It feels as if in the last few months, the dominant narrative at City Hall has been that cannabis small business are somehow innately harmful to our communities.
When we say that there can be no small cannabis business around schools and when we talk about excluding whole neighborhoods from the new cannabis industry we are sending a message that just doesn’t align with fact, science and the personal experience of every politician in City Hall: We are saying that somehow that the very existence of these business near schools is harmful, while somehow bars are not.
San Francisco is proud of its nightlife industry. It’s been my honor to stand with many of my colleagues as an ally to nightlife and work to pass legislation that preserves and supports are historic bars, nightclubs, and music venues.
Let me say this: if City Hall had been this short sighted in the 1930s when alcohol prohibition ended, and had passed the same sort of restrictions on bars and venues that we are considering for cannabis today — San Francisco would have been changed for the worse.
We would have missed out on the swings clubs of the forties, the Fillmore Jazz clubs of the 50’s, the Summer of Love wouldn’t have happened, and neither would the gay rights movement that was born in the bars of the Castro.
Cannabis has the potential to be a powerful force for good in our city. We are looking at a brand new blue-collar industry that people who actually live in San Francisco can be part of. Unlike the tech industry — which at times this board has rushed to do everything it can to support – this industry has a low barrier to entry. Anyone with a dream, savings, and a smart business plan can open up a cannabis business and make a living – a good living.
Watching the success of the new cannabis industry in Washington and Colorado has been really exciting: Small business, tourism, and the most important part “taxes” has resulted in huge benefits for local communities.
But unfortunately, San Francisco’s City Hall seem to be focused on saying no rather than finding ways to say yes.
I want to say thank you to my colleagues Supervisor Malia Cohen and Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer for their work on cannabis equity. I truly appreciate their focus on how cannabis can benefit our marginalized communities.
I think that as we move forward to decide what the future of cannabis is going to be in our city that we also need to look back on the long history of cannabis here in San Francisco.
Here’s the reality. San Francisco has always had cannabis. It came here with the sailors and gold-miners who founded our town, and has never left. In the 1860’s when Mark Twain moved to San Francisco it was legally being sold and advertised in our local newspapers.
It wasn’t until 1915 that America began its crack down on cannabis, and like all parts of the Drug War it was deeply rooted in racism.
Racist policy forces near the border began referring to cannabis by its Spanish name “marijuana” and claiming that Mexican’s were crossing the board high on cannabis imbued with Superhuman strength. Here’s a real quote from a Texas Police Captain.
“Under marijuana Mexicans become very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear. I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and it will take several men to handle one man while, under ordinary circumstances, one man could handle him with ease.”
They’re talking about stoned people here.
It’s funny until you realize the devastation this racism has had on the Latino Community which I have the honor of representing. Here’s a quote from the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others. Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
That chills me to the bone. This right here is the beginning of the war on drugs. And here’s what the racist, hateful, policies that came from this type of disgusting think resulted in.
America has less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated population. We imprison more people than any other nation in the world – largely due to the war on drugs.
People of color arrested for drug law violations experience discrimination at every stage of the judicial system and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record. Among people who received a mandatory minimum sentence in recent years 38% were Latino and 31% were black.
This type of racism is causing mass deportations. The drug war has increasingly become a war against migrant communities fueling racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, and intrusive government surveillance. More than 40,000 people are deported from the U.S. every year for drug law violations.
And that’s just the Latino community. Black, Chinese, Filipino and LGBT communities have all suffered under our non-fact based, non-science-based, racist drug war history.
What I want to focus on in the next few weeks as the Board of Supervisors decides the future of Cannabis is how we can make reparations for the terrible treatment of minority communities during the drug wars.
This is our opportunity to make sure that the benefit of the cannabis industry will be intentionally directed to the communities that suffered from the cannabis drug war. I want to make sure that we’re practicing cannabis affirmative action and giving these community’s a leg up in this industry. I look forward to continuing this debate.
On Friday, November 3, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at City Hall the San Francisco Police Commission will be holding its last public hearing on purchasing stun guns for San Francisco police officers. Although there has been much discussion on the topic, there remain many misconceptions about the weapon under consideration and its potential impact on policing in the city.
I’ve heard many people – young and old – say that they’d rather be stunned than shot with a bullet. This is a logical response. Unfortunately it’s based on misunderstandings about how conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) work.
Even the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) has repeatedly asserted after officer-involved shootings that SF police officers need CEWs to use as an alternative to guns.
To be clear, CEWs cannot be substitutes for guns because there are inherent limitations in how they function that render them unreliable for being used in deadly force situations.
The leading manufacturer of CEWs specifically states in its training materials, “CEWs do NOT replace deadly-force options.” Most departments that have CEWs instruct officers NOT to use them in deadly force situations because they cannot be relied upon to stop a threat. Many factors can cause the CEW be ineffective – how thick the person’s clothing is, whether both probes hit the person, and whether the CEWs electrical charge captures enough muscle to incapacitate, to name a few.
The law permits officers to use their firearms in deadly-force circumstances, which involve a threat of death or great bodily harm. The manufacturer’s training materials advise officers that the optimal range for CEW deployment is seven to 15 feet. To use a CEW in a situation in which an individual is armed or violent or aggressive would require the officer to be just seven to 15 feet from the individual. Alarmingly, CEWs have been found to fail often, in fact the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported a 47% failure rate in 2015.
The SFPD adopted a new Use of Force policy in December 2016 stating the commitment to accomplish the “mission with respect and minimal reliance on the use of force by using rapport-building communication, crisis intervention, and de-escalation tactics” including time and distance. Bringing in a weapon that requires officers to be within seven to 15 feet of an aggressive individual would undermine the tenets of the policy and the training that has been instituted. And, should the weapon fail, officers would be in jeopardy and would have no choice but to escalate to lethal force.
In considering adopting CEWs it is prudent to ask, “Have CEWs been shown to stop or reduce officer-involved shootings in other law enforcement agencies?” Recent reports from Los Angeles and San Jose, both cities that have deployed CEWs for many years, register significant numbers of officer-involved shootings.LAPD reports 34 officer-involved shootings to date in 2017, and San Jose registered its eighth officer-involved shooting in September. CEWs clearly do not prevent officers from using guns.
San Francisco is not the only city with disproportionate use of force patterns. Other cities that have similar problems report disparities in officer-involved shootings as well as CEW use. For example, a 2016 Chicago study documented that Chicago officers shot and used CEWs on African Americans at disturbing rates, and a Houston study reported that CEWs were used disproportionately on African Americans.
The question of CEW efficacy is further complicated by the fact that the weapon under consideration for purchase by SFPD at this time, the Taser x2, is a new model that has had very little study or research to verify its reliability. The City of Houston has had several incidents that raise serious questions about the Taser x2. A lawsuit filed this year by Houston Officer Karen Taylor after she was severely injured in a failed Taser x2 incident details how the newer CEWs, while possibly less dangerous to suspects than previous models, are more risky for officers because they are less effective. In one weekend in March, 2016, in three separate incidents Houston officers shot suspects after failed Taser x2 deployments.
