Tax Breaks

Lies, damned lies, and statistics


When is a public opinion poll a valid representation of how people feel? That turns out to be a tricky and ever-evolving question, particularly in San Francisco — thanks to its prevalence of tenants and technology — and even more particularly when it concerns the approval rating of Mayor Ed Lee.

Traditionally, the central requirements for public opinion polls to be considered valid is that respondents need to be representative of the larger population and they need to be selected at random. Polls are often skewed when people need to opt-in, as is the case in most online polls.

So the Guardian took issue with claims that 73 percent of voters approve of the job that Mayor Lee is doing, a figure derived from an opt-in online poll focused on “Affordability and Tech” that was conducted by University of San Francisco Professors Corey Cook and David Latterman and released to the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 9. That figure quickly wallpapered the comment section of the Guardian’s website as the answer to any criticism of Mayor Lee, his policies, or the city’s eviction and gentrification crises.

“Any survey that relies on the ability and/or availability of respondents to access the Web and choose whether to participate is not representative and therefore not reliable,” is how The New York Times Style Guide explains that newspaper’s refusal to run such polls, a quote we used in our Jan. 10 Politics blog post on the subject, and we quoted an academic making a similar point.

We also interviewed and quoted Latterman discussing the challenges of doing accurate and economical polling in a city with so many renters (64 percent of city residents) and so few telephone landlines. “San Francisco is a more difficult model,” Latterman told us. “So Internet polling has to get better, because phone polling has gotten really expensive.”

So we ran our story dubbing the poll “bogus” — and the next day got angry messages from Cook and Latterman defending the poll and educating us on efforts within academia to craft opt-in online polls that are as credible as traditional telephone polls.

“The author is so quick to dismiss the findings of the study, which is based upon accepted methodology, and which had nothing to do with mayoral approval scores, that he actually misses the entire thrust of the study — that voters in San Francisco are deeply ambivalent about the current environment, concerned about the affordability crisis, and not trusting of local government to come up with a solution,” Cook wrote in a rebuttal we published Jan. 13 on the Politics blog.

Cook told us the survey’s methods are endorsed by the National Science Foundation and peer-reviewed academic papers, including a Harvard University study called “Does Survey Mode Still Matter?” that concludes “a carefully executed opt-in Internet panel produces estimates that are as accurate as a telephone survey.”

That study went to great lengths to create a sample group that was representative of the larger population, while Cook and Latterman both admit that their survey’s respondents had a disproportionate number of homeowners. But they say the results were then weighted to compensate for that and they stand by the accuracy of their work.

Yet Cook also notes that the mayoral approval rating number wasn’t even part of the package they developed from this survey, it was just a finding that they decided to give the Chronicle. “I don’t think the 73 percent means anything,” Cook told us, noting that snapshot in time doesn’t reflect Lee’s actual popularity going forward, despite how Lee supporters focused on it. “The number they use politically is not a meaningful number.”

What Cook found more significant is the “tepid support” for Lee indicated by the poll, including the 86 percent that expressed concern about affordability in the city, a concern that cuts across all demographic groups. Most respondents had little faith in City Hall to address the problem and many felt the tech industry should be doing more to help, particularly companies that have received tax breaks.

Tech leaders must engage their critics


EDITORIAL It’s time for San Franciscans to have a public conversation about who we are, what we value, and where we’re headed. In the increasingly charged and polarized political climate surrounding economic displacement, the rising populist furor needs to be honestly and seriously addressed by this city’s major stakeholders.

Whether or not the technology industry that is overheating the city’s economy is to blame for the current eviction crisis and hyper-gentrification, it’s undeniable that industry and it’s leaders need to help solve this problem. They are rolling in money in right now, including tens of millions of dollars in city tax breaks, and they need to offer more than token gestures to help offset their impacts.

As we were finalizing stories for this issue on Dec. 9, the Guardian newsroom was roiled by our rollercoaster coverage of a protest blockade against a Google bus, which has become a symbol for the insulated and out-of-touch nouveau-riche techies in the emerging narrative of two San Franciscos.

Our video of an apparent Google-buser shouting at protesters “if you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave” went viral and burned up the Internet (and our servers) even as we discovered and reported that he was actually a protester doing some impromptu street theater.

