Last week, the drug company GlaxoSmithKline announced a five-year, $67 million partnershipwith 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 officerboasted 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 linebetween 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 23andMeto 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 (1, 2, 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 threadthat 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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:
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
Protection and enhancement of the quality of urban life by preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Well, things turned out as predicted. Yes on C is at 60 percent. And the mayor’s response statement yesterday was also predictable. Without grace or humility. Basically just saying “I’m in charge — you can all work with me on this now:”
Today, I am committed more than ever to leading our City forward by working with everyone to bring funding and solutions to help our homeless residents. I know we can do it together, and I will not rest or take my focus off meeting these challenges.
But the new more-progressive Board of Supervisors – who must approve next year’s city budgets and its homeless priorities and programs – will want equal say, of course. And the community advocates who won Prop. C convincingly at the polls – with an astounding 70 percent city voter turnout – will want an immediate show of good faith from the Mayor’s Office, not vague words.
So … How about halting the homeless sweeps today, right now, Mayor Breed? Start with a new approach for the encampments. Start with decency instead of police.
“I’m calling to see what the supervisor is going to do about the tent encampments outside my building.”
I am working in the office of an SF district supervisor. The caller tells me that he is upset by the lack of responsiveness from the local police. Why does it take so long to remove the tents?
“I had a brother with addiction. These people just need some tough love and discipline.” He tells me his brother overcame addiction. Why can’t they? “The city doesn’t care about us because we’re rich. We’re going to remember this during the election.”
Will he remember? Perhaps what he remembers will change over time. Perhaps what he values will change over time. We are a city with an identity crisis.
These levels of income inequality intersect with other areas and identities like racial or ethnic groups, class, ability, or even LGBTQ identities, and serve as amplifiers for experiences of homelessness. This is continuously reflected in San Francisco’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandated point-in-time Homeless Count.
This upcoming election, we have some of the most significant ballot entries for housing and homelessness that we’ve had in decades.
Our Home Our City, Proposition C.
I won’t go into all the specific details, but you can find the fairly detailed plan and explanation here. Rather, I’m going to respond to some common misconceptions about Prop. C that I see floating around, and to a few of Mayor London Breed’s points.
Why a gross receipts tax? In 2012, San Francisco was trying to spur investment in its Mid-Market area. To attract tech companies and prevent them from leaving, the city changed its tax policy from a payroll tax to a receipts tax. This was largely in part due to lobbying from tech companies.
Before that change took effect, the city exempted new employees from any payroll tax in parts of mid-Market. That meant companies planning to go public, like Twitter and Zendesk, wouldn’t be paying taxes on their employees’ exorbitant stock options. Thus, the tax became known as the Twitter tax break and the company went public shortly after.
Why does this matter? Many of those same companies are now arguing that this same tax mechanism they lobbied for will impact them unfairly. But the companies that would pay a slightly higher tax to SF have also had a corporate tax cut of 14% thanks to Trump. I will also point out that when we are arguing over nuances in the tax mechanism’s fairness, we are also saying that elevating people out of homelessness is less important.
London Breed Issue 1: Proposition C lacks accountability. Mayor Breed’s first argument is one of accountability. As someone who helps communities figure out how to measure success and comply with often daunting reporting requirements in decreasing homelessness, I find this argument unconvincing.
People need housing, it’s not a secret. Authors of the legislation also sought London’s input to the plan. I was in a supervisors’ office when the Home Our City people stopped by every office seeking input, multiple times. It’s not a question of if advocates reached out to her.
The idea that there is no accountability in how well these services are doing or if the money is being spent well is unfounded. Breed didn’t make the same accountability arguments when when she was pushing Prop D (commercial rent tax) and Prop K (general sales tax).
In Support of the Safety Net
In the United States we have a minimum wage, but there is no maximum wage. We apply intense scrutiny to programs and funding designed for the poor or homeless, but where is that same intense scrutiny when we subsidize the rich? Where are the reports demonstrating the switch from a payroll tax to a gross receipts tax benefited San Franciscans?
Where are the metrics showing wage increases and job growth for Tenderloin residents? Are those metrics thoroughly backed by research and then reviewed by an oversight committee? Where are the reports showing that Twitter is fulfilling the community benefit agreements it set when moving into the location? What accountability measures are in place to make sure it does?
