Forget SB 50 — San Francisco needs a bold plan for social housing

Social housing in Vienna, where government-owned and regulated apartments serve a wide range of residents.

State Senator Scott Wiener has reintroduced his housing bill, SB 50, which seeks to alleviate the housing crisis by forcing more density around transit corridors. But it doesn’t include any new state financing for affordable housing.

In the meantime, other progressive cities have used their regulatory powers to create the right incentives and conditions for affordable housing. In Vienna, Austria, a city twice as populous as San Francisco, a whole new strategy based on the concept of “social housing” has been deployed. Social housing recognizes that overreliance on the for-profit housing sector – which would be boosted by SB 50 – often produces perverse results in an overheated housing market like San Francisco’s.

Social housing in Vienna, where government-owned and regulated apartments serve a wide range of residents.

In Vienna, there is plenty of what in the US is typically called “government housing” — the city owns outright about 25 percent of the housing stock. But this is not American-style government housing, since it is rented affordably to not only lower-income residents but also middle-income.

But the more interesting and innovative housing sector is run by private — but non-profit — housing developers. The city indirectly oversees another 25 percent of the housing stock by using public land and retaining regulatory control over development to build middle-income housing. A jury selects a private nonprofit developer which is provided a low-interest loan and extended repayment periods (50 years or more). Sometimes the developer is a housing co-operative. Rents are regulated so that no resident, regardless of income level, pays more than 25 percent of their income for housing.

Overall, nearly half of the housing stock in Vienna is this kind of public/private mix of “social housing” (i.e. either city-owned or non-profit-owned/city regulated). That dominant proportion makes this sector significant enough to create a large parallel market that acts as a brake on the free market forces that escalate rents and speculation in the for-profit housing sector.

Many EU cities and member states construct social housing as a way of holding housing markets in check. In addition, some European states have allowed legal rights for squatters of buildings that have been vacant for a long time, which discourages property owners from leaving their housing units empty. Also, many European cities sharply curtail Airbnb activity to preserve housing stock.

San Francisco’s efforts pale in comparison. Sixty-five percent of San Franciscans are renters, yet according to the SF Planning Department, the city has only about 34,000 units of “affordable housing.” Those units have been built under a variety of local, state, and federal subsidy programs, with some nonprofit housing and the San Francisco Housing Authority owning 5000 or so of those units. Given the city’s overall housing stock of approximately 394,000 dwelling units, the amount of affordable housing represents less than 9 percent of all available housing units. The City of St. Francis comes nowhere near the market-stabilizing 50 percent level of social housing seen in Vienna and other European cities.

And the future doesn’t look any better. While the SF Planning Department has approved the construction of over 73,000 new units, less than 20 percent are designated as “affordable.” Middle-income housing has been entirely neglected, and at this point it’s clear that the long time progressive strategy of mandating 20 to 25 percent set-asides for affordable housing is simply too low.

And though San Francisco has passed laws attempting to rein in Airbnb, the short-term rental market is still riddled with loopholes that have allowed a number of absentee property owners to fraudulently claim they are living in their homes when in fact they have turned their houses into full-time hotels. One study found that nearly half of those applying to become new hosts in San Francisco include misinformation on their city applications regarding residency status. I live near one such sham Airbnb hotel, a three-bedroom house that its new owner has carved up into six short-term rentals. City officials have refused to shut it down, despite numerous neighbor complaints. Such activity steals badly needed housing from the local stock.

Berlin makes a stand for affordable housing

Berlin, the federal capital of Germany, stands out as a trailblazer for how progressive cities can cope with gentrification and international speculative pressures. Like San Francisco, Berlin has been exploding in population in recent years, driving up rents and housing prices. So recently the city government took the bold step of declaring a five year citywide freeze on rent increases (with heavy fines for landlords who violate the law).

Then this past July, city authorities stopped the sale of nearly 700 apartments to a mega-landlord, and purchased the apartments for $100 million and a guarantee of affordable rents. This was an important victory for housing rights activists, reversing longstanding trends that had sold off some of Berlin’s social housing stock. Suddenly the future of housing looks brighter. “Berliners should be able to continue to afford living in the city,” said Mayor Michael Müller. “It continues to be our intention to buy up apartments wherever we can, so that Berlin can regain control of its property market.”

Housing activists have seized upon this change in philosophy. When Google tried to open a headquarters in the working class, immigrant and hipster enclave of Kreuzberg, it was greeted by huge street protests over concerns that its gentrifying presence would drive up housing prices (like Big Tech has done in San Francisco). After a two-year battle, Google abandoned its plans.

Now activists and their government allies are waging their boldest fight yet. They have launched a citywide referendum that mandates more buyouts of privatized housing, and will ban all mega-landlords that control hundreds of apartments. Early indicators show that the referendum has considerable support across the political spectrum. Berlin has become a laboratory for how to deal with an urban housing crisis that threatens the very fabric of society.

It is important to note that Germany and Austria are not “socialist” countries. They and other European Union member states are fully capitalist, with the EU having more Fortune 500 companies than the US (131 to 121), and more small businesses. But the EU states are practitioners of what I call in my book Europe’s Promise “social capitalism,” while in the US we have Wall Street/Silicon Valley capitalism. Social capitalism is more focused on harnessing the capitalist engine – which is undoubtedly the greatest wealth generator that humans have ever devised – to foster a more broadly shared prosperity.

How to pay for nonprofit housing on public land

OK, so how do we finance more non-profit housing, especially if we can’t increase Prop 13 property taxes?

First, deploy all available public land for housing development, including if necessary public golf courses. Land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit in San Francisco, so this would greatly help affordability (see my previous 48 Hills article on this, “Golf courses or affordable housing?”) 

Second, look for new sources of financing. The Dutch once taxed the width of houses; this March, San Franciscans will be voting on a proposition designed to cut down on storefront vacancies by charging a fee based on the length of a vacant storefront. So why not charge a fee based on the length of wealthy homes and apartment buildings too, and use that to fund the construction of affordable nonprofit housing on public land? Or how about basing the fee on the number of windows in a building, or on the square footage of concrete and timber?

Service fees and taxes on other large assets also could be levied, or on elite services like business-class air travel departing or arriving at the San Francisco airport (which would function as an eco-tax as well). Or how about passing a new Proposition C, but this time instead of focusing it on funding for homeless shelters, treatment and supportive services, use it to raise money for nonprofit construction of middle-class housing (2019’s Proposition A, which focused on affordable housing construction, was a bond that all San Franciscans will pay for, not a fee charged to the wealthiest companies and individuals). Those surcharged businesses will benefit too, by having more housing for their employees.

In Seattle, city officials, nonprofit housing developers and technology companies like Microsoft are working together to create a Housing Fund focused on mobilizing financing and loans for construction of housing for the “missing middle,” i.e. middle-class workers who are currently being squeezed out. Why can’t San Francisco officials organize a similar effort?  Already Apple, Facebook and Google have committed – on paper, at least – to $4.5 billion in financing for housing. It is mostly targeted at Silicon Valley cities which have refused to build adequate housing for tech workers, preferring to offload that burden to San Francisco. But the city already is housing a lot of their workers, so the mayor and the Board of Supervisors should work together to access a sizable chunk of these funds.

If this proposal is refused by Silicon Valley, why not levy a “local housing for local jobs” fee on workers for large Silicon Valley companies who live in San Francisco and commute south? One way or another, these companies should be paying the city to house their workers.

