Real Estate

41st Anniversary Special: The privatization of San Francisco



William M. Tweed was one of the greatest crooks in American political history, a notorious Tammany Hall boss in New York who managed in the course of just a few years, starting in 1870, to steal more than $75 million (the equivalent of more than $1 billion today) from the city coffers. The way he did it was simple. As Elliott Sclar, a Columbia economist and expert on privatization, notes, Tweed took advantage of the fact that much of the work of city government was contracted out to private companies. Boss Tweed controlled the contracts; the contractors overcharged the city by vast sums and kicked back the money to Tammany Hall.

This is a rather extreme example, but not, Sclar argues, an atypical one: the worst corruption scandals in American history usually involve private contractors and public money. In fact, he argues, privatization is almost by its nature a recipe for scandal and corruption.

Nothing in the public sector — no incompetence, no waste, no bureaucratic bungling — begins to compare with what happens when private operators get their hands on public money. And the cost of monitoring contracts, making sure contractors don’t cheat or steal, and forcing them to act in ways that reflect the public interest is so high that it dwarfs any savings that privatization seems to offer.

That’s the message of the Guardian‘s 41st anniversary issue.

It’s relatively easy to investigate government malfeasance. The records are public, the players are visible, and the laws are on the side of the citizens.

But when Bruce B. Brugmann started the Guardian in 1966 with his wife, Jean Dibble, he realized that the real scandals often took place outside City Hall. They involved the real powerful interests, the giant corporations and big businesses that were coming to dominate the city’s skyline and its political life. The details were secretive, the money hidden.

One of the first big stories the paper broke, in 1969, involved perhaps the greatest privatization scandal in urban history, the tale of how Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had stolen San Francisco’s municipal power, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The famous Abe Ruef municipal graft scandals of the early 20th century, the Guardian wrote, were "peanuts, birdseed compared to this."

When I first came to work here, in 1982, Brugmann used to tell me that daily papers, which loved to try to expose some poor soul who was collecting two welfare checks or a homeless person who was running a panhandling scam, were missing the point. "If you look hard enough, you can always find a small-time welfare cheat," he’d tell me. "We want to know about corporate welfare, about the big guys who are stealing the millions."

And there were plenty.

In his new book Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (Knopf), Robert Reich, the economist and former secretary of labor, argues that during the cold war, when American politicians railed against the socialist model of economic planning, this country actually had a carefully planned economy. The planning wasn’t done by elected officials; it was done by a handful of oligarchic corporations and military contractors.

Modern San Francisco was born in that same cauldron. During World War II, captains of industry and military planners took control of the city’s economy, directing resources into the shipyards, collecting labor from around the country to build and repair Navy vessels, and making sure the region was doing its part to defeat the Axis powers. It worked — and when the war ended the generals went away, but the business leaders stayed and quietly, behind closed doors, created a master plan for San Francisco. Downtown would become a new Manhattan, with high-rise office buildings and white-collar jobs. The East Bay and the Peninsula would be suburbs, with a rail line (BART) carrying the workers to their desks. Private developers, working under the redevelopment aegis, demolished low-income neighborhoods to build a new convention center and hotels.

Nobody ever held a public hearing on the master plan. And it wasn’t until the late 1960s that San Franciscans figured out what was going on.

By 1971 the fight against Manhattanization began to dominate the Guardian‘s political coverage. It would play center stage in San Francisco politics for two more decades. The paper ran stories about high-rises and freeways and environmental impact reports, but the real issue was the privatization of the city’s planning process.

Ronald Reagan soared into the White House in 1980, rolling over a collapsing Jimmy Carter and a demoralized, moribund Democratic Party. Reagan and his backers had an agenda: to dismantle American government as we knew it, to roll back the New Deal and the Great Society, to get the public sector out of the business of helping people and give the benefits to private business. "Government," Reagan announced, "isn’t the solution. Government is the problem."

The Guardian was firmly planted on the other side. We supported public power, public parks, public services, public accountability. We had no blinders about the flaws of government agencies — I spent much of my time in the early years writing about the mess that was Muni — but in the end we realized that at least the public sector carried the hope of reform. And we saw San Francisco as a beacon for the nation, a place where urban America could resist the Reagan doctrine.

Unfortunately, the mayor of San Francisco in the Reagan years might as well have been a Republican. Dianne Feinstein’s faith in the private sector rivaled that of the new president. She turned the city’s future over to the big real estate developers. She vetoed rent control and gave the landlords everything they wanted. And when the budget was tight, she ignored our demands that downtown pay its fair share and instead raised bus fares and cut library hours.

When gay men started dying of a strange new disease, there was no public money or service program to help them, from Washington DC or San Francisco. So the community was forced to build a private infrastructure to take care of people with AIDS — and years later, as Amanda Witherell notes in this issue, those private foundations became secretive and unaccountable.

In 1994 we got a tip that something funny was going on at the Presidio. The Sixth Army was leaving and turning perhaps the most valuable piece of urban real estate on Earth over to the National Park Service … in theory. In practice, we learned, some of the biggest corporations in town had come together with a different plan — to create a privatized park — and Rep. Nancy Pelosi was carrying their water. Every detail of the Presidio privatization made the front page of the Guardian — and still, the entire Democratic Party power structure (and much of the environmental movement) lined up behind Pelosi. Now we have a corporate park on public land, with that great pauper George Lucas winning a $60 million tax break to build a commercial office building in a national park.

And still, it continues.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a rising star in the Democratic Party, who told us he’s no fan of privatization, demonstrated the opposite in one of his signature political campaigns this year: he tried (and is still trying) to turn over the city’s broadband infrastructure — something that will be as important in this century as highways and bridges were in the last — to a private company. That’s what the whole wi-fi deal (now on the ballot as Proposition J) is about; the city could easily and affordably create its own system to deliver cheap Internet access to every resident and business. Instead, Newsom wants the private sector to do the job.

The Department of Public Health is running public money through a private foundation in a truly shady deal. The mayor’s Connect programs operate as public-private partnerships. Newsom wants to privatize the city’s golf courses, and maybe Camp Mather. He’s prepared to give one of the worst corporations in the country — Clear Channel Communications — the right to build and sell ads on bus shelters (and nobody has ever explained to us why the city can’t do that job and keep all the revenue). Housing policy? That depends entirely on what the private sector wants — and when we challenged Newsom on that in a recent interview, he snidely proclaimed that the city simply has to follow the lead of the developers because "we don’t live in a socialist society."

This is not how the city of San Francisco ought to be behaving. Because when you give public land, public services, public institutions, and public planning initiatives to the private sector, you get high prices, backroom deals, secrecy, corruption — and a community that’s given up on the notion of government as part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

You start acting like the people who have been running Washington DC since 1980 — instead of promoting a city policy and culture that ought to be a loud, visible, proud, and shining example of a different kind of America.

Just do it



Dear Andrea:

That nursing column wasn’t real, right? I’m all for attachment parenting — in fact, my three-year-old is still co-sleeping, and we’re just grateful that he sleeps at all. But we have a spare bedroom. We have a couch. Hell, we have a kitchen table and the living room floor. They must be able to find a place to have sex that isn’t directly next to their sleeping child?

I’m glad the column is going to venture into the realities of sex after parenthood, even if I’m going to be squicked out all day now.


Gentle Reader

Dear Gen:

Sorry for the squickage (although it does tend to come with the Alt.Sex territory, doesn’t it?) and I’m glad somebody likes the parenting stuff! It’s not always easy for me to reconcile my print life as a (one hopes) sexily knowing know-it-all with my current real-life life as a slightly befuddled toddler wrangler in a faintly besnotted T-shirt.

The letter was, as I admitted, a work of fiction by an online friend who was squicked herself by the tendency in some quarters of the Interweb to turn enlightened parenting into a competitive sport. "Attachment parenting," for those not playing along at home, is supposed to foster in your children such a secure sense of loving support at home that they feel safe exploring the world independently. Those people happily boasting online that they obviously have to homeschool because their six-year-olds simply aren’t ready to wean yet are missing the point, probably on purpose.

And what, besides breasts, does this have to do with sex? Enough, I figured, since even those of us sensible enough to avoid getting into ridiculous babes-in-arms races feel the pressure to privilege baby above all. While wearing my sex advisor hat (and what does that look like? one wonders somewhat nervously), it’s my job to worry about the grown-ups.

So what of noncrazy parents struggling to maintain a sex life in the face of a sudden incursion of tiny, extremely demanding people into their lives and beds? Even people who started out absolutely determined that crib is crib and bed is bed often end up with a small person occupying essential real estate. What does one do? I’m glad, for instance, that you have a spare room and a coffee table and a large macramé plant holder to hang from, or whatever you listed there, but do you really use them? Do you leave the baby sleeping quietly in your queen-size and sneak off to disport yourself in the garage? Good for you if so (and no, I’m not being facetious — I mean it: good for you), but I think many people mean to and hope for the best, but end up sighing and kissing goodnight and sinking gratefully into Morpheus’s arms instead of each other’s. It’s understandable. We’re tired!

The other conventional wisdom beloved of (presumably baby-free) sex advisors is to take a weekend away just for the two of you (or, in the interest of inclusivity, the three or more of you, if that’s what you’re into). This is nice on paper, but if you have a baby, let’s face it: you’re not leaving him or her for an entire weekend to go golfing on the Lost Coast. You’re just not. If your children are old enough to understand that Mommy and Daddy, or Mommy and Mommy, or Mommy and Daddy and Mommy (enough — inclusivity makes me tired) are coming back, then maybe. But the price tag on a weekend away plus 24-7 nanny time is scarifying enough to kill Mommy and Daddy’s buzz three counties away. So mostly a "no."

If I didn’t believe so strongly that a decent sex life really is key to a decent home life, and that happy people make better parents, and that better parents make healthier babies, I’d be tempted to say, "Aw, screw it, just give up and hope you’ll get your mutual mojo back in a few years when the kid’s over needing Mommy and Daddy all night." I do, though, so I’m going to suggest sneaking him back into his own bed in the sleep-like-the-dead early dawn instead. And getting a relative (or hiring a teenager) to take the kids out on a weekend morning twice a month. And getting TiVo to record The Daily Show instead of wasting precious baby sleep time staring at the tube.

Again, more later. In the meantime, my bedside table may have held more exotic objects in its time, but it currently boasts a copy of And Baby Makes Three, by John M. Gottman and Julie Schwarz Gottman. I don’t ordinarily waste my time on self-help lit, but Gottman is the man who made a science of saving marriages, or at least accurately predicting which ones are capable of saving themselves. He’s the one who determined that rolling your eyes with contempt when your partner speaks means you might as well start dividing up the CDs. So don’t do that, people, and I’ll be back with a book report.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Our three-point plan to save San Francisco



Curtis Aaron leaves his house at 9 a.m. and drives to work as a recreation center director for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. He tries to leave enough time for the trip; he’s expected on the job at noon.

Aaron lives in Stockton. He moved there with his wife and two kids three years ago because “there was no way I could buy a place in San Francisco, not even close.” His commute takes three hours one way when traffic is bad. He drives by himself in a Honda Accord and spends $400 a month on gas.

Peter works for the city as a programmer and lives in Suisun City, where he moved to buy a house and start a family. Born and raised in San Francisco, he is now single again, with grown-up children and a commute that takes a little more than an hour on a good day.

“I’d love to move back. I love city life, but I want to be a homeowner, and I can’t afford that in the city,” Peter, who asked us not to use his last name, explained. “I work two blocks from where I grew up and my mom’s place, which she sold 20 years ago. Her house is nothing fancy, but it’s going for $1.2 million. There’s no way in hell I could buy that.”

Aaron and Peter aren’t paupers; they have good, unionized city jobs. They’re people who by any normal standard would be considered middle-class — except that they simply can’t afford to live in the city where they work. So they drive long distances every day, burning fossil fuels and wasting thousands of productive hours each year.

Their stories are hardly unique or new; they represent part of the core of the city’s most pressing problem: a lack of affordable housing.

Just about everyone on all sides of the political debate agrees that people like Aaron and Peter ought to be able to live in San Francisco. Keeping people who work here close to their jobs is good for the environment, good for the community, and good for the workers.

“A lack of affordable housing is one of the city’s greatest challenges,” Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged in his 2007–08 draft budget.

The mayor’s answer — which at times has the support of environmentalists — is in part to allow private developers to build dense, high-rise condominiums, sold at whatever price the market will bear, with a small percentage set aside for people who are slightly less well-off.

The idea is that downtown housing will appeal to people who work in town, keeping them out of their cars and fighting sprawl. And it assumes that if enough market-rate housing is built, eventually the price will come down. In the meantime, demanding that developers make somewhere around 15 percent of their units available at below-market rates should help people like Aaron and Peter — as well as the people who make far less money, who can never buy even a moderately priced unit, and who are being displaced from this city at an alarming rate. And a modest amount of public money, combined with existing state and federal funding, will make affordable housing available to people at all income levels.

But the facts are clear: this strategy isn’t working — and it never will. If San Francisco has any hope of remaining a city with economic diversity, a city that has artists and writers and families and blue-collar workers and young people and students and so many of those who have made this one of the world’s great cities, we need to completely change how we approach the housing issue.


HOMELESS OR $100,000

The housing plans coming out of the Mayor’s Office right now are aimed primarily at two populations: the homeless people who have lost all of their discretionary income due to Newsom’s Care Not Cash initiative, and people earning in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year who can’t afford to buy homes. For some time now, the mayor has been diverting affordable-housing money to cover the unfunded costs of making Care Not Cash functional; at least that money is going to the truly needy.

Now Newsom’s housing director, Matt Franklin, is talking about what he recently told the Planning Commission is a “gaping hole” in the city’s housing market: condominiums that would allow people on the higher end of middle income to become homeowners.

At a hearing Sept. 17, Doug Shoemaker of the Mayor’s Office of Housing told a Board of Supervisors committee that the mayor wants to see more condos in the $400,000 to $600,000 range — which, according to figures presented by Service Employees International Union Local 1021, would be out of the reach of, say, a bus driver, a teacher, or a licensed vocational nurse.

Newsom has put $43 million in affordable-housing money into subsidies for new home buyers in the past year. The Planning Department is looking at the eastern neighborhoods as ground zero for a huge new boom in condos for people who, in government parlance, make between 120 and 150 percent of the region’s median income (which is about $90,000 a year for a family of four).

In total, the eastern neighborhoods proposal would allow about 7,500 to 10,000 new housing units to be added over the next 20 years. Downtown residential development at Rincon Hill and the Transbay Terminal is expected to add 10,000 units to the housing mix, and several thousand more units are planned for Visitacion Valley.

The way (somewhat) affordable housing will be built in the eastern part of town, the theory goes, is by creating incentives to get developers to build lower-cost housing. That means, for example, allowing increases in density — changing zoning codes to let buildings go higher, for example, or eliminating parking requirements to allow more units to be crammed into an available lot. The more units a developer can build on a piece of land, the theory goes, the cheaper those units can be.

But there’s absolutely no empirical evidence that this has ever worked or will ever work, and here’s why: the San Francisco housing market is unlike any other market for anything, anywhere. Demand is essentially insatiable, so there’s no competitive pressure to hold prices down.

“There’s this naive notion that if you reduce costs to the market-rate developers, you’ll reduce the costs of the unit,” Calvin Welch, an affordable-housing activist with more than three decades of experience in housing politics, told the Guardian. “But where has that ever happened?”

In other words, there’s nothing to keep those new condos at rates that even unionized city employees — much less service-industry workers, nonprofit employees, and those living on much lower incomes — can afford.

In the meantime, there’s very little discussion of the impact of increasing density in the nation’s second-densest city. Building housing for tens of thousands of new people means spending hundreds of millions of dollars on parks, recreation centers, schools, police stations, fire stations, and Muni lines for the new neighborhoods — and that’s not even on the Planning Department’s radar. Who’s going to pay for all that? Nothing — nothing — in what the mayor and the planners are discussing in development fees will come close to generating the kind of cash it will take to make the newly dense areas livable.

“The solution we are striving for has not been achieved,” said Chris Durazo, chair of the South of Market Community Action Network, an organizing group. “Should we be looking at the cost to developers to build affordable housing or the cost to the neighborhood to be healthy? We’re looking at the cumulative impacts of policy, ballot measures, and planning and saying it doesn’t add up.”

In fact, Shoemaker testified before the supervisors’ committee that the city is $1.14 billion short of the cash it needs to build the level of affordable housing and community amenities in the eastern neighborhoods that are necessary to meet the city’s own goals.

This is, to put it mildly, a gigantic problem.



Very little of what is on the mayor’s drawing board is rental housing — and even less is housing available for people whose incomes are well below the regional median, people who earn less than $60,000 a year. That’s a large percentage of San Franciscans.

The situation is dire. Last year the Mayor’s Office of Community Development reported that 16 percent of renters spend more than half of their income on housing costs. And a recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition notes that a minimum-wage earner would have to work 120 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to afford the $1,551 rent on a two-bedroom apartment if they spent the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing.

Ted Gullickson of the San Francisco Tenants Union told us that Ellis Act evictions have decreased in the wake of 2006 Board of Supervisors legislation that bars landlords from converting their property from rentals to condos if they evict senior or disabled tenants.

But the condo market is so profitable that landlords are now offering to buy out their tenants — and are taking affordable, rent-controlled housing off the market at the rate of a couple of hundred units a month.

