News + Politics

Holding the cops — and their union — accountable

When the Rules Committee meets Thursday morning to discuss police use of force, I suspect there will be a lot of focus on policy, which is fine: You have to set good rules to get good outcomes, and some of the rules that the SFPD plays by need to be changed.

The move to fire Chief Suhr isn’t about Suhr himself as much as it is about someone being accountable for bad police shootings

But there’s another question looming, and it has to be addressed:

Where, in all of this, is the accountability?

I got an email today from John Crew, who has spent much of his legal career in the field of police oversight, and was for many years the police practices lawyer at the Northern California ACLU.

He’s send a long message to the supes, which I will print below, but let me summarize:

It does no good to set new policies if there’s no accountability for people who violate them.

We can have all the new equipment and new procedures in place that Chief Suhr wants, but none of it will make any difference if officers are allowed to break the rules with impunity:

Even if they all have Tasers and shields and nets and what have you, and are all trained in crisis intervention and force de-escalation and modern averted shootings theories and practices, in the end it will not matter if the deadly force standard (which is not going to change) is not enforced.  At some point, the thing they’re trying so desperately to avoid — accountability — must be addressed.

The cops in San Francisco are not supposed to shoot someone unless there is “an imminent danger of death or great bodily injury.” In the Mario Woods case, that’s really, really hard to see.

So even if we change the policy and say officers should first use shields, or tasers, or whatever … why are we not taking disciplinary action against the cops who may have violated existing policy? And why would we trust any new policy if nobody has to pay attention to it anyway?

In short, if officers can shoot with impunity, they’ll be much less concerned about changing mindsets and habits that bring about the ‘shoot/don’t shoot’ moments — regardless of what ‘new’ tools, policy guidance, and training they’re provided.

That, of course, is one of the problems advocates have with Tasers. You give the cops a new weapon, and they will use it – sometimes properly, sometimes not. (In the Woods case, I can see half a dozen officers firing their Tasers at once, zapping him with so much electricity that he would have died of a heart attack.)

The mayor has expressed his concern about what happened, and has offered to meet with Woods’ mother. That’s nice. But if there’s not a true independent investigation into what happened, and consequences for all involved if it turns out (as the video strongly suggests) that the shooting was wrong, then all of this gets us nowhere.

The protesters who are calling for Suhr to be fired aren’t looking at the question of who will replace him; that’s not the point. They want someone – someone, somewhere – to take responsibility for a string of what are at best dubious and at worst criminal police shootings of young men of color.

Then there’s the question of accountability for the Police Officers Association, which has become, frankly, a bunch of bullies who are trying to intimidate the supervisors and anyone else who disagrees with them.

I think the POA has gone way too far: At this point, I am increasingly hearing politicians say that they don’t even want the group’s endorsement, since it’s become a net political negative. But here’s some of what Crew suggested to the supes:


“SFPOA should be publicly challenged to apologize to Supervisor Malia Cohen for their December 9th letter attacking her since it was explicitly based on statements Chief Suhr now claims he did not make or that were misinterpreted or misreported.  The chief now claims he was not “opining” (as the SFPOA letter claimed) on whether the tragic killing of Mario Woods was within policy or law. He now claims that his representations about what the video depicted — subsequently clearly rebutted — were just his attempts to share the facts as he understood them then.  If the chief says the basis for the SFPOA attack on a supervisor is simply untrue — that he’d not “opined” at all on the validity the Woods shooting — the SFPOA should apologize, retract or at least correct their missive. Will they?  No.  Should they be publicly challenged to do so?  Yes.

In light of the Chief’s subsequent statements, the SFPOA and the SFPD should be challenged now to explain who and what led the chief to publicly assert — contrary to the video — that the deceased’s arm was raising before he was shot as opposed to after and in physical reaction to being shot. If that information and the blown up freeze frame from the video displayed at a community forum and at a press conference came from the homicide detail investigating the shooting, it shows that the homicide investigators had prejudged the facts, misled the chief (who, in turn, misled the public) and should now not be relied upon to complete an unbiased, credible investigation. If that information and freeze frame came from the SFPOA — or if the chief’s public statement were in any manner coordinated in advance with the SFPOA — it raises obvious questions about the independence of the chief and how he weighs his obligations to the public against his personal and professional loyalty to the SFPOA.  Either way, the public has a right to know the source of the misinformation the SFPD initially spread about this shooting and that SFPOA relied upon in attacking Supervisor Cohen. If you don’t ask, who will?

