Racing for solutions


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.



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.



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?”


SF to consider joining Richmond in fighting banks over underwater mortgages


Plans to ease San Francisco’s often overlooked home foreclosure crisis will have to wait a bit longer. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week delayed a resolution that would show the city’s “intent” to save underwater mortgages in favor of a resolution that might actually have begin to intervene in underwater mortgages.

“The idea of people losing their homes is very disheartening,” Sup. John Avalos told the Guardian. “I’m looking forward to an ordinance that would actually allow San Francisco to join a JPA [Joint Powers Authority] and enable us to have leverage over banks.”

The original proposal would have stated San Francisco’s “intention” to form a JPA with the City of Richmond in the obscure—and controversial—use of eminent domain to acquire and fix underwater mortgages for homeowners in working class neighborhoods. But Avalos said that the resolution was primarily aimed at supporting Richmond in defending its principal reduction program.

“The resolution in support of Richmond’s work is not as timely as it was and I want to make sure I can work with you colleagues about the relationship around how we can actually have an ordinance to join a JPA with the city of Richmond and have all of our questions answered as we’re going through that process,” he told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Eminent domain is a law that allows the government to purchase private property for public use, including nontangible assets such as mortgages. The use of eminent domain to acquire underwater mortgages (when mortgage payments that exceed the value of homes) could be a godsend for homeowners who have been bamboozled by predatory lenders.

Yet Richmond, receiving national attention for the gutsy strategy, faced intense criticism—even federal lawsuits—from banks and financial institutions of late. Certain banks and financial institutions warned lending would halt if the strategy were attempted. Although Richmond recently braved attempts to quash its principal reduction plan, a JPA with San Francisco would allow both cities to leverage some power over banks.

“One city doesn’t have the resources to do it alone,” Sup. David Campos, who co-sponsored the resolution, told the Guardian. “Collectively joining forces can do it, and can be strengthened by taking a regional approach.”

Yet Avalos explained that he has already experienced disagreement from banks, including Well Fargo. “We are swimming against the tide—against the institutions of our banks that have a stronghold on how local loans and mortgages are kept at high interest rates, on the ability homeowners have to renegotiate loans, and on how we can improve the actual principal of our loans,” he told the Board of Supervisors, which was met by public applause.

“People don’t feel a sense of urgency about the housing crisis, and we need to convince them,” Avalos told the Guardian. “Overall we’re two years from the Occupy movement that challenged banks, and people have forgotten the feeling of the time where people questioned how much power banks had over the loan modification.”

In San Francisco, focus has indeed shifted toward out-of-control rents, though fallout from the mortgage crisis still persists. Over 300 underwater mortgages are concentrated in San Francisco’s working class communities, 90 percent of which contain predatory features, according to the Mortgage Resolution Partners, a company helping Richmond administer and finance their principal reduction plan.

Although roughly 64 percent of San Francisco residents are renters, some working class community member still own their homes, and some, like Carletta Jackson-Lane—who has lived in District 10 for 27 years and who spoke at this week’s meeting during public comment—feels that the African American community has been hit especially hard by foreclosures.

“Don’t forget that foreclosures are directly related to the outward migration of African American families out of San Francisco,” she said. “The reality is that in the Mission, there’s a different impact because they were mostly renters.

“The other impact in the African American community—especially in District 10—is that they were single family property owners, so when the foreclosure crisis happened, it knocked them out,” she explained. “And that’s multiple generations.”

Avalos sent the resolution back to committee for modification, and he expects a resolution to be voted on in August. “I don’t want San Francisco to be a place where only the wealthy can survive,” Avalos said.  “But in order to make serious changes we have to break a few eggs.”

When asked what those eggs were, he responded, “What currently is.”  

Kelly challenges Cohen in D10


After being narrowly edged out in the race for the District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors four years ago, Potrero Hill political activist Tony Kelly says he will launch his campaign for the seat tomorrow [Wed/18], challenging incumbent Malia Cohen.

In 2010, after former Sup. Sophie Maxwell was termed out, the D10 race was a wide open contest that had low voter turnout and the squirreliest ranked-choice voting ending that the city has seen. On election night, former BART director Lynette Sweet finished first, followed by Kelly, a third place tie between Cohen and Marlene Tran, and Potrero Hill View publisher Steve Moss in fourth.

But the strong negative campaigning between Sweet and Moss, the leading fundraisers in the race, allowed the likable but then relatively unknown Cohen to vault into the lead on the strength of second- and third-place votes, finishing a few hundred votes in front of Kelly, who came in second.

Cohen has had a relatively unremarkable tenure on the board, spearheading few significant legislative pushes and being an ideological mixed bag on key votes. But she’ll likely retain the support of African American leaders and voters in Bayview and Hunters Point, and enjoy the always significant advantage of incumbency.

Kelly hopes to turn that advantage into a disadvantage, tying Cohen to City Hall economic development policies that have caused gentrification and displacement. “Too many San Franciscans face an uphill battle, especially here in District 10,” Kelly said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “Our district is part of one of the richest cities in the richest state in the richest country in the world, and yet our neighborhoods are home to the highest unemployment rates in the City, our homeowners are at risk of foreclosure, and our tenants at risk of evictions. This is unacceptable, and we must do better.”

Kelly and his supporters plan to file his official declaration of candidacy tomorrow at 12:30pm in the Department of Election office in the basement of City Hall.



Homeless for the holidays


As temperatures dropped in recent weeks, those who care for San Francisco’s homeless snapped into action.

Shelters stopped requiring reservations, making any beds still open after 8pm available to anyone who needed them. General Hospital’s Emergency Room treated the annual uptick of hypothermia cases, working closely with the city’s Homeless Outreach Team. Seven people in the Bay Area died as a result of cold weather in the last month — mercifully, none in San Francisco.

“Just one homeless person passing from being cold is way too many,” Carol Domino, program director at Mother Brown’s Drop-In Center, told the Guardian.

When the cold hit, Mother Brown’s staff could be found scouting encampments near its location in Bayview. Besides a respite from the weather, it offers bathrooms, showers, access to case management services, and other resources, as well as two hot meals a day in its dining room. But there’s one thing it can’t offer: a warm bed.

But that may change. A proposal for a 100-bed homeless shelter next door to Mother Brown’s gained political footing this year, despite controversy and a divided neighborhood.



Behind the shelter effort is Gwendolyn Westbrook, director of the United Council of Human Services. Westbrook says the idea didn’t come from her, but from Barbara J. “Mother” Brown, the local legend who served hot meals out of the back of a Cadillac Seville before founding Bayview Hope Homeless Resource Center and Mother Brown’s Dining Room in 2001.

“People have come in here needing a place to sleep for as long as it’s been open,” Westbrook said. Brown’s solution was to set out folding chairs where people could sleep. Nowadays, 80 people rest in the chairs on a typical night.

Before Brown died in 2005, Westbrook remembers, she made it clear to her successor how much she wanted shelter beds where clients could lie down.

Of her clients, Westbrook says, “it’s a lot of people who are from this area, grew up in this area. Some people never leave this district. Their homes might have gone into foreclosure, or somebody died that set them back and triggered something mentally, and now they’re on the street. So this is a safe haven for them. This is a place where they can come and just relax.”

Even as the cost of living soars and the neighborhood changes, Westbrook says, her clients hold on.

“Most of our clients won’t leave the Bayview,” she said. “Some of them have told me, ‘well if I die, just cremate me and put my ashes up on Third Street. Spread them on Third Street.’ That’s how much they love this neighborhood.”

Human Services Agency (HSA) director Trent Rhorer witnessed the chair arrangement during an August 2011 visit to Mother Brown’s. He called the sight “simply not acceptable from a view of humanity.”

When Rhorer learned that a warehouse next door had recently been put up for rent, the shelter idea was born. The HSA applied for a forgivable loan from the state’s Emergency Housing and Assistance Program (EHAP). In January 2012, the project was approved for $978,000.

On Nov. 19, the Board of Supervisors voted to accept the grant, and on Dec. 10, it assigned the next two steps: city adoption of the lease for the property and creation of a special use district. The rezoning process could take six months to a year at the Planning Commission, and if the shelter ultimately goes through, construction is not likely to begin before 2015.