Tragically, CEWs, the “less lethal” weapons, kill far too often. In a series published this past summer a Reuters Report examines 1,005 deaths since 2000 involving Tasers and states, “Many who die are among society’s vulnerable – unarmed, in psychological distress and seeking help.” In the city of San Jose alone there have been eight deaths after CEWs have been used – some linked to the CEWs, and some from other contributing factors. In all of the cases, use of the CEW did not result in safely taking a suspect into custody.
Would we support our city purchasing new, untested cars for employee use that reputedly fail nearly 50% of the time, that randomly kill people (particularly vulnerable populations and people of color) even when used as directed, and would certainly result in costly lawsuits? Of course not.
Before obtaining a new problematic weapon that would most likely be used disproportionately on people of color and vulnerable populations, the city and the SFPD must focus on de-escalation of force and ensuring that policing in San Francisco is equitable and fair and functions at the stated SFPD “highest priority (of) safeguarding the life, dignity and liberty of all persons.” SFPD General Order 5.01 Use of Force
It’s a simple proposal: Abolish Columbus Day and find another way to honor Italian contributions to this country.
That’s what more than 50 Italian academics, artists and activists are currently proposing. I’m one of them. We’ve signed on to two letters, one to Italian American community leaders asking them “to facilitate an open discussion within their communities in order to explore more appropriate ways…to acknowledge and celebrate the legacy of sacrifice and generosity that Italian Americans have given to this nation.”
The other calls on the Italian American Congressional Delegation “to open a dialogue with members of the Native American Congressional Caucus, leading to the abolition (and/or replacement) of Columbus Day as a federal holiday.”
I’m Southern Italian, but I feel no pride in a man who happened to be born in the Republic of Genoa 400 years before there was even a nation called Italy. A man who sailed for Spain. A man who committed numerous atrocities and was eventually called back to that country to answer for those crimes.
Columbus Day became important for Italians in this country for reasons that should be familiar to many other ethnic groups. When we arrived at Ellis Island, Anglos didn’t exactly roll out the red, white and green carpet. They considered us barbarians of a separate race who would topple Anglo culture. Employers openly discriminated against us, running newspaper ads that made it clear we couldn’t apply. In the south, Italians were lynched because we weren’t seen as white. The largest of those lynchings took place in 1891 in New Orleans.
In 1924, Congress severely cut back on how many Africans, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans could enter the country and outright banned Asian and Arab immigrants, thereby closing any open borders the country might have had.
Faced with conditions that mirrored their homeland, many Italian and Sicilian immigrants became leaders in the worker strikes of the early part of the last century. Two such labor organizers, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were executed in 1924 for a murder they didn’t commit. In the courtroom, the judge referred to them as “dagos,” a derogatory term for Italians. Worldwide protests could not stop the execution.
During WWII, thousands of Italians were relocated, deported or jailed after the government abandoned a plan to place us in internment camps. Joe di Maggio’s father was restricted from visiting the family business. Opera star Enzio Pinza was arrested by the FBI.
Associating Italians with Columbus Day was a way to gain acceptance and whiteness. It was a whiteness won, in this instance, on the backs of native peoples who, as the recent fight against the North Dakota pipeline once again demonstrates, are still mistreated on this, their land. A whiteness that has robbed us of our language and much of our culture and history, and left us with right-wing public figures such as Frank Rizzo, Rudolph Giuliani and Joe Arpaio.
It’s time for us to embrace the real heroes, such as Vito Marcantonio, the Harlem congressman who, in the 1940s, pushed for black civil rights and a federal anti-lynching law. Or 14-year-old Camella Teoli, whose scalp was torn by a spinning machine and who bravely testified before Congress in 1912 about the abuses in the textile mills.
Or the thousands of activists who took to the streets to win us the rights all of us workers often take for granted, including the 40-hour week, vacation and sick time, and work place conditions that don’t put our lives at risk.
Arrivederci, Cristoforo Colombo. P.S. Take the damn Blue Angels with you.
While Airbnb’s racial discrimination problems have received widespread public attention, the company’s unwillingness to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide disabled travelers the opportunity to “live like a local” (as Airbnb’s marketing promises) have gone largely unnoticed.
But in May, an independent study from Rutgers University, “No Room at the Inn? Disability Access in the New Sharing Economy,” found that Airbnb and its hosts routinely discriminate against people with disabilities, turning aside lodging requests from people living with dwarfism, blindness, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries at astonishingly high rates.
For years, Airbnb argued that it was “just a ‘platform,’” a disinterested marketplace where tourists could find accommodations in residential housing units. As such, Airbnb argued, it was categorically exempt from any regulations and laws that apply to traditional businesses.
When its “hosts” were found to discriminate against African Americans, Asian Americans and gays and lesbians, Airbnb loudly protested that it has “zero tolerance” for racial intolerance and would drop any prejudiced provider.
Lawsuits filed by discrimination victims, however, were illegitimate, because Federal law provides Internet companies blanket immunity from any challenge to their business practices, at least according to Airbnb lawyers. Airbnb itself could not be held responsible for its users’ bigotry.
That argument didn’t pass muster with a Federal judge, when Airbnb challenged San Francisco’s right to hold platforms liable for illegally renting housing units to tourists. Cities have the right and ability to regulate commerce, according to the Federal court.
Airbnb is one of the largest providers of tourist accommodations in the world. The company claims that it has more than three million listings in 165 countries and expects to book 100 million guest stays this year. Its current market valuation of more than $30 billion exceeds the value of the world’s largest hotel chains. But according to independent researchers at Rutgers, “people with disabilities were less likely to be preapproved and more likely to be rejected outright” by Airbnb’s hosts.
Airbnb has shown no interest in complying with the health, life safety and disability access standards that are routinely applied to traditional, legal tourist accommodations. It’s time for that to change.
There’s nothing innovative or disruptive about discrimination, and there’s no law protecting a platform’s right to embrace it. Airbnb is a dominant player in the travel industry. It’s past time for the corporation to assume responsibility for ensuring that all travelers, including those living with disabilities, have access to its accommodations.
Ogle and Planthold are long-time disability advocates.
Senate Bill 35, heading to Assemblymember David Chiu’s Housing and Community Development Committee Wednesday/12, is a potentially serious threat to California’s most vulnerable urban communities. It will disenfranchise working-class communities of color who bear the brunt of gentrification and prevent them from having a say in how their neighborhoods are developed and from pressing for housing development to be affordable.
SB 35 is one of 130 housing and development-related bills in the State Capitol – a record number – and so far, it’s been quietly gliding through under the radar. SB 35 is different from the other housing bills that seek to enforce zoning, or create funding for affordable housing or strengthen local tools like Inclusionary Housing. Despite some real potential benefits in suburban anti-housing jurisdictions, SB 35 could actually end up making housing development less affordable in low-income neighborhoods of San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, East Palo Alto and many similar urban core communities across the State.
