In the transgender community, to have full-time work is to be in the minority. In fact, a new survey of 194 trans people conducted by the Transgender Law Center (TLC), with support from the Guardian, found that only one out of every four respondents has a full-time job. Another 16 percent work part-time.

What’s more, 59 percent of respondents reported an annual salary of less than $15,333. Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.

In other words, more than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that 40 percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

TLC doesn’t claim the study is strictly scientific — all respondents were identified through trans organizations or outreach workers. But the data give a fairly good picture of how hard it is for transgender people to find and keep decent jobs, even in the city that is supposed to be most accepting of them.

It’s been more than a decade since San Francisco expanded local nondiscrimination laws to cover trans people, but transphobic discrimination remains rampant. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they’ve experienced some form of employment discrimination.

And interviews show that job woes are hardly straightforward.

Navigating the job-application process after a gender transition can be extraordinarily difficult. Trans people run up against fairly entrenched biases about what kind of work they’re suited for. Sometimes those who are lucky enough to find work can’t tolerate insensitive, or even abusive, coworkers.

Marilyn Robinson turned tricks for almost 20 years before she decided to look for legal employment. She got her GED and, eventually, a job at an insurance company. The first six months went OK, but then a supervisor "thought he had the right to call me RuPaul," she told us. "And I look nothing like RuPaul." Suddenly the women in the office refused to use the bathroom if Robinson was around. She left within a month.

Once again, Robinson was on the job hunt. She interviewed for a receptionist position, and thought it went well. But on her way out, she saw the interviewer toss her application into the trash with a giggle.

"The reality is, even a hoagie shop in the Castro — they might not hire you," she said.

Still, many activists say the increased attention being paid to trans employment issues is promising.

Cecelia Chung from the Transgender Law Center told us there’s a "silver lining" in the effort the "community is putting into really changing the playing field. We’re in a really different place than we were five years ago."

Activists say true progress will require broad education efforts and the cooperation of business owners throughout the Bay Area. But the project is well under way, with San Francisco Transgender Empowerment, Advocacy and Mentorship, a trans collaborative, hosting its second annual Transgender Job Fair March 22. More than a dozen employers have signed up for the fair, including UCSF, Goodwill Industries, and Bank of America.


Imagine trying to find a job with no references from previous employers. Now envision how it might feel to have interviewer after interviewer look at you askance — or even ask if you’ve had surgery on a fairly private part of your body.

These are just a couple of the predicaments trans job-seekers face.

Kenneth Stram runs the Economic Development Office at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. "In San Francisco there are the best intentions," he told us. "But when you scratch the surface, there are all these procedural hurdles that need to be addressed." As examples, he pointed to job-training classes where fellow students may act hostile, or arduous application processes.

Giving a prospective employer a reference may seem like a fairly straightforward task, but what if your old employer knew an employee of a different gender? Do you call the old boss and announce your new identity? Even if he or she is supportive, experience can be hard to erase. Will the manager who worked with Jim be able to speak convincingly about Jeanine? And what about your work history — should you eliminate the jobs where you were known as a different gender?

Most trans people can’t make it through the application process without either outing themselves or lying.

Marcus Arana decided to face this issue head-on and wrote about his transition from living as a woman to living as a man in his cover letter.

"It became a matter of curiosity," Arana told us. "I would have employers ask about my surgical status."

It took him a year and a half to find a job. Fortunately, it’s one he loves. Arana investigates most complaints of gender identity–related discrimination that are made to San Francisco’s city government. (Another investigator handles housing-oriented complaints.)

When he started his job, in 2000, about three quarters of the complaints Arana saw were related to public accommodations — a transwoman had been refused service at a restaurant, say, or a bank employee had given a cross-dressing man grief about the gender listed on his driver’s license.

Today, Arana told us, at least half of the cases he looks into are work-related — something he attributes to both progress in accommodations issues and stagnation on the job front.

TG workers, he said, confront two common problems: resistance to a changed name or pronoun preference and controversy over which bathroom they use.

The name and pronoun problems can often be addressed through sensitivity training, though Arana said that even in the Bay Area, it’s not unheard of for some coworkers to simply refuse to alter how they refer to a trans colleague.

Nine out of ten bathroom issues concern male-to-female trans folk — despite the fact that the police department has never gotten a single report of a transwoman harassing another person in a bathroom. One complaint Arana investigated involved a woman sticking a compact mirror under a bathroom stall in an effort to see her trans coworker’s genitalia.

But a hostile workplace is more often made up of dozens of subtle discomforts rather than a single drama-filled incident.

Robinson told us the constant whispering of "is that a man?" can make an otherwise decent job intolerable: "It’s why most of the girls — and I will speak for myself — are prostitutes. Because it’s easier."

The second and third most common forms of work-related discrimination cited by respondents in the TLC survey were sexual harassment and verbal harassment.

But only 12 percent of those who reported discrimination also filed some kind of formal complaint. That may be because of the widespread feeling that doing so can make it that much harder to keep a job — or find another one. Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, DC, said that "it’s a common understanding within the transgender community that when you lose your job, you generally lose your career."


Most of the trans people we spoke to expressed resentment at being tracked into certain jobs — usually related to health care or government.

Part of that is because public entities have been quicker to adopt nondiscriminatory policies. San Francisco city government created a splash in 2001 when it granted trans employees access to full health benefits, including sex-reassignment surgery. The University of California followed suit last year.

But it’s also because of deeply ingrained prejudices about what kind of work transgender people are suited to.

Claudia Cabrera was born in Guatemala but fled to the Bay Area in 2000 to get away from the constant insults and occasional violence that befell her. Despite her education in electrical engineering and business and 13 years of tech work, it was difficult for her to find a job — even after she was granted political asylum. In 2002 a local nonprofit she had originally turned to for help offered her a position doing outreach within the queer community.

Cabrera doesn’t make much money, and she sends some of it back to her two kids in Guatemala. But that’s not the only reason she would like another job. She wants to have broader responsibilities and to employ her tech savvy.

"There is a stereotype here in San Francisco [that] transgender folk are only good for doing HIV work — or just outreach in general," she said.

Whenever she’s gotten an interview for another kind of job, she’s been told she is overqualified. Does she believe that’s why she hasn’t been hired? "No," she laughed. But she also acknowledged, "Even though there is discrimination going on here, this is the safest city for me to be in."

Cabrera is now on the board of TLC and is working to create more job opportunities for herself and others in the trans community. She often repeats this mantra: "As a transsexual woman, I am not asking for anything that doesn’t belong to me. I am demanding my rights to live as a human being." *


March 22

1–4 p.m.

SF LGBT Community Center, Ceremonial Room

1800 Market, SF

(415) 865-5555






Preserving affordable housing

It is a pity the San Francisco Bay Guardian published a narrow-minded article about the National Farm Workers Service Center ["Solidarity Never," 12/23/05].

Founded in 1966 by C ésar Ch ?

In Melinda’s memory


On her very first day at Next Door, a homeless shelter that occupies a nondescript building on Polk Street, Yalaanda Ellsberry met Melinda Lindsey.

"This is my first time in a shelter," Elsberry told us recently. "And I’ve found a lot of people are very closed off." Lindsey, however, was open and friendly, and they became fast friends.

Ellsberry knew that early on Christmas Eve, Lindsey was scheduled to catch a bus to go visit relatives near Monterey. So she was surprised to see Lindsey still in bed when the overhead lights were switched on at 6:30 a.m. She shook her friend’s shoulders, trying to rouse her.

"For some reason, this particular time, I just knew to check for rigor mortis," Ellsberry said. When Lindsey’s hand moved in response, "I thought, good – get that thought out of your head, girl." But when she touched her friend’s forehead, it felt cool.

Word of Lindsey’s questionable condition spread across the fourth floor of the shelter quickly. But, said Ellsberry and other residents we interviewed, staff members were slow to react and basically left the residents to try to revive Lindsey on their own. The residents summoned a woman who was staying there who happened to be a registered nurse, and she began to perform CPR.

The nurse, who asked us not to print her name, said she was dismayed to find that none of the standard medical equipment was available – neither face masks for performing CPR nor the defibrillator paddles that can sometimes shock a person back to life after a heart attack.

