The Agenda

The Trump supporters who opposed Rose Pak Chinatown Station

Rose Pak, who helped put Ed Lee in office, told reporters he is "isolated" and listens only to tech money

The most remarkable thing about the close vote to name the Central Subway’s Chinatown Station after Rose Pak was how little the opposition had to do with Rose Pak.

I watched almost all of the more than five hours of testimony. The supporters, including Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, former Sup. Jane Kim, Re. Norman Fong, who runs the Chinatown Community Development Center, and others, talked about the role Pak played in making the train to Chinatown happen.

Rose Pak and John Avalos talk outside the Election Night party for David Campos for Assembly

We heard that she started years ago, after the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway, pushing for an underground transit route to Chinatown. We heard how much of an advocate she was for the community. We heard that she was often aggressive and pushy (although we don’t typically hear that sort of criticism about men) – but single-minded in her efforts to help her community.

And a lot of young people were speaking in favor: The outpouring of support from the next generation of activists, most of them on the progressive side, was clear and obvious.

I had my political disagreements with Pak. But I get that she was a major force pushing for the subway, and I understand why people want to honor her.

The interesting thing was that, other than a few speakers who suggested that Pak was “corrupt” (Quentin Kopp) and a “bully” (members of the Chinatown Merchants Association), most of the opposition had nothing to do with local transit policy.

It was about the Falun Gong and the People’s Republic of China.

The spiritual movement clearly spent a lot of money and time organizing people to say that Pak was too closely linked to the Chinese government, that she was, in the words of some, a “communist agent.” (Actually, from my experience, Pak was very much a Capitalist Agent; she worked with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and our disagreements were over her support for politicians like Ed Lee, who were far too willing to let the free market determine housing and development policy.)

I’m not here to defend the Chinese government. But I don’t think the Falun Gong movement represents progressive San Francisco ideas, either: the group’s newspaper, the Epoch Times, is firmly in the Trump camp, and was just banned from Facebook for posting pro-Trump ads without any clear disclosure where they were from.

The doorhanger I got and the posters I’ve seen around town opposing the station naming had no information identifying the source of the funding.

So at this point, it will be Chinatown Rose Pak Station. Unless someone tries to take this to the ballot, in which case we will get an actual clear picture of where the anti-Pak money comes from.

The Board of Supes is still on recess, but two major items come before the Planning Commission Thursday/29. The first is Sup. Ahsha Safai’s proposal to allow overnight camping and long-term vehicle parking in a city-owned lot at 2340 San Jose, near the Balboa Park BART station. The lot will be eventually be turned into affordable housing, but that project won’t break ground for at least another year, maybe two.

In the meantime, people who have been living in their vehicles for more than 60 days would have a place to stay, with bathroom and shower facilities on site.

The planning staff points out, correctly, that the homeless crisis won’t be over in 12-24 months, and that this would be only a short-term stopgap solution. But if it works as a pilot project, there are plenty of other sites in the city.

Then comes the draft environmental impact report on The Hub – the 84-acre area around Market and Van Ness. The idea is to add about 7,200 new housing units to The Hub, an area that’s already highly congested – and that nine major Muni lines and one streetcar line cross.

The Planning Department still insists that there are no significant traffic or transportation impacts to worry about. They got to that conclusion with some stunning numbers games.

The DEIR says that since this is already an area well-served by transit, developers can build housing without a lot of parking, discouraging car use. Which is a fine idea – except that the population likely to occupy these high-end apartments and condos are less likely to get on a Muni bus anywhere, and more likely to take Uber of Lyft. They’re also highly likely to order food from delivery services and goods from place like Amazon. So there will be a lot of new traffic whether they allow parking or not.

How much? Well, the Planning Department says, Uber and Lyft won’t tell us how many passengers they pick up and drop off, and where. So that means planners can’t study the problem.

However, the report notes:

The Hub Plan could result in commercial vehicle and passenger loading demand that could not be accommodated off-street or within curbside loading spaces, which could result in potentially hazardous conditions or significant delays for transit, people bicycling, or people walking.

And what do we do about that?

There is no feasible mitigation available to reduce this impact.

The hearing starts at 1pm in Room 400, City Hall.

Planners keep wanting to streamline approvals for housing that won’t get built

The Board of Supes isn’t back from vacation yet, but the Planning Commission is – and on Thursday/22 the panel will hear a report on how the Planning Department is complying with a mayoral order to speed up housing construction.

You can read the report here. What it says, in essence, is that the department is overturning long-established environmental rules, making it easier for developers to get permits even if their projects create (for example) air-quality issues – and still, housing in not speeding up.

USF is hosting a discussion on D5 issues Thursday/29

Let me quote from the letter from Planning Director John Rahaim:

Standard Environmental Conditions of Approval for selected CEQA topics. The Department has initiated an effort to replace project-by-project evaluation of required mitigation measures with Standard Environmental Conditions of Approval for several environmental topics, including Air Quality, Biological Resources, Paleontology, Historic Resources, Noise, and Transportation. This will significantly improve the transparency and predictability of the environmental review process, and allow for more projects to be evaluated for eligibility under existing CEQA exemptions, reducing typical review timeframes by several months.

Air quality and transportation are huge issues for development projects in SF, particularly when adding more office or residential space will create significant traffic impacts. Every time we have seen “streamlining” on environmental analysis, it’s been a problem.

Oh, and look at the numbers: Even with the “streamlining,” it doesn’t appear that developers are building anything but a limited amount of luxury housing. That’s because the city’s rules aren’t the real limit to development — the market is driven by speculative capital and land and construction costs. The tech boom has driven up land costs (in a 47-square-mile city) to the point where most housing that isn’t at the very high end doesn’t make any economic sense.

It’s not the rules. It’s capitalism, stupid.

The SFMTA will consider Tuesday/20 naming the Chinatown station for the new underground light rail connection after Rose Pak. It won’t be a simple or easy vote: The last time around, after considerable public pressure and testimony, the panel deadlocked 3-3. The seventh seat has just been filled by Steve Heminger, and if nothing else changes, he will have the final say.

Heminger, appointed by Mayor Breed and confirmed by the supes, is a former director of the MTC.

The supes unanimously approved a resolution by Sup. Aaron Peskin urging the MTA to name the stop the Chinatown Rose Pak station. But practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual system that has faced a crackdown from the Chinese government, are strongly opposed and have raised enough money not only for ads and an online presence but for door hangers that dropped in my neighborhood this past weekend.

