The Sierra Club and the luxury-housing developer

Are you a Sierra Club member who lives in Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville, Alameda, Piedmont or San Leandro? If so, you fall under the aegis of the club’s Northern Alameda County Group, which is nested within the larger Bay Chapter.

Be aware, then, that the NAC Executive Committee is currently dominated by a pro-growth coterie that’s exploiting the Sierra Club’s cachet to push a pro-development agenda that violates the club’s commitments to affordable housing, neighborhood integrity, and democratic governance.

If you’re a Sierra Club member who lives elsewhere in the Bay Area, you should also be concerned. The growth boosters on the NAC Ex Com include two men who wield considerable influence in the Bay Chapter, Igor Tregub and Andy Katz. Tregub also chairs the chapter Executive Committee. Both he and Katz sit on the Bay Chapter’s Political Committee, which makes the Sierra Club’s endorsements of political candidates and ballot measures. In the Bay Area, where the club claims nearly 60,000 members, and environmental values are widely embraced, Sierra Club endorsements carry a lot of weight.

(UPDATE: Tregub tells me he has stepped down from the Political Committee, which only makes advisory recommendations on endorsements.)

A crowd packs the San Leandro City Council chambers to oppose the project. Photo by Stephen Cassidy.

This is an alarming trend for the club; already in San Francisco, Yimbys have tried to take over the local chapter (and so far failed). But the pro-development forces know that placing people on the boards of all-volunteer organizations is not that difficult. There’s little doubt that “smart growth” advocates are trying to shift the influential Sierra Club in their direction, locally and nationally.

1388 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro

The motives of the local leaders were on display on the evening of January 28, when, after a perfunctory discussion, the NAC Ex Com voted 5-3 to send a letter to the San Leandro City Council expressing partial support for the controversial housing development at 1388 Bancroft Avenue. The developer wants to replace the existing office building with a new rental apartment building comprised of 43 luxury units and two officially affordable units.

Since the project was on the council’s Feb. 4 agenda, the letter had to be drafted, reviewed, revised, approved, and sent in a bare week—in other words, before the Ex Com would meet again in late February.

I went to the January 28 meeting to comment on the NAC’s peremptory treatment of another item on the agenda, development at the North Berkeley BART station. But it was the group’s similarly cavalier disposal of the San Leandro project that captured my attention. Until then, I’d never heard of 1388 Bancroft. I got the impression that, except for Tregub and outgoing NAC Chair Andy Kelley, neither had members of the Ex Com.

The collective ignorance was understandable. For one thing, Kelley had only posted the evening’s agenda online on the afternoon of January 28. He was acting under duress: he’d stepped into the chair’s position after his immediate predecessor in the office had abruptly departed. On January 28, Kelley happily voted with the rest of the Ex Com to have Berkeley Councilmember Sophie Hahn succeed him as chair. Hahn then presided over an agenda that she had not set.

More important, the NAC Ex Com relied on a single informant who championed the project. At the meeting, the case for endorsing 1388 Bancroft was made by Tim Frank, a Berkeley resident and self-described “sustainability consultant.” A representative of the sheet metal workers union spoke briefly in favor of the project, but it was Frank who carried the ball.

Frank often speaks at public comment before city councils, regional agencies, and other public entities, urging the approval of developments. He’s been cheering on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s frightening CASA project since its inception.

On January 31, I emailed Frank asking if he’d been paid to advocate 1388 Bancroft. He replied:

I have no economic tie whatsoever to the developer of 1388 Bancroft in San Leandro. The same is true of 2190 Shattuck, which I supported at the Berkeley City Council hearing this last Thursday. These are very green transit-oriented development projects that will be built by union labor. Spending a few hours supporting these projects is a small contribution towards the larger goal of creating a greater and more equitable economy.

What you should know about me is that I am Director of the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, and am the board chair of Good Jobs First, both of which are organizations that support economic development strategies that emphasize good jobs and make our region more sustainable. This has been my vocation and passion for more than two and a half decades.

I emailed back: “Thanks for the ambiguous reply. I asked whether you were paid to advocate a Sierra Cub NAC Group endorsement of 1388 Bancroft. Tom Silva [the landlord-applicant via his business, Eden Realty] aside, were you paid to speak in favor of the project?”

To date, Frank has not responded.

The Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods is not incorporated as a tax-exempt nonprofit in California, so there are no public filings showing anything about its finances. On its website, the group seeks donations, but says they are not tax-deductible. I asked Frank where his group gets its money; he has not responded.

The NAC Ex Com buys Frank’s pitch

At the Ex Com meeting, Frank first stated that he directs the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, chairs both the board of Good Jobs First and the Sierra Club’s National Challenge to Sprawl campaign, and is helping the national club update its infill development policy.

He then pitched 1388 Bancroft. He highlighted the project’s access to transit—the site is on two bus lines, he said—its unbundled auto parking and bike lockers (tenants will have to pay extra to park on-site) and its GreenTRIP certification from TransForm; and noted the developer’s promise to use union labor.

After NAC Ex Com member Chris Jackson observed that only two percent of the units at 1388 Bancroft would be affordable, Frank said that the city had a shortage of luxury residences, but that market-rate housing “hasn’t penciled,” meaning it hasn’t did not yield the returns that developers demand. He also said that San Leandro’s inclusionary ordinance requires that 15 percent of the units in new housing developments be affordable, and that the city has not been “supportive of multi-family housing.”

Nobody pointed out that the last two of these claims do not compute. In today’s Bay Area, no city has an ample stock of low-income housing without having required that new developments include a substantial amount of such housing. In fact, San Leandro has supported multi-unit housing.

As Frank spoke, I Googled “1388 Bancroft.” Up came an article describing neighbors’ concerns about parking. In the ensuing discussion—initially everyone in the room was invited to make a comment—I mentioned those concerns. They elicited no interest from Ex Com members, who went on to pass a motion to send a letter to the San Leandro City Council that supported aspects of the project that were consistent with Sierra Club policies.

Voting Yes were Tregub, Katz, Kelley, Jonathan Bair, and Aaron Priven. Xavier Johnson was not present but later weighed in with a Yes. Voting No were Hahn, Jackson, and Toni Mester.

The unrecognized opposition

A bit more Googling also turned up the email address of the group that was fighting the project. The next morning, I sent the group a brief report of the Ex Com’s action. About an hour later, I got a reply from one of the neighbors, Stephen Cassidy. Cassidy said he’d been a member of the Sierra Club “on and off over the past 15 years,” and that he’s currently a member who “strongly support[s] the club’s mission” and “donate[s] to the club on a monthly basis.” He also said that from January 2011 to December 2014, he was mayor of San Leandro.

Cassidy wrote:

When we hear neighbors are opposed to a particular project, some immediately conclude the neighbors must be unreasonable, from the filter that any local opposition to a project is irrational and intended simply to protect the narrow-minded interest of the immediate neighbors who do not want change (or worse).

The 1388 Bancroft does not fit this mold. Context is critical.

He went on to provide that context: In 2016,

the San Leandro city council revised the San Leandro Zoning Code to allow new housing in areas of San Leandro formerly and exclusively reserved for offices and commercial uses, including at 1388 Bancroft Avenue (the property at the corner of Estudillo and Bancroft immediately across from Bancroft Middle School). We, neighbors of 1388 Bancroft Avenue, supported this change.  Our support helped expand sites for housing in San Leandro.

