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Community not criminalization



By María Poblet

OPINION San Francisco is poised to break ground in defense of immigrants, an important step towards turning the tide against the criminalization of communities of color.

In a unanimous vote on September 24, the Board of Supervisors supported a due process ordinance that, after final approval, will reduce deportations by setting strict limits on collaboration between federal immigration enforcement and local authorities. Our city will make history by refusing to implement the federal Secure Communities program, which allows US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to request an immigration hold detention without cause, regardless of immigration status, at local expense.

This victory didn’t trickle down like fog from the “progressive Bay Area bubble.” It was hard fought, from the bottom up. Immigrant and undocumented people most impacted by the problems led the fight, and they built a movement too strong to ignore. Causa Justa::Just Cause helped organize the groundswell, as part of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a broad grassroots collaboration. We had support from progressive champions John Avalos, Eric Mar, David Campos, and five additional co-sponsors on the board.

This movement builds on the fights in the 1980s to make San Francisco a Sanctuary City, welcoming survivors of the wars in Central America. We build on the fights in the ’90s to re-commit to those values in the face of a new wave of migration, when economic refugees arrived, fleeing the hunger caused by US-imposed Free Trade Agreements. We build on the very personal fights of everyday people, like a woman we’ll call Silvia, a domestic violence survivor who met with the District Attorney repeatedly, demanded that he lead those meetings in Spanish so she could participate fully, advocated for herself and her community, and ultimately won his commitment of support for this ordinance. This victory belongs to the hundreds of community leaders who, like Silvia, overcame intimidation, organized their families and neighbors, and showed our elected officials the way forward.

In a national context, where states like Georgia, Alabama and Arizona hunt down immigrants, we in California, a majority immigrant, majority people of color state, have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to follow Silvia’s leadership. It’s time to reject criminalization, and build community.

Every time there’s a new way to label someone a “criminal,” more families and communities are torn apart. Millions of black and Latino people are behind bars already, thanks to criminalization policies like the war on drugs, structural unemployment, decades of divestment from working class communities, and racial discrimination. Creating new immigration violations only makes that problem worse, trapping whole new sectors of our society in the prison dragnet. This advance in San Francisco should inspire our state as a whole not only to reject S-Comm, but also to take bold action to address the profoundly problematic prison system, and challenge the racism and poverty it depends on.

But, for our state to stand up like that is going to take a serious transformation. Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced plans to expand the prison system with revenues from Prop. 30 — the grassroots progressive tax passed last year to support public schools and social services. Causa Justa::Just Cause, as part of California Calls, through SF Rising and Oakland Rising, was one of hundreds of community groups that helped pass this progressive tax. We are outraged to see the governor literally betting on the criminalization of the next generation, with money that was supposed to support their success.

Policies like S-Comm manufacture the need for more detention facilities, ultimately benefitting corporate interests like the GEO private prison group. Its lucrative business depends on criminalization, and a culture of fear. If politicians aren’t brave enough to survive the accusation that they are “soft on crime” in order to champion real change, then we the people will have to take it into our own hands. Immigrant communities, black communities, communities of color, and poor communities need to keep building the solidarity and the movement that will allow us to win, from San Francisco to Sacramento to DC. There is much more to be done, and we can only do it together.  

María Poblet is executive director of Causa Justa::Just Cause.

Endorsements 2013


We’re heading into a lackluster election on Nov. 5. The four incumbents on the ballot have no serious challengers and voter turnout could hit an all-time low. That’s all the more reason to read up on the issues, show up at the polls, and exert an outsized influence on important questions concerning development standards and the fate of the city’s waterfront, the cost of prescription drugs, and the long-term fiscal health of the city.




Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated that Prop A increases employee contributions to health benefits.

Throughout the United States, the long-term employee pension and health care obligations of government agencies have been used as wedge issues for anti-government activists to attack public employee unions, even in San Francisco. The fiscal concerns are real, but they’re often exaggerated or manipulated for political reasons.

That’s one reason why the consensus-based approach to the issue that San Francisco has undertaken in recent years has been so important, and why we endorse Prop. A, which safeguards the city’s Retiree Health Care Trust Fund and helps solve this vexing problem.

Following up on the consensus pension reform measure Prop. B, which increased how much new city employees paid for lifetime health benefits, this year’s Prop. A puts the fund into a lock-box to ensure it is there to fund the city’s long-term retiree health care obligations, which are projected at $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

“The core of it says you can’t touch the assets until it’s fully funded,” Sup. Mark Farrell, who has taken a lead role on addressing the issue, told us. “The notion of playing political football with employee health care will be gone.”

The measure has the support of the entire Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Labor Council. Progressive Sup. David Campos strongly supports the measure and he told us, “I think it makes sense and is something that goes beyond political divides.”

There are provisions that would allow the city to tap the fund in emergencies, but only after it is fully funded or if the mayor, controller, the Trust Board, and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors signs off, a very high bar. So vote yes and let’s put this distracting issue behind us.




Well-meaning people can arrive at different conclusions on the 8 Washington project, the waterfront luxury condo development that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year and challenged with a referendum that became Prop. C. But Prop. B is simply the developer writing his own rules and exempting them from normal city review.

We oppose the 8 Washington project, as we explain in our next endorsement, but we can understand how even some progressive-minded people might think the developers’ $11 million affordable housing and $4.8 million transit impact payments to the city are worth letting this project slide through.

But Prop. B is a different story, and it’s something that those who believe in honesty, accountability, and good planning should oppose on principle, even if they support the underlying project. Contrary to the well-funded deceptions its backers are circulating, claiming this measure is about parks, Prop. B is nothing more than a developer and his attorneys preventing meaningful review and enforcement by the city of their vague and deceptive promises.

It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the wall of mendacity its backers have erected to fool voters into supporting this measure, but we can start with their claim that it will “open the way for new public parks, increased access to the Embarcadero Waterfront, hundreds of construction jobs, new sustainable residential housing and funding for new affordable housing.”

There’s nothing the public will get from Prop. B that it won’t get from Prop. C or the already approved 8 Washington project. Nothing. Same parks, same jobs, same housing, same funding formulas. But the developer would get an unprecedented free pass, with the measure barring discretionary review by the Planning Department — which involves planners using their professional judgment to decide if the developer is really delivering what he’s promising — forcing them to rubber-stamp the myriad details still being developed rather than acting as advocates for the general public.

“This measure would also create a new ‘administrative clearance’ process that would limit the Planning Director’s time and discretion to review a proposed plan for the Site,” is how the official ballot summary describes that provision to voters.

Proponents of the measure also claim “it empowers voters with the decision on how to best utilize our waterfront,” which is another deception. Will you be able to tweak details of the project to make it better, as the Board of Supervisors was able to do, making a long list of changes to the deal’s terms? No. You’re simply being given the opportunity to approve a 34-page initiative, written by crafty attorneys for a developer who stands to make millions of dollars in profits, the fine details of which most people will never read nor fully understand.

Ballot box budgeting is bad, but ballot box regulation of complex development deals is even worse. And if it works here, we can all expect to see more ballot measures by developers who want to write their own “special use district” rules to tie the hands of planning professionals.

When we ask proponents of this measure why they needed Prop. B, they claimed that Prop. C limited them to just talking about the project’s building height increases, a ridiculous claim for a well-funded campaign now filling mailers and broadcast ads with all kinds of misleading propaganda.

With more than $1 million and counting being funneled into this measure by the developer and his allies, this measure amounts to an outrageous, shameless lie being told to voters, which Mayors Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom have shamefully chosen to align themselves with over the city they were elected to serve.

As we said, people can differ on how they see certain development deals. But we should all agree that it’s recipe for disaster when developers can write every last detail of their own deals and limit the ability of professional planners to act in the public interest. Don’t just vote no, vote hell no, or NO, No, no!




San Francisco’s northeastern waterfront is a special place, particularly since the old Embarcadero Freeway was removed, opening up views and public access to the Ferry Building and other recently renovated buildings, piers, and walkways along the Embarcadero.

The postcard-perfect stretch is a major draw for visiting tourists, and the waterfront is protected by state law as a public trust and overseen by multiple government agencies, all of whom have prevented development of residential or hotel high-rises along the Embarcadero.

