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Thursday, October 28, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, June 15-21: Destroying culture for condos

The Agenda, June 15-21: Destroying culture for condos

Plus: Uber’s hypocrisy, the school assignment system — and George Soros on capitalism

Arts space will make way for condos under a proposal now coming before the Planning Commission
Arts space will make way for condos under a proposal now coming before the Planning Commission

JUNE 15, 2015 – A plan that would wipe out five buildings and destroy the community-service, industrial, and arts operations that occupy them, is coming before the Planning Commission, where it will find significant opposition

The plan to build 274 luxury housing units in the heart of what is now a cultural center at Bryant and 18th comes up at the Planning Commission Thursday/18, but staff has asked for a continuation to July 2.

Staff has also recommended that the project be approved, with conditions – which typically means the developer will accept a few minor changes, but the main elements of the project will move forward.

It’s more high-end housing moving into what used to be light-industrial space, and its impacts will spread across that part of town, where there are still a few auto-repair places and other non-gentrified uses.

Again: The vote probably won’t take place this week. But opponents are keeping an eye on it.


I followed the debate over the (minor) changes in the San Francisco school assignment policy, and I read the piece from C.W. Nevius, who has been pushing for “neighborhood schools” for a long time.

Let me add a little clarity.

There is no simple way to assign students to public schools in San Francisco. There are so many factors: Many parents want a choice in where they send their kids, particularly since there are programs like language immersion that are very popular, but not available in every part of town. Not all schools are equal – some are considered (with some truth) to be better than others, and everyone wants his or her kids to go to the best place possible.

Nevius quotes someone who wants her kid to walk across the street to a good public school, Aptos, where my son went to middle school. But in some parts of town, the school across the street wouldn’t be her first choice.

Best world, all public schools in San Francisco would have the resources to be at the same level of excellence. Best world, the very rich would pay taxes, and Prop. 13 would be repealed, and that might be possible.

If we live in the real world, inequalities exist.

Yes, we’re not doing a great job at fixing the racial disparities at the public schools.

But there’s another factor that nobody’s talking about, and it’s called economic class.

You let everyone go to his or her neighborhood school, or you give people who live near a school more priority, and what you get is schools segregated not just by race but by class.

Part of the reason, the hidden secret of SF education: the schools that have richer and more connected parents raise private money at a greater rate and offer way better programs.

When a significant amount of what a public school can offer now depends on how much money the parents can contribute and raise, and when San Francisco neighborhoods are increasingly segregated not just by race but by income and class, neighborhood schools are a guarantee that rich kids will get a better education than poor kids.

Perfect world? The Clarendon PTA raises $200,000 a year, and half of that goes to schools where the parents work two jobs to pay the rent and have no free time to write grant applications (and don’t have connections to wealthy donors). Real word? It’s not going to happen.

If we really want to make neighborhood schools work – and it’s a great idea – we’d have to take some radical steps. We’d have to alter the funding program – schools in wealthy neighborhoods would get less public money, and have to raise more of their own. Schools in low-income neighborhoods would get a lot more public money and be expected to raise very little.

Can you imagine the School Board voting to cut by 25 percent the funding for all of the schools in rich communities and shifting that money to low-income neighborhood schools?

Right. I can’t either.

Bottom line: There is no perfect system for allocating schools in San Francisco. No matter what you do, someone will be unhappy. Those people will go to the press and Chuck Nevius will make a fuss. Unless they are poor and live in a low-income neighborhood and get screwed, in which case nobody will pay attention.

As long as we have Prop. 13, the schools will lack money, and there will be a battle over scarce resources. We all know who tends to win those battles. In other states, where property taxes are fair, the schools are better.

So tell me when you have a proposal that’s better than the one we have, and I’ll listen. I’ve been trying to figure one out for 20 years.

(Full disclosure: Both my kids are, and always have been, in public schools. We got none of our choices in the kindergarten lottery – zero – but in the second round I found a wonderful place for our kids. I am one of those people who should be constantly complaining about the lotter, and in the end, I have been totally happy with the SF public schools.)