While new housing was encouraged, the City set limits to ensure that no project would be too dense or too large for the neighborhood. Specifically, projects were limited to:

  • 24 units per acre (which means 31 units at 1388 Bancroft)
  • A parking ratio of 2.25 parking spots per 2-bedroom unit
  • 10 foot setbacks
  • 30 feet in height

In response, the developer sought to build a project far in excess of these limits, close to 75 two-bedroom units, nearly 50 feet tall and with grossly inadequate parking. It was so deficient that city staff opposed the project. See https://sanleandrofocus.blogspot.com/2017/11/city-staff-analysis-of-1388-bancroft.html

Critically, the developer said he could not afford to build any project that was smaller.  However, the developer reversed course and withdrew his proposal.

Fast forward to the present, the developer is back with a smaller project. City staff is recommending that they be set aside for a “Planned Development” to be built at 1388 Bancroft Avenue.

The 1388 Bancroft Avenue Planned Development is better than what was first proposed but remains in violation of the 2016 expanded and pro-housing provisions of the city zone code.  The new plan calls for an apartment complex containing:

  • 45 units at the site … 50% denser than allowed
  • 55 parking spaces … less than half of the required number
  • 4 foot setbacks on Estudillo … 60% less than required
  • 37 feet tall … 23% taller than allowed

The affordable housing component of the planned development is a fraud.  The developer has another apartment on the opposite side of San Leandro that is decades old and serves the low end of the market. He plans on adding two units of affordable at this site, eg not at 1388 Bancroft.  And he will write a one-time check to the city to satisfy its in lieu fee for affordable housing units. That’s how he gets to claim 4% affordable housing at 1388 Bancroft. The reality is there will be no affordable units on the property. Many of us object to the project for this reason. We welcome affordable units at the site.

1388 Bancroft is not within the City’s Transit Oriented Development zone. It will bring significantly more cars to the neighborhood, as almost all units will be 2-bedrooms with 2 baths priced at the highest end of the market. In many cases, 4 adults owning 4 cars will be occupying units.

Furthermore, we have the right to rely on the assurances and promises of our city officials.  Integrity matters.  Approval of the 1388 Bancroft Planned Development without modification would create the precedent that any project, no matter the location, how dense or tall, or the lack of sufficient parking, could be built in San Leandro as long as it is labeled a “Planned Development.”

We continue to support housing at 1388 Bancroft and would be willing to compromise but the project must be brought closer to the zoning code restrictions.

I forwarded Cassidy’s email to the Ex Com members whose email I had at hand: Hahn, Kelley, Tregub, Katz, and Mester, stating that, except for Kelley, “it was clear” that before January 28, none of the Ex Com members had heard of 1388 Bancroft. I added:

I understand why it was placed on the agenda. I do not understand why the majority voted to send a letter to the council, given that you heard only one person advocating its approval. To support a project such as this, with a long and controversial history, without hearing from opponents, and after a short discussion which could not possibly suffice for anyone involved to understand the situation, was wrong.

I suggested that they reconsider sending a letter to the San Leandro Council endorsing any aspect of the project. I also left Tregub a voicemail.

No reporters allowed

Nobody took up my suggestion to reconsider the letter. Tregub, however, emailed a reply that addressed two other matters. First, he said that “three separate people reached out to me about placing this on the agenda, including former San Leandro Councilmember (previously endorsed by the Sierra Club) and longtime member Michael Gregory.”

Then Tregub tried to nail me for violating Sierra Club rules. “[D]id you attend the meeting as a member as a reporter?” he asked. “As you know, our policy welcomes members but does not allow reporters to attend our meetings, so I guess it sort of depends which hat you wear (since you’re both). Thanks for clarifying!”

I was indeed aware of that policy, which however I find nowhere in the Sierra Club’s posted rules and bylaws. If, like me, you’re both a journalist and a Sierra Club member, before attending a club meeting, you have to decide which hat you’re going to wear. What’s unclear is whether club rules forbid non-journalist members from reporting what they witness at club meeting. Tregub and his pals on the Ex Com were well aware of my dual identity, yet they said nothing at the meeting, and Tregub only raised the issue after I revealed that I’d contacted opponents of 1388 Bancroft.

For the record, I attended the January 28 meeting and am writing here as a Sierra Club member; and this is an unsolicited, unpaid op-ed, the likes of which are routinely composed by non-journalists who happen to belong to the Sierra Club and are published by varied media outlets.

I emailed back that who asked to have 1388 Bancroft placed on the agenda was irrelevant, and that the issue was why he and others who voted for the letter did so,

given that only one side of the story was presented—and that, as Stephen Cassidy’s email made clear, even that side was partially presented. On Monday evening, the NAC Ex Com was not qualified to take a position. Why, then did it do so?

I also noted that the national Sierra Club has adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, and I cited the first three:

  • Be inclusive
  • Emphasis on Bottom-up organizing
  • Let people speak for themselves

“It’s striking,” I wrote,

that you offer no response to Cassidy’s argument. Instead, your concern seems to be that I will write critically about what transpired on Monday evening. Why aren’t you worried that what transpired contradicted club policy—not only the Jemez Principles of democratic decision-making but also the club’s stated commitment to affordable housing and neighborhood integrity?

This, by the way, is the same Igor Tregub who ran for the District One seat on the Berkeley City Council last year. Voters in that district may recall his reiterated enthusiasm for community input regarding development at the North Berkeley BART station. When it came to 1388 Bancroft Avenue, such enthusiasm was nowhere to be seen.

The Ex Com’s letter to the San Leandro council

On February 4, the NAC sent a letter to the San Leandro City Council regarding “the Planned Development at 1388 Bancroft Way” [sic] signed by “Andy Katz, Member, Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee.” It differed, however, from the one that the NAC majority had approved. Rather than endorsing aspects of the project that complied with Sierra Club policy, the letter stated: “We have not taken a position on the project.”

Indeed, except for the opening reference, the letter didn’t mention 1388 Bancroft at all. Instead, it “comment[ed] on relevant land use and housing policies” embraced by the Sierra Club:

[T]o address regional sprawl, promote environmental justice, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land use patterns should be designed to prioritize walking and biking, reduce vehicle miles traveled (MVT) increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor use (auto mobility).

“In particular,” the NAC wrote, “zoning should:”

  • Promote desirable, affordable, dense, and equitable mixed-use infill development;

  • Integrate pedestrian-oriented amenities into residential neighborhoods;

  • Promote affordable housing;

  • Eliminate minimum parking requirements to encourage shifts to biking, walking, scooting, carpooling and transit;

The Northern Alameda County Group of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club supports infill, mixed-use, relatively dense development within urbanized areas that encourages transit, walking, and bicycling and that minimizes private automobile parking. We also support greater density where appropriate, and at least 20% of the housing must be affordable.

We request that the San Leandro City Council integrate these principles into planning and zoning matters.

Most of these principles are ones that, according to Tim Frank, were incorporated into the proposed development at 1388 Bancroft.