Until then, shelter options in Bayview-Hunters Point will stay slim. There is no single adult shelter with beds in the neighborhood. The closest thing is Providence Baptist Church at 1601 McKinnon. There, staff lay out mats on the gym floor each night.

“In Bayview-Hunters Point, that’s it. Providence is the shelter,” said Nick Kimura, shelter client advocate with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.

In Mayor Ed Lee’s 2013 State of the City address, he said he was “proud to support” efforts to expand services for the homeless in Bayview—specifically “Sup. Cohen’s effort, aided by a federal grant — to build a new 100-bed shelter”

The only problem: that was the first Cohen said she had heard of it.

“My first concern was how the proposal came about,” Cohen told us. “I wasn’t made aware of it until it was announced.”



After Lee’s announcement, there were two community meetings, one in March at the police station and one in April at the YMCA. The idea gained support from the Southeast Community Facility Commission and the San Francisco branch of the NAACP.

A wave of opposition also grew, including the neighborhood organization Bayview Residents Improving Their Environment (BRITE), and a handful of businesses led by David Eisenberg, president of Micro-Tracers, a food testing company next door to Mother Brown’s.

On July 16, Cohen herself came out against the shelter. Cohen said her decision came after “meeting with residents about their concerns and fears.”

Neighborhood residents are a shifting demographic. The African American population has declined by 10 percent since Mother Brown’s was founded in 2001. The Asian population increased slightly in the same time period, and the white population has more than doubled.

Homelessness in the neighborhood has also increased. According to the city’s biannual homeless count, the number hovered around 400 until January 2011, when the number jumped to 1,151. It had 1,278 homeless people in 2013.

After Cohen declared her opposition, the meetings went back behind closed doors. In September, David Curto, director of contracts at the HSA, said that “[city homeless czar] Bevan Dufty and other folks in the Mayor’s Office are trying to revive it.” On Oct. 9, Lee met with a group of neighbors. And on Oct 30, the shelter proposal made its public reappearance.

Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee heard the issue. They were tasked with voting on whether to accept the EHAP loan, a question that would be put to the Board of Supervisors if it passed.

Out in the gallery, the two sides sat divided down the aisle like squabbling families at a wedding. House left were the shelter’s supporters, a mix of residents and community leaders and staff of Mother Brown’s and their clients, some with their shoes pulled on only half way over feet swollen from sleeping in their chairs. On the right, BRITE members, an ad hoc group called Protect MLK Pool and Playground, Eisenberg, and other community members in opposition.

The shelter became a vehicle for a debate about larger changes in Bayview. BRITE member David Armagnac saw no need for shelter beds in the neighborhood that he has “seen transform and emerge into an ever-increasing vibrant area.” Bayview business owner Carla Eagleton wanted economic and quality of life impact reports on the proposed shelters “as it relates to the city’s only remaining blue collar industrial area, MLK Park, surrounding neighborhoods and the Third Street corridor, which the city of San Francisco has spent billions of dollars to revitalize.”

Meanwhile, resident Sandy Thompson testified that “for you guys to move in and make yourself comfortable,” many of her neighbors have been displaced. “Make the homeless comfortable, just like you guys are making yourself comfortable, because they need a place too,” Thompson said.

A client of Mother Brown’s talked about being homeless in the neighborhood her family had been in for generations. “My grandparents are the ones that migrated from the south, that came up here to work on those shipyards,” she said. “Think about that parent who is working at McDonalds, or working a low, minimum-wage job. They can’t afford the new housing that’s coming in, that’s being developed. Yes, we love it. We love to look at the property that we cannot live in.”

Both sides made passionate pleas, but shelter supporters won over the Budget and Finance Committee.

“It’s very rare that I get moved from hearing public comment. I hear a lot of public comment, and sometimes I feel like my heart is hardened to everything. But not today,” Avalos said.

Farrell agreed: “It’s rare that you get touched here, because we do hear so much public comment all the time. And the personal stories are pretty incredible.”



Inside Mother Brown’s cool blue walls, there’s no shortage of incredible personal stories. Lonnel McCall took a break from helping to cook dinner at Mother Brown’s kitchen to describe what the place has meant for him.

“I didn’t have nothing, not even ambitions. I felt I was a loser. I had no self-esteem,” he remembers. “I was smoking crack under the bridge and all that stuff.”

He now has a job as a hotel chef and lives in a HOPE House home. He rolled up his sleeves to reveal cuts and burns, the battle scars of a chef.

“These are my cook wounds,” he said, “instead of dope wounds.”

But for a period, McCall slept in the chairs. “It’s hard. Your ankles swell up,” he said.

Wade Verdun also slept in the chairs and went through HOPE House.

“I’ve got my own place now, got my own car. I’m no longer on drugs. And I’ve got a two-year-old son,” Verdun said. “This place saved my life, to tell you the truth.” Smiling, he patted his belly. “I’ve never been this fat. Trust me.”

If the shelter does get built, Westbrook hopes, it can lead to more happy endings like McCall’s and Verdun’s.There are already too many sad stories.

On Dec. 19, candles lit the dusk on the steps of City Hall in a vigil for the homeless people who have died in San Francisco. The vigil was organized by Night Ministry, a crisis intervention and counseling service that operates in the Tenderloin from 10pm to 4am. Reverend Lyle Beckman, director of Night Ministry, said that he got the names of 22 deceased homeless people from the Department of Public Health, but knew it was low. During the vigil, attendants came forward with the names of more dead, until the number reached 100.

Beckman said the crisis line gets busy this time of year. “We always see more conversations around holiday time,” he said. “When people have memories of it being a family time and then they’re not connected with their family in some way, it can bring isolation and loneliness.”

In a city of chosen families, Mother Brown’s “children” have found a way to heal that kind of loneliness. Perhaps McCall put it best when he described the first time he came back to his native Bayview and found Mother Brown’s after decades of isolation.

“When I came in through the door — this is God’s truth — I felt like I was at home,” he said. Soon, people like McCall may find a bed, too, when they walk through that door. Maybe for Christmas 2015.

Endorsements 2013


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Wells Fargo lawsuit against city of Richmond dismissed


Richmond, 1, Wells Fargo, zip. 

In the first round of what may become a long and protracted legal battle, US Distict Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Wells Fargo’s lawsuit against the city of Richmond today, and the reason for dismissal was clear: nothing has happened yet. 

Wells Fargo’s suit attacked the constintutionality of Richmond’s plan to use eminent domain to seize about 600 mortgage loans, a controversial program meant to save residents from losing their homes. The judge pointed out that not only had Richmond not yet enacted the plan, but it hadn’t even been voted on by the Richmond City Council. 

In legalese, the case is not “yet ripe for adjudication.” Translation? You can’t sue someone for something that hasn’t happened, or may not ever happen, Breyer wrote in his decision. He also explained why he dismissed the case, rather than putting it in abeyance (a kind of “pause button” for cases).

“The Court further concludes that it must dismiss the case rather than hold it in abeyance,” he wrote. “Ripeness of these claims does not rest on contingent future events certain to occur, but rather on future events that may never occur. Because there is no point at which it will be determined that Plaintiffs’ claims are not ripe and will never become ripe, the matter could linger in abeyance for an indefinite period of time. Under these circumstances, a stay is not appropriate.”

Wells Fargo declined to comment on the decision, and a spokesperson referred us to legal counsel representing investors in the mortgage market (of which Wells Fargo is a trustee). Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also was unavailable for comment as she is out of the country on a business trip.

protesters march outside of Wells Fargo

Speaking to the Guardian a few weeks ago about her eminent domain plan, McLaughlin said she would be willing to battle Wells Fargo “all the way to the Supreme Court,” to defend the community of Richmond. And she may have to, as Wells Fargo does have the opportunity to appeal to a higher court. 

For clarification, Breyer did indicate in the hearing last week that he would seek abeyance or dismissal in the case, but did not issue his final decision until today.  

For our coverage of Richmond’s city council meeting where the plan was almost voted down by city councilmember Nathaniel Bates, click here. Look out for our full coverage of the newest in Richmond’s battle for homeowners in our September 18 issue, this Wednesday.  


Below is the full text of Breyer’s decision.

