Janina Glasov

SF Board of Supervisors approves new tenant protections


The Board of Supervisors today (Tues/17) gave unanimous final approval to legislation aimed at giving renters in the city additional protections against being displaced by real estate speculators, and initial approval to legislation protecting tenants from harassment by landlords, both part of a wave of reforms moving through City Hall to address rising populist concerns about gentrification and evictions.

The anti-eviction legislation, created by Sup. John Avalos and co-sponsored by Sups. Eric Mar and David Campos, seeks to preserve rent-controlled and affordable housing by restricting property-owners’ abilities to demolish, merge, and convert housing units, three of the most common ways that affordable housing units are being eliminated in the city.

There was no discussion of the Avalos legislation today as it was approved on second reading, belying last week’s initial discussion, which got a little heated at times. “San Francisco is facing a crisis,” Avalos said last week as he conveyed the importance of passing the ordinance before the end of the year. “We’ve been called on by our constituents to declare a state of emergency for renters in the city.”

Last month, Campos held a high-profile hearing at the board on the city’s affordable housing and eviction crisis, and won approval for his legislation to double how much tenants being evicted under the Ellis Act receive. Today’s board meeting also includes a first reading of legislation by Campos to help protect tenants in rent-controlled apartments from being harassed by landlords seeking to force them out and increasing rents.

“We have heard about tenants being locked out of their apartments. We have heard about loud construction work being done…for the purpose of forcing the tenants out,” Campos said today of his legislation to allow targetted tenants to have complaints heard by the Rent Board rather than having to file a lawsuit. Later, Campos said the legislation sends the message “that is not something that is going to be tolerated in San Francisco.”

Campos’ legislation also received unanimous approval and little discussion, even by supervisors who generally side with landlords over tenants, perhaps including just more potent this issue has become. Board President David Chiu also today introduced a resolution to support his work with Mayor Ed Lee and Sen. Mark Leno to amend the Ellis Act at the state level, hoping to give the city more control over its rent-controlled housing. 

Avalos last week said he is so convinced of the urgency of the current situation that he responded to concerns voiced during the Land Use and Economic Development Committee Meeting on Dec. 9 about how the new legislation would work in the cases of temporary evictions and residential hotels by immediately making amendments to the ordinance without objection.

Nonetheless, further questions arose during the Dec. 10 meeting. Sups. Norman Yee and Katy Tang expressed reservations about the legislation applying in the case of owner move-in (OMI) evictions.

“I would love to support the piece, but this part just doesn’t make sense to me,” Yee concluded. “I’m not getting how it hurts the tenants.”

While Avalos explained that OMI evictions still take affordable housing off the market, he agreed to compromise by reducing the ordinance’s 10-year moratorium on demolishing, merging and converting housing units to five years.

Then, Sup. London Breed spoke up.

“This might not be popular for me to say as a legislator, but I’m very confused,” she began. “I know we have this crisis of Ellis Acts around the city, but I really feel pressured, and that this legislation is being rushed. I can’t support something that I don’t completely understand the impacts of. I just need more time.”

While Breed did not have the chance to review the legislation before the meeting, she had found the time to prepare speeches about President Nelson Mandela’s passing last week and her alma mater Galileo High School’s recent football victory.

Concurring with Breed, Cohen stated, “I understand that we are in a crisis of protecting our rental stock units, but I’m hesitant. Connect the dots for me, how does this save rentals? Or conserve affordable housing? What are we trying to do here?”

Kim reprimanded her fellow board members for not attending the meeting prepared, then stated, “I would support moving the ordinance forward today. The situation we are facing here in the city is extremely challenging…and this legislation is one of the tools we have for it.”

Sup. Scott Wiener and David Chiu echoed Kim’s support, commending Avalos for promptly addressing their former issues with his amendments and additions.

When Cohen used her time on the floor to respond to Kim’s admonition by stating, “I certainly do my homework. I don’t want to be made to feel bad for not getting it on the first time,” Campos suggested that it might be a good time to put the discussion on hold and open the floor for public comments.

While members of the community stepped up to the visitors’ podium, Yee and Campos met at the back of the room while Breed conversed with Sophie Hayward of the Planning Department, who had reviewed the ordinance before it was presented for recommendations. After further discussion with Avalos himself, Yee returned to his seat to speak with Tang. Satisfied with what she learned from Hayward, Breed came over to discuss the ordinance with Campos and Avalos. Cohen remained seated for the duration of the time, speaking with no one.

After the conclusion of public comments, Avalos reiterated the importance of passing the ordinance as soon as possible. “We have been called on by scores, hundreds of people, to preserve this stock,” he stated. “This legislation will help keep families in San Francisco.”

The ordinance was passed unanimously in its first reading, but the fight is not over. Breed for one made it clear that, while she understood the ordinance better after her preceding discussions, she was only giving it her support because she knew the legislation would be up for further review in a week, when all the supervisors will have had time to study it more closely.

