PUBLIC PRESS ISSuE 10
THink inTimaTe okcupid noTeS are privaTe? random STrangerS recruiTed To Snoop
Popular dating site deputizes users to ‘moderate’ flagged conversations, alarming legal experts PAGE B8
STREETSCAPE As sAn FrAncisco moves to mAndAte Fixes For eArthquAke-vulnerAble buildings, the Fight is About who gets stuck with the tAb. PAGE B1
reAders speAk out on mAndAtory retroFitting. PAGE B1
nice minimum wage ... if you can geT iT
‘Rampant’ noncompliance with local law means thousands of workers don’t get the mandated $10.55 hourly pay PAGE A3
^bike lAnes Are being Added throughout the city, but the experience oF riding on JFk boulevArd in golden gAte pArk shows thAt the process is FAr From perFect. PAGE B2 >privAte FinAncing oF doyle drive’s replAcement is A sign oF A coming shiFt in public policy on new inFrAstructure. PAGE B2
CIVICS the system For trAcking domestic violence cAses still hAs holes, but police sAy it is improving. PAGE B3 <rowdy behAvior by those seeking spAce in city shelters cAn be cAuse For eJection. PAGE B3 stAte Adult educAtion cuts mAy tAke A toll on A progrAm For undocumented workers. PAGE B3 >community responds to problem oF gun violence in mission district. PAGE B4
LABOR A speciAl reporting proJect by the sAn FrAncisco public press And new AmericA mediA PAGES A3-A8
homelessness is on the rise Among senior women in the city, And their options For AssistAnce Are Few. PAGE B4
immigranTS STruggLe To geT fuLL pay How many make Newcomers from Latin America susceptible to wage theft LoweST wage? PAGE A5
food Service SecTor among worST vioLaTorS
Nearly 1 in 5 workers paid below minimum wage
Trying To Live in S.f. on bare-boneS pay ^liFe is sweet For honeybees in sAn FrAncisco, even As they Are being threAtened elsewhere. PAGE B5 >mountAin lAke in the presidio is showing signs oF liFe As pollutAnts Are removed And nAtive FlorA And FAunA restored. PAGE B5
Services help fill in the gaps for those trying to make it PAGE A6
virTuaL work webSiTe meT wiTH reaL LawSuiT CrowdFlower worker claims to earn $1 to $2 an hour
brief HiSTory of domeSTic workerS in america
A new plAn For oceAn beAch includes A ‘mAnAged retreAt’ strAtegy For coping with rising seAs PAGE B6 <Five things you need to know About cAliForniA’s new cApAnd-trAde progrAm. plus: where will cArbon sAvings come From? PAGE B6
PUBLIC MEDIA PARTNERS IN THIS ISSUE reAd more on PAGE A2
They have struggled against sexism, exclusionary laws PAGE A8
climAte chAnge will AFFect more thAn Just the physicAl world. it will Also exAct A humAn cost. PAGE B6 s.F. environment chieF melAnie nutter: no need to pAnic About seA level rise, but something needs to be done. PAGE B7
Precise figures are hard to come by since no one keeps track PAGE A6
reSearcHerS Say minimum wage doeS noT HurT job growTH
Worker retention improves as pay increases PAGE A7
how to know iF you’re A victim (And whAt you cAn do). PAGE A3
<you’re much more likely to see A mAinstreAm mediA report on the kArdAshiAns thAn on Any environmentAl issue. PAGE B7
ExTRA >the quArterly public press crossword. PAGE B8
s F p p
A2 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | CIVICS | STREETSCAPE | GREEN | EARTHQUAKE | JUSTICE | ECONOMY || San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013
froM the editors
Against the Grain T he San Francisco Public Press is one of more than a hundred nonprofit startups trying to fill in the gaps in local reporting, as legacy news organizations continue to decline. Issue No. 10 of the Public Press is a milestone. Naysayers assumed that this quirky nonprofit startup that doesn’t take ads, and distributes a physical product — “an actual newspaper?” — would give up quickly or fade out, which has happened to at least a dozen other promising projects. But we’re still here. And there’s more need than ever to devise new and vital models to do accountability journalism. As the last six months have shown, we can’t take anything for granted about the health of the local news ecosystem. To everyone’s surprise, the company that
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS San Francisco’s most earthquake-vulnerable buildings. A list of thousands of potentially at-risk addresses that we published in the paper went viral online. (See: sfpublicpress. org/softstorylist.) This led to a cascade of media attention — interviews on KQED and KALW, and summaries published by the Huffington Post, SFist, KRON 4 and the Center for Investigative Reporting. The city even used our research in a public presentation about proposed legislation. Our reporting lead coverage, engaged the community and got public officials to address an issue with life-and-death implications. Stay tuned for more team-reported projects. And let us know what you think. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
acquired the San Francisco Examiner also gobbled up the city’s alternative weekly newspapers, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly, a move certain to lead to fewer independent points of view and a more anemic devotion to in-depth journalism. Which is where our new focus comes in. This year you’ll see a much greater emphasis on our quarterly team reports. We now are working on projects far in advance and devoting more energy to follow up reporting, so readers can find out how stories unfold over time, and less energy to topics not related to past or upcoming projects. Our strategic shift has seen some early success. The cover story in the Winter 20122013 edition challenged city officials to account for decades of inaction in retrofitting
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Half of claims for back pay under the city minimum wage are from food-service workers. Mauricio Lozano’s last restaurant job netted $8 an hour, but his new employer pays the legal minimum. (See story, page A5.)
Tearsa Joy Hammock // Public Press
San Francisco’s Minimum Wage, Highest in the Nation, Eludes Thousands as Enforcement Efforts Face Obstacles 10-year-old progressive reform unfinished as businesses routinely flout $10.55 mandate, labor activists say
WORKERS Win bACK WAgES
About This Reporting Project
Data from the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement show that 3,079 workers have won back wages from employers totaling $6.4 million under local minimum wage laws. Claims from workers who have not yet received settlements are not counted. Workers are counted in the year in which a claim was first filed.
The San Francisco Public Press assessed the city’s minimum wage enforcement through interviews with civic leaders and databases tracking claims from workers. Contributors: Aaron Tilley, Michael Stoll, Josh Wilson, Tearsa Joy Hammock, Alex Kekauoha, Kristine A. Wong, Jason Winshell. Graphics: Tom Guffey. Partner reporting: Jonah Harris of New America Media. Read more: sfpublicpress.org/minimumwage
600 WORKERS AFFECTED
hile San Francisco’s minimum wage is the highest in the nation, thousands of workers still earn below the current mandate of $10.55 an hour, say economists, anti-poverty activists and public officials. It has been 10 years since voters passed the groundbreaking labor reform, and the city has built a first-of-itskind inspection team that has recovered back wages for more than 3,000 workers. But these efforts appear to have addressed only a fraction of the Story: problem. Aaron Tilley No local agency tracks minimumand Michael Stoll wage jobs, so enforcement has relied // Public Press on complaints from workers, who risk retaliation from employers by coming forward. But a recent study of other large cities suggest that San Francisco could have as many as 32,000 workers paid below the minimum. The 2008 Ford Foundation worker survey in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles found a 26 percent violation rate in a labor pool representing 15 percent of those cities’ populations. Local studies bolster those estimates. The Chinese Progressive Association estimated in 2006 that 9,000 Chinese restaurant and garment workers in San Francisco were cheated out of the city’s base rate of pay. As Congress begins to debate the national minimum wage this year, with President Obama’s proposal to increase it to $9 an hour taking center stage, San Francisco’s unfinished progressive labor reform could provide lessons for initiatives elsewhere to lift low-wage workers out of poverty. The city’s experience suggests that they are likely to succeed only if existing laws are enforced, sending a message to both employers and workers that the minimum wage is not optional. San Francisco labor inspectors say budget constraints limit them to investigating businesses only when their workers file claims. After years of partnering with community groups with deep roots in ethnic communities where the abuse is most widespread, the city is relying on the groups to produce educational workshops and provide the city with tips on violations, offering in exchange logistical support and funding. “The majority of all minimum-wage violation cases that we handle involve the underground economy — workers who are paid in cash, employers who are not accurately tracking hours worked,” said Donna Levitt, director of the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which in addition to the minimum wage enforces an array of other local labor rules. State and federal labor agencies face similar challenges, labor experts say. The profusion of small businesses paying low wages in the modern economy makes it impractical to initiate probes into industries where wage theft is widespread. “Even though a lot of community groups would like to see us do more targeted outreach and not be complaint driven, it would take some work to figure out how to do that effectively and efficiently,” Levitt said. “But I’d love to do that, to see how we’d do.” Businesses across the city continue to skirt the law. As in other major cities across the country, they tend to concentrate in ethnic enclaves. In Chinatown alone, according to a 2010 survey by the Chinese Progressive Association, about half of the 433 surveyed restaurant workers received less than San Francisco’s legally mandated minimum wage, then $9.79 an hour. A U.C. Berkeley political science graduate student, Els de Graauw, interviewed worker advocates in 2008. They told her some garment workers had such poor understanding of the law and “low expectations” of their earning potential that they sometimes settled for as little as
But some workers say they fear that if they come forward they will be cast into long-term unemployment. Others fear deportation if federal agents are alerted to their immigration status. For Levitt, of the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, building trust with workers is key. In each case, she said, a claimant “comes forward and tells us confidentially what the payment scheme is — from which we can build an investigation, and talk to other workers with some insider information about what’s going on, and let them know that they’re not the only ones.”
WhO gETS MiniMuM WAgE?
Filing A WAgE ClAiM:
The Minimum Wage Ordinance requires San Francisco employers to pay an hourly rate of at least $10.55 to employees who work at least two hours per week. Tips do not count toward minimum wage pay.
If a worker believes that an employer is violating the Minimum Wage Ordinance, he or she can file a wage claim with the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. As a result of employees filing wage claims, employers may be forced to re-hire an employee or pay back wages. Workers can find the claim file at http://sfpr.es/FileWageClaim, or pick one up at the Labor Standards office at City Hall. According to city policy, the identity of a claimant must remain confidential to the employer, and if an undocumented worker files a wage claim form, the labor standards office will not ask about his or her immigration status. For more information, call the Labor Standards Enforcement Office at (415) 554-6292, or email MWO@sfgov.org.
The Minimum Wage Ordinance does not cover the following people: • Independent contractors, learners and certain disabled workers • Workers who are party to a collective bargaining agreement • The employer’s parents, spouses and children Commissions do count toward minimum wage, but if employees make less money with hourly-plus-commission than if they received minimum wage, employers must pay the difference.
Aaron Tilley, Jason Winshell and Tom Guffey // Public Press
$2 an hour. Organizers in other communities report similar degrees of exploitation. The Filipino Community Center surveyed 50 caregivers for the elderly and disabled, finding that they made an average hourly rate of $5.33. The group recently started social gatherings twice a month to persuade underpaid workers to come forward. The work, organizers say, requires constant vigilance. “When we first passed the minimum wage law,” said Shaw San Liu, a labor advocate with the Chinese Progressive Association, “it became apparent it’s meaningless if it can’t be enforced.” Employers offer an array of excuses for why they pay below the minimum wage. Common ploys include deducting tips from a server’s paycheck (a practice banned
throughout California), failing to pay overtime and making illegal deductions from salary for expenses like living quarters. Many are paid in cash, making violation claims hard to verify. Forty-eight percent of complaints come from workers in the food-service sector — cooks, dishwashers, baristas and waiters. Construction workers, hotel employees, security guards, home health aides and other service employees are also frequently illegally paid below the city’s base wage, which started in 2003 at $8.50 and is adjusted every year for inflation. Now, San Francisco’s minimum is more than $2 higher than California’s. The city also provides for fewer exceptions.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS Three community groups, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Filipino Community Center and La Raza Centro Legal, get funding from the city for primary education and outreach in ethnic minority communities, extending the labor standards office’s ability to find aggrieved workers. The city doubled its investment in the groups since 2007, to $380,000 this year. The vast majority of workers who show up to the Filipino Community Center’s outreach meetings are caretakers in group homes for disabled and elderly people. They are no strangers to being ripped off. They may not know the details of the minimum wage laws, said organizer Mario De Mira, “but many can just tell when they’re being broken. There’s a certain level of exploitation that happens to a lot of workers when they realize this isn’t right. It’s almost a moral thing.” Earning the trust of workers is slow and painstaking work. Every other Wednesday evening, 15 to 20 laborers gather at the center’s offices in the largely working-class Excelsior neighborhood. Walls are lined with colorful motivational posters demanding worker justice. Traditional Filipino food is served. De Mira tries to determine which laws are being broken, and whether local labor officials should be tipped off. Lydia Panitig worked for almost 30 years as a teacher in the Philippines. But when she moved to San Francisco in 2006, no school district would accept her professional experience. So she took a job that paid her not just below the San Francisco minimum wage, $8.82 at the time, but also well below the federal rate of $5.15. She received $25 a day as a cleaner and worked from midnight to 8 a.m. She said she never thought of going to labor officials to complain. Eventually she found a better job. Now, at age 66, she is working for legal wages doing home care for 70 to 80 hours a month. Still, Panitig and her husband barely cover the rent on their $900-a-month San Francisco apartment, plus other expenses. Lacking U.S. teaching credentials, she story continued on following page
A4 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | EXTRA || San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013
ChAngES in MiniMuM WAgE: 1980 TO PRESEnT The bold colored lines show minimum wages as they have increased since 1980. The corresponding dotted lines show what those wages are in 2013 dollars. Data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the California Department of Industrial Relations and the City of San Francisco. $12.00
San Francisco minimum wage S.F. (INFLATION ADJUSTED)
Inflation adjusted California minimum wage Inflation adjusted Federal minimum wage
2005 San Francisco raised to $8.50.
U. S. M
.W AG E
E AG W .
$6.00 When Lydia Panitig came from the Philippines, she said, her teaching credentials did not transfer, so her only option was a $25-a-day cleaning job. Aaron Tilley // Public Press
San Francisco Minimum Wage Eludes Thousands of Workers story continued from preceding page
said she is stuck at the bottom of the wage scale. “It’s the only choice I have,” Panitig said. Even with more education about the minimum wage law, many workers are just grateful to have a job in the current labor market. And although undocumented immigrants qualify for the $10.55 local wage, they fear deportation if they report abuses, making identifying violations a challenge. “San Francisco has taken great strides to pass strong laws, but wage theft is still rampant,” said Charlotte Noss, a project attorney at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, and co-chair of the city’s Wage Theft Task Force. “You still walk down a street in Chinatown and half of the workers you pass have experienced wage theft in the past week.” PERENNIAL REFORMS Former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez said the minimum wage law was cooked up over burritos late one night at Taqueria Cancún at 19th and Mission streets in 2001, when he and a few overworked legislative aides were debating ways to extend their pro-labor agenda to thousands of San Francisco’s low-wage workers. “We started wondering what the guys behind the counter were being paid,” Gonzalez said. “The following day we started researching the creation of a local minimum wage and whether it was preempted by state law.” The reformers answered that question resoundingly in 2003, when they teamed up with anti-poverty activists and the local Green Party to persuade 60 percent of voters to “vote yourself a raise.” The Minimum Wage Ordinance briefly elevated Gonzalez to the status of standard bearer for San Francisco’s political left wing, culminating in a close but unsuccessful run for mayor against Gavin Newsom. After leaving the Board of Supervisors, he briefly carved out a new role for himself in the ecosystem
forcing them. Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, N.M., rely on agencies whose focus is not labor regulation. “Over the years, part of this work has been about learning together how to enforce labor laws,” said Liu of the Chinese Progressive Association. “There’s no one else to look to about how to run a city labor enforcement agency, because there are no others out there.” San Francisco’s labor standards office has come a long way since its founding in 2001, when it was given the task of enforcing the city’s “prevailing wage,” an elevated pay rate for local government contractors. Levitt has been there since the beginning. Formerly a carpenter and a union representative, she joined the agency as a prevailing-wage investigator and became director two years later. The backers of the original Minimum Wage Ordinance have long pressed for more aggressive enforcement, and many have been frustrated by the city’s limited abilities to punish violators. Twice, in 2006 and 2011, they have enlisted politicians to strengthen the law and give the enforcement efforts more money and investigative authority. The Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance, which the Board of Supervisors passed in 2011, amended the original law to:
of worker protections through his private practice as a lawyer, taking on class-action lawsuits against big-time minimum wage violators. In 2007, he settled a lawsuit over wages with Marriott Hotel for $1.35 million and contributed back some of the proceeds to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement for pursuing minimum wage claims. (Gonzalez now works for the Public Defender’s Office.) While few cities have their own minimum wage laws, even fewer have local agencies devoted to en-
2008-10 Federal Min. Wage raised to $7.25.
CA MIN. WAGE $4.00
U.S. MIN. WAGE
ADJuSTing FOR inFlATiOn Inflation values are based on the average national Consumer Price Index for the year. Calculated annually since 1913, the index measures changes in the price of goods and services purchased by urban households. Index data, which is released monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, helps direct public policy and cost-of-living wage adjustments. California and San Francisco are assigned different values based on local and regional price changes.
1981 Federal Min. Wage raised to $3.35.
standards office to $3 million.
• Double punitive fines to $1,000 per
worker for businesses that retaliate against employees filing claims. • Authorize inspectors to access payroll records, interview workers and inspect work sites during business hours. • Double the funding for collaboration with community organizations. While it is too soon to tell whether these changes will appreciably increase collection of back wages from businesses, 2013 has been a good year so far. For the past three years, recovered wages have hovered between $707,000 and $831,000. But in just the first two months of this year, the city won back $813,000.
Activists’ calls for more intensive minimum wage enforcement have their skeptics. Business lobbying groups, such as the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, have consistently opposed the minimum wage and enforcement initiatives. Both organizations came out against the 2003 minimum wage ballot initiative, describing it as a job killer. The restaurant association called it deceptive and labeled it a “lose-lose” plan. Rob Black, the restaurant association’s executive director, is a well-connected political activist; his organization gave $10,000 last year to a political action committee controlled by Mayor Ed Lee. (For his own part, the mayor has come out publicly in support of aggressive minimum wage law enforcement and signed the 2011 reform.) Black said in an interview that restaurants and other small-business owners were burdened by myriad city, state and federal labor laws, and that there was no need to ramp up enforcement.
Alex Kekauoha and Tom Guffey // Public Press
• Increase the budget of the labor
“When we first passed the minimum wage law, it became apparent it’s meaningless if it can’t be enforced.”
