[Hpn] San Fran --Local Dailies Pimp Anti-Homeless and Anti-Tenant Ballot Measures N & R

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 19 Sep 2002 10:26:04 -0700

Seeing Jennafer's post yesterday inspired me to post this one. It's probably
not the "final" version, but then again, is anything?

1992 words

Downtown's Public Relations Firm:
Local Dailies Pimp Anti-Homeless and Anti-Tenant Ballot Measures N & R
by chance martin

Our daily newspapers are driven by downtown advertising dollars, so the
pressure to tailor news to suit business interest's needs is acute. It is
the business community -- especially the tourist and real estate industries
-- driving the Chronicle and Examiner's content that has identified
widespread, visible poverty and homelessness as detrimental to their bottom
line. And it is the implicit promise of future financial support from these
downtown interests inspiring Willie Brown's machine candidates and
officeholders to propose legislation treating the social malady of
homelessness as a criminal justice issue.

Thus both San Francisco dailies have become virtually indistinguishable from
the political and business interests they champion in their pages. Nowhere
is this more self-evident than in their lack of critical reportage on
Propositions N and R.

Proposition N is media darling Gavin Newsom's stealth campaign for Mayor.
While lauded to voters as "a compassionate response to homelessness,"
Proposition N will reduce cash welfare payments for homeless people to
$59.00 per month, under the rubric that the savings would then be applied
toward services. The savings from slashing cash benefits by 85% would
actually go into the Department of Human Services budgetŠ after which point
those dollars could be used for anything.

Worse, especially because housed San Franciscans rarely consider that
able-bodied adults on welfare must perform a workfare requirement to be
eligible for their benefits, Proposition N will reimburse workfare
"volunteer" labor at a rate of about $1.84 per hour, about 27% of minimum

Proposition N is so poorly and so loosely written that the only clear impact
it will have is making San Francisco even more inhospitable to homeless
people -- no small feat for a town that has already distinguished itself by
being named in the top three cities nationally for selective enforcement of
anti-homeless, "quality of life" statutes most of this past decade. A quick
read of the Proposition N campaign's financial sponsors is even more
telling, and ironic, considering it reads like a list of beneficiaries of
the City's recent business tax lawsuit settlement. The monies these
concerned citizens successfully avoided adding to San Francisco's public
coffers are now being used for advertising campaigns like the Proposition N
and We Want Change media blitzes -- all in service to the bottom line.

And wasn't it was the Chronicle's powerful opinion-shaping apparatus that
helped compel the Board of Supervisors to settle that business tax lawsuit
last year, leading to a $60 million-plus budget shortfall?

Meanwhile, Proposition N leaves the 15,000 or so homeless folks on the
waiting list for public housing, the 1100 or so chronic substance abusers on
the waiting list for treatment, the 140 or so families on the waiting list
for emergency shelter, or any of the unnamed legions chained to a cruel
nightly lottery or the privilege of sleeping on some smelly shelter's floor
with a guarantee of NOTHING -- except for the few services they can now get
for freeŠ when they can get them.

In all, the only clear gain made as the Prop. N campaign unfolds is in the
public's recognition of Gavin Newsom -- doubtlessly numbered among the
intended benefits for Mayor Brown's handpicked machine successor.

In a similar vein, the condo-conversion measure Proposition R (aka HOPE) is
the latest iteration of the local real estate lobby's relentless predation
on renters -- a thinly-disguised attempt to give real estate interests a
shot in the arm by eroding San Francisco's rent control ordinance. Under
Prop. R, agreement is required from a mere 25 percent of a building's
tenants to condo convert and eventually remove rent control protections,
putting all the building's tenants at risk of eviction under California's
Ellis and Costa-Hawkins Acts.

Proposition R allows 3,400 condo conversions per year (a 1700% increase from
the current 200/yr) in any size building -- even Park Merced's -- and with
no guarantee that anyone will ever buy. In fact, a tenant doesn't have to
have funding in place to sign a non-binding letter of intent to purchase to
initiate the condo conversion process. Tenants who don't buy are offered
phony lifetime leases -- phony because they circumvent the state's Ellis and
Costa-Hawkins Acts and will most likely be thrown out by the courts.

A similar law in Santa Monica, CA was repealed after 3000 conversions of
apartments to condominiums because it was found that only 8 percent of such
converted units were ever actually bought by original tenants. A frightening
80 percent of tenants in condo-converted buildings were displaced or
evicted. Similarly, an earlier, San Francisco version of Proposition R in
the late '70s netted only 11 percent tenant ownership.

Obviously, mass condo conversions don't work because they open the door to
rampant speculation, and make displacement of lower-income tenants far too
profitable for landlords and speculators anxious to sell or re-rent units to
higher-income (and most likely out-of-town) folks. What the dot.com boom
failed to do, Proposition R stands poised to accomplish with little effort,
transfiguring San Francisco into a gated community for the rich.

No wonder the Committee on Jobs is pouring so much money into passing R!

Proponents of these initiatives have mounted unprecedented public relations
efforts to push these ballot proposals. Gavin Newsom has been featured in
30-second prime time commercial spots for the Prop. N campaign since last
May. The Hotel Council forked over $57,000 for the We Want Change billboard
campaign, which accomplishes little besides furthering the distortions from
the mainstream press and giving some voters a renewed sense of pent-up

Conservative Supervisor Tony Hall has hit the campaign trial for Prop. R,
paving the way for his announced bid for mayor next year. Frank Gallagher --
former landlord and corporate political consultant -- now styles himself as
an Examiner "political columnist" to better level his false allegations of
impropriety at the grassroots Housing Rights Committee, and to better
portray non-profit low-income housing providers as the "Nonprofit Mafia."

