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Wiener’s gut-and-amend tactics: Will they return with SB 50?

Will Wiener use a dubious trick to get a very controversial bill through the legislature?

The date was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2017, in Sacramento CA, when Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 384, a bill amending the California Business and Professions Code to permit the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to allow, but not require, cities to extend the closing hours of operation for the sale of alcoholic beverages from 2am to 4am.

The bill was popular in the nightlife industry in San Francisco, where many clubs were facing rent increases and other financial pressures. Many clubs make most of their money between 11pm and 2am; the extra two hours could make the difference between survival and closure for some places.

Will Wiener use a dubious trick to get a very controversial bill through the legislature?

The very next day, February 15, 2017, the same Senator Wiener introduced another bill, SB 421 to tier the registry for sex offenders so that individuals who committed misdemeanors and non-violent offenses would be required to register for 10 years instead of life, individuals who committed certain serious or violent offenses would be required to register for 20 years instead of life, and only individuals who committed the most violent sexual offenses or repeat offenders would be required to register for life.

The measure had widespread support. Civil-liberties advocates backed the bill. So did law enforcement. It was, most legal experts agreed, a perfectly reasonable piece of legislation.

For the sake of convenience, let’s call SB 384 “Last Call” and SB 421 “Sex Offenders.

As it turns out, only one of them could pass – through a bit of legislative trickery that the people of California have tried to stop. There could be a lesson here for opponents of his attempts to deregulate housing in the state.

How it all began

Each bill was heard by different Senate committees – Last Call was sent to the Senate Committees on Governmental Organizations and on Appropriations, while Sex Offenders was referred to the Senate Committees on Governance and Finance and on Transportation and Housing. Both bills eventually passed out of committee and were passed on the Senate floor and referred to the Assembly.

In the Assembly, Sex Offenders was referred to the Committees on Public Safety and Appropriations while Last Call was referred to the Assembly Committees on Governmental Organization and Appropriations.

The bait and switch

As of September 1, 2017, Last Call had been voted out of both Assembly Committees to the Assembly floor, but Sex Offenders had been held in suspense (i.e., tabled) in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (the suspense file of the Appropriations Committee in either the Assembly or the Senate is generally a graveyard where bills go to die).  So Sex Offendersdied in 2017, at least in name.

But Wiener used a dubious legislative practice called “gut and amend” to let Last Call  — the live bill — die and replace it with the dead bill, Sex Offenders.

So how did that happen?  As The Chron put it:

“Law enforcement pushed for the bill, arguing that California’s registry is so large that officers and the public can’t determine who is at high risk for re-offending. The registry has 100,000 sex offenders — meaning 1 in 400 Californians is on it.

‘It is really hard to talk about doing anything that can be perceived as helping a sex offender,’ Wiener said. ‘But, the reality is the registry is so broken that it makes people less safe.’

Legislation to overhaul the registry has been recommended by law enforcement officials for years, but lawmakers were hesitant to vote for a bill that would label them soft-on-crime. Wiener’s first attempt on the bill this year failed too, but he brought the bill back this week through a maneuver known as gut-and-amend, where the contents of an active bill are dumped and replaced with those of a dead bill.”

How Last Call Became Sex Offenders

On September 1, 2017, the Assembly Appropriations Committee passed Last Call  “as amended” but it was still an alcohol sales bill. Then, between the Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Floor, on September 5, 2017, the author published amendments that completely gutted all of Last Call’s provisions and replaced them with Penal Code and Sex Offender Registration Act provisions nearly identical to the provisions of the suspended Sex Offenders (with important concessions that the author had refused to make before Sex Offenders died in Appropriations).

When Last Call came to the Assembly Floor on September 7, 2017, Assemblymember Lowe moved to adopt the amendments (Assembly Journal page 3008) and what was now Sex Offenders masquerading as Last Call was referred back to the Committee on Public Safety. The new and vastly altered Last Call, however, was not sent back to Appropriations even though the Appropriations Committee held its twin, Sex Offenders, in suspense. Last Call  no longer looked anything like the bill that the Appropriations Committee had passed.

Removing All Trace

Last Call was republished on September 8, 2017, to its final form (all redlining removed).  The only trace remaining of the original bill and the process to “gut and amend” is found by running a “Compare Versions” of the bill as ultimately enacted with the 09/05/17 Amended Assembly version(3rdto the last version).

The Assembly Committee on Public Safety held a short hearing, without agenda, on September 11, 2017. This was not a huge hurdle, because as you may recall, Sex Offendershad already been approved by that committee.

So, presto, with a sleight of hand and a little bit of fairy dust, Sex Offenders had a second life after Last Call was gutted and amended to a completely different subject.  Opposition melted away and the bill sailed through.

Well, not quite.  SB 384, formerly Last Calland now Sex Offenders, came to the Assembly Floor on September 15, 2017, in the “Post Recess Assembly Floor Session 1 / 2 ” (debate starts with David Lowe presenting and asking for an “Aye” vote at 1:40:54 of the video and ends at 1:54:06 of the video with SB 384 passing the Assembly by 45-29-5 on September 15, 2017).  In the waning hours of the Senate Floor Session that started on September 15, 2017, just after 1:05 am on September 16, 2017, the Senate took up SB 384. When the bill was taken up (11:06:36 of the video for the session), Senator Wiener starts by saying that “SB 384 previously known as SB 421 is back from the Assembly and it is a better and more refined bill than when it left the Senate.”  Just nine minutes later, at approximately 1:14 am (11:15:35 of the video) SB 384, formerly SB 421, had passed the Senate 28-4 and was on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

The final version of Sex Offenders now known as SB 384, a sex offender registry bill rather than a bill about last call for alcohol sales, passed through both houses in just eight days — from September 7, 2017, when Assemblymember Lowe moved to accept the amended language and the Assembly re-referred the bill to the Public Safety Committee to the passage by both houses of the Legislature on September 15, 2017.