Then along came developer Simon Snellgrove, who took advantage of the Port of San Francisco’s desperate financial situation, offered to buy its Seawall Lot 351 and adjacent property from the Bay Club at 8 Washington St., and won approval to build 134 luxury condos up to 12 stories high, exceeding the city’s height limit at the site by 62 percent.

So opponents challenged the project with a referendum, a rarely used but important tool for standing up to deep-pocketed developers who can exert an outsized influence on politicians. San Franciscans now have the chance to demand a project more in scale with its surroundings.

The waterfront is supposed to be for everyone, not just those who can afford the most expensive condominiums in the city, costing an average of $5 million each. The high-end project also violates city standards by creating a parking space for every unit and an additional 200 spots for the Port, on a property with the best public transit access and options in the city.

This would set a terrible precedent, encouraging other developers of properties on or near the waterfront to also seek taller high-rises and parking for more cars, changes that defy decades of good planning work done for the sensitive, high-stakes waterfront.

The developers would have you believe this is a battle between rival groups of rich people (noting that many opponents come from the million-dollar condos adjacent to the site), or that it’s a choice between parks and the surface parking lot and ugly green fence that now surrounds the Bay Club (the owner of which, who will profit from this project, has resisted petitions to open up the site).

But there’s a reason why the 8 Washington project has stirred more emotion and widespread opposition that any development project in recent years, which former City Attorney Louise Renne summed up when she told us, “I personally feel rich people shouldn’t monopolize the waterfront.”

A poll commissioned by project opponents recently found that 63 percent of respondents think the city is building too much luxury housing, which it certainly is. But it’s even more outrageous when that luxury housing uses valuable public land along our precious waterfront, and it can’t even play by the rules in doing so.

Vote no and send the 8 Washington project back to the drawing board.




San Francisco is looking to rectify a problem consumers face every day in their local pharmacy: How can we save money on our prescription drugs?

Prop. D doesn’t solve that problem outright, but it mandates our politicians start the conversation on reducing the $23 million a year the city spends on pharmaceuticals, and to urge state and federal governments to negotiate for better drug prices as well.

San Francisco spends $3.5 million annually on HIV treatment alone, so it makes sense that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the main proponent of Prop. D, and funder of the Committee on Fair Drug Pricing. Being diagnosed as HIV positive can be life changing, not only for the health effects, but for the $2,000-5,000 monthly drug cost.

Drug prices have gotten so out-of-control that many consumers take the less than legal route of buying their drugs from Canada, because our neighbors up north put limits on what pharmaceutical companies can charge, resulting in prices at least half those of the United States.

The high price of pharmaceuticals affects our most vulnerable, the elderly and the infirm. Proponents of Prop. D are hopeful that a push from San Francisco could be the beginning of a social justice movement in cities to hold pharmaceutical companies to task, a place where the federal government has abundantly failed.

Even though Obamacare would aid some consumers, notably paying 100 percent of prescription drug purchases for some Medicare patients, the cost to government is still astronomically high. Turning that around could start here in San Francisco. Vote yes on D.




With residential and commercial property in San Francisco assessed at around $177 billion, property taxes bring in enough revenue to make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s General Fund. That money can be allocated for anything from after-school programs and homeless services to maintaining vital civic infrastructure.

Former District 4 Sup. Carmen Chu was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to serve as Assessor-Recorder when her predecessor, Phil Ting, was elected to the California Assembly. Six months later, she’s running an office responsible for property valuation and the recording of official documents like property deeds and marriage licenses (about 55 percent of marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decision on Prop. 8 have been issued to same-sex couples).

San Francisco property values rose nearly 5 percent in the past year, reflecting a $7.8 billion increase. Meanwhile, appeals have tripled from taxpayers disputing their assessments, challenging Chu’s staff and her resolve. As a district supervisor, Chu was a staunch fiscal conservative whose votes aligned with downtown and the mayor, so our endorsement isn’t without some serious reservations.

That said, she struck a few notes that resonated with the Guardian during our endorsement interview. She wants to create a system to automatically notify homeowners when banks begin the foreclosure process, to warn them and connect them with helpful resources before it’s too late. Why hasn’t this happened before?

She’s also interested in improving system to capture lost revenue in cases where property transfers are never officially recorded, continuing work that Ting began. We support the idea of giving this office the tools it needs to go out there and haul in the millions of potentially lost revenue that property owners may owe the city, and Chu has our support for that effort.




Dennis Herrera doesn’t claim to be a progressive, describing himself as a good liberal Democrat, but he’s been doing some of the most progressive deeds in City Hall these days: Challenging landlords, bad employers, rogue restaurants, PG&E, the healthcare industry, opponents of City College of San Francisco, and those who fought to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

The legal realm can be more decisive than the political, and it’s especially effective when they work together. Herrera has recently used his office to compel restaurants to meet their health care obligations to employees, enforcing an earlier legislative gain. And his long court battle to defend marriage equality in California validated an act by the executive branch.

But Herrera has also shown a willingness and skill to blaze new ground and carry on important regulation of corporate players that the political world seemed powerless to touch, from his near-constant legal battles with PG&E over various issues to defending tenants from illegal harassment and evictions to his recent lawsuit challenging the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges over its threats to CCSF.

We have issues with some of the tactics his office used in its aggressive and unsuccessful effort to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office. But we understand that is was his obligation to act on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee, and we admire Herrera’s professionalism, which he also exhibited by opposing the Central Subway as a mayoral candidate yet defending it as city attorney.

“How do you use the power of the law to make a difference in people’s lives every single day?” was the question that Herrera posed to us during his endorsement interview, one that he says is always on his mind.

We at the Guardian have been happy to watch how he’s answered that question for nearly 11 years, and we offer him our strong endorsement.




It’s hard not to like Treasurer/Tax Collector Jose Cisneros. He’s charming, smart, compassionate, and has run this important office well for nine years, just the person that we need there to implement the complicated, voter-approved transition to a new form of business tax, a truly gargantuan undertaking.

Even our recent conflicts with Cisneros — stemming from frustrations that he won’t assure the public that he’s doing something about hotel tax scofflaw Airbnb (see “Into thin air,” Aug. 6) — are dwarfed by our understanding of taxpayer privacy laws and admiration that Cisneros ruled against Airbnb and its ilk in the first place, defying political pressure to drop the rare tax interpretation.

So Cisneros has the Guardian’s enthusiastic endorsement. He also has our sympathies for having to create a new system for taxing local businesses based on their gross receipts rather than their payroll costs, more than doubling the number of affected businesses, placing them into one of eight different categories, and applying complex formulas assessing how much of their revenues comes from in the city.

“This is going to be the biggest change to taxes in a generation,” Cisneros told us of the system that he will start to implement next year, calling the new regime “a million times more complicated than the payroll tax.”

Yet Cisneros has still found time to delve into the controversial realm of short-term apartment sublets. Although he’s barred from saying precisely what he’s doing to make Airbnb pay the $1.8 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes that we have shown the company is dodging, he told us, “We are here to enforce the law and collect the taxes.”

And Cisneros has continued to expand his department’s financial empowerment programs such as Bank on San Francisco, which help low-income city residents establish bank accounts and avoid being gouged by the high interest rates of check cashing outlets. That and similar programs are now spreading to other cities, and we’re encouraged to see Cisneros enthusiastically exporting San Francisco values, which will be helped by his recent election as president of the League of California Cities.




With just six months on the job after being appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Katy Tang faces only token opposition in this race. She’s got a single opponent, accountant Ivan Seredni, who’s lived in San Francisco for three years and decided to run for office because his wife told him to “stop complaining and do something,” according to his ballot statement.

Tang worked in City Hall as a legislative aide to her predecessor, Carmen Chu, for six years. She told us she works well with Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, who help make up the board’s conservative flank. In a predominantly Chinese district, where voters tend to be more conservative, Tang is a consistently moderate vote who grew up in the district and speaks Mandarin.

Representing the Sunset District, Tang, who is not yet 30 years old, faces some new challenges. Illegal “in-law” units are sprouting up in basements and backyards throughout the area. This presents the thorny dilemma of whether to crack down on unpermitted construction — thus hindering a source of housing stock that is at least within reach for lower-income residents — look the other way, or “legalize” the units in an effort to mitigate potential fire hazards or health risks. Tang told us one of the greatest concerns named by Sunset residents is the increasing cost of living in San Francisco; she’s even open to accepting a little more housing density in her district to deal with the issue.

