The May 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Tenants Face Eviction

UC Attacks the Berkeley Freebox

Berkeley Freebox Poetry Contest

Reform Profit-Making Nursing Homes

A Berkeley Fair for Street Youth

Ultimate Gift of a Homeless Veteran

Tax Cuts for Rich Harm U.S.

Many Children Left Behind

S.F. Bayview: History Lesson in Urban Removal

Let Their Chains Fall Off

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Poets and Poetry

May Poetry of the Streets


April 2006

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.

History Lessons in the Strategy of Urban Removal

The redevelopment plan assumes the Bayview is a "long-blighted" neighborhood. Said Randy Shaw, "Blight has become everything. The definition of blight has gotten so big, it doesn't mean anything anymore."

by Carol Harvey

The centerpiece of Michael Moore's film, "Bowling for Columbine," is a South Park cartoon. A cracker-accented bullet jauntily greets all the "boys and girls" and begins a painfully funny history lesson.

"Ready to get started? It's time for a brief history of the United States of America. Once upon a time there were these people in Europe called Pilgrims, and they were afraid of being persecuted. So, they all got in a boat and sailed to the New World where they wouldn't have to be scared ever again.

"As soon as they arrived, they were greeted by savages, and they got scared all over again. Injuns! So they killed 'em all."

"Wiping out a race of people" didn't calm them down. They still feared the British, witches, importations of African slaves outnumbering them, and Rosa Parks. ("Why won't she move?")
They protected themselves by fleeing to suburbs, got guns, put locks on their doors, and barricaded themselves "snug as a bug" in suburban communities, "so white and safe and clean."

In Moore's classic stealth interview with National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston at his gated mansion in the Hollywood Hills, "Moses" blames "mixed ethnicities" for the United States' 11,127 annual gun deaths. At an NRA pro-gun rally, Heston shouts that they will have to pry his rifle from his "cold dead hands," presumably as he shoots it out with "ethnicities."

In San Francisco, Fillmore history lessons show African-American grandmothers dying with "right of return" certificates clutched in their "cold, dead hands," denied them by Redevelopment Agency functionaries.

In the 1950s and '60s, many whites moved to the suburbs. The exodus that sociologists called "white flight" was promoted by the FHA, which made it easier to build homes with picket-fenced yards for the kids, but also to flee from inner-city peoples of color.

Now, to bring this story full circle to the present, white suburbanites want to return to urban commerce centers. Reverse white flight, the nationwide push to retake the cities, has resulted in Mission Bay R&D biotechies needing a place to live. Maybe it will be handy to put them in Bayview Hunters Point riding the Third Street Light Rail each day?

Do feared black people stop the relocation of monied whites to urban centers like the Bayview? The logical conclusion: Clear out African Americans who still control the area so whites won't be afraid. Then move white people in.

Redevelopment is the fastest, easiest way to accomplish such "re-peopling."

At the April 19, 2006, meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee, Chair Sophie Maxwell also hearkened back to history. She said, "After nearly 15 years of community struggle" -- during which she was a member of the Project Area Committee (PAC) -- "the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan is finally coming to adoption."

Maxwell recalled the years when, employed as a BART electrician, "I worked on this Redevelopment Plan myself. From the time I was a member of the PAC until now, many of us in the community have contributed a lot."

Maxwell's years-long PAC involvement got her on the Board of Supervisors. "It's important," Maxwell cautioned, "that we make sure mistakes that happened at one time in history do not happen again."

Seemingly soft-spoken, stylishly suited Marcia Rosen, lawyer and Redevelopment Director, echoed Maxwell, soothing away the threat of eminent domain takings.

"The lessons of urban renewal and the Western Addition (are) reflected in this plan. No bulldozers are contemplated for Bayview Hunters Point," Rosen said.

"The Redevelopment Plan," said Maxwell, "expressly prohibits eminent domain on residential units."

However, some are concerned over memories of the Fillmore's false promises. They remember Mary Rogers championing the 1960s lawsuit against eminent domain takings for Fillmore residents who wanted their property back. They won "certificates," which most could not use and sorrowfully threw away.

Mary Ratcliff, editor of the San Francisco Bay View, described one wealthy "grand dame," the owner of valuable property, including Fillmore clubs, who after several agonizing lawsuits, couldn't enforce a single certificate in court. "She was cheated out of all of it," Ratcliff said. "It's awful to see people just bled to death like that."

After the 1906 earthquake, downtown powers tried to force the relocation of Chinatown residents into the Bayview. Chinese residents resisted powerfully and stayed put, just as later Mission dwellers twice resisted redevelopment schemes.

Many critics of the Redevelopment Plan insist, "If you don't believe Katrina could happen here, think again. Promises are never kept around here."

