Real Estate

Fisher’s Folly at the Presidio


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By Tim Redmond

We won’t actually see what Don Fisher’s museum and monument to himself would look like until Sunday, or whenever John King of the Chronicle decides to tell us, since Fisher’s PR team released the drawings only to him.

That’s kinda sleazy and unfair; I hope King decides to utterly trash the design instead of deciding to (as Sfist suggests) pump his golden ejaculate over the museum plans for a glowing review.

But we do know this much: The Presidio Trust has released the basic outlines of what it wants to do with the Main Post area, and the Fisher museum (also known as CAMP, for Contemporary Art Museum Proposal) is very much a part of it. The 200,000-square foot museum, which would house all the modern art Fisher collected with the profits he made off the labor of child slaves in third-world sweatshops is supposed to be inoffensive because most of it will be underground and the roof will be green.

How special for us all.

The bottom line is that this particular land-use plan exists entirely because one very rich man asked the privatized Presidio board (of which was a founding member) to let him have a prime piece of real estate to house his masturbatory edifice. This thing doesn’t belong in a national park, where there is only limited public transit and where it will either be an expensive flop or will cause thousands of people to drive through a crowded neighborhood and into a park where people are hiking and riding their bikes. It’s about an inappropriate a use as you can imagine.

As the Presidio Trust Historical Association said in a press release I got this afternoon,

“We are very distressed by the Presidio Trust’s decision to promote the construction of a massive contemporary art museum, large hotel and theater in the heart of the National Historic Landmark District on the Presidio’s Main Post. The Trust has once again ignored the broad, nearly unanimous public opposition to its proposal.”

Fisher may have a little trouble here. The Trust board is appointed by the President, and there are several positions that open up this spring. If the Obama administration puts real environmentalists and preservationist on the board, they might look askance at Fisher’s Folly. (On the other hand, Obama will probably let Rep. Nancy Pelosi select the nominees, and she is not only close to Fisher, she’s the one who wrote the legislation privatizing the Presidio in the first place.)

The supervisors have passed a resolution calling on Fisher to build his museum in the city, somewhere, perhaps, near the other downtown museums, where there’s plenty of transit. Fisher won’t let MOMA (the logical curator of this kind of collection) touch it, because the folks there wouldn’t give The Don complete and utter control. But maybe he could build his personal monument nearby.

The foes of Fisher’s Folly want the city to do everything possible to encourage him to build downtown. If it looks like he’s going to get blocked at the Presidio, and we all smile nice and invite him to grace us with his artistic presence somewhere else within city limits, then we’ll get this grand museum AND save the Presidio. That’s fine, I guess – but frankly, when you’re dealing with Mr. Fisher, I prefer the stick to the carrot. Let’s fight him to the bitter end at the Presidio, and tell him if he wants to come downtown, we’ll allow him to look for a site with his own real estate brokers and submit a proposal to City Planning just like anyone else. No special favors for a guy who has done more to damage San Francisco in the past decade that just about anyone else alive.

‘The end of the goddamn family dog’



Former Bottom of the Hill and DNA Lounge doorperson Greg Slugocki wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to feed and care for 75 rescued dogs at Milo Sanctuary, one of the largest dog and cat rescue sanctuaries in the country. It’s one-third the size of Golden Gate Park and tucked in the mountains of Mendocino County, north of Ukiah.

Slugocki has worked like a dog since he was hired last November, part of a crew of two who cover 283 acres of mountainous terrain. But it’s something else that has recently made his head spin.

"The rate of animals we’ve had to take because of foreclosures is astronomical," Slugocki said. "I’ve taken more dogs in the last three months than in the last two years."

Milo Sanctuary holds adoptions in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Rafael, and he communicates daily with Bay Area shelters and rescues, which also have reported unprecedented increases in animals reluctantly turned over by their desperate owners.

Slugocki may be in the backwoods of Mendocino County, but he’s not alone in this dilemma. Shelters all over the country are reporting rising numbers of dogs, cats, horses, and all kinds of family pets made homeless by the home foreclosure crisis.

In January, San Francisco Animal Care and Control — the municipal shelter and adoption department obligated to take all animals — documented, for the first time, an unprecedented increase in owner-surrendered animals. The report found that since August 2008, there’s been steady monthly increase in such animals, amounting to a 13 percent average rise since last year. Last month saw the highest number of owner-surrendered animals, with an increase of 35 percent.

Though there may not be a clear, quantifiable way of determining whether those owner-surrendered animals are in fact casualties of the foreclosure crisis, animal rescue folks say there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that this is the case. "Our rescue partners are stretched," SFACC director Rebecca Katz told the Guardian. "We’re stretched."

Indeed, almost every kennel contains a dog with a tag reading "owner- surrender." Animal Care and Control runs a "no kill" shelter — which means animals are euthanized only if they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to qualify for adoption — has had to spill some of its new arrivals over into its adoption kennels rather than give all the new arrivals a chance for the owners to reclaim them.

"I’ve been dealing with this shelter for 15 years," said Paley Boucher, founder of volunteer-run Rocket Dog rescue, which saves almost 200 dogs from lethal injection each year. "It used to stand out when you saw a dog that was owner-surrendered. But now almost all of them are." Linda Pope with Nike Animal Rescue Foundation says dogs adopted and returned due to foreclosures is an entirely new phenomenon to the center.

Cat Brown, deputy director of the San Francisco SPCA, reported a rise in owner-surrendered animals. "We feel it’s directly related to the economy," she added. "It’s about people losing their jobs and thinking about what they can give up."

Gary Tiscornia, executive director of Monterey County’s SPCA, says there have been a high number of foreclosure animals and a lack of communication between the shelters and the banks, real estate agents, property inspectors, and other entities that find abandoned animals in vacated homes.

Tiscornia said that Realtors in California have found animals in all kinds of conditions in vacated homes, including rottweillers abandoned with a few bags of food and a tub of water, and a dog left for dead in an empty house. It hasn’t always been the case that such incidents were reported to animal shelters.

The disconnect between corporate entities and shelters has been exacerbated by California laws requiring that inspected property, including animals, be left untouched. A new law that went into effect last month addresses the problem. Assembly Bill 2949 requires anyone who encounters an abandoned animal in a property that has been vacated through lease termination or foreclosure to immediately contact a local animal control agency.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) issued a statement on foreclosure animals Jan. 29, offering the following advice to those facing foreclosure or eviction: Check with friends, family and neighbors to see if someone can provide temporary foster care for your pet until you get back on your feet. Make sure pets are allowed — and get permission in writing — if you are moving into a rental property. Contact your local shelter, humane society, or rescue group in advance of moving, and provide your animal’s records to help it get placed in an appropriate home.

To love and lose a home is a hard thing, but to love and lose a home and a furry family member is worse, especially when people don’t know where their pet will end up. "People don’t know what to do," said Boucher, citing an example of a Bay Area woman who kept her dog in the backyard of her foreclosed home long after she had moved, and another of a family that asked the subsequent owners of their foreclosed home to care for their dog.

"We’re perceived as a no-kill city, but that’s just not true," said Boucher, who rescues pit pulls, the most frequently euthanized of all dogs. Like many rescue agents, Boucher disagrees with the standards set by the temperament tests that determine whether a dog is suitable for adoption, arguing that many perfect dogs would not pass the test.

Slugocki also takes issue with temperament tests. "Let’s say I’m a dog that hasn’t eaten for weeks and I get picked up and taken to a shelter and they put down a bowl of food as part of the temperament test. Take it away and see what I’ll do."

"This is a huge disaster, a quiet emergency," Boucher said. "I hope people can open their minds to fostering an animal."

Despite the spike in economy-related homeless animals, Katz says SFACC is still under control, at least for the time being. "We have not seen an increase in euthanasia and we hope not to." About 84 percent of animals that end up at the SF shelter are saved, compared to the depressing national average of 30 percent.

"We do everything we can to save animals’ lives. We reach out to every rescue we know of," Katz said.

But with shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries swamped with a growing wave of owner-surrendered pets, caring for the displaced animals is bound to get tougher, particularly if foreclosure crisis gets worse, as many economists predict. And with budget cuts in the offing in the city, SFACC staff fear cutbacks could drive up euthanasia rates.

Slugocki says his sanctuary has something other shelters don’t: space. He has 283 redwood-adorned majestic acres of it, and he’s willing to take every dog, no matter how many have failed the temperament tests that would guarantee a swift lethal injection at the pound.

"I can take dogs that don’t stand a chance. I can take them crippled, heart worm positive, deaf, blind, you name it," Slugocki said. Half of the 75 dogs at Milo are unadoptable and will live peacefully among the redwoods for the rest of their days. He says he can take up to 1,000 dogs but he’s missing one thing: sufficient staff to build enough dog pens and feed and care for a small city of dogs every day.

"I desperately need volunteers," Slugocki said. "I know there is a crowd of people, that 30 to 60 tattooed, pierced, old rock ‘n’rollers, new Buddhists, lifelong punks who are older and maybe have kids now." For now he’s taking as many dogs as he has pens for and is working 14-hour days to help save the discarded critters of the economic crisis.

"It’s the end of the goddamn family dog," Slugocki lamented. "Nobody who has a dog and has lost a home will ever think about having a dog again."

To contact Greg Slugocki, call (707) 459-0930 or email

Money talks



The economy’s a mess, and the housing crisis, financial meltdown, and skyrocketing unemployment rates have left a lot of San Franciscans short of cash. But the flow of big downtown money into political campaigns hasn’t slowed a bit.

In fact, a tally of all 2008 monetary and in-kind political contributions logged in the SF Ethics Commission Campaign Finance Database shows that even in the face of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, money spent on local political campaigns in the city swelled to a whopping $20.6 million. That grand total, which does not include loans or so-called "soft money" like independent expenditures, is higher than that of any previous year recorded in the Ethics database, which tracks campaign spending back to 1998.

A review of the entire database paints of picture of how influence money flows in San Francisco: Six of the top 10 donors over the past 10 years are big businesses and downtown organizations that promote the same conservative political agenda. The campaign cash often wound up in the same few political pots — a handful of supervisorial campaigns and some coordinated political action committees.

And despite spending ungodly sums of money, downtown lost more races than it won.

More than half the total money spent in 2008 came from one source: Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which plunked down $10.2 million last fall for the No on Proposition H campaign against the San Francisco Clean Energy Act. That November ballot measure, which lost under PG&E’s barrage, would have paved the way for public power, initiating a process to make the city the primary provider of electric power in San Francisco with a goal of 50 percent clean-energy generation by 2017.

The powerful utility wasn’t only the biggest spender last year — it claims the No. 1 slot on a list of all campaign contributions spanning from 1998 to 2008, which the Guardian compiled using Ethics data. PG&E dropped a juicy $14.7 million into local political campaigns over that period, beating out runner-up Clint Reilly by more than $10 million.

Below are brief introductions to the 10 biggest spenders, 1998-2008.

They’ve got the power. The colossal sums PG&E has forked over to influence ballot measures over the years puts the utility in a category all its own. SF isn’t the only municipality where the company has poured millions into defeating a public power proposal. In 2006, when Yolo County put measures on the ballot to expand the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), which would have edged PG&E out of the service area, the utility spent $11.3 million to try and keep it from happening.

Pay to the order of Clint Reilly. Reilly, the former political consultant, now runs a successful real estate company. While his name routinely comes up on the roster of campaign contributors, he owes his status as No. 2 to his 1999 campaign for SF mayor, into which he poured some $3.5 million of his own money. "Most of the money we give is for Democratic candidates or progressive politicians, or neighborhood-oriented issues," said Reilly, who also served as president of the board of Catholic Charities.

Committee on really high-paying jobs? Third in line is the Committee on Jobs, a political action committee that aims to influence local legislation affecting business interests. The PAC is bankrolled in part by the Charles Schwab Corporation, Gap, Inc., and Gap founder Don Fisher — all of whom surface on their own in our Top 30 list. With a grand total just shy of $3 million, the committee coughed up about $100,000 in campaign-related spending in 2008. Much of that funding went to similar political entities, including the SF Coalition for Responsible Growth, the SF Chamber of Commerce 21st Century Committee, and the SF Taxpayers Union PAC (see "Downtown’s Slate," 10/15/2008). This past November, the COJ also backed the Community Justice Court Coalition, formed to pass Proposition L, which would have guaranteed first-year funding for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s small-crimes court in the Tenderloin. Prop. L failed by 57 percent.

Bluegrass billionaire. San Francisco investment banker and billionaire Warren Hellman has dropped nearly $1.2 million over the years into local political campaigns, our results show. Dubbed "the Warren Buffet of the West Coast" by Business Week for his sharp financial prowess, Hellman co-founded Hellman and Friedman, an investment firm, in 1984. Hellman is known for putting on Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, an annual SF music festival. While he tends to contribute to downtown business entities such as the Committee on Jobs and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, in 2008 he devoted $100,000 to supporting a June ballot measure, Proposition A, that increased teacher salaries and classroom support by instating a parcel tax to amp up funding for public schools.

Fisher king. Don Fisher, founder and former CEO of Gap, Inc., is another one of SF’s resident billionaires. While Gap, Inc. turns up in 17th place in our results, Fisher himself has poured more than $1.1 million into entities such as the Committee on Jobs, SFSOS, the San Franciscans for Sensible Government Political Action Committee, and other conservative business groups. Fisher’s total includes money from the "DDF Y2K family trust," a Fisher family fund that shows up in Ethics records in 2000. In that year, $100,000 from that trust went to support the Committee on Jobs’ candidate advocacy fund, and another $40,000 went to a pro-development group called San Franciscans for Responsible Planning.

Not a very affordable campaign, either. Sixth up is Lennar Homes, the developer behind the massive home-building project at Hunters Point Shipyard, which the Guardian has covered extensively. The vast majority of its $1 million reported spending was directed to No on Prop. F, a campaign sponsored by Lennar to defeat a June ballot measure that would have created a 50 percent affordable-housing requirement for the Candlestick Point and Hunters Point Shipyard development project. The measure failed, with 63 percent voting it down.

Chuck’s bucks. Charles Schwab Corp., which set up shop in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, is an investment banking firm that reports having $1.1 trillion in total client assets. The corporation ranks seventh in our Top 30 list, with some $973,000 in donations. In 27th place is Charles R. Schwab himself, the company’s founder and chairman of the board (and the guy they’re referring to in those "Talk to Chuck" billboards posted all over SF). If Schwab’s individual and corporate donations were combined, the total would be enough to bump Warren Hellman out of fourth place. Schwab’s dollars are infused into the Committee on Jobs, the San Francisco Association of Realtors, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, SF SOS, and other downtown-business interest organizations. "We’re a major company here in the Bay Area and a major employer," company spokesperson Greg Gable told the Guardian. "We’re interested in political matters across the board — it’s not limited to any one party." But it’s limited to one pro-downtown point of view.

The brass. The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association is another major player, spending some $913,000 since 1998 on political campaigns. The organization backed candidates Carmen Chu, Myrna Lim, Joseph Alioto, Denise McCarthy, and Sue Lee for supervisors in 2008, contributions show. All but Chu lost.

At your service. SEIU Local 1021 and SEIU 790 crop up frequently in Ethics data, with a grand total of about $860,000 in spending over the years. SEIU representatives recently turned out en masse at a Board of Supervisors meeting to urge the supervisors to support a June 2 special election to raise taxes in order to boost city revenues and save critical services from the hefty budget cuts that are coming down the pipe.

Friends in high places. No real surprises here: the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library contributed its money to, well, ballot measures that would have affected the library. In 2000, for example, the F and F plunked $265 thousand into an effort called the "Committee to Save Branch Libraries — Yes on Prop. A."

