Your Donations Count Donate Graphicat the Westside Observer!

wolf among sheep

Sowing Discord

Big money ‘neighborhood’ groups step up campaign of take-over tactics.

•••••••••• January 15, 2023 ••••••••••

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

San Francisco’s billionaires are waging war on Progressives, spending millions in a disinformation campaign that is as disingenuous as it is relentless.
The battle plan is to rouse voter discontent, most notably over the conditions on city streets. The misery on San Francisco streets is all too real. The billionaires’ assessment of its causes is deeply flawed.

Billionaires blame Progressives policies when nothing could be further from the truth. The City’s ills are the direct result of decades of so-called moderate mayors who prioritized big business over struggling San Franciscans.

The City’s mayor enjoys extraordinary power, controlling most of the discretionary part of San Francisco’s nearly $14 billion budget as well as appointments to most departments and commissions. In fact, legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors cannot be funded without mayoral approval.


More than a year before the November 2024 election, the billionaires are once again taking aim. Several months ago, GrowSF announced campaigns to “Dump Dean” and “Clear Out Connie,” referring to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. Preston, who has a long history fighting for tenants’ rights and advocating for affordable housing, is painted as anti-housing. Chan, who as budget chair recommended a handsome 8.5% increase for the San Francisco Police Department, is called anti-police.”

San Francisco hasn’t had Progressive mayor since Art Agnos left office more than 30 years ago. Progressives held a majority on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a single election cycle, one that ended in 2022.

The truth is that Progressives have been largely alone in fighting for solutions to bring a modicum of relief to struggling San Franciscans. They’ve consistently pushed for higher minimum wages, affordable housing and programs for unhoused San Franciscans, often facing staunch opposition from pro-business mayors.

Those programs frequently call for sacrifices on the part of those who’ve made their fortunes in the Bay Area’s fertile landscape. The billionaires have little interest in paying their fair share for doing business in San Francisco and its environs. They’re using disinformation to vanquish any opposition to their selfish interests.

It all began with a series of richly funded recall campaigns.

Political Action Committees (PACs) like GrowSF and Neighbors for a Better San Francisco came on the scene during the recalls of former school board members Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez, and Faauuga Moliga.

These wealthy PACs capitalized on parent discontent over pandemic-forced school closures. The three board members were criticized for their caution; no matter that San Francisco’s aging schools were woefully unprepared to make in-person teaching even remotely safe.

One recall begat another. Their next target was District Attorney Chesa Boudin, elected on a platform of reforming a deeply unfair criminal justice system. Boudin became fair game once he promised to prosecute white collar criminals. Again, piles of PAC money funded a cynical disinformation campaign: Boudin was blamed for changes in crime patterns regardless that his scant year in office could have little impact on crime patterns one way or another.

The accusations stuck, as they do, when millions are spent to spread half-truths and outright lies. Collins, Lopez and Moliga were ousted as was Boudin.

Between the school board and Boudin’s, San Francisco billionaires had their finest moment. The Redistricting Task Force, a nine-member panel appointed by the mayor, the Department of Elections and the Board of Supervisors, set about to redrawing the City’s 11 supervisorial districts. The mayor’s appointees to the commission were all, but handpicked by the City’s corporate elite. At least one was a member of GrowSF.

Among the factors the task force was charged with was ensuring that the voting power of communities of interest (defined as ethnic, political, social and economic minorities) remained intact. Instead, the pro-business majority created a map that diminished the power of the communities the task force was sworn to protect.

That was always the plan: Districts with a concentration of minority voters tend to vote for Progressive candidates.

The results were immediate: District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, a respected member of the Board of Supervisors and a Chinese-American in a neighborhood with a large Asian population, was defeated by the narrowest of margins. Mar was replaced by Joel Engardio, a onetime member of GrowSF. Billionaire money fueled the disinformation machinery, blaming Mar for a myriad of sins including a crime increase that even law enforcement says was the result of COVID-19.

More than a year before the November 2024 election, the billionaires are once again taking aim. Several months ago, GrowSF announced campaigns to “Dump Dean” and “Clear Out Connie,” referring to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. Preston, who has a long history fighting for tenants’ rights and advocating for affordable housing, is painted as anti-housing. Chan, who as budget chair recommended a handsome 8.5% increase for the San Francisco Police Department, is called anti-police.
Last February, Michael Moritz, TogetherSF’s billionaire backer, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times complaining that Progressive policies had ruined San Francisco, saying the City is suffering from “the tyranny of the minority.”

Moritz has spent $11 million during the last 15 years to buy influence at City Hall. He, and business leaders like him, enjoy all the access and power that money can buy. The pain on city streets is the direct result of policies they’ve pushed and elected officials they’ve bankrolled.
San Francisco’s problem isn’t the tyranny of the Progressive minority, it’s that of billionaires like Michael Moritz.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. Email her at Follow her on X (Twitter): @juliepitta


January 15, 2024

Wold in sheeps clothing

Follow the $$$

Phony 'neighborhood' groups exploit a loophole in campaign laws — evading the $500 limit on campaign contributions.

•••••••••• October 4, 2023 ••••••••••

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

They burst on the political scene with harmless-sounding names — “Neighbors for a Better San Francisco,” “TogetherSF Action,” and “GrowSF” — and slick websites that describe what seem to be grassroots organizations. Neighbors for a Better San Francisco calls itself “a group of San Franciscans . . . dedicated to supporting and empowering pragmatic, responsible and neighborhood-focused leaders and organizations.” TogetherSF Action encourages the civic-minded among us to join “thousands of others like you who are ready to commit to rewriting the future of our city.” GrowSF boasts that it “pursues common sense solutions to create a San Francisco that works for everyone.”

Sounds reasonable. Admirable, even. Except for a troubling fact: These organizations are fronts for the latest corporate interests looking to buy influence at City Hall.


These so-called ‘astroturf’ organizations create the illusion of grassroot support, obscuring the involvement of their uber-wealthy founders. All the better to deceive voters often too busy to dig into details.”

Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, TogetherSF Action and Grow SF are Political Action Committees, exploiting a loophole in campaign finance law. By contributing to them — rather than to a candidate, directly — political donors can evade the $500 limit on campaign contributions. Money from groups like these will pour into the coffers of candidates who promise to carry out their agenda, one that benefits big business at the expense of regular San Franciscans.

These so-called “astroturf” organizations create the illusion of grassroot support, obscuring the involvement of their uber-wealthy founders. All the better to deceive voters often too busy to dig into details. Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is backed by billionaire investor William Oberndorf, a Republican who lives in Marin County, but spends lavishly on San Francisco political campaigns; TogetherSF Action is the pet project of billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, another big player on the City’s political scene. GrowSF is the baby of tech veterans Steven Buss and Sachin Agarwal, who spent big in recent elections, toppling an incumbent on the Board of Supervisors.

What do they want? A San Francisco even more hospitable to their business interests. For decades, San Francisco has served as a laboratory to the high-tech industry; the driverless cars wreaking havoc on city streets are only the latest get-rich-quick scheme from the geniuses in Silicon Valley. They’re gambling that buying an elected official or two will allow them to conduct business as usual — without the nuisance of government regulations.

They’re committed to removing any barriers to the construction of new housing, demanding changes to the City’s building code. The result will be more housing, yes, but not the kind San Francisco so desperately needs — affordable homes for working people.

Finally, they call for a “tough-love” approach to San Francisco’s drug crisis, demanding that users who resist treatment be arrested. No matter that countless scientific studies have proven that forced treatment rarely succeeds. “The literature does not support mandatory treatment on any level to help the public health situation,” said Daniel Ciccarone, a physician and professor of family community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, who studies drug addiction.

Mayor London Breed is listening. That should come as no surprise since she was elected with sizeable campaign contributions from the tech and real estate industries. So are her political allies, recently elected Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, who won their elections due to corporate largesse.

These big-money backers are already receiving a handsome return on investment. Breed’s blueprint for meeting the state’s housing requirements — enthusiastically supported by Dorsey and Engardio — is nothing more than a gift to wealthy backers. Among its proposals is relaxing height restrictions on future housing developments. Tenants living in rent-controlled apartments could find themselves displaced as older buildings are torn down to make way for luxury high-rises, adding to the glut of expensive housing now sitting empty.

Forced drug treatment has also earned the mayor’s full-throated support, as well as that of Dorsey and Engardio. On her orders the San Francisco Police Department is arresting drug users, a return to failed War on Drug policies that will drain scarce city resources and lead to the loss of countless lives.

Two elected officials who have been reliable obstacles to the billionaire takeover of San Francisco now find themselves with targets on their backs. In recent months, GrowSF launched the “Clear Out Connie” and “Dump Dean” campaigns to oust District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. Preston and Chan are champions for regular San Franciscans, tenacious fighters for tenants, as well as for affordable housing. A word of advice: Pay close attention to the candidates backed by corporate interest in the November 2024 election.

Moritz recently earned headlines as one of a half-dozen tech billionaires to buy 55,000 acres of pristine farmland in Solano County. Their plan is to build a 21st-century “utopia,” a Garden of Eden for the well-heeled. Locals are promising to fight back.

San Franciscans would do well to follow their example. Moritz and his billionaire brethren are aiming to refashion our City to their exacting specifications. Theirs is a vision that has little room for most of us.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. You may reach her at Follow her on Twitter: @juliepitta

October 4, 2023

Watchdog at the Courthouse

Who’s Keeping Score on Local Judges on the March 2024 ballot?

Informing Voters about Our Judges is Essential for Our Democracy

•••••••••• September 21, 2023 ••••••••••

John Trasvina
John Trasvina

Over our careers and lifetimes, we are called upon to make decisions that affect our lives and futures and those of loved ones and our communities. Access to vital information and committing to ground our decisions in fact, law and good judgment are essential. I advocate this as a member of Stop Crime SF. San Francisco voters are entitled to have critical and relevant information about our local judges who may appear on our ballot at the March 2024 election.

That's why I'm helping Stop Crime SF to educate voters about the decisions of our Superior Court judges. Community safety and protection are fundamental responsibilities of the government and all members of our society.

I was surprised to see my former colleague, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, write an OpEd in the Chronicle attacking the Stop Crime SF program. While I greatly respect Dean Chemerinsky, he is profoundly wrong in his outsized criticism of our work to help voters understand the judiciary.

Through judicial elections, California law entrusts its citizens with the power to retain or reject sitting judges. Dean Chemerinsky's approach would deprive voters of important factual information about the decisions of those judges and how they affect our daily lives. We need more light, not less, on the public decisions of judges.

StopCrime SF’s plan to survey defense lawyers and prosecutors who appear before the judges regularly, as well as the judges themselves, will produce unique, informed and balanced insights into our local judicial system. It comes at a time when citizens seek more answers about what is going on in our courts and in the aftermath of the historic recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin (recently hired by Dean Chemerinsky at his law school.)

Most significantly, StopCrime SF asks the judges themselves how voters should evaluate judicial records and what information is relevant to their decision to retain judges. StopCrime SF also asks for portions of the questionnaires judges submitted to the governor when they sought appointment to the bench. If the information is important and legitimate for the governor's appointment decision, it is equally valid for voters when they decide whether to retain or reject the judge.


StopCrime SF asks the judges themselves how voters should evaluate judicial records and what information is relevant to their decision to retain judges. StopCrime SF also asks for portions of the questionnaires judges submitted to the governor when they sought appointment to the bench.”

Dean Chemerinsky asserts that StopCrime SF wants judges to rule in favor of police when there are claims of excessive force or violations of suspects’ constitutional rights. He did so without checking with us. Had he even viewed our website,, he would have read our insistence on “accountability for law enforcement. Police who abuse their power and cause great harm should face consequences.” Our vision for San Francisco is a city where all residents feel safe, where people take responsibility for their crimes, where rehabilitation programs correct harmful behavior, and where jails are reserved for the most dangerous and repeat offenders.

Dean Chemerinsky is free to disagree with our principles, but he is not free to misstate them or condemn our efforts to let the public know what is going on daily in our courtrooms. Judges and the judicial process have been cloaked in secrecy for too long. Judicial proceedings are frequently mind-boggling to all but lawyers and judges. It is no wonder average citizens shudder when they receive a jury duty notice, and crime victims and witnesses too often leave courtrooms with little understanding of what has occurred.  

Dean Chemerinsky acknowledges that voters have a say in judicial elections. StopCrime SF members, with the input of courtroom participants, will publicize factual information about judges and judicial proceedings to equip and empower voters to make informed decisions. In 2020, prior to the last local judicial elections, over 300 attended StopCrime SF's election forum, a clear reflection of the need and hunger for information about our judges. Notwithstanding Dean Chemerinsky’s concern, voters desire and can handle the truth! 

As for his concern about “pressuring” judges, millions of Americans have marched for or against court decisions on women’s reproductive freedoms, freedom to marry, and other matters of societal importance. That’s not pressuring, either. It’s our democratic right to inform and persuade one another.

Dean Chemerinsky admits that “deterrence of crime is most linked to the certainty of prosecution and conviction, which turns on police, prosecutors and courts.” In 2022, San Franciscans spoke loudly and recalled the former District Attorney. On March 5, 2024, voters can make their voices heard in contested judicial races. Through StopCrimeSF’s leadership, voters will be armed with fact-based analysis to cast informed votes and elect judges who will promote justice, public safety and our values as a city.  

StopCrime SF is a grassroots group of San Francisco neighbors from all walks of life who share a genuine concern about the criminal justice system and the well-being of all San Franciscans.

StopCrime SF member John Trasviña is the immediate past Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law and has served in three Democratic presidential administrations.

September 21, 2023

Red Tide dead-fish

San Francisco’s Sewage Agency Also Needs Some Treatment

San Francisco taxpayers and ratepayers are footing the bill in the fight against tougher sewage controls on its oceanside outlets since 2019.

•••••••••• September 1, 2023 ••••••••••

Jeff Ruch
Jeff Ruch

As San Francisco Bay flirts with a second year of toxic red algae blooms and our oceanside beaches rate among the dirtiest in the state Five of the dirtiest California beaches are in the S.F. Bay Area (, the city just suffered an embarrassing water pollution-related court loss. On August 1, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had to abide by stricter sewage controls measures ordered by the state and upheld by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. SF isn’t doing enough to prevent sewage pollution, court rules (

The City has been fighting tougher sewage controls on its oceanside outlets since they were first ordered back in 2019. It has waged this multi-year battle with attorneys paid for both by taxpayers and ratepayers against state and federal attorneys also paid by taxpayers.

