Guest Opinion

The agri-chem industry’s secrets


OPINION This November, California voters will decide on a question that affects us all: Do we have the right to know what’s in the food we’re eating and feeding our families?

This high-stakes food fight has become the most expensive issue of the upcoming election. Pesticide and junk-food corporations have already poured $25 million into an effort to defeat Proposition 37, a simple labeling measure that would inform California consumers about whether our food has been genetically engineered.

What is it that these corporations don’t want us to know?

Right now, many foods on supermarket shelves, from baby formula to corn chips, contain genetically engineered ingredients that are hidden from consumers. Also called GMOs, these are crops that have been artificially altered in a lab with the DNA of other species in ways that cannot occur in nature.

Numerous studies link genetically engineered foods to allergies and other adverse health effects. But the U.S. government requires no safety studies of GMOs, no long-term health studies have been conducted, and no labeling is required to notify consumers so we can make our own choices about whether we want to eat these foods.

Genetically engineered foods are also linked to serious environmental concerns, including an overall increase in pesticide use, a rise in super weeds that are threatening farm land, and the unintentional contamination of organic crops.

These concerns have led 50 other countries to require GMO labeling. But here in the U.S., the agri-chemical companies have deployed their massive lobby power to stop the federal government and at least 19 U.S. states from passing simple labeling bills.

Now it’s up to the voters of California — and the heavy-artillery corporate lobbying campaign is heading our way.

The Yes on 37 Campaign is currently tracking far ahead in the polls. But the voters have not yet been subjected to the wave of deceptive television ads designed to convince us that GMO labeling is too scary or too expensive.

When you see these ads, consider the source. The largest funders of No on 37 are Monsanto and DuPont, two corporations that hardly have a track record of integrity when it comes to truth in advertising. These are the same companies that told us DDT and Agent Orange were safe.

Major funders of the No campaign also include junk-food companies that have a long history of opposing common-sense labels to give consumers information about their food. Look for these companies to spend tens of millions trying to convince voters that adding a few words to food labels will force them to raise the cost of groceries “hundreds of dollars a year.”

Over on the Yes on 37 side is a true people’s movement made up of millions of moms, dads, and consumers in California, and the many farmers and California businesses that are part of the state’s thriving natural and sustainable food industry.

Now is the time and this is our chance to make sure we have the right to know what’s in our food. Visit Yes on 37 at to volunteer, donate and stay up to date with the latest news about this historic campaign.

Stacy Malkan is the media director for Yes on 37, the California Right to Know campaign to label genetically engineered foods.

The cost of the death penalty


OPINION As a retired police officer, I believe deeply in safety and justice. As a father and a person who has devoted more than 30 years to working with young people, I know what our kids need to become positive members of our communities. I’ve seen the positive changes that come from resources, attention and education. I’ve seen it as a precinct service officer in East Harlem, New York, as a police officer and lieutenant in the Oakland Unified School District.

I can no longer stand by while we tell young people that we care about them while simultaneously undermining their future and safety with poor use of our resources. I can’t stay silent as we talk about tough times and budget cuts, but spend billions on death row inmates who will actually die in prison of illness or old age instead of execution. It’s not right, and it’s not effective.

California’s death penalty is suffocating our resources. A June 2011 study by former death-penalty prosecutor and federal judge Arthur L. Alarcón and law professor Paula Mitchell found that California has spent $4 billion dollars on the death penalty since 1978 and that death-penalty trials are 20 times more expensive than trials seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That money is wasted, because the system is so dysfunctional that those death row inmates actually end up serving the equivalent of life without the possibility of parole anyway. California is on track to spend $1 billion dollars in the next five years on the death penalty — all of this while risking the execution of an innocent person.

These irresponsible budget choices are undermining the safety of California families. Despite a horrific unsolved murder rate of 46 percent, we fire homicide investigators and take police off the streets. Even though a shocking 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved, rape kits all over the state remain untested on shelves because of lack of funding. Budget cuts for crime labs and police mean evidence that can help find and convict criminals is sitting on a shelf while we waste millions on a death row that is broken beyond repair.

We also undermine crime prevention by firing teachers and taking away violence intervention programs — two things I know for sure keep kids out of a life of crime.

Proposition 34 will help us put our priorities into action by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That will save California $130 million dollars a year. Prop. 34 would redirect a portion of those savings for three years to solve open murder and rape cases. By solving more cases and bringing more criminals to justice, we can keep our families and communities safer and hold these people accountable for what they have done.

Murderers deserve tough punishment. But I can tell you from my career as a police officer — lifetime incarceration in prison with no chance of parole is real punishment.

There is no fixing the death penalty, but Prop. 34 will help us fix the funding for our priorities. That is justice that works for young people, and for all of us.

Steve Fajardo is a former police officer.


When the people lead


By Jon Golinger

OPINION Thursday, July 19, 2012 was an especially gorgeous day in San Francisco. On that warm and sunny summer afternoon, a colorful collection of more than 100 citizens from every corner of the city gathered together on the steps of City Hall to announce they had done something political insiders and powerbrokers had just weeks earlier dismissed as “impossible.”

This grassroots coalition of neighborhood leaders, tenant activists, homeowners, seniors, environmentalists, and recreation enthusiasts had just collected more than 31,000 petition signatures in less than 30 days from San Francisco voters. For the first time in more than 20 year, they had just qualified a referendum for the ballot challenging a Board of Supervisors-approved ordinance. They had just stopped in its tracks the seemingly done-deal to dramatically increase height limits on the waterfront for the proposed 8 Washington luxury condo high-rise project.

This citizen activism was made even more difficult by developer Simon Snellgrove, who went to extraordinary lengths to interfere with the petition drive and prevent it from succeeding, including:

• Using crafty legal maneuvers to require the petition to include not just the five-page city ordinance it challenges, but 515 additional pages of charts and addendums. This created a 520-page “book” that was expensive to print and heavy to carry.

• Spending $30,000 to pay hired “blockers” to encircle petition gatherers wherever they could find them and shout, intimidate, and otherwise interfere with their talking to voters.

• Paying an attorney to hover over the shoulders of workers at the Department of Elections as they counted petition signatures, repeatedly challenging their decisions.

While all of these hurdles and questionable tactics certainly had an impact, the citizen activists and volunteers nevertheless persevered. Soon after the 65 boxes overflowing with signed petitions had paraded through the corridors of City Hall, they were certified as sufficiently valid by the San Francisco Department of Elections. The “impossible” was done.

A recent poll by David Binder Research found that voters citywide would overwhelmingly reject the 8 Washington waterfront height limit increase by a vote of 56 percent to 25 percent if the Waterfront Referendum were put to a vote today. However, before it is officially placed on the ballot, the referendum process offers the Board of Supervisors a “second-chance” to make the right decision at its September 4th meeting.

Supervisors Christina Olague, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, and Malia Cohen — who all voted in favor of the waterfront height limit increase in June — now have the opportunity to take some time to talk with their constituents, reexamine their initial decision, and hopefully make a different choice.

But if they fail to do so, the referendum on the proposed 8 Washington project’s “Wall On the Waterfront” will appear on the November 2013 ballot and the people will decide. The people will decide whether a special exemption should be made to give away prime public land to a developer to build multi-million-dollar condos that 99 percent of San Franciscans can’t afford. The people will decide whether to allow the construction of a high-rise luxury condo building on the waterfront that would be 50 feet higher than the old Embarcadero Freeway. The people will decide whether we should protect or neglect our unique and beautiful waterfront. If the leaders fail to lead, the people will lead.

Jon Golinger is the Campaign Director for No Wall on the Northeast Waterfront

The City College mission


By Alisa Messer

OPINION City College is a beacon for all San Franciscans, from immigrants and displaced workers to cash-strapped families seeking educational opportunities for their children. The largest community and junior college in America with more than 90,000 students, City College touches everyone in San Francisco.

Not long after pundits mocked Mitt Romney for encouraging Americans to get “as much education as they can afford,” City College of San Francisco was threatened with the loss of its accreditation — in large part because the school is going broke.

City College has faced been five straight years of drastic cuts in state funding — literally tens of millions of dollars. The result is over-flowing classes, employee furloughs, pay cuts, and givebacks, and shutting the doors on far to many students who are unable to get the classes they need.

CCSF has held on by its fingernails, seeking ways to continue to serve a broad range of student needs and maintain educational access during these challenging budgetary times.