Needless to say, the Guardian hasn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye with the board’s fiscally conservative supervisors, including Tang and her predecessor, Chu. We’re granting Tang an endorsement nevertheless, because she strikes us as dedicated to serving the Sunset over the long haul, and in touch with the concerns of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to gain a foothold in San Francisco.

LAFCo should launch CleanPowerSF


OPINION Last month, the Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) — largely at the mayor’s behest — refused to launch CleanPowerSF, a program which is absolutely crucial to leading the country and the world to reverse the climate crisis (see “Power struggle,” Sept. 18).

The Board of Supervisors must now use its state-granted authority to activate San Francisco’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to launch CleanPowerSF, regardless of SFPUC.

CleanPowerSF plans currently waiting to be implemented would create 1,500 jobs a year for the next 10 years, and install over 400 megawatts of local clean electricity projects. By 2024, 50 percent of our electricity would be generated by such local clean installations.

The newest proposed rates for CleanPowerSF are now fully competitive with PG&E, and the SFPUC’s staff (before the mayor intervened) was making unprecedented progress on the local clean energy installation plans. So at the SFPUC’s Aug. 13 hearing on CleanPowerSF rate-setting, community and environmental advocates stood unanimously to urge that the program be launched.

For the mayor and SFPUC of what is supposed to be one of the most environmental cities on Earth to completely ignore those community advocates, and throw a monkey wrench into the launching of CleanPowerSF, is simply beyond the pale.

Thankfully, in its wisdom, when the 2002 California Legislature passed the Community Choice law that made CleanPowerSF possible, it put city councils and county boards legally in charge of such programs (not mayors).

So is not up to the Mayor’s Office whether or not CleanPowerSF is launched. It is instead the job of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And in a resounding 9-2 vote on Sept. 17, the Board of Supervisors raked the SFPUC (and by extension, the mayor) over the coals for not initiating CleanPowerSF. The vote was in favor of Sup. London Breed’s resolution demanding that the SFPUC obey the will of the board and launch CleanPowerSF immediately.

That’s a great first step, but the board now needs to go beyond resolutions and take decisive action through LAFCo, its most powerful tool for moving CleanPowerSF. LAFCo is independent of city government, is funded and tasked to oversee new enterprise programs like CleanPowerSF, and four of its five members are elected supervisors.


This independent supermajority can check mayoral overreach, and the LAFCo’s current board commissioners are John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, and London Breed, all advocates of CleanPowerSF.

LAFCo was specifically given the budget and authority to act on CleanPowerSF when SFPUC fails to do so, and has already done this successfully in the past. When CleanPowerSF was first created in 2004, SFPUC refused to draft an implementation plan. In response, LAFCo stepped in with its own implementation plan and SFPUC, not wanting to lose influence, got back to work.

In 2011, SFPUC tried to sidetrack CleanPowerSF into only purchasing (but not building) clean power, refusing to fund planning work to establish a local installation and green jobs program. LAFCO stepped in to fund that work itself, and again SFPUC came back to the fold and hired Community Choice experts Local Power to do the work.

Now, yet again, SFPUC is refusing to do its job. Six months ago, it abruptly halted work on the local buildout and green jobs plan, and last month SFPUC put the whole program on hold by not setting rates.

LAFCo must now use its authority and leverage to both remove the rate-setting road block, and get the CleanPowerSF local buildout planning back on track. Eric Brooks is the sustainability chair of the San Francisco Green Party.

Pelosi defies history and her district


OPINION How is it that, despite deep congressional opposition to an American-led war on Syria, the representative for one of the nation’s most progressive districts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has been among President Obama’s most ardent backers of war?

While Russia’s deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons offers a temporary pause in the march to war, the arrangement is fragile and Obama — with support from Pelosi — continues to threaten military action that could lead to a disastrous widening of bloodshed and chaos in Syria and beyond.

What’s particularly outrageous about the pro-war push from Pelosi and US Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also from the Bay Area, is their willful dismissal of history. Did they somehow miss the well-documented memos on US wars and interventions? You know, the ones that list American lies on Iraq’s WMDs, provocations in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, and the long, long list of CIA-backed coups of democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and beyond?

The nightmare in Syria needs an international solution—but given our ugly track record, how can anyone place faith in American-led military intervention?

This history offers a distressingly reliable prologue to the present. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US expended vast amounts of blood and treasure attacking brutal thugs it supported for years. How can we expect different results from the same military-security state apparatus that has, for decades, undermined democracies, aided thugs and dictators, and trumped up wars based on lies? How can anyone believe that the US military and security state complex has suddenly found a veracity and moral center it has always profoundly lacked?

There is no question that international pressure and diplomacy must be brought to bear on Bassar al-Assad’s sickening Syrian regime, and that chemical weapons, and nukes for that matter, must be wiped off the planet. But the US has an unrivaled record of using these tools of mass killing, and has zero credibility as a force for peacemaking.

The hypocrisies Pelosi chooses to ignore run deeper. The US refuses to enforce the chemical weapons ban on Israel, for instance. And remember the saber-rattling last year over Iran’s nuclear program? Not a word about Israel’s nukes, not to mention America’s. Yet both Israel and the US have a well-documented history of outright aggression, where Iran has none.

The San Francisco Chronicle explained Pelosi’s war support as part of her Democratic Party leadership duties, quoting UC Berkeley professor Eric Schickler: “One of the jobs of the party’s leader is to support the president of your party, except under the most extenuating circumstances. If she didn’t have such liberal credentials already, she would be in much more vulnerable position.”

While party leadership and allegiance may be a factor, consider also that Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein take in far more dollars from pro-Israel lobbies than do their counterparts (Boxer got more than twice the Senate average, and Pelosi roughly six times the congressional average, according to research by MapLight and Open Secrets).

Despite some loud and colorful protests by Code Pink and other groups, it’s sadly true that Pelosi hasn’t been very vulnerable: San Francisco’s political leadership has done little to let her know how deeply out of step she is with her district.

In years past, the Board of Supervisors has passed resolutions opposing US military interventions; now, they and the Democratic County Central Committee are silent. Where is the outrage and pushback within Pelosi’s district? Pelosi’s hawkish stance on Syria follows her lamentable defense in July of the NSA spying program. In both cases, these are policies that Pelosi opposed and so many progressives protested vigorously when they were enacted by President George W. Bush. Where is the mass outrage now?

Put the Warriors Arena atop CalTrain


OPINION Numerous problems with the proposed location of a new Warriors stadium and surrounding complex are obvious. What we need is a better solution, not just laments about the folly of it all. Is there a better solution for everyone?

We can take a page from Warriors co-owner Peter Guber’s book, “Tell To Win.” He explains how a business proposal lives or dies in terms of the story it embodies. The story trumps piles of statistics or litanies of problems. This is what tries men’s souls and glazes eyes. But there is an alternative story to tell in this case, one that is win-win for everyone.

Let’s create a great sports complex at the heart of our public transportation system. We don’t need to clog the waterfront when we can build a great sports mecca elsewhere. Let’s take a cue from New York City and how Madison Square Garden perches directly above Penn Station.

Right now CalTrain has an ideally located terminus in the core of the city, but it’s unsightly. Why not put the new stadium directly above the CalTrain station? The same solution is being applied right now to the new Time Warner headquarters at Hudson Yards on the west side in New York: several skyscrapers will rise on platforms above an existing rail yard.

Consider the advantages: CalTrain passengers can walk upstairs to see a game! Muni and BART riders can take a short walk to the stadium. Soon they’ll be able to ride the Central Subway to it as well. It’s the perfect place for a major indoor arena that could host diverse events.

AT&T Park is just a block away and already lends enormous appeal to this entire area. The train yard extends from 4th to 7th St and the space above this great expanse could house a sizeable parking garage, less than a block from the 280 access ramp, as well as a hotel, restaurants, condos, offices and perhaps a shopping complex.

It’s everything Peter Guber and his partners dream of, that the city needs, and that we can embrace, now that it’s in the right place.

Let’s welcome the Warriors by all means. But do we want a Titanic on the waterfront when we can have a jewel above the CalTrain station that will simultaneously overcome the gulf that now exists between the western part of SOMA and Mission Bay?

This location could establish a sports complex the rival of any in the country. An essential, but dreary space turns into a great sports oasis, like Cinderella at midnight but in reverse. Perhaps the city will even want to include a large, well-equipped community recreation center for all of us who like to play as well as watch.