Rather a long history lesson, but one worth understanding well.

Encore

Since he succeeded with the gut and amend strategy in 2017, some fear that Wiener can be expected to try the same thing again with his housing deregulation bill.

There are persistent rumors that Senator Wiener plans to do another “gut and amend” to try to pass the substance of SB 50 – which like Sex Offenders died for now in a committee— under the name of one of the bills that has passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly.

But unlike Sex Offenders, SB 50 does not have widespread support, either statewide or in Wiener’s district. It’s a very controversial and high-profile bill.

SB 592 has been identified as a potential vehicle for a gut and amend.  It has cleared the Senate and has been held at the Assembly desk since May 24, pending referral.

SB 58 also is a candidate for Senator Wiener to “gut and amend,” to be reborn as the “son of SB 50.”  SB 58 is a bill to permit certain municipalities to extend closing time and last call hours for the sale and service of alcohol from 2am to 4am. Sound familiar?  It is nearly the exact same subject matter as old Last Call that Senator Wiener gutted and amended in the 2017 legislative session.

Wiener has 26 bills or resolutions that are still alive this session, 19 of which have passed the Senate and are pending in the Assembly.  The two I’ve identified — SB 58 (extended hours for alcohol sales to 4 am in certain jurisdictions) and SB 592 (licensing of Barbers and Cosmetologists) seem to be the most likely vehicles for a gut and amend — but it could be any of Senator Wiener’s other bills OR any of the bills of one of his co-authors OR one of the bills of a newly minted co-author. There are a number of bills that have “SB 50 like” language and provisions that could revive SB 50.

We, the voters, passed Proposition 54 in November 2016 to require greater transparency in our legislative process in large measure to stop the widely criticized practice of “gut and amend.” Prop 54, among other things, requires the publication and public display of all bills on the Internet for at least 72 hours prior to a vote.

Let us hope that our state legislators acknowledge the constitutional limits of their power.

Building more market-rate housing does nothing to solve the affordable housing crisis or the homelessness crisis.  In fact, market rate housing, especially speculative housing bundled and sold in securitizations in the global capital markets, creates enormous displacement, raises rents in the surrounding areas and increases the ranks of the unhoused dramatically.  Denying that inescapable truth is no different than the climate change denials coming out of Washington DC.

Hydee Feldstein is a retired attorney who lives in Los Angeles and is active on land use issues in her neighborhood council. Please send any comments to hydeefeldstein@yahoo.com.

SF seizes homeless people’s property — and they rarely get it back

Heather Lee tried to get her stuff back, but never did. Photo from stolenbelonging.org

An advocacy group for homeless people has just released a stunning set of videos that demonstrate how police and city workers are taking away – and never returning – the property of homeless people, in violation of local rules.

Heather Lee tried to get her stuff back, but never did. Photo from stolenbelonging.org

The videos by The Stolen Belonging project, a collaboration with Leslie Dreyer, Coalition on Homelessness, and unhoused San Franciscans, include an interview with a former worker for the Department of Public Works who says that he was never trained to tag or protect the possessions of people caught up in homeless sweeps and that – at the direction of the cops and his supervisors — most of their stuff is simply thrown away:

INTERVIEWER(S):Did you ever come upon homeless encampments or people’s belongings when you worked for DPW?

FORMER DPW WORKER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER(S): And what did you do with those items that you came upon?

FORMER DPW WORKER:The company and the supervisors would say to throw the belongings away, like their tents and all that and their clothing and their belongings they got.

INTERVIEWER(S): Okay. Would your supervisors ever tell you about the correct policy?

FORMER DPW WORKER:Yeah, I was never trained to see the policy and the rules and all that. They never told me nothing, to do none of that.

INTERVIEWER(S): You just followed the supervisors?

FORMER DPW WORKER:I just followed the boss’ commands what to do, so that was about it.

More:

INTERVIEWER(S): But once you’ve decided, or you’ve been ordered by police, to confiscate their stuff? Do you give them any sort of receipt? Do you bag and tag it?

FORMER DPW WORKER:No

INTERVIEWER(S): Does it just go in the back of the truck?

FORMER DPW WORKER:Just toss it.

INTERVIEWER(S): So what happens at the DPW yard when these people come to get their stuff?

FORMER DPW WORKER:Their belongings?

INTERVIEWER(S): Um, hm.

FORMER DPW WORKER:Well, they’ll try to get them back, but it’s too late.

INTERVIEWER(S): It’s usually gone?

FORMER DPW WORKER:It’s gone.

The former worker is, of course, anonymous, but SF Weekly’s Nuala Sawyer confirmed that the person was, indeed, a DPW employee.

By law, if DPW and the police seize the property of homeless people in the sweeps that are still going on under Mayor London Breed, that property has to be put in a bag and tagged with information that would allow the owner to come and get it.

Among the items seized are medical supplies
But try to get your stuff back and it’s been “stolen.”

The site, stolenbelonging.org, includes a remarkable video of what happens when a homeless person tries to go to the DPW lot and reclaim her possessions.

She waits. And waits. In the rain. And then the place closes.

Homeless advocates say almost nobody ever gets their stuff back.

The group filed a public records request for all the “bag and tag” sheets, and found that many of them are vague, have no locations or names – and include critical things like insulin medication that have been taken.

I asked Rachel Gordon, the spokesperson for DPW, about this, and she hasn’t gotten back to me. She told Sawyer that the lot where the homeless people’s property is stored is prone to break-ins, and that a lot of the material gets stolen.

Dreyer, who helped produce the videos, told me that “we interviewed people all over the city,” and that the reports were consistent: The city takes people’s property – including critical items like medicine and shelter that they need to survive – and there’s really no way to get it back.