Forty-three-year-old Lindsey, who had serious heart problems, was pronounced dead soon after the paramedics arrived. Her body lay on the floor, covered by a blanket, for close to two hours before being picked up by the coroner.

Several Next Door residents told us they were horrified by the shelter’s response to the emergency. The nurse said that neither of the staffers who were there "would attempt CPR. They didn’t even go anywhere near her."

Ken Reggio, executive director of Episcopal Community Services (ECS), which holds the city contract to run Next Door, said that based on everything he’s reviewed, the shelter handled Lindsey’s death just fine: "I think we had a client who was seriously ill and passed away in her sleep." He added that residents stepped in to perform CPR while a staffer phoned the paramedics, but that the shelter’s whole staff is "trained in CPR and capable of administering it."

But no matter what exactly happened on Dec. 24, Lindsey’s death has prompted some residents to band together and demand that Next Door improve its plans for dealing with medical emergencies. They have appealed to outside groups and city government for help, saying they want to be treated more humanely.

"My thing is," Ellsberry said, "I want to see a change."

.  .  .

Next Door – which used to be known by the catchy name Multi-Service Center North – is one of San Francisco’s largest homeless facilities. City officials often hold it up as a model program.

Today the shelter has room for 280 people, divided by gender, and a 30-bed "respite care" program, run in partnership with the Department of Public Health, that’s meant for homeless people with health problems. In the past couple of years, Next Door has been transformed into a longer-term shelter where residents can stay up to six months. That alone makes it more appealing than most city shelters, where beds are typically rotated every one to seven days.

Residents we interviewed said their main concern about Next Door is that it doesn’t seem equipped to handle medical emergencies. But they had significant gripes about aspects of everyday life at the shelter, including cleanliness and food. And their many and varied complaints had an underlying theme: that staffers often treat residents callously, as though they are something less than human – even when they’re dying.

"Workers here talk to us any kind of way because we’re homeless," said LaJuana Tucker, who has been living at Next Door for three months. She added that many of the people staying at Next Door are struggling with health issues but that staffers are not very understanding: "If [residents] aren’t feeling well and want to lie down, they give them a hard time."

The women we spoke with said the disparaging attitude was also apparent in the shelter’s response to Melinda Lindsey’s death.

Three days after her apparent heart attack, they told us, shelter director Linzie Coleman set up a "grief meeting." But the residents who attended say that before their grief was addressed in any way, Coleman emphasized that related complaints were to be handled internally and that residents should not take their concerns to people outside of the shelter hierarchy.

Coleman disputed their account, telling us she stopped by merely "to say that I had gotten their complaints and their complaints would be investigated."

She said first-aid kits and CPR masks are usually available throughout the shelter and just needed to be "replenished" and that staffers treat Next Door’s clientele with "dignity and respect."

"I’ve been here nine years and four months, and we’ve only had seven deaths at the shelter," she said. "And every one but this last one, the staff has done CPR."

.  .  .

Undeterred by what they say were efforts to silence them, in early January Next Door residents approached the Shelter Monitoring Committee, an oversight panel created by the Board of Supervisors, about Lindsey’s death. After taking verbal and written statements from several of them, the committee tried to gather more information from the shelter.

According to a Jan. 9 letter the committee sent to several city agencies, "We immediately contacted the Director to confirm details. Our representative was met with an unprofessional and demeaning attitude and a generally hostile response to his inquiry."

Coleman said she doesn’t understand the characterization of her response, but Diana Valentine, who chairs the Shelter Monitoring Committee, told us point blank, "We were treated very hostilely."

More important, she said that when members of her committee visited Next Door on Jan. 6, they found no first-aid kits or other medical equipment on the floors where most residents stay. When they asked staff people whether they’d been trained in CPR, she added, several said no. And in the short time since Lindsey’s death, the committee has received another complaint about a medical emergency at Next Door that "resulted in injury to the resident."

"There’s been no training, and there’s absolutely no first-aid supplies available – and this is weeks after this woman’s death," Valentine said. "We haven’t seen any changes, consequences, or accountability."

In its letter, the committee asked the Human Services Agency, the DPH, and ECS to launch inquiries into Lindsey’s death, Next Door’s general policies and conditions, and how city-funded shelters are supposed to respond to emergency situations.

Dariush Kayhan, director of Housing and Homeless Programs for the Human Services Agency, told us he’s waiting to see a final report from ECS on the Lindsey incident but that, at this point, the HSA has no reason to think anything improper occurred.

Regardless, Kayhan said, "we’re going to use what happened as a springboard," by asking the DPH to do a thorough review of the medical protocols, training, and equipment at each and every city shelter.


Enforcing a hidden anti-eviction law


As the Board of Supervisors was in the process of approving a measure to require a public hearing before converting rental units into condominiums – a measure Mayor Gavin Newsom has shamefully pledged to veto – Sup. Chris Daly told his progressive colleagues they shouldn’t be cowed by accusations that they are against home-ownership opportunities.

He’s exactly right. The city’s building new condos at a rapid clip, with more than 9,000 for-sale units in the pipeline right now, while rental units are disappearing. It’s more fair to accuse Newsom and his allies of being hostile to renters than to somehow say progressives oppose home ownership.

In fact, as Daly pointed out Jan. 10, the city isn’t even using existing tools to help tenants.

Six months ago, the San Francisco Tenants Union and Sup. Aaron Peskin unearthed a 25-year-old city law that could prevent many future condo conversions. Section 1386 of the city’s subdivision code, approved in 1981, requires city planners to reject condo conversions in which evictions or steep rent hikes have been used to clear the building for sale.

The law is a bit outdated – it requires landlords to provide only a five-year history of building occupancy. The supervisors should amend it to allow city officials to consider how a building was cleared out of tenants, whenever that occurred, and if Newsom wants to be seen as anything more than a fan of evictions and a shill for speculators, he should direct planning officials to start aggressively enforcing the law’s provisions.

That’s just one step the supervisors can take to deal with a mayor who seems unwilling to take even modest steps to slow the flood of evictions and the loss of rental housing. Newsom insists smaller condo conversions – ones involving fewer than five units – shouldn’t even be subject to Planning Commission hearings because that august body needs to save its time and energy for larger land-use issues.

So tenant activists and Peskin are pursuing with the City Attorney’s Office the possibility of requiring public notice for all condo conversions, of any size, which would give tenant activists the ability to appeal those permits to the full Board of Supervisors. It’s a good idea: If the poor, overworked planners are too busy to protect rental housing, and the supervisors want to take on the job, it will be hard for Newsom to say no.

Concrete jungle


THIS WINTER MAY kill Pokey. The HIV-positive 22-year-old lives in a tent in a city park. It’s not the best place for a man with a weakened immune system to dwell — especially not during the rainy season.

“I’ve basically given up,” says Pokey quietly, standing in the gutter of Haight Street near Stanyan.

About a year ago he had a little more hope. He had been clean and sober for six months and had graduated from a live-in drug program run by Walden House. He thought he had beaten his heroin addiction, and he began looking for an apartment. He’s lived on the streets since he was 12.

“I started looking the last three weeks I was [at Walden House],” Pokey says. Social workers and friends helped him look. “I tried day in and day out to get a place and a job. I couldn’t take it. I flipped out. From there I went all the way back down.” He is once again wrestling with heroin.

In his two years in San Francisco, Pokey estimates, he’s looked at between 30 and 40 apartments, with no success. Subsisting on $299 to $490 a month, depending on the whims of Supplemental Security Income administrators, he can’t even afford a room in a residential hotel. The smallest go for $400 to $500 a month, and there aren’t even many of those left; in the past five years the city has lost about 1,000 hotel rooms, most to demolition and renovation.

“How can I use my money on a hotel room when I’m not gonna have any money to eat?” Pokey says. “I’m supposed to eat three times a day, when I take my medicine.”

Less than 10 years ago, in 1989, the city put the number of people homeless on any given night at 6,000. Now that figure is estimated at between 11,000 and 14,000. Over the past decade homeless deaths have climbed from 16 in 1987 to 153 in 1996. A 1996 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranked San Francisco one of the five worst cities in which to be homeless; the report blamed harassing police practices.