The blatant outlier is the stipulation for a minimum 20 percent affordable housing. A glance at the project’s history makes clear that no way would developer Tom Silva agree to follow that injunction. When the NAC Ex Com voted to send the letter, it was ignorant of that history. But it knew that the developer had proposed only 4 percent affordable housing. You’d think that would be a deal breaker—but no. 

Dense TOD trumps all

I surmise that in today’s Sierra Club, the purported benefits of dense, transit-oriented development—above all, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—trump everything else, including the concerns about neighborhood quality of life set forth in the national Club’s adopted policies about the “Urban Environment”:

Protection and Enhancement of the Quality of Life

  1. Protection and enhancement of the quality of urban life by preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.

  2. Preservation and revitalization of urban neighborhoods, with residents protected from unreasonable economic and physical disruption; rehabilitation of housing and community facilities; jobs creation; a safe and healthy workplace environment; and elimination of “redlining” practices.

  3. Attractive, compact and efficient urban areas; with densities and mixtures of uses that encourage walking and transit use, and encourage more efficient use of private autos in balance with other transportation modes.

Not incidentally, the urban quality of life concerns, including the reference to “unreasonable economic and physical disruption,” specified above do not appear in the national Club’s draft “Urban Infill Policy” that’s currently under review.

Dense, transit-oriented development sounds great in the abstract. Done right, it’s great in reality. But doing it right means respecting reality, not trampling on it. Even the NAC letter urged “greater density where appropriate.” If members of the NAC Ex Com had attended the San Leandro Council’s hearing on 1388 Bancroft, they would have heard dozens of speakers explain in vivid detail why 45 units at this site, which is across the street from a middle school, was not appropriate; and why, as Cassidy indicated in his email, the proposed development would likely flood the already congested immediate, Estudillo neighborhood with cars owned by the project’s residents. With the developer estimating rents for the two- and three-bedroom units at $4,000 a month, the proposed 45-unit project would be likely to house far more than 45 residents. There’s no way to prevent any of them from owning a car. What’s more, the latest research indicates that densification inflates land values and the cost of housing in surrounding areas.

After listening to that testimony, the majority of the San Leandro Council made it clear they would not approve a 45-unit development. Mayor Cutter made a motion to approve a 39-unit project. The motion was seconded but withdrawn before a vote was taken. Some councilmembers said they wanted the affordable units to be onsite. Everyone lauded the “greenness” of the project and hoped that it could be built. The developer asked for a 90-day continuance to address the council’s concerns, and the council unanimously granted his request.

To my knowledge, nobody on the NAC Ex Com bothered to attend the meeting. Tim Frank did attend and speak at public comment. Defying the time limit, he had to be cut off by the mayor as he was holding forth on “climate catastrophe.”

To be sure, we are confronting climate catastrophe, at least a catastrophe for the fragile ecological niche in which our species evolved. But that daunting fact does not justify poorly informed, stealth decision making that ignores the threats of “unreasonable” growth, especially by an organization that is professedly committed to democracy and urban quality of life.

What Club members can do

Sierra Club members who live in the nine-county area under the jurisdiction of the Bay Chapter need to pay attention to the actions of the Club officials whom they’ve chosen to represent them. There’s nothing members can directly do about Frank, who’s a consultant.

But Tregub, Katz, Kelley, Bair, Priven, and Johnson were all voted into office. If they want to retain their positions in the Club, they will have to run again, either in 2019 or 2020.

Club members should ask that the national Club’s draft “Urban Infill Policy” be placed on the agendas of local group and the Bay Chapter Executive Committees in a timely fashion—the policy is supposed to be finalized this spring—so that, in accordance with the Jemez Principles, members can “speak for themselves.”

Zelda Bronstein is a longtime Sierra Club member who helped found the Northern Alameda County Group in the early Nineties.















Will the state Democratic Party support public power?

Demonstrators opposing a PG&E bailout at the CPUC. Photo by Heidi Alletzhauser

The collapse of Pacific Gas and Electric Company is leading to serious efforts on both the statewide and the local level to replace the failed private utility with public-power agencies.

The grassroots movement is in place. The political and financial information is clear.

Demonstrators opposing a PG&E bailout at the CPUC. Photo by Heidi Alletzhauser

A group of Democratic Party activists, led by party delegates Glenn Glazer and Lowell Young, working through the Coalition for a Power Safe California, is circulating a petition asking the party at its May convention to approve a resolution calling for statewide public power. The current draft, which is still a work in progress, says the following:

Whereas the public good must always be the first consideration of the people and our government, and it is demonstrable that PG&E has been acting in wanton and probable  illegal disregard of the public’s health and well-being by differing maintenance and upkeep of their equipment as demonstrated by the roughly 40 fires and gas explosions known to have been caused by their unmaintained equipment, including the San Bruno gas explosion, for which it is on probation for causing, and because of its poor safety record, the PUC is considering the possibility of breaking up PG&E as well as other measures against it; and

Whereas PG&E faces financial ruin due to law suits that have resulted from their negligence and poor management and faces bankruptcy, which will disrupt the company’s operations and place the public’s well-being in great jeopardy, and PG&E has asked for rate increases to cover their losses rather than letting their stockholders bear those loses which is a risk of holding stock in any corporation; and

Whereas the State has shown that it can run an insurance company that competes on the open market successfully, and that operation, The State Fund, and the FAIR programs can be used as models on how to run a non-profit public utility owned by the people by keeping the existing employees of PG&E and installing a top management team initially appointed by the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and the Assembly;

Therefore we call upon the California State Government to acquire PG&E by Eminent Domain or to purchase the stock of PG&E at the lowest market value of the stock in the three years prior to the stocks purchase to prevent the manipulation of the stock’s price which would be unfair to the public, and any loss should be borne by the shareholders of recorded on the date of takeover, and 50% of the new board of directors shall be employees and union representatives and all current union benefits shall be honored and each union shall have their membership protected and all other PG&E employees would be encouraged to unionize. Said new management shall run the company for the benefit of the people and serve until replaced by the State Legislature and governor.

The state party controls resolutions pretty tightly, and I have seen party chairs deflect and quietly kill anything that might offend potential donors (and in the past, PG&E has donated to lots of Democratic Party officials, including the current governor, Gavin Newsom). But there’s momentum here, and this resolution will be hard to ignore — particularly with the growing number of progressives winning election as state party delegates.

I wonder if someone at the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee will introduced a resolution supporting this concept; it would draw some clear lines on that panel.

Meanwhile, Sup. Aaron Peskin has told me that acquiring PG&E’s distribution system – or at least starting that process – is a top legislative priority for 2019.

And on Thursday/14,the Board of Supes Rules Committee will hold a hearing on PG&E’s intransigence in providing connections to let the city use its own hydropower to power public agencies and affordable housing projects. That’s been an issue for more than a year, and Sup. Hillary Ronen is asking for an update.

Peskin’s suggestion, which will likely come up at the hearing, is that the city buy its own distribution system, so that PG&E can’t control the local power grid anymore.

The hearing starts at 10am, City Hall Room 263.

That committee will also hear an ordinance rescinding the authorization for the San Francisco Police Department to be a member of the National Rifle Association or collect NRA tournament fees. Sup. Catherine Stefani wants the city to sever all ties with an organization that opposes even the most modest restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons.