Top 30 San Francisco campaign donors, 1998-2008

1. Pacific Gas & Electric $14,831,486
2. Clint Reilly $4,138,089
3. Committee on Jobs $2,970,857
4. Warren F. Hellman $1,191,970
5. Don Fisher (incl. Don & Doris Fisher Y2K trust) $1,164,286
6. Lennar Homes $1,002,861
7. Charles Schwab Corporation $973,176
8. S.F. Police Officers Association $913,834
9. SEIU Local 1021 & SEIU Local 790 $860,979
10. Friends & Foundation of the S.F. Public Library $858,082
11. California Academy of Sciences $818,154
12. Residential Builders Association of S.F. $753,857
13. Steven Castleman $665,254
14. S.F. Association of Realtors $647,299
15. S.F. Chamber of Commerce $614,824
16. SEIU United Health Care Workers West & Local 250 $585,937
17. Gap, Inc. $573,959
18. California Issues PAC $556,238
19. Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums $541,474
20. Wells Fargo $464,899
21. Building Owners & Managers Association of S.F. $464,027
22. Bank of America $429,316
23. Golden Gate Restaurant Association $422,685
24. SF SOS $407,491
25. AT&T Inc. and affiliates $404,704
26. Clear Channel $391,783
27. Charles R. Schwab (individual) $362,250
28. Yellow Cab Cooperative $344,907
29. S.F. Apartment Association $280,376
30. San Franciscans for Sensible Government PAC $279,009

Don’t look back


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Cinephilia is a malady that affects the imagination above all. As 2008’s year-end pieces roll across the blogosphere, one encounters the alluring titles and stills of films which won’t reach the Bay Area for months. Against this tempting tide, I turn to the faint echoes of those undistributed movies which lingered in mind long enough after their festival screenings to become pliable to memory. To take one powerful example, the earthiness of John Gianvito’s still frames of the monuments and graves marking American radicalism’s many resting places inflected my own perception of Obama’s soaring rhetoric. Months after seeing it, Profit motive and the whispering wind‘s contemplative chronology kept returning to me as a visual counterpoint to the "long march" of the campaign season. Abel Ferrara’s Go Go Tales, on the other hand, provided the punch lines to the economic meltdown before the fact. The two films have nothing in common except for prescience, but then prescience is no small thing in a year in which the news outpaced the dream factory for twists-of-fate.

An elegiac documentary like Profit motive is a tough sell in any climate, but I fully expected Go Go Tales to score theatrical distribution after catching it at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Asia Argento slobbering a Rottweiler, Sylvia Miles rasping poetic about Bed Bath and Beyond, miles of dialogue, and a depth of staging which rewards concentration and intoxication in equal kind: Ferrara’s nightlife ballad is ripe for a cult following. At the center of film’s enclosed universe is Ray (Willem Dafoe), a small-time dreamer who runs his Manhattan club on less than a shoestring. The strippers are threatening a work stoppage, the landlady (Miles) is waving her pocketbook around about turning the lease over, and Ray’s brother — a hairstylist from Staten Island known at Ray’s Paradise Lounge as the "king of coiffeuse" — is pulling his financial support from the club. Drawing together all his business acumen, Ray invests in a crooked lotto racket.

After-hours in a threadbare nightclub is an ideal stage for waning fortunes, and it does seem that Ferrara was after a certain timeliness with Go Go Tales: gadfly Danny Cash (Joseph Cortese) spins a Jersey-size yarn about a pastrami projectile hitting "Hillary ‘I Might Be Your Next President’ Clinton," a headstrong cook hawks free-range hot dogs, and the staff grouses over the new Chinese customer base. But there’s no way the director could have known what Go Go Tales augured: Lehman Brothers shareholders left holding their own equivalent of "Ray Ray Dollars," budget cuts, drunk real estate agents, Ponzi schemes, and murmurs of the sinking ship.

A comedy of teetotaling fortunes, a musical with a touch of Beckett, Go Go Tales is every bit a Depression movie. Ferrara’s style is steeped in ’70s playbacks — Robert Altman’s wandering long takes, Woody Allen’s softness for showbiz, and John Cassevetes’ own strip-club serenade, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) — but as long as we’re talking about filmmakers who love talkers, let’s not overlook the original screwball savants. The Ray’s crowd bubbles over with the same provincial clamor as Preston Sturges’ stock company in Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). In Go Go Tales‘ climactic scene, Ray uncorks a brilliantly obfuscating speech before finding the winning lottery ticket in his front pocket. It’s delirium on the edge of despair and a worthy successor to Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940). Thinking about what Sturges would have done with a world in which "bailout" is Merriam Webster’s "word of the year" makes me want to cry laughing — but there I go imagining things again.


Actresses (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, France, 2007)

Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2007)

Foster Child (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines, 2007)

Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, Italy/USA, 2007)

The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, France/Italy, 2007)

Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden)

Myth Labs (Martha Colburn, USA)

Profit motive and the whispering wind (John Gianvito, USA, 2007)

Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)

The Witnesses (André Téchiné, France, 2007)

>>More Year in Film 2008

Unsteady ground



If you’ve been tracking Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment project at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, then you probably know that several years ago, after the Florida-based megadeveloper won an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city, it formed a limited liability company, Lennar-BVHP, LLC, to handle operations on Parcel A of the former naval shipyard.

Parcel A is the only parcel of the shipyard that the Navy has released to the city as cleaned up and ready for development. And since "Lennar-BVHP" pops up in court filings related to the developer’s failures to properly monitor asbestos at Parcel A — failures that led Lennar to enter into a half-million dollar settlement with the local air district in July — that entity has been central to activists’ efforts to uncover the giant developer’s local business secrets.

So we noted with interest the fact that that "Lennar-BVHP" has now sold its development rights at Candlestick and the Shipyard to "HPS Development Co., LLC" — just as an environmental review is being prepared of the entire shipyard, including some of its most toxic and radiologically impaired hot spots.

The transaction took place quietly in August, but was mentioned at a Dec. 16 meeting of the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission, during which the Agency authorized a reimbursement-related amendment to the "Lennar-BVHP-HPS Development Co." acquisition agreement.

During this same Dec. 16 meeting, the SFRC also amended a contract with environmental consultants PBS&J/EIP Associates to add tasks and increase the budget so as to complete the long-awaited environmental review of the combined Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick development project. Until the EIR is complete and certified, nothing can move forward.

But before we get to the implications of the environmental review for Lennar’s proposed Candlestick Point/Shipyard development, it’s worth rewinding the tape to early 2008 to clarify just how, why, and when Lennar-BVHP became HPS Development — and what that transfer means.


In the first six months of 2008 (see "Promises and reality," 04/23/08), Lennar spent more than $5 million to help ensure the victory of Proposition G, which folded the Shipyard and Candlestick Point into one huge redevelopment project, one that could include a new stadium for the 49ers.

And just as urban planners were beginning to wonder if Lennar really would be able to sell proposed luxury condominium complexes on heavily polluted Shipyard land — in the face of a nationwide real estate nosedive — the Irvine-based investment and development company Scala Real Estate Partners announced, in February 2008, that it had signed a multimillion-dollar letter of intent related to Lennar-BVHP’s development.

Founded by former executives of the Perot Group’s real estate division, Scala said it planned to invest up to $200 million — and have equal ownership interests — in the project.

The investment fulfilled a city-issued mandate that Lennar find a financial backer to guarantee its proposed multibillion-dollar project, regardless of market conditions.

Then this fall, Lennar demanded and got approval from the Redevelopment Commission for an additional 500 homes and a 7.5 percent increase in its profit margins (see "Bait and Switch," 11/05/08), as part of an Oct. 27 draft financing plan for the Candlestick Point/Shipyard proposal.

But at the time that this financing plan was negotiated, Lennar-BVHP had, in fact, already sold all of its title and interest in the project land and assigned all its rights and obligations under the related financing documents to HPS Development Co., LP, which filed a business license with the state on Aug. 28.

Records filed with the California Secretary of State show that HPS Development Co., LP, lists yet another limited liability company, CP/HPS Development Co., GP, LLC, which filed a license with the state on Dec. 11, as its general partner. Lennar Urban’s Kofi Bonner is listed as the authorized person for CP/HPS development. And HPS Development Co., LP’s office address is listed as being c/o Lennar Urban’s 49 Stevenson Street, Suite 600 address.

Land-use lawyer Sue Hestor told the Guardian that the move to form HPS Development Co., LP suggests that Lennar ran out of money.

"Forming a limited liability company means that people are just putting their money into that project," Hestor said. "It’s a way to segregate it from other projects."


The Redevelopment Agency also renegotiated the terms of its contract with consultants PBS&J for an environmental review of the combined Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Development Project Dec. 16th — and the results of that study could shed light on some very scary prospects.

According to Redevelopment Commission documents, the Agency and Planning Department staff, working with the Mayor’s Office, have dentified a number of additional tasks that are necessary to adequately complete this review.

These include the addition of an "analysis of windsurfing off Candlestick Point and evaluations of greenhouse gases and sea-level rise."

The most interesting part of the study, however, may be the analysis of geology and soils, to be prepared by Geotechnical Consultants, Inc. That report will look at the phenomenon known as liquefaction — the tendency of landfill to melt into liquid during a major earthquake.

The development zone is situated on a heavily polluted Superfund site, within a stone’s throw from an existing residential community.

As the executive summary in the Redevelopment Commission’s Dec. 16 agenda, notes: "The Project Areas are underlain predominantly by historic artificial fill with moderate to high liquefaction potential, followed by tidal flats and bay mud deposits that are typically soft, weak, and highly compressible…. These include temporary soil/slope instability caused by grading; erosion potential and increased hazards produced by potential failure of foundation support; and strong seismic groundshaking."

Just what kind of liquefaction risks are involved?

According to a February 2005 memo from Navy environmental coordinator Keith Forman to the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board, the USGS Hazard Zone Map, which represents potential liquefaction risks, is intended for planning purposes and is not intended to be site specific.

"It depicts the general risk within neighborhoods and the relative risk from community to community," stated Forman.

But that report concluded that during a 7.9 earthquake, Parcel E-2, which is the landfill site where an underground fire burned for months in 2000, may have a lateral shift of 4 to 5 feet and a settlement of about 10 inches.

"This amount of lateral shift and settling could cause some small breaches in a containment remedy, but would be quickly and easily repairable," Forman added.

But the Navy and the city are proposing to cap Parcel E-2, rather than excavate and remove contaminants, which are thought to include PCBs and radionuclides — and there’s some fear that Hunters Point could be the next Hurricane Katrina when the inevitable major earthquake hits.

Members of the Health and Environment/Education Committee of the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee invited Thomas L. Holzer of the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park to give a Dec. 5 beginner’s course in liquefaction — and his remarks were grounds for some serious concern.

Dressed in a gray and white tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, Holzer described how "sand becomes like liquid, capable of flowing" during an earthquake.

"More importantly, where you have groundwater contamination, fluids are discharged to the surface of the contaminated water, from a depth of 40 to 50 feet," Holzer said.

Noting that according to the USGS, a 6.7 earthquake has a 62 percent chance of hitting the region in the next 30 years, Holzer told the crowd, "If it is close enough to Hunters Point, then it’s probably enough to trigger liquefaction in susceptible materials."

In theory, then, the toxic material that the city buried under a cap could become a major hazard. "The soil liquefies, the ground gets to slosh around, and because movement isn’t always uniform, you can get cracks," he said.

As Holzer told the Guardian after the meeting, "Different people and different entities will issue different levels of risk. For some, everything has to do with profitability. So, San Francisco has some soul searching to do. Is it worth it to fast-track a project that has the potential to impact the whole city, should a major earthquake hit? Because then it would no longer be just about Bayview–Hunters Point."

Wise words, given the reality that Lennar continues to hurt financially.

"In 2009, cash generation will continue to be our top priority," Lennar president and CEO Stuart Miller said Dec. 18, as Lennar’s fourth quarter revenues showed a 41 percent decrease.

"We will convert inventory to cash and reduce both our land purchases and homebuilding starts," Miller promised, blaming falling home prices, increased foreclosures, tighter credit, and volatile equity markets for eroding consumer confidence, depressing home sales, and furthering the decline of the housing market.

Henry’s Hunan Restaurant



In ages past, I belonged to a small literary society — a sect, if you like. Let us call this society the Out of Print Society. (It actually bore another name, which decency forbids me from proclaiming in print.) The members of our little group met weekly at a Chinese restaurant to trade gossip and pour out the frustrations that have a way of accumuutf8g in literary life; although we did not drink beer from tankards or pound those tankards on the tabletop as a way of demanding refills, we did like kung pao chicken and Hunan fish, and we drank lots of green tea, poured from a pretty pot into dainty little cups.

The restaurant that served as our meetinghouse was Alice’s, corner of Sanchez and 29th streets. The food was cheap and good, and the location was both out of the way and central, perfect for our fugitive natures. At this time, in the second half of the mid-1990s, the Chinese-restaurant picture — indeed the entire restaurant picture — in upper (or is that outer?) Noe Valley was … sleepy. The whole neighborhood was sleepy, and Alice’s was the jewel in the crown atop this nodding head.

Although the Out of Print Society is no more — has gone out of print, we might say — Alice’s is still there. But these days it’s facing competition as the dominant local purveyor of fine, inexpensive, and spicy Chinese food, for just a block away, over on Church Street, an outpost of Henry’s Hunan Restaurant has opened, in the space that belonged most recently to Pescheria and, an iteration or two before that, the estimable but short-lived Café J.

It is one of my beloved maxims that oft-flipped restaurant locations sooner or later become sushi joints, but now there will have to be a new, or another, maxim in light of the spectacle of a Hunan enterprise moving in to cast a calm upon troubled restaurant waters. The look of the space doesn’t seem to have changed much since Café J days; the footprint of the dining room is the same, with the tables laid out in a kind of backward J around a long bar. The chairs, in brushed steel or nickel, are very urban modern, as are the red-shaded halogen lights suspended from the ceiling. In a bow to Noe Valley’s famed sunshine (which real estate people have a way of perceiving more keenly than the rest of us), a few tables and chairs sit outside, nestled against the building’s façade.

So Henry’s Hunan doesn’t look like a typical Chinese restaurant. This appears to be a trend, and is a welcome one. The food, meanwhile, is outstanding and moderately priced. As at Brandy Ho’s over in the Castro District, the menu includes a selection of Hunan-style smoked meats. The usual suspects of Chinese restaurants are also well-represented, from wonton soup to Mongolian chicken. But Henry’s also offers some dishes I’ve never seen before.

One of the most memorable of these is Diana’s special meat pie ($6.95), a stack of scallion cakes buffered by tasty minced meat (pork, I suspect) and plenty of shredded iceberg lettuce. The cakes take on an almost pastry-like flakiness from deep-frying, and the dish as a whole is like a cross between a club sandwich and a tostada: a layered golden disk cut into quarters you can eat with a knife and fork or with your hands, sandwich-style. (Here, incidentally, we have the heretofore unheard-of reality of a Chinese dish even an expert couldn’t eat with chopsticks.)

Henry’s chopsticks are the plastic kind, incidentally, which limits their utility. Dumplings ($5.50), a.k.a. potstickers, aren’t chopstick-friendly in any case, so it was a relief to find them served in a shallow bowl, from which they could be fork-speared without slipping around too much. And chopsticks are blissfully irrelevant in matters of soup, such as mo soi soup ($6), a sizable bowl of steaming chicken stock thickly invested with chunks of chicken, tofu, and egg and shreds of baby-spinach leaves. This is a lovely, satisfying soup, especially in cold weather, but you should make sure you have it before the spicy stuff starts coming, or it could seem lost and pale.

And the spicy stuff is spicy, although the heat is well-controlled, like a 104 mph fastball that shaves the outside corner at the knees. Henry’s special seafood dish ($10.50), a mélange of scallops, shrimp, and chunked chicken breast tossed with carrot coins and tabs of water chestnut, takes its charge from red chili garlic paste, whose distinctive flavor tends to be a little dominant. If you like that flavor, you’ll like it here.

More subtle is spicy curry show main ($7.50), which can be had with chicken, pork, beef, or vegetables. I am wary of curry dishes in Chinese restaurants; too often they taste of canned curry powder, which too often tastes mostly of can — a metallic harshness that overwhelms neighboring flavors, as a huge ugly building can cut off the sun to buildings around it. But Henry’s curry seasoning, though almost certainly a powder (to judge by the yellow tint it imparts to the noodles: a sign of turmeric), has an attractively rounded flavor that accepts the presence of other ingredients (meat, slivered scallions, julienne red bell pepper) and doesn’t stomp on them.

The dish (like Henry’s seafood special) is marked on the menu with a chili pepper — a sign of either welcome or warning, depending on your views about heat — but the kitchen will dial down the chili charge on request. Your server will ask you how hot you like it, along a range from mild to tankard-banging.


Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

1708 Church, SF

(415) 826-9189

Beer and wine


Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Whose house lost the most value?


Text by Sarah Phelan

Produced by First American CoreLogic, using the real estate industry’s home price index, this map is not a pretty sight, despite the pretty colors.

It shows that California remains the clear leader nationwide, in terms of highest home price depreciation.

Prices in California have declined 28.3 percent annually.

Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Hawaii are the next top losers, in order of percentage loss.

Only three states show price increases: West Virginia, South Dakota and Texas.

These states account for only 13 percent of the US population.

Within California, the biggest losers are Salinas, Merced, Stockton, Riverside, San Bernadino, Ontario, Vallejo, Fairfield, Oakland, Fremont and Hayward, Modesto and Bakersfield (losses of around -29 and -28 percent.)

So, while it’s true that San Francisco home prices have not taken such a huge beating, so far– an average -16.28 percent loss, since last year–it’s worth remembering that much of the city’s workforce lives in the East Bay and the Central Valley.

In other words, the bigger regional hurt is probably a more accurate way of predicting and estimating the wider negative economic impacts that are still headed our way, like a tsunami, gathering offshore.

Editor’s Notes



I was out of town the day Tom Ammiano appeared at his final meeting as a San Francisco supervisor. Too bad; I would have gone, no matter how busy I was, just to be a part of history.

I know that sounds silly. The Barack Obama inauguration will be part of history. The election of Harvey Milk was part of history. Ammiano’s last day? Hey, the guy’s moving on to Sacramento. Take a bow, everyone says thanks, and another local politician takes another political job. History?

Well, yeah, actually. Because when the history of progressive politics is written in this town (and I hope some other poor sucker takes on that job so I don’t have to) Tom Ammiano will go down as a central figure in the movement that turned San Francisco around.

It’s worth noting that the movie Milk, celebrating the life of the gay pioneer, opened around the same time Ammiano was clearing out his City Hall office. The connection goes deeper than the fact that they were both queer men fighting for basic human rights and dignity at a time when that was a huge uphill struggle.

Milk was part of an urban movement that came out of the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s that sought to wrest control of San Francisco from a cadre of military and big business leaders who had been running it since World War II. The agenda of the crew that we collectively refer to as "downtown" was turning the sleepy port city of the 1930s into the financial headquarters for Pacific Rim trade. They wanted San Francisco to be another Manhattan; they laid plans, they put the machinery in place — and they never asked the people who lived here whether that was the future we wanted.

Because all that downtown development meant higher rents, more evictions, gentrification, budget deficits, too many cars, the death of small businesses … and by the mid-1970s, the activists had figured out how to fight back. It started with electing supervisors by district so that big money didn’t always carry the day.

Milk was elected supervisor as part of the progressive push that put George Moscone in the Mayor’s Office. And if Moscone and Milk had lived, it’s possible that the tide could have turned right then. But the assassinations derailed district elections, turned the city back over to downtown, and sentenced the San Francisco left to more than 20 years of tough political dark ages.

Ammiano got elected in that era, when the developers called all the shots, when tenants and environmentalists and neighborhood people were lucky to get two or three votes on the Board of Supervisors. His pro-tenant and anti-development proposals never even reached the desks of mayors who would have vetoed them anyway.

But he didn’t give up, and in 1999, in the bleak days of the dot-com boom, he took on a long-shot campaign for mayor that, in one six-week period, reenergized the San Francisco left. With his help, district elections came back; and with his leadership, a decidedly progressive board took office in 2001. Living wage, sick pay, universal health care, bike plans, real estate transfer taxes, tenant protections … these are all products of that change.

Ammiano was an odd sort of leader, someone with a sense of humor who didn’t take himself anywhere near seriously enough. He would be the first to credit the movement, not the man — and he’d be right. But when we needed him, he was there.

After the bubble



Speculators will be able to sit on tracts of San Francisco land until the market improves. Development impact fees will be set too low to cover the costs of neighborhood improvements like parks, streets, and transit. Affordable housing development is intimately tied to a busted market rate-housing boom.

This is the future of the eastern South of Market, Potrero Hill, Central Waterfront, and Mission District neighborhoods as laid out in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, a community rezoning effort that began in 2001 that now fills a binder thicker than a weightlifter’s bicep.

After more than 30 public hearings, the plan is approaching final approval by the Board of Supervisors. While some are lauding all the heavy lifting that’s been done to get it to this stage, there are still some noticeable shortcomings.

"The plan itself is despicably deficient in terms of affordable housing," housing activist Calvin Welch told the Guardian. That sentiment was echoed by spokespeople from the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and the South of Market Community Action Network, who may join together in a legal challenge of the plan’s Environmental Impact Report for failing to properly consider socioeconomic impacts.

"There will be environmental impacts in terms of displacement, increased amounts of traffic and cars, increased levels of noise," said April Veneracion, SOMCAN’s organization director. "The Board of Supervisors could have addressed these inadequacies in the EIR with amendments."

Some last minute amendments were added that would audit the financing of projects and reduce land speculation — but due to a tricky legislative maneuver, even these concessions could be axed by a veto from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The bulk of the plan rezones vast tracts of industrial land on the eastern flank of the city for housing, mixed urban use (including retail and commercial sites), and a light industrial category called "production, distribution, and repair" (PDR) that protects many of the working-class jobs remaining in San Francisco.

Building height limits will increase in some areas and remain at 40 feet in others. Between 7,000 and 10,000 new units of housing are anticipated, with affordable housing rates between 15 to 25 percent, depending on the location and project.

However, the one method of financing affordable housing — known as inclusionary housing, which requires market-rate developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units — is entirely linked to a now-waning economic boom. "Events have rendered it meaningless," said Welch. "The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is a plan predicated on a red-hot real estate market. Planning has no ability to shift with the market and the market, since mid-September, has changed radically."

The Controller’s Office recently readjusted the city’s revenue projections, suggesting a $90 to $125 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, with 40 to 49 percent of that directly connected to flagging real estate transactions.

Yet housing in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan remains primarily composed of market-rate units, fetching upward of $700,000 apiece, with "middle-income" units discounted to half that, and below-market-rate apartments still costing over $200,000 each. Development impact fees are set for $10 per square foot of construction — not enough to cover the proposed improvements that would make these industrial areas pleasant and safe for everyday residential living and working.

"In order to support the population that’s expected to move in, you need transit improvements, park improvements, street improvements," said Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters, a neighborhood group. "Less than half [of these] have been funded by the project."

He characterized the approved parts of the plan as "pretty weak." "They’re rezoning 500 acres of industrial land for housing — predominantly market-rate — right at a time when no one’s building market-rate housing," Kelly said. He also said the plan lacked many creative financing ideas. "When the area plans were presented to our neighborhood back in 2006, the Planning Department outlined all the things a neighborhood needs. There was a chart with 18 different ways to pay for it. How many are now in the plan? One."

Ways to ensure that developer fees are used well and land doesn’t sit fallow were introduced at the last minute. Amendments to the plan, made by Sup. Aaron Peskin, require audits of the neighborhood improvement fees and forcing developers to actually build rather than speculate — but they received a potentially fatal last-minute blow.

The Board’s first vote on the plan occurred during the Nov. 18 meeting and the bulk of the plan received unanimous support (minus Sup. Chris Daly, who is recused from voting because he owns property in the plan area).

But late in the game, a standoff arose between Peskin and Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who opposed blindly rubberstamping the last-minute amendments offered by Peskin during the previous night’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing.

"We saw the actual language of this if you looked in your e-mail in the last two hours," Elsbernd said during the heat of the Board hearing. "I’d like a week to read the changes made by you last night."

The Board voted to continue the matter for a week, but then, at the end of that day’s business, Peskin rescinded the vote and forced the issue. As promised, Elsbernd severed the four Peskin amendments — a legislative tactic that allows one supervisor to slice out parts of legislation and place them into individual files for separate votes.

Peskin countered by severing another amendment, added by Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, which would have allowed special height increases for two lots on Mission Street, where the New Mission Theatre and the Giant Value store currently sit. Gus Murad, who owns the properties as well as the adjacent restaurant Medjool, has been lobbying to convert the properties to commercial and residential space.

The supervisors shot down the "spot zoning" amendment that would let future buildings on the two sites to be built higher than what’s currently allowed on Mission Street. MAC spokesperson Nick Pagoulatos later applauded the move: "It would have been a ridiculous exception to make and one that clearly favored one developer."

Despite Elsbernd’s move to sever the amendments, all four passed, but didn’t receive enough votes to block a veto from Newsom. Supervisors Carmen Chu and Michela Alioto-Pier voted with Elsbernd.

The mayor’s ability to line-item veto some key protections sought by neighborhood activists was at the heart of the move. "That’s absolutely right," Elsbernd told the Guardian, who added that although he hadn’t spoken with Newsom and didn’t know his intentions, "These are issues that absolutely concern me."

The amendments add "metering" and "use it or lose it" provisions to the plan. Metering is essentially an audit performed by the board every five years to ensure that collected developer impact fees are used properly. Peskin said that while they couldn’t meet all the requests of neighborhood groups and housing rights activists, "this was something that we could do that made good public policy sense."

Elsbernd told the Guardian he didn’t object to the concept of metering but would like oversight by the Controller’s Office. "Metering gives the Board of Supervisors full power and takes the executive out of the mix," he said of the plan as it stands now, adding that it should be viewed as a long-term protection. "This is not about Mayor Gavin Newsom. It’s about Mayor Mirkarimi or Mayor Peskin."

The "use it or lose it" requirements are designed to reduce speculation by mandating that a developer with a project that has received a green light from the Planning Department must procure a building permit within three years, after which they have one year to break ground. Currently, there’s no limit to the amount of time a developer can sit on a property, which becomes more valuable after receiving city approval.

Elsbernd said, "Three years is just not fair," but again, he said he thought there was a middle ground and would like to see project developers given opportunities to make cases for extensions. However, if the developer has one of those grandfathered projects that doesn’t have to meet the new, stricter inclusionary housing regulations or pay public benefits charges, they should "have to pay full fare, full affordability, full fees," said Elsbernd.

A second vote on the plan and its amendments is scheduled for the Nov. 25 Board meeting, after Guardian press deadline, but Elsbernd expressed optimism about a compromise as part of last-minute dealmaking. "I would say there’s a possibility, as colleagues realize the potential mayoral veto."

Still, Welch pointed out that resistance to a "use it or lose it" protection is proof that San Francisco’s real estate market is in no way immune to the economic crisis afflicting the rest of the country. "The assumption built into the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was this robust growing market for condo development and I think the bubble has burst," said Welch. "If that isn’t the case, then why would developers care about a requirement that says you have to build in three years? The Mayor’s Office told me the phones were melting after Monday night’s amendments passed."

But Welch said one of the great ironies of a market-rate housing crash is that it makes nonprofit housing development even more competitive. "That’s why we pushed so hard for ‘use it or lose it.’ It forces developers to say to the city ‘we’ll do it,’ or ‘would you like to buy the site?’<0x2009>" He said the city should be poised to buy those sites in order to build affordable housing and suggested the city lobby Barack Obama’s administration for the funds to do it as part of the large infrastructure improvements planned by the president-elect.

"I think the way housing is financed is going to be totally transformed and the federal government is going to play a bigger role," said Welch. *

San Francisco needs a New Deal


By Christopher D. Cook and Eric Quezada

OPINION On the night the voters spoke, word began filtering through Palm Pilots and iPhones about sweeping budget cuts likely to carve a hole in vital city programs. It’s ugly: massive cuts to the Department of Public Health and numerous social service programs. As usual, programs helping those most in need are getting cut the most. Why aren’t we instead raising revenue from those who have the most?

In this year of "change," we need a fundamental shift in our city’s taxing and spending priorities — a bold New Deal for San Francisco that enlarges the public pie that everyone’s scuffling over, and that creates green jobs and new housing opportunities targeting poor neighborhoods and districts.

It’s time to get serious about taxing and redistributing wealth to stimulate new economic opportunities. The passage of Propositions N and Q — expanding real estate transfer and payroll taxes — is a good start. We need to tax wealth in new ways that replenish the local economy, creating green living-wage jobs with health care and opportunities for small businesses and community-serving groups.

City leaders can make San Francisco a model of good sense by demanding that our wealthiest citizens and corporations help fund a program that creates jobs and economic opportunity for the rest of us. Particularly in the city’s eastern neighborhoods, Districts 9, 10, and 11 (and parts of 6), poverty and economic stress are rampant and families are pressed to their limits — unable to afford health care, working multiple jobs, living in overcrowded apartments, and often in shamefully dilapidated housing conditions.

With home prices declining but rents and foreclosures skyrocketing, the city needs to help thousands of working-class residents who provide vital services — teachers, service-industry workers, and cash-poor immigrants — to remain in San Francisco. Now is the time to prioritize production, public infrastructure, education, and cooperation for the common good; our economy needs a stimulus based on solidarity and collective good.

We’re being presented with false scarcity and false choices — do we cut housing or health care to meet the budget? Few are asking the key question: why don’t we have more money to work with, in this vastly wealthy region?

In an earlier New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt imposed a 90 percent tax on upper income brackets — making it virtually illegal for people to earn so much more than others. Locally, city leaders should explore a gross receipts tax on large firms; new taxes on luxury and high-priced items, such as SUVs, second homes, yachts, and other extravagances; perhaps revive the push for a downtown business tax levied on large firms in the financial district; and a truly progressive income tax harnessing revenues from high-income folks.

People can argue over where the money should go. But it’s brutally clear we are in an age of deepening inequality, widening economic stress, and environmental limits. There’s no room for huge disparities — no room to continue allowing extra-wealthy individuals and corporations to consolidate their gains at the expense of the rest of us. We must renew the fight for public wealth — now. *

Journalist and author Christopher D. Cook is a former Guardian city editor, and a local activist. Contact him at Eric Quezada is executive director of Dolores Street Community Services, and was recently a candidate for District 9 supervisor.

Fighting Newsom’s mid-year cuts


EDITORIAL If Mayor Gavin Newsom moves forward aggressively with mid-year cuts to the city budget, a lame duck Board of Supervisors with four veterans — including the board president and chair of the Budget Committee — on their way out the door could be voting on harsh reductions in city spending on health care, parks, and other services. That’s not the best way to make policy; we’d rather the cuts go to the new board, which will be dealing with next year’s budget anyway. But if the mayor is pushing reductions now, the current board needs to act aggressively and quickly to be sure that the mayor’s wrongheaded priorities don’t carry the day.

We recognize that the city has money problems. Like every other taxpayer-financed entity in America, San Francisco is getting hit hard by the recession. When retail sales drop, so do local sales taxes. When real estate values plummet, so do property taxes receipts. And while some prominent economists are urging President-elect Barack Obama to pour federal money into cities this spring, nobody can count on that happening.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield is projecting that the city will be around $100 million short of cash by the end of the fiscal year. And since California cities (unlike the federal government) can’t run a deficit, that money has to come from somewhere. (Fortunately, the red ink won’t be as bad as it might have been — with little help from the mayor, Sup. Aaron Peskin got two new revenue measures passed in November that will bring some $50 million more into city coffers).

Newsom’s chief target at this point is the Department of Public Health, which is facing more than $256 million in cuts. That’s on top of all the cuts the department has had to absorb over the past two years — and it will cut deeply into the city’s ability to maintain its landmark Healthy San Francisco program. The Recreation and Park Department, libraries, and Muni will face cutbacks too, and there’s almost certainly a Muni fare hike (essentially a tax on the poor) on the horizon.

But there’s no talk of reducing or eliminating any of the mayor’s pet programs — like the 311 call center, which is a fine service but perhaps not as important as medical staff at SF General — or cutting significantly into his own office spending.

And, as always, the mayor has failed to look at any additional sources of revenue (with the possible exception of new parking meters in Golden Gate Park and at Marina Green). It’s particularly frustrating that Newsom and his hired gun, Eric Jaye, pushed so hard to help Pacific Gas and Electric Co. defeat the Clean Energy Act when public power would be the source of hundreds of millions in annual revenue. (PG&E killed 10 other ballot measures that would have brought cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to San Francisco, the largest source of potential new revenue for the city, and the private monopoly yanks more than $650 million a year out of the city in high rates, according to a Guardian study.)

