Activism

We're Doing This Again

Dancing Clowns Convert Google Bus Into Luxury "Gmuni"

The press release said the protest was to begin at 8am, but much like Muni itself, the protesters were running about an hour late.

Dubbed “Gmuni”, the latest Google Bus-blocking protest rolled up to 24th and Valencia just after 9am this morning, looking to reappropriate the beloved corporate shuttle service as a public enterprise.  Amongst a squad of dancing clowns, a speaker wearing fake Google Glass and a suit claimed, “The Muni program is in decline because of underfunding, so we’re starting our ‘Gmuni’ pilot program.”

And, of course, they had Gmuni passes:

The protest coincides with today’s SFMTA hearing, in which the agency that controls Muni will vote on a proposed plan to lease Muni stops to Silicon Valley tech firms for $1 per use.  Ron Conway’s lobbying group, sf.citi, previously released a “call to action,” asking tech workers to turn out in support of the “common-sense regulation” and oppose the “divisive shuttle opponents.”  Naturally, those shuttle opponents are rallying their allies in return.

Below, the literature the protesters were handing out regarding that hearing:

[Photos: Cindy Milstein, Julia Wong, Cindy Milstein]

Laugh to Keep from Crying

San Francisco Comedians Stand Up Against Ellis Act Evictions

The usually sombre proceedings of the SF Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting were livened up today by some of our favorite local comedians, who came to support a proposal requiring landlords to subsidize rents of evicted tenants for two years.

In the packed meeting room, The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s Erin McElroy presented some frightening numbers, including that of a survey of 171 people displaced by Ellis evictions, finding only 40 had managed to remain in the city. Later, the legendary humorist Marga Gomez spoke on behalf of the proposal. “I have been a renter since 1982. It’s my longest relationship.”

As for the headline set, Nato Green spoke on behalf of fellow small-time landlords, along with comedian renters Kate Willet, Matt Lieb, Nicole Calasich, Juan Medina and Sean Keane. “I can’t believe I have to follow that,” laughed the Tenants Union’s Ted Gullicksen, who took the microphone after Keane to reiterate the impact of evict-and-flip speculators.

Supervisor Jane Kim expressed her desire to see more comedians at meetings, since public comment offers everyone the opportunity to “wait a long time to speak for two minutes. And of course you won’t get paid.” Zing!

The committee will vote to send the bill to the full Board next week.

You can watch all the comments from the comedians below (be sure to catch Matt Lieb’s at 5:40 and Sean Keane’s at 10:00):

[Photo: Nato Green]

Majority Report

Oakland's Panopticon Effort Scaled Back, Mayor Vows to Move it Forward

All eyes from civil liberties watchdogs across the Bay Area were on Oakland’s City Council meeting last night for the discussion of and vote on agenda item number 14, Domain Awareness Center (DAC) Phase 2 Contract Award. And there would be much discussion, with opponents that included the National Lawyers GuildACLU of Northern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation heeding Oakland Privacy Watch’s call to “flood the hall.” Collectively, the audience submitted 149 cards to weigh in with public comments, now being fanned perpetually above.

Five hours later, the Council voted 5-4 to significantly curtail the effort, restricting it to only the Port of Oakland and Oakland Airport facilities owned by the city (at least until the city can come up with a privacy policy). The decision was welcomed with a mix of applause and jeers, as many had hoped for the project to be scrapped entirely. Mayor Jean Quan broke the tie with a “yes” vote on the more limited implementation after showing up around 10pm and reportedly killing time going through her mail and checking out catalogs.

Those watching at home and playing bingo couldn’t see some of the more theatrical moments beyond reach of the cameras, like “One man in a balaclava [who] used his smartphone…to take close-up pictures of city staffers and interim Police Chief Sean Whent as they waited to speak” according to Chronicle reporter Will Kane. He reports another masked man using his public comment time to read Michel Foucault out loud, while Oakland North shared pictures of protestors with LED signs reading “SINK THE DAC.” Councilmembers buried their head in their hands and plugged their ears as the boisterous meeting dragged on.

