar time period. How many officers did it take to issue those citations? How much money did it cost the city? What better things could San Francisco have done with the money to actually help those who were cited? How many of the people cited are now in permanent affordable housing with access to services they need to put their lives back together?

Homelessness can’t be eradicated with punitive measures. Addressing homelessness in America doesn’t mean sweeping the poor out of sight of tourists or upscale neighbors. It doesn’t mean taking away the possessions of homeless folks or fining people for sleeping in their cars. It means addressing the basic social inequities that create homelessness, among them low-paying jobs, the immorally high cost of housing, and the prohibitive price of health care.

It means having drug and mental health treatment for those who need it when they need it.

That’s the real message behind Wardlaw’s ruling.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, working-class, queer, southern Italian activist, performer, and writer.

A few questions for the publishers


OPINION The MediaNews Group, which proposes to buy the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Monterey Herald, and 30 Bay Area weekly newspapers, is paying a 20 percent premium over the price McClatchy paid Knight-Ridder for those same publications less than two months ago. Antitrust regulators in the US Justice Department, who must decide whether to go to court to try to block the transaction, will want to know why.

There are two possible explanations. One is that MediaNews, which already owns or controls eight daily and three weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, thinks the deal will yield economies of scale, allowing it to operate its newly acquired properties more efficiently than Knight-Ridder was able to. Another explanation is that MediaNews’s dominance of a restructured market will enable it to raise advertising rates.

From the standpoint of antitrust, the first reason is completely benign. Antitrust regulators will be very concerned, however, if they suspect the second explanation: that MediaNews paid a premium because its competitive position in the Bay Area newspaper market where its circulation will rise from approximately 290,000 predeal to more than 800,000 postdeal will permit it to raise rates.

MediaNews’s share of the Bay Area daily newspaper market will be somewhere north of 65 percent if the McClatchy sale goes through as planned. While that is a high degree of market concentration and almost certainly would have drawn a challenge from the Justice Department 20 years ago it is likely to be seen today as inconclusive.

Why? Because these newspapers compete not only with each other but also with Craigslist, eBay, Yahoo!, Google, and numerous other Internet-based businesses (not to mention television and radio) offering help-wanted ads and real estate and auto listings, as well as display advertising.

But another aspect of the McClatchy-MediaNews deal is not so easily dismissed. I’m referring to the role of Hearst, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle, which will be MediaNews’s primary competitor in the Bay Area.

As part of the deal, Hearst will also become a MediaNews investor and partner. The questions the regulators will ask are these: Why Hearst of all possible investors? If Hearst’s only function is to be a source of investment capital for a deal between McClatchy and MediaNews, why not use other investors whose participation would raise no competitive issues at all? Why use the one company that has the resources and incentive to object to the deal and whose participation creates at least the risk of a lessening of competition?

Whatever the answer, the public is entitled to have the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission hear it and make its own judgment. Although filings with Justice in such "pre-merger reviews" are generally confidential, let’s hope that McClatchy, MediaNews, and Hearst, which are all in the business of making information public, will elect to tell their readers what they’re telling government regulators. SFBG

Peter Scheer

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and journalist, is executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

No more bogus school budgets


OPINION Spring means budget season at the San Francisco Unified School District.

Under the state Education Code, the SFUSD is required to present its proposed budget to the public. But each year the published budget leaves out the actual amounts of money that the district spent on each item in the previous year. It doesn’t even include the past year’s budgeted amount.

The public only receives a wish list of the district’s proposed requested amounts for each budget item.

Recently, the SFUSD negotiated a new contract with its largest union, United Educators of San Francisco. The contract gives an 8.5 percent raise to the district’s hardworking teachers, paraprofessionals, and nurses. In the fall the mayor and his staff mediated a new contract with a 4 percent raise for the SFUSD’s second-largest union, SEIU Local 790. United Administrators of San Francisco also negotiated a new contract with the SFUSD in the early spring.

At the same time, both federal and state funding for education has decreased. The SFUSD’s enrollment has also declined over the last 30 years. So the San Francisco Board of Education closed four schools and two child care centers in 2005. Three more schools are scheduled to close in June, while another two elementary schools are scheduled to be "merged" with two other schools.

Last year it was revealed that a reserve fund for a new school of the arts had been used to meet the district’s budget shortfalls. That reserve fund is now being repaid by funds that the SFUSD gets from developer fees.

