When President Obama started bombing Syria in 2014, he enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington. Americans were appalled by the atrocities of the Islamic State, which had massacred Yazidis, and seized swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
On Feb. 7, US jets and artillery attacked pro-Assad forces in Khusham, an oil-rich area in north eastern Syria outside of the Kurdish region. The US-allied SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) had captured the area from the Islamic State and Assad-allied troops were trying to take it. Needless to say, the fighting had nothing to do with Yazidis or fighting remnants of the Islamic State.
The clashes are just the latest indication of the expanded role played by outside powers. And the US occupation won’t be easy. The SDF leadership currently allied with the US have their own agenda. And Turkey considers that group to be terrorists and has sent its army into Syria in an effort to wipe them out.
How did the US get into what may become yet another Mideast quagmire?
In September 2014 the US had no allies on the ground when it began bombing the Islamic State in Syria. The CIA and Pentagon had spent over a billion dollars trying to create pro-US rebel groups that would fight Assad. Both agencies failed miserably as the ostensible guerrillas took US arms and promptly handed them over to terrorist groups fighting in Syria.
But there was one existing insurgent group that effectively battled the IS. The Kurdish based PYD (Democratic Union Party) and its armed wing the YPG (People’s Protection Units) fought and won a heroic battle against the IS in the Kurdish city of Kobane. The Pentagon started arming and training the YPG, and later the SDF, which includes both Syrian Arabs and Kurds.
The problem, from a US perspective, was that the PYD is affiliated with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) in Turkey, a leftist group with a quasi-anarchist ideology developed by their leader Abdullah Ocalan, now imprisoned in Turkey.
The PYD promotes women’s participation and leadership, unique among rebels in the region. It has created local councils advocating equal rights for all of Syria’s religious and ethnic groups. The PYD seeks to extend its system throughout Syria, not just in Rojava, their term for the Kurdish region.
The Pentagon was willing to ignore the PYD’s leftism and frequent praise of Ocalan because SDF could really fight.
Turkey’s leaders, however, denounce the PKK and PYD as terrorists. The PKK does engage in armed struggle, but it’s aimed at Turkey’s military and police, not civilians. The accusation of terrorism conveniently covers up Turkish government repression of its Kurdish minority.
Then on January 20 this year Turkey launched an invasion of Afrin, an isolated area in the far northwest of Rojava. Turkish bombing of the city has already killed 150 civilians and wounded 300, according to Sinam Mohammad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in the US. The council is the political wing of the SDF.
She told me that the ultimate goal of Turkey is to drive the Kurds out of Afrin in order to create a buffer zone under permanent Turkish control. She accuses the Turkish Army of ethnic cleansing. “They want to kick out the Kurds,” she said.
The Turkish military created a Syrian Arab militia, appropriating the name Free Syrian Army. The FSA developed some popular support based on Arab hostility towards Kurds and complaints that the PYD monopolizes power in areas it controls.
The FSA also stands accused of war crimes for mutilating the body of a Kurdish female fighter. FSA members shot a video of themselves standing over the partially naked body of the woman with her left breast mutilated. Sinam Mohammad compared such actions to atrocities carried out by terrorist groups.
“What’s the difference between them and Islamic State?” she said.
But the US has no plans to prevent the Turks from taking Afrin, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in peril.
For the moment, it appears the US military will maintain its alliance with Kurdish forces while Turkey will continue its military opposition, but within limits.
In my opinion, the PYD is playing a very dangerous game allying with the US. It may think the US will protect the Kurds, but nothing in history suggests it will be a reliable partner. And the people of Rojava will suffer.
“The goal of the US isn’t to help the Kurds in Rojava,” an American volunteer who fought with the YPG told me. “The goal of the US is to kill Bashar al-Assad or, if that proves impossible, to destroy the Syrian Arab Republic. If they did care about the Kurds, the US would have stopped the Turkish attack on Afrin.”
There’s an old saying commonly used in the Middle East, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We Americans have another old saying, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Reese Erlich’s syndicated column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks in 48 Hills. The revised and updated edition of his book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of US and Policy will be published in September. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich, friend him on Facebook, Reese Erlich Foreign Correspondent, and visit his webpage www.ReeseErlich.com.
The New York Times, which has local reporters and ought to know better, ran a headline last week stating that the progressives had “ousted” London Breed and replaced her with a white man. The Chron repeated the same line today.
Whatever you think about the decision last week – and I think a lot of us have mixed feelings – nobody was “ousted.” Breed was acting mayor because of the death of Ed Lee; she was also Board of Supes president. This was always intended to be a short-term situation; in the long term, it’s not good for the city to have the same person write the budget, appoint the committee that oversees the budget, vote on the budget, and sign the budget. The city attorney made it very clear that Breed was not actually the mayor.
So the board at some point was going to vote for an interim mayor – someone who would have that job and no other. Breed was, in many ways, the “caretaker,” the person holding the city together while the board figured out how to replace Lee until the voters can weigh in this June.
Breed could have been the interim mayor. She didn’t get six votes. That’s not an “ouster,” it’s an election. Whatever you think of the result.
The big winner in all of this: Mark Leno.
There is, and there will be, a backlash against the progressive supes who decided that they would rather have Mayor Farrell for five months than have Mayor Breed for ten years. (And let’s remember, on quite a few of the big economic and land-use issues, Breed and Farrell have voted the same way.)
Sup. Jane Kim, who is running for mayor, had to take a tough vote. She had to say, in public and for the record, that she supported Farrell and not Breed. Ron Conway, who is a big Breed supporter, will go after her.
Conway may also go after Jeff Sheehy – who is the main reason that Farrell, and not, for example, Tom Ammiano or any of the long list of women of color who progressives put forward – is the interim mayor. The five progressives on the board were united in the idea of choosing a candidate who wasn’t going to run in June; they needed Sheehy to get to six. He clearly was willing to go with Farrell, but not with other options.
But meanwhile, Leno didn’t have to vote, hasn’t made any public statements about what happened, and has been able to stay above the fray. So nobody is mad at him — which is a big deal in local politics these days.
The other thing that could help both Leno and Kim: If the two were to endorse each other. That ranked-choice strategy worked in Oakland when Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan ran as allies, not as adversaries, in 2010.
The board’s Budget and Finance Committee holds a hearing Thursday/1 on a detailed and complex piece of ethics legislation that is supported by the Ethics Commission and opposed by some local nonprofits.
1) prohibit earmarking of contributions and false identification of contributors; 2) modify contributor card requirements; 3) require disclosure of contributions solicited by City elective officers for ballot measure and independent expenditure committees; 4) require additional disclosures for campaign contributions from business entities to political committees; 5) require disclosure of bundled campaign contributions; 6) extend the prohibition on campaign contributions to candidates for City elective offices and City elective officers who must approve certain City contracts; 7) prohibit campaign contributions to members of the Board of Supervisors, candidates for the Board, the Mayor, candidates for Mayor, City Attorney, candidates for City Attorney, and their controlled committees, from any person with pending or recently resolved land use matters; 8) require committees to file a third pre-election statement prior to an election; 9) remove the prohibition against distribution of campaign advertisements containing false endorsements; 10) allow members of the public to receive a portion of penalties collected in certain enforcement actions; 11) permit the Ethics Commission to recommend contract debarment as a penalty for campaign finance violations; 12) create new conflict of interest and political activity rules for elected officials and members of boards and commissions; 13) specify recusal procedures for members of boards and commissions; and 14) establish local behested payment reporting requirements for donors and City officers.
Most of that is fine with most reform-minded folks and progressive community groups. The problem comes with what are called “behested payments.” Those are contributions made by corporations to nonprofit organizations or the city made after an elected official requested help.
