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.”  

Watch this depressing time-lapse visualization of Ellis Act evictions

A series of red circles explodes on the screen, each representing another rental unit where tenants were driven out by an eviction through no fault of their own.

With a new time-lapse visualization of San Francisco Rent Board data spanning from 1997 to August of 2013, viewers can instantly grasp the cumulative impact of Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco.

It was created by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a newly hatched volunteer effort started to raise awareness about the rising trend of displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Watch it here.

A landlord doesn’t need just cause to oust a tenant under the Ellis Act; the law permits a property owner to stop renting units, evict all tenants, and sell the building for another purpose. The recent wave of tech startups and resulting influx of highly paid employees has fueled a spike in Ellis Act evictions as demand for housing has increased.

Working in collaboration with the San Francisco Tenant’s Union, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project volunteer Erin McElroy teamed up with core volunteers Olivia Jackson, Jennifer Fieber and a team of several others to analyze and map data from the San Francisco Rent Board.

The Ellis Act visualization is the first of several planned by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. The size of the circles that pop concurrently with each date corresponds with the number of units displaced.

“We started it with the idea of making a comprehensive map that would show things that weren’t being documented by the Rent Board,” McElroy explained. To that end, the project team has spearheaded a survey to gather data on tenant buyouts, harassment by landlords, rent increases, and bogus attempts to use the Ellis Act to carry out an eviction. The survey is available in Spanish and English, with a Chinese version coming soon. 

“We also want to map where people relocate to, in order to display the current and pending gentrification of other areas – particularly the East Bay,” she added.

In the next few weeks, the team will release maps based on data showing owner move-in evictions and foreclosures.

“We don’t have funding or anything like that,” McElroy explained, but the Tenants Union has allowed them use of its office space for meetings. The effort took several months of research and programming, and the result is a story of the displacement of 3,705 housing units over the course of 16 years – all of which can be absorbed a matter of minutes.

Fighting foreclosures


It will be a long war, but for now, Richmond is winning.

Two battles in the start of the city of Richmond’s war on foreclosures were fought and won in the past week. A US District Court of Appeals judge dismissed Wells Fargo’s lawsuit against Richmond’s controversial plan to use eminent domain to save residents with underwater mortgages (see “Not for sale,” Sept. 3). And Mayor Gayle McLaughlin successfully fought off legislation at the Richmond City Council to torpedo the plan before it started.

“I’m willing to go as high as the Supreme Court to settle this on behalf of our community,” McLaughlin told us. These are the first fledgling steps in that long fight, a fight McLaughlin calls a just cause.

Half of all mortgages in Richmond are underwater, and as homes get foreclosed upon, the problems stack up: blighted neighborhoods, declining property tax revenues, public employee layoffs, rising crime, and homeless families. To stem the tide of foreclosures, Richmond teamed with Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) to attempt to buy the loans of 624 underwater mortgages and allow the owners to keep their homes.

Richmond’s government sent out offers, and it is still waiting to hear back from the owners of the loans.

The controversy comes when the banks that hold the loans refuse to sell. In that case, Richmond would invoke the power of eminent domain to seize the mortgage loans.

Wells Fargo said in its lawsuit that this is a plan to line the pockets of MRP and the city of Richmond, a greedy and unconstitutional land grab. Eminent domain has never been used for this purpose, but as the judge noted in the lawsuit’s first hearing Sept. 12 in San Francisco, the plan has yet to be acted on.

“Okay, let’s end the suspense, I don’t believe (the case) is ripe for determination,” Judge Charles Breyer told the attorneys from Wells Fargo. “There are a series of steps that can or cannot take place…. If they do take place, that’s the time for the court to take a look at it.”

Breyer noted that if and when Richmond wanted to use eminent domain to seize mortgage loans, the council would need to file a resolution of necessity through state court. At that point, he could act.

On Sept. 16, the case was dismissed. Too little has happened, and it is entirely too early to make any decisions, Breyer said.

Stacey Leyton, a lawyer representing Richmond in the lawsuit, explained the judge’s decision plainly: “Courts are not supposed to review legislative actions before the (legislative body) has decided which action to take.”

The Guardian reached out to Wells Fargo but we were told that it had nothing to say beyond its court filings, and referred us to the investors in the loans, of which Wells Fargo is a trustee.

But why is Wells Fargo pushing so fast for the courts to intervene? The eminent domain plan could mean a possible loss of revenue for Wells Fargo and the investors it represents, sending chills down the spine of Wall Street, a representative of MRP said.

MRP founder John Vlahoplus told us the eminent domain tactic is powerful because for Wells Fargo, legally challenging every municipality in the United States is much tougher than paying off a few fat cats in Congress.

So the stakes are high: if Richmond wins the eminent domain battle, cities across the country could use the tactic to rescue underwater mortgages, and the families that would otherwise lose their homes, swinging the balance of power from Wall Street toward cities.

Score one for Richmond, and zip for Wells Fargo, so far.



But the real drama happened closer to home. Before Richmond could fight the enemies from without, it fought the enemies within.

On Sept. 10, Richmond’s controversial plan for preventing home foreclosures using eminent domain was almost torpedoed at the Richmond City Council meeting, where its members waged a nasty fight before more than 300 attendees.

Advocates for city intervention against the banks won when the council voted 5-2 against a resolution to rescind the city’s offer to purchase 624 underwater mortgages and halt any effort by the city to seize those mortgages through eminent domain.

A separate resolution by Mayor McLaughlin to establish a joint powers authority, uniting cities to battle litigation against the eminent domain plan, also passed.

Vice Mayor Courtland “Corky” Boozé and Councilmember Nathaniel Bates sponsored the resolution attacking the plan, and cast the only votes in its favor.

Boozé and Bates said the city risks bankruptcy if Well Fargo wins its lawsuit, putting Richmond’s financial solvency on the line, but their colleagues were dubious.

“My vote is not supposed to be if (Wall Street investors) are a bunch of jerks and I want to stick it to them,” Councilmember Jim Rogers said to the audience.

After the city laid off a third of the government’s workforce in lean economic years, Rogers has reason to worry. City Manager Bill Lindsay laid out the risks for those in the auditorium.

Because no city has ever tried this before, he said, no liability insurance exists for this kind of work, which MRP has acknowledged. “If you believe the potential loss (of a lawsuit) is catastrophic, it’s important to acknowledge that’s an issue,” he said.

He also said it was tough for the city go it alone as a single entity, explaining the need for a joint powers authority, which would build a coalition of cities against Wells Fargo and other litigants.

State law requires a supermajority of the council, five members, to back any eminent domain action and only at the time that it would take place, he said.

Hours of back and forth passed between the city manager and Boozé who, after some arguing, asked the audience in frustration, “Are 110,000 people worth fighting Wall Street for?”

The crowd roared its answer immediately: “YES!”

The ideological split of the audience was clear: Eminent domain supporters wore yellow shirts with a logo of the activist group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and those against wore red shirts branded “Stop Investor Greed.”

Those sporting the red shirts were mostly from the real estate industry, and in public comment they generally expressed that if someone were to lose their home, well, “so what?”

Lisa Johnson, clad in red, said, “My house is an investment, not a right.”

A representative from Richmond’s Council of Industries asked the mayor to reconsider the eminent domain plan, and to rescind the initiative.

Jerry Feagley, whose Feagley Realtors has sold homes since 1966, said the plan risks damaging all of Richmond’s ability to get credit. He was a seemingly mild-mannered man who is exactly who you’d picture if you think of a businessman from the ’50s, gray suit and all. “If this would go into effect, this would change loans in the entire country,” he said, passionately.

Well, that’s the idea, the supporters countered.

“I was at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King 50 years ago. Yes, I’m that old,” said one woman. She was bent over with age but spoke with volume. “That’s exactly what we have to do. We’re going to have to meet power with power and challenge the status quo.”

More than 50 supporters spoke at the podium. The meeting started at 7pm, and stretched on well past 1am. If there was one central theme to their sentiments, it was this: Richmond has hit rock bottom, and now is the time to fight back.

Councilmember Tom Butt put it in plain terms. “What we’re voting for is a giant game of chicken, and it’s clear two of my colleagues have blinked,” he said, referring to Boozé and Bates. “I’m not blinking.”

The council voted, and amid the turmoil and arguing and anger, the Boozé and Bates measure was rejected.

Having already lost once that night, Bates did not fare well when time came to vote on forming a joint powers authority. El Monte may be the first to join, McLaughlin said, which would help homeowners in need who are often people of color. Bates countered that McLaughlin should look out for “her people” and not try to use “his people” as a front for her legislation. “You don’t speak for my community,” he said, referring to African Americans. When another black council member, Jovanka Beckles, spoke up to thank her “white brothers and sisters” for joining in a fight for justice, Bates was uncompromising. “You are not African American,” he told her. Boozé also had words for the other dissenting African American Councilmember Jael Myrick. “One day you’ll have to stand up and be black,” he said. McLaughlin’s measure then passed 4-3, with council members Boozé, Bates and Rogers dissenting. The last remaining supporters waved their yellow flags and the dwindling crowd clad in yellow shirts left victorious, for now.

Keep the focus on real estate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for displacement


The intersection of Cesar Chavez and Evans Avenue is a good enough place to start. Face south.

Behind you is Potrero Hill, once a working-class neighborhood (and still home to a public housing project) where homes now sell for way more than a million dollars and rents are out of control. In front, down the hill, is one of the last remaining industrial areas in San Francisco.

Go straight along Evans and you find printing plants, an auto-wrecking yard, and light manufacturing, including a shop that makes flagpoles. Take a right instead on Toland, past the Bonanza restaurant, and you wander through auto-glass repair, lumber yards, plumbing suppliers, warehouses, the city’s produce market — places that the city Planning Department refers to at Production, Distribution, and Repair facilities. Places that still offer blue-collar employment. There aren’t many left anywhere in San Francisco, and it’s amazing that this district has survived.

Cruise around for a while and you’ll see a neighborhood with high home-ownership rates — and high levels of foreclosures. Bayview Hunters Point is home to much of the city’s dwindling African American population, a growing number of Asians, and much higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city.

Now pull up the website of the Association of Bay Area Governments, a well-funded regional planning agency that is working on a state-mandated blueprint for future growth. There’s a map on the site that identifies “priority development area” — in planning lingo, PDAs — places that ABAG, and many believers in so-called smart growth, see as the center of a much-more dense San Francisco, filled with nearly 100,000 more homes and 190,000 new jobs.

Guess what? You’re right in the middle of it.

The southeastern part of the city — along with many of the eastern neighborhoods — is ground zero for massive, radical changes. And it’s not just Bayview Hunters Point; in fact, there’s a great swath of the city, from Chinatown/North Beach to Candlestick Park, where regional planners say there’s space for new apartments and condos, new offices, new communities.

It’s a bold vision, laid out in an airy document called the Plan Bay Area — and it’s about to clash with the facts on the ground. Namely, that there are already people living and working in the path of the new development.

And there’s a high risk that many of them will be displaced; collateral damage in the latest transformation of San Francisco.


The threat of global climate change hasn’t convinced the governor or the state Legislature to raise gas taxes, impose an oil-severance tax, or redirect money from highways to transit. But it’s driven Sacramento to mandate that regional planners find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California cities.

The bill that lays this out, SB375, mandates that ABAG, and its equivalents in the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Coast, the Central Valley and other areas, set up “Sustainable Communities Strategies” — land-use plans for now through 2040 intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

The main path to that goal: Make sure that most of the 1.1 million people projected to live in the Bay Area by 2040 be housed in already developed areas, near transit and jobs, to avoid the suburban sprawl that leads to long commutes and vast amounts of car exhaust.

The notion of smart growth — also referred to as urban infill — has been around for years, embraced by a certain type of environmentalist, particularly those concerned with protecting open space. But now, it has the force of law.

And while ABAG is not a secret government with black helicopters that can force cities to do its will — land-use planning is still under local jurisdiction in this state — the agency is partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which controls hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation money. And together, they can offer strong incentives for cities to get in line.

