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Forum begins to bridge the housing-transportation divide

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Advocates for sustainable transportation and affordable housing in San Francisco — who have been pitted against each other in this election — discussed their differences and found some common ground for a post-election agenda during a community forum last night [Thu/9] hosted by the Bay Guardian and San Francisco Transit Riders Union.

We intended for the forum, “Bridging the Gaps in Funding Transit and Housing,” to begin to heal the rift that has developed over the last couple years and played out strongly this year in the creation of and campaigns for Propositions A, B, G, K, and L, with each camp not supporting the other’s priorities.

But there was broad agreement that both sides should work together on an affordabilty agenda that combats rising housing and transportation costs, the need to incorporate equity and social justice studies into the solutions this coalition should pursue, and even some specific funding mechanisms to meet both needs, including charging transportation impact fees to residential developers and uniting in a campaign to increase the local vehicle license fee in 2016.

“If you looking at what kind of city this is going to be, it really is about housing and transportation. They are two sides of the same coin,” Sup. Scott Wiener said after he arrived late in the forum, explaining how he has filled a critical void in transportation advocacy at City Hall. “The problem has been that over time, everytime there’s a budget fight, Muni loses.”

But Wiener has been a political lightning rod, particularly with renters and affordable housing activists who blame him for the division and for moving forward with Prop. B, which increases funding for Muni, without building a broader coalition first.

“I think the VLF could have had a chance [this year], but what it was lacking was a solid coalition to pull it off,” Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said at the forum.

Cohen and his allies were left out of the Mayor’s 2013 Transportation Task Force, and they were critical of it for setting priorities and identifying funding options before undertaking a broad study of equity and social justice considerations, a study that the SFMTA is now working on with support from transportation activists.

Cohen didn’t accept the framing that helping Muni necessarily helps low-income households — 53 percent of Muni riders don’t have access to a car and 51 percent live in low-income households, according to an SFMTA ridership survey presented at the forum by the agency’s Jonathan Rewers — saying many system improvements are aimed at wealthier parts of town.

“The question is what parts of the system are actually being improved,” Cohen said, adding, “When you get down to the fine grain scale, it’s a lot more complicated.”

But Wiener and transit activists didn’t agree, noting that most Muni lines connect rich and poor neighborhoods, and that when you consider that low-income people disproportionately ride public transit, giving money to Muni necessarily helps the poor.

“There are very few [Muni] lines that only serve low-income people or high-income people,” Wiener said, arguing the public transit funding helps the entire city, and disproportionately the low-income people who rely on Muni.

“Helping Muni intrinsically helps low-income folks,” Amandeep Jawa, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said. “Fixing Muni is intrinsically a equity issue.”

That was also how SFTRU’s Thea Selby framed the issue: “We have a customer base that is low income and we have to take that into account.”

But because affordable housing and the transportation system each have funding needs running into the billions of dollars, there is tension.

“It’s a limited pile of funds, so we all feel like we’re fighting in a zero sum game,” Jawa said, blaming elected officials for unnecessarily creating that divisive paradigm and failing to identify new funding sources. “There is a lack of political leadership in this town, and not on the activist side.”

But when Jawa made an exception of Wiener (who hadn’t yet arrived at the forum), praising Wiener’s leadership on transportation issues, Cohen reacted angrily and blamed Wiener for sowing the divisions between transportation and housing activists.

“We see very intentional wedging,” Cohen said, criticizing Wiener for placing Prop. B on the ballot (which Cohen and his group opposes) and for opposing Prop. G, the anti-speculation tax that is a top priority for affordable housing advocates this election. “We have had a very difficult time working together because we have been pitted against each other.”

Yet Jawa criticized how Cohen and affordable housing activists have tried to frame the discussion around Prop. B, which increases General Fund contributions to Muni as the city’s population increases: “I don’t believe the notion that we’re stealing from affordable housing. We’re not.”

Eventually, those tense moments in which the divisions were sharply on display yielded to more civility and pledges to work together after this election.

“From my perspective, we need to not be at each other’s throats, but we have to work at all those priorities,” said Peter Strauss of the SFTRU.

“Talking, we can begin to understand each other’s priorities,” said Chema Hernández Gil of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, pledging to work with Cohen and other affordable housing and social justice activists to strength that coalition.

Hernández Gil cited studies showing that housing is the biggest expenditure for San Franciscans, followed by transportation costs. A worker making minimum wage pay about half of his or her income on housing and a quarter on transportation, leaving very little left for other expenses.

“If you need a car, how much it costs to live here gets so much more expensive,” Jawa said, citing the importance of transit-first policies to an affordability agenda. So he said the pro-car Prop. L would make San Francisco more expensive. “Prop. L is all about transportation affordability in the end,” Jawa said, urging voters to reject the measure.

Cohen noted that he’s supporting the Prop. A general obligation transportation bond and will continue to supporting the creation of a sustainable transportation system as well.

“Right now, residential development doesn’t pay a nickel for transportation infrastructure,” Cohen said, with his call for a residential transportation impact fee winning support from most of the activists in the room.

Cohen asked the transportation activists for their support on housing issues.

“What we have in San Francisco is a dramatic shortage of affordable housing,” Cohen said, calling for a broad coalition to support more public funding to build affordable housing. “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot you coming back to support funding measures on the ballot.”

DropBox employees drop money for Mission soccer field, kick out neighborhood kids

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Mission neighborhood tension has never been higher. The tech fueled boom has predominantly white and Asian newcomers butting heads with Latino neighbors who are long-time residents. 

The newest scuffle is over a small patch of green: Mission Playground’s soccer field, located on Valencia between 19th and 20th streets.

A video now making the rounds captures an argument between Dropbox employees and Mission neighborhood kids. The Dropbox employees, including designer Josh Pluckett, argue they’ve already paid for and reserved the field.

The Mission youth counter that the field historically has always been pick-up-and-play (first-come, first-serve), no reservations required. 

The video has many startling moments, highlighting the divide between the two groups. Can we all just acknowledge the oddness of a Latino man asking a white tech dude to “show me your papers,” as he asks for his soccer field use permit? Later in the video, things really heat up.

Just because you’ve got the money to book the field doesn’t mean you could book it for an hour,” one taller youth tells the Dropbox employees. When the dudes-in-Dropbox-shirts explain they paid $27 to rent the field, the kid replies “It doesn’t matter, this field has never been booked. How long have you been in the neighborhood bro?”

The Dropbox employee responds “over a year.”

Another one off camera says “Who gives a shit? Who cares about the neighborhood?”

“I’ve been born and raised here for my 20 years, and my whole life you could just play here,” the youth responds. 

On the surface this is a gentrification argument: the kids may not be able to afford regular use of the field, wheras those with big dollars can pay up for use. But the incident also highlights the problem with privatization of our public spaces. 

As Mission Local pointed out, the field used to be concrete pavement, but neighborhood folks still played soccer. And damn, they played soccer, injuring themselves frequently on the asphalt. That was then. Now, you’ve got to pay to play. 

Suffice to say, less neighborhood folks play there now. 

Renting out the field for only one night costs $27 per hour, but to rent the field regularly (like neighborhood kids playing weekly would have to) costs $5 to $10 per player per week. What kid has that kind of money on a weekly basis?

The Guardian has long covered the privatization of neighborhood parks, a charge led largely by Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. 