Known as the “By-Right Development” bill, Senate Bill 35 would eliminate the role of the community and the local planning commission or city council in the approvals of “infill” real estate development projects. Virtually every project in San Francisco qualifies as infill, and the same is true of Oakland, Richmond, San Leandro, East Palo Alto, and much of San Jose. Most of the “by right” development pursuant to this bill will likely happen in urban communities.
Under the SB 35 legislation, cities will be required by State law to approve market-rate projects “by-right” unless developers have built 100% of a city’s market-rate housing planning goals, regardless of how much or how little affordable housing has been built.
Eliminating public process is a simplistic scapegoat that ignores the real impediments to housing: a lack of cheap land zoned for housing, limited funding for affordable housing, and the boom-bust nature of economic cycles. But SB 35 is a convenient way for its proponents to “do something” to address the crisis, without changing the underlying fundamentals of the crisis. And of course the real estate industry absolutely loves the idea of eliminating public process and local city “control” over approving development.
So what is there to possibly like about SB 35?
The premise on which SB 35 is supposedly based is a fine one: “all cities need to do their fair share to build housing.” We wholeheartedly agree.
The idea behind SB35 is that the principal reason for California’s affordable housing crisis is that communities abuse public process to stop or delay housing development. We all know of cases where that has happened, including to stop affordable housing. With Silicon Valley pumping out thousands of jobs while cities like Palo Alto, Cupertino, Menlo Park, Brisbane, and many other slow-growth, middle-class cities do little to facilitate new housing, there’s a lot of “fairness” that needs to be spread around the region.
From an affordable housing perspective, the big upside is that SB 35 will make proposed affordable housing projects By-Right throughout the State of California. Given the opposition to affordable housing projects in many California communities, streamlining could benefit affordable housing in suburban jurisdictions – which is why a few affordable housing developers have endorsed SB 35.
But even with these benefits to affordable housing, our Council of Community Housing Organizations coalition representing San Francisco’s affordable housing and tenant’s rights organizations, along with tenant, housing and social justice organizations up and down the state, still think SB 35 in its current form will do far more harm to urban gentrifying communities than it will do good in suburban exclusionary cities. A broad coalition of statewide organizations has made calls for amendments to SB 35 that would address the issues with the bill, and mediate the potential threat it poses to low-income and communities of color. These appeals have been repeatedly ignored.
What are the downsides of simply “streamlining” more development?
The real problem is in the way SB 35’s authors fail to distinguish between communities where eliminating discretion of approval and public process is harmful and where it could be a benefit. The By-Right bill makes no distinction between communities that have “hot” real estate markets and communities with little development activity, or between communities with low-income populations vulnerable to displacement and those neighborhoods and cities that are totally stable with no gentrification risks.
SB35 is supposedly meant to incentivize market-rate housing only in cities that have not met their market-rate housing goals for a given period. But even in “hot market” cities like SF, San Jose and LA, which in most years build even more market-rate housing than their planning goals, SB 35 could end up eliminating public participation after a recession period when production goes down, precisely at the time when developers begin ramping up for the next development boom cycle.
As currently written, the practical outcome of SB 35 will be to further expedite and accelerate market-rate approvals in the small handful of California communities where the real estate market is already hot – communities that are overwhelmingly urban, low-income, and predominantly people of color. These are the same communities that are currently grappling with displacement and gentrification, and typically have terrible imbalances of market-rate housing development compared to affordable housing. Simply accelerating approvals in those communities is just a recipe to spur even more aggressive gentrification.
Yes, we need a lot more infill housing in California, but we need development that is fairly distributed across all communities and that really meets the needs and incomes of existing and incoming residents. If there were a “safe harbor” in SB 35 to ensure that streamlining doesn’t apply in communities already experiencing rapid development and displacement, then the benefit of the bill could be to steer some new development activity to cities with truly low housing production, but SB 35 does nothing to ensure this.
And in a one-two punch, SB 35 not only encourages accelerated market-rate approvals in vulnerable neighborhoods, but then takes away some of the very tools low-income communities rely on to mitigate gentrification impacts on their neighborhoods. With public participation cut out of the approval process, communities lose their ability to negotiate for higher levels of affordable housing and other community benefits like public open space and pedestrian improvements and protections for small businesses. Moreover, SB 35 explicitly prohibits cities from requiring more affordable housing from By-Right projects than already locally required, preventing communities from re-capturing any of the monetary benefit given to developers by this By-Right Development bill.
Does this trade-off really get anything?
While SB 35 will clearly accelerate approvals in hot market areas, we think it’s unlikely that it will have the positive impact of speeding up development in slow-growth areas of the state with little ongoing housing construction. Many of these are areas that have intentionally ducked their responsibility to provide housing, or where the developers cannot get high enough returns from low rents and sales prices. And, because of the sloppy way it is written, the bill lets many middle- and upper-class growth-averse cities off the hook, places like Dublin, Pleasanton, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Walnut Creek, Corte Madera or Los Altos or many other places across the state that aren’t doing their “fair share” to absorb new housing needs, while urban communities struggle with gentrification and displacement symptoms of over-concentrated development.
SB 35 also critically lacks the key element of a meaningful two-year “use it or lose it” provision, which would give the By-Right approval an expiration date to ensure that developers actually build their approved projects in a timely manner, rather than simply selling off their “approved project” to the ever-larger speculative pool of “entitlements” (San Francisco, for example, even though it’s building units at the full capacity of available labor and building cranes, already has a pipeline of 38,000 approved units). Under SB 35 development sponsors have up to four years to apply for a construction permit after getting by-right approval.
Even if a soup-to-nuts project approval for, say, a 50-unit development was pushed through in 12 months, under SB35’s streamlining rules, if the developer can sit on that approval for up to 4 years and then with a typical 2+ year construction period, that is a total of 7 years to get “By Right” housing units on the ground and ready to occupy. That’s “streamlining?”
More significantly, SB 35 does little to tackle the underlying issue: that development investors – not city government, nor public policy goals, nor actual community need — determine where, when, how fast, and what types of housing are built. Instead of addressing this, SB 35 makes it even easier for investors and developers to pick and choose the best way to play the California real estate market—it doesn’t take much imagination to see the outcome of developers continuing to focus on the most profitable housing in the most profitable areas, irrespective of broader regional need. In the absence of use-it-or-lose-it accountability or other mechanisms that ensure actual housing construction in places where development isn’t already happening, SB 35 gives a lot but gets very little in return.
Silencing those most impacted: race and class
Even if it does succeed in encouraging more development in slow-growing areas, which is a laudable goal, the SB 35 By-Right bill in its current form makes an unconscionable trade-off: sacrificing vulnerable urban communities in the hopes of facilitating development in stable ones. SB 35 will silence the voices of working-class communities facing potential displacement in cities like Richmond, San Pablo, East Palo Alto and Oakland, and even in gentrifying neighborhoods of San Francisco during “hot market” years.
