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City HallThe AgendaWho are the 'toxic' local Democrats, really?

Who are the ‘toxic’ local Democrats, really?

Again, the Chron just blames the left and ignores the mayor. Plus: the Castro is back, scrutinizing housing money, and what is the DA hiding in the Banko Brown case? That's The Agenda for May 7-14.


The thing about being a Democrat is that it’s pretty easy. Any US citizen can do it; you just check a box on a voter registration form. Joe Manchin is a Democrat. So, until recently, was Kyrsten Sinema. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who on economic issues is closer to a lot of Republicans than to progressives, is a Democrat.

In San Francisco, everyone in elected office is a Democrat, and if there are any Republicans on city commissions, I don’t know them.

Mayor London Breed has more to do with ‘toxic’ politics than the progressives. Photo by Ebbe Roe Yovino-Smith

So the word “Democrat” doesn’t have much meaning in local politics. Some folks who are Democrats would like to change that; some of us think that the Democratic Party should work to fight economic inequality by taxing the rich, that homelessness is not a criminal-justice issue, that more cops don’t make the city safer, that the private market won’t solve the housing crisis.

But people who say the San Francisco Democratic Party should stand for progressive San Francisco values are not, despite what Heather Knight at the Chronicle says, “embrace [ing] zero-sum politics rather than a shared opportunity to fix the city’s biggest problems.”

Knight seems oblivious to the reality of local politics. She writes:

San Francisco politics have long been toxic, but the blue-vs.-blue infighting has grown particularly nasty in recent years.

Yes—and the person most directly engaged in petty, vindictive “zero-sum” politics—that is, my way or the highway—is Mayor London Breed. Breed routinely does things like kill an affordable housing project because it would help a supervisor she dislikes, and refuse to spend housing money because it wasn’t her idea.

I am not the only one who sees this; ask even the more conservative folks at City Hall, and off the record they will tell you how frustrating it is that the mayor won’t work on “shared opportunities to fix the city’s biggest problems.”

Knight never says anything about that.

No: It’s always the left that is causing all the problems.

Knight is mad that the DCCC didn’t charter a Westside club. It will eventually wind up chartering this group, which is what it is; there are other chartered clubs that help very conservative candidates. Maybe the new club will turn out to be a great progressive force for change.

But let’s not be naive here. From Knight:

The club wants to improve the city’s public schools, make its streets cleaner and safer, get more housing built and strengthen public transit — a platform most Democrats across the political spectrum say they support.

Yes: Everyone in San Francisco, including Republicans, would say they support those things.

But that’s not the point. The point is, do we improve the public schools by, for example, using demonstrably racist policies for admission at Lowell? Do we improve the schools by letting schools in rich areas raise money they don’t share with schools in poor areas?

Do we make the streets cleaner and safer by criminalizing homeless people? Do we “get more housing built” by allowing private developers to demolish existing housing and build very expensive small condos and group housing that won’t work for most families? Do we think trickle-down economics works, despite more than four decades of solid evidence that it doesn’t?

Do we strengthen public transit by cutting lines, or by raising taxes to replace fair-box revenue?

These are real issues, not platitudes. If they matter to Democrats, it’s fair to ask the nascent Westside Family Democratic Club—or any other applicant—where the members stand on them … At least, it is if the San Francisco Democratic Party means something different than the national party of Manchin and Feinstein.

Maybe it doesn’t.

As former state Assemblymember Tom Ammiano put it to the LA Times: Why does New York get AOC, when we get Scott Wiener?

Whatever. I don’t care that much about which Democratic club gets a charter; the corruption of local politics by tech and real-estate money goes so, so far beyond that.

But I wish Knight would for once at least grasp what this “blue-blue” divide is all about: That lives are at stake, that the policies of the neoliberal wing of the party have wrecked the economy and the city, and that it’s not crazy for people who want things to work better to challenge those policies.

Oh and it’s the mayor, not the progressives, who is the real obstacle here.


So on to this week.

The Castro Theater landmarking is, it appears, finally headed to an actual vote. Delayed in the name of maybe parties getting together to find a solution, which as far as I can tell has not happened, the question of landmarking the interior of the theater, including the existing seating, will come back to the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/8.

The Castro Theater Conservancy has offered to take over the lease or buy the theater. Another Planet Entertainment, which has the master lease, and the Nasser Family, which owns the property, have rejected that offer.

That could change if the seats are landmarked, because at that point APE’s plans to run the place as both a theater and a nightclub become pretty much impossible.

Right now, it appears that both sides are gearing up for a battle at the full board, where it takes six votes to grant landmark status. The committee will likely send this on to the board, with an amendment that would designate the existing seating and raked floor as protected.

Then a few weeks from now, each side will try to count to six.

Sups. Dean Preston and Connie Chan want to ask the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development how it’s been spending $672 million a year—and how it plans to implement the recommendations of the Housing Stability Fund Oversight Board.

The presentation that MOHCD has prepared for the board is, to say the least, a bit disappointing: it’s five-year plan calls for reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness by all of 15 percent. A lot of money is going into shelters, following an approach advocated by the mayor and Sup. Rafael Mandelman, which is in essence getting people off the streets and out of sight.

It calls for 3,250 units of permanent affordable housing, which is about 7 percent of what the city has promised the state it will create over the next eight years.

That hearing starts at 1:30pm.

The full board will hold a Committee of the Whole hearing on the nightmare that is Laguna Honda Hospital, where the feds want to, at the very least, cut 120 beds from the public nursing home. At worst, the Biden Administration could order the eviction of 500 people, most of whom will probably die.

There is nowhere for them to go. Very few critical nursing beds exist in California, and even fewer that take Medicare. Th data is pretty clear: Moving these folks is a death sentence.

The Gray Panthers have a good summary here. The item is slated for 3pm.

The full board will also hear a resolution by Sup. Aaron Peskin urging District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to make public the videos that she cited in determining not to charge a security guard with homicide in the shooting of Banko Brown.

The evidence that we have, and it’s limited, makes clear that Brown was unarmed at the time he was killed.

That resolution could pass unanimously. Even state Sen. Scott Wiener, who is usually on the side of Jenkins and Breed, just released a statement calling for the release of the video.

It puts Jenkins under a lot of pressure—I would suspect because the video shows that the guard had no reason to believe his life was in danger, and that her decision not to file charges was entirely political.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
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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