But there was a reason why his comments resonated, and it’s the same reason why The New York Times and other major media outlets have been doing a series of stories on San Francisco and the problems we’re having balancing economic development with economic security, diversity, infrastructure needs, and other urban imperatives.

Rents have increased more than 20 percent this year, the glut of new housing coming online now is mostly unaffordable to current residents, even that new construction has done little to slow real estate speculators from cannibalizing rent-controlled apartments, and the only end in sight to this trend is a bursting of the dot-com bubble, which would cause its own hardships.

We need this city’s political leaders to convene a summit meeting on this problem, and Mayor Ed Lee and his neoliberal allies need to bring tech leaders to the table and impress upon them that they must engage with their critics in a meaningful way and be prepared to share some of their wealth with San Franciscans. Not only is the future of the city at stake, so is its present, because the housing justice movement won’t be ignored any longer. The good news is that San Francisco has a golden opportunity to test whether democracy can help solve the worst aspects of modern capitalism, offering an example to others if we succeed. But if our political leaders don’t create good faith avenues for meaningful reforms, San Francisco may offer a far messier and more contentious lesson.

Dick Meister: The jobless need help. Now!!


By Dick Meister

Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than
a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes several hundred of his

It’s time for Congress to help the many jobless Americans ­an estimated
450,000 in the next three months alone ­ who are about to be denied
federally- funded Unemployment Insurance benefits.

What Congress must do ­ and must do quickly ­ is once again expand the
emergency program that was established during the Great Recession in 2008 to
provide benefits averaging $300 a week to the steadily growing number of
jobless.  Congress has until only January 1 to block the first cutbacks of
extra benefit weeks that could continue until at least 2015 unless Congress

President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing measures that would
lengthen the benefit payout period through 2014 at a cost of about $25
billion on top of the $225 billion spent so far on the program. But given
the congressional haggling over economic measures, the chance of agreement
before Congress adjourns December 31 is slight.

Meanwhile , the number of Americans unable to find  jobs they need for
survival remains in the millions. Already, there are four million who have
been seeking jobs for more than six months and many others who have stopped

 Particularly hard hit are aging as well as younger workers, and women and
minorities. Their number ­ and need for unemployment benefits ­ is certain
to grow, most likely at a rapid pace.

All this is happening, of course, at the same time that banks, corporate
interests and other wealthy Republican friends continue raking in huge
profits. Money gained from relaxing the tax breaks given such political
friends, for instance, could very well go into funding further Unemployment
Insurance payments and other steps to help U.S. workers.

Ironically, cutting the federal benefit program could actually lead to more
unemployment. That’s because workers denied benefits naturally have less to
spend and that could in turn cause those who rely on the laid-off workers’
business to cut back operations.

 The need for extending the federal benefit program should be obvious to
anyone outside the powerful circle of GOP & friends. Listen to what Gene
Sperling, Obama’s chief economic adviser, told the New York Times’ Annie

“There has not been a time where the unemployment rate has been this high
where you have not extended it. Why would you not expand now, when you’re
dealing with the nearly unprecedented levels of long-tern unemployment
coming off such a historic recession? “

Why not, indeed?

Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than
a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes several hundred of his

Copyright 2013 Dick Meister

Meister: The Legislature shows Congress how


Guardian columnist Dick Meister has covered labor and political affairs for more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website,, which contains several hundred of his columns.

Forget for a moment what’s happened ­­ or not happened  ­- in Congress. Concentrate instead on what’s meanwhile gone on in the State Legislature, much of it for the benefit of California’s working people.

 The State AFL-CIO cites, for instance, the Legislature’s passage this year of more than a dozen decidedly worker-friendly bills sponsored by the labor
federation and strongly backed by the federation’s Democratic Party allies in Sacramento.

The most important of the bills will raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour by January of 2016. Other key laws:

*Require overtime pay for domestic workers, who are currently excluded from
most labor laws.

*Will make it easier for immigrant workers to get drivers’ licenses and
protect them from retaliation when they speak out about poor pay and working

*Should make it easier for workers with criminal records who are denied jobs
despite their rehabilitation.

*Give corporate tax breaks to employers who create jobs.

*Increase the legal protections for the state’s notably exploited farm
workers and car wash employees.

*Strengthen current laws that require builders holding state contracts to
pay their crews the prevailing wage for construction work in their areas.