With the affordable housing and displacement issues only generating more heat in the last week, today there was only prompt, unanimous approval and no discussion. 

All together now



The latest attempt to legalize marijuana in California took one step forward last week when a group of advocates filed a ballot initiative with the office of the Secretary of State.

Titled California’s Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014 (MCLR), the new marijuana legalization proposal is being floated by Americans for Policy Reform (AFPR). For the past year, the organization has made the draft initiative open to the public as an editable Google Doc for anyone to read, comment on, and even modify.

The next step is for the Secretary of State to evaluate the initiative and compose a title and summary. Only after that process, which could take up to two months, will the AFPR be free to begin collecting the 500,000 signatures it must amass in order to get the marijuana legalization act on the 2014 ballot.

Such a task may sound daunting, but AFPR members have already done some of the heavy lifting, having spent the past year soliciting thousands of individual Californians’ input and support. The policy reform group even postponed an earlier submission target date to allow time for a statewide tour to gauge public opinion one last time before formally filing the proposed legislation. The initiative began as a grassroots, “open source” document to legalize cannabis for medical, industrial and adult social use.

“About a year ago, we held a cannabis conference in San Jose where we presented a document that was two paragraphs long and basically said, ‘Marijuana should be legal and nobody should be sent to jail,'” recounts AFPR member Dave Hodges. “Then we put that document into a Google Doc and just started promoting it, telling everybody, ‘If there’s anything in it that you don’t like, get in there — and change it yourself.'”

Hodges opened San Jose’s first medical cannabis club in 2009, but wasn’t drawn to the forefront in the fight for legalization until the death of a good friend a year and a half ago. His friend suffered from a condition caused by daily consumption of alcohol.

“About two weeks before he passed away, we were smoking a joint and the fucker had the balls to tell me: ‘If this shit were legal, I would have never drank alcohol.’ This is something I’ve believed in a lot, in general — but that was probably the thing that made me really get into it and not let go.”

The AFPR has gone to great lengths to garner broad support and lay the groundwork for a strong coalition once the signature gathering process begins. In the past year, the policy reform group has reached out to attorneys, activists, and other members of the community, trying to include as many Californians as possible in shaping the MCLR initiative. They’ve also issued press releases and blasted the word out on social media.

The editable Google Doc upon which the proposal is based has been circulated to thousands of people, via e-mail lists. When someone posted a link to the document on the popular website Boing Boing, more than 1,000 people logged into it within 48 hours.

Hodges has personally sat down to meet face-to-face with more than 100 different people. Over time, the two-paragraph long Google Doc grew to a length of 24 pages.

“The process of creating it was a little bit of a nightmare,” Hodges chuckles. “I’ve probably read that 24 pages a thousand times,” a feat he admits could not have been accomplished without copious amounts of marijuana.

Nonetheless, he agrees with fellow proponent Bob Bowerman, who said, “This is the best cannabis initiative ever put together for California. It follows federal guidelines and regulates cannabis in a way that makes sense.” Bowerman added, “It corrects the other legal mistakes.”

The open-source style in which MCLR was created might have been headache inducing, but its proponents believe it will prove to be the key to the initiative’s success on the 2014 ballot — in contrast with previous failed efforts at legalization.

As Hodges states, “In the case of Prop 19 in 2010, the message that was circulating — and the reason that it failed — was that everybody was saying, ‘It’s a bad law, but vote for it anyways,’ because everybody just wanted to see legalization happen. In 2012, we had nine different initiatives all competing to be on the ballot, because everybody had their own view of how this had to happen and nobody was really trying to get everybody to work together. And then none of them ended up on the ballot.”

These defeats in 2010 and 2012 led Hodges and his associates to the conclusion that the essential problem with legalization efforts was internal division across the movement, caused by respective groups disagreeing on language and prioritizing different aspects of the issue.

“When you do this process and combine so many perspectives, you see a lot of things that you wouldn’t otherwise,” Hodges explains. “And if there are any critics who come out and say this is a bad law, well, we’ve taken over a year to reach out to everybody. Anybody who hasn’t responded doesn’t really have an excuse at this point.”

While the original document put forth by the AFPR a year ago stated simply that Californians should be free to smoke marijuana, its final form is a detailed set of regulations on how the drug ought to be sold, provided, and regulated. It also outlines new protections against issues, such as federal regulation, still complicating the movement toward legalization. The need for such a precise, comprehensive initiative was underscored by a recent California Supreme Court ruling, determining that individual cities are allowed to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, despite provisions established by Prop 215 in 1996 and reinforced by SB-420 in 2003 clearing the way for their operation.

“There were a lot of lessons to be learned from that Supreme Court ruling,” Hodges says. “We learned that if we want this structured properly, we need to spell it out in very fine detail, to make sure that legally the courts can’t come back and do something like this again.”

