Carly Nairn

Last stand at the Bulb


As the squatter residents of Albany Bulb make one final push against being evicted from their home in a former landfill, the city of Albany is pushing forward with its plan to change the untamed space into a waterfront state park (see “Battle of the bulb,” Sept. 24).

The first signs of the transition came on Nov. 22, when a temporary shelter was set up for residents whose camps would be cleared. The shelter came after a disappointing week in court left the 50 to 60 residents of the Bulb without the stay-away order their advocates had sought, which they intended to use to keep the city and police at bay during the winter.

On Nov. 18, the residents and their attorneys received word that the stay-away order was denied by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. After the decision and an Albany City Council meeting later that evening, campers and area activists set up a permanent settlement against the eviction after marching through the streets of Albany.

Barricades made of rocks were set up at the Bulb to resist police getting into the camps. However, the rain that followed for a few nights inhibited their efforts, according to activists involved in the action. And the police, using a backhoe, destroyed the rock barricades. The city of Albany, according to a press release, is calling the transition “ACT” which includes, “Assistance to homeless, including housing-centered outreach, transitional services, support, and shelter; Cleanup and maintenance of the Bulb; and Transfer of the Bulb to McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.” “As part of the City Council’s Strategic Planning Process conducted in 2012, the City Council identified key goals for the City,” Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer wrote in an email to the Guardian. “One of which is to ‘Maximize Park and Open Space’ including developing a plan to transition the Bulb into Eastshore State Park, and to improve accessibility for general public use of all of the Albany Bulb as a waterfront park.” Almaguer stated that part of the plan included a temporary shelter and support services, which started this summer and is headed by Berkeley Food and Housing Project. The BFHP also provides case management for the Albany campers interested in securing housing outside of the Bulb.

While the city has provided a housing subsidy program to help Bulb residents with rent, a portion of it will also need to be covered by the tenant. Many of the Bulb residents are only supported through government programs such as SSI, and cannot afford housing costs.

In addition, most residents, and their attorney Osha Neumann, who is also a longtime contributor to art at the Bulb, say that the city does not have any affordable housing in which the residents can transition into. Managed by Operation Dignity, a nonprofit designed to help homeless veterans, the transitional shelter is set up by Golden Gate Fields racetrack near the entryway into the Bulb.

“I was out… talking to people and was overwhelmed by the fragility and vulnerability of many of them, as well as their strengths,” Neumann said of the residents in an email to the Guardian. “The portables are awful. You look at the Bulb and all the life and beauty that’s out there, and then you look at those anonymous utilitarian boxes, and really you expect it all to be stuffed into those containers? 22 men in one, eight women in the other? It’s all really appalling.” According to the shelter’s posted rules, the doors for the shelter open at 5:30pm and close at 8:30am. Showers may be taken 8:30-9:30pm, and breakfast is served 7-8am. The sexes are separated, and pets must stay in kennels outside of the shelter. There are also no “in and out privileges” and if a person doesn’t return by 8pm they are not admitted into the shelter. No one stayed in the shelter the first three nights it was available, according to city reports. Amber Lynn Whitson, a Bulb resident, said that access to the shelter is difficult for people, and doesn’t address the need for people with disabilities to access a bed during the day. “At least two individuals were turned away at the door to the shelter, due to their names not being on ‘the list’, she said in an email. “Both were told that they could stay in the shelter, despite their names not currently being on ‘the list,’ but only after getting ‘a voucher’ from BFHP.” The transitional shelter came to the residents’ lives after Breyer rejected the campers’ request for an injunction to block the eviction with a temporary restraining order. A lawsuit also filed by the residents against the eviction remains open, according to Neumann.

Based on information obtained in court documents, $570,000 was allocated to remove the Bulb residents, based on a Albany City Council decision made on Oct. 21, with $171,000 spent on the cleanup of the campsites and the remainder spent on the two portable trailers with bunk beds to serve as transitional housing for six months. As of now, the shelter’s efficacy to get the campers off the Bulb, as well as the residents’ efforts to resist the transition, remains unclear.



The Albany Bulb, a wild shoreline space near Golden Gate Fields and a former landfill for BART construction and other industries, is well known for its art. Now that a transitional shelter looms over the entrance as part of the city’s plan to remove the residents from the Bulb, campers, activists, and artists came together this past weekend for a festival of resistance against the eviction.

The rubble and sculpture filled space will soon be transformed into part of the Eastshore State Park system. The event drew around 60 people, according to resident Amber Whitson. She led an art walk on Nov. 29, giving the history of the art at the Bulb and explaining why it’s important to preserve it as a cultural resource.

“Some things should remain sacred, and Sniff paintings are out on the Albany Bulb,” she said, referencing works by a group of Oakland-based artists.

Other prominent Bulb artists, such as Osha Neumann and Jason DeAntonis, who built massive sculptures made of found wood and parts along the shoreline, were on hand to speak about their contributions and the personal significance the Bulb holds for them.

While residents have come and gone throughout the years, the art has remained a constant draw. Graffiti artists practice their craft, and sculptors work undisturbed, using debris that is scattered around. Even some of the campers’ shelters, makeshift shanties of concrete, wood and tarp, could be considered artistic.

Once the transition of the Bulb from untamed outcrop to a state park of well-kept trails is further along, the city plans to remove most of the art currently installed there.

The campers and activists organized the art walk as part of a three-day festival of trainings, workshops, and music, to enjoy the space, but also to educate residents and others about how the space could be kept in its current state. “I know that organizing is continuing, and again, the shape it takes will depend on how the city goes about the planned evictions,” said Neumann in an email to the Guardian.

For now though, the art stands, in between garbage, rubble, trees and shrubs, a constant reminder that artists and Bulb dwellers are still around.

Albany Bulb squatters lose in court and turn to direct action to resist evictions


Yesterday marked a big day for Albany Bulb residents. The Bulb, a closed landfill turned homeless encampment, has been under the threat of eviction by the Albany City Council for the last month. 

After an afternoon in a San Francisco courtroom, Judge Charles Breyer of the US District Court for the Northern District of California denied a stay away order filed by the residents’ attorneys seeking to prevent an imminent eviction by the City of Albany. Later that day, after an Alban City Council meeting, residents and activists marched to the Bulb and set up a permanent occupation in protest of the impending eviction.

The stay away order was filed last week in order to prevent eviction during the winter. Osha Neumann, one of the residents’ attorneys and a longtime artist whose work is represented at the Bulb, said that it was unusually cruel to make the residents, some with severe disabilities and mental health issues, move off the Bulb without any homeless shelters or temporary housing available in Albany.

“They haven’t said what is the urgency or need to do it in the middle of winter,” Neumann said of the city, “It’s nonsense.”

Albany Housing Advocates was also a plaintiff, along with 10 of the Bulb residents in the lawsuit.  Julie Winklestein, the president of the AHA was in the court audience, said she hoped that the stay away order would be given: “We decided for a temporary restraining order to keep the conversation going.”

And while that conversation was put to a halt, another has started.