This is what the sweeps look like under the current administration.

SF rent control turns 40

The Tenants Union has been in the forefront of the fight to create and save rent control for four decades.

Sometimes even long-time San Franciscans take the city’s rent control regulations for granted, but we need to remember that we have tenant projections today because ordinary people fought for them in the past. Their efforts are worth contemplating: though oft-neglected in personality-centered accounts of the city, they are an inspiring reminder of how much we can accomplish when we organize together.

The Tenants Union has been in the forefront of the fight to create and save rent control for four decades.

San Francisco’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance law grew out of community-based organizing around housing issues that really picked up steam in 1968. Some believe that the spark was a rent strike in the Haight Ashbury involving five buildings owned by the same landlord.

The Haight Ashbury was the epicenter of the DIY, countercultural scene. The organization I work for, the San Francisco Tenants Union, opened its doors there in these heady times at 1310 Haight St in 1970 (it was originally the Tenants Action Group, or TAG). Nearby was the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic and also Huckleberry House (which provided services for runaway youth). TAG eventually moved into the back of the Haight Ashbury Switchboard at 1539 Haight St.

Then as now, our organization was a mutual aid collective in which volunteers counsel tenants and help with office duties. Occasionally there was enough money to hire an office manager, but with our deliberately horizontal structure, volunteers and staff made — and make — decisions equally and collectively in steering meetings.

From the beginning, the counseling clinic was seen as a political project. Advising tenants on their rights was not merely a service, but also a tool for self-empowerment and a way to build tenant solidarity across economic class. That is why, today, when you visit us for counseling, you sit in a room with other tenants—this helps people build connections and learn from one another’s problems. It is also why we ask you to join as members; we want to build a participatory tenants movement.

In 1979, advocates pushed a ballot measure (Proposition R) that would have allowed vacancy control, a relatively restrictive form of rent control that caps rents rather than allowing anything-goes market prices when a unit becomes vacant. Prop R also included eviction protections and condominium conversion limits. Vacancy control greatly reduces landlords’ incentive to evict because it limits the amount that they can raise rents whether the unit is occupied or not. Had we won and kept vacancy control for all these years, we would not see the extreme rent increases in boom times because rents would be regulated.

Rent control isn’t just a policy promoted by longhaired radicals. The state has also seen its value at times, and enacted it in key munitions-production locations during wartime as well as during the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline. The question arose for the federal government: why should a private landlord reap tremendous private gains—or “windfall profits”—from inflated prices because a flood of workers have come to participate in a state-supported effort? The same question could apply to our current flood of well-paid tech workers.

In California, Proposition 13 provided an additional reason for the eventual passage of rent control. Prop 13 rolled back and capped future increases of property tax—price control for owners. It was sold to tenant voters by claiming that property owners would pass the savings on to renters by lowering rents. Interestingly, landlords did not unite in supporting the tax savings. At the time, the California Housing Council—which represents corporate landlords and apartment developers criticized Howard Jarvis’ Prop 13, saying that it went too far and would all but guarantee the passage of rent control by stirring up tenant activists. Their fears proved correct and, when lower rents failed to materialize, this sparked what was called a “tenants’ revolt” in many Californian cities.

Weeks before the 1979 vote on Prop R, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, along with Mayor Feinstein, passed a weaker, 60-day rent freeze, which allowed them to placate some of the concerns about out-of-control rents. Although this doomed Prop R, San Francisco now had rent control.

Since the 1979, the city’s rent ordinance has been much improved thanks to local advocacy and neighborhood groups organizing to take care of each other. Other organizations formed that specialize in housing problems. Housing Rights Committee (1979) are experts in public housing, SRO, and Section 8 housing. There are language-specific organizations counseling tenants in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Russian, and Vietnamese and special non-profit law firms that you can visit when you can’t avoid hiring a lawyer.

The Tenants Union moved into its current building at 558 Capp St in 1980, which it shares with the National Lawyers Guild. From 1988 until his untimely death in 2014, Ted Gullicksen was our longest running “office manager.”

State level efforts to repeal Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act—two state laws that do the most damage to tenants’ rights—in the cesspool that is Sacramento show us that local organizing is still the most powerful way to protect tenant residents. Thanks to activism by delegates, the Democratic Party officially supported Yes on 10, which would have repealed Costa Hawkins, but mainstream Democratic politicians were almost completely silent on the issue during the campaign. Our local representatives jostled with each other to get in photo-ops with wealthy benefactor Marc Benioff once he publicly embraced Prop C, but rarely risked speeches supporting Prop 10.

In fact, Nancy Pelosi had scheduled an appearance to promote supervisor candidates endorsed by our Labor Council but cancelled when she learned that Prop 10 would also be featured because she deemed it “too controversial.” The lesson is that we cannot wait for Democratic personalities to pass these reforms on their own. Politicians are only as bold as we make them.

The battle over who controls and gets to exclude others from property is centuries old. The state can choose to distribute “rights” to benefit individuals or society more broadly. Pioneering tenant advocates fought for the right to stable, affordable housing whomever it was owned by. Their victories and also their setbacks are what make up the complicated history of San Francisco’s tenant rights movement. We should keep their inspiring organizing in mind as we protect and further the project.

You can celebrate 40 years of rent control with the San Francisco Tenants Union on June ll, 2019 at 6 pm.

There are no Yimbys

Yimbys shout down a rally against SB 827, which would have allowed more density in other people's back yards.

There are no Yimbys.

Yimby stands for Yes In My Back Yard. But Yimby advocates don’t have backyards.  It’s other peoples’ backyards they want.  They just can’t say that.

Yimbys shout down a rally against SB 827, which would have allowed more density in other people’s back yards.

I was struck by the fact that advocates of limitless market-rate housing adopted this term to describe themselves. Politically, they don’t support backyards, believing backyards are land that should be developed instead of being preserved as gardens, gathering places, or open space for families.

