• Sanæ Franciscoæ Publicæ Press•
Fall 2011 — issue 4 SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG
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INDEPENDENT, NONPROFIT, IN-DEPTH
building a better budget
IS PARTICIPATION THE KEY? tWitter tax deal leFt Out cOmmunity BeneFits plan city shelved reQuest for $3.5 million to assist mid-market area PAGE A3
city cOuld haVe aVOided $32 milliOn in Waste auditors get no respect, even as they uncover savings PAGE B1
san FranciscO lOOks at OutsOurcinG its Balance sheet
s.F.’s newest unKind cuts
voters would set priorities; critics warn of anarchy PAGE B1
‘GOV 2.0’ push aims tO Open data tO all
city balanced budget this year by trimming workers’ pensions, deferring maintenance, shrinking public health PAGE B3
san francisco is hotbed of digital openness PAGE B2
speedinG muni new express bus service pilot takes strain off crowded n-judah streetcar line PAGE A4
tax activism is GamiFied
Black FliGht chanGes shape OF Oakland
under cOnstructiOn: missiOn district
as community leaves for suburbs, other ethnicities move in
rebuilding hits san francisco’s oldest neighborhood [from EL TECOLOTE] PAGE A4
Remedial Fatherhood: Coming to Grips With Parental Duties
[from NEW AMERICA MEDIA] PAGE A5
ome might say they aren’t fit to be fathers, with histories of substance abuse and broken homes. But still, the men, diverse in their ages and cultural backgrounds, are trying — trying for healthy relationships with their children.
[from MISSION LOC@L] FULL STORY PAGE A4
‘american chinatOWn’: histOry OF 5 u.s. enclaVes, includinG san FranciscO’s, emBraces urBan leGacy Q&a: bonnie tsui on ’hardscrabble, crowded reality’ of life of immigrants [from THE CREOSOTE JOURNAL] INTERVIEW PAGE A5
sOuth san FranciscO nOnprOFit GrOup usinG sOcial enterprise tO tackle GlOBal health prOBlems
JOse antOniO VarGas, in u.s. since aGe 12, speaks FOr thOse WithOut leGal papers former chronicle journalist shared pulitzer at washington post. now jobless, he campaigns for dream act [from COMMONWEALTH CLUB] PAGE B5
Q&a: oneworld health’s ceo richard chin INTERVIEW PAGE A8
Q&A with activist Quezada on residency for immigrants who come as youths
artists With aids Get help tO cOntinue craFt and Find Outlets tO display it
Biodiversity New Twist in Golf Dispute Bay neiGhBOrs OppOse deVelOpment redwood city voters, labor Question mini-city to be built in low-lying and flood-prone area on eastern edge; backers say survey is not credible
but supervisor avalos takes another environmental tack: give sharp park golf course to national park service PAGE A6
Making Cheaper Drugs A Reporter’s Own Helps Developing World Immigration Debate
city makes it OFFicial pOlicy tO prOtect rare plants, animals
GRAPHIC: the city’s final budget grew to $6.83 billion, up 5.4 percent from last year, but the details show that some fixed costs left little to the discretion of supervisors or the mayor PAGE B1
in an era of perennial austerity, taxpayers are taking a harder look at how government spends their money. solving a city’s $380 million deficit is painful, but the process can be smarter and fairer. A team report in collaboration with Shareable.net.
painting on street corner for one year, changed both muralist and central city residents PAGE A3
California is Ground Zero for nation’s foreclosure crisis; S.F. couple’s dream home becomes financial nightmare.
immigrant services’ savvy earns reprieve from cuts PAGE B3
san francisco hackers try to make taxes ‘fun,’ but conservatives call effort propaganda PAGE B2
neiGhBOrhOOd transFOrmed in street art, then On Film
[from ‘FORUM’ ON KQED RADIO] PAGE A3
summer lOBByinG reWard: ‘add-Backs’
78% say 12,000 homes will increase traffic PAGE A7 U.S. nuclear energy in doubt following Japanese quake. [from the WORLD AFFAIRS COUNCIL] INTERVIEW PAGE A7
An improving S.F. Bay again attracts porpoises [from BAY NATURE] PAGE A7
[from ‘CROSSCURRENTS’ ON KALW] PAGE B5
Bay Area’s False Media Memories
visual aid records existing works and provides materials to create new ones PAGE A8
f there was ever a “golden age of newspapers,” it was long before my half century in journalism. And if there was, “golden” referred to advertising revenue when newspapers were the primary means of getting out a commercial or personal message. In terms of quality, I don’t think there ever was a “golden age,” although from our tarnished times of confronting a digital tsunami, looking back may seem brighter than looking forward. FULL
S.F. got the pharmaceutical industry to pony up $110,000 to pay for disposal of unused drugs. PAGE A8
STORY PAGE B5
Low-Ranked Schools Funny Money Seeks Last Laugh in Bay area and BeyOnd, cOmmunities Get Science House Calls Build lOcal lOyalty With OWn currency silicOn Valley BiOtech Firms send scientists tO classrOOms, OFFer neW VieWs On teachinG northern california life science association says education key to high-performing workers PAGE B6
movement keeps economy close to home [from CALIFORNIA NORTHERN MAGAZINE] PAGE B7
diGital diVide Widens With sOarinG internet use technology gap online is worst for american indians [from PBS MEDIASHIFT] hispanics use broadband least [from PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA] PAGE B7
Produce Market Eyes Expansion WhOlesale Outlet Wants tO GrOW Facility, add prOperty some in bayview worry about proposed closing of streets [from POTRERO VIEW/ NEIGHBORHOOD NEWSPAPER ASSN.] PAGE B8
Homeless Students on the Rise
BECOME A MEMBER The San Francisco Public Press is a nonprofit news organization committed to producing independent, ad-free, public-interest journalism for readers in the San Francisco Bay Area. We need your help to continue publishing original, consequential, local news reporting without taking money from advertisers. By becoming a member, you are supporting a new public-media model for print and Web inspired by public broadcasting.
his fall, Makayla Vigil will be a sophomore at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico. For most of her school career, she made the honor roll. But last semester, after her family lost its apartment, she earned C’s and D’s. “Before, when I had good grades, I was thinking, ‘I want to impress my family.’ But then when you become homeless and you don’t really have anything, you just don’t care.” [from CALIFORNIA WATCH] FULL STORY PAGE B6
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city OF hills A Poem by Michael Zelenko fourth in a series of locally focused creative works we’re calling ‘poetry chains’ PAGE B8
a display of paintings depicting destruction of downtown building after global warming was too much for federal officials [from ‘RADIO CHRONICLES’ ON KPFA] PHOTOS PAGE B8
NONPROFIT PARTNERS IN THIS ISSUE
s.f. couple scours earth for stories [from SUNSET BEACON/ NEIGHBORHOOD NEWSPAPER ASSN.] PAGE B8
enVisiOninG risinG seas in s.F., artist in hOt Water
See PAGE A2 for details
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A2 SF Public Press
FALL 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
ABOUT US FROM THE EDITORS
WHO WE ARE
The San Francisco Public Press • Vol. 2, No. 2. (Issue 4) • FALL 2011 • SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG
In San Francisco, red ink is the new black
verywhere these days, it seems there’s not enough to go around. That makes independent accountability reporting more important than ever. We’re writing this in early August, on a day when the Dow Jones fell 500 points on the news that the global economy was on the skids. The U.S. government narrowly avoided default by patching together a shaky compromise that promises steep cuts to federal programs. Closer to home, 70 of California’s parks were slated for closure — roadkill from the state’s bipartisan budget muddle. And in San Francisco, city leaders just finished months of negotiations to bridge a $380 million budget deficit resulting in lower pension payments for city workers, cuts to parks, public health and dozens of infrastructure improvements. In Issue No. 4, the Public Press tackles the broken city budgeting process. It is a story that’s playing out in hundreds of municipalities across the country, as the weak global economy leads the nation to skimp, states to go on diets and cities and counties to cut to the bone. We take a close look at how deciding what services to cut and which to preserve in an era of scarcity can come from either the same old politics and bureaucratic inertia or new ideas about transparency and public engagement. These competing visions of the city budgeting process came to us from Shareable Magazine (www.shareable.
net), a startup website that reports and reflects on the growing sharing movement. We are co-publishing this report with the Mountain View-based nonprofit organization, which also provided funding for the reporting. The idea that there are better — and fairer — ways to build a city budget are emerging from necessity. And reporting on them evokes a once-thriving notion of “civic journalism” that took hold at newspapers and broadcasters across the country, that convened conversations with the community and endeavored to solve local problems instead of passively document them. Other local manifestations of this constructive approach are the Summer of Smart, a monthly series of “hackathons” to improve the civic functioning of local government, produced by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, of which the Public Press is a cosponsor. Elsewhere in this issue is a special report by one of our content partners, New American Media, that looks into the impact of the foreclosure crisis on California and on a San Francisco family. Other stories from both content partners and staff members explore the flight of black people from Oakland, biotech companies efforts to help teach science in public schools, a program that supports and displays works by artists with AIDS, and the return of porpoises into the bay.
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31. Go ___ (deteriorate) 32. Soccer guard? 37. Larynx 38. Jealousy 41. Int. on certain investments 43. ___Lingus (Irish carrier) 44. Gangster's target, maybe 46. Dismantle with a wrecking ball 47. "Lowdown" singer Boz 48. Whip up 51. ”The Thin Man” pooch 52. Air conditioner capacity, for short 53. Long and slender 54. Frankfurt's river 56. Jim Jones' followers, e.g. 57. Programming code for Web pages 58. ”The Star-Spangled Banner” start 60. Half of deux 61. SFO examiners
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4. Purifies, as petroleum ACROSS 5. ”___ We Can” 1. California governor Brown is facing 6. Genghis Khan, for one 59A 7. High hairstyle 6. Hot chocolate containers 8. Type of tax 10. ”I saw ___ sawing wood …” (old 9. Dawdler tongue twister) 10. Economic sanction 14. ”Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” andrea carla michaels 11. ___ Centre, Minn. (Sinclair Lewis' playwright Edward email@example.com birthplace) 15. October gemstone 12. ASt. few#6 chips, say, in poker 16. ”The way to a ___ heart Leavenworth …” 1100 13. ”Back in the ___”: Beatles 17. Positively as is San Francisco, CA 94109 18. ”I” in ”The King and I” 20. ”Absolutely, señor!” 19. Coral formation 21. The Red Cross, e.g. 24. Ending with violin or bass 22. More likely to buckle 25. Going ___ (bickering) 23. Boy, in Bogotá 26. Breaks a bronco 25. One who makes a good first im27. First Hebrew letter pression? 28. Mrs. Tom Cruise 26. Needs a ton of courage 29. En pointe, in ballet 33. Make ___-ditch effort 30. Swahili "freedom" 34. Suffix with beat or peace 35. ”Call on me! Please!” 1 6 2 3 4 5 36. ”How I ___ Your Mother” 37. Sporty Chevy, briefly 14 15 39. A.P. rival 40. ”The Lord of the Rings,” e.g. 17 18 42. ”Bed-in” participant with Lennon 20 21 43. Ohio city once known as the rubber capital of the world 23 24 45. ”I'm going crazy because of her!” 49. A bit risqué 26 27 28 50. Give a darn 51. On fire 33 54. ”Mighty” tree 36 37 38 55. ”Can you hear me? … hear me? … hear me?” 40 42 41 59. Austerity measures, for California, e.g. 45 46 62. Ditty 63. Blood type, briefly 49 64. Actress Hayek of ”Frida” 51 52 53 65. Gives a ”Jeopardy!” response 66. Gen __ (boomers' kids) 59 60 67. Suitably
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Answers appear on Page A7. Don’t cheat.
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A3 sfpublicpress.org // Fall 2011
SF Public Press
I never presume I know a place before I do some work reaching out and getting to know people. Muralist Mona Caron
City Gave Up $3.5 Million In Community Benefits Before Twitter Tax Deal
Over the course of a year, Mona Caron painted this mural depicting a utopian future for the Tenderloin, including the likenesses of many of the real residents who frequented the intersection of Jones Street and Golden Gate Avenue. THE ARTS
Tenderloin Finds Uplift in Public Artwork Movie reveals influence of mural on central city neighborhood
hree years ago, Lisa Demb was a heroin addict. Today, she is drug-free. She attributes part of her recovery to an unlikely source: a mural at the corner of Jones Street and Golden Gate Avenue by artist Mona Caron. Demb walked by regularly while Caron painted in 2009, and ulStory and timately found photos: Erica Reder herself incor// Public Press porated in the piece. “It gave me a boost in my selfesteem,” she said. “It helped me go to a program and get all the way off drugs.” The mural and its lasting effects on Tenderloin residents such as Demb is the subject of a documentary film that captures the unusual sense of involvement and community empowerment that Caron brought about during her yearlong neighborhood beautification project. The film, “A Brush With the Tenderloin,” was produced by erstwhile print journalist-turned-filmmaker Paige Bierma. When a mutual friend mentioned that Caron would be painting a mural in the neighborhood, Bierma knew she had found her topic. “As a print journalist, I often wrote stories on immigrants, the homeless,
prisons and drug addiction — populations I’d been told where plentiful in the TL,” Bierma wrote in an email after the first screening of her film in May in a Tenderloin community organization’s offices. “I was very curious as to how the neighborhood would react to Mona’s art and her extended presence on that corner.” In less than two decades of living in San Francisco, Caron has left a profound mark on the streetscape. Her work includes the 340-foot-long Duboce Bikeway Mural, an ode to cycling in the city; the vegetal-themed Noe Valley Murals flanking the site of a popular farmer’s market; and the historically themed Market Street Mural (oddly situated on Church Street). But Caron had never done a piece in the Tenderloin. She got the opportunity, thanks to the North of Market/ Tenderloin Community Benefit District, a nonprofit association of property owners and community leaders. Then-executive director Elaine Zamora approached Caron about the possibility of doing a mural in the Tenderloin. “We were trying to demonstrate that this is a beautiful neighborhood,” Zamora said. But it wasn’t easy to get the project off the ground. With funds from the San Francisco Community Challenge Grant Program and individual donations, the community benefit district
Long-demolished local landmarks haunt the Golden Gate Avenue side of the mural. raised about $70,000 for the project. Zamora also helped persuade the owners of the unadorned building at Jones and Golden Gate to allow a mural. “It really was a labor of love,” Zamora said. For her part, Caron knew the project would require a lot of local research. “I never presume I know a place before I do some work reaching out and getting to know people,” she said. While generating ideas for the mural, Caron met with dozens of organizations and community leaders. Their comments helped shape the
design, which combines representations of surrounding streets with historical references and “utopian” imagery, as Caron put it. In one panel, a parking lot across the street is reenvisioned as a park, complete with vegetable garden, fountain and heavily used play spaces. But the bulk of Caron’s research took place after she started painting: “Really, it was when I was on the ground for many, many months that I got to know the most people that actually influenced the mural and enriched the mural.” The mural portrays close to 300 lo-
cal characters, all of whom Caron met while painting. “The details were not predetermined,” she said. “They were literally created on the spot as a result of conversations I had with people.” Bierma filmed many of those conversations during weekly visits to the site. “It was a very interesting moment when the scaffolding came down, and Mona and I were both finally at street level,” she said. “The entire dynamic of the interaction with the neighborhood changed, and we really started to get to know a lot of the locals.” Though Bierma condensed more than 60 hours of footage into a mere 20 minutes, she still conveys the intimacy with which Caron came to know neighborhood residents. In the film, the artist says she had first planned to depict Demb in her capacity as Street Sheet vendor. But when Demb revealed herself to be an artist, Caron painted her sitting at an easel, likewise surrounded by onlookers. Demb said that portrayal helped improve her self-esteem. “They valued my art,” she said. Bierma noticed many such moments in the process of making “A Brush With the Tenderloin.” “I think the mural and film strive for similar goals,” she said, “to give voice and power to those who often feel invisible in our society.” A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org. To learn more about the film, visit abrushwiththetenderloin.com. To view the artist’s tour of the mural, visit monacaron.com/tenderloin/index.shtml
‘Black Flight’ From Oakland to Suburbs Is Reshaping Makeup of City
akland remains the largest African American city in California after Los Angeles. In the last decade, however, the city has had a net loss of 33,000, nearly a quarter of its African American residents. This decline is part of a larger trend seen across cities nationwide. The following is a condensed transcript from “Oakland’s Black Flight,” a KQED “Forum” episode hosted by Michael Krasny. On July 7, he interviewed Angela Glover BlackInterview: well, founder and Michael Krasny CEO of PolicyLink; // KQED Allen Fernandez Editing: Jaena Rae Smith, president Cabrera and CEO of Urban Habitat; Malo Hutson, assistant professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley; and Margaret Gordon, Oakland Port commissioner, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, about this decline and what it means for Oakland. Michael Krasny: Who is leaving, why and where are they going? Malo Hutson: What’s happening in Oakland is what is happening across the United States. Blacks are leaving
for the suburbs. If you look at the data, it is working professional and working class blacks that are leaving major metropolitan areas. Thirtythree thousand have left Oakland in the last decade, and many of them are going to outlying areas such as Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley and other suburban areas. Krasny: In Oakland specifically, you have a lot of whites moving into West Oakland and in East Oakland, you have a lot more Latinos moving in. Hutson: Correct. As you’ve had roughly a quarter of blacks leave Oakland, you’ve had roughly an 8 percent rise in whites and Asians who have moved in the last decade and Latinos up 13 percent. Krasny: Let’s get the reasons why. A lot of it has to do with affordable housing. Allen Fernandez Smith: What we’ve been seeing is that affordable housing has been a big pull factor for people to leave Oakland. Affordable housing is one of those indicators that is important for our low-income communities and communities of color. Krasny: And crime?
Smith: Crime is up there, too. One of the things we’re seeing with Oakland is that public safety is a huge indicator as to why people would leave. Everyone wants their families to be in a safe place, and unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t happen in many of our Oakland neighborhoods. Krasny: There’s kind of a reverse migration isn’t there? We’re seeing blacks from the North heading South again. Angela Glover Blackwell: Black people have had a tough time in this country and they have had a particularly tough time in the downturn of this economy, and many African American families, particularly those with a few resources, a house they could get something out of, skills that allow them to have some mobility have just said “enough.” They have relatives and friends who have made that move and say “Come on down.” Krasny: Why are a lot of people leaving now? Margaret Gordon: There’s a lack of jobs, affordable housing, the crime, lack of education and resources. It’s been a combination of complex issues of disparity that nobody really
addresses. This migration of African Americans out of the inner city has been happening for 30, 40 years now. Krasny: There was supposed to be a renaissance in Oakland, are we seeing the decline of that now? Hutson: On one level, we’ve seen people moving back to cities. You have two things happening: you have outgoing of blacks in the Bay Area, but you have an increase of other ethnic groups into major cities. Krasny: Wealthy in the cities and poor on the outskirts, is that how things are divided now? Blackwell: It is not a sustainable model. Oakland, even though it is losing a substantial portion of its African American population, 26 percent of the population is white, 27 is black, 25 is Latino, 17 percent is Asian. This is probably still the most integrated city in the nation. Let Oakland be the model where all can participate and prosper. Krasny: Is there a lot more tension in the suburbs now? Blackwell: We have been a nation where people who were poor and
people who were middle class lived together. The interaction of people who were middle class with those who weren’t gave those who weren’t a chance to see what it was like to have a better life. This notion that somehow poor black children don’t want to do well in school and better their lives is a false notion. But if they don’t see that, if they don’t see the path and they are isolated in every way, it’s not likely to happen. Krasny: Malo, is this not as racial as we are making it out to be? Hutson: I think there is still the racial component, but if cities are going to continue to be successful, they need to figure out how to support the middle class. If you look at our current economy, the middle class is really suffering. If we are looking at raising taxes and having revenue to support our schools, support our police, then we have to create an environment where the middle class can live and support themselves. This segment was part of “Our Changing Communities” — a “Forum” series on the 2010 Census. To listen to podcasts from the series, visit kqed.org/forum
an Francisco could have required Twitter to pay at least $3.5 million to pay for a long list of neighborhood social services, business development and streetscape improvements when it passed a tax break in April aimed at keeping the social media giant from leaving the city. But as the Board of Supervisors proceeded swiftly to seal the deal on a special tax zone, which would exempt Twitter from about $70 million in payroll and stock option taxes over six years, community groups, city representatives and the company could not come to conStory: sensus fast Nina Frazier enough to set// Public Press tle on a draft of a community benefits agreement that some politicians had promised would come first. As a result, the draft community agreement is back on the drawing board, and when it re-emerges from a newly formed committee could be scaled back or replaced entirely. City leaders had trumpeted the Twitter deal as a way to bring needed business to an underdeveloped stretch of central Market Street. The March 23 draft agreement, obtained by the Public Press, included $3.5 million in benefits over six years, plus a donation worth 1 percent of pre-tax income and numerous requirements of the company with no specific dollar value. Those benefits would have started when Twitter moved into the old SF Mart furniture showroom building at 10th and Market streets in 2015. They included: • $500,000 a year for six years, split between “stabilization funds” for SoMa and the Tenderloin. The money would have supported small businesses, the arts and “community cohesion” projects, including the establishment of a neighborhood grocery store. • $500,000 to upgrade neighborhood amenities such as the Tenderloin People’s Garden, United Nations Plaza and Boeddekker Park. • Providing free Wi-Fi to residents near Twitter’s new headquarters at 1355 Market St. • Promising that at least 40 percent of new employees be San Francisco residents. • Coordinating internships, and volunteer workshops for neighborhood youth to teach social media skills and prevention of Internet bullying. • Donating all used electronics to community organizations. • Hiring a community liaison and building a neighborhood Internet presence. • Allowing community organizations to install quarterly art exhibits in the storefronts of Twitter’s new block-long art deco facade. At the March 23 meeting of the Board of Supervisors budget and finance committee, Supervisor Jane Kim promised that the supervisors would postpone voting on the tax exclusion if the community benefits agreement were not approved. But during behind-closed-door negotiations that included representatives of Twitter and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the agreement was dropped. It is now up to a 11-member committee, which will meet four times a year, to plan and approve all benefits agreements under the Central Market/Tenderloin Payroll Tax Exclusion, which covers a roughly 30-block area including parts of the Tenderloin and SoMa that straddle Market Street. Under the program, any business with an annual payroll of more than $1 million moving into the zone must enter into a community benefits agreement. A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
A4 SF Public Press
STREETSCAPE Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
New Nx-Judah Express Bus Trims Trip Times, Crowding Avoiding problems in the downtown tunnel, Muni sees possible model for routes citywide
he apparent success of Muni’s NxJudah express bus service could offer hope to riders on other crowded streetcar lines. Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose said other express buses could be possible, but the agency will look at community needs before changing other lines. For now, riders seem to be enjoying the added service to the N-Judah line. Ridership on the express bus, which started in June, grew from 938 passengers to 1,282 a day during the first four weeks, according to the transit agency. Muni projected an average Story by: daily ridership of 1,000 Jerold Chinn to 1,500 passengers. Rid// Public Press ers have asked Muni to extend hours during the evening and add express buses for other rail lines. David Nuffer, a regular on the express bus, gives the new service an A. “I don’t know what I'd do without it,” said Nuffer. With 38,000 daily boardings, the N-Judah train was becoming a nuisance for riders who boarded in the western part of the city during peak hours. Riders complained to the transit agency that they were unable to get on the first set of trains and had to wait until they could board a train that was not packed. The agency created the $800,000 Nx-Judah Express bus pilot project to combat the crowd-
ing on the trains. The bus makes stops between 19th and 48th avenues and makes one stop in the Financial District in the morning and evening commutes. The agency hoped it would lessen the crowding on the train so passengers further down the line could board the train. Although some trains remain crowded, Rose said that through customer input and inspector observations, riders at Carl and Cole streets are able to board the first set of trains that arrive during the commute instead of watching packed trains pass them by. Crowd relief is just one of the benefits of the express bus. Riders have also said that their trip from downtown has been faster by an average of three to six minutes. Figures provided by Muni had the average trip on the light rail N-Judah taking 43 to 44 minutes while the express buses make the run in 33 to 36 minutes. In mid-July, San Francisco Public Press reporter Jerold Chinn and photographer Jason Winshell observed the express bus for about an hour and a half and took the 5:20 p.m. bus. Because the bus consistently left every 10 minutes with another bus arriving, nearly all passengers were able to get a seat, something that’s not the case when riding the N-Judah train at peak hours. On their trip from downtown to 48th Avenue, only two riders stood. Ghada Ghassan-Berry, who lives on 34th Avenue, rides both the N-Judah train and express
Riders need not run to catch the Nx-Judah Express downtown at Sansome and Sutter streets — it leaves every 10 minutes. Jason Winshell // Public Press bus. She prefers the bus. “It’s definitely much faster, since there are not that many stops,” she said. One of the agency’s directors, a frequent rider of the express bus, tweets about how fast he gets downtown and even teases N-Judah train riders that he will beat them. “It’s back to the grind on a Muni Nx-Judah express. Just left 19th Ave. & Judah at 8:12 AM. Who wants to bet we beat you cats on the N?” tweeted Muni Director Joel Ramos on a recent
ride. He said later that it took him 28 minutes to get to downtown. A trip to downtown taking the N-Judah train can take longer, depending on delays, particularly at the Church and Duboce intersection where the train enters the underground tunnel and switches from being operated by the driver to a computer. The intersection has been the center of many delays, but the express bus completely avoids the area. The express bus pilot will continue for ap-
proximately four more months, at which time the agency will decide whether to keep the service. The agency is still asking riders for their feedback on the express bus. Visit sfmta.com/cms/mcontact/formnx.htm.
