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in depth




Choice Is Resegregating Public Schools I



nside this edition of the Public Press, you will find a publication that commemorates the storied 48-year history of one of America’s earliest and most important alternative weekly newspapers: The San Francisco Bay Guardian. The day the San Francisco Media Co. killed the Bay Guardian in mid-October, we offered to print whatever the laid-off editorial staff wanted to give us to reflect on their situation as an eight-page insert in our fall edition — if they could get it to us in a week. Instead, they chose to take three months and put together a thoughtful retrospective that makes an eloquent and impassioned case for preserving a diversity of voices in local media. The Guardian’s closure shocked the local journalism community as much as it did the progressive political constituency with whom the paper sided on so many efforts over 48 years. When the Chronicle was timid, the Guardian was fearless. When the Examiner was superficial, the Guardian dived into public records. And when SF Weekly was cynical, the Guardian oozed idealism. No publication in the city came closer to the journalist’s creed: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. While the Public Press was not founded on the same business model and shies away from political advocacy, we share the aim of holding the powerful accountable. We hope the Guardian-in-Exile staff will find new and innovative ways to continue independent muckraking in San Francisco, a city that sure needs it.




System Intended to Give Parents Educational Options Separates Students by Race, Language, Family Income


eparate but equal” education has been illegal in the United States since 1964. Since then, the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to racially integrate classrooms, and today few educators and parents publicly dispute the idea that diversity is good for kids and for society as a whole. Yet despite their aspirations and efforts, San Francisco schools are increasingly segregated. Last school year, a single racial group formed a majority at six out of 10 schools. Our investigation tries to find out why. The answer, we discovered, is not simple — and the solutions will not be simple either. Many forces are driving this segregation. The district offers parents a choice of schools, but not everyone has the resources to take advantage of the dizzyingly complex system. Cuts to the school bus fleet make it hard for


section San Jose removes sprawling homeless camp, leaving residents out in cold. PAGE A4

Transportation shapes education choices PAGE B2


disadvantaged and moderate-income San Franciscans to reach the best-performing schools. Meanwhile, the city is undergoing a dramatic demographic and economic transformation, with the departure of white and black students, leaving Asians and Latinos as the largest groups. We found that San Francisco public schools are becoming economically distinct from the city as a whole, as many affluent families send their kids to private schools. In short, growing income disparities pit choice and diversity against each other. New policies could make a difference. But school district leaders will need to find new tools to reverse the resegregation trend.







Visualizing patterns in diversity, achievement PAGE B7 AND B8











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Winter 2015 • Issue 16 (Vol. 6, No. 1) Published Jan. 21, 2015

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Shinwha Whang

e purposely left something out of this issue: the crossword puzzle solution. Complete the puzzle on this page and send us the filled solution grid for a chance to win a one-year Cub Reporter membership. If your answers are all correct, you will be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a free membership. Cub Reporter membership includes includes one year of home delivery of the quarterly print newspaper and access to events hosted by the Public Press, plus your choice of a tote bag, T-shirt — available in adult and children’s sizes — or baby onesie. For members in San Francisco, the newspaper is delivered by bicycle. Enter the contest by snapping a photo of your solution grid and emailing it, or by mailing a copy of your answer grid to San Francisco Public Press, 44 Page St., Suite 504, San Francisco, CA 94102. If you’re already a member, you can use this opportunity to extend your membership or gift one to a friend. Happy puzzling!


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Crossword Puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels and Jonathan Berman

ACROSS 1. Take an ax to 5. Julia of “The Addams Family” 9. Charlatan 14. Spiny African plant 15. High hairstyle 16. First president born in Hawaii 17. Colorful singer’s dessert? 20. Crustacean with seven pairs of legs 21. Cpl. or Sgt. 22. More’s opposite 23. Sufficient, old style 25. WWII group 27. Colorful singer’s background sound? 35. CXII halved LVI 36. Negative in Normandy 37. Bootlickers 38. ___ Triomphe, Paris 41. Put 2 and 2 together 43. No-nonsense STAID 44. “La Femme ___” 46. “___ for Innocent” (Sue Grafton novel) 48. Bearded beast of Africa 49. Colorful singer’s family outcast 53. Gun in the Israeli army 54. Flightless bird of New Zealand 55. Swedish pop group 59. Thespian Hagen 61. C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of ___” 65. Colorful singer’s vegetable icon? 68. Sicily’s country 69. First name in detective fiction 70. Jim-dandy 71. Hannah in “Splash” 72. “It’s a deal!” 73. David Bowie style DOWN 1. Pilgrim to Mecca 2. “Oy!” 3. Italian resort lake 4. “Am I my brother’s ___?” (Genesis 4:9) 5. Masseur’s offering 6. Calendar or banking abbrev. 7. Japanese noodles

8. Like a revealing dress 9. Watch pocket 10. First family member 11. Upton or Hudson 12. Ambulance personnel, for short 13. Tampa Bay team 18. Toshiba competitor 19. Overly curious 24. “Hold your horses!” 26. Snake eyes 27. Mel who voiced Foghorn Leghorn 28. “Sk8er Boi” singer Lavigne 29. Lake of “Hairspray” 30. Nepal neighbor 31. East, in Berlin 32. Celebrity’s concern 33. French river 34. Become, at last 39. Hullabaloo

40. “___, Brute?” 42. Clark or Cheney 45. Bella of politics 47. Peeled fruit, say 50. Liquid units, in the 51. Pirate’s booty 52. Personnel director’s duty 55. Kind of rock or battery component 56. Kind of blocker 57. Boo Boo or Pooh 58. Adversary’s antithesis 60. Flying start? 62. Hit on the head 63. Ancient South American 64. “Up and ___!” (“Rise and shine!”) 66. Popeye’s Olive 67. Pipe joint



Pier 70 Waterfront Development Could Flood This Century

An artist’s conception of how the new Pier 70 waterfront could be transformed. Image courtesy of Yes on F campaign

Voters approve new waterfront neighborhood, but developer lacks plan to minimize inundation risk By Kevin Stark // Public Press


much-ballyhooed waterfront development in San Francisco could be battered by floods by the end of this century if nothing is done to adapt to sea-level rise, according to new projections by scientists and city planners. The mixed-use development proposed for the derelict industrial zone at Pier 70, at the edge of the booming Dogpatch neighborhood, is only a few feet above the San Francisco Bay in most places. That is just below the level that city planning documents say could get flooded in the most severe storms by 2100. Some parts of the property are likely to be underwater permanently, unless the builder adds several feet of landfill to raise the grade. With sea-level rise expected to accelerate this century, the property seems guaranteed to eventually lose the battle against encroaching bay waters. Without committing publicly to an adaptation strategy, the developer said that it would use engineering to protect the development from rising tides, and added that the project would provide badly needed housing at a time of rapidly escalating housing prices. The bulk of San Francisco's planned development in the next two decades — 25,000 homes — will also be in other housing megaprojects, at the Hunters Point Shipyard, Parkmerced and Treasure Island. Before the November election, developer Forest City spent $2 million on a public relations campaign that included more than a dozen print mailers to sway San Francisco voters to approve local Proposition F. The measure, which passed with 73 percent of the vote, removed height limits and paved the way for new construction containing retail, light manufacturing and more than 2,000 homes on the site. The first phase is estimated to cost $242 million. The project won endorsements from nearly everyone important in San Francisco politics: Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Art Agnos, all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors and more than 50 prominent community and political groups, including both the Democratic and Republican parties. It was the environmental seal of approval from the local chapter of the Sierra Club that featured most prominently in colorfully illustrated campaign literature. Becky Evans, chair of the local chapter, said she and her colleagues were impressed with the promise of additional dense urban housing and the company’s extensive efforts at community outreach. Sea-level rise, a concern for the Sierra Club nationally, was not a major consideration in this case, she said. While Forest City has proven that it can navigate the fractious politics of San Francisco, it must now explain to regulators and city officials how a bayside neighborhood can be constructed safely. When projecting sea-level rise, scientists measure not just day-to-day tide levels, but also storm surges and king tides, a rare, extreme form of a high tide. Sea-level rise is predicted to accelerate because ocean water expands as it heats and ice sheets are melting in Greenland and Antarctica. According to some predictive models produced by U.S. government researchers, rare-but-predictable “100-year” storms could crest nearly 6.4 feet above the current mean high tide by 2100. Most of Pier 70 is between 5 and 10 feet in elevation. Without improvements, large portions of the 28-acre former industrial port complex are likely to be underwater by then. The predictions come with a great deal of uncertainty, varying by as much as 4.1 feet by the end of the century, depending on the still uncertain impact of melting land ice. Yet over the last year, San Francisco and regional regulators have arrived at a near consensus: San Francisco Bay is likely to rise 3 feet by 2100. That prediction comes from a yearlong citywide research committee that relied on climate studies by the National Research Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But because the science of sea-level rise is evolving rapidly, even these new projections could be outdated by the time construction is scheduled to begin at Pier 70 in 2017. “Predictions are in flux, and the scientists are continually and appropriately adjusting,” said Charlie Knox, principal at PlaceWorks, a private land-use firm in Berkeley that produces city and private-sector environmental adaptation plans. Even before the polls closed in San Francisco on Nov. 4, representatives of Forest City declared victory at the election after-party at the Dogpatch Saloon, and the dozens of assembled supporters erupted into cheers. Susan Eslick, vice president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, was celebrating the prospect of a new Pier 70 neighborhood. She first heard about Forest City’s plans at one of dozens of conversations the company hosted with community groups. “They did an incredible outreach to community,” Eslick said. Community groups are pleased by Forest City’s pledges to generate economic activity and expand af-

fordable housing options, including 600 units set aside for low-income families. But, with increasing awareness across the city and region that the bay of tomorrow will look and behave very differently, placing these assets on the waterfront may increasingly be seen as problematic. In the run-up to the election, Forest City provided the public with no firm engineering details, but offered a succession of different and sometimes contradictory statements about what it actually planned to do. The campaign website said that the project would protect the area against sea-level rise. The Yes on F campaign — with a budget came almost entirely from Forest City, according to campaign finance records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission — stuffed mailboxes across the city in October with pamphlets covered with collages of images of the future: smiling residents walking dogs and gardening, and bay waters lapping a waterfront lawn a few paces away. The campaign wrote checks totaling $50,000 to the San Francisco Democratic Party, the Republican Central Committee and the Sierra Club for similar mailings. Some mailers said that the developers would adapt by “raising the grade to protect against sea-level rise.” In a June meeting with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the company told environmental regulators that it planned to raise the level of the land by 2.3 feet. Forest city says it is relying on a prediction of 4.6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. But contacted before the election approving the required waterfront zoning change, company representatives said that no architectural plans showing the buildings’ locations, sizes or elevations would be available until the company went through the yearslong planning and environmental approval process. While executives have said repeatedly that they accepted the science of sea-level rise, it was not clear that the proposals they outlined would be enough to protect the property and residents in future decades. Asked to elaborate on its strategy for battling sea-level rise, Alexa Arena, Forest City’s senior vice president, said the company planned to “make physical improvements in the immediate term” that could be further adapted with “future improvements,” such as berms, seawalls and wetlands, to absorb storm surges. She said that no agencies have formally evaluated the site or engineering work, and that the company had not settled on an adaptation strategy. “The exact methodology will be part of the environmental review process and future project planning,” she said in an email. Over the next two years, Pier 70’s developers will seek approval from at least five agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the Board of Supervisors and the Port of San Francisco, which owns the land. The port awarded Forest City exclusive development rights there in 2011. Forest City will have to describe in detail to regulators how the project meets the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, although the law does not specifically ask for a report on the effects of sea-level rise. The environmental impact report will be available for other local agencies considering approval. Speaking as an expert on adaptation strategies but without familiarity with Pier 70, PlaceWorks’ Knox said developers and goverments have three options to protect against rising seas and storm surges: “You can raise it up, move it or abandon it.” Forest City could raise the site using acres of landfill. The company submitted early-stage plans to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission proposing to protect the new neighborhood from inundation with a raised shoreline park between the water’s edge and the buildings, according to Joseph LaClair, the commission’s chief planner. He said the review, which is ongoing, would be limited in scope to 50 years of environmental change, whereas other government agencies could choose to peer further into the future to assess the long-term sustainability of new residential and commercial infrastructure. Arena was upbeat about Forest City’s ability to adapt to an encroaching shoreline, saying it was just one of many challenges that could be overcome with enough investment and the right technology. Toby Levine, co-chair of the port’s Central Waterfront Advisory Group overseeing Pier 70, said the fall ballot cleared the way to have Forest City help pay for necessary fixes at Pier 70. “If Proposition F had not won, we would have a lot of trouble because the developer has to take on the environmental remediation on his dime,” Levine said. “The port does not have those kind of funds.” Levine lauded the plan’s inclusion of a strip of parkland along the waterfront for recreation and as a buffer against the bay. She said she trusted local regulators to ensure public safety and wise long-term planning. “You just have to hope that the agencies that are in charge of protecting the people and the waterfront are in front of the whole movement of water,” she said.

