San Francisco Public Press Independent, Nonprofit, In-Depth Local News Sun, 06 Aug 2023 02:07:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 State Supreme Court to Weigh In on Long Trial Delays Fri, 04 Aug 2023 21:29:01 +0000 A lawsuit against San Francisco Superior Court over its routine failure to uphold defendants’ right to a speedy trial is in the hands of California’s Supreme Court.

San Francisco has more than 1,100 cases past statutory time limits, and 115 of those defendants are languishing in jail without a conviction. » Read more

The post State Supreme Court to Weigh In on Long Trial Delays appeared first on San Francisco Public Press.

A lawsuit against San Francisco Superior Court over its routine failure to uphold defendants’ right to a speedy trial is in the hands of California’s Supreme Court.

San Francisco has more than 1,100 cases past statutory time limits, and 115 of those defendants are languishing in jail without a conviction.

At a rally on the steps of the Hall of Justice last week, concerned residents and staffers with the Public Defender’s Office gathered to denounce what they view as San Francisco Superior Court’s routine breach of criminal defendants’ constitutional rights.

San Francisco resident Christine Sipra said during the protest that when she saw media reports about defendants sitting in jail for years awaiting trial, she was compelled to join the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office rally.

“Who’s being affected? Our community members, our neighbors — and it does not escape me that any one of us can be affected by this,” Sipra said. “This could be our friends, our families. This could be something that might affect me in my life dramatically. People are losing their homes, their jobs, pets — all kinds of circumstances are being affected by people that are being held without the basic human right of a speedy trial.”

In September 2021, San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju and four others — including two mothers of adult children whose speedy trial rights were violated — filed a taxpayers’ lawsuit to compel San Francisco Superior Court to address the backlog, which began when COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders suspended court proceedings in March 2020.

A man in a suit stands speaking at a lectern outside on a bright sunny day. He is flanked by two audio speakers. To the right stand two more men — one is holding a sign that reads "Jailed Without Trial 115."

Sylvie Sturm / San Francisco Public Press

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju and four others have filed a lawsuit to compel San Francisco Superior Court to address its excessive trial backlog. He speaks about San Francisco’s excessive trial delays on the steps of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. on July 28.

They demanded that the court abide by California statutes requiring that priority be given to criminal trials over civil cases, and to cases where the accused is incarcerated pre-trial. It also stipulated that the court follow procedural steps before extending criminal trials beyond time limits.

Raju’s lawsuit went to Contra Costa County Superior Court, and in December 2021, Judge Edward Weil ruled that his court did not have the authority to compel the San Francisco court to act. He said relief must be sought in the Court of Appeal instead. 

Raju filed a notice of appeal with the California Court of Appeal in March 2022 and filed his opening brief in July that year. In January 2023, San Francisco Superior Court filed a response and oral arguments were heard in April. On June 8, the First District Court of Appeal reinstated the suit and ruled that Raju and his fellow petitioners can seek court orders to reserve more courtrooms for criminal trials.

This week, San Francisco Superior Court filed a petition for review from the California Supreme Court arguing that permitting lawsuits that challenge court administration would have “profound” adverse consequences.

“The final destination of the Court of Appeal’s ruling is chaos,” states the court’s petition. “If the presiding judge and the judge assigned to the taxpayer action gave conflicting orders about opening courtrooms, security, and staffing, nobody would know which orders to follow.”

The petition stated that the First District Court of Appeal was wrong when it claimed that the civil code authorizes taxpayers’ lawsuits against state officials.

“It does not,” states the court’s petition. “The statute authorizes actions against officers or agents of a ‘local agency.’ A ‘local agency’ is ‘a city, town, county, or city and county, or a district, public authority, or any other political subdivision in the state.’”

The court’s petition argued that the case Taking Offense v. State of California, which is making its way through the courts, will determine whether California recognizes taxpayer standing to bring actions against state officials, and that ruling could eliminate or significantly change the basis and requirements for this lawsuit.

Deputy Public Defender Sujung Kim said Aug. 4 that the California Supreme Court has sanctioned multiple cases in the last 50 years that allowed taxpayers to bring lawsuits against state officials.

She added that disallowing taxpayer lawsuits against state officials would lead to unchecked powers for the court.

“If we buy into what the court is saying, that means that courts are above the law, that their actions cannot be scrutinized even if they’re violating state law or doing something that’s illegal,” Kim said. “It goes against public policy to say that courts are above the law.”

The Public Defender’s Office intends to file a response Monday to the Superior Court’s petition for review to the State Supreme Court.

At the rally on the steps of the Hall of Justice on July 28, Raju said the court is starting to catch up on felony case backlogs, but misdemeanor cases remain postponed while civil cases take priority.

“Last week, there was only one misdemeanor trial courtroom open,” Raju said. “These cases are causing huge distractions in people’s lives, their work and their home lives, taking off work for court hearings, dealing with electronic monitoring that’s limiting people’s movements and their ability to support themselves with no trial or resolution in sight.”

Last week’s rally was the public defender staff’s eighth and final weekly summer sit-in protesting long delays in criminal trials. It was the latest action in a years-long campaign to bring awareness to the trial backlog.

This is a closeup image of a man with brown curly hair wearing a black T-shirt and a necklace with red carved beads speaking into a microphone.

Sylvie Sturm / San Francisco Public Press

Robert Brewer, 31, tells a crowd at a 2021 protest what it was like to sit in jail for 288 days awaiting trial before being found not guilty.

In a rally last September, defendants like Robert Brewer, 31, talked about the profound impact trial delays had on their lives. Brewer said he used to be a social butterfly, but since being release from a 288-day incarceration awaiting trial in San Francisco County Jail, he’s a changed man.

“There’s just a black cloud hanging over me,” Brewer said. “You’re treated like you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent. I lost my brother — my best friend. I wasn’t able to walk him out of this world.”

Right to a speedy trial

Receiving a speedy trial is a fundamental right guaranteed by both the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the California Constitution. According to federal and state law, if a defendant isn’t brought to trial within 60 days of arraignment for a felony or 30 days of arraignment for a misdemeanor, the case would be dismissed.  

Long case delays can lead to undue anxiety for defendants, oppressive pretrial incarceration, faded memories among witnesses and the potential for lost evidence.

Certain time limit concessions are allowed, however. To keep a defendant in jail past mandatory limits, four legal requirements must be met: 1) there is enough evidence for a guilty verdict; 2) the defendant would harm others if released; 3) less restrictive measures are not an option; 4) and the judge must explain the decision for the record.

There are legal exceptions called “good cause,” which could include a defendant’s request to extend the trial, a defendant failing to appear for a hearing, a defendant having no legal representation at trial, the defendant becoming incapacitated and unable to defend themselves, or the case being too complex to process within time limits, for example in the case of multiple defendants.

The law allows for discretion over statutory time limits under “exceptional circumstances,” including matters of public health. In March 2020, COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders led Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chairperson of the Judicial Council of California, to shut down courts and extend the time limits on jury trials by 90 days.

The San Francisco Superior Court reopened all courtrooms on June 18, 2021. The Chief Justice’s orders were rescinded on June 30, 2022.

In December 2021, San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called a hearing on the case pileup. Afterward, two civil courtrooms were opened for out-of-custody criminal trials. But the backlog only increased.

The lawsuit filed by Raju in September 2021 states that pre-pandemic, the court would hold up to 150 misdemeanor trials annually, but since misdemeanor trials resumed in 2021, the court is averaging only 15 misdemeanor trials per year.

Earlier this year, the Public Defender’s Office filed Estrada v. Superior Court seeking to dismiss a criminal case for violating speedy trial rights. The lawsuit argued that the courts abused their discretion in claiming exceptional circumstances in violation of a defendant’s speedy trial rights. They argued that delays are not due to the pandemic, but rather to chronic court mismanagement, including unused courtrooms, excessive judicial vacations and failure to hold trials at the Civic Center courthouse.

In March 2023, the Court of Appeal supported the court. The appeals decision said the backlog resulted from court closures and later disruptions from COVID-19 case surges and new variants, and that the backlog could not reasonably be expected to dissipate within months or even a year or two, particularly given that new criminal cases keep being filed.

The San Francisco Superior Court referred to this decision in its filing with the State Supreme Court to argue that “a criminal defendant’s speedy-trial rights do not impose mandatory duties on courts to allocate resources, open courtrooms, hire staff, or upgrade security.”

Some civil rights groups have requested that the Estrada v. Superior Court decision be unpublished to avoid setting a dangerous precedent undermining the right to a speedy trial. In a written appeal, an organization based in Washington, D.C. called the Civil Rights Corps argued that weakening the right to a speedy trial makes “the plea bargain system impermissibly coercive, increasing prosecutors’ leverage in plea negotiations against people, both jailed and free, who await trial indefinitely. Deprived of their lone bargaining chip, the right to reject the offer and demand a speedy trial, the accused will end up begging rather than negotiating.”

The backlog

It is unclear how many criminal cases were left unresolved in San Francisco Superior Court last year. The court provided data for the California Judicial Council’s 2023 court statistics report stating that 35,265 criminal cases were filed — 3,086 felonies, 2,179 misdemeanors, and the rest mainly traffic-related infractions. It showed that civil filings totaled 12,004 cases with 10,433 resolved. But San Francisco was one of 10 counties that did not disclose the outcomes of criminal cases.

San Francisco also failed to provide its criminal case processing time. The 48 counties that did report their data showed that an average of 45% of felony cases and 43% of misdemeanors cases were resolved in less than 90 days.

Several Bay Area counties made accommodations to whittle down their trial backlog. Contra Costa County cut its trial backlog in half by March 2022. And other counties used alternative venues for pretrial proceedings like jury assembly, including the San Mateo County Event Center and the Sonoma County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. That freed up county courtrooms for trials. San Francisco has made no such effort.

Courts outside the Bay Area also found ways to deal with unwieldy backlogs. Riverside County contended with its roughly 2,800 backlogged cases by bringing civil judges onto criminal trials.

San Francisco has 57 judicial officers — judges and others with the power to facilitate, arbitrate, preside over and make decisions on cases — for a population of 815,201. That’s just under seven judicial officers per 100,000 residents compared with a statewide average of 11.4 per 100,000 residents. Yet additional judges have not been brought in to help alleviate the workload, according to the public defender’s office — for example, by temporarily bringing civil judges onto criminal trials as was done in Riverside County.