A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
Mission Construction Revamping Parks, Cesar Chavez Street New playgrounds to be in place by 2012
co-based playfield advocacy group, and a grant of $25,000 for field lighting fixtures that was provided by the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
he face of the Mission District is ever-changing, and this summer was no exception, with the children’s playground at Dolores Park getting a much-needed renovation. The Mission Playground also saw improvements and Cesar Chavez Street — from Hampshire to Guerrero streets — is the site of an even more ambitious project that will change the look and use of the heavily traveled corridor.
CESAR CHAVEZ STREET
NEW PLAYGROUND AT DOLORES PARK In June, the children’s playground at Dolores Park — the popular hillside hangout for hipsters as well as young families — was demolished to make way for a new playground, scheduled to be completed in February 2012. “It’s most definitely something to look forward to,” said Connie Chan, spokesman for San Francisco Recreation and Parks. “It will be a state-ofStory by: John Nuño the-art playground for the community // El Tecolote and children to enjoy. That’s who it’s really for.” Chan said the playground will include a central play mound with an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible suspension bridge, a slide, climbing nets, a “shipwrecked boat” and a super-slide built into the hillside. The project was made possible by a $1.5 million donation from Helen Diller, a longtime San Francisco resident. In honor of her contribution, it will be called “The Helen Diller Playground at Dolores Park.” Chan also said that limited funds will also be available for other “capital improvements” to Dolores Park, and that the community will be involved in deciding how those funds will be spent. “We are very understanding and respectful of the community, and there will be workshops in which they can have a chance to prioritize the improvements to be made
Mission Playground renovations include new play equipment and a soccer field, costing $7.5 million. Monica Jensen // Public Press such as the bathrooms, irrigation, sewage and infrastructure,” she said. Construction, she said, will affect only the playground, and the rest of Dolores Park will remain open throughout the process. MISSION PLAYGROUND Meanwhile, just a few blocks east, major renovations at the Mission Playground on 19th and Linda streets have also
begun. The groundbreaking was in May, and the park is scheduled to reopen for summer 2012. In addition to general repairs to the basketball courts and clubhouse, the $7.5 million project will bring a new playground, a water garden and a new artificial turf soccer field that will replace the current asphalt pitch. The Mission Playground renovation was funded by the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond, but Chan said that the new soccer field surface was made possible by a donation from the City Fields Foundation, a San Francis-
The Cesar Chavez Streetscape Improvement Project — the biggest undertaking in the Mission this summer — has two major goals: to increase and improve the sewage system to minimize flooding in the area and to make the street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Other objectives include improving traffic flow while also greening the busy traffic corridor. The project will take about two years to complete. The sewer work is first, starting on Hampshire Street and continuing in three-block increments. As the first three blocks are completed, the “streetscaping” work — including median and side walk widening, irrigation and landscaping — will immediately piggyback the sewer work to cause the least amount of disruption. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission says sewer service will not be interrupted at any time during the construction phase. Traffic and parking, however, will be impacted. Traffic will be reduced to two lanes in both directions and “no parking” signs will be posted in some areas, but driveways will remain clear. While the construction phases may not be easy to tolerate at times, the end result should be beneficial to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. This summer was not so quiet for Mission residents, but with any hope, there will be safe, clean parks and treelined streets with bicycle lanes by 2013.
El Tecolote is a member of the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association and a founding member of New America Media, a national network of ethnic news media. A version of this story appeared in El Tecolote.
Fostering Fatherhood, One Step at a Time
ome might say they aren’t fit to be fathers, with histories of substance abuse and broken homes. But still, the men, diverse in their ages and cultural backgrounds, are trying — trying for healthy relationships with their children. Every Friday afternoon, a group of up to seven such men gather for a class at the nonprofit Homeless Prenatal Program and discuss everyStory: thing from child custody Lisette Mejia status to parenting styles // Mission Local and childcare. The fathers are doing all they can to avoid becoming part of a U.S. Census statistic that shows that 1 in 3 children comes from a home where the biological father is absent. “There’s this idea of machismo, that we’re men, we’re not supposed to cry or do anything therapeutic,” said Carlos Cortes, the facilitator of the group, which is called FREE (Fatherhood Reunification Education Empowerment). But here, therapy is part of how the fathers become better at their roles. Some have sole custody of their children, and some live with
their childrens’ mothers. All come voluntarily. One of the biggest issues within the group, said Cortes, is Child Protective Services. Whether because of a history of domestic violence or addiction, members must deal with the agency, and all want their cases closed. Joe, a middle-aged, part-time custodian for the city of San Francisco. is taking steps to get full legal custody of his 2-year-old daughter, Melissa. Until recently, Melissa was under the care of Joe’s sister. Before that, she was in foster care. But, “on Jan. 24, I got her back,” he said, the date ingrained in his memory. Martha Ryan, founder and director of the Homeless Prenatal Program, said that in the group, these fathers “learn from one another. And they learn that they’re valued as a member of the family. And that we find is really important, because so often the man is pushed aside.” That push can have dramatic consequences for children who grow up in fatherless homes. They are more likely to be poor, go to jail, use drugs, feel neglected and drop out of school, according to studies cited by the National Fatherhood Initiative. Such consequences haven’t escaped these
fathers. One major struggle, said Cortes, is substance abuse. “A lot are recovering addicts, alcoholics or currently using.” These men either have custody of their children despite their addictions, or cannot get their children back until they stop. Anthony, who was at this class for the first time, said, “I’m straight-up alcoholic. I need help for my addiction.” He’s searching for different services to help him close his Protective Services case and become sober, and he said this group might be one of them. A few minutes later, Waverly, who’s been drug-free for three years, talked about the role sobriety has played in his life. In March, the 55-year-old reconnected with his children, ages 39 and 35, after not speaking to them for nearly 30 years. He learned he has five grandchildren. Waverly has two other children living with him at home, a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old. He had another son, who died of heroin addiction at age 34. He calls his family reunion a miracle. “Somewhere over there is something for you and you and you and you,” he said, pointing to the other men in the group. One man taking note was Michael, who spent time living with his 4-year-old daughter at Jelani House, a substance-abuse treatment facility in Bayview. He said that he became frustrated with the services and that he was discharged from the program because he com-
plained to his social worker. His daughter was then taken from him by Child Protective Services and given back only after he passed a urine test. There is a restraining order against his daughter’s mother, an addict. “I really appreciate you guys being here, listening to me,” he said, relieved to tell his story. “I came here today excited to see all of your faces.” Antonio, another father in the group, had mentioned his son’s upcoming speech therapy appointment a week earlier. Antonio Jr. is almost 3 years old and says only a few words, like Mama and Baba. In this class, Antonio updated the group. “They said he had some signs of an autistic kid,” Antonio said. “I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet.” If his son is autistic, he’s willing to do anything to help him get better, said Antonio, who was the sole caretaker of his son after his girlfriend recently went to jail. “It’s tough for me to swallow. Talking about it, I’m like, ‘What am I bringing up to everybody?’” The group was quiet as Antonio moved on to other subjects, like his plans for the weekend. At an earlier session, Joe had talked about the possibility of losing his home, which is in his sister’s name.
Cortes asked if Joe had a plan, should that happen. “I got rent for seven months. Worse comes to worst,” he paused. “Shelter.” For Cortes, who has led the group since January, unemployment among the men is a concern. He’s trying to restructure the class to add workshops, like computer training, so the fathers can use the computer lab upstairs to work on their resumes and search for jobs. He’s also hoping to bring in guest speakers to inspire the men. One inspiration within the class is Joey, a father who had his case closed. He now has sole custody of his 3-year-old and, because of his success, works for the Department of Social Services alongside social workers who handle cases like those of the fathers in the group. Joey offers advice for certain situations and gives his number to the men who ask for it. Why does he keep coming to the class if he doesn’t need the same help as the others? “It’s easy to fall back into bad habits,” he said. A version of this story appeared on missionlocal.org
STREETSCAPE A5 sfpublicpress.org // Fall 2011
SF Public Press
Q&A WITH BONNIE TSUI
S.F. Was Key Juncture for Chinese Immigrants Conversation with author of ’American Chinatown’
n her new book “American Chinatown,” Bonnie Tsui charts the changing landscapes of five American neighborhoods. They are ethnically Chinese, hosting other Asian communities, and often share a tough history of exclusion and poverty, tempered from the beginning with resilience and savvy self-presentation. The five Chinatowns Tsui describes — San Francisco Interview and (the oldest), New photos: York, Los Angeles, Justin Allen // The Creosote Honolulu and Las Journal Vegas (the newest) — have been Bonnie Tsui places of constant reinvention: immigrants coming to build new lives and identities, urban neighborhoods in economic and cultural flux. Today more than ever, they’re a portrait of changing urban dynamics and intergenerational complexity. I met with her to discuss the discoveries she made in writing her 2009 book. When and where did the inspiration come to you to write American Chinatown? The inspiration for the book really came from my family’s own personal history coming through New York’s Chinatown. It was a place that welcomed them when they needed to be welcomed. I kept coming back to this idea of it as a physical and mental space, and I found myself seeking out Chinatowns in places that I traveled to, like Buenos Aires.
For a lot of young Americans today, who may have grown up in the suburbs, there is this renewed interest in living in the kind of high-density cities and Chinatowns their grandparents may have left. For a resident, it is very unromantic. That’s probably one of the best words I can think of to describe it. It’s a kind of hardscrabble, crowded reality, and the truth is that the people that live in Chinatown are people that wouldn’t necessarily live there if they could choose to. People come to this country for all kinds of different reasons, and sometimes you come with unrealistic expectations of what you can do, you know, in terms of a job. In terms of housing you can afford. Once you get here, it’s a hard reality to face your economic prospects. San Francisco’s Chinatown, and New York’s Chinatown, are dense and crowded largely due to when they developed and then having no place where they could expand to. It’s at the urban core, it’s on prime real estate, and there is a constant influx of people who are kind of restricted to the base that they are in.
purpose for the population of Chinese who are poorer, and don’t speak English, and need the services that are offered there. Also, there’s the chain migration thing that I talk about in American Chinatown — family or friends here that go back for decades, generation after generation, and family members that people really want to be with. And the infrastructure has been there for a long time. Which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it makes things easier and it’s a bad thing because it can be a trap.
Is the Chinatown of the future a suburb? That’s an interesting question. I want to preface this by saying I didn’t really concentrate on ethnoburbs because that’s a whole other book. But in talking with the people from the historic core Chinatowns who have moved to the suburbs, or aspire to move there, a lot of them are more prosperous, populated by Chinese who have more options. In the Bay Area, there’s sort of a separation of the Silicon Valley Chinese, who are working in the tech field, versus the Chinatown Chinese, who are more working class. The traditional urban Chinatown continues to serve a
In the early 1900s, there was such pressure on the Chinese community. It’s not hard to understand the need to deal with those pressures. It was survival, basically. How best to parry the attacks. When you read the literature from that time, and how the Chinese were depicted, it’s awful. And from people who claimed to be enlightened. Anyway, they were products of the time.
It was news to me, reading your book, that the architecture in San Francisco’s Chinatown was not authentically Chinese but was actually a style that was invented. Even a lot of people who grow up in San Francisco don’t know that. To realize that way back then, in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, you had people thinking of building in a certain way to appeal to and placate a mainstream audience, and appeal to tourists … I was shocked. I was really startled to find it explicated in those terms so early.
A version of this story appeared on creosotejournal.com
San Francisco's Chinatown also has its gritty side, which is why many new immigrants choose to live in newer enclaves.
California: Ground Zero for America’s Foreclosure Crisis Pace expected to quicken in 2012 as more homeowners fall into financial distress
thel Gist bought her dream house and planned to retire to Antioch. Instead, the 70-yearold lost the house during the height of the foreclosure crisis, and now rents a place with her daughter and two grandchildren. Ever since he lost his three-bedroom home in East Los Angeles, Rene Lopez says his world has “shrunk.” He and his family of seven are crammed into a two-bedroom apartment. Lopez, who lost his job as a jeweler, is struggling to find work in a restaurant. Gist and Lopez are the faces of foreclosure in California — ground zero for the housing crisis. Since Story: the start of the Ngoc Nguyen housing crisis, // New America the Golden State Media has the dubious distinction of being first in the nation in the number of total foreclosures, with more than half a million completed, based on data from October 2008 to June 2011 from Irvine, CA RealtyTrac. The pace of foreclosures ebbed following the eruption of the “robo-signing” scandal, in which loan servicers approved foreclosures without looking at the underlying documents. Banks halted foreclosures over the last several months temporarily to overhaul their protocols. But foreclosures are expected to pick up. An estimated 1 million foreclosure actions that should have taken place this year will now happen in 2012, according to Daren Blomquist, director of marketing and communications with RealtyTrac. “That’s not because 1 million people have avoided foreclosure over the long term, it’s because the process has slowed,” he said, noting that the time it takes to complete a foreclosure has doubled in the last four years, from 154 to 318 days. Bottom line: The foreclosure crisis is far from over. Despite the wave of foreclosures, few policies at the state or federal level are giving homeowners relief.
The federal Home Affordable Modification Program is the main policy put forth to stanch the foreclosure crisis. It has largely failed, as banks have modified a mere fraction of the loans of troubled homeowners. To date, the number of permanent modifications through the program hovers around 730,000. In California, while 1.2 million homeowners have faced foreclosure in the last three years, only 122,577 borrowers received permanent modifications under the program. California’s foreclosure crisis has decimated urban centers and swaths of the Central Valley. One in 51 housing units received a foreclosure filing during the first six months of the year, according to RealtyTrac. The state also registered the highest number of foreclosure filings in the nation for the same period. According to research by Carolina Reid of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, minorities have been disproportionately affected. Looking at a sample of loans originated in 2005, she found that approximately 12 percent of Hispanic borrowers, 8 percent of African American borrowers, 7 percent of Asian borrowers and 5 percent of white borrowers were in default. The higher percentage of loans in foreclosure for minority borrowers is, in part, explained by the fact that they were more likely to receive subprime loans, even after controlling for differences in borrower and neighborhood risk characteristics, according to Reid. For example, in California, Reid found that Hispanics were 7.9 percent more likely than whites to get a subprime adjustable rate mortgage over a prime, fixed rate loan; the respective figures for blacks and Asians were 6.7 percent and 2.1 percent. Since the start of the foreclosure crisis, the state Legislature passed several bills to help troubled homeowners. Much more help is needed, housing advocates say. “(There is) no good reason for the Legislature not to jump on the bandwagon, at this of all times, to support
Los Angeles resident Rene Lopez, 58, peeks inside his old home. Joseph Rodriguez // New America Media legislation that would help to limit some of the abuses that homeowners are experiencing. It’s shameful behavior” by politicians, said Maeve Elise Brown, director of Oakland-based Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a statewide nonprofit legal service and advocacy organization that served 1,600 homeowners last year. Housing advocates point to Senate Bill 94 — a bill passed in 2009 that prohibits anyone assisting in a mortgage loan modification from charging up-front fees — as a critically needed measure. The large gap between borrowers seeking loan modifications and those actually receiving them has spurred mortgage rescue scams that find and exploit vulnerable homeowners. Brown said by the time
homeowners contact her organization, many have already handed over money to mortgage rescue scammers. Senate Bill 729 would have required banks to give homeowners an answer on loan modification applications before initiating foreclosure proceedings. In May, state legislative committees failed to clear SB729 and two other foreclosure-related bills. The Legislature did move to protect another group caught in the foreclosure crisis: renters. It enacted laws to protect tenants against utility shutoffs (SB120) and protects tenants’ credit if they are evicted because of foreclosure (SB1149). At least 38 percent of the foreclosed units in California were occupied by renters in 2010, which means that
about 200,000 residents were displaced, according to a January 2011 report by the San Francisco-based Tenants Together, a statewide renters’ rights organization. Statistics on lost homes and lost dollars are relatively easy to track. The emotional toll on those who lost their homes is not as well documented, said Brown, of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. “Some people are not going to play anymore. There’s a mistrust of the credit system, and perhaps rightfully so. I’m interested to see the lingering effect that has.” Scholars need to also examine the impact of the “historical stripping of wealth from communities of color” as a result of the housing crisis, Brown
Faces of Foreclosure: Short Sale Ends Retirement Plans
Jung and Susie Ku have run a San Francisco convenience store for 20 years. Joseph Rodriguez // New America Media
t took Susie Ku and her husband, Jung Ku, more than 30 years to save the $100,000 needed for the down payment on their first home in Sacramento. Now with their life savings gone, the two are again renting a home in the same San Francisco neighborhood they thought they’d left behind. “Stupid,” said Jung Ku, 68, a former mechanic. The couple, along with two grown Story: sons, now lives in the residential SunAruna Lee set District neighborhood they had // New America Media lived in since arriving in the United States from their native South Korea in 1977. “We bought a four-bedroom house in Lake Thomas in December of 2005,” recalls Susie, 62, speaking of the home she and her husband purchased for $430,000 in a new development near Sacramento. The two, who operate a convenience store in San Francisco’s Financial District, had hoped to retire there. Unlike many homebuyers at the time who took advan-
tage of the overheated market to purchase houses with close to nothing down, they opted to pay a 20 percent down payment, using the husband’s 401(k) to cover a portion of the cost. “Now with his retirement funds gone, we’ll probably have to work for the rest of our lives,” Susie said. The pair spent five years paying down their mortgage on the Sacramento home, which amounted to close to $3,000 a month, while continuing to pay rent on the same San Francisco house where they had raised their three sons. “We also had to cover business-related costs, relying more and more on our credit cards to get by,” Susie said. “It was terrifying, especially after the value of our home dropped by more than half in 2008.” To defray some of their expenses, the two initially rented out the Sacramento house, while continuing to work in San Francisco. “That was a disaster,” Susie said. “The family we rented to couldn’t afford the payments after the father lost his job. After they left, we had a hard time finding another renter.” In 2010, the Kus made the decision to cut their losses via a short sale, holding on to the possibility of re-entering the
said. “The impact is gigantic, for communities of color generally get paid less money than somebody who is Caucasian, it takes longer to build up that,” she said. As California’s foreclosure epidemic continues to unfold, Brown said, state and local governments need to ramp up efforts to address community-level impacts of foreclosures. According to the RE-Fund California Campaign (a collaborative group including the California Reinvestment Coalition, Service Employees International Union, and community organizations), the price tag of the foreclosures on California homeowners, state and local governments is a whopping $650 billion.
housing market in the future. In the meantime, they continue to run the corner market they’ve operated for the past 20 years, looking for ways to bring in more money. “We’ve still got a lot of debt to pay off,” Susie said, “both from our home loan and from the credit card bills that piled up over the course of several years.” “We work 14-hour days, five days a week,” said Jung, as he prepared to work on a friend’s car sitting in their driveway at 7 p.m. “He’s left the mechanic business behind, but friends still ask him for favors,” said their son Tom. “Like a lot of immigrants, my parents saw owning their own home as part of the American Dream,” the younger Ku said. “They shouldn’t have bought when they did, but they haven’t given up on their dream. They'll try again.” New America Media, partnering with ethnic news organizations across California and the Washington, D.C.- based Investigative Reporting Workshop, launched the Faces of Foreclosure — Repossessing the American Dream, a multimedia project documenting the human fallout of the foreclosure crisis in the Golden State and elsewhere. This is one of those stories. To see the rest of the series, visit tinyurl.com/3kx3vyj.