Friends of Ethics cites examples including:
Kilroy Realty contributed $500,000 on June 24, 2013 at Mayor Lee’s request. Six weeks later, on August 15, 2013, City Planning approved Kilroy’s request to.add six stories to its building at 350 Mission Street. As-the city moved forv1ard with other elements of Kilroy’s requirements, Kilroy contributed a second $500,000 on January 31, 2014.
San Francisco Waterfront, sponsor of 8 Washington, contributed $10,000 on June 12, 2013. During this period, signatures were gathered to put 8 Washington on the ballot, which qualified on July 12, 2013. During the election, Mayor Lee frequently appeared on behalf of San Francisco Waterfront in mailers and on television ads.
The legislation would ban behested payments from any organization that has any contractual relationship with the city. That’s a very long list.
Local nonprofits, including the Human Services Network, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, the Chinatown Community Development Center, and the Phoenix Arts Association Theater, oppose the ban on behested payments, saying that it would “significantly narrow the range of eligible donors in the city” and damage the entire nonprofit sector in the name of addressing a few bad actors.
Limits on campaign activity would also apply to unpaid board members of nonprofit organizations that have contracts with the city – although nonprofit board member have no financial interest in the organization or its contracts with the city.
The Finance Committee and the full board don’t have to accept the whole package as it is; there is a lot of good here, and the measure could be amended to keep the stricter disclosure rules, the limits on contributions from companies with land-use matters before the board, and all of the other very positive changes without messing up nonprofits.
The meeting’s at 10am in the board chambers.
Full disclosure: No elected official has ever asked for contributions to 48hills, and I somehow suspect none ever will. I am on the board of Legal Assistance to the Elderly, which gets city money. I don’t make political contributions to candidates anyway.
But on the Thursday/1 calendar, that decision is proposed for continuance to March 8. Maybe the planning staff needs more time to draft a formal resolution of disapproval. If the owner is getting a second shot at this, there will be a serious outcry.
You know the flood of awards-bait prestige releases has truly subsided when Liam Neeson is once again chasing bad guys in yet another interchangeable thriller. Paddington 2 aside, this week’s big commercial release is The Commuter, the erstwhile Schindler’s List star’s fourth collaboration with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra.
The latter didn’t make Taken, the 2008 sleeper that turned the now nearly 70-year-old Irish actor into an unlikely action hero… but he might as well have. The Commuter has Neeson as a “businessman caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home,” one that also involves Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks and Sam Neill. These movies all hit the same basic notes, but they’re invariably decent (if forgettable) entertainment — which is more than you can say of, for instance, everything with “X-Men” in the title.
But there’s quite a bit of more promising fare out there this coming week. The major event for many will be the arrival of a new Paul Thomas Anderson film, Phantom Thread, which stars Daniel Day Lewis (in purportedly his last role — he’s announced his retirement from acting) as a fictive top women’s couture designer in late 1950s London. He’s accustomed to picking pretty new model-muses for “inspiration,” then discarding them when “done,” but his latest (Vicky Kris) may not be so easily gotten rid of.
PTA’s films are always as divisive as they are distinctive. We usually love them; this one we didn’t. But you’ll go anyway, right? As you should. (Note: The Alamo Drafthouse is showing Phantom Thread in its 70mm shooting format.)
Also simultaneously worthwhile and somewhat disappointing is Germany’s Oscar-submission feature In the Fade, with Diane Kruger as a Hamburg woman undone when her Turkish emigre husband and their child are killed in an explosion. Adding insult to injury, it soon emerges this was a deliberate racist attack by far-right neo-fascists. This revenge thriller is engrossing and well-acted, but iy’s a somewhat less nuanced treatment of a hot-button subject than one might expect from director-cowriter Fatih Akin (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven).
Three revivals should also be noted in brief, though they couldn’t be more different: One is late Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 final feature The Sacrifice, a stunningly photographed (by Sven Nykvist) metaphysical abstract that the Roxie will show in a new 4K restoration this Thursday through Sunday. Another, also at the Roxie (Friday-Sunday), is Soviet emigre Slava Tsukerman’s 1982 cult classic Liquid Sky, a sci-fi punk fantasia with Anna Carlisle in an androgynous dual role. Then there’s Tommy Wiseau’s inimitable 2003 The Room, which is finally seeing a wide release in the wake of its comedic making-of reenactment The Disaster Artist becoming a sleeper hit. Yes, you can enjoy the latter without seeing the former. But trust me, if you haven’t seen the original, you haven’t fully lived yet.
Some other arrivals that might fly further under the radar:
BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN Forget Coco, Loving Vincent and the rest — the best animated feature of 2017 (though it’s getting to us a bit late) is startlingly original work by Spanish co-directors Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on the former’s graphic novel. Mixing the childlike, dystopian and simply twisted, it’s a bizarre tale of a post-environmental-catastrophe world in which anthropomorphic survivors look like big-eyed bunnies, kittens, etc., but deal with some starkly violent, non-cute realities. Those include insanity, crime, drug addiction, black marketeering, prejudice, and police brutality.
You’ve probably seen similar mixes of surreal humor, adult issues and pop fantasy in comics form, but it feels utterly fresh onscreen. Birdboy (which was previously called Psychonauts on the festival circuit) is not only visually striking and conceptually jarring, it packs surprising poignance into its unpredictable progress. Not to be missed, particularly for animation fans. Opens Fri/12, Roxie.More info here.
FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL Gloria Grahame was an idiosyncratic blonde who made a lasting impression in several superior noirs and a few other films, like It’s A Wonderful Life and the musical Oklahoma! But her stardom was all too brief, curtailed in part by the scandal of her marrying (not at the same time) both Rebel Without a Cause director Nicolas Ray and his son. By the late 70s, between sparse movie and TV jobs, she was reduced to less-than-prestigious regional stage work. It was during one such gig that she became involved with Peter Turner, a much younger aspiring English actor.
Turner’s memoir about their affair is now this film by Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Lucky Number Seven), with Annette Bening as the erstwhile Hollywood luminary who trudges back to her old (but still-young) flame, played by Jamie Bell, when she suffers a probably-terminal cancer relapse at age 57 in 1981. Bening doesn’t evoke Grahame much physically, and she’s too authoritative a presence to fully inhabit the flightier, more childish aspects of her role’s personality. But it’s still a compelling performance, matched by supporting turns from Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber, Vanessa Redgrave, and others. A well-written tale told in somewhat a-chronological order, Film Stars Don’t Die isn’t flawless, but it’s intelligent and touching. Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters.
IDA LUPINO: HARD, FAST, AND BEAUTIFUL Another hardboiled dame whose career intersected with the noir era was Ida Lupino, a London-born actress who nonetheless usually “played American” in her Hollywood career, which peaked at Warner Brothers in the early 1940s. When that petered out, she turned to directing — a door that had been all but closed to women in Hollywood for decades. While most of her work in that realm was on TV series (everything from “The Twilight Zone” to “Gilligan’s Island”), today there’s a special regard given to the half-dozen noirish “B” features she directed between 1949-53. Barely noticed at the time, they’re now prized for their economical craft and subtly female perspective within the typically male-driven thriller genre.
This PFA series cast a spotlight on films from both that period (such as The Bigamist, The Hitch-Hiker, and daring 1950 rape drama Outrage) and from her earlier zenith of fame, when she co-starred with the likes of Bogart and Jean Gabin, directed by such greats as Fritz Lang and Raoul Walsh. Sat/13-Sat/Feb. 24, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.