But canceled summer sessions amount to tremendous hardships for students, and garage sales and other fundraising in the private sector cannot replace $40 million in lost state funds. So all of the college’s employees — from tutors to librarians to custodians and engineers and IT staff and biology professors to deans — have given back.

The accrediting commission isn’t taking aim at the quality of education City College provides. Instead, the report focuses on severe budget problems caused mostly by state cuts, and then makes some criticisms about political infighting and weak leadership in the school’s top ranks.

The crisis at City College is at the heart of a larger debate in America about access to opportunity. Education remains the most significant factor in social mobility, and we maintain domestic tranquility because most of our citizens embrace the idea they can improve their lot in life with education.

City College is living proof that the theory works — but it requires money, people, and a commitment to a broader mission. City College isn’t just San Francisco’s biggest school, it’s also the city’s largest provider of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses and its largest job training and placement agency. City College’s partnerships with San Francisco’s restaurant and hospitality sector and other industries are national models.

City College is using universal access to education as a powerful engine of economic recovery. While many suburban junior colleges focus on helping high school graduates make the transition to four-year colleges and universities, City College is also teaching immigrants English, helping welfare recipients transition to work, training those in recovery to help their peers through drug and alcohol counseling, and boosting the skills of unemployed and under-employed blue collar workers so they can win increasingly knowledge-intensive jobs.

CCSF’s leaders must craft a plan to balance the school’s budget and save its accreditation, and we will. We will find new revenue sources, including passing a parcel tax this November. We will maintain accessibility, educational quality, and our mission as a Community College, serving the entire San Francisco community with an essential and irreplaceable focus on low-income and underrepresented students for whom CCSF is the only option.

Perhaps we can even come out of this crisis with a college that is more affordable, accessible, high quality, democratic, and equal than ever.

Alisa Messer is an English teacher at City College and president of AFT 2121, which represents counselors, librarians, and instructors.

Saving City College


By Chris Jackson

Although a recent accreditation report levels a long list of criticisms of City College, some of them legitimate issues that need to be addressed, the real problem is the state’s defunding of public education and its disinvestment in our community-college system.

There’s no question that everyone is going to work to keep City College open and serving our communities.

City College of San Francisco serves more than 90,000 students each year, trains (and retrains) our workforce, teaches English to our immigrant populations, fosters lifelong learning, and provides affordable, accessible pathways into all of higher education’s opportunities. But five years of drastic cuts in state funding has resulted in shrinking programs and overflowing classes; skyrocketing costs to students and families; employee furloughs, pay cuts, and givebacks; shutting the doors on far too many students who are unable to get the classes they need; and an increasing sense that community college education and its mission are wholly threatened for our city’s diverse students.

Overall, if you read the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s report, the commission is asking City College to shrink its mission of providing a high quality, affordable education to all who come to its doors. The ACCJC wants City College to step away from its San Francisco value of “chopping from the top” — cutting administration instead of teachers.

Let’s be clear, the buck stops with the elected Board of Trustees. We as a board are going to work together with the entire City College family to save the college and its accreditation and look at and resolve all of the issues brought up in the accreditation report.

With that said, it’s important to understand that California’s institutions of higher education have taken huge cuts during our historic recession and subsequent unemployment — a time when more and more people have come to use our educational resources to help in their quest to find jobs.

Over the past four years, the state has cut more than $1 billion from the community college system. That includes a $17 million cut to City College last year — and this year, we’ve worked to close an additional $14 million budget deficit. Last year, more than 10,000 students were unable to attend City College due to lack classes.

While students are scrambling for classroom seats, the commission is arguing that City College has too few administrators. But we’re proud of the fact that every available dollar continues to go to saving City College classes and student access.

City College has spent the last year planning to place a parcel tax on this November’s ballot — to raise funds specifically to address many of the problems cited in the report. If the City College parcel tax and Governor Brown’s tax both pass, City College will have the money to restore many of the classes, services and liabilities that we’ve been unable to address.

As the largest community college in California, our mission and values are to serve all that come to the doors of City College, and let this be clear to our communities: We will never shrink away from that mission.

Chris Jackson is a member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees


Public teacher in a public hospital


By Sasha Cuttler

OPINION San Francisco Unified School District teachers and Department of Public Health nurses are going through difficult times. Despite years of service reductions, layoffs, and ceaseless budget pressures, teachers continue to educate San Francisco’s young people while nurses care for the sick and injured.

One week before the end of this school year, Balboa High School math teacher Ruth Radetsky was found unconscious after flying over the handlebars of her bicycle. She was brought to San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, where she was treated for broken ribs, scapula, and cracked vertebrae. Although she suffered a concussion, she avoided a more severe head injury because she wore her bicycle helmet.

After being stabilized in intensive care unit and transferred to the step-down unit, Ruth was instructed by nurses to call for help before trying to get up. She was afraid of the pain but understood the importance of regaining mobility. Her injuries and the side effects of the pain medication put her at high risk for falling. Noting how busy the nurses were, however, Ruth felt badly about having to “bother” the staff.

Ruth and the nurses at SFGH who cared for her have a lot in common. Both education and health care rely upon appropriate ratios: teachers to students and nurses to patients. Students and patients alike benefit from these ratios. Despite the need for enough human resources, adequate staffing depends on other factors as well.

Ruth explained how a reduced class size is not enough. In one of her classes, nearly half of the students had learning needs that required preferential seating. Not everyone can sit in the front seat. Nurses with a floor full of patients who need close observation because they are experiencing delirium tremens, traumatic brain injury, or even a mass casualty event have to do similar triage. In both cases, maintaining the minimum staffing may be inadequate — which is why nurses and teachers need support to achieve quality education and healthcare. And UCLA researchers have demonstrated that lower nursing staffing in hospital wards is associated with increased patient mortality.

While researchers argue about the effect of increased class size and nurse-patient ratios, teachers and nurses in the public sector struggle to maintain professional standards of education and care. Ruth is worried about the effects of teacher layoffs on her students. At the same time, the nurses who cared for her at San Francisco General Hospital are being told that layoffs could result if wages and benefits and staffing aren’t reduced. In both professions, staff is concerned about maintaining adequate services with fewer resources.

Teachers and nurses in the public sector continue to be predominately female. Perhaps because of traditional gender roles, teachers and nurses tend to be apologetic about taking a stand for their own working conditions. Unlike an assembly line worker, a teacher or nurse’s profession is all about people, not things. It is only logical that too many students make it difficult for each to receive the amount of support needed. It’s dangerous for nurses to not have enough time for patient assessment and care.

Teachers such as Ruth Radetsky and the nurses who cared for her embody the very best of public education and health. San Francisco Unified teachers and Department of Public Health nurses should not have to apologize for upholding high standards and demanding a professional environment to teach the young and care for all of San Francisco.

Sasha Cuttler, RN Ph.D, is a nurse and activist in the SEIU Local 1021 RN chapter. He has been friends with Ruth Radetsky for more than 25 years.

Mayor Lee’s vanishing bike lanes


By Morgan Fitzgibbons

OPINION When Mayor Ed Lee announced in February 2011 that he understood both the critical importance and the severe dangers inherent in the current bicycle infrastructure along the dual three-block stretches of Fell and Oak between Scott and Baker, a shot went through the community of people who had worked for so long to bring awareness to this troubled path.

Finally, it seemed, we had a mayor who understood that if San Francisco was serious about living up to its own nearly 40-year-old pledge to be a transit-first city, a narrow bike lane sandwiched between parked cars and fast-moving traffic on Fell Street and a complete absence of any bicycle infrastructure on Oak simply wouldn’t do.

Finally, we had a mayor who wouldn’t be satisfied with mere words on a page, who had the courage to carve out one single safe bike route from the east side of town to the west, to create a viable alternative to automobile transportation, to prepare our city for the inevitable challenges presented by climate change, peak oil, and economic collapse, and to do it in the face of the predictable objections from a few small-picture citizens who couldn’t look at the 60 square feet of a parking spot and imagine anything other than a privately owned two-ton pile of steel taking up precious public space.

The community of people who had waited nearly 40 years for the city to live up to its own word kept on waiting throughout 2011, patiently allowing the Municipal Transportation Agency to perform its due diligence, attending multiple public meetings in the hundreds, and delivering a resounding verdict: bring us our separated bike lanes. Make this neighborhood a better place to live. Begin the long work of preparing our city for a way of living that doesn’t center around the automobile.