Quan, who backed the full program but was forced to settle for the more limited proposal, was surprised by the vehement opposition but vowed to move forward. “It didn’t occur to us … that a system that would just help the existing cameras coordinate better in an emergency would become so controversial.” Similar systems, implemented with the help of federal money, exist in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Overtly intended to help first responders in emergency situations, the program and the technology behind it raised concerns that it was a stalking horse for the continuation of a “Total Information Awareness” approach to counterterrorism that would grow beyond emergency response to include surveilling local activists and policing everyday citizens. In the context of the Oakland Police Department’s ongoing struggles, the NSA’s widespread domestic surveillance, behavior prediction algorithms leveraging “big data” and mobile tracking and recording technology like smartphones and wearable technologies such as Google Glass, the audience’s fears don’t seem entirely unreasonable.

“You could say that we won on some level,” vocal opponent Dustin Craun told the Oakland Tribune’s Matthew Artz. “But I think they put their foot in the door for expanding it later.” Which? Pretty much!

“The most important thing is that at least the port security system will be there … and it will give us time to talk about privacy,” Quan assured fellow supporters. Once those rules are in place, the City Council will likely reconsider features, including the centralized video monitoring system and connections with ShotSpotter microphones for notifying and locating gunshots. “We’ll bring them back one at a time,” Quan promised.

Opponents were just as committed, and the issue could have implications for the upcoming mayor’s race, where Quan has been sliding in the polls. Popular Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who voted against the DAC, was the most popular choice for mayor in a December poll, with Quan in third.  Officially Kaplan isn’t planning to run until 2018, but in the meantime Occupy Oakland veteran Jason “Shake” Anderson recently announced his candidacy with the Green Party, offering guaranteed opposition from the left to the increasingly moderate Quan.

Smashy-smashy

Bricks and Invective Hurled at Vanguard Properties, Windows Broken

This morning, contractors were busy repairing two windows broken some time after close of business last week at the Mission Street headquarters of realtor and property manager Vanguard Properties.  A person in Vanguard’s office told us two halves of a brick were found inside, but no other information was left to suggest who threw the brick or why.

A message signed “Venceremos” was posted to Indybay the following morning taking credit, citing the new condos 3133 24th Street put up for sale last year and the trade of foreclosed homes in Oakland (like a home at 2678 75th Street that’s listed on the realtor’s website) as reasons for targeting Vanguard:

Last night, on February 28th, the windows of Vanguard Properties in the Mission District were smashed out. Vanguard thought it was pretty funny to build some luxury condos on 24th, but we thought it was more funny for their property to get smashed. Vanguard thought it was pretty funny to buy foreclosed houses in Oakland and flip them at a profit. We think its more funny to bring the fight to the developers themselves. Greetings to everyone fighting the good fight. 

LA LUCHA SIGUE / Brigada Anti-Gentrification

As you can see from photos of the scene, security cameras may have captured footage of the incident. We’ve left voicemail for Vanguard founder James Nunemacher and a comment for the Indybay thread seeking further information, but have yet to hear back.

Update: Reached by phone, a terse Nunemacher directed further inquiries about details of the incident to the SFPD, saying that “we gave them everything they need to investigate.” He continued, “It’s a shame that people resort to vandalism…I mean, it’s kinda random. You throw bricks through someone’s windows because they build condos? Honestly, I feel sorry for these people.”

Democracy is Boring

Tenants Take Field Trip to Sacramento

State Senator Mark Leno believes that there just might be the political will to reform the Ellis Act. At least, that’s what he told the audience assembled at the California State Capitol for the Tenant’s Together Renters’ Day of Action yesterday.

A coalition of tenant and affordable housing advocacy organizations across the state, Tenant’s Together was also there to lobby for the restoration of funding the Renter’s Rebate for low-income senior and disabled tenants in California and show support for SB-391, otherwise known as the California Homes and Jobs Act, which would levy a fee on real estate filings to fund affordable housing construction.

A lot of familiar faces from the San Francisco Citywide Tenant Convention held recently at the Tenderloin Community School were joined by activists from Fresno, Merced, Oakland, Berkeley and host Sacramento for a turnout that numbered around 300 or more by my count — including media and elected officials.

Why is a statewide organization lobbying against the Ellis Act, which nominally only applies to a few municipalities including San Francisco? Nevermind that it effectively undermines any future local efforts to prevent the loss of rental stock across the state, it clearly seemed relevant enough to the legislature in 1986 to take action to undermine rent ordinances being passed in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. So ask them.