He went on to explain the essence of the MCLR initiative. “The core of what we’ve done is create a bipartisan, independent cannabis commission that’s going to regulate this, set up further detailed regulations, and adjust for anything in the future,” he said. “Everything else is more basic structures around protections and limitations for businesses that could exist, and protections for the people who are currently using it.”

Some of those “basic structures” proved especially important to the co-collaborators. They include enforcing laws against driving under the influence by testing a driver’s impairment rather than testing the amount of THC in their bloodstream; prohibiting employers from firing employees simply for testing positive for marijuana; disregarding, in custody battles, whether one of the parents smokes; and establishing independent financial and insurance cooperatives for the cannabis and hemp industries, so that banking and insurance transactions may be done apart from the federal framework.

“Those are the little things that we would not have thought of, unless we’d been reaching out to individuals,” Hodges states. “So it really is a much stronger document because we’ve been so open about it.”

Once the document had been collaboratively shaped and vetted, AFPR took it to an attorney, who drafted it as legislation in preparation for submission to the Secretary of State.

As the final, amended version of the MCLR initiative undergoes evaluation by the office of the Secretary of State, the greatest obstacle now facing AFPR is the task of raising the $2 million needed to gather signatures for the petition. Without that funding, the measure won’t appear on the 2014 ballot, regardless of all the effort and collaboration already invested. The organization has been cultivating relationships with prospective sponsors, but collecting that large of a sum will not be easy.

Still, the initiative’s proponents remain confident. According to the most recent survey data released by AFPR, 64 percent of California voters want to legalize marijuana in 2014. This support follows a broader trend: Results of a recent Gallup poll show that for the first time since Americans were first polled on their attitudes toward marijuana in 1969, a clear majority of Americans — 58 percent — say it should be legalized.

“The time is now,” declared John Lee, another proponent. “The voters are ready, and we can get it done.”

What getting it done will ultimately mean, in practice, is anyone’s guess.

“We’re talking about a lot of saved money as far as people going to jail, better use of resources, and a new stream of revenue for the state,” Hodges predicts. “There’s obviously gonna be some sort of liquor-store type models. But I’ve heard of everything from marijuana-friendly bed and breakfasts, to high-end bars that will have girls going around like cigarette girls used to, but with different types of pre-rolled joints.”

Taking it all in, he concluded, “The possibilities are pretty endless. But if this initiative passes, we will set a standard for the rest of the country.”


Richmond resident saved from deportation at the last moment


Felipe Valdes has lived and worked in the United States for 23 years. Two weeks ago, he received a letter ordering his deportation. Valdes reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in downtown San Francisco yesterday (Mon/18) morning as he instructed and prepared to say his final goodbyes to his family before boarding one of ICE’s deportation buses at noon. Instead, he was released after five hours and allowed to return to his home in Richmond.

“It’s one in a million,” stated Marie Vincent, Valdes’ attorney. She had filed a stay of removal on her client’s behalf to delay his deportation, but such claims rarely get reviewed quickly. Vincent believes Valdes was awarded additional time in the US at the last moment because of media attention he received in recent weeks.

“His case was very compelling,” she explained. “He’s been here so long, and he has contributed greatly to the United States. He’s worked the whole time, he’s active at his church, his children are here. This is his country.”

While Valdes met with ICE officers inside, more than 50 local faith leaders, community members and reporters assembled on the street outside the office, with supporters there to protest the deportation. According to Vincent, this pressure was critical in influencing ICE’s decision to approve Valdes for a one-year work permit, temporarily halting his deportation.

That year may prove to be enough time for the currently pending residency visa application that Valdes recently submitted to be reviewed. His application is the latest in a long history of attempts to become a legal resident of the U.S. stretching back to 1997, seven years after he immigrated here from Mexico with his wife, their baby son, and their unborn daughter. Now, Vincent thinks he finally has a strong case that will earn him legal status in the US.

If Valdes is forced to return to Mexico, it could result in major consequences for his family. His wife, their three children, and their granddaughter all depend upon his wages as a plumber to survive.

“We would have really struggled just to buy food or make rent,” his daughter, Mayra Valdes, reflected after the family received the news that Valdes would not be deported that day.

Mayra’s younger brother suffers from severe scoliosis. The family does not have medical insurance and without Valdes’ earnings, they would be unable to afford the specialized chiropractic and medical care that he needs. With his father gone and no one to pay for his costly weekly treatments, there would be weeks when the boy would not even have been able to walk.

The family depends on Valdes for more than his income too.

“He really pushes me and my siblings to keep going to school,” says Mayra, a Contra Costa Community College student. Her older brother is at the University of California at Davis, and her younger brother is a senior at Richmond High School. With a four-year-old daughter and a second child on the way, Mayra relies on her father to babysit after he gets off work so that she can attend classes.

Valdes’ victory on Monday was a bright note in the sad story of deportation in this country. His single case may not mean much in the broader fight for immigration reform, but for his family, it has meant the world.

