Opinion

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 [email protected]

 

 

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.

Let’s start over, Mayor Breed

Police and DPW workers force homeless campers to get rid of or move their belongings. Photo by John Youll

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.

Police and DPW workers force homeless campers to get rid of or move their belongings. Photo by John Youll

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.

The truth about Prop. C

 

“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.

In San Francisco we have immense wealth and innovation. As cited by Marc Benioff in a recent op-ed, the Bay Area has the third-highest number of billionaires on the planet. As cited in the United Nations report on extreme poverty and human rights, that immense wealth also stands in shocking contrast to the conditions in which a vast number of us live on the street. As income inequality continues to spiral out of controlwages continue to stagnate, and federal resources continue to lack, more and more of us at the bottom end of the resource continuum continue to fall into poverty, and then into experiencing homelessness. Our resources are finite, and when one group experiences wealth so immense that the outlets to spend it are lacking, another will never know what it is to experience having your basic needs met.

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.

Proposition C is an average 0.5% tax on business gross receipts of more than $50 million. There are varying tax rates for different industries that were developed with input from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. This was done to account for industry profit margins.

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.

First, Our Home Our City has a fairly detailed publicly facing plan on its website, and the actual legislation with more of the specifics is also available. This plan is based on decades of research and best practices, developed by experts in the field. I can show you report after report and study after study showing effectiveness of programs like permanent supportive housing (PSH), rapid re-housing, (RRH), or rental subsidies, but a lack of resources is without a doubt the key issue.

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.

Second, written into the legislation is also a required Oversight Committee that will recommend funding priorities and produce impact reports. This is in addition to existing accountability and reporting on the Homeless and Supportive Housing (HSH) website, through the Controller’s office, the city budget, the strategic plan to reduce homelessness that must be continuously updated, the applications for federal funding, applications for state funding, the city Budget and Legislative Analyst, and many more. This was a list off the top of my head. We can spend additional money on administrative costs and preparing reports (which financially benefits me, BTW), but how much do we want that to consume the process?

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).

This funding saves lives. In the past year and a half, we’ve seen 1,950 people exit homelessness, and have housed 7,000 formerly homeless people with permanent supportive housing. I would call that an immense success. To say that there are “no discernible improvements in conditions” is to fail to contextualize the issue of homelessness as a symptom of increasing income equality and affordability. As more and more resources continue to conglomerate for the rich, more and more people will fall into poverty, and then into experiencing homelessness.

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.

From the Coalition on Homelessness

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?

 

A chance at civic leadership, stalemated

 

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.”

A chance at civic leadership slips through her fingers

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.

Solidarity after the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh

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. 

Tenant Troubles: What Prop. 10 is really about

“Local governments are on the front lines of managing homelessness, displacement and gentrification. They need the ability to stop the bleeding. Proposition 10 would give them an additional option for helping those at risk of losing their homes. Proposition 10 isn’t the solution to the state’s affordable housing crisis, but it is a valuable tool to manage the consequences.” —Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2018

“It’s about local control, which is why we recommend Californians vote ‘yes.’ ” —The Sacramento Bee, September 14, 2018

If enacted, Proposition 10 will repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, nothing more, nothing less.

The Rent is Too Damn High

What is the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act?

Costa-Hawkins was a bipartisan measure authored by Jim Costa (D-Fresno). A congressman now and a member of the Blue Dog Democrats, Costa has always been a shill for big agriculture, big oil, and the so-called real estate industry;  and Phil Hawkins (R-Bellflower), a one-term 56th Assembly District representative who currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

The California Legislature enacted the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act in 1995 with the passage of AB 1164 (Hawkins) and its predecessor, SB 1257 (Costa) with support from one-percenters like the so-called Coalition for Fair Rental Policy, the California Building Industry Association, the California League of Savings Institutions, the California Land Title Association, the California Mortgage Bankers Association, and various property owners and apartment associations throughout California.

The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act banned any vacancy control—regulated rents that continue when a unit is vacated (think Berkeley.) It also entirely exempted single-family dwellings from rent control.

The most pernicious effect of the act was to absolutely prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting any future rent control for housing built after February 1, 1995.

Think of it this way: In 1995 Congress prohibits states from enacting any automobile fuel emission controls or standards (for sake of the argument let’s not debate the constitutionality of this). The benefit to a few special interest groups is obvious—the oil companies and the auto manufacturers will get richer and richer. Meanwhile the pollution becomes more and more toxic. People begin to die. Shouldn’t our state have the ability to enact measures to control that pollution? Shouldn’t we, as a state, a more local government, be allowed the right to chart the course of our own future?

As a state law, the Costa-Hawkins Act preempts any attempts by local governments to deal with the well-documented current housing crisis by controlling the price of rents in housing built after 1995. Proposition 10 repeals Costa-Hawkins, but does not mandate any rent control itself. It will be up to local governments to decide if they want rent control or not.

Proposition 10 embodies the true spirit of California’s initiative process.

California has a long history with the initiative and referendum process. Enacted in 1911, it was described in the Los Angeles Times as a vote “that thrust from power the Captains of Greed.”

An argument for the original measure to enact the initiative process stated, “One of the strongest arguments in its favor is the character of many of those who oppose it. Opposing it will be found without exception the servants of special interests, and those who profit through special legislation. Added to these are those who may be termed our “Political Aristocrats,” who distrust and scoff at the people; who are accustomed to sneer at self-government as ‘The rule of the Mob,’ or ‘the Tyranny or Majorities.’ ”

The initiative process has been maligned in recent years, largely because special interest groups masquerade as populists (think Trump) and spend tons of money to confuse voters to support their various whims.

Proposition 10 is an initiative written and supported by tenant groups who represent real people, tenants who are neither rich nor particularly powerful…yet. Costa Hawkins was enacted by griftocrats showered in bribes…I mean contributions…from the so-called real estate industry that represents a small class of people who still deign to call themselves lords.

Proposition 10 is exactly the type of law the creators of the initiative process envisioned—a law proposed by an underclass ignored and vilified by their supposed representatives.

The ludicrous arguments against Proposition 10

The various TV ads opposing Proposition 10 seem to cloak themselves in a kind of pro-tenant language: Prop 10 has no protections for renters, seniors, veterans, or the disabled. Correct. Prop 10 has no specific provisions to reduce rents. Correct. Prop 10 contains zero funding for affordable housing and contains no requirements that housing be built. Correct.

All of these “arguments” essentially ask the question: Why aren’t there any peaches in this apple pie?

Another argument against Proposition 10 goes something like this: “Prop 10 is the wrong approach. It repeals animportantCalifornia rental housing law with no replacement and no plan to address affordable and middle-class housing or deal with the problem of increasing homelessness on our streets.”

Proposition 10 seeks to repeal an existing law than neither provides any tenant protections, nor would allow any local government to attempt to increase protections. Costa-Hawkins would prevent local governments from establishing rent control for buildings filled with senior, veterans and the disabled built after 1995. Costa-Hawkins would prevent local governments from establishing specific provisions to reduce rents. Costa-Hawkins would prevent local governments from using rent control as a means to help to create affordable housing.

Costa-Hawkins is only important to those “Captains of Greed” those landlords who can’t imagine a place where local control, real democracy, might seek to control rents.

Proposition 10 Does Not Mandate Any Rent Control

Once again, Proposition 10 only repeals Cost-Hawkins in order to return rent control decision making to local governments. Those who oppose repeal want to paint it as some kind of new rent control law. It is not.

Those who oppose Proposition 10 would rather debate rent control on a statewide basis so that they can hide behind their slick, meaningless TV ads. They don’t want local governments to have right to chart the course of our own future They abhor the idea that they may have to debate the issue locally. That, locally, someone might know them and confront them personally, exposing their opposition for what it really is—unmitigated, inhumane, aristocratic greed.

The truth about ‘progressive’ housing policy

Protestors demand a say in affordable housing project

Randy Shaw, who runs a website called “BeyondChron,” is now writing for the Chron. In a piece that ran Oct. 21, he argues that Bay Area land use policies are “exclusionary … [and] bars new apartment buildings being built…pricing out a new generation of working and middle class families.” He asserts that the reason for this is that existing “homeowners …have won power to file multiple appeals of proposed development projects” without citing a single example of this “power” granting “multiple appeals” other than the long-established San Francisco “discretionary review” process which is limited to a single review of a single project allowed only after a vote of the Planning Commission.

Protesters want more of a say in the Excelsior affordable housing project; that doesn’t men they are against housing

This review has overwhelming been applied to outsized single-family home proposals or the partial demolition of historic or architectural significant buildings. The review generally results is a redesign not the denial of approval. To imply that such a review is somehow responsible for the affordable housing crisis gripping San Francisco is absurd.

Shaw should know that for more than 40 years, various coalitions of existing city residents have expanded the supply of permanently affordable housing in San Francisco through three mechanisms: increasing public funding for affordable housing, creating and maintaining a strong regulatory regime limiting the excesses of market rate development, and creating and supporting the work of diverse neighborhood and community-based affordable housing advocacy coalitions and development organizations such and Shaw’s city funded Tenderloin Housing Clinic.

That three-part system has produced some 30,000 new affordable units in San Francisco in the last 40 year and saved thousands of others from being demolished or converted to high end condos (see the 2018 Housing Trends Report).

That Shaw failed to mention that history does not mean it did not exist. Nor does it diminish the reality of progressive policies supported by neighborhood residents’ and various elected officials and city agencies.

Shaw’s argument is disappointing because it is another example of how in today’s divisive political culture a “convincing narrative” replaces actual events,” talking points” replaces actual facts and inventing new enemies to attack (“Nimby boomers”) replaces building coalitions across race and class to solve common problems.

Recounting actual events here in San Francisco over the last four decades would show residents and advocates using every means possible to increase affordable housing production and limit demolition of housing and the displacement of existing residents. San Francisco was the only county in the region to increase housing production in every decade since 1970 (2017 Jobs Housing Trends). We currently have some 54,000 approved housing units in our “pipeline.” But the private developers have sought building permits for only 14,000 of them (2018 Q2 Pipeline Report).

In what way then do the facts support Shaw’s narrative, and how effective are his supposed “exclusionary local land use policies” if tens of thousands of new housing approvals occur at such a rate that developers only build a fraction of them after they are approved for fear of market glut? These inconvenient truths reveal the basic fallacy of his argument.  

Shaw supported the super-low-density “Live/Work Loft” hustle in the transit-poor South of Market in the late 1990s, in which manipulations of local laws seeking artist housing was used by market rate developers to produce structures that didn’t even meet the housing code and avoided local taxes, including transit payments. He argued that this was the only way the “middle class” could stay in the city.

Twenty years later he embraces the exact opposite : high density development in existing transit corridors that will displace the very working and middle class families he seeks to champion. At least his then allies, the Residential Builders Association, supported rent control and inclusionary zoning (accept for their “lofts”). His new allies, the Yimbys, support neither.

Randy Shaw is correct when he concludes his essay with a challenge to our political will to right profoundly ruinous public policy that keeps millions of working and middle-class families one paycheck away from homelessness across the nation. He is simply completely wrong about at what the object of that political action should be.

Repealing “discretionary review” in San Francisco will not address steeply rising income inequality and tax policies at both the state and federal level, which undermine direct federal and state subsidies for lower income housing production and preservation critically needed at the local level. Attacking local officials and residents while remaining silent about state and national policy is an exercise in willingly rejecting political reality, not an act of political will.

Boycott Lyft, Protest Twitter

Not even Uber, with all its corporate baggage, is putting money into defeating a plan that could actually solve homelessness in SF

Lyft’s decision to contribute $100,000 to fight Proposition C, San Francisco’s urgent measure to help the homeless, is morally reprehensible — and must now hurt the ride-sharing company’s bottom line.

I’m calling on all San Franciscans — indeed all decent Americans — to boycott Lyft. Not even Uber, with all its corporate baggage, has taken a stand like this against SF’s thousands of suffering men, women, and children on the streets.

Not even Uber, with all its corporate baggage, is putting money into defeating a plan that could actually solve homelessness in SF

This is a morally defining moment for the people of San Francisco — and for the global tech companies headquartered here. As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff — who, to his great credit, has thrown his corporate weight and money behind Prop. C — has said, “It’s binary — either you’re for the homeless or you’re not. I’m for the homeless.”

But Lyft’s billionaire executives object to the tiny tax that will be levied on big corporations to help pay for homeless programs. The company’s anti-Prop. C arguments, which mirror those of the Chamber of Commerce, have no merit, as the City Controller’s office recently reported.Prop. C will have virtually no negative impact on business or jobs, but will indeed help reduce homelessness, declared the City Controller.

The transportation colossus not only is showing its cold, heartless soul on SF’s homeless crisis, but according to another recent local report, has (along with Uber) overwhelmed the city’s streets with its fleet of cars — another SF crisis for which the giant corporation refuses to take responsibility.

Lyft executives are not the only moral robots in SF’s tech industry. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is also donating $75,000 to defeat Prop. C. In a recent Twitter debate with Marc Benioff, Dorsey insisted there are better ways to help the homeless, like through private charity. When Benioff challenged the Twitter billionaire to state how he personally has helped alleviate the misery on his city’s streets, Dorsey conveniently ducked the question.

And yet Dorsey’s social media giant benefited enormously from a city tax break that was so targeted to lure the company’s HQ to SF that was known as the “Twitter tax break.” Selfish and greedy tech moguls like Dorsey think all the charity should be flowing THEIR way from the city, instead of the other way around.

Twitter — a communication behemoth that will go down in infamy as Donald Trump’s favorite propaganda platform — now further darkens its reputation. If Twitter employees have any social conscience, they should hit the streets on Monday outside Twitter’s mid-Market St. headquarters and loudly demand that the company help the hordes of homeless people all around them by supporting Prop. C.

Lyft employees and community activists should also target Lyft headquarters and encircle the building with loud picket lines, to let its corporate management know what we think about the company’s direct assault on humane San Francisco values.

Indeed, San Francisco’s high-paid tech workers have a moral obligation to campaign for Prop. C — because it was the massive influx of tech business and labor into the city in recent years that severely strained the city’s housing supply, sent rents soaring, and resulted in the eviction of thousands who are now homeless.

To paraphrase Marc Benioff — either you’re on the side of San Francisco’s suffering homeless, or like Lyft billionaires and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, you’re on the side of greed and selfishness.

Which side are YOU on?

A doctor’s plea: When treatment and cure isn’t enough

It's going to cost money to address homelessness seriously

What do you do as a physician when you have all of the best medicines in the world, but can’t treat a patient’s disease simply because they don’t have a place to call home?

This was the question I struggled with as I entered Ms. Anderson’s hospital room. Ms. Anderson was a San Francisco native and shipyard worker for the majority of her adult life before she was laid off over thirty years ago. Due to a work injury, she couldn’t find another job and lost her home, living on the streets for the past three decades. Like the overwhelming majority of homeless in San Franciscans, she was formerly housed in San Francisco.  

I had met Ms. Anderson two weeks earlier when she came into the Emergency Department with a broken hip. We admitted her into the hospital for a work-up and ultimately found that she had a new diagnosis of a cancer called lymphoma. Because of her memory impairment, we had the same heartbreaking conversation multiple times, with her desperately asking for treatment for her potentially curable cancer, because without it she would surely die.

The good news was that her type of cancer had relatively good outcomes if treated promptly with chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy often meant severe side effects like frequent vomiting, nausea, and sometimes even urinary and bowel incontinence that anyone would find difficult to manage in a home, let alone while homeless without stable access to a bathroom. Treatment also required frequent appointments to monitor disease progress, and we weren’t sure if she could manage these successfully with her memory impairment.

Because of this, I came to give the news that treating her cancer might not be possible. While sharing this, I held back tears, knowing that if she had had a home, treatment wouldn’t be a question of if but when.

In the course of one year in San Francisco, more than 21,000 people will experience homelessness like Ms. Anderson. However, as a city where homelessness is repeatedly cited as the number one issue for its citizens, San Francisco only spends about 3 percent of its $11 billion dollar budget on homelessness. Proposition C on the upcoming November ballot, titled Our City Our Home, is a voter-initiated ballot that would raise approximately $300 million to increase funding towards solving homelessness.

Prop C would have helped someone like Ms. Anderson, because it would help keep people in their homes or help get our sickest patients off the streets and into stable housing. With Prop C, we would have enough money to provide eviction prevention assistance and keep thousands of families housed each year. The funds would be raised by a 0.5 percent gross receipts tax on businesses that make more than $50 million dollars a year, which is a small tax compared to the 14 percent federal tax cut these companies recently received from the Trump administration. More than 100 San Francisco organizations already support Prop C, including physicians, educators, social workers, and many small businesses.

Opponents of Prop C argue why spend more on homelessness when San Francisco already spends so much? But when faced with the dire situations like those of Ms. Anderson, it becomes not an issue of economics but a matter of human conscience. San Francisco’s citizens currently have a meaningful opportunity to help the fight against homelessness for the first time in over a decade by supporting Prop C, because it is a bill that values care for all human life, no matter the situation. I hope like me others will vote Yes on Prop C this November, because a San Francisco that believes in helping people like Ms. Anderson is the San Francisco I want to live in.

Dr. Leslie Suen is an Internal Medicine Primary Care resident physician at UCSF and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. She previously has worked for the SF Department of Public Health to improve delivery of healthcare services to homeless communities. The opinions expressed are entirely her own. 

Medical Professionals for Prop. C will be holding a press conference Wednesday/17 at SF General Hospital, Info is here.