Ellis, and the entire affordable housing debate, is a lot bigger than San Francisco. Rents (and home prices) across the state have been outpacing real wages for decades. And many of the issues tenant activists have been organizing against are not new, it’s just that conditions have gotten so bad on the ground that campaign donor landlords may not be able to buy incumbents enough votes to stay in office—according to the annual San Francisco Chamber of Commerce public opinion poll, housing issues emerged as the top concern among San Franciscans—especially if the people who actually bother to show up at the polls during off-year elections get evicted from their respective districts before November.

The Renter’s Rebate, which was defunded after decades of helping tenants by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, could put up to up to $347.50 in tax credits into the pockets of elderly Californians across the state sooner rather than later now that the state has a budget surplus again. Endorsed by both business and labor lobbies, SB-391 is meant to raise funds to build affordable housing now that city and county redevelopment agencies are gone. More importantly, the ultra-right Pacific Research Institute absolutely hates it, which is usually more than enough to garner any bill my critical support.

From the sound of things, Leno’s effort seems to have the most traction, especially after last month’s visit from Mayor Ed Lee indicating maybe pragmatism, or at least protectionism, from the real estate and business lobbies locally. Even SPUR’s Gabriel Metcalfe is calling for efforts to preserve rental stock these days. “I don’t know if there’s the political will to eliminate the Ellis Act. But can can amend it,” said Leno. He framed it as trying to hold the bill accounting to the language about protecting landlords who buy rental properties and later want to the leave the business. “If you’re a speculator, you don’t want tenants. So the Ellis Act doesn’t apply to you.”

The proposal to keep rental units from being converted into Tenancies-in-Common for five years through an Ellis amendment was again floated to combat the evict-and-flip, an increasingly common practice among landlords like The Dirty Dozen. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano followed Leno and took a harder line. “I have a limp wrist, but I’d rather punch with that limp wrist than compromise with the likes of Wells Fargo.” Which? Love you, Tom!

Assemblymember Phil Ting, who represents the west side and Daly City, and State Senator Leland Yee who also represents the west side as well as San Mateo County couldn’t be bothered to attend. San Francisco Supervisors David Chiu and David Camposwho are competing for Ammiano’s seat once he vacates due to term limitswere joined by John Avalos, who subtly promoted his in-law amnesty plan and Jane Kim, who largely supported Leno’s position by framing the Ellis Act issue in similar terms.

Both Ammiano and Leno have until Friday to introduce bills, and while they might seem rather far apart on this and other issues, Ammiano’s principled stance at least make anything Leno proposes seem even more moderate by comparison. It also makes clear the stakes in the race to replace him between the pragmatist Chiu versus the idealist Campos. After all, Ted Gullicksen from the Tenant’s Union (where I volunteer as a counselor) pointed out at the Tenant Convention that buyouts backed by the threat of an Ellis now outnumber the evictions five to one. Meaning any amendmentments might not even ultimately slow displacement or the removal of rental stock from the market entirely. So we’ll probably need more legislation if we’re going to paper over the inequality gap long enough to get us to the next real-estate downturn.

I’ve been in and around left activism circles for far too long to every really get my hopes up, but on the ride back to San Francisco with friends from the The League of Young Voters, I’ll admit to some cautious optimism that some progress can be made on tenant issues amidst the most recent Rentpocalypse, which is now trending into its third year.

Anti-Tech Protests Just Another Advertising Opportunity for Start-Ups

On a patch of sidewalk sandwiched between City Hall and The Crunchies, the tech industry's masturbatory answer to the Grammy's, about three dozen protesters held their own award ceremony.

Christened “The Crappies,” protesters handed out the prized Toilet Brush Trophy for categories ranging from the “Tax Evader Award” (Twitter) to the “Peter Shih Diarrhea of the Mouth Award” (Tom Perkins).  Entertainment included an audience sing-a-long to 2pac's Gangsta Party, with the updated lyrics “Ain't nothing like a tax-free party / Ain't nothing like a tech-bus party.”

It was amusing street theater, but it was mostly for the cameras—by the time the Crappies began flushing, the long line of Crunchie attendees that could have provided meat for confrontation had long been let into the Davies Symphony Hall.

And that was exactly the point for Wardrobe.me.

As TV crews shined the spotlight on a Dick Costolo impersonator, two low-rent TaskRabbits waved QR codes linking to the start-up's website behind the ceremony.  In total, the company sent five people to the protest to promote it—two $25 TaskRabbits, two employees, and one photographer to document their stunt.

