Reed Nelson

Yee had a reputation for political corruption even before the federal indictment


Long before Sen. Leland Yee’s surprise arrest and arraignment on federal corruption charges today, Yee already had a reputation for, at best, political pandering and influence peddling; or at worst, corruption, a label for Yee long used in private conversations among figures in the local political establishment.

It was usually assumed to be the kind of low-level, quasi-legal corruption that is endemic to the political system: voting against one’s values and constituent interests in order to curry favor and financial contributions from wealthy special interests. In Yee’s case, his recent voting record seems to indicate that he was cultivating support from landlords and the pharmaceutical, banking, oil, and chemical industries for his current campaign for the Secretary of State’s Office.

But today’s indictment — which is expected to be released at any minute, and which we’ll detail in a separate post — seems to go much further, the culmination of a four-year FBI investigation tying Yee to notorious Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who was also arrested today. They and 24 others arrested in the case today are now being arraigned in federal court.  

The Bay Guardian has covered Yee throughout his 26-year political career, and we wrote a comprehensive profile of this controversial figure when he ran for mayor in 2011. More recently, in September, we wrote about some of his suspicious votes and refusal to offer credible explanations for them to activists he’s worked with before.

After that article, confidential sources contacted us urging us to investigate a series of strange votes Yee had cast in the last year, and we’ve been holding off on publishing that until Yee would sit down to talk to us about them. But each time we scheduled an interview with him, starting in November, he would cancel them at the last minute.

Maybe he was aware of the federal criminal investigation, or perhaps he had just decided that he not longer needed to cooperate with the Guardian as he sought statewide office, but he became increasingly hostile to our inquiries. Last month, when Yee saw San Francisco Media Co. (which owns the Guardian) CEO Todd Vogt having dinner with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu in a local restaurant, Vogt said Yee angrily accused the Guardian of being motivated by an anti-Asian bias in our inquiries and criticism, an incident that Vogt described to us as bizarre.

Guardian calls to staffers in Yee’s office, today and in recent weeks, haven’t been returned.

Yee has been a champion of sunshine (last week, the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal gave him a James Madison Freedom of Information Award for defending the California Public Records Act) and gun control, last year getting three such bills signed into law. SB 755 expands the list of crimes that would disqualify and individual from owning a gun, SB 374 prohibited semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, and SB 53 made background checks a requisite step in purchasing ammunition.

But he’s disappointed liberal and progressive constituencies — renters, environmentalists, seniors, students, the LGBT community — in San Francisco and beyond with most of his other votes, some of which ended up killing important legislation.

Yee voted against SB 405, which would have extended San Francisco’s plastic bag ban statewide. He also said no to regulating gasoline price manipulation by voting against SB 441, siding with the Big Oil over his constituents. And then he sided with Big Pharma in voting against SB 809, which would have taxed prescription drugs to help fund a state program designed to reduce their abuse, partially by creating a database to track prescriptions.

In addition to the Pharma-loving, ocean-shunning, oil-chugging votes Yee has cast, he has also turned a cold shoulder towards the elderly (by voting against SB 205, a bill that would make prescription font larger or, as the elderly would like to say, “readable”), the LGBTQ community (by voting against SB 761, which protects employees that use Paid Family Leave), students (by abstaining from a vote on AB 233, which would allow debt collectors to garnish the wages of college students with outstanding student loans), and tenants (by voting against the SB 510, the Mobile Home Park Conversion bill, and SB 603, which protects tenants from greedy landlords).

This year, as San Francisco’s other legislative representatives — Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Phil Ting — announced efforts to reform the Ellis Act to address the escalating eviction epidemic in San Francisco, Yee has pointedly refused to support or even take a position on the effort.

In 2013, Yee sided with the Republican Party nine times on key votes, earning the scorn of many of his Democratic Party colleagues. Yee even voted for SCR 59, which would have created highway signs honored former Sen. Pete Knight, the late conservative Republican who authored Prop. 22 in 2000, strengthening California’s stand against same-sex marriage at the time.

Since we ran our “The real Leland Yee” article on Aug. 30, 2011, Yee has voted on 88 “key” pieces of legislation, according to the non-partisan, non-profit educational organization Project Vote Smart, and his final recorded vote has been “Yea” 80 times. He has abstained from voting six times, and has voted “Nay” just twice.

One of those votes came in response to a bill that was deemed “unnecessary” by Gov. Jerry Brown, but the other bill, SB 376, would have prohibited the harvesting and sale of shark fins in California.

In 2013, his voting record more closely aligns with Sen. Mark Wyland, a Republican from Carlsbad, than it does with any other Democrat on the Senate, finishing just ahead of Sen. Ron Calderon, the Southern California Democrat who was also indicted by the federal government on corruption charges last month after allegedly accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent.

Throughout his legislative career, Yee has regularly supported Pacific Gas & Electric’s stranglehold on San Francisco’s energy market and benefitted from the company’s corrupting largesse. None of this may have crossed the line into actual criminal conduct — but for those familiar with Yee and his transactional approach to politics and governance, today’s indictment isn’t a huge surprise. 

‘The Bachelor’ (episode 4, what better time to start?) recap: APOLOGY PLZ


Forgive the late (mid-season) arrival, some copy got lost in translation. And if you buy that, Juan Pablo’s public image has a shot.

So last week, amid all the real news (Chris Christie things, GOP things, Obama-NSA things, Sochi things) and amid all the Bieber news (eggs, DUI’s, Jeremy Bieber’s existence, shiny shorts, smiling mugshots) there was a bad piece of Bachelor news. 

Juan Pablo, the current Bachelor, decided to share his feelings on a matter he was totally unqualified to address, he did so in a socially tone-deaf manner and is now dealing with that fallout. 

But because The Bachelor was filmed awhile ago, we got to travel back to the vacuum that was Episode 4, and Episode 4 was filmed before this question undoubtedly (and justly) ruined Juan Pablo in front of cameras for forever. If you’re still reading, you know the deets, but before we go for some fish pedicures, let’s dive into the events in a totally chronological fashion:

It opens with Juan Pablo wishing his daughter goodbye, which a week ago would’ve been super-sweet or whatever. Not this week, JP! Meanwhile, Chris Harrison shows up to the girls’ house and lets the girls know that they’re going to South Korea. 

Clare, who’s a hairstylist from Sacramento, cries because no one else is crying. She then let’s the viewers know that she’s never been anywhere before. Anywhere. It turns out that Clare doesn’t count Sacramento as a place. Shots fired, Clare, shots fired.

Juan Pablo starts the South Korean expedition with a group date. The date’s clue: Pop! Onomatopoetic, JP, onomatopoetic. Also, very vague. But details emerge. Those details? Again, murky. 

The girls ride to the date in a van. They talk about how awesome South Korea is. Chelsie, the Science Educator, displays a poor knowledge of how to wear seat belts by wearing it below her chest, and no one else seems to make this mistake. The girls meet Juan Pablo outside a giant building, which, he so kindly informs us, is a K-Pop recording studio. Juan Pablo tells the girls that, “All the K-Pop is made here.” Hear that girls? ALL OF IT.

The girls go inside to meet… 2NE1! 



2NE1, we are told, is the biggest K-Pop group in all of South Korea. They’re like the “Spice Girls of South Korea,” Juan Pablo says. Maybe Juan Pablo, but the Spice Girls without Scary, Baby, Ginger, or Posh, soooo…

The girls get their date task from what appears to be the front woman of the uber-famous band, 2NE1. How do we know that she is the front woman? We don’t, but she certainly is assertive. The task she assigns them is dancing. 

Nikki, the pediatric nurse from Missouri, hates dancing. But Kat, the medical sales rep from Scottsdale, loves it. Kat loves everything, it would seem, but she especially loves dancing. And she is incredible at it, she doesn’t mind telling us. “I was made for this,” she says. 

(For whatever reason, Cassandra, the NBA Dancer, is neither offended by this comment nor is she interviewed. She is either the most boring person ever or the producers are as confused about the girls’ identities as Juan Pablo is.)

Back to the dancing. Nikki is really bad. Kat announces once again that she’s really good. Because this is a newspaper blog, that claim was investigated. The findings? Inconclusive. When the camera shows Kat dancing, only Kat is shown dancing. So, in regards to its validity, the statement is difficult to assess.

2NE1, a group that, in case you forgot, is really famous in South Korea, teaches them dance steps, then leaves the room. The girls learn these dance steps. 2NE1, a really famous K-Pop group (they really drove this point home, so I feel I should too), comes back into the dance studio with big news: The girls will be backup dancers at their show that may or may not take place in a few hours. 

Nikki is pissed. She hates dancing, after all. Kat, on the other hand, besides possessing a generally unpleasant demeanor, is thrilled. 

Kat decides that the crowd is here to see her. Again, no mention of Cassandra’s profession. 


Back to the show. The girls perform inside a mall, which means only one thing: South Korea has very few limitations when it comes to choosing concert venues. 

After the date, the girls do the awkward group dinner date thing, and Nikki ends up with a rose, much to the chagrin of the rest of the girls. They think she’s a downer — which she totally is — and they don’t understand why she got the rose. This, for those wondering, is standard practice on The Bachelor.

Meanwhile, at Bachelor Mansion: South Korea, Sharleen gets the one-on-one date card, and proceeds to look unenthused. The date is thankfully not one that involves a private concert featuring a marginally known country-pop star singing to an audience of two. Those are the worst.

Instead, JP asks Sharleen to sing on their date. Sharleen does not, however, ask JP to perform his profession afterwards, which is a good thing. We know plenty about Juan Pablo, but we have no idea what he does to make money in real life. He is listed as a “Sports Consultant” on the Bachelor website, which is only slightly more specific than the title of “Government Person.” 

Anyways, back to the date. JP and Sharleen kiss. It’s way less awkward than their Episode 3 kiss and far more private. They stop kissing and start talking, which means an awkward transition from one of Juan Pablo’s strengths to one of his weaknesses. He wants kids, she doesn’t. Doesn’t seem to faze either one. Cross that bridge when we get there, I suppose.

A bridge Sharleen doesn’t need to worry about crossing? The Rose Ceremony Bridge, which doesn’t really exist, but whatever. Why? She got a rose, because she always gets a rose. Juan Pablo thinks she has “mundo,” like Atlas, or something. 

Moving on. The rest of the girls get the clue for their group date. They are going to be eating street-food and exploring Seoul, Seoul style. On their date, we learn that Clare is petrified of eating octopus. Andi, the lawyer, reminds us that octopus is widely available outside South Korea, and its presence shouldn’t alarm anyone. Kelly, the Dog Lover from Atlanta (real title), makes a fellatio joke, which is funny, but in a you-had-to-be-there kind of way. And, to be clear, it was a you-had-to-be-there-while-we-were-filming-in-South-Korea kind of way. 

After the tasting fiasco, the group goes to an establishment offering fish pedicures. For the uninitiated out there, a fish pedicure is when you stick your feet in a plastic tub filled with fish that snack on your dead foot-flesh. It looked about as comfortable as it sounds. Post-fish feeding, JP takes the girls to sing karaoke, because all Juan Pablo likes to do is sing and dance, we’re learning.

After the Octopus-Fishicure-Karaoke date, the girls get their alone time with Juan Pablo. 

But there’s a M. Night twist coming at the girls: Juan Pablo won’t kiss any of them on this Seoul-ful evening. His reasoning? He has a daughter, who he doesn’t want to set a bad example for. At this time, it’s important to note that this fact has neither stopped him from making out with “six” other girls since this thing has started, nor does it explain his motives for coming onto the show in the first place. 

(And after host Chris Harrison‘s “27 Girls” shenanigans and JP’s secret pact with himself, the only fitting ending to this season of The Bachelor would be an “After the Rose” revelation that Harrison has, in fact, been dead this whole time and we, America, are now all blessed with the gift/curse of Young (aka Best) Haley Joel Osment. I can see no other alternative, regardless of what Reality Steve says.)

But I digress… Andi gets time with Juan Pablo. She wants a kiss, but JP’s made that personal pact. Impasse, folks, impasse. What does Andi do? Busts ol’ JP’s balls for being both a bad dancer and a dude who is more clearly a dancer than he is a professional. In any field. That second part was made up, but she was thinking it. She was totally thinking it. JP likes the ball-busting, though, and seems smitten. Still no kiss for Andi, though. 

Then Lauren, the accomplished pianist, gets her one-on-one time, and she is worried about the connection between her and the Venezuelan dancing machine. Juan Pablo reassures her that everything is fine, but he refuses to kiss her when she directly propositions him for such, because of his whole sabbatical from kissing thing. Weird rationale, Juan Pablo, weird rationale. 