The SFPOA should be challenged to pledge now to actively support the eventual full disclosure of all information about the Woods shooting and to not advocate or fund any legal attempts by their officers to prevent such disclosures. They are calling on the public to wait until all the facts come out. But, in fact, they have always been fierce advocates against the facts ever coming out in these situations.  They shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways.  In the Woods case, will the SFPOA pledge now to support the full public release of all investigative reports (whether by homicide, the DA, internal affairs or OCC) and the underlying evidence? Will they pledge to call for the SFPD’s Weapons Discharge Review Board consideration of this shooting to be done in public and any disciplinary proceedings conducted in public as well? If this requires waivers from the officers involved who may insist upon secrecy over some of these records and proceedings, will the SFPOA pledge not to pay for these officers’ legal defense if they insist upon such secrecy?   If they think current state law requires such secrecy, will they pledge to support state legislative efforts — that they’ve opposed in the past — to provide greater public access to information in these situations? If they won’t, don’t they really mean they’re asking the public to wait until the SFPD decides to release just some of the facts and, then, only the facts that tend to justify their members’ actions? If this fundamental hypocrisy behind the SFPOA’s current “wait until all the facts come out” campaign is not challenged, it won’t be recognized.

The SFPOA should be challenged to explain why they chose to fund the legal defense of the officers the SFPD is seeking to fire for their racist, homophobic and misogynistic texts. Officers have a right to legal representation. They don’t have a right to have someone else pay for it. The SFPOA — like nearly all police unions and associations — do not cover any and all legal expenses of their members whenever they face discipline or termination. (The SFPOA decides if, when, and how to use their Legal Defense Fund.) If the underlying incident leading to possible discipline involves conduct in the course of an officer’s regular duties or involves legal principles important to the rights of their members, the SFPOA and these groups will quite understandably cover the legal costs of the officer’s defense.   But, if the conduct has little or nothing at all to do with the duties and activities of a police officer — like sending racist texts — those are the cases that police unions typically decide not to spend their members’ dues defending.  Given that, why is the SFPOA — through its legal expenditures — choosing to defend the racist and homophobic texts?   What important legal principle is at stake here? Certainly officers and the SFPOA have an interest in timely discipline and in the one year statutory deadline but, given the statutory exceptions to that rule that clearly apply to this case and the federal restraints put on SFPD because of the need to criminally prosecute their corrupt officers — (did SFPOA pay to defend those convicted criminals too?) — what does SFPOD think SFPD could or should have done differently?  If they think SFPD is lying about when they could proceed against the texts without violating their agreement with the feds or endangering the criminal prosecutions, SFPOA come out and say so. Otherwise, they should be challenged to explain why they are using their members’ dues to pay for the defense of the indefensible. . . and the public should understand that this has been a choice, not an obligation, on their part.
Unfortunately, the SFPOA has turned itself into the “bad cop” lobby.   One way to support good cops — who I’m convinced are the vast majority in SFPD and many of whom are deeply frustrated by the counter-productive “us vs. them” posture of the SFPOA — is to stand up to and call out SFPOA on some of their nonsense.  Thank you for doing so.”

City College projects 26 percent class cuts

Administration document reveals vision for smaller institution — and assumes that the school can’t recover

After all the protests and all the battles, are we now going to say the ACCJC has won?
After all the protests and all the battles, are we now going to say the ACCJC has won?

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 20, 2015 – City College plans to cut 356 faculty positions and eliminate more than a quarter of its classes over the next six years, a document provided to the teachers’ union shows.

The document, presented by management as part of the ongoing contract talks, presents a budget scenario based on the idea that full-time teachers would get a 3.7 percent pay increase – which barely brings them back to pre-recession levels – and just 1 percent a year cost-of-living increases through 2021.

This in a city where housing costs are increasing by more than double digits every few months.

The union, AFT Local 2121, is trying to get its members above zero – that is, to restore the cuts made during the recession and begin bringing salaries into line with the expenses of living in the city.

The Agenda, Oct. 5-12: The election starts now

Absentee ballots are on the way; we offer some help. Plus: VisionSF packs the house, your editor debates housing policy … and will Ed Lee veto part of Eviction 2.0?

Cleve Jones gives an inspiring speech to activists at the VisionSF kickoff
Cleve Jones gives an inspiring speech to activists at the VisionSF kickoff

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 5, 2015 – The local political campaigns will be in full gear this week, because it’s pretty much Election Day.

