News + Politics

El Nino is a public health crisis — and SF is dropping the ball

The city's emergency shelter and notification system has serious problems

El Nino is here, and the storms will get worse in the next few weeks. This has created a state of emergency for the people who are homeless and are forced to endure the harshness of the rain and cold in the streets. While most of us are sitting inside, getting filled up with that cozy feeling while the rains pours down outside, or perhaps getting woken up from the loud sound of rain and wind, there are thousands of San Franciscans who are shivering with cold and wondering how things exactly got this bad. Meanwhile, there has been plenty of media coverage about the city’s response to the El Nino rains, but very little of it has delved much deeper then what the public relations machine has been pumping out from City Hall.

The city's emergency shelter and notification system has serious problems
The city’s emergency shelter and notification system has serious problems

The Chronicle, for example, published a list of all the shelters that city officials said they were planning on opening. It is a helpful list, especially if we have an earthquake and thousands besides poor people lose their housing; then the city might just open up all the 1,200 beds.

In reality, city officials have developed an overly complex formula that depends on unreliable weather projections 48 hours in advance that predict more than one inch a day for more than 48 hours, winds, and temperatures below 40 degrees. The problem, bedsides the unreliability of the forecast, is getting the shelter staffed and the logistics in place, which seems to get in the way of getting the word out.  Beyond the short notice, making that almost impossible, community based organizations have so far either not been notified, or like last week, notified at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon.

One option is to use the free city services call line, 311. This weekend while it was pouring, I personally called 311 and they operator did not know of a shelter, but according to city officials, that was a fluke. They got about 42 calls asking for shelter and gave information out, and 311 should now have the information in the computer and Human Services shared the computer screen with me. Nonetheless, when we do outreach to homeless people, no one knows about the shelters, where to go, or when they are open, or even to call 311.

El Nino is a public health crisis. People living on our streets are at high risk for pneumonia or of dying from exposure. On a recent outreach, our volunteer reported that everyone she came in contact with was drenched and so were their belongings. She could not help but notice a lot of people were barefoot or wearing soaked socks.

The Super Bowl is around the corner, and so sweeps are even more common than usual.  According to one dripping young woman, the Department of Public Works and the police did a sweep of her encampment at 4th and Harrison at 6am — during the downpour. She was told they needed to “move along” and were not informed of any El Nino shelter, even though at that particular time one happened to be open. She and her group were told that they need to “move along” until after the Stupid Bowl events and that an area that is considered a “safe zone” is at Bryant and 7th, which so happens to be the location of the county jail.

Meanwhile a bunch of dry areas have been fenced off in the past two weeks.  They are under freeways, away from businesses and residential areas, but off limits to those seeking shelter. In the middle of the rains, there are empty spaces where large encampments were just last week, enclosed with fences topped with razor blades. Meanwhile most homeless people are asking and searching for where they can go without getting harassed. That seems to be the question of the month.

Very few beds are being opened up, and by the time word gets out about them, they are closed down again because it stops raining. With very few homeless people having the information they need to get the shelter, there are empty shelters beds, and the narrative that people are refusing services gets falsely promoted, and the city is justified in a meek response. Meanwhile, folks forced to sleep on the streets are miserable and many are getting sick.

The good news is the city is planning on opening a shelter out at the pier that will stay open all winter. This, despite the location, is a big relief. It will be easy to get the word out, and will be easy to access without all the usual hoops to jump through, and without the various restrictions. It will also stay open all day. At the very least, folks who are sleep deprived can stay dry and get some badly needed rest.

A record of rain shelter beds by number so far this year

Tuesday January 5th

It has been pouring for three days solid.

City opens up 75 beds in cafeterias of existing shelters

No one is notified

People seeking shelter at drop-in are turned away because they don’t know


Wednesday January 6

Shelter stays open

Still no one is notified


St. Anthony’s opens a rain-weather shelter and keeps it open.  Shelter is full on the first night.


