Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
San Francisco Redevelopment Commission serving as Mayor Brown's Coconspirators
by da community
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 6:17 PM
Remember the story about 30 pieces of silver? This when it is taken in full concept it explains the true nature of Willie Brown
Listen now:
Copy the code below to embed this audio into a web page:
San Francisco Redevelopment ethical or unethical?
Based on what happened to the San Francisco tax paying residents in the Fillmore you be the judge. Read up on who sold the Fillmore out, see if you see some of the same players at work.

MP3: Willie Brown Machine Attempts Last-Minute Housing Giveaways

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by more community
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 7:59 PM

San Francisco

Fillmore District

Fillmore District
What many consider San Francisco’s historic Black district was an area shared with Japanese Americans until the latter were forced out during the racially motivated internment of World War II. African Americans eager to expand their residential options, moved in while remaining close to the social and business core of the Fillmore District. There was plenty of resistance to African Americans moving anywhere but here and the Hunters Point-Bayview District, next to a Naval shipyard. Consequently, Black culture flourished into a self-sustaining Fillmore District roughly bordered by Octavia, Divisidero, Bush and Duboce Streets.

Fillmore Street became the "Harlem West" beginning in the 1940’s, as Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and R&B performers like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin performed at the Fillmore Theatre on a regular basis. Caddys and Lincolns would line up dropping off stars and those wanting to be seen with stars at the corner of Fillmore Street and Geary Blvd.

Then the city’s heavy, sinister hand of urban redevelopment policy intervened. It unnecessarily destroyed 461 Black businesses, moved out 4,000 African American families and built towering residential projects. Consequently, many African Americans of means left for larger houses the Oakland Hills and the East Bay in the 1970s. Many poorer families stayed to live in the projects or moved to Bayview-Hunters Point. With the Black exodus and accelerating housing prices, non-Black gentrification became the order of the day for much of this once proud community. It is not a stretch to imagine, that an alternate future for the Fillmore District could easily have been as vibrant and celebrated as Chinatown.

by Marie Harrison/Bay View
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:04 PM
We have the power!

by Marie Harrison

It looks like another Fillmore to me. Once again, neighborhoods are on the chopping block in the name of progress, and low-income Black families are threatened with displacement in the name of profit.

The Redevelopment Agency is attempting to add 1,600 acres to the current 137-acre Hunters Point Redevelopment Project Area — with the possibility of removing hundreds of public housing and low-income families to make way for “market rate” housing. That’s what some people call gentrification. Redevelopment calls it “repeople-ing.”

It looks to me like the Redevelopment Agency is using the Shipyard cleanup as an excuse to gentrify Bayview Hunters Point. The 1,600 acres comprise most of Bay View Hunters Point and include the residential areas adjacent to the Shipyard.

If poor folks are replaced with rich folks and “property values” shoot up, who would benefit? For one, Lennar Corp., Redevelopment’s chosen “Master Developer” for the Shipyard, would make out like a bandit.

Who would lose? As always, the people who can afford it least would be forced to pack up their bags and move to … where? The Tenderloin won’t take us … no more room in Chinatown or Oakland … and the Fillmore - oops I forgot, it’s now called “the Western Addition” - we can’t go back there. As they once said to Mary, “There’s no room at the inn.” Sadder yet, there isn’t even a barn left out back!

The Black population in San Francisco has been on the decline for more than a decade, outpacing all the nation’s major cities. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of blacks in the city dropped by more than 23 percent, from 79,039 to 60,515. With the exception of San Leandro, almost all of communities around the Bay have seen the same shocking decline.

Where are we going? Maybe we should ask ourselves that very question. It’s time to plant our feet on solid ground. As they say in the old Negro spiritual, “We shall not be moved.” Prepare yourself for war. This is not a battle — this is WAR!

The rules of engagement are simple:

l Meet your enemy on their own turf. Attend the Redevelopment Commission meetings and speak out! .

l Start calling, mailing, emailing, faxing every Supervisor on the Board. It doesn’t matter if he or she represents your district — this is about San Francisco.

l Stop what you’re doing and call the office of the mayor. Let him know that it’s time he left — not the poor people in public housing.

l Write the Redevelopment Agency at 770 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102 or call (415) 749-2400 and give them hell!

This is just a starter. It’s time we took back our community. It’s time we call a spade a spade. Let’s not have another Fillmore.

I think we would all be surprised how much power we actually have. Did you know that political oddsmakers say Bay View Hunters Point will determine San Francisco’s next mayor? We have the power! It’s time we used some of that power to protect our community and our families.

The residents of Bayview Hunters Point should be a full partner in decisions about the redevelopment of the Shipyard. The families Redevelopment and Lennar want to displace have already suffered toxic harm. They deserve environmental justice – a thoroughly cleaned-up Shipyard – and reparations for their health and the economic opportunities they’ve lost.

We also have a responsibility — to take our place at the table. For years we’ve been telling everyone that we want to be involved in the important decisions that affect our lives and families. It’s time we showed the powers-that-be that anything less is not enough!

Remember those gold certificates they gave the residents of the Fillmore? They were a promise that residents would be able to eventually return to their homes and businesses. Want to find one of those certificates now? Just look up in the attic in some beat up old hope chest, and that’s where you’ll find the hopes and dreams of ex-residents of the Fillmore (i.e. the Western Addition).

Let’s not make the same mistake in Bay View Hunters Point and accept some lame promises from the mayor and the Redevelopment Agency. It’s not their home or their worry.

I have your back … you have mine!

Email Marie at marie [at]
by SFBayview
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:09 PM
SF Election Fraud and Gentrification
by San Francisco Voter Thursday June 06, 2002 at 04:43 AM

While the US and the world suffer from the horrors of a Republican election fraud US president, San Francisco is also suffering from the horrors of a Democrat election fraud mayor, Willie Brown, who sits in office with 40% of the vote plus election fraud. The latest revelations come from the May 29, 2002 African-American newspaper, San Francisco Bayview, in Part 1 of its series on election fraud in the San Francisco African-American community, perpetrated by Willie Brown and his thugs.

While the US and the world suffer from the horrors of a Republican election fraud US president, San Francisco is also suffering from the horrors of a Democrat election fraud mayor, Willie Brown, who sits in office with 40% of the vote plus election fraud. The latest revelations come from the May 29, 2002 African-American newspaper, San Francisco Bayview, in Part 1 of its series on election fraud in the San Francisco African-American community, perpetrated by Willie Brown and his thugs.

See "District 10 Needs a Free and Fair Election" by Gretchen Hildebran, Poor News Network, San Francisco Bayview Newspaper, May 29, 2002 at:

Active participants in the election fraud of the 2000 supervisorial election described in the SF Bayview article were the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an outfit that claims to represent labor but is in fact a gang of election-frauding thugs that works at the behest of the ruling class, represented in San Francisco by the Chamber of Commerce and Willie Brown. Other members of Willie Brown's election fraud team are the Housing Authority, Nation of Islam, TURF, Glide Church and Walden House.

The article describes people paid to vote for the Chamber of Commerce candidate, Linda Richardson. Seniors and non-senior public housing residents were intimidated to vote for this anti-workingclass gentrification hustler for the capitalist class. Campaigning was done at the polling place, in complete violation of the law, and Richardson was observed harassing the poll workers.

This horror show has been going on for sometime in San Francisco. It was widely carried out by Willie Brown's election fraud team in the 49er Stadium Swindle election of June 3, 1997, in which we voted 70% no on the 49er Stadium Swindle, and the vote was registered as 50.2% "yes." For details, see

Previous incidents of election fraud in San Francisco took place at the behest of the same Democratic Party, also involving Willie Brown, in the 1970s, with the People's Temple, a CIA front, used to commit the election fraud. See

Willie Brown is a lifelong pro-gambling, pro-tobacco, organized crime politician, who became a millionaire representing the real estate, anti-tenant interests. It is these interests who have contributed to the whitening of San Francisco. They ran most of the black community out of the Fillmore and they are now trying to run the black community out of Bayview Hunters Point. He has promoted himself as a liberal to get votes, but that did not fool Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panther Party, who ran against Willie Brown for assembly in 1968 on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket.

The next time anyone tells you that the Democrats are more viable than the socialists, scream liar to their face. Willie Brown and his gang are now busy attacking labor with the budget cutbacks, giving more money to the police and fire departments, and cutting back on buses, social services, and healthcare workers. Willie Brown, who has pretended to be for labor only to get votes, is calling for privatizing some of the workforce at Laguna Honda Hospital. See San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 5, 2002, at

The Democratic Party has used the black community to stay in office, against the interests of the workingclass black community, and the Republican Party denied black people the right to vote in the 2000 presidential election in Florida and other places to put their favorite anti-labor, racist, war-mongering thug in office, George War Bush. While Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election, he refused to mobilize the black community to oppose Bush's election fraud as he knows what we all should know, that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Gore promised to make more war than Bush, and it is the military budget that is literally killing us. Bush's tampering with the black vote is described in the book "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by Greg Palast, available in most bookstores.

Stop voting for these despicable people. Do not ever tell anyone that the Democrats are the lesser evil or that they are more viable than socialists.

What we need now is a labor movement. We need to see labor go on strike as often as possible. The reason all of this takes place is because labor sleeps. Get off the dime while there is still time and fight back.

Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:12 PM

Costly housing pushing blacks out of San Francisco
New York Times
Last Updated: Sept. 7, 2001
San Francisco - At 21, Shanika Long is giving up on San Francisco, the city where she was born and raised and that she would rather still call home.

Her mother tells her of a time when blacks owned certain parts of town, when the Fillmore District, for one, was a vibrant neighborhood with, she recalls, "a black power-type mentality."

But, like the Fillmore's nickname, Harlem West, those days are history. And Long, a clerk at the Labor Ready agency for temporary workers who has a 3-year-old daughter, says she wants to live where black people can afford to buy houses and raise children.

"I'm moving out, and I'm feeling like I'm being pushed out of San Francisco," she said. "The community now is like dead."

Many blacks leaving
African-Americans, like Long, are leaving this city in droves. Over the last 10 years, as public housing and low-income projects have been torn down and as rents and house prices have climbed to record levels, African-Americans have left San Francisco like no other city.

Census figures show that while the city's overall population increased more than 7% in the 1990s, the number of people who list their race as black fell from 79,039 in 1990 to 60,515 last year (with an additional 6,561 reporting some black heritage combined with another race, the first time the Census allowed people to check a mixed-race category). That leaves the city of 776,733 with a black population of 8.6%.

Other cities have had notable declines in their black populations over the last decade, Washington, for example. But blacks in other cities appear to be migrating to the suburbs in a pattern of upward mobility. In San Francisco, many are leaving because they have no choice. Gentrification during the dot-com boom gave the city the distinction of becoming the most expensive city in the country.

Landlords in black neighborhoods cashed in, raising their rents and evicting long-term tenants. The recent technology bust has had little effect in bringing housing prices down, according to real estate experts. And since African-Americans have always been a relatively small minority here (13% of the population at its height in 1970) the consequences are striking.

The result, in one of the only major cities with a black mayor and a liberal political sensibility in sync with a majority of African-Americans, is a San Francisco with whole neighborhoods where it is rare to see a black person. It is a city where African-Americans have little clout, few cultural institutions and only one remaining neighborhood, the lonely Bayview-Hunters Point, best known for a sewage treatment plant and radioactive Superfund site.

In the Fillmore, there has been much talk over the years of establishing a jazz district in honor of the jazz scene that emerged in the neighborhood from 1940 to 1950. It was the heyday of the community, when the black population of the city grew tenfold as thousands of blacks came to San Francisco looking for war jobs, many of them at the Navy shipyard at Hunters Point. But the jazz project has been in the planning stages for years with little action.

Promises not kept
Mayor Willie Brown promised in 1997 to bring Bayview-Hunters Point thousands of jobs, a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers and a megamall to go along with it. Voters approved the project in 1997, agreeing to finance it with $100 million in bonds. But the project was stalled when the 49ers owner, Eddie De Bartolo Jr., became embroiled in legal troubles and lost the team to his sister and her husband. The mall project is still in the talking stages.

Many African-Americans have little hope of things getting better any time soon. Even the black churches, the soul of the black community, have lost their influence and energy. The Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of the Glide Memorial Methodist Church, perhaps the sole remaining influential church, with more than 50 social and community programs, says that as African-Americans have moved, the churches have lost their base.

"Naturally, you're going to lose some of that vibrancy," said Williams, who blamed "economics, first and foremost - the cost of living in this city" - as the reason for the black exodus. His church is thriving, with more than 1,500 members of all races, many of whom drive from as far as Sacramento, 80 miles away, as well as busloads of tourists drawn by the church's popular choir and band.

The mayor, through a spokesman, P.J. Johnston, said that not all African-Americans were leaving because they could not afford to stay. "Those who would tell you it's simply a matter of poor people not being able to afford to live in this city obviously don't understand the black community, or the city of San Francisco," he said.

Some homeowners, he said, have sold their houses to cash in on the market and moved to more affordable cities. But, he conceded, lower-income renters "have had trouble keeping pace with this rise in housing costs, and many have moved to cheaper digs around the Bay Area."

Some are moving to working-class cities like Vallejo, Richmond or Fairfield, which have significant black populations and where it is still possible to buy a house for under $300,000. But census figures suggest that blacks appear to be bypassing Oakland, where African-Americans represent over a third of the population. In the last decade, that city, too, has seen a decline in its black population - from 163,500 out of 399,500 residents in 1990 to 142,400 out of 372,200 residents in 2000.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 9, 2001.
by By Amy Alexander
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:15 PM
When I left San Francisco in 1990, it was with trepidation, journalistically speaking. On the one hand, I needed a job, and my employer at the time, The San Francisco Examiner, was experiencing financial problems. At least that was the line I got at the time. Obviously, I was not happy to be leaving my hometown newspaper, in no small part because, at the time, I was the only black woman metro desk reporter at The Examiner, an afternoon paper with a well-earned reputation as the scrappy counterpart to the fat and slow-moving morning Chronicle. But on the other hand, leaving daily journalism in San Francisco when I did was one of the best things that happened to me, in terms of my professional development: Had I stayed, I don't think I ever would have seen the opportunity to focus on the kind of reporting that interests me — writing about race relations, particularly about African American issues, for a daily newspaper. It is one of journalism's oddest anomalies: the huge racial gap between the ethnic mélange of the San Francisco Bay Area and the nearly lily-white newsrooms that attempt to cover the region. I now realize how lucky I was to have been able to fashion "black affairs" beats at other newspapers in subsequent years, since no such beat exists at newspapers in San Francisco, despite the fact that black Americans have lived in the city since the Gold Rush era of the 1850s.
What this has meant over the years in practical terms is that blacks in the San Francisco Bay Area have been nearly non-existent in terms of receiving ongoing, comprehensive coverage. Aside from my irregular online perusals of the city's two daily newspapers —The Chronicle and The Examiner — I make it a point to pick up the papers when I return home to visit my family once or twice a year. And, not surprisingly, what I usually find in them (or don't find) is a constant source of disappointment.

How is it, I wonder, that both papers manage to ignore important trends and developments involving blacks in the city and in the Bay Area? Other than the rise in crack cocaine abuse and other drug-related crime stories that proliferated during the late 1980s and early 1990s, one would think, from reading the San Francisco papers, that the only black people living in San Francisco were either crime victims, perpetrators, "community activists" or FOWs — Friends of Willie Brown, the city's first black mayor, who has been elected twice since the mid-1990s. And while it is true that blacks currently account for a relatively small percentage of San Francisco residents (and even that is shrinking, a point I’ll return to later), it’s also true that their experiences have never been fully plumbed by the institutions that are supposed to provide a living and historic chronicle of Bay Area life. When an occasional feature story involving blacks does appear in the dailies, it tends to of the "five-legged goat" variety, as in "isn't it weird and kind of cute?" In particular, the stories of blacks like me and my peer group — San Francisco natives born during the 1960s, well educated and gainfully employed — have not been told in the city's newspapers.

It is important to note that other ethnic groups are regularly shortshrifted as well – in 1988, I wrote the first full-length profile of one San Francisco native who had ventured out into the world and made a name for himself, the stage and film actor, Bradd "B.D." Wong. At that time, Wong had just won a Tony Award for his performance in the stage play M. Butterfly and, other than an Associated Press story about that year's Tony Award ceremony, not a single word about his success had appeared in either of the two dailies. The worst part is, editors at both papers (really only one now, as The Examiner in its latest form is operating on a wing and a prayer) don't seem to think there's anything wrong with ignoring whole communities of people living within their circulation areas.

So it was with some vindication that I picked up my copy of The New York Times on August 4 and found a frontpage story with the headline, "Blacks, Hit by Housing Costs, Leave San Francisco Behind." Written by the Times' San Francisco bureau chief, Evelyn Nieves, the story was a thorough look at a trend that has troubled me for the past five years: hundreds of black San Franciscans who no longer feel they have a place in the city of their birth. Nieves’ story was tied closely to the incredibly steep housing prices in San Francisco, a phenomenon that has been building steadily since the 1980s but which escalated dramatically during the boom of the last five years. Indeed, the high cost of housing in San Francisco has occasioned dozens of stories in the local and national press during the past year, and, invariably, these stories have mentioned that the ethnic stew in the city has changed dramatically, in that thousands of Latinos had been displaced from neighborhoods where they had once lived, the Mission and the Inner Mission. What was striking about Nieves' story, though, was that it captured an undercurrent that the dailies had ignored: the fact that many black San Francisco natives — despite the back-to-back elections of Willie Brown — simply no longer feel welcome in their hometown.

"For many blacks here, San Francisco is the sweetheart who loved 'em and left 'em, who promised the moon and stars only to forget them when new blood came to town," Nieves wrote, in a purple but keenly appropriate turn of phrase. (I phoned Nieves to find out how she'd gotten on to the story but she had not returned my call as of my deadline.) Several of my peers and family members have moved from San Francisco during the past decade, complaining not only about the high cost of housing, but also about being fed up with feeling like strangers in their own city. Even before the dot-commers began descending in great numbers five or so years ago, it had become harder and harder for many black San Franciscans to escape the kind of personal encounter with a white person in which they are made to feel as though they were out of place.

