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Home Featured The Agenda, Oct. 16-22: Zarate trial, robots on the sidewalks …

The Agenda, Oct. 16-22: Zarate trial, robots on the sidewalks …

... plus preventing utility fires, and saving Mission St. We look at the week ahead

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate

Jury selection begins Monday/16 in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who is accused of killing Kate Stein with a gun he discovered that was stolen (by someone else, apparently) from a federal agent’s car.

The trial will get national attention: Donald Trump used the case in his presidential campaign, and the right-wing will play this as a story about someone who was in the country without documentation killing a young American citizen.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is not connected to the two car break-ins where a stolen gun was present

But there’s a much different story to be told. After being released from a federal prison, where he served time for immigration violations, Zarate was sent to San Francisco on an old marijuana warrant that was never going to lead to prosecution. The feds never produced a warrant to remand him into custody for deportation (although they knew where he was going, and knew he wasn’t going to be there long.)

Homeless, broke, and speaking no English, Zarate ended up on the waterfront. There is no indication that he has ever been violent or used a gun before. He may not even have known how guns work. And he stumbled onto a Sig-Sauer with a hair trigger and a round in the chamber, left by a federal agent who has not at this point faced any discipline for leaving a potential murder weapon unsecured.

The gun went off. He clearly wasn’t aiming at Steinle; the round bounced off the concrete before striking her in the head, 90 feet away.

Judge Samuel Feng has summoned 1,000 potential jurors. It will take a while to find 12 people who have not been so biased by news coverage (much of it driven by anti-immigrant sentiments) that they can fairly weigh the evidence.

It will probably take three days or so to choose a jury. Expect opening statements later in the week. We will be covering the trial daily.


Mission Street hasn’t yet become Valencia, but it’s moving in that direction. Small community businesses are closing, and high-end restaurants are taking over retail, according to the group Save Mission Street. 

There are illegal tech offices moving in. There’s a new wave of luxury housing development. It’s an assault on the heart of the Latino community — and Save Mission is holding a community meeting to look at solutions Tuesday/17 at 6pm, Centro Del Pueblo, 474 Valencia. It’s free. Translation, child-care, and snacks provided


The Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee will be hearing testimony Monday/16 on two issues that we all ought to be talking about: The city’s five-year strategic framework to end homelessness — and the (supposed) master plan for utility undergrounding,

Expect the Department of Homelessness to report on the latest plans to figure out how exactly more than 7,000 homeless people are going to be taken off the streets when there is no available housing for most of them.

And Sup. Sandra Fewer wants to know why PG&E isn’t doing more to move overhead power lines underground. Just check out the fires in the North Bay if you don’t understand why this is a key issue.


Then on Tuesday/17, the full board will hear Sup. Norman Yee’s proposal to ban robot deliveries on city sidewalks.

I was astounded to see how much public testimony — and opposition — this got at last week’s committee meeting. As Yee noted, “sidewalks are for people. There’s an infrastructure for cars, that’s what on our roads. There is no infrastructure for delivery robots.”

San Francisco has had a very bad record of regulating new technologies that impose on the public realm. The city allowed Uber and Lyft to clog the streets without limits for years. Airbnb turned rental housing into hotel rooms without any controls. 

Now Yee wants to draw the line at robots plowing along sidewalks with goods — threatening pedestrians, seniors, kids, dogs, and everyone else who uses the sidewalks in the process.

Oh, and he said: “What happens when a terrorists puts 150 pounds or explosives into a robot and it goes into a building? The response I have gotten is that it hasn’t happened yet. But I am worried.

Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, who has raised three kids in the city, said that she taught her children that the sidewalk is a safe place. Sup. Hillary Ronen pointed out that the city banned people from sitting or lying on the sidewalks — but so far hasn’t said anything about robots.

And yet, Sup. Jeff Sheehy was on the side of the robots, saying that they could help small businesses — and that the CEOs of the robot companies were going to get the message and work with the city.

He suggested that the board not ban the robots, but look for “middle ground.”

Yee made the point that Sheehy had just pushed a bill to allow the city to seize bicycles, in the name of keeping the sidewalks clear.

