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SF cops keep telling homeless people to move

At 10:11 pm on March 17, five SFPD officers approached a man sitting on the sidewalk at Stockton and Union Streets, according to a video uploaded to Twitter taping the event. The officers’ words can’t be heard, but the man they approached said “That’s where I sleep…I’m gonna be sleeping here” after a few moments into the exchange. After another moment, the officers got back in their vehicles and the man sitting on the sidewalk collected his belongings, stood up, and walked away.

This is one example of the police issuing what homeless rights advocates have called “move along orders,” where despite the COVID-19 crisis, police continue to enforce laws that forbid unhoused people to sleep or sit in public areas, forcing homeless people to seek a place to spend the night elsewhere.

This practice is nothing new. SFPD and the Department of Public Works have been conducting homeless sweeps for years.

But the Centers for Disease Control has recommended against law enforcement conducting sweeps of homeless encampments, and Kelley Cutler, human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, agrees that sweeps, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are a bad idea.

“What makes this so crazy is that we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Cutler. “Stopping sweeps helps with social distancing, also people aren’t being squeezed into small areas, avoid sleep deprivation.”

Cutler said that if homeless people can stay in the same area, it helps ensure that healthcare and outreach workers can locate people, collect trash, and set up and maintain sanitation stations.

Cutler said she has heard from both service providers and members of the community in the Tenderloin that there has been more enforcement by police since the mayor’s shelter-in-place order went into effect, and that it is evident to her as she walks through the neighborhood. She explained that with fewer people outside, homeless people they have become much more visible to police, and as a result many of the unhoused people who are normally in her neighborhood are no longer around.

I reached out to SFPD asking why officers are enforcing “move along” orders, and whether these interactions were occurring at an increasing rate, to which they replied:

“During this time with the current health order we are focused on advising the homeless population of resources available such as shelters and navigation centers where people can seek haven.  We work closely with our city partners to assist in addressing larger scale issues that may affect public health and may make vulnerable populations more at risk than other communities.”

They refused to comment on the specific interaction which occurred the night of March 17.

Cutler added that there seems to be ambiguity in the police telling homeless people to “move along.”

“They haven’t provided areas for people to shelter in place, if someone goes around the corner, will they be told to move along?” asked Cutler.

Christin Evans, a small business owner in the Haight and homeless rights activist, said agrees with Cutler’s opinion that there is a lack of clarity around police telling homeless people to relocate.

“I don’t think there’s a plan, there’s no clarity of where people should shelter in place. What the police are doing right now, is that they are still enforcing no sleeping in parks, and no sit-lie in the streets, so no sanctioned location for people to pitch a tent,” said Evans.

Evan’s also criticized the tactics used by police when talking to unhoused people, specifically their practice of “barking” over loudspeakers when telling people to relocate or stand six feet apart from others.

“I’ve had neighbors tell me it feels like a police state. All of these things combined, visibility of police and the sound [of the loudspeaker] is unsettling, we should be focused on seeing each other as neighbors,” said Evans.

Evans said that the police need to establish guidelines for homeless people to know where they can stay, as they are being told to move “frequently.” Evans added that these frequent “move-alongs” can be dangerous to both the communities where homeless people are living, as well as those who are unhoused themselves.

“It’s dangerous for the community. People who live on the streets have compromised health, live 20 years less than those who are housed. They are more likely to get respiratory infections or pneumonia,” said Evans. Respiratory infections and pneumonia are common fatal complications from COVID-19.

Evans and the Homeless Youth Alliance are working to collect donated two-person tents for distribution to homeless people who do not have immediate access to homeless shelters while the city works on acquiring hotel rooms to shelter homeless people exposed to COVID-19. Currently they have collected 30 tents.

Mary Howe, executive director of the Homeless Youth Alliance, said getting homeless people shelter is important to ensure that they can comply with the city’s shelter-in-place order.

“If we can’t support people’s ability to shelter in place on the streets, if resources aren’t provided near them. They will breach the shelter in place,” said Howe.

According to Howe, two-person tents are the best option for individuals who can’t get shelter in doors, because they allow people to self-isolate to an extent, get them out of the rain, and provide enough space for them and their belongings. Howe added that because San Francisco is experiencing a public health crisis, the city should allow homeless people to remain in place in tents, and not be told to “move along.”

“We are in the middle of a public health crisis, maybe we should do something different. Continuing these policies puts everyone at risk,” said Lowe.

The Homeless Youth Alliance is working with Sup. Dean Preston’s office to locate possible sites for homeless people to shelter in place. Lowe said that a parking lot at 730 Stanyan. and Golden Gate Park are good candidates.

