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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dropbox employee responds “over a year.”

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

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

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

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

Suffice to say, less neighborhood folks play there now. 

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

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

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

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

She also shared this image of Mission Playground signage:


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

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

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

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

Alerts: July 16 – 22, 2014




Comedy and music fundraiser for David Campos

El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. 7-9pm, $7 minimum donation requested. This is a fundraising event for California Assembly candidate David Campos, featuring comedians Yayne Abeba, Frankie Quinones, Steve Lee and Lisa Geduldig; and music by Candace Roberts (and Larisa Migachyov); and Dr Loco y Sus Cuates (featuring The Pena Goveas, Tomas Montoya and Francisco Herrera). El Rio will match and donate $7 for the first 75 tickets.



Laborfest: FilmWorks United International Working Class Film Festival

518 Valencia, SF. 7-9pm, free. LaborFest was established to institutionalize the history and culture of working people in an annual cultural, film and arts festival. This screening will feature four short films. The Plundering, by Oliver Ressler, documents extreme privatization during the transformation of the former Soviet republic Georgia towards independence and capitalism. Made In The USA, Tom Hudak’s Plan to Cut Your Wages, by Bill Gillespie, exposes the ideology of “open shop” states that seek to prevent unionization. Judith: Portrait of a Street Vendor, by Zahidi Pirana, tells the story of one of the thousands of immigrant workers in major U.S. cities who make their living as street vendors. High Power, by Pradeep Indulkar, offers a glimpse into the lives of workers at India’s Tarapur nuclear power plant, built 50 years ago in a poor rural community.




Fourth Annual San Francisco Living Wage Awards Dinner

SEIU 1021 Hall, 350 Rhode Island, SF. 6:30pm, $35 in advance; $50 at the door. In addition to dinner and cultural performances, this event will honor activist and San Francisco Labor Council board member Maria Guillen as Labor Woman of the Year, and Allan Fisher, activist with AFT Local 2121 and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, as Labor Man of the Year.



Meeting: Mayhem in Iraq and the U.S. Role

New Valencia Hall, 747 Polk, SF. 1pm, free. $8 donation requested for brunch, served at 12:15pm. Hosted by the Bay Area Freedom Socialist Party, this forum will explore questions on the latest turn of events in Iraq. What are the factors behind the new crisis? What responsibility does the U.S. bear, given the interests of oil and armament industries in the Middle East? Does the massive damage from the first Gulf War impact the current situation? What can we do to help? Bring your ideas and participate in this lively discussion.

Events: July 2 – 8, 2014


Listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Selector.


Jean Kwok Book Passage, 1 Ferry Bldg, SF; 6pm, free. The author discusses her new novel, Mambo in Chinatown.

Craven Rock Long Haul Info Shop, 3124 Shattuck, Berk; 7pm, free. The author reads from cultural-studies tome Days and Nights in a Dark Carnival. Yes, it’s about Juggalos.

Judy Wells and Dale Jensen Books Inc, 1344 Park, Alameda; (510) 522-2226. 7pm, free. The poets read as part of the Last Word Reading Series, followed by an open mic.


“Target Independence Day Celebration” Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond; 6:30pm, free. Oakland East Bay Symphony performs patriotic works to celebrate Independence Day, followed by a fireworks display.


Fourth of July at the Berkeley Marina Berkeley Marina, 201 University, Berk; Noon-10pm, $15. Family-friendly fun with live entertainment, pony rides, arts and crafts, and fireworks (9:30pm).

July 4th Festival of Family Fun Jack London Square, Broadway and Embarcadero, Oakl; 11am-4pm, free. Fun activities for families including a petting zoo, balloon artists, face paint, bubble wrangling, and more.

Pier 39 Fourth of July Pier 39, SF; Noon, free. The family-friendly fun begins at noon with live music from the USAF Band of the Golden West, followed by Tainted Love. At 9:30pm, enjoy the traditional fireworks display over the bay.


Fillmore Jazz Festival Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy, SF. 10am-6pm, free. Also Sun/6. The largest free jazz fest on the West Coast fills 12 blocks with music, arts and crafts, gourmet food, and more.

LaborFest 2014 Redstone Building, 2940 16th St, SF; 11am-5pm, free. Street fair in honor of the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Labor Temple. Also today: Noon, meet at 518 Valencia, SF. Free. Labor bike tour with Chris Carlsson (ends at Spear and Market). 2pm, meet at Harry Bridges Plaza Tower, Embarcadero at Market, SF. Free. SF General Strike walk led by retired ILWU longshoreman Jack Heyman and others. 7pm, ILWU Local 34 Hall, 801 Second St, SF. Donations accepted. “FilmWorks United” screening of Miners Shot Down (Desai, 2014).


LaborFest 2014 First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin, SF; 9:30am, free. “Working Class Housing, Ethnic Housing: Hunters Point and Bayview” panel discussion. Also today: 9:45am, meet at Coit Tower entrance, One Telegraph Hill, SF. Free. Coit Tower mural walk with Peter O’Driscoll, Gray Brechin, and Harvey Smith. 11am, meet at 18th St and Tennessee, SF. Free. Dogpatch and Potrero Point walk with Nataly Wisniewski of SF City Guides. Noon, meet at One Market St, SF. Free. Labor history and Market St. walk with Chuck Schwartz of SF City Guides. 2pm, Bird and Beckett Bookstore, 653 Chenery, SF. Free. Author Zeese Papanikolas discusses the Ludlow Massacre. 7pm, 518 Valencia, SF. Free. “Labor, Privatization, and How to Defend Public Education” discussion.

Temescal Street Fair Telegraph between 40th and 51st Sts, Oakl; Noon-6pm, free. Three food courts and multiple stages showcasing local performers (including an entire stage just for kids with magicians, jugglers, and more), plus 150 booths with local crafts, artworks, and more.


LaborFest 2014 Meet at Portsmouth Square, Washington St, SF; 10am, free. Chinatown walk with Mae Schoeing of SF City Guides. Also today: 7pm, Bird and Beckett Bookstore, 653 Chenery, SF. Free. Poetry reading by Nellie Wong and Alice Rogoff.


LaborFest 2014 Meet at the corner of Stockton and Maiden Lane, SF; 10am, free. “Rising Steel: Two Centuries of San Francisco Architecture” walking tour. Also today: 6-9pm, Pacific Media Workers Guild, 433 Natoma, SF. Free. “Méndez Rising: Spotlight on the Revolutionary Works of an Artist for Social Justice,” tribute to the art of Leopoldo Méndez. *


Guardian endorsements




Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.



There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.

For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.

But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.



Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.

Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.



Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.

We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.



The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.

Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.



While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.

While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.



Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.



We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.

More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.



This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.

As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.



Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.

But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.



The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.

It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.

Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.

But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.

Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.

We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.



Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.

Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.



Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.

Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.



This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.

Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).



Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.



As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.

All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.



Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.

Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.



This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.

Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.

Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.

But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.



Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.

Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.



Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.

Alerts: April 23 – 29, 2014




SF Public Defender’s Justice Summit

Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library. 30 Grove, SF. 9am-3pm, free. The Jury Is Out: The San Francisco Public Defender’s Justice Summit is a free public event exploring today’s most compelling criminal justice issues. Speakers will include San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Nell Bernstein, author of Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated, Quentin Kopp, retired judge and former San Francisco supervisor, and more. The keynote speaker will be Gloria Killian, who was unjustly convicted of masterminding the 1981 robbery and murder of an elderly man and exonerated in 2002. Today, Killian is an attorney and the author of Full Circle: A True Story of Murder, Lies and Vindication.




Forum on economic inequality

Unitarian Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin, SF. 7-9pm, free. San Francisco now ranks as the second most economically unequal city in the country. Tech companies get tax incentives. Rents rocket. So what’s next? Join Tim Redmond, editor of 48 Hills and past editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, to discuss this critical question.



Postal workers against privatization

Staples, 1700 Van Ness Avenue, SF. U.S. Postal Service workers unite again in an effort to combat the growing tide of privatization. The U.S. Postal Service and office-supply retail chain Staples have cut a deal that will replace some full-service post offices with smaller centers inside Staples stores — not staffed by USPS employees. Thus, postal service union members are organizing a national day of action targeting Staples stores nationwide.




Poetry against displacement

Manilatown Heritage Foundation, 868 Kearny, SF. 6-8pm, $5. In the spirit of activists Al Robles and Bill Sorro, the Manilatown Heritage Foundation invites you the community to join poets and musicians as they speak out against eviction and displacement in San Francisco. This event will honor tenants who are fighting eviction in San Francisco with poetry and music. Poets/Performers include: Alejandro Murguia, Avotcja, Caroline Calderon, Luta Candelaria, Luis J. Rodriguez, Jorge Argueta, Oscar Penaranda, Lou Syquia, James Tracy, Rupert Estanislao, Michael Warr, Po’ Poets of POOR Magazine, Marvin K. White, Neeli Cherkovski, Alan Kaufman, Genny Lim, Pete Yamamoto, Jack Hirschman, Agneta Falk, Pearl Ubungen, E Bone 415, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, and more.




California on fire: climate chaos, inequality, urban transformation

McCone Hall, UC Berkeley campus, Berk. 9am-5:30pm, free. Registration required. This daylong annual conference of the California Studies Association will examine fire from a wide variety of perspectives. How is it linked to climate change? Insurance policies? Real-estate prices? Join a wide array of academic experts for what promises to be a day of fascinating discussion.




People’s Park 45th Anniversary

Celebration People’s Park, 2556 Haste, Berk. noon-6pm, free. Join the celebration of People’s Park’s 45th anniversary with live music, speakers, dancing, drumming, free food courtesy of Food Not Bombs and more — all in honor of one of the world’s most unique social experiments.

Report details how brown and black communities are decimated, step by step


Gentrification is a word so oft-used in conversations about San Francisco that it’s easy to forget what it means.

A report released yesterday by the advocacy group Causa Justa/Just Cause titled “Development Without Displacement” breaks down gentrification into a set of digestible, understandable policy decisions, while identifying which communities even now are still at risk of displacement.

“This report shows that there are many reasonable policies at the local and regional levels that can help hold back the tide of gentrification and modify the worst effects of urban transformation,” said one of its authors, UC Berkeley Geography Professor Richard Walker, in a statement on its site.

The report provides many solutions, but is largely a 100-plus page tale of 20 years of the destruction of brown and black communities in San Francisco, beginning in 1990, and the ripple effects of that displacement on the people of Oakland.

The “Stage of Gentrification” map in particular details San Francisco and Oakland Neighborhoods as being in early, middle, late and ongoing stages of gentrification. Each of these classifications is determined by the population — are they susceptible to displacement? — as well as the housing market prices in the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, the Mission and the panhandle are labeled as ongoing gentrification zones, with the southern neighborhoods of San Francisco are labeled as in early stages of gentrification marked by a rise in property value.

Robbie Clark, 33, the housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, said the map details the challenges facing the Latino and African American communities today, a challenge she’s also facing herself.

“For me, I’m born and raised in Oakland, and it’s been a challenge as an adult to find stable affordable housing,” she told the Guardian. She has a huge family that used to live in Oakland right near one another. The displacement broke them up. “Everyone is spread out throughout the greater Bay Area and beyond. It used to be very normal for every weekend to have family dinners, and now that happens much less.”

In recent years she’s moved seven times as rents in both cities skyrocketed, and she was even in the process of moving again while we interviewed her. The need for the report, she said, was stark.

The findings put specific numbers to a story of loss we all know well. Between 1990 and 2011, over 1,400 Latinos left the Mission district. In the same time, white households increased by 2,900 in the Mission. In the same period, Oakland’s black population declined from 43 percent of the city to 26 percent. Many in San Francisco argue that increased affluence helps beautify neighborhoods and makes them safer, but that misses the point: the neighborhoods may be safer for newcomers, but the old residents get kicked out in the process.

The report states that outright: “While gentrification may bring much-needed investment to urban neighborhoods,” it states, “displacement prevents these changes from benefitting residents who may need them the most.”

Causa Justa Just Cause displacement report EXECUTIVE SUMMARY by FitztheReporter

A summary version of the 110 page report.

And the responsibility of these injustices should be laid squarely at the feet of neoliberal policies, the report states, including reduced public funding, privatization of public programs, relying too much on the private sector to drive economic growth, and a political system susceptible to hugely influential private corporations. 

