Guardian Editorial

The next election

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EDITORIAL This week’s dismal election in San Francisco is a symptom of deeper problems in our political system, both here and across the country. It isn’t voter apathy that caused what is expected to be record low turnout at the polls. It was an understandable loss of faith in an electoral system dominated by money and insider political games. And that’s what we need to address before the next election.

Three of the four officeholders on the Nov. 5 had no opposition, while Dist. 4 Sup. Katy Tang had only token opposition from someone new to town with no relevant experience. Why would these important, coveted, well-paying jobs have no applicants? Because the cost of admission is just too high, and it looks to many observers like the fix is in.

Tang and Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu were each appointed to their posts by Mayor Ed Lee, and it is because of that connection that they were able to raise nearly $200,000 each, the most in this field of experienced office-holders. They also unfairly benefited from the power of incumbency, which can be formidable (as Lee knows, given that he was appointed mayor on the condition that he wouldn’t run for office, breaking that pledge and spending millions of dollars to win the 2011 mayor’s race).

We need a better system, one that the power brokers who put Lee into office can’t game as easily as they do. Maybe we should hold special elections for each vacancy, with shorter campaigns requiring less fundraising and thus opening up the field. Alternatively, we could make all appointees temporary caretakers and prohibit them from immediately running for a full term.

We should also limit how much developers can spend on political campaigns pushing their projects. The $2 million that Pacific Waterfront Partners just spent selling the 8 Washington luxury condo project to voters — particularly the deceptions and limits on reviews by the Planning Department in Prop. B — was obscene and unfair. But it was a smart investment on seeking profits of more than 50 times that figure.

In the post-Citizens United world, where money equals speech, there are legal barriers to doing what needs to be done. But we need to be creative and aggressive at pushing for political reform, from public financing, spending caps, and greater disclosure on campaigns to reforming the City Charter to end our strong mayor form of government, from his appointments to commissions and elective offices to the unchecked power that he has to control the spending of public money.

If we want to woo voters back to the polls, we need to give them something to vote for, and a package of political reforms would be a good place to start.

UPDATE: This editorial was corrected to fix a misspelling of Katy Tang’s last name. 

 

Lessons of the BART standoff

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EDITORIAL BART and its unions reached a tentative deal on new contracts late Monday (10/21) night, the next day restoring service that had been disrupted by the second four-day strike this year. Now, it’s time for everyone to move on from this impasse — and the ugly demonization of workers that accompanied it — and try to heal the damage that was done.

Sadly, it appears to have taken the senseless deaths of two BART employees on Oct. 19 to reinforce the safety concerns that unions have raised from the beginning, undermine critics’ belittling claims that “the trains run themselves” and don’t need trained workers, and back the district down from its aggressive brinksmanship and preparations to run limited service during what could have been a long strike.

There are still many questions to be answered. Was the district forcing a strike with its “final offer” and last minute decision to seek more authority over work rules? Would it really have offered service to the public using scab drivers? Was the driver training that was happening on that ill-fated train a factor in the tragedy?

We may not have a definitive answer to that last question for quite awhile, but we already learned from the NTSB that BART officials were deceiving the general public when they claimed the train was simply on a maintenance run to remove graffiti and when they offered misleading answers to the Guardian’s direct questions about whether driver training was being done.

Unfortunately, that was just the latest example of a pattern of behavior unbefitting of officials in a public agency. It began with the decision to pay almost $400,000 to a notoriously anti-union contract negotiator. It continued through stall tactics and an aggressive public relations strategy. And it culminated with seeking sweeping authority over work rules at the 11th hour and following up with training new drivers as soon as a strike was underway, apparently hoping to run enough service that the unions would be forced to accept a bad contract.

None of that should have happened, and it was only possible because the financially healthy district played off of the conservative campaigns against public employee unions of recent years to undermine the public image of their workers and deny them reasonable raises and safety improvements.

The media is also culpable, particularly the editorial writers at the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area News Group, which ran vitriolic and false rants condemning workers and unions, even supporting Republican calls to outlaw strikes by transportation workers.

Only in the funhouse mirror they created was it possible to credibly push the ridiculous claim that unions were striking because they were afraid of using email. It’s not necessary to dehumanize and demean our adversaries. We in the progressive Bay Area are better than that, and maybe now we can act like it.

Help us keep raising hell

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EDITORIAL The last couple years have been some of the most difficult and precarious in the Guardian’s 47 years of printing the news and raising hell in San Francisco. We’ve been struggling to survive and thrive, both the newspaper and the larger progressive political and alternative arts communities the Guardian is a part of, at a moment when this city needs us more than ever.

But the good news is that people are awakening to what has been lost as our resources have waned. We see it in the resurgent movements against evictions and gentrification and for better transit and bike lanes, in a rare referendum campaign challenging the 8 Washington project and its lies, in the lively online discussions we facilitate, and in the community support that the Guardian and other nascent progressive media projects are receiving.

Most people don’t trust the mainstream political, economic, and media institutions to understand or explain what’s happening to San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. Technology has created an explosion of new media outlets, but it’s come at the price of common narratives and gathering places where we can join together, discuss the issues, and then assert our collective will.

This is where the Guardian comes in, and it’s why we must find the way to grow through these tough years and regain our standing as the premier forum for discussing and promoting San Francisco’s values and needs. And for that, we need your help and support.

In some ways, it’s a situation similar to when Bruce B. Brugmann and Jean Dibble started the Bay Guardian in October 1966, when San Francisco was at the epicenter of social movements and technological innovation that were challenging entrenched economic interests and the inertia of the status quo.

The Guardian gave voice to new ideas about human rights and responsibilities, sexuality and identity, art and expression, diversity and tolerance, and many of the other issues and values that have animated San Francisco for the last half-century. Along with papers such as the Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, and Chicago Reader, the Guardian helped create the model for alternative newsweeklies that came to proliferate in every major US city, expanding the political and cultural dialogue in the country.

But that model is faltering. The Phoenix, which was founded the same year as the Guardian, closed its doors earlier this year, falling victim to the same economic pressures that are plaguing the entire newspaper industry. And the Voice soldiers on as a relatively apolitical corporate clone of its former feisty self after being bought out by a Phoenix-based chain driven by the kind of bottom-line Wall Street values that alt-weeklies were originally launched to oppose.

Regular readers of the Guardian know how we’ve fought for our independence and sustainability over the last year (see “On Guard,” June 19, and “New Guardian leadership wants your input,” July 23), and that we’ve approached it in a way that was consistent with our values on transparency, fearless truth-telling, and partnership with our progressive community.

And now, on the Guardian’s anniversary, we are recommitting to the mission stated on our masthead, “to print the news and raise hell,” while updating that mission for the digital age in myriad ways, some of which we’ll be announcing soon. This region is at a crossroads, choosing between greedy, myopic elitism and egalitarian sustainability, and we need strong media voices like the Guardian to clarify that choice.

For that, we need your help. Read the paper and then pass it to a friend. Post our stories to your favorite online forum. Buy an ad to promote your business, event, or cause. Participate in our community forums, including our Oct. 23 discussion of high-rises and waterfront development at the LGBT Center. Send us good story tips. And, most importantly, help us promote the idea that an informed and engaged citizenry is the foundation of democracy — and the only way to save the soul of San Francisco.