The politics are interesting: There was a time, back in the early days of Ed Lee’s mayoral administration, when progressives on the board clashed with Pak. She and Willie Brown were the ones who convinced Lee to go back on his promise of serving as a caretaker mayor and run for a full term. She was a strong supporter of his policies, which progressives often opposed.

But over time, Pak developed different alliances. She sided strongly with David Campos in his Assembly race against David Chiu; “to know Chiu is not to trust him,” she told me, repeatedly. She was close to Jane Kim and supported her for state Senate over Lee ally Scott Wiener.

And pretty much everyone agrees that she was the number one advocate for the Central Subway Project, which she said was a way to bring back some of the tourists and shoppers that Chinatown lost when the Embarcadero Freeway came down (against her best efforts, under Mayor Art Agnos, whom she had supported).

And she was furious when Lee appointed Julie Christensen to the D3 supervisor seat that Pak though should have gone to Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu. So she made friends with Peskin – who had often criticized her in the past – and helped him win the seat.

(BTW, back in 2010, when state Sen. Leland Yee was running for mayor, Rose Pak sat down with me over tea at the Chinatown Hilton and told me some hair-raising stories about the senator. She said he was deeply corrupt, took bribes, and was involved in some very sketchy stuff. She produced no evidence. She said none of her sources would talk to me. I knew she disliked Yee, and since there was nothing to go on, I never pursued that story. The FBI did; they got the scoop.)

So expect a loud, long meeting – and if the MTA refuses to go along with the name change, expect the supes to move to take away the MTA’s exclusive naming authority and do it themselves.

The D5 supes races is one of the most important political contests on the November ballot. Both candidates, Dean Preston and incumbent Sup. Vallie Brown, have raised substantial amounts of money (Preston, the challenger, more than keeping pace despite huge amounts of real-estate money going to Brown.) We are waiting for the inevitable flood of independent-expenditure cash that will soon emerge on the Brown side, as the mayor taps her big-money backers to use the IE loophole to send unlimited money into an account that will be used to attack Preston.

In the meantime, the candidates have been meeting in debates and neighborhood forums. One that will be interesting: Thursday/29, Preston and Brown will be at the University of San Francisco McCarthy Center for a discussion that will focus on the issues facing the district – with USF students (many of whom live in D5) leading the dialogue. It’s at 4:30 pm, in the Handlery Room at the Lone Mountain campus, and open to the public. Politics Professor James Taylor will moderate.

 

After 50 years, SF poised to move on public power

The Chron kicked off the annual media week of stories on homelessness Sunday with a long, detailed, Q&A – readers submitted questions, and Editor Audrey Cooper and Reporter Kevin Fagan answered them.

Most of the section was entirely predictable (both the questions and the answers). But two stood out: 

Q: Are there examples in other countries of successful methods/processes that have been used to decrease homelessness? Can some of those be applied to the Bay Area?

A: Other Western countries don’t have the same kind of homelessness problem we have here because they have national health systems, living-wage laws, unemployment payments that pay basic bills and national social low-income housing programs, many with laws providing a legal right to a roof.

Q: What are the three main reasons for homelessness and what are the top three solutions?

A: The top three reasons for homelessness are loss of job, loss of housing, and drug or alcohol abuse. The top three solutions are housing aid — counseling-intense supportive housing for the most troubled — employment programs and substance abuse rehab.

The first question makes the point that this is ultimately a problem with the US version of late-stage capitalism (often referred to as “neoliberalism”), and it’s been in place for almost four decades, under both Democrats and Republicans.

One example: Ronald Reagan gutted federal aid for housing in cities – but neither Clinton nor Obama brought it back, and it hasn’t been a major issue in the Democratic primaries.

The second is more telling on a local level: Why do people become homeless? Because they can’t pay the rent or they get evicted. (Drug and alcohol abuse are reasons why someone might lose their job or get evicted; they are not, alone, causes of homelessness. Lots of alcoholics and drug addicts live in nice mansions with trust funds or money they have made at other points in their lives; their substance abuse doesn’t force them onto the streets.)

So in all of the solutions the Chron has talked about, not one mentions addressing the problem before it happens, which would require action on the state (not the federal) level. The state Legislature, dominated by Democrats, could repeal the Ellis Act and Costs Hawkins, allow cities to enact effective rent controls, enact state-wide just-cause eviction laws, and prevent thousands of evictions a year in SF alone – thus preventing thousands of people from becoming homeless in SF.

While we talk about the crisis in homelessness in SF and other cities, and the Chron interviews the mayors of SF and San Jose, nobody from the major news media is talking about the corrosive power of the real-estate industry in Sacramento and the failure of the Democratic leadership to rise above that corruption and address homelessness in a meaningful way.

(I see, by the way, that Cisco is a sponsor of this project. Nothing wrong with Destination Home in Silicon Valley. But I wonder if maybe all these corporations that want to do good might do more if they formed a major statewide PAC with millions of dollars that supported only candidates who vow to reject real-state money and protect tenant rights, including ending no-fault evictions. According to campaign finance records, plenty of Cisco employees, for example, gave money to Newsom for Governor; did any of them ask him what he was going to do to stop no-fault evictions and prevent the homelessness crisis from getting worse every day? Or: They could support candidates who are pushing for higher taxes on corporations that would fund housing. Putting a few million into the ballot initiative to reform Prop. 13 would be a start.)

Most of official City Hall shuts down the first couple of weeks of August – we’re like Paris that way. The supes don’t meet, the Planning Commission doesn’t meet, the Police Commission doesn’t meet … everyone goes out of town or take a break.

Everyone agrees it’s time for SF to take over PG&E’s facilities — but time is of the essence.

But before that happens, there’s a huge issue coming up Monday/28 in the Land Use and Transportation Committee. The SF Public Utilities Commission will present its report on the next steps San Francisco can take to create its own public-power system.

At this point – almost exactly 50 years after the late Berkeley Professor Joe Nielands wrote a groundbreaking story in the Bay Guardian (March 22, 1969) exposing the history of the Raker Act and PG&E’s illegal private-power monopoly in San Francisco – almost everyone in City Hall agrees that it’s time to get rid of the bankrupt, crooked private utility.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the director of the Department of the Environment, Deborah Rafael, testified to the supes that it’s critical for the city to take control of its own electric grid. It’s critical for our local response to climate change; it’s also a source of immense revenue. The city could buy out PG&E (right now, at a bargain price since the company is in bankruptcy proceedings), replace all the old, unsafe infrastructure, modernize the system, and still clear hundreds of millions of dollars a year – after cutting rates to customers.

And of course, lower electric rates are good for residents and businesses and would pour more money into the local economy.