Setting aside the legalities, the underlying facts in this case paint a shameful picture. In rejecting the City’s appeal, the Court cited annual surveys between 2008 and 2014 that show 20% of recreational beach users were in contact with waters containing combined sewage overflows following storms. Shoreline water sampling frequently exceeded water-quality criteria for at least one bacteria indicator, with most of those samples associated with combined sewage overflows where the only wastewater treatment was “skimming of floatable solids” prior to discharge.


Further, the Court found that the pollution control measures the City had been so vigorously contesting had been routinely applied to other municipalities that discharge into marine waters going back decades.”

A major part of the case concerned the City’s refusal to update its Long-Term Sewage Overflow Control Plan that had been promulgated back in 1991. Not surprisingly, both state and federal authorities had found this thirty-plus-year-old plan failed to “reflect current circumstances” and did even not incorporate the findings of several of the PUC’s own field studies and planning documents dating back years.

Further, the Court found that the pollution control measures the City had been so vigorously contesting had been routinely applied to other municipalities that discharge into marine waters going back decades.

Stayed pending the outcome of this case is the San Francisco PUC’s challenge to an order by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board directing the PUC to track and report sewage overflows into city streets and private homes. SFPUC Cleanup and Abatement Order ( That case will likely now proceed with results similarly adverse to the City. By fighting this the City is essentially fighting for the right to dump sewage onto its own citizens.

These legal developments are on top of the PUC’s agreement in April 3, 2023, to pay $236,500 in fines to the state to compensate for approximately 50 “acute toxicity violations” and effluent exceedances. Settlement Agreement and Stipulated Administrative Civil Liability for the City and County of San Francisco ( Besides this, the City is the subject of other ongoing investigations into additional violations of their current permits.

Notably, none of the funds the PUC has expended to combat water pollution enforcement actions brought by state and federal agencies went to finance fixes that would actually reduce harmful overflows pumped into the Bay and nearby ocean waters.

SF Bay Red Tide
SF Bay Red Tide Photo courtesy AP

The PUC is by far the largest polluter of San Francisco Bay, a sensitive waterbody already plagued by excess discharge of nutrients. It needs leadership dedicated to safeguarding the health of the Bay rather than merely protecting its own bureaucratic prerogatives.”

The PUC’s pollution problems are internal, as well.  This June, the PUC’s General Manager was convicted on federal bribery and fraud charges. The current General Manager, Dennis Herrera, is the former City Attorney who was the mastermind behind the PUC’s less than stellar legal strategy. Moreover, Mr. Herrera has no background in water or sewage systems.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco PUC has also recently proposed a series of big rate hikes for the next three years, averaging about 8.4% per year. It is not known what portion of any increase will go for legal expenses. In response, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has initiated an audit review of PUC financing.   

Perhaps, sometime more than a financial audit is in order. The PUC is by far the largest polluter of San Francisco Bay, a sensitive waterbody already plagued by excess discharge of nutrients. It needs leadership dedicated to safeguarding the health of the Bay rather than merely protecting its own bureaucratic prerogatives.   

Jeff Ruch is an attorney and the Pacific Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) an organization that aids government whistleblowers on environmental and public health issues.

September 1, 2023

Cities compete to be first in the nation

Will San Francisco be the first city-owned public bank?

Mired in Dull-as-Dishwater Details, Its an Amazing Accomplishment — But Will Oakland Beat Us To It?

•••••••••• August 16, 2023 ••••••••••

Supervisor Dean Preston
Supervisor Dean Preston

San Francisco may become the first City in the nation to create a Public Bank. The long-awaited and much-discussed plan for a public bank has not yet been adopted by the Board of Supervisors, but the Reinvestment Working Group (RWG) has submitted its final plan. It is now in the hands of the Supervisors to work out the final details and move forward.

If you would rather not have the City’s homeowner taxes, traffic fines and bridge tolls invested in fossil fuels, or predatory lending practices, etc., City Hall progressives and moderates have been working together to find a work-around and they have taken another major step.

“We are not adopting an ordinance that will create a public bank tomorrow,” said Supervisor Dean Preston, Chair of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, "we are hearing from and accepting plans and recommendations from the body that the Board of Supervisors created to bring us a plan.  I'd like to continue the momentum and make San Francisco the first City with a public Bank," he said at its August 20 meeting.

“The opportunities that a municipally owned bank offers would be to invest in the three principal areas that this plan would focus on — funding affordable housing in San Francisco, funding small businesses, and green infrastructure,” Supervisor Preston added. See his press release. Currently, the City has funds in Union Bank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

David Chiu
Assemblymember David Chiu

A public bank would be allowed under terms of AB 857: “… financial institutions that are owned by one or more public entities, such as a city, county, or joint powers authority. They can invest, lend, and provide banking services to the local community, and can partner with local financial institutions.” Known as the Public Banking Act, authored by SF’s Assembly Member David Chiu and Miguel Santiago representing LA – Hollywood, it was signed into law by Governor Newsom in October of 2019. Chiu commented that it was "the hardest bill I ever got passed" as Assembly Member. It does not allow public banks to compete with community development investment funds or credit unions.

Los Angeles Probably a year and a few months behind SF, Los Angeles has made some progress toward establishing a bank — even after voters rejected the idea in 2018. The City Council, as a result of AB 857, set the wheels into motion requiring a timeline for applying for a charter to state authorities. It recently hired consultants HR&A (the same consultants SF used to formulate its plan) 


I’d like to continue the momentum and make San Francisco the first City with a public Bank”

Seattle Its City Council commissioned a feasibility study in 2018 by consultants HR&A after passing a resolution to cut ties with Wells Fargo. It issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to other financial institutions. But when no other banks responded to the RFP, Seattle resumed its relationship with the bank. The study notes the need for legislative action from the state (they don’t have an AB 857) as well as a vote of the public to change the charter to allow a public bank.

>Councilmember Derek Green
Councilmember Derek Green

Philadelphia began its quest for a public bank in 2016 when it passed a resolution to begin hearings on establishing a public bank. It was the first bill Philadelphia City Council Member Derek Green advanced after his election. “As a former small business banker himself,” Next City reported, Green came to believe in this public bank model as an idea that could increase access to credit for Black businesses in a city that is 45% Black but only 2.5% of businesses with employees are Black-owned.”  The council approved a Philadelphia Public Financial Authority on March 3, 2022, by a vote of 15-1. An actual bank is far in the future since Pennsylvania doesn’t have a legal structure that an AB 857-style law provides, and it may require a vote of the city's electorate.

Oakland SF’s biggest competition in the quest for first place, however, is Oakland. “Oakland may get there first,” Khalid Samarrae, SF Local Agency Formation Commission Policy Analyst, told the Westside Observer, “They are moving quickly.” Known as the Public Bank East Bay, the cities of Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland have passed resolutions to collaborate, and they are already advertising for a CEO and have $500,000 on hand.

Oakland public bank progress

That's a big step ahead of SF, which is still waiting for its Board of Supervisors to return from August recess. “It might be a good thing if Oakland establishes a bank first,” Samarrae observed, because we will learn from their process and possibly from their mistakes.”

Public Bank’s Humble Beginnings

The public bank model is the Bank of North Dakota, established in 1919, described by Westside Observer reporter Derek Kerr: “During the early 1900s, North Dakota’s economy was based on agriculture, specifically wheat. Frequent drought and harsh winters didn’t make it easy to earn a living. The arduous growing season was further complicated by grain dealers outside the state who suppressed grain prices, farm suppliers who increased their prices, and banks in Minneapolis and Chicago, which raised the interest rates on farm loans, sometimes up to 12%. North Dakotans were frustrated, and attempts to legislate fairer business practices failed.

Bank of North Dakota Day

Despite its small population and modest activity, the Bank of North Dakota held $6.1 billion in assets in 2021, including loans of $3.3 billion. The bank’s capital in that year was $463 million. The bank turned a profit of $81 million in 2012. The entire population of North Dakota is less than San Francisco, with 775,000 compared to our 815,000.

next stepsT

Next Step — the MFC

The RWG has already been commissioned and has filed its final report. But we won’t be stashing our hard-earned greenbacks in an SFPB for at least five years. “The main next steps are creating the Municipal Financing Corporation (MFC),” according to Samarrae, “and funding and capitalizing the MFC.” The MFC will be a non-depository lending corporation wholly owned by the City if its applications are sufficient to meet the requirements of AB 857 (2019). The Supervisors will determine the most cost-effective way to fund and capitalize the MFC — most likely the using EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).

Supervisor John Avalos
Supervisor John Avalos

At best, it will be for up to three years, after evaluation from state and federal authorities, that the City might move forward with converting the MFC into an actual bank. We won't likely be writing checks from a San Francisco Public Bank for another five years.

The idea for a public bank in San Francisco was first floated by Supervisor John Avalos in 2011, to separate SF’s funds from investment in fossil fuels, and he called for a feasibility study. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer carried the ball after Avalos left the chambers and her successor, Supervisor Dean Preston.

Doug Comstock serves as editor of the Westside Observer

August 16, 2023

Police Line-up

Fear and Trembling
— Frisco Style

The Truth about Crime in San Francisco

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

•••••••••• May 12, 2023 ••••••••••

TThe shock waves were felt across the City: A tech executive was stabbed to death in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Even in the Richmond District, a quiet corner of town, residents were abuzz with the tragic news. An online news site, bankrolled by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, asked a question on some minds: “Bob Lee Killing: A Tipping Point in a City Fed Up With Crime?”

In the hours and days after Bob Lee’s murder, those in the tech community, conservative political circles — or both — rushed to judgment. Lee’s death was inevitable, they said, in a City where crime was rampant under progressive leadership. No matter that a progressive has not held the City’s highest office since Art Agnos stepped down more than 30 years ago.

Some laid the blame for Lee’s murder on the unhoused, finding in the most vulnerable a convenient scapegoat. Again, the facts don’t fit the narrative: Homeless people are more often the victims rather than the perpetrators of crime.


Certainly, San Francisco has experienced a spike in property crime, no surprise in a city that has one of the highest rates of wealth disparity in the country.”

Nine days later, a suspect, a 38-year-old Emeryville man, was arrested. Nima Momeni, like Lee, is a tech executive and the two, according to law enforcement officials, were well-acquainted. Those who used Lee’s murder as evidence of San Francisco’s descent into chaos were suddenly quiet. The truth, it turned out, was far different than they would have you believe.

According to the San Francisco Police Department’s own statistics, City residents have rarely been safer. Violent crime, law enforcement’s standard measure for public safety, is at an historic low. Certainly, San Francisco has experienced a spike in property crime, no surprise in a city that has one of the highest rates of wealth disparity in the country.

Regardless of the facts, San Franciscans feel unsafe. The blame rests with the very same people who peddled the story of a deranged homeless killer on the loose. They’ve been ably assisted by the local and national press, who’ve taken great relish in portraying San Francisco as a crime-ridden dystopia.

Their objective is political. Groups like GrowSF and TogetherSF Action, richly funded by tech venture capitalists, have used scare tactics to alter San Francisco’s political landscape. Their first target was progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin proposed a different route to public safety, one that offered rehabilitation as an alternative to incarceration. San Franciscans will never know whether the former DA’s policies would have worked since he was removed a little more than two years after taking office in a recall campaign funded, in large part, by Republican billionaires.

Emboldened by Boudin’s recall, they then targeted progressive office holders like Supervisor Gordon Mar in District 4, bankrolling his challenger Joel Engardio, a candidate who promised a swift return to “law-and-order.” Engardio was among the first to pounce on Lee’s murder, appearing on a tabloid TV program to stoke fears about public safety, a tasteless attempt to exploit a man’s death for political points.

Mayor London Breed, the primary beneficiary of these scare tactics, now wants them to stop. Crime fears will do little to return San Franciscans to a downtown hard hit by the pandemic. Breed, it must be noted, used fear to consolidate power. She declared a poorly executed state-of-emergency in the Tenderloin, installed a hardline prosecutor Brooke Jenkins as Boudin’s successor, and saw that allies like Engardio and former SFPD public relations chief Matt Dorsey were elected to the Board of Supervisors.

With fears about public safety soaring, Breed’s pushed through more funding for police with little evidence that more money will make for a more effective SFPD. San Francisco has the highest number of officers per capita of any California city. It has one of the lowest arrest rates in the country.

There are signs that San Franciscans have had enough. Police Commissioner Kevin Benedicto spoke for many when he said, “It’s premature and distasteful to try to fit this horrifying act of violence into a preconceived narrative and use it to advance a political agenda.”

The San Francisco Standard, bankrolled by billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, is correct in one sense: Bob Lee’s murder is a “tipping point.” It will be remembered as the moment when smart San Franciscans rejected a false — and damaging — narrative about the City they love.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. You may reach her at Follow her on Twitter @juliepitta

May 12, 2023

Boarded up business in San Francisco
The City's vacant downtown businesses and escalating housing rents are a San Francisco disaster
Ignoring SF’s Greatest Asset:
The Crisis of Artists’ Housing
P Segal
P Segal

Could SF's Vacant Downtown Serve as Housing for Artist Communities?

••••••• May 2023 •••••••

Almost immediately after the pandemic hit the west coast, San Francisco was in lockdown. Everything came to a halt except Amazon deliveries. People worked from home. Department stores, small businesses, and restaurants struggled to stay afloat, and many didn't. The Financial District and downtown had a post-apocalyptic emptiness, and the companies that had thrived on the throngs of daily office workers lost their customer base. In so many parts of town, once lively commercial corridors saw more vacancies than survivors, as the opportunity for remote work freed workers who could escape paying San Francisco rents by moving to Fresno. The most recent City report said that we now have over 60K vacant housing units — issued before the massive layoffs in recent months.

musician trio

Conditions reached the point where government agencies needed help. Commercial corridors were primarily dead, downtown was virtually empty, and despite incentives like eliminating City start-up fees for new businesses, there was no significant resulting revitalization. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development website ran a discrete request for ideas.

In the State of the City address this February, Mayor London Breed said, “We will prioritize arts and entertainment Downtown to bring the streets alive through rezoning efforts and investments, and a new Arts Culture and Entertainment District.” As a city native who grew up in the Fillmore — the Harlem of the West before she was born — the mayor understands that arts and culture bring the streets back to life.


In the 20th century, a new and internationally appealing art form appeared here every decade. To name just a few, we had the golden age of mystery novels, Harlem of the West, Beat poets in North Beach, the Bay Area Figurative Painters on Russian Hill, rock'n'roll in the Haight, Latin rock in the Mission, kung fu movies started in Chinatown, punks and performance artists bloomed in SOMA, and in the Western Addition, the founding of Burning Man.”