Over in Contra Costa and Marin counties, at hearings on the plan, Tea Party types (yes, they appear to exist in Marin) railed against the notion of elite bureaucrats forcing the wealthy enclaves of single-family homes to accept more density (and, gasp, possibly some affordable housing). In San Francisco, it’s the progressives, the transit activists, and the affordable housing people who are starting to get worried. Because there’s been almost zero media attention to the plan, and what it prescribes for San Francisco is alarming — and strangely nonsensical.

Under the ABAG plan, San Francisco would approve 92,400 more housing units for 280,000 more people. The city would host 190,000 more jobs, many of them in what’s called the “knowledge economy,” which mostly means high tech. Second and third on the list: Health and education, and tourism.

The city currently allows around eight cars for every 10 housing units; as few as five in a few neighborhoods, at least 10 in many others. And there’s nothing in any city or regional plan right now that seeks to change that level of car dependency. In fact, the regional planners think that single-occupancy car travel will be the mode of choice for 48 percent of all trips by 2040 — almost the same as it is today.

And since most of the new housing will be aimed at wealthier people, who are more likely to own cars and avoid catching buses, San Francisco could be looking for ways to fit 73,000 more cars onto streets that are already, in many cases, maxed out. There will be, quite literally, no place to park. And congestion in the region, the planners agree, will get a whole lot worse.

That seems to undermine the main intent of the plan: Transit-oriented development only works if you discourage cars. In a sense, the car-use projections are an admission of failure, undermining the intent of the entire project.

The vast majority of the housing that will be built will be too expensive for much of the existing (and even future) workforce and will do little to relieve the pressure on lower income people. But there is nothing whatsoever in the plan to ensure that there’s money available to build housing that meets the needs of most San Franciscans.

Instead, the planners acknowledge that 36 percent of existing low-income people will be at risk for displacement. That would be a profound change in the demographics of San Francisco.

Of course, adding all those people and jobs will put immense pressure on city services, from Muni to police, fire, and schools — not to mention the sewer system, which already floods and dumps untreated waste into the Bay when there’s heavy rain. Everyone involved acknowledged those costs, which could run into the billions of dollars. There is nothing anywhere in any of the planning documents addressing the question of who will pay for it.


Projecting the future of a region isn’t easy. Job and population growth isn’t a straight line, at best — and when you’re looking at a 25-year window in a boom-and-bust area with everything from earthquakes to sea-level rise factoring in, it’s easy to say that anyone who claims to know what’s going to happen in 2040 is guessing.

But as economist Stephen Levy, who did the regional projections for ABAG, pointed out to us, “You have to be able to plan.” And you can’t plan if you don’t at least think about what you’re planning for.

Levy runs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, and he’s been watching trends in this state for years. He agrees that some of his science is, by nature, dismal: “Nobody projects deep recessions,” much less natural disasters. But overall, he told me, it’s possible to get a grip on what planners need to prepare for as they write the next chapter of the Bay Area’s future.

And what they have to plan for is a lot more people.

Levy said he started with the federal government’s projections for population growth in the United States, which include births and deaths, immigration, and out-migration, using historic trends to allocate some of that growth to the Bay Area. There’s what appears at first to be circular logic involved: The feds (and most economists) project that job growth nationally will be driven by population — that is, the more people live in the US, the more jobs there will be.

Population growth in a specific region, on the other hand, is driven by jobs — that is, the more jobs you have in the Bay Area, the more people will move here.

“Jobs in the US depend on how many people are in the labor force,” he said. “Jobs in the Bay Area depend on our share of US jobs and population depends on relative job growth.”

Make sense? No matter — over the years it’s generally worked. And once you project the number of people and jobs expected in the Bay Area, you can start looking at how much housing it’s going to take to keep them all under a roof.

Levy projects that the Bay Area’s share of jobs will be higher than most of the rest of the country. “This is the home of the knowledge industry,” he told me. So he’s concluded that population in the Bay Area will grow from 7.1 million to 9.2 million — an additional 2.14 million people. They’ll be chasing some 1.1 million new jobs, and will need 660,000 new housing units.

Levy stopped there, and left it to the planners at ABAG to allocate that growth to individual cities — and that’s where smart growth comes in.

For decades in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, activists have waged wars against developers, trying to slow down the growth of office buildings, and later, luxury housing units. At the same time, environmentalists argued that spreading the growth around creates serious problems, including sprawl and the destruction of farmland and open space.

Smart growth is supposed to be an alternative: the idea is to direct new growth to already-established urban areas, not by bulldozing over communities (as redevelopment agencies once did) but by the use of “infill” — directing development to areas where there’s usable space, or by building up and not out.

ABAG “focused housing and jobs growth around transit areas, particularly within locally identified Priority Development Areas,” the draft environmental impact report on the plan notes.

The draft EIR is more than 1,300 pages long, and it looks at the ABAG plan and several alternatives. One alternative, proposed by business groups, would lead to more development and higher population gains. Another, proposed by community activist groups including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, is aimed at reducing displacement and creating affordable housing; that one, it turns out, is the “environmentally preferred alternative.” (See sidebar).

But no matter which alternative you look at, two things leap out: There is nothing effective that ABAG has put forward to prevent large-scale displacement of vulnerable communities. And despite directing growth to transit corridors, the DEIR still envisions a disaster of traffic congestion, parking problems, and car-driven environmental wreckage.


ABAG has gone to some lengths to identify what it calls “communities of concern.” Those are areas, like Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, and the Mission, where existing low-income residents and small businesses face potential displacement. In San Francisco, those communities are, to a great extent, the same geographic areas that have been identified as PDAs.

And, the DEIR, notes, some degree of displacement is a significant impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, the gentrification of San Francisco is just part of the plan.

In fact, the study notes, 36 percent of the communities of concern in high-growth areas will face displacement pressure because of the cost of housing. And that’s region wide; the number in San Francisco will almost certainly be much, much higher.

Miriam Chion, ABAG’s planning and research director, told me that displacement “is the core issue in this whole process.” The agency, she said, is working with other stakeholders to try to address the concern that new development will drive out longtime residents. But she also agreed that there are limited tools available to local government.

The DEIR notes that ABAG and the MTC will seek to “bolster the plan’s investment in the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund and will seek to do a study of displacement. It also states: “In addition, this displacement risk could be mitigated in cities such as San Francisco with rent control and other tenant protections in place.”

There isn’t a tenant activist in this town who can read that sentence with a straight face.

The problem, as affordable housing advocate Peter Cohen puts it, is that “the state has mandated all this growth, but has taken away the tools we could use to mitigate it.”

That’s exactly what’s happened in the past few decades. The state Legislature has outlawed the only effective anti-displacement laws local governments can enact — rent controls on vacant apartments, commercial rent control, and eviction protections that prevent landlords from taking rental units off the market to sell as condos. Oh, and the governor has also shut down redevelopment agencies, which were the only reliable source of affordable housing money in many cities.

Chion told me that the ABAG planners were discussing a list of anti-displacement options, and that changes in state legislation could be on that list. Given the power of the real-estate lobby in the state Capitol, ABAG will have to do more than suggest; there’s no way this plan can work without changing state law.

Otherwise, eastern San Francisco is going to be devastated — particularly since the vast majority of all housing that gets built in the city, and that’s likely to get built in the city, is too expensive for almost anyone in the communities of concern.

“This plan doesn’t require affordable housing,” Cindy Wu, vice-chair of the San Francisco Planning Commission, told me. “It’s left to the private market, which doesn’t build affordable housing or middle-class housing.”

In fact, while there’s plenty of discussion in the plan about where money can come from for transit projects, there’s virtually no discussion of the billions and billions that will be needed to produce the level of affordable housing that everyone agrees will be needed.

Does anyone seriously think that developers can cram 90,000 new units — at least 85 percent of them, under current rules, high-cost apartments and condos that are well beyond the range of most current San Franciscans — into eastern neighborhoods without a real-estate boom that will displace thousands of existing residents?

Let’s remember: Building more housing, even a lot more housing, won’t necessarily bring down prices. The report makes clear that the job growth, and population boom that accompanies it, will fuel plenty of demand for all those new units.

Steve Woo, senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, sees the problem. In a letter to ABAG, he notes: “Plan Bay Area and its DEIR has analyzed the displacement of low-income people and explicitly acknowledges that it will occur. This is unacceptable for San Francisco and for Chinatown, where the pressures of displacement have been a constant over the past 20 years.”

Adds the Council of Community Housing Organizations: “It would be irresponsible for the regional agencies to advance a plan that purports to ‘improve’ the region’s communities as population grows while the plan simultaneously presents great risk and uncertainty for many vulnerable communities.”

Jobs are at stake, too — not tech jobs or office jobs, which ABAG projects will expand, but the kind of industrial jobs that currently exist in the priority development areas.

Calvin Welch, who has been watching urban planning and displacement issues in San Francisco for more than 40 years, puts it bluntly: “It is axiomatic that market-rate housing drives out blue-collar jobs,” he said.

Of course, there’s another potential problem: Nobody really knows where jobs will come from in the next 25 years, whether tech will continue to be the driver or whether the city’s headed for a second dot-com bust. San Francisco doesn’t have a good record of building for projected jobs: In the mid-1980s, for example, the entire South of Market area (then home to printing, light manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs) was rezoned for open-floor office space because city officials projected a huge need for “back-office” functions like customer service.

“Where are all those jobs today?” Welch asked. “They’re in India.”


For a plan that’s designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving residential development closer to work areas, Plan Bay Area is awfully pessimistic about transportation.

According to the projections, there will be more cars on the roads in 2040, with more — and much worse — traffic. The DEIR predicts that a full 48 percent of all trips in 2040 will be made by single-occupant vehicles — just slightly down from current rates. The percentage of trips on transit will only be a little bit higher — and there’s no significant increase in projected bicycle trips.

That alone is pretty crazy, since the number of people commuting to work by bike in San Francisco has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, and the city’s official goal is that 20 percent of all vehicle trips will be by bike in the next decade.

Part of the problem is structural. Not everyone in San Francisco 2040 is going to be a high-paid tech worker. In fact, the most stable areas of employment are health services and government — and hospital workers and Muni drivers can’t possibly afford the housing that’s being built. So those people will — the DEIR acknowledges — be displaced from San Francisco and forced to live elsewhere in the region (if that’s even possible). Which means, of course, they’ll be commuting further to work. Meanwhile, if current trends continue, many of the people moving into the city will work in Silicon Valley.

Chion and Levy both told me that the transit mode projections were based on historical trends for car use, and that it’s really hard to get people to give up their cars. Even higher gas prices and abominable traffic delays won’t drive people off the roads, they said.

If that’s the case — if auto culture, which is a top source of global climate change, doesn’t shift at all — it would seem that all this planning is pointless: the seas will rise dramatically, and San Franciscans ought to be buying boats.

“The projections don’t take into account social change,” Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University and a local transportation expert, told me. “And social change does happen.”

Brad Paul, a longtime housing activist who now works for ABAG, said these projections are just a start, and that the plan will be updated every four years. “I think we’re finding that the number of people who want to drive cars will go down,” he said.

Henderson argues that the land-use policy is flawed. He suggests that it would make more sense to increase density in the Bay Area suburbs along the BART lines. “Elegant development in those areas would work better,” he said. You don’t need expensive high-rises: “Four and five stories is the sweet spot,” he explained.

Most of the transportation projects in the plan are already in the pipeline; there’s no suggestion of any major new public transit programs. There is, however, a suggestion that San Francisco adopt a congestion management fee for downtown driving — something that city officials say is the only way to avoid utter gridlock in the future.


ABAG and the MTC have a fair amount of leverage to implement their plans. MTC controls hundreds of millions of dollars in transit money; ABAG will be handing out millions in grants to communities that adopt its plan. And under state law, cities that allow development in PDAs near transit corridors can gain an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA is a powerful tool to slow or halt development, and developers (and some public officials) drool at the prospect of getting a fast-track pass to avoid some of the more cumbersome parts of the environmental review process.