The Yimbys fiercely support the state eliminating most local zoning altogether — the zoning that is the bedrock of lasting stability in communities. They ardently support development “by-right” without restrictions, and also strongly support the right of the state to allow developers up to six exemptions from such mandates as rear yards, open space, and set-backs. I note that their advocacy aligns perfectly with right-wing deregulators.

So it struck me that Yes In My Back Yard is a myth. The term should be “Yes In Other People’s Back Yards,” or Yes in Your Back Yard, Yiybys, as Calvin Welch put it when we talked recently.

After reading a recent NY Times op-ed, and a recent piece in Nation Magazine, and listening to the dominant narrative from Yimby spokespersons, I have learned that as a progressive working-class native San Franciscan and homeowner, it is my fault and the fault of other progressives who have blocked the development of sufficient housing for the thousands upon thousands of high tech workers who want to live in San Francisco. Damn! My bad.

Never mind that I and other community residents have over years — decades — of volunteer and full-time nonprofit work caused to be constructed more truly affordable housing units for working class and low-income folks than all the Bay Area Yimbys put together. The affordable housing has been promoted by community activists, not by developers.

Senator Wiener’s SB50 literally spells out that developments of ten units or less, such as will be allowed in areas zoned RH-3,RH-2 and RH-1, will be exempt from building any affordable units, and alternatively developers will be allowed to build McMansions in lieu of mid-rise condos.

I am clear that the housing we need the most is for existing lower income working class and middle-class residents.  Over decades our city leaders have allowed, invited and with huge tax breaks, encouraged the influx of a massive concentration of capital in San Francisco.  The huge public investment that has enabled the concentration of capital has never been recovered by our city. Instead, our city continues to use taxpayer money to pave the way for Google, Uber, and Facebook, et. al despite the obvious need for regulation and limitation to sustain livability for the city’s residents and workers.

The population that is to be the chief beneficiary for the current Yiyby narrative is that portion of the top 30 percent of wage earners who work in the tech industry and who want to live where there are a lot of restaurants, bars, and gyms, and reside in the cool areas of town, usually ethnic and working-class communities.

What they are saying about development is: Yes in Your Back Yard. Because Yimbys don’t have back yards.

Ethics agrees to 6-1 match for local candidates

The San Francisco Ethics Commission voted 4-0 today to increase public funding for local candidates and encourage more small donations.

The panel agreed to match donations of as much as $150 at a 6-1 ratio – meaning a $150 donor would translate into $900 in public funds.

The commission declined to make public money available to candidates earlier in the campaign season.

Ethics also voted to increase the initial public grant for supervisor candidates to $60,000 and mayoral candidates to $300,000 and upped the maximum funding levels to $252,000 for incumbent supervisors and $255,000 for non-incumbents.

Incumbent mayor candidates will be able to receive $1,185,000 and non-incumbents $1.2 million.

That reflects the increase in campaign costs; it’s been years since the city revisted those figures.

The original proposal originally applied the 6-1 match only to donations of $100 or less. But in a letter to the commission, activists Steve Hill wrote that matching the “$100 is poor policy… because it is too low and runs the risk of forcing candidates to have to raise even more contributions than with the current program.” So the Board agreed to amend the proposal to match donations at a 6 to 1 ratio for donations of up to $150.

In 2012, the Ethics Commission voted to change the initial grant date from 284 days to 142 days before the election, which is after the filing deadline for candidates to join the race. The commission decided that it’s better to require candidates to be more serious about a run for office before giving out public money.

Public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the changes. Hill told the commissioners that creating good policy is a “matter of balance” and urged the board members to “lean more toward $200” as a match threshold if possible. Supervisor Gordon Mar’s legislative aide said that he wanted to match donations of up to $165.

The measure now moves to the Board of Supes, which is expected to hear it next month.

Under fire, SF cops announce criminal investigation of reporter

Thomas Burke, lawyer for Bryan Carmody, answers media questions after the hearing.

In a highly unusual move, SF Police Chief Bill Scott said today that the freelance journalist whose house was raided 11 days ago is a criminal suspect in an ongoing investigation.

At a hastily arranged press conference, Scott said that the SFPD suspects Bryan Carmody may have been involved in a criminal conspiracy to steal a confidential police report about the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

SFPD has come under criticism and ridicule from free-press advocates across the country for their May 10 raid at the home and office of Carmody, a freelance journalist who has worked in the Bay Area as a videographer and stringer for 30 years.

Chief Bill Scott, whose department is under fire for raiding a reporters’ home and office, now says the journalist is under investigation for criminal conspiracy.

Carmody said SFPD officers interviewed him on April 11 asking the name of the source who leaked him a police report with details of Jeff Adachi’s death. When he refused, he said the officers threatened him with a federal grand jury subpoena. He said he had no further contact with SFPD until May 10 when they arrived at his home and attempted to use a sledgehammer to gain entry to his home until Carmody opened the door for them.

“We do believe Mr. Carmody committed a crime, and that’s what we believed early on,” Scott said, but added, “There are some lessons to be learned here; we’re very humble about taking criticism.”

“Leaks happen all the time. The difference we believe here is the reporter crossed the line. We believe he took part in this act, this criminal activity,” Scott said.

In a written declaration attached to a motion to quash the search warrant filed last week, Carmody stated the leaked report was provided to him unsolicited by a source.

“I did not ask the source to provide me with this document,” he wrote. “I did not pay or provide any compensation whatsoever to the source for providing this report to me – nor did I promise them that I would pay or compensate them in the future in any way.”

It’s very rare for a reporter who receives confidential information from sources to face criminal conspiracy charges.

It’s also very rare for the normally secretive folks at SFPD to announce this sort of information about an ongoing investigation.