According to a press release issued by area activists and Bulb residents sent early this morning, “activists say they will be participating in trainings, hosting workshops, and planning more actions targeting the City of Albany, as well as the Sierra Club and Citizens for East Shore Parks, recreationalist organizations that are sponsoring the eviction.”

Based on information obtained in court documents, $570,000 was allocated to remove the Bulb residents, based on an Albany City Council decision made on October 21, with $171,000 spent on the cleanup of the campsites and the remainder spent on two portable trailers with bunk beds to serve as transitional housing for six months.

 Many of the campers, such as six-year resident Amber Lynn Whitson, believe that the transitional housing isn’t responsive enough for disabled people, as they believe it would not be open during the day.

“It’s ridiculous that they say they don’t know of any specific disabilities,” said Whitson about the city’s attempt provide transitional housing.

“If I’m not back there, I’m on the streets,” Kris Sullivan, an 18-month Bulb resident said about the encampment. “We’re safe back there.” 

Battle of the Bulb


On a sunny September afternoon, Osha Neumann slowly walks onto the dirt path leading to the Albany Bulb, using a walking stick for balance against the pebbles. With a white beard and lanky frame, the 74-year-old artist and attorney is no stranger to this landfill turned art space turned homeless encampment that juts out of the East Bay shoreline near the Berkeley Marina and the Golden Gate Fields racetrack.

Neumann has been coming for more than a decade, with his son-in-law Jason DeAntonis to build driftwood sculptures, and as an attorney fighting for the rights of the homeless who live on the 31-acre plot. He’s witnessed its evolution from rubble-filled no man’s land to one of the last undeveloped stretches of open shoreline in the Bay Area.

“The Bulb has been a refuge, a solace, a place of inspiration,” he said. “It’s a place where I can get off the grid and live in this wonderful, successful, fruitful anarchy. I came to really love this place.”

But the Albany Bulb is now facing another transition point in its evolution, one that pits nature lovers and city officials against those who have call this strange stretch of shoreline “home.”

>>Check out a slideshow of the Albany Bulb here




The Albany Bulb is a radical space of massive debris sculptures and structures, huge concrete slabs of graffiti, tents and tree houses, and artifacts from wreckage that, incorporated into the natural landscape of acacia and eucalyptus trees, is a unique and beloved slice of land symbolizing the free spirit of the region.

It’s where sparrows and other birds come to nest, and where dog walkers take dirt paths to the water’s edge. It’s also a space that major organizations such as the East Bay Regional Parks District, the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, the state park system, and the city of Albany have all fought for decades to preserve, with the idea that humans should not be allowed to live there. And in October, due to the enforcement of a no-camping policy approved on May 6 by the Albany City Council, the people living at the Albany Bulb will have to tear down their makeshift homes and say goodbye permanently.

“This has been in the works for 40 years,” said Robert Cheasty, a former Albany mayor and the current president of Citizens for East Bay Parks.

The Bulb became a part of the Eastshore State Park, a stretch of land with a trail along the East Bay shoreline that connects Oakland to Richmond, in the mid 1980s. And with the proclamation of a park came the people. Cheasty has become one of the most outspoken critics of people occupying the Bulb.

“It cannot be allowed to be privatized by any group or person,” he said.

It’s an argument that’s been made many times over the years, but now it seems to be on the verge of coming true.

The first people living in the Bulb came to take up residence after the eviction of the homeless campers from People’s Park in Berkeley in the mid ’90s. Before that, it was used as a landfill for BART and highway construction materials.

Nature inevitably took over, and much of the debris has been moved to certain areas within the park. Some of the first residents were immortalized in the documentary film Bum’s Paradise, where they lived in harmony with four artists known as Sniff, whose paintings and sculptures came to beautify the unconventional living space. In 1999, the first major eviction took place.

“Then, as now, the city provided them no place to go,” Neumann said. “People just scattered with no place to go, into the surrounding jurisdictions primarily.”

Neumann said he worked unsuccessfully with the people living at the Bulb in fighting the 1999 eviction, telling the Guardian, “People were unorganized and it felt hopeless and despairing.”

Neumann said little has changed. The Bulb remained the same, a landfill, albeit without a regular crew of humans living on it. In 2002 the planning of the Eastshore State Park moved ahead, and Neumann, not content to let the Bulb become homogenized, formed the group Let It Be, advocating to keep the “wildness” of the space. It didn’t go over well, and plans moved forward to clear the plateau of its coyote bush, in an area directly north of the racetrack, and fill it in with dirt.

Norman Laforce, who chairs the Sierra Club’s East Bay Shoreline Park Task Force and East Bay Public Lands Committee, has been involved in the planning since its creation. He says hundreds of people worked to make the park possible. He believes that because the city of Albany did not engage in strict enforcement of illegally camping after 1999, it was ripe to be occupied again. And it was.

The city of Albany handed over the deed of the park to the state park system, and the cap and seal order from the Regional Water Board — which stated that the area was clear of any hazardous waste leaching into the bay — was lifted in 2005. Over time, the Bulb’s current 64 residents sought refuge there, about the same number of people who were forced to leave in 1999.

Of those, at least 36 residents don’t have any regular income, while those who do rely mostly on government programs such as Supplemental Security Income. Laforce and Neumann may not agree on much, but both understand the impending enforcement of the no-camping policy to be a new chapter in the Bulb’s story.




As Neumann makes his way to one of the resident campsites, he stops to take in the view. It’s an unrivaled panoramic portrait of the San Francisco skyline against the glittering bay. He shakes his head when I ask him about the people who oppose campers at the Bulb.

“I think there is a small group of people who are committed to kicking people out of here,” he said.

“Our position has been that the Albany Bulb is a part of the McLaughlin East Shore State Park and is not to be privatized,” Laforce said of the Sierra Club’s view. “We fully support the removal of the illegal campers that are currently out there.”

The Sierra Club and the Citizens for East Bay Parks cite safety concerns as a reason the campers need to leave.

“I was attacked by somebody’s pit bull,” Cheasty said. “It’s happening regularly out there. It’s the antithesis of open space and public land.”

The city of Albany, hesitant at first to ruffle feathers, now supports the removal of campers. “The City Council is working to achieve the Strategic Plan Goals, adopted in 2012,” said Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer in an email.” The goals include maximizing park and open space for all members of the community.”

Almaguer noted that the Albany City Council retained the services of Berkeley Food and Housing Project with a $60,000 contract to conduct outreach and engagement services to the city’s homeless, and voted unanimously to extend this agreement to help the campers at the Bulb.

But she made it clear that once October arrives, the people will need to leave. They will receive verbal and written warnings if they don’t. (A camping violation generally amounts to $161 in fines, according to one of the Bulb campers.) One of the major problems, both Laforce and Cheasty say, is that some of the campers don’t want BFHP’s or the city’s help.

They just want to stay on the Bulb.

Neumann introduces me to three-year resident Katherine Cody, or KC. With pink hair and a wide smile, she seems younger than her 60 years. She babies her shih tzu Eva and makes beaded jewelry. Before living in a tent at the Bulb, she lived in her van. One of the perks to living at the Bulb, she explained, is seeing dolphins swimming in the bay, and watching the 50 to 100 hummingbirds nest in the tree above her tent every year.