The supervisors don’t have to wait for the mayor to propose cuts and then react. They can begin to move now. They can begin to identify their own set of cuts and revenue enhancements — and can begin establishing an alternative set of priorities. Is it better to cut 311 and the mayor’s special global warming deputy than to cut nurses at General? Is it better to close some redundant fire stations than cut hours at libraries? Should parking meters and garage fees go up downtown before city parks get meters? Back in 1973, in his first run for supervisor, Harvey Milk proposed eliminating the police vice squad (see "I remember Harvey"). That’s an idea whose time may have come again.

The point is that the mayor, who is weak and more focused on running for governor than on running the city, shouldn’t be driving the fiscal agenda alone. The supervisors need to either agree that they won’t act on cuts until the new board takes office or offer some alternative plans today.

I remember Harvey


Toward the end of the supervisorial campaign in 1973, I got an intercom call from Nancy Destefanis, our advertising representative handling political ads. Hey, she said, I got a guy here by the name of Harvey Milk who is running for supervisor and I think you ought to talk to him.

Milk? I replied. How can anybody run for supervisor with the name of Milk?

Nancy laughed and said that wasn’t his big problem, it was that he was running as an openly gay candidate, but he had strong progressive positions and potential. Nancy, a former organizer for Cesar Chavez’ farm workers, was tough and savvy, and I always took her advice seriously. "Send him in," I said.

And so Harvey Milk came into my office, at the start of his political career, looking like a well-meaning amateur. He had a ponytail and mustache, wore Levi’s and a T-shirt, and talked breathlessly about his issues without a word about how he intended to win. His arguments were impressive, but he clearly was not ready for prime time. We gave him our "romantic" endorsement. He got 17,000 votes.

I also advised him, as diplomatically as I could, that if he wanted to be a serious candidate, he needed to clean up his act.

Two years later, Milk strode into the Guardian in a suit and tie as a serious candidate ready to win and lead. As our strong endorsement put it, "Now he’s playing politics for real: he’s shaved his mustache, is running hard in the voting areas of the Sunset, and has picked up a flock of seemingly disparate endorsements from SF Tomorrow, the Building and Trades Council, Teamsters (for his work on the Coors beer boycott) and the National Women’s Caucus." On policy, we said he "would put his business acumen to work dissecting the budget" and "would fight for higher parking taxes, no new downtown garages, a graduated real estate transfer tax, an end to tax exemptions for banks and insurance companies, dropping the vice squad from the police budget, and improved mental health care facilities." He couldn’t get enough votes citywide to win, but he came closer.

In 1976, Milk decided to run for a state Assembly seat against Art Agnos. We decided to go with Agnos, largely because he was familiar with Sacramento as an aide to former assemblyman Leo McCarthy and also because our political reporter covering the race, Jerry Roberts, said that Agnos was much better on Sacramento issues during the campaign. We decided that Agnos was right for Sacramento and that we needed Milk in San Francisco. I have often wondered if we had endorsed Milk, and he had won, if he would still be alive.

The next year, when the city shifted to district supervisorial elections, Milk won and became the first openly gay elected official in the country. He would always say, "I am not a gay supervisor, I am a supervisor who happens to be gay."

On the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 24, 1978, Milk dropped by to see me at the Guardian. He was a bit dejected. Things were getting tougher for him on the board. He was getting hassled by his friends and allies who were telling him, as he put it, "if you don’t vote for me on this one, I’m going to stop supporting you." He said he was going to press on, but from then on he was going to work more closely with the Guardian on legislation and on giving us information.

Then he smiled the famous Harvey Milk smile and said as he left my room, "I want to be your Deep Throat at City Hall."

Those were the last words I ever heard from Harvey Milk. He was assassinated three days later.

Bait and switch



The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has endorsed a draft financing plan for Lennar’s massive proposed Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point development project, one that increases the company’s housing entitlements and profits.

The agency’s endorsement came during a hastily convened Oct. 27 special meeting, raising the eyebrows of Lennar’s critics. So did the details of the agency’s non-binding financial agreement with Lennar, which two citizens’ committees in the Bayview–Hunters Point community had jointly endorsed a week earlier.

Bayview–Hunters Point resident Francisco Da Costa claimed that "there was almost no public notice of the plan," while Leon Muhammad, who sits on the Bayview–Hunters Point Project Area Committee, fretted that some committee members have business ties and connections with Lennar.

"A group that supposedly represents the interests of the community needs to have transparency and full disclosure," stated Nation of Islam Rev. Christopher Muhammad, who has been a staunch critic of Lennar ever since the developer failed to properly monitor and control asbestos adjacent to his group’s K-12 University of Islam school.

"Lennar never intended to do anything with this land but bank it," Muhammad opined about the public land that Lennar is getting for free. "And now they are hoping to squeeze more profit out of the deal, so they can hedge to where they can make it more attractive to sell."

Alicia Schwartz of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) observed that the deal is likely being driven by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s unrequited desire to see the Olympics come to San Francisco — a dream that was squashed two years ago, Schwartz recalls, "amid a hoopla around toxicity at the shipyard."

Sup. Chris Daly, who has argued that Lennar’s recent $500,000 settlement with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over Lennar’s asbestos violations was "too small and poorly handled," said he wasn’t surprised by the latest deal: "That Lennar wants to pull a fast one is not news."

But with the financing deal likely headed for the full Board of Supervisors this month, Lennar’s critics are worried that the city is being rushed into a deal that has already changed since voters approved Proposition G in June, supporting the vague outlines of Lennar’s project.

They note that while Prop. G specified that the project would create "between 8,500 and 10,000 homes" in the depressed southeast sector, the financing deal that Redevelopment endorsed last week specifies 10,500 homes —and a demand that the agency and the city cooperate to help increase Lennar’s annual rate of return.

Stephen Maduli-Williams, the agency’s deputy executive director, told the Guardian that it was always the agency’s intention to finalize Lennar’s draft financing plan by the end of 2008. Asked if Lennar increased the number of proposed housing units by reducing unit size or increasing building height, Maduli-Williams told us, "They did it by finding a way to squeeze more units into the existing space. They redesigned one of the roads."

"Things are probably going to change again in the next year or two," Maduli-Williams said. "This is a living document. And overall, it is a really nice real estate deal."

Yet critics of Lennar are openly wondering whether it’s nice for the beleaguered company, which had rapidly plummeting stock value even before the recent real estate meltdown, or nice for the city. Maduli-Williams said the deal works for all parties.

"We have strong financial partners," he said. "Any investors that look at the deal know that is it really solid. It includes mostly $600,000 homes, which are cheap by San Francisco standards. And we are not looking to break ground for another three years, by which time the economy, hopefully, will be in good shape."

Maduli-Williams also observed that despite nationwide housing woes, San Francisco remains "one of two or three top destination spots where there is only so much land left and where folks have very high incomes."

But the health of the San Francisco real estate market (compared to the rest of the nation) combined with Lennar’s ongoing financial woes, including a June 8 bankruptcy at Mare Island, is precisely why some folks are questioning Lennar’s increased profit demands. But Maduli-Williams said, "San Francisco cannot be compared to Mare Island."

According to the draft financing deal (which is non-binding), Lennar, the city, and the agency "will work cooperatively to reduce risks and uncertainties" and "find additional efficiencies and values," to achieve Lennar’s proposed 22.5 percent annual profit margin.

As Maduli-Williams explained, if the developer puts up $800 million in equity and wants a 22 percent return, it would have to get $1.2 billion in land sales. "And just like any developer, they want to get the highest return possible," he said, adding that the project’s proposed community benefits are "hard wired into the deal" and thus are "not threatened" by Lennar’s proposed target return increase.

Lennar’s proposal, which represents a 7.5 percent increase over current project projections, has also received validation from CBRE Consulting, which is a subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis — a global real estate firm headed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum.

In an Oct. 15, 2008 memo (coincidentally written the day President Bush announced a partial nationalization of the US banking system) to Michael Cohen, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, CBRE’s Mary Smitheram-Sheldon and Thomas Jirovsky observed that, "Based on Consultants’ extensive experience in evaluating large scale mixed-use developments, including military base reuse plans, we are of the opinion that the proposed 22.5 percent per annum target return …is reasonable."

Earlier this year, as Lennar spent $5 million to support Prop. G, CBRE declared that 50 percent affordability in Lennar’s proposed mixed-use development at the shipyard, as was being recommended in Daly’s Prop. F, was "not financially feasible."

At the city’s request, CBRE analyzed Prop. F and concluded in a memo to Cohen that it would reduce Lennar’s revenue by at least $1.1 billion. Reached by phone this week, Jivorsky acknowledged that his firm has done work for different developers around the country for years, including Lennar.

"But we are not working on anything for Lennar in San Francisco," Jivorsky told the Guardian. "Our client is the city of San Francisco and we take our job very seriously. We would never make recommendations that we didn’t believe were in the city’s best interests."

Meanwhile, Cohen told the Guardian that the strain for real estate capital is likely going to push the rate of return demand up even more. Noting that the city agreed to 25 percent returns at Lennar’s previous Treasure Island and Hunters Point Shipyard deals, Cohen said, "Real estate is considered to be a greater risk than it was six months ago, even in San Francisco. So, it’s not so much that we have to negotiate this as have to understand what is required for private capital to invest."

Cohen believes that when the construction plans — which currently have few details spelled out — get more detailed, they will help increase the project’s rate of return. "Which is why," Cohen added, "the developer’s partners are willing to spend a boatload of money."

On Aug. 19, the Redevelopment Agency approved the addition of Kimco Developers and MACTEC Development Corporation as Lennar BVHP’s retail and infrastructure partners, and Scala Real Estate Partners, Hillwood Development, and Estein Associates USA Ltd. as Lennar BVHP’s equity partners.

Cohen also hopes that the 49ers’ intentions towards San Francisco will be resolved by November 2009, when Lennar hopes to enter into an agreement with the football team. The 49ers continue to pursue plans to relocate to Santa Clara, and have not signaled any desire to remain here.

To date, Lennar’s draft financing plan includes an agreement that the developer will contribute $100 million in cash toward construction of a new 49ers stadium, and that the city will enter a long-term $1 ground lease with the 49ers for a 17.4-acre Hunters Point Shipyard site.

Meanwhile, disgruntled community advocates claim that since January, when Feinstein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Gavin Newsom announced $82 million in federal funding for the cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard site, those funds have gone primarily to cleaning up the potential 49ers site.

Nix Lennar’s higher profit deal


EDITORIAL The troubled homebuilder that wants to develop the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point has come back to the city asking for a higher profit level, more market-rate housing, more retail, and more office space. In essence, Lennar Corp. wants to change the deal voters approved in June. The supervisors should give this a hard look, hold hearings, and check the numbers, because the entire project is looking more shaky and dubious by the day.

Lennar is one of the nation’s largest residential development companies, but it’s been walloped by the drop in the housing market. A Lennar project at Mare Island recently went bust and is being auctioned off. The company’s stock has tanked. And some wonder if it will be able to get the financing necessary for a multibillion dollar project in San Francisco.

But Lennar is not only moving forward — it’s demanding more. In fact, as Sarah Phelan reports on page 16, the Redevelopment Agency just signed a deal with Lennar agreeing that the city and the project sponsor "will work cooperatively to reduce risks and uncertainties" and "find additional efficiencies and values" to achieve the developer’s proposed 22.5 percent annual return target.

That 22.5 percent — which is far more profit than many San Francisco businesses ever make and seems almost obscene in this economic climate — is up 7.5 percent from when the deal was first signed. And remember, Lennar gets the land — public land — essentially free.

Of course, a consulting firm the city hired to evaluate the deal finds that perfectly reasonable. The firm, CBRE Consulting, is a subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis, a global real estate firm headed by Richard Blum, who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a big supporter of the Lennar plan.

The original plan called for 8,500 to 10,000 housing units; that’s now up to 10,500. There’s no significant increase in community amenities, affordable housing, or infrastructure payments.

If this sounds a little funky, it is. From the start, Lennar has been playing around with the numbers and promising more than it may be able to deliver. And if the project starts to go belly up before it’s finished, Lennar will walk away and leave the city with the mess.

We’ve always been a bit dubious about the way the Redevelopment Agency turns to a single "master developer" and gives that private outfit exclusive rights to build on a large piece of land. The deal always seems to be a lot better for the builder than it is for the city.

And this one was bad from the start. At the most, Lennar would offer 25 percent of the units at below-market rates; that’s less than half the amount of affordable housing mandated in the city’s general plan. Much of the land on the site is toxic, and Lennar has been steeply fined by the air quality board for failing to control asbestos dust. The whole concept of a suburban-style community of luxury condos with special freeway access in southeastern San Francisco is inappropriate, if not bizarre.

But voters approved the program after Lennar spent millions on a ballot measure campaign, so the city has to continue working with the developer. But there’s nothing that says the supervisors have to sign off on changes in the deal that don’t serve San Francisco’s interests.

The board ought to demand, at the very least, that Lennar devote some of its higher profit margin to increasing affordable housing — and that the funding for community amenities should be set aside before the builders break ground on the luxury condos. Ideally this entire thing should go back to the drawing board. But short of that, any changes need to benefit the city, not the private developer.

Downtown’s planner



The battle for the district 1 supervisor’s seat is being framed largely by politically conservative groups, funded by real estate and development, that are spending thousands of dollars supporting former planning commissioner Sue Lee over school board member Eric Mar.

An incestuous web of independent expenditure and political action committees have collectively spent enough against Mar to blow the $140,000 cap off the voluntary expenditure ceiling that all the candidates in that district agreed to.

The money’s coming from the Building Owners and Managers Association, Plan C, the Coalition for Responsible Growth, and the San Francisco Association of Realtors. Although these groups can’t legally work directly with candidates, they typically swap funds among each other and receive outside support from the deep pockets at the Chamber of Commerce, Committee on Jobs, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

According to Ethics Commission executive director John St. Croix, the $140,000 cap was lifted on Friday, Oct. 24, which means the candidates are now free to spend up to their individual campaign limits, which are different for Lee, Mar, and Alicia Wang, the other major contender for the seat.

All three are receiving public financing — but so much outside money is being spent in support of Lee that, to keep pace, the individual spending caps for Mar and Wang have been raised and are now higher than Lee’s.


Lee, who worked for Willie Brown’s mayoral administration and was public relations director for the Chamber of Commerce, now runs the Chinese Historical Society of America. Her voting record on the Planning Commission has been consistently pro-development and anti-neighborhood. Some examples from her final months on the commission:

<\!s> On April 10, 2008, she approved a mixed-use development at 736 Valencia St. and removed community benefits and below-market-rate unit requirements — against the wishes of community members and housing rights activists.

<\!s> On March 27, 2008, she was the only commissioner to vote against modifications to a rooftop remodeling project at 1420 Montgomery St. that would have pacified neighbors concerned about the scale and character of the plan.

<\!s> On March 13, 2008 she supported a conditional-use permit for a formula-retail paint store at Cesar Chavez and South Van Ness despite concerns about its effect on nearby small businesses.

<\!s> On Feb. 28, 2008, she approved a remodeling of a two-story flat on Potrero Ave. that opponents, including the next-door neighbors, characterized as a demolition in disguise.

"Her voting record for the past three years is crystal clear," one lawyer who represents neighborhood interests at the commission told us. "Given a choice between supporting neighborhood interests, long-term residents and the interests of the little guy or supporting development interests and the big- money people who are busy in our residential neighborhoods, she chooses the latter every time."

The lawyer, who regularly appears before the planning panel and asked not to be named, added: "She has supported big-box retail in our neighborhoods over the objections of neighbors. She has supported the destruction of rent-controlled housing and low-scale, more affordable housing that is being remodeled out of existence."

"She’s a total pay to play," said Robert Haaland, a labor activist with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which is deeply vested in independent expenditures supporting Mar. "Her donations can be tracked back to decisions she made as planning commissioner."