Anyway, she’s visibly crushed, and he then goes on to explain to the poor girl that even sans kiss he is still super into her and that he really wants to get to know her more, which is sort of like the Bachelor equivalent of George telling Lenny how awesome their farm is going to be. Message to Lauren: You’re an accomplished pianist, you’ll be fine. You don’t want to live in Miami. You’re not named Pitbull. Back to the action! 

After the JP-Lauren awk-fest, Clare, the hairstylist from Sacramento who has already cried this episode, gets more screen time, which we can file in the Non-Octopus Related folder. Clare is a piece of work, behavior-wise, but Juan Pablo is absolutely unabashed about how “hot” he thinks she is. Juan Pablo calls himself helpless. They kiss. Juan Pablo apparently forgets he has a daughter whom he may or may not be disappointing. 

After the kiss, he awards Andi with the date rose. Yes, Andi. To recap (within the recap): He’s admittedly helpless around Clare, won’t kiss Andi, Lauren or anyone else on the second group date, but he then awarded the date rose to someone other than Clare. Makes total sense.

Following a necessary commercial break, the Episode 4 Rose Ceremony gets underway. The three girls who already got roses — Sharleen, Nikki and Andi — agree to let the other girls have the precious one-on-one time with JP, because they already got their roses. Who says the Bachelor is all about girl-on-girl crime? 

Whoever it was is totally right. Nikki, who is potentially the human manifestation of a rain cloud, decided that she didn’t agree to this rule and that she wanted her one-on-one time with JP regardless of rose acquiescence. She interrupts Clare, who was in the process of talking smack on Nikki. (The timing on this show makes NASA look like amateurs, BTW.) Nikki, oblivious to the smack talk, asks for time. Clare is displeased. Juan Pablo asks Nikki awkward questions about her relationship with the rest of the girls in the house. Nikki throws Clare under the bus. It all happens very fast.

After Girl, Interrupted: Bachelor concludes, Nikki seeks out Kelly for moral support-venting camaraderie. Some righteous talk is dropped regarding Clare, neither of them like her attitude, but… But!!! BUTTTT… Clare emerges from around a corner and walks up to the clandestine-ish meeting. Kelly changes the subject remarkably well. She should consider changing her profession from Dog Lover to Subject Switcher. 

BUT! Kelly can’t handle the awkwardness and spills the beans that she and Nikki were talking about Clare. Sort of. Again, this season is vague. Clare and Nikki talk about barely anything, and then the Rose Ceremony begins (Note: The events might not have proceeded that quickly, but this is a two-hour show, folks. Latitude is requested.)

The roses, in order, go to Renee, Chelsie, Kelly, Danielle, Cassandra, Alli, Clare and Kat, the Dancing Queen. Lauren was predictably sent packing, and so was Elise, a girl whose existance I was unaware of until she didn’t get a rose. It’s down to 11. Here’s to hoping Juan Pablo gets interviewed some more this week. 

Episode Grade: B.* 

*Justification for Episode Grade: None. But, to be more specific, only an episode featuring either, a) real violence, b) real, deserved tears, c) an ambulance or d) a hot tub/paddle boat combo can earn an A from this particular grader.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics


When is a public opinion poll a valid representation of how people feel? That turns out to be a tricky and ever-evolving question, particularly in San Francisco — thanks to its prevalence of tenants and technology — and even more particularly when it concerns the approval rating of Mayor Ed Lee.

Traditionally, the central requirements for public opinion polls to be considered valid is that respondents need to be representative of the larger population and they need to be selected at random. Polls are often skewed when people need to opt-in, as is the case in most online polls.

So the Guardian took issue with claims that 73 percent of voters approve of the job that Mayor Lee is doing, a figure derived from an opt-in online poll focused on “Affordability and Tech” that was conducted by University of San Francisco Professors Corey Cook and David Latterman and released to the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 9. That figure quickly wallpapered the comment section of the Guardian’s website as the answer to any criticism of Mayor Lee, his policies, or the city’s eviction and gentrification crises.

“Any survey that relies on the ability and/or availability of respondents to access the Web and choose whether to participate is not representative and therefore not reliable,” is how The New York Times Style Guide explains that newspaper’s refusal to run such polls, a quote we used in our Jan. 10 Politics blog post on the subject, and we quoted an academic making a similar point.

We also interviewed and quoted Latterman discussing the challenges of doing accurate and economical polling in a city with so many renters (64 percent of city residents) and so few telephone landlines. “San Francisco is a more difficult model,” Latterman told us. “So Internet polling has to get better, because phone polling has gotten really expensive.”

So we ran our story dubbing the poll “bogus” — and the next day got angry messages from Cook and Latterman defending the poll and educating us on efforts within academia to craft opt-in online polls that are as credible as traditional telephone polls.

“The author is so quick to dismiss the findings of the study, which is based upon accepted methodology, and which had nothing to do with mayoral approval scores, that he actually misses the entire thrust of the study — that voters in San Francisco are deeply ambivalent about the current environment, concerned about the affordability crisis, and not trusting of local government to come up with a solution,” Cook wrote in a rebuttal we published Jan. 13 on the Politics blog.

Cook told us the survey’s methods are endorsed by the National Science Foundation and peer-reviewed academic papers, including a Harvard University study called “Does Survey Mode Still Matter?” that concludes “a carefully executed opt-in Internet panel produces estimates that are as accurate as a telephone survey.”

That study went to great lengths to create a sample group that was representative of the larger population, while Cook and Latterman both admit that their survey’s respondents had a disproportionate number of homeowners. But they say the results were then weighted to compensate for that and they stand by the accuracy of their work.

Yet Cook also notes that the mayoral approval rating number wasn’t even part of the package they developed from this survey, it was just a finding that they decided to give the Chronicle. “I don’t think the 73 percent means anything,” Cook told us, noting that snapshot in time doesn’t reflect Lee’s actual popularity going forward, despite how Lee supporters focused on it. “The number they use politically is not a meaningful number.”

What Cook found more significant is the “tepid support” for Lee indicated by the poll, including the 86 percent that expressed concern about affordability in the city, a concern that cuts across all demographic groups. Most respondents had little faith in City Hall to address the problem and many felt the tech industry should be doing more to help, particularly companies that have received tax breaks.

“Poll” showing 73 percent approval for Mayor Lee was flawed


There was a poll conducted in late November by the University of San Francisco, the results of which were released in conjunction with the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming that 73 percent of San Franciscans approve of Mayor Ed Lee’s performance.

It didn’t take long for Lee’s supporters to begin touting the figure as fact; soon after the poll appeared on on Dec. 9, the results wallpapered the comment section of the Guardian’s website as the answer to any criticism of Mayor Lee, his policies, or the city’s eviction and gentrification crises. 

After all, it was a big number that seems to suggest widespread support. But closer analysis shows this “online poll” wasn’t really a credible poll, and that number is almost certainly way over-inflated. [Editor’s update 1/13: The authors of this survey contest the conclusions of this article, and we have changed the word “bogus” in the original headline to “flawed.” The issue of the reliability of opt-in online surveys is an evolving one, so while we stand by our conclusions in this article that the 73 percent approval figure is misleading and difficult to support, we urge you to read Professor Corey Cook’s response here and our discussion of this issue in this week’s Guardian.]

The problems with the USF “poll” are numerous, but the most glaring of those issues has to do with its lack of random selection. According to the New York Times Style Guide, a poll holds value in what’s called a “probability sample,” or the notion that it represents the beliefs of the larger citizenry.

The USF poll registered responses from 553 San Franciscans. That number itself isn’t the issue, or it wouldn’t be if those 553 individuals were procured through a random process. But they weren’t, and it wasn’t even close.

The survey participants were obtained via an “opt-in” list that, according to David Latterman — a USF professor, co-conductor of the poll, and downtown-friendly political consultant — meaning that anyone who participated in this particular poll had previously stated they were willing to participate in a poll. This phenomenon is known as self-selecting.

“We work with a rather large national firm and they have a whole series of opt-in panels,” Latterman told the Guardian. “So they’ve got lists of thousands of people who have basically said, ‘Yes, we’ll take a poll.’ And the blasts go out to these groups of people.”

That means that even prior to conducting the poll, results had already been tailored toward a certain set of citizens and away from anything that could be classified as “random.” And even the Chronicle acknowledged in the small type that “Poll respondents were more likely to be homeowners,” further narrowing the field down to one-third of city residents, and generally its most affuent third.

Even if pollsters could match the demographics of the polled with the “true demographics” as Latterman called them, it still wouldn’t address the issue of self-selection. But that’s not all: The list of “opt-in” participants, which was acquired through a third party vendor, according to Latterman, only contained English-speaking registered voters. And anyone contacted was contacted via email, another red flag in the world of accurate of polling data.

Interestingly, the USF “poll” also found that 86 percent of respondants said that lack of affordability was a major issue in the city, while 49.6 percent of that same group considered housing developers to be most at fault for the astronomical real estate prices. So, to recap: This poll, touted by many people as gospel in the comment section of this site, found that while the City is totally unaffordable, the man in charge of the City is barely culpable for that situation, and he remains incredibly popular.

According to the NYT Style Guide, “Any survey that relies on the ability and/or availability of respondents to access the Web and choose whether to participate is not representative and therefore not reliable.” 

Uh oh. 

Russell D. Renka, professor of Political Science at Southeast Missouri State, conveyed far stronger feelings on the matter in his paper “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Public Opinion Polling,” saying that a self-selected sample “trashes the principle of random selection… A proper medical experiment never permits someone to choose whether to receive a medication rather than the placebo.”

Strike two.

He then writes, “Any self-selected sample is basically worthless as a source of information about the population beyond itself.”

Strike three.

So then why were such frowned-upon methods used in this poll?

Latterman attributes the tactics to many things, but mostly to the rapidly changing technological landscape of San Francisco, coupled with the high costs of alternative methods and a large renters market. 

“San Francisco is a more difficult model,” Latterman said. “So Internet polling has to get better, because phone polling has gotten really expensive.”

But even if Internet polling needs to improve, it is still important to prominently note that in original source material, lest you give folks the wrong ideas. Or even just misinformed ones. Unless what you’re trying to present is less about polling that trying to sell San Franciscans on the idea that Mayor Lee enjoys widespread support.





Build a bot


CAREERS AND ED For most of the working world, cardboard represents little more than a recyclable material, something to hold your pizza. But to Jutiki Gunter, cardboard is a construction material with near-limitless potential.

Gunter, founder of Robotics for Fun (, an Oakland-based robotics retailer and workshop, can seemingly build anything out of it. He can then take that anything and program it to move on its own. After that, in an exhibition of what is arguably his most impressive talent, he can teach you to do the same.

All it requires is some digestible training, an easy-to-assemble kit, and a bit of imagination. And while Robotics for Fun offers popular adult workshops, it’s the youth program that stands out. “My goal has always been to teach kids what I learned at a professional level,” said Gunter, who holds degrees from Cornell and Harvard in architecture. “If we can introduce them to those concepts early, they’ll be able to move things much further along.”

Dominating the entryway inside Robotics for Fun are dozens of colorful home-cut creations hanging on the walls. A scorpion is proudly displayed next to a penguin perched near an owl. An alligator sits beside a pterodactyl, flanked by a frog, shark, and rhino. The taxidermy-like display might seem morbid if these animal-like cardboard creations didn’t also come to life robotically. But nearly all of them do — and their little Dr. Frankensteins are usually fresh out of kindergarten.

“We’ve found that the kids can understand it conceptually as young as six, but they can’t really retain the information younger than that,” said Gunter. “By six, seven, eight, they can do the projects.”

Those projects start off simple: Most of the beginning classes center on preconstructed “kits” that are made in-house, composed of either Lego pieces or cardboard. The students conceptualize the project, construct the model, then do the requisite programming and circuitry to mobilize their robot, if the model they’re working on is capable of handling motorization.

But in the advanced classes, things get more intricate. And far more creative. “We used to work with Legos, but once the kids started wanting to make their own designs, we started showing them how to make robots out of cardboard, so they could learn to prototype and create any piece that they want.”

Results: awesome. Students have built climbing “rescue robots,” artificially intelligent vacuum cleaners, rovers that run on auto-pilot, even a car-like vehicle that can travel within a 30 mile radius at 15 miles an hour.

Gunter manufactures the parts onsite. His supply room is one part artist’s studio, one part Silicon Valley. Prototype robots lie about half-realized; sketchbooks lie open atop a workbench revealing dreams in the process of actualization, computer code sharing the same page as hastily drawn lines.

Behind the workbench is his most important piece of equipment: an Epilog Legend EXT laser system. The laser-etcher is necessary to create parts with the precision robotics require, and the process itself looks like a microscopic manifestation of the laser-obsessed Archimedes.