City studies also confirm that white San Franciscans earn more than twice as much as their Latino and African American counterparts. So it’s hardly surprising that the Bayview–Hunters Point African American community is worried that it will be displaced by the city’s massive redevelopment plan for that area. These fears were reinforced last year, when Lennar Corp., which is developing 1,500 new units at Hunters Point Shipyard, announced it will only build for-sale condos at the site rather than promised rental units. Very few African American residents of Bayview–Hunters Point will ever be able to buy those condos.

Tony Kelly of the Potrero Hill Boosters believes the industrial-zoned land in that area is the city’s last chance to address its affordable-housing crisis. “It’s the biggest single rezoning that the city has ever tried to do. It’s a really huge thing. But it’s also where a lot of development pressure is being put on the city, because the first sale on this land, once it’s rezoned, will be the most profitable.”

Land use attorney Sue Hestor sees the eastern neighborhoods as a test of San Francisco’s real political soul.

“There is no way it can meet housing goals unless a large chunk of land goes for affordable housing, or we’ll export all of our low-income workers,” Hestor said. “We’re not talking about people on welfare, but hotel workers, the tourist industry, even newspaper reporters.

“Is it environmentally sound to export all your workforce so that they face commute patterns that take up to three and four hours a day, then turn around and sell condos to people who commute to San Jose and Santa Clara?”



It’s time to rethink — completely rethink — the way San Francisco addresses the housing crisis. That involves challenging some basic assumptions that have driven housing policy for years — and in some quarters of town, it’s starting to happen.

There are three elements of a new housing strategy emerging, not all from the same people or organizations. It’s still a bit amorphous, but in community meetings, public hearings, blog postings, and private discussions, a program is starting to take shape that might actually alter the political landscape and make it possible for people who aren’t millionaires to rent apartments and even buy homes in this town.

Some of these ideas are ours; most of them come from community leaders. We’ll do our best to give credit where it’s due, but there are dozens of activists who have been participating in these discussions, and what follows is an amalgam, a three-point plan for a new housing policy in San Francisco.

1. Preserve what we have. This is nothing new or terribly radical, but it’s a cornerstone of any effective policy. As Welch points out repeatedly, in a housing crisis the cheapest and most valuable affordable housing is the stuff that already exists.

Every time a landlord or real estate speculator tries to make a fast buck by evicting a tenant from a rent-controlled apartment and turning that apartment into a tenancy in common or a condo, the city’s affordable-housing stock diminishes. And it’s far cheaper to look for ways to prevent that eviction and that conversion than it is to build a new affordable-rental apartment to replace the one the city has lost.

The Tenants Union has been talking about this for years. Quintin Mecke, a community organizer who is running for mayor, is making it a key part of his platform: More city-funded eviction defense. More restrictions on what landlords can do with buildings emptied under the Ellis Act. And ultimately, a statewide strategy to get that law — which allows landlords to clear a building of tenants, then sell it as condos — repealed.

Preserving existing housing also means fighting the kind of displacement that happens when high-end condos are squeezed into low-income neighborhoods (which is happening more and more in the Mission, for example, with the recent approval of a market-rate project at 3400 César Chávez).

And — equally important — it means preserving land.

Part of the battle over the eastern neighborhoods is a struggle for limited parcels of undeveloped or underdeveloped real estate. The market-rate developers have their eyes (and in many cases, their claws) on dozens of sites — and every time one of them is turned over for million-dollar condos, it’s lost as a possible place to construct affordable housing (or to preserve blue-collar jobs).

“Areas that have been bombarded by condos are already lost — their industrial buildings and land are already gone,” Oscar Grande of People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights told us.

So when activists (and some members of the Board of Supervisors) talk about slowing down or even stopping the construction of new market-rate housing in the eastern neighborhoods area, it’s not just about preventing the displacement of industry and blue-collar jobs; it’s also about saving existing, very limited, and very valuable space for future affordable housing.

And that means putting much of the eastern neighborhoods land off limits to market-rate housing of any kind.

The city can’t exactly use zoning laws to mandate low rents and low housing prices. But it can place such high demands on developers — for example, a requirement that any new market-rate housing include 50 percent very-low-income affordable units — that the builders of the million-dollar condos will walk away and leave the land for the kind of housing the city actually needs.

2. Find a new, reliable, consistent way to fund affordable housing. Just about everyone, including Newsom, supports the notion of inclusionary housing — that is, requiring developers to make a certain number of units available at lower-than-market rates. In San Francisco right now, that typically runs at around 15 percent, depending on the size of the project; some activists have argued that the number ought to go higher, up to 20 or even 25 percent.

But while inclusionary housing laws are a good thing as far as they go, there’s a fundamental flaw in the theory: if San Francisco is funding affordable housing by taking a small cut of what market-rate developers are building, the end result will be a city where the very rich far outnumber everyone else. Remember, if 15 percent of the units in a new luxury condo tower are going at something resembling an affordable rate, that means 85 percent aren’t — and ultimately, that leads to a population that’s 85 percent millionaire.

The other problem is how you measure and define affordable. That’s typically based on a percentage of the area’s median income — and since San Francisco is lumped in with San Mateo and Marin counties for income statistics, the median is pretty high. For a family of four in San Francisco today, city planning figures show, the median income is close to $90,000 a year.

And since many of these below-market-rate projects are priced to be affordable to people making 80 to 100 percent of the median income, the typical city employee or service-industry worker is left out.

In fact, much of the below-market-rate housing built as part of these projects isn’t exactly affordable to the San Franciscans most desperately in need of housing. Of 1,088 below-market-rate units built in the past few years in the city, Planning Department figures show, just 169 were available to people whose incomes were below half of the median (that is, below $45,000 a year for a family of four or $30,000 a year for a single person).

“A unit can be below market rate and still not affordable to 99 percent of San Franciscans,” Welch noted.

This approach clearly isn’t working.

So activists have been meeting during the past few months to hammer out a different approach, a way to sever affordable-housing funding from the construction of market-rate housing — and to ensure that there’s enough money in the pot to make an actual difference.

It’s a big number. “If we have a billion dollars for affordable housing over the next 15 years, we have a fighting chance,” Sup. Chris Daly told us. “But that’s the kind of money we have to talk about to make any real impact.”

In theory, the mayor and the supervisors can just allocate money from the General Fund for housing — but under Newsom, it’s not happening. In fact, the mayor cut $30 million of affordable-housing money this year.

The centerpiece of what Daly, cosponsoring Sup. Tom Ammiano, and the housing activists are talking about is a charter amendment that would earmark a portion of the city’s annual property-tax collections — somewhere around $30 million — for affordable housing. Most of that would go for what’s known as low- and very-low-income housing — units affordable to people who earn less than half of the median income. The measure would also require that current housing expenditures not be cut — to “lock in everything we’re doing now,” as Daly put it — so that that city would have a baseline of perhaps $60 million a year.

Since the federal government makes matching funds available for many affordable-housing projects, that money could be leveraged into more than $1 billion.

Of course, setting aside $30 million for affordable housing means less money for other city programs, so activists are also looking at ways to pay for it. One obvious option is to rewrite the city’s business-tax laws, replacing some or all of the current payroll tax money with a tax on gross receipts. That tax would exempt all companies with less than $2 million a year in revenue — the vast majority of the small businesses in town — and would be skewed to tax the bigger businesses at a higher rate.

Daly’s measure is likely headed for the November 2008 ballot.

The other funding option that’s being discussed in some circles — including the Mayor’s Office of Housing — is complicated but makes a tremendous amount of sense. Redevelopment agencies now have the legal right to sell revenue bonds and to collect income based on so-called tax increments — that is, the increased property-tax collections that come from a newly developed area. With a modest change in state law, the city should be able to do that too — to in effect capture the increased property taxes from new development in, say, the Mission and use that money entirely to build affordable housing in the neighborhood.

That, again, is a big pot of cash — potentially tens of millions of dollars a year. Assemblymember Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) told us he’s been researching the issue and is prepared to author state legislation if necessary to give the city the right to use tax-increment financing anywhere in town. “With a steady revenue stream, you can issue revenue bonds and get housing money up front,” he said.

That’s something redevelopment agencies can do, and it’s a powerful tool: revenue bonds don’t have to go to the voters and are an easy way to raise money for big projects — like an ambitious affordable-housing development program.

Somewhere, between all of these different approaches, the city needs to find a regular, steady source for a large sum of money to build housing for people who currently work in San Francisco. If we want a healthy, diverse, functioning city, it’s not a choice any more; it’s a mandate.

3. A Proposition M for housing. One of the most interesting and far-reaching ideas we’ve heard in the past year comes from Marc Salomon, a Green Party activist and policy wonk who has done extensive research into the local housing market. It may be the key to the city’s future.

In March, Salomon did something that the Planning Department should have done years ago: he took a list of all of the housing developments that had opened in the South of Market area in the past 10 years and compared it to the Department of Elections’ master voter files for 2002 and 2006. His conclusion: fully two-thirds of the people moving into the new housing were from out of town. The numbers, he said, “indicate that the city is pursuing the exact opposite priorities and policies of what the Housing Element of the General Plan calls for in planning for new residential construction.”

That confirms what we found more than a year earlier when we knocked on doors and interviewed residents of the new condo complexes (“A Streetcar Named Displacement,” 10/19/05). The people for whom San Francisco is building housing are overwhelmingly young, rich, white commuters who work in Silicon Valley. Or they’re older, rich empty nesters who are moving back to the city from the suburbs. They aren’t people who work in San Francisco, and they certainly aren’t representative of the diversity of the city’s population and workforce.

Welch calls it “socially psychotic” planning.

Twenty-five years ago, the city was doing equally psychotic planning for commercial development, allowing the construction of millions of square feet of high-rise office space that was overburdening city services, costing taxpayers a fortune, creating congestion, driving up residential rents, and turning downtown streets into dark corridors. Progressives put a measure on the November 1986 ballot — Proposition M — that turned the high-rise boom on its head: from then on, developers had to prove that their buildings would meet a real need in the city. It also set a strict cap on new development and forced project sponsors to compete in a “beauty contest” — and only the projects that offered something worthwhile to San Francisco could be approved.

That, Salomon argues, is exactly how the city needs to approach housing in 2007.

He’s been circuutf8g a proposal that would set clear priority policies for new housing. It starts with a finding that is entirely consistent with economic reality: “Housing prices [in San Francisco] cannot be lowered by expanding the supply of market-rate housing.”

It continues, “San Francisco values must guide housing policy. The vast majority of housing produced must be affordable to the vast majority of current residents. New housing must be economically compatible with the neighborhood. The most needy — homeless, very low income people, disabled people, people with AIDS, seniors, and families — must be prioritized in housing production. … [and] market-rate housing can be produced only as the required number of affordable units are produced.”

The proposal would limit the height of all new housing to about six stories and would “encourage limited-equity, permanently affordable homeownership opportunities.”

Salomon suggests that San Francisco limit the amount of new market-rate housing to 250,000 square feet a year — probably about 200 to 400 units — and that the developers “must produce aggressive, competitive community benefit packages that must be used by the Planning Commission as a beauty contest, with mandatory approval by the Board of Supervisors.” (You can read his entire proposal at

There are all kinds of details that need to be worked out, but at base this is a brilliant idea; it could be combined with the new financing plans to shift the production of housing away from the very rich and toward a mix that will preserve San Francisco as a city of artists, writers, working-class people, creative thinkers, and refugees from narrow-minded communities all over, people who want to live and work and make friends and make art and raise families and be part of a community that has always been one of a kind, a rare place in the world.

There is still a way to save San Francisco — but we’re running out of time. And we can’t afford to pursue moderate, incremental plans. This city needs a massive new effort to change the way housing is built, rented, and sold — and we have to start now, today.* To see what the Planning Department has in the pipeline, visit To see what is planned for the eastern neighborhoods, check out

Soma, Manhattan, and the SF Weekly


I was a bit startled to see the supplement called “Spaces” fall out of my SF Weekly today; it’s a slick, 16-page fluffer for the real estate industry, complete with an ad for Vanguard Properties on the cover.

Even by the standards of shameless ad supplements, this is pretty low; selling the cover of anything to an advertiser is considered pretty shoddy form. I suspect (still waiting for confirmation from the Weekly folks) that the editorial department over there had nothing to do with this, but it does contain some stories (one marked “advertorial,” two others not marked at all) — and boy, are they a piece of work.

My favorite is called “Lifestyles of the Young and Wealthy: Is SoMa San Francisco’s neighborhood du jour?” The piece, by Chelsea Sime (who is not an SF Weekly staff writer) is all about a realtor named Michael Novia who lives in Sausalito but “knows first-hand how unique — and lucrative — the SoMa neighborhood has become.”

Novia’s proud that SoMa has come such a long way, and promises: “Five to 10 years from now, SoMa will be a little Manhattan.”

How lovely. What a great perspective for an alternative weekly to be promoting.

Oh, and by the way: If you go to the supplement’s website, as published, ( not only is there nothing there, but it appears that SF Weekly doesn’t even own it.

Newsom’s tin cup


EDITORIAL We’re glad that Mayor Gavin Newsom is angry at the conditions in the city’s public housing projects. Denouncing the head of the Housing Authority as well as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development made for good press, and it’s possible that Newsom will actually follow up and try to improve some of the third world conditions at places like Sunnyvale and Hunters View.

But his notion that the way to solve the problem is to bring rich people on a tour and hope they will donate money is embarrassingly wrong. It’s the sort of idea that sounds like it came out of the darkest recesses of the Bush White House — the notion that the wealthy will just come to the aid of the poor, volunteering to do what’s right, as soon as they recognize the need.

Let’s us be clear here: public housing has been a horrible mess for years now. If Newsom is suddenly upset about the conditions, it’s only because he hasn’t been paying much attention. As we reported back in October 2005 (see "A Place Called Despair," 10/19/05), the city’s housing projects have been an unimaginable mess: raw sewage flowing through the yards, toilets backing up into kitchen sinks, toxic mold, people living in apartments that are legally and morally uninhabitable, terrifying violence … the list goes on and on. And we haven’t heard a whole lot out of the Mayor’s Office until this sudden burst of righteous anger.

Let us also be clear: a few donations from a few of the many, many multimillionaires in San Francisco aren’t going to solve the problem. It’s pathetic to see the mayor of one of the world’s great cities begging for alms from the same people who have helped create the economic conditions that make it so difficult for the city to provide for its residents’ basic human needs.

There are exceptions, but for the most part, the wealthy and powerful of San Francisco — with the acquiescence of Newsom — have put their considerable resources to bear over the years pushing for low taxes, cuts in city services, and reductions in the money that goes to the poorest residents of this town. Care Not Cash, Newsom’s signature policy measure, was a cruel attack on welfare recipients. His budgets have put hefty raises for police officers above the needs of public housing residents. And now he acts like a little charity, a few crumbs from the swells, will turn things around.

If Newsom really wants to take his rich pals on tours of the city’s public housing wasteland, we can suggest a different educational monologue. Rather than trying to summon up some patrician pity, Newsom ought to say:

This is what the antitax policies that have fattened all your wallets have created. This is what happens when the city lets market-rate developers determine housing policy. This, frankly, is what you get when you rely on the private sector to set public policy.

And if he really wants to address the public housing problem, he should tell the powerful interests who support him that he wants their backing for some serious new revenue measures — say, a hefty increase in the real estate transfer tax — to fund affordable housing in San Francisco.

The death of Polk Street



Click here to read about the Polk’s long, queer history

Kelly Michaels was following the San Francisco dream when she escaped her small Alabama hometown at 17 and hitchhiked westward. It was 1989.

"I had stars in my eyes," Michaels told the Guardian, sitting on the floor of her friend’s small single-room occupancy Tenderloin apartment, hints of a Southern drawl now paired with Tammy Faye mascara and bleached-blonde hair. "When you’re 16 or 17 and have dreams of being famous, you come to California — and you probably end up on Polk Street in drag."

Michaels arrived on Polk with little more than blue jeans, a bra, and rubber falsies to her name, making ends meet as a street sex worker. It wasn’t what she was looking for; the Polk was plagued with drugs and violence. But her dad was embarrassed by his transgendered daughter and didn’t her want her back. The neighborhood was a home.

She found a community at fierce Polk Gulch trans and boy-hustler bars like Q.T. and Reflections, where clientele included one "big, tall, black Egyptian transsexual hell-raiser" known to draw a gun. Scores of boy hustlers "coming in daily from the Greyhound station" danced naked on the bars. At the end of the night, Michaels’s new family members would pool their money and rent a hotel room for $30.

"The bars were the churches, the sanctuaries," Michaels’s friend Terri, an African American man in his 50s, told us. "You weren’t really going to be hassled there."

Not any more. "Polk Street is dead," Michaels told us. "Dead as fuck now."


The new kids on the block are calling it "revitalization."

After the three-decades-old gay bar Kimo’s is transferred to a new owner at the end of September, there will be only two queer bars left on a street that was San Francisco’s gay male center in the 1960s and a gritty, affordable home for low-income queers, trans women, and male sex workers in the following decades. Where scores of hustlers lined up against seedy sex shops and gay bars just a few years ago, crowds of twentysomething Marina look-alikes now clog the sidewalks in front of upscale clubs.