By this I mean that many of the city's vaunted cultural and social venues — its nightclubs, restaurants, museums and such — too often attract and employ whites who seem startled, afraid, or insulted to find themselves serving or imbibing with blacks. This sort of thing has been both amusing and troubling: In many social settings during the past decade in San Francisco, I've encountered whites who find it hard to believe I am actually a native. "You mean you're from Oakland?" is how whites often respond when I tell them I’m from San Francisco. (Oakland, the largest city in the East Bay, has been a black majority city since the 1960s, and is usually covered that way, meaning that tales of crime and blight tend to characterize the San Francisco papers' coverage of the town. Or it did, anyway, until the boom caused a residual housing boom in Oakland, and white folks who once wouldn't be caught dead in Oakland began buying real estate there.)

In its less polite form, this kind of narrow thinking is expressed by white strangers in the form of not-so-subtle fear should they encounter blacks in places where they don't expect to see them. On one recent trip home, my husband and I took our two-year-old daughter to a sparkling new kiddie playspace located in a mega-entertainment complex. Other than a young black woman who was taking tickets at the "Wild Thing" fun-center, we saw no other blacks. But what we did see was a lot of nervous looks from the white parents who were also there with their children. Now, no one openly shunned us or ran in the opposite direction at the sight of us, but the tension was palpable. It is this kind of subtle pressure, a constant suspicious sizing up, that turns off young black San Franciscans (as it does blacks anywhere, should they encounter it). In the case of San Francisco, a supposedly culturally progressive city, it has meant that, as Nieves wrote in the Times, "the number of people who list their race as black fell from 79,039 in 1990, to 60,515 last year," bringing the city's total black population to 8.6 percent of 776,733 residents.

The Nieves story effectively scooped the local competition in its own backyard, since her Times report captured a socio-demographic shift that had been churning away for years and yet had never been charted by the Chronicle or the Examiner . My only minor complaint is that Nieves committed an infraction that other journalists routinely make when writing about blacks in San Francisco — her story gives the impression that all blacks in the city live in one of two neighborhoods, The Fillmore or Bayview-Hunters Point. It has been true historically that the majority of blacks in the city inhabited those two neighborhoods. But it is also true that thousands of blacks live well and comfortably on the city's western, or ocean, side, namely in the Ingleside Terraces, where I grew up, and in the Sunset District, where I went to high school. But in the larger scheme, and compared to the pitiful coverage of the local papers, Nieves' story was far and away the best I've seen about long-simmering black angst in San Francisco. Interestingly, in April the Chronicle did publish a relatively cheery story about how many San Francisco blacks are moving into the far Bay Area suburbs; as it was written, though, that story focused on the affordable housing aspect, and only hinted at the underlying social atmospheric-aspect. In other words, it took The New York Times to capture the genuinely sad and troubling reasons why more and more black San Franciscans are abandoning the city where they had once felt socially, economically and politically at home.

This rant has a point. The daily newspapers in San Francisco are way behind the times in terms of recruiting, retaining and promoting journalists of color, and in terms of covering the ethnic groups in its midst. The Chronicle, for example, does not have a black affairs beat. It does not have a Latino affairs beat, for that matter, despite the dramatic increase in Latinos living in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area during the past 15 years. It does have an Asian affairs beat, however, something that probably speaks to the comparative economic and political power that the Chinese and other Asians have struggled to attain throughout San Francisco's history. Nor does the Chronicle have a single black or Latino editor above the level of the city desk, which means that no blacks or Latinos sit in on the daily budget meetings. It also means that the newspaper's overall tone, despite its decent number of Latino and Asian reporters, is doomed to remain one-note in terms of how race relations in the Bay Area get covered. As I said, this subject is one I take personally. And in professional terms, it is a drum I intend to beat from time to time, at least until the newsroom leadership at the dailies get serious about fixing this problem. In the meantime, I'm grateful that at least one national newspaper has the wherewithal to write accurately and meaningfully about blacks in the town that still holds my heart.

First published: August 09, 2001
by John Hutchison 1997
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:22 PM
Mayor Edificio
For a long while I resisted the revisionist assessment of Willie Brown's mayoralty as being unfairly premature. I say that as someone who witnessed his inconsistencies up close, while a community organizer in the Western Addition in the late-1960s, and who carefully read the tea leaves denoting his chameleon transformation into corporate gofer as Speaker in the 1980s. More recently, I got swept up in the mass flutter which willingly accorded Brown the benefit of the doubt, awaiting his reentrenchment as the urban-arriviste who still bore the imprint of the deprivations of Mineola,Texas, however much he may have shaken off the dust.

The pounding upon Brown by an early contrarian like KGO's Ray Talliaferro I ascribed to Taliaferro's legendary enmity toward Brown, attributing invectives like "screwball" and "little idiot" to the mulch of late-night talk radio, where vituperation without an added edge means a loss of ratings.


The rest of us ought not mince words any longer, either. What we have in the present mayor of this city is someone apparently incapable of grasping the direction in which cities must proceed --- a rather fatal flaw in one who is acclaimed nationally as an urban Vishnu --- and specifically inept in understanding his own city and advancing its showcase reputation for the benefit of the country's other municipalities. But at the risk of being charged obscurant, I'll say it another way: Willie Brown doesn't have it, possibly he never did have it, and it's almost a certainty he never will. If the man's latest confluence of utterances, proclamations and artful management hasn't yet convinced you of that --- and I'm speaking merely of the past two weeks --- I suspect your conversion will not be long off.

One has to strain to be civil reacting to Brown's failure to respond to Ed Moose and other restaurateurs who offered to help save Fresh Start Farms' urban garden project and the jobs of the dozen homeless workers who have grown top quality produce for those restaurants for more than two years. Fresh Start paid its people $8 to $10 an hour and had sales of more than $100,000 last year, but found itself $50,000 in debt, a consequence, Moose believes, of the group's pricing its products too low (funny how the poor are so generous). Each of the restaurants was prepared to contribute to keep the program alive, and sought complementary city input. The courtesy of a response from City Hall would at least have been in keeping with neoliberalism's newest up-by-your-bootstraps advocacy, though in an odd way Brown's delinquency better expressed the New Democrat credo: have the decency not to die on our streets, you people.

What was it, $3 million spent on the June Conference of Mayors? Where our urban maestro halfstepped around in a tempest of fly jiviness and said nothing remotely pertinent about city issues. And how much is being spent on the Office of Protocol, or whatever it's called? It's $125,000 million, isn't it, to tear down the Transbay Terminal and replace it with a smaller, less efficient terminal no one wants, which will require commuters to walk further to get to their offices? (Brown's vetoing of Caltrain's downtown extension was phase one of this brilliant exercise in sustainable urbanism.) The social types with whom Brown publicly dines and consumes designer vegetables formerly grown on what were once rubble-strewn vacant lots --- are they concerned that their tax breaks from the congressional budget agreement might not cover the cost of that third sports utility vehicle? One last strained question, to close our segment in rhetorical politesse: Might it just be advisable to brand as contemptible leadership which lets a venture like Fresh Start go by the boards without lifting a dialing finger?

Brown has frankly stated that he intends to "cover every inch of the ground that isn't open space" in the city, which should more than adequately have confirmed our suspicions about his pro-development servility. His firing of Landmarks Preservation Board President Denise La Pointe now leaves no doubt. Brown's attempts to "clarify" the role of the Landmarks Board in response to LaPointe's refusal to truckle to the Planning Department over a raft of ill-considered proposals is in keeping with his singular ham-fistedness. He then chose Alicia Becerril, an attorney whose clients include the Redevelopment Agency, to replace LaPointe. Official impudence and cronyism of this sort are of course components of the swagger Brown is proud to exhibit to the public. (I dunno, but do you find it of interest that there are six portraits of this guy hanging in the mayoral environs?) There are other terms for this atmosphere of authority and manner of policymaking, and perhaps you already have one in mind (six letters, begins with a t; no, not tin god, that's two words).

A supine Board of Supervisors and a press corps still swaddled in kid gloves has facilitated Brown's self-ordained mandate (and, yeah, Moose and his pals should at least have mounted some token protest; the bicyclists plainly linked their own situation to Brown's blatant abandonment of mass transit concerns, revitalizing that quaint effrontery known as democracy). The ballot victory of the Hunters Point Mall has obviously emboldened Brown. As a manifestation of generic urbanism, it's a masterpiece of globalism's bent toward a single citizenship of consumption: poor kids (of color, need we add?) earning minimum wage, marginalized even further to the city's outer edges, selling chain-store trinketry and pop culture ideals. The erosion of intimacy, connection and community in privatized cities is a breeding ground for the mini-Versailles pols like Brown erect in homage to themselves. It shouldn't be surprising that Brown feels quite at home in this welter of spatial and esthetic obliteration; he is trained, after all, as a real estate lawyer, a fact probably insufficient to have sounded a tocsin about his eventual corporate submersion, but ample for future observation. More discernible was his expressed contempt for the poor in recent years, and certainly his sullen rebuff of city workfare recipients' efforts to unionize for pay equity last month was revelatory. In effect, what we seem to have in Brown is a Colin Powell, with none of the charm, and even less of the social conscience. (I would have said Colin Powell-in-whiteface, but that might unfairly muddle the mayor's identity, and be dismissed as the type of name-calling practiced by his sworn enemies like Mr. Taliaferro.)

* * *

And now for something genuine.

I wouldn't be surprised if, every night at bedtime, Buddy Guy got down on his knees and prayed he'd wake up as Luther Allison. That's how good Allison was. There have been but a few vocalists in modern blues and rock who could clamber inside a song and utterly own it, and he was decidedly among them. Technically you could hear echoes of B.B. King, Clapton, Stevie Ray and Ry Cooder in his guitar play, but he alternately fused and transformed those techniques into a spiny and fertile sound exquisitely his own.

He played Chicago-style, hard, raw and fully, and he knew what a city was.

Black Exodus

African Americans are fleeing Bayview-Hunters Point to escape high housing costs.

By Hank Hyena -- special to the SF Bay Guardian

Five years ago I never saw white people on Third Street," recalls Jonathon Crossley. "But now, I know a gay white guy down there he's hella cool but conservative, he looks like Steve Reeves! He's living on Palou, walking his dogs. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that gay white guys would be buying homes on the street I grew up on."

Crossley shakes his head incredulously. "I also know a Spanish guy on a block off Third, on Quesada. He's got three daughters and he loves living there! But the people that I grew up with ...," the 31-year-old realtor sighs, "are being forced to move out. They feel like they're going to lose their community, the same way they lost the Fillmore years ago."

A pale wave is flooding into Bayview-Hunters Point, often considered the sole remaining African American neighborhood in the city. Frantic prospective buyers and renters lured by the area's low price tags on real estate are swarming into the enormous, sunny-but-impoverished expanse that stretches from Bayshore Boulevard to 3Com Park, in the city's southeastern corner. The price of a family home has jumped 50 percent in the last year alone: at present, the typical cost of a three-bedroom house in the neighborhood is $300,000 far beyond the budget of the region's historically low-income wage earners.

The modest stucco dwellings of Bayview-Hunters Point were constructed during and after World War II to accommodate African Americans who migrated here to labor in the 17,000 naval shipyard jobs as industrial builders, longshoremen, and dockloaders. In the 1950s the neighborhood boasted a prosperous population of 60,000, with two movie theaters on its thriving hub, Third Street. Homeowner occupancy was exceedingly robust and it remains so today: a healthy 50-60 percent, tops in San Francisco, with many mortgages completely paid off.

Unfortunately, blue-collar cutbacks in the 1960s crippled the area's residents, halving the population today's population is under 30,000 and destroying their quality of life. The "ready rock" (crack cocaine) plague of the 1980s demoralized the community, which became a no-man's-land for people who didn't already live there. When nonresidents came through, they wanted to buy drugs from kids in the projects, or they were sports pilgrims who nervously locked their car doors as they drove to Giants or 49er games.

As S.F. real estate began to balloon three years ago, the city's neighborhoods were inflated piecemeal in a cheap-seeking pattern that culminated in the current Bayview-Hunters Point upsurge. Crossley reports that realtors are aggressively soliciting black homeowners in the district, urging them to put their homes up for sale on the lucrative market. "Older black people are selling their homes," he laments, "or they're passing away and their heirs are selling the property."

His dire view is shared by Shelly Bradford-Bell, who has served as the executive director of the landmark Bayview Opera House for the past 12 years. "I know a woman who has a thick stack of pamphlets from different realtors who left them on her door. They're pressuring her to sell," she asserts. "Grandmothers and mothers are also passing away and their children see this great opportunity to sell because an enormous amount of dollars are being offered. Market acceleration encourages them to take a big chunk of money and leave."

Working-class African Americans whose families have been in the area for two or three generations generally can't afford to buy their own homes in the area anymore, and rental property which has swelled to at least $1,200 a month for 1-2 bedrooms – is equally beyond their means. Many black residents, such as 57-year-old Olin Webb, executive director of the activist organization Bayview-Hunters Point Community Advocates, continue living with their elderly parents because they can't locate an affordable home of their own. Webb has served as a indefatigable organizer despite his burden of diabetes, a disease that's been linked (along with asthma, heart failure, hypertension, and various forms of cancer) to the area's ghastly pollution levels.

"Asian families," Webb insists flatly, when he's asked to describe the recent colonizers of his neighborhood. Louis Caruana, a home seller at A-1 Realty on San Bruno Avenue, defines the present home buyers as "Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, Hispanics, and all other nationalities, even African Americans." Crossley estimates that, "for the most part, it's Asian, white, and Spanish." His perception is echoed by Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the monthly San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and Reverend Aurelious Walker of True Hope Church of God in Christ on Gilman Avenue, who categorizes the new arrivals as "Asians and Hispanics." Bradford-Bell, who inspected hopeful buyers at a recent open house, asserts that although new home buyers in the area are multicultural, they're all uniformly professional middle-class. "Everybody was from the Peninsula, Silicon Valley. They were dot-commers who wanted to relocate. I did meet an African American woman who recently bought a house in Bayview, but she was an employee of Sun Microsystems."

Are dot-com workers seeping into the area, to reside conveniently near their new offices? Are concrete warehouses in the area secretly getting stocked with high-tech start-ups? "Yes," says Webb, who maintains that "a lot of those new buildings in India Basin Industrial Park went to dot-coms." Is he correct, though? Or is he just voicing a modern paranoia?

"He's wrong," scoffs commercial realtor Scott Mason of HCM Commercial Properties, Inc., who insists that "there is no dot-com at all in Bayview-Hunters Point because there's no services to back them up, no good restaurants, no good public transportation, and it's still a crime-infested area ... All dot-com guys drive cars and they don't want their cars broken into." Mason, who sells property that has soared from $65 per square foot to $105 per square foot in the last year, claims that his prospective buyers represent "a mixture of distribution and light manufacturing."

Mission-style gentrification probably isn't possible in Bayview-Hunters Point without dot-coms and their high-salaried work base. Third Street won't be overrun with Starbucks and Jamba Juice joints anytime soon, but the boarded-up storefronts on Third Street (overwhelmingly owned by African Americans) are certainly under the same temptation to sell that local residential units are. If that happens, black locals would be forced to buy necessities from other minorities, a scenario that replicates the violent animosity towards Korean grocers that inflamed South Central Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots.

Where are the African Americans of Bayview-Hunters Point going? Oakland is an erroneous guess, because "it's too expensive already," claims Crossley, who opines that Vallejo, Antioch, and Pittsburg are the most popular destinations. His view is seconded by Rev. Walker, who has accommodated the plethora of worshipers from his True Hope congregation who have already relocated to Antioch by opening up a second church there. "Kids are also selling and moving to Vallejo," he adds. Stockton and Fairfield are equally favored new home sites, claims Webb, because they provide government-subsidized Section Eight housing.

If African Americans continue to depart from San Francisco, the city's reputation as a tolerant, diversity-cherishing metropolis would be severely tarnished. Already the black community accounts for only 7 percent of the population, claims Rev. Walker, who worries that the dwindling will annihilate black strength as a voting block. How can the black presence in San Francisco be saved? Jobs, jobs, jobs is the consistent reply. Bayview-Hunters Point residents suffer an astonishing 34 percent unemployment rate, fumes Webb. Citing statistics from the 1990 U.S. Census, Webb continues, "There's 60,000 jobs in Bayview-Hunters Point, but only 5 percent of these local jobs are occupied by local residents."

"Why?" I ask. "Racism," blurts Webb. "City Hall appoints white developers to build projects and they hire white contractors who hire white workers. We knew back in 1969-1973 when we weren't allowed to own the Hunters Point hill that our days were numbered. We don't think much of the city, because of the racism."

"But what about the mayor?" I argue. "He's black!"

"Willie Brown has been in politics for 30 years but he's never done anything for the Bayview-Hunters Point African American community. He's for Willie Brown. He's pissed everybody off," states Webb. "Nancy Pelosi also wrote a bill that was racist. She put the needs of the 300 artists at the Hunters Point Art Colony ahead of the community. She made it easy for those artists to get benefits and low rent, but it never seems like it's easy for the city to help African Americans. For example, the city has given $160 million to the Navy shipyard to get them to clean it up, but they still don't do it right. But when we ask them for a $20 million loan to build up our community to create our own businesses to hire our own people they claim they don't have the money. That's racism. We know the city has a $2.9 billion portfolio."

White grant-funded dancers are whining vociferously in the Mission because they can't afford to live on what they make from choreography. But aren't these art-related inconveniences minuscule in comparison to the poverty endured by tens of thousands of nearby African Americans? Webb elucidates his constituency's dilemmas, explaining, "We don't think much of the banks. They won't give African Americans a loan. I had to get a loan once from Westinghouse Credit for 22 percent interest."

His assertion is supported by a 1999 study conducted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which revealed that African Americans in San Francisco received 254 percent more rejections than whites when they asked for mortgage loans. The long decline of the Third Street merchant area, Webb additionally infers, can also be blamed on a nefarious, deceptive municipal strategy: "They've been using federal monies specifically earmarked for Bayview-Hunters Point to develop other parts of the city. A lot of the HUD redevelopment money that came to San Francisco ended up in the mayor's office and in other parts of the city budget." Mayoral spokesperson P.J. Johnston responds, "The mayor's office receives no funding from HUD that is earmarked by neighborhood, and HUD will attest to that. Webb has no evidence to back up his claims."