The fewer limitations Gunter has when it comes to what he can do, the fewer limitations the kids have when it comes to creation. And for Gunter, fewer limitations is what this is all about. “We’re teaching kids skills here that they’re not even learning in first year college, and why not? They love it, they have the ability to do it, they have the capacity to understand it. Of course, we want to give kids a fun experience. But my real, ideal goal is to give them advanced skills at a young age and see what they can do with it.””


New FCC boss coming to Oakland

On Thu/9, Voices for Internet Freedom, Free Press and the Center for Media Justice are hosting Tom Wheeler, the recently installed Federal Communications Commission chairman, for a town hall-style meeting about the state of communication policy, both in the Bay Area and nationally.

The event, which will be held in Nile Hall of Preservation Park, runs from 7-9pm and will feature a panel discussion, commentary from influential community members and remarks from Wheeler. There also will be a lengthy time slot reserved for public comments and questions. While the event has sold out, viewers can catch a live webstream here during the event.

“It’s going to be a fairly short event, but power packed,” said Malkia Cyril, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice. “We want to bring the frame of consciousness about the role of media and culture to the dialogue with the FCC, [because] that generally isn’t there.

“Generally, when it’s those kind of conversations they have, we are not the kind of people they’re talking to. And we want to make sure that the voices of folks that are usually in the margins of debate really get heard.”

Preceding the main event will be a smaller, more focused meeting between Wheeler and “a few leaders of social justice in the Bay Area,” according to Cyril. The purpose is to give local leaders a chance to share the types of conditions affecting their communities in a small group setting, she added.

But it will be during the main town hall meeting that Wheeler, who was officially named FCC Chairman on Nov. 4 of 2013, will face a litany of questions from Oakland-area community members.

The topics expected to be broached during the meeting range from broad — net-neutrality, ownership of broadband, corporate ownership of broadcast mediums — to specific — like the fact that, according to Cyril, “there are zero African-Americans who own a full power television station in this country.”

And they’ll also want to discuss the abject employment bridge between the FCC and big-money corporations. “Given the fact that previous FCC Chair, [Julius] Genachowski just got a huge Wall Street job, I think they’ll also raise questions about this revolving door at the FCC between companies and policy makers,” said Cyril, who was referring to Genachowski’s transition from FCC Chair to the Carlyle Group, which is (naturally) a global asset management firm.

“I think we see that as a critical issue right now, so that will probably come up.”

For more information about the event, or to be added to the waitlist, visit

Hairy dilemma


It used to be rare to see dogs in restaurants — which many people see as gross and the health codes don’t allow — but not anymore. It’s an increasingly common sight to see dogs in Bay Area restaurants, grocery stores, bars, and others businesses that traditionally haven’t allowed them.

Call it part of our love affair with canines, a loophole in medical privacy laws that stymies inquiries into whether Fido is a service dog needed for some ailment, or a manifestation of some people’s entitlement issues, but more and more pet owners see no problem with bringing their dogs to the dinner or lunch table.

Some have even angrily defended their supposed right to do so when confronted.

The city estimates there are about 120,000 dogs living in San Francisco, which equates to almost one dog per seven people. Sometimes it seems like even more than that given how omnipresent dogs seem to be, popping in places that used to be off-limits to them, such as restaurants.

Some people now see restaurants as dog-friendly zones, but they’re not, and for good reason. Due to public health concerns, dogs are banned by federal law from any establishment that serves or handles food.

The lone caveat to that rule is provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and it allows those who need service dogs to have them at all times, overriding the aforementioned policy established by the US Food and Drug Administration. The existence of the caveat isn’t really a problem — service dogs are necessary, helpful, and are highly trained animals — but the loophole it provides is.

That loophole allows regular, untrained folks to take regular, untrained dogs into restaurants under the guise of service.

“Under those provisions, restaurants are somewhat limited in that they can’t be too forceful in their line of questioning,” said Angelica Pappas, communications manager at the California Restaurants Association (CRA). “So I think that some people who want to bring their dogs know that and might think that they can get around the law that way.”

And in San Francisco, the trend is particularly pronounced, creating a problem for those who work in restaurants.

“The most obvious issue you see [when a dog is in a restaurant] is cross contamination,” said Terrence Hong, senior environmental inspector with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “A food handler might pet a cute dog, for instance, where service dog handlers go through training themselves and are more prepared for that situation.”

Food can be contaminated with fecal bacteria — something many dogs just love to roll around in — in addition to just the unsightly hairs ending up in people’s meals. The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in six people (about 48 million) are sickened by food-borne illness each year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, according to the CDC’s last comprehensive study of the issue in 2011.

“Safety, too, is an issue,” Pappas said. “There’s no guarantee that all these dogs are well-trained and even having them on a patio is really no different than having them inside when it comes to that.”

Florida became the first state to allow non-service dogs in outdoors seating areas in restaurants in 2006, and California had followed the lead of the Sunshine State by 2012.

“But the application of those laws is far more difficult than the black and white on a piece of paper,” Hong says.

The ADA — the same law that allows service dogs to enter restaurants— is proving to be one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to identifying the fakes. The language in the ADA states that anyone entering a business with a dog claiming to be a service animal can be asked only two questions: Is the dog a service dog? What task is it trained to do for you?

Business owners can’t ask a person in question for identification, because no federally or municipally approved uniform identifier exists, according to Hong. They can’t ask what a customer’s ailment is, because that question violates a privacy clause in the ADA.



While the restaurants are being unlawfully infiltrated, other areas around the city are experiencing atypical levels of canine traffic as well.

Buses? Sure, why not. As long as your dog has a muzzle, it can legally take part in the herkiest, jerkiest, most claustrophobic ride available in the Muni playground, at least according to the unbothered gentleman with his dog on the 47-Van Ness bus on a recent Saturday.

Cabs? Hop on in, Rover. The mall? Every dog could use an afternoon at Michael Kors. Grocery stores? Screw the food handling laws, dogs gotta eat too.

And if someone gets in the way of you and your pet canine’s umbilical relationship? Just claim it’s a service dog. Sure, it’s considered a federal offense to misrepresent your pet as a service animal, but you can order a super-official looking vest off the Internet easier than you can order a book off of Amazon. The malfeasance is also nearly impossible to report.

Thus, the misrepresentation of service dogs is a rapidly growing problem, and one that seems to be trivialized by a large number of people.

Unfortunately for those who need legitimate service dogs, Hong said the general public has offered little opposition to the fakes. He said that there is no exact figure for dog-related complaints, because they don’t consolidate them, but he also noted that many people are reluctant to speak out against the malfeasant service dog owners.

Whether it’s because they think the business owners will handle the complaint (they won’t, according to the CRA) or if they are just privately, rather than publicly, opposed to the trend (which Hong had said he thinks people are), it still leaves the owners of real service dogs in a tough place.

“We’ve been affected many times by fake service dogs,” said Wallis Brozman, service dog owner from Corporate Advancement Assistant for Canine Companions for Independence, a service dog training academy located in Santa Rosa. “It’s happened to us everywhere, we’ve been attacked right outside of restaurants. We’ve been denied service at restaurants, denied service at hotels.”

Brozman says that she has been denied service at those institutions expressly because of the bad name that poorly trained service dogs have given to the whole industry.

But Brozman needs her dog. She uses a manual wheelchair full-time due to a condition called dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes extremely painful and involuntary muscle contractions. Even with her condition, she says that she has been made to pay pet deposits in hotels, even though her dog isn’t even classified as a “pet” by the ADA.

And Caspin, Brozman’s dog, is definitely not a pet. He understands both Sign Language and English, making him a bilingual dog (and more linguistically savvy than this writer). He’s been trained to stay calm in loud, obnoxious public settings. He can pick up anything Brozman might drop. He’s a talented dog, but he’s no pet.



According to the California Penal Code Section 365.5, a “service dog means any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, minimal protection work, rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.”

Service dogs not only provide assistance when necessary, but they provide their handlers with a sense of autonomy that they can’t achieve through other means. That’s why service dogs were included in ADA of 1990.

It was a huge victory for the people that really need service dogs, like Brozman, for instance, or war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. One of the prescribed treatments for PTSD victims happens to be the presence of a service dog.

“It can cost us $5,000 to train these dogs for veterans,” said Robert Misseri, president of a service dog training organization called Guardians of Rescue. “Poorly behaved dogs make things more difficult for the vets who need our dogs.”

But the benefits of owning a service dog can be voided in a hurry if the dog encounters another dog without the same composure, training, and restraint.

“Our graduates have been bitten by dogs in public, provoked, and mistreated by other dogs,” said Angie Schact, an instructor at Canine Companions for Independence, a program that requires a minimum six-month program for their graduates. “They have gone through so much more training than the average dog. We’ve raised the issue with the Department of Justice. We’re serious.”

But when the ADA was originally drafted, according to Paul Bowskill, general manager of, it “provided for very few mental disabilities. Most of the qualifying disabilities at the time were physical and [visible].”

After the ADA was passed, guidelines were expanded to include mental illness and seizure risk, in addition to physical ailment, so visual cues became far less notable.

“You can’t tell if someone needs a service dog now,” said Bowskill. “The law was written so you can train your own service dog, and by law, you don’t need an ID.” And as we, as a culture, become even more accustomed to steady streams of “Sure you can!” responses and discomfort demolishing inventions, our reluctance to leave pets behind is only trending upwards.

But for service dog owners just trying to lead an autonomous existence and those patrons simply tired of seeing dogs in places previously forbidden, it’s a scary thought. “Sometimes, [people] just assume that my service dog is a fake,” said Brozman. “I explain to people again and again, and I show them that my dog is perfectly trained and there to help me, yet people still stigmatize us.”

Gap in the hot seat over horrifying animal rights video

An investigation conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has revealed flat-out cruelty in the practice of harvesting angora fur. Now PETA is targeting Gap, a San Francisco-based clothing retailer, with a call for it to ban the sale of angora products altogether.

On Dec. 16, PETA aired an online video chronicling the disturbing process by which the popular sweater material, angora, is harvested from rabbits kept in cages in Chinese angora farms. The disturbing video was accompanied by a petition calling on Gap to ban angora sales. With two days, the retailer had responded by suspending its orders for angora, but the animal rights organization was still calling for an outright ban.

Angora is a soft, relatively durable sweater material that’s less expensive than cashmere, and it is possible to harvest it without causing injury to animal, but the vast majority of suppliers do not use humane methods. Roughly 90 percent of the world’s angora comes from suppliers in China, according to PETA, where facilities exposed by an undercover PETA investigation use a violent method of harvesting the rabbit fur with no regard for the pain and suffering it causes.

PETA’s initial post on Monday contained a disturbing video chronicling the investigation and the methods used by third party farms to harvest angora. Two days later, Gap posted this Tweet:

“We appreciate that this issue has been raised, and we share the concerns expressed by our customers about the treatment of angora rabbits. Ensuring the fair and humane treatment of animals has been part of our brand’s history, and we’re committed to seeking to ensure that our policies and procedures are adhered to as products are created.
Over the last number of days, we’ve looked carefully at the issue, and Gap is immediately suspending orders for products made with angora. We require that vendors contracted to make our product adhere to our ethical sourcing requirements that include the humane treatment of animals. We understand the importance of this issue and will work with others to advocate for lasting improvements.”

Gap isn’t the only company to purchase angora from ethically questionable producers. Many companies used the material, but retailers like H&M — who announced a company-wide angora ban on Fri/20 — and Phillips-Van Huesen (owner of clothing companies Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, among others), pulled their angora products immediately after PETA showed them the video.

When PETA initially showed Gap the same video, however, it was slow to respond, prompting PETA to make Gap the focus of its media campaign. Now that Gap has agreed to suspend its angora purchases, PETA continues to pressure the company to impose an outright ban on the sale of these products.

The video, which is difficult to watch, shows the standard practice by which the angora farmers exposed by PETA acquire the fur. The rabbits are tied down, screaming, while the farmworkers painfully and forcibly remove the tiny animals’ fur. After the ostensibly unsanitary and violent process, the rabbits are literally tossed back into tiny, filthy cages looking more like meat than living creatures.

But even after the recent publicity, a depressing question remains: What is to happen to the rabbits still at those angora farms?

As things stand, Chinese law does very little to prevent cruelty at these factories. The farms supply 90 percent of the world’s angora, according to PETA, so even after the loss of major customers such as Gap, H&M, and Phillips-Van Huesen, they will likely continue operating.

“There are no laws protecting the animals on those farms, there are no penalties for abusing those animals,” said PETA spokesperson Ashley Byrne. “So really there isn’t some legal precedent in China for those farms to be shut down.”

The only way to combat angora fur farms, according to Byrne, is to not buy the products.

