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“School Reform” and Land Grabs Threaten SF’s Community College

Who Wants to Kill City College?

By Marcy Rein

The door to Edgar Torres’s office stands open on the first day of the 2016 spring semester, as it has on the first day of every semester for 14 years. “I do that for the students who get lost and need directions,” says Torres, head of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Department at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). “I love the hustle and bustle of the first day. But today I’m sad, because it’s so quiet.”

Founded in 1935, City College has long been the school for second-chance and first-generation students. Torres himself was the first in his family to go to college, and started at CCSF. “This school is dear to me because I’m the son of immigrants,” he says. “I never saw a Latino teacher till I came here.”

City College students support their teachers and connect the dots at the rally supporting the April 2016 faculty strike. ©2016 Marcy Rein

In July 2012, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) slapped City College with a “show cause” sanction, one step short of yanking its accreditation, which would have effectively shut down the school by making it ineligible for federal funding. The commission, a private body authorized by the federal government to evaluate community colleges, sanctioned City College despite the fact that academically it ranks close to the top of California’s 113 community colleges. A year later, the commission announced that CCSF would lose its accreditation, and the California Community College Board of Governors—a board appointed by the California governor—put the school under emergency management.

But this story isn’t just about a hostile and aggressive accreditation agency. At its heart, it’s about how education “reform” and gentrification intersect and relate, and how the fight against reducing public education to corporate workforce training fits in the broader resistance to racialized displacement in San Francisco.

A Pillar of SF’s Working Class
With more than 100,000 students in 2008, City College was the largest community college in California. More than three-fourths of its students are people of color, most of them low-income or working class. The school has trained the city’s chefs, firefighters, nurses and medical technicians; taught English to some 20,000 immigrants each year; and been a home for lifelong learners needing new careers and exploring new passions.

Determined organizing by the students, the faculty and their union, and the broader community saved City College from closure, but the crisis continues. The number of students enrolled in classes has fallen to 67,000, down by a quarter from what it was before the ACCJC sanction;1 the majority of the displaced are students of color. The workforce is shrinking, and three parcels of college property are on the real estate market, or may be soon. (See “Development for Whom?” on p. 12.) More than 1,200 courses have been slashed, and the administration recently announced a new 26 percent cut in classes over the next six years. Because the school receives state funding based on enrollment, this will make the downsizing permanent if it is not reversed.

“City College is a lifeline. There’s no just reason for mangling or shrinking it,” says Tarik Farrar, the chair of the African American Studies department.

Weakening the college may have been the goal all along. In K-12 public education, emergency managers have been imposed on school districts to smooth the way for charter schools, notes City College student organizer Lalo Gonzalez. “With the Special Trustee at City College, we saw the same thing,” Gonzalez says. “The threat of closure was used to force the school to implement policy changes. The accreditation process was hijacked and used as a vehicle to downsize and strip out valuable real estate,” he says.

Preview from Chicago
In Chicago, the proving ground for K-12 education “reform” and hometown of President Obama’s former education secretary Arne Duncan, the city systematically closed more than 150 public schools in gentrifying neighborhoods, destabilizing Black and Latino communities and opening privately run charter schools. In most of the closed schools, students of color made up 99 percent of the student body.2 The charter schools filter out many English language learners and students with special needs; divert funding from traditional public schools; and haven’t delivered the academic benefits that were supposed to come from competition. They also helped make the neighborhoods more appealing to the wealthier—and whiter—new arrivals.

Chicago’s gentrification was part of its transformation into what Professor Pauline Lipman calls a “global city,” a central marketplace for finance, information innovation, and production systems.3 The global city is highly stratified. Global capital floods its real estate market, and highly paid workers drive up prices, resulting in displacement. This description could as easily apply to today’s San Francisco, center of the tech economy, and one of the most unequal cities in the country.4

Education ‘Reform’ Goes to Community College
The education model developed to serve the global market emphasizes measurable standards, testing and “competence-based skills.” In K-12 it has evolved as a package of high-stakes testing, privatization schemes, and attacks on teachers and their unions; it has shaped federal education policy and roiled K-12 schools for most of the last two decades.

The Student Success Task Force, which was convened by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office in 2009, and chaired by a former president of ACCJC, adapted this project for California’s community colleges. Taken together, its recommendations aimed to tailor the colleges’ work to better meet industry needs by focusing on narrow workforce training, basic skills, and transfer to four-year schools; instituting new, more quantitative “student learning outcomes;” and emphasizing “productivity.”

The Task Force recommendations were rolled into the Student Success Act, S.B. 1456, passed by the California legislature in 2012. Supporters of the bill—including the ACCJC, which lobbied hard for it—applauded the measure’s potential to bolster student college completion rates and the California economy. Critics, with CCSF in the lead, charged that it would effectively end the open access promised by California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education.

City College’s Academic Senate, Board of Trustees, student government, and chancellor spoke out against the act; the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Guardsman, editorialized against it, and about 50 people caravanned to Sacramento for a State Senate hearing. In their testimony they argued that core parts of the bill would ice out the working students and lifelong learners who make up the overwhelming majority of the City College student body, and slice the safety net for the most vulnerable. These provisions included giving enrollment priority to full-time students who could graduate quickly; eliminating fee waivers for students whose grades fall below a C for two semesters; and sending students with more than 100 units to the back of the registration line.

Accreditation as a Weapon
City College was due for its regular accreditation review in 2012. The 17-member team ACCJC picked for the job included Commission President Barbara Beno’s husband and 10 people who either participated in the Student Success Task Force or came from schools that endorsed it. In the heat of the debate over the act, the commission came down with its sanctions.

“We were put in the crosshairs because of our stance on the Student Success Task Force,” says Wendy Kaufmyn, an engineering professor and activist with Save City College, a coalition of students, faculty, staff and community.

AFT 2121’s Alisa Messer and CCSF Trustee John Rizzo (left) at a Fall 2012 demonstration protesting sanctions against the school. ©2012 Peter Menchini/Maya Media.The Commission’s sanctions set off years of upheaval and chaos at the school. The six top administrators who churned through over the next four years made a series of decisions that drastically downsized the school—all justified, explicitly or implicitly, by the need to meet ACCJC mandates. From July 2013 – December 2015, these decisions were made by a Special Trustee With Extraordinary Powers (STWEP), an emergency manager who operated with neither transparency nor accountability. Neither students, nor faculty, nor the elected Board of Trustees had any say.

Some of the policies put in by the takeover administrators pushed students out in obvious ways, notably the requirement for advance payments of student fees, and the closure of Civic Center campus.

The requirement for up-front payment took effect in January 2013. Students who couldn’t pay their full fee at registration, even before they received their financial aid, were referred to the predatory student loan company Nelnet5 and “robo-dropped” from their classes by the school’s computer. This policy pushed out more than 9,000 students over four semesters. “At $4,676 per student in lost state reimbursements, the school lost around $40 million,” says Gonzalez. (After two years of student-led protests, the harsh payment policy was suspended in January 2016.)

The administration closed the Civic Center campus on a half day’s notice, just before the 2015 spring semester classes were due to start. They claimed a “seismic emergency” existed at the 750 Eddy St. building, though the structure had been flagged for retrofit in the 1970s. Classes for new immigrant English-language learners were cancelled with only a note on the door, in English; some 2,000 students were displaced. A strong community mobilization forced the college to find replacement space, but around 1,700 students lost their semester. (See “Labor and Community Alliance Saves a City College Campus,” p. 20.)

Other policies undermined the supports that help students stay in school. Student resource centers have seen their budgets cut by 25 – 50 percent, says Edian Blair Schofield, who works at the Women’s Resource Center and at Tulay, which serves Filipino students. The college’s array of resource centers and special programs serve Latino/a students, Black students, veterans, LGBTQ students, undocumented, disabled, homeless and formerly incarcerated students, among others.6

New “productivity” standards demand larger classes and defy teachers’ experience of what works. “I lose at-risk students in a class of 40 who I could keep in a class of 25 to 30,” says Edgar Torres.

And narrowing the course offerings deprives students of the very things that might draw them in, according to Joe Drake, a formerly incarcerated student who is preparing to transfer from City College to a four-year school. “They want to cut music, Poetry for the People, a lot of the ethnic studies classes—the classes that help a person find out who you are, that help people be interested in staying in school,” says Drake. Diversity studies—ethnic studies classes, women’s and gender studies, labor and LGBTQ studies—have been particular targets since the crisis began. Tarik Farrar recalls Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher telling him on more than one occasion in 2012, “Your diversity departments are in our sights.”

Students Gone Missing
“We’ve lost a generation of SFUSD graduates,” says Leslie Simon, who teaches Women’s Studies at the college and founded Project SURVIVE, the school’s sexual violence prevention program.

The 10 percent decline in new SFUSD graduates entering City College in 2014 mirrored the percentage of students who didn’t go to college at all.7 Without CCSF, their options are limited, according to Shanell Williams, who was the student representative on the Board of Trustees when the crisis hit. “What do they want low-income students to do? Either be stuck in a low-wage job, or in the underground street economy where they may end up in jail or prison—or go to a for-profit trade school, where they will be saddled down with debt and have little to show for it,” Williams says.

The most vulnerable and least mobile students have been hit hardest by what activists call “the racist push-out policies”; a majority of the displaced students are students of color.

“Consistently since I started in 2012 the population of African American students has gone down, and many of the students who are there are struggling with housing issues, which makes staying in school hard, or with economic issues that affect their staying in school,” says African American Studies Professor Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin. She grew up in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco, and has seen her whole family pushed out of the city.

“City College is San Francisco’s most important working class institution,” says American Federation of Teachers (AFT Local 2121) Political Director Alisa Messer, a San Francisco native. “This [the downsizing of the school] is a case study for who’s leaving San Francisco, who’s being pushed out, another way we’re making San Francisco inhospitable for working class students and students of color,” says Messer, who teaches English at CCSF.

Students, Faculty and Community Push Back
Hundreds of people turned out for a community meeting in July 2012, shortly after the sanctions hit. Many channeled their energy into the campaign for the parcel tax to support City College; the tax, Proposition A, passed with 73 percent of the vote. San Franciscans also turned out en masse at numerous marches, rallies, and trustees’ meetings. Students, most militant of all, occupied the administration building and the mayor’s office.