Some of these proposals will be easier to enact than others, but there are many possible financing targets. In the past, San Francisco has found innovative legal arguments for justifying gay marriage, regulating the installation of telephone carriers’ wireless equipment, and more recently for a proposed takeover of the catastrophic utility, PG&E. This housing crisis calls for bold, creative vision. It’s time to think outside of the typical neoliberal box.

Certainly it’s true that San Francisco has not produced enough housing over the years, for lots of complicated reasons that progressives and moderates will continue to argue about. But going forward, the housing produced must be the right type: most of it should be built by nonprofit developers on public land with the goal of gradually ramping up the amount of social housing to somewhere near Vienna’s 50 percent level.

Housing, like health care, should be a human right. San Francisco now has the most progressive Board of Supervisors in its history, and the City of St. Francis has a choice of where to spend the public’s tax dollars. Over the years, not nearly enough of it has been spent on securing the most basic need of all – housing for a diversity of residents with a range of incomes. Local political leaders need to be determined and clever in figuring out how to reverse past failed policies. Social housing has worked in other cities, there is no reason that it can’t work here as well.

[Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is a political journalist and author of seven books including Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in An Insecure Age]

The violence of wealth-hoarding

Empty land is fenced in to keep houseless people out in Oakland.

Your ambivalence is violence

Your paralysis is more homelessness

Your hoarding creates our 

impoverished life story

I have shared with descendants of wealth-hoarders, land stealers who know that something is wrong — that are uncomfortable with the feeling

But have been lied to for way too long

Your paralysis is our violence 

As you sit and consider

More of Mama Earth is bought and sold by Twitter

These are quiet conversations – 

Don’t include bankkksters 

And philanthro-pimped “givers” 

With so much hoarded money sometimes they don’t even remember

With legacies of enslavement, exploitation and

Colonial terror

So what to do?

Deeply overstand stealing/devil-oping, leeching Mama Earth must end

These silent thieves can’t get away with this unholy war

They can’t trade her, steal her, fix her, sell her like she was an old car

Can’t keep watching as poor/unhoused folks are swept like we dirt on the floor 

Your paralysis is killing us

Please, open your hearts and Listen

“This is a request for ideas, I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy…”

Jeff Bezos, (richest man in the world) says this before he “gives” $98.5 million “away” — which seems like so much to us poor people but is a mere tiny fraction of his extreme, hoarded,  blood-stained dollars.

“I want to help cure all the diseases in our children’s life-times,” said Mark Zuckerberg, while slapping his name and a new shiny Starbux-like facade onto the front of a poor-people hospital that still charges poor youth of color for teeth extraction.

“I am a conscious billionaire, and I give a lot of my money away,” says another global billionaire.

There are so many wrongnesses with all of these statements. But the first one is that so many people even have all that fucking money in the first damn place.

These people have undiagnosed hoarder/clutterer disease. These kinds of wealth-hoarders have four to 10 luxury cars when they only need one to drive them, three homes and four condominiums, when they only need one to live in.

Empty land is fenced in to keep houseless people out in Oakland.

And please don’t tell me it’s because they have good luck or because they worked hard; all the poor people, families, and folks I know work every day, sometimes three and four jobs like me and my mama did when I was growing up, and still can’t afford rent, bills, etc.. Some of us work just to survive the pain and trauma in our heads and heart from toxic white supremacy, ableism, gentrification, and homelessness, and then a lot of us do both.

But one of the main lies here, that hardly anyone critiques, criminalizes, pathologizes, or truly questions, is the actual accumulation, hoarding, stealing, exploiting of the wealth-hoarders themselves, while us houseless and poor people are criminalized, called names, evicted and “swept” or displaced for the act of hoarding /cluttering things like socks or bags of clothes or paper.

These rich H/C sufferers continue to hoard, fence out, and speculate more and more — rooted in the exploitation of Mama Earth, on indigenous and poor people’s backs, lives, and land.

Is Zuckerberg a healer, scientist, doctor, or even innovator just because he launched Faccrak? Is Bezos a caregiver, therapist, teacher, or any kind of “expert” because he has successfully accumulated billions of blood-stained dollars?

How about the Waltons, the Gateses — these are people who have had endless wealth and race privileges in this occupied land, they had access to even go to a school like Harvard or Stanford, even if they did “drop out,” because they were housed as children and fed and not terrorized by the police, and their families and friends knew people that knew more people and had more stolen wealth and on and on the krapitalist cycle repeats itself.

Why is anyone thanking them for these meager crumbs? They need Hoarder/Clutterer staff to come in with a series of trucks and move that stolen wealth out of their multiple offshore bank accounts and homes.

But I’m not just talking about conspicuous consumptors like these arrogant tech bros – I’m talking about the silent violence of rich trust-funders and wealth-inheritors, comfortable peoples living on this occupied, stolen, lied-to land. People who have been lied to for years about “hoarding” and hiding, keeping, succeeding, and the associated confusion of consumption, krapitalism and toxic wealth-hoarding, so that they are literally paralyzed into inaction even if they have resources to redistribute.

Seeing with their own new eyes the violence, exploitation, terrorism, abuse and murder of their ancestors — and yet unable to activate emergency redistribution.

From the person who won’t give a dollar to an unhoused person because “they don’t know what they are going to do with the dollar” to the wealth-hoarder who would rather “give” to huge nonprofiteers and philanthro-pimped, admin-heavy organizations in times of crisis, because they don’t “trust” the small on-the-ground care-givers and service providers, this dangerous paralysis is all rooted in the lies you have been told about poor people, about resources and about the ability to accumulate wealth and land. About how much you need to feel “safe” and about safety itself.

The success in this occupied indigenous territory is valued by how much of Mama Earth you have stolen, “made” and kept. About the shame you should feel if you haven’t “made” it and how people who have more are implicitly considered “smarter” better, keener, or more strategic.

So many lies, so little time.

These wealth-hoarding and poverty-shaming concepts are also related and entwined with the separation nation I teach on a lot, the ways that we are separated as families, as communities as people to be better consumers, workers, producers, exploiters, bosses, hoarders, etc. But really what’s happening is we are being used without knowing it.

As we leave our communities to go to better schools, jobs, markets we are also leaving our cultures and deep structures and actual safe spaces and are then forced to purchase things, land, and love. We are collectively told the only way to “make it” is to hoard and hide and to never tell the truth. We are encouraged to fly to places we aren’t from and “save” poor people there — and in so doing we displace and do harm to the cultures and communities already there. Colonial lies aren’t done; they are just re-packaged in a 21st Century success model.

Medicine for Mama Earth and all of us 

When a houseless/poor person asks you for a dollar or sells you a street newspaper, if you have it give them a dollar, not a sandwich. And guess what — yes they might be using it for drugs, so what, do you question what Bezos,  Gates, your boss, or your landlord does with the money they make? Similarily, rich wealth-hoarders, trust-funders, inheritors, let your first mind, your heart mind if you will, guide you in your radical redistribution of the resources you have. It is not your place to over-think, to question. The only question you need to ask yourself is what you need for you and your family to survive and thrive, which always has less to do about money and more to do about straight-up accounting and real community work.

And for the stupidly “rich,” please consider that just cause you have all these blood-stained dollars and stolen land that doesn’t make you any better at figuring out where it should go and what should happen to that land and actually you should be asking/checking with poverty, indigenous skolaz who have had to struggle and our entire lives for mere survival, whose lands and lives were long ago stolen and whose everyday struggle to be okay ensues.

And lastly, please carry the “giving spirit” throughout the year. We houseless and poor folks don’t stop living, needing, struggling, being swept after the “holidays” are over.