Friday January 8

Gene Friend and Mission Rec are open for one night (room for 50 at each)

No one is notified again, except for HOT team letting some folks know

City reports shelters are underutilized, inferring no need for more


Tuesday January 12

City opens up 75 beds in cafeterias of existing shelters


Sunday, January 17, 2016:

It has been pouring all weekend

The city opens up Mission Rec and Gene Friend and closes them Tuesday morning.

Community providers were notified of the opening late Friday afternoon before the three-day weekend.

January 21st, 2016

  • MSC South Shelter, 525 5th Street (at Bryant), will add 25 shelter spaces.
  • ECS – Next Door Shelter, 1001 Polk Street (at Geary), will add 50 shelter spaces.
  • Larkin Street Youth Services will add 10 shelter spaces at 869 Ellis Street (between Van Ness & Polk) and will add 5 shelter spaces at 1020 Haight Street (at Broderick) for youth ages 18 to 24. Please note, Larkin Street will do their own outreach to fill these spaces, however youth can go directly to one of these locations for shelter.


There will be shelter spaces for homeless people at the two following locations:

  • St. Anthony’s, 121 Golden Gate Avenue, will provide 60 shelter spaces. The Gubbio Project provides shelter from the elements during the day for homeless people.  This group of people will be referred to St. Anthony’s during the evening for a place to sleep.
  • Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, 165 Capp Street (near 16th & Mission Streets), will provide 15 shelter spaces.

Activate emergency pop-up shelter:

  • H.S.A. will open a pop-up shelter at SF County Fair Building (Hall of Flowers, 1199 9th Ave) and will have the ability to bring indoors up to 100 homeless men and women. The Hall of Flowers does not have the capacity to take in pets.


DA files corruption charges against City Hall operatives

City Attorney George Gascon and FBI Special Agent David Johnson speak to a packed press conference

No, they didn’t drag the mayor out in handcuffs. No, there were no elected-official perp walks. To the perhaps disappointment of the pack of news media responding to an invitation to press conference today on official corruption, District Attorney George Gascon announced felony charges against three much lower-level political players.

District Attorney George Gascon and FBI Special Agent David Johnson speak to a packed press conference
City Attorney George Gascon and FBI Special Agent David Johnson speak to a packed press conference. Photo By Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

But the investigation into what he called “irregularities at City Hall” is still ongoing, and we have no idea who, if anyone, will be implicated next.

“This is just the beginning,” one political insider told me.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer, former HRC employee Zula Jones, and political consultant Keith Jackson face felony bribery and money-laundering charges. At press time, they had not surrendered, but “we don’t consider them a flight risk,” Gascon said.

Jackson has already pleaded guilty to other charges that came out of the now-famous Shrimp Boy case.

The Examiner published a story yesterday noting the connections between Jones and Mohajer and campaign of Mayor Ed Lee. Jones was also close to former Mayor Willie Brown.

Gascon, who appeared with City Attorney Dennis Herrera and David Johnson, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the FBI, provided few details on the charges, saying the entire case is under a federal protective order.

He declined to say if there were more charges coming, if anyone in the Mayor’s Office had been interviewed, or if any other political figures might be involved, simply noting that the investigation is still open.

Two things come to mind:

This is almost certainly not the end; we know that there’s more corruption at City Hall. So far, there have been no charges of any sort against any of the elected officials who have been named or in any way connected to the Shrimp Boy case, including Mayor Lee.

But Jones and Mohajer are now facing as much as seven years in state prison. If there are higher-ups involved, at some point one of the defendants might decide to cut a deal and talk.

The other interesting aspect was how many of the reporters in the hallway before the press conference were talking about the prospect that Mayor Lee might be one of the people facing charges.

I knew that wasn’t going to happen – but the idea that his name was on the rumor mill is at least some indication that there’s a perception his administration is not entirely trustworthy.

After the event, I ran into Herrera in the hallway and asked him: If you were the mayor of San Francisco, would you be nervous right now? The city attorney had no comment.




Bay Guardian announces fundraising success

In an newsletter announcement today, the team behind the “Bring Back the Bay Guardian” campaign announced that it had raised enough funds to secure its 50-year archives and begin relaunching major features. The Bay Guardian ceased operations in October 2014, when corporate owner Black Press deemed it financially unfeasible.