The press conference came just hours after a court hearing on Carmody’s move to undo the search warrant and return his property.

At the hearing, an SFPD attorney said the seized items will be returned. However, it remains unclear if the SFPD has already examined the material in the two weeks since the raid on Bryan Carmody’s home and office, or if police have retained copies.

Thomas Burke, lawyer for Bryan Carmody, answers media questions after the hearing.

Thomas Burke, a first amendment and media attorney representing Carmody, filed a motion last week asking the search warrant be quashed and the 68 seized items —including phones, computers, tablets, hard drives and notebooks – be returned. Separately, the First Amendment Coalition filed a motion to unseal the probable cause memos that SFPD presented to two judges to obtain search warrants.

Burke also represents 48hills on media-law issues.

To the surprise of many, including Judge Samuel Feng, City Attorney Dennis Herrera is not representing the SFPD in this case and sent nobody to the hearing.

Feng even asked from the bench why the City Attorney’s Office wasn’t present. Ronnie Wagner, the SFPD in-house lawyer, said she didn’t know.

Herrera’s office offered no comment on the matter. But Herrera would have been in a terrible political situation trying to defend the city on this case.

As of Tuesday morning, no opposition brief had been filed with the court, and attorneys were optimistic the judge might make a favorable ruling from the bench.

“I don’t think we were aware that anyone was even going to appear today on behalf of the city,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. “They had the opportunity to file some papers and they chose not to do so.”

But Wagner, who works in the SFPD Legal Division, appeared in court and said while SFPD was prepared to return all of the seized items, they would challenge the motions to quash and unseal the search warrants.

Judge Feng ordered opposition briefs to be filed by May 31, and replies no later than June 7. A hearing date for the matter won’t be set until June 10.

Even if the seized items are returned, Burke said he still wants the search warrants revoked.

“We want it made clear that they shouldn’t have been issued in the first place,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.

California’s Shield Law, which was enshrined in the state constitution in 1980, protects journalists from being forced to disclose sources or unpublished material except in cases where it may interfere with a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial. Burke said it creates a “subpoena-first” policy, which is the appropriate way to get information from a journalist.

“It’s like a sniper shot — as opposed to a search warrant, which is a net that grabs everything you’ve ever worked on,” he said. “That’s never appropriate.  It’s not appropriate in San Francisco, it’s not appropriate anywhere in the country.”

Snyder said the public has a right to see the documentation SFPD presented to obtain the warrant because it will help explain if the judges who signed off on them understood the target was a journalist, and “help unravel the mystery of what went off the rails here that allowed these search warrants to be issued.”

Typically the search warrant applications are made public after a warrant is issued. In this case, for reasons that are unclear, the application memo has been sealed.

“What’s at stake here is the ability of the Fourth Estate…to conduct its constitutionally-protected mission, which is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy,” he said. “When the core mission of journalism is threatened in the way that I think it has been here, the entire public suffers.”

Uber’s plans include attacking public transit

Uber has acknowledged in a federal filing that its long-term goal is to privatize public transportation around the world.

In a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the ride-hail company reports that it seeks, as part of its growth strategy, not just to get people out of private cars but to get them off public buses and trains.

Those public services would be replaced by Uber Buses, now being tested in Cairo.

That stunning revelation is deep in a 300-page document called an S1, which the SEC requires for any company planning an initial public offering.

Uber’s IPO is expected this Friday. The document was filed April 11. I don’t think any of the major news media covering the IPO have noticed or reported on this part of Uber’s plans.

The S1 is fascinating reading (if you’re into this sort of thing). You can find it here. Uber admits in the document that it might never make a profit; that it continues to lose billions by underpricing its product (rides) to gain customer loyalty and market share; and that its entire business model could collapse if regulators or the courts decide that its drivers are employees, not private contractors.

So how is this company going to be attractive to investors? By about page 160, the company starts talking about its “Total Addressable Market.”

Here’s the first sign of what’s going on:

Our Personal Mobility TAM consists of 11.9 trillion miles per year, representing an estimated $5.7 trillion market opportunity in 175 countries. We include all passenger vehicle miles and all public transportation miles in all countries globally in our TAM, including those we have yet to enter, except for the 20 countries that we address through our ownership positions in our minority-owned affiliates, over which we have no operational control other than approval rights with respect to certain material corporate actions. These 20 countries represent an additional estimated market opportunity of approximately $0.5 trillion. We include trips greater than 30 miles in our TAM because riders already take trips over 30 miles on our platform, and over time riders may increasingly use our Ridesharing products for trips greater than 30 miles as the cost of such trips, and ultimately the degree to which individuals acquire their own automobiles, declines.

That’s right: The “market” for Uber includes all of the passengers who now take public transportation.

More:

We estimate that our TAM comprised 11.9 trillion miles in 175 countries in 2017. As detailed in the table below, this estimate includes both vehicle miles and public transportation miles. Our TAM is based on 7.5 trillion vehicle miles. We derive the number of vehicle miles in our TAM by multiplying the number of passenger cars in each country, based on third-party data, by our country-level estimates of miles traveled per car, based on 2018 reports from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and the International Road Federation (©IRF World Road Statistics). Our TAM also includes an estimated 4.4 trillion public transportation miles.

Here’s where you get the real point:

Increasing Ridesharing penetration in existing markets. Our large addressable market opportunity means that with approximately 26 billion miles traveled on our platform in 2018, we have only reached a less than 1% penetration of miles traveled in trips under 30 miles in the 63 countries in which we operate. We believe we can continue to grow the number of trips taken with our Ridesharing products and replace personal vehicle ownership and usage and public transportation one use case at a time, including through continued investment in our affordable Ridesharing options, such as Uber Bus and Express POOL.

That’s right: Uber plans to grow its business by replacing public transportation.