Polk’s queer residents and patrons are now being priced and policed out of their neighborhood — and their city — as business and tourism interests continue to eat away at the city’s center. Lower Polk Gulch, just blocks north of City Hall and one block east of Van Ness, has in the past few years succumbed to multimillion-dollar businesses, upscale lofts, increased rents at SRO hotels and apartments, and a new million-dollar city streetscape beautification plan. The related increase in policing and new efforts to clean up the street is making the area an unwelcoming place for the marginal queers who for so long called it home.

It has been the most down-and-out segments of the queer population — male sex workers, trannies, young people, poor people of color, and immigrants — who have often been the queer population’s boldest and most innovative actors, pushing the movement forward in new ways. What does queer San Francisco lose when our most marginalized members are pushed, policed, and priced out of the city?


Michaels stood under a neon purple Divas sign, advertising the three-story transgender club that has stood in Polk Gulch for more than three decades. Divas manager Alexis Miranda, a friend, stepped outside to chat, and a dozen characters from the neighborhood stopped by to shoot the shit. One man rubbed Miranda’s belly through her leopard bodysuit. "This is my baby," he told us jokingly.

Divas is as much a community center as it is a club. Girls from out of town and out of the country know to come to Divas when they step off the boat, plane, or bus. Many trans immigrants make a living as prostitutes, and while Miranda insists that she does not allow them to work inside the club, the close vicinity of San Francisco’s tranny prostitute district has meant tension for Divas.

Miranda told us the police have been targeting the club because of complaints from new merchants. "Some of the people who have new businesses don’t want the people who live here to stay. They want to close us down," she said. "They’re trying to gentrify the neighborhood."

Neville Gittens, a police spokesperson, told us that the San Francisco Police Department performs "regular enforcement in that area" but said any targeted operations cannot be discussed.

Theresa Sparks, a trans woman who chairs the Police Commission, said Miranda made the same claim at the commission meeting Aug. 15. "I don’t know if that’s true or not," Sparks told us. "My intent is to find out what is going on."

Sparks agreed that gentrification is driving trans people out of the Polk Gulch neighborhood: "It is very, very difficult for a transgendered person to survive in this city."

Miranda pointed to a bar across the street. Until 2000, the Lush Lounge was the cruisy trans and hustler bar Polk Gulch Saloon. Now, under a new owner, white twentysomething heterosexuals sip apple pie martinis.

Sonia Khanna, a 28-year-old trans woman with long, curly brown hair and mocha skin told us she doesn’t feel welcome there. "If you’re a tranny, they think you’re a whore," she said.

Miranda said the owner, Steve Black, ejected her when she went to welcome him to the neighborhood. Miranda, a former empress in San Francisco’s Imperial Court System, reported him to the Human Rights Commission. The inquiry was closed when the owner informed the commission that he allows transgendered people into the bar. He didn’t deny tossing out Miranda; he said he just disliked her personally.

The bigger problem may be the neighborhood’s increased property values. Divas owner and Polk Gulch resident Steve Berkey told us that rents have pushed out other established queer businesses on Polk. The only reason Divas stays open is that he owns the building. "It used to be that so many girls lived in the neighborhood," he said. "They packed the place. But now rents have driven them off."


The reasons behind the death of the queer Polk are complex, likely including the ascendance of the Internet as a social networking tool, rising property costs, and the aging of the bars’ core clientele and owners. But most of the community’s rancor has focused on the most visible manifestation of change: neighborhood associations representing new, upscale businesses working with police and the city to clean up the streets.

At the center of the storm is a glass-walled architecture studio at the bottom of Polk Gulch, around the corner from Divas. Two freshly planted palm trees in front of the studio are conspicuous on a site next door to a bleak, institutional homeless shelter outfitted with security cameras and across the street from a porn shop promising "Hot Bareback Action!"

Case+Abst Architects has been the workplace and home of husband and wife Carolyn Abst and Ron Case since they were lured by the area’s low cost in 1999. The trees were the first of 40 planted in a campaign they initiated last year as cofounders of Lower Polk Neighbors. Abst told the San Francisco Chronicle in September 2005 that she "wants a fruit stand [on Polk Street], and we’ll take a Starbucks too."

The group has had an impact: District Attorney Kamala Harris said at a recent community meeting organized by the LPN that she has responded to association agitation by having representatives of the District Attorney’s Office walk the neighborhood with police and installing high-tech surveillance equipment to gain more criminal convictions. Sup. Aaron Peskin has asked the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to include the Lower Polk in its Neighborhood Marketplace Initiative, a program designed to revitalize neighborhood business districts. As part of this program, a part-time staff person now acts as a liaison between Lower Polk merchants and police. Another city program is scheduled to spend $1 million on installing new lights and planting trees later this year.

Activists say the LPN focus is not on outreach, therapy, or support for the Polk’s marginalized residents but on pushing undesirables out of the neighborhood and ejecting outreach programs like a local needle exchange.

Last year Abst was the subject of a "wanted" poster put up on Polk by the group Gay Shame. The group calls the LPN a "progentrification attack squad" whose goal is to "remove outsider queers and social deviants from our neighborhood in order to accelerate property development and real estate profiteering."

The hustler bar Club RendezVous lost its lease in 2005 after the property was bought and razed. Its co-owner, David Kapp, didn’t return our phone calls seeking comment, but he told the Central City Extra in February 2006 that a "smear campaign" by the LPN stopped him from relocating down the street. A First Congregational Church is now being constructed where RendezVous once stood. The church was designed by Case+Abst.

Case told us that the Planning Department wanted to see neighborhood support for the RendezVous move. The LPN asked that RendezVous provide security, but the bar’s owners refused. "They always had younger, underage boys hanging out," Case said. "There are a lot of families in this neighborhood. We wished them well, but it’s also a community." He told us he wants not to gentrify the neighborhood but to make it clean and safe.

But safe for whom?

Chris Roebuck, a medical anthropologist at UC Berkeley, told us that the increased policing has also meant increased harassment of trans women. Sex workers, many of them immigrants from Mexico, the Philippines, and Thailand, are "increasingly being pushed into the alleyways, into unsafe spaces," he said. He’s also noticed a criminalization of what he called "walking while trans" in the six years he has spent interviewing trans women on Polk Street.

At a community meeting with the district attorney earlier this month, two trans women said the police, despite sensitivity trainings, do not take them seriously when they report a crime.

"Getting rid of the public space for trans women and drug users is not safe for them," Polk resident Matt Bernstein Sycamore (a.k.a. Mattilda) told us. "Deportation [of immigrant sex workers] is not a safe space. The needle exchange actually does make people safer. Getting rid of it does not make people safer."

Sycamore, editor of the book Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients, is concerned with what he calls a "cultural erasure" in the area. "Polk Street has been the last remaining place where marginalized queers can come to figure out how to cope, meet one another, and form social networks," he told us. "That sort of outsider culture has been so dependent on having a public space to figure out ways to survive. That is the dream of San Francisco — that you can get away from where you came from and cope, and create something dangerous and desperate and explosive."


When Kimo’s changes hands at the end of September, San Francisco will lose one of the last vestiges of a hustler culture housed on Polk Street since at least the early 1960s.

On a recent night, six gray-haired men sat chatting or reading the paper, relics of Polk Street’s heyday. A young man with a shaved head and black hoodie stood outside the front door and gave a suspicious look to a young blonde woman in bikini straps who breezed in with two friends, laughing, oblivious to him. A sign in front read "No Loitering In Front of These Premises."

The state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control mandated the warning, Kimo’s bartender John David told us. He said he thinks that was the result of pressure from the LPN. "Kimo’s is the new whipping boy," he told us. "RendezVous is out, and now it’s our fault that people are on the streets."

Case denies that his group had anything to do with the crackdown on Kimo’s.

A tall man with shaggy brown hair standing on the sidewalk near Kimo’s, who asked to be identified by his porn-actor name, Eric Manchester, complained that a way of life is coming to an end. Manchester said he started hustling on Polk at age 17 after leaving the "redneck, racist town" of Martinsville, Ind., in 10th grade and being stationed in San Diego by the Navy.

"It wasn’t just money for me," Manchester told us. "This was a good place to come and get advice, comfort, support. There are people that need people, and they’re going to take that all away. San Francisco is going down the tubes. All the heterosexual people are moving in. They like the police-state mentality."

Among the new arrivals is the owner of the $6.5 million O’Reilly’s Holy Grail Restaurant that stands just a few doors down Polk Street from Kimo’s. On a recent evening, a musician played soft jazz on a black grand piano, while men in starched pastel button-down shirts stood around on the hickory pecan floor.

Myles O’Reilly opened the restaurant two years ago, when he also transformed a low-rent residential hotel above the space into 14 European-style hotel suites. Neighbors point to the property as a tipping point in Polk’s transformation. But O’Reilly sounded almost defeated when he talked about his "multimillion-dollar jewel in the middle of the desert."

"We are only a couple blocks from City Hall and Union Square," he told us. "But tourism doesn’t come this way."

With the goal of transforming the area, he teamed up with John Malloy, the head of the recently founded Polk Corridor Business Association, who has also chaired the LPN.

One of their projects is on view outside the restaurant and along the street. Colorful banners read: "Welcome to Polk Village … working together to build a cleaner, safer, more beautiful community." The PCBA plans to circulate a petition to officially change the name of Polk Gulch to Polk Village in a few years, but O’Reilly isn’t waiting. He defiantly lists the restaurant’s address as 1233 Polk Village on his building.

That "village" will house a small army if these merchants have their way. "We need foot patrols up and down Polk Street," Malloy, who lives in the neighborhood, told us. "We’re going to get more police even if we have to go out there and hire them ourselves."

O’Reilly took out his cell phone and started showing me photos. "This is defecation on the sidewalk outside," he said, pointing to a smudgy image. "This is condoms on the sidewalk. You see this lovely photograph? That’s a condom in the flowerbed. That’s what my son had to see this morning. And nobody helps."

"There are 1,000 condos being built here," O’Reilly said. "Something has to be done to restrict the number of street people."


The Tenderloin, and to a lesser extent Polk Gulch, risked being swallowed by the expanding downtown financial district and tourist industries in the late 1970s. But in the 1980s, community activism secured a moratorium on the conversion of residential hotel units, required luxury hoteliers to contribute millions of dollars in community mitigations, downzoned dozens of blocks of prime downtown property, and created a nonprofit housing boom.

It is these achievements that new merchants and residents point to when distancing themselves from the word gentrification. LPN cofounder Case told us that because apartments in the area are rent controlled, gentrification is "not possible."

Not so, said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee. "Look at the Castro," he told us. "It’s full of rent-controlled buildings. All you have to do is evoke the Ellis Act, or you buy out the tenants."

Or look next to the Congregational Church construction on Polk. There stands an almost-completed four-story building whose 32 units are being sold for up to $630,000. A large glossy poster in its window advertises the units’ "open living and dining areas," along with "stainless steel appliances, custom cabinets, [and] granite counters."

Brian Bassinger, cofounder of the AIDS Housing Alliance, told us that in one of the buildings where his organization houses people a few blocks south of Polk Gulch, rent is now $1,700 a month, up from $1,325 just a few years ago.

Gayle Rubin, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and a historian of South of Market leather cultures, told us that gay neighborhoods are disappearing across the country as the core of major cities are transformed into high-value areas. This puts pressure on the economic viability of queer neighborhoods, most of which — despite the stereotype of the wealthy gay — have taken root in marginalized, poor neighborhoods.

"Polk Street is just one little battle in the war," Mecca told us. "The Mission was a working-class lesbian area. That whole lesbian culture got lost overnight. The bustling culture of queer artists in the Castro — all gone. The South of Market leather scene — gone. Parts of our culture, the very thing we came to San Francisco for, keep getting wiped out."

Kelly Michaels did develop a certain amount of celebrity as a performer at the famed club Finocchio’s and as a porn star; fans still post photos and gush over her online. And she remains drawn to the Polk, even if her relationship with the neighborhood is deeply ambivalent.

"It’s so evil, so dark, full of drugs and despair," she told us outside Divas. "But this is my home and my family."

"The people left here are going to fight for their home," she said. "Some people have been here forever. Their whole life is here. It’s impossible to get an apartment in other places of this city."

"This is a sanctuary," she said. "They’re taking the sparkle out of San Francisco."

Oppose Don Fisher’s museum


EDITORIAL Not long after the US Army announced it no longer needed the Presidio for a military base, a group of powerful San Francisco business leaders began eyeing what would become the first privatized national park in America. Among the businesses aiming to grab a piece of the immensely valuable real estate were Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Transamerica Corp.; among the individuals was the founder of the Gap, a Republican named Don Fisher.

Fisher helped then–US representative Nancy Pelosi pull off an astonishing feat: she took more than 1,200 acres of land earmarked by federal law as a national park and handed it over to real estate developers (see "Stolen Base," 5/8/96). Fisher, who became one of the first members of the private board that manages the Presidio, was around to help George Lucas build a massive business park on the site — and pick up a $60 million tax break in the process.

Now Fisher, who along with his billions has amassed a pretty impressive collection of contemporary art, wants to build a gigantic private museum right in the heart of the park, at the site of the old post. His plan would drop a 100,000-square-foot Battlestar Galactica on the old parade grounds, wiping out a sizable amount of open space. The museum would be on public land, but he’d run it himself, in his own way, with no public oversight.

This is a terrible idea, and San Franciscans ought to be up in arms about it.

According to reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, Fisher has been looking for some time for a way to display his art collection, and he has talked to people at the existing big museums, the Museum of Modern Art and the de Young. But those talks broke down — in part, we’re told by sources, because Fisher didn’t want the professional curators and museum directors calling any shots. He wanted complete control over the art — control over where it was hung, when it was displayed, who got to see it, etc. The folks who run those cultural institutions are too polite to say so in public, but they don’t generally go for that sort of demand. So Fisher did what billionaires around the country are starting to do: he decided to build his own museum.

That’s his right, of course, and if he’d sought a spot, say, South of Market near SFMOMA, it might not be a bad thing. But the Presidio is entirely the wrong place for this sort of institution.

For starters, there’s no easy way to get there. Transit to the main post at the Presidio is very limited — one Muni line, which runs infrequently. No BART, no light rail — nothing of the sort of access you would want for a major public attraction. Car access is through the crowded Marina neighborhood, and the museum would no doubt build a huge parking garage, meaning the park and the surrounding areas would be inundated with cars. That alone would be a violation of the spirit of all the nation’s parks, which are trying desperately to reduce the number of car visits. There are no other cultural attractions around, so visitor traffic to Fisher’s museum would have no spillover benefits for any other museums.

And he’s talking about a whopper of a structure. There’s no way to gently insert a building that big into the park; it can’t blend in with the existing structures or the natural scenery. It’s just going to stick out like a bloated, gangrenous sore thumb, ruining the view and the historical nature of the area.

The private Presidio Trust has sole discretion over the proposal, but city officials can speak up, loudly. The Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution opposing the museum, the arts community should demand that it be relocated, and the public at large ought to tell the trust and Fisher that his personal memorial edifice isn’t welcome in the park.*

Day’s dilemma



One investigation by the District Attorney’s Office is enough of a headache for City College of San Francisco. But two?

The Guardian learned that just days before the November 2005 election, in which City College asked voters for $246.3 million in bond money to continue a series of capital works projects, the office of Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein received a letter from investigators requesting detailed information about a land transaction that took place in Chinatown earlier that year.

At least three of the school’s elected trustees don’t recall being informed by Chancellor Phil Day about the probe, setting off new concerns after we alerted officials about the letter, which the Guardian obtained. The DA’s Office is also investigating potential laundering of public funds into campaign donations by college officials in connection with that bond campaign.

"It puts a further cloud on the college," trustee Julio Ramos told us. "Presumably the statute of limitations has not run on the transaction, so what’s going on here? I’m concerned because no one ever informed us."

Two other trustees, Milton Marks and board president Anita Grier, told us they don’t remember being told of the inquest.

"We do have to give them some leeway to operate the college without informing us of everything," Marks said. "But when the district attorney is asking questions about something that’s coming from a board action, why wouldn’t we have to know about it as early as possible? It’s kind of indefensible."

But Day fervently insisted that the board was informed of the letter during a closed-session meeting the same month the letter was received and that Ramos and Marks simply weren’t there. Day had no explanation for why Grier couldn’t recall it, but trustees Rodel Rodis, Natalie Berg, and Lawrence Wong and former trustee Johnnie Carter all confirmed they’d been told about it. Day also said the school had never heard back from the DA’s office after it produced all of the requested documents.

"I had even forgot about the fact that we had this initial inquiry back then," Day told us. "I had totally removed it from my brain and forgotten about it completely."

Either way, this is the first the public has heard of the DA’s interest in City College’s land deals. Debbie Mesloh, a spokesperson for District Attorney Kamala Harris, told us she could neither confirm nor deny that any such investigation was taking place, although the letter confirms that an investigation was opened.

The DA this year began an inquiry into City College after the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the school had used a $10,000 lease payment from a business tenant to help bankroll a campaign committee formed for the purpose of promoting the 2005 bond election, City College’s third since 1997.

But we now know that the DA began snooping around the college’s land purchases in October 2005, when Goldstein was asked for escrow documents, property appraisals, memos, and board minutes concerning the school’s purchase of two lots in Chinatown at the corner of Kearny and Washington streets for a long-planned (and now vastly over budget) campus.

