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We’ve been counted and studied. We still don’t have homes.

SWAT teams and police evict unhoused community in South Sacramento. Photo Crystal Rose Sanchez

“Excuse me, how many of you are sleeping under there?” a nasal voice yelled into the cardboard box my mama and me were sleeping in near the LA river. The voice was followed by a flashlight, even though it was broad daylight.

It was 1984 and the Olympics were about to go down in LA and the city decided to “count” unhoused people right before they arrested, harassed, and forced us out of town. I thought of this both traumatic and idiotic moment when the recent point in time counts of homeless people were released revealing “shocking” statistics like 43% rise in homelessness in Oakland and 17% rise in San Francisco.

Houseless poverty skola and RoofLESS radio reporter from Sacramento after being removed from vacant land promised for housing 8 years ago

“Ok you counted me, now are you going to give us a home?” my unhoused child self at the time wondered after the lady with the flashlight finished her survey and walked away.

From San Francisco to San Mateo the grim numbers rolled through corporate and independent media over the last week, “revealing” all the information we poor and unhoused folks already knew. There were a lot more of us.

So….?

Will the politricksters and non-profiteers re-build the thousands of units of poor-people housing they demolished over the last 30 years under an endless series of bogus acronyms like HOPE IV and RAD? Will rent control legislation be urgently implemented in every California county without the scamlords fighting it with billion-dollar campaigns?

Will proposition 10 or other Ellis Act repeal bills be re-introduced and passed because everyone realizes the emergency we are all in? Will the Hoarded Mama Earth report that lists literally thousands of vacant parcels of Mama Earth be listened to, resulting in the buying and un-selling of mama earth parcels so they can be used to build self-determined, homeless peoples-led projects like Homefulness?

Will politricksters put a moratorium on evictions and allocate the thousands of miles of vacant indigenous land they have occupied to unhoused peoples use so they can live safely?

Umm, sadly, the history and her-story of genocide tells me that in this stolen indigenous land that values private “property “ over humans, that’s built on greed, theft, genocide, scarcity models, krapitalism and white supremacy, instead of any solutions that actually help us, they will pass even more anti-poor people laws that make our existence illegal, hire more police to arrest, incarcerate, and kill us, and wealth-hoarders and academics like Marc Benioff will come up with more “great” ideas like spending $30 million dollars to study us.

SWAT teams and police evict unhoused community in South Sacramento. Photo Crystal Rose Sanchez

“There is nothing fun about sleeping in my van. It’s not camping or clamping or whatever, it’s just a slow torture, but it’s all I have and it’s a little better than when I was sleeping on the cement,” Joe, 46, a houseless RV dweller of San Mateo and roofLESS radio reporter for POOR Magazine as he talked about his city’s “ban on sleeping in his car” leaving him nowhere to go

SWAT gear and batons

While more studies and counts tell us what we already know and as this poverty skola has reported on too many times before, the newest “crime” of homelessness is the crime of sleeping while houseless which was recently passed in one of the most progressive cities in occupied Turtle Island aka Berkeley as well as San Mateo and Los Angeles. There is push back from organizers like Berkeley Friends on Wheels and First they Came for the Homeless, whose federal court case challenging Berkeley’s retaliatory belonging theft last year in a landmark case began today, but the hate and profiting off of our backs just increases.

“They came here with SWAT gear and guns and batons,” said one houseless poverty skola from the site of the violent attack by sheriffs on an encampment of unhoused people in Sacramento.

Two weeks ago, after over eight years of lies, demolitions of existent housing, and endless false promises, the mayor of Sacramento took it to a new level of violence against a humble encampment of houseless Sacramento residents who were camped out on a huge empty lot that is the site of a demolished poor people housing and a trailer park and promised but never manifested new and improved affordable housing.

“Thirty-five police cars rolled up, followed by a police helicopter, sheriffs and then a  swat team who all swooped down with violence on a small group of us peaceful advocates and unhoused folks, many of us were hit with batons, and then one of the officers broke the arm of one of the houseless residents, said Crystal Rose Sanchez, formerly houseless poverty skola and advocate with  Sacramento Reckless Charity, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, Sacramento Tenants Union, and the Poor People’s Campaign.

Crystal outlined the trail of tears that is common among all these cities where public land isn’t really public, where homeless “solutions” just lead to more abuse, and where so many continue to profit off our poverty.

“In 2010 when Obama granted $2.5 billion dollars to ‘solve’ homelessness, other states homelessness decreased while California’s homelessness increased. Now our mayor, who keeps talking about the “shelter model,” has been appointed as the states Homeless Commissioner and does nothing to solve homelessness except make it worse,” concluded Crystal.

Crystal reported this horrific story to RoofLESS radio on PNN-KEXU Po Peoples Revolutionary Radio and while she was reporting this horror, San Francisco roofLESS radio reporter Charles Pitts was filing cases in court to resist the lie of the Navigation Centers (San Francisco’s Big Idea), which are in no way an answer and yet continue to be all that’s ever put forth and fought for in the Bay.

“I’m so enraged that they continue to talk about building, creating, and opening more navigation centers that essentially are unsafe for us homeless folks to even stay in.”

Charles went on to explain that navigation centers under former homeless coordinator Bevan Dufty would actually allow an unhoused person to stay in residence until they secured housing for you. But now they are extreme band-aids, allowing people to sleep for short periods before they spit you back on the street.

“You know what this is about, this is about more greed,” said Larry Coke from Unite to Fight Displacement in West Oakland as he was suffering yet another “sweep” – read, harassment — of his small encampment in West Oakland.

“We are starting an army of poor people. It’s a non-violent army to take back the things that were taken from us,” Cheri Honkala said to Po’ Peoples Radio about the pro-active educational and action movement which will launch at the 2020 Democratic National Convention to resist more politricks and lies about our unhoused and poor bodies across this occupied land. The movement will include the launching of boot camps leading up to the convention, organizing and action tools from poor and houseless peoples from all across the country who are part of the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign.

In the end it does not matter how many times you count us houseless folks, we are still here, criminalized, swept and stolen from, which is why us poverty skolaz wrote the book “Poverty Scholarship.. Poor People-led theory, art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth. and the theatre production that will be on the stage at the historic Redstone Building in SF on Friday, June 7th. The production reveals poor people’s theory, which are not words and studies, but actual solutions us homeless and formerly homeless folks are building like Homefulness.

And as houseless and formerly houseless peoples it is why we are asking to shift the gaze from us (the unhoused) to you, the housed.

“I don’t want my houseless neighbors swept,” said Jon R, San Francisco housed resident of the Mission district.

Stop counting us, taking our pictures, using our bodies and struggles as your campaign slogans, our lives as your grant models and research projects — and instead to stand up, show up, act up and be counted yourselves, stating clearly that until there is housing or liberated indigenous land or redistributed resources like the new Bank of Community Reparations, which is being launched for unhoused, displaced communities and people, you don’t want your unhoused neighbors “swept,” removed, arrested, and stolen from.

In fact, what you as conscious housed people want, is for unhoused people to be seen as people, not trash. And for unhoused people to be housed.