INTENT TO DESTROY In 2016 two ambitious multinational period dramas were released, focusing on a seldom-portrayed yet still-controversial section of early 20th century history: The genocide of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by forces of the Ottoman Empire, which a full century later Turkish authorities continue to deny happened at all. Hotel Rwanda director Terry George’s The Promise was a fictionalized expose, with Oscar Issac, Christian Bale and other Western marquee stars. Joseph Ruben’s The Ottoman Lieutenant, partly funded by the Turkish government, was a romanticized whitewash with the less-starry likes of Josh Hartnett.
Neither film was a critical or box-office success. But The Promise did generate another, highly acclaimed feature: This documentary by Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost). It was originally commissioned as a behind-the-scenes “making of” for the more commercial enterprise, then developed into a freestanding, in-depth examination of both the Armenian Genocide and its continued suppression from the historical record by many global powers (including the US). It’s a penetrating look at an act that, sadly, set the precedent for globe-spanning government “purges” of unwanted citizens that have only increased in number and frequency as we’ve entered a new century. Opens Friday/12, Roxie. More info here.
Before he took a long, not-entirely-voluntary sabbatical finally broken by 2008’s gloriously rude Bad Biology, Frank Henelotter had a great decade as one of the high VHS era’s cultiest horror directors. He started with 1982’s grotesque Basketcase, finished with its (second) sequel, and perhaps peaked in notoriety with the hilariously self-explanatory Frankenhooker.
But probably the best single feature of that initial run was this 1988 indie classic about a boy (Rick Hearst) and his best friend — a mysterious “small, disgusting creature” that attaches itself to his brain-stem base, providing rushes of hallucinogenic euphoria while indulging its own needs via homicidal attacks. Grungy, macabre, funny, and oddly touching, this weird-ass portrait of a truly addictive relationship will make for a particularly special Terror Tuesday at the Alamo. Tues/16, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.
San Francisco faces no legal obstacles and no significant policy problems with creating a municipal bank, a recent report from the city’s budget and legislative analyst concludes.
The report, released late in November with very little news media fanfare, represents a major step towards putting the city’s sizable financial resources into community development, affordable housing, and small businesses instead of the profits of giant, corrupt financial institutions.
The report hinges in part on a change in the position of the City Attorney’s Office. In 2011, when then-Sup. John Avalos raised the issue, the budget analyst reported that state law would ban a municipal bank.
But since then, after detailed research, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has concluded that “in fact, State law does not preclude the city from creating a bank as a separate legal entity.”
In fact, the budget analyst notes, “a public bank would be better equipped to meet the city’s business needs and public policy goals.”
The idea is both well-established and profoundly radical. Today, San Francisco’s short-term deposits are in Bank of America, which holds about $130 million that’s used for payroll and other expenses. That giant North Carolina-based operation charges the city $780,000 a year in fees, the budget analyst reports.
Most of the city’s money – some $8.3 billion — is in fairly liquid investments, primarily US Treasury notes.
There is, in other words, plenty of cash to capitalize a municipal bank.
And the model already exists – in North Dakota, where since 1919 all state funds must be deposited in the public Bank of North Dakota.
It’s been a great success: The bank has been profitable for 13 straight years, returns money to the state – and helped the state sustain a budget surplus and avoid the financial disasters of the Great Recession.
That state “withstood the financial crisis by having a steady flow of credit available to member banks, which provided loans to small businesses and community members when it was difficult to obtain credit from commercial banks,” the report states.
The report mentions the cannabis industry as a potential major client: Since federal law still treats weed as an illegal drug, commercial banks typically refuse to serve cannabis-based businesses.
But if the bank were properly set up – and it would start with billions of dollars of city money as assets, and could be further capitalized with a General Fund grant or philanthropic money – it could provide low-cost funding for some of SF’s greatest needs.
If we want to be serious about ending homelessness, for example, we need to look at something like $5 billion or more for supportive and affordable housing. Bank of American won’t fund that. A city bank could.
A city bank wouldn’t charge the city fees. It could work with existing microlenders to fund small businesses owned by people of color and women. And it could provide another stream of revenue to the city.
It could also create a national model for how cities can use public money to leverage public needs, instead of relying on commercial banks.
This is potentially a huge deal – and one that the private banking industry will almost certainly oppose and try to derail.
Sup. Sandy Fewer asked for the report. She and Sup. Malia Cohen are talking about holding a hearing in February. I can almost see the Bank of America lobbyists lining up right now.
ALL EARS The first time I saw Diana Gameros, she was performing Paul Simon’s “Gumboots” with her trio at the UnderCover tribute to Graceland. Great singers bring you into their thrall with not just their tone, but their timing, and with each lilt and turn of her soprano, it was like she was plucking the strings of your heart. By the time she got to the refrain – “You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could” – you could almost hear the audience answer, “No, no! We do!”
Sun/12 at Brava Theatre, Gameros releases her second album, Arrullo[Lullaby], and it is a doozy as hearts are concerned: 13 traditional Mexican songs, sung to herald her return to Mexico for the first time in 15 years, and featuring the voices of her mother and grandmother. Gameros has been open about the fact that she was once an undocumented immigrant (she now has a visa) and no one conveys more poignantly the tension between the love of California and the ache for home.
As dusk fell in her garden in Berkeley, Gameros opened a window into the love she has received on both sides of the border. From the family gatherings where she learned the songs as a child, to the surprise grant from Women’s Audio Mission that allowed her to record them, the journey of this album is a series of gifts that now pass from Gameros to her audience.
48 HILLSWhat are your earliest memories of these songs?
DIANA GAMEROS A lot of these songs I heard as a little kid. These are popular tunes that not just my family sings. For me, they have a special meaning because they take me back to the little farm town where my grandparents lived, and where I’d go every year during summer vacation and during Christmas. I grew up in, not a big city, but it’s still a city: Ciudad Juarez. I grew up on a very noisy street. My mom would always be worried that we would come back home at a certain time. . . . And so just going to the farm town meant freedom, and it meant that we could do anything we wanted to do. I relate these songs to those memories of just being really happy in this farm town.
48 HILLS At what point did you decide you wanted to make an album out of the songs that you sang there?
DIANA GAMEROS I wasn’t really planning on recording this. I was getting ready to record my second album of originals, and I was going to work with Natalia Lafourcade to produce it, and our schedules didn’t align quite well. But in the first stages of our collaboration, Natalia asked, “What would you like to have done in five years?” And I wrote down, “I want to have an album of traditional Mexican songs, and perhaps another album of lullabies.” Strangely, I guess, for people – not for me because this has always worked like this for me – a few weeks later, I got an email from Women’s Audio Mission saying, “Hey, we have this grant, and we would like to offer you six days in the studio to record an album.”
[A tiny bird lands on a branch near where we are sitting.]
DIANA GAMEROS That’s a baby bird. ¡Chiquitín! [Little thing!] Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to focus.
Originally, I thought I could make it a double-EP with six traditional songs and six lullabies and kill two birds with one stone.
[To the bird:] Sorry, that’s like totally not appropriate for you, my friend over there!
And then Women’s Audio Mission said that they prefer that I would do one album, so I just did the traditional Mexican songs. That’s how the idea originally came.
The energy around it was of a lot of gratitude, too, because I’m being handed this beautiful gift! I didn’t even have to write the grant. It was magical – the whole process. There was just so much ease, so much grace, so much love, so much apapacho [caressing], beautiful and flowery moments, that I think it comes across in the record.
48 HILLSHave you figured out why it makes sense for this album to have come first, before your next album of originals?
DIANA GAMEROS It’s a beautiful question. Now I can see the purpose of it, and I think it’s the fact that I am going back to Mexico for the first time in 15 years next year. I already have an album of originals that I haven’t really promoted in Mexico, so I’ll have my album of originals, the songs that accompanied me through these 15 years. And then these Mexican songs: I made my living out of playing the songs during the first years when I came to San Francisco. So it’s a beautiful combo to bring back home, and also it’s a way for me to say, “I haven’t forgotten about you. I still know your songs.” And by you, I mean Mexico, my homeland.