On Aug. 30, 2018, a student at Balboa High accidentally discharged a gun, setting off a massive law-enforcement response. In the process, three students were detained and questioned by the cops, and one student was (wrongly) identified in some news media as the shooter.

Now Sups. Ronen, Peskin, and Vallie Brown are introducing legislation to require than anyone 17 or younger who is questioned by police to be provided with a lawyer and to have parents present. The law would ban the cops from asking any questions of any minor until that person has legal (and parental) representation.

Current state and federal law say that cops can’t question anyone 15 or younger without a parent or lawyer present. But according to a Dec. 20 letter sent to Ronen from the National Center for Youth Law:

Law, science, and common experience all conclude that, as compared to adults, youth have less capacity to understand their rights and are significantly more vulnerable to giving false statements in response to routine interrogation. …

Currently, youth 16 and older in California can waive their Miranda rights on their own, as long as the waiver was made in a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent manner. However, research demonstrates that young people often fail to comprehend the meaning of Mirandarights. Even more troubling is the fact that young people are unlikely to appreciate the consequences of giving up those rights. They are also more likely than adults to waive their rights and confess to crimes they did not commit.

The Rules Committee will consider the legislation Monday/11 at 10am, Room 263 City Hall.

Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer has a far-reaching proposal: She wants qualified non-profit housing organizations to have a right of first refusal on any multi-family housing that goes on sale in the city.

That would mean anyone who owns a building with multiple tenants would have to inform the nonprofit housing community that they want to sell the property, give that nonprofit the first right to bid on it – and also give the nonprofit the right to match any private bid that the landlord is prepared to accept.

The legislation would guarantee that any tenant in any building purchased by a nonprofit would get to remain at the same rent and under the same lease conditions.

The law would be a boost to the existing “small-sites” program, which sets aside money (not enough) to help prevent evictions by helping nonprofits and land-trust operations buy at-risk buildings and take the out of the private market forever.

The Planning Commission will discuss Fewer’s proposal Thursday/14. The hearing starts at 1pm, City Hall Room 400.

Venezuela: Democratic uprising or US coup?


Tens of thousands of angry people march in the streets to protest lack of democracy. Women bang on pots to raise alarm over the economic crisis brought on by a socialist president. The United States denounces the leftist government and promises to help bring democracy to the country.

Venezuela in 2019? No, it was Chile in 1973.

Venezuelan activists who support President Maduro formed food co-ops to deal with high cost of groceries. Photo: Reese Erlich

Chileans had elected a Marxist president, Salvador Allende, and the US government was seeking to oust him. Allende’s platform rejected the anti-communist foreign policy of the United States and threatened the profits of US corporations. So, in a time-honored tactic of course, the Nixon Administration claimed Allende was an autocrat allied with the USSR.

With National Security Council director  Henry Kissinger as point man, the United States squeezed Chile economically, sponsored trucker strikes, fomented opposition demonstrations, and ultimately supported the coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power. The people of Chile would suffer under a brutal dictatorship for the next 16 years.

Perhaps the Trump Administration is hoping history will repeat itself, but so far Venezuelans aren’t going for it. Elected President Nicolas Maduro, while politically weakened by recent US maneuvering, still retains a measure of popular support. Unlike the Chilean army, much of the Venezuelan military remains loyal to the government.

As I reported from Caracas two years ago, Maduro survived violent attacks by upper-class opposition leaders on his government. His supporters hope he will do so again, despite massive economic chaos promoted by the United States.

Trump coup attempt

In January the Trump Administration intensified a brutal economic and political campaign to overthrow Maduro. It blocked the state owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, known as  PDVSA, from receiving payment for oil shipments to the United States.  The administration also orchestrateddenunciations of Maduro by US allies in Latin America and Europe.

Venezuela depends on oil exports to earn hard currency. The  Wall Street Journal reported that oil production has dropped10 percent since December. That means the government will have a harder time importing essential goods, like pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and food.

While the US has sanctioned PDVSA, it has also granted waivers allowing Chevron Corporation and two US oil service providers, Halliburton and Schlumberger,to continue operating and making profits in Venezuela. Hmmmm. The US promotion of democracy in Latin America seems, once again, to be attached to corporate interests.

“The Trump Administration is trying to asphyxiate Venezuela,” Carolina Morales, a Venezuelan immigrant rights activist living in San Francisco, told me. “The US claims it favors humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but the best aid is a functioning economy. The sanctions hurt ordinary people.”

US supports democracy – really?

Trump and the Venezuelan opposition claim that Maduro orchestrated fraudulent presidential elections in May 2018 and has become an autocrat. The Venezuelan constitution provides that if the presidency is “abandoned,” the president of the National Assembly can assume that office. On January 23, National Assembly head Juan Guaidó swore himself in as president, claiming that Maduro had abandoned his office by conducting fraudulent elections.

However, the major opposition parties had boycotted the 2018 elections because they were badly divided. They made no claims that Maduro had “abandoned” the presidency. The argument—a thin legal thread created to justify a coup—arose months later.

Guido, until last month, was a virtual unknown. He had never run for national office, and was head of the National Assembly only as part of a rotation system among the opposition parties. Guido’s party, Popular Will, is self-described as a social democratic party. The United States will certainly pressure Popular Will to adopt neo-liberal economic policies such as tax benefits for the rich, taking on onerous loans from international banks and privatizing state owned companies, particularly PDVSA.

Venezuelans have been down that path before. Neoliberal economic policies caused a massive economic crisis in the 1990s, leading to the election of Hugo Chávez, according to Luis Salas, a former minister of economy under Maduro. I interviewed him during my last trip to Caracas.

“That era only produced increased poverty and high inflation,” Salas told me.

Venezuelans will likely be worse off under opposition rule than under Maduro, as admitted by Fernando Cruz, a former White House official who worked on Venezuela policy.

“Things probably will get worse for the people of Venezuela before they get better when you actually start doing things for the greater good,” Cutz told The New York Times.

Serious economic problems

Surely, the opposition owes much of its support to the country’s deteriorating economy. Inflation hit a staggering 80,000 percent last year and is expected to go even higher in 2019.

That means workers’ wages are almost worthless. “It’s difficult to get enough money to buy food,” admitted immigration activist Morales.

Stringent US sanctions and fluctuating oil prices have impacted the Venezuelan economy. But the government also made serious errors, according to Rodulfo Perez, a former minister of education in Maduro’s cabinet.

“We should have invested our oil money in the domestic economy,” Perez told me during my last trip. “Such a policy would have strengthened the bolívar fuerte [Venezuelan currency] and reduced the need for imports.”

What lies ahead?

Trump’s Latin American policy is now spearheaded by John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, and a group of neocons determined to reassert US control of Venezuela’s oil. And, as Bolton has admitted, “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

From a geopolitical standpoint, the neocons see overthrowing the government in Venezuela as a first step towards doing the same in Cuba and Nicaragua.

A US coup is by no means a done deal. “I am optimistic and hoping the government will survive,” said activist Morales. She then added, “I’m also worried. The US could send troops to Venezuela, which would provoke a civil war. There could be thousands of deaths in the streets. That’s why I’m speaking up against this coup.”

Reese Erlich’s nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks in 48Hills. His book The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy is now available. Follow him onTwitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.