“I wanted today to disappear from the calendar,” Mayra recalls, “but now I feel like it was the happiest day of my life. My father was able to come home today—it’s the best present I’ve ever received.”

Barbie gets a makeover, San Francisco-style


Last Wednesday, Shotwell 50 Studio launched its 11th annual San Francisco AlteredBarbie Exhibition, “The Doll That Has It All!” The show features the doll that dominated so many of our childhoods as she has never appeared before. Statues, dioramas, paintings, and photographs created by dozens of artists test the limits of the familiar figure in this unusual creative reuse exhibit. “To alter Barbie is almost a religious thing,” states Julie Andersen, who curates the exhibit each year. “It’s very blasphemous. That’s how strong the icon is.”

Whether you revere Barbie’s beauty and envy her abundance of accessories, or you despise the provocative hussy’s unearthly perfection and ravenous consumerism, these pieces are sure to fascinate viewers. At the entrance of the gallery, Beyond the Web of Illusion features a partially-nude Barbie trapped in a spider’s web. The doll’s honor is preserved by the cover that the giant tarantula devouring her provides.

In the far corner, Ghost Barbie stands looking like a gothic showgirl, adorned in a skimpy outfit and eerily opaque head mask made of over 1,000 Swarovski crystals. All-Barbie Centaur Dance Ensemble is placed in the center of the space, a collection of six-limbed, two-headed creatures with animal-print bodies made from pairs of Barbie dolls. Framed photographs from a Barbie show that a Dutch artist mounted inside a cathedral capture such scenes as a Princess Barbie under attack by a group of dirty, naked Barbies in chains (The Last Barbie Part One); and a statue of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus sitting beside a Princess Barbie in a matching dress with her own baby doll on her lap (Two Madonnas).

Here, Barbie lies under the blade of a guillotine. There, a picture of her and Ken on their wedding day shows their skin melting to bone. Near the door, two skeletons dressed for the prom stand in a box with the words “Memento Mori” above their heads and “Barbie + Ken” at their feet. At some points humorous, at others haunting, the profusion of works featured in this year’s exhibition nearly overwhelms the small space.

Collectors, take note: all of the pieces featured in the AlteredBarbie Exhibition are for sale. On Nov. 17, the public is invited to meet the artists from 3-10pm at the closing reception. The event will feature live music, cabaret, and a drag performance by the Ethel Merman Experience.

Through Nov. 17, free

Shotwell 50 Studio

50 Shotwell, SF


Reclaiming death



DEATH ISSUE Death is the Grim Reaper come to collect his dues, a silent, bewildered specter bound in black, this undeniable truth that we avoid at all costs. But it doesn’t have to be.

Beginning in Northern California, a growing movement has mounted an attack against death as we know it. They call themselves “death midwives.” Part ferry operator for the dying, part guardian of those left behind, these home funeral guides are committed to transforming our experience of death.

“Most people in this country have no exposure to death,” Jerrigrace Lyons, a prominent death midwife based in Sebastopol, tells us. “The references they do have are negative; it’s frightening, it’s ghoulish, it’s a failure. We need something realistic that shows death to be beautiful and graceful, with a lot of compassion and love and honoring involved.”

The most expensive party you never wanted to have, funerals in America have become a multibillion-dollar industry. Between the fees for completing the necessary paperwork, transporting the body, embalming, flowers, headstone, and casket, funerals cost an average of $7,000. (This is excluding the price of a cemetery plot, an 8 by 4-foot piece of real estate that can cost $5,000.) The services only take a few hours.

“Everything happens so fast,” Lyons says. “People need more time.”

Nearly two decades and 350 corpses have taught her that there is nothing more important for a family than having time with the body to grieve. This is just one part of the death process that we have lost touch with.

“Death is such a sacred and holy thing, and we have commercialized it,” Heidi Boucher, a veteran death midwife in Sacramento, tells us. “The funeral industry has made it really mysterious and creepy, so people are afraid of death.”

Americans once took care of their dead in the privacy of their own homes. During the Civil War, embalming became popular as a way to preserve dead bodies. Meanwhile, more people were dying in hospitals, distancing the living from death.

painting a coffin

When funeral directors established a monopoly on the legal right to embalm, we were separated even further from death. Today, most people have no idea what to do with a dead body. Even if they did, there are enough laws and restrictions around death to daunt almost anyone grieving over the loss of a loved one.

Paying someone thousands of dollars to deal with it no longer seems unreasonable. But handing our dead over to funeral homes might come at an even greater cost than we realize.

“When a body’s taken away, it’s taken out of the hands of the family,” Lyons explains. “There’s no direct care of the deceased, no personal involvement. There’s no way for the family to feel empowered by knowing that they’ve done everything they could to give their loved one a great send-off.”