The 28-acre Pier 70 development is five to 10 feet above sea level, city data show, placing large portions in the predicted 100-year floodplain by the end of the 21st century when storm surges could reach 6.4 feet. Map by Maia Wachtel // Public Press Data source: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

New Virtual-Reality Device Reveals Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Shoreline 3-D viewer offers on-site vision of future climate change Story by Paul Lorgerie // Public Press


San Francisco technology company is helping Bay Area residents visualize in 3-D how their neighborhoods could look under three feet of sea-level rise. The company’s virtual-reality device is cleverly encased inside a viewfinder similar to those coinoperated contraptions found at historical landmarks and national parks. But the Owl, as the machine is called, does not contain binoculars. It can show on its high-resolution screen what a landscape looked like a century ago or will look like decades in the future. This year, the company is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and environmental science researchers to show coastal residents in Marin County how climate change could alter the landscape on the shoreline and inundate parks, roads and residential areas. “The user is really getting as realistic a view of the future as possible,” said Aaron Selverston, founder and CEO of Owlized, a company that started by creating visualizations of future developments for builders trying to sell real estate. Selverston said his goal was to make local government policies more transparent and encourage public participation in climate change adaptation strategies. Several organizations, such as Climate Central, an independent organization of climate scientists and journalists, have published online maps that show how rising seas affect coastlines. FEMA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offer similar online tools. But Owlized takes this data-driven approach a step further by immersing viewers in 3-D renderings, embedded at a physical installation that is site specific. The company previewed its battery-powered, 6-foot-tall machine at the 2013 South by Southwest technology and economics conference in Austin, Texas. Owlized’s business model is based on offering real estate developers the devices at $40,000 apiece to show local regulators, neighbors and consumers what proposed projects would look like upon completion. The Owl also rents for $1,000 a week. In the South Bay city of Fremont, Owlized showed residents how a parking lot would become a park as part of a proposed development plan that also included a shopping mall and a revitalized Capital Avenue. In San Francisco, the company created images of the Better Market Street project, which is redesigning the city’s central thoroughfare from the Embarcadero to Octavia Boulevard as a cultural, civic and commercial center. In promotional Web videos, Owlized shows residents fawning over the installation. “When I first looked through the Owl, I was actually super surprised at how powerful it was to me,” said Kelli Rudnick, assistant project manager on the Better Market Street plan. During the project’s street-side presentation, passers-by used the device to view it

“in a way they couldn’t get through a 2-D drawing,” Rudnick said. Now the company is working to visualize sealevel rise in Marin, aided by a $150,000 grant from FEMA, using data from other federal government sources. The past year was the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What does that mean? Warming oceans are melting the polar ice caps and glaciers, and warming water expands as it heats. Some scientific models predict that this could cause sea levels to rise 16 inches by 2050, though there is robust debate about the timing of such an increase. People living elsewhere have recently witnessed dramatic consequences of climate change. Miami often faces flooding. Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, and Sandy on the East Coast, raised awareness of the danger of weather-related changes in the sea level. But in the minds of West Coast residents, “it’s still not a big deal,” said Frank Niepold, climate education coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md. The Owl could help scientists make climate change less abstract for the public. “The 3-foot-rise concept is hard to get into people’s minds,” said Zachary Wasserman, chair of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, at a planning conference in Foster City last June. “But we need to get them to start thinking about how to deal with this problem.” “We want to observe, visualize and see the public perceptions and their willingness to take action,” said Susanne Moser, a social science and environmental researcher at Stanford University who is working with the company by collecting data from users. She plans to deploy graduate students to observe how the device is used in the field. The Owl also has a built-in tool to survey users about their views on climate change. This information will be uploaded to the company’s computers via a cellular data connection, Selverston said at a presentation at SPUR, a Bay Area urban policy think tank, in San Jose in mid-October. But if 3-D visualization seems to be a compelling tool to make people aware of environmental change, this solution is limited. The Owl “is an important thing, but not sufficient,” Moser said. When discussing the environment, she added, “people become overwhelmed and depressed.” Selverston said that in order to adapt to sea-level rise, governments need to see the problem clearly to establish forward-looking policies. But so far, most local governments are not prepared for sea-level rise, he said. At a minimum, Selverston said, the virtual-reality view of the sea level rising by 3 to 6 feet — and higher during extreme high tides known as king tides — would be educational and help voters and public officials set policies on land use. “We don’t necessarily want to scare everybody, but we do want to do a service to the community,” he said.


‘Some Sort of Hell’:

How One Wealthy American City Treats Its Homeless

Inset above: Bicycles were the most valuable possession of most residents of the Jungle, a winding, 68-acre shantytown under an overpass that had nearly 300 people. The city of San Jose closed the area on Dec. 4. Above and inset right: Most residents had signs marking their territory. These dwellings were dismantled and the residents were evicted.

Lack of affordable housing, prohibition against sleeping on San Jose streets leave many in dire straits Story and photos by Evelyn Nieves // AlterNet


hen San Jose dismantled the “Jungle,” the nation’s largest homeless encampment, many of its residents scattered. They found hiding places in the scores of small, less visible encampments within the city, where more than 5,000 people sleep unsheltered on a given night. But one group of about threedozen evictees gathered what they could salvage in backpacks and trash bags, and crossed a bridge to a spot about a mile away. They found a clean patch of grass near Coyote Creek, the same creek that the Jungle had abutted. There, they pitched tents donated by some concerned citizens, assigned themselves chores and hoped for the best. Instead, they got marching orders. After weathering the hardest rains to fall in these parts in a

Cleanup crews dismantled the Jungle, displacing its many residents who had no other place to go.

decade, the campers found 72-hour eviction notices on their tents. Once again, a little more than a week after their forced flight from the Jungle, they had no idea where they might live. “This is some sort of hell,” said Raul, 57 (who did not want his last name used), a lifelong resident of San Jose who had lived in the Jungle for nearly eight years. He had nothing left of the home he had created, and had just a knapsack, his chihuahua Pepe and a new pup tent. He was so depressed that he could barely lift his head. To an outside observer, the eviction was predictable. The state’s threat to sue Santa Clara County over the pollution in Coyote Creek caused by camping spurred the closing of the Jungle, a winding, 68-acre shantytown, under an overpass, with upwards of 300 people. With the state’s environmental agencies — and the public — watching, San

Jose could not allow another Jungle to spring up. But the city could offer no viable alternative to the people it was expelling for the second time in a week. San Jose, the self-described capital of Silicon Valley, the largest wealth generator in the United States, lacked the resources. The Jungle had become a symbol of the growing divide between the nation’s rich and poor. But its Dec. 4 dismantling — a spectacle of crying residents struggling with shopping carts, hazmat-suited cleanup crews tossing furniture into dump trucks and hordes of police and reporters standing watch — only underscored the problem, since so many Jungle residents were literally left out in the cold. Residents of the neighborhood in Central San Jose that abutted the Jungle were glad to see the encampment go. But dismantling the Jungle is already creating new problems. Just days after the Jungle was torn apart, San Jose police and other city departments began fielding calls from people in different neighborhoods complaining of former Jungle residents setting up camps near them. Some ended up in a Walmart parking lot before being booted. Others were congregating near the airport and were under the threat of eviction. At least one hospital reported an upsurge of emergency room visits from former residents of the Jungle, sick from weathering the elements, having misplaced medications in the eviction. “What the city is saying is that it refuses to provide affordable housing, but it does not tolerate people living outside,” said Sandy Perry, an organizer at the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County, who has worked with San Jose’s homeless population since 1991. “This is a willful, wholesale violation of human rights.” San Jose, by all accounts, is experiencing a crisis in homelessness. Even with dedicated nonprofits working to stem the tide, the city’s homeless problem, like that of other booming cities — New York, Los

Angeles and San Francisco, to name a few — has grown markedly worse in recent years. San Jose is the nation’s 10th-largest city (with 1 million residents), but the San Jose/Santa Clara County area, home to 34 billionaires, has the nation’s fifth-largest homeless population, after New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego. San Jose/Santa Clara County also has the nation’s highest percentage of homeless people living on the streets. More than 75 percent, upwards of 7,600 people, are unsheltered, according to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, compared with 5 percent

city for creating a two-year voucher program that inadequately served the population. “When a city decides to build a park, it doesn’t build until it has the funding to finish it,” said Anthony King, a volunteer outreach worker who was homeless for more than 10 years. “So why did the city decide to undergo a program that addressed the needs of only some of the people in the Jungle?” The city said it was forced to close the camp for its environmental risks and hazardous conditions. But Bramson has said that there are many other homeless camps along the waterways. In fact, the Jungle

“What the city is saying is that it refuses to provide affordable housing, but it does not tolerate people living outside.” Sandy Perry, organizer at Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County of the homeless people in New York. Ray Bramson, San Jose’s homeless response team manager, said the city did all it could for the Jungle. It earmarked $4 million and spent 18 months, working with contracted nonprofit organizations, to find housing for 144 Jungle residents, using housing vouchers that expire in two years. But 60 more residents, vouchers in hand, could not find apartments, even with social workers working on their behalf. By the end, just weeks before the dismantling, the population of the Jungle was still between 200 and 300 people, according to housing advocates and volunteers who worked with Jungle residents. That is because every time a resident of the Jungle moved out, another person, or more people, took that place. Critics of the way the city dismantled the Jungle, both professional advocates for the homeless and citizens registering their opinions on social media, have criticized the

was part of a string of 247 tent cities, along Santa Clara County’s waterways, that contain 1,230 people, according to a recent county census. Chris Herring, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has extensively researched homeless encampments on the West Coast, said that the eviction “will not mitigate the ongoing environmental damage to Coyote Creek by homeless habitation — only move it around.” In an essay on, Herring also said that the eviction “will exacerbate rather than improve unsanitary conditions faced by the evicted, pushing them further from clean water, recycling centers and toilets.” Residents of the Jungle, well aware of the growing trash and sanitary problems caused by so many incoming residents, had appealed to the city for help. In November, they waged a protest for better sanitary services. The city had provided

three Porta-Potties, eight hours a day, for the Jungle’s 300 residents, and handed out portable sanitary bags for them to use the rest of the time — bags of human waste that competed with all the other trash in the Jungle for a spot in the few trash bins on site. In the few days that former residents of the Jungle spent in their second location before receiving new eviction notices, they began organizing. “We’re creating a community,” one woman said. People were assigned to clean up trash, run errands and the like. The group wanted to stay together, monitor activities so the site could stay clean and not generate complaints. “I just know that if we keep a place clean, have the bags for the trash, and stay away from the public, they won’t bother us,” said Raul, the former Jungle resident. Living in the Jungle was a hard life, he said, but it was stable. He had his shack, he knew everyone, had friends and support. Like most homeless people, Raul said he preferred to be with other people he knew, rather than fend for himself. His sister, who had a housing voucher but could not find an apartment, was staying with her three dogs in a tent next to Raul’s. Almost everyone at the encampment had at least one small dog, often several. The city came at the crack of dawn the day the new camp was evicted. Workers began taking their possessions before residents had even woken up, according to a report by ABC7 news. It quoted Bramson, who did not return requests for an interview for this story, saying, “There are services available. There is support available.” But the only support was a limited number of shelter beds the residents could try to get into — if they gave up their dogs. A day after their second expulsion, most of the group had moved en masse to a new location, far from the public eye. But it was still near Coyote Creek. It would not take long, they said, for the city to find them again.


Researcher Probes Link Between Mental Illness, Homelessness

San Francisco never realized its 10-year-old goal of abolishing chronic homelessness, in part because of the difficulty of reaching people with mental illnesses. Eric Lawson // Public Press

Faults San Francisco for inadequate housing and medical care By Emily Dugdale // Public Press


QED Public Radio’s “Forum” recently aired a conversation with Robert Okin, the former chief of psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital, who published a book on homelessness and mental illness. He said the common belief that the homeless choose to reside on the streets is false, as his experience profiling them has taught him. “Most people do not want to be on the streets — they’re on the streets because they do not have other options,” Okin said in his conversation with host Michael Krasny. “If they have homes, and they have a case manager, they can do well.” Okin’s book, “Silent Voices: People With Mental Disorders on the Street,” describes his two-year project interviewing and photographing homeless residents of San Francisco battling degrees of mental illness, shedding light on the inefficiencies of city policies in providing adequate housing and medical care. Okin said the homeless are “by and large people

who have spirit,” despite the onslaught of institutional failures and trauma. Many harbor memories of troubled upbringings and sexual abuse. He estimated that 90 percent of those he approached on the street ended up talking to him — desperate for people to see the homeless as more than an invisible backdrop to their morning commutes. “I expected them to brush me away, and I also expected that if they did talk to me, they would be very guarded,” Okin said. “But I was wrong.” His book documents shocking statistics about the connections between homelessness, jail and mental illness. About 200,000 people with mental illness are currently behind bars, with many of them flowing in from the streets. “The number of mentally ill people on the street actually represents an underestimate of the homeless mentally ill people in the United States, because the rest of them are in jail or in prison, and are totally out of sight,” he said. The San Francisco Public Press’ Fall 2014 edition cover story addressed several aspects of the current

paradigm for helping the homeless, a policy called “housing first.” San Francisco first embraced the approach 10 years ago, devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to expand basic housing options for thousands of people, paired with supportive services. The plan, the authors said, would “abolish chronic homelessness” in San Francisco. The takeaway? The policy has done little to combat rapidly rising demand and prices for housing. Two reasons stand out: competition among various programs at the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency, and the lack of a citywide policy on housing qualifications for applicants. And the expanded funding for housing, critics say, could have been used to boost funding for outpatient services in the community to care for people with mental illness. The stories were published in the fall 2014 print edition, available for sale at More online:

Dropped Domestic Violence Charge for 49er Ray McDonald Is Standard Top two reasons cited for lack of prosecution: inadequate evidence and uncooperative victims By Noah Arroyo // Public Press


t may have come as a real surprise to sports fans, already shocked by the spate of dropped criminal charges against football stars: Domestic violence offenders often go unpunished. These cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, and San Francisco City Hall has been grappling with the problem for years. The situation might be getting worse, city records reveal. Last year, Santa Clara County’s district attorney dropped felony domestic violence charges against San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald for a heated dispute with his fiancée in August. The prosecutor explained in a statement that inadequate evidence and a lack of cooperation from McDonald’s fiancée “left investigators uncertain exactly what happened.” McDonald’s case is hardly an outlier. In another recent case, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was indicted in March for punching his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator. In fact, since 2000, of the 713 arrests of NFL players, 85 were in response to allegations of domestic violence, USA Today reported. Of those, 30 cases ended when prosecutors dropped the charges. That high drop rate is common for this type of crime because victims often retract their original accusations and refuse to testify in court. In a fall 2012 cover story on how Bay Area agencies prosecute domestic violence cases, the Public Press found that between 2007 and 2011, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office filed charges in just 59 percent of the active cases they reviewed. Charges in the other 9,400 cases were dropped. And other Bay Area district attorneys dropped cases at a higher rate than Santa Clara County. San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office had one of the highest rates of dropped cases during the same period, declining to charge an average of 72 percent of

domestic violence cases. That rate has risen since 2011, according to recent data obtained through a California Public Records Act request. In 2013, prosecutors chose not to bring charges in about 78 percent of cases. The No. 1 reason cited for dropping charges was “inadequate evidence.” The No. 2 reason? “Uncooperative victim.” To date, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office