AFT2121, and the California Federation of Teachers, played a key role in the Prop A campaign, in securing state funds to stabilize City College during the crisis, and in legal and regulatory challenges to the ACCJC. By March 2016 the commission was facing loss of its federal license, and the California Community College Board of Governors voted to reform and replace the commission. Although the ACCJC is still scheduled to render its final decision on accreditation in January 2017, with no appeals allowed, City College supporters are cautiously optimistic.

“We’re moving forward,” Messer says, “but there are no guarantees. We must stay vigilant and remain organized.”

Now activists must win support for rebuilding CCSF as an open access institution for 100,000 students, rather than as a half-size workforce training school. The shock treatment handed down by the Accrediting Commission and the state takeover replaced almost all the senior administrators at the school with people committed to an austerity agenda. Like most austerity regimes, this one includes an all-out attack on unionized workers. (See box, “Faculty Fights For Fairness” p.10.) Turning the college around will require, in part, an aggressive Board of Trustees and supportive city government.

 “Gentrification and education reform are part of a coherent vision of a future world,” says Tarik Farrar, and that vision is being contested on many fronts in San Francisco.

Major elected offices will be in play this year. Seats on the Democratic County Central Committee will be up for grabs, and in this bluest of cities, these endorsements can make or break campaigns. Four spots on the City College Board of Trustees will come open, though incumbents are expected to run for three of those. The three progressive stalwarts on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors—John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar—will be termed out, and much rides on the races to continue their politics on the board.

Proposition K, passed by San Francisco voters in November 2015, commits the city to using surplus land for affordable housing; Proposition C on the June 2016 ballot would more than double the amount of affordable housing required in large, market-rate developments. Developments at CCSF’s 33 Gough St. site and the Balboa Reservoir will be moving through the public process as anti-displacement activists battle the huge “Beast on Bryant” development at 18th and Bryant Streets, and remain on alert in the fight over luxury housing development at 16th and Mission.8

Detail from a poster calling on high school students to walk out in protest of San Francisco police murders of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, and Mario Woods. Nieto and Perez-Lopez studied at City College. Poster design by Adrea Ledet, portraits by Oree Originol.

City College student activists are also making links to the organizing against police brutality they see escalating with the gentrification in the city.

“Anti-gentrification, anti-police brutality, the fight for City College—all these struggles are connected, tightly tied together,” says Win-Mon Kyi, a core student organizer with Save City College.

The new proposal to make City College free to San Francisco residents and workers could address both the school’s enrollment drop and the city’s deep inequities. Supervisor Jane Kim introduced the “Free City” proposal April 19, with the strong backing of AFT2121 and several community groups. The cost of the plan could be offset by a luxury real estate transfer tax, which would go before voters in November 2016.

“Free City has everything to do with who’s being pushed out, and gives San Francisco an opportunity to reclaim the promise of public higher education,” Messer says. “To make this part of our next steps in the struggle—it’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes.” ◼︎


Marcy Rein is a contributing editor to Race, Poverty & the Environment.


The Research Committee serving the movement to Save City College contributed reporting to this story. The contact person for the committee is Allan Fisher at ResComm11@gmail.com.



1.    California Community College Chancellor’s Office Datamart, http://datamart.cccco.edu/Students/Student_Term_Annual_Count.aspx, accessed March 23, 2016.

2.    Chicago Teachers Union, “The Black & White of Education in Chicago’s Public Schools: Class, Charters & Chaos,” Chicago Teachers’ Union, 2012, http://www.ctunet.com/root/text/CTU-black-and-white-of-chicago-education.pdf

3.    Pauline Lipman, High Stakes Education: Inequality, Globalization and Urban School Reform, RoutledgeFalmer, 2004, pp. 7 – 8.

4.    Ibid.

5.    NelNet overbilled the US Government by at least $278 million between 2003 and 2006. See Alan Michael Collinge, The Student Loan Scam, Beacon Press, 2009, p. 70.

6.    These supportive programs include Disabled Students Programs and Services, EOPS, Transitional Studies, the multi-cultural retention programs and the Resource Centers (Family, Women’s, Queer, Multicultural, Veterans, SCube, VIDA, the Bookloan Program, HARTS, Guardian Scholars, Project SURVIVE, the Gender Diversity Project, Second Chance, WAYPASS, the Writing Success Project, Peer Case Management.

7.    SFUSD Graduates: https://prezi.com/ix1fwlambaqc/copy-of-ccsf-colloquy-april-24-2015/ Postsecondary Attendance Rates: http://gardnercenter.stanford.edu/resources/publications/JGC_IB_SFUSDPostSecondaryTransition2010.pdf

8.    For more on the 16th and Mission development fight, see “Who Gets To Live Near Transit,” by Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke, RP&E Vol. 20-1, 2015, http://www.reimaginerpe.org/20-1/ruiz-smooke


Endnotes “Faculty Fight for Fairness”

1.    Budget document provided in bargaining. Interview with AFT Local 2121 President Tim Killikelly, April 14, 2016.

2.    For an example of the ACCJS’s anti-union bias, see Vice President Steven Kinsella’s exchange with San Mateo Community College Chancellor Ron Galatolo, archived at http://aft1493.org/chancellor-galatolo-speaks-out-on-accjc/, accessed April 24, 2016.

3.    ACCJC Eligibility Requirements for Accreditation, #21, p. 7 http://www.accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Accreditation_Reference_Handbook_July_2015.pdf, accessed May 2, 2016.


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“Anti-gentrification, anti-police brutality, the fight for City College—all these struggles are connected, tightly tied together,” says Win-Mon Kyi, a core student organizer with Save City College.

Labor and Community Alliance Saves a City College Campus

By James Tracy

More than 450 people rallied at City Hall in March 2015 to press for the re-opening of CCSF’s Civic Center Campus. ©2015 Nathaniel Y. Downes, The Guardsman.

City College of San Francisco abruptly shut down its only campus in the Tenderloin neighborhood in January 2015 with less than a day’s notice. The Civic Center campus primarily served recently arrived immigrants and offered nationally recognized English as a Second Language classes. Citing seismic safety concerns with the aging building, the college administration acted as if students would simply accept the loss of their classes, even though no dates for a rebuild were offered. They were wrong about that.

Several respected community organizations (La Voz Latina, Community Housing Partnership, the Vietnamese Youth Development Center and Glide Memorial Church) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121 organized a rapid response to the closure. The coalition, which came to be known as the Central City Coalition for Public Education, followed a simple strategy: undermine the administration’s messaging that portrayed the closure as an unfortunate but necessary safety measure.

The coalition organized a march from the campus to City Hall on March 5 that attracted more than 450 people. It used a hearing called by Supervisor Jane Kim to expose the fact that the seismic issues had been known for years. Instead of making plans to relocate the lost classes, the administration chose to close the campus with no consultation with staff or students. The hearing also revealed that while brass informally discussed some reconstruction plans, no concrete steps were in place to return the classes to the community.

Over the next month, the coalition continued with a series of actions, accountability sessions and press work designed to provide the outside game while Supervisor Kim directly negotiated with the college. In early April the college announced that it would reopen the campus nearby in a building owned by the Academy of Art. In Fall 2015, the new site opened up with a six-year lease, pending the completion of seismic work on the old campus.

For Sergio Lopez, an organizer with La Voz Latina, the campaign was very personal. Living near the campus allowed him to study English and other subjects and work at the same time. “It is a place where I go to practice and develop one of my important skills, to be a bilingual speaker to support the community in translations and communications in different levels. The City College has been a support place for my second language and the future for my work and the other students that are out there in the community.”

Several factors led to this organizing victory. The foremost was that City College of San Francisco, still reeling from its accreditation crisis, needed to preserve political goodwill with members of the city’s Board of Supervisors. It was a rare moment in organizing when bad publicity, together with the mobilization of sympathetic politicians, actually amounted to real leverage.

Another key to the win was the labor-community alliance. The community groups provided students willing to speak out and reframe the issue through the lenses of immigrant justice and bridging the digital divide. The union mobilized teachers and staff and dedicated a community organizer to the effort. There were some complications along the way, as one partner was reluctant to be seen in alliance with a labor union. But the coalition as a whole stayed together, and is still pressing the college for a voice in programming and supporting the union’s current campaigns against downsizing and layoffs.

“City College has been so central to the experience of so many in our community,” says La Voz Latina organizer Kelly Guajardo. “Particularly when you’re looking at La Voz members who are largely low-income, immigrant families, City College presents an affordable and realistic opportunity to get ahead, to learn English, to get a degree. It’s worth fighting for.” ◼︎


James Tracy is a San Francisco housing activist, part-time teacher at City College of San Francisco, and author. His most recent book is Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco’s Housing Wars (AK Press, 2014).


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"The City College has been a support place for my second language and the future for my work and the other students that are out there in the community.”⏤Sergio Lopez, La Voz Latina

Corporate Media Writes the Sound Track for the Attack on City College

By The Research Committee of Save City College

Crowds turn out to support City College despite reams of negative coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle. ©2013 Peter Menchini/Maya Media

The San Francisco Chronicle became the main sound track for the long-running accreditation crisis that hit City College in 2012, publishing scores of articles that set a narrative frame for the San Francisco public, and for other mainstream media. An analysis of Chronicle messaging can serve as a Rosetta Stone for decoding the corporate interests at play in the attack on this top community college.

Closing the Open Door
Since 2012, state laws and regulations have been undermining the “open door” promise of the California Master Plan of 1960—“access, affordability and quality” for anyone age 18 or over. The rationale for this shift was first laid out in a report produced in 2006 for the California Business Roundtable, the powerhouse lobby for the state’s two-dozen largest multi-national corporations, and its allies. “Keeping California’s Edge: The Growing Demand for Highly Educated Workers” was essentially a work order for the California community colleges and the California State University system, specifying businesses’ workforce needs in great detail.1

The report reflected the corporate view that the purposes of education are “meeting the needs of industry” and “maintaining a competitive edge.” With this frame, educational priorities begin to shift. Training in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is elevated. Broader community-centered offerings get cut, including ethnic studies, women’s and LGBTQ studies, arts, languages and humanities, specialized art classes for people with autism, and beginning English classes for new immigrants.