1988 California raised to $4.25.
Josué Argüelles, an organizer with Young Workers United, helped Juana Hernandez recover unpaid wages from a former employer. He spoke at a news conference on Feb. 21 at which the San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement announced a settlement with Dick Lee Pastry Company in Chinatown for $525,000 in back wages. Kristine A. Wong // Public Press “We’re so far ahead of enforcement of everybody else — it seems strange that’s where you’d want to focus your energy,” Black said, referring to the San Francisco agency dedicated to labor law enforcement. “Why not be in Oakland or L.A., where city government isn’t staffed or engaged in enforcement?” When Herrera, the city attorney, ran for mayor against Lee in 2011, he proposed doubling the number of minimum-wage enforcement agents, citing “a significant backlog of wage violation complaints.” Herrera said in a recent interview that the city has “received real benefit for the money that it has invested” in minimum wage enforcement. Levitt said a larger staff and more inspectors would be “wonderful,” but given the number of laws her office has to enforce, pushing more agents out into the field would not be an efficient use of resources. The office also oversees several labor laws other cities lack, including overtime pay, paid sick leave, universal health care and the prevailing wage. The equivalent of 6.5 full-time employees are focused on minimum wage enforcement, so Levitt said the best use of their time is to concentrate on processing complaints. With a total staff of 17, she said, “I count my blessings. Of course, it doesn’t allow us to do proactive, targeted enforcement. But since we’ve never
done that, I don’t know how valuable it would be.” With improved education for employers, Levitt said, there is more awareness of the wage law, which reduces the number of offending businesses. “We could certainly get more employers to track hours properly, to post minimum wage notices,” she said. “But to build cases that would win back wages is much more challenging, and those investigations take time and involve building trusting relationships with workers.” WINNING BACK WAGES In total, according to data from the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the city has recovered back wages in minimum wage cases for 3,079 workers, totaling $6.4 million, and has assessed $383,000 in additional fines on businesses. Because the office is complaintdriven, a single case can affect just one worker, or as many as 170. The culprits included cozy neighborhood coffee shops, chic downtown hotels and restaurants, construction companies and security services. Some high-profile companies have been assessed back wages. Michael Minna, the celebrity restaurateur’s namesake San Francisco eatery, was found to owe almost $40,000 to 35 workers. Other cases have ended in
tiny settlements, as when Starbucks paid $115 — enough to buy one grande cappuccino a day for a month — to one worker. But this February, the labor standards office scored one if its biggest victories. After a protracted battle with a bakery in Chinatown, it announced jointly with the City Attorney’s Office that it had won a record $525,000 in back wages and penalties from Dick Lee Pastry. The violations first surfaced in 2009, when organizers at the Chinese Progressive Association assembled a case against the business. The Office of Labor Standards Enforcement was able to get seven workers to come forward. Workers were on the job for long hours, six days a week and being paid less than $4 an hour. Two workers, labor officials said, were even made to work in the employer’s home as maids after toiling long days at the restaurant. “For the majority of workers it was their first job in the U.S.,” Levitt said. “They got it because they saw a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window.” Herrera filed a lawsuit to ensure that the owners could not shut down the establishment to avoid paying the back wages. For the workers, the settlement with Dick Lee Pastry was a long time coming. In many other cases, workers must delay their gratification. While half of all the labor office’s cases that
were ultimately resolved in favor of workers were settled within three months, about 10 percent of cases have dragged on for more than two years. With better funding, Levitt said, the office could improve investigation speed by updating its casemanagement database. “Now that the city’s budget looks better, I’ll be more comfortable asking for it,” she said. Another problem that activists routinely cite: No local agency routinely tracks the number of workers who make (or are legally entitled to) the minimum wage. Labor advocates say that in order to set good policy, the city needs more accurate and upto-date data on the size of the target population. (See story, page A6.) The best estimates come from academic and government sources. The San Francisco Controller’s Office relied on 2011 estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in calculating that about 59,700 workers earned the San Francisco minimum wage of $9.92 or less in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. San Francisco makes up 45 percent of the population of those three counties. However, the federal data do not say how those minimumwage workers are distributed among them. Michael Reich, a researcher at the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that as many as 55,000 people now “qualify” for the city’s wage of $10.55 — meaning they earn either the minimum or below. Activists and local officials are still working on new reforms. Recently they reconvened in City Hall to devise additional strategies to combat “wage theft,” particularly affecting minimum-wage workers. That effort, under the banner of the Wage Theft Task Force, has just begun. Liu said that initially advocates had scant resources to enforce the law. “So it’s always been a process of people on the ground trying to get these issues recognized by city leadership, and working to get laws and resources in place,” she said. “Protecting workers’ rights and labor standards has always been an uphill political battle.”
Josh Wilson, Alex Kekauoha, Jason Winshell and Kristine A. Wong contributed reporting for this article.
San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013 || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | EXTRA || sfpublicpress.org || A5
Restaurant Worker Paid Below Minimum Wage for ‘Training’ Food-service sector among worst violators of wage laws nationally and in San Francisco
ast year, Mauricio Lozano found a job through a friend at a pizzeria in North Beach. The pay was $8 an hour, in cash. He said a supervisor told him he would get less than San Francisco’s minimum wage because he was “in training.” Under city law, that’s no excuse for paying below the mandated wage floor, then $10.24 an hour. But the restaurant needed someone right away, and Lozano was in no position to negotiate. A recent immigrant from El Salvador with few other Story and prospects and photos: Tearsa Joy a family back Hammock home to support, // Public Press Lozano snatched up the opportunity. “Because I didn’t have another job, I had to take it,” he lamented. Lozano’s story is far from uncommon, say community organizers and city officials. Records show that San Francisco’s enormous food service sector is the worst for such violations. City records show that two-thirds of wages city inspectors recover for workers for minimum wage violations come from restaurants, coffee shops and other eateries. Nationwide, 19.9 percent of all workers in food preparation and service occupations are paid below minimum wage, according to a recent estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many undocumented immigrants find that because they have limited options in today’s depressed labor market, they must choose between a sub-minimum-wage job and no job at all. And after they are hired, many fear losing their jobs or even getting deported if they speak up. Lozano moved here three years ago, but his two daughters and their mother still live in El Salvador. “I cannot be here without doing anything,” he said. “If I don’t work, there will be no money for them. I have to send money.” Struggling to make ends meet at the pizza place, Lozano requested a raise. His pay went up to $9 an hour. After two-and-a-half months, his pay rose to $10 an hour — still below the city’s minimum wage. “The last week I worked for him he didn’t like that anymore, and so he fired me,” Lozano said. Asked about Lozano’s case, Hosan Said, owner of Pizza Royal, declined to be interviewed. While city records show that the restaurant is still paying off the fines from last year — $1,569.11 so far — Lozano said he received all of his back pay, minus the taxes, in installments over three months. “I was so frustrated that there were times I cried, because I wanted to say something,” he said. “But I needed the job and I needed the money, even though I knew that it was less than the minimum.” San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in the country, and it is pegged to inflation. In January,
Mauricio Lozano (above) is now paid the legal minimum but still works two jobs. Josué Argüelles (far left) is an advocate for exploited workers.
it rose to $10.55 an hour. But the high wage is offset by one of the nation’s highest costs of living. Immigrants bear the brunt of labor exploitation. According to a 2009 report by the National Employment Law Project, foreign-born Latinos had an especially high minimum
wage violation rate — 35 percent, double the rate of U.S.-born Latinos and nearly six times the rate of U.S.born whites. A 2010 study by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that almost 76 percent of undocumented workers in Los
Angeles had worked off the clock without pay, and more than 85 percent had not received overtime pay. With little enforcement from federal and state labor agencies, community organizations focused on labor rights have stepped into the fray.
When Lozano began questioning his employer about his missing wages and faced termination, he reached out to an advocacy group called Young Workers United for help. The San Francisco-based nonprofit works to defend youth and immigrant workers’ rights. Josué Argüelles, the group’s codirector, said he asks workers first if they have colleagues who are exploited. If so, the organization leverages strength in numbers, either confronting the owner or immediately reporting the violation to city inspectors. In Lozano’s case, two other workers faced similar circumstances. In September, Lozano went to the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which charged the employer for back pay and taxes for all workers involved. Lozano’s advice for fellow immigrants he meets who also tell stories of being exploited, but fear harassment, retaliation or deportation: “Do not be scared to have to go up and say what is happening. You do not
have to stay silent.” Lozano is now paid the San Francisco minimum wage. His work life is still tough by any standard. He rises before sunrise to unlock another restaurant in North Beach, downstairs from the room he rents. Lozano works alone, but quickly. He must have the floor mopped, counters wiped down, dishes washed, garbage emptied from the night before, and all the food prepared before his supervisor arrives. Later that afternoon, he will go to his second job at a car wash in the Mission District, and later attend classes at City College of San Francisco. There he studies English as a second language. “At the moment, I feel comfortable with two jobs because they pay me what they are supposed to — minimum wage — and I feel comfortable,” Lozano said. “But it is never enough, you know. There are always more expenses, like rent and food and public transportation. It is expensive to live in this city.”
Indigenous People Face Obstacles Seeking Legal Pay Mayas from Yucatán find work in food service, but face language, immigration barriers
ew are more susceptible to the crime of wage theft than indigenous newcomers from Latin America, say labor experts, advocates for minority ethnic communities and immigrant workers themselves. Indigenous people from Mexico and Central America, who Story and photo: make up as Jonah Harris much as 30 // New America percent of the Media population of immigrants from there, are less likely to be literate, to speak either Spanish or English proficiently or to have legal documentation, said Alberto Perez, the director of programs for Asociación Mayab. The San Francisco-based nonprofit group primarily serves the Bay Area’s estimated 40,000 Yucatec Mayas. “Do you think your sushi is being cooked by a Japanese chef, or your pasta by an Italian? No, it’s a Yucateco,” Perez proclaimed. Perez estimated that 90 percent of Bay Area indigenous immigrants from Yucatán, in Southern Mexico, work in kitchens, from taco trucks and holes-in-the-wall to San Francisco’s premier restaurants. Restaurant owners, he said, often seek out Mayan workers because they work hard and do not complain. And restaurant workers in general have it bad — they are nearly five times as likely as the average worker to be a victim
of illegal wages, according to federal Department of Labor estimates. The Yucatec community is an industrious one, despite the challenges of starting out near the bottom of the labor market. Entrepreneurship is widespread; remittances to families in rural areas back home have generated much of the region’s economic development. So, all the more reason for indigenous culinary workers to be paid the legal minimum wage, which is now $10.55 an hour in San Francisco. (There is no exception to the minimum wage in the city. In most states and localities with their own minimum wage laws, employers can pay a lower minimum wage for employees who get tips.) Workers say restaurants here can get away with paying such low salaries because immigrants are desperate for jobs. “We do not have any other options,” said Omaru, a 28-year-old dishwasher, who did not give his last name for fear of immigration enforcement. He immigrated a year and a half ago. “It is not easy. You need to send money to Yucatán.” The other option for Maya migrants to California, seasonal farm work, is less appealing. In his restaurant job, Omaru reasons, “even if it is raining, there is work.” Paying below the minimum wage is a nationwide problem. In 2012, the Department of Labor found more than $35 million worth of minimum
wage violations and ordered back pay for more than 107,000 workers. Trying to combat this problem is like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. The government can investigate and prosecute one employer while thousands more continue violating the law unabated. At the very least, some of the damage has been undone for a lucky subset of workers. Violations of local labor law are widespread in San Francisco too, despite the best efforts of the local Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Perhaps paradoxically, city officials say, often the violators are businesses owned by immigrants as well. Though indigenous workers who get paid properly say they are grateful for the local law, the cost of living reduces take-home pay. Eliazer came to San Francisco from Yucatán in 2004 and now makes the minimum wage as a cook in a large kitchen. He speaks both Spanish and Yucatec Maya at home. Eliazer, who did not want to give his last name because he does not have legal residence in the United States, laments that even working hard all day preparing food, it is difficult to make ends meet. Minimum wage or below just won’t cut it when you are renting an apartment downtown. “If you work for eight hours,” he said, “you need a second job just to pay your bills.”
Carlos Ruiz grills pork at Poc-Chuc, a Yucatec restaurant at 16th Street and South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.
A6 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | EXTRA || San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013
S.F. Lacks Data to Set Minimum Wage Policies Estimates of low-wage workers range from 20,000 to 55,000
ith President Barack Obama proposing to increase the federal minimum wage, local policy experts say fully understanding the economic effects of the change could be a problem given the dearth of accurate statistics in the large city that has had the highest minimum wage for years: San Francisco. No one has Story: ever done a Alex Kekauoha formal tally of // Public Press minimum wage earners in San Graphic: Alex Kekauoha Francisco, said and Tom Guffey Ted Egan, chief // Public Press economist for the city’s Office of Economic Analysis. “There’s no city agency that tracks those numbers,” said Egan, who had to be corrected after citing the wrong minimum wage and informed of the 2003 ordinance that pegged it to inflation. Regardless of which regulations apply, he said, employers “are required to pay minimum wage, but not required to report how many employees they pay it to.” San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the agency most engaged in the issue and tasked with enforcing fair labor practices, confirmed that it has never had a holistic picture of the extent of low-wage work. Its mandate is to punish employers for violating the Minimum Wage Ordinance and recover back wages for employees, not to gather the primary data used to set policy. “We enforce the law,” said Donna Levitt, manager of the division. “We don’t do any kind of analysis like that.” The local minimum wage went into effect in 2004. Nationally, researchers have extensively documented wage theft in low-income and immigrant communities. But advocates say reliable statistics could help city, state and federal labor officials better understand and root out wage theft. San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in the country, now $10.55 an hour, and is the only major American city with a wage enforcement agency. Ten years after passing the minimum wage boost, though, ongoing wage violations suggest that the city cannot guarantee the policy itself will actually lift
every worker out of poverty. “I think we’re not focused enough on low-wage workers,” said Conny Ford, vice president of the San Francisco Labor Council. Ford said that simply passing a minimum wage ordinance was not enough to ensure fair pay in the workplace: “We just passed legislation and expected it to happen, and it needs better support from all of us.” Ford said the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement could not keep up with the volume of wage theft in San Francisco. That is why the office relies heavily on community groups to refer victims. Ford said the city’s officers “need more people and funds,” adding that the city should not pass further legislation without providing the resources needed to enforce the law. Asked for data about the number of minimum wage workers in San Francisco, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development said it did not have any. The Public Policy Institute of California, which conducts research on a multitude of public-affairs issues, has not produced its own estimate of minimum wage workers in San Francisco. Karl Kramer of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition gave a rough estimate of 20,000 workers. “The number of people at the lowest income level has been pretty steady over the years,” he said. Egan, at the controller's office, has come up with his own estimate based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for workers in various occupations in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties. Although the figure includes workers outside San Francisco and the methodology is approximate, he estimates that 59,700 people, or 6.2 percent of workers in those counties, earned $9.92, the 2011 San Francisco minimum wage, or less that year. An exact head count isn’t feasible, he said, since the workforce is constantly evolving as individual incomes change and workers transition into new careers. However, research from the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, does provide some estimates based on very outdated studies. In a 2003 report, “Raising Low Pay in a High Income Economy,” researchers Michael Reich and Amy
Laitinen studied the effect that raising the San Francisco minimum wage would have on workers, businesses and the city economy. They were able to estimate the number of workers receiving pay increases at various minimum wage levels. For their study, the researchers conducted an employer-based survey of 450 San Francisco establishments with at least three employees, and asked about the composition of the workforce at each location, business finances and likely behavioral responses to an increase in operating costs. By using a calculation to determine the number of workers who could be indirectly affected by a minimum wage increase — workers making more than minimum wage, but who would receive increases because, for example, a supervisor has to make slightly more — they could deduce the number of workers who would receive increases. Their results showed that 4.4 percent of workers in San Francisco businesses “would receive direct wage increases at a minimum wage of $8.50, 5.4 percent at a minimum of $9, and 9.6 percent at a minimum of $10.” While no follow-up study of these numbers has been published, Reich’s office said he now estimates that after the automatic wage increase to $10.55 in January 2013, 55,000 (or 8 percent) of San Francisco workers were due increases. But nationally, research shows that this large pool of workers can be vulnerable to exploitation if the minimum wage is not enforced robustly. An independent study sponsored by several major foundations in 2008, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” examined workplace violations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and called into question the strength of workplace safeguards there. “The high rates of workplace violations that we document in this report raise an urgent, resounding warning that even existing protections are failing millions of workers in low-wage industries,” the authors concluded. The study found the limited data on low-wage workers’ experiences in the workforce “hamper effective policy responses, whether at the federal, state or local level.”
ESTiMATE OF lOW-WAgE WORKERS Ted Egan, chief economist for San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis, calculated rough numbers of workers who would have received $9.92 (the 2011 San Francisco minimum wage) in 2011, the last year for which data are available. The data include Marin and San Mateo counties, which more than doubles the target population. Egan based his estimates on surveys published by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each figure represents 1,000 workers estimated to be working at or below minimum wage.
Sales: (Cashiers, telemarketers)
Food/service industry: (Cooks, bartenders, waiters) Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 27,291 (29% of total food/service industry workers)
Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 12,884 (13% of total sales workers)
(Drivers, parking lot attendants)
Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 4,723 (10% of total Transportation workers)
Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 5,088 (14% of total building maintenance workers)
Personal care: (Barbers, bellhops, child care workers)
Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 4,139 (17% of total personal care workers)
Production: (Bakers, sewers/tailors, woodworkers, assembly line workers) Other: Estimated other workers at or below minimum wage: 2,501
Estimated workers at or below minimum wage: 3,069 (11% of total production workers)
Attorneys for an Oregon man, Christopher Otey, say a San Francisco-based micro-tasks website pays an average of $1 to $2 an hour, violating minimum wage provisions. The company says workers are not employees, so wage laws do not apply to them.