Connie Chan, a spokesperson for RPD, responded with this statement:

“Last year Mission Playfield was available for free, drop-in play 96% of the time. Like all parks and recreation facilities, Mission Playfield is open for both drop-in and permitted use.  Users of Mission Playfield are guaranteed a minimum of 16 hours per week of free, drop-in play and last year were able to access 4021 hours of free, drop-in play. In 2013 the field was permitted for 734 hours of free youth permitted play, and 185 hours of paid adult permitted play.  The Department has long recognized that our City has limited open space for recreation, and we definitely lack playfields for both adults and youth to play; we encourage all our park users to respect one another and share our parks.”

She also shared this image of Mission Playground signage:

paytoplay

It’s a matter of history that much of Golden Gate Park, including the arboretum, used to be free (or rather, paid by our tax dollars). In a movement that started over five years ago, San Franciscans now pay a premium to enjoy many park amenities throughout San Francisco. 

“What a lot of us think the Recreation and Parks Department is actually doing is relinquishing the maintenance of park facilities to private entities,” Denis Mosgofian told the Guardian in 2011, when the park privatization battle heated up. Mosgofian founded Take Back Our Parks following his battles with the RPD over the closures and leases of rec centers. “They’re actually dismantling much of what the public has created.”

For the past six years, RPD has sought to build more astroturf soccer fields at the end of Golden Gate Park near the Beach Chalet. This November, Proposition H is poised to take down the project, if the measure passes. The Guardian endorsed No on Proposition H, because we felt that particular soccer field in Golden Gate Park often went unused as is. But Proposition I is shady ballot box politicking.

Proposition I would ease city rules and public democratic processes around park construction to allow the rapid creation of many more astroturf fields. If it passes this November, you can look forward to seeing many more arguments like the YouTube video above. 

Remembering Gary Webb, the fallen messenger resurrected on film

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I always enjoy seeing fellow journalists and their work celebrated in a Hollywood blockbuster such as Kill the Messenger, which opens tomorrow. It’s even more exciting when that journalist is someone that one knows and admires, as I did the film’s protagonist, the late Gary Webb, author of the explosive “Dark Alliance” series connecting the CIA to cocaine trafficking in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

I was happy to run a story on Webb and the film in this week’s paper, a piece written by former Sacramento News & Review editor Melinda Welsh, who hired me back in 2000 to be the paper’s news editor. I had already moved on to the Bay Guardian, in 2003, before Webb came to work for SN&R, so never got the chance to work directly with him, as Welsh did before Webb took his own life (her story, including this longer version from SN&R, is well worth reading).

But I did introduce Webb to the SN&R editor that I worked under, Tom Walsh, who was the worst boss I’ve ever had, a petty tyrant who made most of his employees (at SN&R and later SF Weekly) miserable. I met Webb through some journalistic colleagues one night at a party thrown by Robert Salladay, then a reporter with San Francisco Chronicle and now with Center for Investigative Reporting.

I was star-struck upon meeting Webb, remembering what a big impact his 1996 “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury News had on me and other young newspaper journalists at the time. It exposed how the CIA turned a blind eye to the cocaine trafficking into the US that was being done by the Contra rebels that the Reagan Administration was supporting in Nicaragua. Perhaps even more significantly, it was the first big newspaper investigation of the Internet age, showing how online journalism could go viral and reach millions of people.

It was inspiring, but it was followed by dispiriting attacks by fellow journalists who tried to debunk its findings and the conclusions made by many of its readers, who went further than Webb in accusing the CIA of intentionally fueling the crack epidemic as a way of undermining African American communites in big cities.  

Those attacks helped deny Webb the Pulitizer Prize that he probably deserved (the CIA’s inspector general later confirmed Webb’s main findings) and led his own newspaper editors to sell him out, fueling his battle with depression and leading him to the job he had when I met him. He worked as an investigator for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, an investigatory arm of the California Legislature staffed almost entirely by former journalists (he later got laid off during the state’s lean budget years).

We didn’t know each other very well — we had lunch or drinks a few times and he was a helpful source of mine in the Capitol on a few occasions — but we did talk about how he felt betrayed by his profession and yet still longed to get back into the work that he loved doing.

Journalism plays a critically important yet undervalued role in the US, where the profession has been losing journalists in droves to the public relations industry and corporate communications jobs, positions often designed to fool the public instead of inform it.

Welsh calls Webb’s story “a cautionary tale,” and it was indeed, both for journalism and the broader public interest. I’m looking forward to seeing the film, and hoping that it helps humanize Webb and his fellow messengers before we’re forced even further into the margins of civil society.  

The battle for BART board

The race for BART board of directors in the upcoming November election has been highly contested this year. As we previously reported, incumbent James Fang faces a challenge from investor and former solar company entrepreneur Nicholas Josefowitz, a Harvard graduate in his early 30s.

Here’s your opportunity to listen in on the Bay Guardian endorsement interviews with candidates running for BART board. Alongside our colleagues from down the hall at the San Francisco Examiner (check out the Examiner’s endorsements here – they’re rather similar to ours), we spent a couple weeks interviewing candidates running for office in local and statewide races.

Here’s our interview with James Fang.

And here’s our interview with Nick Josefowitz.

As we explain in our Endorsements issue, which hit newsstands yesterday, we decided to go with Josefowitz. It was a surprisingly tough choice, given how long we’ve been wanting someone to make a strong and well-funded challenge to Fang, San Francisco’s only Republican elected office holder and the longest serving director at an agency that has been hostile to worker safety reforms and meaningful oversight of the BART Police Department.

We got our wish when Josefowitz entered the race, did well in fundraising, and got lots of progressive political support. But SEIU Local 1021 strongly supported Fang, who walked the picket lines with striking BART workers last year. They and other Fang allies also highlighted Josefowitz’s opposition to CleanPowerSF and Prop. G, raising questions about his progressive credentials and political naïveté.

Fang deserves credit for supporting BART workers last year and with advocating for a BART extension to Ocean Beach. But the BART board needs new blood, and we believe Josefowitz has the energy, ideas, and perspective to move the district in a more sustainable, accountable, and innovative direction.

ACCJC dismissal rebuffed, City College goes to trial for its life in 18 days

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The courtroom saga between City College of San Francisco and its accreditors reached a new milestone yesterday, as Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected the accreditors’ motion to dimiss the City Attorney’s Office’s case against the decision to close the college, yet again. 

Like Charlie Brown’s decades-long effort to kick the football from Lucy’s hands, the accreditors keep trying to get the case dismissed and they keep failing.

“This is the fourth time they’ve tried to say they’re immune (from a lawsuit),” Sara Eisenberg, lead prosecutor from the City Attorney’s Office told us. “It’s a running theme.”

The City Attorney’s Office is representing the People of the State of California (not the college directly), suing the ACCJC for what they say was an unfair accreditation evaluation. Accreditation is vital for degrees from colleges to be worth the paper they’re printed on, a process many schools go through. When the ACCJC evaluated City College and decided to rescind its accreditation, the City Attorney’s Office alleges, the ACCJC was “embroiled in a political dispute with the college,” and the team that evaluated the school were “individuals affiliated with districts and organizations” that shared the ACCJC’s political leanings.

In plain English, the accreditors stacked the deck with evaluators inclined to disagree with many of the funding choices, teaching choices, and other decisions City College administrators and trustees had made. There are other complaints related to the way the ACCJC conducted its evaluation, but suffice to say the case is multi-layered. 

In seeking to have the case dismissed, the ACCJC’s attorneys alleged communicating with the government was “petitioning activity,” that the only court legally able to discuss the case was at the federal level, and that the true liability for their decision to close the college lay with the state. Those were some mixed messages, and Judge Karnow rejected all of those motions yesterday.

