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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.

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.”

Alerts: Oct 8-14, 2014

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WEDNESDAY 8

Supervisor/Assembly candidates offer views on city parks


Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, SF. social@sfparkalliance.org. 6-8pm. Join candidates in supervisor Districts 2,4,6,8 and 10, who raised $5,000 for the Parks Alliance by the June 30th deadline, as well as candidates David Chiu and David Campos for Assembly District 17, in a public forum to hear all positions on issues such as parks funding. The San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest are hosting this event.


THURSDAY 9

November 2014 Election: The Equity Debate


University of San Francisco, Maier Room, Fromm Hall (behind St. Ignatius church), 2497 Golden Gate, SF. www.usfca.edu/artsci/pols/events. 6-8pm, free. Candidates from three local races — Assembly District 17, Board of Supervisors District 10, and San Francisco Unified School Board — will discuss their platforms surrounding issues of inequality in San Francisco. The forum will be moderated by Professor James Taylor of the Department of Politics, and is sponsored by the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good along with a host of community organizations.


Bridging the Gap — A Bay Guardian Transit Riders Union community forum


San Francisco LGBT Center, 1800 Market Street, SF. tinyurl.com/transithousing. 6-8pm. In collaboration with the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, the Bay Guardian hosts this community forum to explore a central issue facing our city. San Francisco needs more affordable housing, a robust public transit system, and fully funded social services if it is to remain an efficient, diverse, compassionate city. Unfortunately, some political leaders have pitted transportation and housing activists against one another in recent years, particularly so in the upcoming election on Propositions A, B, K, and L. We’ll examine why that happened, the political tactics that are being employed, and what can be done to bridge the gap along with a panel of activists and experts.

SATURDAY 11

Cleve Jones 60th birthday and San Francisco AIDS Foundation benefit


The Cafe, 2368 Market, SF. sfaf.org/morecleve. 9pm-2am, $30 general, $80 VIP. Celebrate Cleve Jones—activist, advocate, and SFAF co-founder—at a party hosted by celebrated drag performer Juanita MORE! Featuring the best dance tunes of the past four decades, special guest appearances by Dustin Lance Black and more, and a very special performance by actor and singer Jonathan Groff, all proceeds from this event will benefit the Cleve Jones Fund to end HIV transmission.

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. 

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.

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.”

Reform BART’s approach to labor

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By Christina Olague

OPINION If BART is part of your daily commute, you know how critical a reliable system is to Bay Area working people. If you don’t ride BART, all you have to do it think about all the cars that the system keeps off the road every day.

That’s why everyone — most of all the BART unions and their supporters — found last year’s strike so upsetting. And now, a new report commissioned in part by BART Board member James Fang shows how unnecessary it was for management to drive workers to walk off the job.

In fact, the report says, hiring a union-busting outside negotiator was a serious mistake. Allowing that hired gun to pursue an extremist bargaining strategy was a major cause of the labor unrest.

The report, conducted by an outside consultant, involved interviews with dozens of workers, managers, and negotiators. The document is riddled with references to war: Bomb-throwing, Vietnam, a labor “massacre.” It shows how badly the executive management at BART allowed the climate for negotiations to deteriorate — and how hard it will be to repair the damage.

Here’s how one manager put it: “This strike was not productive. We never did a course correction and then there was another strike. Two people got killed. We spent millions to end up getting creamed, and engendering hate.”

The report notes how BART executive management and their notorious chief negotiator refused to take seriously the concerns workers expressed about safety.

“Key points made about safety in bargaining sessions fell on deaf ears…because management thought the unions were just posturing and the unions thought the management was refusing to engage,” it states.

Safety concerns were a central part of the negotiations from the workers’ perspective, and by dismissing those concerns as a tactic, BART’s consultant not only made an agreement more difficult but gambled with the safety of workers and riders in order get concessions from workers.

Fang, head of the BART Board’s Labor Negotiation Review Committee, is asking that the board adopt the report’s recommendations to prevent this from happening again. These recommendations include more transparency around the agency’s finances, a much earlier start to negotiations — and if needed, bringing in mediators, not outside anti-union consultants.

Once the rest of our elected BART Board of Directors became more involved, management found a reasonable solution that both sides could live with. Why didn’t that happen at the beginning of negotiations?

That’s what the BART Board needs to be asking itself. A fair post-mortem puts much of the blame on management — a general manager who had little experience in labor negotiations and a board that failed to show leadership and independence.

Fang, who is the one board member who joined workers on the picket lines, says it’s time for management to change its approach. He’s calling for a strike-prevention plan that starts with honest, fair labor relations.

We’ve heard from some politicians looking to score easy points from frustrated riders that BART strikes ought to be banned. And it’s easy to imagine frustrated commuters, stuck far from work when the trains weren’t running, feeling sympathetic.

But if workers don’t have the right to strike, they are powerless to speak out against dangerous working conditions to a recalcitrant and, in this case, misdirected management. That leads to a more dangerous system for all of us.

Recognizing this, BART Board President Joel Keller just withdrew his suggestion that strikes be banned.

The much better approach for riders like me is to follow Fang’s prevention plan: Hold management accountable for its failures and to make sure that both sides can work together better in the future.

BART is a phenomenally successful system. Ridership has doubled in recent years, to 440,000 trips a day. With trained and experienced BART workers, the system’s on-time performance has risen to 95 percent. That’s not the result of some high-paid labor negotiator — it’s the work of a dedicated and hard-working staff.

If you ride BART every day, you deserve to know that the trains will be running, that you can count on the system to get you to work on time. Between now and 2017, when the next contract will be negotiated, the BART Board needs to learn from its past mistakes and find a different, more collaborative approach. Christina Olague is a community activist and former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Still not sharing

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news@sfbg.com

As controversial legislation to legalize and regulate Airbnb and other short-term housing rental services operating in San Francisco headed for another contentious City Hall hearing on Sept. 15, the San Francisco Treasurer & Tax Collector’s Office quietly unveiled new policies and mechanisms for hosts to finally start paying long-overdue local taxes on their rentals.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu’s legislation attempts to strike a balance between protecting housing for permanent city residents — including tenants in rent-controlled units who are being displaced in favor of visiting tourists — and allowing San Franciscans to sometimes rent out rooms through companies such as Airbnb. That practice has mushroomed during the Great Recession even though such short-term rentals of residential units have long been illegal in San Francisco (see “Into thin air,” 8/20/13).

Among other provisions, Chiu’s legislation would require hosts to register with the city and live in their units for at least 275 days per year (thus limiting rental nights to 90), create enforcement procedures for city agencies, and protect below-market-rate and single-room occupancy units from being used as short-term rentals.

But Airbnb has also been snubbing the city for more than two years since the Tax Collector’s Office held public hearings and concluded that short-term rental companies and their hosts are required to collect and pay the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax (aka, the hotel tax), a surcharge of about 15 percent on room rentals usually paid by visiting guests (see “Airbnb isn’t sharing,” 3/19/13).

After other media outlets finally joined the Bay Guardian in raising questions about the impact that Airbnb and other companies was having on San Francisco — and with cities New York City, Berlin, and other cities taking steps to ban short-term rentals — Airbnb announced in March that it would begin collecting and paying the TOT in San Francisco sometime this summer.

But that still hasn’t happened, even though Tax Collector Jose Cisneros recently unveiled a new website clarifying that Airbnb hosts must register as businesses and pay taxes and created a streamlined system for doing so. The office is even allowing Airbnb and other companies to register as “qualified website companies” that collect and pay these taxes on behalf of hosts.

“The law does apply to these transactions,” Cisneros told us. “And the set of requirements are the same for the hosts and the website companies.”

Airbnb didn’t respond to Guardian inquiries for this story.

Meanwhile, an unusually diverse coalition of critics continues to raise concerns about Airbnb and the regulatory legislation, including renter and landlord groups, neighborhood and affordable housing activists, labor leaders, and former members of the Board of Supervisors (including Chiu predecessor, Aaron Peskin) and Planning Commission. They penned a Sept. 15 to Chiu calling for him to delay the legislation.

“Individually and collectively, we have advanced nearly two dozen additional amendments that address the issues raised by short-term residential rentals. While we are not of one mind on every issue or every suggested amendment, we are unanimous in our belief that the process you are pursuing is rushed,” they wrote. “The City will live with the intended (and unintended) consequences of your legislation for many, many years.”

Sources in Chiu’s office had already told the Guardian that he planned to keep the legislation in committee for at least one more hearing so the myriad details can be worked out, as Chiu said at the hearing as well.

“We want to have the time to continue to vet and hear all of the perspectives, and at the end of the day what I hope to do is to be able to move forward and build incentives around something that is far better than our current status quo,” Chiu said at the hearing. “This is a very complicated issue, and we all know that we need to get this policy as right as we can.”

Planning Director John Rahaim conveyed concerns from the Planning Commission that the legislation beef up the city’s ability to regulate short-term rentals.

“The commission does believe that the law should be updated to create a legal avenue for those who do want to host,” Rahaim said. “However, currently there are about 5,000 units in the city engaging in short-term rentals. It’s very difficult to know if there are units not being lived in by a full-time resident.”

A long line of speakers wound completely around the packed chamber in City Hall, awaiting their turn to speak publicly to supervisors and city residents, from 20-somethings making a lives renting out their homes to longtime tenants fearing that home-sharing will hurt city’s character.

Airbnb was represented at the hearing by David Owen, a former City Hall staffer who is now director of public policy for the company, and he was publicly confronted by Chiu on the tax issue. Chiu criticized Airbnb for failing to start collecting those taxes as promised.

“As of now, we are extremely close and you will be hearing from us about that in the near future,” Owen said, provoking audible disbelief from many in the crowd. “We have been working diligently alongside the city. This is a complicated set of issues and those involved have all worked in earnest to facilitate this request.”