S.F. Micro-Tasks Website Denies Violation Lawsuit charges that CrowdFlower broke U.S. minimum-wage law
rowdFlower, a tech company based in the Mission District, boasts on its website that it has “the world’s largest workforce,” performing hundreds of millions of tasks for Web-based client companies. Now one of those virtual workers has filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that CrowdFlower broke the law by paying less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. An Oregon man, Christopher Story: Otey, brought the action on behalf Erik Neumann // Mission of himself and others who found Local work through CrowdFlower. But unlike most employers, CrowdFlower — which vigorously denies any wrongdoing — said it had no idea who Otey was. Based 723 miles away from San Francisco in Astoria, Ore., Otey worked online for the Internet-based company’s clients, who use workers to do things like identify people in photos and verify phone numbers — minute, repetitive tasks that are too subjective and subtle for computers to perform. To CrowdFlower, Otey is one of many workers doing remote piecework in the new crowdsourcing industry that is changing the employment landscape. The lawsuit, filed Oct. 26, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, alleges that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying an average $1 to $2 an hour. CrowdFlower’s 2011 revenues surged 300 percent from the prior year, making it one of the hottest tech companies in the Bay Area, according to a press release distributed over Business Wire in February. The company’s virtual community of workers has completed over 750 million tasks for clients. But with labor migrating from brick-and-mortar workplaces to a cloud-based workforce, key issues remain undefined. “The legal territory is uncharted — almost entirely uncharted,” said Alek Felstiner, an attorney who has written a number of articles on crowdsourcing and labor laws. “I do think it’s going to be a question that grows in significance as the industry grows. More and more people are going to be doing this distributed work.” CrowdFlower contends that labor laws don’t apply to this new form of labor, where individuals around the globe complete micro-tasks for compensation that can range from conventional currency and airline miles to online gaming points. It’s an unresolved issue, because currently there are no labor laws that describe this kind of work and workers. “We’re definitely not an employer in the legal sense,” said Lukas Biewald, CrowdFlower’s CEO and cofounder. “These are definitely not employees as the law defines employees.” Crowdsourced workers do things like confirm addresses, check photos to make sure they’re not obscene and even write poems, Biewald said. The tasks encompass anything a company could request workers to do via an Internet connection. Typically, these tasks are tiny and quick. For each micro-task, workers get microcompensation. The company argues that this novel form of home-based labor provides new options that benefit workers. “I think what we’re doing is providing a new way for people to make money from their homes,” said Biewald. “And I think it’s really good for people. I wouldn’t be
doing this if I didn’t think it was good for the world.” As an example, Biewald points to Robert Munro, a computational linguist who says CrowdFlower helped him create communication networks and location tools in the days following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Munro says his workers were paid about $6 an hour for his humanitarian crowdsourcing project. Attorneys who spoke for Otey described his compensation level as much lower. “Mr. Otey is somebody who seeks to maintain his financial sustenance, and the way he can do it is to work a lot of hours making extremely low wages,” said attorney Mark Potashnick. Crowdsourced work is Otey’s sole source of income, according to Potashnick and co-counsel Ellen Doyle. Crowdsourced workers make on average $1 to $2 an hour, they said. Otey is seeking unspecified compensation, described by the lawyers as “a substantial amount for him.” The case between Otey and CrowdFlower basically comes down to the question of whether the company’s workers are contractors or employees. According to Otey and his attorneys, he’s an employee, while to CrowdFlower he’s a contractor. “I just don’t think this is an employment relationship where you could even count the hours,” said Biewald. “I mean, these people aren’t on the clock. I’m not telling them they have to show up.” But according to attorneys Doyle and Potashnick, crowdsourcing does constitute employment. “People are considering this to be work they do for an income, as opposed to Wikipedia where people understand that they’re doing a service for a general public good,” Potashnick said. People who want to work for CrowdFlower go to its website, where it lists available tasks. These may come from one of CrowdFlower’s clients, such as Skout, a San Francisco-based mobile network for meeting people. When a task is completed, Skout technically pays for it. But workers never actually see Skout, and the money comes through CrowdFlower. Asked for Skout’s reaction to issues raised by the Otey lawsuit, Karen Barker, the company’s vice president for trust, safety and community, declined to comment. The issue of who employs workers like Otey is unresolved. “If you work at a grocery store, the grocery store company is who has to pay you,” Felstiner said. He described these as oneto-many working relationships. With crowdsourcing, many people work for many companies at once. “Normally, whatever company is listed on your paycheck is who has to pay you,” Felstiner said. “And that’s just not the way the crowdsourcing industry works.” Crowdsourcing is new, but its potential to redefine labor is similar to the way in which Wikipedia, launched in 2001, redefined the idea of an encyclopedia. As crowdsourcing grows, companies, courts and the government will have to define these working relationships. “A good analogy is Internet commerce,” said Felstiner. “How you make and enforce contracts online, and how you tax commerce online, are questions [that] became so pressing that they were addressed by courts and legislation.” Those questions, he said, “are going to migrate to crowds of people and clouds, rather than brick-andmortar buildings and traditional employment relationships.”
‘I Don’t Think You Can Survive in This City on the Minimum Wage’ At San Francisco’s largest soup kitchen, working adults say full-time work no longer pays the rent
n a recent lunch hour in the bustling cafeteria at St. Anthony’s Church in the Tenderloin, where free meals are served daily to hundreds of cashless San Franciscans, Jelua Montero nourished herself with a tray of hot chicken posole, Story: bread and vegChristopher D. etables. Cook The Nicaragua// Public Press born 47-year-old, with wavy black hair and a wiry but sturdy build, gets lunch here often — especially since she lost her minimum wage job in January working as a security guard downtown at the Westfield Mall. But even before that, working seven days a week with no overtime
pay, Montero said she was barely making ends meet, even with an array of free services offered to homeless people. “I was able to survive in a shelter, by eating in a shelter,” Montero said. “I was working and working and still couldn’t get a room, couldn’t get into an SRO” — a single-room occupancy hotel. Montero said she has been waiting a long time for subsidized housing, but her number hasn’t come up yet. Through the 1990s, Montero shared a two-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment near San Francisco General Hospital for $550 a month — but since losing her space in 2003, she has struggled to find a new place to live, despite being
regularly employed as a guard. With rents soaring and housing limited, Montero said, “I don’t think you can survive in this city on the minimum wage. The rents are too high — the landlords are getting all the money.” As President Obama’s minimum wage hike proposal renews a national debate over costs and benefits, many low-wage workers in San Francisco say they can hardly get by even on the nation’s highest minimum wage of $10.55, which is nearly $3 an hour higher than the federal rate. “If it weren’t for my subsidized housing, I’d be out of luck,” said Mark Anthony, 56, who needs extra benefits from the city and from charities, even though he makes about $12 an hour working banquets
part time for Select Staffing. “I’ve been pinching pennies, it’s very challenging,” Anthony said over his chicken posole lunch at St. Anthony’s, sitting family style with other hungry adults and families. “I couldn’t hardly afford to feed myself if it weren’t for this place.” A few tables over, 49-year-old Marcus Taplin said he was able to survive in the city, thanks only to a range of services supporting his minimum-wage janitorial job in the Tenderloin. Without the help, he said, “I don’t think I’d be in the city at all.” As rents have soared above $1,500 for a typical studio apartment and more than $2,000 for a one-bedroom, low-income workers
say San Francisco’s minimum wage isn’t enough to keep up. A full-time minimum-wage job in the city brings in $21,100 before taxes. Yet a below-market-rate rent of $1,000 a month amounts to $12,000 a year — more than half of that income. Nationally, the minimum wage has not even come close to keeping pace with inflation. According to data analysis by the Economic Policy Institute using 2011 dollars, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 that year was worth a full dollar per hour less than the minimum in 1967. “A lot of people are ‘making it’ by going without,” said Colleen Rivecca, advocacy coordinator for St. Anthony’s, “by skipping meals, not going to the doctor and walking instead of
taking the bus.” In 2011, St. Anthony’s surveyed its dining room visitors and found that 19 percent had “no income whatsoever” and 29 percent reported income of less than $100 a month. Nearly all, 91 percent, earned less than $1,000 per month. When asked if it’s possible to survive in San Francisco on the minimum wage, Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said he believed it could be done: “Like it or not,” Lazarus said, “it’s called roommates and multiple-income households. My wife and I have both worked for years, and our kids work and live with roommates.”
San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013 || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | EXTRA || sfpublicpress.org || A7
Economists Say City Minimum Wage Means Big Boost for Working Class
Proposed Federal Pay Hike Would Help Women Most
n his State of the Union address, President Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, and on the next day, he took his pitch on the road to a factory in North Carolina. There’s no guarantee that GOP opposition will be overcome, but if Congress Story: does grant Erika his wish, this Eichelberger income bump // Mother would most draJones matically affect women and their families, according to a new study. Last year, 64 percent of workers who earned the minimum wage or less were women, according a report by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. The center found that if wages were upped from $7.25 to $9 an hour, as Obama proposed, nearly nine million women who are paid hourly wages would see their earnings directly increased. An additional 4.2 million women would get a wage hike because of a “spillover effect,” in which companies boost wages for higher earners as well, in order to maintain the
Backers say it helps recruitment and retention, but opponents say it kills jobs
ob killer” is a common refrain from businesses in opposing wage increases and other worker benefits. But some researchers are challenging the assumption that boosting the minimum wage depresses hiring. “We don’t see any decline in employment,” said Michael Reich, director of the Institute for ReStory: Christopher D. search on Labor Cook and Employment // Public Press at the University of California, Berkeley. Reich’s research 10 years ago helped pave the way for San Francisco to pass the nation’s highest minimum wage and could help inform this year’s debate about raising the federal minimum wage. Reich said his research shows that wage increases make it easier to recruit and retain workers, particularly in high-turnover retail and restaurant businesses: “Rather than killing jobs, it makes it easier to hire and employ people.” San Francisco’s minimum wage, $10.55 an hour, is the nation’s highest. Yet many here struggle to survive on that, relying on a life raft built of public welfare supports. Nonetheless, business groups insist the wage discourages job creation. They have made similar arguments when opposing policies that provide paid sick leave and employer contributions to public health care. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association campaigned heavily against the local minimum wage hike, Proposition L, before voters approved it in November 2003. They warned then, and maintain today, that the law deters employers from bringing on new workers. The debate about the economics of minimum wage increases has been heating up on Capitol Hill and in national media since President Obama used the State of the Union address to propose raising the federal minimum from $7.75 to $9 per hour. While San Francisco offers a treasure trove of experience, the data lead to conflicting interpretations about the economic effects of boosting pay at the bottom rungs of the
Boosting the minimum wage leads to a “multiplier effect,” meaning poor people have more money to spend, fueling job creation. work world. “It’s difficult for employers in a larger market, when you have an artificially higher minimum wage in San Francisco than in Marin or other counties in the area,” said Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and a longtime local business leader. “When you’re competing in the entry-level job market, you may get more applicants in San Francisco, because you offer higher wages,” he said. “But it has hindered job growth at the local level.” In the 2003 voter guide, the San Francisco Association of Realtors argued: “If Proposition L is passed by the voters, many San Franciscans employed by the hospitality industry are likely to receive pink slips and join the ranks of the unemployed. Beware of unintended consequences! VOTE NO ON L.” MINIMAL COST TO CONSUMERS But that’s not what the UC Berkeley researchers found. In a 2007 study, Reich and colleagues Arindrajit Dube and Suresh Naidu examined the effect of San Francisco’s minimum wage increase on restaurant jobs and pay. They concluded that “the policy increased worker pay and compressed wage inequality, but did not create any detectable employment loss among affected restaurants.” The wage law particularly benefitted fast-food workers. Their average pay increased by twice as much as the increase received by workers at table-service restaurants. The new minimum also led to “substantial increases” in worker retention and in the proportion of the restaurant workforce with full-time jobs. While restaurants passed some of their added labor costs on to consumers, the effect was small, Reich said, “a few pennies per burger.”
More recent research examining wage hike effects in San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M. (which offers the country’s second-highest minimum, $10.51 an hour), echoes the Berkeley center’s findings. Examining wage and jobs data among fast-food, food services, retail and low-wage establishments in San Francisco and Santa Fe, a 2011 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that “a citywide minimum wage can raise the earnings of low-wage workers, without a discernible impact on their employment.” In both cities, the wage increase had no effect on employment in the workplaces affected by the change, the study reported. DECADE OF SLUGGISh GROWTh But Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, blamed the minimum wage law and other worker benefits for slowing job growth in San Francisco since 2000. “All you have to do is go to the Department of Labor in 2000 and 2010,” Black said, to find a “huge job loss in San Francisco.” He said slow post-recession job growth has been due largely to the city’s higher minimum wage and other local regulations. “How tightly can you tie that to the minimum wage?” he asked. “It’s very difficult to do. You have the health care ordinance, and paid sick leave … but we are nowhere near where we were in 2000.” Yet according to data from the California Employment Development Department, the total number of jobholders in San Francisco shrank only marginally between 2000 and 2012, going from 456,700 to 426,900. But the number of jobs has not kept up with local population growth. San Francisco has an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent today, compared with 3.4 percent in 2000. But San Francisco has fared far better than California as a whole. The statewide unemployment level today is 9.7 percent, compared with 4.9 percent statewide in 2000. The Chamber’s Lazarus dismissed the UC Berkeley study showing no job losses resulting from the wage hike. “Then why are there less people working in San Francisco than before?” he asked. “Because we started increasing the costs of hiring … we have more people living in San Francisco now, but fewer jobs. I’m just taking it anecdotally, looking at the different job numbers,” he added, saying the San Francisco area has never returned to its 1999-2000 level of employment. While local job growth returned following past recessions, Lazarus argued, “ever since they put in these laws, we haven’t seen that.” Local officials offer a different interpretation. “You can point to the year 2000, but that was a big anomaly” in San Francisco employment patterns, fueled by the dot-com boom, said Ted Egan, the city’s chief economist. A better yardstick, Egan said, is the past 30 years of generally stagnant local job growth. But he said, “the minimum wage only affects 3 to 4 percent of jobs in the city, and the industry most affected has had the most job growth.” Job loss, he added, “has relatively little to do with the minimum wage,” paid sick leave or city-mandated health care contributions, which all benefit the same group of low-wage workers. Reich, too, argued that raw job totals do not tell the whole story of the minimum wage’s economic effects. “Jobs in San Francisco fell after the dot-com bust in 2000, well before the minimum wage went into effect,” Reich wrote in an email response to business leaders’ critiques. “Employment also fell in San Francisco and in other Bay Area counties during the Great Recession. Overall, employment fluctuates mainly because of these national trends, which have to be held constant in understanding the effect of the minimum wage alone.” On the contrary, he noted, data show that despite its higher minimum wage, San Francisco has seen faster employment growth than surrounding counties since the law took effect in 2004. MINIMUM WAGE PERKS While bolstering individuals’ pocketbooks, a higher minimum wage also encourages workers to keep and perform better at their jobs, researchers say. Raising the wage tends to decrease job flight and turnover, according to Reich, helping to increase productiv-
ity and reduce vacancies. “When you retain workers, productivity increases.” Reich also cited broader economic and fiscal benefits of a higher wage: less reliance on food stamps, Medicaid and other public benefits. When wages are low, employers such as Wal-Mart and Burger King get a de-facto subsidy when workers have to use Medicaid. Conversely, boosting the minimum wage leads to a “multiplier effect,” meaning that poor people have more money to spend, which fuels job creation in the businesses they frequent, said Douglas Hall, director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network at the Economic Policy Institute. According to Hall’s research, California’s roughly two million
minimum wage workers would see an added $1.5 billion increase in wages under President Obama’s proposed increase to $9 per hour — a rise in the state gross domestic product of $996 million. “Employers base hiring on demand, and demand goes up where wages go up,” Hall said. The San Francisco Chamber’s Lazarus acknowledged that a higher minimum wage does produce some benefit: “The trade-off is that employees are better paid. Do you have a better workforce? Probably yes. But higher costs.”
same pay hierarchy in the workforce. “Raising the minimum wage would be a step in the right direction to ensuring that women are properly compensated for their work, as it would disproportionately help low-wage female workers,” write the report’s authors. And since the workers that would be affected are largely adults, a higher minimum wage would help whole families in a big way. Seventynine percent of minimum wage earners are over 20 years old, according to the report. Nine dollars an hour would mean more money for macaroni and cheese, gas, diapers and shoes. Over the past three decades, the super rich have grabbed the largest share of economic gains in the United States. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by 13.5 percent, according to the center. As Obama said in his address, “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”
A ClOSER lOOK AT SAn FRAnCiSCO’S MiniMuM WAgE EnFORCEMEnT AgEnCY Most of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement’s minimum wage cases are resolved in a few months, but in any given year some older cases are still unresolved. Others follow different trajectories. The data are current as of mid-February 2013. Cases count toward the year claims are filed. Claims can affect any number of workers and can yield a wide range of fines and wages recovered.
Case settled and payment received. (Total 372)
Claimant dropped case or claim found invalid. (Total 139)
Sent to state or federal labor officials. (Total 58)
A valid claim; business on a payment plan. (Total 34)
Case under investigation by the city. (Total 25)
lAbOR STAnDARDS EnFORCEMEnT OFFiCE: bY ThE nuMbERS Number of investigators:
Minimum wage investigators (FTE):
$3,297,163 Graphic: Alex Kekauoha and Tom Guffey // Public Press
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Invisible Women: The Real History of Domestic Workers in America Real-life nannies, house-cleaners and cooks have long struggled against sexism, racism and exclusionary laws
s the push for immigration reform continues, the Senate Gang of Eight’s plan includes measures that would make it easier for farm workers — who play a role of “utmost importance in our nation” — to gain citizenship. Meanwhile, another major immigrant labor group that bolsters the U.S. economy by freeing up the time of millions of other workers gets no such special treatment. For the nation’s Story: nannies, housekeepMaggie Caldwell // Mother ers, personal cooks Jones and companions to the elderly, this is just the latest slight in a long history of systematic exclusion from basic labor and human rights protections. Last November, the National Domestic Workers Alliance commissioned the first-ever national survey of 2,000 workers to shed light on an industry that exists quietly behind closed doors. The domestic workforce is composed mainly of immigrant women of color who earn substandard pay, rarely receive benefits or health care, and have virtually no lobbying power. In recent years, groups like the Workers Alliance have made headway in the fight for worker protections, but they’re fighting an uphill battle against many outdated but entrenched laws, some of which are rooted in the legacy of slavery. This timeline explores a few of the milestones in the little-known history of the industry in America, showing where these workers came from and how far they still have to go.
Modern Slaves Discovered in Washington, D.C.
The Washington City Paper’s “Capital Slaves” report uncovered a secret system of slavery employed by a number of foreign diplomats and members of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international institutions who, under a State Department program, were permitted to “import” household help. Many of the domestics were held under house arrest and forced to work seven days a week without pay. A loose network of churches, attorneys and social services was established as a kind of 20th century underground railroad to help some of these women, a large percentage of whom were Filipina.
