Human Removal aka Redevelopment


root - Posted on 17 June 2002

A special hearing on Redevelopment- Chris Daly proposes legislation to change how the Commission is formed

by Isabel Estrada/Youth in the Media Intern

The houseless people in front of the San Francisco Public library made a busy contrast to the wide, endlessly lazy gray pavement that just existed to absorb the bright sun. They talked, some collected cans, and others let upbeat phrases roll off their tongues, tempting oblivious passersby to buy a smile, maybe a moment of happiness or a sense of satisfaction at dropping a few pennies into a paper cup. I knew I was supposed to be going to City Hall, the huge stone building with the intricate gold that stood out against all the gray. I finally walked across the wide expanse of grass up to the steps of City Hall and into the cool darkness of the building and found myself just another person in a huge crowd of people waiting to get into the Legislative Chamber.

I tried to squeeze through until the guard at the door let us know that only the people in the line were going to get through.  So I walked passed all the people until I got in line with an old high school teacher.  She was with her partner who was involved in the Mid-Market PAC (Project Area Committee) to redevelop the area spanning from 5th to 8th streets between Mission and Market.  At first I was a little uncomfortable because while working at POOR I have come to see re-developement more as socio-economic cleansing, relieving rich white folks of the plight of having to see defecation on the streets and having to feel bad about all the money they have when there are people with no food or shelter.  However, I was slightly comforted by the fact that my teacher's partner was actually in the PAC meetings to advocate for more housing, more space for non-profit organizations and to keep the pro-business interests at bay.

I was soon to find out in the discussion that in fact the PAC -with all its pro-business interests and plenty of people who wouldn't mind seeing the poor simply swept off of the streets- is only a small hurdle.  As many people would note, the PAC is somewhat willing to listen to the community.  However, the PAC is only an organization of developers hired to advise the Redevelopment Agency. The PAC can give all the advice it wants, but the Agency isn't required to listen, and it has shown that often it doesn't.  That is where the problem arises.

The discussion going on in City Council essentially consisted of public comment on Chris Daly's proposed ordinance of disbanding the Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of of 7 Mayoral appointees, and handing over its work to the Board of Supervisors itself.

The example of the case of the Plaza Hotel, which included the Bindlestiff Theatre, the only Filipino based arts space in the nation, was cited repeatedly.  Over the past year, the non-profit organization TODCO has been presenting the Redevelopment Agency with a plan to renovate the highly dilapidated building, creating more low income housing and providing a space for the Bindlestiff Theatre (as opposed to illegally kicking people out to make it into a tourist hotel, as could have occurred with the Empress turned West Cork Hotel).  The much needed plan is still being held up in the Redevelopment Agency.

After waiting outside the meeting for quite a while I decided to try to get in as press but because I had no press pass and all my business cards had run out, the guard said, "Sorry, can't do anything for ya."  On my way back to the line a young African-American man in a large group, they were all wearing hard hats, stopped me and asked if I was a reporter.  When I told him yes he asked me to make sure to include his opinion.  His name is Tyson and the group he was with was YCD (Youth Community Development).  When he told me that he was for the ordinance and against the Redevelopment Agency I thought he would be echoing the general opinion of the African-American community.  He said he thought that Mayor Willie Brown was trying to make life harder for the people before he left office.  However, if I 'm to base the general sentiment of the African-American community on who spoke in the City Council meeting then they were at odds with the young men outside.  I heard by chance that the meeting was being played on a T.V. in the North Light Court.  I was angry and disappointed to find that in the 3 hours I was watching, the young men from YCD who had had so much to say and who had been bursting with so much energy had never gotten a chance to speak.  Perhaps they hadn't even been alerted that the meeting was being shown in the room below or that they could still speak even though they weren't in the Legislative Chamber.  

After some discussion, mainly between Supervisor Yee and Daly, over the fact that Marsha Rosen, the Director of Redevelopment Agency, was not even present, Daly stated that the Agency had been alerted about the meeting with plenty of time to makeplan to show up and ended requesting a 5 week continuance.  Supervisor Maxwell asked the Board to consider that the Agency is "helping and doing things in neighborhoods that we don't even consider."  However, she also mentioned the movement of African-Americans out of the Western Addition: "They called it Urban Renewal, we called it Negro Removal."

John Vargas spoke in a quick, clever and indignant manner in favor of the ordinance and very against the Redevelopment Agency.  "The housing crisis today stands on those failed policies and misapplied capital expenditures that went into the redevelopment process...You can't do anything better than reform this agency; look at what housing, what jobs have been lost.  Why didn't you do this twenty or thirty years ago?"

Next spoke an ex-Supervisor, Amos Brown.  He wanted the board to get rid of the ordinance.  He didn't think that the Board of Supervisors would do a better job.  He stated, "You can't have it both ways, if you want to be mayor run for mayor."  Then he resorted to personal attack with his comment directed toward Supervisor Ammiano, "you sound like snakes and some of you act like snakes."

