And now, for reasons that I seriously cannot comprehend, the Chron just ran an oped with a vicious assault on the new DA from …. Donald Trump’s campaign.
Yeah: There’s a piece by Kimberly Guilfoyle,who is working with the Trump campaign, that brands Boudin (once again) as a commie who is going to let criminals run rampant across the city.
Check this out:
Boudin is advancing a radical ideology that’s focused on completely redesigning the city’s — and the nation’s — criminal justice system.
This dangerous reality is also being peddled by a new brand of Bernie Sanders-endorsed Democrats across the country. And, worse yet, the ideology is seemingly inspired by American communist revolutionaries who gained notoriety during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Yet again, the Chron is trying to call Boudin a communist. It gets worse:
For Boudin, the ties that bind him to the violent leftist movement of the last century couldn’t be closer.
His adoptive parents are none other than Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the notorious leaders of the communist-driven domestic terrorist group Weather Underground. Ayers was involved in the bombings of a New York police station, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon in the early ’70s.
As a young adult pursuing a career in law, Boudin didn’t abandon the radical ideology of his upbringing; he embraced it by moving to Venezuela. Boudin served as a translator for Hugo Chavez, the communist dictator who dismantled the nation’s democracy and set the country on the path to its current state of socialism-induced economic collapse.
So first, Boudin is responsible for the politics of his parents. Then he’s working “as a translator for Hugo Chavez,” who was not a communist dictator but the elected president of Venezuela. And Boudin didn’t work for Chavez – he was far, far too junior to be anywhere near the top of the government. He worked as a translator in a much more insignificant role.
And I have to wonder: Does the author really think that linking Boudin to Bernie Sanders – in San Francisco – is going to hurt the new DA? Sanders is overwhelmingly popular in this city; that argument just makes Boudin look better.
So what’s this about?
I don’t know where this piece came from; it’s hard to believe that Guilfoyle, who has plenty to do in her day job, bothered to decide to write and submit an oped attacking Bernie Sanders, Chesa Boudin, and communists on her own and submitted it to the Chron.
In fact, the piece reads like a Fox-News-style attack that was drafted by someone who wanted to put forward right-wing talking points.
I asked Diaz to explain why he ran this, but he won’t answer my emails. And he hasn’t run a response from the Boudin campaign.
The Chron’s editorial page hasn’t had a lot of credibility in this town for quite a while. This pretty much makes it a joke.
How many district attorneys in the country would have taken on the entire police leadership team in a corruption case?
The major media never gave him credit as the only district attorney in the state to support Prop. 215, which legalized medical cannabis in 1996.
They strongly backed Kamala Harris when she ran against him for DA on a law-and-order platform — and Harris used those stories in her campaign. The Chron repeatedly said that Hallinan had the lowest conviction rate in the state — which is a bad metric anyway — but after Hallinan was gone, they never looked at the conviction rates of Harris or George Gascon.
“The major media were always terrible to Terence,” Tom Ammiano, who served with Hallinan on the board, told me.
Hallinan was far from perfect. He grew up in a brawling family, his father Vincent a famous left-wing lawyer. He was in trouble with the police by the time he was 18. He brought that attitude to government; he wasn’t always polite.
But he was a civil-rights icon, often ahead of his time.
I remember watching a supes committee one day, I think it was the late 1980s, when Hallinan was a supervisor. The room was full of I think telecom execs and lobbyists, guys with expensive suits; there was some item they wanted to influence on the agenda.
But first, Hallinan was holding a hearing on transgender rights. The high-paid lobbyists could wait. He sat at the front of the room as person after person testified about the difficulty of living as a trans person in the city – about police harassment, unemployment, housing discrimination, violent crime, health issues, and basically no city services to help. By the end of the hearing, Hallinan was in tears.
The lobbyists were stunned when it became clear that he was far more interested in the rights of the underserved and oppressed San Franciscans than he was in corporate financial interests.
That was Hallinan at his best – yeah, emotional in the best Irish tradition, but also political, always out to oppress the comfortable and comfort the oppressed.
“He taught me so much about government,” Ammiano said.
He was a progressive DA who wanted to help people avoid incarceration and hold police accountable way back before that became a national trend that just saw Chesa Boudin elected in San Francisco. He started a program that gave young Black men who were first-time offenders a chance to go to college instead of jail, and he worked with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to make sure that chance was available.
He told me at one point about a young man who had come from a violence-plagued family and housing situation, was facing jail time and a life of the revolving door of incarceration; instead, Hallinan had found him a spot at an HBCU, where he was doing well. “Instead of sitting in prison, he’ll come back home a doctor, a lawyer – maybe a DA,” he told me.
That kind of story typically didn’t make the press.
During the Planning Commission’s hearing last Thursday on corporate rentals, Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, made a critical point.
“We have a red-hot real-estate market,” he said, “and that leads to innovative ways to use this market.”
In other words: The minute the city finds a way to regulate one type of scam, another one pops up.
And the latest is what are called “intermediate-length” housing deals.
The way it works, the testimony at the commission showed, is that a developer or the owner of a building will enter into a lease not with a human tenant but with a corporation.
That corporation will then sublet the apartments in that building to either companies that need a place to put up new or visiting workers or to other organizations (say, the producers of Hamilton) who need a place for their actors and producers to stay for a few months.
Sup. Aaron Peskin, who is promoting legislation to regulate corporate rentals, agrees that there is a place for this sort of housing, particularly for people in the arts.
But right now, it’s entirely uncontrolled – and apparently, spreading fast.
A representative of Churchill Living told the commission that her company was leasing new buildings in Mission Bay. “Our clients are tech companies but also hospitals,” she said.
Actually, there are a lot more Churchill Living units in San Francisco:
Everyone seems to agree that existing rent-controlled units shouldn’t be turned into corporate hotels. A representative of Express Corporation Housing said his company never uses rent-controlled apartments as intermediate-length occupancy units.
Theresa Flandrich, a tenant advocate from North Beach, testified that a building in her neighborhood with eight units, filled with longtime seniors, had been emptied because the landlord wanted to renovate the apartments. But none of the original tenants came back, she said, and now the place is corporate rentals.
It’s not hard to check on whether buildings subject to rent control are being used as corporate rentals. Just go on the Zeus website.
In about ten minutes, I found five multi-unit properties that were built before 1979 (which puts them under the rent ordinance) that are listed as ILOs. They aren’t just downtown or in Mission Bay – they are in the Mission, the Castro, and the Marina.
Among the properties listed as corporate rentals are units at 108 Bosworth, 3474 17th Street, 825 Post, 61 Diamond, and 120 Union.
These are places that otherwise would be available to people who are struggling to find a place to live in San Francisco.
Then there’s all the property that the city has approved in the name of addressing the housing crisis – that is, new market-rate housing.
It appears, from my research and the Planning Commission hearing, that hundreds of these new units, maybe more, and just corporate hotels.
The city spent years trying to control Airbnb. And the minute we got some decent rules on that operation, this comes along. In fact, Airbnb has its own corporate rental subsidiary.
The rents in these units run as high as $10,000 a month. That’s a lot more money that most landlords could get by renting the property to long-term tenants.