2007 Supreme Court: Elderly Companions Not Entitled to Overtime
In the Supreme Court case Long Island Care at Home Ltd. v. Coke, home care worker Evelyn Coke claimed she was unfairly denied minimum wage and overtime pay by her employer. Citing the companionship exemption of the amended Fair Labor Standards Act, the Supreme Court ruled that a domestic worker who labored three consecutive 24-hour shifts, and regularly worked 70 hours a week for $7 an hour, was not entitled to overtime pay.
1863 house Slaves Become Domestic Workers
National Domestic Workers Alliance forms
The members of the original domestic workforce were the enslaved, indentured and semi-free female laborers of colonial times, the first ones arriving on the shores of Virginia in 1691. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, but forced servitude and human trafficking are still major issues in the global domestic worker industry.
From top, “Sweep it Under the Carpet” mural by British street artist Banksy (Matt From London/Flickr); 1964 civil rights march (Library of Congress); late-1800s washer-women (New York Public Library); and President Obama announces proposing minimum-wage and overtime protections for in-home care workers (White House photo). Find more labor coverage from Mother Jones Magazine: motherjones.com.
1870 No. 1 Employer of Women
The 1870 Census showed that 52 percent of employed women worked in “domestic and personal service.”
1881 Atlanta Washing Society 10-Day Strike
Some domestic workers in the Reconstruction South organized and held strikes in Jackson, Miss., and Galveston, Texas, to demand better pay. In Atlanta, a group of laundresses not only demanded higher wages, but also control of the city’s washing industry. Police arrested and fined the participants, but the Washing Society gained 3,000 members.
2010 New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Signed Into Law
The first such bill in the country gives New York state domestic workers the right to overtime pay, one guaranteed day off per week (or overtime pay if they agree to work on that day), three paid days off each year, protection under New York State Human Rights Law, and the creation of a special cause of action for domestic workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment.
2011 1970 Occupational Safety and health Act
1901 Working Women’s Association Forms
After a Chicago newswoman went undercover as a live-in servant to expose domestic workers’ experiences of mistreatment and long hours with little pay, some workers were inspired to form a union. It was short-lived, however, disbanding after only 300 of the city’s 35,000 domestic workers joined.
Fair Labor Standards Act Passes
The act introduced the concept of the 44-hour, seven-day work week, established minimum wage, guaranteed time-and-a-half compensation for overtime work in most professions and forbade child labor. Domestic workers and farm laborers were again excluded.
1912 “Ladies Are Sometimes Not honest”
Outlook magazine published “Experiences of a Hired Girl,’’ a letter from an anonymous domestic worker that expressed many of the common grievances of the workforce. “Ladies are sometimes not honest in money matters concerning the girls they employ. I have known many nice girls to work for little money — two dollars and a half or three dollars a week — and one week out of every five or six the lady would forget, or pretend to forget, to pay for.”
Bessie Brown Sues her Employers
A maid working in Westchester, N.Y., pressed charges against her employers after they withheld her wages and assaulted her when she demanded her pay. Though she lost the case, her lawyer argued that the case “served its purpose” since the couple were “undoubtedly humiliated at having to appear in court.”
hattie McDaniel Wins Academy Award
“Sadie’s Servant Room Blues”
Another black actress typecast in Hollywood, McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.”
As the most common form of employment for women prior to World War II, domestic workers often complained about the long hours, low pay and lack of privacy. Texas jazz blues singer Hattie Burleson summed up many of those problems in a 1928 song.
1964 Times They Are A-Changin’ … But Not for Cooks and Nannies
1934 harlem Workers Organize
Domestic servant Dora Lee Jones launched the Domestic Workers Union, which enlisted 75,000 members and initiated the “Stand Up a Lady for Work Campaign,” encouraging African American female domestic servants to demand fair pay and hours from employers. It lobbied the state and federal government for wage and hour laws and inclusion in the Social Security Act, and later affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
The organization became the nation’s leading voice for millions of domestic workers in the United States, with 39 affiliates representing more than 10,000 people in the industry. One of the group’s primary goals was to establish a domestic workers’ bill of rights and started with a grass-roots campaign in New York state.
Louise Beavers Breaks Out in “Imitation of Life”
The prolific African American actress was often typecast as various incarnations of the “black mammy” character. In this film, she played a maid, but her character was given a story line equivalent to that of the white lead. It was the first time in American cinema history that a black woman’s problems were given emotional weight in a major motion picture. California Graphic Magazine wrote, “The Academy could not recognize Miss Beavers. She is black!”
1935 All hail to the Union … Except Farmhands and Serving Girls
Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), protecting the rights of employees in the private sector to form unions, engage in collective bargaining and participate in strikes. To get the support of Southern Democrats for its ratification, domestic and agricultural workers — who were overwhelmingly African American — were explicitly excluded.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” but applies only to employers with 15 or more employees, virtually excluding every domestic worker in the United States from its protections.
1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act
Protects individuals 40 years of age or older from age-based employment discrimination, but applies only to employers with 20 or more employees.
The federal government created an agency to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” Like the National Labor Relations Act before, domestic workers are excluded from its protections.
1974 Fair Labor Standards Act Amended
Domestic workers gain protections under the new amendments to the 1938 act, but babysitters and “companions” of elderly persons are still excluded.
1988 “Telling Memories Among Southern Women”
Susan Tucker and colleagues at Tulane University collect a series of oral histories of black domestic workers and their white employers in the Deep South, from the turn of the century to the civil rights movement. It was likely an inspiration for the novel (and Academy Awardwinning film) “The Help.”
1990 Americans With Disabilities Act
This law protects individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination, but like the Civil Rights Act before, it applies only to workplaces with 15 or more employees, leaving out most domestic workers.
1993 “The Nanny” Debuts
Fran Drescher starred in a popular sitcom that portrayed domestic work as a temporary middle-class job where the hardest thing to deal with was sometimes awkward (but always reciprocated) romantic flirtations with the employer. The show had a fairy tale ending with the nanny marrying and having kids with her widowed boss. In reality, 36 percent of domestic workers in the United States reported being verbally harassed, and many others have been threatened, subjected to racial slurs or sexually abused.
International Labour Organization Establishes Fair Labor Laws
ILO Convention 189 defined global labor standards for the protection of those who cook, clean and tend to the young and very old. Only four countries have so far ratified the treaty. The United States has not signed on. “The help” Premieres
The film highlighted the treatment of African American domestic workers in the 1960s South. While it received some criticism for glossing over much of the racial terror of the pre-civil-rights South, many domestic workers united around the film. Viola Davis, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for her role, has spoken out on behalf of domestic workers and was honored by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Obama Takes a Walk in her Shoes
Pauline Beck stood beside the president as he announced newly proposed rules from the Department of Labor that would provide minimum-wage and overtime protections for in-home care workers for the elderly and infirm. In 2007, then-Sen. Obama spent a day with Beck for an event called “Walk a Day in My Shoes,” in which he assisted her in caring for an elderly amputee. The rules, which would revise the companionship exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act, have yet to be finalized and could still be weakened or derailed.
2012 California Governor vetoes Domestic Workers Bill of Rights
Gov. Jerry Brown rejected legislation that would have provided overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to an estimated 200,000 caregivers, nannies and house-cleaners in California.
2013 President Obama and Senate Unveil Immigration Reform Plans
The Senate Gang of Eight’s plan includes language to make it easier for agricultural workers who do work that is of “the utmost importance in our nation” to gain a pathway to citizenship. No mention is made of domestic workers.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS
Spring 2013 || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | EXTRA || B1
building Not on list? it's Not Necessarily out of Harm's Way
Andy Chou lives in a Mission District building that appears on a list of structures city engineers said could be vulnerable in a major earthquake. More studies need to be done to verify each building’s soundness.
san francisco Moves Toward Mandatory earthquake retrofitting of Vulnerable soft-story buildings Residents, owners argue over who should pay in a city that values rent control
or the first time, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is considering legislation that would force property owners to retrofit “soft-story” buildings, whose weak first floors are vulnerable to collapse in an earthquake. “I really want to stress what a significant step this has been,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors. “We’ve been talking about the need to retrofit soft-story buildings for many, many years. We’ve known about it since Story and Loma Prieta.” Photos: If passed, the noah Arroyo new law would // Public Press require owners to retrofit their buildings in phases by 2020. Owners who don’t comply would have to post a warning sign on their property: “This building is in violation of the requirements of the San Francisco Building Code regarding earthquake safety.” The new law would also establish a publicly available list of soft-story buildings. The city has had a rough version of this list since 2009, but said it was worried that widespread publicity could cause undue alarm, because the list may not be accurate since the addresses had not been verified with inspections. The San Francisco Public Press published the list and a map of the locations in its Winter 2012-2013 print edition, and included the city’s caveats about accuracy. (See: sfpublicpress.org/ softstorylist.) The mandatory retrofit law is a long time coming. More than 23 years have passed since the Loma Prieta earthquake collapsed seven soft-story buildings in the Marina District, underlining the need to reinforce these buildings, which number roughly 3,000. The city spent 10 years and more than $700,000 studying this and other earthquake safety problems. Then-mayor Gavin Newsom tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation in 2010 that would have helped building owners cover the cost of the retrofits — an issue that troubles both owners and tenants. But while city leaders say they and local banks are working out funding assistance methods, they do not want to wait for that before passing a retrofit mandate. A major quake could strike San Francisco at any time. There is roughly a 28 percent chance that an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.7 will hit the Bay Area within 10 years, said Edward Field, leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities. EARliEST dEAdlinE: 2015
The new law, sponsored by Mayor Ed Lee and a majority of the Board of Supervisors, would require softstory buildings to be retrofitted in four phases. The most dangerous buildings would come in the first phase, between 2015 and 2017. This
ChAnCES of mAjoR quAkE inCREASE oVER TimE
City officials used these data, which were first cited in the Public Press’ Winter 2012-2013 edition, at a public meeting about earthquake preparedness in January in collaboration with the San Francisco Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team.
59% 52% 43%
A 6.7-magnitude or greater quake could deal the city major damage. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake had a magnitude of 6.9 originating about 50 miles south of the city. It caused $2.7 billion in property damage in San Francisco — more than in any other Bay Area city.
Each of the two main Bay Area fault lines has its own risk. Over 30 years, the San Andreas Fault has a 21 percent chance of a major rupture, and the Hayward/Rodgers Creek Fault has a 31 percent chance.
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey now predict a 28 percent likelihood of an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or greater hitting the Bay Area in the next 10 years. This graph also shows that such a quake has a greater than even chance of occurring by 2035. Probabilities are calculated based on historical data and seismic modeling.
Berkeley requires landlords of potentially earthquake-unsafe buildings that have not been retrofitted to post signs warning residents of the risk. San Francisco leaders in February proposed following suit. Other Bay Area cities are taking similar precautions. would include buildings with large first-floor restaurants or day care centers, as well as buildings that stand in liquefaction zones where the ground can become highly unstable — and act somewhat like a liquid — during a quake. Phase 2, between 2016 and 2018, would include high-occupancy apartment buildings. Phase 3, between 2017 and 2019, would include all remaining soft-story buildings, except mid-block buildings, which Phase 4 would cover between 2018 and 2020. Mid-block buildings are least likely to collapse because neighboring buildings can prop them up. The law’s current version, which might change as the board deliberates, suggests that the Planning Department might have trouble lo-
cating vulnerable buildings. It asks anyone who suspects a building to be a dangerous soft-story structure to notify the city, which would then investigate. Building owners who do not receive notices must still retrofit according to the schedule. Those who do not meet their deadlines would have to post signs warning that the buildings are in violation of city safety laws. However, because building owners would have to post signs only after they passed their deadlines, tenants in the most dangerous buildings might not discover they are at risk until 2017, even if the law is passed this year. Berkeley’s soft-story retrofit program, begun in 2005, took a different approach. The city compiled
— Noah Arroyo
a list of suspected soft-story buildings and put the onus on owners to prove they should not be on the list. Those on the list had to notify tenants in writing that they might be in danger — as well as post a large-print notice near the main entrance: “Earthquake Warning. This is a soft story building with a soft, weak, or open front ground floor. You may not be safe inside or near such buildings during an earthquake.” The signs come down if owners prove their buildings are safe. Berkeley City Council member Laurie Capitelli said that for many owners this was enough incentive to retrofit. “I can tell you, there are some tenants that will not rent an apartment in a soft-story building,” Capitelli said. “They will go somewhere else.” looPholE in REnT ConTRol? In San Francisco, building owners and tenants are united on at least one issue: the cost. The legislation was the focus of a half-hour program on earthquake retrofits on KQED-FM’s “Forum” talk show on Feb. 5, which referenced the Public Press’ reporting on the issue. Building owners who called in said they were concerned about the costs, which would start at roughly $50,000 for the smallest affected buildings. Renters called in with their own concerns. “I’m worried that maybe they might raise the rent more than they already do,” said a renter named Brian, “to offset the cost of the retrofit.” Charley Goss, who helped draft the ordinance and is the govern-
ment affairs officer with the San Francisco Apartment Association, a guest on the show, responded: “To be honest, I’d say that’s definitely a possibility.” Almost all the buildings fall under rent control regulations, according to city data. However, the Rent Ordinance allows building owners to pass through 100 percent of the cost of seismic work to renters, if that work is required by law. That means that roughly 58,000 tenants, or the estimated number of people living in soft-story buildings affected by the new law, could see their rents rise at a maximum rate of 10 percent per year over 20 years. WidESPREAd PRoblEm San Francisco has more soft-story buildings than any other Bay Area city. The structures can be found in almost every neighborhood. A 2009 survey found that 90 percent are rental properties, where residents have little say in retrofit decisions, and virtually all are rent controlled. The city estimates those buildings house 1 in 14 San Franciscans. The buildings are concentrated most heavily in the Marina District, as well as in historically low-income neighborhoods like the Western Addition and the Mission District. As a result of the 2009 survey, the city compiled a rough list of suspected soft-story buildings. Though that list has been available upon request, the city has never officially published it. William Strawn, from the Department of Building Inspection, said doing so “might create anxiety and alarm, when there really isn’t a basis for it.” David Bonowitz, a structural engineer who participated in the survey, said that the list was probably inaccurate. He and the survey team constructed it in a manner similar to how Berkeley did its own, and Berkeley’s list contained “a lot of false negatives and false positives,” he said. That is because the survey team was able to assess buildings only from the outside, whereas only an in-depth inspection by a structural engineer would determine whether a building was unsafe. The list flags 2,929 addresses that appear to have a dangerous soft first story. The proposed retrofit law drew criticism when it went before the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee on March 18. Tenant rights advocates said building owners might raise rents too much, displacing low-income tenants. San Francisco rent control rules protect tenants from annual increases of more than a percentage set every year by the Rent Board, plus an added 10 percent for pass-throughs for capital improvements. The supervisors responded by proposing several ideas to limit tenants’ financial burden. (See: sfpr.es/ quakes-and-rent-control.)