Labor needs to be a partner in the discussions, since IBEW represents thousands of PG&E workers who would wind up moving into the city power system. But it’s entirely possible to transition all of those workers into the city system, at their same pay rates, with no loss of pensions or seniority; the city will need the trained workers.

The City Charter, which was ignored for many years when PG&E dominated City Hall, states very clearly that

It is the declared purpose and intention of the people of the City and County, when public interest and necessity demand, that public utilities shall be gradually acquired and ultimately owned by the City and County.

On April 9, 2019, the supes unanimously agreed that the public interest and necessity require a move toward public power. The resolution gave the SFPUC 45 days to produce a report laying out the next steps.

With PG&E in bankruptcy, and both management and potential other suitors (hedge funds) that want to buy the utility discussing options, time is of the essence. The city needs to be sure than any bankruptcy plan include SF buying PG&E’s local distribution system.

The hearing starts at 1:30 in the BOS chamber.

Kaiser workers prepare for strike over mental-health staffing

Mental-health workers at Kaiser’s French Campus on Geary are launching a one-day strike Wednesday/10 to focus attention on the massive health-care operation’s failure to provide adequate staffing for patient needs.

That that same day that 3,600 clinicians in the state will vote on a contract offer that so far is being “soundly rejected,” Justin DeFreitas, communications director for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, told me in an email.

The issue isn’t compensation – it’s the amount of work that existing therapists have to do and the what the union calls dangerous understaffing. “Patients have to wait weeks, even months for appointment,” DeFreitas said. State regulators have fined and repeatedly cited Kaiser for violating mental health parity laws.”

One clinician describes group sessions that are so overcrowded families have to sit on the floor:

And here’s what frustrates a lot of folks who follow this sort of issue. Kaiser isn’t hurting for money. It’s technically a nonprofit, but if you look at its IRS forms, it’s got plenty of cash. Kaiser Foundation Health Plans of California (just part of the Kaiser empire) took in $54 billion in revenue in the most recent filing year, 2017, had an operating “profit” of $219 million and assets of $21 billion. Things are even better now: The union says that Kaiser reported net profits of $1 billion a month for the first quarter of 2019, and now has assets of $44 billion in cash and investments. Bernard Tyson, the CEO, takes home $15 million a year. Dozens of board members earn more than $200,000 a year for working about five hours a week or less.

Kaiser is spending about $2.2 million a year on lobbying in Washington, according to Open Secrets, and another $400,000 a year for Sacramento lobbyists, state records show.

There seems to be plenty of money for promotion of a system that critics say isn’t providing members with the services they pay for. Kaiser just signed a $295 million deal with the Warriors to name the plaza in front of their new stadium.

It would cost, the union says, about $144 million a year to increase its mental health staffing by 33 percent. That’s about 1.2 percent of its projected profits for the next year.

“Kaiser can well afford to fix the problem,” DeFreitas said.

I have to ask: Why is a nonprofit making all this money in the first place? Aside from the high salaries, shouldn’t any excess of revenue over expenses go to either cut costs for members or pay for more services?

The Planning Commission hears an information presentation Thursday/11on the latest updates to the Octavia-Market plan, also known as The Hub. It’s a massive project involving a huge amount of upzoning to allow much taller buildings for market-rate housing in the area around Market and Van Ness.

It’s already an area with a huge amount of development planned or under way. According to the presentation the planners will get, some 5,524 housing units are either approved, under construction, completed or proposed for the relatively dense area. If the new zoning the department is suggesting gets approved, that capacity would increase to 9,710 units, bringing a population of more than 20,000 new residents into what’s known as “the Hub.”

The area in question is less than a square mile, which would make it among the most densly-populated areas in the city.

This relatively small area would get some 20,000 new residents — 80 percent of them rich people — under the Planning Department’s proposal.

In essence, the department wants to upzone the entire Hub to downtown-level density, removing neighborhood commercial designation and creating a highrise housing zone.

Along the way, the plans call for 2,159 units of affordable housing, but not all of it will be onsite.

The Environmental Impact Report isn’t out yet, and is expected this fall. But based on the project EIRs we have seen, there are all sorts of issues.

We don’t know, for example, how much parking all of the new projects will seek, but we know that at One Oak, the developer said he can’t make money unless he got one parking space for every two units. At that ratio, we are talking about another 4,500 cars in an area already choked by traffic – and every new car interferes with the large number of Muni buses that pass through the area.

But never mind the on-site parking, which the planners could limit. If 80 percent of the units are sold or rented to wealthy people, that will create a huge demand for Uber, Lyft, and delivery services. There is virtually no on-street parking in the area, so we’re talking about thousands of vehicles double-parked and making traffic even worse.

That’s one problem with creating housing in a transit-rich area, which – of course – sounds like a fine idea. If you build housing for people who are unlikely to use transit, all that happens is you make the transit system worse (which, of course, is what Uber wants to do, since people who are frustrated by Muni are likely to call an Uber instead.)

The city has no idea how to measure that demand – so in the One Oak EIR, it was simply ignored:

For starters, the city admits in Planning Dept. documents that it has no idea how many Uber and Lyft drivers are picking up and dropping off passengers — so the impact of those rides was ignored in the EIR.

We know there are at least 45,000 of these cars in the city, and they are picking up thousands of passengers. But the Planning Department completely ignores that huge traffic impact:

[From the EIR:] Thus, based on the information currently available it is currently difficult, if not impossible, to document how transportation network company operations quantitatively influence overall travel conditions in San Francisco or elsewhere. Thus, for the above reasons, the effects of for-hire vehicles as it relates to transportation network companies on VMT is not currently estimated.

This upzoning is on a fairly fast time frame – the department wants the new rules imposed by the end of this year or early next year.

Celebrate 40 years of rent control — and support the Tenants Union

If you live in San Francisco, and you pay rent, you can thank the Tenants Union for the fact that you are still here.

The Tenants Union was the driving force for the creation of the city’s rent control law 40 years ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s saved the homes of tens of thousands of renters. There are huge numbers of people in this city who would have been forced out by rent gouging – or evicted without cause – if the law wasn’t in place.

And the SFTU has worked for decades to make the law stronger and more effective.

The staff and volunteers help more than 9,000 tenants a year with counseling and referrals – and knowing your rights is a huge step toward saving your home.

It’s time to celebrate 40 years of rent control – and help the Tenants Union continue its critical work. The party and fundraiser is Tuesday/11at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, 2665 Mission. You can buy tickets or just make a donation here.