According to Raju, the judges’ explanations for the backlog have recently shifted.

“Judges in the building are no longer reading a canned script that blames COVID for delays. And felony trials are moving forward faster by all indications,” Raju said. “But I’m also here to say that this situation is by no means over, and our work is not done.”

Meanwhile, the judges who are presiding over cases are taking vacations, but the courts aren’t finding substitutes to handle some of the caseload while they’re away — and that’s taking a huge toll, according to an analysis by Deputy Public Defender Oliver Kroll.

Kroll filed a petition in Estrada v. Superior Court. His analysis of the court’s vacancies during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that between July 2021 and May 2022, courtrooms were empty 56% of the time. And from April to August 2022, 59% of the vacancies were due to judges’ vacations.

During a protest in front of the Civic Center courthouse on July 21, Deputy Public Defender Sujung Kim said people have a right to take vacations but, “the court has an obligation to find coverage for these judges when they’re on vacation.”

“A government agency like the court serves the people, that is their job, they’re public servants. And so, they have a duty to make sure that the courts are fully staffed and they’re not doing it,” Kim said.

In March 2022, the court gave an explanation for why trials were being delayed in response to Hernandez-Valenzuela v. Superior Court, which sought a dismissal for a criminal case for violating speedy trial rights.

The court stated that delays were happening because the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office was overextended at the jails and the Hall of Justice, that security at the Civic Center courthouse was inadequate for criminal trials other than nonviolent misdemeanors, and there were not enough bailiffs to cover each courtroom.

A woman wearing large sunglasses and a long brown coat stands on a street corner and speaks into a microphone while holding a sign that reads "open the courts, free our people."

Sylvie Sturm / San Francisco Public Press

Sujung Kim, a San Francisco deputy public defender, says San Francisco Superior Court should find substitutes when judges go on vacation. “They have a duty to make sure that the courts are fully staffed and they’re not doing it,” she said.

In an emailed response, the Sheriff’s Office stated that the court is using two courtrooms at the Civic Center courthouse and “is going to be using” the Criminal Justice Center for out-of-custody felony trials.

“These two locations lack some of the security features that make the Hall of Justice a safer place for those trials,” the email stated. “The Sheriff’s Office, as always, is collaborating with the Court to address security concerns related to the change of use of the Criminal Justice Center and the increased number of criminal cases being assigned in the Civic Center Court.”

Kim said she is dubious that security concerns were the main issue because the Civic Center Courthouse was used for felony trials for many years.

“When they ran out of space at the Hall of Justice, there were too many cases, they had to open up some of these courtrooms,” Kim said in an interview. “They tried murder cases, sexual, all kinds of cases. But now, the courts excuse for why they can’t try criminal cases here at this courthouse is because of, quote unquote, security reasons. We have probed and asked, and they have never given us any more details about what exactly the security concerns are. We’re very skeptical that that is the true reason.”

Kroll said in an interview that justice is being denied because the absence of trial deadlines without clear reasons gives the district attorney’s office no motivation to settle a case. And a defendant’s desperation may compel them to agree to a prosecutor’s terms regardless of guilt or innocence.

“Coercive plea bargaining is the leading cause of wrongful conviction,” Kroll said. “And then the conviction haunts you for the rest of your life, like a scarlet letter.”

During a protest in front of the Civic Center courthouse, Deputy Public Defender Zach Waterman from the Misdemeanor Unit explained why defendants in misdemeanor cases are especially vulnerable to wrongful convictions.

“Evidence in misdemeanors — there’s none of that. Not until you get to a trial,” Waterman said. “In a felony, you have a preliminary hearing, they have to put officers on the stand, they’ll tell you what happened, and you get to cross examine them. In a misdemeanor, there is no hearing. You’re presumed guilty. That’s what this court does every single day, in every single case, until you fight all the way to the moment of your trial.”

The harm

Kroll’s petition in Estrada v. Superior Court includes several declarations by defendants who described their ordeal:

“Alexandra Andrews, who is detained pretrial in County Jail 2 in San Francisco, writes that she was subjected to weeks-long lockdowns where she was not allowed out of her cell at all. She has not been able to contact her family because she was not given a working phone pin number. She writes: ‘It feels like my mental stability is continuing to degrade . . . I feel like I’m dealing with everything on my own.’”

Another declaration states:

“Felipe Preciado, who is detained pretrial in County Jail 3 in San Bruno, writes that he is often confined in a small, dirty, poorly ventilated cell with another inmate for the entire day, without even time out of the cell to shower. He writes: ‘Being here has completely changed me . . . I’m filled with despair.’”

Despite the conditions in county jail, the stress of looming trials can lead defendants to choose jail hoping for a faster resolution that would free them from strict restrictions, according to the public defender’s office.

Charles Underwood, who is unhoused and legally blind, was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery and requested pretrial jail hoping to expedite his case. Nevertheless, his case was delayed four months. In June, a jury acquitted him after two hours of deliberation.

Brewer, who spent 288 in jail before his trial, was also found not guilty by a San Francisco Superior Court jury. He had been charged with murder for the Aug. 19, 2020 shooting in the Tenderloin of 44-year-old Contra Costa County resident Darrelle Scales. Brewer said he shot Scales in self-defense after approaching Scales’ car, believing it to be his own rental car. A dispute ensued and Brewer walked away, but Scales followed while reaching for a shiny object in his waistband. Brewer retaliated by shooting. The object turned out to be a metal pipe.

Sarina Borg, 45, was also acquitted after more than two years in jail. During the September 2022 public defender rally, her mother, Myra Borg, talked about the impact of her daughter’s years-long incarceration without a conviction.

“As a result of the horrible conditions in jail and being misdiagnosed for nearly two years, my daughter is now ill with a very serious condition that has resulted in her lungs collapsing and is spreading to other organs in her body,” Borg said. “Her doctors at San Francisco General prescribed medicine and treatment, but when she returns to jail, it takes weeks for her to receive her prescribed medication and treatment.

“I keep praying that this nightmare will end, and my daughter will come home to me and her children so we can begin to heal together.”

It would take yet another 2 months for her daughter to be released. In May 2020, Sarina Borg was accused of aiding and abetting a February 2020 homicide. Her case finally went to trial in October 2022, and in early November, a judge decided there wasn’t enough evidence to show that Borg knew about the alleged murderer’s intentions. The judge granted a motion for acquittal before the case could go to the jury. 

The situation in San Francisco County jails is only expected to get worse as city, county and state law enforcement agencies increase the rate of arrests following their May announcement of a new measure to crack down on drug dealers and unhoused people appearing intoxicated on city streets. By July 23, those agencies had logged 502 arrests collectively for drug sales in San Francisco, compared with 566 such arrests in all of 2022.

That’s what brought Dara Dadachanji, a software engineer who lives in the Tenderloin, to the July 21 public defender’s protest at the Civic Center courthouse. He said he’s rattled by what he views as unfair treatment of people experiencing homelessness in his neighborhood.

“People are just waiting in jail for loitering and doing a lot of things where, like, 90% of these cases are gonna get dismissed,” Dadachanji said. “The situation is really bad and a lot of the reason it’s bad is because we sweep people from other areas of the city into the Tenderloin and they’re treating it as a containment zone. But we need to house these people, we need to give them housing, shelter, food and access to resources to get back on their feet. We can’t just arrest them and hope that that’s going to make things go away.”

Both the police crackdown and the trial backlog are taking a disproportionately hard toll on the city’s minority communities. The Sheriff’s Office told the San Francisco Chronicle that of the 58 people arrested for breaking public intoxication or drug possession laws in the first week of the program, 25 were Latinos, 23 white, nine Black and one American Indian. And while about 5.6% of San Francisco residents are Black, more than half the people in San Francisco’s jails whose speedy trial deadlines have passed are Black, according to Raju.

Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson said during last Friday’s rally that he felt the injustice personally because he had two brothers who were in prison during the pandemic.

“There’s nothing like trying to hug on a loved one from a jail cell,” Wilson said. “Somewhere, I read that the greatness of America was about the right to a speedy jury trial. Somewhere I read about the greatness of America was the right to go to trial, and the presumption of innocence. All of that is being ignored here in San Francisco.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson had two brothers in San Francisco County Jail. In fact, they were in prison during the coronavirus pandemic. An earlier version of this story reported that a public defender rally occurred in September 2021. It occurred in September 2022.

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Berkeley Says It Was Aggressive in Homeless Encampment Sweeps, Promises Reforms Wed, 02 Aug 2023 19:06:33 +0000 Berkeley is accelerating plans to more humanely deal with homelessness in the wake of a San Francisco Public Press report on a chaotic encampment raid in October, and city staffers say they will start collaborating with unhoused people and homeless advocates when planning to clean or clear large encampments. » Read more

The post Berkeley Says It Was Aggressive in Homeless Encampment Sweeps, Promises Reforms appeared first on San Francisco Public Press.

Berkeley is accelerating plans to more humanely deal with homelessness in the wake of a San Francisco Public Press report on a chaotic encampment raid in October, and city staffers say they will start collaborating with unhoused people and homeless advocates when planning to clean or clear large encampments.

Several city departments are changing procedures in response to complaints from those living in encampments and their advocates, and from residential and commercial neighbors.

Here are some key changes:

  • Berkeley will increase trash pickups to several times a week and do more frequent street cleaning to improve overall sanitation and living conditions.
  • The city auditor is reviewing the effectiveness of the city’s homelessness services.
  • The police department is reducing its involvement at encampment abatement operations.
  • The fire department is providing unhoused people with basic fire safety guidelines.
  • The city manager’s Homeless Response Team has taken steps to improve communication with residents at the largest encampments in West Berkeley through community meetings and new “Good Neighbor Guidelines” that explain what conditions would trigger a city intervention.
  • The city has also applied to the state for an Encampment Resolution Funding Grant Award to lease a motel that it would use to provide temporary shelter.

In my capacity as a professional journalist, I reported for the Public Press on the aggressive October encampment cleaning that upended the lives of more than 50 people living near Eighth and Harrison streets and brought the city’s response to homelessness under scrutiny.

