Ethnic Cleansing in San Francisco
"They want to kick you out so they can build housing they know you can’t afford and allow rich San Franciscans to enjoy it. They don’t feel that poor Blacks or other people of color deserve to have a view like that."
Appolonia Jordan, San Francisco Bayview
Alan Goodspeed was my next door neighbor in the Ingleside District on the south side of Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. He was a Black man from Marshall, Texas, who had moved to San Francisco during WWII and worked as a machinist for twenty five years in the shipyards of Hunters Point. Within that time, he bought a home and raised a family.
When Alan passed away a few years ago, working class Black people had already become an endangered species in San Francisco. According to a 2005 demographic study, there are probably less than 40,000 Black people left in the city. Back in the day when Alan and I changed the oil in our cars in adjoining driveways and jawed about whether Muhammad Ali would regain the title, there were almost 100,000 black people in San Francisco.
So, here in 2007, ethnic cleansing of the Black population in the city "where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars" is more than halfway to completion.
The Jobs at the Hunter’s Point Ship Yards
By 1974, most the 8,500 jobs at the shipyards created during World War II were gone, and a decade later a petulant Navy scotched plans to homeport the nuclear-armed USS Missouri when City officials objected to footing the bill with no job guarantees for locals. The shipyards were closed, and the Navy pulled out, leaving forty years of highly toxic contaminants behind them, and a commitment to clean up their mess some time in the future.
Even as jobs at the shipyards were drying up, the Hunter’s Point-Bayview neighborhood was a majority Black neighborhood, a vibrant community in southwestern San Francisco which was affordable and had spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. The slaughterhouses of "Butchertown" were gone, along with most of the auto wreckers, and although it was underserved and largely ignored by City officialdom (except for heavy-handed police presence), the neighborhood was hearth and home for thousands of Black Americans.
Gentrification Rears its Ugly Head
Fast forward twenty years from the Navy’s retreat. San Francisco’s housing dynamic has changed drastically. Home prices and rents have skyrocketed. A studio rents for $1,800 and a small condo fetches $650,000 to $800,000. The City’s light industry has disappeared, and, while most of the dot commers dot come and dot gone, they were replaced by a new urban class of middle managers, hedge fund hustlers, fashion designers, bio-meds, money changers, paper brokers, and techies of all persuasions. Gentrification has metastasized throughout the City, spilling out of the central Victorian neighborhoods into the outlying frontiers, like Hunter’s Point/Bayview.
Consequently, the public lands on which the shipyards once stood provided both lucrative opportunities for developers and desirable potential properties for the new yuppie class.
On the part of the shipyard now known as Parcel A, the bulldozers, scrapers and graders of the Lennar Corporation are hard at work, flattening a former hillside for new homes and condos. The original plan approved by the City included affordable rental units in the mix. However, those units have now been scrapped. Lennar reneged on the affordable housing part of the plan, claiming a lack of profitability.
Very few, if any, of the local residents will be able to afford the new residences and they will be forced out of this last corner of the City, as the prices go up around them. And, to add injury to insult, the asbestos dust being raised during construction is making the neighbors sick.
Dress Rehearsal in the Fillmore
To understand what’s happening today at Hunter’s Point, it is necessary to understand what happened in San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Fillmore, often called the "Harlem of the West," was a center of Black culture in the decades following World War II. Like Tulsa in the early 1920’s, the Fillmore was a flourishing home for thousands of Black people and hundreds of Black-owned markets, auto repair garages, barber shops, salons, restaurants, shoe repair shops, Laundromats, night clubs, and apparel stores. Among those businesses was the legendary Jimbo’s Bop City, which featured performances by jazz immortals like Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and John Coltrane.
And then came something called Urban Renewal in the guise of a heavily-cloaked urban real estate operation called the Redevelopment Agency. When the RA was finished, the Fillmore was gone. The bulldozers had smashed and leveled block after block after block. The fabulous Fillmore looked like a bombed-out city in an old newsreel. And that’s exactly what it was, displaced residents and all. The people who lived in the Fillmore were dispersed to the East Bay cities of Oakland, Richmond, and to Hunter’s Point/Bayview. As the Redevelopment Agency smashed homes and businesses, it issued thousands of certificates of preference to the people of the Fillmore. These certificates were documents which gave the displaced businesses and families a promise of preference for renting or buying other redevelopment property within the City and the right to return to the neighborhood from which they’d been evicted.
Of the 883 certificates given to Black-owned businesses, only 39 resulted in other business locations. Of the 4,719 certificates given to families, only 1,099 certificates put families in other homes. Somehow, the Redevelopment Agency lost contact with 3,055 families and 590 businesses which held certificates of preference.