48 HILLS For people who aren’t familiar with the immigration process, can you explain why you haven’t been able to go home in all that time, even once you had a visa?
DIANA GAMEROS I would have been able to go back to Mexico, but then I was not going to be let back into the United States. Each case is different, and this is something that I wish people knew. There’s not a formula at all.
48 HILLS It’s a little bit like: If you’re building a building, the building code says one thing, but it’s quite subject to interpretation, and how it gets enforced is all about which inspector comes out to your building.
DIANA GAMEROS Exactly. And then I think you have to add fear. If you see the faces of the people that are going to immigration offices – I’ve had friends who have come out of their interviews crying.
For these past five years, I probably could have asked for permission to leave, like when my aunt passed. But then when I go to get my actual green card, the officer says, “I know you got permission, but you were not supposed to leave.” I didn’t want to risk it. At this point, I’ve spent half of my life in the United States and half of my life in Mexico, and so the idea of me not coming back ever. . . . So in November, I get to apply for the green card, and hopefully that will all be done.
48 HILLS You brought your mother to San Francisco to sing with you on the album, and I saw you perform with her at the Presidio Sessions. You sang a duet about a baby bird that leaves the nest, and I think I almost died of heartbreak because I live on the West Coast, and my mother’s on the East Coast. If we even started to talk about something like that, she would cry, so how are you able to sing those songs with your mother?
DIANA GAMEROS I did have to record it like three times in the studio because I’d break down, and Patrick [Wolff, clarinetist] did too. He’s very emotional, and it got to us. Sometimes even at rehearsals . . . so I think that’s probably why.
Also maybe also to see my mother – she is sort of a natural performer. You should have seen her the first time she sang with me for my first CD release concert at Brava Theater. She was so calm and present and grounded. I think that just comes with the package of having a badass mother.
48 HILLS You told a great story at the listening party for this album about how tricked your grandmother into singing on it as well. How were you able to do that?
DIANA GAMEROS It occurred to me that I would love to have her for the record, but there was no way I was gonna be upfront and ask her. She used to have a really high voice, and I guess she’s not hitting some of those notes, so she’s started to feel really self-conscious.
So I said, “I’d love if you can record a few tunes for me so I can hear your voice before I go to bed.” Which was true! And, I did say, “sing this song,” that she used to sing during this ritual right when baby Jesus is born at midnight on Christmas Eve. All the kids are grabbing onto a blanket, and there’s the baby Jesus in the middle, and we all get to rock the baby, and then grandma would sing this song: “Alarururu chiquito. . . .” It was a very magical moment because it was the part of the ritual when we – the 30-plus kids – actually got to do something. That song was always so special to me, so I asked her to record it, and I put it on the record.
48 HILLS When are you going to tell her that she’s on there?
DIANA GAMEROS Oh, probably when she hears it.
And that leads us to the title of the album: I’m calling it Arrullo, which means lullaby. I envisioned this to be listened to before you go to bed, sort of at this time [twilight].
It starts with a song that is called “Despierta” [“Awaken”] that’s actually the opening song that the mariachis would sing when they would go serenade women at midnight. I wanted to open up with this song because the last verse says, “Pero no pude más, y esta noche te vengo a decir te quiero – but I couldn’t help it anymore, and so I’ve come to tell you I love you.” And I changed the pronoun to make it plural because, for me, it’s a song that I’m singing directly to my family. This is the opening song that reveals that I made this album for them.
48 HILLS That longing for home and for family is so apparent in your music. As someone who is also not from California, and someone who wrestles with this, I’m wondering: How can those intense emotions coexist with your love for this place and desire to stay here?
DIANA GAMEROS Well, it’s California, right? [Laughs.] In my case, my story of coming to the US was such a positive story, and I have received so much. When you’re so full of love and of gifts, you hang onto them to cope with the pain and nostalgia. These intense lines in my songs, or that really intense expression, is the opportunity I have to release some of that.
I think this story of mine has helped me just be more in tune with the realities of being human, and with the pain, and with the sadness, and with the gratitude, and with the joys. As much as we need to honor our feelings, it really is important to put things in perspective, and when I do – and it’s very often that I do – I feel I’ve received more than I have lost, and so I think that’s where the strength and the perseverance come from.
DIANA GAMEROS Featuring Magik*Magik, Patrick Wolff, and Altagracia Estupinan (Diana’s mother) Sun/12, 7pm, $20-$30 Brava Theater, SF. Tickets and more info here.
Rafael Mandelman announced the opening of his 24th Street headquarters and the first major push for his campaign for D8 supervisor today with an event at the Noe Valley Town Square.
Mandelman, who is challenging incumbent mayoral appointee Jeff Sheehy, talked about the “politics of yes,” his campaign slogan. “We know we can build the affordable housing we need,” he said. “We know we can feel safe and secure in our neighborhoods. We know we can have a world-class transportation system.”
Mandelman has raised more money than Sheehy, and has the backing of both Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano – two LGBT community leaders who are often not on the same side.
Both said they had disagreed with Mandelman in the past. But both spoke strongly in support of him at the rally.
The diversity of his political support gives Mandelman a huge boost – but at the same time, as he pointed out, the campaign is expecting “a wall of money to pay for a slew of lies.”
That’s because the mayor’s allies can and will raise unlimited amounts of money for “independent expenditure” committees to attack Mandelman.
The two will face off for the first time Monday/13 at the LBGT Center at 6:30 for a debate sponsored by the Harvey Milk Club and the Alice B. Toklas Club.
An expert in forensic science testified Friday that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate has exactly one particle of gunshot residue on his hands – enough for the prosecution to claim as evidence that he fired a pistol, but little enough to give the defense grounds to argue that it was inconclusive.
Linda Abuan, who works at the San Francisco crime lab, explained to the jury that every time a firearm is discharged, it releases hundreds of microscopic particles, some only 1/40th the thickness of a human hair.
A distinctive particle, which contains antimony, barium, and lead, is characteristic of that residue, she said. And the discovery of any amount on a person’s hands indicates that the person “fired a gun, was close when a gun was fired, or touched something with GSR on it.”
She went through the testing procedure, which involves a scanning electron microscope searching swabs taken from a suspect’s hands. In this case, the microscope found one particle that didn’t appear to have the characteristics of GSR.
But, following standard procedures, Abuan went back and manually examined that particle and decided that it fit the profile.
It’s not a quantitative test, she said: “We are just looking to see if it is present or not.” So one microscopic particle can trigger a positive result.
On cross-examination, Matt Gonzalez, representing Zarate, asked her if everyone in the forensic world agreed that the presence of one particle was enough to demonstrate that the person had fired a weapon. In Baltimore, he said, the Police Department considers five particles the minimum for a positive identification. Abuan acknowledged that there is no commonly accepted threshold.
In fact, Gonzalez pointed out, researches in Los Angeles found GSR in 45 of 50 samples from the back seat of police cars. The FBI lab in Quantico has found it on desks and railings.
Abuan said that GSR can be spread easily by contact; she compared it to talcum powder. It can last for weeks or months, she said; it doesn’t degrade and remains where it was until is it brushed or washed away.
Judge Samuel Feng has been very strict about limiting questions in corss-examination, the courts don’t like speculation. We are under no such rules, so we can raise the question:
If, as the defense argues, Zarate was holding the gun, possibly wrapped in a shirt, when it discharged, then tossed it, possibly still wrapped in cloth, into the Bay, he might have had only a limited amount of GSR on his hand.
On the other hand, some people fire a weapon and get almost no GSR.
