Columns » Politics

It's not right
by Bill Barnes

Don't you hate when a columnist screws something up, you search for the correction and can never find it? After almost 20 columns, last week's contained my first factual error. I was wrong when I wrote that Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier supported Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval for assessor-recorder. My apologies to all involved. Supervisor Alioto-Pier endorsed Phil Ting on Thursday, August 18. If there's ever another error, I'll run the correction at the beginning of the column, not hide the mistake.  Now, a lot to report from Sacramento:

Who let the dogs out?

Supervisor Bevan Dufty's efforts to rein in dangerous dogs got a boost when the Assembly passed state Senator Jackie Speier's (D-Hillsborough/San Francisco) SB861, 46-18, sending the bill to the governor. The measure allows localities to require spaying and neutering of specific breeds, and shuts down "backyard breeders." In the wake of a tragic pit bull attack in June that left a San Francisco boy dead, and a string of other recent pit bull attacks throughout the region earlier this summer, Dufty developed proposals to help make San Francisco safer, some of which needed state law changes. 

Senator Speier deserves tremendous credit for winning passage of this crucial public safety legislation. For those keeping score, Assemblymembers Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Joe Nation (D-Marin), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo), and Ira Ruskin (D-Santa Clara) voted "Yes"; Assemblymen Guy Houston (R-Walnut Creek) and Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro) voted "No"; and Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) was absent. Every Bay Area state senator voted "Yes" on the bill.

Rights and responsibilities

In three landmark decisions, California's Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can be parents [see story, page 1]. All the couples involved broke up before stronger laws were put in place so these rulings validate same-sex parenting. All three cases involved two women who had children together and broke up, which led to litigation. The cases involved every conceivable issue, from custody and visitation to the payment of child support and in vitro fertilization. Justice Carlos Moreno wrote: "We perceive no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women." These rulings come just weeks after the court said two other lesbians deserve family discounts from their country club (that's right, country club). We've come a long way, baby.

One of the most interesting nuances is that one woman will have to repay welfare benefits in El Dorado County. Her ex-partner claimed these benefits, but since child support was owed, the other mother must repay the county. While our opponents yell about how our community wants "special rights," these new responsibilities often go unmentioned.

TIC tock

Landlord/tenant arguments are among the toughest in San Francisco politics. While I've always been pro-renter, I've been frustrated by limited policy options that pit neighbor against neighbor and the hope of owning one's home against the real fear of being evicted. That's why I was dismayed, although not surprised, that the Mayor's Office of Housing, which would do better to avoid these fights, jumped into the fray by praising lenders who might fund an expansion of the tenancies-in-common market.

In this new scenario, TICs wouldn't just be a way for a couple of people to buy 2-, 3-, or 4-unit buildings. TICs could be used to take large rental buildings off the market without condo conversions, and potentially evict thousands in the process. Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance wrote an open letter to Matt Franklin at MOH that lays out the issues:

"As TICs become indistinguishable from condominiums, we will have mass evictions from large apartment buildings ... the mechanism to drive displacement energy away from targeting seniors, disabled, and people with AIDS for eviction has been undermined. As you know, the lynchpin in the AIDS Housing Alliance legislation, sponsored by Supervisor [Chris ] Daly, uses the condo conversion process as a gatekeeper to steer the focus of eviction away from these populations. "As condo conversions become irrelevant, we lose this tool to prevent homelessness for our most vulnerable people."

I've been impressed by Franklin's work to develop surplus property for homeless housing, make sense of in-lieu fees, and get additional federal and state funding for San Francisco. I hope he, Basinger, and others find a solution to this impending policy disaster.

Mark Leno: Good for tenants

Last week, Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club board members Scott Wiener, Laura Spanjian, and Robert Haaland wrote that I "inferred" Assemblyman Mark Leno's tenant record was suspect because he attended a campaign event at the Plumbers' Hall. Maybe I wasn't clear: Mark Leno has done a lot for renters, both at City Hall and in Sacramento. He's even passed legislation that helps residential hotel tenants fight against Ellis Act evictions.

My observation was written to call attention to the Plumbers' Union trying to evict residents of the Civic Center Hotel, and politicians who presumably support tenants attending events at their union hall. After the item ran, one resident e-mailed me to describe it better than I ever could: "The eviction of the over 150 current residents would be a serious burden for all of us and possibly life-threatening for some who are seniors and disabled." I'm not saying politicians shouldn't attend events at the Plumbers' Hall –yet – just that everyone should be mindful of these incipient evictions.

Leno returns Natali contribution

Speaking of Leno, he recently returned a $1,000 contribution from embattled bar owner Les Natali. The city's Human Rights Commission found Natali did discriminate against patrons and former employees at his Badlands bar on the basis of race; an investigation by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control found insufficient evidence to support revoking Natali's license. Natali has denied the charges that he is racist. Bravo to Leno for returning the funds.

Democrats endorse!

The San Francisco Democratic Party made its endorsements last Wednesday night, and supported Dennis Herrera for city attorney, Jose Cisneros for treasurer, and Phil Ting for assessor-recorder. For the record, I backed Herrera (who is unopposed), Cisneros, and Gerardo Sandoval.

On the measures on November's ballot, the Democratic Party endorsed all except Proposition D, which would split the appointments to Muni's oversight board between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors. That vote, the closest of the night, was 11 in favor, and 17 against. For the record, I voted against Propositions A and B (the bond measures) and for the rest.

Burning Man

Those who know me best know I really enjoy Burning Man. I will be leaving on Saturday, August 27 and returning Sunday, September 4. If you want to find me on the playa, send me an e-mail and I'll let you know where I'll be camping. If you're worried my column won't appear next week, don't fret: there will be more stuff next Thursday.

Bill Barnes is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. His e-mail is


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