The progressive news source’s two-month Indiegogo campaign, launched by former Bay Guardian editors and publishers (including this writer and 48 Hills editor Tim Redmond), raised $28,386 from 253 individual donors. When combined with outside and matching donations, the team determined there was enough money to secure the archives and relaunch major Guardian features like Best of the Bay, the Clean Slate election endorsement guide, and the annual GOLDIES arts awards.

For now the Guardian will be an online entity, although the team hopes to print and distribute some major features. The Guardian is operated by the 501(c)(4) non-profit San Francisco Center for Newspaper Preservation. More information on the campaign and the relaunch can be found here. The full newsletter text is below:

Dear Guardian Readers,

WE DID IT! Thanks to our generous IndieGogo campaign supporters and matching donors, we raised enough to BRING BACK THE BAY GUARDIAN! Thank you to everyone who is helping keep Bay Area journalism local, independent, alternative, and lively!

Our next steps: Build out a new Bay Guardian website, secure a better storage space for our 50-year archive, and launch voting for the one-and-only Bay Guardian BEST OF THE BAY. We’ll also be working on opinion pieces, election endorsements, and in-depth reporting, along with our allies at 48 Hills.

You can still contribute by mail!

SF Center for Newspaper Preservation
176 Winfield
San Francisco, CA 94110

THANK YOU AGAIN. We’re very excited to enter this next chapter of Bay Guardian history.

— Tim and Marke


The regional government merger: Is anyone asking why?

Novato Mayor Pat Ecklund asks: What is the regional merger about?

On Friday, January 8, the latest phase of the power struggle between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, a.k.a. the merger planning process, had its kickoff at the MetroCenter, the agencies’ Oakland headquarters.

Novato Mayor Pat Ecklund asks: What is the regional merger about?
Novato Mayor Pat Ecklund asks: What is the regional merger about?

Merging MTC, the region’s transportation planning agency, and ABAG, its land use and housing planning agency, is a high priority for the Bay Area’s business and political elites. Witness the fervent advocacy of such a melding in two op-eds—one by Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman, the other by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan—that appeared in the “Insight” section of last Sunday’s Chronicle. According to the twinned appeals, solving “the region’s greatest challenges” (Terplan)—“its “housing, transit, climate ills” (Wunderman)—depends on fusing MTC and ABAG into a regional government that can overrule “decision-making at the local level,” thereby providing “a welcome balm for a region where parochial interests and narrow agendas often derail our best-laid plans” (Wunderman).

A more effective regional government could be a good thing — but not the kind envisioned by the Bay Area Council or SPUR, which is both undemocratic and, with its genuflection to unlimited growth, ecologically benighted.

In any case, the likelihood that the newly inaugurated planning process will result in a merger seems questionable. On January 8, two MTC Commissioners, Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, who’s chairing the Joint Committee, flatly stated that merger was not their goal. A third, MTC Chair and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, observed that although the commission was participating in the merger planning process, it had officially declared its preference for “functional consolidation.”

“Functional consolidation” is code for the hostile takeover of ABAG’s land use planning staff that MTC initiated last June. ABAG depends on an annual allocation of $3.9 million from MTC to fund its land use planners and associated costs. According to ABAG staff, that figure amounts to 28% of the agency’s total revenue. Alluding to but never specifying inefficiencies in the current set-up, MTC commissioners voted to continue that funding only through the first half of Fiscal Year 2015-16, after which MTC would absorb ABAG’s land use planning function and transform itself into a one-stop regional planning agency.

In light of MTC’s own autocratic style and growth mania, that prospect should alarm democrats and environmentalists. It should also worry equity advocates, given MTC’s attempt last July to remove key anti-displacement language from the 2017 update of Plan Bay Area. Opposed by ABAG staff, that effort failed after the 6 Wins Coalition for Social Equity demanded that the language be retained.

The transportation planning agency also subsequently backed off from its decision to raid ABAG’s planning staff, in the face of protest from many of ABAG’s member cities (though, significantly, not from the big three—San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland) and, above all, from organized labor. ABAG staff are unionized; MTC’s are not. The local chapter of SEIU Local 1021 threatened to take legal and legislative action—the latter at the state level—if MTC moved forward with the takeover.