A 2011 report from the Student Success Task Force convened by the California Community College Board of Governors largely reflected this business agenda. Follow-up state legislation, the “Student Success Act,” passed in 2012 despite vociferous statewide opposition led by City College’s students, chancellor, faculty and trustees. The act puts community colleges under 22 new restrictive regulations. As the new policies come on line one by one, they spell drastically narrower college access, mainly limited to 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled full-time in degree, certificate and transfer programs, geared for the corporate workforce.

These reports shaped the themes of the Chronicle’s coverage of the City College crisis, which would sound eerily familiar to readers who follow news of emergency managers taking over school districts and city governments in Detroit, Flint, New Orleans, Memphis, and Oakland, or news about the epidemics of closures of “failed public schools” in Black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.

Preview Tips the Paper’s Hand
More than a month before the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) issued its “show cause” sanction of City College in July 2012, the Chronicle published a preview article. The headline for that June 1, 2012 story read, “S.F. City College can’t afford all its campuses: Trustees may have to close sites to save money, academic standing.” The article quoted the president of the college’s Board of Trustees saying, “I think we’re going to have to close some. They [the accreditation team] think we have too many campuses.” Nanette Asimov, the main reporter on the City College beat, made no mention of the fact that it was highly unusual for an accreditation agency—charged with assuring educational quality—to suggest that a college recoup its academic standing through campus closures.

The June 1 article set up a percussion line that would echo in scores of follow-up stories: City College was simply too big, “a behemoth,” “a vast college,” “a huge school” “that must shrink to an affordable size”; City College had a deadline to step up from being “a bloated, slow-thinking system of nine campuses into a lean, sharp-minded institution of higher learning.” 2

Several weeks after the July 2012 accreditation bombshell, a consultant with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) issued a report on City College’s financial status, echoing the ACCJC’s narrative about the college’s “profligate finances,” and sparking a new wave of negative news coverage. The Chronicle lent an aura of unassailable legitimacy to both the ACCJC and to FCMAT—“all the experts agree.” A far more critical analysis appeared in Beyond Chron: “Errors, Exaggerations and Bias of the FCMAT Report on CCSF.”3 FCMAT’s official description gives it an air of neutrality. Established by state legislation in 1991, the agency says it exists “to help California’s local educational agencies fulfill their financial and management responsibilities.” But its interventions can be highly political, as in this case; FCMAT also provided the rationale for the 2003 state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District.4

The Chronicle’s coverage unleashed the equivalent of a shock and awe campaign, breathlessly conveying that City College could be closed down by the accreditation commission at any instant, save for the heroic rescue effort now underway by the state takeover. The college had “failed in 14 fiscal and managerial areas.” (October 23, 2012)5 It was near bankruptcy, “so badly managed and fiscally unstable,” “it typically spends more than it has.” (June 29, 2012)6 The Chronicle gave a megaphone to spokespersons who dramatically underscored the need for the swiftest compliance with ACCJC demands: “The clock is ticking,” warned corporate media consultant Larry Kamer, brought in by the state takeover to speak on behalf of the college.7

The newspaper consistently linked management issues to City College’s commitment to open access, bad-mouthing the breadth of the school’s offerings: “Now City College trustees have revised their mission statement, dropping the emphasis on enrichment classes, such as music appreciation, memoir writing and other free classes enjoyed by many older adults.”

This depiction of the college’s adult school program, repeated dozens of times, badly misrepresented the non-credit division that made up 40 percent of the student body.8 While “enrichment classes, music appreciation and memoir writing” conjure up an image of leisured upper class students, in reality City College’s adult school division overwhelmingly serves the most low-income and marginalized residents of San Francisco, at no charge to the students. The largest offering is an exceptionally successful English as a Second Language program. City College ESL had for decades been an essential first stop for new immigrants in this gateway city that is over one third immigrants; the Bay Area still has the highest rate of linguistic isolation9 of any region in California. The college ran a high school equivalency program; offered more than 30 health, safety and nutrition classes for low-income elders at congregate eating sites; tai chi classes for elders in Chinatown; and classes for 2,300 disabled students, including those struggling with autism, PTSD and other psychiatric conditions.

Chronicle of Land Grabs Foretold
With remarkable prescience, the Chronicle’s June 1, 2012 preview story listed campuses that could be closed, among them Castro-Valencia, Civic Center, and Downtown. The article ended with interim chancellor Pamila Fisher saying, “Everything is on the table. [Closures are] a very legitimate question for us to be considering.” Four years later, the Castro and Civic Center Campuses were closed, and the trustees were looking at plans to develop 33 Gough St. for luxury housing on a 75-year lease, over the protests of members of the college community.

In November 2015, the Chronicle reported that the huge 5M (Fifth and Mission) development had been approved by the Planning Commission, despite a nine-hour storm of protest from neighbors and community organizations. City College’s Downtown Campus, serving large numbers of ESL students, is located squarely in the middle of the footprint for the 4.6 million square foot development for luxury housing towers and tech offices. The land for 5M is owned by the Chronicle’s parent company, the Hearst Corporation. City College advocates expect a new wave of articles in the Chronicle, reiterating that the school can no longer afford all its campuses, and that the sale of Downtown Campus (possibly to the Hearst Corporation?) could certainly help rescue the college and restore its academic standing.

Sins of Omission
The stories the Chronicle failed to cover were as important as the errors and distortions in its coverage. For example:

The Chronicle never saw fit to mention that City College’s financial reserves were at a low point during the ACCJC visit because the state of California was a month late in a routine transfer of $25 million in appropriations. Even so, City College’s reserves had never for a moment fallen below the California Community College Chancellor’s Office guideline of five percent.

The system-wide Chancellor’s Scorecard showed that City College had some of the best student outcomes in the state, and the college’s scores surpassed those of every single one of the twelve colleges affiliated with the ACCJC. The Chronicle buried this story in a blog post, turning it into a joke with the lead, “Living well is the best revenge.” (April 23, 2014)10

When the fraudulent for-profit school Corinthian/Heald was finally closed down by the US Department of Education in 2014, in the wake of multiple lawsuits from nine states’ attorneys general, the paper did not touch the story that the ACCJC had fully accredited that school for 30 years. The irony of the ACCJC fully accrediting a for-profit school with a well-documented history of blatant large-scale fraud, while accusing an excellent public college of “fiscal mismanagement,” somehow escaped the Chronicle.

Stories Have Power
The Chronicle’s slant on the City College crisis percolated into the national media, and seemed to become a force in the downsizing of the school. Both the Washington Monthly (September 2013) and the Wall Street Journal (November 2013) ran hit pieces, with the Monthly’s actually titled, “America’s Worst Community Colleges.”

In San Francisco, as early as December 2013, “Many people mistakenly believed that it [City College] is already in the process of closing,” according to a report by Image Research. The report, based on four focus groups, also noted that people trusted information from City College students and workers more than that they received from the media—but that even those trusted sources expressed “negativity and speculation.” Small wonder, when so many Chronicle stories hammer home the paper’s dismal view: “City College is so badly managed and financially unstable, it should shut down if its extensive problems aren’t addressed.” ◼︎


The Research Committee Serving the Movement to Save City College can be reached c/o Allan Fisher, ResComm11@gmail.com.


1.    Dr. Robert Fountain, “Keeping California’s Edge: The Growing Demand for Highly Educated Workers,” prepared for the California Business Roundtable and the Campaign for College Opportunity by the Applied Research Center at California State University, Sacramento, 2006.

2.    Nanette Asimov, “S.F. City College submits action plan,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 15, 2012, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/S-F-City-College-submits-action-plan-3951356.php, accessed May 16, 2016

3.    Rick Sterling, “Errors, Exaggerations and Bias in the FCMAT Report on CCSF,” Beyond Chron, July 11, 2013, http://www.beyondchron.org/errors-exaggerations-and-bias-in-the-fcmat-report-on-ccsf/

4.    Robert Gammon, “Phone Logs Link “Politics” To School Takeover: Records show FCMAT officials made repeated calls to city’s leaders before Chaconas’ ouster,” Oakland Tribune, August 18, 2003, accessed at http://www.safero.org/perata/news/phonelogs.html, May 1, 2016.

5.    Nanette Asimov, “City College SF’s ‘Special Trustee’ Picked,” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2012, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/City-College-SF-special-trustee-picked-3976120.php.

6.    Nanette Asimov, “City College accreditation in jeopardy, report says,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 2012, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/City-College-accreditation-in-jeopardy-report-3675075.php.

7.    Nanette Asimov, “CCSF cuts protested as deadline nears,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 2013, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/City-College-accreditation-in-jeopardy-report-3675075.php,

8.    San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 1, 2012.

9.    According to the US Census Bureau, “A household is linguistically isolated if all the adults speak a language other than English, and none speak English ‘very well’. Adult is defined as age 14 or older…” https://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/language/data/census/li-final.pdf

10. Nanette Asimov, “CCSF beats accreditors on academic playing field,” April 23, 2014, http://blog.sfgate.com/education/2014/04/23/city-college-of-sf-beats-accreditors-schools-on-academic-playing-field/.


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An analysis of the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of City College of San Francisco can serve as a Rosetta Stone for decoding the corporate interests at play in the attack on this top community college.

CCSF Faculty Fights for Fairness

By Marcy Rein

City College teachers went on strike on April 27, 2016. Their one-day walkout—the first in the school’s 80-year history—denounced the administration’s bad-faith bargaining, and the persistent, poisonous influence of the ACCJC with its downsizing agenda. “We’re not going to stand for the corporate-style school reforms this administration sees as the solution,” Latin American and Latino/a Studies Professor Marco Mojica told a student-led teach-in the week before the strike.

On strike day the teachers were earning 3.5 percent less than they did in 2007, although the cost of living in San Francisco has shot up 21 percent. Faculty took multiple pay cuts over the crisis years, some negotiated, some imposed. Layoffs, mostly due to class cancellations, have fallen especially hard on part-time instructors; 174 have lost their jobs, with nearly 350 threatened by the 26 percent cut in classes announced by the administration in late 2015. The paperwork and meetings required to comply with the ACCJC demands, on top of teachers’ regular workload, amounts to speedup, according to AFT Local 2121 Political Director Alisa Messer. “The faculty feel demoralized, not just disrespected but ground into the dirt,” she says.