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New Biodiversity Push Could Come Too Late for Golf Course Critters S.F. supervisor floats plan to transfer Sharp Park to National Park Service
ublic debate about the plight of protected species on a San Francisco-owned golf course in Pacifica has refocused attention on the city’s commitment to safeguarding natural diversity. In late May, the San Francisco Department of the Environment adopted its first biodiversity plan, which would make it city policy to protect rare plants and animals. The idea that San Francisco could do more to protect biodiversity is gaining momentum among city Story and officials, a movephotos: Erica Reder ment that could // Public Press change debates on land use. A proposal floated by Supervisor John Avalos would turn over the Sharp Park golf course to the National Park Service. His plan was in reaction to environmentalists’ sustained push to aid federally protected species that live there, the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog. “My understanding is that the city has not been as aggressive as it needs to be to protect endangered species there,” Avalos said, echoing claims made by six conservation groups that filed a lawsuit against the city over Sharp Park in early March. The Environment Commission ap-
proved the department’s 2011-2013 strategic plan, which for the first time includes a section on biodiversity. The plan would commit the city to a program of promotion and outreach on the importance of indigenous species. David Assmann, deputy director of the department of environment, said the program is long overdue. The city first published its intention to move in this direction in a 1996 sustainability plan. The plan, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1997, included a sevenpage section on biodiversity calling for protecting endangered and threatened species and their habitats. But those recommendations, Assmann said, “have never really been followed up on.” The Natural Areas Program, part of the Recreation and Parks Department, has been the city’s only biodiversity program until now. It is tasked with protecting 32 designated natural areas, totaling more than 1,100 acres, which the park department calls “remnants of San Francisco’s historic landscape.” The program employs nine of the department’s 646 staff. MORE RESOURCES NEEDED Lisa Wayne, who manages the program, said her team could use more resources.
“We’re spread extremely thin,” Wayne said. “My hope is that we get additional funding so we can do more of what we’re asked to do.” Wayne said underfunding plagues the department. Every unit in the department, she said, “is woefully understaffed.” She suggested that until now, biodiversity may have been shortchanged compared with other environmental issues, such as energy conservation and waste reduction. “Unfortunately, from the standpoint of the critters and plants that live in our parks, people understand and connect with other forms of the green movement first,” Wayne said. Assmann said the Department of the Environment can change that. “The Natural Areas Program doesn’t have much in the way of resources,” he said. “They’re overwhelmed. They can’t deal with everything they need to deal with. We see ourselves as a program that could help.” None of this will directly affect the debate over Sharp Park, at least not until the biodiversity plan goes into effect in 2013. SHARP PARK ISSUE IMMINENT’ “In the future, I would assume that any policies that come of the program would have an influence on places like Sharp Park,” Assmann said. “But
the issue of Sharp Park is imminent. We wouldn’t be weighing in on something like that right now.” Still, activists hope to use the momentum the John Avalos city has created on biodiversity protection to propel their case into more prominence. “San Francisco and its management of Sharp Park Golf Course is not aligned with what we see to be San Francisco values of preserving wildlife,” said Neal Desai, Pacific region associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association. His organization is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with the Wild Equity Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sequoia Audubon Society. The San Francisco Public Golf Alliance’s motion to intervene in the Sharp Park case on the side of the city was granted by District Court Judge Susan Illston in late June. The Alliance was allowed to join the entire lawsuit — both in the liability and potential remedy phases. The Recreation and Park Department, which owns the 417-acre property in Pacifica, maintains that it
can operate the golf course without harming endangered and threatened animals. Instead of responding directly to requests for comment, park department spokesman Elton Pon sent a February press release that suggested that sport and nature are compatible land uses: “The 18-hole golf course could be redesigned to coexist with viable populations of sensitive species in the long term.”
Assmann said planning meetings were already under way, although he anticipated some financial hurdles to the biodiversity program. “The department doesn’t get any money from the city’s general fund,” he said. “Whenever we want funding we have to find it.” A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
REDWOOD CITY POLL OPPOSES BAY DEVELOPMENT
Poll: Redwood City Voters Don’t Want Neighborhood Built on S.F. Bay Salt Flats edwood City residents oppose a plan to build a massive development on a stretch of salt ponds beside the San Francisco Bay by a 2-1 ratio, according to a poll. The late spring poll found 57 percent of voters in the city were against Arizona developer DMB Associates’ proposal to build a mini-city by partially paving over 1,436 acres of lowlying salt ponds on the eastern edge of Redwood City. Only 28 percent of those polled supported the plan, while 15 percent were neutral. “What the results show is that the Redwood City Story: voters have alMaureen Nandini ready decided Mitra they don’t want Photo: the project,” Ian Umeda said David Lewis, // Public Press director of the environmental group, Save the Bay, that commissioned the poll. “The more they learn about it, the less they like it,” he said. Lewis said that after hearing a short list of concerns about the project, opposition rose to 64 percent while support for the project remained stagnant at 28 percent. Conducted by independent company J. Moore Methods and commissioned by Save the Bay, which is leading the charge against the proposed project, the poll is the latest salvo in what’s turning into a protracted and bitter battle between Oakland- conservation group and DMB Associates, an Arizona developer. At stake are the 110-year-old salt ponds owned by agribusiness giant Cargill. The two groups have been duking it out via local and national media and at public forums in the Bay Area for more than three years. “The poll isn’t credible,” said David Smith, senior vice president at DMB. “Save the Bay’s No. 1 objective is to shut down public consideration of the project.”
The fate of the San Francisco-owned Sharp Park golf gourse in Pacifica could turn on city officials’ views on how to protect biodiversity. Part of the property is already reserved as a nature area.
Survey commissioned by Save the Bay found: that 12,000 new homes will make traffic on local 78% said streets and freeways much worse the Cargill salt ponds should be restored 64% said to tidal marsh for fish and wildlife that, with future sea levels expected to 62% said rise, building on the bay is a bad idea The poll of 350 Redwood City registered voters was conducted by J. Moore Methods from May 11 to May 15, 2011, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percent.
The expansive Redwood City Saltworks project, which DMB promotes as a “50/50 balanced plan,” envisions a mass-transit-oriented community about 12,000 low-rise energy efficient apartments, several schools and businesses, 368 acres of open space and 436 acres of restored wetlands. The whole project would be built in phases over 30 years. Apart from Save the Bay, the plan has drawn opposition from several other environmental groups, neighboring cities and elected officials who are concerned about its impact on the environment, as well as local traffic and water supply. The project area is susceptible to earthquakes and will have to be protected from flooding and rising sea levels by levees. Many,
While the survey information is interesting, it can’t be the sole source for the council’s decisionmaking process
Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith
including activists at Save the Bay, prefer to have the salt flats restored as the wetlands they originally were. (The San Francisco Public Press carried an in-depth report on this development debate last year online and in its fall 2010 print edition.) In June, the federal Environmental Protection Agency published a manual on how not to hold back the sea, arguing that immovable seawalls and levees will eventually fail in the face of sea level rise. Also in June, five labor unions, including the Sailors Union of the Pacific and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6, officially opposed the project, saying that
The Redwood City Saltworks project would develop 1,436 acres of old tidal salt flats on the edge of San Francisco Bay. Developers are promoting it as “transit-oriented” smart growth, but environmentalists oppose the plan, in part, because it will require levees to keep rising seas back. building 12,000 homes next to the Port of Redwood City threatens the port and adjacent industries along Seaport Boulevard. These unions together represent approximately 80,000 Northern California workers. The other unions are Teamsters Joint Council No. 7, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, and the American Federation of Teachers Local 1493. “Our concerns are not just about putting 12,000 homes and multiple elementary schools right next to our industrial work sites, but about clogging the key roadways we use to move materials, and restricting the ability
of our industries to operate and expand by surrounding them with residential development,” wrote Rome Aloise, president of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7, to the San Mateo Central Labor Council. In 2008, Save the Bay and Friends of Redwood City placed a ballot measure that would require a two-thirds majority vote to allow developers to build on open spaces. But voters rejected Measure W. Lewis is hoping the new poll results — which showed that 54 percent of voters were likely to support a candidate who opposed the project — would prompt city officials to aban-
don the idea of the project since it wasn’t politically expedient. But city officials held their ground, refusing to take a position on the matter until a full environmental impact assessment was done. “While the survey information is interesting, it can’t be the sole source for the council’s decision-making process,” said Malcolm Smith, spokesman for the City Manager's Office. “A transparent environmental impact review is important for any project, but especially this one.” Redwood City recently ended a fivemonth comment period on the scope of an environmental impact review
of the DMB proposal that drew nearly 900 pages of comments. A large majority of commenters, including residents, environmental groups, neighboring municipalities and state and federal agencies, voiced concerns about infrastructure and the environment. DMB Associates is now refining its proposal, which will again be placed before the city and made public for a second round of comments.
A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
GREEN A7 sfpublicpress.org // Fall 2011
SF Public Press
Welcoming porpoises back to San Francisco Bay
avallo Point at Fort Baker is not just a place to watch sailboats go by as the morning sun illuminates the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s also a great place to watch the water surge in and out with the tides. And with a little patience, you might see a black dorsal fin cut the swirling water, followed by another, smaller fin. A mother Story and harbor porpoise photos: and her calf are William Keener rolling at the sur// Bay Nature face, entering the bay. In the calm of a slack tide, if they come close enough, you can hear them breathe: two sharp chuffs. Standing on this rock at the southern tip of Marin County today, you can often see porpoises swimming past in groups of two or three. From the much higher vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge, you might count as many as 20 or 30. Through the green water you can watch them traveling, or loafing, or spinning on their sides as they make a dash for a fish, then pop up beneath a flock of excited gulls. Such sightings are all the more remarkable because for many decades porpoises weren’t seen inside the bay. Now, however, the Bay Area is one of the few metropolitan areas in the world where you can see cetaceans every day. More than a wildlife spectacle, the presence of these shy animals could be telling us something positive about the health of the bay ecosystem. Big mammals, especially carnivores, are in decline everywhere. Unless humans intervene, as with the wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone, they rarely make a comeback. Yet it's happened here — the porpoises have “reintroduced” themselves to San Francisco Bay. No one predicted the return of the porpoises. Ever since I started whale watching here in the 1970s, I had only seen them west of the Golden Gate, mostly as they fled our approaching boat. In the late 1980s, I was on a team of biologists hired to conduct a census of harbor porpoises in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. During three years of boat-based surveys, we never spotted a single porpoise east of the bridge. But we know they used to be here. Bones found in the Emeryville shellmound suggest the local Ohlone people consumed harbor porpoises in small quantities for some 2,000 years. In a mid-19th century report, West Coast whaler Charles Scammon said of harbor porpoises, “They feed upon fish, and are occasionally taken in seines that are hauled along the shores of San Francisco Bay by the Italian fishermen.” And there are accounts from the 20th century, including one from the family that still operates the Tiburon-Angel Island ferry service. Its founder, the late Milt McDonogh, grew up around the docks in Tiburon and remembered seeing harbor porpoises there in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s unclear exactly when harbor porpoises abandoned the bay, or why, but they seemed to have disappeared by the 1940s. Disturbance from ship
Where to see harbor porpoises Porpoises, which are in the Bay yearround, keep to a loose schedule based on the tides, but their whereabouts also depend on the interplay of currents and the presence of prey fish.
San Francisco Bay Cetacean Sightings –
Cavallo Point Golden Gate Bridge Cavallo Point, at Fort Baker in Marin, Alcatraz is a good place to observe porpoises at the beginning of the ebb tide, when porpoises may be as close as 30 feet off the rocks. In San Francisco, porpoises can SAN FRANCISCO sometimes be seen working the flood tide off the pier at Crissy Field. A knot of gulls on the water often means a seal, sea lion, or porpoise is actively feeding there, so watch carefully. And bring binoculars.
traffic and environmental degradation likely played a role. The onset of World War II may have been the final stroke. To protect the harbor from submarine attacks, the navy stretched a steel net across the bay from Sausalito to San Francisco. The net would have been a formidable obstacle to porpoises, an acoustic as well as physical barrier. The heavy mesh, straining against the currents, must have made an underwater racket. For animals that depend on their acute hearing to communicate and to locate prey, the noise might have been deterrent enough. So why are the porpoises back now? Are ocean conditions driving them into the bay? Or are conditions in the bay luring them in from the ocean? Perhaps it’s simply an increase in population coupled with an increase in available prey. Aerial surveys by the National Marine Fisheries Service do show a long-term trend of increasing abundance in harbor porpoises locally, helped by a mid-1980s ban on gill nets, which killed many porpoises as bycatch. The most recent estimate is that 9,000 harbor porpoises inhabit coastal waters between Pigeon Point in San Mateo County and Point Arena in Mendocino County. Meanwhile, variations in the marine environment may have resulted in changes to the porpoises’ prey. Harbor porpoises along our coast are known to eat schooling marine fish, such as herring, anchovy, and jacksmelt, plus rockfish and squid. It’s possible that unusually low rainfall from 2007 to 2009 led to an influx of salt water into the bay, which brought in fish species that attracted the porpoises. Also, thanks to modern sewage treatment systems and the regulation of industrial effluents, bay water is less polluted than it was the last time the porpoises ventured inside the Golden Gate. Larger-scale changes could also be having an effect. Marine scientists have recently correlated atmospheric conditions in the Pacific Ocean with winds and upwelling that can alter the habitat in estuaries, including San Francisco Bay. For the past several years, the bay has been experiencing an ecological “regime shift” toward higher productivity of plankton and fish. We know the local herring population is bouncing back, and that’s a boon for porpoises. I was first tipped off to the porpoises’ return in 2008, when I got a call from San Francisco State University minke whale expert Jon Stern, who was surprised to see them from his
boat off Sausalito. That spurred me to search the shorelines between the central bay’s three main bridges. Everywhere I went, I found porpoises! In particular, deep trenches and steep peninsulas seemed to attract them, presumably because fish are concentrated there by strong tidal rips. Near Yellow Bluff, just north of Cavallo Point, up to a dozen porpoises at a time were congregating and diving, foraging for fish in ebb-tide feeding sessions. Porpoises are now seen regularly at locations much farther inside the bay, such as Raccoon Strait, and near Angel, Alcatraz and Treasure islands. Passengers on the commuter ferries have seen them as far south as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. There is a reliable report from July 2009 of harbor porpoises at East Brother Island off Richmond. A veteran skipper told me about a small cetacean, which he believed to be a harbor porpoise, in Suisun Bay in March 2009. If correct, this would be the farthest inland record in the San Francisco BayDelta Estuary. Most of what we know about harbor porpoises is based on the examination of the carcasses of stranded animal. With their regular appearance in the bay, we now had a chance to learn how they live in their element. To organize the scientific endeavor, several colleagues and I put together a team called Golden Gate Cetacean Research and obtained a federal permit to approach the porpoises by boat. We also had an extraordinary resource: the Golden Gate Bridge. From its deck, 220 feet above sea level, we can observe behavior nearly impossible to see from a boat: underwater feeding, chasing and nursing, or riding the wake of a passing tanker. We have even seen porpoises mating, something never before observed in the wild. Bay Area native William Keener, formerly the director of the Marine Mammal Center, works as an environmental lawyer and is co-founder of Golden Gate Cetacean Research, a nonprofit organization led by a team of marine mammal researchers: William Keener, Isidore Szczepaniak, Jonathan Stern and Marc Webber. Collaborators include the California Academy of Sciences, the Marine Mammal Center, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Romberg Tiburon Center, Okeanis and the Oceanic Society. Online at: ggcetacean.org A longer version of this article appears in Bay Nature magazine’s July–September 2011 issue. Read it online: bit.ly/bayporpoise
Focusing on a porpoise more than 200 feet below, Isidore Szczepaniak is a co-founder of Golden Gate Cetacean Research, a team of marine biologists working from a boat and the Golden Gate Bridge. Top, a porpoise calf and mother surface to take a breath.
Japan Nuclear Crisis Calls Future of Atomic Energy Into Question World Affairs Council panelists say U.S. facing big demand for clean source of power
he Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, caused by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami, has opened a dialogue about nuclear energy policy and safety of reactors in the U.S. A panel of experts from the Bay Area gathered at the World Affairs Council of Northern California in June to discuss nuclear energy regulations, safety and financing. They Editing: also debated the Anne Shisko and role of alternate Ambika energy sources at Kandasamy home. // Public Press Host Lucas Davis was joined by Thomas Isaacs, consulting professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University; Per F. Peterson, chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley; and V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, a nonprofit public-interest energy policy group in Sacramento. The following is an condensed transcript from “Powering America: Does Nuclear Have a Future?”
Lucas Davis: During the crisis, it seems like we heard everything, from that this is going to have no effect on U.S. nuclear power, to that this is going to effectively put an end to discussion of all of this U.S. nuclear renaissance, as some people were calling it. Now that a bit more time has passed and better information is available, it seems like a good chance to reflect on what we’ve learned so far. So, Per, what safety lessons have been learned from the disaster at Fukushima, and how do they relate to current and future U.S. facilities? Per F. Peterson: The thing about the Fukushima accident that makes it unique is that it’s the first largescale major reactor accident that we’ve had in the world that was not initiated by some combination of equipment failures and human errors, as was the case with TMI [Three Mile Island] and with Chernobyl. So, instead, it was initiated by an extraordinarily destructive external event, which caused extensive damage to the plant. So, in terms of specific lessons, one of the things that we need to study and learn more about — and, already, there’s information coming out — is what was the combination of
Davis: So, Tom, give us a little context here. Can you please tell us what you see as the largest hurdles in terms of policy, financing and storage facing the expansion of nuclear energy in the U.S. and internationally?
On the international side, there are 30 or 31 countries today [that] have operating nuclear power plants. A small number of those plants, as a result of Fukushima plus other events, may indeed gracefully exit the stage. Countries like Germany, Switzerland, Japan have talked about removing it. Some countries, I believe, will probably make a diplomatic pause while they look at the consequences here, and then continue. In particular, China, India, South Korea are examples of the future of nuclear power. That’s where the future is — it’s in Asia.
Thomas Isaacs: It’s one thing to say that a technology is economical, but these plants are very expensive to build, and they take a long time to build, and you have to run them for very long times to recoup your investment. So you have to look at the possibilities of financing the construction of these plants. They’re expensive to build, relatively cheap to run, but getting that money will not be easy. You asked the question about what we need in the way of policies. What we really need is a policy. We need a policy that’s clear, and it’s got to be stable, and it’s got to be compelling.
Davis: If you look at the Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook, they forecast that by 2035, we’re going to be at a 30 percent increase in energy, about a 22 percent increase in electricity. A recent study by The Brattle Group reports that to meet this increase demand is going to require a $2.5 billion investment in new generation and infrastructure. Meeting this increased demand at reasonable cost without a substantial increase in carbon dioxide emissions is a giant challenge. John, what can we do? What other green technologies, aside from nuclear, do you see as being
problems with the physical damage to the plant; the pre-deployment of portable equipment; the severe accident management guidelines that are in place, and the decision-making process that led to substantial delays in the action to begin the injection of seawater and, therefore, prevent damage to fuel and the progression of the accident?
capable of fueling America’s energy needs, now and in the future? V. John White: The first place to look for green energy is in our buildings and our homes, where we waste an enormous amount of energy that is simple to capture. One technology that is probably universal among the renewables is biomethane from wastewater treatment plants, from animal waste, from dairies and the like. In California, again, we have a substantial amount of biomethane that is generated and currently not converted. Some of it is flared through landfills; some of it is allowed to evaporate. So capturing the methane that is coming from our waste products, food processors, and so forth, we have technologies available and getting cheaper all the time that can convert those technologies to, in some cases, zero-emission electricity. In the western U.S., we have abundant solar resources, and we have technologies that are moving forward today with available subsidies and programs to support them. I do know that if we can put 33 percent renewables in the California grid, which is going to happen partly because of legislation recently passed by Senator Joe Simitian and signed
by Governor Brown — if we achieve 33 percent renewables by 2020, that will be a signal to the rest of the country that we can do a lot with these technologies.