KC’s past isn’t so idyllic. She said she was stabbed 20 years ago and the traumatic experience of yelling for help to no avail made her grateful to find a place like the Bulb.

“I am terminally ill,” she said on a recent afternoon, “So I need a lot of help sometimes, and without my having to ask or go begging door to door, my neighbors show up.”

After losing a lot of blood from the stabbing, Cody contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. Despite its rough exterior, KC and other residents argue that their neighborhood at the Bulb is not any more conducive to drug addiction or infighting than any other neighborhood or town.

“They are not capable of doing this job,” KC said of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s efforts. “It’s ridiculous to expect in that time span to be able to get the job done. It’s just long enough to make it look like they were being kind and not throw us out immediately, but it’s not long enough to really do anything.”

For Neumann, who has never been homeless himself, watching his friends and people he has known for years struggle to find a place to live makes him want to resist the city’s enforcement.

“They are criminalizing the status of being homeless in Albany,” Neumann said outside of KC’s tent. “Albany doesn’t have anything. It doesn’t have a shelter, it doesn’t have transitional housing, it doesn’t have available subsided housing, doesn’t have any services. Nothing. Zero.”

Neumann and some of the Bulb campers claim that police from surrounding jurisdictions told many homeless people, forced to leave their encampments in other areas, to go to the Bulb. Albany Police deny the charge, with a spokesperson telling us, “the Albany Police Department did not/does not have a policy of instructing homeless people to relocate to the Bulb.”

Nonetheless, Neumann says, “For a long while, this was Albany’s homeless shelter.”

Amber Lynn Whitson, 32, said that she will celebrate her seventh year living at the Bulb on Oct. 31, if she is able to stay. But she is one of the few inhabitants, she said, who is actually preparing to leave.

“Me and my boyfriend have gotten rid of almost everything we own,” she said between cigarettes. Whitson said she came to stay at the Bulb after moving around a lot.

“It’s so nice here,” she laughed. “When you have been kicked around from place to place and told you don’t belong here, you don’t belong there, it’s so refreshing to be told by the local authorities you belong there.”

Whitson said she isn’t sure where she will go after the no-camping policy is enforced. She is sure though, that the fight to resist will continue.

“This won’t be over in October,” she said. “Even if we are out, it won’t be over in October.”



After we speak with some of the residents, Neumann and I part ways. Before he leaves, he encourages me to take a look around, meet people, and enjoy the art.

Along with the people residing at the Bulb, the art has become a major sticking point surrounding what the Bulb is and what it could be. Cheasty, while not wanting the people to stay, personally doesn’t see the harm in keeping the art intact. In contrast, Laforce believes that part of making the Bulb into a “usable” park requires the removal of the art.

But many people want it to stay. An activist group known as Friends of the Bulb organized a concert with Santa Cruz band Blackbird RAUM at the Bulb for Sept. 28, hoping to draw a large crowd to resist the city’s efforts to remove the campers, and discuss the future of the Bulb.

“We hope it will bring people that live on the Bulb and those that use it to enjoy it together, because who knows how much longer it’s going to be there,” said Doug Gilbert, one of the event’s organizers.

Gilbert said the group started out of the necessity to answer the question of who will control the space: “There are two fundamentally different world views. Those that use the space are the ones in control of it, and those who are truly privatizing it, by deciding who can go there, if the dogs have to be leashed, if the art will stay.”

In the coming month, Laforce said the Sierra Club will continue to support the city’s efforts to relocate the people living there.

“The Albany Bulb is not going to be the homeless solution to the East Bay,” he said. “It’s not just some wasteland.”

Neumann, for his own part, remains skeptical about what will actually take place in October, but he’s certain that, from now on, things at the Bulb will be different. “They do not want to have a repeat of what happened in ’99,” he said before he left for the day. “And that will be the end of this incredible experiment.”

Vote your vote away

The article has been changed from the print version to correct an error.

In a surprising move that is causing a strong backlash from progressives and other groups that have won important reforms at the ballot box, Sup. Scott Wiener is pushing a charter amendment that would allow the Board of Supervisors to change or repeal voter-approved ballot measures years after they become law.

If voters approve Wiener’s charter amendment, among the most vulnerable reforms may be tenant protections such as limitations on rent increases, relocation assistance for no-fault tenant removal, and owner move-in eviction limits, to name a few.

The Rules Committee heard concerned testimony about the proposal May 19 and opted to hold off on voting to send it to the full board for approval until the next meeting on June 2 to allow for more public comment.

If approved, the amendment will be on the November ballot, although the public may be confused about why such an amendment would be on the ballot in the first place. The measure covers ordinances and resolutions that were placed on the ballot by supervisors, and Wiener has said he plans to amend the measure to exempt those placed on the ballot by voter petition. Changes to taxes or bonds are not a part of the amendment because those are required by state law to go to the ballot box.

Paradoxically, Wiener’s reasoning for the proposal is that he believes voters are bogged down with too many ballot measures with complex issues that need changes, measures he claims the board could deal with more efficiently. But critics say it makes progressive reforms vulnerable to attack by a board that is heavily influenced by big-money interests.

At the committee meeting, about a dozen people spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying it seemed broad in scope and would be a more appropriate change at the state level.

Matthias Mormino, a legislative aide to Sup. Jane Kim, who chairs the Rules Committee, said that his boss is still on the fence. “She has concerns and hasn’t made up her mind yet.”

Currently California is one of the last states where a voter-approved initiative cannot be subject to veto, amendment, or repeal, except by the voters.

“It’s not a radical thing,” Wiener told the Guardian about the proposed amendment. “My thinking is that we should do our jobs. We elect public officials to make decisions every week. I wanted to strike a balance where the voters still have a strong say.”

But how strong of a say will the voting public have in cases where voter-approved initiatives are changed by the decisions of a board of politicians with their own influences and bias?

Wiener stated that he had no specific initiatives in mind when he decided to propose the amendment nor was he targeting any kind of legislation, except ones that are “outdated.” Wiener cited an example of updating campaign consultant reporting from quarterly to monthly as a change that needed to happen but could seemingly be a nuisance at the ballot box.

He is proposing a tiered system in which, for the first three years, an initiative is untouchable. In four years, a two-thirds majority vote by the board could make changes to initiatives; after seven years, a simple majority could do so. That means a raft of tenant measures approved in the 1990s could come under immediate attack.

“Does he not like our sick-leave policy?” Sup. John Avalos told us. “It’s so vague and unclear on what he is trying to do. I’m afraid that he is trying to change laws that are popular with the voters. It’s not a democratic way to resolve policy issues.”

Calvin Welch, a longtime progressive and housing activist, has his own theory on Wiener’s proposal. “Voters don’t have a big problem discerning which ones they agree with and which ones they don’t,” he said about voter-approved initiatives.

He did the number-crunching and concluded that of the 983 policy ordinances on the books, 207 (21 percent) were policy initiatives. Of those, 102 (about 10 percent) were approved by the voters.