Under SB 375 and Plan Bay Area, CEQA exemptions are available to projects that meet the Sustainable Community Strategy standards and are close to transit corridors. And when you look at the map of those areas, it’s pretty striking: All of San Francisco, pretty much every square inch, qualifies.

That means that almost any project almost anywhere in town can make a case that it doesn’t need to accept full CEQA review.

The most profound missing element in this entire discussion is the cost of all this growth.

You can’t cram 210,000 more residents into San Francisco without new schools, parks, and child-care centers. You can’t protect those residents without more police officers and firefighters. You can’t take care of their water and sewer needs without substantial infrastructure upgrades. And even if there’s state and federal money available for new buses and trains, you can’t operate those systems without paying drivers, mechanics, and support workers.

There’s no question that the new development will bring in more tax money. But the type of infrastructure improvements that will be needed to add 25 percent more residents to the city are really expensive — and every study that’s ever been done in San Francisco shows that the tax benefits of new development don’t cover the costs of public services it requires.

When World War II and the post-war boom in the Bay Area brought huge growth to the region, property taxes and federal and state money were adequate to build things like BART, the freeways, and hundreds of new schools, and to staff the public services that the emerging communities needed. But that all changed in 1978, with the passage of Prop. 13, and two years later, with the election of Ronald Reagan as president.

Now, federal money for cities is down to a trickle. Local government has an almost impossible time raising taxes. And instead of hiking fees for new residential and commercial projects, many communities (including San Francisco) are offering tax breaks to encourage job growth.

Put all that in the mix and you have a recipe for overcrowded buses, inadequate schools, overstressed open space (imagine 10,000 new Mission residents heading for Dolores Park on a nice day), and a very unattractive urban experience.

That flies directly in the face of what Plan Bay Area is supposed to be about. If the goal is to cut down on commutes by bringing new residents into developed urban areas, those cities have to be decent places to live. What would it cost to accommodate this level of new development? Five billion dollars? Ten billion? Nobody knows — because nobody has run those numbers. But they’re going to be big.

Because just as tax dollars have been vanishing, the costs of infrastructure keep going up. It costs a billion dollars a mile to build BART track. It’s costing more than a billion to build a short subway to Chinatown. Just upgrading the sewer system to handle current demands is a $4 billion project.

And if the developers and property owners who stand to make vast sums of money off all of this growth aren’t going to pay, who’s left?

The ABAG planners point out, correctly, that there’s a price for doing nothing. If there’s no regional plan, no proposal for smart growth, the population will still increase, and displacement will still happen — but the greenhouse gas emissions will be even worse, the development more haphazard.

But if the region is going to spend all this money and all this time on a plan to make the Bay Area more sustainable, more livable, and more affordable in 25 years, we might as well push all the limits and get it right.

Instead of looking at displacement as inevitable, and traffic as a price of growth, the planners could tell the state Legislature and the governor that it’s not possible to comply with SB375 — not until somebody identifies the big sums of money, multiples of billions of dollars, needed to build affordable housing; not until there are transit options, taxes, and restrictions on driving.

Because continued car use and massive displacement — the package that’s now facing us — just isn’t an acceptable option.

Pride faces backlash from defenders of gay whistleblower

In the wake of the debacle unleashed by San Francisco Pride’s announcement that gay whistleblower Bradley Manning would not be grand marshal for this year’s Pride Parade after all, a large crowd of protesters assembled outside Pride’s Market Street headquarters April 29 for a hastily organized rally condemning the move. They held signs depicting Manning’s image, and chanted, “Grand marshal, not court martial!”

Famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who helped foment opposition to the Vietnam War by leaking classified government documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, expressed support and admiration for the young US Army soldier. Manning was arrested in May of 2010 on suspicion of having leaked classified government cables and military footage later published by WikiLeaks, and faces a possible life sentence.

“A big mistake was made by the Board of Directors of SF Pride,” Ellsberg said. Referencing director Lisa Williams’ statement that not even a “hint” of support for Manning would be tolerated, Ellsberg said, “I don’t hint at support for Bradley Manning. I couldn’t be louder. I will be marching in that parade, for the first time for me, with a banner honoring Bradley Manning.”

Gay Navy veteran John Caldera, commander of the Bob Basker Post 315 of the American Legion, an LGBT-focused veteran’s organization, announced that his members had voted unanimously to call for Williams’ resignation, saying she had “negated and belittled all of the voices of the community” who had expressed support for Manning. He also condemned Pride for withholding its support for Manning while accepting funding from the likes of Wells Fargo, a banking giant responsible for foreclosures that have affected veterans. “The SF Pride committee has to put people first and corporations second,” he said.

Joey Cain, a former grand marshal who said he nominated Manning, noted that he was not calling for Williams to resign, but hoped she would realize the mistake and reinstate him as grand marshal. “What he did was heroic … Bradley made the world a better place,” Cain said. He shamed Pride for straying so far from the roots of the gay movement. “We believed in radical inclusivity,” practicing tolerance for all “colors, genders and opinions,” he said, with the understanding that “We don’t all agree. We never will. But we’re sure never going to throw any part of the community under the bus.”

The rally was organized by longtime housing activist Tommi Mecca (pictured, center), comedian Lisa Geduldig and blogger Michael Petrelis.

Some counter-protesters from the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP organization, even made an appearance. “We were praising the Pride Committee for not having selected Manning,” SF Log Cabin Republicans Fred Schein told the Bay Guardian.

Paul Bloom, a longtime activist, handed the Guardian a written statement on his take of the whole dustup, which he viewed as “an opportunity for people to unite in our understanding that there is no antiwar movement without gay people, and no movement for human rights that doesn’t envision an end to war.”

“Why does the SF Gay Pride Parade need corporate sponsorship, anyway?” Bloom wrote. “The parade must be brought back into the struggle as a part of it instead of remaining the grossly commercial spectacle it has become. We need to occupy the parade.”


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.”

Property resistance in the Bay and beyond

In 2004, Hannah Dobbz climbed up the drainpipe of an abandoned building in Emeryville and disappeared through a broken window. Outside, her friends waited with blankets, pillows, and food. Making her way down to the first floor, she unsecured the plywood door and let them in.

Dobbz had stayed in squats before—in the East Bay, and in Europe. But now she was finally “bottom-lining” her own. The property, an abandoned boat and turbine warehouse they called the Power Machine, was in legal limbo. The city of Emeryville had claimed eminent domain over the building, but settlement proceedings would continue for the next two years.

In the meantime, Dobbz and her friends made the Power Machine their home. They fixed up the building and collected bikes, books, and art supplies. They threw loud parties. Located under a bridge and next to the railroad, no one seemed to care—not even the landlord, who stumbled upon Dobbz during her second week of residency.

Dobbz’s experience, along with those of other East Bay squatters, became the subject of her film, “Shelter: A Squatumentary” (Kill Normal Productions: 2008). In 2007, she left the Bay Area and moved to Buffalo, but continued to advocate for the practice of seizing abandoned spaces, dubbed “property resistance.” Now, she has published a book on squatting.

The book, Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States (AK Press: 2013), is both a guide for squatters and a history of land occupation movements. It delves into the philosophical justifications for squatting, and challenges the assumptions behind the economic forces of the housing market. For Dobbz, squatting is a tactic: it reasserts that shelter is everybody’s basic human right, not just the privilege of those who can afford it.

“One of those things that I’m hoping to do is rethink how we view property, to try and shift the emphasis from housing as a market value, to more of a use value,” said Dobbz.

Nor could the timing be much better, since recent events seem to have rekindled property resistance activism in the Bay Area. In 2011, the Occupy Oakland movement created a dialogue around public space and private ownership. Now, with the tech boom driving the cost of living ever higher, that dialogue has been infused with newfound urgency. 

Steve Dicaprio is the CEO and founder of Land Action, an organization that offers support and legal information to land occupiers. As Occupy Oakland unfolded, he began to research property foreclosures. He wanted to know which sites could be most easily occupied and defended from a legal standpoint. According to Dicaprio, organizers of Occupy Oakland soon began to consider the occupation of foreclosed homes as an alternative to demonstrations in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The goal of Dobbz, Dicarprio, and other activists is to foster a discussion around property. The focus needs to be on stewardship, not ownership, said Dobbz.

Both Dobbz and Dicaprio will be speaking at Looking Glass Arts on Friday, April 19th, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20, with proceeds going to Land Action. A free event will also take place the following night at 7:30 p.m. at the squatter residence Hotmess/RCA Compound (656 West MacArthur Blvd.), with a dance party to follow.

In the meantime, you can read an excerpt of the book here.

Endorsements 2012: State and national races


National races



You couldn’t drive down Valencia Street on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008. You couldn’t get through the intersection of 18th and Castro, either. All over the east side of the city, people celebrating the election of Barack Obama and the end of the Bush era launched improptu parties, dancing and singing in the streets, while the cops stood by, smiling. It was the only presidential election in modern history that create such an upwelling of joy on the American left — and while we were a bit more jaded and cautious about celebrating, it was hard not to feel a sense of hope.

That all started to change about a month after the inauguration, when word got out that the big insurance companies were invited to be at the table, discussing health-care reform — and the progressive consumer advocates were not. From that point on, it was clear that the “change” he promised wasn’t going to be a fundamental shift in how power works in Washington.

Obama didn’t even consider a single-payer option. He hasn’t shut down Guantanamo Bay. He hasn’t cut the Pentagon budget. He hasn’t pulled the US out of the unwinnable mess in Afghanistan. He’s been a huge disappointment on progressive tax and economic issues. It wasn’t until late this summer, when he realized he was facing a major enthusiasm gap, that he even agreed to endorse same-sex marriage.

But it’s easy to trash an incumbent president, particularly one who foolishly thought he could get bipartisan support for reforms and instead wound up with a hostile Republican Congress. The truth is, Obama has accomplished a fair amount, given the obstacles he faced. He got a health-care reform bill, weak and imperfect as it was, passed into law, something Democrats have tried and failed at since the era of FDR. The stimulus, weak and limited as it was, clearly prevented the recession from becoming another great depression. His two Supreme Court appointments have been excellent.

And the guy he’s running against is a disaster on the scale of G.W. Bush.

Mitt Romney can’t even tell the truth about himself. He’s proven to be such a creature of the far-right wing of the Republican Party that it’s an embarrassment. A moderate Republican former governor of Massachusetts could have made a credible run for the White House — but Romney has essentially disavowed everything decent that he did in his last elective office, has said one dumb thing after another, and would be on track to be one of the worse presidents in history.

We get it: Obama let us down. But there’s a real choice here, and it’s an easy one. We’ll happily give a shout out to Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party, who is talking the way the Democrats ought to be talking, about a Green New Deal that recognizes that the richest nation in the history of the world can and should be doing radically better on employment, health care, the environment, and economic justice. And since Obama’s going to win California by a sizable majority anyway, a protest vote for Stein probably won’t do any harm.

But the next four years will be a critical time for the nation, and Obama is at least pushing in the direction of reality, sanity and hope. We endorsed him with enthusiasm four year ago; we’re endorsing him with clear-eyed reality in 2012.



Ugh. Not a pleasant choice here. Elizabeth Emken is pretty much your standard right-wing-nut Republican out of Danville, a fan of reducing government, cutting regulations, and repealing Obamacare. Feinstein, who’s already served four terms, is a conservative Democrat who loves developers, big business, and the death penalty, is hawkish on defense, and has used her clout locally to push for all the wrong candidates and all the wrong things. She can’t even keep her word: After Willie Brown complained that London Breed was saying mean things about him, Feinstein pulled her endorsement of Breed for District 5 supervisor.