The Guardian has also obtained a pile of documents detailing months of real estate negotiations between the college and politically connected Chinatown businessman Pius Lee, who owned one of the lots and had an option to buy a neighboring and much larger tract.

The construction of the new Chinatown–<\d>North Beach campus hasn’t gone smoothly for the college or voters. The school originally used $5.8 million to buy property in the neighborhood using bond money that voters authorized in 1997. Voters were then asked for $45 million in 2001 to build the campus, with construction expected to begin in 2003.

But Day’s ambitions led to clashes with Chinatown residents after the original plan — slated for an area facing Columbus Avenue on the other side of the block from where City College now hopes to build — called for demolishing a historic building and low-income apartments housing elderly tenants.

The school entered a legal settlement promising to preserve the Columbo Building and relocate the nearby Fong Building’s tenants. In 2005, however, it hastily decided incorporating that work would be "infeasible" and turned to Lee for help in finding a new location.

Lee (who did not return our calls) told the college he’d give up a sliver of land he owned on the other side of the block and also help it secure the much larger lot nearby owned by a Taiwanese company, Fantec Development Corp., with which Lee had a long business relationship.

The school paid Lee $1.9 million for a strip of parking lot 18 feet wide, even though an appraisal that City College received placed its market value at $1.1 million, records show. (San Francisco County assessed it at $267,000 in 2004 for tax purposes. The neighboring, much larger piece of land, also a parking lot, was assessed at $1.5 million.) During early negotiations, records show, the college offered $785,000 for Lee’s property and $4.5 million for Fantec’s, but in the end it wound up paying much more — a total of $8.7 million in bond money for both.

Yet it’s not clear precisely what investigators were looking into, what they found, or whether the investigation is still open.

"The properties were not available for anything less than the price we paid for them," Goldstein told us. "That’s what the sellers demanded in order to sell their properties…. Pius drove a very hard deal and demanded what I would consider to be the maximum possible price for his property that we could defend."

Ground still hasn’t been broken on the school’s Chinatown dream, and in the interim, as we’ve reported recently, the estimated costs have ballooned from $75 million to $122 million, an increase of 62 percent. As a result, the school has chosen to gut some projects authorized by voters to keep this and other favored proposals alive (see "The City College Shell Game," 7/4/07).

The Board of Trustees is slated to vote next month on whether to certify the campus’s environmental documents and whether the project should be exempt from building height limits in the neighborhood.<\!s>*

Ethics equity



In the 2003 mayor’s race, Gavin Newsom’s campaign outspent Matt Gonzalez’s nearly six to one, shattering all previous city spending records and leaving the campaign committee with a $600,000 debt that wasn’t cleared for three years.

An apparent plan to pay down that debt illegally with money raised by a separate unregulated inaugural committee was the subject of several Guardian stories at the time (see “Newsom’s Funny Money,” 2/11/04) and corrective actions by Newsom treasurer Jim Sutton, although top San Francisco Ethics Commission officials tried to cover it up rather than investigate it.

It was one of several Newsom-campaign irregularities that raised red flags, including the return of dozens of checks by contributors who had exceeded the $500 limit, the failure to notify regulators in a timely fashion that the campaign had broken a voluntary spending cap, and issues related to whether the heavy campaign debt should have been considered a loan and regulated as such.

So guess whose campaign has recently been investigated and fined? And guess whose has never been scrutinized by Ethics Commission officials, who claim they don’t have enough resources to do a “global canvas” of all the campaigns from 2003, as they’ve traditionally done each year?

Gonzalez campaign treasurers Randy Knox and Enrique Pearce this month agreed to pay $3,300 in penalties to the Ethics Commission over 234 names of contributors that were filed with missing or incomplete donor information, 8 percent of the total. The agency began its review three years after it received an anonymous complaint in the days leading up to the runoff election, exactly when the Newsom camp dished the same allegations to reporters.

“It’s my fault, but it was inadvertent and not deliberate misfeasance,” Knox told the Guardian recently. The Ethics Commission concluded that no evidence proved a willful attempt to defraud the public and that most of the donors had failed to cite their street addresses or to provide complete employer information.

But to Knox and Ethics reformers we’ve interviewed for a recent series on the commission, there’s an important issue of fairness involved in this matter. Gonzalez, who did not return our calls seeking comment, was contemputf8g another run for mayor last year when he was contacted by Ethics officials and threatened with a $30,000 fine for violations that were more than three years old. “It was clearly politically motivated, to clear the field for the mayor’s race,” Knox said.

Yet even if that wasn’t the case, why didn’t Ethics Commission staffers review the Newsom campaign after they decided to pursue Gonzalez? And why did Executive Director John St. Croix order staffers not to do the normal global canvas of campaign documents for 2003 — and only 2003 — claiming the agency didn’t have enough resources and needed to “triage” its work?

“It seems odd that we would allow an anonymous complaint, which is informal, to create an exception to our triage order for 2003, especially since the [percentage] of Gonzalez contributions with info errors was apparently less than the state standard for filing officers to require mandatory amendments,” Ethics officer Oliver Luby noted to agency bosses earlier this month, according to internal memos the Guardian obtained through a Sunshine Ordinance request.

St. Croix, for his part, didn’t take over the agency until a year after the 2003 election. He told the Guardian that dozens of other complaints needed to be investigated too, but his office, with only one investigator, couldn’t do so until years after the fact.

“There was a point in 2006 where I said we’re not going to go back and begin anything new for election years prior to 2004,” St. Croix acknowledged. “We had so many backlogs. We were just hopelessly mired, and we kind of needed a fresh start.”

Sutton did not return our calls for comment, but Newsom’s campaign manager then and now, Eric Jaye, told us, “I’m empathetic to [the Gonzalez campaign]. I’m sure they weren’t intentional errors.”

He added that just because the Ethics Commission didn’t investigate the Newsom campaign after the election doesn’t mean the mayor got a free ride. “I feel like everything we do is audited and scrutinized,” Jaye said, noting that the campaign was fined $2,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission during the race for an illegal mailer.

Still, even if the commission won’t disclose ongoing investigations, as far as the public knows right now, the Ethics Commission has repeatedly ignored problems with the 2003 Newsom campaign and others managed by Sutton. Consider:

Several entities affiliated with a real estate outfit called Olympic View Realty made a total of $14,000 in contributions to the Newsom campaign, but filings didn’t reflect the otherwise clear association. “Newsom’s failure to report correct cumulative-to-date amounts is an ongoing violation of state law,” Luby wrote in the aforementioned memo.

The Newsom campaign’s $600,000 in postelection debt wasn’t paid off completely until late last year, much of it being carried by Jaye’s consulting firm and Sutton. Former Ethics staffer and commissioner Joe Lynn believes that could amount to an unreported loan to the campaign. “If Ethics was doing its job, it would investigate Newsom’s use of accrued debt,” Lynn told us.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco — a key Newsom supporter — urged members in December 2003 to make unlimited donations to Newsom’s inaugural committee that would also be used, it said, to help cover “transition activities,” which should legally be subject to contribution limits. But Ethics, as far as we can tell, never probed whether inaugural committee funds were used inappropriately for the new mayor’s transition to room 200.

Newsom may have collected contributions exceeding the legal limit. During runoff elections, candidates are allowed to accept additional contributions from individual donors who have otherwise reached the maximum of $500. The total then permitted would be $750, which can be used to cover debt from the general election. As soon as general-election debt is retired, however, the candidate can no longer take advantage of the increased limit. But as far as the public can tell, there was no analysis conducted by Ethics to determine if Newsom’s campaign continued to collect $750 checks after having paid down its general-election debt.

St. Croix said most pending enforcement cases, more than ever before, were initiated by staff rather than complainants and the ideal scenario would be to emphasize aggressive earlier sweeps of all the campaigns. But unfortunately, he said, “we’re far away from that.”*


Needed: a campaign against privatization


EDITORIAL Of all the cities in the United States, San Francisco ought to be most aware of the perils of privatization. Much of the city burned down in 1906 in part because the private Spring Valley Water Co. hadn’t kept up its lines and thus was unable to provide enough water for firefighting. A few years later, in one of the greatest privatization scandals in American history, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. stole what was supposed to be the city’s publicly owned electricity, costing the local coffers untold hundreds of millions over the past 80 years.

This is a city that votes 80 percent Democratic and has always opposed the Ronald Reagan–George H.W. Bush–George W. Bush agenda. A large part of the local economy depends on public employment (the city, the state, the federal government, and the University of California are by far the largest employers in town, dwarfing any of the biggest private-sector companies).

And yet Mayor Gavin Newsom, who likes to say he’s a progressive, is pushing an astonishing package of privatization measures that would shift public property, resources, and infrastructure into the hands of for-profit businesses. He’s talking about privatizing the golf courses, some city parks, and even Camp Mather. He’s promoting a tidal-energy deal that would give PG&E control of the power generated in a public waterway. He hasn’t lifted a finger to stop the ongoing PG&E–Raker Act scandal. And he’s determined to hand over a key part of the city’s future infrastructure to Google and EarthLink (see Editor’s Notes, p. 1).

This nonsense has to stop.

It’s hard to fight privatization battle by battle. Every single effort is a tough campaign in itself; the companies that want to make money off San Francisco’s public assets typically have plenty of cash to throw around. They’re slick and sophisticated, hire good lobbyists, and generally get excellent press from the local dailies. And it works: even board president Aaron Peskin, who generally knows better, is now talking about accepting the private wi-fi deal.

So what this city needs is a unified, organized campaign against privatization.

When Reagan arrived in the White House in 1981, the single biggest item on the agenda of his political backers was an attack on the public sector. The way the right-wingers saw it, government took money from the rich and gave it to the less well-off. Government regulated business activity, costing major corporations a lot of money. Government — "the beast," they called it — had to be beaten back, demonized, and starved.

So the Reaganites used their top-rate public relations machine to make the public sector appear riddled with waste and fraud. They cut taxes, ran up record (for the time) deficits, and forced Congress to eliminate a lot of social programs. More and more of what the government once did was turned over to the private sector — the way the radical right liked it.

That political agenda still rules Washington, D.C., where even a fair amount of the war in Iraq has been privatized, turned over to contractors who are making huge profits while Iraqi and American kids die.

The attack on government has worked so well that even a very modest plan by Bill Clinton to create a national health care system was killed by the insurance industry.

But privatization doesn’t work. Private-sector companies and even nonprofits don’t have to comply with open-records laws and can spend money (including taxpayers’) with only limited accountability. Most private companies are about making money first and serving the public second; that means when private operators take over public services, the prices go up, worker pay goes down (and unions are often booted out), and the quality of the delivery tanks. Look at the real estate development nightmare that has become the privatized Presidio. Look at the disgrace and disaster that the privatized Edison School brought to the San Francisco Unified School District. Look at the glitzy café and the pricey parking lot that have replaced good animal care at the privatized San Francisco Zoo. Look at what has happened around the world when Bechtel Corp. has taken over public water systems — rates have gone up so high that some people can’t afford this basic life necessity.

Look what’s happened to the American health system. Look what’s happened in Iraq.

Government isn’t perfect, and the public sector has lot of management, efficiency, and accountability issues. But at least the public has some hope of correcting those problems. San Francisco ought to be a place where a major movement to take back the public sector is born and thrives.

Almost everyone in town ought to have an interest. Labor, obviously, opposes privatization. So should neighborhood advocates (who care about public parks and open space), environmentalists (because the entire notion of environmentalism depends on a healthy public sector), progressive community groups, and politicians. Even more conservative groups like the cops and firefighters ought to see the need to prevent their jobs from being outsourced to a private vendor.

A campaign against privatization could link wi-fi, PG&E, tidal power, and the golf courses. The campaign could force anyone running for office to address a no-privatization pledge. It could appear any time one of these rotten schemes pops up in town — and send a message that San Francisco doesn’t accept the economic agenda of the radical right.

Who’s going to call the first meeting? 2

The golf club



For the better part of a century, San Francisco’s public golf courses have offered players relatively inexpensive rates, belying the view of some that this is an elitist sport incompatible with progressive civic governance. But since a botched revamp of the Harding Park course several years ago, golf operations have landed in the rough, siphoning large sums from city coffers every year. Now Mayor Gavin Newsom and his Recreation and Park Department claim that private businesses would do a better and cheaper job of running three of the city’s most valuable links.

Sup. Jake McGoldrick and other privatization opponents say outsourcing control of the Harding, Fleming, and Lincoln courses would inevitably lead to less access for the general public and higher costs. "A lot of folks don’t realize that the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the St. Francis Yacht Club are public assets that are now run as private membership clubs, elitist things," McGoldrick told the Guardian. "That’s certainly the way this could go."

McGoldrick has called for the formation of a Golf Course Task Force to explore nonprivatization solutions, including converting some of the courses into parks or open space, as the Neighborhood Parks Council has urged. On July 10 the Board of Supervisors will decide between McGoldrick’s plan and Rec and Park’s "hybrid management" resolution, which would award leases of 20 to 30 years for the courses. Political handicappers say the vote could go either way.

In addition to their concerns about prices and accessibility at privately run links, McGoldrick and others have serious reservations about who will run the courses if the mayor’s plan succeeds. No one we spoke with could name potential bidders with any certainty, but if the past is prologue, the choice is likely to involve political cronyism.

Golf advocate Sandy Tatum engineered the deal that turned Harding Park over to the management of Kemper Sports, which has been accused of overspending public funds and turning the course into a huge drain on the city treasury. Kemper also rents space to Tatum’s First Tee program. More recently, another nonprofit started by Tatum and former city attorney Louise Renne initiated and funded a study for Rec and Park that recommended more privatization by turning over courses to entities such as theirs.

The SF Weekly, which has run stories critical of the city’s golf privatization scheme, revealed a 1990s deal that privatized a city-owned course near Burlingame and, in what it deemed a corrupt selection process, handed control of the course to former Willie Brown staffer Tom Isaak.

In 2004, Tom Hsieh, one of Newsom’s key campaign consultants, submitted the sole bid for control of Gleneagles Golf Course in McLaren Park. Neither Hsieh nor his business partner, real estate investor Craig Lipton, had ever run a golf course before winning the contract for Gleneagles. But what really raised eyebrows around City Hall were the terms of the deal. Any lease of more than 10 years would have needed approval by the Board of Supervisors, so Hsieh and Lipton were given a nine-year contract.

"That was a very obvious and blatant end run around the contract requirements of the Board of Supervisors," McGoldrick told us. Hsieh, he went on to say, "is one of the mayor’s good buddies, and he got himself a nice contract out there."

Rec and Park spokesperson Rose Dennis defended the lease agreement with Hsieh, telling us, "At the end of the day, he legally got the concession. It wasn’t like it was put down to a nine[-year contract] to screw anybody. That would suggest a level of sophistication that Rec and Park just doesn’t have."

Reached for comment, Hsieh bristled at the suggestion that he landed the contract because of his ties to the mayor, writing in an e-mail that the mere suggestion was "a scurrilous attack motivated by politics." Hsieh did not answer our repeated requests for information about wage levels at the Gleneagles course and the number of groundskeepers employed there. McGoldrick and sources in the industry assert that one of the main ways private managers would make money from the other courses would be to reduce labor costs.

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, one of the privatization plan’s strongest backers, conceded that some past golf contracts have been "questionable," specifically in the case of Hsieh’s deal. But he said the supervisors would oversee the leasing process this time to avoid cronyism and the kind of spending excesses allegedly committed by Kemper Sports. They would also mandate that new managers continue to employ union employees.

Unlike the city, Elsbernd argued, private businesses could invest large sums of money in rehabilitating the courses, especially Lincoln. "When it gets that kind of [cash] infusion," Elsbernd said, the course "is going to see a turnaround in revenue so that you can actually justify charging higher fees."

That is exactly the kind of scenario privatization foes fear: more exclusive golf courses on public land that raise greens fees beyond ordinary people’s means. "These courses are untapped gold mines," said golf instructor, former pro, and activist Justin Hetsler, who has formed a nonprofit group, Golf San Francisco, to lobby against the mayor’s plan. "But every penny spent at the courses should go back into them, not into someone’s pocket as profit." As for capital improvements, Hetsler, who also works as an accountant, argued, "The courses’ future revenue streams can secure credit for improvements. That does not require privatization."

For McGoldrick, this debate is about far more than golf courses. "I don’t even play golf," he told us. The push to outsource control of the links, he said, reflects a larger philosophical battle about what to do with publicly owned resources. "The mayor is a pro-privatization kind of guy. That’s his MO…. We’re seeing this happen all over the place, not just San Francisco. But for me, it’s just painful to watch city assets [be] given away. It really kicks me in the gut." *

Lennar’s Bad News Bears


Marc McGuire, a tile contractor from San Diego, and CALPASC’s Brad Diede on CNBC this spring to discuss accusations that Lennar has been extorting its contractors

A few months ago, we reported how Lennar had been giving contractors a choice between a rock or a hard place: reduce their unpaid invoices by up to 20 percent—or be excluded from bidding work for a minimum of six months.
Today comes word that the company, which is poised to build condos on most of San Francisco’s underdeveloped lands, including Bayview Hunter’s Point and the decommissioned Hunters Point Shipyard, has just posted a second quarter loss–and it is expecting more losses this year.
Blaming high inventories and dropping real estate prices, and with his company reporting losses of $1.55 per share, Lennar President and Chief Executive Stuart Miller announced, “As we look to our third quarter and the remainder of 2007, we continue to see weak, and perhaps deteriorating, market conditions.”