Campos urges SF to explore using Richmond’s eminent domain plan


Sup. David Campos is urging the board of supervisors to explore using eminent domain to save San Francisco resident’s underwater mortgages, a plan pioneered by the city of Richmond and its mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

The plan uses the power of eminent domain to seize underwater mortgage loans from banks and investors, saving homeowners from being booted out onto the street when they’re behind on their ballooning payments. The plan is controversial and under attack by Wells Fargo and other Wall Street interests, which we explored in last week’s cover story, “Not For Sale.” They say that the plan puts money into the pockets of Richmond and Mortgage Resolution Partners, the group that engineered the plan. 

Campos plans to introduce his resolution at tomorrow’s board meeting, but importantly it only asks The City to explore whether or not the plan could work in San Francisco. The resolution would not enact a plan at this point in time.

At a press conference this morning, housing activists and Campos trumpeted the plan as a way to save the homes of San Franciscans. Often those targeted with predatory loans have been people of color, they noted. 

“Our strategies have been, lets be honest, ‘Let’s see what the federal government or the banking industry will do to help these folks,’” Campos said at the steps of City Hall. “We’ve waited long enough.”

Campos rattled off surprising numbers, saying 58 homeowners in his district alone had underwater mortgages at risk of foreclosure, and that 16 percent of homeowners in neighborhoods like Visitacion Valley were underwater. 

Bernal Heights homeowner and activist Ross Rhodes was there supporting the action.

“Dave (Campos) helped me save my home when I was getting nowhere with the banks but frustration,” Rhodes said. 

He was making his payments which were up to $3,500 a month, but while on disability and going through a divorce, it was tough. Campos got Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office involved, and they talked to the banks on his behalf. In the end, he finally got a principal reduction and what he calls a “real good” modification. “I’m not asking for a handout, I’m asking for help,” he said. 

Now his payments are $1,600 a month. “It just shows the banks can do what they want to do, they control it all, they can work with if you if they want to.”

Campos’ resolution also proclaims San Francisco’s support for Richmond’s eminent domain effort.

The bank asked him why he went to Pelosi and Campos for help, instead of going through them. He was incredulous, as he’d been fighting for a principal reduction on his own for two years. “I’ve been trying to work with you for months,” he told them. “It took that political muscle to get you to move. I went through five different loan agents.” 

The victory made him a convert, going to rallies and speaking to help others suffering with their loans. 

The hounds are coming for Richmond though, and the political muscle needed to enact the controversial plan is at risk. 

Wells Fargo already filed suit against Richmond over its use of eminent domain, saying the plan puts money in the pockets of the city and would put a chill on investments. A Richmond bond with an A- rating was already rejected by Wall Street, finding no financiers, putting Richmond in a possible bind when it comes to public works projects. 

In response, Richmond councilmember Nathaniel Bates has a resolution for tomorrow’s Richmond city council meeting to stall the plan. If it’s voted in, Richmond will withdraw all the offers to buy underwater loans and withdraw the plan to use eminent domain to seize them. 

If Bates’ resolution is approved, the whole plan would tank. 

A petition from the Home Defenders League to sand with Richmond’s eminent domain effort has over 7,000 signatures. 

To contact Wells Fargo’s CEO yourself, follow the link here.

The Guardian wrote to the Mayor Ed Lee’s office to see if he is in support of Campos’ plan, but didn’t hear back before press time, which was admittedly quick. 

Update 2:20 pm: We asked supervisor Campos’ aide Hilary Ronen if San Francisco would be at risk for a lawsuit from Wells Fargo, similar to Richmond, if the city enacted an eminent domain plan. In response, she said “All that we’re doing is asking the city attorney’s office as well as the budget and legislative analyst, ‘if we did something similar, what does it look like? What are the financial risks for the city?’ This way we can make an educated assessment. After having that information he’ll have to balance what the risks are. We’re not there yet.”

Spotlight shone on gentrification in West Oakland and SF


Two stories on the theme of gentrification and displacement — a topic we at the Bay Guardian have expended plenty of ink on — ran in major news outlets recently, showing how intense the Bay Area housing market pressure has become as it continues to be fueled by a rapid growth in high-salaried jobs in big tech.

Zeroing in on San Francisco, the Los Angeles Times turned an eye toward Mission District gentrification (“San Francisco split by Silicon Valley’s wealth,” Aug. 14) illustrating the growing divide with a succinct comment overheard on a Muni bus: “I don’t know why old people ride Muni. If I were old, I’d just take Uber.”

And a Wall Street Journal article (“Companies spruce up neighborhoods, putting gentrification in overdrive,” Aug. 13) provides an eye-opening account of how REO Homes LLC is seeking to accelerate the gentrification process by “beautifying” West Oakland, an historically African American neighborhood that is home to predominantly low-income and working-class residents.

Minutes from downtown San Francisco via BART, West Oakland is dotted with Victorians and was hit with a wave of foreclosure during the economic crash, destabilizing the lives of many families who lost their homes.

REO is an investment firm helped along by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, a well-connected venture capitalist (he even hosted a Democratic Party fundraiser with President Barack Obama at his Pacific Heights mansion earlier this year).

As the Journal’s Robbie Whelan reports, REO has been shelling out top dollar to spruce up not just its holdings, but residences nearby its West Oakland properties. In a rarely seen form of hyper-gentrification, the company has been planting trees, sprucing up homes (for free) of neighbors who aren’t in the market to sell or rent, mending fences, and making other improvements — all in an effort to lure higher-income residents to the neighborhood.

Since 2008, the height of the real-estate market crash, REO has acquired more than 200 homes in Oakland, Whelan reports, mostly in West Oakland. “Most houses cost around $200,000,” he writes, “and [founder Neill Sullivan] said he invests as much $100,000 to fix each one up.”

Real-estate agents have been marketing the sometimes-rough neighborhood to house-hunters as an affordable, nearby alternative to astronomically expensive San Francisco. Now that many people who weren’t able to keep up with mortgage payments have been forced out by foreclosure, things are changing swiftly, as if by magic. Armed with cash, bankers are chasing away the blight and rolling out the welcome mat for up-and-comers who can’t swing that $3,000 one-bedroom in The City. All of which will likely result in further displacement of Oakland residents who are barely holding on as it is. As Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks told the Journal: “I’m not interested in finding housing for San Franciscans who can no longer afford San Francisco. I’m interested in helping people here in Oakland.”

West Oakland hyper gentrification in the WSJ

Two stories on the theme of gentrification and displacement – a topic we at the Guardian have expended plenty of ink on – ran in major news outlets recently, showing how intense the Bay Area housing market pressure has become as it continues to be fueled by a rapid growth in high-salaried jobs in big tech.

Zeroing in on San Francisco, the LA Times turned an eye toward Mission District gentrification, illustrating the growing divide with a succinct comment overheard on a Muni bus: “I don’t know why old people ride Muni. If I were old, I’d just take Uber.”

And a Wall Street Journal article provides an eye-opening account of how REO Homes LLC is literally seeking to accelerate the gentrification process by “beautifying” West Oakland, an historic Black neighborhood that is home to predominantly low-income and working-class residents. (Note: The article may be behind a paywall.)

Minutes from downtown San Francisco via BART, West Oakland is dotted with Victorians and was hit with a wave of foreclosure during the economic crash, destabilizing the lives of many families who lost their homes.

REO is an investment firm helped along by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, a well-connected venture capitalist (he even hosted a Democratic Party fundraiser with President Barack Obama at his Pacific Heights mansion earlier this year).

As the Journal’s Robbie Whelan reports, REO has been shelling out top dollar to spruce up not just its holdings, but residences nearby its West Oakland properties. In a rarely seen form of hyper-gentrification, the company has been planting trees, sprucing up homes (for free) of neighbors who aren’t in the market to sell or rent, mending fences, and making other improvements – all in an effort to lure higher-income residents to the neighborhood.

Since 2008, the height of the real-estate market crash, REO has acquired more than 200 homes in Oakland, Whelan reports, mostly in West Oakland. “Most houses cost around $200,000,” he writes, “and [founder Neill Sullivan] said he invests as much $100,000 to fix each one up.”

