The April 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

US Government Created Housing Shortages

Hate Crimes in S.F. and Boston

Urban Removal in S.F. Bayview

Stop Bulldozers of Gentrification

The Death of Two Eloquent Homeless Voices

Grandmother Is Left Homeless by Car Wreck

Building Strong Unions on U.S./ Mexico Border

Transit Justice Is Derailed

Poor People Use the Internet to Organize

Just Wage for All

Ruling Class Runs Economy into the Ground

Art & Altruism: The Paintings of Elizabeth King

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Writers

April Poetry of the Streets


March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005




Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Bayview Residents Are Threatened by 'Urban Removal'

by Carol Harvey

This attractive building houses the Bay View newspaper. Lovingly restored by Willie Ratcliff, it is the exact opposite of "blight." Maurice Campbell photo

The Redevelopment Agency's main tool in its sudden push toward a Fillmore-style gentrification is to declare the area "blighted." "It's plain criminal greed," said Willie Ratcliff. "Anything they see is blight."

On Thursday, March 23, 2006, a brilliant blue day between spring storms, the buildings of Bayview Hunters Point were shining white in the sun like the San Francisco neighborhoods I crossed getting there. "The Bayview has the warmest and sunniest weather of all San Francisco," said Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the Bay View newspaper, when he picked me up at Mission Bay for a tour of the neighborhood.

Many Bayview residents voice the concern that they are targeted for a replay of what happened to the Fillmore in the 1960s, when Redevelopment started buying everyone out and bulldozing apartments in a massive act of urban removal. Officials said they were going to build it up better; but when they finished, rents were higher and the neighborhood was gone.

The Redevelopment Agency's main tool in its sudden push toward a Fillmore-style "re-peopling" and "gentrification" is to declare the area "blighted." "It's plain criminal greed," says Willie Ratcliff. "Anything they see is blight."

So he and I set out searching for "blight" in Bayview Hunter's Point.

Several public speakers at the S.F. Redevelopment Commission hearing on March 6 described the redevelopment plan as "a social hurricane sweeping people out of their homes," and likened gentrification plans in the Bayview to the Fillmore and Katrina's ethnic cleansing.
The significance of Bayview redevelopment is that it is another sortie in the class war of rich on poor. After New Orleans, the Bayview is the nation's largest self-contained African-American community.

The United States struggles in the grip of a nearly totalitarian corporatocracy. The political flow chart surges down from Bush to Gov. Schwarzenegger to S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom. Parties seem nonexistent. What remains is the corporatocracy, respecting no geographic boundaries.
Politicians and business interests hold complete fealty to corporations like Lennar, and the money they generate for the rich. The ruling elite make unilateral decisions against the will of the people.

According to Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, "dictators" in the Redevelopment Agency use eminent domain to "circumvent democracy."

The agency that ate California

Across the nation, redevelopment agencies embody incredible power, more than state and city governments.

Due to white flight to the suburbs after World War II, "business communities needed a way to get upscale consumers to live closer to downtown," declared Shaw. Simultaneously, lengthy job commutes began to wear on suburban dwellers. But their return to inner cities was blocked by the masses of poor people and people of color who had moved into these areas.

Redevelopment agencies began employing eminent domain-style gentrification to remove the poor and "sanitize" such areas. Shaw observed that Redevelopment transmogrified and grew into "the Agency that Ate California."

"The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, filled with mayoral appointees, along with its legal, financial, development industry, exists to disenfranchise citizens and the Supervisors by circumventing democracy," Shaw said. "The Redevelopment Commission holds unilateral power. Deprived of any ability to influence decisions, Bayview residents have no votes on what gets built." Usually they can't afford to live in areas that have been gentrified.

Problems with the PAC

Dr. George Davis, a member of the Project Area Committee (PAC) for the S.F. Redevelopment Agency in Bayview Hunter's Point, expressed confidence in the PAC's role at the March 6 hearing. "If we don't do this, developers can come into Bayview Hunters Point and do anything they want," he said. "Fortunately, we have a few developers like Lennar that have a community conscience. But then there are other developers who come in, and they will just do what they want to do. The PAC and the Redevelopment Agency can make (the developers) accountable."

The doctor's female companion adamantly insisted, "It is important to know that they (PAC members) were not handpicked by anybody. They applied to be on the commission, and they went through an interview process, and were elected by the residents of Bayview Hunters Point."