San Francisco International Airport just set new rules for Uber and Lyft pickups.You can’t get one of these Transportation Network Company rides at the curb anymore. That, the airport says, is all about fighting congestion.

But Sups. Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safai want to go further. They are asking the airport to ban TNCs from picking up passengers at all.

That’s the fallout of two trends: Just before the advent of the illegal taxis (which SF did nothing to control), the city decided to start allowing the sale of taxi medallions on the open market.

Since 1978, medallions, the required license to operate a cab, were issued only to active drivers, and there was a waitlist of about 15 years. When one owner retired or died, that medallion went to the next in line. They were, for all practical purposes, free (the fee was minor).

Of course, nobody can drive a cab 24 hours a day, so for the shifts that medallion holders weren’t driving, they could rent out the permits to other drivers. The medallion became very lucrative.

Then starting in 2012, the city opened up a private market for medallions, which sold for as much as $250,000. Drivers would take out big loans to buy the permits; before the TNCs, you could make enough money driving a cab and leasing the medallion to pay off the loan.

Then Uber and Lyft started running, without any permits at all, and the city did nothing. When local officials finally started to crack down the TNCs went to Sacramento with high-powered lobbyists and got a rule overriding local control.

Which meant the 500 or so folks who, in good faith, borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a medallion were totally screwed as the business tanked. Uber and Lyft used venture capital to subsidize rides and cut costs to the point where legal cabs couldn’t compete.

But while San Francisco has no ability to regulate the number of Ubers on the street, the Airport sets its own rules on cabs and limos. Cabs need a permit to pick up at SFO; they need to get in line in the cab lot, take fares as they arrive, and follow the rules.

The new rules would let people who paid for medallions get priority on pickups; that’s a big deal, since rides from SFO to downtown are a big part of a cab driver’s income. Real cabs with older (unpaid) medallions would also get to do curb pickups.
Uber and Lyft could only pick up passengers in a designated area of the garage, a five-to-ten-minute walk from the terminal.

On Monday/10, the Land Use and Transportation Committee will hear a resolution urging the Municipal Transportation Agency to report back on how the new rules are going – and to urge SFO to stop allowing TNCs to pick up passengers.

That’s a small, but significant step toward regulating the rogue industry – and helping the drivers who, through no fault of their own, borrowed money to legally drive a cab while the city let Uber and Lyft illegally operate and drive down the value of that permit.

The meeting starts at 1:30 pm in the Board chamber.

The same committee will also hear the SF Public Utilities Commission’s preliminary report on options for taking over or replacing PG&E’s distribution system in the city.

The report is pretty clear:SF could buy PG&E’s distribution system, create a full public-power system, provide more green power – and cut rates. In fact, the city could do all of that and bring in hundreds of millions a year in extra revenue.

Oh: And we wouldn’t be facing blackouts when PG&E realizes it can’t maintain its lines well enough to prevent wildfires.

PG&E is so badly on the ropes right now that the company isn’t even putting up much of a fight. We’ll see who shows up at the hearing, but we aren’t seeing a lot of PG&E lobbyists at City Hall these days.

One important question for the supes on the committee to nail down is the finances. The report says it could cost a couple of billion to buy the system. PG&E’s entire market captalization is $10 billion right now (and has been as low in the past six months as $4 billion) so it’s hard to imagine that the old SF system would be worth more than $2 billion.

But suppose it’s $3 billion. Does that matter?

Not the way I’ve done the numbers:

It could be $1 billion, or $2 billion. Even at the high end, the interest on the bonds that would finance the buyout would be far, far less than the revenue the city would get from retail power distribution.

Tax-free Muni bonds that are highly rated (as SF’s would be) are paying about five percent interest these days. So we’re talking $50 million a year to pay the nut on a billion-dollar bond.

Double that? Pay $2 billion for the system? It’s $100 million a year in costs.

The SFPUC estimates that the revenue from sales of electricity in the city would be between $500 and $700 million a year.

The cost of the buyout isn’t an issue – at any reasonable price (and the system is going to be available for a reasonable price because PG&E is in bankruptcy) the city will make gobs of money on the deal.

I’d like to hear the UC finance people weigh in on that.

Does more density bring down housing costs? Come to the debate

Do we want Manhattan-level density in SF? Will it help?

The biggest change to housing law in California in decades – state Sen. Scott Wiener’s AB 50– is on hold, for the moment. But Wiener isn’t giving up, and at the latest, this bill could come back in January 2020.

And the debate over whether increased density will bring down housing prices in cities is by no means over.

Do we want Manhattan-level density in SF? Will it help?

One of the most compelling voices in that debate – UCLA economic geographer Michael Storper – will be in San Francisco Thursday/30to talk about the role of density in housing prices, his new study on the issue, and the future of the Wiener/Yimby agenda.

Storper is one of the most important academics challenging the notion – which oddly has become accepted dogma in the mainstream media and even places like The Nation– that more private-sector development will solve the urban housing crisis.

He suggests that

Policies such as blanket upzoning, which will principally unleash market forces that serve high income earners, are therefore likely to reinforce the effects of income inequality rather than tempering them … There is virtually no evidence that substantially lower costs would trickle down to the lower two-thirds of households or provide quality upgrading of their neighbourhoods, but it undoubtedly would enhance displacement in neighbourhoods currently at the boundary of higher-income inner metropolitan areas. Indeed, according to Zillow data reported in The Washington Post (August 6, 2018), rents are now declining for the highest earners while continuing to increase for the poorest in San Francisco, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington, noting that a boom in luxury construction in these areas has failed to ease housing market competition for cheaper properties.

 

The event is free, open to all. There will be plenty of time for audience questions and discussion. It’s at 6:30pm, at the LGBT Center Rainbow Room, 1800 Market, SF.

It will also be livestreamed on our site.  But if you’re in town, show up in person –you can ask questions and participate in the discussion!

There’s not much happening with the supes this week, since the holiday has meant that most meetings are cancelled. But the Ethics Commission will meet Wednesday/29to consider some major changes to the local campaign finance law.

In essence, the city hasn’t updated its rules for matching funds in some time, and supporters say it’s time to catch up.

According to Steve Hill, who is promoting the changes, the new rules would:

1) Increase the maximum amount of public financing that a candidate can receive to $255,000 in a supervisor’s race and $1.2 million in a mayoral race. As the cost of campaigns escalates, grassroots and under-funded candidates need to be able to be competitive;

2) Increase the spending limit for publicly financed candidates to $350,000 (supervisor) and $1.7 million (mayor). This will ensure that publicly financed candidates are not badly outspent by big money candidates and their independent expenditure committees;

3) Increase the match of public financing funds that candidates receive from the current $2 in public money for every $1 in private money raised, to $6 for every $1 dollar raised (a level that Los Angeles, Berkeley and New York City already have);

4) Increase the initial grant given to publicly financed candidates to $60,000 (supervisor) and $300,000 (mayor) from the current $20,000 and $100,000.

