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Don’t police the pot docs



By Ahimsa Porter Sumchai


Senate Bill 1262 was introduced in the California Senate on Feb. 21 by veteran legislator Lou Correa. It is a medical marijuana bill designed to regulate physicians, dispensaries, and cultivation sites via rigid government oversight. Sponsored by the California Police Chiefs Association, SB 1262 promises to “provide a clear road map for the responsible implementation of Proposition 215 in California since voters approved it in 1996.”

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which created Heath & Safety Code 11362.5, ensures that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes when the use is deemed appropriate and recommended by a physician.

As a licensed physician with a registered medical practice in San Francisco, I have reviewed the wording of SB 1262. The bill is highly punitive, clearly seeking to punish doctors who recommend medical marijuana (MM). SB 1262 concerns me most because it duplicates and violates existing state and federal statutes that clarify the physicians’ role in recommending MM.

In the 2002 case Conant v. McCaffrey, the federal government was enjoined by the US District Court in San Francisco from punishing physicians for recommending MM. That ruling affirms physicians’ First Amendment right to make recommendations.

SB 1262 requires the Medical Board of California to audit any physician who recommends MM more than 100 times a year. On April 2, the US Supreme Court struck down limits on federal campaign donations under the auspices of First Amendment free speech rights. Thus, a SCOTUS precedent was set that can be legally interpreted to defend a physician’s free speech right to authorize as many patients to use MM as deemed medically necessary.

SB 1262 establishes requirements for prescribing and record-keeping for physicians who recommend MM in a bill sponsored by law enforcement officials who lack medical or relevant education training. Guidelines and accepted standards for recommending MM were developed by licensed California physicians and adopted by the MBC on May 7, 2004.

SB 1262 violates the California law that protects the privacy of patient medical information — The Confidentiality of Medical Information Act — as well as federal law protecting health information, by mandating physicians report all MM recommendations along with private patient records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires patient authorization for disclosure of patient health information. HIPAA is a federal regulation, and MBC has no authority to evaluate HIPAA violations.

SB 1262 mandates a training and certification requirement for any doctor who recommends MM, with a $5,000 fine for noncompliance. I support SB 1262’s efforts to establish standards for quality assurance and testing of marijuana cultivated for medical use, but even that section duplicates guidelines developed and adopted by the Attorney General’s Office in 2008.

Physicians are capable of regulating their practice standards without law enforcement oversight and SB 1262 is opposed by the California Medical Association, which issued guidelines for physicians recommending MM in 2004, which includes proper record-keeping and annual examinations.

“Medical marijuana evaluation clinics are engaged in the practice of medicine, and physicians are responsible for their patients,” that 20-page Digest for Medical Marijuana Clinics affirms.

Marijuana remains listed in Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and has no accepted medical use. The lack of dose response curve research conducted in large population-controlled trials coupled with the lack of standardized cannabinoid profiling, potency, pesticide, and microbiological testing make it difficult for the physician to offer dosing recommendations for MM short of the adage “start low, go slow.”

The American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, and many other medical institutions join Americans for Safe Access — the largest member-based marijuana advocacy organization in the country — in promoting safe and legal access to MM for therapeutic uses and research. Polling shows Americans of all political stripes support medical marijuana, and SB 1262 would be a step backward that the public doesn’t want to take.

Ahimsa Porter Sumchai is a physician and former District 10 supervisorial candidate.

Stop the eviction of Benito Santiago



I attended a rally in support of eviction fighter Benito Santiago as he battles to keep his home of more than 30 years from the clutches of real estate investment company Vanguard Properties. Vanguard and its co-owner Michael Harrison, who also goes by the alias “Pineapple Boy LLC,” notified Benito of their intention of evicting him and two other tenants by invoking the state’s Ellis Act. We know the scenario — building gets sold, tenants get evicted, and the speculator/investor pimps ride off into the sunset, latte in hand, behind the wheel of a sports car (or utility vehicle).

But what about Benito?

Benito is a teacher with the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a senior with a disability resulting from a car accident more than a decade ago. Benito is a musician — a percussionist — and he teaches music to developmentally disabled children. Despite the effects of the car accident on his mobility, he has dedicated his life to sharing music with children who have benefitted greatly from his love and patience. He is an excellent teacher with a love for life and music is contagious.

Benito lives in his rent-controlled Duboce Triangle unit, but to investors and speculators, there is no room for him. To them, rent control is a cancer, a disease, a rape of the holy mother. Yet it is the evictions that have spread across the city — a 178 percent increase in Ellis Act evictions alone in the last three years — that are the true cancer.

It is not without irony that Benito moved into his unit in 1977, the same year of the eviction of elders of the I-Hotel on Kearny Street. As a Filipino, Benito remembers that event vividly, an event that garnered worldwide attention and support from wide segments of the community in San Francisco for the elder tenants who refused to leave the I-Hotel, the last building standing that was part of a Filipino neighborhood called Manilatown.

There was no room for Manilatown, no room for those brown elders walking around on property that had so much value. Manilatown was systematically removed by speculation and real estate interests. The I-Hotel eventually fell in 1977 with the forcible eviction of its elderly tenants, with baton-wielding police ramming though a human barricade of more than 3,000 supporters who chanted “We Won’t Move!”

The year Benito moved into his unit, 1977, was the year that the fight to rebuild the I-hotel began. After a 30-year struggle, it was finally rebuilt — 102 units of affordable senior housing. Many tenant protections arose from the ashes of the I-Hotel struggle. Another irony is that Mayor Ed Lee began his career defending the tenants of the I-Hotel.

Now, 37 years later, we see the desecration of the I-Hotel struggle by the same greedy speculators who do not care for the city. They have been the stewards — not of community, or sharing, or culture — but of eviction, misery, and even death to elders. They disrespect the I-hotel struggle and the elders of the community and the legacy of the I-Hotel. They are a blight to San Francisco.

Benito is fighting his eviction. He is refusing the buyout. The sound of resistance is the sound of Benito’s drum, which calls for all of us to rise in defense of our homes. Benito is a part of the Manilatown/I-Hotel Family, and we support his fight, along with Eviction Free SF, his lawyers at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, and others in the community. The Manilatown Heritage Foundation/I-Hotel calls for an end to out of control evictions and reparations for elders who have been displaced through eviction via the Ellis Act.

What speculators have done is criminal, nothing less than elder abuse. Their presence is the true blight. Tony Robles works for Senior and Disability Action and is president of Manilatown Heritage Foundation, which will hold an event honoring eviction struggles April 25 in the I-Hotel Manilatown Center, 868 Kearny St.

Appeal to the Giants



By John Farrell

OPINION We all love our 2010 and 2012 World Champion Giants and wish them all the best in 2014. But I also want to see the team do right by San Franciscans.

The Giants organization built its ballpark for over $350 million in 2000 and leased land from the Port. The 2012 property assessment was approximately $196.8 million, at least $200 million under value in my opinion, resulting in a property tax loss to the city of over $2.3 million annually.

Yet the Giants are appealing even this $196.8 million assessment, seeking to reduce the value to $140 million, an additional revenue loss to the city of over $650,000 annually.

When I worked in the San Francisco Assessor’s Office years ago, one of my assignments was to value the Giants ballpark. After construction was completed in 2000, a principle appraiser, a senior manager, and I met with Giants management in 2003 to finalize the ballpark value. I have worked with the Giants management numerous times in the past and they have always been professional, courteous, and fair.

Both parties agreed that a cost approach would be the preferred method of valuation and agreed on costs of around $350 million up to that point. The only difference in the final valuation being challenged was a marketing cost of $7 million in assessed value, reflecting $80,000 in tax revenue.

The Giants agreed to a middle ground to increase the assessment by $4 million. I advised the senior manager to accept this middle ground since it was reasonable and since the Giants already agreed to the approximate $350 million construction cost. It was a win-win for both the Giants and the city.

But this senior manager refused and would not budge on the $7 million assessed figure, reflecting a difference of only $35,000 in revenue. Giant’s management left the office very upset. I looked at the principle appraiser and he also couldn’t get over that we wouldn’t work with the Giants.

I had worked closely with this principal appraiser over the years and we always got the best and fairest value for the city. I left the office a year later and the Giants subsequently appealed and received a reduction of $200 million in assessed value and have been receiving a reduced assessment ever since.