ur special report “Bracing for the Big One: Earthquake Safety in San Francisco,” published online in January, generated lots of comments. Some thanked us. Some eagerly asked for more information. Others questioned why we published a city list of soft-story buildings without proof all buildings on the list were dangerous. “This is a good public service,” wrote Steve Roy. “Really important information to have Compiled by: shared.” barbara Grady Whatever the reac// Public Press tion, the stories clearly got people to think about earthquake preparedness in a city all too familiar with seismic anxiety, yet still fond of its Victorian-era wooden buildings with big bay windows (the very type said to be vulnerable). We wrote about city government’s concern about the thousands of quintessential San Franciscan buildings — called soft-story because their big windows make the ground floors vulnerable to collapse. We published a list the city compiled three years ago containing 2,929 addresses of potentially dangerous soft-story buildings. That list opened the floodgates of comments. Here is an edited selection. “Hi, I am a structural engineer and volunteered along with a number of other engineers, architects, contractors and inspectors to participate in curbside visual inspections of these buildings. By having the address listed here doesn’t mean that the building is a soft-story building. However, if your building is not on this list it doesn’t mean that the building is definitely not a soft-story. A detailed structural inspection is required to determine that. Curbside inspectors haven’t been able to go inside of the buildings and often times could not see the rear elevation of building which could have been ‘soft story.’ We weren’t allowed to ‘put a hammer’ to the building to see if it is wood with stucco or concrete. We used our best (engineering in my case) judgment following a very specific set of criteria set by the city and would spend anywhere from five to 10 minutes per building.” “Enginious Structures”
Many of the soft-story apartment buildings that would be governed by the ordinance are in heavily rent-controlled neighborhoods. So several readers questioned where the money was going to come from to retrofit buildings where tenants are protected from big spikes in rents. “Rent control does not adequately allow increases for costs. This will have to change. Costs may include rebuilding of kitchens and bathrooms on a lower level. Access to walls can allow full upgrades without reassessment of property value for tax purposes. Complete remodels of kitchens and baths might be included for tax savings and increase of controlled rents, if every wall is assessed for seismic upgrades. City assessor’s review and approval is required. Some benefits may disappear. Consider preemptive seismic upgrades if economical advantages appear to being removed.” “david merrick”
“I think you’re missing at least half the story. We’re in a 1905 single-family Victorian and had to perform ‘triage’ and replace half of the foundation. We found most of the wall studs rotted or removed and know it would not have survived another big one. So multiply that 3,000 by two or three to account for the single-family houses that will collapse next time. Plus, each collapsed house or apartment will have ruptured gas lines. So any earthquake that can bring [down] some of those apartments will bring down the houses, too, and provide fuel for the fires.” “Andyandmax”
“Who is going to pay for this? S.F. has rent control, and if this is to be done who is going to pay to relocate tenants? Construction cannot be done while tenants are living in the space. Too much liability. Another ploy for government to dictate what an owner is going to do on a shoestring budget. S.F. wants more housing? I doubt it if this passes. Housing will be taken off the market for sure. Really dumb idea.” “d. Portilla”
“The soft-story building issue is classic S.F. Orwellian dystopia. The real backstory on the jihad of Planning Dorkorporated against these building owners is that they disproportionately house rent-controlled apartments. If the big one hits and the buildings are damaged (they by and large won’t fall down) there will be a massive displacement of rent-control voters, so the political shift in the city would be way more seismic than the precipitating quake.” “Velveeta mafia”
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Doyle Drive could represent Historic shift Toward privatization Backed by banks and construction firms, massive project presages more ‘partnerships’ with business
arlier this year, a battalion of hydraulic excavators equipped with pulverizers and shear claws razed Doyle Drive, the elevated roadway that was the Golden Gate Bridge’s main approach from San Francisco. The rubble was cleared for a new roadway that will widen and straighten lanes while tucking traffic Story: into two tunnels darwin running toward bond-Graham and away from // California the bridge. Pornorthern tions of the projPhoto: ect are already kristine in use, and the magnuson entire roadway // Public Press is expected to be finished in 2015. The most significant aspect of the replacement project is how it’s being financed. It’s largely a private affair, marking what could be a historic shift in public policy. The new road, called Presidio Parkway, is to be financed and built by a French bank, a German construction corporation, an American engineering company and three global investment banks. Staking their own private equity in the project, these corporations will eventually lease the roadway back to the state for a profit. The legal and economic details of the new arrangement are complex, but its most important consequence is the shift of control over a crucial span of California transportation infrastructure to the hands of private companies. In 2009, halfway through its
Private funds are paying to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge’s approach. construction, work on Presidio Parkway was halted after the California Legislature passed a bill dramatically altering the way transportation projects could be built in the state. A priority of the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senate Bill 4 revived a lapsed statute allowing for the privatization of public roads and bridges. The new law granted the California Department of Transportation and the state’s regional transportation agencies the ability to enter into so-called public private partnerships, or P3 agreements, with corporations able to design, build, finance, maintain and operate public transportation infrastructure. Dispensing with traditional public funding methods, project officials instead invited proposals from private firms to complete Presidio Parkway. Under a P3 financing model, California and San Francisco County would be required to put up only a fraction of the money for
construction. A P3 agreement promised to stretch declining state capital immediately, even if it meant higher costs down the road. The consortium ultimately selected to build Presidio Parkway was Golden Link Concessionaire. This conglomerate will finance, build, operate and maintain the new approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, for which the state has agreed to pay between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next 30 years. While California will technically maintain ultimate legal ownership over Presidio Parkway, Golden Link Concessionaire retains control over how the project is built. Golden Link Concessionaire’s Presidio Parkway contract is the first of what supporters of the new privatization hope will be many public-private mega-infrastructure projects throughout California. These projects would recapitalize public infrastructure with private dollars and would use tolls, user fees
or lease arrangements to pay back the private investors. Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of San Francisco County’s Transportation Authority and a leading advocate of the P3 model, told Transport Finance Intelligence, a news organization covering the project and infrstructure finance sector, that his agency is already considering other privatized projects in San Francisco. “I think that this project is a harbinger of what could come,” he said. In addition to freeing up state transportation funds for immediate use, P3 backers argue, the partnerships increase savings by reducing public-sector risk, a benefit referred to as “value for risk.” Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto who studies the financial structure of P3 deals, explains that by bringing in a private company to design, build, operate or maintain public infrastructure, a government is able to offload various cost-overruns or delay risks. Even more importantly, the success of a P3 seems to depend on a rather subjective judgment of the amount of risk involved: What are the chances that delays, accidents, unforeseen events, inflation, economic slumps and other factors beyond anyone’s control will actually occur? Soon after Presidio Parkway’s project leaders began the hunt for private firms, the Professional Engineers in California Government, a
union representing public-sector employees in California, made its opposition known. The union filed suit to block Presidio Parkway from being taken over by Golden Link Concessionaire and waged a statewide campaign against the public officials and industry representatives who advocated privatization. Important agencies of the state government also opposed the Presidio Parkway P3. In March 2010, the State Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report on the state transportation budget, which included a requested allocation of $3.5 billion to finance unnamed P3 projects. It was generally known that these funds were intended to help push Presidio Parkway forward. Using an interpretation similar to the union’s, the analyst’s office argued that the arrangement relied too heavily on a lease-back agreement instead of tolls or user fees. The California Transportation Commission, California’s highest authority on transportation policy, joined the opposition to the project. Similar to the analysts office’s concerns, the commission worried about the lack of tolls or user fees to generate funds to pay off private investors, stating that approval of this project by the commission would effectively establish and endorse a means of committing state transportation funds to capital projects that bypasses state programming procedures designed to ensure statewide funding accountability and equity.
Buoyed by the criticism from state agencies, the union lawsuit succeeded in temporarily stalling Presidio Parkway’s conversion to a P3 through a temporary restraining order granted in December 2010. Yet by early January 2011, the court lifted the order. The contract was signed and the project continued to move forward. Some believed Gov. Jerry Brown would work to scuttle SB 4 and the Presidio Parkway’s P3 conversion, but according to former Transportation Secretary Dale Bonner, Brown has mostly kept his hands off the project and the new law. Kome Ajise, the program manager for Public Private Partnerships at Caltrans, said there are possibly four infrastructure projects in the Los Angeles region being prepared for bid as P3s. Presidio Parkway’s success or failure, however, will weigh heavily on whether these and other possible P3 projects are carried out. It’s possible that the lack of numerous public interest groups, crusading lawyers and grass-roots coalitions opposing SB 4 and the arrival of global infrastructure investors is due to a public resigned to a broken tax system that leaves the state government constantly scrambling for funds. A more likely factor is the complexity of the new privatization. Byzantine contracts and lease agreements bridge multiple levels of government, deals span decades and giant, unfamiliar global corporations abound.
Designing bike-friendly lanes in golden gate park easier said Than Done Creating safe spaces for two-wheeled traffic requires better signage and public awareness campaign
fter many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with city streets long designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago, the city had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today, there are 65, and more are scheduled to be laid down. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bikeStory: ben Trefny friendly routes. and Rai Sue It’s all having a Sussman big effect. // kAlW According to Crosscurrents the San FranPhotos: cisco Bicycle kristine Coalition, bike magnuson trips have // Public Press increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But one of the planners’ choices hasn’t been implemented so smoothly — and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve. Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park. “Imagine the parking lanes that are there are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway — the dedicated bikeway — will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area, so that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic,” she said. “JFK, we think, is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street; it’s way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.” The wide John F. Kennedy Boulevard used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes: There’s a bike lane, a buffer zone, a lane for park-
ing and traffic lanes. It costs at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down — and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency estimates more than that to plan it all out. So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration? “I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw, that they put these stripes down here,” driver Jimmy Harris said. “From a driver’s standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” said Nick Shurmeyetiv of Daly City. “Honestly, the first few times I came in — like the first few times, it really threw me off. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don’t know what.” Frank Jones, of Concord, said: “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They’re not moving.’ Then we realized — there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.” A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the de Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: Typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic — only on the side toward the bikes. “Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn’t a place to be going really fast from A to B,” said Peter Brown, who works as a transit authority project manager. If it’s the transit agency’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful. For cars, average speed has dropped about 2 or 3 mph since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is now much more narrow, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying
Bike lanes in Golden Gate Park were designed with a buffer zone to separate cars from cyclists, but it is not clear to everyone where to park and where to ride. Old brass signs, above, on the pedestrian path do nothing to clarify the crisscrossing rights of way. Better signage could reduce confusion. to park. Average bike speeds have also dropped, from 14.5 mph to less than 13 during the week; they’re a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise very fast up or down the roads of Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer. The transit authority surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders believed they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t. “I’ve had several incidents where I’ve nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are
crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” said Ward. “Obviously, we can’t stop quickly enough. I think it’s a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists, because we are going 25 to 30 mph, and it’s like stepping into ongoing traffic.” It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK, to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the de Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late. Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes
of Golden Gate Park. One of those people is longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, a group that looks into ways to improve the city. “A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” Carlsson said. The people who most advocated for — and implemented — the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The Bicycle Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.” The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. The transit authority has a page called the JFK CycleTrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.
Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before — only slightly slower. But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and San Francisco’s unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change how the road is used. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.
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San Francisco officials have lent support to several efforts to fight domestic violence. On Feb. 14, hundreds rallied at City Hall for a global event called “One Billion Rising,” including District Attorney George Gascón (with his wife, Fabiola Kramsky) center, and city supervisors.
Domestic Violence record-Keeping still flawed, but police say fix is Near Some cases were not referred immediately to Special Victims Unit; department now double-checking records in two systems
ine months after the San Francisco Police Department fully implemented a new digitized case management system, inspectors were still finding as many as 20 domestic violence cases per month that were not immediately referred to the Special Victims Unit for investigation, said a lieutenant in charge of the domestic violence team. Story and Police say that photo: a new crime data Tay Wiles warehouse has // Public Press improved police officers’ ability to track down offenders quickly, using bits of information as small as a nickname or unique tattoo. Yet record-keeping quirks continued to affect how quickly domestic violence arrests reached the appropriate specialists. Inspectors can miss a case when it applies to more than one category, such as aggravated assault and domestic violence. Officers filing case reports around the city might then refer the case to the wrong unit for follow-up. The Public Press reported last fall that between 2004 and 2011, the Special Victims Unit kept track of cases on paper logs using tick marks to indicate the number investigated or forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
Lt. Michelle Jean, one of the domestic violence investigation coordinators, was new to her position in 2011. Interviewed last fall, she said she could not be sure of the accuracy of the old records to within a margin of several hundred cases a year. The shaky records that did exist
“Now that the justice system is functional, it’s a different ballgame.” suggested that the number of domestic violence investigations decreased by more than 10 percent from 2004 to 2011. If accurate, that could be a result of police following up on fewer investigations. But police leaders said that the drop was due to long-term efforts across city departments and social service nonprofit groups to prevent serial violence by educating victims and perpetrators. Following the Public Press report late last year, the police department conducted an audit of domestic violence cases logged in the new sys-
tem, Jean said. She said the review found 106 cases that should have been flagged as domestic violence cases but were not. All but one of those cases had been investigated by other units but never counted in the monthly domestic violence statistics, said Capt. Jason Fox of the Special Victims Unit. When asked for a written copy of the audit, the police press office said there was none. Mistakenly referring those cases to other units did not significantly delay investigations, Fox said, though he added that it is usually better to make sure they get to the domestic violence investigators. “It’s important because when we do the follow-up investigation, you want to have people who are trained in domestic violence,” he said. “The victimology is different, and there are different laws and different procedures that come into effect.” Fox said it is not uncommon for a victim of domestic violence to later recant an accusation. “So our investigators are trained to elicit initial responses and deal with that type of psychology, and with battery syndrome,” Fox said. “They go through domestic violence training specifically to do that.” Until the system is corrected, said Police Chief Greg Suhr, his staff is
carefully tracking the records in two different systems simultaneously, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Suhr said that the department would stop the double checks only “if we ever get to the point where the numbers match exactly.” “It keeps getting better and better and better,” he said, “but in the meantime, there’s no substitute for eyes on.” “We’re used to doing it,” Jean said. Before the new digital system, Jean’s unit used a less sophisticated one implemented in 2011, and checked it against the hand tallies. The new procedure cross-checks the two databases. Fox said that the department’s partnership with other city agencies, such as the Department on the Status of Women, might have contributed to the apparent decrease in domestic violence cases meriting investigation. “We don’t know if it’s causal, but there’s certainly a correlation,” he said. Emily Murase, who heads the Department on the Status of Women, said that reliable statistics on domestic violence in San Francisco have always been hard to come by. But she said that watchdogging police record-keeping was not her office’s responsibility.
To ease crowding in shelters, city to eject Disorderly clients Punishment for rowdy behavior could lead to a permanent loss of services
requent calls to the police to respond to disturbances outside a South of Market homeless shelter prompted the city to crack down on misbehavior and make it easier for shelters to summarily reject clients seeking a bed. Practically every day at the Multi-Service Center South shelter, the police are called to break up a fight Story: or quell acts of violence. But T.j. johnston // Public Press the problem isn’t just inside the shelter. Homeless activists say the long lines people must wait in for hours make the space outside the building a conflict zone. Homeless people have little alternative to standing in line, because shelters can accommodate only one-fifth of the estimated homeless population. Though the city-funded shelters take in 1,139 single adults and up to 10 families nightly, the city estimated two years ago that 6,455 people lived without housing — giving about 18 percent of the homeless population beds in the shelter system on any given night. The new approach, approved late last year by the city’s Human Services Agency, took effect in mid-February. It expands the shelters’ power to deny services, extending it to behavior on the street outside shelters. Previously staff could intervene only in altercations on the premises. Clients now face immediate removal from the shelter if they behave violently or threaten others outside shelters, and if staff witness the incident. At Multi-Service Center South, on Fifth and Bryant streets, clients can be denied services for up to one year, depending on the severity and the frequency of the behavior — or forever, if they are found to have used weapons. The rising tensions might be a problem of the shelters’ making. For homeless clients, it can be a time-consuming process to reserve a bed, often offered for just a single night. The limited space available requires waiting in line for hours. The problem may in part solve itself, if the Human Services Agency’s new bed assignment system works. Last year, it rolled out a lottery process that assigns numbers to clients who call ahead
Murase said she hoped the new crime data warehouse would provide reliable domestic violence statistics that lead to data-driven policies. Understanding which neighborhoods see the highest numbers of incidents, Murase said, will help the city allocate resources accordingly. “Now that the crime data warehouse is up and running, now that the justice system is functional, it’s a different ballgame,” she said. The database is installed on 75 police laptops in the field, and about 2,000 officers have been trained in the system. A data warehouse is a centralized system that consolidates information from multiple sources, and can be used for analyzing trends. The department received $500,000 from the city for the 20112012 fiscal year and a $2 million federal grant for this fiscal year to finish developing the system. Mayor Ed Lee and Chief Suhr announced last summer that a mobile app would allow officers to access the data warehouse from smartphones and iPads by December 2012, but the app is still in the works. Suhr said that one of the data warehouse’s greatest benefits will be the search capability. A few months ago, the police entered the phone number of a date rape suspect. Surprisingly, the name of someone who
employment program for undocumented immigrants only a Temporary fix
City shelters house fewer than one-fifth of the homeless nightly. Creative Commons image by Wolfgang Sterneck via flickr.
through the 311 telephone system, gradually replacing the line-based system. Homeless activists say the hours-long wait for a bed often triggers a survival mechanism in clients. “When you’re on the streets, you’ve got to have this toughness about you,” said Will Daley, a shelter advocate at Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit serving people who are currently or formerly homeless. The organization’s advocates represent clients in disciplinary appeals for infractions, such as smoking or curfew violations. “There’s this cultural thing” behind bravado and bluster that may sometimes verge on threatening, he said. “They’ll talk, but it’s just talk,” Daley added. “People are just jawing and posturing. There isn’t
any meaning behind it.” Laura Guzman, director of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, a drop-in facility on Capp Street, supports the change in policy, but acknowledges that homeless people find themselves competing for a place in line, and that creates friction. “Any threat of violence should be taken seriously,” she said. “The truth is when we have someone with that level of anger, the possibility is there.” Daley said he hopes changing the reservation procedure will alleviate tensions in line, though clients found acting out will still end up with few options once they are kicked out of shelters. “The discussion is how far to go if clients do stuff — and where do they go?” he said.
had reported a Muni theft several weeks earlier popped up. Police cross-checked that name with a Facebook account, and the female victim was able to identify a profile picture of the man suspected of date rape. Closing a case so quickly with just the phone number of a suspect would have been highly unlikely before last year. Police previously needed an officer’s personal knowledge about the offender, a name, date of birth or a booking number already on file for that person. Susan Giffin, the Police Department’s chief information officer, who is leading development of the data warehouse, said that an even faster search capability and better crime mapping would be added by summer 2013. Giffin said she had not been aware of the 20 or so domestic violence cases miscategorized each month. There are still some technological relics in the arrest reporting system, including the use of faxes to send some arrest reports to the appropriate unit. But in the near future, routing will be fully integrated into the data warehouse and digitized. “We anticipate that we will be adding functionality to the system for many years to come,” she said.
hile politicians in Washington are hashing out a framework for immigration reform, a program launched last year provides short-term work authorization for undocumented immigrants. New America Media reports that the crisis in adult educaStory: tion services in Ambika California could kandasamy // Public Press prove to be an impediment to thousands of undocumented youth seeking work permits under the program. Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old or were under the age of 31 when the program took effect can apply for work permits through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. One of the program’s requirements is that applicants must have a high school diploma or other educational qualifications. According to an analysis by EdSource, a nonprofit education reporting website, California’s adult education system is deteriorating due to budget woes, low enrollment and other problems, putting young people who want to take courses to qualify for work authorization through Deferred Action in a precarious situation. The irony is that the adult education system is shrinking at a time when demand for such courses is growing. In the Bay Area, young people who qualified for work permits as a result of Deferred Action are now moving forward with their professional aspirations.
Ayary Diaz, a San Jose resident, shared her story on KQED’s “California Report,” recounting her struggles with unemployment as an undocumented immigrant. She said her academic accomplishments brought her joy, but also caused sorrow, because her immigration status barred her from applying for jobs. Because of Deferred Action, Diaz now has a Social Security number and a work permit, and is on the path to building her career. “This is a vindication of everything I’ve worked hard for,” Diaz said. “I can finally come out of the shadows, stop hiding who I am and shine in a country that I’ve always considered my home.” KALW Public Radio interviewed a student and aspiring lawyer at Mills College in Oakland who recently got a work permit through Deferred Action, so she can now legally work for two years. Although the Deferred Action program has provisionally changed young undocumented immigrants’ employment status, it doesn’t address the issue of long-term employment. “Being told that they have something that’s temporary — two years and that may be taken away at anytime — is certainly a far cry from what they would want and deserve,” Marillia Zelner, who helps students prepare for the Deferred Action program, told KALW.
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for Homeless Women, sleeping on the bus can be safest option
magine having nowhere to sleep. Now, imagine that reality if you’re older, and maybe you suffer from illness or decreased mobility. San Francisco’s Department of Aging and Adult Services says that about 19,000 seniors are living below the poverty line. One place some of those seniors are showing up is at local shelters. Navigating San Francisco’s shelter system can be dangerous as well as exhausting, and is something that KALW’s Rose Aguilar got to know well in interview: the three months she spent researching holly kernan homelessness among older women. The fol//kAlW news “Crosscurrents” lowing is an edited version of the interview.
holly kernan: We’re discussing the rise of homelessness among senior women in San francisco. kAlW’s Rose Aguilar spent months researching this issue for an article in The nation magazine. i asked her what got her looking at this particular homeless population.