The company, as far as I know, has never admitted that before. Its PR materials always talk about the environmental benefits of getting people out of private cars. The idea of decimating public transportation in the name of profits for a global corporation is pretty scary.

We have seen this before, starting in the 1930s, when a handful of big companies including General Motors and Standard Oil bought up urban rail lines around the country to force people to buy private cars. This is now considered a dark moment in environmental and transportation policy that created, among other things, the freeways and smog of Los Angeles and the end of rail transit on the Bay Bridge.

There’s a reason transportation, especially urban transportation, is public. Many Muni lines would lose money if they were treated as business ventures; they don’t have enough passengers to justify their existence. But San Francisco has a policy of making transit available to everyone, in every neighborhood.

The 8 Bayshore and the 9 San Bruno, for example, serve southeast neighborhoods that badly need transit access – but that likely wouldn’t get an Uber bus.

But Uber is telling Wall Street that its future as a company may depend on its ability to convince people to take private cars and buses instead of public transit, starving transit and ultimately forcing everyone to pay Uber to get around.

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who chairs the Land Use and Transportation Committee and has long been critical of Uber, told me that “this sounds like a Machiavellian plan to harm the tens of millions of people who rely on public transit … if there’s a definition of evil, this is it.”

He also said that San Francisco should fight the plan and not allow Uber buses. “I hope this is fought by every city in the United States,” he said.

Uber would probably not exist in its current format if San Francisco and other cities had not allowed it to break the law and run illegal cabs for years. Now, as always seems to be the case, policy-makers are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the impacts of Uber-friendly policies.

And I’m not sure anyone is prepared for an all-out assault on public transit, backed by billions in venture capital and Wall Street money.

But we need to get ready – now.

The Ukraine elections, Putin, and Trump

Ukrainians can chose a crook or a clown as their new president. So far the clown is winning.

Volodymyr Zelensky, a prominent comedian without political experience, received 30 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate election last Sunday. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, a corrupt oligarch, came in second with 16 percent. They face a runoff election later this month.

Like Donald Trump and comedian Beppe Grillo in Italy, Zelensky capitalized on his entertainment fame to run as an outsider staunchly opposed to corruption. Zelensky campaigned as if he was the character in his hit TV series, according to Nicolai Petro, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island.

“He’s just an average guy who runs into increased corruption,” Petro told me in a phone interview. “He maintains fundamental honesty, and that’s what he’s saying as a political candidate.”

The election comes at a crucial time. The dispute over Crimea continues, and Russian troops back armed insurrection in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has killed 13,000 people and displaced millions.

Conflict between Russia and the US is also heating up as both sides compete for profits and spheres of influence in the region. And, interestingly enough, the conflict is connected to the Russiagate scandal. More on that in a bit.

Ukraine nationalism

During a reporting trip to Kiev on a blustery winter day I saw more than 5,000 young people waving huge yellow and blue Ukrainian flags as they converged on the city’s central square. They had just forced the prime minister to resign.

“It’s a great victory,” one student told me. “It’s a day I will remember all of my life.”

The year was 1990, when Ukraine was still part of the USSR. Ukrainian nationalists were convinced that forming a separate nation would lead to democracy and economic prosperity. It didn’t work out that way.

Ordinary people in the USSR were legitimately angry at the government and Soviet-style socialism because of a lack of housing, food and quality medical care. But opportunist leaders, backed by various western countries, manipulated that anger for their own power and profit.

Ukraine had the second largest economy among the Soviet republics with abundant natural resources, industry, and a rich agricultural base. A Soviet pipeline carried natural gas through Ukraine to western Europe. Nowadays, both the US and Russia seek to dominate Ukraine for geo-political reasons, according to Lev Golinkin, a journalist and memoirist born in Ukraine.

“The US considers Ukraine to be part of Russia’s backyard,” he told me in a phone interview. “The US believes that if you can turn Ukraine into a western democracy, then Russians will want the same.”

Russian officials have the same concerns, only in mirror image. Russia doesn’t want Ukraine to join NATO and have hostile troops posted along its border. Vladimir Putin often talks about combating discrimination against Russian speakers living in Ukraine.

“Putin has positioned himself as a protector of the Russian world,” said Golinkin.

Over the past 20 years Ukraine has seen a series of mass demonstrations, elections, and coups that have brought pro-western or pro-Russian governments to power. In 2004 the so-called Orange revolution replaced a corrupt, pro-Russian government with one backed by the US.

In 2013 elected President Viktor Yanukovych angered western powers by blocking plans for Ukraine to associate with the European Union. Ukrainians returned to Kiev’s central Maidan Square to protest against Yanukovych.

These demonstrations, dubbed the Maidan Revolution, included strong participation by Svoboda (Freedom), an anti-Semitic, pro-fascist political movement, as well as oligarchs bent on installing themselves in power.

The Obama administration played an active behind the scenes role in choosing Ukraine’s new leaders, as revealed in a tapped phone conversation between two high level US diplomats.

“Talk about meddling,” said Golinkin. “They are talking like corporate managers and the country is theirs.”

Petro Poroshenko, a pro-US billionaire chocolate manufacturer, won hastily called elections in 2014, campaigning as an outsider. Three members of Svoboda joined the cabinet, and one became deputy prime minister.

Russia retaliated by instigating an independence movement in Crimea, a key region of Ukraine populated mostly by ethnic Russians.

In Russia’s view, “the Crimean parliament had the right to self determination,” said Professor Petro. Crimea voted by a 95 percent margin to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Meanwhile, according to the government in Kiev, out of uniform Russian troops invaded eastern Ukraine, an industrialized area with a large majority of Russian speakers. Allied with local militias, Russian troops still occupy parts of eastern Ukraine.

The US denounced Russian aggression and imposed harsh sanctions. Russia has weathered the storm, however, and Ukraine continues to face a low intensity war.