Absentee ballots arrive in the mail starting Oct. 6, and since more than half, probably far more than half, of the people who vote will vote by mail, the net few days are crucial. Most people who use mail-in ballots vote pretty quickly after the packet arrives (although some wait and turn it in on the final Election Day.)

I’m not a permanent absentee – I tend to vote the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, just because I’ve always done it that way and there’s something festive about going to the polls and seeing (I hope) a lot of my neighbors and getting the little red “I voted” sticker. So my mailbox has been rather empty – just a couple of (weak) No on F mailers and the DCCC slate card.

(On the No on F: Clearly, with $8 million or more to spend, the campaign team has done extensive polling and focus-group work to try every possible message, and the one that seems to work best is this nonsense about people spying on each other. First, there’s already a private right of action in the law – in other words, whatever they are allegedly worried about, it should already be happening. And seriously: Does anyone in San Francisco need a pair of binoculars to see what their neighbors are doing?)

Questions loom as Police Commission President Suzy Loftus steps down

Former President of the Police Commission Suzy Loftus listens to community members at a meeting in St Mary's Cathedral. Photo by Sana Saleem.

On Tuesday, Suzy Loftus announced that she was stepping down from her position as President of the Police Commission to take up a job at the Sheriff’s department. Wednesday was her last Police Commission meeting. 

Loftus previously worked in the Attorney General’s office and will now be taking up the new role as the Sheriff Department’s assistant chief legal counsel. 

Loftus was at odds with the notorious Police Officer’s Association over the use of force policy reform served the board for two years. She saw the commission through a federal review, dozens of protests calling for the ouster of former police Chief Suhr, the selection of the new police Chief William Scott and the battle against the POA on the police department’s use of force policy. 

Mayor Ed Lee will now have to appoint a new member of the Police Commission to fill her seat. 

Former ACLU police watchdog John Crew said that even though he often criticized Loftus he believed she was genuine about reform: “I never doubted for once that she wasn’t genuine about her commitment to reform. We may have disagreed on the process but Loftus was always on board with 21st century policing and genuinely pushed for reforms.” Crew said the appointment of the new member would be critical to police reform: “We need someone who is on board with reforms, who believes in 21st century policy and who is able to stand their ground against the antics of the POA.” 

Crew said the POA has made police reform work even more difficult: “They have built a narrative where talking about reform is somehow seen as cop bating, they have drawn the lines and they seem to be standing with Trump’s standard of policing which has no place in the city.” 

Crew suggested that with Loftis gone there’s an opportunity to bring balance: “The Police commission is dominated with people who have background as prosecutors so it would be good to get a defense lawyer on board. If it is somebody with a criminal justice background it should be a criminal defense lawyer as they tend to look at the issues in a very different way.”




San Francisco continues to push back against Sessions

City attorney Dennis Herrera and Mayor Ed Lee announce a lawsuit against President Trump

City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his office continue to push back on Trump’s immigration policies. In a statement released today Herrera responded to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ letters regarding compliance with immigration law enforcement.

City attorney Dennis Herrera and Mayor Ed Lee announce a lawsuit against President Trump
City attorney Dennis Herrera and Mayor Ed Lee announce a lawsuit against President Trump

Sessions has written “warning” letters to nine jurisdictions including the state of California pinning crime and lawlessness on undocumented immigrants:

“(…) just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next,” the release said

 The letters go on to state that jurisdictions that refuse to comply are in violation of their agreements concerning federal grants.

Contrary to the letters, last week a lawyer for the Trump Administration told a federal judge that the executive order targeting “sanctuary cities” and counties would not result in loss of massive funds to governments that refuse to comply with immigration authorities. 

“A week ago the Trump administration was in federal court downplaying the scope of the president’s sanctuary city executive order, and here they are sending out a press release trying to blame undocumented immigrants for crime in Chicago and New York. The Trump administration’s vision that cities are ‘crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration’ doesn’t square with reality. They’re selling fear, not facts” Herrera said. 

Herrera’s office sued the president on January 31, calling the immigration executive order unconstitutional.

Herrera’s office argues that a court order will bring more clarity on whether local governments can be penalized. Statements made by President Trump have suggested his government would stop all federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions — a claim that appears to be no longer relevant after lawyer told court the executive order is “narrow.”

Regardless, the city appears to be prepared to fight immigration authorities cracking down on immigrants:

“This is not the totality of what the Trump administration is doing – or could try to do – to cities, counties and states that they view as sanctuaries. That’s one reason why we’re asking the court for an order to give us all some clarity.”