Myrna Melgar, the Planning Commission president who is now running for D7 supe, said that she fully supports regulating these ILOs. She made the point, which Peskin agrees with, that there’s an issue for the arts – and the legislation would allow ILOs, just limit and regulate them. Then she asked a bizarre question about “financing for new projects,” and whether developers might need ILOs as a bridge before a place is fully rented. There is no issue with vacant market-rate units that can’t be rented; the vacant units are ones that are held off the market by speculators or, it turns out, waiting for corporate rental clients.
The commission, claiming it needs more information, voted to continue the issue for two weeks – at which point, since Commissioner Milicent Johnson will be out of town, Commissioner Dennis Richards is on leave, and Commissioner Myrna Melgar is stepping down, there may be only four people to hear this critical issue.
The Commission, such as it is, will hear the department’s budget requestThursday/23, and it’s worth mentioning because it shows one of the reasons the city does so little actually planning.
The budget for the department for next year includes $61.8 million in revenue – and $44.9 million of that is fees for services. That is, 72 percent of the department budget comes from fees paid by developers.
That means the primary mission of the department has to be facilitating development; if there aren’t a lot of big projects paying big fees, the department can’t pay its staff.
The city’s General Fund provides only $7.8 million – about 12 percent of what it costs to run the department.
No surprise: The largest contingent of planning staff – 75 planners or 32 percent of the entire workforce – is devoted to “current planning,” which means, in essence, permit processing and managing permit processing.
The department will have only 23 planners devoted to future citywide planning in the areas of housing, community equity, transportation, and land use and community plans.
That’s why when you go to Planning Commission hearings you constantly hear community advocates saying that there is very little planning going on, and a whole lot of catering to developers.
State Senator Scott Wiener has reintroduced his housing bill, SB 50, which seeks to alleviate the housing crisis by forcing more density around transit corridors. But it doesn’t include any new state financing for affordable housing.
In the meantime, other progressive cities have used their regulatory powers to create the right incentives and conditions for affordable housing. In Vienna, Austria, a city twice as populous as San Francisco, a whole new strategy based on the concept of “social housing” has been deployed. Social housing recognizes that overreliance on the for-profit housing sector – which would be boosted by SB 50 – often produces perverse results in an overheated housing market like San Francisco’s.
In Vienna, there is plenty of what in the US is typically called “government housing” — the city owns outright about 25 percent of the housing stock. But this is not American-style government housing, since it is rented affordably to not only lower-income residents but also middle-income.
But the more interesting and innovative housing sector is run by private — but non-profit — housing developers. The city indirectly oversees another 25 percent of the housing stock by using public land and retaining regulatory control over development to build middle-income housing. A jury selects a private nonprofit developer which is provided a low-interest loan and extended repayment periods (50 years or more). Sometimes the developer is a housing co-operative. Rents are regulated so that no resident, regardless of income level, pays more than 25 percent of their income for housing.
Overall, nearly half of the housing stockin Vienna is this kind of public/private mix of “social housing” (i.e. either city-owned or non-profit-owned/city regulated). That dominant proportion makes this sector significant enough to create a large parallel market that acts as a brake on the free market forces that escalate rents and speculation in the for-profit housing sector.
Many EU cities and member states construct social housing as a way of holding housing markets in check. In addition, some European states have allowed legal rights for squatters of buildings that have been vacant for a long time, which discourages property owners from leaving their housing units empty. Also, many European cities sharply curtail Airbnb activity to preserve housing stock.
San Francisco’s efforts pale in comparison. Sixty-five percent of San Franciscans are renters, yet according to the SF Planning Department, the city has only about 34,000 units of “affordable housing.” Those units have been built under a variety of local, state, and federal subsidy programs, with some nonprofit housing and the San Francisco Housing Authority owning 5000 or so of those units. Given the city’s overall housing stock of approximately 394,000 dwelling units, the amount of affordable housing represents less than 9 percent of all available housing units. The City of St. Francis comes nowhere near the market-stabilizing 50 percent level of social housing seen in Vienna and other European cities.
And the future doesn’t look any better. While the SF Planning Department has approved the construction of over 73,000 new units, less than 20 percent are designated as “affordable.” Middle-income housing has been entirely neglected, and at this point it’s clear that the long time progressive strategy of mandating 20 to 25 percent set-asides for affordable housing is simply too low.
And though San Francisco has passed laws attempting to rein in Airbnb, the short-term rental market is still riddled with loopholes that have allowed a number of absentee property owners to fraudulently claim they are living in their homes when in fact they have turned their houses into full-time hotels. One study found that nearly half of those applying to become new hosts in San Francisco include misinformation on their city applications regarding residency status. I live near one such sham Airbnb hotel, a three-bedroom house that its new owner has carved up into six short-term rentals. City officials have refused to shut it down, despite numerous neighbor complaints. Such activity steals badly needed housing from the local stock.
Berlin makes a stand for affordable housing
Berlin, the federal capital of Germany, stands out as a trailblazer for how progressive cities can cope with gentrification and international speculative pressures. Like San Francisco, Berlin has been exploding in population in recent years, driving up rents and housing prices. So recently the city government took the bold step of declaring a five year citywide freeze on rent increases (with heavy fines for landlords who violate the law).
Then this past July, city authorities stopped the sale of nearly 700 apartments to a mega-landlord, and purchased the apartments for $100 million and a guarantee of affordable rents. This was an important victory for housing rights activists, reversing longstanding trends that had sold off some of Berlin’s social housing stock. Suddenly the future of housing looks brighter. “Berliners should be able to continue to afford living in the city,” said Mayor Michael Müller. “It continues to be our intention to buy up apartments wherever we can, so that Berlin can regain control of its property market.”
Housing activists have seized upon this change in philosophy. When Google tried to open a headquarters in the working class, immigrant and hipster enclave of Kreuzberg, it was greeted by huge street protests over concerns that its gentrifying presence would drive up housing prices (like Big Tech has done in San Francisco). After a two-year battle, Google abandoned its plans.
Now activists and their government allies are waging theirboldest fight yet. They have launched a citywide referendum that mandates more buyouts of privatized housing, and will ban all mega-landlords that control hundreds of apartments. Early indicators show that the referendum has considerable support across the political spectrum. Berlin has become a laboratory for how to deal with an urban housing crisis that threatens the very fabric of society.
It is important to note that Germany and Austria are not “socialist” countries. They and other European Union member states are fully capitalist, with the EU having more Fortune 500 companiesthan the US (131 to 121), and more small businesses. But the EU states are practitioners of what I call in my book Europe’s Promise “social capitalism,” while in the US we have Wall Street/Silicon Valley capitalism. Social capitalism is more focused on harnessing the capitalist engine – which is undoubtedly the greatest wealth generator that humans have ever devised – to foster a more broadly shared prosperity.
How to pay for nonprofit housing on public land
OK, so how do we finance more non-profit housing, especially if we can’t increase Prop 13 property taxes?
First, deploy all available public land for housing development, including if necessary public golf courses. Land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit in San Francisco, so this would greatly help affordability (see my previous 48 Hills article on this, “Golf courses or affordable housing?”)
Second, look for new sources of financing. The Dutch once taxed the width of houses; this March, San Franciscans will be voting on a proposition designed to cut down on storefront vacancies by charging a fee based on the length of a vacant storefront. So why not charge a fee based on the length of wealthy homes and apartment buildings too, and use that to fund the construction of affordable nonprofit housing on public land? Or how about basing the fee on the number of windows in a building, or on the square footage of concrete and timber?