With the public process complete and the calendar turning to nearly one year since Lee called for the MTA to “move quickly” to create separated bike lanes on Fell and Oak, the MTA handed down a jarring announcement. The Fell and Oak Bikeways were being delayed because the agency needed to take extra time to do all that could be done to find nearby replacements for the 80 parking spots set to be removed for the bike lanes.

That’s right — in a city that has for 40 years had an explicit policy of giving preference to transit options that weren’t the automobile, in a city that, nevertheless, has over 440,000 public parking spots and zero safe, accessible bike routes from the east side of town to the west, the creation of a separated bikeway that the vast majority of the community wants, and that the mayor’s own newly appointed District Supervisor, Christina Olague, is in support of, was being delayed by nearly a year so that the loss of private automobile parking would be as small as possible.

How does this happen? In a word: fear. The mayor and MTA are afraid of ruffling a few feathers to do what they know is right.

Cities like New York, Portland, and Minneapolis are leapfrogging us in building the cities of tomorrow. Chicago is creating 100 miles of separated bike lanes in the next four years. Don’t call us America’s Greenest City — you’re thinking of the San Francisco of 40 years ago.

Morgan Fitzgibbons is co-founder of the Wigg Party, a Western Addition neighborhood sustainability group

Helping the 99 percent — with less


OPINION La Raza Centro Legal, an organization central to the empowerment of San Francisco’s low-wage immigrant workers, finds common cause with the Occupy movement during a time when our programs combining legal services and worker organizing are in jeopardy. Our hour of need falls within a window of tough times, but heightened political awareness, and we are calling out to the community to join us in solidarity as members of the 99 percent.

La Raza’s resonance with Occupy shows on a bilingual sign printed for the movement. Under a day laborer’s face, the sign reads, “We are the 99 percent. I’m blamed for the economic crisis, but what about the Wall Street banks?” Immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in government services, generate revenue exceeding the services they receive, subsidize the Social Security system, and provide labor that supports entire industries.

Contrary to the red herring propaganda generated by the 1 percent, the scapegoated low-wage immigrant worker is not the cause of the financial crisis in the United States. Occupy has resuscitated public discourse with the plain facts of shocking economic inequity and the corruption of our democracy. Immigration debate can now rise to the surface after nearly drowning in the lies that spawned the recent legal abominations in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

In the current political and economic climate, immigrant rights organizations face an intractable three-pronged challenge: dangerous policies born of anti-immigrant zeal, a crushing economic crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, and dwindling funds from the government and foundations that used to support our work. The Obama administration’s Orwellian-named “Secure Communities” deportation program creates an unprecedented stream of profits for privately contracted immigration detention facilities rife with human rights abuses. At the same time, employers take advantage of job scarcity to exploit low-wage immigrant workers. On the same days that our advocacy and services are needed more than ever, we’ve receive news that a grant that we depend on will not be renewed in the coming year.

Just like so many other members of the 99 percent, La Raza Centro Legal is in financial crisis. If the organization cannot find immediate support, some of La Raza’s programs that help so many people in the immigrant community could die. If La Raza is diminished, who will reunite a family unjustly torn apart, or take an employer to task for ripping off a day laborer so that the worker can feed his children? Who will organize the community so that, through La Raza’s Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective, low-wage immigrant workers can find their voice and build their own innate capacity for leadership in their community?

We aren’t giving up. Because the Occupy movement has pushed into public consciousness the well-established but long-ignored truth of how the status quo is hurting us all, it offers incredible hope. An October 20 community meeting kicked off a new fundraising drive for La Raza. San Franciscans and the city must join us in solidarity to help us find ways to support community nonprofits in declining economies and increasing civil rights abuses — which is when they are needed most.

Kate Hegé and Kate Deeny work in the Workers’ Rights Program at La Raza Centro Legal. For more information about how to help, contact Genevie Gallegos, Executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal at

Hetch Hetchy: Two visions


Editors note: We received two interesting commentaries on our Hetch Hetchy cover story (“Damn the Dam,” 8/10/2011). They appear below, offering very different perspectives on the issue.

OPINION Thank you for writing about our campaign to restore Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and return it to the American public. We do not, however, propose “to remove SF’s main water and power source.” Most of San Francisco’s water comes from the Tuolumne River and will continue to do so; SF will simply store it elsewhere. As for power, removal of the O’Shaughnessy Dam will not reduce the power delivered to the city, but will mean less power sold to agribusiness in the Central Valley.

You erred in your conclusion about the impact of the restoration on the city’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program; large hydropower is not considered “renewable” by state standards, so Hetch Hetchy power cannot be included in CCA’s stated goal of 51% renewable energy by 2017.

And please don’t buy in to the notion that America can no longer afford big ideas. The restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley will be the most significant environmental restoration project in human history. It will strengthen not only the fragile Yosemite ecosystem but also the field of restoration science. It will inspire restoration efforts worldwide.

Mike Marshall is the executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy


Rebecca Bowe’s recent article regarding efforts by the Restore Hetch Hetchy organization to tear down Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides a fairly balanced telling of the two sides of the story. However, some key facts were omitted.

First, the case for tearing down Hetch Hetchy is largely based upon a paper written by a masters student at UC Davis in 2003 (see “Re-assembling Hetch Hetchy: Water Supply Implications of Removing O’Shaughnessy Dam”, by Sarah E. Null, December 2003). In her paper, Null bases the feasibility of tearing down Hetch Hetchy on the availability of replacement storage in New Don Pedro Reservoir, which is owned and operated by the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts. Null’s premise is that if San Francisco were to lose Hetch Hetchy it could use storage space in the New Don Pedro reservoir.

This is not possible, as San Francisco has no ownership interest in NDP. Rather, it has the right to pre-deposit water it owes to the districts due to the districts’ senior water rights. Then when the city needs water, it withholds the water upstream at Hetch Hetchy and the districts debit the city’s account in NDP.

The districts have made it clear they do not intend to let the city take over part of their reservoir.

A second key fact is that if the city does not use Hetch Hetchy — and since it can’t use NDP — its water rights will be of little use. While state water rights laws are complex and esoteric, seniority is the general rule. The city’s water rights are junior to those of the districts. If San Francisco can’t exercise its water rights through the Hetch Hetchy system, it would have to take its water from the Delta. The result would be a substantial loss of water and water quality to San Francisco.

As to the loss of hydropower, the article correctly records the permanent loss of 400 megawatts of clean hydropower. The result would be a major new customer for Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Tom Berliner is a former deputy city attorney who helped negotiate the city’s water and power contracts with the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts.

You can’t trust Ethics


By Larry Bush

OPINION Proposition F, a measure on the November ballot, is supposed to clean up some provisions of the law that requires political consultants to register and make disclosures about their clients and their work. It was approved by all 11 supervisors.

But Prop. F has some serious problems. For starters, it grants authority to the Ethics Commission to make any other changes it wants in the law.

As the Voter Handbook says:

“A yes vote means: You also want to allow the City to change any of the campaign consultant ordinance’s requirements without further voter approval.”

Why should you oppose that? Because the Ethics Commission can’t be trusted.

The reason San Francisco has a law forcing political consultants to register and make disclosures is because the voters demanded one. City Hall fought against it every step of the way.

Former Supervisor Tom Ammiano introduced the measure in 1996, and it won board approval. Then-Mayor Willie Brown vetoed it. Ammiano rewrote the measure 1997 to meet Mayor Brown’s objections. Brown vetoed it again. And the supervisors who had voted for the law refused to vote for it again and overturn the veto.

So Ammiano and several other supervisors put the measure on the ballot. The political consultants raised a war chest to defeat it and spent more than $100,000 in direct mail, billboards and other voter contacts.

It passed with 61 percent of the vote.

What kind of clean up does Ethics plan now on the political consultant law? You can bet it won’t come down on the side of greater disclosure.

In 2009, two years ago, the Ethics Commission decided to write a clean up of the city lobbyist law. Just like they want to do with the political consultant law now.

And what happened with that law?

It changed one little aspect that didn’t get any real attention. It changed what is defined as a lobbyist — a person or entity who seeks to influence administrative or legislative decisions.

And what is the result?

Now the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce no longer has to file and disclose its lobbying. Neither does Lennar. Neither does the America’s Cup or Larry Ellison.

All those groups had to file under the old rules.

The bottom line is that a sleeping watchdog that can’t be trusted wants the right to change the laws governing political consultants — without any further oversight or public vote.

The former Ethics Commissioners who also are opposing this measure are Paul Melbostad, who served on the commission when the political consultants act was passed; Bob Dockendorff; Joe Julian; Bob Planthold; and Eileen Hansen, who just completed her term and was the only commissioner who voted against the pay-to-play rewrite.