Working as an ER and ICU nurse, Robin Russell saw a lot of death, but she was struck by how people feared death. No one wanted to talk about it, as if the word would summon the Angel of Death if said out loud.

Inspired by the open recognition of it with humor and color that she witnessed in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos, Russell began searching for a way to change how people understand death in this country. What she found was Lyons.

“I realized that one of the reasons we are so afraid of death is because it has been removed from us, by the body being taken away, filled with embalming fluids, made-up and dressed-up by strangers, and placed in a casket for a memorial conducted in an unfamiliar place, for an allotted period of time,” Russell says.

So she enrolled in Lyons’ death midwife certification program. As midwives offer care and support during and after births, death midwives give the same attention and guidance during and after deaths — from making sure that the dying are comfortable to counseling them about what is coming and helping them make arrangements.

When death comes, midwives turn their attention to the living, assisting the families and friends in caring for their loved ones at home. This can include helping them bathe and dress the deceased, preserving the bodies in dry ice, and completing all of the necessary paperwork to have a legal home funeral. With the aid of a death midwife, families can keep their dead at home with them for up to three days.

making your own coffin

When Boucher first started working with the dying 30 years ago, she was one of few death midwives. But Americans have grown more environmentally and economically conscious in recent years, making home funerals increasingly appealing.

Death midwives offer funeral directors’ expertise at a fraction of the cost, sometimes for free. They advocate forgoing caskets in favor of cheaper, greener options like cardboard boxes or even just a shroud.

Expensive frills like elaborate flower arrangements and guest books are done away with, along with toxic ones like embalming. The movement is still very small — Boucher estimates that there are 100 death midwives in the US — but practitioners are optimistic about its future.

“Many people don’t know about this, but 99 percent of the ones I talk to who do are totally into it,” Boucher claims. “We just need to educate people. That’s the only way that anything’s going to change in this country in regards to how we perceive death.”

Lyons has taught 400 people and had 150 graduates from around the world since she started her death midwife certification program in 2000. In coming years, she foresees the home funeral movement growing as much as the birth midwife movement did in the ’60s.

“When the person’s kept at home for several days, it normalizes death a lot,” Lyons states. “The family is there, making everything beautiful and natural. There’s the comfort of the home, the privacy. And it isn’t just for the family. It’s also for the person in transition.”



When Carol Singler had a home funeral for her father in 2012, she swore she could feel his spirit there with them. Lyons had made things easier for Singler in every way that she could, guiding her through the process and even driving her downtown to drop off the necessary paperwork. Lyons recommended a cardboard box that people could decorate instead of a casket.

“When somebody dies, it feels like if you could give them something of your heart, then you would know everything was at peace. This gave us the opportunity to do that,” Singler remembers. “Decorating the box with paint and collages, putting all of our love into it for my dad, we had tremendous emotional processing. We talked a lot about death and dying. By the time we finished, my nephew, who had taken the death really hard, was saying to me, ‘I never knew it could be like this. I don’t feel afraid of death anymore. I want to die like this.’ If my father had just been whisked away, that would have been the end of it. Nothing would have happened to really heal our hearts.”

Singler’s husband is dying of lung cancer. The doctors predict that he has a month and a half to live. She wants him have a home funeral assisted by Lyons too, so that their grandchildren can have the same opportunity to process their grandfather’s death.

Kim Gamboa’s teenage son Kyle committed suicide five months ago by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Another mother put her in contact with Boucher, and, within hours of Kyle’s death, she was at the Gamboas’ house, explaining and arranging things.

Boucher was prepared to answer the usual concerns about legality and decaying. Gamboa attended a home funeral a decade ago. At the time, she wondered how the family could stand having a dead body in the house. Once it was her own son’s funeral, however, she had no apprehensions. “When it is actually your loved one, you have such great comfort in having them home with you,” Gamboa explains. “I had wanted to do everything for him, for his soul, and then it turned out to be everything for us, and the community, to help us say goodbye.”

kyle funeral

For three days, Gamboa and her husband kept their house open to everyone who wanted to visit Kyle. They placed his body in an open casket in their living room, surrounded by flowers and candles. Kyle’s many team jerseys hung on the walls and the pictures and letters his visitors brought crowded the fireplace mantel.

“I do not know how I could have dealt with this or the world without having all of that time to talk to him, to kiss him, to touch him,” Gamboa reflects. “Bringing everyone over provided incredible support and strength, and a sense of closure. We could all grieve and share the happy times that we had with Kyle. It gave us three more days with our son to say goodbye. I can’t even describe how much that helped.”







Brown takes heat on fracking

On Thursday Oct. 17, more than fifty people gathered in front of the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel in downtown San Francisco to protest Governor Jerry Brown’s reception of an environmental award. 

Every year, the BlueGreen Alliance hosts its Right Stuff Awards dinner to honor prominent individuals promoting a sustainable environment and economy. This year, they selected Governor Jerry Brown as a winner in the government category. The choice enraged environmentalists, who congregated where the awards dinner was being held to voice their indignation.

