One week after City Attorney Dennis Herrera disenfranchised over 33,000 San Franciscans by invalidating the Bayview referendum, over 100 Bayview residents and activists gathered at the corner of Third Street and Williams to protest, march and rally to save their neighborhood. “We’re marching because people spoke – and people have to be heard,” said Francisco DeCosta, Executive Director of Environmental Justice Advocacy, a local non-profit in the Bayview District. For decades, Bayview-Hunters Point has been neglected and left to fend for itself while crime, unemployment, pollution and police brutality run rampant. Today, the neighborhood residents want nothing more than to control their own destiny, but a massive new Redevelopment area plans to put critical land-use decisions in the hands of an unelected body. After a grassroots movement gathered the necessary signatures to challenge the Redevelopment plan and place it on the ballot, City Hall shut them out.
Exactly forty years after police shot an unarmed youth in Bayview that spawned the Hunters Point Riots, having the Referendum invalidated was a bitter pill to swallow. “It’s wrong,” complained resident Patti Franklin. “Redevelopment’s gonna come in and put in condos that we can’t afford. We can’t afford things the way they are now. But when they put the [light] rail in, they just want to get rid of us.”
As gentrification continues to be the largest concern affecting San Francisco, even a casual observer could see that Bayview is next in the minds of real estate speculators. Companies like Lennar Corporation and the San Francisco 49ers would want nothing more than to deal with an unelected Redevelopment Agency than to have to face the community. And when the Third Street Light Rail opens for business next April, a Streetcar Named Displacement will inevitably start rolling into the last affordable neighborhood in San Francisco.
Despite criticisms that the Referendum was getting help from supporters outside the neighborhood, community members clearly dominated the rally and were roughly two-thirds of its attendees. Along with Willie Ratcliffe of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, leaders who participated in the protest included District 10 candidates Marie Harrison, Espanola Jackson, and Charlie Walker, as well as grass-roots organizations like ACORN and POWER.
Shouting chants like “the people, united, will never be defeated,” and singing “We Shall Overcome,” participants marched up six blocks along 3rd Street in the heart of Bayview to rally at the corner of Third and Pallou. “We are under attack,” cried Alicia Schwartz, a community organizer with POWER. “We are being shot in the back every day in the community, but the last straw was when the City Attorney said ‘I don’t care what 30,000 people said.’”
More community speakers followed and worked up the audience. But as the rally progressed to various speakers, the event took on a different tone – away from expressing outrage at the City Attorney’s action and in support of California Proposition 90. “Don’t let people fool you,” said Ratcliffe, as he urged a vote for the state proposition this November. “I say Yes on 90,” said Espanola Jackson. “We’ve got to stop eminent domain in this community.”
But if gentrification is what Bayview residents are afraid of, Proposition 90 would be a far worse nightmare than troubles with Redevelopment. Billed as an effort to “stop eminent domain,” Prop 90 actually has broad-reaching language that will make any government regulation that decreases the value of private property a “taking.” Far from just limiting eminent domain, Prop 90 would effectively end all public efforts to stop gentrification.
If a real estate developer wanted to build condos in Bayview, and the community rallied to demand affordable housing units, Prop 90 would require the City to pay the developer for “lost profits.” If PG&E wanted to build a power plant in Hunters Point, and the neighborhood lobbied the City to block it, Prop 90 would allow PG&E to sue the City for “lost profits.” If Bayview residents are concerned that Redevelopment will leave them powerless when developers come to the neighborhood, Proposition 90 would make it impossible for the community to use resources to block these developers.
Bayview residents have a lot to be angry about. Their neighborhood has been neglected for years, and now faces imminent gentrification from the Third Street Light Rail. The Redevelopment Agency has a bad history with eminent domain, and many of the district’s homeowners fear that their homes will be seized. It’s normal that they would want to stop the power of government when government has never worked to help them.
But right-wing movements have always thrived when people are anxious about their future. Proposition 90 does not have their best interests at heart. It was written by Howie Rich, a New York millionaire real-estate developer and a staunch Libertarian, whose real agenda is to end all government period. If he was at the rally yesterday, I’m sure he would have laughed in fiendish delight to see Bayview residents supporting his efforts.
The City Attorney’s legal opinion that invalidated the Bayview referendum is just that – an opinion. Bayview Activists can still pressure the Board of Supervisors to rescind the Redevelopment Plan, or go to court and force the City to put it on the ballot. But relying on the notion that Proposition 90 would just “stop eminent domain” and save their neighborhood is misguided.
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