Bill Nichols is a consultant for documentary filmmakers and has published a dozen books related to the cinema. He lives in San Francisco.

Fulfill MLK’s dream of a guaranteed income


OPINION Today, Aug. 28, we mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington. But we are sobered by the fact that 46 million citizens are living in poverty and that we have become two Americas — one for the rich and one for the rest of us.  

Dr. King had a solution to poverty and to the bleak economic conditions faced by many Americans today. “I am now convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a new widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income,” he wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? “A host of psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security.”  

In 1969, a presidential commission recommended, 22-0, that the United States adopt a guaranteed annual income, with no mandatory work requirements, for all citizens in need. The report was buried and forgotten, even though the National Council of Churches, by a vote of 107-1, agreed. So did the Kerner Commission, the California Democratic Council, the Republican Ripon Society, and the 1972 Democratic Party platform.  

Fast forward 50 years and the concept of a guaranteed income — or Basic Income Guarantee — is not discussed much anymore. But it remains, as even the late economist Milton Friedman always maintained, the most practical and sensible way to end poverty in America and provide economic security to all Americans.  

Today we have more than 14 million Americans unemployed with no evidence to back up the claim that we can create jobs for everyone who wants one. Machines are doing work people used to do. Jobs are not coming back and many families teeter on the brink of poverty.  

Relying on jobs and economic growth does not work. Job creation is a completely wrong approach because the world doesn’t need everyone to have a job in order to produce what is needed. We need to rethink the concept of having a job. When we say we need more jobs, what we really mean is we need more money to live on.  

Today there are more than 300 income-tested federal social programs costing more than $400 billion a year. Much of that money goes for administrative expenses, not to the needy.  

Charles Murray, a conservative author whose 1984 book Losing Ground claimed that welfare was doing more harm than good, now agrees with the Rev. King’s approach. Murray calls for giving an annual cash grant of $10,000 — with no work requirement — to every adult over age 21.  

“We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectively. The solution is to give the money to the people,” Murray writes in his book: In Our Hands.  

Indeed, the state of Alaska has given an annual cash grant to its people for the past 30 years of between $800 and $2,000, with no work requirements, reducing poverty and the inequality of income in Alaska.  

The U.S. is a wealthy nation. Our net worth is $58 trillion. That’s an average of $185,000 for each man, woman, and child in the country. A basic income guarantee would establish economic security as a universal right. It will give all of us the assurance that, no matter what happens, we won’t go hungry.  

This year, as we celebrate the March on Washington, the adoption of a basic income guarantee would help to fulfill the Rev. King’s dream of economic security as a universal right of all Americans.  

Allan Sheahen is the author the new book: Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. He is a board member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Networks (www.basicincomneguarantee.com).

Can we get an amen?


OPINION Senior and Disability Action recently learned of the outcome of the case of the elder who was killed in a collision with a bicyclist in the city’s Castro District. The victim, 71 year old Sutchi Hui, was walking across the intersection of Castro and Market Streets with his wife when he was struck by 34 year old Chris Bucchere, a self-described “entrepreneur, software developer, founder and CEO of Social Collective Inc.”

Our organization has been involved in the issue of pedestrian safety, advocating for improvements on the city streets, corridors and areas that pose safety risks for seniors, people with disabilities and the public in general. The tragic incident that took Mr. Hui’s life emphasizes the need for better pedestrian safety and the need to hold bicyclists accountable for their actions.

Seniors have related stories of being run over or in near misses with bicycles speeding through crosswalks or sidewalks. One member of SDA recalls an incident at Critical Mass where a senior was driving a car with 2 kids in the backseat. The biker repeatedly kicked the elder’s car, verbally berating him and frightening the children.

Senior and Disability Action was dismayed by the breezy attitude of the cyclist, who, after the collision that claimed Mr. Hui’s life, lamented the loss of his bike helmet in a blog:

“In closing, I want to dedicate this story to my late helmet. She died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac…may she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live and ride one. Can I get an amen? Amen”

Really? The cyclist was travelling in excess of 35 miles an hour. Witnesses saw him go through three red lights. It was announced that Mr. Bucchere’s punishment will be 3 years probation and 1000 hours of community service. This was the second fatality involving a cyclist in a year. The cyclist in the other fatality was sentenced to 500 hours of community service—at the Bike Coalition. Where will Mr. Bucchere do his community service? Will he have to look an elder in the face, or come into contact with a community of color, or a community of elders? Or will he use his race and class privilege to sacrifice somehow to a community that has lost much in the way of housing and services—from communities that have subsidized the lives of folks such as himself?

We all must adhere to the rules of the road; the rules apply to both motorists as well as cyclists. We recognize that there are cyclists that follow the rules of the road. But this case was egregious, not only in the loss of life, but in the arrogance of the cyclist, who was using an app that gauged his speed and overall performance on the road, offering a prize as an incentive. The metaphors are striking—plowing through an area as if one has the God-given right and too bad if you happen to be in my way. Mr. Bucchere’s actions in the aftermath is evincive of the race and class privilege that has permeated the city, where some lives are evidently worth more than others.

Can we get an amen?


Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, Bucchere was formally sentenced to 1000 hours of community service and three years probation.

Compromises deliver results


OPINION When Guardian Editor Steven T. Jones asked me to respond to his recent columns (“Chiu becomes City Hall’s go-to guy for solving tough problems“, 7/23/13; “Chiu: Centrist Compromiser, Effective Legislator, or Both,” 7/30/13), I reflected on how our Board of Supervisors’ 2013 accomplishments exemplifies the lessons and rewards of working together.

After several decades of intense fights between TIC owners and tenants, I asked both sides to sit down, share perspectives, and brainstorm beyond the impasse. To our surprise, when TIC owners shared their struggles and offered to pay a fee to condo convert, tenant advocates agreed to finally support conversions as long as their core principle of preventing evictions — which I strongly shared — was addressed.

After a decade of failed CEQA reform attempts, the pundits predicted an epic battle between developers and neighbors this year. The breakthrough for unanimous support occurred when both sides acknowledged to me that real neighborhood input and predictability in the planning process are not mutually exclusive, and progressive leaders wanted to ensure that pedestrian, bike, affordable housing, and public projects are not delayed.

After years of controversy, CPMC/Sutter and the coalition of dozens of community-based organizations deadlocked over how to rebuild the Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s hospital campuses. After exposing financial documents challenging the original proposal, I worked with colleagues for six months at a mediation table that refashioned a CPMC plan to rebuild those 21st century hospitals the right way.

While each story is unique, what all of these accomplishments — along with recently balanced budgets, business tax reform, and pension reform — have in common is hard work and extreme patience by dedicated San Franciscans seeking creative solutions.

As Board President, my job is to build consensus among our diverse supervisors and deliver results. When I first came to City Hall, I asked my colleagues to move beyond past politics that had magnified differences. I am proud that today’s Board has the highest approval ratings in a decade, as we do more together working through our differences.

At the negotiation table, it’s essential to stand firm on core values. My vision for San Francisco has been of a city that protects tenants and families; creates good jobs across the economic spectrum; offers high quality public services with Muni, our schools, and our parks; and embraces our diversity, our immigrants, our seniors, and those who have been historically disenfranchised.

When we can’t always find creative win-wins, it’s still important to fight for what’s right. I’ve taken my political lumps championing the right of noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections, standing up for workers requesting family-friendly workplaces, and taking on a Yellow Pages industry dumping millions of phone books on our streets.

When I hear criticisms of “compromise,” I reflect that the most important federal legislation in recent years — from the Civil Rights Act to the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform to comprehensive immigration reform — were also criticized as “compromises.” Critics often forget the big picture: by incorporating different views, reforms actually get done, and if we wait forever for the perfect policy, people will suffer.

San Franciscans are at our best when we unite around shared values — from marriage equality to universal health care to environmental protections. We still have plenty of challenges: housing affordability, struggling workforces, family flight, public transit.

Let’s continue to work together to show the rest of the country how our city can govern.

David Chiu, who represents District 3 (North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill), is serving his second term as president of the Board of Supervisors.

Plan Bay Area: better, but it still gentrifies


By Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí

Council of Community Housing Organizations

OPINION On July 18, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) adopted the region’s first so-called “sustainable communities strategy,” as required under new state environmental laws. Plan Bay Area will direct the largest share of the region’s growth to the region’s urban cores — two-thirds of the region’s overall housing production is directed to 15 specific cities.