Scarcity models are a lie, that there isn’t enough for everyone, enough space, enough dollars, enough healthcare, enough service. There is plenty for all of us, we just need to stop believing in the lies we have had shoved down our throats for 527 years and more.

What there is plenty of is psychotic greed, dangerous denial and extreme speculating of Mama Earth — while people die on the street. Yet another POOR Magazine roofLESS radio reporter was being “swept” off the streets in deep east Oakland last week and another one near 3rd Street, both of them right next to huge “empty” lots, fenced in, lay bare, with no people or homes on them so greed-filled realEsnakes basing their business models on the buying and selling of mama earth could wait for the “property” values to rise — read: the gentriFUKation could set in.

On MacArthur Blvd, an intentionally blighted poor peoples of color community where we are working hard to finish a project called Homefulness, there are more than 26 empty lots fenced in, while the devil-opers, speculators and real ESnakkkes lay in wait like the murderous vultures they are, refusing to sell, inhabit or house anyone.

In the end, this is horror and the medicine we teach, share, liberate, and love in the new book Poverty Scholarship- Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth and manifest with young folks with different forms of race, class and/or formal education privilege at POOR Magazine’s Peopleskool and fellow poverty, indigenous skolaz at POOR Magazine who together are building something different we call Homefulness — a homeless peoples solution to homelessness.

The Poverty Scholarship teaching has launched a powerful group of people with race and class privilege who co-created the solidarity family at POOR Magazine and the Bank of Come-Unity Reparations with us poor, indigenous and unhoused poverty skolaz. They learn, listen, activate from us and model decolonial liberation moves and actual radical redistribution with their hoarded wealth, skin privilege, and stolen land.

They ain’t no joke, and all people can learn from them and all us in this model. Already more than10 families have been housed, poor and houseless mamaz and families have had their utilities paid, motel rooms and rent paid. We are currently working really hard to un-sell, un-gate and un-speculate more of Mama Earth in East Oakland for a Homefulness #2 #3 and beyond.

The first fact which they don’t want anyone to believe in krapitalism is there is enough for everyone all the time — and to clear up that trail of tears and lies we have to collectively walk and live a different life, because they paralyze us all into more lies and more hurt, while elders and babies are evicted, while evictions are on the rise and cities from San Francisco to LA continue to activate the violence of sweeps on our unhoused bodies. While more and more of us continue to die from this violent ambivalence.

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia
Co-madre/Co-editor/Daughter of Dee
POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork(PNN)
Author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America
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OPINION: Golf courses or affordable housing?

It's beautiful and a PGA-class course, but could the land be better used for housing?

Despite all the public concern over the affordable housing crisis, and an alphabet soup of ballot and bond measures in recent years intended to address it, San Francisco has achieved limited concrete results.

In September, the San Francisco Planning Department updated its “development pipeline”, which showed more than 2,000 individual development projects with some 73,502 new units listed. But only 14,346 of them – less than 20 percent – were designated as “affordable housing.” And the biggest projects are all multi-phase that will take years to complete, with some projects still lacking permits.

While some blame the housing shortfall on red tape from city bureaucrats, or on permits and high fees, or on alleged obstruction by progressive leaders and Nimbys, in fact more than 30,000 approved homes have yet to start construction due to a lack of financing and related reasons.

It’s beautiful and a PGA-class course, but could the land be better used for housing?

In a city as wealthy as San Francisco, why should financing for housing construction remain an obstacle? This city is marinated in money. The for-profit housing industry and the free market have failed miserably in the Bay Area, as has the solution of requiring affordable housing set-asides, typically 20 to 25 percent per project. That amount has been too meager to provide adequate housing for a wide range of incomes.

So what’s the alternative?

Pretty much all parties, from the pro-market urban policy institute SPUR to the developers themselves to the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, agree that the astronomical cost of land is a key driving factor in unaffordability. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit. So it makes sense to deploy any available publicly-owned land for housing development. Accordingly, the city has made an inventory of public lands that can be utilized for this purpose.

The recently passed Proposition E, which authorizes affordable housing, including teacher’s housing, to be built on public land, was an encouraging though flawed step (unfortunately, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors fought over its final form, which resulted in a watered-down version that even SPUR called “a missed opportunity”).

In November 2015, 74 percent of San Francisco voters passed Proposition K, which was supposed to expand the allowable uses of surplus property to include construction of affordable housing. In 2014, California Assembly Bill 2135, sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, was supposed to help increase the supply of affordable housing by granting these projects first priority for surplus land held by local governments.

Before that, in 2002, the Board of Supervisors passed the Surplus Properties Ordinance that required surplus city properties to be used for affordable housing. Teacher housing in a vacant school at the Francis Scott Key Annex, which everyone agrees is a good idea, nevertheless has been ten years in the making.

So the lack of concrete results should be a wake-up call for affordable housing advocates. More boldness and outside-the-box thinking are direly needed. Towards that end, here is my first suggestion:

Several enormous parcels of public land have been overlooked in compiling the inventory for possible housing sites. I’m thinking about the five public golf courses in San Francisco.

The other day I was walking around Lake Merced, which is situated around the public golf course in Harding Park. I estimate there were no more than 150 golfers (most of them white males, with a few Asian males and an occasional woman) spread over this facility’s 163 acres. So that’s about one golfer per acre, on average. And their use is limited to daylight hours. In a city in which renters are doubling and tripling up, where people are living and going to work out of their cars, where children are homeless, we are allocating one acre of land for every golfer? Are you kidding me?

When I look at this vast acreage, I can envision three-story, multi-unit buildings with 25 units per acre, which would result in about 3,500 units of new affordable housing. If each unit housed three people on average, that’s homes for around 10,000 people. With the right design, a public park could be included on the grounds, instead of the currently closed-off property from which pedestrians who cannot afford to pay the $68 green fees get ejected. So the actual loss of open space would be minimal, and it would be made available to everyone, instead of an elite few.

San Francisco’s public golf courses monopolize a lot of underutilized land – about 500 acres, or 1.5 percent of the city’s total landmass — for use by a very small number of people, from a very narrow demographic, for a small number of daytime hours. If the course at Lake Merced were developed for nonprofit, 100 percent affordable housing and a public park, there would still be four public courses left.

Given the severity of this housing and homelessness crisis, can we really afford to veto any site that could provide affordable housing for 10,000 people?

Should the Dems impeach Trump — next summer?

Trump's worst crime is encouraging hatred and bigotry.

I’m amazed by the crummy tactical thinking of progressive pundits about the impeachment of Trump. Their commentary and reporting these days on cable news seems to be (1) the Democratic leaders are gutless, and (2) they don’t know what they are going to do.

Uh … maybe not. Maybe they are just a lot smarter tactically than the pundits.

For Democrats, what’s the best time to impeach?

It’s a forgone conclusion that the Republican Senate will never convict Trump and remove him from office. So for the Democrats, the actual goal of impeaching him must instead surely be to maximize Democratic wins in the November 2020 election – winning the presidency of course, and also a majority in the Senate as well as holding the House.

Down-ballot gains in statehouses across the nation are also important for Democrats, especially given the further possible impact of the now-SCOTUS-approved statehouse gerrymandering by the utterly anti-democracy GOP.

So a smart tactician in the party wants to work backward and time that Senate Trump whitewash vote for the moment in 2020 when it will do the most harm to the GOP’s political optics with potential swing voters in November.