Since the gold rush, the City's natural beauty and stunning architecture lured artists to San Francisco, where the physical environment stimulated creative work. In the 20th century, a new and internationally appealing art form appeared here every decade. To name just a few, we had the golden age of mystery novels, Harlem of the West, Beat poets in North Beach, the Bay Area Figurative Painters on Russian Hill, rock'n'roll in the Haight, Latin rock in the Mission, kung fu movies started in Chinatown, punks and performance artists bloomed in SOMA, and in the Western Addition, the founding of Burning Man. The City hummed with the invisible but potent energy of creative people at work and was celebrated internationally for its bohemian charm — charm which no longer exists. Burning Man, the last art movement that originated here, began 33 years ago.


The significant reason for this is that there are fewer and fewer artists left. The exodus began in the '90s, as rents began to escalate. A 2017 Arts Commission survey found that of the artists living here in 2010, about 70% had already left the City or were planning to move away soon. How many have gone since the start of the pandemic? There are no available statistics, but there were nearly two years when the things artists did for money—performances, gallery openings, book launches, events, gigs, and so on—didn't happen. It's safe to assume that there are even fewer artists here than in 2017. To revitalize downtown with an arts district, we need to make it possible for artists to live here again. Otherwise, the arts are commodified, something to be consumed. Not the source of that invisible creative energy that brings life back to struggling districts. Not the vital, invisible force that gave the City its bohemian character.

North Beach was an immigrant fishing village, with three Italian language newspapers, until the Beat poets showed up, and brought the eyes of the world to the neighborhood. The Haight was a boarded up inner-city ghetto until the rock musicians moved in. South of Market was a largely abandoned industrial district until the punks and performance artists arrived. If you want to revitalize depressed areas, the lesson of history says move in artists. In the past, every city neighborhood settled by creative people instantly had the “cool” factor. Then the rents went up and the artists were driven out, which is why permanent housing is essential to retain what made the place attractive to begin with. We need to provide artists’ housing and venues in every city neighborhood that needs revitalization.

In 2019, a group of local artists gathered to investigate the possibility of creating co-op artists' housing and venues in the City. When the City determined that there were 39K empty units in San Francisco at that time, many in buildings that were completely empty, they devised a business plan. It provided affordable housing for tenants and promoted the careers of artists living in their buildings, in the ground floor venues in mixed-use buildings; they got nonprofit status that year under the name ArtHouse SF (

The nonprofit considered the reasons an owner might buy a property and leave it empty— evading capital gains tax, showing a business loss, or just for investment purposes. Perhaps a building had been purchased so long ago that paying the minimal property tax was cheaper and easier than requisite repairs or dealing with tenants. They reasoned that if someone’s purposes were served by making no money on a property, even more purposes were served by leasing it to artists at a nominal rent, contracting a future sale to the tenants at the social impact investment rate of return, 5 – 8%. Or perhaps a building owner might partner with the nonprofit and be engaged in its success. There would be an eventual profit, but also charitable donation deductions, immense goodwill, stellar publicity, a fascinating involvement, and a gold-plated legacy: a person who gave the City back its bohemian charm.


During the pandemic, two members of the ArtHouse board were displaced from residences they had lived in for decades. When her building was sold, a third member was Ellis Act evicted. While searching for new places, they discovered a disturbing trend in the local rental market, shared by landlords and developers. It is now impossible to rent in the City unless you can present pay stubs proving you make twice, or three times, the rent. Since the arts are essentially part of the gig economy, there are rarely pay stubs. That means that actors, novelists, filmmakers, studio musicians, sculptors, painters, and freelancers of any kind cannot rent here at all — regardless of their long and stable rental histories unless they also have lucrative jobs. It’s not just people in the arts that are excluded from the rental market; it's everyone who is self-employed. If the City values diverse lifestyles and freedom of choice, we need alternatives to the limitations of the landlord and developer lobbies. Co-ops, well managed, are one time-tested option.

The City’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development, together with the nonprofit SF New Deal, launched a program called Vacant to Vibrant. Its goal is to use the arts and other compelling attractions to draw people into various downtown pop-ups. It's a good start. It doesn't solve the basic issue — keeping the people who attract us by stimulating our imaginations, giving us beauty, and, in fact, increasing our life expectancies — living in this City. Ideally, the success of such temporary “activations” will underscore the need to keep creative people living and working in our midst.


Hundreds of academic studies have examined the value of art in human life. Study after study shows that art is psychologically beneficial, but one 2019 study found that people exposed to fine art just once a year had a greater life expectancy (Steptoe, 2019). Artists make good neighbors, helping us live longer, with a track record for making struggling city districts blossom. With over 60K empty units, and a significant number of office spaces serving no current purpose, we can surely find places for artists to live. Not finding them would be a counter-productive waste of our most charming and beneficial asset.


P Segal is a San Francisco writer and organizer on the board of Drawings by Alex Segal.

May 2023

Smash and Grab
Union Square’s Louis Vuitton was hit with a smash-and-grab in November of last year
What could possibly go wrong?

Judge's Get-out-of-Jail Free Card for Union Square Ransacking

Frank Noto
Frank Noto

••••••• February 23, 2023 •••••••

Earlier this month, SF Superior Court Judge Linda Colfax sentenced Union Square serial criminal Tomiko Miller to five years in state prison for the Louis Vuitton burglary, according to the SF Chronicle. The sentence ran concurrently with sentences for crimes related to several smash-and-grab car break-ins to which he also pled guilty.

Except it's not really five years. In fact, Miller will serve ZERO prison time, contrary to what the Chronicle story implied. But more on that later; we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Louis Vuitton retail shop and other Union Square stores were ransacked and vandalized by about 40 looters on November 20, 2022. Huge glass show windows were shattered, and shoppers and shop employees were terrorized as the burglars and robbers broke doors and dragged their plunder to waiting cars. Altogether, police arrested ten people on charges related to the brazen smash-and-grab attacks and mass shoplifting that night. Four others convicted in the incident were sentenced to probation and a few days in jail. With credit for minor time served, they served no additional days in custody. Defendant Ivan Speed was also convicted on February 6 for lesser charges, but he was released on probation. Three other defendants have not yet gone to trial, and one is in a diversion program.

Miller was initially charged with offenses including carrying a loaded firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon, grand theft, conspiracy to commit a crime, three counts of second-degree burglary, three counts of receiving stolen property, possession of burglar tools, and resisting, obstructing, or delaying a peace officer.

quote marks

The Union Square attack certainly had major consequences for San Francisco's economy, not to mention the loss of millions in lost tax revenue. And then, of course, City taxpayers spent an additional $2 million in police patrols after the looting, trying to protect local residents' jobs in retail and the tourism industry. ”

Louis Vuitton Robbery

Judge Colfax released him from custody initially on December 9, despite multiple charges and his prior record as a convicted felon. According to CBS Bay Area, "Prosecutors said a judge rejected their request to hold Miller in custody while the case was pending and that he was released on GPS monitoring."

After his release by Judge Colfax, Miller subsequently committed smash-and-grab car break-ins at other locations alongside another prolific burglar. His court appearance on the combined charges was scheduled for February 28, 2022, but per the Clerk of the Court, Miller failed to show up, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Bail was set at $125,000, according to the Court clerk. A District Attorney's office press release dated March 8, 2022 stated that Miller had allegedly cut off his ankle monitor, and he was later re-arrested.

Isn't it outrageous that there are so few consequences for a convicted felon in possession of a firearm who takes part in a brazen gang attack on multiple stores that resulted in more than $100,000 in loot? It's compounded when a lenient judge lets him go free awaiting trial, and he then commits multiple smash-and-grab auto break-ins alongside one of San Francisco's most prolific car burglars.

The Union Square attack certainly had major consequences for San Francisco's economy, not to mention the loss of millions in lost tax revenue. And then, of course, City taxpayers spent an additional $2 million in police patrols after the looting, trying to protect local residents' jobs in retail and the tourism industry.

But there wasn't much in the way of consequences for this repeat offender:
• Convicted of smash-and-grab auto burglaries after he was first released for pillaging Union Square? His sentences run concurrently — so no real consequences.
• Resisted arrest? No additional time.
• Cut off his GPS ankle bracelets? Nope, nada, zilch.

Louis Vuitton robbery

Yes, his attorney says Miller is really, really sorry this time. But isn't there something profoundly wrong with our judicial system in San Francisco when a repeat felon with a gun who has caused so much havoc can be back on the streets without serving additional jail time? And then he commits additional crimes, with no additional negative outcomes. We can only imagine what Judge Colfax would have done if this case had not drawn national media attention.

It gets worse …

Though the Chronicle story says he received a five-year prison sentence, it seems Miller did not actually go to prison. He didn't go to jail either. Instead, this dangerous (remember the illegal gun and ammunition?) serial offender is out of custody entirely with a get-out-of-jail card issued by Judge Colfax. (Don't blame the news media. The San Francisco Superior Court is notoriously opaque, and it often seems like they will do everything possible to keep the facts quiet. After more than two weeks of inquiry, we still don't have the plea transcript as of press time.)

With so little penalty for Mr. Miller's firearm offenses, multiple burglaries, and cutting off his GPS monitor, it's no wonder San Francisco suffers so many burglary and shooting offenses. Judges need to ensure that armed repeat offenders understand there are consequences. Perhaps they deserve a longer time-out to reflect on their crimes. And perhaps Judge Colfax also needs time out from criminal justice cases.

Frank Noto is president of Stop Crime SF, a grassroots victim’s rights group dedicated to preventing crime in San Francisco and giving victims a voice.

February 23, 2023

Currently, traffic stops are standard police practice
What could possibly go wrong?

Banning traffic stops by SFPD could have unintended consequences

Frank Noto
Frank Noto

•••••••••• November 7, 2022 ••••••••••

The San Francisco Police Commission is proposing to reduce traffic enforcement by police. The result could be more traffic accidents, fewer arrests or citations, more shootings … and more crime.

You read that correctly – at a time when traffic accidents are soaring nationwide and San Franciscans' concern with crime is near an all-time high, some public officials want to effectively ignore certain offenses and further handicap law enforcement. After all, if you pay no attention to crime, it will just disappear, right?

The professed goal of the Commission proposal to limit traffic stops is to reduce racial bias in the discretionary enforcement of our traffic laws, surely a worthy goal. The change is designed to reduce racial disparities in stops and searches, and would curtail the use of pre-text stops (defined as traffic stops conducted in order to conduct a criminal investigation unrelated to the motorist's driving, and not for the purpose of enforcing the traffic code).

Supporters of their use sometimes justify pretest stops because they often result in arrests for other, more serious violations. Police reportedly find that drivers who blatantly ignore small laws like littering or missing license plates are also more likely to disregard laws pertaining to violence.

Under the proposal before the Police Commission, police would be unable to stop vehicles for most non-moving traffic violations. SFPD would be prohibited from enforcing many traffic regulations, including:

Failure to signal while turning

Broken headlights/taillights/brake lights

Expired license registration

Missing license plates

Tinted windows and other obstructions of vision;

Littering from a vehicle; and various other offenses. 

(There are exceptions, such as when the suspect is wanted in a murder or armed robbery, or there is a substantial likelihood of injury or death).


Many traffic stops result in seizures of and convictions for contraband – illegal weapons, supplies of drugs and drug paraphernalia, burglary tools, explosives, etc.—and crimes ranging from driving under the influence, robbery, murder and domestic violence. Why would some people object to such arrests? Is it perhaps that they don't actually want criminals arrested?"

But there are worse problems associated with this policy change. These traffic violations may not sound like a big deal, but the unintended consequences on crime are worrying. How do police acquire evidence and investigate criminals who commit more serious crimes? Police often collect evidence of heinous crimes when they conduct a traffic stop and find probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. They may also have a blanket right to conduct a search after encountering a parolee or offender on probation.   Or they may arrest violent or sex offenders on an outstanding warrant.

Many traffic stops result in seizures of and convictions for contraband – illegal weapons, supplies of drugs and drug paraphernalia, burglary tools, explosives, etc.—and crimes ranging from driving under the influence, robbery, murder and domestic violence. Why would some people object to such arrests? Is it perhaps that they don't actually want criminals arrested?

Drunk driver test

Defense attorneys typically complain that police arrest low-level dealers, arguing that the city should go after high-level suppliers instead. But police generally are unable to make such arrests up the drug cartel chain-of-command without collecting evidence from street dealers first.

Advocates of limits on traffic stops also typically want to prohibit officers from: 1) asking for consent to search; 2) asking questions about non-traffic crimes; 3) asking about probation/parole status; and 4) conducting probation/parole searches. Why do they take that position? 

Logic suggests that banning most traffic stops will lead to fewer arrests and more crime. But perhaps there are still valid reasons for opposing such enforcement? 

Some Police Commissioners and a coalition of more than 60 advocacy organizations point to statistics that show that people of color are cited more frequently for these traffic violations. Black drivers are both more likely to be detained and searched during a stop, and are less likely to be found with contraband, than white or Asian-American drivers.

One Public Policy Institute of California study found that during nighttime traffic stops (not specifically those under consideration by the Police Commission), Black drivers were found to have contraband in 19% of cases, compared with 25% for white drivers.

While advocates argue that these disparities are due to racial bias by police officers, the Institute says there could be other factors such as increased police presence in high crime areas, differences in traffic patterns, driving behaviors and vehicle conditions.

These researchers also employed the "veil of darkness" theory. It shows that racial disparities are only minimally impacted (2.2% decrease in stops for Black and Latino drivers) by the change to night lighting conditions, when police often cannot see skin color and racial features. Conversely, stops after the switch from dark to light increased by 1.4% (which is not statistically significant) to 2.0% for Black and Latino drivers. While these differences appear to show evidence of bias, they also indicate that such disparities based on race are minimal compared to advocates' claims.


The Police Commission ... has established a working group to take feedback on its (traffic enforcement) proposal from the public. So far, three working group sessions have been held, primarily in the Bayview, with no public meetings on the Westside. Does the Westside deserve to provide public feedback too?"

So what are we to do? Suggestions to reduce racial disparities in stops range from:

Minimizing police interactions by mailing citations to the registered vehicle owners for infractions such as tinted windows or a broken taillight, rather than stopping vehicles.

Installing traffic cameras to cite drivers rather than using police to conduct traffic stops. (However, a Chicago study showed that use of "race-neutral" traffic cameras resulted in households in Black and Latino neighborhoods receiving tickets at twice the rate of white neighborhoods.)

Reducing costs for vehicle licenses and registration for lower-income drivers, which would probably make it more likely that law-abiding lower-income drivers have up-to-date registration/licenses, and thus reduce racial disparities due to poverty.

Continuing to conduct traffic stops, but seek to increase police diversity and train officers (implicit bias training) to avoid racial profiling. 