However, Francisco Da Costa, an environmental activist, reported that the PAC, which has run for nine years since 1997, held legal elections only in the first two. After that, a select few were mailed notices with no outreach to Bayview Samoans, Asians, and Latinos.

Willie Ratcliff agreed that a lot of the BVHP PAC members weren't legally elected. He said, "They made sure their buddies got on (who) would go along with the Redevelopment Agency. You check their perks - money, opportunities. Some of them start their own nonprofits and get grants from the Redevelopment Agency."

Shaw was not surprised that a PAC might become self-selective. "After elections, they fill vacancies by picking their friends," he said.

Da Costa described a "Blight Report" as a vital step in creating a Survey Area Report. After $80,000 in funds were "mishandled," a white Bayview homeowner snapped Polaroid pictures. This became the Blight Report.

Eminent Domain: The Tool

Redevelopment agencies have enormous powers for governmental intrusion into communities. Redevelopment agencies are given the exclusive use of property tax increases in designated areas, and are able to sell bonds secured against future tax increments without voter approval. Also, the RDA can give public money and lands directly to developers and businesses. Finally, they can use eminent domain to condemn and take over public property for use by the government or to give to private developers.

While noting, "they really seem to be moving this thing," Shaw said he doubts that the S.F. Redevelopment Agency will need to use eminent domain to expropriate African-American property because the normal gentrification processes can accomplish the same goals.

"The threat of redevelopment in Bayview is all indirect," Shaw said. "If you've got an affordable place, rental housing, and next door they start building luxury upscale condominiums, what do you think is going to happen to you? They will build so much upscale housing that they will put pressure on the existing rental stock, and even if they don't evict anybody, when people move, they will be replaced by much higher-paying people because the neighborhood has changed."

Activist Terrie Frye said that the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) "must think that we are all too stupid to realize that they do not need to use eminent domain when the area is almost sure to be rezoned, and they can also claim that it's part of the blight in the area for whatever they want to take over."

Frye challenged the whole process of identifying blighted areas. "Speaking of blight," she said, "the $5 million-plus that the RDA spent to research this project could have easily been used in some way to help the property owners fix up their homes to avoid blighted conditions. But this doesn't seem to fit in with the RDA's plans -- they need the blighted conditions to condemn property so they can go on with their project."

Lennar Corporation has already begun a market-rate housing project at Hunter's Point Shipyard, and instead of building a mall at Candlestick Point, the corporation will erect thousands of units of market-rate housing there. With average median incomes lower than citywide, few in Hunter's Point can afford such dwellings.

"It's classic gentrification," said Shaw. "It's just, 'We are going to change this neighborhood and make it very upscale, and then no one has to be evicted with a 30-day notice. Units become vacant, and different people are attracted to the neighborhood to move in. That's the best-case scenario. It's a grim picture."

Bayview residents are witnessing the threat of eminent domain. Mary Ratcliff, editor of the Bay View newspaper, noted that a standard California practice is to use eminent domain as a club over people's heads. She reports that real estate agents are calling elderly people, phoning one block of 70- to 80-year-old widows several times a day, saying, "You can't care for your property, so you better sell."

Mary states that black men in Hunter's View on the hill above the PGE plant have been arrested and jailed, leaving women and children vulnerable, without legal recourse, to Sheriff Department's unannounced evictions.

Both Ratcliff and Shaw wondered what was driving the "need for speed."

Mayor Newsom and District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell signed a letter supporting the Redevelopment Agency's plan to take most of Bayview Hunters Point as Project Areas A and B. Angry Bayview residents say they plan to vote out Maxwell. Marie Harrison, Bay View columnist and Greenaction organizer, has set up a campaign office and will run against Maxwell in the November elections.

Activists Francisco Da Costa and Espanola Jackson presented a resolution to halt the RDA's assault on Bayview land. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods unanimously passed it. Until the proposal is taken before the Board of Supervisors in about a month, the proposed Project Areas are not a fait accompli.

Integral part of San Francisco

It is a media-created illusion that the Bayview is dangerous and geographically separated from San Francisco "proper." This psychological distortion keeps San Franciscans away. A white homeowner named Sandy, present at the March 6 hearing, has lived on Newcomb and Third for 20 years. She said the neglected Bayview is considered to be "the lost part of the city. Nobody wants to go there. I'm a woman, and I have lived here 20 years. I feel perfectly safe."