Enter Trump – stage right

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, Donald Trump opposed pretty much anything Barack Obama supported. Obama had made Putin into a major US enemy. Trump promoted a right-wing isolationism that included sympathy for strongman Putin. The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia over the issue of Ukraine. Within days of taking office, Trump explored lifting those sanctions.

The possibility of warming relations with Russia freaked out the Washington establishment. FBI Director James Comey initiated a secret investigation of the Trump presidential campaign. I think officials such as Comey and CIA Director James Clapper used the claims of Russian manipulation of the US election as a cover to prevent warming of US-Russian relations.

Mainstream Democrats jumped on the anti-Russia bandwagon and attacked Trump from the right. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi infamously said, “It seems that Putin is Trump’s puppeteer, and that House Republicans have decided to join the charade.”

That’s very dangerous indeed.

Imagine if a progressive Democrat wins the 2020 presidential election and adopts policies opposed by the Washington establishment, say withdrawing US troops from South Korea. Would the FBI investigate Bernie Sanders for colluding with North Korea?

The FBI and CIA actions are completely unconstitutional, notes Professor Petro.

“Senior political appointees can really undermine the president’s policies,” he said. “I’ll give you three words: The Deep State.”

Ukraine’s future

Presidential candidates Zelensky faces Poroshenko in a runoff election April 21. Zelensky has expressed willingness to negotiate with Russia while Poroshenko has publicly refused. Right wingers in Ukraine oppose any reconciliation with Russia and will seek to prevent talks no matter who wins.

As the world has seen, independent outsiders have a much harder time governing than campaigning. Nevertheless, a peaceful resolution of the Russia/Ukraine conflict is essential. Let’s hope that either side can make some headway.

Reese Erlich’s nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks in 48Hills. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.

 

Some humanity for people without homes

Police and DPW workers force homeless campers to get rid of or move their belongings. Now, they want to get rid of their RVs. Photo by John Youll

In the past week, we’ve seen some very disturbing things that have shown just how bad things are in terms of the lack of empathy and humanity in the hearts of many.

The other night we saw scores of angry people in Berkeley come out in full force to protest people who are living in their cars and RVs. These uncaring folks were pounding the tables demanding that houseless folks not BE ALLOWED to park on city streets overnight. The Berkeley City Council, under great pressure, responded and voted to basically shut down those who can’t afford $3,000 rents.

Police and DPW workers force homeless campers to get rid of or move their belongings. Now, they want to get rid of their RVs. Photo by John Youll

Berkeley joins a host of other cities, most notably Mountainview, which led the charge, that forbids folks from sleeping in RVs and cars overnight. You will find signs even in various parts of Oakland disallowing this as well.

During the City Council meeting, you had all sorts of folks stepping forward talking about they are scared for their safety and that folks living in their RVs are messy, while others were crying about how they paid all sorts of money for their homes and don’t want the homeless around. It was disgusting and just underscores how out of wack we have gotten.

A few things to keep in mind. Long before we saw this crazy meeting at Berkeley City Council, we saw war being waged at Cal students living in RVs who were parked over at the Marina in Berkeley. Many students, from Cal to San Jose to SF State, cannot afford high housing costs that go along with high tuition. 

They are among the houseless population as they are trying their best to improve their lot in life by attending school. Sadly, people complained and laws were found that led to the eviction of those car and RV dwellers.

Others started parking in other parts of Berkeley. Again the reason being, its damn near impossible to find affordable housing. 

Many others who sleep in their cars do so because they have two or three jobs and live far away, which makes commuting damn near impossible and hella expensive, now that we have all these toll lanes that do surge pricing, where prices can skyrocket to over 10 bucks just to ride one stretch of freeway. Let me give you an example, of how your car becomes a home of sorts, since I was one of those folks for a short spell.

To cross the bridge from Oakland and get out to SF/Daly City at the height of rush hour, that drive was taking more than two hours. Keep in mind, this was coming from Oakland, not Tracey, Modesto, Fairfield etc, where so many others are commuting from. In order to avoid that nightmare, it was actually more conducive to leave my house at 4 am and get over to SF by 4:30.

Only problem, nothing was open that early in the morning. That meant that I would park my car, sleep for a bit, read or do some work as I waited for nearby coffee shops to open at 6 am. Keep in mind, I didn’t have to be to work until 9 or 9:30 so I had 3-4 hours to kill each morning. I wasn’t alone in doing these super early morning commutes to avoid mad traffic. 

Like many others, I also found it was easier to stay and hang out later in the evening to avoid horrific traffic conditions to return home to Oakland. So rather than sit in traffic during peak rush hour times, it was easier to find a cafe or other establishment where I could park for free and wait for traffic to die down. 

Again, keep in mind, I’m commuting to Oakland. Imagine the plight of folks who been displaced to Tracey, Stockton, Modesto. Many of those folks have two jobs — which means rather than make a 2-3-hour commute only to come back, they will park their car and sleep somewhere before heading to their next job. Others will literally live out their cars for a few days and stay near their jobs rather than do the crazy commutes. 

That’s just one scenario. Many others simply don’t have $10,000 sitting around to pay first and last months’ rent plus deposit to move into an apartment, even if they can actually afford the rent, so they are living out of cars and RVs. Folks like me have a home, it’s the traffic that keeps us in cars. These other folks have no home at all. Their cars and RVs are home. But sadly greedy, unfeeling ruthless residents in all these cities are rushing to city councils demanding laws be passed so no one can sleep in cars and campers. The refrain you hear over and over is “Not in My Neighborhood.”

Adding to the car dweller population are folks who are coming to the Bay Area from all over the state who are part of the so-called gig economy. Many people hold jobs that require them to drive their own cars. Many are Uber and Lyft drivers. Others are delivery folks. I’ve met folks who are living out their cars while hustling for gigs three or four days a week before returning home to one of those outlying cities. They have been told over and over again, that the money is here in the Bay Area. 