Mitch McConnell will certainly jam the Senate acquittal vote through as fast as procedurally possible after a House impeachment vote, probably with no witnesses at all, and with only the minimum time allowed for any floor debate after the House presents the Articles of Impeachment.

That smart tactician will also want to time a dramatic House debate and impeachment vote at the best time possible to give Democrats the most positive optics and platform issues for their campaigns. And the Democrats House leadership can make sure that timing will happen.

It is plain what that date for this media-frenzy impeachment vote will be – ideally, the last order of business before the House breaks into recess for the Democratic National Convention in mid-July in Milwaukee. All the incredibly scandalous revelations from the House impeachment hearings about Trump’s Russian collusion with Putin, his family’s multiple felonious scams, and the innumerable perjurious coverups by all of them and their minions will fuel the Democratic convention’s drama as a crusade to save the nation from destruction.

Then when Congress reconvenes before the GOP Convention in late August, McConnell will be forced to hold the Senate trail and acquittal vote right away in the first three weeks of August – he can’t leave the impeachment issue hanging out there during the convention until a September vote at the start of the campaign.

But that pre-convention sham vote will make the Republicans look like the utter cowardly Trump toadies they really have become when they meet in Charlotte. It will hang around their neck like a dead albatross no matter how brave a face they put on for the TV cameras.

Any earlier Senate vote would be much to the advantage of the Republicans. They will insist the issues are over and “it is time to put this behind us,” and its impact will fade inevitably as months pass before November.

To get from where we are today in July of 2019 to an early July 2020 House impeachment vote next year is an 11-month timeline of continued investigations and steadily escalating hearings by the House, building to the crescendo of the full House’s impeachment vote. House committees are now in the discovery phase, going to court relentlessly with subpoenas to get access to all the vital evidence – like Trump’s tax returns – and witnesses. Trump’s top henchman, Attorney General Barr, is doing everything he can procedurally to obstruct this – and probably engaging in criminal obstruction of justice in the process too – but unless five members of the Supreme Court are utterly corrupt to the point of knowingly destroying America’s democracy and rule of law to enable a Trump dictatorship, Barr’s roadblocks will inevitably fall. How many months of legal proceedings that will take is a question, but it should be resolved by the end of this year.

And once the evidence is in the hands of House investigators, the first six months of 2020 are plenty of time for House committee hearings to fully investigate and expose the shocking revelations, leading to a June Judiciary Committee impeachment vote.

There is also the more-than-a-distraction-from-impeachment matter of the choosing the Democrats’ candidate for president during the same time frame in 2020. The March super-Tuesday primary may be conclusive, but if it is not resolved that will compete for public attention.

This tactical timeline is straightforward to think up, and no doubt Speaker Nancy Pelosi, committee chairman Jerry Nadler, and key House leaders have all talked it through at length privately and have at least a general idea of the coming year’s work. But they don’t want to tip their hand too soon, they need time to track down all the damning evidence, and they don’t want to fritter away the political impact of these revelations, an impeachment vote, and a Senate whitewash vote too far in advance of November 2020. So at the moment we see Nancy Pelosi slow walking the impeachment issue publicly – to the consternation of impeachment-hungry progressives.

And according to national polls, the American public overall is not yet ready to embrace impeachment. Building that “civic momentum” is going to take a steady drumbeat of disturbing revelations through this year and into the next. Those of us who witnessed Watergate well remember that steady buildup of civic alarm until, finally, the smoking gun of the “stonewall” tape was revealed at last – and Nixon fell. Pelosi and her leaders of that generation certainly recall this too.

So progressive pundits and folks: I think now is the time to stay tuned – and keep your powder dry.

UC’s deal with Big Pharma should raise red flags

Last week, the drug company GlaxoSmithKline announced a five-year, $67 million partnership with UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Their stated goal is to establish a genomics institute with the aim of using CRISPR gene editing to find new medicines.

The GSK funds will support the Laboratory for Genomic Research, a new facility in San Francisco that will employ 24 full-time UC and 14 GSK scientists. GSK will play a hands-on role. The company’s prerogatives will influence the work that happens at the lab and it will have the option to license patents on discoveries.

The arrangement raises obvious questions not only about conflicts of interest but also about handing a private corporation the benefits of research incubated by a public university.

Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist and molecular biologist who co-discovered CRISPR, will be one of the leaders of the new project. She showed no such doubts. “We see … opportunity to leverage the best of academic science and research … with also the very best of pharmaceutical science …,” she said. GSK’s science officer boasted that they made the decision to establish the partnership “maybe even within minutes of discussing it.”

What could be unseemly about such unquestioning commitment and speed, especially when holding out the promise of finding new medicinals?

Twenty years ago, the answer may well have been “a lot.” In 1998, when agricultural biotech company Syngenta (formerly Novartis) gave $25 million to UC Berkeley’s Plant and Molecular Biology Department, red flags flew up immediately . The funding triggered intense concern over how a cash infusion from industry could negatively influence academic research and whether—and in what ways—the public service responsibilities of the university would be compromised by the corporate funds.

These are the same flags that should be waving in response to the GSK-UCB-UCSF deal. But the drowsy news coverage of the collaboration suggests that much has changed, quietly, in the intervening years. The steepening ascent of bio-entrepreneurialism continues to rub out the hazy line between university and commercial research. And apparently vanishing along with that division is a traditional, profound, and highly reasonable stricture: even the perception of conflicts of interest must be avoided because the public can’t easily know what’s influencing a researcher or affecting a publicly funded research agenda. Although it’s a struggle to maintain this restraint against profit motives and unchecked discretion, maintain it we must if we are also to maintain public trust.

And the public has plenty of reason to be skeptical. In 2012, GSK was fined $3 billion for engaging in illegal marketing and kickbacks. In addition to greasing the palms of those who agreed to write prescriptions, its misdeeds included hiring “independent” doctors to push their treatments, paying for articles in medical journals in efforts to boost its medical products, and promoting misinformation about the safety for children of one of its antidepressant drugs, Paxil. In 2018, GSK set off privacy abuse alarms when it bought a $300 million stake in 23andMe to get access to that company’s massive bank of genetic data.

Now, GSK employees will work side by side with University of California employees in a gleaming new Laboratory for Genomic Research. Such an industry-academic collaboration is unlike others we’ve seen. To be sure, it’s become common for corporations to fund academic research and for university researchers to create their own companies. These models and the conflict-of-interest problems they embody have become part of the troubling new normal. The GSK-UC deal amps the problem up considerably. What does it mean now that public university researchers will be foundational blocks in a major drug company—and one with such a dicey ethical track record? How much automatic but unearned public repute has GSK just secured by clothing itself in such academic credentials?

For their part, scientists often profess incredulity that financial interests can affect what and how they research. “It is widely accepted among members of the scientific community,” explained Tufts University’s Sheldon Krimsky in Science in the Private Interest , “that the ‘state of mind’ of the scientist is not prone to the same influences that are known to corrupt the behavior of public officials.” Judging by the groggy nature of critical news coverage, professional science has done a good job persuading the press that professional discretion floats immutably above the need for public scrutiny. Yet, cases famously demonstrating how scientists’ judgment can be as faulty as anyone’s serve up chilling reminders of the need for vigilance.

Consider U.C. Berkeley’s “Bring Your Genes to Cal” program (12 3), in which science faculty encouraged incoming first-year students to send in swabs of their DNA, wasting no thought on what it means when those in positions of trust and authority can cajole students into giving up their genetic information. And then there’s that impressive history of unethical human experimentation, clinical trials, forced sterilizations, and non-consensual uses of human tissues. Think (to name just a few) Tuskegee, the birth control trials on Puerto Rican women, Carrie Buck, Jesse Gelsinger, and Henrietta Lacks.