I’m not sure how much that testimony proved, particularly since the defense isn’t denying that Zarate was close to the weapon when it fired.
The issues in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate came further into focus today as defense lawyer Matt Gonzalez asked the jurors questions that reflect some of what the defense will be arguing.
He started the second day of jury selection by telling the prospective jurors that Zarate’s mental health will not be a key part of the defense. On the other hand, he said, “it’s anticipated that you will see a lengthy interview with the police. You may decide that there were mental-health issues.”
Yet his statements will be a key part of the prosecution case, and the questions by Gonzalez were a signal to jurors that there is room to be skeptical about the interrogation.
“If you see someone walking, and they are limping, even if you don’t have medical evidence, you can infer that they are injured,” he said.
He raised the language issue, which came up in pre-trial motions, when the defense argued that the police mangled Zarate’s Miranda warning. “If you were having a conversation with someone and they didn’t understand what you were saying, what inference might you draw?” he asked.
And he quoted one prospective juror’s comments from the jury-pool questionnaire: “Some people with mental illness might not understand what an officer is saying.”
It’s not clear what evidentiary issues might come up, but Gonzalez hinted that there may be challenges to what the prosecution presents. “If someone said they were never in this courtroom, but their fingerprint is in the room, which would you favor?” he asked a potential juror. “You might think the witness is lying, or just uncertain.”
There’s no doubt from the early questioning that both sides know the credibility of police officers involved in the case will be a major issue. Gonzalez asked the jurors repeatedly if they could consider the testimony of a police officer with the same perspective that they would give to the testimony of anyone else.
“If it’s demonstrated that the officer did things that are improper, or said things that are not truthful,” a juror might have to call into question their work, he said.
Then we heard about guns.
One of the key issues is whether the gun that killed Kate Steine — stolen from the car of a federal agent by someone other than Zarate — could have discharged by accident.
Gonzalez noted that there are 112 guns for every 100 people in the United States, and asked, “if we have that many guns, is it possible that some of them get into the wrong hands?”
He noted that there are 25,000 car burglaries every year in San Francisco — one of which, of course, involved the gun that killed Steinle — and asked “could someone come across a gun that they didn’t expect to be there?”
The defense is going to argue that Zarate stumbled on the gun on the waterfront, and that it went off by accident. The Sig Sauer weapon has a hair trigger, and no safety.
Gonzalez noted that there’s a difference between visiting someone’s house and smashing a plate on the floor — and bumping into a table and knocking a plate to the floor by mistake.
“If the shooting was by accident, and the judge told you that’s not a crime, would you be able to follow the judge’s instruction?” he asked a prospective juror.
Diana Garcia, the prosecution lawyer, objected, saying that Gonzalez has mischaracterized the law. But Judge Samuel Feng allowed the defense to continue.
DIALOGUES FOR LIFE When I was studying to be a psychoanalyst, one of my teachers, Dr. Irma Birman, shared a recollection from her childhood to illustrate the concept of “transitional objects.”
She told us that she remembered how painful it was as a five-year-old to see her mom hang her newly washed teddy bear on a clothesline to dry off. The stuffed animal’s ears were attached with clothespins — and she clutched her own ears as if they hurt. The sight caused her physical pain.
A transitional object, according to the renowned psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, allows an infant to survive in the absence of its mother. Growing up, kids develop deep attachments to such objects. Nursing them, throwing away, then regretting and rehabilitating them, we learn how to love and how to feel the pain of others as our own.
In our adult life, we also have some things that reduce anxiety — when we are stressed out or when a significant other leaves us for a time, or forever.
For an adult person, the deprivation from such entities can be felt as a trauma. For the very young and the very old, the consequences can be more dramatic. Deprive a child from these objects or primary environment, you will get serious disorders in emotional and cognitive spheres. Do it to elders and you risk to causing severe health problems – or death.
Did he really do this to me?
“Where are my things, does Peter keep them?” Iris Canada was asking her niece, Iris Merriouns. Her landlord, Peter Owens (technically, her “remainderman,” since she had a legal right to use the house for life), had removed everything she owned from the flat she used to occupy.
Owens evicted her from the house where she had lived more than 50 years.
Iris, an African American woman who I loved, died 40 days after sheriff Vicki Hennessy locked her out from her Page Street apartment. Her niece took her to Oakland, and family pretended that she was visiting them. Nobody knew how to say that she lost her home.
Soon Iris began to guess. The family had to tell her, and she entered the hospital. She begged to return home. She asked about her belongings, too. Owens hired a firm to pack them and put in storage. His lawyers, Zacks and Freedman, didn’t give relatives access to her stuff — even her important medicines. Instead, according to case correspondence, Zacks said one of his associates had inventoried everything and found no medications.
Iris asked about her possessions and home. When she realized that this connection to life was irreparably broken, she died. One of her last words were: “Did Peter really do this to me?”
Iris Canada is not only senior in San Francisco to die after an eviction. Too often, eviction becomes a death sentence.
Who they are
Lola McKay, 83
“I am not gonna leave my home. I am gonna die before I leave here.”
Tommi Avicolli Mecca will never forget the image of Lola McKay saying this, sitting in a chair with one foot curled up under her, by the window in her one-bedroom apartment. Tommi is a fighter for tenant’s rights at the Housing Rights Committee. Lola, a retired bank worker, became a fighter against an Ellis Act eviction. The fight, supported by the Housing Rights Committee, SF Tenants Union, and others, lasted from January 1999 until her death in March 2000.
Her building at 55 Alvarado Street was bought by a brokerage company, and Lola received a 30-day eviction notice. “Hell, no!” she said.
Lola grew up in the Mission, and moved into her apartment in 1958. She was divorced with no family. “She enjoyed staying at home, reading, and doing some cooking. She didn’t go out much, went to a restaurant once a week, did grocery shopping once a week around the corner,” said Ted Gullickson, then the director of the SF Tenants Union introducing Lola in the documentary: “Boom: the Sound of Eviction.”
The first “dot-com boom” left no place to go for seniors who lost their homes. The rents they paid in rent-control buildings did not fit into the new reality. Some of them had to move to retirement communities, miles away from San Francisco.
“No, thank you!” reacted Lola on camera to this prospect. “What would I do in a nursing home?!” She asked desperately. “With too many people around… I like to be by myself. I didn’t do anything wrong. I kept this place up and I own everything in here.”
Lola died, but didn’t surrender her life. She started a long list of “senior eviction deaths” in the San Francisco Bay Area. It grows proportionally to the number of evictions. In recent years it looks like an epidemic: Elders keep dying during eviction actions or soon after they are forced out of their homes.
Ernesto Hernandez, 77
Ernesto died in April, 2013 at a downtown hotel for seniors where he went after being evicted from his home of more than 30 years. He lived at 558 Green Street and worked nearby at the Old Spaghetti Factory. He was a legendary flamenco dancer and singer of “the famed beat generation,” as the New York Times described him. Ernesto performed until his 70s. In the interview with the Times, he didn’t forget to mention a 28-inch waist he had at times of his career. Born and raised in San Francisco, he was making art on local stages all his life. In 1982, Ernesto moved in with his partner, Richard Whalen, a sculptor, who had been living in this North Beach apartment.
In 2005, the building, with its two apartments and Columbus Café, was purchased by Paul Marino. Soon after, Richard died, leaving Ernesto in the apartment with a roommate Richard had rented to. The new owner then issued new rules prohibiting sublets. Although the city ordinance required all sides to agree on new rules, Marino still tried to evict Ernesto. Mr. Hernandez fought back…but the court ruled in favor of the landlord.
Tom Drohan, an attorney who protects senior tenants at Legal Assistance to the Elderly, and who represented Mr. Hernandez, called this case “the biggest abuse of justice I have ever seen.” And as a lawyer for seniors, he’s seen a lot.
