March 5, 2014

San Francisco—In the Nov. 5 city election, voters rejected, 2-to-1, the “8 Washington Plan,” a developer’s scheme to override city laws and build multi-million-dollar condos on the Embarcadero waterfront, a plan which had the support of the mayor and most of the Democratic big shots. That victory marks a public “outing” of a long-simmering problem. This would have displaced people currently living in San Francisco with much wealthier newcomers who are flooding into the area to work in the high-tech industries. Two days after the election, protesters picketed Twitter headquarters on Market Street to protest Twitter’s exemption from local payroll taxes.

The displacement of lower income people has been going on for over 30 years. It has entered a new stage because of the massive expansion of “Silicon Valley” with the arrival of high-paid “techies”; and massive real estate speculation, some of it fueled by Chinese and Canadian money.

Rents have nearly doubled in the past three years. San Francisco is reported to be the world’s most expensive city. Rent for a newly moved-into apartment is a median of $3,500 or more for a one-bedroom or even some studios. Evictions are at an all-time high, as are condominium conversions. People being evicted from their Market Street apartments held a demonstration on Dec. 10 and another in front of Twitter headquarters.

A number of mini-apartments have been approved by the city. This new manifestation of austerity is being touted as “innovation.” One woman bragged that she is paying $1,800 a month for less than 300 square feet of space. The streets are cluttered with buses carrying thousands of tech workers from the Peninsula. Those buses interfere with the city bus system, though Mayor Lee is allowing it.

Business evictions are rampant. A popular café on Guerrero Street was forced to close after the landlord raised the rent from $3,300 to $6,600 monthly. A vibrant center of Latino culture at 24th Street is now threatened. Dozens of condo high-rises are being built all over the city, and the existing water and sewer systems may not be able to handle them. So many creative artists have been priced out of “The City” that now Oakland, not San Francisco, is acknowledged as the “place to be” for artists. Yet real estate speculators, especially from China, are also threatening Oakland.

The plan for high-speed rail in California was passed in a campaign of misinformation where the cost was originally presented as $19 billion. Now it is officially projected to be $68 to $91 billion, but may run into the hundreds of billions. Now most Californians are opposed to it. The plan calls for eminent domain seizures of thousands of homes and cutting through wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas.

The problems of deteriorating social conditions and environmental degradation can’t be solved by despotic planning but only by the free association of self-determining people working collectively, as equals.

—D. Chêneville

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