 

Endorsements 2013

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We’re heading into a lackluster election on Nov. 5. The four incumbents on the ballot have no serious challengers and voter turnout could hit an all-time low. That’s all the more reason to read up on the issues, show up at the polls, and exert an outsized influence on important questions concerning development standards and the fate of the city’s waterfront, the cost of prescription drugs, and the long-term fiscal health of the city.

 

PROP. A — RETIREE HEALTH CARE TRUST FUND

YES

Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated that Prop A increases employee contributions to health benefits.

Throughout the United States, the long-term employee pension and health care obligations of government agencies have been used as wedge issues for anti-government activists to attack public employee unions, even in San Francisco. The fiscal concerns are real, but they’re often exaggerated or manipulated for political reasons.

That’s one reason why the consensus-based approach to the issue that San Francisco has undertaken in recent years has been so important, and why we endorse Prop. A, which safeguards the city’s Retiree Health Care Trust Fund and helps solve this vexing problem.

Following up on the consensus pension reform measure Prop. B, which increased how much new city employees paid for lifetime health benefits, this year’s Prop. A puts the fund into a lock-box to ensure it is there to fund the city’s long-term retiree health care obligations, which are projected at $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

“The core of it says you can’t touch the assets until it’s fully funded,” Sup. Mark Farrell, who has taken a lead role on addressing the issue, told us. “The notion of playing political football with employee health care will be gone.”

The measure has the support of the entire Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Labor Council. Progressive Sup. David Campos strongly supports the measure and he told us, “I think it makes sense and is something that goes beyond political divides.”

There are provisions that would allow the city to tap the fund in emergencies, but only after it is fully funded or if the mayor, controller, the Trust Board, and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors signs off, a very high bar. So vote yes and let’s put this distracting issue behind us.

 

PROP. B — 8 WASHINGTON SPECIAL USE DISTRICT

NO, NO, NO!

Well-meaning people can arrive at different conclusions on the 8 Washington project, the waterfront luxury condo development that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year and challenged with a referendum that became Prop. C. But Prop. B is simply the developer writing his own rules and exempting them from normal city review.

We oppose the 8 Washington project, as we explain in our next endorsement, but we can understand how even some progressive-minded people might think the developers’ $11 million affordable housing and $4.8 million transit impact payments to the city are worth letting this project slide through.

But Prop. B is a different story, and it’s something that those who believe in honesty, accountability, and good planning should oppose on principle, even if they support the underlying project. Contrary to the well-funded deceptions its backers are circulating, claiming this measure is about parks, Prop. B is nothing more than a developer and his attorneys preventing meaningful review and enforcement by the city of their vague and deceptive promises.

It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the wall of mendacity its backers have erected to fool voters into supporting this measure, but we can start with their claim that it will “open the way for new public parks, increased access to the Embarcadero Waterfront, hundreds of construction jobs, new sustainable residential housing and funding for new affordable housing.”

There’s nothing the public will get from Prop. B that it won’t get from Prop. C or the already approved 8 Washington project. Nothing. Same parks, same jobs, same housing, same funding formulas. But the developer would get an unprecedented free pass, with the measure barring discretionary review by the Planning Department — which involves planners using their professional judgment to decide if the developer is really delivering what he’s promising — forcing them to rubber-stamp the myriad details still being developed rather than acting as advocates for the general public.

“This measure would also create a new ‘administrative clearance’ process that would limit the Planning Director’s time and discretion to review a proposed plan for the Site,” is how the official ballot summary describes that provision to voters.

Proponents of the measure also claim “it empowers voters with the decision on how to best utilize our waterfront,” which is another deception. Will you be able to tweak details of the project to make it better, as the Board of Supervisors was able to do, making a long list of changes to the deal’s terms? No. You’re simply being given the opportunity to approve a 34-page initiative, written by crafty attorneys for a developer who stands to make millions of dollars in profits, the fine details of which most people will never read nor fully understand.

Ballot box budgeting is bad, but ballot box regulation of complex development deals is even worse. And if it works here, we can all expect to see more ballot measures by developers who want to write their own “special use district” rules to tie the hands of planning professionals.

When we ask proponents of this measure why they needed Prop. B, they claimed that Prop. C limited them to just talking about the project’s building height increases, a ridiculous claim for a well-funded campaign now filling mailers and broadcast ads with all kinds of misleading propaganda.

With more than $1 million and counting being funneled into this measure by the developer and his allies, this measure amounts to an outrageous, shameless lie being told to voters, which Mayors Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom have shamefully chosen to align themselves with over the city they were elected to serve.

As we said, people can differ on how they see certain development deals. But we should all agree that it’s recipe for disaster when developers can write every last detail of their own deals and limit the ability of professional planners to act in the public interest. Don’t just vote no, vote hell no, or NO, No, no!

 

PROPOSITION C — 8 WASHINGTON REFERENDUM

NO

San Francisco’s northeastern waterfront is a special place, particularly since the old Embarcadero Freeway was removed, opening up views and public access to the Ferry Building and other recently renovated buildings, piers, and walkways along the Embarcadero.

The postcard-perfect stretch is a major draw for visiting tourists, and the waterfront is protected by state law as a public trust and overseen by multiple government agencies, all of whom have prevented development of residential or hotel high-rises along the Embarcadero.

Then along came developer Simon Snellgrove, who took advantage of the Port of San Francisco’s desperate financial situation, offered to buy its Seawall Lot 351 and adjacent property from the Bay Club at 8 Washington St., and won approval to build 134 luxury condos up to 12 stories high, exceeding the city’s height limit at the site by 62 percent.

So opponents challenged the project with a referendum, a rarely used but important tool for standing up to deep-pocketed developers who can exert an outsized influence on politicians. San Franciscans now have the chance to demand a project more in scale with its surroundings.

The waterfront is supposed to be for everyone, not just those who can afford the most expensive condominiums in the city, costing an average of $5 million each. The high-end project also violates city standards by creating a parking space for every unit and an additional 200 spots for the Port, on a property with the best public transit access and options in the city.

This would set a terrible precedent, encouraging other developers of properties on or near the waterfront to also seek taller high-rises and parking for more cars, changes that defy decades of good planning work done for the sensitive, high-stakes waterfront.

The developers would have you believe this is a battle between rival groups of rich people (noting that many opponents come from the million-dollar condos adjacent to the site), or that it’s a choice between parks and the surface parking lot and ugly green fence that now surrounds the Bay Club (the owner of which, who will profit from this project, has resisted petitions to open up the site).

But there’s a reason why the 8 Washington project has stirred more emotion and widespread opposition that any development project in recent years, which former City Attorney Louise Renne summed up when she told us, “I personally feel rich people shouldn’t monopolize the waterfront.”

A poll commissioned by project opponents recently found that 63 percent of respondents think the city is building too much luxury housing, which it certainly is. But it’s even more outrageous when that luxury housing uses valuable public land along our precious waterfront, and it can’t even play by the rules in doing so.