The rapid gentrification of California’s urban core communities is real. The outmigration of low-income and working class residents to far-flung suburbs as a consequence is also real – much has been written about the increasing suburbanization of poverty. The shrinking African American and Latino populations from city neighborhoods and the changing race and class profile of many low-income communities is a real thing. “Trade-offs” have historically decimated vulnerable communities that found themselves on the front lines of real estate agendas. This trade-off feels all too familiar, and is not one we can afford to make again, especially under the guise of increasing affordable housing.
The SB 35 bill may have some good intent, but for low-income urban communities already struggling with gentrification and displacement from San Francisco and Oakland to Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno, it is a potential looming threat.
So what can we do to fix this mess?
Our coalition organization, CCHO, continues to work with dozens of other local and state affordable housing and tenant advocate organizations to press for amendments to the bill addressing these concerns. The minimum “fixes” for SB 35 should include:
A safe harbor provision exempting low income communities where development is already “hot” and communities are already grappling with gentrification and displacement pressures;
A higher affordable housing requirement in exchange for By-Right approval;
At least half of the affordable housing in By-Right projects should be for households under 50% of the median income;
A meaningful two-year “use it or lose it” expiration date on how long a By-Right approval lasts before the developer must start actually building the project.
So far these proposed amendments have been rejected by the bill’s author, raising the question of whether this bill is really intended to steer development to no/slow-growth cities, or whether the goal is to accelerate gentrification and constrain public participation by communities of color facing the brunt of displacement. In the way that legislation in Sacramento can sail through the process inside the political bubble of what is known as “the building” at the Capitol, this SB 35 By Right Development bill has advanced seamlessly and disconnected from any community voices on the ground.
The primary support testimony at the June 28th Assembly Local Government Committee hearing on SB 35 was an interesting display – they were representatives from the California Association of Realtors, the California Apartment Association, national developer Bridge Housing, and San Francisco Mayor Lee.
But we remain hopeful that legislators in the Capitol will do right with By-Right and not do harm. That said, it will require making enough noise so up there in “the building” they hear voices from the ground.
The SB 35 bill now heads to the Assembly Housing and Community Development committee on Wednesday July 12th, chaired by David Chiu. As chair of that key committee, much rests on Chiu’s leadership to push for amendments addressing these concerns with the serious unintended consequences of the By-Right bill, including a safe harbor to communities impacted by gentrification and displacement. If you are concerned about the consequences of this By-Right Development bill for San Francisco and other urban gentrifying communities, let your voice be heard.
And then we learn that the editor of the Examiner, Michael Howerton, who presided over a scrappy newsroom with a generally progressive approach, has left to take a job as chief of staff to Sup. London Breed.
The news so far has made little mention of SFist, which has been an interesting and fairly reliable aggregator of local news whose writers have a typically edgy and sometimes snarky twist.
I’ve always had minor issues with SFist, mostly around the failure of its writers to look beyond the surface in political stories. But it’s been a part of the local media landscape, and we need all the voices we can get, and I always read it. Sometimes, not too often, the blog even deigns to link to 48hills stories, and I appreciate that.
Ricketts, for the moment, seems focused on New York and Chicago. In New York, Gothamist, once an independent voice, will become “the official blog of DNAinfo,” which covers neighborhood-level news.
There’s no DNAinfo operation in San Francisco, so for now, it appears that SFist won’t change. Politico notes that Ricketts is so focused on national politics that his influence on neighborhood blogs is pretty minimal.
I emailed Jay Barmann, the editor of SFist, to ask about any possible changes, and he didn’t get back to me. (It’s always a bad sign when a journalist doesn’t answer questions.) Maybe that’s company policy now. I haven’t seen anything in SFist about the change in ownership, but I miss things.
Gothamist reported the news with great excitement, saying that while the founders of the operation disagree with Ricketts on politics (and baseball), “We all believe that unbiased reporting is important for our democracy, especially in these times.”
What this means for DCist, LAist and SFist: DNAinfo has been interested in expanding more cities, and these sites are the perfect way to help launch that next phase.
So maybe the Trump supporter will move into San Francisco, and offer “unbiased” neighborhood coverage in a city where there is no such thing as unbiased reporting on neighborhood issues, particularly in the Trump Era.
Good luck, Jay. I fear this may not turn out well.
Then we go to the Examiner, where Howerton is leaving one of the best jobs in San Francisco journalism to become a City Hall aide. Yes, “chief of staff” sounds glamorous, but there are only three people on a supe’s staff, so for all practical purposes, he will be Breed’s policy aide.
And he will take a pay cut to do it.
I had a long conversation with Howerton about his move. I told him he was doing a good job at the Ex, that he was helping set the direction for competitive news coverage, and that it all seemed a bit odd to me.
I met Howerton when he was a Bay Guardian intern 20 years ago, and I was happy when he got the Ex gig. He’s a real journalist, someone who believes in the independence of a newsroom. He’s the one who stood up to the corporate overseers and refused to allow them to order a positive cover story on an advertiser. He was, at an outfit where the ownership side wants to push to make editorial do more with less and suck up to the money, the firewall his reporters could count on.
Now all of us in the local press and local politics are wondering: What happened?
Howerton told me that he had no intention of leaving the Examiner, that all was going well (or as well as it could be in a world of limited revenue, questionable business models, and constant financial pressure.) “This is nothing I was looking for,” he said. “But the longer I’ve been a journalist, the more interested I’ve become in public policy. I feel like I just don’t know enough, and this seems like a wonderful opportunity for education. I’m excited for that.”
He said the election of Trump made him want to “take more direct action, and I hope I can make a difference” at City Hall.
Howerton is close with Conor Johnston, who is leaving the position that Howerton will take over, and “he suggested it,” Howerton said.
It’s an interesting choice for Breed: Howerton freely admits that he has no background in public policy — but he’s got a lot of background in news media. And if Breed is contemplating a run for mayor in 2019, that would be helpful to her (perhaps more so than a serious policy-wonk aide). She’s ambitious, and if it’s not the mayor’s race it will be something else — I don’t see Breed settling comfortably into a low-profile job when she’s termed out.
For the record, the Ex endorsed Breed for supervisor over progressive challenger Dean Preston this fall.
Reporters, sad to say, are leaving jobs in the newsroom all the time these days to become press secretaries and spokespeople for politicians and city agencies, and in some cases are moving into lobbying the political consulting world. It’s sad not because there’s anything wrong with being a press secretary or lobbyist but because there used to be long-term careers in journalism, with decent pay and pensions, and that’s slipping away. So people do what they have to do, and I totally understand.
I also understand journalists wanting to get into public policy. I have been doing that for 30 years, but I’m lucky: I’ve been working for publications that have no problem with reporters delving into, proposing, pushing, and taking a stand on policy issues.
But this makes me nervous on a lot of levels. I get that Howerton wants to learn about policy. I get that he’s friendly with Johnston, who wrote for him. I hope this is not a sign that he realizes his job at the Ex wasn’t a long-term prospect, either for financial or political reasons.