Geoffery Liebowitz mentioned the case of the Whole Foods proposal for Fourth Street that would allow a grocery store that would provide healthy food with discounts for seniors right next to a building that housed 600 seniors.  The Redevelopment Agency never let it happen.  Liebowitz proposed term limits for the Commissioners on the Agency.

Of the three hours that I watched the public comment there was one pervasive opinion that almost had the quality of conspiracy.  Almost all the African-American's from Bayview/Hunters Point were against the ordinance and very supportive of Willie Brown and the Redevelopment Agency.  One man commiserated that "what the mayor is going through is living hell."  A woman told Ammiano that this ordinance was not "using due process of law."

Another man stated, "y'all need to give us liberty or give us death...The only thing that's savin' us today is the Redevelopment Agency."  James Gardner, who is a member of the PAC, said that he had worked hard to maintain a good relationship with the Agency, "there are difficulties but we're working through them." 

Another woman working with the PAC is scared of becoming unemployed if the Agency were to be disbanded.  Many said that redevelopment had come to their aid and had helped to stop evictions.  Yvonne Dylan said that she felt threatened by the ordinance. Ironically, despite all the praise of the Agency and of Willie Brown coming from the community, it is still the people of Bayview/Hunters Point that are suffering from high instances of asthma and cancer due to the fact that there is a PG&E Power Plant and an old Navy Shipyard dumping ground in the neighborhood. Besides, when you think of it, throwing down some money to appease this community of color is a small price to pay for the Redevelopment Agency if it means that it will be supported when it attempts to sweep all the poor folks out of the mid-market area, which is a much more lucrative area than Bayview/Hunters Point. Just judging by looks it seemed to me that the majority of the people who had spoken were at least middle class. I certainly didn't feel that I was getting a full representation of all of Bayview/Hunters Point. I even heard some comments made about Willie Brown busing a bunch of people over to the meeting so that they could testify in his favor.

There was only one African-American woman from Bayview/Hunters point that was completely against the Redevelopment Agency.  She said, "I do not want what happened in the Fillmore to happen in Bayview...We as the people are not getting housed."  She thinks that it's the Redevelopment Agency that needs "to be evicted." A disabled Asian man from Bayview/Hunters point said that he personally had seen no improvements in his neighborhood except for a prettier McClaren Park.   

One Anglo man accused many of the previous speakers of using "race-baiting to attack this proposal."  He noted that it was mostly communities of color that were evicted and gentrified under Willie Brown when the Dot.Com boom occurred. 

Sam Dodge of the Central City SRO Committee was indignant at all the support from the African-American community of Bayview/Hunters Point, noting that though the PAC may be listening to the people, it didn't mean that the Agency would too.

Every person who lives or had lived on Sixth Street spoke in favor of the ordinance and against the Redevelopment Agency.  Delphine Brody stated that she and the other tenants of the Seneca Hotel had been promised necessary repairs -a working elevator (especially important for the seniors), a washer and dryer as well as a community kitchen- by the Agency for three years.  Yet while they have seen no repairs "police repression has doubled...arresting my neighbors for walking while black."

We heard from a deaf African-American woman, Adriana Taylor who was a single mother living in the Plaza Hotel.  She said that living in such unhealthy conditions and with no kitchen was very detrimental to her son's health.  She said in sign language, "I want to ask for your help in fixing the Plaza Hotel."
 

Allison Lum, a former Sixth Street resident of the Raymond Hotel said that after a fire that occurred, most of her neighbors were not able to relocate.  She asked: if the Agency is doing so well, "why are there vacant buildings when people are dying on the streets." 

Another man pointed out that neither he nor any of the Supervisors could understand what it means to live in conditions like the Plaza Hotel.  He thought it was time for the people to stop letting "Willie Brown run the city for his business buddies and bring the decision making to the communities."  Bruce Allison mentioned that all over South of Market there used to be low-income housing where now there is the Moscone Center and the Yerba Buena Gardens.  The ex-tenants were never provided with housing at anywhere near the same cost. It's surprising that people wonder why there are so many homeless people in San Francisco.

At the beginning of the meeting, one man said that this ordinance was "a dividin' thing."  And, its turned out to be true.  An African-American man from the Plaza Hotel stated, "It's not about race; it's about housing.  Please take over the agency."  Here we have a man who is both poor and of color which means that he is the one who never gets listened too; the one who never gets any easy breaks.  We'll see if he'll have his way and I will continue to be able to listen to Guajira Guantanamera being played by street musicians in Civic Center Bart station and continue to see people of such different colors and backgrounds who know so much more about life than I when I walk around my city.

"Everytime I come here everything happens to me.  I lose my man, I lose my
head, I lose my mind, feel like I'm almost dead...I been down so long that down
don't worry me."

                        -Stormy Blues performed by Billie Holiday  

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