Show up along with SURJ Bay Area and DSA SF and many more conscious folks to Prayer, Presence and Procession of the Housed for the Unhoused 1pm San Francisco City Hall 4pm Oakland City Hall for more information or to co-sponsor email poormag@gmail.com. To reserve tickets to the play Poverty Skolaz email poormag@gmail.com – reach tiny at  lisatinygraygarcia.com or on twitter @povertyskola

 

Arts Forecast: Open up your world with the SF International Arts Festival

Throat singing ensemble Chirgilchin brings folk music from the Republic of Tuva to SF International Arts Festival Fri/24. Photo courtesy of SF International Arts Festival

ARTS FORECAST Sure you’re broke — so let the artists from Hong Kong, Ireland, and the Czech Republic come to you? Such is the proposal of this week’s San Francisco International Arts Festival (Thu/23 to May 3) this week, and we suggest you take organizers up on their offer. This year, the festival tackles massive topics, appropriately expanded to encapsulate global thought processes. Challenges that lie in the path of democracy, environmental justice, and partnerships between artists of geographic variance are all explored.

A few quick picks, for those of you overwhelmed by an admittedly vast program; Japanese composer Tomoko Momiyama’s reflection on human navigation through an exploration of Bay Area seed science, migratory birds, and sea navigation (Thu/23, Sat/25, Sun/26) — a piece commissioned just for this festival’s audiences. SF’s own ABADÁ capoeira group takes the stage in a display of dazzling coordination and athleticism (May 31). The bulk of offerings are live stage offerings, but there will be a very rare screening (the first since the early ’90s!) of Iranian filmmaker Abdolreza Monjezi’s Abadani (Tue/28). And throat singing ensemble Chirgilchin delivers Republic of Tuva folk music alongside Khomus master Yuliyana Krivoshapkina.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL
Thu/23 to May 3
Various times, prices, and SF venues
Tickets and more info here

THROUGH SEPT. 1 HISTORY THEN THEY CAME FOR ME No Californian should be unaware of the horrific, community-wide detentions of the Japanese American community during World War II. This multimedia exhibit was recently extended through September, insures the era’s lessons will not be lost on modern audiences, and includes works by Japanese artists who were incarcerated like Toyo Miyatake and Miné Okubo. Wednesdays through Sundays, 10am-6pm, free. Futures Without Violence, SF. More info here.

WED/22 MUSIC HIEROGLYPHICS You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved East Bay hip hop group than this Oakland-founded movement, born all the way back in 1991. The whole crew’s in the house for tonight’s Berkeley show; Stoney Hawk, Rap Noir, T-K.A.S.H feat. DJ True Justice & K.E.V., S.A.V.E.1, and Mike Wird. 8pm, $32.50. UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall, Berk. Tickets and more info here.

WED/22-SUN/26 COMMUNITY SEX WORKER FILM AND ARTS FESTIVAL The 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have begun to address sex worker issues in their stump speeches and damn, is it about time. This year the SW community and their fans gather for a screening with Failed Film Festival, a movie marathon at the Roxie, and even a spa day for SWs to rest their tired paws. Go support—many of the gatherings are much-needed fundraisers in this dolorous SESTA/FOSTA era. Various times, prices, SF venues. More info here.

THU/23 & FRI/25 FILM BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK Get into the life of the brilliant anti-colonialist writer with this documentary film by Isaac Julien and Mark Nash, who will be in the building for post-screening discussion at both presentations of the film this week. Thu/23 7:30pm, $12. Red Bay Coffee, Oak. More info here. Fri/25 7pm, $13. Roxie Theater, SF. More info here

THU/23 MUSIC AH MER A SU BFF.fm is going in on a free concert series featuring some of the area’s finest sounds. Tonight is Star Amerasu’s turn, and she’ll be bewitching with major pipes laid over glittering synths. The singer is joined on the lineup by Bay chanteuse Maya Songbird6:30-9pm, free. Jack London Square, Oakl. More info here.

FRI/24 DANCE WISHES BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE Traverse the Fort Mason chapel, following the arch of SF dance legend Joe Landini of Tenderloin-based Safehouse’s SF International Arts Festival production. 9:30pm, $25. Fort Mason Center Chapel, SF. Tickets and more info here.

FRI/24-SUN/26 MUSIC CALIFORNIA ROOTS FESTIVAL It’s the 10th year of this smooth, diverse tunes fest in Monterrey. In 2019, you’ll be checking out sets by Ben Harper, UB40, Steel Pulse — and Cypress Hill! $245 three-day pass, $115 single day pass (advance prices). Monterey County Fair & Event Center. Tickets and more info here.

FRI/24 NIGHTLIFE WE ARE MONSTERS Bristol’s purveyor of techno adventure, Batu from Timedance, and Mozghan bring the noise at this edition of the laser-focused (no, literally) and wide-ranging nightlife crew We Are Monsters. 10pm-4am, $15. F8, SF. Tickets and more info here.

FRI/24 NIGHTLIFE CLUB LONELY DJs Vin Sol, Primo, Jeremy are well-known for crafting lil’ caves of house music for freaks—join them tonight if you’re looking to tap into the weird that is still alive in the City By the Bay. 10pm-2am. Club OMG, SF. More info here.

SAT/25 MUSIC REAL VOCAL STRING QUARTET The eclectic chamber-jazz-rock group performs tracks from “Culture Kin”, its new sonic collaboration with artists from San Francisco’s sister cities from Cote D’Voire, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, Brazil and Japan. 8pm, $24.50-29.50. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. Tickets and more info here.  

SAT/25 NIGHTLIFE ODYSSEY PRESENTS: ELI ESCOBAR AND MYSTIC BILL Those missing the gleeful, exuberant late nites guaranteed by Odyssey ravemasters DJs Elaine Denham and Robin Simmons must need pass through tonight’s reunion at Public Works with NY and Chi-Town guests par excellence. 9:30pm-3:30am, $15-17. Public Works, SF. Tickets and more info here

SAT/25 NIGHTLIFE CHINGONAS “Música de tu quince y sentido telenovela” are the mood at The Stud’s new Saturday night dance party. Capítulo uno features drag fromSF cornerstone Persia, hosting by Hard French doyenne Jorge Portillo, and the DJ stylings of Berlin’s Yha Yha and Siobhan Luvalot. 10pm-3am. The Stud, SF. More info here.

MON/27 SPORTS QUEER BOWLING $4 drink specials abound at this opportunity for the queers to come together and knock down a few frames — for free! — at the Mission’s glittering bowling base. Free bowling 6-9pm, open until 10pm. Mission Bowling Club, SF. More info here

TUE/28 NIGHTLIFE VICE TUESDAYS Many blessing to Iris Lena Triska, who continues to program one of the only weeklies left in town designed for queer women. Tonight she hosts, tunes spin, drinks are cheap, and the go-go’s slay. 9pm-2am, $5. QBar, SF. More info here.

 

Screen Grabs: ‘War and Peace’ thrills in its gargantuan spectacle

At the time, Sergey Bondarchuk’s 1966 'War and Peace' was purportedly the most expensive motion picture ever made. See it Sat/25 at the Castro. Photo courtesy of Janus Films.

The movies suffered an approximately 15 year case of elephantiasis starting in the early 1950s, when television began to seriously impact box-office returns. Hollywood’s idea was to give audiences more of what they couldn’t get on their—then-tiny—home screens: Bigness. Cast-of-thousands epics in widescreen formats, plus Technicolor and (for the year or two of the trend’s initial run) 3-D.