This time last year, the nation’s biggest home builder was posting a profit of $324.7 million, or $2 per share. But Lennar not alone in its real estate woes. As its quarterly revenue slips 37 percent to $2.88 billion (compared to $4.58 billion this time last year,) the National Association of Realtors reports that sales of existing homes fell for a third straight month in May, the median sales price declined for a record 10th consecutive month and the inventory of unsold homes reached its highest level in 15 years.

Or as Miller put it, ” The supply of new and existing homes has continued to increase resulting in declining home prices across our markets.”

And here comes the part that should really sound the alarms in San Francisco, where a large number of subcontractors look to Lennar for their daily bread. Asked what Lennar intends to do about its financial picture, Miller said his company is “focused on expenses, reducing construction costs and pushing sales to manage inventory.”

With Mayor Gavin Newsom having hastily amended the BVHP redevelopment plan so the Navy could hand the hazardous shipyard over to Lennar for clean up, (despite the company’s ongoing problems monitoring asbestos dust on an adjacent parcel of land), all so he can try and keep the 49ers in town, here’s hoping all the agencies that regulate and oversee Lennar, and not just the local impacted communities, will be watching this project like hawks.

Myth of the universal library



TECHSPLOITATION A lot of Web geeks believe that one day everything ever created by humans will be available online. Call it the myth of the universal library. Here’s how the myth goes: because there is unlimited real estate in cyberspace and because media can be digitized, we can fill cyberspace with all human knowledge and give everyone access to it. Without further ado, I present to you three arguments for the elimination of the myth of the universal library.

1. Cyberspace does not exist. The term cyberspace was invented in the late 1970s by a science fiction writer named William Gibson, who used it to describe a "consensual hallucination" experienced by people who were neurologically linked to computer networks. Even within Gibson’s novels, the author is careful to explain that the illuminated buildings, glowing roads, and avatars that his heroes meet in cyberspace are simply convenient representations of abstract data structures.

My point is that computer networks are not space and they are not real estate. They are data storage and manipulation devices connected together by wires and radio waves. They cost money and require massive amounts of power. They take up real-world space. And they break. In other words: no computer network is infinite. Storing all of human knowledge on a computer network would be expensive and intensely difficult to maintain. There is no infinite cyberspace — only finite computer networks subject to wear and tear.

2. Your human knowledge sucks. I was recently in a very interesting conversation with several smart librarians, all of whom are keen to use computers for preserving and disseminating information. Somebody pointed out that a good example of publicly accessible universal knowledge is the French Gaumont Pathé Archives, which makes hundreds of hours of searchable historic newsreel footage available online for free. The problem, as film archivist Rick Prelinger pointed out, is that the Gaumont Pathé project, like many of its kind, has had to pick and choose which films it can afford to archive. So the group focused heavily on politics and left the fashion and pop culture reels undigitized and therefore less accessible. The guy who’d brought up the archive thought this was just fine.

"No, it’s not," Prelinger replied. "If you want to know what everyday people cared about historically, fashion is going to tell you a lot more than newsreels about famous politicians."

The point is, people don’t agree on what "all of human knowledge" means. Is it great art and political history? Or is it xeroxed zines and fashion history? Who decides what gets digitized and what gets tossed in the ashtray of the unsearchable, the unnetworked? Do commercials go into our mythical universal library? What about hate speech and instruction manuals for hair dryers? Are those documents not also part of human knowledge? We will never reach an agreement on what all of human knowledge really is, and therefore we will never be able to preserve all of it.

3. Digitizing everything is impossible. Consumers can buy terabyte-size disk storage. The glorious Internet Archive buys petabyte storage devices by the bushel. You can fit your entire music collection in your pocket, and your book collection too. But even if we agreed on what all of human knowledge really is — which we never will — you couldn’t digitize all of it. Turning books into e-books takes time, as does turning film and television into digital video files. And what about rare scrolls, artworks, and machines? How do you put them online? Some medieval manuscripts and textiles are so delicate they can’t be exposed to light. Making something digital isn’t like waving a wand over it — poof, you’re digital! No matter how hard we work and no matter how much money we throw at this problem, there is simply no way to turn all physical media into digital formats.

The myth of the universal library is not only widespread, it’s also dangerous. Believing in the myth makes us forget that we need to be working hard right this second to preserve information in multiple formats and to make it available to the public any way that we can. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who has a very large collection of nondigital books.

Ellis Act crisis


OPINION Between 2004 and 2005, Chetcuti and Associates, a Walnut Creek real estate development company, bought eight Mission District apartment buildings. Within the first few weeks of ownership, the company served all the tenants in four buildings with Ellis Act eviction notices. In the next two months, three of the other buildings were Ellised. The company held on to the eighth building for a year before it gave those tenants Ellis notices.

The same is true throughout the city: John Hickey Brokerage, another out-of-town real estate company, gave Lola McKay (who died in 2000 while fighting her Ellis eviction) a notice within weeks after buying the building and then did the same to tenants in a North Beach apartment building – evicting those tenants just five days after a purchase deal closed.

In fact, more than half of all Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco are done by real estate speculators who have owned their buildings for less than six months. Almost one quarter are done by speculators who have owned the building for less than a month (and many of those are done in the first hours or days of ownership).

The buildings are then often sold as tenancies in common – essentially, as condos for people much wealthier than the ones who were evicted.

Rampant real estate speculation is bad enough on its own. What makes it worse is that this pattern is also an abuse of everything the Ellis Act was intended to be: a way for long-term landlords to be able to get out of the rental business and retire. When the Ellis Act was passed in 1985, its proponents said its purpose was to allow a landlord "to go out of business when he or she is convinced that they are no longer willing to devote the time, accept the frustration, expose themselves to the liability and other factors of continuing to be a landlord."

Apparently, companies such as Chetcuti and Associates and John Hickey Brokerage decided within days and weeks that they just couldn’t devote the time to or accept the frustration of being a landlord anymore and were compelled to evict the tenants. And that’s the case for hundreds of other real estate investors, many of whom are getting tired of being landlords within days of buying rental property.

Senate Bill 464 – which the State Senate will vote on any day now – would rectify this abuse and return the Ellis Act to its original intent. This bill simply says that a landlord must own property for at least five years before using the Ellis Act to evict tenants. It’s simple and fair, and it hurts only real estate speculators.

The vote is expected to be close – and unbelievably, the bill may not pass because a senator from San Francisco, Leland Yee, has indicated he may oppose it. No other city in California has been hit harder by the Ellis Act than San Francisco – yet our very own senator may kill this bill.

Thousands of residents here have been evicted under the Ellis Act, most of them senior or disabled. Ellis evictions are a crisis in San Francisco and are destroying lives and neighborhoods and communities.

Please call (415-557-7857) or fax (415-557-7864) Sen. Yee to ask him to support SB 464. *

Ted Gullicksen

Ted Gullicksen is executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Bar wars



For the owners of the Hole in the Wall Saloon, the plan was simple: move their popular South of Market gay bar out of its dingy and dilapidated quarters to a much better spot around the corner. With numerous bars and nightclubs already along the stretch once known as the gay miracle mile, they assumed their place would fit right in.

But SoMa is changing — and the bar’s new neighbors in the increasingly residential district are using every regulatory trick in the book to block the move. Another bar, they say, is one too many.

The Hole in the Wall’s current location on Eighth Street frequently lives up to the place’s modest-sounding name. The plumbing stops up. The patched floor sags in places. And the bar tilts at an unnatural angle. Co-owners Joe Banks and John Gardiner, who are life as well as business partners, spent years seeking a new space for their eclectic, art-filled taproom. Last year they thought they had found an ideal spot a block and a half away on Folsom, between Dore and 10th streets.

At today’s prices, the building was a bargain — only $1.2 million. After making sure that the space, a former dance studio, was zoned to allow for a bar, Banks and Gardiner hired a local design-build firm to renovate the building. They hoped to open the new location by April 15, the bar’s 13th anniversary.

Now they just hope to open.

In early December project manager Jeff Matt was working on the build-out of the new space when a man named Jim Meko stopped by and asked him to give a letter to the owners. The letter, obtained by the Guardian, is on letterhead for the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force. The task force, which Meko chairs, is advising the Planning Department on a new zoning plan for South of Market.

The letter was a copy of a five-month-old missive Meko had addressed to the real estate agent representing the building’s sellers. It warns that if the property were sold to someone who wanted to open a bar, the buyers could face "obstacles" such as protests to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and petitions to the Planning Commission.

Silvana Messing, the agent to whom the letter is addressed, told us she never received it. The agent representing Gardiner and Banks as buyers, who asked not to be identified by name, claims he didn’t see the letter either. But if he had gotten it before the sale, he said, "I probably would have advised [Gardiner and Banks] not to buy the place."

Meko, who lives around the corner from the Hole in the Wall’s new location, told us Banks and Gardiner "tend to live right on the edge of the law" as bar owners. He charged that the place used DJs without the proper entertainment permits and that there have been reports of drug dealing and nudity on the bar’s premises.

Gardiner admitted that he and Banks have employed DJs in the past but says they did not know that a DJ requires a special permit: "We thought an entertainment license was for places with live bands…. When we found out, we stopped it." Banks and Gardiner denied that drug dealing takes place at the bar. As for nudity, several Hole in the Wall regulars recalled a time in the mid-’90s when patrons occasionally drank in the buff, but they told us such behavior died down long ago.

Officer Rose Meyer, the San Francisco Police Department’s permit officer at Southern Station, gave the bar and its owners glowing reviews. Referring to Gardiner in particular, Meyer told us, "Southern Station would have no objection to him operating [at the new location]. I don’t foresee there being any problems."

"He has always been responsible" in the past, she said.

Meko claims the letter wasn’t meant to stir up opposition to the bar’s move. Instead, he said, he was simply trying to warn Gardiner and Banks about the simmering antinightlife attitude among SoMa residents. "It’s real precarious," Meko said. "Neighbors just rise up. They become real irrational…. They can go crazy."

When 10th Street resident Damien Ochoa received notice from the Planning Department about the new bar in early January, he didn’t rise up — at least at first. But given that his bedroom window is less than 50 feet from the bar’s back smoking area, he was concerned. As a result, he said by phone, he "started to do a little bit of research about the owners." In the course of his research, he got in touch with Meko.

Ochoa said Meko informed him that "they’re potentially not good neighbors." After a neighborhood meeting, Ochoa, Meko, and several other residents pitched in money to file a petition in Ochoa’s name asking the Planning Commission to look at the project under its power of discretionary review. Other neighbors lodged protests with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Within weeks all of Meko’s warnings to the real estate agent had come true.

As a result, work on the new bar is at a standstill. It cannot begin again until the protests work their way through hearings and appeals. It could be many months until the outcome is decided. Banks and Gardiner say they have staked their financial future on the new bar, with tens of thousands of dollars in construction loans set to come due before the end of the year. Without any income from the new location, they might not be able to stay afloat.

Banks told us the opposition to the bar’s move came as a complete surprise. The Hole in the Wall, he said, is "a place where everybody’s welcome. It’s a gay bar, but everybody’s welcome." To try to resolve the dispute, Banks and Gardiner hired Jeremy Paul, an experienced permit expediter, to shepherd the project through the regulatory process and to negotiate with Meko and the neighbors. The two sides are currently in talks about enclosing the back smoking area, a change that could cost more than $100,000. Paul expressed guarded optimism that the project will eventually go forward, but he told us the rancor over the new saloon is an example of "the identity crisis" San Francisco is going through.

"The Hole in the Wall relocation is a case study in how dysfunctional this system is," Paul said. Zoning in the area allows for a bar, he said, "and if these people don’t want to live in a bar district, they should check the zoning where they’re buying a house or renting an apartment" before moving there.

Paul added that if the residents are dead set against any new bars on their block, they should work to change the zoning.

The task force Meko chairs is at work on a new zoning plan for the area, which it will eventually present to the Planning Department. Some nightlife supporters worry that the goal may be a more residential neighborhood with no room for more bars.

Meko and Ochoa strongly deny that Meko is behind the residents’ actions. "I’m a neighbor," Meko told us, claiming that he is simply working with other neighbors to prevent the noise, smoke, and litter that could accompany the bar. As for the task force’s work, Meko said he is actually trying to bring more nightlife into SoMa, but only in appropriate areas with adequate "buffers" for the residents.

"I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life trying to broker peace between" bar owners and neighbors, he asserted. He noted that the Entertainment Commission, on which he also sits, is working to clarify permit rules for clubs and bars.

John Wood, a member of the San Francisco Late Night Coalition, said the neighbors "have reasonable concerns" about the new bar but those concerns "are being overblown." Wood noted that the bar is only rated for 49 patrons at a time and that by agreeing to soundproof the building and possibly enclose the back patio, the owners have been very accommodating. "Even nightclubs don’t go through those kinds of measures," he said.

Banks told us he and Gardiner desperately want to resolve the situation. "We’re willing to do anything within our financial means," he said. "We want to save it. The Hole in the Wall is our baby." *

Help them help you



Following the tornado of cutbacks and downsizing that ripped through the Bay Area, the job market has finally regained its footing, which is great news for all kinds of people, from recent grads to employees unsatisfied with their current jobs. But you don’t have to go it alone.

We’ve asked some of the Bay Area’s experts on job searching — recruiters — to guide those seeking gainful employment. Since these are the people who sell job seekers to potential employers on a daily basis, we figure who better to provide valuable insight about landing that dream job (or dream income)?

Our panel of experts: Linda Carlton, president and CEO of FinanceStaff, a recruiting resource for accounting and finance professionals in Northern California; Daniel Morris, director of staffing at Trulia, a real estate search engine poised to double in size within the next year; and Madison Badertscher, an independent recruiter currently placing engineers and computer programmers in Silicon Valley.

And just in case you’re worried about how the recruiting industry affects local job seekers, keep in mind that the demand for skilled employees is so high — especially in fields such as engineering, finance, and graphic design — that recruiters are forced to look outside the Bay Area in order to find them. This means recruiters typically aren’t threatening local job seekers (though Morris points out there are certainly people who would disagree). Furthermore, recruiters say, the global perspective that international candidates tend to bring to Bay Area–based positions is often a weighty plus.

The general consensus is that the Bay Area job market is enjoying a renewed vigor. The jobs are out there and the conduits to them are many and varied. There is simply nothing to lose by taking advantage of the myriad recruiting resources available to you, whether you are just entering the workforce or still searching for the perfect job. So use this advice, and then go get ’em:


As you might’ve guessed, the Internet is a great place to start your search — and from the looks of top job boards such as,, and, all kinds of companies are hiring. But don’t hesitate to post your résumé online as well — contrary to the popular belief that you’ll just get lost in the shuffle, recruiters say this is the first place they look when trying to fill a position.

Carlton says she starts here because it’s where the most eager candidates tend to post their résumés. Morris agrees, pointing out that it’s the best place to cast a wide net.


Keep in mind, though, that your résumé is the only way you’re representing yourself on these job boards. So make sure you’ve put your best foot forward. Carlton recommends thinking of your résumé as an essay. Employers will make inferences from what they see, she says. Anything that could potentially look bad, such as a series of short-term jobs, should be given due explanation. Morris says previous successes should be quantified in a strong résumé. Sales accomplishments, for example, should be listed in quantifiable terms.

If you don’t have tons of experience, though, don’t fret. You might get just as far emphasizing how passionate you are about the potential job. Morris, for example, looks to staff Trulia with employees who have a history of doing more than is expected of them. And though Badertscher says education and relevant experience are important, she points out that credentials can be secondary to a strong willingness to learn.


Job applicants who know exactly where they want to work and what they want to do are often best off aligning themselves with in-house recruiters, who frequently develop close relationships with the hiring staff at their companies. These recruiters know the company culture, including what makes the hiring manager tick.

Applicants who have a range of ideas about what they would like to be doing or where they want to work should look for agency-based recruiters or independent recruiters, as both can help narrow the search.

Agency-based recruiters, such as Carlton, often work with companies that want to be presented with lots of candidates. They also help fill temporary jobs, which can be a great way for a job seeker to test a particular position, company, or industry before making a commitment.

But agency-based and independent recruiters have a bevy of tools to help job seekers identify what they want. For example, Carlton uses a range of personality profiling methods in order to aid applicants, including tests such as Myers-Briggs, Omni Profile, and Kathy Kolbe’s method of measuring how people like to apply themselves.


With so many companies looking to hire, recruiting itself has become a viable — but somewhat nebulous — career choice. There’s a particularly high demand for recruiters in the Bay Area, thanks to lower unemployment rates. But how does someone become a recruiter?

It’s certainly not an obvious path. Carlton says the best way is to get hired by one of the big national firms, receive some structured training from them, then go out on your own or join a smaller firm when the process becomes intuitive. "The great thing about being a recruiter is that you can do it anywhere," she says.

A wide range of backgrounds can lead to a lucrative career in recruiting. The important thing is getting the skills you need for the job. For example, Morris learned about generating leads and closing deals while working in sales at an Atlanta tech firm. Badertscher learned to be detail-oriented from her previous career in event planning. And Carlton first expressed her interest in talking to people about their careers as a high school guidance counselor — an interest she later supplemented with an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

"Recruiting is really a social science — the field can be lucrative, but it’s tough to succeed if money is your main motivation," Carlton says. "I love it when I can help someone find their dream job and help a client find the perfect person. That’s what it’s all about." *


300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, suite 210, Oakl.

