Tim Redmond

Why the PG&E settlement is lame


One of the factors that the state regulators took into account when they decided how much PG&E should be fined for the San Bruno blast was the company’s financial situation — that is, how much of a fine could the utility “safely absorb.” That’s the first sign that something screwy is going on here.

If I run a red light, the traffic court doesn’t ask how much of a fine I can “safely absorb.” A crook who embezzles money not only has to pay the money back, but suffer a financial penalty that can greately exceed what he or she can afford. A murderer doesn’t get to go before a judge and say, gee, two years in prison is all I can “safely absorb.” That’s not how it works.

PG&E is a giant company that has a guaranteed annual rate of return exceeding ten percent on everything it spends. It’s shareholders are large investment banks and stock funds. Its executives are very well paid. And gross negligence — that is, intential mismanagement at the level of criminal activity — on the part of the company led to the deaths of eight people and the destruction of an entire neighborhood.

The penalty ought to be MORE than the company can “safely absorb.” It ought to be enough to make shareholders wonder whether PG&E is a good investment. It ought to really, really hurt PG&E.

Instead, the CPUC staff is just telling the company to spend $2.25 billion doing what it should have been doing all along, and needs to do anyway: Fix the pipelines.

Sure, that money will come from profits, not from the ratepayers. But again, as the mayor of San Bruno pointed out on KQED’s Forum this morning, PG&E, as a regulated monopoly utility, has a guaranteed rate of return — and can borrow money at less than half that rate. The company reported revenues of $15 billion and profits of $830 million for 2012. PG&E seems to have plenty of money to fight CleanPowerSF and offer its own “green energy” program for less than the city will charge — and that’s guaranteed to be a money-loser, covered by some of those profits.

The CPUC ought to order the company to fix the pipes — then assess a fine high enough to wipe out all profits for, say, five years, which is how long it’s going to take San Bruno to fully repair the damage and recover from the explosion.

That would be a suitable “punishment.” Would it drive PG&E into bankruptcy? No — lots of companies operate with little or no profit margin these days. Let the killer utility cover its costs, do its job, pay its employees … and nothing more. The staff report is scathing; the penalty sounds stiff. But it’s not going to send enough of a message.


The 8 Washington-Monterey connection


The guy who wants to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history on the waterfront is facing a ballot measure that could derail his dreams — so he’s hiring a team of signature-gatherers to put a competing measure on the ballot. Which makes little sense to us, since when the voters are confused, then tend to vote against things, and there will be two measures (confusing) and all the opponents of the 8 Washington have to go is get people to vote No, which is easier than Yes.

But whatever.

What intrigued us is that the signature-gathering company that is about to launch Simon Snellgove’s pro-condo drive is also doing a petition drive a couple hours to the south — where environmentalists are facing off against a developer who wants to build a luxury horse-racing facility along with housing, two hotels, and an office complex on the old Fort Ord military base in Monterey.

The opponents, who want to preserve open space, are doing an initiative campaign to block it — and the developer is now doing his own counter-intiative.

According to a message on the petition company’s voice mail, signature gatherers are getting $1.60 a signature in Monterey. Don’t know yet what they’re getting in San Francisco.

And of course, the developers in Monterey are talking about jobs and recreation and parks — just as they are in San Francisco. Someone must have done a few focus groups on that.

If Monterey Downs gets built (and for the record, I am not an opponent of race tracks, horse racing, or gambling, and I love Golden Gate Fields and its $1 beers) it won’t be the kind of blue-collar cheapie place across the Bay. It will be a high-end equestrian center. “Maybe,” Jon Golinger, an 8 Washington foe, says, “that’s where the multimillionaires in the new condos will keep their horses.”

It’s an interesting political tactic — block an opposition intiative with one of your own — and it’s going to play out twice this fall in Northern California. If it works, the developers will have yet another tool. If it fails, that may be the end of it.


The warriors arena: How are you going to get there?


The Warriors and the all-star lineup of nearly every political consultant in town launched a new public relations offensive this week with the release of a new, spiffy set of drawings and a rewritten plan for a waterfront arena. And opponents of the project pretty much shrugged and said: So, what?

Sure, it looks nicer than it did before. Sure, there’s a pedestrian walkway around the arena. Yeah, there’s glass on the inside that will give spectators a nice view of the Bay. Oh, and there’s room for a cruise ship terminal, to give the whole thing a veneer of maritime use.

But the problems with this project have never been the architecture of the 12-story structure or the inevitably dubious links to the water. “The design was never the point,” Randy Shandobil, a spokesman for the Waterfront Alliance, told us. “Is this the best place to put a big arena?”

The new plan calls for a slightly smaller arena — 125 feet high instead of 135 — with slightly less retail space and seating inside. The glass sides will not only allow fans to look out, but allow people walking around the outside to view in and see something going on inside. The scoreboard will probably be visible; the actually play on the floor less so.

The visuals presented by the architects, Snøhetta and AECOM, indicate that the arena will perch on a large pad raised significantly above the level of the current Piers 30-32. From the ground level, the arena looks like a giant flying saucer, taller than AT&T Park, that’s plopped down below the Bay Bridge.