Of course, not everyone had the money to imitate this level of spectacle. It took the comparatively cash-strapped Soviets about a decade to catch up. But when they did, they more or less won the contest. Arriving a decade after Hollywood’s drastically simplified 3 1/2 hour version (with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn as Pierre and Natasha), Sergey Bondarchuk’s 1966 War and Peace was purportedly the most expensive motion picture ever made. It was certainly the longest (excluding anomalies like Andy Warhol’s Empire), at over eight hours. Among the publicity claims were that battle scenes had required up to 100,000 real USSR military personnel—which, if true, would have actually compromised Russia’s combat readiness at the height of the Cold War. In fact about one-tenth that number were used, just as the real budget was said to be about one-tenth the alleged $100 million.

Still, ten thousand is a lot of extras, and $10 million bought a lot of spectacle given that the film’s resources were undoubtedly greatly enhanced by full governmental cooperation. This celebration of Russian culture (with a slight edge of modern propaganda, though Tolstoy had already been judged ideologically sound by the Communists) was duly received as a big event around the globe. While not a massive export success in commercial terms (and criticized here for intrusive English dubbing), it did get around, winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar amongst numerous other kudos. Then it more or less disappeared.

For years, the only way you could see Bondarchuk’s grandiose epic was in home-video versions of frequently appalling, third-generation-TV-dupe quality. Even a 1999 DVD restoration was unable to find workable materials in the original 70mm format, forcing a reduced aspect ratio. However, a new restoration being shown at the Castro this Saturday in a single marathon screening (starting at 1 pm, with breaks between the four sections) somehow overcame those  obstacles, so all 422 minutes will be in gloriously wide ’Scope. (If you can’t handle that long a sit, Criterion Collection will be releasing it in Blu-ray and DVD box sets next month.)

This movie probably hasn’t been seen in any comparable form hereabouts in half a century. What is it like now? Well, over its lengthy span, War and Peace has time to be a lot of things. (Except dull, surprisingly, except perhaps in bits of the final and weakest section.) At times it’s clunky, theatrical, a jumble of strategies that feels like a semi-random compendium of four decades’ Soviet filmmaking techniques. The performances are highly variable, with too-old Bondarchuk’s own Pierre a bore, then-highly-praised Lyudmila Saveleva now hard to take as a wide-eyed ninny of a Natasha, while Vyacheslav Tikhonov is perfect as Prince Andrei.

Yet despite all uneven aspects, the whole is an overwhelming achievement. There are passages of startling grandeur—not just the exciting spectacle of huge choreographed balls or colossal, chaotic battle sequences, but some abstractions such as Andrei’s visions at death’s door. Though at times Bondarchuk barely seems in control of his own vision, the gigantic enterprise’s combination of sheer scale, relentless cinematic virtuosity (the tracking/crane shots remain extraordinary) and thematic breadth do manage to convey a real grasp of Tolstoy’s titanic work, not excluding its philosophical dimensions.

Like Berlin AlexanderplatzOur HitlerOut: 1Satantango or whatever other cinematic totem to excess you’d care to name, War and Peace is an experience whose sheer ambition ultimately transcends individual flaws, datedness, even your gradually numbing posterior. A la Mount Everest, it compels climbing simply because it is there. Sat/25 only at Castro Theatre. Tickets and more info here.

By contrast, this week’s commercial openings inevitably end up looking pretty trivial. There’s Disney’s latest live-action reboot, Aladdin, with Will Smith stepping into Robin Williams’ harem pants; a horror movie, Brightburn, which at least has the plus of being the first movie in several years starring Elizabeth Banks; and two comedies, one of which I walked out on (but I’m not saying which). Another actress-turned-director, Olivia Wilde, has gotten some high praise for her feature debut behind the camera Booksmart, which is more or less Superbad for 18-year-old girls. There’s also been advance praise for Michael J. Gallagher’s Funny Story (at the 4-Star), about a self-absorbed actor’s none-too-successful attempts to repair relations with his daughter on her wedding day.

New documentaries this week are led by Nureyev (at the Roxie), a hagiographic look at perhaps the greatest dancer of the 20th century. Can you go wrong with that subject? This often maddeningly pretentious film comes close, yet there’s enough buoyant performance footage here to bail out an even leakier ship. There’s also (at Opera Plaza) Walking on Water, about the latest site-specific sculptural mega-project by Christo—the visual artist who’s probably had his work more extensively documented by filmmakers than any contemporary. It is not to be confused with Once Was Water, the new environmental documentary by Christopher Beaver and Diana Fuller that’s being screened as a sneak preview at the Roxie (Wed/29) in a benefit for the SF Green Film Festival.

Elsewhere (all opening this Friday):

Non-Fiction

Olivier Assayas emerged in the late 80s and early 90s as an unpinnably independent new French talent, and he’s retained that unpredictable edge despite being accepted into the relative mainstream. There’s something to be said for a director in his mid-60s still capable of creating films as sharply divisive as Personal Shopper, while making others that are almost universally liked—a turbulent non-pattern that hasn’t smoothed out in over three decades.

His latest is one of those that is hard to dislike, and in fact I’d probably dislike anyone who disliked it. Guillaume Canet plays Alain, the chief editor at a fabled Paris publishing house that is struggling like every “old-school” cultural institution in an era of digitalization and free “content.” His wife Selena (Juliette Binoche), a successful if dissatisfied actress, is even more of a Luddite; ditto Leonard (Vincent Macaigne), an author whose novels are very thinly disguised exploitations of his own rather messy private life. (His character may be partly a satire of confessional literary celebrity Karl Ove Knausgard, whose art so often consists of bemoaning the loss of privacy he continues to bring upon himself and his loved ones.)

These bright, prickly, demanding people are all cheating on each other, of course. And when they’re not, they’re having erudite conversations about blogs, free speech, the eroding value of truth and expertise, print vs. e-readers, whether the internet is a democratizing utopia or simply a new way of selling ads for content without paying the content-providers … and other topics that should be dry as sawdust, yet here are terribly entertaining.

Non-Fiction is a “typical French movie” (arthouse division, that is), in that it revolves around a lot of interesting problematic, self-absorbed adults in variably discordant relationships, yakking it up. Unlike most such French films, however, it also has some surprising big laughs, which make it even more of a delight. Embarcadero, Shattuck Cinemas, Rafael Film Center. More info here.

Rafiki

This polished and colorful Kenyan drama debuted at Cannes but caused a bigger stir at home, where it was banned by censors for “promoting lesbianism … contrary to the law.” (Gay sex in Kenya can bring a prison sentence of 14 years.) Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is butch enough to be accepted as “one of the boys” by the local lads in her Nairobi ‘hood, but not so much so as to invite the homophobia they freely direct at others. In truth, they simply don’t get who or “what” she is until she falls a little too conspicuously in mutual love with pink-cornrowed Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), a rich girl.

Both these young women are the daughters of politicians—Kena’s shopkeeper dad is in fact running against Ziki’s fat-cat office holder—which adds yet more conflict to a relationship doomed to condemnation from nearly everyone around them once it’s found out. Wanuri Kahiu’s feature does not shrink from depicting the darker consequences that await them, but it stops short of tragedy, preferring to let love win. Given the odds against such happy endings for LGBTQ people in Kenya, that seems less a cop-out than a hard-won demonstration of hope. Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.