“We only charge a case when we have a good-faith basis to believe that we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Alex Bastian, spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney's Office has not responded directly to repeated requests for an explanation of those numbers. But for the Public Press’ 2012 investigation, Alex Bastian, a spokesman for District Attorney George Gascón, did explain the department’s approach in broad strokes. “We only charge a case when we have a goodfaith basis to believe that we can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bastian said. At that time, a heated public dialogue about domestic violence consumed San Francisco after newly elected Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi himself faced criminal charges. In a videotape that Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, said she never intended to reach the public, she revealed a bruise on her arm that she said he caused during an

argument. The video surfaced because Lopez’s neighbor, Ivory Madison, gave it to police. Mirkarimi’s case became highly politicized when Gascón and Mayor Ed Lee pushed unsuccessfully to have him removed from office. That episode was still being used as a wedge between candidates in the 2014 midterm election. Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment and received three years of probation. Lee, who argued loudly for his removal, suspended him until the Board of Supervisors could decide his fate. Two months later, after a vote by the board of supervisors to oust him came up short, he was reinstated. Some victim advocates railed against the decision, which they said belied the city’s progressive reputation. City Supervisor David Chiu, who in November narrowly defeated Supervisor David Campos for a seat in the California Assembly, reminded voters that his opponent had voted not to fire Mirkarimi. During the race, anonymous flyers popped up in many neighborhoods calling Campos hypocritical after he pledged to “fight for women and children,” the San Francisco Bay Guardian reported. In the run-up to his 2015 campaign for re-election as sheriff, Mirkarimi has sought to re-brand himself as a sympathetic underdog. “The power of redemption should reign large in the City and County of San Francisco,” Mirkarimi, seated next to his wife, told NBC’s Stephanie Kelmar in September. “It has for other elected officials. But for me, I think that as somebody who presides over the industry of second chances, it has even a more profound meaning.” More online:

Last year, Santa Clara County’s district attorney dropped felony domestic violence charges against San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald after a heated dispute with his fiancée in August. Creative Commons image by Wikipedia user Blueag9.


Inconsistent Salary Data Foil Push for Accountability Statewide 8%

San Francisco and California government pay in 2012

Percentage of workers


San Francisco 1% = approx. 330 workers


State 1% = approx. 5,780 workers

5% 4% 3% 2% 1% $25k








Worker pay Data sources: Center for Investigative Reporting; California State Controller’s Office. Graphic by Eric Lawson // Public Press

Lack of names and hours worked, unclear titles limit tracking of how taxpayer funds are spent By Joanna Lin // Center for Investigative Reporting


our years after a small working-class town near Los Angeles became a cautionary tale of government excess, a state effort to avoid a repeat performance is falling short. The charges of corruption in the town of Bell prompted California's then-State Controller John Chiang into action. He required cities and counties to submit payroll data with their annual financial reports. His agency put that data online “because I don’t want to see a repeat of the problems found in Bell,” Chiang said. The controller’s website centralized data from thousands of local California governments for the first time. But the website, created to allow scrutiny of public payrolls, lacks enough information to pinpoint another scandal like the one that occurred in Bell, The Center for Investigative Reporting has found. The public employees in the state database are not identified by name, and their job titles often are listed in obscure ways. For example, the database lists the wages of the San Francisco city administrator, Naomi Kelly, under the job title of “Dept. Head V,” without her name, making it difficult for the public to identify her or compare her pay with that of other top officials. The database also does not distinguish between public employees who work just a few hours and those who work full time. That means the controller’s calculations for average wages are misleading, said Ed Ring, executive director of the California Policy Center, which operates a website about public employee compensation and pension records. In San Francisco, for example, the average 2012 wage of full-time city employees is actually far greater than the nearly $77,000 average reported by the controller’s website for all employees. A Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of records obtained directly from the city, which included hours, found the average pay among those who worked at least 30 hours per week to be more than $97,000. Workers who logged at least 40 hours per week averaged about $103,000. For public watchdogs worried about how taxpayer funds are spent in California’s cities and counties, the lack of names is a significant flaw. People should not have to guess who public employees are, said Nestor Enrique Valencia, the mayor of Bell. He was elected to the City Council in 2011 as its

former members were recalled amid the scandal, which and those records should be available “immediately” — involved problems beyond hefty paychecks. “They should within one or two days. know who’s working for them.” But CIR waited an average of 44 business days to get In Bell, with a population of nearly 36,000, the city payroll records with employee names from the 10 most manager once raked in more than $1 million a year. populous cities and 10 most populous counties in the Part-time City Council members earned more than state — a response time that Chiang called “horrible.” $100,000. The assistant city manager, paid about half “They ought to just post it,” he said. a million dollars a year, told the police chief that they Yet Chiang has not posted similar data for state emwould “all get fat together” off the town’s money. ployees, whose payroll his office administers. People are held accountable when their compensation Chiang spokesman Jacob Roper said the controller’s is reported by name, Valencia said. “If they knew their office considered adding state employee names to its names would be published, you think they’d try those compensation database but decided not to because some shenanigans?” of the datapoints for state and local governments would Compensation information with employee names differ. The office releases state employee names and can flag favoritism, cronyism or nepotism, said Terry compensation upon request. Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonState Controller Betty Yee, who took office in Januprofit that advocates for open government. “Unless you ary, said her administration would continue maintainhave names, it’s much harder to see those patterns and ing the compensation database. She said she would relationships in compensalike to make it easier to tion.” compare agencies on the The State Controller’s “If they knew their names would be website, but she does not Office does not request plan to add employee employee names from local published, you think they’d try those names. governments. Because “Frankly, I don’t know shenanigans?” it does not verify the acwhat an employee name curacy of local agencies’ adds to it,” said Yee, curNestor Enrique Valencia, mayor of Bell data, it cannot ensure that rently a member of the names exempt from discloState Board of Equalizasure, such as undercover tion. “It’s about the posiofficers, are redacted, Chiang said in an interview. tion and not the person.” “You don’t want to be disclosing information about But the controller’s website lists a hodgepodge of legally protected law enforcement individuals who are positions, often making it difficult to identify employees’ working undercover, because you put their lives in roles. harm’s way,” he said. In 2012, for example, municipalities listed their city A California Supreme Court decision in 2007 acmanagers 33 different ways and their police chiefs 30 knowledged one narrow circumstance in which a public ways. County supervisors had 41 variations on their job employee’s name would be exempt from disclosure — “if title, including “Board Member,” “Elected Official” and an officer’s anonymity is essential to his or her safety.” “Bos Dist ?#3.” “It was intended to be a one-in-a-million excepThe controller has started publishing some agencies’ tion,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First 2013 data and posted records from cities and counties in Amendment Coalition. “I think that liability argument December. The newly posted data flag elected officials is probably pretense. They don’t want to deal with the for the first time, making those positions easier to issue because it’s controversial...It’s a hot potato.” identify. The controller’s website should not be the final desSome of the information that would enhance the contination, but rather a tool to help people get involved troller’s data was considered but ultimately shelved in with their government, Chiang said. The public should an effort to minimize reporting requirements imposed contact local agencies directly for employee names and on local governments. more information about their compensation, he said, Chiang said he has been hampered by the need to

coax cities, counties and other governmental bodies to give up their payroll data. For example, data on the number of hours worked by each employee “would be great,” he said, but his office restricted the number of datapoints to avoid overwhelming users and to encourage participation among local agencies. “We sought a lot of input, and frankly, a lot of it was unpopular,” he said. “Just trying to get acceptance, compliance with all of this wasn’t easy.” State law requires local governments to send the controller a variety of financial information every year, including their expenditures and income. It also allows the controller to require additional information. Since the Bell scandal, the controller has used that authority to collect compensation data for communities’ elected officials and nearly all of their employees. Among other information, the data must include wages, overtime pay and other types of pay, such as car allowances or payouts for unused vacation time. When cities or counties do not submit that information on time or at all, they can lose up to $10,000 in state funds. Since the website launched in 2010, 18 cities — including Stockton, Compton and La Habra — have missed the deadline. Roper, of the controller’s office, said none of the cities would be penalized because they all eventually turned in their data. The controller has sponsored legislation four times, mostly recently this year, to increase fines to up to $30,000. None of the bills succeeded. This year, Chiang, who became the state treasurer in January, expanded the compensation website to include schools, courts and commissions, which are not required by law to file regular financial reports with the controller. He urged the agencies to voluntarily provide payroll data for transparency and accountability. But some agencies still push back. Providing the data “will impose significant workload and expense on school agencies throughout the state,” the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association wrote of the controller’s request. About a third of the state’s public K-12 districts, schools and county education offices have submitted their data so far. Those types of agencies should turn in their data “because everyone else has done it,” Chiang said. “And it’s the right thing to do.”

Study Puts Dollar Amount on Price of Smoking in California Illnesses cost state $18.1 billion in 2009 — about $487 per resident or $4,603 per smoker By Julian Do and Peter Schurmann // New America Media


There were 34,363 smoking-related deaths in California in 2009 — 17 times the number of deaths related to AIDS, and five times the number of deaths from diabetes, influenza and pneumonia. NEVALENX // Creative Commons

e all know the health risks associated with smoking. But according to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, the financial toll for states and counties is almost as staggering. According to the UCSF School of Nursing’s Institute for Health & Aging, smoking-related illnesses cost California $18.1 billion in 2009. That comes to about $487 per resident or $4,603 per smoker. The costs included direct healthcare expenses as well as lost productivity because of illness or death. There were 34,363 smoking-related deaths in California that year, which amounted to 17 times the number of deaths related to AIDS, and 5 times the number of deaths from diabetes, influenza and pneumonia. The leading cause of smoking-related death was cancer, followed by cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and pediatric disease. Secondhand smoke exposure caused 794 adult deaths. Researchers also concluded that smokers are more likely to develop chronic lower respiratory disease, which kills 1 in 7 Californians. “The good news is smoking used to cause 1 in 5 deaths,” said Wendy Max, professor of health economics at UCSF and one of the lead researchers for the study. “But 1 in 7 is still too high.” Max spoke at a briefing in fall 2014 to release the findings of the study, which was supported by the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program of the University of California’s Office of the President. About 4 million Californians still smoke every

day. Among them, adult and adolescent males outnumber female smokers, the study found; smoking-related costs for men and boys amount to $11.7 billion, compared to $6.4 billion for females. Another troubling finding is the toll on families. Researchers found that relatives and others who live with smokers accounted for 54.4 percent — or $9.8 billion — of the total statewide cost, said co-researcher Hai-Yen Sung, who teaches health economics at UCSF. Sung noted that for employers, smoking-related losses amounted to $8.2 billion in lost productivity. The study is the third in a series; the first two were done in 1989 and 1999. It was released the same day as a government study that found around 14 million illnesses attributed to smoking nationally. That study also found smoking rates to be highest among Asian-Americans and AfricanAmericans, with rates climbing for the latter. Tracy Richmond McKnight is a program officer with the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program. She said that the UCSF study was prompted by the “need to know what the actual economic impact of smoking is on the state of California so as to better monitor whether tobacco control efforts are working or not.” Another unique feature of the study, she said, is that it looks at both statewide costs and costs at a county-by-county level, allowing “local public health agencies to be able to assess how well their efforts are working within their local counties.” Paul Simon heads the office of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County

Department of Public Health. Speaking at a UCLA briefing, he pointed out that smoking rates are higher in immigrant and low-income communities, but that “without additional resources, our capability to help communities of color reduce the number of smokers is greatly constrained.” Simon also pointed to a decline in resources needed for monitoring and enforcing smoking restrictions, which, to date, have been credited with helping to lower the overall number of smokers in the state. According to Michael Ong, chair of the California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee, such complacency has allowed tobacco manufacturers to ante up massive campaigns to attract new smokers and to promote e-cigarettes, which have become popular among younger smokers. The UCSF study did not include data from ecigarettes. “We’re only now in the process of studying the health impacts of e-cigarettes, but these products are already out there on the streets,” Ong said, adding that without additional resources, it would be hard for the state to continue enforcing existing restrictions while also tackling the challenges associated with e-cigarette products. McKnight pointed out that while revenues derived from the sale of tobacco products help fund prevention efforts, no such revenue comes from the sale of e-cigarettes. “All the money the state generates for prevention programs, for cessation programs, for educating youth in the schools and for research — none of these get revenue from ecigarette sales,” she said. “They’re not considered tobacco products.”


