AskWHYBlog: Carol Harvey In San Francisco

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Thursday, March 30, 2006



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

Two days earlier, in Western Addition, Josie, an acquaintance, said,"I was around the Fillmore for the jazz time. In 1964-65, Redevelopment started buying everybody out, bulldozing apartments on Eddy and Ellis, including my place, saying they were going to build it up better.

"When they finished, it wasn't like before. Rents were higher. The neighborhood was gone."

The Redevelopment Agency's main tool in its recent sudden push toward a Fillmore-style "re-peopling" and "gentrification" was to declare the area "blighted." "It's plain criminal greed," says Willie. "Anything they see is blight." So he and I set out searching blight in Bayview Hunter's Point.

Several public commentators at the March 6, 2006 San Francisco Redevelopment Commission hearing, described the Redevelopment plan as "a social hurricane...sweeping people out of their homes," likening The Bayview to the Fillmore and Katrina's ethnic cleansing.

The national and international significance of Bayview Redevelopment is that it is another local sortie in the Class war of Rich on Poor. After New Orleans, the Bayview is the nations' largest self-contained African American Community.

The United States struggles in the grip of a totalitarian corporatocracy. The political flow chart surges down from Bush to Schwarzenegger to Newsom.

Parties seem nonexistent. What remains is the corporatocracy, respecting no geographic boundaries. Politicians and Business interests hold complete fealty to corporations like Lennar, and the money they generate for the rich. Such totalitarians make self-entitled decisions against the will of the people.

According to Randy Shaw, Director, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, "dictators" in The Redevelopment Agency, use eminent domain as a tool to "circumvent Democracy."


Redevelopment Agencies countrywide embody incredible power, more than national, state, and city governments.

After World War II white flight to the suburbs, "business communities needed a way to get upscale consumers to live closer to downtown," declared Shaw.

Simultaneously, lengthy job commutes began to tire whites. But their return to inner cities was blocked by masses of poor and peoples of color who had moved in. Redevelopment Agencies were created, employing eminent domain-style gentrification to remove the poor and sanitize such areas.

Shaw observed that (Redevelopment) transmogrified and grew into "the Agency that Ate California."

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


Dr. George Davis, a San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Bayview Hunter's Point Project Area Committee member present at the March 6 hearing, expressed confidence in the PAC's role. "If we don't do this, developers can come into Bayview Hunters Point and do anything they want.

"Fortunately, we have a few developers like Lennar that have a community conscience. But, then there are other developers who come in, and they will just do what they want to do.

"The PAC and the Redevelopment Agency can make (the developers) accountable."

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

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

Willie agreed that a lot of the BVHP PAC members weren't legally elected. "They made sure their buddies got on (who) would go along with the Redevelopment Agency."

"You check their perks - money, opportunities. Some of them start their own nonprofits and get grants from the Redevelopment Agency."

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

According to Da Costa, because they were forced to cross gang turfs, some community members were discouraged from night attendance. When hot meals were followed by three-hour meetings, many just left.

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


A pamphlet entitled, "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government," February 2006, states " a Redevelopment Agency has four key expanded powers:

1. "Exclusive use of all increases in property tax revenues ("tax increment") generated in its designated project areas.

2. "To sell bonds secured against future tax increment...without voter approval.

3. "To give public money directly to developers and businesses as cash grants, tax rebates, free land or public improvements.

4. Eminent domain: "To condemn private property, not just for public use, but to transfer to other private owners."

These powers "represent an enormous expansion of government intrusion into our traditional system of private property and free enterprise:"

While noting, "they really seem to be moving this thing," Randy Shaw, doubts the RDA needs to use eminent domain to expropriate African- American property.

"The threat of Redevelopment in Bayview is all indirect. If you've got an affordable place, rental housing, and next door they start building luxury upscale condominiums, what do you think is going to happen to you?

"They will build so much upscale housing that they will put pressure on the existing rental stock, and even if they don't evict anybody, when people move, they will be replaced by much higher paying people because the neighborhood has changed."

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

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

Bayview residents are witnessing the threat of eminent domain. Mary Ratcliff, Bayview newspaper editor, noted that California Standard practice is to use eminent domain as a club over people's heads.

She reports real estate agents are calling elderly people, phoning one block of 70 to 80-year-old widows several times a day, saying, "You can't care for your property, so you better sell."

