Calvin Welch

The real CPMC story


OPINION The recently announced terms for the development of California Pacific Medical Center’s hospitals at Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s generated front-page and lead stories in the local news media. But nearly without exception, only part of the story was reported. Missing from most accounts of the terms of the new deal, which dramatically changed last year’s failed draft development agreement negotiated by Mayor Ed Lee, was the decisive role played by a community/labor coalition, San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice.

Key details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, and provisions of the terms announced on March 5th need to be improved. But the new agreement, in virtually all respects, is an improvement over the old one. And on the same day the terms of the new deal was announced one of the union members of the coalition, the National Union of Healthcare Workers signed a contact with CPMC that protected union organizing rights, job security at Cathedral Hill and full employer paid health care — issues that had been unresolved over the last few years. Still missing is an ageement between Sutter and its nurses, a critical component of labor peace.

The basic structure of the current terms mirror almost exactly the positions outlined by the SFHHJJ over the last year, including a requirement for labor peace with all unions at CPMC. This was no accident; it was the result of the efforts of the community/labor coalition. When the old deal was stalled at the Board of Supervisors in early 2013 and it was clear that the Mayors Office had no idea how to proceed, the members of the coalition came up with a framework to get discussions going again. The key ingredient was the involvement of a skilled an knowledgeable mediator, mutually respected by all parties and the participation of Sutter Corp. in Sacramento — the real party able to make actual binding corporate commitments, not the subsidiary the mayor had dealt with.

The second step was to agree to a framework of issues that would form the substance of negotiations — and the coalition’s own comprehensive set of positions served as that framework.

The next step was to get a critical mass of supervisors to agree to participate in the negotiations. Two Supervisors, David Chiu and David Campos, agreed to the coalition’s framework and the use of a third-party mediator. They added a third supervisor, Mark Farrell, to their group in order to assure buy-in from the full board.

Finally, the mediator had to be found and in that the coalition (and the rest of the city) simply were lucky that Lou Girardo was willing and able to provide his own special skills and credibility.

The SFHHJJ is not the first community/labor coalition in San Francisco history. Such coalitions were present in both the District 1 and District 5 supervisors races last year with mixed success, and in 2008 a community/labor coalition fought for revenue measures, again with mixed success but real unity. A new labor/community coalition has emerged to oppose Scott Wiener’s ill-advised weakening of our local California Environmental Policy Act procedures.

As the Democratic Party transforms itself into ever greater political irrelevancy by becoming the home of moderate Republicanism at all levels of government, community and labor co-operation seems to be growing over an increasing number of issues, showing a level of political vibrancy impossible to ignore.

Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer in San Francisco and is a member of the SFHHJJ CPMC Negotiating Committee

Guardian Voices: There’s something happening here


There are distinct signs of the rebirth of a grassroots  balanced-growth  movement in San Francisco, and some small indication that it’s even beginning to shift, ever so slightly,  the politics of the Board of Supervisors.  This is very good news for the vast majority of San Franciscans.

First, a little history.

Land use and the approval of major development projects lie at the very heart of San Francisco politics. Developers and their allies (the building trades, contractors, bankers, architects, land-use lawyers, consultants, and  permit expeditors) are the primary source of political money for candidates for local office. Since the freeway and urban renewal fights of the 1960s, the very definition of  progressive  politics in San Francisco has been the attempt to build a political base of  residents to resist that money.  So-called moderates are simply the political extension of the pro-development lobby using its money to consolidate developer control of the public approval process.

In most cities, land-use issues — zoning, permits, urban design — is left to elites. Not so in San Francisco. Here, land use is talked about at neighborhood meetings and on street corners. The heart the reason is our compact size: 46.7 square miles, and the prohibition of filling in any more of the Bay to create new land. There is no vacant land in San Francisco. Any new major development almost always displaces something already there.  Development is a zero sum game, with winner and losers.  And the losers  leave town.

Land-use politics is about staying here — and that creates real interest among San Francisco residents.

The funding for major development in San Francisco has dramatically changed in the 45 years since the freeway and anti-urban-renewal fights of the mid-1960s. Back then, it was public sector money that fueled development. Yet, with that money, due to the actions of  progressive politicians like Phil and John Burton and George Moscone, came its own remedy: votes to not accept the public money for freeways (Moscone) and votes creating either laws that either prohibited displacement or funded legal assistance to the poor, empowering  them to stop government agencies through litigation (the Burtons at both the state and federal level).

Since the money for freeways and urban renewal was from the government, the focus of the early balanced growth  forces was on government itself, through massive lobbying campaigns to affect officials’ votes (the freeway fight), or the use of government-funded lawyers  to protect poor people’s  interests ( the WACO and TOOR lawsuits against redevelopment).

All of that changed starting in the 1970s, when Richard Nixon and later Ronald Reagan deregulated oversight of urban development by creating a system of  block grants and ended funding for legal assistance for the poor.  Large-scale development was effectively privatized, moving it from being designed, funded, and approved at public meetings by government officials following regulations to being designed and funded in private — and having a Kabuki-play-like public approval process with little real oversight. With the passage of Prop 13 in 1978, which limited the main source of local government revenue — property taxes — local governments became even more reliant on private developer money to create new revenue.

The popular response to this change in the development process in San Francisco was the emergence of a politics that relied on the old progressive-era reforms of the initiative, referendum, and recall. Through a series of initiatives, the community sought to impose regulations on the development process, culminating in the 1986 Proposition M, which actually limited the amount of high-rise office space developers could build, completely imposing the popular will over a supine set of local officials and politicians. Indeed, ten years earlier, again through the initiative processes, the very nature of the Board of Supervisors was changed from a developer-friendly at-large system to a district-election system. Hotly opposed by real estate and development interests, district elections in its brief three years of existence (repealed in the wake of the Moscone-Milk assassinations, even though they were both strong supporters of the system and their assassin opposed it…ironies abound in San Francisco politics) saw limits placed on condo conversions and the passage of rent control.

In each of these multi-year efforts, a citywide coalition was formed, including an ever-expanding set of communities and neighborhoods.  Common interests were defined that cut across race, class, and geography and issues of community (neighborhood) control and funding for essential services like Muni, affordable housing, childcare, and employment training were placed on the table – and developers had to address them if they wanted projects approved.

The point is that balanced growth came from community-based political forces, not elected officials.  Broad movements were built — in the end, encompassing elements of labor. These were victories won not by elected officials but by a popular movement.

In 2000, in the wake of  the dot-com bust, another balanced-growth measure, Prop. L, aimed at cutting then-Mayor Willie Brown’s power over development, was paired with the new district election system — and a broad coalition of forces including labor, community and neighborhood organizations won a major progressive victory.

Every candidate for supervisor who supported the balanced-growth measure won. Every candidate who opposed it and supported Brown lost. While Prop L narrowly lost, its policies and objectives were passed as ordinances by the new Board of Supervisors (banning live-work lofts, closing loopholes in the planning code, requiring neighborhood-based plans for the Mission, SOMA, and Potrero Hill).

But as is so often the case, the victory of 2000 led to the slow dissolution of the coalition that created it. Folks had won. Our supervisors could handle all these issues; we no longer had to. By the end of the term of the supervisors elected as the class of 2000, very little of that citywide coalition existed any more.

With the Great Recession of 2008, advances were rolled back.  Fees on local developers for affordable housing, childcare and transit were deferred in order to stimulate development.  A new era of “moderation” was announced by elected officials, led by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Desires to “attract and retain”  business saw new tax concessions in the name of “jobs” and a new willingness to use open space and public facilities for “private/public partnerships” was announced.

By 2012 any concept of balanced growth had been replaced with a new era of “cooperation” between city officials and developers.