For example, Lee voted in favor of a plan by Martin Building Company to convert a city-owned building on Jessie Street into 25 luxury condos that now rent for about $3,000 a month. Martin’s owner, Patrick McNerney is a Lee campaign donor. Also contributing to Lee is Eric Tao of AGI Capital, which helped finance the Soma Grand development, a project opposed by sustainable growth organizations like Livable City, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and the Sierra Club. Lee voted in favor of it.

In 2006, Lee approved lifting the downtown height restrictions from 150 feet to 250 feet for a 189-unit building with ground level retail on Howard Street. The project sponsor, Ezra Mercy, gave Lee’s campaign the maximum legal donation of $500.

In fact, her campaign has received thousands of dollars in individual contributions — and according to our analysis, more than half has come from real estate developers, attorneys, and builders, including some who appear frequently before the Planning Commission, such as executives from Wilson Meany Sullivan, CB Richard Ellis, and Millennium Partners.

Lee did not return a call seeking comment.


The same day the spending cap was lifted, Mar alleged the local Democratic Party’s name was being improperly used by a new group calling itself the "San Francisco Democratic Club." First reported by Paul Hogarth on the online news site BeyondChron, the club is apparently composed of Democratic County Central Committee defectors who disagreed with the party’s endorsements for the Nov. 4 election.

The group’s treasurer, Mike Riordan, is also a deputy political director of PG&E’s Stop the Blank Check Committee, which is mounting the $10 million campaign against the Clean Energy Act. PG&E gave $30,000 to this new democratic club, the members of which have not been revealed.

Riordan hired DCCC member Tom Hseih’s firm to send robocalls in Cantonese to Asian voters urging support for Lee over DCCC-endorsed Mar. The endorsement script referred to the group as the "San Francisco Democratic Party Club." Mar said it was a misleading way to align this new club with the DCCC.

When asked if the club’s use of the Democratic Party name and membership to support candidates and issues that haven’t received the party’s vote was their intention, Hsieh told the Guardian, "Yeah, and you know what? That’s covered under the First Amendment."

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who chairs the DCCC and spoke on its behalf in support of Mar at two recent rallies, said, "at minimum, it’s misleading. At maximum it’s a violation of the party rules and punishable by removal." He said there was a credible argument and evidence supporting Mar’s allegation, but that it’s something the DCCC would have to deal with in its own house, likely after Nov. 4.

Family act



District 3 supervisorial candidate Joe Alioto Jr., 36, has stated repeatedly on the campaign trail that he is not running on his family’s name.

But his lack of policy or political experience, combined with his campaign’s close ties to his sister, District 2 Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier — the most conservative and reactionary member of the Board of Supervisors — has progressives fearing he’ll be even more hostile to their values than his sister if he is elected this fall.

Records show that Alioto-Pier, 40, who was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004, consistently votes against the interests of tenants, workers and low-income folks. She recently sponsored legislation that passes increased water and sewer rates along to tenants. In the past, she has voted against relocation money for no-fault evictions and against limits on condominium conversions. And that’s just her record on tenants’ rights.

"Michela makes Sup. Sean Elsbernd look like a progressive," said Board President Aaron Peskin, who is termed out as D3 supervisor and has endorsed David Chiu as his preferred candidate to represent this diverse district, which encompasses Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and Telegraph Hill.

Alioto, who bought a $1.3 million Telegraph Hill condominium in 2004, has said in debates that he was proud to serve on the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Board for three years, citing his alleged involvement in stopping the Mills Corporation’s development at Piers 27 and 31, improving the Broadway corridor, and working on neighborhood parks.

But a former THD Board member says Alioto’s claims are wildly overstated.

"He did not achieve anything in North Beach as a board member," our source said. "His attendance was poor, he lacked leadership, and when he was asked to head a Broadway corridor subcommittee to tackle the Saturday night issue, he said no, he was too busy. He was on the opposite side of all our policies and goals. There were even questions whether he was residing in the district, when he house-sat for his parents in the East Bay."

In a March 2006 e-mail to THD members, Alioto acknowledges that he and his wife had indeed been house-sitting in the East Bay for months while his parents were in Italy. "Of course, I have never intended to stay in the East Bay, my being there for simply a temporary period," Alioto wrote, referring to the Supreme Court’s definition of residency, which he said he "relied on to continue to contribute to THD activities."

THD board members aren’t the only ones accusing Alioto of stretching the truth.

The Sierra Club’s John Rizzo is irate over the use of the club’s name in a recent Alioto campaign mailer in which Alioto claims that he helped create the San Francisco Climate Challenge "in collaboration with the Sierra Club and DF Environment."

"What he says is highly misleading," Rizzo told the Guardian. "It makes it sound like an ongoing effort he cofounded with the Sierra Club, but it was a one-time effort that, while worthwhile, only lasted a month and is over and done with."

Rizzo further noted that Alioto did not complete or return the Sierra Club’s candidate questionnaire, as is requested of candidates seeking the club’s political endorsement. Alioto also has ruffled feathers by claiming that he prosecuted criminal cases while working in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in 1999.

Alameda County Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy told the Guardian that Alioto was, in fact, "a summer intern, a student law clerk working under supervision" in 1999. "He got to prosecute a few cases under our supervision, including a misdemeanor jury trial, but he never worked as an actual deputy DA," Dunleavy said.

But Alioto’s alleged distortions have tenants’ rights advocates like Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union wondering if Alioto will preserve rent control and try to abolish the Ellis Act, as he has promised on the campaign trail. Alioto never completed a Tenants Union candidate endorsement questionnaire, and has a massive amount of financial backing from the same downtown real estate and business interests that support his anti-tenant sister, Alioto-Pier.

Campaign disclosures show that Alioto’s campaign consultant, Stephanie Roumeliotes, led the Committee to Reelect Michela Alioto-Pier in 2006. Roumeliotes is also working on two other political campaigns this fall: No on B, which opposes the affordable housing set-aside, and Yes on P, which supports giving Mayor Newsom even greater control of how transportation funds are allocated and spent, and which even Alioto-Pier joined the Board of Supervisors in unanimously opposing.

Public records show that the Alioto siblings have 160 of the same campaign contributors. These include Gap founder Donald Fisher, wealthy socialite Dede Wilsey, and Nathan Nayman, former executive director of the Committee on Jobs, a downtown political action committee funneling big money into preferred candidates like Alioto.

All of which has progressives worrying that Alioto and his sister could become the Donny and Marie Osmond tag team for the same Republican downtown interests that are seeking to overturn the city’s universal health care and municipal identity card programs.

Talking by phone last week after months of stonewalling the Guardian’s requests for an interview, Alioto told us that he admires his sister very much, but that does not mean he shares her beliefs. "She has been through more in her relatively short life than most of us, and she does a great job representing her district," Alioto said. "But we are not the same people. Just because we are siblings does not mean we think the same."

Noting that, unlike his sister, he supports Proposition M, (which would protect tenants from landlord harassment), Alioto said, "If Michela ever proposed legislation that I thought was bad for the district and city, I’d vote against it."

Asked why he opposes the affordable housing measure Prop. B, Alioto told us that he doesn’t think that "locking away any more of our money helps … but I support affordable housing for low-income folks, including rental units, and we need more middle-income housing for police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers."

As for his endorsement by the rabidly anti-rent control SF Small Property Owners, Alioto said, "I think people are supporting me because I’d be fair and reasonable."

Alioto, who attended Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley and works as an antitrust lawyer at the Alioto Law Firm with brother-in-law Tom Pier, insists that he never claimed he’d been a deputy DA, "but I have a proven record of being interested in putting criminals behind bars."

Noting that he supports the property tax measures on the ballot, "notwithstanding the fact that some real estate interests supporting my campaign are opposed," Alioto further claimed that estimates that a third of his campaign money is from real estate interests are "severely overblown."

"I think they must have been including architects," he told us.

Asked about the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s lawsuit against the city’s universal health care ordinance, Alioto said he supports Healthy San Francisco, "but I am concerned a little about putting the burden on small business."

Claiming that he supports the mayor’s community justice center as well as "funding for whatever programs it diverts people to," Alioto talked about kick-starting the economy in blighted areas by creating jobs and incentives for small businesses in those districts. Alioto, who just saw the San Francisco Small Business Advocates kick down $9,500 in support of his campaign, also said he wants to increase the number of entertainment permits, add a movie theater, and decrease parking fees in Chinatown.

"And I support the [Chinatown] night markets," Alioto said, referring to a pet project of Pius Lee, whose Chinatown neighborhood association was found, during a 2006 audit instigated by Peskin, to have received excess city funds and allowed unlicensed merchants to participate in the markets.

But Lee is evidently now in good standing with Alioto and Mayor Gavin Newsom, since he accompanied both on a recent walkabout to boost Alioto’s standing with Chinatown merchants. And Alioto’s election is apparently very important to Newsom, given that the first public appearance the mayor made after returning from his African honeymoon was on behalf of Alioto’s campaign.

All of which seems to confirm progressives’ worst fears that Alioto, just like his sister before him, will become yet another Newsom call-up vote on the board. Three ethics complaints were filed against the Alioto campaign this week, and his detractors say he has a long history of questionable behavior, going back to 1996 when he had a severe ethical lapse while working on his sister’s campaign for Congress.

According to a July 27, 1996 Chronicle article, Alioto, who was then his sister’s campaign adviser, and their cousin, college student Steve Cannata, admitted they conspired to intercept the campaign material of Michela’s congressional opponent, Frank Riggs.

"If Miss Alioto tolerates this sort of deceit in her campaign, it is frightening to imagine how she would behave if ever elected," Riggs wrote at the time. Alioto-Pier lost that race. But if her brother wins this November, can progressives help but be a little frightened to imagine just how the Alioto siblings might behave?

As one observer who preferred to remain anonymous told us, "Alioto may be all Joe Personality on the campaign trail, and have the same photogenic smile as his sister, but in reality, he is a fraud."

The stealth candidate



Ahsha Safai is hoping to be elected to the Board of Supervisors without answering questions about his padded political resume of short-lived patronage jobs, greatly exaggerated claims of his accomplishments, history as a predatory real estate speculator, connections to and coordination with downtown power brokers, shifting and contradictory policy positions, or the many other distortions this political neophyte is offering up to voters in District 11, a crucial swing district that could decide the balance of power in city government.

Safai has refused numerous requests for interviews with the Guardian over the last two months. We’ve even left messages with specific concerns about his record and positions. But our investigation reveals his close political ties to the downtown interest groups that have spent close to $100,000 on his behalf and shows him to be a shameless opportunist who is apparently willing to say anything to achieve power.

There’s much we don’t know about Ahsha Safai, but there’s enough we do know for a consistent yet troubling portrait to emerge.

Safai moved to San Francisco from Washington, DC with his lawyer wife in 2000, and immediately began to ingratiate himself into the mainstream Democratic Party power structure, starting as a legislative liaison with the corruption-plagued San Francisco Housing Authority and joining Gavin Newsom’s mayoral campaign in 2003.

Safai became a protégé of Newsom’s field director Alex Tourk, who was a top Newsom strategist for several years until he abruptly resigned after learning that Newsom had an affair with his wife. With support from Tourk (who didn’t respond to our calls about Safai) and Newsom, Safai held a string of city jobs over the next three years, moving from the Mayor’s Office of Community Development to the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services to the Department of Public Works, all of which he touts on his Web ite, greatly exaggerating (and in some cases, outright misrepresenting) his accomplishments in each, according to those who worked with him. (Few sources who worked with Safai would speak on the record, fearing repercussions from Newsom).


One project Safai doesn’t mention on his Web site is his work spearheading Community Connect, the most disastrous of Newsom’s SF Connect programs. "It’s the one Connect that the mayor will never talk about," said Quentin Mecke, who participated in the effort, on behalf of nonprofit groups, to create a community policing system. "The whole thing just devolved into chaos and there weren’t any more meetings."

In 2005, Safai and Tourk convened meetings in each of the city’s police precincts to take testimony on rising violence and the failure of the San Francisco Police Department to deal with it. Ultimately Newsom decided to reject a community-policing plan developed through the process by the African-American Police Community Relations Board. That set up the Board of Supervisors to successfully override a mayoral veto of police foot patrols.

"Ahsha’s approach was consistent with the Newsom administration, with folks that talk a good game but there’s no substance behind it," said Mecke, who ran for mayor last year, placing second.

Another realm in which Safai has claimed undeserved credit is on his efforts to save St. Luke’s Hospital from attempts by the California Pacific Medical Center (and CPMC’s parent company, Sutter Health) to close it or scale back its role as an acute care provider for low income San Franciscans.

"When I looked at his campaign material and he says he was a leader who saved St. Luke’s, I thought, ‘Am I missing something here?," Roma Guy, a 12-year member of the city’s Health Commission and leader in the effort to save St. Luke’s, told the Guardian. "Nobody thinks Ahsha has taken a leadership role on this. This is a significant exaggeration from where I sit."

Nato Green, who represents nurses at St. Luke’s within the California Nurses Association, went even further than Guy, saying he was worried about Safai’s late arrival to the issue (Safai wasn’t part of the group that protested, organized, and urged CPMC to agree to rebuild the hospital) and the fact that CPMC appointed Safai to its Community Outreach Task Force as the representative from Distrist 11.

"From our point of view, he is the CPMC’s AstroTurf program, simuutf8g community participation," Green told us. "It’s critical to us that we end up with a supervisor who is independent of CPMC and will go to the mat for what the community needs."

CNA has endorsed Avalos in the District 11 race.

"John was the only candidate in District 11 who came out and spoke at the hearings, attended the vigils, and walked the picket line during the strikes," Green said.


Beyond his association with downtown power brokers and endorsement by Newsom, there are other indicators that Safai is hostile to progressive values. He said in a recent televised forum that he would work most closely with supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, and Michela Alioto-Pier, the three most conservative members of the Board of Supervisors.

During an Oct. 14 Avalos fundraiser hosted by sustainable transportation advocates Dave Snyder, Tom Radulovich, and Leah Shahum, attendees expressed frustration at Safai’s tendency to pander to groups like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, taking whatever position he thinks they want to hear without considering their implications or consistency with his other stands.

"It was a no-brainer for the Bike Coalition to endorse John," Shahum, SFBC’s executive director, said at the event, noting Avalos’ long history of support for alternatives to the automobile.

Avalos, who had been hammered all week by mailers and robocalls from downtown groups supporting Safai, said he was frustrated by the barrage but that "we can fight the money with people.

"Ahsha has done everything he can to blur the lines about what he stands for," Avalos said. "Whoever he’s talking to, that’s who he’s going to be. But we need principled leadership in San Francisco."

One area where Safai doesn’t appear to be proud of his work is in real estate, opting to be identified on voting materials as a "nonprofit education advisor." One of his opponents, Julio Ramos, formally challenged the designation, writing to the Election Department that the label "would mislead voters and is not factually accurate, the term ‘businessman’ or ‘investor’ denotes the true livelihood of candidate Safai."

Safai responded by defending the title and writing, "My dates of employment at Mission Language Vocational School were from August 2007 through February 2008." So, because of his seven-month stint at this nonprofit, voters will see Safai as someone who works in education, even though his financial disclosure forms show that most of his six-figure income comes from Blankshore LLC, a Los Altos-based developer currently building a large condo project at 2189 Bayshore Blvd. that is worth more than $1 million. (That’s the top value bracket listed on the form, so we don’t know how many millions the project is actually worth or how much more than $100,000 Safai earned this year).

But we do know from city records that Safai has personally bought at least three properties during his short stint in San Francisco, including one at 78 Latona Street that he flipped for a huge profit after buying it from a woman facing foreclosure, who then sued Safai for fraud.

The woman, Mary McDowell, alleged in court documents that real estate broker Harold Smith, "unsolicited, came to plaintiff’s residence and offered assistance to her because her homes were in foreclosure … [and said] she would receive sufficient money after sales commissions to reinstate the loans on the four other properties."

The legal complaint said Smith then modified those terms to pay McDowell less than promised and arranged to sell the home to Safai and his brother, Reza. "Plaintiff is informed and believes and thereon alleges that defendants did not promptly list her residence on the multiple listing service to avoid larger offers on the home and conspired with the other defendants to purchase the home at a far less than market price," reads the complaint.