The Homeless Youth Alliance’s campaigns for tent donations and for sanctioned sites where unhoused people can live in tents legally are intended to provide immediate shelter to those who have no option to go indoors. The Homeless Youth Alliance supports the measure proposed by supervisorsthat would allow the city to acquire even more hotel rooms than the original goal of 4,250 rooms and would seek to acquire a enough rooms from a pool of 30,000 existing vacant hotel rooms to house homeless San Franciscans, sick or no.

“I think people want housing, when people are living in tents, that’s demonstrative of people wanting housing, they want safety and privacy…We would prefer everyone be prioritized to get their own hotel room,” said Lowe.

Lowe told me that if enough hotel rooms become available to house all homeless San Franciscans, she would end the tent distribution campaign.

But until that happens, the Homeless Youth Alliance will continue to accept donated tents and distribute them to homeless people.

If you want to donate a two-person tent to the Homeless Youth Alliance, you can order a tent online and either mail it or drop it off at 607A Haight St.

City College board fires chancellor

Faculty and students protest cuts and a chance in direction at City College

The City College Board put Chancellor Mark Rocha on administrative leave today, the first step toward what will almost certainly be a full dismissal Thursday/26.

According to the agenda released today, the board will meet in closed session that day, presumably to hire an interim chancellor.

Faculty and students protest cuts and a chance in direction at City College

The move comes after the board held a special meeting last Friday to evaluate Rocha’s job performance.

Shanell Williams, the board chair, released this statement to college teachers and administrators this afternoon:

I’m writing to let you know that the Board of Trustees has placed Chancellor Mark Rocha on paid administrative leave effective immediately. A leadership team made up of Senior Vice-Chancellors will manage day-to-day operations until the Board names an Acting Chancellor.

I know this news may come as a surprise. I want to assure you on behalf of our Board, that the College is in good hands. There is a plan in place to move the College forward.

The College is closed this week for Spring Break. Classes will resume via remote learning on March 30. There will be no change in any of the current policies or procedures enacted as a result of the COVID-19/Coronavirus.

City College has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of this community.  I look forward to working with all you as we fulfill our mission to serve our students and help them achieve their hopes and goals for a quality education.

It’s a dramatic move that marks a major change at the school at one of the most critical times in its recent history.

Rocha has been overseeing some profound changes, including widespread class cuts, as the school has been going along with state officials who want to gut the role of community colleges in California.

Some state leaders (in a move started by former Gov. Jerry Brown) want to turn all of the institutions into nothing more than junior colleges whose goal is to prepare students to transfer to four-year schools.

City College of SF does that – but it does so much more. It’s been a genuine community college that offers lifelong learning as well as vocational training, English as a Second Language, citizenship-preparation classes, and multiple classes open to everyone, even if they aren’t seeking a degree.

But in the past two years, Rocha has been cutting those sorts of classes.

Even when the Board of Supes offered to make money available to save the classes, Rocha said he didn’t want it. He said the cuts were part of a larger plan to change the direction of the school.

I have asked members of the board for months why they aren’t fighting back – going to Sacramento, using our local legislators, and saying that the funding model of the Jerry Brown era was wrong and needs to be changed.

Based on comments from public meetings and the faculty union, teachers at City College overwhelmingly disapproved of Rocha’s policies and the way he was running the school.

Now it appears that the board has decided it wants a change.

I have no way of knowing whether Rocha did some specific thing that caused the board to take this action; since it’s a personnel matter, nobody is talking, and that’s normal and appropriate.

There’s still a lot of concern about his somewhat covert plan to award huge raises to his administrators.

But from the sources I’ve talked to, it seems likely that the board was tired of his style (which faculty and former Board Member Rafael Mandelman warned about when he was hired) and the direction he was taking the school.

So now the board has a major challenge. The members need to pick an interim chancellor who can bring everyone together; not only is the school moving to online classes because of COVID-19, it’s likely that the state is headed for a recession and funding for all local services will suffer.

A ballot initiative in the fall would change the way property is assessed in California, allowing commercial property owners to pay higher taxes; that would bring in billions more for education, including community colleges.

But in the meantime, City College is going to face some major financial issues – just when its services are going to be needed most. And the only way this will be anything other than a disaster is if the person in charge has the respect and trust of all the stakeholders.

A top-down administrator who makes unilateral decisions isn’t going to work at this point. Whatever hard choices have to be made, the faculty union and the staff unions have to be a part of the process. More than any other management qualification, the interim chancellor and the new permanent chancellor have to have community credibility.

That person also has to have the skills and charisma to help convince voters that Prop. 13 reform is necessary, that the money will be well spent, and that City College is a treasure that deserves to be saved.

Oh, and that person has to be willing to be open and transparent both with the college community and the news media.