Contract talks between AFT2121 and the Community College District began in February 2015; negotiations and mediation have proven fruitless. Under the administration’s proposal, most faculty would still be earning less than their 2007 wages by end of the contract in 2018, according to AFT2121 Vice President Alan D’Souza—although the college, by its own figures, has $57 million in reserves.[1] The divisive proposal also undermines 30 years of union negotiations aimed at reducing the gap between full-time and part-time faculty.

Labor and community supporters joined City College faculty for a rally in front of the Financial District law office of the college’s outside labor negotiator on March 11; 25 people were arrested for sitting in at the building entrance. Seven members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and representatives from two-dozen community groups signed a letter calling on City College to negotiate with the teachers in good faith. The Executive Council of the Associated Students at City College passed a strike-support resolution by an 11 – 1 vote. Students and community members swelled the teachers’ picket lines on April 27, and packed into a noontime rally at Civic Center.

Meanwhile, the administration appears to be under pressure to maintain its intransigent stance. The Accrediting Commission has a well-documented history of anti-union bias.[2] In July 2015, the Commission placed City College under “advanced financial monitoring.” A letter from the Commission to CCSF Chancellor Susan Lamb cited “Settlement in excess of COLA” as a key cause for concern. Accreditation standards include a requirement that schools “comply with Commission requests, directives, decisions and policies,”[3] which gives this letter considerable weight, even though it isn’t part of the official ACCJC sanctions. The unfair labor practice charge AFT2121 filed with the State Public Employment Relations Board contends, “The unwillingness of the District to engage in good faith, give-and-take negotiations… is clearly driven by ACCJC hidden or ‘underground’ criteria.”

Update: In August 2016, the members of AFT2121 ratified a new contract, which restores lost wages and provides raises for both full-time and part-time faculty. The San Francisco Community College District Board of Trustees approved the agreement Sept. 8.




[1] Budget document provided in bargaining. Interview with AFT Local 2121 President Tim Killikelly, April 14, 2016.

[2] For an example of the ACCCJ’s anti-union bias, see Vice President Steven Kinsella’s exchange with San Mateo Community College Chancellor Ron Galatolo, archived at http://aft1493.org/chancellor-galatolo-speaks-out-on-accjc/, accessed April 24, 2016.

[3] ACCJC Eligibility Requirements for Accreditation, #21, p. 7 http://www.accjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Accreditation_Reference_Handbook_July_2015.pdf, accessed May 2, 2016.

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Development for Whom?

By Marcy Rein

“City College is a mirror for what is happening in the city,” says Kevine Boggess, a San Francisco community organizer and former CCSF student body president. “People are experiencing fear of being pushed out, or vanishing into the ether,” he says. Evictions increased in 2015 for the sixth year in a row,1 as inequality in the city hit third-world levels.2 The influx of personal wealth and investment capital has fed the housing crisis,3 and transformed not only the face of the city, but the space as well.

750 Eddy Street, site of CCSF's closed Civic Center Campus. Photo by Marcy Rein

The changes show starkly in the neighborhood around City College’s Mission Campus. The corner stores, Hunt’s Donuts, El Mahahual Salvadoran/Colombian Restaurant, and the fabulous Latin@ drag bar “Esta Noche” up the street have all shut down, replaced by trendy watering holes and boutiques selling pricey home furnishings and clothes. As you head towards City College on the #49 bus, the upscale retail gives way to neighborhood businesses—but around the corner from the main Ocean Avenue campus, the Avalon condos just went up, with a Whole Foods next door.

“That’s another small metaphor for the reality,” says CCSF African American Studies Professor Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin. “There’s new housing built up right near the school that the teachers can’t afford to live in, and a Whole Foods where students can’t afford to buy their lunch.”

The changes in the physical space that come as people are displaced are part of breaking communities, Fernando Marti of the Council of Community Housing Organizations observes. Communities lose all kinds of resources—cultural spaces, non-profits, stores. “The downsizing of City College fits that pattern,” Marti says.

City College Real Estate Speculation
When the crisis hit in 2012, City College had 12 campuses in neighborhoods around San Francisco, as well as an administration building at 33 Gough St.

As early as September 2012, the Board of Trustees began thinking about closing Downtown Campus and 33 Gough and leasing them to raise funds; students at Downtown spotted Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher touring real estate investors through the building, according to Student Trustee Bouchra Simmons, who attends classes there. The Board did shut down the rented Castro-Valencia campus.4

“While the [elected] trustees were still suspended, the “Special Trustee” put 33 Gough St. out to bid to develop as housing. The Board of Trustees had no say in the project description,” says John Rizzo, one of the longest-serving trustees. “All these things happened while there was no public oversight.” Profits from the project will go to the developer and the bank that arranges financing, with a 6 percent commission for the real estate broker, CBRE,5 and a cut for City College.

In October 2013, Special Trustee (emergency manager) Robert Agrella unilaterally canceled plans to build the Performing Arts Education Center (PAEC), although San Francisco voters had twice approved the project, and it was “shovel ready,” says longtime Music Department Chair Madeline Mueller. City College has no large auditorium, and only seven broken-down practice rooms for music students. The PAEC could both boost the school’s music and theater offerings, and serve as a performance venue and cultural anchor for the community, an alternative to the elite opera, ballet and symphony.

The site for the PAEC is part of the 17-acre Balboa Reservoir parcel; City College owns about 40 percent of the reservoir, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) owns the rest. The PUC is considering declaring the land surplus, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has begun making development plans. The city has offered little hard information on the project, but in one scenario, only 15 percent of 500 planned housing units would be truly affordable for low-wage workers and new teachers.6 City College activists hope to secure more affordable housing and a smaller footprint that would hold space for a revival of the PAEC, and preserve the parking at the site that hundreds of commuting faculty, staff and students rely on.

Since power was restored to the elected Board of Trustees in January 2016, development of 33 Gough St. and the closed Civic Center campus at 750 Eddy St. have been on the Board’s public agenda. But public input is tightly managed and purely advisory. The debate centers on whether public land should be used for private profit and luxury housing, with the lure of getting a bigger cut for the cash-strapped school. Any development the trustees decide on will need to go through San Francisco’s planning process, and ultimately be approved by the Board of Supervisors. ⏤Marcy Rein  ◼︎


1.    San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, Annual Report on Eviction Notices, March 8, 2016, http://sfrb.org/sites/default/files/Document/Statistics/2016 AnnualEvctRpt.pdf; Jack Morse, “Ellis Act Filings Up 36% As Evictions Hit Six-Year High,” sfist, March 29, 2016, http://sfist.com/2016/03/29/report_evictions_continue_to_increa.php, accessed May , 2015

2.    Lydia O’Connor, “Bay Area Poverty Rate Still Near Record High Despite Tech Boom,” Huffington Post, April 2, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/sf-bay-area-poverty_n_6994990.html, Accessed May 20, 2016.

3.    Richard Walker, “Why Is There a Housing Crisis?” East Bay Express, March 23, 2016, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/why-is-there-a-housing-crisis/Content?oid=4722242, accessed May 1, 2016.

4.    Andrea Koskey, “CCSF to Shut Two Campuses,” The Examiner, Sept. 28, 2012, http://archives.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/ccsf-to-shut-two-campuses/Content?oid=2127304

5.    Richard Blum, the husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein, served as chair of CBRE’s Board of Directors for 12 years; he retired in 2014 but remains a major shareholder.

6.    Memo from Emily Lesk, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, to the Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee, October 9, 2015, accessed at accessed May 1, 2016.

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For-Profit Piranhas

By Marcy Rein

“The forces that stand to gain from the downsizing of City College are the San Francisco real estate developers, the student loan industry, the for-profit schools that our students will go to and take on horrendous debt, because they’re so expensive, and our administrators who are paying themselves inflated salaries,” says Wendy Kaufmyn, an engineering professor and Save City College activist.

For-profit schools stand to gain from the downsizing of City College. Here, an ad on a kiosk for the CCSF newspaper. The other side of the kiosk displays a recruitment poster for the US Army. ©2016 Marcy ReinFor-profit colleges compete with community colleges for the same pool of students. These operations cost 17 times as much as parallel programs at City College,1 prey on students of color,2 and drive students to predatory loans: 96 percent of students at the for-profits must take out loans, in contrast to 13 percent at community colleges. In the Bay Area, less than 4 percent of all two-year students attend for-profit schools. The rest go to the public community colleges. If the for-profit schools are to grow, the public community colleges must shrink.

The for-profit sector has a strong presence in the US Department of Education, with key officials cycling through the revolving door to take lucrative positions with for-profit colleges and their lobbyists.3

Corporate philanthropy, another major instigator of education “reform,” played its part in the City College story. Lumina Foundation, a major funder of corporate education reform, was started with $770 million dollars from the nation’s largest student loan company, the Student Loan Marketing Corporation (“Sallie Mae”), and the current chair of its board is Sallie Mae’s former CEO. Lumina gave $200,000 to the Student Success Task Force, and $450,000 to ACCJC. The foundation then gave a lucrative state-level post to the director of the Student Success Task Force, Amy Supinger, who wrote the restrictive new regulations that create pressures on students to go to school full-time. This generally means they cannot work their way through college but must take out student loans.

Major players in the California Democratic Party have ties to the for-profit education world, and to the real estate industry that feeds off the epidemic of displacement. Party Chair John Burton was on the board of trustees for the University of Phoenix, and that for-profit is now in the process of being transferred to new management under the second highest-ranking official in Obama’s Department of Education from 2009-13.4 California Governor Jerry Brown is a major booster of charter schools. During his years as mayor of Oakland, he raised funds for two charters, and helped bring about the state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District; some 20 charters mushroomed in Oakland during the six years of the takeover.5,6

Richard Blum, husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein, has been a major shareholder in Career Education Corporation and ITT Educational Services, two of the largest for-profit college operators. Both companies have been investigated and sued for their business practices—including, in ITT’s case, predatory lending.7 Blum also served for 12 years as chairman of the board for CBRE, the world’s largest real estate brokerage; he retired in 2014 but remains a major shareholder. (CBRE is the firm that CCSF Special Trustee Robert Agrella hired to steer the development of 33 Gough St.)