*Encourage Employers and workers “to identify and minimize the risk of
workplace violence.”

*Expand the law granting paid family sick leaves to workers caring for ill
parents and children to also include work time lost while caring for sick
parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents  and grandchildren.

*Ease the unjust impact of current immigration law enforcement on workers
and families by limiting the state’s cooperation with the federal “Secure
Communities” program.

Art Pulaski, the State AFL-CIO’s chief officer, rightly claims that with
passage of the laws, California undoubtedly has become “the national leader
in sporting workers and their families.”

What’s more, says Pulaski, passage of the laws marked a crucial start of
“the essential work of rebuilding the state’s middle class.”

If only we could expect even a fraction of such important work from our
squabbling federal legislators.

Copyright 2013 Dick Meister

Guardian columnist Dick Meister has covered labor and political affairs for
more than a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator.
Contact him through his website,, which contains several
hundred of his columns.

Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies


EDITORIAL In the long history of San Francisco political corruption caused by Pacific Gas & Electric’s willingness to do and spend whatever it takes to hold onto the energy monopoly that it illegally obtained generations ago, in violation of the federal Raker Act, there have been countless ugly and shameful episodes, many of them chronicled in the pages of the Bay Guardian.

Mayor Ed Lee’s misleading Sept. 10 testimony to the Board of Supervisors, where he deliberately distorted CleanPowerSF and defended the dubious actions of his appointees to kill the program, ranks right up there with some of the worst episodes (see “Power struggle,” page 12). If there were any doubts about Lee’s lack of political integrity and independence, about his unwillingness stand up to his corporate benefactors on the behalf of the people he was elected to serve, this appalling performance should settle them.

It was bad enough when PG&E used money from San Francisco ratepayers to bury public power advocates under an avalanche of lies, fear-mongering, and the testimony of paid political allies every election when its monopoly was being challenged, making it virtually impossible to have an honest conversation about the city’s energy and environmental needs.

But now that advocates for consumer choice and renewable energy have spent more than a decade developing a program that doesn’t require a popular vote, is competitive with PG&E’s rates, would create city-owned green energy projects serving residents for generations to come, and which was approved by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Lee has stooped to new lows in a desperate and transparent ploy to stop it.

Once again, as he did during his rash decision to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office before even investigating his most serious official misconduct allegations, Mayor Lee has blithely created what Sen. Mark Leno calls a “Charter crisis.” Then, it was over the question of when one elected official should remove another; now, it is whether a trio of mayoral appointees can usurp the authority of the elected Board of Supervisors, the top policymaking body under the City Charter.

Relying on tortured logic and Clinton-esque legalese backflips doesn’t justify the SFPUC commissioners refusal to do their jobs — and it would be deemed official misconduct by a less corrupt mayor. But this mayor sees his job as simply carrying water for the people who put him there, whether that be Willie Brown and his longtime client PG&E, or venture capital Ron Conway and the companies that Lee is heaping with unprecedented tax breaks (see “Corporate welfare boom,” page 14). Please, isn’t there someone out there willing to challenge this corruption and run for mayor? This city, and the future generations living in the warming world we’re creating, deserve better.

In tech-dominated Mid-Market, arts center beats the odds

Is there a place for community theaters and nonprofit arts and education programs in pricey San Francisco? The 950 Center for Art and Education, a project that will be housed on the corner of Market and Turk streets in San Francisco, has gained a foothold against the odds.

Two years in the making, the center will provide permanently affordable performance facilities for the Lorraine Hansberry and Magic theaters, and create affordable space for art education organizations including Youth Speaks, the American Conservatory Theater and All Stars Project. Other groups, such as Lines Ballet, the Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club and others previously unsure whether they could continue to rent in the Tenderloin/SoMa area will get the chance to expand their performance and programming capabilities at the center.

Because the neighborhood is in such high demand in the wake of recent tax breaks and incentives designed to bring tech businesses to SF, it took the Tenderloin Economic Development Project, a part of the North of Market Neighborhood Improvement Corporation, at least two years to secure the property for the arts and education complex. Until very recently, the project’s fate was hanging in the balance, with many groups uncertain whether they would be able to remain in the city.