The district is projecting a deficit of $5.8 million for the next fiscal year and an even greater deficit in 2007 and 2008. The board will have to make difficult choices in order to balance the next year’s budget in these challenging times. It also must pass a budget that is accepted by its stakeholders parents, teachers, paraprofessionals, janitors, clerks, other key staff, and the community.

But that can only happen if the district brings parents and other stakeholders meaningfully into the budget process. People can only participate if they have useful information like how much the district has spent on budget items in the past as well as how much the district wants to spend on those items in the next fiscal year.

Other public school districts, like Fresno’s, have developed budgets that are easy to follow. The budged of the city and county of San Francisco allows its stakeholders to participate in the budget process by showing each item’s "actual money spent" and the previous year’s budget amount.

A transparent budget that everyone understands is the only way we as a community can hold the district accountable and build more public trust and support in our schools. SFBG

Kim Knox is an education activist who is running for San Francisco School Board in November 2006.

The SFUSD will be having a community budget workshop at Everett Middle School May 13.

Save John Swett!


OPINION In seeking to close the John Swett Alternative Elementary School in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the San Francisco Unified School District is making a gargantuan mistake.

We knew from the start of the evaluation process that John Swett didn’t come close to qualifying for closure or merger. By the board’s own criteria, Swett shouldn’t have been a candidate. Yet it remained, inexplicably, on the closure list.

Only now, through our own research and public records requests we made to the school district, has the rationale for the school’s closure become clear: It’s not an educational decision made in the best interests of students. It’s a property decision made in the best interests of administrators. Situated just two blocks from the SFUSD’s headquarters at 555 Franklin St., John Swett has apparently struck some administrators as an attractive target for expanding administrative offices.

Long before the unhappy coincidence of its proximity to SFUSD headquarters potentially doomed its existence, John Swett was rapidly becoming a poster child for public schools in working-class minority communities. It offers the only arts program of its kind in the district and has provided opportunities for cultural enrichment to a population to whom far too many opportunities are routinely denied. Its enrollment of 240 students was quickly approaching the facility’s full 280-student capacity, with a population reflecting the rich, diverse mosaic of San Francisco: 43 percent African American, 31 percent Pacific Islander, 14 percent Latino, and the remainder an integrated mix of whites, Asians, and others. And more curiously, if the issue at Swett was really about enrollment, the district could have looked across the street to reconcile any shortfall: Tenderloin Community School’s population is at 120 percent.

Sup. Chris Daly and I have worked hard to galvanize as much support as possible within City Hall to make the school board’s decision to save the school for students an easy one. We secured passage of an ordinance to provide $660,000 from city funds to gain John Swett a reprieve.

For neighborhoods like the Western Addition and Tenderloin, plagued by the interrelated problems of joblessness, drugs, truancy, and gun violence, the decision seems utterly counterproductive. What good are violence-prevention strategies when they are subverted by actions like shutting down John Swett School?

This battle is about setting the right priorities. It’s time to put the students first. The plain fact is that kids from minority working-class communities need good schools that are already intact more than school bureaucrats need adjacent facilities for themselves or a half-baked plan for something else. An innocent school has been unjustly condemned. Its execution is set to go. There are moments until midnight. Can we save it? SFBG

Ross Mirkarimi

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi represents District 5.

In SF, health care for all


OPINION The question before us as San Francisco voters, health care providers, activists, legislators, and consumers is: "Can our community provide access to health care for people who work?"

In a surprising, welcome, and wise political partnership, Sup. Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom have joined their hearts and minds in a two-pronged approach to improve health access. The scope of the problem is simple.

In San Francisco, 84 percent of workers are privately insured. Employees contribute through premiums and co-payments. But there are now 82,000 uninsured adults in San Francisco. They rarely use preventative or primary care health services and (because of cost) only pursue health services when acutely ill. The overwhelming majority find their way to the overburdened emergency department at San Francisco General Hospital, where the taxpayers pick up the cost, estimated at more than $29 million a year.

It’s difficult and prohibitively expensive for individuals to get private health coverage. So group insurance is the obvious solution and right now, that means insurance from employers.

The first of two complementary endeavors, initiated in November 2005 by Supervisor Ammiano, is the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance. It would direct employers with 20 employees or more to provide health insurance or contribute financially toward paying the cost of health care services for uninsured employees who work at least 80 hours a month.

The second part of the initiative comes from Mayor Newsom, who appointed a 37-member Universal Health Care Council, which will submit recommendations by May 2006 for a "defined benefits plan" establishing a "medical home" for the uninsured. It will also clarify the scope and cost of defined services, such as prevention and primary care, including behavioral or mental health services, dental health services, and prescription drugs, all in a plan delivered by the Department of Public Health clinics and the nonprofit coalition of community clinics.