The vision is what environmentalists refer to as “smart growth” — shrinking the footprint of the region’s future development as a more environmentally friendly and geographically efficient pattern to absorb ever-increasing population. San Francisco alone has a very tall order: Our city will absorb 25 percent of new urban development, which equates to 92,000 new housing units and a pace of housing construction averaging around 3,100 units annually (a rate that has been reached only twice over the last 50 years since the era of 1960s urban renewal development).

The question that framed debates through the three-year process in drafting and finally adopting the plan is how that amount of new growth can be “done right;” that is, without gentrifying working class and poor communities and ensuring that infrastructure, including affordable housing and transit service, will keep up with that pace of growth. Tim Redmond’s feature article in the June 4 issue of the Guardian (“Planning for displacement”) and a June 12 forum sponsored by the Guardian, CCHO, and UrbanIDEA very thoroughly laid out the issues and critiques of the Plan Bay Area draft that was released by MTC/ABAG earlier this spring.

With such fundamental flaws when the draft plan was released in April, how did the July 18 adopted final Plan Bay Area fare? First, there is no question this regional “smart growth” plan will make combating gentrification at ground-level harder. But second, the plan could have been worse if not for a tremendous final pushback by progressive advocates from San Francisco and throughout the region loosely united in a “Six Wins for Social Equity” coalition and the committed leadership of a small core of progressive regional leaders — including two of San Francisco’s representatives, David Campos (MTC) and Eric Mar (ABAG) — who championed some final amendments.

Those “wins” (in reality, concessions by MTC/ABAG) achieved in this final push include: adding a public process to develop priorities for the Bay Area’s $3.1 billion share of state cap and trade funding, such as to affordable housing and local transit operations; strengthening the $14 billion transportation block-grant funds program (“OBAG”) to link it directly to local cities’ affordable housing production and displacement-prevention policies; and adding a requirement for MTC to develop a comprehensive strategy to prioritize funding of local transit service and transit maintenance.

Though the details of those amendments are fairly squishy and do not alter the development trajectory of the plan, they are potentially valuable handholds to work with going forward as Plan Bay Area gets implemented (and updated in four years).

That said, San Francisco’s front line working class neighborhoods and communities of color still stand to take the brunt of potential negative impacts from this regional “smart growth” plan. Theoretically they could receive the potential benefits of public infrastructure investments and stimulated economic activity. But while the risks are real, the potential benefits are still illusory.

We must become more engaged if we are to move Plan Bay Area beyond policy statements and promises of future “best-practices” to make sure vulnerable people are not displaced from their neighborhoods in the tide of infill real estate development and are guaranteed a real share of the fruits from “equitable” smart growth.

City College will appeal


OPINION City College will appeal last week’s decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to revoke City College’s accreditation.

The reason for the appeal is simple: Most of what ACCJC asked for has been accomplished, and the rest is well on its way towards completion within a year.

First, the San Francisco City College district is financially secure. This is not a district that is close to fiscal collapse. This year’s audit was “clean,” and the budget is balanced, thanks to multiple cost-saving reorganizations, large spending cuts, reforms in practices, and the passage of Propositions A and 30. City College also has a healthy reserve fund well above that of state requirements. City College is even squirreling away money for a special “Ninth year” fund in the event that voters don’t reapprove Prop A when it expires 8 years from now.

The City College budget also increases spending in areas that ACCJC wanted: there is nearly $3 million per year for new technology and building maintenance, both long deferred through the years of radical state funding cuts. City College is also paying money towards the unpaid liability in retiree health benefits. The City of San Francisco also has this kind of liability — to the tune of $4.4 billion — but has so far not come up with a plan to deal with it. City College, on the other hand, has a plan and the funds to enact it.

City College has also cut costs by millions of dollars. There have been layoffs and furloughs, and salary cuts. For instance, faculty members are earning 5 percent less than they did in 2007. Department chairs are earning less, and the Board of Trustees just cut administrators salaries. Streamlined operations have resulted in other savings.

Governance is another area where City College has made major changes. There have been five major management overhauls to streamline bureaucracy, increase efficiency and speed the carrying out of decisions. And many administrators have been replaced. Any one of these overhauls could ordinarily have taken a year each to implement. There were all done in a matter of months.

For instance, the job description of every dean’s position was completely rewritten; some posts disappeared, and new ones were created. Every dean had to reapply for a job, and many did not return. The same is true for other management positions.

City College also replaced a decades-old department chair structure with a system that costs less and has simpler lines of authority. And last fall, the Board of Trustees acted to completely restructure the Participatory Governance system. This is a state-mandated system of getting input from faculty and staff into management decisions. Over 40 committees were dissolved and replaced with a more streamlined system.

The faculty and staff also worked hard in fixing problems identified by ACCJC, particularly in the areas of planning. One of the most important of these is in the collection of Student Learning Outcome data -– a measure of how well students do. Faculty filed thousands of reports in order to fulfill this requirement, a truly enormous amount of work. The collected data will then be used to improve courses next year. This cycle of planning, data collection, and improvement are the basis of ongoing reform effort that takes a year at minimum to prove that it’s working. There is a lot more work to be done in this area. It will take another year to complete — if City College is given the time.

Not everyone at the college agrees with all of the changes that were made. People have the right to express their views, and indeed, we want the internal experts to speak up and give their best advice. And given the speed and monumental scope of the changes, it is very likely that these changes have flaws and that improvements can be made.

But regardless of what people think of the changes that have occurred, these are changes that ACCJC asked for. City College neither ignored nor fought ACCJC’s recommendations, as many people wish we had. City College’s response was to work to enact ACCJC’s will as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the decision to revoke accreditation will harm City College’s otherwise good financial position by causing a large drop in student enrollment for fall — and the loss of millions of dollars in state funding. Ironically, this will make it more difficult to finish what ACCJC wants done.

The best course for students is to let City College retain accreditation while it finishes the job that ACCJC wants done.

John Rizzo is President of the City College Board of Trustees


Parents, behind bars


By Ross Mirkarimi

OPINION Nearly 50 percent of the 2.7 million people incarcerated in US prisons and jails are mothers and fathers. In San Francisco, about 40 percent of the prisoners are parents. For their children, the punishment does not fit the crime.

Federal and state recidivism registers at 78 percent; locally the rate is 65 percent and dropping. If we’re serious about breaking the cycle of incarceration, we must get serious about restoring the family ties of the incarcerated.

Studies support what common sense suggests — strengthening the parent-child bond reduces recidivism. It also reduces the prospect that children of the incarcerated are more likely to violate the law. While maintaining appropriate safety and legal protocols, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is reexamining policies that invariably damage or strain relationships between an inmate parent and child, starting with birth. In honor of Mother’s Day, on May 9, the Community Works Jail Arts Program, with our department, converted the lobby of the SF women’s jail into a temporary gallery of art created by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers.

That provided a warm environment to announce a policy first in California: The Birth Justice Project, designed to affirm the reproductive rights of all incarcerated women and provide prenatal and postpartum care during the transformative experience of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. With the stewardship of Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, an OB/GYN from UCSF, along with the Department of Public Health, Zellerbach Foundation, and our volunteer doulas (professional birth assistants), we’re radically distancing ourselves from the barbaric attitude of 33 states that still shackle women during labor. Rather, we seek to nurture the inimitable bond between mother and child.

While most jails and prisons shun a lactation policy, we’ve unveiled our pro-lactation program. Breast pumps, refrigeration, and delivery are provided around the clock, facilitated by our jail health professionals. While the arcane national practice is to separate baby and mother after the third day of birth, we’re working to maintain the connection. If we can’t do it through diversion (alternatives to incarceration), then we’ll continue to assess our facility in allowing mother and baby to stay together. I look forward to promoting breast feeding in San Francisco’s jails.

For children of incarcerated parents, the absence of a mother is the loss of a primary caregiver. Ninety percent of incarcerated fathers in the US report that while away, their children live with the child’s mother. In contrast, only 28 percent of incarcerated mothers report that their children live with their father. Routinely, her children are cared for by a grandparent or relative — and about 11 percent are placed in foster care. Many children are bounced from caregiver to caregiver during their parent’s incarceration.