The Media Homeless Project: Is it working?

A passed-out, unnamed homeless person creates an image of drunks and drug addicts

Back in June, at the instigation of Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper, more than 70 media organizations put out hundreds of stories on the homeless crisis in San Francisco. “We intend to explore possible solutions, their costs and viability,” the letter announcing the project stated.

I signed on. We were part of the Homeless Project, I always thought it was a good idea; the more we can talk about the crisis, the more we might be able to get the city to do something about it.

But I was also nervous from the start: The way the news media in this city cover homelessness is often disturbing. People who don’t have a place to live are routinely dismissed as drunks and drug addicts, criminals and losers who just don’t want to get a job.

A passed-out, unnamed homeless person creates an image of drunks and drug addicts
A passed-out, unnamed homeless person creates an image of drunks and drug addicts

So now we are back, doing this again. Dec. 7th is Part Two. And I think it’s fair to look back at the past six months and ask: Has this done any good?

Let’s see: In November, San Francisco elected a person who is among the harshest critics of homeless people to the state Senate. The voters approved a nasty, stupid anti-homeless law that even the Chronicle opposed. Then they rejected a sales tax to fund homeless programs after the mayor abandoned it – so the existing plans for homeless services have to be cut back.

A conservative majority that supports market-rate housing as a solution to the problem won control of the Board of Supervisors.

So: After all of this news media attention, which has won a bunch of awards, the situation is by any objective analysis even worse than it was in June.

What happened? What did we all do wrong?

Let me offer some suggestions.


Homelessness is not a typical daily news media issue. I have been in this business for 35 years, starting with a daily paper (the Hartford Courant), moving on to a weekly (the Bay Guardian) and now back with a daily. I have been to at least 50 awards programs, dinners, and conventions where we recognize each other’s work (and pick up plaques that impress the boss).

And here’s the kind of “impact” story newspapers like:

Public Official X (or, much less often, Private Corporate Crook X) gets exposed by a reporter for something that is illegal or politically fishy, and is forced to resign.

Public Agency Y (or, much less often, Private Corporation Y) gets exposed by a reporter for cheating or wasting your tax money (or wasting shareholders’ money), and someone is fired.

Public Worker Z (or, much less often, Private Worker Z) fails to act properly, something bad happens, and someone is fired.

Something bad happens, and Public Agency A (or, much less often, Private Company A) is exposed for failing to put in place or enforce policies that could have prevented said tragedy. Someone is fired, or some politician introduces a bill to fix the policy failure, who then gets lauded along with the reporters.

(Carole Migden, who served on the Board of Supes and in both the state Assembly and Senate, used to joke with me: “All I have to do is read a story in the Chronicle and call them and tell them I will introduce a bill, and I get my picture on the front page.”)

A terrible tragedy happens, the news media exposes it (and community pressure forces City Hall (or another level of government) to take action.

(That is what is happening now with the Ghost Ship Fire. Journalists are exposing the fact that the Oakland building inspectors didn’t crack down on an unpermitted living situation and unpermitted parties. They are demanding that the officials involved be held accountable and that laws or policies or practices be changed. A few are actually saying that a lack of affordable housing and arts space is a deeper issue, but they are drowned out.)

I’m not saying any of those things are wrong. Investigative reporting by mainstream and alternative media outlets has brought to light tens of thousands of minor, serious, and atrocious situations and forced public officials to act. I am all in favor.

But the traditional media approach doesn’t work for something like homelessness in San Francisco. And the overall story approach of this project has never gone in the direction that would actually make a difference.

All the stories about human tragedy, about City Hall waste or City Hall initiatives, all the discussion about “solutions” gets you nowhere unless you are willing to dig deep into the structural reasons that about 8,000 people are living on the streets of San Francisco – and they are broad, and complex, and involve villains who are a long way away from the immediate picture.

There is a necessity to look at deep issues that defy normal news media coverage.

We have to start saying things like this:

Homelessness in America cities is a direct result of the demolition of federal funding for housing that started with Ronald Reagan – but was never restored by Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. And Rep. Nancy Pelosi was once the head of a party that controlled both houses and the White House – and she never made a serious move to bring that money back to cities. Not one story in this project has held her accountable. None of the presidential candidates talked about urban housing this year; none of the debate moderators, or political reporters covering the race, made it an issue.