In my view, the first approach is not preferable. If a vehicle is not licensed, mailing citations won't work, and the owner of the vehicle might, justifiably in some cases, claim that they were not driving when the infraction occurred. While the traffic camera approach might increase the perception of fairness, it would require a change in state law in most cases, and the Chicago study indicates that this approach might create even greater racial disparities.

Western Edition traffic stop
Traffic stop in the Western Edition

The third and fourth approaches outlined above are more promising, but not a panacea, since the former would address only a fraction of stops, and the results from data on bias training are mixed to date. However, statistical analysis appears to indicate that a diverse police force can have significant impact in reducing racial disparities, and San Francisco already has significantly increased diversity in the police force.

The Police Commission, in collaboration with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, has established a working group to take feedback on its proposal from the public. So far, three working group sessions have been held, primarily in the Bayview, with no public meetings on the Westside. Does the Westside deserve to provide public feedback too? 

What do you think? Share your opinions with the Police Commission by writing to: And consider copying the Mayor or your Supervisor, though they have limited influence over the Police Commission: and

Frank Noto is president of Stop Crime SF, a victims rights group dedicated to preventing crime in San Francisco and giving victims a voice.

November 7, 2022


Chesa Boudin
Chesa BoudinPhoto Courtesy of New York Times

I Oppose the Recall of Chesa Boudin

Billionaires, tech moguls, and “law and order” advocates have tried to recall Chesa Boudin since he won the 2019 election for District Attorney and began his term in January 2020. I’m strongly opposed to the latest recall effort heavily financed by a Republican-leaning billionaire (a previous attempt failed to gain enough signatures for the ballot). Ditto the cheap red-baiting accompanying it.

I’m tired of deep pockets seeking to undermine democratic elections because they CAN, and to undermine the widely-recognized need to reform policing and the prison system, treat people who’ve committed crimes with dignity that every human being deserves, and level the playing field concerning arrests, pre-trial bail, and sentencing of people of color. For these reasons, I oppose the recall.


Ending the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthening communities of color torn apart by crime, family separation, and imprisonment, are goals that dovetail with diversion-to-appropriate treatment and mental health services initiatives like those being implemented by Chesa Boudin”

Chesa Boudin is one of a new breed of public prosecutors whose reform agenda goes against the grain of fear-mongering, amped up and lingering since the 2016 presidential election, and fed for the past two years by the pandemic. Fear – all around us -- is as contagious as disease, while a sense of safety requires community engagement, something harder to feel behind COVID’s heightened walls of isolation.

Those seeking to recall Boudin would have us believe he’s responsible for the statistical rise in crime that’s occurred since the pandemic, which coincided with his taking office. Research, however, suggests otherwise: that correlation doesn’t prove cause. As Susie Neilsen reported in the SF Chronicle (April 8), “While many in the city believe Boudin is responsible for changes in crime rates, for better and worse, research suggests district attorneys typically have little impact on the crime rate.” That is, there’s no evidence to support this claimed connection. Another reason I oppose the recall.

 Last year, researchers looked at crime rate trends in districts with progressive DA’s, in relation to crime rate trends in other places, and found no statistically significant difference between the districts since the progressive prosecutors took office. “The truth about crime trends in San Francisco is complex, and reported crime data does not clearly show a trend toward [reforms] worsening public safety,” Neilsen stated.

A rise in crime may well reflect other economic changes though: shut-down of the local economy, forcing people – and businesses – to seek government relief, or illegal ways of supporting themselves, while salaried employees remain stable, and billionaires watch their fortunes grow!    

Self-interest motivates those who’d recall Boudin: police unions and prison guard unions — whose budget shares depend on crime — and elected officials whose campaigns these unions help fund. (Likewise, some tech industry heads may feel threatened by Boudin’s launching an Economic Crimes Against Workers Unit to investigate wage theft resulting from classifying certain employees as independent contractors, and depriving them of health benefits and unemployment insurance.)   Recall supporters cling to the false cause-and-effect crime narrative and like to paint this reformer as “soft on crime.”

Yet, prosecution requires arrests that police reportedly are reticent to make if they won’t result in felony convictions with prison time. (Prop. 47, passed by voters in 2014, five years before Boudin took office, raised the dollar amount bar for felonies, and opened a window, retroactively, for sentence review of those serving time who had been convicted of lesser thefts.) The press mostly picks up on sensational incident stories and raw statistics. As someone committed to fact-based reporting and thoughtful analysis, I oppose the recall.

I’m in good company: Boudin has progressive unions standing behind him – including nurses, SEIU, teachers, hotel workers -- as well as the Democratic County Central Committee, the S.F. Chronicle, and ACLU of Northern California. The ACLU applauds his achievements which support its values. It opposes the recall because Boudin has implemented public safety policies that hold people accountable and reduce youth and adult incarceration, including:
— ending cash bail; creating a commission to review wrongful convictions; reducing the county jail population; expanding rigorous prison diversion programs; and committing to never charge children as adults. These changes address a legal system “that disproportionately punishes Black and Brown people,” it says.

The ACLU also applauds Boudin’s efforts since taking office to put violent police officers on trial when they break the law, including a police officer who assaulted an unarmed Black man with a baton, and another officer for homicide. It supports programs he’s initiated to house and transport survivors of domestic and sexual violence. And he’s blown the whistle on police misuse of rape kits to link survivors to unrelated crimes that discourages reporting of sexual assault. As a card-carrying member of the ACLU, I, too, support these initiatives and oppose the recall.

Additionally, I support “decarceration” – not the same as prison or police abolition. Decarceration encompasses government and community strategies to reduce incarceration and lower the number of people imprisoned and in pre-trial custody by diverting those committing non-violent misdemeanor crimes to programs that address their physical and mental health, rather than warehousing them at high daily cost to taxpayers. It aims to reallocate resources to community-based support of people with low-level criminal convictions so as to prevent recurrence, and to restore their civil rights.

Zack Norris, an Oakland-born, Harvard-educated attorney, and until very recently, director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, wrote a narrative- transforming book on the disparate racial impact of the criminal justice system, and alternatives to it that retain accountability. Its title: Defund Fear. Using actual stories and statistics, he describes how restorative justice -- bringing those who’ve committed crimes into relationship with those they’ve harmed, to face the destructive impact of their actions and negotiate restitution -- can turn lives of both around and help heal wounds of both the individuals and their families.

Ending the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthening communities of color torn apart by crime, family separation, and imprisonment, are goals that dovetail with diversion-to-appropriate treatment and mental health services initiatives like those being implemented by Chesa Boudin. As someone who experienced family separation first hand, he knows the pain of prison separation and the true value of community support.

I support Boudin’s insightful reform agenda – and want to see the resources saved through prison diversion invested in programs that educate, heal wounds, redirect lives, and preserve communities. Ample reasons to oppose Prop. H, say NO to the DA’s recall, and give this reformer’s agenda a chance.


D. M. Scott is an Outer Sunset resident, a freelance writer and former editor of Legal Services publications.

May 2022

Great Highway
Park Road Closures

Westside neighbors need access to both JFK Drive and the Great Highway

Paul Kozakiewicz
Paul Kozakiewicz

T The actions of one city department head are further fraying the nerves of westside residents already battered by almost two years of COVID-19 pandemic; people who are just trying to shop, get to medical appointments, get their kids to school and visit friends and loved ones.

Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the SF Recreation and Park Department, closed the Upper Great Highway (April 28, 2020), and a portion of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the eastern end of John F. Kennedy Dr. in Golden Gate Park to allow San Franciscans more space to recreate while our restaurants and almost everything else were closed. He has exclusive responsibility for the decision per the City Charter. (The Upper Great Highway was made a part of Golden Gate Park in 1870.)

Ginsburg has been working closely with two city non-profit organizations, the SF Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF, to develop and implement a strategy to ban cars on JFK Drive and the Upper Great Highway during the pandemic. Plans are being made make the bans permanent after the pandemic ends.

The Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF get city funding every year through the SF Municipal Transit Agency’s budget (Muni). The two organizations have sole source contracts, meaning no one else can bid for the City’s business.

Phil Ginsburg

General Manager Phil Ginsburg

Upper Great Highway Debacle

There has been very little discussion of the Upper Great Highway with the SF Recreation and Park Commissioners, which set policy and have oversight of the Rec. and Park Department. The commissioners have either been kept in the dark about the deleterious effects for westside residents or they are indifferent to the problems their department is causing. (The commissioners are familiar with the JFK Drive closure, however, as they are often bombarded at public meetings with public comments calling for the roadway to remain closed in an obviously concerted effort.)

At the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, Ginsburg shut down the Upper Great Highway (UGH) seven days a week.

On Aug. 5, 2021, as the City was starting to reopen, SF Mayor London Breed, with the support of supervisors Connie Chan and Gordon Mar, announced a “compromise” reopening of the roadway from Monday morning to Friday at noon.

According to a confidential source directly involved in discussions about the UGH, the reason the roadway was closed at noon on Friday was because Ginsburg couldn’t get anyone from Rec. and Park to lock the gate after that time.

Frustration for westside residents has been brewing, with a small group of bicyclists blocking traffic on the UGH during Thursday night commutes and the recent addition of food trucks on the highway on weekends.


Ginsburg has been working closely with two city non-profit organizations, the SF Bicycle Coalition and Walk SF, to develop and implement a strategy to ban cars on JFK Drive and the Upper Great Highway during the pandemic. Plans are being made make the bans permanent after the pandemic ends.”

Because of the continuing park road closures, a group of Sunset residents formed the Open the Great Highway Alliance to raise money for an attorney. On Dec. 15, 2021, the organization, on behalf of six plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court claiming Ginsburg overstepped his authority. They are demanding the UGH, parts of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the closed portion of JFK Drive be fully reopened.

Banning Vehicles in Golden Gate Park

The closure of the eastern end of JFK Drive is a hardship for families, seniors and people with disabilities trying to get to the de Young Museum, Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers and other park attractions. Attendance at the de Young and Academy of Sciences is about half of what it was pre-pandemic.

During the evening, the Conservatory of Flowers’ Winter Lights and nearby “neon trees” exhibits are on display. These are wonderful exhibits, but with JFK dark and mostly empty of people, it is a situation the police warn against – an “un-activated space” that is off limits to thousands of San Franciscans.

The Rec. and Park Department is working in tandem with the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to explore a permanent closure of JFK Drive. On Sept. 22, 2021, the departments issued a joint press release.

“Public feedback is critical to determining the post-pandemic future of JFK Drive and we are eager to hear your thoughts and experiences,” Ginsburg said. “Golden Gate Park belongs to everyone, so neither safety nor access can be an afterthought.” 

On the SF Rec. and Park Department’s website, “diversity” is touted as one of the great virtues of the current JFK Drive road closure.

I urge westside residents to visit JFK Drive to see how much diversity is on display. You won’t see many seniors, people with disabilities or people of color.

The closure of JFK Drive led SF Supervisor Shaman Walton to chime in, saying it was a “racist” plan that discriminates against African and Latinx Americans, who have few options to get to the park except by driving.

Rec. and Park claims, due to the closure of JFK Drive, that bus service has been improved to accommodate people of color.

“Transit service on the 44 O’Shaughnessy Muni line, which travels through the Music Concourse and serves the Bayview and Excelsior neighborhoods, was made faster and more efficient.”

According to Rec. and Park, attendance on JFK Drive has increased during the pandemic, saying: “Nearly seven million people walked, biked and rolled on car-free JFK Drive, a 36 percent increase over pre-pandemic usage.”
If the information was posted in November, that’s about 400,000 people a month using the roadway, or about 13,000 per day.

I have requested information from Rec. and Park concerning the department’s development and implementation of studies and polls and to identify those who conducted the independent and unbiased research. There was no response as of press time.   

Fortunately for San Franciscans, Ginsburg and the parks commission do not make a final decision on closing park roads. Once an end to the pandemic is declared, a vote by the SF Board of Supervisors and approval by the mayor would be required to change the City Charter. Or, a ballot measure could be put forth so city voters could once again decide the contentious issue. 

Over the years, city voters have rejected three ballot measures calling for a change to the City Charter to close JFK Drive. City residents realize limiting access to the park’s cultural institutions is not just; they realize you shouldn't have to walk or ride a bike to enjoy the park; and they know when they are being manipulated.

Ginsburg needs to fully reopen the park roadways as they were before the pandemic struck, and to respect the process by which change is created. He also needs to direct his department to be transparent and honest in its dealings with city residents.

For Ginsburg and his allies to exploit the people of the city of San Francisco during a pandemic to further their vision of a car-free utopia on the Upper Great Highway and in Golden Gate Park is indefensible.

Paul Kozakiewicz is an editor, and the former publisher, of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon newspapers.

January 2022

Recall Crew
Here's why I support the SF School Board Recall

I'm a proud product of our public schools.

A record number of over eighty thousand parents and community members across every San Francisco neighborhood signed petitions to bring about the February 15 election to recall School Board members Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez & Faauga Moliga. Like many of them, I am a proud product of our public schools. The teachers of Commodore Sloat, Aptos and Lowell provided me the education to achieve my dreams and have a career devoted to advancing justice, education and opportunity. Decisions and inattention by the current School Board members make that path more difficult for today’s children and families and jeopardize the future of our city. The dire situation facing us requires a new Board now to get us out of the budget crisis and select the next superintendent. We can not wait until 2023.

I echo Frederick Douglass' words that “Education is the key to freedom. ” Equal educational opportunity is the foundation for societal and economic advancement, particularly for newcomers and people on the margins of society. In an effort to take a shortcut to that achievement, the School Board unwisely voted to abandon Lowell’s academic admissions in favor of a lottery system. In the process, they ignored the voices of stakeholders and their own record of failing to prepare 8th graders, not just for Lowell but for any high school: According to school district data, just 57% of 8th graders meet or exceed grade level standards in English and just under 50% meet math standards. Through the recall, we can direct the School Board’s attention to academic preparation at the earliest grades.  


During the height of COVID-19, the School Board devoted greater attention to changing the names on the outside of school buildings than on accepting the Superintendent's recommendation for a safety coordinator to enable students and staff to return safely to those buildings. Their answer to the semester's long frustrations of distance learning was to offer all students  “A ” grades in every subject, until state school officials threatened to deny academic credit to the scheme.”

Thousands of San Franciscans have concluded that the School Board has abandoned the quest for academic excellence and is making no progress on achieving equality. Many families are leaving our public schools. San Francisco has a record high population but our public schools enroll barely half the number of students we had in 1965. Despite our high housing costs, many parents take on private school tuition. in order to provide for their children. Those who can't afford to leave have little choice but to remain. While San Francisco voters consistently support school bond measures, the School District has failed to provide oversight of the money, has difficulty explaining where and whether it was spent and we are left with school building conditions that are unsafe and ill suited for children or staff members. School board members have undermined the legitimacy and quality of public education in San Francisco.   