About 3,000 shelter beds are available to San Francisco’s homeless population, including 600 in a giant warehouse on Mission Rock Road in China Basin. The Mission Rock shelter, which clients have dubbed “Prison Rock,” was opened last year in the wake of Mayor Willie Brown’s campaign to kick the homeless out of Golden Gate Park. The shelters are full or over-capacity nearly every night of the year.

“The city does nothing for families. It stands by as the affordable housing stock is destroyed,” says Sandra Stewart, project director of Families Rights and Dignity. Stewart, a mother of three who was once homeless, advocates for poor and homeless families. She says she’s seen a “mass exodus” of low-income families from San Francisco.

“Mabel Teng went on about this being the ‘year of the child’ — well, not for homeless children,” Stewart says. She’s angry that the city vetoed a $75,000 eviction-prevention program for families in a year when it had a $100 million budget surplus. According to Stewart, five years ago families could get emergency shelter on demand. Today the city’s 130 family-shelter beds are full, and the wait list stands at around 100 families. The average family on the list consists of a single parent and two children.

In the nation’s toughest housing market, the help offered by welfare programs isn’t much help at all. As of September 1997, 12,475 San Francisco families received subsidies from CalWORKS, the federally funded welfare program for families; a similar number of adults get General Assistance from the county. A family of three receives $565 a month from CalWORKS; G.A. recipients, including workfare workers, get $279 to $345. In the Bay Area $565 is barely enough to pay for a motel room — with almost nothing left for food and other necessities.

Many of those on the streets are there for want of an affordable apartment. Staffers at Youth Industry, a nonprofit that trains and employs homeless and formerly homeless young people, say that the lack of housing is the hardest problem to solve. The agency provides paid internships to 24 teens and twentysomethings, many of whom put in 40 hours a week only to sleep on the streets. According to Youth Industry managers, “very few” of the young interns have permanent housing.

“More and more of our youth are very — how do I say this? — high functioning,” says Vida Merwin, a youth service coordinator with the nonprofit. “They don’t have drug problems. They can hold a job — they’re proving it here. They have academic aspirations. But they’re forced to rely on [social] services.”

Youth Industry intern Jamie Allsup, 22, has spent most of the last three years on the streets of San Francisco. During his first three months on the job he slept in front of the Youth Industry office, using the arrival of his coworkers as an alarm clock. Since then Allsup has spent half his $800 monthly income on a residential hotel room, sharing a bathroom with 40 other residents. At the end of the month, after he’s paid his shelter, food, and old hospital bills, Allsup has $15 left — not much to put toward a deposit on an apartment. Since the hotel has no cooking facilities, he wastes money eating out every meal. As a single-room-occupancy tenant, Allsup has few guarantees that he’ll retain his room from one month to the next.

Cheeto, a mohawked 21-year-old, works at Pedal Revolution, the Youth Industry bike shop. He’s getting paid to learn to repair cycles, enthusiastically working six days a week and bedding down in parks and parking lots at night. Cheeto refuses to stay in hotels; he’s hoping to save money for an apartment in another city — maybe Oakland. Figures provided by the Department of Human Services show that the vast majority of those who get off the streets do so by leaving San Francisco.

Even in a cheaper market, Cheeto is going to have problems. He has no rental history or landlord references. He jokes about his credit record: “They could go down the street and ask everyone I know if I pay back the money I borrow.

“I don’t have any delusions about living in San Francisco unless I’m living like I am now,” he says. “This place is a playground for the rich.” 

SF’s economic future


Sometime early this spring, while most of Washington, D.C. was watching the cherry trees bloom and thinking about the impending Iran-contra hearings, a few senior administration officials began discussing a plan to help domestic steel companies shut down underutilized plants by subsidizing some of the huge costs of pension plans for the workers who would be laid off.

The officials, mostly from the Departments of Labor and Commerce, saw the plan as a pragmatic approach to a pressing economic problem. With the steel industry in serious trouble, they argued, plant closures are inevitable — and since the federal government guarantees private pension plans, some companies will simply declare bankruptcy and dump the full liability on the taxpayers. Subsidies, they argued, would be a far cheaper alternative.

But the plan elicited sharp opposition from members of the Council of Economic Advisors, who acknowledged the extent of the problem but said the proposal was inconsistent with the Reagan economic philosophy. The problem, The New York Times reported, was that “such a plan would be tantamount to an industrial policy, an approach the president has long opposed.”

For aspiring conservative politicians, the incident contained a clear message, one that may well affect the terms of the 1988 Republican presidential debate. To the right-wing thinkers who control the party’s economic agenda, the concept of a national industrial policy is still officially off-limits. In San Francisco, the ground rules are very different. All four major mayoral candidates agree that the city needs to plan for its economic future and play a firm, even aggressive role in guiding the local economy. The incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, has established a clear, highly visible — and often controversial — industrial development policy, against which the contenders could easily compare and contrast their own programs.

The mayoral race is taking place at a time when the city is undergoing tremendous economic upheaval. The giant corporations that once anchored the local economy are curtailing expansion plans, moving to the suburbs and in many cases cutting thousands of jobs from the payroll. The once-healthy municipal budget surplus is gone. The infrastructure is crumbling and city services are stressed to the breaking point.

By all rights, the people who seek to lead the city into the 1990s should present San Francisco voters with a detailed vision for the city’s economic future, and a well-developed set of policy alternatives to carry that vision out.

But with the election just three months away, that simply isn’t happening. Generally speaking, for all the serious talk of economic policy we’ve seen thus far, most of the candidates — and nearly all the reporters who cover them — might as well be sniffing cherry blossoms in Ronald Reagan’s Washington.

“San Francisco’s major challenge during the next 15 years will be to regain its stature as a national and international headquarters city. This is crucial to the city because much of its economy is tied to large and medium-sized corporations….The major source of San Francisco’s economic strength is visible in its dramatic skyline of highrise office buildings.”

—San Francisco: Its economic future

Wells Fargo Bank, June 1987

“In San Francisco, you have the phenomenon of a city losing its big-business base and its international pretensions — and getting rich in the process.”

—Joel Kotkin, Inc. Magazine, April 1987



IN MUCH OF San Francisco’s news media and political and business establishment these days, the debate — or more often, lament — starts with this premise: San Francisco is in a bitter competition with Los Angeles. At stake is the title of financial and cultural headquarters for the Western United States, the right to be called the Gateway to the Pacific Rim. And San Francisco is losing.

The premise is hard to deny. If, indeed, the two cities are fighting for that prize, San Francisco has very nearly been knocked out of the ring. Just a few short years ago, San Francisco’s Bank of America was the largest banking institution in the nation. Now, it’s third — and faltering. Last year, First Interstate — a firm from L.A. — very nearly seized control of the the company that occupies the tallest building in San Francisco. The same problems have, to a greater or lesser extent, beset the city’s other leading financial institutions. A decade ago, San Francisco was the undisputed financial center of the West Coast; today, Los Angeles banks control twice the assets of banks in San Francisco.

It doesn’t stop there. Los Angeles has a world-class modern art museum; San Francisco’s is stumbling along. The Port of San Francisco used to control almost all of the Northern California shipping trade; now it’s not even number one in the Bay Area (Oakland is). Looking for the top-rated theater and dance community west of the Rockies? San Francisco doesn’t have it; try Seattle.

Even the federal government is following the trend. A new federal building is planned for the Bay Area, but not for San Francisco. The building — and hundreds of government jobs — are going to Oakland.

In terms of a civic metaphor, consider what happened to the rock-and-roll museum. San Francisco, the birthplace of much of the country’s best and most important rock music, made a serious pitch for the museum. It went to Cleveland.

For almost 40 years — since the end of World War II — San Francisco’s political and business leaders have been hell-bent on building the Manhattan Island of the West on 49 square miles of land on the tip of the Peninsula. Downtown San Francisco was to be Wall Street of the Pacific Rim. San Mateo, Marin and the East Bay would be the suburbs, the bedroom communities for the executives and support workers who would work in tall buildings from nine to five, then head home for the evening on the bridges, freeways and an electric rail system.