We walked side-by-side with Dr. Barbara Beno, the head of the ACCJC, as she left the hearing. All she had for us was a terse, “no comment.” 

The ACCJC may not have had much luck in court on Tuesday, but Karnow issued a warning to the City Attorney’s Office as well. The City Attorney’s Office must prove there was true harm against City College of San Francisco, Karnow told Eisenberg, and the court.

“In this case,” he said, sternly, “you’re going to have to prove some harm. It cannot just be a technical violation.”

Eisenberg and her team at the City Attorney’s Office have a challenge. They must not only prove that the ACCJC violated its own rules and federal law, but that the People of the State of California suffered a specific and identifiable harm through the process of an unfair evaluation.

We asked Eisenberg how she would prove this. “I’m a little loathe to get into our strategy in advance of the trial,” she told the Guardian. “But when you don’t get a fair review of an institution, particularly a public community college, that in itself is a harm. These flaws in the process led to a potentially different outcome than they would have received (otherwise).”

“We don’t know for sure what the outcome would be if a fair process was followed,” she said. “We have a right to know that.”

Come Oct. 27, we’ll see exactly what her strategy is. And, in another treat, the once private documents governing the ACCJC’s secret processes and secret decisions around City College will be revealed as the City Attorney’s office demands discovery. 

We can’t wait.

CPUC head Michael Peevey is stepping down

The head of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey, has announced that he will step down once his term comes to an end in December.

As the scandal of inappropriate emails between high-ranking CPUC officials and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executives continues to grow, more and more people have called for Peevey to be fired. 

The latest batch of emails to be released even details how Peevey hosted PG&E executives at his vacation home in Sonoma in 2010, where they talked shop over “two bottles of good pinot.”

In recent weeks, in the wake of the email scandal, CPUC employees have called for Peevey to resign, with one staff member calling him “something like an untouchable mob boss.”

It got so bad that the San Jose Mercury News even came out with an editorial last June that straight up dismissed the agency as a “disaster,” writing, “The degree of incompetence is so high, it’s hard to find anything the PUC does well under President Michael Peevey’s leadership.”

California Sen. Jerry Hill even planned to move forward legislation to block Peevey from reappointment if Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him for yet another term.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane has called on California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the illegal emails between CPUC officials and PG&E executives.

“Twelve years as president is enough,” Peevey said in a statement.

Meanwhile, waaay back in 2011, we at the Bay Guardian noticed a trend: Peevey was regularly going on fancy international getaways in the company of PG&E executives. We published an in-depth investigative cover story about it, titled The Secret Life of Michael Peevey: California’s Top Energy Regulator Rolls With Power Company Executives Behind the Scenes.

At that time, we wrote:

As PG&E and the CPUC both work to win back the public’s confidence after their latest deadly failure, it’s worth analyzing whether their relationship — shaped by vacations together at exotic locales — has grown too cozy.

Strange bedfellows: Moderate Mark Farrell endorses progressive David Campos for Assembly

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Political moderate Supervisor Mark Farrell announced his endorsement of Supervisor David Campos for Assembly today. It’s a real shocker, here’s why. 

A bastion of Marina district politics and part of the city’s neoliberal to fiscal conservative faction, Farrell is about as ideologically opposed to Campos’ brand of progressive politics as you can get in this city. If Campos is a firebrand with a picket sign, Farrell is a tie-wearing venture capitalist with his nose in a budget book. But still, Farrell has found an ally in Campos, and vice versa. 

“From working to close loopholes in San Francisco’s universal healthcare law to enhancing public safety and reducing homelessness by helping to implement Laura’s Law, David has proven his commitment to finding solutions through cooperation and compromise,” Farrell said in a press statement. “I trust his dedication to the public interest and know that he will find ways to bridge his progressive ideals with the pragmatic realities facing our state. I firmly believe he will be an effective leader for San Francisco in the State Assembly.”

The two worked together to find compromise solutions on a number of measures, including a deal to save St. Luke’s Hospital. But few deals were more controversial than Laura’s Law, which worried advocates for the homeless community, and Campos. The problem? The community felt that if homeless people would be forced into mental health treatment, their care and mental well-being would be threatened. On Farrell’s side, he was concerned for public safety, and felt those with mental health problems weren’t getting the treatment they needed.

There was an ideological split on how to help those with mental health problems. 

But Campos and Farrell eventually forged an agreement, allowing for interventions offering voluntary care from family and peer advocates, before involuntary treatment was invoked. Wrap around services would also be available to help alleviate the real life stressors that contribute to mental health issues, another win.

Farrell got Laura’s Law, and Campos and homeless advocates won vital protections. That’s the kind of compromise Board President David Chiu, Campos’ opponent in the Assembly race, has said time and time again that Campos is not capable of due to his staunch progressive values.

Clearly, Farrell disagrees, hence his endorsement.  

“I’m honored to have earned Mark’s endorsement,” Campos said, in a press statement. “We have worked together on a number of significant projects and pieces of legislation, from the CPMC rebuild project to small business tax legislation, and through community-minded negotiations, we have been able to find common ground on a number of issue critical to the residents of San Francisco.”

Although Chiu has passed much legislation, and brands himself as the “compromise candidate,” many political insiders noted that’s an easy political position when you maneuver yourself into becoming a key swing vote. When the board is split and you are the lone vote that could make or break legislation, people have to compromise with you. There’s a hammer over their heads. 

But Campos and Farrell are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, as far to either political pole on the Board of Supervisors as you can get. So the two talk, compromise, and make deals that help all their constituents win. 

No matter which Assembly candidate eventually goes to Sacramento, neither Chiu nor Campos will walk in wielding a hammer. The new Assemblyperson will be a freshman lawmaker, the back of the pack, as it were.

When we brought up that point with Farrell, he echoed the sentiment. 

“As a new legislator you don’t come up there with a ton of authority,” Farrell told us. “It’s about forging relationships and working for compromise. David Campos did that with me on the Board of Supervisors, and I believe he could do that in the Assembly.”

UPDATE 12:31 PM: David Chiu’s campaign consultant, Nicole Derse, got back to the Guardian with some observations from Chiu’s camp. 

“I don’t know why Farrell decided to endorse Campos, but when you look at endorsements that affect the district, Kamala Harris or Dianne Feinstein, those are what really affect the state,” Derse said. “This is one random supervisor. The deep support [for David Chiu] from statewide and elected officials is really strong.” 

The endorsement of Campos by Farrell is unique for its aisle-reaching quality. It’s as if the late, well-known Republican Warren Hellman endorsed the progressive anti-speculation tax. To that point, Derse said Chiu had an aisle-crossing endorsement as well. 

“Debra Walker is a pretty good comparison, she ran for the Harvey Milk LGBT Democractic Club and she came out really early for Chiu right out the gate,” Derse said.

Walker was appointed to the Building Inspection Commission by Chiu near the time she endorsed him. Even then, she told the Bay Area Reporter she was considering a dual endorsement.

There are even more inappropriate PG&E emails

Even more internal Pacific Gas & Electric Co. emails – this time flagged by activists focused on safety concerns at a nuclear power plant – raise new questions about the company’s tactics of manipulating the state regulatory process.

PG&E – which is facing federal charges in connection with a 2010 fatal gas line explosion in San Bruno – has come under scrutiny in recent months due to a series of questionable email exchanges revealing a cozy relationship between company executives and members of the California Public Utilities Commission, the state regulatory body that monitors utility spending and rate setting.