‘Take back our lives:’ The words of poverty scholars

May 2 marks the 10-year anniversary of the passing of poet Al Robles. Al Robles was conferred much respect as a poverty scholar of POOR Magazine and remains an ancestor board member of the POOR Magazine family.

Robles’ life was centered on the notion, the struggle to “take back our lives”—our histories, languages, art, land—all of the things whose legacies live in our skin, our blood, all of which have been stolen or commodified/co-opted.

One of POOR Magazine’s mottos is “nothing about us without us.” Robles dedicated his life to telling the stories of Filipino-American elders who were forcibly evicted from San Francisco’s Manilatown neighborhood.  This removal was fueled by real estate speculation, the same force that evicts elders and families today—such as Iris Canada, a 100-year-old black elder in the Fillmore—locked out of her home while at a senior meal program.

Therein lies the situation—voices, experiences, histories/herstories, lived experience—locked out, becoming, through foundation grants, endowments, scholarships etc., a project or case study for an academic or some other with degrees and privilege to write about, take pictures of, document etc.

Al Robles himself was steeped in academia for a time.  The poet/historian attended USF, a Jesuit university and was introduced to the philosophies of Thomas Merton, among others.  However, the neighborhood that produced him, the city’s Fillmore, was close and the sounds of jazz, the struggles of the black and brown and yellow people of the neighborhood—the mixture of sounds from tongues stained with soy sauce, hot sauce, vinegar, picked pig’s feet—would not allow him to forget or fall to what POOR Magazine calls the cult of separation or independence.

He couldn’t forget the voices, the sounds of the workers, the voices from the fields where the seeds of Manilatowns across the US were planted long ago.  Those voices, those elders—their ‘mata’ catching him, never letting go, sharing their stories, their lives with him—a poet—over a plate of rice and fish.  What more was there? So influenced was Robles by the Poverty Scholarship of these elders, of the brown and black people whose daily lives and struggles moved in his blood that he dedicated his life to poetry and to helping take back the life and lives of his community.  He wrote of his evolution to Poverty Scholar:

I travelled far back into the past

Searching for Ifugao Mountain

All the things I’ve learned

I threw out of my mind

All the books I’ve read

Were not worth one roll

Of toilet paper

And on the value of the knowledge of people in the barrios, and in the ghettos where he spent so much of his life observing the poetry, the sadness the tragedy and the triumph of life—observing those people whose experiences were not given credence or where vastly devalued:

Who is to say

The weeds are not

The roots?


Who is to say

The roots are not

The weeds? 

The work of Al Robles and other poverty scholars of POOR Magazine (Al Robles was a board member of POOR until his passing in 2009) are featured in POOR Press’ newest book, a beautiful collection of essays and poems and manifestos called “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People Led Theory, Art, Words & Tears across mama Earth.” This book is an extremely important text for schools, political groups, healers, community workers—all who are working to take back lives and create a better world—to embrace.  It is a declaration, a new plan:

It’s called sharing the wealth

The accreditation and linguistic   domination

Flipping the hierarchy

Of who is an expert

Who is a scholar


This book delves into practical ways in which Poor-People led education can inform the ways in which media is created, how service is provided, the liberation of landless and Poor People from poverty pimps and the multilayered world of social work that is a vortex that fees off people whose lands have been stolen, languages erased and whose presence is maligned, ostracized and criminalized.

The art and poverty scholarship that sings out from the pages of this people’s text brings about the emergence of hope and healing. One of Al Robles’ favorite songs was the jazz standard, “Tenderly.”

This book speaks with the fire of our indigenous blood and history, and tenderly shows us that there is another way — tenderly in a society that gives grudgingly. This book is a declaration of emergency and a guide book to regaining our bodies, spirits, hearts and minds.  It is desperately needed at this time when, more than ever, we need to, as Poverty Scholar Al Robles said, “Take back our lives.”

ACLU sues after Sacramento sheriff blocks Black Lives Matter on Facebook

The Facebook page of Sheriff Scott Jones is not open to Black Lives Matter


The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, but how does that law, written hundreds of years before smartphones were even imagined, apply to today’s most used medium, social media?

That’s the question the ACLU is raising in a lawsuit against Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, who has blocked Black Lives Matter from his official Facebook page.

The Facebook page of Sheriff Scott Jones is not open to Black Lives Matter

“The First Amendment should definitely be enforced on social media, as it is a huge part of our society. Everything that applies to your freedom of speech, should be applied to social media, or any medium,” Tanya Faison, a plaintiff in suit, told me.

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed the case Jan. 30, arguing that it’s unconstitutional for a government agency to discriminate on Facebook because of identity or views.

When Sheriff Jones refused to allow investigations of the death of Mikel McIntyre, who was killed by a Sacramento deputy, after a critical reports and posts by Black Lives Matter Sacramento were released about the department, Faison and BLM co-leader Sonia Lewis spoke out.

Faison and Lewis posted criticism on the sheriff’s Facebook page, a page he used to gain support of his actions, in October and November. Jones removed their comments and blocked the two, an ACLU  Foundation press release said.

“It was important for me to speak out because he is an elected official who wasn’t allowing me to communicate. People were talking about me and I couldn’t explain myself or give my perspective,” Faison said. “It made me feel like I was being oppressed. My voice was not being able to be heard.”

If an elected official makes a page and decides to engage with constituents, then they should be obligated to engage with all constituents, Faison added.

Senior ACLU Staff Attorney Sean Riordan told me he believes the BLM leaders have the right to speak out against sheriff and police department. Unless someone is trolling or engaging in expression that’s making it impossible for others to engage, a public official using a public forum shouldn’t be able to block anyone based on content, Riordan said.

“Today a lot of speech and expression occurs online,” Riordan said. “It is also true that politicians operate social media web pages where they get input from people. It is important for everyone to be able to express themselves on those pages. They should not censor based on opinion or identity.”

In the press release, Riordan said that despite the fact that methods of communication change, the protections don’t. Free speech should be protected on social media just as it is in other forums.

“The sheriff’s decision to silence them based on their views violates their free speech rights, undermines public trust of government, and offends democratic values,” Riordan said.

However, expression on social media is a developing area of the law, he said. A lot of challenges just started and while prior implications do apply, there has not been a lot of input from the judiciary.

“If this is a success, it will map out and guide future decisions. It will allow the opportunity to express oneself [in all mediums],” Riordan said.

A lot of cases are still making their way through the courts, such as the case against President Donald Trump. In May, Trump’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Manhattan. Seven Twitter users sued Trump after they were blocked and their letters requesting to be unblocked were ignored. The plaintiffs won at the trial court, but Trump filed an appeal, Riordan said.

The plaintiffs argued that Trump’s feed resembled a “digital town hall” where people could exchange and express their views. By blocking those who he disagreed with, Trump has violated their First Amendment rights, they argued. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed that the president’s Twitter feed is a public forum, and as a result, by preventing people from viewing his posts, he did violate the First Amendment.

“The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the president’s personal First Amendment interests,” Judge Buchwald wrote.

The final decision of this case will create a precedent that can impact Faisons’ and Lewis’ case, among many others. According to Faison, the current political climate has impacted the way public officials treat people and some officials have been emboldened by the way others act.