Craig Dykers, a representative of the architects, told a Board of Supervisors committee May 6 that the arena will fill a need for some sort of project along the open stretch of waterfront from the Ferry Building to AT&T Park. His presentation made it sound as if that undeveloped area was by nature a blight; thousands of joggers, walkers, bicyclists and people enjoying the unimpeded views of the Bay might disagree.

In fact, the project will change more than the two piers; it will create a busy residential and commercial shopping district that will increase foot and vehicle traffic even when there are no games or concerts scheduled.

This is, by any standard, a very different project from what the Warriors first proposed back in November, 2012. That’s why the Waterfront Alliance is asking that the scoping sessions for the environmental impact report on the project ought to go back to square one.

No matter what you think about the design, or the views, or the impact on the city’s priceless waterfront, there’s a problem that’s glaringly obvious, and Sup. Scott Wiener made the point very clearly:

This absolutely has to be a transit-first arena. There’s no way that part of the city can handle even half of the 5,000 cars that have been counted at the Warrior’s current home, Oracle Arena in Oakland. And much of that impact is going to fall on the subway, or light-rail vehicle system.

“It absolutely has to have good LRV service,” Wiener said.

The problem: “Our current system is not even meeting our current needs. I have a lot of constituents who say, when there’s a Giants game you just don’t take the subway because there’s not going to be any capacity. We’re close to a breaking point now, even past it. and our ten-year capital plan puts to the side most of Muni’s unmet capital needs.”

Jennifer Matz, the Mayor’s Office point person on waterfront development, said she agreed with Wiener. “I recognize this challenge,” she said. “There needs to be more of a holistic approach.”

But Wiener wasn’t backing down. Adding the capacity that will be needed to serve the new arena, and the new Giants development, and the new residents moving into the waterfront neighborhood, is not going to be cheap. “Where,” he asked, “is the money going to come from?”

Peter Albert, who works for the Municipal Transportation Agency, is looking into the number of passengers that will be riding Muni — and BART, and Caltrain — and the capacity those systems plan to add. But he had no answer to Wiener’s question.

That’s because there is only one answer: The taxpayers will have to come up with something in the range of a billion dollars to solve Muni’s capacity problems in the next few years — or else the developers will. And right now, there’s not a lot of political will at City Hall to ask for either.

The right wing and armed revolution


Man, I’m getting old. When I was growing up, in the 1960s, and even when I was in college in the 1970s, and when I was first in San Francisco in the early 1980s, the only ones talking about “armed revolution” were the commies. The system was coming down, fast; the Black Panthers marched around with rifles. The RCP and the Weather Underground and a bunch of other offshoots and fringe groups talked about fighting in the streets. Mick Jagger once sang “hey, think the time is right for violent revolution,” tho Mick was living in a posh condo in Manhattan and dating supermodels and building the first band ever to gross a billion dollars in sales.

Now nobody on the left talks about revolution much any more; it’s the folks on the far right — and, alarmingly, nearly half of the Republicans in this country — who say that “armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” The poll is a bit scary — 18 percent of Democrats even agree that it’s going to be time to pull out the assault rifles and have at the Gummint.

I wonder how this breaks down by age, and how much of it is (not-so) subtle racism aimed at the first Black president. Probably most of it comes from the gun nuts who think Obama is going to take away their weapons. But Jeez: “Armed revolution?” That’s so 1968.


Why are the feds cracking down on pot again?


President Obama keeps saying that marijuana isn’t a big priority for his administration, and his rogue nutcase of a US Attorney in Northern California keeps making it a priority. Now the Drug Enforcement Administration, which also reports to the White House, is joining the action, going after licensed dispensaries in San Francisco and San Jose.

Maybe the feds are just trying to make sure everyone’s following the rules — except that the DEA has no jurisdiction over California law, and California laws says the dispensaries are just fine. So it’s hard to imagine that this is anything other than a heavy-handed attempt to drive more pot clubs out of business.

For what? For why? And why are our US Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, not making a stink about this?

Another attack on public-employee unions


Big-business and conservative interests have been trying to years to find a way to undermine the political clout of organized labor, particularly unions like the teachers and nurses, who have played a huge role in progressive campaigns. And now there’s a new tactic.

The anti-union folks have gone to court to try to do what they haven’t been able to do in the legislative arena: take away the ability of public-employee unions to use membership dues for political campaigns:

In a scarcely-noticed lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court in Los Angeles, a conservative nonprofit, the Center for Individual Rights, claims that California’s system for collecting union dues from government employees abridges free speech safeguards by compelling employees to subsidize union political advocacy and activities with which they disagree.

Peter Scheer, who runs the California First Amendment Coalition, notes that current law is on the side of the unions — but five Supreme Court justices have been critical of the prevailing case law.

And if they prevail? Public employee unions, not just in California but across the country, would lose the bulk of their dues funding-and with it, the ability to wield decisive political influence in state and local governments everywhere. That is a big deal.

Yep. It’s a big deal. It could do what corporate America has been trying to do for years — eliminate the one remaining power base with the money to challenge right-wing efforts. If this gets all the way to the Supremes, it will be a few years away, but we need to keep an eye on it.

Guest opinion: LGBT supporters of Bradley Manning


Editor’s note: At least 24 LGBT community leaders and activists have signed on to the following statement in support of Bradley Manning as a Pride grand marshal.