Much has been made of emails spotlighted by San Bruno officials, revealing a relationship so cozy that one PG&E executive signed off on an email with a CPUC representative by writing, “love you.” 

Those exchanges were the subject of an Oct. 7 hearing at the CPUC, and could result in financial penalties if an administrative law judge cracks down on PG&E for negotiating with state officials in what’s been dubbed a “judge-shopping” scandal. On Oct. 6, PG&E self-reported even more questionable “ex parte” communications with CPUC officials, correspondence it revealed is being scrutinized by federal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, when it came to an earthquake risk assessment at Diablo Canyon, according to a legal brief filed at the CPUC by the nuclear watchdog group Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, PG&E “brazenly ignored the commission’s requirements” for working with a state-appointed independent review panel.

The panel of independent experts was appointed because the CPUC lacked staff with the expertise needed to review seismic safety studies concerning the nuclear facility, which is located in proximity to several earthquake fault lines. 

Internal PG&E emails obtained by the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which used discovery to obtain documentation through its status as an intervener in the CPUC rulemaking process, revealed that PG&E was concerned about how to field inquiries from the independent panel.

In one email, a utility executive suggested submitting “processed” data, rather than raw data, to demonstrate how it had arrived at certain conclusions.

Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility spokesperson David Weisman discussed why that matters with an analogy: “Why don’t they want anyone else to look at the raw numbers? It’s like saying, here’s the cake. You might find that it tastes a little funny, but we aren’t going to tell you what went into it.”

In another internal PG&E email, a government affairs representative went so far as to ask his coworker: “Do you believe we could get the [independent panel] ‘decommissioned?’”

Several weeks ago, PG&E announced that it had found no safety hazard at Diablo Canyon, essentially telegraphing that there’s nothing to worry about. But that determination was made before the independent review panel had a chance to review the company’s analysis, or weigh in on whether it agreed with the science supporting this finding.

“If you release a report without the panel’s review, that’s not science,” Weisman charged. “That’s propaganda.”

PG&E did not respond to a request for comment.

As the Bay Guardian previously reported, the discovery of previously undetected fault lines around Diablo Canyon six years ago set in motion a new risk assessment to determine whether a major earthquake near San Luis Obispo, where Diablo Canyon is located, would result in power plant equipment failure. State legislators passed a law mandating that these risks be analyzed – long before Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown underscored the importance of taking such hazards seriously.

Now, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility is arguing that PG&E should not be allowed to recoup $64 million in ratepayer dollars that the CPUC agreed to set aside to fund the seismic study. “The CPUC granted PG&E ratepayer funding to carry out those seismic studies,” Weisman explained. “Our concern is that that the study itself is inadequate and poorly vetted.”

The Bay Guardian submitted several requests to speak with a knowledgeable CPUC staff member about the matter, but the agency did not grant an interview. Instead, public information officer Constance Gordon emailed a prepared statement that stated simply: “The Independent Peer Review Panel will review the seismic report and will hold a public meeting shortly to discuss it and receive public feedback.”

Interestingly, PG&E’s determination that Diablo Canyon is risk-free was issued on the very same day that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission publicly dismissed the concerns of Michael Peck, the former on-site safety inspector at the nuclear facility.

The senior NRC staff member made headlines for formally suggesting that the plant should be temporarily shut down until the science could prove that it would safely withstand a major earthquake. News of Peck’s “differing professional opinion” caused California nuclear activists to immediately file petitions calling for Diablo Canyon to be shut down. 

In a lengthy op-ed published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Peck said he stood by his conclusion.

“I have exhausted the NRC processes for raising nuclear safety concerns,” he wrote. “At every turn, the agency reinforced that their original conclusions and actions had been correct. From my perspective, I applied the same NRC inspection standards and agency rules to the Diablo Canyon seismic issues that I’ve used to disposition many other design bases issues during my 20-plus years as an inspector. Because the [differing professional opinion] was reviewed by the highest levels of agency management, I was left with the impression that the NRC may have applied a special standard to Diablo Canyon.”

Why and how we endorsed what we did

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As I sort through the barrage of positive and negative feedback to the election endorsements that we published today — which included some tough calls that have surprised some of our progressive allies — I’d like to take a moment to explain how we at the Guardian approach our political endorsements and what they represent.

First of all, let me state clearly and categorically that our corporate owners had nothing to do with our decisions, which were made entirely by the Guardian’s editorial board, which includes me, News Editor Rebecca Bowe, and Staff Writer Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez. And the three of us found consensus on all of our choices, sometimes after long discussions, even when we had differing initial views on a particular race or measure.

The other important point to make is that it’s long been the Guardian’s philosophy to avoid choosing “no endorsement” whenever possible. If voters have to make a tough decisions among bad or equally attractive options, then we shouldn’t shrink from making that decision as well, even if that risks the scorn of a segment of our readership. This was the approach that I learned from former Guardian editors Bruce Brugmann and Tim Redmond, and it’s an approach that I’ve encouraged us to continue as editor.

Finally, there’s the philosophical question of what it means to endorse a candidate, a question that we’ve spent a lot of time pondering and discussing during this election cycle. There’s not a clear and simple answer to the question, so I’ll just discuss what I think it means.

At its most basic, our endorsement means that we think our readers should vote for this person or position in this election. That’s all. It isn’t a validation of everything a politician does or stands for, and our endorsements are often driven by a weak field of challengers more than the strength of an incumbent. Frankly, there’s only one challenger in the five supervisorial races this fall who is well-qualified for the board and running a strong campaign, Tony Kelly in District 10, and we endorsed him.

The endorsement that we’re catching the most shit for right now is Scott Wiener in District 8, which was a tough call that we spent a lot of time discussing. To many progressives, Wiener is the devil, someone who has taken strong and inflexible positions on housing and regulatory issues that have angered many on the left.

But I don’t think Wiener is the devil, even though I’ve helped blast him for his bad positions as strongly as anyone in town. I think he’s a complicated person and politician who, in addition to his bad stands, has shown important political leadership and integrity on issues we do support, including transportation, nightlife, and public health. I’ve also found him to be more honest and accessible than his more progressive colleague, Sup. Jane Kim, who we also endorsed with some reservations. If you want to understand why we endorsed them, read our endorsements, it’s all in there.

Personally, for me, the hardest endorsement in our package was going no on Prop. H, and I’m still not sure whether we made the right call — or how I’m going to vote on this measure. I’ve sympathetically covered the political battles over artificial turf and this Beach Chalet project for years, and I viscerally don’t like this project, feeling like it just doesn’t belong right there on the coast.

But I understand the need for more playing time on the city’s fields, we’ve visited the site and seen how tucked away from the surrounding area it really is, and I was persuaded that it’s time to let this project proceed after six-year-long fight. Our strong rejection of the companion measure Prop. I also gives me confidence that we’re not opening the door to a rapid conversion of city playing fields to artificial turf.

Did we get it right? That’s for readers and voters to decide based on their political perspectives, but I can tell you that we made a good faith effort and spent many hours trying. And if you have doubts about the calls we made, please listen to the audio recordings of our endorsement interviews and form your own opinions. Democracy is messy business, imperfect by design, and sometimes “least bad” is the best choice. 

In the end, I’m proud of our endorsements, which provide a valuable public service in helping voters sort through a long and complicated ballot, offering a more neutral and public-spirited perspective than that of the paid advocacy that is filling up voters’ mailboxes and billboards around town right now.