I urge you to join them in opposing this measure.

Larry Bush is the publisher of, a City Hall watchdog.

is Rec-Park really broke?


By David Looman

OPINION The senior staffers at the Recreation and Park Department routinely cry that the department is poor and going broke. Is it possible they are lying?

Conspicuously lacking in discussions of Rec-Park funding is any kind of hard data about how well or poorly San Francisco Rec-Park is really funded. Whether it’s the mainstream media, the alternative press, or our elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors, nobody seems to know how our park system compares with other park systems in California or the U.S.

And nobody seems to want to check up on Rec-Park’s sad-sweet story.

This lack of real information is particularly surprising, since the data is readily available. Every year, the Trust for Public Land, a well-respected, San Francisco-based park advocacy organization, conducts a meticulous and comprehensive survey of how well recreation and park systems across the country are being funded. The survey is always available on the Web, at


In the TPL’s 2000 book, Inside City Parks, by Peter Harnik, San Francisco was among the three best-funded systems, measured either per acre or per resident. In every annual survey after that, San Francisco continued to rank in the top three, until 2006. In 2006, the TPL found San Francisco to be the best-funded park system in America.

That’s right, the best-funded department in the entire U.S.!

This year’s survey, based on the 2008 figures, has changed its methodology a bit, and expenditures are no longer calculated per acre. With the new methodology, San Francisco has slipped a bit. The city is now only the fourth-best funded park system in the country for cities with populations larger than 500,000, and the sixth best for cities over 250,000.

For operating expenditures (total budget minus capital spending) San Francisco is the fourth best funded among all cities. We don’t have as many capital expenditures as, say, Seattle, whose newer park system is still growing.

The question of where that money goes is another matter. I think I can offer a few suggestions about what happens.

Problem number one is the long and glorious history of absolutely incompetent management, particularly in the last 15 years, under the administrations of mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom. Second is that longstanding Rec-Park Department practice of ignoring and rejecting any public input, including factual input, from people who actually use and know the parks. This has led to a number of costly mistakes.

The department has more ethically dubious faults too—the wages spent organizing so-called “public support” for some of its unpopular projects; more wages spent having employees testify about what a great job the department is doing, etc.

The department presently is trying to privatize everything within reach. Its poor-mouth rational for doing so is false. It’s time we all faced the fact that Rec-Park isn’t giving us the whole truth.

David Looman is a longtime San Francisco political consultant and parks user.

Stopping foreclosure secrecy


OPINION Thanks to a shadowy corporate mortgage recording system, millions of Californians have no idea who owns their home loans.

As we suffer through this recession triggered by reckless subprime lending and Wall Street speculation, our recovery is being held back in part because people are struggling with foreclosures and underwater home values — exacerbated by a lack of mortgage transparency.

The mess created by Wall Street is causing wrongful foreclosures and wreaking havoc. Real people — often lower-income families and communities of color — are enduring the devastation of foreclosure processes because of the excesses of bankers and investment firms.

In San Francisco, we’ve seen the highest number of foreclosures in the Ingleside-Excelsior, Bayview, Tenderloin, and Mission neighborhoods — many of the places where home values have fallen most. Whether or not you face foreclosure, we all pay for this crisis by losing vital tax revenue that could go to support our schools, protect our neighborhoods, or build our economy.

When Wall Street realized it could make billions by bundling mortgages and selling them to investors, banks and financial institutions needed a way around recording the ownership and assignment of home loans. What the banks and Wall Street came up with is a shadowy, industry-backed reporting system called MERS — mortgage electronic reporting system.

Simply stated, subprime and predatory lending allowed banks to create millions of questionable mortgages, Wall Street bundled these risky mortgages together to sell to investors, and MERS made it quicker and easier to conduct these risky transactions with impunity.

As San Francisco’s assessor-recorder and a financial advocate for low-income communities, we have seen harmful industry practices wreak havoc on families trying to stay in their homes — whether by use of MERS that clouds property titles, wrongful foreclosures, or denied loan modifications.

The state Legislature considered several good foreclosure bills this year. One proposal placed a $20,000 fee on financial institutions attempting a foreclosure. This would have discouraged foreclosure and helped defray costs to communities if the process went ahead.

State Sen. Mark Leno( D-SF) and Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) offered legislation stopping banks from proceeding with foreclosures when a homeowner is attempting to modify his or her mortgage.

Assessor-Recorder Ting is sponsoring a bill requiring that all mortgage assignments and transfers be recorded with counties, thus taking this process out of the murky MERS system.

Unfortunately, the banks and their armies of lawyers and lobbyists have been able to stymie these reforms.

We must continue to fight these wealthy, powerful lobbies so that the long road to recovery in our housing markets and communities can begin. We cannot let Sacramento forget it was financial institutions that fueled the housing bubble, crashed the stock market, and sent shockwaves throughout the economy with their reckless practices.

Few states have been ravaged by subprime lending and the meltdown of mortgage-backed securities the way California has, so we must continue reforming the practices of banks and Wall Street that have thrown our economy and communities into turmoil.

Phil Ting is San Francisco assessor-recorder. Kevin Stein works with the California Reinvestment Coalition.

Stop the AT&T boxes!


By the League of Pissed Off Voters

More than 60 people showed up on the steps of City Hall May 21 to demand that AT&T engage in the same old basic planning process that even small-scale businesses have to go through.  (Read: even little people without expensive corporate lobbyists.)

Neighborhood organizations, disabled and senior representatives and environmentalists all pushed the supervisors to make the sensible vote at tomorrow’s full board meeting: support a full Environmental Impact Review of the consequences of 726 giant metal lockboxes cluttering up our public sidewalks.  As Julian Davis, a longtime community activist put it: “Why would you plunk down 726 giant Buicks all over the city when you have a perfectly good underground high speed rail?”

True that.  San Francisco currently has miles of fiber optic cable pulsing beneath our city streets, and even that is already becoming outdated.  So now AT&T’s brilliant idea is to litter our sidewalks with what amounts to giant crusty supercomputers? And what happens when they’re obsolete?  Basically, taxpayers just got stuck with a bunch of metal junk on our sidewalks, while AT&T expanded its profit margins.

Why do small cafes have to pay hundreds of dollars in permit fees to put two piddly tables outside their shops, while AT&T gets a blanket “categorical exemption” for almost no money to nail down ugly boxes that will block the sidewalk and attract graffiti?  (Hmm, we can probably think of some choice graffiti actually…)

The last time we heard from the folks at AT&T, they were helping the NSA wiretap our private calls from a secret room in their headquarters, so excuse us if we’re a little hesitant about giving the company a free pass to put creepy lock boxes in front of our homes. 

According to the Department of Public Works at the last public hearing on this issue, DPW staffers are relying on AT&T’s “expert analysis” to guide them on whether or not AT&T should receive a categorical exemption – in other words, DPW is relying on AT&T to do its job, and the community just got cut out of the process.  An independent EIR is necessary to address these blatant conflicts of interest. 

Speaking of conflicted interests: The latest scuttlebutt inside City Hall has some progressive supervisors desperately looking to cut a deal to save face in the midst of election season.  And what would that deal look like?  Cutting the number of boxes and giving neighborhoods an opportunity to decide whether they want 4’x4’x7′ lock boxs on their blocks. 

So, basically, if your block doesn’t have a home owner association advocating on your behalf, guess what you’re going to be walking around everyday?  As Juan Monsanto of San Francisco Beautiful pointed out, most of these boxes will be installed in less affluent communities without strong representation at City Hall.   AT&T’s sweetheart deal gives the supervisors cover to punt their responsibility to administer public space safely and equitably. 

So, to recap: we are now officially a city that will arrest human beings for sitting or lying in the middle of the sidewalk, but the board is working overtime to try and figure out how to exempt AT&T from city oversight process so it can stick giant immovable metal boxes in our right of way?

Oh, it’s okay because they’re going in the Bayview. Or in a neighborhood that already has a bunch of blight, so what’s a little more?  Lame.  Call your supervisor today and tell him or her to get a backbone.  It’s tough being the swing vote, you know?  Help ’em out, let ’em know you’re watching – and voting.

The San Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters is the local chapter of the League of Young Voters, a national organization that engages young people in the political process, organizes around progressive issues and takes it beyond just “get out the vote.” 