During the height of COVID-19, the School Board devoted greater attention to changing the names on the outside of school buildings than on accepting the Superintendent's recommendation for a safety coordinator to enable students and staff to return safely to those buildings. Their answer to the semester's long frustrations of distance learning was to offer all students  “A ” grades in every subject, until state school officials threatened to deny academic credit to the scheme. 

On the financial side, the School Board is presiding over a structural imbalance producing a $116 million deficit this year and even larger deficits in the future. State education officials have stepped in to take direct action after not receiving a fiscal stabilization plan requested since 2020 from the School District. On the same day the state admonished the Board for its failures, the Board voted to spend more money on attorneys in a failed attempt, already rejected by the San Francisco Superior Court, to tear down murals at Washington High School at a cost of up to $1 million. In December, only after much internal resistance and over the objection of Board President Lopez, the Board accepted a District proposal that will require a sustained path of difficult budget choices and decisions ahead. 

While a recall is a serious remedy, the damage to children's education is compounding daily. The time lost in the educational lifetimes of San Francisco students is too precious to wait to act. In your Voter Information Pamphlet produced by the Department of Elections, you will find past and present parents, students, teachers and administrators from Aptos, Lincoln, Lowell, Balboa and other schools providing their reasons to Vote Yes on the Recalls. You’ll receive your ballot around January 17 and can mail it in or leave it at specially designated ballot drop boxes to be placed by the Department of Elections at neighborhood sites.  Together, by recalling School Board Members Collins, Lopez and Moliga, we can restore faith in our public schools and lift up educational opportunities for all children. 

John Trasvina, an Ingleside native, graduated from Harvard College and Stanford Law School.  He served in the Clinton, Obama and Biden Administrations and is immediate past dean of University of San Francisco Law School and immediate past president of the Lowell Alumni Association.

December 22, 2021

Swearing in recruits
Let's Get Serious about Community Policing.

It's Time to Engage SFPD's Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs)

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

With the aim of promoting greater engagement between the police and the people they serve, in 2009 the San Francisco Police Department borrowed an idea from Los Angeles. Modeled after a successful Los Angeles Police Department program, the SFPD established Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs) in the City’s 10 police districts.

A Missed Opportunity for Greater Community-Police Cooperation

Among other things, the SFPD’s CPABs were designed to heal its long-troubled relationship between police and communities of color. According to the SFPD’s CPAB manual, “Diversity considerations should play a significant role in selecting [CPAB] members.” In addition to racial diversity, CPABs should reflect a district’s age, gender, ethnic, religious and socio-economic diversity as well as “diversity of thought.” They should not be “restricted to those who openly support the department.”

In 2016, after five Black and brown San Franciscans were killed by SFPD officers during the preceding 12 months, the U.S. Department of Justice was called in to review the department’s activities. The resulting report’s findings were not pretty: Nine out of the 11 victims killed by the SFPD between 2013 and 2016 were people of color. Included in the report were 274 recommendations for correcting SFPD problem with Black and brown residents.

Among those proposals was making greater use of CPABs which were called “a good practice” failing to meet their potential. “[They] could play a more active role in policing decisions and communicating the policing activities and goals to the larger community,” the report stated.

A year ago, California’s Department of Justice issued a follow-up to 2016’s landmark study. A mere 15 percent of the federal proposals had been instituted. Of those being disregarded, was the recommendation that the SFPD carve out a larger role for its CPABs.


At their core, CPABs are an effort to get back to public safety as a shared responsibility between the community and the police,” Correia said. “To be effective the CPAB must be able to represent [and] to be aware of the needs of the larger community.”

CPAB information is hard to come by. SFPD stations rarely list CPAB members on their websites. (Obtaining the names of Richmond CPAB members required a public records request.) Minutes for the meetings are unavailable, an explicit violation of the SFPD’s CPAB guidelines.

Richmond's Mysterious CPAB

The Richmond Station’s CPAB meets monthly. Gaetano Caltagirone, the Richmond’s recently installed station captain, inherited a CPAB that is largely white, male and affluent—in short, everything the Richmond is not. Between 60 and 70 percent of the neighborhood’s 70,000 residents are renters. It is home to a large and diverse Asian population, and in recent years, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Black and brown residents.

At the start of his tenure, Captain Caltagirone, though highly regarded, promised to review CPAB membership. Community activists called on him to make the body more representative of the neighborhood, and candidates who better reflect the Richmond’s rich diversity submitted their names for consideration. So far, Caltagirone has not done so.

Only one new member has been added since Caltagirone came to the station a little more than four months ago: Former District One Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer. A Chinese-American, the wife of a retired SFPD officer and a life-long Richmond resident, Fewer is an inspired choice. It should be noted Caltagirone opposed Fewer’s appointment, only relenting after he received pressure from police department higher-ups.

The Richmond’s CPAB still fails to adhere to the SFPD’s diversity guidelines. Typical of the Richmond CPAB is Mark Dietrich, who is white, male and owns a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home near the neighborhood’s affluent Lake Street corridor. Dietrich, a marketing director at The Gap, hosts an anti-burglary website urging Richmond residents to “fight back” against crime. Some residents felt encouraged to form a do-it-yourself neighborhood watch, an effort many feared would end badly.

The SFPD’s community arm, San Francisco Safety Awareness for All (SF SAFE) cautioned the approach and Richmond District Supervisor Connie Chan councelled circumspection.  “Pushing an idea that [Richmond residents] take matters into their own hands to ‘fight back’ against [crime]. . . is totally unacceptable, needs to stop immediately, and has the potential to lead to some very bad outcomes for the community,” wrote Kyra Worthy, SF SAFE’s executive director.

Added Chan: “The only way to ensure our neighbors are not misguided or misinformed, and most importantly not put themselves in the harm’s way due to false sense of security and misinformation, is to encourage our neighbors to work with our law enforcement agencies directly about their safety concerns. Please note,” Chan added, “I have alerted Chief Scott’s and his team regarding this situation so his team can find way to direct our neighbors and address their concerns.”

Community Goals

Richard Correia, the Richmond District’s station captain between 2008 to 2011, convened the neighborhood’s first CPAB in 2009. Today, he leads University of San Francisco’s prestigious Criminal Justice Leadership Institute. Correia said CPABs should include “anyone who wants to join in.”

“At their core, CPABs are an effort to get back to public safety as a shared responsibility between the community and the police,” Correia said. “To be effective the CPAB must be able to represent [and] to be aware of the needs of the larger community.”

San Francisco, like many cities, is being forced to reckon with its police department’s racist past. The CPABs are an important way for the SFPD to gain a greater understanding of City residents, particularly those who have often found themselves the target of racist police practices. To accomplish this laudable goal means that station captains must be transparent in their selection of CPAB members, must ensure that membership reflects that of their districts, and must not hesitate to remove members who are not serving the best interests of the community.

Julie Pitta is a neighborhood activist. You can email her here.

August 15, 2021

California Communities Are Bracing for Drought

Does This Mean We Should Panic in the Bay Area?

Listening to news about the current drought, one might wonder how long we have before we run out of water. Fortunately, for those of us who live in San Francisco and other communities served by Hetch Hetchy, we can rest a little easier than just about anyone else.

The SFPUC, which manages our water supply, has a lot of reservoir storage capacity. Hetch Hetchy makes up only a quarter of it, and at full storage, the SFPUC has enough water to last six years. Right now they’re sitting on enough water to last four-and-a-half years. That’s like driving with your gas tank three-quarters full – hardly time to panic.

quote marks

The SFPUC also has a long history of inflating demand projections. Just a few months ago they got caught trying to cook the books in their Urban Water Management Plan. When forced to use actual demand projections, potential rationing decreased by 27%.”

Despite being in an enviable position, the SFPUC wants you to believe our water security is far from certain. They want you to support their lawsuits against the State Water Board. The Board is in the process of requiring more water to be left in the Tuolumne River – the source of Hetch Hetchy – to help restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta and rivers that feed it.

In an average year, the SFPUC is entitled to three times as much water as is needed, so if next year is close to average, all of their reservoirs will fill. The drought will be over, at least for San Francisco.

Tuolumne Water Supply

The reason the SFPUC has so much storage is because their Regional Water System was designed for demand that is twice what it is today. As a result of increased water use efficiency driven by greater awareness of the value of water and a tripling of its cost over the past decade, we’re using 30% less water today then we were 35 years ago, despite population growth.

Tuolumne River

85% of San Francisco’s water supply comes from the Tuolumne, a 149-mile-long river that begins 13,000 feet above sea level in Yosemite National Park. Water from the Tuolumne irrigates over 200,000 acres of agricultural farmland in Stanislaus County, feeding people all over the world. It also provides drinking water for 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where more than 100,000 salmon once spawned, barely 1,000 returned to the Tuolumne last year, impacting everything from insects that feed on their carcasses to orcas in the Pacific Ocean and the fishing community at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a disgrace the river that provides us with so much is worse off than any other in the Central Valley.

The SFPUC could do so much more to restore the Tuolumne, but Instead has produced a gloom and doom scenario that if more water is left in the river, we could face severe rationing. They inflate demand projections, assume hardly any recycled water will be brought online, and plan for an extremely conservative drought that is much worse than any over the past 1,100 years, based on tree-ring data.

quote marks

It’s a disgrace the river that provides us with so much is worse off than any other in the Central Valley.”

In reality, rationing figures could be almost anything, depending on policy decisions. For example, at current demand the SFPUC could manage the worst drought on record (1987-92), with higher flows in the Tuolumne, without requiring any rationing or developing any new water supplies. By implementing reasonable rationing requirements and producing recycled water, we could extend our supply by another year or two.

In contrast, the SFPUC has manufactured a very different scenario. The “Design Drought” they use for planning purposes arbitrarily combines the 1987-92 drought with the driest two-year period on record (1976/77) to create an artificial 8.5-year mega-drought. To accommodate this scenario, rationing in the later years must be shifted into the earlier years, unnecessarily increasing rationing figures.

The SFPUC also has a long history of inflating demand projections. Just a few months ago they got caught trying to cook the books in their Urban Water Management Plan. When forced to use actual demand projections, potential rationing decreased by 27%.

The graph below demonstrates how SFPUC policies harm the Tuolumne. Any time there’s a drought, they starve the river, hoarding water behind dams just in case we were to experience the Design Drought. Between 2012 and 2016, only 12% of the Tuolumne’s natural flow was left in the river. When precipitation returned in 2016/17, their reservoirs filled quickly, and all the water we conserved during the drought had to be “dumped.” The Tuolumne experienced one good year at the expense of five terrible years. This pattern has repeated for decades.

Tuolumne Water Diversion Chart

Balancing our water needs with those of the environment is not rocket science. Here’s what needs to happen.

1) The SFPUC should conduct a science-based probability analysis to determine how long of a drought they should plan for (adding a buffer to accommodate uncertainties).

2) They should identify what went wrong with past demand projections (their numbers have been off by an average of 22% over the past two decades), and correct the problems so they’re working with realistic projections.

3) Once they have a better understanding of how much water might be available for human consumption, the SFPUC should determine how much alternative supply (such as recycled water) needs to be developed to fill the potential deficit.

The possibility of running out of water is small. The likelihood of California’s Central Valley salmon going extinct is high if we continue to divert unsustainable amounts of water from our rivers. It’s time for the SFPUC to abandon their lawsuits and become a leader in river stewardship.

Peter Drekmeier is the Policy Director of Tuolumne River Trust

JUNE 2021

A Crisis of Leadership

When asked, ten people will probably have ten different answers on what constitutes leadership. In many cases, leadership has been exhibited by elected officials under times of conflict, tragedy, or turmoil.

I am a journalist and have a strong opinion on the recent mishandling of the events following the SFPD leaked report on the details regarding Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s passing. I believe in fact checking, decency, and abhor the sensational publications that line our checkout stands in the supermarket. While I do not condone the leaking of the SFPD report, the right of the freelance journalist who received it to report it, or market it is protected by law, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the “Shield Law” of the California Constitution.

The SFPD obtained a search warrant, sledge-hammered the door to the freelance reporter’s apartment, handcuffed him for six hours, and confiscated his notes, computers, and materials.

This is a crisis of leadership. All of our elected officials are sworn to protect the laws of the United States and California. The actions of the SFPD were clearly against the law, and the actions of our elected officials condoning these illegal actions is shameful.”


Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the free press being treated as “enemies of the people” as we have heard from some of those in Washington, the Philippines and other places.

Mayor Breed backed her police chief, failing to condemn the raid, basically saying that she is not a legal expert, but if a judge issued a warrant, it must be OK. Police Chief Bill Scott also supported the raid as a tool to get to the truth about where the leaked report came from. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer stated that the journalist broke the law by receiving an illegally leaked report (incorrect), and that since he is selling the information the raid is somehow justified.

Now, several weeks later, Chief Scott admits the raid was a mistake and that the SFPD must do better due diligence in its investigations. Are we really expected to believe that he was not involved at the very highest levels when the SFPD applied for a search warrant and conducted the raid, violating the California Constitution and the reporter’s civil rights? What about the Superior Court judges who signed off on the search warrants? Surely they have heard of the Shield Law.

The Mayor started waffling in her responses almost immediately, but has never condemned the actions of the SFPD in the raid. Supervisor Fewer continues to “blame” the journalist for making money on the story and also claims she is not a legal expert.

The Shield Law exists for the protection of journalists and the integrity of the free press, one of the cornerstones of democracy. Anyone who is old enough to remember Watergate; “Deep Throat” and the Washington Post knows that leaked confidential information is protected by law.

This is a crisis of leadership. All of our elected officials are sworn to protect the laws of the United States and California. The actions of the SFPD were clearly against the law, and the actions of our elected officials condoning these illegal actions is shameful.

Supervisors Peskin, Haney, Ronen, Brown and Stefani condemned the raid, as did District Attorney George Gascon. Even worse, ten days after the raid we have “no response” from several supervisors, including the President of the Board, Supervisor Norman Yee of District 7. No outrage, no concern for SFPD overreach? No comment on the trampling of free speech or civil rights? Nope, just crickets… still waiting for a comment.

This is not a “We made a mistake moment”, or “My Bad”. It is a violation of the California Constitution and a blatant attack on the press. All because someone in the SFPD (apparently) wanted to smear the memory and legacy of Jeff Adachi and the Public Defender’s Office.

The “duck and cover” mentality of those at the top is unacceptable. “I am not a legal expert” is a terrible excuse for violating the law. A clear lack of integrity and leadership is evident.