It’s astonishing that, in a year when the state Democratic Party is aligned behind Proposition 34, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, Feinstein can’t find it in herself to back away from her decades-long support of capital punishment. She’s not much better on medical marijuana. And she famously complained when then-mayor Gavin Newsom pushed same-sex marriage to the forefront, saying America wasn’t ready to give LGBT couples the same rights as straight people.

But as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein was pretty good about investigating CIA torture and continues to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay. She’s always been rock solid on abortion rights and at least decent, if not strong, on environmental issues.

It’s important for the Democrats to retain the Senate, and Feinstein might as well be unopposed. She turns 80 next year, so it’s likely this will be her last term.



The real question on the minds of everyone in local politics is what will happen if the Democrats don’t retake the House and Pelosi has to face two more years in the minority. Will she serve out her term? Will her Democratic colleagues decide they want new leadership? The inside scuttle is that Pelosi has no intention of stepping down, but a long list of local politicians is looking at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to run for a Congressional seat, and it’s going to happen relatively soon; Pelosi is 72.

We’ve never been happy with Rep. Pelosi, who used the money and clout of the old Burton machine to come out of nowhere to beat progressive gay supervisor Harry Britt for the seat in 1986. Her signature local achievement is the bill that created the first privatized national park in the nation’s history (the Presidio), which now is home to a giant office complex built by filmmaker George Lucas with the benefit of a $60 million tax break. She long ago stopped representing San Francisco, making her move toward Congressional leadership by moving firmly to the center.

But as speaker of the House, she was a strong ally for President Obama and helped move the health-care bill forward. It’s critical to the success of the Obama administration that the Democrats retake the house and Pelosi resumes the role of speaker.



Barbara Lee represents Berkeley and Oakland in a way Nancy Pelosi doesn’t represent San Francisco. She’s been a strong, sometimes lonely voice against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a leader in the House Progressive Caucus. While Democrats up to and including the president talk about tax cuts for businesses, Lee has been pushing a fair minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy, and an end to subsidies for the oil industry. While Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was struggling with Occupy, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was moving to evict the protesters, Barbara Lee was strongly voicing her support for the movement, standing with the activists, and talking about wealth inequality. We’re proud to endorse her for another term.



Speier’s an improvement on her predecessor, Tom Lantos, who was a hawk and terrible on Middle East policy. Speier’s a moderate, as you’d expect in this Peninsula seat, but she’s taken the lead on consumer privacy issues (as she did in the state Legislature) and will get re-elected easily. She’s an effective member of a Bay Area delegation that helps keep the House sane, so we’ll endorse her for another term.

State candidates



Tom Ammiano’s the perfect person to represent San Francisco values in Sacramento. He helped sparked and define this city’s progressive movement back in the 1970s as a gay teacher marching alongside with Harvey Milk. In 1999, his unprecedented write-in mayoral campaign woke progressives up from some bad years and ushered in a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors that approved landmark legislation such as the universal healthcare program Ammiano created. In the Assembly, he worked to create a regulatory system for medical marijuana and chairs the powerful Public Safety Committee, where he has stopped the flow of mindless tough-on-crime measures that have overflowed our prisons and overburdened our budgets. This is Ammiano’s final term in the Legislature, but we hope it’s not the end of his role in local politics.



Phil Ting could be assessor of San Francisco, with a nice salary, for the rest of his life if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s done a good job in an office typically populated with make-no-waves political hacks — he went after the Catholic Church when that large institution tried to avoid paying taxes on property transfers. He’s been outspoken on foreclosures and commissioned, on his own initiative, a study showing that a large percentage of local foreclosures involved at least some degree of fraud or improper paperwork.

But Ting is prepared to take a big cut in pay and accept a term-limited future for the challenge of moving into a higher-profile political position. And he’s the right person to represent this westside district.

Ting’s not a radical leftist, but he is willing to talk about tax reform, particularly about the inequities of Prop. 13. He’s carrying the message to homeowners that they’re shouldering a larger part of the burden while commercial properties pay less. He wants to change some of the loopholes in how Prop. 13 is interpreted to help local government collect more money.

It would be nice to have a progressive-minded tax expert in the Legislature, and we’re glad Ting is the front-runner. He’s facing a serious, well-funded onslaught from Michael Breyer, the son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer, who has no political experience or credentials for office and is running a right-wing campaign emphasizing “old-style San Francisco values.”

Not pretty. Vote for Ting.



Mark Leno wasn’t always in the Guardian’s camp, and we don’t always agree with his election season endorsements, but he’s been a rock-solid representative in Sacramento and he has earned our respect and our endorsement.

It isn’t just how he votes, which we consistently agree with. Leno has been willing to take on the tough fights, the ones that need to be fought, and shown the tenacity to come out on top in the Legislature, even if he’s ahead of his time. Leno twice got the Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage, he has repeatedly gotten that body to legalize industrial hemp production, and he’s twice passed legislation that would give San Francisco voters the right to set a local vehicle license fees higher than the state’s and use that money for local programs (which the governor finally signed). He’s also been laying an important foundation for creating a single-payer healthcare system and he played an important role in the CleanPowerSF program that San Francisco will implement next year. Leno will easily be re-elected to another term in the Senate and we look forward to his next move (Leno for mayor, 2015?)





San Francisco has been well represented on the BART Board by Radulovich, a smart and forward-thinking urbanist who understands the important role transit plays in the Bay Area. Radulovich has played leadership roles in developing a plan that aims to double the percentage of cyclists using the system, improving the accessibility of many stations to those with limited mobility, pushing through an admittedly imperfect civilian oversight agency for the BART Police, hiring a new head administrator who is more responsive to community concerns, and maintaining the efficiency of an aging system with the highest ridership levels in its history. With a day job serving as executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich helped create Sunday Streets and other initiatives that improve our public spaces and make San Francisco a more inviting place to be. And by continuing to provide a guiding vision for a BART system that continues to improve its connections to every corner of the Bay Area, his vision of urbanism is helping to permeate communities throughout the region



This sprawling district includes part of southeast San Francisco and extends all the way up the I-80 corridor to the Carquinez Bridge. The incumbent, San Franciscan Lynette Sweet, has been a major disappointment. She’s inaccessible, offers few new ideas, and was slow to recognize (much less deal with) the trigger-happy BART Police who until recently had no civilian oversight. Time for a change.

Three candidates are challenging Sweet, all of them from the East Bay (which makes a certain amount of sense — only 17 percent of the district’s population is in San Francisco). Our choice is Zachary Mallett, whose training in urban planning and understanding of the transit system makes up for his lack of political experience.

Mallett’s a graduate of Stanford and UC Berkelely (masters in urban planning with a transportation emphasis) who has taken the time to study what’s working and what isn’t working at BART. Some of his ideas sound a bit off at first — he wants, for example, to raise the cost of subsidized BART rides offered to Muni pass holders — but when you look a the numbers, and who is subsidizing who, it actually makes some sense. He talks intelligently about the roles that the various regional transit systems play and while he’s a bit more moderate than us, particularly on fiscal issues, he’s the best alternative to Sweet.

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!

Diamond Dave’s report from Romneyville


Activists from San Francisco and around the country are descending on Tampa this week to protest the Republican National Convention. I got a call this morning from Diamond Dave Whitaker, the poet who hung with the beats and the hippies in his 75 years, CCSF student senator and San Francisco legend. He’s has been serving food to protesters at election-season conventions for almost three decades. His first was 1984, the Democratic Convention here in San Francisco before he got hooked and headed to Dallas to protest the Republicans. Along with a few hundred others, Diamond Dave braved the rain, but missed the full effects of Hurricane Isaac on the tent city last night. The RNC starts officially starts today (though many of the day’s events have been called off due tot the hurricane warning.)

“I’m talking in the midst of Romneyville,” he said. “Folks came from far and wide to camp out together, cause a ruckus and be here.”

What’s Romneyville? “It’s a homeless camp, a poor peoples camp,” said Dave. He’s been there a week setting up the Food Not Bombs kitchen, and Romneyville grew up around him. It now has few hundred tents, he said. But most people arrived today, so as the convention gets started, it will probably grow. “Two buses from Zuccotti Square came today,” he said.

Romneyville is put together in part by the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign. Dave said Green Party vice presidential nominee Cheri Honkala, a formerly homeless mother herself who works with the Poor Peoples campaign, is a fixture around the camp.

“Our demands are housing for all, food for all, healthcare for all, and living wages for all. We call for an end to foreclosures and homelessness, an end to the war on the poor, both here and abroad. An end to criminalization of poverty. Money for jobs and housing, not for war!” says a statement from the group.

More protesters are staying over at the Occupy Tampa encampment.

A permitted march left this morning, and Diamond Dave says there’s another, unpermitted, planned for 3pm est. Many citizen journalists and livestreamers are documenting the events, one can be found at

But so far, his work has been handing out free meals with Food Not Bombs.

“We fed the masses this morning for sure,” he said.

Activists rally for alleged victim of illegal foreclosure


A few dozen rallied in front of the building that houses a branch of PNC bank July 26, demanding that the bank not foreclose on Yin Wong, an elderly Bayview resident who says the bank is foreclosing on her illegally.

Wong says she never missed a mortgage payment on the home that she and her family have lived in since 2001. She was paying through electronic transfer, where payments were automatically transferred from her bank account monthly. She says that in October 2009, she discovered the bank had rejected her previous two payments. The next month, she received a foreclosure notice for non-payment. 

“I never said I cannot pay,” Wong says. She says after she was tracked for foreclosure, all efforts to pay were refused, even though she had the money.

“If it happened to another person, I wouldn’t believe it. But it happened to me,” Wong said, adding that “In other countries all over the world this wouldn’t happen…just America, of freedom and democracy.”

Protesters chanted in support of Wong and blocked the main entrance to 575 California, where PNC has offices. A security guard said the building hadn’t seen that kind of demonstration since it housed Chevron.

Activists compare Wong’s case to that of the Cruz family, who also had their electronic transfer payments to PNC rejected without explanation, resulting in being tracked for foreclosure and eviction from their Minnesota home. Their case galvanized national support and made headines when they travelled with supporters to PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters last week.

Wong has received support from the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC), and two attorneys from the group were at the rally protesting on her behalf. One EDC lawyer, Deepa Varma, said that even with fairly obvious illegal foreclosures such as Wong’s, homeowners usually lose in the courts. The EDC would often warn clients that fighting against banks in these cases was a largely unwinnable uphill battle.

But she said the recent push to fight back against foreclosures, fueled largely by various Occupy efforts, has changed all that.  

“A year before Occupy, the position in our office was to say, you’ll just have to move,” said Varma. “It would have felt impossible”

But now, Varma said, “there’s more of us, and people have actually made it happen. The turning point for me was seeing Josephine get back in her house,” she said. Josephine Tolbert, 76, was locked out of her home was little warning last fall. After pressure from activists, including Occupy the Hood SF, Occupy San Francisco, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Tolbert has now received a loan modification and is back in her home.

“After that I was like, anything is possible so long as they realize we’re not going to keep quiet outside the courts,” Varma said.

Wong has been working with the EDC since she was served her first eviction notice three years ago. 

California is a non-judicial foreclosure state, meaning local governments automatically enforce foreclosures that lenders call for. Foreclosure cases are generally not reviewed unless a homeowner challenges a lender legally. Then, according to Varma, lenders need only prove that they filed appropriate eviction paperwork to prove their case—not that the foreclosure itself has legal merit.

Wong wanted to go to trial to prove her case, Varma said. “She said, I did everything right. I have nothing to hide.” But PNC wanted to settle the case through a series of motions of summary judgment. “They filed motion after motion,” recounts Varma, saying that courts almost always decide in favor of lenders in these types of motion. But Wong’s case was unusual– “we kept beating them.”

After three years, PNC finally beat Wong at a bench trial last month when a judge ruled against her. Their win was only based on being able to prove to the judge that they had record of the appropriate paperwork in Wong’s foreclosure preceedings, not that Wong had missed payments, meriting the foreclosure in the first place, according to EDC attorney Josh Schieber. 