(510) 465-6070


500 Treat, suite 200, SF




Truth about the eastern neighborhoods


EDITORIAL The next battle for San Francisco’s future will be fought in significant part in what the Planning Department calls the eastern neighborhoods — South of Market, the central waterfront, the Mission District, Potrero Hill, and Showplace Square. That’s where planners want to see some 29,000 new housing units built, along with offices and laboratories for the emerging biotech industry that’s projected to grow on the outskirts of the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

On March 28 the Planning Department released the final draft of a socioeconomic impact study of the area, which, with 1,500 acres of potentially developable land, is one of San Francisco’s last frontiers.

For a $50,000 report, the study doesn’t really say much. It puts an overall rosy glow on a zoning plan that will lead to widespread displacement of blue-collar jobs and dramatically increased gentrification. And it fails to answer what ought to be the fundamental questions of anything calling itself a socioeconomic study.

But within the 197-page document are some stunning facts that ought to give neighborhood activists (and the San Francisco supervisors) reason to doubt the entire rezoning package.

On one level it’s hard to blame Linda Hausrath, the Oakland economist who did the study: the premise was flawed from the start. The study considers only two possibilities — either the eastern neighborhoods will be left with no new zoning at all or the Planning Department’s zoning proposal will be implemented. Her conclusion, not surprisingly, is that the official city plan offers a lot of benefits. That’s hard to argue: the current zoning for the area is a mess, and much of the most desirable land is wide open for all sorts of undesirable uses.

But there are many, many ways to look at the future of the eastern neighborhoods beyond what the Planning Department has offered. Neighborhood activists in Potrero Hill have their own alternatives; so do the folks in the Mission and South of Market. There are a lot of ways to conceive of this giant piece of urban land — and many of them start and end with different priorities than those of the Planning Department.

Two key issues dominate the report — housing and employment in what’s known as production, distribution, and repair, or PDR, facilities. PDR jobs are among the final remaining types of employment in San Francisco that pay a decent wage and don’t require a college degree. The city had 95,000 of these as of 2000 (the most recent data that the study looks at), and 32,000 of them were in the eastern neighborhoods.

Almost everyone agrees that PDR jobs are a crucial part of the city’s economic mix and that without them a significant segment of the city’s population will be displaced. "There are two ways to drive people out of San Francisco," housing activist Calvin Welch says. "You can eliminate their housing or eliminate their jobs."

The city’s rezoning plan seeks to protect some PDR uses in a few parts of the eastern neighborhoods. But many of the areas where the warehouses, light industrial outfits, and similar businesses operate will be zoned to allow market-rate housing — and that will be the end of the blue-collar jobs.

When you build market-rate housing in industrial areas, the industry is forced out. That’s already been proved in San Francisco; just remember what happened in South of Market during the dot-com and live-work boom. When wealthy people move into homes near PDR businesses, they immediately start to complain: those businesses are often loud; trucks arrive at all hours of the day and night. City officials get pestered by angry new homeowners — and at the same time, the price of real estate goes up. The PDR businesses are shut down or bought out — and replaced with more luxury condos.

Thousands of PDR jobs have disappeared since the 2000 census, the result of the dot-com boom. And even the Hausrath report acknowledges that 4,000 more PDR jobs will be lost from the eastern neighborhoods under the city’s plan. That’s more than would be lost without any rezoning at all.

The vast majority — more than 70 percent, the report shows — of people who work in PDR jobs in San Francisco also live in San Francisco. Many are immigrants and people of color. A significant percentage live in Bayview–Hunters Point, where the unemployment rate among African Americans is a civic disgrace. What will happen to those workers? What will happen to their families? Where will they go when the jobs disappear? There’s nothing in the report that addresses these questions — although they reflect one of the most important socioeconomic impacts of the looming changes in the region.

Then there’s affordable housing.

According to the city’s reports and projections, two-thirds of all the new housing that is built in the city ought to be available below the market rate. That’s because none of the people who are now being driven from San Francisco by high housing costs — families, small-business people working-class renters, people on fixed incomes — can possibly afford market-rate units. In fact, as we reported last week ("The Big Housing Lie," 3/28/07), the new housing that’s being built in San Francisco does very little to help current residents, which is why more than 65 percent of the people who are buying those units are coming here from out of town.

San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities, but it isn’t very big — 49 square miles — and most of the land is already developed. The 1,500 developable acres in the eastern neighborhoods are among the last bits of land that can be used for affordable housing. And in fact, that’s where 60 percent of the below-market housing built in the city in the past few years has been located.

But every market-rate project that’s built — and there are a lot of them on the drawing board — takes away a potential affordable housing site and thus makes it less possible for the city to come close to meeting its goals. The Hausrath report completely ignores that fact.

Overall, the report — which reflects the sensibilities of the Planning Department — accepts the premise that the best use of much of the eastern neighborhoods is for high-end condos. Building that housing, the report notes, "would provide a relief valve" to offset pressures on the market for existing housing.

But that’s directly at odds with the available facts. The San Francisco housing market has never fit in with a traditional supply-and-demand model, and today it’s totally out of whack. Market-rate housing in this city has come to resemble freeways and prisons: the more you build, the more demand it creates — and the construction boom does nothing to alleviate the original problem.

The new condos in San Francisco are being snapped up by real estate speculators, wealthy empty nesters, very rich people (and companies) who want local pieds-à-terre, and highly paid tech workers who have jobs on the Peninsula. Meanwhile, families are fleeing the city in droves. The African American community is being decimated. Artists, writers, musicians, unconventional thinkers — the people who are the heart of San Francisco life and culture — can’t stay in a town that offers no place for them to live. Is this really how we want to use the 1,500 precious acres of the eastern neighborhoods?

The Hausrath study was largely a waste of money, which is too bad, because the issue facing the planning commissioners, the mayor, and the supervisors is profound. The city planners need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a rezoning plan that makes affordable housing and the retention of PDR jobs a priority, gives million-dollar condos a very limited role, and prevents the power of a truly perverse market from further destroying some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. *



› a&

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but cinema’s eternal enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard did direct Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou, Masculine-Feminine, Two or Three Things I Know about Her, and Weekend (and a few others too) in the four years leading up to the political explosions of 1968. These trenchant, tenacious films are as good a record as any we have of an era when light-speed changes in culture and politics only seemed to make history grind to a halt. Each represents a blast of here-and-now consciousness.

Given the feverish tenor of this output, the relative quietude of 1967’s Two or Three Things I Know about Her (playing at the Castro Theatre in a striking new 35mm print from Rialto Pictures) comes as something of a surprise 40 years on. Sandwiched between the hyperventiutf8g back-and-forth of Masculine-Feminine and Weekend ‘s apocalyptic moan, the film is the eye of the storm of Godard’s ’60s, that crucial moment between impact and explosion. The director supposedly got the idea for Two or Three Things from reading a news piece on the phenomenon of middle-class Parisian women working as prostitutes to pay for their bourgeois accoutrement. This loaded role comes to life in Juliette, introduced to us twice, via a typically Brechtian flourish, as both character and actress (Marina Vlady).

Her life’s arrangement is not a story so much as a situation for Godard, and correspondingly, the film isn’t a narrative but rather a study. The Summer of Love notwithstanding, Two or Three Things isn’t concerned with Juliette’s sexuality (any sensuousness is incidental to Raoul Coutard’s color-mad cinematography) or psychology (something that Godard never has much use for, especially when it comes to his female characters); a poster for Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is the only evidence of female suffering here. For Godard, prostitution is simply an apt metaphor for the dreary life of the new, amorphous Paris to which the "her" of the title refers: the Paris of the outer rings, then being settled by a disassociated middle class and recently set ablaze by more indignant communities.

So then, will the real belle du jour please stand up? It’s Juliette who tends to occupy the frame, sleepwalking through boutiques and barren apartment spaces (like Woody Allen’s, Godard’s film style often seems a matter of real estate), but Two or Three Things‘ most intimate presence isn’t visualized at all. Throughout the film Godard himself interrupts with a whispered, reflective voice-over: an existential director’s commentary track 30 years before DVD technology made this kind of authorial expressivity standard-issue.

No one Godard film is any more "Godard" than another, though Two or Three Things does feel unusually direct in its peripatetic meditations. Conversations, when they occur, are still tête-à-tête volleys (talk never flows with Godard), but more often than not it seems the characters are simply verbalizing their own reveries on life in the pseudocity. The maestro reserves the most powerfully searching musings for his own voice: in particular, the famous "clouds in my coffee" sequence, in which he parses the irresolvable tension between "crushing" objectivity and "isoutf8g" subjectivity amid extreme, lyrical close-ups of a coffee’s swirl, bubbles bursting and shades swallowed by the closeness of his voice.

As with most things Godard, there are multiple meanings to this series of shots, which simultaneously emphasize existential dread and a remarkable capacity for abstraction. It’s direct contact with an imagination on fire, reveling in the difference between thought and expression. Of course, a film built entirely on asides — in addition to Godard’s and Juliette’s reflections, we get many landscapes surveying Paris under construction and the usual café dialogues — is as likely to be a soporific as a revelation; reverie and sleepiness are frequent bedfellows in the movie theater and never more so than here. Certainly, Two or Three Things lacks the pop frisson of Masculine-Feminine or Weekend, but it’s also, in many ways, a more palatable work — not least of all for a toning down of the toxic sexism that mars Godard’s best, angriest work.

Two or Three Things will always be thought of as a stepping stone, though the film’s beauty lies in its singularity. In another, less famous but no less profound voice-over sequence, Godard contemplates the nature of his representations of reality ("Should I have talked about Juliette or the leaves?") while Juliette has her car washed. As the car (lollipop red, of course) shuttles from station to station, so too does Godard’s mind lurch from idea to idea before settling on an underlying truth: the necessity for an indefatigable "passion for expression." The world can be anything he wishes to make it. It’s a beautiful, surprisingly hopeful idea, and for a moment all that followed Two or Three Things slips away, leaving us only this unwieldy, pregnant now. *


March 30–April 5

Mon.–Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 7 and 9 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat.–Sun., 1, 3, and 5 p.m.), $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Reilly’s right to sue


EDITORIAL One of the more effective ways the courts have kept activists out in the legal cold over the years is to deny them what’s known as "standing" — the right to sue. You want to fight the government in court over the destruction of a wilderness area? First you have to prove that you’ll be damaged by the logging or mining or development — and until relatively recently, unless you personally owned land or a business in the immediate vicinity, you were out of luck. You want to sue to force San Francisco to abide by federal law and create a public power system? No can do: individual citizens have no standing to sue over violations of the Raker Act. Only the secretary of the interior or the city attorney can do that — and neither one has been willing to do so in half a century.

Some of the most important advances in public-interest law have been expansions of the right of standing — the right of individuals to sue over major political issues when the government agencies that are supposed to be watchdogs have failed to do their jobs. But now the two big newspaper chains that dominate the Bay Area want to deny that right to real estate investor Clint Reilly.

In filings March 16, the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group sought to get Reilly’s suit against the monopolization of the local newspaper market thrown out of court. The grounds? Reilly is, well, just a citizen. Just a reader of the papers and someone who buys ads in them. Just someone who will suffer the untold damage of losing diversity in media voices in the community. Someone who, the monopolist lawyers say, has no standing to sue.

The problem, of course, is that the government agencies that clearly have standing to try to block two publishing barons from conspiring to end newspaper competition in the Bay Area — the attorneys general of the United States and California — have refused to do anything except smile and look the other way while Hearst and MediaNews go about their diabolical business. So if an individual like Reilly has no right to go to court, then there will be no legal obstacle to the barons’ plans.

The obvious legal answer, of course, is that the judge in the case, Susan Illston, must toss out this specious argument, allow the suit to continue, and get to the serious legal issues at stake.

The case is obvious: the people who will be injured most by the elimination of newspaper competition are the readers, the citizens, the political activists … the public. And if a member of the public can’t sue to stop it, there’s not a lot of hope for justice.

In fact, as Joe Alioto, the attorney for Reilly, points out, the Sherman and Clayton antitrust laws were specifically written to allow individuals to sue over monopolistic practices, "because the authors of those laws didn’t trust the government to control monopolies."

But the real message here is that the new California AG, Jerry Brown, can’t simply follow in his predecessor’s lead and ignore the clear antitrust implications of the MediaNews and Hearst deals. Is Reilly the only one who will stand up against the publishing barons? Where are you, Jerry? *

PS Where is the US attorney’s office, which was so quick to put Josh Wolf in jail, when the real lawbreakers in the publishing business are making millions by eliminating competition?

PPS The San Francisco Chronicle‘s story on the filing, by Bob Egelko, didn’t quote Reilly or Alioto in response. And Reilly’s legal response is under court seal — thanks to Hearst and MediaNews, which have demanded that all documents remain secret. If the media barons don’t justify that secrecy to the court by March 28, the records will be opened. If not, we will continue our so-far-successful court battle to open the records.

Blow pop



Dear Readers:

Can we, may we, talk about blow jobs? I don’t mean the semiotics and social history of blow jobs — those are cool, but were well addressed by Christopher Hitchens last year in Vanity Fair, in which he made an amusing if not entirely convincing case for the blow job as the quintessential American sex act. May we speak, then, not of symbolic blow jobs, but the kind we actually give and receive?

A few weeks back I was laying out my secret plan for getting your sex life back after having a baby and breastfeeding (or while still breastfeeding, for the ambitious) and ended with the postscript "A blow job wouldn’t hurt" (2/28/07). I thought it was funny but have since had several exchanges and conversations about the blow job and whether or not it could, in certain situations, hurt. Well, yes, of course it could, but we weren’t talking about that kind of blow job; perhaps I ought to have been clearer. I should, for instance, have made pretty damned sure that nobody could interpret "A blow job wouldn’t hurt" to mean "Oh, throw the poor old dog a bone; maybe that way he’ll shut up and let you sleep." Just because that sentiment happens to represent the antithesis of everything I believe about how we should speak of and, indeed, treat our partners, doesn’t mean nobody thought that’s what I was saying. If you thought so: hell no, and sorry.

If there’s a flaw in my postbaby sex-life-saving program, it’s that it can only work in the context of an essentially solid, loving relationship. I do have advice for people in the sort of relationship where "maybe he’ll leave me alone now" sex is common and expected, but it’s all pretty similar in that it tends to involve suitcases and real estate and the occasional plane ticket out of town.

Here’s what I really meant: sexual contact — surprise! — is good for your relationship. It makes you feel closer and cuddlier and more, you know, coupley. And if you’ve read that column (or anything else) about oxytocin and prolactin, you’ll recognize that there’s a strong biochemical aspect to this. There are reasons why a decent sex life is considered one of the most crucial components of a good marriage, and it’s not just because people like to have orgasms. Vibrators and weird Japanese comic books can produce orgasms, but they don’t make you feel all bondy and melty — or if they do, you have a problem. So, even if you’re postpartum and don’t have your sex drive back yet and feel yucky about your body and unsure whose breasts those are anymore, you can still get some of those good bondy melty prairie vole–ish feelings going between you and your mate. You can do it even if you don’t want him to touch you much, because it’s likely you still love him and think he’s hot and can still enjoy touching him. With your tongue, if you want. It’s really that simple.

The blow job may not be magic, but I have more faith in it as a postpartum marital aid than I ever could in that standby of lazy self-help writers: the weekend away. The weekend away is like New Year’s Eve in its inability ever to live up to the promise of funfunfun, so why bother? Plus, the good sea air and a continental breakfast, while lovely, are probably not enough to get your hormones back in order. Nursing mothers can’t exactly waltz off for a long weekend away anyway, and not many even want to.

I don’t really believe in any of the self-help fixes when it really comes down to it. Cleaning lady? Great, send her on over, but it won’t fix your sex life. Pampering, time alone, romantic dinners? Yes, please, but it won’t fix your sex life. The nongestating partner may be equally exhausted and distracted, but his libido will be fundamentally unchanged. (This is all very heterocentric by necessity, but it could apply to lesbian couples too, as long as one of them actually carried the child. Don’t write to me about adoptive or male breastfeeding. Seriously, I mean it.) As soon as he gets a good night’s sleep, he’ll be good to go.

Postpartum women cannot be so easily cajoled back into the fold, and you don’t want to give anyone false hope and high expectations just to have them go flat like those postpartum beers which might, sadly, fail to taste anything near as good as you imagined they would back while you were stuck with ginger ale all those months. (Not that I’m bitter.)

What does work, as I said, is sticking together; telling the truth instead of skulking, hiding, and pretending nothing’s changed ("I just don’t feel that sexy yet, hon, sorry," or "I don’t think I’ve got all my feeling back yet. That’s why I’m not coming"); sharing information (it’s hormonal!); and being patient. Oh, and, of course, the occasional blow job.



Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit to view her previous columns.

The corporation that ate San Francisco



For the past decade, Florida-based megadeveloper Lennar Corp. has been snatching up the rights to the Bay Area’s former naval bases, those vast stretches of land that once housed the Pacific Fleet but are now home to rats, weeds, and in some places, low-income renters.

When the Navy pulled out of Hunters Point Shipyard in 1974, it left behind a landscape pitted with abandoned barracks, cracked runways, spooky radiation laboratories, antique cranes, rusting docks, and countless toxic spills.