During the protest, they waved their signs around without much trouble.  But as the Crappies came to a close, word started going around they were promoting a “Pinterest for clothing,” and they retreated slightly towards the guarded entrance.  So after identifying myself as a reporter for the SF Weekly, they let down their guard and started talking.

“Why are you promoting a fashion start-up here?”

“Because we think they should dress better!,” shouted one of the self-identified employees, pointing in the direction a protester dressed as a vampire.

Before saying anything truly stupid, another more savvy employee jumped in.

“We're here because the cameras are here.”

“But why here?,” suggesting there are cameras in a lot of different places.

“We saw their protest on Facebook, and it's funny they're using the tools of tech and protesting tech.”

And that's it in a nutshell.  Just another media op, and an opportunity to say fuck you under the guise of chastising hypocrisy.

Herd of Ironic Fauxtesters to March Against Marches on Friday

Proving that irony can still be found in the Mission despite the turbulent times, the second annual SF Fauxtest aims to amuse and bewilder with a protest designed to air petty annoyances, chant against chanting, and generally tease protest culture.  Maybe they'll even stuff flowers in the exhaust pipes of Google buses.

Things kick off in Dolores Park at 5:15pm on Friday, followed by a march down Valencia.  Should you want to participate, there are plenty of fine photos from last year's Fauxtest to comb through for inspiration, but we're partial to this set of semi-serious signage:

[Facebook]

Wound Irrigation: Gentrification Protesters Reignite Resentments at 16th and Mission

A resentment festival sponsored by the Plaza 16 Coalition was conducted last Saturday at the corner of Mission and 16th Street. Free food was provided and speeches were delivered for approximately one hour in the glorious February sunshine. There was a decent turn out.

What was the occasion?

Good question.

The “Wall of Glass” proposed for 16th and Mission.

There is a development in the planning stages proposed for the corner diagonal to where the rally was held. If this plan goes forward, the plot of land housing Walgreens, Burger King and a number of other businesses will be completely transformed. The proposal offered by Maximus Real Estate Partners includes the building of two 10-story towers at 1979 Mission Street that will house 351 market rate apartments.

Depending on your source, market rate apartments in San Francisco can range from $3k - $5k per month. At this time there is no mention on-site affordable housing included.

Most of the people in attendance on Saturday were neighborhood activists and concerned community members that couldn’t possibly afford to live in the proposed twin towers. Every speech given was spoken in English and Spanish. The event couldn’t have been more of a grassroots effort.  The crowd senses the development will completely change the character of the neighborhood.

So why weren’t there more action items on the agenda?

The speeches given were fierce and heartfelt and inspiring, but don’t we already know what is happening all around us? Sure, it’s been a few months since there were boisterous gatherings in the Mission surrounding the Jack Spade push back and the subsequent march down 24th Street. Maybe we needed a moment in the new year to remind us all of where we left off and introduce the latest egregious encroachment upon the not-quite-middle-class citizens of Mission District.

If that’s the case, mission accomplished! But I have the feeling that many of us continue to pay close attention even if we haven’t had a moment to gather and chant a response to the question “Whose city?” in the past two months.
People need to know what they can do now, next week, or next month about the changes happening around them. Those opportunities (if any) comprised a fraction of the time spent reigniting the resentments.

There was a passing mention of the San Francisco Citywide Tenant Convention scheduled for noon on Saturday, February 8 at the Tenderloin Elementary School at Turk and Van Ness. Although that doesn’t directly address the gentrification of the Mission District, it does serve to build coalitions and affordable housing is very much part of the agenda at the convention.

What are the next steps in the approval process of the Maximus Partners proposal? What is the time frame? Where can we get more information? How can we be connected to the Plaza 16 Coalition to be kept abreast? Are there any scheduled hearings at City Hall?

There was great awareness and sympathy expressed for the struggles of working class neighbors. Maybe there should also be awareness of the difficulty some working class families might have in remaining informed and connected to movements that are the ONLY opportunity to have a say in how our neighborhoods are being stolen. Give us something to walk away with next time, please. We all need to know there is something we can do besides squint into the sun and shout out “OUR CITY” while it’s being taken away from us.

SF Announces Plan to Legalize Tech Buses, Protesters Remain Skeptical

Following a year of roaring criticism of tech buses, ranging from Rebecca Solnit's “alien overlord” essay to December's blockades, Mayor Lee and SFMTA today laid out a proposal to legitimize the shuttles that have been accused of illegally using Muni stops and enabling exorbitant rent increases.