If the trustees repeat what they did last time – conduct a search and hire someone who on the first day lacked the support of the faculty – it’s going to be a disaster. That’s my prediction.

First results: A few surprises

Social Justice Democrats celebrate their lead in early results

The early results are in and there are some surprises. For starters, the numbers are very small – only 46,000 ballots were returned by mail before Election Day, and that’s less than ten percent turnout.

So the numbers may change a lot.

Social Justice Democrats celebrate their lead in early results

But for now, here’s what we know:

The Social Justice Democrats slate for DCCC is in great shape at this point. In District 17, 13 of the 14 slate members are at the top of the vote count: Jane Kim, David Campos, Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, John Avalos, Frances Hsieh, Honey Mahogany, Rafael Mandelman, Anabell Ibáñez, Bevan Dufty, Shanell Williams, Sophie Maxwell, and Peter Gallotta are all winning at this point.

In District 19, seven of the ten from the slate are on top: Gordan Mar, Keith Baraka, Leah Lacroix, AJ Thomas, Janice Li, Mano Raju, and Queena Chen.

If those numbers hold, then the progressives will have won 20 of the available 24 seats.

David Campos, the current chair, said, “We’re not going away, we’re coming back, we’re taking over the city. That’s the power of the Democratic Party.”

The ballot measure are running close too. Proposition D, which would put for a tax on commercial landlords who hold property vacant for longer than six months, has 63 percent of the vote and needs 66 percent.

The other five propositions seem to all be passing comfortably. Propositions A and B, bill calling for greater earthquake and environmental safety, sit at 65.23percent and 77.4 percent approval, Proposition C, a bill calling for retiree health care coverage available based on their combined years of service and date of hire, sits at 61.81 percent approval; and Proposition E, a bill calling for la link between new office development and affordable housing, is winning with 52.08 percent.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains at the top of the San Francisco polls to maintain her position as the California District 12 representative. Pelosi has 70 percent of the 42,572 ballots cast. In somewhat of a surprising twist, following behind her with 12 percent of the vote is Republican John Dennis. In close third is activist and Democrat Shahid Buttar. Buttar, who raised $500,000 dollars in an attempt to organize a major campaign, hopes to challenge Pelosi in the fall. But in the early results, he holds only 10 percent of the vote, more than 1,000 ballots behind Dennis.

At the bar Zeitgeist at 199 Valencia, around 40 people are waiting for Shahid Buttar to show. Many grassroots supporters are among the crowd. Mike Rufo, a friend of Buttar said “he is a person amongst people.” Rufo said that Buttar has never worked for a big corporation and has done nonprofit legal work all his career.

Lydia Chavez from Mission Local said she thinks Buttar will have a good shot against being the candidate against Pelosi in November.

State Sen. Scott Wiener has the lead but with just 56 percent of the vote against two challengers. Jackie Fielder, who mounted a grassroots campaign, is at 27 percent, meaning she will likely face off against Wiener again in the fall.

Wiener’s party at Cadlillac Bar is packed with excited voters, volunteers, and politicians. Wiener’s goal is to get 80 percent of the vote, running against Jackie Fielder, who could potentially be a threat in the fall.

As the polls inched closer to 8:00 p.m., supporters at the Bernie Sanders office said they felt confident about his campaign in California. As one supporter said, “Oh he’s gonna win, it’s gonna happen!”

Most of the people we spoke to were volunteers. Cecily said she had been canvassing in the last two weeks.

Cecily said: “I’m really fucking angry at our government. I want a government that takes care of people instead of controlling them.” The other supporters focused on the policies that Sanders has been campaigning for such as the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-All, or wiping out student debt. As one supporter put it, “Choosing between paying rent or paying health care and that actually happened to me when my house went foreclosed during the recession, we couldn’t go to the emergency room for my sister…in addition, I’m $20,000 in debt that I’ll be paying for the next 10 years and that shouldn’t happen.”

Even after the polls closed, Bernie volunteers at 2235 Mission St. were still working the phone lines after receiving word that Los Angeles County was behind in vote counting and long lines are still present at polling places. As one Bernie phone banker, Marc, said, “I was doing phone banking trying to get last-minute calls before the polls close and then we found that there was something with the voting polls in LA with really long lines so they opened the polls for an extra two hours till 10, which is kind of unusual and reminiscent of the Iowa caucus.”

Coverage brought to you by the 48hills Election Night team: Isabella Albaisa, Ali Aldrees, Juan Miguel Arcayena, Molly Bryant, Savannah Dewberry, Callie Fausey, Matthew Kerfoot, Gabriela Lanza, Isabel Maschmedt,Bridget McGreevy, Dillon McNeil, Kayla Quintero, Cathrine Roque, Clara Rosandich, Josh Safier, Anna Schmid, Alexander Segovia, and Melanie Velasquez.