When Owen was asked about enforcement of the maximum number of nights a tenant has rented out his unit, he said Airbnb’s cooperation is “akin to the city asking Home Depot.com for a list of home care purchases to see if anyone had illegally renovated their bathroom.” But city officials say they need the company’s cooperation to address its impacts. “We don’t want data, just the number of nights per permanent resident so that we can ensure that the bad outcomes of this setup aren’t occurring,” Sup. Jane Kim said. “Airbnb profits from this industry, and therefore [is] accountable to the city.”

Supervisor Mar calls for more bike access on Muni

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With racks that can hold only two bikes on the front of most Muni buses, and no bike access on Muni’s light rail fleet, Sup. Eric Mar is calling on Muni to look at improving its bike-access. At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, he called for a hearing to explore what can be done to address the problem.

We’re looking at expanding the capacity of Muni for those that ride their bikes,” Mar told the board.

Currently Muni vehicles can carry two bikes at the front of each vehicle on its racks, which Mar called inadequate. Notably, only folding bikes are allowed on any Muni vehicle, which means light-rail riding bicyclists are left in the dust, bike grips in hand. 

A hearing on increased bus-bike capacity is especially timely, as Gov. Jerry Brown just signed AB 2707 into law last Tuesday, allowing transit agencies to increase the bike rack capacity on some buses to three bikes, instead of two. Also, San Francisco is anticipating a new fleet of buses, Mar noted, which may be a ripe opportunity to increase bike access. 

We contacted the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency for comment on the cost and feasibility of any such bike improvements, and spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency is in the process of gathering that data.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said this was a good step for the city to take, but one that’s taken years to come to fruition.

“We’re really thrilled to see Supervisor Mar on the forefront of bike access, but this is also not a new idea,” Shahum said. “This was laid out in our bike plan years ago. We’ve seen advances in this regionally with BART lifting its ban on bikes.” 

Caltrain has also grown its bike access in recent years. “It’s exciting to see San Francisco able to do the same,” Shahum said.

The bike plan really highlights the opportunity for bikes on light rail vehicles, she added. But she wants to encourage the SFMTA to consider less busy times, like weekends or off-peak hours to bend those rules.

“Consider a family going to the Beach Chalet or someone who wants to enjoy Sunday Streets on the weekend,” she said. “Weekends could be an ideal time, (for bikes on light rail), especially for families.”

We need to start with what San Francisco State University Professor and Bay Guardian columnist Jason Henderson calls automobility, the feeling where everyone feels they need to drive in the city,” Mar said. “We need to encourage people to walk bike or take transit.”

Mar’s office told the Guardian they’re anticipating the hearing would take place in November, after the frenzy of the upcoming election. 

Rising tenant buyouts in SF targeted by new legislation and map

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A new interactive map published today by the Anti Eviction Mapping Project shows the spike in tenancy buyouts over the last year in San Francisco, just in time to raise awareness for Sup. David Campos’ proposed legislation to document and regulate tenant buyouts, which has a hearing later this month.

The map only records buyouts reported to the San Francisco Tenants Union, up 126 percent from 2012 to 2013 and expected to be even higher when data for 2014 is collected, but the Tenants Union estimates the number to be only about one-third of the buyouts actually taking place.

Campos’s legislation, which will go before the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Sept. 22, seeks to record any buyout taking place in San Francisco with the rent board, and to guarantee the information of tenants rights to the tenant being bought out. [UPDATE: Because of the likely fiscal impacts of the legislation, it has been moved to the Budget & Finance Committee for its first hearing, with no hearing date scheduled yet]. 

“Regulating and recording buyouts isn’t going to stop them, we don’t believe that’s something within our power or within our rights,” Erin McElroy, a member of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, told us.

The legislation will, however, impose the same condo conversion prohibitions that are already in place for no-fault evictions. The buyouts were virtually nonexistent before 2006, when San Francisco passed legislation severely limiting the conversion to condos of units that had been cleared of tenants use no-fault evictions.

“Buyouts are really the main way that landlords are evicting tenants,” Ted Gullickson, executive director of the Tenants Union, told us. “They threaten them with an Ellis Act eviction, then come in sweet with a buyout. We need legislation that takes away the incentive for one of the biggest methods of displacement in the city.”

“There are just so many components to the housing crisis [in San Francisco] that we need to know all that we can,” McElroy said. “Most tenants don’t know their rights and they often aren’t being offered enough.”

But groups with opposing views don’t believe that keeping a public record of a private contract is legal.

“Buyouts are mutually beneficial for both landlords and tenants. A tenant can get the money they need so that they can put down a mortgage on their own home,” Charlie Goss from the San Francisco Apartment Association told us. “It’s also a private contract. At face value, there is nothing wrong with recording buyouts, it just may not be constitutional.”

Both sides of the aisle are heated, and Gullickson expects a long fight before the legislation makes any progress, but he thinks that if the tenants side can persuade the more moderate supervisors, it can go through.

Legal aid funding for undocumented youth clears board committee

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Brian, who is 12, came to the United States from Guatemala with his younger brother, Edwin, who is seven. They arrived in a car driven by a coyote, an adult who ferried them across in an arrangement made with their family. But the brothers were quickly detained by Border Patrol agents.

When they were taken into custody, Brian explained through a translator, they heard sirens and went running into a field. The coyote ran in the other direction, leaving them alone. Brian said that when border agents shouted “stop!” he couldn’t understand what they were saying. But when Edwin tripped and fell, they both came to a halt, and were soon apprehended. They spent the next month in a Texas facility, where other Central American youth were also being held.

Brian and Edwin spoke to the Bay Guardian just before a Sept. 10 committee hearing of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, concerning a proposal to provide emergency legal aid for undocumented youth. Just before the interview, the brothers stood on the grand marble staircase in San Francisco City Hall, surveying the stately surroundings with wide eyes. But when asked what life was like in Guatemala, where they had stayed with their grandmother, Brian’s face got very serious. 

“It was bad,” he said. “We couldn’t live in peace. There were too many gang members. They often killed children and young teenage boys.”

 

Brian and Edwin. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

The brothers are relatively lucky – they have legal counsel provided by Dolores Street Community Services, and their parents are here with them in San Francisco – yet they are both in deportation proceedings, and could still end up being sent back to Guatemala.

During the hearing at today’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting, more youth shared stories of their own harrowing journeys to the United States and asked the supervisors to approve funding to provide legal counsel for undocumented kids facing deportation proceedings in San Francisco immigration court.

A girl named Natalie, who is 10, described being held in a detention facility she called the “freezer” because of the uncomfortable temperature. “It was unbearably cold. It was freezing,” she said during testimony. “We had to cover ourselves with aluminum foil.”

Others described horrific violence in their home countries in Central America, and spoke about their journeys to the United States on a dangerous freight train that’s earned the nickname The Beast.

Lawyers and advocates weighed in, too. One speaker read a prepared statement from Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, who wrote that due to violence and instability in Central America, “The cases we deal with are often in effect death penalty cases.”

As the Guardian previously reported, the supplemental funding request was proposed by Sup. David Campos, who noted during the hearing that he felt a personal connection with the kids because he himself was once an undocumented youth arriving to the United States from Central America.

Yet when Campos introduced the budget supplemental proposal at last week’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Board President David Chiu – Campos’ opponent in the race to represent District 17 in the California Assembly – noted that he had secured funding during the budget process for the expansion of a legal aid program to ensure immigrant youth would have access to pro bono legal counsel.

“Unless we actually fund nonprofits to provide that support, pro bono counsel cannot help in the way that we need them to,” Campos said during the Sept. 10 hearing.

Chiu suggested at last week’s full board meeting that a grant awarded to the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, for $100,000, was intended to aid unaccompanied youth and could leverage pro bono legal representation valued at some $8 million. But Oren Sellstrom, legal director at the Lawyer’s Committee, said during the Sept. 10 hearing, “The grant we received is not focused either on unaccompanied youth or on the rocket docket,” referring to expedited immigration court proceedings. Sellstrom said he thought the additional funding proposed by Campos was needed.

In the end, the members of the Budget & Finance Committee – Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell – voted unanimously to recommend approval of $1.063 million per year for two years, slightly less than the $1.2 million per year Campos had originally sought.

After the hearing, Campos told the Bay Guardian he was “cautiously optimistic” that the full board, which votes on the supplemental on Tue/16, would approve the funding. His office is working with the Mayor’s Office on Housing and Community Development to expedite the process of securing contracts if it wins full approval.

Farrell, the more conservative member of the committee, said he’d had concerns walking into the hearing but was struck by youth’s accounts of their experiences. He said he had previously represented undocumented immigrants as an attorney and was sympathetic to their cases. “I had some concerns about the fact that during our own budget process, every year, we cannot fund enough services,” he told the Bay Guardian.

But at the end of the day, Farrell said, “This is a situation we cannot turn our back on in San Francisco.”

Deal reached in Transbay Tower tax district showdown

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The deal almost sounds too good to be true. After threats of lawsuits, frantic backdoor dealmaking and a very harried week for the Board of Supervisors, a deal was finally reached yesterday on a dispute over taxes in the area around the new Transbay Terminal and the Salesforce Tower. 

The initial dispute started over the amount of taxes devlelopers around the new Transbay Terminal were required to pay for the project. A special tax district established in the area would require the developers to pay up to $1.4 billion for public infrastructure in the area, including San Francisco’s high-speed rail connection, in exchange for upzonings that allow them to exceed city building height limits.

This was a critical deal. That $1.4 billion sticker-shock is based on recent property values, which as any San Franciscan not living under a rock knows, have shot up with our housing boom. But the developers balked at the numbers, saying the higher taxes were not part of the original deal. The city, the supervisors, and the mayor disagreed, saying the original agreement was clear. At yesterday’s hearing, Sup. Jane Kim repeatedly hinted at a deal they had reached, saying “I’m excited for what we’ll be able to announce after the closed session.”