These disruptions to a child’s life negatively affect their social and mental development. Acknowledging the sense of disconnection experienced by children whose parents are incarcerated also means we must grapple with the emotional poverty that increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. In San Francisco, we’re taking steps to bridge this disconnection by reforming visitation policies to facilitating regular contact between children and incarcerated parents.

The people in our jails will eventually be released and will return to communities that historically have been underserved. We’re trying to intensify resources toward exit planning for newly incarcerated parents and guardians. Depending on individuals cases, that could include a regiment of parenting classes, substance abuse and mental health treatment, domestic violence counseling, reunification counseling for parent and child, reading and writing comprehension, high school completion, life skills such as financial literacy, and vocational training.

Many people don’t know what the Sheriff’s Department does or the difference between us and the SFPD; we’ve launched a monthly e-newsletter to keep the public informed. To sign up or contact us at: Ross.Mirkarimi@SFgov.org

Ross Mirkarimi is sheriff of San Francisco

Developers should pay — on time


OPINION San Francisco used to be an eclectic city, filled with working class folks, people of color, lots of artists, and families. But that’s changed dramatically. The black population has dismally plummeted, to 6.3 percent, according to the most recent census. Families of color are streaming out, expensive condos and sky-high rentals are shooting up, and the unique mix that once was the city and made it such a diverse and culturally rich place to live and thrive is changing.

Three years ago, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decided that private developers in San Francisco needed a local stimulus boost. The housing bubble had burst and taken the economy down with it, but Newsom wanted to ensure that private development in the city continued. So he proposed that private developers be allowed to defer paying the neighborhood impact fees on their projects, thus delaying funding for safety-net programs that help existing residents of working class neighborhoods fight displacement.

His proposal passed in 2010, and since then the Eastern Neighborhoods, SoMa, and the Octavia/Market Area have seen an upswing in private development projects coupled with rising eviction rates and housing costs, while affordable housing throughout the city becomes harder and harder to find. Because neighborhood impact fees were deferred services that would help vulnerable populations were underfunded by a total of almost $53.5 million — in 2011-2012 alone.

That lost money impacted affordable housing construction, affordable child care, development of parks and other types of open spaces, infrastructure and pedestrian-safety measures, neighborhood schools and libraries, and eviction prevention services.

Meanwhile, out-of-town private development companies are set to make millions of dollars building high-end rental units and luxury condominiums that the average San Franciscan can’t afford.

Given that private market-rate residential development in San Francisco is speeding up regardless of displacement dangers, it’s even more necessary today to strengthen and sharpen the tools our neighborhoods have for fighting displacement.

A longstanding question for San Francisco has been how to keep it from becoming a place where only the very wealthy can afford to live while the rest of us have to commute in to the city that we work in and love. Now as we field off another local housing boom fueled by speculation, we are faced again with needing to ensure that we prioritize San Franciscans over profit.

That’s why tenant groups, affordable housing advocates, and San Franciscans fighting for the right to stay in their city will be urging the Planning Commission to end the fee deferrals. The Planning Department staff has studied the issue and recommends that the Newsom program be allowed to expire; that would bring back the funds needed to invest in the vitality and vibrancy of our neighborhoods.

Come join us in helping get San Francisco’s priorities back on track at the Planning Commission meeting Thursday June 13th at 12pm in room 200 of City Hall. Private development is not worth more than the well being of working class communities, immigrants, families, LGBTQ, and tenant communities.

Maria Zamudio is a housing rights organizer for Causa Justa: Just Cause

When the Coastal Commission fails


The sensationalist title of the Bay Guardian article “Fornication loses to soccer fields” (5/15/13) overshadows the far-reaching implications of the Coastal Commission’s rubber-stamp of San Francisco’s Beach Chalet soccer complex. Lost in the article is the story of what really happened: powerful political interests leaned on the commissioners to abrogate their responsibility to protect the California coast.

Project supporters repeated the fallacy that seven acres of artificial turf and 150,000 watts of sports lighting next to Ocean Beach would stem the flight of families from the city. Notably, none of the commissioners acknowledged that the City of San Francisco’s own environmental impact report identified an alternative that meets the project goals — including the need for playtime — without any impact on the coastal zone. In fact, the “need” argument is a red herring to push through a pet project.

When the commissioners approved the Beach Chalet’s 150,000 watts of lights — situated only 500 feet from the beach — they did not even discuss the impacts from sports lights. They disregarded their own staff report — which said much of what opponents of the project have been saying for years — and ignored copious evidence from well-credentialed experts demonstrating the city’s faulty environmental analysis on the negative biological and aesthetic impacts of lights on people and wildlife in the coastal zone.

Only Commissioner Steve Blank seemed willing to uphold his duty to protect the coastline. Blank reminded the panel that its mandate is to uphold the Coastal Act and protect the interests of the 38 million Californians in our shared coastline. The California coastline has remained protected for decades due to the diligence of past commissions. The commission is supposed to transcend local politics. But the remaining commissioners failed to do this.

The approval of the Beach Chalet project is not just the acquiescence of the Coastal Commission to a single project but an all-out attack on coastal protections. Now, any developer who can trump up claims of local need for recreation can expect this commission to rubber-stamp its project.

Anyone concerned about the integrity of California’s coast should be outraged. We encourage you to let your elected representatives know that if the Coastal Commission members can’t abide by the Coastal Act, they should be replaced before they can do even more damage to our remaining coastline.

For those not at the hearing, the Bay Guardian headline refers to the claim that the Beach Chalet is a cruising ground for gay men, a claim used to sensationalize the issue and also to assert that healthy, all-American recreation field would make the area “safe for children.” This homophobic tactic was a recurrent theme during local hearings and has been deeply felt by the LGBT community.

The battle for our parkland is not over. There is currently a CEQA lawsuit in the courts; in addition, a broad coalition of groups is moving forward to continue to fight this project. Join with them — it will take everyone’s participation to win back our parkland, our beach and our coast.

Sue Englander is an Executive Board Member, Harvey Milk LGBT Club. Arthur Feinstein is chair of the Sierra Club, Bay Chapter. Mike Lynes is executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Katherine Howard is a member of the Steering Committee of SF Ocean Edge.

Keep the focus on real estate


OPINION Let’s stop blaming the hipsters. The Google bus, that annoying icon of yuppie invasion and transit privatization, is not the lead driver of gentrification’s reckless stampede reshaping our city (though it does play a role). The upscale restaurants dominating commercial strips may be economically and aesthetically offensive to many, but they are the natural byproducts of gentrification’s much-ignored elephant in the room: the real estate industry.

While headlines, comment threads, and café chatter fixate on the tech industry and yuppies with fistfuls of dollars, it’s the profit-gobbling real estate companies and speculators who are jacking up rents and evicting so many small businesses and renters—and they are surely happy to stay out of the spotlight.

Gentrification is a many-layered beast nurtured by cultural and economic trends, regional and local labor and housing factors, and public policies (or lack thereof). Beneath the surface-level aesthetics, it is about displacement of people who don’t fit the dominant economic growth plan—radical market-driven upheavals of communities often abetted by government policies and inaction.

The stats are familiar but bear repeating as they are so destructive: average apartment rentals exceeding $2,700 a month, requiring someone making $70,000 a year to pay half of his or her salary in rent. Literally thousands of no-fault evictions in the past decade, according to the Rent Board.

Despite rampant displacement of thousands of San Franciscans, there has been little response from City Hall: no hearings, no proactive legislation, not even bully-pulpit style leadership. We must demand more.

Where is the leadership demanding the city do everything in its albeit limited power to halt further displacement of residents and small businesses? The toxic combo of tenant evictions and home foreclosures by the thousands — driven principally by major banks and real estate companies — is destroying lives and communities.

Some of this is beyond City Hall’s jurisdiction: state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins enable no-fault evictions and prevent vitally needed commercial rent control. Still, beyond their valiant opposition to the Wiener-Farrell condo conversion threat, city leaders have been largely silent about this latest wave of gentrification that’s eviscerating communities, driving out small businesses, and squeezing renters to the bone.

What can we do? We won’t defeat gentrification with city hearings or loud protests or online screeds and petitions — but we need all those things, along with serious public education, to shine a bright hot spotlight on the companies and individuals defining who lives and votes here.

We need a new era of citywide awareness, unity, and action to literally save San Francisco — a bold unapologetic vision that puts affordability and diversity at the forefront of what our city is about. We can’t have diversity without affordability; it’s that simple.