Service fees and taxes on other large assets also could be levied, or on elite services like business-class air travel departing or arriving at the San Francisco airport (which would function as an eco-tax as well). Or how about passing a new Proposition C, but this time instead of focusing it on funding for homeless shelters, treatment and supportive services, use it to raise money for nonprofit construction of middle-class housing (2019’s Proposition A, which focused on affordable housing construction, was a bond that all San Franciscans will pay for, not a fee charged to the wealthiest companies and individuals). Those surcharged businesses will benefit too, by having more housing for their employees.
In Seattle, city officials, nonprofit housing developers and technology companies like Microsoft are working together to create a Housing Fund focused on mobilizing financing and loans for construction of housing for the “missing middle,” i.e. middle-class workers who are currently being squeezed out. Why can’t San Francisco officials organize a similar effort? Already Apple, Facebook and Google have committed – on paper, at least – to $4.5 billion in financing for housing. It is mostly targeted at Silicon Valley cities which have refused to build adequate housing for tech workers, preferring to offload that burden to San Francisco. But the city already is housing a lot of their workers, so the mayor and the Board of Supervisors should work together to access a sizable chunk of these funds.
If this proposal is refused by Silicon Valley, why not levy a “local housing for local jobs” fee on workers for large Silicon Valley companies who live in San Francisco and commute south? One way or another, these companies should be paying the city to house their workers.
Some of these proposals will be easier to enact than others, but there are many possible financing targets. In the past, San Francisco has found innovative legal arguments for justifying gay marriage, regulating the installation of telephone carriers’ wireless equipment, and more recently for a proposed takeover of the catastrophic utility, PG&E. This housing crisis calls for bold, creative vision. It’s time to think outside of the typical neoliberal box.
Certainly it’s true that San Francisco has not produced enough housing over the years, for lots of complicated reasons that progressives and moderates will continue to argue about. But going forward, the housing produced must be the right type: most of it should be built by nonprofit developers on public land with the goal of gradually ramping up the amount of social housing to somewhere near Vienna’s 50 percent level.
Housing, like health care, should be a human right. San Francisco now has the most progressive Board of Supervisors in its history, and the City of St. Francis has a choice of where to spend the public’s tax dollars. Over the years, not nearly enough of it has been spent on securing the most basic need of all – housing for a diversity of residents with a range of incomes. Local political leaders need to be determined and clever in figuring out how to reverse past failed policies. Social housing has worked in other cities, there is no reason that it can’t work here as well.
[Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is a political journalist and author of seven books including Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in An Insecure Age]
“Do the right thing,” Marie Harrison admonished the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in June, 2018. “You know it’s not safe yet.”
Harrison was accepting a commendation for defending her beloved Bayview Hunters Point from pollution.
Less than a year later, she died of a lung disease most likely caused by the air she breathed.
In February, community activists of Bayview Hunters Point will honor Harrison’s life with more than a plaque. A neighborhood committee will propose ten sites for air monitors, sponsored through grant funding from AB 617 and supported by the California Air Resources Board and Bay Area Air Quality District. The system will track pollution to help prevent losing more lives like Harrison’s in the Bayview.
The air monitoring network, Dylos machines costing $400 each, will target particulate matter, or PM, from a size of ten micrometers (PM 10, which includes dust from crushing or grinding operations) to the finer two-and-half micrometers (PM 2.5, created by different forms of combustion, from motor vehicles to forest fires).
The abundance of construction sites, diesel truck traffic, and the high amount of industrial emission by various factories throughout BVHP contribute to this particulate matter pollution, according to Adofo.
Gardiner, who reported on air pollution in Delhi, Bejing, and California’s Central Valley for her book, said PM 2.5 particles have been found in the brain, heart, “even umbilical cords and placentas.” These tiny particles are very strongly linked to increased premature death rates, heart and lung disease, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and Parkinson’s disease. Sierra Magazine reported in December that, due to wildfires, San Francisco particulate concentrations reached 197 µg/m3 , over five times higher than the EPA guideline for 24-hour PM2.5 exposure.
Gardiner cited A Terrible Thing to Waste by Harriet Washington in distinguishing that it’s not just poor communities but poor communities of color that suffer the most. Washington reported that communities of color in the US with a median income of $50-60,000 year had the same level of toxic exposure as white communities with a median income of $10,000 year.
“There are real health impacts with bad air,” Gardiner said. “The science tells us very clearly that it makes people sick and literally shortens lives.”
And as the science to study PM improves, the discovered effects get worse. A study from Harvard University revealed that even short-term exposure to PM 2.5 pollution for the elderly caused hospitalizations for renal failure, urinary tract infections, and skin and tissue disorders.
Community organized air monitoring networks of low-cost sensors are gaining popularity globally as local residents become frustrated with the standard reliance on more expensive but sparsely located reference monitors.
“There can be big differences in pollution levels even within neighborhoods,” Gardiner said. “These micro-environments are very important to understanding individual exposure and the impacts on health.”
Adofo said that communities are often told that the data they produce from these community-organized air monitoring systems are not accurate and cannot be used to change policy, which means collaboration with established agencies and reference monitoring systems from BAAQD and CARB is vital. They have gotten advice from successful community air-monitoring projects in Imperial Valley like Comite Civico del Valle and West Oakland Indicators in West Oakland. (San Francisco AQ launched this past summer, as well.)
“We don’t want to create any more space for an agency to dismiss or belittle the data produced,” Adofo said.
“We often get these requests to place these monitors,” Michael Flagg, principle air quality specialist for BAAQD, said. “We are working closely with Greenaction on the quality assurance issues for the data.” Flagg cited several measures for quality assurance, including collocation of community sensors near established reference monitors, as well as daily data review to catch any equipment malfunctions.
Adofo, who was mentored by Harrison, said she is inspired by Harrison’s passion and sacrifice to this day. “You are in charge of your community and can make it better. No residential area should be next to radioactive waste or biodigesters or a concrete plant or industries without proper permits.”
“There are no borders,” Gardiner said. “These pollutants drift across the state and even the country. You cannot compartmentalize this off as someone else’s problem.”
Despite all the public concern over the affordable housing crisis, and an alphabet soup of ballot and bond measures in recent years intended to address it, San Francisco has achieved limited concrete results.
In September, the San Francisco Planning Department updated its “development pipeline”, which showed more than 2,000 individual development projects with some 73,502 new units listed. But only 14,346 of them – less than 20 percent – were designated as “affordable housing.” And the biggest projects are all multi-phase that will take years to complete, with some projects still lacking permits.
While some blame the housing shortfall on red tape from city bureaucrats, or on permits and high fees, or on alleged obstruction by progressive leaders and Nimbys, in fact more than 30,000 approved homes have yet to start construction due to a lack of financing and related reasons.
In a city as wealthy as San Francisco, why should financing for housing construction remain an obstacle? This city is marinated in money. The for-profit housing industry and the free market have failed miserably in the Bay Area, as has the solution of requiring affordable housing set-asides, typically 20 to 25 percent per project. That amount has been too meager to provide adequate housing for a wide range of incomes.
So what’s the alternative?