Vote no and send the 8 Washington project back to the drawing board.

 

PROP. D — PRESCRIPTION DRUG PURCHASING

YES

San Francisco is looking to rectify a problem consumers face every day in their local pharmacy: How can we save money on our prescription drugs?

Prop. D doesn’t solve that problem outright, but it mandates our politicians start the conversation on reducing the $23 million a year the city spends on pharmaceuticals, and to urge state and federal governments to negotiate for better drug prices as well.

San Francisco spends $3.5 million annually on HIV treatment alone, so it makes sense that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the main proponent of Prop. D, and funder of the Committee on Fair Drug Pricing. Being diagnosed as HIV positive can be life changing, not only for the health effects, but for the $2,000-5,000 monthly drug cost.

Drug prices have gotten so out-of-control that many consumers take the less than legal route of buying their drugs from Canada, because our neighbors up north put limits on what pharmaceutical companies can charge, resulting in prices at least half those of the United States.

The high price of pharmaceuticals affects our most vulnerable, the elderly and the infirm. Proponents of Prop. D are hopeful that a push from San Francisco could be the beginning of a social justice movement in cities to hold pharmaceutical companies to task, a place where the federal government has abundantly failed.

Even though Obamacare would aid some consumers, notably paying 100 percent of prescription drug purchases for some Medicare patients, the cost to government is still astronomically high. Turning that around could start here in San Francisco. Vote yes on D.

 

ASSESSOR-RECORDER

CARMEN CHU

With residential and commercial property in San Francisco assessed at around $177 billion, property taxes bring in enough revenue to make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s General Fund. That money can be allocated for anything from after-school programs and homeless services to maintaining vital civic infrastructure.

Former District 4 Sup. Carmen Chu was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to serve as Assessor-Recorder when her predecessor, Phil Ting, was elected to the California Assembly. Six months later, she’s running an office responsible for property valuation and the recording of official documents like property deeds and marriage licenses (about 55 percent of marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decision on Prop. 8 have been issued to same-sex couples).

San Francisco property values rose nearly 5 percent in the past year, reflecting a $7.8 billion increase. Meanwhile, appeals have tripled from taxpayers disputing their assessments, challenging Chu’s staff and her resolve. As a district supervisor, Chu was a staunch fiscal conservative whose votes aligned with downtown and the mayor, so our endorsement isn’t without some serious reservations.

That said, she struck a few notes that resonated with the Guardian during our endorsement interview. She wants to create a system to automatically notify homeowners when banks begin the foreclosure process, to warn them and connect them with helpful resources before it’s too late. Why hasn’t this happened before?

She’s also interested in improving system to capture lost revenue in cases where property transfers are never officially recorded, continuing work that Ting began. We support the idea of giving this office the tools it needs to go out there and haul in the millions of potentially lost revenue that property owners may owe the city, and Chu has our support for that effort.

 

CITY ATTORNEY

DENNIS HERRERA

Dennis Herrera doesn’t claim to be a progressive, describing himself as a good liberal Democrat, but he’s been doing some of the most progressive deeds in City Hall these days: Challenging landlords, bad employers, rogue restaurants, PG&E, the healthcare industry, opponents of City College of San Francisco, and those who fought to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

The legal realm can be more decisive than the political, and it’s especially effective when they work together. Herrera has recently used his office to compel restaurants to meet their health care obligations to employees, enforcing an earlier legislative gain. And his long court battle to defend marriage equality in California validated an act by the executive branch.

But Herrera has also shown a willingness and skill to blaze new ground and carry on important regulation of corporate players that the political world seemed powerless to touch, from his near-constant legal battles with PG&E over various issues to defending tenants from illegal harassment and evictions to his recent lawsuit challenging the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges over its threats to CCSF.

We have issues with some of the tactics his office used in its aggressive and unsuccessful effort to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office. But we understand that is was his obligation to act on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee, and we admire Herrera’s professionalism, which he also exhibited by opposing the Central Subway as a mayoral candidate yet defending it as city attorney.

“How do you use the power of the law to make a difference in people’s lives every single day?” was the question that Herrera posed to us during his endorsement interview, one that he says is always on his mind.

We at the Guardian have been happy to watch how he’s answered that question for nearly 11 years, and we offer him our strong endorsement.

 

TREASURER/TAX COLLECTOR

JOSE CISNEROS

It’s hard not to like Treasurer/Tax Collector Jose Cisneros. He’s charming, smart, compassionate, and has run this important office well for nine years, just the person that we need there to implement the complicated, voter-approved transition to a new form of business tax, a truly gargantuan undertaking.

Even our recent conflicts with Cisneros — stemming from frustrations that he won’t assure the public that he’s doing something about hotel tax scofflaw Airbnb (see “Into thin air,” Aug. 6) — are dwarfed by our understanding of taxpayer privacy laws and admiration that Cisneros ruled against Airbnb and its ilk in the first place, defying political pressure to drop the rare tax interpretation.

So Cisneros has the Guardian’s enthusiastic endorsement. He also has our sympathies for having to create a new system for taxing local businesses based on their gross receipts rather than their payroll costs, more than doubling the number of affected businesses, placing them into one of eight different categories, and applying complex formulas assessing how much of their revenues comes from in the city.

“This is going to be the biggest change to taxes in a generation,” Cisneros told us of the system that he will start to implement next year, calling the new regime “a million times more complicated than the payroll tax.”

Yet Cisneros has still found time to delve into the controversial realm of short-term apartment sublets. Although he’s barred from saying precisely what he’s doing to make Airbnb pay the $1.8 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes that we have shown the company is dodging, he told us, “We are here to enforce the law and collect the taxes.”

And Cisneros has continued to expand his department’s financial empowerment programs such as Bank on San Francisco, which help low-income city residents establish bank accounts and avoid being gouged by the high interest rates of check cashing outlets. That and similar programs are now spreading to other cities, and we’re encouraged to see Cisneros enthusiastically exporting San Francisco values, which will be helped by his recent election as president of the League of California Cities.

 

SUPERVISOR, DIST. 4

KATY TANG

With just six months on the job after being appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Katy Tang faces only token opposition in this race. She’s got a single opponent, accountant Ivan Seredni, who’s lived in San Francisco for three years and decided to run for office because his wife told him to “stop complaining and do something,” according to his ballot statement.

Tang worked in City Hall as a legislative aide to her predecessor, Carmen Chu, for six years. She told us she works well with Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, who help make up the board’s conservative flank. In a predominantly Chinese district, where voters tend to be more conservative, Tang is a consistently moderate vote who grew up in the district and speaks Mandarin.

Representing the Sunset District, Tang, who is not yet 30 years old, faces some new challenges. Illegal “in-law” units are sprouting up in basements and backyards throughout the area. This presents the thorny dilemma of whether to crack down on unpermitted construction — thus hindering a source of housing stock that is at least within reach for lower-income residents — look the other way, or “legalize” the units in an effort to mitigate potential fire hazards or health risks. Tang told us one of the greatest concerns named by Sunset residents is the increasing cost of living in San Francisco; she’s even open to accepting a little more housing density in her district to deal with the issue.