Like democracy, I have learned, the SF school assignment system isn’t perfect; it’s just better than all the other options.


I really love the Sharing Economy when it starts to show its own internal logic, which seems to be: Whatever makes me money is good, and any laws that interfere are bad.

Uber, for example, has long resisted the kinds of rules that apply to normal taxi companies. That’s because Uber says it isn’t a taxi company, it’s just a web platform that connects individuals who want rides with people who are offering them.

Okay, fine. Now the city has decided (correctly) that the last thing we need on Market Street is more cars (I would say no cars at all on Market, just bikes, buses, and cabs), so cars driving along Eighth and Third can no longer turn onto Market.

Good. Safer for everyone. And everyone knows that only an idiot would drive a private car on Market Street; it’s a nightmare.

But wait: Now Uber thinks it should have the right to do what licensed taxis do! No, we won’t get permits. No, we won’t do background checks and training. No, we won’t do what normal cabs have to do – because we aren’t cabs.

Except on Market Street, where we are cabs, suddenly.

And how are the cops supposed to know, since Uber vehicles aren’t painted like cabs and have no easily identifiable logos – and since most of them are private cars that are in service sometimes, and not in service sometimes?

Who cares? We’re billionaires. We don’t follow the same rules as the rest of you.


I don’t much pay attention any more to people who say The System is about to collapse; I’ve been hearing that since I was in high school, and it never seems to happen.

I am always reminded of one of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems:

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

Alas, hyper-capitalism, which by all reason should have eaten itself and fallen apart years ago, seems to continue unchecked. If anything, it just gets worse.

Now, though, no less a capitalist than George Soros is saying This Shit Can’t Go On. Soros is no fool, and while he is mostly talking about the Euro, his message is broader: If you force austerity on millions of people while they see a handful getting stinking rich, at some point things will fall apart.

Warning that violence on the streets was inevitable unless the problems of unemployment and debt were addressed, he warned this could lead to the erosion of civil liberties and installation of a police state.

Asked about the likelihood of riots in the US, he said: “Yes, yes, yes. It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong arm tactics to maintain law and order which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained.”

Happy Monday.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Says the guy who constantly changes his alias and who posed as a public school parent in a thread about public schools above.

    Folderpete, I’m stlll looking for the added information you offered.

  2. I believe this system could work and deserves a ten year trial. Some angry commenters might say they’ll refuse to abide by rules made for the benefit of the society, but that’s not unique. Leadership means making honest and sometimes difficult decisions that will be for the benefit of the community, even if some people don’t like them. Part of the weakness of SF is the lack of true leadership. Part of that lack is the unwillingness to be disliked by people with money, or people with perceived power, or people with loud voices. There are always Chicken Littles. The sky was going to fall when smoking was outlawed in restaurants and then in bars.
    I believe that our public schools should do everything they can to provide the same excellent education to all, from school to school and neighborhood to neighborhood. Allowing rich parents to cluster and improve select schools results in the privatization of a public service and resource and should not be permitted. Donate to the schools if you want, but you don’t get to elevate one school over others based on the economic status of its students.
    Some rich folks who are using the public schools as private-school-lite will scream, but they’ll get over it.
    Do the right thing. Stick to it for a fair time.

  3. But school districts like Orinda and Albany that divvy up the PTA monies equally have schools with very similar demographics (racially and economically).

    There’s now way that Lowell High School parents are ever going to give away part of their funds to Mission High School, for example.

  4. PBS had a report on Habana, Cuba, and the growing freedoms there this evening.

    AirBnB is alive and well in Habana. The counter-revolution has started. AirBnB is abetting the contras! Cue Greg with indignation now…

  5. I’ll challenge it on one basis: You made it all up rather than citing reputable sources for any of the assertions you made. That happens frequently on these threads and represents both poor scholarship and shoddy argumentation. I don’t need to take this any further; yours is just one more cheap talking point in a sea full of them.