The top ranks of the Democratic Party in San Francisco are enmeshed with real estate as well; the various arms of the real estate lobby are major contributors to the Party.8 The San Francisco Association of Realtors hired Mary Jung, chair of the Democratic County Central Committee, as its chief lobbyist in June 2013.

Mayor Lee, with his strong pro-development agenda, shepherded bills through the Board of Supervisors giving tax breaks to Twitter and others; the first three years of the Twitter deal alone cost the city $56 million.9 The Hearst Corporation, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle whose slanted coverage has contributed to the City College crisis (See “Corporate Media Writes the Sound Track for the Attack on City College,” p. 22.), is a major real estate power. The Chronicle Building at Fifth and Mission Streets anchors the multi-million dollar 5M development—going up just a block from City College’s Downtown Campus. And enticing these companies to move to San Francisco without planning housing for thousands of new workers has contributed to the epidemic of skyrocketing rents and displacement.10  ⏤Marcy Rein     ◼︎


1.    San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Legislative Analyst, “Evaluation of the Potential Impact of the Closure of San Francisco City College,” Sept. 16, 2013, http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=46531

2.    Jorge Rivas, “For-Profit Colleges’ Mostly Black and Latino Students Face Higher Debt and Unemployment,” Colorlines, Jan. 4, 2012, accessed at http://www.colorlines.com/articles/profit-colleges-mostly-black-and-latino-students-face-higher-debt-and-unemployment

3.    David Bacon, “The Corporate Roots of the Attack on Community Colleges,” in Perspective, publication of the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers, Vol. 46, No. 2, February 2015, accessed at https://issuu.com/cftpub/docs/cft_perspective_march2015_7, April 23, 2016.

4.    “The university and its owner, the Apollo Education Group, have been subject to a series of state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.” Patricia Cohen and Chad Bray, “University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private,” The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2016, accessed via https://dianeravitch.net/2016/02/10/obama-friends-take-over-for-profit-higher-education-group/

5.    Robert Gammon, “Phone Logs Link “Politics” To School Takeover: Records show FCMAT officials made repeated calls to city’s leaders before Chaconas’ ouster,” Oakland Tribune, August 18, 2003, accessed at http://www.safero.org/perata/news/phonelogs.html, May 1, 2016.

6.    Jill Tucker, “Oakland Charter School Battle Rages,” SFGate.com, Nov. 19, 2013, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/Oakland-charter-school-battle-rages-4992242.php, accessed May 1, 2016.

7.    For a summary of actions against Career Education Corporation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Career_Education_Corporation; On ITT Educational Services, see the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, http://www.consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/cfpb-sues-for-profit-college-chain-itt-for-predatory-lending/ and the Securities and Exchange Commission, https://www.sec.gov/news/pressrelease/2015-86.html

8.    These included the San Francisco Apartment Assn., Building Owners and Managers, BOM Independent Expenditure PAC, San Francisco Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth, Shorenstein Realty, SF Realtors Legal Action Fund, and Air BNB. Data from the California Secretary of State, cal-access.sos.ca.gov

9.    James Tracy, Dispatches Against Displacement, AK Press, 2014, p. 12.

10. Richard Walker, “Why Is There a Housing Crisis?” East Bay Express, March 23, 2016, http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/why-is-there-a-housing-crisis/Content?oid=4722242, accessed May 1, 2016.


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Homeless Residents Build Intentional Community in Berkeley

By David Bacon

The camp outside the old Berkeley City Hall, called by the residents an occupation. It was a protest against the Berkeley City Council passing an anti-homeless ordinance.Michael Lee started living on the streets of San Francisco last May. He had traveled from Las Vegas to seek medical treatment. When he arrived, he searched for cheap, temporary housing in some of San Francisco’s most affordable neighborhoods, but he had seriously underestimated the cost of living in the nation’s most expensive city.

“I was under the impression the rent was $300 a month, and I brought the resources for 60 days,” he said in an interview. “I was going to go back to Las Vegas afterwards and go back to work. But the first place I walked into, they told me it was $300 a week. The next was $400 a week, and then $500. People were laughing at me—$300 a week is actually cheap on Skid Row. So I wound up living on the streets.”

Lee soon heard of a large encampment in Berkeley that homeless activists had set up to protest the US Postal Service’s (USPS) plan to sell Berkeley’s historic downtown post office building. So he moved across the bay and quickly became a leader of the Berkeley camp, advocating for a plan to transform the building into a community resource—“a homeless contact center run by homeless people.”

“Without community resources we can’t get a hand up,” said Lee. “There’s just no place to go. This is where we live, unfortunately—on the sidewalks. [But] we’re not going to be homeless forever. Eventually, we will recover from homelessness because we’re pretty determined individuals. That’s something that people with houses truly need to understand. We are going to be rejoining the community.”

After a federal judge granted the City of Berkeley a temporary restraining order against the sale and the buyer backed out, the USPS finally announced that it was shelving its plans to sell the building and by April 2015 the legal battle was suspended.

Half a year later, in December 2015, some of the people from the post office homeless encampment set up another larger camp a block away, on the lawn of the old City Hall, to protest a new city council plan to establish stricter rules targeting homeless people. This encampment, known as “Liberty City” or “Liberty Village,” while comparatively short-lived it was much larger and drew support from across the community. The city swept the away during the Christmas to New Year holiday season, scattering its occupants throughout the Bay Area. 

Next, the USPS, working in collaboration with the Berkeley Police Department, dismantled the encampment on the post office steps on April 15, 2016, ending a 17-month experiment in ‘peaceful coexistence.’

Defenders of the old post office and homeless organizers are now strategizing next steps to create a self-organized community in Berkeley.

Dimitri is a homeless man, living in the Berkeley Post Office Camp.Occupied with Intention
Over the years, Berkeley, like most liberal communities, has been comfortable with the idea of the homeless as victims. But many Berkeley residents and business owners grow uneasy when homeless people organize and use the creative tactics of labor and civil rights movements.

Last year, Berkeley’s homeless people did just that. They created “intentional communities” or “occupations” like Liberty City and the post office camp, not just as a protest tactic, but also as places where they could gain more control over their lives and implement their own ideas for dealing with homelessness. Many drew on previous experiences with other movements.

“A lot of us are older activists,” Lee explained in an interview given while Liberty City was still operating. “Our ideas come out of the 1960s and even before, from the 1930s. Homeless people have always formed communities, whether we were considered hoboes, homeless people, or just bums. Hobo jungles were intentional communities too, based on an unconscious understanding of the need for mutual aid and voluntary cooperation.”

Moreover, the homeless police themselves, Lee said. “I see people out there in the middle of the night with flashlights picking up trash. I see them chase off anti-social elements. If you want to talk about the solution to homelessness, all you have to do is walk down [here]. Is it a perfect solution? No. Housing is the permanent solution to homelessness. But this is a helluva good start. We’re creating the new world in the shell of the old. What we’re doing in terms of mutual aid and cooperation can be applied anywhere. They’re going to have to finally see that organizing is the solution to homelessness.”

City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor this year, agreed that the residents of Liberty City did a good job of keeping it safe and well-run. “Liberty City shows that homeless people can create a community,” he said, but cautioned against such communities being completely removed from the city. “There should be an ongoing city presence that might include homeless outreach staff, mental health workers, or others.”

The camp outside the Berkeley Post Office, originally established to protest the sale of the Main Post Office building.No New Housing in Sight
Nearly everyone agrees that the answer to homelessness is permanent housing but state and federal governments do not provide the necessary funding to build it. In fact, over the decades, national policies have eliminated housing for poor people and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Local governments provide homeless shelters and services but they are unable to meet the needs of the huge numbers living on the streets for lack of money. Berkeley alone has 1,200 homeless residents, according to city officials. Furthermore, many homeless people don’t like shelters because they can’t bring their pets, or because they require you to be in and out by certain hours of the day. Consequently, cities like Portland and Seattle have approved the creation of tent cities as an alternative form of temporary housing. Berkeley’s own experience with Liberty City revealed that a tent city has the potential to work in the East Bay as well, but while Berkeley views itself as a progressive community, it remains to be seen whether it would ever approve a tent city plan.

At first, the fight against the USPS brought together homeless people, city authorities—including Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Linda Maio—and local legal and political activists in a loose-knit coalition. While rallies and court actions sought to block the building’s sale, the encampment on the post office steps became a visible evidence of resistance. The coalition, however, didn’t last beyond the post office battle. Some months after the USPS withdrew its plans to sell the building, Bates and Maio brought the homeless-crackdown ordinance, sought by the Downtown Business Association, before the council.

Muzik and Kevin set up a new tent in the Liberty City Camp.The new ordinance—passed on December 1, 2015—prohibits people from lying in planter beds, tying possessions to poles or trees or keeping them within two feet of a tree-well or planter, taking up more than two square feet of space with belongings, and keeping a shopping cart in one place for more than an hour during the day. It also further penalizes urinating and defecating in public, which are already against the law. Arreguin, who voted against the new ordinance, believes that homelessness has become an overly polarized issue in Berkeley, not one in which different parts of the community can find common ground.

“The business community would like to see people not camping out in doorways,” he noted. “Business people want a long-term solution. Homeless people did a good job on changing perceptions of homelessness at Liberty City. They set ground rules and enforced them. They had a process for that, where everybody participated in the meetings.”

West Coast Cities Consider Tents
A homeless protest and occupation in Portland last year evolved into Dignity Village, which now exists with the city’s approval. Portland, in fact, is debating the creation of new, similar encampments. The Seattle City Council has already approved three new tent cities, each housing one hundred residents, although they will be run by service providers, rather than the homeless themselves. They’re estimated to cost $200,000 per year in trash collection and portable toilets, but that cost is less than a traditional shelter. In Honolulu, which has also passed multiple ordinances cracking down on sitting and sleeping in public, Mayor Kirk Caldwell has set up a new homeless camp that is made up of shipping containers.