But publisher Willie Ratcliff agrees with Webb's harsh critique of City Hall. "We've had a bellyful of Willie Brown royally screwing people, especially black people, anyone who doesn't make $70,000-$80,000 a year," he says. But other community leaders exhibit a more gracious attitude toward the Big Brother. Rev. Walker believes that there's a "small percentage" of discontents in the region, but the majority appreciate "the many helpful city projects that have been done out here. Right now we're in the process of building a state-of-the-art child-care center. The city and the mayor are paying close to $700,000 [for the center]. That's how committed they are."

Bradford-Bell, who has recently been granted "a huge jump in funding" for the Bayview Opera House, believes that the city "has been extremely supportive when it comes to our children the youth in Bayview have received enormous support." She also commends the city for bringing in businesses like Walgreens on Third Street, and for the job-skills training programs provided by the Department of Social Services.

Despite the occasional compliments, it is obvious to anyone who drives through the tough, hot streets that are peppered with drug addicts, loiterers, dilapidated structures, and "CLOSED" signs that not enough is being done to enhance the lives of the region's African American community. Even the proposed streetcars that will soon rumble down Third Street are an injury, claims Webb, who believes the light rail will damage local business owners because their customers will have easier access to shopping elsewhere. "They never asked the community if we wanted it," he grumbles.

Another far greater potential catastrophe is also looming in the near future. "Six hundred and four units are being threatened on top of the hill," reports Rev. Walker. "The property developer wants to put them out at market rate." Rent on the homes is currently 70 percent, subsidized by HUD's Section Eight policy; elimination of that would, according to Rev. Walker, "devastate our community."

Ironically, one possible savior of the region is the U.S. Naval Shipyard, the moloch that created Bayview-Hunters Point a half century ago, but brutally poisoned her in the succeeding decades. Five hundred fifty acres of military land is being handed over to the city prime bayside real estate, a dazzling spread that's worth astronomical millions. City Hall has concocted its own elaborate blueprint (developed by white guys, of course), which includes restaurants, shops, a sports park, an African American market, and a public plaza, with 8,000 new jobs and 1,800 new homes. This sounds like something the locals need, right?

"Wrong," says Webb. His contention is that at least 50 percent of the property should be delivered to the Community First Coalition for Hunters Point Shipyard, a synthesis of the area's activist organizations and citywide reform groups like the Urban Habitat Program. Their plan for the shipyard would be to "first clean that rascal up" so that residents would no longer be contaminated by the Navy's clandestine pollutants. After that, light-industry jobs, homes, and live/work multimedia units would be created to specifically benefit Bayview-Hunters Point residents. "We just want it to be owned and controlled by the community," says Webb. "We can help ourselves if we're given the opportunity."

It would be a historic, utopian gesture if the city agreed to Webb's plan. But does San Francisco really care even a smidgen about racial and economic diversity? Can its policy of neglect and exploitation be reversed? City Hall needs to decide quickly, before the city's blue-collar African American population vanishes. Will the future redeem us, or is it already too late?

by Isabel Estrada/Youth in the Media Intern
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:53 PM

Graphic by DM003/PNN

Human Removal aka Redevelopment

A special hearing on Redevelopment- Chris Daly proposes legislation to change how the Commission is formed

Isabel Estrada/Youth in the Media Intern
Tuesday, March 26, 2002;

The houseless people in front of the San Francisco Public library made a busy contrast to the wide, endlessly lazy gray pavement that just existed to absorb the bright sun. They talked, some collected cans, and others let upbeat phrases roll off their tongues, tempting oblivious passersby to buy a smile, maybe a moment of happiness or a sense of satisfaction at dropping a few pennies into a paper cup. I knew I was supposed to be going to City Hall, the huge stone building with the intricate gold that stood out against all the gray. I finally walked across the wide expanse of grass up to the steps of City Hall and into the cool darkness of the building and found myself just another person in a huge crowd of people waiting to get into the Legislative Chamber.

I tried to squeeze through until the guard at the door let us know that only the people in the line were going to get through. So I walked passed all the people until I got in line with an old high school teacher. She was with her partner who was involved in the Mid-Market PAC (Project Area Committee) to redevelop the area spanning from 5th to 8th streets between Mission and Market. At first I was a little uncomfortable because while working at POOR I have come to see re-developement more as socio-economic cleansing, relieving rich white folks of the plight of having to see defecation on the streets and having to feel bad about all the money they have when there are people with no food or shelter. However, I was slightly comforted by the fact that my teacher's partner was actually in the PAC meetings to advocate for more housing, more space for non-profit organizations and to keep the pro-business interests at bay.

I was soon to find out in the discussion that in fact the PAC -with all its pro-business interests and plenty of people who wouldn't mind seeing the poor simply swept off of the streets- is only a small hurdle. As many people would note, the PAC is somewhat willing to listen to the community. However, the PAC is only an organization of developers hired to advise the Redevelopment Agency. The PAC can give all the advice it wants, but the Agency isn't required to listen, and it has shown that often it doesn't. That is where the problem arises.

The discussion going on in City Council essentially consisted of public comment on Chris Daly's proposed ordinance of disbanding the Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of of 7 Mayoral appointees, and handing over its work to the Board of Supervisors itself.

The example of the case of the Plaza Hotel, which included the Bindlestiff Theatre, the only Filipino based arts space in the nation, was cited repeatedly. Over the past year, the non-profit organization TODCO has been presenting the Redevelopment Agency with a plan to renovate the highly dilapidated building, creating more low income housing and providing a space for the Bindlestiff Theatre (as opposed to illegally kicking people out to make it into a tourist hotel, as could have occurred with the Empress turned West Cork Hotel). The much needed plan is still being held up in the Redevelopment Agency.

After waiting outside the meeting for quite a while I decided to try to get in as press but because I had no press pass and all my business cards had run out, the guard said, "Sorry, can't do anything for ya." On my way back to the line a young African-American man in a large group, they were all wearing hard hats, stopped me and asked if I was a reporter. When I told him yes he asked me to make sure to include his opinion. His name is Tyson and the group he was with was YCD (Youth Community Development). When he told me that he was for the ordinance and against the Redevelopment Agency I thought he would be echoing the general opinion of the African-American community. He said he thought that Mayor Willie Brown was trying to make life harder for the people before he left office. However, if I 'm to base the general sentiment of the African-American community on who spoke in the City Council meeting then they were at odds with the young men outside. I heard by chance that the meeting was being played on a T.V. in the North Light Court. I was angry and disappointed to find that in the 3 hours I was watching, the young men from YCD who had had so much to say and who had been bursting with so much energy had never gotten a chance to speak. Perhaps they hadn't even been alerted that the meeting was being shown in the room below or that they could still speak even though they weren't in the Legislative Chamber.

After some discussion, mainly between Supervisor Yee and Daly, over the fact that Marsha Rosen, the Director of Redevelopment Agency, was not even present, Daly stated that the Agency had been alerted about the meeting with plenty of time to makeplan to show up and ended requesting a 5 week continuance. Supervisor Maxwell asked the Board to consider that the Agency is "helping and doing things in neighborhoods that we don't even consider." However, she also mentioned the movement of African-Americans out of the Western Addition: "They called it Urban Renewal, we called it Negro Removal."

John Vargas spoke in a quick, clever and indignant manner in favor of the ordinance and very against the Redevelopment Agency. "The housing crisis today stands on those failed policies and misapplied capital expenditures that went into the redevelopment process...You can't do anything better than reform this agency; look at what housing, what jobs have been lost. Why didn't you do this twenty or thirty years ago?"

Next spoke an ex-Supervisor, Amos Brown. He wanted the board to get rid of the ordinance. He didn't think that the Board of Supervisors would do a better job. He stated, "You can't have it both ways, if you want to be mayor run for mayor." Then he resorted to personal attack with his comment directed toward Supervisor Ammiano, "you sound like snakes and some of you act like snakes."

Geoffery Liebowitz mentioned the case of the Whole Foods proposal for Fourth Street that would allow a grocery store that would provide healthy food with discounts for seniors right next to a building that housed 600 seniors. The Redevelopment Agency never let it happen. Liebowitz proposed term limits for the Commissioners on the Agency.

Of the three hours that I watched the public comment there was one pervasive opinion that almost had the quality of conspiracy. Almost all the African-American's from Bayview/Hunters Point were against the ordinance and very supportive of Willie Brown and the Redevelopment Agency. One man commiserated that "what the mayor is going through is living hell." A woman told Ammiano that this ordinance was not "using due process of law."

Another man stated, "y'all need to give us liberty or give us death...The only thing that's savin' us today is the Redevelopment Agency." James Gardner, who is a member of the PAC, said that he had worked hard to maintain a good relationship with the Agency, "there are difficulties but we're working through them."

Another woman working with the PAC is scared of becoming unemployed if the Agency were to be disbanded. Many said that redevelopment had come to their aid and had helped to stop evictions. Yvonne Dylan said that she felt threatened by the ordinance. Ironically, despite all the praise of the Agency and of Willie Brown coming from the community, it is still the people of Bayview/Hunters Point that are suffering from high instances of asthma and cancer due to the fact that there is a PG&E Power Plant and an old Navy Shipyard dumping ground in the neighborhood. Besides, when you think of it, throwing down some money to appease this community of color is a small price to pay for the Redevelopment Agency if it means that it will be supported when it attempts to sweep all the poor folks out of the mid-market area, which is a much more lucrative area than Bayview/Hunters Point. Just judging by looks it seemed to me that the majority of the people who had spoken were at least middle class. I certainly didn't feel that I was getting a full representation of all of Bayview/Hunters Point. I even heard some comments made about Willie Brown busing a bunch of people over to the meeting so that they could testify in his favor.

There was only one African-American woman from Bayview/Hunters point that was completely against the Redevelopment Agency. She said, "I do not want what happened in the Fillmore to happen in Bayview...We as the people are not getting housed." She thinks that it's the Redevelopment Agency that needs "to be evicted." A disabled Asian man from Bayview/Hunters point said that he personally had seen no improvements in his neighborhood except for a prettier McClaren Park.

One Anglo man accused many of the previous speakers of using "race-baiting to attack this proposal." He noted that it was mostly communities of color that were evicted and gentrified under Willie Brown when the Dot.Com boom occurred.

Sam Dodge of the Central City SRO Committee was indignant at all the support from the African-American community of Bayview/Hunters Point, noting that though the PAC may be listening to the people, it didn't mean that the Agency would too.

Every person who lives or had lived on Sixth Street spoke in favor of the ordinance and against the Redevelopment Agency. Delphine Brody stated that she and the other tenants of the Seneca Hotel had been promised necessary repairs -a working elevator (especially important for the seniors), a washer and dryer as well as a community kitchen- by the Agency for three years. Yet while they have seen no repairs "police repression has doubled...arresting my neighbors for walking while black."

We heard from a deaf African-American woman, Adriana Taylor who was a single mother living in the Plaza Hotel. She said that living in such unhealthy conditions and with no kitchen was very detrimental to her son's health. She said in sign language, "I want to ask for your help in fixing the Plaza Hotel."

Allison Lum, a former Sixth Street resident of the Raymond Hotel said that after a fire that occurred, most of her neighbors were not able to relocate. She asked: if the Agency is doing so well, "why are there vacant buildings when people are dying on the streets."

Another man pointed out that neither he nor any of the Supervisors could understand what it means to live in conditions like the Plaza Hotel. He thought it was time for the people to stop letting "Willie Brown run the city for his business buddies and bring the decision making to the communities." Bruce Allison mentioned that all over South of Market there used to be low-income housing where now there is the Moscone Center and the Yerba Buena Gardens. The ex-tenants were never provided with housing at anywhere near the same cost. It's surprising that people wonder why there are so many homeless people in San Francisco.

At the beginning of the meeting, one man said that this ordinance was "a dividin' thing." And, its turned out to be true. An African-American man from the Plaza Hotel stated, "It's not about race; it's about housing. Please take over the agency." Here we have a man who is both poor and of color which means that he is the one who never gets listened too; the one who never gets any easy breaks. We'll see if he'll have his way and I will continue to be able to listen to Guajira Guantanamera being played by street musicians in Civic Center Bart station and continue to see people of such different colors and backgrounds who know so much more about life than I when I walk around my city.

"Everytime I come here everything happens to me. I lose my man, I lose my head, I lose my mind, feel like I'm almost dead...I been down so long that down don't worry me." -Stormy Blues performed by Billie Holiday

by William Hoffman
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 8:58 PM
The Doric Column


August 6, 2001

The House on Bryant Street
Another Gold Rush
AIDS, Family Style
Ashes in the Wind

The House on Bryant Street
"On a winter morning in California of 1848,
a man named James Marshall spied something
in a riverbed. Gold. It was gold he lifted
from the cold water. America would never be
the same.

"Today business school professors and self-styled
futurists like to proclaim the global economy as
though they invented it. But the global economy
is at least as old as the California Gold Rush....
In 1492, the European met the Indian; two races,
two civilizations confronted one another. But the
discovery of gold in California gathered the entire
world in one place for the first time in history."

"California Gold Rush"
Richard Rodriguez
PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
September 28, 1999

Every day I stand in front of the house on Bryant Street in San Francisco where my brother lived for 13 years, and where he died.

The house, captured in pen and ink, hangs on the east wall of my living room. It was magnificently framed both in its original construction and in its representation on my wall. It is a small, elegant Victorian mansion built, my brother told me, by the owner of a burlesque theater, for his mistress. It will always be my favorite house in a city of extraordinary Victorian houses.

I first saw the house in 1973 during a camping trip out west. On our way down the coast my companion and I picked immense blackberries from roadside bushes in Oregon. Chuck's kitchen in his garden-level apartment in the house on Bryant Street was up to the task of converting the produce into a pie. We must have eaten the pie in his garden next to the carriage house, beneath the cascading bougainvillea.

Bryant Street is located in the city's Mission District. The district was built up around Mission Dolores, the oldest building in the city, the "Mission of St Francis of Assisi" which gave the city its name. Mass was first celebrated here five days before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The Mission District has always been an area of ethnic congregation, beginning with the Ohlone Indian tribe that spoke a language called Ramaytush. The tribe was wiped out by smallpox during the Spanish conquest. They were followed by Yankees, Swedes, Germans, Irish and Italians, and later by immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. And by bohemians. And more recently by dot-com'ers.

Bryant Street was named after Edwin Bryant. Bryant was an officer under the command of John Charles Fremont, the great 19th century explorer known as the "Pathfinder." Earlier in his celebrated career Fremont had conducted a reconnaissance of what is now Minnesota, with the French scientist Joseph Nicollet. A native of Kentucky, Bryant joined Fremont's expedition to California in 1846 as a second lieutenant. He was appointed alcalde or chief magistrate of San Francisco in 1847, but returned to Kentucky after just a few months in office.

In 1848 Bryant published What I Saw in California By Wagon from Missouri to California in 1847 [Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, Inc, 1967], his journal of crossing the plains to the American West. The journal became the foremost trail guide for the Forty-niners, preceding Fremont's own Guidebook for English gold seekers headed for California (1850).

Bryant was a newspaperman who had been a medical student. He combined scientific curiosity with his professional practice. Just before James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill, Bryant wrote: "The vast interior of North America, with the reputed Eldorado on the shore of the Pacific, furnishes, however, much that is worthy of the inquiry, examination, and admiration of the naturalist, and much that is calculated to awaken and please the desultory curiosity of the mass."

In another passage, he foresaw the disappearance of the buffalo decades before it became a reality: "The bones of buffalo, whitened by the action of the atmosphere, are seen every few yards ... but none of the animals have yet been discovered. It is probable that the large number of emigrants who have preceded us, have driven the few buffaloes which descend the Platte so low as this, into the hills. The bleaching skeletons of these animals are strewn over the plain on all sides, ghastly witnesses deposited here, of a retreating and fast perishing race."

The presence of death runs throughout Bryant's account of his travels westward. Today, to me, the San Francisco street named after him and the Victorian house on it are part of a personal chronology of death.

It is now 20 years since Chuck, on a visit to the Twin Cities, told me of the strange goings-on in his community of gay men. The apprehension he felt was evident in his voice. Indeed, practically as he spoke the first case of Kaposi's sarcoma in a gay man was reported from San Francisco General Hospital, just up the hill from Bryant Street, in June 1981.

Chuck was concerned about the swelling in the lymph nodes under his arms. A biopsy showed nothing unusual, and he was relieved. But he was being stalked all the same.

He didn't know it at the time, of course, but he had only a few Junes left.

Another Gold Rush
"For months now, newspaper and television
reporters have been coming to neighborhoods like
this one in San Francisco. Little more than a year ago,
these buildings housed dot-com dreams of sudden,
vast wealth. Now look, the reporters say--there are
vacancy signs in the windows.

"America is a nation of dreamers, land of adventures
and schemers, hustlers and visionaries. When you win
the golden cup in America, become a Rockefeller or a
Carnegie, Presidents know your name and teachers tell
their children about you; you summarize our nation's
meaning. But when you lose, we pretend not to recognize

"American Dream"
Richard Rodriguez
PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
June 18, 2001

The first time I ever heard the word gentrification was in San Francisco in the early 1970s. I knew that it had a negative connotation. It was often preceded, in speech and print, by modifiers like "creeping."
The city's ornate Victorian houses in poor neighborhoods were targets for gentrification beginning in the 1960s, during the rise of the counterculture. They were bought by developers on the cheap, restored or renovated, and sold or rented at prices working class families could not afford.

Today the term "displacement" is favored over gentrification. With the term comes a new protest movement in a city known for spawning protest movements. The anti-displacement movement targets traditional heavy-handed development and the new digital culture.

The California Gold Rush had a late 20th century reincarnation in the dot-com boom South of Market Street, an area that has come to be known as "Multimedia Gulch."

Billed as ground zero for interactive media, Multimedia Gulch boasted more than a thousand multimedia firms and a workforce of 40,000 just a year ago. It was a magnet for young, creative tech-savvy talent in the "World's Most Wired City."

A friend of mine is one of those remarkable talents. He helped develop websites for Big Yellow, AT&T, and General Electric working in Boston and New York before moving to i-traffic in the Gulch a couple years ago.