Renters are gearing up to fight back. An ‘Eviction Free Summer’ is being planned — an innovative campaign to counter the rash of evictions that are generating both displacement and skyrocketing rent prices. The idea of ‘Eviction Free Summer’ is to put evictions and evictors in the spotlight, to put would-be evictors on notice and capture the attention of city officials who have so far done little to stem their tide.

We must demand accountability and action by City Hall and state legislators to rein in the real estate industry and put the brakes on evictions and other displacement. People’s lives, neighborhoods and communities, and the very fabric and identity of our city are at stake.

To those who cheer “change” as if its victims were not real, or who wearily concede the fight, we must ask: are we really going to allow the profit-hungry market and wealth-seeking executives and speculators decide who lives and votes here? Are we going to let the market destroy what’s left of our city’s economic, cultural, racial and ethnic diversity — the very things that make San Francisco what it is?

Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author, and former Bay Guardian city editor. Contact him at www.christopherdcook.com

Tech workers aren’t all evil


Read the full original blog post this op-ed was drawn from here.

OPINION I hear a lot of talk, especially from my own queer community, about how “tech people” are ruining San Francisco. From skyrocketing rent prices and disappearing diversity to economic and cultural ruination, the tech community has become the scapegoat for a lot of the problems we are facing in the city as a whole. As a tech worker, I’m writing this to say: wake up and direct your anger at the real sources of these problems.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. The vast majority of “tech people” in San Francisco don’t make nearly as much money as you think they do. We are not all making six-figure salaries, we are not personally driving up rent costs, and we are not killing the cultural community here. Simply put, we are trying to further our careers and make the city we call home a nicer place to live.

From day one of living in San Francisco, I’ve put blood sweat and tears into building the cultural community in SF (music, mostly), and I’ll never stop doing that. I first moved here with my husband in 2006 from Indiana. I immediately immersed myself in the music scene here, forming a touring band and quickly becoming a booker and promoter for live shows. It wasn’t until several years into my time here that I snuck my way into the tech industry. Here I am, five years into my tenure at Bay Area music tech startup Thrillcall, hustling every day to help build music communities not only in SF, but across the country.

The tipping point for me, to be honest, was the nonsense of people beating up a Google bus piñata in the Mission, shouting epithets about how they’re the bane of San Francisco. The people that ride those buses are not to blame. They are not heading up that company, they don’t make millions of dollars, and they certainly don’t deserve the hatred being directed at them by many people here in San Francisco.

You know what is ruining San Francisco? Complacency. Apathy. Misguided hate. Inaction. Put some energy into making change, not senseless whining.

If you’re upset about rising rent costs, be angry at the money-hungry landlords that do absolutely nothing to put money back into the city or help build culture. Want SF prices to stop skyrocketing? Let’s organize and drive proposals with our city government. Upset about the recent sanitization of many of the lovely traditions and values of San Francisco? Get mad at Sup. Scott Weiner, who is actually supported by a lot of longtime, non-tech residents. Want more culture, arts, music? Maybe try reaching out to people that can help in the tech world instead of complaining about everything going downhill.

We are not the companies we work for, however large or small. Corporations, for the most part, suck.

We’re not the douche bags you think we are. Let’s put our energy toward doing good, instead of just pointing fingers. We all know that. Demonizing the people that work for them (while contributing to this wonderful city) is baseless, classless, and makes you look like a total dick.

A great deal can be accomplished if people take an active role toward coexisting, rather than shouting “ENEMY!” to anyone who will listen.

Johnny Koch is promotional manager, artist management, and site administrator at Thrillcall.

Behind the attacks on City College


OPINION Last year the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges harshly sanctioned City College of San Francisco and gave us just nine months to shape up or face the consequences. This was pushed on the community even though the quality of education provided at City College was never in question.

Since then, CCSF has changed student assessment metrics and addressed the governance, institutional planning, and enrollment management issues cited. We have done so even as we have also documented disquieting information about the ACCJC’s damaging role at CCSF and at community colleges throughout California.

Our research into ACCJC found that the commission failed to respect the law and public policy of the state and violated federal common-law due process and California common-law fair procedure. Further, at CCSF and in districts around the state, the ACCJC often acts arbitrarily, capriciously, unfairly, and inconsistently in evaluating colleges, thereby harming the schools and their communities.

San Francisco has shown valiant support for City College despite the drumbeat of negative publicity around our accreditation status.

Recently, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of preserving the quality and diversity of education at City College of San Francisco, of tackling the achievement gap and ensuring equitable opportunities for students, and of utilizing Proposition A funds as intended.

In the age of the 24-7 corporate news cycle, educators and unions are too often portrayed as the opposition in attempts to push austerity, undermine the public sector, and efface the important educational work we do for students. We will not apologize for resisting the downsizing of our students’ educations, for saving jobs, and for protecting educational programs that benefit our students—particularly our most vulnerable students. We will not apologize for attempting to sustain employees’ health, working conditions, and well-being.

When San Franciscans passed Proposition A overwhelmingly last November, it was a ray of light for those of us who have devoted our lives to City College and its students. Providing $15.2 million, the tax was designed to reverse the cuts to classes and employees in our starved public educational system, helping sustain our college for San Franciscans. Now the administration is diverting millions of these dollars and pumping additional money into consultants, lawyers, computers, and maintenance. Under the administration plan, next year less than a third of that money will go toward the educational purposes voters were promised.

Meanwhile, the race to downsize continues. At the negotiating table and in the press, the administration uses the need to retain the college’s accreditation—something all of us agree is crucial—as reason, excuse, and threat. It has shirked its duties at the bargaining table, imposing pay cuts and implementing premature and damaging layoffs of staff and faculty.

We face a host of other dramatic changes that cut into our ability to serve student needs, including a reorganization that pushes faculty expertise and voices further into the background and a shocking lack of substantive dialogue or transparent processes. Our trustees now preside over meetings that squelch public speech, restricting access to a too-small meeting room with the windows literally papered over so that no one can see in or out.

Thankfully, we are not alone in this fight. In Chicago, in Seattle, and in communities around the country afflicted with disingenuous “reforms” and diminished access, we are gathering strength and allies and standing up for the principles that inform our work as educators, responsible for defending and improving quality, accessible public education for the public good.

To join the fight to save our City College, email aft@aft2121.org

Alisa Messer is an English instructor at City College of San Francisco and president of AFT Local 2121, which represents instructors, counselors, and librarians at the college.


A call to arms


OPINION No one can deny that the San Francisco of the new dot-com boom is a scary place to live. Rents are astronomical: $2,353 is the median rent for a one-bedroom in the Bayview, an area that has never had high rents. Ellis Act evictions are up 68 percent from last year, and buyouts and threats of Ellis (de facto evictions) are skyrocketing. Longterm rent-controlled tenants live in absolute dread that their buildings will be sold to a real-estate speculator who will decide, a month later, to “go out of the business of being a landlord.”

Neighborhoods are being transformed, and not for the better. The once immigrant Latino and working-class lesbian area of Valencia Street is now mostly white, straight and solidly upscale. The Castro has more baby strollers per square foot than a suburban mall, not to mention a high rate of evictions of people with AIDS. Along Third Street and in SOMA and other areas, people of color are being pushed out, and the working-class is being replaced by middle-income condo owners. The African American population of the city is down to 6 percent.

Small businesses, too, are being decimated, as landlords demand higher and higher rents and chain stores try and creep into every block. If the demographics of the city continue to change and become more moderate, many longstanding political gains could be lost.

Resistance is not futile.

During the Great Depression, the Communist Party in the Bronx and elsewhere successfully mobilized the working class to block doorways when the marshals arrived to evict tenants. In the 1970s here in San Francisco, the “redevelopment” of the Fillmore and the I-Hotel was met with widespread protests. Then-sheriff Richard Hongisto went to jail rather than evict the working-class Filipino tenants at the I-Hotel. In the late 1990s, organizing to fight the evictions and displacement happening in the wake of the first dot-com boom culminated in a progressive takeover of the Board of Supervisors.

These days, there’s no mass movement to fight the evictions and displacement. Occupy Bernal, ACCE and others have successfully stopped the auctions of foreclosed homes, and even twisted the arms of banks to renegotiate some mortgages. Tenant organizations have been holding back efforts to weaken rent control for years.