The stakes were high. If the developers managed to stall the deal, they may have managed to not pay any of these taxes at all.

“When I woke up this morning, I said there’s no way I’d let this stall,” Sup. Scott Wiener, who has taken the lead on trying to hold the developers to the original deal, told us.

But the deal actually turned out to be pretty rosy for the city, he said, at least at first blush.

The developers will still end up paying up to $1.4 billion (officials say the actual figure will be closer to $1 billion) in the special tax district, but now will pay over 37 years instead of 30, allowing them to make smaller payments. The developers would also be bound to a later vote, further cementing the tax deal. The developers may also forefit their right to sue the city over the negotiations. 

Pressure on the supervisors was strong. At yesterday’s hearing on the tax deal, advocates and developers alike showed up in force. Patrick Valentino, a staunch advocate of market-rate housing development in the city, reminded the supervisors that the initial agreement wasn’t exactly mystifying.

“It was made very clear in (the initial contract) that the fees could go up and down based on the market,” he said. “We certainly aren’t spending millions of dollars for just a bus station.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, threw some barbs the supervisors’ way as well. There’s no time for waffling,” he told them, in public comment. He then made an argument for the high developer fees. “Why don’t people make 1,000-foot skyscrapers in the Nevada desert? There’s no society there, no infrastructure, no water. The value for the land is created by the infrastructure from the Bay Area’s pockets, which added billions of dollars to downtown land. We need more capacity.”

But supervisors didn’t waffle, and a deal was reached.  But to be clear, it is still preliminary, with the devil in the myriad details.

The Board of Supervisors issued a continuance on the final vote for the deal for two weeks, in order to give Mayor Ed Lee and the developers time to cement all the details. 

So far, the deal looks great, Wiener said. “It’s not even a compromise,” he told us. “The phrase I used was, ‘this is too good to be true.'”

But, he said, “We’ll learn new details in two weeks.”

Defend the deal

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EDITORIAL Creating a functional and equitable San Francisco for tomorrow requires political will and foresight today. Do our current political leaders have the requisite courage and commitment to the broad public interest, or are they too willing to give away the farm to powerful private interests wielding promises or threats?

This week at City Hall, there was a fascinating test case for these questions, one that we laid out on Sept. 8 on the SFBG.com Politics blog (“Developers lobby hard to slash payments promised to Transbay Terminal and high-speed rail”). In a nutshell, it involves developers of the biggest office towers proposed for San Francisco reneging on promises to pay for vital public infrastructure, which they made in exchange for lucrative upzoning of their properties.

With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they hired top political fixer Willie Brown to make their case to politicians, including those he helped bring to power, giving him a cut of whatever money this shakedown can shake loose. The Board of Supervisors was set to consider the issue after the Guardian press time for this issue, so check our Politics blog for what happened, but there a few observations we can make without even knowing what the outcome was.

This power play would never happen unless these developers and their allies — including Salesforce, which has leased most of the Transbay Tower, what would be the tallest building on the West Coast — thought they had a reasonable chance of success. And given how the Mayor’s Office seems willing to give developers and business leaders whatever they want, it seems likely that this lobbying effort will more than pay for itself, to the detriment of the public.

Mayor Ed Lee isn’t a political leader, he’s really just the city’s chief administrator, a role he’s been playing since Brown was mayor and that he continues playing since Brown helped put him into Room 200. Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa, another loyalist to Brown and downtown, dishes out discipline to supervisors who don’t toe the line.

City leaders should be willing to play hardball, stick to the original deal, and call the bluff of these developers, even if that means risking that these towers might not get built in their proposed form and timeline. Yes, that strategy might involve some legal liability, but these massive towers were always proposed as a means to an end.

San Francisco doesn’t need a 1,000-foot office building. But given its commitment to rebuild the Transbay Terminal, it does need to ensure that expensive project includes 21st century rail service connecting to the rest of the state, as well as the open space and neighborhood amenities that these developers should fund.

Equally important, San Francisco needs to show that it’s not for sale, that it won’t be bullied, and that its leaders are looking out for more than their own political interests.

Racing for solutions

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rebecca@sfbg.com

Although there are five seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors up for reelection this fall, incumbents face few contenders with the requisite cash and political juice needed to mount a serious challenge. The one race that has stirred interest among local politicos is the bid to represent District 10, the rapidly changing southeastern corner of San Francisco that spans the Bayview, Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill neighborhoods.

Sup. Malia Cohen, who narrowly beat an array of more than a dozen candidates in 2010, has raised way more money than her best-funded opponent, progressive neighborhood activist Tony Kelly, who garnered 2,095 first-place votes in the last D10 race, slightly more than Cohen’s, before the final outcome was determined by ranked-choice voting tallies.

For the upcoming Nov. 4 election, Cohen has received $242,225 in contributions, compared with Kelly’s $42,135, campaign finance records show. But Kelly, who collected the 1,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot and qualified for public financing, has secured key progressive endorsements, including former Mayor Art Agnos, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Sups. David Campos and John Avalos, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club.

Others who’ve filed to run for this office include Marlene Tran, a retired educator who has strong ties to families in the district, especially in Visitacion Valley, through her teaching and language-access programs (she’s known by kids as “Teacher Tran”); Shawn Richard, the founder of a nonprofit organization that offers workshops for youth to prevent gun violence; and Ed Donaldson, who was born and raised in Bayview Hunters Point and works on economic development issues. DeBray Carptenter, an activist who has weighed in on police violence, is running as a write-in candidate.

But the outcome in this dynamic district could be determined by more than campaign cash or political endorsements. That’s because the D10 supervisor faces the unique, unenviable challenge of taking on some of the city’s most intractable problems, which have disproportionately plagued this rapidly changing district.

Longstanding challenges, such as a high unemployment and crime rates, public health concerns, social displacement, and poor air quality, have plagued D10 for years. But now, fast-growing D10 is becoming a microcosm for how San Francisco resolves its growing pains and balances the interests of capital and community.

 

MIX OF CHALLENGES

While candidate forums and questionnaires tend to gauge political hopefuls on where they draw the line on citywide policy debates, such as Google bus stops or fees for Sunday parking meters, neighborhood issues facing D10 have particularly high stakes for area residents.

While other supervisors represent neighborhoods where multiple transit lines crisscross through in a rainbow of route markers on Muni maps, D10 is notoriously underserved by public transit. The high concentration of industrial land uses created major public health concerns. A Department of Public Health study from 2006 determined that Bayview Hunters Point residents were making more hospital visits on average than people residing in other San Francisco neighborhoods, especially for asthma and congestive heart failure.

Unemployment in D-10 hovers near 12 percent, triple the citywide average of 4 percent. Cohen told us efforts are being made on this front, noting that $3 million had been invested in the Third Street corridor to assist merchants with loans and façade improvements, and that programs were underway to connect residents with health care and hospitality jobs, as well as service industry jobs.

“The mantra is that the needle hasn’t moved at all,” Cohen noted, but she said things are getting better. “We are moving in the same downward trend with regard to unemployment.”

Nevertheless, the high unemployment is also linked with health problems, food insecurity — and violence. In recent months, D10 has come into the spotlight due to tragic incidents of gun violence. From the start of this year to Sept. 8, there were 13 homicides in D10.

Fourth of July weekend was particularly deadly in the Bayview and D10 public housing complexes, with four fatal shootings. Cohen responded with a press conference to announce her plan to convene a task force addressing the problem, telling us it will be “focused on preventing gun violence rather than reacting to it.”

The idea, she said, is to bring in expert stakeholders who hadn’t met about this topic before, including mental-health experts and those working with at-risk youth.

“I think we need to go deeper” than in previous efforts, Cohen said, dismissing past attempts as superficial fixes.

But Cohen’s task force plan quickly drew criticism from political opponents and other critics, including Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who dismissed it as empty rhetoric.

“How many people are cool with yet another task force?” Kelly said in a press statement challenging the move. “We can’t wait any longer to stem the deadly tide of violence in District 10. Supervisor Cohen’s task force won’t even propose solutions till 2017. We can’t wait that long.”

Kelly told us he’s formulated a five-point plan to tackle gun violence, explaining that it involved calling for a $10 million budget supplemental to bolster family services, reentry programs, job placement, and summer activities aimed at addressing poverty and service gaps. Kelly also said he’d push for a greater emphasis on community policing, with officers walking a beat instead of remaining inside a vehicle.

“How do you know $10 million is enough?” Cohen responded. “When you hear critics say $10 million, there is no way to indicate whether we’d need more or less.” She also took issue with the contention that her task force wouldn’t reach a solution soon enough, saying, “I never put a timeline on the task force.”

Cohen also said she wanted to get a better sense of where all of the past funding had gone that was supposed to have alleviated gun violence. “We’ve spent a lot of money — millions — and one of the things I am interested in doing is to do an audit about the finances,” she said.

She also wants to explore a partnership with the Guardian Angels, community volunteers who conduct safety patrols, to supplement policing. Cohen was dismissive of her critics. “Tony was not talking about black issues before this,” she said. “He hasn’t done one [gun] buyback. There’s no depth to what any of these critics are saying.”

Tran, who spoke with the Guardian at length, said she’d started trying to address rampant crime in Visitacion Valley 25 years ago and said more needs to be done to respond to recent shootings.

“There was no real method for the sizable non-English speaking victims to make reports then,” Tran wrote in a blog post, going on to say that she’d ensured materials were translated to Chinese languages to facilitate communication with the Police Department. “When more and more residents became ‘eyes and ears’ of law enforcement, community safety improved,” she said.

