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

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.