“The most effective way to stop the kind of cruelty that people can see in this angora video is to simply stop buying it,” she said, “and to stop supporting this industry. Whether a label says one percent angora or 100 percent angora,” said Byrne, “The price paid by the animal is too high.”

National Park Service asks Presidio Trust to hit the breaks on museum proposals


The battle over the cultural fate of the otherwise outdoors-oriented Presidio could hit the pause button once again after a high-level letter sent to the Presidio Trust recommended the governing board put a hold on the already slow-moving selection process for a new museum to replace the Sports Basement.

The questions so far have been: Is the proper use of the land one that would allow wealthy filmmaker George Lucas the opportunity to house his art, or would the space make more sense as an interactive museum dedicated to the natural history of the Presidio? Now, this question is being raised: Should any new museums be opening on the Presidio’s quasi-parkland before a larger vision for the Presidio is created?

The Dec. 12 letter from Frank Dean, general superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), recommended that the Trust wait for “several years” before deciding exactly which museum should occupy the choice piece of property on the city’s northwestern coast.

“We appreciate that the Trust Board has at least temporarily delayed reaching a decision on the future use of the Commissary site,” Dean wrote in the letter addressed to the Presidio Trust. “However, we must again express our strong recommendation, echoed by many others, that the Trust defer any decision for several years to allow the site to develop in a more comprehensive, thoughtful, integrated, and planned manner.”

Citing a lack of “programmatic and architectural fit,” the letter deemed all three proposals — The Presidio Exchange (PX), the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, and The Bridge/Sustainability Institute — unfit for imminent development.

But while both the Presidio Exchange and The Bridge plans were referenced philosophically, Dean name-checked the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum with specificity.  

“From the information that has been presented to the public to date,” Dean wrote, “we believe the program of the proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum has no genuine or substantive connection to the themes or programs of Crissy Field or the Main Post, or to other Presidio-connected themes that extend far beyond the boundaries of the outpost. While the programs of the proposed museum seem interesting, the museum’s offerings could be located anywhere; therefore, the museum does not merit one of the most important sites in the entire Presidio.”

The finalists for the museum site at mid-Crissy Field answer questions about their proposals (including filmmaker George Lucas).

It is a sentiment held not just by the GGNRA. Supporters of the more synergistic Presidio Exchange plans think the delay in decision will only strengthen the position of both their plans and those of The Bridge/Sustainability.

“I agree with the Trust’s stance,” said Becky Evans, local chair of the Sierra Club. “The Lucas plan fulfilled none of the requirements except for the one about economic feasibility. It didn’t fit in with the park or the surrounding area.”

“The [Presidio Exchange] has done an excellent job, in terms of in a few months preparing their proposal. But there is some value, I think, in waiting to see what the new open space will look like when the tunnels are finished and the bluff is in place,” she said.

But before supporters of the PX declare victory, note that the letter sent to the Presidio Trust was just a recommendation, not a declaration. The Trust could theoretically buck the advice, hand the Sports Basement keys to George Lucas’ group, and then wipe its hands clean of the project; after all, Lucas has offered to foot the bill for his entire project.

“[The recommendation] is not something that automatically makes them hold the process up,” said Alexandra Picavet, spokesperson for the GGNRA. “It’s up to the Trust to assign what weight they would give our recommendation. They could decide not to use it all.”

But, according to GGNRA Director of Communications Howard Levitt, even if the recommendation is ignored, the delay could last indefinitely: Even after a proposed plan is accepted by the Presidio Trust, it would still have to undergo a “follow-up environmental impact statement, done by EPA, [pursuant to] the National Environmental Policy Act, and so we’ll continue to be engaged in this thing going forward.” So, even after a plan is approved by the Trust, the EPA could still hold up the process moving forward.

Those in favor of the proposed moratorium, however, seem to think that the Presidio Trust (who had not yet responded for comment at the time of publication)will agree with the initial recommendation.

“The Park Service’s main responsibility is to protect the resources of the park,” said Evans. “And they’ve been walking, I think, a very fine line trying to do that without coming out specifically and saying, ‘Don’t pick Mr. Lucas.’ I mean, obviously it’s not an appropriate choice.”

Who and what the appropriate choice for the old Commissary ends up being, however, is still up for debate.

For now, it’s a Sports Basement; the only true winner from the GGNRA’s most recent recommendation. At least for now, it may get to stay. 

Proposal seeks to improve prospects for the formerly incarcerated

Questions concerning an individual’s criminal history have been banned from city agency employment applications in San Francisco since 2006. Now Sup. Jane Kim has proposed legislation to expand the reach of that policy into the private sector and affordable housing.

Introduced at the Board of Supervisors Tue/10, Kim’s legislation seeks to eliminate the bias of first impression that has long plagued the formerly incarcerated.

The Fair Chance ordinance builds upon existing city and state-level fair hiring policies, known as “ban the box” policies, already in place. It proposes to extend them to private businesses and affordable housing providers, as a way to remove “unnecessary barriers to stable housing and employment for individuals with conviction records,” according to a description of the legislation issued by Kim’s office.

“The most important thing to remember is that this is not a hiring mandate,” Kim explained in an interview. “We just want to create a process that’s based on merits.” She added, “We’ve also made it so you can only examine a persons arrest record for the last seven years in order to try to establish some sort of hiring standard.”

Existing “Ban the box” policies forbid employers in the public sector from asking prospective employees about prior criminal convictions in the early application process — essentially eliminating the polarizing “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” check box from online and paper employment applications. Instead, it requires those that would request a background check to at least meet the person in question first. 

And it is a popular theme: “ban the box” policies in some form can be found in 10 states and more than 50 cities nationwide. Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s version into law back in October, while the city of Richmond established one of the most progressive “ban the box” policies in America, joining Seattle and Philadelphia as major metropolitan areas to have extended the ban into the private sector.

“Our office has been working on this since January, and we’ve spent lots of time talking to other states and municipalities about what has worked for them,” Kim said.

Under San Francisco’s current “ban the box” policy, individuals with prior felony convictions are permitted to withhold the potentially damning information only if they are applying for a position with the city.

But under the Fair Chance Ordinance, which is co-sponsored by Sup. Malia Cohen, that practice would be extended to all jobseekers looking for private-sector work, at establishments with staffs larger than 20 people, as well as applicants for public housing.

The Fair Chance Ordinance wouldn’t place an outright ban on criminal inquiries, just require employers to hold off on background checks until after the interview, theoretically allowing recently integrated individuals an opportunity to contextualize their past indiscretions.

The idea behind the ban is simple. In the age of impersonal Internet applications, prospective employees are often quickly assessed in a binary manner, separating candidates into categories of hire-able or not the instant their applications are submitted.

And in an ultra-competitive job market, checking a box that condemns your past can condemn your future. There have been myriad reports about folks whose applications have been thrown out the moment that checked box is detected, but under Fair Chance, prospective employees would have the opportunity to get in front of their past.

And that’s the idea. “We’re just trying to help people get a foot in the door,” Kim said. “And we’re just trying to get folks to apply. A lot of [formerly incarcerated individuals] won’t even apply for jobs, because of the ‘box.’”

Laboring for better health care


Gardening, plumbing, construction, janitorial work and washing dishes: the jobs day laborers perform for San Franciscans are done with their bodies. Their physical fitness is their gateway to work.

It’s that physicality they risk on the job every day. Undocumented Latino laborers have a hard time reaching options for medical care though, even in a sanctuary city like San Francisco.

To be clear, San Francisco has gone far and beyond many cities to provide medical care. The city’s Healthy San Francisco program, UCSF, and a smattering of nonprofits all provide medical care to undocumented immigrants, which often includes day laborers.

The problem is not a matter of options, but a matter of trust.

James Quesada, an anthropology professor at San Francisco State University who studied health care options for day laborers, said even when options are available, many day laborers actively avoid them.

The specter of deportation is always lurking, he said, stopping many from seeking clinics in the first place.

“Despite the fact that we’re a sanctuary city, there’s always that fear and threat that someone could come at any time,” Quesada said. “There are do-gooding public health services for them, public health contracted satellite clinics and the like. But one of the hardest things is to really convince them that they’re not in peril by going.”

At the U-Haul rental facility near Bryant street, laborers stand in pairs waiting for potential customers to drive by. When a customer comes into sight, they’ll start toward the passing car in huffing sprints. Their work is unpredictable and never guaranteed.

One man the Guardian spoke to, Gonzalo Moran, 62, cited one health care center as a timely godsend: the Mission Neighborhood Health Clinic. The wait there is only half an hour, he said, and in an emergency they make referrals to SF General Hospital.

But heading to SF General for care can carry a high price tag in both time and money, and results are not guaranteed.

“One day I had a toothache, I went to the emergency [room], was there from about four o’clock in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon,” Moran said. “I told them I was homeless, that I didn’t have no income, I have no immigration papers or nothing. A nurse came to check on me, my tooth. They just gave me a prescription for Tylenol, but then a month later they sent me a bill for $300. For Tylenol.”

Moran isn’t necessarily out on the streets, but crashes regularly at different places. Whenever he tried to get a credit score the bill would come up in searches.

The hit wasn’t only monetary. The day he spent at the hospital was a day he could have worked.

Moran’s story reflects findings made by Quesada in his research. Though many providers claim to help the undocumented, the level of service can depend on just which doctor or nurse you happen to get that day. Service and safety are uneven, and there’s no way to keep track of it all.

“It’s a patch quilt, a moving target,” he said.

Moran told his story with strong English skills gained through City College classes, but he’s had the time to learn — the El Salvador native landed in the United States in 1976 to earn money for his family. Others Quesada talked to were not as lucky.

In his research on undocumented day laborers and health care, he found many who avoided clinics and hospitals for fear of being deported. Quesada found the laborers in the streets, and spent time in clinics and hospitals to find what kept them away from medical care. What he found was fear.

Some men would jump even at the sight of a rent-a-cop security guard, he said.

In an academic paper he published on the subject, Quesada related the story of Juan, a day laborer in his 50s who suffered terrible tooth pain. He refused to seek help.

“Look Jim, if I show up at the clinic [nearby public clinic] I cannot be sure I won’t be arrested and taken away. You know, it is more dangerous now. I can never be sure when it is safe to go [get medical attention]. But, you know what it is, I do not want to be like those others [Latinos] who have “no shame” [sin verguenzas] and want what they want for nothing. If I can I will pay my way, and if I can’t, I can’t. I’ll withstand the pain and take care of it myself, even if I have to pull them [his teeth] out myself. “

Juan would medicate the gaps in his teeth with Tequila soaked cotton balls, and aspirin.

Quesada tried to get him help, but Juan had to cancel dental appointments repeatedly when jobs became available. Day laborers never know when the next opportunity may drive up to them.

This is what pushes Quesada and others to push for a merging of social work and health care. Some facilities in San Francisco have already moved that way, as hospitals like UCSF visit churches and community centers on weekends to reach out to undocumented people in need of medical attention. Still, there’s room for change.

“Doctors shouldn’t have be social workers, but social workers should be there in the room,” Quesada said, saying that would go a long way towards helping undocumented workers find the help they need. But despite a lack of options, they carry on.

“They’re valiantly making a go of it, and don’t want to dwell on the negative,” he said. “They don’t want to be seen as fighting for basic human rights, as not fully human.”

The man we met outside the U-Haul on Bryant, Gonzalo Moran, has three trade school certificates, one of them in floor tiling. But he longed for one thing: time to attend school so he could get ahead.

“I go to school all the time, you know, if I have it,” he said. “But it’s hard, we’re always getting a lower wage.” And it’s a barrier. A barrier to health, a barrier to education, and a barrier to a better life.


Holiday shopping, anti-gentrification style

Anti-gentrification isn’t just a hot-button issue in San Francisco. It’s core-of-the-sun hot.

And that’s why Prensa POBRE/POOR Magazine, a magazine dedicated to giving marginalized populations a voice, is hosting the “Anti-Gentrification Arts Market in the Gentrified Mission District of San Francisco” on Saturday (12/7).

The event, taking place at POOR Magazine (2940 16th Street in San Francisco) from 4-7pm, is prominently featuring a lineup of artists that have been directly affected by the rapid gentrification of San Francisco.

The idea is to support folks who have been hard hit by evictions, displacement and gross speculation that has been plaguing Mission District, said Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, of the PoorNews Network.

“There has been a war on poor black and brown folks, and for us to even be here as artists and as poor folk is an act of resistance in itself,” said Tiny. “All of us artists are poor mommy’s and daddy’s and young people and it takes a lot to get us off the hustle even for a day to be here.”

The event will begin with a prayer said by Ohlone First Nations People of the Bay, then transition into a combination of live performances and a gallery-style art exhibition.