Richard, whose Brothers Against Guns has been working with youth for 20 years and organizing events such as midnight basketball games, said he opposed Cohen’s task force because it won’t arrive at a solution quickly enough. He said he thought a plan should be crafted along with youth advocates, law enforcement, juvenile and adult probation officers, and clergy members to come up with a solution that would bolster youth employment opportunities.

“I’ve talked with all 13 families” that lost young people to shootings this year, Richard said, and that he attended each of the funerals.

 

CHANGING NEIGHBORHOOD

Standing outside the Potrero Terrace public housing complex at 25th and Connecticut streets on a recent sunny afternoon, Kelly was flanked by affordable housing advocates clutching red-and-yellow “Tony Kelly for District Supervisor” campaign signs. The press conference had been called to unveil his campaign plan to bolster affordable housing in D10.

Pointing out that Cohen had voted “no endorsement” at the Democratic County Central Committee on Proposition G — the measure that would tax property-flipping to discourage real estate speculation and evictions — Kelly said, “This is not a time to be silent.”

While Cohen had accepted checks from landlords who appeared on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s list of worst offenders for carrying out Ellis Act evictions, Kelly said he’s pledged not to accept any funding from developers or Ellis Act evictors. Asked if any had offered, Kelly responded, “Some. They’re not knocking down my door.”

Cohen told us that she hadn’t supported Prop. G, a top priority for affordable housing advocates, because she objected to certain technical provisions that could harm small property owners in her district. As for the contributions from Ellis Act evictors, she said the checks had been returned once the error was discovered. Her formal policy, she said, is not to intentionally take money from anyone involved in an Ellis Act eviction.

Speaking outside Potrero Terrace, Kelly said he thought all housing projects built on public land should make at least one-third of their units affordable to most San Franciscans. He also said renovation of public housing projects could be accelerated if the city loaned out money from its $19 billion employee retirement fund. Under the current system, funding for those improvements is leveraged by private capital.

Mold, pests, and even leaking sewage are well-documented problems in public housing. Dorothy Minkins, a public housing resident who joined Kelly and the others, told us that she’s been waiting for years for rotting sheetrock to be replaced by the Housing Authority, adding that water damage from her second-floor bathroom has left a hole in the ceiling of her living room. She related a joke she’d heard from a neighbor awaiting similar repairs: “He said, Christ will come before they come to fix my place.”

Lack of affordable housing is a sweeping trend throughout San Francisco, but it presents a unique challenge in D10, where incomes are lower on average (the notable exceptions are in Potrero Hill, dotted with fine residential properties overlooking the city that would easily fetch millions, and Dogpatch, where sleek new condominium dwellings often house commuters working at tech and biotech firms in the South Bay).

Home sale prices in the Bayview shot up 59 percent in two years, prompting the San Francisco Business Times to deem it “a hot real estate market adorned with bidding wars and offers way above asking prices.”

One single-family home even sold for $1.3 million. Historically, the Bayview has been an economically depressed, working-class area with a high rate of home ownership due to the affordability of housing — but that’s been impacted by foreclosures in recent years, fueling displacement.

Although statistics from the Eviction Defense Collaborative show that evictions did occur in the Bayview in 2013, particularly impacting African Americans and single-parent households, Cohen noted that evictions aren’t happening in D10 with the same frequency as in the Tenderloin or the Mission.

“When it comes to communities of color in the southeast, it’s about foreclosure or mismanagement of funds,” explained Cohen.

She said that a financial counseling services center had opened on Evans Street to assist people who are facing foreclosure, and added that she thought more should be done to market newly constructed affordable units to communities in need.

“There’s an error in how they’re marketing,” she said, because the opportunities are too often missed.

But critics say more is needed to prevent the neighborhood from undergoing a major transformation without input from residents.

“This district is being transformed,” Richard said. “A lot of folks are moving out — they’re moving to Vallejo, Antioch, Pittsburg. They don’t want to deal with the issues, and the violence, and the cost.”

At the same time, he noted, developers are flocking to the area, which has a great deal more undeveloped land than in other parts of the city.

“The community has no one they can turn to who will hold these developers accountable,” he said. “If the community doesn’t have a stake in it, then who’s winning?”

 

Developers lobby hard to slash payments promised to Transbay Terminal and high-speed rail

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Will the San Francisco Board of Supervisors let developers of the biggest office towers proposed for San Francisco renege on promises to help pay for the Transbay Terminal reconstruction, extension of rail service to that site, and other public amenities? Or will Willie Brown successfully use politicians that he helped get into office — most notably Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Jane Kim — to let the developers keep hundreds of millions of dollars in excess profits?

The answers to those questions will become clearer tomorrow [Tues/9] as the board considers a complex yet crucially important agenda item. It involves creation of a special tax district around the Transbay Terminal, where office tower developers have been awarded huge upzonings — including the Transbay Tower, which would be the tallest building on West Coast at more than 1,000 feet — in exchange for paying for public works projects to serve the area.

But those developers, including Hines, Boston Properties, TMG, and others (it’s not clear whether all six upzoned parcels are participating in the current lobbying effort and threatened lawsuit), are now objecting to paying about $1 billion in special taxes and seeking to get that amount lowered to about $400 million. And to do so, they’ve already paid Brown at least $100,000 just this quarter, kicking off a lobbying effort so intense that Brown has finally registered as a lobbyist after questionably resisting it for many years.

Leading the charge against that effort is Sup. Scott Wiener, who said the promised payments are crucial to paying for about $200 million in work on the Transbay Terminal and paying for the first $450 million of the $2.5 billion project of bringing high-speed rail and electrified Caltrain trains into the facility, as well as a promised public park on top of the terminal.

“The downtown extension is one of the most important transportation projects we will deliver in the foreseeable future. It’s a legacy project with huge benefits for San Francisco and the entire state,” Wiener told us. “We have to go to the mat to get it built, and a reduction in this assessment will significantly undermine our ability to deliver the project and get the train downtown. The last thing we need is a very expensive bus station with no train service.”

The developers and their spokespeople (including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross, who announced Brown’s involvement in the project this summer) argue that their fees have gone up substantially since the plan was first hatched in 2007 and fleshed out in the 2012 Implementation Document (which relied on 2007 land values).

That’s true, but that’s mostly because the value of the properties have shot up in recent years (incidentally, so have the costs of bringing the trains downtown), which also makes the projects far more lucrative for the developers. And Adam Alberti, who represents the Transbay Joint Powers Agency, notes that the tax rate hasn’t changed: it’s still the same 0.55 percent of assessed value that it’s always been.

“The rate is exactly the same, 0.55 percent, but the difference is the land valuations,” Alberti told us.

When the rates were formally set this year by the Rate and Method of Appointment (RMA) document, based on detailed studies of the properties and the district, it did charge the tallest buildings a little more than the shorter ones, under the logic that penthouses are more profitable (for example, the Saleforce lease of most of the Transbay Tower is rumored to be the largest commercial office deal in city history).

But the paper trail of documents and conditions for the four projects that have so far been awarded their entitlements always indicated such details would be hashed out by RMA. Indeed, when the city responded to the developers’ legal threats with a 14-page letter on July 14, it meticulously dismantled the convoluted claims by the developers that there’s been some kind of bait-and-switch here.

Still, the developers have been aggressively working the corridors of power in City Hall trying to get their fees reduced.

“Having not received any of the relief that the the Land Owner sought, the Land Owner is now forced to formally protest the formation of the CFD [Community Financing District], the levying of special taxes pursuant to the RMA, and the incurrence of bonded indebtedness in the CFD,” Boston Properties (which has not returned our calls for comment) wrote in a Sept. 2 letter to the city, which prompted Kim, the district supervisor, to continue the item for one week.

The decision to employ Brown upped the ante on this power struggle, given that Brown (who also didn’t return our calls) helped engineer Mayor Lee’s appointment to office in 2011 and worked behind-the-scenes to help Jane Kim beat progressive challenger Debra Walker the year before. Since then, Kim (who didn’t return our calls for comment) has helped do Brown’s bidding a couple of times and made misleading statements about their relationship.

Kim will be a central figure in this unfolding drama, given that it’s taking place in her supervisorial district. Her predecessor, Chris Daly — who says that he’s already been burned once by Hines (which also wouldn’t comment), which he said broke a promise for another $100 million in fees to the TJPA — said the current lobbying effort is essentially a raid on the public coffers that endangers an important project.

“The last redeeming thing about Willie Brown was his unwavering support for Transbay Terminal,” Daly told us, “and now that’s gone too.”

Unfortunately, the complexities of this deal might make it difficult for the general public to digest just how it changes, particularly as they are engineered by Brown, a legendary political dealmaker who spent decades as speaker of the California Assembly before becoming mayor of San Francisco.

But Daly said this project is crucially important for Kim’s district, and it’ll be intriguing to see what happens: “I don’t think she can make a bad vote, but behind the scenes, I’m not sure how much she can stand up to Willie Brown.”  

If the board approves the special tax district and the RMA tomorrow, then the affected property owners will vote on whether to create this Mello-Roos District in December, with a two-thirds vote required for passage. The projects can’t proceed with their current entitlements unless such a district is created, so the effort now is to slash the payments that such a district would require.

“Smart development means, among other things, making sure that development pays for supporting infrastructure,” Wiener told us. “The creation and upzoning of this district were explicitly linked to to funding the transit center and the downtown train extension. By upzoning these properties, we provided the developers with massive additional value and, in fact, the properties have exploded in value. The transit assessment needs to reflect those current property values, not values from the bottom of the recession.” 

[UPDATE: Sup. Kim returned our calls this evening and said this was a difficult issue, but that she wants to defend the city’s stance. “At this point we’re in a legal dispute, an impasse,” Kim told us, noting that she supports the fee structure from the RMA rather than earlier estimates. “The city was very clear those rates were illustrative.”