“Not quite overwhelming the ballot,” Welch said. “The argument that what is promoting this — the inundation of the initiatives — is not borne of the facts.”

Welch believes Wiener is targeting certain landlord and tenant issues that date back to 1978, when San Francisco voters first started adopting rent control measures. “That is what the agenda is all about — roughly 30 measures that deal with rent control and growth control,” he said.

Wiener denies this is an attack on tenants, and claims he doesn’t have a specific agenda in mind. “This is long-term reform, not immediate gratification reform. To take the big, big step, we would have to change state law. This is just a modest first step.”

Welch also took issue with the idea of “election proportionality,” calling the measure an undemocratic power grab since many initiatives in San Francisco’s history were approved with more than 200,000 votes.

“Mayors don’t get 200,000 votes — these measures do,” Welch said. “That a body can overrule thousands of voters undermines the election process of San Francisco. Why not limit government actors instead of the people? It’s about what Sup. Wiener wants to change.”

Budget set-asides have long been a target for legislators, explained Chelsea Boilard, a budget analyst with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. Historically in San Francisco, moderate politicians have mostly honed in on social service programs, not those with a lot of clout and political backing, like police and fire budgets. Although the Children’s Fund, which was set up by a charter amendment, would be exempt, other social program priorities set by voters could be eroded.

“The reality is that the police and fire departments don’t have to go to City Hall every year to defend their budgets, but health and human services do,” Boilard said.

While many on the left would love for the California Legislature to have the authority to make changes in the property-tax-limiting Proposition 13 — like by removing commercial property from being taxed at artificially low levels — activists see real danger in Wiener’s measure.

“I think this is bad policy. I know folks are frustrated with Prop. 13, for example, and wish it was easier to amend or repeal. But the way he’s going about this is odd to me,” political activist Karen Babbitt told us. “For one thing, it appears to apply to retroactively to existing ordinances and policy declarations.”

Babbitt also cites legal research indicating that Wiener’s proposal might contradict state law and be subject to legal challenge if it passes. Plus, that challenge could come from any direction since it would allow liberal and conservative reforms to be challenged by the board.

One proposition that would fall under Wiener’s amendment is Proposition L, the sit-lie ordinance approved last year that prohibits sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 am and 11 p.m. After a divisive campaign against the measure, police began enforcing it in April. In three years and with enough votes by the board, the board could repeal a law that Wiener supports.

“It’s really interesting,” said Bob-Offer Westort, a civil rights organizer with the San Francisco Coalition of Homelessness. “I have a lot of questions. I guess it cuts both ways. We’d like to see the aggressive panhandling law changed. We’d like to see the sit-lie repealed. There are definitely things, with the right composition of the board, we would benefit from. And there are things that we would not want to see changed.”

Either way, the measure could result in some divisive fights at the board. “One person presenting this as a way to get it done is not the answer,” Avalos said. “I worry that he will use the amendment to dismantle certain voter-approved laws.”

Activists speak out at Chevron’s shareholder meeting


Police and security guards were out in full force in San Ramon yesterday, (Wed/25) where activists and shareholders of Chevron’s valuable stock converged at the company’s annual shareholders meeting at its headquarters.

Inside, the meeting, Chevron Board Chairman John Watson touted the oil corporation’s “community engagement” and market growth. Outside, around 140 activists from all over the world held signs to the speedy traffic on Bollinger Canyon Way, beseeching the general public to understand the costs of Chevron’s high profits. Some even made it inside.

“Our people have been dying,” said Tom Evans of the Sugpiat People of the Alutitiq Tribe in the native village of Nanwalek, Alaska, choking back tears during the 45-minute Q&A session with Watson.

“You are all a bunch of liars and thieves,” said Rev. Kenneth Davis, a Richmond resident who was arrested last year at Chevron’s shareholders meeting in Houston, Texas. He claimed he could see Chevron’s refinery from a window in his home. “People are dying, you steal from all over the world and process it in Richmond,” he said.

“When will Chevron embody in its operations environmental and social justice?” Elias Isaac of Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa asked the chairman.

After giving one of his canned responses of “we are a force for good everywhere we operate,” Watson conceded, “Perhaps it’s not enough, and we could always do more.”

Chevron just came out of a record-breaking year with $20 billion in profits, making it the largest corporation in California and the 11th in the world, with expectations of more growth in the years to come. It has nine new exploration projects it hopes to start in the next decade that will make Poland, Romania, Western Australia, China and other countries a part of the at-risk catalog of nations where Chevron chooses to do business.

It has claimed over 14 million acres of land for “exploration activities.” It’s also planning the world’s largest carbon sequestration project in Australia on a nature reserve and turtle habitat. If all this information isn’t scary enough, Chevron also makes huge messes and ducks out of cleaning them up.

Recently, the corporation appealed a guilty verdict from an Ecuadorian court for $8.6 billion in damages because of massive environmental degradation. The 18-year lawsuit stems from the destruction and mismanagement of the diseased Amazonian land that Chevron acquired when it bought Texaco in 2001. Ecuadorian Servio Curipoma lost his mother due to Chevron’s toxic sludge and was present at the meeting with other indigenous community members pleading with Watson and Chevron’s shareholders to change its policies in Ecuador.

“Take it up with your government,” Watson said to the speakers. “Petroecuador has not been a good partner,” he added, passing the blame onto Ecuador’s state-owned oil company. Chevron execs decided that was a good time to roll a video about the lawsuit and smeared the plaintiff’s lawyer, Steven Donziger, showing outtakes of the documentary “Crude,” emails and other private meetings, displaying Donziger to be haughty about the case. As the film rolled, most of the stockholders applauded Chevron’s PR efforts.

Seven items on the meeting’s agenda pertained to stockholders’ proposals on various subjects, including hiring a third party director with environmental expertise, creating a human rights committee, and disclosing the guidelines for Chevron’s country selection. None of the stockholders proposals passed, including one on the controversial process of “fracking,” which extracts natural gas from rock, that obtained 41 percent of the preliminary votes.

Once the meeting ended, the activists in attendance were met with a hero’s welcome out on the streets. Gitz Crazyboy of the First Nation Dene/Pikini in Alberta, Canada told the crowd he didn’t buy Chevron’s excuses that they were just following government mandates.

“If that were true we wouldn’t be here right now,” he said.

Antonia Juhasz of Global Exchange and the co-editor of the recently released The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report, said that although Chevron wasn’t as responsive as they hoped it was a victory nonetheless for the protesters.

“What was spit back at us was spin,” she said to the crowd. “We didn’t hear a truly substantive response to the damning human rights abuses that Chevron has caused.”

Chevron’s critics gather before annual shareholder meeting


Chevron destroys everything, except profits. And by everything, we mean everything. The Amazon rainforest and its indigenous communities? Check. The Boreal Forest in northern Canada and its indigenous communities? Check. The Niger Delta? Check. Indonesia, Texas, and Iraq? Check, check and check. And even San Francisco’s own neighbor, Richmond, the home of one of Chevron’s largest oil refineries in the world? A big, whopping check.