Ultimately, this case is about not being silenced and calling public attention to racial policing and state violence, Faison said.

“This case is about ensuring that every voice is heard,” said John Heller of Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, the law firm partnered with the ACLU to file suit.  “The First Amendment requires no less.”

Breed’s State of the City: Let’s all work together

Mayor Breed wants us all to work together -- but some of her supporters are working against the rest of us.

I have a lot of issues with Mayor London Breed’s State of the City speech, and I will get to that in a moment.

Mayor Breed wants us all to work together — but some of her supporters are working against the rest of us.

But I have to say: I have been in San Francisco since 1981. I have lived through Mayors Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan, Brown, Newsom, and Lee. And I have never heard a mayor of San Francisco utter these lines:

Yesterday, PG&E declared bankruptcy. There’s a lot of talk about what this could mean, but let’s talk about what we know: San Francisco knows how to run a clean power system. And we are going to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. And if this bankruptcy provides an opportunity for public power, we will take it.

I have never seen the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission general manager send out a letter like the one he sent Tuesday to his entire staff, which reads in part:

Right now, our team is studying the near and long-term impacts of this bankruptcy and is working to identify all possible options to ensure continuity for all San Francisco power customers.  This includes the possibility of acquiring or building electrical infrastructure assets and the creation of a completely community-owned power utility in San Francisco.

When PG&E’s behavior reaches the point where the mayor and the SFPUC are seriously talking about the possibility of public power – and where the mayor directly defies the main argument that PG&E and its allies have made over the decades, that the city is not competent to run a utility – there’s a real potential for a change that could impact the city’s financial and environmental future in a very positive way.

So that’s the good news.

The mayor also talked about building more affordable housing, and about a $300 million housing bond she wants on the ballot in the fall. That’s a fine idea; it’s about five percent of what we need. A $10 billion housing bond might actually make a big difference; $300 million is good, but it’s not going to solve the problem.

But two things really frustrated me.

First, Breed never acknowledged that decisions she made on the Board of Supes have helped create the problems she now wants to solve. She voted to allow Airbnb to decimate the city’s rental housing stock. She now wants to tax Uber and Lyft, but she and former Mayor Ed Lee allowed those companies to flood the city with tens of thousands of cars, with no regulations at all.

She never challenged the Lee agenda that it was fine to encourage and promote more tech jobs for people who were moving here from somewhere else when there was no place for all those workers to live.

She still seems to believe that more market-rate housing will make housing more affordable:

And as we keep people in their homes, we need to build more new housing. Lots more. In 2018, the City built around 3,000 homes.  That’s not nearly enough. We have to get better.

That’s why I have already hired a Housing Delivery Director to deliver projects faster, and implement policy reforms that cut the time it takes to permit housing in half. I have directed our departments to end the backlog of hundreds of in-law units and make it easier for people to build them going forward. And passed legislation to prevent the loss of thousands of units in the pipeline.

When the evidence suggests the opposite.

Politicians never want to admit they made mistakes, so I’ll let that one slide.

The bigger problem is this:

Yes, we have our challenges, and I see them every day. Just like you. I am frustrated by them every day. Just like you are. But I am also motivated. Because there is no problem we can’t solve together. There is no challenge we won’t face together.

There is, as President Clinton said, nothing wrong with San Francisco that can’t be fixed by what’s right with San Francisco.

It won’t be easy, but working together we can tackle any impossible problem.

When I took the oath of office six months ago, I never pretended I could solve all our problems.

I believed we could solve them together.

Every political consultant who talks about messaging thinks that “together” sells. The first contested mayoral race I covered was Agnos vs. John Molinari in 1987; Molinari’s motto was “together, there’s nothing we can’t do.” Forget the double negative; he was talking about working with the downtown developers and PG&E and the landords and (oh, yeah) the neighborhoods and the tenants. Maybe.

Agnos ran as someone who would stand up to downtown and PG&E. The race wasn’t even close.

Agnos had a lot of problems as mayor, some of them of his own making. But in his campaign, he got the concept: This idea that everyone in San Francisco is working “together” is a fundamental fallacy that undermines any attempt to understand or improve local politics or policy.

There’s a class war on in this city. We didn’t declare it; the real-estate speculators and the developers and big corporations did that. We are only fighting to save our homes and our city and our community.

But let’s not make any mistake about it: The interests of most San Franciscans and the interests of Ron Conway (who was a big Breed supporter) and Urban Green and so many others trying to make money by hurting the community are diametrically opposed.

We are not “working together.” They have an agenda that has devastated the city; the rest of us have an agenda that seeks to keep its soul alive.

To win our agenda, we have to defeat theirs. Sorry, Mayor Breed, but that’s the way it is. And I think a lot of us want to know not how we can all work “together” – but when it comes to a fight, which side you’re going to be on.

Some reality facing the candidates for president

The 2020 presidential race is well under way, and now that Sen. Kamala Harris surprised nobody by announcing she’s running, more people will enter.

Harris got a lot of attention. Two weeks ago, the DailyKos straw poll, which reflects how the liberal activists of the Democratic Party tend to be thinking, had Elizabeth Warren well ahead among the existing candidates. Two days after she announced, Harris is now the DailyKos frontrunner.


None of the candidates are perfect, or ever will be. Warren is a former Republican who thinks Wall Street needs to be more tightly regulated, but she’s not what anyone could call a Democratic Socialist. Sanders is an old white guy whose last campaign had issues and hasn’t yet said he’s running – but his ideas, which seemed so radical four years ago, are now moving closer to the mainstream of the Democratic Party (Markos Moulitsas, the founder of DailyKos, says that Medicare for All is now the “price of admission” to the Democratic primaries.)

The early press on Harris shows her as a hard-working, smart, candidate who should never be underestimated (Obama didn’t have much of a record in the Senate when he ran, either).

She does have a problem: She describes herself as a “career prosecutor,” and that means she has spent much of her life putting people in jail (and, as attorney general, keeping them there.) Some are asking if that kind of record – which worked well in the 1990s (see: Bill Clinton) will work today.

She was not much of a reformer as attorney general, and those parts of her record will eventually get scrutiny.

So far, unlike Joe Biden (who was terrible as the head of Senate Judiciary in the 1990s) she hasn’t admitted that she did anything wrong.

But the 2020 convention is along way away. In the end, most Democrats will vote for and work hard for anyone who can beat Trump. We will see the usual debate over whether a more “mainstream” candidate is better than a Sanders-style progressive. That’s what primaries are for.

It’s also possible that, if the Trump chaos continues and gets worse, a Republican will challenge the incumbent in the GOP primary. We haven’t had serious primary challenges to incumbent presidents in a while, but it’s happened before.

So I want to get away from the personalities and the hype and get down to the issues that ought to define this race. I am looking for a candidate who is willing to say this:

Economic inequality and climate change, which are linked, are the two greatest threats to humanity since the end of World War II and the birth of the Atomic Age. If we don’t address both of them, with dramatic measures, there is no chance for a peaceful, sustainable future on Earth – and quite possibly no hope for the future of the human race.


There are two things that we have to understand about those crises. The first is that the only solutions will come from collaborative public efforts – that is, from government. The private sector under modern Capitalism can make things worse, but can’t make things better. Government – in its essence, not in its current manifestation — is not the problem; it’s the only possible solution.

