Bryan Augustus

Fires on Ocean Beach limited and studied by GGNRA, which considers ban


The National Parks Service is once again moving to limit and maybe even ban fires on Ocean Beach, replaying an episode from 2007 that was temporarily solved by volunteers and artistic new fire rings placed by the group Burners Without Borders, despite a lack of follow through by NPS’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Citing complaints about burning toxic materials, leaving messes, and people drinking on the beach (gasp!), the GGNRA this week announced a summer pilot program that would include moving the curfew up from 10pm to 9pm, installing a dozen new fire rings, and improved public outreach and monitoring of the conditions on the beach.

“We [have] over the years seen a rising problem over safety and general breaking of park rules like broken bottles. And with incidents of assault and underage drinking, mostly occurring during the night, GGNRA Area Director Howard Levitt told the Guardian.

But Tom Price, who helped create the 2007 compromise, said GGNRA never kept its end of the bargain — such as installing more rings to supplement the half-dozen created by artists, or creating visible signage so visitors would know what the rules area — and now it’s acting in a rapid, unilateral, and unreasonable way to ban beach fires.

“They never did the outreach or educaation or put out more fire rings,” Price said, urging people to let GGNRA know they support allowing fires on Ocean Beach, one of just two spots within GGNRA jurisdication where they’re allowed (Muir Beach is the other). “The Parks Service has to be reasonable, and banning fires after 9pm in not reasonable.”

In announcing the change, the GGNRA seems to admit that it didn’t do the follow-ups it had committed to: “The intent was to evaluate the program in 2009 and make a long term decision for fires on the beach. However, due to staffing shortages the 2009 review did not occur until 2013. Since 2009, the program continued as it had been originally developed in 2007. Maintenance staff continued to clean the pits and the beach, removing pits that became hazardous or non-functional, and Park Rangers continued to educate visitors engaging in beach fires and to enforce the existing regulations.” 

GGNRA has set a short comment window for this new policy, from April 21 to May 16, before implementing the change starting Memorial Day Weekend. Send comments to Frank Dean, General Superintendent, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Building 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA 94123-0022. Then the agency says it will decide at the end of the summer how the situation is working out and whether it needs to resort to the outright ban that it had considered in 2007.

Meanwhile, in addition to trying to work cooperatively with the agency, Price said would also resist the unilateral new changes, saying the 9pm curfew is particulalry absurd: “I’m inviting all my friends down to Ocean Beach at 9pm on Memorial Day to have some s’mores.”

Crowdfunding real-estate: A tool to combat displacement or another nail in the coffin?

A key provision in the JOBS Act, a legislative package signed into law by President Obama in April of 2012, was hailed as a huge victory for the ever-growing real estate industry, removing many of the bothersome impediments that keep it exclusively in the realm of the upper echelon.

The vast majority of real-estate deals are controlled by private equity firms and “accredited” investors whose individual net worth is $1 million or more. But the JOBS Act opens up new territory by allowing for “crowdsourcing” investment funds, introducing the option of pooling financial resources with up to 500 other “non-accredited” investors, meaning anyone making $100,000 or less a year for an individual, or $300,000 for couples.

This potentially opens the floodgates to a much larger portion of the population — but it could have positive or disastrous implications for San Francisco’s housing affordability crisis, depending on how it’s used.

Walk down nearly any street in San Francisco, and you can virtually watch the city change by the moment. With reports of mass displacement and staggering income inequality, the city is desperate for a way to stem the tide of evictions and curb the loss of affordable housing.

This idea of using crowdfunding has drawn some interest as a possible tool for restoring balance. At the same time, at least one company has seized on it to do just the opposite, making it easier for real-estate investors to flip properties and escalate displacement, the only difference being that one need not be a member of the exclusive upper crust to get in the game.

The recent campaign to save the historic black owned bookstore, Marcus Books, led by the San Francisco Community Land Trust, sought to take advantage of crowdfunding as a way to preserve an iconic cultural location and housing for long-term residents.

Fundrise, a D.C. based real-estate startup, helped the Land Trust set up a fundraising campaign in an effort to raise $1 million. Although it failed to hit the target, the organization “was able to raise $750,000,” according to Tracy Parent, SFCLT’s Organizational Director. (Marcus Books is hosting a town hall meeting on Sat/12 at 1pm to discuss plans for the future.)