Real-estate agents have been marketing the neighborhood – which is no stranger to violent crime – to house-hunters as an affordable, nearby alternative to astronomically expensive San Francisco. Now that many people who weren’t able to keep up with mortgage payments have been forced out by foreclosure (see: robocalls, bungled loan modifications, foreclosure abuses), things are changing swiftly, as if by magic. Armed with cash, bankers are chasing away the blight and rolling out the welcome mat for up-and-comers who can’t swing it for that $3,000 one-bedroom in the city.

All of which will likely result in further displacement of Oakland residents who are barely holding on as it is. As Oakland councilwoman Desley Brooks told the Journal: “I’m not interested in finding housing for San Franciscans who can no longer afford San Francisco. I’m interested in helping people here in Oakland.”

Richmond gets radical, seizing foreclosed homes from banks


As a rule of thumb, we at the Guardian tend to believe that if the banking and real estate industries are against something, then we’re probably in support of it. But that’s not the only reason that I’m so intrigued about the possibilities of Richmond taking ownership of hundreds of foreclosed homes, using eminent domain laws as needed, to keep people from being evicted and rejuvenate the community.

Richmond officials want to take over 624 homes that are underwater in that foreclosure-plagued city, becoming the first city in the country to do so. San Bernardino had considered and rejected the idea earlier, largely because of opposition from banks and threats that they might stop lending in the city. But Richmond officials appear to be holding tough against such extortionary threats and moving forward.

KQED’s Forum did an interesting segment on the situation this morning, following up a report from Democracy Now! on Tuesday (KALW also did something on this last month), with the bankers and Realtors offering up all kinds of unfounded concerns and fear mongering to confuse the issue. Because this is a truly radical action that Richmond is considering, in the best sense of that term: banks and those who control property have too much power over our lives, and it’s about time a city takes some of that power back on behalf of its people.

This is like nationalizing the assets of corrupt capitalists who have gone too far in subverting the broad public interest, a populist shot over the bow of the people who consider themselves our economic masters, from Wall Street right down San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce and Association of Realtors.  

As Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told Democracy Now: “The banks sold our community predatory loans, and now they have no solution that they’re presenting for this crisis. So we are stepping in to fix the situation. We’re stepping in by taking these troubled loans off the hands of the banks. And we’re paying them fair market value for these loans, and then we’re working with the homeowners to refinance and modify loans in line with current home values. So we call on the banks to voluntarily sell us these loans. And if they don’t cooperate, we will be considering eminent domain.”

Just think about the possibilities of this: cities could seize all their most distressed properties, then pay fair market value (which would be at fire sale prices for rundown homes in communities with high foreclosure rates), have the residents work with city officials to turn the area around and thus substantially increase the value of those homes, and eventually sell those homes at a profit, either to their current occupants or some other city residents (choosing buyers based on social considerations, not strictly financial ones). If it works on a small-scale, it could be ramped up to larger and larger scales, with cities selling bonds to buy real assets that would only go up in value as properties get more attention than these absentee bankers have been giving them.

If predatory entrepreneurs can buy these short-sale properties and flip them for a profit, why can cities do the same thing and do some good for their people in the process?

DPH: Unaffordable housing is bad for your health

To cover rent on a two-bedroom apartment at “fair market value” in SoMa, a San Francisco minimum-wage earner would have to work 7.4 full-time jobs.

That jaw-dropper of a statistic is just one tidbit in a fascinating dataset featured in a recently published interactive map plotting housing affordability in San Francisco neighborhoods. Combining data from Craigslist and PadMapper, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the local minimum wage ($10.24 per hour, widely regarded as generous), the map isn’t the handiwork of affordable housing activists. [Note: this reflects the 2012 minimum wage, the rate now stands at $10.55.]

Instead, it was created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability. To view the full map and dig around for data on your neighborhood of interest, go here.

The embedded dataset reveals that the median income in SoMa is $91,000 lower than the $158,000 one would need to afford renting a market-rate two-bedroom. This figure, expressed as $-91,000, is known as the “affordability gap,” and the map plots these gaps neighborhood by neighborhood.

It was rolled out as part of a weeklong effort to raise public awareness about the link between affordable housing and public health, explains Cyndy Comerford, manager of planning and fiscal policy at the Environmental Health division of DPH. The reason? “Unmet housing needs in San Francisco can result in significant public health concerns,” Comerford says.

A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations, she adds. Housing units within reach for lower income residents might be squeezed up against a highway, for instance, putting tenants in close proximity to noise, traffic, or air pollution, thus increasing their risks for experiencing heart or respiratory problems. Substandard housing also makes lead or mold exposure more likely, possibly triggering serious health issues over time.

For residents who fork over a significant percentage of their income for rent, other problems can arise. “It leaves little money for other provisions,” such as healthy food or preventative health care, Comerford adds, so low-income tenants have a higher likelihood of malnourishment or preventable disease related to nutrition.

The map is part of a broader DPH initiative known as the Sustainable Communities Index, which provides datasets for more than 100 health indicators. There’s a whole section on housing, which even covers the negative health effects of eviction: “Involuntary displacement contributes to stress, loss of supportive social networks and increased risk for substandard housing conditions and overcrowding,” DPH points out.

More information is yet to come: “Every day this week, we’ll put out a new bit of information around health and housing,” Comerford says.

Taking a broader view, it appears that sweeping cuts to public programs will present a whole new set of challenges for lower-income populations who have a higher risk of housing-related health problems. As a New York Times opinion piece highlighting the public health ramifications of austerity measures notes, “there are warning signs … that health trends are worsening. Prescriptions for antidepressants have soared. Three-quarters of a million people (particularly out-of-work young men) have turned to binge drinking. Over five million Americans lost access to health care in the recession because they lost their jobs.”

Amid all this, as a consequence of the $85 billion “sequester” that began on March 1, “Public housing budgets will be cut by nearly $2 billion this year,” the New York Times piece continues, “even while 1.4 million homes are in foreclosure.”

Wells Fargo foreclosure fighters: They’re baaaack!

See an update at the end of this article.

 A group of activists focused on organizing against Bay Area foreclosures will return to Wells Fargo’s San Francisco headquarters today for a protest timed to coincide with the banking giant’s shareholders’ meeting – even though the meeting was moved to Salt Lake City, Utah this year. (Perhaps the change of scenery had something to do with what happened last year, or the year before?)

Unfazed, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment has sent some homeowners who are facing bank foreclosure on a road trip to Utah to bring their message to CEO John Stumpf in person, according to ACCE organizer Erin Franey.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, activists focused on fighting foreclosure will congregate outside the bank’s Mongtomery Street headquarters. “Wells is foreclosing on more homeowners in California than any other bank,” says Franey, adding that there are currently 11,000 California homes in the foreclosure pipeline.

In attendance at this afternoon’s San Francisco rally will be Bernetta Adolf, a cancer survivor in her late 60s who has also struggled with blindness, a particularly challenging disability that forced her to retire from her city job as a Muni driver.

Adolf is locked in a battle with Wells Fargo over the foreclosure of her home in San Francisco’s Oceanview-Merced-Ingleside neighborhood. The trouble started when she borrowed against the home she’s lived in 20 years, to fund her son’s college education.

“It turns out the loan to provide for my son’s future was designed to ruin my own,” Adolf wrote in an online statement. “It was predatory, calculated to strip my equity and set me up for failure. When I tried to work with Wells to fix the loan, they offered a modification so small it didn’t make any difference. Then they started trying to take my house. The stress hastened my blindness and continues to aggravate my health problems.”

UPDATE: Wells Fargo spokesperson Ruben Pulido contacted us in response to this article and requested that we post a statement in response:

“Our foreclosure rate in 2012 fourth quarter was just 1.04 percent in California—less than half our national rate (2.1 percent) during that period.

Over the past four years, Wells Fargo has helped more than 850,000 customers nationwide with loan modifications, and has helped customers through $6.6 billion in principal forgiveness; the majority of that principal forgiveness has gone to borrowers in California.

When customers with financial challenges choose to work with us, we help 7 of 10 avoid foreclosure. Over the last 6 months, customers who completed a foreclosure were, on average, 19 months past due on their payments.”

Housing stability for all


OPINION San Francisco is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. It’s way too expensive to live here, and for those fortunate enough to have housing they can afford, we need to provide stability. This need for housing stability applies to renters as well as homeowners. If we’ve learned anything from the foreclosure crisis, homeowners are not all rich, and they are not all stable in their housing.