Until recently, that is.

It should be clear to all that for the last four years, City Hall has been eager to approve any scheme presented by private developers — from the America’s Cup nonsense to highrise luxury condos on the waterfront. The siren song of the developers — more revenue if you approve our project — has been proven false again and again, as the revenue never really matches the real costs of these projects. The city’s essential services continue to shrink. Transit fees are too low to pay for the actual new costs of Muni. The affordable housing  fees are too little to actually meet the affordable housing needs of the new, poorly-paid workers employed in the retail and service industry that is always a part of these projects.

More and more of our parks and public open spaces are made available to private users, while few if any new public parks or open spaces are being created.  Indeed, the Department of Parks and Recreation often opposes new public parks — because it can’t maintain what it has.

So it is with fondness that these old eyes see the stirring of what appears to be the awakening political  giant of a new controlled-growth movement.

Here’s how it’s happening: The formation of a multi-neighborhood coalition to oppose fee increases at the Arboretum leads to a bigger coalition to oppose artificial turf  fields in western Golden Gate Park, which leads to an even-bigger coalition placing a policy statement against the privatization of Coit Tower on the ballot and winning.

These are important indications of a broad dissatisfaction with the endless private-public-partnership ( in which all the costs are public and all the profits are private) babble from Rec and Park.

The submission by a broad based coalition of more than 30,000 signatures to place the 8 Washington on the ballot — the first land-use referendum in decades — is an incredibly important achievement, and shows the popular sentiment against much of the City Hall happy talk about development on the waterfront.

But it was the unanimous ( yes, unanimous) vote by the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday to hold California Pacific Medical Center accountable for its constant shape shifting  on its massive project at Geary and Van Ness that shows, perhaps, the outline of the potential future of the balanced-growth movement in San Francisco.

Six supervisors stated their willingness to turn down the environmental impact report on the project unless Sutter/CPMC committed to a project that addressed not only the promise to keep St. Luke’s open for at least 20 years but also hired more San Franciscans, corrected the traffic nightmare predicted for Geary and Van Ness, provided more affordable housing for its own low-income new workforce, and committed  to cap the city’s health care costs as a result of CPMC’s market control the new project would create.

There is always the possibility that the two-week delay will go nowhere, but this kind of talk from this Board of Supervisors to a huge private developer simply has not occurred in the recent past.  No one from Room 200 showed up to twist supervisors’ arms in favor of Sutter.  Sutter was on its own and got rolled.

The coalition that fought Sutter to a standstill at the board, that defined the inadequacies of  the project listed by the supervisors, was a multi-neighborhood, multi-issues organization composed of community, neighborhoods, and labor. Middle class “Baja” Pacific Heights residents and low income seniors from Bernal Heights, non-profit affordable housing advocates and trade unionists, tenant organizers from the Tenderloin and Sierra Club members from the Haight-Ashbury; single moms from the Bayview and Filipino youth from the South of Market.

It was a San Francisco coalition, one that has been working together for nearly three years, blending issues, making concessions to one another and staying together.  A group like this with a set of demands such as these has not prevailed at City Hall for nearly a decade.  It still may not, indeed the chances are slim that its full demands will be achieved.

But this group moved the Board of Supervisors in a way not seen in years.  If the folks mobilized about our parks and the folks mobilized about our waterfront and the folks mobilized about CPMC get together, we have something very big happening. And it might be just in time to make a real difference.
It reminds me of an old saying: “ The people alone are the makers of world history.”

Guardian Voices: The case against RCV


“The Cure for the Ills of Democracy is More Democracy”
                                 — old Progressive Party slogan

My friends here at the Guardian have elevated support for ranked choice voting to a defining requirement for being considered a progressive. This is not only historically incorrect,  it is actually politically silly. There are many progressive reasons to oppose RCV — not the least of which is the undeniable fact that it overwhelmingly favors incumbents, has failed to deliver on the 2002 ballot promises, and now poses real threats to progressive political advancement in key supervisor districts. 

First, a little history. 

The two greatest national political victorys  of the Progressive Era were the 1913 adoption of the 17th Amendment of the US Constitution, which required direct elections of US Senators, and, at the tail end of the era,  the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Both expanded people power in elections, curing the ills of democracy by more democracy.

Historically, to be a Progressive is to favor MORE elections, MORE political opportunities for more people at the local level.  How can it be that it is now progressive to favor FEWER elections at the local level?

In the March, 2002 Voters Handbook, ballot arguments against RCV were authored by several progressive activists (Sue Bierman, Jane Morrison, David Looman, Larry Griffin, David Spiro and me, to name a few). We argued then that replacing local elections with a mathematical formula that few understand and even fewer could explain was political foolishness. While were outvoted, I think we were right a decade ago.

Left-liberals do very well in run-off elections in San Francisco — from 1975, when Moscone beat Bargbagalata in a December run-off, to the run-off victory of the more liberal candidate for City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, over Chamber of Commerce functionary Jim Lazarus in 2001. The reason is that in low-turnout elections, left-liberals vote more heavily that do conservatives, and that’s a verifiable San Francisco political fact.

But it was the 2000  supervisors races that showed just how well left-liberal forces did in run-off elections at the district level: Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzales, Chris Daly, Sophie Maxwell, and Gerardo Sandoval, the very heart of the progressive majority, were elected in December run-off elections.

In 2002, three arguments were made for RCV: first, that it would reduce negative campaigning; second, that it would increase turnout in local elections and third, it would reduce costs by eliminating the run off election. Of the three  arguments only the last has been met, a dubious achievement in that even more such savings could be made by eliminating ALL elections.

Can anyone actually claim that last year’s mayoral election, the first contested one conducted under RCV, was anything but a negative free-for-all? Or, how about the 2010 D6 race between Debra Walker and Jane Kim, or the D8 race between Mandelman and Weiner? Or the 2002 D4 Ron Dudum – Ed Jew race? RCV did not end negative campaigns.

How about turnout?  Last year’s mayoral race had the lowest turnout in a contested race for mayor in the modern history of San Francisco. Every supervisorial race in 2008 had a lower turnout than  the citywide average. Turnout in 2010 was below citywide levels in the RCV supervisor races in D4, D6 and D10.

No, the record is clear RCV has not resulted in higher turnout, either.

RCV creates a political system in which candidates make deals with other candidates, behind closed doors, before the voters vote.  Runoff elections result in a system in which voters make deals with candidates AFTER they vote in the polling booth. What’s wrong with giving voters two choices in two elections instead of three choices in one election? Oh, that’s right, we save money by giving voters fewer elections.

Left-liberals tend to field fewer candidates for races than do moderates and conservatives because, especially in San Francisco, left-liberals simply don’t know how to raise political money, while moderates and conservatives do. RCV elections reward multiple candidates of the same political persuasion as these candidate can agree to appeal to their similar voters to vote for them as a block.  Thus, RCV will always favor, in an open contest in which there is no incumbent, moderate to conservative candidates because there are  usually more of them running.

That’s what happened to Avalos in last years mayoral election: he picked up nothing as the moderate candidates’ second and third votes went to the moderate Lee. The same happened in D10 two years ago: moderates voted for multiple moderate candidates and the only real left-liberal in the race did not pick up any of these votes and lost — although he outpolled the eventual, moderate winner.

RCV favors incumbents, and that’s why at least two of the Class of 2000 progressive supervisors told me they voted for it. Lets see how well it works to defeat Sup. Scott Wiener, who is far to the right of the average voter in D8, or Supervisor Malia Cohen in D10 who was supported by less than 30 percent of the election day vote.