Rising Costs Hit Teachers Hard

A push for better school funding, livable wages and well-structured education programs is the focus of a demonstration near City Hall in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of United Educators of San Francisco

San Francisco’s expensive housing puts living in the city out of reach for many educators By Laura Wenus // Mission Local


inda Perez, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann, shares her home with nine people — only two of them family members. Frank Lara teaches fourth grade at the same school and has crashed on friends’ couches or shared a bedroom to make ends meet, all while struggling to repay a mountain of student loan debt. Laura Rocha, who used to teach prekindergarten classes at another school, said she could earn more money cleaning houses or rolling burritos than she could as a teacher. “I adore kids, but I can’t support myself and my daughter like this,” Rocha said. Perez, Lara and Rocha gathered with some 30 other teachers and parents recently at a panel discussion on San Francisco’s affordability crisis organized by the United Educators of San Francisco, a teachers’ union. Representatives from the union and teachers from Buena Vista stressed the importance of keeping teachers living in the communities they serve — a goal that has become increasingly difficult as rents have risen to an average of about $3,800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. The starting salary for a full-time credentialed teacher is $50,000 a year — paraprofessionals average around $25,000, according to Matthew Hardy, the communications director for the union. In 2014, the school district stated that teachers earn an average of $86,000 a year in salary and health benefits. Hardy said that many teachers are not full time and that they have not had a pay raise in five years (though teachers

do get incremental experience-based raises). Karoleen Feng of the Mission Economic Development Dennis Kelly, the union’s president, recalled the story Agency said that the number of families with children of one teacher who was hired in San Francisco and had has dropped from about 60 percent of Mission houseto spend three weeks living in her car with her children holds to about 28 percent. Feng said that 95 percent of before she was able to find a place she could afford to those families rent. In a survey of local families, many live in on her salary. expressed fear, and, as a result, are accepting buyouts Variations on the same story were told by several to move or succumbing to landlord threats, Feng said. educators at that meeting, which was meant to gather That instability causes problems for the children's acaideas about how to face the affordability crisis and to demic development, Feng said. build solidarity between “The impact is on two teachers and parents. generations,” she said. Speaker after speaker Part of the problem is echoed one theme: that that there is still a wide“We work day after day for our teachers and parents spread misconception that children to have a better future. In must support one educators make a comfortanother to push for able living, another teacher San Francisco, everything goes up better school funding, said. For many who work at but our salaries.” livable wages and wellschools, that is far from the structured education truth. Erica Hernandez programs. Anabel Ibanez, a family Parents at the meetcoordinator at Buena Vista ing, many of whom face Horace Mann, said that similar challenges in paraprofessionals and teachremaining in the city, expressed hope that a stable eduers sometimes take home leftovers from the school’s food cation would protect their children from the hardships pantry. Though the food is intended for (and, for the of low-income work. most part, goes to) needy parents and families, some Housing, said Ken Tray, the union’s political direceducators are needy, too. tor, has become a focus for the teachers’ union because Horace Mann teacher Norman Zelaya said that the the astronomical cost of living in San Francisco affects disproportionately low wages offered to teachers in San teachers and parents so acutely. Many simply leave the Francisco have driven prospective educators away from city. the city. He said that the district is looking for teach-

ers, but is having trouble filling open positions because applicants compare the salaries available to the cost of living and choose to work elsewhere. He might be right — Transparent California reports that teachers in the Oakland Unified School District earned a median annual salary of $62,000 in 2013. In the Fremont Unified School District, the comparable median salary was $85,000. “It’s what you’re offering these people,” Zelaya said. “If I’m 22, 23 years old and I’m coming to the Bay Area, I know I can’t live in San Francisco and I can make more money outside San Francisco. … These are intelligent people. Why would I put myself in the hole and struggle?” Opinions varied on what parents and teachers need to do to move forward on improving salaries. “We need a plan, so that I’m not just that crazy lady who’s always flyering,” said Carol Fisher, a self-described politically engaged parent. Fisher suggested that politically active parents reach out to other, less engaged, families to get them involved. Ibanez said she would like to see more people who show their support at community meetings also attend political actions like protests and meetings with administrators. Whatever the strategy, it is clear that teachers and parents are united in their frustration with the city’s rising costs. “We work day after day for our children to have a better future,” said community member Erica Hernandez. “In San Francisco, everything goes up but our salaries.”

A Minimum Wage Increase Means Nothing if Your Boss Is a Scofflaw Most violations discovered by San Francisco labor standards auditors occurred in the food service industry By Noah Arroyo // Public Press


ast year, San Francisco voters chose by an overwhelming margin to raise the local minimum wage to $15 in phases. In a telltale sign of how undeniable the city’s income disparity has become, no major group opposed the measure. The wage hike is a boon for those who toil under lawabiding bosses. But thousands of San Francisco employers skirt existing minimum wage requirements, and without significant changes, more could follow as the wage floor rises even higher. Yank Sing restaurant is one of the latest offenders, and its owners in 2014 began distributing $4 million in back pay the state labor commissioner said was owed to 280 workers for violations of the minimum wage and rest period requirements, and other regulations. The state found that the restaurant paid workers $8 an hour — far below the $10.74 city minimum at the time. The Public Press' spring 2013 cover story delved into the numbers and personal stories behind this rampant abuse by employers. At the time, the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement recovered a total of $6.4 million in back wages for more than 3,000 workers. But the office’s small staff could open cases only in response to worker complaints. They said they lacked the resources to begin investigations on their own, making it difficult for them to get ahead of the problem. Evidence suggests that wage theft in San Francisco affects many more people than the office has been able

to account for. In 2006, the Chinese Progressive Ashe needed the money. By the time he left, he was still sociation estimated that 9,000 Chinese restaurant and earning less than the city’s legal minimum, despite two garment workers in San Francisco received less than hard-won raises. But his boss’s attitude took its toll. the minimum wage. “All of my hard work and effort to do my job well, yet Meanwhile, a national study revealed that 26 percent still earning less than the minimum,” Lozano said. “I of the labor force was paid below the legal minimum felt that my job was worthless.” wage in Chicago, Los AnBut some restaurant geles and New York City owners said that the high in 2008. A proportional minimum wage is one more slice of San Francisco’s reason it is so difficult for population would add up “All of my hard work and effort to do San Francisco businesses to about 39,000 workers. succeed. my job well, yet still earning less than to The Most of the tracked owner of Luna Park wage violations in San in the Mission District said the minimum. ... I felt that my job Francisco occurred in the that he sold the restaurant was worthless.” food service industry, said in anticipation of the new staff from the Office of minimum wage law. Mauricio Lozano, a restaurant worker who Labor Standards EnforceAnd Peter Hood, former ment. owner of nearby Dante’s was awarded back pay Mauricio Lozano, a Weird Fish and The CorSalvadoran immigrant ner, said that fierce compefor whom the office won tition and city regulations back wages, used to work compelled him to sell both at the Pizza Royal restaurant in the city’s North Beach businesses, the neighborhood news outlet Mission Local neighborhood. His boss hired him at an hourly rate of reported. $8, paid in cash — $2 below the minimum wage at the Since passing in 2003, the city’s local minimum wage time. Lozano’s boss justified this by calling it the “train- law has put about $1.2 billion into the pockets of the ing” rate. San Francisco’s low-wage earners, said Ken Jacobs, Lozano stuck with the job for three months because head of UC Berkeley’s Labor Center.

The recent voter-approved measure will gradually increase San Francisco’s minimum wage every year. It will hit $15 in 2018 and continue to rise after that, following the inflation rate. That means that by 2019, the average food service worker will be earning an additional $500 per month, the city controller’s office estimated. San Francisco was not the only place to raise the minimum wage in the last election cycle. In Oakland, 81 percent of voters approved a pay hike to $12.25, starting this year, Oakland North reported. Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota also voted to elevate their lowest earners’ pay. As more cities and states raise their wages, the taxpayer may be the real winner in the long run. The fast-food industry made about $7 billion in profits last year — about equal to the estimated value of the public assistance that their low-earning workers used, Jacobs said. As those workers earn more, many of them may be able to get off government programs. Employees in fast-food franchise restaurants may benefit the most. Company policies often tie the owner’s hands, making it difficult to raise employee wages, Jacobs said. The owner pays a fee to sell the company product, and must buy food and equipment from company-mandated suppliers rather than pursue cheaper competitors. “The small franchise owners are really squeezed in this operation,” Jacobs said. “Where the real heavy profits are, are at the top.”


Pier 94: By the People, for the Birds

Above: Volunteers gather in the restored marsh at Pier 94 in San Francisco. Below right: Golden Gate Audubon Society Volunteer Coordinator Noreen Weeden (left) helps a volunteer plant native vegetation. Below left: As Weeden assists, 12-year-old Ali Hernandez checks a scope for birds at Pier 94.

Volunteers transform S.F. industrial dump into thriving wetland habitat Story and photos by Mallory Pickett // Bay Nature


he Pier 94 salt marsh is at the end of a wide road with dirt piled high on either side, past two cement plants and a truck-weighing station. It does not seem like an ideal bird habitat. From the road, on a gray Saturday morning in November, the area looks abandoned and barren. But there are signs of life: Two Canada geese nestled in front of some dirt mounds and Noreen Weeden, in a windbreaker and baseball cap, preparing for a day of restoration. She is waiting for a crew of new volunteers, who will spend this Saturday morning with her, the dirt and the birds. Weeden is the volunteer coordinator for the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Pier 94, in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood on the southern side of the Islais Creek outlet, used to be an industrial dumpsite. Department stores and anyone else with trash – everything from furniture to tires – would leave it right on the edge of the water. Today, the restored area at Pier 94 is a thriving salt marsh covering almost 5 acres, a migratory stop for many birds and home to many more. “We’ve already seen dramatic changes,” Weeden said. “Our first workdays were focused on removing trash, and now we don’t have to do that.” Jonathan Barber, an environmental restoration leader with the Audubon Society, agrees. “It’s come a long way,” he said. “When I first got here, it looked like a dump.” The transformation is thanks to 12 years of hard work by volunteers with the Audubon Society, who since 2002 have been laboring to return the site to some semblance of its former wetland state. Pier 94’s acres are a small part of a larger effort around the bay that has seen 13,000 acres of wetlands restored in the last 15 years, with 35,000 acres more currently planned for restoration. “It’s a lot of work,” said Cheryl Strong, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But it’s a big bang for your buck because there is a lot of potential to do good and a lot of legislative backing.” There are suggestions now that wetland restoration efforts across the continent are already paying off, helping wetland bird populations recover after years of decline. Populations of the 87 wetland bird species tracked by the Audubon Society have grown by 40 percent since 1968, according to the group’s 2014 State of the Birds Report. The 5 acres restored at Pier 94 are part of a patchwork of wetlands that nature, with the gentle assistance of concerned people, is reclaiming across the continent.

The volunteers arrive at Pier 94 around 9 a.m. Weeden meets them with shovels, watering cans and a brief introduction to the history of the site. Today’s volunteers are PricewaterhouseCooper employees and a group of friends who mostly work in high tech. The group’s unofficial leader, Katie Malone, found out about the opportunity on a VolunteerMatch website. “I had a volunteering itch,” she said. “I felt like we should give back to the city a little bit. We’re all very fortunate in our lives.” While Weeden gets Malone and the other volunteers started, Eddie Bartley, Weeden’s partner and a master birder, is out taking a census of the birds in the wetlands. He has been involved with Pier 94 from the beginning, in the early 2000s. Back then, there were no wetlands or wetland birds to speak of here. Work at the site began after the Port of San Francisco and the Audubon Society received mitigation money from the Cosco Busan oil spill, which dumped 53,000 gallons of oil in the bay and killed almost 7,000 birds. The Audubon Society used the funds to hire engineers and consultants to make a plan for Pier 94, and to buy clean sand and heavy equipment to remove debris and restore the wetland. The first workday was on Earth Day 2002. Volunteers started by hauling away trash, including dozens of buried tires, bringing in clean sand and removing invasive plant species, a process that took years. The hard work

“We’ve already seen dramatic changes. Our first workdays were focused on removing trash, and now we don’t have to do that.” Noreen Weeden, Golden Gate Audubon Society volunteer has paid off, and today the area is free of tires and attracts hundreds of birds. Bartley has witnessed the transformation and has documented the changing bird population. Both the number and diversity of species have grown significantly, he said. As important as wetlands are, the uplands — the dry area above the high tide line — are just as crucial, said Lech Naumovich, a botanist and restoration ecologist who has advised Audubon. Uplands revegetation is the task of today’s volunteers. They are planting native species on an elevated plateau that was created with 332,000 cubic yards of donated sediment. The dirt came from a neighboring cement plant and from the TransBay Transit Center Project. Truckers from a local company hauled the sediment for free. Katiusca Sanchez, an accountant at PricewaterhouseCooper, and her husband, José Zarate, were on hand for the first uplands planting last year. They are back today, this time with their nephew, Ali Hernandez. The plants they started 12 months ago are now bushes about 2 feet tall. “It was empty,” Sanchez said. “It’s nice to come back and see things are growing.” Healthy wetlands-uplands ecosystems provide more diversity of habitat for birds and bugs, and in the case of storms or extreme tides, birds can retreat to the uplands for shelter. Naumovich said that because of limited funds and time, habitat restoration becomes a zero-sum game at many sites; one must invest in either wetlands or uplands. At Pier 94, they have the land and the volunteers to restore both. “It really does have nice connectivity to the upland habitat,” he said of Pier 94. “It adds a lot of benefit to the site.” Halfway through the morning, the volunteers take a break from planting and enjoy the benefits of previous volunteers’ labor. They exchange their shovels for binoculars, and Bartley leads them toward the water, carrying his spotting scope like a short, stubby baseball bat over his shoulder.

At one of the first stops on the wetland bird tour, young Ali finds a greenwinged teal, a species of duck, through the scope. Bartley congratulates him on locating what he said is an uncommon bird. “When I was a kid, I remember seeing that bird in books and thinking: Now that’s a bird I’d like to see,” he said. “But there weren’t many back then.” Because of thousands of projects like Pier 94, “things that were once uncommon are becoming common again,” he said. It is hard to quantify whether the restoration efforts in the bay have paid off for local wetland birds in the same way that national trends show wetland birds benefiting as a whole. This is partly because the birds that live in the tidal marshes here do not fit into the inland wetland or coastal bird categories that the national Audubon report used, and partly because the data are not complete yet. Point Blue Conservation Science will release a study on birds in 2016. That study will give a clearer picture of how specific species and wetland birds overall are doing in the bay. For now, experts at Point Blue and the Audubon Society agree that it depends on the species, as it does for wetland birds on the national scale. Populations of some species are growing while others have declined, and many of the birds spend only half the year or less in the bay. Cindy Margulis, Audubon’s executive director, said that it is difficult to make a conservation plan for species that need healthy habitats in multiple countries. Volunteers and organizations like the Audubon Society and Save the Bay work hard to take care of habitat here, but they have no control over the Arctic tundra or the Midwestern prairie, where birds might spend the rest of their time. Because of the huge and often international area migratory birds traverse, volunteers are crucial not only for the manual labor of wetland restoration, but also for gathering much of the data on whether conservation is working. Amateur birders and other citizen scientists are responsible for much of the information in the State of the Birds report. “I’m a huge fan of citizen science,” Margulis said. “There are a lot more birders than there are conservation biologists.” At the end of the day, Weeden thanks everyone. Dozens more plants populate the uplands, and as she takes a group photo of the volunteers, a small blue butterfly flutters by. “It’s out here using these plants,” she said. After the volunteers are gone, Weeden and Bartley load up their supplies and prepare to take another survey of the site. Weeden seems genuinely pleased with the day’s work. “Initially, we were very focused on the wetland area,” she said. “Now that’s in good shape.” She hopes the uplands will soon be just as thoroughly restored. Then “all we have to do here is maintenance, and we can spend more time just enjoying the birds,” she said.

