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While cops pass notes and look away, Alex Nieto’s mom talks of the death of her son

    In what has been the most overwhelming day in the Alex Nieto trial, the court heard testimony from a range of experts, mostly witnesses called by the city –but it was the testimony of Elvira Nieto that marked the end of the day and provided the emotional evidence of the impact of the shooting.

    Elvira Nieto took the stand today, and was treated with utmost disrespect by the four cops who shot her son
    Elvira Nieto took the stand today, and was treated with utmost disrespect by the four cops who shot her son

    And during her tearful testimony, the officers who killed her son were busy passing notes and ignoring her.

    The day began with the testimony of Officer Roger Morse, who was the last to arrive at the scene but the first to go near Nieto’s body after the shooting. Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner played back an audio recording from the police radio of Office Morse. “Shots fired, shots fired” the recording said. Baumgartner then played the other half of the recording, pausing briefly to ask if the officer heard anything.

    Even though she repeated the question three times, Morse said he was unable to recognize or remember anything of significance from the recording. Baumgartner was trying to demonstrate that police at the scene were yelling commands, a key element of the city’s claim that Nieto ignored warnings to show his hands. She asked Morse if he remembered shouting commands at Nieto as he approached him, but Morse said: “I don’t remember, not at that time. I began shooting”.

    He continued: “Nieto was in a prone position, with an arm extended and the gun was in his hand. It looked just like our gun. When his arm was extended, the way I thought he was moving, it made me believe that he had a gun.” Morse said he saw a muzzle flash so he continued to shoot at Nieto, despite the fact that the young man was down on the ground, until he was told to stop shooting. He would later learn that no shots were ever fired from Mr. Nieto and the only gunfire came from his colleagues on the scene.

    On cross examination, Morse said he had never seen a Taser, except for in the movies. The jurors, who are allowed to ask questions, posed one: “Can you tell the jurors what you said to Mr. Nieto when you arrived at the scene?

    “When I arrived,” Morse said, “I didn’t say anything.  I don’t remember. May be I said, don’t move, there might have been some swear words. I don’t remember what I said at that time” he said. Asked if he yelled any commands at Nieto while shooting him, he said: “No I didn’t shout any commands when I was shooting.” he said. That testimony turned out to be of great significance later on in the day.

    Next up on the stand was Bryan Chiles, technical compliance manager for Taser International. In an earlier deposition, Chiles had discussed time stamps from the microprocessors on the M26C Taser that Nieto was carrying (he had that weapon because he was about to report to his job as a security guard at a nightclub). The time on the chip did not match the timeline of the incident as narrated by the cops.

    In brief, a microprocessor keeps an activity log that can determine the number of times the Taser is used along with timestamps. That could show whether or not Nieto actually pulled the trigger on his Taser during the incident.

    However, today, Chiles introduced a different analysis to the court. He told the court that in his previous analysis he hadn’t calculated what is known as a clock drift, the phenomenon that all computer systems tend to deviate over time from the accurate or “true” time.

    Chiles said he had calculated that drift, and presented a timeline that matched the testimony of the police officers. He suggested that Nieto’s Taser had been used three times from 7:18 to 7:19 pm. However, on cross examination, several aspects of his testimony proved faulty,

    “At that time while discussing the calculation you said your calculations are based on speculation and logic?” Nieto Family Attorney Adante Pointer asked. “Yes” Chiles responded.  Fighting back hard, Pointer went on to ask details of the analysis conducted by Chiles. Chiles acknowledged that his analysis took less than a month to complete, involved only ten samples, was never published and has never been peer reviewed.

    Pointer then showed Chiles and the jury a photo of Nieto’s Taser as it was photographed at the crime scene. According to the crime scene photo, confirmed by Chiles, Nieto’s Taser was off, or in safe mode — and no laser light could be seen.

    In another shot where the Taser could be seen pointing directly at the camera, Chiles testified that there was no laser light visible. “About the image of the trigger. Can you show the jury where you can see whether the Taser was on or off?” Pointer asked?

    “It is bright yellow safety, you would be able to tell if it was on and off. The round piece of plastic extends out, when the safety is up it keeps it up, it will keep it on position. It won’t slide back on.” Chiles responded.

    It’s hard to figure out how Nieto would have turned the Taser off while being shot at more 50 times.

    The court room also heard that since the fatal shooting, Taser International received a contract of $2.3 million to supply the SFPD.

    Craig Fries, CEO of Precision Simulations, company that conducts forensic analysis, visualization, and crime scene recreation was up next. According to Fries, the testimony provided by Antonio Theodore, that Nieto’s hands were in his pocket at the time of the shooting did not match the injuries sustained by him.

    During his testimony Fries revealed that he had seen pictures of Nieto’s jacket. However, Dr. Amy Hart, the chief medical examiner, testified last week that no photographs of the jacket were ever taken. On cross-examination, Fries could not provide satisfactory responses to how a bone fragment was found in Nieto’s jacket. He did, however admit that he was paid, $325 an hour for his analysis and had spent 200 hours on the case, bringing his total invoice for the San Francisco Police Department to $65,000.

    Retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Roger Lama Clark testified on behalf of the Nieto Family. Clark has testified over 800 times in trials and depositions in more than 1,400 cases around the country.

    “I was in two major riots. In 1992, during the Rodney King riots, was put in command of a platoon to protect the federal buildings.” Clark said, “Throughout my career, I came across armed individuals hundreds of times and brought them into custody without firing a shot.”

    Despite Clark’s extensive experience in testifying in several courts, including courts in San Francisco, Baumgartner moved to remove him from the witness list claiming he wasn’t an expert.

    “That is your argument?” asked US Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins “Yes,” Baumgartner said, “Overruled then” announced Judge Cousins, as the court house erupted in laughter.

    Clark made several points. “The first point directly deals with the tactical response connected to this unnecessary shooting.” He explained that police officers need to remain calm and discuss strategy during these types of incidents – but the officers involved in the Nieto shooting, who were sitting at the defense table in the courtroom, were clearly dismissive, nodding their heads in disagreement as Clark explained “command, control and communicate.”

    “When they saw him (Nieto), rather than keep their distance they reduced the distance, they charged up directly at him rather than observing him. So when they saw him what did they see? He was walking, he was not running, they didn’t need to pursue him and should have dealt with him from the safety of their cars,” Clark said.

    He added: “You’ve to assess, what is the totality of the circumstance, possible person armed with a gun? There were no shots fired, no bungling, no flight, no injuries, no one was threatened, the suspect was not running and the individual calling 911 is online. There are a whole lot of other possible reasons for a person to have a gun. So when the officers got to the scene they should have approached him from a distance and issued verbal commands like “Stay there don’t move, listen to us” If he continues to keep going the officer is supposed to say “Stop moving or I will shoot.”

    He noted that a command to “show me your hands” is going to lead to a suspect moving his hands around. “If you give an order that expects movement you gotta expect it. Those are things that are taught over and over again,” he said.

    The last half hour of the hearing was perhaps the most overwhelming. Alex Nieto’s mother, Elvira Nieto, took the stand, testifying with help of a translator. As a photo of Nieto with President Bill Clinton was projected on the screen, Mrs. Nieto spoke proudly of her son.

    “I remember when I first saw this photo, because he was very happy. He felt very happy and content with helping people. He had this photo in an album. Very frequently he would have a look at it,” she said, as tears rolled down her face.

    The court saw photographs of Nieto as a child, during his graduation, on family holidays, and at Christmas. The whole courtroom fell silent as we listened to Mrs. Nieto break down quietly as she spoke about her son.