She said this isn’t simply about getting more money for the Transbay Terminal projects, but holding developers accountable for the upzoning they received. “The question isn’t what is the most money we can extract from the developer,” she said. “The question is: What did we agree to?”

Kim said she has met with Willie Brown about the issue, but she isn’t feeled pressured by him or the developers he’s representing. “Are they making threats? No,” she said. “I didn’t feel pressure at the meeting.”

But she did say she’d always be willing to hear out Brown’s side of the story. “He can just pick up the phone and call me,” she said.

Tomorrow’s meeting will include a closed session discussion of the issue, given its potential for legal actions. As for whether she and other supervisors may be swayed by the legal threat to settle on a lower fee amount, she told us, “That’s what the closed session is for.”

Kim indicated she intends to support the fees the parties originally agreed to. “I think the rates were set clearly,” she said. 

But we may have to take that promise with a grain of salt. Kim has sometimes talked tough, only to compromise later on, as she did with her Housing Balance legislation. After tomorrow’s closed session, we’ll see if her vote is as fiery as her rhetoric. ]

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report. 

Get to work

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EDITORIAL The San Francisco Board of Supervisors returned to work this week after a month-long summer recess. While it may be too much to expect the supervisors to seriously tackle the many pressing issues facing this city during the fall election season, that’s exactly what needs to happen.

The city has been cruising along on auto-pilot, propelled by inertia more than any coherent political leadership, its elected leaders content to throw political platitudes and miniscule policy remedies at huge problems that are fundamentally changing the city.

While the eastside of the city is being rapidly transformed by rampant development, with no real plan for the displacement and gentrification that it’s causing, the westside still has suburban levels of density and no plan for shouldering its share of this city’s growth pressures. It’s good to see Sup. Katy Tang take a small step toward addressing the problem with her recently introduced Sunset District Blueprint, which seeks to build up to 1,000 new homes there over the next 10 years, that conceptual framework will require political will and more concrete goals to become reality.

To serve the density that westside residents are going to have to accept, the city and its Transportation Authority also must fast-track the Geary Bus Rapid Transit program that has languished for far too long. And the city’s “Complete Streets” and “Vision Zero” transportation reforms need to become more than just slogans, instead backed by the funding and commitment they need to become reality.

Similarly, there’s no reason why the Mayor’s Office, Planning Department, and pro-growth supervisors should be waiting for voters to act on Proposition K, the watered-down housing advisory measure, before they create a plan for implementing Mayor Ed Lee’s long-stated goal of building 30,000 new housing units, more than 30 percent of them affordable. That should have already happened before the promise was made.

This week, while the Board of Supervisors was slated to approve master lease agreements with the US Navy to develop Treasure Island, the city still isn’t seriously addressing concerns about radioactive contamination on the island or the project’s half-baked transportation plan.

Another important issue facing this compassionate city is how to provide legal representation for the waves of child refugees from Central America facing deportation in immigrations courts here in San Francisco. Board President David Chiu proposed a $100,000 allocation for such legal representation, which is a joke, and the board should instead approve the something closer to the $1.2 million commitment that Sup. David Campos has proposed.

We could go on and on (for example, when will Airbnb make good on its past-due promise to pay city hotel taxes?), but the point is: Get to work!

 

Tom’s legacy

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steve@sfbg.com

At a moment when San Francisco politics has slid toward the slippery center — when one-time progressives align with business elites, the political rhetoric seems hollow, and the vaunted value of “civility” in City Hall increasingly looks more like a deceptive power grab by the Mayor’s Office — it feels so refreshing to talk with Tom Ammiano.

For one thing, he’s hilarious, always quick with quips that are not only funny, but often funny in insightful ways that distill complex issues down to their essence, delivered with his distinctive nasally honk and lightning timing. Ammiano developed as a stand-up comedian and political leader simultaneously, and the two professional sides feed off each other, alternatively manifesting in disarming mirth or penetrating bite.

But his humor isn’t the main reason why Ammiano — a 72-year-old state legislator, two-time mayoral candidate, and former supervisor and school board member — has become such a beloved figure on the left of state and local politics, or why so many progressives are sad to see him leaving the California Assembly and elected office this year for the first time since 1990.

No, perhaps the biggest reason why public esteem for Ammiano has been strong and rising — particularly among progressives, but also among those of all ideological stripes who decry the closed-door dealmaking that dominates City Hall and the State Capitol these days — is his political integrity and courage. Everyone knows where Tom Ammiano will stand on almost any issue: with the powerless over the powerful.

“Don’t make it about yourself, make it about what you believe in,” Ammiano told us, describing his approach to politics and his advice to up-and-coming politicians.

Ammiano’s positions derive from his progressive political values, which were informed by his working class upbringing, first-hand observations of the limits of American militarism, publicly coming out as a gay teacher at time when that was a risky decision, standing with immigrants and women at important political moments, and steadily enduring well-funded attacks as he created some of San Francisco’s most defining and enduring political reforms, from domestic partner benefits and key political reforms to universal health care.

“He has been able to remain true to his values and principles of the progressive movement while making significant legislative accomplishments happen on a number of fronts,” Sup. David Campos, who replaced Ammiano on the Board of Supervisors and is now his chosen successor in the California Assembly, told the Guardian. “I don’t know that we’ve fully understood the scope of his influence. He has influenced the city more than most San Francisco mayors have.”

So, as we enter the traditional start of fall election season — with its strangely uncontested supervisorial races and only a few significant ballot measures, thanks to insider political manipulations — the Guardian spent some time with Ammiano in San Francisco and in Sacramento, talking about his life and legacy and what can be done to revive the city’s progressive spirit.

 

 

LIFE OF THE CAPITOL

Aug. 20 was a pretty typical day in the State Capitol, perhaps a bit more relaxed than usual given that most of the agenda was concurrence votes by the full Senate and Assembly on bills they had already approved once before being amended by the other house.

Still, lobbyists packed the hall outside the Assembly Chambers, hoping to exert some last minute influence before the legislative session ended (most don’t bother with Ammiano, whose name is on a short list, posted in the hall by the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, of legislators who don’t accept business cards from lobbyists).

One of the bills up for approval that day was Ammiano’s Assembly Bill 2344, the Modern Family Act, which in many ways signals how far California has come since the mid-’70s, when Ammiano was an openly gay schoolteacher and progressive political activist working with then-Sup. Harvey Milk to defeat the homophobic Briggs Initiative.

The Modern Family Act updates and clarifies the laws governing same-sex married couples and domestic partners who adopt children or use surrogates, standardizing the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. “With a few simple changes, we can help families thrive without needless legal battles or expensive court actions,” Ammiano said in a press statement publicizing the bill.

Ammiano arrived in his office around 10am, an hour before the session began, carrying a large plaque commending him for his legislative service, given to outgoing legislators during a breakfast program. “Something else I don’t need,” Ammiano said, setting the plaque down on a table in his wood-paneled office. “I wonder if there’s a black market for this shit.”

Before going over the day’s legislative agenda, Ammiano chatted with his Press Secretary Carlos Alcala about an editorial in that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, “Abuse of disabled-parking program demands legislators act,” which criticized Ammiano for seeking minor changes in a city plan to start charging for disabled placards before he would sponsor legislation to implement it. The editorial even snidely linked Ammiano to disgraced Sen. Leland Yee, who is suspended and has nothing to do with the issue.

“I’ve had these tussles with the Chronicle from day one. They just want people to be angry with me,” Ammiano told us. “You stand up for anything progressive and they treat you like a piñata.”

He thought the criticism was ridiculous — telling Alcala, “If we do a response letter, using the words puerile and immature would be good” — and that it has as much to do with denigrating Ammiano, and thus Campos and other progressives, as the issue at hand.

“Anything that gets people mad at me hurts him,” Ammiano told us.

But it’s awfully hard to be mad at Tom Ammiano. Even those on the opposite side of the political fence from him and who clash with him on the issues or who have been subjected to his caustic barbs grudgingly admit a respect and admiration for Ammiano, even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who told the Guardian as much when we ran into him on the streets of Sacramento later that day.

Ammiano says he rarely gets rattled by his critics, or even the handful of death threats that he’s received over the years, including the one that led the San Francisco Police Department to place a protective detail on him during the 1999 mayor’s race.

“You are buoyed by what you do, and that compensates for other feelings you have,” Ammiano said of safety concerns.

Finally ready to prepare for the day’s business, he shouts for his aides in the other room (“the New York intercom,” he quips). The first question is whether he’s going to support a bill sponsored by PG&E’s union to increase incentives for geothermal projects in the state, a jobs bill that most environmental groups opposed.

“That is a terrible bill, it’s total shit, and I’m not going to support it,” Ammiano tells his aide. “It’s a scam.”

As Ammiano continued to prepare for the day’s session, we headed down to the Assembly floor to get ready to cover the action, escorted by Alcala. We asked what he planned to do after Ammiano leaves Sacramento, and Alcala told us that he’ll look at working for another legislator, “but there would probably be a lot more compromises.”

 

 

SPARKING CHANGE

Compromises are part of politics, but Ammiano has shown that the best legislative deals come without compromising one’s political principles. Indeed, some of his most significant accomplishments have involved sticking to his guns and quietly waiting out his critics.

For all the brassy charm of this big personality — who else could publicly confront then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Democratic Party fundraiser in 2009 and tell him to “kiss my gay ass!” — Ammiano has usually done the work in a way that wasn’t showy or self-centered.

By championing the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections and waging an improbable but electrifying write-in campaign for mayor in 1999 (finishing second before losing to incumbent Willie Brown in the runoff election), Ammiano set the stage for progressives to finally win control of the Board of Supervisors in 2000 and keep it for the next eight years, forming an effective counterbalance to Gavin Newsom’s pro-business mayoralty.