The public knows little about how the unprecedented collaboration between GSK and the UC public universities will be implemented. Have standards and procedures to ensure oversight, transparency, and accountability been addressed? What role will the public play in oversight? What legal rules and remedies will apply when private and public actors act inappropriately or cause injury? When standards for federal funding and private funding conflict, which will take precedence? How is the public service mission of land grant colleges like UC to be protected much less promoted when GSK is entitled to exclusively license and commercialize the best drug targets? Will industry be benefiting from taxpayer-funded grants to university researchers? Is public largesse to universities bending toward corporate welfare?

Finally, how will members of this enthusiastic partnership prevent mission creep? At a conference with journalists following the announcement, a reporter asked Jennifer Doudna if they would edit embryos. “I don’t think there’s any intention right now to be editing embryos in this center,” she replied. “I think our goal is actually to work on various kinds of disease-related questions, but with the research using primary cells and tissues, potentially organized, that sort of thing.” Her answer gave science reporter Antonio Regalado pause: “surprised this needed a qualification of ‘right now.’ maybe later? door open? /end,” he tapped out on a Twitter thread that raised some of the critical questions that went unmentioned in the media coverage of the deal.

Surely there are multiple reasons to be alarmed when assessing the mission and institutional procedures of this new hybrid creation, the Laboratory for Genomic Research. But without mainstream media attention, the public is unlikely to be alerted to them.

Tina Stevens wrote this piece for the Center for Genetics and Society.

There are no Yimbys

Yimbys shout down a rally against SB 827, which would have allowed more density in other people's back yards.

There are no Yimbys.

Yimby stands for Yes In My Back Yard. But Yimby advocates don’t have backyards.  It’s other peoples’ backyards they want.  They just can’t say that.

Yimbys shout down a rally against SB 827, which would have allowed more density in other people’s back yards.

I was struck by the fact that advocates of limitless market-rate housing adopted this term to describe themselves. Politically, they don’t support backyards, believing backyards are land that should be developed instead of being preserved as gardens, gathering places, or open space for families.

The Yimbys fiercely support the state eliminating most local zoning altogether — the zoning that is the bedrock of lasting stability in communities. They ardently support development “by-right” without restrictions, and also strongly support the right of the state to allow developers up to six exemptions from such mandates as rear yards, open space, and set-backs. I note that their advocacy aligns perfectly with right-wing deregulators.

So it struck me that Yes In My Back Yard is a myth. The term should be “Yes In Other People’s Back Yards,” or Yes in Your Back Yard, Yiybys, as Calvin Welch put it when we talked recently.

After reading a recent NY Times op-ed, and a recent piece in Nation Magazine, and listening to the dominant narrative from Yimby spokespersons, I have learned that as a progressive working-class native San Franciscan and homeowner, it is my fault and the fault of other progressives who have blocked the development of sufficient housing for the thousands upon thousands of high tech workers who want to live in San Francisco. Damn! My bad.

Never mind that I and other community residents have over years — decades — of volunteer and full-time nonprofit work caused to be constructed more truly affordable housing units for working class and low-income folks than all the Bay Area Yimbys put together. The affordable housing has been promoted by community activists, not by developers.

Senator Wiener’s SB50 literally spells out that developments of ten units or less, such as will be allowed in areas zoned RH-3,RH-2 and RH-1, will be exempt from building any affordable units, and alternatively developers will be allowed to build McMansions in lieu of mid-rise condos.

I am clear that the housing we need the most is for existing lower income working class and middle-class residents.  Over decades our city leaders have allowed, invited and with huge tax breaks, encouraged the influx of a massive concentration of capital in San Francisco.  The huge public investment that has enabled the concentration of capital has never been recovered by our city. Instead, our city continues to use taxpayer money to pave the way for Google, Uber, and Facebook, et. al despite the obvious need for regulation and limitation to sustain livability for the city’s residents and workers.

The population that is to be the chief beneficiary for the current Yiyby narrative is that portion of the top 30 percent of wage earners who work in the tech industry and who want to live where there are a lot of restaurants, bars, and gyms, and reside in the cool areas of town, usually ethnic and working-class communities.

What they are saying about development is: Yes in Your Back Yard. Because Yimbys don’t have back yards.

The Sierra Club and the luxury-housing developer

Are you a Sierra Club member who lives in Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Alameda, Piedmont or San Leandro? If so, you fall under the aegis of the club’s Northern Alameda County Group, which is nested within the larger Bay Chapter.

Be aware, then, that the NAC Executive Committee is currently dominated by a pro-growth coterie that’s exploiting the Sierra Club’s cachet to push a pro-development agenda that violates the club’s commitments to affordable housing, neighborhood integrity, and democratic governance.

If you’re a Sierra Club member who lives elsewhere in the Bay Area, you should also be concerned. The growth boosters on the NAC Ex Com include two men who wield considerable influence in the Bay Chapter, Igor Tregub and Andy Katz. Tregub also chairs the chapter Executive Committee. Both he and Katz sit on the Bay Chapter’s Political Committee, which makes the Sierra Club’s endorsements of political candidates and ballot measures. In the Bay Area, where the club claims nearly 60,000 members, and environmental values are widely embraced, Sierra Club endorsements carry a lot of weight.

(UPDATE: Tregub tells me he has stepped down from the Political Committee, which only makes advisory recommendations on endorsements.)

A crowd packs the San Leandro City Council chambers to oppose the project. Photo by Stephen Cassidy.

This is an alarming trend for the club; already in San Francisco, Yimbys have tried to take over the local chapter (and so far failed). But the pro-development forces know that placing people on the boards of all-volunteer organizations is not that difficult. There’s little doubt that “smart growth” advocates are trying to shift the influential Sierra Club in their direction, locally and nationally.

1388 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro

The motives of the local leaders were on display on the evening of January 28, when, after a perfunctory discussion, the NAC Ex Com voted 5-3 to send a letter to the San Leandro City Council expressing partial support for the controversial housing development at 1388 Bancroft Avenue. The developer wants to replace the existing office building with a new rental apartment building comprised of 43 luxury units and two officially affordable units.

Since the project was on the council’s Feb. 4 agenda, the letter had to be drafted, reviewed, revised, approved, and sent in a bare week—in other words, before the Ex Com would meet again in late February.

I went to the January 28 meeting to comment on the NAC’s peremptory treatment of another item on the agenda, development at the North Berkeley BART station. But it was the group’s similarly cavalier disposal of the San Leandro project that captured my attention. Until then, I’d never heard of 1388 Bancroft. I got the impression that, except for Tregub and outgoing NAC Chair Andy Kelley, neither had members of the Ex Com.

The collective ignorance was understandable. For one thing, Kelley had only posted the evening’s agenda online on the afternoon of January 28. He was acting under duress: he’d stepped into the chair’s position after his immediate predecessor in the office had abruptly departed. On January 28, Kelley happily voted with the rest of the Ex Com to have Berkeley Councilmember Sophie Hahn succeed him as chair. Hahn then presided over an agenda that she had not set.

More important, the NAC Ex Com relied on a single informant who championed the project. At the meeting, the case for endorsing 1388 Bancroft was made by Tim Frank, a Berkeley resident and self-described “sustainability consultant.” A representative of the sheet metal workers union spoke briefly in favor of the project, but it was Frank who carried the ball.