But the takeover threat is only dormant, not dead. Though ABAG staff issued detailed critiques of the “consolidation” proposal put out by Cortese and MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger, on October 28 the ABAG Administrative Committee unanimously approved (sight unseen) a resolution crafted by Cortese stipulating that unless the two agencies approved a merger by July 1, 2016, the takeover would proceed.

Some called that vote a sell-out of Bay Area cities. At best, it was a very risky move, rendered dubious not only by the committee’s rushed and superficial deliberation, but also by the rumor that MTC’s eighteen voting commissioners were evenly split over the Heminger/Cortese proposal. That proposal however never came up for a vote. Instead, later on the 28th, MTC unanimously approved the resolution to hire consultants to study and draft a merger plan.

A consultant team from Management Partners was hired in December. They’re being paid $275,000 to come up with a merger implementation plan by June 30. Their work will be jointly overseen by the MTC Planning Committee and the ABAG Administrative Committee.


On the morning of January 8, the leaders of the consultant team, Project Director Andy Belknap and Project Manager Lynn Dantzker, presented their preliminary work plan to a joint meeting of the two committees:

January – February: conduct interviews, facilitate Joint Committee workshops, develop stakeholder/community engagement plan, complete work plan and schedule

February – March: implement stakeholder/community engagement plan, document/research past merger efforts, analyze existing transportation and regional planning models (California and nationally), document statutory mandates, governance structures, agency missions and other organization programs, obtain financial and human resources info for the two agencies, document stakeholder/community engagement input, develop alternative models for analysis

April – May: Conduct analysis with respect to project objective, evaluation criteria, mission, governance, organizational structure implications, human resources/employee relations issues, cost; develop alternative models/options from functional integration to full merger; develop five-year ABAG financial forecast under alternative options

May – June: Develop task and timing schedule to implement alternatives; on June 26 deliver Merger Implementation Plan for options selected

This is a daunting assignment to complete in five months. Nevertheless, it lacks an essential component: an explicit rationale.

As ABAG Admin Committee and Novato Mayor Pat Eklund observed: “There doesn’t appear to be a process for us to identify what is the problem we’re going to solve.”

Indeed, the problem to be solved has been missing from the start of the MTC offensive. What, exactly, is the difficulty that a merger of the two agencies, or for that matter, an MTC appropriation of ABAG’s land use planners, are supposed to remedy? Amazingly, it’s never been defined.

Merger advocates would say that the problem is fragmented regional governance. They’ve repeatedly pointed out that the Bay Area is the only region in California where separate agencies are responsible for land use and transportation planning.

So what? The point isn’t to do what others do; it’s to do whatever needs to be done well. Consolidation for consolidation’s sake makes no sense. Nobody seems to have noticed, by the way, that Heminger himself has remarked that elsewhere in the country, regional land use and transportation planning are carried out by different agencies.

You’d think that pinning down the problem(s) at hand would be the first task that the consultants would set themselves.

You’d also think that by January 8, Belknap and Dantzker would have sufficiently familiarized themselves with recent history at the MetroCenter to have realized that the organizational crisis is rooted in ABAG’s financial dependency on MTC, and that, accordingly, they would be directly addressing that dependency. But that’s not the case, as indicated by their extended exchange with Spering.

The Solano County supervisor asked for “more detail on the financial discussion.”

Belknap’s initial response was vague: “You have to make sure that these entities remain financially sustainable at the end of the day,” adding that’s “less of an issue for MTC, which as an MPO [Metropolitan Planning Organization], has state and federal funding sources.” It’s “probably more of an issue for ABAG.”

Spering pressed him: “Not knowing what responsibilities they’ll have at the end of this process, how are you going to determine what their final needs are?”

Belknap: “It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to have to make some estimates and assumptions—particularly challenging, because these organizations, to some degree, are depending on outside funding sources, but we’re going to look at that…particularly in the context of ABAG.”

Dantzker jumped in, explaining that they were going to do two five-year budget models for ABAG, one based on how the agency “currently function[s],” the other “under the September action by MTC…They’re forecasting.”