The song of Ghetto Girl


OPINION Editor’s note: POOR Magazine, one of my favorite publications, holds an annual benefit on Valentine’s Day featuring a “Battle of ALL the Sexes” poetry slam. This year’s event, hosted by Alexandra Byerly, had a mixed-martial arts theme and was held in an eight-foot cage built by artist Will Steel in the Submission Gallery in the Mission District. Judges were La Mesha Irizarry, Devorah Major and Laure McElroy. I agreed to publish the first- place winner, which follows. Find the second and third place winners on on the Politics blog. (Tim Redmond)

By Jewnbug

(this Battle came from the battle: Educated Ghetto Gurl vs. The Society)

Educated ghetto gurrl

born in a place

conditioned for death

raised on government cheese

parents targeted to be dope feens

houseless n hungry

society wants me to be ignorant

but ain’t no dummy

got wize to tha mizeducation

of yo surveillance


public skools


U.S. military enlistings

never assimilating or listening

stay thug life


rising to tha top

singing ghetto supastar!


cultivated underground

can’t afford yo brand name labels

making my fashion talk of tha town

rebel with a cause

speaking out against

yo policies, protocalls, laws

prohibited my native tongue




U ain’t my god

n I ain’t yo son

speaking too loud too fast

causing lyrical whiplash

I smash on u

U thinking u more dignified

cuz I rock a shoelace fo a belt on sum jeans


U put me down

then capitalize on my swagger

like, “that’s hella ghetto”

I don’t play tho

no diplomatic tactful rage

straight up in yo face

u label me

trouble maker

that’s code for

truth teller

fo real for real

no faker

I know tru essence of success

despite the mess

of yo civilized vest

my interest to do more then survive


came when I held my head high

with no shame

yea I’m from the ghetto

n I’m doing big thangs

educated ghetto gurrl

she was kung fu fighting

she was always writing

educated ghetto gurrl

puttin’ whole society on trial

n bringing them to their knees

A call to do your (jury) duty


By Ken Maley

OPINION For decades San Franciscans concerned and interested in the workings — and malfunctions — of city government have turned to the Guardian for insights and possible solutions. Guardian readers have developed a reputation for being community activists, and to those activist-minded readers, I encourage you to apply to serve on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Few citizens understand that the California Constitution requires all counties to impanel a civil grand jury each year. The San Francisco grand jury has researched and issued many important findings — most recently, pertinent reports on the enormous, and growing, city employee retirement obligations threatening to consume our city’s general fund and possibly bankrupt the city in the next five years if not resolved.

Each year the San Francisco Superior Court accepts applications from citizens who want to serve on the jury. Thirty screened applicants are selected, and from those 30, 19 are impaneled as that year’s civil grand jury. Jurors serve for a one-year term, from June to July.

The full jury discusses various issues of interest, selects issues that gain 12 of the 19 votes, spends a year investigating, then writes and releases reports. The panel can investigate any function of city government — contracts, corruption, spending, tax policy .. the mandate is very broad. And the jury has tremendous power, including the ability to subpoena records and force city officials to testify. No pertinent information may be withheld once the judge approves the request.

But the dilemma confounding the court is the lack of qualified applicants. In 2009, the number of applicants was so low we were nearly unable to impanel a jury at all. What a disgrace, in activist San Francisco.

I find it so disheartening that in a city renowned for community interest and participation in almost every aspect of government activity, we have such a small number of citizens willing to make the time to serve.

So I appeal to Guardian readers to direct your interest in the workings of our city government, to consider putting your knowledge and commitment to better city governance by serving on the San Francisco civil grand jury.

Your contribution of time and energy as a juror will be well spent and personally rewarding.

To learn more about the civil grand jury, how you can do your civic duty and apply, go to, click on agencies, scroll down to civil grand jury. Applications are due by April 15 for the 2011-12 jury. 

Ken Maley was a member of the 2008-09 civil grand jury and is media committee chair of the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury Association.


The price of mental health cuts


By Hetty Beth Eisenberg

OPINION The massacre in Tucson is a tragic wake-up call for the public mental health system of our own county. Among the many pressing angles to the story, it is vital to consider the severe cuts to mental health services in Pima County last year.

Although only a small fraction of the mentally ill commit acts of violence, we must contemplate the larger issue of what happens when a community fails to prioritize mental health. Acute mental health services are such an essential tool for caring for the severely mentally ill that one is staggered by the low priority they’ve been given by our forward-thinking community in San Francisco.

Throughout the nation, the mentally ill are among our most disenfranchised constituents. In San Francisco, a considerable fraction of our severely mentally ill populations are indigent, homeless, and without health insurance. Acute care services for the mentally ill therefore lose money. In these hard financial times, city officials, like those in Pima County, are making painful decisions. Over the past three years, mental health services in San Francisco have been cut to austerity levels.

To see the short-sightedness of these cuts, one must consider not only the most drastic scenarios. For every Jared Loughner, there are thousands of individuals whose profound burdens could be alleviated with the help of these services. Inpatient psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital provides the highest level of mental health care in our county. Unlike private hospitals, SFGH takes all patients, regardless of their insurance, and regardless of the risk of violence. The inpatient service at SFGH provides the only safety net for those patients who are the most extreme danger to themselves and others.

From 2008 to 2010, the number of acute psychiatry beds at SFGH was cut from 84 to 42. The consequences of the cuts were palpable. They led to the disintegration of the Cultural Focus Program, a nationally-recognized model of ethical inpatient psychiatric care. The most ill patients were crowded onto two remaining acute units. The staff was then put in the position of having to move patients to understaffed units, so-called subacute, before they were clinically ready.

In January, one of two remaining acute psychiatry units at SFGH was cut. This leaves 21 acute beds available to the entire city. It’s now impossible to separate the most violent patients. The unit has become hyperacute, with an increasingly agitated population amplifying itself. Staff feel unsafe and cannot provide adequate care for their patients. As they grapple with understaffing, many cite what happened at Napa State Hospital recently when a psychiatric worker was murdered — an incident attributed to understaffing.

Meanwhile, there is considerable pressure to discharge these patients quickly. A vast number end up on the streets, in jails, overwhelming outpatient programs, or bouncing back to the emergency room — racking up even higher costs.

Due to budgetary pressures, the Department of Public Health insists that our unstable patients should be funneled into outpatient services. While outpatient programs provide vital means for supporting the chronically mentally ill when they are stable, they are also being cut — and are insufficient to protect acute patients.

These budget cuts make it plain that we are dealing with a clumsy model of mental health — one that lacks essential mechanisms. Such a model reflects a poor understanding of mental illness.

Arizona provides a clarion call to California: we must hear the implicit warning. These cuts to acute mental health services in San Francisco, a city with a large mentally ill population, must be reversed. Each day that they persist heightens the very real tragedy for our patients, our healthcare workers, and our entire community. *

Hetty Beth Eisenberg, MD, MPH, is a resident physician in psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital.

The cruelest cuts


By Hannah Deveraux

OPINION Sitting alone in my apartment off Turk and Mason streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, I try not to let myself slip back into depression or anxiety over my finances. My apartment is small, an adjective that makes it sound bigger than it really is. Still, it’s mine. I am able to pay rent through my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check, and when my disability claim was first approved, I was relieved.

It had been a nearly two-year uphill battle with the Social Security Administration, and even after my benefits were approved, I still spent an additional three months living out of various shelters while I waited on several housing lists. But then the call came from my social worker at the shelter that I had been placed in a hotel in the Tenderloin, and I was excited to be out of shelters once and for all.

I am not someone who is easily given over to making hyperbolic statements, so I cannot say that I was ever happy to have to be living off SSI. Nevertheless, I was happy to have a roof over my head rather than a rain-soaked cardboard box, and I was thankful to have Medi-Cal. After all, San Francisco is just about the only place where transgender woman like myself can get affordable or free healthcare and be treated with dignity from our providers.

Little did I realize that being treated with dignity by our government was no longer in the cards.

It began when many of my friends, also on SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), started complaining about reductions to their checks. Our benefits were cut — but the Social Security Administration wasn’t telling us what had happened. Some checks were cut by as little as $20, some $60, and others as much as $150.

My check was unaffected for a few months, and then the cuts started to hit me as well. I have now seen six separate reductions to my monthly check, which was $964, and is now only $845. Because of the cuts, I no longer have enough to meet all of my basic needs each month. Many days, dinner is a loaf of warmed up garlic bread because it’s all I can afford.