Good luck this election season, and don’t forget to vote by Nov. 4.  

What’s the difference between David C. and David C.?

The Bay Guardian news staff has been meeting with a host of politicians and local movers and shakers recently, to help inform our decisionmaking on the Endorsements issue for the upcoming November election, which hits newsstands Oct. 8.

You can thumb through it for our full package of voting recommendations. In the meantime, we’re offering a closer look at the candidates here on our Politics Blog, where we’ll post the full audio recordings from most of the endorsement interviews we conducted in recent weeks.

Tune in here to learn more about each candidate and ballot measure, and decide for yourself which ones seem worthy of support.

This installment features a pair of audio recordings from our interviews with David Campos and David Chiu, opponents in the race for California Assembly District 17, who represent Districts 9 and 3, respectively, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

As Chiu notes early on in his endorsement interview, “You have in this race two guys named David C., who both have immigrant backgrounds, who both went to Harvard Law School, who are both progressive Democrats by any standard of the state, who have served together for the exact same period of time. And I would also point out that we have voted together 98 percent of the time. I think the key distinction between David and David is, I have moved forward, I have built consensus at the Board of Supervisors time after time on the most difficult and challenging issues that we’ve had … and I have passed … 105 ordinances, while David Campos has done that about a third as often.”

Listen to the full Bay Guardian interview with David Chiu:

Campos, meanwhile, presented a different narrative when comparing himself to Chiu.

“What this race presents to voters is, I think, a clear choice, between two different visions for where San Francisco should be headed,” Campos said. “I think that there are two good people who are running for this office, who have notwithstanding some similarities, real differences in terms of where the city needs to go. I believe that we need to first recognize that we have an affordability crisis, and I’m proud that I was the first member of the Board of Supervisors who started talking about a crisis. And I think that what we need is someone who is going to be a champion for working people, middle-income people in Sacramento. I am running for the most … progressive Assembly district in the entire state of California. And I believe that the person who follows in the footsteps of Tom Ammiano has to be a champion of the underdog.

Listen to the full Bay Guardian interview with David Campos:

SF supervisors vote to legalize and regulate Airbnb’s short-term rentals

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today approved controversial legislation to legalize and regulate short-term housing rentals to tourists, voting 7-4 on the package after supervisors narrowly rejected a series of amendments to rein in an activity that has taken thousands of units off the market for local residents.

Amendments to limit hosted rentals to 90 nights per year, to require that Airbnb pay about $25 million in back transient occupancy taxes it owes the city before the legislation would go into effect, to exclude in-law units from eligibility for short-term rentals, and to limit rentals in single-family home neighborhoods failed on a series of 5-6 votes.

Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, Norman Yee, and Jane Kim voted as a block on the amendments to limit the scope of short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and other companies, as a broad coalition that includes tenant, landlord, labor, neighborhood, and affordable housing groups had sought. Kim parted from that block to vote yes on the final legislation, which the others opposed.

Amendments proposed by Kim to give housing nonprofits the right to file injunctive lawsuits to help enforce the legislation and by Campos to ban short-term rentals in units that have been cleared of tenants by Ellis Act evictions were approved 8-3. But because those changes were substantial, they were turned into trailing legislation that must go back to the Planning Commission.

Despite a series of amendments since Board President David Chiu proposed the legislation over the summer, its basic tenets have changed little. It requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city and rent out only their primary residence, which they must live in for at least 275 days out of the year, with the Planning Department enforcing the regulation on a complaint basis.

That effectively limits the rental of entire homes to 90 days per year, but Chiu, Airbnb, and its hosts strenuously rejected calls to extend that cap to hosted rentals, such as spare bedrooms that might otherwise be available to permanent city residents. Chiu said his legislation was “framed through the lens of our housing affordability crisis,” arguing that many San Franciscans rely on Airbnb income to make their rent.

Avalos said he understands that position, but he said tourists shouldn’t be displacing San Franciscans, proposing the 90-day limit on all short-term rentals. “I think it’s important to maximize our residential housing stock to the utmost,” he said. Mar also voiced strong support for extended the cap, criticizing the “cult-like” beliefs by some home-sharing advocates.

As I’ve been reporting in the Guardian over the last two and a half years, Airbnb and its hosts have been openly defying city laws against short-term rentals, as well as ruling by the Tax Collector’s Office that the city’s transient occupancy tax (aka hotel tax) of about 15 percent applies to short-term rentals.

Airbnb just began to collect that tax for its guests last week, but Campos argued that it should pay those back taxes going back to the city ruling in the spring of 2012 before the city legalizes and validates its activities. Company representatives have said its TOT collection would total about $11 million per year.

“I believe it’s only right that Airbnb make good on its back taxes before this legislation becomes law,” Campos said, arguing this $10 billion company is being rewarded for defying city regulators. “Do we give special treatment to a multi-billion-dollar company?”

But supporters of the legislation were anxious to move it forward, despite the dizzying series of complicated amendments, something Avalos said was unusual. “I’m surprised it was given the green light to leave today,” Avalos told reporters after the vote. “There was a lot of pressure to move it forward.”

Now the question will be whether the Planning Department can effectively enforce the regulations, particularly given that Airbnb has been unwilling to share data that might help in that effort. City officials have seemed powerless to enforce laws against short-term rentals that have been on the books for decades, even with rising public concern about the issue over the last year.

“I’m concerned that the legislation simply isn’t enforceable,” Kim said, arguing for the private right of action component that will be returning for board consideration in the coming months.

The other question is whether we’ve heard the end of an issue that has polarized city residents, or whether the coalition of opponents will succeed in a threatened initiative campaign to put more stringent new short-term rental regulations before voters next year.

Sup. Mark Farrell thanked Chiu for taking on the issue despite the intractable positions on both sides, saying, “I think everyone recognizes this to be a no-win situation.” Wiener are referenced the wide emotional divide on the issue: “The views around it are so intensely divergent.”

“The status quo is not working. This system of home sharing is happening in the shadows with little or no oversight,” Wiener said. “It’s time to bring it out of the shadows.”  

Even supporters of the legislation, such as Breed, said they would continue closely monitoring the situation to ensure the legislation helps curbs widespread abuses of lucrative short-term rentals, including landlords evicting rent-controlled tenants to use Airbnb and entrepreneurial tenants renting out multiple apartments through Airbnb, practices Chiu sought to curb.

“The one thing that I think everyone can agree upon is the status quo is not working,” Chiu said early in the hearing.

After the legislation — which comes back to the board for a perfunctory final vote next week and goes into effect in February barring legal challenges — Airbnb’s Public Policy Director David Owen told the Guardian, “It’s a tremendous step forward and we have a lot of work to do.”

Big soda explodes on SF, gives $7.7 million to fight beverage tax

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If the soda tax proponents brought a supersoaker to the November ballot showdown, the soda industry brought a tsunami. New campaign finance reports filed today [Mon/6] show the soda industry gave $7.7 million dollars to shoot down the sugary beverage tax in San Francisco, and no, this does not count money spent in Berkeley against our sister city’s beverage tax. 

That number is completely off the charts. In San Francisco local politics, journalists have written screeds against local tech angel investor Ron Conway for throwing $50,000 at an Assembly race, for a point of reference. It may not be record setting though. In 2008, PG&E spent nearly $10 million to take down a clean energy initiative, Proposition H. Still, $7.7 million is simply an absurd amount of money in terms of San Francisco politics, and rarely seen.

And the American Beverage Association still has the entire month of October to outspend PG&E.