The arrival of the dot-com'ers in droves in the late 1990s followed in the city's long tradition of attracting the likes of "gold miners and beatniks, hippies and gays, immigrants and yuppies" by one account. They were not particularly well received: "The dot-commers are accused by some of destroying the art scene, the music scene, the restaurant scene. They've pushed up rents and pushed out the old and the poor, critics say. They've made it hard for bohemians to live as they are accustomed. ["San Francisco quakes as dot-coms move in", Seattle Times, May 7, 2000]

And they brought "gentrification at Net speed...."

The displacement protest crystallized at Bryant Square, an office complex on Bryant Street. Developers wanted to demolish a building that housed artist studios to make way for what the San Francisco Bay Guardian called a "five story Soviet bloc-style concrete monstrosity." The project was pitched as "smart growth" for new technology. Mayor Willie Brown and the Planning Commission came under fire for alleged political favor-doing when they approved it.

Bryant Square fueled the Mission Anti-Displacement Movement, the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project [MYEP], and Gentrification 2001. MYEP advocates vandalism against pricey Yuppie autos like BMWs and SUVs, called "muscle cars" for their tendency to muscle their way through the narrow streets of the Mission.

Urban archaeologist Rebecca Solnit describes what she sees as a social upheaval in the nation's cities, made worse by the rise of the digital culture, in her book Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism [Verso Books, 2000]

"San Francisco has been for most of its 150-year existence both a refuge and an anomaly," Solnit writes. "Soon it will be neither. Gentrification is transforming the city by driving out the poor and working class, including those who have chosen to give their lives over to unlucrative pursuits such as art, activism, social experimentation, social service. But gentrification is just the fin above the water. Below is the rest of the shark: a new American economy in which most of us will be poorer, a few will be far richer, and everything will be faster, more homogenous and more controlled or controllable. The technology boom and the accompanying housing crisis have fast-forwarded San Francisco into the newest version of the American future, a version that also is being realized in Boston, Seattle, and other cities from New York and Atlanta to Denver and Portland."

But the high-tech boom has gone bust with a vengeance, and the rise in rental and housing prices South of Market has eased. In a city known for its quakes, "cracks are appearing everywhere," in the growing number of bankruptcies and rapidly rising vacancy rates and layoffs. A headline in the San Francisco Business Times reads: "Multimedia Gulch turns into Multimedia Mulch." [April 2, 2001]. One real estate firm managing director said: "It's Armageddon down there."

From gold to Armageddon in a year. Only in America. Only in San Francisco.

AIDS, Family Style
It was during my visit to San Francisco in July 1984 to report on the Democratic National Convention that my brother gave me the news.

We were having lunch at a restaurant in Twin Peaks. It was one of his favorite restaurants at the time. And he knew the city's restaurants. Boy, did he know the restaurants.

After we finished our meal he said he needed to tell me something personal. He said that he had been having night sweats, coughing spells, nausea, fever, and bouts with diarrhea for some months. He had come to the conclusion that he had AIDS.

I leapt to his rescue. I tried to caution him about self-diagnosis. He would have none of it. He knew what was happening to him. It had been happening the same way to his gay friends and acquaintances. His symptoms were the gasps of a dying immune system.

I tried again to explain them away. "No," he said, looking into me, shaking his head.

It was a riveting moment. There had been another, some 14 years earlier, in his flat on Downey Street, when he told me he was gay. These were the moments that perhaps more than any other helped me to understand the limitation of words. In the former instance I said something saccharine like "I just want you to be happy." This time I was in full retreat.

The previous April the U.S. government announced that Robert Gallo of the National Institutes of Health had succeeded in replicating the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), believed to be the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- AIDS. This meant that an HIV blood test could be developed. But as Gallo told Newsweek years later: "You had a lot of great scientists coming in during this period, and there was a lot of good work. But then we'd see reminders in the faces of all the infected people that we'd done nothing for them. I'd say: 'We have a blood test now.' That was a life-saving public health advance, but they'd say: 'What's a blood test to me? It only defines me as infected.'"

The physician I was working for at the University of Minnesota, a cancer geneticist of note and a friend of Gallo's, was convinced that a whole host of factors were behind AIDS, including poor nutrition. It was a period of as much speculation as evidence in the trying to understand what was going on.

A month after returning to the Twin Cities I received a phone call from Chuck's friend John, owner of the house on Bryant Street. He said that Chuck was in the hospital with an infection. "It's AIDS related."

Although AIDS was still mysterious, the infections associated with it were well understood. Cryptoccocal meningitis is a form of meningitis that rarely infects healthy people. Crypoccocus is a fungus found in soil contaminated with droppings from pigeons and other birds. It preys on people with suppressed immunity. It commandeers the meninges, the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord. The standard treatment is amphotericin B taken intravenously. The powerful antibiotic shoots holes in the cellular membranes of the fungi. In people it can produce headaches, fever, chills, irregular heartbeat, double vision, and sometimes convulsions.

Cryptoccocal meningitis put my brother on a lifeline. He would never leave it alive.

Ashes in the Wind
The most vivid memory I have of Chuck, in his final months, was during a visit in March 1985. The family pilgrimage to Bryant Street had been going on for seven months by then. It was my turn to be with him.

He had moved from his garden apartment to the main floor some years earlier. He shared it with his partner, an African-American fellow originally from Buffalo, New York.

Despite his upbringing in a small Minnesota farming town, Chuck had a gift for design and arrangement. He had impeccable taste, and it showed in every room. I'm sure the impresario who built the house for his mistress would have approved its late 20th century manifestation at my brother's hands, a thoughtfully appointed environment accented by fresh-cut flowers. The materials that made up the house's contents were all natural: wood, clay, ceramic, metal, fabric, bamboo and the like. Plastic had been banned.

I was sitting on the back deck reading a magazine. The deck had limited exposure to the San Francisco sun. It was hemmed in by facades of more recent construction decorated with Latino murals and graffiti.

But at that moment I had the sun. So did he as he emerged from the kitchen. He stood there for a minute or so, saying something I don't remember. He had just returned from the hospital after gaining the upper hand in a skirmish against pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, yet another opportunistic infection. His drug arsenal and medical equipment cache had grown. They clashed with the natural matériel of the living space.

He stood there in the sun, looking good, I thought. His brown hair, well arranged, looked auburn with the sunlight on it. His skin, though pale, did not show the raging in his body. He was untethered from his IV pole for the moment. He stood there in the San Francisco sun, which this day cast not a harsh but a soft light on the city, filtered by high clouds. He looked good in the soft light.

It was a mirage. Three months later, at age 38, his body and spirit separated. My father was there to bear witness and to join with his partner and friends in the champagne toast to celebrate his life. The toast took place by candlelight in the garden Chuck tended. A week later I participated in a memorial service in the living room of his house. It was a simple service of scriptural readings, poetry, personal reflections, and tears.

His friends attempted to fulfill his last request and distribute his ashes on Mount Tamalpais. He wanted his remains to have a vista of the city he loved, a vista we often shared when I came to visit. They were met with "No Trespassing" signs and turned back. The procession of ashes to the mountain from the city's devastated gay community, where up to half the men were infected with HIV, had public health officials concerned.

Eventually Chuck did get to the mountain top, his ashes scattered by hand and wind over its rocky crest. His partner, the fellow from Buffalo, visited our family in Minnesota before HIV/AIDS eventually claimed him. He, too, died in the house on Bryant Street, surrounded by loved ones.

In their last months, weeks and days, they were among many who benefited from the network of organizations that became known as "the San Francisco model" of AIDS care, a collaboration that included community-based organizations as well as city and state agencies, hospitals, and health care providers.

Paul Volberding, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, established the first AIDS clinical service -- at San Francisco General Hospital. In June 1983 he opened "Ward 86," the first hospital ward devoted to treating people with AIDS. Now at the city's Veterans Administration Medical Center, the renowned AIDS researcher and clinician saw his first case of AIDS his first day on the job 20 years ago.

"Like a disaster in slow motion, AIDS has taken 18,600 San Francisco lives, far more than the city lost in wars and earthquakes and fires combined," wrote San Francisco Chronicle reporter Sabin Russell last June in "AIDS at 20: A Disease That Changed Our World."

"Once thought of as a 'gay disease' afflicting only the hip, urban centers of America, AIDS is now unmasked as a global killer whose toll has passed the 20 million dead of the Spanish influenza of 1918. It has cut a swath through impoverished African states and is now threatening the teeming populations of India, China and Southeast Asia."

Chuck left Minnesota in his new Volkswagen beetle in January 1969, searching not for wealth but for some connection not found here. He didn't know as he drove west from the Twin Cities that his personal journey would dovetail with momentous events in a great city's history and the rise of a global epidemic.

Neither did Edwin Bryant know, when he traveled westward from St. Louis in 1846, that the "Eldorado" he noted in his journal was about to be discovered, after a fashion, and that San Francisco would soon be known throughout the world.

California's "City by the Bay" will always be a destination for people searching for something -- the golden cup, adventure, an audience, a connection of some kind.

The restless search that has drawn people to San Francisco for 150 years is a counterpoint to the world of the Ohlone who lived along Dolores Creek a few centuries ago. The Ohlone lived life moment to moment, we are told, not in history or religion or futurism or dreams but in the here and now. The original "people of the west" lived in harmony with the land. They never ventured far from home.

But that world is long gone. The new people of the west that make up the city's neighborhoods -- the Fillmore, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission -- are a vibrant, dynamic and mobile ethnic mix.

"The Mission" is the title of a film produced in 1994 by KQED public broadcasting and narrated by award-winning author Isabelle Allende. The film "uncovers the common threads that run from its origins as a Native American village, through its many successive incarnations: Spanish mission settlement; Mexican ranchland; Gold Rush boomtown; earthquake refugee camp; and finally, home to immigrants of all stripes, especially Irish and Latinos."

What Allende says of the Mission is true of the city:

"If you look closely, you can see a picture of what America has been . . . and where it may be headed."

--William Hoffman hoffm003 [at]

by On Art, Urbanity, and Rent, by Rebecca Solnit
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 9:03 PM
In a recent letter to the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s sex column, “Ask Isadora,” a masochist asked whether he had to obey his dominatrix by sexually servicing their ancient landlord. Although the letter was ostensibly about the extent to which a bottom’s obedience must go, it was really about what so much is about in this city—rent. Apparently even dominatrixes worry about keeping a roof over their heads in San Francisco, and rent, housing, housing prices, and eviction stories fill the collective dirge chanted whenever the San Franciscans I know gather. The city is changing too fast for its bohemian inhabitants to keep pace, many of them don’t expect to be living here many more years, and some have already left. (To designate those overlapping groups—artists in all media, grassroots activists, students with leftist leanings, and pursuers of alternative lifestyles—I’ll use the catch-all term “bohemian.”) Last year’s heated mayoral run-off race between incumbent Willie Brown and insurgent candidate Tom Ammiano was a war of sorts, about what kind of a city San Francisco should be, and for whom. Brown spent $5 million to win the race and drew support from big business, developers, and out-of-town interests, as well as from the African-American community; Ammiano’s sponsors included the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Bicycle Coalition, and an army of volunteers. On my corner, and many others, someone spray-stenciled, “People who make less than $50,000 don’t belong here.—Willie Brown.” “Another terrified tenant for Tom,” read one popular button. Ammiano’s support came from the neighborhoods identified with the bohemianism that has long characterized San Francisco—from the heart of the city, in other words, where its civic image originates and its influential cultures gestate.

In the past few years, Silicon Valley’s wealthy workers have discovered San Francisco and begun to transform the former capital of the west into their bedroom community, in the process making an already bad housing market far, far worse. And small computer-related businesses are setting up offices in the city at a frenzied pace. The technology boom is doing more than creating hundreds of new millionaires in ühe region; it is resituating the status of those who don’t participate in this economy. All the tenants of the Bay View Building in the Mission district—including two Spanish-language newspapers, radio stations, and social services for the local Latino community—got evicted when the building was sold to a; nearby, the former San Francisco Labor Temple, which now houses dozens of progressive activist and alternative arts organizations, is up for sale.(1) American Indian Contemporary Art lost its downtown lease when the rent nearly doubled, and its director doubts that the nonprofit gallery can relocate.(2) Evictions have skyrocketed, and so have rents and housing prices. Moderate-income San Franciscans and nonprofits who lose their homes or work spaces often cannot find another that they can afford in the city, and the former refuge of the East Bay—the local equivalent of Brooklyn—has been hit by the same boom. Although the situation is more extreme in the Bay Area than elsewhere, a similar flush of upscale resettlement of cities across the country—Seattle (which is similarly affected by the computer economy), Boston, and Denver, to name a few—is displacing those who have long lived there, changing the nature of urbanism and even starting to alter the culture itself. And of course, Manhattan led the way long ago.(3) It may be that the whole geography of culture is changing.

What is happening in San Francisco today can be compared in scale to the transformation of mid-19th-century Paris under the direction of Haussmann. But while Baron Haussmann changed the whole infrastructure and tore down the slums in a frenzy of urban reconstruction, San Francisco is mostly changing who and what occupies the existing structure. Those who mourned the medieval thicket that Haussmann razed in favor of light, logic, and manageability lamented the loss of the intricate relationship between imagination and place, of the mystery and subversive delight of a city that crowded together the rich and poor. Like Second Empire Paris, contemporary San Francisco is being simplified, and the poor are being exiled to the periphery (whose outer reaches haven’t yet been charted). But by some measures, of course, the Parisian experience was more benign. The new metropolis created by Haussmann and his emperor brought genuine benefits to all citizens—clean water, sewers, parks. In modern gentrification, the infrastructure often declines as private desire prevails over public interest—as, for example, the number of cars increase and the thoroughfares become clogged. The boulevards of Haussmann’s Paris were rich settings for generations of artists who, in fact, were not displaced directly; Baudelaire had his trust fund, however mismanaged, as did the brothers Goncourt, who deplored the changes, and for generations Paris remained porous enough for less well-funded artists to remain within its bounds. The global city of today, though, with its ubiquitous Starbucks, Rite-Aid, and Banana Republic, and its condos and gridlock, offers no such richness of experience. As the chains and conglomerates are multiplying, diversity of business, culture, and class is disappearing.

Artmaking has, at least since the ideas of bohemia and modernism were developed in mid-19th-century Paris, been a largely urban enterprise: The closer artists were to museums, publishers, audiences, patrons, politicians, other enemies and each other, the better for the artists and also for art. For if cities have been essential to artists, artists have been essential to cities. (The rural artists who come to mind as exceptions to this rule—Georgia O’Keeffe, Gary Snyder—early on made their urban connections so effectively they could thereafter maintain them from a distance.) The complex connection of artists and urbanity gave rise to the definitive modernisms of the Left Bank and Montmartre, of Bloomsbury and Greenwich Village. Being an artist is one way of being a participant in the large cultural debates about meaning and value, and the closer one is to the center of things the more one can participate. This is part of what makes a city vital and stimulating—this braiding together of disparate lives and diverse cultures; but the new gentrification threatens to yank out some of the strands altogether, diminishing urbanism itself. The Left Bank and Bloomsbury no longer beckon artists; bohemia has been all but driven out of Manhattan as the last pockets of poverty get gentrified. Of course, the relationship of bohemia to gentrification is ambiguous, in San Francisco as well as almost everywhere else.

In the contest for the future of San Francisco, the most visible battlefield is the mural-bedecked Mission, a longtime Latino neighborhood which in the 1980s began to harbor both refugees displaced from Central America and bohemians seeking cheap apartments. More and more bookstores and cafés appeared among the bakeries, thrift shops, and hardware stores; then, in the early 1990s, upscale restaurants began to appear among the cafés and burrito shops, followed by clothing and housewares boutiques. The central stretch of Valencia Street has become an upscale restaurant row. More than 50 percent of the businesses there in 1990 had vanished by 1998, and the street has changed more in 1999 than in any previous year.(4) Although the process of transformation has never stopped in the Mission, it has lately accelerated with the proliferation of upscale businesses and with the colonization of San Francisco by the well-heeled of Silicon Valley. The southern part of the city—for generations its poorer half—has better access to the valley and has been hardest hit by the wave of evictions and of conversions of buildings into condos, and by the creation of expensive “live-work space” lofts benefitting from zoning rules and from affordable-housing and property-tax loopholes created to support artist housing in SoMa (the area South of Market) in the 1980s. Seventy percent of those evicted leave the city.(5) Gentrification used to be a relatively organic process in which affluence crept up gradually on a neighborhood—forest succession was the naturalizing metaphor often used. (In fact, few neighborhoods in this country are truly stable in terms of ethnicity or economics.) But evictions have more than tripled since 1996, to five per day last year, instituting widespread fear among tenants, and housing costs for both renters and buyers are rising so rapidly across the region that moving someplace else in the city or even the Bay Area is becoming an increasingly unfeasible option.(6) And when there’s no place left to go, it’s not forest succession; it’s clearcutting.