What seems to be going on here is an incredibly silly political association game.  Because repealing RCV is supported by conservative supervisors and the Chamber of Commerce we should be opposed since they are for it. Haven’t we seen this year conservative Republicans make one self defeating political move after another?  When your enemy is threatening to shoot himself in the heard why are we trying to pull the gun away? It time to pull the trigger on RCV.

Guardian Voices: Stop and Frisk didn’t work last time


Mayor Lee’s musings before the Chronicle editorial board, in which he revealed his thoughts about instituting a “stop and frisk” policy in San Francisco, set off a very quick negative responses from two of his high-profile supporters in the African American community, Willie Brown and Supervisor Malia Cohen. But that’s only part of the surprise the mayor will face if he pursues this policy.

It wasn’t a real good week for Mayor Lee, who seemed to repeatedly trip himself up:

— In  the chat about stop and frisk;
— In the admission at a Board of  Supervisors hearing by Sutter/CPMC that the economic modeling of the hospital chain’s proposed  project so undermined key elements of the deal that Mayor Lee demanded that it be redone;
— And in his testimony before the Ethics Commission on the Mirkarimi case that brought specific charges of  perjury he has yet to answer.

But the stop and frisk was the most sobering of the three, for it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the city that he seeks to govern and an astounding insensitivity to its not-too-distant past.

The last time stop and frisk was implemented by the San Francisco Police Department was in 1974, at the height of the “Zebra” murders during which, over a six-month period from the end of 1973 to the beginning of 1974, 16 whites were murdered and another six wounded (one of whopm was a young Art Agnos) in shootings using a similar caliber hand gun. What made sensational headlines was the fact that the six survivors all agreed that the shooters were  black. 

Mayor Joe Alioto, facing a steep decline in tourist visits to the city and a drumbeat of headlines, surprised eferyone by announcing a stop and frisk policy aimed at young Black males. Within the first week some 500 stops were made. Not a single Zebra suspect was found.

The San Francisco NAACP and ACLU quickly filed suit in Federal Court where the policy was banned as being un-Constitutional racial profiling. The Zebra case was broken using the time tested technique of offering a reward for information. An informant stepped up, and in the summer of 1974, four men were arrested based upon his information. In 1976 the four men were convicted –and the stop and frisk policy had nothing to do with either their arrest or conviction.  Nothing remained of the failed policy for 38 years.

What did remain was a deep and bitter memory of stop and frisk in the San Francisco African-American community — a memory neither Willie Brown nor Malia Cohen forgot.

If the mayor really believes that stop and frisk will work in the face of deep seated community resentment, based on actual local historic experience – for his remarks were all about “getting the guns” off the street in African American neighborhoods — then he has a profound misunderstanding of the nature of San Francisco.

San Francisco is perhaps one of the two or three most humanly diverse cities in North America. There is a bewildering mix of humans in our city, which confronts any policy based upon appearances — such as stop and frisk — with complexities that often render its actual use on the street ineffective. Simply stated, people are not as they seem in San Francisco, and many San Franciscans prefer to live no other way. Good cops understand this and work hard to learn who is who on the street. That’s called community policing and it often works in San Francisco.  

But many times it doesn’t. Let me tell you a personal story.

During the school year, I try to pick up my two grandsons, Jalius and Jacob, every Tuesday. We spend some time together walking from their school, George Peabody, in the Inner Richmond, to the 33 Stanyan bus stop at Clement and Arguello for a bus ride back to the Haight-Ashbury. We walk and talk and then wait for the bus and talk some more.

A few months ago, we were waiting for the bus, the boys sitting on the bench, me standing and talking. I noticed a cop across the street doing a foot patrol, talking to merchants and customers. He kept looking at us. He was Chinese and my grandsons are half Chinese.  Finally, he walked over to us and with a polite smile asked me why was I talking to these children.

I had an idea that was why he came over so I was expecting the question. I smiled back to him and said, proudly, “these are my grandsons, Jalius and Jacob”.  He looked at me and then turned to the boys and said “is he?” They said “yes” and he looked back at me and said “just doing my job,”  and turned and walked away.

And what a tough job it is as people are often other than they look in San Francisco. Old white men are not always what they seem, and young black men are not always what they seem, no matter how low they ware their pants. Policies based upon things being exactly as they appear will be overwhelmed by the human reality of the City of St. Francis.

There is a connection between people in this physically compact city of ours that forms a foundation for a common political outlook when it comes to personal and group rights and freedoms. San Francisco is a center-left city on matters of civil and human rights. Local elections have shown time after time that on civil and human rights the usual political divisions between the various parts of San Francisco don’t obtain. Trying to push a center-right stop and frisk policy on San Francisco will politically isolate Ed Lee, making all other parts of his agenda that much more difficult to accomplish. And as a city we need to get some big things done, quickly. Let’s move on, together, and get them done.

Guardian voices: The labor agreement that changed SF


This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the beginnings of  negotiations between the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union and the Pacific Maritime Association over what came to be known as the “Mechanization and Modernization Agreement.”  Signed in October, 1960, after months of talks,  the “M and M agreement” transformed San Francisco’s economy forever, moving its founding industry — shipping and trans shipping — to the East Bay, opening up the land once devoted to maritime uses to real estate development, and setting off the modern political era of San Francisco.

The agreement allowed containerization to come into the San Francisco Bay, making obsolete  the finger piers along San Francisco’s waterfront and the ILWU’s “gangs” that worked on them, hand-loading “break bulk” cargo into the holds of cargo ships. The new technology of shipping cargo in a single  container that could be transported by truck, train, and ship without unloading  transformed maritime trade.

During World War II, shipbuilding and shipping were  fundamental in the effort to move billions of tons of supplies and millions of troops across the global battlefield. In both cases the  San Francisco Bay was ground zero in that in that effort.

Kaiser and Bechtel, two Bay Area-based construction companies, wildly successful in undertaking huge construction projects during the New Deal, were urged to build ships during the war. Kaiser in Richmond and Bechtel in Sausalito constructed  huge shipyards that  built cargo ships by the hundreds, bringing tens of thousands of workers to the Bay Area and changing the demographics of the region for ever. These huge industrial centers didn’t last after the war, and while they transformed who lived in the region, they didn’t really have a lasting economic impact.

But wartime changes in cargo handling did.

For as long as San Francisco had been a city, it depended on its port as the base of its economy. The Gold Rush happened here in part because we had a port and the world rushed in on ships. The enduring fortunes were made during that period by merchants and shipping companies were totally dependent on shipping and cargo handling.

At the heart of the maritime economy was the longshoreman who, by hand, loaded and unloaded ships’ holds. The demand for speed during WWII saw the then-revolutionary introduction of the fork lift truck on the piers of San Francisco, replacing hands with a machine for the first time in the history of the San Francisco waterfront.

But that was only the beginning. New ship designs and new shipping techniques were invented to meet the needs of global war. Since most of the Pacific islands that were the military objectives of the war had no ports or piers, ships were designed that could land directly on a beach and unload preloaded trucks.  Preloaded containers were simply stacked on the decks of Liberty ships, avoiding the need to load the cargo below decks.  By the Korean War these containers were in such regular use by the Army that ships were modified to carry only them, replacing below-deck cargo entirely.

Since ports and piers had been major targets during the war and required extensive rebuilding in both Europe and Asia,  new cargo handling techniques were built into these new facilities, making US ports, undamaged by the war, outmoded and old fashioned.  If US ports were to keep up they had to be modernized.  But who would pay for these new facilities: the shipping business or the government?

San Francisco was still governed by an unbroken line of Republican Mayors during this key period: the anti-New Deal, pro-Mussolini Angelo Rossi; the shipping line owner and anti- ILWU leader Roger Lapham; the pro-real-estate development Elmer Robinson; and finally, the last Republican Mayor of San Francisco, the pro-urban-renewal stalwart George Christopher. These four had no desire to rebuild the waterfront and make the ILWU even stronger. Indeed, Robinson and his successor Christopher had a vision of the waterfront as prime real estate, not working waterfront.