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in depth



section section



San Francisco Schools’ Changing Demographics

75K Scott and Carrie Tanabe tour the Chinese Immersion School at De Avila in the Haight. But they hope to get their daughters, ages 3 and 5, into their neighborhood school, Grattan Elementary. Anna Vignet // Public Press

San Francisco faces a challenge: promoting educational options without undermining classroom diversity By Jeremy Adam Smith // Public Press


ach January, parents across San Francisco rank their preferences for public schools. By June, most get their children into their first choices, and almost three-quarters get one of their choices. A majority of families may be satisfied with the outcome, but the student assignment system is failing to meet its No. 1 goal, which the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to achieve since the 1960s: classroom diversity. Since 2010, the year before the current policy went into effect, the number of San Francisco’s 115 public schools dominated by one race has climbed significantly. Six in 10 have simple majorities of one racial group. In almost one-fourth, 60 percent or more of the students belong to one racial group, which administrators say makes them “racially isolated.” That described 28 schools in 2013–2014, up from 23 in 2010–2011, according to the district. But the San Francisco Public Press has found the problem may be even more stark: If Asian and Filipino students are counted together — the standard used by the Census — together the number of racially isolated schools in the last school year rose to 39. The drive toward racial isolation in the district parallels a larger trend in the city: With many wealthier families opting for private alternatives, the public school system is becoming racially and economically isolated from the city as a whole. Why does it matter whether schools are diverse? One reason is academic performance. Recent studies from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, show that many students do much better on tests when placed in integrated classrooms, and that all kids are much less likely to grow up with racial stereotypes and prejudices. Far from being opposed to each other, excellence and diversity go hand in hand. How did this resegregation of schools happen in a city where almost everyone from district leaders to parents supports the ideal of diversity? Dramatic income inequality, shifting demographics, rising housing costs and the proliferation of language programs are fueling the trend. But the biggest culprit, say outside researchers and local education leaders, is the feature that defines the student assignment system:

school choice. The district provides parents with a dizzying amount of information about the schools. The application process requires time, language skills and access to technology — advantages that often come with education and financial resources. “Choice is inherently inequitable,” San Francisco Board of Education member Sandra Fewer said at a December meeting on student assignment. “If you don’t have resources, you don’t have choice.” Orla O’Keeffe, the district’s policy director, said affluent, educated parents compete for the small number of seats at the highest-performing schools. Children from poor and working-class families, disproportionately black and Latino, often end up in underperforming schools. The district currently has few tools to address the problem. “If you’ve got racially isolated choice patterns, then your capacity to create diversity using a choice mechanism is constrained,” O’Keeffe said. “There’s none of that in our system. It’s all about what families want.” The choice system tries to make the schools diverse by giving more preference to students who live in neighborhoods with low average test scores, a proxy for measuring poverty. But some Board of Education members are acknowledging that mechanisms intended to promote diversity are flawed. “The story of our efforts at student assignment is the story of unintended consequences,” said Rachel Norton, a board member since 2009. “In some ways, it’s a perfect mismatch of intent and results.” Norton, Fewer and other education leaders are pressing for major changes to help re-integrate schools. One idea is to use language tracks to attract white and middle-income families to racially isolated schools, from both district and private schools. Such changes could shape the city for decades to come, affecting its culture, income distribution and real estate patterns. But if parents have inadvertently helped to resegregate the schools by seeking the best opportunities for their own children, it may take individual and collective efforts by those same parents to create the diverse public schools many of them say they want.

DIVERSITY continued on B5



he San Francisco Public Press reported a year ago that fundraising for public schools was profoundly unequal — parents at 10 elementaries were reaping as much as the remaining 61. Readers responded with a key question: Doesn’t district policy guarantee diversity among schools? This year we gathered schoolby-school statistics from San Francisco Unified School District and state education databases, and found that economic inequality goes hand in hand with racial and ethnic segregation, and that the district’s student assignment policy is in part responsible. READ MORE ONLINE: SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG/SCHOOLDIVERSITY Project editing by Laura Impellizzeri and Michele Anderson. Research assistance by Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale, Paul Lorgerie and Sanne Bergh. Thanks to Rosie Cima of for advice on school diversity rankings and Michelle Nogales for Spanish translation. Front Cover Photos: KIPP Bayview Academy, Eric Lawson; Grattan Elementary, Anna Vignet; Junipero Serra Elementary, Tearsa Joy Hammock; Washington High School, Anna Vignet. THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DONATIONS FROM PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS IN 2014.










When white families fled public schools and blacks left the city, racial makeup of the district changed By Paul Lorgerie and Jeremy Adam Smith // Public Press Graphic by Paul Lorgerie


ver five decades, San Francisco saw a demographic transformation in its public school system. In 1969, white and black students together were the majority, as in most of the rest of the United States. Since then, San Francisco public school enrollment has fallen by 39 percent, and almost all the missing faces are white or black. But the two groups have not disappeared in the same way. Many black families left San Francisco. Some estimates now put the city’s overall black population at 5 percent. As of last year, the district said 8 percent of students were black. That is down from a peak of 30 percent of students in the 1970s. Whites have not followed the same trajectory. Their numbers have also fallen, but they still make up 43 percent of the city’s population. However, whites now form the second smallest of the four major racial groups in the San Francisco Unified School District. Almost 30 percent of children in San Francisco attend private schools — the highest rate of privateschool attendance in California, and the third-highest in the nation. An exact count is not available, but public data suggest that the majority of students from high-income white families attend private schools. Latinos and Asians together became the majority of all students in public schools simply because their numbers held steady through the years. Asians now account for 36 percent and Latinos 27 percent. SOURCES AND METHODOLOGY Because San Francisco Unified has not continuously surveyed student enrollment the same way over time, the Public Press worked with three different databases using divergent methodologies. For 1969 to 2011, we used San Francisco school district data, with one discontinuity in 1995 as students in nonstandard school programs were excluded and another in 2006 because the district stopped counting students at charter schools. Our data from the last three years come from the California Department of Education website, which results in another inconsistency. The state data do not include a category for those who declined to state a race. For the sake of consistency with U.S. Census Bureau practices, we grouped the categories of Japanese,

Korean, Filipino and Chinese as “Asian.” Because they are all relatively small populations in San Francisco, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and everyone who declined to state a race are counted in “other.”



he messiness of data collection is an indication of the shifting ways our education system thinks about ethnicity. And it makes the analysis of racial clustering an inherently inexact science. There are significant problems in describing demographics. The ways we count and group different populations have changed over time, and this often clashes with the ways individuals and communities define themselves.

• •

“Latino” and “Hispanic” are categories that can include Spaniards, black people from Cuba, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians of Yoruba descent, Mixtec and Zapotec peoples from Mexico, and so on. And each of those groups may define itself in yet other terms. The categories of “Asian” and “Pacific Islander” often includes disparate groups that are not at all alike, from the Tatars of Russia to the Bhote of Bhutan to the Hiligaynon of the Philippines. At some points, Native Americans have even been counted as Asian. “White” has not always encompassed Jews or Italians. The terms “black” and “African-American” often do not include immigrants from North Africa, depending on who is issuing the survey.

Similarly, many residents of the San Francisco of 2015 are of mixed race — and they may be the city’s fastest-growing racial category. But government agencies have counted multiracial people in different ways through the years. San Francisco Unified recently changed the way it records the race of its students. The most recent report on school assignment and demographics includes “Chinese” and “other nonwhite” as categories in 2008, but uses the term “Asian” in 2013. This shift makes it difficult to do year-to-year comparisons.


Transportation Challenges Complicate School Choice for S.F. Students Distance, funding cuts and travel costs make it hard for students from lowincome families seeking city’s best schools By Rebecca Robinson // Public Press


ight-year-old Karishma Sears started her trek to school with her father in the family car one Thursday in December. It took only 15 minutes to drive from their home near Mount Davidson 4.6 miles to Starr King Elementary in Potrero Hill, where she participates in a highly regarded Mandarin immersion program her parents chose for her. Their jobs are on the Peninsula but both can work from home and help shuttle Karishma to school. If she had to take mass transit? It would be an hourlong commute each way, even if Karishma were old enough to do that on her own. While San Francisco’s school assignment system has benefited families with the means to transport their children to schools with the most desirable programs, it creates dilemmas for more disadvantaged students who must travel long distances to school, often without the help of their parents. Many lower-income students must choose between long commutes on unreliable public transit and attending lower-performing schools closer to home. This may help explain why San Francisco public schools, like those in many cities nationwide, are increasingly resegregating as decades of court-ordered diversity measures recede into history. At the same time, San Francisco Unified School District data show that most families of all socioeconomic backgrounds travel outside of their neighborhoods for school. There are numerous potential reasons: Their children got into a school they preferred to the one in their neighborhood, or they did not get assigned their neighborhood school because there were too few seats to accommodate nearby residents. But the district lacks solid information about exactly who is trekking across town and why, making it difficult to understand transportation’s effect on school choice. In a district that lacks robust school bus service, even students who do not get a top-choice school are caught up in public transit headaches when the system assigns them across town. Chris Collier leaves his home in the Richmond District each morning long before sunrise — nearly two hours before school starts. The ninth-grader first takes a bus on Muni’s busiest line, the 38, more than four miles east to Van Ness Avenue and O’Farrell Street. There, he transfers to the 49 for the final two miles to John O’Connell High School in the Mission District. Chris, 14, had hoped to attend Washington High School, just half a mile from his home. But he did not get his top choice, or any of his choices in the district’s school-assignment system. And he has no one to drive him across town. So his commute takes 75 minutes, at best. When the 38 is overcrowded and he cannot squeeze in, he risks being late for his first-period English class. San Francisco Unified School District in 2010 adopted a student assignment system intended to increase diversity and give all families access to the best schools. The policy lets parents select schools they like the most, creating competition. It is a contest that not everyone wins.

Above: Chris Collier, 14, rides two Muni buses to get to John O’Connell High School in the Mission. Many San Francisco Unified School District students contend with long commutes on public transit. Below left: Chris leaves the 38 bus to catch the 49. Below right: Chris walks with a friend to school. Photos by Colleen Cummins // Public Press


EQUITY CHALLENGES Daniel Sears, Karishma’s father, knows his daughter is lucky. A group of recent Chinese immigrant families in Visitacion Valley who wanted to send their children to Starr King could not, because they had no way to get them there. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — aka Muni — does not offer direct service, and no school bus runs that route. The district prioritizes bus service for its most disadvantaged students, including those who live in census tracts with the lowest test scores: Treasure Island, parts of the Tenderloin, the Western Addition and most of the southeastern neighborhoods. But the district does not transport elementary-age students from more affluent areas to schools in lowperforming neighborhoods, while the buses that serve most lower-performing schools pick up kids who live in nearby neighborhoods. So the Visitacion Valley families lose out two times over: their schools perform below average, but not at the bottom, and the school they wanted to attend is in a neighborhood to which the district will not bus their


FINISH BUSING continued on B3 Illustrations by Erika Rae Langdon // Public Press, Stamen Maps // Creative Commons


Left: Daniel Sears drives his daughter Karishma, 8, to Starr King Elementary in Potrero Hill. Above: Karishma gets dropped off at her school. Below: Rosario Bolos walks with her daughter, Jessica, 6, to Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Mission. The Bolos have no car, so choosing a school a few blocks from home is essential. Photos by Anna Vignet // Public Press






BUSING continued from B2

children. Thus, isolation and inequity persist, bus or no bus, for all kinds of students. “What we’ve heard from families, especially in the southeast neighborhoods, is that while we have choices as to where to send students, getting them there is a barrier that’s too high to overcome,” said Masharika Maddison, executive director of the nonprofit Parents for Public Schools, which advocates on policy for families throughout the school district. Joel Ramos, regional planning director for the mass transit advocacy nonprofit TransForm and a board member of Muni, said many families simply cannot use public transit to get their children to school. “Even if you can get into a school that’s performing much better but is on the other side of the city, a trip on Muni might require one, two, even three transfers,” Ramos said. “A lot of people aren’t going to feel comfortable letting their kids do that.” District data, collected by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, show that few students have changed their commute patterns since 2010–2011, the year before the current assignment system took effect. At eight of the 25 district elementary schools with below-average statewide academic rankings, the number of students who live within a mile of school has increased over the last four years. With few exceptions, a significantly higher percentage of these students live closer to school than do students at the highest-performing and most-requested schools. While a number of factors are at play, lack of mobility looms large. Even though families of all socioeconomic backgrounds are traveling long distances, many schools in the most economically disadvantaged parts of town draw the bulk of their students from the surrounding neighborhoods. Student populations at some of these schools are so imbalanced that the district considers them “racially isolated,” meaning that more than 60 percent of the school’s students are of a single race. (See story, page B1.) PUBLIC TRANSIT POOR SUBSTITUTE Rosario Bolos walks her daughter, Jessica, three blocks from their house to Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission. She knows it is one of the city’s lowest-performing schools. But she likes its feeling of community, and her top priority when choosing a school for Jessica was, by necessity, its proximity to home.