Needless to say, the Guardian hasn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye with the board’s fiscally conservative supervisors, including Tang and her predecessor, Chu. We’re granting Tang an endorsement nevertheless, because she strikes us as dedicated to serving the Sunset over the long haul, and in touch with the concerns of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to gain a foothold in San Francisco.

Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expand protections for small businesses

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EDITORIAL Corporations and chain stores are crafty, and they can always find creative ways to get around whatever barriers that cities and counties erect to protect their local small businesses. And such barriers are important because most large corporations enjoy economies of scale, the ability to absorb sustained losses while gaining market share, and other unfair competitive advantages.

San Francisco voters and legislators have approved and expanded so-called formula retail legislative protections over the last decade, requiring stores with 11 or more locations that want to open in neighborhood commercial districts to obtain a conditional use permit, allowing the public to weigh in and city officials to reject disfavored projects.

But as we observed in last month’s saga involving chain store men’s clothier Jack Spade’s planned move into the old Adobe Bookstore space on 16th Street near Valencia, it’s still too easy for deep-pocketed corporations to make stealthy inroads into some of San Francisco’s most beloved and sensitive commercial districts.

First, Jack Spade disguised its corporate connections in pulling a building permit, then it won over the zoning administrator by claiming only 10 stores (despite the fact that it’s a national chain owned by Fifth & Pacific, aka Liz Claiborne, which also has a string of Kate Spade women’s clothing stores), and then, even when activists and small businesses won the argument and a 3-2 vote by the Board of Appeals on Aug. 21, that wasn’t the supermajority needed to overturn the flawed decision.

As they say in the neighborhood: That shit ain’t right.

Clearly, something needs to change because Jack Spade isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last, corporate-owned chain store that wants to move into the Mission and other gentrifying commercial districts in the city, including Western SoMa (where development forces have been unleashed by the city’s approval of its local area plan earlier this year), Hayes Valley, Polk Gulch, and the Divisidero corridor.

And when one deep-pocketed chain store moves in — a corporation that is willing to invest early in an up-and-coming neighborhood — it creates a strong upward pressure on commercial rents that forces out small businesses, nonprofits, and community-based organizations. And then residential rents follow suit.

Only governmental and political will can break this pattern, and it’s a pattern that must be broken if San Francisco is going to retain its economic vitality. Study after study shows that small businesses circulate their revenues within the community instead of siphoning them off to Wall Street and the corporate headquarters, and that helps the overall local economy.

Flawed ideas about consumer choice and the supposed wisdom of the supposedly free market shouldn’t distract San Francisco and other cities from focusing their economic development efforts on local small businesses, a sympathetic symbol that gets disingenuously trotted out in the rhetoric of Mayor Ed Lee and his allies even as he stacks the Small Business Commission with bankers and right-wing ideologues.

Now, with the Board of Supervisors back from its summer recess, is the time to redouble our efforts to resist corporate dominance. That should include support for Sup. Eric Mar’s legislation to change the metrics for what’s considered “formula retail,” support for Sup. London Breed’s efforts to expand protections in Hayes Valley and Sup. Jane Kim’s similar efforts along Market Street, and consideration of changing the vote threshold for the Board of Appeals and giving neighborhoods more tools to resist stores like Jack Spade.

Nothing less than the soul and face of San Francisco is at stake, and it’s up to all of us to fight for it and not be fooled by self-serving and simplistic “jobs” rhetoric. We need to call a Spade a Spade, and a corporation a corporation, and defend what makes San Francisco special: real, local people serving real, local people, not the interests of Wall Street.

 

 

Forget the Willie Brown Bay Bridge

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EDITORIAL As the California Legislature prepares to wrap up before fall recess, a resolution is working its way through the approval process to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge the “Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge.”

Brown, who formerly served as mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assembly, is known for boasting about his hobnobbing with the rich and famous in his San Francisco Chronicle column, “Willie’s World.” But to longtime progressive San Franciscans who spent decades trying to stem the tide of gentrification, he was the powerful figure that rolled out the welcome mat for high-end developers and corporate interests, whose interests in San Francisco revolved around profit alone.

As mayor, Brown presided over land-use policies that resulted in high-end developments at a time when evictions were rampant, a trend that rings familiar in today’s tech-saturated San Francisco. Once, when pressed on the idea that his approach was making the city increasingly unaffordable, Brown’s famous retort was: “If you don’t make $50,000 a year in San Francisco, then you shouldn’t live here.”

It’s not just Brown’s insensitivity to struggling tenants, deep ties to corporate interests and high-end real-estate developers, or continued behind-the-scenes influence in San Francisco politics that cause us to squirm when we think about the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge bearing this politician’s name. There’s also the key question of whether Bay Area residents actually want to see this happen — and, given Brown’s historic role as a divisive figure, the idea that there is universal support for such an idea is laughable.

A legislative analysis presented to the Assembly Committee on Transportation a few weeks ago noted that lawmakers actually came up with ground rules for big decisions like whether a bridge ought to be named after someone, to “promote fairness.” The rules stipulate that such a proposal “must reflect a community consensus” — and guess what? Even Brown’s editors over at the Chronicle issued a June editorial opposing the idea.

Not only that, but proposals like this are only supposed to come from representatives of the district where the thing being renamed is located — yet this scheme came from Assemblymember Isadore Hall, a Democrat from Compton. But despite clear failure to adhere to these basic rules, only a single committee member voted against naming the bridge after Brown.

Interestingly enough, the bill even includes a request for Caltrans to determine the cost of posting signs commemorating Brown, which would evidently be funded by donations from unspecified private sources.

If the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is going to be named after anyone, we agree that the honor should be reserved for beloved 19th-century San Francisco eccentric Joshua Abraham Norton, the Scotsman who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859 and printed his own currency.

So far, a Change.org petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to name it the Emperor Norton Bay Bridge has garnered 1,800 signatures. “He was a champion of racial and religious unity, an advocate for women’s suffrage [and] a defender of the people,” the petition notes. That sounds more like something motorists can be proud of when they drive back and forth across the bay.

 

Anti-cyclist bias must stop

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EDITORIAL The streets of San Francisco can be dangerous enough for their most vulnerable users — pedestrians and bicyclists — without the aggressive, insensitive, and judgmental attitudes that have recently been expressed toward those who choose to get around this city by bike.

The Guardian’s Politics blog exploded with caustic comments last week after a pair of reports related to the death of bicyclist Amelie Le Moullac. Among the worst of these blame-the-victim attitudes was expressed by SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst, who showed up Aug. 21 at an event at the site where Le Moullac died to lecture those mourning her death and make a series of unfounded, irrelevant, and thoughtless accusations (for details, see “Shit Happened”).

These attitudes have no place in a civilized debate over how we share the roadways of this city, and they are particularly reprehensible coming from someone in a position of public trust and authority, validating the dangerous view that violence is an acceptable response to bicyclists who don’t obey traffic laws to the letter.

Compounding the anti-cyclist bias of the SFPD and other police agencies — which routinely fail to cite motorists even when their inattention or negligence results in the loss of life — is the revelation that SFPD misrepresented its efforts to seek video surveillance of the collision, which activists easily found from a neighboring business.