Today, the Fillmore is almost completely gentrified. Much of the neighborhood has been condo-ized and yuppified, replete with foo-foo restaurants and ersatz jazz festivals. However, a pocket of Black families remain in the neighborhood with enough young Black men to be targeted for a gang injunction from the City Attorney.
The Gangs of San Francisco
Most observers of Urban America agree that there appears to be a national program to target, arrest and warehouse young Black men into the "criminal justice"– that is, prison industrial complex–system across the United States. Aside from the near genocidal effect of the proactive criminalization of an entire generation, this program also serves as a convenient method for clearing out the soon-to-be-lucrative neighborhoods of the former "inner cities," neighborhoods which will provide potential profit for hungry real estate and investment industries.
The City of Saint Francis is no exception to the rule. A recent study found that San Francisco police arrest African-Americans at a higher rate than any other city in California, even as the number of Black people living in the city diminishes. However, it seems that the simple policy of arresting young Black men is not efficient enough to move them out of town. They must also be kept from gathering in their own neighborhoods. Accordingly–in keeping with the continuing national dismemberment of the Constitution–the City Attorney of San Francisco has sought gang injunctions against a list of African American gangs in the Fillmore known as Eddy Rock, Chopper City, and Knockout Posse, along with some "gangs" in the Mission. Last year, the first injunction was granted against the alleged "Oakdale Mob" in Hunter’s Point/Bayview.
Under these injunctions, alleged members of the alleged gangs are prohibited from meeting with each other in designated geographic locations, like, uh, their own neighborhoods. Aside from the questionable constitutionality of these injunctions, the fact remains that these injunctions literally drive non-white residents out of their own neighborhoods.
For the local folks who have some idea of what’s going on, the irony of these court-ordered gang injunctions is that the most powerful, ruthless, and rapacious gang in San Francisco is glaringly absent from the City Attorney’s list.
The Downtown Gang (AWDG)
Not surprisingly, the City Attorney’s injunction list did not include the Downtown Gang, also known as the AWDG (All White Downtown Gang). These gang members virtually control all public policy in San Francisco, including who will live in the City and who will not.
How does one identify members of the Downtown Gang? Well, for starters, like members of all gangs, the AWDG hang out together: at museum galas, society do’s, first nighters at the opera and the symphony, parties in Pacific Heights, winter in Tahoe, and so forth. But the best way to ID them is to use the old-fashioned follow-the-money method. Pick a politician, check out the big buck contributors, and then see whether the politician’s policies benefit private sector profit or the public good. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to find a political spear carrier for the AWDG and then the AWDG member who owns and supplies the spears.
A textbook example is the current mayor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom, the extremely personable shill for all things rich and white in San Francisco, pulls all the levers and pushes all the buttons that put the policies of the AWDG into motion, which include sweeping out homeless people, lowering business taxes and continuing the privatization of public housing.
As a San Francisco supervisor, Newsome made his bones for the AWDG in 2002 by placing his "Care Not Cash" proposition on the ballot which would solve the problem of homeless people by slashing monthly welfare payments from $395 to $59 in return for a proposed system of "care." "Care Not Cash" would have flopped without the big buck effort behind it.
The campaign for the "Care Not Cash" proposition, known to homeless advocates as "Neither Care Nor Cash," was funded by a shadowy group called [SFSOS] who are they? use whole name not initials], which was founded by Warren Hellman, heir to the Wells Fargo fortune, Donald Fisher, the sweatshop king of the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy clothing empire, and Senator Diane Feinstein. Other original supporters included financial heavy hitters like Charles Schwab, William Hume, Feinstein’s husband–the war profiteer, Richard Blum–and socialites like Dede Wilsey. In addition to its outright attack on the homeless, SFSOS also opposed the living wage campaign, affordable housing and tenant protection and supported re-segregation of the public schools system through charterization.
SFSOS and the AWDG won big in the ensuing election.
Merchants Have No Country
Thomas Jefferson noted toward the end of his life that "merchants have no country," in that the merchant’s first loyalty is always to profit. He could have just as readily said that the merchants have no political party either. Business loyalty to self interest rather than common interest is rife in modern American politics where corporations regularly hedge their bets by contributing to opposing candidates. Such was the situation when Supervisor Newsom ran for mayor in 2003.