And Howerton, who is used to the role of a journalist who is supposed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, is moving to the role of supporting someone who is very much a part of the local power structure. Breed has empowered the conservative members of the board with her endorsements and her committee assignments, and is known to be caustic with reporters who criticize her. (See: me.)
Gregory Andersen, the current managing editor, will take Howerton’s job. I wish him luck. I worry this may not turn out well.
From 2002-2007, I was a primary care physician for US veterans in my training at UCSF. I was able to meet many young men returning from war who were clearly damaged by the things that they had experienced, and our conversations affected my own development as a social thinker.
What struck me was watching these young men wake up to the fact that their service was service for oil, for corporate interest and that they were trained to kill, to damage, and to stand in harm’s way for oil and corporate interest.
These oil wars have come home–in North Dakota and Iowa right now–where ordinary people are pushing back against the fossil fuel industry and the state violence that is used to push that industry down our throats. If we want democracy, we must have the courage to demand it. It will not be given to us. It does not exist right now.
The woke veterans know this.
I abhor violence and I hold myself to Gandhi’s principles of direct nonviolent civil disobedience to advance the case for justice. And I recognize what is happening in North Dakota is war–with one side being overly stocked with weaponry and using it and the other side being totally unarmed and powerful with prayer, righteousness and ancestry as well as the vision for the future we need, where we honor water instead of polluting it.
I can imagine for these veterans who are traveling to Standing Rock to be there when the Army Corps of Engineers attempts to evict 15,000 people from the camp that taking this stand for democracy, for the freedom of people’s right to say NO to corporate domination, I can imagine that this is a massive healing moment for this group of people, especially those who woke up around oil wars and see the connection between what is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria with what is happening in North Dakota.
I am heading out there on December 3rd to stand with the people and to assist medically.
I am reading the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu text my father read every day of his life, which details a historic war and the dialogue around the necessity to rise to fight, because it is our duty. I am a nonviolent warrior. I come from a very long line of warriors. My ancestry traces directly from the Hindu figure, Krishna. I feel my own awakening in this work, on such a deep level, such an ownership of my own ancestral ties beyond patriarchal violence, deep into the heart of South Asia.
I am honored to use all of my faculties to stand with the Lakota Dakota people who are opposing the pipeline going through their source of drinking water. I am honored to work to stand against 500 years of environmental racism. I am honored to be a healer-warrior. This is what I came here for.
This November, the nation will face the possibility of electing a ruthless real estate developer whose rhetoric is filled with reactionary outbursts, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia.
But here we always had the myth to fall back on that “we are in San Francisco,” a liberal bubble that marches to our own tune no matter what the national mood. We take pride in our storied history of protest and radical acceptance.
Of course, we know it’s more complicated than that, and, in truth, we are no more immune than the rest of the nation to the sneaking chill of bigotry. Only a few years ago, San Franciscans passed Sit-Lie, a measure to criminalize homeless people simply for being on the streets.
Today, four more bad-smelling policies that would make Trump proud are before local voters. In these measures, we face similar attacks against those who are different, who are more vulnerable, and who are poor and working class. And we are also given false solutions that promise to provide more for some by taking away from others.
Props Q and R –criminalizing poverty
Propositions Q and R take the heart of Donald’s hate-filled rhetoric and try to implement it in San Francisco. The mean-spirited Prop Q would confiscate people’s tents. Even its name, “Housing Not Tents,” reeks of deception, as it would provide not a single penny for housing nor require housing for anyone forcibly removed from an encampment, offering only the measly single night in a shelter. San Francisco-style fear mongering is much slicker, but no less obvious. Today’s politicians use clever language that stirs visuals of an animated tent with ferocious teeth, raping and pillaging pedestrians. This vitriol is a central component of the “Trump” tactic of fear mongering meant to drive conservatives to the polls – and it’s taking place right here in San Francisco. They type of anti-homeless propaganda leveled in Prop Q creates the conditions that result in increased hate crimes against homeless people, and worse, get in the way of forging real solutions to the housing crisis that is slowly killing so many forced to remain on the streets.
Prop R is another measure with a misleading title, “Neighborhood Policing,” which would actually take police out of neighborhood stations and create homeless policing units. Homeless people received more than 27,000 citations last year for being poor, and we spent $20.7 million enforcing the 23 anti-homeless laws on the books in San Francisco. The Budget and Legislative Analyst suggests this was a futile waste of money. Prop R sets this bad practice in stone.
Much like Donald’s bombastic claims, these measures appear to be largely politically-motivated, an attempt to forward political careers without providing any real solutions. At a time when the national debate is filled with reactionary rhetoric, San Francisco cannot afford to take the low road. Harvey Milk, who as a Castro activist fought to repeal the sit-lie laws that existed in his day, would be horrified at the prospect of our city of open arms turning in on itself like this.
Props P and U – developer giveaways that divide San Franciscans
Following a similar pattern of divisiveness, Propositions P and U come directly from the SF Realtor’s Association, with a war chest of more than a million dollars paid for by the state and national Realtor’s associations. They are developer and real estate giveaways that Donald would love, and will hurt everyday San Franciscans.
Proposition P claims it will “lower the costs” of building affordable housing, but it could end up killing the kind of affordable housing for which San Francisco has paved the way on a national scale: services-enriched supportive housing for homeless individuals and families, housing for transitional-aged youth, and housing for people with disabilities or for victims of domestic violence. While in most cases the city already receives three or more proposals for each new project, in the case of hard-to-build projects such as those for the homeless, or in communities where specific language or cultural competencies are critical, there may be less than three qualified proposals. Prop P would not allow affordable projects to move forward unless three proposals are received, and would force the city to accept the “best-value” proposal regardless of quality, service program, experience, or cultural competency.
In reality, Prop P fits with Donald’s model of neo-liberal privatization: paving the way for big out-of-town private developers to build shoddy projects on precious public land, with no accountability to the communities in which they build or who they are meant to serve.
Proposition U cynically tries to undo SF’s affordable housing gains while giving developers and Realtors huge windfall profits. This past June, voters overwhelmingly supported expanding the requirements for mixed-income communities with Prop C, called inclusionary housing, by requiring private developers to include homes affordable to middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. The Realtors’ Prop U would remove all the low-income units, and only allow units for people earning up to $80,000 (110% of median). The Realtors claim this creates more affordable housing for middle-class families, but Prop U really robs Peter to pay Paul, taking housing options away from the city’s families who are most at risk without creating a single additional affordable housing unit. And more insidiously, Proposition U would also apply retroactively to almost 1,000 existing affordable homes, allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units and setting the stage for evictions. This is the kind of divisive measure that we should not stand for, pitting middle-income against working-class families.
These attacks on inclusionary laws are not tangential to Trump’s candidacy. In fact, last summer, one of the principal enemies of inclusionary housing, LA-based real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, emerged as Donald Trump’s single largest donor (since eclipsed). Palmer is notorious in the Bay Area because of his lawsuit which hamstrung cities from enacting stronger inclusionary policies.