The featured art will be for sale, and in addition to the diverse collection of artwork, there will be performances by Fly Benzo, a local rapper/mentor, and a play put on by the Youth Skolaz Revolutionary Puppet Theatre.

There will also be food, which promises to be both diverse in origin and healthy in content. It will be available on a sliding scale, which, according to Tiny, essentially means, ‘Pay what you can.’ “If you can afford to pay for it, then sure,” said Tiny. “But if you can’t, then don’t worry.”

But the featured event-within-the-event will undoubtedly be a lengthy reading from Born N’ Raised in Frisco, a book compiled and workshopped in part by Tiny and Tony Robles. The book, chronicling the lives of native San Franciscans, tells the stories that, according to Tiny, are always talked about, but rarely are they told from the actual perspective of those who lived it.

“It’s a power thing for us poor people, many of us who have been gentri-fucked out of our own communities, to be able to share our voices, our artwork and our stories,” said Tiny.

“It’ll be a really good time, with some really good food and really great art.”

City and teachers seek injunction against City College closure


The plan to save City College of San Francisco took a proactive turn yesterday (Mon/25) as two separate-but-similar preliminary injunctions were being sought against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). 

The injunctions, filed for yesterday by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), would seek to keep the embattled school open for at least the duration of the impending litigation. A judge will consider the requests next month. 

The two sought-after injunctions come in the context of the civil lawsuits filed by both groups back in August, and would prevent the ACCJC from stripping CCSF’s accreditation on July 31, 2014, in addition to keeping the school both accredited and open while the civil lawsuits are heard and legislative challenges play out. ACCJC representatives didn’t return our calls for comment. 

Both the City Attorney’s Office and the CFT lawsuits hinge on the August findings of the US Department of Education. The determination made then said that the ACCJC violated two separate provisions of federal law: Failing to maintain effective controls against conflicts of interest and failing to have reasonable academic representation amongst the evaluation teams tasked to evaluate the school. 

If those two violations are upheld in federal court, then the City Attorney’s Office will simply need to prove that the “balance of harm” is negatively swinging toward the students of CCSF. And that unjust balance isn’t an under-the-rug number: 80,000 students go to CCSF, while 19 board members work at the ACCJC, something they do whether or not CCSF is open. Conversely, it’s not like those 80,000 students have 80,000 places to go. 

Both the CFT and the City Attorney’s Office are confident that the injunction will be granted by a San Francisco Superior Court judge, an arena of equitable governing both groups say hasn’t been seen from the ACCJC.

“We were trying to figure out our options. How do we defend the college?” said Alisa Messer, AFT Local 2121 president and English teacher at CCSF. “So how do you get a fair hearing? How do you get due process? Unfortunately the courts are the only way to do that under this scenario.”

If either interim injunction is granted by the courts, the school wouldn’t be stripped of its accreditation on July 31 — the ACCJC-appointed Doomsday for an educational institution that contributes nearly $300 million a year to the local economy, among other things — pending conclusions of the underlying court cases, which could take years. That would allow CCSF to offer at least a fall course-load. The injunction would also put the recently-maligned accrediting agency’s authority on hold.

And while an injunction simply delays the final determination and extends the school’s accredited status, both the city’s and the CFT’s plan to hold up the final determination elegantly mirrors the strategy most assume the ACCJC is employing.  

“What we’ve seen is the ACCJC essentially engaging in delay tactics,” said Therese Stewart, chief deputy of the City Attorney’s Office. “This [injunction] isn’t to resolve the whole thing, but rather to freeze the situation so it doesn’t get worse.”

According to a press release from Herrera’s office, the injunction would also, “prevent the Novato, Calif.-based ACCJC from taking similarly adverse actions against other California colleges until its policies and practices fully comply with state and federal law.”

But even if they can implore the ACCJC to reinstate CCSF’s accreditation, Messer says that the injunction the CFT filed on Monday is about much more than “stop gap measures.”

“Actually, I see it as much more than that. It’s not just about getting an injunction for what happens on [July 31, 2014],” said Messer. “This about getting an injunction now, to stop the actions toward closing the college and toward taking our accreditation. Now. Not for July, for right now. Because what we’re seeing is harm being done to the college even as we speak.”

The harm Messer is referring to isn’t just accreditation-related. She says that the reputation of a school is as important as anything, and right now students are unsure of the status of CCSF.

“It’s not about sitting on our hands and waiting and hoping that some of these things will right themselves,” said Messer. “It’s about saying that right now, because of the harm being done to the college, that we need San Francisco to know, and we need everybody to know that this college will not be closing.”


SF General will lose much of its federal subsidy under Obamacare


As President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is phased in over the next couple years, San Francisco General Hospital will lose at least 25 percent of the $123 million it receives from the federal government to offset costs of caring for the uninsured, but hopefully that will be offset by its expansion of those who will have health insurance.

General Hospital receives those funds for being a so-called “safety-net hospital,” a place where those without insurance can still get quality healthcare. Even though the need for such safety nets is supposed to diminish under Obamacare, SF General will remain a critically important safety-net hospital.

Many San Franciscans – including non-U.S. citizens who won’t qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, as well as homeless individuals – will continue to rely on the hospital when in need of medical care.

Yet here and nationwide, concern is brewing about whether funding for safety-net hospitals could be impacted if enrollment in the new state health exchanges doesn’t reach anticipated levels.

“The financial question every state is asking is: What are the newly eligible patients going to do? What plan will they enroll in? Will they enroll?” Greg Wagner, CFO of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, told the Guardian, referring to the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

Most safety-net hospitals in the country are bolstered with federal subsidies, and are especially reliant on funds known as disproportionate share hospital payments, or DSH. However, those subsidies are about to be slashed with machete-like strokes.

All told, as much as $18 billion nationwide could be siphoned away from safety-net hospitals by 2020. Compounding that is another $22 billion that could be cut from Medicare subsidies, depending on the number of insured.

There’s an expectation that the looming safety-net budget cut will be offset by the burgeoning population of insured residents who would flock to state health exchanges. It makes sense: Instead of absorbing the entire cost of an uninsured patient, hospitals would be getting money from newly active insurance policies, and no money would be lost.

The New York Times recently ran a story detailing how low-income patients in Georgia may be put in a precarious position under federal healthcare reform because safety-net hospitals in Georgia might not be able to make up for lost funding once DSH payments evaporate.

California isn’t likely to experience this problem to the same degree, Wagner said, because the state chose to expand Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicaid, to include all low-income residents and not just those who previously qualified under a narrow set of criteria. Georgia had the same option to expand, but chose to keep its Medicaid qualifications in place, like many states led by Republicans looking to tweak President Obama.

As things stand, enrollment in Covered California – the state’s health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act – remains low. Until enrollment closes at the end of March, it’s an open question whether it will reach the necessary levels to make up for pending cutbacks.

So far, 59,000 Californians had completed applications and enrolled in health insurance plans within the new marketplace as of Nov. 13. That’s a drop in the bucket, considering that 2.3 million are eventually expected to enroll. According to state data, 203,904 applications had been started online (reflecting an estimated 370,000 individuals). In addition to those applying for Covered California plans, another 72,000 people were determined eligible for Medi-Cal. 

“SF General operates on a huge amount of federal money,” Wagner explained. “Some comes directly from the federal government, and some comes from DSH.” He said the hospital received $123 million in DSH funds last year, “and not all of that will go away” once cuts go into effect.

“Healthy SF will still be around after March 31,” said Wagner. “We’re still retaining the program for anybody not eligible for Medi-Cal, and through Healthy SF those people can still access primary healthcare.”
He even said that under extreme circumstances, like the delivery of a child, for instance, some undocumented immigrants will have the opportunity to enroll in Medi-Cal. 
And it’s not all gloom-and-doom on the subsidy front, either. There is a safety-valve for the safety-net hospitals: If everyone who is expected to enroll in Covered California actually does so, the funding will be available without the need to rely on federal aid. 
But in order to achieve that idyllic plateau, a serious push is needed on the enrollment level. Granted, those enrollment figures should rise. But what if they don’t? 
“If people don’t enroll in the new programs, it will be a big problem,” said Wagner. “If we have a significantly lower enrollment number than we initially predicted, we will have some major financial issues. There’s still some uncertainty.”

He added, “We’ll still provide care for the uninsured at SF General. The money will decrease, but it won’t disappear. By no means will all of the money go away. The hope is that the newly enrolled will offset the decreasing number of uninsured, then the federal government could take the DSH payment and redirect it to the providers.” 

That being said, “we still have lots of optimism moving forward,” Wagner said. “We think people will enroll.”

[Correction: We corrected the amount of the reduction from 50 percent down to 25 percent].


Undocumented and unafraid


Business as usual means buses depart from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in downtown San Francisco every weekday, ferrying deportees from throughout the region to federal detention centers or the airport. Even in San Francisco, a Sanctuary City where local law enforcement agencies have limited cooperation with ICE authorities, life can be filled with uncertainty for those who lack legal citizenship status.

In recent years, many immigrant activists have taken the step of publicly revealing themselves to be “undocumented,” to sound a call for immigration reform and to push back against the fearful existence that the looming threat of deportation can create.

But the young people who are profiled here have taken things a step further, going so far as to risk arrest by protesting deportations and pushing for immigration reform, all while identifying themselves loud and clear as undocumented.

In the same vein as protesters who marched for civil rights, gay rights, free speech, or in anti-war movements before them, the undocumented youth are putting themselves on the line. Their mantra, chanted at top volume, is “undocumented and unafraid,” highlighting the ever-present possibility that they could face stiff penalties for their actions.

Nationwide, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants remain in limbo as a push for federal immigration reform, which would create a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally, remains stalled in Congress. While community-led campaigns have yielded legislation that creates safeguards against deportation for young people who arrived with their parents as children, bureaucratic nightmares and forced deportations continue unabated.

Nearly everyone we interviewed for this article mentioned their grandparents while sharing their personal stories with the Guardian. While the politics and policy surrounding immigration reform are tremendously complex, the impact the current system has on people’s lives often boils down to problems like not being able to take a flight to visit an ailing grandparent because it would be impossible to return.

“It’s intense,” says Nicole Salgado, an American citizen who lives with her foreign-born husband in Mexico. “Because you know, it’s essentially an issue of trespassing, and so it seems to me like it’s a really harsh penalty for a civil infraction. No harm was done to a person, and that’s the case for the vast majority of people who are in this situation.”


Alex Aldana is nervous.

He’s stopped making eye contact, which is strange, because Aldana doesn’t normally break eye contact, and isn’t the nervous type. Since 2012, he’s been arrested seven times.

All seven arrests stemmed from acts of civil disobedience, each carried out to protest the same issue: immigration laws that he views as unjust, because they lead to forced deportation.

Aldana, 26, is an undocumented immigrant. He entered the US legally from Guadalajara, Mexico, in February 2003 on a work visa, but when the time on his visa ran out, he was left undocumented. It coincided with the departure of his father, a man Aldanda says deceived his family.

Like many other undocumented immigrants, he has been trying to give a largely misunderstood population a face. Unlike many others, he’s doing so in a way that carries a great deal of risk.

He’s part of the growing contingent of undocumented immigrants who are, as they say, “undocumented and unafraid.” And when they say it, they shout it.

Aldana participated in a sit-in inside Gov. Jerry Brown’s office. He’s faced the Ku Klux Klan at pro-immigration reform rallies in San Bernardino. He’s been a key link in a human roadblock created to halt a deportation bus in San Francisco. He’s been detained by ICE and local police departments. He normally comes across as fearless, but not on this day.

“This is probably the last crazy thing I’ll do,” Aldana says. “I have thought about it, I have planned it.”

Sometime in late November, he and an intrepid band of humanitarian crusaders plan on taking their fight to the southern US border for the first action of its kind.

The details — which they’re keeping intentionally vague — involve a group of activists crossing the San Diego-Tijuana border legally (many are still Mexican citizens, after all), before ferrying previously deported people back over the border into the United States.

Their hope is to create a spectacle to raise awareness, and even mentioning the planned action makes Aldana squirm a bit. He’s hesitant to disclose specific information; the wrong statement could end his journey before it begins, he explains.

And the timing isn’t perfect for community support, he adds. The last act of civil disobedience he engaged in — a human blockade that halted an ICE bus (see “On the line,” Oct. 23) — didn’t garner universal backing within the immigrant activist community.

“[Some] people are really backlashing the immigrant youth movement right now,” says Aldana. “They consider us harmful.”

But on the flip side, Aldana considers that community’s apathy toward deportation harmful. He doesn’t think that any approved immigration reform should even include deportation as an option.