And so, with no commitment to the maritime industry from the city’s leadership and with technological change making the status quo impossible to maintain, Harry Bridges and the leadership of the ILWU cut the best deal they could for their existing members: the 1960 M and M agreement, which gave all existing longshore workers lifetime jobs and very good pay — but sealed the fate of San Francisco waterfront.

By 1962 the Port of Oakland had built its first container facility, and that same year, the first containership, the S.S. Elizabethport, docked and begin loading. By the mid 1970’s, the ILWU was no longer a force in the San Francesco labor movement, its leadership taken by the Building Trades unions  whose  numbers increased as the development boom, fueled by land made vacant by the loss of the maritime industry, grew.

For the rest of the Bay Area, it was San Francisco’s model of waterfront as real estate development that was followed, not Oakland’s investment in cargo shipping. By 1965, development of the Bay was so intense that the McAteer-Petris Act was passed, creating the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a regional body aimed at limiting the powers of local governments (like San Francisco) in filling and over-developing the Bay.

The 8 Washington battle, the struggle over the Hunters Point shipyard, and the looming battle over the use of a port pier for the Warriors arena all have their history deeply rooted in the 1960 M and M agreement.

In this second decade of the 21st century, our greatest challenge is creating and sustaining meaningful employment. Would our prospects be better if we had somehow been able to keep some maritime uses at the port? Would families in Bay View-Hunters Point be more able to buy homes in their own neighborhood if the same kinds of jobs that allowed their grandparents to buy theirs still existed? Would the boom-or-bust cycle of our real-estate dependent local economy been so disruptive if we had a more steady state base of a maritime sector — which kept the Great Depression from being so devastating in San Francisco in the1930s?

These questions are real — and should show that the shape of our economy is made by us and the decisions we make, locally, not solely by techological change, global trends or the far-too-palsied invisible hand of the free market.

Guardian voices: The zombie condo converters


What is the shelf life of  a really bad public policy concerning housing in  San Francisco?

When it comes to condo conversions of existing rent controlled apartments, the answer is that there is no limit on how many times this bad idea is taken off the shelf. Like a bad summer zombie movie, this undead keeps  walking, no matter what San Franciscans say.

A little history.  In 1982 Supervisor Willie Kennedy, not a bomb-throwing tenant advocate by any stretch, sponsored legislation that limited the  conversion of existing apartments to condos to no more than 200 a year. The measure did not touch new constriction, allowing unlimited condominium construction. Indeed, from 1983 to 2000, some 12,200 new condos were built, an average of some 680 units a year. Since 2000, nearly 100 percent of all new residential constriction is built as condos; there is no limit on renting a condo, but an annual limit in converting an existing apartment. Clearly, condos are a tenure type of housing that is dramatically expanding.

The reason Kennedy and the at-large elected Board of Supervisors voted for the annual limit was to protect rent-controlled apartments, a type of housingthat can’t be expanded. San Francisco’s 1978  rent control ordinance exempted all new construction from being under rent control. So rent-controlled apartments were a fixed number — all apartments built before 1978 — banned by law from ever being expanded. 

Yet those apartments are the largest number of affordable housing units available to moderate and middle income households. Thus, there’s a rational desire to preserve them by a public policy that limits their conversion to condos because they are declining in numbers.

And San Francisco voters understand and support this very rational policy.

In 1989, realtors and speculators tried to overturn the annual limit, proposing a measure that said if 51 percent of a building’s existing tenants voted for a conversion, then the building could be converted with no annual limit. This proposal laid out a future of a Hobbesian society here in San Francisco with one set of well-to-do tenants fighting another set of less-well-off tenants, building by building. San Francisco voters defeated the measure 63-37.

But in the land of the living dead condo converters, no is never the answer.
In 2002, Gavin Newsom, Tony Hall and Leland Yee, Plan C, and the Chamber of Commerce placed another measure on the ballot to repeal the annual limit. It too, was  rejected: 60 percent voted no, and 40 percent yes. The measure was defeated in all of the supervisorial districts except  Newsom’s D2, Tony Hall’s D7, and Leland Yee’s D4.

Tenant and affordable housing advocates were not unmoved by the desire of tenants, especially in privately owner rental housing facing Ellis Act and TIC evictions, to seek the protection of home ownership. In 2008 they supported an amendment to the Subdivision Code carving out from the annual limit conversions of apartments by nonprofit, limited equity housing

Now were are confronted again by a desire to allow more conversions of rent controlled units by private buyers who bought into the TIC dodge around the annual condo conversion limit.

Since TIC’s do not require a sub-division map, creating legally recognized separate units, they became “grey market” condos. With hot mortgage money flowing during the bubble, TIC owners could get financing. Now, banks are actually following some laws and will not lend to buy a legally grey TIC.  Thus the move to get them converted to legal condos.
This is, in its most basic form, yet another bailout caused by speculative capitalism. We seem to no longer believe in the market as an economic system, in which bad economic decisions result in economic loss for the folks involved. We now seem to believe in the “market society” — in which those with money get to keep it no matter what bad decisions they make.

What this is all about is not really homeownership but about home sales. After all, if you have a TIC you already have a home. You want to convert it to a condo not to live in, but to sell. To make it easier to sell TICs would make it harder to sell the thousands of already approved but stalled new condos.

Mayor Lee administration want to stimulate these stalled condo developments, claiming they will create constriction jobs. The Farrell and Wiener condo conversion plan undercuts these efforts and, of course, will create no jobs for anyone but realtors and moving companies.

This is called a “contradiction of capitalism,” when one set of capitalists seek, to the disadvantage of another group of capitalists, to get the government to intervene on their behalf.  But it does prove once again that Lenin was right when he said that one could count on one set of capitalists to compete with each other to sell rope to hang another set.

It’s really bad economic policy, and even worse housing policy.

Sutter’s CPMC deal isn’t healthy


At 10am on Friday, June 15, at the main chambers of the Board of Supervisors, the first of a series of public hearings will be held on specific aspects of the  development agreement governing the $1.9 billion Sutter Health/California Pacific Medical Center proposal to expand and centralize the giant health-care outfit’s health center by building a new 555 bed hospital at Geary and Van Ness. The deal involves demolishing the existing 220-bed hospital at St. Luke’s at Mission and Cesar Chavez and rebuilding a new 80-bed facility, expanding the Ralph K. Davies hospital at Duboce and Noe and closing down the old Children’s Hospital in Laurel Heights.

The hearing will be the first before the Board of Supervisors. Thus far, the project has been before only the executive branch: the Planning Commission and the mayor. After a brief introduction on the overall project the hearing will focus on the issue of jobs.

This is the largest project to be negotiated by the Lee administration — and although the mayor introduced it to the board in May, not one supervisor has yet joined him to sponsor the legislation. That’s an an odd situation given the importance of the project – and the fact that Mayor Lee can usually count on an automatic four votes from the conservative faction of the board. But not this time.

The hearing was requested by a coalition of more than 60 community, neighborhood, labor, and environmental organizations — San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Justice (SFHHJJ) — which has been closely following the project for the last two years.  Members of the coalition have already appealed the project’s environmental impact report, passed last month by the Planning Commission, and SFHHJJ has developed a series of amendments to the agreement that it has been pressing on the Board of Supervisors.  Board President David Chiu agreed to set a series of hearings on the project before it voted on, along with the determination of the appeal of the EIR, in  late July.  SGHHJJ hopes to use the hearings to get across the serious shortcoming of the agreement.  In addition, depending upon the appeal of the EIR,  a law suit may well be filed by some members of the Coalition.