There are some who argue that the city should also start disbursing money to candidates earlier in the cycle; that, they say, could help grassroots contenders get started (since let’s face it, many campaigns now start at least a year before Election Day.) Hill wants the date to stay the same as it is now.

It takes four votes on the five-member commission to move legislation, and right now there’s a vacant seat (commissioner Quentin Kopp has resigned and not been replaced). So every member would have to vote Aye for this to pass.

The meeting’s in Room 416 at 2pm.

The state Democratic Convention is in San Francisco Friday/31 to Sunday/2.It’s going to be a scene – pretty much every Democrat who is running for president will be there. I will be there, too – and posting updates on everything that happens, from the sex-workers rally to the MoveOn “Big Ideas” event to the candidate speeches.

As they say, watch this space.

Court to hear arguments on police raid of reporters house

The fate of the property of journalist Bryan Carmody – and the role of the local courts in allowing a clearly illegal search warrant that is an assault on the First Amendment and the California Constitution – will play out in court Tuesday/21.

Thomas Burke, Carmody’s attorney, fled a motion last week asking that the search warrant the police used to seize Carmody’s computers, cameras, notes, and other property be quashed and the property be returned to him immediately.

The case will come before Judge Samuel Feng.

The case leaves City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a tricky situation. He’s generally been good on news media issues – but now has to defend the Police Department in a case where there’s absolutely no legal justification for what happened.

The role of Mayor London Breed and Chief William Scott in defending this assault on the free press has made national news and has been embarrassing for the entire city. Now, Herrera has to argue that the shield law, the state Constitution, and the well-established rights of reporters to protect confidential sources.

From the brief:

State and federal law make it virtually impossible for government officials to obtain and execute search warrants targeting journalists’ newsgathering material. Instead, the Legislature and Congress both have adopted “subpoena-first” regimes which ensure that journalists have the opportunity to assert their rights against compelled disclosure in a noticed, contested court proceeding before a search takes place.

Despite this unambiguous controlling law, the San Francisco Police Department dispensed with the subpoena requirement entirely in this case and executed a pair of violent and breathtakingly overbroad searches of journalist Bryan Carmody’s home and office after obtaining plainly invalid warrants. In a needless display of force, nearly a dozen armed officers used a sledgehammer to break into Mr. Carmody’s residence and then kept him handcuffed for hours as they rummaged through his personal and professional belongings and seized 68 different items, including numerous computers, phones, cameras, tablets, hard drives, and reporters notebooks which Mr. Carmody uses for his work as a journalist.

The Shield Law protects against the compelled disclosure of journalists’ unpublished editorial information and resource materials. The law has been clear for decades that the Shield Law applies to freelance reporters like Mr. Carmody, and it broadly applies to any and all unpublished information obtained in the course of gathering and disseminating information to the public. Mr. Carmody gathered the information at issue in his role as a journalist, and as a non-party embroiled in a criminal investigation his protection under the Shield Law is absolute and not subject to any balancing of countervailing interests.

The government has not, and could not, make such a showing in this case, in which it has engaged in a breathtakingly overbroad fishing expedition by seizing dozens of electronic devices containing massive volumes of data related to all of Mr. Carmody’s newsgathering activities, with no particularized showing of need for any particular piece of information, and no showing of exhaustion of alternative sources.

Representing the city will be Sean Connolly, who is a former lawyer for the SF Police Officers Association now working for the city attorney.

I have long argued that the news media shouldn’t have paid for or used the leaked report about Adachi’s death. That’s an ethics issue, not a legal issue. In terms of the law, as far as I can understand it, this one’s a slam dunk – and the cops who asked for the search warrant and Judges Gail Dekreon and Victor Hwang who approved it, have a lot to answer for.

And speaking of police: May 22 is Harvey Milk’s birthday, and there will be numerous celebrations. Funcheap SF has a good rundown here.

In the first few years after Milk was assassinated by Supervisor (and former cop) Dan White, city leaders including Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown showed up for the birthday marches (although Feinstein never went to a Pride Parade as mayor).

But as former Supervisor and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano remembers, there was never much talk about police reform in those days from City Hall. “It was no oversight, just a rubber stamp,” he told me — except from Harry Britt, Milk’s successor, who managed to create the Office of Citizens Complaints (now the Office of Police Accountability) — but he had to go to the ballot to do it.

The Democratic County Central Committee will meet Wednesday/22 to discuss, among other things, the controversial move by UCSF to affiliate with Dignity Health,a Catholic hospital group that does not offer abortions, has been charged with discriminating against transgender people, and in some cases asks affiliated doctors to sign a document agreeing that contraception is “intrinsically evil.”

From a petition signed by some 1,500 doctors and staff:

We are writing to you as UCSF faculty, staff, students, trainees, and alumni to express our deep concern about the UCSF affiliation with Dignity Health, particularly in light of the recent merger of Dignity Health with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). While Dignity Health has traditionally operated both Catholic (the majority of their hospitals) and non-Catholic hospitals, CHI hospitals and clinics are all direct Catholic ministries. These Catholic hospitals are required to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to the June 2018 update of these directives, Catholic health care facilities CANNOT PERMIT the following services:

  • Use of any form of contraception (a method to prevent pregnancy) except the provision of “natural family planning” counseling for married heterosexual couples
  • Use of in vitro fertilization to become pregnant (conception outside of a female’s body)
  • Use of a sperm or ovum donor
  • Use of a surrogate to carry a pregnancy
  • The termination of pregnancy (abortion), even in many cases in which a pregnancy is considered life-threatening

Dignity Health owns some non-Catholic hospitals (e.g. St. Francis in San Francisco), but these facilities must follow the Dignity Health Statement of Common Values whichdoes not permit use of in vitro fertilization, or the termination of pregnancy.

In addition, Catholic healthcare facilities interpret the Ethical and Religious Directives to explicitly prohibit the provision of gender affirming services (such as hormone treatment, hysterectomy, and mastectomy) for transgender people.

These are scary times for reproductive rights, transgender rights, and the rights of women to control their own bodies. UCSF is a public institution operating with tax money in a state where the vast majority of people support a woman’s right to choose (and pretty much everyone except a tiny minority – and I am including most Catholics here– opposes the Church’s position on birth control and in vitro fertilization).