When a taxpayer files an appeal for a reduction in property value under Proposition 8, it is generally due to a decrease in value as the result of a stagnant economy. I can understand the Giants asking for a reduction if their revenues were going down and justify it.

Without the ballpark, the Giants would not receive its revenues from the tickets, vendors, restaurants, advertising, cable TV, etc. Its revenues continue to grow, which is wonderful. But in my opinion and experience, the Giants should have never received such a reduction in assessment.

The proposed reduction to $140 million makes no sense. The land assessment alone is at least $40 million, from the capitalization of lease payments to the Port leaving the balance of $100 million for the improvements.

Naming rights were never assessed. Pacific Bell paid $45 million for naming rights in 2000, which was subsequently transferred to AT&T. What are these naming rights worth today? Keep in mind that the 49ers/York and Levi Strauss & Co recently entered into a naming rights agreement for a 20-year, $220 million deal at $11 million annually. Are you telling me the Giants naming rights are not worth at least half this amount when its contract with AT&T expires?

I appeal to the Giants owners and management to withdraw all their assessment appeals, which are insulting to the taxpayers of San Francisco, and continue to be the class act that they are. This appeal is from a fifth generation San Franciscan who has been a Giants fan since I can remember and had the privilege to see the two Willies, Juan, the Clarks, the Bonds and other Giants greats along the way.

John Farrell, MBA, Broker/Realtor®, former Assistant Assessor, Budget and Special Projects


Reduce sex trafficking by addressing demand



By Ellyn Bell and Minouche Kandel


Many people know that the Bay Area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US. What most people do not know is that the FBI ranks the Bay Area as one of the worst 13 areas in the country for child sex trafficking.

Many of these children have been abused or neglected, and the majority have involvement with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. Lesbian, gay, and transgender youth are more likely to have engaged in commercial sexual activity, in part due to homophobic home lives that pushed them onto the street.

Some youth may not have a pimp, and engage in “survival sex” to meet their basic needs. Sex work can be a dangerous occupation, often resulting in serious trauma. This is particularly true for persons who enter into sex work before the age of 18.

Both federal and state law specifically define youth involved in commercial sex work as victims of human trafficking, even if no force or coercion is present. The “Two views of sex work” described in the Feb. 18 article in the Bay Guardian oversimplifies the issue.

San Francisco is undergoing a systemic change in our response to commercially, sexually exploited youth, as we recognize that they have experienced abuse, homelessness, and/or homophobia, and should not be treated as criminals.

For the past year, through the Mayor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, city departments, and nonprofit organizations that work with trafficking survivors of all ages have been meeting to develop policies and better coordinate the response to human trafficking in San Francisco, with a particular focus on child sex trafficking. It is a holistic effort, staffed by the Department on the Status of Women, with participation from law enforcement, public health, child welfare, the school district, and community-based organizations.

Intervening with these youth can be challenging. They may not recognize themselves as “victims,” or identify as exploited. The person exploiting them may combine affection with tactics of power and control, which can confuse a youth into perceiving their exploiter as the only person who cares about them. Yet everyone agrees we need to find other options for minors who engage in commercial sexual activity, whether by “choice” or by being trafficked by an exploiter.

The conversation becomes more complicated when it implicates adults who have entered into the sex industry. These adults may have been sexually abused minors or trafficked youth, but simply by being over the age of 18, they are considered willing sex workers. This may be true for some sex workers, and not true for others.

The SAGE Project, which has a 20-year history as a peer-led, peer model program, has a unique perspective from working with the continuum of issues that affect youth and adults whose lives have intertwined with the sex industry. SAGE does not believe “that all sex work abuses women” as stated in the Bay Guardian’s Feb. 18 article. In fact, SAGE works with all people to define for themselves their needs and choices, and utilizes a harm reduction philosophy throughout its programs.

Intervening with trafficking survivors is not enough. We cannot ignore the role of demand in creating a market for human trafficking. Without demand for sex work, there would not be a sex industry that creates a venue for those who exploit people for profit. However, we do need to be mindful about efforts to curb demand that inadvertently put sex workers at risk of more harm.

The SAGE Project and the Department on the Status of Women welcome the participation of sex worker rights groups in anti-trafficking and demand efforts. Sex worker voices are needed to give important input on the risks posed by certain strategies. We can only effectively address the complexities of human trafficking if we engage all the communities affected.  

Minouche Kandel, Director of Women’s Policy San Francisco Department on the Status of Women; Ellyn Bell, Executive Director, the SAGE Project, (Standing Against Global Exploitation) 

Last chance for Marcus Books, part of SF’s black history



It’s taken decades, but the Mahattanization of San Francisco is nearly complete: The immigrants, artists, and natives who built the City and gave it its unique flavor can no longer afford to live here.

With San Francisco’s African American population largely banished to across the bay, along with the working and artists classes, the freethinking lifestyle that attracted so many people to the Bay Area in the first place has largely been and gone.

“What is crucial, is whether or not the country, the people of the country, the citizenry, is able to recognize that there is no moral distance between the facts of life in San Francisco, and the facts of life in Birmingham,” James Baldwin said on a fact-finding trip to San Francisco in 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a time at which he would have also visited Marcus Books.

If buildings could talk, the Marcus Books property on Fillmore Street, the onetime “Harlem of the West,” would tell a tale of two cities for over 50 years. Once the jazz club Bop City (where John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Billie Holiday performed), the purple Victorian is central to a neighborhood that survived the internment and return of its Japanese American residents, a botched “redevelopment” project that resulted in the permanent displacement of African Americans, and a blueprint for a “Jazz District” that failed to launch.

Now the neighborhood faces a final act as the oldest seller of books “by and about black people” attempts to uphold a part of the history and culture it had a hand in creating, while the City looks away and toward tech as its future.

Every black writer and intellectual in the US knows the store; celebrities, activists, athletes, and literary giants — including Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Walter Mosely, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Toni Morrison — have all passed through the doors of the San Francisco or Oakland stores.

Founded by Julian and Raye Richardson in 1960, their store served as a sanctuary for thinkers, authors, and community members during watershed moments, from the Voting Rights Act through the Black Power Movement and historic SFSU student strike in 1968 (resulting in the establishment of multicultural study programs which flourish at universities today).

Many of San Francisco’s African American faith, civic, arts, and culture leaders were educated through the program at State, either by the Richardsons or the books they stocked at Marcus. The Richardson family continues that tradition today at the bookstore, engaging visitors in discussions on the journey from Jim Crow to the first black president .

Yet for the past year, Marcus Books has struggled to survive. Community activists, elected supervisors, and appointed commissioners helped attain landmark status for the historic building, while attorneys brokered a buyback after the property was sold at auction and a fundraising effort was launched in December (see “Marcus Books can stay if it can raise $1 million,” SFBG Politics blog, Dec. 5). To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/6bvqlk.

Marcus is not the only community-serving bookseller forced into crowdfunding and community organizing, diverted from its core mission to enlighten and educate. If a city’s bookstores are any indication of its cultural diversity and intellectual health, San Francisco is on the critical list.

The City’s last gay bookstore, A Different Light, was laid to rest three years ago; while our most progressive political book outlet in the Mission District, Modern Times, is on the brink (see “A Modern tragedy,” Jan. 7). A similar fate for Marcus Books would mean the end to a longstanding black-owned business in the Fillmore.

It seems “The City That Knows How” has forgotten where it came from. Baldwin’s 1963 quote may’ve been specifically about racist ways and laws, but a blow to Marcus Books could mean his message remains the same: San Francisco’s reputation as a kindly city of love, tolerance, and diversity will be forever tarnished; in fact, it may have been false advertising all along.

Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

Soda tax is social justice issue


Eric.L.Mar@sfgov.org, John.Avalos@sfgov.orgtom@tomammiano.com


We are fighting for a soda tax because public health leaders have sounded the alarm that sugary drinks are a serious threat to our public health. Now is the time to get the word out about the latest facts that tell the story.

Our work on the issue began when community leaders and medical experts started educating us on the impact of sugary drinks. The resulting legislation that we crafted along with four other members of the Board of Supervisors will not only slow soda consumption, but it will fund the anti-hunger and physical activity programs we dearly need.

Most folks know soda is bad for you, but not how bad. Many are also unaware that Big Soda is specifically targeting communities of color and children. Our task is to spread the word about the health disparities this creates.

The lack of healthy food choices is an injustice that is hitting communities of color the hardest. Fully three-fourths of adult Latinos and African Americans in San Francisco are obese or overweight and one in three Americans will soon be diabetic, including one in two Latinos and African Americans.