All citizens and voters within San Francisco should remember this when the next election for Supervisor, Mayor and Superior Court occur. I sure will.

Mitch Bull, Publisher, The Westside Observer, The Castro Courier

JUNE 2019


A Tragic Death on Woodside Avenue

Jose Carrasco relaxes with his two daughters

At the March 19 Health Commission meeting, Health Director Grant Colfax, MD announced the death of Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) employee Jose Manuel Haros Carrasco.

On the afternoon of March 1st, the 37 year old LHH porter was struck by a vehicle while crossing near 255 Woodside Avenue alongside the southern border of the LHH campus. Haros Carrasco was rushed to SFGH but died 3 days later, leaving a bereaved wife and 3 children in South San Francisco. The Westside Observer requested and awaits the police report of the collision.

Though Haros Carrasco had only worked at LHH since June 2017, he was quickly promoted for his diligence in keeping the premises in “impeccable condition” and for his upbeat attitude. Recognized as “one of the hardest working; always on time and always doing the utmost quality work”, he “flashed a smile at every opportunity”, thereby spreading much-appreciated cheer within the LHH community. The Westside Observer extends its condolences to his grieving family and co-workers.

Following this tragic event, LHH supervisors reinforced safety tips to staff traveling to and from work. Representatives from San Francisco’s Vision Zero Task Force and the Municipal Transportation Agency visited the accident site to recommend street improvements that could prevent future injuries. The DPH Crisis Intervention Specialist Team has provided support to Haros Carrasco’s family.

Through March 2019, the City’s Vision Zero program recorded 10 traffic deaths, including 6 pedestrians. Among these was 14 year old student, Madlen Koteva, who died days after she was struck by a vehicle while crossing near the 600 block of John Muir Drive along Lake Merced on March 15th. Another 3 people died in freeway-related accidents, including one pedestrian. Despite SFMTA’s well-crafted Vision Zero Action Strategy, the 10 fatalities in just 3 months are alarming when compared to the 23 reported for all of 2018. Yet the stated goal is to reach 0 traffic deaths by 2024.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to benefit his daughters.

MAY 2019

2019 James Madison Freedom of Information Award

James Madison Freedom of Information Award 2019

The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter, announced that the Westside Observer is the recipient of the 2019 James Madison Award in the Community News Media category. “The publication stands out among San Francisco’s neighborhood newspapers for fostering citizen journalism based on public records disclosures that shed light on city government and promote community engagement.” Publisher Mitch Bull thanked his intrepid team of reporters and the Editor for their commitment to San Francisco and their knowledgable efforts to hold City Hall accountable .

Please visit for information about past award winners. For additional information about the awards, winners, or awards dinner, please email the SPJ NorCal Freedom of Information Committee at

February 2019

An Apology from the Publisher:

In the March issue of the Westside Observer, we printed a story pertaining to the issue of housing in San Francisco, especially as related to Senate Bill 827, proposed by State Senator Scott Wiener, accompanied by a photograph of Senator Weiner participating in the Folsom Street Fair.

As the publisher of the newspaper I am ultimately responsible and I accept the input from the community groups (especially the LBGTQ community) that feels that it was a hit piece that promotes homophobia.  This was not our intent, as we are part of an inclusive community of journalists who strive to bring quality local news to the citizens of San Francisco, and value inclusivity of all of our citizens.

We failed to recognize the ramifications of our actions, and it was a very large lack of judgment on our part.

I cannot undo the hurt feelings that we have caused, or the black eye that we have given ourselves.  It does need to be noted that this error should in no way be attributable to the writer, or the large number of neighborhood groups and associations within the Westside of San Francisco, who welcome inclusivity.

I am extremely sorry about this and apologize to all citizens within the inclusive city of San Francisco, to the LBGTQ community and to our readers, our local community groups and advertisers who are our partners, and of course, Senator Wiener.


With this action, we failed all of you.  It will not happen again.

Mitch Bull-Publisher

An Apology from the Editor

Friends - I am the editor of the Westside Observer and take full responsibility for the photos, headlines and captions that appear in both the online and hardcopy editions of the neighborhood newspaper. I chose the photo of Scott Wiener with the caption "State Senator Scott Wiener at the Folsom Street Fair.” I choose photos, the writers do not, though they may recommend or supply photos from time-to-time. While I try to choose photographs with the goal of attracting interest in articles, I regret that this choice may have detracted from the content.

I realize that I sometimes have a strange sense of humor and it does sometimes get the best of me. This is possibly from my background as a cartoonist. I hope that, if anyone was offended, that they will forgive me, and know that I appreciate any criticisms that will help make the Westside Observer a better product. Be sure to email me editor(at) immediately if you have a concern.

As a long-time gay activist, I certainly had no homophobic agenda in the choice of that particular photo, and I am sorry some may have interpreted it that way. I take it for granted that homophobia is a thing of the past. I have removed it from the website because I do not wish to detract, in any way, from the fairness and accuracy of Mr. Wooding’s observations.

Doug Comstock
Editor, Westside Observer

A Modest Proposal:

Televise Bond Oversight Meetings

A committee created in 2002 to oversee bond spending has an image problem: Few have heard of the Citizen’s General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee (CGOBOC), or know of the many duties with which CGOBOC is charged. Broadcasting CGOBOC’s meeting on the City’s Government Channel (SFGOV-TV, Channel 26) would go a long way toward clearing up its image problem, and provide greater transparency of this important committee overseeing taxpayer money.

The public has a right to know how San Francisco government officials are spending billions in bond funds.


When Citizens General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee starts broadcasting and archiving its meetings, we’ll be watching.”

SFGOV-TV broadcasts and archives all meetings of the Board of Supervisors and its five or more various sub-committees; meetings of 34 separate Boards and Commissions in the City, including the Police Commission, Ethics Commission, Fire Department Commission, Public Health Department Commission, Recreation and Parks Commission, Planning Commission, and Public Utilities Commission, among others; and broadcasts free publicity for the Mayor.

Why should CGOBOC be exempt from broadcasting its meetings?

In March 2002 voters passed Proposition F to create this nine-member bond oversight committee to monitor expenditures of general bond proceeds and ensure bond revenues are spent only in accordance with stated bond measure provisions. Prop F’s legal text stipulated CGOBOC could commission independent outside auditors to review bond expenditures, and if the Committee found that funds weren’t being spent for purposes approved by voters, it could prohibit sale of any remaining funds.

CGOBOC currently oversees 11 general obligation bonds totaling $3.6 billion, and has received $3.6 million (one-tenth of one percent) from bond proceeds to support its functions. As of March 23, 2017 CGOBOC had a $1.73 million current account balance.

In November 2003, voters approved Prop C to create a City Services Auditor (CSA) in the City Controller’s Office. The CSA function sought to ensure every City program and City department receives regular management and performance audits. The Controller’s statement in the 2003 voter guide indicated that based on the FY 2003–2004 budget, an additional $5.3 million would be set aside, in addition to the $3.2 million then budgeted for auditing and performance measurement, for a total of $8.5 million. CSA’s annual allocation — two-tenths of one percent of the City’s overall budget — is now $16.3 million in the current City budget.

What are we getting for that outlay? Every City program and department has not received performance and management audits from CSA in the 14 years since Prop C passed. About half of CSA’s audits have been compliance audits of City contracts. Virtually no comprehensive departmental or programmatic audits.

Prop C also expanded CGOBOC’s duties to serve as a Citizens Audit Review Board (CARB) to review audits CSA prepares, to ensure all audits meet requirements, and also requires that CGOBOC review complaints submitted to the Controller’s whistleblower program.

In October 2016 members of a loosely-knit group of accountability activists known as the Sunshine Posse, members of San Franciscans for Sunshine (veteran activists for open government), and members of Friends of Ethics began advocating that CGOBOC broadcast its meetings to increase transparency of its many oversight functions.

Change orders to bond-funded capital improvement projects have long been a problem CGOBOC has all but ignored. Change orders — various categories of changes to a project’s scope of work — lead directly to project cost overruns, construction delays, and higher project costs.

Back in 2010, CGOBOC’s then-chairperson, Abraham Simmons — a former member of San Francisco’s Civil Grand Jury — agreed CGOBOC should demand that the City Controller work closely with CGOBOC to develop a thorough and standardized change order management policy to supplement CGOBOC’s limited focus on just financial bond encumbrances and expenditures to prevent cost over-runs. Since then, CGOBOC has all but abandoned examining change orders.

Broadcasting and archiving CGOBOC’s meetings on SFGOV-TV is estimated to cost just $9,579 annually, a ridiculously modest 0.55% of CGOBOC’s $1.73 million current budget balance. That’s why this is characterized as a modest proposal.

At its January 2017 meeting, CGOBOC voted 3-to-2, plus one abstention, to approve broadcasting, two votes shy of the threshold, so the motion failed.

City Controller staff mistakenly told CGOBOC members in January that there was a “wait list” for agencies seeking to broadcast. But Kathleen Clark, Acting Deputy Communications Director at the Department of Technology, said “SFGOV-TV does not have a ‘wait list’ for coverage.”

Due to public comments submitted prior to its March 23 meeting, CGOBOC re-considered its decision, voting 7-to-1 to approve broadcasting and archiving its meetings, with the lone “No” vote cast by CGOBOC’s Chairperson, Brian Larkin.

One member who voted “No” in January changed his vote to “Yes” after he listened to audio tapes on CGOBOC’s web site and agreed the quality of the out-dated audio technology is terrible. The member who “Abstained” changed his vote to “Yes” after being chided during public comment.

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade’s famous dictum — “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” — proved true in San Francisco on March 23.

When CGOBOC starts broadcasting and archiving its meetings, we’ll be watching.

April 2017

New Laws for 2017 –
How Aware are You?Governor Brown signing legislation

With the New Year celebrations, the swearing-in of a new administration in Washington, and new local politicos, taking office, you, may have missed the advisement of all of the new laws that took effect on January 1.

What you may not know is how busy the California legislature was in 2016, and some of the new laws and statutes. The members of the State Assembly and State Senate sent a whopping 1059 pieces of legislation to Governor Jerry Brown's desk for signature in 2016. Of those, the Governor signed 898 bills into law, vetoed 159, and let two become law without his signature. While many of the laws are fairly esoteric or a small tweak to an existing measure, there are several that could have a big impact if you run "afoul" of them.


Drivers are only allowed to activate or deactivate a feature or function on the device with a single swipe or tap and cannot do that while holding the device”

First and foremost is the new law regarding cellphone use while driving in a vehicle. While it has been against the law for several years to talk without using a hands-free device in your car, the new law (aimed at those who text) takes it one step farther: Californians are no longer allowed to use a handheld wireless telephone or wireless electronic device while driving, unless the device is mounted on the vehicle dashboard or windshield in a way that doesn't inhibit the driver's view of the road. Drivers are only allowed to activate or deactivate a feature or function on the device with a single swipe or tap and cannot do that while holding the device. Hold your phone in your lap and look down at the screen at your peril. The fines are high (exceeding $200) and are being strictly enforced, according to the CHP.

Senate Bill 491 also affect drivers as it prohibits them from wearing headsets, earplugs or ear buds in or over both ears while operating a vehicle or bicycle.

Another new law affecting you and your car is SB 838, which increases the vehicle registration fee from $43 to $53 beginning on April 1.

AB53, passed in 2015 but just now going into effect, requires that all children under the age of 2 be fastened into rear-facing child safety seats. There is an exception for children who weigh at least 40 pounds or are at least 40 inches tall. Children under the age of 8 are required to ride in the back seat.

SB3 raised the California minimum wage from $10 per hour to $10.50 per hour for all businesses that have over 26 employees. Of course it is already higher in San Francisco.

powdered alcohol

Per SB 819, alcohol in a powdered form (yes it does exist) is now illegal to possess, sell, manufacture or use. It includes powdered alcohol that can be combined with water or other liquids to be reconstituted, but does not cover "vaporized" alcohol. Speaking of alcohol, beginning on January 1, it is now legal for beauty salons and barbershops to serve free wine and beer to their clients until 10 PM.

Voter registration and mail-in balloting: AB1436, passed in 2012 but just now taking effect, allows people to register to vote on Election Day, with county election HQ serving as election hubs starting two weeks prior to Election Day. It allows for "conditional voter registration" which means the ballots aren't counted until officials verify that the voter is eligible and hasn't cast a ballot elsewhere. Current law cuts off voter registration 15 days prior to an election. SB450 also make casting a ballot much easier, as voters can now return mail-in ballots to any county elections office in the state, not just in the county that issued the ballot.

AB 1386 allows businesses to stock "EpiPens" in case there is a need to treat people suffering from life-threatening allergic reactions. The law allows pharmacies to give the devices to college, private businesses and other venues that have a plan in place for using them.

AB1732 requires that all single-user toilet facilities in any business or public place to be "all-gender" facilities.

Homeless students at Community Colleges: Under AB 1995, all community college campuses with shower facilities on campus must allow homeless students who are enrolled, paid, and in good standing to use the facilities. Another law, AB 1747, requires public and private institutions that offer food services to apply for a state-funded program that provides food for homeless students.

Assault Weapon law: Voters passed a law that will require all Californians who own gun magazines with more than 10 rounds to give them up, starting July 1. Buyers must undergo a background check before buying ammunition and will be barred from buying new weapons that have a "bullet button, " which were developed by manufacturers to circumvent the state's assault weapons ban. A bullet button allows a gun user to quickly dislodge the gun magazine using the tip of a bullet.

AB 30 bans the use of the name "Redskins" from all California public school sports teams.

Sexual assault clarification: A person who sexually assaults an unconscious or severely intoxicated person will become a crime that is ineligible for probation, under SB 2888.

Right-to-die legislation: Terminally ill patients in California will now be allowed to use experimental drugs, which do not have full regulatory approval, to decide when they want to end their lives. It authorizes, but does not require health plans to cover investigational drugs and protects physicians from disciplinary actions if they recommend them once other treatment options have been exhausted.

These are just a few of the 898 laws that were passed. To see more of the new legislation go onto the website of the State of California.

February 2017

Measure RR: Keep BART Safe and Reliable

On your November 8 ballot, you have the opportunity to dramatically improve our regional transportation system. Measure RR is a $3.5 billion bond measure to keep BART safe and reliable after 44 years of operation. This funding will allow BART to replace over 90 miles of old rails, upgrade its 1960s train-control system, repair aging tunnels, update electrical power systems, and enhance existing stations. This will be the first time since its opening in 1972 that BART has asked the voters to fund major renewal of its essential infrastructure.