After the eviction, Ernesto felt deprived from his life. His possessions, except for several photos, were left on Green Street, because they didn’t fit inside the tiny room at the hotel his friends had helped him move to. He suffered heart disease, and cured his pain with alcohol. He died after a heart attack.
Ron Lickers, 69
Ron died in February 2015. Tony Robles, a poet and senior tenants advocate at Senior and Disability Action, and co-editor of Poor Magazine, knew Ron since the time when he with other activists fought against Ron’s eviction. Tony remembers him with genuine respect.
Ron, known as “Seneca,” represented another page of legendary San Francisco history. He was among the 89 Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz in 1969. In 1968, he with other Native American students participated in a strike that led to the establishment of the American Indian Studies department at San Francisco State. He was a union worker, a teacher. As a director of the American Indian Senior Center, board member of the Native American Friendship House, and American Indian Child Resource Center employee,Ron inspired many people to live in dignity.
The Ellis Act eviction notice from a landlord who recently bought the building where Ron lived for a good many years with his wife and daughter, took him by surprise. Ron was a “protected tenant” as an elder and disabled person after being injured in a job accident. Still, that just delayed the eviction.
Despite significant health problems that grew immensely after his eviction and relocation to Daly City, Ron kept fighting. He went to Sacramento to testify in support of Ellis Act reform Senate Bill 364 that was introduced by Senator Mark Leno.
The bill would have prohibited new owners from evicting people under the Ellis Act, if they’d possessed the property for less than five years. The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee voted against the amendment on April 15, 2015. Ron Lickers had died two months earlier, on February 19th. “The trauma of eviction was too much for him,” said Kimberly Gallegos, his wife.
Elaine Turner, 88
Elaine died on March 11, 2015. She was 88. She told everybody she was 68. And she looked gorgeous. Elaine had always wanted to be an actress, but most of her life she worked at the Bechtel Corporation and then in a law firm. However, later in life Elaine took up study at Shelton Studios and performed on stage at the San Francisco Playhouse. She also liked to sing and dance, and became a great tango dancer.
She lived in North Beach at 515 Lombard street for 25 years. Her landlord died, so then a new owner (niece of the former) came from South California to take possession of the property. Soon after, all residents received Ellis eviction notices. Theresa Flandrich, a tenant’s advocate from Senior and Disability Action, was among them. She shared with us her observations about how Elaine’s mental and physical health deteriorated immediately following the notice.
As a senior, Elaine had one year to move out. But long before the year expired, the new landlady, Annlia Pagannini Hill, who moved into the house with her husband—began insistently asking Elaine when she would move out. “They never asked me,” said Theresa.
The neighbors of 515 Lombard street building fought against eviction, and 14 days after the last appeal failed, Elaine died in the hospital. On March 5th, six days before her death, Theresa asked Elaine “Have you decided to give up on living?” Because she seemed to be in a comatose-like state. Elaine did not respond. The last words Theresa heard from her earlier were “Where I would go?!”
Martha Bini, 92
Martha died during what a jury later found was an improper eviction attempt in July 2015. The building of seven units at 1000-1022 Filbert street was the property of an old Italian family that occupied and owned it for more than 60 years. Martha, with her daughter Maria Maranghi and extended family, resided there for more than 45 years.
Anne Kihagi bought ten buildings in an 18-month period, and immediately proceeded to tell residents they had to leave. According to documents filed in Superior Court as part as a lawsuit by City Attorney Dennis Herrera against Kihagi, the owner launched on a campaign of harassment. According to a court declaration by Maranghi, Kihagi “harassed us, intimidated us, invaded our privacy, retaliated against us, refused to cash our rent checks, interfered with our daily lives… performed illegal construction, falsely claimed our unit was illegal, removed our house numbers and threatened to demolish our home. All because [Kihagi] wanted us out so they could raise the rent.”
Martha, who was almost blind, was scared by sudden visits of the landlady who used to bang at the door when Martha was alone. She went to the hospital innumerable times, and then she died. Her daughter Maria, who is also over 65, continued fighting to stay.
In the wake of Herrera’s suit, the court voided some 42 evictions and awarded the plaintiffs $2.4 million.
Martha Bini was not alive to see it.
Carl Jensen, 93
In his last year, Carl Jensen was totally stressed out. The building at 3932-34 26th St., where he’d lived since 1954 was bought in 2015 by Ashok Gujral. One year later, the new landlord announced grandiose plans to remodel the two-unit building into a four-story house.
Carl was a World War II veteran and retired mechanical engineer who had worked all his life for the city. Every morning he had breakfast at the corner café: scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee. He abidingly put a $2 tip directly into the server’s hands. He enjoyed his independent lifestyle, walking around the neighborhood, or catching Muni to do some banking downtown.
In the application for remodeling permits submitted to the SF Planning Commission, Gujral never mentioned Jensen’s tenancy. Carl’s existence only emerged thanks to his neighbor, Lynn Rosenzweig. She called the SF Housing Rights Committee, and raised her concern about Carl’s destiny at a February 2017 Planning Commission hearing. Gujral’s lawyer then provided the commission with a letter from his client, in which Gujral claimed that Carl Jensen had frequently expressed his willingness to be relocated. He also presented a proposal to relocate Mr. Jensen to another place under the same rent.
Tommi Mecca told us that Carl Jensen was shaking when he read about the landlord’s claims. “I never said this! I’d rather die than leave my home!”. He was furious and frightened. “I tried to calm him down, but he was too scared,” Tommi said. He was afraid that Carl would have a heart attack. Carl then spent the rest of February working on a letter to the Planning Commission, testifying he never wanted to be relocated.
His letter was read into the record at the Planning Commission on March 9th. Carl was found dead in his apartment four days before.
Neighbors made a tribute at Carl’s porch with flowers and signs. “You will be missed, Carl.”
Iris Canada, 100
Neighbors of Iris Canada made no tribute in her memory. Instead, they repeatedly removed flowers, candles, and signs that people had brought to her porch.
I will not repeat the whole story – we’ve written plenty. Briefly, Peter Owens bought the building at 668-678 Page street and evicted everybody under Ellis Act – except for Iris. She fought back and entered into a life estate agreement. Owens though keep claiming it was his act of generosity.
Years later, Owens started the condo conversion process. To submit the application he needed signs of all current residents. According to the SF Subdivision Code, every occupant has a right to buy their unit at its current price ($1,000,000 less than after conversion). Iris received a copy; Owens had marked on behalf of her that she didn’t want to buy it. Lawyers advised her not to sign.
So, she didn’t. And got into a horror story.
According to court documents filed by Canada and her lawyer, Dennis Zaragoza, as part of the eviction case, somebody banged on Iris’s door after midnight, howling voices called her name, her apartment was invaded, and documents, including the original copy of the life estate contract, disappeared. Owens denies he knew anything about voices but admitted that he entered Canada’s apartment in her absence and removed a box with documents due to fire safety reasons.
Then, Peter Owens sued Iris for breach-of-contract.
Judge A. James Robertson II found that Iris Canada was not permanently residing in the unit, while she was in the hospital, staying with relatives, or traveling. He ruled to evict her. Later he granted the motion about relief from forfeiture, thus admitting that eviction could cause serious harm or death, so she could stay home. Under one condition: she had to pay Owens’s legal fee of $164,000 in 30 days.
The judge accepted this motion made by Zacks and Chernev. Canada, of course, could not pay. Sheriff Hennessy locked her out while Iris was at her daily senior program.
During the trial Iris Canada suffered three strokes. Owens continued to send reminders that she could change the outcome signing the application and giving up her rights. After the eviction he moved her possessions into storage, and her relatives had no access to them unless they paid a substantial storage fee.