Not that oil companies taking the lives, resources, and spaces of millions of people is something to take lightly. In fact, the opposition to Chevron is strong and growing, with many people across a network of international communities planning to stand up at Chevron’s shareholder meeting tomorrow (Wed/25) in San Ramon to give faces and names to the enormous destruction the company caused, which coincides with the release of the 3rd annual report on the company’s many misdeeds, The True Cost of Chevron.

At a press conference this morning (Tues/24) at a Chevron station in San Francisco, activists and representatives from places adversely affected by Chevron’s drilling, dumping, land grabbing, and environmental degradation told stories about losing mothers to cancer, women having miscarriages due to contaminated water, clear-cutting forests used by their ancestors for hunting and farming, and losing one’s sense of home.

“I have personally witnessed this devastation,” Servio Curipoma of the Amazon Defense Coalition in Ecuador said of Chevron’s operations within his country. “And I will fight to the bitter end and never give up,” he said after showing a photo of his mother who died of cancer. After an 18-year lawsuit by the people in Educator against the oil corporation, Chevron was found guilty of massive environmental crimes. But Chevron has yet to take note of its transgressions, and aggressively pursues communities at risk of complete disintegration.

Elias Isaac with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa spoke about entire fishing communities in Angola going days without catches as they rely on the waters that Chevron polluted through its operations in the country. “The pollution is effecting livelihoods,” said Isaac. “And it’s getting worse.”

Communities for a Better Environment also understands the nefarious ways in which Chevron puts its stock above its virtue. For example, the company doesn’t pay taxes to extract oil from California. “They had the audacity to ask for an exemption from the law,” said Jessica Tovar of the Oakland based advocacy group. Recently Chevron’s Richmond refinery was denied the possibility to process dirtier, heavier crude oil only after opponents went to court to stop the proposal.

The bitter truth, said Antonia Juhasz of Global Exchange and the co-editor of alternative report, is that no matter where Chevron decides to set up shop, the stories are the same: corporate side-stepping of responsibilities to the community, polluted water, love ones lost, environmental disaster that cannot be undone.

Just like the exploitation Chevron is responsible for through its operations across the globe, its profits are also ever increasing. Last year the company made $20 billion in profits, bolstering its standing as the 11th largest corporation in the world, and the largest in California.

In order to make a dent in its exploitative practices, members of different organizations will be voicing their opposition in Chevron’s shareholders meeting tomorrow, some through legal proxies of current shareholders.

There is a resolution activists hope will be discussed that will appoint a third party with expertise who will oversee operations to further prevent environmental disasters, said Mitchell Anderson, the Corporate Campaigns Director of Amazon Watch, which is based in San Francisco.

“We came to tell them that we disagree with their ads. It’s not a rosy image. It’s a lie,” said Juhasz. “Chevron knows how to do better but chooses to do worse.”





Supervisors and activists decry businesses that deny wages to low-income workers


For one of this country’s first government hearings regarding wage theft yesterday (Thurs/12), San Francisco activists, public employees, and politicians alike were determined to find ways to address issues surrounding low-income workers who are paid below minimum wage or otherwise deprived of money they’re entitled to.

Wage theft may involve a number of different violations including payment below the minimum wage, obligation to work off the clock, and denial of overtime and sick pay. Low-income jobs such as construction work, hospitality and domestic care are the most cited types of employment for wage theft and wage theft disproportionately affects communities of color and those with language barriers.

“We are not going to allow any worker in San Francisco to be exploited,” said Sup. David Campos said on the steps of City Hall, later presiding over the Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing on the issue. “Wage theft affects the lowest wage workers and their ability to make a living and survive in these tough economic times.”

The pre-hearing protest and the meeting was comprised of workers with emotional stories of poverty and injustice. Other speakers included Donna Levitt, the director of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the agency in charge of overseeing claims of employers withholding wages, and Rajiv Bhatia, the director of Occupational and Environmental Health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Levitt said that 500 claims of wage theft have been addressed by the OLSE since the minimum wage law’s inception in 2003. Dan Goncher of Harvey M. Rose Associates, which does budget analysis for the city, cited data showing that the OLSE takes significantly longer to go through the hearing process for back wages than other agencies. However, Levitt mentioned that 97 percent of cases are settled and never go to the City Attorney’s Office for a hearing.

“Very little thought from our policymakers was made on how this was going to be enforced,” Levitt said of the current minimum wage law.

The coalition of community organizations including Young Workers United, Filipino Community Center, Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco Tenants Association, Unite Here Local 2, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, and others joined together for the protest in order to raise awareness of some proposed amendments to the current minimum wage enforcement law.

Co-sponsored by Campos and Sup. Eric Mar, the amendments would add additional penalties such as raising the fine for employers from $500 to $1,000 for retaliating against workers exercising rights under the current law, the ability to interview employees and inspect payroll records at places of business, the requirement of notifying employees when an employer is being investigated, and to posting of a public notice when an employer fails to comply with a settlement agreement.

“We want to see the city taking a stronger commitment to addressing the issue of wage theft,” said lead organizer of the Chinese Progressive Association Shaw San Liu. “We don’t want this to be a one-day publicity stunt.”

One of the workers, who spoke about his experience of wage theft, recalled working long hours without the assurance of payment. “We would wait for hours for them to come back pay us but they never came,” Jose Cruz, a day laborer and client of La Raza Centro Legal, said about one of his jobs.

Bhatia explained to the supervisors and crowded audience in the committee hearing room that in the last week, 26 percent of the nation’s low wage workers were paid less than minimum wage. He also outlined different steps such as tracking chronic violators and training health inspectors to make referrals to local enforcement agencies in cases of non-compliance, so the SFDPH could support the community efforts in decreasing wage theft.

In addition, both Campos and Board President David Chiu made a point of speaking about how wage theft also detrimentally affects businesses.

“Most businesses play by the rules and those businesses are at a disadvantage when we allow businesses to not follow the rules,” said Campos.

“This is not about workers versus businesses,” Chiu said. “The issue of wage theft effects workers and workers’ families across the city.”

Kids on bikes


To meet San Francisco’s policy goal of having 20 percent of all vehicle trips made by bicycle by the year 2020, advocates and officials say the city will need to make cycling more attractive to the young and old, from age 8 to 80. But there are some built-in challenges to getting more school children on bikes, even if there has been some recent progress, as demonstrated during the Bike to School Day in April.

“I see more and more middle and high school teams out there,” Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said of the group rides to and from school that parents have been organizing.

According to a 2009 David Binder poll, seven out of 10 residents in San Francisco use a bicycle (this includes regular commuters and once-a-year riders) and last year’s city count of bike ridership from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s annual report saw a 58 percent increase in the number of cyclists on the road. At any given time during regular business weekday hours, some 9,210 riders pedal through the streets, according to last year’s results.

Children account for some of that increase, as demonstrated by the Bike to School Day event and its 3,000 riders — the most ever. Shahum attributes some of the increase to the new separated bikeways on Market Street, Alemany Boulevard, and Laguna Honda Boulevard, which allow children and their parents to feel safer. “When the bikeway was introduced, the numbers increased — there is growing demand.”