The disparities are geographic as well. The highest rates of diabetes hospitalizations and emergency room visits are among residents of the Bayview, Tenderloin, SoMa, and Treasure Island. Close behind are the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley. These are also the neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food and are among those consuming the most soda.

We are already paying the high price of soda consumption. San Franciscans spend at the very least $50-60 million a year in health care costs and sick days due to obesity and diabetes attributable to sugary drinks. The fact that sugary drinks are the biggest single source of added sugar in our diets sets it apart from other unhealthy foods.

The revenue generated has tight controls and must be used to mitigate the harm Big Soda causes. Steered by an independent committee and targeted to communities suffering the most from health inequities, the tax will bolster funding for everything from school meals, healthy food retailer incentives, physical education, and other deserving programs.

Big Soda has hired high-priced lobbying firms and public relations folks who are employing a small army of young people, deploying them into the Bayview, the Mission, and Chinatown — those communities most impacted by diabetes and soda consumption. They’ve set up a front group — San Franciscans for an Affordable City — to capitalize on the anger in SF about the cost of housing and living.

But think about it: Have Big Soda companies helped us in our fight for affordable housing? Are they fighting for a living wage for communities of color in San Francisco? They have never cared about an affordable city. They care about protecting their profits, period.

We need affordable housing, healthy foods, and physical activity — issues we are working on every single day. On the other hand, our communities need affordable soda as much as we need cheap cigarettes and booze. It only makes us sick.

There are things our communities are doing to promote good health, like transforming corner stores into healthy retailers, building community gardens, and expanding physical and nutrition education. The soda tax as it is written now can provide these programs and dramatically improve our communities’ health.

This isn’t a ban but a reasonable first step to decrease soda consumption. This is a research-proven way of getting people to use less of an unhealthy product — it worked with cigarettes and it worked with alcohol. Finally, the tax will fund a range of great programs that will actually provide healthy choices for everyone.

It’s time we make the healthy choice the easy choice for low-income communities and all San Franciscans.

John Avalos represents District 11 (Outer Mission, Excelsior) and Eric Mar represents District 1 (the Richmond District) on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Tom Ammiano represents Assembly Dist. 17 (eastern San Francisco) in the California legislature.


Bogus chain store study ignores small biz benefits



Earlier this month, San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis waded into the debate over whether the city should beef up its policy restricting the spread of chain stores. In a new study, the OEA concludes that the city’s regulations are harming the local economy and that adding additional restrictions would only do more damage. But this sweeping conclusion, hailed by proponents of formula retail, rests on a deeply flawed analysis. The study is riddled with data problems so significant as to nullify its conclusions.

San Francisco is the only city of any significant size where “formula” businesses, defined as retail stores or restaurants that have 10 or more outlets, must obtain a special permit to locate in a neighborhood business district. The law’s impact, in one sense at least, is readily apparent: Independent businesses account for about two-thirds of the retail square footage and market share in San Francisco, compared to only about one-quarter nationally. Although chains have been gaining ground in San Francisco, the city far outstrips New York, Chicago, and other major cities in the sheer numbers of homegrown grocers, bookstores, hardware stores, and other unique businesses that line its streets.

San Francisco’s policy has gaps, however, which have prompted a slew of recent proposals to amend the law. Members of the Board of Supervisors have proposed a variety of changes, such as extending the policy to cover more commercial districts (it only applies in neighborhood business districts) and broadening the definition of what counts as a formula business.

The OEA presents its study as an injection of hard economic data into this policy debate. There are three pieces to its analysis. Let’s take each in turn.

First, the OEA reports that chains provide more jobs than independent retailers do. It presents U.S. Census data showing that retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 3.2 workers per $1 million in sales, while chains (10 or more outlets) employ 4.3 people.

One major problem with this statistic is that the OEA includes car dealerships. Retail studies generally exclude the auto sector, because car dealers differ in fundamental ways from other retailers and car sales account for such a large chunk of consumer spending that they can skew one’s results. The OEA’s analysis is a classic example of this. Because the vast majority of car dealerships are independently owned and employ relatively few people per $1 million in sales, by including them, the OEA drags down the employment figure for local retailers overall.

If you take out car dealers, which are not subject to San Francisco’s formula business policy anyway, and also remove “non-store” retailers, a category that includes enterprises like heating oil dealers and mail order houses, a different picture emerges. Retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 5.3 people per $1 million in sales, compared to only 4.5 for those with 10 or more locations.

The actual difference is even a bit more than this, because chains handle their own distribution, employing people to work in warehouses, while independents typically rely on other businesses for this. And, of course, a portion of the jobs chain stores create are not local jobs; they are housed back at corporate headquarters. The OEA fails to mention either of these fairly obvious caveats.

The superior ability of non-formula businesses to create jobs is notably evident across many of the categories that generate most of the city’s formula business applications, including clothing, grocery, and casual dining. The only exception is drugstores, a category in which chains appear to be supporting more jobs. But even this may not be a true exception, since most independent pharmacies focus almost exclusively on medicine, while chain drugstores are hybrid convenience stores, employing people to ring up sales of cigarettes and greeting cards.

The second and third pieces of the OEA’s analysis are linked together. The study concedes that, compared to chains, independents circulate more of their revenue in the local area, creating additional economic activity and jobs. But, it contends, prices at chains are 17 percent lower; enough, according to the OEA’s math, to outweigh the economic benefits of this recirculation.

On the lighter side of this seesaw calculation sits the OEA’s estimate of how much money local retailers circulate in the city’s economy. This estimate is notably smaller than what other studies have found. When I asked Dan Houston, a principal with Civic Economics, why his firm’s studies show that independent businesses have a bigger impact, he pointed to two areas where his firm’s figures differ from the OEA’s. One is labor.

“We’re finding that local wages and operating income [at independent businesses] are much bigger, closer to 25 percent [of expenses] rather than the 15 percent the OEA finds,” said Houston.

The other is spending on inventory. Civic Economics has found that independent retailers and restaurants source some of their goods locally, whereas the OEA assumes that all of this spending leaves the area.

Sitting on the heavier side of the OEA’s seesaw is its conclusion that chains charge lower prices. As definitive as its 17 percent figure sounds and as pivotal as it is to the study’s math, it is a highly questionable number. It’s based on a limited sampling of prices in which large swaths of the retail sector, including apparel stores and restaurants, were excluded.

“I just hate to see a statistic like that being used when it is so limited in what was being measured,” said Matt Cunningham, another principal at Civic Economics.

It only takes a slight adjustment of these wobbly figures to produce the opposite conclusion: that formula businesses do more economic harm than good. All one has to do to tip the OEA’s seesaw in the other direction is to assume a slightly larger recirculation of revenue on the part of independents and a slightly lower price advantage on the part of chains. (Just dropping the price difference to 14 percent will do it.)

Perhaps the worst aspect of the OEA’s study is that it seems to float in space, untethered to what’s actually happening on the ground. Many of the chains that are clamoring to open in the city’s neighborhoods are high-end retailers whose products carry a price premium. Their arrival typically drives up commercial rents, making it harder for businesses that sell basic low-margin goods to survive.

Nor does the OEA attempt to situate its analysis in the context of several peer-reviewed studies that don’t just model the potential impacts of corporate consolidation, but actually track them. In a study published in Economic Development Quarterly, for example, economists Stephan Goetz and David Fleming report that counties that have a larger share of their economy in the hands of locally owned businesses have experienced higher median household income growth than places dominated by large corporations.

The OEA’s study will not be the city’s only analytical look at its formula business policy. The Planning Department has commissioned its own study, preliminary findings of which were released this week. Among other useful statistics, the draft notes that most formula business applications are approved and fully one-quarter of the retail space in the city’s neighborhoods is now occupied by chains, which suggests the permitting process is not as unfriendly to formula businesses as the law’s opponents contend.

Still, this figure is much smaller than in San Francisco’s more centralized commercial districts, which are not covered by the policy. Here, the chains’ share of the available square footage stands at 53 percent and growing.


Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses.


Suspension reform isn’t so simple


OPINION I wish I could get behind the current campaign to limit public school suspensions (“Suspending judgment, 12/3/13).

The intent is honorable. Any additional attention to the plight of black kids within our schools is laudable. But I’ve always suspected that some would think they’d accomplished something if suspension rates were evened across races, although this would have no more impact on any underlying problems than mandating racially equal grade ratios would eliminate an educational achievement gap.