    In a shocking display of insensitivity, the officers on trial for use of excessive force that killed Alex Nieto never once looked at the photos displayed on a courtroom screen; instead they spent most of their time scribbling and passing notes to each other as Mrs. Nieto broke down in court.

    Nieto frequented Bernal Hill, sometimes twice a day, she said. It was a place he walked with his father as a child and continued to visit it till the day he died. “Now that Alex is gone, Mrs. Nieto, how has that affected your life”? asked Pointer “Well, it has affected me a lot” she said pausing as she broke down, and continued “In the beginning I couldn’t heal. Even now my heart isn’t accepting it that he isn’t here with me any more.”

    “And how has it affected your husband?” Pointer asked “Objection” Baumgartner yelled, as if a father’s grief is hearsay. The objection was overruled.

    “In the same way it has affected him a lot,” she said. “He goes there every morning, he goes for a walk over there, and sometimes he even goes twice.”





    The story Ahsha Safai doesn’t tell in his campaign for supervisor

    It appears that Ahsha Safai is trying to replace the best Police Commission member in the city with one of his political allies

    Ahsha Safai is running for supervisor in District 11 as a labor activist who has the support of some of the city’s unions – and is building some support among what is generally considered the progressive community. John Burton has endorsed him. It’s possible that the Democratic County Central Committee, which progressives fought hard to control, could wind up giving him at least a secondary nod.

    He’s well known among city insiders as a former city employee and Housing Authority Commissioner, and ran against incumbent John Avalos four years ago.

    But there’s a lot about his record that hasn’t received much attention. Safai is a real-estate speculator who made a big chunk of cash buying a house that was in foreclosure and flipping it. He makes most of his money – more than $100,000 a year – from a consulting firm that works with landlords. Nearly half of the money he has raised so far, our analysis shows, comes from the real estate industry.

    And while he doesn’t list Mayor Ed Lee among his endorsements (nobody’s listing Lee these days since he’s so unpopular) Safai has long been a Lee supporter and donated to the mayor’s 2015 re-election.

    Here are some things we’ve found researching Safai’s history:

    In 2004, he was sued for fraud in a real-estate deal that wound up with Safai buying a house that was in foreclosure at what the suit alleges was an artificially low price and flipping it for a profit of close to half a million dollars.

    According to the lawsuit, Safai and his associates took advantage of a woman who was facing the loss of her property. Mary McDowell, who was working as a parking control officer in San Francisco, was living at 78 Latona Street in the Bayview when the bank that held her mortgage filed a notice of default.

    She owned four other properties that were also in foreclosure.

    Two real-estate sales people arrived at her home unsolicited in December, 2003, and told her they would buy her property and pay her enough to cover the notes on the other places she owned so she could avoid all the foreclosures.

    The lawsuit alleges that the real-estate broker didn’t properly list the home on the Multiple Listing Service but instead brought McDowell an offer for $375,000 – “far less than market value,” according to the complaint. McDowell was “frightened and intimidated” into accepting the offer, and the house was sold to Ahsha and Reza Safai.

    McDowell eventually dismissed the case, her lawyer told me, because “the defendants were dragging this out forever in court and she decided she had had enough.” Attorney C. Brent Patten said that no court ever determined whether Safai or the others had done anything wrong.

    Safai in legal filings denied all the allegations.

    But whatever the legality, Safai wound up buying a house that was in foreclosure at what turned out to be an excellent price. In 2005, according to the real-estate service Property Shark, the median sale price for housing in that neighborhood was $336 a square foot. Safai paid $177 a square foot for the 78 Latona St. property.

    City records show that he and Reza Safai spent $60,000 renovating the place, and sold it less than a year later for $800,000.

    So Safai was part of a group that bought a house in foreclosure from a woman who was in financial trouble and flipped it quickly for a short-term profit. That could be perfectly legal – lots of people have made lots of money buying properties in foreclosure and selling them for a quick profit.

    But house-flipper is not part of his public resume.


    Safai describes himself as the political director for SEIU Local 87, and had played his union connections into a number of endorsements. But forms he filed while he was on the Housing Authority Commission show that the vast majority of his income comes from his consulting firm, Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs, that did work for one of Lee’s main consultants and at least one high-end landlord.

    Safai’s economic interest statements for 2012 and 2013 show that he earned less than $10,000 as political director for Local 87, but more than $100,000 as principal in Kitchen Cabinet Public Affairs.

    On his website, he describes that outfit as “working with nonprofits, community-based and political organizations throughout the Bay Area building community and revitalizing neighborhoods.”

    And indeed, some of his clients include Local 87, the Teamsters Union Local 350, and Mission Housing Development Corp. Also on the list: SST Investments, a landlord that operates high-end apartments, and Left Coast Communications, the consulting firm that ran the somewhat legally dubious “Run Ed Run” campaign.

    Clients also included Jacobs Engineering and KJ Woods Construction.


    — Safai is the real-estate industry’s guy. A 48hills analysis of campaign contributions filed so far shows that nearly half his money – 45 percent – came from real-estate development, construction, landlords and landlord lawyers, and big downtown companies.

    Among his supporters: Janan New, director of the Apartment Association; David Gruber, who holds the landlord seat on the Rent Board, Russell Flynn (one of the biggest landlords in the city), David Wasserman (an eviction lawyer), Oz Erickson (a big developer), Mary Jung (lobbyist for the Association of Realtors), and Jim Lazarus (who works for the Chamber of Commerce).

    The fact that a candidate takes money from special interests doesn’t always mean that candidate will do what they want. But it’s pretty clear from the preponderance of money that the people who have been making big money from evictions, displacement, and the destruction of neighborhoods think Safai is the one who will represent their interests at City Hall.


    — He is a supporter of Mayor Ed Lee. Not a single politician in June used the mayor’s endorsement; in fact, polls show that more than half of San Franciscans would vote against someone associated with the immensely unpopular mayor.

    Safai doesn’t list Lee’s endorsement on his website either. But he’s clearly a fan: In 2015, when 46 percent of the voters chose candidates with no name recognition, no electoral experience, and no real campaigns over the incumbent, Safai donated $250 to the Lee campaign.

    That suggests that he endorses the agenda that the mayor has promoted: A tech boom that has created the worst displacement crisis in modern history.

    Safai didn’t return messages left with his campaign. He will try to avoid a lot of these issues as he seeks progressive support. But it’s all there, on the record. And it’s worth thinking about.

    Research assistance for this story was provided by Don Ray and Sofia Aguilar.


    Mayor Lee faces questions on police violence — and has no real answers

    Mayor Lee talks with reporters after the board meeting

    Mayor Ed Lee was forced to answer a series of questions about his embattled police chief and department today, and he took the opportunity to obfuscate, duck, and refuse to deal with the most serious issues.

    Mayor Lee talks with reporters after the board meeting
    Mayor Lee talks with reporters after the board meeting

    The supes “question time,” which is usually a scripted farce, actually turned into a semblance of what it was always intended to be today. The supes, in response to the recent police protests and the scathing report from a blue-ribbon panel on police practices, suspended the silly rules that prevent real back-and-forth and allowed board members to ask questions that hadn’t been pre-screened by the Mayor’s Office.

    So Lee had to respond to concerns about the SFPD – and for the most part, he didn’t say anything remotely useful.

    That happened again when I asked him the direct question after the meeting: How can all the new policies you talk about work when the cops don’t pay attention to the existing policies?

    Lee first read from prepared remarks. “Across the country, there is a crisis of trust between communities and law enforcement,” he said. “Unfortunately that is happening here too.”