(I emailed Dantzker asking what she meant by MTC’s “September action.” She wrote back: “To clarify, I meant implementation of the functional consolidation of the planning departments within MTC as set forth by MTC Resolution 4210, which I believe was adopted by MTC on October 28, 2015.”)

Spering shot back: “Are you going to be looking at ABAG’s ability for additional funding sources” such as “raising membership dues?…What are you talking about?”

Dantzker: “What it would take to have a balanced budget…We’d say, you have to increase revenue. How they would do that—whether it’s dues or grants or so on, we would just say that is the revenue that would have to be raised in order for them to continue their functions, but certainly from a policy standpoint, it wouldn’t be up to us to decide what that would be—just that it would have to be done.”

Spering: “I just want to make sure that it’s ABAG’s responsibility to figure out what the funding source is…”

Dantzker: “Certainly, certainly.”

Spering: “MTC’s not the bank.”

Dantzker: “It’s just a revenue and expenditure analysis.”

If the consultants aren’t going to chart realistic paths to financial independence for ABAG, why bother? Last fall, ABAG staff made it clear that if MTC withholds its $3.9 million, an allocation underwritten only by a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies, ABAG may well go bankrupt.

A merger implementation plan that doesn’t include provisions for ABAG’s financial security is unlikely to be approved by MTC, which means that “functional consolidation” would go forward in July. The absence of such provisions in the consultants’ work plan is notable, since MTC drafted the Request for Qualifications to which Management Partners responded. The RFQ says nothing about seeking ABAG’s financial independence.

Is the transportation planning agency just going through the (very expensive) motions to appease the union (which supports a merger), figuring that it can wait another six months to grab ABAG’s land use planning staff, while pointing to its participation in the merger planning study as an expression of good faith?


The Joint Committee’s next meeting is on Friday, January 22, at the MetroCenter from 9 am to 12 noon. Almost all of the three hours will be devoted to a workshop led by Management Partners’ Jan Perkins, who will be soliciting opinions on the consultants’ draft work plan. The good news: The first main item on Perkin’s list is “Create a Shared Understanding of Problem(s) to be Solved.” The other three:

  • Consensus on Study Objectives
  • Consensus on Key Principles for Evaluating Options
  • Feedback on Community Engagement/Stakeholder Plan


As with everything else in the merger planning process, the time allotted to discuss and finalize these four goals is ridiculously short.

But what’s even more concerning than the compressed timeline is an element in the “Proposed Stakeholder Engagement Plan”—the so-called “Regional Stakeholders” that have been singled out for individual meetings with the consultants: The Bay Area Council, the Building Industry Association (BIA) Bay Area, Greenbelt Alliance, and SPUR.

Every one of these organizations is hostile to democratic planning and decision-making. Every one, including Greenbelt Alliance, supports the continuing evisceration of the state’s premier environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act. BAC, SPUR and the Greenbelt Alliance are deeply allied with the real estate industry; BIA, is the chief local lobbyist for that industry. It follows that all four seek supply-side solutions to the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. Except for BIA, they all tout social equity but have at times opposed measures that would substantially spread the wealth and expand opportunity. BIA doesn’t even bother with lip service (it’s now hoping to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance).

I assume that the reason these four have been identified as regional stakeholders extraordinaire is that they all operate at a regional level and have long associations with both MTC and ABAG. Indeed, except for BIA, they’ve all gotten thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars’ worth of grants from those two public agencies. What enables their regional scope is their ties to the biggest businesses in the Bay Area, who contribute to their treasuries. They’ve repeatedly trumpeted their views in numerous prominent venues, including the MetroCenter. They’re the last ones who need private hearings in which to trumpet them further.

The proposed stakeholder engagement plan also provides for “up to three open regional meetings for interested stakeholder organizations and individuals.” It says nothing about format. Is this where the rest of us are supposed to voice our views, especially those who fear that merging MTC and ABAG will simply aggrandize the power of local elites? Why aren’t such concerns getting equal time?