Recently, it was announced that PFC Bradley Manning would be a grand marshal of the 2013 San Francisco Pride Celebration. We felt this decision was a bold and uplifting choice, bestowing a great honor on a young whistleblower being persecuted for following his conscience.

Much to our disappointment, two days later SF Pride board president Lisa Williams issued a separate announcement that the SF Pride board would not be honoring PFC Manning as a grand marshal after all.  It appears the SF pride board’s reversal was affected by criticism from a recently formed gay military rights group. 

We want the world to know that the SF Pride board’s decision is not reflective of the LGBTQ community as a whole, and that many of us proudly celebrate PFC Manning as a member of our community.  Unfortunately, the statements by Williams, and the group which originally advocated against PFC Manning as grand marshal, continue to perpetuate certain factual inaccuracies with regards to the military prosecution against him. 

The first inaccuracy would be that PFC Manning did not advocate for gay rights.  In fact, while serving in the military, PFC Manning experienced harassment and physical assault because of his perceived sexuality.  He responded by marching against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the DC pride parade, where he spoke to reporters about his position, in addition to attending a fundraiser with Gavin Newsom and the Stonewall Democrats so he could discuss the issue of homophobia in the military.  He told a friend in February of 2009 that his experience living under DADT and experiencing the oppression that entailed helped increase his interest in politics more generally.

LGBTQ activists fought hard for years to win the right to live free from the fear that we could be targeted with violence deemed acceptable to society at large, simply for being who we are.  We members of the LGBTQ community would like to stand in solidarity with others around the world who still must live in fear of violence and oppression, simply for being born into a particular group.

Contrary to SF Pride Board president Lisa Williams’s claim, no evidence has been presented that PFC Manning’s actions endangered fellow soldiers or civilians. In fact, the military prosecution has successfully argued in court that it isn’t required to provide such evidence, and former State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley continues to insist that the “Aiding the enemy” charge is unwarranted. 

In a February 28, 2013, court statement, PFC Manning detailed the due diligence he performed prior to releasing materials to ensure this lack of harm, in addition to explaining,

“I believed the detailed analysis of the [Iraq and Afghanistan war log] data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.”

The truth is that President Bush and VP Cheney’s aggressive wars in the Middle East endangered far more LGBTQ service members and civilians than any Army whistle-blower.  Unlike PFC Manning, however, they have never served prison time, and likely never will.

Millions of people around the world support Bradley for the personal risk he took in sharing realities of complicated U.S. foreign conflicts with the American people.  He is the only gay U.S. serviceperson to be nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.  In joining the Army, soldiers take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution, and we believe that by his actions PFC Manning strengthened our democracy, and fulfilled that oath to a greater degree than most enlisted.

We are proud to embrace PFC Bradley Manning as one of our icons, and intend to march for him in pride contingents across the country this year, as we have in years past.  We think Bradley Manning sets a high standard for what a U.S. serviceperson, gay or straight, can be.

Lt. Dan Choi, 2009 SF Pride Celebrity Grand Marshal, anti-DADT activist
Joey Cain, 2008 SF Pride Community Grand Marshal, former Board Member and President of SF Pride
Gary Virginia, 2012 SF Pride Community Grand Marshal
John Caldera, Commander, Bob Basker Post 315ED, American Legion, SF Veterans For Peace
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Glenn Greenwald, award-winning journalist
Leslie Feinberg, transgender author and activist
Minnie Bruce Pratt, award-winning poet, activist and educator
Dossie Easton, Therapist and Author
Susie Bright, public speaker, educator, writer
Andy Thayer, co-founder, Gay Liberation Network
Becca von Behren, Staff Attorney, Swords to Plowshares Veterans Service Organization
Stephen Eagle Funk, Artistic Director, Veteran Artists
Liz Henry, poet and activist
Lori Selke, author and activist
Rainey Reitman, Steering Committee, Bradley Manning Support Network
Sergei Kostin, Codepink Art Director
Kit Yan, Queer & Trans Asian American Poet
Lori Hurlebaus, Civilian-Soldier Alliance, SF Chapter; Co-founder, Courage to Resist
Evan Greer, radical queer riotfolk musician
Pat Humphries, Emma’s Revolution
Sandy Opatow, Emma’s Revolution
Pamela Means, award-winning OUT musician
Malachy Kilbride, Coordinating Committee, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Oliver Shykles, Queer Friends of Bradley Manning
Gabriel Conaway, equality activist, Steering Committee of SAME
Adele Carpenter, Civilian-Soldier Alliance, SF Chapter

The most bitter Bradley Manning-Pride piece yet


Lots of people angry about the Pride Committee’s decision to fire Bradley Manning as a grand marshal. But the most savage, all-out assault comes from Steven W. Thrasher, a former Village Voice writer who has nothing good to say at all about Pride or the people who run it — or for the more mainstream parts of the LGBT movement:

Listen up, fellow homos—you have been bought, paid-for and sold to the highest bidder. The military industrial complex is so far up the ass of the LGBT movement that it can feel what is being digested in its upper intestines. Talking points and “messaging,” not discussion and debate, are the preferred methods of “communication” in a movement now run and owned by PR-firm trained Professional Homosexuals. Dissent will not be tolerated, and the assimilation of homosexuals into the rest of the militarized American public is complete.