You gotta give ‘em hope, said Harvey…
While we must fight back against those attacks that seek to divide San Franciscans and promote hate and fear, we must also redouble our efforts towards the only solution to the housing crisis: preserve and produce real affordable housing. The progressive vision is one of hope, in contrast to the bitterness of the Realtors and others cribbing from Trump’s playbook. This November’s crowded slate has a number of innovative propositions that truly seek to expand housing options for low- and middle-income residents, including:
Prop C, the Housing Preservation Bond, which will provide loans to make safety upgrades to apartments and preserve them for all existing tenants, low-income and middle-income, as permanently affordable housing.
Props J & K, a 1/2 cent increase to the sales tax (still below many Bay Area cities) and set-aside to dedicate funding for homeless housing and services and equitable transportation improvements.
Prop M, the Sunshine for Housing ordinance, which creates transparency and public oversight for the city’s housing and development decisions.
Prop S, which will reinstate hotel tax allocations for cultural arts funding and funds for ending family homelessness.
This November is a chance to prove that San Francisco is still a City for All, no matter what the national mood. Say no to Trumpifying San Francisco, and vote NO on Props P, Q, R, and U.
Sup. London Breed’s campaign website makes the ambiguous claim that she is “creating more affordable housing,” as if she has a hammer and is busy pounding nails as we speak. “Creating more” implies an increase over what existed — yet the only specific example she cites is a neighborhood preference that creates not one new affordable unit, and her role in rehabilitating existing public housing that also added not one new unit.
Her campaign also claims that she “wrote legislation creating the highest affordable housing requirements in San Francisco history” and “is near completion” on a “Housing Blueprint” for D5.
That’s it. That’s her record on affordable housing, according to her campaign, during the period of the greatest affordable housing crisis in modern San Francisco history.
But that not the real story.
The real story is that London Breed’s votes on the Board of Supervisors have actually caused a decline in the number of affordable homes in District 5. Indeed, had some of her proposals not been defeated by her fellow supervisors, even more rent-controlled apartments would have been lost in the district. Breed has favored the plans and programs of developers and real estate speculators to convert rent controlled apartments to condos or hotel rooms, removing them from the reach of working and lower income residents.
Let’s look at her actual votes on the Board since she arrived in 2013.
TICs, condos and the assault on rent-controlled apartments
In 2013, her first important housing test saw Supervisor Breed solidly backing landlord- and speculator-friendly legislation introduced by her strong ally on the board, Supervisor Scott Wiener. It would have allowed “tenants in common” owners to freely convert to full condo status, bypassing the 200 conversion a year limit set 20 years ago to limit the loss of rental housing. The proposed legislation was simple in its complexity: allow unregulated TICs to convert to regulated condos.
While condos are limited to 200 conversions a year, unregulated TICs, by state law, were exempt from that limit. In 2013 it was estimated that as many as 10,000 apartments had been converted to TICs, with the overwhelming majority being in rent-controlled apartment buildings. These conversions meant the loss of rent controlled apartments and, in most cases the eviction, through the Ellis Act, of their tenants.
But the pro-tenant majority on the board kept the legislation in committee until June, 2013 when Breed, again joining Wiener and two others, pulled it from committee to the full board.
The opposition to the legislation was based on the fact that the unlimited conversion of TICs to condos would reduce rent-controlled apartments and lead to massive evictions as landlord /speculators would buy rent controlled buildings, use Ellis Act to evict and then convert to TICs, which could then become ever more profitable condos. The ordinance, in short, was seen by every tenant and affordable housing advocate in the city has being anti-rent control and anti-affordable housing.
Breed supported it anyway. On June 11th 2013, with Sups. Cohen, Tang, Ferrell, and Wiener, she sought an “amendment of the whole” gutting the protections added to the measure by the pro-tenant majority. She wanted to remove a measure that would have eliminated the rights of condo conversions if the landlords sued over it. Breed lost on a 6-5 vote.
Seeing the political handwriting on the wall, she and Cohen then voted with the six pro-tenant advocates to make the measure – amended to included tenant protections — veto proof, with Wiener and Farrell actually voting against legislation they initially introduced and brought to a vote with Breed’s support.
Hundreds of the lost rent controlled TICs were in D5, reducing the number of affordable rental units available to residents.
The Ellis Act bill
Sup. David Campos introduced a bill in 2014 that was a key part of the tenant agenda. It was designed to slow down the epidemic of Ellis Act evictions and to give tenants who were tossed out a reasonable chance to stay in the city.
The measure called for landlords who used the Ellis Act to pay relocation fees adequate to actually cover the cost of finding new housing in the city.
Breed tried to gut that bill by adding amendments that would exempt a lot of property owners. She said during the debate that people who had owned property for a long time could make more money when the sell it if first they were able to evict all their tenants.
Airbnb and the continued assault on rent-controlled apartments
Ron Conway, a major investor in Airbnb, and four of his family members gave the maximum allowable individual contributions to candidate Breed in 2012. In addition, Conway and his wife contributed a cool $100,000 to an independent-expenditure committee that attacked Breed’s principal opponent in the race.
Members of ShareBetter SF, a broad based coalition of neighborhood, tenant, landlord, affordable housing and labor organizations seeking effective regulation of short term rentals (STR’s or “Airbnb”) of apartments where well aware of these contributions when they approached Breed in mid 2014 seeking her support for amendments to a proposed ordinance introduced by then-Board President David Chiu.
ShareBetterSF was concerned that the legislation supposedly regulating STRs, drafted by Chiu after more than 40 meetings with Airbnb lobbyists, was simply an unenforceable fig lead that would legalize what was then illegal activity while still allowing the unlimited use of rent controlled units as hotel rooms, creating new incentives to evict tenants.
The particular mechanism rendering the law unenforceable was the lack of a verifiable limit on the number of days an apartment could be rented as a STR. The Chiu legislation created a limit only on “un-hosted” rentals, that is rentals that occurred when the “host” was absent. For “hosted” rentals the Chiu legislation set no daily limits at all.
To enforce the ordinance, the city then had to determine when a person was present at a particular address, an enforcement requirement that was simply impossible to meet unless all renters were issued GPS transmitters. In effect the Chiu legislation legalized the unlimited short term rental of every apartment in San Francisco.
While ShareBetterSF had no problem with allowing an owner to rent out a bedroom in the family home, the group was deeply concerned about apartments being converted to full-time hotel rooms and the subsequent loss of critically needed permanent housing, especially housing with controlled rents. Member organizations, both apartment owners and tenant advocates, had noticed a spike in such activity and a reluctance on the part of the city to enforce the existing law against renting a unit for less than 30 days. The position was to regulate, not ban, short term rentals in order to protect the supply of rental housing available to residents seeking permanent homes, especially affordable rent-controlled housing.
Breed refused to support that ShareBetterSF daily limit amendment to the Chiu legislation, and on October 7th 2014 cast the deciding sixth vote against it, rendering the ordinance unenforceable.