If the idea was to make a few business executives, developers and real estate speculators very rich, the scheme worked well. If the idea was to build a sound, firm and lasting economic base for the city of San Francisco, one could certainly argue that it has failed.



NOT EVERYONE, however, accepts that argument. Wells Fargo’s chief economist, Joseph Wahed, freely admits he is “a die-hard optimist.” San Francisco, he agrees, has taken its share of punches. But the city’s economy is still very much on its feet, Wahed says; he’s not by any means ready to throw in the towel.

Wahed, who authored the bank’s recent report on the city’s economic future, points to some important — and undeniable — signs of vitality:

* San Francisco’s economic growth has been well above both the national and state average during the 1980s — a healthy 3.67 a year.

* Per-capita income in San Francisco is $21,000 a year, the highest of any of the nation’s 50 largest cities.

* New business starts in the city outpaced business failures by a ratio of 5-1, far better than the rest of the nation. * Unemployment in San Francisco, at 5.57, remains below national and statewide levels (see charts).

San Francisco, Wahed predicts, has a rosy economic future — as long as the city doesn’t throw up any more “obstacles to growth” — like Proposition M, the 1986 ballot measure that limits office development in the city to 475,000 square feet a year.

John Jacobs, the executive director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, came to the same conclusion. In the Chamber’s annual report, issued in January, 1987, Jacobs wrote: “The year 1986 has been an amusing one, with both national and local journalists attempting to compare the incomparable — San Francisco and Los Angeles — and suggesting that somehow San Francisco is losing out in this artificially manufactured competition. Search as one might, no facts can be found to justify that assertion.”

Wahed and Jacobs have more in common than their optimism. Both seem to accept as more or less given the concept of San Francisco as the West Coast Manhattan.

Since the day Mayor Dianne Feinstein took office, she has run the city using essentially the policies and approach championed by Wahed and Jacobs. Before San Franciscans rush to elect a new mayor, they should examine those strategies to see if they make any sense. After nearly a decade under Feinstein’s leadership, is San Francisco a healthy city holding its own through a minor downturn or an economic disaster area? Are San Francisco’s economic problems purely the result of national and international factors, or has the Pacific Rim/West Coast Wall Street strategy failed? Is the economy weathering the storm because of the mayor’s policies, or despite them? And perhaps more important, will Feinstein’s policies guide the city to new and greater prosperity in the changing economy of the next decade? Or is a significant change long overdue?

The questions are clear and obvious. The answers take a bit more work.



SAN FRANCISCO’S economy is an immensely complex creature, and no single study or analysis can capture the full range of its problems and potential. But after considerable research, we’ve come to a very different conclusion than the leading sages of the city’s business community. Yes, San Francisco can have a rosy economic future — if we stop pursuing the failed policies of the past, cut our losses now and begin developing a new economic development program, one based on reality, not images — and one that will benefit a broad range of San Franciscans, not just a handful of big corporations and investors.

Our analysis of San Francisco’s economy starts at the bottom. Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber see the city first and foremost as a place to do business, a market for goods and a source of labor. We see it as a community, a place where people live and work, eat and drink, shop and play.

The distinction is far more than academic. When you look at San Francisco the way Wells Fargo does, you see a booming market: 745,000 people who will spend roughly $19.1 billion on goods and services this year, up from $15.4 billion in 1980. By the year 2000, Wahed projects, that market could reach $229 billion as the population climbs to 800,000 and per-capita income hits $30,000 (in 1986 dollars), up from $18,811 in 1980. Employment has grown from 563,000 in 1980 to 569,000 in 1986. When you look at San Francisco as a place to live, you see a very different story. Perhaps more people are working in San Francisco — but fewer and fewer of them are San Franciscans. In 1970, 57.47 of the jobs in San Francisco were held by city residents, City Planning Department figures show. By 1980, that number had dropped to 50.77. Although more recent figures aren’t available, it’s almost certainly below 507 today.

Taken from a slightly different perspective, in 1970, 89.17 of the working people in San Francisco worked in the city. Ten years later, only 857 worked in the city; the rest had found jobs elsewhere.

Without question, an increase in per capita income signifies that the city is a better market. It also suggests, however, that thousands of low-income San Franciscans — those who have neither the skills nor the training for high-paying jobs — have been forced to leave the city. It comes as no surprise, for example that San Francisco is the only major city in the country to post a net loss in black residents over the past 15 years.

The displacement of lower-income residents highlights a key area in which San Francisco’s economy is badly deficient: housing. San Francisco’s housing stock simply has not kept pace with the population growth of the past five years. Between 1980 and 1984, while nearly 40,000 more people took up residence in the city, only 3,000 additional housing units were built.

Some of the new residents were immigrants who, lacking resources and glad to be in the country on any terms, crowded in large numbers into tiny apartments. Some were young, single adults, who took over apartments, homes and flats, bringing five of six people into places that once held families of three or four.

But overall, the impact of the population increase has been to place enormous pressure on the limited housing stock. Prices, not surprisingly, have soared. According to a 1985 study prepared for San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth by Sedway Cooke and Associates, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 1985 was $700 a month. The residential vacancy rate was less than 17.

Housing is more than a social issue. A report released this spring by the Association of Bay Area Governments warns the entire Bay Area may face a severe housing crisis within the next two decades — and the lack of affordable housing may discourage new businesses from opening and drive existing ones away. When housing becomes too expensive, the report states, the wages employers have to pay to offset housing and transportation costs make the area an undesirable place to do business.



WAHED’S WELLS FARGO report shows a modest net employment gain in San Francisco between 1980 and 1986, from 563,000 jobs to 569,000. What the study doesn’t show is that the positive job growth statistic reflects the choice of the study period more than it reflects current trends. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Francisco experienced considerable job growth. By 1981, that trend was beginning to reverse.

According to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher David Birch, San Francisco actually lost some 6,000 jobs between 1981 and 1985. The study, commissioned by the Bay Guardian, showed that the decline occurred overwhelmingly to large downtown corporations — the firms upon which the Pacific Rim strategy was and is centered. Since 1981, those firms have cost the city thousands of jobs. (See The Monsters that Ate 10,000 jobs, Bay Guardian DATE TKTKTK).

Some of the firms — B of A, for example — were victims of poor management. Some, like Southern Pacific, were caught in the merger mania of the Reagan years. Others, however, simply moved out of town. And no new giants moved in to take their places.

What drove these large employers away? Not, it would appear, a lack of office space or other regulatory “obstacles” to growth: Between 1980 and 1985, San Francisco underwent the largest building boom in its history, with more than 10 million square feet of new office space coming on line. In fact, the city now has abundant vacant space; by some estimates, the vacancy rate for downtown office buildings is between 157 and 207.

The decision to move a business into or out of a city is often very complicated. However, Birch, who has done considerable research into the issue, suggests in the April 1987 issue of Inc. magazine that the most crucial concerns are what he calls “quality of life” factors. Quality-of-life factors include things like affordable family housing for employees; easy, inexpensive transit options and good-quality recreation facilities and schools — and good-quality local government. In many cases, researchers are finding, companies that need a large supply of “back office” labor — that is, workers who do not command executive salaries — are moving to the suburbs, where people who are paid less than executive salaries can actually afford to live.

“Today the small companies, not the large corporations, are the engines of economic growth,” Birch wrote. “And more often than not, small companies are growing in places that pay attention to the public realm, even if higher taxes are needed to pay for it.”

For the past 20 years, San Francisco has allowed, even encouraged, massive new highrise office development, geared to attracting new headquarters companies and helping existing ones expand. In the process, some basic city services and public amenities — the things that make for a good quality of life — have suffered.

The most obvious example is the city’s infrastructure — the roads, sewers, bridges, transit systems and other physical facilities that literally hold a modern urban society together. A 1985 report by then-Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas suggested that the city needed to spend more than $1 billion just to repair and replace aging and over-used infrastructure facilities. Wells Fargo’s report conceeds that that city may be spending $50 million a year too little on infrastructure maintenance.