I’ve also never been confident that all involved understood that removing a disruptive student from a classroom is not done primarily for that student’s benefit, but to allow the rest of the class to carry on without disruption. Unfortunately, I’m now certain that this basic understanding is not shared on the highest levels of the San Francisco Unified School District.   Nationally, the Department of Education finds black students three times more likely to be suspended than whites. Why? An influential 2010 Southern Poverty Law Center publication, Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis, suggested “the possibility of conscious or unconscious racial and gender biases at the school level.”

That’s hardly surprising, given the long history of racial prejudice in this country. But is this what’s actually going on?   San Francisco, with a suspension rate mirroring the national, gave an African American 84 and 83 percent of its vote in the last two presidential elections. Comparable statistics are not available for the city’s teachers, but it seems likely they’re at least as liberal as the electorate as a whole. This, and years of experience as a substitute teacher in virtually every subject on every grade level, tells me it’s not teachers’ racial prejudice that’s the issue here, but something much larger — and harder to tackle.   Last December, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the city’s black infant mortality rate was six times that of whites (a figure not totally reliable due to the shrinkage of the city’s black population). Other markers of well-being show similar numbers. In short, the black community in San Francisco — and the nation — lives under considerable stress and, as anyone familiar with schools knows, kids don’t leave their problems at home.  But causes aside, I’ve hoped that the anti-suspension efforts might at least promote useful alternatives. After all, no one sends disruptive kids home because they think it makes them better students; they do it because few schools have the resources to do anything else. An “in-school suspension” would likely be a far better alternative in most cases, but it requires people and space available to deal with those students.  Unfortunately, while focusing on the vagueness of causes for suspensions such as “disrespect, excessive noise, threat, and loitering,” which the SPLC study called “behaviors that would seem to require more subjective judgment on the part of the referring agent,” the current effort seemingly ignores the need for a classroom free of things like “excessive noise” and “threat.” And it ignores the right of other students to learn in one — students likely from similar circumstances as the kids teachers feel they have to remove.  San Francisco School Board President Sandra Lee Fewer is amending a proposal to ban “willful defiance” suspensions with a mandate to reduce the use of referrals — removing a student from class, but not sending them home — calling them “invisible suspensions.” And SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza says, “We’re talking about culture change. A culture where it’s not okay for an adult to say ‘get out.'”

I think the people at the top might benefit from a little more real life classroom face time.

There is great hesitancy around this issue, probably because of fear that protesting too loudly might mark you as part of the problem — perhaps as a racist. But if we allow an ill-considered effort to become a juggernaut, in the end it will be the most vulnerable students who will suffer.

Tom Gallagher is a substitute teacher who has served on the executive board of the United Educators of San Francisco.

The trouble with compromise


“It takes no compromise to give people their rights… It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” — Harvey Milk

OPINION As I sat in the audience at the Jan. 23 San Francisco Young Democrats meeting and watched the first debate between David Campos and David Chiu in their race to represent San Francisco’s 17th Assembly District, I was disturbed to hear the words “compromise” and “consensus” come out of David Chiu’s mouth more often than the words “eviction” and “displacement.”

During the debate, a line in the sand was drawn by the two candidates: Campos was on the side of the underdog, a voice to the voiceless; and Chiu, by his own admission, was all about compromise and “getting things done.”

Don’t get me wrong. True compromise can be a good thing. Unfortunately, what has been coming out of City Hall, from both President Chiu’s Board of Supervisors chamber and the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been real compromise. It’s been a wholesale selling of our city to the highest bidder. The only thing that our leadership’s compromises have yielded is a compromised San Francisco.

Compromise gave corporations millions of dollars in tax breaks and it has forced nonprofits and small businesses out of our neighborhoods. Compromise has not resulted in any substantive action to curb Ellis Act evictions, instead serving to green light the building of luxury condo towers throughout the city. Compromise has allowed queer youth shelters and our parks to be closed to the people who need them as a last resort, as our bus stops have been opened up to billionaires for little more than pennies.

Chiu’s compromises have cost this city dearly. His compromise with developers on Parkmerced will lead to the demolition of 1,500 units of rent-controlled housing. His compromise on Healthy San Francisco allowed restaurant owners to continue to defraud consumers and to pocket money that should have gone to health care for their employees. His compromise on Muni killed a much-needed ballot initiative that would have resulted in an additional $40 million for the agency — a ballot initiative that he originally co-authored.

Please forgive me if I am fed up with compromise and am demanding actual leadership from my representatives.

Now is the time to stand with people of color, with members of the LGBTQ community, with our youth and elders, with artists and with small businesses, all of whom are being forced out of our city.

Thankfully, we have another choice. Sup. David Campos has shown that real change comes not from compromising your values but standing up for your principles. His legislative accomplishments include providing free Muni for low-income youth, protecting women’s right to choose at the Planned Parenthood Clinic, and preventing teacher layoffs at our public schools.

Campos has demonstrated that he, not Chiu, is the right choice to follow Tom Ammiano’s footsteps to Sacramento. Ammiano, who had 13 of his 13 bills signed into law this past year, is the perfect example of the success that can come from leading with your principles and not compromising your integrity.

San Francisco needs a leader representing us in the capital. Successful victories in reforming the Ellis Act and closing the Prop. 13 tax loophole will take a leader who can stand up to landlords and corporations, not a compromiser who will sit down at the table in a backroom with them.

That is why I will give my all to make sure that David Campos is our next representative in Sacramento. Pardon me if I refuse to compromise.

Tom Temprano is president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

H. Brown: Goodbye to all that, we hope


OPINION While we mourn the tamping down of the fiery progressive idealism that characterized City Hall in the early 2000s, we celebrate the departure of that era’s dated man-warrior posturing. Last week proved a good occasion to pop a bottle: Misogynist blogger and progressive scene queen H. Brown announced he would soon be leaving San Francisco for destinations unknown.

Brown, a proud bigot famed for hurling invective from behind a double shot of whiskey at ex-Supervisor Chris Daly’s since-closed progressive hangout Buck Tavern, took the occasion to hang out for posterity with an SF Weekly reporter. Joe Eskenazi wrote a lyrical, subtly satiric ode to the aging troll’s legacy, “Last Call for Know-It-Alls: The Departure of a Classic Specimen of Old-San Francisco Bon Vivantery.”

But nuanced pokes at the longtime “character” proved too subtle to the victims of his bullying throughout the years. And since the piece failed to include the voice of a single woman, we thought we’d remedy with a retrospective of our own. Behold, the legacy of a real jerk:

“At a benefit at the Buck Tavern I walked in and there were all these progressive journalists sitting around a table with him. [Brown] said ‘you’re the one with the great ass!’ He started asking me if I had family members he could date. I was standing there horrified. I’m a mouthy lady, and even I couldn’t think of anything to come back with — not just to him, but to every other progressive journalist who was sitting there listening to him who laughed! I said hi to a few people, and then I left the event.”

– Laura Hahn, president of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee

“H. is a bully and a sexist. If you want to look at why the progressive movement is failing it’s because it alienates youth, women, and people of color. Deifying somebody like him is shutting women out, the message is they aren’t welcome. It’s not separated from the fact that progressives are really faltering right now with no leadership and very little inspiration.”

– Debra Walker, artist and longtime activist

“As a purveyor of alcohol, I found that the man was a lawbreaking mooch and a pain to deal with. As a woman, I found him pathetic, insulting, gross, or all three, depending on his mood. The first time I met him he cussed me out for an imagined slight in a way that was actually shocking — and it takes a lot for cuss words to flummox me. For a time, I simply refused to serve him.”

– Siobhann Bellinger, Buck Tavern bartender

“His behavior symbolized the running joke amongst some progressive men that women were there for their own entertainment to be mocked and harassed with no one blinking an eye. FUCK. THAT.”

– Anonymous ex-City Hall aide

Ah, old San Francisco bon vivantery. Of course, the real reason we’re cheering on whatever Greyhound that will ferry this foul-mouthed sprite from our burg has nothing to do with Brown. Rather, we’re hoping no one will step into his shoes as your supervisor’s personal Bobby Riggs, to invoke the publicity-pig chauvinist who famously challenged tennis legend Billie Jean King to a match, the infamous Battle of the Sexes in which King mopped the floor with her opponent.