World Affairs Council is a forum with more than 18,000 community participants where diverse audiences engage in dialogue. Find the World Affairs Council online at itsyourworld.org
Crossword answers from Page A2
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Q&A WITH RICHARD CHIN
Nonprofit Helps Develop Affordable Medicines For Third World Patients
South San Francisco nonprofit drug development organization, OneWorld Health, is shattering the conventional profit-generating model of pharmaceutical companies by using a social enterprise approach to global health problems. The nonprofit, founded by physicians Victoria Hale and Ahvie Herskowitz in 2000, has been working with for-profit biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to develop and distribute drugs to improve the conditions of patients suffering from diseases such as kala-azar — a fatal disease transmitted by the sand fly, diarrheal disease, maInterview: laria and hookworm. Ambika Richard Chin, an internist and CEO Kandasamy of OneWorld Health, said the organizaPhoto: tion develops new therapies for diseases Ed Ritger where there is either no treatment or the // Public Press cost of treatment is too high. Chin estimates that the nonprofit’s work has saved about 20,000 lives since inception. That number is attributed to the Paromomycin Intramuscular Injection, a drug developed by OneWorld Health to treat kala-azar. Chin said that the Paromomycin drug was shipped to Sudan where there have been several severe outbreaks of the disease. The nonprofit has an operating budget of about $25 million, and funding has come from international foundations and governmental groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Skoll Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. Chin talked with the San Francisco Public Press about OneWorld Health’s novel model in providing affordable medicines to marginalized patients in developing countries. What was the inspiration for founding OneWorld Health? The impetus for the organization comes from one piece of pharmaceutical development that is missing, which is a lot of pharmaceutical industries have been very effective at creating great new drugs for people with the wherewithal to pay for the drugs, but unfortunately the benefit of modern medicine really hasn’t been available to people in developing countries. So for the 80 percent of the people on this planet, there simply has not been — before founding of OneWorld Health — an organization dedicated to coming up with new drugs for neglected diseases. What organizations has OneWorld Health collaborated with? We have collaborated with both biotech and large pharma. Most people here are from small and mid-size biotech, so we have a lot of people from Genentech for example. We have collaboration with a company called Anacor, which is a local biotech. We also have fairly large collaborations with Novartis, Sanofi and Roche. What is the incentive for for-profit biotech and pharmaceutical companies in collaborating with OneWorld Health? There are multiple — humanitarian, scientific and generating goodwill, as well moral or ethical responsibilities. So who owns the patents of the drugs that are developed? That also ranges the full spectrum. In the case of Roche, for example, the patents for the discoveries that are made, we own — we have full ownership and rights to it. In other instances, for example, with Novartis, they would own the patent and we would get a royalty fee license to use the patent. In which countries do you work? Our mission is to work across the entire globe, but today our main focus has been in a part of India called Bihar, which is the second poorest state in India, near Nepal and Bangladesh. It’s an extremely poor region. The reason we went there is because the disease that we are working on called Leishmaniasis has a very high incidence in that particular part of India because people are so poor and this disease affects primarily the poorest of the poor patients. How are the drugs distributed to them? We have a couple of different ways. It’s available through the private sector. We have been trying for a while to get the drugs distributed through the free public health clinics that the government of India runs and we are almost there. So, it’s sort of twopronged. One is through the public sector and one is through the private sector, but even with the private sector, we have an arrangement with our manufacturer in India so that they sell it at no-profit. What’s the size of the organization? We are a very lean organization. We have a little over 20 employees in San Francisco. We have about a dozen in India. We have to develop drugs for one-tenth the cost of what it costs big pharma to do, so we have to be very, very lean and efficient.
A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
Michael Johnstone, a Visual Aid artist, created a canvas print from a photograph he took depicting artist David Faulk in drag. AIDS AND THE ARTS
‘Visual Aid’ Offers Outlet, Insight Into Artists With AIDS Group archives, displays works of hundreds from Bay Area
reserving art matters to Michael Johnstone, a San Francisco-based painter, costume designer and photographer, who has been living with HIV since 1982. Johnstone moved to San Francisco in 1979, a few years before the AIDS epidemic seeped through the city. “I took care of a lot of people, a number of people that were passing away were artStory and ists, and their work photos: Ambika ended up in thrift Kandasamy stores,” Johnstone said. // Public Press He said that since artists were dying at such a fast rate during the epidemic and there was not always time to deal with every aspect of their estates, he would see collections of their work scattered or never archived. To help artists who were suffering from life-threatening illnesses, a collective of artists, art collectors and gallery owners including artist Daniel Goldstein, Ruth Braunstein of Braunstein/Quay Gallery, Jeffrey Fraenkel of Fraenkel Gallery of Photography, Paule Anglim of Gallery Paule Anglim, Rena and Trish Bransten of Rena Bransten Gallery and several others, began convening at local art spaces in the city in late 1980s. Their mission was to find a means to record the existing works of artists with AIDS and provide them with the materials they needed to create new ones. Goldstein, with the help of the other contributors, grew the group into a fullfledged nonprofit called Visual Aid in 1989, and the organization has been supporting hundreds of Bay Area artists since then. Johnstone has been a Visual Aid artist for at least 18 years and served as a client liaison board member for a few years during that time. “Initially, when my health was
very poor and my demise seemed imminent, I at least knew that the slides of my work, the things I had been making, would be documented somewhere,” he said. In addition to archiving his work in the form of photographic slides, Johnstone said that Visual Aid has helped him buy art and photography supplies, connect with other artists and find opportunities to showcase his work. Johnstone collaborates with his partner and another Visual Aid artist, David Faulk, to create and photograph elaborate costumes made from everyday items like straws, beads and plastic flowers. He said the organization also helped him get a grant through the Horizons Foundation, a philanthropic organization in San Francisco that provides grants and other services to the LGBT community, to show his work at the California Institute of Integral Studies, a private college in San Francisco’s Mission District. Following the show at the college, Johnstone said the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library included his artistic works in its archives. “When dealing with an illness where it seems imminent that you’re not going to live,” Johnstone said, “and it happens two or three times, I always have my art to get me through it. Also, there’s an aspect of disintegration when you’re dealing with a long-term illness. You see things diminish. You see rooms get smaller. You see people disappear — at least back in those days you did. It’s harder to get out and be social. It’s really hard to organize an art show.” He said that the organization helped him integrate back into the art community by providing access and opportunities to art exhibitions and group activities. While Visual Aid runs on an annual budget of about $340,000 with two full-time
Julie Blankenship, executive director of Visual Aid, displayed David King’s series of collages called “Elysium” in the organization’s gallery. and one part-time staff members and volunteers, it currently supports 75 artists. The process for an artist to join the organization, however, is rigorous. “It’s almost like art school in the sense that artists need a portfolio which shows a body of current work that’s outstanding, really proves that art is their vocation and shows that they’ve been creating art over a period of years,” said Julie Blankenship, executive director of Visual Aid. “We have very high standards, and that’s because once an artist joins our program, it’s pretty much a commitment for lifetime on our part.” She said that the organization sometimes requires a letter from a physician confirming an artist’s illness. Blankenship said that 95 percent of Visual Aid artists live on low or very low income and that most also live on governmentfunded disability income. She added that 78 percent of the artists are living with HIV
and 1 in 6 does not have health insurance. The organization provides vouchers for the artists that can be used at various art supplies stores, and also has an Art Bank, a storehouse in the office that is filled with supplies like paints and canvases for Visual Aid artists. She said that in the past the organization has put on various thematic exhibitions featuring the works of the group’s artists. “We noticed that several artists had used the get out of jail free card from Monopoly, so we did a big exhibition called ‘Get Out of Jail Free,’ and it was kind of imprisonment as a metaphor for illness, social injustice, isolation,” she said. While the works of Visual Aid artists are exhibited at other Bay Area galleries, some are also found in the organization’s own gallery that opened last year. The current exhibition, “A Thin Line: Extinction, Survival, Transformation,” features works by artists Daniel Goldstein, David King, David Wojnarowicz and Philip Zimmerman. Blankenship said that opening the gallery enables the organization to create more risk-taking, edgy exhibitions. She said that in addition to continuing its existing programs, the nonprofit is planning to roll out a new vision program to provide free eye checkups for the artists. “We really work to create a sense of abundance which is missing in the lives of most of us, and especially people who are ill and are artists,” she said.
“A Thin Line: Extinction, Survival, Transformation” is on display at the Visual Aid Gallery at 57 Post St. through the end of September. Visit online: visualaid.org A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
DRUGS AND POLLUTION
S.F. Pressures Pharmaceutical Industry to Fund Medicine Take-Back Program
an Franciscans should soon be able to dispose of their unused medicines free at 16 independent pharmacies and five police stations throughout the city. The pharmaceutical industry is funding the pilot program with $110,000, after facing city plans that threatened to extend producer responsibility to pharmaceuticals. The drug disposal pilot program has funding for at least 12 to 18 months, after which officials hope it will be become permanent. All household medication can be brought to police stations, and participating pharmacies will collect everything else except controlled substances. Story: Disposing of pharmaceuticals has Siri Markula // Public Press been a chronic problem in San Francisco without a sustainable solution. Currently, no pharmacy accepts unused or expired drugs. For decades, officials told people to simply flush their unused drugs or throw them in the trash. Especially in the past decade, scientists have started to measure the toxic effects of pharmaceuticals in the waterways and groundwater. Continuous exposure to low levels of pharmaceutical residue can threaten wildlife like fish and frogs. Minor residue has been found even in tap water, as The Associated Press revealed in a 2008 investigative report. No comprehensive studies have been published about long-term effects of low levels of pharmaceuticals consumed in drinking water, but officials now advise that no unused pharmaceuticals be disposed down the drain or in the trash. San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who led the negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry to fund the pilot program, said that the scope of the problem with pharmaceutical waste in the Bay Area waterways is not fully known. “What we do know is that our infrastructure is not designed to filter waste,” Mirkarimi said. Most European countries have take-back programs for unused or expired medications. In the United States, the medical waste disposal is primarily regulated at state level. One problem is that a federal law states that only
law-enforcement officers may collect controlled substances. Colorado, for example, is piloting a program with 11 take-back boxes around the state, and Washtenaw County in Michigan has 11 pharmacies accepting unused medication. Teleosis, a nonprofit organization for greener health care, lists take-back programs nationwide. The pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to take responsibility for the disposal of their products. When Mirkarimi initiated an ordinance to extend producer responsibility to pharmaceuticals, the companies called for a more “collaborative” approach rather than an ordinance to require them to develop and implement their own collection program. After negotiations, PhRMA, the trade association for pharmaceutical companies, donated $100,000, and Genentech gave $10,000 toward the pilot program. Big chains like Walgreens and Safeway decided not to participate. Mirkarimi said he was neither disappointed nor surprised. “They need to understand what it means to become corporate partners, and they’ve got a long way to go,” Mirkarimi said. He said the decision will reflect poorly on the big chains. “I think people will start to ask the obvious question: ‘Why are Safeway and Walgreens not providing this service either free or at very low cost?’” Walgreens said customers can already buy specially designed envelopes for $3.99 to return unused medication for incineration. “We also believe that there are legal risks if we participated in the initiative and that it could violate federal drug enforcement rules regarding the collection of controlled substances,” wrote Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger in an email. The pharmacy participates in local take-back events organized by Bay Area law-enforcement organizations. Apart from Walgreens, at least Safeway’s and Kaiser’s pharmacies sell similar envelopes. San Francisco residents can pick up these envelopes free at three locations: Department of the Environment, 11 Grove St.; Recology San Francisco, 501 Tunnel Ave. and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, 3801 3rd St., Suite 600. This SF En-
vironment initiative will be discontinued when the envelopes run out because they are too expensive ($3.75 each). “The envelopes are really expensive for the city to provide free but we also don’t think that pharmaceutical disposal should be something that people should have to pay for,” said Caitlin Sanders, a Residential Toxics Reduction associate at the Department of the Environment. The pilot program is still in the works. The Department of the Environment did not want to reveal the take-back locations because not all pharmacies had signed the official paperwork. Nine of the city’s 11 districts have independent pharmacies, and in each of them at least one pharmacy is participating in the program. The Department of the Environment chose the participating police stations to cover outlying areas. The program was expected to launch in August. Sanders said she hoped that the pilot is a success and that the companies will renew the funding voluntarily. If not, Mirkarimi will consider pushing forward with the legislation to extend the producers’ responsibility. “That would depend on how well the pilot program works, what kind of relationship — positive or not — we develop with the pharmaceutical industry, and if federal law evolves by that time,” he said. Having a place to take unused medication does not mean that people actually will do it. Even in countries with effective take-back programs, pharmaceutical waste ends in the wrong place, especially liquid waste that is too often flushed into the sewage system. That’s why about $50,000 of the pilot program funding is going to outreach and education about the program. Mirkarimi has also proposed an ordinance to require all small businesses selling prescription drugs to publicly display materials explaining how to safely and lawfully dispose of unused drugs. That measure was approved by the full Board of Supervisors in May.
A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
B1 SF Public Press
Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
bUILDING a better bUDGet At a time when there’s less than ever to go around and taxpayers are taking a harder look at how the government spends their money, cities need to get smarter about spending. If San Francisco had remained on a business-as-usual course for the fiscal year that started July 1, it would have racked up $380 million in debt by the summer of 2012. It can’t legally do that, so for the third year it has scrimped and saved — to the detriment of workers’ pension funds, infrastructure projects social services and health programs. Two years ago the Public Press started cataloguing the repercussions of the first year of major deficits, totaling $438 million, which led to layoffs of medical workers, cuts to nonprofit organizations and hikes in hundreds of kinds of fees and fines. Read more at sfpublicpress.org/san-francisco-city-budget-watchdog. At the conclusion of the most recent budget-slashing seasion, the San Francisco Public Press collaborated with Shareable Magazine (a website about alternative economics and the growing sharing movement) to present a range of ideas bubbling up from grassroots activists, hackers and technocrats seeking to cut the fat from government and avoid cutting into bone. Read more at Shareable.net and SFPublicPress.org. — The Editors
Millions in Savings Unclaimed After audits, Muni revealed $20 million excess overtime
an Francisco could have saved at least $33.5 million over the last two years’ budgets if departments, commissions and contractors had acted on advice from regular audits pointing out government waste and inefficiencies. The savings, much of it coming out of transit and police employee overtime, could have reduced the need to cut some vital services this summer as local government agencies faced $380 million in projected deficits over the next year. Some of the audits produced by a unit of the controller’s office have been implemented swiftly. Yet as many as 40 audit reports out of 70 performed since 2009 linger officially unresolved. The problem is, there’s no recourse if departments choose to ignore auditors. And after two years, the office is Story: Angela Hart not required to follow up on the reports, which could explain // Public Press why 14 additional audits highlighting potential savings of $700,000 were not indicated on a list produced by the controller’s office. Late in the summer, several department heads were dragged into hearings at City Hall to explain why they were slow to react to audit recommendations. Some responded that they disagreed with the findings. Others said they would change the way they did business if they had the staffing to do it, but layoffs and buyouts of policy personnel over the last three years had slowed following up on claims of waste. As cities nationwide struggle to keep service levels up while facing annual budget cuts, elected officials are under increased scrutiny from the public to find savings wherever they can. In New York, a 2011 audit of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey found the state could net $22 million a year if the port revised contracts with private contractors. In San Diego, an audit found $20,000 in annual savings if the city limited
San Francisco Ponders Participatory Budgeting Can process designed to engage community result in smarter spending?
hen Mayor Ed Lee ventured across San Francisco’s 11 districts this spring talking with residents about what to cut and what to save from the budget, he won praise for opening what some called a new era in fiscal discourse: giving people a more direct say about where their money is spent. But what if, rather than the mayor in the driver’s seat, it was the community itself that presented, weighed and voted on district budgets? The idealistic notion under consideration in San Francisco, sometimes called “participatory budgeting,” hands decisionmaking power for budgets to the residents of neighborhoods and whole cities. If the process works as it did for the 49th Ward of Chicago, where the nation’s first participatory budgeting effort began in 2009, San Francisco neighborhoods could expect some big Story: changes. When allowed to vote directly on spending, ward residents in Chicago shifted more Michael Levitin // Public Press than $1 million from a few costly maintenance projects, such as street resurfacing, lighting & Shareable.net and sidewalk repairs, to an array of projects aimed at literally reshaping the community. They built bike lanes and racks, a dog park, a garden, underpass murals and beach showers. “In these cash-strapped times, it’s a great step for government at the local level to get outside City Hall,” said Pete Peterson, executive director of the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy in Malibu. Given the fiscal crisis in local governments, Peterson said, “we’re increasingly seeing people asked not just for their story continued input and their participation, but for the delivery of actual services.” on page B4
In this report: aDD-baCKS
Self-Help for the Elderly was threatened with cuts that would have slashed services for immigrant seniors, but was saved by lobbying at City Hall. Others weren’t so lucky. Is that fair? p a G e b 3
San Francisco is the birthplace of several promising digital hubs that make government data more accessible — but much of it is still mundane or hard to read. p a G e b 3
San Francisco was able to balance its budget this year by trimming workers’ pension funds, deferring needed construction projects and closing some social service programs. p a G e b 3
A group of San Francisco hacktivists is trying to make raising taxes “fun” by presenting revenue collection as a video game. Critics label it leftist propaganda. p a G e b 4
story continued on page B2
q U O t eD Mayor Lee has really strived to have a lot of public input. I’ve been around the budget for four or five years. This year had the most public comment on the budget I have seen. Rick Wilson, mayor’s budget director
At some point, Muni needs to accurately reflect the true cost for overtime in their budget … That has not always been the case for Muni and other departments in the city.
WHere tHe MONeY GOeS 2011-12
Ben Rosenfield, controller
Voters decided to fund our function … We’ve been lucky enough to keep our staffing or even hire people in the recession while other departments are having to let people go. Mark Tipton, performance auditor with the controller’s office
“ PUBLIC HEALTH
$1,573,367,275 +increase $112,509,196 / 8%
$993,153,704 +increase $124,483,443 / 14%
HUMAN WELFARE & NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT $890,485,804 +increase $30,448,797 / 4%
GENERAL ADMINISTRATION & FINANCE $651,996,318 +increase $32,729,884 / 5%
CULTURE & RECREATION $265,576,425 +increase $9,506,028 / 3%
The Public Utilities Commission’s budget is expanding by $62.5 million as part of a planned investment in the seismic safety of the city and utility infrastructure.
PUBLIC WORKS, TRANSPORTATION &COMMERICE $2,649,866,326 +increase $65,850,139 / 3%
$3.26 million was restored by the Board of Supervisors to retain Sheriff’s Department security at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals.
PUBLIC PROTECTION $1,131,021,210 +increase $52,253,918 / 5%
The Department of Public Health is growing by $112 million primarily due to $39 million in federal funding to implement President Obama’s federal health care reform, and a $41 million spending increase that will be matched and returned to the city from federal revenues. These funds are tied to performance measurements which ensure that the department meet certain milestones and criteria.
An audit of Office Depot, with which the city contracts for office supplies, found that the company overcharged the city $5.75 million for office supplies between January 2005 and July 2009. Mayor Ed Lee in March approved an out-of-court deal with Office Depot. A resolution from the Board of Supervisors said Office Depot has to pay back $3.75 million and $500,000 in credit toward future office supply purchases.
The Airport Commission had more than $28 million cut from capital projects and grants, though it did get an additional $8 million to run Terminal 2 at SFO.
The city’s War Memorial and Performing Arts Center saw a 55 percent budget reduction, and will save the city more than $14 million by curbing operations and maintenance.
The largest projected increase in operations is for employee salaries, wages and fringe benefits. Salaries and wages are expected to increase by $50 million in the coming fiscal year, with fringe benefits, including pensions and health premiums, increasing by $93 million. KeY The information displayed is based primarily on Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed budget for 2011-2012. Modifications have been made to the final budget, including add-backs by the Board of Supervisors. One square represents approximately $26 million in spending.
>>MOre ON paGe b2>>
BUILDING A BETTER BUDGET
SF Public Press
Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
WHere tHe MONeY GOeS 2011-12 PUBLIC HEALTH 2009-2010 2010-2011
$1,573,367,275 +increase $112,509,196
+ SAN FRANCISCO GENERAL HOSPITAL ACUTE CARE INCREASED $52,456,001 - MENTAL HEALTH - COMMUNITY CARE DECREASED $8,475,246 + CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION INCREASED $43,723,252
LaSt MINUte CHaNGeS
PUBLIC WORKS, TRANSPORTATION & COMMERCE Public Utilities Commission 2009-2010
The Department of Public Health had $3.1 million restored to their budget, most of which went to adult outpatient substance abuse and mental health services. 3.26 million was restored by the Board of Supervisors to retain Sheriff Department security at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda Hospitals.