Scheiber said that while he’s been working on Wong’s case, she has consistently tried to submit her payments and on the occasions offered to pay the whole mortgage. The bank doesn’t seem interested.

But Wong refuses to give up, and she hopes that the confrontation yesterday might have reopened those lines of communication.

Wong and an interpreter from Occupy Bernal waited in the building’s lobby about 45 minutes while supporters chanted “keep Yin in her home.” 

“They want to make me become homeless, but they still don’t want to talk to me,” Wong said as she waited, guessing “they’re scared because they know they did the wrong thing.”

PNC sent down a representative to meet with Wong who assured her that he would fax the documents that she had brought with her, evidence of the unlawful foreclosure, to corporate headquarters

Wong and her family are scheduled for eviction Wednesday.

“I hope they postpone it so we can keep talking,” Varma said.

Best of the Bay 2012: Local Heroes


2012 Local Heroes

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu — the executive director and lead organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 4 — have laid the groundwork for a progressive resurgence in San Francisco by organizing Chinese immigrants and actively building close and mutually supportive relationships with working-class allies throughout the city.

The two have been involved in just about every recent effort to counter the pro-corporate neoliberalism that has come to dominate City Hall these days. They have seized space with Occupy San Francisco and they have supported labor unions and helped to create the Progressive Workers Alliance. They have fought foreclosures and pushed for affordable housing reforms, and they have protected vulnerable immigrant workers from wage theft by unscrupulous employers.

“Shaw San and Alex are incredibly talented organizers and movement builders who are managing to do the nearly impossible,” said N’Tanya Lee, who worked closely with the pair as the director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. “They have built an authentic base of working-class Chinese immigrants who are interested in fighting for change in their community, and are creating a grassroots organization at the forefront of building multi-racial alliances to combat the divide-and-conquer strategies that are confronting us.”

Liu, who joined CPA six years ago, said she’s always inspired to see the old photographs on the walls of CPA’s office, and to read the history of CPA’s organizing and advocacy on behalf of working people. She said the organization has always understood the need to forge alliances with labor unions and other progressive interests.

“The organization itself has been, since its inception, playing a critical role in bridging the needs of Chinese interests with other communities,” Liu said. “I’ve always seen my role as bridge building.”

Today — with stagnant real wages, a deteriorating social safety net, and growing power by corporations that enjoy unprecedented political clout thanks to Citizens United and other court rulings — the need to organize people across cultural lines is more important than ever, even if that begins by addressing the individual needs of each community.

“Always at our core, it’s about empowering our folks to be able to voice their own struggles and visions,” Liu said.

Working to build that capacity within the Chinese immigrant community is hard and important work, Liu said, but it’s equally important to connect with the struggles of working class people from other communities, uniting to effectively counter the political dominance of employers and property owners.

Lui framed the struggle as: “How do we build unity and not have that be lip service?”

Tom and Liu have demonstrated that they know how to do just that, despite the diversity of sometimes-conflicting interests on the left and in a working class squeezed by recession and feelings of economic uncertainty.

“The issue that will unify people is good jobs that are accessible to everyone,” Liu said.

Yet she also said that working class organizing is needed to counter the simplistic “jobs” rhetoric coming from City Hall, which politicians are using to advocate for tax cuts to big corporations.

“More and more, it exposes itself as a total lie,” Liu said of the argument that the city should be facilitating private sector job creation with business tax cuts. “So much points to the fact that the US economic system doesn’t benefit everyone … When we talk about jobs, we talk about what kinds of jobs we want and for whom.”


2012 Local Heroes

Stardust and Ross Rhodes

Ross Rhodes and Stardust, like all of the people involved in Occupy Bernal, are neighbors. But until Stardust helped found the group — a local take on Occupy focused on stopping unjust foreclosures and evictions — they didn’t know each other.

Now they do, and if it wasn’t for Occupy Bernal, Rhodes is sure he would no longer have the house that his parents bought in 1964.

A former college football star, Rhodes injured his knees and back playing. He lives on disability payments, volunteering at the 100 Percent College Prep Club, and bringing home-cooked meals to seniors in his area. He also coached kids in the Junior 49ers program until it became too hard on his injuries.

Stardust, an ESL teacher and oboe player in the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony and the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, has been working for LGBT rights, women’s rights, and online civil rights for years. When Occupy took off, he gravitated toward the neighborhood fights against foreclosures.

Like people all over the US, Rhodes and his wife were fooled several years ago by a pick-a-payment loan plan. At the time, World Savings was peddling the deals through neighborhoods, promising potential borrowers that they could send their kids to college, buy a car, take vacations — and modify their loans after a year.

But when Rhodes started to apply for loan modifications, he was denied. He kept receiving letters asking for more information, often the same information he had already given — a common story that led to part of the Homeowners Bill of Rights that will guarantee a single point of contact from the bank. He was stumped when he was told he needed more income — the bank said it wouldn’t accept payments that were more than 30 percent of a borrower’s income, and Rhodes was getting a fixed disability check.

He found another income source as a homecare provider, but after all the time that the bank wouldn’t accept his payments, Rhodes was marked as someone who wasn’t making payments, and was tracked for foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Occupy Bernal was working on more than 100 similar cases in its neighborhood. The organizers hadn’t quite convinced Mayor Ed Lee to help at that point, but Rep. Pelosi’s staffers were on their side, getting banks to prioritize the cases of those working with Occupy Bernal. They worked with other community groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to do physical occupations of homes. But for those who had received a notice of default and a notice of sale — two steps in the foreclosure process that precede the auction of a property — Stardust was there with another tactic.

He spearheaded Occupy the Auctions. He shows up at City Hall at 1:30 every day and tries to disrupt foreclosure auctions. He’s been there continuously since April 27, 2012, and has stopped dozens of home sales. When fighting the eviction of a neighbor, he is sometimes backed by more than 100 people. But many days it’s just Stardust.

Now, Rhodes is in a loan modification process. Rather than conflicting and confusing machine-generated paper work, he gets regular calls about the status of his modification from a point person in Wells Fargo’s executive complaint office. He testified in Sacramento in favor of the Homeowners Bill of Rights, which passed July 2. He’s also become an Occupy Bernal organizer on top of his other volunteer pursuits.

Stardust battles mega-banks and the city’s wealthiest in his work. But he says the biggest challenge is helping people to get over the shame they feel when they realize they are facing foreclosure. “It’s not their fault,” he says. “It’s the system.”

Friends of Ethics

In the summer of 2011, at the behest of the Ethics Commission, the Board of Supervisors put on the ballot a measure that would have loosened some of the rules for campaign consultant reporting, and would have allowed further changes in the city’s landmark ethics laws without a vote of the people. It had unanimous support on the board — and frankly, technical changes in campaign laws are not the kind of sexy stuff that gets the public angry.

But a small group, led in part by five former ethics commissioners, took on the task of defeating the measure. The activists also took on the challenge of defeating Prop. E, which would have allowed the supervisors to amend future measures passed by the voters.

Despite being outspent by tens of thousands of dollars, Friends of Ethics — a small grassroots operation — prevailed. Both measures were defeated (32 percent to 67 percent in the case of Prop. E, the worst loss of all the local measures on the ballot).

The group is great at forming coalitions: in the case of the No on E and F campaign, Friends of Ethics reached out to some 30 organizations that formally joined in opposing the measures after hearing presentations.

The members of FOE are a fractious group of organizers and shit-disturbers who don’t always get along or agree on other issues. But they’ve come together to do something nobody else does: make protecting and expanding political reform laws a front-line priority.

And the battle goes on. Not long after the November 2011 election, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation that would have led to less disclosure of political contributions before an election, and would have made it easier to conceal who was making contributions and paying for campaign mailers. The Wiener bill would weaken campaign contribution limit, giving the wealthiest donors greater power in elections.

When the amendments were heard at a well-attended Rules Committee in June (with plenty of public comment from Friends of Ethics), the supervisors sent the amendments back to the Ethics Commission to be rewritten.

The next step for the Friends of Ethics is to work with interested supervisors to push for changes to the city’s campaign laws that will actually benefit the public, such as increased transparency in election contributions and expanded campaign restrictions for those receiving contracts and other benefits from the city.

In an era defined by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and a nationwide assault on fair elections, it’s critical work.

Friends of Ethics can be reached at

2012 Local Heroes

The Occupy movement

When Adbusters magazine called for people to show up on September 17, 2011, in New York City to protest the way Wall Street was holding the country hostage, no one could have predicted what would emerge.

It was the start of a movement, and San Francisco heeded the call. About 100 people gathered in the city’s Financial District. They started camping. And the effort exploded.

In the first few weeks, camps sprung up across the country. In Chicago and Los Angeles, in Bethel, Alaska and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, people were drawn together. But, unlike most protests, they stayed together. Night after night.

Along the way, a certain prevailing narrative from outside observers never quite got it right. First the camps were dismissed as nothing but bratty college students and hippies. Then they were called dirty and filled with homeless people. (Occupy challenged the whole idea of a monolithic homeless population. Once they had a home in the Occupy tent cities, homeless people were just — shocker — people.)

By December, when most of the campers had been kicked out, the narrative shifted. Occupy was resting, hibernating, many declared. Some snickered at the fair-weather activists who would only come out in the sunshine.

But in the Bay Area, at least, that hibernation story was simply false. On December 12, Occupy Oakland brought out thousands for its second port shutdown, in solidarity with port workers. On January 20, downtown banks were forced to close for the day and people in the streets celebrated Occupy San Francisco’s shutdown of the financial district. A week later, 400 were arrested when thousands tried to turn a vacant Oakland building into a community center. This was no hibernation.

Actions in some way inspired or fueled by Occupy have continued into the spring and summer. On March 1, Occupy, with a focus on student debt and accessible education, formed the 99 Mile March. Dozens marched from the Bay Area to Sacramento to join thousands of students and supporters in calling for an end to cuts to education; hundreds then occupied the Capitol building. On April 22, Occupy, with a focus on food justice, formed the Gill Tract Occupy the Farm action. Hundreds took a UC Berkeley-stewarded tract of land slated for a baseball diamond and a Whole Foods and planted it, turning it into a farm with rows of crops, a kids space, and a permaculture garden. On June 15, Occupy formed the Lakeview sit-in and Peoples School for Public Education, which taught day camp to children and refused to leave a beloved Oakland elementary school, one of five slated for closure.

Police eventually won the many-months battle with most Occupy groups in the Bay Area. The camps are mostly gone, though a tenacious group keeps its 24-hour protest in front of the Federal Reserve.

But because of Occupy — and its accompanying burst in resistance, creativity, and the belief that we really can, and must, come together to do something — dozens of Bay Area residents remain in homes that were facing foreclosure. Hundreds of people who felt forgotten and abandoned have found community. Thousands have been inspired to start their own projects and work with others.

When Adbusters called Occupy Wall Street to action, it was under the banner of “democracy not corporatocracy.” That ain’t an easy project. But it has already made the world a better and more hopeful place. 

East Bay Endorsements for the June 5 election


There aren’t a lot of contested races in the Oakland/Berkeley area. Every member of the county Board of Supervisors is running essentially unopposed. When termed-out Assemblymember Sandra Swanson decided not to challenge state Senator Loni Hancock, the East Bay left avoided a bruising primary fight. In essence, voters will be addressing a series of no-contest primaries and two statewide ballot measures. So there’s not a lot to drive the voters to the polls.

But there are two important races — a contest for Swanson’s 18th Assembly seat and a rare election for an open seat on the Alameda County bench. Our recommendations follow.



Always solid on the issues, Hancock has taken a lead role in fighting bogus foreclosures and takes on the often-challenging job of killing bad bills as chair of the Public Safety Committee. She’s been a strong advocate for ending the death penalty.



Another strong progressive, she’s currently pushing to preserve affordable education in the UC system. She’s also a leader in the campaign to tax online sales.