Programs like the Department of Public Health’s Safe Routes to School and SF Unified School District’s Student Support Services Department are helping to raise awareness of the improvements to encourage more cycling by young people.

Safe Routes to School Project Coordinator Ana Validzic said cycling is often more convenient than driving to school, particularly given the difficult parking situations at schools. Martha Adriasola, a committee member for the program, said parents and students also are attracted by the increased physical activity from cycling.

But a large portion of San Francisco’s grade school-bound population has yet to join the pedal revolution. Adriasola mentioned several reasons that prevent children from biking, including getting to schools on hills or far from home as well as the lack of bike storage at schools.

“There used to be a lot of concern about where to keep the bicycles,” Adriasola told the Guardian. But that’s changing thanks to a recent grant from the Department of Sustainability will provide bike racks for students at all schools in the district.

“That was one of the missing pieces,” Shahum said of the bike racks. “The district understands that it is good for the city for folks to ride their bikes.”

With new racks lining the campuses, the question remains whether there will be enough riders to fill them. Efforts to improve diversity in the school system and parent preferences for certain schools mean many kids travel across town to school.

Gentle Blythe, SFUSD’s executive director of public outreach and communications, said that last year the school board modified its school selection system to encourage more students to attend their local schools by resolving ties between applicants based on whether the applicant lives in the school’s attendance area. Currently, Blythe said, three out of every four applicants list a school that is not the one closest to their home as their first choice.

According to SFUSD’s 2010 fall enrollment maps, which show all the district’s elementary schools and compares them to the students’ residences, most of the 72 schools have as many students traveling from across the district as those living within a mile of the campus. Parker Elementary in North Beach is such an example, with an almost equal number living inside and outside the neighborhood, including some who live as far away as Visitacion Valley.

With such a long way to ride, it’s difficult for parents and those concerned with safety to feel comfortable allowing children to ride. But Shahum believes it’s still possible. SFBC’s Connecting the City project advocates for safe, cross-town bikeways throughout the city, which could draw more children onto the streets.

Shahum noted that bicycling increased dramatically even when there was a court injunction barring new bike projects. “Imagine the change we can expect when the changes do come,” she said.

She also said that events such as Sunday Streets, the monthly carfree streets events, are attracting families and encouraging them to start cycling together. So the answer to encouraging more youth cycling may be to make the streets safer and more inviting for everyone.

“We hope, through the Connecting the City vision, to see people riding on cross-town bikeways — for everyone from 8 to 80.” she said. 

Anti nuclear movement gears up


  The ongoing battle to stop Pacific Gas and Electric Co. from renewing its license to operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant continued April 14th as part of a nationwide antinuclear campaign. In the wake of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility, activists around the country are calling on the California Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to cease issuing license renewals.

A demonstration of about four dozen lively activists on the steps of the CPUC office across from City Hall followed a public hearing at which more than 30 speakers expressed concern about the presence of nukes in California.   “This is basically an introduction event,” Jason Ahmadi, an Oakland resident and member of the April Action Committee, the group that organized the protest, told the Guardian. “We came out today to make the statement to shut down nuclear facilities.”  

“The PUC acts as an interface between the industry and residents,” Jan Lundberg, oil analyst and founder of the nonprofit Culture Change, said. “The system is out of control. We are trying to keep the truth about nuclear power out there.”   The truth, Lundberg, who spoke in front of the CPUC, includes the irresponsibility of plants creating radioactive waste that will be toxic for thousands of years — and the risk factors associated with generating nuclear power and maintaining nuclear facilities.  

“I do not approve of nuclear power,” he said. “It’s my planet too. There is a vast overabundance of energy in California. We need to conserve. We need to share.”  

Activists also presented arguments in favor of phasing out nuclear power in California at the Senate Energy Committee in Sacramento today.  

On another anti-nuclear front, close to 45 organizations filed a petition challenging the way the NRC conducts business. NRC officials are required to respond to the petition, according to Jane Swanson, spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo-based Mothers For Peace spokesperson. The petition calls for the suspension of six existing reactor license renewal decisions, including Diablo Canyon as well as permit decisions for 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states, according to a Physicians for Social Responsibility news release.  

Swanson told us she thinks it’s possible that the NRC will suspend nuclear licenses. “I don’t think this many groups would be working so hard these last few days without a strong possibility of it happening,” Swanson said   

“There is precedent. Lessons have been learned,” she said. The historical precedent Swanson mentioned was a review of all U.S. nuclear facilities after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, a review that triggered the NRC to suspend all licensing decisions of nukes at that time.  

Currently, Mothers for Peace is suing the NRC and PG&E to require seismic studies of earthquake faults around the plant that have only been recently discovered before PG&E’s license is renewed.   PG&E requested in a letter to the NRC on April 10 that the commission delay the final processing of the application to renew its license, which would keep DCPP operating until 2045, until 3-D seismic studies— studies the CPUC approved funding for in August of last year— were completed.   In response to the company’s attempt to assuage the public’s concern over Diablo Canyon’s long-term safety Swanson said, “PG&E is not really interested in working with anyone, they only care about profits.”  

Mothers for Peace will hold a rally in opposition of license renewal on April 16, in Avila Beach adjacent to the DCPP in San Luis Obispo.

Board delays Yellow Pages vote


In an attempt to assuage big business interests, the Board of Supervisors decided yesterday (Tues/29) to delay the vote on an ordinance regulating the Yellow Pages, a piece of legislation that would create a three-year pilot program to rid the city of unsolicited phone books. A vote on the legislation is set for May 10.

The ordinance by Board President David Chiu passed the Land Use Committee on March 22. In attendance was a large opposition including the Yellow Pages Association, representatives of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and AT&T Advertising Solutions to stress the importance of the directory to small businesses and local jobs.

Although it appears the votes are there to pass it, supervisors including progressive David Campos and business-friendly Sean Elsbernd pushed for the delay so the city’s chief economist could undertake an analysis to understand how the “ban” would affect city businesses and to allow the public to continue to voice its opinions on the issue.

According to a previous Guardian article on the ordinance, many local businesses have chosen to advertise elsewhere, and many residents, including populations generally seen to use the Yellow Pages such as the elderly and non-English speakers, will still be able to easily obtain phone books if need be.

Alexia Marcous, Vice President of the Green Chamber of Commerce and a strong advocate in favor of the ordinance, said she was disappointed that the board chose to delay the vote.

“It’s politically motivated,” she told the Guardian. “Instead of doing what’s best for the city, they are stalling.”

While Marcous noted that it’s always prudent to obtain more information, it was unnecessary for the public to “provide further rebuttal” on the ordinance that she believes already has overwhelming support. Marcous states that some of the consequences of delaying the vote include the costs the city incurs for “dealing with the blight and litter and diverting the vital funds from more important issues.”

If the board decides to authorize the ordinance, Marcous sees San Francisco as a success story for other cities to emulate.

“It shows we are willing to do something about the egregious distribution practices that are only helping the Yellow Pages,” she said.

YPA Vice President of Public Policy and Sustainability Amy Healy posted on the Yellow Pages blog last week, before the vote was made, that the Yellow Pages Coalition “will be working diligently over the next week to influence the other members of the Board of Supervisors.”