In short, what starts next Friday is a big deal.

Not only is it a big deal in the development war that is at the heart of San Francisco politics, but it also is a big deal given what may well be done by the Supreme Court in deciding the constitutionality of all or part of the Affordable Health Care Act. If Obama’s health reform is struck down by the court, in all or in part, which seems almost certain, Sutter/CPMC’s plan will most definitely take on even more importance for the future of health care and its costs in San Francisco.

Sutter currently controls about a third of the market for health care in San Francisco.  With the construction of this project, it will control about 40 percent — a portion most knowledgable observers feel will give it market dominance  and an ability to actually set health care costs in San Francisco. Sutter’s business model — as shown in Berkeley when it took over Alta Bates and elsewhere in the state – demonstrates that  with a dominate market position, it jacks up prices.

As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in 2010: “…Sutter Health Co. has market power that commands prices 40 to 70 percent higher than its rivals per typical procedure — and pacts with insurers that keep those prices secret”.

A US Supreme Court that weakens or strikes down health care reform will simply re-establish the status-quo ante, a situation in which Sutter will thrive.

And that’s why the board’s conservative members are not supporting Mayor Lee’s deal: it simply does not protect the city — itself a major health care consumer for both its workforce and Healthy San Francisco — from Sutter’s history of turning market power into high health care charges.

SFHHJJ want the development agreement amended to place a cap on the costs charged to the city, allowing Sutter no more than 115 percent of the average charged  by  San Francisco’s other private, nonprofit hospitals.  It also wants Sutter/CPMC low charity care payments pegged at an average of what other nonprofit hospitals contribute, and it is calling for rebuilding St. Luke’s in San Francisco medically underserved south east to 180 beds, not the sure-to-fail size of 80 beds.

But there’s even more to deplore about the proposed deal.

In housing, although the EIR showed that a demand would be created for some 1,500 new two-bedroom homes, Sutter/CPMC agreed to only provide funds to build about 90 such homes. Such a massive shortfall will boost housing prices all other San Franciscans will pay.

The project’s impact on public transit at the Geary / Van Ness intersection will be large and ongoing. More than 20,000 new car trips will be generated at that intersection by the new hospital. Plans for a Bus Rapid Transit raised roadway for the 38 Geary — the most used bus line in the city — will have to be altered at an unknown price since the project calls for all auto traffic to enter the site on the Geary Avenue side.

Again, San Francisco taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for these new costs.

But it is the jobs aspect of the deal that is the most distressing. Sutter/CPMC has a long history of labor disputes with its workforce. Last year it replaced nurses who took a day off to protest their working conditions, and a replacement nurse hired by Sutter accidentally killed a patient. Sutter/CPMC refuses to agree to hire all of its 6,000 current employees for the new facilities. It’s requiring them all to apply as new workers, losing all of their seniority, with a real prospect that many currently employed San Francisco residents will lose their jobs once the new facility opens. All that Sutter/CPMC has agreed to do is hire 50 residents a year for four years – 200 new local jobs, total.

The  June 15 hearing will focus on the jobs issue and public comment is sure to be hot on this laughable “commitment” agreed to by the “jobs” administration.

Calvin Welch is a longtime community organizer living in San Francisco. He currently teachs a course in the development history of San Francisco at San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco.

Guest opinion: It’s not about Mirkarimi, it’s about us


Virtually unmentioned in the torrent of words that have flowed over the Ross Mirkarimi false imprisonment, suspension and pending vote to determine his removal by the Board of Supervisors is any reference to what should now be the most important issue to be considered as the sad saga unfolds: the fact that Mirkarimi was, just four months before his removal, elected by a majority vote and his removal from office would simply set aside that vote, diminishing all of our cherished beliefs about “majority rule.”

Mirkarimi didn’t just win, he won big. He beat the second place candidate by nearly 19,000 votes, winning outright without the need for the magic of instant run-off. Mirkarimi got more first place votes than did Ed Lee (70,204 vs. 59,663). Moreover, Mirkarimi’s election was without controversy, complaint or charge of illegality, unlike Ed Lee’s, which resulted in a total of 25 misdemeanor convictions for illegal campaign contributions by a city contractor with a pending contact before a commission appointed by the mayor.

Since the 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court to give George Bush the election in 2000 after Al Gore won a majority of the popular vote, there has been a distressingly frequent willingness by the media to accept executive and judicial actions that set aside popular votes. The conservative governor of Michigan has simply taken over local governments that he deems financially “irresponsible” setting aside the votes of local residents. In California, a tiny minority of Republican legislators, elected by a comparative handful of voters, yearly stymie the overwhelmingly majority elected legislators, forcing deeply unpopular budget cuts — and the media simply goes along.

Majority rule, the very bedrock of representative democracy, seems unnervingly easy to set aside now days. Majority rule is our bedrock because it’s the only way in which our system has to define the political will of the people. Let’s be clear, the very City Charter that is being used to remove Mirkarimi from office rests on the power given by “the people of the City and County of San Francisco,” (Preamble to the Charter) and was itself adopted by a majority vote. Setting aside majority votes is a dangerous business for us all; it risks substituting the will of a few insiders for the will of the people.

The political riskiness of the move has been entirely incorrectly cast by the San Francisco Chronicle, the main voice to overturn the expressed will of the people. The Chronicle asserts the political risks as now falling on the supervisors who most vote to sustain the mayor’s action with nine votes. Indeed, the ace vote counter at the “Comical,” former Mayor Willie Brown, who went zero-for-ever in the last four years of his term in votes at the board, confidently predicts that the vote will be 11-zip to sustain the mayor because of the fear of voter retribution.

But facts indicate that “fear” will play the other way. Last November Mirkarimi won in six of the 11 supervisorial districts (D3, D5, D6, D8, D9 and D10) . In two of them (D8 and D10), he won more first-place votes than the current supervisor. In these same six districts he outpolled Ed Lee by some 18,000 votes. By what measure, other than the huffing and puffing of ex-Mayor Willie, C(onsistenly) W(rong) Nevius, and the two stooges, Matier and Ross, does any political risk fall on these supervisors to vote with their constituents?

Chances are nine votes will NOT be there and that Mirkarimi will remain sheriff, where the people put him.We will have gone through a divisive fight addressing none of our deep problems, Mayor Lee will squander the good will of the supervisors and voters for nothing and we will be exactly where we are now.

We have a way to remove Mirkarimi from office that is far better for our democracy. It’s one of the great inventions of the Progressive Era. It’s called recall, and it puts the matter where it should be: before the people. It’s really not about Mirkarimi anymore. Its about us, the meaning of our votes, and the responsibility of supervisors to understand in whose name they govern. All power to the people!

Calvin Welch lives, works and plays in San Francisco.

Lessons from 2011 for 2012


With the release of precinct results for the 2011 election, we are able to actually see, for the first time, what San Francisco voters did, as opposed to hearing what various nabobs said they did.  There are a couple of key conclusions about the vote that should guide any left-liberal thinking of the key 2012 Supervisor races.

The first thing San Francisco voters did- about 40,000 of them-  was stay home.  Turnout – about 40% – was the lowest for a mayor’s race in 40 years. Moreover, counter to several “expert” narratives, turnout in neighborhoods with large numbers of Chinese voters — Chinatown, the Richmond, the Sunset, and Vis Valley — was lower (average 33%) than in neighborhoods with few Chinese voters — Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, the Castro and West of Twin Peaks — where turnout averaged 40%.