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

Both Ratcliff and Shaw wondered what was driving the "need for speed." For 20 years Redevelopment has been threatening the Bayview with creation of Project Areas.

Residents all received notices. A few weeks later, in standard Redevelopment fashion, a vote was taken without public input. Perhaps some corporate entity, Home Depot or the Stadium project and Mall at Candlestick Point, must meet a deadline to receive Redevelopment money.


Mayor Newsom and District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell signed a letter supporting the Redevelopment Agency's plan to take most of Bayview Hunters Point as Project Areas A and B.

Angry Bayview residents plan to vote out Sophie Maxwell. Marie Harrison, 'BayView' columnist and Greenaction organizer, has set up a campaign office and will run against Maxwell in the November elections.

Activists, Francisco Da Costa, and Espanola Jackson presented to the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods a resolution to halt the Redevelopment Agency's assault on Bayview land. It passed unanimously.

Until the proposal is taken before the Supervisors in about a month, the proposed Project Areas are not a fait accompli.

However, Francisco Da Costa discovered that Sophie Maxwell, as chair of the Land Use Committee, placed the adoption of the BVHP Redevelopment Plan on the Agenda for 1:00 on on Wednesday, March 29, read aloud by the Clerk with no chance to discuss or testify.

Introducing it under the 30-day rule will mean it can't be considered for 30 days, writes Willie. "What she did was to start the clock ticking...and it's up to us to decide whether it ticks to doomsday or liberation day."


It is a media-created illusion that the Bayview is "dangerous" and geographically separated from San Francisco "proper." In a seven mile square area, this psychological distortion keeps San Franciscans away.

White homeowner, Sandy, present at the March 6 hearing, has lived on Newcomb and Third for 20 years. She feels the neglected Bayview is considered "the lost part of the City. Nobody wants to go there. I'm a woman, and I have lived here 20 years. I feel perfectly safe."

Three important dynamics, geographic, ecologic and political, meld the Bayview with San Francisco:

1. It is contained within the City's very small 7 square mile area.

2. The myriad pollutants dumped into Hunters Point soil, air, and water affect all San Franciscans.

3. The Redevelopment Agency's threat of gentrification by market rate housing and eminent domain threatens every San Francisco neighborhood and resident with mass displacement. All agreed, including Tommi Mecca, Housing activist, that The Mission, The Castro, The Haight, The Sunset, and Richmond could be next.

In our search for Blight, Willie drives South down Third and Bayshore from the UCSF Mission Bay complex to the San Mateo line, then doubles North; East to the Bay to a Bluff above Hunters Point with fabulous city views, two power plants, and a sewage treatment facility; through the Hunters Point toxified Parcels; West across 3rd to the Sewage Treatment Plant, then East back to the Bayview newspaper office at 3rd and Palou.

The Bayview is composed of two main hills and the flats.

Third Street splits the community and joins Bayshore going South. The Bayview newspaper offices are located at 3rd and Palou, a central nodal point. There the elevation is higher than the flood plain, but lower than the two main hills.

The Southernmost neighborhood at the San Mateo Line is "Little Hollywood."

Driving back, the next community north is Bayview Hills.

Continuing north to the flats called Double Rock, the houses are nestled between the two hills.

Housing Authority projects sit in the flats.

On the other hill, Hunter's Point Hill, public housing spans the block across the street from beautiful ownership and cooperative housing.


According to Mary Ratcliff, UCSF is rumored to have approached Bayview developers about housing masses of newly hired biotechies.

Willie termed Mission Bay, site of stem cell research only "slightly toxic."

South of the Cesar Chavez line, driving Third along the light rail tracks, to our left hunch squat $110 million maintenance buildings, offices and car service barns.

The rail, built to Visitacion Valley, with extensions planned to City College, and the Airport, would transport Mission Bay scientists to Bayview market rate housing.

"In a $600 million dollar Light Rail project," Willie grumbles, "They're promising us all these jobs. We got nothing out of this deal but dust."

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

She sees young people of color, traditionally excluded, conducting undignified hustles to land exploitative jobs handling carcinogenic hazardous waste at a Superfund site, "so contaminated that the Federal Government has to address it for its nuclear waste materials. It's oftentimes tied to militarism because of the testing and development that was done with weapons." Trainees are expected to be grateful for potentially deadly low wage jobs.

We cross Marin St. and Islais Creek Bridge past Bayview Plaza and India Basin Industrial Park, already a Redevelopment area.