    He then complained that “last week’s property damage and violence went too far.” Umm… the violence was largely on the part of law-enforcement, and at least some of the property damage – particularly to the metal detector – wasn’t caused by protesters but by sheriff’s deputies dragging and pushing people toward the doors.

    He talked about all of the reviews of the department, about “rebuilding trust,” and how he is allocating another $17 million to the Police Department for violence-prevention and reform programs.

    At no point did he mention accountability, or say that anyone in the department leadership might have done anything wrong.

    Under the current board rules, all questions for the mayor have to be submitted in advance, so his staff can script a response. But if eight supes vote to suspend the rules, an actual conversation can happen.

    And with the support of Board President London Breed, that’s what the board agreed to do – mostly, with a few weird glitches.

    Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener spoke up to oppose any sort of real questioning of the mayor. Farrell said the board was heading down a “slippery slope” (to where? Honest questions for the mayor?) Wiener said all of the questions could have been submitted in advance (which, of course, would turn the meeting back into a pre-scripted play).

    But when Breed said she wanted to ask a question, she got eight votes (Farrell, Wiener, and Katy Tang dissenting). Breed asked what was on a lot of people’s minds: “The community is hurting,” she said. “Where does this end?”

    Lee simply re-read his opening statement, adding nothing. The end-game, he said, would be “the community coming together.” I’d say the evidence on the streets is that the community’s not coming anywhere close to together.

    Sup. Eric Mar talked about the Public Defender’s Racial Justice Committee and asked the mayor if he would support that group’s recommendation, which include moving the budget of the Office of Citizen Complaints out of the Police Commission and asking the US Justice Department to conduct a civil-rights investigation to see if anyone in the SFPD ought to be held legally accountable for racist actions.

    Lee: “I will review every one of those recommendations.”

    Sup. David Campos then tried to ask a question about the findings of the District Attorney’s blue-ribbon panel, which issued a scathing report on the SFPD yesterday. But in an odd, almost inexplicable move, Sup. Malia Cohen joined the other three mayoral allies in refusing to allow the question. Breed and Mar got to ask theirs; Cohen blocked Campos from his. In the end, Campos had to ask the board to rescind that vote and convince Cohen to go along with what turned out to be a very reasonable question:

    “The panel,” he said, “reached a finding of a lack of oversight and accountability.” In the recent officer-involved shootings, he said, “not a single officer has been terminated.” And the report shows “100 percent increase in the number of officer-involved shootings” in 2015.

    His question: Would the mayor agree to allocate $1.9 million to set up an independent office under the district attorney to review police shootings?

    Lee: The DA can do that already. Why don’t we wait until all the current investigations are completed.

    Campos asked about the message that gets sent when the mayor is happy to put up another $17 million for the police, but not a fraction of that for independent investigations of the police. The mayor had nothing to say.

    Lee left the Board chambers in a scrum of sheriff’s deputies, far more security than he typically has after Question Time. In fact, all of City Hall was on high alert – the main entrance was blocked off all day, although the only demonstration out front was a peaceful rally in favor of expanding the Sanctuary City law. There were no Frisco Five events, no protestors trying to get into the Board meeting … really, nothing to justify the shutdown.

    The sidewalks in front of Mission Station were still blocked off, too, although nobody was trying to protest there.

    A few reporters still managed to stop the mayor, who said he felt like “Steph Curry – I’m tired.” I got in my question:

    What good will all of these reforms and new policies do if we have a climate in the department where officers can violate the existing rules and nothing happens? Why have no officers faced any discipline in the recent shootings?

    Lee: “You have the DA doing at least three investigations.” He also mentioned the Justice Department review of the SFPD.

    But the DA is only looking at whether an officer did something so bad that it violates the law something he can take to a jury. Chief Greg Suhr can discipline or fire an officer for violating department policy – which pretty clearly happened in at least some of these shootings.

    And the Justice Department investigation will not, and was not designed to, hold anyone accountable. It’s basically a performance audit.

    So: When will anyone be held accountable for violating department policies? The mayor wouldn’t say.

    My friend and colleague Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez asked the mayor about the clear allegation in the blue-ribbon report that the Police Officers Association was running the department. Lee said that “we have some differences” with the POA, but vowed to “continue the dialogue.”

    “Some differences” seems a bit mild, considering that the POA has bitterly fought every reasonable reform that anyone has tried to do.

    Then Lee dashed back to his office, surrounded by a phalanx of cops that none of us could get through.

    There were, by the way, no demonstrators on hand when the mayor left the Board chambers. Nobody was there to meet him except reporters. There was no visible threat anywhere in the building.


    So back to the Board meeting, where we got some bizarre arguments about a plan to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.

    The case for this is pretty clear – getting young people to register and vote while they are still part of the San Francisco community, before they go off to college or jobs somewhere else (which tend to be a distraction), will encourage lifelong participation in democracy.

    Sup. Scott Wiener, who initially was dubious about the idea, has come around and pointed out that many of the biggest problems facing the world, the nation, and the city today are things that the older voters among us will leave to our kids: Global climate change, social security, inadequate infrastructure … it makes sense to allow the people who are going to have to deal will all of this to have some say in it.

    But it got strange when Sup. Malia Cohen started arguing that 16-year-olds are too young to be responsible enough to vote. After all, she said, the board just voted to ban the sale of tobacco products to people under 21. And maybe the criminal justice system will decide that if young people can vote, they need to be tried as adults.

    “That,” Sup. John Avalos told me, “is the first time I’ve ever heard a correlation between voting and incarceration.”

    Wiener had a good answer for the tobacco policy: Public health studies show that tobacco has a much greater negative impact on young people than on older people. Start smoking at 16 and you are far more likely to be addicted than if you start at 25. The physical harm is greater, too.

    None of this has anything to do with voting.

    Cohen also said “our lives are full of transitions,” mentioning marriage as something that could, like leaving home at 18, interfere with voting. That is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that getting married discourages people from registering to vote.

    Sup. Norman Yee noted that until 1971, the voting age in the US was 21. People said that allowing 18-year-olds to vote would be a horrible idea, he said – but history, as is so often the case, proved them wrong.

    In the end, the supes voted 9-2 to place the matter on the November ballot, where only adults will be allowed to decide if younger people can vote.

    A measure to tighten the Sanctuary City provisions was continued for two weeks, as Avalos, the sponsor, wanted more time to negotiate with the sheriff, who wants more leeway to turn immigrants who are in the city jail over to the feds for deportation.

    The sick politics of the Farrell-Wiener anti-homeless measures

    Portland is taxing companies that overpay their CEOs -- and using the money for homeless services

    The key to understanding the two homeless and street crime ballot measures sponsored at the last minute by Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener is that neither of them has anything to do with homelessness or quality of life crimes.

    The Farrell measure would allow the police to clean out a homeless camp – taking away everyone’s tents and possessions – as long as the campers get 24 hours’ notice and are offered a shelter bed.

    Arresting homeless people and tearing down their tents makes no policy sense; it's a political game
    Arresting homeless people and tearing down their tents makes no policy sense; it’s a political game

    The Wiener measure would mandate that the Police Department create a new force of at least 60 officers to address car break-ins, vandalism, and homeless encampments – the “quality of life” crimes that tend to lead to the criminalization of the poor.

    Neither measure would do anything that the city can’t already do. It’s already against the law to camp on the sidewalk. It’s already against the law to break into cars or spray paint tags on buildings.

    It’s long been the policy of the city that the police first go after serious crimes – murder, rape, assault, arson, robbery, gun violence hate crimes – and that car break-ins, which are almost impossible to solve, aren’t at the top of the list.