The case was originally set for jury trial, indicating it had some merit. But after numerous pleadings and procedural actions that resulted in the plaintiff’s attorney being sanctioned for failing to meet certain court deadlines and demands, the case was dismissed.
But whatever the merit to the case, records on file with the county assessor and recorder show that Safai and his brother flipped the property for a tidy profit. They paid $365,500 for the place in December 2003 — and sold it two year later, in December 2005, for $800,000.
Labor activist Robert Haaland told us that Safai can’t be trusted to support rent control or the rights of workers or tenants: "At the end of the day, he’s a real estate speculator."

Downtown’s dirty tricks


By Steven T. Jones

So everyone knew that downtown financial interests (such as the Committee on Jobs, Chamber of Commerce, Police Officers Association, the Association of Realtors, BOMA, PG&E, etc., not the mention their enablers at the Chronicle and Examiner) would be spending big money this election to try to buy the Board of Supervisors. And we knew they’d fight dirty, particularly in the swing districts of 1, 3, and 11.

But a couple of revelations from the past 24 hours show that the attacks that are filling mailboxes and the airwaves aren’t simply dirty – they’re dishonest, unethical, and perhaps even illegal. The Fog City Journal stumbled onto a great story that appears to show illegal political collusion between Dist. 11 supervisorial candidate Ahsha Safai (the real estate developer candidate of Mayor Gavin Newsom who refused our request for an endorsement interview and won’t return our phone calls) and the POA.

And the Chronicle reports on the complaint that Dist. 3 candidate David Chiu filed with the Ethics Commission after a television ad falsely claimed that he supports legalizing prostitution, despite his consistent opposition to Prop. K, the ballot measure that would do so. The commercial and several mailers also falsely claim that Dist. 11 candidate John Avalos still works for Sup. Chris Daly, who downtown is trying to make the poster child for all that’s wrong with San Francisco.

Of course, PG&E and downtown’s bagman, attorney Jim Sutton, have already been the subject of the biggest fines that the Ethics Commission has ever levied for illegal campaign behavior. So perhaps they’re content to just keep lying now and worry later about paying fines with their seemingly bottomless reservoirs of cash.

Editor’s Notes



Follow the money: downtown and the landlords are trying to take over the Board of Supervisors.

It’s not surprising. For the past eight years, the progressives have had enough of a solid majority on the board to prevent Mayor Gavin Newsom from putting some of his worst plans in place and to propose — and often implement — a much better agenda.

This board brought us the living wage ordinance and the universal health care program. This board is moving to solve the budget crisis with taxes on wealthy property owners and big law firms. This board isn’t about to approve an Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that turns the city entirely over to the developers. This board supports public power and renewable energy, and is willing to go up against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

In fact, these past few years have marked the first time in a generation or more that downtown hasn’t controlled both the Mayor’s Office and the board. And the big boys don’t like it a bit.

They know they can’t defeat Sup. Ross Mirkarimi in District 5, and that they can’t stop a progressive candidate from winning in District 9. But they are going full bore, with huge bags of money, to try to get their toadies elected in Districts 1, 3, and 11. This is a real threat, folks. We could lose the board in November. We could lose rent control; that’s what the landlords want.

Sarah Phelan and Ben Hopfer have put together a beautiful chart in this issue that shows how all this is happening. Essentially, a few big players and their political action committees have amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars and are using that money to try to smear supervisorial candidates John Avalos, Eric Mar, and David Chiu. There are independent committees doing hit pieces. There is money pouring directly into the campaigns of downtown candidates. There’s PG&E money. It’s a sewer of nasty campaign cash, all aimed at making sure that three solid progressives don’t win.

The San Francisco Tenants Union has a study showing that big landlords, developers, and real estate lobbyists have poured more than $100,000 into a real estate slate made up of Sue Lee in D1, Joe Alioto in D2, and Ahsha Safai in D11. Almost $60,000 went to Alioto alone; that’s a third of his total money.

You can see where that money’s going if you live in the Excelsior, North Beach, or Richmond districts. It’s going for misleading, nasty hit pieces. One piece attacks Mar for supposedly preventing neighborhood kids from attending neighborhood schools (on the School Board, Mar, like every other sensible board member, has refused to allow the schools to be resegregated, which is what the "neighborhood schools" movement is talking about). Another attacks Avalos for being too close to Sup. Chris Daly (sure, he worked for Daly and they share some political views. But if you meet Avalos, you realize he and Daly have radically different temperaments).

All this is part of a larger downtown strategy. If this crew can’t win those three races in November, I guarantee they’ll try to amend or repeal district elections in the next two years. They’re well-funded, they’re serious, the stakes are high — and they have no problem fighting dirty.

If you live in Districts 1, 3, or 11, vote for Mar, Chiu, or Avalos. If you don’t, you can still help. Go to,, or Show up at 350 Rhode Island St. (enter on Kansas) any Mon.–Thurs. between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. to phone bank or 10 a.m. Sat. and 11 a.m. Sun. to walk precincts. Give money or volunteer. As the old Depression-era slogan said. This is your city. Don’t let the big men take it away from you. *

Endorsements 2008: San Francisco races



Board of Supervisors

District 1


The incumbent District 1 supervisor, Jake McGoldrick, likes to joke that he holds his seat only because Eric Mar’s house burned down eight years ago. Back then Mar, who has had a stellar career on the school board, decided to wait before seeking higher office.

But now McGoldrick — overall a good supervisor who was wrong on a few key votes — is termed out, and progressive San Francisco is pretty much unanimous in supporting Mar as his successor.

Mar, a soft-spoken San Francisco State University teacher, was a strong critic of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman and a leader in the battle to get the somewhat dictatorial and autocratic administrator out of the district. He’s been a key part of the progressive majority that’s made substantial progress in improving the San Francisco public schools.

He’s a perfect candidate for District 1. He has strong ties to the district and its heavily Asian population. He’s a sensible progressive with solid stands on the key issues and a proven ability to get things done. He supports the affordable housing measure, Proposition B; the Clean Energy Act, Proposition H; and the major new revenue measures. He’s sensitive to tenant issues, understands the need for a profound new approach to affordable housing, and wants to solve the city’s structural budget problems with new revenue, not just cuts.

His chief opponent, Sue Lee, who works for the Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t support Prop. H and won’t even commit to supporting district elections. She ducked a lot of our questions and was either intentionally vague or really has no idea what she would do as a supervisor. She’s no choice for the district, and we found no other credible candidates worthy of our endorsement. Vote for Eric Mar.

District 3




The danger in this district is Joe Alioto. He’s smooth, he’s slick, he’s well funded — and he would be a disaster for San Francisco. Make no mistake about it, Alioto is the candidate of downtown — and thanks to his famous name and wads of big-business cash, he’s a serious contender.

Two progressive candidates have a chance at winning this seat and keeping Alioto off the board. David Chiu is a member of the Small Business Commission (SBC) and the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) and is a former civil rights lawyer who now manages a company that sells campaign software. Denise McCarthy ran the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center for 25 years and spent 7 years on the Port Commission.

Tony Gantner, a retired lawyer, is also in the race, although he is running well behind the others in the polls.

We have concerns about all the candidates. Chiu has a solid progressive record as a commissioner and committee member: He was one of only two SBC members who supported the living-wage ordinance and Sup. Tom Ammiano’s city health care plan. He backed Sup. Aaron Peskin, his political mentor, for chair of the DCCC. He backs Prop. H, supports the two revenue measures and the affordable-housing fund, and wants to give local small businesses a leg up in winning city contracts. He has some creative ideas about housing, including a community stabilization fee on new development.

He’s also a partner in a company that received $143,000 last year from PG&E and that has worked with Republicans and some nasty business interests.

Chiu says he doesn’t get to call all the shots at Grassroots Enterprises, which he cofounded. He describes the firm as a software-licensing operation, which isn’t exactly true — the company’s own Web site brags about its ability to offer broad-based political consulting and communication services.

But Chiu vowed to resign from the company if elected, and given his strong record on progressive issues, we’re willing to take a chance on him.

McCarthy has a long history in the neighborhood, and we like her community perspective. She supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing measure. She’s a little weak on key issues like the city budget — she told us she "hadn’t been fully briefed," although the budget is a public document and the debate over closing a massive structural deficit ought to be a central part of any supervisorial campaign. And while she said there "have to be some new taxes," she was very vague on where new revenue would come from and what specifically she would be willing to cut. She supported Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003 and told us she doesn’t think that was a bad decision. It was. But she has by far the strongest community ties of any candidate in District 3. She’s accessible (even listing her home phone number in her campaign material), and after her years on the Port Commission, she understands land-use issues.

Gantner has been a supporter of the Clean Energy Act from the start and showed up for the early organizing meetings. He has the support of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow and talks a lot about neighborhood beatification. But we’re a little nervous about his law-and-order positions, particularly his desire to crack down on fairs and festivals and his strong insistence that club promoters are responsible for all the problems on the streets.

But in the end, Chiu, McCarthy, and Gantner are all acceptable candidates, and Joe Alioto is not. Fill your slate with these three.

District 4


What a mess.

We acknowledge that this is one of the more conservative districts in the city. But the incumbent, Carmen Chu, and her main opponent, Ron Dudum, are terrible disappointments.

It’s possible to be a principled conservative in San Francisco and still win progressive respect. We often disagreed over the years with Quentin Kopp, the former supervisor, state senator, and judge, but we never doubted his independence, sincerity, or political skills. Sean Elsbernd, who represents District 7, is wrong on most of the key issues, but he presents intelligent arguments, is willing to listen, and isn’t simply a blind loyalist of the mayor.

Chu has none of those redeeming qualities. She ducks questions, waffles on issues, and shows that she’s willing to do whatever the powerful interests want. When PG&E needed a front person to carry the torch against the Clean Energy Act, Chu was all too willing: she gave the corrupt utility permission to use her name and face on campaign flyers, signed on to a statement written by PG&E’s political flak, and permanently disgraced herself. She says that most of the problems in the city budget should be addressed with cuts, particularly cuts in public health and public works, but she was unable to offer any specifics. She refused to support the measure increasing the transfer tax on property sales of more than $5 million, saying that she didn’t want to create "a disincentive to those sales taking place." We asked her if she had ever disagreed with Newsom, who appointed her, and she could point to only two examples: she opposed his efforts to limit cigarette sales in pharmacies, and she opposed Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park. In other words, the only times she doesn’t march in lockstep with the mayor is when Newsom actually does something somewhat progressive. We can’t possibly endorse her.

Dudum, who ran a small business and tried for this office two years ago, continues to baffle us. He won’t take a position on anything. Actually, that’s not true — he’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act. Other than that, it’s impossible to figure out where he stands on anything or what he would do to address any of the city’s problems. (An example: When we asked him what to do about the illegal second units that have proliferated in the district, he said he’d solve the problem in two years. How? He couldn’t say.) We like Dudum’s small-business sentiments and his independence, but until he’s willing to take some stands and offer some solutions, we can’t support him.

Which leaves Dave Ferguson.

Ferguson is a public school teacher with little political experience. He’s a landlord, and not terribly good on tenant issues (he said he supported rent control when he was a renter, but now that he owns a four-unit building, he’s changed his mind). But he supports Prop. H, supports Prop. B, supports the revenue measures, and has a neighborhood sensibility. Ferguson is a long shot, but he’s the only candidate who made anything approaching a case for our endorsement.

District 5


Mirkarimi won this seat four years ago after a heated race in a crowded field, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the city’s most promising progressive leaders. He understands that a district supervisor needs to take on tough citywide issues (he’s the lead author of the Clean Energy Act and won a surprisingly tough battle to ban plastic bags in big supermarkets) as well as dealing with neighborhood concerns. Mirkarimi helped soften a terrible plan for developing the old UC Extension site and fought hard to save John Swett School from closure.

But the area in which he’s most distinguished himself is preventing violent crime — something progressives have traditionally had trouble with. Four years ago, District 5 was plagued with terrible violence: murders took place with impunity, the police seemed unable to respond, and the African American community was both furious and terrified. Mirkarimi took the problem on with energy and creativity, demanding (and winning, despite mayoral vetoes) police foot patrols and community policing. Thanks to his leadership, violent crime is down significantly in the district — and the left in San Francisco has started to develop a progressive agenda for the crime problem.

He has no serious opposition, and richly deserves reelection.

District 7


We rarely see eye to eye with the District 7 incumbent. He’s on the wrong side of most of the key votes on the board. He’s opposing the affordable housing measure, Prop. B. He’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act, Prop. H. It’s annoying to see someone who presents himself as a neighborhood supervisor siding with PG&E and downtown over and over again.

But Elsbernd is smart and consistent. He’s a fiscal conservative with enough integrity that he isn’t always a call-up vote for the mayor. He’s accessible to his constituents and willing to engage with people who disagree with him. The progressives on the board don’t like the way he votes — but they respect his intelligence and credibility.

Unlike many of the candidates this year, Elsbernd seems to understand the basic structural problem with the city budget, and he realizes that the deficit can’t be reduced just with spending cuts. He’s never going to be a progressive vote, but this conservative district could do worse.

District 9




The race to succeed Tom Ammiano, who served this district with distinction and is now headed for the State Legislature, is a case study in the advantages of district elections and ranked-choice voting. Three strong progressive candidates are running, and the Mission–Bernal Heights area would be well served by any of them. So far, the candidates have behaved well, mostly talking about their own strengths and not trashing their opponents.

The choice was tough for us — we like David Campos, Eric Quezada, and Mark Sanchez, and we’d be pleased to see any of them in City Hall. It’s the kind of problem we wish other districts faced: District 9 will almost certainly wind up with one of these three stellar candidates. All three are Latinos with a strong commitment to immigrant rights. All three have strong ties to the neighborhoods. Two are openly gay, and one is a parent. All three have endorsements from strong progressive political leaders and groups. All three have significant political and policy experience and have proven themselves accessible and accountable.

And since it’s almost inconceivable that any of the three will collect more than half of the first-place votes, the second-place and third-place tallies will be critical.

Campos, a member of the Police Commission and former school district general counsel, arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant at 14. He made it to Stanford University and Harvard Law School and has worked as a deputy city attorney (who helped the city sue PG&E) and as a school district lawyer. He’s been a progressive on the Police Commission, pushing for better citizen oversight and professional police practices. To his credit, he’s stood up to (and often infuriated) the Police Officers’ Association, which is often a foe of reform.

Campos doesn’t have extensive background in land-use issues, but he has good instincts. He told us he’s convinced that developers can be forced to provide as much as 50 percent affordable housing, and he thinks the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan lacks adequate low-cost units. He supports the revenue measures on the ballot and wants to see big business paying a fair share of the tax burden. He argues persuasively that crime has to become a progressive issue, and focuses on root causes rather than punitive programs. Campos has shown political courage in key votes — he supported Theresa Sparks for Police Commission president, a move that caused Louise Renne, the other contender, to storm out of the room in a fit of cursing. He backed Aaron Peskin for Democratic Party chair despite immense pressure to go with his personal friend Scott Weiner. Ammiano argues that Campos has the right qualities to serve on the board — particularly the ability to get six votes for legislation — and we agree.

Eric Quezada has spent his entire adult life fighting gentrification and displacement in the Mission. He’s worked at nonprofit affordable-housing providers, currently runs a homeless program, and was a cofounder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Although he’s never held public office, he has far more experience with the pivotal issues of housing and land use than the other two progressive candidates.

Quezada has the support of Sup. Chris Daly (although he doesn’t have Daly’s temper; he’s a soft-spoken person more prone to civil discussion than fiery rhetoric). If elected, he would carry on Daly’s tradition of using his office not just for legislation but also as an organizing center for progressive movements. He’s not as experienced in budget issues and was a little vague about how to solve the city’s structural deficit, but he would also make an excellent supervisor.

Mark Sanchez, the only Green Party member of the three, is a grade-school teacher who has done a tremendous job as president of the San Francisco school board. He’s helped turn that panel from a fractious and often paralyzed political mess into a strong, functioning operation that just hired a top-notch new superintendent. He vows to continue as an education advocate on the Board of Supervisors.

He told us he thinks he can be effective by building coalitions; he already has a good working relationship with Newsom. He’s managed a $500 million budget and has good ideas on both the revenue and the spending side — he thinks too much money goes to programs like golf courses, the symphony, and the opera, whose clients can afford to cover more of the cost themselves. He wants a downtown congestion fee and would turn Market Street into a pedestrian mall. Like Campos, he would need some education on land-use issues (and we’re distressed that he supports Newsom’s Community Justice Center), but he has all the right political instincts. He has the strong support of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. We would be pleased to see him on the Board of Supervisors.