Some of that problem, as Boas points out in his report, is due to the fact that many city facilities were built 50 or more years ago, and are simply wearing out. But wear and tear has been greatly increased by the huge growth in downtown office space — and thus daytime workplace population — that took place over the previous two decades.

To take just one example: Between 1980 and 1984, City Planning Department figures show, the number of people traveling into the financial district every day increased by more than 10,000. Nearly 2,000 of those people drove cars. In the meantime, of course, the number of riders on the city’s Municipal Railway also increased dramatically. City figures show more than 2,000 new Muni riders took buses and light rail vehicles into the financial district between 1981 and 1984. Again, city officials resist putting a specific cost figure on that increase — however, during that same period, the Muni budget increased by one-third, from $149 million to $201 million. And the amount of General Fund money the city has had to put into the Muni system to make up for operating deficits rose by some 737 — from $59 million to $102 million.

The new buildings, of course, have meant new tax revenues — between 1981 and 1986, the total assessed value of San Francisco property — the city’s tax base — increased 767, from $20.3 billion to $35.8 billion. But the cost of servicing those buildings and their occupants also increased 437, from $1.3 billion to to $1.9 billion. In 1982, San Francisco had a healthy municipal budget surplus of $153 million; by this year, it was down to virtually nothing.

The city’s general obligation bond debt — the money borrowed to pay for capital improvements — has steadily declined over the past five years, largely because the 1978 Jarvis-Gann tax initiative effectively prevented cities from selling general obligation bonds. In 1982, the city owed $220 million; as of July 1st, 1987, the debt was down to $151 million.

However, under a recent change in the Jarvis-Gann law, the city can sell general obligation bonds with the approval of two-thirds of the voters. The first such bond sale — $31 million — was approved in June, and the bonds were sold this month, raising the city’s debt to $182 million. And this November, voters will be asked to approve another $95 million in bonds, bringing the total debt to $277 million, the highest level in five years.

The city’s financial health is still fairly sound; Standard and Poor’s gives San Francisco municipal bonds a AA rating, among the best of any city in the nation. And even with the new bonds, the ratio of general obligation debt to total assessed value — considered a key indicator of health, much as a debt-to-equity ratio is for a business — is improving.

But the city’s fiscal report card is decidedly mixed. For most residents, signs of the city’s declining financial health show up not in numbers on a ledger but in declining services. Buses are more crowded and run less often. Potholes aren’t fixed. On rainy days, raw sewage still empties into the Bay. High housing costs force more people onto the streets — and the overburdened Department of Social Services can’t afford to take care of all of them.

What those signs suggest is that, in its pell-mell rush to become the Manhattan of the West, San Francisco may have poisoned its quality of life — and thus damaged the very economic climate it was ostensibly trying to create.

MAYOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN’S prescription for San Francisco’s economic problems and her blueprint for its future can be summed up in four words: More of the same. Feinstein, like Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber of Commerce, is looking to create jobs and generate city revenues from the top of the economy down. Her program flies in the face of modern economic reality and virtually ignores the changes that have taken place in the city in the past five years.

Feinstein’s most visible economic development priorities have taken her east, to Washington D.C., and west, to Japan and China. In Washington, Feinstein has lobbied hard to convince the Navy to base the battleship USS Missouri in San Francisco. That, she says, will bring millions of federal dollars to the city and create thousands of new jobs.

In Asia, Feinstein has sought to entice major investors and industries to look favorably on San Francisco. She has expressed hope that she will be able to attract several major Japanese companies to set up manufacturing facilities here, thus rebuilding the city’s manufacturing base and creating jobs for blue-collar workers.

Neither, of course, involves building new downtown highrises. But both are entirely consistent with the Pacific Rim strategy — and both will probably do the city a lot more harm than good.

Feinstein’s programs represent an economic theory which has dominated San Francisco policy-making since the end of World War II. In those days, the nation’s economy was based on manufacturing — iron ore from the ground became steel, which became cars, lawn mowers and refrigerators. Raw materials were plentiful and energy was cheap.

By the early 1970s, it was clear that era was coming to a close. Energy was suddenly scarce. Resources were becoming expensive. The economy began to shift gears, looking for ways to make products that used less materials and less energy yet provided the same service to the consumer.

Today, almost everyone has heard of the “information age” — in fact, the term gets used so often that it’s begun to lose its meaning. But it describes a very real phenomenon; Paul Hawken, the author of The Next Economy, calls it “ephemeralization.” What is means is that the U.S. economy is rapidly changing from one based manufacturing goods to one based on processing information and providing services. In the years ahead, the most important raw materials will be ideas; the goal of businesses will be to provide people with useful tools that require the least possible resources to make and the least possible energy to use.

In the information age, large companies will have no need to locate in a central downtown area. The source of new jobs will not be in manufacturing — giant industrial factories will become increasingly automated, or increasingly obsolete. The highways of the nation’s commerce will be telephone lines and microwave satellite communications, not railroads and waterways.

IF SAN FRANCISCO is going to be prepared for the staggering changes the next economy will bring, we might do well to take a lesson from history — to look at how cities have survived major economic changes in the past. Jane Jacobs, the urban economist and historian, suggests some basic criteria.

Cities that have survived and prospered, Jacobs writes, have built economies from the bottom up. They have relied on a large number of small, diverse enterprises, not a few gigantic ones. And they have encouraged business activities that use local resources to replace imports, instead of looking to the outside for capital investment.

A policy that would tie the city’s economic future to the Pentagon and Japanese manufacturing companies is not only out of synch with the future of the city’s economy — it’s out of touch with the present.

In San Francisco today, the only major economic good news comes from the small business sector — from locally owned independent companies with fewer than 20 employees. All of the net new jobs in the city since 1980 have come from such businesses.

Yet, the city’s policy makers — especially the mayor — have consistently denied that fact. As recently as 1985, Feinstein announced that the only reason the city’s economy was “lively and vibrant” was that major downtown corporations were creating 10,000 new jobs a year.

Almost nothing the city has done in the past ten years has been in the interest of small business. In fact, most small business leaders seem to agree that their astounding growth has come largely despite the city’s economic policy, not because of it. That situation shows no signs of changing under the Feinstein administration; the battleship Missouri alone would force the eviction of some 190 thriving small businesses from the Hunters Point shipyard.

San Francisco’s economic problems have not all been the result of city policies. The financial health of the city’s public and private sector is affected by state and federal policies and by national and international economic trends.

Bank of America, for example, is reeling from the inability of Third World countries to repay outstanding loans. Southern Pacific and Crocker National Bank both were victims of takeovers stemming from relaxed federal merger and antitrust policies. In fact, according to Wells Fargo, 21 San Francisco corporations have been bought or merged since 1975. Meanwhile, deep cutbacks in federal and state spending have crippled the city’s ability to repair its infrastructure, improve transit services, build low cost housing and provide other essential services.

To a great extent, those are factors outside the city’s control. They are unpredictable at best — and over the next ten or 20 years, as the nation enters farther into the Information Age, the economic changes with which the city will have to cope will be massive in scale and virtually impossible to predict accurately.

Again, the experiences of the past contain a lesson for the future. On of San Francisco’s main economic weaknesses over the past five years has been its excess reliance on a small number of large corporations in a limited industrial sector — largely finance, insurance and real estate. When those industries took a beating, the shock waves staggered San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the economic good news has come from a different type of business — businesses that were small able to adapt quickly to changes in the economy and numerous and diverse enough that a blow to one industry would not demolish a huge employment base.

But instead of using city policy to encourage that sector of the city’s economy, Feinstein is proposing to bring in more of the type of business that make the city heavily vulnerable to the inevitable economic shocks that will come with the changes of the next 20 years.

THE CANDIDATES who seek to lead the city into the next decade and the next economy will need thoughtful, innovative programs to keep San Francisco from suffering serious economic problems. Those programs should start with a good hard dose of economic reality — a willingness to understand where the city’s strengths and weaknesses are — mixed with a vision for where the city ought to be ten and 20 years down the road.

Thus far, both are largely missing form the mayoral debate.