I’ve asked MTC Deputy Executive Director Alix Bockelman who decided that BAC, SPUR, BIA, and Greenbelt Alliance deserve special treatment and what criteria went into that decision. Whatever her reply, so far the merger planning process bodes poorly for Bay Area democracy.

Shocking police stats — but where’s the chief?

There were two fundamental problems with the supes hearing on police violence today: Chief Greg Suhr decided not to show up – and for all the talk of policy changes that the city might need to implement, there was little discussion of accountability.

Widely circulated video shows police shooting Mario Woods in the Bayview

How is it, Sup. David Campos asked, that the chief is able to make misleading, sometimes inaccurate statements to the public after shootings –claiming, for example, that the killing of Mario Woods was justified before even the earliest facts were in?

How is it that the officers who killed Woods, in what seems from the video to be a very dubious shooting, are still on the payroll? “That sends a horrible message,” Campos noted.

The behavior of the Police Officers Association also came up, with a number of public speakers saying they felt intimidated when a large crowd of officers marched into the Police Commission last night. “If 70 young black men had done that, we would have been tagged as a gang,” one person noted.

Sup. John Avalos argued that “it also looks as if the department is afraid of the POA.”

The numbers presented were alarming. San Francisco, Sup. Malia Cohen noted, has had 37 police shootings since 2012, and every one of them has been deemed justified.

Aaron Zisser, a police-practices expert who is a former US Justice Department official, said that people with mental illness are 4.5 times more likely to be arrested, and that, nationwide, between 15 and 25 percent of the jail population is mentally ill. “In some jurisdictions,” he testified, “fifty percent of all police shootings involve people with mental illness.”

Black men between the ages of 15 and 19 were 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than white men of the same age group between 20101 and 2013. African Americans are six percent of the population and 40 percent of those shot by the police.

He talked of the need for more “self-examination” in policing, saying that too much of modern law-enforcement is based on the “warrior model – the war on crime, the war on drugs.”

Surh, who typically attends these types of hearings, instead sent Greg Yee, the captain of the training division, who had lots of positive words about the way new recruits should be taught. “In the United Kingdom [where most cops don’t carry guns] the sanctity of life is primary,” he said. “We are seeing a shift in culture at the Police Academy.”

The director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, Joyce Hicks, echoed some of those comments and offered a list of policy suggestions.

Cohen suggested that, in the wake of the recent wave of officer shootings of young men of color, “It seems we’re being very reactive. The Mayor’s Office has been a little late to the party.”

And, she said, “people have reached the breaking point. That’s why they are stopping traffic”

None of the expert testimony addressed the issue of current officers, with current training, ignoring current rules, and escaping accountability.

As Avalos said at the end, “These are nice and kind words, but until we have a sense that there are consequences” for cops, there will be no real change.



Holding the cops — and their union — accountable

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

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

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

Where, in all of this, is the accountability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Airbnb makes half its SF money with illegal listings

The big money for Airbnb is in illegal rentals

If there had ever been any dispute about why Airbnb refuses to support simple measures that would enforce the city’s laws, we now know the answer:

A report from the American Hospitality and Lodging Association (which was covered today in the Examiner), concludes that the relatively small number of Airbnb hosts who are breaking the law in SF and other cites account for a disproportionate amount of the company’s revenue.

The big money for Airbnb is in illegal rentals
The big money for Airbnb is in illegal rentals

Multiple-unit operators – that is, people who rent out more than one place on the site — account for 40 percent of Airbnb’s revenue nationwide, the study, done by Penn State University researchers, concluded.

In San Francisco, full-time rentals – units that are never occupied by the owner but are available as hotel rooms 365 days a year – accounted for 22.4 percent of the company’s local revenue, or $43.5 million, during the 12-month period from September 2014 to September 2015.

If you add the full-time rentals in SF and the operators with two or more units – all of which are illegal under existing law – it comes to 54 percent of Airbnb’s revenue in the city.

The report shows that the company made $194 million in SF during that one-year period, and $105 million was from illegal units.

(Now: Most of the multi-unit buildings may also be full-time rentals, so there’s probably some crossover. But the report shows only 24 full-time two-unit operators and more than 1,000 two-unit hosts, so if the numbers are off, it’s not by a whole lot.)