“It makes your eyeballs pop,” said Sup. Scott Wiener, a co-author of San Francisco’s sugary beverage tax, along with Sup. Eric Mar. “The rule of thumb is, if you can raise $1 million in San Francisco, you’re in good shape. I don’t even know what you’d do with $7 million.”

The money spent also bests the record set in nearby Richmond. The failed beverage tax was defeated handily with $2.6 million spent against it. It’s that frightening amount that spurred Wiener and Mar to start a grassroots campaign for the sugary beverage tax a year early. The San Francisco measure, on this November’s ballot, would levy a 2-cents-per ounce tax on sugary drinks sold in containers. The money would go directly into health and wellness programs in schools and city recreation centers. 

But the sugary beverage tax proponents have only raised about $225,000 so far, which is nowhere near the ballpark of the $7.7 million mark. San Francisco is awash in carbonated dollars.

Even more staggering is who the money is from. Most campaign finance forms show a long list of donors. Maybe a few firefighters kick in $500 here, maybe a retiree kicks in $100 there. This form has one, single campaign donor: the American Beverage Association, which is primarily funded by Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola. 

What does all that money buy? Well, for starters, a whole lot of political ads. The expenditures listed against Proposition E, the soda tax, list over $3,750,000 spent with GCW Media Services, who make slick campaign ads like the one below.

It also goes toward paying those oh-so-pleasant mailed ads, you know, the ones trying to link the soda tax with the rising cost of living, and evictions? The US Postal Service alone netted $3,500 to send those off.

The Young Democrats, who endorsed No on the Sugary Beverage Tax, got a whopping $20,000 for their troubles. And notably, Chile Lindo, whose owner repeatedly came out to testify against the sugary beverage tax, was paid $812. 

And let us not forget our friends at BMWL and Partners, paid over $161,000 by the American Beverage Association so far. No wonder Chuck Finnie, a flack at BMWL, got so testy with us when we questioned claims by the ABA.

“I was a journalist for 20 years, and this is bullshit,” the ex-San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter told us. “The gloves are off.”

They certainly are. Big soda isn’t sparing a solitary dime when it comes to flooding our TV stations, our radio airwaves, our streets, and our billboards with a straightforward message: to vote against the sugary beverage tax. 

But the real message behind that effort is much easier to see, now that we know how much money they’ve spent.

They’re scared. 

Sugary beverages contribute much to obesity and diabetes rates in San Francisco and beyond, studies have shown, and the showdown with the soda industry in San Francisco and Berkeley could ripple across the country. Big soda’s big lobbyists are running astroturf campaigns we’ve exposed in previous coverage, and this $7.7 million show just how seriously the big soda companies consider these new taxes a threat to their livelihoods.

The only question is, will their big money succeed in hoodwinking San Francisco?

We’ve embedded the campaign filing below, which you can read for yourself or download.



Opponents seek changes in Airbnb legislation before big hearing

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The broad and diverse coalition opposing Sup. David Chiu’s legislation to legalize and regulate Airbnb and other short-term housing rental companies — which the Board of Supervisors will consider tomorrow [Tues/7] — have boiled its many concerns down to three particular demands.

The coalition of tenant and landlord groups, affordable housing and neighborhood advocates, hotel workers and homeowners, and asundry other community leaders held another in a series of rallies on the steps of City Hall on Friday, again raising a variety of concerns.

But now, they’re penned a letter that has “three core recommedations.” The first is a call to limit rentals to 90 nights per year. That has been a feature of Chiu’s legislation from the beginning for unhosted rentals, given that it requires hosts to be permanent residents who live in their units at least 275 days per year, but the legislation still allows hosts to rent out a spare bedroom through Airbnb with few limits.

“If this is not done, the current proposal will allow year-round tourist rentals in every residential unit in the City which will drive up housing prices, create further economic incentive to increase evictions, further deplete housing stock for residents, and deteriorate the quality of life in our residential neighborhoods,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Chiu.

The supervisor had been a little cagey about the 90-day limit in the past, but when we pressed him on the issue during his endorsement interview with the Guardian last week, he confirmed that his legislation would allow spare bedrooms to be rented for more than 90 nights per year.

Chiu said his primary concern with the legislation was ensuring entire homes can’t be rented more than 90 nights per year, which he said was the main threat to the city’s rental housing stock, but he was open to amendments that would limit the rental of spare rooms, although that’s a practice he still wants to allow.

“We are grappling with the idea of what that balance is,” he told us.

The coalition is also asking for the legislation to explicitly ban short-term rentals of below-market-rate units and other affordable housing built with public subsidies. The third recommendation seeks to include “expedited private right of action” in the legislation, allowing neighbors and other third parties to file enforcement actions with the courts without waiting for city enforcement processes to slowly play out first.

That’s been a big problem recently as the San Francisco Tenants Union and other groups try to file lawsuits against landlords that have evicted rent-controlled tenants in favor of tourist rentals through Airbnb and other sites, but they’ve been prevented from doing so by foot-dragging in the Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection.

Members of this coalition will also present individual demands tomorrow, but the coalition also conveyed its opposition to supervisors approving this legislation tomorrow:

“We are unanimous in our position that the process being pursued by Supervisor Chiu is rushed. The City will live with the intended (and unintended) consequences of this legislation for many, many years. We implore you to amend the legislation with the recommendations articulated above, and as necessary postpone the Board hearing on this measure. This is one of the most important housing policy issues the City has faced in a decade, and the ‘solution’ by the Board of Supervisors must be done right and not hurried.”

The legislation will dominate the otherwise sparse agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, which starts at 2pm in City Hall. We’ll be live-tweeting the action, so follow along @sfbg or check back here for the full report. 

Luxy! The dating app for the 1 percent is NOT a prank

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I got a press release announcing a new app yesterday that immediately set off my “hoax” radar. Not only is Luxy not a prank, but actual people are signing up for it.

In the press release, Luxy is advertised (in all caps) as TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.

Finally — an app guaranteed to ensure Greg Gopman’s pool of dating prospects won’t be infected with the grotesque human trash he so despises.

“Tinder was pretty awesome when it came out,” according to a quote from an unnamed user included in the press release, “but there’s a lot of riff raff on there.”

“It’s Tinder without low-income dating prospects,” according to the description. “In fact, the average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”

So far, this doesn’t actually appear to be true. I downloaded Luxy to find out if it was real, and listed my income as above $1 million. So far I’ve managed to escape detection as riff raff.

Here’s the formal description from the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few.”

“Haha good prank,” I wrote in response to the press release. “Who’s behind it?”

Darren Shuster of Pop Culture Public Relations responded almost immediately.

“Why a prank?” He wrote in an email. “It’s a dating site for rich folks — Have you ever heard of companies like MillionaireMatch.com, SeekingArrangement.com and SugarDaddie.com? These companies have been around for 10 years+ and this ‘Tinder-like’ platform just brings it too a whole new level.”

A whole new level indeed. “Sites / apps like my client’s are probably just a sign of the times,” Shuster mused. “While narrowcasting replaced broadcasting years ago (getting only the news you’re interested in receiving), maybe we have something happening like ‘narrowmatching’ where people only seek to match within certain population pools / segments (i.e., dog owners only, Conservatives or Liberals only, Christian only, rich only)?”

Interesting sociological analysis, Mr. public relations spokesperson.

All I can say is that I cannot wait to see what happens when the Occupy Wall Street set discovers Luxy.