For years, San Francisco activists and small business leaders have been complaining about the lack of reliable, up-to-date information on the city’s economy and demographics. The environmental impact report on the Downtown Plan — a program adopted in 1985 — was based largely on data collected in 1980. That same data is still used in EIRs prepared by the City Planning Department, and it’s now more than seven years out of date.

In many areas, even seven-year-old data is simply unavailable. Until the Bay Guardian commissioned the Birch studies in 1985 and 1986, the city had no idea where jobs were being created. Until SFRG commissioned the Sedway-Cooke report in 1985, no accurate data existed on the city’s labor pool and the job needs of San Franciscans.

Today, a researcher who wants to know how much of the city’s business tax revenue comes from small business would face a nearly impossible task. That’s just not available. Neither are figures on how much of the city’s residential or commercial property is owned by absentee landlords who live outside the city. If San Francisco were a country, what would its balance of trade be? Do we import more than we export? Without a huge research staff and six months of work, there is no way to answer those questions.

Bruce Lilienthal, chairman of the Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Commission, argues that the city needs to spend whatever money it takes to create a centralized computerized data base — fully accessable to the public — with which such information can be processed and analyzed.

A sound economic policy would combine that sort of information with a clear vision of what sort of city San Francisco could and should become.

What would a progressive, realistic economic development platform look like? We’ve put together a few suggestions that could serve as the outline for candidates who agree with our perspective — and as an agenda for debate for candidates who don’t.

* ADEQUATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING is essential to a healthy city economy, and in the Reagan Era, cities can’t count on federal subsidies to build publicly financed developments. Progressive housing experts around the country agree that, in a city under such intense pressure as San Francisco, building new housing to keep pace with demand will not solve the crisis alone; the city needs to take action to ensure that existing housing is not driven out of the affordable range.

Economist Derek Shearer, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a former Santa Monica planning commissioner, suggests that municipalities should treat housing as a scarce public resource, and regulate it as a public utility. Rents should be controlled to allow property owners an adequate return on their investment but prevent speculative price-gouging.

Ideally, new housing — and whenever possible, existing housing — should be taken out of the private sector altogether. Traditional government housing projects have had a poor record; a better alternative is to put housing in what is commonly called a land trust.

A land trust is a private, nonprofit corporation that owns property, but allows that property to be used under certain terms and conditions. A housing trust, for example, might allow an individual or family to occupy a home or apartment at a set monthly rate, and to exercise all rights normally vested in a homeowner — except the right to sell for profit. When the occupant voluntarily vacated the property, it would revert back to the trust, and be given to another occupant. The monthly fee would be set so as to retire the cost of building the property over it’s expected life — say, 50 years. Each new occupant would thus not have to pay the interest costs on a new mortgage. That alone, experts say, could cut as much as 707 off the cost of a home or apartment.

* DEVELOPMENT DECISIONS should be made on the basis of community needs. A developer who promises to provide jobs for San Franciscans should first be required to demonstrate that the jobs offered by project will meet the needs of unemployed residents of the city. Development fees and taxes should fully and accurately reflect the additional costs the project places on city services and infrastructure.

Land use and development decisions should also be geared toward meeting the needs of small, locally owned businesses — encouraging new start-ups and aiding the expansion of existing small firms.

* ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT programs should encourage local firms to use local resources in developing products and services that bring revenue and wealth into the city instead of sending it to outside absentee owners and that encourage economic self-sufficiency.

Cities have a wide variety of options in pursuing this sort of goal. City contracts, for example, should whenever possible favor locally owned firms and firms that employ local residents and use local resources. Instead of just encouraging sculptured towers and flagpoles on buildings, city planning policies should encourage solar panels that decrease energy imports, rooftop gardens that cut down on food imports and utilize recycled materials that otherwise would become part of the city’s garbage problem. (Using recycled materials is by no means a trivial option; if all of the aluminum thrown away each year in San Francisco were recycled, it would produce more usable aluminum than a small-to-medium sized bauxite mine.)

Other cities have found numerous ways to use creative city policies to encourage local enterprise. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example an economic development agency asked the U.S. Patent Office for a list of all the patents issued in the past ten years to people with addresses in the Twin Cities area. The agency contacted those people — there were about 20 — and found that all but one had never made commercial use of the patents, largely for lack of resources. With the agency as a limited partner providing venture capital, more than half the patent owners started businesses that were still growing and expanding five years later. Some of those firms had actually outgrown their urban locations and moved to larger facilities out of town — but since the Twin Cities public development agency had provided the venture capital, it remained a limited partner and the public treasury continued to reap benefits from the profits of the businesses that had left town.

* CITY RESOURCES should be used to maximize budget revenues. For example, San Francisco currently owns a major hydroelectric power generating facility at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. A federal law still on the books requires San Francisco to use that facility to generate low-cost public power for its citizens; that law, the Raker Act, has been honored only in the breach. That means every year PG&E takes millions of dollars in profits out of San Francisco (the company is based here, but very few of its major stockholders are San Franciscans). The last time we checked, San Francisco was losing $150 million (CHECK) in city revenue by failing to enforce the Raker Act and municipalize its electric utility system.

Meanwhile, PG&E continues to use city streets and public right-of-ways for its transmission cables at a bargain-basement franchise fee passes in 1932 and never seriously challenged. Other highly profitable private entities, like Viacom cable television, use public property for private purposes and pay highly favorable rates for the right.

Those ideas should be the a starting point, not a conclusion for mayoral debates. But thus far, we’ve seen precious little consideration of the issues, much less concrete solutions, from any of the candidates.

The mayor’s race, however, is still very much open, and the candidates are sensitive to public opinion. If the voters let the candidates know that we want to hear their visions of the city’s economic future — and their plans for carrying those visions out — we may see some productive and useful discussions yet.*

Learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube with the easiest method, learning only six algorithms.

The I-Hotel interviews


Many lives ago, I remember standing in the back hallway of the International Hotel trying to fathom why it was that this funny, run-down place with these very sad, old, alone men had become the focal point of an enormous array of the concerted power of the state, city and business interests from across the world. And it was not easy then, and it is not easy now, because we were looking at the problem of progress, in some strange sense, and the sadness of one generation, the evils of one generation, seeking redress in another generation. Most of the residents of the I-Hotel were Filipino men who had come to work in the fields of the Central Valley, and had been refused the opportunity to bring over wives or sweethearts, had stayed perhaps too long and had lost their families, lost their wives, lost their sweethearts, lost anything except their companionship with each other, and their attachment to this funny place that they called home, that was not much of a home, but it was all that they had. And so the landowners that owned that prime piece of real estate in downtown San Francisco were being chided for taking away a precious place, which they looked upon as a rundown flophouse, from people who had been cheated of their lives by other landowners, hundreds of miles away. And if there’s any lessons to be learned, it’s the lesson that we are all connected, each to the other, and that everything we do has consequences, not only for ourselves and our immediate family and friends, the people who live in our immediate neighborhood or our city or our state, but across the world, across the century.

Richard Hongisto
Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisor; former San Francisco sheriff

I think that a larger population of voters in San Francisco have begun to see — in part from the I-Hotel — that we can’t continue to Manhattanize the city without destroying our quality of life. And I think that is in part responsible for the passing of Proposition M and other efforts to control density in our city.

We just have to keep pursuing the legislative remedies to prevent the destruction of existing housing stock and replacing it with higher-density construction, and to prevent the conversion of existing low-cost housing into high-profit commercial space and so on. We’ve done some of that already, but I think we can continue to do more. One of the things we need to do is get the right person in the mayor’s office, to get the right Planning Commission in there, which is one reason I’m supporting Art Agnos, because he’s the only person in the race who supported Proposition M.

I wouldn’t let my photograph be taken knocking down a door [if I had to do it over again], because the photograph was completely misunderstood. I was knocking the door panels out of the doors, so the minimum amount of damage was done to the doors, because we were hoping we could get the tenants back in. When we started to do the eviction, the deputies from my department started to smash in the whole door and the door frame, and ruin it. And what I did was I took the sledgehammer and said no, do it like this — just knock out one door panel, and that way if the tenants can get back in, they can take one little piece of plywood and screw or nail it in over the missing door panel. So I showed them how to do it and I got photographed in the act. The photograph has been attributed that I was running around smashing down the doors in hot pursuit of the tenants, when in fact the opposite was the truth.