Three-quarters of the project space that TEDP had long set its sites on is located at 970 Market, and was initially owned by Lone Star, a Texas-based hedge fund. The remaining project space, at 950 Market, was under the ownership of the Thatcher family, known for philanthropy.

Initially, TEDP “had a deal with the hedge fund,” says TEDP director Elvin Padilla, but after property values rose, “they basically walked away from the negotiating table. The crisis moment was, who’s going to control the land – and will they collaborate with us?”

Padilla credits Gladys Thatcher, founder of the San Francisco Education Fund, as “the reason we decided to make the attempt [to acquire these spaces for the 950 Center] in the first place.” 

When TEDP first pitched the idea to her several years ago, “she gave us her blessing we decided to make a go of it,” he explained.

Thatcher is trustee and former board member of the San Francisco Foundation, which worked alongside TEDP and the Rainin Foundation to secure the lion’s share of the land needed for the 950 Center, by facilitating a purchase of the 970 Market Parcel from Lone Star.

On June 7, the property was transferred from Lone Star to Group I, a San Francisco-based real estate development firm that Thatcher is friendly with. Now that the sale has gone through, the space will be devoted to the arts and education programming that TEDP had long envisioned. The San Francisco Foundation plans to facilitate development of the center through the creation of a new sponsoring organization that will be housed at Community Initiatives, a nonprofit. 

While he is grateful for the community support, Padilla likened their quest to gain 970 Market to a climb up Mt. Everest.

A 2011 payroll tax exclusion zone introduced by Mayor Ed Lee vastly increased the property value in the mid-Market area. Although Lee had a soft spot for the 950 Arts and Education Center and even organized events to support bringing that use to mid-Market, his new policy left the project facing an uncertain future in a suddenly pricey strip along Market Street. “He doesn’t have any real authority over private sector transactions,” Padilla says, so all the Mayor could do was stipulate the city’s interest in using this land for “arts and education.”

The city doesn’t offer public funding for projects like 950 Center for Arts and Education. To “subsidize on the front end,” as Padilla puts it, the center will have to rely on the backing of individual investors, philanthropic groups and new market tax credits to reduce and eliminate the debt entirely, so the organizations that will be housed at the center don’t have to carry a mortgage.

In the end, it was only through the efforts of wealthy and connected individuals that plans for the center were nailed down rather than extinguished. “Mid-Market is going through a very rapid transformation,” says Dr. Sandra R. Hernández, Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco Foundation. “We’re just lucky that Group I, the developer, shares this vision with us for an arts center.”

Looking back on the years of effort it took to piece the plan together, Padilla noted, “When we started this, it was before the tech boom. Now, the pressure on the real estate is many times what it was when we conceptualized the 950 project.” 

That uncertainty finally came to an end for Padilla’s organization when Group I closed the deal with Lone Star on June 7. “That really [did] start the project officially,” Hernández says. “We’re now working with a number of the organizations that have expressed interest in having permanent space or accessible space for their programming or rehearsals for their theater production.”



Happy Father’s Day! Be good to your dad (assuming he’s alive/you know who he is) and enjoy your kids (assuming you have any/know who they are).

A remarkable story crossed my monitor this week. From back in the sacred Motherland of Massachusetts. Apparently, a pair of tandem parking spaces were auctioned off behind a toney Commonwealth Ave (Boston) condo for a whopping 560K–they’re shown in the photo. That’s over a half a million dollars in prime real estate yer gazing at.

Bid up from a sort of reasonable 42K and sold to a party that allegedly owns three spaces there already, this is the kind of story that makes one’s eyes glaze over in amazement. As primo as the location is, that tiny and stained bit of asphalt you’re looking at is not worth that price under any circumstances.

As that part of Boston is tightly zoned, it isn’t like it was bought to expand a brownstone. Nope, this is conspicuous consumption run completely amok or as a friend of mine back there put it, ”this could only have happened to people for whom money has no meaning”. (I suspect that the purchase was made as a “business expense” for a corporation, more to be revealed).

For 560 grand, you can still buy a modest home in Boston’s most desirable suburbs (all of which have better public schools than Boston and are cleaner and not plagued with unbearable traffic). And the property is but ten minutes on foot from downtown and the business district, cabs and car services are plentiful, therefore, why bother? As a possible long term investment? (Not a great idea as you will see).