“We can’t afford a car, and my husband works full time, so this is the only choice we have,” she said. She does not let Jessica, 6, ride Muni alone. “That’s for older kids.” As part of its effort to align its transportation services with the new student assignment policy, the district cut its fleet to 25 buses last school year, down from 44 buses in 2011–2012. As a result, 20 schools lost all bus service, and service to many others shrank or changed. The district does not plan more cuts or additions, according to school district spokeswoman Heidi Anderson. As school board member Rachel Norton sees it, every dollar spent on busing is a dollar taken out of the classroom. One bus costs $100,000 to operate and maintain for a year. The money comes out of the district’s general fund, which also covers teacher salaries and operating essentials. “We don’t have a lot of money, and we have to be careful to invest in the highest-impact strategy,” said Norton, who was first elected in 2009 and now chairs the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Assignment. “You can pay for a literacy coach and a half with the money it costs to run a bus. Is a bus that carries students to a school without literacy coaches the best strategy?” Norton said that while the district knows the demographics of students who request transportation, it does not have stop-by-stop data, nor the expertise to design routes that would optimally serve the most students. “We as a district could use some planning assistance,” she said. CHARITY BUYS BUS PASSES Muni in 2013 started offering free passes to low- and moderate-income San Franciscans ages 5 to 18 through a pilot program funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Last February, Google donated $6.8 million to continue the program for two more years. So far, 26,000 kids have signed up. Chris Collier said it saves his family about $30 per month, and many families praise the program for making the commute to school more affordable. For families with younger children, who need to be accompanied on public transit, the cost of travel is even more significant because caregivers must pay $2.25 per trip, even if a student qualifies for a free pass. The crowded and delay-plagued Muni system, which gets fewer than 60 percent of buses and trolleys to arrive on time, will bring in millions in new funding to upgrade infrastructure and add service starting this year, thanks to propositions A and B, approved by voters in November. But Muni is not a transit system designed to transport large numbers of students.

As for what families really want, some certainly prioritize community, family history and convenience over test scores when choosing a school. But the district found in a 2012 survey of more than 10,000 families that academic reputation usually trumped proximity to home as a factor. Fewer than half the families responding to the survey included nearby schools in their choices. And yet, a number of families interviewed for this story chose otherwise. This contradiction demonstrates the difficulty of drawing conclusions about what drives choice patterns in the district. Data from the 2014 application process shows that half of the 22 schools least requested by families living in their attendance areas are located in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and eight of them have student populations dominated by a single race. Further, reports produced by the district show that a higher percentage of African-Americans and Latinos submit school choice applications late than do their Asian and white peers, and by doing so are placed at the bottom of the heap during student-assignment season. This limits their access to the district’s best schools, and can result in assignment to the least-requested schools, which are often in their neighborhoods. A 2014 report produced by the Denver transit advocacy organization Mile High Connects and U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Cities + Schools, notes that reforming student transportation can be complicated by the sharing of responsibility for busing by local, regional and federal agencies. It can get very political as a result. Julia Ehrman, a sustainable transportation fellow with San Francisco public schools and a fellow at the Center for Cities + Schools, spent last summer investigating the district’s transportation landscape. She found that there was very little data about how transportation affects families’ ability to take advantage of school choice. But she cautioned against the view that programs intended to promote walking and biking as part of the district’s sustainability goals can replace school bus and transit service for public school students. “If we only promote walking and biking, then we sort of contradict the premise of school choice: that mobility is a good way to pursue educational equity,” Ehrman said. Maddison said the biggest problem actually is not transportation. It is the vast disparities among San Francisco schools. “School choice can never be a replacement for ensuring that all our schools are excellent.”


As Courts Flip-Flopped on School Integration, Diversity Has Remained Elusive By Sanne Bergh and Paul Lorgerie // Public Press

Asian and Latino populations, with the latter two accounting for rising shares as the school system shrinks. Factors contributing to resegregation include court rulings and laws barring educators from considering race in admissions and school assignment. But an evolving school choice program that is harder for lower-income families to navigate and limited availability of free transportation also play a role. More than six decades have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court banned government-sponsored segregation in its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, and it has been five decades since the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal aid. Here is how desegregation efforts and demographic shifts have unfolded in San Francisco.


UNTIL 1971


y 2005, when a federal judge lifted the most recent desegregation orders, San Francisco Unified School District had been trying for more than three decades to make its schools more racially and socioeconomically diverse, starting in 1971 with forced busing. San Francisco schools no longer exhibit the level of racial isolation they once did, but they are now resegregating, as are many others across the country. In 2013–2014, in more than one-quarter of city schools, 60 percent of the students were of one race. That is a far cry from 1966, when more than one-third of the schools had student populations with 80 percent or more belonging to a single racial group. (In 2014, just three schools were segregated to that degree.) The district has long had large black, white,

Through the civil rights era, many San Francisco schools are dominated by a single ethnic or racial group, and white students are the largest, at 40 percent in 1969. 1969: First lawsuit over school segregation in San Francisco is filed, Johnson v. San Francisco Unified. Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY


1971: In response, Chinese-American families unsuccessfully sue for an exemption in Guey Heung Lee v. Johnson. 1971: More than 48,000 San Francisco students are assigned to new schools under the district’s compulsory “horseshoe plan,” named after the shape of bus routes on a map. During the first few weeks, 40 percent of students skip school as parents boycott forced reassignments.

1978: The NAACP files a lawsuit seeking resumption of school assignments that emphasize racial diversity. 1978: A splintered U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bakke v. University of California that affirmative action is acceptable in some forms but that U.C. Davis’ criteria for medical school admissions went too far.


1978: Federal judge Stanley A. Weigel finds large-scale forced busing is no longer necessary in San Francisco and orders it to end.


In response to a court order in the Johnson case, the district institutes forced busing, which helps make schools more diverse but is soon challenged and abandoned. As white families flee San Francisco’s public schools, black students become the largest racial group in 1973, accounting for 30 percent.

1973: Federal courts issue rulings leading to desegregation orders in Denver, and then in Boston and Detroit the following year. Forced busing spreads nationwide and violent parent protests erupt. 1974: San Francisco Unified is ordered to establish a Chinese bilingual program to end a lawsuit (Lau v. Nichols) claiming that 2,500 immigrant students are not getting a meaningful education.

1978-1983: LEGAL SHIFTS:

The backlash against forced integration comes from many quarters, chiefly parents and the courts. Parents are unhappy with their children’s long commutes and lack of access to language programs. By 1979, Asians are the largest racial group among San Francisco students, at 29 percent.

1979: California voters approve Proposition 1 outlawing forced busing.

1983–1999: RACIAL QUOTAS:

The NAACP and San Francisco Unified reach a settlement intended to encourage racial balance in city schools. But the resulting quota system is heavily criticized. 1983: A consent decree sets a quota of 45 percent for the maximum share of each San Francisco school’s population that can be of any single race. It mandates that at least four racial groups (out of nine represented in the district) be represented in each school. San Francisco gets $30 million a year in extra state funding to comply with the court order.


1994: A Chinese-American student claims in a lawsuit, Ho v. SFUSD, to have been denied admission to the prestigious, public Lowell High School based on his race. 1995: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Missouri v. Jenkins that court remedies to segregation should be “limited in time and extent.” 1995–1996: The UC Regents drop race, sex, religion, gender and national origin as admissions criteria. California voters pass Proposition 209, banning traditional affirmative action in all public education, employment and contracting.

1983: The district automatically assigns students entering the fifth and eighth grades to their neighborhood schools but they can choose another enrollment process designed to spur diversity by making randomized assignments. As described later by a school official in court papers, if any given student’s race already accounts for 45 percent or more of the population of his or her preferred school, the student is sent to another school.

Photo: Wikpedia


2001: The new “diversity index” lottery for student assignment intends to do three things: • Give families choice • Ensure equitable access to programs • Promote diversity without using race or ethnicity admissions criteria


2001: The district implements a court-approved policy called “Excellence for All,” which promises equitable allocation of resources, a drive to improve all students’ achievement and accountability.


In settling Ho v. SFUSD, the district agrees to a consent decree barring the use of race in school assignments.

2004: Educator Henry Der writes in the Asian American Law Journal that changing student demographics, the removal of race and ethnicity from the school assignment process, and “parental avoidance of low-performing schools” have contributed to rising resegregation in San Francisco. He finds “every indication that San Francisco public schools will become even more racially identifiable as the African-American and white student populations decline.”


2004-2005: Forty-three San Francisco schools are overwhelmingly segregated, with 27 of them entirely segregated. 2005: A federal judge rejects San Francisco Unified’s request to extend the consent decree in the Ho case, and it expires. That ends court involvement in school assignment.


The district embraces the ideal of diversity but has few tools to achieve it. In a report on student assignment policies, district leaders say “the trend of racial isolation and concentration of underserved students” cannot be reversed through student assignment alone. Sidestepping disparities in funding, access and programs, the report concludes that to promote diversity the school board would need to send students to schools they never chose, far from where they live.

2007: The U.S. Supreme Court finds voluntary integration efforts in Seattle unconstitutional. But five of the nine justices write that there remains a “compelling interest in avoiding segregation.” 2011: San Francisco Unified adopts a new school assignment system, abandoning the diversity index and giving parent choice top priority. It begins a three-year plan for significant cuts in its budget for busing students. 2014: Administrators say funding, community opposition to busing and parent preference for neighborhood schools limit the ability of school assignment policies to overcome segregation.

Photo: Anna Vignet // Public Press


“The narrative of two San Franciscos is valid. The schools tend to the extremes, instead of being balanced.” Rachel Norton, San Francisco Board of Education

San Francisco Unified School District board member Rachel Norton at the Mission District’s Marshall Elementary, which has 81 percent Latino students. Anna Vignet // Public Press

As parents compete for the best schools, children become more racially and economically isolated from each other DIVERSITY continued from B1

WHY ARE SCHOOLS SO SEGREGATED? Money is the key factor. Parents are asked to navigate a system that is essentially a competitive marketplace, where affluence confers advantages. Consider Carrie and Scott Tanabe. Carrie is a family therapist for the district; Scott is a planner with a technology company. Like many parents, they started researching kindergartens last October, nearly a year before their daughter would start school, starting online and then continuing with school tours and conversations with other parents. The application the Tanabes submitted on Jan. 16 allowed them to rank all 72 elementary schools, including charters, if they chose to. From there, a computer algorithm will try to slot their daughter into their first choice, Grattan Elementary, near their Cole Valley home. Because Grattan usually has far more applicants than slots — 1,202 applicants for 67 kindergarten seats in 2013 — the Tanabes will face a series of tiebreakers under San Francisco’s school assignment system. The system, often erroneously called a “lottery” because it contains an element of randomness, is in fact a carefully constructed and complicated set of rules that give preference to children who:

• • • •

Have siblings already at the school Enrolled in an attendance-area pre-kindergarten Come from a neighborhood where the average test scores are low or Live in the school’s attendance area.

The Tanabes’ daughter satisfies only one tie-breaker, living in the school’s attendance area, and that may not be enough to keep her from being bumped down the ranked list they submitted, until she finally hits one where there is room. By law, the family’s Chinese-Japanese-Jewish heritage cannot be considered by the district in the assignment process. The period from January to June, when the final notifications go out for those still on waiting lists, is one of high anxiety for many parents. Perhaps even more so for those who have done enough research about each of the schools to feel strongly about their options. “I knew that the chances of getting into the school you wanted weren’t very good,” Carrie Tanabe said in her living room. “There were some parents we knew who developed these very elaborate spreadsheets, and put so much thought and time and energy into preparing to apply. I thought they were kind of crazy, honestly.” “We have a spreadsheet,” interjected Scott, as their youngest daughter wiggled in his arms. “But we didn’t make it,” she replied with a note of defensiveness. “We got it from another parent.” The five-tab sheet includes test scores and information on enrichment activities, languages and afterschool programs for all elementaries. Shared over email through an informal network of affluent, educated San Francisco parents, the spreadsheet illustrates the advantage the Tanabes have in a competitive marketplace, one that Scott recognizes. “We have options,” he said. “We can send our kids to private schools. We can travel across town. Not every parent can.” (For more on families’ transportation challenges, see story, page B2.) MAY THE BEST PARENTS WIN A San Francisco woman whom we will call Adalina Hernandez is one of those parents without many options. An undocumented immigrant who asked that her real name not be used, she does not own a computer or even have an email address. She arrived in the Mission District from Mexico in 2004 and is still learning English. The older of her two sons attends third grade at Bryant Elementary in the Mission, which is almost 90 percent Latino, and she aims to send her four-year-old there next year. At school, her son qualifies for free lunch, a statistic used by researchers and administrators to measure poverty. For her, choosing a school was simple: “I went in person to the school district, and they told me that Bryant was my neighborhood school,” she said. A cousin already attended the school, but what Hernandez liked most was that many of the families at Bryant were also Mexican immigrants. She could communicate and feel part of a community. Test scores were not important, she said, adding that in any case she did not know what they meant or how to investigate them. Bryant is in fact one of the district’s worst-performing schools, in part be-

cause so many students are learning English or come from extreme poverty. Parents face many of the same linguistic and cultural barriers as their children. Despite having been through the process once before, Hernandez said many aspects of her younger son’s application to go there next year confused her. She was unsure if she should give the application to the school or the district office. She did not know whether he needed a placement test. Other Latino immigrants interviewed on Mission playgrounds shared Hernandez’s confusion about the process, as well as her preference for proximity to home and a community of Spanish speakers. Yet they also said biculturalism was a major educational goal for their children. “My kids learn more here than in Mexico,” said Olga Ramirez, whose son and daughter attend Redding Elementary in Nob Hill. In San Francisco schools they can learn both English and Spanish, and encounter different kinds of people. Both women see the schools as a way out of isolation by race, language and social class. Reducing isolation is a goal shared by Carrie Tanabe, who said she moved to San Francisco from Marin for the city’s diversity. “I want our kids to be exposed to a lot of different cultures and ethnicities,” she said. “So when I go to a school and I look at a classroom, I look to see how diverse it is.” Hernandez, Ramirez and the Tanabes want many of the same things for their children, but their different approaches reveal how some families end up at the district’s most disadvantaged schools while others end up at the best. The stakes are highest for kindergarten applications, because each elementary school feeds into a middle school, which will in turn feed into a high school. But many black and Latino families do not even participate in the first round of applications, said the school district’s O’Keeffe. Twenty-one percent of African-Americans and 15 percent of Latinos submit their applications late or not at all, compared with 4 percent of whites and 3 percent of Chinese-Americans. “The irony is that a system that has very complicated, precise rules, that encourages you to go out and see and evaluate a bunch of schools, obviously