We hope that our purported progressive leaders will no longer invite woman-haters and homophobes to their household Sunday salons, or take Speedo-clad dips with them in the bay. That they will no longer think it’s OK to enable the presence of their own yapping id in polite company.

In the middle of City Hall’s current and unfortunate drift toward elite-serving “moderation,” one must wonder about what hangers-on like Brown did to the strength of our political movement. He and his ilk were allowed to establish through constant bullying, both online and off, that only straight men have the right to feel comfortable in our city’s high-powered progressive circles. What heroes did we lose in the process?

Caitlin Donohue is a staff writer at Rookie magazine and editor of AHDM4U.com.


End poverty and create wealth with public banks



By Ken Walden

OPINION How would you like to increase your spending power by 10 times (or more), relieve student debt by more than 90 percent, increase Social Security benefits, lower taxes, increase pay for teachers, and lower loan amounts for homes and small business to 1-2 percent?

I’ll bet I have your attention. I’m sure you think this is crazy talk, but this is based on a movement that is already happening. It’s the public banking movement.

In 1950s, the buying power of the dollar was over 10 times what it is today. That means you were able to buy 10 times the amount of goods and services with a dollar compared to what you can now.

What happened? Why is it so hard for most people to just barely get by these days? And why are so many are not getting by at all?

First, let’s review how money is created. Did you know the money we have in circulation today is created out of thin air? Most of it is just an entry in a computer system. A small percent is printed dollar bills like you have in your wallet or purse, and a very small percentage is metal coins.

Money is simply trusted as being worth what it says on the bill, coin, or computer screen. Did you also know that money for loans is created this way as well?

When you take out a loan from a bank (for a home loan, a student loan, a business loan, a car loan, etc.), the money that the bank loans you (with interest charges) is not taken from other people’s deposits. It is made (mostly) out of thin air. It is simply an entry in their computer system … that’s it.

Most people think they are borrowing money that is deposited into the bank by other people, but this is not true.

Here is quote from Robert Anderson, the secretary of the US Treasury in 1959, on this topic: “When a bank makes a loan, it simply adds to the borrower’s deposit account in the bank by the amount of the loan. The money is not taken from anyone else’s deposits: it was not previously paid in to the bank by anyone. It’s new money, created by the bank for the use of the borrower.”

Why is this a problem? Let’s look at how much interest we’re paying on a variety of loans. If you buy a house for $500,000 in 30 years at an average interest rate, you will pay an additional $580,000 in interest on money the bank made from thin air. With a public bank you, would pay less than half this amount.

On public projects like bridges, roads and schools, 30-50 percent of the cost is interest. The new span of the Bay Bridge that was just opened at a cost of $7 billion, the interest on this project is estimated to be an additional $7 billion. It’s estimated that the cost of almost everything you buy is increased by 35-40 percent because of interest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The solution to the problem is a public bank. With public banks, these billions of dollars of profit (via interest) are recycled back into the public treasury instead of funneled off to private banks.

If you think this is some theoretical fantasy you should know that San Francisco is currently looking at creating a public bank, 20 states are also considering them, and North Dakota has had a public bank for over 90 years. This is not a new idea.

It’s impossible to give you an in-depth overview in a short article so please go to our website (www.whattheworldcouldbe.com) and on the ‘Solutions’ page click on the box titled ‘Creating Jobs, Student Debt Relief, & the New Green Economy’.

Public banks have the possibility to dramatically change our lives for the better and you can help.

Ken Walden is director of What the World Could Be.

Preserve existing rental housing


San Francisco’s housing affordability crisis has become the main threat to the livability of the city for hundreds of thousands of residents. One glimmer of hope came last month, as the Board of Supervisors reformed decades-old laws that permit, and often encourage, the loss of affordable rental units.

When San Francisco adopted its zoning laws in the 1960s, it assigned a zoning district to every parcel in the city. Each zoning district set a maximum number of dwelling units allowed per parcel. These density limits effectively forbade adding units to existing buildings across most of the city, and deemed approximately 51,000 dwelling units “nonconforming.”

Nonconforming units are allowed to remain for the lifetime of the building, but could not be enlarged or improved. The controls on merging dwelling units actually encouraged the loss of units if the units were nonconforming or denser than the neighboring buildings. The planners’ intent was that nonconforming units would be eliminated over time, as buildings are remodeled or rebuilt.

The 2009 General Plan Housing Element moved in a different direction, calling for preservation of dwelling units, especially affordable and rent-controlled housing, and favoring in-kind replacement of affordable units lost to conversion, demolition, and merger. Two ordinances, sponsored by Sup. John Avalos and based on proposals from Livable City, have now brought the Planning Code in line with the Housing Element policies.

One ordinance amended the controls on residential demolition, conversion, and merger to reflect the Housing Element goals. It strengthens requirements that lost units be replaced with similarly affordable units, and restricts mergers in buildings with a recent history of Ellis Act or owner-move-in evictions. It also clarifies the legal status of dwelling units where the permit records are ambiguous, making them legal unless there is conclusive evidence that the units are illegal. This will improve housing security for thousands of San Franciscans who dwell in older, rent-controlled buildings that are denser than the Planning Code currently allows.

A second ordinance permits the improvement and expansion of nonconforming units that exceed current density limits, so long as they remain within the existing building envelope. This allows owners to enlarge units by converting space in existing buildings to dwelling space. To protect tenants from speculative evictions, improvement and expansion are not permitted in buildings with a recent history of Ellis and owner move-in evictions.

In addition, Sup. David Chiu introduced legislation in November to permit legalization of thousands of existing rent-controlled units that were built without planning permission. This ordinance will protect these rent-controlled units from conversion and merger, and allow them to be brought up to building and housing code.

Bolder measures will be needed to make San Francisco an affordable city for all, but preserving more of our affordable housing moves us in the right direction.

Tom Radulovich is the executive director of Livable City.

Dutch show how SF cycling could grow



By Dara Colwell

OPINION During rush hour, seeing the intersection at Weesperzijde and Meester Treublaan in Amsterdam would make a San Franciscan gasp. As cars move forward, cyclists continually pedal past, undisturbed by traffic—20, 30, or 40 at a time, in both directions—onto the narrow Weesperzijde, which runs along the Amstel River.

For the Dutch, this is the norm. In the Netherlands, the average person takes 300 bike rides per year covering roughly 560 miles. Cycling deaths remain the lowest in the world.

If only this were true elsewhere. In San Francisco, four people were hit and killed while biking in and around SoMa in 2013. As of Nov. 14, the fifth person in nine days was killed cycling on London’s roads. On both sides of the Atlantic, the issue raised by such tragedies remains the same: as long as roads favor cars, cyclists are at a dangerous disadvantage.

As a former San Franciscan now living in Amsterdam, I am continually impressed by the comprehensive infrastructure that allows me to bike everywhere safely. But it didn’t come out of nowhere.

The Dutch had their love affair with cars, too. In rebuilding itself after World War II, the country became prosperous, and with more money flooding in, people ditched their bikes for cars. Because Dutch cities are small, densely populated, and hemmed in by canals, there wasn’t a great deal of room to expand. As cars piled onto the streets, traffic-related deaths soared. In 1971 alone, cars killed more than 3,000 people, 450 of which were children. The public, outraged that this was too high a price to pay, started demonstrating.

In 1973, the international oil crisis hit, heightening concerns about oil dependency. This also pushed the Dutch to invest in the cycling infrastructure we see today—where every major street contains separate bike lanes and traffic lights.

Cycling here looks very different from San Francisco: couples hold hands, mothers willingly cart their children from A to B and people hold conversations as they ride along bike paths separated from the road. Legally, too, Dutch cyclists have the right of way on the road. According to the ANWB, the Dutch tourism and car owners’ association, car drivers are liable for accidents unless they can prove they were overpowered by circumstances beyond their control.

Having lived in Amsterdam several years now, I am convinced that recreating the Dutch system elsewhere will take more than better bike lanes. In the Netherlands, cycling regularly (and not just for sport) has been ingrained for generations. Dutch children learn the importance, relevance, and necessity of cycling at an early age, and they learn how to do it well and therefore, safely.

In Dutch schools, cycling proficiency lessons are compulsory. Children have to pass two tests—one, an exam on road rules; the second, cycling through traffic— to earn a bike diploma. When these children cycle along bike paths, they are cycling next to drivers who have also cycled most of their lives, and are looking out for them.