The campaign inspired hope that even the non-rich could band together with crowdfunding campaigns to preserve rent-controlled housing, by moving historic properties under Land Trust ownership with perpetual tenancies for long-term occupants. Fundrise, meanwhile, held several meetings with representatives of San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to explore ways of working together to respond to the affordability crisis.

Yet a different picture emerged when we talked to Aaron McDaniel, CEO of San Francisco real estate startup Tycoon Real Estate.

McDaniel says the JOBS Act provision “can be used as a tool to get into the industry” for those who want to break into the business of flipping houses, a sentiment echoed in a Business Insider article by Nicholas Carlson earlier this year that asked the question: “How can I get into San Francisco’s house-flipping, rent-gouging market?” To wit:

“It used to be that if an investor wanted in the San Francisco real estate market, that investor would have to have at least a few hundred thousand dollars around for a down payment. Not anymore. Thanks to the JOBS Act and a new Kickstarter-like website called Tycoon Real Estate, people with a few thousand dollars in savings can now invest in flipping houses the way only millionaires used to be able to.”

In other words, anyone looking for a get-rich-quick scheme can cash in on the city’s red-hot real-estate market. As the Business Insider observed:

“If [Tycoon Real-Estate] gets big and starts funneling even more capital into the San Francisco real estate market, all those people throwing rocks at Google buses and whining about rents are certainly going to come after the startup, accusing it of fueling an already dangerous bubble.”

Therein lies the danger that could actually speed up displacement in the city. And with San Francisco housing prices at an all-time high, there’s strong incentive for any random person with a thousand dollars or so lying around to give it a go.

As Parent noted, to her knowledge, no other organizations looking to combat displacement have sought to create crowdfunding campaigns of their own for the purpose of preserving rent-controlled housing, rather than flipping it. But Parent is holding out some hope. Even though “we were not successful” in raising the $1 million needed to save Marcus Books, she said, “we will use Fundrise again.” 

Two views of sex work


There are two starkly different ways to look at prostitution in the Bay Area. One view sees sex workers as victims, not just those exploited by the horrible practices of human trafficking and child prostitution, but all sex workers. The other view accepts that sex work can be a legitimate choice made by consenting adults, a job less demeaning and more empowering than many low-wage service jobs.

Those divergent perspectives clashed on the streets of San Francisco on Feb. 11 when the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women hosted a panel discussion in the Main Public Library on "discouraging demand" for prostitution, a goal that prostitutes trying to cover their rising rents don’t share, as they said outside while protesting the event.

In the spotlight at the forum was San Francisco’s First Offender Prostitution Program, also known as "John School," which was first implemented in 1995 to curb the commercial sex trade and provide an alternative to criminal charges for those caught soliciting prostitution, much like traffic school for bad drivers.

A March 2008 study, "Final Report on the Evaluation of the First Offender Program," by researcher Michael Shively, hailed the program as a success, with claims of vastly reduced rearrest rates and high attendance numbers. In 1999, 822 people qualified to enter the program, and that had dropped to 333 participants in 2007.

Fees generated by the program totaled $3.1 million from 1999 through 2007, which was split among the District Attorney’s Office, San Francisco Police Department, and the anti-prostitution group Standing Against Global Exploitation (SAGE).

But human trafficking and sex work have shown few signs of abating in the Bay Area, where law enforcement sources say Alameda County is one of the state’s biggest prostitution hot spots. And groups like SAGE say all sex work abuses women, whereas rival groups like the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) say it is the criminalization of prostitution that drives it underground and allows heinous practices like child prostitution to flourish.

Christina Deangelo says she’s been a sex worker since the late 1970s, and she showed up at the event to criticize its judgmental and one-sided program. "Without having even one of us on the panel, who can actually tell you [what is going on], you are killing us," she said.

The sex workers who showed up were particularly critical of panelist Melissa Farley, a controversial psychologist and researcher who spent years studying prostitution and sex trafficking. As an advocate of abolishing prostitution and a proponent of the "Discouraging Demand" strategy, Farley has been met with much criticism in the past.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel disqualified Farley as a witness in 2010, ruling that "Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence."

Sex worker advocates have also slammed Farley, such as blogger and activist Jessica Nicole, who says Farley "makes further manipulative and disturbing language decisions in her research of clients of sex workers," saying that Farley doesn’t "understand the complexities of the industries she is researching."