San Franciscans overwhelmingly support universal health care.

By May the Universal Health Care Council, led by Sandra Hernandez, who runs the San Francisco Foundation, and Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Health Care West, will recommend the scope of a plan, and health care benefits and costs, for both uninsured employees and the unemployed. For uninsured employees, this defined benefit plan could be heard at the same time as the final hearings on the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance currently in the budget and finance committee.

The opportunity to legislate a defined health care benefit for 30,000 uninsured working people in San Francisco is a historic step forward in improving the health status of all San Franciscans. Let us join both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom to make history by the summer of 2006 and expand health coverage to working San Franciscans. SFBG

Roma Guy is a member of the clinical faculty of the Health Education Department at San Francisco State University and a city health commissioner.

Real tolerance


OPINION On March 24, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the message that a group called Battle Cry for a Generation was set to deliver the following Friday on the front steps of City Hall. The appearance of Ron Luce’s teen program at the site had nothing to do with the group’s apparent reason for being in the city, which was to promote Christianity amid smoke machines and rock bands at SBC Park. Luce decided to rally on the steps of City Hall specifically because gay marriages had been performed there two years earlier.

The intent to somehow purify the steps with prayerful teens, the quick response by citizens of San Francisco, and the meaning of that entire encounter was lost completely as local journalists and former politicians rushed to smear the Board of Supervisors with labels like "clueless" and "intolerant."

In doing so, John Diaz at the San Francisco Chronicle and Joanna Thigpen at the San Francisco Sentinel both missed an opportunity to summarize for their readers the meaning behind the meeting of two groups. Instead, both city leaders and organizers of the counterprotest were admonished for their lack of tolerance.

For those in need of a working definition of tolerance, the American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following: "The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." The key word within that sentence is recognize, which is hard to do if all you do when the Christian right comes to town is stay home and fume. Engagement (another version of recognition) is also a value, one that walks hand in hand with tolerance as the citizens of this fair city go forward in search of bigger and better expressions of human and civil rights. Showing up and shouting back don’t indicate intolerance. And staying away doesn’t display tolerance, just benumbed passivity.

Curiously, the charge was made that by issuing resolutions and press statements, both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Assemblymember Mark Leno were attempting to stifle Battle Cry’s right to free speech. Supervisor Ammiano’s office, which was the primary sponsor of the resolution, was contacted by neither the Chronicle nor the Sentinel. What he would have pointed out was that no one in city government made any attempt to silence anyone. The resolution was simply the progressive community’s proverbial two cents thrown into a debate Battle Cry started when the group assembled on City Hall’s steps. No public official ever came close to opposing Battle Cry’s right to frankly indict both queers and women who have chosen abortion or who support its legality.

Civic engagement like the sort displayed by Ammiano and Leno is what makes this city a haven for those who could not get tolerance for themselves, on their own terms, elsewhere. Far from impeding the right of Battle Cry to spread a message of hate disguised as love, we are forwarding the rights of speech to those whose voices are still being suppressed by fear and hate disguised as Christian love and tolerance.

Elizabeth Creely
Elizabeth Creely works with the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights.

The lessons of East Timor


Chega, the 2,500-page, recently completed final report of East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation, will probably attract little notice in the United States, and it’s not clear whether it’s the Timorese or the Americans who will be the worse off for that.

If Americans were to take the document seriously, the benefit for East Timor would be obvious: The tiny, half-island nation off the north coast of Australia might hope to receive justice for what it has suffered, rather than just the charity of wealthier nations on which it now depends.

Less obvious is what Americans stand to gain from the report: an understanding of just how far off the mark mainstream political discussion really is when it comes to the legitimate role of the world’s only remaining superpower.

A single sentence from Chega (which means enough in Portuguese) says it all: "In response to the massive violations that occurred in Timor-Leste [East Timor’s official name] in September 1999, President Clinton threw the considerable influence of the United States behind efforts to press the Indonesian Government to accept the deployment of an international force in the territory, demonstrating the considerable leverage that it could have exerted earlier had the will been there."

The "massive violations" referred to were the killings of more than 1,000 Timorese and the burning down of virtually every structure in the emerging country following its vote for independence from Indonesia. The United States’ "considerable influence" stemmed from the fact that it supplied the bulk of Indonesia’s weapons, as it had done throughout the entire occupation of the former Portuguese colony. The prompt effectiveness of a US government that was actually motivated to end the carnage after the 1999 plebiscite demonstrated what some had argued all along: As a junior military partner, Indonesia could never have invaded East Timor in 1975 without tacit US approval.