Brought together by several collaborating organizations, including Idle No More and Gathering Tribes, the protesters blocked the entrance to Parc 55 as they awaited the governor’s arrival. Bearing signs with messages such as “Jerry Brown is Not BLUE or GREEN,” they yelled to drivers who honked horns in support as they sailed past.

They were upset by Brown’s support for Senate Bill 4, which he signed into law in September. SB-4 is California’s first legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, which involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth to crack rock formations and release otherwise trapped oil and natural gas deposits.

Widely viewed as flawed legislation that is far from what environmentalists had in mind when they called for the practice to be regulated in California, the bill allows fracking permits to be approved as long as oil and gas companies publicly disclose which chemicals are used in the process. The legislation also requires groundwater and air quality monitoring before operations begin. Environmentalists fear that SB-4 will lead to a dramatic expansion of fracking in California, by allowing access to the state’s vast Monterey Shale deposit, estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

“This award from BlueGreen is a travesty,” declared protester Steve Ongerth, after a flash mob of young people danced to the song “Toxic” by Brittney Spears, dressed in shirts spelling out TOXIC while donning surgical masks.

In the past several years, Governor Brown has accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations from oil and natural gas interests. Environmentalists point to these donations as an explanation of Brown’s refusal to impose a moratorium or an outright ban on fracking, despite pressure from a statewide coalition of organizations calling for such protective measures.

They also blame him for the changes made to SB-4 in the final week before the bill was voted on, which followed intense lobbying by oil and gas interests. The amendments substantially weakened restrictions on fracking by removing some of the bill’s tougher regulations and diluting language intended to ensure that new wells go through adequate environmental review.

“Jerry Brown has sold out the California public for his own self-serving interests. He made a deal with the devil,” said protester Pamela Zuppo of 350 Bay Area. “This is a fracking bill gone wrong. It is referred to as a regulation bill, but it is not. It is an institutionalization of fracking bill and it’s the destruction of our democracy.”

When he signed SB-4, Brown said it “establishes strong environmental protections and transparency requirements,” but added that he plans to seek additional changes next year to clarify the new requirements. So far, details remain sketchy on what areas of the bill will actually be addressed.

At the last minute, activists learned that Brown would not be attending the event to accept his award in person. When this was announced, the crowd of protesters let out a cheer.

But environmentalists who remain concerned about fracking are keeping the pressure on. On Saturday, Oct. 19, activists from 350.org, Food & Water Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity held a march and rally in downtown Oakland to call on Brown to ban fracking.

“Over the past year, Governor Brown has gone against the wishes and best interests of Californians — the majority of which oppose fracking — and has clearly stated his support for the dangerous drilling process, said Food & Water Watch Northern California Organizer Tia Lebherz.

“By doing this he is embarrassing himself and putting his legacy and our state’s future at risk.”

No room left in San Francisco for an artist who helped make the Mission what is


After four decades living and creating art in the Mission, iconic San Francisco artist and curator Rene Yañez is being threatened with eviction.

Yañez made local history in 1972 when he brought Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead, to San Francisco. The parade through the Mission District every Nov. 2 quickly became a Bay Area tradition, drawing thousands of people each year.

He founded the Galeria de la Raza and brought Latin America’s premier artists and photographers to showcase their work there. When the Museum of Modern Art rejected the work of a little-known Mexican woman, it was Yañez who gave a young Frida Kahlo a space to exhibit her paintings. He taught art classes for youths in the community and offered crucial support to many of the Mission’s mural projects.

In 1998, the San Francisco Foundation awarded Rene the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership.” Now, the man who has contributed so much to the culture of this city finds himself on the verge of being expelled from it.

Rene’s impending eviction from the house on San Jose Avenue where he has lived for the for 35 years is producing a fierce reaction. Fellow artist and personal friend Guillermo Gómez-Peña recently released an open letter expressing his outrage and rallying for public support of Rene’s cause.

“You are being physically and culturally evicted,” Gómez-Peña writes. “Shame on this city! Shame on the greedy landlords and politicians! Your sadness is ours…A city without Rene Yañez…can’t be called San Francisco.”

Gómez-Peña’s cry to action will be answered tomorrow (Sat/12) at 2pm at the Brava Theater on 24th Street with Our Mission: No Eviction, a march in protest of the Ellis Act, the law used to evict all of the tenants living in the five-unit house on San Jose, including Rene, his partner Cynthia, his former wife Yolanda, and his son Rio. (For more on tomorrow’s event and the city’s eviction trend, see our Politics blog).

On Saturday, Oct. 26, Brava Theater in the Mission will host “Our Mission: No Eviction!” a fundraiser in honor of Rene and Yolanda featuring art and performances.  All proceeds from ticket sales to the event will go to the legal expenses of fighting the eviction, as well as Rene and Cynthia’s medical bills; both the artist and his partner are currently battling cancer.