The Souvenir

Not long ago a friend learned that a sibling had a big secret: He’d had another spouse and child for years, entirely hidden from his even longer-term wife and children, whom he unceremoniously abandoned as soon as the jig was up. This wasn’t “having an affair” or some such, but a whole, separate, “double life.” Apparently this is a more common phenomenon than you’d expect. The new film by Joanna Hogg also revolves around a character with a (different) big secret, one I won’t spoil here—but be warned, probably every other review you read will give away that big reveal, which doesn’t arrive until well into the movie.

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda) is a child of privilege in Britain circa 1980. She wants to be a filmmaker less for reasons of evident talent or passion than because she seeks authenticity—her ideas all feel like ones arrived at because she thinks they’re what people want to hear. She’s the sort others are attracted to, if only because she’s generous with the perks of privilege they lack. (Schoolmates end up sharing her spacious flat, and she’s “too nice” to insist they pay rent.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she seeks a sort of ballast for her hidden insecurities in Anthony (Tom Burke), a much less apologetic toff who might as easily inhabit the era of Downton Abbey. Instead, he’s soon inhabiting Julie’s bed, requiring one “loan” after another, and so forth. If he weren’t so self-confident and privileged himself, one might think he was using her. Then at a dinner party one night when he’s out of the room, an observant guest makes an educated guess about him. It’s shockingly inflammatory—and, Julie soon realizes, quite accurate.

The Souvenir is about the kind of catastrophic abuser-and-enabler relationship that normally would be played for suspense or high melodrama. Yet Hogg’s approach is as neutral as Julie’s personality (or lack thereof), while her film’s aesthetic is grainy and basic in a way you might expect from a working-class Ken Loach drama. It’s a curious but interesting movie I’m not sure I liked. Nor am I sure Hogg views her alter-ego heroine as critically as she’s described above.

But very much in a “write what you know” vein of artistic inspiration (the story is drawn from the writer-director’s own collegiate experiences), The Souvenir does have its own particular integrity. On the other hand, like the three features Hogg has made previously, this first U.S.-released one is an exercise in navel-gazing “rich people’s problems” she observes from the very limited perspective of the bird inside that gilded cage. Embarcadero. More info here.

Under fire, SF cops announce criminal investigation of reporter

Thomas Burke, lawyer for Bryan Carmody, answers media questions after the hearing.

In a highly unusual move, SF Police Chief Bill Scott said today that the freelance journalist whose house was raided 11 days ago is a criminal suspect in an ongoing investigation.

At a hastily arranged press conference, Scott said that the SFPD suspects Bryan Carmody may have been involved in a criminal conspiracy to steal a confidential police report about the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

SFPD has come under criticism and ridicule from free-press advocates across the country for their May 10 raid at the home and office of Carmody, a freelance journalist who has worked in the Bay Area as a videographer and stringer for 30 years.

Chief Bill Scott, whose department is under fire for raiding a reporters’ home and office, now says the journalist is under investigation for criminal conspiracy.

Carmody said SFPD officers interviewed him on April 11 asking the name of the source who leaked him a police report with details of Jeff Adachi’s death. When he refused, he said the officers threatened him with a federal grand jury subpoena. He said he had no further contact with SFPD until May 10 when they arrived at his home and attempted to use a sledgehammer to gain entry to his home until Carmody opened the door for them.

“We do believe Mr. Carmody committed a crime, and that’s what we believed early on,” Scott said, but added, “There are some lessons to be learned here; we’re very humble about taking criticism.”

“Leaks happen all the time. The difference we believe here is the reporter crossed the line. We believe he took part in this act, this criminal activity,” Scott said.

In a written declaration attached to a motion to quash the search warrant filed last week, Carmody stated the leaked report was provided to him unsolicited by a source.

“I did not ask the source to provide me with this document,” he wrote. “I did not pay or provide any compensation whatsoever to the source for providing this report to me – nor did I promise them that I would pay or compensate them in the future in any way.”

It’s very rare for a reporter who receives confidential information from sources to face criminal conspiracy charges.

It’s also very rare for the normally secretive folks at SFPD to announce this sort of information about an ongoing investigation.

The press conference came just hours after a court hearing on Carmody’s move to undo the search warrant and return his property.

At the hearing, an SFPD attorney said the seized items will be returned. However, it remains unclear if the SFPD has already examined the material in the two weeks since the raid on Bryan Carmody’s home and office, or if police have retained copies.

Thomas Burke, lawyer for Bryan Carmody, answers media questions after the hearing.

Thomas Burke, a first amendment and media attorney representing Carmody, filed a motion last week asking the search warrant be quashed and the 68 seized items —including phones, computers, tablets, hard drives and notebooks – be returned. Separately, the First Amendment Coalition filed a motion to unseal the probable cause memos that SFPD presented to two judges to obtain search warrants.

Burke also represents 48hills on media-law issues.

To the surprise of many, including Judge Samuel Feng, City Attorney Dennis Herrera is not representing the SFPD in this case and sent nobody to the hearing.

Feng even asked from the bench why the City Attorney’s Office wasn’t present. Ronnie Wagner, the SFPD in-house lawyer, said she didn’t know.

Herrera’s office offered no comment on the matter. But Herrera would have been in a terrible political situation trying to defend the city on this case.

As of Tuesday morning, no opposition brief had been filed with the court, and attorneys were optimistic the judge might make a favorable ruling from the bench.

“I don’t think we were aware that anyone was even going to appear today on behalf of the city,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. “They had the opportunity to file some papers and they chose not to do so.”

But Wagner, who works in the SFPD Legal Division, appeared in court and said while SFPD was prepared to return all of the seized items, they would challenge the motions to quash and unseal the search warrants.

Judge Feng ordered opposition briefs to be filed by May 31, and replies no later than June 7. A hearing date for the matter won’t be set until June 10.

Even if the seized items are returned, Burke said he still wants the search warrants revoked.

“We want it made clear that they shouldn’t have been issued in the first place,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.

California’s Shield Law, which was enshrined in the state constitution in 1980, protects journalists from being forced to disclose sources or unpublished material except in cases where it may interfere with a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial. Burke said it creates a “subpoena-first” policy, which is the appropriate way to get information from a journalist.

“It’s like a sniper shot — as opposed to a search warrant, which is a net that grabs everything you’ve ever worked on,” he said. “That’s never appropriate.  It’s not appropriate in San Francisco, it’s not appropriate anywhere in the country.”

Snyder said the public has a right to see the documentation SFPD presented to obtain the warrant because it will help explain if the judges who signed off on them understood the target was a journalist, and “help unravel the mystery of what went off the rails here that allowed these search warrants to be issued.”

Typically the search warrant applications are made public after a warrant is issued. In this case, for reasons that are unclear, the application memo has been sealed.

“What’s at stake here is the ability of the Fourth Estate…to conduct its constitutionally-protected mission, which is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy,” he said. “When the core mission of journalism is threatened in the way that I think it has been here, the entire public suffers.”

Court to hear arguments on police raid of reporters house

The fate of the property of journalist Bryan Carmody – and the role of the local courts in allowing a clearly illegal search warrant that is an assault on the First Amendment and the California Constitution – will play out in court Tuesday/21.