Farley has argued that prostitution is "inherently violent," and harmful both physically and mentally to the women involved. She says that her research shows that "89% [of sex workers] I spoke to want to get out of prostitution. Most see it as a last ditch effort for survival."

But many sex workers disagree, and they have grown more vocal about their stance on the business. Rather than a profession dominated by victims of forced trafficking and exploitation, they say that a large number of women and men actually like the job. But public and legal condemnation of the profession often prevents sex workers from getting help when they need it.

Workers acknowledge the dangers that go along with their profession, which they see as a major reason to at least decriminalize it and improve methods to protect workers from abusive pimps and clients.

Various studies on the subject have concluded how much more likely sex workers are to be victims of sexual and physical abuse, and have a high chance of drug addiction, more than any group of women in the world.

Sex workers spoke of the need to differentiate between indoor workers (high class call girls) and street walkers, different worlds entirely. They’re critical of Dr. Farley for writing, "while the women in street prostitution work the fields, call girls, escorts and massage parlor workers are the house niggers of this system."

The panel event showed the deep division between law enforcement and sex workers. The government’s ideal method of prosecuting what it deems indecent has not cured most vice businesses, even Casey Bates for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office’s human trafficking division admitted at the event.

"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," he said.

Though hardly an advocate of decriminalization or legalization of sex work, Bates does acknowledge that the issue can’t be tackled in the one-dimensional fashion as it is now. And sex workers say they need to be included in discussions about problems in their industry.

CCSF students angered by class cancellations

Despite a day of misty downpours and gray skies, students, faculty members and their supporters gathered in the lobby of the City College of San Francisco’s Conlan Hall on Wed/28 in anticipation of a sit-down with the school’s chancellor, Dr. Arthur Q. Tyler.

The meeting had been requested to discuss increasing displacement at CCSF, with the number of eliminated classes on the rise every day. Yet questions were still swirling about whether college administrators had used much-needed funds to approve higher administrative pay scales without public notice.

Students and faculty delivered a petition signed by nearly 2,500 students opposing the recent course cancellations. When they unrolled the long list of signatures, it reached from the lobby all the way up the stairs to the chancellor’s office door, a physical display of growing dissent. And with the cuts’ affect already resulting in the cancellation of 27 foreign language courses alone, student anger over the course cancellations is building.

Matt Lambert, a CCSF student for several years, said he’d been informed just that morning that his photography class had been cancelled. He said he’d “spent all day this morning talking to people who were in a similar situation as I am, everybody has a class being cut somewhere. So how come classes are being cut, when supposedly City College is getting cash from Proposition A, how come with all that cash classes are still being cut?”

Proposition A, a special tax approved by voters in November of 2012, provides for a new channel of funding for CCSF with a $79 parcel tax. This tax was intended to help the relieve a bit of the struggle that’s burdened the college as of late, but now students and faculty are finding themselves fending off class cuts as enrollment declines under the ongoing threat that the school could lose its accreditation.

The meeting with the chancellor was intended to be an open discussion, but in the end, only three individuals were permitted to speak to Tyler face-to-face. A chancellor’s assistant informed the crowd the only three members–including faculty union AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer–were allowed to enter the office and represent the instructors and staff. While students were told they would have to follow the proper channels in order to arrange a formal meeting, many students regarded the move as a cop-out.

Following the meeting, Messer provided a recap. “They say they’re looking at the class numbers, and looking at what they did cut, and making sure they didn’t make any big mistakes,” she told the Bay Guardian. “And maybe they should reconsider or learn something from what they do cut. They did say that they will be setting up quite a number late start classes, which is all news to us. But we made it really clear about the quality of education, and the trust that students have in getting their education at City College, and that it is not the right time to be cutting classes.”

Despite an agenda item that was hastily withdrawn last week after being up for approval, recommending salary scale increases of 19.25 percent for certain administrative positions, Tyler is said to have denied the amount this increase, telling Messer, along with two colleagues, that “there was no intention to raise salaries by 20 percent,” that there was confusion about the lower approved salary ranges posted on the school’s website, and that Tyler is working to clarify this.

On Monday, AFT 2121 submitted formal records requests to learn the exact amount administrators are being paid.

Labor protests Postal Service privatization amid deal with Staples


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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