Community organizer Roberto Hernandez tells a crowd about shootings in his neighborhood that prompted him to get involved in the anti-violence movement. Alex Emslie // kqEd
Mission leaders unite to stop gun Violence Community organizers collaborate with city leaders to craft new plan
kernan: That’s one of the things that you actually found in your research — that these women all had suffered some sort of sexual assault.
oberto Hernandez stood facing an auditorium packed with city authorities and hundreds of his community organizer colleagues to plan a new initiative to counter gun violence in San Francisco’s Mission District. “I am tired of raising money for coffins,” he said. “The norm is to hit the floor when we hear gunshots. The Head Start program on 24th and Harrison has gunshot drills for children from ages 3 to 5. That’s unacceptable.” With the support of city agencies and District 9 Supervisor David Campos, Hernandez is Story: spearheading an Rigoberto effort to create a hernandez five-year plan to end // mission gun violence in the local Mission, where it has claimed hundreds of lives — by and large Latino victims — in recent decades. Homicides in the neighborhood increased by 50 percent last year, from six deaths in 2011 to nine in 2012. This year started badly when a man police described as a known gang member was involved in a traffic accident that killed two people in the early morning of Jan. 1, shortly after a drive-by shooting occurred nearby, police said. “Whatever we are doing is not working anymore,” Hernandez said. Hundreds of community organizers gathered on Jan. 31 at Everett Middle School to brainstorm solutions for ending gun violence. It was the first of two workshops aimed at developing and implementing a comprehensive plan with the city’s help. The plan would connect agencies that provide a wide range of services, including tattoo removal, mental health support, gun buybacks and a hiring program for at-risk youth. There’s a window of opportunity for major change, organizers said, now that gun violence and mental health are in the spotlight following the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. Their goal: to treat gun violence as a mental health issue and address the root causes that lead to it. ThinkinG ouTSidE ThE box
Organizers from around the city chimed in on best practices for reaching vulnerable youth. The first task, they said, was to overcome the social stigma in the community surrounding mental illness, sexual assault and substance abuse. Experts agreed that outreach must involve young children and their parents, too. “It starts with parenting training, because some parents are not always keeping kids on the right path,” said Julio Escobar, coordinator for the San Francisco Archdiocese’s Restorative Justice Ministry. He said the emphasis must be on the youth. Escobar, who has worked with youth in jail for 18 years, held three sidewalk memorial services for people who were
Rose Aguilar: I decided to start doing this research after riding the bus at 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning about a year ago. I was sitting next to an older woman. At that time, it’s mostly people leaving bars, so it’s unusual to see a woman on the bus that late at night. I sat next to her, and I started talking to her. I said, “Do you mind me asking where you’re going?” And she said, “I’m going to a 24-hour coffee shop out in the Richmond District.” I said, “Why? It’s 3 in the morning.” She said, “Well, because the owner lets me sleep there, and I can’t find a shelter for the night.” I said, “How common is this?” She said, “Go to coffee shops. You’ll find us.” And that never left my mind. So that’s why I decided to start doing some research. I spent three months going to shelters, to food banks, to incredible places like St. Anthony Foundation, and there are homeless women all over the city, but they’re invisible. Because when you think about what you see on the streets, there are so many homeless people on the streets. But 95 percent of them are men, because it’s too dangerous for women to live on the streets. You’re almost 100 percent guaranteed to be assaulted if you’re a homeless woman on the streets of San Francisco.
Aguilar: Yes. They’ve all suffered sexual assault, especial-
ly as young girls or teenagers. An overwhelming majority of women on the streets have been sexually assaulted.
kernan: So tell me about some of these women that you met. Aguilar: Well, I went to the Mission Neighborhood
Resource Center, and in order to get a shelter bed, you have to stand in line at about 4 in the morning … Because there’s a lottery system, and you’ll get a number at 7 a.m. — you’ll find out if you have a bed. So you need to be in the front of the line, because the line is usually so long.
kernan: You wait in the cold for three hours in order to get a bed for that night? Aguilar: That’s right. On the sidewalk. In the dark. Let’s
Hundreds of community organizers gathered at Everett Middle School to put together a plan to end gun violence in the Mission. Staff // mission local slain in the Mission last year. Parents and mentors need to reach youngsters early, said Mission District police Capt. Robert Moser, because gang recruitment starts as early as middle school when gangs court youth by buying them clothes or shoes. The broad-based response will involve networking among dozens of neighborhood nonprofits that offer a range of community services. The Central American Resource Center, for example, has a tattoo-removal program, while the Instituto Familiar de la Raza offers culturally competent mental health services. However, both of those organizations have waiting lists. Former city Supervisor Christina Olague, now an executive assistant at Arriba Juntos, a nonprofit that helps people
construction work on the new Warriors arena, the Central Subway and the Lennar development in the Bayview. Longtime Mission community organizers were the dominant force at the meeting. Olague said the organizers intend to knock on doors to enlist more supporters. “When you first get started and the conversation gets going, it’s the natural thing to go to a group that you know has some level of expertise,” Olague said. “It doesn’t exclude us from doing additional outreach to bring more people in.” Supervisor Campos said it is too early to talk about funding, but some organizers hope that some financing could come from the $30 million Neighborhood Promise Grant that the Mission Economic Development Agency was awarded by
“Police officers have come to us saying, ‘We are tired of this cycle: We arrest and they come out. We need to break that cycle.’” find employment, said foundations already exist to address many of these concerns. “It’s not like we are starting from scratch,” Olague said. “We have to look at the assets we have in our community.” The plan will also include helping some 500 youth identified as at-risk to find work. Hernandez said he would like to see the city hire youth for short-term
the U.S. Department of Education. The groups are currently in talks, according to Victor Corral of the Mission Economic Development Agency. “I know they are trying to address the same issues. We need to discuss how to work together,” he said. “We are trying to achieve some of the same goals, we are just going through an established funding source using a proven model.”
For his part, Campos plans to spend the bulk of his $100,000 annual district allowance on a gun buyback program tailored for the Mission. There is historical precedent for community organizers creating a critical mass around certain issues in the Mission. In the 1960s, some 10,000 community members took to the streets to protest a major development plan. They were successful in halting the development, and the movement spawned some of the organizations that are involved with the new initiative to counter gun violence. Organizers say they are acting now because they feel that there is support from the city for trying new methods to mitigate violence. “Police officers have come to us saying, ‘We are tired of this cycle: We arrest and they come out. We need to break that cycle,’” Campos said. Recently, Campos said that the police department is working closely with violence interrupters from the Community Response Network — a new development. The network helps families victimized by violence, helping them with funeral arrangements and taking kids out for pizza and to the movies when tensions run high. After years of budget cuts, however, it has had to consolidate from three neighborhood-specific agencies into one citywide group. “They are going from crisis to crisis,” Hernandez said. “It’s a cycle. Somebody dies, and [there’s] a big cry. The police come out and patrol more, and then it’s back to business as usual.”
say you’re in a shelter in Hunters Point, and you’ve got to go to a place in the Mission to get a lottery ticket. You’ve got to get on the bus to do that. Let’s say you do get the bed, but you can’t go to the shelter until 5. So you’ve got all that time to kill. Maybe you were in the library yesterday, so today you don’t want to do that. So you jump on BART and you ride it for hours. You might go to a place for a free lunch. You get a free lunch, and then you have some more time to kill. You go to the shelter at 5. So Marcia is 56 and she was taking care of her older mother like so many women that I met do or did, and the mom passed away. She and her sister were supposed to share the money from the sale of the home. The sister took the money and left the state. Marcia said she got hit by a car and is now having trouble walking. And none of her relatives or friends will help her. I heard this over and over again. So Marcia is living off of about $900 a month in Social Security. She lived in a single-room occupancy — this is basically like an old motel. You’ve got a single room. You might have a stove, but you don’t have a fridge. Nowhere to cook. Half of her money was going to the SRO. The other half was going to food. At the end of the month, she would be left with $10. She said she’s never been so poor. She said the SRO was filthy. There was a guy that lived next door who never went to bed, so she couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. So she left the SRO, and the only other option is the shelter.
kernan: So you’re saying that she can survive on that $900 or $800 and keep herself in good condition? Aguilar: Well, she didn’t know what else was out there, so
she just decided to leave, because she got so irritated by the whole process. So I would see her on a regular basis — in line to get a shelter, at a senior center eating lunch. Sometimes she’d get a bed and when she didn’t get a bed, she would go to Oshun, which is now called the Women’s Place, and this is a shelter that really shocked me because there are 45 women in this. It’s supposed to be a walk-in center, but a lot of women stay there again because it’s a safe place to be, but they’re sleeping in chairs.
kernan: in your research, you found that according to hearth, an organization working to end elder homelessness, that the country had 40,750 homeless people 62 or older in 2012. And you found that this population of elderly homeless women is very likely to increase. Why? Aguilar: They say it’s going to double by 2050. All of the
advocates I’ve interviewed say these numbers sound incredibly low, because the numbers are exploding. The baby boomer generation is aging. The social safety net has been shredded. If you have a retirement, it’s probably been sliced in half because of the economic crisis. They want to raise the retirement age in Washington. People are finding that they just don’t have options, and they’re running out of money.
San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013 || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEn | EXTRA || sfpublicpress.org || B5
Apis mellifera swarm over the comb of a rooftop hive in San Francisco. david Goehring // bay nature
san francisco, a Honeybee’s paradise Reduction in pesticides helps make city a worldwide hub of urban production
idden on rooftops and tucked away in backyards, San Francisco’s honeybees have become part of the urban fabric and are busier than most, even during winter months, when bees elsewhere hunker down in their hives. San Francisco’s mild climate allows honey production to be a year-round enterprise for the busy bees, and Story: that combined with Courtney quirin lenient laws, a pesticide // bay nature ordinance and greenminded residents have inadvertently made the city among the most welcoming for urban bees and their keepers. Although many people don’t even know that bees are here, an active group of beekeepers is expanding the population and making San Francisco a worldwide hub of urban honey production whose bounty rivals, and may even exceed, other hot spots like New York, Paris and Tokyo. In places that experience chilly winter temperatures, honeybees forgo foraging and reproduction, and form a dormant winter cluster within their hive. Huddling around the queen, worker bees vibrate their bodies to generate temperatures of up to 94 degrees, feeding off their honey stocks until the spring brings warmer weather and blossoming flowers. But like many of San Francisco’s residents, the honeybees here sing to a different tune. As long as temperatures stay above 50 degrees and it’s not raining, honeybees are on the fly, hitting up winter blooms and laying eggs. Ample winter nectar and mild temperatures also give San Francisco beekeepers an additional harvest or two. Whereas most beekeepers get only two harvests a year, some Bay Area keepers, like Charlie Blevins,
San Francisco urban beekeeper Charlie Blevins inspects his hive. Courtney quirin // bay nature president of the 180-member San Francisco Beekeepers Association, get up to four. Blevins, who harvested 500 pounds of honey last year, attributes his fecund winter harvest to the widespread blooms of Golden Gate Park’s eucalyptus trees. As the thirdmost-abundant tree in Golden Gate Park, the blue gum eucalyptus dominates the forest canopy as well as the winter blossoms. Honeybees are also drawn, this time of the year, to the blue blossoms on rosemary bushes,
which are sprinkled throughout the park. Honeybees also reap the rewards of the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s winterblooming flora, such as the towering tree daisies of the Mexican cloud forest collection or the purple, yellow and white blossoms of the Mediterranean Christmas heather. Blooming each February, the native California lilac is also a favorite among honeybees. “You can hear the noise from the bees 20 to 30 feet away. There are so many of them,” said Don Mahoney, curator of the botanical garden and an expert on gardening for bees. Since spring and summer bring many more foraging options for honeybees, it’s nearly impossible to know what exactly they are eating during the warmer months. The healthy harvest could also affect the health of city bees, which have little exposure to lethal pesticides. In 1996, San Francisco enacted a strict pesticide ordinance, phasing out nearly all pesticide use on city parks and buildings. “Any big city will have pesticides, but compared to other cities, people in San Francisco don’t use as much. People are more organically minded here,” Blevins said. Ingested through the pollen, pesticides can assimilate into a bee’s bodily tissues and disrupt its biochemistry to put it into a weakened and vulnerable state. “Pesticides definitely stress bees out and very well make them more susceptible to the next thing,” said Eric Mussen, an extension apiculturist at UC Davis. It’s still not clear, however, what level of pesticide exposure is toxic to bees. More recently, contact pesticides, which control pests through direct contact with the chemicals, are being replaced by systemic pesticides, in which chemicals are absorbed by the plant rather than merely coating it.
Mussen worries that some of the systemic toxicants may find their way into the fruit, flowers and nectar of affected plants, and go on to hurt bees. Unlike pollen, nectar is not ingested by bees, but rather stored in a pouch-like structure in the bee’s digestive system called the crop. Once back at the hive, bees regurgitate the nectar, mix it with enzymes, and deposit it in a cell in the comb, which later becomes honey. If pesticides are present in nectar, these chemicals may migrate back to the honeycomb and cling to beeswax, to get bound up later in the bees’ bodies. Surprisingly, honey tends to be free of pesticide residues, Mussen said. Although many of San Francisco’s bees may avoid exposure to pesticides, other urban bees aren’t so lucky. For example, more than a quarter of New York City’s available land is occupied by public parks, playgrounds, nature preserves and golf courses, all of which are subject to the city’s widespread use of Monsanto’s Roundup, a systemic herbicide. Considering that the Big Apple’s beekeeping scene has recently taken flight, with major hotels, like the WaldorfAstoria, adopting rooftop beekeeping to stay atop of latest trends, it’s easy to imagine that many New York bees have few choices beyond pesticide-laced nectar and pollen. Beekeeping’s popularity in San Francisco is also fostered by the city’s laws that make it easy for beekeeping clubs to quickly grow. The San Francisco Beekeepers Association’s members each own at least one hive, if not five. Anyone in San Francisco can keep bees as long as the bees do not become a public nuisance. But the beekeeping scene would never have come so far had it not been for the interest and passion among locals, many
of whom found their way to beekeeping through organic gardening and urban agriculture. Christian Riechert manages Her Majesty’s Secret Beekeeper, a beekeeping supply store in the Mission District. He said he found it easy to go from organic farming to beekeeping. Now, Riechert leads communitybuilding beekeeping programs throughout the Bay Area, such as the store’s “pairing program” in which he matches urban beekeepers in need of spots for their hives with bee enthusiasts who have the space but not the ability. Additionally, SF BeeCause pollinates the Bay Area with programs that combine bees with community development. Inspired by Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, a workforce development program that trains newly released prisoners in apiculture, SF BeeCause is applying a similar model to San Francisco. Running “bee farms” in places like Hayes Valley and Glen Park, the organization provides transitional work experience and volunteer opportunities in apiculture and trains beekeepers. The honey ends up at local organizations, like the Neighbors Developing Divisadero, which uses proceeds from honey drives to create sustainable community development programs. Honeybee numbers are still down since colony collapse disorder hit in 2006 (in which adult bees disappear and the colony collapses), yet the rise in urban beekeeping is not only helping bees rebound, but also has bolstered local flora and fauna. “Bee populations are slowly improving,” Blevins said, because urban beekeepers “are providing a better place for bees.” He believes recovering bee populations are one of the reasons why Golden Gate Park is flush with life.
Nature lovers Try to breathe life back into Mountain lake Conservationists working to remove pollutants, restore native flora and fauna
s drivers speed along Highway 1, past the Richmond District and into the Presidio, they might catch only a quick glimpse of Mountain Lake off to the east. But anyone who strolls down to this small body of water, tucked away behind a playground and tennis court, will see one of San Story and photo: Francisco’s redhyana levey maining natural // bay nature lakes — and one of its oldest. This 10-foot-deep lake, which historians date back as far as 2,000 years, has gone through drastic changes since its origins. In its early years, Mountain Lake was 40 percent larger than it is today: It was a 30foot deep lake that provided fresh drinking water for the Ohlone Indians and European settlers. Now it is filled with pollution and invasive, non-native flora and fauna. However, such agencies and organizations as the Presidio Trust, Friends of Mountain Lake Park, the San Francisco Zoo, volunteers and others are working to deepen and improve the health of this lake. Volunteers have already spent the last decade removing invasive eucalyptus
trees and planting native willows, wax myrtle and red alder trees. Genevieve Coyle, environmental remediation project manager for the Presidio Trust, a federal agency created to preserve and protect the Presidio, said the plan is to dredge 15,600 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the lake and remove the toxic substances that have seeped in over time. Tractors, fencing and other equipment are set up at the lake for dredging through October. “This has been a long time coming, and the community has been expecting it,” said Terri Thomas, director of cultural and natural resources for the Presidio Trust. “Now with the remediation happening, we’re going to try to get back the native fauna into the lake.” One goal is to restore the western pond turtle, the only native freshwater turtle left in California, said Jessie Bushell, an assistant curator of the San Francisco Zoo, which is working with the Presidio Trust on this project. The turtle is listed as a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and must first have its proper habitat reestablished in the
lake before it can live there again. Mountain Lake was surrounded by grasses and shrubs — but very few trees — when Spanish Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza and his soldiers arrived there in 1776. Wax myrtle and wet ground herbs, such as Apiacea and Ranunculaceae, were commonly found, according to Liam Reidy, an environmental geography student at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied the lake as part of his master’s thesis. European settlers went on to use the area as grazing land. But prior to their arrival, the fresh water provided by the lake had made it an important campsite for Native Americans. “The changes since have been very dramatic,” Reidy said. “It’s now one of the most contaminated lakes in North America.” Mountain Lake began to fill in heavily after 1848, which was around the time the U.S. Army started taking over the property, said Dana Polk, senior adviser of media and government relations for the Presidio Trust. The Presidio, including the lake, was transferred from a military post to a national park in 1994 and became part of the Golden
The Muscovy duck is a non-native species that has come to inhabit Mountain Lake. The sediment there includes lead and other toxic substances attributed to runoff from Highway 1. Workers are setting up to dredge 15,600 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom.