In the USA, getting drivers to think about cyclists sharing the roads is going to be a gradual process. When cycling in San Francisco a decade ago, I was once sideswiped by a driver too busy looking left at oncoming traffic to notice I was on his right side. As he turned right and knocked me over, thank god at only 5 mph, I was so shocked I apologized. But he was at fault. A friend of my mother’s once joked I should be careful “because people like me never look out for cyclists.” Cycling deaths constantly prove this is really no joke.

While it is more challenging to build cycling infrastructure in America as there are greater distances to cover, with no infrastructure, nothing happens. Build it, and yes, the cyclists will come—but then you have to remind everyone else that cyclists are there. Do it repeatedly and years from now, we can boast it really works, just as it does in Holland.

The Unconstitutional Truth about the Presidio



By John Farrell


OPINION When Congress established the Presidio Trust in 1996, it wanted to ensure its financial stability. Congress believed taxing private tenants impeded the Trust’s financial stability, so it enacted provisions within the Presidio Trust Act to ensure that tenants were tax-exempt. The only problem is that Congress doesn’t have the power to exempt tenants under the US Constitution.

In 1897, the State of California ceded to the United States exclusive jurisdiction on all lands held for military purposes, including the Presidio. Military installations are federal enclaves exempt from state authority. Per legal counsel of the State Board of Equalization, a “federal enclave” is a property over which the federal government holds exclusive jurisdiction.

In 1989, the federal government closed the Presidio as a military base. Since the Presidio is no longer for military use, the federal government transferred jurisdiction to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in 1994 for natural, historic, cultural, and recreational purposes.

Did this transfer to GGNRA end its tax-exempt status? Did this transfer negate the concept of “federal enclave” and “exclusive jurisdiction,” since the Presidio is no longer used for military purposes? Could the city now tax private beneficiaries? This issue has never been addressed.

The Presidio Trust was created by Congress in 1996 for a dual purpose: to rehabilitate and repurpose historic buildings and environmental resources, and operate as a vibrant public park independent of annual taxpayer funds.

In establishing the Trust, Congress’s concern was with the city’s potential assessment of property tax. In California, any private party that rents or uses space on government-owned property is subject to property tax.

In order to curtail the possible assessment of property tax, Congress enacted legislation signed into law by President Clinton on November 29, 1999. Public Law 106-113 (HR 3194) includes specific language providing that, “The Trust and all properties administered by the Trust and all interest created under leases, concessions, permits and other agreements associated with the properties shall be exempt from all taxes and special assessments of every kind in the State of California, and its political subdivisions, including the City and County San Francisco.”

Our City Attorney and Congressional representative have the opinion that all third party interests for private benefit under the Presidio Trust’s jurisdiction are exempted from taxes by the Presidio Trust Act.

This language confirms Congress’s intent to exempt private tenants from all forms of state and local property taxes. The only problem is that if Congress enacted the Presidio Trust Act to exempt third party beneficiaries, it did not have the authority per Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution, which provides the Powers of US Congress. In other words, this part of the legislation was unconstitutional.

Because of this unconstitutional loophole, the city is losing at least $10 million annually in property tax and over $100 million since inception. This amount doesn’t include revenue loss from other taxes such as real estate transfer tax. Further, if the George Lucas plan for a Presidio museum is approved, the city will lose at least $8.1 million annually in property tax.

The city is losing an additional $12.5 million from the recent sale of Lucasfilm’s to Disney in 2012 (based on a 2.5 percent transfer tax on a conservative $500 million assessment). An ownership transfer includes a lease of 35 years or more. Lucasfilm had a 66-year lease at the Presidio transferred to Disney. Per the state Revenue and Taxation Code, this is a legal transfer and there is no rational why there is no transfer tax imposed.

The city has decided to adhere to the legislation by Congress to tax exempt tenants even though it is unconstitutional. But everyone should pay their fair share.  

John Farrell is a Realtor, former city budget analyst, and fifth generation San Franciscan.

Mandela’s greatest legacy



By Roni Krouzman

Since my teenage years, I have looked to the anti-apartheid movement as clear evidence that humanity — when it comes together and stands bravely and prays with its heart and sings with its soul — can overcome the greatest oppression. This alone would be reason enough to revere, mourn and celebrate one of this liberation struggle’s great leaders, the late Nelson Mandela.

But there was something even more remarkable about Mandela, and that was his capacity to stand for justice with such clarity and strength, while also holding so firmly that retribution against those who did him and his people wrong was not the answer.

Even when he gained the upper hand, this man who had been imprisoned for so long, leading a people who had been brutalized for so long, stood as strongly for peace as he did for freedom and justice.

As apartheid fell, South Africa could easily have slipped into civil war. But it did not. Instead of pursuing vengeance against their former oppressors, under Mandela’s leadership and other brave leaders like him, the country instituted ground breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that had those responsible for apartheid and its enforcement own up to their wrong doings without being brutalized in return.

For Mandela, this choice grew from a deeply personal revelation: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” the great freedom fighter famously said upon his release.

In its report on Mandela just hours after he passed, the BBC quoted F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, as saying Mandela had “a remarkable lack of bitterness.” Mandela’s greatest legacy, de Klerk said, “is that we are basically at peace with each other notwithstanding our great diversity.”

Justice without vengeance. What a poignant and at one point unimaginable legacy to leave his nation and all of humanity. And it is the paradigm shift we so desperately need and I hope will one day soon learn to embody: how to stand strongly, fiercely even, for what is right — to defend without wavering against those who would attack people and the Earth — and at the same time to see the humanity in all people and to welcome everyone back into the village, even when they have done wrong.

It takes a great, great heart to do that. And only that can bring the deep and lasting healing and transformation we need.

Thank you and blessings Madiba, you have shown us what is possible for humanity. We will miss you.

Roni Krouzman is a consultant who coaches workplace leaders in fostering healthy relationships with colleagues and employees. His articles and essays on social movements have appeared in numerous print and online publications, as well as four anthologies.


Development must protect the arts


By Stephanie Weisman

OPINION Recently, the Bay Guardian ran an article critical of The Marsh theater’s position on the condo development proposed for 1050 Valencia St. (see “Street Fight: Driving us crazy,” 11/12). It incorrectly claimed that we oppose the project. Thank you, Guardian, for now giving us the opportunity to set the record straight.

The Marsh does not oppose a proposal to develop condominiums and commercial space next door to us at 1050 Valencia St. Rather, we are trying to get conditions attached to the project’s building permit — for both during and after construction — that reflect that this developer chose to build up against a world-renowned, community-based theater. We believe it is reasonable to expect the developer to be a good neighbor.

For almost 25 years, The Marsh has developed solo performances, presenting nearly 700 performances annually with 400 in our Mission location alone. We also offer solo performance workshops and year-round after-school classes and camps for youth where no child — toddler through teen — is turned away because of lack of money. We foster risk-taking and diverse artists from novices to those with worldwide acclaim, giving voice to the vital stories of our times.

The construction plans for 1050 Valencia directly affect our theater space and our ability to continue to host live performance. As currently designed, the plans for both construction and occupancy could mean noise that would drown out unamplified solo performance. The project will also reduce theater lighting and ventilation.

We’ve seen the history of new affluent residents in fancy SoMa live/work lofts who didn’t like living next to the loud music and milling crowds they chose to move near. These wealthy newcomers could afford to hire lawyers and fight expensive legal battles, and they successfully closed down entertainment venues that had defined SoMa for decades. We seek conditions to prevent this from happening to us.

We are requesting the large open deck adjacent to our building be moved behind a sound barrier. We are concerned that when residents have a party or open their windows with music blaring, the sound will disrupt our performances. This endangers our existence. We are also asking for conditions prohibiting the commercial space next to us from having live entertainment that would impact our performances.

Without specific legally enforceable conditions attached to the permits, we have no recourse if the developer or subsequent property owners lack good faith. To date, based on developer Mark Rutherford’s treatment of us, we have no reason to believe in his good faith. San Francisco’s development history shows that only legally enforceable conditions really protect the public interest over the “lifetime” of a building’s construction and use.

The Marsh is a metaphor for the current displacement of people and culture in the Mission District. Miraculously, we were able to purchase our building in 1996, a market low, with the support of our artists, patrons, board, and forward-looking foundation and nonprofit and commercial loan entities. Otherwise, The Marsh would not exist today. We would never have been able to afford today’s market-rate rent.