But things got much worse. The government did the most inhumane thing imaginable: it took away vision and dental benefits from our Medi-Cal. Suddenly, three epiphanies about politics dawned on me: the first that the poor are sound bites for politicians; it always looks good for politicians to get their picture in the local newspaper with their arm around a smiling 60-something homeless guy. Second, the poor will always be the first minority group to have their funding for social service programs, essential food services, and low-cost or free medical care targeted in a bad economy.

The last thing I realized is that politicians don’t care if the poor die — as long as they die silently and the politicians don’t get blamed for it.

These days I wonder if I’ll even be able to keep my housing, and I often have anxiety attacks where my heart races and I cry to myself, just out of sheer stress and worry.

The fact is, I shouldn’t have to live this way. I have to wonder how amounts so small in proportion to California’s $25 billion deficit are even going to come close to making a difference.

It’s unconscionable that the first thought of our government would be to steal from those who are already disabled and poor and barely getting by, those who really don’t know how to advocate for themselves, and who have few allies to begin with. *

Hannah Deveraux has a roof over her head — for now.

Pass the DREAM Act, now


by Eric Mar and Eric Quezada

OPINION Imagine for a moment that you are 14 years old. Your parents, stuck in perpetual poverty and unemployment (or perhaps worse), move your family to a foreign country to begin a new life.

You work hard, struggle to fit in, study constantly, and fill your spare time with school activities. Maybe you even work a little on the side to chip in. You are a parent’s dream, and a model of young citizenship.

Except that you’re not a citizen. And one day, even as you’ve mastered English and flourished in school and in the community, you are stopped like a criminal by federal authorities.

This is what happened to Steve Li, an engaging and industrious 20-year-old student at City College of San Francisco and a graduate from George Washington High School. He always thought he was an average San Franciscan until the morning of Sept. 15, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents suddenly raided his home and arrested him and his parents. Steve was incarcerated in Arizona for more than 60 days, far from his friends and family. Through a full-court legal and legislative press, and a groundswell of immigrant community organizing leading to a private emergency bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Li has temporarily staved off deportation. But Li and thousands of other hard-working young immigrant Americans could soon be summarily tossed out of the country if Congress doesn’t act now to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

The DREAM Act is a common-sense, bipartisan measure that is urgently needed to avoid countless other Steve Li cases. Despite congressional wavering on comprehensive immigration reform (which a consistent majority of Americans support), everyone should be able to agree on the basic right of undocumented immigrant minors, who are moved here by their parents, to gain steps toward obtaining citizenship.

In brief, the DREAM Act would enable some immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S. to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent status and become eligible for U.S. citizenship if they go to college or serve in the U.S. military.

According to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), about 65,000 U.S.-raised high school students could qualify for the DREAM Act’s benefits each year. As NICL puts it, “These include honor roll students, star athletes, talented artists, homecoming queens, and aspiring teachers, doctors, and U.S. soldiers. They are young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives and desire only to call this country their home … they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of detection by immigration authorities.”

It makes no moral, economic, or social good sense to continue tearing apart families and communities and disrupting young people’s lives — all at great expense to the American public and taxpayers.

The time to act is now: please call your congressional representatives today and urge them to vote yes on the DREAM Act — without any amendments that might undermine its effectiveness. Although Nancy Pelosi and most Bay Area Democrats support the bill, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) and the Republicans are either on the fence or opposed. There’s no time to waste in giving hard-working young immigrant students this most American ideal — the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.

Eric Mar is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Eric Quezada is executive director of Dolores Street Community Services in San Francisco.

The perils of unaccountable power


By Saul Bloom

OPINION San Francisco has two redevelopment commissions that together have broad, sweeping authority over land use and development in the city. The Redevelopment Agency Commission and the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) have more power in some respects than the Board of Supervisors — people you actually vote for.

There is no way to overstate the importance of the power of these commissions. The Candlestick Shipyard and Treasure Island projects by themselves account for an area the size of the Presidio. Over the next decade, the commissions will oversee the outcome of the Schlage Lock parcel in Visitacion Valley, the Bayview-Hunters Point Project Area, the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point, India Basin, Mission Bay, South of Market, and Treasure and Yerba Buena islands.

Two important questions these commissions raise are: 1) Is It healthy for our city and county to vest so much authority into two essentially unaccountable authorities; and 2) Would it be better to vest this responsibility in the Board of Supervisors — considering that it’s the norm around the state for these local legislatures to also act as redevelopment commissions?

In San Francisco, redevelopment commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. The board cannot select its own representatives. The commissions wield the power of independent financial authority, multimillion dollar agency contracts, and the ability to destroy a community near you. This is a substantial amount of authority for an unelected body.

The mayor and six members of the Board of Supervisors are all that is required to allow a commissioner to serve for life. There are no term limits for commissioners. There are no meaningful criteria to judge a commissioner’s appointment. There is no yard stick by which to measure a panel member’s worthiness for reappointment every four years. The board’s confirmation and reappointment process is more a popularity party than a Supreme Court nominee review.

Other than the courts, there is no recourse to a commission decision. During the recent Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard debate members of the Board of Supervisors learned they actually has to seek the approval of these political appointees to modify an environmental impact report.

As a consequence, the appointment of commissioners is highly political. The power of the two commissions makes appointments prime objectives for influential sectors of the city’s political establishment. Those commissioners who disagree with the Mayor’s Office over important issues are not reappointed.

There’s no need to abolish the redevelopment authorities, which have unique legal benefits, particularly in project financing. But we can modify the way the city oversees the agencies.

In most counties in California the Board of Supervisors also serves as the Redevelopment Commission. While that could be a bit unnerving in a city as complicated as San Francisco, it is difficult to see how the process could become more politicized, less accountable, and less democratic.

Having the board oversee redevelopment would at least ensure that agency plans reflect the needs and interests of all 11 districts — and an elected body could be held accountable for those plans.

San Francisco deserves a dialogue about whether this is the best way to chart our course into a very foggy future. 

Saul Bloom is executive director of Arc Ecology.

Ideas that work: a plan for a new San Francisco


OPINION San Francisco is a city of tremendous riches and problems — a locus of wealth, inequality, innovation, creativity, and sometimes stifling resistance by political and economic power brokers. It’s time to break through. We have the ability, and opportunity, to create a whole new set of economic, social, and political relationships between people and government. On everything from municipal banking, to Muni reform, to public-controlled sustainable energy production and community-driven budgeting, we have a flood of ideas from thinkers and activists across the city.

The Aug. 14-15 Community Congress at the University of San Francisco will focus on turning those ideas into a political platform the city can implement. Last week, we described the vision; this week, we offer some proposals that will be discussed at the event; following the event, others will be posted at

The event runs Aug. 14 from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. and Aug. 15 from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. at USF’s McLaren Conference Center. For information, go to (Karl Beitel and Christopher Cook)


San Francisco is rich — it has $16.1 billion in assets, with a net worth of $6.5 billion, according to the city treasurer. With a little maneuvering and political will, roughly a half-billion of that money could be devoted to creating a municipal bank: a fiscally solvent, federally insured economic engine that would invest in community development projects serving underfunded activities and endeavors, providing significant economic and social benefits to the residents of San Francisco.

With its own public bank, San Francisco could begin to fund and promote more community-centered forms of economic development. Worker co-ops, for instance, could get loans for projects that are socially beneficial and economically viable. The bank could also help generate new homegrown industries that produce both revenue and social value to the city. This would help democratize the city economy, giving financial muscle to community-based projects and neighborhood-serving businesses.

Over a period of three to five years, a modest portion of the city’s liquid investments can be transferred to create to the new bank. The bank could use this pool of capital to extend low-interest, long-term loans for projects located in San Francisco. The bank would offer a full spectrum of retail banking services, such as money market accounts, to attract additional deposits to supplement funds from the city.

A municipal bank has potential to grow into a major economic force in the city for financing community-centered development. With the right up-front commitment from the city, the total asset portfolio of loans and other investments would grow far beyond this initial public investment — representing a significant infusion of loan capital into currently underserved segments of the credit market in San Francisco.

The municipal bank would be a member-owned, federally chartered, and federally insured credit union. It would engage in rigorous vetting of loan applicants. But because the bank would not run as a profit-maximizing enterprise, loan officers would explicitly consider projects in light of their economic viability and potential contribution to the economic, social, and cultural well being of San Francisco.

Priority could, for instance, be given to loans for affordable housing development and community economic development. In particular, the bank could prioritize businesses and enterprises that represent alternative models of ownership such as worker co-ops and worker collectives, and smaller, community-serving, locally-based, social enterprise-type businesses.