Where is the building-by-building organizing of renters? Where is the street outreach in every neighborhood? Where are the blocked doorways of those being forced out of their apartments by pure greed? Where are the direct actions against the speculators and investors who are turning our neighborhoods into a monopoly game? Where is the pressure on the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation to curb speculation and gentrification rather than approve tax breaks for dot-com companies? Where is the pressure on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and other state laws that prohibit our city from strengthening rent control and eviction protections?

Every moment we wait, more people are displaced from their homes, more neighborhoods become upscale, more small businesses are lost. Progressives wake up.

It’s time to take back what’s left of our city.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime queer housing activist who works at the Housing Rights Committee. He is editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights).


The ride-share parasites


OPINION These days, all signs point to the eventual deregulation of the San Francisco cab industry.

On any given weekend night in the city, you can find a wide array of illegal taxis operating with impunity, including limo drivers, out-of-town taxis, Super Shuttle vans, ZIP cars, and even some sketchy folks driving their private vans down Valencia Street at 2am soliciting rides for hire. If you have wheels, you can become your own livery service.

It’s a free-for-all out here. The city appears to be giving all comers carte blanche. And while the courts wrangle over ride-sharing rules and what constitutes a taxicab, the cab industry could cave in under the unfair advantage given to its competitors.

The general manager of ride-share startup Uber, Ilya Abyzov, has been quoted as saying that cab companies have had a “state-sanctioned monopoly. They’re not used to competition.” I have two words for him, and they’re not, Yo taxi! We’re competing with about as much chance as the proverbial one-legged man in a kicking fight.

The advertisement on the website of another startup, Lyft, uses for recruiting drivers reads: “Make $22 an hour, have a blast, drive when you want, meet new people, make friends, learn about new restaurants …” This idyllic version of a cab shift could never happen without real cab drivers holding up the foundation.

I don’t think you’ll find a Lyft cab willing to take a sick grandmother from Kaiser Hospital to her home in the Alice Griffith projects. A pink mustache sighting at Griffith and Fitzgerald will probably coincide with the next great earthquake because only a drastic geological shift will cause that to happen.

Right now, it’s a cakewalk for the ride-share drivers. But without the cab industry picking up the rear and girding the underbelly, these parasites couldn’t exist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a parasite as an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Substitute the word “nutrients” for the word “money” and you have what in the cab business we call a bingo.

At the end of the day, driving a cab is a hustle. And once your host is gone and the cab business gets deregulated, kiss your city tours goodbye. You won’t be able to rely on donations anymore, and your legal babble and dishonest terminology won’t save you from a harsh descent into the street, into the dog-eat-dog world of a real cab driver.

And then, you’ll know what it’s like to hustle, in the middle of the night when you’re worried about your gates and gas, and it gets real slow, and you have to take chances with your life.

Desoto Shelby III is the pen name for a San Francisco taxi driver.


Making CEQA work


OPINION In San Francisco, a single person can file an 11th-hour appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act to stop a park, library, transit, or affordable housing project that has broad public support. It’s actually worse: that single person can file the appeal long after the project has been approved and even after it goes into construction. When the appeal is filed, the project must stop construction — creating huge costs — until the Board of Supervisors gets around to ruling on the appeal.

This is government dysfunction at its worst, and it needs to be reformed. Supervisor Scott Wiener is sponsoring legislation to do just that: to allow full public participation and challenges to projects while implementing the common-sense rule that for any project, there must be an end to the process and a clear deadline for filing CEQA appeals. Public participation in decision-making is important, but at some point, the decision is made, the process comes to a conclusion, and the project begins. Open-ended CEQA appeals with no deadlines — San Francisco’s current system — are anti-democratic.

Passed 40 years ago, CEQA is an important state law that requires environmental analysis before approving projects. CEQA has helped stop or modify environmentally problematic projects in our state. Pretty much every project in San Francisco — whether a mega-development or a smaller project, such as a homeowner replacing a rotted-out porch handrail, a playground or library renovation, an affordable housing project, or a bike or pedestrian-safety upgrade — must undergo CEQA evaluation. These myriad CEQA evaluations are then appealable to the Board of Supervisors. Yes, if you are replacing that rotted out handrail or working with your neighbors to renovate your local playground, those projects can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors under CEQA if a single person doesn’t like what you’re doing.

We support CEQA and support the right to appeal projects. What we cannot support is having no firm deadline to file those appeals. We’ve seen excellent projects, with broad public support, get delayed and have dramatically increased costs because of our bad process. A small group abused CEQA to fight the North Beach Library for years. After the Dolores Park renovation underwent dozens of community meetings and attained broad community support, a single person appealed the project, arguing that the dog areas of the park would lead to childhood obesity. San Francisco’s bike plan was delayed for years, costing millions of tax dollars.

By setting a clear deadline to file CEQA appeals — 30 days after the project is approved — and by improving notice to the public, Supervisor Wiener’s legislation will provide opponents every opportunity to challenge a project, but they will have to do so before the project goes into construction. That is a common sense rule, and as a result, the legislation has garnered broad support from affordable housing builders, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF (our pedestrian safety advocacy group), SPUR, labor unions, and neighborhood associations and leaders.

Supervisor Jane Kim has introduced an alternative to Supervisor Wiener’s legislation. Supervisor Kim’s legislation would make our dysfunctional process even worse. It would allow for multiple CEQA appeals of projects instead of just one and would continue to allow CEQA appeals long after projects are approved and even after they go into construction.

It’s time to bring rationality to our CEQA appeal process. Supervisor Wiener’s CEQA appeal legislation is the right approach and deserves to be passed.

Scott Wiener is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Pat Scott is Executive Director of Booker T. Washington Community Service Center in the Western Addition, which provides services and affordable housing to families and youth.


Why CEQA matters


By Arthur Feinstein and Alysabeth Alexander

OPINION Is now the time to significantly weaken San Francisco’s most important environmental law? When our world is facing the greatest environmental threats ever experienced, why is there a rush to diminish our hard won environmental protections?

That’s the question we should all ask Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has proposed legislation that would significantly weaken the city’s regulations that enforce the California Environmental Quality Act.

Global climate change and extreme weather events are sending a clear message that the world is in trouble. Unprecedented droughts threaten our food supply and drinking water, while floods and sea level rise threaten our homes (the Embarcadero now floods where it never has before). The ozone hole still exists, threatening us with skin cancer, and the critters with whom we share this world are experiencing an unprecedented extinction rate.

Recent region-wide planning efforts, such as One Bay Area, expect San Francisco to provide housing for more than 150,000 new residents, bringing even more impacts to our city.

The best tool available to city commissioners, supervisors, and the public to understand and effectively reduce negative environmental effects of new projects is CEQA, which requires analysis and mitigation of unavoidable environmental project impacts. CEQA mandates that the public be informed of such impacts, and requires decision-makers to listen to the public’s opinions about what should be done to address them. It allows the people to go to court if decision-makers ignore their concerns.

Without an effective CEQA process, the public is helpless in the face of poor planning, and planning based only on the highest corporate-developer-entrepreneur return on the dollar with no regard for environmental consequences, including noise, night-lighting, aesthetics, and transportation — all issues of concern to urban residents. And with current tight real-estate economics, worker safety is at risk if developers cut corners on environmental review, especially with projects built on toxic and radioactive waste sites like Treasure Island, which potentially endanger construction workers and service employees who will work in these areas after projects are completed.

Wiener’s legislation, introduced at the Land Use Committee April 8, makes it much harder for the public to appeal potentially damaging permit decisions, by shortening timelines and establishing more onerous requirements for such appeals. In many instances it would also steer appeals away from being heard by the entire Board of Supervisors, instead allowing small committees to rule on these crucial issues.

A broad coalition of environmental, social justice, neighborhood, parks protection and historic preservation groups, allied with labor unions, is challenging Wiener’s attack on our environmental protections.

Supervisor Jane Kim recently stepped forward to champion these efforts, and work with these groups to draft a community alternative to make the CEQA process more fair and efficient while carefully protecting our rights to challenge harmful projects.

The supervisors need to reject Wiener’s damaging legislation and consider Kim’s community-based alternative in seeking to truly improve our local California Environmental Quality Act process.

Arthur Feinstein is chair of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter. Alysabeth Alexander is vice-president of politics for SEIU Local 1021.