Pretty much all parties, from the pro-market urban policy institute SPUR to the developers themselves to the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, agree that the astronomical cost of land is a key driving factor in unaffordability. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that land costs contribute over 20% of the $714,000 price tag for building each new unit. So it makes sense to deploy any available publicly-owned land for housing development. Accordingly, the city has made an inventory of public lands that can be utilized for this purpose.
The recently passed Proposition E, which authorizes affordable housing, including teacher’s housing, to be built on public land, was an encouraging though flawed step (unfortunately, Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors fought over its final form, which resulted in a watered-down version that even SPUR called “a missed opportunity”).
In November 2015, 74 percent of San Francisco voters passed Proposition K, which was supposed to expand the allowable uses of surplus property to include construction of affordable housing. In 2014, California Assembly Bill 2135, sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, was supposed to help increase the supply of affordable housing by granting these projects first priority for surplus land held by local governments.
Before that, in 2002, the Board of Supervisors passed the Surplus Properties Ordinance that required surplus city properties to be used for affordable housing. Teacher housing in a vacant school at the Francis Scott Key Annex, which everyone agrees is a good idea, nevertheless has been ten years in the making.
So the lack of concrete results should be a wake-up call for affordable housing advocates. More boldness and outside-the-box thinking are direly needed. Towards that end, here is my first suggestion:
The other day I was walking around Lake Merced, which is situated around the public golf course in Harding Park. I estimate there were no more than 150 golfers (most of them white males, with a few Asian males and an occasional woman) spread over this facility’s 163 acres. So that’s about one golfer per acre, on average. And their use is limited to daylight hours. In a city in which renters are doubling and tripling up, where people are living and going to work out of their cars, where children are homeless, we are allocating one acre of land for every golfer? Are you kidding me?
When I look at this vast acreage, I can envision three-story, multi-unit buildings with 25 units per acre, which would result in about 3,500 units of new affordable housing. If each unit housed three people on average, that’s homes for around 10,000 people. With the right design, a public park could be included on the grounds, instead of the currently closed-off property from which pedestrians who cannot afford to pay the $68 green fees get ejected. So the actual loss of open space would be minimal, and it would be made available to everyone, instead of an elite few.
San Francisco’s public golf courses monopolize a lot of underutilized land – about 500 acres, or 1.5 percent of the city’s total landmass — for use by a very small number of people, from a very narrow demographic, for a small number of daytime hours. If the course at Lake Merced were developed for nonprofit, 100 percent affordable housing and a public park, there would still be four public courses left.
Given the severity of this housing and homelessness crisis, can we really afford to veto any site that could provide affordable housing for 10,000 people?
The sudden cancellation of 345 classes at City College of San Francisco on Nov. 20, the night before the school’s spring 2020 registration, prompted an outcry from more than 100 members of the college community who deluged the seats, aisles and stairs in CCSF’s administrative building Conlan Hall at the college’s Dec. 12 Board of Trustees meeting.
Public comment, limited to one minute per speaker, lasted nearly two hours. It culminated in a small group of students imploring the board to sign a document promising to undo the cancellations — an appeal that yielded no signatures.
Although CCSF has instituted class cuts over the last year to balance the school’s budget, the administration would previously discuss cancellations with the college’s 46 academic chairs because the latter plan course sequences as well as pathways to certification and graduation. But this time, there was no consultation.
“They just made arbitrary choices,” said Lorraine Leber, the chair of CCSF’s Visual Media Design department, when asked if she could identify any methodology behind the cuts.
CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha stated in a college-wide email on Nov. 21 that the administration took “immediate actions to balance (the) budget” after learning the college would end its fiscal year with an approximate $13 million deficit and $3 million reserve deficit. CCSF spokesperson Rachel Howard said the administration prioritized keeping credit classes that graduate students of color.
Yet, scores of students — including many of color — found their certification or graduation halted. Moreover, despite the administration’s well-publicized plan to remove low-enrolled courses and keep higher-enrolled courses, many classes — particularly those related to the arts — had fully enrolled courses removed. Nearly 90 percent of classes designed for seniors were eliminated. And dozens of part-time teachers, given no notice, found themselves jobless next semester.
Members of the college community immediately advocated for emergency city funding with San Francisco’s top officials to restore the classes, a sum estimated by the college’s faculty union the American Federal of Teachers 2121 to cost $2.7 million. The budget supplemental proposal, up for vote in January at the earliest (unless Walton can get an emergency waiver of the 30-day hearing rule), has received public support from supervisors Shamann Walton, Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, Sandra Lee Fewer and Dean Preston; it would require an additional vote to approve it and three to override a mayoral veto.
To the horror of many in the college community, however, CCSF’s own chancellor emailed the mayor, board of supervisors and “San Francisco City Administrators and Partners” stating that he and his administration are “fully aware of the emails you are receiving from CCSF students who are appealing for funds to restore classes that have not been budgeted for the spring semester.”
“Please know that with the full support of the CCSF Board of Trustees, we are handling this difficult situation directly here at the college,” Rocha stated. “This situation is not an emergency but part of a long-planned restructuring of the academic program to prioritize the graduation of students of color.”
To boot, according to two emails obtained by 48 Hills, at least one supervisor has heard from CCSF’s Interim Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. Edie Kaeuper that “the administration will not use any additional funds to reinstate the courses that have been cut for spring 2020.”
Walton, who is spearheading the emergency funding initiative, said it would be shameful if the college’s leaders didn’t use funding from the budget supplemental to reinstate classes. “This is our community college,” Walton said, adding that he thinks the city, with its more than $12 billion budget, can easily afford the small price of saving the classes.
“The classes were cut without community input and many of these classes serve students who are in need of job and skills training as well as older adults who are looking to acquire new skills,” Walton said. “Together, along with Supervisors Fewer, Mar, Haney and now Preston, we are fighting for an immediate solution to save City College’s spring classes that serve our community. I am reaching out to my colleagues in hopes of gaining their support for this important bridge funding for city college.”
AFT 2121 President Jenny Worley addressed Rocha’s email herself in an open letter to the Board of Trustees.
“We were stunned and horrified to learn that rather than support our efforts to address the budget shortfall, Chancellor Rocha instead attempted to thwart them by emailing the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to say that the college does not require bridge funding,” the union stated. “This assertion flagrantly contradicts the rationale the Chancellor gave for these cuts on Nov. 21, suggesting that the “crisis” was manufactured in order to justify the class cancellations.”
“A college spokesperson told us: “The College appreciates the work of the AFT and the Board of Supervisors. The College and the Board of Trustees will evaluate any funding initiative from the BOS when it is received. The preference of the College is to work towards long-term sustainable funding measures, such as the Community Higher Education Fund (CHEF) as proposed by Supervisor Gordon Mar, rather than one-time funding measures that do not help the College overcome its structural budget issues.”
We spoke to two College Board members, Tom Temprano and Board President Alex Randolph, and neither would commit to directing the chancellor to accept the emergency money. Both said that they would need to wait to see if the money is actually available.
Randolph told us he disagreed somewhat with the chancellor — “I think this is an emergency,” he said. But he would not promise to seek to save all of the classes. “Some of them needed to be cut anyway,” he said.
Separate from the supplemental, AFT 2121 is attempting to pass a Community Higher Education Fund, which would fund programs underfunded by the state of California down the line.