Frank often speaks at public comment before city councils, regional agencies, and other public entities, urging the approval of developments. He’s been cheering on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s frightening CASA project since its inception.

On January 31, I emailed Frank asking if he’d been paid to advocate 1388 Bancroft. He replied:

I have no economic tie whatsoever to the developer of 1388 Bancroft in San Leandro. The same is true of 2190 Shattuck, which I supported at the Berkeley City Council hearing this last Thursday. These are very green transit-oriented development projects that will be built by union labor. Spending a few hours supporting these projects is a small contribution towards the larger goal of creating a greater and more equitable economy.

What you should know about me is that I am Director of the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, and am the board chair of Good Jobs First, both of which are organizations that support economic development strategies that emphasize good jobs and make our region more sustainable. This has been my vocation and passion for more than two and a half decades.

I emailed back: “Thanks for the ambiguous reply. I asked whether you were paid to advocate a Sierra Cub NAC Group endorsement of 1388 Bancroft. Tom Silva [the landlord-applicant via his business, Eden Realty] aside, were you paid to speak in favor of the project?”

To date, Frank has not responded.

The Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods is not incorporated as a tax-exempt nonprofit in California, so there are no public filings showing anything about its finances. On its website, the group seeks donations, but says they are not tax-deductible. I asked Frank where his group gets its money; he has not responded.

The NAC Ex Com buys Frank’s pitch

At the Ex Com meeting, Frank first stated that he directs the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, chairs both the board of Good Jobs First and the Sierra Club’s National Challenge to Sprawl campaign, and is helping the national club update its infill development policy.

He then pitched 1388 Bancroft. He highlighted the project’s access to transit—the site is on two bus lines, he said—its unbundled auto parking and bike lockers (tenants will have to pay extra to park on-site) and its GreenTRIP certification from TransForm; and noted the developer’s promise to use union labor.

After NAC Ex Com member Chris Jackson observed that only two percent of the units at 1388 Bancroft would be affordable, Frank said that the city had a shortage of luxury residences, but that market-rate housing “hasn’t penciled,” meaning it hasn’t did not yield the returns that developers demand. He also said that San Leandro’s inclusionary ordinance requires that 15 percent of the units in new housing developments be affordable, and that the city has not been “supportive of multi-family housing.”

Nobody pointed out that the last two of these claims do not compute. In today’s Bay Area, no city has an ample stock of low-income housing without having required that new developments include a substantial amount of such housing. In fact, San Leandro has supported multi-unit housing.

As Frank spoke, I Googled “1388 Bancroft.” Up came an article describing neighbors’ concerns about parking. In the ensuing discussion—initially everyone in the room was invited to make a comment—I mentioned those concerns. They elicited no interest from Ex Com members, who went on to pass a motion to send a letter to the San Leandro City Council that supported aspects of the project that were consistent with Sierra Club policies.

Voting Yes were Tregub, Katz, Kelley, Jonathan Bair, and Aaron Priven. Xavier Johnson was not present but later weighed in with a Yes. Voting No were Hahn, Jackson, and Toni Mester.

The unrecognized opposition

A bit more Googling also turned up the email address of the group that was fighting the project. The next morning, I sent the group a brief report of the Ex Com’s action. About an hour later, I got a reply from one of the neighbors, Stephen Cassidy. Cassidy said he’d been a member of the Sierra Club “on and off over the past 15 years,” and that he’s currently a member who “strongly support[s] the club’s mission” and “donate[s] to the club on a monthly basis.” He also said that from January 2011 to December 2014, he was mayor of San Leandro.

Cassidy wrote:

When we hear neighbors are opposed to a particular project, some immediately conclude the neighbors must be unreasonable, from the filter that any local opposition to a project is irrational and intended simply to protect the narrow-minded interest of the immediate neighbors who do not want change (or worse).

The 1388 Bancroft does not fit this mold. Context is critical.

He went on to provide that context: In 2016,

the San Leandro city council revised the San Leandro Zoning Code to allow new housing in areas of San Leandro formerly and exclusively reserved for offices and commercial uses, including at 1388 Bancroft Avenue (the property at the corner of Estudillo and Bancroft immediately across from Bancroft Middle School). We, neighbors of 1388 Bancroft Avenue, supported this change.  Our support helped expand sites for housing in San Leandro.

While new housing was encouraged, the City set limits to ensure that no project would be too dense or too large for the neighborhood. Specifically, projects were limited to:

  • 24 units per acre (which means 31 units at 1388 Bancroft)
  • A parking ratio of 2.25 parking spots per 2-bedroom unit
  • 10 foot setbacks
  • 30 feet in height

In response, the developer sought to build a project far in excess of these limits, close to 75 two-bedroom units, nearly 50 feet tall and with grossly inadequate parking. It was so deficient that city staff opposed the project. See https://sanleandrofocus.blogspot.com/2017/11/city-staff-analysis-of-1388-bancroft.html

Critically, the developer said he could not afford to build any project that was smaller.  However, the developer reversed course and withdrew his proposal.

Fast forward to the present, the developer is back with a smaller project. City staff is recommending that they be set aside for a “Planned Development” to be built at 1388 Bancroft Avenue.

The 1388 Bancroft Avenue Planned Development is better than what was first proposed but remains in violation of the 2016 expanded and pro-housing provisions of the city zone code.  The new plan calls for an apartment complex containing:

  • 45 units at the site … 50% denser than allowed
  • 55 parking spaces … less than half of the required number
  • 4 foot setbacks on Estudillo … 60% less than required
  • 37 feet tall … 23% taller than allowed

The affordable housing component of the planned development is a fraud.  The developer has another apartment on the opposite side of San Leandro that is decades old and serves the low end of the market. He plans on adding two units of affordable at this site, eg not at 1388 Bancroft.  And he will write a one-time check to the city to satisfy its in lieu fee for affordable housing units. That’s how he gets to claim 4% affordable housing at 1388 Bancroft. The reality is there will be no affordable units on the property. Many of us object to the project for this reason. We welcome affordable units at the site.

1388 Bancroft is not within the City’s Transit Oriented Development zone. It will bring significantly more cars to the neighborhood, as almost all units will be 2-bedrooms with 2 baths priced at the highest end of the market. In many cases, 4 adults owning 4 cars will be occupying units.

Furthermore, we have the right to rely on the assurances and promises of our city officials.  Integrity matters.  Approval of the 1388 Bancroft Planned Development without modification would create the precedent that any project, no matter the location, how dense or tall, or the lack of sufficient parking, could be built in San Leandro as long as it is labeled a “Planned Development.”

We continue to support housing at 1388 Bancroft and would be willing to compromise but the project must be brought closer to the zoning code restrictions.

I forwarded Cassidy’s email to the Ex Com members whose email I had at hand: Hahn, Kelley, Tregub, Katz, and Mester, stating that, except for Kelley, “it was clear” that before January 28, none of the Ex Com members had heard of 1388 Bancroft. I added:

I understand why it was placed on the agenda. I do not understand why the majority voted to send a letter to the council, given that you heard only one person advocating its approval. To support a project such as this, with a long and controversial history, without hearing from opponents, and after a short discussion which could not possibly suffice for anyone involved to understand the situation, was wrong.

I suggested that they reconsider sending a letter to the San Leandro Council endorsing any aspect of the project. I also left Tregub a voicemail.

No reporters allowed

Nobody took up my suggestion to reconsider the letter. Tregub, however, emailed a reply that addressed two other matters. First, he said that “three separate people reached out to me about placing this on the agenda, including former San Leandro Councilmember (previously endorsed by the Sierra Club) and longtime member Michael Gregory.”