We call on the SFPD to fully investigate Le Moullac’s death, two similar cyclist fatalities earlier this year, and the actions of Ernst, who clearly abused his authority and misrepresented the results of an open investigation in order to make political points against a class of road users that he doesn’t like or understand, needlessly creating a safety hazard in the process. Perhaps temporary reassignment to bike patrol would give Ernst a clearer perspective on the entire community that he’s supposed to be protecting and serving.

The city should also do a public outreach campaign to improve the awareness and safety of all road users, particularly targeting commercial truck drivers, who have now fatally run over three bicyclists this year. The weight and poor driver visibility of these vehicles make them particularly dangerous, and they must drive them in a cautious and predictable manner. The city should also have clearer road markings to encourage safe merging at problematic intersections like Folsom and Sixth streets.

We all need to learn to safely share this city’s roadways, which starts with simply slowing down and paying attention. To focus exclusively on the behavior of cyclists is like blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt. Those with the most power to kill or maim need to be held accountable when they blow through red lights or drive unpredictably, and that should be a higher priority for the SFPD than to piously lecture those mourning a tragic death.

Protect local power and control

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EDITORIAL There’s a growing stench of political corruption — or, at the very least, hidden agendas aimed at subverting popular will in favor of entrenched corporate interests — emanating from the Mayor’s Office these days. And it’s undermining projects and institutions that are vital to the future of San Francisco.

In the last week, a pair of important developments illuminated the shady way business gets done in San Francisco. The first instance concerned City College of San Francisco, which had its accreditation rashly revoked last month, prompting Mayor Ed Lee to enthusiastically support the disbanding of the locally elected Board of Trustees and the takeover of City College by state-appointed outsiders bent on shutting down community-based facilities and classes.

While Lee and the San Francisco Chronicle have been cheerleading this loss of local control and the corporatist agenda behind it — CCSF was criticized for resisting the narrowing of its mission to focus on job training and college prep — we at the Guardian have questioned this process and the motives behind it.

In a cover story (“Who killed City College?” July 9), editorial (“Why democracy matters,” July 23), and other coverage, we’ve highlighted how the attack on CCSF is part of national movement to focus schools on job training rather than broad-based education, and questioned the haste with which CCSF’s local leadership was usurped.

Critics mocked these concerns, as they did those of the California Federation of Teachers, which formally challenged the actions by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, with Lee and others saying that we need to just accept the death threats against CCSF and do whatever these outsiders are asking.

So on Aug. 13, when the US Department of Education sustained the CFT appeal and found the ACCJC in violation of federal regulations and its own internal standards in its approach to City College, it validated our concerns and called into question Lee’s hair-trigger abandonment of City College’s local leaders.

Frankly, we’re puzzled by Lee’s approach to City College — from his appointment of right-wing ideologue Rodrigo Santos as a trustee last year (who subsequently got trounced in the election) to his resistance to helping the college before the state takeover — but we suspect it’s connected to Lee’s focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” to the exclusion of other issues and values.

But Lee only counts private sector jobs, not those created to serve the public interest like the thousands of jobs that would be created by CleanPowerSF, a program that Lee opposes and that his appointees to the SF Public Utilities Commission are actively subverting.

As we report in this issue, CleanPowerSF is a renewable energy program approved last year by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors, but it’s being blocked by the SFPUC’s refusal to approve the rates and sign the contracts, with commissioners raising concerns that go well beyond their purview at this point.

It’s time for Mayor Lee to start serving the people of San Francisco instead of the corporate titans and political benefactors who elevated this loyal career bureaucrat into the big chair in Room 200.

 

The time is now to fix Muni

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EDITORIAL San Franciscans love to bash Muni, but this city would be a gridlocked nightmare without it. Despite its many flaws, Muni does a pretty good job at getting people around the city, particularly for a system that has been plagued by chronic underfunding and which is at capacity during peak hours.

Yet in a growing city that has ambitions to grow even faster — pushed by regional motivators such as Plan Bay Area and pulled by the grand designs of powerful capitalists and their neoliberal political enablers — Muni is well on the way to earning all the scorn that critics can heap on it and becoming the self-fulfilling prophecy of dystopian dysfunction.

Into this critical moment comes the city’s Transit Effectiveness Project and its promise to reduce travel times by 20 percent on busy corridors and to improve reliability and service to underserved areas such as the Excelsior. The TEP’s 793-page environmental impact report dropped on the city with a barely noticed thud last month, and it will be the subject of an informational hearing at the Planning Commission this week (Thu/15) and a series of community hearings in the weeks that follow, with public comments due into the Planning Department by Sept. 17.

So now is the time to get serious about addressing long-simmering conflicts between the Muni’s needs and the desires of private automobile drivers, which are often in conflict on roadways where they’re forced to share space. And on a deeper level, this city must resolve the conflict between the need to substantially increase investment in vital public infrastructure and the destructive fantasies of anti-government ideologues who want a functional city but don’t want to pay for it or be inconvenienced.

Only then can we really delve into the devilish details of the TEP, with tough-to-resolve conflicts between reducing stops to speed service and the needs of the elderly and disabled, whether to limit cycling in certain stretches, how to slow traffic and limit parking without triggering motorist backlash, and how to quickly expand capacity again after you’ve improved the system and encouraged more people to use it.

But these are solvable problems if San Franciscans of all stripes acknowledge the realities of a growing city with a finite capacity to accommodate cars and an infinite need to improve Muni and the safety of pedestrians, laudable goals of the TEP and its new EIR, which is designed to smooth the way for many transit improvement projects to come.

We won’t get there by pandering to people who are pissed off about efforts to regulate street parking in their neighborhoods (and we certainly won’t get there if certain supervisors now making rumblings about taking parking regulation back from the SFMTA get their way). It’s time to truly become the transit-first city we claim to be, and that process starts now.

 

Get tough with defiant disrupters

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EDITORIAL It may sometimes seem like we at the Bay Guardian don’t like the technology industry, but nothing could be further from the truth. We tweet, click, post, and share, playing with all the hot new tech toys that spring from the innovative minds of Bay Area residents. This is an important sector of the local economy, one that often empowers people who were just getting by to remain in expensive San Francisco.

Yes, we do regularly criticize tech (and some of its biggest neoliberal cheerleaders in City Hall), as we do to Airbnb, Lyft, and other so-called “shareable economy” companies in this issue. But that’s only because we strongly believe in open and transparent discussions about public policy and the needs of city residents.

And frankly, that’s not happening these days.

Instead of engaging directly and honestly with the people and our elected representatives, Airbnb has chosen to duck its obligations to the city of its birth and dodge attempts to create a public dialogue about its dangerously flawed business model. Same thing with Lyft, another company that acts as if it’s entitled to undermine civic institutions without so much as a public conversation first.

Yes, these companies have come up with cool ideas that have become popular with Bay Area residents. In a city where it was tough to find a cab on Saturday nights, Lyft made it easier to find rides and allowed people to make some extra cash off their cars. Airbnb was also a great idea that makes travel cheaper and more personal.