If the city simply banned Airbnb from listing units that aren’t registered, the 1,884 units that the study shows are illegally rented would be gone from the site – along with more than half the company’s revenue.

The pattern is similar in other cities. So if cities around the nation followed SF’s lead, limited rentals to the single unit a host occupies, required registration, and prevented these hosting platforms from listing illegal units, Airbnb’s $1.3 billion in annual revenue would plummet by more than half.

The company argues that most of its hosts are simply middle-class people making a little money on the side – and in terms of the numbers of hosts, that may be true. But in terms of the company’s revenue, most of it comes from what in San Francisco are illegal rentals.

And it’s interesting that the company (while it disputes the study) has taken a new tack in its PR. Here’s what spokesman Nick Pappas told the Ex:

“The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts are middle class people who occasionally share only the home in which they live and while Airbnb hosts keep 97 percent of the price they charge for their listings, hotels take most of the money they earn out of the community,” Papas said.

Even if the overwhelming majority of the hosts are small-time operators, the study suggests that they aren’t the ones making Airbnb most of its money. If the company had been content to be a site that connects people who want to rent out rooms, a lot of the political battles would never have happened (in large part because Airbnb listings wouldn’t be cannibalizing the city’s housing stock).

Instead, Airbnb is going for the big time, with a huge valuation and investors like Ron Conway who want to make huge returns when the company goes public. And that requires, well, allowing people (or maybe encouraging people) to break the law.

I emailed Papas to ask if he disputes the real conclusion of the study, which is that the big money is in rentals that are, at least in San Francisco, illegal.

But look at the second part of his statement. Airbnb now seems to be saying: Hey, so what if we are a de-facto hotel company. Traditional hotels are bad for the local economy and we keep the money in town.

That’s a far, far cry from the way the company has defended its actions in the past, and suggests that Airbnb is moving closer to admitting that it’s not just a tech company – and that this whole “sharing economy” thing is a lie.

The supervisors who sided with Airbnb and refused reasonable law enforcement ought to be embarrassed. The city will never be able to control its housing stock if we allow these companies to make such huge sums of money with illegal rentals.

It’s so easy to fix – but I suspect Airbnb’s not going to voluntarily give up half its revenue to do it. So I guess at some point the city has to stop asking nicely.

Move to overturn prostitution laws advances, for now

Will the Ninth Circuit break through the laws against sex work?

A federal judge has asked for additional briefings on a case that raises a profound question – are the laws against prostitution unconstitutional? – and the legal moves indicate that the judge might not dismiss the case outright.

The case was brought by the Erotic Service Providers Union Legal Defense and Research Fund, based in San Francisco, and filed in federal court here. The defendants include San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Attorney General Kamala Harris.


Lawyers for the city and the state quickly asked Judge Jeffrey S. White to throw the case out of court, largely on the grounds that the laws against sex work are well established in the US and that any changes would need to come through the legislative process.

But White instead asked for new briefs that discuss the case in the context of the landmark June, 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That, lawyers for the plaintiffs say, could be an indication that the judge is open to the argument that paid sex between consenting adults, just like same-sex marriage, is protected by the 14th Amendment.

It will be a stretch, of course: While numerous states had already recognized same-sex unions by last summer, prostitution is still illegal in most of the United States.

But H. Louis Sirkin, the lawyer for the erotic service providers, makes a compelling argument (you can read his brief here).

Some of the discussion involves “substantive due process,” a complicated legal term that, in Supreme Court precedent, relates to how much weight the political history of a claim should carry.

Under earlier cases, the Court ruled that “a court will offer protection to a substantive due process right only when it is: (1) carefully defined; and (2) objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”

But the same-sex marriage case took a much broader view: “History and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry.”

And the plaintiffs in this case say that, like same-sex marriage, consensual sex acts that involve the exchange of money are not the business of the State. The fact that elected legislative bodies have outlawed sex work isn’t in any way the end of the story; in fact, the same-sex marriage decision concluded that “the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights.” You can read more about that here.