Second, any effective solution will have to be redistributive. That is: The rich – and by this I mean rich individuals, rich companies, and rich countries – are going to have to give up a little of their wealth to make the rest of the world sustainable.

Every candidate will offer ideas about economic equality – education, economic development, universal health care, better regulation of big business – and all of those could represent some motion in the right direction.

But Thomas Picketty, who is the most important economist since Marx, proves that none of those alone will solve the problem. There is no way to save our current economic system without substantial taxes on income and wealth; without taking from the top and giving it to the bottom.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunned the lovely liberals at Davos with her idea of a 70 percent tax rate on income of more than $10 million.

It’s scary,” Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer for $265 billion Guggenheim Partners, said in an interview.

“By the time we get to the presidential election, this is going to gain more momentum,” said Minerd, who added that he would probably be personally impacted by it. “And I think the likelihood that a 70 percent tax rate, or something like that, becomes policy is actually very real.”

And it’s actually a pretty popular idea, and something that even Republicans accepted for most of the post-War era.

Climate change also requires not only redistribution (wealthy countries are going to have to pay for sustainable economic development in poorer places) but a recalibration of how we live.

To build a sustainable future, those of us in the rich countries have to produce and buy less stuff. Juliet Schor, one of the top economists in the nation, makes that very clear. We could make a huge impact on climate change (and inequality) but reducing by even ten percent what we spend on stuff we don’t really need. A Green New Deal isn’t just a good idea; it’s pretty much mandatory.

World War II forced the citizens of the US to accept tremendous sacrifices. (The residents of Great Britain suffered much more.) Solving climate change and economic inequality won’t mean gas or food rationing, and won’t mean the deaths of millions of young men. Quite the opposite.

But it will mean that a generation of tech billionaires who have never had to give up anything in their lives, and who in many cases don’t believe in government as a solution, will have to be forced to live with a little bit less.

I say forced because it won’t happen through philanthropy. It will happen through government action – to take money from those who have too much and give it to those who have too little, to possibly even slow economic growth (so we can live within the planet’s means), and to elect people who believe in transparent, accountable government.

Ocasio-Cortez isn’t running for president. But the candidate who wants my vote needs to start talking about reality.

A progressive candidate files for DA, opening up the 2019 race

Chesa Boudin has added a new voice to the DA's race

Since the day George Gascon announced he’s not running for re-election as district attorney, progressives involved in the criminal justice system have been wondering where to go. Suzy Loftus, a former Police Commission member, is running on a platform of cracking down on bar break-ins and other “quality of life” crimes. Joe Alioto Veronese is running to the right, talking about more prosecutions and convictions.

Chesa Boudin has added a new voice to the DA’s race

Gascon had no choice but to retire: He alienated the left by declining to prosecute a single police officer after cops shot and killed five people of color under what can only be called dubious circumstances during his tenure. His support for Prop. 47 and his work on bail reform made him vulnerable to a challenge from the right. He had nowhere to go.

But in a city that has had a tradition of progressive candidates for DA  — from Terence Hallinan (who won) to Matt Gonzalez (who lost but jump-started his political career) a lot of folks on the left were looking around and saying: Now what?

That question has been answered.

Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin filed papers to run for district attorney today, and he already has the support of Sups. Hillary Ronen and Aaron Peskin. More endorsements will start coming soon.

Boudin has a remarkable life story and a history forged in both activism and the criminal-justice system. His grandfather, Leonard Boudin,was a legendary civil-rights lawyer who represented, among others, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. His mom, Kathy Boudin, and his father, David Gilbert, were part of the Weather Underground in the 1960s, and were jailed on felony murder charges after a robbery of a Brink’s truck in Nanuet, New York, went bad and a security guard and two cops were shot and killed. Boudin and Gilbert never fired a round, but under New York law since they were driving the shooters, they could be charged with murder.

He was raised by Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, both former Weather Underground members. “I grew up visiting jails and prisons,” Boudin told me. “Some of my earliest memories are going through steel doors and metal detectors to give my parents a hug.”

His entire life, he told me, has been shaped by the criminal justice system.

Like a lot of kids of incarcerated parents, Boudin had problems growing up. “Eventually, I overcame my shame and anger,” he said. He wound up graduating from Yale University, earning two master’s degrees as a Rhodes Scholar, and getting a law degree from Yale.

“My first year at Yale,” he told me, “a friend I had met when I was visiting my mother and he was visiting his parents wrote me from jail and said he was in the same cellblock as my father. I started looking at racial disparities in the justice system.”

That led to a 50-state survey of jail-visitation policies and after law school, two prestigious clerkships with federal judges. He started with the Public Defender’s Office in 2015, and was involved in the landmark lawsuit that helped undo the use of cash bail in California.

His goal as district attorney? “I say this as a public defender, and the big picture is the same: I want to organize myself out of a job.”

That means making San Francisco safer “without demonizing poor and vulnerable communities.”

A lot of his campaign is going to be about recidivism. “We don’t want to see people coming back,” he told me. “Our criminal justice system equates public safety with longer prison terms, and that hasn’t worked.”

Boudin, who sees the system from the inside every day as a lawyer in the Hall of Justice, told me that “much of what drives crime is drug and mental-health problems.” A report to the Board of Supes in December showed that 85 percent of the people in county jail had extreme mental illness or substance-abuse issues – or both. “If we don’t understand that reality we will never bring down recidivism.”

Boudin has a different take on “quality of life” crimes than Loftus. “Putting first-time offenders in jail causes more crime,” he said. “We need to start focusing on serious crime.”

He wants to stop the practice of simply arresting people, holding them for several days (which may be enough to cause a job loss) and then releasing them, “often in the middle of the night, from jail with no support system.”

Eliminating money bail, using existing technology to keep track of people, quickly rebooking suspects (who are often charged by the cops with all sorts of crimes that the DA never prosecutes) and dramatically expand collaborative courts – those programs would lower the jail population, and prevent the city from facing the need for a new jail facility, he said.

I asked Boudin about how the city addresses survivors of sexual violence, which is a serious problem:

In 2016, the vast majority of adult sexual assaults in San Francisco went uninvestigated or prosecuted. According to a list I generated through SF Open Data, there were 757 reports of adult sexual assault that year. When I asked the Police Department directly, the number they gave me was 694.

But even using SFPD’s number, out of the 694 reports of adult sexual assault, 297 — or 43 percent — were investigated, 91 — or 13 percent — were referred to the D.A.’s office, 11 adult and child sexual assault cases, or 1.6 percent, went to trial, and nine, or 1.3 percent, resulted in a guilty verdict. These numbers are staggering but sadly typical in terms of historical patterns and trends that persist across the country.

Boudin told me that victimless crimes and charges that shouldn’t be brought to court are wasting a huge volume of the time that prosecutors and judges spend in court. “We need to prioritize crimes like sexual assaults,” he said.

The juvenile justice system in SF is also a mess. Boudin told me that “we need to recognize that young people are still developing their brains well into the early 20s. The law says 18, but we need to understand that. We want young people to succeed, not to fail.” That, he said, means “never charging a juvenile as an adult, and never seeking life-without-parole for a juvenile.”