The beauty of these ideas is their simplicity — but that is also their main flaw, because San Francisco isn’t a simple city. It’s a complex, dynamic city with difficult landlord-tenant dynamics, and a congested city that tries to achieve the right balance of cabs on the roadways, both systems that are the products of decades-long struggles that have spawned reams of regulations.

These tech-savvy fortune hunters, who don’t understand or appreciate that history, think it’s enough to have a good idea and some rich venture capitalists willing to back it. They espouse vaguely libertarian ideas about “disruptive” technologies empowering people, but then they wait for government officials to solve the problems with their business models, raking in millions of dollars in profits in the meantime and delaying their day of public reckoning as long as possible.

For example, in a May interview on KQED’s Forum, Airbnb’s David Hantman was asked why the company was defying a city ruling that it must pay the transient occupancy tax, he said they were waiting for the city to adopt a new regulatory structure first.

That’s not an acceptable or defensible position, and it is only continuing because Mayor Ed Lee has publicly supported the company’s defiance of city law and rulings. Mr. Mayor, if these are the types of “jobs” you’re creating — part time jobs with no benefits in an underground economy that cannibalizes other industries, breaks city laws, and won’t pay local taxes — then this city is in real trouble.

We’re happy to see Board President David Chiu trying to solve Airbnb’s problems, but he needs the support of other top city officials who are willing to put pressure on the company to bargain in good faith. And yes, we’re talking to Mayor Lee, Tax Collector Jose Cisneros, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, among others.

If you make the city appear impotent to enforce its own laws or too willing to go easy on wealthy corporations, it will only embolden more young opportunists to disrupt the city’s regulatory authority and its social fabric. You work for us, not the venture capitalists, and it’s time to show some spine.

 

Supporting unions helps all workers

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EDITORIAL The San Francisco Bay Area has traditionally been very pro-labor, from the days when legendary longshoreman leader Harry Bridges led the San Francisco General Strike of 1934 to the modern era when labor unions have lent the muscle and money to myriad progressive reforms that San Francisco and California have proudly exported to the rest of the country.

But sadly, that sense of solidarity seems to be changing during these times of widespread economic anxiety, declining union membership, increasing urban gentrification, and a divide-and-conquer political climate created by both major parties. Too often, Bay Area residents are indifferent or even hostile to the plight of the working class.

We’ve seen it in the public reactions to the labor contract impasse and strikes at Bay Area Rapid Transit, whose unions staged a four-day strike that ended July 4 and which could resume again after a 30-day contract extension and cooling off period ends on Aug. 4. If the strike resumes — which seems likely at this point, disrupting commutes on a non-holiday workweek — the public’s anger and finger-pointing could be even worse than last time.

We heard similar resentments expressed in reaction to last week’s cover story (see “Striking Out,” July 24) about the stadium concession workers at San Francisco Giants’ games, who have been without a contract since 2010 and are even denied tip jars to supplement pay that is actually less than San Francisco’s minimum wage in many cases.

The common criticism is that these workers should just be glad to have a job, regardless of pay and benefits. And when it comes to the full-funded pensions of BART workers, critics rightfully point out that few of us enjoy that kind of retirement security.

But that criticism turns the real problem on its head. We all need far more retirement security than we have now, a reality that will hit hard in the coming years as the so-called “silver tsunami” breaks, leaving families and society to care for baby boomers who run out of retirement savings (which could happen quickly given that three-quarters of Americans aged 50-64 have less than $30,000 in retirement savings).

Bay Area residents should be supporting our brothers and sisters in organized labor, helping them so they can in turn help us, as SEIU Local 1021 and other unions are trying to do on the issue of retirement security for all (last year’s approval of SB1234 in California was a good start, but far more is needed).

When unions win good contracts, it generally increases wages and benefits in the region, even for non-union jobs (the opposite is also true, that wages stagnate when unions lose these fights), so it should be in our enlightened self-interest to support BART and Giants workers. Particularly during these times of economic uncertainty and woe, it’s important to overcome our resentments and stand in solidarity with our fellow workers — for their sake, for our own, and for the long-term best interests of our region and country.

More ill winds

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EDITORIAL After years of hype, the 34th America’s Cup finally got underway on the San Francisco Bay this past week — with a single boat formally winning in a match against itself, a fitting metaphor for this whole disappointing affair.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailed solo while its Italian would-be competitor, Luna Rossa, stayed ashore to protest a rule change on rudder design that had been unilaterally decided by regatta director Iain Murray. The third competitor with Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing team that is defending the cup and hosting the event, Swedish team Artemis, was still trying to rebuild its vessel after a tragic accident resulted in the death of a renowned sailor in May.

It was a lame kickoff. The anticipated hordes of race-goers have yet to materialize, with the once-regal America’s Cup reduced to just another Fisherman’s Wharf tourist trap. In a display that might as well have been used to entice tourists to the Wax Museum, a barker outside the event’s sprawling Pier 27 spectator area fruitlessly tried to lure passersby: “See the fastest boats in the world!”

In an interview with ABC7 news, Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts declared the Italians to be “acting like a bunch of spoiled babies,” adding that if they didn’t want to race, they should just leave. You could practically hear the event’s corporate sponsors burying their faces in the palms of their hands.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2010, when software tycoon Larry Ellison of the Oracle Racing Team hinted to city officials that he might want to stage the next Cup on the Bay, if not Italy or some other exotic destination, economists with the Bay Area Council trumpeted the economic gain that stood to be reaped if Ellison’s plan was realized.

Since a dozen teams competed during the last America’s Cup, the authors of the study reasoned, at least as many could be expected to join this time around. Those initial projections — $1.4 billion in economic activity (like three Super Bowls!, the analysts enthused), thousands of new jobs, a tourism windfall — sounded so rosy in part because 15 syndicates were expected to compete.

But in time, this optimism faded and the city is arguably on the hook for millions in race-related costs. Fortunately, then-District 6 Sup. Chris Daly scuttled an initial plan to cede vast swaths of city-owned waterfront property to Ellison in exchange for the expected economic gain, thus averting an even greater loss.

Meanwhile, Oracle is weathering accusations that it cheated by slipping a design change into a list of safety recommendations, conveniently granting itself a competitive edge. An international jury’s decision on whether to honor the rule change was still up in the air at press time. While we at the Guardian find ourselves rooting for the Kiwis, we remind Ellison that it isn’t too late to right this ship — and cutting a check to the city to cover its losses would be a great place to start.

So now what?

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EDITORIAL The scene at City Hall on Friday, June 28 could have been a video rewind of 2004’s Winter of Love: a surprise announcement granting same-sex marriage licenses; a breathless rush of couples to the civic altar, led by two brave, symbolic women (lesbian groundbreakers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in 2004 and anti-Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier in 2013), a city erupting with good will and cheer, dazed by the speed of luck and history. Earlier, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, teeth and hair and all, was making grand pronouncements, strutting about like he was mayor of the place again.