Hard to imagine that we are even having this discussion in 2019. But UCSF isn’t backing down. And we haven’t heard from Gov. Gavin Newsom on the deal.

The item was added to the DCCC agenda late, so it will take a two-thirds vote to allow discussion and possible approval of a resolution opposing the affiliation. The opponents of the affiliation deal want the Board of Supes to pass its own resolution (and potentially, this could wind up at the state Democratic Convention in June).

The committee will also consider a new set of rules for behavior of its members – spurred by the bizarre racist statements of Angela Alioto at the last DCCC meeting. There’s no formal legislation, Chair David Campos told me; he wants a group of members and community people to draft the rules.

The supes will consider Tuesday/21 the nomination of landlord lawyer David Wasserman for another term on the Rent Board. The Rules Committee unanimously supported the nomination, and it will probably pass easily at the full board.

But a few things are worth noting from the Rules hearing Monday.

Critics argued that Wasserman may not live in San Francisco – he owns a nice house in Mill Valley, where he freely admitted he was living when former Mayor Ed Lee named him to the panel.

Wasserman takes his state homeowner’s exemption on his tax return at the Mill Valley address – which creates what the lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption” that he lives there.

And rebut it he did – he said that he is registered to vote in SF and that his driver’s license lists an apartment he owns on Fourth Avenue.

But he said that when Lee appointed him, “I scrambled very hard to find residency here. After a couple of months, I purchased a four-unit building in the Richmond district.” So he wasn’t living her when he was appointed.

He said he lives in one of the units now. Fine, maybe he does.

But here’s the more poignant moment in his testimony:

I humbly act — ask for the following. Whether you vote to remove me or not, at the end of the day, that is unimportant compared to the bigger picture of not politicizing the Rent Board, and I believe that is somebody who has been involved with the Rent Board for 23 years as a practitioner and almost five as a commissioner. We have great talent down there, on both sides, the tenant side and on our side, and I’d hate to see that system become politicized.

For the last 40-plus years, since 1979, we had a Rent Board that works.

Yes: For 40 years, there was an unwritten rule that the mayor would consult with the landlord and tenant communities before making appointments. The landlords wanted Wasserman; Ed Lee appointed him.

But it was Mayor London Breed who shattered that four-decade truce when she kicked Polly Marshall off the panel and appointed someone who clearly wasn’t qualified. The supes made sure that was fixed, but please:

Where was Wasserman when Breed politicized the Rent Board? I didn’t hear a peep from him.

The mayor’s housing bond will be at the Board of Supes Budget and Finance Committee Wed/22. I don’t think anyone is against the idea of a $500 million bond act for affordable housing – except that it’s far too small. With more than 8,000 homeless people on the streets and in their cars, $500 million will barely make a dent.

There’s no reason the bond act can’t be much larger – say, $1 billion or even more – except that nobody at City Hall wants to push a bond that raises property taxes. I get it – you need two-thirds to pass a bond act, and the moment you raise taxes you get opposition, and if landlords can pass it on to tenants, you get more (legit) opposition.

But I continue to ask: If the folks at City Hall really wanted to build a significant amount of new affordable housing, couldn’t they craft a measure that limits pass-through to tenants, raises taxes (just a little) on property – and campaign for it? Couldn’t we get a two-thirds vote?

The Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee will hold a hearing Thursday/23 on the Feb. 6 gas line explosion at Geary and Parker. The fire burned for hours while PG&E refused to shut off the gas to the areas as crews hand-dug through the street to get to a valve. A contractor working for Verizon didn’t have a valid state license, KQED reports.

Sups. Sandra Lee Fewer and Catherine Stefani want to dig through the disaster and figure out what really happened – and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

Protesting Uber’s IPO — and police secrecy

Uber and Lyft are making it impossible for SF to limit vehicle emissions. Why is this not a huge issue?

The finance experts expect Uber to hit Wall Street on Friday/10, possibly with the biggest IPO since Facebook – but not until after both its own drivers and the rest of the taxi industry launch protests.

Uber, the New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo notes, “is a moral stain on Silicon Valley.” I still find it somewhat bizarre that a company that started with a business model that was illegal everywhere it operated now gets to turn its founders and investors into billionaires; in the world of tech, I guess, crime pays.

But there’s another level of crime going on here: Top executives are on a path to fantastic riches, but the drivers – without whom there would be no Uber – are getting screwed.

The Uber model is to attract new business – to grow market share – at any cost. Every single ride is subsidized with venture capital, so that it’s cheap enough to lure passengers away not only from legal, regulated cabs but from public transportation. When the company needs to cut costs, it just cuts the amount it pays its drivers.

Rebecca Stack Martinez has been driving for Uber since last August. She was working between 60 and 80 hours a week, and earning – after paying for her own gas and car costs – about $750. That’s below the San Francisco minimum wage.

But no matter: Uber refused to consider the workers who make the entire company function employees. They’re independent contractors.

“They say they are going to cut rates more,” she told me. “They are going to continue to squeeze us.”

Martinez is particularly mad about the messages she’s getting from the pre-IPO company: “They say they can’t afford to pay drivers more, but the CEO is getting a $50 million bonus.”

Uber drivers will protest at company headquarters Wednesday/8 at noon. They’ll also log out of the ride-share system for 12 hours. There will be similar strikes in San Diego, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.

Gig Workers Rising, a group that advocates for the freelance contractors who make the “gig economy” work, are asking for a fair wage and reasonable transparency from Uber. “We want to know how much we are getting paid before we accept a ride,” Martinez said. “We should get honest information about the per-mile and per-minute rate.”

The group also wants worker protections (Uber can “deactivate” – that is, fire – a driver any time for any reason) and a voice at work. “If they are going to change our pay, we want a seat at the table,” she said.

The next day, Thursday/9, San Francisco taxi drivers will converge at Uber to protest the company’s “unlawful, unethical and destructive policies,” Mark Gruberg of the Taxi Workers Alliance told me. From the group’s press statement:

In its short history, Uber has shown itself to be the ugliest company on the face of the planet. Its recent attempts to change its image and noxious corporate culture do not address the damage its business model is doing to the environment, workers and the public.

Gruberg told me that his group wants to “focus attention on Uber as a company.”

That protest starts at 1pm. Uber’s HQ is at 1455 Market.

The SF Police Commission is finally getting around to approving rules for releasing documents under SB 1421, a new law that requires police departments to make public a fairly wide range of officer misconduct records that were previously considered confidential.