Sirkin writes:

“The same rationale applies to the present case. Section 647(b) of the California Penal Code infringes upon Plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights. The Plaintiffs need not wait for the democratic process to repeal this statute because this Court is vested with the power to declare the statute unconstitutional.”

Does the right to privacy when it involves intimate relationships, which the Supreme Court has increasingly respected over the years, include the right to pay, or get paid, for sex? If you can assume that all parties to the transaction are in fact legally able to consent – which means nobody is under 18, nobody is a sex slave, nobody is forced into something they don’t want to do – does the State have the right to interfere?

And are the federal courts anywhere even remotely close to that kind of decision?

I hope the case isn’t dismissed, because we ought to have that discussion.



City College faculty declare bargaining impasse

If you’re a public institution, and you are telling your workforce that you don’t have enough money to sign a decent union contract, this kind of stuff looks really, really bad. It’s worse when you are asking taxpayers to cough up money to keep things afloat, and you can’t seem to keep track of what you have. It’s hard to explain why the president of City College would need to spend more than $3,000 at Best Buy.


But let’s also put this in context: The state of California forced these free-spending folks on City College, and now they’re out of office, and actual amount of money involved, while embarrassing, is a relatively modest. The taxpayers wasted way more on a special trustee who comes in from Tahoe in a City College-funded car and stays in an apartment we all pay for when he’s here.

And that was mandated by the state, too.

Of course, it makes you wonder: Where else are there stashes of money that aren’t properly accounted for – and why can’t the school come to terms with its faculty union?

Local 2121 of the American Federation of Teachers just declared an impasse after months of what union president Tim Killikelly called fruitless negotiations. There is, he told me, no reasonable offer on the table, nothing that would even get the teachers back to where they were before the recession forced them to take pay cuts.

The impasse sets off a long process that begins with a state mediator, then a fact-finding team, and could lead, sometime this spring, to a strike. That’s the last thing City College needs right now, and the administration and the board need to figure out a way to stop it from happening.

A noisy contingent of faculty showed up to boycott Chancellor Susan Lamb’s back-to-school address Friday, sending an even stronger message that the union has lost faith in management.

The point, Killikelly says, is this:

“Years of illegal and unfair sanctions at the hands of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) have resulted in, among other problems, a revolving door of top administrators and faculty pay levels 3.5% below what they were in 2007. The District has already started on its plan to cut classes by 26% over six years. The union’s analysis of the district budget has determined the administration has continued its pattern of spending larger amounts on administration and less in the classroom.”

The City College teachers and staff are facing the brutal reality of a housing market where costs have increased radically in the past five years – while pay has actually gone down. So most teachers – at least, the majority who don’t own their homes – are financially worse off than they were ten years ago (unless they are long-term renters under rent-control, in which case they are one Ellis Act notice away from losing any ability to remain in the Bay Area).

The overall cost of living, union figures show, is up 21 percent since 2007. If anything, that’s low. Since the union took a 4 percent pay cut in 2011, the standard of living for faculty is down 25 percent.

This, of course, is one of the prices that we pay to be Mayor Ed Lee’s tech hub of the universe. The “pro-jobs” agenda that has helped fuel massive housing cost increases and evictions has also made it nearly impossible for teachers to live here – and that means it’s harder to get (and retain) quality faculty both for SFUSD and for City College.

The school’s management argues that enrollment has dropped sharply since the discredited accreditors tried to shut City College down. Which is, of course, true. And lower enrollment means less state money. School officials are looking at significant cuts in classes (and thus in staff) over the next few years.

The union has asked that the school’s future – that is, a plan for expansion, not contraction – be part of the contract talks. That’s typically management stuff, and the school has declined to make it a bargaining item.

“It’s really a difference in vision,” Killikelly told me. “The vision they have put out is one of austerity, a downward spiral.”

It’s a critical question, not just for this contract but for the future of City College. Is it in everyone’s interest for management and labor to figure out ways to stop the decline and rebuild the school to the size it was before the ACCJC declared war? Or should we all have to settle for a much-reduced institution?

And if City College has to be smaller and run for less money, how will it ever manage to attract qualified faculty in San Francisco, 2016?