Last week’s Guardian argued against legislation I’m co-sponsoring, which provides one-time relief to owners of tenancies-in-common (TICs) — mostly middle- and working-class first-time homeowners who reside in their units — while providing strong protection to renters. While the editorial correctly stressed the need to support rent control, it failed to acknowledge the need to support housing stability for homeowners as well.

Rent control is one of the pillars of our city. It stabilizes housing prices, recognizes that housing isn’t just another commodity, keeps communities intact, and helps maintain San Francisco’s diverse fabric. I’ve long supported rent control, as reflected by my voting record. I supported a series of rent control measures designed to reduce evictions, including requiring sales disclosure of a unit’s eviction history, requiring increased relocation benefits to evicted tenants, outlawing harassment of tenants, and restricting use of the Ellis Act by real-estate speculators. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I authored successful legislation to ban conversion of rent-controlled units to student dorms and to provide temporary affordable units to renters displaced by disasters.

The current legislation I’m co-sponsoring will provide needed relief to struggling TIC owners, many of whom are experiencing serious financial distress, while protecting the small number of tenants who live in these units. TIC owners have group mortgages, meaning that if one owner defaults, all owners default. They pay double the interest rate other homeowners pay and usually cannot refinance. The legislation will allow them to convert their units to condos and obtain their own mortgages, at lower rates and less foreclosure risk.

While some caricature TIC owners as speculators and wealthy people, that’s untrue. Many TIC owners are quite middle class, former renters who scraped together a down payment to purchase a home. Many are teachers, social workers, public employees, and other workers who are anything but speculators. These are people who, if they didn’t own TICs, would be renting. They aren’t Martians who dropped out of the sky. They’re our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow San Franciscans. They are part of the city’s fabric.

Under the legislation, owner-occupied TICs that are in the condo lottery will be able to convert to condos by paying a fee of $20,000 per unit, with the proceeds dedicated to affordable housing. Buildings with Ellis Act and other problem evictions are typically prohibited from condo converting in San Francisco, under a 2006 law, and that restriction applies to this legislation. In other words, this legislation won’t encourage Ellis Act evictions. Moreover, buildings that aren’t owner-occupied can’t condo convert. Nor can buildings with more than six units. The legislation is one-time in nature and not an ongoing invitation to condo convert.

The legislation covers very few units with tenants — 85% are owner-occupied — and protects this small number of tenants by mandating they receive lifetime leases, with full rent and eviction controls identical to our rent control laws. This protection is stronger than what most tenants receive in buildings that win the condo lottery currently.

Renters and homeowners both deserve housing stability. This legislation moves us in that direction.

Supervisor Scott Wiener represents District 8.





Saluting Bradley Manning: Book event with Daniel Ellsberg

First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing, Berk. (510) 967-4495, 7:30-9:30pm, $12 advance, $15 door. Hosted by KPFA Radio, this book event features appearances by renowned whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, his wife Patricia, and Kevin Gosztola, co-author of Truth and Consequences: The US vs. Bradley Manning. Learn the story of whistle-blower Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks. Tickets may be purchased in advance at Pegasus Books, Marcus Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s, Moe’s Books, Walden Pond, DIESEL, A Bookstore, and Modern Times.

Spaghetti dinner for the 99 percent

Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin, SF. (415) 595-7306, 6pm, $20 general, $10 students & seniors. A fundraiser for foreclosure fighters! Featuring political satirist Will Durst, plus speakers from Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Occupy Bernal and Occupy Noe. 8pm screening of HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? Followed by Q&A with co-producer Don Goldmacher. Benefits educational projects of Unitarian-Universalists for Peace-SF and the SF 99% Coalition.


Protest: Don’t frack our public wildlands

Federal building, 450 Golden Gate, SF. (415) 436-9682, Noon-1:30pm, free. Fracking is a dangerous drilling technique that could impact air quality and pollute waterways. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is auctioning of rights to drill and frack California wildlands. Join the Center for Biological Diversity in showing the BLM that Californians oppose this harmful practice.


Panel discussion: rethinking juvenile justice

Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California, SF. (415) 346-1720 x24, 12:30pm, free. Reservations required. Join representatives from SF’s juvenile justice community for Kiddush, lunch, and a panel discussion on breaking the cycle of incarceration for young offenders. Participants include SF Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross; USF Professor Kimberly Richman;Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair; Huckleberry Youth Programs Executive Director Bruce Fisher; Director of Juvenile Justice Programs at Huckleberry Denise Coleman; Director Huckleberry Community Assessment and Referral Center Gavin O’Neill; Former Youth Offender and Community Activist Felix Lucero.

Oakland Debtors’ Assembly

Eastside Arts Alliance, 2277 International, Oakl. (415) 568-6037, 2-4:30pm, free. Join this teach-in hosted by Strike Debt Bay Area and begin to rethink debt — not as an issue of individual shame, but as a political platform for collective resistance and action. Learn about debt resistance, share resources and skills, and join others in imagining and creating a world based on the common good, not Wall Street profits.

Sacred space


MUSIC There will be no bad seats at the new SFJazz Center in Hayes Valley; or at least, that’s the goal.

The brand new jazz venue in the heart of town, a three-story, glass-encased structure with a circular concrete stadium bowl of an auditorium, educational components, rehearsal spaces, a cafe run by the Slanted Door’s Charles Phan, and multiple bars opens Mon/21. It’s a $63 million, 35,000-square-foot addition to Performing Arts Row, near Van Ness-adjacent locations such as the Davies Symphony Hall, and the War Memorial Opera House. It’s the birth of a nonprofit jazz institution.

In the auditorium, 700 seats encircle and hover above a central stage — chairs behind the stage, up in the balcony, and practically up in the artists’ faces on the ground level. Because the room so surrounds the stage, there’s a direct sight line for every instrument being played, every hand grasping a horn, tickling keys, or plucking strings. There are platforms that can accordion and retract, making that enviable space near the stage open up into a temporary dance floor.

And all the seats have cup-holders. We’re a long way from the smoke-filled, underground jazz clubs of the past.



And from those seats in the Robert N. Miner auditorium, patrons will see an impressive first season of SF Jazz at its new home. Fans already have high expectations, given SF Jazz’s 30 years of hosting concerts and festivals at other venues like the Paramount in Oakland, and smaller clubs like Amnesia. Now with its own multi-use facility, the nonprofit has taken eclectic routes with its programming and contributions.

“This first season, when you look at some of the things we’re doing here, it’s just exciting as all hell,” says founder and executive artistic director Randall Kline, barely able to contain that excitement, clad in a hardhat and reflective vest on the first level of the still-under-construction building. “[These events] fully take advantage of what we can do with the theater — something we couldn’t do when we didn’t have our own place.”

For starters, there’s a sold-out opening night celebration Jan. 23, hosted by Bill Cosby, along with a grand opening week of shows spotlighting McCoy Tyner, the SFJazz Collective, and more, followed by a week of big band with the Realistic Orchestra (Jan. 31), and swing with Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickets (Feb. 3).

In March, virtuoso Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain will perform four nights, and in April there will be a Weimar Germany themed weekend with Ute Lemper, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, and a screening of the classic Metropolis (1927), with live music by the Clubfoot Orchestra.

But even more to Kline’s point: there will be five resident artistic directors for the 2013 through ’14 season (along with Kline’s overall vision). The five — Jason Moran, Regina Carter, Bill Frisell, John Santos, and Miguel Zenon — are musicians with distinctive backgrounds and viewpoints, programming four days of thematic events.



For his days, Santos hand-picked colleagues and artists working and performing in the Caribbean style. He chose De Akokan, a duo made up of Cuban singer-songwriter-composer Pavel Urkiza and Puerto Rican saxophonist-composer Ricardo Pons, because “they’re phenomenal artists…and they rarely come here.” He also invited cutting edge trombonist-composer Papo Vazquez, who lives in New York but is steeped in the Afro-Puerto Rican tradition.

During a phone call a few hours before my hard-hatted venue walk-through with Kline, architect Mark Cavagnero, and Marshall Lamm, who does public relations for the center, Santos discusses his anticipation and interest in the upcoming schedule.