The Human services agency had $470,000 restored to In Home Support Services. $824,028,814 +increase $62,494,717
+ DEBT SERVICE INCREASED $33,622,520 + ADMINISTRATION INCREASED $11,835,998
GENERAL CITY RESPONSIBILITIES
Municipal Transportation Agency
$993,153,704 +increase $124,483,433
$780,567,111 +increase $5,552,920
+ ADMINISTRATION INCREASED 3,407,633 - RAIL & BUS SERVICES DECREASED $3,228,381
Airport Commission 2009-2010 2010-2011
PUBLIC PROTECTION Police 2009-2010 2010-2011
$755,749,681 +increase $8,001,759
SMALLER DEPARTMENTS General Services Agency - Public Works $129,674,772 -decrease $32,816,147 2009-2010 2010-2011
$460,348,234 +increase $14,868,111
Fire Department 2009-2010 2010-2011
$302,081,641 +increase $12,973,904
$77,886,579 +increase $3,893,480
Department of Building Inspection 2009-2010 2010-2011
$171,479,133 +increase $16,028,982
+ CUSTODY INCREASED $14,441,469
$48,911,896 +increase $4,907,896
Economic and Workforce Development 2009-2010 2010-2011
SMALLER DEPARTMENTS Dept. of Emergency Management 2009-2010 2010-2011
2011-2012 $32,122,184 +increase $13,821,856
2011-2012 $43,733,849 +increase $2,465,491
GENERAL ADMINISTRATION General Services Agency - City Administration 2009-2010 2010-2011
2011-2012 $14,643,141 +increase $2,253,227
District Attorney, Superior Court, Juvenile Probation and Public Defender
$251,082,102 +increase $12,483,834
2011-2012 $138,735,212 +increase $3,664,203
General Services Agency - Technology 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
HUMAN WELFARE AND NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT
$74,841,614 -decrease $3,163,071
2011-2012 $73,131,526 +increase $1,449,572
$690,359,191 +increase $20,884,380
$252,941,076 +increase $21,959,549
+ FAMILY AND CHILDREN'S SERVICE INCREASED $12,936,368 - IN HOME SUPPORTIVE SERVICES DECREASED $2,592,213 + ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT INCREASED $3,817,466 + FOOD STAMPS INCREASED $2,911,582
SMALLER DEPARTMENTS CULTURE & RECREATION
Children; Youth & Their Families 2009-2010 2010-2011
Recreation and Park Commission 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012
Public Library 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 $86,814,022 +increase $3,377,252
War Memorial 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 $12,233,535 -decrease $14,871,452
Other Departments $38,607,652 +increase $1,083,075
2011-2012 $121,528,487 +increase $4,420,836
Children and Families Commission 2009-2010 2010-2011
$127,921,216 +increase $905,097
2011-2012 $32,029,191 +increase $1,700,379
Environment 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 $17,861,003 +increase $4,323,743
Other Departments $28,707,932 -decrease $880,541
story continued from page B1
the number of city vehicles taken home by employees. Further complicating the picture, San Francisco is blessed — or cursed, some say — with two auditing departments, the other headed by Harvey Rose, the Board of Supervisors’ longtime budget and legislative analyst. The profusion of steps in budget oversight actually slows down the system and makes it hard to plan for the big picture. San Francisco’s budget process, according to a 2008 report from the San Francisco Municipal Executives Association, “is unique and arguably the most complex among peer jurisdictions,” in part because reviews by the controller’s office and the legislative analyst are necessary steps each year. San Francisco has an eight-step budget process. Los Angeles’ approval process has six steps. New York, Chicago, Boston and San Jose have five steps. But the audit process in San Francisco has turned up some clear opportunities for pruning. Reports at co.sfgov.org/webreports outline where departments could be more efficient or collect more money: •A Fire Department payroll audit showed that administrative and pay errors in fiscal year 2009-2010 cost the city $690,000. Responding in a memo, department officials said they agreed with some recommendations and were already implementing them. They disputed other suggestions to change how they paid out employee benefits, asserting that their policies were constrained by union negotiations. •An audit of four parking garages owned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency revealed $106,000 in uncollected charges. In a written response, the agency said it was looking into some of the charges and had begun acting on some of the findings. •A Recreation and Park Department audit in 2009 said the San Francisco 49ers owed the city $569,041 in parking lot rent. In a response memo, the 49ers agreed with some of the recommendations, but disagreed with others regarding parking rent. (This audit was one of 14 too old to be listed by status, and that information is not available on the Web.) Now, some San Francisco supervisors want to crack down on the inattention to municipal audits, saying many of the city’s 48 departments are unaccountable. “There aren’t any punishments or penalties if they don’t comply,” said Mark Tipton, a performance audit manager. “It really takes decision-makers, elected officials and the media to keep pressure on them to make changes.” Supervisors on the Government Audit Oversight Committee in recent months criticized the most delinquent departments, calling for more policing of departments’ finances — specifically in overtime. “Over my years in government, I’ve seen audits and reports come and go,” said David Campos, who chairs the committee. “They’re put on a shelf and never talked about again and the recommendations are never implemented.” GROWING OVERTIME AT MUNI
Millions in Savings Unclaimed
Campos said he discovered largely through audits that San Francisco spent about $40 million on unbudgeted overtime in the last year. About half of that was paid to Muni operators, he said. Rose said that in one of his audits, published in May 2010, “our finding was that they don’t spend a lot of time monitoring or controlling overtime.” He added that Muni pays “virtually no attention” to audits indicating financial savings. “We’re not saying it wasn’t justified.” And at an audit review board meeting on July 28, barely a month into this fiscal year, Muni’s director of transit, John Haley, reported that the agency was already projecting unbudgeted overtime spending for the next year that was approaching $20 million beyond the $33 million already accounted for. Haley said unbudgeted overtime is “built into” the department’s standard operating procedures — used for extraordinary events such as parades or emergencies. He also said, much to the surprise and consternation of the three supervisors on the committee, that Muni’s use of furloughs, intended to reduce overall labor costs, were themselves causing the agency to “backfill” unclaimed work shifts by paying overtime. “When you underestimate your budget by 18 million, that could solve so many other problems in the city,” said Supervisor David Chiu, who is also president of the board. “It seems like this is Groundhog Day, year after year assurances keep coming up. “How do we fix these costs, not just explain while we’re in this situation,” he added. In response to Haley’s answers, and to details in an audit by Harvey Rose, Campos and fellow supervisor Mark Farrell proposed an ordinance in July to curb citywide overtime spending, requiring anything not budgeted to go through the Board of Supervisors for approval. POLICE DEPARTMENT DISARRAY In addition to Muni, one police department audit that went unanswered for nearly a year found that the department did not accurately track and monitor how much overtime was paid for officers’ court appearances. And nearly $40,000 was overpaid to employees for uniforms.
Chiu said he has had many conversations with Police Chief Greg Suhr about how to curb overtime. “What I continue to hear are explanations and excuses, but no answers as to what has been happening with overtime,” Chiu said to Captain Albert Pardini, a police department spokesman, at the audit review board meeting. “I don’t know why,” Pardini replied. “There are significant changes in the department — retirements, Chief Gascón leaving, and then the interim chief and our new chief, Greg Suhr. These individuals are all new.” That the spokesman could not determine who wrote the initial response from the department underpinned the need for greater oversight, Campos said. “It’s a pretty basic function that if a city controller makes recommendations on how to improve on issues, someone look at them,” he said. “Or maybe the answer is maybe no one was actually looking at it. This is why we need to monitor these reports as closely as we can.” BAD ECONOMY, GOOD GOVERNMENT? While recent pressure from City Hall has forced some departments to respond, the reports are nothing new. Voters called for more transparency and accountability in local government in 2003 when they passed Proposition C, ultimately creating a unit within the controller’s office called the City Services Auditor. “I can’t say audits are something that we focus on,” said Rick Wilson, the mayor’s new budget director. “But the mayor is always looking for ways to be more efficient and save so city services aren’t impacted.” Frustration among elected officials is not unique to San Francisco. After the start of the recession, there appears to have been an increase in municipal audits nationwide, said Kevin Duggan, West Coast regional director for the Washington D.C.based International City and County Management Association. “The severe economic challenges of the last three years has certainly caused public agencies to look closer at audit reports to identify inefficiencies that would result in service improvements or cost-savings. We need to make sure the public knows where funds are being spent and if that’s being done in a correct manner,’’ he said. Duggan also said that many cities that are increasingly looking to organizational and financial audit reports to identify where they can save. But in many cases there is no way to sanction the targets of audits if they blow off the findings. “It’s frustrating when you have professional auditors look at something and say you can do it better, or it’s wasteful, or costly, and it can be ignored,” said Max Neiman, senior resident scholar at the Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “These kinds of situations are very likely to occur, unfortunately, because it’s not illegal to ignore or choose not to respond to the audits.” The solution, San Francisco auditors said, is public and political pressure. “We don’t have a hammer,” Tipton, the city auditor, said. “We can’t make them implement any changes, because if we did, it would compromise our independence. But we want to hold departments accountable. That’s why we’re excited about what’s going on with Campos and the Government Audit and Oversight Committee.” SOME EMBRACE AUDITS But some city departments, such as the Public Utilities Commission, are quick to respond to and implement recommendations from auditors. The commission was the subject of 31 audits over two years. Just seven are unresolved but have been addressed in some way. Tonia Lediju, the director of audits under the controller’s office, said the Public Utilities Commission is a benchmark for how departments should deal with auditors. “They’ve worked very closely with us,” Lediju said. “We collaborate often so that we can get the work done.” Two unresolved audits say the commission needs to improve inventory management, collect $73,320 in late lease payments on a golf course it owns in San Mateo County, and resolve problems related to lease management on a sand quarry the city owns in Sunol. The report says that at least $154,904 in additional rent, royalties and other charges is owed to the commission, and another $479,607 might be recovered after further investigation. “We take the audit reports very seriously,” said Michael Carlin, deputy general manager for the Public Utilities Commission. Tipton said some departments have a culture of taking audits seriously, and some pay no attention to them: “Many times when it’s a bigger department, auditing is just not something they look at.” An audit of Office Depot, with which the city contracts for office supplies, found that the company overcharged the city $5.75 million for office supplies between January 2005 and July 2009. Mayor Ed Lee in March approved an outof-court deal with Office Depot. A resolution from the Board of Supervisors said Office Depot has to pay back $3.75 million and an additional $500,000 in credit toward future office supply purchases. “That’s an extreme,” Tipton said. “But it’s real money that will go directly into the general fund — it’s an example of an audit that did what it’s supposed to.”
BUILDING A BETTER BUDGET B3 sfpublicpress.org // Spring 2011
SF Public Press
NEW FISCAL YEAR
Pensions, Infrastructure and Public Health Trimmed in 3rd Year of San Francisco Deficits
olice and firefighter unions will pay more out of pocket toward their pensions. Disease prevention programs and street beautification will be scaled back. At least $37 million in capital projects will be added to a growing deferred maintenance backlog. Hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts approved in July forestalled a fiscal day of reckoning for San Francisco, a city that for three years has, like hundreds of local governments across the country, struggled to stay solvent in response to a fluctuating tax base and rising labor costs. City Story: staff estimate Matthew Santolla that costs are // Public Press rising three times faster than tax revenues. This summer, local leaders dug deep to erase a $380 million deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. It was a moving target, growing from an initial projection of $306 million in March, which made the final budget cut decisions extremely painful. The total budget added up to $6.83 billion — an increase from last year’s $6.48 billion, but difficult nonetheless because nearly half was locked up in earmarked, but ever-rising, costs. In an attempt to be more engaging than his predecessor, Mayor Ed Lee conducted 10 town hall meetings across the city between March and May. The added participation of district supervisors gave the public a chance to hear their priorities before the proposed budget was released in June. The meetings also provided special interest groups a chance to plead for clemency for their programs. “The goal was to have a situation that was not like we’ve had in the
past,” said Rick Wilson, the mayor’s budget director. After the mayor proposes his budget on June 1, the community and supervisors have had little say until budget hearings, which generated a “scramble” to restore cut funds. “They’re kind of surprised, and maybe taken off guard, when they see the budget.” But, by and large, the mayor’s budget was the final budget. A few ideas directly from the sessions made it into his revised proposal: the mayor restored a nutrition program for seniors when proponents voiced concerns at the early meetings. The mayor made more than $26 million in changes — accounting for less than one-half of one percent of the total — before submitting his proposed budget to the board June 1. Those changes were based on conversations with social service providers, labor and business groups, said Christine Falvey, the mayor’s spokeswoman. The year-by-year scramble to cut funds, brought on largely by plummeting tax receipts in the wake of the recession, have harmed the city’s ability to plan projects that take more than a year to carry out. Lee, who will seek his first full term as mayor in November’s election, proposed the city move toward a five-year planning cycle, a seven-part plan he unveiled in May that includes new taxes and employee benefits. “This is a significantly different budget process, one that I feel has been depoliticized but has been looking at the greater good of a balanced way of doing our work,” said another mayoral candidate, District 11 Supervisor John Avalos. Yet even as the ink dried on the reconciled city budget Lee signed on July 26, the city controller’s office predicted shortfalls as far as the eye
could see. The office calculated that the deficit would double in the next two fiscal years: a $408 million shortfall for 2012-2013, and $642 million the following year. A report jointly published in April by various city budget agencies including the mayor’s and the supervisors’ offices, said costs would continue to outpace revenues unless structural reform was enacted. The long-term deficit threat led several rivals for mayor to propose such reforms on the November ballot. Any real savings come through stiff labor concessions. The city’s unions spent months working with Lee to develop his pension reform ballot measure for November, which advocates estimated would save San Francisco $1 billion over 10 years. The proposed charter amendment would raise the retirement age for city workers and limit their pension benefits, while forcing them to pay more toward health and retirement plans. That idea is at odds with another pension reform measure proposed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, which would require large pension contributions. Adachi said his plan could save the city up to $50 million a year. Adachi, whose Proposition B pension reform initiative failed last November, is naming this ballot measure “Son of B.” SAVINGS ADD UP Before even proposing his budget, Lee convinced police and fire unions to agree to lower take-home pay. Firefighters, for instance, got a 3 percent salary raise, instead of a scheduled 4 percent, and they must contribute an additional 3 percent into their pension fund. The net result was no raise. The deals will save the city $31 mil-
lion over two years — vital to avoiding public safety layoffs, an unthinkable move in a mayoral election year. Most of the savings this year came from a combination of one-time and ongoing departmental cuts, consolidations and increased efficiency. But other reductions came from programs with longer time horizons, including deferred maintenance and infrastructure improvements that would have been completed in future budget years:
tax income (especially on property transfers) and better state reimbursements for Medi-Cal services. But new charges for city services were the largest source of new revenue across city government — a total of $109.5 million, up 5.1 percent from last fiscal year. That was largely the result of higher fees on airport concessions and service rate increases from the Public Utilities Commission.
•More than $37 million was cut from city capital projects. One of the biggest losers was the neighborhood beautification program, which will be eliminated, saving more than $1 million. •The Airport Commission had more than $28 million cut from capital projects and grants, though it did get an additional $8 million to run Terminal 2 at SFO. •The city’s War Memorial and Performing Arts Center saw a 55 percent budget reduction, and will save the city more than $14 million by curbing operations and maintenance.
One ongoing frustration for politicians is that of the $6.83 billion total budget, the city’s general fund, powering everything from aid assistance to the Human Services Agency to grants for nonprofits, makes up only $3.3 billion. Other funds are tied up in debt payments, promises to voters through ballot propositions and grants from the state and federal governments. Labor costs are hard to tinker with during the summer budget season without cooperative unions because of multi-year contracts. The largest projected increase in operations is for employee salaries, wages and fringe benefits. Salaries and wages are expected to increase by $50 million in the coming fiscal year, with fringe benefits, including pensions and health premiums, increasing by $93 million. There will also be more funded positions, mostly at the Department of Public Health, where officials are preparing for the phase-in of federal health care reform in the next few years. ADD-BACKS
Cuts to city-funded social services took a big hit for the third year in a row. More than $8 million was cut from community mental health care and $2 million from community substance abuse care. More than $1 million was shaved from the Department of Public Health’s disease control program. San Francisco also found some new money this year. A big piece of the budget gap was closed as tax revenue on everything from parking lots to business payrolls increased. The reprieve came as the slowly reviving economy led to higher-than-expected
The Board of Supervisors spent more than a month poring over the mayor’s proposed budget but could find only $17 million in changes, with an
additional $3 million coming back for earmarked projects in various departments. One controversial recommendation from Lee’s office was to take away control of security at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals from the sheriff’s department and outsource it to a private contractor. But the Board disagreed, continuing the funding. They also set aside additional funding for a new Police Academy class. Falvey said part of the mayor’s early effort this year to be transparent with the Board of Supervisors minimized the messy “add-back” process, the period when supervisors have a month to make line-item changes to restore funds to program areas before passing a final version for the July-to-June fiscal year. COLLABORATION District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said the add-back process was different this year, taking place before the mayor submitted his nominations, reducing the last-minute scramble for funding for politicians’ pet projects. “It’s smaller because the mayor was very collaborative with the board before he issued his budget,” he said. “There were a number of things that I may have needed to add back that I was able to persuade the mayor to put in his budget to begin with.” Wiener said that in the past the add-back period was more chaotic because of the poor communication between certain supervisors and former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who departed in January. The result, Wiener said, was “a more collegial relationship within the board, and so it has been a much smoother process.”
Facing Cuts, Nonprofits Forced to Lobby City Hall to Save Immigration Program Year after year, private organizations strategize and line up clients to push for last-minute ‘add-backs’
or clients at Self-Help for the Elderly, the citizenship classes taught by volunteer instructor Joanne Lee are a perfect fit: Classes are held at a convenient Chinatown location, senior clientele are easily accommodated and the material is taught in both English and Chinese. It has worked out well for students Sammie Xu, 69, and Nancy Zhang, 64, Chinese Story: immigrants who are TJ Johnston studying for their natu// Public Press ralization exam. Before enrolling in classes at the social services agency, the married couple tried others in which teachers only provided instruction books without guidance or taught classes only in English. But Self-Help for the Elderly was clearly on the chopping block this spring when Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed budget called for a 20 percent cut to groups providing services to older immigrants. A proposed cut of $22,000 would have forced the organization, a grantee of the Department of Human Services, to drop 150 seniors from its naturalization program and lay off two part-time instructors. Dozens of similar groups made repeated attempts over several months to fend off major cutbacks as the city grappled with hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits. Over the past three years, the organization lost more than $100,000 in repeated rounds of city cutbacks. Groups ended up competing for supervisors’ attention with other deserving city departments and grantees. This budget season, the agency took a more coordinated tack in voicing its objections. Anni Chung, Self-Help for the Elderly’s president and CEO, was able to meet the mayor at some of the 10 “town hall” meetings he held reaching all 11 supervisorial districts. She collaborated with other AsianAmerican organizations, such as Kimochi, Asian-Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Veterans Equity Center and the Japanese Community Youth Council, to put political pressure
on the supervisors to restore funds. The coalition arranged for the organizations’ clients to show up at human services budget hearings to tell stories of how they were helped by the group. The process was smoother this time around. Chung said the coalition lobbied for three hours at various meetings this year. Last year the groups together spent about eight hours in meetings. “Before it was like a battle,” Chung said. “This year, there was more meaningful dialogue and discussion.” The preliminary budget is approved in late June, and tweaks are made for the next month. Since 1996, the Board of Supervisors has been able to “add back” funds for specific services after its members identify cuts in other areas. Some organizations have identified the add-back process as particularly inefficient and prone to abuse, with nonprofits repeatedly forced to advocate for their own survival in what the San Francisco Municipal Executives’ Association deemed in a 2008 report as the most complex budget process among comparable major cities. San Francisco uniquely allows its legislative budget analyst to identify for the board where to reallocate monies. “The focus on the San Francisco budget is on cuts and add-backs at the macro level,” the report concluded, “as opposed to thoughtful policy decisions regarding services to be provided to residents and professional management of resources at the organization-wide level.” Self-Help for the Elderly took full advantage of this process this year, encouraging clients to approach the board directly. Yvonne Dupuis, a 65-year-old German native who was sworn in as a citizen in February, said that even though she was savvy about the naturalization process she still needed the group’s assistance in correctly filing the citizenship application. On June 24, she told the budget and finance committee how fortunate she was in listing the agency as her creditor. “If you do not have a creditor, you need an attorney and some people do not have
the financial resources,” she said. “Elderly citizens need this help, particularly people who do not speak the language,” she added. The approach worked. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors sent Lee a budget that restored $130,000 to eight nonprofit agencies providing naturalization services. Lee’s signature on July 26 formalized the reprieve for Self-Help for the Elderly. Self-Help for the Elderly provides a range of services, including classes in English as a second language and preparation of citizenship applications. Chung said limiting her group’s work would pull at the civic fabric of a famously diverse city. “If these legal residents don’t become citizens, they’re vulnerable to losing medical care and benefits,” Chung said. Most likely, they would have remained ineligible for Supplemental Security Income and MediCal. Also, she added, fewer new citizens would translate into fewer new voters — and potential political allies. The process of naturalization is wrought with complications that can be hard for elderly immigrants to negotiate alone, but with grants from the city, local organizations can provide crucial guidance. For example, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, applicants 55 or older who have lived in the United States as permanent residents for at least 15 years may be exempt from taking the exam in English and can opt to take it in their native language if they bring an interpreter to the interview. Seniors living on fixed incomes might otherwise have to turn to expensive private instructors or fall prey to people who claim to be immigration specialists without verifying their credentials. If the program is cut, Dupuis told the supervisors in June, “there will be scam artists all over the place.” Citizenship classes taught by Joanne Lee (left) at Self-Help for the Elderly fulfill the special needs of students like Tan Zhu, Yang Hui and Nancy Zhang (right to left). The Chinatown-based agency collaborated with other immigrant-serving nonprofits to avoid deep cuts to their city funds. Photo: Monica Jensen // Public Press
San Francisco Abounds in Digital Open-Government Tools, Though Many Appeal Only to Hackers
queezed to the point of cutting vital social services and deferring maintenance, local governments and nonprofit groups are turning to the Internet and other digital tools to increase Story: transparency. Matthew Santolla Perched on the // Public Press edge of Silicon Valley, San Francisco can’t help but be a hotbed of this good-government “hactivism.” These services are interlinked, building on each other. Yet much of the information is selective, incom-
plete, boring or hard to access in its current format. DataSF.org is a massive repository of raw city government information — reports and spreadsheet from dozens of government agencies. The city’s director of customer relationship management, Jay Nath, launched the website in 2009 as a tool to improve transparency and make government more efficient. Nath and his team have challenged programmers and policy wonks to create innovative desktop and mobile apps to check for errors in the data. One example: A mobile app called SF Routsey uses open data about traffic conditions
and bus stops to help speed users’ commutes. DataSF has supplied government transparency activists with a place to find information to lobby City Hall. The entire city budget is there, in a spreadsheet. But some of it is mundane. Among the top data sets: “San Francisco Wind Monitoring Data” and “Port of San Francisco 2010 Cruise Schedule.” Govfresh.com is a national website invented in San Francisco that encourages local government to collaborate and engage residents. Its creator, Luke Fretwell, is a George Mason University graduate who recently moved to the Bay Area and in his day
job advises startup companies and governments on branding and social media strategy. “I saw a huge opportunity there to really educate and advocate,” Fretwell said. “Sometimes government has a hard time communicating what it’s doing. What we try and do is filter that into something that is more digestible.” Govfresh has sponsored Web application development marathons and a June San Francisco mayoral debate about open government, at which candidates tried to one-up each other by pledging support for online access. “Open government to me is about government wide open so that anybody and everybody can in fact know
what is going on,” said one mayoral hopeful, state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco. “It’s about creating a new space, and frankly a new relationship, between government and San Franciscans,” said another candidate, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. Performance Measurement Team: San Francisco voters, frustrated with reports of waste and fraud in local government, passed 2008’s Proposition C, setting up a unit within the city controller’s office to produce performance scorecards on department heads and managers. Team Lead Dennis McCormick said the aim
of his unit is to find waste and improve decision-making. It produces a bimonthly “government barometer.” It also goes into the annual budget proposal from the mayor’s office each spring. The unit’s reports are posted on DataSF. According to a February barometer, the Department of Public Works significantly increased how promptly it responded to pothole service requests. By then, the department was addressing nearly 90 percent of requests to fill potholes within 72 hours. The Department of Public Works used that info to create DPWStat, an internal performance review allowing managers to spot problem areas.
