Low-Income Housing is Not Their Obligation


root - Posted on 01 January 2000

The hearing of an 8 story proposed parking garage in the heart of the Tenderloin by the Hastings Law school
erupts into a major act of resistance. Chris Daly and many more are arrested

by Lisa Gray-Garcia aka tiny / PoorNewsNetwork

They were all looking at me - each pale gray face framed in a thin faux
wood square. There were at least 100 of them - each with a slight variation
on an old white male theme; side parted gray hair, furrowed, over-serious
brows and blurry eyes. The Alumni of Hastings Law School - the sign above
them read. I walked by each of them. My heart racing. I wasn't supposed to
be here. I was not Lawyer material. I could never pay to get in here nor
could I squeeze 4 years in or out of my at-risk existance filled with
problems, troubled family and no money to even think of jumping through
their hoops - but no matter, that was ok by them. I was just here for a meeting, and noone was asking me to stay.

"The Parking Garage Meeting is in the Alumni Reception Hall"- a sign made
of flimsy construction paper was directing me to a room at the end of this
hall. I must pass at least 40 more "alumni" photos before I would arrive at
the public hearing of an 8 story, 800 car, proposed parking garage at Larkin and
Golden Gate in the heart of the Tenderloin by the Hastings Law school (The law branch of University of California San Franicisco (UCSF) which
is strongly opposed by several community based agencies and citizen's who were urging Hastings to instead build a desperately needed low-income housing project at that same site.

Honey wood paneling lined the reception hall walls. People from the
community sat politely in the "audience" all facing the Hastings Board of
Directors, chief financial officer and dean. Around a rectangle of thick walnut tables sat 9 men and two women. Oh my god. My heart skipped a beat - it was them -most of the men around the table were the men in the Hall. Their suits
were gray - their ties; blue or red- their hair and skin a dusty shade of
white. "Good Morning, I am Kelly Cullen, Executive Director of The
Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Center, I am here to express my opinion
on why the mixed use housing development should be built…..Mr. Cullen, a
Franciscan priest, dressed in his finest brown robe and sash, outlined to the board in detail all the excellent reasons why a housing project for low-income
Tenderloin residents should be built at the proposed site rather than the
eight story parking Garage. He stressed the dire need for housing by
residents of that community and as well the environmental impact of so much
unneeded parking. The board looked on quietly. After three minutes…The
little time-out bell rang..beep beep beep. Fr. Cullen stepped down. The audience clapped politely.

"Next speaker, Sister Bernie…" Sister Bernie, a long-time homeless organizer and
housing activist from Religious Witness with the Homeless, echoed Father. Cullen words, adding, " I am asking you to have empathy for the community of mostly older, disabled residents who have
no affordable housing. Beep Beep. She stepped down. The audience clapped again.

"Next Speaker, Randy Shaw, Mr. Shaw , Executive Director of Tenderloin
Housing Clinic and housing activist, began his short remarks with a
question to the board about their connection to Senator Burton, why the
board has refused to respond to the endless requests by so many community
based organizations and citizen's who don't want this parking structure and
yet they still continue to go forward with their plans and then suddenly,
he turned in the speakers swivel chair and faced the audience and asked
them to express how they all felt about this issue," What does the
community feel about this parking lot?" A few tentative who hoos were
shouted out in response, " do we want this parking lot?"

"NOOO" this time a louder response, with a few people actually getting up
from their seats.."NOOOO" and then suddenly, without warning, James Tracy,
housing organizer From Right to a Roof ran up to the front of the room,
armed with a bull horn and began a chant "what do we want.. Housing…When do
we want it …? NOW..!!!

In response the entire audience got up and joined him…What do we
want…Housing…when do we want it… NOW!!!! In another half a second Ted
Gullickson from The SF Tenants Union joined James at the front of the room
and Randy Shaw retreated to the sidelines. What do want …Housing When do we
want it NOW…

And then..a flash of black boots on the downbeat of the chant… James jumped over the wall of walnut board tables into the center of the square and continued, "what do we want Housing - When do want it… Now!!!! He stood at the core of the institutional divide, with a bull horn in his
hands - eyes and mouth a blazing, facing off these men of privelege, these
uninterested law scholars and financial officers forcing them to hear us- to see us- shattering,
if even for A moment that imposssible wall that divides us - the poor the
unhoused, the unheard, from them, the legal scholars, the keepers of the
keys. The promoters of all that is AmeriKKan; the jails, the institutions,
the landlords , the laws…

Within seconds the room erupted,,The audience now standing, gathered around
the protestors and more people jumped into the inner circle- Sr. Bernie,
Randy Shaw, Matt (from PNN), Richard Marquez from Mission Agenda,. It took
longer than usual but very soon, the campus police descended on the folks
in the middle with handcuffs. The arrests moved in swells. After James and
Matt were manhandled quite visiously by the police , and they resisted and
squirmed with all their might. They were dragged out the back door. Then
more folks took their place and the chanting grew more frenzied, then the
last string of arrestees were carted off, which by this time included none
other than our own SF board Supervisor, Chris Daly, who was also treated to a dose of SFPD-style physical abuse. And the crowd continued
to stand - led in their chants by a remaining Ted Gullickson.

The men at the table had eventually evAcuated the area except for Board member, Jack Smith who was the main advocate for the parking lot proposal who refused to move even when one daring protestor drank out of his coffee cup while looking him in the eye. So, he seemed to say, what are you gonna do about it?

After taking in the amazing-ness of it all I straightened my tattered
reporter hat and walked over to the board chair, a Mr. Gene Freeland, who
was standing on the sidelines near the back door to ask him what his
opinion of today was, " Well this was an interesting turn of events, not
what we expected, " he shook his head slightly " But it is unfortunate
because we hadn't even heard what the Dean's decision was. " This was an odd comment considering the Board had released the Deans' recommendations and analysis in a board packet one week prior which were to vote for the Parking lot project to be approved, a packet that everyone including Randy Shaw had already seen.

"But isn't it true that the board has made it clear that you have very
little interest in building housing on this site, " I queried

"Well, first of all a housing project is complicated because it would be
very costly and would rely on outside sources of funding and the real issue
is - that the mission statement and purpose of Hastings is that we provide
a fine legal education to young people, and it is not clear to us that we
are obligated to provide the community with low-income housing, " He said
this emphatically with a slightly happy lilt to his voice, "That's the
issue.."

I watched him for a moment to see if he knew exactly what he was saying, if
perhaps I had misheard him. Or maybe he had meant something else.I continued just to be sure "Do you want to go on record with that statement" He nodded his head once again, "Sure.." adding an additional twinkle to his smiling eyes. He meant exactly what he had just said. The law was clear. Housing poor people was not an obligation to this institution.

After his remarks, I walked quickly down the hall towards the exit. It was
still silent as though nothing had happened. The class and race privilege
closed back over the little "disturbance" of the morning and life as it
should be was back to normal. Through one of the glass enclosures I saw a
group of "nice young folks" being led on a tour of the school. Their faces
were hopeful and excited. I wondered how soon they would learn what their
"obligation" was and I wondered for every "nice young" person that they
teach, how many People like me, who wanted with all their heart and soul
to be lawyers , to defend poor folks, to defend ourselves and our families,
to speak up and change lives and make things right, would never make it
into that room - because afterall, housing or educating folk like me and
mines, is not their "obligation"

Postscript; Later that same day, the board voted unanimously in closed session to approve the 800 car Parking Lot project;

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