  6. “Poor immigrants” by definition don’t have money – therefore pay little in taxes. Only 50% of the population pays income tax (hint, the richer part). So the poor mostly pay sales and other excise taxes, and proportionally less than others. And if you check out the percentage of English-learners in CA schools, that is a good indication of ‘immigrant’.

    So, an estimate of wages earned = $40k. Estimate 2 kids in school. Est. $15k per student. Est. sales taxes of 9% on ‘disposable income’ on $40k wages. Er, who’s being subsidized?

    So, thats my “data” and it could be widely wrong. Wanna prove me off-base?

  7. I didn’t take my kids out of SFUSD because of their quasi-busing allocation methodology, even though that does suck. We were lucky and got away with that – our kids went to school in 94114.

    It was more the overt political correctness that caused me to put my kids into private school

  8. It is more complicated than that because you also have to take into account average RE prices. For instance, Maine and Texas have 3% property tax rates, but home valuations there are low, so it’s isn’t that much of a problem.

    But the average SF home is now over a million, which means a grand a month just in property taxes. That is a serious hit.

    Also bear in mind that the average home sells very seven years, so prop taxes get rebased. Throw in new build as well and Prop 13 really isn’t the problem that some claim

    Finally, CA has jacked up sales and income taxes to insane levels. They have plenty of revenue.

  9. No, although there were in the past.

    But my answer is honest based on the assumption that they were in SFUSD and that the city mandated that my donations went to other SFUSD schools.

  10. Property taxes in California are much lower than what they are in New York (RE ads there commonly list property taxes). I don’t believe you have data that proves poor immigrants pay little in taxes but soak up public services. If so, please provide it.

  11. jhayes, I have your answer. Speaking as a parent who donates a lot of time and money to my kids’ school, I can answer:

    Not in a million freaking years. I donate to make a difference to MY kids and THEIR school.

    If such a provision was passed I would find 101 ways around it to ensure that my money went to benefit my kids and not others. That is what parents do.

    There would always be ways and loopholes. It is an enforceable idea.

  12. The city could adopt a simple “neighborhood schools” model whereby every child is allocated by default to the closest school to them.

    Then provide an ability for a parent to choose instead a school further away, assuming there is space.

    That is how it works in much of “socialist” Europe, apparently. Most kids want to attend a local school they can walk to, and where their friends and neighbors go to school. This is not a complex problem to solve once you stop trying to do social engineering.

  13. Then I suppose the complaints will switch to ‘but those rich parents READ to their kids, and EXPECT them to do well, and MONITOR their performance – how can we compete!’

  14. Prop 13 is such a red herring. CA is one of the most heavily taxed states in the US. One of the only taxes that don’t head the list are, iirc, gasoline (and maybe tobacco). Property taxes are high for those purchasing recently; for those holding for a while they are (relatively) low. (Yes, that would include industrial props, and rules for ‘chg-of-title could be tightened; but doesn’t really ‘fill the coffers’, $-wise)

    If we didn’t spend so much on other outside services (Medical) and prison guards, we’d have plenty for schools (or, more accurately, for all the unfunded mandates we’ve already committed to, like pensions).

    And it goes without saying that the large number of poor immigrants don’t really help on the taxes but soak up the services.

  15. Looks like an interesting map. Wish I could see more clearly what it signifies. What do the colors stand for? And neighborhoods have changed MUCH in the last 80 yrs.

  16. Great thought, but would it work? Are the well-off going to contribute to a city-wide PTA instead of one at the schools their childrend attend?

  17. I think you dismissed your own good idea for the schools. Don’t allow private funds to go to one school. Make it all go into a pool and divvy it up. If the parents want to privately finance their kids’ education, there’s a way to do that — private schools. But if their kids are in public schools, the money they donate is public money for all of the schools of that grade level.

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