Some of San Francisco’s most prominent people and corporations are part of the problem. There would be fewer homeless people if Airbnb hadn’t devastated the local housing stock. The mayor, his pal Airbnb investor Ron Conway, and Assemblymember David Chiu played a major role in protecting the tech company at the cost of thousands of housing units.

The biggest single cause of homelessness in San Francisco is not substance abuse or a refusal to seek help. It’s eviction. The city spends tens of millions of dollars a year taking care of people who have lost their homes, which could have been saved for a tiny fraction of that.

Homeless people aren’t a “problem;” they are victims, refugees. We as a society have failed them. Neoliberalism, public austerity, the massive concentration of wealth at the top … these are causes of this failure. There was a time when public assistance — call it “welfare” or whatever you want — paid enough to put a roof over people’s heads. Now (after, by the way, some journalists in the 1980s decided that exposing welfare cheats made for good copy) we pay so little that nobody can even afford and SRO room.

The biggest cause of evictions isn’t the Ellis Act, although that’s part of the picture. Right now, the biggest cause of evictions, and the housing crisis in general, is the tech boom and the displacement that comes with the mayor, by policy, attracting tens of thousands of highly paid new workers to the city, most of them moving here from somewhere else, before the city had any clue how to house them.

San Francisco has actually placed a lot of homeless people in housing. Nonprofits have built a fair amount of affordable and supportive housing. But every time we find someone a place to live, another person winds up on the streets. This is why homelessness never seems to get any better.

Here’s a story idea for all of us to work on: Survey 1,000 homeless people, and find out how many wound up on the streets because of a no-fault eviction. Then go find the landlords who did the evictions, causing homelessness, and put their pictures on the front page.

How about the swing-vote Democrats who killed Ellis Act reform in the state Assembly Housing Committee?  If any of the news media talking about the problem pinned any of it on them, I haven’t seen it.


We know how to address homelessness. It’s a complex problem, but the solutions aren’t rocket science. Even the Chron, to its credit, pointed out how solutions can work. It’s not so much money that a rich city like SF can’t make it work.

But we also need to start with the Hippocratic Oath of Housing: First, do no harm. We need to stop allowing landlords to throw people out of their homes. Then we need to force the people who have benefited greatly from the boom to pay for the costs they have incurred on the city, raising large sums of money for social housing. We need to spend the money it takes to provide acute and long-term mental-health services.

And we need to stop electing politicians who scapegoat homeless people for their own ambitions (and in this past election, the Chron pretty much endorsed all of them). We need to stop portraying homeless people as criminals, drug addicts, and anti-social.

After the Chron wrote a nice piece explaining what is needed, the paper never forced elected officials to say: Yes, we will do this, starting now. Instead, the Chron’s entire political lineup in November was people who refuse to address the problem, defy even the paper’s own reporting, and still get away with it.

I’m not just picking on the Chron — much of the local news media has failed to educate the public about the real causes of homelessness, the real solutions, and the people who are responsible. If we had done a better job, Prop. Q would have failed, Wiener would not be in the state Senate, the anti-homeless, pro-free-market crew would not control the Board of Supervisors, and the mayor would be leading an effort to profoundly change the local economy.

But that’s not happening. We keep writing and broadcasting, and nothing seems to get any better. Maybe we need to change our tone.







Mandelman kickoff sets tone for D8 supe race

Rafael Mandelman officially launched his campaign for D8 supervisor Wednesday night with a rally that drew around 150 people and set the tone for the political matchup that will be at the center of local politics for the next 11 months.

Mandelman, a member of the Community College Board, is challenging appointed incumbent Sup. Jeff Sheehy, who has to face the voters at the next scheduled election, which is the 2018 June primary.

Mandelman announces his campaign with former Sup. David Campos, Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, Community College Board member Tom Temprano, Sup. Hillary Ronen, labor activist  Hene Kelly, and College Board President Thea Selby
Mandelman announces his campaign with former Sup. David Campos, Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, Community College Board member Tom Temprano, Sup. Hillary Ronen, labor activist Hene Kelly, College Board President Thea Selby, and School Board member Matt Haney

There are no other local races on that ballot, so the Mandelman-Sheehy contest, with all that it involves, will attract a tremendous amount of attention.

It hasn’t yet become the sort of citywide campaign that the last challenge to an appointed incumbent – Aaron Peskin vs. Julie Christensen – turned into. In fact, so far, Mandelman is playing this very much as a district race.