Gate National Recreation Area. Shortly thereafter, the Presidio Trust began working with the National Park Service to preserve the space. One of the lake’s most recognized problems with pollution began in 1938 with the nearby construction
of Highway 1. The lake filled with sediment, and then storm drains sent roadway runoff directly into the water, Coyle said. “Over a period of 70-plus years, the contaminants have washed directly from the road into the lake,” she
said. “So lead at the bottom of the lake is believed to be from leaded gasoline use from back in the 1970s time frame.” This lead was discovered during an environmental assessment that began in 2000, when the Presidio Trust had hoped to begin restoring the lake. But those restoration plans had to be put on hold until the lake was dredged. “The lake was silting up and getting shallower and shallower,” said Rich Shrieve, president of the Friends of Mountain Lake Park. “In a few human generations it would revert to a meadow.” He attributed some of the lake’s problems to dirt and debris that had fallen in over the years from the eucalyptus trees. But with the removal of these trees over the past decade and subsequent replacement by native riparian plants, Shrieve said, the area around Mountain Lake has already become healthier. “Over the past eight to 10 years, we are seeing a lot of the birds coming back, and coyotes and other mammals,” he said. “It’s a city park, not a wilderness area. But there’s a real active, wild ecosystem in and around the park.”
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san francisco a Test case for coping With rising seas Ocean Beach Master Plan calls for major changes, including a managed retreat strategy
arts of New York and New Jersey are still reeling from Superstorm Sandy, an event that brought climate change and the threat of sea-level rise front-and-center. It’s a looming problem for all coastal cities, and one that San Francisco has been pondering since long before Sandy struck. Along San Francisco’s western shore, the Ocean Beach Master Plan is a kind of test case for sea-rise planning. It calls for big changes, including a Story: strategy known as managed retreat. molly Samuel You don’t need a crystal ball to // kqEd see how encroaching seas will affect Science San Francisco. “What we’re walking on right now is the former southbound lane of the Great Highway in San Francisco,” said Tom Prete, the founder of the Ocean Beach Bulletin, an online news site that covers the neighborhoods along San Francisco’s Pacific shore. “In the winter of 2010, the city closed this portion of Great Highway because of erosion that was endangering the road,” he said. The side of the road closest to the beach is now blocked off by concrete barriers. Traffic has been rerouted onto what was once the median, to avoid the receding sandy bluffs. “It was something that was sort of done in an emergency,” Prete said. Now, rather than just reacting to what’s happening out here, San Francisco is planning ahead. The road map for this more proactive approach is the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a sweeping set of recommendations intended to be implemented over the next few decades as the ocean relentlessly carves away the coast. “It wants this land back,” Prete said. And it’s taking it. Last year, the National Academy of Sciences projected that in this part of California, the sea level could rise nearly a foot by 2030. And by the end of the century, if current warming trends continue, it could be more than 4 feet higher. Here at Ocean Beach, no private homes are in immediate danger, but on the line is millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure: the four-lane highway and a wastewater treatment plant. And there’s the beach itself, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, used by surfers, dog-walkers, joggers and bundled up
beach-goers (this is not San Diego). Sea-level rise is a looming threat, but erosion is nothing new. “It’s at least partially — I would argue, largely — a man-made problem,” said Bob Battalio, a coastal engineer at the consulting firm ESA PWA who is working on the Master Plan. He said the Great Highway isn’t just a casualty here; it’s part of the problem. It opened in 1929 to much fanfare. But it wasn’t exactly built on terra firma: The city flattened coastal sand dunes and pushed the shoreline about 200 feet out into the ocean. “It was progress, I guess, at that point,” Battalio said. But the ocean has been pushing back ever since, and the Great Highway isn’t looking so great anymore, with
beach. I don’t want my money going there.” The plan would cut down on those kinds of costs, but it isn’t cheap, either. Estimates for completing all the recommendations are just north of $350 million. Funding has come through for some initial studies, but the vast majority of that money has yet to be raised. “A lot of the things we’re recommending at Ocean Beach are very expensive,” said Benjamin Grant, who manages the Ocean Beach Master Plan for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “But you have to set them against the costs of the Band-Aid measures already taking place.” “We can’t close our eyes to what’s coming, and it’s definitely going to get worse and not better,” Grant said.
“It’s kind of like trying to hold a pendulum, and it’s going to try to go back to where it wants to be. Otherwise you have to hold it there.” pieces of parking lots crumbling onto the beach. The bluffs below it are strewn with sandbags, boulders and concrete: failed attempts by the city to stem erosion. Climate change will make it all worse. “It’s kind of like trying to hold a pendulum, and it’s going to try to go back to where it wants to be,” Battalio said. “Otherwise, you have to hold it there.” The most dramatic recommendation in the Ocean Beach Master Plan is to let go of the pendulum. “Everything’s easier if you move back,” Battalio said. “So ultimately what we’re trying to do is what we call ‘managed retreat.’” Under the plan, San Francisco would close one end of the Great Highway, reroute traffic about a halfmile inland, and let the ocean come back. Battalio said it comes down to engineering and economics. “As a surfer and somebody who’s studied waves and the like, I think it’s fine if people want to live on the coast,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s OK to take public money and build structures that adversely affect the
“If we can find a way to work with those processes to achieve the kinds of outcomes and build the kinds of places we want to have in our city, then we’ll be ahead of the game.” Two other California cities, Pacifica and Ventura, have both undertaken smaller managed-retreat projects. And other places, including New York City and the states around Chesapeake Bay, are beginning to put together their own climate response plans. For San Francisco, completing the big vision of the Ocean Beach Master Plan is just a first step. Some traffic and engineering studies are under way now, but they’re just the beginning of a decades-long process that will affect the shape of our coast and the lives along it. The plan also will be closely watched by other coastal cities around the United States, as the sea continues its slow but steady rise.
five reasons You should care About california’s cap-and-Trade carbon Market
alifornia launched an honest-to-goodness carbon market late last year, officially kicking off the state’s cap-andtrade program. It’s part of the landmark global warming bill, Assembly Bill 32, signed in 2006 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This isn’t the first cap-and-trade Story: program in the world. Europe has been lauren Sommer trading carbon allowances for a half-dozen // kqEd news fix blog years or so. New York, Massachusetts and several other East Coast states have a joint illustration: cap-and-trade program focused on the Andy Warner power sector. But California has estab// kqEd lished the first economy-wide program. Cap-and-trade functions like a stock exchange for greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses, including oil refiners and manufacturers, must buy permits for each ton of carbon they emit. It’s about as complex as the real stock market. So why should the average Californian pay attention? We asked a few experts to give us their take.
michael krasny: Your book predicts unprecedented human migration as a result of climate change. famine, disease, flooding, war — this prognostication is rather grim. Andrew Guzman: Climate change is not a series of separate events that will affect us, but it’s eating at the bedrock, the whole foundation of civilization. We always assume that the oceans stay the way they are; rain comes in the same places each year. And other physical structures are fairly constant. But those assumptions are not so true any more. krasny: We had previous programs about the maldives, and other island nations; huge numbers of people are being displaced through rising sea levels. Guzman: The numbers get large very fast. There’s a group of island states, called the [Alliance of Small Island States], that are home to about 41 million people who will be badly affected by climate change. If you look at the poster child for sea level rise, Bangladesh, you’re talking about 20 million displaced people who will have no place to go. No one wants to grapple with this problem. krasny: look at what Sandy did. Guzman: With Sandy we got a little glimpse of what the
richest country in the world faces when it gets hit by a storm that could have been worse. It’s a big shock. Now, translate that into how a much more severe natural disaster strikes a much poorer country. It could be worse than Sandy.
Guzman: We have a sophisticated water distribution
system in California, but ultimately, we can’t make the water in any meaningful way. We have battles over water today. They will get far more acute and closer to crisis levels each year.
Guzman: When a snowpack glacier shrinks, it holds less water in the rainy season. Think of glaciers as nature’s water-storage device. When it rains during the winter, it runs off the mountains when we don’t need it. It all flows into the rivers. When the summer comes, the water’s not there when we need it. We get some water from glaciers as long as they remain, but it’s not enough. The worse drought in California history was in 1977. By 2050, we’ll be getting one every six or eight years. By 2100, every four years. krasny: most scientists who are taking climate change seriously are not taking into account the effects on infrastructure, sanitation, police systems. You take it all into account, and the effect would be devastating. Guzman: Scientists write about physical science. Many people in academia encourage us to stay in our disciplines. But thinking about climate change forces us to get out of that paradigm. I’m lucky in that law schools are ecumenical in the kinds of research they support and what they reward.
“I think it’s a turning point,” said Stanley Young of California’s Air Resources Board, the state agency implementing the policy. “It is the capstone of a suite of programs that we have put into motion since the passage of the bill in 2006.” The goal of AB 32 is to cut California’s greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, a 30 percent reduction from business as usual. Young said to hit that goal, the state has taken on a matrix of programs, including clean car rules, a low-carbon fuel standard and a big renewable energy goal. Altogether, Young said these programs will make California a leader in clean energy technology: “This is the final piece of the puzzle that will help California move towards a clean energy economy.”
krasny: When you talk about these massive migrations, you talk about shortages of food and lack of food production. Guzman: Land gets flooded by water, so that land is not available for agriculture. Salt water pushes into land that is not flooded, and that makes the land less productive. Droughts and floods have that effect. Pressure on our food supply will be tremendous. We’ll experience a rise in food prices, and those in poor countries will face food prices that will make it impossible to eat. krasny: You also talk about how climate change could heighten tensions in hot spots throughout the world, in nigeria for example. You see it as a possible breeding ground for terrorists. Why?
2. iT miGhT hiT YouR bAnk ACCounT, EVEnTuAllY
Traditionally, environmental regulations are pretty firm. Industries get a limit on how much they can pollute, and they have to stick to it. Cap-and-trade works a little bit differently. The overall emissions limit, or cap, is fixed — but where the cuts come from is flexible. Businesses that cut their emissions a lot can sell extra carbon permits in the market. They can also meet their obligation by buying carbon offsets toward tree-planting and other environmental projects. “We want business to say, ‘Do I do the reducing or do I pay someone else who can do it more cheaply?’” said Severin Borenstein, a University of California, Berkeley, economist and an expert on energy markets. “I think that’s exactly the sort of approach we need so that we can reduce these pollutants at the least possible cost. That’s the whole goal here. We want to reduce the
uch has been written about the physical effects of climate change: the melting glaciers, droughts and freakish weather patterns. But not much has been mentioned of the human cost around the world. Andrew Guzman, professor of law and associate dean for international and advanced degree programs at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, is the author of “Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate interview: Change.” Guzman recently appeared as a michael krasny guest on “Forum.” // kqEd’s
krasny: There will be droughts as well.
1. iT Could TRAnSfoRm CAlifoRniA’S EConomY
3. if WE’RE GoinG To REGulATE CARbon EmiSSionS, ThiS Could bE ThE moST EffiCiEnT WAY
How climate change Will Alter civilization
krasny: in your book, you say that by 2050, the source of water in the California Sierra snowpack will have shrunk by a third.
The point of a cap-and-trade market is to give businesses flexibility in how they cut their carbon emissions. Even with that flexibility, they’re facing an added cost that doesn’t exist today. “Even if we don’t feel the immediate impact, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to come home to roost in a few years,” said Dorothy Rothrock from the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. The California Air Resources Board is taking steps to minimize the financial effect. Big utilities will get all their carbon permits for free, and other industries will get most of theirs for free initially. So, your utility bill won’t be going up soon (at least not because of cap-andtrade). But in 2015, when fuel providers have to start buying permits, the price of gas could rise. “It’s not like [consumers] are suddenly going to see a big bill in their mailbox the next day, but the costs will be coming, and there won’t be a lot we can do to stop it,” Rothrock said.
Guzman: Climate change could be described as a conflict magnifier, in that all tensions that already exist are made more acute. Nigeria has ethnic strife, it has an extreme Islamist movement. It is important to us, because it has a lot of oil we import — just as much from Saudi Arabia. Terrorism could occur here with or without climate change. Now add to that climate change. Nigeria will have problems with decreases in crop production. Rain-dependent agriculture could fall by 50 percent by 2050. Add to that it’s a country with a history of insurrections, add to that enormous dislocation and shock. It already is a dangerous place.
amount of pollution, in this case greenhouse gases, but we want to do it in a way that’s not too costly to the economy.” That’s how it’s worked in previous cap-and-trade markets, he said. “We used early cap-and-trade markets to address acid rain and to reduce ozone. Both of those have been pretty successful. In both cases, the total coast of the reduction turned out to be much lower than the forecasts were.” 4. iT Could hElP CommuniTiES AlREAdY dEAlinG WiTh PolluTion California will be auctioning off some of the carbon permits, or allowances, that businesses need — which could eventually raise billions of dollars. Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills, SB 535 and AB 1532, that direct where the money should be invested. Some of the auction proceeds must be spent on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Twenty-five percent of the revenue must benefit disadvantaged communities, either directly or indirectly. “If done right, this program can get us on the path to greening up the state, investing hundreds of millions into disadvantaged areas, and building a strong clean energy economy,” said Vien Truong of the Greenlining
Institute. “This program makes polluters accountable for the pollution they cause, so it has the potential to move us towards reducing air pollution and improving public health.” 5. hEY, iT Could ACTuAllY hElP fiGhT ClimATE ChAnGE In the long run, California could face some very expensive climate change effects like sea-level rise, forest fires and droughts. “Climate change is the most pressing problem of our generation, and we need solutions,” said Emily Reyna of the Environmental Defense Fund. Sure, California can’t single-handedly solve these problems, she said. California is the ninth-largest economy in the world and accounts for, at most, roughly the same portion of the world’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. But the state’s cap-and-trade program will be the largest and most ambitious in the country, making California a proving ground for climate policy. Even though climate change was scarcely mentioned during the presidential election, Reyna said the nation is watching how California does. “If it’s done right here in California, which I believe it will be, then it can be a real model for the rest of the country, the rest of the world,” Reyna said.
krasny: how do you get people to accept this, and where do they go once they do? Guzman: There’s only a couple of ways this ends. One
is we go pass a tipping point which creates a spiraling warming. Another way is for us to reduce emissions by working with institutions. The path forward for policy makers is to raise the price of carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. For individuals, it would be to reward politicians who take a sensible action on climate change and punish those who refuse to do that. That means voting, it means making campaign contributions and volunteering and getting involved in the political process.
krasny: What do you hope for as far as greater awareness? What would you like them to do as regular citizens? Guzman: We can do more in our daily lives; drive less,
drive more fuel-efficient cars. Use less plastic, use energy moderately to heat or cool our homes. The ultimate solution, I think, comes from governmental policy. But private citizens both have to work with it hand in hand.
San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013 || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEn | EXTRA || sfpublicpress.org || B7
Mainstream Media’s environmental coverage: The sound of silence Kardashians receive nearly 50 times more coverage than ocean acidification
recent report by the nonprofit organization Project for Improved Environmental Coverage compared and ranked news organizations according to how they had prioritized environmental headlines. The news is grim: There’s a virtual black hole when it comes to green news, as major media organizations favor crime and entertainment stories above environmental ones. Story: daniel Adel Titled “Environmental Coverage // Earth island in the Mainstream News,” the report journal used data provided by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism to review a range of national and local news organizations across platforms from January 2011 to May 2012. Among 30 national news organizations in the United States, environmental coverage represented just 1.2 percent of headlines. Meanwhile, entertainment and crime coverage continued to dominate the media space. For some news organizations, entertainment and crime garnered 20 to 60 times more coverage, respectively, than did the environment. Prominent newspapers and major television programs mentioned the Kardashians 2,133 times between Jan. 1, 2011, and June 26, 2012, according to a study by Media Matters. During that same period, ocean acidification was mentioned only 45 times. The findings are especially discouraging, given that many Americans say they are hungry for more environmental news. A 2012 poll, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, found that 79 percent of Americans from almost every demographic say they want improved environmental coverage. “There is a lot of room for improvement, and local newspapers and independent news organizations can be looked to as models when it comes to prioritizing environmental coverage,” said report author Tyson Miller. “There are more resources than ever for reporting on or curating environmental stories. In light of the environmental challenges we face, we and many others look forward to seeing more news organizations stepping into leadership roles and helping their industry to innovate in this area.” The old newsroom maxim, “if it bleeds it leads,” still appears to grip many news organizations, despite the fact that most of the crime stories that suck up media attention have very little national relevance. The networks’ morning shows carry an estimated 69 crime stories for each environmental story they do. The crime-to-environment coverage ratios are also dismal for other outlets: cable news, 9-to-1; online news, 6-to-1; evening network news, 5-to-1. Fox News had the highest percentage of headline environmental stories (1.57 percent) among cable and network news outlets, beating out the publicly supported PBS (1.43 percent), with CNN having the lowest (0.36 percent). The Huffington Post was the environmental coverage leader for national news organizations, with 3 percent of headlines dedicated to environmental news (nearly three
national average. Influencing factors for the leader title include that the Daily Herald had the lowest entertainment-to-environment ratio and the second-lowest crimeto-environment ratio, leaving more room and resources for better environmental coverage. Independent news organizations are also prioritizing environmental coverage much more than mainstream news organizations. Independent outlets such as CommonDreams.org and National Radio Project average 15 times more environmental stories than mainstream media. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, for most adults older than 35, the media is by far the leading source of environmental information. A National Environmental Education Foundation/Roeper Report found that about 80 percent of Americans receive incorrect or outdated environmental information. There is little difference in environmental knowledge between the average American and those who sit on governing bodies and town councils, and in corporate board rooms — those whose decisions often have wider ramifications on the environment. Their conclusion is that “low levels
times the national average). Not surprisingly, much of the environment coverage on Fox is mocking, blatantly dismissive or just plain erroneous. Fox and its parent company, News Corporation, have a well-established anti-environmental agenda. A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that Fox News and News Corporation often mislead the public about scientific facts related to key environmental issues. An analysis of Fox News’ coverage of climate change between January and July of 2012 found that 93 percent of the station’s coverage was misleading. A similar analysis of the Wall Street Journal found that it was misleading in its coverage of climate science 81 percent of the time. For both Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, misleading comments dismissed the scientific consensus that climate change was occurring or that it was human-caused. And while CNN is viewed as a source for balanced coverage, a snapshot of its headlines as tracked and categorized by the study between April 18 and May 18, 2012 tells a different story. Sports/entertainment and news dominated 217 stories, 86 stories were crime related, and 71 stories were what the report authors describe as “trivial.” Meanwhile, just 17 were stories related to the environment.