Investigation shows outsider ownership of SF’s luxury condos

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Former Bay Guardian editor and publisher Tim Redmond has a great new investigation on his 48Hills site showing how many new luxury condos in San Francisco are owned as investments by out-of-towners, puncturing the myth that unfettered market-rate housing development will help with the city’s affordability crisis. Check it out. 

Ammiano “angry” as Brown vetoes prosecutor misconduct bill

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Assemblymember Tom Ammiano strongly criticized Gov. Jerry Brown today [Mon/29] for yesterday vetoing his Assembly 885, which would have provided modest sanctions for prosecutors who willfully withhold evidence during criminal trials, a huge problem we’ve repeatedly covered in the Bay Guardian.

From the case of JJ Tennison and Antoine Goff — who served long prison terms before being freed after a Guardian investigation showed misconduct by the police and prosecutors in San Francisco — to the similar and most recent case of Obie Anthony, as told by Ammiano to his legislative colleagues during the hearings, prosecutorial misconduct is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

AB 885 became a good compromise measure and it worked its way through the legislative process, in the end allowing judges to inform juries when a prosecutor has intentionally withheld evidence, an important factor when weighing credibility that is usually shielded from jurors.

But in his veto message, Brown wrote, “Prosecutorial misconduct should never be tolerated. This bill, however, would be a sharp departure from current practice that looks to the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed. Under current law, judges have an array of remedies at their disposal if a discovery violation comes to light during trial.”

Yet the reality of the criminal justice system is that such remedies rarely get applied, particularly in cases where the defendant is a poor person of color, sometimes because judges (many of them appointed by Republican governors during shameful tough-on-crime eras) are biased in favor of police and prosecutors.

This is a problem that was ripe for a legislative remedy in country where racism and the world’s highest incarceration rates are still huge problems, and we share the frustration of Ammiano over this veto.

“I’m not just disappointed at the Governor’s veto of this bill, I’m angry,” Ammiano said in a press release. “We need so much more than this to balance the system and keep the innocent out of prison, as the writers of the Constitution intended. Most prosecutors are honorable, but we’ve seen too many cases where DA’s don’t play fair – hiding evidence or releasing it at the last minute.”

“I recently met 40-year-old Obie Anthony, who has spent nearly half his life in prison because prosecutors hid evidence that would have pointed to his innocence,” Ammiano continued. “A court has now completely exonerated him, but that exoneration has come 20 years too late. We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice. We can’t wait decades to free the innocent while the true perpetrators run free.”

Ammiano noted that while the courts have prohibited non-disclosure evidence, he said the remedies that Brown refers to are weak and rarely used. For example, in Anthony’s case, the prosecutorial misconduct resulted in just a 24-hour continuance and no disclosure to the jury.  

“AB 885 could have saved me from spending 17 years in state prison,” Anthony said shortly after it passed the Legislature.

Brown is right that, “Prosecutorial misconduct should never be tolerated,” but in today’s criminal justice system — where cops and prosecutors are regularly exposed for railroading low-income defendants — it is not just tolerated, it is commonplace. 

Moderate politicians push “affordable housing” definition up to higher income brackets

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San Francisco, its General Plan Housing Element, and various city codes have always had a very specific definition of what they mean by “affordable housing”: homes that are affordable to those making 120 percent of area median income (AMI) and below, the kind that generally require public subsidies to build from scratch in San Francisco. That group is defined annually by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development using the latest data, and this year in San Francisco, it is defined as individuals making $81,550 or less year, or households of four people making $116,500 or less, according the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

But Mayor Ed Lee and other neoliberal and pro-developer politicians and political groups in town have in recent years been trying to redefine what the city means by “affordable housing” to reach up to 150 percent of AMI, definitions that made their way into the Proposition K housing policy statement on the November ballot and into a City Hall hearing yesterday [Thu/25].

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee held a public hearing to respond to the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report, “The Mayor’s Office of Housing: Under Pressure and Challenged to Preserve Diversity,” which called on that office to be more transparent and aggressive in addressing the city’s affordable housing crisis, writing “the need for public transparency and fair access to housing opportunities has never been greater.”

MOHCD Director Olson Lee agreed with almost all of the report’s recommendations, pledging to provide more information to the public and complete an overhaul of the department’s website by the end of the year, making it easier for the public to apply for subsidized housing and more easily track where public resources are being spent.

“We agree with the grand jury report globally,” Lee said at the hearing.

But two of the three supervisors on that committee used the occasion to push this redefinition of “affordable housing” in San Francisco, with Chair London Breed pressing Lee and MOHCD on what it’s doing to serve those higher income brackets who want the city’s help with housing.

“Even people at 150 percent AMI can’t afford to buy a median-priced home today,” Lee acknowledged, pledged his office’s resources to help address the problem.

Sup. Katy Tang also pressed the point, telling Lee that “to stretch it to 150 AMI is really important,” clearly defining what she meant when she said, “San Francisco needs to continue building and really accommodate family housing.”

While it may be true that with median home prices in San Francisco now reaching $1 million, an individual making $101,950 per year or family of four making $145,650 — that is, 150 percent of AMI — would be hard pressed to buy real estate in this booming housing market.

But it’s not like this relatively small group of people (refresher: “median” is the middle point, meaning half the citizens make 100 percent of AMI or below) is being forced out of the city, like those truly low-to-middle income people traditionally served by affordable housing.

Peter Cohen and Fernando Marti, co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organization, tell us they’re concerned about this upward creeping definition of affordable housing, even though they strongly support Prop. K, which calls for 33 percent of housing to be affordable to 120 percent of AMI, but also for half of all housing to be affordable to those at 150 percent AMI and below.

They’re fine with the city doing what it can to encourage more housing affordable to those in the 120-150 AMI range, but they’re adamant that money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and other public resources don’t subsidize housing for that group.

“It’s going to be a continuing discussion,” Marti told us. “But legally, we can’t talk about city subsidies going into that sector.”

Hopefully, the transparency reforms that MOHCD is pledging will allow the public to make sure that upper-middle-class San Franciscans — the very people whose influx (encouraged by the city’s economic development policies) is driving up the cost of housing for everyone — aren’t also cannibalizing the city’s already inadequate affordable housing resources. 

New protections for abortion seekers proposed, but may face rival efforts

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After a years-long saga of trying to regulate the loudest and rudest protesters outside clinics that offer abortions, a new law may finally protect patients and employees of Planned Parenthood in San Francisco from harassment. Sup. David Campos introduced a resolution yesterday [Tues/23] that would refine his previous legislation creating a buffer zone outside reproductive healthcare centers, the latest in legal maneuverings to protect free speech while sparing medical care-seekers from harm.

Although San Francisco houses only one of Planned Parenthood’s 22 health centers in Northern California, the opposition to its Valencia Street location stands out. “In San Francisco, there are particularly harassing protesters, a small but vocal group,” Adrienne Bousian, the vice president of public affairs of Planned Parenthood Northern California, told us. “They film women and men walking down the street, shout insults, and follow women. They try to block access with their arms and get in front of the door.”

It’s the same old song, as pro-life protesters tout the sins of abortion to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, the people they harass are customers seeking STD checks or other health care. Sometimes the people they harass are simply neighbors. Large photographs of fetuses and bloody remains greet passers-by. When former Guardian staff writer Caitlin Donohue visited last year, she cataloged clinic-protester Erika Hathaway’s gem arguments.