Large crowd debates Valencia bike lanes

 

On Monday night, the meeting room at  the City College Mission campus was packed as tightly as an N-Judah train during commute hours. The Municipal Transportation Agency had called for a discussion of protected bike lanes on Valencia Street.

Moms rolled in, unstrapping kids from bike seats. Young and middle-aged people carried helmets and wore yellow shirts proclaiming,  “Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives.” And as Valencia St. churchgoers and business owners stood in groups around the perimeter of the room voicing concerns, people searched for surfaces to fill out public comment cards.

Bike-lane supporters (and a few opponents) crowded into a room to discuss the city’s new plans. Photo courtesy SF Bike Coalition.

A long table ran across the middle of the room, displaying the proposed designs for protected bike lanes on Valencia from 19th Street to Cesar Chavez. Attendees dressed the design with sticky notes, bearing comments ranging from enthusiastic to dubious.

This plan is a continuation of the Valencia Street Pilot Project, which added protected bike lanes on Valencia between Market and 15th Street. The SFMTA reported a 99% decrease in vehicle/bike interactions in the middle of these protected blocks as well as a 100 percent reduction in near-dooring incidents since barriers were installed.

“This project has been in the works for three years, and there’s been lots of solid back and forth in terms of partnering with community businesses, advocacy groups, people from the community, and experts at SFMTA to get the designs in place,” said Melissa Lewis, communications and marketing director at the SF Bike Coalition.

If approved, the plan would allow the construction of barrier-protected bike lanes along this stretch of Valencia and relocate parking spots and loading zones to the left of bike lanes to prevent cars and trucks from blocking the bike lane and to minimize the risk of cars pulling in and hitting bikers.

Bike advocates say cars park in their lanes on Valencia often. Users of safelanes.org, an app that allows you to upload photos of illegal parking across SF, reported 61 instances of cars and delivery trucks blocking bike lanes on the Valencia corridor in just this past week. Since the project went live in August, users have reported 934 instances of blocked bike lanes on Valencia.

“Valencia Street is a ticking time bomb,” said Stephen Braitsch, who runs Safe Lanes. “It’s a mirror image to what Howard Street used to look like in 2019.”

Almost a year ago, 30-year-old Tess Rothstein was run over and killed by a truck while biking down Howard. According to witnesses, she swerved into traffic to avoid getting doored.

“As a city, we have to be proactive: use the data and tools we have today to prevent someone else from getting killed, which will happen on Valencia if we do not install protected bike lanes,” said Braitsch.

Following Rothstein’s death, Mayor London Breed announced a plan to fast-track 20 miles of new, protected bike lanes. The Valencia Street plan is part of that effort.

Other features of the plan include adding barriers at intersections to protect walkers and bikers from right-turning cars; building curb ramps for wheelchairs and strollers; outlawing left turns from Valencia to side streets; and adding meters on side streets to encourage parking turnover.

John Davidson, a Valencia bike commuter who supports the plan, recalled his experience getting hit last November. “The car in front of me evidently hadn’t seen me and went straight into that space in the bike lane where the cars are often stopping for loading and unloading. I was there, and it knocked me off my bike.”

“Even though I’m riding right there in the lane in my bright green jacket, cars will swerve right in front of me, and I almost get hammered,” said Chris Sanders, a Valencia biker. Sanders hasn’t gotten hit but recounted seeing a woman get hit on Valencia, around 22nd St. “The car door swung open, and it was like Splat! Bam!”

While many people came to the hearing to show support, others came to express deep concerns about reduced parking.

Leila Mansur, co-owner of Radio Habana Social Club, said she fears her customers will stop coming if parking becomes too challenging. “A lot of our clients are elderly,” she said. “A lot of them have been displaced to the Sunset, to the Excelsior, to South San Francisco. But they like to come out at night. How can they? We need parking.”

Somewhat counterintuitive opposition is coming from Paul Olszewski, the owner of Valencia Cyclery. Olszewski told the San Francisco Chronicle that many customers drive to his family-oriented shop and that he “canvassed over 100 merchants, and 99.9% of them are objecting.”

In addition to taking out official parking spots, the plan would remove the center turn lanes on Valencia to make space for bike lane barriers and loading islands. Churchgoers and funeral attendees often park in the turn lanes on Sundays and in the evenings.

“Well I’m not a happy camper,” said Shirley Foreman, the church administrator at St. Mark Institutional Missionary Baptist Church on Valencia between 19th and 20th. “I’m disabled and no longer have the strength of my body to walk up and down the streets. What happens to the old people? What happens to the disabled people?