One highly visible response is an initiative called the Yuppie Eradication Project, whose Mission district posters and letters to the editor call for class war—including such tactics as the vandalism of luxury cars and fancy restaurants. Like many other responses, this project clearly regards artists and their ilk as casualties of class warfare. But the role of artists in neighborhoods like the Mission is more ambiguous. Though artists have sometimes settled in partially abandoned industrial districts like Soho and SoMa, they have just as often moved into poor neighborhoods and, however inadvertently, made them attractive to whiter and more middle-class settlers—and indeed, the artists themselves have often been whiter and more middle-class. Though bohemians would like neighborhood flux to stop with their own arrival, they function as catalysts of change, even trailblazers. In Neighborhoods in Transition: The Making of San Francisco’s Ethnic and Nonconformist Communities, Brian Godfrey outlines the usual metamorphosis:

In the first stage, a bohemian fringe discovers a neighborhood’s special charms—e.g., social diversity, subcultural identification, architectural heritage. Nontraditional “footloose” elements are favored, such as single people, counter-culturals, homosexuals, artists, feminist households, or college students. These “urban pioneers” make a run-down or even dangerous area livable and attractive to others who would not normally venture there; they constitute the unintentional “shock troops” for gentrification and encourage the beginnings of housing speculation. These social elements are not necessarily wealthy in objective terms, but they do often enjoy a conditional affluence, at least insofar as they have more disposable income to spend on renovation because of smaller households and fewer traditional pursuits.(7)

During almost two decades of living in another metamorphosing part of San Francisco, the Western Addition, I have realized that most of the young people there move too frequently to notice that the neighborhood itself is changing and that they (and I) are a force for change. Skyrocketing rents (the city has rent control but not vacancy control) have finally forced this transient community to move more slowly than the world around it—the precondition for noticing change. Still, most people tend to notice the changes that they themselves haven’t caused more than those that they have. At Cell Space, a Mission district industrial cavern housing artists and activists and hosting many community events, I attended a meeting about gentrification held in conjunction with an art show on the issue.(8) Many were astute about the complexities. One young white man described how his artist parents were first gentrified out of Boulder, Colorado; then moved to an African-American neighborhood and a Hispanic neighborhood in Denver; and then, after these were successively gentrified, fled to San Francisco; and he advocated armed struggle against the forces of gentrification—which he himself unwittingly embodied. That the first stage of gentrification in San Francisco—the move of white artists, students, and activists into then nonwhite neighborhoods such as the Mission—took place with relatively little fanfare says more about who has a voice than what has an impact. It’s the second stage, when the bohemians themselves get replaced, that is causing the stir. The conflict in the Mission is frequently described in terms of Us-versus-Them, but the lines are hard to draw and many cross them.

Carol Lloyd, a writer who now works for the online magazine Salon and owns a flat in the Mission, writes that:

As a dyed-in-the-wool progressive, community-volunteering, social-working artist, I was once a member of the endangered species that these activists are so diligently trying to save from extinction. What happened? I got a job—in the scurrilously libertarian Internet sector—that allowed me to buy a home. That alone has transported me across the battle lines. The problem is that in San Francisco downward mobility had become a lifestyle choice every bit as self-indulgent as upward mobility. I know because I was one of the voluntarily low-income: lionizing the working class, despising my “white-skinned” privilege, camouflaging the capriciousness of my aesthetic tastes, nursing a love-hate relationship with the middle-class identity my parents imbued in me. There is a real pleasure and even, I think, a virtue in that kind of voluntary poverty, but it really doesn’t have much in common with the poverty in my neighborhood.(9)

Lloyd has a point, for often the differences between artists and those they view as gentrifying them out of their homes and communities is less dramatic than the difference between those artists and the neighborhood’s earlier residents. The bohemians and the gentrifiers are two empowered groups, one of whom chose to get MFAs, while the others got MBAs—or nowadays, software skills. Artists often identify with the poor, but the rich identify with artists.

But Lloyd overlooks an important point: The realm she left behind is genuinely imperiled—even if some of its downwardly mobile denizens have safe ways out—and its loss will be a loss to the culture as a whole. From this urban culture come activists, tenant organizers, teachers, muralists, environmentalists, human rights advocates and others directly advocating for diversity and democracy. From the East Village in the 1980s to the Mission now, many of the recent arrivals tend to identify with and wish to support rather than usurp the longtime denizens of their neighborhood. They—we—may be the shock troops for gentrification, but I believe our activities benefit the culture as a whole in ways that, say, day-trading does not. Rather than tell the story in Lloyd’s defensive way—as being about whiny middle-class kids—one could tell it as being about what happens when the price of admission to certain places is too high for those most engaged with questions of justice, meaning, and culture, as well as for the most economically vulnerable. Understood as a morality tale about the deterioration of choice and complexity in urban life, gentrification involves much more than the victimization of the lower middle class by the upper middle class (or the disappearance of the middle class as everyone in it rises or falls).

Bruce Conner’s black-and-white film The White Rose documents the 1964 removal of Jay DeFeo’s monumental one-ton painting The Rose from her longterm home by a group of unusually priestly-looking moving men. The seven-minute movie is about many things—the artist’s passionate commitment to this work, the mandala-like spiritual icon the painting had become, the melancholy end of the intricate relationship between artist, home, and art. But the bottom line is rent, and DeFeo and her magnum opus were forced to move. In the mid-1950s, DeFeo and many other artists and poets had moved into the spacious flats at 2322 Fillmore Street in what was then the edge of the Western Addition and is now called Lower Pacific Heights. In 1964 DeFeo’s rent was raised from $65 to $300 a month and she was forced to move. My first book was about Conner, DeFeo, and other San Francisco visual artists closely tied to the Beat poets; writing in the already-lousy-for-tenants late-1980s, I came to appreciate how strongly a copious supply of cheap housing contributed to the Beat era’s sense of freedom.(10) The artist-poet David Antin, who harks from this era, once gave a lecture arguing that rent had destroyed the avant-garde, specifying the changes from the 1950s, when a Manhattan artist could work a few days a month and paint the rest of the time, to the late 1980s, when such an artist would have to work two jobs to afford space there.(11) This explains why squatting was part of punk culture but not that of earlier insurgencies—and why an accurate history of the countercultural flourishings of the 1950s and 1960s would have to be in part a history of urban real estate. As Bay Area geographer Richard Walker puts it:

Prosperity worked its magic more effectively as long as rents remained low enough to allow artists, refugees, and those outside the mainstream to survive, if not prosper, in the inner city. The long slump in central-city investment due to depression, war, and suburbanization had left property markets relatively untouched for two decades. The confluence of economic growth without property speculation through the 1950s was ideal for nurturing the countercultures that mushroomed in San Francisco. Conversely, the heating up of real estate in the seventies and eighties drove out many of the marginals; as old commercial space disappeared; the affluent crowded into gentrifying neighborhoods. . . .(12)

I once asked the poet Michael McClure why North Beach has always been associated with the Beats, when the majority of them lived elsewhere—particularly in the Western Addition, on the edges of the city’s main African-American district in the postwar era. (Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 first reading of “Howl” took place in a cooperative gallery further up Fillmore Street, and McClure read that night too.) “North Beach was like a reservation in which there was a free space for bohemians and oddballs of all stripes to meet in-between the Italian and the Chinese districts, in what was still a remarkably inexpensive part of town with lots of [residential] hotels,” McClure told me. “A lot of those very constructive people got out of there in ’56 or ’57, when the beatnik thing started—because the tour buses [started coming too]—and the obvious place to go was the Western Addition.”(13) McClure and his family, along with the painters Sonia Gechtoff, James Kelly, Craig Kauffman, and James Weeks, and later Joan Brown and Bill Brown, lived at 2322 Fillmore as neighbors and friends of DeFeo and her painter husband, Wally Hedrick. “We were enjoying the black stores, the black ambience, the black music,” recalls McClure. “We had our faces toward them but our butts towards Pacific Heights.” Many artists had already arrived in the neighborhood—the poet Robert Duncan, the painter Jess, and Kenneth Rexroth, who long hosted a salon at 250 Scott Street (not far from where artist Wallace Berman and his family would live along with the poet Jon Wieners in 1960, as described in Wieners’s book 707 Scott Street, and Bruce Conner lived around the corner on Oak Street). The city’s African-American population had jumped from 5,000 to 43,000 during the 1940s, and the Fillmore district had become a thriving community with political force and cultural activity. During the Beats’ tenure on the fringe of the Fillmore, the city began the massive urban renewal project bitingly nicknamed “Negro removal.” More than a thousand Victorians were destroyed (Conner and his fellow artist George Herms scavenged in the ruins for fragments to incorporate into their assemblages and collages), before, in 1968, Fillmore activists won the first court-ordered stay against urban renewal. Under seige, the African Americans of the Western Addition moved south, to the far more isolated Bayview and Hunter’s Points neighborhoods or east to Oakland and Richmond across the bay. Many of the vacant lots created in the heart of the Fillmore grew nothing but weeds until the late 1980s, and its edges have been whittled away by gentrification—by the counterculture in what became known as the Haight-Ashbury, by gay men in what is now Hayes Valley, by the upscale themselves in DeFeo’s old haunts. There were not enough artists, nor was there enough interest in artists, to make them a force for gentrification then (though they did become a tourist attraction).

But another cultural force of the era did much to increase the bohemian population across the country. As Richard Candida Smith writes in his history of California artists, Utopia and Dissent, “Between 1945 and 1957 two and a quarter million veterans attended college-level schools under the GI Bill (65,000 were women). By 1947 the total college enrollment in the United States had jumped 75 percent over the prewar record. . . . Educators were suprised by the educational choices veterans made. The assumption that their primary goal would be to learn practical skills was overturned when veterans who attended college-level institutions preferred liberal arts education over professional training.”(14) Postwar prosperity made possible a broad middle class as well as a broad culture of people engaged in unremunerative explorations. The few bohemians who flourished in San Francisco in the ’50s became a huge force in the city in the 1960s. And in the 1970s two other groups became a strong presence on the scene: the gay and progressive communities. The reactionary Dan White’s 1978 assassination of fellow supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone was part of the conservatives’ revolt against these groups, but this murder didn’t stop gays and lesbians from becoming major forces. Now, as a recent essay in the San Francisco Chronicle noted, those who won the battle of the 1970s—progressives and bohemians—are losing the battle of the 1990s.(15) Culture as a widespread activity, as a lifestyle—to use that very ’70s phrase—seems to be in decline. Kids graduating from high school nowadays often can’t afford to leave home even if they work full-time, and the brutal realities of the new economy focus them more on survival. Although the official version is that the economy is great and inflation at an all-time low, rising housing costs constitute a localized inflation of virtually Brazilian proportions, a situation that is making many citizens feel more economically strapped than ever, and more nervous. A generation ago there were no twenty-something cybermillionaires; but there were also few homeless people. Although the Internet is incessantly praised for connecting people, the Internet economy is clearly disconnecting people as it creates nouveaux riches and the newly evicted.

And in the future there may be very few artists, at least artists whose origins are middle class, not because the urge stirred up during the postwar era has died down, but because the circumstances that make it possible to make art—or at least to live modestly with access to the center—are drying up. (Writers and artists who teach are, economically speaking, educators, not artists, and I have left them out of this narrative.) On my most cheerful days, I imagine an outmigration of artists to the small towns they can afford, a sort of unofficial artist-in-residence program throughout the nation’s outback, one that will give rise to a populist art identified with the overlooked populations of rural places, reservations, resource-industry jobs—something akin to 1930s regionalism (without WPA funding, of course). On my least cheerful days, I imagine a nation in which those who have something to say have nowhere effective to say it. I went to Seattle to protest the meeting of the World Trade Organization, and where my bohemian friends can now afford to live is much farther from downtown than it used to be, when they lived in now-gentrified-by-computer-capital Capital Hill. Political participation, along with access to the main museum, library, and bookstores, had become a little less convenient; it could get inconceivably more so, and the Internet isn’t going to make up for that.

It may be that the rise of an influential culture of bohemia in the United States was possible only during a special period like the era of postwar affluence; it may be that the GI Bill and cheap rents and the fat of the land helped to create a large cultural community that is today being downsized, like the white-collar workforce of corporate America. It may be that artmaking will become like blue-collar American jobs—it’ll be relocated to places where it can be done more economically: to Marathon, Texas; Virginia City and Tuscarora, Nevada; Jerome and Bisbee, Arizona, just to name a few remote places to which artists have been migrating. Artists in small towns could become the equivalents of maquiladora workers, making goods for an economy in which they cannot afford to participate (writers who depend on large libraries are in a tighter bind altogether).(16) It may be that cities have raised, so to speak, their admission fees—by obliging those who wish to stay in a city like San Francisco, for example, to join the economy, or an equally flush sector. But paying that fee—as Carol Lloyd almost admits—might mean abandoning the values and goals that brought one to the city in the first place and that perhaps made the city livelier, more tolerant and generous-spirited, than the suburbs and small towns one came from. Cities can probably keep their traditional appearance as they change fundamentally at heart, becoming as predictable, homogeneous, and politically static as the suburbs and gated communities. Those who can afford both to make art and to reside in the center will come with their advantages in place, and much good work might be produced; but work critiquing and subverting the status quo might become rarer just when we need it most. Art won’t die, but that longstanding urban relationship between the poor, the subversive, and the creative called bohemia will. For a long time it seemed that the death of cities would result from the decline of public space; but it may be that the disappearance of affordable private space in which public life is incubated will deliver the fatal blow. At least, it looks that way in San Francisco.

1. “Spectre of Eviction in the Mission,” San Francisco Examiner, November 29, 1999.

2. The eviction of American Indian Contemporary Arts was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle and, on December 15, by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which reported that the monthly rent will increase from $3,500 (AICA’s rent) to $10,000 (what the new tenant, Financial Interactive, will pay).

3. The issues I discuss here are remarkably similar to those of Manhattan a decade earlier, as documented in If You Lived Here: The City in Art, Theory and Social Activism, a project by Martha Rosler, edited by Brian Wallis (New York: Dia Foundation for the Arts, 1991). This book describes the links between the very vulnerable communities of the poor displaced by gentrification and the somewhat vulnerable communities of the creative; and some of its speakers explore the same ambiguities I am trying to explore here. The artist Yvonne Rainer, for example, says that “On the one hand, we are the avant-garde of gentrification, or on the other hand, we are scavengers” (169).

4. “Neighborhood Profile: The Mission/Lofts and Lattes,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, special “economic cleansing of San Francisco” issue, October 7, 1998.

5. This figure was provided by the San Francisco Tenants Union.

6. San Francisco’s rent control laws limit the grounds for evicting tenants; an owner moving in is one of the few grounds for doing so, although often the owner doesn’t actually reside there for the legally required period before renting to a new tenant at a much higher rent. See “Fighting to Call a Place Home,” Katherine Seligman, San Francisco Examiner, October 25, 1999. Seligman writes: “Owner move-in eviction notices have more than tripled in the past three years, going from 420 in 1995 to 1,301 last year, according to city records. But an Examiner analysis of 1998 figures shows the numbers are rising even faster this year, the result of a buying craze prompted in part by pending legal restrictions. There were 983 owner move-in eviction notices during the first six months of 1998. At that rate, the Examiner found, The City may see more than 1,900 by year’s end—an average of five tenants evicted every day.”

7. Brian Godfrey, Neighborhoods in Transition: The Making of San Francisco’s Ethnic and Nonconformist Communities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 177-178.

8. “Go West, Young Man: Land Rush on the Urban Frontier,” curated by Alex Van Praagh, exhibited in Cell Space’s Crucible Steel Gallery, October 14-November 2, 1999; the discussion took place on October 21, 1999. Among the exhibiting artists was Eric Drooker, who, before relocating to the Haight district of San Francisco, was active in fighting the gentrification of the Lower East Side, in part with brilliantly incendiary posters.

9. Carol Lloyd, “I’m the enemy! At a meeting of San Franciscans trying to stop gentrification, I realize that I’m the Internet yuppie scum that’s ruining my neighborhood!,” Salon, October 29, 1999. Her essay recalls Baudelaire’s “Eyes of the Poor,” in which he and a female companion sitting in a café near the window are confronted by the gaze of a poor man and his children who look out of place on the new, grand Haussmann-built boulevard. While Baudelaire feels some kinship with them, his companion, like so many modern shoppers put out by the homeless, wants the manager to remove the unsightly spectacle.

10. Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1990) features a still from Conner’s movie of DeFeo’s eviction on its cover and portrays this 1950s milieu at length. DeFeo and Conner are two of its six central artists.

11. David Antin, speaking at the Summer Criticism Conference, San Francisco Art Institute, August 1988.

12. Richard Walker, “An Appetite for the City,” in James Brook, Chris Carlsen, and Nancy Peters, eds., Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998), 9.

13. Conversation with Michael McClure, December 1999.

14. Richard Candida Smith, Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry and Politics in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 80

15. “’70s Lifestyle vs. Dot-Com Silicon Valley is Zapping S.F.’s Cultural Revolution: The mayoral race between Willie Brown and Tom Ammiano is a symbol of the battle between two lifestyles in the new San Francisco,” Mike Weiss, San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 1999.

16. Although the happily uninformed tell me otherwise, the Internet—that bastion of term papers and advertising brochures—will not replace libraries in the foreseeable future. Some reports and publications may go online as they are generated, but no one is about to put, for example, the complete letters of Dorothy and William Wordsworth, or newspaper archives from the 1950s, online. Libraries and the recent anti-WTO demonstrations make it clear there is no substitute for being in the center, even if the Internet connects centers. And in the Bay Area, the Internet economic explosion is destroying the center by dispersing the populations that made it the center in the first place and by supporting decentralized lifestyles—i.e., driving rather than walking, cell phones rather than phone booths or conversation with strangers, lofts rather than light industry, online shopping rather than flânerie.

Rebecca Solnit is a writer living in San Francisco, thanks to rent control; her books include Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era and, most recently,Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

by By Neela Banerjee
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 9:09 PM

A banner telling it like it was for the I-Hotel tenants thirty years ago. Photo by Russell Lowe

Near the northeast corner of San Francisco’s Chinatown, at the junction of Jackson and Kearny Streets, an unruly chain-link fence surrounds a sunken, vacant lot. Brick foundations barely peek through the patches of yellowed grass, giving the hint that there was something here before. Cars come in and out of the $6-an-hour parking lot next door. To the left, the Trans-America building shoots high into the sky. Tourists pass by on their way to North Beach, pointing out the piles of trash that litter the lot. An elderly Asian man walks by, relying heavily on his cane, not even turning his head to look at the space that once was the thriving heart of one of the defining movements in Asian American history.

Thirty years ago the struggle to save the affordable housing unit known as the International Hotel, lovingly called the I-Hotel, galvanized a group of young Asian American revolutionaries into what would become a symbolic fight against capitalism and the plight of urban removal.

Longtime I-Hotel activists Belvin Louie, Desu Sorro, Bill Sorro and Alfred Robles meet to discuss plans for the August 4 celebration, which commemorates 24 years since eviction. Photo by Yvonne Lai.
By the end of this year, these dedicated housing activists — and the new blood they have inspired along the way — will see construction started on the new International Hotel Senior Housing building, right where the original hotel stood. Along with 104 units of affordable housing, the site will also house a Manilatown museum, commemorating the cultural heritage of the area and marking one of the greatest victories the people’s movement has ever seen.