We subsidize the rich off the backs of the poor, but are so unwilling to move in the other direction, despite the level of income inequality in our city rivaling developing nations. This is because power and resources define who gets to frame the issue as it enters the public sphere. Those who have resources and time to advocate for themselves will. Those who are lacking will have limited opportunities. We must always keep that in mind when examining any issue.
London Breed Issue 2: Proposition C could make our homeless problem worse
I strongly agree with Mayor Breed that we need larger responses to homelessness and need to approach it from a regional perspective. We need to tie in housing, mental health and substance abuse services, and we need to take into account the racial context in which they operate. I also support CA Propositions 1 and 2, and think they are necessary for providing much needed supportive housing. In fact, I’m already helping communities plan for this funding.
But, we should also have a local response, and there’s no research to show that our local response will attract people from other places outside San Francisco.
People experiencing homelessness within San Francisco are overwhelmingly from San Francisco. Even if it did, our Coordinated Entry System would prioritize accordingly. Let’s consider that though. If people did come here for services, would that be so bad? Is offering refuge and shelter not something that should be a San Francisco value? This funding is literally life saving, and that also has a compounded generational impact for developing children and for future generations.
London Breed Issue 3: Proposition C will likely make it harder to fund homelessness services
I sincerely appreciate this concern from the mayor, but I find it unlikely. For context, California’s Prop 13 (People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation) requires taxes designated for a specific purpose pass by a 2/3rds vote, but that has recently been clarified by the State Supreme Court.
Here’s the part that matters:
“The California Supreme Court recently clarified that certain restrictions bind local officials but do not bind the voters themselves. San Francisco is confident that when voters act through the initiative process, a simple majority vote is required, rather than the two-thirds majority required when local officials act,” said John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney. “We proactively brought this case [Not prop c] to get the certainty that a court order will provide on this issue in order to uphold the will of the voters.”
Logo for the Coalition on Homelessness
A Reformation of Values
As our city changes and increasingly becomes a city for the wealthy, there is a tension between a force demanding unrelenting economic growth and an inequality of attainment. It’s time to change the terms of the conversation; to re-frame the debate as a moral imperative rather than an economic analysis. We have a chance to redefine what our values are as a city through Proposition C, and we need to take it. Rather than approaching homelessness as a single policy issue to be solved, we must look at it as a symptom of a social safety net that is failing the most marginalized in our communities. We need a social analysis and moral outrage to combine with our newfound passion for ending homelessness. We’ve gotten pretty good at learning how to reduce homelessness in the past few decades with very limited resources, and all of that research and planning has gone into Proposition C. Fundamentally, this is about what we will choose to value. Will it be corporations with more than million on annual revenue, or will it be those slipping through the cracks?
Upon her election as the “moderate” candidate in a very close race against two “progressive” competitors this June, Mayor Breed told San Francisco:
“I’m going to do everything I can to bring us all together … for the purposes of solving our most challenging problems…”
And: “Now is the time for us to come together and work to solve our most challenging problems.”
But just four months later, facing her first Really Big Test as mayor — what to do about the city’s highest-profile civic issue, homelessness, as embodied in the Progressive communities’ proposed Proposition C tax on Downtown Big Businesses, instead of “bringing us together” Mayor Breed chose sides:
She chose Downtown Big Businesses and Their Big Money.
Of course it was/is universally understood this is her political base and her leading campaign contributors. So it was politically logical for her to back them up, joined by Senator Weiner, Assemblyman Chiu, and former SF Mayor and soon-to-be Governor Gavin Newsom, in their desire to avoid a $300 Million annual tax increase to fund doubling the city’s homeless housing and support services.
But … the key to genuine civic leadership is knowing just when to transcend such narrow political logic.
And the broader context for the mayor’s position could not possibly be worse:
– The runaway concentration of great wealth in the hands of Billionaires and the National Elite has never been more conspicuous and, in Very Liberal San Francisco, more questioned.
– In particular the Booming Wealth of the Bay Area’s world-leading Tech Industry has never been more evident, and its negative consequences more concerning.
– And to top it all off, this year’s enormous Trump tax cuts for these very same Downtown Big Businesses while at the same time attacking federal health and human services “Safety Net” programs — greatly exacerbating the Nation’s Homeless Crisis — could have never been more obscene.