“Our church has been in this location since 1971,” Foreman said. “My father was the founding pastor of that church. That’s a part of his legacy, and I feel like I’m being kicked out of that.”

Kimberly Leung, a transportation engineer at SFMTA, said the city will be offering a flat rate to park in the 21st and Bartlett garage on Sunday mornings. According to Leung, 53 percent of the existing curb space between 19th and Cesar Chavez will be preserved for parking and loading. That includes general metered parking, passenger loading zones, commercial loading zones, accessible parking, and short-term parking.

Leung wrote in an email that the SFMTA “will be sharing next steps for the project by early next week.” The city traffic engineer will either approve the project or defer to the SFMTA Board of Directors for a vote. The vote could take place as early as April.

The hearing officially ended at 8pm, but many people lingered, including Brian Stokle. “I’m not a biker but I’m a bike supporter,” said Stokle, who lives on Valencia Street and is trying to teach his 7-year-old daughter how to bike. “I only feel safe when I go on the segment that’s protected. Otherwise I would never let her go out there.”

Moms 4 Housing bill expanded

Dominique Walker speaks to the news media after announcing that Wedgewood had agreed to sell the house to a communithy land trust.

Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas announced yesterday that the Moms 4 Housing bill, which would give tenants the first right of purchase on buildings they reside in once they are on sale, will be expanded to include land trusts, co-ops, and affordable housing developers as well as vacant buildings.

Moms 4 Housing’s Dominique Walker speaks to the news media after announcing that Wedgewood had agreed to sell the vacant house they had occupied to a community land trust.

““Moms for Housing is supporting this bill because it will help families like ours remain in their homes, and in the Oakland community. If this bill had been in place last year, Wedgewood might never have been able to buy Moms House in the first place,” said the Moms 4 Housing group.

Inspired by unhoused mothers from Oakland who took over a vacant house who formed the group Moms 4 Housing, the legislation is a unique combination of both Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Acts and Community Opportunity to Purchase Acts, both of which have been passed in cities across the country. The former provides tenants the priority to purchase; the latter, affordable housing nonprofits, land trusts, and city agencies.

However, it’s still a housing bill caught up in a market fueled by profit — which means the possibility of tenants or affordable housing developers being able to purchase a building may be few and far between. Twelve million dollars may be available to help fund costs through Oakland’s Preservation of Affordable Housing Fund. Passed by Councilmember Bas last year, the fund was created to assist community land trusts and limited-equity housing cooperatives acquire and preserve rental properties with 25 or fewer units.

Last year, San Francisco passed its own bill to give nonprofits priority to purchase buildings on sale. While it has been used to successfully acquire some smaller apartment buildings, there are clear limitations.

The bill was put to the test when one of San Francisco’s biggest landlords, Veritas, placed a third of its portfolio — a whopping 76 buildings — on the market. While affordable housing nonprofits were offered the first right of purchase, none had the capital or ability to purchase.

COPA and TOPA are important tools for nonprofits and tenants to have the upper hand in purchasing buildings, but with the raging inequity that already exists in the housing market, much more has yet to be done.

The legislation is expected to pass, with Council President Rebecca Kaplan, Councilmember Sheng Thao and Mayor Libby Schaaf all signed on as co-sponsors, and would be the first of its kind in California.

It will be heard in the Community and Economic Development Committee Meeting on March 24th.

Mohammed Nuru’s worst offense

Among the proposals is an end to all sweeps.

A $2,070 bottle of wine from a Chinese billionaire, a $5,000 bribe to an SFO airport commissioner, and a John Deer tractor for his vacation home in Colusa County.

These are just a few pieces of evidence that the FBI is using to charge Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru with fraud.

Following the investigation, there have been countless demands to end corruption and pay-to-play politics from the public and elected officials alike. Supervisor Hillary Ronen wrote  she was outraged; Supervisor Gordon Mar admonished the “casual culture of corruption.” Supervisor Matt Haney even called for a special investigator to be hired to further gut corruption in implicated city agencies.

But Nuru should have been fired long ago for something much more sinister: using the Department of Public Works as a tool to blatantly violate the civil rights of thousands of homeless San Franciscans.

For years under his authority, the department has illegally confiscated the personal belongings of thousands of homeless San Franciscans, including life-saving medication, important documentation needed to access housing and healthcare, tents, and sleeping bags.

The Stolen Belonging project team has been interviewing unhoused residents across San Francisco and highlighting the city’s theft of their possessions, including their most cherished personal items. When asked what would justice or accountability look like, the majority said they simply wanted the sweeps to stop. A large coalition of housed and unhoused San Franciscans recently launched a campaign — Solutions Not Sweeps— with this very goal, calling for humane and compassionate alternatives.