As Election Day neared, it became apparent that Newsom was barely ahead of his Green Party opponent, Matt Gonzalez, even though he was outspending him by a 10 to 1 margin. The possibility of a Green coming to power in San Francisco so terrified the AWDG that the gang pulled out all of the stops and flew into action, calling in celebrity Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore and coughing up cash. Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi hit the phones. The heirs of the Getty oil fortune Republican businessmen rushed to the fore. George Shultz, a Republican flush with new found Bechtel riches from Iraq, opened his wallet, as did the heirs to the Getty oil fortune who were Newsom’s original sponsors. Republicans Charles Schwab and Donald Fisher wrote checks. The Swig and Shorenstein families, real estate developers who had underwritten the activities of local Democrats for years, dialed in their dollars.
And, of course, Newsom won and policies favored by the AWDG continue to flourish during his regime–like the onslaught to quickly privatize the shipyards property, regardless of the health of the residents during construction on this toxic site, or the fact that no one in the neighborhood will ever be able to live in the new housing units. In 2006, Lennar Corporation was cited multiple times for failing to monitor and control asbestos dust during the grading phase on Parcel A. Oddly enough, the project was never shut down to correct any non-compliant operations. Finally, several local African American neighborhood organizations went to City Hall this year to protest this continuing contamination and request that the City red tag the site until safety measures could be enforced. Their request fell upon deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the AWDG, not content with securing a financial stranglehold on future development of public lands, continues to target existing public housing for privatization.
Hunter’s View and the Patron Saint of Privatization
The situation at Hunter’s View, a public housing project in the Hunter’s Point/Bayview neighborhood with a scenic view of the Bay Bridge and the Bay, is a classic case of how politicians, developers, and financial interests work together to achieve their respective ends of power and profit at the expense of people. In 1997, a grandmother and five children burned to death in Hunter’s View because the smoke detectors didn’t work. A recent inspection–ten years later–found that 64% of the units still had non functioning smoke detectors and pockets of sewage bubble up in and around these rat-infested homes.
Do you think City Hall rushed plumbers, carpenters and electricians out there to fix things up? Go sit in the corner if you answered in the affirmative.
Here’s how privatization for profit works: first) don’t maintain anything, let everything deteriorate; second) throw up your hands in dismay of ever being able to repair anything with the meager public funds available; third) call in private developers and their bankers to "help out'; fourth) evict the residents because by now everything has to be torn down, and fifth) build units to buy, not to rent, that the evicted residents can’t afford.
When the Federal government purposely abandoned the "inner cities" of Urban America almost thirty years ago, the vacuum left in its wake created vast and lucrative investment opportunities for the exploitation of public property. Do you think that the snail’s pace rebuild of the infrastructure and return of the displaced residents of New Orleans is accidental? Go sit in the corner!
In San Francisco, the patron saint of privatization is Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, known to some locals as "Nancy Privatisi" for her landmark work in taking the 1,200 acres of public land in the Presidio and placing it into private hands. Even the staid San Francisco Chronicle couldn’t avoid noting that the Presidio was "the first privatized national park in the United States."
How about a little Q and A? Who was one of the founding directors of the Presidio Trust? Donald Fisher. Who appointed him? Bill Clinton. Who is a major contributor to Pelosi’s campaign, while at the same time being a charter member of the SFSOS, the AWDG and the Republican Party? Donald Fisher. Who’s going to construct a museum to himself–excuse me-for his art collection, in the Presidio? Donald Fisher. Who supports it? Nancy Pelosi.
There’s also a plan to put a Walt Disney museum in the Presidio which would be appropriate because Nancy’s husband, Paul, owns a bit of Disney. A local union organizer suggested that it would be fitting that a third museum be erected between the first two museums-a museum to sweatshop workers.
Getting back to Hunter’s View, Newsom has been seen cruising the neighborhood
with developers from the AWDG. Hunter’s View is a perfect candidate for privatization: it has a view that yuppies will pay big bucks for, and it’s sufficiently destabilized to warrant complete leveling.
Hunter’s Point resident Appolonia Jordan, in a recent article in the Black-owned San Francisco Bayview newspaper, wrote, "I know you have noticed the groups of clean, pressed suited white men who jump out of these brand new SUVs with Mayor Gavin Newsom looking around your housing project. They smile and sometimes even talk to the ‘poor’ children playing outside."
In response to a Chronicle series about the dire living situation at Hunter’s View, Pelosi, whose nephew Laurence has worked for both Lennar and Newsom, announced that the Democrats had not only increased funding for public housing, but that their $1 million allotment for Hunter’s View would create "one-for-one replacement of 267 public housing units" with "new affordable rental units," and "market rate homes."
Sounds familiar. Sounds like Lennar’s original plan for the shipyards. Sounds like the Fillmore.
DON SANTINA is a cultural historian who received a 2005 Superior Scribing award for his Counterpunch article "Reparations for the Blues." He recently appeared in a Canadian Sportsnet TV feature on racism and baseball with Danny Glover and Barry Bonds. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.