“In the immigrant community, if you mention ‘immigration reform’ — not ‘conscious,’ not ‘comprehensive,’ just ‘immigration reform’ — then you hear, ‘Yeah, I support it,'” he says. “But what kind of immigration reform are we supporting? Are we supporting militarization? Are we supporting massive deportation? Because word by word, that’s what it says right now.”

The immigration reform package now being pushed by President Obama includes beefed up border security, a crackdown on the hiring of undocumented immigrants, and streamlined deportation procedures, along with a path to citizenship.

Aldana’s confidence in his activism belies a background drenched in fear.

“I never learned how to drive because of that fear [of being deported]. I never traveled because of that fear,” he says. “One of the reasons I never went to college was because ICE was in every bus stop, at least where I come from. When you lose fear, you do incredible things. I’ve been to like 30 states now.”

He started on the activism trail when he was still in high school in Coachella, advocating for women’s rights after watching his mother suffer through domestic abuse, but he didn’t start advocating for immigration reform until years later.

“I was very open about my sexuality and my gender identity very early on,” says Aldana, who identifies as queer. Yet he felt more self-conscious about sharing his immigration status. “Ten years after that, even when I was working for a nonprofit [in Southern California], I was really afraid saying I was undocumented, because my family depended on that job.”

More recently, Aldana has struck a balance between activism and bread winning, a lifestyle that will be put to the test in the coming month. He says he isn’t planning on coming back to the US for a little while after the protest at the border, but not for legal reasons. He just wants to have peace of mind for a moment, to be treated like any other American.

“My grandmother is dying, and I’m not gonna wait for any policy to deny what I couldn’t do with my mom’s mom,” says Aldana. “I think that when what makes us human is that vulnerability, that we really need to have those rights.”

He adds, “I really dislike when people say, ‘I’m gonna visit so-and-so because they’re really sick and they’re on the other side of the world.’ To me it’s like, why can’t I do that?” (Reed Nelson)



May Liang, a 23-year-old campaign organizer who accompanied her parents to the United States from China as a child, remembers the moment she realized there were other undocumented Asian families in her midst.

She was at a conference on issues surrounding the Asian Pacific Islander community at the University of California Berkeley campus, where she was a student. “Outside of each workshop, there’s this poster. This one said ‘undocumented Asian students.'” It struck a chord as she realized she wasn’t the only one.

It was one of the first meetings of ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education), a small but growing organization where Liang is now the first paid staff member. Her first undertaking was to plan out last month’s ICE bus blockade.

Now, she’s in the middle of preparing for a Thanksgiving Day vigil to be staged with others outside the West County Detention Center in Richmond, where undocumented immigrants are held in federal custody. Many in her community won’t get the chance to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with loved ones, she says, “because their families have been ripped apart by deportation.”

Liang wasn’t always an activist. She didn’t become aware of the barriers her immigration status presented until she became a teenager and started pursuing part-time jobs and a driver’s license, only to discover she lacked a Social Security number.

Not having an ID posed problems, but she’s quick to note that she had it easier than some of her fellow activists. “I walk around, and nobody suspects me because I’m Asian. In the media we see a lot of Latino people,” she explains. Nevertheless, “It was just like hiding a secret. I was trying to pass as something I knew that I wasn’t.”

One day, just as she was gearing up to go to college, her father called a family meeting. Their immigration status had been “pending” ever since they’d arrived on tourist visas and applied for green cards. But he’d just been notified that their applications had been denied.

“As soon as you get denied, you can’t be here,” Liang notes. “And so we were also ordered deported.”

They decided to fight it out in court, and the case dragged on until after she’d entered college.

“My family’s first court date was on the same day as a midterm,” she recalls. “It was really early in the morning, at the immigration court on Montgomery. I was in the waiting room, reading and studying. And then right afterward, I got on the BART and took my anatomy midterm. It felt really surreal.”

In the end, they were able to avert deportation, yet remained undocumented. As a full-time activist, Liang is thinking big. “For me, it’s like we need to change the system of immigration. One of the most important things we need is sort of a cultural shift as to how we treat people.”

Her first priority is to call for an end to deportations as long as federal immigration reform remains pending in Congress.

Liang is big on being inclusive. Laws such as the California DREAM Act, which aids undocumented students, and the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals can help youth like herself. Yet she doesn’t understand that piecemeal approach.

“Why is there a distinction being made, just because we’re younger?” she says. “These narratives were given to us. We did not create them. And it becomes divisive, because it really puts our parents under the bus.”

She’s also critical of the notion that immigration laws should treat people differently based on their nations of origin. “We like to say immigration is a Latino issue,” she says. “But it is also an Asian issue. It’s an American issue, because we are immigrants of America.”

Along those lines, Liang regards the work that she and other undocumented youth are engaged in as being a kind of patriotism, for a country that hasn’t yet accepted them as citizens.

“We actually love this country,” she says, “because it does have this sort of mentality of fighting for your rights, social justice, freedom of speech, and that stuff. In all that has happened in the history of this country, there are so many examples of things having been changed because of the people.” (Rebecca Bowe)



On July 21, 2008, David Lemus arrived in the United States at the age of 16.

He’d spent the previous two days marooned in the pick-your-poison expanse of desert spanning the southern border of the US.

All told, his El Salvador-to-California journey lasted a month, and he did the final two-day leg of the passage solo, carrying nothing more than a water bottle, tortillas, and beans.

He had no identification, he said, and no other personal items; nothing that could tie him to an existence he was supposed to be leaving behind. The goal was to be invisible, both to Border Patrol and any computers storing records.

He made the trip with his father and two younger brothers, but he’d last seen them in Mexico; the coyote guiding them across the border had informed Lemus and his family that they stood a better chance of making it if they split up. Lemus got in one car, next to a Honduran teenager who was roughly the same age, and his father and brothers got into another one.

He didn’t see his father and brothers again until October 2008. They were detained at the US-Mexico border and were deported back to El Salvador; their second trip took over four months, but they finally made it.

Lemus, his father, and his brothers were trying to reunite with his mother and sister, who had successfully completed the journey earlier that year. But as things went, Lemus was ferried across the border, let out in the desert, and traveled across a desert known for its potentially fatal landscape, all without his family.

It was a remarkable journey — hot, rugged, impossibly arid — made even more remarkable by the fact that Lemus, along with the rest of his family, is among the millions to complete it. Yes, millions.

But now, as a UC Berkeley student and member of the East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition, Lemus is a key player in the “undocumented and unafraid” wave of activism that is under way in California, and he’s a long way from donning the invisible mask he felt he had to wear while crossing the desert.

“Undocumented and unafraid is probably the only thing owned by the undocumented community, where we can say, ‘This is our thing,'” Lemus said.

Lemus and his peers have been making waves in California since 2011, when an anti-ICE action in San Bernardino made national headlines. He was arrested alongside six other students in the demonstration, which he refers to as “coming out of the shadows.”

It was his first action of civil disobedience, and the rush of activism overwhelmed him. The second time he was arrested for civil disobedience was this past summer, while protesting President Obama and the slow pace of immigration reform.

“The first time was scary, because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Lemus said. “But I also feel that that is the moment when you really wake up, because you see it for the first time.”

Lemus is a born agitator, someone who can’t sit idly by while an injustice is being committed. His face, almost eternally placid, contorts when he mentions things like the public perception of undocumented immigrants.

“People say that we are not only the shit stirrers, but that we created the shit,” said Lemus. “And that’s not fair. The way I see it is that most immigrants are here because of a lot of actions the US has taken in Latin America; military interventions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela. You know we don’t even have a currency in El Salvador anymore? We have dollars.”

Lemus doesn’t consider himself a DREAMer, a word used to describe students brought here as children who would receive protection from deportation under the federal DREAM Act, were it signed into law. He was born in El Salvador and remembers it well, in stark contrast to the DREAMers — and doesn’t know if he would even want to become a US citizen should the opportunity present itself, since he says he’s witnessed too much injustice at the institutional level.

What he won’t stop fighting for is what he calls, “not civil rights, but human rights. It would be unfair for us to want civil rights right now, because we need to get human rights first.”

For Lemus, that distinction is about valuing our basic humanity more than our citizenship.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the amount of risk it takes to come here,” he said. “We leave everything behind in the process, and a lot of times we don’t get it back. We just want a better life.” (RN)




Siti Rahmaputri, who goes by Putri, was 19 when she risked arrest by joining a handful of classmates in disrupting a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents.

A petite, soft-spoken UC Berkeley student, she hardly comes across as an agitator. Yet she joined the July protest to voice anger about the selection of Janet Napolitano, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, as head of the UC system. For undocumented students like Rahmaputri, Napolitano is synonymous with deportations due to her former post as head of the agency that oversees ICE.

When they got word of Napolitano’s appointment, Rahmaputri and fellow activist Ju Hong joined with some students from UC Irvine and UC San Diego to call attention to the secretary’s role in deportations.

“We started chanting, ‘undocumented unafraid,’ ‘education not deportation,’ ‘no to Napolitano.’ Unfortunately, two of my friends got hurt — they were tackled down by the UC police. And at the end, the four of us stood there and really linked arms. We were screaming and screaming,” she recalls. In a matter of minutes, “everyone left except for us, the media, and the UC police. The UC Regents were just outside the door.”

She was charged with two misdemeanors, placed in handcuffs for several hours, and then released. But the whole time, Rahmaputri said she felt encouraged by supporters from ASPIRE and others.

“I heard people chanting from the outside: Let them go. Let them go. I didn’t want to seem scared, I wanted to seem confident, like here I am, getting arrested, so what?” she says. “I’m just standing for the things that I feel is right.”

Originally from Indonesia, Rahmaputri attended middle school and high school in San Francisco after coming to the United States with her parents at age 11. Not long ago, she and her parents narrowly averted deportation.

“They never really told me exactly that I was undocumented, but they gave me hints,” she says of her upbringing.

A couple years ago, not long after she’d enrolled in Diablo Valley College, her parents were notified — six months late, due to an incorrect address — that their green card applications had been denied.

“I lost a lot of hope. I didn’t really know what to do,” she remembers. “I talked to my counselor and asked, ‘should I keep going in school or should I start working instead to save money to go back to Indonesia?'”

In the end, they were able to defer deportation through letters of support and legal assistance from the Asian Law Caucus, but their immigration status continues to hang in the balance, and the possibility of eventual deportation still looms.

In early October, Napolitano agreed to sit down with Rahmaputri and nine other UC students to discuss policies affecting undocumented university students. The activists urged her to shore up sanctuary protections, by providing campus resources and incorporating better sensitivity training for UC police.

But it was a little awkward, Rahmaputri thought, because Napolitano’s office had made it a lunch meeting.

“She was just there eating her lunch, listening to our stories and our struggles and why we think she should not be here. And here she is, enjoying her meal. It was a weird conversation. She said okay, ‘I will look at it thoroughly. Give me time to look at it.’ So, she’s basically not giving us any answers.”

She and others plan to keep the pressure on by staging rallies whenever Napolitano makes public appearances, and they were planning an action for the Nov. 8 inauguration of the new Berkeley chancellor, Nicholas Dirks.

When her family was fighting deportation, Rahmaputri caught a glimpse of detainees in the ICE facility in downtown San Francisco when she was there to be fingerprinted. She was impacted by the sight of them being led around in shackles.

“It was time for me to reflect, that I have this privilege to be free, to be out here where I can speak my mind, and I am able to go to school and get educated,” she says of that experience. “At the same time, I want to represent others who cannot.” (RB)


Agitating in exile

An American citizen who was born and raised in the United States, Nicole Salgado holds a master’s degree, is a published author, and previously held jobs in the Bay Area as a high school science teacher and urban gardener. While she might seem like an unlikely person to be directly impacted by immigration laws, she’s essentially been living in exile in Queretaro, Mexico, for the past seven years.

She’s there because Margo, Salgado’s husband and the father of their daughter, is prevented from returning to the US from Mexico due to immigration laws.

“It really boils down to some pretty strict technicalities,” Salgado explained in a Skype interview. “There’s really not any way around it. My husband has a permanent bar that lasts 10 years, and we’re in year seven of that. And if there was no reform in the next three years, we would not be able to apply — just apply — for his return until 2016.”

They met in 2001, when she was 23.

“I worked for the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners. I was working on a project down the peninsula, in La Honda, and I met Margo through friends. We got really close really fast, and got engaged within a few months,” she said.

Salgado knew he was undocumented, “but I didn’t know what it entailed.” Simply getting married, it turned out, wasn’t going to put them in the clear.

As long as they remained in the US, Margo’s status was a source of anxiety. He didn’t have a driver’s license, but nevertheless had to drive in order to work.

“I was always really petrified when he would be working more than half an hour away from the house,” Salgado said. “Because I always knew that if there was just one little bit of racial profiling, or something wrong with the taillight or something, then he could get pulled over.”