B4 SF Public Press
BUILDING A BETTER BUDGET Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
Pondering Participatory Budgeting story coninued from page B1
Now, participatory budgeting has become a campaign issue in San Francisco, where District 11 Supervisor John Avalos said that if elected mayor, he would take money from the city’s transportation authority and allow resident-formed committees to choose how and where to spend it. Beginning with small capital projects, such as sidewalk repairs, street improvements, bike lanes and pedestrian-safe zones, provides “a good opportunity to bring neighborhoods together to decide how those allocations can be made,” Avalos said. He said that later, long-term operating projects like senior programs and child care centers could be budgeted by popular demand. “San Francisco already has a great footing” for citizen-monitored budgets, he said, “and we can go to the next level.” This spring, Avalos was one of about a dozen City Hall officials to meet Chicago Alderman Joe Moore and Josh Lerner, co-founder and codirector of the Brooklyn-based Participatory Budgeting Project. They described how the Windy City’s 49th Ward became the first district in the country to let local residents directly decide how to spend a portion of the city budget through neighborhood assemblies and popular “consensus.” In 2009, the 49th Ward had a $1.54 million discretionary spending budget — most of which the community got to vote on. The first participatory budgeting experiment directed $937,000 to infrastructure improvements including road resurfacing. Another $325,000 went to street lighting. The rest were smaller items — $93,000 to sidewalk repairs, $60,000 to curbs and gutters, $49,000 to alley resurfacing and $8,000 to alley speed bumps. By contrast, 2010 saw a very different distribution of funds over a range of new projects, while working with a $1.3 million budget. Residents cut down street resurfacing nearly tenfold, to $99,000 for a single threeblock project, and cut street lighting to $260,000. They nearly doubled the expenditure for sidewalk repairs, to $175,000, and eliminated spending on curbs and gutters, alley resurfacing and speed bumps. Instead, the bulk of funds went to an array of community-centered projects: $260,000 to a traffic pedestrian signal; $105,000 for 15 decorative multifunctional bike-racks throughout the ward; $110,000 for a dog park; $101,000 for three new bike lanes; $84,000 for benches and shelters at three El platforms; $84,000 for 13 underpass murals; $50,000 for beach showers; $42,000 for historical signs; $42,000 for 10 solar-powered garbage containers; $33,000 for a community garden; and $25,000 for a park path. SAN FRANCISCO AND BEYOND Avalos and others estimate a similar initiative could be enacted in San Francisco as early as the next fiscal year starting July 1, 2012, making this the nation’s first citywide experiment in a budgeting process now used in
more than 1,200 cities across the globe. Lerner is helping launch a participatory budgeting initiative this fall in New York City while also working closely with city officials and community organizations to establish the process in Providence, Rhode Island; Greensboro, North Carolina; New Orleans; and Springfield and Lawrence, Massachusetts. Community advocates say the new system could give those communities facing steep budget cuts a direct say in how money is allocated. Oscar Grande, an activist with People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights, a Mission Districtbased group helping spearhead the local participatory budgeting effort, said: “Every year we gear up for battle at the Board of Supervisors and with the mayor about what to cut and it feels like a lot of begging, with deals made in the back room. We feel it’s time to think about ways that regular everyday people can actually be in control of the decisions being made — with direct, tangible results.” Lerner, who first learned about the process in 2003 while completing a master’s degree in city planning in Toronto, said participatory budgeting is ultimately “a political project: opening up governments, reconnecting people with vision making, and giving them real power to make real decisions with real money, which is a fundamental break from how democracy has been run.” Incubated in 1988 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participatory budgeting has since caught on in towns and cities across Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada and even the Caribbean, and has earned approval from the United Nations as a “good governance practice.” So far, though, Americans have been slow to catch on, and Grande and others say San Francisco could lead the way. HOW IT WOULD WORK The concept behind participatory budgeting is simple. Advocates say it would work like this: Each year in the fall, San Franciscans would gather in neighborhood assemblies that are open to residents of that district — something akin to town hall–style meetings — and residents would propose where they would like to see discretionary funds spent. (Discretionary funds rarely exceed 20 percent of the overall budget in most U.S. cities, where large fixed costs like labor contracts, debt payments and infrastructure repairs and maintenance make up the bulk of expenditures.) The assemblies would break into smaller groups and elect delegates who, over the coming months, are responsible for turning those initial ideas into concrete projects with price tags and plans for carrying them out. Finally, in the spring, the proposals are brought back to the public and voted on. While the process is drawn out, Lerner said, it’s formulated to achieve optimal results. “You can’t expect people to make complex policy decisions in a few hours — it takes time,” he said. “The reason participatory budgeting works is because it’s a yearlong process
Voters in Chicago’s 49th Ward use participatory budgeting to choose where to spend money, not just which candidates will represent them. // Photo courtesy of Joe Moore that involves months of meetings, research and discussions. And that’s what delivers democratic decisions in the end.” Lengthening and slowing down the decision-making process may appear to be a drawback, where “a bunch of novices are going to take forever to make decisions,” said Barbara O’Connor, emeritus professor of communication and the director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because that’s the thing that engages them.” A bigger downside, she suggested, is the potential dilution of “fundamental social issues that a region needs to deal with” in favor of more small-item, neighborhood budget priorities. “Single-issue people can often make the most change in society,” she said. “San Francisco has done a lot for the gay community and for the homeless communities, for example. But distinct neighborhoods may not feel that way. The tradeoff on granularity is that it’s granular: participatory budgeting will move away from lofty issues. A lot of people are truly annoyed because they feel their government hasn’t represented them for a long period of time, and they’re so overwhelmed with the bigger issues that they just disengage. But their voices shouldn’t be diluted right now.” In the case of San Francisco, politicians and community organizers alike say the path toward participatory budgeting should be incremental steps, starting with small capital improvement projects and moving into larger operational projects over time. Mayor Lee has, in principle, thrown his support behind the process, launching what he calls the San Francisco Budget Challenge and taking what aides say is a more “inclusive, collaborative approach” than did past mayors. This spring he reached out to labor groups, nonprofits and community groups to improve transparency and “ensure that the public participated in the discussion and influenced the outcome of the budget process,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
Some community organizers have expressed concerns that moving too quickly — before activist groups have a chance to form a stronger, interestbased alliance — might be counterproductive. “We’ve been having conversations with our members and we’re not ready to jump head-first” into participatory budgeting, Grande said. Rather, “we’re more inclined to be part of a grouping or some kind of coalition that is beginning to develop this, and saying, ‘Let’s study, let’s learn, and two years from now we can begin implementing this in bite-sized chunks.’” IDEAS FROM THE EAST BAY Other cities in the region are interested in participatory budgeting but are waiting to see what happens in San Francisco first. Shawn McDougal of the Oakland and Berkeley-based Community Democracy Project said his group is preparing city charter amendments that would clear the way for participatory budgeting in those cities. “If it takes off in San Francisco in a way that’s not just rhetorical or symbolic, but really energizes people to come up with creative solutions to problems, that will be an inspiration for people throughout the state and the country,” McDougal said. He said he hopes to have enough signatures this year — 8,000 in Berkeley and 17,000 in Oakland — to get a measure placed on at least one of those cities’ ballots. The effort could lead to a charter amendment by 2012. The initiative is also catching on in smaller cities like Vallejo, where Marti Brown, a city council member, hopes to see the process take root around federally administered Community Development Block Grant funds, which would “let the public decide the price point at which we’re willing to pay for the programs and services selected, whether it’s public safety, infrastructure projects or youth programs.” NEXT STEP FOR DEMOCRACY? The push for participatory budgeting can be seen as the latest chapter in a
long American tradition of furthering grassroots democracy, going back to the earliest town hall meetings of New England. In the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the enactment of recall and referendum initiatives signaled a new stage in that process. But the cultural stirup during the civil rights era of the 1960s saw the most inspired effort to address concerns of the under-represented — particularly the War on Poverty, under President Lyndon Johnson, when the federal government actually paid community organizers to provide resources and mobilize disadvantaged communities against special interests, in what was then called “maximum feasible participation.” Today, said Max Nieman, a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley, it isn’t just the poor but almost every ethnic and cultural group that lacks the special interests, lobbyists and hired consultants to go to bat for them. In this context, Nieman said, participatory budgeting is more broadly about “trying to wrestle with the problem of legitimacy.” “The traditional avenues and channels of policy making — electing representatives, attending public meetings and hearings, writing letters, signing petitions, launching initiatives — just isn’t working” anymore, Nieman said. “A huge swath of the population feels excluded from the important decisions that affect their lives, whether it’s transportation and parks and recreation, or taxes and fees, and it’s a serious challenge being faced by our governing institutions.” Taking advantage of the online technology and social research that’s become available for citizen engagement is a natural next step, he added. And yet, using the Internet to grow participatory budgeting could have its drawbacks. Mira Luna, who helped develop the Bay Area Community Exchange Time Bank, and a key advocate pushing the new budgeting process in San Francisco, warns that the temptation to replace real bodies and grassroots organizing with online consensusbuilding might miss the larger point. “The easy route is to make it a sexytech San Francisco flagship program — to do it all online and get maximum participation,” Luna said. But “part of the city isn’t online and doesn’t use computers, so if it’s only Internet driven, many people would be cut out of the process,” she said. “Face-to-face dialogue, hearing each other’s needs — we want people making proposals and making decisions on those proposals. You can try and simulate all this online, but it works better in person, with community.” Another challenge to participatory budgeting may be the factor of diversity itself: Every community is different, with distinct needs and approaches to solving problems. Grande, for example, is concerned that unless communities of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds turn out strongly and engage, participatory budgeting won’t bring them any better results than the standard budgeting processes of the past. “We love the tool but we have to make sure that it’s an equitable process,” he said. “Our communities aren’t homogenous. They’re diverse, multilingual, multi-age communi-
ties, and there has to be a lot of support and some deep education so that when the city is ready to roll on this, we’ve got communities that are prepped and ready to engage. If it’s just a free-for-all, it might be hard.” Further potential pitfalls await the process as well. Pepperdine University’s Peterson cautioned that the connection between “the public’s voice and actual policy making” might not be as simple as advocates believe. There is a “gap between a two-hour discussion workshop about a budget and translating that into an actual budget with thousands of line items,” Peterson said. “Public feedback is good, but there are still a lot of complex decisions that still have to be made by council.” Like it or not, he said, established forms of local government exist precisely to do the detailed, itemized budgetary work that the rest of us are not trained for. Peterson even suggested that it might not be governmental budgets that should be called on at all to address community issues, but rather a voluntary corps of citizens within communities who are willing to engage in carrying out the programs they want to see enacted, in effect, for free. “As you discuss cuts, it’s not just about prioritization,” he said, “it’s about services that are important, but which government doesn’t have the money to deal with. And that’s where civil society plays a bigger role, with volunteers stepping into places where government was before.” For example, after a severe 2008 storm damaged and shut Polihale State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, residents got tired of their local government stalling on a $4 million reconstruction effort to re-open it. So instead, citizens organized themselves into a work crew that graded roads and rebuilt bridges and bathroom facilities. With $100,000 in donated steel and free food supplied by local restaurants, residents completed the park’s restoration in two weeks. “We shouldn’t have to do this, but when it gets to a state level, it just gets so bureaucratic — something that took us eight days would have taken them years,” said Troy Martin, whose company donated the steel. “So we got together, the community, and we got it done.” FROM CRISIS TO REFORM When Moore, the Chicago alderman, helped enact the process successfully in his ward, the economic crisis was at the top of people’s minds. Since then, it’s fair to say that the mood in the country has in some ways changed, namely in voters’ willingness to reexamine how their money is managed on the federal, state and local levels. “It’s a lot harder to say that politicians and public officials know what’s best now, or corporations for that matter,” said Lerner from his perch in Brooklyn. “It’s really the crisis that catalyzed this.” In San Francisco, Lerner said, “we found that people understood participatory budgeting more quickly than any place else we’ve been. The questions weren’t basic ones like ‘Can this work?’ but practical questions like ‘How will this work here?’”
SUMMER OF SMART
Game Designers Become Activists in San Francisco’s Battle Over Taxes ‘Yay Taxes’ shows where the money goes, but some conservatives call it propaganda
n San Francisco, which closed a $380 million budget deficit in July, the question of whether the city can get any more money to fund essential services in the long term is at the top of everyone’s mind. Even game developers are getting into the act — with a particular agenda. A new game, in the style of SimCity, is designed to let users decide where their tax dollars go — and shows them the consequences of their Story: choices. Dreamed up by a Katie Lewin // Public Press team of San Franciscans who are advocating for tax increases, the program portrays taxes as an indispensable component of a financially healthy city. The latest in an ever-expanding genre of games designed to make civic affairs more engaging for the digital-native generation, “Yay Taxes!” is an attempt to “visualize the connection between beneficial tax dollars and public services,” according to its developers. Project lead Heidi Dolamore began to flesh out the idea — which currently exists as a bare-bones website still in development at yaytaxes.org — during the Summer of Smart “hackathon” at the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts in late June. The game was among the top audience picks among more than a dozen multimedia innovations cooked up over one intense coding weekend. The question of revenues raised in the game has direct relevance to San Francisco’s mayoral race and November ballot measures that would increase sales, payroll and business taxes. Another measure would levy a parcel tax on property owners that would raise $35 million
per year and provide funding for the creation of new parks and for the beautification of existing parks. The battle over city revenues has become a key focus of the debate among candidates for mayor. One, current City Attorney Dennis Herrera, backs state legislation to enable cities, counties and school districts to establish a personal income tax to fund public services that have been decimated over years of budget cuts. Another, former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, takes a different tack. She supports payroll tax exemptions, particularly for biotech companies. Candidate and current Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting proposes a tax on medical marijuana, in spite of dispensaries’ predominantly nonprofit status. San Francisco is not alone in dealing with years of budget cuts that have cascaded from the federal to state to local levels. Opponents of tax increases in the state Legislature note that California residents bear the sixth-highest taxes per capita in the nation, according to a 2009 survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Steve Forbes, the eponymous magazine’s editor, summarized the antitax zeitgeist, exemplified by the tea party movement: “Instead of desperately trying to pick peoples’ pockets even more, state pols should be focusing on reforming and repairing their damaged fiscal houses.” In the Bay Area, The Building Movement Project and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services have developed the Talking About Taxes project in an effort to spur staff of nonprofits to get involved in efforts to revamp the state’s tax and budget structure. The project has stated that without an increase in government revenues, there just isn’t enough money to go around for nonprofits, public schools
Calling this pro-tax gamification “propaganda,” he added that he doesn’t see efforts like “Yay Taxes!” having far-reaching impact. “Taxwise, San Francisco is unusual,” he said. “Historically it doesn’t fit the state’s typical mold. For example, it was the only part of the state opposed to Proposition 13,” the 1978 state constitutional amendment that limited property taxes. His assessment of San Francisco? “They sure do like taxes there — it’s like another planet.” Dolamore said her objective was not to sugarcoat the tax process or brainwash users, but to frame taxes as “gratifying and tangible,” the way volunteering is. SOCIAL MEDIA INSPIRATION and other services. ‘POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT’ Game designer Dolamore, who lives in San Francisco and works as a librarian in Pleasant Hill, said the community could benefit from a dose of “positive reinforcement.” Visually, “Yay Taxes!” evokes Farmville or Sim City, with perpetually sunny skies and greenery. The interface invites users to envision how the city’s physical structures would fare under a variety of tax scenarios. The latest build of the game is avatar-free, though Dolamore said that could change with more programming. The point, though, is its substantially political message. Visitors to the site will be greeted with a series of open-ended questions. If they make $25,000 a year, how much should they pay in taxes? How about if they earn $65,000? Or $125,000? Then users are asked to allocate the taxes collected as they see fit. The options available for the players’ tax dollars include public safety, government and administration, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, infrastructure and environment.
The city scenery then transforms according to how they allotted their taxes. The answers determine the look of the cityscape, which is supposedly inspired by San Francisco (but in the current version is pretty generic). The game is simple but the point is clear — services cost money. “You don’t like taxes?” Dolamore quipped. “Maybe you don’t like roads.” Indeed potholes threaten to pepper the program’s streets if left underfunded. “Not enough for education?” she said. “Families will leave and so will businesses without an educated workforce.” The game’s builders say that although they started out with a point of view, they did a substantial amount of research to make it statistically accurate. But not everyone is amused by such playful takes on serious public policy. Kris Vosburgh, a spokesman for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said this isn’t the first time he has seen attempts to make taxes more palatable through experiments like computer games. But, he said, they “very often are simplified in a way that disregards that the taxes we pay are already some of the highest in the nation.”
A whimsical feature is a faux Twitter feed that enables simulated “citizens” to weigh in and illustrate how their tax allocations have directly affected the quality of their lives. Someone who focuses on transportation will be rewarded with tweets like “New bus line straight from my house to office! Huzzah, no more commute!” Community feedback and interaction will not just be imaginary. Dolamore said that in later iterations, “Yay Taxes!” will include interactive message boards to allow users to compare and cooperate within neighborhoods, to track local tax proposals, pose questions and enable users to discuss which government services are top priorities. Dolamore acknowledges that these forums could generate a wide variety of opinions — some of which may not align with her original intent. And that’s fine by her, she said — collaboration, discussion and debate are steps in the right direction. “Our goal was to excite people about all of the amazing things we can accomplish by coming together as a community,” she said. “Paying taxes is a collaborative act — we decide to share responsibility for the shape of the world around us.”
B5 sfpublicpress.org // Fall 2011
SF Public Press
1950s-60s Golden Age For Newspapers? More Like Fool’s Gold
f there was ever a “golden age of newspapers,” it was long before my half century in journalism. And if there was, “golden” referred to advertising revenue when newspapers were the primary means of getting out a commercial or personal message. In terms of quality, I don’t think there ever was a “golden age,” although from our tarnished times of confronting a digital tsunami, looking back may seem brighter than looking forward. But I’ve told many fellow journalists, interns and students that we live in perhaps the most Commentary: exciting time Jay Thorwaldson // Public Press in journalism, with the blossoming of the Internet, of any time since the invention of the printing press or emergence of radio and television. I, like many, have deep concerns about the future of journalism and newspapers, and about the impact an erosion of the profession may have on society and democracy — if that happens. The demise of newspapers has been predicted before, such as when TV news went big time in the 1950s and 1960s. And in no way do I denigrate the thousands of hardworking professionals struggling to maintain quality in the face of cutbacks. Yet there is simply no way a large paper can do the same job of blanket coverage with hundreds fewer reporters and editors. My experience with newspapers began when I was 10 or 11. An older cousin had me fold copies of the San Francisco News in Los Gatos. The thinnish paper was folded into the “tomahawk fold,” wide at one end and pointed at the other. It sailed like a boomerang. Later, I helped fold the San Francisco CallBulletin into its box fold for a Frisbee-type toss. And newspapers failed in those days, both financially and in quality. By 1960, Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, well into its classic battle with the San Francisco Chronicle, swallowed up the News-Call-Bulletin. In high school, I got hooked on journalism (it is addictive, I’ve warned hundreds of students and interns). I became aware of the Chronicle — Examiner warfare, of the mammoth San Jose Mercury morning paper and the San Jose News evening paper, and of the Palo Alto Times — where I worked from 1964 to 1979. I left for personal reasons after it was sold to the Tribune Company and merged with the Redwood City Tribune to become the Peninsula Times-Tribune, which never succeeded in reflecting its communities and was killed in 1993. The Internet didn’t kill those papers — it was competition, or just bad journalism, or good journalism with bad management. There were also failures of nerve. The Mercury boasted a crackerjack investigative team that took on a political scandal in San Mateo County in the early 1970s. But after months of careful digging and confronting county officials with their findings, those involved in the scandal threatened a top executive at the Mercury that they would make public a seriously embarrassing personal situation. The story was killed. Outraged, the investigative team approached the Palo Alto Times’ editors and offered to give them the entire story. After consideration, the editors declined the offer. As a junior reporter, I was not part of the discussions, and perhaps there were good reasons other than being over-cautious. But other staffers and I were seriously disappointed when we heard about the virtually
unprecedented offer from a group of great journalists. The size of a paper’s staff is a major factor cited in discussing a purported decline in quality in coverage. But having a large staff doesn’t assure quality. A bloated staff can get lazy; too many staffers can sap energy and blunt the edge of the best journalists. While at San Jose State College circa 1960, I became friends with an excellent reporter for the Mercury. “This newspaper is turning me into a coffee drinker,” he complained over coffee in the Spartan Cafeteria. He said the large staff produced so many stories that pieces he worked hard on would be held for weeks, and wouldn’t be checked to see if they were still timely. The Mercury-News in that era had a reputation for being what some of us called a “glorified shopping news” because of its policy of running news stories about new advertisers — I actually did such a story in 1962 or 1963 when I worked in the North County Bureau as a vacation-relief writer. It leaves one with a greasy feel. Once the Mercury ran two pages side by side with Sears ads on the bottom half and news stories about Sears managers and promotions across the top, with no “Advertisement” line. This was before Knight newspapers bought into the company in 1974 and promised to make the Mercury the “L.A. Times of the north” — and long before an investor forced the second–largest
The Internet didn’t kill those papers — it was competition, or just bad journalism.
newspaper chain in the nation to implode. The Mercury became part of Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group in 2006 after a lengthy legal dispute, and has since undergone a series of staff cutbacks and merged operations typical of MediaNews. San Jose news stories are now edited in Contra Costa County. My interest in the Chron/Ex war, prior to the merger of their print and business operations in 1965, goes back to the 1950s. The Chronicle was in real trouble in the early 1950s, but then a remarkable team of journalists took over, names such as editors Scott Newhall and columnists Herb Caen (who returned to the Chronicle in 1958 after a stint with the Examiner), travel writer Stan Delaplane, crusty Charles McCabe and humorist Art Hoppe. While the Examiner did a better job of covering traditional stories of government news and community events, the Chron was simply more fun to read. It adopted “freak makeup” for its front page, abandoning the stodgy balanced layout of earlier decades. One secret: During the late 1950s, virtually every issue seemed to have one word somewhere in a front-page headline: SEX. It could be a story about the “sex life of the fruit fly” or some such, but it was usually there. And it sold newspapers. But a golden age? Harry Press, who five decades ago was city editor of the NewsCall-Bulletin, then city editor of the Examiner, also can’t think of any such age of papers or journalism: “I think when they say there was a golden age of newspapers that just means there were a lot of them.” Jay Thorwaldson became a paid journalist in 1961. He lectured in communications at Stanford University for five years, and has coached scores of young journalists and interns.