I was able to document and photograph the 12-hour encounter because it affected me, too. I am part of a community of people living in tents and vehicles who have been displaced from other encampments around the city, including the Berkeley Marina, the Gilman Underpass, Seabreeze, Ashby Shellmound, People’s Park, the Grayson Street Shelter, Here/There Camp, Shattuck Avenue and the Second Street camps. 

In the wake of photographic evidence from the October encampment cleaning, which exposed the city’s poor communication, lack of transparency, and failure to provide adequate shelter and support to unhoused people, city departments are under review.

Berkeley Senior Auditor Caitlin Palmer wrote in an email that, “We plan to work on the audit in the fall and hope to issue it sometime next year.”

The Berkeley city manager in July concluded an investigation of Berkeley police officers involved in the October encampment sweep who sent text messages that the Berkeley Police Accountability Board said showed “anti-homeless and racist remarks.” The city manager’s office, which hired an independent company to conduct the investigation, issued a report that the investigation found no wrongdoing. But the office has indicated that it will not release further details from the investigation, which it deems confidential.

Aiming for Clearer Communication

Peter Radu, assistant to the city manager, said the city acknowledged that it had mishandled encampment cleanings and used “overhanded” measures that included the destruction of personal property and giving vague, sometimes conflicting instructions to encampment residents. He acknowledged his own role in those events and said that he and the city wanted to work with unhoused people and homeless advocates to rectify the situation.

“I am genuinely sorry,” Radu said to community members gathered at Eighth and Harrison streets. “We’re trying to start something new, and work more with you as opposed to against you moving forward.”

On July 10, dozens of people gathered under and around a gray shade structure at Eighth and Harrison streets. Radu addressed the crowd of outreach workers and encampment residents to tell them that the City Council would soon approve a new shelter, referring to the planned motel conversion. He did not say whether the city would close the encampment, noting that Berkeley has more unhoused people than available shelter spaces, but said that residents in the area would be prioritized. The city has not announced a date for when it plans to begin operating the motel as a shelter.

“Call it a ‘closure’ or call it something else,” Radu wrote in an email asking for clarification about future plans for the encampment. “We do have (1) an opportunity to move people inside with a new resource, and (2) we do have infrastructure repair and construction needs in the area. People cannot live in construction zones.”

Radu’s efforts to establish trust have been met with mixed reactions from people living in the camp and their advocates. While some said they appreciated this newfound willingness to cooperate, others remained skeptical.

“You had consequences from your actions and now you are here,” said Chloe Madison, a camp resident on Eighth Street. “I’ve seen this side of you before, and I’ve also seen the guy who steals people’s homes.”

Many unhoused people say they continue to feel harassed no matter how much they do to avoid residential neighborhoods, because Berkeley staffers have shuffled them around the city with repeated encampment cleanups and closures.

“Just in the past few months, like Seabreeze. I’ve had like 10 camps in the last couple of years,” said Ron, a resident from the Second Street encampment. “You have herded us here.”

A woman stands writing on a clipboard as two men sort clothing and other items in and around a wooden makeshift structure that they are preparing to dismantle.

Yesica Prado / San Francisco Public Press

Okeya Vance, Homeless Response Team supervisor, prepares a public notice for property retrieval that she will leave for Indo, who was away from his makeshift home when city workers arrived. Peter Radu, assistant to the Berkeley city manager, digs through a pile of clothes and puts them in plastic bags that the city will store for Indo to retrieve.

To address such grievances, Radu began working with two of the largest encampments in Berkeley, located near the intersections of Second and Page streets and Eighth and Harrison streets. He said the city and residents needed to find middle ground and take a collaborative approach to addressing the sanitation issues on the streets.

“There’s a competing need for space,” Radu said at an Eighth and Harrison streets community meeting. “So, we’re just trying to find a solution that keeps everybody safe and that allows the community to kind of have a shared use of this public space.”

In April, Radu held the first of three community meetings and presented a report to people living at the Second Street encampment, and said that if residents addressed safety concerns voluntarily, the city would not enter anyone’s vehicles or tents. He said that because of fire risk, residents would not be allowed to live in other kinds of makeshift structures.

Residents who attended the meeting said they were willing to work with the city, but many also shared their experiences of repeated property loss due to previous sweeps. Ron, who gave only his first name, recounted how he lost his belongings when he arrived late during the last cleaning at Second and Page streets. He said he jumped on the back of the garbage truck to salvage his personal belongings. He was able to save a few items.

“I was five minutes late, five minutes late, and I lost everything,” Ron said at the community meeting. “I had things that I carried from town to town. I had things in there for years.”

Alice Barbee, who lives in the unhoused community at Eighth and Harrison streets, said the city previously gave instructions, which residents followed, and then discarded their possessions anyway.

“You say to get it all across the street if you want to keep it safe,” Barbee said. “But you come and you take that stuff, too. All of it and then call it trash?”

In May, residents of both communities asked for reassurance that no one would enter their households and throw away their possessions.

“We have not been as transparent and communicative as you guys would have liked and as we could have been,” Radu said to a gathering of Second Street residents. “I just want to acknowledge there were clearly misunderstandings and miscommunications on our account.”

In May, Radu tried collaborative cleaning at both encampments, asking residents to voluntarily address safety concerns highlighted in his reports. He deemed those events a success.

“We schedule a deep cleaning together and, voluntarily, give us what you don’t want,” Radu said to Eighth and Harrison residents, noting that the city staff had hauled away 11 tons of debris the previous week from the community living near Second and Page streets. “It was all voluntary. None of it was forcefully taken from anybody. We didn’t enter any tents.”

A man and a woman stand in the street talking with their backs toward the camera. In the background, a backhoe operator prepares to use his machine to pick up trash and discarded items that have been pushed into the street in front of an old yellow school bus.

Yesica Prado / San Francisco Public Press

Peter Radu, assistant to the Berkeley city manager, speaks with a Second Street resident about demolishing the makeshift structure where she was living because it was deemed a fire hazard. Berkeley Fire Marshal Dori Teau says wood structures have higher heat output and longer burn time, raising the risk that they could cause fire to spread. In contrast, tents burn faster, reducing the risk of prolonged fires.

But the city does not have a policy for preserving the belongings of someone who is not on site when it conducts a cleaning operation. This means that residents living in tents or makeshift shelters risk losing their possessions when they leave their homes.

The city has also made agreements with surrounding businesses to keep people from camping on their sidewalks. Public notices are issued to residents camping outside of designated zones along Seventh and Eighth streets citing the city’s sidewalk ordinance and prohibition of bulky items in commercial corridors. The notices direct people to a shelter that closed in December and is no longer in operation.

Sharing Public Space

In an effort to get everyone on the same page, Radu asked a few homeless advocates to give him feedback on a draft of unofficial guidelines to maintain general cleanliness in the neighborhood and improve interactions with the surrounding business community.

Radu said he hopes the “Good Neighbor Guidelines” will help establish a better working relationship between encampment residents and the city staff. He is seeking additional community input on the draft.

Berkeley City Manager’s Office

Draft No. 4 of Berkeley’s “Good Neighbor Guidelines” as of July 18, 2023.

But the new procedures are challenging for a few residents who sleep on the open sidewalk and struggle with mental health issues. They are in survival mode and have trouble following rules about storing their belongings and discarding food scraps to avoid attracting vermin. And so, they are constantly at risk of having their possessions thrown away during weekly street cleanings.

“The Guidelines are rules the City wants people to follow. The guidelines say ‘Please,’ but behind that ‘please’ is the threat that if they are not followed, eviction, arrest, or a citation will result,” wrote Osha Neumann, a Berkeley civil rights attorney, in an email seeking his comment on the guidelines. “The City needs to realize that a great number of the people out there have significant disabilities, mental and physical, which make following rules difficult.”

The Public Press asked for reactions to the guidelines from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and all of the City Council members, about half of whom replied by email. Councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Ben Barlett, Rigel Robinson, and Mark Humbert declined to comment on the city’s response to homelessness despite multiple requests.

“These are temporary, common sense guidelines specifically for this neighborhood during the transition to the Super 8 motel,” Elgstrand wrote on behalf of the mayor. “These guidelines will help ensure the safety and security of encampment residents and neighbors.”

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf wrote that she agrees with what Berkeley city staff is doing and that “Berkeley is moving in the right direction.”

Councilwoman Kate Harrison wrote that “it is critically important that while the City makes these requests of unhoused and housed people in our community, it simultaneously provides the necessary facilities and services that allow people to follow them.”

Councilman Terry Taplin has already promulgated a version of these unofficial rules on his website as his district also grapples with homelessness. “The Good Neighbor policy both increases transparency around what triggers a city intervention and provides recommendations to better manage the public right of way better and improve traffic and fire safety,” he wrote, adding that the city could take further steps to improve encampment sanitation.

“Conditions can be improved by waste pump-out services,” he wrote, also noting that the city’s Homelessness Services Panel of Experts has also recommended expediting the search for a new parking lot for the safe parking program. But no money was earmarked for it on this budget cycle, according to Radu.

Harrison and Taplin agree that the city needs to implement other changes, such as providing more permanent supportive housing and transitional housing programs citywide, in addition to resolving sanitation issues.

The state grant would allow the city to lease the motel for two years, and the city hopes funds from Berkeley’s Measure P, which passed in 2019, would pay for three additional years.

“We are working with the County and our nonprofit service providers in finding solutions that enable us to provide access to shelter and services beyond the Super 8 motel,” Elgstrand wrote. “Even if this one location reaches full occupancy, we will continue to do everything we can to target resources to the residents of this encampment.”

Looking for Representatives to Show Up

Despite recent developments, some encampment residents said they felt frustrated and abandoned by Berkeley city officials. They wondered why City Council members and the mayor attended a recent Gilman District Business Summit to talk with business owners but had not attended any of the encampment community meetings.

Post by Rashi Kesarwani on X (formerly known as Twitter). For full text, go to:

Post by Rashi Kesarwani on X (formerly known as Twitter).

A social media post by Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani about a meeting hosted for city staff and business owners in her district.

“As long as you ostracize people, and their issues are not as important as others, then anger and resentment starts to come in,” Merced Dominguez said at an Eighth and Harrison community meeting, adding that she wanted to see the Gilman District’s Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani attend a future meeting. “We just want to have a dialogue with her to work something out. This is what she was voted in to do.”