The Bay Area bred percussionist will also be premiering his own Filosofia Caribena II, which refers to Caribbean philosophies and traditions — those that have informed his entire body of work. “[It] blends all the experiences of Black American music with Caribbean traditions, and it goes into the whole socio-political aspect of how the music really represents resistance and the identity of a whole group of people that identify culturally, even though we don’t live in Cuba or Puerto Rico, but we certainly grew up in and maintained those traditions.”

Adding, “Jazz was born in that environment, in New Orleans, in the Caribbean community. We’re making those connections between jazz and the Caribbean roots.”

Frisell’s batch of shows, beginning April 18, will include multimedia pieces with projections and orchestras, readings of Allen Ginsber’s Kaddish, and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved (the latter of which is rumored to be narrated by Tim Robbins).

Moran’s residency likely represents the scope of the auditorium’s versatility best: he’ll open with a solo acoustic piano night (May 2), followed by a “Fats Waller Dance Party” with Meshell Ndegeocello that utilizes the dance-floor, then break out the inspired, possibly nutty, concept of a skateboarding jazz piece. There will be an actual half-pipe on the lower level of the room — seats pushed back — with professional skateboarders riding back and forth in the curved structure to Moran’s musical accompaniment.



It’ll be one of many configurations for that striking room. The specifics of the auditorium were big challenges for architect Cavagnero — the acoustics, the balance of sound (such as making sure solo piano and thundering skateboarding dips both fill the space equally), isolating street noise, creating those excellent sight lines from every angle.

“The idea of the building was to make the big concrete room the sacred space for music, the focus space,” says Cavagnero, walking up the stairs in the building’s glass-encased entryway. “That was going to be the closed, sacred space, [and] everything else would wrap around it and be as open and public as we could make it.”

To that end, the rest of the building has floor-to-ceiling glass, and the staircase has no columns supporting it, just thin titanium rods that double as the guardrail. The second floor has bars on either ends and terraces with glass doors that fully open, along with tiled murals representing the history of jazz in the city, with long-gone clubs painted throughout.

It’s clear that this building is meant to be more than a standard music venue, the goal is to be an institution.

“So, if the paradigm is: clubs are harder to run and have live music, well, if we could have the same kind of vibrant music in an institution that supported that kind of thing, to build up a community of people that cared about that kind of thing — which is the gamble I guess we’re making here in this building — we can build it for the jazz community,” says Kline. “[The goal is to have] a great place to hang out and hear live music, where new artists can grow and premiere, and be nurtured.”

And it is hard to run live jazz venues in the city. Nearing the end of 2012, the owners of Oakland’s Yoshi’s filed for involuntary bankruptcy to put its San Francisco location in Chapter 11 if it couldn’t meet an agreement with its partners, the Rrazz Room switched venues under a cloud of controversy stemming from an allegedly racist former manager of its then-location, and Savanna Jazz had to fight off foreclosure.

“We have not seen an increased interest for the art form [recently] primarily because the economy is down significantly and the arts are usually the first to suffer,” says Savanna Jazz co-owner Pascal Bokar.

Because of this, I ask Bokar if other jazz club owners in the city see the center as a contentious new rival. He categorically denies that assertion.

“Jazz is an art form and it has no competition, every club and club owner adds to the fabric of our community and SFJazz is the big brother. I know how hard it is to promote jazz and [Kline] has been working at it for several decades,” he says. “He deserves tremendous credit for bringing this to San Francisco. SFJazz is a very powerful organization and I think that there is an opportunity for [it] to partner with the smaller venues like Savanna Jazz. The smaller venues are the incubators of local talent and I think that they would benefit from a closer relationship, which in turn would solidify community commitment.”

It may be the older sibling to smaller clubs, but given the economy, and the tough climate for all music venues in San Francisco really, the SF Jazz Center does also feel like a gamble itself. But to extend and belabor the metaphor, Kline’s got a good hand.

Santos describes the center to me as a “bold experiment.”

“The amount of money that it has taken to build that place and keep the doors open is phenomenal, and in a lot of ways, it’s a step out into the darkness,” he says. “But I see the potential of it as just limitless. It can be such an incredible thing, if the community supports it. That’s what I’m hoping will happen.”



Santos points out that the jazz center is unique in its fans and patrons differing from the typical performing arts donor, and will have specific obstacles because of that.

“In a way, it’s abstract, when you think of it like, OK, there it is, next door to the symphony hall, to the ballet, to the opera, within one block of those institutions. It’s wonderful to have jazz there, and standing toe-to-toe with those institutions, and getting the respect it deserves. Getting public support from the city and the country and the state, as it should be, because jazz is our national art form. The symphony and the ballet and the opera are not.”

“The difficult part is that the opera and the symphony and the ballet have traditional well-heeled audiences of supporters. Jazz does not. Jazz is grassroots; it’s working class. The audience for jazz and the community from where jazz comes out of is not a deep-pocket kind of community. And that’s where the challenge lies.”

If anyone can face that, it’s Kline. It’s part of his whole bootstrapping essence, how he’s kept SFJazz up, running, and prominent for the better part of three decades. From its humble beginnings as the three-day Jazz in the City festival, promoted solely by Kline, to the Summerfest, the SFJazz High School All-Stars group, the monthly Hotplate series, and finally, the SFJazz Center.

Leaning against the guardrail on the second floor of the building, gazing out through the wall of glass to the greater Hayes Valley neighborhood, Kline smiles as he talks of the city’s history with jazz, his own life mirroring it for quite some time. “I’ve been here since 1976, and I’ve seen a lot of patterns in the scene; it ebbs and flows, the economy changes. This building is a reflection of the sociology; we’re trying to be relevant, so we’ve chosen a different model, we’ve chosen institution.”

It’s one of a few times that will come up in my conversations with those involved with the center.

“Could we apply that older model for culture to a younger, vibrant art form that’s relevant to the city?” he asks, rhetorically. “That’s the aim here, to try something that’s of our time.”

Jazz hands: Some SFJazz season highlights



A rare old school jazz legend in the center’s inaugural season — stunning and dapper pianist Tyner will “consecrate” the space by performing with the SFJazz house band.

Jan. 24, 7:30pm, $50–$150



Swing is still huge in SF, and this celebration of the classic big band sound pairs the 17-member Montclair Women with the 20-member Realistic Orchestra (who’ve big-banded Bjork) for a wall of swingin’ sound. The SFJazz High School All-Stars Orchestra opens.

Jan. 31, 7:30pm, $25



Oh heck yes.

Feb. 22-24, 7:30pm, $25–$65



The gorgeous longing of Portuguese fado washes over the Bay in the form of the wonderfully voiced Mariza, a spellbinding star whose repertoire spotlights acoustic melancholy melodies from Brazil, Cape Verde, North Africa, and beyond.

Mar. 14-17, 7:30pm, $25–$65



Beloved Bay Area bandleader and jazz evangelist digs deep in his knowledge of Cuban, Latin, and indigenous Caribbean styles to deliver a heady trip through ancient Iberian influences and contemporary island expressions.

Mar. 23, 7:30pm, $25–$65



San Francisco’s Club Foot Orchestra performs its renowned futuristic soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi masterpiece.

Apr. 14, 7:30pm, $20–$40



Überhip guitarist Bill Frissell, an SFJazz resident artistic director, applies his downtown cool pedigree to two überhip literary iconoclasts. He’ll be conducting an ace team of musicians for multimedia presentations of Ginsberg’s epic poem of mourning and Thompson’s notorious, uproarious 1970 article about the grand horse race. With visual design by Ralph Steadman for both programs, classic counterculture will be out in force.

Ginsberg: Apr. 18, 7pm and 9:30pm, $35–$80

Thompson: Apr. 20, 7:30pm and Apr. 21, 4pm and 7pm, $35–$80



“Jazz wild card” and MacArthur Genius pianist Jason Moran gets contemporary with new trio Bandwagon, performing a rolicking set as a who’s-who of SF skateboarders shows off the flexibility of the new center.

May 4, 7:30pm, $20–$40


Despite settlement, Wells Fargo still in housing activists’ crosshairs

Federal regulators cut a deal with 10 major banks to “speed up housing relief,” major news outlets reported earlier this week – but to exactly no one’s surprise, the amount promised to struggling homeowners is a pittance compared with the overwhelming losses sustained during the foreclosure crisis. National consumer advocates criticized the deal as a lost opportunity to demand some accountability from Wall Street. In San Francisco, neighborhood activists with Occupy Bernal dismissed the agreement as falling short and vowed to continue campaigning against Wells Fargo, a primary mortgage lender based in San Francisco and one of the 10 financial institutions to sign on. 