Back in 2004, the city was scarred and drained from the first great Internet bust, and still reeling from the losses of AIDS. San Francisco was a mess, but it was starting to recover. People who had been forced to move out by the city’s skyrocketing rents and evictions in the early 2000s were beginning to trickle back in, and many of those beached by the boom’s collapse were turning into the very freaks, artists, and innovators they had helped displace. When Newsom launched SF’s same-sex marriage rebellion, it was an act of great civic uplift, burnishing SF’s progressive image in the eyes of the world, while boosting the city’s self-confidence. (Not to mention its economy, which benefited greatly from the wedding explosion.)

The act also burnished Newsom’s own reputation. Previously reviled for his “Care Not Cash” policies that demonized the poor and homeless, a significant percentage of LGBTQ people among them, he was suddenly a posterboy for civil rights. Now of course, San Francisco is supposedly on the arc of an economic boom, skyrocketing evictions included, and not in the dregs of a bust. So it was with a regretful shudder that we noticed some more ominous similarities between 2004 and 2013.

A week before this year’s Pride, and right before the wave of marriage elation overtook the festivities, the city’s homeless census was released. Out of the total count of 6,436 homeless people, a figure emerged that stunned many: 29 percent of 1000 people specifically asked identified themselves as LGBTQ, and it’s assumed that the actual percentage of queer homeless people is in fact higher, due to factors like closeting and mental health. A large portion of LGBTQ homeless are youth, still drawn here by San Francisco’s promise of inclusion and shelter from abusive and rejective backgrounds.

While the city celebrates the achievement of grand ideals of equality, we are failing the very people for whom those ideals may be most valuable. Currently, Dolores Street Services, along with help from Sup. David Campos and the city’s “homeless czar” Bevan Dufty, is working towards the building of a 24-bed shelter specific aimed to service LGBTQ homeless people. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. We need much more.

Now that DOMA has been overturned and Prop. 8 kicked to the curb, there’s a lot of discussion about what the powerful, energized “gay lobby” should take on next. Righting the horrible Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act and achieving marriage equality in 37 more states are valiant, necessary goals. But turning toward the actual problems in our own backyard is another imperative.

As the Pride celebration in the Civic Center was winding down on the evening of Sunday, June 30, a group of young women emerged seemingly out of nowhere among the trash-strewn streets and beeping trucks being loaded with the party’s massive detritus. The women quietly dispersed among the leftover crowd, hauling sacks of bread on their shoulders. They made their way toward those lying on the street or huddled in doorways, distributing loaves in a matter-of-fact manner to people in need. It was a perfect reminder of the real spirit of Pride — an inclusivity that benefits all, empowered by actions on a one-to-one, human scale.

The Guardian is dead, long live the Guardian

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EDITORIAL First of all, we at the Bay Guardian want to thank our community for its support since the abrupt departure of our beloved leader, longtime Guardian Editor Tim Redmond, on June 13. It was a shock to us and the larger community, and the outpouring of concern and support is a testament to the important role the Redmond and the Guardian have played in San Francisco.

We’ve all been wondering where we go from here, vacillating between emotional extremes. So we want to take this opportunity to start a conversation with our readers in the hopes that our next steps can be constructive and deliberate, hopefully leading to a renewal of an important media institution that has sadly been in a period of decline for far too long. Moments of crisis can also be important opportunities, and it is our intention for that to be the case here.

It is ironic that the seeds of Redmond’s departure were sown on June 12, just as he was leaving to moderate an inspiring community forum on Plan Bay Area and the future of San Francisco, which he organized. Owner Todd Vogt and newly named Guardian Publisher Stephen Buel were there as well, and they share the view of longtime Guardian staffers that the energy in that room represented an important moment of potential progressive resurgence that shows the Guardian is more vital and relevant than ever.

Yet Vogt and Buel also believe that the Guardian isn’t resonating with either our readers or advertisers like we should, and those of us who remain want to achieve that resonance once again. We believe in the mission of the Guardian, to raise hell and be forum for progressive change in San Francisco, and we want to reinvigorate that mission with the new generation of Guardianistas who now find ourselves at the helm of this venerable old publication.

So we want to hear from you, our readers and advertisers, about what you want from the Guardian. We want you to help us formulate the plan for achieving greater journalistic relevance and economic sustainability. This is the transition point where the Guardian charts its future or fades into the past.

We have enormous respect for the people who made the Guardian what it is, particularly Redmond, Bruce Brugmann, and Jean Dibble — and we appreciate our new owners’ efforts to keep the Guardian going. But we’re also ready to help formulate a new progressive vision for the Bay Area and to find new ways of speaking to residents who may not have been engaged with the Guardian or the movements that it has chronicled and advocated, without neglecting those who have stuck with us over the years.

In the coming weeks, we plan to announce another community forum focused on the future of journalism and the progressive movement in San Francisco, and to provide other avenues for you to get involved and shape the new Guardian. Come offer constructive advice — or tell us whatever you’re feeling now, whatever ideas you have: we want to hear them.

Let’s make a plan and have you hold us to it, and in turn, we ask for your support. The Guardian is dead, long live the Guardian.

A win for the tenants

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EDITORIAL In a stunning victory, tenant advocates have managed to derail a terrible piece of condo-conversion legislation — and replace it with a compromise that actually improves the current situation and could help slow the wave of speculative evictions.

The supervisors need to support the revised version of the bill — and if Mayor Lee wants to have any credibility at all with tenants, he needs to sign it.

For some 30 years, San Francisco has had a strict policy limiting the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums. Only 200 units a year get permission, through a lottery.

But thanks to the popularity of tenancies in common (a backdoor way around the limit) and the state’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict all their tenants and sell the units as TICs, there’s now a long waiting list.

TIC owners say it’s unfair that they have to accept (somewhat) higher mortgage payments and reduced value on their homes because the wait for a conversion permit has grown to ten years or more. Real-estate speculators see huge profits in clearing buildings of long-term tenants with rent-controlled apartments and selling the places as TICs.

When Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell first proposed allowing more than 2,000 tenancy-in-common units to bypass the lottery, tenant advocates began organizing to defeat the bill. Nobody thought a compromise was possible — particularly when the landlord-backed Plan C refused to negotiate in good faith and look for a solution everyone could accept.

But with the help of Supervisors Norman Yee, Jane Kim, and David Chiu, the tenants were able to craft a deal that clears up the backlog — and then prevents any further conversions for at least a decade. That’s fair: If the limit is 200 a year, and TIC owners want to clear up a backlog of 2,000 all at once, a ten-year moratorium makes sense. The tenant package also bars conversion of any buildings with more the five units and includes more protections for existing tenants.

If this proposal is really about helping TIC owners who face a long and uncertain time on the conversion list, then the compromise ought to be fine — and indeed, many TIC owners support it. The real-estate speculators who want to see evictions continue at a rapid pace hate it — this would make TICs less appealing and less valuable. But that’s fine: Buying a TIC has never been, and should never be, based on a future promise of condo conversion. And if this slows down the horrifying epidemic of evictions and displacement, it will be a very positive change.

Wiener and Farrell didn’t accept the compromise, but it was amended into their legislation anyway. The new version will come before the supervisors May 7. The supervisors should see this for what it is — greedy speculators against everyone else — and vote yes.