Five presidents occupied the White House during the Indonesian occupation: Republicans Ford, Reagan, and Bush; and Democrats Carter and Clinton. For 24 years, none of them opted to utilize America’s "considerable leverage," despite repeated United Nations condemnations of the invasion and occupation.

The history is very relevant: In this case we find a dramatic reminder of the continuity of American foreign policy — from the cold war to the war on terrorism — in the person of Paul Wolfowitz. The neoconservative Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, served as undersecretary of defense at the start of the Iraq War, and a lot of people who might have known better took him at face value when he argued that the war was all about democratizing the Middle East.

Wolfowitz, however, displayed no such overriding concern for democracy in East Timor when he served as ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1988, nor as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986. In 1997 he told a congressional committee that talk of East Timor’s independence was "destructive," a view he maintained until 1999.

Chega demonstrates the truth of the exact opposite point of view. In 1999 the US government acted effectively to end the suffering of East Timor because it finally lived up to a principle that ought to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy: It required that one of our allies live up to the ideals we demand of our enemies.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher was a United Nations election officer in Lospalos, East Timor, during the 1999 plebiscite.

Bolivia’s ballot-box revolution


 The timid rays of the sun receded from the Bolivian tropical savannas, bathing the valleys and disappearing behind the Andean mountains, on the afternoon of Dec. 18. They seemed to foretell that the Bolivian schizophrenic "political culture" was dying. And it happened.

On that day, indigenous Bolivia came out of political anonymity. In a move unprecedented in Bolivian and Latin American democratic history, the great indigenous majority, previously excluded and subordinated, elected one of our own, using the power of responsible and conscientious votes.

An indigenous man, Evo Morales Ayma, is our president! Yes, the llama herder from the forgotten Orinoca village. The man who as a child survived by following sheep and llamas and eating the dried orange peels the truck drivers threw out on the roadside, who as a ragged boy "celebrated" his "joy of living" once in awhile with a dishful of hank’akipa (cornmeal soup); a Bolivian who was born on his mother’s skirts (not in a hospital) under the dim light of a homemade oil lamp; a man who, like many others, dreamed of one day attending a university and becoming a professional but learned that, because of the exclusionary political culture and abject poverty, those dreams were unattainable.

Evo learned the lessons of political leadership in the school of life while working with the unions in Chapare (the tropical province of Cochabamba where he emigrated with his parents because of dire poverty in the highlands). He was deeply moved and outraged when he learned one of the coca growers’ leaders had been burned alive by the military. Later on, the union would open his eyes, mind, and heart to understand the causes of poverty of the Bolivian people.

The Bolivian neoliberal elite, promoted by the United States, tried very hard to avoid and stop the democratic revolution of the indigenous people, but it was too late. The contained anger and outrage on the face of so much corruption and betrayal by the shameless traditional politicians had reached the limits. Now was the time. Indigenous movements, laborers, farmworkers, social organizations, professionals, intellectuals, students, women, day laborers and theunemployed got together, armed with voting ballots and voting booths, to start a democratic revolution.

Before today the Bolivian social movements were labeled as communist and anarchic, or as drug dealers and disrupters of order by the official national and international media. By now the world knows by the results that we Bolivians are not terrorists or drug dealers. We are only people who want to live, people capable of solving our own historic problems using the democratic tools of the game.

The sun shone bright on the morning of Dec. 19. It washed away 180 years of exclusionary darkness and subordination of the indigenous people of Bolivia.

Never again against us! Never again without us! All of us together make Bolivia! Our destiny calls us to work in unity on the multicolored fabric of our national identity!

 Jubenal Quispe

Quispe is a Bolivian lawyer and activist who accompanied a San Francisco Presbyterian Church delegation known as Joining Hands Against Hunger on a recent tour of Bolivia. Translated from the spanish by Nancy Gruel.

For more information see "Evo Presidente!"

Enforcing a hidden anti-eviction law


As the Board of Supervisors was in the process of approving a measure to require a public hearing before converting rental units into condominiums – a measure Mayor Gavin Newsom has shamefully pledged to veto – Sup. Chris Daly told his progressive colleagues they shouldn’t be cowed by accusations that they are against home-ownership opportunities.