The bank settlement replaced a mandatory, independent foreclosure review process that financial institutions were required to take on following revelations of widespread abuses, like robo-signing. Created to benefit homeowners who faced foreclosure in the wake of these shady lending practices, the program was ultimately chalked up as a failure for being too slow, costly and ineffective. Not only did it reach just a tiny fraction of those eligible to file claims, said Bruce Mirken of the Greenlining Institute, but “as of the end of the year, nobody had actually gotten any money.”

Instead of continuing down that fraught path, big lenders such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and others agreed to shell out $8.5 billion to settle the claims. Under a process that remains far from clear, payments are supposed to be distributed among 3.8 million struggling households nationwide – some of whom went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010, and others currently in danger of losing their homes.

Local housing activists were cynical. “Wells Fargo and the other big banks have agreed to paying principal reductions and affordable permanent loan modifications about 20 times. They haven’t done it yet, and they’re not going to do it unless we make ’em,” said Buck Bagot, a neighborhood activist who has been organizing around foreclosure issues with Occupy Bernal. In San Francisco alone, more than 1,200 foreclosed properties turned up in a quick search on – many listed at prices exceeding $500,000.

The situation is far worse in the East Bay. From 2006 to 2011, one out of every 14 Oakland households faced foreclosure and had their property reverted back to the bank, according to data compiled by the Urban Strategies Council, an Oakland-based nonprofit working on anti-poverty issues. East Oakland was hit hardest, with data visualizations showing between 165 and 409 properties per census tract that had reverted back to lenders in 2008. (You can view detailed geographic foreclosure data compiled by the Council here.)

“The amount of wealth that has been sucked out of communities is astonishing,” said Mirken, of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based research advocacy organization focused on economic justice. “It’s not at all clear that the $8.5 billion is at all in relation to the trillions in wealth that was drained from communities in the foreclosure crisis.” In California there are currently 208,435 foreclosed homes up for sale, according to data recently accessed on housing tracking site RealtyTrac, with average price listings of around $273,000. The amount that stands to be gained by selling off bank-owned properties exceeds the total settlement payout by many orders of magnitude. 

Mirken said he was glad the banks are promising at least some form of relief to struggling homeowners, even if it’s small potatoes. “I’m not dismissing this as nothing,” he said. “But it feels like the response has never matched the scale of the problem.”

Meanwhile, some nationwide consumer advocates blasted the deal. “The capped pool of cash payments is wholly inadequate in light of the scale of the harm,” said Alys Cohen, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. “If the reviews had been done right the first time, banks would have been on the hook to pay far more to homeowners, even though the planned scheme fell far short of full compensation.”

Occupy Bernal staged a protest at the Bayview branch of Wells Fargo several weeks ago in an effort to draw attention to abusive lending practices that disproportionately affected African American, Asian and Latino homeowners. Bagot told the Guardian there are more to come. As for the bank settlement deal, he scoffed: “These governmental chickens live in the chicken coop that’s run by the fox.”

Where is Occupy SF now?


On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy San Francisco also celebrated its birthday.

Demonstrations throughout the day Sept. 17, focusing on a variety of topics, converged at 5pm at 555 California, Bank of America’s west coast headquarters. A lively march of about 600 became a street festival down the block. There, protesters stopped for a circus of birthday activities. In one corner, people saddled by debt wrote their debt information on pieces of paper, explained their situations to the crowd, and dropped the papers into a trash can for a symbolic burning. One person also burned cash. “Hell no, we won’t pay,” the crowd chanted.

A few feet over, protesters painted the street with a bright yellow sun declaring “democracy not debt.” Volunteers then fed a free meal to the hundreds in attendance and wheeled in a video screen to watch some recaps of the year’s best moments. Around 8pm, the group left as peacefully as they had come.

In the darkness, a few hundred headed east on Market. When they arrived in Justin Herman Plaza– or Bradley Manning Plaza, as Occupy SF has christened it, in honor of the whistle blowing soldier- a few police stood guard around the perimeter. Undeterred, protesters walked in, and shouts of “happy birthday” gave way to “welcome home.”

The birthday party continued with a night of music. Five tents were pitched, sleeping bags were brought out. Police vehicles carrying truckloads of barricades drove by, but police told protesters they would have to leave the park by 6am, the hour the park opens.

30 or 40 spent the night. In the morning police came back. As ukelele and drums continued to play, tents were dutifully broken down. A few went back to sleep.

Video by Eric Louie

Last fall, Occupy SF could basically be found here. The camp was at Justin Herman Plaza. The ever-expanding list of working groups sometimes met somewhere else, but Occupy was at camp. But after a series of police raids, from Oct. 5 to the raid that finally brought the camp down in December, this camp was no more.

Now, Occupy SF is found all over the place.

As longtime Occupy SF activist Vi Huynh said while celebrating the anniversary: “I think it’s good to honor these milestones because, unlike the mainstream media would have us believe, we haven’t gone away. We’re not dying either. They’re writing our obituaries, but we’re very much alive. And we’re doing things every day.”

Here’s an uncomprehensive list of active groups from Occupy in San Francisco.

101 Market. This is the old camp of Occupy, “re-occupied” in February in response to a national call. At least 30 sleep there every night, and the camp is a veritable fortress of furniture and belongings. They’re mere existence is a refusal to humor the concept of private property. General Assembly meetings occur at 101 Market Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.

Action Council. Action Council is a forum meant to connect Occupy with unions, non-profits, and community groups. They played a big role in planning demonstrations like the Jan. 20 shutdown of the financial district and the May Day solidarity demonstrations. Action Council meets weekly, Sundays at 2pm at Unite Here headquarters, 215 Golden Gate Ave.

All Streets Yoga. Since last winter, All Streets Yoga, formerly known as Decolonize Yoga, has been transforming part of the sidewalk at the 16th and Mission BART station into a yoga studio free for all. Volunteer yoga teachers lay out rugs and lead personalized yoga sessions for anyone who chooses to join. They transform space and creating calm in the busy city landscape. Join them Fridays 5-7pm.

Community Not Commodity. Also known as Bay Occupride, this group formed to protest commercialization of the Pride Parade. On the Sept. 17 anniversary they did a march on the Castro banks and a sit-in to protest sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. CNC describes itself as “a collective assembly of queer/trans-focused community groups with established reputations in the Bay Area that have come together to strengthen and unify our diverse communities. We have come together to confront the 1% within our movement. We work for complete liberation of queer and trans people!” They meet Sundays at noon at Muddy Waters Café, 521 Valencia. See more at

Direct Action working group. Direct action is a central tenant of Occupy. It means taking action to prevent something bad or create something good without permission or help of those with political power. In a 1912 essay titled Direct Action, Voltairine de Cleyre cited the Boston Tea Party as an example and wrote that “Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.” The direct action working group meets Wednesdays, 6pm, at the Redstone Building at 2940 16th Street.

Environmental Justice working group. The environmental justice working group keeps the pressure on the corporations that exploit the planet. They’ve protested hydraulic fracturing and the nuclear industry. They meet Tuesdays at 4pm at 101 Market.

Food bank of America. Occupy SF set up the first Food Bank of America to feed thousands of hungry protesters and passers-by on Jan. 20. A Market Street Bank of America branch locked its doors when volunteers set up a food table and passed out hot meals. Now, Food Bank of America continues in front of the mega-bank’s 23rd and Mission branch, where volunteers pass out produce, mostly donated from farmers’ markets, along with literature on switching to credit unions. They’re usually there Thursdays 5-6pm.

Ideological Liberation working group. This working group has produced pamphlets explaining Occupy, trading cards of especially greedy bankers, and postcards summarizing issues like the foreclosure crisis and the National Defense Authorization Act. They also created the Occupy SF Declaration. Brainstorm and write with them on Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm, at the decidedly ideologically un-liberated meeting spot of the Starbucks at 27 Drumm.