“They were kind of at peace that this would be their home when they passed away, in the community they’ve put so much into,” Rio told us. “Cynthia could be dying or dead while they are in the process of moving.”

Under the Ellis Act, Rene and Cynthia qualify for a year-long postponement of their eviction because of their illness, a fact which their landlord, Sergio Iantorno of Golden Properties, LLC, neglected to tell Rene when he offered him $21,000 and a years’ free rent if he accepted his eviction immediately.

Consulting his lawyer, Raquel Fox, Yañez was informed about the legal extension and proceeded to successfully apply for it. Even without her advice, though, Yañez would not have accepted Iantorno’s offer. As Rio explained, that amount is nowhere near enough for Rene and Cynthia Yañez to get another place in San Francisco, especially in the neighborhood that they call home.

“They are in their 70s. They aren’t looking for a huge buyout so that they can start a new life,” Rio told us.

When their original landlord died 13 years ago, Yañez and his fellow tenants pooled their money to make a bid for the house. Golden Properties saw their offer, and doubled it. Now, they are banding together again to refuse Iantorno’s money and fight  the eviction.

“I would rather take my chances and fight it,” Yañez told the Guardian. “And also I see it as resistance to what is going on and affecting a lot of people.”

On Oct. 1, the San Francisco Rent Board released its Annual Statistical Report for fiscal year 2012-2013. The report revealed a 36 percent increase in eviction notices since the year before. Evictions from rent-controlled apartments in particular are at an 11-year high.

The Ellis Act was used 81 percent more than last year, providing the basis for almost 10 percent of all evictions. The law was used with greatest frequency by landlords in the Mission District. Meanwhile, city public health officials estimate that someone earning minimum wage would need to work more than eight full-time jobs to be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment downtown.

“It is a disaster,” states Christopher Cook, an organizer with the nonprofit group Eviction Free Summer. “Individuals, families, and increasingly small businesses are being hammered by these twin tsunamis of evictions and dramatic rent increases. Those two factors have been driving people out of the city in ever greater numbers for the past 10 to 15 years.”

Gómez-Peña blames these changes on the mass of high-paid young people produced by the second dot-com boom. They may work in Silicon Valley, but they play in San Francisco, and this new class of wealthy young techies can and will pay any price to live in the city—especially the Mission District.

“I see them everyday, the hordes of iPad and iPhone texting zombies, oblivious to us and our lives, our inspirations and tribulations,” he writes. “I see them in my building and on the street, invading the city with an attitude of unchecked entitlement, taking over every square inch and squeezing out the last drops of otherness.”

It is no easy task to make room for all that wealth when the majority of the city’s residents are renters protected by law against unfair rent increases, landlord mistreatment, and unwarranted evictions. The actual strength of these safeguards may be waning, though, leading Gómez-Peña to warn the public in his letter that, “As renters our hours here are numbered.”

The only way to evict a tenant in San Francisco is by claiming one of 15 “just cause” reasons for removing them. Among those 15, the Ellis Act is something of a landlord’s dream date, skipping all the talking to get straight to the action—eviction. Established in 1985, the California law gives landlords the unconditional right to evict tenants if they are “going out of business.”

In order to implement the Ellis Act, a landlord must evict all of the tenants in his or her building, giving them 120 days notice, and wait five years before they can put the units back on the rental market at an increased price. However, the law does not prevent landlords from renting the units out as short-term lodgings, or converting them to be sold as one massive unit, tenancies in common or condominiums.

“Ellis Act evictions are impossible to fight,” admitted Ted Gullickson, the head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. This makes them an ideal weapon against rent control, which has allowed residents from lower income brackets to hold onto their homes in San Francisco for decades while the values of the real estate grew and grew. Even then, many tenants do not feel secure. Guerra has heard stories about people with rent control living for decades without hot water, working windows, heat, or even a stove. “To have this amazing rent control,” she concludes, “they put up with substandard living.”

When something broke in their building, Yañez and his family often did not even tell the landlord about it. If they did ask him to fix something, and he ignored their request, no complaints were ever made. “Because of rent control, we tried to keep a low profile,” Yañez acknowledges. “We tried not to bother the landlord or make too much of a fuss, because we did not want to find ourselves in this position.”

Rene has been aware of how precarious his situation is for years. Iantorno attempted to evict him multiple times. He watched as neighbors, nonprofit organizations, and local artists accepted their own eviction notices without a fight. When he first opened the Galeria in 1970, Yañez had a list of artists living in the Mission that neared 200 names. Today, it does not even reach 20.

“Since 2000, they’ve started this thing in the Mission,” he states. “They were very quiet about it at first, but now it’s accelerating. Willie Brown started it, this trend of redevelopment, eviction, displacing people without consideration. He opened up this gaping wound in the Mission, and now these developers are throwing salt on it, trying to kill the patient,” he chuckles. “People get really upset when somebody paints over a mural, like, ‘It has history, it has value, it’s been here for years,’ but they don’t have anything to say if the muralist gets evicted.”