    That, of course, is logical.

    The cops and the Department of Public Works already tear down homeless encampments. And there simply aren’t enough beds in the shelters to offer to the displaced people.

    From the Coalition on Homelessness:

    San Francisco has 23 anti-homeless laws on its books, more than any California city. This includes a camping ban that already prohibits the exact same behavior.

    Let’s look at the numbers:

    As of June 22nd, there are 869 people on the 311 shelter waiting list, for an average of five weeks. Currently, an officer can offer a bed for only one-night, taking a bed from someone who would have been waiting in line for hours. This means any shelter offered will put another person on the street. This practice prioritizes complaint driven placements over those who have been waiting or in medical need. Thus, this legislation merely perpetuates the sidewalk shuffle.

    So it makes no sense. Why is it on the ballot?

    Like the many anti-homeless laws passed before, this law is about political gain masquerading as legislative action by taking advantage of wide spread frustration with homelessness in the city.

    As for the Wiener law? It also makes little sense. From COH:

    This measure set asides police for property crime, and then bizarrely includes homeless encampments as part of that, making these two items the city’s top policing priority, as the only ballot mandated set aside within the police department. “This effectively locks in a citywide commitment to addressing homelessness through policing rather than through housing and services,” said Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We know that criminalizing people for being poor isn’t working, and we know that housing people does work. In the wake of multiple police murders of homeless individuals, this ordinance is particularly cynical.”

    Wiener and Farrell are not fools. They are smart legislators who understand policy, budgets, priorities, and all of the things that would make anyone with any sense say these laws are ridiculous.

    Homeless camps are the target of a cynical political play
    Homeless camps are the target of a cynical political play

    But this is an election year, and the progressives and the conservatives are bitterly at odds; Wiener is behind in a state Senate race that he thought he’d be leading by 10 points.

    So Wiener and Farrell are looking for wedge issues, things that they can use against the progressives. It’s an old tradition among San Francisco candidates who want to cynically use problems like homelessness to advance their careers: Gavin Newsom was elected mayor to a significant extent by running a side campaign called “Care Not Cash,” designed to take money away from homeless people. (And now, in a few years, he may be governor of California.)

    Wiener is planning to start attacking Jane Kim as soon as he can, as fast as he can, with every issue that he can. And he’s already started on homelessness: His campaign sent a mailer out before the June election, in Chinese, suggesting that Kim wanted to allow homeless people to camp in front of homes in the Sunset.

    There aren’t a lot of homeless camps in the Sunset. Most of them are in Soma or the Mission. Most homeless people try to stay away from residential doorways; the camps tend to be in commercial and industrial areas, where the people who are living on the street (in many cases because they have been evicted or lost their housing) don’t get rousted by the cops.

    But never mind: Demonizing the homeless worked for Newsom. Making the cops arrest people for minor crimes while homicides remain unsolved may play well in some neighborhoods.

    But this whole thing right now reeks of desperation.

    Party Radar: Fortnight of Fun—Love Glove Edition

    Neon bender Meryl Pataky curates the "She Bends" showcase and party at Midway, Sat/7.

    PARTY RADAR Get ready for two whole weeks of debauchery, because I’m toast next week working on some special projects—including promoting the awesomest party of all, the 48 Hills Fifth Anniversary May Day Gala! If you like what I do, or even if you can remember what I do, please consider buying a ticket to party with us, or donating to keep us going. We love your support, and we’d love your support. <3

    OH! One announcement before I flutter off. The GLBT Historical Society Archives and Museum has just acquired two full crates of the legendary Sylvester’s outfits and personal effects, including his exquisite gloves!

    Sylvester framed them himself, of course. It’s all being announced as part of a fundraising drive to keep queer history secure. Check it out here!  



    THU/6 ARCA “All music and visuals composed, produced, and presented by a bottom” was one of my favorite tweets of the past year, by emotional-electronic queer Venezuelan nymph Arca, who’s produced Bjork, queered techno discourse, and knows his way around a fisting video. He’ll be playing 1015, backed by the Swagger Like Us crew, for a room full of adoring queens of all stripes. 8pm, $30. 1015 Folsom, SF. More info here

    John Cameron Mitchell

    FRI/6 DESPERATE LIVING WITH JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL You know him as Hedwig of the Angry inch, but Mitchell’s a well-regarded DJ who launched the Mattachine party, bringing rocky, funky, groovy sounds of the ’60s back into the gay nightlife. He’s here in town for the SF International Film Fest, to promote the new movie he directed, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” an alien punk love story, why not. Mitchell will be spinning at the John Waters-approved queer punk party Desperate Living, also featuring the live and wild stylings of Muñecas. 10pm-3am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here

    FRI/6 BAS MOOY X UUN A MORD label showcase at the Direct to Earth party, featuring deep, industrial techno boom from Rotterdam’s Bas Mooy and Detroit’s Uun — with local wizard Tyrel Williams serving acid all night long in the back room. 9pm-4am, $15. F8, SF. More info here

    FRI/6 THE JUAN MACLEAN New Yorks charming, chain-smoking happy hip-house homie swoops in for an uplifting DJ set. But wait! He’s bringing Tim Sweeney, the man behind the essential Beats in Space podcast, along for the ride. Wooweeeeee. 9:30pm-3:30pm, $17. Public Works, SF. More info here.   

    FRI/6 SESSION VICTIM Energetic, clever, soulful sets (with some very interesting curveballs) from this scruffy pair of house-loving Hamburgers have made them faves on the international circuit. They’re in the US for a mini-tour, don’t miss ’em. 9:30pm-2:30am, $10-$15. Monarch, SF. More info here

    SAT/7 WE ARE MONSTERS W/ RON MORELLI  The master of L.I.E.S—that bastion label of lo-fi, handmade house—has gotten headier, and woozier since the label’s heyday in the early 2010s. He drops into record store RS94109 with Cititrax’s An-I and Solar for a delectable We Are Monsters crew gathering. 8pm-1am, $20. RS04109, SF. More info here

    Meryl Pataky

    SAT/7 SHE BENDS Here’s something different: A glowing showcase of women who work in neon. I had no idea they were called benders! Welp, there’s going to be 32 of them showing work at the Midway, curated by local maker Meryl Pataky, with music by indie darlings Yacht and psychedelic rockers the  Cosmonauts. Neon! 8pm-midnight, $30. Midway, SF. More info here

    SAT/7 POWERBLOUSEJuanita More and GlamaMore invite one lucky person to the stage of the Powerhouse for a full-fantasy drag makeover. Watch as they use all of their sacred drag queen powers to tuck, tape, shape, glue and staple this person together. When the vision is complete they will push the newbie onto the stage for their first-ever live lip-sync performance! The magic mascara wand will be casting spells!” With DJ Rolo. 10pm-2am, $5. Powerhouse, SF. More info here

    SAT/7 CLUB LEISURE: BATTLE OF THE BRITPOP BANDS I never really “got” Britpop—terrible, I know!—but the enthusiasm of DJ Omar and his monthly Club Leisure crew (which features all everything from ’60s go-go and ’70s mod to the mashers and thrashers of now) is infectious. Check out this Britpopstravaganza for a Suede-Oasis-Blur-Pulp blur. 10pm-3am, $10. Cat Club, SF. More info here

    SAT/7 GO BANG The cutest little disco party in town gets a wee bit house-y with a Moulton Music showcase, featuring Homero Espinosa, Allen Craig, Ivan Ruiz, and Tobirus Mozelle. Throw on something spangly and dance all night. 9pm-3am, $5-$10. The Stud, SF. More info here.  