“These shuttles provide more than 35,000 boardings per day in San Francisco, eliminating at least 45 million vehicle miles traveled and 761,000 metric tons of carbon every year from the region’s roads and air,” SFMTA wrote in a press release.

The release went on to detail the agency's 18-month pilot program for the shuttles, which will be voted on by the MTA Board on January 21st:

  • Charging a daily fee based on the number of stops that a shuttle provider or employer makes in order to fully cover the SFMTA’s cost of administering and enforcing the program and includes private investment to improve select stops. Fees are estimated to raise tens of thousands of dollars monthly to the largest transportation providers.
  • Approval of 200 bus stops (out of more than 2,500 total in the Muni system) to be used by providers;
  • Private shuttle providers will pay to use Muni bus zones, based on a per stop, per day, cost recovery schedule. Due to Proposition 218, the SFMTA cannot create a fee structure that goes beyond the cost to provide such a service or policy;
  • Providers would operate in accordance to agreed-upon guidelines, such as yielding to Muni and pulling to the front of the zone making more room for other vehicles, and avoiding steep and narrow streets;
  • The Agency would enforce these rules to ensure only participating companies are using shared zones. It will be illegal to use all other bus zones;
  • Each commuter shuttle will be issued a unique identification placard so enforcement personnel can easily identify vehicles; and
  • Providers would share data with SFMTA to ensure that location information is available for complaint follow-up, enforcement and to support the agency’s transportation system management.

SFMTA didn't detail how much the shuttles will be charged, but reporter Sarah G McBride tweeted it would be “around $100k a year”—far shorter than the $1 billion protesters were demanding last month.

However, the agency promised some community input into the routing of buses, writing “[we] will ask shuttle providers to propose stops for inclusion into the bus zone network and will ask San Francisco residents for their input to determine specific bus zones that can be used.”

The Housing Rights Committee issued a press release in anticipation of the Mayor's announcement, in which the group reiterated their demands that “the [tech] industry must contribute significantly for its impacts on local infrastructure and neighborhoods.”

“We are prepared to be demand more of City Hall if it appears that Mayor Lee's plan is not realistically aggressive enough to address the concerns of poor, working, and middle-class San Franciscans,” wrote Eviction Free San Francisco organizer Jennifer Cust. “The tech industry has fueled soaring rents and accompanying evictions that have uprooted longtime residents, families, artists, teachers, and many others. The industry must step up and contribute to help San Francisco retain its diversity, culture, and affordability.”

We'll update as this story develops.

UPDATE 4:15pm: Reuter's reporter Sarah G McBride further clarified the $100k/year amount, tweeting that companies with shuttles will pay “around $100k each for a total of about $1.5 million over 18 month pilot program.”

[Illustration by Lincoln Smith]

Protesters to Ring In the New Year by Linking Cops to Evictions

Despite its faults, I think we all agree that tech bus shutdowns are a pretty effective way to protest gentrification.  No matter.  Some off-message neighborhood activists are gathering at 24th and Mission at 3pm New Year's Day to “Evict The Cops,” as posters plastered up-and-down Mission Street say.

Here's the spice:

Mission residents and agitators want to ring in the New Year with a big “fuck you!” to the San Francisco Police Department. The elevated pig presence in the neighborhood is unavoidable and many have already felt its effects. In November, four Valencia Gardens residents were attacked and then arrested by SFPD officers. And the expansion of police surveillance at the 16th street BART plaza has lead to increased harassment of young people of color, homeless folks, and sex workers.

These efforts only aid in the gentrification of the Mission District as policing and surveillance are integral to the process of sterilizing a neighborhood for new, well-to-do, bougie assholes. Time and again the police have proven their loyalties to new developers and shitty landlords.

It's the cops who are there to make sure we leave on the day of our evictions, who throw us out of our squats when we have no place to go, and who continually harass us because we're not white yuppies. We're fucking sick of it and so our resolution for 2014 is to make the SFPD's life hell at any opportunity that presents itself.

I like a good pre-Law & Order Ice-T track as much as the next guy, and certainly SFPD has done some objectionable things this year.  But considering teachers and other city employees are already being pushed out of the city, I'm sure police officers will soon too be finding themselves outside city limits.

Whatever.  Happy New Year!

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