But ultimately, Causa Justa concludes, there is still hope.

“Gentrification can be stopped!” the report states. To right the wrongs done to communities, “We also recommend policies that regulate government, landlord and developer activity to promote equitable investment, affordability and stability, and maximum benefits for existing residents.” 

Causa Justa, Just Cause, is selling the report for $25, but also includes a form for those who cannot afford it to apply for a free copy.

A high resolution version of the “Stage of Gentrification” map: 




Privatization of public housing


Like so many San Franciscans, Sabrina Carter is getting evicted.

The mother of three says that if she loses her home in the Western Addition, she’ll have nowhere to go. It’s been a tough, four-year battle against her landlord — a St. Louis-based development company called McCormack Baron — and its law firm, Bornstein & Bornstein. That’s the same law firm that gained notoriety for holding an “eviction boot camp” last November to teach landlords how to do Ellis Act evictions and sweep tenants out of rent-controlled housing.

But Carter’s story isn’t your typical Ellis eviction. Plaza East, where she lives, is a public housing project. Public housing residents throughout the country are subject to the “one-strike and you’re out” rule. If residents get one strike — any misdemeanor or felony arrest — they get an eviction notice. In Carter’s case, her 16-year-old was arrested. He was cleared of all charges — but Carter says McCormack Baron still wouldn’t accept her rent payment and wouldn’t respond to her questions.

“I was never informed of my status,” she said.

That is, until her son was arrested again, and Carter found herself going up against Bornstein & Bornstein. She agreed to sign a document stipulating that her eviction would be called off unless her son entered Plaza East property (he did). It was that or homelessness, said Carter, who also has two younger sons.

“They criminalized my son so they could evict my family,” Carter said.

McCormack Baron and Bornstein & Bornstein both declined to comment.

On March 12, Carter and a band of supporters were singing as they ascended City Hall’s grand staircase to Mayor Ed Lee’s office.

“We’re asking the mayor to call this eviction off. Another black family cannot be forced out of this city,” Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, co-founder of Poor Magazine, said at the protest.

Nearly half of San Francisco’s public housing residents are African American, according to a 2009 census from the city’s African American Out-Migration Task Force. These public housing residents represent a significant portion of San Francisco’s remaining African American population, roughly 65 percent.

Carter’s eviction was postponed, but it raises an important question: Why is a public housing resident facing off with private real estate developers and lawyers in the first place?



Plaza East is one of five San Francisco public housing properties that was privatized under HOPE VI, a federal program that administers grants to demolish and rebuild physically distressed public housing.

The modernized buildings often have fewer public housing units than the ones they replaced, with private developers becoming their managers. San Francisco’s take on HOPE VI, called HOPE SF, is demolishing, rebuilding, and privatizing eight public housing sites with a similar process.

US Department Housing and Urban Development is rolling out a new program to privatize public housing. The San Francisco Housing Authority is one of 340 housing projects in the nation to be chosen for the competitive program. The city is now starting to implement the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. When it’s done, 75 percent of the city’s public housing properties will be privatized.

Under RAD, developers will team up with nonprofits and architectural firms to take over managing public housing from the Housing Authority. RAD is a federal program meant to address a nationwide crisis in public housing funding. Locally, the effort to implement the program has been spurred by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

MOHCD Director Olson Lee has described RAD in a report as “a game-changer for San Francisco’s public-housing residents and for [Mayor] Lee’s re-envisioning plan for public housing.” Later, Lee told us, “We have 10,000 residents in these buildings and they deserve better housing. It’s putting nearly $200 million in repairs into these buildings, which the housing authority doesn’t have. They have $5 million a year to make repairs.”

Funding is sorely needed, and this won’t be enough to address problems like the perpetually broken elevators at the 13-story Clementina Towers senior housing high-rises or SFHA’s $270 million backlog in deferred maintenance costs.

But RAD is more than a new source of cash. It will “transform public housing properties into financially sustainable real estate assets,” as SFHA literature puts it.

RAD changes the type of funding that supports public housing. Nationally, federal dollars for public housing have been drying up since the late ’70s. But a different federal subsidy, the housing choice voucher program that includes Section 8 rent subsidies, has been better funded by Congress.

Under RAD, the majority of the city’s public housing will be sustained through these voucher funds. In the process, the Housing Authority will also hand over responsibility for managing, maintaining, and effectively owning public housing to teams of developers and nonprofits. Technically, the Housing Authority will still own the public housing. But it will transfer the property through 99-year ground leases to limited partnerships established by the developers.

The RAD plan comes on the heels of an era marked by turmoil and mismanagement at the Housing Authority. The agency’s last director, Henry Alvarez, was at the center of a scandal involving alleged racial discrimination. He was fired in April 2013.

In December 2012, HUD declared SFHA “troubled,” the lowest possible classification before being placed under federal receivership. A performance audit of the agency, first submitted in April 2013 by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst, determined that “SFHA is expecting to have no remaining cash to pay its bills sometime between May and July of 2013.”

Six of the seven members of the Housing Authority Commission were asked to resign in February 2013, and were replaced with mayoral appointees.

Joyce Armstrong is not a member of this commission, but she sits on the dais with them at meetings, and gives official statements and comments alongside the commissioners. Armstrong is the president of the citywide Public Housing Tenants Association, and she talked about RAD at a March 27 meeting, conveying tenants’ apprehension toward the expansion of private managers in public housing.

“Staff in HOPE VI developments are very condescending,” Armstrong said. “We’re not pleased. We’re being demeaned, beat up on, and talked to in a way I don’t feel is appropriate.”



When RAD is implemented, it won’t just be development companies interacting with public housing residents. San Francisco’s approach to RAD is unique in that it will rely heavily on nonprofit involvement. Each “development team” that is taking over at public housing projects includes a nonprofit organization. Contracts haven’t been signed yet, but the Housing Authority has announced the teams they’re negotiating with.

“We call it the nonprofitization of public housing,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

The developers are a list of the usual players in San Francisco’s affordable housing market, including the John Stewart Company, Bridge Housing Corporation, and Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Community-based organizations that are involved include the Mission Economic Development Agency, the Japanese American Religious Federation, Ridgepoint Nonprofit Corporation, Glide Community Housing, Bernal Heights Housing Corporation, and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

On March 13, when the Housing Authority Commission announced who would be on these teams, the meeting was packed with concerned members of the public. Two overflow rooms were set up. One group with a strong turnout was SEIU Local 1021, which represents public housing staff.

Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for SEIU 1021, said that 120 workers represented by the union could be laid off as management transfers to development teams, and 80 other unionized jobs are also on the line.

“They’re talking about eliminating 200 middle-class jobs,” Alexander said.

She also noted that SEIU 1021 wasn’t made aware of the possible layoffs — it only found out because of public records requests. (Another downside of privatization is that certain information may no longer be publicly accessible.)

“We’re concerned about these jobs,” Alexander said. “But we’re also concerned about the residents.”



HUD protects some residents’ rights in its 200-page RAD notice. These include the right to return for residents displaced by renovations and other key protections, but rights not covered in the document — some of which were secured under the current system only after lengthy campaigns — are less clear. In particular, rights relating to house rules or screening criteria for new tenants aren’t included.

Negotiations with development teams are just beginning. Lee said tenants’ rights not included in the RAD language would be discussed as part of that process.

“It will be a function of what is best practice,” Lee said.

But developers have already expressed some ideas about public housing policies they want to tweak when they take over. At one point, the city was considering developers’ requests to divide the citywide public housing wait-list into a series of site-specific lists. Lee says that this option is no longer on the table.

But as developers’ interests interact with local, state, and federal tenant regulations, things could get messy. James Grow, deputy director of the National Housing Law Project, says that whatever standard is the most protective of residents’ rights should apply.

Still, Grow said, “There’s going to be inconsistencies and gray areas.”

Grow said that inevitably some residents’ rights will be decided “on a case-by-case basis, in litigations between the tenant and the landlord…They’ll be duking it out in court.”

This will be true nationwide, as each RAD rollout will be different. But at least in San Francisco, “Most of the tenant protections in public housing will remain,” said Shortt. “We are trying to tie up any holes locally to make sure that there is no weakening of rights.”

Grow’s and Shortt’s organizations are also involved in San Francisco’s RAD plan. The National Housing Law Project, along with the Housing Rights Committee and Enterprise Community Partners, have contracts to perform education and outreach to public housing residents and development teams.



Just how much money will go to RAD is still under negotiation. The RAD funding itself, derived from the voucher program, will surpass the $32 million the city collected last year in HUD operating subsidies. But its big bucks promise is the $180 million in tax credit equity that the privatization model is expected to bring in.

The city will also be contributing money to the program, but how much is unclear.

“The only budget I have right now is the $8 million,” Lee said, money that is going to the development teams for “pre-development.”

Lee added that funding requests would also be considered; those requests could total $30-50 million per year from the city’s housing trust fund, according to Shortt.

To access that $180 million in low-income housing tax credits, development teams will need to create limited partnerships and work with private investors. The city wants to set up an “investor pool,” a central source which would loan to every development team.

It’s a complicated patchwork of money involving many private interests, some of whom don’t have the best reputations.

Jackson Consultancy was named as a potential partner in the application for the development team that will take over management at Westbrook Apartments and Hunters Point East-West. That firm is headed by Keith Jackson, the consultant arrested in a FBI string in late March on charges of murder-for-hire in connection with the scandal that ensnared Sen. Leland Yee and Chinatown crime figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

Presumably, Jackson is no longer in the running, although the entire transformation is rife with uncertainties.

Residents often feel blindsided when management or rules change at public housing properties. And RAD will be one of the biggest changes in San Francisco’s public housing in at least a decade.

“People are concerned about their homes. When they take over the Housing Authority property, what’s going to happen? They keep telling us that it’s going to stay the same, nothing is going to change,” said Martha Hollins, president of the Plaza East Tenants Association.

Hollins has been part of Carter’s support network in her eviction case.

“They’re always talking about self-sufficient, be self-sufficient,” Hollins said. “How can we be self-sufficient when our children are growing up and being criminalized?”

Public housing has many complex problems that need radical solutions. But some say RAD isn’t the right one. After seeing developers gain from public housing while generational poverty persists within them, Gray-Garcia says that her organization is working with public housing residents to look into ways to give people power over their homes. They are considering suing for equity for public housing residents.

“‘These people can’t manage their own stuff and we need to do it for them.’ It’s that lie, that narrative, that is the excuse to eradicate communities of color,” Gray-Garcia said. “We want to change the conversation.”

Alerts: February 5 – 11, 2014




Speaking event: After the Arab Spring 312 Sutter, 2nd Floor Auditorium, SF. 7-8pm, $15 or $5 for students. Three years ago, the Arab Spring started with a single protest in Tunisia and quickly spread across the rest of the region, bringing with it promise of a brighter future. As part of the national Engage America Series, internationally renowned blogger and professor Marc Lynch will discuss the current state of affairs in the Middle East, what’s gone wrong across the region, and what it means for the United States.




Speaking Event: Islamaphobia Holy Spirit Parish, 2700 Dwight Way, Berk. (510) 499-0537. 7pm, free. Newman Nonviolent Peacemakers and the Fr. Bill O’Donnell Social Justice Committee are honored to present Attorney Zahre Billoo, who will examine the roots of anti-Muslim hate (or Islamaphobia), the funding which makes it possible, how it overlaps with other forms of bigotry, and how best to challenge it.



LGBTQ Rally for Winter Olympics UN Plaza, 7th St and Market, SF. 11-1pm, free. Show your support for the victims of escalating fascism in Russia on the opening day of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Recent legislation from the Kremlin unfairly persecutes the LGBTQ community in Russia, with sweeping laws that repress virtually any expression of queerness. Join the rally — and stand up for people who are prohibited for standing up for themselves.  

Citywide Tenant Convention Tenderloin Community School, 627 Turk, SF. 12pm, free. The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition was formed by tenant organizations and their allies, who banded together and led the successful fight to curb condo conversions. Its mission is to organize against soaring evictions and rent increases which have resulted in the displacement of thousands of residents. Help build tenant power in SF, and participate in crafting a ballot measure to protect tenant concerns.  