There seems to be four reasons for this curious outcome. A couple of them have lessons for us for the 2012 election that we ignore at our peril.
First, in a City that is clearly center-left, voters were presented with nine center-right candidates, seven of whom were declared by the Chronicle at one time or another to be “serious.” Only John Avalos was a clear center-left choice. This was shown in the huge number undecideds that appeared in poll after poll. Undecided voters are often unhappy at the lack of choice being offered by the field and simply don’t vote.

Second, professional campaign management of the supposedly serious candidates was terrible and actually counter-productive to their candidates’ best interests. The pros actually seemed to have suppressed turnout in key neighborhoods. Ace Smith and Bill Barnes, working for for Ed Lee, spent most of their time trying to distance their candidate from his base and key supporters, made rookie fund-raising mistakes time and again and gave their counterparts in the Yee and Herrera campaigns ample ammunition for a  series of negative ads and mailers.  John Whitehurst and Mark Mosher, working for Herrera, and Jim Sterns, working for Yee, took the opportunity and went negative on the least threatening figure in San Francisco politics in recent memory. 

As we all know negative campaigns generally suppress turnout — and that seems to be the case in this election. Avalos, who after September had no professional management, stayed positive and gained votes by doing so.

Third, organized labor, for the first time in living memory, did not endorse the winning candidate for mayor. Indeed, its official candidate, Yee, came in FIFTH. It’s as if labor decided to concentrate only on its issue — pension reform — and devote no energy, people or money to the myors race. Without labor’ support,effective GOTV in left-liberal neighborhoods is all the more difficult and was clearly beyond the ability of the Avalos campaign to carry by itself.

Labor knew who it wanted to vote on pension reform and narrowly focused only on those voters. That it still has the ability to do electoral politics can be seen in the fact that more total votes were cast on  Proposition C (186,336) — labor’s pension- reform measure –than were cast for all candidates in the mayors race (179,888).

Finally, there were 160 fewer polling places this election than last year, and to make matters worse the Department of  Elections mailed 115,000 voter handbooks with the wrong polling place address causing them to send postcards with the corrections. While this in no way was responsible for the 40,000 fewer votes cast, it was probably worth several hundreds of missed votes.

The lessons for next year? We need good candidates who actually align with political sensibility of the voters. This will be especially true in District Five after Mayor Lee appoints some center-right clone in the most left-liberal district in the city, and equally true in District Three with David Chiu, who has certainly turned to the right since his election. 

Supervisor David Campos in District 9 will be fine in this regard as will Supervisor Eric Mar in District 1 — where he will face a real fight.
Avalos’ showing in the mayors race should do him well in District 11 and offers a real chance for him to be board president in 2013.
Community-based left-liberals and labor must come together closer than in this election and perhaps closer than at any time since the Great depression. Labor’s support for the Occupy movement is a good indication that fruitful common ground can be found. We need each other more than ever in 2012.

We need to work to get good lines for the new districts and have a grand meeting of the minds on how we address the absentee voter issue.  Both labor and the Mirkarimi campaign did absentees well enough to win.  We need to apply their lessons to the Supervisors races.

Dare to struggle, dare to win.

Calvin Welch is a housing activist who has been watching San Francisco elections for more than 40 years.


SF’s redevelopment miracle


OPINION While many of us (and most of the rest of the state) can tire from time to time when we hear San Francisco “exceptionalism” being touted, especially when Gavin Newsom is doing the touting, there are some cases in which it’s justified. One of the most salient is the way San Franciscans transformed the city’s Redevelopment Agency and used tax-increment financing to build housing and infrastructure that served its residents, not elite developers.

This is an exceptional story that Gov. Brown does not want to hear. He should both listen and learn from San Francisco’s experience.

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency started out like all others: destroying low income neighborhoods to create what the San Francisco Planning and Renewal Association, a strong agency supporter at the time, called ” ‘clean’ industries [and a] population … closer to ‘standard white Anglo-Saxon Protestant’ characteristics … ” But the big difference was that San Franciscans fought back.

In the 1960s in the Western Addition and SoMa, community organizations were formed that sought legal assistance and stopped the agency in its tracks. In the 1970s, new community coalitions were formed to deny the agency new federal funding. By the 1980s, the agency was broke and its mission of urban renewal so blocked and discredited that SPUR changed the last two words in its name from “Urban Renewal” to “Urban Research.”

In 1988, Mayor Art Agnos brought in the opponents of redevelopment and asked them how to redesign the agency. The product of that collaboration was a new mission statement and an ordinance fully integrating the agency into city government — transforming it into a financing agency, with no operational role.

Since 1990, the agency has become the major funder of affordable housing in San Francisco, pouring more than $500 million into low-cost housing both inside and outside redevelopment areas. More than 10,000 units have been built for working and low-income residents, more than half of those units for families with children. The urban infrastructure needed to transform Mission Bay from a toxic rail yard to a residential and biotech center came from the agency. Since 1990, not one neighborhood has been bulldozed by the agency and two new ones are being created (Mission Bay and Transbay).

Yes, some of the tax increment has been used to do some infrastructure work at ATT Park, and former Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted to entice the 49ers with agency funds for a new stadium at the shipyard. And yes, former Mayor Willie Brown gave Bloomingdale’s some agency money for its Market Street store. But the reality is that 50 percent of all tax increment since 1990 has gone to affordable housing development, and the bulk of the remaining 50 percent has gone for critical needed infrastructural work that has produced new property taxes more than paying for the investments. As the state and federal government turned their backs on central cities it was the only form of financing available.

And now Gov. Brown wants to end tax-increment financing. He points to the excess of other redevelopment agencies in other places. He does not, however, look to us and our experience. He should. San Francisco should be the model for what is required of all redevelopment agencies.

After serving as mayor of Oakland, Brown is probably tired of hearing about how different San Francisco is, how exceptional we are. That’s too bad, because in this case it isn’t hype. It’s real. *

Calvin Welch lives and works in San Francisco.

RENE CAZENAVE, 1941-2010


Rene M. Cazenave died at home June 27 in the company of his wife, Sylvie, and sister, Denise. He is also survived by his son, Lucien, and two-week-old granddaughter, Drew. He was 69.

A native San Franciscan, Rene was instrumental in the creation of the community empowerment movement in the city from its modern inception in the 1970s. He was at the center of community politics for nearly 40 years. He was a key member of Citizens for Representative Government, the community-based coalition that devised and successfully campaigned for district election of supervisors in 1977, a move that led to the election of the first directly elected African American, Chinese American, and gay supervisors. He helped organize and found the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a coalition of faith- and community-based nonprofits that produce permanently affordable housing. Over the past 30 years, members of the group have developed or acquired and rehabilitated some 25,000 affordable homes and apartments in one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S. He helped create and then save KPOO community radio. He loved his family, jazz, old San Franciscans (indeed, he became one himself), dogs and cats, and reading and debating history.

His dad, also Rene and also a native, spent his working life in newspapers, retiring as a Hearst Examiner editor. Rene learned from his dad — and mom, who was also a native — every parish, every street, every neighborhood, and every bar in San Francisco. He was invaluable to a movement centered on community organizing, but made up of folks who hailed from everywhere but San Francisco. He shared his knowledge of the city — and his love for the people of the city as well.

Rene’s special genius was in raising funds for the creation of a community controlled infrastructure, empowering residents of low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco. He was the master in the use of the federal Community Development Block Grants program (CDBG), and was an important part of a community effort to restructure the Redevelopment Agency, leading to the use of the agency’s tax-increment financing mechanism. At a conservative estimate, these two public sources — CDBG and tax increment financing — have poured more than $1 billion into low-income San Francisco communities since 1975. Thousands of lower- and fixed-income San Franciscans who didn’t even know Rene’s name found a home, got critical job training, played in a gym, ate a hot meal at a senior center, got treatment for an illness at a community clinic, and had an opportunity to vote for a supervisor who represented their interests as a result of his skillful and tireless advocacy.