Every day they are bombarded with gleeful news reports about how the Bay is brimming with millionaires with thousands more soon to emerge after some tech companies go public. So folks are driving their cars from all over the state trying to cash in. Ain’t too much money to be made in Modesto and Stockton. 

For many car dwellers, cafes and coffee shops have become essential and important additions to their lifestyle. They are the new living rooms and water cooler spots where car dwellers use the washroom to freshen up, grab a snack, a drink, and use the wifi while working their gigs.

Sadly, many of these establishments are also reacting to the complaints of unfeeling newcomers who are complaining that all the seats are taken or that there are lines for the bathroom. So now we see cafes putting time limits on your stay and combination locks on the bathrooms.

Complicating all this are the thousands of folks who don’t live in cars or RVs but now live in tents under freeway overpasses, alleyways, and storefronts. These folks are being pushed from one neighborhood to the next, which has resulted in contentious fights in cities like San Jose and SF, where we’ve seen stiff opposition to not only the encampments but also to proposed service centers and facilities to help those living in tents in our streets.

Last week we saw rapid angry folks in San Jose yelling and getting hysterical: “Not in my backyard.” “Get rid of these people.” “They are gonna hurt my kids.” 

In SF we have all these elitist folks are pooling their money to hire a lawyer to stop the city from opening a center to help the houseless near the Embarcedaro.

What’s crazy about this entire situation is that many of the folks running around insisting that we have stringent laws in place to stop folks from sleeping in cars or to not have service centers in their neighborhood are one bad fire, one bad earthquake, or one or two missed paychecks away from being in a dire predicament where they, too, will be forced to sleep in cars or under a freeway. 

Those who oppose the help being given to others will be crying the loudest and be the most demanding and trying to get to the front of the line if they find themselves and their lives upheaveled.

Let’s not lose our humanity. It’s sad to see that so many others have already checked out and tossed theirs away.

The view from a homeless shelter

A shelter is not a home.

Will someone please adopt me? Take me in?

I’m going to be 45 at the end of this month and I’m trying to wade through a bog of mid-life crises. Will I ever be happy again in this city?

A shelter is not a home.

I’m a special education teaching assistant at an elementary school (dreams of becoming a full-fledged teacher someday), and I live in a women’s homeless shelter. I’m so depressed. Even after three years of being “housing insecure,” as some institutions like to call it, I haven’t lost any sense of decency.

I don’t have first, last, and security deposit. I just have enough to start out paying one month’s rent for a decent room  where I can close the door at least. To share a bathroom, if I must, with just a few people at most who clean up after themselves.

I need peace. The space to cry. And if it’s a cold, rainy weekend day, I want to be able to sleep in, stay in, enjoy warmth without being woken up with fluorescent McDonald’s-esque lights at 6am and kicked out at 7am to be thrown into the harsh cold of a ghost town of homeless people wandering the streets looking for a cafe to try and warm up in, not pay too much, and feel justified to be there, accepted, and try to wait and while away the time in a daze for hours until places open.

I am so sick of housing waiting lists and waiting lists to get on more waiting lists, and feeling rejected because of my credit report, when I know I can pay one month’s rent at the beginning of each month, if the rent is around $1,000 a month. My credit report is like a death sentence. Rental applications scare me. My rental history? It consists of staying in a women’s shelter on and off for three years.

I used to have my own apartment in this city for a long time, before lay-offs and few and far between freelance gigs back in the advertising industry. I used to feel like I belonged here, in this city that now makes me feel like the loneliest person in the world. And having a therapist and being on antidepressants isn’t enough.

I can’t breathe being homeless. Every evening when I’m on my way to the shelter and every morning when I wake there, I feel like crying rivers. It’s welled up inside me and I can’t express it because I have to stay tough in that environment, and I don’t want to go insane.

When I’m so tired after a long day’s work, I can’t immediately go home to lie down. I have to wait until the shelter opens. If I’m feeling sick at work or just need a personal day to rest (because I can’t seem to get enough sleep, what with all the distractions, you just never know what to expect), I can’t just go home and get in bed. I can’t lie down until the shelter opens. I’m at the mercy of the shelter’s hours.

I don’t know a way out. It depresses me so much that sometimes it clouds my thoughts when I’m at work, when I need to be present with the kids. The kids. What makes me happy. What helps me keep on living. I have friends, a few who know I’m homeless, and most who don’t because I don’t want them to think any less of me.

I just want a decent home, not transitional housing. I want to be around normal again. Invite friends over for tea. Have my friends’ children come over to spend time with me, in a normal place without scary roommates. I want to shop in the frozen food section again. Bake. Microwave. Cook. Clean. Have my toiletries waiting for me in the bathroom. Be able to stand naked in front of a mirror, not wrestle with clothing in a bathroom stall. Hang my clothes up and see them. All of them. Leave my backpack at home. Because my back hurts and even though I’m not one of the homeless who tote luggage and stuffed wheely carts, I feel self-conscious about looking homeless because my too heavy backpack (even when I’ve tried and tried to travel light) is oppressive and even if I don’t look homeless, I feel it, and it’s hard to shrug off.

Will someone please adopt me? Rent me a room without judging me? Meet me and know that you can count on a friendly, considerate, and respectful tenant?

I’m healthy. Never done drugs, not unless you count my antidepressants that aren’t addictive, just necessary for the time being. I’ve taken all the tests and shots necessary to work with children. I’ve passed countless background checks (despite my credit report), I’ve never gone to jail. I’m a Berkeley grad. I even dabbled in law school right after college. How normal and safe do I have to prove myself worthy enough to get a normal and safe home?

I’m just a very sad woman right now because of these horrible circumstances, a sad woman craving peace in San Francisco.

I want to live.