We are now a safe house for artists to develop their work at our space, for the children who take our affordable classes, and the audiences who attend our critically-acclaimed shows. But we are not indestructible. If protective conditions are not written into the building permit, and we end up with disrupted programs and performances, we will not survive artistically or financially.

Will The Marsh go the way of our neighbors? Will we be developed into a bunch of two-bedroom condos selling for $1.75-2.25 million, like the ones at 19th and Valencia? With maybe two below-market rate units set aside, as planned for 1050 Valencia, where “below market” could mean $1 million. But where will the artists go? Where will young aspiring performers go? The audiences?

Please join us and stand up for The Marsh at the Board of Appeals Hearing, City Hall, Dec. 11, 5pm.

Stephanie Weisman is the founder and artistic director of The Marsh


Why I’m resigning from the City College board


By Chris Jackson

When I worked for the state legislature, a member once told an overly ambitious guy that there are those who get into politics to be someone and those who get into politics to do something, and we have enough of the first type.

Serving on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees was always a means for me to work to connect underserved communities to education and eventually economic empowerment.

One of the first measures that I passed while on the board was to expand City College’s Community/Outreach Ambassador to the Mission and the Southeast campuses. Through this program, City College was better able to do outreach to underserved communities.

Be it by protecting CCSF’s GED program or child care sites, working with community leaders to continue to make the Mission campus an educational jewel to its residents, or working with Bayview advocates to ensure the Southeast campus’ survival and eventual growth, I came to the CCSF Board of Trustees on a mission to help ensure that our most vulnerable populations are given access to education as a means of equity.

Although I’ve had amazing success and even made a few mistakes along the way, I don’t want anyone to doubt my continued passion and commitment to the communities that CCSF serves. It is this passion to do something and not simply be a figurehead that has led me to the difficult decision to resign from the CCSF Board of Trustees.

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, an unelected and publicly unaccountable organization, seeks to change the values and charge of City College from an inclusive, community-based and student-focused college to a simple junior college that serves the few and shares the values of the corporate education reform movement.

Even more disappointing has been our state Community College Board of Governors. Instead of performing its public-policy duties, the state Board of Governors, led by State Chancellor Brice Harris, has continued to allow itself to be bullied by the ACCJC to the point where there is a serious question of who really sets public policy for the 112 colleges in our statewide system: our publicly appointed Board of Governors or the unelected, unaccountable private ACCJC.

It pains me to see the scope of our class offerings pared back, our community-based campus continually threatened with closure, much-needed academic counselors laid off, and our Second Chance program for ex-offenders with an over 900-student waiting list. It pains me even more to be sidelined by Harris and our public Board of Governors and watch them shrink and cower to the power of Barbara Beno and her private ACCJC.

But in the face of this challenge to our public education, I see hope. Students like Trustee Shannell Williams, Student President Oscar Pena and former Trustee William Walker rallying students to stand up for their public education give me hope. The American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 and the Save CCSF coalition have become rallying points not just for the immediate CCSF community, but for the larger SF community. Their bravery in the face of the withering attacks on public higher education should be commended and be a model that others should follow. At this moment, there exists the base for a long-lasting coalition of students, educators, and community fighting for the high-quality, affordable education.

Thank you for the opportunity to do something to make an impact in people’s lives. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.

Chris Jackson was elected to the CCSF Board of Trustees in 2008.


After Prop 30, What’s Next? Reform Prop 13.



By Matt Haney

Proposition 30 was a big deal: It raised over $6 billion a year by increasing taxes on the wealthy, balanced the state budget, and allowed our K-12 and higher education systems to put an end to mass layoffs, exploding class sizes, and ballooning tuition.

But one year later, it’s about time we ask ourselves: What’s next?

Even after Prop 30, the under funding of education and essential services remains, with California still near the bottom nationally in K-12 per pupil funding. Prop 30 was a step forward, but we all knew that we ultimately would have to take on the “Godzilla” of California tax policy: Proposition 13.

Since its passage in 1978, Prop 13 has decimated public education and essential services in our state. Per pupil support in California plummeted from top 10 in the nation to bottom 10, and the tax burden shifted away from businesses and onto individuals. As state investments in services and education went down, poverty went up.

California voters originally passed Prop 13 mainly to protect homeowners. But due to loopholes in the law that prevent regular reassessment of commercial property, large commercial property owners are getting a multi-billion dollar public subsidy. Many commercial property owners are paying taxes at rates that are nearly unchanged from decades ago. Chevron alone is under-taxed by a billion dollars!

Reforming the commercial property tax loophole in Prop 13 could bring in over $7 billion dollars annually, most of which would go directly to education. Despite new funding from Prop 30, our schools desperately need greater investments if we are going to provide a 21st century education for all of our children.

Prop 13 has long been viewed as the “third rail” of California politics. Talk about reforming it, and risk your political career. Yet recent polls show an openness from Californians to reform Prop 13 to ensure more regular value reassessment of commercial property. Demographic change, voter education and registration, and the victory of Prop 30, have shifted the political landscape.

The San Francisco School Board recently joined dozens of School Boards, City Councils, and Board of Supervisors across the state in calling for the reform of Prop 13 through a statewide ballot initiative in 2016 or sooner. The strategy, led by organizations like Evolve California and California Calls, is to ramp up the pressure from the ground up. Cities, schools, and communities are the canaries in the mine. We have experienced Prop 13’s carnage firsthand, and we cannot be silent.

Just as we did with Prop 30, Californians deserve a choice: fully fund education and essential services, or maintain a broken and inequitable tax system. We can’t have both. Next time the stakes will be even higher, so it’s critical that we start preparing for this fight now. Let’s get to work.


Why I oppose closing our parks


OPINION I have great respect for Recreation & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg, my colleague Sup. Scott Wiener, and my constituents and friends who support the parks closure legislation. I certainly share their concerns about damage to our parks. But I do not think this law is the appropriate means to address it.

I have six fundamental problems with the legislation.

My first concern is the impact this could have on our neighborhoods. There are an estimated 7,350 homeless youth and adults in San Francisco. Many find a shelter bed; some wind up in jail or a hospital. Over 4,300 people, though, have nowhere to sleep.

As the supervisor for District 5, it would be irresponsible for me not to think about this, not to consider what will happen if homeless people are evicted from the parks and wind up sleeping on the doorsteps of my constituents in the Haight, Inner Sunset, or Buena Vista. This would be unjust for the homeless and worse for the neighborhoods.

Second, we have an enforcement problem, not a regulation problem. The Park Code already prohibits: camping, sleeping between 8pm-8am, dumping, drinking (in most parks), being under the influence, damaging the parks, or making loud, “unreasonable” noises.

Unfortunately, at night there are only two or three park patrol officers on the beat for all 220 parks across 3,500 acres.

We can’t enforce the codes we have. Rather than adding a broad, redundant code, I would like targeted improvements to the codes and their enforcement.

Third, it could cost more to enforce this law than we would actually save. Vandalism is distributed all over the park system and does not all occur between midnight and 5am. A dramatic increase in officers could decrease vandalism, but that would cost more than any savings realized.

Fourth, I am sympathetic to the almost-Libertarian argument made by some constituents that: “My tax dollars pay for those parks and if I want to use them at 4am, that is my prerogative.”

Firefighters and others who work late shifts should be allowed to walk their dogs in the park when they get off work. Whenever I raise this point, I am told by the law’s supporters, “Oh it won’t be enforced against them.”

This is exactly the problem, and my fifth concern — that this law will be selectively enforced. If it’s not intended to target the homeless, the firefighter, or the well-groomed neighbor, who is the law designed to target? Suspicious looking people? Teenagers? Young men in hooded sweatshirts?

Lastly, I think there are perfectly legitimate reasons to use the parks at night, and I don’t think our government should be admonishing us otherwise.

Acts can be criminal. Vandalism, dumping, drug use — those are acts. I am not comfortable preemptively criminalizing a person’s presence, or everyone’s presence, in order to deter the few who commit those acts. I am not comfortable limiting everyone’s freedom in order to deter those who abuse that freedom.

But frankly, I am also not comfortable with how politically charged the issue of homelessness has become in San Francisco. Whether this particular law passes or fails, 7,350 people will wake up tomorrow morning not knowing where they will sleep tomorrow night.

We must be creative, unconventional. For example, we could repurpose fallow city buildings as temporary shelters. Would this idea be received as an opportunity or an insult? I hope the former, but I suspect the latter.