“I just did it through intuition,” Ammiano said of his 1999 mayoral run, when he jumped into the race just two weeks before election day. “There was a lot of electricity.”

After he made the runoff, Brown and his allies worked aggressively to keep power, leaning on potential Ammiano supporters, calling on then-President Bill Clinton to campaign for Brown, and even having Jesse Jackson call Ammiano late one night asking him to drop out.

“That’s when we realized Willie really felt threatened by us,” Ammiano said, a fear that was well-founded given that Ammiano’s loss in the runoff election led directly into a slate of progressives elected to the Board of Supervisors the next year. “It was a pyrrhic victory for him because then the board changed.”

But Ammiano didn’t seize the spotlight in those heady years that followed, which often shone on the younger political upstarts in the progressive movement — particularly Chris Daly, Matt Gonzalez, and Aaron Peskin — who were more willing to aggressively wage rhetorical war against Newsom and his downtown constituents.

By the time the 2003 mayor’s race came, Ammiano’s mayoral campaign became eclipsed by Gonzalez jumping into the race at the last minute, a Green Party candidate whose outsider credentials contrasted sharply with Newsom’s insider inevitability, coming within 5 percentage points of winning.

“I just bounced back and we did a lot of good shit after that,” Ammiano said, noting how district elections were conducive to his approach to politics. “It helped the way I wanted to govern, with the focus on the neighborhoods instead of the boys downtown.”

Perhaps Ammiano’s greatest legislative victory as a supervisor was his Health Care Security Ordinance, which required employers in San Francisco to provide health coverage for their employees and created the Healthy San Francisco program to help deliver affordable care to all San Franciscans.

The business community went ballistic when Ammiano proposed the measure in 2006, waging an aggressive lobbying and legal campaign to thwart the ordinance. But Ammiano just quietly took the heat, refused to compromise, and steadily lined up support from labor, public health officials, and other groups that were key to its passage.

“Maybe the early days of being a pinata inured me,” Ammiano said of his ability to withstand the onslaught from the business community for so long, recalling that in his 1999 school board race, “I really became a pinata. I got it in the morning from the Chronicle and in the afternoon from the Examiner.”

Ammiano kept Newsom apprised of his intentions and resolve, resisting entreaties to water down the legislation. “I kept talking to him and I told him I was going to do it,” Ammiano said. “Eventually, we got a 11 to zip vote and Newsom couldn’t do anything about it. That was a great journey.”

In the end, Newsom not only supported the measure, but he tried to claim Ammiano’s victory as his own, citing the vague promise he had made in his 2007 State of the City speech to try to provide universal health care in the city and his willingness to fund the program in his 2007-08 budget.

But Ammiano was happy with the policy victory and didn’t quibble publicly with Newsom about credit. “I picked my battles,” Ammiano said, contrasting his approach to Newsom with that of his more fiery progressive colleagues. “I tried to go after him on policy, not personality.”

Ammiano isn’t happy with the political turn that San Francisco has taken since he headed to Sacramento, with the pro-business, fiscally conservative faction of the city controlling the Mayor’s Office and exerting a big influence on the Board of Supervisors. But San Francisco’s elder statesman takes the long view. “Today, the board has a moderate trajectory that can be annoying, but I think it’s temporary,” Ammiano said. “These things are cyclical.”

He acknowledges that things can seem to a little bleak to progressives right now: “They’re feeling somewhat marginalized, but I don’t think it’s going to stay that way.”

 

FLOOR SHOW

Back on the Assembly floor, Ammiano was working the room, hamming it up with legislative colleagues and being the first of many legislators to rub elbows and get photos taken with visiting celebrities Carl Weathers, Daniel Stern, and Ron Perlman, who were there to support film-credit legislation

“Ron Perlman, wow, Sons of Anarchy,” Ammiano told us afterward, relating his conversation with Perlman. “I said, ‘They killed you, but you live on Netflix.’ I told him I was big fan. Even the progressives come here for the tax breaks.”

When Little Hoover Commission Chair Pedro Nava, who used to represent Santa Barbara in the Assembly, stopped to pose with Ammiano for the Guardian’s photographer, the famously liberal Ammiano quipped, “You’ll get him in trouble in Santa Barbara. Drill, baby, drill!”

Ammiano chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where he has successfully pushed prison reform legislation and helped derail the worst tough-on-crime bills pushed by conservatives. “We have a lot of fun, and we get a chance to talk about all these bills that come before us,” Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, told the Guardian when asked about Ammiano. “You can see how these bad bills get less bad.”

Ammiano gave a short speech when his Modern Family Act came up for a vote, noting that it “simplifies the law around these procedures,” before the Assembly voted 57-2 to send it to the governor’s desk, where he has until Sept. 30 to act on it. “I think he’ll sign it,” Ammiano told the Guardian, “even though it’s about reproduction and naughty bits.”

“He’s a hoot,” Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said of Ammiano, whose desk is right behind his own. Jones-Sawyer said that he’d love to see Ammiano run for mayor of San Francisco, “but he’s waiting for a groundswell of support. Hopefully the progressives come together.”

Jones-Sawyer said Ammiano plays an important role as the conscience of a Legislature that too often caters to established interests.

“There’s liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, and then there’s Tom,” Jones said. “As far left as you can go, there’s Tom, and that’s what we’re going to miss.”

Yet despite that strong progressive reputation, Ammiano has also been an amazingly effective legislator (something that might surprise those supporting the campaign of David Chiu, which has repeatedly claimed that ideological progressives like Ammiano and Campos can’t “get things done” in Sacramento).

Last year, Ammiano got 13 bills through the Legislature — including three hugely controversial ones: the TRUST Act, which curbs local cooperation with federal immigration holds; the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights; and a bill protecting transgender student rights in schools, which was savaged by conservative religious groups — all of which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“A lot of it is personal relationships, some is timing, and some is just sticking to it,” Ammiano said of effectiveness.

Some of his legislative accomplishments have required multiyear efforts, such as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was vetoed in 2012 before being signed into law last year with only a few significant changes (see “Do we care?” 3/26/13).

“Tom Ammiano was so incredible to work with,” Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator for the California Domestic Workers Coalition, for whom the bill had long been a top priority, told the Guardian.

The large grassroots coalition backing the bill insisted on being a part of the decision-making as it evolved, which is not always easy to do in the fast-paced Capitol. But Joaquin said Ammiano’s history of working with grassroots activists made him the perfect fit for the consensus-based coalition.

“That’s difficult to do in the legislative process, and working with Tom and his office made that possible,” Joaquin told us. “He wanted to make sure we had active participation in the field from a variety of people who were affected by this.”

When the bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown, who cited paternalistic concerns that better pay and working conditions could translate into fewer jobs for immigrant women who serve as domestic workers, Joaquin said Ammiano was as disappointed as the activists, but he didn’t give up.

“It was really hard. I genuinely felt Tom’s frustration. He was going through the same emotions we were, and it was great that he wanted to go through that with us again,” Joaquin told us. “Sometimes, your allies can get fatigued with the long struggles, but Tom maintained his resolve and kept us going.”

And after it was over, Ammiano even organized the victory party for the coalition and celebrated the key role that activists and their organizing played in making California only the second state in the nation (after New York) to extend basic wage, hour, and working condition protections to nannies, maids, and other domestic workers excluded under federal law.

“He has a great sense of style,” Joaquin said of Ammiano, “and that emanates in how he carries himself.”

 

 

COMING OUT

Ammiano came to San Francisco in 1964, obtaining a master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University and then going on to teach at Hawthorne Elementary (now known as Cesar Chavez Elementary). He quickly gained an appreciation for the complex array of issues facing the city, which would inform the evolution of his progressive worldview.

“In teaching itself, there were a lot of social justice issues,” Ammiano said. For example, most native Spanish-speakers at the time were simply dumped into special education classes because there wasn’t yet bilingual education in San Francisco schools. “So I turned to the community for help.”

The relationships that he developed in the immigrant community would later help as he worked on declaring San Francisco a sanctuary city as waves of Central American immigrants fled to California to escape US-sponsored proxy wars.

Growing up a Catholic working class kid in New Jersey, Ammiano was no hippie. But he was struck by the brewing war in Vietnam strongly enough that he volunteered to teach there through a Quaker program, International Volunteer Service, working in Saigon from 1966-68 and coming back with a strong aversion to US militarism.

“I came back from Vietnam a whole new person,” he told us. “I had a lot of political awakenings.”

He then worked with veterans injured during the war and began to gravitate toward leftist political groups in San Francisco, but he found that many still weren’t comfortable with his open homosexuality, an identity that he never sought to cover up or apologize for.

“I knew I was gay in utero,” Ammiano said. “I said you have to be comfortable with me being a gay, and it wasn’t easy for some. The left wasn’t that accepting.”

But that began to change in the early ’70s as labor and progressives started to find common cause with the LGBT community, mostly through organizations such as Bay Area Gay Liberation and the Gay Teachers Coalition, a group that Ammiano formed with Hank Wilson and Ron Lanza after Ammiano publicly came out as a gay teacher in 1975.

“He was the first public school teacher to acknowledge that he was a gay man, which was not as easy as it sounds in those days,” former Mayor Art Agnos told us, crediting Ammiano with helping make support for gay rights the default political position that it became in San Francisco.

San Francisco Unified School District still wasn’t supportive of gay teachers, Ammiano said, “So I ran for school board right after the assassinations [of Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk in 1978] and got my ass kicked.”

Shortly thereafter, Ammiano decided to get into stand-up comedy, encouraged by friends and allies who loved his sense of humor. Meanwhile, Ammiano was pushing for SFUSD to name a school after Milk, as it immediately did for Moscone, a quest that dragged on for seven years and which was a central plank in his unsuccessful 1988 run for the school board.