While Public Works shouldn’t be conducting homeless sweeps and taking residents’ belonging, violating the 4th, 8th and 14th amendments, they routinely also violate their own “bag and tag” policy around logging and storing items. Homeless people often never receive their items back from the Public Works yard and know that attempts at retrieval are futile.

In one devastating example, the agency crushed one homeless man’s walker in the back of a DPW dump truck. Neil Taylor’s was one of the rare cases where the City Attorney’s Office agreed to settle $750 for the wrongdoing, but by the time the decision was made, he had died on the streets.

As the director of public works, Nuru worked diligently to ensure homeless people were gone from the public eye. He was known to clear homeless encampments and RVs ahead of mayoral visits to a neighborhood. His staff has put up hundreds of metal barricades across city sidewalks to guarantee homeless people are unable to utilize space to rest or sleep, even though the city’s shelter waitlist has over 990 people waiting for a bed.

When housed residents purchased boulders in Clinton Park to prevent homeless people from sleeping, Nuru responded by saying that the boulders “were not big enough.” His long term solution? Bigger boulders.

To top it off, Nuru was allegedly personally benefiting from homeless services. Part of Nuru’s corruption charges were based on giving unfair advantages to assure certain contractors were awarded jobs of providing homeless shelters and public restrooms.

However, like the deep-rooted corruption that plagues City Hall, the cruel treatment of homeless people will not end with a single person.

Mayor Breed will appoint the next public works director. She will give that director the same instructions she gave Nuru. Under the guise of clean and healthy streets, there will be a continuation of homeless sweeps and the destruction of personal property. It is what predecessor Mark Farrell did before her, and what the late Mayor Ed Lee did before him.

The fiery call to accountability from supervisors and San Franciscans to end corruption and bribery must be also be there for the atrocities Nuru has committed against homeless people.

A more just San Francisco is not one with longer, harsher prison sentences. It is one where we replace corrupt public officials with ones that follow constitutional and human rights. If we don’t take a step towards that now, thousands of people living on our streets will continue to suffer under the hands of city agencies.

It’s time for San Francisco to have a compassionate Department of Public Works — one that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of all San Franciscans, including ones without a home.

And it’s well beyond time to ask ourselves what the true corruption is that lies within our city government.

The misleading reports (and reporting) on Prop. E

Do we really need all these new offices when their workers will have no place to live? (Photo collage by Steelblue vis SFist)

I was around in 1986, when the San Francisco Chronicle, along with most of the political power structure of the city, argued that Proposition M, a measure to limit office growth, would be the death of San Francisco.

Development limits, we were told, would destroy the booming economy. Reducing office space would bankrupt the city, put thousands out of work, send jobs to other places, and leave us with mass unemployment and no money for essential services.

Do we really need all these new offices when their workers will have no place to live? (Photo collage by Steelblue vis SFist)

Funny how that didn’t happen.

Prop. M probably saved San Francisco from the fate of other cities that allowed the office boom of the mid-1980s to grow out of control; when the bust hit, Houston (with no growth limits) looked more like the disaster that the Chron and then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein predicted for San Francisco.

That’s because the “growth-is-always-good” crowd ignored economic reality. The office boom of the 1980s was driven by an excess of speculative investment capital, created by the Reagan-era deregulation of Savings and Loan Institutions and new tax laws that allowed developers to make money on an office building even it hardly anyone occupied it.

And the bust cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Prop. M office limits – which restrict new construction to 875,000 square feet a year – clearly haven’t destroyed the local economy or the city budget, which is now at least five times the size it was in 1986.

The city is not mired in vast unemployment.

The problem, of course, is the opposite: The tech boom has created so many jobs, and so little affordable housing, that tens of thousands of San Franciscans have been forced out of town. Prop. M has not prevented San Francisco from becoming perhaps the richest city in the history of civilization – and the one today with the worst economic inequality in the nation.

And now, when activists are trying to control displacement by limiting office growth when there’s not enough affordable housing for the workers, the Chron and the city’s economist are issuing the same grave warnings that were demonstrably wrong in 1986 and are demonstrably wrong now.

Here’s the Chron headline: “Prop. E office limits would slash jobs, hurt incomes.” And the story:

San Francisco’s economic growth would be stunted, with the city losing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of gross domestic product, if voters pass Proposition E, which would tie office-space approvals to affordable housing goals, according to a report from the city’s chief economist, Ted Egan, released Monday.

I read the report. It’s based on some fundamentally faulty assumptions — and even then doesn’t say anything as apocalyptic as the Chron suggests.

But never mind: The No on E campaign is using the report, and the Chron story, to try to convince voters that Prop. E would destroy the city.

