Two-thirds of city residents are renters, a group Milk championed with gusto, but we barely beat a state initiative in June that would have abolished rent control. Housing is getting steadily more expensive. And in this election, Newsom and his downtown allies opposed Proposition B, an affordable housing measure, and Proposition M, a common sense measure to prohibit landlords from harassing their tenants. Such harassment is a common tactic to force tenants from rent-controlled units, even though the City Attorney's Office is currently suing the city's biggest landlord, Skyline Realty, for its well-documented history of harassment. Newsom may be the champion of same-sex marriage, but when it comes to issues like tenants' rights, we suspect that Milk would be appalled at Newsom's gall.
Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union noted that in the wake of Milk's death and before the repeal of district elections, San Francisco established rent control and limits on condo conversions. The tenant movement has grown steadily stronger and more sophisticated, he said, as it had to in order to counter increasing economic and political pressures and creative gambits by landlords.
"The city has gentrified phenomenally since that time, and that's put tremendous pressure on tenants and on condo conversions," Gullicksen told us. "It continues to be a real struggle."
Police reform was also a huge issue for Milk and his gay contemporaries, who suffered more than most groups from the behavior of thuggish cops protected by weak oversight rules and a powerful union. And today, the Police Officers Association is stronger and meaner than ever, but the oversight has improved little, as both the Guardian and San Francisco Chronicle have explored with investigations in recent years.
And in our public parks, San Francisco officials in recent years have banned smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, playing amplified music, and even gathering in large numbers without expensive, restrictive permits. Even in the Castro, where Milk and his allies took it as a basic right to gather in the streets, Newsom and the NIMBYs unilaterally cancelled Halloween celebrations and used police to chase away citizens with water trucks.
Is this really the city Harvey Milk was trying to create? In the film, he talks about transforming San Francisco into a vibrant, tolerant beacon that would set an example for the rest of the country, telling his compatriots, "We have got to give them hope."
Well, with hope now making a comeback, perhaps San Francisco can finally follow Milk's lead on the issues he cared about most.