Stop privatization of public goods Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission, SF. (415) 282-1908. 1-6pm, $10 donation (no one turned away for lack of funds). Veolia is a multinational corporation that works to privatize water supply, waste management, transport services, and energy. They are currently pushing for water privatization in Richmond, CA, working against unions and environmental groups. A Veolia VP was also hired to represent BART management during the recent negotiations. Educate yourself and learn more by attending this conference.

Labor protests Postal Service privatization amid deal with Staples


Bearing blue T-shirts and banners stating “Stop Staples! The U.S. mail is not for sale!” 70-plus protesters from the United States Postal Service Union, along with members of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, today [Tues/28] rallied outside the Staples store on Van Ness Avenue in opposition to USPS’s “Retail Partner Expansion Program” that began in November.

This program allows the creation of  postal counter centers in 80 Staples stores nationwide, which provide limited USPS services at the same rates as the post office. But the drawback — and a major point of contention among protesters — is that they are staffed by Staples employees, not unionized USPS workers.

The pilot program is seen as stripping jobs from postal workers and starting down a road to the privatization of the post office. This comes in a time when jobs at the USPS have been cut by 44 percent, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. This on top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection of a 26.8 percent drop between 2012 and 2022.  The protesters and affiliates, know these numbers all too well, and consider the matter all the more  imperative to allow Staples’ USPS service windows to be staffed by real postal workers.

Supporter Lynda Beigel was employed by the USPS for 33 years before retiring in 2002, and noted how the Staples counter centers could drastically affect workers locally. “Staples doesn’t pay as much as the post office, and the post office’s employees aren’t getting enough to live on in San Francisco,” she told us.

Beigel also described fear of being in competition with a private company that doesn’t have to follow the rules and regulations that burden the post office when “there is a Staples store in San Bruno right across the street from the post office,” she said, noted that she “was horrified to find there was no security for the mail, it was just sitting around.”

City College of San Francisco Professor Rodger Schott and his colleagues in the AFT stood with the USPSU members against potential privatization , stating “we support them very much because they’re, in a way, facing the same privatization threat that we are.”

Commenting on the issue of the service’s being staffed by private, non-union workers, he said, “If the postal service wanted to have its employees at Staples, we don’t have any problem with that. However we feel very strongly [opposed to] Staples taking postal [workers’ jobs] and giving people a much lower rate without any kind of bargaining process…The threat to the postal worker is very, very serious. It’s certainly a threat against minorities and the poor people of the country. The postal service has good jobs, and it’s something that we, the nation, need. We see them as comrades in a similar struggle and we will do everything we can.”

The Stapes employees themselves, looking out at the crowd from an almost empty store, were sworn to silence, and would only reveal the number to a corporate public relations office, where we left a message and we’re still awaiting a response.

Like the post office, Staples is also struggling financially, closing 40 stores in 2013. Whether or not the union can get a foothold, and possibly add much needed reforms to the program and fight the risk of possible privatization, is gathering momentum as the public becomes more aware of its danger.

What “Google bus” really means


EDITORIAL In recent years, “Google bus” has become a term that encompasses more than just the shuttles that one corporation uses to transport its workers from San Francisco down to the Silicon Valley. It has taken on a symbolic meaning representing the technology sector’s desire to shield itself from the infrastructure, values, and responsibilities that most citizens choose to share.

These are the very things that motivate many of us to live here, finding that community spirit in such a beautiful, world-class city. More than just the great restaurants and bars, its vistas and artistic offerings, San Francisco represents an experiment in modern urbanism and cultural development.

It is this collision and collusion of disparate yet public-spirited cultures that gave birth to the region’s great economic and social movements, from gay rights and environmentalism to groundbreaking academic research and the creation of the Internet economy.

The antithesis of this idea of creative collaboration is to consider San Francisco just 49 square miles of valuable real estate, to be used and developed as the highest bidder sees fit, as some tech titans seem to believe. It’s ironic that an industry based on creating online communities would place so little value on engaging with its physical community.

The proposed $1 per bus stop use, and $50 per docking that new exclusive Google ferry is paying, is a privatization of public space that barely covers the city’s costs. The tech industry should be doing much more just to counteract its negative impacts on the city’s economy, let alone actually being good corporate citizens of this region.

A new report called for by the Mayor’s Office says Muni needs a $10 billion investment over the next 15 years just to maintain current service levels. A big chunk of that should come from the wealthy corporations in our community through a downtown transit assessment district and higher fees on Silicon Valley companies that are using us as a bedroom community.

San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit has been developing a critique of the Google bus since her initial shot last February in the London Review of Books, answering a subsequent techie/enviro criticism published in Grist with a Jan. 7 article in Guernica called “Resisting Monoculture.”

“And thus come the well-paid engineers to San Francisco, and thus go the longtime activists, idealists, artists, teachers, plumbers, all the less-well-paid people,” she writes, citing surveys that the buses allow Silicon Valley workers to live in San Francisco when they otherwise wouldn’t.

That’s the issue. The only thing green about Google buses are the piles of money their riders and their bosses are keeping from the city we all share. Segregated buses have never been a good idea, but if these companies insist on them, that should come with a higher price tag.


December 25 – 31, 2013



The Future of Farming Humanist Hall, 390 27th St, Oakl. 6:30-9:30pm, $5 donation. Following a potluck and social hour, this event will feature a screening of wildlife filmmaker Rebecca Hosking’s documentary, A Farm for the Future. With awareness of the looming implications of peak oil, Hosking returns to her family’s small farm in England with the aim of transforming it into a low-energy operation that is not dependent upon fossil fuels. The hour-long documentary is a valuable addition for broader experimentation with post-fossil fuel agricultural systems, showcasing pioneer farmers who are exploring alternatives like forest gardening and permaculture, while exposing the viewer to how unsustainable the current system is.



Support CCSF in court State Superior Court Room 304, 400 McAllister, SF. 8:30am, free. Show your support for City College at the State Superior Court hearing on the school’s request for injunctive relief from the actions of the ACCJC, the private agency that voted to terminate CCSF’s accreditation this past summer. The lawsuit, filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, claims that the ACCJC’s decision was motivated by political biases, conflicts of interest and a flawed evaluation process. If CCSF is successful in court, that decision could be revoked and City College will be saved. The presence of San Francisco residents at the hearing is important because to demonstrate widespread support for this critical institution.



Solidarity action for striking Korea railway workers Korean Consulate, 3500 Clay, SF. Noon—2pm, free. Join the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee in collaboration with United Public Workers For Action as they protest firing of 8,565 Korean railway workers. The workers, who have been on strike since Dec. 9, were terminated for striking against the privatization and union busting tactics used by the Korean government.



New Year’s Eve Noise Demo Oscar Grant Plaza, 14th and Broadway, Oakland. 9:30 p.m. Free. Help bring noise to the inmates of the North County Jail this New Years Eve by marching from Oscar Grant Plaza to the jail. Those opposed to prison society are hosting a nationwide march as a sign of solidarity with prisoners across the globe, and the local manifestation of this demonstration is in Oakland.


Driving us crazy


STREET FIGHT Parking reform is one of the most radically important elements of making San Francisco a more livable and equitable city.

In this geographically constrained city, parking consumes millions of square feet of space that could be used for housing, especially affordable housing in secondary units. Curbside parking in the public right of way impedes plans to make Muni more reliable for hundreds of thousands of transit riders. Parking in new housing and commercial developments generates more car trips on our already congested and polluted streets, slowing Muni further while bullying bicyclists and menacing pedestrians.

Fundamentally, parking is a privatization of the commons, whereby driveway curb cuts and on-street parking hog the public right-of-way in the name of private car storage. The greater public good — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing public safety through bike lanes, wider sidewalks, public green spaces, and transit-first policies — is subsumed to narrow private interests. These are among the many reasons why, for over a decade, parking reform has been a key part of progressive transportation policy.

Yet lately, it has been disappointing to watch progressives, especially on the Board of Supervisors, retreat from that stance. In Potrero Hill and North Mission, a vitriolic reaction has slowed rollout of nationally acclaimed SF Park, which raises revenue for Muni and is a proven sustainable transportation tool. Yet there are murmurings that some progressive supervisors might seek an intervention and placate motorists who believe the public right-of-way is theirs.

On Polk Street, some loud merchants and residents went ballistic when the city and bicycle advocates proposed removing curbside parking to accommodate bicycles. The city, weary of Tea Party-like mobs, ran the other way, tail-between-legs. Progressive supervisors seem to have gone along with the cave-in.

Along Geary, planning for a desperately needed bus rapid transit project drags on. And on. And on. And on. The lollygagging includes bending over backward to placate some drivers who might be slightly inconvenienced by improvements for 50,000 daily bus riders.

One thing that is remarkably disturbing about this backpedaling is that, in an ostensibly progressive city by many measures (civil rights, tolerance, environmentalism), the counterattack is steeped in conservative ideology. That is, conservatives believe that government should require ample and cheap parking, whether in new housing or on the street. This conservative ideology, shared by many car drivers and merchants — and even by some self-professed progressives — is steeped in the idea people still need cars. This despite the evidence that cars are extremely destructive to our environment, socially inequitable, and only seem essential because of poor planning decisions, not human nature.

Progressive backpedaling has become more confusing with the recent debate over 8 Washington, defeated at the polls Nov. 5, and on the same day of a convoluted Board of Supervisors hearing on a proposed car-free housing development at 1050 Valencia. Both of these projects highlight the muddled inconsistency emerging among progressive supervisors.

Enough has been written about how 8 Washington was a symbolic battle for the soul of San Francisco. But during the campaigns, the lack of attention to parking was curious. Notably, progressive-leaning transportation organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and Transform sat out the election despite the project’s excessive 327 underground parking spaces, which violated hard-fought progressive planning efforts to make the waterfront livable. The Council of Community Housing Organizations also sat it out, despite benefitting from the progressive parking policies that 8 Washington violated. It appears that despite their transit-first rhetoric, progressives made a tactical calculation to keep parking out of the campaign.

The progressive victory came with a Faustian bargain which involved ignoring parking. To ensure 8 Washington was defeated, conservative voters were folded into the opposition. Groups like Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF), the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, and the Republican Party came out against 8 Washington and yet, ironically, all are opponents of progressive parking reform.

Moving forward, whatever happens at the 8 Washington site must include progressive parking policies. Don’t expect this from the unimaginative leadership at the Port, which speciously demanded the excessive parking. Don’t expect it from the developer, who steadfastly insists that the rich must have parking. And don’t expect conservatives to latch on to a waterfront scheme that is both publicly accessible and genuinely transit-oriented. It is progressives who will need to muster political will for a zero-parking project at the waterfront and set the tone for consensus among the other factions in the waterfront debate.

Meanwhile on the same day 8 Washington went down, 1050 Valencia barely made it out of a tortuous Board of Supervisors hearing in which progressives seemed to be the antagonists. As the first car-free market-rate housing proposal on Valencia under progressive parking reforms, this 12-unit mixed use building seemed an obvious win for progressives. It would be a walkable, bicycle-friendly urban infill mixed-use project with on-site affordable housing, all of which the city needs more of.

Yet since 2010, when the project first went to the Planning Commission, conservative rhetoric has been deployed to stop the project. Significantly, the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association objected to the transit-oriented characterization of the project. It claimed that the 14 Mission and 49 Mission/Van Ness are filthy, crime-ridden, and unreliable and so 1050 Valencia must have parking.

Unlike progressives, who also decry shortfalls with Muni but propose solutions, the Liberty Hill opponents offered only secession from public transit, insisting on driving in secure armored cocoons instead of addressing Muni reliability, and they also expect free or cheap parking in the public right of way.

You would think that progressives at the Board of Supervisors would see through this thinly veiled bigotry against the 14 and 49 buses. But instead, four self-professed progressive supervisors — John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar — voted against 1050 Valencia.

They may argue that they were more concerned about the neighboring Marsh Theater, which has concerns about construction noise (and also parking). The noise issue can be worked out, and why the progressive supervisors did not work this out in advance is a mystery. But if you watch the hearing closely, the Marsh basically opposed the development — period — and thus a modest car-free development that included affordable housing at an appropriate location. And so did four progressive supervisors. It’s baffling.