Kesarwani replied to a request for comment with a general statement but did not directly answer questions about recent policy changes and how Berkeley staff is responding to homelessness in her district despite multiple requests.

Madison, another encampment resident, expressed her frustrations over email, writing that she hadn’t heard about the business summit and questioned the timing of that meeting, which portrayed unhoused people disparagingly, blaming them for criminal behavior and causing others in the neighborhood to feel fearful.

“For you to attempt to approach us in good faith only days later is super skeevy,” she wrote to Radu. “Super cool how we’re all lumped into being scary crime doers when all I do all day is attempt to further my career in a way that works with my mental and physical health.” She added that “excluding us from that meeting allows those narratives to perpetuate.”

Radu responded to Madison that he had recommended including encampment members and community advocates at the meeting with business owners, but that the decision was not up to him.

“You’ll understand that I don’t get to make all those decisions, but since then I HAVE recommended to the business leaders that they reach out to you and try to have conversations,” he wrote, adding that “I agree completely with you that the format of the business meeting was not conducive to such trust.”

A city worker in a yellow vest and white hardhat walks toward a crouching man to hand him a bicycle frame. Two other city workers stand by holding shovels.

Yesica Prado / San Francisco Public Press

A Berkeley Public Works employee retrieves a bike frame from the backhoe scooper and returns it to L.A., a Second Street resident, who reaches out to accept the frame. Since L.A. was not present when the area was being cleaned, some items outside his tent were discarded. L.A. inspected the scooper and saved a few more items.

Some encampment residents are accepting, cautiously, what appear to be goodwill gestures.

“For a long time, I think it was a big battle. You guys don’t want to talk to us or work with us,” said Sarah Teague, a Second Street encampment resident, at one of the recent meetings.

“But you guys are making the initiative to come down here and talk to us personally. That’s a huge breakthrough,” she said. “I think it’s a big giant leap of faith for everybody.”

Full disclosure: Radu asked for Yesica Prado’s feedback on the Good Neighbor Guidelines and accepted a few suggestions to clarify wording but did not incorporate her other recommendations.

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New Reparations Ideas Include Senior Housing, Legal Assistance and a ‘Black Card’ for Local Discounts Mon, 10 Jul 2023 23:38:10 +0000 Just over a week after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted affirmative action in college admissions, San Francisco took a major step in the other direction by advancing a plan to repair historical harms by the government against Black people.

After dozens of meetings over two years, the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee  released its final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed on Friday. » Read more

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Just over a week after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted affirmative action in college admissions, San Francisco took a major step in the other direction by advancing a plan to repair historical harms by the government against Black people.

After dozens of meetings over two years, the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee  released its final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed on Friday.

Beyond policy ideas in a December 2022 draft report such as $5 million cash payments to qualifying Black San Franciscans, the committee added dozens of new recommendations such as the creation of a “Black card” program offering free access to city services and discounts at businesses. The proposal would also further shake up politics, adding two Board of Supervisors appointees to the Police Commission, including someone who has been incarcerated.

The final plan altered qualifications for reparations programs. For example, now participants have only to prove one “harm” to be eligible.

But the “what” of the recommendations did not change as much as the “why.” The authors added much detail to their analysis, expanding discussion of injustices committed by government and private actors against Black San Franciscans, growing the report from a 60-page draft to almost 400 pages.

It takes pains to point out a precedent for local reparations: compensation by federal and San Francisco governments for Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II. The movement for Black reparations gained momentum in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police in May 2020, and was accelerated by racial disparities in the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In San Francisco, reparations advocates, such as the local NAACP branch, had long denounced discrimination in housing, economic opportunity, disparities in health outcomes for Black residents. They also pointed to disparities in education outcomes — a greater challenge now than before the Supreme Court signaled a further curtailment of affirmative action nationwide.

“The court’s ruling,” observed James Lance Taylor, a professor of political science at the University of San Francisco who sits on the Reparations Advisory Committee, “said ‘No, we want to go back to old America.’ And reparations is saying, ‘We don’t want to be broken anymore as a people, we want to go into the rest of the 21st century somewhat whole.”

The committee’s draft plan drew national attention by advocating for the $5 million payments, as well as other policies such as selling public housing units for $1 each, establishing a historically Black college or university campus in the city, building neighborhood health clinics in African American neighborhoods and supporting Black cultural institutions. These provisions remain in the final version.

The Board of Supervisors plans to hold a public meeting on Sept. 19 to discuss the final plan’s ideas, including presentations from several reparations committee members.

Though critics question the need for reparations in a city where slavery was not formally adopted, the report notes: “The tenets of segregation, white supremacy, separatism, and the systematic repression and exclusion of Black people from the city’s economy were codified through legal and extralegal actions, social codes, and judicial enforcement. The legacies of these actions bear true to this day.”

The local report comes on the heels of a parallel effort in Sacramento. The California State Reparations Task Force on June 29 submitted its findings for consideration by the Legislature. Recommendations include a formal apology for “gross” human rights violations against enslaved African people and their descendants, cash payments, restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, tax relief for Black families in neighborhoods where the government participated in discriminatory lending, a K-12 Black curriculum, and eliminating toxic waste near federally assisted housing and other areas with high concentrations of African Americans.

Committing Resources

On June 29, several San Francisco supervisors reached an agreement with Breed to include $4 million in the city’s two-year budget for an Office of Reparations. That sum was a far cry from the $50 million that Supervisor Shamann Walton, who proposed the reparations committee, advocated in March.

Walton told the San Francisco Examiner he was “definitely disappointed we didn’t get $50 million, definitely disappointed we didn’t get $10 million, but most certainly positive and optimistic that we’re moving forward and there will be a positive outcome.”

Taylor said $4 million was “not a small amount of money” and expressed guarded optimism that reparations would move forward with an office. “I’m encouraged because of recent developments, but we’re still up against the tide and have a long way to go and a lot of people to, you know, to meet and persuade,” he said.

A June 5 San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst report estimated that the office would require $1.6 million over two years for administration. The office could use remaining funds to search for eligible applicants, develop policy proposals, create pilot programs and set investment criteria. But more funds would be needed for bigger goals, such as cash payments.

Though the funds have been secured, Breed “has not agreed” to allow her administration to spend the money, mayoral spokesperson Jeff Cretan told the San Francisco Chronicle.

In an email to the Public Press, the mayor’s office wrote that Breed believes reparations, including cash payments, is an issue best handled on the national level. However, “we are always interested in reforming local policies to address systemic issues that impact our communities, including the African-American community,” her office wrote. “We will be reviewing the report to understand what is included, and will work to implement policies and programs that deliver on that commitment.”

The full board must vote twice to finalize the budget before Breed signs it by August. The board unanimously endorsed the draft reparations plan in March in a nonbinding vote, but its recommendations can still be amended or set aside.

Question of Eligibility

To qualify for reparations, applicants must meet criteria the board recently amended in part to align with language in the California State Reparations Task Force’s report. Participants must be either African American descendants of an enslaved person, descendants of a free Black person prior to the 20th century, or have identified as Black or African American on public documents for 10 years. They must also be over 18 and have been born in or migrated to San Francisco before 2006, with 10 years of residency.

The plan requires participants to have suffered harm, and several examples were added to the list and others clarified. Additions include documented injury by law enforcement, lending discrimination and substandard living conditions in public or subsidized housing. Instead of proving two harms as in the draft plan, participants now need prove only one.

Additional Policies and Findings

Four subcommittees of the Reparations Advisory Committee added dozens of new recommendations in the past six months, as well as historical discussion and contemporary study findings.

Policy additions include a Black legal defense fund to help city workers facing discrimination, a genealogy testing fund and housing opportunities for Black seniors and LGBTQ+ people. Another suggestion: using money from cannabis taxes and restitution from drug-related class action lawsuits to fund Black businesses, education and homeownership.

The final report cites findings by several academic and governmental groups. A Law and Policy Lab report from Stanford Law School details disinvestment in San Francisco’s African American community between 1970 and 2022. An independent reviewer from Stanford University documented barriers in the city’s recruiting, hiring and advancement of Black workers.

Also included are a community-led oral history guide from students at Stanford Law School, findings from interviews and focus groups by students at the University of San Francisco and a socio-spatial analysis of Black San Francisco and a survey analysis by Kerby Lynch, senior program manager for Ceres Policy Research, a policy-oriented research group focused on alternatives to the current justice system.

The report acknowledges that the movement will need backing from the community and elected officials. State residents “express significant support for reparations measures for eligible Black Californians,” though it varies by characteristics like race and age, according to a study from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. The survey shows that 87% Black Californians support cash payments, while only 47% of white people and 46% of Asian Americans do. Overall, cash payments attracted the least support — 63% — of any of the provisions surveyed.

But advocates note that many ideas once considered radical have come to fruition. “Momentum is in our favor,” Taylor said. “I’m most proud that we have inspired people to believe that this is theirs, that they deserve it. It is not welfare, it is not affirmative action, it is not Black begging. It is the result of actual harm that the state did to them as a population.”

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Reporter’s Notebook: The Rebellious Legacy of ‘Lesbian Money’ Fri, 23 Jun 2023 20:56:22 +0000 When we report a story, it can involve numerous interviews, sources speaking on background or deep dives into government or corporate records. But sometimes it’s amazing what a small object can reveal. 

Like the rubber stamp recently discovered by Liana Wilcox, producer of the San Francisco Public Press’ podcast “Civic,” when she was helping her mother clear a storage area. » Read more

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When we report a story, it can involve numerous interviews, sources speaking on background or deep dives into government or corporate records. But sometimes it’s amazing what a small object can reveal. 

Like the rubber stamp recently discovered by Liana Wilcox, producer of the San Francisco Public Press’ podcast “Civic,” when she was helping her mother clear a storage area.

“I was with my mom going through some of her keepsakes and found a stamp that read ‘Lesbian Money.’ My mom told me that she found it in our old church’s basement,” Wilcox said, adding that she feared the rubber stamp had a sinister connotation.

“I immediately thought it was some sort of exclusionary practice, but that didn’t feel right considering the church we went to, the First Congregational Church of San Francisco, called themselves ‘open and affirming,’” she said.

Wilcox mentioned the stamp during one of our staff meetings, and I said “Oh, no that was a way we tried to raise awareness about the LGBT community back in the old days.” 

