Treasure Island (TI), according to various censuses, is the third most diverse neighborhood in the U.S. Seventy percent of tenants are Black or Latina/o, and the majority are low-income. TI is a human-made island with a radioactive history due to past military usage and is part of San Francisco’s District 6 with a history of military and federal ownership. Not coincidentally, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) documented District 6 to have the most eviction cases represented by the EDC in courts in 2016.
The island’s better housing units, on the northwest side, are destined for redevelopment in the form of new, upscale apartment buildings as part of a larger development project. According to Dr. Smadar Lavie, an American-Israeli Mizrahi and woman of color who lived on TI from January 2012 until her eviction last week, mostly white people live on the northwestern side and pay market rate; they will receive comparable-size housing units in the new development.
Most tenants of color live on the northeastern side, and Lavie says that they are facing systematic discriminatory treatment designed to exclude them from the new development. The northeastern side is deemed by the state’s Department of Public Health Division of Radiation Safety and Environmental Management to be so polluted and radioactive that in the development plan it is destined to be reserved as open space.
Lavie is both a UC Berkeley anthropologist and a co-founder of Israel’s feminists-of-color movement. She says that she experienced repeated anti-Arab and anti-Semitic slurs, abuse and five years of eviction threats and that other tenants of color have received similar treatment but are too terrorized to come forward with their experiences, some of which involve physical violence. Prior to her eviction, Lavie had repeatedly whistle blown about the environmental racism and a host of infrastructural problems, among them frequent electrical outages and polluted drinking water.
According to Dr. Lavie, the goal of the Treasure Island Development Authority’s (TIDA’s) aggressive strategy, executed through the John Stewart Co. (JSCO), is to exclude low-income tenants of color from the upscale new development, of which a portion is to be set aside to be rented or purchased at below market rate. She comments: “The leases Brown and Black tenants, including me, were given to sign were not approved by the San Francisco city attorney, which makes them illegal.
“These leases actually rob us of relocation rights and non-lottery access to the new units, and they permit no-cause evictions. We were not offered relocation fees and one-for-one new apartments, which is a further violation of the law, given that TI is public land belonging to the military and to the city of San Francisco.” A short video of Lavie describing her eviction is posted below.
Lavie was first notified in July 2017 that she was being evicted for “no cause.” She contacted JSCO’s attorney, Mercedes Gavin, to tell her that her 60-day notice ended on Sept. 22, right during Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). She asked that the eviction date be moved down to after Yom Kippur, Sept. 30. Lavie says that the attorney replied: “No. We’re not going to change anything. Your holiday thing is perfect. While you’re at church [sic], we’ll go ahead and file the unlawful detainer. And then on Sept. 29, we’ll recover possession of your unit and change the locks.”
When Lavie moved her case from state to federal court, JSCO changed the “no cause” rationale and argued that Lavie allegedly violated JSCO policy because she had been using Airbnb to help with the rent while she traveled for work. The federal court then dumped the case back to the SF tenant-landlord court. Lavie notes that as of April 2012, she had sought and received permission from JSCO’s manager to use Airbnb. In spring 2017, when JSCO issued a notice instructing tenants to stop using Airbnb, she complied, and believes she was then singled out because of her history of whistleblowing.
The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project reveals that major investors in the Treasure Island development project are connected to politicians including Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Willie Brown and the late Ed Lee: https://littlesis.org/maps/897-treasure-island-and-yerba-buena-island-development.
Note: The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project does not support usage of Airbnb but is primarily concerned with property owners abusing it and evictions transpiring because of it.