Thomas Burke, Carmody’s attorney, fled a motion last week asking that the search warrant the police used to seize Carmody’s computers, cameras, notes, and other property be quashed and the property be returned to him immediately.

The case will come before Judge Samuel Feng.

The case leaves City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a tricky situation. He’s generally been good on news media issues – but now has to defend the Police Department in a case where there’s absolutely no legal justification for what happened.

The role of Mayor London Breed and Chief William Scott in defending this assault on the free press has made national news and has been embarrassing for the entire city. Now, Herrera has to argue that the shield law, the state Constitution, and the well-established rights of reporters to protect confidential sources.

From the brief:

State and federal law make it virtually impossible for government officials to obtain and execute search warrants targeting journalists’ newsgathering material. Instead, the Legislature and Congress both have adopted “subpoena-first” regimes which ensure that journalists have the opportunity to assert their rights against compelled disclosure in a noticed, contested court proceeding before a search takes place.

Despite this unambiguous controlling law, the San Francisco Police Department dispensed with the subpoena requirement entirely in this case and executed a pair of violent and breathtakingly overbroad searches of journalist Bryan Carmody’s home and office after obtaining plainly invalid warrants. In a needless display of force, nearly a dozen armed officers used a sledgehammer to break into Mr. Carmody’s residence and then kept him handcuffed for hours as they rummaged through his personal and professional belongings and seized 68 different items, including numerous computers, phones, cameras, tablets, hard drives, and reporters notebooks which Mr. Carmody uses for his work as a journalist.

The Shield Law protects against the compelled disclosure of journalists’ unpublished editorial information and resource materials. The law has been clear for decades that the Shield Law applies to freelance reporters like Mr. Carmody, and it broadly applies to any and all unpublished information obtained in the course of gathering and disseminating information to the public. Mr. Carmody gathered the information at issue in his role as a journalist, and as a non-party embroiled in a criminal investigation his protection under the Shield Law is absolute and not subject to any balancing of countervailing interests.

The government has not, and could not, make such a showing in this case, in which it has engaged in a breathtakingly overbroad fishing expedition by seizing dozens of electronic devices containing massive volumes of data related to all of Mr. Carmody’s newsgathering activities, with no particularized showing of need for any particular piece of information, and no showing of exhaustion of alternative sources.

Representing the city will be Sean Connolly, who is a former lawyer for the SF Police Officers Association now working for the city attorney.

I have long argued that the news media shouldn’t have paid for or used the leaked report about Adachi’s death. That’s an ethics issue, not a legal issue. In terms of the law, as far as I can understand it, this one’s a slam dunk – and the cops who asked for the search warrant and Judges Gail Dekreon and Victor Hwang who approved it, have a lot to answer for.

And speaking of police: May 22 is Harvey Milk’s birthday, and there will be numerous celebrations. Funcheap SF has a good rundown here.

In the first few years after Milk was assassinated by Supervisor (and former cop) Dan White, city leaders including Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown showed up for the birthday marches (although Feinstein never went to a Pride Parade as mayor).

But as former Supervisor and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano remembers, there was never much talk about police reform in those days from City Hall. “It was no oversight, just a rubber stamp,” he told me — except from Harry Britt, Milk’s successor, who managed to create the Office of Citizens Complaints (now the Office of Police Accountability) — but he had to go to the ballot to do it.

The Democratic County Central Committee will meet Wednesday/22 to discuss, among other things, the controversial move by UCSF to affiliate with Dignity Health,a Catholic hospital group that does not offer abortions, has been charged with discriminating against transgender people, and in some cases asks affiliated doctors to sign a document agreeing that contraception is “intrinsically evil.”

From a petition signed by some 1,500 doctors and staff:

We are writing to you as UCSF faculty, staff, students, trainees, and alumni to express our deep concern about the UCSF affiliation with Dignity Health, particularly in light of the recent merger of Dignity Health with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). While Dignity Health has traditionally operated both Catholic (the majority of their hospitals) and non-Catholic hospitals, CHI hospitals and clinics are all direct Catholic ministries. These Catholic hospitals are required to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to the June 2018 update of these directives, Catholic health care facilities CANNOT PERMIT the following services:

  • Use of any form of contraception (a method to prevent pregnancy) except the provision of “natural family planning” counseling for married heterosexual couples
  • Use of in vitro fertilization to become pregnant (conception outside of a female’s body)
  • Use of a sperm or ovum donor
  • Use of a surrogate to carry a pregnancy
  • The termination of pregnancy (abortion), even in many cases in which a pregnancy is considered life-threatening

Dignity Health owns some non-Catholic hospitals (e.g. St. Francis in San Francisco), but these facilities must follow the Dignity Health Statement of Common Values whichdoes not permit use of in vitro fertilization, or the termination of pregnancy.

In addition, Catholic healthcare facilities interpret the Ethical and Religious Directives to explicitly prohibit the provision of gender affirming services (such as hormone treatment, hysterectomy, and mastectomy) for transgender people.

These are scary times for reproductive rights, transgender rights, and the rights of women to control their own bodies. UCSF is a public institution operating with tax money in a state where the vast majority of people support a woman’s right to choose (and pretty much everyone except a tiny minority – and I am including most Catholics here– opposes the Church’s position on birth control and in vitro fertilization).

Hard to imagine that we are even having this discussion in 2019. But UCSF isn’t backing down. And we haven’t heard from Gov. Gavin Newsom on the deal.

The item was added to the DCCC agenda late, so it will take a two-thirds vote to allow discussion and possible approval of a resolution opposing the affiliation. The opponents of the affiliation deal want the Board of Supes to pass its own resolution (and potentially, this could wind up at the state Democratic Convention in June).

The committee will also consider a new set of rules for behavior of its members – spurred by the bizarre racist statements of Angela Alioto at the last DCCC meeting. There’s no formal legislation, Chair David Campos told me; he wants a group of members and community people to draft the rules.

The supes will consider Tuesday/21 the nomination of landlord lawyer David Wasserman for another term on the Rent Board. The Rules Committee unanimously supported the nomination, and it will probably pass easily at the full board.

But a few things are worth noting from the Rules hearing Monday.

Critics argued that Wasserman may not live in San Francisco – he owns a nice house in Mill Valley, where he freely admitted he was living when former Mayor Ed Lee named him to the panel.

Wasserman takes his state homeowner’s exemption on his tax return at the Mill Valley address – which creates what the lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption” that he lives there.

And rebut it he did – he said that he is registered to vote in SF and that his driver’s license lists an apartment he owns on Fourth Avenue.

But he said that when Lee appointed him, “I scrambled very hard to find residency here. After a couple of months, I purchased a four-unit building in the Richmond district.” So he wasn’t living her when he was appointed.

He said he lives in one of the units now. Fine, maybe he does.

But here’s the more poignant moment in his testimony:

I humbly act — ask for the following. Whether you vote to remove me or not, at the end of the day, that is unimportant compared to the bigger picture of not politicizing the Rent Board, and I believe that is somebody who has been involved with the Rent Board for 23 years as a practitioner and almost five as a commissioner. We have great talent down there, on both sides, the tenant side and on our side, and I’d hate to see that system become politicized.

For the last 40-plus years, since 1979, we had a Rent Board that works.

