A call to arms


OPINION No one can deny that the San Francisco of the new dot-com boom is a scary place to live. Rents are astronomical: $2,353 is the median rent for a one-bedroom in the Bayview, an area that has never had high rents. Ellis Act evictions are up 68 percent from last year, and buyouts and threats of Ellis (de facto evictions) are skyrocketing. Longterm rent-controlled tenants live in absolute dread that their buildings will be sold to a real-estate speculator who will decide, a month later, to "go out of the business of being a landlord."

Neighborhoods are being transformed, and not for the better. The once immigrant Latino and working-class lesbian area of Valencia Street is now mostly white, straight and solidly upscale. The Castro has more baby strollers per square foot than a suburban mall, not to mention a high rate of evictions of people with AIDS. Along Third Street and in SOMA and other areas, people of color are being pushed out, and the working-class is being replaced by middle-income condo owners. The African American population of the city is down to 6 percent.

Small businesses, too, are being decimated, as landlords demand higher and higher rents and chain stores try and creep into every block. If the demographics of the city continue to change and become more moderate, many longstanding political gains could be lost.

Resistance is not futile.

During the Great Depression, the Communist Party in the Bronx and elsewhere successfully mobilized the working class to block doorways when the marshals arrived to evict tenants. In the 1970s here in San Francisco, the "redevelopment" of the Fillmore and the I-Hotel was met with widespread protests. Then-sheriff Richard Hongisto went to jail rather than evict the working-class Filipino tenants at the I-Hotel. In the late 1990s, organizing to fight the evictions and displacement happening in the wake of the first dot-com boom culminated in a progressive takeover of the Board of Supervisors.

These days, there's no mass movement to fight the evictions and displacement. Occupy Bernal, ACCE and others have successfully stopped the auctions of foreclosed homes, and even twisted the arms of banks to renegotiate some mortgages. Tenant organizations have been holding back efforts to weaken rent control for years.

Where is the building-by-building organizing of renters? Where is the street outreach in every neighborhood? Where are the blocked doorways of those being forced out of their apartments by pure greed? Where are the direct actions against the speculators and investors who are turning our neighborhoods into a monopoly game? Where is the pressure on the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation to curb speculation and gentrification rather than approve tax breaks for dot-com companies? Where is the pressure on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and other state laws that prohibit our city from strengthening rent control and eviction protections?

Every moment we wait, more people are displaced from their homes, more neighborhoods become upscale, more small businesses are lost. Progressives wake up.

It's time to take back what's left of our city.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime queer housing activist who works at the Housing Rights Committee. He is editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights).



$2,353 is not the median rent, as most people have locked in a rent at a lower price (new rents may be this amount).
Ellis evictions are 68% from the previous year, 68% rise on 120 is not a great number (if it was 68% rise on 1000 that may be significant)
Strollers in the Castro were very prominant in the 60's (much more so than now), but the working class families were pushed out, in the 70's, thanks for that.
San Francisco changed in the 70's and you were young and did not understand why older folks were scared of those changes.
Now San Francisco is changing but you are old and are scared of the changes. Trust me it will all be ok.

Posted by Chris Pratt on May. 01, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

It is NIMBYism plan and simple. Yes I was young, thought I would be working blue collar and owning my own home. Something happened along the way, has nothing to do with Tech.

More like NIMBY and the fight to preserve view, stop new housing and yet keep nothing from changing.

Posted by Garrett on May. 01, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

I know it's hard to accept, but SF is not the great progressive city of yesteryear. The people moving here weren't the outcasts, misfits, slackers, etc that many of us were. They come from affluence and ambition, went to the best universities, and work for some of the most innovative and powerful companies on the planet.

Pretending otherwise will just make you angry and bitter. Best of Luck.

Posted by D.S. on May. 01, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

D.S.: Fine, you've given up. But some people would rather die on their feet than live on their knees. Please don't criticize the folks who are still trying to save something special and still fighting for their brothers and sisters facing evictions, just because you've have already resigned yourself to a soulless San Francisco.

Posted by Andy on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:33 am

be. We have dynamic new business, lots of creative well-paid jobs, fabulous new restaurants, decent links to the airport, a better choice of homes including high-rises and it feels like crime is down.