    TUE/10 FEELS 6 A blast at BAMPFA! “An immersive celebration of art, music, film, and community” which previews the Oakland-based FEELS show at the museum. DJ sets by Toro Y Moi, Spelling, and Fela Kutchii, short films, hot crowd. It will sell out, so jump. 6pm-9pm, $20. BAMPFA, Berkeley. More info here

    WED/11 HEAD OVER HEELS Deep breath: The Go-Gos have an epic posh-punk musical headed to Broadway, but first it comes to the Curran, and Juanita More is teaming up with Miss Peppermint to host a preview that benefits TRUTH: the Trans Youth — Truth Project. This will be star-studded and packed! Plus you can get 20% off with Juanita’s special mama code, “MORE!”. 8pm, $29-$99. Curran Theatre, SF. More info here.  

    FRI/13 REBOLLEDO Burning Man season is definitely in the air if this Mexican techno favorite is dropping by. His Mayan Warrior camp consistently dazzles the playa (and brings some much-needed diversity) and the magic dust will be swirling for this one. 9:30pm-3am, $15. Monarch, SF. More info here.  

    FRI/13 DOC MARTIN The lovable, huggable West Coast techno king comes to town, backed by NYC’s Wolf + Lamb (oh how I’ve adored their impeccable selecting) and our own DJ M3, now going as Makes Me Move. 9:30pm-3am, $15-$20. Great Northern, SF. More info here.    

    FRI/13 PATRICK RUSSELL + ERIKA Two techno heavy hitters from Interdimensional Transmissions—if you haven’t experienced the legendary Detroit party No Way Back, this can be your taste of that absolute insanity—headline the Surface Tension party. 10pm-4am, F8, SF. More info here

    SAT/14 ¡DEMASIADO! “An immersive art party, community meal and dance party to support SOMArts, at the intersection of art and social justice since 1979. Featuring the artists and culture-bearers who are standing up for creative resistance in the Bay Area and honoring pioneering Chicano artist and curator Rene Yanez, the event will bring together SOMArts’ community of artists and arts lovers to look toward the future we want to create.” Tons of great performances, by folks like Rupa and the April Fishes, Persia, Pseuda, DJ Brown Amy, and more. 7pm-midnight, $15-$110. SOMArts, SF. More info here

    SAT/14 DETROIT LOVE Good Goddess. Carl Craig, Moodymann, and DJ Minx all together, I will die. This is three essential flavors of Detroit: heady, second wave techno, deep Detroit house, and, well, Minx does her own unforgettable thing. Do not miss. 9pm-3:30am, $17-$25. Public Works, SF. More info here

    SAT/14 JOHN TALABOT A grand wizard! One of my favorites (and crushes, OK), the visionary Spaniard calls up idiosyncratic spirits and unexpectedly gothy grooves from his cauldron. 9:30pm-late, $20. Great Northern, SF. More info here

    SAT/14 ASMARA One half of LA’s groundbreaking Nguzunguzu and part of the Fade to Mind and infamous Mustache Mondays crew, Asmara gets wicked on the decks for this party, presented by our own Molly House Records. 10pm-4am, $12-$15. the Stud, SF. More info here.

    SUN/13 DISCO DADDY PRINCE TRIBUTE Flooding the Eagle with purple vibes, DJ Bus Station John dives deep into his records and pulls out the Artist’s (and friends’) best cuts for an adoring crowd at this annual fete. 7pm-late, $5-$7. SF Eagle. More info here

    No questions for Ed Lee? What has happened to the idea of robust debate?

    Board President London Breed and Mayor Ed Lee are all in favor of Sanctuary city -- in theory

    Mayor Ed Lee appears before the Board of Supes Tuesday/12 for Question Time, but according to the agenda, no supervisor from an even-numbered district had any questions to submit.

    This has become pretty common.

    Bord President London Breed seems happy with the rules that undermined the idea of a real debate with the supes and Mayor Ed Lee

    Once a month, by law, the mayor has to show up at the board and answer questions. The supes alternative between odd and even districts so no more than half of them will have questions at any one time. All the questions have to be submitted in advance, which means the mayor’s staff prepares generally worthless written answers that the mayor reads out loud.

    When then-Sup. Chris Daly put Question Time on the ballot, his idea was that the mayor would appear once a month for a free-ranging policy debate with the board. But David Chiu was board president when it passed, and he and Lee’s office set up rules that totally undermined what Daly and the voters had in mind.

    There is no debate, no discussion. It’s all so scripted that I suspect many of the supes just consider it a waste of time.

    Which is too bad, because the mayor of San Francisco should engage in unscripted public debate with the supes. Destroying the concept of Question Time wasn’t the worst thing Chiu ever did on the Board (that was allowing Airbnb to take thousands of rental units off the market), but it still annoys me.

    Because there is so much to ask the mayor about.

    Does he support the striking workers in Oakland (and acknowledge that his pro-tech-growth policies are one of the reasons that the workers can’t live in their own city anymore)? Does he support the repeal of Costa-Hawkins and the extension of rent control to vacant apartments – and what is he doing to help? He wants to house 1,000 homeless people over the holidays – but what about the other 6,000 or so people on the streets?

    Does he support the ballot measure that would provide a lawyer for everyone facing an eviction? Why has he said nothing to defend Sanctuary City in the wake of the Garcia Zarate verdict?

    I don’t want a press release answer. I want a real discussion. Board President London Breed can change the rules to make Question Time consistent with what the voters wanted. But she doesn’t to want to. So:  Nobody asks the mayor anything.

    If we seriously want to address homelessness in San Francisco, we have to address evictions. If 70 percent of the people living on the streets used to have a home in this city, then the most effective way to prevent more homelessness is to prevent speculators and greedy landlords from throwing people onto those streets.

    The data is overwhelming: Tenants who have legal counsel are far less likely to get evicted. If you want to help guarantee every tenant facing eviction a lawyer, you can help gather signatures for the June ballot measure. Contact [email protected]

    The SF Berniecrats are holding an “Intro to San Francisco Politics event Tuesday/12, to explain how local government works and who is trying to influence policy. “The material will be presented from an unapolgetically Bernie-progressive perspective,” the flier states. 7pm to 9pm, 518 Valencia. It’s free.

    Democratic Socialists of America is holding a march Friday/15 to protest the “open class warfare” of the Trump tax bill. 5:30pm, Harvey Milk Plaza.

    We love to list progressive political events! Email me at [email protected]

    OPINION: Some SF ballot measures Donald Trump would love

    This November, the nation will face the possibility of electing a ruthless real estate developer whose rhetoric is filled with reactionary outbursts, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.

    But here we always had the myth to fall back on that “we are in San Francisco,” a liberal bubble that marches to our own tune no matter what the national mood. We take pride in our storied history of protest and radical acceptance.


    Of course, we know it’s more complicated than that, and, in truth, we are no more immune than the rest of the nation to the sneaking chill of bigotry. Only a few years ago, San Franciscans passed Sit-Lie, a measure to criminalize homeless people simply for being on the streets.

    Today, four more bad-smelling policies that would make Trump proud are before local voters. In these measures, we face similar attacks against those who are different, who are more vulnerable, and who are poor and working class. And we are also given false solutions that promise to provide more for some by taking away from others.