As a young gay activist and budding journalist in Salt Lake City in the early 1980s, I vaguely remembered stamps like that one. I reached out to a dear friend to see if she remembered lesbian money. 

Becky Moss is a longtime LGBTQ+ community organizer in Salt Lake City. She and I co-hosted the radio show “Concerning Gays and Lesbians” in Utah in the early ’80s. Moss said activists around the U.S. were stamping bills to show the financial power and size of the greater queer community back in the late 1970s. 

“Separatist lesbian communes would stamp all of their bills before coming into town for supplies,” she said. “But I remember it being more widespread than that, it was really a nationwide thing.” 

The rubber stamp used to print "lesbian money" on dollar bills

A number of sources trace the first “Gay$$” and “Lesbian Money” stamps — sometimes marked with a pink triangle — as having originated in San Francisco in the mid 1970s. The pink triangle was used by the Nazis in Germany to identify gay men in concentration camps and was co-opted as the symbol of the early gay movement before the rainbow flag mostly supplanted it. 

Wherever the money stamping started, by 1986 it had drawn the ire of the Reagan Administration. The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois issued a cease-and-desist order to lesbian and gay bar owners in Chicago who were stamping all the bills coming through their businesses to the tune of $5 million a year. Government officials said the campaign violated federal law against defacing currency. But the legal action foundered at least in part because it was nearly impossible to determine who was responsible — anyone could stamp bills, anywhere. The Treasury Department also determined that most of the bills were still “fit for circulation.”  

Money stamping campaigns grew quickly to the point that finding some kind of queer stamp on currency was fairly common in the 1980s. It made an impact in an era when LGBTQ+ representation in film, television and the press were rare. 

Campaign Against Discrimination

Money stamping campaigns were also used to counter discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. One campaign out of Utah unfolded when Moss visited a restaurant in a suburb of Salt Lake City in the late 1980s. 

“My sister, who had AIDS, and I were at a restaurant in Bountiful, Utah,” she said. “After the meal, the staff threw our plates in the garbage.”

The Salt Lake City branch of ACT-UP, the AIDS activist organization, decided to use an “AIDS Money” stamp to fight such blatant discrimination against those perceived to be infected with HIV.

“They all went to the restaurant and bought things like pie or french fries and then paid for them with the stamped money,” Moss said. “The activists made the point that the owner would now have to throw away all the plates used to serve them or stop the practice.” 

“AIDS Money” stamps remained part of the nationwide effort to raise awareness through the 1980s and ’90s. 

Becky’s sister Peggy Moss Tingey died of complications from AIDS in March 1995, just nine months after her young son Chase died from the virus. Both passed away just before the HIV protease drug cocktail was starting to become available. 

Other Stamping Activism

Recent money stamping campaigns included “I grew hemp” stamps, promoting marijuana legalization, placed on $1 bills near George Washington’s portrait. The idea was taken up by groups advocating for the Second Amendment — “gun owners money” — and even campaign finance reform, with the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation organizing “stamp money out of politics” stamps in 2012.

A campaign in 2016 used large stamps to place Harriet Tubman’s face over the $20 bill portrait of Andrew Jackson, after the Trump Administration overruled the Treasury Department’s plan to replace Jackson with Tubman by 2020.

While the LGBTQ+ movement used stamping to great effect, it was by no means the first to spread the word by customizing currency.

Before World War I, British suffragettes stamped pennies with the words, “Votes for Women.” Only a handful of the coins still exist. But just as the U.S. Treasury Department declined to withdraw bills with “Lesbian Money,” the British banking system declined to take the low-value marked pennies out of circulation.  

A suffragette defaced penny, with the words "Votes for Women" hammered into it.
Suffragette-defaced penny in the British Museum. Photograph by Mike Peel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Without suffragettes breaking the first chain of patriarchal thinking by winning the right to vote, there would have been no LGBTQ+ rights movement. Discrimination against women — sexism — is the basis of hatred of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Both the British women who had to strike each penny 13 times — engraving their words letter by letter — and those who inked rubber stamps over and over again used their spending power to wear down conspiracies of silence, one tiny message at a time.

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Climate Change Can Harm Mental Health of Older Adults Fri, 16 Jun 2023 22:07:37 +0000 Climate change is expected to increase the severity and frequency of wildfires and other environmental disasters in California and beyond. Wildfires, like the recent blazes in Canada that brought smoke to the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States, pose threats to the physical health of older adults, especially those in marginalized communities. Emerging » Read more

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Climate change is expected to increase the severity and frequency of wildfires and other environmental disasters in California and beyond. Wildfires, like the recent blazes in Canada that brought smoke to the Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States, pose threats to the physical health of older adults, especially those in marginalized communities. Emerging research shows events like these could take a toll on the mental health of older people as well.

After the 2018 Camp Fire tore through Paradise and neighboring areas, claiming at least 85 lives and displacing 50,000 people, some older residents from that region relocated to Carson City, Nev., and nearby locations.

Months later, Dr. Elizabeth Haase, medical director of psychiatry at Carson Tahoe Hospital and Behavioral Health Services and a founding member of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance — a group of mental health professionals raising awareness of the effects of climate change on mental health — said she observed worsening health, including exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and rapid progression of dementia in some of the older people who had relocated from the Camp Fire zone.

“People can have a very dramatic decrease in their overall mental and physical health that’s connected to one of these climate events — that is likely to get missed, in terms of the association,” Haase said. One of her older patients developed pneumonia in addition to worsening of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was hospitalized for several months, she said. Her patient’s mental health also deteriorated.

“In offering her the understanding — because I’m somebody that knows about climate and health — that what was happening to her now is linked to her experience in the fire was actually quite therapeutic for her,” she said. “And you know, a lot of sort of depressive and grief-related symptoms came out. And we were able to talk a little bit about what it means to be in your 70s and lose your home with absolutely no possibility, financially, of rebuilding.”

Like Haase, mental health experts based in the San Francisco Bay Area are exploring the ensuing physical, mental and emotional effects of climate change. Dr. Robin Cooper is co-founder and president of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, and an associate clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She also has a small private practice in the city.

Cooper spoke with the San Francisco Public Press about what needs to be done locally to address climate change’s mental health toll. The following excerpts from the interview have been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been working as a psychiatrist for decades, and in recent years, you’ve been exploring the threats of climate change to mental health. What got you interested in this field?

I have always been, outside of my professional endeavors, an activist. At the time that I began to learn about and think about and be introduced to the issues of climate change, it had that — “Wake up! Oh my God, this is a potential existential threat.” Once knowing about something that profound, I can’t turn myself away from it. And I began to be active in a number of organizations that were addressing climate change in its broader sense. But as I began to discover, I could use my voice most effectively in the realm that’s close to my work. So, I began to be involved much more in the health impacts of climate change.

A lot was being said about the general broad range of health impacts, but at the end of a talk, a pulmonologist or cardiologist or infectious disease person would say, “Oh, by the way, there’s some mental health impacts.” And I was shocked. I said, “Oh my God, we should be talking about that. We need to be the experts on that.” I met other likeminded psychiatrists, but our voice was very, very tiny at that time. And we came together with the idea that this was something we needed to take ownership of, know more about and be able to speak to it.

Could you describe how climate change affects the mental health of older adults?

So, you and I are both Californians, we know about the Paradise fire. Paradise was a community that had a large number of retirees. It was affordable. It was a place where people could go after years of living in other communities, buy a home that was going to be their place of retirement and live up the rest of their lives. The massive loss of their homes, their community, the place that they could live. These are people who retired, they’re on fixed incomes, who lost everything. So, when you lose your home, and you don’t have a lot of economic resources for rebuilding, you really have secondary emotional impacts. And so, where do you live? The loss of your social support — the greater level of poverty that you live out the rest of your life — interferes with the ability to make choices. And that has huge emotional impacts with depression, post-traumatic stress and a greater vulnerability.

If we look at the disasters that happened in Puerto Rico [in 2017 following Hurricanes Irma and Maria], particularly, the elderly were left on their own. They had no access to medications. Young people had gone to the U.S. mainland for jobs. So, the elderly were left on their own with little to help them recover. And those have huge implications for their emotional wellbeing and their physical wellbeing.

As extreme weather events continue to increase, what should local governments, hospitals, nonprofits and other organizations that are providing services to older people be doing now to strengthen the mental health infrastructure?

We’re in a big crisis, as you know, in health care delivery. We need to make changes in our health care delivery as we confront the vast kinds of troubles that people are going to experience from climate change. And that means shifting to funding and providing care in a more public health, community health manner using population-based ways of intervening. It means that the governmental agencies and those who pay for health care have to do that in a different way.

It also means empowering people in communities to do that before there are extreme heat waves and disasters. It means tightening up our neighbor-to-neighbor relationships, particularly for the elderly. That’s incredibly important, because they can be isolated, left alone, not able to care for themselves. If we have a public health model, and a model based on connectivity in communities, we can have partnerships. We can have buddy systems so Joe knows that Mrs. Smith, who is 86 years old and in her home, is alone and knows what she needs, and has someone to bring her to cooling centers, or help modulate continuing her medications as these disasters and climate events emerge.

Let me just give you another little example. Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the Eastern seaboard with ferocious impacts. Elderly people in this particular public housing that I’m aware of were stuck in their apartments for days without food, light or ability to get out because of the elevators not working. And then people came to the door. And they didn’t know if they were safe. They didn’t know if those were intruders who were going to hurt them, or people there to help them. It doesn’t have to be that way if we take care of some of these things before.

UCSF launched a climate change and mental health task force in June 2019. What did the group set out to do and what has it accomplished, especially for older people?

I would say our achievements have been in the realm of educating mental health trainees about the impacts of climate change in mental health. I believe that medical students need to be what we call climate literate in their educational endeavors. How can we train doctors, and anyone in health care, adequately, if we don’t train them to think about the most significant threat to our wellbeing of this century?

That task force is now being integrated more into this campuswide center on climate health and equity, which actually is a UC-wide endeavor that the Office of the President has supported that is multi-campus, although it’s primarily based at UCSF. I will say it is profoundly underfinanced.

Are you aware of other projects like that in the Bay Area?

There are things happening at many institutions, not with creating a task force, but other kinds of things. Stanford has a new faculty position for one person in the Department of Psychiatry to embed climate change and mental health into their department. Davis has a number of people who are exploring and doing research. But I will say to you, all of these things are siloed. Coming together is a really big issue in the realm of climate and mental health.