On Manning and Pride:

A regular homosexual can give Dan Savage handjob after handjob for his anti-bully “It Gets Better” campaign if he wants, and he can even scream from the rafters that Savage should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for saying that something must be done to protect the powerless who are bullied by the powerful. But that same homosexual becomes as beholden to the military-industrial complex as the Professional Homosexual when he fails to call out SF Pride as a bully. The powerful group found perhaps the most marginalized, powerless homosexual in the nation, pulled him into the spotlight for a few hours, took a giant shit on him, roughed him up a little, called him names, and then kicked him back into the gutter.

I had to smile when I came to the end of the post, which notes:

Steven W. Thrasher was named Journalist of the Year 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his staff writing for the Village Voice and his freelance contributions to the New York Times and Out magazine. Two weeks after receiving this award, he was laid off by the Voice.

Is he being too harsh? Is he channeling his inner Marc Salomon? Or does the guy have a point here?



You want scary? We’ve got an eviction map


You want to see something frightening on a lovely afternoon? Check out this amazing interactive map of Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco put together by Brian Whitty.

It’s stunning: Between 1997 and 2013, it seems as if most of the Mission, Noe Valley, North Beach, the Marina, and Potrero Hill was evicted. Hundreds and hundreds of apartments turned into TICs, which now want to convert to condos. Hundreds and hundreds of tenants, who once had rent-controlled apartments, losing their homes — and given the price of housing, losing their ability to live in San Francisco.

Each little red flag is a human tragedy. Each one represents a transforming city that no longer has room for the middle class, much less poor people. It makes we want to cry. Or throw up. Or something.

Bay to Breakers: Go naked, everyone!


I realize security is a serious issue after Boston. And I’m all for public safety. So if the city is going to ban backpacks at Bay to Breakers, (just for runners, or for spectators, too? How can that be enforced?), we might as well take the next logical step:

More naked runners.

Run naked and you can’t hide a bomb. Run naked and you are no security threat to anyone. In fact, public nudity is one of the best defenses against terrorism; have you ever heard of a naked terrorist?

Let’s go all the way. The runners. The spectators. The casual passers-by, the folks who happen to live along the route …. banning backpacks is just a start. Ban clothes. All day, all along the 7.5 miles. A naked city is a safe city.

Scott Wiener can stay home.

The Google-bus elitism


I’ve been waiting for the Chron’s culture columnist Caille Millner to finally write about something interesting, and I got it April 27 when she stumbled onto the Google Buses. Or rather, the problem with the Google buses.

Thanks to the Chron’s silly paywall, you can’t read her column online, and since hardly anyone in San Franciso buys the Chronicle anymore, Millner’s story won’t get the attention it should. So allow me to repeat some of it here:

It was close to 9 p.m., and I was waiting at a bus stop on an island in the middle of Market Street. Next to me stood a tired-looking middle-aged woman who had clearly just left work. While we waited, up cruised the big white pod. It paused right in front of us. The door at the front slid open to discharge a few Googlers, and the luggage door on the lower right side of the bus also slid open to allow them access to their belongings.

One gentleman bounced down the bus steps and pushed his way in front of us to get his bicycle from beneath the bus. As he hurled it out onto the bus island, it hit the woman standing next to me. She glanced at me, mute and horrified, and in that moment I sensed that she didn’t feel able to confront him. So I did.

“Excuse you,” I said loudly.

>No response. He was busy fumbling with his messenger bag

“You hit her,” I yelled.

He glanced up in no particular direction, as though suddenly troubled by the buzz of an insect. Circling his head around, he finally noticed where he was – the bus stop, the night, the fact that there were other people around him.

“Sorry?” he asked the air, in a tone of confusion. Then he climbed on his bicycle and pedaled away. He never looked at the woman he had hit.

There’s a sense of entitlement about the rich, and the young rich are often the worst. And that’s one reason why the logic of the Google bus — it’s better to have a single luxury vehicle haul all those people to work than have them all drive cars — doesn’t register with a lot of us. They’re too good for Caltrain. They’re too good for Muni. And they’re too damn good to bother to notice that they’ve hit an old lady.


Behind the Gay Pride “Manning-gate”


The whole Bradley Manning-Pride fiasco was such a clusterfuck that we’re starting to wonder whether the people who run the giant parade and festival can count, much less make a decision.

Here, as best as we can tell, is how it went down.

Every year, the Pride board selects a group of people as honorary parade grand marshalls. All the past recipients of that distinction — the “college” of former marshalls — get to pick on person for the list.
It’s never a very big issue.

Joey Cain, who served on the Pride board for ten years and is a former grand marshall, made some waves this time around by nominating Bradley Manning. And after the email went out, and the votes were counted (only perhaps 30 or so of the former poobahs bother to vote most years), it appeared that Manning was on top.

But no: According to a written chronology that Cain has prepared, “On Tuesday, April 23,  Michael Thurman from Bradley Manning Support Network called me to say that Bradley Manning had been chosen by the collage of former Pride grand marshals to be a Grand Marshal but that he was then contacted two hours later by Joshua Smith and told that the Pride Board of Directors had asked for an audit of the votes and as a result of the audit he had not been elected.”

So Cain started pushing back. “You don’t tell someone they’re a grand marshall and then pull it away,” he told me. “That’s just not right.” His plea to Board Chair Lisa Williams: Just use the power of the board to vote Manning back in.