“Reptile” lived in the Liberty City Camp and fixed bicycles and scooters.Berkeley had an earlier experience with a homeless camp, the Rainbow Village, in Cesar Chavez Park at the Marina. Mostly, it consisted of an area where people could park and live in their cars. After an incident in which someone was killed, however, the city closed it down.

“I do not believe that the Rainbow Village should be evaluated solely on that tragedy,” said Paul Kealoha Blake, director of the East Bay Media Center on Addison Street. “A close and collaborative relationship between homeless leadership and the City of Berkeley can work and was in fact working at Liberty City.”

One big question is where such a camp could be located. Rainbow Village was far from transit and services needed by homeless people. When Liberty City was in operation, Arreguin said his office got complaints from neighbors living near the old City Hall. “The camp had a spillover of people who were attracted to it and who engaged in inappropriate behavior,” he said. “Not everyone respects our laws, and the perception of homeless people is often based on those examples. But we need to be sensitive to the concerns of neighbors.”

For their part, most homeless people complain that they are demonized, and they established Liberty City partly in response. Many homeless people are also veterans and have to reconcile the irony of having fought for their country with finding themselves social outcasts in the nation they had defended.

“I spent ten years in the Navy upholding the Constitution, from 1979 to 1989,” said James Kelly, a former resident of Liberty City. “I believe a person should not have to worry day-to-day where they’re going to lay their head or get their next meal. That should just be a given.”

Andre Cameron, another Liberty City resident, said his experience here was dramatically different from the time he spent in Los Angeles. “In LA, they don’t have anything like this; they have Skid Row,” he explained. “A huge amount of people live on the street in downtown LA. There’s no help for them. Here, there’s a community. I feel the love here... there’s at least some hope. If I had to choose to be homeless anyplace in the world, it would be here in Berkeley.”

“It’s embarrassing, if you’ve never been homeless,” he continued. “People in LA look at homeless people like [they’re] a plague. Here, there’s more acceptance of this subculture of homeless people. I think it’s a tribute in some small cultural way to the community as a whole. I’ve never gotten that sense anywhere else.”

Michelle Lot is a homeless woman, living in the Berkeley Post Office Camp.Ultimately, Arreguin says, the city needs to hear from the homeless themselves and treat them as normal members of the body politic. “When the city passed a law last year that criminalizes homelessness, there was no conversation about what the homeless need; the city didn’t have any input from them. But it can be done,” he said. “We do have a crisis, and all options should be on the table. Berkeley should consider a temporary encampment until we have more permanent housing. People need a place to go.”

Another Liberty City resident, Michael Zint, said that that he and other homeless activists were attempting to develop “an actual city. We have a community here. And if we can pull it off properly, we can use this as a model to be done all over. They’ll begin listening to our message, and that is that we should be able to take care of ourselves.”

Cameron added, “They should have a park, some sort of a space where people can set up tents and live peacefully, with port-a-potties and showers and trash pickup, and that’s organized. We need a place for people to be human—eat, sleep, utilize restrooms. That need doesn’t stop because of a law.”

And, warns Lee, “Homeless people can vote.” He’s aiming to put that proposition to the test and has launched his own campaign, running for Mayor of Berkeley.

David Bacon is a writer and photojournalist based in Oakland and Berkeley, California. For more articles and images, see dbacon.igc.org.

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Street Spirit and the Homeless Human Rights Movement

Street Spirit

Movement Making Media
Street Spirit and the Homeless Human Rights Movement

An interview with Terry Messman by Jess Clarke

Terry Messman has been organizing for peace and social justice since the late 1970s when was arrested at a civil disobedience protest in Montana. For the past 25 years he has worked for human rights for homeless people, organizing direct actions and legislative change, and editing and producing one of the longest-lived poverty rights publications in the United States.

Jess Clarke: Big picture, when and why did you found Street Spirit?

Terry Messman: We put out the first issue in March of 1995. It’s one of the most long-lived media of any kind to document the history of poverty, homelessness and economic injustice. I’d been an activist for many years on homeless issues in Oakland and Berkeley doing housing takeovers, mobilizing homeless people to demonstrate at welfare offices, and other human rights struggles for their rights. We got a lot of positive media attention but I was more and more concerned that the corporate media was completely denigrating poor and homeless people. It was kind of a form of character assassination in the news columns, and we got really fed up with that. I became the editor and Sally Hindman organized the first team of homeless vendors who sell Street Spirit on the street.

Clarke: At that time, Street Sheet was being distributed out of San Francisco. Why did you think another street paper was necessary for the Bay Area?

Messman: Because they were focused on San Francisco and I was based in the East Bay. We wanted to cover issues in Oakland, Berkeley and further inland in Contra Costa County—Concord and Richmond. We felt those issues were vital and we knew them best. So Street Spirit was formed to cover those issues. The Coalition on Homelessness was really glad we were doing that because there hadn’t been a paper here. Even though it’s a very different newspaper, we followed the model of the Coalition on Homelessness. I think it’s the best model in the country for three reasons: (1) It’s hard-hitting advocacy journalism that never apologize for being on the side of homeless and poor people; (2) We accept no advertising because it can really distort editorial freedom and independence; and (3) We give it for free to homeless vendors, unlike virtually all of the homeless newspapers in this country and in Europe which charge their vendors.

Street Sheet in San Francisco and Street Spirit in the East Bay have always been given for free to our vendors. So when people buy them, they know the homeless person is getting all of the money. It’s like economic redistribution from the middle class commuters to the homeless people and no nonprofit gets a cent from it. We want everyone who buys [the paper] to have a one-on-one encounter with a homeless person, hoping it’ll begin to erode this terrible division in American society between homeless people and the general public.

It’s also modeled on the early days when a revolution was brewing in America and Thomas Paine distributed revolutionary pamphlets through street vendors on street corners to get the word out that we needed a revolution against England. Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense and all those other great writings were distributed that way. That’s important for us because we want to get out of the corporate chokehold on publishing. If you publish a normal magazine or newspaper you’re dealing with corporate advertisers, corporate media and corporate stores that sell these things. And we just want nothing to do with any of that. That’s always been our vision.

Clarke: I think one of the things people can come to appreciate is that this is a subversive form of journalism that actually has a real deep political intent. Can you talk about some of the other historical antecedents?

Messman: Well, there is a long and really beautiful history of advocacy journalism and radical social justice journalism in this country. I went to a very good journalism school for four years and we never heard about it. Today, the only form of journalism [taught] is so-called objective journalism where the reporter pretends to not have a conscience, and that’s ridiculous. Every reporter has a point of view and a conscience but they’re not supposed to. Basically, there’s a corporate bias in all newspapers today. They don’t attack very hard the Wall Street system and the bankers and the Pentagon and the White House. They’re part of that system. That is their bias, but they don’t acknowledge it.

To do advocacy journalism in this country, the first thing they’ll say is, “That’s not legitimate because you’re not objective.” And no, we’re not. We’re on the side of poor and homeless people. We see a great injustice being done. We see historic levels of violations of human rights that would not be tolerated for any other minority. Those human rights violations are being unleashed on homeless people and the mainstream media just doesn’t get it. So our advocacy journalism is important and, as you said, it has long roots. I look back at Thomas Paine and his pamphlets and Common Sense as a great inspiration. An even greater inspiration for me has been William Lloyd Garrison and his fiery abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. He attacked the system of slavery in his news columns in such a profound way that there were often riots of proslavery forces when he spoke. They often laid siege to Garrison and the other abolitionist reporters and attacked them physically because they saw how powerful these kinds of advocacy newspapers were.

Another great example from that same era is Ida B. Wells, who was a crusading African American writer and editor who published an expose of lynching in the South and went around the country denouncing lynching. She too was attacked and had to find the courage to keep telling people that lynching was a massive crime and had to be ended and the way to end it was to give a voice to its victims. I really take that to heart today. The way to end human rights violations against homeless people is to give a voice to its victims.

In the 20th century, there are all these beautiful models of advocacy journalism, these wonderful writers who took on Standard Oil, who took on American big business. Exposes in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair of the meatpacking industry created reforms. In England, Charles Dickens was an advocacy journalist through his novels. He got untold reforms of child labor laws and workhouse abuses through his work. In this country, during the Civil Rights Era, there were wonderful crusading advocacy journalists that risked everything to tell the truth. In my generation, the anti-war movement of the 1960s had an incredible array of underground newspapers in dozens of cities all over the country that were a mouthpiece for the counter-culture. They denounced the war machine of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, spoke out for civil rights, spoke out for human liberation.

When those underground newspapers were silenced a really terrible thing happened. About the only legacy of the underground newspapers are these weekly papers that are basically doing a lot of yuppie reporting on gourmet restaurants and books and things and have a lot of advertising and a little bit of political reporting. I’m not going to name their names.

Clarke: With the upsurge of activism in the past several years, young African Americans and young people in general who have become more politically conscious are ready to receive alternative information in new ways. What are the issues and the continuing coverage that you’ll bring to this new millennial audience, to the Black Lives Matter audience, to the engaged, young, uninformed, and really passionate activists who are coming of age?

Messman: That’s been a remarkable development. Who would’ve predicted that? Everyone thought that young people were apolitical and were buying into the consumer society. Instead, beginning with the Occupy movement, continuing to the Black Lives movement, all the movements that have risen up against police brutality and police murders, all these things are incredibly heartening examples of the human spirit. They show us that organizing is never defeated. It never, ever will stop. As long as there are human beings there will be human rights movements. That’s what I love about it. In terms of Street Spirit, our job is not to be an all-purpose movement paper. Our job is to do what seemingly no one else in society wants to do, which is to stay covering poverty, homelessness and disability rights. Even movement people generally ignore those issues.

Still, there are many connections, as you say, between Black Lives Matter, the anti-police abuse movements and the Occupy movement. When the Occupy movement began we did article after article covering that in a positive way virtually every month. We interviewed people about Occupy and what kinds of nonviolent strategizing might enhance its ability to affect the powers-that-be. I went on the Occupy marches and was just amazed and overjoyed, even though there wasn’t a great sense of strategy. There was a great sense of vital, anti-corporate, economic rights kind of organizing from very young people. It was wonderful, so we gave it a lot of coverage. The same with the Black Lives Matter movement.