Formerly dumpy and dangerous area's like Hayes Valley and Inner Mission now have great bars and restaurants.

I'll take it over a poverty-striken, crime-infested city for losers and loafers.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:45 am

Sounds like growing up - not giving up.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

Who or what funds the "Housing Rights Committee"? Hopefully not the City -- and thus my tax dollars. It seems to be engaged in political activities.

I found this article to be obnoxious. "It's time to take back what's left of our city." The city doesn't belong only to you and those who agree with you.

Posted by The Commish on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:07 am

Gentrification is a symptom of political corruption where politicians place the interests of their contributors above the interests of their constituents by granting discretionary development entitlements where the upside accrue to politicians and their contributors and the downsides are borne by existing residents.

Muni failing is a symptom of the same corruption where the transit system is used to generate cash to shovel into the pockets of campaign contributors.

Rec and Park privatization is a symptom of the same corruption where our open spaces are being enclosed for the private gain of campaign contributors.

The SFUSD and SFCC are two cases where education is being used as a source of contracts and sweetheart deals for campaign contributors with no concern about the quality of education these institutions produce.

My read is that the efficiency focused techies are as opposed to municipal corruption due to the inefficiencies they bring more so that they are opposed to the creative destruction of housing turnover.

A liberal approach is to direct attention to symptoms such as gentrification.

A radical or progressive approach is to direct attention to the root causes of gentrification--the corruption of local government, nonprofits and labor in the service of neoliberal imperative at the expense of residents.

A failed approach involves activist-centered appeals: "Gentrification is important to me and if it is not important to you, you're a heartless asshole."

A successful approach involves other-centered appeals, such as bringing together a large coalition of folks with diverse grievances on how municipal corruption sucks resources while returning less and less over time

Trying the same failed approach over and again is inexcusable after the data are in to prove its ineffectiveness.

Posted by marcos on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:52 am

All you ever do is attack people, and you could care less about anything or anyone other than your own narrow interests. You're a sorry excuse for a progressive.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

I think it's funny when people complain about how the city isn't the same as it was in the 70s when all you need to do is move to Oakland and see pretty much what the city was like in the 70s...but no one wants to do that because deep down no one actually likes what the city was like in the 70s. Everyone wants the benefits of the city now with rent from 40 years ago.

Posted by Molly Glow on May. 02, 2013 @ 9:33 am

They know they can get cheap rent there, a ridiculously liberal government ("hug a thug programs in a crime-ridden city?) and yet to them it's a different world. It's SF or nothing.

Why? No good reason except a lack of imagination and flexibility.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:07 am

slap of Costa-Hawkins and Ellis - both State laws so there is NOTHING you can do about it.


Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:08 am

They've all been displaced already.

But SF has always been changing and always will. You cannot freeze it time and you cannot get the genie back into the lamp.

Most of us accept change as inevitable.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:21 am

Hear hear, tommi.

Posted by Andy on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:27 am

Give us your tired, your poor...your artists.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:47 am

It really means that an eviction is more an inconvenience than a tragedy.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:00 am

...who can then sell their artwork to San Francisco's art buyers, thus expanding the large, interwoven Bay Area economy.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

Speculators have been able to hold small business and citizen's to ransom with Prop 13. The use of shelf companies to 'hold' a real estate investment, and selling that company rather than the property itself has locked in 1970's era property valuations upon which the property tax is based. This has robbed you of the money to pay for schools.

More important is the low level of property tax. Income earners in the area would probably be paying $8 - 15,000 plus p.a in tax. The speculator is paying a fraction of that (probably $1 - 2000) whilst sitting on a lazy asset that increases in value without any effort of his own. Why bother working when you can buy and sell real estate for a greater return with less effort and MUCH less tax paid?

This story was hugely popular back when California was known as the land of opportunity. My pitch - watch www.realestate4ransom.com

Once we can call the neo-cons on their deception, we can move beyond flat earth economics by sculpting the tax system to rebalance the natural opportunities land owners have over workers and small business.

Posted by Karl Fitzgerald on May. 02, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

Democrats have controlled Sf and CA for almost 3 decades. Even when the governors have been, "R," the have been moderate and held in check by overwhelming majority of assembly and senate members being Democrats. Blaming "neocons" is absurd.