The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, last month sounded the alarm about the loneliness epidemic in the U.S., and how social isolation has a detrimental effect on the health of older people. And climate disasters could worsen this disconnection, especially if older adults are displaced from their homes and communities. So, on a local level, what steps can be taken to alleviate the loneliness crisis?

I think it is enhancing recreational, social meal programs that bring people outside of their homes and engage them with each other in socially involved activities. We know that caregivers are so underpaid, and that there’s been a massive loss in numbers of people who are doing caregiving for the elderly, because you can’t make a living off of it. We have to fund caregivers, so that those who are isolated in their homes have regular connection.

Given all the challenges and complexities of investigating and implementing solutions to address climate change’s toll on mental health, what gives you hope for the future?

Hope is a funny word. Hope is not optimism. Hope is not like, “I can see our way out of this.” We are going to have very, very significant, enduring, unrepairable damage from the impact of climate change. What gives me hope is this new way of defining hope — radical hope. I can envision a better world to live in. And when I see what’s happening, I can’t turn away from it, I have to lean into it. And some people are saying now, hope is a verb we create out of the activism that we do to confront our wicked problem. And what we do now is not going to make this all nice and better, but it will affect the kind of world that we’re moving toward in the future.

This Q&A, part of a series of stories on the health impacts of climate change on older adults, was produced with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, the Journalists Network on Generations and the Archstone Foundation.

See also:

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Reporter’s Notebook: Where to Learn More About Black History and Reparations in San Francisco Thu, 15 Jun 2023 17:35:47 +0000 For a journalist covering reparations for Black people in San Francisco, June is big. The city’s highly anticipated reparations plan is scheduled to be released at the end of the month. And we are just a few days from Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas learned that the Union had won the Civil War, and that they were free — 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. » Read more

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For a journalist covering reparations for Black people in San Francisco, June is big. The city’s highly anticipated reparations plan is scheduled to be released at the end of the month. And we are just a few days from Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas learned that the Union had won the Civil War, and that they were free — 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In recent months, I’ve had the chance to delve into the history of movements for racial equity and reparations in the United States, as well as the rich stories of San Francisco’s two historically African American neighborhoods — the Fillmore and Bayview-Hunters Point.

When I set out to do this reporting, I spoke with Shawna Sherman, who manages the African American Center at the San Francisco Public Library, for some reading recommendations. In addition to books, periodicals and documentaries, the library’s collection includes a trove of primary sources. Sherman’s guidance was extremely helpful.

“The purpose of the African American Center is just to support African Americans in the city with resources to help them better their lives and just learn more about their history and things like that,” she said.

Given the upcoming holiday and impending release of the city’s reparations plan, I want to share Sherman’s book recommendations along with other resources I relied on as I reported on the history of San Francisco’s historically Black neighborhoods and the local movement for reparations.

There are many other resources to explore beyond what what we’ve included in this list. We welcome your recommendations in the comments section.


  • “Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco,” by Douglas Henry Daniels 
  • “Our Roots Run Deep: The Black Experience in California, Volumes One and Two,” edited by John William Templeton* 
  • “Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954,” by Albert S. Broussard 
  • “City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco,” by Chester Hartman 
  • “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century,” by William A. Darity 
  • “Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History,” by Ana Lucia Araujo 
  • “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era,” by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts* 
  • “Black Nationalism in the United States: From Malcom X to Barack Obama,” by James Lance Taylor* 
  • “Fillmore Revisited — How Redevelopment Tore Through the Western Addition,” a chapter by Rachel Brahinsky from the anthology ​​“Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978,” edited by Chris Carlsson and Lisa Ruth Elliott*

*Books marked with an asterisk were recommended by people I interviewed or brought to my attention during reporting.


Podcasts and Oral Histories: 



  • An interim report by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans 
  • A draft reparations plan by the San Francisco African American Reparations Committee 

City-Sponsored Presentations and Panels: 

You can learn more about the history of Black San Franciscans and access other materials by visiting the African American Center on the third floor of the Main Library Branch at 100 Larkin St. or by reviewing the center’s recommended reading lists online.

Public Press reporting on reparations:  

Update: Additional items were added a few hours after this page was published.

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Emergency Repairs in Public Housing Complex Are Behind Schedule as Owner Advances Redevelopment Plans Thu, 08 Jun 2023 22:04:07 +0000 More than a year after emergency maintenance work was to have been completed at a Western Addition public housing site, dozens of units were still in need of “moderate to extensive repairs,” according to a May report submitted to the city by the owner. » Read more

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More than a year after emergency maintenance work was to have been completed at a Western Addition public housing site, dozens of units were still in need of “moderate to extensive repairs,” according to a May report submitted to the city by the owner. The developers of Plaza East Apartments did not provide a timeline for when repairs would be completed during a May 25 San Francisco Housing Authority Commission meeting. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in late May gave the 22-year-old complex a failing physical inspection score of 40 out of 100 as part of its regular oversight process to ensure safe conditions in subsidized housing.   

Andrew Ten, a HUD public affairs officer whose jurisdiction includes San Francisco, wrote in an email that issues related to building exteriors, systems and other health and safety concerns contributed to Plaza East’s failing score.  

Failing scores “are not a common experience, but it does happen,” Ten wrote.  

Neither McCormack Baron Salazar, which owns the complex, nor the San Francisco Housing Authority have responded to requests for details regarding the failing score. Pedro Abril, who works for the John Stewart Company, which provides management services for Plaza East, said at the meeting that the complex is filing an appeal with HUD regarding certain line items noted in the inspection, but that reversing those may not give the property a passing score of 60.  

HUD expects the San Francisco Housing Authority to immediately correct and document the correction of the most pressing health and safety issues at the 193-unit complex, and the federal agency will conduct a follow-up inspection in a year, Ten wrote.  

Of all public housing sites in the country, 13% failed their most recent inspections, according to data posted on HUD’s website, which includes inspection data through October 2022. Prior to the May inspection, HUD last inspected Plaza East in January 2017 and gave it a passing score of 82. HUD paused on-site visits during the pandemic.  

Additional Plaza East units had been repaired since the May report, and repairs had been completed on 154 units, according an email sent Tuesday by the Housing Authority. Because every single unit needed emergency fixes, 39 still await repairs.  

San Francisco gave McCormack Baron Salazar a $2.7 million loan to fix habitability issues at Plaza East in April 2021. A schedule outlined in the loan indicated that the work would be completed by May 30, 2022. As of this week, the company had used about 66% percent of the available loan, according to Audrey Abadilla, a communications and outreach associate at the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. 

At the meeting, Joaquín Torres, president of the Housing Authority Commission, expressed frustration at the slow pace of repairs and poor oversight by McCormack Baron Salazar.   

“I just want to say again, as I did last month and the month before that, that these gaps in repair service are quite simply not helping any of us achieve the goal of building confidence and trust with the residents,” Torres said. “The rate at which these issues are being quote resolved or quote addressed is something that is tremendously disappointing right now. And I want to be sure that this is something that is taken seriously, because the manner in which we’re getting this information — or rather not getting information — continues to be extremely dispiriting.” 

The city hands out loan money through reimbursement, which the recipient can request once a month. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development aims to process requests within 30 days. The contractor making repairs at Plaza East typically does about $50,000 worth of work and then stops until the reimbursements come through, which can result in interruptions of two to four weeks, Jerry Johnson, an associate project manager at McCormack Baron Salazar, said at the recent Housing Authority Commission meeting.  

Other factors contributed to slow repairs, including staffing shortages and supply chain delays related to the coronavirus pandemic, a transition to new property management, severe winter weather, and resident concerns regarding repairs and relocation efforts, Abadilla wrote. McCormack Baron Salazar managed Plaza East until it hired the John Stewart Company, which has managed the property since June 2021.  

On top of the approved loan, the city has provided an additional $160,000 loan to McCormack Baron Salazar because the company “didn’t have the operating funds to support their portion of the services contract” for the 2022-23 fiscal year, Abadilla wrote in an email. 

Operating funds will continue to be a challenge for Plaza East in its current configuration, according to a written statement from the Housing Authority. 

“The existing funding model is not able to consistently and substantially address all necessary repairs,” according to the statement. “In the short term, all repairs are prioritized by health and safety. In the long term, Plaza East must be rebuilt, which will provide brand new units that our residents deserve and higher operating subsidies to keep those units in good condition.”

In a March 2021 interview, Adhi Nagraj — who at the time was McCormack Baron Salazar’s senior vice president and director of development, and is now the company’s chief development officer — blamed a lack of federal funding for ongoing maintenance issues, saying that dwindling federal subsidies have led to a situation where there is not enough funding for repairs. The company cited the decline of federal funding for public housing as part of the rationale for the company’s plan to tear down the complex and replace it with a mix of market-rate and subsidized units. 

Redevelopment plan and next steps 

In August 2022, McCormack Baron Salazar and the Housing Authority submitted a preliminary proposal to the San Francisco Planning Department that included replacing Plaza East’s existing 193 public housing units and adding 270 market rate and 292 affordable units that would be rented below market rate to tenants who qualify by income. This proposal almost quadruples the existing number of units, and could add 200 to 300 more units than a plan to redevelop the site from two years ago. 

The future of Plaza East Apartments has been up in the air since January 2021, when McCormack Baron Salazar requested permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish the then 20-year-old public housing complex and rebuild it as a mixed-income site with 450 to 550 units. This proposal was supported by Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Housing Authority. 

HUD denied that request in March 2021, determining that the costs of rehabilitating the complex did not meet a high enough threshold to merit demolition and redevelopment according to the program under which the developer originally applied.  

A three-dimensional drawing shows five buildings rising in the blocks bounded by Buchanan, Turk, Laguna, Eddy and Willow Street. The building where Turk and Laguna intersect rises high above the others and displays a label of plus or minus 230 feet. The other four buildings are drawn much shorter, and are labeled as plus or minus 85 feet. Trees and several open green spaces wrap around and in between the buildings.