“I want our kids to be exposed to a lot of different cultures and ethnicities.” Carrie Tanabe, Cole Valley mother

benefits the most advantaged families,” said board member Norton. “But many of the most advantaged parents think they’re disadvantaged by that system!” SCHOOLS DIVERGE FROM NEIGHBORHOODS The Hernandez and Tanabe families are actually unusual in that they are aiming for their attendance-area schools. Last year, only 21 percent of families put their attendance-area school as their first choice, and district data show that most students leave their neighborhoods when they go to school. As a result, few schools look demographically like the surrounding neighborhoods. For example, almost half of students at Alvarado Elementary in Noe Valley live below the poverty line, while the median household income in the neighborhood is $115,700 — 53 percent above the city median. Only onetenth of Noe Valley residents were Latino in the latest census, but last year 43 percent of Alvarado’s students were Latino. This pattern holds throughout the district: Poor students of color are embedded in many high-income, high-cost neighborhoods where residents are either childless or send their children to private schools. Though San Francisco has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and one of the highest income levels, 58 percent of its public school students are poor. And almost all the poor children are Asian, Latino or black. Though the number of racially isolated schools jumped by 22 percent over three years, according to a district study, to date none are more than 60 percent white. Yet in a broader sense, white children are the most isolated in the city. Whites are 42 percent of the city’s overall population, 33 percent of the children but only 12 percent of public school students. Why aren’t more white children in public school? Again, money appears to be the key factor: The average white San Franciscan makes three times more money than the average black resident. Whites on average also make 66 percent more

money than Latinos, and 44 percent more than Asians. Possibly as a result of this wealth, white children are much more likely to be enrolled in private schools than other racial groups. Since the new assignment system went into effect, the white children who do attend public schools have started to concentrate in just a few. In the 2009–10 school year, there were no schools in which whites were the simple majority. By last year, there were five, including Grattan. Meanwhile, at half of elementary schools, the white student population is now at or below 10 percent. At one-quarter of elementaries, the student population is 2 percent white (or less) — making them “apartheid schools,” according to some researchers. COSTS OF RACIAL ISOLATION Can’t schools just be great regardless of who attends them? In general, no. In 2009, San Francisco Unified asked Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford University to study the academic effects of racial isolation. She found that black and Latino students did better at diverse schools than they did at ones where their race was in the majority. And black and Latino students at racially isolated high schools were 11 percent less likely to graduate than their counterparts at diverse schools, even after controlling for other factors such as poverty. (She did not study white children.) Darling-Hammond also found that the achievement gap between different racial groups was widening, and subsequent developments have confirmed her insight. From 2010 to 2013, according to district reports, the number of racially isolated schools that have performed at the bottom third of standardized tests rose by 56 percent. One possible reason: San Francisco schools with a majority of Asians, Latinos or blacks are far more likely to have inexperienced teachers compared with similar schools across California, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education. The data also show that teachers in the city’s racially isolated schools are among the lowest paid in the state. Not all racially isolated schools underperform. KIPP Bayview Academy, a charter middle school, outperforms the other predominantly black schools, making it one of a handful of outliers. In addition, almost all of those dominated by Asian students test in the upper third — the inverse of the picture at black- and Latino-dominated schools. In San Francisco, “there’s a lot of pride in the Chinese community in having created educational enclaves,” said Prudence Carter, a Stanford sociologist who studied parent choices for the district in 2010. But a San Francisco Public Press analysis of school district statistics found that achievement correlates with income, not race. On average, Asians at racially isolated schools are more affluent than blacks and Latinos. Class seems to matter for all groups. Poor Asians struggle almost as much on standardized tests as do other impoverished students. Asian students may also fare better at diverse schools. At the city’s most diverse high school, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, the academic performance index (which rates schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000) for Asian students is almost 900. But at the two high schools where the Asian population is highest, Galileo and George Washington, they score closer to 800. UC Berkeley economist Rucker C. Johnson analyzed the life trajectories of 8,258 children born between 1945 and 1970 to understand the long-term nationwide effects of racial segregation. He found that minority children who attended segregated schools were not as likely to graduate from high school or go to college. As grown-ups, they also were more likely to be poor or go to jail. Importantly, whites showed no measurable disadvantages after attending integrated schools. But all students had one thing in common in Johnson’s study: Attending a segregated school made it more likely that they would live in a segregated neighborhood when they grew up. And their own children were more likely to attend segregated schools — thus perpetuating a cycle of social isolation. PART OF A NATIONAL TREND San Francisco hardly exists in a vacuum. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended government-sponsored

DIVERSITY continued on B7


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ISSUE 2: FALL 2010


ISSUE 4: FALL 2011


Report on the environmental and logistical challenges of adding thousands of new housing units to transform Treasure Island into an eco-enclave. Featuring an investigation into Macy’s selling doctored gems without proper labeling.

A report on Muni’s elusive quest for on-time service. The issue also includes stories on obstacles to reviving the city’s Mid-Market neighborhood, and a choose-yourown-adventure graphic on the future of Pier 70 redevelopment.

Half of Bay Area newspaper jobs evaporated in the past decade. What caused the media meltdown? Can tech media startups make up for what's been lost?

San Francisco’s budgeting process is broken. In a time of fiscal austerity, many city departments ignore audits that could save millions of dollars. Includes a take on the “participatory budgeting” trend.

Under the Healthy San Francisco program — the city’s attempt at local universal health care — quality of the care is great. But with uncertain funding and high hidden costs maintaining the program is a challenge.



ISSUE 8: FALL 2012



State budget cuts and unsteady leadership have hindered local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits trying to stop human trafficking. But signs of better coordination are emerging.

Regional planners hope to make more of the Bay Area like San Francisco — walkable, BARTable and energy efficient. But “smart growth” is facing resistance from cities, and financial pressure from the cash-strapped state.

An investigation into San Francisco’s uneven response to domestic violence exposed holes in the tracking of criminal cases and a declining rate of prosecution for abuse within the home.

Thousands of homes in San Francisco are more vulnerable to earthquakes because of delays in mandatory retrofitting. Before this report was published, many landlords and tenants did not know their homes were among those needing upgrades.

Under San Francisco’s 10-yearold minimum wage law the city recovered back wages for only a fraction of workers cheated by their bosses while technically the city boasted the highest minimum wage is the nation.


ISSUE 12: FALL 2013



ISSUE 15: FALL 2014

Regional efforts are taking aim at limiting greenhouse gas emissions. California’s cap-and-trade market promises major reductions. But loopholes abound.

San Francisco spends more than ever on job training, placement subsidies and a slew of supportive services. Is this effectively boosting employment? For many programs it is hard to say, because the system is so fragmented.

Reporters examined tax records from PTAs and data from the city’s public schools. While fundraising helped a small number of elementary schools avoid the worst effects of recent budget cuts, belts continued to tighten at schools with more economically disadvantaged students.

This experiment with solutions journalism paired reporting with the Hack the Housing Crisis conference to explore innovative ideas for keeping rents down and adding more housing while preserving San Francisco’s diverse communities and cultures.

Attempts to alleviate homelessness with subsidized supportive housing are not keeping pace with growing demand. Reforms could give those waiting for a room an idea of when they might get off the streets or out of a shelter.








f one looks at the San Francisco Unified School District as a whole, a clear pattern emerges: Schools with the highest level of achievement tend to have the lowest levels of family poverty. And schools that are identified as “racially isolated” are visibly clustered by both income and achievement. This plot shows the base Academic Performance Index for each school in the district for which data are available, as well as the percentage of students poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, which are used as a proxy for measuring poverty. The size of the bubble indicates the total enrollment of each school. Colorized circles indicate racially isolated schools that are predominantly Asian, Latino and black. We plotted 111 schools, excluding five due to missing data. For a student to qualify for subsidized lunches, a family of four must earn no more than $43,568. As of last year, 58 percent of students in the district qualified.


Data analysis by Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale and Paul Lorgerie // Public Press






District struggles to find incentives for diversity, including new language programs DIVERSITY continued from B5

segregation in America. But in the last two decades, judges from here to New York have ended court-enforced integration, and the schools have resegregated to levels not seen since the 1970s. Nationwide, the achievement gap between black and white students has widened. Beyond academics, the growing racial division of American children could have profound consequences for the whole society. “A segregated society is not a sustainable society,” said Rodolfo MendozaDenton, a UC Berkeley psychologist who studies prejudice and achievement. “We are a multicultural nation, and there is no way in which we can have a nondiverse workforce in which people don’t know how to function or talk with people from other groups. That is a skill, just like any other skill that requires learning, exposure, social interaction.” Mendoza-Denton’s recent work has found that minority students with cross-race friendships are more confident in the face of rejection, which may be a byproduct of having to negotiate many kinds of people. This principle also applies to white students who grow up to be much less stressed during interactions with people of different races. And they also seem to be less racist, he said: “The research very clearly shows that when people are exposed to diverse people at early age they show less bias in adulthood.” INCENTIVIZING DIVERSITY In interviews for this story, members of the Board of Education agreed with Mendoza-Denton’s argument that diversity was good for everyone. That understanding has motivated their search for solutions that promote classroom diversity. Jill Wynns, the longest-serving board member, argued that the biggest driver of racial isolation was the pattern of language-immersion and bilingual programs, offered at three-quarters of the racially isolated schools. But Wynns said that the district could actually use these programs as tools for increasing racial diversity at schools. She pointed to Starr King Elementary as an example. The school, which sits across the street from a public housing project in Potrero Hill, was historically African-American. But today, its Mandarin language immersion program draws educated Chinese and white families from around the city, making it the district’s most racially balanced school, according to a Public Press analysis (See chart, page B8.) The Mandarin and general education programs “are racially pretty separate,” said Olivia Boler, who sent her two children there for the language program. She is Chinese-American and lives in Noe Valley. Even so, connections among the groups can emerge, Boler said: “It takes a while for the kids to start mingling as friends, and it does take effort on the part of parents in scheduling play dates and other activities.” Wynns said that strategically placed language programs could attract diverse families. “We could do it if we had the will.” She has pressed this idea at the Board of Education, which is also considering changing the hierarchy of its school-assignment tiebreakers to emphasize neighborhood even more. But district projections show that the changes would actually increase racial polarization. In recent meetings,

the board has been unable to coalesce around one course of action, beset by legal constraints and contradictory goals. Several board members are sharply critical of the degree of choice offered to parents, most vocally Fewer. But eliminating choice is not on the agenda, with Norton saying that the backlash from parents would be too strong. Other policy choices, such as explicitly considering race as a factor in student assignment, are now illegal (see timeline, page B4). As the district’s leadership debates options for diversifying schools, nonprofit organizations are trying to fill the information gap in ethnic communities by getting more families to take advantage of the choices afforded to them. As a fifth-grade teacher at the Willie L. Brown Jr. Academy, which closed in 2011, Masharika Maddison “saw some inequities in how information was being distributed.” In response, she organized an enrollment fair for parents in Bayview-Hunters Point. She is now director of Parents for Public Schools, which organizes 115 workshops a year in English, Spanish and Chinese to help families navigate the district’s choice-based system. Their work is supported by philanthropy, not by the district.

Almost all parents and educators say they value diversity, but the current student assignment system places more emphasis on flexibility than the mixing of races and social classes. “A lot of people in the African-American community think that you just show up on the day school starts with your child,” Maddison said. “Others don’t know it’s a choice district. But when you break those numbers down, you are talking about less than 200 families who are not enrolling on time. So the magnitude of the problem is such that it is easily solvable, if we rethink how we communicate with these families.” REVERSING WHITE FLIGHT The effort to diversify schools is closely tied to the choices that white families make. Some parents and educators, including Norton, see it as a public-relations problem, at least in part. They say improving the district’s image could lure whites away from the private schools, and entice them consider a broader array of public schools. “I think one key strategy for addressing segregation in public schools is to educate all parents, including white parents, about the many excellent public schools to be found across San Francisco,” said Hunter Cutting, author of “Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice.” Cutting’s own children, who are white, attend Mission High School, which by his measure is “92 percent kids of color.” White parents — especially newcomers to the city — need to hear more “positive, inspirational” stories about the public schools, he said. It is a point echoed by many teachers. “I have never been in a space more diverse than my classroom at Balboa High School,” said Christopher Henderson Pepper, who teaches health to 9th-graders there. “That diversity can be a great advantage if you design

lessons that ask students to really work together and learn from one another. It truly changes people.” Indeed, the district contains many success stories, some initiated by affluent parents empowered by the district’s adoption of school choice. However, not all of these stories are unambiguously positive. Fifteen years ago, Grattan was one of the unpopular schools. Wynns said that started to change when 10 Cole Valley families, mostly white, approached the district with a request. They wanted to go to the school together — if the district approved them as a group. It was a novel solution to the problem of being the first white family to cross the color line: They joined hands and crossed together. This sparked a turnaround that ultimately made Grattan one of the district’s most desirable schools, but also one of the most white and affluent. Wynns and Norton lamented that the change probably went too far. Grattan, once a case study in diversification, in some ways illustrates how divided the district has become. “We’re a victim of our own success,” Norton said. As the Public Press reported in the winter 2014 print edition cover story, “Public Schools, Private Money,” parent donations were able to insulate the school from five years of budget cuts. From 2002 to 2012, the budgets of parent-teacher associations at elementary schools jumped by 800 percent. But parents at just 10 out of 71 of the schools were able to raise half of the total raised during that decade. Much of it went to teachers, classroom aides and essential programs like libraries. At a time when many schools were laying off staff, the top fundraising schools were hiring, and thus (without necessarily realizing it) widening the economically and racially defined differences among the schools. The example of Grattan reveals both the promise and the limitations of parent choices. Those choices can pave the way for racially integrated schools, but the evidence suggests they can also cumulatively hurt disadvantaged families and society as a whole. That’s where public policy comes in, educators contend. “The narrative of two San Franciscos is valid,” Norton said. “The schools tend to the extremes, instead of being balanced. Political differences arise when we ask how we make our schools attractive to the San Franciscan with choices, while still providing a great education for the least advantaged children.” She said the planned August reopening of Willie L. Brown Jr. in Bayview to an increasingly Asian neighborhood whose schools are predominantly black offers the district an opportunity to experiment with diversity through incentives, not strictures. “It’s state of the art, it’s beautiful,” Norton said. “And we know this school is going to fail if we can’t open it as an integrated school.” Stanford sociologist Prudence Carter was deeply involved in shaping San Francisco’s present student assignment system in 2010. She argued that families should take a chance on schools like Willie Brown, if they want to make San Francisco a more equitable place. That means embracing a larger vision of social change. The problem so far, she said, has been that San Franciscans “are not thinking about the larger project of American democracy and being representative of the beautiful diversity of this country. “That means you have to think grander, and beyond your own self-interest,” Carter said. “So long as we live in an individualistic and self-interested country, we’re going to probably continue to have this problem.”