Posted by Guest on May. 05, 2013 @ 12:45 am

income and sales taxes at the State level - the highest in the nation.

And, despite Prop13, property tax receipts in CA have grown by an average of 7% a year since 1978 - hardly a low rate.

Liberals like to blame Prop 13 but the real issue is the out-of-control spending, particular on public-sector benefits. I want to see those slashed before I will vote for any new revenues.

Posted by Guest on May. 05, 2013 @ 2:13 am

after spending a couple of days in jail for refusing to lead it. When they finally evicted the people in the I Hotel he was the first person leading the team, sledgehammer in hand.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 02, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

for housing advocates and progressives and -- owing to the fact that the site remained a barren hole in the ground for twenty years -- the entire neighborhood; which was blighted by the scar and deprived of the vitality the hotel residents had provided.

That's why scumbags like Lucretia celebrate it to this day.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 02, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

other than it took place a long time ago yet still seems to be a cause célèbre amongst San Francisco progressives. Maybe it's time to stop looking back in the past and start looking towards the future?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 02, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

Yeah. Sure.

I think you disemble. Again.

You hope with such glib foolishness to suggest such information is simply to arcane to be any benefit.

Here's another "boring" thing which you might want to take a shit on:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

-George Santayana

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

I don't spend a lot of time staring back - I look forward. Something you should consider doing.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

Your catalog here has been diabolical throughout, and the pretense of being a
"young person looking forward" fits in perfectly.

It wouldn't surprise me to find out you are 90 years old.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

I'd still be younger than you.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

650 miles away it was the first thing on the six pm news and on the front page of the paper.

Posted by Matlock on May. 05, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

The I hotel was full of child molesters. When I was kid we all knew to stay away from that place. With that kind of karma its no wonder nothing got built.

It took 20 years for the evil aura to subside.

Posted by pete moss on May. 05, 2013 @ 6:31 am


Pete, I wouldn't even try to certify that none of the hotel's residents were child molesters. These sad miscreants are everywhere to some extent and more so in impoverished areas where society tends to force them.

I do know that many residents of the hotel were like the man in the above linked-to story: American service veterans who fought against the Japanese fascism in WWII. They signed the "blank check" to the U.S. government payable for up-to and including their lives, but had the promise which enticed them to do it -- full citizenship -- reneged on by a racist U.S. government.

Fuck you for suggesting that these were all child molesters. I suspect you are a child molester.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 05, 2013 @ 7:01 am

You are right Lil, I shouldn't tar all the residents of that building with the same brush. Only one or two of them were playground lurkers.

However, it turns my stomach to this day that one old creep in particular got written up in the Chron as if he were a hero.

If they'd asked any 10 year old in Norh Beach about the guy they wouldn't have been able to print the response.

Posted by pete moss on May. 06, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

I know how pain from such abuse can linger for a lifetime. Many of us do.

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 06, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

"The Castro has more baby strollers per square foot than a suburban mall"

The Horror. The Horror.

Fight To Keep Breeders Out Of San Francisco, Citizens!

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 05, 2013 @ 7:01 am

"Where is the pressure on state legislators to repeal the Ellis Act and other state laws that prohibit our city from strengthening rent control and eviction protections?"

LOL. Somebody needs to explain to Tommi that San Francisco is two percent of the population of the State of California. The parochial concerns of SF "progressives" don't carry a lot of weight in Fresno.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on May. 05, 2013 @ 7:04 am

This guy is trying to scare us/renters with bad data and wrong information! The neighborhoods - Mission, Castro, Bayview, Tenderloin have gotten BETTER because of ending rent control, by allowing more Condo conversions,

Posted by Guest End Rent Control, Make neighborshoods better, Cleaner on May. 09, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

Its time to take back our city from losers who think they deserve a subsidized apartment in SF and you poor landlords are going to subsidize them (If they are so much in need let them go to the SFHA, that's what PUBLIC housing is for). Don't let the Housings Rights Committee make you their bitch landlords, ELLIS ACT NOW !

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2013 @ 8:59 am

I have lived on Valencia St. since 1981. I am thrilled with how improved it has become. Now if we can get rid of shrill creeps like Tommi whatever, it will be even better....

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2013 @ 9:03 am

when it was essentially a crack alley in a gangbanger ghetto.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 07, 2013 @ 10:38 am