Business groups defend unsolicited Yellow Pages distribution


A smorgasbord of groups including the SF Chamber of Commerce, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and LGBT publishers announced their opposition to the proposed ordinance to stop distributing the print Yellow Pages to everyone who doesn’t specifically request not to receive them.

A press release by the Yellow Pages Association claims that the coalition is “concerned that the move would put hundreds of San Francisco residents out of work, limit small businesses’ marketing, and hurt the city’s fragile economic future.”

However, many of the small businesses the Guardian spoke with in its previous article on the subject repeatedly said the same thing— that the print edition no longer serves as a helpful advertising source.

It basically becomes a battle of opt-out v. opt-in. The YPA and the groups that announced their opposition choose the opt-out system because the Yellow Pages can go on printing and wasting as usual, without consumers doing much about it. The opt-in system eliminates the waste problem while allowing groups, perhaps the ones mentioned above the option to advertise and market in that medium.

The release also cited concerns such as limiting the distribution of directories to “target demographics” (i.e. minorities), the cost on the publishers for those who decide to have home deliveries, and the potential court battle over constitutionality, as the YPA may argue that the print edition is protected under the First Amendment.

One has to wonder how distributing costs will be more if the opt-in option is passed, with ultimately less phone books piling up on in apartment foyers and overflowing recycling bins. Phone books, it appears, that neither consumers, nor businesses, are using.

If the print Yellow Pages is as effective as the YPA wants the public to believe then having an opt-in system shouldn’t be a problem for it, as a lot of businesses and consumers will choose to opt-in and be happy with advertising and utilizing the phone book to those who actually get something out of it, and the opt-in system will also benefit those who are looking to never receive an unsolicited phone book again.



A jaundiced proposal


An ordinance to ban unsolicited print Yellow Pages across San Francisco, proposed Feb. 1 by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, seeks to reduce waste and save money.

“Phone books are a 20th-century tool that doesn’t meet the business and environmental needs of the 21st century,” Chiu said as he introduced the measure in board chambers.

The ordinance would establish a three-year pilot program starting Oct. 1 in which the city would reduce the mass distribution of phone books, making them available only at distribution centers or to residents or businesses that request them.

A rally in support of the ban before the meeting included Rainforest Action Network’s founder Randall Hayes and California Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Mateo), who proposed legislation that failed to gain steam last year for making it easier for Californians to opt out of receiving phone books.

But the Yellow Pages Association refuses to be thrown out with the rest of yesterday’s trash. YPA Vice President of Public Policy and Sustainability Amy Healy said her group opposes the proposal but that she was encouraged that Chiu and his staff say they are open to working with the association.



Chiu introduced the ordinance, which is cosponsored by Sup. Scott Wiener, because of the potential effect it could have on reducing city waste, both in the city’s garbage bins and its treasury.

According to Chiu’s office, San Francisco receives about 1.5 million phone books a year. At an average weight of 4.33 pounds per book, the current distribution system creates about 7 million pounds of waste. If the production were cut in half for the city, it would save nearly 6,180 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from polluting the air.

But it isn’t just the environmental cost that is wearing on the city.

Phone books are tough to recycle. With plastic inserts, bulky design, and low-grade paper, the books have to be presorted and recycled manually. It costs Recology, the company contracted with the city for waste disposal, $300 per ton to dispose of the city’s unused phone books, which in turn costs taxpayers about $1 million a year for their disposal.



The YPA has been sensitive to the environmental concerns, recently launching a website that allows a person to opt out of receiving a phone book.

But it is also suing the Seattle City Council over its Feb. 1 approval of a plan to charge Yellow Pages a 14-cent publisher’s fee per book and create an opt out system for the city, arguing the Seattle ordinance violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

According to a statement by YPA President Neg Norton, the association believes that “if don’t want a phone book, you shouldn’t have to get one.”

But YPA opposes the ban on unsolicited books, citing the jobs it would cost, the business community’s desire to “generate leads and revenue from ready-to-buy consumers,” and claiming the First Amendment “prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press and from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate.”

Wiener has a different take on the matter, a stand he said he has already received lots of criticism for, including from some constituents who compared it to the board vote to ban Happy Meals last year. But he said this issue is very different.

“An enormous number of books dumped all over the city is a bad thing, and we should do something to address the issue,” he told the Guardian, noting that the ability to opt out isn’t good enough. “It’s not like the do-not-call list where it is directly annoying and people are more likely to take action … Stacks sit in apartment lobbies, and people don’t decide to opt-out.”

But YPA is also citing the public’s apathy as a reason the ban is unfair. “People don’t take the time to respond to e-mails,” Healy said. “It’s an unreasonable barrier to have a stranger knock on your door and ask you to take something.” The YPA claims that “seven in 10 adults in California use print Yellow Pages, so we do not believe a system that puts a burden on the majority of people to opt in is the best path for choice.”



Do people still value the Yellow Pages?

Healy believes they do, stating that advertising with the Yellow Pages gives businesses a “high return on their investment.” We asked some city businesses that still advertise in the Yellow Pages what they thought about the potential ban.

Barbara Barrish, manager of Barrish Bail Bonds, doesn’t see her customers using the Yellow Pages anymore. “We used to swear by the Yellow Pages. Now young people use the computers, or their Blackberries and phones.”

Although she has an ad in the print edition, Barrish said she wouldn’t advertise with the directory again and only did so this time because it slashed its prices. “It used to cost a lot more, but it cut its advertising costs by a third,” she said. “They gave me a good deal.”

When asked if she would request a copy if the ban goes through, she said she probably would. “I might grab a phone book if the computer is down.”

Daniel Richardson, an immigration attorney who advertised in the Yellow Pages until 2008, predicted the business community would kill or water down the ordinance. “You are talking about going up against AT&T and other major businesses,” he told the Guardian with a chuckle.

Richardson said he stopped advertising in the Yellow Pages because he didn’t get enough business. He believes people look to the Yellow Pages for criminal or personal injury lawyers, but not immigration attorneys.

Even pizza places, a staple of advertising in the Yellow Pages, are ho-hum about the usefulness of the Yellow Pages. Junior Reyes, who is in charge of advertising for Go Getter Pizza on Gough Street, believes the restaurant gets most of its customers from online. “We do a lot of advertising with other places and online,” he said. “The Yellow Pages isn’t our main source.”

But what about people who do use the Yellow Pages, particularly groups that are not big Internet users. Would they miss it?

David Bolt is the dean for academic affairs at Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville and producer of the PBS series The Digital Divide. He believes that banning the Yellow Pages may be a problem for certain groups, including the elderly, recent immigrants, and the poor — groups with the least access to Internet, particularly in urban centers.

“We should err on the side of giving as much information to the greatest numbers of people, especially to groups that may not be technologically literate,” he said. “Society should think about how groups could be impacted by this decision.”

But Barbara Blong, executive director of the Senior Action Network, said older people are becoming more tech savvy. She said computer classes and other resources have put many of the city’s seniors online. She questioned the concept that seniors are one of the largest groups affected by the digital divide, noting that seniors oppose wastefulness as much as anyone.