Three important dynamics, geographic, ecological and political, show that the Bayview is one with San Franciso:

1. It is contained within the City's very small seven-square mile area.
2. Myriad pollutants dumped into its soil, air and water affect all San Franciscans.
3. The Redevelopment Agency's threat of gentrification by market-rate housing and eminent domain threatens every San Francisco neighborhood with mass displacement. Housing activists agree that the Mission, the Castro, the Haight, the Sunset, and Richmond could be next.

On the blight tour

In our search for blight, Willie Ratcliff drives south down Third and Bayshore from the UCSF Mission Bay complex to the San Mateo line, then doubles north, then heads east to the Bay to a bluff above Hunters Point with fabulous city views, two power plants, and a sewage treatment facility. We then travel through the Hunters Point toxified parcels; west across Third, then east back to the Bay View newspaper office at 3rd and Palou.

The Bayview is composed of two main hills and the flats. Third Street splits the community and joins Bayshore going south. The southernmost neighborhood at the San Mateo line is "Little Hollywood." Driving back, the next community north is Bayview Hills. Continuing north to the flats called Double Rock, houses are nestled between two hills, and Housing Authority projects sit in the flats. On the other hill, Hunter's Point Hill, public housing spans the block across the street from beautiful dwellings and cooperative housing.

According to Mary Ratcliff, UCSF is reported to have approached Bayview developers about housing newly hired biotechies. Willie termed Mission Bay, site of stem cell research, "slightly toxic."

South of the Cesar Chavez line, driving along the light rail tracks, to our left hunch squat $110-million maintenance buildings, offices and car service barns. The rail, built to Visitacion Valley, with extensions planned to City College and the airport, would transport Mission Bay scientists to Bayview market-rate housing.

"In a 600-million-dollar light rail project," Willie Ratcliff grumbles, "they're promising us all these jobs. We got nothing out of this deal but dust."

At the RDA hearing on March 6, an apprentice with Local 22, Carpentry and Jointers Union in the Bayview, asserted, "Redevelopment is absolutely out of the question. The people here don't want this. Whatever carrots they throw out, like jobs, it's not going to happen."

The union apprentice said she foresees young people of color, traditionally excluded, conducting undignified hustles to land exploitative jobs handling hazardous waste and cancerous material at a Superfund site "so contaminated that the federal government has to address it for its nuclear waste materials. It's oftentimes tied to militarism because of the testing and development that was done with weapons." Trainees are expected to be grateful for potentially deadly low-wage jobs.

We cross Marin Street and Islais Creek Bridge past Bayview Plaza and India Basin Industrial Park, already a redevelopment area. We pass attractive shopping centers and banks. At Hudson Street, St. John Missionary Baptist Church, "one of the largest black churches," sits to the east.

"Third Street is black-owned," Willie informs me. "They wouldn't put money for the property owners up and down Third that are going to suffer while everybody benefits. All they had to do was ask the Department of Transportation for money, but they didn't ask 'cause they want to push you out." Blight could be erased with the loans which redlining prevents.

A contractor for years, Willie Ratcliff is the president of Liberty Builders, Inc. He shows me a block from Newcomb to Oakdale he wants to develop into shops, and affordable and market-rate housing.

"That's us doing it," he says. These jobs are "for our people. We are in control." By contrast, the S.F. RDA, he insists, merely "wants to get your Soul out."

We pass his Bay View newspaper office farther south at Palou and Third. The Bay View office is in a pleasant-looking, neatly painted building that was lovingly restored by Willie Ratcliff, with help from many people in the community. "See all the blight!" Willie says. He laughs repeatedly at this absurd misrepresentation of the Bayview during our tour.

"They don't have to give a definition," he says. "All a city needs to do to create or expand a redevelopment area is to declare it blighted." This is easily done. State law is so vague that almost anything can be designated as "blight." "I can go into any neighborhood and find one house that needs fixing up," Ratcliff says. "Rich people have more money to fix up their houses."

We pass Williams and Van Dyke, driving straight down Third past a sign for Monster Park, The Monte Carlo, a "good eating place," and a pleasant-looking, affordable Senior Citizen Center.

At Bancroft, we drive by the old, red-brick Coca Cola Bottling Plant. A million-dollar condominium project, approved by the S.F. Planning Department, is under way "to put 375 market-rate units in there," says Ratcliff. "No low or moderate units, period. That's the kind of thing they'll do for rich people."

We head up to the Bayview hills. "Up on the hill," Ratcliff says, "the Housing Authority is doing the same thing -- evicting people."