“At 9:41 on Tuesday night, I got a call back from Lisa. She said they were going to do the right thing, make him a grand marshall, and make it all right,” Cain recalled.

Williams hasn’t responded to our phone calls.

The next day, the Bay Area Reporter released the full list of GMs, and Manning’s name was on the list. “It said he DID win the college vote,” Cain noted.

Cain called the Manning crew. “I told them that Pride would do the right thing, that they wouldn’t back down,” he said. “I’ve been on the board ten years, and we’ve never backed down.”

Ah, but the office was flooded with phone calls and emails, organized by a group of gay soldiers in San Diego, and the pressure got intense. And next thing you know, Williams had issued a blistering press release saying that Manning should never have been named a grand marshall and in effect accusing him of endangering the lives of service members, something even the Pentagon hasn’t actually said.

Manning’s in. Manning’s Out. Manning’s in. Manning’s out. Yes, it’s part of the New Gay World, where the Pentagon is our friend because: gay soliders. But it’s also embarassing.

“I call it Manning-gate,” Cain said. “The cover up is always worse than the crime.”

And the fact that Williams isn’t talking to the press makes it all more confusing.

“The worst part is that I’m part of the anarchist community, and I’ve always been out there arguing in support of Pride,” Cain said. “Then this is like, holy fucking shit, they just proved everything I’ve been trying to disprove all these years.”

Captain Greg Corrales saves the Haight from Demon Weed


I’m glad to see the Ex now has the data to show what we all knew was happening: The old Drug Warrior at Park Precint, Captain Greg Corrales, is trying to save the Haight from pot smokers.

Hate to have to tell you, Cap, but you lost that battle a loooong time ago.

And here’s the thing: Arresting people is expensive. It takes the time of police officers (who, let’s remember, often make $100,000 a year or more), it takes the time of the District Attorney’s Office, and, since none of the people Corrales arrests can afford private counsel, it takes the time of the Public Defender’s Office, which is already so short of money that it might have to stop taking cases.

And meanwhile, San Francisco has a terrible record closing homicide cases.

So now we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (yes, that’s what it will add up to) busting small-time pot dealers in Golden Gate Park.

Remember, the statistics are clear: The “buy-bust” arrests are not nabbing crack or meth or heroin dealers. It’s all about the Demon Weed.

It’s also part of the quiet transformation of law enforcement and city policy in the Haight, which has become all about “quality-of-life” cases. A guy named Giuliani made that a big deal in New York way back when. Now we have sit-lie, and we have the eviction of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center, and we have buy-bust. It’s really about trying to turn the Haight into a sanitized, movie-set version of itself.

Which, by the way, has never seemed to work.




The vultures of greed


A small but enthusiastic crowd marched through the Castro April 20 to bring some attention to the rash of Ellis Act evictions that are forcing seniors and disabled people out of the city. The activists stopped at the home of Jeremy Mykaels, whose plight is symbolic of the state of housing in San Francisco today. Mykaels insists he’s not a public speaker, but his remarks were poignant; we’ve excerpted them here:

I have AIDS and I am being evicted through the use of the Ellis Act. I want to welcome you to my home for the past 18 years, and to my Castro neighborhood where I’ve spent the last four decades, or two-thirds of my life.

I was there at some of the earliest Gay Pride Parades and Castro Street Fairs, listening to speakers like Harvey Milk and seeing entertainers like Sylvester with Two Tons ‘O Fun and Patrick Cowley. I proudly voted for Harvey to become the city’s first openly gay supervisor. I participated in the fight against the Briggs amendment, which would have outlawed gay teachers in California schools. I walked in the candlelight march honoring the lives of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone after their assassinations by Supervisor Dan White. And I’ve been here for many other protests and for many other celebrations.

And like most of you, I’ve seen how HIV and AIDS have devastated this community over the years and I have lost most of my closest friends and lovers to this disease. Until 12 years ago I thought I had somehow miraculously escaped it’s clutches, but that was not to be and I have been dealing with that reality as best as I can ever since, with mixed results. And now on top of the great losses this disease has cost our gay community, even more losses are occurring in the form of more and more long-term tenants with HIV/AIDS living in rent-controlled apartments being forced to move out of their homes and/or out of the city after being evicted through the use of the Ellis Act, or who have been scared and bullied by just the threat of an Ellis eviction into accepting low buyout offers to vacate.

I had always thought that I would spend the rest of my life living in this neighborhood and city that I love. Now I know that, like so many others before me who found themselves in similar situations, I will have no choice but to move out.

Tech boom 2.0 has brought out what I call the Vultures of Greed, a de facto alliance of banks, the real estate lobby, and, whether unwittingly or not, city officials like the mayor and several supervisors and the Planning Commission. But the worst Vultures of Greed have been the real estate speculators, many of whom I have listed on my website.