At the end of the day, 1050 Valencia moved forward, barely. But it can still be stopped at the upcoming Board of Appeals hearing. Meanwhile, it’s time for progressives to make a frontal response to the Muni-bashing coming out of Liberty Hill.

The SFMTA is offering a bold and ambitious proposal for these buses on Mission between 13th and Cesar Chavez. This includes a transit-only lane, restricting automobile traffic, rearranging loading zones, and removing curbside parking so that 46,000 daily 14 and 49 passengers have better reliability and less crowding.

This plan will make life easier for San Franciscans who rely on these buses, but will require progressive supervisors to openly and sincerely advocate for removal of on-street parking, to support SF Park, and push for car-free housing development in the Mission, rather than knee-jerk posturing for a few political points in future elections. Progressives, stop screwing around.

Street Fight is a monthly column by Jason Henderson, an urban geography professor at San Francisco State University.

Friends in the shadows


It’s a simple fact of life: Money buys influence. But in San Francisco, despite strict sunshine laws to illuminate donations to city agencies and gifts to the regulators from the regulated, money still circulates in the shadows when it flows through the coffers of “Friends” in high places.

Major real estate developers, city contractors, and large corporations often lend financial support to San Francisco city departments, to the tune of millions of dollars every year. But the money doesn’t just flow directly to city agencies, where it’s easily tracked by disclosure laws. Instead, it goes through private nonprofits that sometimes label themselves as “Friends Of…” these departments.

They include Friends of City Planning, Friends of the Library, a foundation formerly known as Friends of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Friends of SF Environment, and Friends of San Francisco Animal Care and Control.

The Friends pay for programs the departments supposedly cannot cover on their own. Bond money can build a skyscraper, but sometimes not fill it with furniture. Agencies are barred by law from funding an employee mixer or a conference trip, so departments turn to their Friends to fill in the gaps. Adding bells and whistles to city websites, holding lunchtime lectures, hiring a grant writer — or, in the case of the Department of Public Health, bolstering health services for vulnerable populations — these are all examples of what gets funded.

The extra help can clearly be a good thing, but the lack of transparency around who’s giving money raises questions — especially if it’s a business gunning for a major contract or a permit to build a high-rise.

City agencies receive outside funding from a wide variety of sources. Sometimes grants are made by the federal government, or a well-established philanthropic foundation — and according to city law, gifts of $10,000 or higher must be approved by the Board of Supervisors. But in the case of organizations like Friends, which are created specifically to assist city government agencies, the original funders aren’t always identifiable. And the collaboration is frequently much closer, with city staff members serving on Friends boards in a few cases.

the circle of donations to "friends of" foundations

Friends board members told the Guardian that their partnership with government helps bolster city agencies in a time of increasing austerity, in service of the public good. But do the special relationships these influential insiders hold with high-ranking city officials come into play when awarding a contract, issuing a permit, making a hiring decision, or determining whether a developer’s request for a rule exemption should be honored? Without more transparency, it’s tough to tell.

City disclosure rules state that any gift to a department must be prominently displayed on that department’s website, along with any financial interest the donor has involving the city. But Friends and other outside funders are under no obligation to share their supporters’ names, much less financial ties, when they distribute grants. Meanwhile, the disclosure rules that are on the books seem to be frequently ignored, misunderstood, or unenforced, our investigation discovered.

How are donors repaid for their support? Consider the controversy earlier this year around Pet Food Express, which won approval in June for another store in the Marina District despite opposition from four locally owned pet stores in the area that fear competing with a large national chain. Pet Food Express won the unlikely support of the city’s Small Business Commissioners, some of whom reversed their 2009 positions opposing the chain’s previous application.

SF Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz personally lobbied the commission to support Pet Food Express, at least partially because the company has donated pet supplies valued at $50,000 to $70,000 per year to the department. That’s a lot of money for a cash-strapped city department, but a pittance compared to the profits of an expanding national chain.

It’s moments of clarity like those, when the public can easily trace the line from donations to political influence, that show why disclosure is so crucial. But those moments are few and far between when trying to trace the funders of private foundations and Friends organizations, where deals often happen in the dark.



At the Merchant Exchange Building in May, a crowd of high-profile real-estate developers mixed and mingled with city planners, commissioners, and even Mayor Ed Lee, wine glasses in hand. Sources told the Guardian that most of the planning staff was present, and not all were happy about having ribbons and name tags affixed to their shirts, as if they were being auctioned off.

With around 500 in attendance, the event was an annual fundraiser hosted by the Friends of San Francisco City Planning, a nonprofit organization that accepts contributions of up to $2,500 per individual to lend a helping hand to the Planning Department. This year’s event was titled “Incubator Startups, New Jobs for the Future,” hinting that the development community shares the mayor’s affinity for new tech startups and the droves of high-salaried IT professionals they’ve attracted to the city.

Some Friends of City Planning board members are major real-estate developers who routinely seek approval for major construction projects. Others are former planning commissioners, or have a background in community advocacy.

Amid widespread concern about displacement, gentrification, and the overall character of San Francisco’s built environment, no city department has greater influence than Planning. An individual’s interpretation of the Planning Code can carry tremendous weight; it’s a series of small decisions that shape a project’s profits and the look and feel of San Francisco’s future. And with cranes dotting the city’s skyline and market-rate construction catering to the wealthy while middle income residents get priced out, the amount of capital flowing through the development sector these days is astonishing.

In this dizzy climate, there might seem to be something askew about affluent developers and land-use attorneys rubbing elbows with city regulators, all eager to pass the hat for the Planning Department. Whiff of impropriety or no, the fundraiser appears to be totally legal.

“We aren’t violating the law — that I know,” Friends of City Planning Chair Dennis Antenore told the Guardian. “We’ve had legal advice on that for years.”

There is close collaboration between Friends of San Francisco City Planning and the Planning Department — a partnership so entrenched that it’s almost as if the nonprofit is an unofficial, private-sector branch of the agency.

“We are certainly thankful and appreciative,” Planning spokesperson Joanna Linsangan told the Guardian. “They’ve helped us for many, many years.” The additional funding is needed, she said, because “there isn’t a lot of wiggle room” in the departmental budget.

Each year, Planning Director John Rahaim submits a wish list to the Friends, outlining projects he wants funding for. This year, he requested $122,000 for a variety of initiatives, including training support to help planners assess proposals for formula retail (read: chain stores). That’s a hot-button issue lately, and one that shows how seemingly small decisions by planners can have big impacts.

When the department’s zoning administrator ruled that Jack Spade, a high-end clothing chain that opened up in the old Adobe Books location on 16th Street, wasn’t considered formula retail and therefore didn’t need a conditional use permit, neither widespread community outrage nor a majority vote by the Board of Appeals could reverse that flawed decision. It was a similar story with the Planning Commission’s Oct. 3 approval of the 555 Fulton mixed use project, where Planning Department support for exempting the grocery store for the area’s formula retail ban made it happen, to the delight of that developer.

Even though the planning director makes specific funding requests each year to the Friends and pitches the projects in person at their meetings — and the Friends publishes a list of the grants it awards to the department online — the Planning Department is not reporting those gifts to the Board of Supervisors.

“I confirm that the Planning Department did not receive any gifts,” Finance and IT Manager Keith DeMartini wrote in official gift reports submitted to the Board of Supervisors for the years 2011-12 and 2012-13. Those reports were sent to the board on Oct. 7 and Oct. 4, respectively, well after the July filing deadline and after the Guardian requested the missing reports.

The Friends typically funds two-thirds of the requests, said board member Alec Bash, totaling around $80,000 a year. In 2012, the Friends awarded a $25,000 grant to make the department’s new online permit-tracking system more user-friendly, making life a lot easier for developers.

When asked what safeguards are in place to prevent undue influence when the director is soliciting funding from a nonprofit partially controlled by developers, Linsangan responded, “those are two very separate things. One does not influence the other.”

She stated repeatedly that planners are not privy to information about individual contributors — but the fundraisers are organized by a board that includes identifiable developers, and anyone who attends can plainly see the donors in attendance. Nevertheless, Linsangan insisted that planners would not be swayed by this special relationship, saying, “That’s simply not the way we do things around here. We do things according to the Planning Code.”

But as the ruling on Jack Spade shows, as well as countless rulings by planners on whether a project is categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, interpreting the codes can involve considerable discretion.

The public can’t review a list of who wrote checks to the Friends of San Francisco City Planning for the May fundraiser. Since the organization waits a year between collecting the money and disbursing grants, donors stay shielded from required annual disclosures in tax filings.

But Antenore says the system was established with the public interest in mind. “We don’t reveal the contributors, because we don’t want anybody to have increased influence by a donation,” he insisted. Bash echoed this idea, saying the delay was to “allow for some breathing room.”

Unlike some of his fellow board members from the high-end development sector, Antenore has a history of being aligned with neighborhood interests on planning issues, helping author a 1986 ballot measure limiting downtown high-rise development. He emphasized that the developers on the Friends board are balanced out by more civic-minded individuals.

Still, developers who regularly submit permit applications for major construction projects sit on the Friends board. Among them are Larry Nibbi, a partial owner of Nibbi Bros.; Clark Manus, CEO of Heller Manus Architects; and Oz Erikson, CEO of the Emerald Fund development firm.

“We’re not making use of [the funding] in a way that benefits these people,” Antenore said. “I wouldn’t do this if I thought otherwise. I have been careful to maintain the integrity of this organization.” The money is meant to facilitate better planning, he added. “I don’t think there’s any conspiracy,” he said. “We’re not financing anything evil.”

Both the Planning Department and its Friends dismissed the idea that the donations could open the door to favoritism or undue influence. So why isn’t the department reporting gifts it receives from the Friends to the Board of Supervisors, or disclosing them on its website, as required by city law?

According to a 2008 City Attorney memo on reporting gifts to city departments, when an agency receives a gift of $100 or more, it “must report the gift in a public record and on the department’s website. The public disclosure must include the name of the donor(s) and the amount of the gift [and] a statement as to any financial interest the contributor has involving the city.”

John St. Croix, director of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, confirmed that’s the current standard, telling us, “The actual disclosure should be on the website of the department that received the gift.”

Linsangan said records of the gifts are indeed available — listed as “grants” in the department’s Annual Report. But while the 2011-12 report lists grants from sources such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, there was no mention of Friends of City Planning.

The memo also says any gift of $10,000 and above must first be approved by a resolution of the Board of Supervisors. But last year, when the Friends provided $25,000 to upgrade the permit-tracking system, it wasn’t sanctioned by a board resolution. Asked why, Linsangan made it clear that she was not aware of any such requirement.

As is common, when it comes to adhering to disclosure laws, confusion abounds. And sometimes, only sometimes, politicos get caught.



When the head of a city agency fails to report gifts totaling $130,000, how much do you think he is fined?

City Librarian Luis Herrera failed to report receiving that amount in gifts and he was fined exactly $600 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission on Sept. 19. Specifically, Herrera had to file a form 700 with the FPPC to state the gifts he received. From 2008-2010, the forms he turned in had the “no reportable interests” box checked.

The money was used in what he calls the City Librarian’s Fund, which is the money he keeps on hand to pay for office parties and giving honorariums to poets and speakers who perform at the library’s branches, money that wasn’t disclosed on the very forms designed for reporting it.

There are two stories of how the fine came about. Longtime library advocate James Chaffee said that it was the result of a complaint he filed with the FPPC in April, and indeed, he sought and obtained many public documents revealing the money trail. San Francisco Public Library spokesperson Michelle Jeffers disagreed, saying that the fine was the result of an ongoing conversation with the FPPC to figure how exactly to file the gifts appropriately.

“The law wasn’t clear around these forms and it wasn’t clear if he had to report them,” she told the Guardian. “For amending the reports you have to pay a $200 fine for every year it was proposed. We keep scrupulous records on every pizza party we have.”

When government officials receive “gift of cash or goods,” they must report them annually in statements of economic interest, known as a Form 700, to the city Controller’s Office. The form is kind of a running tally of who is receiving gifts from whom, a way for the public to track money’s influence in government.

The gifts came from the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, another nonprofit that bolsters city agency funding. Now Herrera has to list the $130,000 gifts from fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10 on his website.

What exactly does that accomplish? As it turns out, not a whole lot.