Then Tregub tried to nail me for violating Sierra Club rules. “[D]id you attend the meeting as a member as a reporter?” he asked. “As you know, our policy welcomes members but does not allow reporters to attend our meetings, so I guess it sort of depends which hat you wear (since you’re both). Thanks for clarifying!”

I was indeed aware of that policy, which however I find nowhere in the Sierra Club’s posted rules and bylaws. If, like me, you’re both a journalist and a Sierra Club member, before attending a club meeting, you have to decide which hat you’re going to wear. What’s unclear is whether club rules forbid non-journalist members from reporting what they witness at club meeting. Tregub and his pals on the Ex Com were well aware of my dual identity, yet they said nothing at the meeting, and Tregub only raised the issue after I revealed that I’d contacted opponents of 1388 Bancroft.

For the record, I attended the January 28 meeting and am writing here as a Sierra Club member; and this is an unsolicited, unpaid op-ed, the likes of which are routinely composed by non-journalists who happen to belong to the Sierra Club and are published by varied media outlets.

I emailed back that who asked to have 1388 Bancroft placed on the agenda was irrelevant, and that the issue was why he and others who voted for the letter did so,

given that only one side of the story was presented—and that, as Stephen Cassidy’s email made clear, even that side was partially presented. On Monday evening, the NAC Ex Com was not qualified to take a position. Why, then did it do so?

I also noted that the national Sierra Club has adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, and I cited the first three:

  • Be inclusive
  • Emphasis on Bottom-up organizing
  • Let people speak for themselves

“It’s striking,” I wrote,

that you offer no response to Cassidy’s argument. Instead, your concern seems to be that I will write critically about what transpired on Monday evening. Why aren’t you worried that what transpired contradicted club policy—not only the Jemez Principles of democratic decision-making but also the club’s stated commitment to affordable housing and neighborhood integrity?

This, by the way, is the same Igor Tregub who ran for the District One seat on the Berkeley City Council last year. Voters in that district may recall his reiterated enthusiasm for community input regarding development at the North Berkeley BART station. When it came to 1388 Bancroft Avenue, such enthusiasm was nowhere to be seen.

The Ex Com’s letter to the San Leandro council

On February 4, the NAC sent a letter to the San Leandro City Council regarding “the Planned Development at 1388 Bancroft Way” [sic] signed by “Andy Katz, Member, Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee.” It differed, however, from the one that the NAC majority had approved. Rather than endorsing aspects of the project that complied with Sierra Club policy, the letter stated: “We have not taken a position on the project.”

Indeed, except for the opening reference, the letter didn’t mention 1388 Bancroft at all. Instead, it “comment[ed] on relevant land use and housing policies” embraced by the Sierra Club:

[T]o address regional sprawl, promote environmental justice, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land use patterns should be designed to prioritize walking and biking, reduce vehicle miles traveled (MVT) increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor use (auto mobility).

“In particular,” the NAC wrote, “zoning should:”

  • Promote desirable, affordable, dense, and equitable mixed-use infill development;

  • Integrate pedestrian-oriented amenities into residential neighborhoods;

  • Promote affordable housing;

  • Eliminate minimum parking requirements to encourage shifts to biking, walking, scooting, carpooling and transit;

The Northern Alameda County Group of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club supports infill, mixed-use, relatively dense development within urbanized areas that encourages transit, walking, and bicycling and that minimizes private automobile parking. We also support greater density where appropriate, and at least 20% of the housing must be affordable.

We request that the San Leandro City Council integrate these principles into planning and zoning matters.

Most of these principles are ones that, according to Tim Frank, were incorporated into the proposed development at 1388 Bancroft.

The blatant outlier is the stipulation for a minimum 20 percent affordable housing. A glance at the project’s history makes clear that no way would developer Tom Silva agree to follow that injunction. When the NAC Ex Com voted to send the letter, it was ignorant of that history. But it knew that the developer had proposed only 4 percent affordable housing. You’d think that would be a deal breaker—but no. 

Dense TOD trumps all

I surmise that in today’s Sierra Club, the purported benefits of dense, transit-oriented development—above all, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—trump everything else, including the concerns about neighborhood quality of life set forth in the national Club’s adopted policies about the “Urban Environment”:

Protection and Enhancement of the Quality of Life

  1. Protection and enhancement of the quality of urban life by preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.

  2. Preservation and revitalization of urban neighborhoods, with residents protected from unreasonable economic and physical disruption; rehabilitation of housing and community facilities; jobs creation; a safe and healthy workplace environment; and elimination of “redlining” practices.

  3. Attractive, compact and efficient urban areas; with densities and mixtures of uses that encourage walking and transit use, and encourage more efficient use of private autos in balance with other transportation modes.

Not incidentally, the urban quality of life concerns, including the reference to “unreasonable economic and physical disruption,” specified above do not appear in the national Club’s draft “Urban Infill Policy” that’s currently under review.

Dense, transit-oriented development sounds great in the abstract. Done right, it’s great in reality. But doing it right means respecting reality, not trampling on it. Even the NAC letter urged “greater density where appropriate.” If members of the NAC Ex Com had attended the San Leandro Council’s hearing on 1388 Bancroft, they would have heard dozens of speakers explain in vivid detail why 45 units at this site, which is across the street from a middle school, was not appropriate; and why, as Cassidy indicated in his email, the proposed development would likely flood the already congested immediate, Estudillo neighborhood with cars owned by the project’s residents. With the developer estimating rents for the two- and three-bedroom units at $4,000 a month, the proposed 45-unit project would be likely to house far more than 45 residents. There’s no way to prevent any of them from owning a car. What’s more, the latest research indicates that densification inflates land values and the cost of housing in surrounding areas.

After listening to that testimony, the majority of the San Leandro Council made it clear they would not approve a 45-unit development. Mayor Cutter made a motion to approve a 39-unit project. The motion was seconded but withdrawn before a vote was taken. Some councilmembers said they wanted the affordable units to be onsite. Everyone lauded the “greenness” of the project and hoped that it could be built. The developer asked for a 90-day continuance to address the council’s concerns, and the council unanimously granted his request.

To my knowledge, nobody on the NAC Ex Com bothered to attend the meeting. Tim Frank did attend and speak at public comment. Defying the time limit, he had to be cut off by the mayor as he was holding forth on “climate catastrophe.”

To be sure, we are confronting climate catastrophe, at least a catastrophe for the fragile ecological niche in which our species evolved. But that daunting fact does not justify poorly informed, stealth decision making that ignores the threats of “unreasonable” growth, especially by an organization that is professedly committed to democracy and urban quality of life.

What Club members can do

Sierra Club members who live in the nine-county area under the jurisdiction of the Bay Chapter need to pay attention to the actions of the Club officials whom they’ve chosen to represent them. There’s nothing members can directly do about Frank, who’s a consultant.

But Tregub, Katz, Kelley, Bair, Priven, and Johnson were all voted into office. If they want to retain their positions in the Club, they will have to run again, either in 2019 or 2020.

Club members should ask that the national Club’s draft “Urban Infill Policy” be placed on the agendas of local group and the Bay Chapter Executive Committees in a timely fashion—the policy is supposed to be finalized this spring—so that, in accordance with the Jemez Principles, members can “speak for themselves.”

Zelda Bronstein is a longtime Sierra Club member who helped found the Northern Alameda County Group in the early Nineties.