And here I would like to call out my own personal vultures as a prime example of how uncaring real estate speculators can be. The new owners of this property are Cuong Mai, William H. Young and John H. Du, and their business entity is 460Noe Group LLC, based in Union City. These are truly callous individuals who knew from the very beginning that they had a person with AIDS living in the building, and soon after they bought the place they began threatening me with an Ellis eviction if I didn’t accept their low-ball buyout offer and vacate. On September 10th, 2012 they subsequently Ellised the building and served me with eviction papers which means that I will only have until September 10th of this year to legally occupy my apartment. All these men want is the highest profit they can get after they remodel and re-sell this building. They could care less what happens to me when I am forced to move out of the city and no longer have access to all my HIV specialists who have kept me alive for this long. A prospect I’ll admit that, yes, scares me. But these guys, they won’t lose even a seconds sleep over my fate.

Yes, the Vultures of Greed are soaring high with sharpened talons ready to feed upon our city’s seniors and disabled, and on what’s left of our already decimated San Francisco gay community. But we don’t have to allow it. Together with our growing number of allies, we can change minds and we can eventually reclaim this city from the Vultures of Greed.

BTW, we couldn’t reach Mai, Young, or Du, and their lawyer, Saul Ferster, did not return a call seeking comment.

City-owned electricity generation works


I remember years ago a loser of a supervisor named Bill Maher tried to make a lame joke in opposition to a public-power measure. “If the city tries to run an electric system,” he said, “every time I throw a light switch my toilet would flush.”

Ha. Ha. Ha.

But it’s a common refrain: We can’t even run the Muni on time — how can we run an electricity system?

Which is why it’s worth noting that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Public Works have managed, all on their own, to build successful solar generating facilities –– without contract scandals or any other apparent problems. The School District is happy; when they throw the light switch, the lights turn on — and the price of electricity is really, really low (far less than half what Pacific Gas and Electric Co. charges), so there’s more money for classroom instruction.

This is the future of green energy in San Francisco: Small-scale renewable projects, either owned by the city or financed by the city and placed on residential and commercial rooftops. It’s why CleanPowerSF is so important. PG&E is never going to support distributed generation; that kind of project makes PG&E irrelvant and undermines its business model. Once the city has enough generating facilities, it can start buying its own distribution system.

So yeah: Public power works. On a small scale, to be sure, but if the city can build one solar project, it can build more.

Ammiano’s on a roll


Willie Brown, the former mayor and current unregistered lobbyist, has been trying to undermine Assemblymember Tom Ammiano for years. But take a look at two Ammiano bills this spring and you get a sense of how effective San Francisco’s veteran representative can be.

On April 23, the state Assembly Judiciary Committee passed Ammiano’s Homeless Bill of Rights, 7-3. That wasn’t easy; he had to amend the bill and work the committee hard. The League of California Cities, which has a lot of clout in Sacto, doesn’t like the bill; neither does the California Chamber of Commerce. This is a big deal; the bill would ban most “sit-lie” laws and guarantee everyone the right to use public space.

Then the Pubilc Safety Committee approved his marijuana regulation bill, 5-2 (despite Brown and Co. trying to screw it up). And his Domestic Workers Bill of Rights , which the governor vetoed last year, is headed for likely approval at the Labor and Employment Committee.

There’s still a long road ahead for all of these bills — more committees, Assembly floor, Senate, and then the guv (and who the hell knows where Jerry will be on anything these days). But it’s possible that, in his final term, Ammiano could have several landmark bills approved.

(Yeah, it’s his final term. Six years is all you get in the Assembly. Crazy what terms limits has wrought. The minute you get to the point where you really know how to do your job, and you can truly deliver for your constitutents, they shove you out the door.)


On 8 Washington, it’s No, No


The November ballot may contain not one but two measures addressing super-luxury condos on the waterfront. And that could pose a serious problem for the developer of the 8 Washington condominium project.

The Board of Supervisors approved that proposed 134-unit complex, which would be the most expensive condos ever built in San Francisco, in June, 2012, but immediately opponents gathered enough signatures to force a vote of the people. The referendum would overturn the increased height limits that developer Simon Snellgrove wants for the site.

That, it turns out, is a popular notion: “If Snellgrove is looking at the same polls we’re looking at, the public is not interested in raising building heights on the waterfront,” Jon Golinger, who is running the referendum campaign, told us.

So Snellgrove is now funding his own initiative — a ballot measure that would essentially approve the entire project, allowing 136-foot buildings along the Embarcadero and giving the green light to start construction on housing for multimillionaires.

The paperwork for the initiative was set to be filed April 23, allowing Snellgrove’s team to begin collecting signatures. They’ll need more than 9,000 valid ones to make the November ballot — and that’s not much of a threshold. If the developer funds the signature-gathering effort — which he’s vowed to do — he’ll almost certainly get enough people who are fooled by the fancy name of his campaign: “San Franciscans for Parks, Jobs, and Housing.”
That, presumably, suggests that there are San Franciscans who are against Parks, Jobs, and Housing, although we don’t know any of them. We just know people who think this particular project provides housing the city doesn’t need without paying nearly enough for affordable units.

At any rate, the campaign manager for this effort, according to the paperwork filed at the Department of Elections, is Derek Jensen, a 20-something communications consultant who was Treasurer of the Lee for Mayor Campaign. The address for the waterfront initiative is listed as 425 Market St, 16th floor –which, by the way, was the same address used by the Lee Campaign. And since it’s right near our office, we took a stroll over to see what the Snellgrove forces had to say.