“Don’t kill your baby! If it could talk it would say ‘Mommy, don’t judge me,'” she shouted. Hathaway is one of the protester mainstays. Another favored tactic of Hathaway’s: playing Christmas music on full blast, to remind those inside the Planned Parenthood that “Christ was a baby once.”

As Bousian told us, sometimes women facing the life-changing choice of abortion have to face down the “gauntlet” of these protesters, and their frightening photos. One can only imagine how scarring that could be, while already facing a decision that could color the rest of one’s life.

abortion protesters

Outside the Planned Parenthood, last year. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CAITLIN DONOHUE.

Campos’ “buffer zone” resolution last year was intended to end “the gauntlet” of harassment, establishing a 25-foot space in front of reproductive healthcare clinics protesters were barred from crossing. But after the US Supreme Court knocked down a similar buffer zone law in Massachusetts, the city got skittish over enforcing the law, and the protesters came back in earnest.

Now, it’s time for another crack at removing the emboldened protesters. The new resolution calls for a 25-foot zone around a reproductive health care facility that protesters cannot follow or harass people within, a tweak that may make all the difference. It will also bar anyone from impeding entry into a reproductive health care facility, and bar use of amplified sound or shouting within 50 feet (with reasonable exceptions, like car horns).

Perhaps this new resolution was what tipped Planned Parenthood into endorsing Campos’ candidacy for the 17th California Assembly District. Notably, it wasn’t the nonprofit itself that endorsed him, but rather their political arm, the Planned Parenthood Northern California Action Fund. Bousian, putting on her political hat, said the action fund felt Campos distinguished himself in defending women’s rights, including with this resolution.

“We want California to lead the way as a state expanding access,” she said. “That’s our goal.”

Still, an open question lingers: What will become of Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Malia Cohen’s planned resolution to protect healthcare providers from harassment? Normally, a resolution like this would be a slam-dunk at the Board of Supervisors. But Lee and Cohen’s resolution mirrors Campos’, and was announced earlier this month. Some political insiders indicated to us that the mayor may be open to merging his efforts with Campos, but Campos’ office said it received no word from the mayor yet. And with Cohen’s District 10 supervisorial race and Campos’ Assembly race giving both cause to want to take ownership on this issue, there’s a chance for political strife and gamesmanship along the way.

Hopefully, political squabbles and posturing won’t postpone needed efforts to protect women and other healthcare seekers.

“San Francisco should be leading the way,” Bousian told us.

Yes, it should.

Anti-war groups take to the streets of SF to protest US bombing campaign UPDATED

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With the US military now bombing targets in both Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State that we’re targeting threatening to retaliate against US citizens, the Bay Area’s anti-war movement is taking the streets today [Wed/24] and in the coming days (although the SF Chronicle apparently didn’t get the memo).

Two of the Bay Area biggest anti-war groups, the San Francisco chapters of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition and The World Can’t Wait, have called for a march and protest today at 5:30pm starting at Market and Powell streets.

“[President Barack] Obama owns this immoral and illegal action, the ultimate war crime — invasion of a sovereign nation that poses no imminent threat to the aggressor. “We” did not ask for or approve this war. NOTHING good can come from U.S. bombing, and we need to say so immediately and widely,” The World Can’t Wait said in a statement calling for people to show up with sign and something to say.

Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, put out a statement that included this: “Let’s tell the fundamental truth that the Obama Administration conceals from the people. The so-called Islamic State or ISIS wouldn’t exist today as a major force either in Syria or Iraq except for the U.S. military aggression that smashed the secular, nationalist governments in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 followed by its catastrophic support for the armed opposition against the similarly organized government in Syria.”

But hey, nothing solves problems created by US militarism like the US military, right? No? Yeah, probably not, so get out there and be counted as a voice for peace.

[UPDATE Thu/25]: The turnout and energy level at yesterday’s anti-war rallies seemed a little lackluster, which was probably more of an indicator of the disempowerment people feel and their grim resignation toward our state of neverending war than actual support for the current military operations. I reflected on this phenomenon in 2008, five years after our military invaded Iraq, in an award-winning piece called “Resistance is Futile — or is it?” and I think it’s work another read in light of current events.  

SEIU Local 1021 backs motorist measure and a Republican. WTF?!?!

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Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — which has long played an important role in San Francisco’s progressive movement, providing the money and member turnout to achieve some important victories for the left — finds itself at odds with many progressive activists in this election, particularly on the issue of transportation.

As we previously reported, the union has been aggressively campaigning for BART Board member James Fang’s reelection this year, even though Fang is the city’s only elected Republican and not particularly progressive on transit and other issues. But he was the only BART board member to walk the picket line with the workers during last year’s disastrous strikes, so it’s understandable why the union would stand with him now.

What’s less understandable is why Local 1021 has endorsed the Yes of Prop. L campaign, which seeks to undermine San Francisco’s transit-first policies and transfer money from Muni operations to subsidize more free public parking for automobiles, joining such unlikely allies as the San Francisco Republican Party, the SF Association of Realtors, and the SF Chamber of Commerce.

So we asked Local 1021 Political Chair Alysabeth Alexander about the endorsement, and she told us: “One of our member leaders is a proponent and the argument that driving is hell in San Francisco resonated with a portion of our membership that drives and for whom public transportation is not an option either because of service cuts and route changes, because their job requires car use, or because they work shifts that don’t work for public transportation or biking. Because of rising housing prices many working people have been pushed out of SF over the years, and many of our workers shifts end or start when BART or Muni isn’t working or isn’t practical. Our union is 100 percent supportive of public transportation and addressing the climate crisis head-on.  We are fighting for the expansion of public transportation and for adequate funding, and sufficient staffing so that it can be maintained.”

The “member leader” she referred to was apparently Claire Zvanski, a longtime past president of the District 11 Democratic Club. But even that club couldn’t bring itself to endorse this myopic primal scream of a ballot measure, taking no position and writing, “This is a policy statement to inform the MTA that cars and those who love them are not getting enough attention in the transit planning process. This measure received a No Recommendation as an alternative to an Oppose from the eboard, mostly out of respect for our venerable past-president Claire Zvanski. The members also voted No Recommendation.”

Most progressive and transportation-related groups are opposing Prop. L, which its opponents say will actually make things worse for motorists in the city by undermining current efforts to make Muni more attractive and encourage people to use alternatives to the automobile.

“If we don’t reduce the congestion on the streets, that makes it harder for the people who really do have to drive,” No on L campaign manager Peter Lauterborn told us, responding to Alexander’s argument that the measure somehow helps working people and noting that Local 1021 never allowed the No on L campaign to make its case before endorsing the measure [UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Alexander said the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition “did present a No on L position]. He also said the measure may have visceral appeal to frustrated drivers, but it doesn’t really make sense.

“Taking away money from the transportation system to build parking garages doesn’t help anyone,” Lauterborn said. “The Labor Council endorsed No on L and the reality is working class people use Muni at a far higher percentage than those citywide….Being pro-transit is inconsistent with supporting a ballot measure that would defund Muni.”

Meanwhile, in an allegedly unrelated matter, Local 1021 Political Director Chris Daly — who was a local leader of the progressive movement while serving the Board of Supervisors 2000-2010 — on Friday resigned from the union, where the Guardian has long been aware that he was having internal power struggles over the last year.

Daly tells us that his departure wasn’t based on political or philosophical differences with SEIU, that he’s proud of the work that he and his colleagues have done on wage equity and beating back anti-worker threats, and that it just seemed like the right time to leave, although he’s not sure what he’ll do next.

“I’m sorry to go,” he told us, “but it was time to go.”