Bayview Referendum Organizers Submit Signatures with Style

by Casey Mills on August 31, 2006

Organizers of the effort to place a referendum on Bayview Redevelopment before San Francisco voters submited more than 30,000 signatures to the Elections Department yesterday. The signatures arrived in grand style, when a polished black hearse accompanied by a three-piece jazz band playing New Orleans-style dirges pulled up in front of City Hall. A velvet-lined coffin emerged from the back of the hearse, filled with the voter-signed petitions and emblazoned with the phrase ‘Bayview Redevelopment * R.I.P.’ While organizers submitted thousands more signatures than the 20,800 necessary for the referendum to qualify, elections officials must now begin the process of verifying that those that signed were registered voters. Should the measure qualify, referendum organizers could claim an astonishing victory, breathing life to a fight many considered long over.

The battle to bring the Bayview Redevelopment Plan to the ballot began three months ago, when the Board of Supervisors voted 6-3 to give more than 1,300 acres of property in the city’s southeast sector to the Redevelopment Agency. A campaign to defeat the measure at both the Planning Commission and the Board, headed up by a coalition of Bayview activists who argued the plan would bring gentrification and a lack of democracy to the area, failed.

These activists then joined with groups outside the neighborhood who also opposed Redevelopment, most notably the man behind the hearse and coffin ploy, Brian O’Flynn. They began an effort to place a referendum of the plan on the ballot, in the hopes of getting the referendum before voters in November of 2007.

These organizers appeared jubliant at a press conference on the steps of City Hall yesterday, declaring with confindence that their signatures would prove valid and qualify the referendum for the ballot.

“We had people from all over the city calling us up, saying, ‘Send us a petition! Send us a petition!” said Willie Ratcliffe, publisher of the San Francisco Bayview newspaper and a leading force in the signature drive. “It feels so good to see this community coming together.”

A variety of Bayview residents and activists outlined their reasons for getting involved in the effort, which included fears of gentrification, emminent domain, displacement of blacks, a lack of community input into the Redevelopment process, and a belief that the Redevelopment Agency has not changed since the 1960s and 70s, when they razed the Western Addition and Fillmore.

“Why does the Redevelpment Agnecy always attack neighborhoods that are predominantely black?” asked long-time Bayview activist Charlie Walker. “They are trying to drive all black people out of this city, and it’s very obvious.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, on hand to watch the press conference, said he supported the effort to place Bayview Redevelopment on the ballot.

“I think it’s something the voters should vote on,” said Adachi, who has butted heads with the Redevelopment Agency over community issues in Japantown. “Look what happened in the Fillmore and Japantown. I think we need to support the citizens of Bayview in their efforts.”

It’s unclear how long it will take the Elections Department to verify the signatures, a process that begins with a sampling of 3 percent of the signatures to see if further verification is necessary. Organizers hope to get a ruling as soon as possible.

Should the referendum qualify, the Board of Supervisors would then have to place the item on the ballot, most likely in November of 2007.

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