McCormack Baron Salazar, Planning Department

McCormack Baron Salazar, a St. Louis-based developer, submitted a preliminary redevelopment proposal for Plaza East in August 2022 with San Francisco’s Strada Investment Group and Without Walls Development Corporation, a Black-led development group. The proposal includes five buildings and a mix of market rate and subsidized units. All of the market rate units and 30 of the replacement public housing units would be clustered in one 20-story building, while the remaining units would be concentrated in four other buildings, each seven or eight stories.

The developer is working on next steps to seek approval from the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors for the current proposal. Housing Authority representatives hope the application will be submitted this year, according to a statement sent in response to questions about the proposal.

“We are hopeful that pending additional discussions with the community, an application will be submitted this year,” according an early May statement from the Housing Authority. Once that happens, the project approval process is expected to take about two years before construction can begin.  

Supervisor Dean Preston, whose district includes Plaza East, called living conditions there “unacceptable.” 

“My office has stood with tenants demanding repairs and a tenant-led process for planning the future of Plaza East,” Preston said in an emailed statement. “We successfully pushed for $2.7 million that was released for repairs at Plaza East, and won $20 million in last year’s budget for life-safety repairs in public housing which the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development continues to delay. It’s time for the city to listen to residents, finish the emergency short term repairs, and create a real tenant-supported plan for the future of Plaza East.” 

McCormack Baron Salazar did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the ongoing repairs or future plans for redevelopment of the site.  

Following HUD’s rejection of its 2021 demolition plans, McCormack Baron Salazar has shifted gears to focus on a different HUD program. This would involve tearing down the existing property and converting it to a new operating model, which “offers the best financial resources to rebuild the existing public housing units at Plaza East and secure ongoing subsidies that are stable, predictable, and greater than those provided through the Public Housing program,” according to a statement from the Housing Authority.  

Many tenants oppose rebuilding the site as mixed-income housing, and at least 100 of them signed a petition last June asking the developer to consider alternatives, such as rebuilding the site as 100% affordable housing. They said the developer should not move forward without tenant input and transparency.  

“We want to make sure that we’re not played,” resident Yolanda Marshall told Mission Local last June.  

Poor conditions and ongoing vacancies 

Department of Building Inspection records document a history of problems at the site, including leaks, mold and pest infestations. In November 2021, several tenants whose units received emergency repairs said the fixes were inadequate. As of June 6, Department of Building Inspections records showed 11 unresolved complaints and 28 outstanding code violations at Plaza East, bringing the total number of violations at the site to 136 since 2004. 

A group of 18 tenants at Plaza East sued for damages in May 2021, alleging that their units posed “severe health and safety hazards,” citing habitability issues such as mold growth, leaks and vermin. The plaintiffs also alleged that the building’s management, which was McCormack Baron Salazar at the time, harassed them and refused to carry out necessary repairs. The group settled in January, though the terms of the agreement were not divulged by the plaintiff attorneys or accessible online.  

Since the owner initiated emergency repair work, vacancies at the site have gone up.  

As of June 1, there were 25 vacancies at Plaza East, according to an email from the Housing Authority. At the start of the repairs process, there were 20, nine of which were supposed to be immediately repaired and leased out to new tenants, according to the loan agreement.

Vacant units at a public housing site reduce the operating subsidy provided by HUD, wrote Ten, the regional public affairs officer at HUD, adding that it is in the Housing Authority’s best interest to maximize occupancy.  

Both the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Housing Authority are concerned about long term vacancies, but Plaza East is not filling vacant units unless they are being used to house existing Plaza East residents. Such practices are common at large public housing properties slated for redevelopment, Abadilla wrote.

The Housing Authority and the site property manager, the John Stewart Company, are responsible for filling vacancies, according to a statement from the Housing Authority. However, “even if all units on site were occupied, Plaza East would still not receive enough subsidy to pay for all necessary operating costs.”

UPDATED 06/07/23: This article was changed to indicate that emailed statements sent by Linda Mason, general counsel for the Housing Authority, should be attributed to the San Francisco Housing Authority, not to her individually.

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Children Violently Removed by Court Order Resurface and Report Traumatic Experience Sat, 03 Jun 2023 17:42:16 +0000 This article is adapted from a bonus episode of our podcast “Civic.” Click the audio player below to hear the full story. 

It has been seven months since Maya Laing and her brother Sebastian, who were 15 and 11 at the time, were violently taken from their grandmother’s Santa Cruz home by court order. » Read more

The post Children Violently Removed by Court Order Resurface and Report Traumatic Experience appeared first on San Francisco Public Press.

This article is adapted from a bonus episode of our podcast “Civic.” Click the audio player below to hear the full story. 

It has been seven months since Maya Laing and her brother Sebastian, who were 15 and 11 at the time, were violently taken from their grandmother’s Santa Cruz home by court order.

Judge Rebecca Connelly, who oversaw their custody case, rejected the siblings’ claims that their mother abused them, and last October she ordered them into reunification training to repair their fractured relationship with their mother.

A friend of Maya’s recorded and posted to social media a video of the siblings resisting while transport agents from Assisted Intervention physically overpowered them in October. That was the last time Maya and Sebastian’s father, his family and the children’s friends had any knowledge of their condition — until now.

On May 29, the siblings posted a series of videos to social media announcing that they had “escaped” their mother’s custody and describing what they endured during their transport and their four-day reunification training.

They said they were taken to an Airbnb where their mother awaited them along with reunification trainers Regina Marshall and Lynn Steinberg. They said they were placed in a room where doorknobs had been removed and where a mattress was pushed against the doorway to keep the door shut. They were guarded by the same transport agents who had overpowered them in Santa Cruz. At one point, the siblings said, one of the agents slept in a bed next to the one they shared. When they were caught exchanging whispered words of comfort, they were banned from speaking to each other.

They said that Steinberg told them that she would “break” them.

“They called us liars and psychopath,” Maya said in one video.

“They, like, threatened to send us to a camp, like a wilderness camp, where if we wouldn’t comply, we wouldn’t be given food or blankets,” Sebastian said.

In response to a written request for comment, Maya wrote that she and her brother viewed their transporters as “kidnappers that we were forced to placate.”

Maya also refuted an allegation by Steinberg that her father was involved in gathering the crowd that arrived to witness their removal from their grandmother’s home. “Our dad in no way orchestrated our protest to being taken. We did what was the only reasonable response to three aggressive strangers, backed up by police officers, coming after us and trying to drag us into a strange car in the middle of the night.”

Maya and Sebastian’s mother, Jessica Laing, responded to a request for comment by emailing a link to a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children webpage featuring two missing child posters of Maya and Sebastian.

Steinberg and Assisted Intervention did not respond to a recent request for comment for this article. In response to a request sent in January, Assisted Intervention sent a brief email stating, “Circumstances like this one are complex.”  

In the meantime, local supporters who spoke out at public events and on social media in reaction to Maya and Sebastian’s removal have gained ground. One month after Maya and Sebastian were taken, Santa Cruz lawmakers held a press conference outside their grandmother’s home to announce local legislation that would ban transport agents from getting physical with children. And as Viji Sundaram recently reported for the Public Press, Senate Bill 331, also called Piqui’s Law: Keeping Children Safe from Family Violence, was unanimously endorsed by California’s Senate Judiciary Committee last month. If the bill is approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor, it would establish judicial reporting requirements on reunification training and on expert testimony in child custody proceedings.

Several states are considering similar bills to comply with a provision in the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022. The act promises states up to $25 million in grants if their reforms comply with national requirements.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, help is available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides confidential assistance to anyone affected by domestic violence through a live chat and a free 24-hour hotline at 800-799-7233. The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence offers an online tool for finding local organizations and community resources by region.

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Sturm Discusses Reporting on Overdoses on KALW’s ‘Your Call’ Sat, 03 Jun 2023 17:13:59 +0000 Sylvie Sturm appeared on KALW’s “Your Call” with host Rose Aguilar for last week’s Media Roundtable to talk about her reporting on San Francisco’s opioid crisis and recent rise in deaths, what the city and nonprofits are doing to address it, and how initiatives might be funded.  » Read more

The post <strong>Sturm Discusses Reporting on Overdoses on KALW’s ‘Your Call’  </strong> appeared first on San Francisco Public Press.

Sylvie Sturm appeared on KALW’s “Your Call” with host Rose Aguilar for last week’s Media Roundtable to talk about her reporting on San Francisco’s opioid crisis and recent rise in deaths, what the city and nonprofits are doing to address it, and how initiatives might be funded. 

A longtime reporter for the Public Press and contributor to “Civic,” Sturm is reporting on the overdose crisis and prevention efforts as a fellow with the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California.

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SF Reparations Plan Nears Submission, but Funding Not Yet Secure Fri, 26 May 2023 18:57:14 +0000 This article is adapted from an episode of our podcast “Civic.” Click the audio player below to hear the full story. 

After 2½ years of meetings, community discussions, historical deep dives and policy generation, a panel tasked with proposing how San Francisco might atone for decades of discrimination against Black residents is ready to ask the city to step up and support equity rhetoric with action. » Read more

The post SF Reparations Plan Nears Submission, but Funding Not Yet Secure appeared first on San Francisco Public Press.

This article is adapted from an episode of our podcast “Civic.” Click the audio player below to hear the full story. 

After 2½ years of meetings, community discussions, historical deep dives and policy generation, a panel tasked with proposing how San Francisco might atone for decades of discrimination against Black residents is ready to ask the city to step up and support equity rhetoric with action.

San Francisco’s African American Reparations Advisory Committee is aiming to submit its final recommendations to the city on June 30, according to Brittni Chicuata, director of economic rights at the city’s Human Rights Commission. In the meantime, the city’s annual budget process is in full swing, which may affect funding and the timeline for whatever reparations policies the board decides to pursue.

The recommendations are nonbinding, meaning the Board of Supervisors may choose to support any number of the policies, or none at all. It can also amend them.

“Where the rubber hits the road is what that Board of Supervisors does,” said the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco NAACP branch and health subcommittee lead for the reparations committee. “The ball is in their court.”

The recommendations, released only in draft form, number more than 100 and tackle disparities in educational achievement for Black students, differences in the median life expectancy for Black San Franciscans and the overrepresentation of Black people experiencing homelessness and incarceration.

In a March meeting, supervisors voiced support for reparations, unanimously voting to accept the draft in a nonbinding resolution. Of the proposed policies, some could be enacted quickly, while others would require more time. In some cases, advocacy at the state and federal level is required.