So now there’s a very different perspective in the race to be the city’s top prosecutor.

A more inclusive city budget, housing that doesn’t get built …

Housing near transit is great -- as long as there developers pay for the transit, which isn't going to happen in this area where the Muni lines are already jammed -- and where the residents of new luxury towers will be calling Uber and Lyft regularly

The new Board of Supes starts its real work this week, and one of the opening events will be Question Time. The mayor can pretty much duck any debate if she wants, since the new supes were sworn in too late to make the deadline for submitting questions. But Sup. Gordon Mar tried to get a question in, and Breed could certainly address it if she wanted to.

Mar wants to know what the budget process is going to look like this spring. It’s not a routine question.

Mar has been involved for years with the Budget Justice Coalition, which seeks more of a role for community-based organizations in the drafting of the city’s spending plan. And his question is the first signal that, as a member of the board, Mar wants to see a more open, transparent, and democratic program for deciding which services are prioritized in Breed’s budget.

The mayor typically dominates the budget process, asking for budgets from departments (which go through commissions, most of which are controlled by the mayor) then shaping the direction of the first proposal. The supes Budget and Finance Committee gets a budget toward the end of the process, holds hearings, and makes what are usually minor changes.

Mar, it appears, wants to know if things are going to be different this year – if the community will have more input into the overall priorities and the specific funding plans.

We will find out by Friday/17where Board President Norman Yee is going to go with committee assignments. I would be very surprised if Sandra Lee Fewer doesn’t end up chairing Budget and Finance – and it would interesting to see her and Mar working together. Fewer (who used to work at Coleman Advocates) and Mar are probably the supes with the most experience fighting for equity in the city budget from the outside, as advocates. So they know the problems with the process well, and could be in a position to force some changes.

The Planning Commission hears a report Thursday/17on the state of the city’s economy and the housing “pipeline” – that is, the list of housing projects that are approved but not yet built.

You can read the report here. It includes some remarkable information.

The report notes that in the past nine years, during the long economic expansion, San Francisco added 170,000 jobs. That created a demand for at least 77,000 new housing units – a lot of them not at market-rate. And the growth has been very uneven:

In San Francisco, job growth has been led by the Information and Professional & Business Services industries, but the local and regional economy benefits substantially from overall economic diversity and labor availability. This diversity includes a substantial employment base and growth in Educational & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality industries. Industries that have experienced lower or no growth include Manufacturing and Government Services. Employment growth also varies by race. The number of White, Asian and Hispanic San Francisco residents who are employed have all grown since 2010, while the number of Black residents who are employed actually fell, despite record job growth in the city.

That’s a pretty shocking statistic. In the tech boom, Black employment fell.


Since 2011, construction jobs in San Francisco have grown by 50%, substantially more than overall job growth. However, construction employment (20,860 jobs in 2017) barely passed the pre-Recession high of 19,630 jobs (2008) in 2016, a much slower recovery than other industries. By comparison, office jobs started rebounding in 2011 and have far surpassed the previous peak, growing to almost 300,000 jobs in 2017.

The growth in education and health services and leisure and hospitality includes jobs that don’t pay enough to afford the new market-rate housing that’s been constructed. And there’s been nowhere near enough affordable housing built to address that need.

Meanwhile, a whole lot of housing has been approved – and not built. Check out this chart: In the past three years, the city has authorized the construction of almost 7,000 housing units – and about 4,500 have been built. In 2005, the city approved almost 6,000 units – and in the next few years, almost nothing was built.

That’s because the housing market involves a lot of factors that have nothing to do with whether San Francisco upzones neighborhoods or whether neighborhood opposition slows down projects. It’s all about investment capital and expected returns.

The report says that the current growth rate is going to continue into the next quarter, but

The city has seen more than nine years of job and revenue growth, which is a long cycle. This growth trend might change in the next two years and is very likely to change in the next five years, according to the City’s Office of Economic Analysis.

Nevertheless, the process of planning for growth – growth that is unsustainable and has already done terrible damage to the city – continues.

The same day, the planners will hear an informational presentation around a proposal to build a 590-foot market-rate residential tower with 984 units at South Van Ness and Market, on the site of an auto dealership. The proposal calls for “hundreds of units of affordable housing built on-site of financed off-site.” Under current rules, that could be as few as 177 units – far less than would be needed to offset the impacts of the new luxury units.

Market and Van Ness is a corridor well served by transit, and the new project would have very little parking. But the wealthy residents (if in fact, people who actually live here buy the units) will use Uber and Lyft, and get deliveries from Amazon, and order food from all sorts of places that involve someone driving to the door – and that intersection is already a traffic mess.

This will be the new highrise housing hub.

Housing near transit is great — as long as there developers pay for the transit, which isn’t going to happen in this area where the Muni lines are already jammed — and where the residents of new luxury towers will be calling Uber and Lyft regularly

We know that it costs far more to build new Muni capacity than developers ever pay. So: More growth that doesn’t help anyone other than developers and rich people.

Welcome to 2019.

Corporate Democrats win in SF state delegate elections

The line went around the block at the Women's Building. Photo by William Wilson

I ran into Tim Paulson, the former head of the Labor Council who now works for the building trades, out in front of the Women’s Building this morning, and he had the same question that was on all of our minds:

“Is this chaos, or democracy?”

The line went around the block at the Women’s Building. Photo by William Wilson

The vote for delegates to the state Democratic Party was indeed a bit chaotic: long, long lines on both sides of the building. Buses carrying supporters of both competing slates. Crowds at the narrow doorway.

But in the end, it was far better than the event two years ago, which could only politely be described as a clusterfuck. This year, with Hene Kelley and Frances Hsieh running the show, and Kevin Bard as the MC, and plenty of volunteers on hand, the lines moved efficiently, the ballots were not just in English, and somehow, by 1:30, a total of 2,033 people had voted.

That’s far more than two years ago – a sign that people in San Francisco think the future of the Democratic Party matters, and that both the progressives and the corporate Dems have the ability to turn out their folks.

Both sides claimed to be “progressive” and speakers from both sides talked about Trump, but there was a clear difference between the two slates. The so-called United Resistance Slate was endorsed by Assemblymember David Chiu, Senator Scott Wiener, and Mayor London Breed – three politicians who opposed Prop. C.

The Yimbys were big on that slate.

The Yimbys were part of the corporate Dem slate

But Prop. C wasn’t in the discussion; it was all about political power, and Chiu and Wiener worked hard to get their folks out. Chiu brought in his supporters by bus and staged at the Laborer’s Union down the street; he told me that he did that to avoid the chaos of last year.

The crowd filled the downstairs room at the Women’s Building.

He got a copy of the ballot, and printed out samples; there were at least 100 Chiu supporters in line carrying printouts of ballots.

The progressives worked to get their folks out too, but in the end, it appears that the corporate democrat slate has won, hands-down. Other than Gloria Berry, 13 of the 14 people elected came from the Chiu-Wiener slate.

The results were wins for the corporate Dems and the Yimbys

It was close.

But here’s the other question we should be asking: The moderate (or corporate) Dems, led by Chiu and Wiener, are determined to keep the party from going in the direction of economic equality. What makes them think that will be a winning strategy for the Democratic Party in 2020?