Time to enforce the law

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EDITORIAL The new tech companies that are making waves in San Francisco — Airbnb in the short-term rental business and Lyft and Uber in the taxi industry — may describe themselves as innovative and disruptive, and they may be appealing to investors.

But there’s a more accurate word that describes their relationship to the city:

Cheaters.

The way these companies are luring customers isn’t really about high-tech applications or brilliant business models. They’ve just found a way to get around the rules that everyone else has to obey.

Some city officials are talking about hearings and new legislation, all of which is fine. But in the rest of the business community, when someone flagrantly, openly violates the regulations, the City Attorney’s Office cracks down. That’s what needs to happen here, and soon.

Airbnb has a slick and appealing promise: You can rent out your house or apartment on the Internet to someone who wants to stay in the city for a few days, but is looking for an alternative to a traditional hotel. The homeowner or tenant gets some extra bucks; the visitor gets to stay in a cool neighborhood at a bargain price. What’s not to like?

Well, for one thing, most leases in San Francisco bar unauthorized sublets, so renters who offer their places on Airbnb face problems with their landlords, including possibly eviction. City laws also bar the use of residential property for commercial purposes. And, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, Airbnb isn’t collecting the transient occupancy tax that every other hotel operator in the city has to pay. The total tab: At least $1.8 million a year.

Lyft and Uber say they’re using creative apps to offer an alternative to the screwed-up taxi system. Drivers offer rides to people who can “volunteer” to pay at the end — but if nobody pays, the whole business model fails and the venture capitalists who put up the money lose. So everyone knows that these are pay-for-hire taxis.

Except that San Francisco requires every taxi driver to have a permit, called a medallion — and drivers have to go through training, background checks, and carry extensive insurance. If a driver overcharges or refuses a fare, a customer can complain to the city, and get recourse. The startups don’t follow the same rules.

There are reasons the city regulates cabs and charges hotel taxes. Cab drivers are ferrying people, some of them vulnerable; it’s only a matter of time before a rogue driver who sneaks into the new unregulated startups winds up in a horrible crash or criminally preying on riders.

Driving a cab without a medallion is illegal. Failing to pay city taxes is, too. City Hall can debate and dither and try to avoid offending the mayor (who, unfortunately, is trying to help Airbnb slide). But this is a clear-cut case of businesses flouting city law. Herrera needs to put an end to it.

 

The next board president

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EDITORIAL The president of the Board of Supervisors does more than bang the gavel at meetings, tell people to put their clothes back on, and run for higher office. It’s a powerful position largely because the president makes appointments — to the Planning Commission, the Police Commission — and unilaterally decides who serves on which board committees.

Two years ago, Sup. David Chiu, who won the top post in 2009 with progressive support, wanted re-election, and the left wasn’t siding with him anymore. So he cut a deal with the conservative members, appointing the right-wing of the board to plum committee posts — and making life harder for progressives who wanted to pass Legislation or prevent bad developments from happening.

He clearly likes the job and would love to hold it for a third term. But that won’t be easy — Sup. Scott Wiener, who is to the right of Chiu on many issues, is also interested, as is Sup. Jane Kim, who has always been close to Chiu, and Sup. David Campos, who is one of the leading progressives. None of the candidates can count to six right now, so somebody’s going to have to back down or make a deal.

And before that happens, the candidates ought to tell us something about what they plan to do.

Chiu’s 2011 committee appointments were a bit of a shocker, although, in retrospect, the horse trading shouldn’t have surprised anyone. In fact, after he made his decisions, and put Carmen Chu, one of the most conservative supervisors, in charge of the Budget and Finance Committee and put the conservative Scott Wiener and the moderate Malia Cohen on Land Use and Economic Development, and put conservative Sean Elsbernd in charge of two committees, he told us that he felt he had no choice. If the progressives had voted for him, he wouldn’t have had to reward the conservatives.

This time around, with two new supervisors taking office (a more centrist Norman Yee replacing Elsbernd and a more moderate London Breed replacing Christina Olague) everything is up in the air. The progressives still have a solid three votes, and can sometimes count on Jane Kim and Chiu. That’s not enough to elect a president, but it’s coming pretty close.

Based on experience, skills, and temperament, our first choice for board president is Campos, who would be fair to everyone, approachable, and a voice for open government and community participation. But if Campos can’t get six votes, he and his progressive colleagues should ask anyone who want their support to be open about what he or she plans to do.

Who will be on the budget committee? Rules? Land Use? Where will he or she look for candidates for commissions? We know it would look unsightly if, say, Chiu named in advance his preferences for key committees — and then those people voted for him. But the reality is, those discussions are happening anyway, those deals being cut — and it’s happening behind closed doors, where the public (and the other supervisors) can’t watch.

Let’s bring all of the discussions into the sunshine, and have an open debate about the next board president.

 

Move on, Mr. Mayor

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EDITORIAL San Francisco politics hasn’t been this tense in years — and it’s not just because of the upcoming election. The battle over Mayor Lee’s attempt to oust Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has left bitter divisions at City Hall and in communities all over town. And the mayor is only making things worse.

In an odd way — and we say odd because it was so expensive and a misuse of mayoral power — the system worked. Mirkarimi, who had a physical altercation with his wife that left a bruise on her arm, took responsibility and pled guilty to a misdemeanor; he’s now on probation and undergoing counseling.

After the mayor decided to invoke a rarely used Charter provision and suspend Mirkarimi without pay, the Ethics Commission held hearings, conducted and extensive inquiry and voted to uphold the charges, with the chair, Benjamin Hur, strongly dissenting. Every one of the commissioners raised thoughtful points; several poked big holes in the mayor’s case.

Then the Board of Supervisors met — and again, the members carefully considered Mirkarimi’s actions, the language and history of the City Charter, the prevailing law, and the facts of the case. There was remarkably little political grandstanding; we listened to the entire meeting, lasting more than seven hours, and were left with the impression that the supervisors took their job seriously, weighed the case, forced the City Attorney’s Office, representing the mayor, and Mirkarimi’s defense team, to justify their arguments, and rendered a ruling.

Nine votes were needed to remove the sheriff; that’s appropriate for such a profound sanction. Only seven supervisors sided with the mayor, and the four who rejected the charges had excellent, well-stated and credible reasons.

That’s the way the Charter outlined this process playing out, and in the end, the mayor lacked the overwhelming consensus he would have needed to use his executive authority to remove from office someone duly chosen by the voters. It’s done; it’s over. Most of the city would like to move on.

That’s not to say that Mirkarimi should be celebrating. He did an inexcusable thing. Domestic violence advocates have every right to be unhappy with his actions — and nobody, nobody in town should condone his behavior. He’s not denying it, either; he accepted the criminal consequences and will now have to demonstrate that he’s able to do his job.

But the mayor won’t move on. Mirkarimi sent him a note asking for a meeting, and Lee hasn’t responded. That shows a lack of leadership — and a lack of the civility that the mayor promised us when he took office. Ed Lee started this political process, and now that it’s over, he should be leading the effort to pull the city back together, to recognize that there were valid arguments on both sides of this case and his didn’t prevail — and to stop the demonization of people who didn’t agree with him.