Our picks for SF stories that didn't get the attention they deserved
In early January, details from the police investigation of then-Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi bruising his wife's arm during an argument were leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outlets. The key piece of evidence was a 45-second video that Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana Lopez, made with her neighbor, Ivory Madison, displaying the bruise and saying she wanted to document the incident in case of a child custody battle. That video convinced many of Mirkarimi's guilt, and a majority of Ethics Commissioners say they found it to be the main evidence on which Mirkarimi should be removed from office on official misconduct charges (the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on Mirkarimi's removal on Oct. 9, after Guardian press time).
But that video was only a small part of the overwhelming and expensive case that Mayor Ed Lee brought against Mirkarimi, including the more serious charges of abuse of power, witness dissuasion, and impeding a police investigation, all of which go more directly to a sheriff's official duties. All of those charges got lots of media coverage and they helped cement the view of many San Franciscans that Mirkarimi engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior, rather than making a big momentary mistake. Yet most of the media coverage during the six months of Ethics Commission proceedings ignored the fact that none of the evidence that was being gathered supported those charges. Indeed, all those charges were unanimously rejected by the commission on Aug. 16, a startling rebuke of Lee's case but one that was not highlighted in many media reports, which focused on the one charge the commission did uphold: the initial arm grab.
In the late 1990s, San Francisco was in a very similar place to where it is now. The first dot-com boom was full bloom, driving the local economy and creating countless young millionaires — but also rapidly gentrifying the city and driving commercial and residential rents through the roof (great for the landlords, bad for everyone else). And then, the bubble popped, instantly erasing billions of dollars in speculative paper wealth and leaving this a changed city. The city's working and creative classes suffered, but the political backlash gave rise to a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors.
The era ended in 2010 when Ed Lee was appointed mayor, and he began ambitious agenda of pumping up a new dot-com bubble using tax breaks, public subsidies, and relentless official boosterism to lure more tech companies to San Francisco. Lee has been successful in his approach, in the process driving up commercial rents and housing prices. By some estimates, about 30 percent of the city's economy is now driven by technology companies.
Yet there have been few voices in the local media raising questions about this risky, costly, and self-serving economic development strategy. The Bay Citizen did a story about Conway's self interested advice, the New York Times did a front page story raising these issues, and San Francisco Magazine just last month did a long cover story questioning how much tech is enough. But most local media voices have been silent on the issue, and much of the damage has already been done.
More than a decade ago, then-Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak worked together to empower big business, corrupt local politics, and clear the path for rampant development — an approach that progressives on the Board of Supervisors repudiated and slowed from 2000-2010. But Brown, Pak, and a new generation of their allies have returned in power in City Hall, and it's as bad as it ever was.
Many San Franciscans know of their high-profile role appointing Lee to office in early 2011. But their influence and tentacles have extended far beyond what we read in the papers and watch on television, starting in 2010 when their main political operatives David Ho and Enrique Pearce ran Jane Kim's supervisorial campaign, beating Debra Walker, a veteran of the fights against Brown's remaking of the city.
Now, this crew has the run of City Hall, meeting regularly with Mayor Lee and twisting the arms of supervisors on key votes. Pearce and Ho persuaded longtime progressive Christina Olague to co-chair the scandal-plagued Run Ed Run campaign last year, she was rewarded this year with Lee appointing her to the Board of Supervisors. Pearce has been her close adviser, and most of her campaign cash has been raised by Brown and Pak. Even progressive Sup. Eric Mar admits that Pak in raising money for him, a troubling sign of things to come.
The Occupy San Francisco camp that was cleared by police last week may have been mostly homeless people. And major news media outlets from the start reported that Occupy was dangerous, filthy, and a civic eyesore.
But last fall, the camps were comprised of a huge variety of people that chose to live part or full time on the streets. Students, people with 9-5 jobs, people with service jobs, and the unemployed were all represented. Wealthy people who lived in the financial districts where camps popped up mixed with working-class people who came from suburbs and small towns. Families came out, welcomed in the "child spaces" set up in many Occupy camps throughout the country. Most camps also boasted libraries, free classes, kitchens, food distribution, and medical tents.
As news media focused on gross-out stories of pee on the streets and graphic descriptions of drunk occupiers, they managed to ignore the complex systems that were built in the camps. Nor did anyone mention that homeless people have the right to protest, too.