City Administrative Code 67.29-6 defines the reporting of gifts to city departments, and one of those requirements is to make a statement of “any financial interest the contributor has involving the city.” Now that Herrera lists the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library as donors on the department website, the statement of financial interest by the friends group is this: “none.”

There are myriad donors to the Friends of the SFPL, and the group doesn’t have to state the economic interests of its donors, or even mention who its donors are. The code requires gifts be reported to the controller, and the deputy city controller told us this doesn’t apply to the “friends of” organizations, or any nonprofit foundation arms of city departments.

“If gifts are made to a department, yes, they have to disclose, so people don’t get preferential interest in getting city contracts,” Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda told us. “I know it’s a fine line. The foundations don’t provide us with anything.”

Friends of the SFPL doesn’t provide money just for pizza parties. A breakdown of a funding request from the library to its Friends shows requests up to $750,000 to advertise the library on Muni and in newspapers, funding for permanent exhibits, and the City Librarian’s personal fund. That’s just the money it gives to the library. Other monies are spent directly on activities supporting the library.

As Jeffers pointed out to the Guardian, the money isn’t spent on “trips to Tahiti.” Friends of the SPL do good city works, from a neighborhood photo project in the Bayview branch library to providing books for children. But the question is: Who’s buying that goodwill and why?

The millions of dollars in donations made to the Friends of the SFPL don’t need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, like gifts to departments do. They’re not checked for conflicts of interest or financial interest by any governmental body. Donors give and the Friends of SFPL spend freely, financial interest or not.

When our research for this story began, no financial statements were available of the Friends of the SFPL website. After a few days of inquiries, the most recent year’s financial statements from 2011-12 were posted to the website.

Ultimately, the San Francisco Public Library is one of the smaller city departments, with an annual budget that hovers around $86 million. The Department of Public Health is a much bigger beast, with a 2011-12 budget of around $1.5 billion.

One of its main foundations, the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, is also one of the largest nonprofits that supplements city spending. In many ways, it could be described as the model of disclosure for city foundations, although its disclosures are not by law, but by choice.



The Department of Public Health relies on a few entities that fundraise on its behalf: the San Francisco Public Health Foundation, the Friends of Laguna Honda Hospital, and the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.

“They’re private nonprofit entities that are separate from the department,” CFO Greg Wagner told us. “But their roles are to support the department in its efforts.” He cited examples such as sending its staff to conferences or hosting meetings, “things that we don’t have the budget for or don’t have the staff or resources.”

The lion’s share of the DPH’s gifts are funneled through the SFGHF. Unlike many of the assorted Friends groups or foundations that support city services, the SFGHF extensively reports the sources of its $5 million in donations. The donors include a veritable who’s who of San Francisco: the Giants, Sutter Health, Xerox, Pacific Union, and Kohl’s all donated between $1,000 and $10,000 in the past two years.

But the largest gifts to the SFGHF came from Kaiser Permanente, and its financial interests in the city run deep. Kaiser came into the city’s crosshairs in July, when the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling on Kaiser to disclose its pricing model after a sudden, unexplained increase in health care costs for city employees. Kaiser holds a $323 million city contract to provide health coverage, and supervisors took the healthcare giant to task for failing to produce data to back up its rate hikes.

In the meantime, Kaiser has also been a generous donor. It contributed $364,950 toward SFGHF and another $25,000 to SFPHF in fiscal year 2011-12.

The funding from Kaiser and a host of other contributors — which include Chevron, Intel, Genentech, Macy’s, Wells Fargo (another city contractor), and a pharmaceutical company called Vertex — does support needed programs. They include research into the health of marginalized communities, services through Project Homeless Connect, screening for HIV, and immunization shots for travelers.

But because DPH doesn’t count much of this support as “gifts” formally received by the city, it isn’t subject to prior approval by the Board of Supervisors, or posted on the department’s website along with the contributors’ financial interests. Major contributions are disclosed in a report to the Health Commission, something Wagner described as a voluntary gesture in response to commissioners’ requests.

“Most gifts to foundations are donations to a nonprofit and do not come through the city or DPH at all,” he noted.

This distance is maintained on paper despite close collaboration with the department. In the case of Project Homeless Connect, a program that holds a bimonthly event to aid the homeless, it supports programs headquartered in city facilities. Penny Eardley, executive director of SFPHF— which used to be called Friends of San Francisco Public Health — noted that her organization occasionally makes grants or seeks funding in response to department requests. And Deputy Director of Health Colleen Chawla is a foundation board member. It’s almost like these foundations are extensions of the department, except they’re not.

SFPHF also earns revenue as a city contractor. When DPH received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, it contracted with SFPHF to manage subcontracts with about a dozen community-based organizations.

The web gets even more tangled. The president of SFPHF is Randy Wittorp — who’s also Director of Public Affairs for Kaiser Permanente’s San Francisco Service Area. It’s a similar story with SFGHF, whose board includes several General Hospital administrators, including CEO Susan Currin.

Former Health Commissioner James Illig said people shouldn’t worry, that hospital the staff would never direct foundation funds to pet projects or mishandle funds. They maintain a separation and a firewall,” he said, for example noting, “Sue Currin is not directing funds to her own hospital.”

But he did admit that since SFGHF’s minutes are not public documents, that “raises a few concerns,” arguing the public should be able to inspect financial documents to decide if the foundations are directing funds lawfully to city departments.

Even when the public by law has a right to access financial records of a city department, rooting out corruption can be like pushing a boulder up a San Francisco hill.



In 2010 and 2011, Laguna Honda Hospital administrators and staff used money from the hospital’s patient gift fund to throw a party. And then they spent it on airfare. And then they gave laser-engraved pedometers to the staff. All told, they spent nearly $350,000 meant for the dying and the infirm, nearly half of the total funds.

The incident was big, messy, and out in the public eye. It was an all-too-rare glimpse into the shady use of public funds by public officials. But when hospital staff members Dr. Derek Kerr and Dr. Maria Rivero blew the whistle on Laguna Honda’s misuse of patient funds in 2010, they were drummed out of their jobs.

Eventually litigation on behalf of the whistleblowers and their complaints of corruption were found to have merit.

Kerr’s vindication came at a meeting of the Health Commission in April 2013. In the packed City Hall meeting room, the public watched as Laguna Honda Executive Director Mivic Hirose read her apology to Kerr and Rivero aloud, even announcing a plaque in Kerr’s honor.

“The hospital will install the plaque in the South 3 Hospice,” she read, stiltedly, from a written statement, surrounded by microphones at the podium. “The plaque will say: In recognition of Derek Kerr MD of his contributions to the Laguna Honda’s hospice and palliative care program 1989-2010.”

Kerr received a settlement of $750,000 and something more important: His good name cleared.

But that conflict of interest was rooted out only after years of litigation that revealed the financial abuse through legal discovery of the department’s documents — documents that should’ve been public in the first place. ABC 7’s I-Team broke the story and did much of the reporting at the time, otherwise the entire affair may have been swept under the rug.

The misuse of funds was only brought to light with the revelation of public documents — revelations not possible with most Friends groups. The Laguna Honda Hospital Foundation has also had financial dealings with potential conflicts and a lack of transparency.

The now-defunct LHHF’s board chair, former City Attorney Louise Renne, made an interesting choice for her vice chair after she formed the nonprofit in 2003. Derek Parker was vice chair of the LHHF while simultaneously heading architecture firm Anshen-Allen, with a $585 million city contract to rebuild the hospital.

So he was not only rebuilding Laguna Honda under city contract, but soliciting and spending donations meant to supplement his project. Renne wrote to the Health Commission in December 2011 that LHHF’s purpose was to manage over $15 million in donations meant to furnish the hospital with beds, chairs, and other necessities. Eventually, then-Mayor Willie Brown found funding for the hospital, reducing the foundation’s role.

In a phone interview with the Guardian, Renne said the goals of the LHHF were only ever to furnish the newly christened hospital. “Our purpose was to fill the void, if you will, for what the city and its services could not do,” she said.

But in her letter, Renne advocated for LHHF to take an active role in fundraising for the hospital for years to come. “Today, the members of the Board of Directors of the Foundation continue to assist the hospital in various phases of its new projects and operations with projects approved by the City and/or the hospital administration,” she wrote to the Health Commission.

And Parker would have potentially managed millions of dollars flowing through donations for countless other hospital projects, while heading an architectural firm with contracts to build in San Francisco. We were unable to reach Parker for comment.

“I never saw Derek use his position as an architect or position for any political gain, I never saw it,” Renne told us. But no one else would see it either, because organizations like the now closed Laguna Honda Hospital Foundation operate without public oversight.

The Health Commission itself even noted this in its March 2012 meeting, the minutes describing then-commissioner James Illig as critiquing the foundation for not being open about its source of funding.

“Commissioner Illig thanks Ms. Renne and Mr. Parker for coming to the Commission,” the minutes read. “Because (LHHF) is a project of Community Initiatives, a fiscal sponsor for nonprofits, it is not possible to find basic financial information about the Foundation or its activities.”

Divided interests on hospital board

Due to a quirk of her foundation being under the “umbrella” of a separate entity, Community Initiatives, Illig was never able to even get the LHHF’s IRS forms, he told us. “We tried to get information and reports, and the Community Initiatives [Form] 990 was giant,” Illig said. “It didn’t separate anything out.”

Illig told us that it made sense to have Parker on the board because he is monied and well connected, making it easier to solicit donations. But insiders close to the board told us that Parker’s position may have made it easier to swing getting other contracts for his firm.

Parker got another city contract building the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital at Mission Bay, slated to open in 2015. No doubt his firm got the job partly due to his reputation as pioneering architecture that leads to healthy patient outcomes — but then again, the board he served on also approved donations to research at UCSF.

Laguna Honda Hospital Foundation may now be defunct, but it serves to illustrate the lack of controls and oversight of the foundations beyond even gift disclosure.



It might be characterized as a web of influence, cronyism, or just the way business is done. But is there something improper about all of this?

Private funding often represents a needed boost that allows for important work to take place beyond what could happen under ordinary budgeting. At the same time, it smacks of privatization. While departments and funders point to lean times in the public sector to justify the need for this help, the funding continues to flow whether it’s a good year or a bad year for city government. And at the end of the day, the most glaring issue of all seems to be the lack of transparency.

Are city departments ever tempted to bend the rules to lend a little help to their Friends? As long as the funding is in the dark, the public has no way of knowing.

Ethics chief St. Croix told us his office lacks the resources to visit every city website and check up on whether departments are following the disclosure rules. “If someone brought it to my attention that a department received a gift and didn’t post it [on the website],” he said, “we would look into it.”

But if the watchdogs need watchdogs, citizens who can’t even review documents that should be publicly available, then these quasi-governmental functions and the people who fund them will remain in the shadows.  

Danielle Parenteau contributed to this report.  


When city funders operate in the dark, one of the best ways to learn about corrupt influence, misuse of funds, and other transgressions is from whistleblowers. If you have a tip for us, send us snail mail at SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 225 Bush, 17th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94104. Or email us at Just make sure not to use an email address provided by your workplace, which is less secure.

Project Censored


This year’s annual Project Censored list of the most underreported news stories includes the widening wealth gap, the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning for leaking classified documents, and President Obama’s war on whistleblowers — all stories that actually received considerable news coverage.

So how exactly were they “censored” and what does that say of this venerable media watchdog project?

Project Censored isn’t only about stories that were deliberately buried or ignored. It’s about stories the media has covered poorly through a sort of false objectivity that skews the truth. Journalists do cry out against injustice, on occasion, but they don’t always do it well.

That’s why Project Censored was started back in 1976: to highlight stories the mainstream media missed or gave scant attention to. Although the project initially started in our backyard at Sonoma State University, now academics and students from 18 universities and community colleges across the country pore through hundreds of submissions of overlooked and underreported stories annually. A panel of academics and journalists then picks the top 25 stories and curates them into themed clusters. This year’s book, Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fearful Times, hits bookstores this week.

What causes the media to stumble? There are as many reasons as there are failures.

Brooke Gladstone, host of the radio program On the Media and writer of the graphic novel cum news media critique, The Influencing Machine, said the story of Manning (who now goes by the first name Chelsea) was the perfect example of the media trying to cover a story right, but getting it mostly wrong.