But Ammiano was developing as a public figure, buoyed by his stand-up performances (which he said Chronicle reporters would sometimes attend to gather off-color quotes to use against him in elections) and increased support from the maturing progressive and queer communities.

So when he ran again for school board in 1990, he finished in first place as part of the so-called “lavender sweep,” with LGBT candidates elected to judgeships and lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg elected to the Board of Supervisors.

On the school board, Ammiano helped bring SFUSD into the modern age, including spearheading programs dealing with AIDS education, support for gay students, distribution of condoms in the schools, and limiting recruiting in schools by the homophobic Boy Scouts of America.

“I found out we were paying them to recruit in the schools, but I can’t recruit?” Ammiano said, referencing the oft-raised concern at the time that gay teachers would recruit impressionable young people into homosexuality.

As his first term on the school board ended, a growing community of supporters urged Ammiano to run for the Board of Supervisors, then still a citywide election, and he was elected despite dealing with a devastating personal loss at the time.

“My partner died five days before the election,” Ammiano said as we talked at the bar in Soluna, tearing up at the memory and raising a toast with his gin-and-tonic to his late partner, Tim Curbo, who succumbed to a long struggle with AIDS.

Ammiano poured himself into his work as a supervisor, allied on the left at various points in the mid-late ’90s with Sups. Sue Bierman, Terrence Hallinan, Leland Yee, Mabel Teng, Angelo Alioto, and Carole Migden against the wily and all-powerful then-Mayor Brown, who Ammiano said “manipulated everything.”

But Ammiano gradually began to chip away at that power, often by turning directly to the people and using ballot measures to accomplish reforms such as laws regulating political consultants and campaign contributions and the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections, which decentralized power in the city.

“People frequently say about politicians, when they want to say something favorable, that they never forgot where they came from,” Agnos told us. “With Tom, he never forgot where he came from, and more importantly, he never forgot who he was…He was an authentic and a proud gay man, as proud as Harvey Milk ever was.”

And from that strong foundation of knowing himself, where he came from, and what he believed, Ammiano maintained the courage to stand on his convictions.

“It’s not just political integrity, it’s a reflection of the man himself,” Agnos said, praising Ammiano’s ability to always remain true to himself and let his politics flow from that. “A lot of politicians don’t have the courage, personal or political, to do that.”

 

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Ammiano’s legacy has been clearly established, even if it’s not always appreciated in a city enamored of the shiny and new, from recent arrivals who seem incurious about the city’s political history to the wave of neoliberal politicians who now hold sway in City Hall.

“Tom has carried on the legacy of Harvey Milk of being the movement progressive standard bearer. He has, more than anyone else, moved forward progressive politics in San Francisco in a way that goes beyond him as an individual,” Campos said, citing the return of district elections and his mentoring of young activists as examples. “He brought a number of people into politics that have been impactful in their own right.”

Campos is one of those individuals, endorsed by Ammiano to fill his District 9 seat on the Board of Supervisors from among a competitive field of established progressive candidates. Ammiano says he made the right choice.

“I have been supportive of him as a legislator and I think he’s doing the right things,” Ammiano said of Campos, adding an appreciation for the facts that he’s gay, an immigrant, and a solid progressive. “He’s a three-fer.”

Ammiano said that Campos has been a standout on the Board of Supervisors in recent years, diligently working to protect workers, tenants, and immigrants with successful efforts to increase tenant relocation fees after an eviction and an attempt to close the loophole that allows restaurants to pocket money they’re required to spend on employee health care, which was sabotaged by Chiu and Mayor Lee.

“I like his work ethic. He comes across as mild-mannered, but he’s a tiger,” Ammiano said of Campos. “If you like me, vote for David.”

But what about Ammiano’s own political future?

Ammiano said he’s been too busy lately to really think about what’s next for him (except romantically: Ammiano recently announced his wedding engagement to Carolis Deal, a longtime friend and lover). Ammiano is talking with universities and speakers bureaus about future gigs and he’s thinking about writing a book or doing a one-man show.

“Once I get that settled, I’ll look at the mayor’s race and [Sen. Mark] Leno’s seat,” Ammiano said, holding out hope that his political career will continue.

Ammiano said the city is desperately in need of some strong political leadership right now, something that he isn’t seeing from Mayor Lee, who has mostly been carrying out the agenda of the business leaders, developers, and power brokers who engineered his mayoral appointment in 2011.

“Basically, he’s an administrator and I don’t think he’ll ever be anything but that,” Ammiano said. “We are so fucking ready for a progressive mayor.”

If Ammiano were to become mayor — which seems like a longshot at this point — he says that he would use that position to decentralize power in San Francisco, letting the people and their representatives on the Board of Supervisors have a greater say in the direction of the city and making governance decisions more transparent.

“I don’t believe in a strong mayor [form of government],” Ammiano said. “If I was mayor, all the commission appointments would be shared.”

But before he would decide to run for mayor, Ammiano says that he would need to see a strong groundswell of public support for the values and ideals that he’s represented over nearly a half-century of public life in San Francisco.

“I don’t want to run to be a challenger,” Ammiano said. “I’d want to run to be mayor.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gearing up for war

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joe@sfbg.com

A tear gas canister explodes as citizens flee from the gun-toting warriors, safely guarded behind their armored vehicles. Dressed in patterned camo and body armor, they form a skirmish line as they fire projectiles into the crowd. Flash bang explosions echo down the city’s streets.

Such clashes between police and protesters have been common in Ferguson, Mo., in the past few weeks since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer. But it’s also a scene familiar to anyone from Occupy Oakland, where Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered permanent brain damage after police shot a less-than-lethal weapon into his head, or similar standoffs in other cities.

police embed 1As the country watched Ferguson police mobilize against its citizens while donning military fatigues and body armor and driving in armored vehicles, many began drawing comparisons to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan — indeed, viral photos featuring side-by-side comparisons made it difficult to distinguish peace officers from wartime soldiers.

So how did law enforcement officers in police departments across the country come to resemble the military? And what impact is that escalation of armaments having on otherwise peaceful demonstrations? Some experts say the militarization of police actually encourages violence.

Since the ’90s, the federal Department of Defense has served as a gun-running Santa Claus for the country’s local police departments. Military surplus left over from wars in the Middle East are now hand-me-downs for local police across the country, including here in the Bay Area.

A grenade launcher, armored command vehicles, camera-mounted SWAT robots, mounted helicopter weapons, and military grade body armor — these are just some of the weapons and equipment obtained by San Francisco law enforcement agencies since the ’90s. They come from two main sources: the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 loan program, and a multitude of federal grants used to purchase military equipment and vehicles.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, “The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” slammed the practice of arming local police with military gear. ACLU spokesperson Will Matthews told us the problem is stark in the Bay Area.

“There was no more profound example of this than [the response to] Occupy,” he told the Guardian. He said that military gear “serves usually only to escalate tensions, where the real goal of police is to de-escalate tension.”

The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and others are calling for less provocative weaponry in response to peaceful demonstrations, as well as more data to track the activities of SWAT teams that regularly use weaponry from the military.

The call for change comes as a growing body of research shows the cycle of police violence often begins not with a raised baton, but with the military-style armor and vehicles that police confront their communities with.

 

PREPARING FOR BATTLE

What motivation does the federal government have to arm local police? Ex-Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing told the Guardian, “I put this at the feet of the drug war.”

The initial round of funding in the ’90s was spurred by the federal government’s so-called War on Drugs, he said, and the argument that police needed weaponry to match well-armed gangs trafficking in narcotics. That justification was referenced in the ACLU’s report.

After 9/11, the desire to protect against unknown terrorist threats also spurred the militarization of police, providing a rationale for the change, whether or not it was ever justified. But a problem arises when local police start to use the tactics and gear the military uses, Downing told us.

When the LAPD officials first formed military-like SWAT teams, he said, “they always kept uppermost in their mind the police mission versus the military mission. The military has an enemy. A police officer, who is a peace officer, has no enemies.”

“The military aims to kill,” he said, “and the police officer aims to preserve life.”

And when police departments have lots of cool new toys, there is a tendency to want to use them.

When we contacted the SFPD for this story, spokesperson Albie Esparza told us, “Chief [Greg Suhr] will be the only one to speak in regards to this. He is not available for the next week or two. You may try afterwards.”

 

“CRAIGSLIST OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT”

Local law enforcement agencies looking to gear up have two ways to do it: One is free and the other is low-cost. The first of those methods has been heavily covered by national news outlets following the Ferguson protests: the Department of Defense’s 1033 loan program.

The program permanently loans gear from the federal government, with strings attached. For instance, local police can’t resell any weapons they’re given.

To get the gear, first an agency must apply for it through the national Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvoir, Va. In California, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is the go-between when local police file grant applications to the DLA.

The bar to apply is low. A New Hampshire law enforcement agency applied for an armored vehicle by citing that community’s Pumpkin Festival as a possible terrorism target, according to the ACLU’s report. But the report shows such gear is more likely to be used against protestors or drug dealers than festival-targeting terrorists.

“It’s like the Craigslist of military equipment, only the people getting this stuff are law enforcement agencies,” Kelly Huston, a spokesperson of OEMS, told the Guardian. “They don’t have to pay for this equipment, they just have to come get it.”

Troublingly, where and why the gear goes to local law enforcement is not tracked in a database at the state level. The Guardian made a public records requests of the SFPD and the OEMS, which have yet to be fulfilled. Huston told us the OEMS is slammed with records requests for this information.

“The majority of the documents we have are paper in boxes,” Huston told us, describing the agency’s problem with a rapid response. “This is not an automated system.”