The issue was revisited the next year after it was clear that the Chiu ordinance, as predicted, was not working. While Airbnb reported some 7,000 listings, fewer than 600 STR’s had registered with the city and the city was doing little to enforce the legislation.
ShareBetterSF introduced legislation seeking an enforceable ordinance. On July15th, 2015, Supervisor Breed not only voted against a single enforceable daily limit she also supported amendments, drafted by Airbnb, that actually weakened an already weak ordinance: banning tenants and apartment owner non- profits the right to sue, doubling the length of time the department could take to reply to a complaint and banning appeals to decisions made by the department that were in the Chiu legislation.
In May, 2015 the Budget and Legislative Analyst issued a report on the impact of legalizing short term rentals. It estimated that “commercial” STR’s, defined in the study as rentals of 90 or more days a year of an entire home or apartment, constituted some 32% of all apartments for rent in the Haight-Ashbury and Western Addition in 2013. That was eight times the vacancy rate for rental units in 2013. Rents to all renters would have been much lower if these units were, in fact, rented as apartments instead of hotels rooms. The study indicated a relationship between the number “commercial hosts” and the number of evictions in a neighborhood. The top three neighborhoods with the most commercial hosts were the top three neighborhoods experiencing evictions. (Legislative and Budget Analysis, Policy Analysis Report, May 13, 2015).
A private study of Airbnb in D5 done in August, 2016 showed the impact of Supervisor Breed’s support for the unenforceable ordinance over its first two years. It showed that some 67% of all Airbnb listing in D5 were full units, not rooms in a “mom and pop” shared home. Moreover, 45% of all rooms in her district were used for more than 90 days and they generated 63% of all Airbnb revenue in the district. Airbnb operators who listed two or more units (totally illegally as the ordinance limits Airbnb operators to only one unit, their “primary residence”.) totaled 43% of all listings, which earned 55% of all of the revenue generated in D5.
Again, affordable apartments were lost to permanent residents of D5 and hundreds of more were made more expensive by the artificially low vacancy rate as a result of Supervisors Breed votes in support of short term rentals.
The “Density Bonus” on Divisadero and Fillmore
In January, 2015, Sup. Breed introduced legislation that rezoned Divisadero Street from Haight to O’Farrell from a Neighborhood Commercial District to a Neighborhood Commercial Transit District. The rezoning would remove the regulations governing the number of units allowed by lot size and allow the number of units to be determined by height and bulk, allowing for more, smaller units, that is more residential density per lot. While height would not be increased, many smaller units would be allowed to replace fewer, larger units.
The bonus to developers would be huge. In one case a developer, under the old zoning, proposed a 16-unit project at 650 Divisadero. After the rezoning, passed by the Board in July, 2015, he revised his project to 60 units, more than 350% increase.
The rezoning was not well publicized in D5, and it wasn’t until projects started dramatically increasing their unit count that neighbors became aware of the change in late 2015. Neighborhood concern was increased when it was realized that the dramatic increase in density had no increase in required affordability. Moreover, such an increase in density with no increase in affordability would so change the development economics of the area that demolition of exiting housing and displacement of existing neighborhood serving retail uses became a deep concern since the legislation neither addressed demolition or small business retention.
In October, 2015, members of three neighborhood organizations and several Divisadero Street residents and merchants wrote Supervisor Breed pointing out their concerns and asking her to rescind the rezoning until the community could develop a “community driven” plan that addressed these concerns.
The following month she replied that she would not rescind the legislation, saying that city law prohibited her from requiring more affordability “unless … a significant upzoning in an area of 40 acres or more…the Divisadero NCT is not 40 acres…”
That was an incorrect citing of the law, which passed as Proposition C in 2012.
What Proposition C actually said is the exact opposite — increases in affordability requirements could be made if “through …local legislation … a 50% or greater increase in residential density over prior zoning” is granted, which is exactly the case with her NCTD rezoning.
Supervisor Breed refused to attend any of the planning sessions of the Affordable Divisadero Community Plan, sending her staff to only one to lecture the audience in her mistaken assertion of Prop. C.
In January, 2016, after 500 residents attended one or more of the meetings, the Divisadero Community Plan was adopted and sent to the supervisor and the Planning Commission. It called for demolition controls on all rent controlled housing, a 50% affordable requirement for all new developments of 10 units or more with all of the affordable units on site, that 70% of new market rate housing had to be two or more bedrooms, that additional fees be charged for transit on all new market rate units and that in all “high density development” 50% of all proposed retail space had to be “neighborhood serving” and there should be no formula retail uses allowed.
Supervisor Breed has remained silent on the Affordable Divisadero Community Plan.
But on the day before the plan was to be finally debated at a well publicized community meeting, Breed announced her intention to introduce legislation to increase affordability requirements from 12% to 23% in the NCTD, dropping her claim that to do so was illegal. Her campaign claim that this is the “highest affordable housing requirement in San Francisco history” is pure hokum since the voters passed a 25% inclusionary requirement in June, 2016.
As of this date no committee hearing before the Board of Supervisors has been set by Breed, so it’s unclear when the new requirement will take effect, possibly exempting a massive 152-unit market-rate development proposed for Divisadero at Oak.
Breed complained when 48hills questioned her record on tenant issues, and we responded here.
But Breed’s record on affordable housing includes supporting legislation that has made housing more expensive for her constituents in D5; incentivizing displacement and demolition of existing housing and small businesses through massive upzonings, and pitting tenants against first-time owners over scarce rental housing.
We also asked her office to respond to questions about this article, but have heard nothing back. We will happily update if she wants to comment.
The deadline for applications for the job of San Francisco police chief closed Wednesday, and because the process is not exactly open, it’s hard to know how many of the potentially qualified candidates from outside the city decided to apply.
But we know that the mayor has made statements suggesting that he favors the existing acting chief, and the police union is running a paid campaign– and none of that is likely to encourage the kind of outside reformers that the city so badly needs.
The POA began running radio ads last week supporting Chaplin and urging the commissioners and the mayor to give him the permanent job. The ads are stunning in their attempts to say that only a San Francisco police officer, someone who started here (and was, by definition, a member of the POA) should be eligible for the job.
In the process, the union excoriates former Mayor George Moscone and his choice of a police chief, Charles Gain, who came from the outside. “In the 1970s, the city made a huge mistake” in hiring Gain, who “had no credibility,” the ads say.
Actually, Gain was trying to reform the department under a progressive mayor – in particular, trying to bring more women and people of color into the force, something that the POA actively, aggressively fought.
He had the police cars painted a soft blue so they would look less imposing and tried to modernize management at a department run by an old boy’s club for generations.