“The Bradley Manning case is for far too long centered on his personality rather than the nature of his revelations,” Gladstone told us. Manning’s career was sacrificed for sending 700,000 classified documents about the Iraq war to WikiLeaks. But the media coverage focused largely on Manning’s trial and subsequent change in gender identity.

Gladstone said that this is part of the media’s inability to deal with vast quantities of information which, she said, “is not what most of our standard media does all that well.”

The media mangling of Manning is number one on the Project Censored list, but the shallow coverage this story received is not unique. The news media is in a crisis, particularly in the US, and it’s getting worse.



The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which conducts an annual analysis of trends in news, found that as revenue in journalism declined, newsrooms have shed 30 percent of their staff in the last decade. In 2012, the number of reporters in the US dipped to its lowest level since 1978, with fewer than 40,000 reporters nationally. This creates a sense of desperation in the newsroom, and in the end, it’s the public that loses.

“What won out is something much more palpable to the advertisers,” says Robert McChesney, an author, longtime media reform advocate, professor at University of Illinois, and host of Media Matters from 2000-2012. Blandness beat out fearless truth-telling.

Even worse than kowtowing to advertisers is the false objectivity the media tries to achieve, McChesney told us, neutering its news to stay “neutral” on a topic. This handcuffs journalists into not drawing conclusions, even when they are well-supported by the facts.

In order to report a story, they rely on the words of others to make claims, limiting what they can report.

“You allow people in power to set the range of legitimate debate, and you report on it,” McChesney said.

Project Censored stories reflect that dynamic — many of them require journalists to take a stand or present an illuminating perspective on a set of dry facts. For example, reporting on the increasing gulf between the rich and the poor is easy, but talking about why the rich are getting richer is where journalists begin to worry about their objectivity, Gladstone said.

“I think that there is a desire to stay away from stories that will inspire rhetoric of class warfare,” she said.

Unable to tell the story of a trend and unable to talk about rising inequality for fear of appearing partisan, reporters often fail to connect the dots for their readers.

One of Project Censored stories this year, “Bank Interests Inflate Global Prices by 35 to 40 Percent,” is a good example of the need for a media watchdog. Researchers point to interest payments as the primary way wealth is transferred from Main Street to Wall Street.

It’s how the banks are picking the pockets of the 99 percent. But if no politician is calling out the banks on this practice, if no advocacy group is gaining enough traction, shouldn’t it be the media’s role to protect the public and sound the battle cry?

“So much of media criticism is really political commentary squeezed through a media squeezer,” Gladstone said, “and it comes out media shaped.”



McChesney says journalism should be a proactive watchdog by independently stating that something needs to be done. He said there’s more watchdog journalism calling out inequity in democracies where there is a more robust and funded media.

And they often have one thing we in US don’t — government subsidies for journalism.

“All the other democracies in the world, there are huge subsidies for public media and journalism,” McChesney said. “They not only rank ahead of us in terms of being democratic, they also rank ahead of us in terms of having a free press. Our press is shrinking.”

No matter what the ultimate economic solution is, the crisis of reporting is largely a crisis of money. McChesney calls it a “whole knife in the heart of journalism.”

For American journalism to revive itself, it has to move beyond its corporate ties. It has to become a truly free press. It’s time to end the myth that corporate journalism is the only way for media to be objective, monolithic, and correct.

The failures of that prescription are clear in Project Censored’s top 10 stories of the year:

1. Manning and the Failure of Corporate Media

Untold stories of Iraqi civilian deaths by American soldiers, US diplomats pushing aircraft sales on foreign royalty, uninvestigated abuse by Iraqi allies, the perils of the rise in private war contractors — this is what Manning exposed. They were stories that challenge the US political elite, and they were only made possible by a sacrifice.

Manning got a 35-year prison sentence for the revelation of state secrets to WikiLeaks, a story told countless times in corporate media. But as Project Censored posits, the failure of our media was not in the lack of coverage of Manning, but in its focus.

Though The New York Times partnered with WikiLeaks to release stories based on the documents, many published in 2010 through 2011, news from the leaks have since slowed to a trickle — a waste of over 700,000 pieces of classified intelligence giving unparalleled ground level views of America’s costly wars.

The media quickly took a scathing indictment of US military policy and spun it into a story about Manning’s politics and patriotism. As Rolling Stone pointed out (“Did the Media Fail Bradley Manning?”), Manning initially took the trove of leaks to The Washington Post and The New York Times, only to be turned away.

Alexa O’Brien, a former Occupy activist, scooped most of the media by actually attending Manning’s trial. She produced tens of thousands of words in transcriptions of the court hearings, one of the only reporters on the beat.

2. Richest Global 1 Percent Hide Billions in Tax Havens

Global corporate fatcats hold $21-32 trillion in offshore havens, money hidden from government taxation that would benefit people around the world, according to findings by James S. Henry, the former chief economist of the global management firm McKinsey & Company.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained a leak in April 2013, revealing how widespread the buy-in was to these tax havens. The findings were damning: government officials in Canada, Russia, and other countries have embraced offshore accounts, the world’s top banks (including Deutsche Bank) have worked to maintain them, and the tax havens are used in Ponzi schemes.

Moving money offshore has implications that ripped through the world economy. Part of Greece’s economic collapse was due to these tax havens, ICIJ reporter Gerard Ryle told Gladstone on her radio show. “It’s because people don’t want to pay taxes,” he said. “You avoid taxes by going offshore and playing by different rules.”

US Senator Carl Levin, D-Michigan, introduced legislation to combat the practice, SB1533, The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, but so far the bill has had little play in the media.

Researcher James Henry said the hidden wealth was a “huge black hole” in the world economy that has never been measured, which could generate income tax revenues between $190-280 billion a year.

3. Trans-Pacific Partnership

Take 600 corporate advisors, mix in officials from 11 international governments, let it bake for about two years, and out pops international partnerships that threaten to cripple progressive movements worldwide.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement, but leaked texts show it may allow foreign investors to use “investor-state” tribunals to extract extravagant extra damages for “expected future profits,” according to the Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The trade watch group investigated the TPP and is the main advocate in opposition of its policies. The AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, and other organizations have also had growing concerns about the level of access granted to corporations in these agreements.

With extra powers granted to foreign firms, the possibility that companies would continue moving offshore could grow. But even with the risks of outsized corporate influence, the US has a strong interest in the TPP in order to maintain trade agreements with Asia.

The balancing act between corporate and public interests is at stake, but until the US releases more documents from negotiations, the American people will remain in the dark.

4. Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

President Obama has invoked the Espionage Act of 1917 more than every other president combined. Seven times, Obama has pursued leakers with the act, against Thomas Drake, Shamai Leibowitz, Bradley Manning, Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou and most recently, Edward Snowden. All had ties to the State Department, FBI, CIA, or NSA, and all of them leaked to journalists.

“Neither party is raising hell over this. This is the sort of story that sort of slips through the cracks,” McChesney said. And when the politicians don’t raise a fuss, neither does the media.

Pro Publica covered the issue, constructing timelines and mapping out the various arrests and indictments. But where Project Censored points out the lack of coverage is in Obama’s hypocrisy — only a year before, he signed The Whistleblower Protection Act.

Later on, he said he wouldn’t follow every letter of the law in the bill he had only just signed.

“Certain provisions in the Act threaten to interfere with my constitutional duty to supervise the executive branch,” Obama said. “As my Administration previously informed the Congress, I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority.”

5. Hate Groups and Antigovernment Groups on Rise across US

Hate groups in the US are on the rise, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. There are 1,007 known hate groups operating across the country, it wrote, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes, and others.

Since 2000, those groups have grown by over half, and there was a “powerful resurgence” of Patriot groups, the likes of which were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Worst of all, the huge growth in armed militias seems to have conspicuous timing with Obama’s election.

“The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, has grown 813 percent since Obama was elected — from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012,” the SPLC reported.

Though traditionally those groups were race motivated, the report noted that now they are gunning for government. There was a smattering of news coverage when the SPLC released its report, but not much since.

6. Billionaires’ Rising Wealth Intensifies Poverty and Inequality

The world’s billionaires added $241 billion to their collective net worth in 2012. That’s an economic recovery, right?

That gain, coupled with the world’s richest peoples’ new total worth of $1.9 trillion (more than the GDP of Canada), wasn’t reported by some kooky socialist group, but by Bloomberg News. But few journalists are asking the important question: Why?

Project Censored points to journalist George Monbiot, who highlights a reduction of taxes and tax enforcement, the privatization of public assets, and the weakening of labor unions.

His conclusions are backed up by the United Nations’ Trade and Development Report from 2012, which noted how the trend hurts everyone: “Recent empirical and analytical work reviewed here mostly shows a negative correlation between inequality and growth.”

7. Merchant of Death and Nuclear Weapons

The report highlighted by Project Censored on the threat of nuclear war is an example not of censorship, strictly, but a desire for media reform.

Project Censored highlighted a study from the The Physicians for Social Responsibility that said 1 billion people could starve in the decade after a nuclear detonation. Corn production in the US would decline by an average of 10 percent for an entire decade and food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest.

This is not journalism in the classic sense, Gladstone said. In traditional journalism, as it’s played out since the early 20th century, news requires an element of something new in order to garner reporting — not a looming threat or danger.

So in this case, what Project Censored identified was the need for a new kind of journalism, what it calls “solutions journalism.”

“Solutions journalism,” Sarah van Gelder wrote in the foreword to Censored 2014, “must investigate not only the individual innovations, but also the larger pattern of change — the emerging ethics, institutions, and ways of life that are coming into existence.”

8. Bank Interests Inflate Global Prices by 35 to 40 Percent

Does 35 percent of everything bought in the United States go to interest? Professor Margrit Kennedy of the University of Hanover thinks so, and she says it’s a major funnel of money from the 99 percent to the rich.

In her 2012 book, Occupy Money, Kennedy wrote that tradespeople, suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers along the chain of production rely on credit. Her figures were initially drawn from the German economy, but Ellen Brown of the Web of Debt and Global Research said she found similar patterns in the US.

This “hidden interest” has sapped the growth of other industries, she said, lining the pockets of the financial sector.

So if interest is stagnating so many industries, why would journalists avoid the topic?

Few economists have echoed her views, and few experts emerged to back up her assertions. Notably, she’s a professor in an architectural school, with no formal credentials in economics.

From her own website, she said she became an “expert” in economics “through her continuous research and scrutiny.”

Without people in power pushing the topic, McChesney said that a mainstream journalist would be seen as going out on a limb.

“The reporters raise an issue the elites are not raising themselves, then you’re ideological, have an axe to grind, sort of a hack,” he said. “It makes journalism worthless on pretty important issues.”

9. Icelanders Vote to Include Commons in Their Constitution

In 2012, Icelandic citizens voted in referendum to change the country’s 1944 constitution. When asked, “In the new constitution, do you want natural resources that are not privately owned to be declared national property?” its citizens voted 81 percent in favor.

Project Censored says this is important for us to know, but in the end, US journalism is notably American-centric. Even the Nieman Watchdog, a foundation for journalism at Harvard University, issued a report in 2011 citing the lack of reporting on a war the US funneled over $4 trillion into over the past decade, not to mention the cost in human lives.

If we don’t pay attention to our own wars, why exactly does Project Censored think we’d pay attention to Iceland?

“The constitutional reforms are a direct response to the nation’s 2008 financial crash,” Project Censored wrote, “when Iceland’s unregulated banks borrowed more than the country’s gross domestic product from international wholesale money markets.”

Solutions-based journalism rears its head again, and the idea is that the US has much to learn from Iceland, but even Gladstone was dubious.

“Iceland is being undercovered, goddamnit! Where is our Iceland news?” she joked with us. Certainly I agree with some of this list, Bradley Manning was covered badly, I was sad the tax haven story didn’t get more coverage. But when has anyone cared about Iceland?”

10. A “Culture of Cruelty” along Mexico–US Border

The plight of Mexican border crossings usually involves three types of stories in US press: deaths in the stretch of desert beyond the border, the horrors of drug cartels, and heroic journeys of border crossings by sympathetic workers. But a report released a year ago by the organization No More Deaths snags the 10th spot for overlooked stories in Project Censored.