They closely monitored the progress of proposed laws that could offer protection for undocumented immigrants, and went to immigration rallies. But in the end, they opted for joining his family in Mexico, because they did not want to live in fear.

Salgado co-authored a book with Nathaniel Hoffman, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, which explores the role that American citizens who are married to undocumented immigrants might play in the larger immigration reform efforts in Congress.

She’s also been organizing online. “We got together and we formed a sort of loosely organized forum of women, like myself who were in exile, or were separated from their spouses in the US,” she said. “We called ourselves Action for Family Unity.”

She acknowledges that adults who knowingly crossed the border illegally might have a harder time winning over the public at large than youth who were brought to the US as children. Yet she still believes the laws that have placed her in this situation are in need of reform.

“My basic premise is, you know, the US is a nation of immigrants, and we depend on immigrants every year as part of our economy and part of our society,” Salgado says. “And as an American citizen, I believe that it’s my right to be able to determine where I want to live, regardless of who my choice of spouse is.” (RB)

Red herring or not, park closure vote delayed while supes seek police input


There is only one police chief in this town, and no law regarding the usage of public parks shall pass without him. Or so they said yesterday when Sup. Scott Wiener continued for a week consideration by the Board of Supervisors of his controversial proposal to close the city’s parks and plazas at night.

Wiener – champion of the legislation that homeless advocates say specifically target the City’s homeless population — motioned for continuance on the hotly contested agenda item after Police Chief Greg Suhr was unavailable to discuss how the measure might be enforced. The motion was seconded by Sup. Malia Cohen and passed without objection. 

But the continuance request means that Wiener will have to deal with what he calls an “epidemic of vandalism” for another week as well. The legislation would amend the “Park Code to establish hours of operation for City parks from 5am to midnight, with certain exceptions; and make environmental findings.” 

“It’s long been illegal to sleep or camp in parks,” said Sup. Wiener. “[Police] don’t need another law.” 

“This. Is. About. Vandalism,” Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg told the Guardian. “The homeless won’t be thrown out. The laws are already on the books, man.”

And while Wiener and those in the RPD have continued their insistence that that the legislation was written explicitly to target late-night vandalism, illegal dumping, and other nefarious activities not related to homelessness, opposition to the legislation say it’s “red herring” legislation that, on its face, claims to combat vandalism, but underneath is actually a bill targeting the homeless.

Wiener disagrees with this stance, however, and actually called the argument made by the legislation’s opposition — that the bill is a “red herring” ostensibly aimed at vandalism, but that really targets the homeless — a “red herring” as well. A red herring, historically, is a distraction. It’s a Trojan Horse, a magician’s assistant, a tool designed to confuse and obfuscate actual information or intent. 

It is a term that first found a foothold in the hunting world, but made it’s transcendental leap into the world of politics. Politicians have employed the use of “red herrings” in the past. But why would a group called the Coalition on Homelessness actually support vandalism, as the supervisor’s “red herring” comments would suggest?

When this fact was pointed out, Wiener told the Guardian that he “wasn’t going to speculate.” (And neither will we, at least as to why the supervisor chose to use the phrase “red herring” to describe the COH’s argument in the first place.)

But regardless of rhetoric, next week’s vote promises to be close. COH Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach told the Guardian last week that she had the support of the four most progressive supervisors — John Avalos, Jane Kim, David Campos and Eric Mar — and needed just two of the three swing votes to shoot down the legislation. Those three undecided votes rest in the hands of Sups. London Breed, Katy Tang and Norman Yee.

“This is going to be a close vote,” said Wiener.

But a vote that will have to wait a week.


Activists score big victory as Jack Spade gives up on the Mission


Score one for people power. Anti-gentrification activists in the Mission scored a major victory last night in their months-long battle to keep Jack Spade, an upscale men’s clothing chain, from opening a store on 16th Street — first by winning over the Board of Appeals, then by convincing the company to just give up.

So Jack Spade won’t be opening in the site of the old Adobe Book Store location near Valencia Street, an outcome engineered by the grassroots activism of the Stop Jack Spade Coalition, Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, and progressive politicians who supported the cause.

At issue at last night’s packed hearing was an appeal of the Planning Department’s ruling that Jack Spade didn’t fall under formula retail rules because it had one short of the 11 stores needed to meet the definition, even though it’s an expanding part of 5th and Pacific Co. and a brother brand to Kate Spade, which has dozens of stores around the country.

Activists considered it a long shot given the supermajority needed to overrule the decision and force a conditional use permit hearing before the store could open, particularly after falling short with the board in August. But this time, the activists won, with the board voting 4-1 to set a full rehearing for Dec. 11.

As representatives of the corporation left the hearing, they told a few activists and business owners that they “were done.” And when the Guardian reached 5th and Pacific CEO Bill McComb by email today, he confirmed that the company is giving up on this controversial location, where activists were concerned its deep-pocketed presence would accelerate gentrification of the neighborhood.

“[We’re] not going to war with the neighbors. We like those people and their neighborhood and we are not fighting the issue. There are many a fine location for Jack Spade. Peace to the city!” McComb wrote to us.

It was a thrilling surprise for the activists that have been organizing against the project for months, and it was reminiscent of the successful 2009 effort to stop American Apparel from opening up shop on Valencia, involving some of the same activists and organizing tactics.

“We’re very pleased about last night,” said Andy Blue, an activist working with local merchants. “We saw a significant shift in momentum and a tremendous community showing. It was clearly a victory for the neighborhood.”

It was a big turnaround from just a few weeks ago, when it looked like Jack Spade had won, and a sign of the rising importance of gentrification issues to San Franciscans who face rising residential and commercial rents fueled by the latest dot-com boom and Mayor Ed Lee’s corporate welfare policies.

“Six months ago, a lot of people in San Francisco felt powerless with the rapid displacement of residents,” said Blue. “It was like, ‘What can we do, you know?'”
But then, as Blue said, “the resistance started boiling up.”

The local merchants decided to appeal the Planning Department decision that would have allowed Jack Spade to simply open its doors with no public hearing. “So many people who were being affected by it started sharing their stories, and things started happening. People had had enough,” said Blue. “The San Francisco that we love is this diverse, unique place and we were watching  it transform into something totally different.”

Simply getting to yesterday’s hearing was a huge step for the activist population standing up against the retailer, Blue said. But after the rehearing request was granted, the local merchants still needed to prove that “manifest injustice” had taken place during Jack Spade’s permit acquisition process if the merchants wanted the actual rehearing. 

This presented a problem to the VCMA and others. To prove “manifest injustice” had taken place during the permit application process, the merchants needed to prove that Jack Spade not only applied for their permits under a dubious guise, but that they were well aware of just how dubious it was. To be manifestly unjust, the unfairness must be “direct, obvious and observable,” a list that isn’t always easy to satisfy. 

While the two sides can’t seem to come to a consensus on how much the rent will actually increase in the surrounding area due to Jack Spade’s arrival, this controversy arose at a time when neighborhoods throughout the city have been rising up against gentrification.

And this may not be the last time that this company is in the crosshairs of that concern. Asked whether its decision applies to the whole city or just this one location, McComb told us, “Just that spot. We have many brand fans in SF.” 

Activists try again to stop Jack Spade


The fight to keep suspected formula retailer Jack Spade out of the Mission resumes this evening (Wed/9) when The Stop Jack Spade Coalition lays out it’s case against the men’s clothing chain before the Board of Appeals in an attempt to force the business to go through a conditional use permit hearing. [UPDATE: Activists say they won a big victory last night, not just winning that vote but maybe convincing Jack Spade to withdraw its application completely. We’re working on confirming things now and we’ll have more details soon.]

The new push against Jack Spade comes less than two months after an original appeal found the retailer not to be in violation of the neighborhood’s formula retail ban, with the opposition campaign getting written support of Sups. Eric Mar, John Avalos, and David Campos. They join a growing list of those opposed to the retailer, one that currently features former Board of Supervisors presidents Matt Gonzalez and Aaron Peskin and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

If the coalition is granted a rehearing, it will be the second time an appeal is heard on the matter. On Aug. 21, the Board of Appeals ruled against the retailer in a 3-2 majority decision, but the decision still lacked the four votes required to revoke the building permits.

Jack Spade — currently slated to rent the former Adobe Bookshop storefront at 3166 16th Street — was originally granted its business and building permits sans conditional use hearing, an act that was supposed to be unheard of for a prospective national retailer inside a neighborhood with a formula retail ban.

The 2004 formula retail ordinance requires a businesses to get a conditional use permit before moving into certain San Francisco neighborhoods if they meet the “formula retail” criteria. Part of that criteria states that a store can have no more than 11 “retail sales establishments located in the United States.” Jack Spade, pre-Mission store, has just 10 unique stores, which allowed them to circumvent the hearing process.

But according to 5th & Pacific’s public records, the holding company (formerly known as Liz Claiborne) that owns Jack Spade, the high-end men’s clothing store is not an independent business but rather a sub-brand of Kate Spade; a women’s clothing store with 94 locations in the United States alone.

The coalition opposing Jack Spade’s now-imminent Mission migration is using this piece of information as Exhibit A in their fight against the retailer. The coalition is claiming that by not acknowledging the fact that Jack Spade itself was part of a far larger corporation, the retailer violated the formula retail ban by claiming “independent business” status.

As the move-in date for the Mission’s unwanted addition grows near, the coalition has taken up the cause once again, mustering support from nearly every constituency available.

It will be bringing its revamped case to the Board of Appeals, this time with testimony seemingly focused on the misleading nature of Jack Spade’s classification as an “independent business.” That should prove to be an effective move for the coalition, because Jack Spade isn’t an independent business, and they don’t try to classify themselves as such outside of San Francisco.

In fact, according to 5th & Pacific’s 10-K filings with the SEC, the “Kate Spade brand offers fashion accessories for women under the Kate Spade and Kate Spade Saturday trademarks, and for men under the Jack Spade trademark.” The two brands even share the same CEO: Craig Leavitt. Declaring that the two companies are independent of each other based on product offering is like saying beef and milk are independent of  other because they come from different parts of the cow.

Now, armed with an updated defense, the Coalition is taking a second stab at the appellate process, one they feel good about. In a letter to the Board, executive director of the Valencia Corridor Merchant Association (VCMA) Luis Granados said, “If the findings section were fully taken into account [last time], we believe the Board will see that Jack Spade is formula retail, as set forth under the law.”

Or as Gonzalez wrote in a letter to the Board of Appeals: “Issues of corporate ownership and/or corporate structure have been a matter of debate in previous hearings regarding Jack/Kate Spade’s permits.  While nowhere in the planning code does it require the consideration of corporate ownership/structure, neither does the ordinance forbid a consideration of corporate ownership/structure.  Indeed, in order to fulfill the clear intent of the law in a common sense manner, it will be necessary, in some cases, to consider corporate ownership/structure.

I urge you to grant the VCMA’s request for a rehearing of Jack/Kate Spade’s permits in order to prevent manifest injustice.”

And considering the momentum that the anti-Jack Spade movement is now gaining, the optimism isn’t unreasonable.

Activist Andy Blue, who helped organize the protest, acknowledged the high bar needed to overrule the flawed ruling by the Planning Department, telling us, “We’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s a long shot.”

Cyclists testify to SFPD bias as supervisors call for reforms


The cyclists of San Francisco were angry. Sup. Jane Kim was skeptical. Sup. Scott Wiener was unconvinced. Sup. Eric Mar said bikers were “pissed.” Deputy Chief of Police Mike Biel said he was too, but his anger could have just as easily been attributed to the 35 minutes he spent at the stand, acting as a whipping post for frustrations with the SFPD, as it could be to the department’s mistreatment of San Francisco cyclists.

Either way, the cyclists ruled the day.

During Thursday’s (10/3) Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee, Sup. David Campos called for a joint Board of Supervisors-Police Commission hearing regarding SFPD investigation protocol for bike accidents, but no immediate timetable has been set for the matter.

Without Police Chief Greg Suhr in attendance — his chiefly presence was required “reading to the children,” as Biel noted multiple times — Biel was left to stand solo in front of both frustrated supervisors and an incensed public.

At one point, following a particularly ambiguous response from Biel regarding accident checklists, Wiener asked bluntly, “Do you think there’s enough traffic cops in San Francisco? I don’t see bike cops, personally.”

To which Biel responded, “I’d like to see more.”

In fact, there was little defense on the part of Biel — and by extension, the Police Department — when it came to the seemingly lax (at best, malicious at worst) approach the SFPD has taken toward bike accidents in the past four years.