Rene was a fully integrated political being. To an astounding degree, his moods were set by the politics of his city. He held a deep and unshakable belief in socialism and humanism. He was heartsick at the decline of working class San Francisco. But his depression and disappointment over political events never caused him to give up or give in. He loved the fight, he loved the action, and he worked harder than most to the very end.

We all know that we stand on the shoulders of giants. But every now and then we are lucky enough to actually stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Those of us who knew Rene Cazenave were that lucky. Services are pending.

Calvin Welch worked with Rene Cazenave for 39 years doing community organizing, advocacy, and politics together. He, along with hundreds of others, misses the hell out of him already.

A new New Deal for San Francisco


OPINION On Thursday and Friday, July 8 and 9, San Franciscans concerned about the future of their city will have a unique opportunity to devise practical, locally actionable proposals to shape and direct future policy affecting the local economy and the provision of critical human services.

On July 8, starting at 3:30 p.m. at SF Lighthouse Church (1337 Sutter at Van Ness), a New Deal for the City economic development summit will be held to address set of issues ranging from municipal reform to community-based economic development proposals. A copy of the draft positions can be found at

The next day, the San Francisco Human Services Network, a 110-member organization of human and health service nonprofits, will host its New Realities summit starting at 9 a.m. at the McClaren Center at the University of San Francisco. More details about topics at the summit can be found at

The results of these two summits, along with proposals on Muni reform and affordable housing, will form the basis for a citywide meeting of “The New, New Deal for San Francisco” Congress, scheduled for Aug. 14 and 15 at USF.

The summits and congress offer a chance to discuss, adopt, and plan the implementation of a comprehensive response to the assault on the provision of critical public services and the clear failure of the local economy to respond to the current and future needs of San Franciscans. Over the past decade, San Francisco has lost, and never replaced, more than 70,000 permanent jobs as first the dot-com bust and now the implosion of the financial sector have shredded the city’s “new” economy. In a total reversal of its historic role, San Francisco is no longer the employment center of the Bay Area, but simply the high-end bedroom of a commuting workforce based outside the city.

This historic shift has meant that the primary form of development in San Francisco has gone from commercial, employment-based enterprises to high-end residential development — development that, because of Proposition 13 limits on local property taxes, simply fails to pay for the city services needed to support the existing and new residential population.

San Franciscans built a system of local governance that was unique in the state, and not often matched in the nation, in providing a level of municipal services based on the premise that we share a special place and a common future. These services were provided by a robust mixture of traditional public sector departments and innovative, community-based nonprofits. That system was itself based on an economy that mainly employed San Francisco residents in a diverse mix of economic activities with opportunities open to a wide array of people.

That economic base has been reduced to a mere shell of its former diversity, with few opportunities for even fewer people. Our current mayor has no desire to address this historic shift; instead, he is content to endlessly campaign for other offices, issue press releases on mythical achievements, and pit one portion of San Francisco against another in hopes that all forget the decline of the city under his leadership.

Progressive forces cannot again allow needed changes to be held hostage to the election of a particular candidate. We must put on the table a comprehensive, integrated set of locally actionable policies that make sense in the realities we face in the second decade of the 21st century — no matter who wins. After all, it’s our city.

Karl Bietel is a worker advocate; Fernando Marti is a community planner; and Calvin Welch is a balanced growth and affordable housing advocate.


Newsom’s problem with affordable housing


OPINION No mayor in modern San Francisco history has opposed more affordable-housing initiatives than Gavin Newsom. It’s time to make him pay the political price.

Newsom is the primary foe of Proposition B, which would create an affordable-housing fund in the city’s budget. At a time when fewer than 1 in 10 San Franciscans can afford the cost of a median-priced home and some 40 percent of all tenants spend 50 percent or more of their income on rent, the mayor’s position is a civic tragedy.

There’s currently only about $3 million permanently budgeted to affordable housing in the city’s $6 billion budget. Proposition B would increase that to about $30 million. Half of the funds would go to the construction of homes of two bedrooms or more for families with dependents, and 40 percent would be earmarked for homes affordable to people earning $18,000 a year or less (including seniors, people with AIDS, people at risk of homelessness, and our neighbors with other special needs).

The measure is supported by the Democratic Party, the Labor Council, the Sierra Club, and more than 50 other neighborhood, community, and environmental organizations.

Newsom’s opposition to Prop. B has to be placed in the context of his opposition to every major affordable-housing initiative proposed by either the Board of Supervisors or neighborhood residents over the past five years. Newsom and his administration opposed affordable-housing mandates for the Hunters Point Shipyard, proposals to increase affordable-housing fees for market-rate developers in the Market/Octavia Plan area, and increased affordable-housing fees for developers of the high-rise luxury condos at Rincon Hill. And, in a stunning display of arrogance and indifference, he refused to allocate some $30 million appropriated for affordable housing by the Board of Supervisors last year — and then held a campaign-style rally in support of that refusal, arguing that the city already spent enough on affordable housing!

Last month, Newsom’s Planning Commission passed on to the Board of Supervisors an Eastern Neighborhood Plan under which less than a quarter of the new units would be affordable to anyone earning less than $120,000. The city’s own General Plan says San Francisco needs nearly two-thirds of all new units to be affordable if the city is to house its own workforce — a key requirement in any green, "smart growth" development policy of the type the mayor says he favors.

Newsom claims his opposition to Prop. B stems from his concern about set-asides in the budget. Yet Newsom, as mayor and supervisor, has supported every other set-aside placed on the ballot. It’s just affordable housing that he opposes — even though Prop. B, which sunsets after 15 years, would account for less than 2 percent of the budget over that period and would leave some $47 billion in discretionary funds on the table.

The fact that Newsom has paid no political price for his continuous opposition to affordable housing is stunning. It’s time to change that — pass Proposition B with a resounding yes vote this November.

Calvin Welch is a member of the campaign for San Francisco Housing Fund — Yes on B and a longtime affordable-housing advocate.

Vote early and often: yes on A, no on H


OPINION The mainstream media talking heads like to claim that everything changed after Sept. 11. Like most of the slogans of the MSM, this is nonsense; events in Iraq continue to reveal just how stuck on pre– Sept. 11 assumptions the current national political class remains. In that sense, Sept. 11 has changed nothing.

What will really change everything is the expanding awareness of global warming and of the central role played by the automobile in climate change. Yet as with all truly major changes, the politics of global warming lags behind the physical realities imposed by science. That’s especially true at the local level, where large, important issues get translated into policy proposals and programs — programs that people have to vote and pay for if the changes are going to occur.

Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards may demonstrate broad acceptance of the idea of global warming, but it is the passage of local policies and the allocation of local tax dollars that will or will not get Americans out of their cars and into a vastly improved, publicly financed transit system that is the necessary first step in reversing this nation’s major contribution to the production of CO2.

The primary source of San Francisco’s main greenhouse gas is the private automobile. Proposition A on the November ballot seeks to take the first, halting steps toward reducing CO2 emissions by giving transit-first policies some additional local funding and the city the policy power to limit new parking when it interferes with transit. Prop. A is not the gold standard of policy that will eradicate, with one vote, all greenhouse gases in San Francisco. There is no such single measure — and even if there were, the politics around a dramatic reduction of that sort have yet to created. But Prop. A makes the clear connection between reducing dependence on cars and improving public transit — a necessary building block in creating an urban politics around a solution to global warming that would unite local officials, rational developers, labor, transit advocates, environmentalists, and community residents into a single constituency for change.