The language of the No on E ads, which are appearing on Facebook, mirror what the Chamber of Commerce says in its argument against Prop. E:

Prop. E would cut $600 to $900 million in affordable housing fees paid by office space over the next 20 years.

Yes, it would. Absolutely.

But it would also cut demand for affordable housing by far, far more than that. As we noted back in December:

The buildings the Chamber wants to see constructed would create a demand for $1.8 to $2.7 billion worth of affordable housing; the fees would cover about a third of that. Not building those towers would do more for the housing crisis than building them (at the current fee rate).

That’s the key here: Office developers pay fees for affordable housing. But those fees are far, far lower than the demand those buildings create. So more office space — at the current fee structure — makes the affordable housing crisis worse.

And the evidence is also really, really clear that new office buildings create more demand for Muni, police officers, and other city services than they pay for. By far.

So limiting office growth is actually good for the city budget. It’s also, in the current world, good for preventing evictions and displacement.

And the idea that this will lead to massive unemployment has no basis in fact. According to the report

This level of office development could support approximately 2,375 fewer office jobs per year.

Seriously? We could lose 2,375 jobs a year? There are currently more than 750,000 jobs in San Francisco. We gain and lose that many jobs every couple of months, just with the normal ebb and flow of capitalism. The impact on the city’s employment would be … three tenths of one percent.

That’s far too small to predict with any sort of accuracy.

But that’s not even the worst of this report.

From the document:

The proposed measure raises the issue of the relationship between employment growth and housing affordability in the city.

Employment growth clearly grew faster than housing supply in San Francisco during the 2010s. The chart to the left shows that the city’s jobs/housing ratio has risen by more than 25% since 2010.

However, while the housing burden facing low- and moderate-income San Franciscans remains very high, housing appears to have become more, rather than less, affordable as the jobs-housing ratio has increased during the 2010s.

According to Census data, the percentage of low/ moderate income households in the city spending more than 30% of their income on housing has tended to decline since the end of the recession.

There’s a nice chart that goes with this statement, which suggests that the rising tide has lifted all boats, that the tech boom has been just grand for lower-paid people, and that all has been well in the San Francisco housing market since the end of the recession.

Guess what? Fewer people are rent-burdened in SF — because fewer low-income people have managed to stay here.

But there are two key missing points here.

First, the only reason that existing low-income households have seen their cost of housing rise slower than their income is rent control. The folks who are still here are the ones living in rent-controlled apartments or in private homes that they bought many years ago.

Second, and far more obvious: tens of thousands of low-income households have been forced out of town by the tech boom’s speculation and evictions.

As John Elberling, the author of Prop E, notes:

Rather than state the obvious fact that this is because of accelerated displacement of lower-income households from the city – which means they are disappearing from that data! – and so of course the numbers about those who can afford to stay here look better after that …

… instead the office regurgitates the same old trickle-down baloney:

“As shown on the next page, one reasons for this seems to be that job growth has fueled growth in household income, which has been faster than growth in housing costs, for most households in the city.”

What that hides is that this is because new tech workers with higher income are replacing former city residents with lower incomes who have been priced out of their homes! It’s call “statistical substitution.”

But it’s REAL PEOPLE who are being “substituted.” they are not just “data points.”

We know that the current system of growth is doing deep damage to the city. We know that developers are not paying anywhere near the cost of providing affordable housing for the workers of their buildings.

We know that all of these pro-growth folks said the same thing in 1986, and it was totally wrong.

Oh, and by the way: This chart that shows how the city’s GDP would grow more slowly under Prop. E is misleading.

For starters: The chart shows that even with Prop. E, the local economy would grow 31 percent by 2040. Of course, with the national and global economies changing so fast right now, there’s absolutely no way to know what will happen to one city between now and 2040. Anyone who made a prediction 20 years ago about the city’s future would have been stunned by what has come to pass.

I don’t know if the SF GDP can actually grow by 31 percent in 20 years – or if we want it to. The global climate crisis may well be an argument for slower growth in the developed world, possibly even a steady-state economy (which would use less energy and goods).

In fact, I could argue that in the next 20 years, either we will slow our use of energy and material or climate change will cause such an economic crisis that the world will be in a deep recession.

But let’s say we want growth like this. Since Prop. E exempts all the office space already approved, which is about five years’ worth under the current Prop. M limits, there should be no change from this measure in the lines on the chart until 2025. So any divergence would be smaller.

“It’s typical ‘growth-is-always-good’ propaganda,” Elberling notes. “Of course it omits/ignores the human costs of growth. The lives of our city’s people is the most important criteria of all.”

Hiking the Crosstown Trail: a photo-essay, part one

Photo by Lucas Thornton.