A scary time in Venezuela

The streets of Caracas were calm yesterday as people went about their daily business. Photo by Mardha Lunar.

I am a Venezuelan national and also now a US national. I have been in the US now for 17, years but have the privilege of going back to Venezuela where my family lives, and also see friends and fellow organizers. I have been organizing in San Francisco for 15 years around the right to education, racial justice, LGBT rights, criminalization, and police profiling.

The streets of Caracas were calm yesterday as people went about their daily business. Photo by Mardha Lunar.

It is a very scary time in Venezuela, a very anti-democratic time, and in fact quite dictatorial to have somebody who has not gone through an election call themselves a president — and in fact to do that in an organized, coordinated manner with the United States.

When you don’t go through an election and yet you call yourself a president it’s absurd. It doesn’t even deserve a conversation. I can’t believe that countries around the world are supporting this guy. Canada, Colombia, Brazil – Colombia and Brazil have very neo-liberal presidents.

Those countries are supporting Venezuala’s maddening new situation. Trump has for the past eight months said that a military option is on the table.

If you support war, innocent people getting killed on the street, then you can support what is happening in Venezuela. Otherwise, denounce it.

Conservatorship: The new ‘ugly laws’

It used to be a crime in this country to be disabled. Now it's a crime to need help.

“This (conservatorship law) sounds like slavery to me,” Memphis, houseless poverty skola reporter for POOR Magazine’s RoofLESS radio, reported after a terrifying town hall on SB1045, the new anti-poor people legislation that was just signed into existence by Gov. Jerry Brown and will be enacted as a “demonstration”  law in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

It used to be a crime in this country to be disabled. Now it’s a crime to need help. Image: Wikimedia commons

“SB1045 expands who can be ‘conserved’ in three counties in California,” said Susan Mizner, an ACLU disability rights lawyer who spoke at the town hall on this law held in San Francisco earlier this month. She went on to explain the target of this law: “it is targeted at homeless people with psychiatric and/or addiction issues.”

Beginning with the turn of the century “ugly laws,” which made it illegal to be unhoused and disabled in public, legislation in the US literally incarcerated people for being poor, for not having money to pay illegal taxes to the rich and/or for having outstanding debt (a reality which still exist in many cities today). 

These violent anti-poor people laws were an extension of indentured servitude and the enslavement, rape, murder, and land theft of First Peoples and stolen African peoples. But then as you travel down the violent path of paper violence, politricksters and what I affectionally call Lygislations, you end up with the conservatorship programs adopted into law across the US and completely related to the supposed care — read forced treatment — of disabled children and adults and elders supposedly unable to care for themselves.

Like most of the colonizer laws, the Conservatorship laws enable and support the buying, selling, stealing, and pillaging of poor poeples’ assets, bodies and homes. They are rooted in western hetero-patriarchal, agist, ableist diagnoses of mental and physical health, while at the same time, providing an ongoing population and need for a multi-million dollar industry of elder ghettos, group-homes, nursing homes, mental hospitals, etc. And through the Conservatorship law already on the books, poor elders and their families can lose their only assets, lose their ability to take care of themselves, and owe the state thousands of dollars which follows them to the other side of the spirit journey.

So now in 2018, in addition to the hundreds of laws already in place, which make it illegal to sit, stand, sleep, lean, lie, put a backpack down, put up a tent, or eat while houseless in cities across California, we have a new one. A new law that takes the criminalization, incarceration, and harassment of poor folks to new violent, sci-fi movie level. It’s part of a national trend toward the government taking control of older people’s lives.

“If you are homeless and have been taken in on eight consecutive 5150 violations, you could be subjected to this conserving,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness at the town hall.
And oddly, just like the ugly laws, which worked with the settlement houses aka the saviors  nd social workers this law is supported by neoliberal politricksters like San Francisco’s mayor, who claim this is the solution to homelessness. And just like Care Not Cash of the early 2000’s put into law by poltrickster Gavin Newsom, this is another way for the state to steal aka “Conserve” poor people’s resources, because once you are CON-served every asset, belonging, thing you have will be seized by the state, ensuring that not only will be incarcerated for being seen, we will also be unable to survive outside of the institution.
“Does this law expand the Lanterman Act which gives services to disabled peoples in California?”  my brother and revolutionary in disability and economic justice at POOR Magazine and founder of Krip Hop Nation asked, and sadly no-one on the panel could answer. Leroy worries the impact on disabled communities of this Conservatorship will weaken the Lanterman act which is the only way disabled, poor Californians get resources.

To hear Memphis and other poverty skola reporters for RoofLESS radio and POOR Magazine go to PoorNewsNetwork on YouTube or www.poormagazine.org. To contact Tiny, go to her website www.lisatinygraygarcia.com and to find out about an upcomg county-wide action by RoofLESS radio/POOR Magazine and Krip Hop Nation on this violent law email poormag@gmail.com



Beyond Zuckerberg General Hospital

Since when should we rely on charity from the rich to fund public institutions?


The current flap over Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s proposal to remove Mark Zuckerberg’s name from San Francisco General Hospital because of Facebook’s failure to protect privacy rights and other travesties in their misguided pursuit of profitability can distract us from some of the larger issues at stake.

Since when should we rely on charity from the rich to fund public institutions?

Is it sufficient to censure a “bad” billionaire while giving a pass to a “good” billionaire, like Marc Benioff, whose name is now enshrined in the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital?  Benioff most recently became a hero in unlikely places when he not only supported but financed a successful Proposition C campaign to tax wealthy businesses (including his own) to support homeless programs in San Francisco.

More fundamentally, how did we get to this era when venerable public institutions like San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco rely in part on the largesse of wealthy benefactors to survive, to the point they are willing to hand over their names?

We are living in a time when philanthropy and charity are commonly accepted salvos to help people survive the historically unprecedented extremes of wealth and poverty in the United States.  However, a generous billionaire who helps support homeless programs does not confront the more basic question about why there are so many homeless people in the first place.  Similarly, support for a public institution like San Francisco General Hospital, which serves people without insurance that private (for-profit and nominally non-profit) hospitals avoid, does not confront the question why anyone should not have ready access to health care.

In the longer view, the struggles for assuring at least the basic necessities of life for everyone took form (in the United States) during the New Deal and its legacy, which shaped US politics for roughly 40 years and relied on the public sector as the basis for those guarantees. Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, etc. were part of that legacy. Even Richard Nixon had proposals for guaranteed annual income and national health insurance.   

Similarly, the era of neo-liberalism, introduced by Reagan—who famously said that government is not the problem, it isthe problem—launched a political culture for the next roughly 40 years when even a nominal Democrat like Bill Clinton ended welfare as we know it.  The evisceration of the public sector as a guarantor of the basic necessities of life is the hallmark of this era and the current regime.

Fortunately, there is now growing support for reviving the role of the public sector through movements like Medicare for All, universal free public education including college and federal living wage.  Those are the kind of struggles that matter now and in the long run.

So, how does this relate to the issue of naming hospitals?  By all means, get rid of the Zuckerberg name (he can join Priscilla Chan in anonymity). Their contribution of $75 million, while substantial, was roughly 7 percent of the total cost of rebuilding the hospital, which hardly justifies re-naming the hospital after him.  In that same spirit, it’s fair to raise a similar question about UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.  If they are truly generous in their intent, why do they need their names emblazoned on their beneficiaries? 

The private naming of public institutions is homage to an era that is better endured than celebrated. We have to reclaim the fundamental importance of the public as our domain for the common good.