CCSF, which draws the majority of its funding from the state, has eliminated hundreds of courses each semester since fall 2018 to compensate for its financial deficit, estimated to be $32 million by the college administration at a Board of Trustees meeting in February. Because the college’s state funding is currently based on enrollment, administrators attribute the deficit largely to the college’s offering too many low-enrolled classes.
Urgency to achieve a balanced budget is heightened by the college’s need to avoid falling below the 5 percent minimum reserve required by accreditors, otherwise it risks losing its accreditation and triggering a state takeover, according to administrators. CCSF’s accreditors, who review the college’s accreditation every seven years, are due for a midterm college visit next year.
The college administration also blames the cancellations on California’s new funding formula for community colleges, which will distribute funding based on enrollment, low-income student count, certification and graduation, rather than primarily enrollment. However, that takes effect in 2021.
“Over time, this formula will force community colleges to favor class enrollments for students seeking degrees or credentials,” said Thomas Brown, an activist with Democracy for America.
Because of that, he said, other communities, like the elderly, will be left behind. Numerous college stakeholders have held similarly and questioned what lies in wait for San Francisco’s lone community college.
“For many decades the college has served as an institution of education and advancement (& rejuvenation!) for students from all walks of life, functioning as both a scholastic base and a central city resource of growth & healing,” CCSF professor Steve Georgiou stated in a letter to the campus community. “If these cuts are implemented, they change the educational mission of the school.”
However, for CCSF’s Administrators Association, which represents the interests of CCSF administrators, “right-sizing” CCSF is necessary.
“We must adapt or close our doors. The romantic notion that a community college has something for everyone is just not sustainable,” AA Co-Chair Jill Yee said at the Dec. 12 Board meeting. “We cannot be all things to all people. We unapologetically prioritize the needs of a first-generation college student seeking a degree over a student with a degree wanting to take an archery class.”
Older Community at a Loss
Abe Silverman, 89, performed slow, assured Tai Chi movements on Dec. 6 while ambient music played at the San Francisco Senior Center. The instructor called a break, and Silverman’s classmate David Kennedy joined him in the hallway. The topic quickly turned to age.
“See, you’re older than I am. I’m a young’un. I’m 82,” Kennedy said.
“With luck, I’ll never catch up,” Kennedy quipped, smiling.
The two attend “Principles of Balance,” where older adults learn Tai Chi under City College of San Francisco’s Older Adults Department instructor Judy Hubble.
Silverman, a retired veteran who walks with a cane, enrolled after falling twice in the last year. He said the class has notably improved his mind-body awareness. And, while he normally walks with a hunch, Silverman now finds himself standing upright in class.
“I’m pretty sure that if I continue enrolling that I will see incremental changes,” he says.
CCSF’s Older Adults Department offers classes to more than 2,000 senior residents throughout dozens of centers across San Francisco, according to OLAD Department Chair Kelvin Young. These include hands-on courses in health and fitness, arts and crafts, music and theater appreciation, writing and literature and computer technology.
While classes draw numerous lifelong learners to centers, the students commonly stay for the people.
“I know the people. They know me,” Silverman said.
The night of Nov. 20, the college administration cut 52 of 58 of the college’s OLAD classes — about 86 percent. In a Dec. 11 letter to Rocha, Assemblyman Phil Ting urged CCSF to collaborate with local and state agencies to continue offering older adult classes.
“These are lifelong learners,” said Marilee Hearn, formerly a teacher with the San Francisco Unified School District, and a student of the program. “So what I see is an assault on lifelong learning.”
John Hedges, 77, a ceramics student at the San Francisco Senior Center, said what the program provides extends beyond education.
“This is my home away from home. I don’t know what I’m going to do when these are cut. It’s like they’re taking away my life,” Hedges said he’s heard many colleagues say at the center.
The center’s director Sue Horst, who’s spent 42 years working in senior centers, has seen firsthand where he’s coming from.
“It is well-known in research that older adults who are isolated and at home and who do not engage socially, who do not have a purpose, who don’t have a place to belong, are more susceptible to chronic disease and struggle in aging in place,” Horst said. “And when someone connects and comes to a center like this, it staves off isolation, it helps them age in place.”
The Older Adults Department works in coordination with more than 30 centers across the city, from community centers to assisted living facilities to hospitals, department chair Kelvin Young stated in a letter to the college administration pleading to have OLAD classes reinstated.
The community partnership between CCSF and these centers, some lasting for over 30 years, allows CCSF to bring the OLAD to seniors across dozens of neighborhoods without paying to lease facilities.
By eliminating this collaboration, the class cancellations cut deep into one of San Francisco’s fastest growing populations of older adults — currently close to 200,000 residents, Young said. Additionally, nearly 30 percent of students — more than 5,300 — are over 60 years old, according to CCSF’s 2017 demographics data.
If the classes aren’t reinstated, Young, Sue and others responsible for carrying out the program worry it will have numerous cascading impacts on the senior population. By attracting seniors to centers, OLAD makes them aware of other services the centers offer. For example, Sue said, the SF Senior Center has two women who speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English, and help people with issues like housing, transportation and the low-income food subsidy program CalFresh.
The elimination of these classes, besides causing centers to lose instruction, would decrease awareness of these and similar services.
“This vast cancellation of OLAD program for next semester will have a devastating impact to our students and community,” Young stated in his letter. “We implore you to consider the serious consequences of this schedule reduction and reinstate our classes for Spring 2020.”
Certification at risk
Scores of students learned Nov. 20 that they would no longer be able to graduate or receive their certificates due to required courses being cut, and department chairs scrambled to get them back.
Two cancellations in the VMD department — Infographic Design and Package Design — would have prevented numerous students from obtaining their graphic design associate degrees, Leber said. She traded a first-semester fundamentals course to get the two courses back, compromising the department’s future enrollment.
“It’s a deal with the devil,” she said.
Among those at risk of not graduating were international students, who must graduate by a set deadline, otherwise they risk becoming unable to stay in the U.S. They also pay $287 per unit, compared to the usual $46 for California residents outside San Francisco (for whom tuition is free).
VMD student Andrea Wrobel created a petition on Change.org, which expresses sentiments shared by many in the department and received 556 signatures as of Dec. 16.
“Cutting our pathway to graduation likely ends our future at CCSF, and within the United States,” the petition states. “It is financially impossible for most of us to stay on as a full-time student until these classes are offered in the future. Waiting is not an option.”
Though Leber bartered to reinstate two classes, some students still saw their certification delayed. One of the removed courses was an animation class required for the digital illustration and digital animation certificates. Although an illustration course can technically substitute, it’s a regular drawing class, and for at least several VMD students inapplicable to animation.
VMD student Nathan Burris had planned to earn his digital illustration and digital animation certificates in spring but now ponders which he should take before leaving school next fall — while worrying that the classes he needs to earn them won’t be available in time.
Working while attending classes, VMD student Katarina Aiken has spent three years working toward certification in digital animation. The animation course’s removal shocked her. Between school and work, she said, she hasn’t found the time to work with a counselor or plan for what’s next.
She said she doesn’t know if she will complete the certificate anymore.