Well, it turns out that 425 Market is a secure building, and the 26th floor is the law office of Hanson Bridgette, and you can’t get up there unless your name is already in the computer system, which ours was not. The security guard kindly called up to ask about the 8 Washington initiative, and was told there was nobody who could talk about it today, but to check back later.

The person who answered the phone at Hanson, Bridgette had never heard of Derek Jensen. Transferred to voicemail, we left a message for someone named “Lance.” Perhaps that would be Associate Counsel Arthur “Lance” Alarcon, Jr. He hadn’t called back at press time.

The campaign against 8 Washington, on the other hand, has an office at 15 Columbus. First floor. Walk right in the door. The campaign manager is Jon Golinger, who answers his own phone.

At any rate, we can’t figure out what Snellgrove is up to, since his plan makes zero political sense. The referendum needs a “no” vote to block the project. If voters don’t like increased height limits on the waterfront, they won’t like his initiative, either. And if all that this does is confuse the voters, they’ll tend to vote “no” on both measures. If anything, he’s only hurting himself.

Editor’s Notes



EDITORS NOTES It was breezy and San Francisco-spring-perfect along the Embarcadero the other day. People were jogging, and rollerblading, and sitting in the sun. Red’s Java House was doing brisk business.

Out on the old, crumbling piers, cars were sitting in the lots that now make up most of the economic use of some of the city’s most spectacular and valuable land. Kind of a waste — but the upside (and it’s a big one) was the feeling of open space, the idea that we were all so close to the Bay, that nothing blocked the views of the waterfront or that sense that this is still a city that has some connection to the marine environment that surrounds it.

And then I imagined the Warrior’s Arena. Right there in the middle of everything. And I stopped for a second and wondered what I’d be feeling if I were walking past it 10 years from now. And it made me kind of sad.

I know that parking lots aren’t the best use of Port of San Francisco land. I know that the Port needs huge amounts of capital to rebuild the piers. I know that the most obvious way to get that money is to give developers pieces of waterfront land. I know that a new Warriors Arena will create jobs and bring in tax money. I know that AT&T Park has been a great success for the Giants, the city, and the neighborhood.

I also know that some of the people who oppose the arena are well-off homeowners who don’t want to lose the sight of the Bay out of their fancy condo windows.

But ever since San Francisco, with the help of Mother Nature and a 7.3 earthquake, tore down the Embarcadero Freeway, the waterfront area from Harrison to the Ferry Building has been a really nice place to hang out. Not perfect; not the “Grand Boulevard” that some dream of. But a part of the city where humans can feel the salt breeze and enjoy the outdoors in a relatively mellow way, just blocks from the downtown core. Put an 18-story arena there and it all changes. It mostly goes away.

Is this really the best we can do with the waterfront? What about a bond act for open space, and another Dolphin Club for swimmers, and waterfront parks? Other cities have done it; can’t San Francisco have a world-class waterfront too?

Miranda rights in Boston


It’s the age-old dilemma, the stuff of dozens of thrillers and action movies: You’ve captured a guy who knows exactly where a bomb has been planted, and it’s going to explode in 30 minutes and kill thousands of people. Do you bother to read him his Miranda rights and encourage him to speak to an attorney before he answers any questions?

In the movies, no: You shoot him in the knee, or break his fingers one by one, or waterboard him until he talks, and then with seconds to spare, you rappel down the side of a giant building, crash through the glass door, and disarm the bomb. No sweat.
In real life, it’s a bit more tricky — particularly when the suspect, an American citizen, hasn’t even been arrested yet, but can’t go anywhere because he has a bullet hole in his throat.

I can get the initial instinct: When FBI agents grabbed 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they wanted to be sure he didn’t know of any other devices that were about to go off. If they’d refused to read him the Miranda warning and even used “enhanced interrogation techniques” and he’d said: “Hey, OK, I give up, there’s another bomb about to go off,” and they’d found it and saved lives, well…we’d have some Zero Dark Thirty debates, but at least there would have been a point.

In this case, it appears he has said no such thing, and no other bombs connected to him have gone off. There may be evidence that later emerges showing that the normally illegal interrogation saved lives, but so far, it looks as if all the feds have done is compiled information they can try to use against him in court.

Which is a problem.

It’s really, really hard to be even remotely sympathetic here — the guy (allegedly) killed three people, including an eight-year-old, and wounded many more, including a lot of amputations. He terrorized the Boston Marathon. I’m not even remorely suggesting that he get any special treatment. If he’s guilty — and the evidence at this point is pretty solid — then he’s going away for life. (Unless the federal prosecutors foolishly seek the death penalty, which would turn him into a martyr.)

But you can’t just decide that this guy is a bad guy and so the Miranda rule doesn’t matter. There are all sorts of really horrible criminals arrested in the United States, and they all have the right to remain silent, to avoid self-incrimination, and to have an attorney present before they say anything.

There’s a whole cottage industry of cops and prosecutors finding ways to avoid the Miranda warnings, which is not only unConstitutional but somewhat nutty, because Miranda almost never hurts a criminal investigation or prosecution. The Boston Bomber’s case won’t rest on what he told investigators from his hospital bed. In fact, I tend to agree with what law professor David Harris says:

The Obama administration’s interpretation of the public safety exception is suspect; its announcement that no Miranda rights would be given was transparently political, aimed at avoiding criticism from conservative quarters. Worst of all, the administration seemed to be telling the public that Miranda warnings are just petty rules — another instance of hyper-technical laws that get in the way of real justice. This is dead wrong, and it shows grave disrespect for the rule of law and the Constitution — the very things that make our country great.