    Props Q and R –criminalizing poverty

    Propositions Q and R take the heart of Donald’s hate-filled rhetoric and try to implement it in San Francisco. The mean-spirited Prop Q would confiscate people’s tents. Even its name, “Housing Not Tents,” reeks of deception, as it would provide not a single penny for housing nor require housing for anyone forcibly removed from an encampment, offering only the measly single night in a shelter. San Francisco-style fear mongering is much slicker, but no less obvious.  Today’s politicians use clever language that stirs visuals of an animated tent with ferocious teeth, raping and pillaging pedestrians. This vitriol is a central component of the “Trump” tactic of fear mongering meant to drive conservatives to the polls – and it’s taking place right here in San Francisco. They type of anti-homeless propaganda leveled in Prop Q creates the conditions that result in increased hate crimes against homeless people, and worse, get in the way of forging real solutions to the housing crisis that is slowly killing so many forced to remain on the streets.    

    Prop R is another measure with a misleading title, “Neighborhood Policing,” which would actually take police out of neighborhood stations and create homeless policing units. Homeless people received more than 27,000 citations last year for being poor, and we spent $20.7 million enforcing the 23 anti-homeless laws on the books in San Francisco. The Budget and Legislative Analyst suggests this was a futile waste of money. Prop R sets this bad practice in stone.

    Much like Donald’s bombastic claims, these measures appear to be largely politically-motivated, an attempt to forward political careers without providing any real solutions. At a time when the national debate is filled with reactionary rhetoric, San Francisco cannot afford to take the low road. Harvey Milk, who as a Castro activist fought to repeal the sit-lie laws that existed in his day, would be horrified at the prospect of our city of open arms turning in on itself like this.

    Props P and U – developer giveaways that divide San Franciscans

    Following a similar pattern of divisiveness, Propositions P and U come directly from the SF Realtor’s Association, with a war chest of more than a million dollars paid for by the state and national Realtor’s associations. They are developer and real estate giveaways that Donald would love, and will hurt everyday San Franciscans.

    Proposition P claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing, but it could end up killing the kind of affordable housing for which San Francisco has paved the way on a national scale: services-enriched supportive housing for homeless individuals and families, housing for transitional-aged youth, and housing for people with disabilities or for victims of domestic violence. While in most cases the city already receives three or more proposals for each new project, in the case of hard-to-build projects such as those for the homeless, or in communities where specific language or cultural competencies are critical, there may be less than three qualified proposals. Prop P would not allow affordable projects to move forward unless three proposals are received, and would force the city to accept the “best-value” proposal regardless of quality, service program, experience, or cultural competency.   

    In reality, Prop P fits with Donald’s model of neo-liberal privatization: paving the way for big out-of-town private developers to build shoddy projects on precious public land, with no accountability to the communities in which they build or who they are meant to serve.

    Proposition U cynically tries to undo SF’s affordable housing gains while giving developers and Realtors huge windfall profits.  This past June, voters overwhelmingly supported expanding the requirements for mixed-income communities with Prop C, called inclusionary housing, by requiring private developers to include homes affordable to middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. The Realtors’ Prop U would remove all the low-income units, and only allow units for people earning up to $80,000 (110% of median). The Realtors claim this creates more affordable housing for middle-class families, but Prop U really robs Peter to pay Paul, taking housing options away from the city’s families who are most at risk without creating a single additional affordable housing unit. And more insidiously, Proposition U would also apply retroactively to almost 1,000 existing affordable homes, allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units and setting the stage for evictions. This is the kind of divisive measure that we should not stand for, pitting middle-income against working-class families.

    These attacks on inclusionary laws are not tangential to Trump’s candidacy. In fact, last summer, one of the principal enemies of inclusionary housing, LA-based real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, emerged as Donald Trump’s single largest donor (since eclipsed). Palmer is notorious in the Bay Area because of his lawsuit which hamstrung cities from enacting stronger inclusionary policies.

    You gotta give ‘em hope, said Harvey…

    While we must fight back against those attacks that seek to divide San Franciscans and promote hate and fear, we must also redouble our efforts towards the only solution to the housing crisis: preserve and produce real affordable housing.  The progressive vision is one of hope, in contrast to the bitterness of the Realtors and others cribbing from Trump’s playbook. This November’s crowded slate has a number of innovative propositions that truly seek to expand housing options for low- and middle-income residents, including:

    • Prop C, the Housing Preservation Bond, which will provide loans to make safety upgrades to apartments and preserve them for all existing tenants, low-income and middle-income, as permanently affordable housing.
    • Props J & K, a 1/2 cent increase to the sales tax (still below many Bay Area cities) and set-aside to dedicate funding for homeless housing and services and equitable transportation improvements.
    • Prop M, the Sunshine for Housing ordinance, which creates transparency and public oversight for the city’s housing and development decisions.
    • Prop S, which will reinstate hotel tax allocations for cultural arts funding and funds for ending family homelessness.

    This November is a chance to prove that San Francisco is still a City for All, no matter what the national mood. Say no to Trumpifying San Francisco, and vote NO on Props P, Q, R, and U.

    Dramatic video shows BART cops beating innocent man

    Andrea Appleton, who was pregnant and taken to the ground with her boyfriend Michael Smith, talks to reporters with Public Defender Jeff Adachi

    Dramatic new video footage from BART Police body cameras shows in detail how a young African American man was restrained and beaten by officers after being stopped for an alleged crime he didn’t commit.

    The footage released today from BART police body cameras shows an officer punching Michael Smith in the face while he was fully restrained, cuffed and on his stomach with another officer sitting on his legs.






    Smith had been stopped after a man on the train called 911 to say that a Black man had robbed him and was carrying a weapon.

    In fact, later evidence showed, the man had insulted Smith and his pregnant girlfriend, who were on their way to a doctor’s appointment. Smith had not robbed him and had no weapon.

    But after being hogtied and beaten by the cops — while his pregnant girlfriend was also handcuffed and restrained and later lost her baby – he was charged with battery on police officers and resisting arrest.

    Andrea Appleton, who was pregnant and taken to the ground with her boyfriend Michael Smith, talks to reporters with Public Defender Jeff Adachi
    Andrea Appleton, who was pregnant and taken to the ground with her boyfriend Michael Smith, talks to reporters with Public Defender Jeff Adachi

    A trial jury acquitted him on four counts of battery, deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal on two other counts and 9-3 for conviction on one charge of resisting arrest. District Attorney George Gascon is considering retrying him on those remaining misdemeanor counts.

    None of the officers involved have at this point been charged with anything, and while the BART Police Internal Affairs Unit is investigating, there will be no public notice if they are subject to any discipline.

    The person who called 911 and filed what Public Defender Jeff Adachi called a false police report has faced no consequences either.

    There are so many things wrong with this picture, and so many alarming implications – among them the idea that, in this Trump Era of frightening racism, someone can call in a fake report of a Black man with a weapon and the police response will be to beat, abuse, and arrest an innocent person.

    “What you are broadcasting here,” Adachi’s chief deputy, Matt Gonzalez, told me, “is the idea that people can file a false report of a crime with impunity” – and the victim of that false report can wind up as the one facing charges.


    The arrest happened July 29, 2016 at the Embarcadero BART station. Smith and recently pregnant Andrea Appleton were on their way to SF General, where she had a medical appointment.

    According to Smith’s trial testimony, and what Appleton told reporters today, the couple were confronted by a man who told them that they smelled bad. After an argument, they moved to another part of the train.

    At that point, the man called 911, and according to a tape of his call, said that two Black people had robbed him and he had reason to believe one of them, a man wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, “has a weapon on him.” By the time the California Highway Patrol, which took the 911 call, referred the call to the BART police, the message was that a Black man on the train was carrying a gun.

    When Smith and Appleton left the train at the Embarcadero Station, they were met by BART cops with their guns drawn, who ordered Smith to get down on the ground.