Yes: For 40 years, there was an unwritten rule that the mayor would consult with the landlord and tenant communities before making appointments. The landlords wanted Wasserman; Ed Lee appointed him.

But it was Mayor London Breed who shattered that four-decade truce when she kicked Polly Marshall off the panel and appointed someone who clearly wasn’t qualified. The supes made sure that was fixed, but please:

Where was Wasserman when Breed politicized the Rent Board? I didn’t hear a peep from him.

The mayor’s housing bond will be at the Board of Supes Budget and Finance Committee Wed/22. I don’t think anyone is against the idea of a $500 million bond act for affordable housing – except that it’s far too small. With more than 8,000 homeless people on the streets and in their cars, $500 million will barely make a dent.

There’s no reason the bond act can’t be much larger – say, $1 billion or even more – except that nobody at City Hall wants to push a bond that raises property taxes. I get it – you need two-thirds to pass a bond act, and the moment you raise taxes you get opposition, and if landlords can pass it on to tenants, you get more (legit) opposition.

But I continue to ask: If the folks at City Hall really wanted to build a significant amount of new affordable housing, couldn’t they craft a measure that limits pass-through to tenants, raises taxes (just a little) on property – and campaign for it? Couldn’t we get a two-thirds vote?

The Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee will hold a hearing Thursday/23 on the Feb. 6 gas line explosion at Geary and Parker. The fire burned for hours while PG&E refused to shut off the gas to the areas as crews hand-dug through the street to get to a valve. A contractor working for Verizon didn’t have a valid state license, KQED reports.

Sups. Sandra Lee Fewer and Catherine Stefani want to dig through the disaster and figure out what really happened – and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

Cal Shakes begins new season fostering fresh voices in theater

For its production of 'Black Odyssey', Cal Shakes invited a discussion of spirituality to the stage. Photo by Kevin Berne

The people working at California Shakespeare Theater go all in when it comes to equity and inclusion. That means along with its program to expand the canon by commissioning playwrights from diverse backgrounds — an effort dubbed the New Classics Initiative — the company also works with community organizations to engage audiences.  

Take this season’s House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar. According to artistic director Eric Ting, the play’s director, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, describes it as having “a cast of brown women kicking ass.”

“It’s a South Asian action adventure romance set in harem in 17th century India during the decline of Mughal Empire,” Ting said, who adds that the production is funny, with great fight scenes. “Looking at season, we were talking a lot about #MeToo and gender bias in our culture, and this play spoke to that.”

No men were allowed in harems, and they were self-contained communities with schools and their own economies and women were separate from the male gaze. 

Eric Ting steers the ship as Cal Shakes’ artistic director. Photo by Jay Yamada.

“Harems could seem a kind of paradise on earth,” Ting said. “But they were built on patriarchy, and because of that, they could never be a true paradise.”

Other plays this season include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Good Person of Szechwan, and Macbeth. Along with trying to reimagine and expand classics, Cal Shakes also hosts community nights and story circles for which it invites people to talk about the play. Last season, for Quixote Nuevo, Octavio Solis’ production, cast members and Solis had discussions with members of the Latinx community. For Marcus Gardley’s black odyssey, the company invited members of the Black spiritual community to come have a conversation. For House of Joy, they will have members of the cast and others who worked on the play talking with Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African people who work in the arts locally.

When Ting came to Cal Shakes four years ago from the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, his background was primarily in working with new plays and emerging writers. He thinks that makes him a good person to take on Shakespeare’s plays since Shakespeare often adapted popular stories of his time. One thing they’re trying to do at Cal Shakes, Ting says, is to celebrate language while creating new classics. 

This season opens with a staging of Octavio Solis’ ‘Quixote Nuevo’. Photo by Kevin Berne

“There are often political references in Shakespeare, and he was often referred to as a chronicler of his time,” he said. “Here we’re having living writers in constant dialogue with Shakespeare as we endeavor to create something more inclusive onstage.” 

Ting, who has never lived west of the Mississippi, says he’s glad to be in California and at Cal Shakes.

“I think a lot of artists say they want to live in interesting times, and it’s interesting times here in the Bay Area. We’re in the midst of wave of change, and we’re all trying to figure out what’s on the other side of it,” he said. “It seems like the best thing is to anchor ourselves in our collective humanity, and that’s a perfect stew for making theater.” 

Cal Shakes season starts May 22 with Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tickets and more info here.

The real lessons from the surging numbers of homeless people on the streets of SF

Street art by Romanowski

The biggest takeaway from the disturbing (but not surprising) new homeless-count numbers is not that there are more homeless people on the streets. We all know that.

Street art by Romanowski

It’s this:

Mayor London Breed says she is doing everything she can, and has “made progress:”

She said she has several plans in the works to step up the city’s homelessness efforts, including opening 304 new shelter beds and 300 more units of permanent supportive housing this year. She’s also proposing a ballot measure for a $500 million affordable housing bond, and supports rezoning efforts to allow higher-density, more affordable housing.

“There’s not just one thing that’s going to fix this,” she said. “I know this count will discourage a lot of people, but it’s important to remember where we were last year. Last year you saw a lot of big tent camps — like at 13th Street, and now we have a beautiful Navigation Center (shelter) there. We’ve helped 1,200 people out of homelessness since I came into office. We have made progress.”

And yet, from the head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing:

Kositsky said city tracking data show that for every person who exits homelessness, three fall into it. Santa Clara and Alameda counties also are showing similar trends, and, bolstered by a Bay Area Council report issued last month calling for more regional cooperation on homeless efforts, planners across the Bay Area are trying to do that.

Actually, the Bay Area Council is doing nothing to address the root problem. Neither, so far, is Breed, or any of our state legislators.

The problem is that, without a major dedicated revenue stream, we can’t build supportive housing fast enough to keep up with the evictions and displacement that the tech boom has caused.

You want root causes? The Twitter tax break, Airbnb, the Google buses – all of those policies have driven longtime residents out of their homes. Remember: 70 percent of homeless people in San Francisco used to have a home in San Francisco. But the influx of high-paid tech workers to a city that already had an affordable housing crisis – and the greed of landlords and speculators – have pushed thousands onto the streets.

Breed had a chance early in her administration to make a big difference. She could have supported Prop. C, and it would have passed with a two-thirds vote, and that money would now be dedicated to building supportive housing. But she didn’t.

Now the Prop. C money is tied up in the courts while the homeless population that could have been helped — right now, today — continues to swell.

Breed’s $500 million housing bond is barely going to scratch the surface of the problem: That much money might, with state and federal matching funds, build 1,500 units of affordable housing. In three years or so, when that comes on line, 1,500 people who are now homeless will get a chance at housing

And 4,500 more will have become homeless.

The Bay Area Council could actually do something about this. It’s a powerful organization with a lot of big-business support. Breed could help. Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting could help. Gov. Gavin Newsom could play a huge role.

What they could do is make it clear that the state Legislature needs to do two things: Spend a significant amount of the budget surplus on affordable housing – and repeal the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins.

There is no housing solution that doesn’t start with giving cities the ability to protect existing vulnerable residents from eviction, displacement, and homelessness. The cheapest affordable housing in San Francisco is the existing rent-controlled housing stock – and protecting those renters is central to any move to address homelessness.