I think that as a result of the fact that I refused to do the eviction immediately, and then getting sent to jail and sued — I had to spend about $40,000 in 1978 out of my own pocket to defend the suit — I think we made a real effort to forestall the eviction and give the city a chance to take it over by eminent domain and save the building for the tenants. It did not work out in the end, but I’m glad that we gave it the best shot.

Brad Paul
Executive director, North of Markert Planning Association

Well, let me just start by saying that I was there the night that it happened. It was pretty horrifying to watch people, basically, that I was paying — because I’m a taxpayer and they were police officers, paid by the city — to beat people up around me, and I saw people right in front of me have their skulls split open at taxpayers’ expense, so that this crazy person from Thailand, Supasit Mahaguna, could throw all these people out of their homes.

In retrospect, we’ve learned about the important role that nonprofit corporations can play in owning houses and there was a thing called a buy-back plan, which people thought was a scam. Today, you would think of something like a buy-back plan as just a normal way of buying residential property protection. I can’t think of any residential development ten years ago owned or operated by a nonprofit corporation. Today there are lots.

The eviction — I think people paid a very dear price for that. A number of those people are dead now, and I’m sure that the threat of that eviction didn’t help. A more recent case is 1000 Montgomery. The eviction of those people, I think, led to the death of one of the older tenants there. I think that’s one of the sad losses of things like the I-Hotel and 1000 Montgomery and all of them. I don’t think government officials pay enough attention to that when they make decisions on whether or not to let somebody do these things.

But for myself, I’d have to say that there were a number of things that I was involved in ten and 12 years ago that made me decide to do the kind of work I’m doing now. And I’d say one of the single things that had the biggest effect on me was being there that night and watching that, and saying we shouldn’t allow this to happen — that we need to all see that it never comes to this again.

Quentin Kopp
State senator, third district; former member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

To me it was an unusual episode, and I’m not sure that it was a lesson of any kind. I don’t think it’s been repeated, has it? You know, I’m a believer in property rights, so it’s a difficult issue. On the other hand, I became convinced that there was genuine justification for maintaining the hotel for those who lived there and had an attachment to it. It was a collision of property rights versus feeling sorry for people who would lose their lodgings, lodgings to which they had become accustomed and attached. If I were the property owner, I would be indignant about the way the city treated me …

the tactics that were used, and the litigation — the litigation was horrendous.

Now, the broader social issue I would characterize as preservation, obviously, of low-income housing for a minority group, the Filipinos. [But] if the city had such a robust concern, sincere concern, then the proper act for the city was to condemn the property — to take it and preserve it …

for the people who lived there. But the city was not forthright, the city did not set out to do that — the city tried to strangulate the owner into doing that, by reason of, it’s what I consider a bit cutesy a legislative move — a political move.

So what have we learned? Well, I don’t think that anything has been learned, and not simply because this is sui generis (which is the Latin term for one of a kind that lawyers often employ), but because the city doesn’t have a consistent policy for preserving this kind of living space.

Richard Cerbatos
Former member, San Francisco School Board, San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals

Speaking as a Filipino American, I saw an attempt to destroy a cultural link within the Filipino-American community. It was clear there was an established community living there. The use of the hotel in that general community formed a network and a lifestyle that was identifiable for older Filipino men. The access to the cheaper restaurants in Chinatown, the ability to hang out and speak their language in pool halls — this was all proposed to be destroyed in one big demolition permit. They were in a community where some of their cultural values were intact, and the only thing that kept them intact was the fact that they were close to one another.

I think those sensitivities now are clearer to the general community. I still think there are areas of Chinatown where they’re still going to have to fight this battle….

We’re seeing this: That we can’t allow people to be displaced purely in the name of bigger and better developments, and namely, bigger and better profits. With Prop. M, we’re seeing some attempts at this, and I think the first evolution of this was the I-Hotel.

As far as my sensitivites go, my thing is, through just having lived through it, this was the first time that anyone took on the developers the way they did. There have been later battles, but that was the first one that became known to everyone city-wide. If we are going to put some control on growth, we can use these lessons.

Ed Illumin
Member, I-Hotel Tenants Association

The first eviction notice was posted in December of 1968, so we’re talking about an almost 19-year battle, here. Actually, a 19-year war, because there were little battles in between. But it comes down to the city and various segments of the Chinatown community and the developer, Four Seas, arriving at an agreement on the development for that lot that would include some replacement housing — affordable, low-income replacement housing. I mean really affordable and priority for those apartments going to former tenants of the I-Hotel, and those elderly and disabled. A number of [tenants] have died since that time, so really we’re talking about maybe a dozen or 16 people who are still around to taste the benefits of this long, long war. Some justice, even though it’s late, has arrived and I would say that we finally won the war. It was a long struggle, 19 years, but people will get a chance, if they live long enough, to move in on the 20th year, which is 1988, when the construction should be completed.

It certainly wasn’t positive for the Filipino neighborhood. There are remnants of Manilatown, but to a large extent that neighborhood was destroyed. There was a lot going on there, and the I-Hotel was the heart of the community in that area. The positive thing about it was that it kept the Financial District from encroaching into Chinatown. The Filipinos and the Chinese have had a long history of living together, co-existing, and I think it was pretty much a sacrifice of the Filipino community there to make sure that Chinatown was preserved.

Chester Hartman
Fellow in urban planning, Institute for Policy Studies; lawyer for I-Hotel Tenants Association

In a sense, I think the International Hotel, the tremendous interest and support that the eviction attempt generated over so many years, was a kind of a coalescing and symbolizing of resistance to changes in San Francisco — changes being obviously the downtown corporate world taking over the neighborhoods. I think the fact that so many people came to the aid of the hotel residents, even though they weren’t successful in preventing the eviction, was pretty much a strong building block in developing what has become an extremely strong housing movement in San Francisco, one that really has become very effective in influencing candidates and people in public office, and in getting some laws passed.

So that’s one important lesson — that sometimes victories take a while, and take different forms, but all these struggles are connected. Another, I guess, is really how long it takes to get any results — the absurdity of having a totally vacant lot there for ten years, at a time when people need housing so badly. The fact that a private developer like Four Seas is able in essence to hold on and do nothing with its land when there’s so much need for housing in the Chinatown-Manilatown area says a great deal about … the relationship of city government to private developers.

Curtis Choy
Producer, “The Fall of the I-Hotel”

About the eviction night itself — and I just have a dim recollection now — I remember being very numb, and the fact that I was hiding behind a camera made it easier, because I had something between me and the event. I think I’ve spent a lot of time getting it behind me and if I haven’t seen my own film for, say, half a year it scares the hell out of me to look at the eviction again. I feel hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

What can I say about lessons? It was almost, I shouldn’t say, it was almost worth that eviction, but I mean, that’s the only thing you can get out of something like that — I mean, basically, they killed half those guys by throwing them out.

The potential for revolution in the country was still in the back of our minds in the early ’70s. And here we were trying to use the system, trying to play ball with the system, and it sort of set us up for yuppiedom. It was sort of our last hope to get something together, and we had invested 12 years or so in the struggle. There was kind of a little mass depression that stuck, and that same kind of high energy has never come back.

Sue Hestor
Attorney, San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth

In retrospect, one of the issues that we should have raised and litigated was the lack of an adequate environmental review of the project. We’ve learned a lot since then, and I don’t want to say that people that were involved at that point made a wrong decision, but in 1987 that would be one of the first issues that would be raised.

Secondarily, I think what we learned is how the physical destruction of a building makes it very hard to keep the issue alive — after a while, the hole in the ground becomes something that has to be filled, and the focus of attention drifts away. It’s really striking how when you lose the building, it’s more than just a symbol — it’s the motivating factor in people’s lives.

Allison Brennan
Organizer, San Francisco Tenants Union

They [the city] could’ve taken the building by eminent domain and they didn’t do that — they didn’t want to do that. I mean, the issue is not so much what they could do to prevent it, but why they didn’t prevent it in the first place. And that is basically because San Francisco has very little interest in preserving low-income housing. Its interest, and the interest of most of the people from San Francisco, are in getting rid of low-income housing, “cleaning up” poor neighborhoods, and turning them into nice middle-class neighborhoods, and that’s the stated goal of most city legislation — poor people aren’t what we want.