Occupy Bay Area United. Occupy Bay Area United spent the night outside 555 California on the eve of the Occupy SF anniversary, an occupation complete with tents and signs. They are “committed to non-violent direct action.” They meet on Sundays, 5-7pm, and post meeting locations on their website,

Occupy Bernal. This neighborhood-based group is largely considered one of the most effective and desperately needed parts of the Occupy movement in San Francisco. Occupy Bernal is in the business of stopping foreclosures and evictions. “Since January no one we worked with has had an auction. People we work with who already had auctions, we’re stopping their evictions. We’ve stopped six of them so far. So we’re almost done with all the evictions, and we can go back to just stopping the auctions. We have 60 people in line to get loan modifications from Wells,” said Occupy Bernal organizer Buck Bagot. On the anniversary, Occupy Bernal hosted a rally highlighting the disproportionate effects of the foreclosure crisis and veterans and elderly and disabled people. “There were about 100 of us at the protest and five people, all over 80, veterans who are all at risk of losing their homes because they don’t have very much income,” said Bagot. Occupy Bernal meets 7-9pm on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at 515 Cortland Ave. See for more information.

Occupy Forum. Occupy Forum started up in early June in the Women’s Building, and has since moved to Justin Herman Plaza. The well-attended forums, usually around 70 people, are a time to discuss issues that concern people in Occupy. From the beginning Occupy has been said to have “no focus”– maybe that’s because those involved saw that everything from greedy banks to income inequality to homelessness to discrimination in loans to healthcare to racism to wars were all connected. The forum is a chance to focus in on a different topic every week. Check them out Mondays at 6pm at Justin Herman Plaza, at Market and Embarcadero.

Occupy the Richmond. A philosophical Occupy. If you’ve ever gotten sick of decrying problems in society and yearned to discuss creative solutions, Occupy the Richmond may be your cup of tea. A philosophical Occupy. Saturdays at 4pm, Occupy the Richmond gets together at 11th Ave. in Mountain Lake Park “to talk about what kind of society we want to organize together,” according to Occupy the Richmond participant Alex Zane. “Occupy opens up the possibility for talking about that. Otherwise, people would be stuck behind their screens freaking out about what kind of society we should organize. We should get together and talk with real, living people about how we’re supposed to reorganize our society,” said Zane.

Outreach working group. A group that spreads the word about Occupy and speaks with people and community organizations about working together. They meet Wednesdays at 7pm at One Rincon Center, also known as 121 Spear.

This article has been corrected. Bradley Manning served as a soldier in the Army, not a marine

Happy Birthday Occupy


Occupy celebrates its one-year anniversary Monday, and many of the groups who have gotten involved over the past year will be going all out. These groups’ goals–  including ending unjust foreclosures,  fighting displacement of queer people and homeless people, and taking back power from banks and the one percent– are a lot to achieve in one year. But they’ve made great stride. They’ll celebrate, and commit to another year of action, on Monday. 

Occupy Bernal, Occupy Noe and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment will put the pressure on banks that continue to foreclose on San Franciscans despite widespread evidence of fraud and a city resolution calling for a moratorium on foreclosures. At noon, they will hold a rally highlighting the ways that the foreclosure crisis disproportionately affects seniors, veterans and disabled people- find them at 401 Van Ness. At 3pm they will rally One Market Plaza, the officers of Fortress Investment Group board co-chair Peter Briger, infamous amongst the “foreclosure fighters” for his role in selling off distressed home mortgage debt.  

In the Castro, Community Not Commodity, the coalition that formed around an Occupride march protesting the corporate takeover of the Gay Pride Parade and continues to fight “increased rent, foreclosures and evictions, and the displacement of queer and homeless youth.”  They will meet up at 2pm at 18th and Castro for a speak-out, followed by a march on the banks at 3 and a sit-in protesting sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. 

Also at 2pm, Occupy Oakland is throwing a street party. They’ll converge at Embarcadero and Market at Justin Herman Plaza (renamed Bradley Manning Plaza by the people from Occupy San Francisco, whose encampment stood there for three months last fall.) Organizers advise: stay tuned for Oct. 10, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Oakland. 

But Occupy San Francisco didn’t start at Justin Herman Plaza. It started Sept. 17, 2011 at 555 California, outside the building that houses the Bank of America west coast headquarters along with Goldman Sachs offices. It’s there that everyone will converge at 5pm for a raucous casserole-style march with the Brass Liberation Orchestra, followed by guerilla movie screenings, food to share, and a debt burning: “bring dept papers (BYOD) to burn symbolically,” say organizers.

Can’t wait for tomorrow? Occupy SF hosts a day of poetry and speakers at Justin Herman Plaza today. The Human Be In, the unpermitted music and skillshare festival that brought hundreds to play music, teach workshops, and “transform space” in a dusty spot near Ocean Beach yesterday continues through tonight.  Occupy Bay Area United is also throwing a rally and teach–in focused on corporate greed starting outside 555 California at 7pm. 

Occupy is dead! Long live Occupy!



Thursday 13

Coalition on Homelessness 25 years SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan, SF; 5:30pm, $25-75. The Coalition on Homelessness has been working for the rights on the homeless for 25 years, always with a focus on people defining for themselves what their needs are and how to meet them. San Francisco has the Coalition on Homelessness to thank for more than a thousand supportive housing units, an expanded substance abuse treatment system, rental subsidy programs for poor families to access housing, and so much more. Show them some love back at their anniversary celebration., an art auction and benefit for the organization.

Friday 14

Human be-in Kezar Gardens, 780 Frederick, SF; 3pm, free. Beginning Friday and spanning three days leading up the anniversary of Occupy on Sept. 17, this festival in Golden Gate Park celebrates coming together in pubic spaces and the commons. Musical performances are booked all weekend, a film festival will be screened in the evening, and workshops and skill-shares ranging from rainwater harvesting basics to bread baking to living without conventional currency fill the weekend, as well as yoga and meditation. But don’t just come to check out what the organizers and participants offer. As they put it, “you are invited to teach a workshop, facilitate a discussion, share a skill, play music, make art, cook a meal, or simply be.” They did it in 1967 — come create the modern Human Be-in this weekend.

Saturday 15

Odd couples Modern Times. Author Anna Muraco’s has done loads of interviews with “odd couples” — friends who don’t fit the norms of what genders go with which platonic and romantic relationships. “Odd Couples” examines friendships between gay men and straight women, and also between lesbians and straight men, and shows how these “intersectional” friendships serve as a barometer for shifting social norms, particularly regarding gender and sexual orientation,” say event organizers. So come here Muraco speak and examine the relationships and norms in your life.

Monday 17

Fight foreclosure Spear Tower, 1 Market Plaza, SF; 3pm, free. Occupy Bernal, Occupy Noe, and foreclosure fighters will rally at the offices of Peter Briger, board co-chair at Fortress Investment Group. These anti-foreclosure occupiers have zeroed in on Briger for involvement buying up distressed mortgage bond debt and selling it to turn a profit, a process Briger calls “Financial Services Garbage Collection.” As people resisting foreclosure with these Occupy groups put it, “we’re not garbage!”

Occuanniversary 555 California, SF; 5pm, free. One year ago, “Occupy the Financial District San Francisco” met at this spot, the massive Bank of America San Francisco headquarters and Goldman Sachs offices. The meeting was called in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and the first San Francisco occupiers began camping out at 555 that night. Celebrate a year of resisting the 1 Percent and taking back power with a debt burning. Organizers ask that participants bring copies of debt papers to burn symbolically, and pots and pans for a loud casserole march. There will also be music and guerrilla movie screenings.

Community Not Commodity 18th and Castro, SF; 2pm, free. Community Not Commodity came together to protest commercialization and corporate greed at Gay Pride this year. Join the group today to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Protesters will march on the banks, hold a sit-in at Harvey Milk Plaza to protest the sit-lie ordinance that forbids San Franciscans from sitting or lying on sidewalks during the daylight hours, then meet up with other occupy anniversary events at 555 California at 5pm.

Tuesday 18

Connie Rice book reading Prevention Institute, 221 Oak, Oakl; 4:30-6:30 p.m., free. Civil rights attorney Connie Rice worked to reform the Los Angeles Police Department, filing case after case in an attempt to end police brutality against LA’s communities of color. She’s also Condoleezza Rice’s cousin. She will speak and read from her book, Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones.