How do you shelter at home, when you don’t have a home?
As our city leaders have moved rapidly and wisely to minimize the risks of the COVID pandemic, one important segment of our community has been left behind – the most vulnerable segment: our un-housed neighbors. They tend to be older, often have high risk health conditions, and are unable to practice the sanitary and social distancing guidelines needed to save lives.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. It is imperative that city leaders act swiftly to house our neighbors currently living on the streets and in crowded shelters or SROs. As faith leaders, we are calling on Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors to quickly implement the current proposal, already adopted in New Orleans, to make use of the vacant hotel rooms in our city to safely shelter our un-housed community members.
Before the crisis hit, our City of St. Francis was home to at least 8,000 people living on the streets, plus many more thousands packed into crowded shelters or in SRO rooms with shared kitchens and bathrooms. This situation is the result of a socio-economic system that has abandoned the most vulnerable among us. It now exacerbates a dangerous public health crisis where group living facilities put people at extreme risk.
The city has reached out to some of our congregations to host additional shelters. While we are always ready to contribute, we feel it is irresponsible to create new living facilities that would endanger residents and staff. At the same time, there are approximately 30,000 empty hotel rooms in San Francisco that could easily house all in need of shelter. It is madness to leave them empty while the epidemic rages–and in fact is being fueled by the lack of safe spaces.
Our faith traditions have much to say about our moral obligation to care for the vulnerable and the need for societal change. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that religious observance without social justice is meaningless:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
As faith leaders, we urge our city’s leaders not only to keep everyone safe during this crisis, but also to ensure that we don’t go back to business as usual. Let this crisis be a turning point for the good. We know that an economic system that allows for people to be discarded on the streets will be the death of everyone. We must turn toward a new world that is founded on the understanding that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable people among us. We must start immediately by housing our fellow San Franciscans living on the streets and in crowded SROs in the vacant hotel rooms in our city.
Every day this situation goes unaddressed, more of us will die. Please heed the words of the Torah: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
The Rev. John Kirkley and the Rev. Joanna Lawrence Shenk are Faith in Action Bay Area Clergy leaders
With an unprecedented $2 trillion economic stabilization package at last finalized, and a flood of cash and credit emanating from the government to stem the dual crises of pandemic and economic meltdown—now more than $3.5 trillion and counting—America’s priorities and vast resources are being unmasked for all to see.
As the human and financial toll spread out of control, the Federal Reserve injected an unprecedented $1.5 trillion in emergency loans into flailing markets—what one economist termed a “fiscal bazooka.” Now, the White House and Congress have at last agreed on a $2.2 trillion economic stabilization package for a mix of industries, medical supplies, and checks of up to $1,200 for millions of Americans.
The massive aid package retains profound economic and policy inequities: $500 billion in bailout aid and loans for corporations, half that amount to middle- and lower-income Americans, and a meager $130 billion to hard-pressed hospitals. Republican senators were doggedly trying to strip worker protections from the deal; even in this moment of severe and intensifying crisis, Republicans are doing their damnedest to preserve and expand corporate power.
The Trump administration’s criminally belated and brutally inadequate response has revealed a deeper perilous negligence, and an opportunity for change—the immense resources that can be expended to address a crisis once it is deemed urgent and life-threatening. Amazing what’s suddenly possible when everyone recognizes the necessity for swift action.
Nobody can argue against the critical need to vastly expand medical capacity and to help stabilize working people’s lives amid this health crisis which may go on for many months. Unemployment claims have already spiked as mass layoffs loom. The need for medical and financial assistance will likely grow in coming months, as experts warn of an onrushing economic recession or depression.
But this suddenly available torrent of funds raises the question: where were all these supposedly unattainable, unaffordable dollars for the healthcare and climate crises that have been taking lives for years? Remember those distant days just a couple of months ago, when millions of us sat next to each other watching Democratic debates, held in packed auditoriums, when moderators peppered Senator Bernie Sanders about how he’d pay for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal?
No moderator in any debate ever asked how candidates would pay for military expansions, wars, and interventions—not once. Nobody ever asked how the candidates would pay for today’s vastly unequal economy and taxation system, wherein mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos don’t have to pay their fair share (or much of anything at all in some cases);what about all that lost money, which belongs to the public pie?
Where have all the politicians and dollars been for all these decades of deadly climate havoc, which poses a far graver mass existential threat than the current horrifying moment? Where have all the politicians and dollars been for all these years when many thousands of Americans have died due to lack of healthcare? Where have those fiscal questions and humanitarian concerns been when it came to preventing this massive loss of life stemming from our privatized for-profit healthcare system?
The answer, of course, is that the dollars and resources have been here all along—but the political will and urgency have been missing in what can only be considered a form of mass homicide.
The parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, and the climate crisis are inescapably real and direct. As author Mike Davis explains, America’s systemic disinvestment and privatization of healthcare and hospitals since the Reagan era has left us horribly unprepared for this public health disaster: “According to the American Hospital Association, the number of in-patient hospital beds declined by an extraordinary 39 percent between 1981 and 1999,” Davis reports. “The purpose was to raise profits by increasing ‘census’ (the number of occupied beds). But management’s goal of 90 percent occupancy meant that hospitals no longer had the capacity to absorb patient influx during epidemics and medical emergencies.”
Healthcare and hospitals for profit have severely undermined our nation’s readiness for a pandemic—exacerbating the extent of illness and death. Answering this nightmare requires more than quarantines. To stem this pandemic and minimize harm from the next one, we need dramatic overhaul of our healthcare system.
Dr. Michele Barry, an infectious disease expert at Stanford University, explains that human climate-wrecking activities such as deforestation may have contributed to previous viral pandemics such as the Zika outbreak in Brazil. “There’s been a lot of interesting discussion how deforestation may have played a role in that, and higher temperatures may have played a role in changing vectors, mosquito vectors in that role,” Barry said on Democracy Now, while assuring that mosquitos are not contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global climate crisis is killing people, right now, due to willful political negligence and a larger systemic madness also known as capitalism. The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030 and 2050, “climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.”
Where is the urgency and investment to prevent that human-propelled pandemic? Can you imagine the funds and response that would be immediately available if a new virus were killing that many people in the US? Why not the same urgency and action for a climate meltdown that is already killing people around the world and only growing more ferocious as we ignore, deny, and delay?
Many groups are in fact highlighting how a Green New Deal could help address many of the challenges we are now facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Whenever we emerge from this viral nightmare, we will need to create millions of new jobs for people to rebuild their lives—and those jobs must involve climate-healing, community repairing work rather than digging our deadly climate hole yet deeper.
Crises like this are a time for compassionate action as well as reflection and change. Now is the time to create a healthcare system and economy that will help prevent and minimize the next pandemic. That means universal single-payer healthcare that provides testing and treatment for all, and a Green New Deal that creates millions of living-wage jobs to stabilize our now-teetering and soon-cratering economy while repairing climate harm that contributes to death and pandemics.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, we have more-than-ample resources to create these vital changes now. We can and must address the present nightmare by laying the economic, ecological, and public-health groundwork to prevent the next one.
The voter turnout is up to 55 percent in San Francisco now, and will exceed 60 percent once the last 54,000 ballots are counted. That’s what today’s results show – and there are only a few changes from yesterday.
But a close analysis of winners and losers shows some fascinating political trends.
The progressive slate is not only dominating the Democratic Party Central Committee voting; its looking possible that Mary Jung, the former party chair who is a lobbyist for the real-estate industry and has been on the panel for years, might not retain her seat.
Jung is in tenth place for ten seats, only 541 votes ahead of School Board member Faauuga Moliga, who has been picking up votes as the count continues.
The vacancy-tax measure is passing by an even-larger margin as the final votes come in, and the limits on office development is far enough ahead that it’s safe to say that one is over.
One judicial race remains close; the latest total puts former prosecutor Rani Singh 75 votes ahead of tenant lawyer Carolyn Gold – a gap of 0.03 percent. Gold was ahead in the last count, so the votes seem to be breaking for Singh – but it’s still way too tight to make any predictions.
So the progressive movement as a whole is a big winner – nearly every candidate and ballot measure that had strong progressive support did well. Some of this may be due to the Sanders-Warren bump – between the two presidential candidates, they got 55 percent of the local vote, so progressives showed up in significant numbers to support them. Biden narrowly edged Warren; the mayor’s candidate, Mike Bloomberg, got only 12 percent of the vote, and that from the richest areas in town.
Still, the DCCC results are interesting.
Joe Fitz at the Examiner points out that two of the leading moderate Dems – Sup. Ahsha Safai and former Sup. Vallie Brown – lost badly in a race that is typically defined by name recognition:
Supervisor Ahsha Safai and former supervisor Vallie Brown both ran for this tiny Democratic Party board, and both are getting their clocks cleaned by newcomers with little-to-no name recognition, and by future potential opponents as well.
Safai, in particular, netted incredibly low results compared to his rumored rival, former supervisor John Avalos, in the upcoming 2020 November election to defend his District 11 seat.
As of Wednesday’s newest Department of Elections count, Avalos had received 27,586 votes, while Safai earned just 10,200. If the vote pattern holds, Safai will lose this tiny little election where tenseats were up for grabs.
That’s absolutely bonkers for a sitting member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco.
Let’s look a little deeper.
It’s no surprise that the top five candidates in Assembly District 17 are widely known politicians with deep roots: Jane Kim, David Campos, John Avalos, Hillary Ronen, and Matt Haney were well ahead of everyone else.
But next on the list are Frances Hsieh, Honey Mahogany, and Annabel Ibanez. Hsieh is a DCCC incumbent, but Mahogany and Ibanez are newcomers who have never held or run for local office before.
Then comes Shanell Williams, a City College trustee who was elected in a citywide race, and Peter Gallotta.
In 11thplace? Sup. Rafael Mandelman. Sup. Shamann Walton is even further down the list, in 20thplace, just two slots ahead of Brown, who had less than half the votes of Kim, Campos, Ronen and Haney.
On the west side of town, where ten DCCC members will be elected, Safai was in 14thplace.
The Social Justice Democrats, who will now dominate the party panel, had money and a solid slate, and since a lot of voters don’t know most of the candidates, the organized slate made a huge difference.
But if this race is a glance at the popularity of elected officials and their allies, it appears that Safai, at least, is potentially in political trouble.
The D11 votes show the incumbent supervisor got 2,536 votes and Avalos got 1,561. But that’s misleading since D11 is split between two Assembly districts, and most of the vote is in D19, where Safai ran.
There are 33 D11 precincts in AD 19, and 12 in AD 17. So if we adjust for that difference (Avalos was running in just 25 percent of the district), Avalos actually beat Safai in the district by more than 2-1. (Kind of geeky math, but multiply the Avalos vote by four and the Safai vote by 1.33, and you get Avalos 6,244 and Safai 3,062.)
That’s not a great sign for the incumbent.
For Brown, who is talking about running against Sup. Dean Preston for her old seat, the outcome can’t be encouraging either. Brown got 4,148 votes in her home district; Hillary Ronen, a big Preston supporter, got 5,518 votes in D5. David Campos, also a Preston supporter, got 5,861 votes in D5.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, of course, is well ahead, as we all expected; he’s got 56 percent of the vote. But that’s low for a powerful well-funded incumbent running against a person who has never held or run for office before.
And it’s interesting to look at where Jackie Fielder, his opponent, won votes. She clearly was popular in the most progressive districts – but also ran strongly in some parts of the west and southwest, suggesting that Wiener’s housing proposals (and that’s what this race was and will be about) are unpopular in more than just the liberal precincts.
The other message that came out of this election is that the endorsement of Mayor London Breed is not terribly helpful right now. Breed backed Bloomberg, who tanked, and that may have nothing to do with the mayor; he was going to tank in San Francisco anyway.
But the candidates aligned with the mayor overall did badly.
That’s not unusual – San Francisco mayors traditionally have limited coattails. But to the extent that this election was a plebiscite on how the current administration and the people who are part of its political agenda are seen by the voters, Breed is in trouble.
A $2,070 bottle of wine from a Chinese billionaire, a $5,000 bribe to an SFO airport commissioner, and a John Deer tractor for his vacation home in Colusa County.
These are just a few pieces of evidence that the FBI is using to charge Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru with fraud.
Following the investigation, there have been countless demands to end corruption and pay-to-play politics from the public and elected officials alike. Supervisor Hillary Ronen wrote she was outraged; Supervisor Gordon Mar admonished the “casual culture of corruption.” Supervisor Matt Haney even called for a special investigator to be hired to further gut corruption in implicated city agencies.
But Nuru should have been fired long ago for something much more sinister: using the Department of Public Works as a tool to blatantly violate the civil rights of thousands of homeless San Franciscans.
For years under his authority, the department has illegally confiscated the personal belongings of thousands of homeless San Franciscans, including life-saving medication, important documentation needed to access housing and healthcare, tents, and sleeping bags.
The Stolen Belonging project team has been interviewing unhoused residents across San Francisco and highlighting the city’s theft of their possessions, including their most cherished personal items. When asked what would justice or accountability look like, the majority said they simply wanted the sweeps to stop. A large coalition of housed and unhoused San Franciscans recently launched a campaign — Solutions Not Sweeps— with this very goal, calling for humane and compassionate alternatives.
While Public Works shouldn’t be conducting homeless sweeps and taking residents’ belonging, violating the 4th, 8th and 14th amendments, they routinely also violate their own “bag and tag” policy around logging and storing items. Homeless people often never receive their items back from the Public Works yard and know that attempts at retrieval are futile.
In one devastating example, the agency crushed one homeless man’s walker in the back of a DPW dump truck. Neil Taylor’s was one of the rare cases where the City Attorney’s Office agreed to settle $750 for the wrongdoing, but by the time the decision was made, he had died on the streets.
As the director of public works, Nuru worked diligently to ensure homeless people were gone from the public eye. He was known to clear homeless encampments and RVs ahead of mayoral visits to a neighborhood. His staff has put up hundreds of metal barricades across city sidewalks to guarantee homeless people are unable to utilize space to rest or sleep, even though the city’s shelter waitlist has over 990 people waiting for a bed.
When housed residents purchased boulders in Clinton Park to prevent homeless people from sleeping, Nuru responded by saying that the boulders “were not big enough.” His long term solution? Bigger boulders.
To top it off, Nuru was allegedly personally benefiting from homeless services. Part of Nuru’s corruption charges were based on giving unfair advantages to assure certain contractors were awarded jobs of providing homeless shelters and public restrooms.
However, like the deep-rooted corruption that plagues City Hall, the cruel treatment of homeless people will not end with a single person.
Mayor Breed will appoint the next public works director. She will give that director the same instructions she gave Nuru. Under the guise of clean and healthy streets, there will be a continuation of homeless sweeps and the destruction of personal property. It is what predecessor Mark Farrell did before her, and what the late Mayor Ed Lee did before him.
The fiery call to accountability from supervisors and San Franciscans to end corruption and bribery must be also be there for the atrocities Nuru has committed against homeless people.
A more just San Francisco is not one with longer, harsher prison sentences. It is one where we replace corrupt public officials with ones that follow constitutional and human rights. If we don’t take a step towards that now, thousands of people living on our streets will continue to suffer under the hands of city agencies.
It’s time for San Francisco to have a compassionate Department of Public Works — one that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of all San Franciscans, including ones without a home.
And it’s well beyond time to ask ourselves what the true corruption is that lies within our city government.
State Senator Scott Wiener has reintroduced his housing bill, SB 50, which seeks to alleviate the housing crisis by forcing more density around transit corridors. But it doesn’t include any new state financing for affordable housing.
In the meantime, other progressive cities have used their regulatory powers to create the right incentives and conditions for affordable housing. In Vienna, Austria, a city twice as populous as San Francisco, a whole new strategy based on the concept of “social housing” has been deployed. Social housing recognizes that overreliance on the for-profit housing sector – which would be boosted by SB 50 – often produces perverse results in an overheated housing market like San Francisco’s.
In Vienna, there is plenty of what in the US is typically called “government housing” — the city owns outright about 25 percent of the housing stock. But this is not American-style government housing, since it is rented affordably to not only lower-income residents but also middle-income.
But the more interesting and innovative housing sector is run by private — but non-profit — housing developers. The city indirectly oversees another 25 percent of the housing stock by using public land and retaining regulatory control over development to build middle-income housing. A jury selects a private nonprofit developer which is provided a low-interest loan and extended repayment periods (50 years or more). Sometimes the developer is a housing co-operative. Rents are regulated so that no resident, regardless of income level, pays more than 25 percent of their income for housing.
Overall, nearly half of the housing stockin Vienna is this kind of public/private mix of “social housing” (i.e. either city-owned or non-profit-owned/city regulated). That dominant proportion makes this sector significant enough to create a large parallel market that acts as a brake on the free market forces that escalate rents and speculation in the for-profit housing sector.
Many EU cities and member states construct social housing as a way of holding housing markets in check. In addition, some European states have allowed legal rights for squatters of buildings that have been vacant for a long time, which discourages property owners from leaving their housing units empty. Also, many European cities sharply curtail Airbnb activity to preserve housing stock.
San Francisco’s efforts pale in comparison. Sixty-five percent of San Franciscans are renters, yet according to the SF Planning Department, the city has only about 34,000 units of “affordable housing.” Those units have been built under a variety of local, state, and federal subsidy programs, with some nonprofit housing and the San Francisco Housing Authority owning 5000 or so of those units. Given the city’s overall housing stock of approximately 394,000 dwelling units, the amount of affordable housing represents less than 9 percent of all available housing units. The City of St. Francis comes nowhere near the market-stabilizing 50 percent level of social housing seen in Vienna and other European cities.
And the future doesn’t look any better. While the SF Planning Department has approved the construction of over 73,000 new units, less than 20 percent are designated as “affordable.” Middle-income housing has been entirely neglected, and at this point it’s clear that the long time progressive strategy of mandating 20 to 25 percent set-asides for affordable housing is simply too low.
And though San Francisco has passed laws attempting to rein in Airbnb, the short-term rental market is still riddled with loopholes that have allowed a number of absentee property owners to fraudulently claim they are living in their homes when in fact they have turned their houses into full-time hotels. One study found that nearly half of those applying to become new hosts in San Francisco include misinformation on their city applications regarding residency status. I live near one such sham Airbnb hotel, a three-bedroom house that its new owner has carved up into six short-term rentals. City officials have refused to shut it down, despite numerous neighbor complaints. Such activity steals badly needed housing from the local stock.
Berlin makes a stand for affordable housing
Berlin, the federal capital of Germany, stands out as a trailblazer for how progressive cities can cope with gentrification and international speculative pressures. Like San Francisco, Berlin has been exploding in population in recent years, driving up rents and housing prices. So recently the city government took the bold step of declaring a five year citywide freeze on rent increases (with heavy fines for landlords who violate the law).
Then this past July, city authorities stopped the sale of nearly 700 apartments to a mega-landlord, and purchased the apartments for $100 million and a guarantee of affordable rents. This was an important victory for housing rights activists, reversing longstanding trends that had sold off some of Berlin’s social housing stock. Suddenly the future of housing looks brighter. “Berliners should be able to continue to afford living in the city,” said Mayor Michael Müller. “It continues to be our intention to buy up apartments wherever we can, so that Berlin can regain control of its property market.”
Housing activists have seized upon this change in philosophy. When Google tried to open a headquarters in the working class, immigrant and hipster enclave of Kreuzberg, it was greeted by huge street protests over concerns that its gentrifying presence would drive up housing prices (like Big Tech has done in San Francisco). After a two-year battle, Google abandoned its plans.
Now activists and their government allies are waging theirboldest fight yet. They have launched a citywide referendum that mandates more buyouts of privatized housing, and will ban all mega-landlords that control hundreds of apartments. Early indicators show that the referendum has considerable support across the political spectrum. Berlin has become a laboratory for how to deal with an urban housing crisis that threatens the very fabric of society.
It is important to note that Germany and Austria are not “socialist” countries. They and other European Union member states are fully capitalist, with the EU having more Fortune 500 companiesthan the US (131 to 121), and more small businesses. But the EU states are practitioners of what I call in my book Europe’s Promise “social capitalism,” while in the US we have Wall Street/Silicon Valley capitalism. Social capitalism is more focused on harnessing the capitalist engine – which is undoubtedly the greatest wealth generator that humans have ever devised – to foster a more broadly shared prosperity.
How to pay for nonprofit housing on public land
OK, so how do we finance more non-profit housing, especially if we can’t increase Prop 13 property taxes?
First, deploy all available public land for housing development, including if necessary public golf courses. Land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit in San Francisco, so this would greatly help affordability (see my previous 48 Hills article on this, “Golf courses or affordable housing?”)
Second, look for new sources of financing. The Dutch once taxed the width of houses; this March, San Franciscans will be voting on a proposition designed to cut down on storefront vacancies by charging a fee based on the length of a vacant storefront. So why not charge a fee based on the length of wealthy homes and apartment buildings too, and use that to fund the construction of affordable nonprofit housing on public land? Or how about basing the fee on the number of windows in a building, or on the square footage of concrete and timber?
Service fees and taxes on other large assets also could be levied, or on elite services like business-class air travel departing or arriving at the San Francisco airport (which would function as an eco-tax as well). Or how about passing a new Proposition C, but this time instead of focusing it on funding for homeless shelters, treatment and supportive services, use it to raise money for nonprofit construction of middle-class housing (2019’s Proposition A, which focused on affordable housing construction, was a bond that all San Franciscans will pay for, not a fee charged to the wealthiest companies and individuals). Those surcharged businesses will benefit too, by having more housing for their employees.
In Seattle, city officials, nonprofit housing developers and technology companies like Microsoft are working together to create a Housing Fund focused on mobilizing financing and loans for construction of housing for the “missing middle,” i.e. middle-class workers who are currently being squeezed out. Why can’t San Francisco officials organize a similar effort? Already Apple, Facebook and Google have committed – on paper, at least – to $4.5 billion in financing for housing. It is mostly targeted at Silicon Valley cities which have refused to build adequate housing for tech workers, preferring to offload that burden to San Francisco. But the city already is housing a lot of their workers, so the mayor and the Board of Supervisors should work together to access a sizable chunk of these funds.
If this proposal is refused by Silicon Valley, why not levy a “local housing for local jobs” fee on workers for large Silicon Valley companies who live in San Francisco and commute south? One way or another, these companies should be paying the city to house their workers.
Some of these proposals will be easier to enact than others, but there are many possible financing targets. In the past, San Francisco has found innovative legal arguments for justifying gay marriage, regulating the installation of telephone carriers’ wireless equipment, and more recently for a proposed takeover of the catastrophic utility, PG&E. This housing crisis calls for bold, creative vision. It’s time to think outside of the typical neoliberal box.
Certainly it’s true that San Francisco has not produced enough housing over the years, for lots of complicated reasons that progressives and moderates will continue to argue about. But going forward, the housing produced must be the right type: most of it should be built by nonprofit developers on public land with the goal of gradually ramping up the amount of social housing to somewhere near Vienna’s 50 percent level.
Housing, like health care, should be a human right. San Francisco now has the most progressive Board of Supervisors in its history, and the City of St. Francis has a choice of where to spend the public’s tax dollars. Over the years, not nearly enough of it has been spent on securing the most basic need of all – housing for a diversity of residents with a range of incomes. Local political leaders need to be determined and clever in figuring out how to reverse past failed policies. Social housing has worked in other cities, there is no reason that it can’t work here as well.
[Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is a political journalist and author of seven books including Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in An Insecure Age]
I have shared with descendants of wealth-hoarders, land stealers who know that something is wrong — that are uncomfortable with the feeling
But have been lied to for way too long
Your paralysis is our violence
As you sit and consider
More of Mama Earth is bought and sold by Twitter
These are quiet conversations –
Don’t include bankkksters
And philanthro-pimped “givers”
With so much hoarded money sometimes they don’t even remember
With legacies of enslavement, exploitation and
So what to do?
Deeply overstand stealing/devil-oping, leeching Mama Earth must end
These silent thieves can’t get away with this unholy war
They can’t trade her, steal her, fix her, sell her like she was an old car
Can’t keep watching as poor/unhoused folks are swept like we dirt on the floor
Your paralysis is killing us
Please, open your hearts and Listen
“This is a request for ideas, I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy…”
Jeff Bezos, (richest man in the world) says this before he “gives” $98.5 million “away” — which seems like so much to us poor people but is a mere tiny fraction of his extreme, hoarded, blood-stained dollars.
“I want to help cure all the diseases in our children’s life-times,” said Mark Zuckerberg, while slapping his name and a new shiny Starbux-like facade onto the front of a poor-people hospital that still charges poor youth of color for teeth extraction.
“I am a conscious billionaire, and I give a lot of my money away,” says another global billionaire.
There are so many wrongnesses with all of these statements. But the first one is that so many people even have all that fucking money in the first damn place.
These people have undiagnosed hoarder/clutterer disease. These kinds of wealth-hoarders have four to 10 luxury cars when they only need one to drive them, three homes and four condominiums, when they only need one to live in.
And please don’t tell me it’s because they have good luck or because they worked hard; all the poor people, families, and folks I know work every day, sometimes three and four jobs like me and my mama did when I was growing up, and still can’t afford rent, bills, etc.. Some of us work just to survive the pain and trauma in our heads and heart from toxic white supremacy, ableism, gentrification, and homelessness, and then a lot of us do both.
But one of the main lies here, that hardly anyone critiques, criminalizes, pathologizes, or truly questions, is the actual accumulation, hoarding, stealing, exploiting of the wealth-hoarders themselves, while us houseless and poor people are criminalized, called names, evicted and “swept” or displaced for the act of hoarding /cluttering things like socks or bags of clothes or paper.
These rich H/C sufferers continue to hoard, fence out, and speculate more and more — rooted in the exploitation of Mama Earth, on indigenous and poor people’s backs, lives, and land.
Is Zuckerberg a healer, scientist, doctor, or even innovator just because he launched Faccrak? Is Bezos a caregiver, therapist, teacher, or any kind of “expert” because he has successfully accumulated billions of blood-stained dollars?
How about the Waltons, the Gateses — these are people who have had endless wealth and race privileges in this occupied land, they had access to even go to a school like Harvard or Stanford, even if they did “drop out,” because they were housed as children and fed and not terrorized by the police, and their families and friends knew people that knew more people and had more stolen wealth and on and on the krapitalist cycle repeats itself.
Why is anyone thanking them for these meager crumbs? They need Hoarder/Clutterer staff to come in with a series of trucks and move that stolen wealth out of their multiple offshore bank accounts and homes.
But I’m not just talking about conspicuous consumptors like these arrogant tech bros – I’m talking about the silent violence of rich trust-funders and wealth-inheritors, comfortable peoples living on this occupied, stolen, lied-to land. People who have been lied to for years about “hoarding” and hiding, keeping, succeeding, and the associated confusion of consumption, krapitalism and toxic wealth-hoarding, so that they are literally paralyzed into inaction even if they have resources to redistribute.
Seeing with their own new eyes the violence, exploitation, terrorism, abuse and murder of their ancestors — and yet unable to activate emergency redistribution.
From the person who won’t give a dollar to an unhoused person because “they don’t know what they are going to do with the dollar” to the wealth-hoarder who would rather “give” to huge nonprofiteers and philanthro-pimped, admin-heavy organizations in times of crisis, because they don’t “trust” the small on-the-ground care-givers and service providers, this dangerous paralysis is all rooted in the lies you have been told about poor people, about resources and about the ability to accumulate wealth and land. About how much you need to feel “safe” and about safety itself.
The success in this occupied indigenous territory is valued by how much of Mama Earth you have stolen, “made” and kept. About the shame you should feel if you haven’t “made” it and how people who have more are implicitly considered “smarter” better, keener, or more strategic.
So many lies, so little time.
These wealth-hoarding and poverty-shaming concepts are also related and entwined with the separation nation I teach on a lot, the ways that we are separated as families, as communities as people to be better consumers, workers, producers, exploiters, bosses, hoarders, etc. But really what’s happening is we are being used without knowing it.
As we leave our communities to go to better schools, jobs, markets we are also leaving our cultures and deep structures and actual safe spaces and are then forced to purchase things, land, and love. We are collectively told the only way to “make it” is to hoard and hide and to never tell the truth. We are encouraged to fly to places we aren’t from and “save” poor people there — and in so doing we displace and do harm to the cultures and communities already there. Colonial lies aren’t done; they are just re-packaged in a 21st Century success model.
Medicine for Mama Earth and all of us
When a houseless/poor person asks you for a dollar or sells you a street newspaper, if you have it give them a dollar, not a sandwich. And guess what — yes they might be using it for drugs, so what, do you question what Bezos, Gates, your boss, or your landlord does with the money they make? Similarily, rich wealth-hoarders, trust-funders, inheritors, let your first mind, your heart mind if you will, guide you in your radical redistribution of the resources you have. It is not your place to over-think, to question. The only question you need to ask yourself is what you need for you and your family to survive and thrive, which always has less to do about money and more to do about straight-up accounting and real community work.
And for the stupidly “rich,” please consider that just cause you have all these blood-stained dollars and stolen land that doesn’t make you any better at figuring out where it should go and what should happen to that land and actually you should be asking/checking with poverty, indigenous skolaz who have had to struggle and our entire lives for mere survival, whose lands and lives were long ago stolen and whose everyday struggle to be okay ensues.
And lastly, please carry the “giving spirit” throughout the year. We houseless and poor folks don’t stop living, needing, struggling, being swept after the “holidays” are over.
Scarcity models are a lie, that there isn’t enough for everyone, enough space, enough dollars, enough healthcare, enough service. There is plenty for all of us, we just need to stop believing in the lies we have had shoved down our throats for 527 years and more.
What there is plenty of is psychotic greed, dangerous denial and extreme speculating of Mama Earth — while people die on the street. Yet another POOR Magazine roofLESS radio reporter was being “swept” off the streets in deep east Oakland last week and another one near 3rd Street, both of them right next to huge “empty” lots, fenced in, lay bare, with no people or homes on them so greed-filled realEsnakes basing their business models on the buying and selling of mama earth could wait for the “property” values to rise — read: the gentriFUKation could set in.
On MacArthur Blvd, an intentionally blighted poor peoples of color community where we are working hard to finish a project called Homefulness, there are more than 26 empty lots fenced in, while the devil-opers, speculators and real ESnakkkes lay in wait like the murderous vultures they are, refusing to sell, inhabit or house anyone.
The Poverty Scholarship teaching has launched a powerful group of people with race and class privilege who co-created the solidarity family at POOR Magazine and the Bank of Come-Unity Reparations with us poor, indigenous and unhoused poverty skolaz. They learn, listen, activate from us and model decolonial liberation moves and actual radical redistribution with their hoarded wealth, skin privilege, and stolen land.
They ain’t no joke, and all people can learn from them and all us in this model. Already more than10 families have been housed, poor and houseless mamaz and families have had their utilities paid, motel rooms and rent paid. We are currently working really hard to un-sell, un-gate and un-speculate more of Mama Earth in East Oakland for a Homefulness #2 #3 and beyond.
The first fact which they don’t want anyone to believe in krapitalism is there is enough for everyone all the time — and to clear up that trail of tears and lies we have to collectively walk and live a different life, because they paralyze us all into more lies and more hurt, while elders and babies are evicted, while evictions are on the rise and cities from San Francisco to LA continue to activate the violence of sweeps on our unhoused bodies. While more and more of us continue to die from this violent ambivalence.
Despite all the public concern over the affordable housing crisis, and an alphabet soup of ballot and bond measures in recent years intended to address it, San Francisco has achieved limited concrete results.
In September, the San Francisco Planning Department updated its “development pipeline”, which showed more than 2,000 individual development projects with some 73,502 new units listed. But only 14,346 of them – less than 20 percent – were designated as “affordable housing.” And the biggest projects are all multi-phase that will take years to complete, with some projects still lacking permits.
While some blame the housing shortfall on red tape from city bureaucrats, or on permits and high fees, or on alleged obstruction by progressive leaders and Nimbys, in fact more than 30,000 approved homes have yet to start construction due to a lack of financing and related reasons.
In a city as wealthy as San Francisco, why should financing for housing construction remain an obstacle? This city is marinated in money. The for-profit housing industry and the free market have failed miserably in the Bay Area, as has the solution of requiring affordable housing set-asides, typically 20 to 25 percent per project. That amount has been too meager to provide adequate housing for a wide range of incomes.
So what’s the alternative?
Pretty much all parties, from the pro-market urban policy institute SPUR to the developers themselves to the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, agree that the astronomical cost of land is a key driving factor in unaffordability. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit. So it makes sense to deploy any available publicly-owned land for housing development. Accordingly, the city has made an inventory of public lands that can be utilized for this purpose.
The recently passed Proposition E, which authorizes affordable housing, including teacher’s housing, to be built on public land, was an encouraging though flawed step (unfortunately, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors fought over its final form, which resulted in a watered-down version that even SPUR called “a missed opportunity”).
In November 2015, 74 percent of San Francisco voters passed Proposition K, which was supposed to expand the allowable uses of surplus property to include construction of affordable housing. In 2014, California Assembly Bill 2135, sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, was supposed to help increase the supply of affordable housing by granting these projects first priority for surplus land held by local governments.
Before that, in 2002, the Board of Supervisors passed the Surplus Properties Ordinance that required surplus city properties to be used for affordable housing. Teacher housing in a vacant school at the Francis Scott Key Annex, which everyone agrees is a good idea, nevertheless has been ten years in the making.
So the lack of concrete results should be a wake-up call for affordable housing advocates. More boldness and outside-the-box thinking are direly needed. Towards that end, here is my first suggestion:
The other day I was walking around Lake Merced, which is situated around the public golf course in Harding Park. I estimate there were no more than 150 golfers (most of them white males, with a few Asian males and an occasional woman) spread over this facility’s 163 acres. So that’s about one golfer per acre, on average. And their use is limited to daylight hours. In a city in which renters are doubling and tripling up, where people are living and going to work out of their cars, where children are homeless, we are allocating one acre of land for every golfer? Are you kidding me?
When I look at this vast acreage, I can envision three-story, multi-unit buildings with 25 units per acre, which would result in about 3,500 units of new affordable housing. If each unit housed three people on average, that’s homes for around 10,000 people. With the right design, a public park could be included on the grounds, instead of the currently closed-off property from which pedestrians who cannot afford to pay the $68 green fees get ejected. So the actual loss of open space would be minimal, and it would be made available to everyone, instead of an elite few.
San Francisco’s public golf courses monopolize a lot of underutilized land – about 500 acres, or 1.5 percent of the city’s total landmass — for use by a very small number of people, from a very narrow demographic, for a small number of daytime hours. If the course at Lake Merced were developed for nonprofit, 100 percent affordable housing and a public park, there would still be four public courses left.
Given the severity of this housing and homelessness crisis, can we really afford to veto any site that could provide affordable housing for 10,000 people?
I’m amazed by the crummy tactical thinking of progressive pundits about the impeachment of Trump. Their commentary and reporting these days on cable news seems to be (1) the Democratic leaders are gutless, and (2) they don’t know what they are going to do.
Uh … maybe not. Maybe they are just a lot smarter tactically than the pundits.
It’s a forgone conclusion that the Republican Senate will never convict Trump and remove him from office. So for the Democrats, the actual goal of impeaching him must instead surely be to maximize Democratic wins in the November 2020 election – winning the presidency of course, and also a majority in the Senate as well as holding the House.
Down-ballot gains in statehouses across the nation are also important for Democrats, especially given the further possible impact of the now-SCOTUS-approved statehouse gerrymandering by the utterly anti-democracy GOP.
So a smart tactician in the party wants to work backward and time that Senate Trump whitewash vote for the moment in 2020 when it will do the most harm to the GOP’s political optics with potential swing voters in November.
Mitch McConnell will certainly jam the Senate acquittal vote through as fast as procedurally possible after a House impeachment vote, probably with no witnesses at all, and with only the minimum time allowed for any floor debate after the House presents the Articles of Impeachment.
That smart tactician will also want to time a dramatic House debate and impeachment vote at the best time possible to give Democrats the most positive optics and platform issues for their campaigns. And the Democrats House leadership can make sure that timing will happen.
It is plain what that date for this media-frenzy impeachment vote will be – ideally, the last order of business before the House breaks into recess for the Democratic National Convention in mid-July in Milwaukee. All the incredibly scandalous revelations from the House impeachment hearings about Trump’s Russian collusion with Putin, his family’s multiple felonious scams, and the innumerable perjurious coverups by all of them and their minions will fuel the Democratic convention’s drama as a crusade to save the nation from destruction.
Then when Congress reconvenes before the GOP Convention in late August, McConnell will be forced to hold the Senate trail and acquittal vote right away in the first three weeks of August – he can’t leave the impeachment issue hanging out there during the convention until a September vote at the start of the campaign.
But that pre-convention sham vote will make the Republicans look like the utter cowardly Trump toadies they really have become when they meet in Charlotte. It will hang around their neck like a dead albatross no matter how brave a face they put on for the TV cameras.
Any earlier Senate vote would be much to the advantage of the Republicans. They will insist the issues are over and “it is time to put this behind us,” and its impact will fade inevitably as months pass before November.
To get from where we are today in July of 2019 to an early July 2020 House impeachment vote next year is an 11-month timeline of continued investigations and steadily escalating hearings by the House, building to the crescendo of the full House’s impeachment vote. House committees are now in the discovery phase, going to court relentlessly with subpoenas to get access to all the vital evidence – like Trump’s tax returns – and witnesses. Trump’s top henchman, Attorney General Barr, is doing everything he can procedurally to obstruct this – and probably engaging in criminal obstruction of justice in the process too – but unless five members of the Supreme Court are utterly corrupt to the point of knowingly destroying America’s democracy and rule of law to enable a Trump dictatorship, Barr’s roadblocks will inevitably fall. How many months of legal proceedings that will take is a question, but it should be resolved by the end of this year.
And once the evidence is in the hands of House investigators, the first six months of 2020 are plenty of time for House committee hearings to fully investigate and expose the shocking revelations, leading to a June Judiciary Committee impeachment vote.
There is also the more-than-a-distraction-from-impeachment matter of the choosing the Democrats’ candidate for president during the same time frame in 2020. The March super-Tuesday primary may be conclusive, but if it is not resolved that will compete for public attention.
This tactical timeline is straightforward to think up, and no doubt Speaker Nancy Pelosi, committee chairman Jerry Nadler, and key House leaders have all talked it through at length privately and have at least a general idea of the coming year’s work. But they don’t want to tip their hand too soon, they need time to track down all the damning evidence, and they don’t want to fritter away the political impact of these revelations, an impeachment vote, and a Senate whitewash vote too far in advance of November 2020. So at the moment we see Nancy Pelosi slow walking the impeachment issue publicly – to the consternation of impeachment-hungry progressives.
And according to national polls, the American public overall is not yet ready to embrace impeachment. Building that “civic momentum” is going to take a steady drumbeat of disturbing revelations through this year and into the next. Those of us who witnessed Watergate well remember that steady buildup of civic alarm until, finally, the smoking gun of the “stonewall” tape was revealed at last – and Nixon fell. Pelosi and her leaders of that generation certainly recall this too.
So progressive pundits and folks: I think now is the time to stay tuned – and keep your powder dry.
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.