The agenda: What’s ‘divisive’?

Plus how activists won the Compton's Historic District battle

Mayor Ed Lee's development policy has led to a lot of displacement. Photo by Sana Saleem

I keep hearing the same song from one side of San Francisco’s Democratic Party, and it goes like this:

We are all Democrats here, and we need to be united against Trump. We need to stop the infighting and remember that we are all part of the same team.

I hear a lot about Unity. I heard it from the mayor. I hear it from people who are on the moderate side of the Democratic Party. I get attacked on Facebook for being “divisive.”

Mayor Lee pauses during the State of the City address 2017 that comes at a time when San Francisco is at risk of losing federal dollars if they maintain their sanctuary city status. Photo by Sana Saleem.
Is it “divisive” to say that the mayor is not on the side of tenants and poor people? Photo by Sana Saleem.

I don’t hear it so much from progressives, and there’s a good reason for that: Progressives realize that when it comes to economic issues, and issues of corporate power, we are not always united. And saying we have to go along with some very bad policy ideas to appear united against Trump is not really a good way to resist.

I wish we were all on the same team.

But fighting Trump on the local level and the state level doesn’t just mean electing more Democrats. It means fighting Trump’s policies. And frankly, while there are very few Democrats in this city (and not that many in the state) who are anything but disgusted by his social-issue, immigration, and foreign-policy positions, there are plenty of Democrats who are not that far away from Trump on economic issues.

Trump is against the regulation of business. The approach that the Democrats in charge of San Francisco took on Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft was pretty much the same: Don’t regulate these “disruptive” industries. Let them “innovate.”

The result: The loss of thousands of housing units, the addition of 45,000 cars to the packed streets of SF, an all-out attack on the unionized taxi industry in cities like New York.

There are plenty of Democrats in elected office in this city and this state who don’t think we should regulate housing like a public utility – that is, stop treating housing as a commodity and treat it as a human right.

There are Democrats in elected office in this city who don’t want to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations to fund services for everyone else.

We are all in solidarity on Sanctuary City – until it comes to putting up money to help immigrants in the criminal-justice system get representation, too.

California, I learned this weekend, has the highest poverty rate of any state in the US if you include the cost of housing in the equation. The state is run by Democrats. They are not, by and large, willing to do anything about this. Not if it offends landlords.

So no: We are not always on the same team. We can register 10,000 new Democrats in San Francisco and it won’t have any impact at all on Trump. This is a blue state, and a deep-blue city. What will work is electing Democrats who are willing to challenge the Trump economic agenda right here at home – and calling out the ones who won’t.

We can, we should, we must take to the streets to challenge every element of the Trump Agenda. We should all work together whenever we can. But we also have to make sure that when the shit comes down in our own home town and our state, our local leaders are willing to take the risks necessary to resist.

If saying that is “divisive,” then I plead guilty. Democrats have a lot in common, and a lot of core values we share. But in the end, it’s about policy, folks, about results, not about what box you check on your voter registration card.


In the middle of all the bad news, there is a bit of good news: Sup. Jane Kim has introduced legislation that will create the nation’s first Transgender historic district, which will be named after the Compton’s Cafeteria uprising that has as much history as the Stonewall riot in New York.

I give Kim full credit for putting this together. She worked out a deal with a big developer to put a significant amount of money into creating a space where there’s more than just a couple of plaques and monuments but possibly a trans-friendly business district created and run by trans people.

But this – like so much else that matters – didn’t start at City Hall. The reason it’s going to exist is that a lot of LGBT activists made a huge fuss when they learned that historic buildings were being torn down and that new development was a threat to the future of that district.

When the deal was cut for community benefits from the development, there were no trans people in the room. The two community representatives were the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp.

When Trans and LGBT activists realized what was at stake, they appealed the environmental review decision. These kinds of appeals get criticized a lot by pro-growth people who say they slow down the process of building housing – but they are also, very often, the only way the groups who are shut out of the regular process can weigh in.

So in this case, the St. James Infirmary, the Q Foundation, and Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project fought back. The groups organized a campaign to slow down the project so that queer historians could at least study the spaces that were on the development block. Nate Allbee and Honey Mahogany joined as allies, and the whole issue was headed to the Board of Supes last week.

At the last minute, the day before a hearing that might not have gone well for the developer, Kim helped put together the deal. “It’s a huge success,” Allbee told me.

The city will get $300,000 (managed through the Mayor’s Office of Community Development, not City Planning) to help create the cultural historic district.

The city doesn’t have a single agency that oversees money for these districts, and that creates a bit of confusion. The activists don’t trust City Planning; this isn’t really the job of the Mayor’s Office. And the developers don’t want to give the money directly to community groups.

There must be a way to fix this.



It’s a surprisingly quiet week at City Hall. If you’ve got political energy, join the phone trees calling US senators to try to stop the remaining Trump cabinet appointments and his nominee to the Supreme Court.

Oh, and the landlord is trying to evict Iris Canada this week. We will keep you posted.

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.