On one of the hottest days of the year so far, a handful of I-Hotel activists and organizers met in the garden of the Mendelson House retirement home in South of Market to discuss the delayed community groundbreaking event, which was to be held June 6. The groundbreaking has been pushed back indefinitely, as details among the developers and construction companies are streamlined.

Back Then...

Twenty-four years ago, this building was torn down after a 9-year fight against eviction of the 100 Filipino and Chinese seniors who made this their home.


Since then, the lot has remained empty. Vigilant housing activists watching over the space have made sure affordable housing returns.

...Before Long

This sketch shows the 14-story International Hotel Senior Housing building, with a Manilatown community center at street level and St. Mary’s Elementary School.

“We’ve been fighting for it this long, I guess we can keep going,” longtime housing activist Bill Sorro says.

Sorro is joined by other original members of the I-Hotel organizing team: Belvin Louie, Mitchell Bonner and the legendary poet Alfred Robles. These men still speak with passion in their voices about this work. Old hands at dealing with the system, they discuss the minor setbacks with a wiseness that could only come from experience.

New generations are also here — like Roy Recio, a 32-year-old Filipino American teacher and one of the younger members of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, an organization that sprung out of the fight to save the I-Hotel. A newcomer, J.P. Jacinto, a third-year student at San Francisco State, shows up to represent a statewide Filipino American fraternity known as Chi Rho Omicron (XPO). Even this informal meeting represents the cross-generational and cross-ethnic power of the I-Hotel struggle.

“A lot of us came out to the hotel because we were really pissed that somebody would treat our people like that,” Sorro says. “I went because I was mad at the way they were treating the old-timers, trying to throw them out in the streets. I’m still mad.”

Louie chimes in: “What people may not know is that the whole history of California had a lot to do with those old-timers. If you trace their histories, they were involved in a lot of important struggles. For instance, the Farm Worker’s struggle started with the Filipino Union which merged into the United Farm Workers.”

The Manongs
One of the most amazing facets of this struggle is that it has immortalized the elderly Filipino men, known as Manongs, who were the main tenants of the I-Hotel. These men live on through the documentation of their lives in Curtis Choy’s documentary The Fall of the I-Hotel and in the memories of those who worked with them.

The Manongs represented a typical Asian male immigration experience of the late 1800s to early 1900s. Hearing about the wealth of work and riches in America, often from Christian missionaries, Filipino men immigrated to the United States looking for work. Many arrived in the 1920s and were caught up in the throes of the Great Depression.

Also at the time, legislation prohibited Filipinos from owning land or having businesses. This forced them to toil in fields and factories, working menial and labor-intensive jobs. They lived in rooming houses, which became community hubs, as well. From the early 1900s, much of Kearny Street became a center for these Filipino workers and was dubbed “Manilatown.”

The hotels gave a sense of home to these men, who were barred from buying property and hindered from starting families by immigration laws. Migrant farmworkers stayed there off-season, merchant sailors stayed there when on shore-leave, and the shared heritage added to a sense of security that was hard to come by at the time.

From Gentrification to Activism
The International Hotel was built in the late 1800s for wealthy travelers. Rent was $50 a month. The hotel was rebuilt in 1907 after the original building was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. In the 1920s, the I-Hotel became a home base for hundreds of Filipino men who worked on seasonal schedules. Rent stayed at $50 until just before tenants were evicted in 1977.

By the 1960s, the decline of Manilatown was imminent as the Financial District started expanding. High-rises, such as the Trans-America building, and the need for parking lots and other commercial endeavors forced people out and caused the demolition of low-rent hotels. The 10-block Manilatown that was full of hotels, restaurants and pool halls was squeezed down to one last block. In 1968, the Milton Meyer Company bought the I-Hotel and the building fell under the management of Walter Shorenstein. Within seven months of acquiring the building, Shorenstein delivered eviction notices to the tenants, with plans to build a multilevel parking garage. The tenants began to organize around this issue with the United Filipino Association (UFA).

Sorro, who grew up in the Fillmore District, was a professional dancer at the time with a community-based performing group. He was about to go to Cuba to study dance and revolution, when one day in 1969 he saw the I-Hotel tenants in a picket line on the news. It changed his life.

“Seeing these men really incensed me. I went to Cuba for a few months, and while I was there I knew I was going to come back and move into the Hotel. I knew I had to somehow help and that is all I could think of,” Sorro says. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a dancer any more.”

Sorro moved into the hotel and lived there until 1975. Other activists such as Emil DeGuzman, a San Francisco Human Rights Commissioner today and the president of the I-Hotel Tenants Association, became involved around 1969, as well. DeGuzman was a student at U.C. Berkeley and came into his political consciousness at the tail end of the Free Speech movement and the Third World Strike.

“There is no way you could go to school there and not be radicalized by all that,” DeGuzman says. “I was involved with the Third World Strike, and that sense of fighting racism and fighting for a relevant education was something that really did a lot to train me on how to organize and how to do the work necessary to fight a struggle.”

Fighting Fire with Fire
In March of 1969, the UFA and Shorenstein reached a new lease agreement, allowing the tenants to stay. No official papers were signed, however. Suspiciously, one day later, a fire destroyed the north wing of the hotel, killing three tenants. Arson was suspected but the investigation was deemed insufficient in court. The new lease agreement was canceled, the tenants faced eviction again within three months, and the building was condemned. Eventually, with pressure from the city, Shorenstein agreed to a lease, with the conditions that the tenants would be responsible for all repairs and had one year to bring the building up to code. This time, community support really mushroomed, especially among Asian Americans.

Louie, also a student at Berkeley at the time, says there was a huge effort to bring students out from all major Bay Area colleges and universities to help with the renovations.

“There was a core of people who would come everyday,” Louie remembers. “We would hitchhike across the Bay and then get home late at night. On weekends, we would spend all day working there.”

By the summer of 1970, the community had reached their goal and the building was up to code. The I-Hotel thrived and community organizations, such as the Chinese Progressive Association and Kearny Street Workshop, moved into the commercial spaces underneath the hotel.

The hotel was run by the likes of Sorro, DeGuzman and Robles, who lived among and with the Manong and Chinese seniors. Back then, the hotel was more than the abstract symbol it has come to represent. For Sorro, DeGuzman and Robles, the struggle was about their elders — the Manong — who taught them about life through their stories and more often, their actions.

“When you got to know the different people living in the hotel, you realized that they all have these incredible histories,” Louie says. “You have to get to know them, live with them to realize that this is not just some old man living in this tiny room. He has gone through a whole life of struggle to survive. That’s why the eviction was so wrong.”

Sorro still speaks about the Manong with love and respect in his voice. These men were his teachers. They are the ones who inspired in him the passion that still drives his work today.

He remembers Tong Yee, a Chinese man, who was quiet and isolated for years only to come out on the frontlines of the struggle against eviction. And Joe Rigadio, who Sorro remembers for his dedicated work ethic and kindness, “whether he was handing out clean laundry on Fridays or lending his neighbor some rice to get him through until his check came.”

Sorro continues: “As young revolutionaries, we didn’t believe in the process from the get-go because we knew how much the system sucked. But for the tenants who came from another place, another generation, another time — they still had some confidence in the system, that the system was going to do right for them as American citizens. So many of them felt like guests. My old man felt like a guest in this country.

“But once the tenants began to eliminate that process because they got screwed by the system, they, in turn, became the most outspoken and the most vigilant about their own condition, and there was no turning them around.”

DeGuzman says that the hotel really lived up to its name, explaining that even though it was predominantly Filipino and Chinese, there were people from all over the world who lived there. DeGuzman and others helped run the business of the hotel, which usually housed 75 to 100 tenants. The activists working on the I-Hotel created an amazing community space, complete with progressive service and arts organizations on the ground floor.

“We took a slum and turned it around and made it a viable place for the community,” DeGuzman says. “It was incredible. Teachers would bring their classes to us like a field trip to the museum and they would sit and eat with the tenants and talk to them.”

After a few years of relative peacefulness, in 1973 Shorenstein sold the building out from underneath the tenants to a foreign corporation called the Four Seas Investment Corporation. Four Seas was owned by a Thai liquor tycoon named Supasit Mahaguna. By the end of the next year the tenants faced another eviction notice. In 1976, after mass demonstrations and efforts to introduce and pass tenant relocation legislation, the eviction case went to court. The jury was deadlocked for three days, but in the end, Judge Ira Brown ruled in favor of Four Seas.

“No one can dispute that this was completely unjust,” DeGuzman says. “That the city would enforce this law for the purposes of an absentee landlord who doesn’t even live in this country over affordable housing for the elderly — that is just how insane this whole thing is.”

At first, Sheriff Richard Hongisto delayed the eviction, claiming to have insufficient manpower. Throughout the remainder of 1976, tenants and activists tried to convince the city to buy the hotel. Hundreds marched on City Hall to pressure the Board of Supervisors, who finally agreed to allocate $1.3 million to buy the I-Hotel. A judge later ruled that the city could not buy the hotel and sell it back to the tenants.

“Through all these battles and all the way the courts rule, you can really see that when you challenge private property, you are really challenging the foundations of capitalism,” Sorro says.

In January of 1977, organizing to save the hotel jumped up to a frantic pace as Hongisto was threatened with jail time unless he carried out the conviction. Some 5,000 people formed a huge human barrier around the block. The police backed down.

Judge Brown called for a stay of the eviction because of the threat of violence.

In Choy’s The Fall of the I-Hotel, footage of these huge protests and human barriers shows the intensity of the struggle. What is most striking about these scenes is the sheer diversity of people locked arm-in-arm. Sorro says they had widespread support: the African American community, Latino community, restaurant workers, garment workers, unions. They all came to march.

Police forces line up against the protesters in 1977. Photo by Russell Lowe.
The documentary shows in detail the night of August 4. SWAT teams arrived in force and slowly and methodically broke down the human barrier by beating through it with billy-clubs and using sledgehammers to break open doors and drag the elderly out. None of the activists thought it would ever come to that point.

“It was disgraceful to us that it happened, that the sheriff felt he had to do this,” DeGuzman says. “It was totally barbaric.”

Ripped from Their Family
After the eviction, the tenants were separated, scattered and displaced. Some of them had been living in the I-Hotel for over 40 years. DeGuzman and Sorro both say they tried to keep the Tenants’ Association going, but without the structure of the building, the community could not sustain itself. The building was demolished by the end of 1977.

“They had to tear down the building really fast because it was too strong of a political message,” Louie says.

By tearing down the last remnants of Manilatown, the site of the heroic and historical struggle, history seemed to be erased.

But activists who drove the struggle and who came to call the I-Hotel their home would not allow it to be covered up with some high-rise. Then-Mayor Diane Feinstein created a citizen’s advisory committee, which had the authority to review any developments that were to be built on that space. For 17 years, the committee, informally called the Kearny Street Housing Corporation, guarded the space vigilantly against all commercial developments that did not include affordable housing. The Four Seas corporation tried to team up with many developers over the years, to no avail.

“That they couldn’t do a doggone thing with that hole in the ground is an indication of how strong the political movement was,” Louie says. “In that sense, that they couldn’t refill it with a high-rise is the ultimate victory.”

A New Community Center
Around 1994, St. Mary’s Catholic Center contacted the Kearny Street Housing Corporation with an idea. St. Mary’s had been looking for a site to relocate their elementary school since they had been displaced because their building was not up to seismic code. Because of their history in Chinatown, they wanted to stay there — they wanted a partnership.

In the past years community groups and the Kearny Street Housing Foundation have made proposals to buy the land from Four Seas. All were rejected. But when approached by the Church, the Four Seas finally agreed to part with the land. Meanwhile, Kearny Street had secured a $7.5 million loan from HUD and an equal amount from the Mayor’s office to build an affordable housing unit on the site.

Plans for the site include a K-6 grade school with a small chapel and a gymnasium. Adjacent to the school will be the 14-story affordable housing development known as International Hotel Senior Housing, containing 104 units. Underneath the building will be a four-level parking garage and on street level will be the Manilatown Community Center.

The idea for the center came straight from the community. The Kearny Street Housing Corporation held focus groups in the Filipino American community to find out what kind of amenities people wanted, and what they kept hearing over and over was ‘What about Manilatown? What about the Filipino community that thrived there?’

“What people said in so many words was that they wanted there to be something more than just a plaque on the side of this building that says ‘This used to be Manilatown,’” Sorro says.

The center will be a site that memorialializes and commemorates the struggle for the I-Hotel. It will educate about Manilatown and be a venue for Asian American performing and visual arts, according to Sorro.

He adds: “We want it to really promote contemporary and traditional Filipino arts, everything from Qbert to the weavers of the Philippines.”

Envisioning the Future
Back at the meeting, the organizers make plans for the August 4 commemoration of the 24th year since eviction. The Manilatown Heritage Foundation wants to throw a huge event that would attract thousands of people.

“The I-Hotel was a real Asian American fight-back,” Sorro says. “We want to bring the whole community in for the celebration.”

They discuss how the celebration should include the changing demographics of the Asian American community, such as the Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander groups who were not involved in the I-Hotel struggle, but engender the fight for justice today.

“This struggle was always about inclusiveness,” Sorro says.

Jacinto of XPO announced that his fraternity is willing to offer any help they can for the celebration, from security to set-up. Jacinto’s fraternity, XPO, focuses on Filipino American culture and history. Pledges to XPO must learn about Filipino American history, and watching Choy’s documentary is required.

“It is very important to us,” Jacinto says. “We are here to support the movement because it is a way to be part of our history, our heritage.”

Roy Recio, another young activist, grew up in Watsonville. He is dedicated to the struggle because of his father and grandfather, who were Manongs, like the men who fought and lived in the I-Hotel. He speaks of activism in the same way as Sorro and DeGuzman, as a struggle that is necessary to fight for the justice of the people.

“I learn a lot from these guys, more than I would from my own age group, just sitting around and drinking beer and listening to their stories,” Recio says.

Sorro believes that it is just as important to pass on the struggle and the empowerment that comes from struggle to people like Jacinto and Recio, as it is to fight.

“When we were struggling 30 years ago, we got a sense that we were just a continuation of those who came before us and the kind of struggle that they waged both directly and indirectly to make life better for us,” Sorro says. “We really cherished and respect the mantle that has been passed on. I learned from them how to pass it on, to make youth understand that their vision counts, that it is essential.”

A History of Struggle
When asked what it was like to see 5,000 people congregate for the cause, DeGuzman shakes his head and softly says, “It was amazing.”

DeGuzman also emphasizes how important the I-Hotel was for Asian Americans.

“It was the time for those of us who were Asian American, there was an identity for us to feel proud and a sense of identification of these men,” DeGuzman says. “The whole period with the Vietnam War, where Asian people are being killed, the farmworker movement, the civil rights movement. It did a lot for us as young people to get a sense of who we were, that we are part of this community, part of this history. And to many of us these elderly men were our history that we never got in books.”

The I-Hotel was a catalyst for resistance in the Asian American community. From the International District in Seattle to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, Asian communities up and down the coast saw the struggle and used to it inspire their own fight against urban removal.

“We knew there was solidarity and we drew strength from being part of a global movement for self-determination,” Sorro says. “We were revolutionaries that identified with movements in other countries, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was wonderful. It was beautiful for us to say, ‘We ain’t fuckin’ minorities. We are the majority on this planet.’”

Even with the major victory that will happen with the construction of new affordable housing on the I-Hotel site, Sorro and DeGuzman continue to fight for affordable housing. They both say that the problems of poverty, homelessness and gentrification have only gotten worse.

“It can never be better. If you look at any major city, the inner city by the laws of capitalism is the most expensive,” DeGuzman explains. “If you look at South of Market, that land has totally been transformed. Places like that have a clock. It can all be transformed eventually because whatever exists on it today does not reflect what it is worth.”

DeGuzman sees the new I-Hotel as a victory, but one that pales in comparison with all the work that is still to be done.

“Where is affordable housing for people who are the most disenfranchised? The ones who can’t go out there and work, like the elderly, families with children, single mothers, people with HIV? You can’t see a victory in the overwhelming picture of the lack of affordable housing in this city for people,” DeGuzman says. “As much as this city has money for police and fixing streets, they don’t really factor in the kind of money needed to provide for the homeless and people in communities that are targets.”

Sorro also takes this victory in stride. What is most important to understand, he says, is that housing is a basic human right of the people.

“People ask, ‘Do you feel vindicated now that they are filling that hole up?’ No, we don’t. We don’t feel vindicated because justice don’t work like that. Justice isn’t something simple, so that if you fill the hole up with this much justice then you’re equal,” Sorro says. “The lives of the people who died as a result of the eviction and the trauma of being displaced, these elderly people — is it now OK because we are going to fill it up with 104 units? Is it OK that a community was destroyed and there is no remnant of a Filipino community that thrived there? It is not OK.”

by david
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 9:23 PM
Let's all kick willie's legacy corrupt azz the hades out of san francisco...soon please send more comments and historical accounts to indymedia tonight asanté sama david
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 9:25 PM
Justin Herman died in the early Seventies, had two daughters. Are they still in SF area? Are they alive?
Did he really run black people out of the Western Addition? How could it come to that? What were the reasons?

Was the displacement of blacks a template for other cities to follow suit?

Justin Herman Plaza is the monument to his achievements, can anyone list those? Any literature or Website that I may not have found?