Legally, there is not much that Yañez and his family can do in the coming year to stop their eviction. Even an advocate like Cook admits, “You can’t reverse an Ellis Act. All you can do is fight it, try to make it clear that it’s not worth the landlord’s while, that they’re gonna be in for a world of headaches, costs, and public shaming if they do this.”

Yañez has not accepted the eviction, but he is preparing for the worst, searching for a new home for Cynthia and himself. He continues to scour the Mission, in vain. “I love the Mission,” he explains. “I’ve been there 40 years. I adopted it, it adopted me. And it needs cultural preservation,” he says, curling his hands into fists that bang the air. “We saved the community from really greedy people who had absolutely no interest in who we were as a people. They just saw us as savages standing in the way of them making money. That attitude is still here. It’s actually worse than ever—unregulated and devastating. When I see the trucks moving people out, older people who have no idea where they’re going, sometimes they go downtown to the hotels—I just think it’s really heartless,” he finishes, his eyes wide in earnesty.

Guardian of San Francisco culture that he may be, Rene and Cynthia Yañez will be forced to leave the city in search of somewhere more affordable if their eviction occurs. In that event, there is little chance that the elderly man will be able to return to the city to curate SOMArts annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition as he has every year since he began it.

“I’m hoping that I can hang in. It’s a throw of the dice, but I still have some miles left in me,” he says, his eyes drooping wearily.

There is a chance that the exhibition, which opened today (Friday/11), might be Yañez’s last. Every year, he changes the theme. This November, the Dia de los Muertos exhibition is dedicated to all the living battling cancer, and  all the dead for whom that battle is over. Each piece is haunting, and all together it is a stunning collection encompassing a range of ages and races to touch any and every person that sees it. Like a loved one lost to cancer, the exhibit leaves you wanting more, yet so grateful fpr what you have experienced.

His last or not, it is something that Yañez can be very proud of.

Fight to save City College grows teeth and bites back


Saving City College of San Francisco became a bigger battle yesterday when the California Federation of Teachers announced a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court to keep CCSF open.

The suit is directed against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which pronounced the college’s death sentence July 3 by promising to revoke its accreditation in a year, without which a school cannot receive state funding and its students cannot get federal loans. 

Now, the ACCJC finds itself the institution under investigation by the feds and even City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and the CFT lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to the accreditors. 

The CFT charged the accrediting commission with using unfair and illegal business practices in its efforts to abolish City College. When asked for a statement about the impending lawsuit, ACCJC representative Tom Lane declined to comment.

“The ACCJC must be held accountable for their reckless, irresponsible and illegal actions,” CFT President Joshua Pechtalt explained at the Sept. 23 press conference held on the steps of City Hall, where the suit was announced. More importantly, Pechtalt said, winning this lawsuit could potentially stop the closure of CCSF.

A group of students, faculty, and elected officials stood with Pechtalt on the stone steps. One by one, they enumerated the improper activities that will be the basis of their lawsuit against the ACCJC: failing to adhere to its own policies and bylaws, violations of state and federal laws, and sanctioning CCSF without just cause.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano said that the illegal behavior must stop here and now.

“The blatant lack of transparency, the loose interpretation of the rules, all seen through a lens of hubris and elitism, cannot continue,” he said. “San Francisco is our backyard and the college is our treasure.”

While Ammiano admitted that CCSF is not without its flaws and areas in need of improvement, he was quick to assert that closing the college was not the solution. “Stay out of our backyard unless you have something constructive to say,” he declared.

CCSF Student Trustee Shanell Williams assured the crowd that the lawsuit would be won. “The diverse population of the San Francisco Bay Area, including working families, single parents, new immigrants and others, depends greatly on this college being here,” she said. “If we lose City, we are going to be on our way to being an indentured, working class state.”

If the ACCJC succeeds in San Francisco, it will pave the way for identical treatment of other schools across the state, Williams said. Likewise, CCSF triumphing over the commission would be a victory for every community college in California.

Sup. David Campos also recognized the vital importance of CCSF’s continued existence. “We cannot have the American dream alive in San Francisco if City College closes,” he said. “This fight is about the soul of our city. ”

The US Department of Education has cited the ACCJC for failing to follow its own rules and procedures. A month ago, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee began investigating the commission. The following day, Herrera filed a lawsuit against the ACCJC, claiming it had illegally allowed its advocacy and political bias to prejudice its evaluation of college accreditation standards.

A new report released by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst on Sept. 16 detailed the economic impact to San Francisco if City College were to close. The report was requested by Supervisor Eric Mar. We’ve detailed some of the report’s findings in the infographic below. 

ccsf closure infographic