Shortly after [Crowley] becoming President in 1973, the Officers for Justice along with a large group of minority and women’s groups sued the city to ensure more diversity in the Police Department, and to compensate incumbent minority officers for discrimination. . . . The story that is rarely told is the role of the POA — and particularly Jerry Crowley — in derailing the first consent decree in 1978. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter’s Justice Department and Mayor George Moscone fashioned a proposed consent decree on hiring and promotions that would have wrecked the SFPD. … Crowley the leader again sprung into action by hiring new lawyers, fashioning a federal litigation committee of POA members, and engaging in political action to stop the original decree. Hundreds of hours of work highlighted the POA involvement along with financial assessments of the membership to fight in court.
An agreement that would have mandated more women and people of color in management positions would have “wrecked the department,” according to the POA – not the POA in 1973, but the POA today.
After Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk were assassinated, Mayor Dianne Feinstein fired Gain and brought the old insiders’ club back.
The ad also says the city made a mistake hiring George Gascon in 2009, who “apparently had little interest in our department, leaving after only a few months for political gain.” Actually, Gascon was hired in August of 2009 and served as chief until January 2011. And at the time, the POA seemed to be fine with him
Chief Gascon introduced to the dusty traditions of the SFPD many fresh-air innovations that should have been implemented years ago. While “CompStat” is new to our department, its existence in most major police departments is old news. The de-centralization of the Inspectors Bureau was also long overdue, as every major police department in the United States has some investigative presence among its patrol force. He pushed hard for Tasers and I believe we will see them distributed to our patrol officers very soon. He was the best I have ever seen at getting out in front of a police shooting before the press took off with their own version of events. He was more then (sic) fair on discipline, and was an advocate of “Education-Based Discipline,” an innovation that provides for re-training for minor first-time infractions. He was an effective, charismatic speaker who gained the immediate respect of the public and politicians alike.
But once Gascon became district attorney and started to criticize the department, the POA turned on him, and now says his hiring was a mistake.
The POA, says longtime police accountability activist, John Crew, is
obviously petrified by the possibility that a highly-qualified, reform-minded, experienced candidate from outside the SFPD — which describes at least some of the people who’ve applied — could soon be running the SFPD, our SFPD, not their SFPD. Like any other well-funded special interest, the “bad cop lobby” is pulling out all the stops to try to protect their own prerogatives and outsized influence over everything related to the SFPD — from hiring, to promotions, to accountability, to weaponry and use of force tactics and policies, to public safety strategies… everything. They want to preserve a status quo that benefits the most aggressive and misconduct prone officers among their membership and that involves an increasingly archaic style of policing — causes that they have chosen to make their top organizational priorities for many years now.
More from Crew, former police practices lawyer at the Northern California ACLU:
This is a pivotal moment. The SFPD is in the process of recruiting and training academy classes that will bring 400 new police officers into the force in the months and years ahead. Those officers and their behaviors will come to define policing in San Francisco for a generation. If they spend their formative years in the SFPD under a chief of police chosen by the SFPOA and completely beholden to them for his job (because their support is literally his only qualification for it), the bad habits they’ll learn, the “us vs. them” culture they’ll absorb, and the skewed “circle the wagons” mentality that causes them to support bad cops and worse policing over the clear public interest will doom our communities to just more of the same — more of what we’ve come to expect from the SFPD in the Suhr years — far into the future.
As for Chaplin – well, the fact that the POA wants him ought to be grounds enough to say he’s not qualified. But based on the city’s own criteria, he really isn’t.
Running the SFPD is not the same as being a beat cop (or a “cop’s cop,” as the POA describes Chapin.) We’re talking about a huge operation, with more than 2,000 employees, sworn and civilian, and a budget of $577 million.
Most big-city police chiefs have at least five, and more commonly ten or 15, years in management, and many of them have post-graduate degrees in related areas. Chaplin just finished his BA in June, has never been a captain, and has served in management for only a very short period of time. He doesn’t have the experience that the city’s own job notice asks for.
Remember: The chief isn’t pulling over bad guys. He’s running a big, complex operation and setting the tone for a department that is in very serious trouble.
Over the past few weeks, the Police Commission held multiple community “listening” sessions to help understand what community members demand in a new police chief.
At the last listening session, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, more than a dozen community members gathered to voice their concerns and provide suggestions on what they would like to see in a new police chief. These ranged from “love for the city” to “ability to stop racial profiling.” Commissioners diligently noted them down.
How helpful have the sessions been in building confidence in the community? President Suzy Loftus told us she thinks the sessions have been instrumental. “In the past we have had three community meetings and this type of community meetings where someone stands on this side of the table and folks stand up, I think part of what we have done is create a community conversation.” Loftus said she thinks that the new police chief should be able to look at the larger picture: “Someone who is willing to really take a long look at 21st century policing. Everything from training, to hiring, recruiting and insure that everything that we do in San Francisco is really leading the way of being a progressive, safe and just city.”
At the St. Mary’s session, community activist David Carlos Salaverry said that “many of us think this is a sham, that Tony Chaplin has the blessing of the POA and the mayor.”
The big question that the Police Commission will face as it evaluates the field of candidates is: Can someone who has spent a career rising through what pretty much everyone agrees is a toxic culture at SFPD possibly lead the kind of dramatic reforms that are needed?
Can an outsider who takes the reigns at a department historically hostile to outsiders get the support he or she needs to overhaul the department’s policies and politics?
Will the mayor and the commissioners he has appointed be willing to hire and support an outsider who wants to shake up the SFPD?
Did Lee and Loftus make enough of an effort to reach out and recruit candidates from outside the department? Or has the general impression out of City Hall – that the fix is in, that the next chief will come from within the ranks – spread nationwide and discouraged good candidates from applying?
Loftus has strong faith in the process: ” This process is designed to get the best absolute possible police chief for San Francisco and the commissions job is to advance up to three great candidates to the mayor. I think myself and my fellow police commissioners take that very seriously and are going out there and doing this process and getting interest across the country and within the police department from people who believe they’re up for the job. This has been a full and robust process, multiple meetings and multiple outreach.”
Commissioner Petra DeJesus is deeply concerned about the POA’s campaign: “I am concerned about the intention behind the POA’s campaign. Are they trying to deter others from the process or are they trying to influence the mayor and the commission through public opinion? I am looking forward to reviewing the applications and conducting the interviews because San Francisco deserves the best candidate as the next chief, whomever that may be. The POA needs to allow the process to proceed and let the commissioners do their job,”
And will the commissioners – the majority of whom are appointed by the mayor – make public the three finalists they forward, and conduct an open process that gives the community confidence that the next chief won’t be another pawn of the POA?
Commissioner Victor Hwang told us that one of the most important attributes of the new police chief should be independence from powerful interest groups such as the POA: “We want somebody who is going to be independent and able to stand up to the political forces whoever they are, whether it is the POA, whether it is the board of supervisors, whether it is the police commission and implement their vision of reform for our city,” Hwang told 48Hills.
It’s astonishing that the police union would say, without any idea who the outside candidates are, that nobody anywhere in the country is more qualified than the POA’s internal candidate. We know there are reformers, qualified people, out there, and some of them may have applied for the job — and if the mayor and the commission ignore them, it will be politics, and business, as usual at SFPD.