A quarter century later, Lennar came knocking at the shipyard’s door — and those of other military bases abandoned in the waning days of the cold war — recognizing these toxic wastelands as the last frontier of underdeveloped land in urban American and an unparalleled opportunity to make big money.

Lennar had already won its first battle in 1997, seizing control of the Bay Area’s former military pearl in Vallejo when it was named master developer for the old Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Two years later it almost lost its bid for Hunters Point Shipyard when a consultant for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency recommended giving the development rights to the Ohio-based Forest City.

Lennar fought back, calling on politically connected friends and citing its deep pockets and its track record at Mare Island.

A parade of Lennar supporters, many of them friends of then-mayor Willie Brown and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, told the Redevelopment Agency commissioners that Lennar was the only developer that had bothered to reach out to the Bayview–Hunters Point community. In the end, the commissioners — all of them mayoral appointees — ignored their consultant’s advice and voted for Lennar.

Nobody knows if Forest City would have done a better job. A developer is, after all, a developer. But Lennar’s victory at the shipyard helped it win the rights, four years later, to redevelop Treasure Island — long before it had even broken ground at Hunters Point. And a couple years ago, it parlayed those footholds into an exclusive development agreement for Candlestick Point.

Now the Fortune 500 company, which had revenues of $16.3 billion in 2006, does have a track record at the shipyard. And that performance is raising doubts about whether San Francisco should have entrusted almost its entire undeveloped coastline to a profit-driven corporation that is proving difficult to regulate or hold accountable for its actions.

Sure, Lennar has provided job training for southeast San Francisco residents, set up small-business assistance and community builder programs, and invested $75 million in the first phase of development. That’s the good news.

But on Lennar’s watch, a subcontractor failed to monitor and control dangerous asbestos dust next to a school at the Hunters Point Shipyard, potentially exposing students to a deadly toxin — despite promising to carefully monitor the air and control the construction dust.

And when the homebuilding industry took a nosedive last year, Lennar reneged on its promise to provide needed rental housing on Hunters Point — saying that its profit margins were no longer good enough to make rentals worthwhile. All of which raises questions about whether this company, which is working with Mayor Gavin Newsom to build a stadium at the shipyard to keep the 49ers in town, really has San Francisco’s interests in mind.

Bayview–Hunters Point native Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, a physician and a Sierra Club member, called the Lennar deal the "dirty transfer of the shipyard." She told us, "There is no reason why I’d trust Lennar more than I would the Navy and the federal regulators who have stringently worked on the cleanup of Hunters Point Shipyard, and yet it still remains toxic."

"This is just a play to get the shipyard," said Porter Sumchai, whose father was a longshore worker at the shipyard and died from asbestosis.

Part of the problem is systemic: the Redevelopment Agency hands over these giant projects to master, for-profit developers — who can then change the plans based on financial considerations, not community needs. And while Lennar likes to tell decision makers of its massive size and resources, the actual work at these bases has been delegated to limited-liability subsidiaries with far fewer available assets.

In this case, Lennar experienced a 3 percent drop in sales last year, a 29 percent increase in cancellation rates on homes, and a 15 percent dip in its fourth quarter profits. The downturn prompted Lennar’s president and CEO, Stuart Miller, to identify ways to improve what he described in the annual report as the company’s "margin of improvement" in 2007. These included "reducing construction costs by negotiating lower prices, redesigning products to meet today’s market demand and building on land at current market prices."

A Lennar spokesperson, Sam Singer, issued a statement to us saying that "Lennar BVHP is committed to operating responsibly, continually incorporating best community and environmental practices into our everyday business decisions."

But for a look at how Lennar’s model clashes with community interests, you need go no further than the edge of the site where Lennar has been digging up asbestos-laden rock.


The Muhammed University of Islam is a small private school that occupies a modest flat-roofed hilltop building on Kiska Road with a bird’s-eye view of the abandoned Hunters Point Shipyard. This year-round K–12 school is affiliated with the Nation of Islam and attracts mostly African American students but also brings in Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander children, many of whom have had problems in the public school system and whose parents can’t cover the cost of a private school.

"We find a way," the school’s mustachioed and nattily dressed minister, Christopher Muhammed, recently told the Redevelopment Agency in a veiled allusion to the financial nexus between the MUI and the Nation of Islam’s mosque and bakery on Third Street. "Many students aren’t members of our tradition but live across the street, down the street, or come from Oakland and Vallejo."

The minister is asking the Redevelopment Agency, the agency that selected Lennar and oversees the project, to permanently relocate the school. The school’s classrooms and basketball courts sit on the other side of a chain-link fence from Parcel A, which is the first and only plot of land that the Navy has certified at the shipyard as clean and ready for development.

Standing on these courts, the children have been able to watch heavy machinery digging up and moving huge amounts of earth in preparation for the 1,600 condos and town houses that Lennar wants to build on this sunny hillside, which has views of the bay and the rest of the shipyard.

The shipyard’s other five parcels are still part of a federal Superfund site, despite having undergone years of decontamination. Black tarps cover piles of soil that have been tagged as contaminated, and recently, radiological deposits were found in the sewers and soil. The Navy is still cleaning up a long list of nasty toxins, including PCBs and solvents, on Parcels B through F, the land Newsom now wants the city to take over so that it can hastily build a stadium for the 49ers.

But the minister’s request to relocate the MUI isn’t inspired by fear of Navy-related contamination or the impact of a stadium on the neighborhood but rather by the reality that asbestos is naturally present in this hillside and Lennar’s excavation work on the other side of the school’s chain-link fence has been kicking up dust for almost a year.

It’s not that Lennar and the city didn’t know about the asbestos. In April 2000 the environmental impact report for the shipyard reuse noted, "Because asbestos-containing serpentinite rock occurs at Hunters Point Shipyard, construction-related excavation activities could cause chrysotile asbestos associated with serpentinite to become airborne, creating a potentially significant impact to public health and safety."

So when Lennar proposed demolishing abandoned housing and roads and grading and transferring massive amounts of earth on Parcel A, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District demanded an asbestos dust mitigation plan that included sweeping and watering the construction sites and making sure that vehicle tires are washed before drivers exit.

The state Asbestos Air Control Toxic Measure also stipulates that if a school lies within a quarter mile of a construction site, local air districts can require developers to install asbestos dust monitors and shut down their sites whenever asbestos registers 16,000 fibers per cubic meter. The state requires these extra steps because children have higher metabolisms, growing lungs, and longer life expectancy. Plus, they’re lower to the ground and are likely to run, skip, hop, and play ball games that kick up dust.

Although Lennar agreed to abide by the air district’s requirements, the developer failed to properly implement this plan for more than a year.

The air district’s records show that Lennar’s environmental consultant, CH2M Hill, failed to include any air monitoring in its original plan for Parcel A, which is odd because the school is obvious to anyone who visits the site. It was only when the air district pointed out the existence of the Hunters Point Boys and Girls Club, the Milton Meyer Recreation Center, and the MUI, all within the quarter-mile limit, that Lennar agreed, at least on paper, to what the air district describes as "one of the most stringent asbestos dust mitigation plans in the state."

The plan combines the air district’s asbestos requirements with the city’s demands that Lennar limit "ordinary dust" that can cause respiratory irritation and aggravate existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis. Lennar agreed to implement the plan in the summer of 2005 and determine background levels of dust and toxins at the site before work began in the spring of 2006.

But that didn’t happen. For 13 months there is no data to show how much asbestos the MUI students were exposed to, neither for the 10 months before construction started on the cleared site nor for the first three hot and dusty months when Lennar’s subcontractors began massive earth-moving operations next to the school.

You’d think that after these failures became public knowledge, a devastated Lennar would have gotten a black eye and perhaps fired the subcontractors involved. Failing to protect children in a community that’s been the repeat victim of environmental injustice is a public relations nightmare, particularly in a part of town where distrust of redevelopment runs deep, thanks to the travesties in the Fillmore in the 1960s, followed by the city’s recent rejection of a referendum to put the Bayview–Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan to a public vote.

But while Lennar’s executives finally did the right thing last August by alerting the air district and replacing CH2M Hill, they didn’t release their two other subcontractors, Gordon Ball and Luster, nor did they sufficiently rein them in when violations continued, critics have testified at agency meetings.

And instead of apologizing to the air district and the city’s Department of Public Health for making them look like impotent fools, Lennar executives pushed back, contending that asbestos monitoring wasn’t necessary until May 2006 and that they didn’t need to water the tires of private vehicles.

They even listed economic rationalizations for the screwups that did happen. According to a memo marked "confidential" that the Guardian unearthed in the air district’s files, written by the air district’s inspector, Wayne Lee, Lennar stated, "It costs approximately $40,000 a day to stop grading and construction activity" and "Gordon Ball would have to idle about 26 employees on site, and employees tend to look for other work when the work is not consistent."

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health was left reeling. Environmental health director Dr. Rajiv Bhatia told us, "It was very disappointing. We worked very hard. We wanted this system to be health protective. Whenever things don’t work, it takes time to get back to levels of trust. This hurts trust and credibility."

In September 2006 the air district issued Lennar a notice of violation for the period of July 14, 2005, through Aug. 3, 2006. Lee wrote that vegetation removal on the site "disturbed the soil and in some cases, likely resulted in dust." He also made it clear that "any track onto common roads could be tracked out to public thoroughfares and create asbestos dust plumes."

Lennar’s fines have yet to be determined, but they could reach into millions of dollars. State fines for emitting air contaminants range from $1,000 a day, if the violation wasn’t the result of intentional or negligent conduct, to $75,000 a day, if the conduct was deemed willful and intentional.

But as the air district weighs the evidence, one thing’s for sure: this wasn’t an isolated case of one set of monitors failing or one subcontractor screwing up. This case involves numerous violations and three subcontractors, two of which — Gordon Ball and Luster — are still working next to the MUI (neither company returned our calls).

Records show that once Lennar fired its environmental compliance subcontractor, CH2M Hill, properly installed monitors immediately detected asbestos dust, triggering 15 health-protective shutdowns during the course of the next six months. From these results, is it reasonable to conclude that had Lennar got its monitoring right from the beginning, further shutdowns would have cost Lennar’s construction subcontractors even more truckloads of money, as would have adequate watering of the site, which they didn’t get right for months?

So far, the only explanation for the watering deficiencies has come from Kofi Bonner, president of Lennar Urban for Northern California, who told the Redevelopment Agency, "Given the hilly terrain, it can only be watered enough so as not to create difficult conditions for the workers going up and down the site."

Lennar didn’t finally start to really control its subcontractors until January, when Lennar ordered Gordon Ball and Luster to "replace two site superintendents with new personnel who must demonstrate environmental sensitivity in conducting their work," according to public records.


Headquartered in Miami Beach, Fla., Lennar began in 1954 as a small home builder, but by 1969 it was developing, owning, and managing commercial and residential real estate. Three years later it became a publicly traded company and has been profitable ever since, spinning off new entities.

Lennar Urban is one such venture. Established in 2003 to focus on military-base reuse, Lennar Urban recently produced a glossy brochure in which it proclaimed, "Military base reuse is our business — this is what we do."

Military-base development may be good business — but it isn’t always such a good deal for cities, particularly when communities don’t end up receiving what was promised on the front end.

In November 2006, Lennar announced it wouldn’t build any rental homes in its 1,600-unit development at the Hunters Point Shipyard. The Redevelopment Agency had originally approved a plan for 700 rental units on the 500-acre site, but Lennar said rising construction costs make rentals a losing investment.

Also in November, Arc Ecology economist Eve Bach warned the Board of Supervisors that Lennar’s public-benefits package for Treasure Island could be seriously compromised.

The package includes 1,800 below-market affordable housing units, 300 acres of parks, open space and recreational amenities, thousands of permanent and construction jobs, green building standards, and innovative transportation.

Bach summed up these proposals as "good concepts, uncertain delivery" and noted the discrepancy between Lennar’s stated desire for a 25 percent return and Budget Analyst Harvey Rose’s conservative prediction of an 18.6 percent return.

"Particularly at risk of shortfalls are transit service levels, very-low-income housing, and open-space maintenance," Bach warned.

With community benefits up in the air, high profits expected, and Lennar’s ability to regulate developers uncertain, many community activists question just what San Francisco is getting from the company.

"I can’t say that Lennar is trustworthy, not when they come up with a community benefits package that has no benefit for the community," activist Marie Harrison said. "I’d like to be able to say that the bulk of our community are going to be homeowners, but I resent that Lennar is spoon-feeding that idea to folks in public housing who want a roof over their heads and don’t want to live with mold and mildew but don’t have jobs or good credit or a down payment. I’ve heard seniors say, ‘I can’t even afford to die.’ Lennar is not being realistic, and that hurts my feelings and breaks my heart."


The story of Lennar and Muhammed University of Islam underscores the problems with a system that essentially relies on developers to regulate themselves. Bay Area Air Quality Management District records show officials didn’t know monitoring equipment at the site wasn’t working until August 2006, when Lennar discovered and reported the problem.

Lee reported after an Aug. 31, 2006, meeting with CH2M Hill staff, "They were not confident that the air sampling equipment was sampling correctly, due to faulty records and suspect batteries. CH2M Hill staff discovered depleted batteries and could not determine when they drained."

The air district’s air quality program manager, Janet Glasgow, told the Guardian, "The district had never been in this situation before, in which a developer, Lennar, came in and self-reported that they discovered a problem with their monitoring — something the district would never have been able to determine."

Worrisome as Glasgow’s statement is, there’s also the possibility that CH2M Hill’s failures might never have come to light had it not been for the city’s decision to demand another layer of dust controls. As Department of Public Health engineer Amy Brownell said, her inspectors were witnessing trails of dust firsthand, yet CH2M Hill’s monitors kept registering "non-detect" around asbestos.

"Which was suspicious," Brownell told us, "since they were doing massive earthwork."

Saul Bloom, who is executive director for Arc Ecology, a local nonprofit that helps communities plan for base closures and cleanups, told us he recalls "waiting for the first shoe to drop, wondering how there could be no work stoppages when Lennar was digging up a hillside of serpentinite."

The other shoe did drop shortly after the August 2006 meeting. It was black and well polished and attached to the foot of Muhammed, who began questioning whether the dust wasn’t harming his students.

But Muhammed found his questions weren’t easy to answer, given that Lennar had failed to monitor itself and therefore lacked the data that could have proved no harm was done, a scary situation since health problems from asbestos exposure don’t generally manifest themselves until many years later.

Those questions raised others about Lennar and whether it should be trusted to self-regulate.


In December 2006, Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Francee Covington asked Lennar’s environmental manager, Sheila Roebuck, if the company had any asbestos issues at other projects in the nation. Roebuck replied no, not to her knowledge.

But the Guardian has learned that Lennar already had problems with naturally occurring asbestos in El Dorado. The problems concerned dynamiting in hills that were full of naturally occurring asbestos and resulted in a $350,000 settlement in November 2006. The case involved two El Dorado Hills developers, Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and Larry Gualco, and their earthmoving subcontractor, DeSilva Gates Construction of Dublin.

As part of the terms of the settlement, the county agreed, at the behest of the developers, to make their earthmoving contractor, DeSilva Gates, who provided the dynamite, solely responsible for the settlement. Accused of, but not formally charged with, 47 violations of air- and water-pollution laws is West Valley, a limited liability company composed of Lennar Communities of Roseville, Gualco, and Tsakopoulos’s AKT Investments of Sacramento, with Lennar managing the LLC and AKT acting as the investor.

But as the Sacramento Bee‘s Chris Bowman reported, El Dorado Air Quality Management District head Marcella McTaggart expressed her displeasure directly to Lennar Communities, writing, "We are very disappointed to note that the agreed-upon measures to minimize … dust were completely disregarded by your company."

McTaggart’s words bear an eerie resemblance to Bhatia’s comments about how Lennar’s failure to protect the public heath "hurts trust and credibility."

"Ultimately, I’m very interested in being able to talk to the families and children who believe they have been harmed," Bhatia told us. "I want to help with people’s uncertainties and fears."


Uncertainty and fear were on display at the Redevelopment Agency’s December 2006 meeting when Muhammed claimed that serpentinite, arsenic, and antimony had been found on his students and staff through "resonance testing."

Lung cancer experts doubt that methodology, telling us the only way to detect serpentinite in bodies is by doing an autopsy.

Following the minister’s claims, a rattled Bonner told the Redevelopment Agency, "Lennar cannot continue to be accused of covering something up or willfully poisoning the community because of profits. Lennar is a national public company, and the accusations and allegations are very serious."

Unfortunately for Lennar and the city, the company’s failures to monitor and control dust have left both entities exposed, since they formed a limited liability company without extensive resources, Lennar BVHP, to conduct the shipyard cleanup.

This exposure became even more evident when Muhammed returned to the Redevelopment Agency Commission in January with 15 MUI students in tow to ask for a temporary shutdown of Lennar’s site until a permanent relocation of the school had been worked out.

"It doesn’t seem proper to have peace discussions while the other side is still shooting," Muhammed said.

His relocation request got Bayview–Hunters Point community activist Espanola Jackson raising more questions: "OK, but where are the other residents going? How can you displace them? Have the residents on Kiska Road been notified? Or on Palou? Nope. You give people dollars to do outreach, but they don’t come to my door. Someone is being paid to not give the truth."