The proposed commission policy is here. It’s a good thing that the commission is finally – four months after SB 1421 became law – is moving forward on this. It’s been a long period of delays. I filed my first sunshine request under this law (for information about the officers who shot Alex Nieto) back in January, and I still haven’t received the information. The SFPD has delayed the response seven times, saying it doesn’t have time to handle all these requests:

SFPD has received a number of requests for previously confidential peace officer records made public as a result of the passage of SB 1421. Despite our best efforts to respond promptly, a backlog has quickly developed and will remain for some time.

SFPD must balance its duty to respond to public records requests with its duty to perform the broad range of tasks performed by SFPD personnel that result in keeping the peace and maintaining safety in our communities. Responding to your request will be quite burdensome and time-consuming, especially when coupled with our duty also to respond to like public records requests from  others. SFPD will not be able to respond within the customary time frame without unreasonably impinging on its ability to perform its other duties.

But there are some real issues with the proposed policy. Among other things, the commission wants the Department of Police Accountability to coordinate with the SFPD on all requests. John Crew, a longtime police accountability lawyer, notes:

Why can’t DPA interpret these provisions about its own records — particularly on subjective calls about whether to apply that discretionary exemption — in the way that it chooses?  Why should SFPD be able to block or delay what DPA has independently determined can and should release from its own records?  Say DPA sustains a charge of dishonesty against an officer and SFPD disagrees and chooses to impose no discipline.  The DPA investigative finding still stands and the DPA records from that case are all public records under SB 1421.  DPA can — and should — now choose to affirmatively publish detailed information with officers’ names anytime they sustain a dishonesty charge.  (There would be no better deterrent to the scourge of widespread lying within SFPD.)

Then there’s the technical – but important – difference between the California Public Records Act and the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance. The commission wants to say that records can be kept secret if “on the facts of the particular case, the public interest served by non-disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.”

That’s state law. The San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance largely prevents local agencies from citing that exemption.

The other issue: The Commission needs to direct the department to promptly respond to media inquiries about issues that are now public record. The city just spent $13 million to settle a case involving a man who was convicted of murder after the court found that the SFPD and the DA’s Office had framed him. Were any of the officers involved disciplined in any way? That’s a simple question, and now the public has the right to an answer. Why is it taking so long?

What about the Nieto killing – and Luis Gongora Pat, and Amilcar Lopez?

“The taxpayers know how much they’re paying for these quite avoidable tragedies,” Crew said. “We’ve had a right to know since January 1st what, if anything, SFPD has done to make sure the tragedies don’t happen again.”

The meeting starts at 5:30pm in City Hall Room 200.

Should the tech boom pay the costs of the tech boom?

Connecting gentrification and police violence, protesters stop a tech bus

The Board of Supes will discuss two very different issues this week that are actually closely related and could inform some productive discussion about the housing market.

On Wednesday/24,the Budget and Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the impacts on the city of the recent and upcoming tech IPOs, including “business tax revenue, housing, and gentrification.”

The previous day, Tuesday/23, the full board will vote on the city’s ten-year capital plan.

The connections are pretty obvious, but largely missing from the ten-year spending proposal.

I’m seeing the same pattern in Sacramento, where the state is poised to receive a sizable windfall from the IPOs, possibly in the billions of dollars. The state expects a surplus of more than $20 billion this year.

And neither the local nor the state government is planning to use most or all of that surplus to mitigate the negative impacts of all that new tech wealth, particularly in the Bay Area.

Everyone agrees that in about six months, when the stock grants vest and the newly minted millionaires can start spending their money, the housing market will go even more crazy than it is today. Sellers are holding property off the market. Landlords are leaving apartments vacant.

And I suspect that the speculators are drooling at the prospect of snapping up multi-family buildings, using the Ellis Act to evict the tenants, and flipping them as TICs.

The San Francisco tech boom is not just an accident. City policies under the late Mayor Ed Lee were designed to attract tech companies to the city, no matter the damage to the rest of us. Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb were allowed to violate local laws with impunity because the mayor saw them as local tech companies that should be encouraged. Thanks to those policies, a relatively small number of people will be getting very rich – and the rest of the city will be getting poorer.

Yes: Tech booms like this make most of the city worse off, because they drive up the cost of real estate. That means teachers can’t afford to live here, long-term tenants are thrown on the streets, those who remain have to pay far more than a third of their income (the federal standard) for housing, prices go up in stores and restaurants, small businesses close because the rent is too high … you get the picture. We all know it.

The Yimbys say the answer is the same free market that created this problem – that we should just allow developers to build more housing. Problem is, city policies have already driven up the cost of land and labor (construction workers can’t live here anymore) and made it so expensive to build that no developer is going to construct workforce housing. And no lender is going to invest in it when there’s so much more to be made in exclusively high-end housing.

So let’s go back to the city and state budgets.

If the state has a boom-driven surplus of $20 billion, that would pay for maybe 40,000 affordable-housing units in the Bay Area. Building 40,000 units of social (non-market) housing of all kinds – land trusts, limited-equity co-ops, public housing, nonprofit affordable housing, at all the levels we need for the workforce and homeless people – would make a huge difference in the housing crisis. It would be a step toward mitigating the impacts of the tech boom – using the money that the tech boom created.

San Francisco will also gets a huge windfall from the boom – but it’s not enough to pay teachers and city workers the money they need to afford to live here. Property owners (and I am one of them) are also getting a huge windfall – unless you bought your house yesterday, it’s already appreciated in value and will again, and again, over the next year.

So what is the city doing with its long-term capital plan? Here’s a snapshot:

That’s a total – over the next ten years – of $300 million for affordable housing. Enough to build 600 units. If that money can be used to leverage state and federal money, maybe as many as a couple thousand units.

Seriously?

All of the things on the list are important. The seismic stuff is mandatory under state law. We need more money for parks and open space, and for transportation.

But none of that matters if we can’t solve the housing crisis. And $300 million is a tiny, tiny fraction of what everyone agrees the city needs.

Why so little? Because this mayor, like the past few mayors, refuses to issue new bonds until we pay off the old ones, lest property owners (who for the most part are doing just fine) pay slightly higher taxes. Not the taxes they should pay if we didn’t have Prop. 13; just a few hundred bucks more a year.

I know that some people on fixed incomes and seniors have owned their homes for years and can’t pay higher taxes. I know there are small landlords who are not getting rich. The fact that the state bungled tax policy in the 1970s and put those folks at risk is the reason we have Prop. 13. But this isn’t rocket science, or even Coding 101 – we know how to craft a bond act that exempts vulnerable populations.