The report asserts that people arrested by Border Patrol while crossing were denied water and told to let their sick die. No More Deaths conducted more than 12,000 interviews to form the basis of its study in three Mexican cities: Nacos, Nogales and Agua Prieta. The report cites grossly ineffective oversight from the Department of Homeland Security. This has received some coverage, from Salon showcasing video of Border Patrol agents destroying jugs of water meant for crossers to a recent New York Times piece citing a lack of oversight for Border Patrol’s excessive force.

The ACLU lobbied the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to call international attention to the plight of these border crossers at the hands of US law enforcement.

If ever an issue flew under the radar, this is it.

Waiting to connect


Eight years ago, San Francisco almost gave away an enormously lucrative public utility to Google and Earthlink: a citywide Wi-Fi connection. The hastily drawn up plan was championed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom after a Google executive pitched him on the idea of citywide wireless Internet access at a dinner party.

Google’s Wi-Fi scheme would have blanketed the city with coverage, but it would also have required users to obtain Google accounts to sign in, thereby facilitating the company’s vacuum-like data harvesting practices that suck up everything from search queries and emails to the geographic locations of smartphones and tablets. Google’s Wi-Fi plan would have allowed the tech giant to insert “prioritized placement” of ads and brands into a Wi-Fi user’s feed, limiting choice of content through profit-driven algorithms.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU of Northern California, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and we at the Bay Guardian all criticized the plan (see “Tech Disconnect,” 11/9/05). Earthlink, Google’s partner in the privatization deal, nearly went bankrupt in 2007 and the company bailed on the Wi-Fi proposal. That was the end of the city’s first Wi-Fi scheme. Thousands of free networks in cafes and hotels popped up in the meantime, leading many to question the purpose of building municipal Wi-Fi.

But municipal Wi-Fi is back. Sup. Mark Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee announced recently that free Wi-Fi is coming to 31 San Francisco parks. Google is involved yet again, but officials in the city’s Department of Technology say that the network will be not be controlled by Google, nor directly susceptible to privacy invasions by the “don’t be evil” company or its affiliates. In short, it will be a public utility.



“I think a lot of the prior debate around free Wi-Fi in San Francisco that never moved forward was because of different questions around business models,” Farrell told us. “To emphasize, this is a free gift [from Google] of financial benefit to the city of San Francisco with no strings attached.”

For the parks, Google has agreed to give a $600,000 contribution to fund Wi-Fi installation and two years of operation. Farrell said this is the company’s only role. There will be no Google hardware or software allowing the company to devour user data or steer traffic.

San Francisco’s reinvigorated push to build out public Wi-Fi comes just as major telecom companies and Internet giants like Google are again targeting large Wi-Fi networks for privatization. In the late 2000s, many tech companies abandoned Wi-Fi services as unprofitable. Telecom companies were busy expanding their cellphone infrastructure.

But thanks to the proliferation and technical advances of smartphones, cellular networks are now choking on megabits of traffic. Telecom companies see Wi-Fi as a means of offloading mobile traffic onto broadband infrastructure. Google and other companies see Wi-Fi networks as vast troves of consumer data, and airwaves on which to advertise.

Google’s grant for Wi-Fi in San Francisco’s parks comes after months of bad press for the company and the tech sector, including revelations that all of Silicon Valley’s top companies readily cooperated with the NSA’s electronic surveillance programs.

Google also recently paid out $7 million to settle state investigations into its “Wi-Spy” data collection activities: wireless receivers hidden in Google’s Street View vehicles sopped up communications data, including passwords and even email content, from millions of networks in the United States and Europe. Beside Google’s numerous spying scandals, the company has also come under criticism for aggressively avoiding federal taxes, and locally for its impact on San Francisco’s transportation and housing problems.

If the $600,000 gift is designed to bolster Google’s image as a good corporate citizen, it probably also makes good business sense. “Thousands of Googlers live and work in SF,” said Jenna Wandres, a spokesperson for the company replied to our inquiries by email.

Marc Touitou, director of the city’s Department of Technology, told us the park Wi-Fi system will be entirely the city’s, and that no third party corporation will determine who can use the service or under what terms.

“It’s not a Google network, it’s not a Wi-Fi name from Google. It’s a donation, a gesture,” said Touitou. He added that talks with AT&T to let the company roll out a Wi-Fi network for all of Market Street were recently cut off because his office has decided to build the system as a fully municipal network instead.



Touitou’s office has plans to light up free municipal Wi-Fi along the Embarcadero, in the Castro, Noe Valley, and perhaps even on Muni buses in the near future. With the parks, Touitou said the idea is to gain back the confidence of the public, to show that the city can do this on its own. Touitou also said that he hopes the city will budget funds for these Wi-Fi systems so that they’re not reliant on corporate gifts.

“We reserve right to leverage this model where companies can put money in because it’s in their interest,” Touitou said. “They don’t care what name is on the network so long as they can dump their traffic on it.”

A public utility model will allow San Francisco to own and operate Wi-Fi across the city and to allow telecom companies to funnel mobile traffic through the city’s infrastructure, likely for a fee. Touitou said it doesn’t make sense for the city to give away its Wi-Fi infrastructure as it is a limited and increasingly valuable asset.

“The day we sell it would be a sad day,” Touitou added.

He described the city’s two radio towers, 200 buildings, thousands of utility poles, and the fiber optic grid that can connect these as the backbone of a robust municipal wireless network. Telecom and Internet companies will pay to use the infrastructure under this model. Most privacy experts who examined San Francisco’s prior Wi-Fi plans have yet to weigh in on the parks network. Revelations about the NSA’s vast spying programs have consumed the attention of groups like EFF and the ACLU.

Touitou said, however, that the city’s Wi-Fi privacy policies will be strong. “This isn’t a third party network trying to market to you,” explained Touitou. “It’s a city network that wants to facilitate traffic, and we want to have the privacy respected.”

Even as San Francisco plans its next steps with city Wi-Fi, Google is rapidly expanding its own wireless network operations. Already the company controls the citywide Wi-Fi network for Mountain View where the “Googleplex” is located. Google also has Wi-Fi networks scooping up communications in Boston’s South Station and New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The terms of Google’s Mountain View deal do not limit Google from collecting data, and users are required to sign in with a Google account. Google also recently announced that it will take control over Starbucks’ thousands of Wi-Fi networks, creating a potentially vast trove of consumer data and a marketing platform for both companies. Starbucks has 50 locations in San Francisco.

AT&T, which lost the Starbucks contract to Google, and also lost its bid to take over Market Street’s airwaves, has its own data mining projects that tap the company’s Wi-Fi networks in 30 countries for personal information, and to route telecom traffic.

So even with municipal Wi-Fi, tech and telecom companies will still have ample ability to siphon off communications data straight from wireless networks and hand it to the feds or to advertisers.

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

“Street Fight” examines the politics of mobility in San Francisco


Ideology plays a bigger role in shaping San Francisco than most people realize, as we’ve discussed in this space before. Nowhere is that more true than in the politics of land use and transportation, as my friend Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University geography professor, discusses in his insightful new book, Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.

He’ll be discussing his work this Friday, April 19, from 7-9pm during a book launch party hosted by Green Arcade Bookstore across the street at the upstairs loft space of McRoskey Mattress, 1687 Market. Or if you miss that but want to join the discussion, you can catch Henderson’s forum on May 15 at SFSU or what will surely be other local events on this pivotal topic.

Henderson chronicles the seminal events in San Francisco’s history with “automobility” and related transportation issues, from the freeway revolts of the late ’50s through 2000 to today’s continuing political struggles over parking, bicycles, livability, gentrification, and the form, function, and financing of Muni.

Yet the lens that Henderson brings to understanding all of these issues and struggles is ideology, which he breaks down into three major categories: progressive, neoliberal, and conservative. Whether we realize it or not, we can all be fairly easily placed in one of those three categories when it comes to how we think about automobility, or the primacy of cars in modern life.

“A progressive framework conceptualizes mobility as a systemic problem that requires deep social commitment and responsibility. How we get there matters. It posits that there can be too much mobility, as exemplified by high levels of [Vehicle Miles Traveled] in the United States, and that excessive mobility results in both environmental degradation and major social inequality at a local, state, and global scale. The main problem, obviously, is that automobility is part of a wider, systemic moral and social problem of over-consumption and disproportionate materialism,” Henderson writes, sounding themes that I echoed in this week’s cover story.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum are those with conservative views on mobility, who see driving as a basic right, which is the dominant mindset on the west side of supposedly liberal San Francisco. “Unlike progressives, conservatives do not think about responsibility as relating to broader systems such as the economic structure of society. Instead, they think in terms of direct causation and of each individual being responsible for the consequences of his or her actions. For example, poverty is a result of individual shortcomings caused by personal and moral characteristics, not of structural themes like socioeconomic forces beyond an individual’s control. Getting to work on time and providing one’s daily needs are not collective concerns but the responsibility of the individual,” he writes.

Of course, these conservatives still rely on government to build and maintain their transportation infrastructure, which they believe should be centered around cars. “Government should guarantee and accommodate automobility, not seek to discourage it or make it more expensive. Government-sponsored road building and other explicit policies that encourage motoring reflect an optimal use of government to stabilize conservative social relations centered on automobility,” Henderson write of the conservative mindset.

Between those two poles are the neoliberals, who have come to dominate City Hall, particularly in the last few years with the ascendancy of Mayor Ed Lee, Board President David Chiu, and Sup. Scott Wiener, who has taken the lead role on transportation issues. Neoliberals rely on market-based solutions to almost any problem, and they end up partnering with either conservatives or progressives in the politics of mobility depending on the issue.

“Neoliberals, consistent with the broader agenda of the privatization of space and market-based pricing of public access to space, envision a mobility system shaped by pricing and markets rather than by regulation and collective action. Unlike progressives, neoliberals feel the built environment must be allowed to develop with the efficacy of the market. Movement, paid for by the individual user, should be unrestrained. Yet such efficacy can include a commodification of nonmovement or slower movement or the package of quality-of-life goods surrounding the ‘walkability’ and ‘livability’ of the city, a package reserved for those who can afford to enter. To that end, neoliberal mobility includes the aggressive use of government to both enhance mobility and rein it in, but only inasmuch as government policy helps realize the goals of profit and facilitating economic growth and development,” Henderson writes.

It’s fascinating to explore how these three distinct mindsets have shaped San Francisco in recent decades, and how they interact today to create the city that we’ll be moving through in the future.

No traffic for the rich


The more libertarian elements of the Bay Area have been complaining for years about carpool lanes on the freeways. If everyone’s stuck in traffic, and those lanes are open, why can’t everyone use them — and cut back on congestion?

Now, heeding those complaints (and moving in the fast lane toward privatization of the highway system), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is moving to allow single-occupant vehicles to use the carpool lanes — for a price.

So the people who can afford to spent ten bucks extra a day can save time, too — and everyone else has to sit in traffic. A couple of problems with this scenario.

For one thing, the idea that moving more cars to the carpool lane will ease congestion on the rest of the road has no basis in fact or reality. Freeways are like jails — the more you build, the faster they fill up. Double the size of I-80 and soon it will still be as crowded. Build another Bay Bridge and it will be choked with cars in a year. That’s been the entire experience of American highway construction since World War II.

An open freeway encourages people to drive. When the price of waiting in traffic gets high enough, people either use transit or … carpool.

Which is the point of the carpool lanes. If a couple of people leave their cars at home, freeing up space for everyone else and in the process cutting down on fossil-fuel emissions, then they get to ride in a less-crowded lane. The carpool lanes are supposed to be more empty; that’s the idea.

Then there’s this notion of first-class and second-class highway travel.

In a perfect world, people whose time is worth more money would sacrifice cash to get where they’re going, and by sitting in traffic for half an hour less would earn tha extra money back at work, and all would even out. But even the most academic-minded economists know that’s not how the real world works. (Of course, in a perfect world we’d have such fast, cheap and effective transit systems that nobody would drive around the Bay Area at all.)

No: What will really happen is that wealthier people who want to go shopping or out to dinner or whatever and drive without sitting in traffic will get to do that, and poorer people will lose even more of their time to the commute, which they can’t afford to do anyway, and the level of economic inequality in the Bay Area will get worse. So will the air quality.

