Residents and activists see flaws in Proposition 90 — but desperation is causing them to support it anyway
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Consider the perspective of Marie Harrison and her political allies in Bayview — including the owners and writers at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper — whose support for Proposition 90 has put them at odds with the progressive political community.
Harrison, who is running for supervisor against incumbent Sophie Maxwell, lives on Quesada Avenue just off Third Street, in a diverse neighborhood bustling with vitality. Residents have transformed the wide median on her street into a gorgeous community garden. Almost all the houses are owner-occupied and well maintained.
"Blight" is not a word that most people would use to describe this neighborhood. Yet that is the word city officials have used to justify their decision earlier this year to turn this neighborhood and the rest of Bayview–Hunters Point into the biggest redevelopment area in city history over the strident objections of Harrison and others.
Redevelopment is a process that collects annual property tax increases into a fund that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency uses to subsidize favored development projects, usually working with big developers and often bundling properties together for them to use, seizing the land by eminent domain if need be.
"The Redevelopment Agency is like a monster," Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, a physician who covers the environment for the Bay View, told the Guardian while sitting in Harrison's house.
For Harrison and others who moved to this neighborhood after being forced out of the Fillmore by another redevelopment effort that began in the ’60s, redevelopment means one thing: displacement of existing residents, or "repeopling," a disturbing term that Harrison said she found in some Redevelopment Agency literature. They see it as simply a land grab by greedy developers working in cahoots with Mayor Gavin Newsom and the political establishment.
"Yeah, we'd like to see our community built up and look nice. But does that mean I don't get to live here?" said Harrison, who, like many Bayview residents, owns her home but struggles to get by: she works, and her husband has two jobs, but they still live month to month.
It is that fear that caused Harrison to support Prop. 90 even after editors at the Guardian and other progressive voices tried to convince her that the state measure's damaging aspects far outweigh its protections against eminent domain.
While Harrison admitted, "I see some things in Prop. 90 that scare the shit out of me," she said, "desperation has set in.
"They've taken all hope. I see that I have to protect my community. Somebody has to remove the fear.... In this community, [Prop. 90 is] a hope and a chance."
Where Maxwell and city leaders who favor redevelopment see progress, Harrison and others see an insidious conspiracy to take control of Bayview away from the people who live there.
And the narrative that city government is out to get Bayview has recently been reinforced by other actions: Newsom's announcement that he wants to use Bayview–Hunters Point as a staging ground for the 2016 Olympics; expanded plans for upscale housing development around Candlestick Park; City Attorney Dennis Herrera's rejection of a seemingly successful referendum drive challenging the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan and the refusal of the Board of Supervisors to allow a vote on the matter; city staffers issuing regular citations to Bayview property owners to make improvements or risk fines; the Housing Authority's failure to properly maintain the projects it manages; Herrera's decision this month to seek civil injunctions preventing the free association of purported members of the Oakdale Mob; and the Redevelopment Agency's Oct. 17 decision to let Lennar Corp. out of its pledge to build rental units on Parcel A of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.
Add it all up, and it becomes understandable why many Bayview residents buy into the vision that Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff has repeatedly put on the front page of his newspaper: "the bulldozers are at our borders," just waiting to turn Bayview into one more white yuppie enclave and make a handful of politically connected developers rich in the process.
Officials strenuously deny this is true, arguing that this redevelopment project is all about helping the area by building more affordable housing, infrastructure, and open space and noting how the plan strictly forbids the seizure of residential property by eminent domain.
"The agency has that historical baggage, but we haven't done anything like that in many years," Marcia Rosen, director of the Redevelopment Agency, told us.
That hasn't allayed fears in Bayview or among its allies outside the community, most notably Brian Murphy O'Flynn, whose North Beach property was seized by the city in 2003 to be turned into a park.
"I thought, 'These people are getting steamrolled,’” O'Flynn told us. "The people there are going to be displaced.... It comes down to money. [Powerful people] want that neighborhood. It's right on the water, and it's going to make some people rich."
Nonetheless, O'Flynn has concerns about the other impacts of Prop. 90, so much so that he has parted ways with his Bayview allies on the measure and refused requests by Prop. 90 advocates to join the campaign.
"I have no position on 90," O'Flynn said. "But I understand how it came about." SFBG