I think that probably the most important thing that came out of [the I-Hotel struggle] was that, while we don’t have a real good situation for tenants in San Francisco, I think consciousness was raised, among at least a lot of tenants about the situation which tenants are in. And I think that to a certain extent, on a national level, the elderly are getting somewhat better consideration than they did previously.

Gordon Chin
Director, Chinatown Neighborhood Improvement Resource Center

I guess the lessons of the I-Hotel have to go back to 15 and 20 years, to the genesis of the issue. I personally think the I-Hotel symbolized a lot of very key development issues — housing issues, tenant empowerment issues — that gained a national reputation back starting in the 1960s. In some respects, it highlighted many of the particular facets of the housing problem very early on: the need to maintain and preserve existing housing; the threat of commercial and downtown developments; the encroachment into the neighborhoods; the issue of foreign investment and the role that can play in development encroachment; the critical importance of tenant organizing and tenant organization with a support base in the larger community; the need for diverse ethnic, racial, sexual, lifestyle communities to work together on an issue of mutual concern — in this case, Chinese, Filipino, white, all different kinds of people supporting the I-Hotel tenants and getting involved in the issues as they evolved over the last 15 years.The I-Hotel experience has had a positive effect on these issues in San Francisco, and probably across the country. ….

It was a very critical time for the city, and this is going back to the early ’60s, with the previous United Filipino Association, the International Tenants’ Association, the whole bit. You had a lot of environmental movement activity….

I think that’s the I-Hotel’s importance, not just what happened back then. It was the whole evolution of the issue, even after the demolition, when the focus then became — well, we’ve lost the building, but the fight must continue in terms of making sure whatever is built on the site becomes new, affordable housing — not just housing but affordable housing. And it’s culminated in the most recent development plan for the project, which has gained pretty wide-spread support. I guess part of the whole recollection, reflecting back on the ’60s in general, [is that] the I-Hotel was very symbolic of the whole movement — Vietnam, everything.*

Interviews for this story were conducted by: Nicholas Anderson, Heather Bloch, Eileen Ecklund, Mark Hedin, Craig McLaughlin, Tim Redmond and Erica Spaberg.

What are city officials and the Chamber of Commerce planning behind closed doors?


San Francisco public officials and the Chamber of Commerce have launched a new Economic Development Corporation with the stated goal of charting and guiding the city’s economic future. But although the decisions the group might make would have dramatic impacts on all of San Francisco, the agency thus far has refused to conduct its business in public.

Although several city officials serve on the EDC’s board of directors in an official capacity and the corporation will be partially funded by the city, the agency’s first meeting, July 16th, was held behind closed doors at the Chamber’s California Street headquarters. A Bay Guardian reporter was told he could not attend the meeting, and no official minutes have been published. The meeting appears to violate the Ralph M. Brown Public Meetings Act.

Paul Wright, deputy executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and acting executive director of the EDC, insisted the meeting did not fall under Brown Act guidelines.

The EDC’s board of directors, however, includes Bill Witte, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Economic Development, Rudy Nothenberg, the city’s chief administrative officer and Nancy Walker, president of the Board of Supervisors. The Brown Act defines “legislative body” as “any board, commission, committee, or other body on which officers of of a local agency serve in their official capacity as members.”

Furthermore, the new EDC receives its funding in part from the Chamber and in part from MOHED. Presently, that funding is limited to “in kind” services such as preparing presentations and clerical services. Under the Brown Act definition, a legislative body must be “supported in whole or part by funds provided by such a public agency.”

The EDC was formed jointly by the Chamber and MOHED and will be incorporated as a nonprofit in the fall of this year. According to the agenda from the July 16th planning meeting, the corporation is designed to “help retain employers in San Francisco and attract appropriate new businesses to the City” and to maintain “a close working relationship between the public and private sectors in the economic development activity of the City.”

Terry Francke, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association and an expert on the Brown Act, told the Bay Guardian that the new EDC qualifies as a “legislative body” as defined under Government Code Section 54950 and therefore any meetings the EDC holds are subject to Brown Act requirements. “If the meeting is official enough to have public officials in attendance then it’s official enough to be open.”

Supervisor Walker was invited to the meeting but could not attend due to a previous commitment, according to staff aide Jean Mariani. Mariani said Walker’s office was seeking a city attorney’s opinion on the status of the EDC and told the Bay Guardian, “Supervisor Walker is concerned with this issue. We will have the situation resolved before the next meeting.” That meeting is scheduled for September 11th.

City Attorney Louise Renne told the Bay Guardian her staff was looking into the matter.*




San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1998-10-07, v33-n01 – 01alerts

Save Ward Valley!

Wednesday, Oct. 7, the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance and the Ward Valley Coalition sponsor a protest march to save Ward Valley, sacred Indian land, endangered species, and the Colorado River from a planned nuclear waste dump. Noon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne, S.F. To volunteer, call Greenaction (415) 566-3475, BAN Waste (415) 752-8678, or the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe/Colorado River Native Nations Alliance (760) 629-4591.

‘Critical Video’

Thursday, Oct. 8, The Bay Area Video Activist Network sponsors “Critical Video,” an evening of videos about the rapid growth of the prison-industrial complex and how people are resisting. The feature presentation will be Lockdown USA, a production of Deep Dish Television. 8:30 p.m., Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, S.F. $5 requested donation but no one turned away. (415) 824-3890.

School board
candidates forum

Thursday, Oct. 8, Parent Advocates for Youth sponsor a Board of Education forum to find out where candidates stand on issues like fiscal oversight, school safety, and privatization. All 13 candidates have been invited to participate. 7 p.m., California State Building, 505 Van Ness, S.F. (415) 641-4362.

Clinton exposed

Friday, Oct. 9, Compañeros del Barrio and Socialist Action present “10 Real Reasons to Oppose the Clinton Presidency.” 7:30 p.m., 3425 Cesar Chavez, S.F. $3 donation; $1.50 for students, unemployed people, and retirees. (415) 821-0458.

‘The Last Front’

Friday, Oct. 9–Sunday, Oct. 11, students, educators, and activists gather at S.F. State to learn about and organize against the privatization of public institutions, including the police, welfare, housing, government, public education, and prisons. The program begins on Friday with “tours of the privatizing campus” and continues all weekend with panels, workshops, and exhibits. San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway, S.F. To register, call (415) 826-2850, e-mail lastfront@mailexcite.com, or visit userwww.sfsu.edu/~wolfsonj/welcome.htm

Protest privatization

Friday, Oct. 9, in conjunction with “The Last Front” conference, a protest of the corporatization of public education is being held outside the Marriot, where Steve Forbes, Pete Wilson, and Milton Friedman will be among legislators and business executives meeting to discuss corporate America’s agenda. 5:30 p.m., Marriott Hotel, 55 Fourth St., S.F. (415) 826-2450.

Fundraiser for Prop. G

Saturday, Oct. 10, the Queer Tenants Union, in conjunction with Housing for All, hosts a benefit for Proposition G, featuring Karlin Lotney, a.k.a. Fairy Butch, Joan Jett-Blakk, Joel Tan, author of Queer Papi Porn, and Reginald Lamar, singer and performance artist. 7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Community Church, 150 Eureka, S.F. (415) 552-6031.

Bad Business

Saturday, Oct. 10, Economic Justice Now!, POCLAD, and the Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community host a conversation with Richard Grossman, codirector of the Program on Corporations, on “Reckoning with the Corporate Insurgency Against Democracy.” 7 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin, S.F. $812 sliding scale, no one turned away. (510) 601-5512. 

Mail Alerts to the Bay Guardian, 520 Hampshire, S.F., CA 94110; fax to (415) 255-8762; or e-mail cassi@sfbg.com. Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to publication date. Call (415) 255-3100, ext. 552, for more information. For more events, see the Benefits listings in the Calendar section or visit the Bay Guardian Action Network on the Web at sfbg.com/action/.