To ensure that the bank’s lending activities reflect the need for more democratic modes of credit and finance, governance and oversight could include representation from social groups and constituents normally excluded from corporate governance. The bank’s member-owners would elect the board of directors.

Municipal bank funds would be completely separate from the city’s general fund, with strict firewalls imposed to assure that lending activities do not become intermingled in any way with the annual appropriations process.

By creating its own bank, San Francisco would be a national model for community-based development and economic democracy. It would be a national first, and has the potential to transform how cities think about local economic development. (Beitel)


Since the beginning of the dot-com boom, San Francisco has seen displacement of low-income families from rent-controlled housing in alarming numbers. Much of this displacement has been happening through conversion of small residential apartment buildings (between four and 12 units) into tenancy in common units. Small-site displacement tends to target seniors, disabled people, and working class families — and many of the units that were converted were, under rent control, de facto affordable housing.

In addition, over the past 15 years the city has lost 4,370 units due to Ellis Act evictions. At the same time, the city’s housing production model favors larger projects because of the economies of scale possible for new construction of big projects, with 70 or more units. While these projects are important in adding to the city’s affordable housing stock, sites to accommodate giant developments are in short supply.

So how do we address San Francisco’s chronic affordable housing crisis. First, stabilize low-income communities and preserve diverse neighborhoods by encouraging the city to invest in developing a small sites acquisition and rehabilitation program that could help nonprofits take over and operate affordable rental housing for low-income tenants. That property could also be converted to limited equity housing cooperatives and community land trust properties.

Next, the city should ban all TICs from becoming condos. The city can give landlords and speculators a choice: If you want your property to be eligible for condo conversion, with all the economic benefits that come with that designation, then you need to follow the process and abide by tenant protections in the condo law. If you want to ignore the condo law, then you’re stuck with a TIC.

To further protect renters, prior to sale of a renter-occupied unit, the city could require the owner to offer tenants the right to buy the unit, at a price based on the last best offer from a bona fide purchaser.

The Rent Board also needs reform. The panel, which oversees rent increases, consists of five members: two landlords, two tenants, and one homeowner. All are appointed by the mayor. We suggest three tenants, two landlords, and two homeowners — with the appointments split between the mayor and the supervisors.

There also must be a permanent, local source of funding for affordable housing development. A progressive increase in the real estate transfer tax could generate $45 million annually.

We further support Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s proposed legislation that would protect resident’s rights during relocation and ensure their right to return to buildings that have been redeveloped. (Amy Beinart and the Council of Community Housing Organizations)


More than any other American city, San Francisco relies on a network of faith- and community-based nonprofits to deliver critical health and human services to its poorest and sickest residents. More than 15,000 people are employed in this sector, which had a total budget of almost $800 million in 2000.

Health and human service nonprofits play a significant role in providing a substantial portion of the city’s services for seniors, people with AIDS, the homeless, children and youth, people with special physical and mental needs, and those who suffer from substance abuse.

Yet this critical sector finds itself bearing the brunt of cuts and reduction in services caused by the fiscal crisis facing San Francisco.

So what can we do? Here are seven suggestions.

First, conduct a coordinated citywide health and human services needs assessment driven by neighborhoods and communities.

Second, working with service users, service providers, and city employees, create a 10-year plan for health and human services that can guide yearly budget considerations.

Third, as the city implements the 2009 ballot measure that calls for a two-year budget cycle informed by five-year financial plans, require department heads and commissions to include the perspective of professional service providers and service users, including a standards analysis plan and a narrative about the impact on services.

Fourth, open a dialogue with the foundation community on addressing the changing needs of the nonprofit human services community, including community needs, accountability, and funding cycles.

Fifth, depoliticize the request-for-proposals (RFP) process by moving it out of city departments and into the Controller’s Office.

Sixth, require city departments that contract with nonprofit health and human service providers to complete their implementation of the recommendations to streamline the city’s contracting and monitoring processes approved by the 2003 City Nonprofit Contracting Task Force, and ensure that current procedures and processes are consistent with those recommendations.

And seventh, preserve services for the most vulnerable San Franciscans by focusing on revenue solutions to the city’s ongoing structural budget deficit, including November 2010 campaigns to increase the hotel tax and the real property transfer tax. (Debbi Lerman, Human Services Network)


Although these are hard times, there’s an opportunity for San Francisco to realize a new model of economic sustainability — by supporting worker cooperatives.

The worker cooperative model is a business form well-suited to the diverse needs of urban areas and is already viable in a broad variety of sectors including manufacturing, service, and retail. A key aspect of worker cooperative development is that its goal is not just the creation of jobs; it’s also about making business ownership accessible.

An inspiring new model of economic development is currently taking place with the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland. In an ambitious effort, anchor institutions such as the local universities, hospitals, and the City of Cleveland have established procurement agreements with developing worker cooperatives rooted in the struggling urban communities of Cleveland (where unemployment rates are as high as 25 percent). The goal is to redirect the estimated $3 billion that these anchor institutions spend on goods and services toward worker cooperatives in the communities where these institutions are located. The first two business models underway are a commercial laundry service and a solar installation company.

There’s also a lot of inspiring work already being done by the worker cooperative community in the Bay Area. The Arizmendi Association continues to develop new worker-owned bakeries despite the economic recession. This fall, Arizmendi will launch its second SF location in the Mission District, creating new jobs and opportunities for local residents to have ownership over their work. Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues are two extremely successful, long-lasting worker-owned grocery stores in San Francisco.

The city ought to officially recognize the worker cooperative model as both viable and preferable, and include it in the city’s various efforts of economic development. And city officials should take a leadership role in reimagining what a vibrant economy could look like and begin to promote worker cooperatives as central to that vision. (Poonam Whabi, Rick Simon, Steve Rice, Inno Nagara, and Nadia Khastagir)

Reinventing San Francisco


By Christopher D. Cook, Karl Beitel, and Calvin Welch. 

OPINION It’s hard to trust hope these days — to imagine that our world, or even our city — could be different. But for the next 10 or 15 minutes, as you read this, we invite you to suspend the cynicism and disbelief that hang over contemporary life, and allow your mind to imagine that, yes, a different San Francisco is possible. Just for 15 minutes, although we hope this helps kick-start a much longer-term revival of hope and urban reimagining.

It’s time to create something new in San Francisco — a visionary movement for constructive change that’s bold and unapologetic. Imagine, for instance, if San Francisco became a national model for how cities can reinvest local profits (public and private) and assets to expand economic opportunity and social equity. Imagine if, instead of promoting a dispiriting and volatile blend of corporate development and Darwinian “free-market” anarchy, San Francisco transformed how American cities define success by creating concrete alternatives to the chaos of capitalism.

Now imagine that San Francisco had its own public bank — a fiscally solvent, interest-generating financial force (potentially a half-billion dollars strong) dedicated to public financing and economic stimulus, that functioned as a vigorous incubator for homegrown industries and sustainable, true-green job creation.

We are proposing no less than a reinvention of San Francisco — a dramatic shift in priorities, resources, politics, and culture that marries the very best in both creative innovation and urgently needed reforms to make our city socially equitable and sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

Toward this end, the Community Congress, Aug. 14-15 on the University of San Francisco campus, will stimulate ideas, discussion, and planning to reinvigorate civic engagement and inspiration and create a concrete, locally actionable agenda for reshaping the city. You’re invited. (Visit for more information.) The congress is a conversation starter and idea incubator — an opportunity to begin reimagining San Francisco as a socially equitable, racially inclusive, ecologically sustainable city that grows its own food, supplies its own energy, and is an affordable haven for working-class people, immigrants, artists, and creative folk of all stripes.

We humbly propose a city that embraces cosmopolitanism and international exchange while empowering its residents to achieve a decent and livable quality of urban life. We are not trying to turn back the clock; we are trying to create new forms of social and economic value that give people meaning and sustenance, and hope.



Couldn’t we save such sweeping aspirations for a rainy day? The sky isn’t falling yet, is it? Not quite, but the present constellation of crises San Francisco is ensnarled in — massive and rising structural deficits, a boom/bust economy that’s profoundly unstable and inequitable, deepening economic and social divides that destabilize communities, to name a few — is simply unsustainable.