Measure RR is the culmination of years of work by a new generation of BART leadership committed to reinvesting in the core. These efforts began by securing funding to replace BART’s aging rail cars with new trains that will begin to be put into service early next year. BART has also transformed how it does maintenance, shifting from a system that simply reacted to malfunctions and urgent repairs to one that proactively repairs and upgrades equipment before problems occur. This has nearly doubled the number of miles each train car can travel before it experiences a breakdown, and has made BART the best subway system in the country in terms of portion of its fleet stuck in maintenance yards.

With the funding that Measure RR will provide, BART can take the vital next step in this turnaround. In addition to maintaining safety and reliability - these investments will allow BART to significantly increase capacity. Power upgrades and a modern train control system will allow BART faster and more frequent service, accommodating nearly 200,000 additional daily riders. This additional capacity is more than the daily ridership of Muni Metro and would represent the single largest increase in public transit capacity in the history of the Bay Area.

Many Westside residents do not have a BART station nearby, but BART is a critical piece of our Bay Area transportation system that helps everyone get to work. These fundamental infrastructure investments are essential even for those who don’t ride BART, such as Muni riders and car commuters. More congested streets and highways are what we see when BART is unreliable, or when it can’t keep pace with regional growth. For example, studies found that without BART, congestion on the Bay Area’s busiest highways would triple.

Measure RR investments will also generate deep environmental benefits. BART already has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile of any major US rail system. Upgrading BART’s electrical infrastructure will allow more on-site solar power at BART stations and yards, helping BART deliver its commitment to go to 100% renewables by 2025. And increasing BART’s capacity is also one of the most cost effective tools to get drivers off the road, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping improve our air quality.Westside residents know as well as anyone the importance of clean air and livable streets that aren’t clogged by an endless procession of cars.

When BART works, we all benefit.

BART is at a critical moment. Without meaningful investment, declining reliability and capacity constraints will undermine our sustainability goals, increase roadway congestion, and disrupt access to jobs and services. On November 8, it’s time to take responsibility for our transportation infrastructure, and rebuild BART from the ground up. Please vote yes on Measure RR.

November 2016

PROP C: A Lot of Bang for the Bucks

San Franciscans will have Proposition C before us on the November ballot. It is a very simple measure to allow already-approved bonds to be used for one of the City's most pressing issues of our day—preserving housing affordable for low and middle-income San Franciscans.


…what's the impact to Taxpayers from Proposition C? Nothing. Updating the 1992 bond would address today's housing needs without any increased costs to voters."

Proposition C would expand the eligible uses from the 1992 seismic safety bond for unreinforced masonry (ie, brick) buildings to also include the rehab of at-risk residential buildings, including wood-frame "soft story" seismic retrofits and other fire, safety and code upgrades, and in the process allow the buildings to be made permanently affordable. There are at-risk buildings scattered across the City, usually small mult-unit apartments like in the Mission, Castro, SoMa and Richmond, and along commercial streets.

With $260 million in remaining bond authorization, that could result in over a thousand homes brought up to safety and long-term affordability.

It is a lot of bang for the bucks, a smart investment for the City in maintaining the value of residential buildings as part of San Francisco's infrastructure.

And you might ask, what's the impact to Taxpayers from Proposition C? Nothing. Updating the 1992 bond would address today's housing needs without any increased costs to voters. No new bonding capacity would be created beyond what was previously authorized. Prop C also includes oversight and transparency provisions to ensure accountability.

Finally, as important, Prop C is an urgent anti-displacement initiative, funding the preservation of existing homes to provide stability for tenants at risk of evictions. Often these tenants are facing threat of Ellis Act evictions, which can be avoided if the buildings are acquired on the market and made permanently affordable housing for those residents and other low and middle-income tenants in the years ahead. Proposition C is an important step toward ensuring stability and housing for all.

Proposition C is endorsed by the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the San Francisco Neighborhood Network, and supported by Supervisor Yee and all other members of the Board of Supervisors, as well as the Mayor. Join us in making this great investment in housing!

Peter Cohen is the co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, George Wooding is the President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods.

September 2016

Thank you Chief!


First off, I do not personally know Police Chief Greg Suhr and was disheartened to read that he resigned. He was a year ahead of me at St. Ignatius but we never crossed each other's paths over the years to really get to know each other. I know people close to him, and know a lot of the rank and file. I have read about his career over the years through the newspapers and have always rooted for him.

As a native you grow up competing against other schools like Riordan, Sacred Heart, Lowell, Lincoln, to name a few, but as you get older you root for them as fellow San Franciscans, and wish them all the best because the City is the common bond we all have.


Whether you liked the Chief or not, which I do, I can tell you one thing, Greg Suhr would never sell out the City. And as Al Pacino said in the movie Scent of a Woman, "That is called integrity.”

In my opinion, he is the first Police Chief hired over the last 20 years based on qualifications and not based primarily on race or gender. The prior chief was selected by our previous Mayor who was running for governor and needed the Hispanic vote. Do I have anything personal against this man? No. Was he qualified? Probably yes. Was he hired for the right reason? No. He wasn't hired for the best interest of the City but for the best interest of a political campaign. But what else is new.

That's why Chief Suhr was different. Whether you liked the Chief or not, which I do, I can tell you one thing, Greg Suhr would never sell out the City. And as Al Pacino said in the movie Scent of a Woman, "That is called integrity."

There are over 1700 police officers who protect our City every day. I thank you all for that. Just because a handful make bad judgment calls shouldn't overshadow all the positives. Keep in mind that we all have our differences, but we all bleed red, and we are all in this together. There isn't one organization in the world without a couple of bad eggs.

I will continue to root for Greg since I know his heart is in the right place. And that heart is in San Francisco.

John Farrell Broker/Realtor® – Farrell Real Estate, MBA, Former City Asst. Assessor-Budget/Special Projects, 5th Generation San Franciscan, Westside resident -

June 2016

Harvesting the Cannabis Taxes


With Governor Jerry Brown’s signatures on AB 266, AB 243 and SB 643, California took historic and progressive steps to collect taxes and provide a regulatory framework for California’s 20 year-old medicinal Cannabis Industry, bringing an underground economy out of the shadows. is still classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance and banks or credits unions face the threat of criminal prosecution if they provide banking services to medicinal (or recreational) cannabis operations.”

Local control will be the basic component of the new regulations that state and county officials will now begin to consider in public meetings and legislative research.

The core effect of the new laws will be to strengthen the rights of local officials to levy taxes, regulate land use and zoning, and specify rules of cultivation and sales.

Despite the current federal administration’s hands-off policy toward marijuana, it is still classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance and banks or credits unions face the threat of criminal prosecution if they provide banking services to medicinal (or recreational) cannabis operations. This remains true even if financial institutions follow the federal guidance of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued by the Justice Department and Treasury, as well as the money laundering provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.

Job one: get Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries (MCDs) banked. This is the first step because that would allow California to get back the taxes it is owed. In 2014, according to Fiona Ma, Member of the State Board of Equalization (SBOE), $28 million of sales tax was collected from licensed dispensaries—only about 35% of the MCDs in operation in the state. That leaves about $73 million uncollected from the Medical Cannabis Dispensaries that are not paying sales taxes.

During a Presidential election year it is unlikely that the federal government will address the conflict between federal and state laws. The state needs to step up and find a creative proposal to bank this well-established industry. Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsberg, has introduced AB 1549 to create a credit union within the SBOE. Keep an eye on this next year when the Legislature reconvenes.

California needs to provide leadership to resolve this legal roadblock. What this state adopts will force the federal government into action, let’s hope they get it right.

November 2015

Bad Apple Alert

The “Clean Power” ballot initiative many people encountered as signature gatherers circulated in the last few weeks is actually an effort by long-time opponents of clean power alternatives to assure that it will never happen. Many people who were duped into signing the petitions were assured that they were supporting clean power, public power or renewable energy. They may be surprised to learn that its restriction to 100% renewables would make obtaining commercial energy very nearly impossible in the real world—there is no such thing as 100% renewable power. A system without some fossil fuel capabilities or access will fail under high stress situations —proponents do not apply these restrictions to the current power monopoly.

… its restriction to 100% renewables would make obtaining commercial energy very nearly impossible in the real world—there is no such thing as 100% renewable power.”

If proponents of this measure wish to assure that the status quo continues unabated, why not just put the question on the ballot in a straightforward manner?

State law specifically prohibits “Willfully and knowingly circulating, publishing, or exhibiting any false statement or misrepresentation concerning the contents, purport or effect of any petition for the purpose of influencing any person to sign that petition.”

While it is too late to withdraw a name from a petition once it is in the validation process, citizens need a better way to file complaints when they have been mislead.

July/August 2015

It’s Our Right and Our Duty to Petition

As Californians we all have the power to make law. The initiative process gives us that power. It was adopted at the turn of the last century and it served to break the railroads’ monopoly at a time when elected politicians were firmly in the railroads’ pockets. Recent “citizen initiatives” — petitions by regular folks who have hit the streets to get signatures for various causes including saving our cable cars, raising the minimum wage, protecting neighborhood firehouses, limiting campaign contributions, bringing Sunshine to the backrooms of City Hall and stopping the growing height limits on the waterfront.

Now Supervisor Scott Wiener, another politician firmly placed among the powers that swing the purse, has taken it upon himself to “improve” the citizen initiative process. We’re not sure if he’s sore that his pet projects, like 8 Washington went down to ignominious defeat or that height limits on the waterfront were adopted — both via citizen initiative. Whatever it is, Supervisor Wiener wants to water down the process and make the signature gathering so difficult that only his wealthy special interests can participate, and ordinary citizens will have to go before the Board of Supervisors, hat in hand, to beg for the right to exercise their civic duty.

With local politicians dancing to the tunes that high priced lobbyists and contributors play it has never been more valuable to have the citizen initiative process available to solve the problems that elected officials refuse to confront.”

The City is changing fast, and monied interests are at the front of the line. The sway that highly capitalized campaigns have to persuade voters was very apparent in the last several elections. With local politicians dancing to the tunes that high priced lobbyists and contributors play it has never been more valuable to have the citizen initiative process available to solve the problems that elected officials refuse to confront.

As Quentin Kopp put it in last month’s Westside Observer column: “Wiener will undoubtedly persuade power-loving colleagues to present his anti-democratic measure to November 2015 voters; I invite all readers to join efforts to stop the silencing of voters by voting “No” on Wiener’s sly scheme this November.” This is important.

April 2015

City College—What’s all the Fighting About?

San Francisco is in danger of losing an irreplaceable asset, our 80 year-old college. Yet the problem is not the quality of its education; educational standards exceed the Accrediting Commission’s (ACCJC) requirements. Nor is the College in financial trouble, the duly elected Trustees—prior to their undemocratic replacement with a “Special Trustee”— left the college in the green, with a balanced budget.

Especially hurt by this rule are seniors who enjoy taking an exercise class or any of the wonderful art classes, or immigrants who need to repeat basic skills or master English as second language (ESL).”

So if it’s not the education or the finances, what is the problem?

The ACCJC’s beef with our community college is about data­—they want a top-down administration that concentrates on graduation numbers. This is needed, they contend, to deal with fiscal problems generated by students who do not graduate or transfer. They contend the state can no longer subsidize students who want or need to repeat a class. But their solution, “no repeatability,” is causing irreparable fiscal harm.

Since California community colleges began enforcing the “repeatability” regulations last fall, enrollment has fallen 17% at SF City College. While much of it is caused by the ACCJC, much can be ascribed to the rule. Teachers are scrambling to keep enough students to qualify classes, and many classes have closed, excellent teachers have given up, moving on to other colleges or professions. Especially hurt by this rule are seniors who enjoy taking an exercise class or any of the wonderful art classes, or immigrants who need to repeat basic skills or master English as second language (ESL). Where else can newcomers become acculturated? It is not easy for everyone.

Our formerly balanced budget cannot survive this newly imposed agenda.

Last month we asked our readers (Don’t Kick Grandma Out of Pottery Class) to sign the petition to reverse the repeatability rule and we appreciate the response. If you haven’t signed the petition, please do it now:

October 2014

Don't Kick Grandma Out of Pottery Class!

One of the biggest problems currently facing City College is declining student enrollment and its domino effect on funding. A big share of that problem comes, not from the City, but from Sacramento, led by one Barbara Bento, whose war on San Francisco’s City College is wreaking havoc that may be irreparable.

Using the rationale that “Budget cuts have forced us to ration education” the Board of Governors, who worry that “we are currently turning away hundreds of thousands of students from our campuses,” have issued a statewide blanket regulation, turning away thousands of students, causing classes to close, all while we are losing great teachers and endangering the financial health of the greatest community college in the state. “No repeatability of classes,” is the pinion regulation of the “Student Success Plan”.

The rule against repeatability is devastating to seniors for whom ongoing class participation can mean the difference between years of isolation or association with like-minded friends.

The repeatability rule means professionals who took a class in Dreamweaver, version 3, now find they cannot return and take Dreamweaver in version 8; similarly InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Excel, Word and many continually changing tech programs are no longer repeatable. What an incredibly ill conceived ruling, considering San Francisco has become home to several of the world’s most innovative technology producers. It is critical to keep current with technical advances, yet the college can no longer offer this valuable service to interested learners.

Many seniors have formed friendships and communities with fellow students. The rule against repeatability is devastating to seniors for whom ongoing class participation can mean the difference between years of isolation or association with like-minded friends. Gerontologists tell us social engagement is a key to healthy aging. Throwing Grandma out of the pottery class she loves is not the solution to the high cost of education.

The Governors want to privatize these ‘unnecessary’ classes — “join a gym,” or “take a private pottery class” is their solution. Now exercise and visual arts classes can only be taken once—aerobics, dance, music, painting, drawing; all the arts that need continual practice. Why not offer repeatability, so City College is fulfilling its mission of access to everyone? Students and faculty traveled to Sacramento and testified against the change.

Now, students who wish to take one class, repeat classes, pursue a certification, or transfer to four-year colleges and students who are not aiming for a degree — like our seniors — have been pushed out of classes in music, dance, exercise, and art classes. They may only be taken once. Who thinks that’s a good idea?

Reversing the repeatability ruling could return a lot of students, perhaps enough to fill the 23% enrollment decline. It is very shortsighted of the Governors to take this hard line against life-long learning, long a mission of City College.

Take a step — sign up for a class — join Trustee Anita Grier’s petition to restore repeatability here.

September 2014

Affirmative Action in Admissions: One Perspective

Recent articles and letters-to-the-editor in Bay Area newspapers concerning race as a factor in admissions to the University of California have lacked perceptive and depth. The major inference has been that most Asians, particularly Chinese, are against affirmative action.