Scott Madison, a member of the Hunters Point Shipyard Citizens Advisory Committee, who’d observed large excavation machines breaking rock but not using water or any other dust controls, said, "I don’t understand how Lennar, who I believe has a sincere interest in doing right, can continue to have a contractor who is out of control."

Bonner explained that Lennar sent notices of default to its subcontractors and hired people from the community to be monitors, plus installed a secondary level of consultants to monitor contractors. But when Redevelopment Agency commissioner London Breed expressed interest in releasing the old contractor and hiring a new one, the agency’s executive director, Marcia Rosen, chimed in.

"Our agreement," Rosen said, "is not with the subcontractor. Our agreement is with Lennar." Her words illustrated the agency’s impotency or unwillingness to crack the whip over Lennar and its subcontractors. But when Lennar Urban vice president Paul Menaker began to explain that its contractors have a 10-day cure period, it was too much for Commissioner Covington.

"We’re way past that," Covington exploded. "We’re not hams!"


Perhaps they’re not hams, but the commissioners’ apparent inability to pull the plug on Lennar or its subcontractors leaves observers wondering how best to characterize the relationship between the agency, the city, the community, and Lennar.

Redevelopment Agency commissioners have been appointed either by Mayor Gavin Newsom or his predecessor, the consummate dealmaker Willie Brown. But the incestuous web of political connections goes even further.

Newsom is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s nephew by marriage. Newsom’s campaign treasurer is another Pelosi nephew, Laurence Pelosi, who used to be vice president of acquisitions for Lennar and now works for Morgan Stanley Real Estate, which holds Lennar stock.

Both Newsom and Laurence Pelosi are connected to lobbyist Darius Anderson, who hosted a fundraiser to pay off Newsom’s campaign debts. Anderson counts Lennar as his client for Treasure Island, Mare Island, the Hunters Point Shipyard, and Candlestick Point, another vast swath of land that Lennar controls.

Brown’s ties to the agency and Lennar run equally deep, thanks in part to Lennar’s Bonner, who was Brown’s former head of economic development and before that worked for the Redevelopment Agency, where he recommended hiring KPMG Peat Marwick to choose between Catellus, Lennar, and Forest City for the Hunters Point project.

KPMG acknowledged all three were capable master developers, but the commission decided to go with the most deep-pocketed entity.

Clearly, Lennar plays both sides of the political fence, a reality that suggests it would be wiser for cities to give elected officials such as the Board of Supervisors, not mayoral appointees, the job of controlling developers.


Under the current system, in which Lennar seems accountable to no one except an apparently toothless Redevelopment Agency, you can’t trust Lennar to answer tough questions once it’s already won your military base.

Asked about asbestos at the Hunters Point Shipyard, Bonner directed the Guardian‘s questions to veteran flack Sam Singer, who also handles PR for Ruby Rippey-Tourk. Singer tried to dodge the issue by cherry-picking quotes, beginning with a Dec. 1, 2006, letter that the city’s health director, Dr. Mitch Katz, sent to Redevelopment’s Rosen.

Katz wrote, "I believe that regulatory mechanisms currently in place for Shipyard Redevelopment are appropriate and adequate to protect the public from potential environmental hazards."

The assessment would seem to be at odds with that of Katz’s environmental health director Bhatia, who has been on the frontline of the asbestos fallout and wrote in a Jan. 25 letter, "The failure to secure timely compliance with the regulations by the developer and the repeated violations has also challenged our credibility as a public health agency able and committed to securing the regulatory compliance necessary to protect public health."

Singer also quoted from a Feb. 20 Arc Ecology report on asbestos and dust control for Parcel A, which stated, "Lennar’s responses have been consistently cooperative." But he failed to include Arc’s criticisms of Lennar, namely that its "subcontractors have consistently undermined its compliance requirements," that it has "not exercised sufficient contractual control over its subcontractors so as to ensure compliance," and that it was "overly slow" in implementing an enhanced community air-monitoring system.

Singer focused instead on Arc’s observation that "there is currently no evidence that asbestos from the grading operation on Parcel A poses an endangerment to human health and the environment."

Lack of evidence is not the same as proof, and while Arc’s Saul Bloom doesn’t believe that "asbestos dust is the issue," he does believe that not moving the school, at least temporarily, leaves Lennar and the city liable.

"They formed a partnership, protective measures didn’t happen, the subcontractors continue to be unreliable, and dust in general continues to be a problem," Bloom told us.

Bloom also recommends the Redevelopment Agency have an independent consultant on-site each day and bar contractors who screw up. "Without these teeth, the Redevelopment Agency’s claims that they have enforcement capabilities are like arguments for the existence of God."

Raymond Tompkins, an associate researcher in the Chemistry Department at San Francisco State University and a member of the Remediation Advisory Board to the Navy who has family in Bayview–Hunters Point, says what’s missing from the city’s relationship with Lennar is accountability, independence, and citizen oversight.

"If you can’t put water on dirt so dust doesn’t come up, you can’t deal with the processes at the rest of the shipyard, which are far more complicated," says Tompkins, who doesn’t want the Navy to walk away and believes an industrial hygienist is needed.

"The cavalier attitude around asbestos dust and Lennar at the shipyard fosters the concerns of the African American community that gentrification is taking place — and that, next stop, they are going to be sacrificed for a stadium." *

What we know now



Records unsealed in a federal civil suit last week show that the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group have grown intensely fond of each other during the past several years. Hearst even considered selling its San Francisco Chronicle to MediaNews in 2005, but CEO Dean Singleton wasn’t offering nearly enough money.

What the records don’t show is any effort by the two chains to compete in the market by improving their products.

The Guardian first posted a story online Jan. 31 detailing court documents unsealed by Federal Judge Susan Illston in real estate investor Clint Reilly’s antitrust suit against Hearst, MediaNews, and a group of other newspaper companies who joined Singleton in a Northern California partnership that has given him control of almost every big daily in the Bay Area except the Chronicle.

The evidence of anticompetitive behavior is so clear now that the obvious question is whether the US Justice Department or the California Attorney General’s Office, with new boss Jerry Brown, will do anything about it.

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokesperson in Washington, DC, confirmed that the feds were still looking into Hearst’s alliance with MediaNews, but she wouldn’t, of course, divulge details.

"I’m just confirming generally we’re looking at it, and we look at the anticompetitive effects of a proposed transaction, and that’s ongoing," Talamona said. "Obviously, our folks are aware of what’s going on in that private suit, but I wouldn’t have anything further for you on that."

Illston, meanwhile, has made it clear in the past that she could force MediaNews to give up some of its newly purchased properties if Reilly convinces her that the deal violates antitrust laws.

Among the documents we obtained is a deposition of Hearst senior vice president James Asher, taken by Justice Department lawyers last September, in which he candidly explains how Hearst for years has wanted to invest in MediaNews — which likes to buy up all the papers in a region and cut costs by sharing facilities and stories.

Hearst executives "formed a favorable impression of Dean Singleton and his company" all the way back in 1995, when a shady deal in Houston gave Hearst’s Houston Chronicle a dominant position in that market after MediaNews shuttered the Houston Post and sold its assets to Hearst. Since then, Asher stated, Hearst has quietly waited for an opportunity to invest in MediaNews or at least cut costs by joining ad, distribution, and printing operations with the ostensible competitors across the bay.

That opportunity arose when Hearst claims it was most needed.

Hearst spent three-quarters of a billion dollars buying the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, a messy deal that nearly left its old property, the San Francisco Examiner, in shambles. But the purchase quickly became a drag on the company’s portfolio.

Hearst has since lost $330 million trying to figure out how to make the Chronicle profitable. Of all the documents reviewed by Guardian so far, which include memos between Hearst and MediaNews executives outlining potential collaborations, little time appears to have been spent determining how the product itself could actually be made more valuable to readers and, hence, more lucrative for both companies. Instead, Hearst seemed hungry to emulate Singleton or at least buy a bunch of his stock and let him handle the dirty work.

The infamous Singleton strategy includes clustering properties (its Bay Area cluster is now the company’s largest), slashing staff, outsourcing jobs, and consolidating business offices. Layoffs have already occurred at the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, and reporters are covering stories for several papers under a single "MediaNews Staff" byline.

While Hearst lawyers told Illston early in Reilly’s suit that its $300 million investment in MediaNews, consummated last summer, would involve only non–Bay Area properties to avoid conflicting interests, executives were telling another story behind the scenes.

"The proposed transaction is an opportunity to invest at a reasonable price in a company we have admired," Hearst president and CEO Victor Ganzi wrote to Hearst’s board of directors last July. "If we are able to convert the investment to common stock in all of MediaNews, we will be able to participate in the efficiencies MediaNews will achieve through the consolidation of the Bay Area newspapers other than the San Francisco Chronicle. Whether or not we are able to convert our investment, the proposed transaction provides additional impetus for lawful cooperation between the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Area newspapers, which will be owned or controlled by MediaNews, in areas such as distribution, national advertising and the Internet."

Several hundred pages of records were originally filed under seal in Reilly’s suit, but the Guardian, along with the East Bay nonprofit Media Alliance, intervened to have the filings opened to public access. Attorneys Jim Wheaton, David Green, and Pondra Perkins of the First Amendment Project did the legal work.

Illston agreed with our request and made most of the records available in an order last month. Reilly’s suit is expected to go to trial in the spring. He’s alleging that Hearst, MediaNews, and its other business partners, including the Stephens Group and Gannett Co., conspired to divide and monopolize the Bay Area newspaper market.

At the very least, Asher admitted in his deposition that Hearst saw media consolidation as one of the few reasons to bother staying in the newspaper biz. Originally, Hearst executives were considering a $500 million investment in MediaNews, but that amount was eventually lowered.

"We’re among the larger owners and operators of newspapers," Asher stated. "We still believe in them, notwithstanding their challenges, and we would like to participate in that consolidation. And, in fact, if we don’t choose to, we should probably think about exiting the business." *

Where’s the beef on LGBT issues?


OPINION Common wisdom says that Mayor Gavin Newsom has forever endeared himself to the LGBT community by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples shortly after coming into office in 2004. Even though a state court later declared those licenses invalid (the city is appealing), Newsom’s popularity among queers doesn’t appear to have diminished. This is despite the fact that the Newsom administration has actually done little in terms of some of the major issues facing the community.

Let’s take a look at a few of those issues:

Housing for people with AIDS. A couple months after the "winter of love" at City Hall, Newsom appointed Jeff Sheehy as AIDS czar. An AIDS activist and former hate-crime-victim advocate in the District Attorney’s Office, Sheehy was supposed to help the mayor formulate AIDS policies. But it was a volunteer position, and the major concern of people with AIDS — affordable housing — was never addressed. Two years later Sheehy resigned the post. Meanwhile, the city’s affordable housing crisis still leaves many low-income people with AIDS desperately scrambling for a place to live after they are evicted by real estate speculators looking for a quick buck in the tenancy-in-common market. The situation is so bad that the AIDS Housing Alliance dubbed the Castro "the AIDS eviction capital of the world."

Liaison to the LGBT community. Apparently, former mayor Joe Alioto initiated this position in 1973. Newsom’s appointment was not a community activist but someone who worked in advertising. Founder of Gays for Gavin in the 2003 mayoral election campaign, James "Jimmer" Cassiol served for almost two years before he too resigned. His major duty seemed to be representing the mayor at LGBT functions.

Homelessness among queer youth. While Newsom is quick to tout his Care Not Cash and Operation Homeless Connect programs as solutions to one of the city’s most enduring and heartbreaking problems, he failed to mention youth in general and queer youth in particular in his recent state of homelessness address. To date, only a handful of queer youth have received city-sponsored housing — in a hotel on Market Street, which Castro supervisor Bevan Dufty secured. More hotel rooms are supposedly on the way.

Affordable housing for seniors. A proposed Market-Octavia Openhouse project for queer seniors won’t actually provide housing for those who need it the most: people with incomes below 50 percent of the area median income. The Newsom administration has done little to alleviate the lack of affordable housing for seniors, especially queer ones.

As the old woman in the ’70s commercials used to ask, where’s the beef? When it comes to queer issues, there is none. There’s certainly a lot of talk, many public appearances by the mayor and his representatives at queer functions, and the general promotion by Newsom and his staff of the idea that in San Francisco the LGBT community matters.

But if you’re poor, a senior, or homeless, it’s a different story altogether. *

Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, southern Italian, working-class queer performer, writer, and activist whose work can be seen at

Between the sheets



The changes are already well on their way. Dozens of layoffs have occurred. Offices are being consolidated. Fewer reporters are writing stories, which appear in several local newspapers under the single corporate byline "MediaNews Staff."

A few more details have since leaked out: the Hearst Corp., which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, has talked about joint advertising sales with its supposed competitor, Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, which owns almost all the other big dailies in the Bay Area.

Some sources predict Hearst may share printing facilities with Singleton. The two might ultimately divide the entire Bay Area into isolated markets and avoid one another’s turf. The Singleton papers could even scrap their Sunday editions, leaving that market entirely to Hearst.

Nobody outside the corporate suites of the nation’s top newspaper barons knows exactly what’s true and what’s speculation right now. But it’s clear there’s a move afoot to end all daily newspaper competition in the region — and the public hasn’t been privy to any of it.

That may be about to change.

An order by Federal Judge Susan Illston handed down Jan. 24 has opened up key company records that will likely further confirm how Hearst, Singleton, and some of the nation’s biggest media players are conspiring to turn the Bay Area into a homogenized news market.

The records — which will likely be released shortly after the Guardian‘s press deadline — are part of a lawsuit filed by local real estate investor Clint Reilly, who wants to block the deal that allowed Singleton to control the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal, and the San Mateo County Times, along with a bunch of other smaller papers.

There have been hints that some of the documents filed as part of that suit portray a plan by Hearst and Singleton to form some sort of alliance. But since almost everything in the case has been filed under court seal, it’s hard to tell exactly what the truth is.

The Guardian, along with the East Bay nonprofit Media Alliance, intervened in the case in December, asking Illston to open documents in the suit. The publishers, who had initially insisted nearly every scrap of paper was some sort of protected trade secret, quickly backed down, agreeing to release much of the information. And last week Illston ordered them to release some of the rest.

In the end, Jim Wheaton of the First Amendment Project, who represents the Guardian and Media Alliance, says 90 percent of the key material in the suit will be made public.

The documents that are set for public release still need to be refiled, a process that’s under way. They’ll be posted at the moment they’re available.

Already, the news coverage of this case has demonstrated how bad journalism would be if the Bay Area had no daily competition.

When Illston released her decision, two headlines appeared on the Chronicle‘s Web site, One, from the Associated Press, announced, "MediaNews, Hearst Lawsuit Documents Remain Sealed." The Chronicle‘s own staff reported, "Some MediaNews Data Released — Judge Says Other Documents in Reilly Suit to Stay Sealed."

The conclusion of both stories was the same: the Guardian and Media Alliance had essentially lost. Very little material would be unsealed.

And despite the different perspectives in the headlines, neither story got it right.

"MediaNews Group and Hearst were asked by Media Alliance and the Guardian before they intervened to unseal everything. They declined to unseal anything," Wheaton said. "But as soon as Media Alliance and the Guardian moved to intervene and unseal, MediaNews and Hearst surrendered on almost all the sealed documents. They fought only to keep some parts of five exhibits and one brief sealed, which comprised 19 separate excerpts [of which six were duplicates, leaving only 13 distinct items]."

And all but a few pages of those documents will now be released to the public. They will almost certainly offer a broader picture of the relationship between the Bay Area’s top media bedfellows.

Wheaton has asked both the Chron and the AP for a correction. Mark Rochester, assistant bureau chief for the AP in San Francisco, told Wheaton by e-mail that a clarification would not be "useful to member news organizations." We’re waiting to hear from the Chron. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Dean Singleton is slated to take over as chair of the AP this spring.

Illston also agreed to allow the Guardian and Media Alliance to remain as interveners, or parties to the suit, giving the two organizations the right to challenge any future secrecy.

For example, the interveners might seek to unseal the depositions Reilly attorney Joe Alioto took of top executives at the companies last week.

Hearst and MediaNews have claimed they need to protect some records to avoid giving competitors access to proprietary financial information. But the chains are hardly normal competitors.

Singleton reached a secret agreement with Hearst in 1995 to shutter the Houston Post and sell its assets to Hearst for $120 million, for instance. The deal gave Hearst’s Houston Chronicle significant control over the southern Texas metropolis and its sizable suburbs before the two companies continued their westward expansion hand in hand.

In a downright hilarious side note, attorneys for the Chronicle managed to convince a Santa Clara County superior court judge in January to open confidential court documents in a shareholder suit filed against Silicon Valley–based Mercury Interactive, one of the first companies rocked by allegations that it had improperly backdated stock options for some of its top executives.

Chronicle attorney Karl Olson at the time righteously denounced attempts by attorneys for Mercury and its former executives, three of whom were fired during the height of the backdating firestorm, to seal court records detailing one of the more lurid executive-enrichment scandals to hit Wall Street in recent years (see "Off the Record," 1/10/2007).

Calls to seven people up and down MediaNews and Hearst, from attorneys to executives, weren’t returned. We’ve even tried to reach CoCo Times executive editor Kevin Keane on his cell phone, but he wouldn’t comment for us despite complaints he’d made about the East Bay Express not giving him a chance to respond to similar stories. *