Data Confirm Link Between Parent Fundraising, Student Achievement By Jeff Thorsby // Public Press


ast winter, the San Francisco Public Press published a detailed, data-rich narrative showing how private funds have saved a few schools from the ravages of years of budget cuts, but ended up exacerbating educational inequality within the San Francisco Unified School District. As a researcher for the project, I assisted the team in scouring through mountains of public documents, including budgets, California Department of Education data reports, hundreds of parent-teacher association nonprofit tax returns and statistics from other state and local agencies. The data made clear that even with policies intended to level the playing field by giving more district allocations to struggling schools, educational equity within the district was far from a solved problem. PTA fundraising quadrupled during years of budget cuts, but 10 elementary schools raised almost as much money as the other 61 combined. This allowed them to blunt the effects of the cuts. Many of our findings never made it into print but nonetheless helped provide important insights. One question kept turning up: If PTA expenditures influence educational equity among schools within the district, then do they also have an effect on academic performance? More specifically, is there a statistically significant correlation between PTA program expenditures and a school’s Academic Performance Index? While our story last year did not address this question head-on, we knew it was at the crux of our inquiry. After we published the report, I analyzed the data more closely as a graduate student at San Francisco State University. The study examined 39 elementary schools in San Francisco Unified, including expenditures, achievement scores and student demographic data — enrollment, subsidized lunches, English language learners, the number of full-time teachers and

base API test scores from 2009 to 2012. My statistical regression analysis showed that, in fact, PTA program service expenditures, socioeconomic factors and district budget allocations all had a significant correlation with a school’s test scores. It is important to not confuse correlation with causation, but correlation is very important. It reveals previously hidden relationships that might provide clues for why things are the way they are. In this case, the analysis shows that PTA fundraising is strongly associated with educational outcomes. That finding is one piece of evidence that inequality persists within the schools, despite the district’s efforts to provide equal educational opportunities. DISTRICT-LEVEL FUNDING The study found that per-pupil budget allocations from the district had a negative correlation with a school’s API test score. This makes sense, because under the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, a school with lower academic achievement scores is provided additional federal financial assistance to increase performance. More funding does not lead to lower achievement — the chain of causation is the other way around. The issue is particularly timely as Gov. Jerry Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, which redistributes subsidies to districts with the most disadvantaged students, is taking effect across the state. But this law only loosely governs how funds are spent within school districts. Even before the state law passed, San Francisco Unified relied on a weighted student funding formula to allocate resources to each school. The system works by first providing a base amount for each student enrolled. Additional funding is then provided for socioeconomically disadvantaged students enrolled in free- or reduced-

price lunch programs, special-education students and English language learners. Restricted funding is also provided for specific uses. Once funding is allocated to the school, the principal and locally elected school site council determine specific budget allocations for academic programs and teachers. Our findings show that PTA donations have a significant correlation to academic achievement despite the additional funds for disadvantaged schools. But here the direction of causation is not so clear. Do PTA activities bolster academic performance, or is an effective PTA just another manifestation of the advantages affluent families bring to the table? It could also be the case that academic achievement fosters greater PTA activity. We cannot say for sure. At the very least, the study suggests that school administrators be mindful of the potential effect of PTAs on equity. RESPONSES TO THE PROJECT We know that our report triggered intense conversations among parents and educators. As public school parent Alex Wise wrote to lead writer Jeremy Adam Smith: My wife, Moira, and I loved your article in the S.F. Public Press and it inspired us to think about solutions to PTA equity gap issues. We are formulating a PTA sister school idea that we think could help to address the current imbalance in PTA funding in San Francisco public schools. We’ve spoken with SFUSD Commissioner Matt Haney as well as Masharika Maddison of Parents for Public Schools, and both of them were quite receptive to the concept. We passed along your S.F. Public Press report to both of them as well as your KQED appearance from Feb. 14 to help them recognize the problem.

The conversation continues. On Dec. 9, another public school parent, Annie Bauccio, wrote on her business blog: In San Francisco there’s been a bright light shining on this issue of equity for years. Reporter and public school dad Jeremy Adam Smith published a special report on education inequality in the San Francisco Public Press earlier this year which garnered a lot of heated schoolyard discussion. I was among the heated: after serving as the fundraising chair at our little (failing) elementary school the PTA budget climbed from $12K annually to nearly $300K. The overwhelming personal response I had to this success was guilt: how could I be doing for our school and allowing the school (the children!) down the block to fail? And so I turned to advocacy and political action as a way to combat spending cuts that have risen to $20 billion since 2008. California now has a statewide education advocacy organization called Educate Our State that I am proud to have cofounded. We are heartened that our reporting has led officials to propose reforms to change the way public schools are funded based on our reporting. We don’t pretend to have all the answers. As journalists and researchers, our main job is to reveal facts and patterns — and to raise questions. Our project, which won a 2014 excellence in explanatory journalism award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, illustrates the need for more investigative and explanatory reporting that relies on both personal stories and a close look at the statistics to make sense of trends that are otherwise easy for policymakers to overlook. To read the 2014 report and follow-up coverage online, visit


Ranking Schools by Diversity Many schools have super-majorities of Asian or Latino students Data analysis by Jeffrey Thorsby, Emily Dugdale and Paul Lorgerie // Public Press


chools across San Francisco show markedly different levels of racial and ethnic diversity. Increasingly over the last five years, schools are dominated by one racial group. With mathematical tools, it is possible to measure which schools are the most and least diverse. We chose to rank schools using a formula that economists use to tell whether an industry is dominated by monopoly ownership, the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, also known to ecologists as the Simpson diversity index. The idea is the same: Sum up the squares of all the fractions of your sample. The higher the number, the lower the diversity. The methodology used to identify the demographic categories differed from that used by the California Department of Education in that we collapsed several demographics into broader groups. Specifically, we identified Filipinos as “Asians”; we collapsed Native American, Alaskan Native, Pacific Islander, people listing two races or more and those with unreported demographics into the category “other.” However, every methodology comes with imperfections. Scoring diversity

in this way obscures differences in the school district’s demographic profile, so that the smaller groups, such as “other,” have a disproportionate effect on the overall diversity ranking. In this case, it also does not reflect the actual demographics of the city or the district. Finally, it cannot account for the missions or programs of individual schools, which can sometimes affect ethnic composition. For example, the “least diverse” is Mission Education Center, which is 98 percent Latino. That should not surprise anyone: The elementary school is for newly arrived Spanish-speaking immigrants, so it lies outside the normal student selection process. The “most diverse” school in San Francisco Unified is Starr King Elementary in Potrero Hill, which is 28 percent Asian, 19 percent white, 18 percent Latino and 17 percent black. But what our ranking cannot show is that the school contains two programs, Mandarin immersion and general education, which have distinct racial mixes. This is a ranking of racial diversity as an abstract ideal, without regard to the reality on the ground. It is one – but only one – way of looking at race in the San Francisco Unified School District.

It is not highlighted in this graph, but in analyzing data from the 2013–14 school year, we found that 39 schools are “racially isolated,” meaning that 60 percent or more of students belong to one racial group. But according to the San Francisco Unified School District, there are only 28 such schools (out of 115). Why the difference? We used U.S. Census definitions of each racial group, which counts Filipinos as Asians. The district does not, seeing Filipinos as a separate ethnic group from blacks, whites, Asians and “other.” Our decision to count Filipinos as Asians dramatically increased the number of racially isolated schools. (For a discussion of the problem of defining race, see page B1.) Note: API, or Academic Performance Index, rates schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000 based on standardized tests. Data on free or reduced-price lunches serve as an indicator of poverty. DATA SOURCES: Demography, California Department of Education district-level data report; API test scores, California Department of Education DataQuest.




API 812 880 799 828 529 819 745 803 834 613 709 603 n/a 771 688 921 863 857 956 818 932 852 641 732 699 747 908 n/a 754 901 892 726 748 900 728 695 913 905 844 648 873 885 925 720 n/a 898 864 n/a 427 829 756 n/a 875 732 917 892 644 755 731 799 844 924 731 759 547 520 804 793 772 806 657 841 804 817 898 868 711 801 498 883 889 694 838 934 948 778 873 665 711 732 822 774 955 752 578 914 751 758 646 820 906 932 748 744 830 932 795 783 708 934 703 690 997 852 401

Starr King Elementary Rooftop Elementary Rosa Parks Elementary Harvey Milk Civil Rights Elementary Independence High Gateway Middle Gateway High Sheridan Elementary Redding Elementary Visitacion Valley Middle Tenderloin Community International Studies Academy Gateway to College Lakeshore Alternative Elementary El Dorado Elementary Claire Lilienthal Elementary Sunnyside Elementary Jose Ortega Elementary Clarendon Alternative Elementary Aptos Middle Sherman Elementary Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, A P Mission High San Francisco Public Montessori Academy of Arts and Sciences San Francisco Community Alternative Yick Wo Elementary Ida B. Wells High Daniel Webster Elementary Commodore Sloat Elementary Dianne Feinstein Elementary William L. Cobb Elementary Bessie Carmichael/FEC McKinley Elementary Everett Middle Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle Lafayette Elementary George Peabody Elementary Creative Arts Charter Bret Harte Elementary New Traditions Elementary Argonne Elementary Sunset Elementary Glen Park Elementary Five Keys Charter (SF Sheriff's Dept.) Miraloma Elementary Alvarado Elementary Five Keys Independence HS (SF Sheriff's Dept.) Downtown High Garfield Elementary Hillcrest Elementary Five Keys Adult School (SF Sheriff's Dept.) Roosevelt Middle James Denman Middle Grattan Elementary Presidio Middle Thurgood Marshall High George Washington Carver Elementary John Muir Elementary Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High Spring Valley Elementary Jefferson Elementary Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High Balboa High June Jordan School for Equity Life Learning Academy Charter Guadalupe Elementary Longfellow Elementary Paul Revere Elementary Monroe Elementary John O'Connell High Frank McCoppin Elementary Marina Middle Herbert Hoover Middle Alamo Elementary KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy City Arts and Tech High Visitacion Valley Elementary S.F. International High A.P. Giannini Middle Francis Scott Key Elementary Leonard R. Flynn Elementary KIPP Bayview Academy Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila Lowell High Abraham Lincoln High Edward R. Taylor Elementary Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy Malcolm X Academy Francisco Middle George R. Moscone Elementary George Washington High Alice Fong Yu Elementary Junipero Serra Elementary Chinese Education Center West Portal Elementary James Lick Middle Galileo High Leadership High Fairmount Elementary Sutro Elementary Lawton Alternative Elementary Buena Vista/ Horace Mann K-8 Sanchez Elementary Jean Parker Elementary Ulloa Elementary Edison Charter Academy Marshall Elementary Cleveland Elementary Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary Bryant Elementary Cesar Chavez Elementary John Yehall Chin Elementary Gordon J. Lau Elementary Mission Education Center



60% 40% Percentage of Diversity



Free or Reduced Neighborhood Price Lunches Potrero Hill 54% Twin Peaks 42 Western Addition 56 Castro/Upper Market 55 Inner Sunset 40 Western Addition 39 Western Addition 41 Ocean View 86 Nob Hill 86 Visitacion Valley 82 Downtown/Civic Center 94 Potrero Hill 72 Balboa Park 39 Lakeshore 55 Visitacion Valley 86 Inner Richmond 24 Outer Mission 43 Ocean View 48 Clarendon Heights 21 West of Twin Peaks 64 Marina 46 Diamond Heights 23 Mission 74 Pacific Heights 38 Diamond Heights 57 Excelsior 72 Russian Hill 48 Alamo Square 73 Potrero Hill 57 West of Twin Peaks 45 Sunset District 30 Pacific Heights 74 Mid-Market 85 Castro/Upper Market 25 Castro/Upper Market 72 Excelsior 81 Outer Richmond 33 Inner Richmond 25 Western Addition 23 Bayview 96 Haight Ashbury 40 Richmond District 39 Outer Sunset 33 Outer Mission 68 South of Market 1 West of Twin Peaks 16 Noe Valley 40 South of Market 7 Potrero Hill 74 North Beach 63 92 Excelsior 3 South of Market 65 Presidio Heights 81 Balboa Park 22 Haight Ashbury 47 Outer Richmond 84 Bayview 95 Bayview 90 Western Addition 66 Western Addition 84 Nob Hill 38 Inner Sunset 74 Portola District 69 Balboa Park 82 Excelsior 94 Treasure Island/YBI 82 Crocker Amazon 82 Crocker Amazon 82 Bernal Heights 79 Excelsior 78 Mission 68 Inner Richmond 80 Marina 67 West of Twin Peaks 40 Outer Richmond 82 Western Addition 80 Visitacion Valley 88 Visitacion Valley 86 Mission 50 Outer Sunset 42 Outer Sunset 75 Mission 90 Bayview 17 Haight Ashbury 43 Lakeshore 60 Parkside/Sunset 83 Excelsior 96 Bayview 95 Bayview 88 North Beach 91 Mission 60 Outer RIchmond 35 Inner Sunset 91 Bernal Heights 98 North of Market 39 West of Twin Peaks 76 Noe Valley 73 Russian Hill 78 Outer Mission 62 Glen Park 63 Inner Richmond 54 Outer Sunset 68 Mission 92 Castro/Upper Market 88 Hayes Valley 60 Parkside 82 Noe Valley 81 Mission 95 Excelsior 53 Outer Sunset 96 Mission 94 Mission 84 North Beach 91 Chinatown 100 Castro/Upper Market

Issue 16  
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