We’ve ranked our choices in the order we think best reflects the needs of the district and the city. But we also recognize that the progressive community is split here (SEIU Local 1021 endorsed all three, with no ranking), and we have nothing bad to say about any of these three contenders. The important thing is that one of them win; vote for Campos, Quezada, and Sanchez — in that order, or in whatever order makes sense for you. Just vote for all three.

District 11




This is one of those swing districts where either a progressive or a moderate could win. The incumbent, Gerardo Sandoval, who had good moments and not-so-good moments but was generally in the progressive camp, is termed out and running for judge.

The strongest and best candidate to succeed him is John Avalos. There are two other credible contenders, Randy Knox and Julio Ramos — and one serious disaster, Ahsha Safai.

Avalos has a long history of public-interest work. He’s worked for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, for the Justice for Janitors campaign, and as an aide to Sup. Chris Daly. Since Daly has served on the Budget Committee, and at one point chaired it, Avalos has far more familiarity with the city budget than any of the other candidates. He understands that the city needs major structural reforms in how revenue is collected, and he’s full of new revenue ideas. Among other things, he suggests that the city work with San Mateo County to create a regional park district that could get state funds (and could turn McLaren Park into a destination spot).

He has a good perspective on crime (he supports community policing along with more police accountability) and wants to put resources into outreach for kids who are at risk for gang activity. He was the staff person who wrote Daly’s 2006 violence prevention plan. He wants to see more affordable housing and fewer luxury condos in the eastern neighborhoods and supports a congestion fee for downtown. With his experience both at City Hall and in community-based organizations, Avalos is the clear choice for this seat.

Randy Knox, a criminal defense lawyer and former member of the Board of Appeals, describes himself as "the other progressive candidate." He supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing fund. He links the crime problem to the fact that the police don’t have strong ties to the community, and wants to look for financial incentives to encourage cops to live in the city. He wants to roll back parking meter rates and reduce the cost of parking tickets in the neighborhoods, which is a populist stand — but that money goes to Muni, and he’s not sure how to replace it. He does support a downtown congestion fee.

Knox wasn’t exactly an anti-developer stalwart on the Board of Appeals, but we’ll endorse him in the second slot.

Julio Ramos has been one of the better members of a terrible community college board. He’s occasionally spoken up against corruption and has been mostly allied with the board’s progressive minority. He wants to build teacher and student housing on the reservoir adjacent to City College. He suggests that the city create mortgage assistance programs and help people who are facing foreclosure. He suggests raising the hotel tax to bring in more money. He supports public power and worked at the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, where he tangled with PG&E.

We’re backing three candidates in this district in part because it’s critical that Safai, the candidate of Mayor Newsom, downtown, and the landlords, doesn’t get elected. Safai (who refused to meet with our editorial board) is cynically using JROTC as a wedge against the progressives, even though the Board of Supervisors does not have, and will never have, a role in deciding the future of that program. He needs to be defeated, and the best way to do that is to vote for Avalos, Knox, and Ramos.

Board of Education





Two of the stalwart progressive leaders on the San Francisco School Board — Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar — are stepping down to run for supervisor. That’s a huge loss, since Mar and Sanchez were instrumental in getting rid of the autocratic Arlene Ackerman, replacing her with a strong new leader and ending years of acrimony on the board. The schools are improving dramatically — this year, for the first time in ages, enrollment in kindergarten actually went up. It’s important that the progressive policies Mar and Sanchez promoted continue.

Sandra Fewer is almost everyone’s first choice for the board. A parent who sent three kids to the San Francisco public schools, she’s done an almost unbelievable amount of volunteer work, serving as a PTA president for 12 terms. She currently works as education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. She knows the district, she knows the community, she’s full of energy and ideas, and she has the support of seven members of the Board of Supervisors and five of the seven current school board members.

Fewer supports the new superintendent and agrees that the public schools are getting better, but she’s not afraid to point out the problems and failures: She notes that other districts with less money are doing better. She wants to make the enrollment process more accessible to working parents and told us that race ought to be used as a factor in enrollment if that will help desegregate the schools and address the achievement gap. She’s against JROTC in the schools.

We’re a little concerned that Fewer talks about using district real estate as a revenue source — selling public property is always a bad idea. But she’s a great candidate and we’re happy to endorse her.

Norman Yee, the only incumbent we’re endorsing, has been something of a mediator and a calming influence on an often-contentious board. He helped push for the 2006 facilities bond and the parcel tax to improve teacher pay. He’s helped raise $1 million from foundations for prekindergarten programs. He suggests that the district take the radical (and probably necessary) step of suing the state to demand adequate funding for education. Although he was under considerable pressure to support JROTC, he stood with the progressives to end the military program. He deserves another term.

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez got into the race late and has been playing catch-up. She’s missed some key endorsements and has problems with accessibility. But she impressed us with her energy and her work with low-income parents. A former legal support worker at La Raza Centro Legal, she’s now an organizer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, working with immigrant parents. She’s fought to get subsidized Muni fares for SFUSD students. Her focus is on parent involvement — and while everyone talks about bringing parents, particularly low-income and immigrant parents, more directly into the education process, Lopez has direct experience in the area.

Kimberly Wicoff has a Stanford MBA, and you can tell — she talks in a sort of business-speak with lots of reference to "outcomes." She has no kids. But she’s currently working with a nonprofit that helps low-income families in Visitacion Valley and Hunters Point, and we liked her clearheaded approach to the achievement gap. Wicoff is a fan of what she calls community schools; she thinks a "great school in every neighborhood" can go a long way to solving the lingering issues around the enrollment process. That’s a bit of an ambitious goal, and we’re concerned about any move toward neighborhood schools that leads to resegregation. But Wicoff, who has the support of both Mark Sanchez and Mayor Newsom, brings a fresh problem-solving approach that we found appealing. And unlike Newsom, she’s against JROTC.

Jill Wynns, who has been on the board since 1992, has had a distinguished career, and we will never forget her leadership in the battle against privatizing public schools. But she was a supporter of former superintendent Ackerman even when Ackerman was trampling on open-government laws and intimidating students, parents, and staff critics, and she supports JROTC. It’s time for some new blood.

Rachel Norton, a parent and an advocate for special-education kids, has run an appealing campaign, but her support for the save-JROTC ballot measure disqualified her for our endorsement.

As a footnote: H. Brown, a blogger who can be a bit politically unhinged, has no business on the school board and we’re not really sure why he’s running. But he offered an interesting idea that has some merit: he suggests that the city offer free Muni passes and free parking to anyone who will volunteer to mentor an at-risk SFUSD student. Why not?

Community College Board




There are four seats up for the seven-member panel that oversees the San Francisco Community College District, and we could only find three who merit endorsement. That’s a sad statement: City College is a local treasure, and it’s been badly run for years. The last chancellor, Phil Day, left under a cloud of corruption; under his administration, money was diverted from public coffers into a political campaign. The current board took bond money that the voters had earmarked for a performing arts center and shifted it to a gym — then found out that there wasn’t enough money in the operating budget to maintain the lavish facility. It’s a mess out there, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Fortunately, there are three strong candidates, and if they all win, the reformers will have a majority on the board.

Milton Marks is the only incumbent we’re supporting. He’s been one of the few board members willing to criticize the administration. He supports a sunshine policy for the district and believes the board needs to hold the chancellor accountable (that ought to be a basic principle of district governance, but at City College, it isn’t). He wants to push closer relations with the school board. He actually pays attention to the college budget and tries to make sure the money is spent the right way. He is pushing to reform the budget process to allow more openness and accountability.

Chris Jackson, a policy analyst at the San Francisco Labor Council, is full of energy and ideas. He wants to create an outreach center for City College at the public high schools. He also understands that the college district has done a terrible job working with neighborhoods and is calling for a comprehensive planning process. He understands the problems with the gym and the way the board shuffles money around, and he is committed to a more transparent budget process.

Jackson is also pushing to better use City College for workforce development, particularly in the biotech field, where a lot of the city’s new jobs will be created.

Jackson was president of the Associated Students at San Francisco State University, has been a member of the Youth Commission, and worked with Young Workers United on the city’s minimum-wage law. His experience, energy, and ideas make him an ideal candidate.

Bruce Wolfe attended City College after a workplace injury and served on the Associate Students Council. He knows both the good (City College has one of the best disability service programs in the state) and the bad (the school keeps issuing bonds to build facilities but doesn’t have the staff to keep them running). As a former member of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Wolfe is a strong advocate for open government, something desperately needed at the college district. He told us he thinks the college should agree to abide by the San Francisco Planning Code and is calling for a permanent inspector general to monitor administration practices and spending. He wants City College to start building housing for students. He has direct experience with the district and great ideas for improving it, and we’re happy to endorse him.

Incumbents Rodel Rodis and Natalie Berg are running for reelection; both have been a key part of the problem at City College, and we can’t endorse either of them. Steve Ngo, a civil rights lawyer, has the support of the Democratic Party, but we weren’t impressed by his candidacy. And he told us he opposes the Clean Energy Act.

Vote for Marks, Jackson, and Wolfe.

BART Board of Directors

With rising gasoline prices, congested roadways, and global warming, it’s now more important than ever to have an engaged and knowledgeable BART board that is willing to reform a system that effectively has San Francisco users subsidizing everyone else. That means developing a fare structure in which short trips within San Francisco or the East Bay urban centers are cheaper and longer trips are a bit more expensive. BART should also do away with free parking, which favors suburban drivers (who tend to be wealthier) over urban cyclists and pedestrians. San Francisco’s aging stations should then get the accessibility and amenity improvements they need—and at some point the board can even fund the late-night service that is long overdue. There are two candidates most capable of meeting these challenges:

District 7


This district straddles San Francisco and the East Bay, and it’s crucial that San Francisco—which controls just three of the nine seats—retain its representative here. We would like to see Lynette Sweet more forcefully represent the interests of riders from San Francisco and support needed reforms such as civilian oversight of BART police. But she has a strong history of public service in San Francisco (having served on San Francisco’s taxi and redevelopment commissions before joining the BART board in 2003), and we’ll endorse her.

District 9


Tom Radulovich is someone we’d love to clone and have run for every seat on the BART board, and perhaps every other transportation agency in the Bay Area. He’s smart and progressive, and he works hard to understand the complex problems facing our regional transportation system and then to develop and advocate for creative solutions. As executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich is a leader of San Francisco’s alternative transportation brain trust, widely respected for walking the walk (and biking the bike—he doesn’t own a car) and setting an example for how to live and grow in the sustainable way this city and country needs.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

San Francisco’s 14 billionaires


The new Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans is out, and San Francisco seems to be doing just fine, thank you. This city — which can’t fund decent services for the homeless, which runs a structural budget deficit every year because it can’t raise enough revenue to cover basic city functions — has 14 billionaires.

They run from Larry Page (Google) at $15.8 billion to poor old Walter Shorenstein, who barely makes the cut at $1.3 billion.

And they are a reminder that this is a very rich city that can afford to do a lot better for its poorest people.

Here’s the list:

Larry Page (Google)
Steven Roberts (leveraged buiyouts)
Riley Bechtel (Bechtel)
Steven Bechtel Jr.(Bechtel)
Ray Dolby (Dolby)
Gordon Getty (oil)
William Randolph Hearst III (Hearst)
John Pritzker (hotels)
John Fisher (Gap)
Robert Fisher (Gap)
Thomas Steyer (finance)
William FIsher (Gap)
Don Fisher (Gap)
Doris Fisher (Gap)
Walter Shorenstein (real estate)

Let’s remember those names next time the mayor says the city doesn’t have enough money.

From parking to parks



GREEN CITY It’s a typical San Francisco love affair: boy meets boy, they fall in love, and 18 years later, they get married. But not in City Hall, and not in a crowded banquet room with a dance floor and a DJ. Instead they wed in a 9-by-18-foot parking space in front of their home in the Lower Haight. No, they’re not crazy. Just crazy in love — with each other, and with PARK(ing) Day. On Friday, Sept. 19, Jay Bolcik and Michael Borden made both love affairs official.

(PARK)ing Day, a San Francisco–born event now spreading around the world, takes place every September when people transform metered parking spaces into public parks — or in Bolcik and Borden’s case, a marriage locale — for the day, or at least until the meters expire. The point? Event organizers say that more than 70 percent of San Francisco’s downtown area is designated for private parking, and 24,000 metered spaces exist throughout the city. It’s about time we reclaim the streets for the public, clearing more space where folks can gather to chat, make friends, and celebrate community parks. At least this was the thinking behind PARK(ing) Day when Bay Area–based art collective REBAR developed the idea in 2005.

"It was motivated by the spirit of generosity and public service," says director Blaine Merker, thinking back to when the group’s artists stumbled upon a sunny spot that was perfect for a park, but dedicated for a vehicle, in November 2005. They plunked their change into its meter and built a grassy hangout, and as a result expanded the public realm for a whole two hours. "We provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon."

The effect was outstanding, and the word about PARK(ing) Day spread to metropolitan areas across the globe. This year thousands of mini-grasslands and lounging areas proliferated in 600 vehicle-inhabited regions worldwide, including first-time participant the Dominican Republic.

San Francisco’s metered spaces were filled with everything from a lemonade stand to a quaint outdoor living room setup, complete with a Scrabble board, a coffee table covered with magazines, and even a dog. "The meter man didn’t know what was going on," says PARK(ing) Day buff Ariane Burwell. She spent the day on a 12-foot hunk of grass she’d purchased at Home Depot and stuffed into a Toyota Camry that morning before settling in Chinatown. Kid-size plastic chairs with the words "have a seat" on them lined her turf. Aware of the going rate for this precious real estate (25¢ for six minutes), some strangers dropped their extra coins into her meter as they passed. One Good Samaritan even went to the bank and brought back an entire roll of quarters.

Since 2005, San Franciscans have honored this unique holiday not only by creating mini–public parks but also by raising awareness about certain societal issues. In 2007, CC Puede, a grassroots coalition dedicated to making Cesar Chavez Street safe, used its PARK(ing) spaces on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets to provide free food and health exams.

And this year, in light of the upcoming election, some activists even used their spots as political venues. Bolcik and Borden chose to marry in their PARK(ing) space because — in addition to the fact that City Hall was booked — they think it’s part of a societal evolution that includes acceptance for same-sex marriage, which they hope California voters will affirm in November. Two No on Proposition 8 campaigners stood front and center at the ceremony, and many curious bystanders and media professionals were gathered along the sidewalk, which proved REBAR’s point: (PARK)ing Day has become about more than making an individual statement. It’s about promoting change.

After the ceremony, the two bald, salt-and-pepper-bearded men stood arm in arm in their wedding space and discussed what PARK(ing) Day means to them. Borden’s eyes were glassy with tears. "It’s a great way to bring people together," he said. Later he turned to his new husband and added, "I’m honored to stand here at home, in a city that I love, with my partner of 18 years."

Cleaner and cheaper


>>Click here for our chart explaining how San Francisco can take over PG&E’s system — and wind up with $214 million a year in extra revenue. (PDF)

>>Click here for a comparison of public power and investor-owned utilities on rates and renewable energy. (PDF)

>>Click here for a comparison of Mark Leno’s Sacramento PG&E and SMUD (public) bills. (PDF)


Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has been saying that if the Clean Energy Act passes, it will cost the city $4 billion — and electricity bills will go up $400 a year per household to cover the costs.

But according to a Guardian analysis, a publicly owned utility could cover the costs of taking over PG&E’s system, finance enough renewable energy generation to make the local grid 50 percent green, and still generate $214 million a year in surplus income — without raising rates a dime.

In fact, the city could cut electricity rates by 15 percent — so that the average San Francisco home using 1,000 kWh a month would save $400 per year — and the system would still make $107 million profit annually.

Our analysis is based on conservative assumptions, and probably underestimates the city’s potential revenue. The figures all come from publicly available sources.

The bottom line: PG&E’s campaign materials are, at best, gross distortions of the truth.