A few months later, the owner of the storage unit agreed to reduce the fees and the family was able to collect her possessions. Iris Canada was buried four months after her death; he family said that her funeral arrangement documents were among the items in storage.
Beatriz Allen, 81
Andrew Zacks and associate Mark Chernev continued their noble cause helping another landlord to get rid of senior tenants. On April 30, 2017, one month after Iris’s death, San Francisco lost Beatriz Allen.
Beatriz and her daughter, Betty Rose Allen, both teachers, first fought an ownermove-in eviction, according to the Housing Rights Committee. They won that case. Then the landlord issued an Ellis Act notice.
Tariq Hilaly, the CEO of the tech start-up Lumity, purchased the building at 1642-1644 Church street in 2014. Soon after, he evicted two seniors, one of them disabled, offering them a buyout. They signed a non-disclosure agreement. Doctors provided notes that Beatriz had only months to live, and she would die if moved. This statement notwithstanding, the eviction effort continued.
The Housing Rights Committee helped Beatriz and Betty Rose fight the eviction. The women also had a lawyer, Raquel Fox from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who received a proposal from Chernev: Beatriz could stay until she died if Betty Rose agreed to voluntarily move out after her mother died. This proposal came two days before Beatriz passed away.
“As I live this story with my mom, the landlords seem to be allowed to weaponize the lawyers to kill the elderly via the Ellis Act,” said Betty Rose. “Hilaly has said he lived in our flat, and forced us to fight a legal battle instead of letting us focus on my mom’s health in her last days. The Ellis Act acts like a shower that washes the landlords and law firms from their actions, the increasing deliberate and debilitating stress they impose upon elderly tenants in order to speed up their death to increase profits.”
A far bigger problem
These cases vastly understate the problem. We don’t know the real number of seniors who died during or soon after eviction. Since starting this series, I keep getting information about new and newer cases.
We don’t know much about the destinies of many seniors who got evicted, because they frequently don’t know their rights, says Tommi Avicolli Mecca. Theresa Flandrich and Tony Robles from Senior and Disability Action, Tom Drohan from Legal Assistance for the elderly, Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia from Poor Magazine and Ingrid Evans, an elder abuse lawyer, all agree. We don’t have any statistics on senior eviction deaths, but they suspect the number is huge.
When we met with Ingrid Evans for an interview she had just received a call from a man whose mom died after eviction. Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia witnessed about at least 11 cases her community based organization dealt with in recent years.
Poor Magazine works at ground level with communities in deep struggle, getting information from friends of friends of eviction victims. This always has been a difficult process. Many people don’t want to talk about abuse they suffered.
“Why? Because of shame and fear,” Tiny says. “In the U.S. people are ashamed of being poor. Even if they pay the rent all the time, and even it is not their fault to get evicted, there is shame around eviction. Especially for older generations.”
“They feel shame,” Theresa says recalling Elaine Turner who tried to find a new place after getting an eviction notice. She went and checked several places. She didn’t get any of them. She didn’t want to reveal this. She was not welcomed anymore. Can you imagine how most of people would react to an 88-year-old answering a Craigslist ad?
“It is also a cultural thing,” said Theresa, who lived in a 90% Italian community. “A family on the corner was initially invited by owners, who also lived there. They developed their relations through decades. When a new owner said “you should leave,” they left. They were invited and then they were disinvited.” It becomes shame, because you don’t want to tell people “they don’t want me to live here.”
Not only tenants, but life-estate senior holders get in trouble. Tiny recalled a story of 94-year-old woman, who lived in the Mission when a landlord tried to evict her despite the fact that she had a life estate — a legal agreement allowing her to remain in the apartment for life “We got involved and fought,” says Tiny, “and we got the developer to stop harassing. The next week, though, the woman died.” On Tiny’s observations even if seniors don’t die after eviction, they have strokes, heart attacks, blood pressure issues and they never recover.
Eventually, even senior homeowners are not guaranteed from being abused by eviction. Tom Drohan told a story: A son comes to his mom and says: “you are behind in your mortgage, I’ll help you out.” She signed papers, and he became an owner of the house. And then he comes and says: “Mom, I am broke, and I am gonna sell my house.” He is evicting her now, and LAE is suing him.
An attempt to file criminal charges against landlords
Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia, together with Tony Robles, Anthony Prince, and other fighters, decided to seek legal recourse. In 2014 and 2015, they collected 18 cases of elder abuse of seniors and disabled persons, ranging from 62 to 95., Half of them were people of color. According to 2014 statistics drawn by Eviction Defense Collaborative, in San Francisco people of color are disproportionally targeted for eviction. For instance, members of Black community whose population scarcely reaches 6% citywide, have growing eviction rates approaching 29%.
With these 18, advocates went to the District Attorney’s Office to seek criminal charges against abusive landlords. At first, they were told they were in the wrong place. But after intrusion of Antony Price, who is a tenant lawyer, a staffer accepted several complaints.
Activists demanded the DA cite landlords under section 368 of the penal code, which includes charges for criminal elder abuse.
Later, they met DA George Gascon. “He had a whole meeting, case by case, and at the end the DA said ‘Sorry, we can’t help you, because Ellis Act trumps a 368 Penal code,” says Tiny, “which is bullshit, because criminal law overrides civil property law.” (We’ll follow up with the DA office on this situation in the next articles).
Currently, the cases are stuck at the DA office with no follow up. In August 2016 activists came to 850 Bryant street to learn about the progress in the cases. They didn’t receive any answer and subsequently were kicked out of the office.
“Elaine died of natural causes after a brief illness,” says her obituary. Psychosomatic disorders specialists might not agree. Even if we’re not talking about such harsh stories with intimidation, harassment and other abusive strategies, a simple relocation for elders and deprivation from regular lives frequently lead to fatal outcomes.
Phenomenon of psychosomatic death was widely described by specialists in psychosomatic medicine. (E.g., see A.Jones “Der Mensch und seine Krankheit, B. Luban-Plozza, W. Pöldinger, F. Kröger, K. Laederach-Hofmann, “Der Psychosomatisch Kranke In Der Praxis”, 1995, and others). Psychosomatic disorders that often result in death distinctly increase in old age. Heart disease, hypertension, spine disease, etc., flow from unbearable frustrations, depression and fear of broken social connections.
Usual protection from mental stress, such as plunging into work or active socializing, are no longer available for seniors. At 93, Carl Jensen, a veteran of World War II, had drastically less opportunity to treat his outrage than he had in his 50s. Elaine Turner, after trying to find a new place, realized she couldn’t start new life and build new social connections. Iris Canada faced eviction for what maintained her life: family relations, visiting relatives, traveling.
A society that expels its elders might hope to expel with them its own fear of aging and death. And, indeed, aging old became dangerous in San Francisco.
Eviction amounts to elder abuse. That’s what tenant advocates and lawyers who assist seniors in legal battles say. “We define it so, but law doesn’t,” says Drohan. “Every eviction is harassment.”
At the same time, he is less optimistic about attempts to charge landlords with elder abuse based on claims of harassment that include illegal eviction notices, invasive apartment viewings, etc. There is not such thing as an “illegal eviction notice,” he says. That just means they’re “ineffective.”
“If a landlord sent you a 12-days eviction notice, you go to the Rent Board, and they would say it was against the law. But you will not convince a judge this is harassment.” The same case with invasive apartment viewings. “It is all about property, and property rights are sacred in this country.”
Drohan said it won’t be easy to change things at the Legislative level. “But you can try.” It is all about political will. If somebody would collect these cases and evidence, and if there is political pressure on the district attorney, then he might pay attention to the outrageous problem we have with senior evictions.