The vote was 2-1 to approve the measure, with Ronen and Fewer in favor and Sheehy opposed. Now the full board will have to decide if its willing to limit new technology until we can understand and regulate it — or if robots on the sidewalk will be the next Uber and Airbnb.


  1. Nothing in that contradicts what I said. To give an example, suppose someone trips and falls into an object that then falls over, killing someone. Even though they “caused that person’s death,” they did not choose to trip, and thus did not cause a crime.

  2. you are mistaken.
    hope you’ll keep an open mind when you read the above link
    have a good day, I’m out on this thread.

  3. it sounds like a manslaughter case. What motivation did this man have to plan and plot this young woman’s murder?
    I hate to sound racially biased but it seems to me like all the really crazy people in this country are white. The last ten or so of these mass murders were all carried out by white men.

  4. Someone lunged at me for simply passing by. Unreported. Glad it didn’t disturb your views on our City.

  5. ALL crimes require intent. You cannot create a crime without intent. Think about it. Imagine if we did not require that. You could be charged with a crime you did not even know you had committed. You have to either choose to do the act that results in the crime, or be so indifferent, and know that you are being indifferent, when you should have acted better. If he did not INTEND to fire the gun, then he DID NOT COMMIT a crime.

  6. No, I’m not confusing anything. First degree murder requires intentional behavior. Second degree requires reckless behavior, manslaughter is negligent behavior.

    If the jury determines the facts of the case to be that Z found a gun and was waving it around a crowded sidewalk, or was shooting at sea lions, they can find him guilty of 2nd degree murder.

    If they find what Tim believes (despite his hearing any evidence), that this dude just happened upon the gun, touched it and it went off, he won’t get convicted of murder, but likely of some lesser charge.

  7. I’ve can’t remember a single case of a homeless person running anyone down with a shopping cart. You make it sound like it is a constant threat.

  8. It still requires intent. You are confusing malice with intent. Second degree murder requires intent, which can include depraved indifference, but not malice. That is the question, was their intent involved.

  9. Think logically for a change. You are a smash and grab artist. You break into a vehicle, steal a gun, and then you realize that this gun belongs to a Federal agent. If you are caught with it, you are not looking at being prosecuted by Gascon, you are looking at a Federal felony. They don’t mess around. You want to be rid of it, so you leave it someplace it will be found. There is like zero chance that anyone will investigate that intently since the gun is found. And there is really no way to connect you to the theft.

  10. Point taken, somewhat. The key definition for murder is “malice aforethought”, per the California penal code; if not with express malice, it should still show “an abandoned and malignant heart”.

    So what’s the evidence for that? If he’d aimed at her, you could make a case for intentional killing. If not, what did he do or say that would prove that he was anyway a killer at heart?

    “And the way to combat bias in the media is to create biased media?” That’s not how I read him, anyhow. He’s pointing out the doubts. I have no problem with it, because I’ve seen the other version too, and can put them side by side in my mind.

  11. No, 2nd degree murder is not intentional. Feel free to look it up, but that is a fact. And the way to combat bias in the media is to create biased media? Good plan.

  12. The problem with the Segway was that it was 2x-3x faster than a per (like bikes are 3x-5x faster). Even some disability carts are 1.5x faster (and the rude riders should be admonished). So curbing that nuisance was/is imperative.

    I would say that the robots ought to be limited in the same way (to the speed of a ped).

    But at least the robots won’t sprawl out across the way, litter the space around them with detrius, and give passerby attitude (and worse) is they look askance.

  13. Not quite.

    Someone who’s a certified Psycho with a shopping cart who violently launches out at fantasies only he can see, is MUCH more dangerous than some whiring R2D2 delivering a pack of groceries/office supplies.

    Yes, some of our campers are harmless and docile and deserving of our pity. And help. But certainly not all of them – the criminal, the violently demented, and the arsonist come to mind.

  14. “‘He clearly wasn’t aiming at Steinle’ as if this were some type of defense for 2nd degree murder.”—It is. Murder is intentional. What Tim describes is a manslaughter scenario, as far as I can tell.
    You don’t think there’s a bias in the media? Mexican illegal alien with a stolen gun, young white woman killed. Right from the beginning this was portrayed as an intentional killing by someone evil by nature or by drugs or both.