    At no point in the entire incident did the officers ever tell him why he had been stopped or what the charges were.

    The officers also directly violated BART’s own policy by handcuffing Appleton behind her back; the police agency’s rules say that no pregnant woman should ever be restrained in that way.


    Adachi offered an unusual, but convincing argument in the first trial: He acknowledged that Smith spit at one of the officers and was resisting the most violent actions against him, but said that by law, a person who is subject to illegal and excessive use of force has the right to defend himself.

    Barbara Attard, an expert in police accountability and use of force, was at the press conference today and told us that in her opinion, the force was clearly excessive – and that it’s all too typical for cops who have used excessive force to charge suspects with battery and resisting arrest.

    The jury clearly didn’t believe that Smith had attempted to attack the officers; on the charges that he kicked and spit on an officer, he was acquitted.

    The video shows him spitting; at trial, Adachi, said, Smith admitted that, and said he was so scared and under such tight restraint that he felt there was nothing else he could do to fight back.

    After that moment, video shows an officer punching Smith in the face and slamming his head to the ground.

    BART police procedures do not allow for punching a suspect who is fully restrained.

    It’s really strange that Gascon would seek a retrial on what are, at best, pretty minor charges at this point. I asked his office about it, and got this response from spokesperson Max Szabo:

    “Today the Public Defender released an edited sequence of body camera footage that a judge excluded from evidence.  In excluding the evidence, the judge cited editorial choices that were made, such as altering the audio levels and omitting segments where the defendant is alleged to have bit, kicked, and spit on BART police officers.  When a jury reviewed the unedited versions of the videos, a majority found the defendant guilty of battery and resisting arrest.  The District Attorney’s Office is currently evaluating whether we will pursue this case further.”

    I watched all the footage we got today, and it didn’t seem edited to me. I saw no indication that Smith bit anyone; and the only time he could have kicked and officer is when he was forced to flip over from a situation where his legs were restrained to another situation where he would be on his side. One video seems to show the officers body camera kicked off.

    By that time, the cops had searched Smith and his backpack, and it was clear there was no weapon. The modern procedure of conflict de-escalation was clearly not in play here; at no point on the video do the officers acknowledge that he has no weapon, much less set him free.

    Here’s Adachi’s response:

    The four body camera videos we released were unedited. We also showed a copy of the video with a composite of various videos so the BART surveillance video, police body camera videos and the videos taken by civilians could be seen simultaneously.  None of the audio levels were altered on an of the videos.  The DA is wrong about the verdicts.  The jury found Mr. Smith not guilty on four counts of battery on a peace officer, hung 9-3 for not guilty on two counts of battery, and hung 9-3 for guilty on the charge of resisting arrest.  The jury found Mr. Smith not guilty of the counts involving spitting and kicking BART officers, since the body camera videos did not show any of these acts.  The other act of alleged kicking was hung 9-3 in favor of not guilty.

    Let me take a step back here.

    I have been pushing for more accountability and strong civilian oversight of the BART Police since 1992, when I broke the story of a BART police officer shooting and killing 19-year-old Jerrold Hall, an African American man who had committed no crime.

    That case had chilling resemblances to this one: Hall and a friend were on a BART train when another man called the operator to say that he had been robbed by an armed man. BART Police got the message that a Black man had a gun and stopped Hall at the Hayward station.

    As it turns out, Hall had no gun. But Officer Fred Crabtree shot him in the back, while he was walking away, and killed him with a 12-gauge shotgun.

    The man who called in the complaint that led to Hall’s death vanished.

    There was no cell-phone video back then. Crabtree was cleared of any wrongdoing and went right back to work.

    BART has about 200 armed cops who operate under the control of the transit agency. There is no BART Police Commission. We finally won limited citizen oversight – but in this case, only the BART Police will decide if their own officers did anything wrong.

    Two new BART Board members, Lateefah Simon and Bevan Dufty, were at Adachi’s press conference today. Both made it clear that they want more accountability for the BART cops. Both, in fact, apologized to Appleton (who said she miscarried about two weeks after being improperly cuffed and forced to the ground with an officer’s knee on her spine).

    But we still have this problem: The cops who, by many accounts acted improperly, are not held accountable. The man who filed the inaccurate report that started this whole thing (and who never testified at trial) pays no penalty.

    Szabo explained to me how hard it would be to charge someone with filing a false report when, according to the 911 tape that I’ve listened to, all the man says is that he “has reason to believe” the alleged (non) robber had a weapon. I get it; proving in court that he intended to mislead the cops is difficult.

    But Jack Glaser, a UC Berkeley professor and expert on implicit bias, told us today that it’s disturbingly common for people to associate African Americans with crime and weapons. While not commenting on this particular case, he left me with a question:

    If the person who allegedly robbed someone with a “weapon” was white, would any of this have happened?

    And in the Age of Trump, when are we going to hold cops, and people who level false accusations that lead to police violence, accountable for anything?

    The Agenda: LGBT history, high insurance rates, the leaning tower of Soma …

    This is what Market and Turk -- an LGBT historic area -- would look like with a new hotel and condo complex

    Phil Burton, the legendary politician who created the Golden Gate National Recreation Era and helped define the modern US Congress, lost his first race for state Assembly in 1954. He ran again two years later, and won.

    Willie Brown, the legendary Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor, lost his first race for state Assembly in 1962. He ran again two years later, and won.

    This is what Market and Turk -- an LGBT historic area -- would look like with a new hotel and condo complex
    This is what Market and Turk — an LGBT historic area — would look like with a new hotel and condo complex

    More recently, Ro Khanna lost his first two races for Congress, to Tom Lantos and Mike Honda. But he kept running, and finally won.

    So why do we now have this habit in San Francisco of allowing people who win one race for state office to get a pass for the rest of their careers?

    Why are there so few primary races?

    I get the power of incumbency. I get the fundraising advantage that any sitting member of the state Legislature enjoys. I get that everyone who wins in SF is a Democrat, and Democrats don’t like to challenge Democrats.

    But Mark Leno took on and beat incumbent Carole Migden for state Senate. It’s possible.

    I say this because no Democrat even bothered to file against Assemblymember David Chiu last fall. Chiu has ten more years in office, if he decides to stay; based on local tradition, he will get a total pass no matter what he does.

    Wiener gets 12 years in the state Senate – if nobody challenges him.

    What has Chiu done to help San Francisco? Find me an example. What leadership role is he playing on, say, Prop. 13 reform, giving cities the right to pass effective tenant law and raise revenue… Is he really doing the job?

    Hard to know, of course, since the local news media have been so badly decimated that hardly anyone covers Sacramento on a daily basis.

    Chiu narrowly beat David Campos. Wiener narrowly beat Jane Kim. Neither one will ever be accountable if there’s not at least the possibility that they have something less than an inviolable tenure for the next decade or more.


    BTW: Brown seems to be the only one close to Mayor Lee who recognizes how serious the threat to the city’s finances might be:

    To a businessman like Trump, money is both a tool and a weapon. He has no problem with using federal funding for either purpose.


    No matter how loudly local and state politicians scream and threaten court actions as he picks his fights, Trump will have the upper hand. Thanks to our reliance on federal funds for AIDS care, homelessness relief, Muni, housing and countless other programs — as a county as well as a city — San Francisco is extremely vulnerable.

    And Brown’s pal Ed Lee seems to be ignoring that reality.


    The future of a corner of the Tenderloin that is sacred history to the LGBT (especially T) community is heading to the Board of Supes Tuesday/31 with the appeal of a project that would demolish four buildings in what queer activists hope can become a Compton’s Historic District.