Affordable arts diminished
CCSF’s art department quickly responded to class cancellations by putting screen-printing, ceramics, metalworks, and other art media on full display at CCSF’s Fort Mason Center on Dec. 14 in an exhibition protesting the cuts. A screen-printed sign reads, “This is the last screen print at CCSF.”
The art department, offering classes in eight disciplines, is the only affordable art instruction institution in San Francisco, many faculty said, and one that serves multiple sub-communities of the college in numerous ways.
“It is through the arts that people learn about and strengthen their shared humanity,” Art Department Chair Anna Asabedo stated in a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and CCSF Board of Trustees. “The courses promote creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, the very skills needed to not only navigate and succeed in what are at best restrictive social systems, but to envision and work with confidence towards a humane and equitable world.”
The administration cut 15 art classes. Gone was the metal works and jewelry program, and CCSF’s sole screen-printing class.
Their elimination struck deep for 33-year-old art student Melissa San Miguel.
“CCSF has meant everything to me,” she said.
After working as an education advocate for low-income and foster children for almost a decade, San Miguel tried a summer ceramics class in summer 2017.
“It completely changed my life,” she said. “I found myself connected to myself and my own thoughts in a different way, to a broader community, even in our classroom.”
She was selected as an artist mentee by the New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Program in Oakland in 2018. Her classwork earned her internships at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
And those internships gave her insight into how, as an art historian, she could uplift the work of marginalized artists. It’s why she hoped to take Ancient Art and Architecture of Latin America, one of the removed courses.
“I realized that making art, it touched my soul in that through showing my art and sharing my art and learning about other folks’ art, even in the studio classroom, that we could connect as people and connect with each other in an emotional level, intellectual level and talk about things together,” she said.
She’s never been happier, but the elimination of the class disoriented her, she said.
“The cuts are on everybody’s mind these days,” said Marian Keeler, 61, a former architect who received her first career training at CCSF in the 1980s.
She returned about a year ago, hoping to undergo formal training and develop a portfolio.
On one hand, she was driven to enroll by an urge to create and to reflect the currency and urgency of the world, and what people are experiencing, particularly, the national treatment of immigrants, people with differences, white supremacy, and the dismantling of the U.S. democracy, she said.
Separately, it’s one way she connects with beauty.
“For many people this self-expression is something that comes too late in life, as is the case for me,” she said.
The program also fills a void of arts training in public education, metal and jewelry arts professor Jack Da Silva said. A teacher since 1981, he said he’s noticed a downward trend in exposure to art training among students in public schools, a decrease he attributes largely to the time allotted for students to become interested in and study arts.
“I had a 25-year-old student in a 3-D design class I taught a number of years ago — I handed him a 12-inch plastic ruler,” he recalled. “He looked at it, and he asked me, ‘What is this? And why are their numbers on it?’ So sadly, it’s not the first time I had heard such a comment.”
His students create ideas, visualize them, sketch, draw, create templates, make patterns and work with a variety of tools, training their manual dexterity and fine motor skills. Though his program is cut next semester, students’ engagement in the program makes him hopeful it will be reinstated.
“It would be a shame if this doesn’t happen,” he said.
Anthony Ryan, a work colleague of Da Silva’s, was another teacher to lose his job in spring. Upon his 2015 hiring, he acquired donated equipment and built furniture to run the department’s sole screen-printing class — work he was happy to do for his students, he said.
“It’s just a waste of all the effort I and my colleagues had put into creating this class,” he said. “The equipment that we acquired and is going to be dormant now, and class is not going to exist anymore.”
Ryan also lost roughly half his income, and the suddenness of the cuts at the end of the semester left him and other teachers unable to plan for a job in spring.
This is because part-timers typically make verbal agreements with their department chairs to forgo employment opportunities at other schools throughout the semester to ensure they can teach all semester. In the art department, 10 part-time instructors lost their assignments, and three lost their benefits, according to art department chair Anna Asabedo.
Altogether, approximately 107 CCSF part-timers were impacted by the Nov. 20 cuts, according to college spokesperson Evette Davis.
“Our faculty have lives, families, hopes, dreams — proven professionals cannot be treated in such a brutally dismissive and expendable manner, subject to abrupt termination and with no safety net,” humanities and interdisciplinary studies professor Georgiou stated in a letter to the college community. How can SF City College call itself a community college when it treats its very faculty so callously?”
Georgiou, a regularly published academic with three graduate degrees related to what he teaches, has taught at the college for 16 consecutive years. His seniority is the highest among part-timers in the Humanities Department. His RateMyProfessors rating is 4.9 out of 5, based on 21 reviews. And he’s never missed a day of instruction, he stated.
“I have no classes left, no health benefits,” he stated. “This cold indifference, (especially to part-time faculty who have given decades of their lives to serving the college), is utterly shameful.”
This is an updated, restructured version of the Dec. 10 article Issue 15 article “Communities devastated after CCSF cuts classes without consultation” published in the Golden Gate Xpress.
I first met Robby Robertson during the 1969 General Electric strike. He was a young, militant worker fighting for a decent contract and social justice. He considered himself a “radical humanitarian.”
We later worked together on the assembly lines at National Can Corporation in San Leandro, near Oakland, fighting management and conservative union leaders. He turned me on to outlaw country musicians like Willie Nelson. We partied and struggled together against the bosses, against racism, and for immigrant rights.
That’s why I was surprised to learn recently that Robby Robertson supports Donald Trump.
In 2016, Robby had soured on Hillary Clinton because of what he considered her corruption and anti-working class policies.
“Trump is my man because I believe he loves this country and wants what he believes is best for it,” Robby tells me. “I have not witnessed that from the left side of the aisle.”
Robby reflects the views of many older white workers who are critical of the system and blame Democrats and liberals for its breakdown. I strongly disagree with his views but respect him.
And so I am writing this open letter to you, Robby, in hopes we can at least have a dialogue, if not a change of heart.
Like most Trump supporters, you respect the President because you believe he’s carried out his campaign promises. He did what he said he would do, you say. Well, let’s take a closer look.
You say that Trump “operates like a businessman. His foreign policy hasn’t been that harmful. Everyone makes bad decisions. I believe if Hillary had won, the country would have been far worse off.”
First of all, we agree that Hillary Clinton, an unrepentant war hawk, would have made a bad president. As a US Senator, she voted for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She supported new wars in Libya and Yemen, and vastly expanded the number of US troops fighting overseas.
This week, The Washington Post printed US government documents showing that Obama consistently lied about the Afghan war; so did George W. Bush and now Trump. Those three Presidents are responsible for the deaths of more than 2,400 US soldiers and more than 38,000 Afghan civilians. The war has also cost the United States $2 trillion and counting.
While claiming to oppose “endless wars,” Trump has expanded every one of them. This chart tells the story.
Today, the Pentagon has 200,000 troops stationed overseas on nearly 800 military bases. That doesn’t look like bringing the boys home. In fact, the deployment costs taxpayers between $160 billion and $200 billion per year—money that should be going for health care, education, and infrastructure.
Still, Trump would have my support if all these troops were actually protecting the country. But our president has been unusually candid in admitting why soldiers are actually deployed.
For instance, Trump was going to pull the troops out of Syria but then sent them back into occupy Syria’s oil fields, offering US oil companies the right to pump the oil.