Several strong candidates are seeking this seat, which represents one of the most progressive districts in the state. Our choice is Abel Guillen, a member of the Peralta College Board. Guillen has a strong record in the progressive community and the support of the teacher’s and nurse’s unions. He’s a strong advocate for education and speaks about aggressively seeking new revenue (including a split-role modification of Prop. 13). We were a little concerned about his reluctance to support state Sen. Mark Leno’s efforts to allow local government more authority to raise revenue (Guillen’s worried about statewide equity) but on balance, he’s the best candidate.

We were also impressed with Rob Bonta, vice-mayor of Alameda, who is strong on transit issues and understands the needs of local government. But although he told us he would support repeal of the “three-strikes” law, he’s the candidate of law-enforcement and has the support of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the dangerous statewide cop union that tries to block nearly every piece of progressive criminal-justice reform. He told us that in the past he’s supported the death penalty because “it’s the voters’ choice.” On the relatively simple question of legalizing pot, he said he “probably” would vote for it.

Thanks to the two-two primary system, it’s likely these two will be facing off again in November. Vote for Guillen.



Three East Bay lawyers are running for this rare open seat. Our choice is Flanagan, whose progressive credentials and background make her the strongest candidate.

A former prosecutor in Los Angeles who now does civil litigation and family law, Flanagan is a supporter of open courtrooms and told us she would have no objections to cameras and tape recorders. She agreed that the administrative meetings of the county judges should be open to the public. She’s served as a temporary judge, so already has courtroom experience.

The Alameda bench is still mostly a boy’s club — only 30 percent of the judges are women, and a dismal 1.4 percent come from the LGBT community. Flanagan would bring some needed diversity to the court.



Incumbent Keith Carson has been a stalwart in the Oakland and Berkeley progressive communities for decades. He’s running unopposed.

Guardian endorsements for June 5 election



As usual, California is irrelevant to the presidential primaries, except as a cash machine. The Republican Party has long since chosen its nominee; the Democratic outcome was never in doubt. So the state holds a June 5 primary that, on a national level, matters to nobody.

It’s no surprise that pundits expect turnout will be abysmally low. Except in the few Congressional districts where a high-profile primary is underway, there’s almost no news media coverage of the election.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important races and issues (including the future of San Francisco’s Democratic Party) — and the lower the turnout, the more likely the outcome will lean conservative. The ballot isn’t long; it only takes a few minutes to vote. Don’t stay home June 5.

Our recommendations follow.



Sigh. Remember the hope? Remember the joy? Remember the dancing in the streets of the Mission as a happy city realized that the era of George Bush and The Gang was over? Remember the end of the war, and health-care reform, and fair economic policies?

Yeah, we remember, too. And we remember coming back to our senses when we realized that the first people at the table for the health-policy talks were the insurance industry lobbyists. And when more and more drones killed more and more civilian in Afghanistan, and the wars didn’t end and the country got deeper and deeper into debt.

Oh, and when Obama bailed out Wall Street — and refused to spend enough money to help the rest of us. And when his U.S. attorney decided to crack down on medical marijuana.

We could go on.

There’s no question: The first term of President Barack Obama has been a deep disappointment. And while we wish that his new pledge to tax the millionaires represented a change in outlook, the reality is that it’s most likely an election-year response to the popularity of the Occupy movement.

Last fall, when a few of the most progressive Democrats began talking about the need to challenge Obama in a primary, we had the same quick emotional reaction as many San Franciscans: Time to hold the guy accountable. Some prominent left types have vowed not to give money to the Obama campaign.

But let’s get back to reality. The last time a liberal group challenged an incumbent in a Democratic presidential primary, Senator Ted Kennedy wounded President Jimmy Carter enough to ensure the election of Ronald Reagan — and the begin of the horrible decline in the economy of the United States. We’re mad at Obama, too — but we’re realists enough to know that there is a difference between moderate and terrible, and that’s the choice we’re facing today.

The Republican Party is now entirely the party of the far right, so out of touch with reality that even Reagan would be shunned as too liberal. Mitt Romney, once the relatively centrist governor of Massachusetts, has been driven by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum so deeply into crazyland that he’s never coming back. We appreciate Ron Paul’s attacks on military spending and the war on drugs, but he also opposes Medicare and Social Security and says that people who don’t have private health insurance should be allowed to die for lack of medical care.

No, this one’s easy. Obama has no opposition in the Democratic Primary, but for all our concerns about his policies, we have to start supporting his re-election now.



The Republicans in Washington didn’t even bother to field a serious candidate against the immensely well-funded Feinstein, who is seeking a fourth term. She’s a moderate Democrat, at best, was weak-to-terrible on the war, is hawkish on Pentagon spending (particularly Star Wars and the B-1 bomber), has supported more North Coast logging, and attempts to meddle in local politics with ridiculous ideas like promoting unknown Michael Breyer for District Five supervisor. She supported the Obama health-care bill but isn’t a fan of single-payer, referring to supporters of Medicare for all as “the far left.”

But she’s strong on choice and is embarrassing the GOP with her push for reauthorization of an expanded Violence Against Women Act. She’ll win handily against two token Republicans.



The Second District is a sprawling region stretching from the Oregon border to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the coast in as far as Trinity County. It’s home to the Marin suburbs, Sonoma and Mendocino wine country, the rough and rural Del Norte and the emerald triangle. There’s little doubt that a Democrat will represent the overwhelmingly liberal area that was for almost three decades the province of Lynn Woolsey, one of the most progressive members in Congress. The top two contenders are Norman Solomon, an author, columnist and media advocate, and Jared Huffman, a moderate member of the state Assembly from Marin.

Solomon’s not just a decent candidate — he represents a new approach to politics. He’s an antiwar crusader, journalist, and outsider who has never held elective office — but knows more about the (often corrupt) workings of Washington and the policy issues facing the nation than many Beltway experts. He’s talking about taxing Wall Street to create jobs on Main Street, about downsizing the Pentagon and promoting universal health care. He’s a worthy successor to Woolsey, and he deserves the support of every independent and progressive voter in the district.



Nancy Pelosi long ago stopped representing San Francisco (see: same-sex marriage) and began representing the national Democratic party and her colleagues in the House. She will never live down the privatization of the Presidio or her early support for the Iraq war, but she’s become a decent ally for Obama and if the Democrats retake the House, she’ll be setting the agenda for his second term. If the GOP stays in control, this may well be her last term.

Green Party member Barry Hermanson is challenging her, and in the old system, he’d be on the November ballot as the Green candidate. With open primaries (which are a bad idea for a lot of reasons) Hermanson needs support to finish second and keep Pelosi on her toes as we head into the fall.



This Berkeley and Oakland district is among the most left-leaning in the country, and its representative, Barbara Lee, is well suited to the job. Unlike Pelosi, Lee speaks for the voters of her district; she was the lone voice against the Middle East wars in the early days, and remains a staunch critic of these costly, bloody, open-ended foreign military entanglements. We’re happy to endorse her for another term.



Speier’s more of a Peninsula moderate than a San Francisco progressive, but she’s been strong on consumer privacy and veterans issues and has taken the lead on tightening federal rules on gas pipelines after Pacific Gas and Electric Company killed eight of her constituents. She has no credible opposition.



Mark Leno started his political career as a moderate member of the Board of Supervisors from 1998 to 2002. His high-profile legislative races — against Harry Britt for the Assembly in 2002 and against Carole Migden for the Senate in 2008 — were some of the most bitterly contested in recent history. And we often disagree with his election time endorsements, which tend toward more downtown-friendly candidates.

But Leno has won us over, time and again, with his bold progressive leadership in Sacramento and with his trailblazing approach to public policy. He is an inspiring leader who has consistently made us proud during his time in the Legislature. Leno was an early leader on the same-sex marriage issue, twice getting the Legislature to legalize same-sex unions (vetoed both times by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). He has consistently supported a single-payer health care system and laid important groundwork that could eventually break the grip that insurance companies have on our health care system. And he has been a staunch defender of the medical marijuana patients and has repeatedly pushed to overturn the ban on industrial hemp production, work that could lead to an important new industry and further relaxation of this country wasteful war on drugs. We’re happy to endorse him for another term.



Ammiano is a legendary San Francisco politician with solid progressive values, unmatched courage and integrity, and a history of diligently and diplomatically working through tough issues to create ground-breaking legislation. We not only offer him our most enthusiastic endorsement — we wish that we could clone him and run him for a variety of public offices. Since his early days as an ally of Harvey Milk on gay rights issues to his creation of San Francisco’s universal health care system as a supervisor to his latest efforts to defend the rights of medical marijuana users, prison inmates, and undocumented immigrants, Ammiano has been a tireless advocate for those who lack political and economic power. As chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee, Ammiano has blocked many of the most reactionary tough-on-crime measures that have pushed our prison system to the breaking point, creating a more enlightened approach to criminal justice issues. We’re happy to have Ammiano expressing San Francisco’s values in the Capitol.



Once it became abundantly clear that Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting wasn’t going to get elected mayor, he started to set his eyes on the state Assembly. It’s an unusual choice in some ways — Ting makes a nice salary in a job that he’s doing well and that’s essentially his for life. Why would he want to make half as much money up in Sacramento in a job that he’ll be forced by term limits to leave after six years?

Ting’s answer: he’s ready for something new. We fear that a vacancy in his office would allow Mayor Ed Lee to appoint someone with less interest in tax equity (prior to Ting, the city suffered mightily under a string of political appointees in the Assessor’s Office), but we’re pleased to endorse him for the District 19 slot.

Ting has gone beyond the traditional bureaucratic, make-no-waves approach of some of his predecessors. He’s aggressively sought to collect property taxes from big institutions that are trying to escape paying (the Catholic Church, for example) and has taken a lead role in fighting foreclosures. He commissioned, on his own initiative, a report showing that a large percentage of the foreclosures in San Francisco involved some degree of fraud or improper paperwork, and while the district attorney is so far sitting on his hands, other city officials are moving to address the issue.

His big issue is tax reform, and he’s been one the very few assessors in the state to talk openly about the need to replace Prop. 13 with a split-role system that prevents the owners of commercial property from paying an ever-declining share of the tax burden. He wants to change the way the Legislature interprets Prop. 13 to close some of the egregious loopholes. It’s one of the most important issues facing the state, and Ting will arrive in Sacramento already an expert.

Ting’s only (mildly) serious opponent is Michael Breyer, son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer and a newcomer to local politics. Breyer’s only visible support is from the Building Owners and Managers Association, which dislikes Ting’s position on Prop. 13. Vote for Ting.


You can say a lot of things about Aaron Peskin, the former supervisor and retiring chair of the city’s Democratic Party, but the guy was an organizer. Four years ago, he put together a slate of candidates that wrenched control of the local party from the folks who call themselves “moderates” but who, on critical economic issues, are really better defined as conservative. Since then, the County Central Committee, which sets policy for the local party, has given its powerful endorsement mostly to progressive candidates and has taken progressive stands on almost all the ballot issues.

But the conservatives are fighting back — and with Peskin not seeking another term and a strong slate put together by the mayor’s allies seeking revenge, it’s entirely possible that the left will lose the party this year.

But there’s hope — in part because, as his parting gift, Peskin helped change state law to make the committee better reflect the Democratic voting population of the city. This year, 14 candidates will be elected from the East side of town, and 10 from the West.

We’ve chosen to endorse a full slate in each Assembly district. Although there are some candidates on the slate who aren’t as reliable as we might like, 24 will be elected, and we’re picking the 24 best.


John Avalos

David Campos

David Chiu

Petra DeJesus

Matt Dorsey

Chris Gembinsky

Gabriel Robert Haaland

Leslie Katz

Rafael Mandelman

Carole Migden

Justin Morgan

Leah Pimentel

Alix Rosenthal

Jamie Rafaela Wolfe



Mike Alonso

Wendy Aragon

Kevin Bard

Chuck Chan

Kelly Dwyer

Peter Lauterborn

Hene Kelly

Eric Mar

Trevor McNeil

Arlo Hale Smith

State ballot measures




Let us begin with a stipulation: We have always opposed legislative term limits, at every level of government. Term limits shift power to the executive branch, and, more insidiously, the lobbyists, who know the issues and the processes better than inexperienced legislators. The current system of term limits is a joke — a member of the state Assembly can serve only six years, which is barely enough time to learn the job, much less to handle the immense complexity of the state budget. Short-termers are more likely to seek quick fixes than structural reform. It’s one reason the state Legislatures is such a mess.