  15. I’d love to hear your ‘street drugs’ and ‘patsy’ version in more detail. Tell us what you think happened that day, eh?

  16. When the Segway came out in 2001, there was a push by its inventor to allow it on sidewalks, basically on the argument that it’s 100% absolutely accident proof and could not possibly harm a pedestrian, and on the argument that if you’re against it you’re a technophobic fuddy-duddy. The BOS voted against it, but it still took a fight.

  17. Tim, you really need to be more honest about what you’re doing here with Zarate. Your old pal Matt Gonzalez is defending him and you’re trying to get an alternate story out there so you can pollute the jury pool. Unfortunately, since you don’t have the SFBG platform anymore, your audience is much more limited. But you’ve been beating this dead horse for months now and you really have an ethical responsibility to indicate you’ve spoken with Matt about this. Your interest in this case really only started when Matt agreed to take it on.

  18. I agree, there may be little difference between a robotic or human shopping cart. The robot could be safer.

  19. Gentrification has been creeping east from the Castro for over 40 years and I doubt much can be done to stop it. Latino nationalists cannot keep White people from moving into the Mission. And they can’t keep Latino’s from leaving the Mission. Or stop Latinos from advancing and assimilating. Despite the best efforts of politicians and religious leaders to promote cultural pluralism for other ethnic groups in the past, they eventually lose their constituency. You can’t keep individuals down who want to succeed.

  20. Yes, someone being down and out or with severe mental illness that has an ‘obstruction’ on the sidewalk is the same as allowing multi-billion dollar companies to crowd the sidewalks with untested machines for profit. Or something.

  21. I hope the supes ban robots on the sidewalks. That will keep most politicians out of our way.

    Seriously, though, I hope they do a better job of enforcing the robot ban than they do enforcing the existing laws against bikes on sidewalks.

  22. Well in the past Tim just published as fact the defense case — that Zarate stumbled across the discarded gun and it went off when he touched it. To his credit he didn’t repeat Matt Gonzalez’s version this time.

    But he is still reporting as fact the information that Zarate just randomly stumbled across the gun. This isn’t verified either. It is entirely possible that Zarate, involved in street drugs, had some nexus to the car thieves. Maybe he was a lookout, maybe he received the gun in trade or maybe the thieves gave it to him as a patsy.

    Nobody knows, but the story that these professional thieves just left it in a tourist spot inches from the bay is a little tough to get your arms around. Hard to imagine a worse place to leave a gun that you don’t want discovered and turned over to police.

  23. The fact that Tim is concerned about bias in the media regarding the Zarate trial almost made me spit out my coffee. Go ahead and read Tim’s reporting on this and then let’s discuss bias. He’s been playing this case in the media more than anyone I can think of. “The gun went off.” As if Z just happened to walk past it and his wake pulled the trigger. The BLM agent hasn’t been charged, as if that has anything to do with what happened once Z found the gun. “He clearly wasn’t aiming at Steinle” as if this were some type of defense for 2nd degree murder. I mean, the lack of self-awareness is truly something to behold. Unless, it isn’t a lack of self-awareness, that it is in fact Tim just rooting for the defendant in the case for some reason, which makes his concern about bias even more ridiculous

  24. The part where Yee plays (and Tim gleefully endorses) the terrorism card speaks for itself in terms of mindlessness.

    In a crowded city where people constantly park big shopping carts full of…something…obscured by sheets and blankets.

    And, news flash, terrorists don’t mind getting killed themselves for the cause. They don’t need no stinking robots.

  25. Yeah, we could ‘ban Robots’ – like we ban shopping carts, tents and sleeping bags – from the sidewalks. I don’t see too much difference between an object propelled by an untested technology serving some useful purpose, and an object propelled by an an untrustworthy denizen with an erratic purpose.

    In terms of unpredictability, I’d prefer the former over the later.

    And do you really think that a ban would be any more effective?

  26. What about delivery push carts like they use to deliver groceries in Manhattan, Shouldn’t they also be banned.

  27. Tim,

    Hope Feng let’s me in the courtroom. Fascinating case. I’ve been watching the other courts in the building and all the judges seem to be in cahoots with the DA’s office.


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