Now Trump is considering sending 14,000 more troops to the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, which would double the US presence there. The President openly admits he favors the Saudi King because he bought tens of billions of dollars worth of US weapons and because he supplies the West with oil. US troops are being put in harm’s way to protect the profits of companies like GE, where we once walked the picket lines.
Trump claims his America First policy has restored US prestige in the world. In fact, it’s the opposite. I’ve reported from ten countries during the Trump era, and even the United States’ closest allies don’t trust Trump. He is seen as reckless and unpredictable, and as a bully for breaking international agreements and imposing tariffs.
Trump threatened to bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea, only to back down when challenged. When he accused Iran of attacking oil tankers in the Mediterranean and bombing Saudi oil facilities, he took no military action. When Turkey invaded northern Syria and attacked the Kurdish militia allied with the Pentagon, he allowed Turkey to proceed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually glad Trump hasn’t attacked Iran, or Mexico for that matter. In fact, I’d like to see well-planned, rapid withdrawal of US troops as part of a major revamp of US foreign policy. But Trump is not withdrawing troops, and his empty threats erode US credibility.
Trump hasn’t ended the endless wars because he’s not willing to take the hard steps needed to end them.
Okay, you say, but at least Trump has delivered on the economy.
“People hate Trump because he stepped outside the box,” you tell me. “He doesn’t play politics; he’s a businessman.”
The economy has grown about 2.5 percent per year under Trump and unemployment has hit a five-decade low of 3.5 percent. People, including students and homemakers, are coming back into the workforce because there are more jobs.
And yes, Robby, if a President Hillary Clinton had the same economic numbers, the Democrats would be trumpeting her great successes. But I would point out that for Clinton, as for Trump, this economic expansion is a house of cards that hasn’t helped workers anywhere near as much as claimed. The good-paying manufacturing jobs have not returned in significant numbers.
Trump holds rallies and media events at factories, where he has supposedly stopped management from moving overseas and saved hundreds of jobs. But months later those factories are still closing, moving overseas, or laying off workers.
The same thing happens when Trump claims that his tariffs have boosted American jobs. His policies temporarily benefit some industries while badly hurting others. When Trump imposed tariffs on foreign steel manufacturers, the protected US companies raised their prices, which hurt manufacturers who buy steel. Some of those companies then laid off workers to save money while passing on some of the price increases to customers.
Jobs in primary metal manufacturing have gone down by 7,900 since January, including job losses in the supposedly protected aluminum industry.
For the first time since the 1920s, the United States has started trade wars with dozens of countries, including Canada, Britain, and France. Those countries retaliate with their own tariffs and businesses get worried. Worried executives don’t invest, and that will help bring on recession.
“Trump’s tariffs have caused business investment to fall for two consecutive calendar quarters, which usually indicates that a recession will start soon,” David Kotz tells me. He’s an old friend of yours and mine, Robby, and an economics professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
I can’t predict when, but a big recession is coming, and Trump’s policies are helping bring it on.
Robby, I don’t know if any of my arguments make sense to you, let alone have changed your mind. While we disagree, I respect your views.
You’re a talented artist and I still treasure the drawing you gave me of Willie Nelson. I look forward to having coffee with you soon.
By the way, Robby, you might want to take a look at Willie Nelson’s outspoken opposition to Trump, particularly how he criticized the imprisonment of Central American children at the US-Mexico border.
“What’s going on at our southern border is outrageous,” Willie said. “Christians everywhere should be up in arms.”
Reese Erlich’s nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.
In January, 2019, a woman called Muni’s customer service to complain about what she described as her daughter’s alarming interaction with a fare inspector. “She was going to pay with cash and the POP [officer] physically [grabbed] her by the arm and took her off the bus at Union and Columbus,” a complaint filed by the customer states.
“The [officer] [started] going through her purse and pulling all the content on the floor looking for her I.D. She was shaken, then POP officer threatened her by calling the police, she was very scared.”
This was not an isolated incident. Over the past three years, records obtained under the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance show, more than 241 complaints have been filed against fare inspectors — and half of them charge racial or sexual discrimination or harassment.
The complaints charge gender discrimination, profanity, discrimination against people with disabilities, transphobic language, and stolen personal items. In almost half of the complaints, patrons claimed emotional and in some, physical harassment.
In at least 16 of 90 discriminatory complaints, riders reported inspectors seizing personal belongings such as wallets, Clipper cards, and most often, identification cards.
This is most likely a tiny sample of the problem. According to the customer service training program at First Financial, only 4 percent of American consumers who are treated badly by institutions take time to file complaints. By that standard, there could be 6,000 unreported incidents from December 2016 to early April 2019.
But an analysis of inspectors’ salaries and benefits from Transparent California shows an average pay rate of $113,251, so with 50 inspectors, the program costs $5.6 million – twice what it yields in revenue.
Page two of the SFMTA fare inspector training manual lists the words “respect,” “inclusivity,” and “integrity” as core values of the proof of payment unit. But the list of complaints is alarming.
In December 2016, a patron filed a complaint alleging an inspector called them a racial slur after being targeted by a white inspector. “I choose to keep my name anonymous, because I am frankly embarrassed and truly disappointed in the actions and behavior of this officer and do not feel comfortable sharing my name,” the patron wrote in the report.
“Being a black man, I felt targeted for no other reason than race,” he added.
In another complaint from October 2018, a rider detailed an incident in which an officer voiced transphobic language toward the patron’s family member during a bus inspection on the outbound 27 Bryant.
In some complaints, riders claim their personal belongings were taken from them or rummaged through. People with disabilities describe being harassed or yelled at by inspectors. In some cases, patrons claim inspectors physically pulled them out of their seat or off the bus.
In an incident from February 2019, a mother complained she was carrying her baby as an inspector placed their hands on her body and pushed her toward the sidewalk.
The agency has redacted around 20 pages of its fare inspector training manual from the public, keeping its policies and motives hidden from those outside of the organization. Whitney Smith, a Muni union shop steward, said it could be because of changes being made to the program.
“There’s changes being made to our department almost every day,” Smith said.
According to the SFMTA’s public record online portal, the agency cites personnel, medical, and legal files as means to redact public information.
When a rider decides to file a complaint against an inspector, they are directed to a feedback form and drop-down menu of seven forms of complaints. Of the seven, the label “Discourteous/ Insensitive/ Inappropriate Conduct” accounts for almost half of the complaints. Others include “Criminal Activity” and service-related tags.
While most of the cases’ resolution information is redacted from the complaints, the words “No Merit/Dropped” appear in several forms. Smith explained these cases were investigated and the rider was found at fault. Several dropped cases involve claims of severe discrimination.
A complaint from February 2018 alleges an inspector targeted a man who was Black on the 22-Fillmore bus route. “Was only African American man on bus and, no one else was humiliated like this,” the form reads.
The case was dropped within two days with a no merit code.
The same day, a rider claimed inspectors targeted people with disabilities. “They rudely [asked] ONLY [DISABLED] riders to take out their cards and ID. [Elderly] man was asked rudely and [asked] for more ID,” the report reads. “People with transfers or regular clippers cards were NOT discriminated against. Please STOP harassing disabled…”
Several complaints from riders involve inspectors allegedly stealing identification cards. In a February 2019 incident, a rider was ticketed and said they had their California state ID confiscated. In March 2019, a patron wrote that an inspector threatened to write her a ticket and took her ID. She wrote, “I need my identification back, it is not fair for her to take my documents without my consent.”