Ingrid Evans, an elder abuse attorney at Evans Law, says: “To define eviction as an elder abuse would be a great thing to do. It should be easier for elders to get help. In elder abuse cases you can get attorney’s fees from the party that committed abuse. Elders don’t have money to pay a tenant-landlord lawyer fees, but elder abuse protection would allow them to get a lawyer on contingency. And it make it easier for lawyers to take the case.”
At the moment though, she says that there is a disconnect between tenancy laws and elder abuse laws. “Usually tenant-landlord lawyers are not sophisticated in the protection of people under elder abuse, and elder abuse lawyers don’t know enough about tenant law.” When Ingrid works with tenant lawyers, it brings more tangible results. “Together we can provide more protection for elders before they kicked out and die. Because the stress of eviction for elders causes death.
“Sometimes we call district attorney or police to ask them to bring a criminal case, and they say “we don’t need to do it, because there is a civil lawyer on it’” Evans said. “Criminal agencies go through crimes like murder or rape, but when it comes to elder abuse, especially if it’s financial abuse or harassment, it seems like not that important. But it is important, people are dying from that. Somebody called me today, whose mother died right after she was evicted, she was 100 years old. I don’t think it is a coincidence.”
Ellis Act reform would require state legislation, but Evans said there is more we can do on a local level.
Ingrid argued that a landlord can be responsible and charged for elder abuse even if they won a landlord-tenant case. In criminal cases, there is a higher burden of proof: The abuse has to be proven intentional. Ingrid said that she hoped that district attorney would not ignore those cases.
She added, commenting on Kihagi’s case: “I am glad that the city attorney has taken on this case. I started doing elder abuse cases working with him. Dennis has done very good work on elder abuse. But we need more protection for elders before it goes to court. It would be great to change the law. People shouldn’t go through such troubles to get justice. The price paid is death – and you cannot fix that.”
Protected tenants and property issues
Lola McKay and Iris Canada were born in the same month of July, 1916. In 2000, after Lola’s story went viral, Senator John Burton introduced an amendment to the Ellis Act. The new amendment required a landlord to give a year’s notification to the elderly and disabled, and 120 days for others. In 2017 Iris Canada seemed more protected by law but was still totally vulnerable.
So-called “protected tenants” often lack real protection. For now, this protection is based on preventing condo conversion for buildings where elders and disabled people were evicted from under Ellis Act. Also, in case of Ellis Act evictions the building cannot be rented out for five years. Simple calculation shows – it doesn’t work.
If Elaine Turner paid $500 for one bedroom, the new owner will lose $30,000 if she doesn’t rent it over the next five years. In the sixth year she’ll get back 30,000 by renting out for $2,500 (which is modest price), and she will turn a great profit in the following years.
Speculators also buy houses where condo conversion is prohibited, and they make profit reselling them later, explains Tony Robles. Even if you evict elders for no-fault, and cannot do condo conversion, you still can sell units, adds Drohan. TIC are cheaper than condos, but you still make good money. So long-term tenants, predominantly elders, remain a target for speculators.
In comparison with other countries our situation with elder tenants looks extremely wretched. Tommi Avicolli Mecca refers to policy in Canada where nobody can evict a senior over 70. In reports presented by European countries to the EU parliament, the main concerns about senior occupancy boil down to questions how to adapt housing to elder needs, both in municipal and private sector, with home-care provision and 24-hour supervision of alarm systems, and elevators.
Our housing crisis is hardly unique. In the wake of World War II many European countries experienced tremendous housing shortage. They established rent control that covered vacant apartments as well as protecting existing tenants. It stoped market speculation, and stabilized prices for both – rental and real estate market. So many people could afford not only rent, but buy their our housing. For now, in Europe the percentage of renters reaches only 30%, while in San Francisco it reaches 57%.
This drastic difference needs to be explained. I’ve heard many arguments about sacred private property in the U.S. But does anybody really think that in European countries nobody knew, or valued private property?
Let’s rather think about real protection for seniors who rot away in the unequal battle. This should be legislative changes, strategy and culture at the courts, and community. Practice shows that intervention of family, friends or community members often saves senior’s lives.
Theresa Flandrich told a story of a 91 year-old. woman. She lived all her life in a rent-controlled building. After the building changed hands, a realtor came to her and said: “Listen, I can give you $100,000 if you move out.” She refused. Then he came back and said “Listen, I will give you $100,000 plus percentage of my commission when the building sells.” She said no, seasoning it with an expressive Sicilian gesture.
Then, for no reason, the landlord raised rent by $300. Her daughter Maria asked Theresa: “Please, help my mom.” And her son Salvatore helped her to get to the Rent Board, where a judge ruled the rent increase was unlawful. This woman was afraid because of pressure she felt after denying a buyout. Maria and Salvatore now come hime every evening, and they have dinner together. “When landlords know that somebody has protection, they stop harassing.”
“This is a story of success, but it could have been a disaster, if she didn’t have family, or if she didn’t know where to get help from, because it was her daughter who came and knocked at my door,” Theresa said
In the next articles we’ll follow up with the District Attorney office, politicians, psychoanalysts, lawyers to find out how to stop the epidemic of senior eviction deaths in San Francisco.
Editing assistance by Ryan McCarrigan and Kevin Bard.
The bill by Sup. Jeff Sheehy is described as an effort to eliminate “chop shops,” a term that typically describes illegal operations that cut up and sell stolen bicycles and bike parts.
But Sheehy said during debate on the bill that he didn’t see it as an anti-theft measure. In fact, he didn’t even try to argue that bikes that are on the streets where homeless people work on them were mostly stolen.
Instead, he said, the law that allows the Department of Public Works to seize bikes and parts was all about clearing space on the sidewalk. Plus, he said, legitimate businesses are angry that they have to get permits and follow the law while these rogue bike peddlers don’t.
I love hearing that argument come from people who stood by and did nothing while Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber broke the city’s laws for years, making billions of dollars while undermining legit existing businesses. That was okay, because those are tech companies — but a person who is making $20 a day repairing, buying, and selling bikes on the street because they have no place to live should be shut down.
But as Ronen argued — and the city attorney’s office agreed — all the bill would do is allow DPW to seize the bikes and hold them for 30 days — at which point the owner could just go and get them back. “How is this helpful?” she asked. “The problem is [bike] theft. If poor people are fixing bikes on the street that’s not theft, it’s poverty.”
Sup. Sandra Fewer agreed, saying that she was concerned that the bill “is not about bike theft,” which both Ronen and Fewer agreed is out of control in the city.
Sup. Malia Cohen argued that (contrary to what Sheehy had said) “if you are not doing criminal activity, then you have nothing to worry about.” Actually, not true: If you own a couple of bicycles and have a bunch of bike parts that you have obtained legally, DPW can still seize them — and the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that you are the actual owner.
Think about that for a second. How do you prove ownership of a bike — or of spare bike parts? Bicycles aren’t registered with the DMV. I bought mine 20 years ago and I have no idea what ever happened to the receipt. Supporters of the law say you can use photos and video, which is nice if you are housed and have a cell phone and thought to prepare yourself for this moment, but honesty, if someone challenged me to prove ownership of my Trek Mountain Track I would be at a loss. I have no proof. Neither do a lot of people who own older, less expensive bikes.
But if you’re not homeless, no worries. If you are, this is yet another way for the city to hassle you.
And I suspect it will do little to deter bike theft, particularly the theft of expensive bikes, which is done, police sources tell me, by fairly sophisticated operations that don’t chop the bikes up and rebuild them on city streets.
The measure passed 11-2, with only Fewer and Ronen dissenting.
I am pretty sure mayor Lee will sign this bill, and tell the public that it will address bike theft, and it won’t.