But this is still the United States, where a majority of us seem to believe that the Constitution grants us the right to park no more than 30 feet from wherever we want to go. Enter billionaire Don Fisher, of child-labor fame, a true believer in the guarantee of private car use. He has placed Proposition H, which sounds like a sure winner, on the ballot, giving us what he thinks we want for free: parking, parking, parking. His measure would amend some 60 pages of the Planning Code and change, in one measure, public policy from transit first to cars first. He’s betting that his money and his pro-parking values will strangle in its cradle the emerging politics of creating a majority for practical solutions to greenhouse gas production in urban America.

And he just might be right: the politics of global warming has yet to be created, while the politics of parking has long held sway in San Francisco. 2

Calvin Welch

Calvin Welch has been fighting for a better San Francisco since the 1960s.

Eugene Prince Coleman, 1937–2007



Eugene Prince Coleman died Oct. 26, surrounded by his family, after losing a battle against pancreatic cancer. It was one of the few fights that he lost in his long and memorable life in San Francisco.

Born in Mississippi 70 years ago and raised in Cleveland, Coleman came to San Francisco in 1972 and, like many in that decade, found a home in the city. He never left — and never, ever quit working to make it better.

Coleman was one of the creators of modern, tolerant, progressive San Francisco. His decadelong service to South of Market as director of the Canon Kip Community House (until it was closed as the Episcopal Church turned away from the central city) was a model of dedicated, informed, and effective advocacy and service. He founded the first paratransit service for seniors in San Francisco. He presided over one of the most dynamic and well-attended youth-serving community centers in the city, which provided safe, secure, and supportive space for an entire generation of Filipino youths. He almost single-handedly got the South of Market Health Center up and running, serving seniors and families.

And when urban renewal devastated South of Market, Coleman provided space and support, counsel, know-how, and a patience that bested the saints themselves in helping to create one of the most effective community campaigns against redevelopment in the nation. Some 2,000 low-income senior homes were rebuilt, and a new capacity to develop community-controlled affordable housing was created, in large measure due to Coleman’s wisdom and vision.

Thousands of San Franciscans who never knew his name owe Coleman for the dignity and grace that well-organized substance-abuse, residential-treatment, and food and health programs have provided them at his insistence as he helped build the infrastructure of a substance-abuse policy that is known nationwide as the San Francisco model.

Coleman spent the past decade or so working for the city, bringing to his job the keen judgment and the caring heart that so characterized his service to the community. He demanded that all people — youths and seniors, black, brown, and white, working-class and poor — be treated with respect and courtesy, warmth and love, and that they, in turn, treat one another the same way. Coleman was also an African American who never once gave up on the African American community or the needs of his people, and fought and talked and thought and cried for their continued survival in San Francisco.

He was simply a quintessential late-20th-century San Franciscan who gave back more than he took, cared more than he probably should have, and was one of the finest people to ever walk these sometimes mean and uncaring streets — with a demeanor that was always sweet and caring. *

Calvin Welch worked with Gene Coleman for 30 years and was blessed by his friendship.

A memorial for Coleman is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Nov. 1 at Providence Baptist Church, 1601 McKinnon, SF.

The truth about housing money


OPINION Just as in war, in 2007 San Francisco budget politics, truth is the first casualty.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assertions by Gavin Newsom’s campaign minions that the mayor’s current budget proposal contains a $217.5 million city investment in affordable housing.

The purpose of these claims is to imply that Newsom has voluntarily allocated local tax dollars for this critical need — and that no more should be spent on affordable housing, especially some $10 million for lower-income rental housing production for families with children proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly and the Board of Supervisors.

The facts tell a different story.

First, the impression that this $217.5 million is all local tax money the mayor has voluntarily invested in affordable housing is false. Some $20 million is federal and state money that can be spent only on affordable housing. Another $25 million comes from local sources and also must be used for affordable housing. And $48 million comes from tax-increment funds mandated by a 2005 supervisors policy to go solely toward affordable-housing development.

So about 40 percent ($93 million) of the affordable-housing funding that the Mayor’s Office talks about was money that by law had to go to affordable housing. It wasn’t Newsom’s choice.

Nearly a third of the mayor’s budget for creating affordable housing — some $60 million — is in fact allocated to fund his Care Not Cash program, which was supposed to pay for itself. Indeed, more than twice as much money, $31 million, is earmarked to pay for privately owned, leased residential hotel rooms for temporary housing of the homeless (not producing one new affordable home) as is budgeted for the production of new, permanently affordable lower-income family rental housing ($15 million). The fact is, the 2007–08 Newsom budget cuts $24 million in funds earmarked for new affordable-housing production for families and seniors.

What is most distressing about the half-truths and nontruths in the affordable-housing budget battle of recent days is that the unity between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors — crucial to the expansion of affordable-housing opportunities for San Franciscans and which has characterized the city since the George Moscone administration (some 25,000 permanently affordable homes have been produced in the past 20 years, a figure unmatched in any other mayor American city) — has been placed in peril for short-term political advantage.

But cooler heads have prevailed inside and outside City Hall. Sometimes it is better to shut up and do what needs doing and let the credit fall where it may.

Which is why, when the dust settled last week, no one shouted about the $10 million that was quietly added back into the budget for permanently affordable family-housing production.

But we should all be clear: if we want San Francisco to be as economically diverse as we all claim, then we have only just begun to find the funds needed for more affordable housing. While it may or may not be true that you can never be too rich or too thin, it is most certainly true that San Francisco never allocates enough for affordable housing. *

Calvin Welch is an affordable-housing advocate who lives in San Francisco.

The risk of honest planning


OPINION At the Nov. 1 meeting of the land use committee of the Board of Supervisors, a seemingly straightforward statement of policy will be heard. It simply requires that the city apply its own General Plan guidelines to future development in the eastern neighborhoods.
But the legislation, proposed by Supervisors Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano, is creating quite a furor. A senior planning official has testified that if it’s adopted, the entire development boom in the eastern neighborhoods may be halted. The mayor has threatened a veto.
The policy in question calls for city planners to show how they intend to ensure that 64 percent of all new housing development is affordable to moderate-, low-, and very low-income San Franciscans. That’s what the housing element of the master plan says is needed.
Land use development policy lies at the very heart of San Francisco politics. It’s dangerous work for supervisors to attempt to determine that policy, especially if it calls for protection of existing neighborhoods and their residents.
Just ask Supervisor Chris Daly.
Don’t for a minute believe that he is in the fight of his political life because he’s rude, because he doesn’t care about law and order, or because he prefers dirty streets upon which to raise his son. These petty and silly charges mask a far more serious objection: the way his opponents see it, Daly has been too slow in adopting the massive wave of market-rate housing slated for his district and is far too protective of lower-income residents in District 6.
Never mind that since Daly took office some 3,000 units of housing have been built in the South of Market portion of his district alone or that an equal amount wait in the pipeline at the Planning Department. Mayor Gavin Newsom and his market-rate developer allies are simply not satisfied with Daly’s pro–housing development approach — because Daly has sought some balance in that development.
Likewise, the Maxwell resolution calls for plans that will be balanced, contain sustainable development policies, and guarantee a voice for residents against the headlong drive of the current administration to convert the eastern neighborhoods (South of Market, Potrero Hill, the Mission District) into vertical gated communities for Silicon Valley commuters. It states that it shall be the policy of the city that future plans explain not only how they will meet the affordability goals of the housing element but also how they will meet policies of preserving the arts and other productive activities; providing for public transit, pedestrian, and bike rider needs; protecting employment opportunities for current and future residents; and keeping families with children in the city.
There’s a working majority of the Board of Supervisors willing to fight for current neighborhoods and residents and a future that includes them. The battle in District 6 shows that the fight is not without risk. Do the rest of us realize it? SFBG
Calvin Welch
Calvin Welch is a community organizer in San Francisco.