We pass attractive shopping Centers and Banks.

At Hudson Street, St. John Missionary Baptist Church, "one of the largest black churches" sits to the East.

"Third Street is black-owned," Willie informs me.

"They wouldn't put money for the property owners up and down Third that is going to suffer while everybody benefits.

"All they had to do was ask the Department of Transportation for money, but they didn't ask 'cause they want to push you out."

Blight could be erased with loans which redlining prevents.


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

"That's us doing it," he says. These jobs are for "our people. We are in control." The SFRA, he insists, merely "Wants to get your Soul out."

We pass his 'Bayview Newspaper' offices farther South at Palou and Third.

"See all the blight!" He laughs repeatedly at this absurdity throughout our 90 minute tour.

"They don't have to give a definition.

"All a city needs do to create or expand a redevelopment area is to declare it 'blighted.'"

This is easily done. State law is so vague that most anything has been designated "blight."

"I can go into any neighborhood and find one house that needs fixing up.

"Rich people have more money to fix up their houses."

At Newcomb and Third, I thought of SFRA meeting attendee, Sandy, who lives near Newcomb and Oakdale. Her block, a close "family" since the 80s, has "pulled together" discovering "there are funds available" from years of homeowners taxes. "We will be able to get our tax money back, to fix up the Bayview. At this moment, we are not capable of doing it (because) the City won't release it."

She is conflicted about the Redevelopment plan, supporting portions of it. "If we can get our taxpayers' money back, help the police understand their brutality, and work together as a community to change it, then we will be more harmonious --- not, at times, in such a dirty depressed state --- and, save the community."

She complained "outside people won't pay dump fees" and litter "our streets." City Services "have stopped coming."

A blue collar worker earning low wages, she wants low income housing for 20, 30, 40 year Bayview residents.

She doesn't want people forced out, but to stay and build a community.

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

At Bancroft, the old red brick Coca Cola Bottling Plant slides by. A million dollar condominium project, approved by the Planning Department, is underway "to put 375 market rate units in there. No low or moderate units, period. That's the kind of thing they'll do for rich people," said Willie.

At Jennings and Gilman, Willie tells me the plan: "We are headed to Monster Park. Then we'll come back around and show you light rail going on all the way to the San Mateo line."

Doubling back, "We'll go up on the hill," Bayview Hills, where "the Housing Authority is doing the same thing ---evicting people."

Monster Park, where hoards of 49er fans drive for games, used to be Candlestick Park.

"They don't stop. they don't buy nothin'. They just smoke us and leave."

Driving up from Double Rock to Bayview Hills, we pass rows of houses like those in upper Haight. "Look at these views!

"The biggest thing in most people's lives (is) whether they own a home or not.

"If there is a little blight, just stop the redlining and not loaning people money, and they'll fix their own blight.

"These houses are owned by the little old ladies who are being harassed. Most houses are paid for. They've got money in the bank."

Edith Smith, an 84-year-old Bayview Hunter's point resident, spoke at the March 6 hearing. She moved to The Bayview in 1959, working San Francisco General's midnight shift.

"A bunch of us old ladies --- young women then --- four or five of us, worked on them hills out there." We met "at 8:00 o'clock in the morning, sat there and drank coffee. We planned and planned.

"All we wanted was a chance to show you that we could work and we could provide for that community.

"If you redevelop, what will happen to old people like me? Would you throw us out? Or would you give us (money) so we could fix our homes up?

"And what will happen to our young people, the offspring of some of these old women who have worked so hard?

"Black people have built this country. All we need is a little help."


Willie observes, "There's a lot of intimidation and fear, because you got the police department running around using this 911 stuff to get in people's houses.

"They can claim you called 911. Then they go and beat the shit out of you if you let them in."

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

Homeowner Sandy lives near the site of a recent police shooting which drew helicopters and sirens. She angrily confronted the media. "The Police officer's blood is just as red as that young kid who got shot the other day."

She confesses to trouble in the Bayview, much of it caused by police, "who antagonize a lot of situations."


The Light Rail goes south down 3rd to Bayshore to Visitacion Valley, the green hills of San Mateo now behind us,

Driving Bayshore Blvd, Willie looks up to Little Hollywood's hills calling the views "gorgeous."

The Shipyard, where the Parcels are located was declared a Redevelopment Area without community input.

At Visitacion Street, Willie recites Bayview racial groups' percentages: 91% people of color; Chinese; Latinos; Samoans; 40% Afro-American; 9% white.