During that one-month period, CNN.com failed to cover a U.N. report warning that changing ocean conditions jeopardize the fish stocks we rely on for food; a group of U.S. mayors pledging to make greenhouse gas reductions in their cities; and a report warning of pesticide residues on industrially grown produce. But here are some headlines that CNN.com producers felt Americans absolutely had to know about: Cat weighs almost 40 pounds Photos: A home made of beer cans The Ridiculist: drunk friends steal penguin mom denies taking 6-year-old for tan being a porn star saved my life Charlie Sheen sues strip club hot dog stripper goes back to work Grad Gift Trend: breast implants? While national organizations were ignoring environmental news, many local newspapers were covering the beat much better. Local outlets covered the environment nearly 2.5 times as often as national outlets. With environmental stories representing 7.3 percent of its headlines, the leading local news organization, Daily Herald in Washington state, covered environmental stories nearly six times the
With poor knowledge of environmental news, the public “will be unprepared for increasing environmental responsibilities in the coming years.” of knowledge about the environment is a signal that members of the public will be unprepared for increasing environmental responsibilities in the coming years.” A recent study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication confirms this. The study found that 57 percent of Americans know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat; 50 percent understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities; 45 percent understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface; and only 25 percent have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification. The study also found that Americans recognize their own limited understanding of the environment. Only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change. Seventy-five percent say they would like to know more. National mainstream media, take note: People are hungry for more environmental news. Maybe you should give them what they want.
surrounded by rising Waters on 3 sides, san francisco fights to Keep climate change in check
f San Francisco were a popular band, it would be Radiohead: overachieving, arch, holierthan-thou — and yet undeniably well loved and two steps ahead of everyone else. Plastic bag ban? interview: “Duh —and darby minow expanding.” Smith Mandatory // Grist.org composting and recycling? “Everything in its right place — and let’s shoot for zero waste by 2020.” A solar financing program? “Definitely. And let’s model it after Groupon, while we’re at it, to catch the zeitgeist.” But even a city on the cutting edge has its share of difficult realities to face. The city has the second-mostexpensive housing market in the United States, and middle-class families are being priced out. California could see a 16-inch sea-level rise by mid-century and 55 inches by 2100, according to one estimate. Surrounded by water on three sides, the city is particularly vulnerable. Still, San Francisco Department of the Environment Director Melanie Nutter is optimistic. “Cities are so well-poised to take action and make a collective impact,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I love working on the local level. You can really see that movement and that change.” Nutter has tried the alternative: She was working for then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi when national climate bills seemed attainable. “It takes so much to try to move policy at the federal level,” she said. The WaxmanMarkey climate and energy bill from 2009 “was very disappointing to see fall apart.” I talked to Nutter for our series on the women working hard to green our cities. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:
darby minow Smith: i recently saw a map of San francisco looking at possible sea-level rise scenarios. it wasn’t pretty. What are you planning for and how are you planning for it? melanie nutter: This is very much
on our minds in light of Sandy and the extreme weather events that we are starting to see. … We’ve had torrential downpours in San Francisco. Rain is common this time of year, but there’s been a number of atmospheric conditions that created a [Pineapple Express], which was basically a complete dumping.
with a lot and who are on the cutting edge include Vancouver, Seattle, New York, Chicago. Melbourne is doing amazing work. Sydney, Tokyo — there are so many incredible cities around the world that are doing amazing things. Portland.
There are pictures of places in San Francisco where it’s up to people’s knees on certain streets where the storm drains got flooded from what we thought was going to be a simple rain shower. We are reminded again and again how vulnerable we are. Many different city agencies in San Francisco have their own adaptation programs or projects where they’ve looked at how changes in sea-level rise or climate impacts could affect their agencies. The public utilities commission has been looking at how snowpack is going to affect the water supply as well as how sea-level rise will affect storm drains. The Department of the Environment is launching an effort to bring all of those city agencies together. We know we need a grander, more unified, collaborated effort. Smith: Can you act fast enough? CoP18 looks to be another letdown when it comes to international climate change efforts. on the federal level, things aren’t looking very hopeful either. nutter: The good news is that San Francisco has already made great progress on reducing our carbon emissions locally. [Editor’s note: San Francisco is working on a review of how much it has been able to cut emissions. There has been debate over the numbers in the past.] We’ve done a lot of great work locally, and I think we’re on a good track to reduce emissions even more. That being said, carbon emissions do not obey city boundaries. There is only so much you can do locally, but I’m hopeful about cities in general. Cities account for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and about 80 percent of the energy use worldwide. If cities do act, and we’re not just all re-creating the wheel and are instead sharing best practices and taking action and being nimble, cities can really accelerate progress. Smith: San francisco has seen a 10 percent decline in the number of middle-class households. new York is the only u.S. city with a lessaffordable housing market. is your department involved in slowing this in any way? nutter: To be honest, housing
policy is not something within our purview. There is a lot going on in the city to help increase access to
Smith: You might keep an eye out for Portland. i hear they have a competitive streak. nutter: Yeah, I’d say those are the cities that are our “closest allies.” Smith: Where is San francisco headed next in terms of sustainability?
Coastal cities have much to lose when seas encroach, said Melanie Nutter, San Francisco’s environment director. But because urban areas produce the most greenhouse gas, they are ideal places to enact preventive measures. Creative Commons image by flickr user jonstarbuck affordable housing in San Francisco. [We] see a lot of families who end up leaving the city and county of San Francisco due to affordability. It’s one thing to move here in your 20s and live in an apartment with lots of roommates. It’s another thing to try to raise a family where you have a lot of additional costs. There are certain populations that are disproportionately affected by issues of affordability. One of the things we really try to focus on is, even if you’re not as concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, we have a lot of programs that can help your family save money on their energy bill. There are ways that we can ensure that [sustainability] isn’t only about environmental protection and some of these bigger goals, but that it’s also about individual lives and how people can benefit. Smith: Your green building labels program is praised for boosting property values. nutter: It increases the property val-
ues, but it doesn’t trigger an assessment, so it’s not going to increase people’s property taxes. And when you think about a green, efficient building, they’re cheaper to operate. There’s a direct connection between greening and bringing costs down.
The question is: “Are those savings passed down from a property manager to tenants in a particular apartment building or commercial building?” That’s of course what we would like to see. Smith: San francisco has some of the highest parking prices in the nation. one of your department’s goals is to get people out of their cars. Are high parking prices a way to encourage that, or just a budget issue? nutter: That’s a budget issue. It’s been a way to generate more revenue for the transportation agency to increase transit. One of the programs we’re supporting is the SF Park Program, which is basically congestion pricing at the meter level. The Metropolitan Transportation Agency is able to see in real time what streets are congested and adjust parking rates based on congestion. That’s very helpful because it decreases idling and circling in very congested areas, and it’s a disincentive to bring your car into certain congestion areas. It decreases greenhouse gas emissions, and it also helps people think about alternatives to bringing their car into the city. Smith: San francisco is getting a
reputation for parklets, in which a parallel parking space is turned into a tiny park. nutter: They’ve been an essential component to greening communities and bringing community members back out into neighborhoods in certain areas where there wasn’t a lot of street traffic. There are certain streets that have greatly transformed. [On Valencia Street,] you can feel the palpable difference. There’s a lot more thriving businesses, a lot more activity. It’s basically a thriving merchant corridor. It’s something we passively support, but we don’t implement it. The planning department is in charge of issuing parklet permits. But we do our own parking day outside the Department of the Environment. Once a year, we take over the parking spaces in front of our building and do outreach and education as part of raising awareness for the movement. Smith: You’ve topped many a greenest city list. Who are your closest competitors? nutter: We like to say we’re collaborators. Competition would mean that we’re all trying to [individually] win. We all want to collectively win. Certainly some of the cities we work
nutter: I think the future of San Francisco is really going to be about how all of our individual siloed sustainability initiatives will get connected and integrated. We are working to be one of the first VERGE cities, which is a term that was coined by GreenBiz. It’s a smart cities concept where you think about how technology can really enable the connection between the building sector, the transportation sector and the energy sector to have not only a sustainable city but a smart city. That’s one vision of where we are headed. The other is a future where we don’t have a green job and we don’t have a green building. Sustainability will just be the norm — integrated into all that we do. Smith: business as usual. nutter: Exactly. Sustainability will be business as usual.
Solution to Crossword on page b8 no cheating. unless you feel like it.
B8 || sfpublicpress.org || ABOUT US | LABOR | STREETSCAPE | CIVICS | GREEN | ExTRA || San Francisco Public Press, Spring 2013
Testing online privacy limits, okcupid lets strangers read intimate Messages
Even if dating website’s ‘moderation’ system is legal, it makes some lawyers uneasy
obert Edwards had been on the popular dating website OkCupid.com for about six months when the administrators asked him to be a community moderator. “They wrote and said I am a responsible user, whatever that means,” he recalled, admitting that at first he was befuddled. Though fairly active on the site, Edwards, a medical professional who lives in the Mission District, had remained a confirmed bachelor. But curiosity drove him to click Story: the “moderation” button, and within Rachel Swan minutes he was reading people’s // Public Press messages to each other and perusing profiles flagged for possible terms of service violations. Online love-seekers might not be aware of it, but OkCupid has deputized random strangers to gain access to intimate conversations between others — correspondence that many users, as well as Internet privacy experts, assumed to be private. In most cases, the alleged breach was pretty obvious. Some particularly suggestive photos could easily be traced back to prostitution businesses, via a reverseimage search. Some were quite obviously spammers. Some profiles bore extreme close-ups of body parts — usually cleavage or man-boobs — instead of a conventional headshot. Some users were flagged for sending salacious messages, of the “daddy wants to spank you” variety. But occasionally, Edwards got to eavesdrop on entire correspondences between two people, only one of whom knew the messages were being viewed by a third party. Each conversation was viewed by several strangers, who quipped back and forth in a side conversation about which users were jerks and whether their accounts should be deleted. He remembers one case in which a woman flagged messages from a man who’d told her she was fat. “She protested and said there was no reason to be rude, and then he snapped back that he was ridding the site of fat chicks, one fat bitch at a time,” Edwards recalled. “After he was reported, the moderators were trying to come to a consensus about whether there had been a violation of site rules.” He can’t remember if they wound up sacking the guy. Edwards said he and other moderators sometimes saw messages containing real names and personal phone numbers — information not meant to be publicly associated with their OkCupid profiles. For the most part, Edwards kept the messages under wraps, considering them little more than a bit of sanctioned voyeurism. But other OkCupid moderators filch private messages from the site and display them for a wide audience. One self-described “lowly OkCupid moderator” compiled screenshots of private messages culled from the moderation slush pile, and posted them on a Tumblr blog called ThatsNotOkCupid.com. He blacked out user names but included unredacted conversations, inviting others to contribute messages of their own. Another site, NotSoNiceGuys.tumblr.com offers a similar form of public shaming. One of its recent posts — dated Feb. 19 — shows a long conversation between two users about whether or not homosexuality is a sin. One of them claimed to be gay. Both accused each other of misapprehending the Bible. Repurposed in a screenshot, the conversation includes 13 messages in all. Neither site responded to requests for comment. dEbATE oVER SoCiAl mEdiA PRiVACY In an era of spirited debate over privacy on social media, OkCupid’s moderation function has curiously fallen by the wayside. It hasn’t been tested in court, even though several parties have filed suit against OkCupid and its parent company, Match.com, for selling their personal information to advertisers. Even as California state Attorney General Kamala Harris crusades against privacy violations on mobile apps, no one has publicly objected to OkCupid’s routine vetting of private messages, in what should be an intimate space. And now that the website has mushroomed to 1.14 million unique visits a month, it’s created an infinitely fecund garden of content for moderators who want to exploit their position. OkCupid’s co-founder Sam Yagan said the company hadn’t done anything wrong. “I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘access,’” he said, explaining that moderators can view only content that a recipient has flagged — and in his perception, flagging is equivalent to forwarding. “Look, if you send me an email, I can forward it to somebody,” Yagan said. “It’s not that OkCupid is doing something. It’s the recipient of the message. The recipient
Moderators, apparently chosen at random, decide whether dating profiles on popular dating site OKCupid violate the terms of service. The moderation system also exposes private messages, which some lawyers consider a privacy violation. michael Stoll // Public Press
Sam Yagan, OkCupid’s CEO. Commonwealth Club of the message has said ‘OK, this is noncompliant,’ and has chosen to share it with OkCupid.” Yagan pointed out that it would be impossible for social media sites to draft privacy policies that could control where all their content winds up. A Facebook message can be tweeted; an email can be leaked to The New York Times. Any OkCupid profile can crop up in a Google search, if you know the right search terms. Suffice to say that traditional ideas of privacy might be illusory, even on a site that promotes intimacy. Although Yagan disapproved of the moderators who broke that fourth wall and posted other users’ private messages on their own blogs, he insisted that OkCupid couldn’t be held responsible for such behavior. “Moderators are not supposed to do that, that’s not the intent, and of course we don’t want those people to be moderators anymore,” Yagan said. “But I don’t think that kind of behavior is part and parcel of the model we have.” He hastened to add that if that moderator had been an employee of OkCupid, posting messages would be “no more or less acceptable,” and “no more or less a violation of privacy.” PoliCY unClEAR But some lawyers questioned that logic, given that the moderation mechanism isn’t entirely spelled out in OkCupid’s terms of service. Although the policy prohibits “harassment and mischief,” it also says that parent company Humor Rainbow Inc. has sole discretion to determine what counts as misconduct. It also indicates that certain authorized users may get access to secure, password-protected pages on the site, but it doesn’t say
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All's Well... ACRoSS 1. 60 minutes 5. Classic board game 9. Butcher’s cut 14. ___ account 15. Biblical word 16. Baseball’s Hank 17. Retro style, like some highrises in Russian Hill 18. Steffi of tennis 19. Flip of a hit single 20. Emmy-winning comedy-drama starring Lauren Graham (2000-2007) 23. Needle point? 24. Stone popular in Chinatown 25. Asia Minor region 29. “Krazy” comics feline 30. “Surfin’___” (1963 hit) 31. Prefix for the birds 32. 1990 Tom Cruise/ Nicole Kidman racing film 36. Land measure 38. “Give ___ break!” 39. Alternative to HäagenDazs
why or how those users are authorized, or what those password-protected pages contain. In fact, Yagan said, OkCupid moderators are selected via a scoring algorithm that monitors how long and how active they have been on the site, and whether anyone ever complained about them. They’re not actually chosen by human administrators at OkCupid. The moderator guidelines provide rules for what to delete (underage profiles, hate speech, commercial solicitations) but no rules on how content can be used. There’s no prohibition on reposting messages to a public website. To Berkeley consumer protection attorney Jonathan Jaffe, who helped launch a class action suit against Facebook for turning users into unwitting advertisers via its “sponsored stories” function, those guidelines look like a legal minefield. He said they wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court, were OkCupid ever sued by someone who suffered harm after a moderator posted his or her messages. By outsourcing its moderation function to regular users rather than paid employees, OkCupid puts itself in
A ChAnGE in diRECTion Two weeks after the Public Press called with questions in February, though, OkCupid appeared to have moved in a more conservative direction. “OkCupid changed the way modding works,” the NotSoNiceGuys blogger wrote on Feb. 28, in a post called
“I don’t think a reasonable user would expect a third party, particularly one who has little to no obligation to protect the confidence of a user, to read his or her personal messages.” a precarious position, he said. “I don’t think a reasonable user would expect a third party, particularly one who has little to no obligation to protect the confidence of a user, to read his or her personal messages,” Jaffe wrote in an email. Lawyers at the Texas offices of Baker Botts, who defended Match.com against a class action claim that the company had inflated its subscriber numbers, declined to comment on the company’s behalf. Yagan contends that OkCupid’s moderation system resembles that of many other social networks, and that having citizen moderators doesn’t make the company any more susceptible to lawsuits. A clause in the company’s terms of service seems to clear the company of liability for protecting any information transmitted through the site, admonishing users that all content might be
Crossword: Andrea Carla michaels // Public Press
40. Food delivery for the homebound 45. TGIF part 46. Cycle start? 47. Guns N’ Roses frontman Rose 48. China’s last dynasty and with Fu, a type of mustache 50. Rabbit’s cousin 52. Comic’s bit 55. Satisfactory outcomes, an ABC sitcom and a hint to 1-Across, 20-Across, 32-Across, 40-Across, 68-Across 58. It loses to scissors 61. “The Andy Griffith Show” character 62. Dove, Zest, etc. 63. More than approximate 64. Most people born in August 65. Germany’s von Bismarck 66. Little lizard 67. Bad thing to be in 68. Tootsies
doWn 1. Podge preceder 2. “___ the loneliest number...” (Three Dog Night lyric) 3. Cry of surrender 4. BooM BooM ____, Fillmore Blues club 5. Toon babies of ‘90s-‘00s TV 6. How mistakes are often marked 7. Main part of the Curran or A.C.T. 8. Annan of the U.N. 9. Photo that emulates a painting 10. Deep-voiced singer at the SF Opera House 11. “... ___ quit!” 12. “Yes” signal 13. Chemical ending 21. “Love Train” soul group member 22. Reckless 26. Cheryl and Alan 27. Tony winner Judith 28. Broadcasts on KQED, or KOFY 29. Film critic Pauline
30. The Hotel ____ Saloon on 4th Street 32. Bathtub feature 33. Luxury hotel at 500 California St., SF 34. Small quantity 35. “Little” Dickens girl 36. Car radio button 37. Michael of “Juno” 41. 1960’s-90’s Indonesian president 42. “Movin’ ___” (“The Jeffersons” theme song) 43. Heartfelt 44. Marked, as a ballot 49. Mechanics Library Chess Club “warning” 50. Bouncing off the walls 51. Alphabetic quintet 52. $1,000 53. Cat’s-eye alternative 54. Elusive pleasure zone 56. Silent film vamp Negri 57. “Time ___ the essence” 58. Cribbage item 59. Give the heave-ho 60. D.C. lobbying grp. Solution on page b7
“What Not to Do on OkCupid: I’m Not Sure What Do to About this Blog.” “I now only get flagged pictures,” the blogger groused. “I haven’t had a message or a profile in a long time and it seems like none of the other mods have either.” He suggested that OkCupid may have quietly altered its moderation function “because of sites like this,” and worried that OkCupid administrators might suddenly have gotten bullish about privacy. “Modding may never go back to the way it was and that kind of sucks,” the blogger wrote. Edwards said the whole online dating scene makes him anxious, mostly because the people he meets often turn out to be not quite who they say they are. He plans to delete his OkCupid account.
Issue 10 of the San Francisco Public Press.