Prop. 28 won’t solve the problem entirely, but it’s a reasonable step. The measure would allow a legislator to serve a total of 12 years in office — in either the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination. So an Assembly member could serve six terms, a state Senator three terms. No more serving a stint in one house and then jumping to the other, since the term limits are cumulative, which is imperfect: A lot of members of the Assembly have gone on to notable Senate careers, and that shouldn’t be cut off.

Still, 12 years in the Assembly is enough time to become a professional at the job — and that’s a good thing. We don’t seek part-time brain surgeons and inexperienced airline pilots. Running California is complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with having people around who aren’t constantly learning on the job. Besides, these legislators still have to face elections; the voters can impose their own term limits, at any time.

Most of the good-government groups are supporting Prop. 28. Vote yes.




Seriously: Can you walk into the ballot box and oppose higher taxes on cigarettes to fund cancer research? Of course not. All of the leading medical groups, cancer-research groups, cancer-treatment groups and smoking-cessation groups in the state support Prop. 29, which was written by the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

We support it, too.

Yes, it’s a regressive tax — most smokers are in the lower-income brackets. Yes, it’s going to create a huge state fund making grants for research, and it will be hard to administer without some issues. But the barrage of ads opposing this are entirely funded by tobacco companies, which are worried about losing customers, particularly kids. A buck a pack may not dissuade adults who really want to smoke, but it’s enough to price a few more teens out of the market — and that’s only good news.

Don’t believe the big-tobacco hype. Vote yes on 29.

San Francisco ballot measures




A tough one: Recology’s monopoly control over all aspects of San Francisco’s waste disposal system should have been put out to competitive bid a long time ago. That’s the only way for the city to ensure customers are getting the best possible rates and that the company is paying a fair franchise fee to the city. But the solution before us, Proposition A, is badly flawed public policy.

The measure would amend the 1932 ordinance that gave Recology’s predecessor companies — which were bought up and consolidated into a single behemoth corporation — indefinite control over the city’s $220 million waste stream. Residential rates are set by a Rate Board controlled mostly by the mayor, commercial rates are unregulated, and the company doesn’t even have a contract with the city.

Last year, when Recology won the city’s landfill contract — which was put out to bid as the current contract with Waste Management Inc. and its Altamont landfill was expiring — Recology completed its local monopoly. At the time, Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, Sup. David Campos, and other officials and activists called for updating the ordinance and putting the various contracts out to competitive bid.

That effort was stalled and nearly scuttled, at least in part because of the teams of lobbyists Recology hired to put pressure on City Hall, leading activists Tony Kelley and retired Judge Quentin Kopp to write this measure. They deserve credit for taking on the issue when nobody else would and for forcing everyone in the city to wake up and take notice of a scandalous 70-year-old deal.

We freely admit that the measure has some significant flaws that could hurt the city’s trash collection and recycling efforts. It would split waste collection up into five contracts, an inefficient approach that could put more garbage trucks on the roads. No single company could control all five contracts. Each of those contracts would be for just five years, which makes the complicated bidding process far too frequent, costing city resources and hindering the companies’ ability to make long-term infrastructure investments.

It would require Recology to sell its transfer station, potentially moving the waste-sorting facility to Port property along the Bay. Putting the transfer station in public hands makes sense; moving it to the waterfront might not.

On the scale of corrupt monopolies, Recology isn’t Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It’s a worker-owned company and has been willing to work in partnership with the city to create one of the best recycling and waste diversion programs in the country. For better or worse, Recology controls a well-developed waste management infrastructure that this city relies on, functioning almost like a city department.

Still, it’s unacceptable to have a single outfit, however laudatory, control such a massive part of the city’s infrastructure without a competitive bid, a franchise fee, or so much as a contract. In theory, the company could simply stop collecting trash in some parts of the city, and San Francisco could do nothing about it.

As a matter of public policy, Prop. A could have been better written and certainly could, and should, have been discussed with a much-wider group, including labor. As a matter of real politics, it’s a messy proposal that at least raises the critical question: Should Recology have a no-bid, no contract monopoly? The answer to that is no.

Prop. A will almost certainly go down to defeat; Kopp and Kelly are all alone, have no real campaign or committee and just about everyone else in town opposes it. Our endorsement is a matter of principle, a signal that this longtime garbage deal has to end. If Recology will work with the city to come up with a contract and a bid process, then Prop. A will have done its job. If not, something better will be on the ballot in the future.

For now, vote yes on A.




In theory, city department heads ought to be given fair leeway to allocate resources and run their operations. In practice, San Francisco’s Department of Recreation and Parks has been on a privatization spree, looking for ways to sell or rent public open space and facilities as a way to balance an admittedly tight budget. Prop. B seeks to slow that down a bit, by establishing as city policy the premise that Coit Tower shouldn’t be used as a cash cow to host private parties.

The tower is one of the city’s most important landmarks and a link to its radical history — murals painted during the Depression, under the Works Progress Administration, depict local labor struggles. They’re in a bit of disrepair –but that hasn’t stopped Rec-Park from trying to bring in money by renting out the place for high-end events. In fact, the tower has been closed down to the public in the past year to allow wealthy patrons to host private parties. And the city has more of that in mind.

If the mayor and his department heads were acting in good faith to preserve the city’s public spaces — by raising taxes on big business and wealthy individuals to pay for the commons, instead of raising fees on the rest of us to use what our tax dollars have already paid for — this sort of ballot measure wouldn’t be necessary.

As it is, Prop. B is a policy statement, not an ordinance or Charter amendment. It’s written fairly broadly and won’t prevent the occasional private party at Coit Tower or prevent Rec-Park from managing its budget. Vote yes.


Pushing back


Dexter Cato has no right to be here.

He’s standing on the corner outside the house he bought in 1990. His four kids, still teenagers, grew up here. He was living here when his wife, Christina, passed away following a car accident in 2009. Next door is the house he grew up in, having spent all his life on Quesada Avenue, in the wide streets and residential friendliness of the Bayview.

Still, the bank says Cato doesn’t belong here anymore, evicting him when his home went into foreclosure in August 2010. Yet Cato and his community not only fought back and reoccupied the home last month, they have turned it into a community center and base of operations from which to fight other foreclosures in the area.

The house, at the corner of Quesada and Jenning, is draped with banners, such as “Banks: no foreclosures!” and “keep families in our homes!” In the rain on March 16, when they were unfurled on the property that has remained vacant for nearly two years, surrounded by neighbors and friends, Cato moved back in. It was a gamble and an act of civil disobedience. Now they feel festive; it’s been a month, and no one has shown up to tell Cato he has to leave.

It has become a home base for a who’s who list of “foreclosure fighters,” the name taken on by Cato and others who have, in recent months, gone to extreme means to prevent banks from foreclosing on their homes. There’s Vivian Richardson, who got her foreclosure rescinded after 1,400 emails to her loan servicer. There’s Alberto Del Rio, who was ignored and told that his paperwork was lost during a Kafka-esque two-year loan modification attempt, only to win a meeting with top Wells Fargo executives last month after Occupy Bernal got behind his cause. There’s Carolyn Gage, who took a cue from protesters downtown and occupied her Bayview home in November.

Those taking on the foreclosure crisis certainly have a big task ahead of them. Since the market collapsed in 2008, there have been 12,410 foreclosures in San Francisco, according to data from RealtyTrac as compiled by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). The neighborhoods with the most foreclosures are Ingleside-Excelsior/Crocker Amazon, Visitacion Valley/Sunnydale, and Bayview-Hunters Point, with more than 1,000 in each neighborhood. But the number of home foreclosures are in the hundreds in every neighborhood in San Francisco.

Despite the pandemic, many San Francisco residents say they felt distinctly alone in the events surrounding receiving notice of default.

“I’ve lived in Noe Valley since 1972,” said Kathy Galvess, an activist we spoke to Cato’s basement. “I didn’t know anybody who had been foreclosed on.”

When she got her eviction notice and, hooking up with ACCE and Occupy Bernal, faced her situation and the extent of the crisis, she wondered if her neighbors knew something she didn’t.

“I asked around the neighborhood, no one had any idea,” she said. “That’s how the banks get away with it. We suffer in silence.”

Carolyn Gage echoed that sentiment. “A while ago, foreclosure was shameful. But now it shouldn’t be. It’s happening in a systemic way, so people are getting over that shame,” she told me and several neighbors March 24 during a barbecue at Cato’s house.

This shame came in part from the illusion that the onslaught of seemingly affordable home loans from the housing bubble’s height were, in fact, affordable.

“The easy money fueled the ability for people to refinance every one or two years. A lot of people did that and just lived on it. Certain people used it, some abused it, others got caught up in it,” said CJ Holmes, a real estate broker in Santa Rosa who became interested in understanding the meanings of the crisis when the value of property she owned plummeted in 2008.

While President Bush signed on to Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008, and bailouts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continued to roll out well into the Obama presidency, foreclosures were steadily clearing San Francisco of longtime residents, not to mention property tax and home values on foreclosure-stricken blocks.

There were advocates working on the behalf of those getting evicted. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment looked into cases and worked to discern the complex chain of entitlement, talk to the right people, and try to get loans modified. HUD-certified organizations like the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC) counseled homeowners and waded through paperwork.

“The modification process takes an average of 12 months to complete,” said Jose Luis Rodriguez, a foreclosure counselor with MEDA, in an email. The loan modification process can make or break a homeowners chances of keeping their home, leaving them in what he called “purgatory.”

Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting later concluded that in 84 percent of foreclosure cases, there was some kind of faulty paperwork.

“We’d fax documents to banks and they would habitually lose documents. We’d have to fax them sometimes up to 10 times,” said Jonathan Segarra, director of communications for MEDA.

Alberto Del Rio had the same issue. During his loan modification struggle, “we kept having to sign up for a new case,” Del Rio told me. “About every three months. Generally because they lost paperwork, or paperwork wasn’t properly transmitted.”

“There was no callback on their part,” he said. “We would have to call to get updates and they would say: oh, it’s closed, you have to start over with the paperwork now.”

But this lost paperwork epidemic, an emblem of the carelessness that ran rampant through the mad expansion of the subprime mortgage industry, has more than one face. It is likely due to lost paperwork, for example, that Cato has been living in the home that is, technically, no longer his.

No one seems to have the title.

At the time of sale, it was owned by Wells Fargo. According to transaction records, the foreclosure is being serviced by American Home Mortgage Servicers; they get a portion of the money, but do not own it. According to Wells Fargo representatives, that bank is now the trustee of the mortgage, also known as the beneficiary.

ACCE has claimed that Wells Fargo “sold the house back to itself,” and that American Home Mortgage Services, the company currently servicing the loan, is a subsidiary of Wells Fargo. Ruben Pulido, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, denies this.

“That’s incorrect. American Home mortgage services is completely different and separate from Wells Fargo,” Pulido told us.

But Martinez believes that “they’re different entities in that they work separately, but they’re the main servicer for Wells Fargo, they only service for Wells Fargo.”

Calls and emails to American Home Mortgage Services went unanswered.

Last fall, as an angry mass suddenly emerged from the American public, cries of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” rang through the streets. Occupy Bernal and ACCE have had success in the city government, gaining support from Sups David Campos and John Avalos, who represent some of the hardest hit districts, helping facilitate meetings between Wells Fargo representatives and homeowners with foreclosure horror stories, with some success.