As long as landlords have an incentive to evict longtime residents, and speculators can buy up apartment buildings and evict everyone to flip them as TICs, homelessness is going to be growing.

I have had many discussions of late about Wiener’s SB 50 and the need for more housing density. The problem is that more housing density doesn’t translate into more housing affordability – and in some cases can translate into displacement. And I always wind up with the same question:

Why does Sacramento want to put more mandates on cities to allow private-market development – and yet refuses to give cities the tools to handle the impacts and prevent the resultant displacement of existing vulnerable communities?

Here’s a concept for Wiener: A lot of us are willing to accept more density (if the money for transit and infrastructure comes with it). But first we want a guarantee that there’s adequate affordable housing in the mix of new construction — and that low-income and working-class people who live here now get to stay.

Either the state gives cities the right to prevent evictions and impose real rent control — that is, more housing regulation, not deregulation — and pays for real affordable housing, or the tech companies leave and go somewhere else … or homelessness will keep growing in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And no amount of navigation centers or shelter beds or modest bond acts will change that.

A hippie van and an annoying smart-phone dude

Precita Park is normally pretty peaceful -- but not when someone tries to hassle a homeless person in a hippie van

The number of San Francisco people living in cars, vans or other vehicles has increased by a whopping 45 percent in the last two years. That’s the major takeaway in the depressing new report about the big leap in the city’s homeless population.

Precita Park is normally pretty peaceful — but not when someone tries to hassle a homeless person in a hippie van

Last week, this homeless-on-wheels human drama struck my own life. I was strolling with my dog Brando in Precita Park, where I can let him romp off leash when the park is mostly unoccupied. Suddenly I heard some angry shouting along the street that borders the north side of the park. A shaggy, gray-haired, bearded gentleman, who looked like a veteran of San Francisco’s legendary past, was angrily yelling at a younger man who stood a dozen feet in front of him, implacably filming the irate elder on his smart phone.

“Why are you filming me? What right do you have to do that, you little fucker?” Actually, the smart-phone dude was filming not just the fuming older man, but also his colorfully-painted van, whose exterior was blossoming with psychedelic flowers. It was clear that the gray-haired man was living in his hippie van, which was parked alongside the park. And as I quickly surmised, the smart-phone videographer lived somewhere nearby and objected to the older man’s temporary residence in the neighborhood. It seemed he was filming the van and its occupant in order to report him to the authorities.

I’ve lived in the neighborhood with my family for more than 25 years, and I have a good feeling for the park area and its regulars, but I didn’t recognize Mr. Smart Phone.

Meanwhile the gray-haired man was still venting. “I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not bothering anybody — this is my city!” he yelled at his video stalker. “Your daddy and mommy probably bought you your house, or you bought it with your IPO money.”

Mr. Smart Phone didn’t flinch. He merely climbed up on the park grass from the street and kept filming his target from a different angle. He was strangely impassive throughout the loud encounter, as if he were coding at his computer. He wore glasses and fashionably informal slacks and shirt, and he looked to be in his 40s. But at one point, as the confrontation seemed to reach a climax, Mr. Smart Phone made a threat — in a taut voice — to go back to his house and arm himself with something.

It was at this explosive point that I intervened in the drama. I tend to do that sort of thing; I’m the impulsive type and I want street justice to be served. Standing at my office window in the old SF Examiner building at Fifth and Mission, I once saw someone stab a man in the stomach on the corner below. And without thinking, I ran down the stairs and chased the assailant into a nearby parking structure, and pointed him out to the police. Call me a good citizen, or a fucking idiot…maybe a little of both.

Anyway, I inserted myself into the park standoff. “What’s going on?” I asked. “What’s the problem?”

Mr. Smart Phone sized me up — an elderly, decently-tailored gentleman with a walking cane — and thought I would immediately be on his side. He walked towards me and started to complain about how the gray-haired man and his hippie van were parked overnight on the street.

“Okay,” I said, “but why are you surveilling him?” It was a loaded question for Mr. Smart Phone. He knew “surveillance” was still not totally cool in San Francisco. As he was continuing towards me, his jaw hardened and his eyes grew cold. He said nothing. So I asked him another question, even though I knew it would be even more provocative. Like I said — I’m an idiot. We live in times when even the most everyday altercations can turn deadly. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“I’m curious — I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time and I don’t recognize you,” I said. “How long have YOU lived here?” Since he was applying residency standards to the man in the hippie van, I thought it was a legitimate question. But Mr. Smart Phone didn’t. “Fuck you!” he exploded, just a few feet from my face. Here I was trying to calm things down and they were quickly spiraling out of control.

Just then a neighbor whom I’ll call Maria, whose fluffy little dog often plays with Brando, came to the rescue. “Why are you bothering people with your phone?” she bravely asked the menacing man. “We don’t like that sort of thing in our neighborhood.” And with that show of neighborhood solidarity — that clear expression that Mr. Smart Phone was violating our more tolerant community standards — he sheepishly backed down and walked away.

The hippie van-owner then hurried over to Maria and me and thanked us profusely for our intervention. “This gives me hope about out city,” he said. “You can’t treat people the way this dude was treating me — like I don’t belong here, like I don’t have a right to exist. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 35 years. I was a social worker, but I lost my home. I’m only going to park here for a couple more days, then I’m leaving the city.”

As we kept talking, he figured out who I was and that I had authored Season of the Witch— a book he said he loved. He ran to his van to retrieve a copy of his own recently published memoirs, which he kindly gave me. What had been an ugly incident in the park — one that exposed the current clash of values in San Francisco — had suddenly turned into a literary love-in.

“Can I hug you two?” asked my fellow author. And he, Maria and I all had a nice group hug in the park.

He then returned to his brightly decorated van — a vehicle, ironically, that could be used by one of the many San Francisco tour bus lines that charge steep prices to carry nostalgic tourists up and down the city’s majestic hills in hippie vans.

The afternoon drama ended on a somber note. Before Maria and I parted company, she told me an unsettling story. The 30-something woman immigrated years ago from Latin America to the Mission, the city’s traditionally Latino district. Yet even here, she is sometimes treated as an outsider. 

“I know how that man in the van feels. The other day I was walking my little dog and she peed against a tree on the sidewalk. A woman came out of her house and began screaming at me, even though the tree was on public property.”

Maria began to explain to the woman that this is what dogs do, in a voice that still carries the accent of her birthplace.

“Go back to where you came from!” yelled the furious woman at Maria.

We all came from somewhere else, except the indigenous peoples whose land we stole. That’s what I would like to tell that woman. 

And here’s what I’d like to tell Mr. Smart Phone if I ever see him again (although I should probably keep my mouth shut). Anyone who’s lived in San Francisco for many years and has given the city his or her blood, sweat and tears (of joy and sorrow) deserves to stay here, even if they’re forced to sleep in their hippie vans. The city belongs to these people more than it does to you. It should be their sanctuary, a space unviolated by entitled, snooping people with smart phones.

Finally, a city study says public power makes perfect sense

The city owns a hydropower system that can deliver carbon-free energy to SF -- but PG&E is making that difficult

It’s hard to believe, after I’ve spent more than three decades talking about the advantages of public power in San Francisco, that City Hall – including the Mayor’s Office – is finally coming around.

In a stunning report issued this week, the city’s Public Utilities Commission concludes that buying out the private utility’s local infrastructure and creating a full municipal utility makes financial and environmental sense.