We are constantly covering the criminalization of poverty, the way that poor people are turned into criminals. Many of the same patterns in law enforcement that turn African Americans into criminals and treat them as criminals also are in play against poor people to treat them as criminals. So we speak out against that kind of political repression. We’ve covered many demonstrations. In the current issue we have a long, great article by Carol Denning, who covers the police review commission hearings in Berkeley that look at why the police erupted in fury against the Black Lives Matter demonstration in December of 2014. We’ve covered that over and over.

So, in those areas where the criminalization of poverty meets the criminalization of other people in society, Street Spirit covers the issues. The other thing we’ve done that I think is most important is, we have tried to resurrect the incredible wisdom, courage and visionary brilliance of the Civil Rights movement by reminding this new generation of how great that organizing was and how much it can teach us today, through a series of interviews.

Clarke: What are some movement-building possibilities you want to cultivate and bring to light using the newspaper and the other media you’re building?

Messman: We try to build connections with tenant movements because there are millions of tenants that face eviction, poor living circumstances and skyrocketing rents. Many of those tenants become homeless people. We’ve always tried to build connections with people fighting for the rights of those on Welfare, people fighting for living wages and being screwed over by the corporate powers that will not pay a livable wage. We’ve also made common cause with people who have a vision of economic justice, like Reverend Phil Lawson, who’s always worked on these larger issues of economic justice. When the Occupy movement came along, there was an incredibly heartening uprising of young people. I always used to say, “If you go to an Occupy march, read the signs that these young people have created.” It’s a primer on economic justice. It’s a primer against the banks, the corporate powers and Wall Street. It’s like a class on economic justice in America just to read their signs.

All these middle class activists could make common cause with homeless people. I thought that was going to happen when Occupy hit the streets, but it still has not happened to this day. Someday it will happen. Someday there will be a movement—I predict—where the tenants will join with the homeless people. Those evicted will join those about to be evicted. They’ll join the low-wage workers and all these idealistic young people that care about human rights, and there will be a movement. That will be the movement that I’m waiting for.

That’s the movement Martin Luther King tried to organize in 1968. And what baffles me endlessly is why people don’t want to resurrect the poor people’s movement that King did. Everybody gives lip service to what a great leader he was. He was more than that. He was a brilliant strategist, him and his whole team. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) were brilliant organizers, and King’s last message—his last prophetic message—was a blueprint for social change.

He said we have to fight racism, and militarism, and poverty all at once. And where it begins is a poor people’s campaign that also peace activists, labor union activists and religious activists join and together force a movement for economic justice. Then we’ll see social change. People think King was a prophet. Why don’t they look at what the prophet was doing when the prophet was assassinated on April 4, 1968? He was building up to the poor people’s encampment in Washington, DC. The only echo of that beautiful legacy I have seen in my lifetime is in all the homeless sleep-outs and protests and housing takeovers that I’ve witnessed.

Clarke: Like Resurrection City—that happened after King was shot.

Messman: You’re right. After King was gunned down people were broken-hearted and despairing, and yet they carried out Resurrection City anyway with 50,000 people in Washington, DC. Many positive strives forward for hungry people were made in Resurrection City. It also helped kick-start a welfare rights campaign. But King’s assassination and Bobby Kennedy’s assassination right afterwards tore the heart out of people, but we should’ve recovered by now. There should be a resurrection of Resurrection City because it was King’s last best dream. He was right, people.

If you want to do the right thing in America, look at Martin Luther King right before his assassination and ask what he was doing. He was in solidarity with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, TN and he was building a poor people’s movement in Washington, DC. Those are the things that need to be resurrected.

Jess Clarke is project director/editor of Reimagine! and a web producer at Street Spirit. This is an edited excerpt of a podcast interview available at www.thestreetspirit.org/category/podcasts.


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Fight or Flight

Protestors at Oakland City Council hearing on homeless emergency.  ©blog.oaklandxings.com/

Oakland’s Homeless and African American Residents Face Uphill Battle Against Pro-Gentrification City Government

By Kheven LaGrone

One of the more visible signs of the growing income inequality in Oakland is the sprawling encampments of homeless people building tents and other shelters to escape this year’s rains. Not surprisingly, most of those who are homeless in Oakland are African American, and sadly, it’s also not surprising that this is a direct outgrowth of city policy.

In 2013, then Mayor Jean Quan riled many African Americans by telling Atlantic Magazine that Oakland’s reputation as a Black city was a liability to marketing it. In her paraphrased comments, she appeared to promote a “new” Oakland with fewer African-Americans.[1]

Unfortunately, Quan was simply following through on policies put in play by former mayor Jerry Brown (1999-2007). Brown’s 10K plan to bring market-rate housing and entertainment options to downtown Oakland and his close alliances with developers like Forrest City and Phil Tagami[2] set the stage for today’s massive dislocation. The new residents would overshadow and eclipse the existing, mostly African American, residents and make them disappear. Mayor Ron Dellums (2007-11) did nothing to reverse those trends, often shying away from using the “b-word” (Black) in public speeches. [3]

Today, the City of Oakland’s official website (www2.oaklandnet.com) boasts national articles on the “new” Oakland, none of them featuring Oakland’s rich African American people or culture. WalletHub celebrated Oakland as the second most ethno-racially diverse city without addressing the African American’s recent history of displacement that created that new diversity.[4] Business Insider called Oakland “the new hipster hotspot in the Bay Area.” It included a picture of white, not African American, hipsters.[5] Jetsetter listed Oakland as one of its 10 best food cities. They mentioned none of Oakland’s soul food restaurants that had been in the city for years.[6]

In the “new” Oakland, more and more landlords stopped renting to Section 8 tenants, many of whom were African American. Some landlords even evicted their Section 8 tenants by not renewing their contracts. African Americans on Section 8 had fewer opportunities to relocate in Oakland. I know of at least one Oakland native who had to move to a homeless shelter in Richmond because he couldn’t find a new place that accepted Section 8. In contrast, a white man told me that he had relocated from the east coast to the Peninsula. He had mentioned in a casual conversation to a friend that he heard West Oakland was “cool.” He wasn’t looking for an apartment, but he soon got an unsolicited phone call from a landlord offering him an apartment in West Oakland. New residents have also filed noise complaints with the city, attempting to shut down drumming in public, and even some Black churches that had been in Oakland for generations.[7]

“New” Oakland’s Refugee Camps
In 2015, Oakland produced a report showing that in the “new” Oakland, the African American population plummeted between 2000 and 2010. In contrast, white, Latino and Asian populations increased (p. 8).[8] According to the report, “not all displaced Oaklanders can relocate to other communities and, instead, some remain homeless in Oakland, living on the streets and in emergency shelters for months, even years” (p. 7). The report even added, “a recent study found that 41 percent of homeless individuals surveyed in Oakland became homeless after the age of 50 years—with skyrocketing housing prices and the loss of safety nets to blame.”

Many of the homeless settled in illegal encampments that resemble refugee camps. The encampments are very visible and obvious. Some people hide and sleep among trash in tents and on sleeping bags on the cold dirt or concrete sidewalk. Some people hide and sleep under tarps either on the ground or on benches. While the people settled in the encampments try to keep their spaces clean, outsiders come to illegally dump trash there. People living in the encampments see rodents. Encampments are often under noisy, dusty freeways. Some live on dirt that turns to mud in the rain; passing cars splash water on them. Police and other city workers harass the people living there.[9] Most of the people in the encampments I’ve visited have been African American. Some I knew from years ago. (See Miss Raynel’s Shanty, p: 44)

“New” Oakland Treats Animals Better Than People
Near the encampments I’ve visited are several businesses catering to pampered pets. This “new” Oakland dehumanizes the people in the encampments while humanizing pets and treating them like spoiled children.

Happy Hound Play and Daycare is near an encampment in a dusty, dirty industrial part of West Oakland. It’s a doggy play, daycare and spa. According to its brochure, it offers super-suite boarding, pedicures and manicures, and “overnight cuddle time.” Sitters monitor the play area which includes colorful equipment for dogs to climb and jump.

Just Pet Me in downtown Oakland is near another encampment. It calls itself a pet “country club” with “doggy daycare, pet hotel and spa.” The brochure states that dogs can play in an “engaging environment” all day. When the dogs want to sleep, they can sleep in the hotel and “reminisce about their friends.” Cats can enjoy a “private immaculate condo.” Another site promises “secure indoor” and “safe drop-off and pick-up.”

Cat Town, also located downtown near another encampment, states that it’s “helping Oakland’s vulnerable cats.” It advertises that “through foster care and adoption, Cat Town finds homes for at-risk cats who are struggling in the animal shelter environment [. . .] Help us save some of Oakland’s most distressed cats and kittens.” Such wording for cats seems to mock, dehumanize and trivialize Oakland’s homeless, at-risk youth and is either clueless or insensitive. On the front door, its kitty cat café claims to be the first of its kind in the US. Does this make Oakland the first city to be so dehumanizing?

Treating animals like people is cartoonish and infantile. Yet, the City of Oakland website brags that Trulia ranked it No. 4 among most pet-friendly rental markets.[10]

Can Oakland Fix the Homeless Crisis It Created?
While the city official website touted accolades for the “new” Oakland in the national media, homeless encampments popped up throughout downtown. This should have raised a red flag for city officials that Oakland was in a shelter crisis. According to state law, declaring a shelter crisis means that a city proclaims that a significant number of its residents have no ability to obtain shelter, which results in a threat to their health and safety.[11] In theory, declaring the crisis frees the city to take immediate action to address it. For example, the city can designate public property a temporary shelter without bureaucratic entanglements.

In January 2016, the Oakland City Council finally declared a shelter crisis in Oakland but it was merely symbolic because there was no immediate or decisive action taken to address the crisis.[12] Instead, the City Council handled the “crisis” with debates, stalemates, bureaucracy, more meetings, and reports. It voted to open the Lake Merritt Garden Center as a temporary shelter within 15 days but did nothing about it. The “new” Oakland did not respond to homelessness as an emergency. A little more money would be added to the City’s existing, but obviously inadequate, homeless program. A few beds, not enough to impact the crisis, were temporarily added to shelters. But the Council did vote to include the shelter crisis as a regular agenda item for its meetings!