Brilliant idea.

America’s new Progressive Era?


By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

NEW YORK – In 1981, US President Ronald Reagan came to office famously declaring that, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Thirty-two years and four presidents later, Barack Obama’s recent inaugural address, with its ringing endorsement of a larger role for government in addressing America’s – and the world’s – most urgent challenges, looks like it may bring down the curtain on that era.

Reagan’s statement in 1981 was extraordinary. It signaled that America’s new president was less interested in using government to solve society’s problems than he was in cutting taxes, mainly for the benefit of the wealthy. More important, his presidency began a “revolution” from the political right – against the poor, the environment, and science and technology – that lasted for three decades, its tenets upheld, more or less, by all who followed him: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and, in some respects, by Obama in his first term.

The “Reagan Revolution” had four main components: tax cuts for the rich; spending cuts on education, infrastructure, energy, climate change, and job training; massive growth in the defense budget; and economic deregulation, including privatization of core government functions, like operating military bases and prisons. Billed as a “free-market” revolution, because it promised to reduce the role of government, in practice it was the beginning of an assault on the middle class and the poor by wealthy special interests.

These special interests included Wall Street, Big Oil, the big health insurers, and arms manufacturers. They demanded tax cuts, and got them; they demanded a rollback of environmental protection, and got it; they demanded, and received, the right to attack unions; and they demanded lucrative government contracts, even for paramilitary operations, and got those, too.

For more than three decades, no one really challenged the consequences of turning political power over to the highest bidders. In the meantime, America went from being a middle-class society to one increasingly divided between rich and poor. CEOs who were once paid around 30 times what their average workers earned now make around 230 times that amount. Once a world leader in the fight against environmental degradation, America was the last major economy to acknowledge the reality of climate change. Financial deregulation enriched Wall Street, but ended up creating a global economic crisis through fraud, excessive risk-taking, incompetence, and insider dealing.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama’s recent address marks not only the end of this destructive agenda, but also the start of a new era. Indeed, he devoted almost the entire speech to the positive role of government in providing education, fighting climate change, rebuilding infrastructure, taking care of the poor and disabled, and generally investing in the future. It was the first inaugural address of its kind since Reagan turned America away from government in 1981.

If Obama’s speech turns out to mark the start of a new era of progressive politics in America, it would fit a pattern explored by one of America’s great historians, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who documented roughly 30-year intervals between periods of what he called “private interest” and “public purpose.”

In the late 1800’s, America had its Gilded Age, with the creation of large new industries by the era’s “robber barons” accompanied by massive inequality and corruption. The subsequent Progressive Era was followed by a temporary return to plutocracy in the 1920’s.

Then came the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and another 30 years of progressive politics, from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. The 1970’s were a transition period to the Age of Reagan – 30 years of conservative politics led by powerful corporate interests.

It is certainly time for a rebirth of public purpose and government leadership in the US to fight climate change, help the poor, promote sustainable technologies, and modernize America’s infrastructure. If America realizes these bold steps through purposeful public policies, as Obama outlined, the innovative science, new technology, and powerful demonstration effects that result will benefit countries around the world.

It is certainly too early to declare a new Progressive Era in America. Vested interests remain powerful, certainly in Congress – and even within the White House. These wealthy groups and individuals gave billions of dollars to the candidates in the recent election campaign, and they expect their contributions to yield benefits. Moreover, 30 years of tax cutting has left the US government without the financial resources needed to carry out effective programs in key areas such as the transition to low-carbon energy.

Still, Obama has wisely thrown down the gauntlet, calling for a new era of government activism. He is right to do so, because many of today’s crucial challenges – saving the planet from our own excesses; ensuring that technological advances benefit all members of society; and building the new infrastructure that we need nationally and globally for a sustainable future – demand collective solutions.

Implementation of public policy is just as important to good governance as the vision that underlies it. So the next task is to design wise, innovative, and cost-effective programs to address these challenges. Unfortunately, when it comes to bold and innovative programs to meet critical human needs, America is out of practice. It is time to begin anew, and Obama’s full-throated defense of a progressive vision points the US in the right direction.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.

Norman Solomon: Verbal tics and political routines


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

A lot of what we say and do becomes habit-forming. Groundhog Day 2013 could serve as a reminder that some political habits should be kicked. Here are a few:

**  “Defense budget

No, it’s not a defense budget. It’s a military budget.

But countless people and organizations keep saying they want to cut “the defense budget” or reduce “defense spending.”

Anyone who wants to challenge the warfare state should dispense with this misnomer. We don’t object to “defense” — what we do oppose, vehemently, is military spending that has nothing to do with real defense and everything to do with killing people, enforcing geopolitical control and making vast profits for military contractors. And no, they’re not “defense contractors.”

President Eisenhower’s farewell address didn’t warn against a “defense-industrial complex.”

The fact that there’s something officially called the Department of Defense — formerly the Department of War, until 1947 — doesn’t make its huge budget a “defense budget,” any more than renaming the Bureau of Prisons “the Bureau of Love” would mean we should talk about wanting to cut the “love budget.”

**  “Pro-life”

Last week, midway through a heated debate on the PBS “NewsHour,” the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said that some politicians get elected while hiding their extreme anti-abortion positions — but would be rejected at the ballot box “if they ran on their pro-life values.”

“Pro-life” values? Not a label that abortion-rights advocates should use for opponents of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. One of the main reasons those opponents keep calling themselves “pro-life” is they want to imply that supporters of abortion rights are anti-life. Why help?

**  “Globalization”

In many realms, globalization can be positive, even essential. For instance, wonderful results flow from globalizing solidarity among workers around the world. Likewise, the planetary spread of awareness and cooperation among people taking action to protect the environment, stop human-rights abuses and end war.

Corporate globalization is another matter. Its destructive effects are lashing every continent with voracious commercialization along with exploitive races to the bottom for cheap labor, extraction of raw materials, privatization, flattening of protective tariffs, overriding of national laws that protect workers and replacement of democratic possibilities with the rule of big money.

Putting “corporate” before “globalization” may seem cumbersome, but it’s worth another three syllables. There’s a world of difference between globalization for human cooperation and corporate globalization. Blurring it all together misses the chance to clarify the distinct possibilities.

**  “Moderates”

Fifty-five years ago, in his book “The Causes of World War Three,” sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote about what he called “crackpot realism” — policy nostrums widely touted by mass media outlets and other powerful institutions as wisely reasonable, yet actually disastrous.

In a similar groove, these days, we hear about how certain elected officials are “moderates.” And we might refer to them that way ourselves. But the grim results of crackpot moderation — climate change and environmental degradation, incessant warfare, more poverty, widening economic inequities, abuse of civil liberties and so much more — are all around us. So-called “moderates” fuel the infernos of catastrophe.

What’s moderate about the extreme injustices and destructiveness of the status quo?

**  Skimming the headlines

We all do it sometimes — glancing at headlines and scarcely reading the stories — one of the reasons why, all too often, what we think we know actually isn’t so.

Case in point: a headline at the top of the New York Times front page days ago, no doubt leaving many quick readers with the belief that President Obama is getting tough on Wall Street.

Well, that’s what the headline conveyed. “SIGNAL TO STREET IN OBAMA’S PICK FOR REGULATORS,” it began, followed by an elaboration in big type just below: “A Renewed Resolve to Hold Financial Firms Accountable.”

Mostly focusing on the appointment of Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, the article offered a fleeting indication in its eighth paragraph that the “renewed resolve” might actually be wobbly. “While Ms. White is best known as an aggressive prosecutor,” the article noted, “she also built a lucrative legal practice defending Wall Street executives, a potential concern for consumer advocates.”

The basis for that potential concern, however, did not gain any further elucidation until the article’s twenty-sixth paragraph, which provided the other mention of why consumer advocates might be concerned: “Ms. White could face additional questions about her career, a revolving door in and out of government. In private practice, she defended some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former chief of Bank of America. As the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, she also represented JPMorgan Chase and the board of Morgan Stanley.”

So much for headlines

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Oh well, Pelosi’s going to stick around


For a while there some of us thought that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who failed to win back a house majority for the Democrats, might decide her time was up and step down as minority leader (which would probably have meant retiring from Congress). That would have set off one of the hottest political battles in town; just about everyone knows that Pelosi’s daughter is interested in the seat, but there’s no way she was going to get it without a fight. There are lots of ambitious people in this town who would jump at a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a Congressional seat, starting with possibly all of our current state Legislators and a few supervisors.

Would progressives and independents sick of the notion of a Pelosi family dynasty get behind one candidate (say, Mark Leno)? Would Scott Wiener, who Leno has supported and mentored all these years, run anyway, arguing for a younger candidate who could be around for long enough to get seniority? Would Leland Yee, who will be termed out and didn’t get elected mayor, jump in the race? Would Tom Ammiano, who doesn’t seem at all ready to retire?

Lots of crazy speculation — and now it appears we’ll have to wait two more years to go through it again. Because, barring a huge upset in the Democratic Caucus, Pelosi’s sticking around.

I’m not so thrilled about that — and I swear it has nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with the amazing story that a contested race would create for political reporters. It’s just that Pelosi’s been a big disappointment to San Francisco; she cares more about her national constituency that about her district, and her legacy achievement is the privatization of a national park.

It would be nice to get someone representing San Francisco who represented San Francisco values.

Oh well.

Record-breaking spending floods District 1 with political propaganda


District 1 supervisorial candidate David Lee and independent expenditure campaigns supporting him have spent nearly $800,000 – shattering previous spending records for a district election – bombarding Richmond District voters with a barrage of mailers and other media pushing a variety of claims and criticisms about incumbent Sup. Eric Mar that sometimes stretch credulity and relevance.

But is it working? Or is the avalanche of arguments – much of it funded by “big money from Realtors, Landlords, and Downtown Special Interests,” as a recent Mar mailer correctly notes – feeding speculation that Lee would do the bidding of these powerful players on the Board of Supervisors?

Mar campaign manager Nicole Derse thinks that’s the case, arguing the Lee campaign would have leaked internal polls to the media if they were favorable, and it wouldn’t be escalating its attacks on so many fronts hoping for traction, such as yesterday’s press conference hitting Mar on the issue of neighborhood schools.

“They’re pretty desperate at this point and throwing anything out there that they can,” Derse told us, later adding, “I feel good, but we really have to keep the fire up.”

Mar and the independent groups supporting him, mostly supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, have together spent about $400,000. Most of the mailers have been positive, but many have highlighted Lee’s political inexperience and his connections to big-money interests, raising questions about his claims to support tenants and rent control.

Lee campaign manager Thomas Li, who has been unwilling to answer our questions throughout the campaign, did take down some Guardian questions this time and said he’d get us answers, but we haven’t heard back. On the issue of why the Realtors and other groups who seek to weaken tenant protections were supporting Lee, Li simply said, “Our position has been steadfast on protecting rent control and strengthening tenant protections.”

The Lee campaign has repeated that on several mailers – possibly indicating it is worried about that issue and the perception that Lee’s election would give landlords another vote on the board, as tenant and other progressive groups have argued – but most of its mailers recently have attacked Mar on a few issues where they must believe he is vulnerable, even when they distort his record.

Several mailers have noted Mar’s support for a city budget that included funding for a third board aide for each of the 11 supervisors – a budget the board unanimously approved – as well as his support for public campaign financing, despite the fact that Lee’s campaign has taken more than $150,000 in public financing in this election, 30 percent more than Mar’s. They have also criticized Mar for supporting the 8 Washington high-end condo project, even though Lee also voted for the project as a member of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

As this Ethics Commission graphic shows, Lee has been by far the biggest recipient of independent expenditures in this election cycle, with hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from the downtown-funded Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth and the Realtor-created Citizens for Responsible Growth.

Mar and his allies have hit back with mailers noting that most of the funding for the Chinese American Voter Education Project, Lee’s main political and communications vehicle in recent years, has simply gone to pay his $90,000-plus annual salary, which he didn’t fully report on financial disclosure forms required of city commissioners. They have also hit Lee for his support for the Recreation and Parks Department’s closure of recreation centers and other cuts while he “consistently supported privatization of our parks.”

At this point, it’s hard to know how this flood of information and back-and-forth attacks will influence District 1 voters, but we’re now days away from finding out.