Just getting a high GPA and scoring highly on standardized tests alone are no longer sufficient. Every student admitted must demonstrate a real potential …

It should be clarified from the start that racial consideration is only one kind of affirmative action. Asians have long borne the brunt of all other affirmative action tactics. They have complied with busing and diversity measures that have placed them away from their nearby schools into underperforming schools. They have endured much non-Asian on Asian violence during, traveling to and returning from those underperforming schools. They have complied with school assignment practices which required them to have higher grades and test scores to get into the schools of their choices, when that was a legal school district tactic. And now, they are meeting additional affirmative action admissions criteria developed by the University of California.

Proposition 209 forbids race as a factor in college admissions, among other places. In compliance, the University of California has instituted a number of affirmative action admissions initiatives that have given all races and ethnicities more equal footing in competing for acceptance. These initiatives have been staffed by well-trained diverse staff members at all levels of leadership who are sensitive to, and aware of, all the unique issues that students face at the schools they come from, public or private, performing or underperforming.

“Ideal” students are no longer those only with high grade point averages and test scores. Consideration is now given to how well students perform and rank within their individual schools relative to resources available there and in their communities. Consideration is given to those who take advantage of challenging courses and activities, both within their schools and outside of their schools. Consideration is given to those who have made great strides in overcoming adversities in their homes, schools, and communities. Consideration is given to those who demonstrate sustained participation and meaningful leadership. In a word, consideration is given to all those factors that impact upon students’ backgrounds, regardless of their ethnicities and schools, factors that they need to have resolved if they are to enter prepared at a university system that emphasizes research, the creating of new ideas, and social responsibility. Just getting a high GPA and scoring highly on standardized tests alone are no longer sufficient. Every student admitted must demonstrate a real potential to fulfill the high purposes of the University of California. By using the holistic considerations mentioned here, there is a leveling of the playing field without resorting to one’s skin color, which of itself reflects nothing. All of these considerations apply, regardless of the type of school one attends.

If race were to be authorized as a consideration for UC admissions, Asians and others, for once, cannot adjust, as they have done at all other times before. They cannot change their skin colors. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to say, in the case of SCA5 (Senate Constitutional Amendment 5), that using racial or ethnic preference for any one group is, at the same time, using it as anti-affirmative action against other groups.

We do not hear that the emergency unit of a public hospital has to stop serving emergency patients because it has reached, say, 10% of a particular racial group, and can therefore accept no more of that group until a parity of 90% of other racial groups are admitted. The qualification for acceptance is specialized medical need, not race or ethnicity.

We do not hear that a public library has to stop loaning out more than 10% of its books to that same particular racial group until 90% of other racial groups take out books. The qualification for loaning out books is the desire to read, not race or ethnicity.

We do not hear that Asians can qualify for welfare benefits if they have no income, but Hispanics cannot unless they have earned income of at least $10,000 first. The qualification for welfare type benefits is economic need, not race or ethnicity.

Similarly, the qualifications for entry into the University of California are well-defined levels of competencies and preparedness that all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of their backgrounds, can compete on a level playing field. All racial and ethnic groups have resources and opportunities, academic and social, within their own schools, homes, and communities of which they can take advantage to improve their standings in the eyes of the University of California.

The University of California continues to find and to address the debilitating conditions that different people face. Asians have and will continue to comply with UC’s affirmative action practices. To infer otherwise is a disservice to all.

John Lum is a concerned citizen.

May 2014

Prop 16-PG&E’s Public Option Perplex

electric plug pix

You’ve got to hand it to the ad boys over on Beale Street. The day they realized they could not compete in the marketplace against cheaper community rates must have been a sobering moment. Seems PG&E’s monopoly is threatened by Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in Marin and San Francisco counties. Since Sacramento’s SMUD continues to provide cheaper power to the capitol building itself and provides money for community welfare as well, the CCA competition has befuddled the PG&E lobbyists in Sacramento. They were unable to wine and dine the elected representatives to get their anti-competition legislation passed the old-fashioned way.

While PG&E can’t compete in the marketplace, they’ve proved they can outspend opponents at the ballot box. So, what they couldn’t accomplish in the domed halls of Sacramento, the bright guys in the caverns of Beale Street’s Madvertising Department seek to accomplish via a new multimillion-dollar campaign cloaked in the trappings of voter’s rights, to assure that their monopoly continues in perpetuity, the real purpose of Proposition 16.

In a way the initiative has underscored the “public option” fight in Washington, where well-paid lobbyists squelched public demand for an alternative solution to health care outside the insurance lobby. In California, led by the venerable ratepayers rights organization TURN (Toward Utility Rate Normalization) the right of ratepayers to buy cheaper (and usually greener) power known as Community Choice Aggregation survived the legislative process. Additionally, this PG&E funded initiative casts an unflattering light on the recent Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to maintain their stranglehold on the public by spending unlimited amounts of money in elections. Recent reports estimate that PG&E has spent $35 million for TV, mail and every other contrivance known to campaign consultants.

As a “Voters Rights” campaign, Prop 16 contradicts itself. The basic premise of “voters rights” is one man, one vote. By requiring a two-thirds majority Prop 16 seeks to impose the view of the minority of voters on the majority, rather than the majority rule usually associated with “voters rights.” Hundreds of junk-mailers touting “voters rights” will soon be in our mailboxes aiming to gloss over that disparity, but it remains a fatal flaw in the legislation. There are better ways to protect the minority than making permanent changes to the state’s constitution.

Community Choice Aggregation may or may not be the best alternative energy solution and we do not intend to tackle that complex question in this commentary. We think that is best left up to local governments assessing their available resources. Questions like this should be presented by elected officials at publicly noticed hearings, complete with public hearings that allow free flow of information from both sides and followed by a vote of representatives who will have to answer for their choice at the polls.

What is most troubling about this obviously misleading campaign is the misuse of the citizen initiative process. Originally conceived to break the railroad monopoly by the great Californian, Hiram Johnson, at a time when the Assembly and Senate of California were in the grip of the moneyed interests, the right of citizens outside the legislature to originate legislation is sacrosanct—too important to be interfered with. Proposition 16 seeks to establish a monopoly, not by citizens without access to their elected officials, but by a corporation seeking to prevent competition. Here a multi-billion dollar corporation clearly subverts the process, pouring $35 million into gathering signatures to place this initiative on the ballot, and to assure its passage.

PG&E should spend the millions they extract from the ratepayers to improve service and compete in the marketplace with alternative sources of energy, not at the ballot box. We join the Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, LA Times and most other newspapers in the state in questioning this unprecedented assault on voters. No on Proposition 16.

May 2010

Guest Editorial: Exclusive to the West of Twin Peaks Observer

JROTC in San Francisco Public Schools

toy soldier

Vote No on Proposition V

Before phasing out JROTC, the School Board listened to students, parents and community members on both sides. It weighed the arguments and considered what might be lost and what might be gained. It learned that many students seek leadership and community service opportunities, and that they want electives and after school activities which confer skills that translate into careers later.

Students identified these qualities in numerous activities, such as Peer Resources, sports teams, outdoor education, student newspapers, activity clubs, Service Learning, Student Government, and others which already exist in the District without the drawbacks of JROTC. Eight hundred students petitioned the School Board to end JROTC and to use the $1,000,000 saved to expand and add to existing programs.

JROTC's contract with the School District requires a "course of military instruction" by instructors who don't need even a college degree. No JROTC classes meet State academic standards, and military skills translate poorly into real-world job skills. Lower skills mean lower prospects for the poor and minority students who are the primary targets of JROTC. But four years of military classes leave less room for the math, science, and foreign language classes, which do provide solid preparation for college and careers.

San Franciscans overwhelmingly opposed recruitment in schools when they passed Proposition I in 2005, so JROTC supporters now deny that JROTC recruits children locally, while admitting that it does so elsewhere. JROTC directives and policy statements urge instructors to "facilitate contact with recruiters", to "sell the Army story", and to contact students as early as possible. "Seventeen is too late", states one such directive. The Pentagon boasts that 40 – 50% of all JROTC cadets join the military. JROTC supporters continue to deny it. But the School District has no information on local enlistment and the supporters don't either. They simply haven't asked for real numbers from the Pentagon, the only agency that could know.

How voluntary is JROTC? Many students are forced into San Francisco JROTC for purely administrative reasons, or as punishment. Immigrants have been told to accept JROTC assignment to protect their families from deportation. Three quarters of those who chose JROTC said they wanted to avoid Physical Education, and half of JROTC cadets would take non-military marching band if offered.

Before it voted, the School Board also noted that JROTC instructors, who are chosen by the military, can't be openly gay; that JROTC creates funding imbalances between schools; and that JROTC instructors, who carry half the student load, receive much higher pay than credentialed teachers.

Last year the School Board ended involuntary placements in JROTC, and enrollment dropped 30%. This year it is allowing more substitutes for Physical Education, exploring band funding, and starting a new, four-year Leadership track. It is responding to what students want and need.

Proposition V is a divisive wedge issue placed on the ballot with funding from conservative groups outside SF, and outside the State. Students deserve greater opportunities without military sponsorship. Vote No on Proposition V.

Dr. Dan Kelly is a former School Board Member

JROTC School Board Decision

When ideology comes before students, students lose.

On June 26, the Board of Education called its second Special Meeting in two weeks to re-vote on a resolution that failed to pass during the first Special Meeting the week before. The Board chose to re-interpret its own procedures and precedent to guarantee a passing vote for this resolution. The meeting was scheduled on a short notice when both board members who support JROTC, Hydra Mendoza and Kim Shree-Maufas, were out of town. The public did not have a fair hearing. This underhanded political move not only hurt the students, their program, and the schools, but it significantly undermined what's left of the school board's reputation and will force them to reopen all 3-3 failed resolutions.

Eliminating P.E. credit for JROTC is fiscally and operationally a nightmare for our 7 high schools: Burton, Balboa, Lincoln, Lowell, Mission and Washington. Since freshmen and sophomores must take classes awarding PE credit, we are assured that PE classes will swell and JROTC enrollment will fall drastically. The very tight 2008-2009 school budget was approved without any room for extras. Schools are desperately trying to hire more P.E. teachers and figure out how to accommodate these extra students with existing school facilities.

Jill Wynns informed the Board that the school sites cannot accommodate more PE classes, especially at two of the largest high schools (Lincoln and Washington) which are under construction. The master schedule for next fall has been set and students have selected their schedule. Principals are away for the summer so nothing can happen until they come back in late August.

Next fall will be horrendous for students, principals and counselors given the elimination of P.E. credit for JROTC. There is no plan or extra budget to deal with this.

Some real programmatic issues for which parents and the community should be concerned:

(1) 90% of JROTC cadets are minorities,
(2) 70% of JROTC instructors are minorities,
(3) 98% of the JROTC cadets go on to college and
(4) less than 3% of JROTC cadets enter the military.

The government also funds 50% of the instructors' salaries and 100% of the program expenses such as computers, drum corps instruments, field trips, uniforms, etc.

The Board has also turned its back on government funding. So what has the school board offered to replace this it? Not much. The current recommendation is an ethnic studies program that has yet to be developed and or piloted. And it only addresses a "during" school program. What about an after school program? There is no talk of it, let alone any money to fund it. Where are these students at the 7 high schools supposed to go after school?

Why is the school board targeting JRTOC when the cost is so high? The Board claims threats of lawsuits by Public Advocates but no "threat" has been filed nor has there been an intent to file. Is it purely politics? Is the Board catering to the anti-military progressive agenda, which many board members perceive as a springboard to higher office — even though the JROTC is only military by name.

The Board of Education has failed to fulfill their responsibility to the schools and to the community. Rather, they have chosen to follow a political ideology. The School Board should not be a stepping stone to higher office.

Nickle a Drink? Get Real.

a nickel

Too little—too late!

Schwarzenegger's proposal to raise the alcohol tax a nickel a drink to help our flailing state budget displays a timidity that is out of character for a man who describes his detractors as "girly-men." Whatever happened to the tough guy we elected? It's a far cry from the current governor whose knees go all wobbly when it's time to stand up to Big Alcohol.

Last year the Marin Institute, the alcohol industry watchdog, proposed a quarter a drink tax increase which they estimated would raise an additional $3 billion to help lessen California's budget woes, a substantial improvement over Schwarzenegger's spineless proposal, which would fall far short of raising even a billion dollars.

The nickel a drink initiative was defeated at the ballot box back in 1990 because the liquor lobby spent $30 million to defeat it. Oddly enough, the most effective opposition came from the California Teachers Association, an unlikely source; its TV spots, paid for by the liquor lobby, somehow convinced voters that raising tax revenues from drinkers would be bad for children.

Not convinced that children would become victims, the legislature imposed a very small increase on gallons sold as a stop-gap measure, but inflation has long since mitigated that headway.

The Marin Institute estimates that alcohol related costs to taxpayers is well beyond $38 billion annually—for healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity.

While Schwarzenegger deserves some credit for recognizing that alcohol causes more than a few problems, and his proposal allocates the new funds specifically for alcohol-related programs, the alcohol industry should pay its fair share for the problems drinking causes.

We may have to listen respectfully as the liquor lobby whines about a tax increase, but it's hard to imagine anyone losing any sleep over it. At worst, raising the tax a quarter a drink may make drinking a bit more expensive, but compared to the taxes we impose on smoking, it is inconsequential. Besides, if drinkers have one drink less, wouldn't that be a good thing?

December 2008

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Sowing Discord

by Julie Pitta

Big money ‘neighborhood’ groups step up their campaign of take-over tactics in 2024 elections.

Check it out

Popular bay view

Say NO to expanding yacht harbors for the wealthy

by Evelyn Graham

Rec and Park’s plan expands access for the privileged few bupkis for the rest of us.

Check it out

New proposed site

New proposed location for Ocean View Library is ideal

by Glenn Rogers

Few were surprised when Supervisor Safai learned the library was not to be built in the Greenbelt — he feared the worst. No library at all.Since 2023, the Library Commission has been considering 466 Randolph Street, where the I.T. Bookman Community Center and the Pilgrim Community Church are located.

Check it out

SF from Alameda Point

San Francisco. In Alameda? Wait, what?

by David Osgood

When the runways for the Alameda Naval Air Station were extended out into the bay—using dredged bay fill, the same way Treasure Island was created — they crossed over the city line. The federal government apparently didn't know or care.

Read More ...

Man in Wheelchair

San Franciscans need nursing home care

Will Laguna Honda Admissions Start Soon?

by Dr. Teresa Palmer

The survey attests to a quality of care that is higher than in for-profit private nursing homes. But there are ongoing problems.

Read More


parking tickets for RVs on Winston

RV residents on Winston Drive face uncertain future

by Thomas K. Pendergast

A four-hour parking limit is going to make things even more difficult for RV residents.

Check it out