To make matters even worse, the key to Mayor Breed’s re-election in November of next year has to be making substantial visible progress in addressing San Francisco’s everyday Homeless Crisis. But her current strategy – high-profile “sweeps” of sidewalk encampments that simply push the homeless from one neighborhood to another, and then back again — is not going to meet that test. And soon there will be strong legal counterattacks against even that tactic based on a recent “right to sleep” Federal appeals court ruling.
Any real progress in reducing visible homeless in San Francisco is going to be very costly. There are no cheap solutions, no “innovative” tooth fairy new paradigms. In large part our city has to make up for the federal government’s ongoing abandonment of its responsibilities for the welfare of all the people — housing, health care, treatment for Americans in need.So Mayor Breed had a great opportunity this Fall to personify Civic Leadership:
– She could have told her Downtown backers they have to accept this new tax for the sake of all concerned, to really make a dent in homelessness now. That would have not been any political risk for her – they have no alternative candidate to run against her next year.
– She could have made common cause with her former Progressive opponents and supported Proposition C, taking a leading role in a winning Yes Campaign. That successful “come together” reaching out probably would have made her unbeatable for re-election next year.
Instead, she let the great potential of this turning-point moment slip through her fingers. Because, one must assume, she believed she and the Chamber of Commerce would defeat Proposition C thanks to their perpetual ability to outspend community-based campaigns by 5 to 1 or even more. Then she would make her mayoral call for all sides to “come together” to compromise on some “grand bargain” that she would lead to provide some lesser amount to expand Homeless programs.
Then just three days after Mayor Breed announced her opposition to Proposition C … Lightning Struck! Marc Benioff – San Francisco’s most prominent Tech Industry CEO avatar – announced his passionate support for it!
And pledged millions of dollars to the Yes On C campaign to get it passed!
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be — are you for the homeless or not for the homeless? For me, it’s binary,” [Benioff] said. “I’m for the homeless,” the Chronicle reported.
Benioff’s credibility for this moment was/is unimpeachable – Proposition C’s new tax on his Salesforce Corporation will total more than $10 Million per year.
In the weeks since several other San Francisco Tech companies have joined Mayor Breed in the No campaign: Stripe, Visa, Lyft, Twitter, Square. None have joined Benioff in support.
But the Yes On C campaign has gotten the support of two long-time San Francisco political superstars: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and former Mayor/Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Now, with less than a week to Election Day, Benioff/Salesforce have pumped $7 Million into the Yes On C campaign, meaning for the first time ever a community-driven Progressive campaign will be able to outspend its Downtown opponents by 2 to 1. And the Progressive communities – burgeoning with a new generation of young activists – are passionately mobilized to the highest degree since the pivotal first district supervisors election of November 2000, 18 years ago.
All this came to a very public head at the annual Silver SPUR luncheon this last Monday, where both Breed and Benioff were the featured speakers.
Breed lead off with her basic Homeless issue position. As reported by Joe Eskenazi ““We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a new result,” she said, continuing to unsubtly drop No on C talking points.”But she did not offer any significant alternative to addressing the City’s Homeless crisis, just general assurances she would ‘work with everyone’ to find more resources somehow.
Then Benioff followed with a passionate call to action. As reported by Joshua Sabatini: “Many corporations are generating hundreds of billions of dollars in market capitalization right here, a few blocks from this very building, and yet so much of this wealth is kept at the top and inside the walls of their buildings,” Benioff said. “It doesn’t trickle down. It doesn’t come to the organizations that need it most. It creates a stunning contrast: glittering wealth alongside shocking poverty.” And, again by Eskenazi: “He asked if the gathered swells had noticed homeless people “outside this very building. Did you see them today? I did. Look into their eyes,” he continued. “They are suffering. Right here in this city. They are not strangers. They are our neighbors.””
One of the two stood out as Civic Leader For Our Times that day.
The latest polls have Proposition C within reach of a 60% Yes Vote next Tuesday. No doubt the Mayor will regroup afterward – “the people have spoken.” But it will be very, very difficult to restart.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, who leads the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley and is the editor of Tikkun magazine, sent this out to his community in the aftermath of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It is reprinted here with his permission.
On Saturday, October 27, shortly after the largest massacre of Jews in US history took place in Pittsburgh, I received a message from the leadership of the largest African American Baptist Church in Oakland, California. Recalling that we at Tikkun had brought dozens of our subscribers and members to their church on several occasions when African Americans had been murdered by white racist fanatics, they asked me when Beyt Tikkun would be having a service to which they could attend to show their solidarity with us. As one of their leaders put it, “we are praying for the Jewish community that is under violent assault from White Supremacy just like African Americans. You have stood with the Black community without hesitation in the past. We stand with you today! Please let us know how to be good allies in this troubling time.”
That was soon followed by messages from a range of Muslim organizations with essentially the same message: The attacks on Jews are no different from attacks on Muslims. We need to all stand together.
But why now?
One answer provided by some liberals goes something like this: “The murderer chose this particular Temple because of its support and advocacy on behalf of immigrants (and particularly the important immigration support work of HIAS). Republicans have spent years building up the idea that immigration is an existential threat to America. Some of them have alleged that Jews (notably Jewish philanthropic billionaire George Soros) are secretly funding both immigrants and protesters against President Trump and his attempt to preserve America as a white Christian country.
‘What the murderer in Pittsburgh did on Saturday morning is the direct result of that campaign and of Trump’s continuing remarks suggesting that Democrats and liberals are disloyal to the US and seeking to destroy all that is sacred here. So the murderer’s finger may have been on the trigger. But a lot of Republicans including Donald Trump created the context in which this action would have seemed like merely acting to save the country from forces that millions of Republicans have been claiming to be an existential threat to our country. And their message was heard by many others, including the attempted murderer who earlier last week sent bombs to Soros and several other prominent liberals.
‘If Republicans retain control of Congress in the midterms, it is likely to be because Trump has managed to turn the midterms into a fear-based reaction to what he, with help of much of the media, portrays as a threat coming from uninvited refugees.”
This narrative is particularly compelling because of the absence of any call on the part of the US government to expose and arrest the major manifestation of terrorism in the US in the past several years—the radical right with its violence against African Americans, gays and lesbians, Muslims, and increasingly against Jews.
Yet this too needs to be contextualized as a current manifestation of the racist foundations of our country with genocide of Native Americans and slavery. And more recently that violence manifested in the war in Vietnam to the war and torture of thousands in Iraq in the 2000s on the bogus claim that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, to the campaign against “illegal” immigrants by Barack Obama (whose Administration expelled more immigrants than all the previous presidents of the US combined).
This pattern of violence and demeaning of “the Other” has become so deeply embedded in the culture of the US that only a true consciousness transformation will undermine its prevalence in both major political parties.
The racist versions of American nationalism must be rejected, but its appeal to people set adrift by the emotional consequences of living in a world in which “looking out for number one” has severely weakened friendships and contributed to the high level of family dysfunction and divorce. As a psychotherapist I am very aware of the suffering many Americans face as children when their attachment to parents are broken and they feel rejected and not truly cared for. Anger often masks deep sadness so acute that many people would rather blame some other than heal themselves.
The more people feel inadequately respected and recognized, the more that childhood rejection hurts, and the more they avoid feeling that sadness by directing their anger at whoever is the current demeaned other in their society. If we are ever to reverse all this, it will require millions of us to approach these broken and hurting people with compassion and empathy that at the moment is in short supply on all sides of the political divide—even as we vigorously reject the racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism through which that pain gets expressed.
Our efforts to build a peaceful world require us to act peacefully now and always—to breakdown walls of separation with bridges of connection, to crack open aching hearts with fierce love and compassion, to critique and challenge evil behavior without diminishing the humanity of the actor. We stand in solidarity with all the “others” of our society whose lives are threatened and endangered by acts of violence and continue to commit to loving the stranger, the “other.” In the final analysis, the only real way to “resist” the growth of fascistic consciousness is to build a movement that replaces “American first” with “love first.”
The good news is this: despite the negativity, hurtfulness, and evil that has increasingly gotten support by the Trump Administration and sections of the Republican Party, there is a fundamental decency and goodness in most people on this planet and in the US. We see that in the love pouring out toward the Jewish community from all sectors of this society. It is our task to affirm and strengthen that loving energy rather than sink into despair.