Thanx for all info,


-- Larry Burt (burt222 [at], January 29, 2002

I was hoping someone else would answer and give a more accurate answer then I will give because I can only give you a general answer to this question since I can't stand politics and don't like to follow such trash and the people who are involved in such trash. However, I can and will give you the names of Justin Herman's daughters since I once met them at a party many years ago. Their names are Jane and Jennifer. And I don't know if they are still living but they should be if they are capable of living to 65 or 70 years of age which is about their age right now. Of course, a lot of the idiots who smoked back then never got past their 50s but I don't know if they were smokers or not. Now I'll try to explain this as best I can and you see if it makes any sense. Justin Herman was hired as executive director of the redevelopment agency in San Francisco in about 1960. Before he got there, the redevelopment agency was completely useless and hardly accomplished anything. Then John F. Kennedy was elected president and things started changing all over the country in every way. The Federal goverment under Kennedy and later Johnson had some kind of Urban Renewal program going in which they would fund cities to improve them.-- Now Justin Herman came to San Francisco straight out of Washington D.C. He had been a graduate of Harvard and it was said that Kennedy and Herman got along well. The Harvard boys were sticking together. And so Justin Herman managed to get a great deal of money from the Federal Government to help redevelop the city. And what redevelopment and renewal meant was that old run down areas of the city would be destroyed to make way for newer better buildings and highrises for the purpose of making it a better place to live. It was also supposed to set up housing for the poor as well. Many of the older run down buildings that the poor lived in were first taken over by the city and the city then paid those people what was supposed to be a fair price for their properties. It is actually against the law for the Government to scalp them for a cheaper price. The government is supposed to pay them a fair market value. Many renters were also forced out because the new buildings that they were replaced with had higher rent costs though a certain percentage of the new buildings and rentals were supposed to be set aside for low income families. That is not to mention that President Kennedy signed laws into effect that prohibited any kind of discrimination in housing that was funded by the Federal government. So that is why I don't really know the complete details of how black people were run out of the Western Addition. In fact, maybe it's my imagination but there sure seems to be a lot of blacks living in that neighborhood today.-- I don't have a list of Justin Herman's achievements but if you include the number of areas in the city that went through his Urban Renewal program then there were plenty of achievements if you consider those achievements. And like I say Justin Herman obtained the money from the government to back it up. Later on, the Nixon administration cut the funding but what else could you expect from a Republican. So I would like to see a lot more facts about the insinuation that Justin Herman ran the blacks out of the Western Addition because like I say there are numerous laws on the books that don't allow that kind of discrimination nor was it in any way the purpose of the Urban Renewal program to do that.

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy [at]*), February 05, 2002.


Let me help you out, as an African American granddaughter of two couples ran out of the Fillmore. For one, when you decided not to "sell" your house to the city they declared it interment domain and took it for a dollar. Yes a dollar, no matter what you paid for it or how much it was worth, as you could imagine many African Americans had no where to go, because at that time the unwritten rule was for African Americans to stay in the Fillmore. There was not much travel to other neighborhoods remember were talking before as well as during the civil rights movement. Back to the point the Fillmore had the highest concentration of African Americans at that time and of course was the first neighborhood slated for "Urban Renewal" reminds me so much of Hunters Point and "gentrification" today. UMMM is history repeating itself? As for the African Americans you see in the Fillmore today that comparison is like saying, "We have damaged the Ozone layer but its still working?" These points had to made to broaden the discussion it's an ethnic thing but it’s more of a class issue although not as many, but other ethnic groups were affect. The Fillmore then was Hunters Point today a thriving community of low- income people of color that were drastically altered by as you put it so eloquently big business and the good old boys connections!

-- Sherice (sherice76 [at], November 20, 2003.
This is just another example of "business as usual" as orchestrated by many of the cronies associated with development issues in san francisco, such as sf redevelopment agency, sf planning department, the port of san francisco, lennar corporation, catellus corporation, UCSF,pg&e, sf puc, sf department of public works, mirant corporation, the willie brown downtown machine,the PAC, and hundreds of extraficantly well paid consultants associated with the hundreds of billions of anticipated and active development projects that are marching south down third street into the last frontier of development here in the southern and central waterfront districts of supervisorial district 10 oh yes, where is and what is district 10 sophie maxwell during these times of change?? please inform david
by da community
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 10:45 PM
One of the most apathetic statements made by a mayor was the one made by the outgoing mayor.
"Me and my people are ordained by God" Not only is it 30 pieces of silver, for selling out a community and attempting to deliver it into the hands of the ungodly and making this a place called hell for the poor and defenseless. Beware you the people who share the pieces of silver for selling out your brothers and sisters, you will have to answer to a higher power than Willie Brown. You can be sure he will have to answer to that power.
by Truly Ordained
Saturday Dec 13th, 2003 10:50 PM
It wasn’t until he discovered they were going to crucify Jesus that he was really convicted, and filled with remorse for what he had done. Caiaphas had lied to him. Caiaphas had said all they wanted to do was talk with Jesus and Judas didn’t see any harm in that. For 30 pieces of silver they had betrayed Judas who had betrayed Jesus. Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver on the temple floor and, in shame and despair, went out into the field and hung himself. Satan had driven him to that.

It was a mere 30 pieces of silver, a small price for the number one catch of the century. Caiaphas and his partners in conspiracy would have paid a lot more but Judas thought small, and he accepted their pitiful offer as the customary rate for the head of a trouble maker. What I can’t understand is this - King David had paid 60 pieces of silver for a pair of oxen and the threshing flood of Jebus. He had paid only 600 pieces of silver for the whole city of Jerusalem.

Neither Caiaphas nor Judas realized the man they bargained for was worth more than their beautiful city, or the whole country for that matter. Judas had been present when Jesus finally revealed who He really was. Peter had declared by the revelation of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Son of God and Jesus had confirmed it. Hadn’t he heard?

Surely the Son of God was worth more than a pair of Oxen and a threshing floor. Surely a betrayal of the Messiah was worth more than 30 pieces of silver. It was an insulting paltry sum that Judas considered acceptable. To his greedy little mind, his deed was well worth 30 pieces of silver and no harm would be done. All they wanted to do was talk with Jesus.

That’s the way Satan works. If he can blind you to the truth, he can use you against it and when you have done his bidding, he will destroy you.

Also in NATIONALDelay, deny, deceive

The limits of tolerance
Backlash over sex party for S.F.'s elite nearly kills bond issue
By Brad Stetson
San Francisco voters on June 3 narrowly approved a municipal ballot measure calling for a $100 million bond issue to help finance a new stadium/mall complex for the San Francisco 49ers football team. Such events are fairly common, but the slim margin of passage-less than one percent-suggests both a brewing backlash against San Francisco's elite culture and that culture's ability to survive criticism.

The bond measure was heavily supported by the 49ers, the city's Democratic leadership, and various local liberal interest groups. Altogether, this coalition massively outspent the measure's opponents, $2 million to $100,000. But the entire drive for what was known as "Proposition D" nearly self-destructed a month before the election when the campaign's manager, prominent liberal political consultant and San Francisco power broker Jack Davis, held an X-rated party attended by Mayor Willie Brown, various elected city supervisors, and many other civic leaders supportive of the proposition.

The party, which featured acts of profound sexual perversion, was a 50th birthday celebration for Mr. Davis, and was organized by some of his friends. There were both male and female strippers dancing at the party, as well as live and simulated sex acts openly performed on a stage throughout the night.

The bacchanalia concluded with a "dominatrix" beating a man in front of the crowd, urinating on him in full view of the audience, and carving a satanic symbol-a pentagram-into the man's bare back with a knife. Finally, the man was publicly sodomized with a whiskey bottle. According to reports, some in attendance walked out in disgust, but many did not.

One of those who left in shock was Barbara Kaufman, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who was seen leaving during the mutilation of the man, moaning, "Gross ... gross." Some other city leaders remained, watching uncomfortably. San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey was among them. He said, "It was like walking into a Mapplethorpe exhibit. It was so disgusting, I thought it was funded by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)."

The man in whose back the pentagram was carved is Steven Johnson Leyba, an "ordained" priest in the San Francisco-based Church of Satan. He also leads a performance group called The United Satanic Apache Front, which Mr. Leyba-who is one-quarter Apache-says has performed this same obscene act at the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of New Mexico. The ritual, which Leyba calls the "Apache Whiskey Rite," is intended, he says, to be a "literal metaphor for how alcohol was forced on my [Apache] people."

P. J. Johnson, a spokesman for mayor Willie Brown, expressed more sympathy for the bond issue than for those offended by the violent sexual perversion, saying at the time, "Hopefully ... everyone [will] move past the whole party thing, which has nothing to do with whether the city ought to invest in a project."

Although Mayor Brown (whose 1995 mayoral campaign Mr. Davis managed) was present at the party, he left for another commitment before the bloodletting of Mr. Leyba. But in response to the ensuing uproar, the mayor refused to criticize Mr. Davis, saying, "I don't know who he owes an apology to."

In the wake of the city fathers' night of debauchery, local newspapers and talk shows were abuzz with the angry voices of citizens deriding arrogant city insiders who flout what outside of San Francisco are considered common norms of behavior and who, in the words of one columnist, "think that they can get away with anything."

Local restaurant owner Ed Moose expressed the frustration of some city residents, saying, "We've come a long way in showing San Francisco as a sane, exciting place to live and raise a family. Now, once again, the country and really the whole world will say this place appears to be so far out of the mainstream. The people of this city deserve better, and that's why I'm so angry."

For Mr. Davis's part, when the furor over his party erupted, he offered to resign his management of the ballot initiative, and he issued an apology to the 49ers and to "all of those in attendance that night who took offense" at the perversity. "There were some activities on stage that many people found shocking," Mr. Davis allowed. But he had no regrets, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "Most people said it was the best party they'd ever been to. And it wasn't anything compared to the after-party at my house."

As the June 3rd election neared and the substantial fallout from the party settled, some of those who had spoken freely to reporters about the party became coy. Sheriff Hennessey had only a rigid "no further comment" to questions about the party's impact on citizens' opinions of their leaders; Supervisor Kaufman turned down press interviews; and Mr. Johnson of the mayor's office insisted on the day before the election that the Davis affair was a "non-issue," saying flatly, "The voters don't care about that."

A San Francisco Examiner poll conducted shortly before the election found that nearly one-quarter of city voters said the Jack Davis party would affect their vote on the bond measure. And yet, the proposal passed. The outcome suggests that even in the most secularized, liberal city in the nation, citizens' patience has its limits, but the end has not yet been reached.

The fastest change is in households headed by single mothers. That's up 25 percent since 1990. Of course, single moms raising kids by themselves is usually a ticket to poverty. And are you ready? Seventy percent of African-American babies are now born out of wedlock compared to 26 percent of white babies.

Now, you may want to know why the poverty cycle continues. That's why. And there's little society can do about it. About the only thing that would discourage single motherhood is peer pressure. If women felt stigmatized for having babies they can't support, that might discourage some of them.

In this day and age, birth control is cheap and available. There is no need to conceive a child without the means and the support system to raise that child responsibly. Yet millions of poor, single American women continue to get pregnant and millions of American men continue to abandon their own children. There's simply no excuse for that kind of irresponsible behavior.

It is troubling that the highest profile black leader in the country, Jesse Jackson, an ordained minister, recently sired a daughter with his mistress. The two are now fighting over money. What kind of message does Jackson send with that piece of business and why haven't responsible African-American leaders chastised Jackson? We'll find out in just a few moments.

And then there is Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco, another high profile black leader. He also has a baby daughter with his mistress. Talking Points believes the national media is too cowardly to confront the real issues surrounding poverty. They are substance abuse, illegitimate pregnancies and poor education. Points also believes that it is not the responsibility of working Americans to support irresponsible behavior.

For decades, the federal and state governments have been taxing us in order to send welfare and health entitlements to people who make mistake after mistake, even though those mistakes are obvious. If you are going to intoxicate yourself on a daily basis, you will not be able to earn a living legally. If you have babies, you must earn enough money to support those babies and if you don't learn the basics in school, you are doomed to a low paying job.

It is time for the black leadership in the USA to step up and strongly criticize self-destructive behavior. Jackson and Brown can afford to raise out of wedlock children, but many others can't and it is flat our wrong to ask the rest of us to carry that load.

Finally, Jesse Jackson and Willie Brown have lost their credibility as social leaders. These men have provided terrible examples to many people in desperate need of good role models. They are not entertainers or sports figures or private citizens, they are public servants who have made careers by saying they want to help people. Well, baloney. Disadvantage youth need all the help they can get and the actions of Jackson and Brown are not helping them. If you want to talk the talk, gentlemen, then walk the walk. You guys have failed dismally.

And that's the memo.

by Lance Williams and Chuck Finnie, Chronicle St
Sunday Dec 14th, 2003 10:19 AM
He was the most powerful Democrat in California -- forceful, charismatic, adept at the art of the political deal.
And on the gray winter morning when former Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown became mayor of his adopted hometown, he vowed to apply all his political skill to restoring "the dream of San Francisco."

But among the 3,000 supporters who packed Yerba Buena Gardens for his January 1996 inauguration were some whose dreams were far more personal.

They were lawyers, lobbyists, campaign donors and political players -- Brown's "juice clientele," as one state legislator described them at the time - - the mayor's cronies, as they came to be known.

These insiders would form the core of Willie Brown Inc., a Sacramento-style political machine in which influence with the mayor has been the trump card in quests for hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, land deals, favorable regulatory rulings and jobs.

It's a dynamic that has sparked a public corruption investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office, triggered a voter backlash during the recent Board of Supervisors elections, and prompted a new call for charter changes to limit the mayor's authority.

As Brown heads toward the final two years of his administration, the ethical controversies that have shaped his mayoralty -- undercutting city government procedures meant to ensure that the public's business is conducted on the merits -- now loom over his legacy.

A two-month Chronicle inquiry, based on dozens of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of city and court documents, revealed for the first time the scope of the changes at City Hall under Brown.

-- A patronage army: Under Brown, the city has created some 350 mayoral "special assistant" jobs with an annual payroll topping $45 million.

Critics say the binge has undercut the city's merit system of hiring and promotions and created a cadre of employees who owe their jobs to Brown and can be called upon to support the mayor and his allies during elections.

-- Insider deals: Corporations and people with close ties to the mayor have received hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts, development deals, subsidies and grants, records show.

In deal after deal, bidders who are associates of the mayor -- or who have retained Brown's associates as lobbyists or consultants -- have won out over others with less political clout, sometimes after intervention by the mayor or his aides.

During the FBI's corruption investigation, court records show, agents made inquiries regarding contracts worth more than $1 billion and 63 different companies, people and other entities, many with connections to Brown.

-- Soft money: After the mayor's allies went to federal court and overturned strict city limits on campaign contributions, corporations seeking city permits or favorable regulatory decisions helped pump $4.8 million in unregulated soft money donations into political action committees backing the mayor or his favored candidates, studies by San Francisco Common Cause show.

That's more than 200 times the amount of soft money raised and spent during Brown's successful 1995 campaign to oust former Mayor Frank Jordan.

Some of the developers, contractors and corporations whose soft money donations benefited Brown also gave more than $2.4 million to underwrite trade junkets and civic events in which the mayor had a starring role, the records show.

The soft money explosion in San Francisco politics comes at a time when widespread public outrage over the influence of unregulated campaign contributions has led the U.S. Senate to approve a ban on such donations.

Even Brown's critics concede that he has been an unusually effective mayor. Time and again, he has demonstrated his ability to set the city's agenda and force the bureaucracy to carry it out. But they say his methods and the juice clientele he has attracted have had a corrosive effect.

Among those present at Brown's first inauguration were such people as Jacqueline and Stephen Besser, friends from Los Angeles with an eye on city contracts; former aide William G. "Billy" Rutland and top political adviser Jack Davis, both poised to hire themselves out as City Hall lobbyists; Charlie Walker, an old pal and ex-convict interested in the city's minority contracting program; and Wendy Linka, an ex-girlfriend looking for a city job. Others would follow, also seeking personal benefit.

"It is well known this town has been for sale since Willie took office," said John deCastro, president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.

"Money gets things done."

Land use lawyer Sue Hestor, a former Brown supporter who broke with him over what she calls out-of-control neighborhood development, says:

"People despair about getting anything from the city on the fair up-and-up. If they don't have the juice with the mayor, they are going to be outflanked by someone who is a political wheeler-dealer friend of his."

Fred Ridel, coordinator of the San Francisco chapter of Common Cause, compares the city's government today to that of Chicago under the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. In the 1980s, while serving on Common Cause's state board in Illinois, Ridel witnessed the breakup of the Daley machine, infamous for its alleged patronage and boss rule.

"There are shades of a similar type of machine, boss-run government in San Francisco," Ridel says. "What you have here is this tremendous amount of money being made in the development community, and that is flowing back into the political process. . . . So much of what is going on in the city is really disturbing."

Mayor Brown declined to be interviewed for this series of articles. His press secretary, P.J. Johnston, said the newspaper's request to question the mayor about contract awards, money in politics and hiring at City Hall appeared geared to cast his legacy in a negative light and overlook important accomplishments.

"After careful consideration, the mayor has decided we would not make ourselves available for comment on the series," Johnston said.

In a letter to the newspaper, Frederick Furth, a lawyer for Brown, said Chronicle reporters "have failed to show one instance where the mayor acted improperly or unethically . . . (and) have interpreted material in the worst possible light, mixing fact and implication and innuendo -- and a healthy dose of guilt by association -- to concoct a scandalous brew."

Brown's backers insist that city deals are made on the merits, and his friends and associates get no special preferences.

"He knows a lot of people," said Darolyn Davis, who served as Brown's press secretary in Sacramento and now holds a $1.5 million public relations contract with the city. "It is kind of ridiculous to say if you have any acquaintance with the mayor and you have some business dealings with the city that it is somehow inappropriate."

The mayor's admirers portray him as a strong leader who has asserted control over a city that had become so bogged down by bureaucracy and turf wars that it was virtually ungovernable.

A long list of civic projects, some stalled for decades, made breakthrough progress: the mammoth Mission Bay development, including a new research campus for University of California at San Francisco; a new ballpark for the Giants; even the re-gilding of City Hall's dome. Brown deserves the credit, they say.

"In 1995, San Francisco was a great city in danger of losing its way," Brown said in his 1999 state of the city address. "Over the last four years, we have worked together and successfully to get San Francisco moving forward."

And patronage, both in city hiring and the award of lucrative business deals, certainly wasn't a Willie Brown invention.

In the ragtime era, the city was ruled by political boss Abraham Ruef, who eventually was imprisoned for bribery. In the decades that followed, mayors often became embroiled in ethical controversies: Joseph L. Alioto over his family's ownership of a shipping line doing business at the port; George Moscone in connection with an FBI probe of a campaign donation from tycoon Howard Hughes; and Dianne Feinstein, now a U.S. senator, regarding her financier husband, Richard Blum's business dealings.

But because of the systematic way Brown's associates have benefited from their dealings with City Hall, ethical questions about Brown's mayoralty have been broader and more politically damaging than with other recent mayors.

Charter reform helped set the stage for the Brown era.