“We are against having a lot of Yellow Pages laying around,” she said. Blong also mentioned that seniors who do not use the Internet for contacts can use the public library or senior centers that have phone books on hand. “I don’t see it as a ban, but moving on so we don’t have a great deal of waste,” she said.

The ordinance also exempts foreign language phone directories, further diluting the divide argument. The legislation wouldn’t ban the Chinese Yellow Pages or Momento (Spanish Yellow Pages) because they are distributed through community centers, not residences.

The ordinance is expected to have its first public hearing around the end of the month. The YPA will continue to tout its opt out website to the board in hopes it might be enough to persuade the city to forgo the opt in system. The group also hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit.

But YPA’s Healy said he hopes the coming dialogue will be productive. “We share the same goal — we don’t want to print directories that are unwanted.”

Political activists still oppose Chiu’s handbill regulation


Progressive political activists and First Amendment advocates continue to have concerns about how Sup. David Chiu’s legislation to regulate handbill distribution will affect low-budget political campaigns, despite Chiu’s efforts to address the criticism.

Two weeks ago, he delayed deliberation on the measure, saying it wasn’t his intention to curtail political speech. The measure returns to the Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Tues/15), but the activists are asking that it be sent back to committee for more work.

Chiu and the Department of Public Works Menu and Flyer Littering Task Force introduced the legislation in an effort to clean up littering and to effectively penalize handbill distribution that doesn’t meet the new regulations of securing literature and ensuring it does not become litter. The new law would require handbills to be securely fastened on doorways or placed under doormats preventing them from becoming litter on the sidewalks and streets.

“You can’t just throw something on a stoop that can be blown away,” Catherine Rauschuber, one of Chiu’s legislative aides who worked on the measure, told us. Handbills can be anything from a menu for a local restaurant to a flyer promoting a community event to campaign advertising and political information. Newspapers are exempt.

But critics of the measure, including California First Amendment Coalition Director Peter Scheer, say it needs a lot more work to pass constitutional muster and safeguard free speech rights.

“The proposed amendment to the San Francisco ordinance is not a ‘reasonable’ regulation of handbills and leaflets because it leaves the distributor of such constitutionally protected materials in doubt as to how to comply,” he told the Guardian. “Specifically, the materials are required to be ‘secured.’ However, the most efficient means of doing so—using tape or other adhesive—is itself prohibited.”

Littering a neighborhood with unsecured handbills is already a criminal infraction, one that is rarely enforced, and Chiu’s legislation would make it an administrative penalty managed at the discretion of DPW. Rauschuber said the penalty would usually be a fine of around $100.

The DPW requested the authority to administer the penalties because it wasn’t a priority of the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute violators, and DPW officials said it would be more effective in lowering the instances of littering, Rauschuber told us.

Political activists such as Karen Babbitt worry about the effect the new legislation will have on grassroots campaigns. She believes that the language of the ordinance creates a disadvantage to political candidates with low-budget campaigns.

“If you place a piece of literature under a doormat and it still somehow ends up on the sidewalk, the campaign can be fined,” she told the Guardian. “I can’t think of a way that I, as a volunteer, could prove that I’d initially placed the piece of lit securely. I try to place them securely, but the wind sometimes still blows them away—especially in windy neighborhoods like Diamond Heights.”

The board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee approved the measure on Jan. 24, and while political activists say it needs more work, those concerned about litter welcome the change.

Dawn Trennart, a member of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association and the Menu and Flyer Littering Task Force, saw the handbills become a litter problem in her neighborhood last spring and brought it to Chiu’s attention.

“It is a litter and security problem,” said Trennart said. “The handbills get stuck in doors and cannot lock properly.”

The law would also allow buildings to post a smaller “no handbills” sign with 30-point font, instead of the current requirement of eight square inches, to prohibit distribution. Babbitt believes the ordinance is superfluous to the efforts political volunteers already make.

“Most folks I’ve volunteered with over the years already try to place pieces of literature in ways that keep them from blowing away. It makes your candidate look bad, after all, to have her or his literature blowing all over the neighborhood,” she said.

But she and other activists complain that the new law would presume the campaigns are guilty without offering proof. Scheer also pointed to a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Martin v. City of Struthers, which found that litter is not a compelling enough argument to regulate handbill distribution.

Scheer believes that, in order to satisfy the First Amendment, the ordinance should not only state what handbill distributors cannot do, but also state what they can do to avoid penalties, which is commonly called a “safe harbor” provision.

Still, political activists complain that they were not involved in the drafting of the ordinance. While the Sierra Club, ACLU, SF Labor Council, and other groups that distribute political handbills were not consulted, the activists note that Golden Gate Restaurant Association and other business groups were brought in to help shape the legislation.

By asking for the measure to be sent back to committee, where public testimony is taken, the political activists hope their concerns will finally be addressed.

Hyatt targeted as labor impasse drags on


Hundreds of Hyatt hotel workers and supporters represented by the UniteHere Local 2 union continued their 18-month long struggle against the Hyatt Corporation yesterday (Thu/10) by protesting outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the Embarcadero.

The Hyatt Regency was one of six hotels where demonstrations took place in a National Day of Action against Hyatt management. Local 2 said many issues still need to be negotiated, such as decreasing the current health care costs of $200 a month for a family plan, raising pensions from $900 to $1200 a month, and taking steps to reduce injuries to Hyatt employees.

“We want to draw attention to the injury rate that Hyatt has been witness to,” Local 2 spokeswoman Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer said.

The protest, which started at 4:30 p.m., surrounded the front entrance of the Hyatt Regency on Drumm and Market Streets, with protestors sitting in front of its turnstile doors. About two dozen protestors were arrested, cited and released on charges of misdemeanor trespassing.

The Hyatt Corporation’s statement on yesterday’s actions tried to turn the blame on the union, stating they haven’t been willing to come to the bargaining table. “Once again, the leadership of UniteHere Local 2 is putting its own agenda ahead of the needs of its members,” the statement said.

Cynthia Reed, a telephone operator with the Hyatt for 22 years, who was a part of the protest, was angered that she has been without a fair contract since August 2009.

“I feel as though we are being oppressed,” she told the Guardian. “We, the workers, are living off $38,000 a year with $12,000 in taxes. We can’t live like this in San Francisco. We just want a living wage.”

Reed noted that some of her co-workers include parents of multiple children and cancer patients, while others are over retirement age. “If the union doesn’t stand up for us, who will?” Reed asked. “Why patronize these facilities when all the money is going to a few at the top?” she wondered before going back to a line of picketers chanting, “Union bustin’ is disgustin’!”

Peter Hillan, a spokesman that represents the Hyatt, was at the scene to give the corporation’s point of view. “It’s street theater,” he said of the event. “It’s taking revenue away from the business that could be going to the employees.”

Hillan said that over the past 18 months, the protests and the union’s call to boycott the hotels have taken about $10 million of convention business away from San Francisco’s Hyatts.

A meeting to discuss contract negotiations with the Hyatt Corporation and Local 2 is set for Feb. 24.