Breed must propose a city budget in June. Tinisch Hollins, vice chair of the reparations committee, said the group has been discussing how to secure funding in this year’s budget.

“We’ve been actively having conversations as a committee, looking at the recommendations that are what’s been called low-hanging fruit, that the city could potentially move forward on in this budget cycle,” Hollins said in an April interview. She noted that the majority of city departments have equity plans that could offer starting points for improving accountability and addressing the needs of Black residents.

“Since you have an equity plan, you can then reallocate or reconfigure your budget so that this becomes a priority for what you need to do,” she said.

An Office of Reparations

After its plan is submitted, the committee — which is authorized to operate until January 2024 — will continue meeting to discuss how the city can follow through on reparations.

Some community leaders are eager to ensure this work continues. Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents Bayview-Hunters Point, Potrero Hill and Visitacion Valley, introduced legislation in March requesting $50 million to establish an Office of Reparations that would help implement policies and find people eligible for programs.

Walton is trying to get the proposal on the agenda at the board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, which is the first step before a budget request would go to the full board for a vote.

“If we get the supplemental heard and passed, obviously that will go into this budget cycle,” he said. “And then my hope is, of course, to be able to extend and get resources into the next budget.”

However, Breed indicated in late April that she had “no plans at this time” to back the proposal.

To qualify for reparations, individuals must:
1.     Have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years

2.     Be 18 years or older

3.     Meet at least two of the following criteria:

a.     Have been born in San Francisco between 1940 and 1996, and have proof of residency in San Francisco for at least 13 years
b.     Have migrated to San Francisco between 1940 and 1996, and have proof of residency in San Francisco for at least 13 years
c.     Have been incarcerated or were the direct descendant of someone incarcerated as part of what the committee describes as “the failed war on drugs”
d.     Have a record of attendance in San Francisco public schools during the time of the consent decree to complete desegregation within the school system
e.     Be a descendant of someone enslaved in chattel slavery in the United States before 1865
f.      Have been displaced or the direct descendant of someone displaced from San Francisco by urban renewal between 1954 and 1973
g.    Be a Certificate of Preference holder, or the direct descendant of one
h.     Be a member of a historically marginalized group that experienced lending discrimination in San Francisco between 1937 and 1968, or experienced lending discrimination in formerly redlined San Francisco communities between 1968 and 2008
It is unclear how many people will qualify for reparations given the variety of criteria that the plan outlines.

In response to recent questions about the mayor’s thoughts on the reparations plan broadly and how implementation of any policies would work without an Office of Reparations, her office wrote in an email: “The policies presented in the plan will be considered once they are final.” Instead of commenting on policy proposals, the email pointed to other programs that address racial inequity, such as the Dream Keeper Initiative and guaranteed income programs. The Dream Keeper Initiative provides down payment loans for first-time Black home buyers. The reparations plan suggests turning these loans into grants for those who qualify, among other housing-specific policy changes.

Walton is still trying to gain support from Breed and Board of Supervisors colleagues. If he fails to win over the mayor, he will need a veto-proof majority of eight supervisors on his side.

Breed’s lack of support for the office was disappointing to at least one committee member the day after it was announced.

“I haven’t talked to any other committee members, but I imagine they’re all discouraged right now,” said James Lance Taylor, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, who also sits on the reparations committee.

However, in the April interview, Hollins expressed what she called a “cautious optimism” that reparations work would move forward.

“If we do our work at helping to identify what’s immediate need, what the opportunity is, and then we collaborate with both the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors, we’ll be able to start moving things downstream, even before we have an Office of Reparations, or whatever entity is going to be in place,” she said.

‘The Second Oldest Idea in Black Politics

The committee’s draft plan spurred a wave of headlines across the country when it was made public. A proposal to give each eligible African American in the city a one-time payment of $5 million led to criticisms regarding cost, especially as the city faces a $780 million budget deficit in the next two years.

Support for reparations is skewed heavily by race. A 2021 Pew Research Center study shows that 77% of Black Americans support reparations, compared with 18% of whites.

Much like the California State Reparations Task Force, which recently voted to approve policy proposals for the state Legislature’s consideration, the San Francisco committee is running into the question: Why are reparations being considered in a state where slavery was never legal?

For his part, Taylor said the concept of reparations “is the second oldest idea in Black politics, the first one being abolition.”

Hollins said California shared responsibility with the rest of the country for enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, a law that compelled people in free states to capture those who had fled and send them back to enslavement out of state. California also at various times banned Black people from voting and failed to provide them with other legal rights and protections.

“California may have never had slavery as they put it, but the badges of slavery were here,” she said, adding that California “certainly supported all of the racist policies that excluded black people specifically, and that harm has had real consequences.”

Today, the lifespan of Black San Franciscans is 11 years shorter than the citywide average. Black households in San Francisco have a staggering low median income, $34,000 per year in 2019, compared with a citywide median of $112,000.

Urban Renewal

But slavery isn’t the only reason Black San Franciscans are pushing for reparations.

“Where people often think about slavery as the qualifying act that brings on the need for reparations, we know we have this very long history of deep housing discrimination and instability,” said Rachel Brahinsky, a professor of politics and urban studies at the University of San Francisco.

Starting in the 1930s, the federal government began denying Black borrowers loans based on a discriminatory housing practice known as redlining, in which certain areas — especially those with high concentrations of people of color — were deemed “high risk” for lending. Though redlining was a federal program, municipal officers as well as local bank officials, real estate agents and appraisers helped those creating the maps and designating risk. The maps informed local lending decisions in both the private and public sectors, which is how redlining contributed to racial disparities in homeownership, residential segregation and disinvestment from communities of color.

Brahinsky said racially restrictive covenants, which were rules written into property deeds that barred Black people from owning or renting these properties, as well as a practice in which real estate agents would encourage African Americans to move to certain parts of town when looking for homes, preserved segregation.

A woman sits smiling behind a table that holds a vase with flowers. An array of framed black and white photos hand on the wall behind her.

Yesica Prado / San Francisco Public Press

For Ericka Scott, housing the “Harlem of the West” exhibit at her art gallery is an honor. Looking at the photos of Black life, the strong business community and thriving music scene in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s gives her hope for the Fillmore’s future. Many famous musicians played at clubs across the Fillmore, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Eartha Kitt and Billie Holiday. The clubs were also gathering sites for other influential members of the community.

These policies contributed in part to the segregation of Black people into two main neighborhoods in San Francisco: the Fillmore and Bayview-Hunters Point. Both neighborhoods were later subject to another discriminatory housing program known as urban renewal. Under this federal program, which purported to remove “blight” from cities, the government seized land using eminent domain, and cities razed buildings to make way for new construction.

“The way that blight was defined, it was about peeling paint, it was about infrastructural problems,” Brahinsky said. “But it was also about people and was also about race very much.” She said that up to 20,000 people were displaced by the program in San Francisco.

“It drastically changed the community,” said Ericka Scott, a Black businesswoman who was raised in the Western Addition and now owns Honey Art Studio. “What was once said, originally, to remodel, redevelop, fix up the community, was really code for demolish the community, get people out of here and get new people in.”

Today, San Francisco’s Black population is an estimated 5.7%, compared with 13.4% at its peak in 1970.

Before urban renewal, the Fillmore was a thriving cultural hub with numerous jazz clubs and Black-owned businesses, and was known as the Harlem of the West. Scott’s gallery gives visitors a taste of what that was like through a series of photos from “Harlem of the West,” a book of photos by Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts that chronicles the local jazz scene in its heyday.

Lily Robinson-Trezvant, 78, remembers hearing jazz music as she walked down the streets of the Fillmore during her childhood. Her family came to San Francisco in the wake of World War II. After living in military housing, her parents purchased a home.

“It was a beautiful two-story Victorian house. And it was perfect for our family,” she said. “They finally were living their dream. And just like they got it, they lost it.”

Robinson-Trezvant’s home was seized by the government, and her family moved to Plumas County near Reno, Nev. In compensation, they received “just nothing,” she said. “You couldn’t buy a house with what they gave us.” Her mother had a nervous breakdown. Eventually, the family returned to San Francisco, this time as renters, only to be displaced a second time when that home was torn down, she said.

In the years following demolitions, many plots of land remained vacant, said Lewis Watts, an archivist and co-author of “Harlem of the West.”

“For 20 or 30 years, the Fillmore almost looked like a ghost town. It would look like a war zone because there were a number of empty lots,” that remained undeveloped for years, he said.

Small colorful paintings are displayed on a ledge in an art gallery.

Yesica Prado / San Francisco Public Press

Honey Art Studio offers classes and workshops for painting, dance, crafts, fashion and interior design to build opportunities and confidence in the Black community.

Though it’s impossible to put a value on the trauma her family suffered, Robinson-Trezvant can point to the current value of her family’s first home. Unlike many buildings that were torn down, Robinson-Trezvant said her home was actually moved to the Mission District and she keeps tabs on it by checking real estate websites. The house is worth about $2.5 million today.

The Fillmore wasn’t the only African American community to be affected by redevelopment. Learning from what transpired further north, Black San Franciscans in Bayview-Hunters Point fought for redevelopment on their own terms, with some success. A group of Black women known as the Big Five secured $40 million in federal funding for new housing during redevelopment, but ultimately the neighborhood was hampered by a lack of investment in other areas, such as jobs, public transit and other factors like environmental racism.

[For a more in-depth exploration of how the Fillmore and Bayview-Hunters Point were affected by urban renewal, listen to the full “Civic” episode.]

Looking ahead

At the time of the interview, Robinson-Trezvant had not been following the reparations plan closely. However, she now has a copy of the draft plan, and said she wanted to read it through before forming an opinion on it. When asked if the city could repair past harms to the Black community, she said, “Anything is possible if you try and you care.”

Taylor, the political science professor, said he believed some kind of reparations would be approved, because these conversations are happening simultaneously across the country, and at the national level.

“We’ve mobilized hundreds of people in the city,” he said. “We’ve mobilized cities around America, where we’re inspiring people all over the planet.” Particularly children, who someday will be responsible for carrying on this work.

“We planted the seed for the next generation,” he added. “So even if we don’t win this battle, ultimately, if America can ever be right, we will win the war.”

Read the draft reparations plan.

The next African American Reparations Advisory Committee meeting is June 5 at 5:30 p.m.

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