The turnout, which included some prominent local progressive officials, was focused on D8. Mandelman’s speech focused almost entirely on issues – eliminating street homelessness, building affordable housing, and improving the public schools in the district – that are going to play well in a district that hasn’t elected a progressive supervisor since the return of district elections in 2000.

A large, mostly D8 crowd, packed the stairs of James Lick school
A large, mostly D8 crowd, packed the stairs of James Lick school

Mandelman’s theme was “the politics of Yes.” He went after “City Hall” for failing to solve the homeless problem, but did not mention Mayor Ed Lee.

“Everyone in San Francisco knows the politics of No is alive and well,” he said. The politicians in City Hall “like the status quo because it’s easy.”

Mandelman talked about his life story and personal experience with homelessness: When he was 11, his mother began a descent into mental illness that eventually left her on the streets. He had to “grow up fast,” he said, and navigate the medical system, find a place to live, and finish high school. He then went on to Yale and US Berkeley Law School.

While Mandelman kept his comments largely focused on D8 (“the people of this district deserve a supervisor who will lead in the politics of Yes”) there is no denying the citywide implications of this race.

The presence of Sups. Sandra Lee Fewer and Hillary Ronen – two of the stalwarts of the progressive wing of the board – and former Sup. David Campos were a sign that, while Mandelman will focus on district issues, the rest of the city knows that the balance of power on the board is on the line in the waning days of an unpopular mayor.

Mandelman has no loyalty to Mayor Lee, and he’s far more likely to be the sixth vote on issues like the regulation of owner move-in evictions backed by Sups. Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin. Sheehy is a co-sponsor of the weaker measure backed by Sup. Mark Farrell.

Among those standing behind Mandelman, along with Campos, Fewer, and Ronen, were Community College Board President Thea Selby, College Board Member Tom Temprano, School Board Member Matt Haney, and retired teacher and Democratic Party and union activist Hene Kelly.

So this is just the start of what will likely be an expensive and high-profile race. Sheeny has not done an official kickoff, so we don’t know who will be endorsing him or what the themes will be.

But the outcome will have significant citywide implications.

A ‘dangerous felon’ who was never convicted of a violent crime

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is accused of killing Kate Steinle

Two years ago, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez was arrested for the death of Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s popular waterfront. The case gained national attention as then-candidate Donald Trump exploited Lopez Sanchez’s immigration status to propose sweeping immigration reforms.

Although the shooting appeared to be an accident — the fatal bullet ricocheted off the ground — conservative commentators repeatedly used Lopez Sanchez’s seven prior felony convictions to argue he was a serious criminal.

Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez spent 18 years in federal prison — but never for a crime of violence

But a review of Lopez Sanchez’s criminal record shows his convictions are for relatively minor offenses, none of which involve a crime of violence, weapons offense, or even theft charge.

First, all of Lopez Sanchez’s narcotics convictions are more than 20 years old. They occurred in Washington State: three “possession” and one “possession with the intent to sell” offenses.

The most serious of these, the 1993 possession for sale offense, was a weak case. Police allegedly observed Lopez Sanchez in a transaction, but when was arrested, he had no money in his possession. Police discovered a piece of plastic in his jacket containing material that later field-tested positive for cocaine. Lopez Sanchez pled guilty to a probationary sentence — not knowing the conviction would ultimately cause him to spend 18 years in federal prison.

The conviction had magnified consequences, since federal immigration laws categorize any drug sale (or possession for sale) as an aggravated felony making any illegal reentry to the U.S., much more serious. He was now labelled a “drug trafficker” under the law, even though the case was minor, thus equating him with those who’ve been deported after serving sentences for murder, rape, and kidnapping. (8 U.S. Code §1326).

As a result, whenever he entered the U.S., Lopez Sanchez faced 20 years in prison just for crossing the border. Not surprisingly, each time he appeared in court, he plea-bargained his cases, for five, six, then seven years when given the chance. Yet, none of these illegal reentry sentences would have been imposed if he didn’t have the “drug trafficking” conviction 25 years ago; otherwise he would have been facing one or two years in jail each time he entered the country.

Similarly, whatever you may think of drug offenses, Lopez Sanchez’s aren’t serious. States like California and Oregon are decriminalizing drug possession, making many of these offenses misdemeanors. Minor sales cases don’t disqualify you for drug treatment either. But in the early 90s, the drug war was in full swing. Lopez Sanchez is one of its casualties.