Driving up from Double Rock to Bayview Hills, we pass rows of houses like those in the upper Haight. "Look at these views!" he says. "These houses are owned by the little old ladies who are being harassed. Most houses are paid for. They've got money in the bank.

"The biggest thing in most people's lives (is) whether they own a home or not. If there is a little blight, just stop the redlining and not loaning people money, and they'll fix their own blight."

Eva Smith, an 84-year-old Bayview Hunter's Point resident, spoke at the March 6 hearing. She moved to the Bayview in 1959, working San Francisco General Hospital's midnight shift.
Eva testified, "A bunch of us old ladies -- young women then -- four or five of us, worked on them hills out there. We met at 8 o'clock in the morning, sat there and drank coffee. We planned and planned. All we wanted was a chance to show you that we could work and we could provide for that community.

"If you redevelop, what will happen to old people like me? Would you throw us out? Or would you give us (money) so we could fix our homes up? And what will happen to our young people, the offspring of some of these old women who have worked so hard? Black people have built this country. All we need is a little help."

Police intimidation

Willie Ratcliff observes, "There's a lot of intimidation and fear, because you got the police department running around using this 911 stuff to get in people's houses. They can claim you called 911. Then they go and beat the shit out of you if you let them in."

At Jamestown and Jennings, Willie points out mesh gates over doors. "Folks used to keep their doors unlocked." No jobs causes crime.

"The cops are up here like flies messing with people and running them off," he says. "They want this hill, too. They are doing it in all the public housing around here."

Driving Bayshore Blvd, Willie looks up to Little Hollywood's hills, calling the views "gorgeous." At Visitacion Street, he recites Bayview racial groups' percentages: 91 percent people of color, including Chinese; Latinos; Samoans, with 40 percent African-Americans, while 9 percent of area residents are white.

At Hollister, he observes that if the redevelopment plan goes through, "the whole character of San Francisco will be changed -- all rich white people."

At Fitzgerald, he muses on San Francisco's economic racism and hypocrisy. "San Francisco tries to put on a liberal face, but economically it's a lie."

Environmental racism

We drive over the hill toward the shipyard. Driving toward Precision Transport, a large shipyard warehouse, we pass artist studios. Precision Transport is a gray, corrugated storage building. Three brothers who leased this building across from Parcel E died from cancer. One was in business with Willie. A nearby Lennar sign brays: "We believe in safety."

Parcel E, down on the flat, is the most polluted area, and it's where they dumped everything, including radioactive carcasses, during atomic research. They sandblasted and scraped paint into the Bay off ships near atomic bomb blasts. During clean-up, they discovered "black gold" shining in sand, and, along with radioactive dials, they covered it up.

They dumped everything from other bases because "no one in a white neighborhood would want it," Ratcliff says. "All over this country, you find pollution in poor areas, usually black and Latino."

Parcel E is a badly polluted, 46-acre landfill, part of which was capped. "It caught fire, wouldn't go out, burned for almost a year; with methane coming out the sides," Ratcliff recalls. Over the hill, they installed a device to trap gas, but large amounts continued to escape and "other polluted things caught a ride" on it.

"In the summer, the ground spontaneously combusted into smoke and flames like Texas grass fires," according to Ratcliff. Bayview and City fire departments would "jump out here," but no press showed up to cover the story.

Ratcliff said, "Radiation comes up from the soil. You're right on it. They had 22,000 people working there, where it is all fenced off because it is contaminated."

Despite this, Lennar plans to build 1,700 houses, and is building on and near it right now. "They are bad as Halliburton," Ratcliff says, charging that Lennar developed toxic dump sites in Florida.

On Parcel A, abutting Parcel E, Lennar is building market-rate housing with a few affordable units. The RDA reaps 60 percent of the proceeds, Lennar 40 percent.

Thoroughly depressed by the environmental racism and classism implicit in Lennar's toxic-site construction, combined with the vile treatment of project dwellers by predatory social agencies, we returned to the massive Sewage Treatment Plant, which "handles 80 percent of all solid waste and San Francisco runoff."

From this site on rainy days, San Francisco sewage floats through Bayview streets, running into the Bay. Ratcliff suggested that, instead of toxifying Bay Area water, the wealthy near the Presidio might share the burden of piping this stuff the opposite direction into the sea.

We drove to the Bay View newspaper offices, welcomed by Mary Ratcliff smiling out the window. As I cleared my head by breathing oxygen from the tree leaves framing the office door, I realized the Bayview's only blight was inflicted on an innocent community by corporate interests and military polluters.

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