Meanwhile, between these Council discussions of the “crisis” in January 2016, Oakland was hit by a rainstorm and strong winds that blew away the tents and tiny houses of people living in a homeless encampment, exposing them to the cold rain, standing water and mud.

Fortunately, the City did stop the harassment of people living in encampments.

At one of the Council meetings in January, several homeless people spoke, making these abstract discussions real. Everyone at the meeting finally seemed to realize that Oakland really had a crisis and that homeless people were real and had the right to be heard.

One homeless African American man, born and raised in Oakland, told the Council: “Oakland puts more emphasis on gentrification than the people who live here. They’re trying to give Oakland some new identity.” He’s right. Removing him—a homeless African American—was very much a part of the creation of the “new” Oakland. Can he change that by exercising his right to vote?

Kheven LaGrone is an Oakland-based writer and artist.

1.           The original article had Quan saying: “One challenge is to let people know what the new Oakland looks like. [People think] that more than 50 percent of Oakland residents are black. Well, no, we’re pretty evenly divided between blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians.” The unedited quote subsequently published says: “…my challenge is to let people know what the new Oakland looks like. Somebody just sent me an email saying, ‘Oh, you should have more black police since more than 50 percent of your residents are black.’ And I’m like, ‘Actually, no, 28 percent of my residents are black, but we’re pretty evenly divided between blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians these days.’ http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/10/can-oakland-escape-san-franciscos-shadow/425652/, http://blog.sfgate.com/politics/2013/10/08/mayor-jean-quan-tells-national-journal-that-oaklands-challenge-is-racial-perception/ 2.           http://www.mercurynews.com/nation-world/ci_26755131/jerry-browns-investments-belie-monastic-image
3.           http://www.reimaginerpe.org/20years/allen-taylor
4.           https://wallethub.com/edu/cities-with-the-most-and-least-ethno-racial-and-linguistic-diversity/10264/#city-size
5.           http://www.businessinsider.com/the-13-hottest-us-cities-for-2016-2015-12
6.           http://www.jetsetter.com/feature/next-great-food-cities
7.           http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/oaklands-culture-clash/Content?oid=4536327
8.           “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California” produced by the City of Oakland Department of Housing and Community Development’s Strategic Initiatives Unit and PolicyLink.
9.           According to the Los Angeles Times, on March 14, 2016, the homeless community filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, accusing the city of having a “criminalization” campaign that included: endangering homeless people by seizing and destroying their tents, bedding and shopping carts; arresting homeless people; and releasing homeless people from jail into the cold without protection. (www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-homeless-el-nino-lawsuit-2016314-story.html)
10.           http://www.trulia.com/blog/trends/pet-rental-markets/
11.           California State Codes/Government Code/Title 2. Government of the State of California/Chapter 7.8 - Shelter Crisis [8698 – 8698.2]
12.            For more details, see my story in the February 4, 2016 issue of Street Spirit. www.thestreetspirit.org/can-oakland-fix-the-homeless-crisis-it-created/
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Miss Raynel’s Shanty

Miss Raynel’s tent. Courtesy of Wanda Sabir.

By Wanda Sabir

The structure, if you can call it that, is made from heavy plastic tied to a fence facing a field where freight and passenger trains speed by more than a few times a day.

I know that Miss Raynel lives here. I was by last week when it was a lot dryer.

When Delene, Kwalin and I look inside the open structure, two sets of pretty eyes peak back at us. Two girls are under a blanket beneath the heavy plastic structure.

There’s nothing behind them but fencing.

I see a wild dog running in the field. I wonder if he’s lost or trapped and how he got in there.

We can’t tell how old the girls are, they just look young, really young. We learn that they are Miss Raynel’s nieces, visiting with her for the weekend.

It’s not safe. Anyone can walk up on them. She’s fortified the perimeter with shopping carts and bags full of trash, but these could easily be removed.

At the structure’s core, are piles of recyclable items—Miss Raynel’s ready cash when she needs it. I suggest RJ and I hire a truck to help her get the items to a recycling place, that she recycle everything and save the money. But lying in a place like this, she says, they are as safe as money in the bank, her Certificates of Deposit.

Miss Raynel knows the value of the items. She made $51 dollars last week. But often, when she brings them to the recycling center, she’s unable to see the scale. She and the others have to settle for a fraction of their haul’s worth. Her story reminds me of the days when the cash crop was cotton, not cans. Different crop, same methods.

Just as slavery was replaced with sharecropping when the North and South united, West Oakland is about to go through some big changes. The recycling plant is shutting its doors soon to make way for condos. Where will discarded people with discards, toting a devalued cash crop, cash in then?

Seeing children sleeping outdoors, of course, stuns all of us. Miss Raynel’s neighbor confirms that the teenagers are here only on weekends. Wow! They must really love their Auntie Raynel to hang out in a homeless encampment in wet weather. This female-headed family’s lives are open to the elements both natural and unnatural.

I am really happy that we catch Miss Raynel on a day when her situation allows us to gift her a tent. Maybe it’s the tears she sees in Lisa’s eyes, the compassion in RJ’s heart or what we saw when we looked into the shelter. Just a week earlier, she had told me that for two years she hadn’t wanted a tent, because a tent represents the permanence she’s resisting.

RJ and Miss Raynel start organizing her things. Surrounded by debris for so long, just the idea of order probably overwhelms her. But RJ goes inside the tarp enclosure and helps her sift through what is precious and what is trash. There are bugs and vermin and RJ is working without gloves (not something I recommend). They remove recyclable items and trash to make space.

Miss Raynel has a lot under her awning; years of possessions she can’t let go of. I understand. These items are all that is left of a life she lives in her memories, a time when there was shelter, privacy and perhaps safety.

Before we can set about assembling the tent, we have to level the ground. RJ digs up the dirt, then he and Lisa place the wood pallets. In some way, the wet weather makes fitting the pieces together easier. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.

We then put down tarps which blow away as we wrestle with the poles. The box says we can assemble this tent in ten minutes. It takes us about an hour and there’s still more to do.

A crowded tour bus drives by and stops so tourists can take photos. They don’t get off the bus or ask permission to take the photos. Then they leave with waves and smiles.

Miss Raynel is really disgusted. She says she doesn’t want her family to know she’s on the streets. All day, we’re splashed by speeding cars and nearly run off the road by others who see us working, yet disregard us.

Several hours later, RJ and Lisa have placed wooden platforms where the water is worst: at the front and rear entrances. No longer does she have to wade in water to get in and out of her dwelling. We lift the heavy black plastic so the settled rainwater can run off. RJ cuts the excess plastic off and places another piece at the front of the shelter.

When we finish our work, we are all pretty dirty, wet and hungry. It has been a long day—7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s not a fatigue that grabs you all at once; it sort of creeps up on you. When I get home, I just step out of my clothes at the door.

After I shower, I lie down and try to empty my mind, close my eyes. All I see are the brothers and sisters left behind.

The following morning, when I wake up, the pile of clothes is right where I left it.

Wanda Sabir writes for the San Francisco Bay View and lives in Alameda, California.

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What Does Home Mean to You?

Art by William Rhodes

By William Rhodes

Family roots run deep in my neighborhood, but nonetheless, for a variety of reasons, many people are homeless.

I begin this art series, “Out Migration,” by conducting a series of interviews with homeless residents in my community: mothers, fathers, former teachers, some who have served in the armed forces. Listening to their life stories, I feel a strong connection to them as if they are old friends or family.

I ask, “What does home mean to you?” After the interviews, I begin a series of works, using materials such as photos, found objects, paint, and neon lights. The pieces are made from weathered and travel-worn luggage. Each suitcase contains an interpretation of one story. Upon opening each suitcase, the inside reveals a shrine.

Tina lives in a shelter or on the street. She has a lot of pride and doesn’t like to take handouts. She goes to the library early in the morning, loves to read and can finish an entire book in one day.

All of her life Tina wanted to be a mother. She was a good mother. She took care of her two daughters and a son. She had a pretty little house, a cute back yard with a garden.

Tina takes out her son’s picture from her suitcase. “Isn’t he a beautiful boy?” she says. She carries him with her everywhere she goes.

Her son was killed 10 years ago, shot 16 times. She got a call one night and someone told her he was killed. After that she could never answer the phone at night.

When her son was a little boy, she used to take him with her to the restaurant where she worked. He wanted to help her cook He wanted to help his mother do everything. He liked helping people and working hard.

Tina says to me several times: “I know I will be with him again soon. I just keep praying and trust in God.”

Art by William RhodesFather
John talks about feeling blessed to be alive and praising God. I hear stability in his voice, like a classic Dad. Originally from Illinois, he moved to the Bay area over 40 years ago. John has been on the street for more than five years. He is a father, grandfather and shoemaker. His wife died 24 years ago. He doesn’t know where his kids live. He says they are “a little crazy.” One day, they just stopped communicating with him.

John lost his home and business. Soon after that he had to live in his truck. He worked odd jobs here and there to keep things going. Once, when John went to work, he came back to the parking lot where he parked his truck; it was gone. It got towed away by the city. His whole life was inside that truck. He had several unpaid tickets. He did not earn enough money to get it back. After that he began staying in shelters. But living in a shelter can be rough—like going to prison. It became easier for him to live on the street. John would just find a quiet place to sleep under a tree. He got a tarp and rain jacket to keep warm. He prefers to be alone without any complications from other people. John told me that he doesn’t like thinking about the future. He is just thankful for what blessings he has.

Art by William RhodesSoldier
Man is very charismatic, like a great stage performer. He can make his voice get soft or deep depending on his choice of words. He has style regardless of his current circumstances. He explains to me that his real name is Man. It was given to him at birth by his parents. His Father told him that they chose that name because they got tired of hearing White people referring to Black men as boys.

Man was born in Arkansas and then he moved to San Francisco in 1958. He went to high school in the city. After high school, he joined the service and served in Vietnam. He worked as a Military police and made the rank of sergeant.

Man told me in a deep voice that his life got harder after the war. He explained that he lost his wife and family once he came back to the USA. He felt like his life has been like a war and sometimes he doesn’t know if he would ever win.

William Rhodes is a San Francisco artist.


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