Read part 2 of Lucas’ photo-essay here

A wind-swept bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A grotto of impossibly luxe mansions. An overgrown canyon carved by a modest creek, adjoining a district made isolated by the highway on one side and the steep hills on the other. A working-class neighborhood on the edge, both geographically and socially.

Somewhat implausibly, all of this exists squeezed into an area of less than 50 square miles, in that most implausible of cities, built over hills on a chilly, foggy peninsula: San Francisco. And it can all be seen on the epic, 16.7-mile journey that is the San Francisco Crosstown Trail.

The Trail, which officially opened in June of last year, is a continuous network of parkland, dirt paths, and sidewalks, connecting the southeastern corner of the city, Candlestick Point, to the northwestern, Lands End. But the Trail is more than a series of stunning views and neighborly walks. From end to end, the Crosstown Trail reveals much about San Francisco.

Ruins of a boat at Candlestick Park. Photo by Lucas Thornton
A luxury development in Portola. Photo by Lucas Thornton
Footbridge over I-280, Excelsior. Photo by Lucas Thornton
Bernal Heights. Photo by Lucas Thornton

The Crosstown Trail reveals, in subtle fashion, the ills facing the city. Starting the trail from the southeast, the first neighborhood one passes through is Visitacion Valley, rare in San Francisco for being virtually untouched by gentrification. The neighborhood has been outpaced by the rest of the city in many ways, but doesn’t feel “depressed” or “neglected”—Leland Avenue, which lies along the trail on the way to McLaren Park, is lined with mom-and-pop storefronts. In Visitacion Valley, one can see San Francisco as it once was, and can still be: a vibrant home for the working class and people of color.

Glen Park. Photo by Lucas Thornton
The highest point on the Crosstown Trail. Photo by Lucas Thornton
A painted storage container behind Laguna Honda
Joggers in Forest Hill

One climbs through McLaren Park, the third largest park in the city, and then down Cambridge Street. Here, a luxury condo development hints at the housing crisis that looms over the city. The Portola development is anticipating prices starting at “the low $1 millions.” A footbridge brings you across I-280, crossing both a literal and metaphorical threshold. Across the bridge is a quiet neighborhood, with low, detached houses with neat lawns. It has a suburban, “anywhere in America” feel, contradicting the typical idea of San Francisco architecture. At the aptly-named Grandview Park, a panorama unfolds, and the mesmerizing beauty that has attracted generations of Americans smashes you over the head. A realization: the city’s unique architecture is both a blessing and a curse; it bestows the city with its beauty, but also leaves it starved for space.

Looking west on Quintara Street
A man walks his dog on 14th Avenue.
Outer Sunset

Seeing the massive shifts in the layout of the city, from the humble Visitacion Valley to the sprawling mansions at Sea Cliff, has a strangely dissociating feel. It’s not an unwarranted feeling: 50 years after its official end, the effects of redlining are still obvious in San Francisco. A “residential security map” from 1937 shows the neighborhoods on the southeast portion of the Trail bathed in red, “hazardous.” At the time, the boundary between the “D-grade” and “C-grade” neighborhoods was Mission Street. Today, that boundary roughly defines the gentrification that slowly creeps across the city.

View of the Sunset from Grandview Park. Photo by Lucas Thornton

Read part 2 of Lucas’ photo-essay here

The Chron’s embarrassing attack on Boudin just got worse

DA Chesa Boudin is under attack from the Chron.

The Chronicle has been attacking Chesa Boudin and the concept of serious criminal justice reform since he first announced he was running for DA. The paper’s editorial page editor, John Diaz, launched a nasty red-baiting attack the day Boudin won.

Then when Boudin made fairly routine changes in his staff, the attacks continued.

DA Chesa Boudin is under attack from the Chron.

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.

Terence Hallinan, rebel and advocate for the oppressed

Terence Hallinan died Jan. 17, and in death got a lot more positive press than he ever did in life.

The Chron ran a nice obit. The Examiner published a Bay City News report that was almost entirely upbeat. Mayor London Breed and Senator Kamala Harris both issued kind statements.

If there is an afterlife, then somewhere out there, Terry is shaking his head in wonder.

For most of his remarkable legal and political career, the political and media establishment went out of its way to vilify and marginalize Hallinan, who was a San Francisco leftist to his core.

The Chron never supported Hallinan for any office, belittled a lot of his efforts, and found ways to make the least important parts of his life big news. The called him “often emotional” and played up a nonstory about his getting into a fight with developer Joe O’Donoughuein a bar (wow, two tough old Irish friends get into a bar fight! Stop the presses!) They never supported his efforts to prosecute the cops in what became the “Fajitagate” scandal.

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.

Kamala Harris used the Chron’s attacks on Hallinan in her campaign for DA

“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.