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

At Fitzgerald, he muses on San Francisco's economic racism and hypocrisy.

"San Francisco tries to put on a liberal face, but economically it's a lie."

We drive over the hill, proceeding down Revere past Ingalls and Hawes toward the Shipyard.

Houses and businesses sit close to the toxic landfill.

Oakdale and Kiska look down on the yard, offering extravagant views of San Leandro, Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, the bridges, and the two power plants uglifying the the Bay. PGE, which "sells power to Canada while it kills us," will be torn down. Mirant's darker stack rises beyond.

SFA Public Housing built on the left faces ownership homes across the street.

Beautiful privately owned dwellings in "Dolphin Court" grace Albatross St.

We pass Coral at Marlin and Kirkwood at La Salle and park at a lookout spot over the Bay --- The Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, and the City, plus the polluted Shipyard below.


Driving toward Precision Transport, a large shipyard warehouse, we pass artist studios. A Lennar sign brays "We believe in safety."

"Parcel E down on the flat, abutting Parcel A, polluted worst, is where they dumped everything including radioactive carcasses, during atomic research out here."

Here, the first atomic bomb, "Little Boy," was assembled.

They sandblasted and scraped radioactive paint into the Bay off ships which had anchored near atomic bomb blasts.

During cleanup they discovered irradiated "black gold" shining in the sand, and, along with radioactive dials, they covered it up.

They dumped everything from other bases because "No one in a white neighborhood would want it.

"All over this country, you find pollution in poor areas, usually black and Latino. To reach black neighborhoods, get on the freeway," Willie declared.


The most polluted is Parcel E, a 46-acre landfill, part of which was capped. "It caught fire, wouldn't go out, burned for almost a year; with methane coming out the sides."

Over the hill, they installed a device to trap gas, but large amounts continued to escape and "other polluted things caught a ride" on it.

"In the summer, the ground spontaneously combusted into smoke and flames like Texas grass fires.

Bayview and City fire departments would "jump out here." No Press arrived.

On Parcel E, my multiple chemical sensitivity kicked in. A band of pressure gripped my temples. Eyes burned. Said Willie, "Radiation comes up from the soil. You're right on it."

"They had 22,000 people working there, where it is all fenced off because it is contaminated."

Despite this, Lennar plans 1,700 units and is building on and near it right now. "They are bad as Halliburton."

Willie says Lennar developed toxic dump sites in Florida.

October 23, 1996, CNN Online: "A football field-size sinkhole in front of 20 houses in the Hampshire Homes subdivision of Miramar outside Miami" uncovered "sinkholes, trash pits, and buried debris."

"Lennar excavated 250 truckloads of trash...but admitted no wrongdoing."

Lennar sinkhole

On Parcel A, abutting Parcel E, Lennar is building market rate housing with a few low income affordable units.

Redevelopment reaps 60 percent of proceeds, Lennar 40.

Parcel B, the artists' area, and Parcel C are "totally polluted."

Parcel F, the worst, extends into the Bay

At 17, Willie was a rigger loading ships here.. "I didn't know what was going on."

We drive around to Precision Transport, a gray corrugated storage building.

Three brothers, who leased this building across from Parcel E, died from cancer. One was in business with Willie.

We drive up to Middlepoint Road across the Street from PGE at the Huntersview Projects.

"These people really suffer from the power plant.

"The cops are up here like flies messing with people and running them off. They want this hill, too. They are doing it in all the public housing around here," these projects and the ones at Candlestick Point.

City agencies work together. SFHA and the Redevelopment Agency run them out. MUNI, DPW, and the Police Department don't hire them, he tells me.

Thoroughly depressed by the socioeconomic racism and classism implicit in Lennar's toxic site construction, combined with the vile treatment of Project dwellers by predatory social agencies, we returned west across Third Street to the massive Sewage Treatment Plant, which "handles 80% of all solid waste and San Francisco runoff." From this site on rainy days, San Francisco sewage floats through Bayview streets, running into the Bay. Willie suggested, instead of toxifying Bay Area water, the wealthy near the Presidio might share the burden of piping this stuff the opposite direction into the sea.

I mused ironically on the prospect of engineers and scientists conducting stem cell research at the "slightly toxic" UCSF Mission Bay facility, then carried by light rail to their Lennar condos perched atop a carcinogenic Superfund site.

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