A research team at Syracuse University found that immigration prosecutions like Lopez Sanchez’s make up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government. The cases are the “low-hanging fruit” of the federal judicial system since the accused rarely contest them – they usually take two court appearances to resolve. By comparison, prosecutors refuse to prosecute nearly half of the white-collar cases referred to them, while they charge 97% of the immigration cases.

As it stands, immigrants comprise the largest growing percentage of inmates in our federal prisons. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that “almost seven in every 10 foreign prisoners in U.S. jails are Mexicans” and that “[m]ost of the prisoners were convicted for immigration offenses (65%).” Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics (Aug 2015) show that nearly 16% of all federal prisoners are Mexican nationals with the number rising to more than 20% when Central and South Americans are included. In total, foreigners make up more than 25% of the U.S. prison population.

Taken together, Lopez Sanchez has spent 18 years in federal prison, plus a year in jail for the convictions from the early 90s. This exceeds the time he ever lived in Mexico as an adult. That’s two decades of imprisonment for non-violent offenses.

Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez is being portrayed on the national stage as a dangerous felon without ever having been convicted of violence.

Matt Gonzalez, chief trial lawyer for the Public Defender’s Office, is representing Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.

A terrible housing bill looms in Sacramento

Tenant groups rally in support of Prop. C and the Peskin-Mar bill

The State Assembly may vote as early as Monday on a bill that would give real estate developers a huge windfall at the expense of tenants, small businesses, and neighborhoods.

Gov. Jerry Brown is supporting the measure, which would exempt developers from local zoning and land use policies of if they building apartments or condos that includes potentially miniscule amounts of affordable housing.

Why is Jerry Brown supporting a measure that undermines affordable housing?
Why is Jerry Brown supporting a measure that undermines affordable housing?

The measure could have a profound impact on cities like San Francisco, turning great swaths of land over for luxury housing with absolutely zero local control. It’s one of the most dangerous bills for tenants, neighborhoods, and affordable housing that we’ve seen in years, and would lead to dramatically increased displacement of vulnerable communities.

Yet it has received little press coverage – and very little in the way of outspoken opposition from Bay Area political leaders.

AB2501, by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) is the equivalent of the Ellis Act for zoning laws – it trumps local laws for real estate speculators and developers under the guise of benefiting people who need housing.

On the surface, AB2501 merely tweaks the already hyper-technical language of the state’s existing “density bonus” law. That state law gives developers the option to apply to city planning departments to build housing developments that are taller or more dense (i.e., with more housing units) than local law allows.

In exchange for an exception or concession from local law, developers must build between five and ten percent of the housing at prices affordable to low or moderate income households – a more modest version of the mandatory inclusionary housing requirement that San Francisco imposes on all new medium and large scale housing developments.

The state density bonus has been on the books for years and done little to produce affordable housing. Instead of trying a different strategy (such as adopting a mandatory statewide inclusionary policy, or allocating more state money for affordable housing) state legislators and now the governor are blaming local governments for the failure of the density bonus policy and more generally for the housing crisis.

This is an element of truth to this criticism.  So-called Nimby exclusionary zoning practices are widespread.  But the larger reality is that land owners and builders are not lacking in places to build. Cities could decide that some of those sites should be something other than luxury housing, particularly when two-thirds of existing Bay Area residents can’t afford market-rate units.

The problem is that the building and real-estate industries have a huge lock on California politics. Those groups spend a fortune on campaign contributions and lobbying – and the largesse goes to both parties. So now, with the support of the Realtors and California Apartment Association, Democrats in the Assembly have come up with AB2501.

In a nutshell, AB2501 would give developers a free pass to demand exemptions from local law.  For every five-to-ten percent increment of affordable housing in a development, developers would get one free pass for a concession or exemption from local zoning or land use law. According to the California Chapter of the American Planning Association, the bill would:

          “allow a developer who provides as little as 5% affordable housing units to get any incentive, concession, or waiver from zoning or development standard he or she asks for without providing any justification whatsoever for the request.”

The legislation is not specific about what local laws can be bypassed– but typically these are described as height limits, reductions or elimination of back yards, and density and size of units. But creative developers could seek waivers of laws protecting small businesses, regulating condominium conversions, and beyond.

It would take much planning out of the hands of local planning commissions, city councils, and board of supervisors.

The measure would also create strict time limits for city planners to approve project proposals or to identify specific changes that would be required to comply with the law. Failure to meet the time lines would result in the automatic approval of the entire project. Disgruntled developers could sue the city and then require the city to pay for their attorney’s fees.