This neighborhood, the Back Bay, was the first place I had my own digs. Adjusted for inflation, that apartment should go for about 420.00. It is now a million dollar and up condo and what was it? One gigantic room, likely the dining room of a three story home back in the 1800’s. And I still have friends in that neighborhood. Tellingly, all of them have been there at least 25 years and they could never afford it now.

By pricing all but the top of the top out of what once was an artist friendly neighborhood, the same neighborhood has the ripple effect of driving real estate values in adjacent neighborhoods past reason. Boston and San Francisco–joined at the hip by being the satellite cities to America’s twin powerhouses–are now unaffordable. 

A piece in the same paper that ran this story last year said it all. People aged 35-54 –which used to be an enormous demographic in Boston–no longer live there in large numbers. After university they just up and go because first jobs don’t pay enough to raise the scratch for a down payment. When a slab of concrete not even big enough to be a bedroom in a rooming house goes for 560K, it says that “what the market will bear” is not applicable.

This isn’t “free market capitalism”, it’s “crapitalism”. The laws of supply and demand have been so perverted by so few having so much, they almost don’t apply anymore. And my beautiful hometown–once a funky seaport with the best local music scene outside CB’s/Max’s–is now an overly exclusive playpen for folks that have brought back the Brahmin Age, only on ‘roids. Same as in SF—two small peninsulas whose essential character is being clobbered by venal plutocrats. Crapitalism couldn’t exist without tacit aid from the government–in SF, it’s in the form of tax breaks, in Boston, tax free academia is swallowing their city whole, reducing the amount of living units and artificially raising land value. That isn’t “supply and demand”.

The utlimate irony of this ridiculous transaction is that the Back Bay, like the Marina, is atop a landfill. The Charles River already overflows its banks and floods the basements of these expensive edifices more than it used to–so the parking spaces in question may be useless a fair amount of the time (of course, crapitalism being what it is, MA taxpayers will surely be stuck for the bill of seawalls and the like).

Bailouts, cronyism, loopholes–instead of an economic boom, we have Marie Antoinette style madness in our major cities. Pretty pitiful.


The Chron’s token conservative on tech hegemony


It’s always fun when things are so screwy in town that the leading conservative writer at the Chron starts to agree (even just a little) with the crazy commie at this blog.

Debra Saunders is unhappy with the way the Apple store is moving into Union Square. Not because she hates Apple; she’s a Republican who loves all business. Not because she wants to save the fountain or thinks the urban design is ugly; she’s all for new development.

The problem she has is the same problem so many of us have with Sean Parker’s wedding: The technoriche don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else:

But I think some locals object to the plan because Apple gets kid-glove treatment. Small business owners have to jump through many hoops to accommodate the Special City’s sensibilities – or else. There’s an ordinance, for example, that prohibits chain stores in certain neighborhoods. Yet when the high-tech money knocks, the door is wide open.

Yep. Small businesses don’t get special tax breaks out of the Mayor’s Office. Local merchants don’t get these kinds of special exemptions when they want to open or build something. (Try to open a nightclub in this town.)

When hi-tech money knocks, the door is wide open. And even the conservatives are getting sick of it.


Ed Lee’s “no social service cuts” budget


So Mayor Ed Lee is going to spare social services, and apparently at least part of the Department of Public Heath, from any further budget cuts. That’s good. Lives will be saved.

Lee — like Willie Brown before him — has the luck of serving as mayor during a period of growth, not recession. We don’t know how long the boom is going to last, or what will happen when it ends (as these things always do), but right now, in Sacramento and San Francisco City Hall, there is joy over the fact that revenues are up.

(Lee’s supporters on this blog and elsewhere will say it’s because of the mayor’s “pro-jobs” policies that we have all this new revenue. But remember, he promised tax breaks for Twitter and other tech firms that are moving into mid-Market, so we’re not getting much extra payroll tax revenue there. SF is a disgustingly hot real-estate market right now and more people with more money are moving in, so that’s absolutely a factor. So is the general California recovery.)

Either way, I’m always happy to hear about “no-cuts” budgets. But I have to keep raising the question:

If you’ve already cut about a billion dollars worth of services — which is about what most people on all sides of the political spectrum agree has happened in SF in the past decade — and now you’ve agreed not to cut any more, are you really making progress?

At what point do we need to start planning to restore all the services that are gone?