San Francisco’s economic and fiscal crisis is not a passing moment. Rather, it signals long-term structural flaws in the city’s economic policies and planning. San Francisco has lost roughly 45,000 jobs since 2000, and each “recovery” is marked by steadily higher unemployment rates (currently resting at 9.2 percent). More critically, as jobs and wages have grown more precarious and housing prices have steadily risen (over the long term), thousands of San Franciscans have been displaced.

Any serious vision for change must incorporate race and class dynamics. Consider the economic evisceration of much of the city’s African American population, which has plummeted from 13.4 percent of the population in 1970 to just 6.5 percent today (more than 22,000 African Americans left the city between 1990 and 2008). The gutting of communities of color is intrinsically intertwined with issues of job and wage loss and soaring housing costs. This is particularly acute in the geographic and political dislocation of African Americans in San Francisco. Add to this picture intense overcrowding and poverty in Chinatown and in Latino and immigrant communities, and you get a set of inequities that are morally unacceptable and socially untenable.

Like other major American cities, San Francisco faces a crucial historical moment. Global warming and fast-dwindling oil supplies require a transformative shift in how we conceive (and implement) economic development far beyond the city’s current piecemeal approach to “green procurement.” The Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2007, concluded that a full 86 percent of San Francisco’s energy use comes from fossil fuels, primarily petroleum and natural gas, and a small amount of coal. Given the world’s fading oil supplies and mounting climate chaos, this is simply unsustainable.

The specter of a looming energy and environmental crisis, combined with economic instability marked by persistently high unemployment, rising income inequality, systemically entrenched homelessness, consumer debt, and the deepening crisis of cutbacks to critically needed human services and affordable housing call for a radical shift in how society — and San Francisco’s economy — are run.

Transforming San Francisco into a truly sustainable city will mean dramatic shifts in what (and how) we produce and consume, and aggressive city policies that promote local renewable energy. Our economy — how our food, housing, transportation and other essential goods are made — will have to be rebuilt for a world without oil.

These and other limits mean we must redefine growth and profit—fast. Work and sustainability must become fully intertwined, and we must think creatively about how jobs can produce social and community value, instead of profits concentrated at the top.

Creating truly sustainable and equitable cities for the 21st century will also mean dramatic shifts in how we produce and consume. There is no better place to begin than here in San Francisco, long an incubator in progressive thinking and genuine grassroots action and innovation. In an earlier Community Congress in 1975, residents and groups from across San Francisco united in a movement of ideas and organizing that led to district supervisorial elections and successful campaigns to stem the tide of downtown corporate development, helping to democratize politics and economics in San Francisco.

The 2010 Community Congress is aimed at reinvigorating local movements for lasting change, both on the policy level and in the relationship between people and their government. We hope to inspire a spirited and creative shift in the city’s culture and politics — with concrete, politically actionable policies to democratize planning and development and a more sweeping transformation of our expectations — toward a far richer and deeper engagement of people and communities in their own governance.



What would this City of Hope look like, and how would it work? Consider what we could accomplish with a municipal bank. The City and County of San Francisco currently has almost $2.6 billion in highly liquid reserves, about $500 million of which could be used to fund a Municipal Bank of San Francisco. Once established (and federally insured), the Municipal Bank could take additional deposits and use this to issue more loans. The bank could promote economically viable worker-run cooperatives that produce goods and services addressing community needs — be it day care, urban gardening, or ecologically sustainable light industry that creates meaningful employment for local residents. The bank could provide competitive small-interest loans to help stimulate small-business development — the key economic engine of the city. Currently, access to credit is one of the primary impediments to small business growth in San Francisco.

The city could also start a Municipal Development Corporation to produce goods and services that meet essential needs, boost local employment, and generate surpluses that would be available for local reinvestment. San Francisco could launch itself on the path to local energy self-reliance with funds from the Municipal Bank, together with revenue bonds—raising large pools of capital to finance large-scale alternative energy investments such as solar panels to generate energy for sale to local businesses and households.

The proceeds could help subsidize community-based development such as urban farming projects that could grow food for our public schools. The Municipal Development Corporation could explore other initiatives like large-scale medical marijuana cultivation and development of a commercial fiberoptic network. Other ideas can be developed; we need to engage our collective imagination to envision what can exist if there’s enough people power and political will.

By expanding access to credit, municipalizing a chunk of the city’s assets, establishing an economically viable municipal development enterprise, and democratizing city planning and development, San Francisco can enable long-disenfranchised communities to create sustainable and diversified development — instead of fighting over “jobs versus the environment” and other false choices and getting nowhere for decades.

It’s time for proactive, community-led economic development that addresses urgent needs, from local hiring and training, to creating a diverse base of neighborhood-serving businesses, to ecologically sustainable and healthful development and planning that is driven by communities and residents.

San Francisco’s job creation policies can be transformed to prioritize community needs over corporate profits by linking major development contracts to strict local hiring and training, community benefits agreements that invest in social goods like childcare and in-home health services, and ensuring dramatic increases in the city’s stock of affordable housing.

We need to build new forms of public participation in local government in ways that address people’s everyday needs. For instance, the congress will propose a new partnership between residents and Muni to make Muni work better, involving current riders and drivers in a new, more powerful role in how Muni lines function.

We need to find better ways to sustain a diverse population of working-class, people of color, artists, writers, musicians, and others. We need to make sure development isn’t just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents.

Specific proposals will address how the city and community-based nonprofits deliver critical health and human services to our neediest residents. We propose making this an integrated part of the budget process, not a last-minute afterthought. Toward this end, the Community Congress will present actionable proposals to create innovative “resident/government” partnerships to improve local government responsiveness and efficiency.



One of the keys to unlocking the city’s stagnating economy is progressive revenue generation and more democratic participation in budgeting. We must enlarge the public pie while reapportioning it in a way that stimulates job creation and shifts the tax burden onto the large businesses that reap vast private benefits from public goods and services. The city’s budget process must be dramatically reshaped and democratized. Communities need a seat at the fiscal table when the budget is being crafted — instead of lobbying tooth and nail at the end of the process just to retain funding that barely keeps programs afloat.

How can we build a participatory budgeting movement that brings residents and communities into the process? For instance, community budget councils composed of elected and appointed residents from every supervisorial district could assess neighborhood needs and incorporate them into drafting the budget. Whatever form this takes, the goal is to put the needs of residents at the forefront of how the city spends its resources.

The Community Congress can also help redefine fiscal responsibility. Taxing and spending must be accountable and transparent and respect the fact that this is the public’s money. Let’s be honest: much of what passes for government excess is due to management and executive bloat at the top, not salaries of frontline workers like bus drivers, social service providers, and hospital workers. True fiscal responsibility also means investing in prevention: education, healthcare, and services that help people build their lives.



It’s time to reclaim the public sector as the sphere of our shared interest. Rather than thinking in terms of the old paradigm that counterpoises “government” and “the market,” let us envision a new citizen movement to create a more participatory, democratic, and accountable system of self-government.

The San Francisco Community Congress is about bringing people together — community activists, those working in the trenches of our increasingly strained social services, our environmental visionaries, our artists, the urban gardeners and permaculturists, poets, bicycle enthusiasts, inventors … in short, assembling our pool of collective knowledge and wisdom, and yes, our differences — in a forum to discuss, debate, share concerns and viewpoints, and ultimately produce a working template that is both visionary and can be implemented.

The Community Congress will create a space for all of us to participate in defining our own vision of San Francisco. It is a first step toward reasserting popular control over economic development. It is an invitation to be visionary, rethinking in fundamental ways what it means to live in the 21st century city, and a forum for creating real, practical platforms and proposals that can be implemented using the powers of local government.

We want to propose a new vision of urban governance. Not more bureaucracy, more commissions, more departments, but the creation of new institutions that are democratically accountable and place new kinds of economic and political resources in the hands of ordinary citizens.

We don’t have any illusions. There are limits to what local government can do. Ultimately, deep change will require actions by higher levels of government. More profoundly, it will require a deeper change in citizen awareness, a rejection of life dominated by the pursuit of narrow self-interest, in favor of a more ecologically sustainable, socially just, and more democratic way of life.

But we can begin at the local level, here and now, to envision and implement the kind of changes that will need to take place if we want to insure that our city, our country, and our planet will be the kind of place we want our children to live. Please come. Bring your hopes, passions, and ideas. This is our collective project, our shared wisdom, our joint vision of the kind of city and society in which we want to live.

Christopher D. Cook is an author, journalist, and former Bay Guardian city editor ( Karl Beitel is a writer, scholar, and activist. Calvin Welch is the director of the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse and a long-time affordable housing advocate. This story was funded in part by