The city owns a hydropower system that can deliver carbon-free energy to SF — but PG&E is making that difficult

It’s almost as if the SFPUC, which resisted public power under every mayor since the dam was built at Hetch Hetchy reservoir, went back and read this issue of the Bay Guardian (and about 100 others over the years) and realized: Hey, this actually makes sense.

The reality is that PG&E is falling apart, and made a huge political mistake when it picked a fight with the city over connection issues. The reality is that the private utility will never meet clean-energy goals, and the city can. The reality is that – when you look at the hard numbers – San Francisco can buy out the local infrastructure (thanks to the brilliance of Prop. A, more on that in a moment), create 100 renewable power, and still cut rates and probably wind up with excess revenue in the process.

And, of course, for the first time enforce the Raker Act, which requires the city to have public power.

The study, which is just preliminary, has been so far ignored by the Chron, although the Public Press covered it. It concludes:

  • The city has been paying far too much money to PG&E for the transmission of Hetch Hetchy power, which San Francisco owns, to local agencies and customers.
  • The city could buy PG&E’s local infrastructure – the power lines that are needed to deliver electricity on a retail basis – and still cut rates and provide more green power.
  • The Board of Supervisors already has the right to vote for revenue bonds, backed by the money the city would make from its power utility, and it’s likely those bonds would come at a very reasonable interest rate.
  • All of PG&E’s union workforce in San Francisco could move over to the city with no loss of wages or benefits.

In other words, creating a municipal power utility makes perfect sense:

The City can completely remove its reliance on PG&E for local electricity services through purchasing PG&E’s electric delivery assets and maintenance inventories in and near San Francisco, and operating them as a public, not for profit service. The City will pay PG&E a fair price for the assets that reflects asset condition. In this option, the City will also offer jobs to PG&E’s union and other employees who currently operate the grid. The City will expand the Hetch Hetchy Power publicly‐owned utility service to all of San Francisco, to provide clean, safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable service to all customers. The City will be responsible for upgrading and modernizing PG&E’s electric facilities in San Francisco that are aging or unable to support new supply and distribution grid technologies, and will be able to better control the pace and priority of those improvements.

The CleanPowerSF customer base, workforce, and supply commitments will be integrated into the Hetch Hetchy Power public utility, with service quality and affordability held accountable by San Franciscans through their local elected officials. Power independence for San Francisco will eliminate the need to fight for fair treatment from PG&E. City projects will no longer be affected by PG&E’s requirements and delays. The City will also be well positioned to meet its climate goals – through both supply‐and grid‐dependent actions – and efforts towards other critical priorities will be supported and advanced through comprehensive, local oversight of all electric services.

One of the factors that PG&E has always used to oppose a municipal takeover is the “billions” in potential costs to buy the system. The PUC recognizes that “billions” could be the price range.

That seems a little high to me, since PG&E’s entire market cap today – that is, the price of the entire company – is $18 billion, and San Francisco is only a small part of the company’s huge system, which serves 16 million customers. Fewer than 1 million of those are in San Francisco.

But whatever: In the many, many years that I have studied this, I have gone over all the figures in great detail, and the most important thing I have learned is that the price of buying the system isn’t that important.

It could be $1 billion, or $2 billion. Even at the high end, the interest on the bonds that would finance the buyout would be far, far less than the revenue the city would get from retail power distribution.

Tax-free Muni bonds that are highly rated (as SF’s would be) are paying about five percent interest these days. So we’re talking $50 million a year to pay the nut on a billion-dollar bond.

Double that? Pay $2 billion for the system? It’s $100 million a year in costs.

The SFPUC estimates that the revenue from sales of electricity in the city would be between $500 and $700 million a year.

The cost of the buyout isn’t an issue – at any reasonable price (and the system is going to be available for a reasonable price because PG&E is in bankruptcy) the city will make gobs of money on the deal.

As USF graduate student Matthew Chiodo reports in an upcoming paper, energy markets are complicated, but San Francisco already has a community-choice aggregation program in place, and can use that to purchase 100 percent renewable power on the market. It can also enter into agreements with solar and wind-power developers who can build medium-scale programs to serve the city.

And it can promote rooftop solar and make it easier to residents and businesses to put their excess power into the grid during the day and draw it out at night (without paying high fees).

The PUC report, of course, has some mangled history:

With the ongoing construction of the Hetch Hetchy Water and Power Project, and electric generation dating back as early as 1918, San Francisco set itself on a trajectory of measured independence from PG&E. Since the early part of the 20th century, the City has owned, operated and maintained generation and transmission facilities, and some distribution facilities. For decades, San Francisco purchased distribution services from PG&E pursuant to a series of bilateral agreements that allowed the City to deliver power to its numerous individual customers scattered throughout the City. These agreements with PG&E to purchase distribution services mitigated the need for the City to invest in its own comprehensive distribution facilities.

“Mitigated the need?” Actually, no: In a century-long scandal of stunning proportions, the city by law was always supposed to buy its own distribution system, but PG&E spent a fortune opposing the bond acts that would be needed to build that system and at least 10 times, defeated public-power efforts.

But whatever, those days are over. In a brilliant political stroke, Sup. Aaron Peskin figured out a way to authorize the board to issue revenue bonds for green power projects, and got Prop. A on the ballot with the unanimous support of his colleagues. It passed overwhelmingly, and now PG&E can’t block acquisition as easily. Revenue bonds don’t require a ballot measure that would be subject to a multimillion-dollar PG&E attack.

And the SFPUC is, finally, pointing out that it has the experience and staff to run a public utility. The argument that the city can’t run its own power system (another PG&E claim over the years) is falling apart as the PUC successfully takes on more and more energy projects.

So everything is in place for SF to create a municipal utility that can provide clean energy, local control, lower rates – and potentially a huge source of revenue for the city.

BREAKING: Wiener’s housing deregulation bill on hold — for now

Scott Wiener's nightlife bill is foundering, but he's still pushing for "by-right" housing

State Senator Scott Wiener’s AB 50, which would have deregulated housing across California, was pulled from this year’s Legislative session today.

Sen. Anthony Portantino, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the bill won’t be reconsidered until the 2020 session.

Sen. Scott Wiener wants to force cities to allow more high-end housing, without giving them the tools or money to control the impacts

Wiener immediately tweeted that “there is no demise of SB 50 It is alive and well. … at least it will get a vote in January, but there are ways it could have a vote this year. This isn’t even close to over.”

But opponents of the bill, including Housing is a Human Right, said the measure appears dead for this year, and that the organizing effort that defeated it is prepared for the long-term.

“He’s going to have a much harder time [pushing the bill in 2020], Jill Stewart, director of the Coalition to Save LA, said in a conference call with reporters today. “But he will be back and we will be ready.”

The defeat came in the wake of a new study showing that Wiener’s approach could cause a lot more harm than good.

Governor Gavin Newsom said he was disappointed with the Legislature, but he hasn’t introduced any comprehensive housing package of his own. And the defeat of the Wiener bill suggests that any package will have to include tenant protections, including reform of the Costa-Hawkins Act, which limits local rent controls, and the Ellis Act, which allows speculators to buy buildings, evict all the tenants, and flip them as condos.

This is a breaking story and we will keep you updated.