In 1995, as Brown was elected mayor, voters enacted sweeping changes in the City Charter. Frustrated by years of bureaucratic gridlock at City Hall, they gave the mayor broad new powers in hopes of making city government more responsive and accountable.

Under the new charter, the mayor got prime authority over city departments, capital projects, budgets and hiring. On most matters, the mayor needs only a majority vote from the Board of Supervisors to have his way.

These changes seemed made to order for Brown. In Sacramento, the self- styled "Ayatollah of the Assembly" had skillfully steered legislation and held onto his speakership even when Democratic majorities were slim -- or evaporated altogether.

"Willie always needed votes in Sacramento, and the way he assured it was staff junkets, offices, cars, money for re-election," said an official who worked with Brown for decades. "He was the dispenser of perks and favors in exchange for loyalty, and he has transplanted that model to San Francisco."

Brown acknowledged as much in a 1996 New Yorker magazine profile, which caused a local stir.

As mayor, he boasted, he could guarantee a majority of the Board of Supervisors to vote as he wished. The supervisors, like the legislators he led in Sacramento, were best treated as "mistresses that you have to service," he said.

"Have you ever spent any time with these pantywaist politicians whose perception of the world is limited to their guaranteed vote?" the magazine quoted him. "You know how I stayed as speaker? Because I understood the smallness of them. I fed the smallness of them."

Since he took office in 1996, Brown has packed the city payroll with political loyalists and campaign workers, former legislative colleagues, old friends and even ex-girlfriends, city records show.

Some of the hires were promoted quickly to run key city departments at six- figure salaries.

Fred Hamdun, who helped run Brown's 1999 re-election campaign and his 1997 ballot measure for the 49ers stadium, has worked at three different city jobs between political assignments. He is now the $124,053-per-year head of the Department of Parking and Traffic.

Many of the mayor's associates were hired as "special assistants," exempt from the city's merit-based civil service rules.

Former Fresno lawmaker Brian Setencich, a Republican who wrecked his political career by siding with then-Speaker Brown during a 1995 Assembly power struggle, was hired as a special assistant in emergency communications. He continued to collect his $80,571-per-year salary while serving four months in a halfway house for income tax evasion.

Brown put Wendy Linka, a former girlfriend and political fund-raiser, on the city payroll as a special assistant -- first in the film office, then at Treasure Island.

In an account she denies, Linka was reportedly fired as Treasure Island events coordinator for allegedly double-booking parties at the base, but the mayor ordered her reinstated. She kept her $72,000-a-year job, but soon thereafter filed for workers' compensation and went on leave.

A recently negotiated settlement reportedly would pay Linka $60,000 and clear the way for her to fill an events planner post at the Port of San Francisco.

During the past five years, corporations seeking city contracts, development deals and favorable regulatory decisions turned to lobbyists with ties to Brown.

The rise of Billy Rutland from a Brown protege and legislative aide in Sacramento to one of the most highly paid lobbyists at City Hall illustrates the trend.

After Brown became mayor, Rutland set up shop as a lobbyist at City Hall. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. was his first client.

City records show he pitched the mayor directly on the company's proposal to take over the multimillion-dollar job of collecting fines on parking tickets, a job then performed by city employees. The city agreed, and in 1998 Lockheed was awarded a four-year, $24.6 million contract.

When a parking commissioner, Sharon Bretz, objected that the price was too high, the mayor fired her. She later complained that Brown had interceded to steer the contract to Rutland's client, but Brown denied it.

Rutland earned $430,000 from Lockheed and a related firm. In all, two dozen corporations angling for city deals have paid him some $2.7 million.

Among the heavy hitters: Luster Group ($405,000), a construction firm that has won jobs on the airport expansion and the new city courthouse; Pick Your Part ($256,000), which hired Rutland when a critical city audit put its contract towing illegally parked cars at risk; PeopleSoft ($197,000), which sold the Human Resources Department a $2 million software package; Sprint Spectrum ($182,000), which sought permits for new cell-phone antennas.

Other old friends of the mayor combined lobbying with contracts and fund raising.

Los Angeles lawyer Stephen Besser met then-Speaker Brown in the 1980s, when Besser worked as political aide to Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn. Besser's wife, Jacqueline, a clerical supervisor in Hahn's office, raised money for the speaker.

In 1994, after Besser took a job at the Hollywood law firm of Christensen White Miller Fink and Jacobs, he helped hire Brown as a part-time lawyer, people who worked there said. The speaker was paid more than $10,000 per year, records show.

When Brown became mayor, the Bessers moved to San Francisco, and Stephen Besser became a lobbyist. When calling on city officials, he would drop Brown's name. Jacqueline Besser raised political cash via a group called Women for Willie.

She also set up a management firm, Daja Inc. By forming joint ventures with her husband's lobbying clients, Jacqueline Besser's company won a share of more than $100 million in city contracts to oversee city parking garages, operate a van service for the disabled and manage ground transportation at the airport.

Daja won two city contracts even though other firms submitted lower bids, and another contract even though an evaluation panel graded its proposal lower than a competitor's, records show.

The Bessers declined to be interviewed for this story.

Brown's friends also got a break with city programs set up to help minority businesses, as the story of San Francisco trucker Charlie Walker shows.

Walker, who calls himself the "mayor of Hunters Point," is Brown's former law client and his longtime friend and political backer. In 1984, Walker went to prison for bilking a program set up to steer city contracts to minority- owned businesses.

Since Brown became mayor, Walker obtained a share of more than $800,000 worth of city trucking subcontracts at the airport, most of them via the same minority contracting program he had been convicted of abusing.

Walker also pushed for a $1 million economic development package from the Mayor's Office of Community Development to buy a shopping center in Hunters Point. The beneficiary was to be the Third Street Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit corporation Walker also used to solicit donations for parties honoring the mayor.

The shopping center deal fell through, but records show Brown helped the nonprofit win a $100,000 federal grant to convert a bank building in Hunters Point into a community center. The U.S. government later demanded its money back, saying Walker had sold the bank to the Nation of Islam, which used it as a mosque.

Walker declined to discuss the transactions, contending he was being singled out for scrutiny because of his race.

"Anything that looks like it might benefit black people, you all start a big investigation about it," he said.

The mayor and his allies also pioneered new strategies for tapping heavy- hitting donors.

Two years ago, Brown's supporters blasted a legal loophole in a tough local campaign spending law that had barred contributors from giving more than $500 to a candidate per election.

In a lawsuit filed during Brown's re-election campaign, San Franciscans for Sensible Government, a political action committee set up by downtown business interests, claimed the cap violated its free-speech rights.

A federal judge agreed. After the ruling, San Franciscans for Sensible Government and other political action committees backing Brown received $4.8 million in unregulated soft money donations, much of it from developers, city contractors and downtown corporations, records show. Millions of those donations were spent on Brown's re-election and to support his slate of candidates to the Board of Supervisors.

Many corporations whose bottom lines are directly affected by City Hall's decisions also gave heavily to nonprofit organizations controlled by the mayor and used to defray costs of civic events such as hosting conferences and entertaining visiting dignitaries.

Public records show Brown ramped up fund raising for those nonprofits, obtaining more than $2.4 million from firms with a financial stake in City Hall decisions. The money was spent on events that showcased the mayor, including the 1997 U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, a series of mayoral policy summits, and foreign trade junkets.

Among the contributors:

AT&T, which holds city monopolies on cable television and cable Internet services, was tapped for more than $300,000. The company gave $170,000 to the U.S. mayors conference and $100,000 to the 1999 Mayor's Summit for Women, as well as $33,000 in soft money contributions.

Bank of America, which faced intense city scrutiny -- and the threat of losing city deposits -- over its merger with NationsBank of North Carolina, gave $267,000: $225,000 to the nonprofits and $42,000 in soft money.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which was lobbying to head off moves to municipalize utility service, pumped in $132,000: $105,000 to the nonprofits and $27,000 in soft money.

Eventually, juice politics at Brown's City Hall attracted the attention of an old adversary: the FBI.

Almost from the day he was elected Assembly speaker in 1980, Brown was the focus of an overlapping series of federal investigations into suspected corruption, according to court records, published accounts and interviews.

Some were quickly dropped. One FBI probe featured a sting operation targeting state lawmakers and lobbyists and went on for three years, eventually resulting in a dozen indictments.

But when the investigative smoke cleared, Brown was never charged with wrongdoing.

In 1999, FBI agents and a U.S. grand jury initiated what became a wide- ranging probe of alleged corruption at City Hall.

At first, the FBI investigated the awarding of a contract to build a $116 million "people mover" transit system at the airport. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, the low bidder, lost out to a competitor called Adtranz after Adtranz gave a $10 million subcontract to business consultant James Jefferson, a fund-raiser and friend of the mayor.

That probe in part focused on allegations that Human Rights Commission official Zula Jones, a friend of Jefferson's, had helped steer the contract to Adtranz, records show. Adtranz, Jones and Jefferson said they did nothing wrong, and no criminal charges have been filed.

Then, agents zeroed in on the Human Rights Commission and its administration of the minority contracting program. In July 1999, FBI agents descended on the commission's office and shut it down for the weekend while seizing a truckload of documents subpoenaed by the grand jury.

After that, court records show, the FBI began examining a long list of city contracts, permits and development deals, many involving alleged abuse of the minority contracting program. The focus often included the mayor's juice clientele.

The agents took a long look at trucker Charlie Walker and his Third Street Economic Development Corp.

Later, the FBI sought information on Ron Tutor, head of the Tutor-Saliba Corp. construction company, lead contractor on the $2.8 billion airport expansion. Tutor was a Brown political donor, and in 1997 the mayor had touted him for the job of building a new stadium for the 49ers.

Tutor was never charged with wrongdoing, and he said there was no reason for the FBI to be inquiring about him.

The FBI probe "seems to have a life of its own," Tutor said last year. "It would be humorous if it wasn't so sad."

The probe later turned to other city deals, including the garage contract the Human Rights Commission appeared to have steered to Daja Inc., even though another company submitted a lower bid, court records show. Documents show the FBI subpoenaed records of city contracts involving the Bessers, Brown's friends from Los Angeles. The Bessers have declined comment.

Three weeks after Brown's second inaugural, the focus seemed to turn on the mayor. Agents served a grand jury subpoena for records of meetings between Brown and Jefferson, Walker, the Bessers and others involved in city contracting.

So far, the grand jury has handed up indictments in only two cases. In April, four executives of a construction firm that had won some $64 million in city contracts were indicted for allegedly defrauding the city's minority contracting program.

According to the indictment, the scheme involved Al Norman, a Hunters Point plumber and mayoral campaign donor who served on the board of the Third Street Economic Development Corp. that Walker created.

Norman was accused of scheming with three white executives from Scott Co. of San Leandro to set up a phony front called Scott-Norman Mechanical Inc. so they could win contracts earmarked for minority businesses.

Norman, who is African American, was supposedly chief executive officer. But a lawsuit filed after Norman and the white executives began quarreling over money showed that Scott-Norman was financed and controlled by the white- owned company. With Norman and the white executives, the grand jury indicted Zula Jones, the Human Rights Commission official who was involved in the airport people-mover contract probe that began the broader FBI investigation. They pleaded not guilty. Brown's lawyer Furth said this has nothing to do with the mayor. "The federal probe of Zula Jones has been conducted by the proper authorities, and that investigation has never extended to the mayor," he said.

In a related investigation, the grand jury also indicted a top city Housing Authority executive and 25 others in a bribery scheme involving the sale of federal rent subsidies intended for the poor.

Patricia Williams, a career city employee, was convicted in a trial featuring testimony by her former aide, Yolanda Jones, daughter of Charlie Walker and self-described goddaughter of Brown.

Jones, who had pleaded guilty, testified she did no work for her $52,000 city salary, but spent the day collecting bribe money. In March, Williams was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Jones received an 18-month prison term, and another conspirator who was not a city worker got one year. Other defendants who paid bribes to get housing were put on probation.

U.S. District Judge Charles Legge said the case painted a disturbing picture of corruption in city government.

"I thought it was only in Third World countries that people were forced to pay bribes to get services they're entitled to from their government," he said.

"But we find it right here in San Francisco."

But no one else has been accused of wrongdoing, and nothing else has come of the dozens of matters that the FBI probed. The FBI won't comment, but people who have cooperated with them say agents still are investigating.

One witness, who has been repeatedly debriefed by the FBI for more than a year, queried an agent recently about the probe.

"I asked, 'How serious is this?' " the witness said. "This guy, like the last guy, said, 'Eventually, we'll take this to the mat.' "

But some Brown friends scoff. For them, the FBI probe and the unusually public way it was sometimes conducted, smacked all along of political interference.

As Walker told a reporter last year: "If the FBI wanted to do something to me bad enough, rather than just make Willie Brown look bad, they would have stopped me on the street and taken me in."

The probe and the ethical concerns underlying it proved an embarrassment to Brown. In last fall's election, incumbent supervisors were unseated after challengers portrayed them as tools of the mayor and his political machine.

Several supervisors have introduced or are preparing charter reforms for the November 2001 ballot. Those reforms would reduce the sweeping authority that the mayor now enjoys and shift some key responsibilities to the Board of Supervisors.

"This city's charter still invests an incredible amount of power in the mayor," said recently elected Supervisor Aaron Peskin. "Because of his phenomenal political ability and his willingness to push the envelope, Willie Brown has wielded that power in ways that probably weren't foreseen back in 1995."

But Peskin added, "The charter can be changed."

In 1999, the FBI began a wide-ranging probe of suspected corruption in San Francisco city government. A U.S. grand jury has inquired about more than $1 billion in city contracts and dozens of people with ties to Mayor Brown. Here, from court records, are some of the subjects of the probe.
AIRPORT PEOPLE MOVER. In 1999, the grand jury heard accusations that city contracting official Zula Jones helped steer a $116 million contract for an airport "people mover" system to Adtranz, a firm that had given a subcontract to businessman James Jefferson, a Brown backer. No charges have been filed.

SFO EXPANSION. In 1999, FBI agents sealed off the Human Rights Commission offices in a quest for records of more than 20 other companies, individuals and entities involved in city contracting, including Tutor-Saliba Corp., lead firm on SFO's $2.8 billion expansion. No charges have been filed.

KRYSTAL TRUCKING. The grand jury heard testimony in 1999 about how Krystal Trucking became eligible for city contracts set aside for firms owned by minorities and women. Krystal contributed to the mayor's campaign. The mayor met with officials about Krystal. No charges were filed.

SCOTT-NORMAN MECHANICAL INC. Plumber Al Norman, contracting official Zula Jones and three executives of the white-owned Scott Co. are awaiting trial on charges of bilking the city's minority contracting program. Norman is on the board of a nonprofit that hosted galas honoring the mayor. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

HOUSING AUTHORITY. In March, city housing executive Patricia Williams was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery. Yolanda Jones, her aide and the self-described goddaughter of the mayor, cooperated with the government and was sentenced to one year.

MAYOR BROWN. In January, 2000, weeks after Mayor Willie Brown began his second term, the grand jury subpoenaed records of the mayor's meetings with more than four dozen companies, individuals and other entities involved in city contracting, development and grant awards.
by Gibbs
Sunday Dec 14th, 2003 10:24 AM
Did Willie Brown and Jesse Jackson plan their announcements? That is hard to say, but what we do know is that both announced last week that they had begotten offspring by women who were not their wives--and both have wives.

Willie Brown, for all practical purposes, is the confirmed bachelor, although he has been "married" for over 20 years, so it is reported, but not with his wife. Apparently, this Willie, like the other Willie who just left office, has an arrangement with his wife.

But does Jackson (Reverend Jackson) have such an arrangement? That is, of course, a matter between Mr. and Mrs. Jackson. But, last week, Jesse announce that he has fathered a 20- month old baby by, of course, a younger woman.

What is it with these older men and this late fatherhood thing? Is this a last dash to the finish line of their youth? Well, whatever the situation is, both, thank God, are financially able to support these late-in-the-father's life babies. Both are millionaires.

We don't normally think of Jesse Jackson as a millionaire, but he is. He has made successful real estate and stock investments, he was paid about $5 million royalty of his first book after running for presidency, and of course , he has been paid additional sums for other books, and is paid for speaking.

You thought the good Rev. Jackson travelled all over America speaking on all the issues he speaks on with being paid? Jackson may get $10,000-50,000 for each speaking engagement, and an uncertain amount for his expenses. So Jesse is a millionaire.

Willie Brown is a millionaire too. He too, has made favorable investments. Willie gets paid for speaking and he's an attorney. And Willie has ways of making money that most of us are unaware of. This is not to imply any illegality--Willie is just smart and connected.

So Jesse and Willie, have all the babies you will in your latter days, you will pay for them in all the ways that your situations mandate. And, of course, since both the preacher and the politician are very political, they have enemies and those enemies will certainly extract their revenge and occupy this moment in time or travail against them. Welcome to the Bush administration, Jesse and Willie, and everybody else.[]

by motivated people
Sunday Dec 14th, 2003 12:47 PM
Seemingly the election is over, but wait a 5% difference in the vote for Newsome after out spending his opponent by ten times. What this shows, that he Newsome had better make friends across the isle with the more progressive wing of the San Francisco community. If not the first major mistake he makes and those numbers will dole against him and it could lead to a recall of the highly paid for special interest, Republican supported candidate in this Democratic city, or was that Green Party supported city or was that Progressive supported city. Well unless special interest have a lot of bottomless pockets we have a motivated electorate who will vote in a recall if they see a less than fair administration taking charge. So to Newsome pick from all areas or be prepared to go the way of Gray Davis wasn’t he recalled for not paying attention to the electorate?
District 10 Supervisor has made some bad decisions, and her community has felt neglected, so much so that a recall petition has been circulating with her name on it. Well she may be able to starve off a recall if she gets active in representing the people of her community. Special Interest can’t keep throwing bad money after bad it will eventually destroy the Democratic Party in San Francisco. It will be Green and Progressive people’s city. People want to be heard and represented, and they don’t want special interest running their lives, so Gavin and Sophie read the tea leaves, or in between the lines, see if you understand what the electorate said. In this city the Republican’s wont be able to save you if you don’t listen to the results of the election and you may save yourself from an embarrassing recall. I am sure Clinton and Gore have better things to do than run to San Francisco for another campaign.
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


donate now

$ 143.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network