I would guess that now that Tsarnaev has a lawyer, he’s hearing the grim reality of his situation: Unless there’s something we really don’t know, and he’s got some astonishing claim of innocence, (“my brother made me do it” won’t work) he’s never going to get out of prison, and everything that the legal team does from this point on is about saving his life. He’ll wind up, most likely, pleading guilty to a crime that gives him life without parole, if prosecutors drop the death penalty.

We’ll never know exactly what happened when the FBI gave Tsarnaev a pencil and paper and asked for written answers to interrogation, because that evidence likely won’t be made public. But I suspect that the first thing the agents asked was whether there were any more bombs, and once they got that answer, they should have stopped and issued the Constitutional warnings. Which they almost certainly didn’t.

I know this is speculative, but it’s the reason the Miranda rules are in place. Because we shouldn’t have to speculate on this stuff; we should know that the federal government doesn’t think the “Miranda warnings are just petty rules.”

You want to live in Manhattan? Move there.


I feel like I’ve been having this discussion for 30 years, and it still keeps coming back. The latest installment (thanks to sfist for the link) is a Slate article by Matthew Yglesias arguing that San Francisco could solve its housing crisis by becoming as dense as Manhattan. Lots of highrise condos and apartments in places like the Mission. A total of 3.2 million residents.

Obviously, a totally different city:

Obviously that would have a transformative effect on Oakland as well in various regards. It’s obviously not “politically realistic” to imagine San Francisco rezoning to allow that kind of density. But uniquely among American cities, I completely believe that 3.2 million people would want to live in a hypothetical much-more-crowded version of the city if they were allowed to. You’d need to build another heavy rail line or three and do some better dedicated bus lanes, but it’d be affordable with a much larger tax base.

Here’s the problem. Two problems, really.

1. That level of density hasn’t exactly made Manhattan affordable. (Although if you want to move there, it’s probably cheaper than SF at this point). There’s been a huge surge in housing construction in NYC, and housing prices are still way too high. The housing market in San Francisco is so unusual that demand is essentially infinite; you can’t build your way out of this.

2. There are already 800,000 people living here, and most of us don’t want to live in Manhattan.

One of the reasons San Francisco is so attractive is that it’s still a human-scale city. I’ve spent a lot of time in Manhattan, and the rush is pretty cool, and some urbanists say that’s how we’re all going to have to live in the future — packed into tall buildings in dense cities — but that’s not how I want to live. I know I sound old and I’m becoming a curmudgeon and one of those “you should have seen us in the old days” people, but I like the fact that there are no highrises in the Mission. 

Yeah, San Francisco is going to have to grow in population. There are ways to do that — to make dense neighborhoods that are still very livable. See: North Beach. But San Franciscans have generally taken the position that we don’t want to be Manhattan. We want to be San Francisco.

Now: My vision is not in synch with how housing is allocated in a hyper-capitalist system. Me, I think housing should be treated as a human right and regulated like a public utility. Landlords should be allowed a “reasonable return on investment” but not the greatest profit the market will bear. Homeowners should see their property appreciate at a reasonable level, but not at a speculative level. Housing shouldn’t be bought and sold as a commodity. And it should be allocated by seniority — that is, the people who have been a part of a community for the longest get the better housing.

That’s how you avoid the demand-exceeds-supply issue (and again, in this city, there will always be more demand than supply.) I know that’s commie shit, but that’s the way it is.

Still, whatever the economic or policy arguments, you can’t force that level of density onto this city. Because before you make those kinds of plans, you have to check with the people who live here.

I wrote this mostly to give the trolls some red meat, since they don’t seem to be agitated enough lately. Go to it, Adam Smith.

Covering the Boston bombing


Ever since the horrible, awful bombing at the Boston Marathon, I’ve been doing what every crazy newshound does and spending far too much time on the Internet trying to get the latest scrap of information. This morning, none of us could drag ourselves away from the developing story.

And I have to say: There are thousands of web sites covering this, mostly be aggregating other people’s content. But the real work of finding and reporting news has been done by the old-fashioned traditional mainstream media that we all so freely dismiss as dinosaurs.  The New York Times and The Boston Globe have done an exceptional job, as has the Associated Press. That’s in large part because they still employ significant numbers of staff reporters, with the experience and contacts to accurately cover this kind of story.

The MSM screws up a lot, and allows politicians to avoid accountability, and has all sorts of biases. But nobody else has the ability to cover a tragedy and disaster like this.

Of course, not all is perfect. The New York Daily News and CNN have screwed up badly. The rightwingosphere is so obsessed with Muslim Terrorists that it’s seeing them everywhere, creating them out of paranoid visions if necessary.

But if there weren’t newspapers and broadcast outlets with old-fashioned reporting staff, we’d be far less informed and more reliant on official law-enforcement sources. The old business model is falling apart, but there’s still a need for actual news outlets.

And for my money, the absolute best source of accurate, fair, complete, and insightful coverage has been that very, very old medium — raido — and that old goverment-funded institution, NPR.

Something to think about when a real major news event happens.