Activists also went for more civil disobedience-style tactics. These were on display Feb. 22, when dozens of supporters showed up at Monica Kenney’s Excelsior home. Kenney was in the midst of dealing with a foreclosure that didn’t seem right. She had received a forbearance agreement and made the first payment on it June 27, then was surprised to learn that, June 28, her house had been sold at auction.

“At this point I wrote Wells Fargo and I said, I have this paperwork, and I want you to honor it and rescind the foreclosure,” Kenney explained when she came to speak with us at the Guardian offices. She gave us copies of the forbearance agreement.

“Their response was, we did nothing wrong and the foreclosure will stand,” she said. “So at that point I decided I would fight to retain my home.”

After dishing out most of her savings in a lawsuit and eviction stays, the fight looked grim, and her house was slated for eviction. The plan — the last line of defense — was to simply bring as many people as possible to Kenney’s home and hope they could fend off eviction. Kenney remembers her nerves, huddled up that cold morning with veteran foreclosure fighter Vivian Richardson, worried that no one would show up.

“Then, at six in the morning, I had foreclosure fighters, neighbors, friends, Occupy Bernal, Occupy folks period, they just started showing up at the house, and just sat down, hunkered down with me and said, we’ll do whatever we can to at least dissuade the sheriff,” she recalls

It worked. And it hasn’t stopped working. Many people who have joined with Occupy Bernal and ACCE are still in their homes thanks to everything from lobbying politicians to civil disobedience. Some were evicted despite the protest movement’s best efforts but, thanks to newfound community, they avoided homelessness.

Kathy Galvess wasn’t able to keep her home, but her experience was made much more pleasant by Occupy Bernal. “Stardust got the moving truck and helped me move, out of the goodness of his heart,” she told me. “And if it wasn’t for Vivian, me and my sister would be wandering the streets in these storms we’ve been having.”

It’s that community, it’s that tireless work, it’s that victory in the midst of a sea of ongoing challenges that was celebrated at the barbecue at Cato’s house. It’s hard to know the future of the occupied home. The goal of the coalition supporting it was to keep it until April 24, the day of a Wells Fargo shareholders meeting that a large coalition of advocates are determined to shut down.

But for now, the place has become a community center and a symbol of hope and defiance. Politicians have certainly taken note. The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week urging banks to suspend foreclosures in San Francisco.

“It’s great,” Cato said. “That’s what the house is useful for right now. Everyone’s coming in and asking, how can we be a part of this, how can we help.”

Activists hope to turn resolution into real foreclosure suspension


On April 10, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling for a temporaray suspension on foreclosures in San Francisco.

The resolution “urges city contractors and all mortgage and banking institutions to suspend foreclosure activities and related auctions and evictions until State and Federal measures to protect homeowners from unfair and unlawful practices and provisions for principle reductions are in place.”

This comes after a report from Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting found that 84 percent of foreclosures in San Francisco in the past three years involved faulty paperwork and, likely, fraud.  

The resolution does not require anything, but instead urges the city to work on behalf of constituents swept up in the foreclosure crisis. 

It urges all city departments, “including but not limited to, the offices of the Mayor, the Assessor-Recorder, the City Attorney, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff, to take proactive steps and measures to ensure that the City and County of San Francisco prevents and protects its resident form illegal foreclosures, auctions, and evictions.”

“The controller is supposed to audit every case beyond what was in Phil Ting’s report. Based on that information the glaring illegal activity for the banks, the district attorney and city attorny should sue the banks and file an injunction to stop foreclosures. I think those are some of the steps we could take,” said Julien Ball, an anti-foreclosure activist with Occupy Bernal

The resolution also “urges the Mayor to direct…our city lobbyists in the California State Capital to prioritize support for California Homeowners Bill of Rights state bills.”

This series of bills, proposed by state attorney general Kamala Harris, would include efforts to stop dual tracking- when homeowners still in the process of a loan modification are simultaneously tracked for foreclosures. The package also includes a ban on robosigning and other practices that can constitute fraud in foreclosure proceedings. 

Sups. Avalos and Campos sponsored the resolution, and Kim, Mar, Olague and Cohen co-sponsored. 

Occupy Bernal’s goal remains a city-wide moratorium on foreclosure, and towards that end, the resolution represents an important step.  It puts San Francisco on record as being against unfair foreclosures and related evictions,” said Ball, “and its something we can use to put pressure on the banks and public officials to act.”

“That involves exposing and shaming banks through public protests, blasting them with phone calls, calling out their board members, its necessary if we have to stand in front of somebody’s home to stop them from being evicted we’ll do that to,” said Ball.

They plan to escalate these tactics April 24, when a coalition of groups has declared that it will “shut down” an April 24 Wells Fargo shareholders meeting in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s loss


San Francisco is increasingly losing its working and creative classes to the East Bay and other jurisdictions — and with them, much of the city’s diversity — largely because of policy decisions that favor expensive, market-rate housing over the city’s own affordable housing goals.

“It’s definitely changing the character of the city,” said James Tracy, an activist with Community Housing Partnership. “It drains a big part of the creative energy of the city, which is why folks came here in the first place.”

>>Is Oakland cooler than San Francisco? Oaklanders respond.

Now, as San Francisco officials consider creating an affordable housing trust fund and other legislative changes, it’s fair to ask: Does City Hall have the political will to reverse the trend?

Census data tells a big part of the story. In 2000, the median owner-occupied home in San Francisco cost $369,400, and by 2010 it had more than doubled to $785,200. Census figures also show median rents have gone from $928 in 2000 up to $1,385 in 2010 — and even a cursory glance at apartment listings show that rents have been steadily rising since then.

Tracy and other affordable housing activists testified at an April 9 hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on a new study by the Budget and Legislative Analyst, commissioned last July by Sup. David Campos, entitled “Performance Audit of San Francisco’s Affordable Housing Policies and Programs.”

“There’s a hearing right now at City Hall about our housing stock and how it’s been skewing upward toward those with higher incomes,” Board President David Chiu told us, noting that it is sounding an alarm that, “Creative individuals that make this place so special are being driven out of the city.”

Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan said that San Francisco’s loss has been a gain for Oakland and other East Bay cities, which are enjoying a new cultural vibrancy that has so far been largely free of the gentrifying impacts that can hurt a city’s diversity.

“You can add more people without getting rid of anybody if you do it right. Most of development is looking at places that are now completely empty like the Lake Merritt BART station parking lot, empty land around the Coliseum, and the West Oakland BART station,” Kaplan told us. “We have to commit to revitalization without displacement.”

Yet the fear among some San Franciscans is that we’ll have just the opposite: displacement that actually hinders the city’s attempts at economic revitalization. “What’s at stake is the economic recovery of the city,” Tracy said. “You can’t have such a large portion of the workforce commuting into the city.”


A big part of the problem is that San Francisco is building plenty of market-rate (read: really expensive) housing, but not nearly enough affordable housing. The report Campos commissioned looked at how well the city did at meeting various housing construction goals it set for itself from 1999 to 2006 in its state-mandated Housing Element, which requires cities to plan for the housing needs of its population and absorb a fair share of the state’s affordable housing needs.

The plan called for 7,363 market-rate units, or 36 percent of the total housing construction, with the balance being housing for those with moderate, low, or very low incomes. Developers built 11,293 market rate units during that time, 154 percent of what was needed and 65 percent of the total housing construction. There were only 725 units built for those with moderate incomes (just 13 percent the goal) and just over half the number of low-income units needed and 83 percent of the very low-income goal met.

“We have to do a better job of monitoring and evaluating each project,” Chiu said. “Every incremental decision we make determines whether this will be a city for just the wealthy.”

The situation for renters is even worse. From 2001-2011, the report showed there were only 1,351 rental units built for people in the low to moderate income range, people who make 50-120 percent of the area median income, which includes a sizable chunk of the working class living in a city where about two-thirds of residents rent.

“The Planning Commission does not receive a sufficiently comprehensive evaluation of the City’s achievement of its housing goals,” the report concluded, calling for the planners and policymakers to evaluate new housing proposals by the benchmark of what kind of housing the city actually needs. Likewise, it concluded that the Board of Supervisors isn’t being regularly given information it needs to correct the imbalance or meet affordable housing needs.

Policy changes made under former Mayor Gavin Newsom also made this bad situation even worse. Developers used to build affordable housing required by the city’s inclusionary housing law rather than pay in-lieu fees to the city by a 3-1 ratio, but since the formulas in that law changed in 2010, 55 percent of developers have opted to pay the fee rather than building housing.

Also in 2010, Newsom instituted a policy that allowed developers to defer payment of about 85 percent of their affordable housing fees, resulting in an additional year-long delay in building affordable housing, from 48 months after the market rate project got permitted to 60 months now.

Tracy and the affordable housing activists say the city needs to reverse these trends if it is to remain diverse. “It’s not even debatable that the majority housing built in the city needs to be affordable,” Tracy said.

Mayor Ed Lee has called for an affordable housing trust fund, the details of which are still being worked out as he prepares to submit it for the November ballot. Chiu said that would help: “I will require a lot of different public policies, but a lot of it will be an affordable housing trust fund.”


San Francisco’s problems have been a boon for Oakland.

“With much love and affection to my dear SF friends, I must say that Oakland is more fun,” Kaplan told us. “Also I think a lot of people are choosing to live in Oakland now for a variety of reasons that aren’t just about price. We have a huge resurgent art scene, an interconnected food, restaurant, and club scene, a place where multicultural community of grassroots artists is thriving, best known from Art Murmur.”

There is fear that Oakland could devolve into the same situation plaguing San Francisco, with rising housing prices that displace its diverse current population, but so far that isn’t happening much. Oakland remains much more racially and economically diverse than San Francisco, particularly as it attracts San Francisco’s ethnically diverse residents.

“We’re not looking at a situation where the people moving into town are necessarily predominantly white,” Kaplan said. “We’re having large growth in quite a range of communities, including growing Ethiopian and Eritrean and Vietnamese populations…If you don’t want to live in a multicultural community, maybe Oakland’s not your cup of tea.”

According to the 2010 census, a language other than English is spoken at home in 40.2 percent of Oakland households, compared to 25.4 percent in San Francisco. “Almost every language in the world spoken in Oakland,” Kaplan said.

African Americans make up 28 percent of Oakland’s population, compared to only 6.1 percent in San Francisco, and 6.2 percent of the population of California. In San Francisco, the number of black-owned businesses is dismal at 2.7 percent, compared to 4 percent statewide and 13.7 percent in Oakland. The census also finds that 25.4 percent Oaklanders are people of Latino origin, compared to San Francisco at 15.1 percent and 37.6 percent statewide. San Francisco is 33.3 percent Asian, compared to Oakland at 16.8 percent and all of California at 13 percent.

Both cities are less white than California as a whole; the state’s white population is 57.6 percent, compared to 34 percent in Oakland and 48.5 percent in San Francisco.

Gentrification shows its face differently depending on the neighborhood. Some say Rockridge, a trendy Oakland neighborhood where prices have recently increased, has gone too far down the path.

“Rockridge has been ‘in’ for a long time, but the prices are staggering and it isn’t as interesting any more,” Barbara Hendrickson, an East Bay real estate agent, told us.

The nationwide foreclosure crisis didn’t spare Oakland and may have sped up its gentrification process. “The neighborhoods are being gentrified by people who buy foreclosures and turn them into sweet remolded homes,” observed Hendrickson.

Yet Kaplan said many of these houses simply remain vacant, driving down values for surrounding properties and destabilizing the community. “I think we need a policy where the county doesn’t process a foreclosure until the bank has proven that they own the note,” said Kaplan, who mentioned that the city has had some success using blight ordinances to hold banks accountable for the empty buildings.

And as if San Francisco didn’t have enough challenges, Kaplan also noted another undeniable advantage: the weather. “The weather is really quite something,” she said. “I have days with a meeting in San Francisco and I always have to remember to bring completely different clothing. Part of why I wanted to live in California was to be able to spend more time outdoors, be healthy, bicycle, things like that. So that’s pretty easy to do over here in Oakland.”