    The project at Market and Turk would create 242 new market rate housing units and 232 hotel rooms in the heart of what was once a part of town where gay and trans people gathered – and hid out from the cops and sometimes fought back.

    Stairs leading to a network of tunnels used by gay men to move from bar to bar to avoid police raids
    Stairs leading to a network of tunnels used by gay men to move from bar to bar to avoid police raids

    There’s some amazing bits of history here, including a series of tunnels where, reports say, gay and trans men used to hide out when the police raided the bars upstairs.

    The foes of the project say it will impact their efforts to create a Compton’s Historic District, where trans-run clubs and businesses could operate. There’s an application pending with the federal government, which created a Stonewall National Monument in the Christopher Street area where the Stonewall uprising took place.

    The Compton’s Historic Committee wants the five-block area around Turk, Taylor, Mason and Market designated as a trans-friendly district and have asked the project sponsor to replace one-for-one the 4,000 square feet of historic space that will be demolished.

    The developer has already negotiated a community benefits agreement that includes free rent for a nonprofit and reduced rent for local ground floor retail, as well as a job-training program for Tenderloin residents who want to work in the new hotel.

    Two organizations signed the CBA – The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which would get $300,000 to run the job-training program.

    Both agreed to support the project.

    The vote will be interesting: It’s rare for the Supes to overturn an environmental declaration by City Planning, but in this case there are historic issues and LBGT issues – and I wonder where the newly elected District 8 supervisor will come down.

    (The supes can’t say in advance what their position is on these appeals, since they are quasi-judicial in nature.)

    The issue is set for 3pm in the board chambers.


    Why are you paying so much for health insurance? Why do the rates go up every year? A 2015 law, SB 546, requires insurance companies to be more transparent about how they set rates – and requires them to hold a public hearing once a year on how rate hikes impact the rest of us.

    It’s also a chance for people to rally for a single-payer system that would lead to far lower costs.

    This year’s hearing is Wed/1 at the Milton Marks Auditorium in the State Building, 450 Golden Gate. It starts at 3pm and will go to 6pm.

    Should be fascinating.


    The Chron reports that the city considers the Leaning Tower of Soma to be perfectly safe for occupancy, but the Government Audit and Oversight Committee is meeting Thursday/2 to continue its investigation into building standards in seismic safety zones (which is politics for Millenium Tower). Sup. Aaron Peskin has been on this one, and since the city now says it’s just fine, I suspect he will have some sharp questions. 9:30 am, Room 250 City Hall.

    The shape of the housing battle to come

    Second units can be new rental housing -- if that's what they are really used for

    You could see the shape of the next big housing battle at today’s Planning Commission hearing, where Sups. Ahsha Safai, London Breed, Jane Kim, and Aaron Peskin presented competing plans for mandatory affordable units in market-rate developments.

    A lot of people in the San Francisco workforce would not qualify for the "middle-class" housing Safai and Breed are promoting
    A lot of people in the San Francisco workforce would not qualify for the “middle-class” housing Safai and Breed are promoting

    Safai and Breed didn’t go into the details of their plans that much – mostly, they argued that the city isn’t doing enough for the middle class. Breed sounded almost like the tenant advocates who opposed her last fall, complaining about how the price of housing is destroying communities. “I miss my friends [who have been forced out of town],” she said. “I miss my community.”

    She complained that the city isn’t creating housing for teachers and union workers.

    The impression – and it’s one we will hear over and over again – is that the only way to build housing for the middle class is to shift some of the units now set aside for low-income people and move them to higher income levels.

    “The market will never again build middle-income housing,” Safai said.

    That’s true, at least in the short term – but Safai’s presentation, which simply described the housing price boom as something that came about after the end of the Great Recession – completely ignored the demand side of the supply and demand equation that developers so love.

    It’s as if there were no Twitter tax break, no Google buses, no long list of city incentives to turn this into a haven for high-paid tech workers moving from somewhere else and driving up rents. The market won’t build middle-class housing as long as developers can make money selling luxury units.

    If the tech industry collapsed next month, the way it did after the first dot-com boom, or some of those companies moved to other cities, property values in San Francisco might fall, and it would be cheaper to build housing. Not suggesting that that pushing tech companies out is a feasible policy option (or maybe it is), but we did the opposite, and are paying the price.

    But back to the plans.

    What Safai and Breed did not say is that they are proposing to reduce the amount of affordable housing available to people who make less than around $50,000 a year. Overall, they are proposing to demand less affordable housing than Kim and Peskin are.

    Safai said that if the city set the affordability levels too high, projects would become economically infeasible and nobody will build anything.

    But Peskin noted that he heard the same arguments back in 2002, when then-Sup. Mark Leno introduced the first inclusionary housing policy, calling for developers to make 12 percent of their units affordable at below-market rates.

    “We were told the sky would fall, and it didn’t, and it hasn’t,” Peskin said. Kim gave several examples of situations where developers agreed to build as much as 40 percent affordable housing.

    The message: Developers always say that any requirements or mandates will throttle them and destroy new housing and jobs and turn the city into an empty wasteland, and it never happens. They can always pay more than they do. Residential development in this city is very lucrative – as Peskin put it, in the past few years, developers “made a shit-load of money.”

    And while Safai and Breed insisted that their plan would help “working families,” Peskin noted that most people whose housing would be reduced under their plan “are working people.”

    The big differences between the bills: Kim and Peskin want to maximize the amount of affordable housing developers have to build – 24 percent for rental project and 27 percent for condos. Safai and Breed want to set those numbers at 18 and 20.

    And while Kim and Peskin want to add middle-class housing without reducing existing requirements for low-income units, Safai and Breed are willing to trade off one for the other.

    Their legislation was crafted with the input and has the support of pretty much all of the affordable housing groups in town.

    The public testimony went on for more than two hours, and it reflected the political narrative that Breed and Safai are pushing: Speakers who supported their plan talked entirely about needing middle-class housing. Speakers who supported the Kim-Peskin measure argued that all of the affordability levels ought to be higher, and that the city shouldn’t take housing away from one group to give it to another.

    Ken Tray, political director at the local teachers’ union, said he was tired of hearing people talk about what teachers needed. “I hear people speaking for us,” he said.

    In fact, he said, the union does not support the Safai-Breed plan. “We are all in this together,” he said. “We refuse to have teachers pitted against our lower-income brothers and sisters. There is no moral foundation that will pit classroom teaches against our low-income students and their families.”

    Let’s look for a moment at the San Francisco workforce (including some of the unionized workforce). A janitor makes about $34,000 a year. A hotel worker makes about $38,000. A construction laborer makes about $48,000, and a mid-career credentialed teacher makes about $63,000.

    Most of those people are well below the income level that Safai and Breed consider “middle class.”

    As Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, noted, many of these workers “are at 40-50 percent of area median income.” With two-income households, they are at 60-90 percent.

    The Safai-Breed plan allows developers to count as affordable housing priced for people who make us much as 140 percent of AMI.

    “Are you going to be able to look at those union members and say that you support legislation that takes away half of the units we were going to build for you to build units for people who make more?”

    Gen Fujioka, policy director at the Chinatown Community Development Center, noted that the Safai-Breed plan “is a step backward. It shrinks the amount of affordable housing.”

    And that is the center of the debate that’s going to be in the center ring of the city’s housing policy for the next couple of months: Do we take housing from one group and give it to another (saying, in essence, that we have built plenty of low-income housing and need to give more to higher earners) or do we demand that developers pay enough to cover both?

    And if that means that some luxury condo projects don’t get built, do we really care?