We also know how to craft a bond act that does not allow big landlords to pass the costs through to tenants.

Over the next ten years, a city that now has a budget of more than $11 billion a year and is one of the richest cities in the history of human civilization will spend $300 million to address the most dramatic impacts of the boom that brought this money in.

How about a $2 billion local affordable housing bond? How about funding some of that with new higher taxes on the tech companies (or a tax on stock options, which the city repealed during the Twitter Tax Break days)?

Urban planners – the ones with any social conscience – say that growth should pay for growth. And tech booms should pay for the impacts of tech booms.

We have the money. I wonder if this will come up at the board hearings.

Tenant representation and spy technology

Security cameras are on at Alvord Lake -- but they were installed without public notice

The Board of Supes Rules Committee will consider Monday/15 two items with both immediate and long-term policy and political significance – Mayor Breed’s latest appointment to the Rent Board and a law that would limit city departments from spying on San Franciscans.

Security cameras are on at Alvord Lake — but they were installed without public notice

Let’s take the Rent Board first.

Breed declined to reappoint Polly Marshall, who has served as a tenant representative on the board for 35 years and was an expert on the complexities of the rulings that board has to make. Instead, she named Reese Isbell, who is a tenant, a Breed supporter – and someone who has little or no experience with the actual function of the Rent Board.

We saw the result at last week’s meeting, when a confusing issue that could wind up costing some tenants a lot of money came before the five-member panel.

The question was whether Veritas could pass through to tenants at 430 Baker Street a rent increase based on the fact that the giant landlord had bought the property recently – and wanted to pass along the increased property taxes and mortgage costs.

A year ago, an ordinance authored by Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer banned that practice: Why should tenants pay for a landlord’s loan and taxes, when the buyer knew in advance what those costs would be (and what the existing rents are) and decided to buy anyway?

Why, in a heated real-estate marked with vast speculation, should tenants be penalized because buyers are willing to borrow huge sums to buy property (and because under Prop. 13, the new buyer pays higher taxes?)

But of course, there were some landlords who were in the process of buying buildings in the narrow time between when Fewer introduced the law and when it passed, and they insisted on (and got) a provision in the law saying that if they had “reasonable reliance” on the ability to pass those costs through to tenants when they bid on the property, they should be allowed to pass on the costs.

What’s “reasonable reliance” mean? That’s what the Rent Board was arguing.

Commissioner Cathy Mosbrucker, an experienced tenant lawyer, argued that Veritas clearly knew what they were getting into. “This is Veritas,” she said. “They are the reason that debt service was eliminated” for pass throughs.

In fact, she said, “If Veritas had been told that everyone in this building was a senior [and would then be exempt from the pass-through] would the sale still have gone through? Probably. Would the price have changed? No.”

She asked that the case be sent back to the administrative law judge who had approved the rent hikes and suggested that the board needed a clearer definition of “reasonable reliance” since “we are setting a standard for all these cases.”

I know – this is complicated. That’s what the Rent Board deals with.

Isbell seconded Mosbrucker’s motion, and said that “when it doubt, we should side with humanity.” The landlord reps took that argument apart: It’s not about Veritas, they said, it’s about equally applying the law.

The panel voted 3-2 to approve the pass-throughs. Isbell voted the right way – but in a contentious matter like this one, tenants argue that they need a representative who is already familiar with the intricacies of the law and able to argue legal and policy reasons to sway the single neutral vote (which belongs to Shoba Dandillaya, a commercial real-estate lawyer).

Nobody wants to argue that Isbell is anything but a nice buy who is a tenant and whose heart is in the right place. The tenant community just argues that he’s not qualified for this position.

The vote at Rules is a precursor to a vote at the full board next week. It would take eight votes to override the mayor’s appointment.

Then there’s surveillance.

Sup. Aaron Peskin is concerned – as are a lot of privacy advocates – about the rise in government technology that is used to spy on people. This could be crime cameras in the park. It could be license-plate readers. It could be new stuff that we haven’t thought about yet (the private sector is ahead on this spy gig,but government will catch up).

Peskin wants any city department that wants to acquire or use surveillance technology to first get approval from the supes. All that would require is a clear statement – in public, at a hearing — about how the technology would be used, how long the data would be stored, and who would have access.

And it would ban the use of facial-recognition technology.

“We all believe in community policing, but we don’t believe in a police state,” Peskin told me. “This is not a radical ordinance, it’s drawn from what state Sen. Jerry Hill has tried to pass, and what has already been passed in Santa Clara County.”

Peskin said he’s not, for example, against crime cameras, but “you have to tell us who you are going to use them.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights supports the law:

Discrimination and harassment by law enforcement is an ongoing and pervasive problem for LGBT individuals, particularly those who are members of low-income communities or communities of color.Because surveillance efforts have historically targeted marginalized and vulnerable communities, NCLR strongly believes surveillance technologies need to be regulated, and in the case of facial-recognition technology, prohibited.

There is no place in the City and County of San Francisco for the use of facial-recognition technology. In its current iteration, the technology is inaccurate and tends to deliberately or inadvertently target people of color and other vulnerable communities. The inaccuracies and biases built into facial-recognition technology also amplify the significant concerns that this technology will deprive individuals of key constitutional safeguards that undergird our criminal justice system.

The Coalition on Homelessness supports it:

Story after story in the media show the ways in which such technologies have either deliberately or inadvertently targeted people of color, violated the citizenry’s civil liberties, and laid the groundwork for a truly Orwellian society where people’s every move is monitored and potentially criminalized.

Color of Change supports it:

Time and time again, surveillance technologies have been used to target Black communities, immigrants, poor people, religious minorities, and communities of color. When employed by police departments and governments, technologies like automated license plate readers, camera-equipped drones, stingrays, and predictive policing software increase the number of unnecessary interactions between marginalized communities and the police, and threaten San Franciscans’ safety.

Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, for instance, falsely matched a disproportionately high number of Black members of Congress with arrest booking photos.But even if bias were somehow eliminated from this technology, its deployment would still undoubtedly undermine public safety and harm Black communities by enabling high-tech profiling.

All of this would seem eminently reasonable – except that the Police Officers Association and a group called “Stop Crime SF,” run by sometimes Examiner and Chronicle columnist Joel Engardio, has been bombarding the supes with pre-written emails arguing that public safety is at risk.

Peskin told me the Chief Bill Scott has not come out against the legislation (he has taken no position) so it’s just the POA and Stop Crime SF. But they are generating a lot of letters, and this could be far more contentious that it needs to be.

The meeting starts at 10am in Room 265, City Hall.