The Guardian obtained federal grant data through 2011 from the OEMS, but with a caveat: Some of the grants only describe San Francisco County, and not the specific agency that requested equipment.

Some data of police gear requested under the 1033 loan program up to 2011 is available thanks to records requests from California Watch. The New York Times obtained more recent 1033 loan requests for the entire country, but it does not delineate specific agencies, only states.

Available data shows equipment requested by local law enforcement, which gravitates from the benign to the frightening.

 

TOYS FOR COPS

An Armament Subsystem is one of the first weapons listed in the 1033 data, ordered by the SFPD in 1996. This can describe mounted machine guns for helicopters (though the SFPD informed us it has since disbanded its aero-unit). From 1995 to 1997, the SFPD ordered over 100 sets of fragmentation body armor valued at $45,000, all obtained for free. In 1996, the SFPD also ordered one grenade launcher, valued at $2,007.

Why would the SFPD need a grenade launcher in an urban setting? Chief Suhr wouldn’t answer that question, but Downing told us it was troubling.

“It’s a pretty serious piece of military hardware,” he said. “I’ll tell you a tiny, quick story. One of the first big deployments of SWAT (in Los Angeles) was the Black Panthers in the ’60s. They were holed up in a building, well armed and we knew they had a lot of weapons in there,” he said. “They barricaded the place with sandbags. Several people were wounded in the shooting, as I recall. The officers with military experience said the only way we’ll breach those sandbags and doors is with a grenade launcher.”

In those days, they didn’t have a grenade launcher at the ready, and had to go through a maze of official channels to get one.

“They had to go through the Governor’s Office to the Pentagon, and then to Camp Pendleton to get the grenade launcher,” Downing told us. “[The acting LAPD chief] said at the time, ‘Let’s go ahead and ask for it.’ It was a tough decision, because it was using military equipment against our citizens.”

But the chief never had to use the grenade launcher, Downing said. “They resolved the situation before needing it, and we said ‘thank god.'”

The grenade launcher was the most extreme of the equipment procured by local law enforcement, but there were also helicopter parts, gun sights, and multitudes of armored vehicles, like those seen in Ferguson.

By contrast, the grants programs are harder to track specifically to the SFPD, but instead encompass funds given to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Sheriff’s Department, and even some schools. That’s because the grants cover not only allow the purchase of military surplus vehicles and riot gear, but also chemical protective suits and disaster-related supplies.

But much of the requested gear and training has more to do with active police work than emergency response.

San Francisco County agencies used federal loans to purchase $113,000 “command vehicles” (which are often armored). In 2010, the SFPD purchased a $5,000 SWAT robot (which often comes equipped with cameras and a remote control), as well as $15,000 in Battle Dress Uniforms, and $48,000 for a Mobile Communications Command Vehicle.

In 2008, the SFPD ordered a Bearcat Military Counterattack Vehicle for $306,000.

The Lenco website, which manufactures Bearcats, says it “may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.”

Its essentially an armored Humvee that can be mounted with rotating gun turrets.

police embed 2

Department of Homeland Security grants were used to purchase Type 2 Mobile Field Training, which Department of Homeland Security documentation describes as involving eight grenadiers, two counter-snipers, two prisoner transportation vans, and 14 patrol vehicles.

All told, the Bay Area’s many agencies were awarded more than $386 million in federal grants between 2008 and 2011, with San Francisco netting $48 million of those rewards. Through the 1033 loan program, San Francisco obtained over $1.4 million in federal surplus gear from 1995 to 2011.

But much of that was received under the radar, and with little oversight.

“Anytime they’re going to file for this equipment, we think the police should hold a public hearing,” Matthews, the ACLU spokesperson, told us.

In San Francisco, there is a public hearing for the procurement of military weapons, at the Police Commission. But a Guardian analysis of agenda documents from the commission shows these hearings are often held after the equipment has already been ordered.

Squeezed between a “status report” and “routine administrative business,” a March 2010 agenda from the commission shows a request to “retroactively accept and expend a grant in the amount of $1,000,000.00 from the U.S. Department of Justice.”

This is not a new trend. In 2007, the Police Commission retroactively approved three separate grants totaling over $2 million in funding from the federal government through the OEMS, which was then called the Emergency Management Agency.

Police Commission President Anthony Mazzucco did not respond to the Guardian’s emails requesting an interview before our press time, but one thing is clear: The SFPD requests federal grants for military surplus, then sometimes asks the Police Commission to approve the funding after the fact.

Many are already critiquing this call to arms, saying violent gear begets violent behavior.

 

PROVOCATIVE GEAR

A UC Berkeley sociologist, with his small but driven team and an army of automatic computer programs, are now combing more than 8,000 news articles on the Occupy movement in search of a pattern: What causes police violence against protesters, and protester violence against police?

Nicholas Adams and his team, Deciding Force, already have a number of findings.

“The police have an incredible ability to set the tone for reactions,” Adams told us. “Showing up in riot gear drastically increases the chances of violence from protesters. The use of skirmish lines also increases chances of violence.”

Adams’s research uses what he calls a “buffet of information” provided by the Occupy movement, allowing him to study over 200 cities’ police responses to protesters. Often, as in Ferguson, protesters were met by police donned in equipment and gear resembling wartime soldiers.

Rachel Lederman is a warrior in her own right. An attorney in San Francisco litigating against police for over 20 years, and now the president of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area chapter, she’s long waged legal war against police violence.

Lederman is quick to note that the SFPD in recent years has been much less aggressive than the Oakland Police Department, which injured her client, Scott Olsen, in an Occupy protest three years ago.

“If you compare OPD with the San Francisco Police on the other side of the bay,” she told us, “the SFPD do have some impact munitions they bring at demonstrations, but they’ve never used them.”

Much of this is due to the SFPD’s vast experience in ensuring free speech, an SFPD spokesperson told us. San Francisco is a town that knows protests, so the SFPD understands how to peacefully negotiate with different parties beforehand to ensure a minimum of hassle, hence the more peaceful reaction to Occupy San Francisco.

Conversely, in Oakland, the Occupy movement was met by a hellfire of tear gas and flash bang grenades. Protesters vomited into the sidewalk from the fumes as others bled from rubber bullet wounds.

But some protesters the Guardian talked to noted that the night SFPD officers marched on Occupy San Francisco, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and other prominent allies stood between Occupiers and police, calling for peace. We may never know what tactics the SFPD would have used to oust the protesters without that intervention.

As Lederman pointed out, the SFPD has used reactive tactics in other protests since.

“We’ve had some problems with SFPD recently, so I’m reluctant to totally praise them,” she said, recalling a recent incident where SFPD and City College police pepper-sprayed one student protester, and allegedly broke the wrists and concussed another. Photos of this student, Otto Pippenger, show a black eye and many bruises.

In San Francisco, a city where protesting is as common as the pigeons, that is especially distressing.

“It’s an essential part of democracy for people to be able to demonstrate in the street,” Lederman said. “If police have access to tanks, and tear gas and dogs, it threatens the essential fabric of democracy.”

Who will run Gleneagles Golf Course? If it’s not the city, who cares?

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As we watch today’s Recreation and Park Commission meeting on extending political insider Tom Hsieh’s no-bid contract to run the once-public Gleneagles Golf Course — which is being contested by a rival group headed by venture capitalist Brian Smith and notorious landlord attorney Andrew Zacks — we can only hope that both sides lose and the public interest somehow reemerges from this muck and mire.

Particularly disgusting is how poor children of color are being used as bargaining chips in this clash of political and economic elites, as public speaker after speaker (mostly from groups with ties to the Mayor’s Office, where Hsieh has long and deep political ties that allowed him to take over this public space nine years ago without a competitive bidding process) tries to make this decision about teaching poor kids from nearly Sunnydale housing project how to golf.

Yes, that’s what these kids really need, to learn how to play one of the most expensive and elitist sports out there, because with a little support from the First Tee program, they can all become the next Tiger Woods, right? Oh, and of course, given that the Mayor’s Office is in on this strange scheme, it’s also about jobs, jobs, jobs, with the building trades unions also supporting Hsieh and his buddies in the Mayor’s Office.

By all accounts, even CW Nevius’ column in today’s Chronicle and earlier coverage by that paper, Gleneagles is in bad physical shape and has been poorly maintained by Hsieh. Nonetheless, Hsieh blamed rising water rates related to the drought for his problem, last month threatening to close the course unless he got a more lucrative deal with run the course, triggering Smith’s bid for the course and his accusations that Hsieh and his buddies in the Mayor’s Office are pulling a fast one.

“This is a city resource and it is apparently being mismanaged,” Smith told the commission this morning, noting that he only wants to help bring golf to the masses (his side echoes Hsieh’s ruse about “the children” as part of its sales pitch) because “nobody gets into a water-dependent business during a drought, I can tell you that.”

That raises a good question: Why are we devoting city resources to such a water-dependent use of public space during a drought, in an era of global warming when droughts will only become more frequent? But the broader question is this: Why don’t we just return Gleneagles to the city and let it be managed as part of the large McLaren Park that it’s a part of?

Members of the McLaren Park Collaborative spoke at the hearing, urging the commission not to view Gleneagles separately from McLaren, even as they voiced support for Hsieh and thanked him for his fundraising support of their citizen-based group. That’s Hsieh’s main forte, raising money from the rich, which he has done on behalf of the last three mayoral adminitrations and other political schemes by downtown interests and the city’s various political power brokers.

This whole issue stinks, and it’s hard to even care what’s now being said as the commission heads into a closed session discussion of what to do with Gleneagles, particularly given there’s almost no chance that this mayoral appointed commission of political climbers will vote to reclaim this public space for the broad public interest. 

UPDATE: The commission voted unanimously to extend Hsieh’s lease of Gleneagles for another nine years, a decision that must be confirmed by the Board of Supervisors next month.