We have a political climate in this city which, for a variety of reasons, seems to default to the status quo on homelessness. Well, we need change. We need to acknowledge that not every call for service is a “handout,” nor every call for enforcement a “criminalization.”

Relegating 4,300 people to a cold spot of concrete or grass every night is not compassion; working creatively to change it is not malice. It is leadership. And it is exactly what we need.

London Breed is the District 5 supervisor. The board was scheduled to make its first of two votes on Wiener’s legislation Nov. 5 after our press time. Visit www.sfbg.com/politics for the latest.

Fight back to save your home


By Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Fred Sherburn-Zimmer

OPINION The good news from San Francisco these days is that tenants are fighting back in a big way to save their homes. Speculators and investors intent on making a killing in a sizzling real estate market are not always having an easy time getting rid of those who stand between them and obscene profits.

While tenant resistance has become a hot ticket item in the local mainstream media, legislators are introducing a slew of new laws aimed at curbing speculation and the housing crisis. Even the Mayor’s Office has gotten into the act, intervening in at least two recent high-profile evictions: the Lee family and 1049 Market.

A low-income elderly Chinese couple and their disabled daughter, the Lee family chose to stay and fight when the Sheriff’s Department gave them notice that it was coming to lock them out after an Ellis Act eviction. Hundreds showed up in support, with a large number of people willing to block the door and risk arrest. TV went live from the protest. Within no time at all, the Mayor’s Office stepped in to negotiate with the landlord for more time so that the Lees could find an affordable place to live. While the Lee family didn’t ultimately get to stay, their struggle brought public attention to what is happening here in San Francisco.

When the tenants in the artist live/work lofts at 1049 Market received letters from their new landlord saying that the city was forcing him to evict them because of an outstanding code violation from 2007 that he inherited when he bought the building, they didn’t take it lying down. It wasn’t true that the city was making him evict anyone. He had the option to bring the building up to code, something he found “economically infeasible.”

Tenants from 1049 Market contacted Housing Rights Committee where we work, and we helped them organize. We were afraid the landlord’s other two buildings on the same block might meet the same fate. The story made the cover of the San Francisco Examiner about a week later.

Suddenly, the Department of Building Inspection announced that it had discretion in terms of the code violations, especially the costliest of them. DBI’s deputy director sent the notice of violation back to its staff for review. The city began meeting with the landlord to try and prevent the tenants from being evicted.

Negotiations are still in progress, but the fact that the City has stepped in so aggressively on the side of the tenants is a major victory. Of course, it’s due to tenants fighting back when so many people told them they couldn’t win.

Jeremy Mykaels, a gay disabled man who’s lived in the Castro for the past 40 years and in his current apartment for almost 18, decided not to move when new owners (investors from Atherton and Union City) threatened him with an Ellis eviction. They went through with it after he turned down a buyout.

Eviction Free San Francisco, a direct action group, organized protests in SF, Atherton, and Union City. Attorney Steve Collier of Tenderloin Housing Clinic challenged the eviction in court. A judge just threw out the eviction on a technicality. The jury is out on whether the investors will start the process all over again. Fight back. It could save your home. 

Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Fred Sherburn-Zimmer work at the Housing Rights Committee.

Vote “no” on everything


All this year’s candidates are unopposed incumbents, which is lame. It’s a sign of an unhealthy democracy that we don’t even have a choice. Why isn’t anyone running? The citywide races on this ballot have no term limits and no public financing, so we’re stuck with career politicians until they decide to move on. Even if they’re okay at their jobs, that’s problematic.

We aren’t necessarily opposed to Treasurer Jose Cisneros or City Attorney Dennis Herrera. They each have admirable accomplishments on their résumés, but they aren’t the type of pioneering progressive leaders that we’re comfortable endorsing in uncontested elections — and Herrera has a couple ugly marks on his record (gang injunctions and invalidating a people’s referendum on Bayview/Hunters Point development).

We are, however, strongly opposed to the Guardian’s endorsements of Carmen Chu and Katy Tang. Back in the day, they worked together in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget office. Then he appointed Chu as District 4 supervisor and Tang became her legislative aide. Then Mayor Ed Lee appointed Chu as Assessor and it was Tang’s turn to be District 4 supervisor.

Are you sensing a trend? If Tang goes on to serve two full terms, the Sunset will go from 2007 until 2022 without a contested election. That’s crazy pants!

Odds are that will also mean 15 years without the District 4 supe ever disagreeing with the mayor. Chu was on the opposite side of virtually every contested vote The League has ever cared about: free Muni for youth, the Sit-Lie law, increasing the hotel tax, Election Day voter registration, and CleanPowerSF.

Tang hasn’t been around long, but she’s already voted against CleanPowerSF and carried the mayor’s water by trying to weaken John Avalos’s Due Process for All ordinance. She attempted to insert exceptions that would’ve made undocumented San Franciscans unsure if they could call the police without risking family members’ deportation. When she used the fearmongering image of the city becoming a “safe haven for criminals,” she was rightfully booed by hundreds of immigration and domestic violence advocates in the audience.

And then there’s the golden rule of politics: Follow the money! Chu and Tang have racked up over $150,000 each. Huge chunks of that money come from developers, property managers, consultants, and others looking to strike it rich with land use deals approved by the new board.

That’s especially troubling for Assessor-Recorder Chu. She’s responsible for assessing property taxes, most of which come from skyscrapers downtown. She should be all up in the business of those corporations: Every time a building changes hands or a company’s ownership changes, the company owes a real estate transfer tax. But Chu is buddy-buddy with the Building Owners and Managers Association, taking piles of cash from the real estate industry. That sucks.

This business of the mayor appointing his buddies who then go on to win uncontested races has got to stop. It’s troubling that the mayor — our executive branch — unilaterally fills out our legislative branch. Hello? Did the folks writing our City Charter ever hear of “checks and balances?”

We think all mayoral appointees should be placeholders, legally prohibited from running in the following election. None of this pledging not to run and then “changing your mind” (we’re looking at you, Ed Lee). That reform would be a proposition we could say yes to — and a welcome change of pace from this November’s ballot.

The San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters is an all-volunteer local chapter of the National League of Young Voters.

Justice for cyclists



It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.

Sarah was hit while riding her bike. Then she was wrongly faulted for the collision, despite multiple witnesses’ testimony and photo evidence to the contrary. A police officer verbally harassed her after the incident.

“The crash was awful,” she said. “But the way I was treated by the police … absolutely compounded the trauma. I was treated, at every turn, like a criminal.”

Dorie was hit from behind while biking in Golden Gate Park with her son in a rear child seat. Thankfully he was fine, but she was injured seriously enough to spend two weeks in the hospital. She was blamed for the incident, despite witnesses’ statements claiming otherwise.

And after Sandrine was hit while biking, she was treated with hostility by police officers while she lay in pain at the hospital. She was shocked to learn witness statements were not included in her incident report, which faulted her. Thousands of dollars in debt later, Sandrine says she is “disheartened and completely disgusted with the attitude and bias of the police” toward people on bikes.

Nearly 40 people spoke up last Thursday at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing into the SF Police Department’s response to traffic incidents involving people biking and walking.

The spotlight is on the SFPD after it botched an investigation last month of a 24-year-old woman who was hit and killed while biking to work on Folsom Street. Police failed to look for video footage in the area, and a police sergeant blocked the bike lane at the memorial to publicly blame the victim for her own death, while forcing bike riders into high speed traffic.

I’m sorry to say that I was not surprised by the sergeant’s “blame the victim” attitude in that recent tragedy. Nor in the dozens of cases people shared at last week’s hearing.

Sadly, we regularly hear about experiences like these: people refused incident reports, despite injuries. Reports being taken inaccurately or incompletely, time and time again blaming the person biking, despite witness statements to the contrary. And officers being ignorant of the law, such as not understanding that people can leave a bike lane to avoid an obstruction or to make a turn.

I believe our police chief when he insists that all road users should be treated fairly, but that message is not being heard by all in the force.

The chief needs to make certain that all collisions resulting in injuries are fully and fairly documented; that training is significantly stepped up to ensure officers’ understanding of bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities on the road; and, finally, that the SFPD uses a data-driven approach to focus limited traffic enforcement resources on the locations and behaviors that are most dangerous.

We are not asking for special treatment for the growing number of people on bikes, but rather fair and equal treatment for all road users.

Leah Shahum is executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.