Gubernatorial candidate Richard Nixon buys a copy of the News-Call Bulletin from 8-year-old Paul Young during a campaign stop in San Francisco on Sept. 27, 1962. Archive of News-Call Bulletin 1915-1965 // The Bancroft Library, University of CaliforniaBerkeley
Q&A WITH JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS
Coming Out as Undocumented
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist struggles with immigration status
ose Antonio Vargas, who was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and a reporter on a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Washington Post, became the subject of headlines himself when he revealed that he has been living in this country illegally. He has since founded the Define American organization, which aims to highlight the current state of the immigration debate. Phil Bronstein, a former Chronicle editor and current editor-at-large for Hearst Newspapers, interviewed Vargas at the Interview: Commonwealth Phil Bronstein Club of California // Commonwealth in San Francisco Club Editing: on July 11. Bonnie Eslinger // Public Press Photo: Ed Ritger // Public Press
Q: How’s it been since you wrote your article for the New York Times? The best part has been hearing from people on Twitter or Facebook or email basically saying, “I had never thought about immigration this way before.” In this country we talk a lot about immigration, we do. But we don’t really talk about immigrants. How much do day laborers, often the public face of immigration, how much are they going to relate to you? I’ve always said this, the only thing I represent is how incredibly dysfunctional this whole system is. A lot of other students and a lot of other people, there are 11 million of us, can tell you that much. From the day laborer to the kid at Stanford Law School who’s trying to figure out how he’s going to get a job after law school, to this guy. I was lucky enough to be mentored by some people in this room to be whoever I am. We come in all shapes and sizes. We speak all different languages. And we are not who you think we are. What would you tell that kid who had a chance at an internship with a fake ID at the Washington Post or the Chronicle or anywhere else and came to you for advice? They’re coming now, and I don’t know what to tell them. The extent of it is, you got to do what you’ve got to do I’m not about to tell people to check boxes that they’re not supposed to check and go to a (different) state to get a driver’s license. I made that choice. And I’m sorry for making that choice. I don’t know what to tell them. What is it that you’re sorry for? I’m sorry we’re in this situation. I’m sorry that a kid in middle school she’s hearing all these people referring to her as illegal. I’m sorry that there are teachers out there who have to make these choices, as my principal and superintendent (who knew Vargas was not a legal citizen) had to do. I’m sorry that I had to lie to the newsrooms. The Washington Post, the Chronicle, was like my journalism school. The Washington Post was my home. So, I’m sorry that I had to lie. But then again, the
question becomes why did I have to do that? Everybody just wants to survive. You want to have food on the table and a roof over your head. I’m sorry we have to make these choices, but what are we supposed to do? You’ve been knocked around a bit by people who say … There is a system, however horribly flawed it is, for people to try and get residency status, to try and get citizenship. There are, I don’t know how many, maybe thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, and they’re pointing at you and going, ”Wait a minute, get in line with us.” Tell me where the line is, I’ll get there tomorrow. But this is the problem. There isn’t a line, there isn’t a solution. All we have is angry rhetoric, a lot of which is based on uninformed overheated debate. The fact, for example, that last year undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in local and state taxes. Why don’t you ever hear about that? We don’t. Could you at any point have tried to get one of your employers to sponsor you? Rich Fisher (former Mountain View high school superintendent) and I went to an immigration lawyer, here in the Financial District. This was in 2002, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was right after 9/11 and the lawyer said you’ve already checked a box you weren’t supposed to check, right, to be at the Chronicle. She basically said you can go home. The only solution is for you to go back to the Philippines, accept a 10-year bar and then try and come back. I swear to God, as we were walking out of the office I’m thinking, OK, maybe that’s the option. But Rich Fisher looked at me and said you’re not going to do that. This man said to me, that I wasn’t going to do that. That I was going to compartmentalize this problem and I was going to keep going. If he had said to me what I needed to do was go back to the Philippines for 10 years, that’s probably what I would have done. If Peter Pearl, at the Washington Post, after I had disclosed my status to him, had told me we have to report you to INS or ICE right now, that’s probably what we would have done. Why did you tell (Washington Post editor) Peter Pearl and not other people? At that point, the only people who knew were my Mountain View High School family. And then, it was one thing to be at the Chronicle, an hour away, surrounded by them and my family, my Filipino family. It was a whole other thing to be in Washington, D.C., working for the Washington Post, and hearing about immigration left and right, and knowing at any moment, the Washington Post newsroom, like any newsroom is a cutthroat place. I’ve always kind of knew that maybe somebody was going to find out. And I was getting paranoid, I actually haven’t told anybody this, before I told Peter Pearl, I was researching how to get to Canada. I found out Canada has friendlier immigration laws so I thought maybe I should go there and
quit the Washington Post. When I didn’t go by that decision, I messaged Peter Pearl saying can we go out for coffee and I sat with him at Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and I just told him. What was your response when you saw quotes from people … saying you were a liar and you deceived them and it was particularly inappropriate to do it in a business where credibility and truth telling is supposed to be highly valued. The whole time, I think in many ways I probably overcompensated. I knew that if I ever got caught in some Jayson Blair-like, Stephen Glasslike plagiarism, or whatever, that not only were they going to nail me, they were going to deport me. So I am vigilant in my articles. I’ve written like 600-700 articles, I’ve had like seven or eight corrections, many of
them spelling related. Which I’m so sorry I misspelled people’s names. But at the end of the day, the work speaks for itself. Why haven’t you been deported? When I decided to do this, I knew that was the first thing I needed to figure out, what kind of legal advice am I going to need. I treated it like a news story; I must have talked to like 25 lawyers. Many of them said this is legal suicide, you shouldn’t be doing this. But I’m ready for kind of anything to happen. The government hasn’t done anything yet.
This event was part of INFORUM a division of The Commonwealth Club by and for people in their 20s and 30s, with a mission to inspire debate around civic issues. For the complete transcript see tinyurl.com/4xgbppk
Activist: Make DREAM a Reality
n July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation allowing undocumented college students to access private financial aid. While the governor said he’s not ready to provide public funding for such students, his signature brings the state closer to passing what’s known as the California DREAM Act. Democratic Assemblyman Mike Davis, from Los Angeles, spoke in support of the DREAM Act: “This is an important issue because students Interview: who have done evHolly Kernan erything that they // ‘Crosscurrents’ are supposed to on KALW News do, who have completed what they have started, academically deserve to have an opportunity for higher education in this country. It is in fact, the American Dream.” While President Barack Obama has spoken out in support of a national DREAM Act, it’s still being debated in Congress. DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Eduction for Alien Minors. Among the things the act would do is offer permanent residency to some immigrant students who arrived illegally. To discuss the DREAM Act and how it fits into the overall push for immigration reform, KALW’s Holly Kernan sat down with Eric Quezada, executive director of Dolores Street Community Services. QUEZADA: Well, the DREAM Act would be a first step towards a comprehensive immigration reform. We’re talking about 11 million people or more who are living in the shadows and living as second-class citizens across the country who are participating in civil life and religious life and educational life and cultural life — all across the country, contributing, and we are forcing them further and further into the shadows. And the DREAM Act would be a first step forward. And, what we would see is that the sky wouldn’t fall. You know, if you passed this, it’s not the end of the world for the United States. KERNAN: But I think that you’ve said that you shouldn’t let “perfect” stand in the way of getting some sort of immigration reform. Why are you packaging the DREAM Act along with the 11 million people who are in this country without legal status? Why not separate it out?
QUEZADA: I think what’s important at this point is that the politicians understand, or are beginning to understand, the importance of the Latino vote and the immigrant vote across the country. I mean, you saw here — unfortunately it took a scandal like the Meg Whitman housekeeper scandal for Jerry Brown to begin to realize that. And now he’s beginning to move in a direction that we want him to move in, which is to be outspoken and more of a champion around immigrant rights instead of being someone who is trying to play it both sides of his mouth. KERNAN: You mentioned the Latino vote, but Latino communities are not monolithic. They run the gamut on this issue as well as others. There’s a lot of people who feel that especially in this economic recession, folks who are here without documents and who are working are maybe taking jobs away from other people who would like that work. What do you say to that argument? QUEZADA: I think that there’s no empirical data that proves that. In fact, immigrants provide jobs. If we were to pass immigration reform, just by the very fact of, according to the process of legalization and bringing those workers into the workforce, we would actually be stimulating the economy in ways that would create jobs. So, I think what we’re talking about is a part of society that is not allowed to fully integrate, to fully participate in the economy, you would see a great deal of benefit. Now, if you keep them in the shadows, keep them working for less and less and less, then that brings down all workers. And I think that’s correct. But we want to lift all workers. We don’t want to just lift some workers and not other workers. There might be some out there that that’s what they want, but certainly we believe that everybody deserves a living wage, and everybody deserves health benefits, and everybody deserves a good education. So, immigrant rights really is about worker rights and human rights.
Hear the original version on KALW News: kalwnews.org
B6 SF Public Press
Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
Natasha Rios, right, chooses a toothpick after having closing her eyes for 10 seconds. The idea of the experiment, led by Mary Varghese from OncoMed, is to show how natural selection works. Monica Jensen // Public Press SCHOOLS
Local Biotech Companies Help Low-Performing Schools Teach Science Visiting scientists try to spur interest in academics
science lab class is about to begin at Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto one Tuesday morning and the universal seventh-grader’s mien says, “I couldn’t care less.” Visiting scientists Paul Sauer and Mary Varghese from the Redwood City-based biotechnology company OncoMed are telling the students about natural selection. After a while, the students start to show some interest by volunteering to take part in a little experiment, closing their eyes for 10 seconds in front of a piece of red paper and then picking one of the colStory: orful toothpicks Siri Markula scattered on the Photos: paper. Students Monica Jensen are the “gob// Public Press blers,” toothpicks represent the gobblers’ food, and the large paper is the environment. The idea is to show how natural selection works, and it soon becomes clear that the toothpicks that blend into their background are most likely to survive. The students pick yellow or green toothpicks instead of the red ones that blend in with the red background. This exercise was not possible at McNair Middle School last year. A year ago, the science laboratory was a boys’ locker room. With the help of local volunteers and a portion of a
When you have a budget crisis, the first things that go will be your science lab, electives and music program.
Ronald McNair Academy Principal Michael Lyons
three-year $4.5 million federal grant, the school has converted the locker room into a lab and increased the number of science classes. The school is also collaborating with Bio-Community.org, a science education network sponsored by Northern California life science association BayBio, and designed to help underperforming and poor schools. The network enables local biotechnology companies to send visiting scientists to the school to give new perspectives on learning and on teaching science. Bay Area biotechnology companies want to help educational institutions from middle schools to community colleges teach science because they worry about finding qualified workers such as research associates and lab technicians. They want students not only to learn science but also to make science a prospective career option. There is good reason to worry about
Californian students’ science skills. The United States ranked 23rd in science and 31st in mathematics out of 64 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 rankings of international secondary education performance. Nationally, California ranks next to last (beating only Mississippi) for both fourth- and eighth-grade science skills according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Obstacle for some students Ravenswood City School District educates students from kindergarten through eighth grade in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park. The majority of the district’s high school age students, (about 250 out of 350) go to Sequoia Union campuses. Only about 35 percent of Sequoia students graduate, whereas the national graduation rate is 68.8 percent. A Ravenswood district principal told Elizabeth Schar, a volunteer at McNair, that science was one of the biggest obstacles. The students would go to high school science lab, feel ashamed for not knowing what to do, stop going to class and drop out by the end of their freshman year. “When we heard that science labs were one of the hurdles, we said ‘We can do something about that,’” Schar said, referring to the local community. She originally came to help the
school district through Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Schar may be the most important person revising McNair science education. She sits down with the teachers, discusses what they want to teach, makes sure the lab has the necessary resources and together with BayBio organizes visits from local biotechnology companies. Her background is in marketing, and for this task, that might be even more useful than experience in science. She says that marketing is changing people’s minds about something. “And that’s what I’m doing here,” she said, laughing. Schar said she believes people are put on Earth to care for each other. “These kids are threatened,” she said. “If we can help them graduate from high school, it makes all the difference in their lives.” Many California schools could use similar practical help from volunteers. Lori Lindburg, director of BayBio, says that with budget cuts, pink slips and standardized tests, teachers feel they are under siege. Though outside help is needed, getting schools on board has been challenging. “The teachers cannot take on one more thing,” Lindburg said. “We really need to go to the schools and make it easy for the teachers.” Boosting under performing schools Bio-Community.org selects schools where more than 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches and where more than 50 per-
State’s Rising Homeless Student Population Faces Challenges in School
his fall, Makayla Vigil will be a sophomore at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico. For most of her school career, she made the honor roll. But last semester, after her family lost its apartment, she earned C’s and D’s. “My grades did suffer a lot from just not caring,” said Vigil, 16. “Before, when I had good grades, I was thinking, ‘I want to impress Story: my family.’ But Joshua Emerson then when you Smith // California become homeless Watch and you don’t really have anything, you just don’t care.” California — hit particularly hard by the combination of a high cost of living, the housing crisis and a lack of jobs — has more homeless students than any other state in the nation. In 2009, nearly a third of all homeless students nationwide lived in California, according to the federal Department of Education. And those students are struggling
academically. Nationwide, about half of homeless students in third through eighth grade are proficient in math and English, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Education report. In high school, about half of homeless students are proficient in English, but math proficiency falls to about 38 percent. For the 2009-10 school year in California, only 39 percent of homeless students in third through eighth grade were proficient or above in math, 35 percent in English, according to California Department of Education data that track schools receiving federal funding for homeless students. In high school, 33 percent of homeless students scored proficient or above in math, 41 percent in English. Vigil is one of thousands of students in California struggling with the challenges of homelessness. During the 2004-05 school year, 148,443 students were identified as homeless, according to the state Education Department. By 2008-09, the number of homeless students nearly doubled, to 288,233.
“The economy is in a struggling state, and we are seeing more and more families losing their homes and becoming homeless,” said Leanne Wheeler, the department’s coordinator of homeless education. Wheeler’s position is mandated by the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which funds homeless services. The act requires states to employ county and district homeless coordinators. It also guarantees transportation to and from school, even if a homeless student moves from his or her school of origin, in an attempt to prevent the academic challenges of changing schools. Since March, Vigil has been living in a homeless shelter for women and children with her mother and older sister. Her sister is 18 and plans to attend community college in the fall. Both sisters have concerns about finding places to study and get their homework done. But Vigil said high school is especially hard because many of her peers tease her for being poor. “People at school are really rude,” she said. “If you don’t have the right
clothes, if you don’t have the right shoes or whatever, you get put down. People just judge you for everything. And then being homeless, they think, ‘Oh, she’s trash.’” Vigil’s mother currently supports the family by herself with a $500 monthly unemployment check. The sisters’ father recently got out of prison and is staying at another homeless shelter nearby. Homeless students are a symptom of the rise in homeless families, said Ellen Bassuk, president of the National Center on Family Homelessness. “One of the reasons for homelessness is the changing demographics of the family,” she said. “The vast majority of homeless families are headed by women alone.” According to the most recent Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, between 2007 and 2009, the number of homeless individuals dropped, but the number of homeless families increased by 30 percent. Less than one-fourth of children from homeless families graduate
cent of the students underperform in science and math. McNair School easily fits these requirements. Only 30 percent of the students were “proficient” or better in science, and 45 percent in mathematics, according to California Standards Tests in 2010. And 85 percent are listed as socioeconomically disadvantaged (for the purpose of receiving free lunch, for example) in the 2009– 2010 school accountability report card, a yearly report required from every public school in California. Without the $4.5 million federal School Improvement Grant, McNair would not have had the money for science labs. “When you have a budget crisis, the first things that go will be your science lab, electives and music program,” said Michael Lyons, the school’s principal. “The focus here in California in most school districts is language arts and math. I think that’s why our schools are low nationwide” on standardized test scores in science. Sheryl Denker, program adviser for Bio-Community.org, said California’s Proposition 13 is partly to blame for the lack of resources. It greatly limits property tax increases, which are a major local source of school funding. Denker has been involved with BioCommunity.org since she joined BayBio in February 2010. After an initial test period, the program launched in September. Six schools and four companies actively participate, but any school or teacher can request help on the Bio-Community.org website. The site is meant to bring together
schools that need help and companies that want to volunteer. The companies can do whatever feels right for them, from taking an intern or visiting schools to reviewing resumes. Widening students’ horizons Back in the lab, the visitors have to make a constant effort to keep everyone’s attention on the subject. Schar admits that seventh-graders are a tough crowd, but she says that they generally value when somebody from the outside comes to teach. “Having that scientist in the room makes all the difference in the world, because the scientist is excited about what he or she is teaching,” she said. “What’s also of value is for these kids to see what these people do for a living.” A visiting scientist recently told the class that it doesn’t even feel like work when he goes in every day and works on things he finds cool. “The room was just silent. The whole idea of going in to do something you really like to do is not something that’s in these students’ reality,” Schar said. Of course, not all this exposure to science converts every student into a science geek. Seventh-grader Natasha Rios thinks science is “OK,” but it’s not in her career plan. “When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer,” she said.
A version of this story appeared on sfpublicpress.org
Defining homelessness: The California Department of Education's Homeless Children & Youth Education website uses the McKinney-Vento Act guidelines to define homeless children and youth: •Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason •May be living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, shelters or awaiting foster care placement •Have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings •Living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings •Migratory children who qualify as homeless because they are children who are living in similar circumstances listed above from high school, Bassuk said. “The high school graduation rates are shockingly low,” she said. “The proficiencies in reading and math of homeless children are extremely poor. The loss of contribution to society is huge.” Vigil said she plans to do much better in school this year. Like her sister, she recognizes that for many homeless students, getting into college can be a way to find stable housing. “I’m going to try to get all my homework done in class so I don’t have to bring it (to the shelter),” Vigil said. “Sometimes, you got to wait for
the bus, so you just try to do what you can, do some at lunch.” But she also feels stifled and is angry about assumptions people make. “(People think) homeless kids are just going to end up going to prison or being bad people,” she said. “People are expecting all the homeless stereotypes.”
California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. A version of this story appeared on californiawatch.org
B7 sfpublicpress.org // Fall 2011
SF Public Press
ECONOMY INTERPERSONAL FINANCE
Local Money Movement
Some residents of Humboldt County use alternative money that circulates locally.