AB2501 would further ties the hands of cities and the public by prohibiting public agencies from asking for additional reporting or analysis of a project. The narrowing of a city government’s ability to review and require improvements of a proposal would have a direct and adverse impact on the public’s ability to control real estate development in their communities.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim introduced a resolution at the Board of Supervisors to urge that AB2501 be amended to provide for an exemption for cities that are building more affordable housing than the state density bonus law would yield.  If the legislation were targeted at cities that excluded affordable housing, logically the law should exempt those cities that do the opposite. That measure passed without opposition.

Peskin requested but has been unsuccessful arrangement a meeting with Assemblymember Bloom. And thus far, neither of San Francisco’s representatives in the Assembly, Phil Ting or David Chiu have offered to introduce the amendment. Chiu voted in favor of the AB2501 in committee with minor amendments. Ting hasn’t taken a position.

When the Ellis Act passed, a lot of local officials, and even SF’s representatives in Sacramento, downplayed the threat, saying the measure wasn’t that big a deal. It’s turned out to be one of the worst nightmares tenants have ever seen, a massive attack on affordable housing in cities like SF.

This is in the same league – and if it isn’t stopped soon, it could be too late.

The Agenda, June 19-26: Budget, Tasers, a great movie and politics for the 99 percent….

A still from Agents of Change, documentary film showing Tuesday/20

It’s budget time in San Francisco: The supes Budget and Finance Committee has been holding hearings for months, and the $10.1 billion budget is likely to be passed, as is typical, without a whole lot of changes.

But the Budget Justice Coalition has been raising questions – particularly about the amount of money that will go into affordable housing and homeless services. The homeless service providers are concerned that much of the money they requested to address what many call the city’s most pressing problem is not in the proposed budget.

A still from Agents of Change, documentary film showing Tuesday/20
A still from Agents of Change, documentary film showing Tuesday/20

A budget is a statement of policy priorities, and you can see the massive document here. It’s not all that helpful – for example, if there were a line item for police Tasers, I challenge you to find it. It’s not there – and that doesn’t mean the chief and the commission won’t be pushing for the zap guns this year.

The entire Board of Supes will have to vote on the budget, but by the time it gets there, most of the work is done.


On Tuesday/20, Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema, along with the Latino Democratic Club, the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, and 48hills, sponsors a showing of Agents of Change, a dramatic documentary on the racial conditions on college campuses in the late 1960s and the powerful movements that arose from them. Co-director Abby Ginzberg will be there to talk about the film and how it connects to the issues the nation is facing today. 7pm, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, 515 Cortland. Free, but you can reserve your spot here.


The Police Commission will be talking about Tasers Wednesday/21. This is an ongoing debate, and took center stage when the supes Rules Committee voted to allow Petra DeJesus to stay on the commission for another term. The cops want Tasers, and say they are a good alternative to shooting people. A lot of activists who have studied the issue (and some police departments that have abandoned the devices) say there are really serious problems with giving officers what is generally considered a less-lethal, but still lethal, weapon.

The presentation from the “experts” will no doubt focus on how Tasers can keep people alive – if someone with a knife is threatening an officer or a civilian, zapping and thus immobilizing the suspect is better than shooting and killing them.

But what if the cops use the Taser not as an alternative to a firearm but as an alternative to de-escalation, to controlling the situation, to calling in for support from someone trained in handling mentally ill suspects? That’s what we’ve seen in other cities – the Taser is a crutch, a quick and easy way to avoid taking more peaceful steps to resolving a situation.

Interesting to see what the presentation to the commission addresses, and who the experts are. I am hearing that this is going to be a big push in the next few months.

The meeting starts at 5:30pm in City Hall, room 400.


It’s Pride Weekend, and our fab guide to all things queer, by the always fab Marke B., is here.

But I want to highlight one event: SF Vision and SF Berniecrats are holding an event Saturday/24 that focuses on bringing the lessons of our political (esp. LGBT) history to bear on the issues of today. It’s called SF Politics for the 99 percent, and is part of a series of events the groups are doing to try to educate people who are angry at the Trump administration and want to get involved about how to join the struggle at home.

Yes, I will be one of the speakers: Claire Lau, a leader in the Berniecrats, and I will kick off the session talking about progressive political history and modern politics. The panel is impressive: Tom Ammiano, Gabriel Haaland, Kimberly Alvarenga, Christina Olague … it’s going to be an amazing event.

Come by the main library, Koret Auditorium, at 12:30. We’ll be done by 2:30, so there’s plenty of time to get back to other Pride events. It’s free.