He’s exactly right. The city’s building new condos at a rapid clip, with more than 9,000 for-sale units in the pipeline right now, while rental units are disappearing. It’s more fair to accuse Newsom and his allies of being hostile to renters than to somehow say progressives oppose home ownership.

In fact, as Daly pointed out Jan. 10, the city isn’t even using existing tools to help tenants.

Six months ago, the San Francisco Tenants Union and Sup. Aaron Peskin unearthed a 25-year-old city law that could prevent many future condo conversions. Section 1386 of the city’s subdivision code, approved in 1981, requires city planners to reject condo conversions in which evictions or steep rent hikes have been used to clear the building for sale.

The law is a bit outdated – it requires landlords to provide only a five-year history of building occupancy. The supervisors should amend it to allow city officials to consider how a building was cleared out of tenants, whenever that occurred, and if Newsom wants to be seen as anything more than a fan of evictions and a shill for speculators, he should direct planning officials to start aggressively enforcing the law’s provisions.

That’s just one step the supervisors can take to deal with a mayor who seems unwilling to take even modest steps to slow the flood of evictions and the loss of rental housing. Newsom insists smaller condo conversions – ones involving fewer than five units – shouldn’t even be subject to Planning Commission hearings because that august body needs to save its time and energy for larger land-use issues.

So tenant activists and Peskin are pursuing with the City Attorney’s Office the possibility of requiring public notice for all condo conversions, of any size, which would give tenant activists the ability to appeal those permits to the full Board of Supervisors. It’s a good idea: If the poor, overworked planners are too busy to protect rental housing, and the supervisors want to take on the job, it will be hard for Newsom to say no.

Bail out the schools – once


The San Francisco school-closure process has been about as bad as it possibly could be. Information about the potential closings came late out of the district office. The criteria for inclusion on the closure list were hard to understand – and harder to comprehend. The district kept parents out of the process until the very end and then restricted community input to a few moments at a series of crammed hearings. In many instances, representatives from the endangered schools had only 10 minutes to make their cases at last-minute hearings attended by only a few of the school board members.

And in the end, all that came out was a short-term solution to a very long-term, pressing problem.

It’s no surprise that the proposed closure list has very real problems – and that community leaders in the Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point, which would be the hardest hit neighborhoods, are outraged. Now the board, which, on Jan. 12, decided to put off making the decision, is scrambling to find a way to restore some degree of fairness and credibility to the process.

It’s an impossible task: After the mess of the past month, there’s simply no way to make a fair decision about school closures right now. And the way things are going in the district these days, it’s likely the exact same ugly and poorly thought-out process will take place next fall, and the year after, and the year after that.

It’s time to put a halt to the madness, for good. Mayor Gavin Newsom should drop his opposition to bailing out the schools; the city needs to step in and give the district the cash to stave off most of the closures for a year. But there has to be a condition: The school board and administration must undertake a real, credible, effective long-term planning effort, starting now, to determine how to handle declining enrollment in a fair and comprehensive fashion.

.  .  .

Just about everyone agrees that some San Francisco public schools have to close. The district is losing roughly 1,000 students a year, and has been since the early 1980s. But schools aren’t just buildings; they’re communities, they’re part of their neighborhoods – and closing them down is by definition going to be traumatic.

So at the very least, there needs to be some overall logic and educational policy behind the decisions. And right now that’s badly lacking. The main criteria for closures – declining enrollment and low test scores – virtually guarantee that low-income neighborhoods will be the hardest hit. And the proposed mergers would bring together two small, low-performing schools to make one larger school that will still have the same (or worse) issues.

There are all sorts of other alternatives. Could some of the most popular schools, the ones with huge waiting lists and stellar test scores, be expanded to take over empty space in under-enrolled schools? Would mergers between top schools and low-performing schools give low-income kids a better chance?

More important, how many schools will San Francisco need in 10 years, and where should they be located? Is there a way to phase some schools out without shutting them down altogether? Is there a way to promise parents who want their children to stay in the public schools that their schools – their communities – won’t be destroyed next year, or the year after?

If – and only if – the district is willing to commit to a credible planning process, with parents, teachers, community leaders, and someone from City Hall (perhaps a member of the Board of Supervisors) involved from the start, to create a facilities plan for the next decade, the supervisors and the mayor should look for the $5 million it would take to stave off most closures for this year. And if the city won’t do that, the District should look into using reserve funds to cover the gap. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi had the right line when he testified at the Jan. 12 school board meeting: The city should help the schools out – as long as the district can promise that this utter disaster of a process will never happen again.

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