Housing activist Randy Shaw cautioned, "I don't think that people have a full sense of what redevelopment means, because they haven't dealt with it. Redevelopment is like the carnival that comes into town. If you haven't seen the tricks before, then you're attracted by them. Once you've had the experience (you're not). Redevelopment is a massive patronage operation. A lot of people benefit financially from the deals."

Shaw said many S.F. Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) spokespeople are African American. He doubts the SFRA's intent is to get rid of black people. Instead, he explained, "It's the result."

Critics wonder if the SFRA's real agenda is an attempt to reduce crime by gentrifying the neighborhood. The end result: another gentrified neighborhood, thus making San Francisco less diverse.

Shaw wonders how you interpret a city agency's actions when it has an impact on a particular race disproportionately. He said, "Do you know the expression, 'discriminatory impact?' That's the point."

Some Bayview residents feel that despite what they say, do, or write, it doesn't matter. If this redevelopment plan is approved, they will lose their community. "They want us out of here," said one resident. "That is it."

San Francisco newspapers describe the redevelopment plan as a done deal. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Once the Bayview is declared a redevelopment area, a portion of the projected $188 million in future property taxes can be used to fund improvements."

The Sentinel interviewed PAC members and redevelopment supporters exclusively. The front page of the S.F. Examiner blared: "Massive New Plan Set to Transform Bayview District," regurgitating statistics from lead planner Tom Evans' power point handout. "The 30-year plan will... create 3,700 units of new market rate and affordable housing."

The redevelopment plan assumes the Bayview is a "long-blighted" neighborhood, neglecting to note that redevelopment agencies have designated wealthy, gated communities as "blighted." Said Shaw, "Blight has become everything. The definition of blight has gotten so big, it doesn't mean anything anymore."

The mainstream media passed over the 50 percent of vocal dissenters present at the hearing. Some activists see a split community. Others estimate that 80 percent of Bayview residents dissent. Fear of police (who roll tanks down streets) and loss of Section 8 HUD homes paralyzes them. Also, it is hard to leave work for a 1:00 p.m. weekday meeting at City Hall.

Ask Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, who left a hectic schedule to address "a little concern" as a physician and scientist about "significant" violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the certification of the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on March 7.
Sumchai voiced concern "especially regarding toxic air contaminants, and 429 hazardous waste sites for which mitigations were not offered."

Roland Shepherd, a resident since 1956, attended PAC meetings where they said, "We are going to have a ball park down at the bottom of the hill. Up at the top we are going to have the stadium, and build a yacht harbor along the Coast on the East Bay of San Francisco. It's said the best views of the City are up on the hills where the projects are."

About jobs, Shepherd said, "There are less residents working at the San Francisco Water Treatment Plant in the Southeast Sector, under your reign, Sophie, than five years ago. The idea that people are going to get hired from the community is just not true, and hasn't happened for 40 years."

Francisco Da Costa stated flatly, "I have followed this process for the last eight years thoroughly, attending all the meetings and observing the PAC. Redevelopment is not about jobs, (but) blight, getting the property, giving it to developers. I do not trust Redevelopment."

Jaron Browne, of POWER, (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), alluded to U.S. census data in 2000 that confirms more Black flight from San Francisco than any major U.S. city over the previous decade. After 1990, 20,000 departures indicated a 23 percent decline in the African American populace.

"In the last ten years," Barone added, "there have been serious corporate giveaways: Lennar Corporation, the Transbay Terminal, the UCSF Biotech Center, Bloomingdales, and Rincon Hill. This Redevelopment Agency is not acting in the interests of working-class communities of color."

"UCSF was given $70 million dollars," Barone said, but isn't offering "a single permanent entry-level job."

To quell fears that the SFRA would include Candlestick Park in the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment area to fund it and proposed condos, Maxwell's amendment read, "The Board of Supervisors shall not approve any allocation of property tax increment from portions of the project area outside of the Candlestick Point special use district for use within the Candlestick point special use district for development of a stadium-related project."

"At least we've stopped this fiasco of the stadium being funded by this," remarked Shaw.
Maxwell claimed that she and the S.F. Redevelopment Agency learned from Western Addition "Negro removal." Government should not take homes by eminent domain.

Critics warn that the Redevelopment Agency and its supporters use smokescreens and red herrings to conceal the plan to gentrify Bayview Hunters Point, forcing blacks out.

Pricey Bayview homes averaging $625,000 are hard to seize. Threat of eminent domain alone lowers property values, drives down prices, and forces owners to sell. Buyers sell homes above market rate. With debt-free black homeowners gone, black renters, especially in Section 8 housing, are easy to manipulate and force out.

Amos Brown lamented from the pulpit that his Black congregation had vacated the Fillmore.
"It is all a massive scam," said one Bayview watcher, wondering why African-American PAC members would pave their own royal road out of town.

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