Can new crop of alternative currencies gain traction?
arly this year an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times profiling a man named Josh Freeman, who lives in the tiny town of North Fork, nestled up in the Sierra a couple of hours south of Yosemite. After ticking off a few reasons the guy might be considered eccentric — biodiesel car, dreadlocks, an interest in 10-day meditation retreats and ska music — the author focused on Freeman’s efforts over the past year to create a local currency. Freeman and his partner said they wanted to resuscitate their town’s ailing economy, and figured local currency was the best way to do it. At first blush, the effort seemed exhausting, doomed to failure, and as the article suggested, a bit eccentric. Story: Yet Freeman apparently enjoys quite Casey Mills and Richard Mills a bit of company in his belief that local // California currencies could help rescue communiNorthern ties from a host of ills. Since the recent Magazine financial collapse, organizers throughout the country desperate to salvage their local economies have shown a growing interest in the idea, unveiling quite a few new alternative currencies over the past several years. These efforts have appeal across the political spectrum, and promise a lot of things to a lot of people — freedom from the reach of an overbearing federal government, a brake on the consolidation of wealth, an alternative to a confusing and unstable financial system, and a counterbalance to increasing corporate power and globalization. With its high unemployment rate and crumbling state government, interest has erupted in Northern California. At its core, the concept of a local currency is straightforward. A community agrees on an alternative to the U.S. dollar, one considered legitimate only within that specific community, to pay for goods and services. The residents who organized the project distribute this new form of money, people begin exchanging it, and a local currency is born. Likewise, the core goals behind creating alternative currencies are simple. Proponents hope to ensure money spent within their community stays there, providing an alternative to, say, Walmart, whose profits end up in the pockets of the Arkansas-based owners and shareholders across the globe. If the new currency creates new connections among residents and fosters a distinct local identity, so much the better. A simple concept, yet one that is extremely difficult to execute. While individual currencies rarely make news, efforts that failed before they ever got off the ground litter the United States, as do currencies that represent an insignificant portion of their local economies. Northern California is no exception, and from Humboldt to the Bay Area, Nevada City to North Fork, residents throughout the region have tried but failed to create viable alternative currencies. Yet lately a renewed effort has begun, one that in some locations ap-
pears more organized and far more reliant on technology than those efforts that came before. Here are a few examples of efforts at alternative currencies in California. HUMBOLDT COUNTY Humboldt County’s alternative currency is a striking mélange of vivid colors, featuring art from local painters depicting redwoods, the Pacific, local residents, and even a blue goddess holding the earth while being hugged by the sun. Despite its striking appearance, the local money appears to be quickly fading from the memories of local business owners, and organizers are promoting it with less energy. Multiple calls and emails to Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, the organization responsible for producing the currency, went unreturned. Their online directory of participating businesses — which at one point included more than 60 merchants — hasn’t been updated since April 2009. Their print publication, the Humboldt Exchange Directory, which featured a similar listing of businesses, apparently folded in the fall of 2009. SONOMA COUNTY Sonoma County resident Terry Garrett surveyed local currency efforts across the country, and determined most were missing an essential component — sufficient capital to sustain their work. Organizers often relied on volunteer time and donations, and lacked a sustainable financial model for keeping their program afloat. With this knowledge, Garrett and several partners started the GoLocal Rewards Card, a project underway in Sonoma County. GoLocal does not involve any hard currency. Instead, participants own what looks like a traditional credit card, stamped with their name and a magnetic strip on the back. Participating merchants swipe the card when a customer makes a purchase, and depending on the merchant, up to 10 percent of their purchase is placed back on the card in the form of “GoLocal Bucks.” These Bucks can then be used like cash at any other participating merchant. Merchants hope the discount they provide to their customers will ultimately result in increased local spending and a consequent boost in sales that will more than compensate for lost revenue. The system relies on a tool Garrett calls “forced liquidation,” which in practice means that you can’t save up GoLocal Bucks on your card — whatever Bucks you accumulate are automatically spent on your next purchase. This helps stem the problem often associated with local currencies of money pooling and stagnating with merchants who take in more than they’re able to spend. By ensuring that you spend your GoLocal Bucks, local money quickly circulates back into the community.
As high-tech and well planned as the effort appears, Garrett admits there remains a high level of risk, but he strongly believes it’s worthwhile. “In the long run, we’re shifting market share from chains and out-of-county corporations, and bringing it back here,” he says. “In the last 50 years, chains have claimed 50 to 60 percent of market share — we want to shift it back.” BAY AREA The Bay Area’s Time Bank is based on a model that’s been used throughout the country, in cities as far-flung as Atlanta, Austin, and Pasadena. Conceptually, Time Banks attempt to rebuild informal networks of casually traded goods and services among neighbors — the sort of networks that, in the United States at least, have been gradually replaced by the formal, centralized economy. In practice, however, Time Banks are quite simple — participants trade “credit hours” that correspond to one hour of labor. While some Time Banks issue vouchers corresponding to credit hours, physical currency is rarely part of the program, as these exchanges usually take place online. The Bay Area’s Time Bank is no exception, but what makes it unique is a website that includes features similar to those found on social networking sites like Facebook. On the Time Bank’s site, you might earn 15 credit hours from Andrea by doing the graphic design for a book she’s written, or spend two by having Crystal pet-sit for you. But before deciding to do so, you can look at Crystal’s profile, which details her record of transactions and comments from other users. All hours are traded equally, a key feature of any Time Bank, so an hour of labor is worth one credit whether you’re pulling weeds or providing legal advice. The hour-for-hour exchange means Time Bank transactions are treated by the government as volunteer work, which is tax-exempt. There are currently about 400 Time Bank users, though founder Mira Luna hopes to see 1,000 by the end of the year. OAKLAND Local money efforts almost invariably come from outside the political mainstream, so a currency issued by a local government would initially appear, if not impossible, then at least very unlikely. The prospect has nonetheless gained traction in the form of the “ACORN” — Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors. The ACORN is the brainchild of Wilson Riles Jr., who
Digital Divide for Native Americans Called ‘Travesty’
erhaps nowhere in the United States does the digital divide cut as wide as in Indian Country. More than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative calls it “a travesty.” “You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an enStory: tire dearth of access to Katia Savchuk new media production // PBS MediaShift and dissemination techGraphic: nology,” Meinrath said. Erika Rae Since 2009, New Langdon America Foundation has // Public Press worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools. “It’s a very proactive way to address the digital divide, apart from the hardware,” said Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media. TRIBAL DIGITAL VILLAGE The organizations plan to work with both digital experts and tribal groups that have pioneered technology adoption. An often cited example is the Tribal Digital Village in Southern California, which brought Internet access to libraries, schools and other community buildings across 13 reservations, with grants from Hewlett-Packard and others. Native Public Media has itself led the way in digital storytelling, partnering with WGBH in 2009 on We Shall Remain, a multiplatform project on Native history. But its primary goal is expanding local production. Currently, 10 tribal radio stations stream over the Internet, including KGVA 90.1 FM, serving the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana, and WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin. The Coeur d’Alene tribe in northern Idaho created RezKast, a YouTube-like video and music sharing site. The Navajo Times, Cherokee Phoenix and other Native newspapers publish online. As innovative as these projects are, without access, they will only reach a fraction of the Native population. DIGITAL REVOLUTION IS STIRRING Native Americans will be savvy users of new media when connectivity arrives, Meinrath
Native Americans’ Home Internet Speeds 19.4%
Data from ‘New Media, Technology and Internet Use in Indian Country: Quantitative and Qualitative Analyses’ By Traci L. Morris, Ph.D. and Sascha D. Meinrath
said. A 2009 report he co-authored found that when broadband was available, Native Americans did everything from blog to download podcasts at higher rates than national averages. Although the report noted that it was more exploratory than representative, it concluded: “The digital revolution is stirring in tribal communities.” Still, the revolution is far away for most Native Americans. Broadband infrastructure does not exist in most tribal areas, and where it does, charges are marked up radically, compared with urban centers — by 13,000 percent, in some cases, Meinrath said. Regulatory frameworks have also contributed to under-servicing, he said. Lately, advocacy by Native Public Media and others for government action seems to be paying off. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, unveiled in March 2010, included the goal of increasing broadband access on tribal lands, with involvement from local leaders. The Plan recommended that Congress consider creating a Tribal Broadband Fund. Last August, the FCC established an Office of Native Affairs and Policy to work with the 565 federally recognized tribes on improving access to communications services. One of its first moves, in March 2011, was to invite tribal representatives to a Native Nations Day, where the FCC expanded a “tribal priority” to promote licensing of radio stations serving Native communities. Recent federal action is a leap forward in focusing attention on a long-ignored issue and producing empirical data for reform, Meinrath said. Yet, he noted that progress has largely remained rhetorical. “We’ve run into an FCC and an Obama administration that has not, as a whole, prioritized this issue,” he said. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES When it comes to expanding access, the challenges are steep. Many tribal areas are geographically remote, which can make provision difficult and expensive, according to the National Broadband Plan. Service is unaffordable for many Native Americans, a quarter of whom live at or below the poverty line. At the same time, funding for public media and telecommunications facilities is at risk.
2.9% Don’t Know
0.6% Fiber Optic
But, physical remoteness and high costs are a familiar excuse for failure to serve Indian Country among decision-makers focused on majority constituents, Meinrath said. “This is not a technical problem — this is a remarkable lack of leadership,” he said. The challenge is not only addressing a digital divide, but also a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services, Taylor said. Some tribal populations still lack emergency and postal services, and almost a third lack basic telephone service. The rapid pace of technology risks leaving Native populations even further behind. Despite the challenges, the potential for technology to improve media capacity in tribal areas is tremendous, Taylor said. New media tools will help Native Americans cover issues that are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream media. They can fill extreme gaps in information access and enable cultural preservation. They allow local news and cultural programming to reach tribal members who have left reservations for jobs or military service. LEAPING THE DIVIDE Critically, technology offers a chance to “leap over” the traditional media divide, especially as many tribal newspapers have shut down in the economic downturn, and radio stations, the traditional medium of choice for Native American communities, are not feasible in all areas, Taylor said. Most of all, Taylor’s vision is about enabling Native Americans to have a voice on vital issues, from the housing market to the energy crisis. “In this country, if we leave people out from having access or ownership or control of the technology, then we’re really denying them something even larger — to have participation in a democratic society,” she said. “It’s really about self-determination at the end of the day.” This story originally appeared in PBS MediaShift (pbs.org/mediashift) an online magazine at the intersection of media and technology. Follow Mediashift on Twitter at @PBSMediashift and on Facebook at facebook.com/mediashift
served 12 years as a progressive Oakland city councilmember and ran for mayor three times. The currency would be issued by the city, carried on municipal identification cards, and usable only within Oakland’s city limits. Riles hopes the ACORN will help close the city’s “totally permeable economic membranes,” which he believes represent a chief contributor to Oakland’s fiscal problems. He claims both local businesses and a city government with massive deficits would benefit from a mechanism that would keep money within Oakland’s borders. Last November, the Oakland city council voted to implement municipal identification cards, and the ACORN was developed in response to a problem inherent in such programs. Oakland’s identification card, like San Francisco’s, is primarily designed to address the needs of the city’s many undocumented immigrants, who can’t obtain state-issued identification and therefore can’t access the services one typically needs identification for — opening a bank account, for example. However, if only undocumented immigrants use the card, it effectively becomes a badge reading “I’m undocumented.” There needs to be some incentive, then, for people who aren’t undocumented immigrants to use a city ID. So far, San Francisco has used municipal ID cards to house emergency contacts, double as library cards, and qualify their users for discounts to museums, restaurants, and the like. Riles’s more ambitious proposal would encourage widespread use of the ID by making it the sole means of exchanging a municipal currency. Riles’s plan includes paying a portion of city workers’ wages in ACORNs and making city fees and fines payable in ACORNs, two features he hopes will help spark initial buyin from both residents and local businesses. While the ID card gained approval last year, the ACORN remains a distant prospect. According to the office of councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, who played a lead role in creating Oakland’s ID card, the Council did not direct city staff to explore connecting a local currency to the card. Claudia Burgos, policy analyst for De La Fuente, said “If a local currency were to happen, it would need to come back to the Council as separate legislation for approval.” For now, the ID card continues to move forward. Whether the ACORN will follow remains to be seen.
This an excerpt from a longer version of this story that appeared in California Northern magazine. Online: calnorthern.net
A Statewide Divide California survey: Hispanic households least likely to have broadband connection
he results of the latest survey of California residents’ Internet use and access by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit think tank in San Francisco, found that the percentage of adults using their mobile phones to access the Internet has increased in the past three years. It also found that 7 in 10 Californians have a broadband connection at home and more than 8 in 10 use the internet, but inequalities of Internet use and access among subgroups are still prevalent. The June 2011 report represents the responses of 2,502 adults in the state. The Report: authors of the report Public Policy Institute are Mark Baldassare, Graphic: survey director, presiErika Rae Langdon // Public Press dent and CEO of the institute, and a group of policy associates from the organization: Dean Bonner, Sonja Petek and Jui Shrestha. KEY FINDINGS AND EXCERPTS •More than half of Californians own desktop or laptop computers and access the Internet on them, 40 percent own cell phones and access the Internet on them, while far fewer own and access the Web on game consoles, e-book readers or tablet computers. •There are differences across California’s regional and demographic groups when it comes to the use of technology, resulting in a digital divide. The percentage saying they have a broadband connection at home declines with age and rises sharply with income and education.
•Across racial and ethnic groups, Latinos are the least likely to have broadband connections or to use the Internet. Still, the share of Latinos who have a home broadband connection has nearly doubled since 2007. Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area and Orange/San Diego counties are the most likely to have home broadband connections, followed by those in the Central Valley, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. •For ﬁnding information about job opportunities or gaining new career skills, 82 percent of Californians said non-broadband users were at a major or minor disadvantage. •In an April 2010 Pew survey, adults nationwide were much less likely to hold this view. Across racial and ethnic groups, blacks and Latinos were more likely to say non-broadband users were at a major disadvantage, followed by Asians and whites. Younger Californians were far more likely than older Californians to hold this view. •Seventy percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans held this view when it came to job opportunities. When it came to getting health information, Californians were again far more likely than adults nationwide to say non-broadband users were at a disadvantage. Latinos and blacks were more likely than Asians and whites to say there was a major disadvantage. Democrats were more likely than independents and Republicans to say there was a major disadvantage when it came to getting health information online. The Public Policy Institute of California's mission is to inform and improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major social, economic, and political issues. The other ﬁndings in the survey can be found at ppic.org.
CALIFORNIA HOMES WITH INTERNET CONNECTIONS Latino: 60% Black: 77% Asian: 81% White: 85% Source: Public Policy Institute of California
B8 SF Public Press
Fall 2011 // sfpublicpress.org
NEIGHBORHOOD A Poem // Michael Zelenko
In the first issue of the San Francisco Public Press, we launched “Poetry Chains,” featuring the works of Bay Area poets who select others to contribute to subsequent issues. The chain so far: Jesse Nathan, Alisa Heinzman and Gabrielle Myers.
City of Hills At seventeen Chelsea called to be picked up in Flagstaff, a drive I hardly remember now, save for the snaking semis and the desert, panting its warm dog breath. We strayed to see the Grand Canyon, where donkeys bray terribly and shuttle tourists and their adolescents to the dry inferno of the canyon floor. I’d never seen a wound so wide and unhealed and I felt unwell. Carved and gutted, its walls are two hands almost touching in prayer, cupping a sad geologic memory. ~~~ And then I lived on 6th Street, a thoroughfare into which the city had gingerly, yet deliberately, like an amputation, funneled its destitute. Three blocks lined with faces fractured, scattered, and reassembled clumsily, cut a deep and embarrassing trench through the city. It was here I watched a cat watching me, when I heard the falling of a book, which was the crack of a gun and leaned out my window to see a boy run and stumble and fall and he is on his back now and is he alive? We can’t tell. From two stories up, the spot on his shirt is like the cat, it’s watching back. His friends yell big and squint small, making the face you make when you’ve dropped something precious into a dark storm drain on a perfectly sunny day.
Global Warming Urban Landscapes Too Real for U.S. Officials Artist Anthony Holdsworth, who painted a series of urban landscapes that depicted a future San Francisco flooded by rising seas, was invited to show his work last year inside the new ”green” San Photos: Francisco Federal Building at Justin Beck Seventh and Mission streets. // KPFA But before the opening reception, the show was ordered to be taken down. He said the image in one of his paintings, of oil burning on a flooded sidewalk in front of the building was too similar to footage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for federal authorities to bear. Reporter Eric Klein profiled the painter in a radio documentary. In ”The Censored Climate Change Streetscapes of Anthony Holdworth,” first aired on KPFA’s ”Radio Chronicles,” Klein also visited his West Oakland studios. Hear the KPFA Radio report at sfpr.es/Holdsworth
~~~ The French love the city’s hills when they visit, the way they cap the fog on cold days, the way they teem with dogs like ants on warm ones. Bernal and Diamond Heights, Nob Hill and Buena Vista, let’s scrap our cell phones and invite each other to picnics with pillowy smoke signals instead. It’s gorgeous here! We are so proud when they notice our city of hills, as if there were no canyons between them.
Scouring the Globe for ‘Supergays’
S.F. Wholesale Produce Market Expanding
Couple looking to find role models in the arts, business and nonprofit work
Bayview residents fear they could lose access to key avenue
ennifer Chang and Lisa Dazols have left their home in the Sunset District to embark on a yearlong journey around the globe that will take them to three continents and two subcontinents, and through at least 17 countries and 24 cities, to find what they call “supergays.” “Anyone who is gay and is out is takStory and ing a stand, whether or not they want photo: Thomas K. to be, is an activist, in a way, because Pendergast they’re doing something pretty radi// The Sunset cal,” said Dazols. “But, we would deBeacon fine supergay as someone who is doing something pretty extraordinary for the community, whether it be in the arts, in business and community organizing or nonprofit work.” The couple will be traveling through Australia, Asia, India, Africa and South America, blogging on their website Out and Around about their adventures and the supergays they meet. Chang expects their experiences will change that definition to some extent. “We realize that as we go abroad, our definition of what a supergay might look like will change and be very different and what being ‘out’ means in these countries can be very different than what it means in, say, San Francisco,” Chang said. “So, I think our understanding and our definition of that will evolve as we travel.” Dazols explained that they're seeking role models for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “We know that we have some role models, but we still lack everyday people that our youth can look up to,” she said. “We also want to help decrease homophobia, so by telling people’s stories, by telling our own stories, we hope to familiarize people with everyday gay life. And we’d also like to raise issues about things that are going on in the developing world that we're not too familiar with here in the U.S.” Chang said they plan to visit developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere. “These are places that, being gay, you can face a lot of potential consequences, and so we wanted to highlight issues in those countries,” she said. Dazols was a social worker in HIV counseling for the past decade and last worked at San Francisco General Hospital. Chang has taken a leave of absence from her job at eBay to go on the expedition. “I think that we wanted to contribute in a bigger way,” said Dazols. “I know in my job I was doing a lot of Band-Aid work in terms of counseling and helping, and I wanted to do something where a message of hope could get out on a bigger scale. That’s why I wanted to step out and try something new like this.” Chang agrees.
Lisa Dazols and Jennifer Chang are vagabonds on a mission. “There’s a lot of depressing stories out there, especially with regard to the LGBT community, between suicides and bullying and all that,” Chang said. “We really want to focus on the positive stuff, you know, people who are living thriving and happy lives, people who are really pushing for change.” They both acknowledge that they are hitting the road at a time when much seems to be changing in the LGBT community throughout the world, though they did not intentionally time their trip for that reason. It just worked out that way. “In terms of timing, it just seems like every day, whether it’s New York passing same-sex marriage or the United Nations standing for human rights in terms of protecting gays and lesbians abroad, we feel like there’s so much to write about, so much to research and look into that we’re very fortunate,” Dazols said. “We’re very hopeful that in a short time we’ll be able to get married in California, and life will be very different for our kids.” Travel expenses are coming out of the couple’s savings, but they plan to produce video interviews along the way for a short documentary film, which is about half funded. “We want to use this documentary after we come back, to speak about global gay issues,” said Chang. A version of this story appeared in The Sunset Beacon, which is a member of the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association.
renovated and enlarged San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market could create job opportunities for Southside residents. It also could increase congestion in an already difficult-to-traverse area, and a plan to close Jerrold Avenue to through-traffic angers and worries some Bayview residents. The Produce Market — one of Northern California’s largest fruit and vegetable terminuses — currently includes five buildings between Rankin and Toland streets. Roughly 650 people work for the 30 vendors operating from the space, perhaps 250 of whom live in the city, mostly in the Mission District, the Bayview and Visitacion Valley. Story by: The proposal to expand the Nicole Spiridakis market was submitted by Potrero // The Potrero View Hill resident and architect Brian Liles at a meeting of the Southeast Community Facility Commission. According to Liles, the first renovation phase most likely will include the addition of a parcel at 901 Rankin St. for warehouse and office space. In the proposal submitted to the city as part of its environmental process, all of the existing buildings on the site would be demolished and replaced with four state-of-theart warehouses on the main site as well as on the Rankin Street facilities. Under an alternative plan, some of the existing warehouses would be renovated rather than demolished. Building improvements would be completed with an eye toward incorporating renewable energy sources — such as solar heating or wind energy — and may include green, or living, roofs. If the city approves the project, the first construction phase would begin in 2012, with renovations completed over a 15-year period. The market’s general manager, Michael Janis, hopes that market redevelopment will result in jobs for locals, increased access to healthy foods and an impetus to attract more food-related business to the area. “Our role is to try to increase the amount of access to fresh and healthy foods here in the Bayview,” Janis said. Currently, public traffic on Jerrold Avenue circulates around a median that houses market buildings and parking spaces. Under the proposal, Jerrold Avenue would be closed, and vehicles would be re-routed to Innes and Kirkwood avenues as a way to improve site access and safety. Bayview residents have expressed concerns about the effects closing Jerrold Avenue would have on community accessibility and businesses there. Kristine Enea, a lawyer, filmmaker and District 10 supervisor candidate in 2010, supports the market renovations, but worries that multi-year construction and street changes would hurt the area.
She said her concern mainly is with the city’s “repeated lack of comprehensive planning, especially with respect to car traffic.” “I support the Produce Market expansion,” she said. “I would love to see more citywide recognition of what a great food resource we have right here in District 10, and I support all efforts to create stronger ties between this amazing food resource and the food desert in the surrounding community.” “My concern is the lack of public process about the expansion, particularly around closing Jerrold Avenue to through traffic. Closing Jerrold would affect all the neighboring residents and businesses as well as the larger community. One lane each direction was already co-opted without public input, and I was unable to get information on why and how that decision was made even after the fact,” she said. She pointed to the potential for a large increase in both population and traffic once the 17,000 new condominiums approved by the city in the Bayview have been completed, which could prompt more than 150,000 more daily car trips.
They wouldn’t close a major street
anywhere but Bayview. Matt Czajkowski, Bayview resident
According to Matt Czajkowski, a Bayview resident of 14 years who lives at the corner of Jerrold Avenue and Mendell Street, the proposed re-routing would direct traffic behind the market where only warehouses exist, an undesirable location to wait for a bus or start a business. “What about the impact on the businesses on Oakdale, Evans and even Jerrold?” Czajkowski said. “The planning department proposed taking the land without actually looking at the area. It needs to be more sensitive to residents and businesses. They wouldn’t close a major street in anywhere but the Bayview.” A version of this story appeared in The Portrero View , which is a member of the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspaper Association.