The Clean Energy Act, which will appear as Proposition H on the November ballot, mandates that the city undertake a study to determine the most cost effective and expeditious way to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

If the study determines that a publicly owned utility would provide the cheapest, cleanest energy, the first thing the city would need is a distribution system — the wires, poles, substations, breakers, and all the other physical infrastructure required to provide power. The legislation authorizes city officials to issue revenue bonds to build a distribution system or to buy PG&E’s, either through a negotiated sale price or eminent domain.

In 2001, the last time the city voted on a public power measure, PG&E said its system was worth $1.4 billion. Seven years later, although much of the system has deteriorated, the price has jumped to $4 billion. But utility officials freely admit they have no hard numbers: in a letter dated July 24, David Rubin, the director of service analysis, wrote, "PG&E has not done an inventory of its system, but it is readily apparent that the fair market value of PG&E’s electric system exceeds $4 billion … "

There are, in fact, hard numbers on the value of the system — numbers that both PG&E and state tax officials have used and agreed on for years.

The state Board of Equalization is tasked with determining property values on utilities and levying taxes accordingly. In 2007 the board reports, PG&E paid taxes on property worth $1.2 billion in San Francisco. That’s what the state auditors say is the value of everything PG&E owns here, including both the electricity and gas distribution lines, the buildings on Market and Beale streets, the service center, vehicles, desks, computers — much of which the city would have no interest in acquiring.

According to documents acquired through a public records request, the city controller’s office assumed in its ballot analysis of the cost of Prop. H that 50 percent of the assessed value was utility related.

We’ll make the same assumption. If the San Francisco controller and Board of Equalization are right, the actual value of PG&E’s electricity distribution infrastructure is $595 million.

That could be a bit low or a bit high — real estate appraisal is an inexact science — but at least it’s derived from a solid number. Even if you assume that the board’s appraisers are off by a few tens of millions of dollars in either direction, the number PG&E has put forward is wrong by about 600 percent.

Rubin’s letter to the city controller outlined how PG&E determined $4.18 billion as the system’s worth — by using "replacement cost new less depreciation" (RCNLD) as a measure. "California law specifically approves RCNLD as a method for valuing improvements to land, such as the electric facilities at issue here," Rubin wrote.

But appraisers disagree with Rubin. "The Code of Evidence section they are referring to mentions RCNLD as one of many pieces of evidence that can be considered in valuation cases," a veteran appraiser with knowledge of PG&E’s system, who requested anonymity, told the Guardian.

Because PG&E is a regulated utility that passes all the capital costs of doing business onto customers, many valuators argue that the rates those customers pay (reflected in the BOE figures) indicate the true value of the system.

"The value is the value is the value," the appraiser said. "Both PG&E and the BOE agree that fair market value is approximately equal to rate base." That, in this case, would be about $600 million.

William Marcus, a lead economist on utility issues for JBS Energy with 29 years experience in the field, told us that the standard method employed by the BOE in valuing energy utilities is original cost less depreciation and deferred taxes. "I’m not going to tell you RCNLD is $4 billion because PG&E has been known to come up with very high values," Marcus said. Even the RCNLD value is "almost certainly a serious matter of controversy." Marcus, a Yolo County resident, witnessed the 2006 public power battle between the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and PG&E, and said, "There was almost a factor of four between what PG&E was saying and what SMUD was saying and they were both using RCNLD."

"A reviewing court might look at RCNLD but would also look at original cost," Marcus said. "So you’ve got a high end and a low end."

The city would pay an interest rate of between 4.5 to 5.5 percent on revenue bonds, according to Ken Bruce in the Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst’s office. He pointed out that revenue bonds are repaid by dedicated revenue streams that are identified prior to the bond issuance, which can affect the interest rate. "It would be subject to a lot of scrutiny by rating agencies," he said. With this in mind, we used the high end in our analysis, and assumed annual payments at 5.5 percent. If the city buys the system at the price the Board of Equalization and Controller’s Office estimates, and the bonds are repaid over 20 years, the annual cost would be $49.8 million.


Prop. H sets ambitious standards for renewable energy — but our analysis shows that a city agency could easily afford to increase dramatically its alternative energy portfolio.

Some public power utilities (like private utilities) still rely on dirty coal and large hydropower — but this isn’t true of public power in California. Of the five major public power utilities we surveyed, all except the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are doing a better job at developing renewables than PG&E.

Just across the Bay, Alameda has enacted a very aggressive renewable-energy plan. "As we go forward, there’s a chance we might be 100 percent renewable if the price is reasonable," Alan Hangar of Alameda Power and Telecom told us. In November, the Alameda city utility will ink two new deals for energy produced at landfills and boost the agency’s percentage of renewables from 55 percent to almost 70. A deal for more hydropower is also in the works.

Hangar said the utility was able to purchase more renewables without raising rates "because we’re tight-fisted. We don’t have a lot of solar because it’s so expensive. But if the price came down we’d look at it."

Even though public power agencies aren’t under the same state mandate of 20 percent renewable by 2010 that investor-owned utilities like PG&E are required to meet, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District set its own renewable power goal — and has already surpassed it. "Being a utility with a board of directors elected by the public, there’s more pressure there to get renewable energy in the mix," said SMUD spokesperson Chris Capra. "The voters here told us they want more solar and green energy." SMUD recently started offering customers solar power from a 1 MW array owned by a private company that sells the power to SMUD. Because the sun is an infinite resource, unlike natural gas, oil, and coal, the utility was able to lock in a long-term affordable rate for the power. "Now we can get solar power to customers who can’t do solar on their own," Capra said.

For calcuutf8g the cost of renewables, we used figures from the city’s Community Choice Aggregation plan. If Prop. H passes, the CCA plan would be implemented as the first step toward the overall goal of 100 percent renewables by 2040.

According to the plan, over the first three years the city would phase in 360 MW of renewable energy, greening 50 percent of our grid. The Board of Supervisors already authorized the use of revenue bonds to finance 150 MW of new wind generation, 31 MW of photovoltaic cells, 72 MW of distributed generation, and 107 MW of enhanced conservation measures. The CCA plan calls for a three-year investment of $129 million for solar and $170 million for wind.

The supervisors have already passed the CCA plan, and it’s been signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. That legislation authorized $1.2 billion in bonds to finance the plan — more than enough to get the renewable energy ball rolling.

Other financing possibilities exist. For example, PG&E’s energy efficiencies are paid for by a public goods charge levied by the California Public Utilities Commission, which for San Franciscan ratepayers totals $7 million per year. The city-owned system would manage that money instead — and that surcharge is already included in the average rate we calculated.

Furthermore, there are state and federal subsidies that can be applied to renewable energy purchases — these would be given to customers to purchase rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and other distributed generation that could contribute up to 72 MW of the initial 50 percent in the first phase of the CCA plan. The city already gives $3 million in solar incentives to residents, and this program could be expanded with additional revenue generated from the power business.

We assumed the city could generate a substantial portion of the power it needs from renewables. For the first few years, power would still need to be bought on the spot market; we included those figures in the expense column.

The total costs for operating the system — including operations and maintenance, power purchases, and replacing the taxes that PG&E currently pays to the city: $524.45 million.


But after all the expenses are added up, selling electricity is still a lucrative business. If the city kept power rates at the same level PG&E currently charges — that is, if nobody’s electric bill went up or down at all — the city would clear $214 million a year in surplus revenue from the system. That’s almost as much as the current budget deficit.

Of course, a public power agency — run by accountable public officials — might decide to cut rates instead of banking cash. So we ran a scenario in which the city would cut rates by 15 percent. The bottom line: San Francisco still comes out $107 million ahead.

How can a city agency sell power so much cheaper and still make money?

For starters, PG&E has a guaranteed profit margin of 11.7 percent, approved by the state. A city-owned system doesn’t have to please shareholders with its profit — any surplus here could be folded into the general fund, remain in the San Francisco PUC piggy bank for future infrastructure needs, or be refunded to taxpayers. This is the basic difference between public and private ownership of a utility — and it translates into lower, more stable rates over time.

"For a number of years, we had no rate increases at all," said SMUD’s Chris Capra, who explained that the agency was able to stave off rising natural gas prices because of bulk purchases locked in at low rates. Last year the elected SMUD Board voted for a 7 percent rate increase to cover rising power costs and replace equipment.

The agency’s rates are still far lower than what San Franciscans pay to PG&E — and the private utility has announced it will seek a 6.5 percent rate increase in January.

PG&E’s blank check



For a complete list (2.35 MB) of everyone who signed on to a PG&E-paid ballot argument and a full list of all of the individuals, companies, and nonprofits that get PG&E money every year, click here (Excel).

It’s Saturday morning, Aug. 23, and at the plumber’s union hall on Market Street, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees are leading a rally in opposition to San Francisco’s Clean Energy Act. A table at the back of the room sags with urns of coffee and uneaten pastries. To the side are towers of glossy black "Stop the Blank Check" window signs. E-mails sent by event organizers said Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Mayor Gavin Newsom were expected to attend, but so far, there’s no sign of either.

"On behalf of the men and women at PG&E, thanks for giving up your Saturday," PG&E vice president John Simon tells participants, who will be spending the afternoon walking San Francisco’s streets passing out No on Proposition H propaganda.

But the audience isn’t listening.

Most of the people packed into the room are Asian kids, giggling and chatting and ignoring the English-only presentation. One group of boys playfully pushes each other, accidentally bumping into some stage lighting and earning a reprimand from a rally organizer. The kids ignore him. I ask some of the young people if they’re with a school or club, or if they’re part of JROTC, which has an informational booth in the vestibule. They look at me blankly and turn away, muttering in Cantonese. I question a few others and get similar responses.

Outside, I find a young man who speaks English. He tells me the kids aren’t really here for the rally. "It’s just a job," he says. They’re getting $15 an hour to hang flyers on doorknobs — flyers that read "hand-delivered by a Stop the Blank Check Supporter."

The Committee to Stop the Blank Check is the official campaign committee fighting the Clean Energy Act, which will appear as Prop. H on the November ballot. The group, however, is funded by a blank check from PG&E.

"They’ve pledged enough to educate every voter in San Francisco," the committee’s campaign manager, Eric Jaye, told the Guardian at the Saturday rally.

It’s no surprise that the campaign workers are paid for by PG&E — in fact, just about everyone who has come out against Prop. H seems to be getting money from the utility.

The Clean Energy Act sets ambitious goals for moving the city into renewable energy — goals that go far beyond current state mandates. It also calls for a study into San Francisco’s energy options and authorizes the city to issue revenue bonds to buy or build energy facilities.

An investigation into the elected officials, committees, and groups that oppose Prop. H shows cash from PG&E in nearly every coffer.

The official ballot argument against the Clean Energy Act is signed by Feinstein, Newsom, and three supervisors initially appointed to the board by the mayor: Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd.

Feinstein’s loaded with PG&E money. Since 2004, Feinstein has received $15,000 in direct contributions from PG&E, according to More significant, perhaps, is that Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, serves as chairman of the board of CBRE, a real estate firm that did $4.8 million in business with PG&E in 2007, according to an annual report the utility files with the state of California.

Campaign finance disclosure statements from Feinstein state that her husband receives fees and income from CBRE, and has $250,000 and $500,000 in investment holdings.

Feinstein’s spokesperson, Scott Gerber, said there was no conflict of interest. But Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics spokesperson Naomi Seligman added, "The ethics rules are so incredibly narrow that unless Senator Feinstein was pushing or voting for something that would impact only Mr. Blum, it doesn’t count as a conflict."

Still: Feinstein’s getting cash directly from PG&E, and then doing the company’s political bidding.


Newsom, who has won campaigns with PG&E’s financial support in the past, is hosting a party called "Unconventional ’08" in Denver this week. Guess who’s one of the three listed sponsors? PG&E. (The other two are AT&T and the carpenter’s union.) And, of course, the person running Newsom’s campaign for governor is PG&E’s main man, Eric Jaye.

Sups. Alioto-Pier and Elsbernd? Both had PG&E money shunted through independent expenditure committees. Sup. Chu is currently running to keep her seat in District 4.

Former Mayor Willie Brown tops the list of endorsers on Committee to Stop the Blank Check’s Web site. PG&E paid Brown $200,000 in consulting fees during 2007.

Neither Brown nor PG&E returned calls for comment and clarification on what exactly Brown’s consulting involves, or how much he’s getting this year.

Of the 30 paid ballot arguments that will be listed in November’s Voter Information Pamphlet, PG&E bought 22 of them — many for well-funded organizations like the Bay Area Council, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the Republican Party that could presumably pay for their own $2-per-word screeds against the measure.

The arguments all make the same points and parrot the same PG&E lines.

Jaye said that ballot arguments were routinely paid for by other entities, and of the groups that have healthy bank accounts, he said, "We’d rather those groups invest their money in capacity building for November."

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association, and Plan C all paid for their own ballot arguments. In 2007 the Chamber received more than $350,000 from PG&E in the form of dues and grants. BOMA got a $26,500 grant from the utility company, which also hired the outfit for almost $100,000 worth of consulting work. Plan C’s Political Action Committee regularly receives deposits from PG&E during election season.

Other entities that signed arguments paid for by PG&E include: the San Francisco police and firefighter unions, which are constantly asking the city for more money (and now oppose a potential revenue source); the Asian Pacific Democratic Club; the Small Business Network; the Rev. Amos Brown, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Paying for their own No on H arguments: former San Francisco Public Defender and California Public Utilities Commission member Jeff Brown, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, BART board member James Fang, and prominent small businessowner Harold Hoogasian.

PG&E spends millions each year on consultants — and at campaign time, that money turns into political support.

"PG&E’s philanthropy has been paying off into manipuutf8g a network of supporters who believe [Prop. H] is going to do something adverse to their interest when in reality it’s not," said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi.

Money isn’t everything for some organizations. Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights received a $10,000 grant from PG&E in 2007. Cofounder Van Jones has endorsed the Clean Energy Act.

There’s no paper trail for how much PG&E has spent to date on this campaign and the utility will be free to spend money without scrutiny until Oct. 6, when the first financial statements related to the November election are due at the Ethics Commission.


But PG&E can’t buy everyone — and the coalition supporting the Clean Energy Act is large, broad, and growing.

Prop. H has been endorsed by eight of the city’s 11 supervisors, Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Mark Leno, and environmentalist and author Bill McKibben. Groups with a variety of different interests, like the League of Conservation Voters, the SF Democratic Party, SEIU 1021, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the Senior Action Network also have given it a green light.

"I think the coalition for it is a much broader coalition than has been for it in the past," said Susan Leal, former head of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, who supports Prop. H. "Because of that, PG&E has ramped up the campaign and put a lot more money into it than in the past."

Mirkarimi, who authored the measure, called the early phone banking, mailers, and door knocking a "signature blitzkrieg campaign," similar to what he witnessed as the manager of the 2001 public power measure that also raised PG&E’s ire — and which lost by about 500 votes. "That’s why PG&E is working so hard now. We were so close in 2001."

John Rizzo of the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club said his group has already committed money and people to walk districts. But he noted that he has already seen Committee to Stop the Blank Check signs posted in windows on the west side of the city. "We expected it," he said of the resources PG&E has spent to date. "The only thing they have is money."

Rizzo said the Sierra Club has endorsed past public power measures and considers this an environmental issue. "We are finding it’s a pretty broad coalition of folks who might not be together on an environmental issue. The San Francisco Women’s Political Committee PAC just recommended endorsing it to their membership, and that’s not normally an environmental group — though they are a good group."

Leal says the Clean Energy Act really transcends arguments against public power. "I’m mystified why people would not be on board for something that’s cleaner and cheaper," said Leal. "I think I know why a number of others have gotten on board. They recognize that this is the path to clean energy for power."

Jaye wouldn’t assign a specific dollar amount to how much the company is willing to spend to defeat the measure — but he made it clear that there are no limits: "It could take $1 million, it could take $5 million." In 2006, when public power was on the ballot in Yolo County, PG&E spent almost $10 million keeping the 77,000 customers they would have lost to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The measure lost by one percentage point.

Jaye, who also manages Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign, is quick to point out that the committee has already received 12,000 signed cards of support. Still, he said, they weren’t asking for money from these potential campaign donors "because we have significant and sufficient resources pledged from PG&E."