During the hazardous wildfires of November 2018, a rider called in a complaint claiming an inspector harassed a person who appeared to be homeless. “I had offered to pay her fare. The officers then took the lady off the bus and the lady was screaming please don’t kill me,” the form reads. “I was trying to help the lady out and the officer threatened to have me arrested for trying to help this homeless woman out. The air quality is bad and I can understand why people are trying to ride the Muni.”
According to the agency’s training manual, proof of payment inspectors do not have the authority to arrest people.
In March 2019, a rider called in a complaint against an inspector who forced them off the bus as they were paying the fare. The patron was on the phone with their sister who was recently admitted to a hospital. They were on their way to meet her. After the experience, the patron wrote they could hear the inspectors laughing. “These people make you feel dehumanized,” the rider wrote.
Most disciplinary actions for inspectors begin with just a warning. “It’s progressive discipline, it all depends on the situation and circumstance. Some situations are more severe than others,” Smith said.
When asked for an example, Smith said, “A fare inspector just got a written warning for their behavior and how they talked to a patron, which was inappropriate, it was disrespectful. And when you’re on the job, you have to remain professional and be courteous to the patron. And this particular fare inspector wasn’t courteous and they got disciplined, they got a written warning.”
“You’re not going to get terminated off the bat unless it’s severe,” she added.
According to Smith, severe actions would be in the realm of physically touching a patron or taking money from a patron instead of citing them.
A March 2017 complaint described a patron warning an aggressive inspector of their intent to report him, only to hear “So what, nothing is going to happen,” in reply. Several forms detail incidents in which inspectors threaten to have the patron arrested by San Francisco police officers.
In March 2019, a complaint alleges, an inspector took a rider’s bank card from their hands and refused to give it back. When the patron said they would call the police, the inspector said “good maybe they will arrest you.” Later, the patron said the inspector “came back and threw my ID at me and said go ahead and call the police and get yourself arrested.”
The Examiner reported in January 2019 that Dolores Blanding, an “ombudsperson” appointed by Mayor Breed to investigate the transportation agency, found several cases of unresolved misconduct by SFMTA employees.
“A number of MTA employees and managers described bullying and verbally abusive behavior as being tolerated in the workplace,” Blanding wrote in the report. “It has been described as a culture of silence.”
We made numerous attempts to get a comment from Muni regarding our findings, but the agency did not respond.
Muni union president Roger Marenco sees the transit issues coming from SFMTA’s lack of oversight and contentious environment. “At the moment, Muni is in a state of debacle. It is in a downward trajectory, unfortunately,” Marcenco.
Marenco said he believes Muni’s board members possess too much power with little consequence. “It is a culture of complete autonomy and there’s no scrutiny over them when it comes time to make decisions,” Marenco said. “There’s no accountability.”
The safety of Muni patrons is also a major concern of Marenco. “Things continue occurring in the exact same manner, pertaining to health and safety and nothing is being done about it,” he said. “These issues are not being addressed. Issues pertaining to safety with the general public are not being addressed in an adequate manner.”
California will for once play a significant role in choosing the Democratic nominee for president, since the state has moved up its primary to March 3. But there’s a lot else on that ballot too – including what will be a heated and high-stakes race for control of San Francisco’s Democratic Party.
Voters elect 24 members of the Democratic County Central Committee every four years, and the people who win seats will decide not only the party’s endorsement in the fall 2020 and fall 2022 supervisor races but in the 2023 race for mayor and district attorney.
So it’s a big deal – and both a progressive slate and what appears to be a slate backed by the mayor and the real-estate industry are going to be competing for those seats.
The deadline to file was 5pm Friday – and at that point, we got some surprises.
The progressive slate, known as the Social Justice Democrats, filed Dec. 2. It includes candidates from both Assembly districts who are supporting the current chair, David Campos.
But as the deadline approached, some candidates who hadn’t been in the running, and who have high name-recognition, pulled the necessary papers.
The DCCC vote is, unfortunately, often about name recognition. Since most voters don’t know all of the candidates (and they get to vote for 14 on the east side of town and 10 on the west), they tend to pick names they know.
That’s why an organization that was once a starting point for party activists is now dominated by elected officials, former elected officials, and incumbents.
We can lament that all we want, but since the endorsement of the party is often a key factor in local elections, both the progressive and the conservative Democrats work hard to get a majority.
Four years ago, the party chair was Mary Jung, a lobbyist for the real-estate industry. Then the progressives won a majority, and now Campos runs the party.
(I know, it’s crazy to use the term “conservative” to refer to any Democrats in San Francisco, and they like “moderate” better. I use the word because I think it’s more accurate; the split is not over social issues but over economic issues, most particularly whether developers, tech companies, and the rich should pay more taxes, whether emerging tech industries should be tightly regulated, and whether the private market can solve the city’s housing crisis. People who are against increased taxes and regulation and support private-sector market-based solutions to issues like housing and development are, by my definition, economic conservatives.)
It’s always an uphill battle for progressives: the DCCC has 33 seats, but nine of them by law go to state and federal elected officials from San Francisco who are Democrats. That means Sen. Dianne Feinstein gets a vote; so do Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier, state Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and Board of Equalization member Malia Cohen.
And other than Pelosi and Ting, who on contentious local issues either vote with the progressives or abstain, the “ex-officio” votes on endorsements and the party chair tend to go to the more conservative candidates.
It takes 17 votes to win a majority, and the conservatives start with seven. That means they only need to win ten of the elected 24 seats to control the party.
“We are at a real disadvantage,” Campos told me.
At the filing deadline, we saw new candidates including:
Carole Migden, former state Senator; former Supervisor Vallie Brown; Sup. Ahsha Safai; Sheriff-elect Paul Miyamoto; appointed District Attorney Suzy Loftus; and former District Attorney candidate Nancy Tung. All of them have high name-recognition. All of them appear to be challenging the Social Justice slate.
At the same time, former Sup. John Avalos and Public Defender Mano Raju have filed, and will likely be part of the Social Justice slate.
I have heard plenty of criticism of the Social Justice slate, including from people who think it’s too heavy on elected officials and not grassroots activists – and from some who say that a few members have not in the past voted with progressives on key endorsements.
But given the stakes and the challenges, Campos argues that the progressives have to line up candidates who can win.
(Lee Hepner just noted on Facebook: “You can be an elected official and still be grassroots. By the same token, you can be an unelected official and nothing more than a mouthpiece for corporate special interests.”)
It’s pretty clear that the Social Justice slate members have pledged to re-elect Campos. The first challenge, if they win a majority, will be around the re-election of Sup. Dean Preston and the D11 race between Sup. Ahsha Safai and former Sup. John Avalos.
Although the progressives won a majority four years ago, several members of that slate voted for Vallie Brown for supervisor and denied Preston the Party endorsement.
It’s a situation the left is going to have to face, in this and other campaigns in the future: If you are a candidate who is elected with progressive support, if community activists go out of their way to help you raise money, to volunteer with your campaign, to walk precincts and help you get elected, do you have some fundamental responsibility not just to vote the progressive line on issues, but to use your position to help others who the progressives support get elected to office?
And how do the activists and voters hold these elected officials accountable?