He even echoed Mar’s “pissed” comment, saying, “I was pissed too,” in regards to both what Mar called the “supposed investigation” of the Aug. 14 death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac and the flippant attitude some in the department had taken towards cyclists in the days and weeks following. But he also stated that he didn’t think there was a negative bias in the SFPD.

The board’s decision to continue the conversation was bolstered by nearly 40 often-horrific testimonials regarding police treatment of cyclists in the City. And nearly all the stories could make the average person cring with the frustration, anger, and outrage they had the power to illicit.

Leah Shahum, executive director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition, told a story of a woman who was unable to make it to the hearing due to the injuries sustained in an April accident.

The woman, whom she didn’t identify, was biking in Golden Gate Park with her husband and son — the son was on the back of the woman’s bike — when she was hit from behind by a car, while she was stopped in the designated bike lane.

Witnesses stated that the driver was at fault. Her husband said the same thing. The police insisted on questioning the two of them more about their helmet usage — “which they were wearing,” according to Shahum — than they did about the actual events of the accident. Incidentally, adults aren’t required to wear bike helmets in California.

Robin Levitt, a Hayes Valley resident, talked about the strange “culture of blaming the victim” that has seemingly been propagated in the City, and how “in Germany, it’s immediately assumed that the vehicle is at fault, so drivers are safer.”

(And for what it’s worth, when Biel denied that same sentiment’s existence earlier with the committee, supervisors didn’t seem too convinced either. Mar even asked Biel, “Is there a bias or blame-the-victim attitude in the San Francisco Police Department?” which Biel promptly denied.)

And then there was Edward Hasbrouk, a former professional cyclist who has “never owned a motor vehicle.” He was biking home from work one evening when his progress in a Valencia Street bike line was impeded by a double-parked car in line for a valet service.

(Wiener has called for increased police enforcement of laws against double-parking. During today’s (Tues/8) Board of Supervisors meeting, he asked Mayor Ed Lee to support the effort, noting that SFPD rarely issues tickets to double-parkers despite “its impacts on traffic, Muni, cycling, and pedestrians.”)

Hasbrouk said that after a somewhat heated back-and-forth between the valet drivers, he flagged down a police officer to help him resolve the dispute, but the officer instead made Hasbrouk “carry [his] bicycle to the sidewalk.” Hasbrouk then said, “What would I have to do to get you to ticket these cars double-parked?” That comment got him arrested for felony vandalism, according to Hasbrouk. Expunging the arrest cost him nearly $3,000 and a night in jail.

But given the SFPD’s lack of pragmatism when it comes to investigating these accidents (for instance, Biel said SFPD doesn’t require a continuing education for officers assigned to traffic enforcement, despite what Shahum says are complex issues surrounding a rapidly growing population of cyclists), and it’s boorish behavior following the Le Moullac tragedy in August, it’s high time for change.

And a joint hearing could be just the place to start.

Supervisors examine anti-cyclist bias at SFPD


The Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee held a high-profile and well-attended hearing Oct. 3 to examine how the San Francisco Police Department investigates motorist versus bicyclist collisions. Sup. Jane Kim called the hearing following revelations about shoddy police work and anti-cyclist bias in the Aug. 14 death of cyclist Amelie Le Moullac.

Dozens of cyclists told horror stories of being hit by cars and then treated badly by police, which routinely absolves motorists of responsibility even in cases where they are clearly at fault.

Deputy Police Chief Mike Biel admitted some shortcomings in their investigations and promised to do better, and he apologized for the absence of Police Chief Greg Suhr and Sgt. Richard Ernst, who showed up at an Aug. 21 memorial event for Le Moullac to make inaccurate and insensitive comments criticizing cyclists. Kim had requested testimony from both men. Sup. David Campos pledged to hold another hearing on the issue, this time at a rare joint hearing of the Board of Supervisors and Police Commission.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum urged the SFPD to, “Focus limited traffic enforcement resources on known dangerous intersections and known dangerous behaviors.” (Read Shahum’s op-ed on the hearing.)

Concerns about selective enforcement and anti-cyclist bias by the SFPD were heightened in the week before the hearing when officers started enforcement stings focused on stop sign-running cyclists riding the Wiggle, one of the city’s most popular and heavily traveled bike routes.

Among those stopped and given a written warning — one of 534 written warnings and 16 citations the SFPD reported giving out to cyclists in September — was Guardian Editor Steven T. Jones, whose Oct. 1 blog post on whether SFPD should strictly enforce laws requiring cyclist to completely stop at stop signs was the most commented post of the last week.

Shahum told us that the Bike Coalition has done education campaigns urging cyclists to yield to pedestrians on the Wiggle, but that none of the seven intersections on the Wiggle meet the SFPD’s own stated goals of focusing enforcement on the five most dangerous intersections in each police district. “When you look at the data on the Wiggle,” Shahum said, “it’s not a high collision area.”

555 Fulton project moves forward with exemption to formula retail ban


The San Francisco Planning Commission yesterday approved a plan to build a mixed-use five-story building on the hotly debated 555 Fulton St. property. The plan includes a grocery store measuring 32,400 square feet in addition to 139 apartments and townhouses that would be built above and around the designated shopping area.

It wasn’t a unanimous vote, but the Western Addition is inching toward the affordable grocery store that many in the neighborhood says it desperately needs. The 4-2 vote to exempt the project from the area’s formula retail ban — Commissioners Kathrin Moore and Hisashi Sugaya voted for a continuation instead — was reached after nearly two and a half hours of deliberation, presentations, and local testimonials.

The commission’s decision moves on to the Board of Supervisors, where the discussion of affordable food and whether that can only be provided by a national supermarket chain will likely continue.

In May of 2010, the Planning Commission approved a similar project to the one currently proposed: The then-developers had secured a Special Use District (SUD) called the Fulton Grocery Store SUD back in 2008 —a distinction which lifted the restriction on large-footprint retail outlets in the Hayes-Gough Neighborhood Commercial Transit District — as well as a Conditional Use Agreement (CUA) that lifted the ban on “formula retail outlets” only for the proposed tenant of the specific unit.

But the developers could finance the project and its entitlements expired on April 3, 2013. Renewing the SUD and CUA were key to yesterday’s discussion. Without the SUD, the neighborhood’s current zoning policy would state that the grocery store’s footprint alone would be too large to permit. But with the SUD, the developer is not just obliged but rather forced to seek a tenant that will build a grocery store “larger than 15,000 square feet.” That means that the outlet would finally be the full-service grocery store the neighborhood has called for.

The SUD, however, isn’t the contested item. Both the Western Addition residents and the members of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA) and the Hayes Valley Merchant’s Association (HVMA) agree that a grocery store at 555 Fulton is ultimately a good thing, but that is where the similarities end.

The HVNA/HVMA want to uphold the Hayes-Gough NCT’s outright ban on formula retail that’s been in effect since 2004, a move that would effectively force the developer into trying to find an independently owned suitor for the 32,400 square foot space, claiming that “independent” and “affordable” aren’t mutually exclusive.

The residents of the Western Addition want a store that falls under the “formula retail” umbrella, citing fair hiring practices and affordability of goods often found at those outlets among other reasons for the preference.

According to developer representative Jessica Zhou, however, of the City’s 31 independent grocery stores, just two measured over 15,000 square feet (the minimum size allowed in the SUD), and of those two, exactly zero had expressed interest in the location.

On the other hand, according to Zhou, a tidy list of “formula” stores have expressed interest in the site, among them Grocery Outlet and The Nugget, which means that the HVNA/HVMA are now holding out for something that isn’t even on a theoretical horizon.

Commissioner Richard Hillis agreed, and he even joked about his own troubles with the affordability at independent grocery stores, a joke that Zhou’s statistics supported, citing a study that found the average shopper in California saves 35 percent more money when shopping at a formula retail grocery outlet over of an independent one.

The public support might have been strong, but the project hasn’t been approved yet. Even with the support of the Planning Commission, the Western Addition neighborhood and the developers, nothing can happen until the Board of Supervisors approves the same plan, and that means that both sides have time.

“We believe that this project will help two-fold: One, economically [by providing] jobs and opportunities for our young residents — individuals from the neighborhood — but also, it will provide access for our seniors to have the opportunity to walk to the store and get out of their homes and be able to be a part of the community,” said Gary Banks, a Fillmore resident.

Or as Dirk Butler said, ” The reality is an affordable grocery store is the best fit for our community. We have seniors, low-income immigrants that are within a half a mile of a grocery store that they have to trek in order to buy groceries for their family. This is a good move.”


Chain store ban and affordable groceries at issue in 555 Fulton debate UPDATED


UPDATED San Francisco’s resistance to formula retail stores will be put to the test tomorrow (Thu/3), when the San Francisco Planning Commission will vote on the 555 Fulton St. project.

The project — a five-story, 136-unit residential building with a ground-floor supermarket, complete with up to 275 total parking spaces— has been bobbing in purgatory since 2010, when developers were stalled by the withering economy.

But dried-up finances aren’t what’s now holding up the development of this project in an area governed by the Market and Octavia Better Neighborhood Plan and the Formula Retail Use Ordinance, both of which discourage national chains in favor of locally owned businesses.

Debate is centering on the question of whether the formula retail ban prevents an affordable grocery store from going in at the site, as the developer contends. The politics surrounding the project have gotten heated, with Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association supporting the ban on chain stores; the Mayor’s Office, Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, and Planning Director John Rahaim supporting the developer and project contractor Walter Wong; and Dist. 5 Sup. London Breed caught in the middle.

Last week, her legislative aide Vallie Brown told HVNA that Breed would support their request for a continuance at tomorrow’s meeting while they explore ways to attract an affordable local grocer, but Breed seems torn between what she told the New Yorker recently were desires to make affordable groceries available and prevent the boutiqueing of Hayes Valley, and her support for the formula retail ban.

“Breed said that despite the ban, she’s willing to allow a chain grocery store into the area to make it more affordable for residents,” reporter Lauren Smiley wrote in the article. The Guardian has been unable to reach Breed or Brown this week.

[UPDATE: Breed told the Guardian that her biggest concern is that the grocery store is affordable to the three low-income housing projects located right across the street, and she has yet to be convinced that can happen without breaking the formula retail ban at the site, despite working on the issue with both activists and the developer.

“It’s a challenge, I get that,” Breed told us. “I want the developer to operate with me in good faith and make a serious long-term commitment to me that this will be an affordable grocery store.”

But she doesn’t yet have that full commitment, and she says that she’s planning to honor her commitment to activists and ask that the formula retail waiver be delayed today even if the rest of the project goes through. “Ultimately, I asked them to be a good community partner,” she told us.]

For Hayes Valley, this has been a near decade-long process. In 2004, the Board of Supervisors first outlawed these generic retailers from opening up shop within the Hayes-Gough Neighborhood Commercial Transit (NCT) District when it passed Ordinance No. 62-04, classifying “formula retailers” and limiting their impact within unique neighborhoods. The ordinance keeps local businesses viable, keeping deep-pocketed corporations out.

The 555 Fulton project falls somewhere between the Hayes-Gough NCT and the Residential Transit Oriented District (RTO), and currently, a two-story, 19,620-square-foot office and industrial building with about 70 surface parking spots inhabits the address.

Both the neighborhood residents and the developers have historically felt that the property would make for an excellent grocery store. “What” has never been an issue with the property. “Who” on the other hand, has been the biggest issue.

In order for 555 Fulton to be developed by a “formula retail” outlet — which have been the only types of occupants the current developers believe to be able to pay the exorbitant established rent costs  — the property technically located in the Hayes-Gough NTC needs to be designated as a “Special Use District” (SUD).

An SUD adjusts the land use controls and height restrictions for a specific piece of property, in this case allowing for a “grocery store larger than 15,000 square feet of gross occupied floor area, as well as residential uses meeting a minimum density of one dwelling unit per 600 feet of lot area.” And up until April, the property was an SUD.

Back in 2008, 555 Fulton was granted its SUD by Section 249.35A of the Planning Code Section, which established the “Fulton Street Grocery Store Special Use District.” In 2010, the Planning Commission approved both a Conditional Use Authorization and a Planned Unit Development, allowing the developer of the subject property to build their mixed-use grocery store-residential building. Neither of these exceptions allowed for a “formula retail” outlet at the time, but interest still seemed solid.

Then everything stalled. And stalled. And stalled some more. Things have remained idle for so long that the five-year window given to the Fulton Street Grocery Store SUD expired this past April. Now, the developers are asking for five more years on the same Fulton Street Grocery Store SUD that was allowed to a different development group in 2008.

But it isn’t exactly the same request this time: Now the developers are trying to get an SUD without a provision on “formula retail” outlets, and both sides are expected to turn out big numbers on each side of the question at tomorrow’s hearing, which starts at noon in City Hall Room 400.