Grassroots organizations and candidates defending the rights and interests
of those on the bottom rungs of America's economy are now actively portrayed
in local print media as the ones to blame for the social ills they attempt
to address. Homeless advocates are being blamed for San Francisco's
intractable "homeless problem." Tenant activists are now regularly dismissed
as "professional paid tenant activists," even in the "alternative" queer

In District 5, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez was rewarded for his attempts to
bring the political patronage army we know as the San Francisco Housing
Authority under the Board of Supervisor's oversight with charges of racism,
fueled by public comments at Board hearings from Housing Authority employees
in attendance while on the public's clock. District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly
is demonized as a radical hothead, when the real threat he represents to San
Francisco's political status quo is his demonstrated ability to harness the
power of grassroots political campaigning, delivering an unprecedented 80%
victory in his first campaign for public office.

Since last year's "exposés" concerning large groups of homeless people
around the Ferry Plaza and in UN Plaza -- eerily followed by police sweeps
the following day -- the Chronicle's reportage of homeless issues has veered
from any pretense of objectivity into yet another means of actively
spreading disinformation about homelessness in San Francisco.

Moreover, in the case of the UN Plaza sweeps, Public Records Act requests
from the Coalition on Homelessness revealed that the City and local business
interests planned in secret to remove homeless people from that location for
almost two years, and that the Chron's sensationalized and biased reports
were a opportunistic smokescreen placed by the Mayor's office in order to
fabricate public support for actions as drastic as assigning a Public Works
crew to remove the Plaza's benches at midnight on a Saturday.

Another example: The Chronicle's selective reporting of Civil Grand Jury and
City Controller findings on homelessness reveals clear downtown/Brown
machine bias.

Thorough investigation and analysis by both the Office of the Controller and
the Civil Grand Jury strongly confirmed previously faint reports of
legitimate criticisms leveled at the Mayor's Office on Homelessness, but
none of this manages to filter into the Chronicle's pages. In fact, both
reports recommended scrapping the office: the Controller recommended that
the monies and staffing be re-directed to the auspices of the Department of
Human Services, while the Civil Grand Jury found Mayor's Office on
Homelessness to lack any direct accountability to the Board of Supervisors,
the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, or to City Departments, charging that
the Mayor's Office on Homelessness is "Šineffectual and inconsistent in its
relations to other City departments and the Local Board," and concluding
"...CGJ has strong concerns regarding the use of City resources for this

The Chronicle marked the occasion of this report's release with two
paragraphs outlining the Civil Grand Jury's recommendation to create a seven
member commission on homelessness, and no byline.

More recently, the Chronicle has exaggerated the number of empty shelter
beds in the City without mentioning the reason for them -- bureaucratic
bungling -- leaving readers with the clear inference that City homeless
services go unused while homeless substance abusers create anarchy in our
streets. These empty beds have now become a basic tenet of the flawed logic
supporting Proposition N's campaign rhetoric.

Corporate media labors to present San Francisco readers with such patently
skewed depictions of homelessness because the majority of San Francisco's
residents -- renters -- are under constant threat from the local real estate
industry's insatiable appetite for eviction.

As a result, the average working class citizen has a pressing need to see
him- or herself as significantly different from the average homeless person.
To this end, the mainstream media presents homeless people as interloping
outsiders pursuing a "criminal" lifestyle at the expense of "our" quality of
life, and portrayed in lurid color photos as rarely lacking for accessories
like crack pipes or syringes. By playing the public's fears that they might
wind up in similar straits, the separation of poor and homeless people from
the "we" that is the dailies' targeted advertising audience is perfected.

On the tenant front, the Chronicle and Examiner are busily promoting the lie
that San Francisco is now a renters' market and that rents have come down
substantially -- implying that tenant activists are complaining about
nothing. Forget the fact that rents are still double what they were before
the dot.com boom, that low-income renters are still being forced out of the
city by owner move-ins and Ellis Act evictions, and that Chron-endorsed
Proposition R is the greatest threat to low-income renters in a long time.

Over the years, the Chronicle has consistently opposed pro-tenant measures
-- whether they're intended to end capital-improvement passthroughs or to
stop evictions for TICs. While housing should be a guaranteed human right
and not a commodity, corporate media has little interest in honest
portrayals of these issues. In fact, the Hearst Corporation, owner of the
Chron, is a significant player in Northern California real estate, with its
Sunical division's vast holdings in ranch lands and logging tracts along
California's central coast, as well as the local Hearst Realty and San
Francisco Realty companies.

Telling the truth would entail challenging the real-estate industry's right
to unlimited profit, while the real estate industry represents the
Chronicle's number one advertising revenue source.

And that's something you will never read in the Chron's editorial pages.

If these initiatives are successful in November, we can look forward to more
homelessness, a tighter local housing market, higher rents, and deeper
poverty for homeless people and low-income renters -- because without an
honest and free press, no city's voters could possibly know how to make
change for the better.

So ultimately, the biggest losers come November will be San Francisco's
voters -- because the local lack of journalistic integrity in the service of
Willie Brown's political machine impoverishes us all.

chance martin, editor
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
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