From the March-April 2017 issue of News & Letters
San Francisco—In the old shipyard in the Bay View/Hunters Point (BVHP) area, where a huge housing development is going up, environmental researcher Dr. Ray Tomkins has presented comprehensive evidence of dangerous levels of pollution.
BVHP is a largely African-American community, and the life expectancy for people there is 14 years less than in the wealthy Russian Hill neighborhood! This is a clear case of environmental racism.
More than 20% of the ground of the former shipyard is radioactive, and both city officials and the developer, Lennar Corp., have concealed this. In the Lake Merced area, thousands of residents, many elderly, are being driven from their homes by developers. Evictions continue full-pace in the rest of the city.
IN THE NAME OF THE ‘PUBLIC GOOD’
The real estate push is being presented as a public good when it is, in fact, an eviction of many of the city’s working-class, poor, and racial minority residents to make way for the wealthy. Many fell for the first phase of the Bay Area Plan, California’s own “black snake,” a bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles that gave a green light to developers to seize over one square mile of real estate in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco.
Homes and land are being seized all along the peninsula and in the Central Valley, and the train tracks will go through sensitive wetlands. Costs are now projected to be over ten times the original estimate.
A number of organizations, including SPUR and the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation/SFBARF, are posing as non-profits while fronting for real estate interests. They are suing local governments and disrupting city council meetings all over the Bay Area. Anyone who objects is accused of “NIMBY-ism” and berated.
Developers are demanding the removal of Berkeley residents near downtown, calling their homes and older cars “blight,” and often threatening their landlords. The fake “accelerator fund” for “affordable housing” goes instead to developers.
Historic murals have been painted over, and so many artists have fled that there is a new expression in the local vocabulary, “the Creative Diaspora.” Benches, still needed by the elderly and disabled, have been removed to drive away homeless people. Not even a celebration of the 1967 “Summer of Love” is being allowed by the city.
DEVELOPMENT FOR WHOSE INTERESTS?
The resistance to all this is massive, dedicated and thoughtful. Along with protests, people are carefully documenting each detail of the crisis in housing and human services, and taking the preservation of the actual history of the Bay Area into their own hands. The Gray Panthers, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and many other individuals and organizations are working to great effect.
The real estate interests are standing on shaky ground. Anger is everywhere, and people are fighting back. The most important thing we can do is remember that the actual environment includes live human beings. The needs of ordinary people are not the problem. It is capitalism that is not sustainable.